Andrew: Hey, they’re freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And joining me is someone whose company I’ve watched for years. It’s called big think. And I remember when I realized how incredible their original video, one of my guests, Jason freed founder of base camp, uh, did a session with them.
And he wasn’t just proud to show his video. And again, this is a site that was, Victoria, who are some of the big guests that you had on in the early days, who are, who were speaking on camera.
Victoria: Unbelievably in the very early days we had Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Larry Summers, who was the former treasury secretary. Dozens of others really? Um, mobi, interestingly enough was one of our first
Andrew: Henry Rollins.
Victoria: Henry Rollins. Yes. You’re naming people that I’ve even forgotten have been
Andrew: we’re talking about musicians, um, business people, uh, people who lead countries, they were on the platform. And so Jason fried. Jason freed was proud to be associated with them, but he was also proud of the look of the video. One of the things that Victoria did was she created this beautiful white background, beautiful white, everything.
Everything was almost disappearing except for the big thinker who was on camera isolated with nothing but their, their thoughts. And so Jason was so proud of how he looked of who he was with. He shared it. He also was proud of the process that they took to record it. It was just this incredible process.
And I realized something, what they brought to online video, which at the time was full of just junk. It was people who are posting these 32nd clips of a boy whose finger was bitten by his brother. It was cute and viral, but it was meaningless. She was bringing gravitas. She was bringing big ideas. She was bringing big personalities would want to be in books, not on, on online video.
And she was turning it into a business. And over the years I kept an eye on the business and there are a couple of things that have been wondering about how they grew as a content business, how they raise money and so on. And so when I heard that Victoria, Montgomery Brown, one of the co-founders of big thing wrote a book, I read it and I thought I was going to read all the ins and outs of the business, Victoria, what you did with your book, digital goddess, the unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur was you talked about everything that I can get entrepreneurs to easily talk about on Mixergy, nervous, breakdowns, relationship problems, eggs, who talks about that. The dude who showed up in a, in a bathrobe anyway. So I really like the book I read it cover to cover. I kept wanting to get up to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t, because I to read what happens with these eggs, what happens with this guy anyway, and bite her here to talk about the big. That is not the type of exit we’re talking about people.
All right. We’re going to find out about all that. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re hiring developers, you know, to go to top talent.com/mixergy. And the second, if you want to get people that come to your site and make sure that they really are qualified to, uh, talk to your salespeople and that you can actually get convert, I’m making it sound like too much of a business tool.
You guys are going to see how amazing outgrow is, but I’ll talk about outgrow later. Along with top cow, first, Victoria gets heavier.
Victoria: thank you so much.
Andrew: What you didn’t talk about in digital goddess? As far as I could tell is revenue, how much revenue that’s pulling in.
Victoria: Well, I’m not really at Liberty to say that, but quite a significant amount. I mean, we have been a business that’s been focused on being a business from day one. We were never a tech darling. Um, so we’ve never raised a ton of VC money we’ll be focused on is building a viable business and
Andrew: Mean, give me a ballpark, by the way, you did raise money from prejudice and incredible people. I want to ask you about Peter teal. Um, but give me a ballpark. Are we talking about one to 5 million, five to 15? Any kind of sense would give me an understanding of how you have it go over five and profitable at this point?
Yes. From advertising and
Victoria: Well, so no, we’ve, uh, we’ve a multi-tiered business model. Um, it started off as branded content, essentially a PBS type model because. We didn’t have an audience. We had no traffic. And so what were people advertisers? We’re not going to be putting ads on our site if we didn’t have anybody to look at them.
So it started off as sponsorships. So the likes of Intel would sponsor content that we would already be creating and they would be allowed to put their brand up alongside their brand up alongside it. Never advertorial. That’s been a clear, a clear way for us. We never advertise for, um, sponsors or anything like that.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, Brandon, I, that was impressive too. That you would get companies to pay you just to be associated with your brand because you built it so well, people you’re going to see in my ad read for top towel for alcohol, I’m going to give a URL because it’s not branded advertising. Yes. They like the, the brand lift that they get from being associated with me.
But yeah. Like most online advertising, they want to know how much is Andrew converting and is it worth it or not? And I like that you had such a good brand that other brands wanted to be associated with. You. You mentioned other types of revenue sources. Tell me about those. What else is there?
Victoria: Yeah. So branded contents or sponsorship. Took a huge nose dive around 2002. We always knew that we wanted to get into the subscription business. The question was how having limited resources, but with. Big downturn. Sometimes major innovation is forced. And so we created something called big think edge, which was, or still is essentially learning content for professional development.
And so there’s no overlap between the public content on big thing.com and what is available on Facebook. And it started off the companies, organizations would license some of this content for soft skill learning. Inside for their, their employees at all levels of an organization. Um, and so let’s say we had already mentioned it before, but Larry Summers off we’d have a portion of his content that would be available publicly.
And then some content that was specifically designed for professional development. So how to make difficult decisions or something like that. And then the third revenue stream in the last few years has been advertising because we do have significant enough traffic. That we can bring in meaningful revenue for it.
Um, so those are the three shared revenue stream. We do license some content, but that’s much less meat.
Andrew: I think edge only $50 a year per, per seat, per license. Right?
Victoria: That’s right. And that’s the B to C. So business to consumer version of it. The B2B is where we primarily focus, but we had such significant interest from individuals who were not part of companies that wanted access to it, that we created the consumer version. I think it’s pretty excellent. And we update it all the time.
Andrew: It’s the revenue breakdown between membership and advertising.
