Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters, I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses, and I do it for an audience of entrepreneurs who are looking to hear the stories of how other people grew their companies so they can get some ideas that they could bring back to their businesses.
And a lot of times when I interview my guests, if you’ve heard my interviews for any amount of time, you know that I spend a lot of time researching them. And often when I research these days, it involves going into freaking Instagram looking to see if they have any personal photos of them so I can use it for conversation, if not in the interview, then before the interview. And the reason I say ‘freaking Instagram’ is because I will hit the stories section at the top and I’ll just get lost in it. Before I know it, it’s, like, ten minutes of me doing nothing meaningful. If you’re listening to me, you probably have had a similar experience online with social media.
Well, today’s guest, Moti Cohen, has said, “You know, why don’t websites have that kind of compelling content? Why is it that they’re still using the top-down, scroll-and-read text and occasionally see a photo?” If they’re really trying to pizzazz the site up, they might throw a video often that auto-plays and often with commercials. There’s got to be a better way. So he took what you’re familiar with now in social media, the story format and other formats, and he made it available to content creators that they could put it up on their site. I invited him here to talk about whether it’s working or not and talk about how he got publishers to use it and so on.
The company is called Apester. It’s a plug-and-play platform for creation and distribution of mobile-friendly interactive content. You might have seen it on other sites and just didn’t know that Moti and Apester were the people and company behind it. This interview where we will find out how he did it is sponsored by Toptal for hiring developers and HostGator for hosting your website. Oh and Apester will work with HostGator. We’ll get to that in a moment. Moti, good to have you here. What’s the revenue? How big are you guys now?
Moti: First of all, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure. So the revenue, I think hit $10 million in revenue.
Andrew: Ten million last year, 2019.
Moti: Yeah. Very close to it.
Andrew: So for many people $10 million would be okay. I had a sense from talking to you before the interview started that it’s not okay for you, it’s not enough. What are you aiming for?
Moti: I think the absolute number by itself is not enough because, like I said, I want it to be profitable as a company. More than anything else, I want to have the freedom and the feeling, I would say, that I am controlling my own destiny. There’s only one way to do that as a business, not necessarily just for the startup, is when you have a valid business model, scaling, with the right unit economy that actually make profit. So we are not far from it, very close to it, so for us it’s like becoming a reality [inaudible 00:03:04] speak about it almost five years ago. Now we’re really close to it, to the point if you ask me, I don’t see us stopping for, at least, earning money. Then hopefully earning a lot.
Andrew: So there’s no fixed number but it’s just . . . you’ve got to be profitable and the more the better.
Moti: Yeah, I’m very much first things first. Before I’m jumping to say I would like to be profitable with $50 million a year or $100 million, or half-billion or a billion, I want to be profitable with one dollar.
Andrew: Got it. By the way, I’m hearing some background noise. Are you in a private room?
Moti: Yeah, I make sure [inaudible 00:03:50]. No worries. I’m sorry for that.
Andrew: No sweat. You’re in Israel right now? What time is it there?
Moti: Yeah, it’s 8:00 p.m.
Andrew: And so there’s still people in the office at 8:00 p.m.?
Moti: Yes, people are working hard in here. Very dedicated, yes. They don’t know I actually I have interview so they don’t think [inaudible 00:04:15].
Andrew: So they’re just doing their own thing, wow-wee. What are the hours you guys keep?
Moti: My thesis is not necessarily to have hours as a beginning and end. It’s just to have missions and objectives and letting people do their thing. In some cases, they work very, hard late hours like now and even more. In some cases, it’s the opposite. Like, they can go out very early if they leave when they achieve their objectives, you know, and they are responsible. So we don’t have strict hours.
Moti: Yeah, a couple actually, not just one. I think Rolling Stones is one to mention. As a fan of music, super high-end rock culture, something that I’m very proud of. [inaudible 00:05:40] for me is something that I’m very proud of. Besides that, I love the [inaudible 00:05:46] app, which is one of the largest football associations in Europe working with us. It’s a big win for me as somebody . . . at my early age I dreamed of being a football player, a soccer player, for . . .
Andrew: For the American audience.
Moti: Yeah, exactly. BBC is another one.
Andrew: BBC is using you?
Andrew: Wow. You came up with this idea soon after you started work at Wix. What did you learn from working for Wix, the fast-growing publishing company based in Israel?
Moti: Yeah, Wix is a website builder platform that is . . . besides the fact that they are pioneering their space, in Israel especially the founding team is very involved in the industry. They are smart people, open, really down-to-earth. It’s kind of contradicting the fact that they are managing a $7 billion company at that point and growing rapidly year over year. So I learned two major things, I think. First of all, the management style and the attitude of how to approach building the business, especially in startup and software. I think secondly is attention to details and how to build a product bottom-up by iterating with the market, and putting a lot of emphasis on data they are collecting in order to get some ideas.
Andrew: I’m wondering about that. I love to focus on examples as a way of understanding, and I’m wondering if you have an example of how they focused on the details. How they knew that a new product idea or new feature idea was going to work by doing that. By doing that iterative style of theirs.
Moti: So, first of all, everything is impact planning, which is basically that before they do anything, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a feature, a product, marketing, anything they do starting by, “What is the impact we will achieve?”
Andrew: What does that mean?
Moti: Impact is, like . . . okay. Let’s say I’m building a specific feature in my product, who it’s going to impact, what I believe going to be the uplift and results that I’m looking for in terms of the KPI, the specific KPI.
Andrew: Can you give me an example of a feature that we can walk through this understanding for?
Moti: Yeah, for instance, an upgrade form, let’s say for a mechanic insider product that they are trying obviously to get their free users and upgrade until they’re pay.
Andrew: Got it. Okay, so who is it impacting? It’s impacting the free users. What’s our goal to increase conversions by a certain number?
Moti: This is very high-level, what you just said. They are getting into much more detail.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Moti: Specific places, specific audience that’s come and integrating and then they do different type of lookalikes and cohort analysis for every specific channel. On every device they do look differently. So people will come from mobile devices or desktop are totally two different buckets that they are analyzing. Also creating a different type of impact planning. When I say “impact planning,” in some cases already do the research and say, “Okay, we believe that by changing the product position,” where let’s say code selection position from the middle of the page to the right corner for instance, we will see a 20% uplift on clicks. But we would see less conversion for the end and they are putting a specific assumption behind it. Then it’s already kind of framing the mindset to think very carefully about not just what you do, but what you believe is going to be the outcome of everything.
Andrew: Got it. I was thinking much, like, a bigger product needs that. You’re saying even smaller changes have to have that impact planning mentality in them.
Moti: Yes, everything. Not just product, by the way. It’s very easy to relate to it when you’re thinking about product and technology, but I think it’s also their mentality about everything they do in the business. From marketing budgets to, you know, they have the motto of, “Everything is measurable.” Even if it doesn’t have numbers behind it, it’s still measurable.