Victoria: So the advertising is probably about a quarter of our revenue and the rest is subscription.
Andrew: I saw who was it? Uh, there, Brian Cranston is on the platform on big think edge. Does he get paid or is he doing this because he’s being interviewed
Victoria: He does not get
Andrew: and then part of the content goes to edge.
Victoria: Right. And none of our experts here to four have been paid because we’re a mission driven company. We’re not raking in money, hand over fist, or our mission is to help our audience be exposed to these individuals. And so while a company like masterclass is specifically focused on the bottom line, We need to be cognizant of that, but we’re much more focused on, are we helping people and exposing our experts to our audience?
Andrew: So that’s essentially my model here. It makes her Jeep, but what you brought in was this Hollywood design, right from the start. When most people couldn’t watch frickin videos online, you were starting already to establish yourself as a brand that people would want to take pay attention. To my sense is it comes from you wanting to be in Hollywood right before this, what were you doing?
Victoria: Good reading. Good reading. Um, I did work in Los Angeles before business school, and I initially thought that I. I wanted to run a studio, which is lofty dreams for somebody who was an assistant. But I realized that this was not ultimately what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be focused on content. That was a little more thoughtful and not about.
Entirely how much of this movie going to make? I remember when I was working at a specific place Scooby-Doo four or something like that was put on my desk to read. It was like, well, this is what the rest of my life is going to look like professionally. I don’t think so. So I left that end of things and still was passionate about content, but a different sort of content.
Andrew: Was Wikipedia. Right. Did you meet your co-founder while you were digitizing old tapes of Charlie Rose?
Victoria: That is right. Well, I didn’t meet him there. I, he was with me when we were doing, I found Peter, uh, never worked with anybody else, but me actually. And. He graduated from Harvard in 2004 and came to start working with me then, and maybe much to his chagrin. I’m the only person he’s ever worked with since
Andrew: And the only person fired him then.
Victoria: well, I didn’t fire him. I’ve never fired
Andrew: Oh, I thought maybe. Okay. All right. We’ll get to that. Hopefully later on Charlie Rhodes was another one whose content was really good online in the beginning, he would have just him in an interview. I remember going to Google videos, the only reason to go to Google video before they acquired YouTube, because it was just solid stuff.
Working there, working in Hollywood, working, working with people who are pros. What did you, what did you learn that you were able to bring back to big thing? What did you acquire there?
Victoria: Yeah. Learned most fundamentally was that if you ask for things, people will often give them to you. I mean, I was a, not an unknown entity, a first time entrepreneur and. If you create something or are trying to create something that it has broad appeal that is not politically driven, that is not gossipy or whatever people typically want to participate.
And the people that I learned from had done something like that, and none of them were born from huge amounts of means or anything like that. And I just realized. If you have something that people want to have or to see or an idea for it, you can make it happen with very limited resources.
Andrew: What do you mean? How did you learn that? Where did you learn that?
Victoria: I mean, well, first of all, I in high school, this is random, but I worked after school as telemarketer and I’m telemarketing for ridiculous things like Canadian center for victims of torture. Who’s going to give them money to that. Well, some people will, if you’re convincing enough and it just, I just realized that if you ask for things and do it in a way that is authentic and humble, people will help.
And I don’t know that it was specifically any of my bosses that taught me that it was just like along the way. And I’ve never been somebody that denies the fact that I am not the brightest person or. You know, the most confidence, but I am somebody that wants to achieve things and will do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Andrew: Okay. So your vision for big think was we’re going to get big thinkers whose ideas actually matter, who would inspire people, who we didn’t before have access to online. You’re going to bring them online. You’re going to create video of their best ideas, and you’re going to monetize it through advertising.
It seems like you knew from the beginning, it was going to be branded advertising. You wanted to get a. You want to raise money? I’m assuming, because the cameras were pretty fricking expensive that you were setting up. Um, let’s talk about Peter teal. What, what was it like? Did you get to go to his house to meet him?
Victoria: Well, we went to, at that stage, she was living in the newly constructed Bloomberg. Is it tower or building whatever. Um, and we went over, he was not the first person who would agree to invest in big sinks. That was the lead investor, David Frankel. But anybody who’d been interested in investing in big things said, yeah, but we need some.
Other basically reputable people to do so as well. So once we had a few people lined up David Frankel being the lead investor, Larry Summers had said that he would invest Tom Scott who founded Nantucket nitrous and said he would invest. Peter Hopkins reached out to Peter teal and we went over to his then home apartments.
And yeah, we sat on a couch and pitched him on the idea and he liked it.
Andrew: Why did he like it?
Victoria: At the time YouTube had just recently come to fore and there was so much crap, um, in the offing and potentially going to be in the offing that something that was focused on knowledge learning was differentiated. And he likes that. He also liked that. I think we were too scrappy people that had not been entrepreneurs before, who were not afraid to come to somebody like him.
And ask them to invest.
Andrew: about this at the time, the belief was that content is a hits and what is it hits and misses business, or it. You you it’s, it’s a hits driven business and it’s really hard to find the hits. It’s better to own a platform where you have a bunch of other people vying to create the hits, then be the person trying to make the hits.
And so investors were trying to stay away from that. How did, did you have to deal with any of that?
Victoria: Well, well, we presented it as is that we Peter and I, and our team at that point, we’re not trying to create. New original content. What we were working to do was to present the expertise of these incredible people in their own words in short form, evergreen way. And so we were not creating stars. These people already existed, and it was just a matter of disseminating the knowledge that they had in a way that was palatable.
So we didn’t have to deal with that because it wasn’t like going into pitch meetings, which I’ve been in before, where it’s like, imagine this. And we will create a show about this. It’s like, no, these people have knowledge and they’re ready to share it. So let’s do it.
Andrew: Okay. So I see you, you were able to raise money, but you also say in your book that female entrepreneurs, I think you say all have stories, horror stories about sexism and so on. I’d like to hear
Victoria: I don’t know if they all
Andrew: maybe. Yeah. I don’t, I don’t want to generalize. I don’t want to say all, but I don’t remember the exact phrase, but you did say it was pretty common. You talk about this one guy who meets you in a bathrobe in Toronto. I wish you’d tell us who this person is. Would you tell me in private, after the interview is over, you would. Okay, good. I do think we should be talking about who these people are. Um, talk about what happened with this person.
Victoria: so my goodness, me, I’m so glad you brought this up. I’d almost forgotten this story. It was early on when we were trying to raise money and I was born and raised until I was 18 or so in Toronto. And I was racking my brain about who might be interested in investing in this potential startup. And again, this is advice I would give to anybody think way outside the box.
This is somebody who, when I was a kid and a major network and. I reached out to him sight on scene. He had no idea who I was and he agreed to meet with me. And I went over my dad and in fact it drove me there. That was probably 26 or 27 at the time, drove me to his house in Toronto. And he opened the door.
Yes. And a bathrobe. And it’s not the bathroom wearing first. And most people are probably thinking of, um, But he invited me in and offered me a 10 or 11 in the morning, a shot of vodka. I declined, uh, and got down to business and he ultimately did not invest, but it was certainly an interesting experience.
And this is something so un-PC that people will probably bash me women, especially, but I think you can control your own environment and unless the person is getting physically aggressive with you. You don’t have to partake or do anything that anybody suggests that you need to get.
Andrew: Yeah. So he offered you a drink vodka. He offered you weed. You said no to that too. He, in my mind, he comes in a bathrobe and does all that. He’s clearly looking at a party with you. He’s looking to see, is this going to be a date? And you’re saying to me that you were still able to keep him focused on the investment making decision without you were.
Victoria: Because I think that we all have, I mean, women, especially. A choice in moments like that, where it’s like, okay, I can maybe get, when I think I, I came here to get by taking on. I don’t know the, the, the presentation that they’re presenting me and going along with that, we’re completely, almost ignoring it and being oblivious.
And that’s what I did. I was like, I’m pretending I don’t even see this. And this guy can be in a bathroom and offering me vodka and smoking weed. And I’m just gonna. Assume I’m in a board room and keep talking. And that’s what I did. And I think ultimately it made him uncomfortable and probably garnered more respect for me versus being what I think he had hoped like the intimidated young woman, who’d be like, Oh my God, this guy is a powerhouse and I need to do whatever it takes to get this guy on my side.
And if, if he fucks with me, he’s going to start ruin the business before it’s off the ground. I’ve never thought that way. And I had this notion, I don’t know where it came from, but if I were to acquiesce anything of the above, it would be more likely for me not to have an investment than if I were to parties.
Andrew: Oh, yeah, I agree. I do. Uh, all right. Um, I’m impressed. I’m impressed that you were able to do it. You know, my approach would be to say, What are you wearing bathrobe now? Isn’t it. I have to bring up whatever is in front of me. What do you think of that approach? Would that have worked to say who meets in a bathrobe?
What’s what are you trying to do here?
Victoria: Well, I think the question then would have been, what is the ultimate objective is the objective to emerge with somebody who’s going to be on your side, whether or not they invest and not. Try to question, um, or is it to slap the person down and, you know, I wouldn’t have had a fear of saying, Hey dude, what’s that?
Why the hell are you in a bathrobe? But I think that that probably would have ultimately made him an antagonist of mine and to no
Andrew: You know what? That’s a good point. When you say, say, what is your ultimate objective? I have to remember. My objective is in this situation, we’re talking about raising money. My objective is not always the one that I end up pursuing. I end up pursuing. I’m just curious. And I want to let everyone know that I’m just going to speak my mind, but you’re right.
That’s not the objective of the moment. Andrew stay focused. All right. Speaking of staying focused, you were eventually able to raise how much money.
Victoria: 1.4 million in 2007.
Andrew: Impressive. I love also how you CA you said, I kept looking at the bank account. It feels like, and you say this in your book, digital goddess. It feels like somebody just gave me an hourglass and a little at a time, a grain at a time is going down and I have to just look at it and be aware. And so you say I went to the Apple store.
I bought the cheapest max that we could get from the Apple store. You also bought camera equipment, right?
Victoria: So if I were to start a business or a big thing today, The investments would probably be required a ton less. In fact, I might’ve done it without investment, but back in 2007, the equipment was really expensive and we wanted to have top notch experts on and they were not going to come in front of a shitty little.
Handheld whatever. And so we had to get good equipment and same with the website. We wanted to feature these people in a way that they would be proud of. And so that then development, developers and development companies were super expensive. So we needed to raise the money. Then today I’m not so sure we would have had to.
Andrew: right. You probably wouldn’t. But, um, the cameras or what did it, how much did you spend on cameras? What was the camera situation that Jason freed was so enamored by
Victoria: Oh, my gosh, I can’t remember how much they cost, but they were expensive. Um, what was, he was probably so enamored all was the fact that we have always been about the experts, not about the person interviewing them. So I think I might’ve interviewed Jason. Not sure so long ago, but it was all about the expert.