Andrew: I wonder about that. How can you decide if . . . let’s say this interview. How can I decide if it’s a good interview or not? How do you add a measurement to it?
Moti: This interview? It’s quite easy actually, if you think about it. First of all, it’s how many people who got started, click-on it, started to listen.
Moti: Secondly is how many dropped in the middle? What is the average time they spend on this interview? How many of them really shared it with their friends? So you can actually quantify specific metrics behind, it’s going to give you the picture of the engagements of the performance of this specific interview.
Andrew: Okay. So you were at Wix. You were starting to learn this. You were product manager and then you go to the founders and you say, “I’m going to start something myself.” Did you know what it was going to be?
Moti: No. I didn’t know.
Andrew: You just said, “I’m going to go figure something out and I’m quitting to go do that”?
Moti: Yeah. If I want to be a little bit more accurate, I was kind of, not a full-time job with them. I gave them a service. They actually, I used to work as a freelancer after leaving my previous job, which we probably will cover in a minute. Then, as part of my service that I gave them was around specific projects, around product and some of the stuff they did architecturally for their entire market and their giant upmarket, which is basically a way to sell widgets on top of their platform. I said, “Guys, I think I need to stop doing that,” even though they tried to do the opposite. They were bringing me in, lure me in with everything you can imagine. They are smart people. They know their business. They know exactly how to get you excited and incentivized. I said, “Okay, guys, this is my time to jump again on this crazy rollercoaster.” It wasn’t my first time, it was just the pause in between the last time and this one. Then I just did it.
Andrew: What was your first time? Because you mentioned that you had a job before Wix. It was working for a big investment bank. What was the previous startup that you had?
Moti: So my first business was actually at the age of 16. I started my first business. I never put myself in a framework of “I’m an entrepreneur.” I just did what I felt that I wanted to. Actually, I knew more of what I didn’t want than what I want. I always looked at . . . okay, this one, I’m not going to stand in one place all my life 9:00 to 5:00 to whatever.
Andrew: And you knew that because even as a teenager you worked in retail. What kind of retail job did you have?
Moti: It was a local brand. It’s a big local brand in Israel selling apparel and I felt like, okay, just staying in one place, it doesn’t matter if it’s a small shop or even working in a big retail chain, and doing the same thing over and over from morning to the end of it, to be strong and big and make money out of it, even though I didn’t make money in the beginning. It felt like I’m going to do . . . I’m going to iterate and try, try, try hit my head on the wall, bleed, or I’m going continue to do that.
Andrew: You know, my dad sent me to go work in retail when I was a teenager, and I remember being there in the basement untangling hangers so that new clothes could be put on them and they could be taken up to the floor. Putting alarm stickers on shoes so if someone snuck them out of the store, the alarm would go off. I’d see people in there who are 30s, 40s and so on, and I’d say, “I have to study really hard and work really hard so this does not become my life. Because it really absolutely could.” It’s not just the people who are working there for minimum wage, even the owner. The owner thought they were entrepreneurs, but in reality they were doing the same thing over and over again, and their kids were doing the same thing with a little bit of a pop. So you recognized that and you said, “I’ve got to do something different.” But you went a step further. You also said, “I see the problem they have. I think I could solve it with technology.” And what’s the problem that they had and the solution you came up with?
Moti: They didn’t have any distribution mechanic that helps to bring clients outside of their local place. So basically it was very strict to the geography even though they had good product. In terms of giving them access to sell their product, it was the early days of online e-commerce. I felt that by just connecting local retailers with potential buyers, make it super simple and stupid, by the way, we will bring in new clients and new audience to these guys.
Andrew: So you were going to help them put their stores online in a marketplace. Not their own site necessarily, but a marketplace where anyone who wanted to go shopping could go and buy.
Andrew: And you built it at 16?
Andrew: What was it called?
Moti: Zoomd. With a D at the end.
Andrew: Zoomd. What does that mean? How did you come up with that name?
Moti: Actually, I looked for the name a lot of times. The first one was Nona. Nona is “grandma” in Spanish. And then we looked for a place kind of connecting between a zoo. What I had in mind back in the day is to make sure the entire shopping experience was like a zoo. It was a kid. Nothing smart behind it. I didn’t find zoo.com so I found zoomd.com and this is what . . .
Andrew: Got it. Okay.
Moti: I didn’t give too much attention to the details. Actually, it was pretty good as an experience because I was very raw in many ways. I did things without thinking too much or too carefully about them. I had to do a lot of work to make them successful. I actually paid for it afterwards. Because on my second business, which I started at the age of 21, after I finished Israel said, “You must go to the army after three years or graduate in the army.” I went to start my second business and it was a total failure.
Andrew: Let me spend a little time on Zoomd.
Moti: Go for it.
Andrew: You actually had time and you had the courage to go to local retailers and say, “I want to get you on my new website,” and you sold them?
Moti: No, I did it the opposite. I already put them on my website.
Andrew: Without even asking them. They didn’t need to create it. You just put them on the site, okay.
Moti: I put them on the site. In the beginning I did it manually. Afterward I created the crawler, which basically was an automatic, just pulling the information out of Yellow Pages back in the day. Create kind of your own place in my marketplace. On Zoomd, my marketplace, which was a pretty cool idea back in the day. Definitely. When I came to the retailers, some of them were small retailers and not necessarily chains. I showed them, “Guys, you’re on the internet. You have a website and I can sell your products on the internet.” So then it was mind-blowing. Think about people that don’t have any connection to anything technology, definitely not thinking about their own website, selling their products via e-commerce.
Andrew: And the whole thing can be intimidating so what you did was you put it up already for them on the site. You said, “Do you want to keep this going? All you need to do is . . . ”
Moti: Click here.
Andrew: Click here and pay?
Moti: And that’s it.
Andrew: They pay a monthly fee? Not even a monthly fee. Didn’t have to update their products or anything?
Andrew: They need to take the orders in?
Moti: Just need to take the orders in and make sure they deliver them.
Andrew: And deliver them. You know what? I think that’s something that I think is going to come out in the story about Apester. That you did do that, from what I understand, with a couple of publishers who came to you with interest, and you went and you created the widgets for them. You said, “Here’s what it looks like.” You’re nodding.
Andrew: It is? Okay. You said this was successful. How successful was the business?
Moti: Again, as a kid obviously. Relative to where I was, what I made before that, and how much my parents made, it was very successful. My bootstrap . . .
Andrew: You mean relative to how much your parents made?
Moti: Much more. I did much more.
Andrew: Really? How much money are we talking about?
Moti: We’re talking about around $80K a year as a kid.
Andrew: In revenue?
Moti: No, in profit.
Andrew: In profit. Good Lord, $80,000 just by charging them for what? For monthly fees? Nothing like that? A share of sales?
Moti: Yeah, a share of sales that I generated.
Andrew: Wow-wee. All right, then why did it close down?
Moti: No, I sold it afterwards.
Andrew: You did?
Moti: Yeah, to a small agency. It was pretty nice.