And so the interviewer would be sitting away from them in the same room, but not in a way that they could see them, except we lifted. I don’t know if that’s the right word. We emulated Errol Morris and used his Interra Tron style of interviewing. That was what was one of the most expensive things was
Andrew: that mean in Terra, Tron?
Victoria: so like you and I are doing right now via zoom.
You can see pretty much into my eyes. I can see into yours. This was novel technology back then. And so we had to do was create essentially a camera that could see the interviewer and the interviewee was looking directly into the eyes of the interviewer. Uh, but the interviewer was not being captured on film.
So that’s an interpreter on an Errol Morris developed that, so that there’s intimacy without being. Exactly approximate because the temptation, if the, if the interviewer is beside the person, like on 60 minutes or something is to look at the person, which means you’re not actually looking directly into the camera and we did not want the interviewer to have any role in the content at all, and to be all about the expert.
So this was something novel that Errol Morris came up with that we, that we put to practice.
Andrew: Got it. And so the person was always looking directly at the camera, but instead of imagining, there was a person they were talking to, they were actually seeing a video of the person superimposed on top of the camera lens, so to speak and talking to a person. And then also the lighting was phenomenal that you were able to eliminate everything except for the speaker.
What did you do for that?
Victoria: Well, so we it’s very, it was very simple, just a white backdrop. Um, And we had three, two cameras to start three went on to three. So we had different angles, super simple, nothing complex about it. It was just about how do we get this person and their face as clear as possible.
Andrew: Okay. I’m with you now on, on the process, I understand about the pains of the first day where the battery of the microphone didn’t work. What I’m curious about then is could you tell us how you got the first guests when you had nothing, no website, no, nothing, no past experience. How’d you get the first guest and who was that?
Victoria: Well, we had, it was one full day of filming. We had three guests on the first day, so. Robert Thurman who, um, his father Thurman, who is a Buddhist scholar and the first, first three guests were literally about timing, Peter and I were reaching out to hundreds of people a day via email. Um, and so as it happened, Robert Thurman, um, mobi, and I think it was Larry Summers were the first three.
And. It was just a matter of timing, but we had already had dozens of people who said that they wanted to participate in it. It was just a question of when, and what I will say is that it’s sort of like a rolling stone. Everybody’s going to ask who’s done it before at that stage, the answer was nobody.
Can I see your website? We don’t have one yet. And it’s then all about the mission. Why will they want to do something that nobody else has done before? Um, That in itself is something to that you, that somebody can exploit and make exciting versus like you’re going to be the hundredth person. No, it’s like, you’re going to be number one or number two for this really cool new thing.
Um, and then here’s what our mission is. And we hope we’re going to reach a, reach a wide audience because of people like you. So it was much easier than you might think. To help people be smarter, faster. So not about opinion about politics, literally. How can your knowledge help me or somebody else be better personally?
Andrew: I thought that maybe with Moby the superstar musician, I thought maybe he was an investor or had connection to an investor. That’s not true. It was just some friend of yours happened to have his email address. And then you pitched him out of the blue.
Victoria: That is exactly right. And that’s the large majority of people who’ve been on big things over the years, especially in the early days where we reached Kohl’s and we either guests, their email figured out a way to get in contact with them. We rarely went through agents or publicity, people at all. It was directly contacting them and.
Talking to them about what we wanted to do with big think and hoping that they wanted to be involved would want to get involved.
Andrew: Novel people want to try it to just see what it could be. It feels different. It feels interesting. Even podcasting for me, the early guests were saying no, because it was different or yes, because it was different and it was, uh, I could see the impact of it. I feel like today to be the millionth person saying, I want to do a zoom based interview with someone would be harder.
But imagine if you were to say, I want to do a virtual reality interview with you, Moby, would you be open to us having cameras all around you we’ll ask you questions. And for years to come, people will be able to feel like they’re in the room with you. What are you? I think of that,
Victoria: That would be super cool.
Andrew: right? Education. That’s that immersive? Get out of your world and get into the into Moby’s house. But am I right about the motivation having done this now, as often as you have that, that is part of it,
Victoria: What is part of the motivation?
Andrew: novelty of the technology or the approach that the millionth person to say, I’m going to bring these cameras into your office is not going to get the same, same, same enthusiasm as you got the million person to say, I’m going to do a zoom based interview. The way that I do now is not going to get the same yes for Moby, but it’s the first few people.
Are hitting their guests with something novel, which what, which is what attracts them, or frankly, even repulses them. I don’t want to deal with this because it’s so different.
Victoria: I think you’re exactly right. And I think in our instance, um, what was on the internet at this moment, at that moment in video was long form entire shows or something like that. I don’t know what possessed us to come up with the notion that we would have bite-size clips of people. So while we may have somebody like Ted Kennedy in our studio for an hour and get an hour of content from him, we would edit it into short form.
And we pitched our experts on this and saying, look, they’re going to watch the entire. Clip of you. It’s not good. They’re not going to fade out. And I think they liked that as well, realizing that people have shorter attention spans and an hour investment was a big deal at the time.
Andrew: I want to talk about my first sponsor, then I’m gonna to come back. I’m gonna ask you about how you got your first sponsor. And then I want to know about how at one point somebody was pitching me, Andrew, you should take your content, turn it into clips, and then we will put it on other people’s sites and do this whole you’ll basically get paid to.
To run your content. And they said, big thing is doing it. You should do it too. I go, well, I don’t think it’s the same, but man, big thing is doing good stuff. All right. My first sponsor is a company called agro. Get this. The founder of outgrow told me that he used to run this development shop. Creating apps.
And he said, everybody wanted to know how much does it cost to, to build an app. And so they would call the salespeople and waste their money in time and said, there’s gotta be a better way. So we created an app calculator. You just go, when you say, do you need a login screen or not? Do you want this many buttons or not?
Whatever it is, you fill it all out for you. You’re with me. And then you press a button. And you get a price and then if you like it, you can talk to salespeople and they’ll build it for you for the price. So now it’s salespeople only had qualified people coming in. He thought this was just going to get rid of all the riffraff.
We’re just trying to figure out how much apps costs. He put it on the internet. Trey, this fricking thing went viral. People started putting it up on different sites saying if you want to know how much an app costs, here’s a simple calculator. You don’t have to think about it. You can just do it. And suddenly he had this thing that was supposed to scream customers out.
And not only did it screen out the wrong customers, it also started bringing in a lot of other people into it. It was so good. He said, why is nobody else doing this? And you realize, Oh, they don’t have development chops to do. It says, well, we do. So we created a builder, a really drag and drop super simple way for anyone to create these titles.
So calculators. Oh, I see. You’re writing it down, Victoria. You should.
Victoria: I am totally writing it down.
Andrew: He came up with a site called outgrow. And what it does is it creates it. So you imagine around the time that the government was offering PPP loans to businesses, I remember trying to figure it out. What are we entitled to based on how many people we had, how much we paid them.
What about my salary? What about rent? This whole thing? I actually have a finance guy who I work with. I asked him, he said, Andrew, here’s a number. And that’s what I applied for. You can imagine if we went to outgrow. I should have done this, but I know that outgrow at the time, go to outgrow, wait a calculator where people just fill in a few questions, hit a button and they say, here’s how much you get.
Now, if I did this for Mixergy, all those people were filling in information would have given me there email address too, which means that they would’ve gone to my mailing list. And obviously they’re business owners who have teams because they’re trying to apply for this government loan. They all would have been great for my email list.
The point I’m making is you create these functional forms, quizzes, calculators, et cetera, using outgrow it’s as easy as creating a website, except this thing now becomes a thing that people start to pass to others and becomes your lead magnet. If you’re out there and you want to use this for yourself, don’t just go to outgrow.
If you go to outgrow.com/mixergy, they’re gonna let you just try this thing for free. For many people, this free version is just going to be enough to get them the orders, to get them the leads, get them, the customers they want. For others, they’re going to decide, you know, what I want to stay on with this forever.
And outgrow has got really low prices, but they’re going to let you use it for free right now. It’s outgrow.co/mixergy. It’s out. Oh, people keep saying I talk too fast. Outgrow is O U T G R O w dot C O slash M I N E R G Y. And I’m grateful to them for sponsoring. Sorry. See, this is the type of advertising most of the internet does you decided we’re going to do branding.
How’d you get your first branding advertiser.
Victoria: so we had to basically tied at the same time, but I’ll talk about SAP and GE, which were very, very early on. Here’s the deal being a small scrappy startup can seem like a downfall, but actually it has its pluses. So MSNBC wanted to get these two clients. The sponsors, the point is that it was too small amount of money for them.
And so they brought in big thing. Well, we pitched ourselves and so big thing created all of the content and the distribution was on msnbc.com and big thing. Because they would not have had the bandwidth to do it. And so it was literally about luck of being small at that point. And those were our first two
Andrew: So MSNBC had sponsors wanted a certain kind of content. They didn’t have time to create it. They said, but you know what? This production company is. That’s how they were seeing you. Right. Could do it now. I get it. What I wonder then is how did MSNBC know about you? Why did they trust you? What’s how did that happen then?
Victoria: Well, one of the jobs of being an entrepreneur and founder is constantly thinking about making money. So I had been pitching companies like MSNBC because I knew that there was probably opportunity there, like the kinds that I just mentioned. And so when an opportunity arose. They had my digits or whatever you would say and reached out.
Um, but we have been laying the groundwork at a number of news organizations for things like it.
Andrew: I remember one thing you said in your book was always say, if you’re an entrepreneur state in the present, I am an entrepreneur. So I’m guessing you didn’t have a website. You didn’t have advertisers, but you were saying, I am running this company that write and use describes what you were going to build as a present life that exists right now.
Victoria: Absolutely. And so for SAP and G is like, here’s what we do. And here’s what we will do for you. Here’s what we’re currently doing. Like, I’m sure if they took five minutes and went to try and find our website, there would have been nothing there, but who cares? They already had it in their mind that we could do these things.
Andrew: You want it to get speaking of websites, the big think.com. What happened when you tried to get that?
Victoria: So this was my first lesson in, uh, basically content ownership. We thought the big thing would be, would have been much better because there weren’t a ton of websites out there. So having that in front of it seems fancy. Couldn’t get it. Um, we tried it, it turned out to be owned by some Australian person maybe still owns it never responded.
So the next best thing we felt was big thing. And we negotiated with, uh, South Koreans to get it. And we paid, I think it was 32 or $34,000 back then, which was a large portion of the money that we raised, but we bought it. And while it seemed like a drawback at the time, big thing is far better than dubbing thing.
And the way that Facebook thought that it wanted to be the Facebook or the Facebook.
Andrew: I went back to see what was on the site. It was one of those cheapo link sites that the Google hated because basically every link on the site was some kind of affiliate paid per click type of thing. There was inc there was a in cartridges, air, airplane, tickets, et cetera. So if you end up on big things.com back in 2004, you’re basically being hustled off to some kind of advertiser.
They wanted a hundred thousand dollars for the site. How did you get them down to 30?