Andrew: Wow, how much?
Moti: For a couple hundred.
Andrew: Get out. What did you do with it?
Moti: I went and spent it like a crazy kid.
Andrew: On what?
Moti: On a car, the first thing. Then on some cool guitars because I love music. And just being good to my family as well. I think that was another part of it.
Andrew: You know what? It’s not even on your LinkedIn profile. I said, “Maybe we didn’t copy it right.” No, it’s not.
Moti: It’s not. It’s not.
Andrew: Why don’t you talk about it more?
Moti: I think I just didn’t put it as a professional experience for some reason. I just felt, for me, it was part of my youth. It was a nice experience, I made money. I didn’t put my first failure as well on LinkedIn. Actually, I need to put both of them now. I’m very proud of these experiences. They teach me a lot.
Andrew: It’s impressive.
Moti: It’s definitely the one thing that is probably more important than anything else. It got me, kind of, the self-belief in myself that I can do whatever I want. Whatever I believe I can do, I can make it happen. It doesn’t matter if you will or not, it doesn’t matter if you succeed or not. But if you don’t have this attitude to begin with, your probability of succeeding would be very low.
Moti: I think this is something I got out of it and this is something I’m still holding.
Andrew: I’m glad we paused on that. And then you were starting to say that there was another business. What was the other one?
Moti: The other one was actually not online at all. It was an offline business for someone. A lot of my friends told me to open a sports bar. Again, they had some money which I saved. I said, “Okay, why not? A sports bar sounds like a cool thing to do in Israel.” No one has a sports bar in Israel. Back in the day, we went to London and Amsterdam and we saw a couple of them. It was a cool thing to have, a sports bar, which is a bar with sport events and you can bet on sporting events. Everything in one place. Again, I’m 21 years old. It sounds like a dream come true. I said, “Why not open that in Israel?”
And then I made every mistake you can imagine. Literally every mistake that you can dream of. From the wrong places, arrogant attitude without really doing research, packaging the product not the right way, not executing the plan, no detail to the revenue, no detail to the profit. Like, everything off and it was a big bust. Very fast one as well.
Andrew: Do you remember when you realized you failed after succeeding and having this new identity of a successful entrepreneur or successful thinker? Do you remember the lowest moment with that bar?
Moti: Yeah, absolutely. I think the lowest point was when some of my friends came and we started laughing about it out loud together, all of us. Like, “Okay, this is a fucking shitshow.”
Andrew: Like, “How did we get in this mess?” You’re laughing at it but you’re realizing . . .
Moti: No, no. We’re laughing at it and we understand how, I’m sorry for my language, fucked up of a situation it is.
Moti: And it was a moment in which I understand, “Okay, I cannot disguise it anymore.” And not just that. I needed to take responsibility of asking the questions and what helps when wrong. Because my previous success was not planned at all. Nothing was planned behind it. Because it was a big success, and almost easy money if you think about it. For me as a young entrepreneur, instead of creating the new system you need to create for yourself because it’s super important, it’s created the opposite, off my guard. You know, I started to think about that and I have some magic charm, and I just need to bring the product, the right idea, package it nicely, and it will be successful. It’s obviously not working like that. That was my experience.
Andrew: You know what? Moti, we could’ve brushed over this completely. I didn’t ask you about it, it’s not on your LinkedIn, it’s not in my notes. You volunteered it because I’m sensing it’s an important part of your life. Why? What is it that you got out of it that’s worthy of highlighting?
Moti: I think, first of all, don’t be ashamed of your failures. I think that’s something you should definitely put out there. Not just to sound like, “Yeah, I had some failures and now I’m a successful entrepreneur.” No, because it’s a key milestone that most likely you need to experience before succeeding. I think 99% of every successful entrepreneur out there would tell you about a huge failure that he had before that. Again, there’s nothing more eye-opening when you’ve taken responsibility on the failure. Really, don’t try to disguise it. Don’t try to put it on someone else. Just ask the questions and be brutally honest with yourself about what went wrong. If you’re good, you will learn something and hopefully not repeat the same one.
Andrew: I wonder if it also got you to the place where you knew you were capable of succeeding because Zoomd did well. But you also knew you were capable of failing because the sports bar didn’t. So it pushed you to be one but also be cautious of falling in the trap of being the failure.
Andrew: Let me take a moment and talk about my first sponsor. It’s HostGator. I’m going to ask you something. HostGator allows anyone to create a website using one click to install WordPress and then build up their business. Do you, as someone who’s seen a lot of publishing companies, do you have an idea of what works? If someone is listening to us and says, “You know what? I’d like to create something just as an experiment. I’d like to create something just like Moti created this business when he was 16. Helped him learn something. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t, but either way I’ll do more than just listen. I’ll be able to act. What’s an idea? What do you see that’s working in content?
Moti: Okay, in content be genuine is important. Be simple, not too sophisticated.
Andrew: Is there a topic or approach that you’ve seen works?
Moti: I don’t believe that there’s one topic that works. I think you have a lot of different audiences with different types of topics with their own passion. I think what’s important is the passion that you’re putting on what you produce. If you really believe in what you do and really like what you do when you’re producing content, and you’re thinking about not necessarily the clicks, or not necessarily the clickbait that’s going to generate the right [inaudible 00:25:50], but actually thinking about what is my target audience? What is it that they care about and passionately speak about? Then package it right. Not just to talk about the right thing, but also packaged the right way. It speaks to today’s consumer’s demand.
Andrew: You know what I’ve seen? Tell me what you think it is. A guy that I’ve known for a few years, Chase Reeves. He has a website where he gives reviews about backpacks and other kinds of bags.
Andrew: Right. Like, a whole site just on that and you love it? I wouldn’t have thought there was anything to it. I would’ve thought, “What a waste of time.” If anyone wants a review, they just go to Amazon or somewhere else. So what he does though is he gives his own spin on it. He has a site full of this stuff. He’s now added other things like bars that he really likes to eat when he’s out working in coffee shops. And then he does these hour-long review sessions on YouTube where he reviews freaking backpacks. Because I’m kind of compelled by him and his style and his attitude, and because I sometimes look for backpacks as a guy who’s working outside of the office a lot, I’ll spend an hour at looking at a sling, a daily sling, these little things you can throw over your shoulder with nothing but your iPad if you want, right? Or a backpack for traveling internationally for a guy who does not want to have a wheelie bag with him and just wants a backpack.
So he does these long sessions. Eventually you say, “I’m kind of interested. I got the big gist from it, but I’m going to go over to his website to read more detail and to see it in a more organized way.” You go there, you click to buy, he gets a commission, and I feel great about him getting a commission because what I’m getting is his take on it.
I’ve noticed that after Wirecutter hit big, before they even sold to “New York Times,” all they did was review products with links to sites to buy it, usually Amazon. Then they got a commission from anytime anyone bought it. I’m feeling like there’s an opportunity now to create these types of really customized sites where the reviewer reviews just one thing. It could be 360 cameras, those cameras that shoot, whatever.