Victoria: Well, first of all, we would never have paid a hundred thousand, even though maybe we should have, it was just about, I was constantly, I never spoke to them on email with them and we compromised. And after a few weeks they agreed. I don’t remember how we exactly got it, but it was just like, we are going no, no, no higher than this.
And we have other options and they finally raised.
Andrew: I’m glad we’re doing this by video, because I could see your smile of recognition. As I told you about the person who pitched me on taking clips from Mixergy, putting it up on the internet and then having advertisers on it, because he said, look, con uh, content companies don’t want more ads. They can’t support more ads in their margin, but if they have content that happens to have ads, then they could do it.
And video and video is especially compelling. You did that deal. What was, what was that deal? Oh, I guess there are other talk to me about how you got exposure and the more creative ways to get people to watch your videos, I guess, is what I’m getting at.
Victoria: Well, we’re very lucky. As, as I mentioned in the book before we launched, we had notable, um, investors and. We pitched the foun. The New York times somehow caught wind of the fact that we had raised a little bit of money. And because of these exceptional people, Larry Summers, as being the primary one, they did a story on us.
This is not something that you can plan for pitch for. That was just luck. And a lot of exposure happens to be luck. Then the other way that we got exposure was the fact that we had incredible experts on and putting somebody like Ted Kennedy, one of his last interviews we ever, he ever did was on big thing, immediately draws attention.
Um, so that has nothing to do with Peter or I, or our business acumen. It has to do with the fact that we were working with top notch experts who had their own audiences.
Andrew: But after that you had to grow the audience on your own. What else did you do to grow the audience?
Victoria: We obviously did back in the early days, email lists and stuff, SEO was not much of a known thing. So we weren’t investing in search engine optimization. What we were doing was having events, um, a lot in-person events to bring word of mouth. Working with, um, other organizations, like, as I said, MSNBC, YouTube, we pitched.
So they started the feature, big thing, content on YouTube. It was really about figuring out the right partners early on or any partner that would show our content. Because if you don’t have your own audience, you better find others who have an audience and show it there.
Andrew: Ah, you know what? So that’s how there was a period there where YouTube just kept recommending big thing. It was you contacting YouTube saying we’re on your platform. Help us out, give us exposure. And my guess is. Um, it was YouTube saying we want to show people the type of content that we want more of in the book.
Um, no filter the Instagram story, which I freaking loved, talked about how much Kevin Systrom spent time finding the types of creators that he wanted as role models for others and featuring them on the app, Instagram account as a way of highlighting what he wants other people to come to the site with.
And. I can see that you reached out, you’ve talked, you said, come help us out. And you had the content that made sense for them. I write about that.
Victoria: you’re exactly right.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I’m with you so far on how, how you got content, you were mentioning the events events. Were they ever a big revenue draw for you? They seem to be
Victoria: They weren’t big revenue draw. They’re so challenging and, and entering the event space is, is not for the faint of heart, honestly, because it, one, one guest can screw up an entire event if they don’t show up or whatever, especially they’re a key one. We started off doing events. We did a live event for Pfizer, who was one of our first sponsors breakthrough breakthroughs in science.
So we had notable experts talking about how they came to their breakthroughs. Um, and it was all entirely on big thing to organize the experts, the audience, the distribution that’s, that was not, those were not easy things for us to do, but events are, can be quite lucrative. So we’ve put on probably. 10 or more over the years, we try to shy away from them.
But when you need money, you need money.
Andrew: And you aren’t paying your guests, which actually I think makes sense. There are certain guests who don’t want the money. They don’t need the money. And they actually would be put off by being paid. And if you’re looking to get the people who are not on the speaker circuit, who are just practitioners, who they, they don’t want to get paid, but also they’re busy.
And as you mentioned in your book, um, They sometimes just don’t show up because they have other things going on or their commitments and they aren’t getting paid. Um, but what’s interesting to me about your first event was you said you did it with Pfizer. It seems like Pfizer said we want this type of event.
Can you do that for us? Am I right?
Victoria: We pitched this to them. We had done a short series with them of, um, video content and they saw the types of individuals that we could get. And we thought quite honestly, What more can we get from Pfizer? Not that we’re trying to Sue companies, we really partner with them to help them, but what could more could we do that would yield revenue for us?
And so we thought about live events and they liked that idea. It was also formed, so it was not. So go ahead.
Andrew: What why it was also filmed, so they get more exposure, but why, why does they make medicine? They make drugs. What do they want a live event for?
Victoria: They want to be X. They wanted to be associated with the experts that we would bring on. So it wasn’t a Pfizer scientist. It was somebody, I can’t remember who, but some others who were not associated with Pfizer that would bring gravitas to what Pfizer was doing and an outside perspective versus this is some insider shilling for what we do.
Andrew: Right. Got it. And that is really the benefit, even for us, for me as an interviewer, right? The more I get associated with bigger companies, bigger entrepreneurs, the better it is for my personal brand, which God knows what I’m going to do with my personal brand. I’m not, I’m not a personal brand person.
You’re not a personal brand person. Are you? You’re not a huge on, on social. No.
Victoria: I am not, I’m not even, I think I have an Instagram account, but I never go to it. Um, this is probably one of the things that. The publisher of digital goddesses, not as happy about as the social person, I don’t focus on building an audience that way. What I did focus on was building an audience for big thing, because I thought that it had a tremendous amount of value.
I don’t know that my own brand has any value. I know that the brand of the people who come on big thing.