Where they might benefit from Apester, which we’re going to talk about in a bit, is imagine if it was more than just an article. Imagine if it was pictures of the product, video of the product, some surveys so you get to see what people think. Will 360 work for underwater or whatever it is, right? To make it more interesting. Of course, the money is in the referral links.
All right, you’re nodding. I’m going to tell people whether it’s that idea or any other idea that you got, take it to HostGator. When you go to hostgator.com/mixergy, you get one-click install of WordPress. You can get up and running fast. If you look at Chase’s website, you’ll see it’s basic text. He doesn’t overcomplicate it and he adds a couple of little frills. Your frill could be Apester, your frill could be anything that brings your site to life in the way that feels right to you.
Go to hostgator.com/mixergy with that idea or anything else. You will get the lowest price that they have available. Frankly, their prices are already super low, so yeah, you’ll save a few pennies beyond anywhere else if you use my link, but you’ll also be supporting Mixergy and you’ll be up and running. If you’re not happy with them, they’ll give you your money back. Hostgator.com/mixergy.
Moti, you quit with Wix. You said, “Listen, guys, I like your company but I’ve got to go create my own company.” It’s time for you to come up with your own idea. How did you come up with the idea?
Moti: I started by asking what I love to do again. This time I want to do a little bit more research before I just jump. I did the research. I did my internal research and some externally. Obviously, what’s happening in the market. I was a little bit more mature and understanding of how to look at opportunity, to put it in the right bucket, and understand if it’s worth your while or not. I started by saying, “Okay, I love games. I love game theories. I love visual science. What the hell combines all of those things together?”
When I started to work on what became Apester eventually, I did okay. The world of games, and it was the beginning of gamification, if you remember 2011, 2012 it was kind of a big thing. Everybody spoke about it. Yes, gamify everything, it will make life better, etc. They did some good gamification to many physical things that actually worked and created a different type of behavior. It clicked in me, “Okay, this is a behavioral analysis with game theory, game dynamics [inaudible 00:30:13]. I said, “Okay, maybe I can create something around that one.”
I said, “Okay, first of all, I’m going to look very carefully at what is needing to be done in this market if I believe in this one, and who is the target audience for that.” Eventually I came up with, brands will need a way to communicate with their consumers in a much more effective way. We need to give them tools to make it very easy and utilize some tools of this smart game dynamics as part of the assets.
Andrew: So instead of commercials that play on TV, instead of banner ads, which, frankly, they didn’t work, you said, “What if we create a game for them?” People will immerse themselves in the brand, they’ll play it and happen to know more about the company. Got it. Is this Qmerce?
Moti: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: Got it. I’ve got an old screenshot of Qmerce from an article that I read.
Moti: My God. That’s an old-fashioned . . . yes, that’s the . . .
Andrew: Yeah, and so TechCrunch wrote about it. You got Pizza Hut in Israel, the local franchise, to say yes to you. What did you create for Pizza Hut?
Moti: Basically, again, I came from Wix, so everything for me was how I can make it super easy to produce those type of things. Not just to go create a game for every brand that I’m working with, it’s not scalable. There’s just a small model behind and it would be very hard. And, again, also the price for it would be super high, which would create a super high barrier of entry. So we went to a very easy-to-use platform, drag-and-drop approach to produce those type of immersive games. Now you would hear pattern in the way I do business and that’s fine. I just said, “Okay, let’s just create a couple of good games for a couple of good brands.” One of them was Pizza Hut and created in advance.
Andrew: Wait a minute, one sec. You didn’t even sell to them? You just said, “I like Pizza Hut. I think they’re local. I want to create a game for them,” just like you did back when you were 16.
Andrew: Oh, got it. I was wondering how you got them. Okay, so what’s the game you created for Pizza Hut?
Moti: And then one of my friends, again, I already had some connections in the local industry so I wasn’t clueless or well, having a network that can help me to open doors. But I created with Qmerce and then just sent it to my friend that I knew that he knows the CEO of the chain in Israel. Then after almost, in less than 40 minutes of me sending the email, I received a call from the CEO himself saying, “Dude, I love that. Please come to my office tomorrow.” Then it happened. I did it a couple of times and it actually worked quite nicely.
Andrew: And what did the game do?
Moti: It was simple, casual games. It was from bubbles to Bejeweled if you remember and older stuff. Specifically for Pizza Hut it was a racing car which is delivering a pizza and trying to avoid obstacles.
Andrew: And the idea was people would play this on Facebook at a time when Facebook was . . .
Moti: Kind of an app platform, not just a social network.
Andrew: Right. I remember actually, I think it was TechCrunch’s writer who said, “I don’t think anyone’s going to play this.” I looked at the stats. It’s 80 minutes of play for some people.
Andrew: And the guy goes . . . here, let me see, I found it. It’s Roi Carthy. Roi says, “All right, I’m going to eat my hat. I can’t believe it but it actually is sticking.” So how long did it take you to build this? Oh no. It was, average user play was 50 minutes, excuse me.
Andrew: How long did it take you to create this launch, to create this type of product?
Moti: Around seven months. Something like that.
Andrew: Seven months to create this Wix-like experience where anyone can quickly create a game and you’ve got a couple of customers. I’m trying to see some of the others, I don’t see them here so I’ll just continue. There it is, Crocs signed up, right? The shoe company.
Andrew: Okay, fantastic.
Moti: [inaudible 00:34:30] I think it was the first U.S. one, U.S.-based one who actually used it as well.
Andrew: Was that, again, you creating a game for them, sending it over and saying, “Do you want this?”
Andrew: Okay, fantastic. When did you say, “This is not going to work out. I’ve got to close it down”?
Moti: When we tried to scale it, we saw that we had a lot of issues convincing marketing departments to utilize games in order to create engagement with their audience, and make a more effective way to deliver the message. We understood better that the cap of this company would be, if I was super successful, around the $20 million mark, which is obviously a beautiful outcome. Don’t get me wrong, when I started the business again, I had already been working with Wix, huge company, hundreds of millions already back in those days, I had the appetite to build something much bigger.
Andrew: So you’re thinking, “This could’ve been big.” But you said, “It’s not going to be big enough.”
Andrew: And this was a bootstrap company at that point?
Moti: Yeah, in the beginning it was bootstrap.
Andrew: Why? What is it about you that makes you want to go even bigger? Why wouldn’t the $20 million business be okay for you? Have a nice lifestyle, travel to Europe . . .
Moti: First of all, yes, it’s a painful . . . I must say, if somebody hears me now, as a young entrepreneur and has some successful [inaudible 00:35:46] know to scale it out to $20 million and can make it happen. First of all, make it happen and then sell it and start the next one. This is my, by the way, if I need to give my two cents when I’m looking in the retrospect.