Andrew: All right. I want to come back in a minute to got to ask you now that we’ve got some rapport here. I want to ask you some personal questions, but first I should say to everyone, who’s listening to me. If you need a developer, you know, because I’ve talked about it for so long that the best place to go is top towel, Victoria, you do hire your own developers at this point.
Victoria: Uh, we have we’ve, we’ve hired loads of our own, but typically to our own detriment, best outsource.
Andrew: really, what’s a, what’s an example of a bad hire. Oh, I love it. In your book, you don’t give people’s names, but you say here’s what a bad hire is. Here’s what’s going on in my head as I’m hiring the bad hire here’s day one. I see I’m going through a mistake and I still don’t stop it. And I love the details of it.
Give me a bad technical hire that you made. Let’s learn from you.
Victoria: We had made dozens of bad technical hires, but the number one reason we’d done, so is because. Peter or I, or the people we were working with at the time were not qualified to evaluate the developer. So how can you hire somebody? Well, if you have no idea what you’re should be asking them, or do you have any expertise in what they do.
Andrew: Yeah, this is where top tile comes in. They have a process for interviewing the developers for having, uh, they won’t even let me talk about how they do it, but they would process for finding great developers and interviewing them to make sure that they really are the best of the best. And then they stand behind them.
So if you Victoria could go back in time and hire top talent, not only will you get a matcher who says, what are you trying to build? And then they go find you someone who’s done it, but also you have a company in top town. I think it’s a billion dollar company that will stand behind the hire. We’re talking about, we’ll give you a URL where yes, everyone knows you go and you use my URL.
You get 80 hours of developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours. But you also are going to get a two week no risk trial period. And the reason you would get that is because they stand behind their developers. So, yes, you’ll hire fast. Yes. You’ll hire great people, but you also have this amazing company standing behind them.
You Victoria can still do this. Anyone out there who’s listening to, we can do this to get the 80 hours of developer credit. All you have to do is go to top talent.com/mixergy, top as top of your head towels and talent.com/mixergy. Do you want to talk about one of your, your terrible hires since we’re kind of on this path right now?
Victoria: Sure. One of them was very early on where I may probably mistake that a lot of people make is focusing on the resume when your gut is telling you that this person is probably not a fit. At least for me, it wasn’t personally. And I was so obsessed with what this woman had achieved. In her professional life that I let all of the feelings that I had about how nasty she was and unpleasant not detract me from hiring her.
And day one was really not great. And six months later, she was still at big things. She ultimately ended up being, let go. And the whole culture of big thing changed much, much for the better once that happens. But this is something that if anybody’s asking my advice, which they are not, but I will give it anyway.
If you have a bad feeling about somebody, let them go. I don’t care how talented they are. It’s not worth working with people that are on lessons.
Andrew: You mentioned that the first day she started, you went to sit next to her to win her over. And you said that should have been the red flag right there. You’re not supposed to win people over after they’ve been there, but there’s something about people who are nasty. They almost make you wanted. Like want to please them.
Th that they’re, that they’re not happy with you yet, but maybe if you could do the right thing, then, then they will be happy with you and then you’ll have one them and you get the reward. Am I right?
Victoria: That’s exactly right. And hopefully I’ve matured since then. And I don’t feel the need to do that, but it is true. Somebody is nasty to you. No matter the situation, there’s a temptation to be like, how can I make this person like me? I hope I’ve grown up of that.
Andrew: Um, what was it, uh, that was in, uh, trying to, Oh, I know. Why don’t we talk now about Michael you’re in, was it Bangkok?
Victoria: Uh, yes, I was in Bangkok and then we went to crabby beach and other part of Thailand,
Andrew: The two of you were dating. You’d been dating for how long at that point.
Victoria: uh, about a year, I guess. What more? Little more than a year. Yeah.
Andrew: And he had a surprise for you there. What was it?
Victoria: Well, he wanted to get engaged, but that did not happen because I had had gone through that experience at the start, a big thing. And anyway, we came back, not as a couple, we did end up eventually getting married and then split up.
Andrew: Wait, what’s the thing that happened before.
Victoria: So, uh, about, I guess, three weeks before big thing launched. Um, I was arrested for a sensibly use of car service and it was a bad thing at the moment.
But as my friend, Tom Scott said to me, not then, but recently the worst thing that happened to me is the best thing that happened to me. And I will say that at that moment, it felt pretty darn bad. Three weeks before lunch for big over our website to be arrested and charged with theft. Um, but for me, it turned out to be something positive because.
I was totally transparent with all of our investors at call it the mall and let them know what happened. I didn’t know if they would walk, be completely angry, totally mistrust me, distrust me, but because I delivered the hard news quickly and worse than it actually was, it led them to trust me even than them to trust me even more and ended up being a positive thing.
But anyway, the point was when I was in Y when I was in Thailand with Michael. I wasn’t sure what the outcome of this situation was going to be. So I was just completely obsessed with it. And that’s,
Andrew: God. And the reason that this happened was, I guess, you left your past job and your boss said to you, what,
Victoria: uh, what are you going to miss most about working here? And I said the car service and he said, you can use it. And I did.
Andrew: and then did he sell you or his company sued you.
Victoria: Um, no, he basically, I don’t quite know how it was orchestrated, but he managed to corral some high-powered New York people at the time, the highest are people, their work time and, uh, put into, into play top of check-in with the NYP D reaching out to have me arrested.
Andrew: Pretty using car service. Would you use specifically talk about any specifically offered? How did that end up settling out? What happened?
Victoria: So I have, you’re not looking at or listening to rather a felon or anything. All of it was totally including the arrest was expunged the right word. There’s no record of it. Um, because it was all complete bullshit, but I did end up having to go to court about 12 times based upon. Who these people were.