Moti: Because you, first of all, never know what you never know. You don’t know if you can start with something, with a specific segment or specific offering and what you’re growing there to become a successful, profitable business. To take it to the next step is sometimes much easier than to start something from scratch. Even if you don’t see the big outcome on the first step you do.
I think also, in many ways, when you’re holding something that you can sell it, and somebody’s willing to pay for it, don’t drop it that fast. This is another big lesson that I learned. When I did it again, I was a bit arrogant on that matter. I’d say, “No, no, no, it’s not good enough. Not big enough. Not strong enough. I want to go bootstrap. I want to make some nice numbers of growth.” I’m coming to investors, I want to raise money, make it big, build a big business first time as a real startup that’s actually going to VCs talking about vision, market, and stuff like that.
Then I got the reaction that everything I do is not that interesting. I got caught in this moment. I said, “Okay, it’s probably not that interesting as everybody is saying.” It could be maybe a good business but not a big one. I don’t want to do something that’s just good business. I want to do a big, substantial business, and I chose to drop it while it was nice revenue in a very short amount.
Andrew: You closed it up.
Moti: I didn’t really close it, I just pivoted from it.
Andrew: And let it stay on its site, bring in its revenue, but you didn’t put . . .
Moti: I killed it obviously because it’s mental focus and maintenance, and I think that can [inaudible 00:37:48] when you were small startup or small business, it doesn’t matter. You should be laser focused. So after a while, when I saw that we found what became Apester eventually [inaudible 00:38:00] for big business. We said, “Okay, it’s time to kill Qmerce and let’s refocus all our energy on Apester.” And this is exactly what we’ve done.
Andrew: I just assumed that Facebook made a change that killed Qmerce. It’s not what happened. It’s you that decided this is who I am. All right, let me just some up a couple of things that I learned about your experience with Qmerce. Number one, when there’s new platforms, in this case for you it was Facebook, but frankly similar things happen when phones came out, I bet when virtual reality becomes a thing, a similar opportunity comes up . . . When these new platforms come out, brands want to know how to be a part of it. If you can create an experience for a brand, they have the money to pay you for it instead of trying to get a bunch of users, a bunch of consumers to try to find it, number one.
Number two, create a platform, kind of like Wix did, like you did, where it’s easy to crank out new products for your customers. Number three, send it to the customer. So you imagine if virtual reality becomes a thing, you created a platform that you could create games for, I could even imagine, a racing game in virtual reality for Pizza Hut. You’ve got to deliver the pizza fast, right? Let people play it, they might engage in it for 50 minutes because the whole platform is so new, they’re just looking for anything to engage with. If you create it in a way that you can do it and spin it up fast, send it to Pizza Hut and say, “Hey, you got this thing, it’s already ready. Do you want to buy it so you can use it?” And then get other customers.
Next thing is at some point if you do this fast enough, someone’s going to want to buy it, don’t be so arrogant that you push off that sale. Sell it and allow yourself to go and have the next big one.
And I’m going to add one other thing, I find that coming from a place of no fear gives you tremendous power. If you have that first big sale of a business behind you, you don’t stay up at night going, “I’m going to be completely destroyed.” And that’s wasted mental energy. You know I did it once. You know you’ve got enough in the bank that you’re no longer worried about what happens if you can’t eat and have to sleep on the street, and now you can think about, “What’s my next big thing? What world am I conquering?” Go for broke on that one. At least go for that business breaking but don’t allow yourself to be financially ruined. Am I summing it up right?
Moti: Yeah, I think you’ve got it.
Andrew: I’m so glad we spent time on Qmerce. Now that I understand the detail behind it, and I did my research on it, I had no idea this is what happened. Okay, so then you started to adjust and say, “There’s a new thing coming.” Part of it was you being inspired by being on Snapchat. You were playing around with Snapchat?
Andrew: And what did you experience? Take me through the . . . you know what? I’m sorry to take, let me take a moment. Moti, I’ve got to tell you about a company called Toptal. It’s the second sponsor. Then we’re going to get into what happened that led you to create Apester. Why Apester?
Moti: Yeah, because the combination of ape and hipster, I believe.
Andrew: And hipster?
Moti: Yeah. It’s a hipster ape basically.
Andrew: Why did you want a hipster ape? Is this just you looking for a name that’s unique?
Moti: No, I think . . . actually, when I create a brand, which is kind of an alter ego that’s laughing about humanity. I think we are taking ourselves a little bit too serious as a creature. We’re just hipster apes. We know how to play with [inaudible 00:41:13] and dress nice. That’s why.
Andrew: Ah, we’re not that special. Yes, we can dress a little nicer than apes, but we’re not that much more significant. And just like apes, we’re at some point going to die. Let’s just enjoy where we are today.
Andrew: All right. Second sponsor is a company called Toptal. Eventually, for every company, they’re going to be thinking, “How do I hire a developer?” If you’re listening to me, that’s going to be an issue for you. Frankly, even with my WordPress site, I need to hire a developer. I started going through the usual channels like everyone else. If you’re doing it, you’re going to be placing some ads, maybe you go check out the freelance websites and so on.
What I found was a lot of people who . . . first of all, it’s a long drawn-out process, takes forever to find someone. But also a lot of people who seem good when you’re talking to them, when you’re giving them theoretical problems, when you’re even giving them small problems, they give you an impression of how great they are. But then when you hire them and give them the project that’s the real thing, they’re not that great. What you want is somebody who will stand behind them.
And the truth is, Moti, you know this, people don’t have much to lose by saying, “Yeah, I can do this.” They could even throw themselves into the first project, maybe even get outside help. They don’t have much to lose. If they get the job, great. Worst case, you let them go. But mostly you hire them and maybe there’s some momentum that will let them keep sticking with you. That’s the mentality that they have.
If you go to Toptal what you get is a company that stands behind their developers. I had a listener of mine who said, “I’m done with all these different resumes coming in. I need to hire quickly. Andrew keeps talking about Toptal. Great.” You went to toptal.com/mixergy, he talked to a matcher, the matcher understood what he was looking for, put two people in front of him. This guy talked to the two people and said, “All right, they’re both great, and Toptal is standing behind them.” So it’s not like they’re just spewing out yes answers and great results for the experiments that we’re putting in front of them. They’ve done great work and Toptal stands behind them. So he hired one of them. Person ended up being phenomenal and he continued with Toptal and basically hired his whole team from there. If you’re out there listening to me, you owe it to yourself and frankly, Moti, you’re listening to me, you owe it to yourself to go check in with Toptal.
Moti: I’m going to check, for sure.
Andrew: We’re talking about best of the best. We’re not looking for the cheapest. Not super expensive but we want the best of the best, and that’s what Toptal is about. If you go to toptal.com/mixergy, hit that big button, you’ll be able to schedule a conversation with a matcher. Hiten Shah, one of my guests, the founder of so many companies including Crazy Egg, KiSSmetrics and so on, and FYI most recently he said the matcher is the best part of Toptal because it helped him think through who he was hiring. Then if you hire from them, great. They’ll even give you 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours, in addition to a no-risk trial period. If you don’t want to hire from them, all you’ve given up is a little bit of time with an intelligent person who’s going to help you think through your projects.
So go to toptal.com/mixergy to get those 80 hours and find out more details. That’s top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. Toptal.com/mixergy. I have to keep spelling it out because I talk super fast. Moti, you have a good cadence. You’re not a super fast talker.
Moti: Yeah, no, I think I kind of learned that from my experience in New York. I think you must.
Andrew: In New York you learned to talk fast?
Moti: Yeah, I think in New York [inaudible 00:44:34] it’s actually backed by research as well. You know that, I don’t remember the research name, but it was a good one which I actually read. I’m a freak of science, by the way. So the research was a huge correlation between how fast people speak and the amount of population in the city they live.
Andrew: Oh, so the more people that are there, the faster people speak?
Andrew: I didn’t realize that. That makes sense though, right? I did grow up in New York. I kind of assumed in Israel that people were speaking really fast.
Moti: I think in Israel there is a mentality of speaking fast, but, again, science saying that if you live in a high population city, most likely you speak faster, you move faster as well.
Andrew: So talk to me about how Apester came up as a result of you trying out new social media experiences.
Moti: When I started to, like you said, as a consumer, as a user of Snapchat, I remember when they launched the discover section with the story format or content. [Inaudible 00:45:45] and it was for me . . . I’m a big kind of product guy and I would like to believe I’m a vision guy that kind of understands, again, game theory, love strategies, or everything that’s for me always trying to think, “What are the next couple of steps?” Not just the next. And the minute I saw Snapchat discover, I knew or I felt, “Okay, this is the medium. This is going to be the format for mobile.” It’s the first time somebody really cracked the mobile experience, not just took things that are boring [inaudible 00:46:17] and brought them to mobile.
Moti: But really thought carefully about what it means, mobile, from the behavior of the consumer. What is expecting to get out of it? You know, the visual, the full screen, the tap that means you can control the pace of how you consume the content. The fact that it is vertical, it’s much easier to hold your phone vertical instead of horizontal. And for me, it clicked. I felt like, “Okay, this is going to be a huge thing.” And not just that, I think the next wave will be not just content and UGC, it will be services and utilities on top of the [inaudible 00:46:51].
And it’s funny because we’re starting to see it now. The shoppable stories experience and everything else now becoming . . . stories is not just a way to package your experience when you’re traveling as a consumer, or your article in a new visual way, but I think it’s, again, it’s kind of catching the core elements of behavior on mobile. It’s full-screen, it’s in your hand in a vertical experience, you control the pace, very easy in and out. If you package experiences in the same way, it will deliver better results because good experience, and it doesn’t matter for what, more likely will deliver . . .
Andrew: Yeah, you know what? For me, it was . . .
Andrew: Sorry the connection just broke up for a second. I get you. For me, I was thinking when I first saw it as cute, I’m engaged, it’s a problem for me, I better watch out. I like the way you were thinking, which is, “Why am I so sucked into this? What is it about this that’s unique?” You’re right, it’s tap to control it, full-screen experience. There’s something about moving your phone to the side. It’s not a big deal but it does feel like a big deal. It feels like, “All right, now I’m actively paying attention because I’ve shifted my phone into landscape from portrait mode.” And you said more is going to happen that way. Commerce will shift into those stories. More interaction will be in there. Maybe games will be in that format. So did you say to yourself, “I want to go after publishers and bring it to them,” or did you say, “Let me go talk to publishers and see if this is even a solution to a problem that they have”?
Moti: So I think, what I said is, not necessarily just publishers or not. Again, I took the same kind of my tool, the same trick that I’m using always is, “Okay, how can I build something and make it very easy and accessible for everyone?” Like, make it super simple to produce those experiences, and take it out of social garden, the social closed garden, then bring it for different needs. For me, the publishing and media industry was kind of a natural first step toward this because they are probably going to be the early adopters, they have the biggest pain for it because they are using their money, attaching consumers to the social networks who pioneered those experiences.
And I started to build the sales prototype by myself again. The second, I would say, meeting I had with the publisher, when I started to approach [inaudible 00:49:30] and say, “Guys, we want to show you our new platform. It can help you engage your audience, tell a story in a much better way.” Obviously, no one knew about Snapchat back in the day, especially not publishers, so I didn’t mention Snapchat. I just said, “Guys, we have tools for you to create more engaging experiences. It’s going to drive better results to your stories and generate more shares, more time on your site and eventually more money.
We went to a sport blog in the UK, which actually has offices in Israel as well. Then they said, “Okay.” [Inaudible 00:50:01] not an Israeli brand because, again, to work in the Israeli industry as a startup is not necessarily going to give you an option to scale. Not necessarily represent how the world works as well. I think that it’s part of the mentality of Israeli startups that are born to global approach. They must think global.
Andrew: They were your first customer?
Moti: So they were my first customer.
Andrew: I thought it was, is it Calcalist?
Moti: Calcalist is, okay, yes. Calcalist is an Israeli one. They used to be using Qmerce as kind of . . .
Andrew: Ah, so you went back to them and you said, “Hey, you’re using Qmerce. Do you want to try this thing?” They said yes and they were the very first ones.
Moti: They were the very first one in Israel. But then when, the second meeting was with [inaudible 00:50:46] which is a UK blog for sports. We pitched it, they liked it. They very easily, very fast, integrated the widget as part of their blog and content. What happened, again, me learning from the Wix playbook, and said, “How many of our widgets are backlinked through the website based on the technology used to scan it?” We created a watermark on every widget being produced with Apester. A small watermark. They basically create the backlink to our website.
So when you see this as a consumer, and it’s got you intrigued, and you ask yourself, “What the hell am I seeing now? I want to have the same thing or at least explore it,” you click on this backlink and you get to my website and that was free traffic. That’s just free marketing for me, which created an inbound mechanic that was driving more and more, but it’s already doing the best sale you can imagine.
If somebody experienced it, liked it, and come to ask, “How can I do it?” It was for us, instead of doing the website with all the information and explanations, we’ve done the opposite. Blank sheet, put your email in, we will contact you. That’s it. If you want to hear more, put your email in and we will contact you. The one field funnel, which worked brilliantly. We actually got “Telegraph,” a huge publisher in the UK, contacted us through the contact list. Then also “Huffington Post,” in the UK “Huffington Post” contacted us. We were five people in a team. I think we were freaks about fast response as well. All of us have an ADD. Looking at every inbound that came. Then when we started to see almost an exponential cycle. More widgets created, more people see it, more inbound we’re getting without doing anything.
Moti: Without doing calls, without doing marketing, without doing sales. So we created kind of inside sales. Not necessarily sales, it was more like trying to capture the leads and transform them to clients or partners because we gave it for free at the beginning. And then it clicked. The second biggest publisher we brought was “Telegraph,” which is a huge media company.
Andrew: Huge. Not just as far as recognition, but they churn through traffic, massive traffic.
Moti: Yeah, massive traffic. Actually, in the UK they’re a very lucrative, well-known brand that has created for us, again, not just an inbound effect. It provided a lot of inbound.
Andrew: Yeah, but in the U.S. “The Wall Street Journal” is a very well-known, respected brand, but the traffic difference is tremendous, right? So the experience that I see today, I went to TV Insider and I read an article about some TV show. And then as I scrolled, I saw this thing that looked so familiar, so much like an Instagram or Snapchat story, complete with dash lines at the top that tell you there’s more to this story, complete with if I tap I continue. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think as soon as I tapped one of these videos that were on mute with text at the top, it felt very much like a Snapchat story. As soon as I tapped it, it went into full-screen on my phone, right? And then I could tap the rest, the rest, the rest and go into it. Once I was done with that, I think there were other stories.
No, once I was done with that, it said, “Share and influence.” I thought, “That’s interesting actually.” That people today aspire to be influencers, and the way you’re an influencer is you share something that other people then start getting absorbed with. Anyway, so that whole experience, that’s essentially what you created but not as . . . without as many features as I might have experienced today.
Moti: No, you’re right. I think this is definitely what we created. Very much less superior than what you see today and less polished, but still the same logics, same ideas, same kind of value behind it. Also, we created afterwards a feed, which has created that rabbit hole kind of experience you mentioned before as a consumer when you went to Instagram. I think part of you not taking the content too serious is the fact that they spoil you with one experience after another after another. If it’s personal, it makes sense for you, you will continue to consume. So we created those kind of, again, different types of behaviors and mechanics in the product, and it clicked, it worked. The engagement rate was crazy. Click-through rates, the completion rates, the people that went from one story to another to another was huge numbers. I think compared to any widget out there, we will have at least 10x or 20x the results.
Andrew: So the first version didn’t do all the things that I saw. It didn’t have the polling, didn’t have the . . . I forget what the other features were. It’s all up on your site. It’s apester.com. What did it have?
Moti: So it was actually had the polling. It was very simple, kind of a visual slide that you can create with us. Either a video or an image and add a poll to it, creating kind of a story experience with a poll on it, which was related to the article you’re reading most of the time. It kind of pulled people to engage with it because they want to be part of the comment [inaudible 00:56:33] leaving a comment in the beginning.
Also part of the thesis was . . . so many people consumed the content. Many of them want to engage and tell what they feel, but a very small portion of them actually leave a comment. If you can give them a much easier way to tell or to be part, to take part, but not necessarily too much to commit for it. They will do it in large numbers. That’s why we created the polling experience and kind of the thumbs up, thumbs down interactive components you can add to those slides. That was the beginning. Super simple polling on top of the visual experience.
Andrew: I’m on apester.com. I see polling, there’s a quiz, there’s a personality test, there’s an interactive video, there’s of course the story feature. I see that you kept adding and adding to it. You told us at first you were just giving it away for free. What did you charge for eventually? What’s the first thing you charged for?
Moti: The first thing, as part of working in the media business, it’s very hard to charge media comments by the way. Publishers don’t like to pay. Not just that, it was starting to have this atmosphere in the industry that they were struggling as a business and they even had a more tough time to purchase product, even if you gave them a lot of money. So we went and built a business model that actually supports the needs and delivering [inaudible 00:57:58] part of the experience and do a rev share model, which has basically made our sell much easier to these guys.
Like, okay, this is Apester. We just want to give you the tools that are going to make your experience much better and more effective, but we can give you money as well. It was an easy sell and it created different behaviors I think. Anything you do, almost every decision on a product label or business model, sometimes you do not expect the negative behaviors you will generate as part of it. You always think about the positive, right? Yeah, it’s going to be much easier to sell it now. People will be more likely to look for it and test it, and if it’s going to work for them, most likely they’re going to increase it. But on the other hand, for instance for us, what happened is that they start to [gawk 00:58:51] at us too much as a product that generates revenue, which is not our core element. It wasn’t our thing.
Andrew: You mean you were starting to get compared to Outbrain and other ad . . .
Andrew: Got it. And what are we making more from? Are we making more from a quiz or making more from an ad? Well, if we’re making more from an ad and we’re putting more work into the quiz, then why are we doing that? I see. Okay, that became an issue for you.
Moti: Yeah. It became an issue because it created in way a collision or dissonance between what the company was about and the values behind it, the feature sets and what we’ve done every day when we wake up in the morning, or trying to craft an experience that eventually provides engagement and value in a storytelling approach and much better experience. Just put us in a bucket of “make more money out of it.”
And it was in our DNA, first and foremost. Sometimes it’s DNA, I think. Should this be added to what we focus on. Secondly, it’s also created kind of a partnership moral, which I didn’t like. I didn’t like the partnership approach of somebody who doesn’t appreciate the value I bring besides the money. Then we took another step back and asked some questions about what we can do in order to influence what we really want to achieve, which is a real partnership with real content creation, real understanding of the value that can be generated by integrating Apester experience, and not necessarily just compare us dollar to dollar.
Andrew: And so how did you do that?
Moti: It’s still a work in progress, first and foremost. I think it’s part of what will challenge us always. But we’ve started to speak with other departments beside the guys from the business. We started to get the product involved. We thought about how to get the editorial much better and much faster in the beginning. We combined some of the values we generate for editorial and for let’s say you had product and then package it differently for them, especially in creating an incentive to participate or work with Apester in a smarter way.
It actually was a benefit for revenue as well because we always said, and we still believe in that, I believe that it’s going to be true forever, is that when you’re producing good experience and good content and you’re packaging it the right way, it most likely will generate more revenue for you. You just need to think a little bit better or give to a little bit more attention to how you do it. But, again, and it was quite straightforward, you created good content with Apester, you integrated your editorial team, you integrated the product team, which kind of put it in the right places and kind of created Apester as part of the native app or web applications. The revenue was higher. Then we just showed them, “Yes, I know that you’re looking for revenue [inaudible 01:01:53] publishing side. Look at the numbers that we generate when people actually utilize Apester the right way. For us, I think this is still a challenge, but it’s always the one thing we not just aspire to, we believe that it’s a necessity to succeed.
Andrew: I told you we have a partnership with Ahrefs, which is an SEO research tool. But it helps to give me insight into what people are doing with their businesses. I put your site into Ahrefs, I went to top pages to see what are the top pages on your site, and interestingly it’s a bunch of what you guys, I guess, created at one point, discover.apester.com?
Andrew: And it’s a bunch of people’s creations of, I guess, pages with these different widgets on them. And I had a sense that as I looked at that, what you probably thought was, “What if we become a destination site?” People really like these experiences where you just tap, tap, tap and move. What if we enable anyone to create it? We give them a page with all their creations, just like they share photos on Instagram, they share text on Twitter. On Apester they could share their interactive stories and people are going to be maybe better at creating them than businesses are, and definitely better than we are. And it seems like you went for it, people created it, and then you just said, “It’s not working.” And you started to deprecate it. Am I right?
Moti: Yeah, you’re right. Absolutely right.
Andrew: Why didn’t it work?
Moti: I don’t think it didn’t necessarily work, but, again, it got me to the point which I understood that if I wanted to do it the right way, I needed to focus much more on that as well and put more resources. One of my, I think my good and the bad that I have is that I have a lot of ideas. I always want to create more stuff. But more stuff and more ideas is a lack of focus. Lack of focus is the number one killer of every business and startup. It’s still [inaudible 01:03:52]. It’s still a hunt for me. I still believe that it could happen, what you just described, but I just pause it for a minute and say, “Okay, I must focus on the platform and the B2B2C approach to make consumers successful. Then after I build it, I can think about the B2C approach.”
Andrew: Okay, that makes sense. All right. It does make sense. And what I like about it, just because I happen to be using Ahrefs for it, I can see the SEO power of it too. That the random things that people might be looking for, and this is not what you want to rank for necessarily, but I don’t know what “Pedogate” was but I guess it was some kind of news story. You guys got to rank, you got traffic from that. And then I saw people create these experiences for Meghan Markle, is that her name? The princess. When she got married, there was a thing. When she was getting pregnant, there was a thing.
All right, I get how all that worked out. Let me close it out with this: our producer asked you, “What’s one thing that we should be talking about that we haven’t?” And you said, “Well, I think we should be explaining to people that the landscape in media has changed.” What is the change that you’ve seen? Where do you see it going?
Moti: I think the change was due to many factors. Due obviously to mobile and social, which the combination of both of them was vicious in many ways, because in one day almost the big media companies lost their distribution channels when social came. And it became the gate to the internet. And not just that, they also lost the way they used to engage with the audience. Papers, newspapers, when they went to desktop it was kind of almost the same thing. Quite similar.
Andrew: I see. So you’re saying when we went to digital from paper, there was a new experience with a publisher like, let’s say, TechCrunch. You thought, “I’m going to TechCrunch’s website. I’m going to experience the article there.” Some people would use an RSS reader, but for the most part people are going to the site and reading it. Once you go to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to experience the news, then TechCrunch loses a lot. They can’t add features that they want. They can’t follow up the way that they want. It’s up to the algorithm, etc. Okay, this is a big change that has happened over the last few years.
Moti: It was a huge change. Not just the consumer dynamics, it’s also changed the way I think the cost actual of the business should look like and the way that you do the business. You cannot hold the same costs actual you used to have as a big publisher or media company.
Andrew: You mean what? You have to reduce expenses or you have to change them?
Moti: Yes, yes. I think in the beginning most of them needed to reduce their expenses. First and foremost. Again, just stop losing money and getting to work with the same approach. Then stick to the rules of what they do best. Think about the content they want to produce and think about how they package it the right way in order to reach their audience. And fiercely fight for their own distribution channels. Their own direct distribution channels. Because when you’re working at a business and you’ve lost all distribution, and you rely on third-party distribution, you are by nature a hostage of the distribution channel. They can kill you in one day. You need to keep it in mind, and every business has their own different attitude to it, but I think it should be something you constantly put on your list. I need to build direct distribution to my consumers.
Andrew: What does direct distribution mean? Beyond having a website, what does it mean?
Moti: Having a website is not direct distribution. I mean, the website is just your presence. You need a way to reach those consumers. So on one hand, for instance, a newsletter, an email list that you build based on many things you can try to collect and then build it [inaudible 01:07:52]. Secondly, you have to think about how you’re producing media experiences like native apps that produce something that can be related to the audience you’re trying to attract. Then get them incentivized to go to your website, main app, etc. You can think about many podcasts obviously. It’s a great way to create your own direct distribution. [Inaudible 01:08:18] I would say a way to build audiences so eventually you can influence them to go to whatever destination you are and whatever product you sell. Not just media. I think it’s necessary for every digital business, which today is basically almost everyone.
Andrew: All right, that makes sense. I’m noticing, for example, Gary Vaynerchuk, who’s huge on social, I sense for a long time his approach was, “Don’t bother with your own experience. Just give yourself into social.” What I’m seeing now is, yes, he does have an email list but what he’s pumping the most is text messages. Text me, text me, text me. Even in his videos on Instagram, at the top is, “Here’s my number, text me.” Once you text him, then he starts to tell you about the stuff that he’s doing, bringing you to his website, sometimes bringing you to his social experiences, and he’s got his new wine library text . . . no, it’s Text Wine? WineText?
Moti: I think Text Wine.
Andrew: Text Wine. Where he’ll text you a new wine offer. Got it, all right. So that’s what you’re saying. Think directly and it’s frankly much harder than going to Instagram and letting them do it. Or even YouTube and letting their algorithm find people, but it gives you a longer term relationship with your customers.
Moti: I must say, it’s not one against the other. I think you must have the approach of how you’re supporting both of them. You’re supporting the existing channels that consumers are at like social and YouTube. One instance is Shopify or Amazon if you’re an e-commerce store. But you should always find a way to create a direct approach as well. Think about . . . because also you need to look and quantify the time to ROI and the ROI for those direct, which eventually would be of much more benefit than using third-party distribution [inaudible 01:10:08].
Andrew: All right, for anyone who wants to go check it out, the website is Apester. If you’re even a small publisher, they’ve got a free plan so you can go and experience it, put it on your site.
Moti: I apologize for stopping you, Andrew. I think it’s also for any brand and website owner that want to make their audience more engaged and it eventually leads them to better conversions.
Andrew: You know what I like? I love the video at the top of your screen. What is that? The video that you guys have right now, it’s, like, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un sitting there. Is that the type of experience that we could create on our site or is that just a video that you created for yourselves to talk about what you do?
Moti: I think it wasn’t even talking about what we do. There is an element of trying to show the collage experience. You can collage many things through a visual . . .
Andrew: Oh, I could do that within Apester?
Moti: Yeah. Not in that quality, I must be honest, but this one we created with Apester. Then we build kind of after-effect in order to make it super shiny . . .
Andrew: Okay. But I could create a collage experience. So if I don’t have somebody nodding or shaking their head “no,” I could use a collage to move their heads. Got it. Your site does have really nice style to it. I like it a lot. All right, it’s apester.com for anyone who wants to go check it out, experience it for yourself. After you see it, you’ll start to notice that it’s been on a few sites that you’ve been on and maybe didn’t realize who did it. Now you’ve got a sense of who it is.
Moti Cohen, thank you so much for being in here, and thank you very much to my two sponsors who made this interview happen. If you’re hiring developers, it’s toptal.com/mixergy. If you’re building a website for your business, for your idea, for your, I don’t know, wedding even now people need a website. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Great price, easy to use. Thanks, Moti.
Moti: Andrew, thank you very much. It was a pleasure.
Andrew: Same here. Bye. Bye everyone.