And, but anyway, it’s years ago is totally gone, but it was hell when I went through it. And I think I I’m an American have been an American citizen since birth because my dad is American. But I think because I was born in Canada, these people thought that I might, it might possibly be possible for me to be extradited.
This is how crazy the whole situation was.
Andrew: This is just absolute anger. What was his emotional connection to you? That would make him turn on you like this?
Victoria: Um, I don’t know. I think I did a pretty good job for him. I was there for not a long amount of time. Um, I really don’t know. I would say that I’m a very blunt person and I’m not somebody who’s easily intimidated. So that could have been something different than what he was used to working with because a lot of the people that worked with him were very intimidated by him.
And I just wasn’t.
Andrew: All right. I got to guess on that too. Can I ask you after the interview? I don’t want to do it on camera. Can I ask you who this person is
Andrew: Okay. I have, I’ve such a guest based on being in New York. All right. Um, that there were rumors about this person. All right. So you then go off with Michael.
Michael has a good ring for you. He wants that’s to propose he at the last minute says, why am I proposing this person who’s already on? Like, she’s working while we’re on vacation. And the thing just started, he decides not to propose. He eventually does propose you do get married. And then, um, the marriage ends. Okay. I love that you talk about that. Why, why don’t you talk about that? And then why do you talk about freezing your eggs and the difficulty of it? Why are you talking so much about all this stuff in your book?
Victoria: Oh, my God. I sound so miserable.
Andrew: No, you don’t, you know what? You sound, you sound, um, incredibly open without the upside that I could see how it would help anyone who’s reading this.
It feels like what you’re doing is normalizing experiences that a lot of us face. And so it’s great for us. The readers. But I don’t see why what’s the benefit for you? Why would you do this Victoria?
Victoria: I think that it’s really important to be authentic. If you’re going to tell a story about how you became an entrepreneur or how you became anything, there are downsides to every scenario and I’m not somebody that just glosses over that. It has to be for me, at least told. And I think. So many women, young women especially have asked me, what, what was it like for you over the last decades?
Now, 13 years to have been an entrepreneur. And I would say I would do it a hundred percent over again, but there were some tough times. And to be, I don’t really, you can prepare yourself for them, but be cognizant that they’re going to come. And I would want to, if I were, I don’t know, 30 or something like that, and I was reading a book about starting a company, I would want to know that.
Woman had started and made the choice to go and freeze her eggs because she had been so focused on her business that that portion of her life had gone totally by the wayside. I wouldn’t encourage that for other women, but that’s what I did.
Andrew: You were intentionally saying I’m going to put kids and all that on hold so that I can focus on my business. Did you ever go back and Thall the eggs? Did you ever go back and you did didn’t you.
Victoria: I still have frozen eggs, even though I’m a lot older now who knows, I may still use them, but it was, I don’t know what it was an investment in potentially the future that I might like if there’s one thing I could go back and do, I would have invested much more in my personal life. Because I don’t think any businesses worth giving up a family or stuff like that for.
Andrew: Do you think that it would actually help. To have that part of your life. I remember I used to, there was this old wall street journal ad that had a guy in the gym wearing a suit with the wall street journal in his hand. And he said, basically, you could either waste your time here in the gym, or you can do, uh, or you can actually read up on business.
Reading up is better for you. And I that’s the belief I had grown up in New York. That was an, that was a very valid. Um, way to live your life. And then once I started exercising, I realized, yes, it takes up time, but it does make me feel so strong and so powerful, even when things are going to pot, that I could bring that energy back into work and not feel like a loser, but feel stronger because I ran or something and, and feel confident.
Do you feel it could have helped too
Victoria: Um, that it could have helped if I had had kids.
Andrew: or focused on your personal life
Andrew: than you had now?
Victoria: I think that my entire focus on the business life was detrimental, probably long-term to the business and certainly detrimental to my relationships and for a short amount of time, even my relationship with the other founder of big thing, because when somebody is all consumed with one thing, other things start to fall apart and.
I think if I had been more chill for many more years, we probably would have, would have been more successful in the engagements. We had our growth, et cetera, because what is it basically it’s I write this in the book, which was a line that my dad had taught me, which is like, basically if you hold onto something, so tightly, the likelihood that you kill it or destroy it is far more likely than if you just open your hands and let something calm.
Andrew: Okay, I get that. It’s a challenge for me, to be honest with you that I always, I think I, over sweat, it was where I really learned it. Wow. Is my mic just constantly freaking out on you?
Victoria: It’s back now. I went out for a second, but it’s
Andrew: Yeah, that’s scary when that happens. Um, where I learned it was when, um, I had a period of my life after I sold my company where I got to go out and I realized I want to make friends, I want to date.
And if I was trying to date by being like, by being someone who was trying to date, I would just suffocate any chance of a relationship. And if I was trying to make friends by trying to make friends, it wouldn’t work. But if I could just be around people, then. Some of them. I might end up dating some, we might end up becoming friends with, and by putting less pressure on it, I was actually helping it more.
And that was a big, a place where I learned. All right, I got it wrong earlier where I said, I thought you fired one of your employees. I thought there was some, uh, excuse me, your co-founder. I thought there was, it.
Victoria: Wait, he, he left her was excised from the business for a short amount of time because he became addicted to crystal meth. So he would, he’s still a fundamental part, a big thing. But the lesson I learned there was number one that I should have recognized it earlier and done something about it earlier.
And number two. That when you have a break from somebody or somebody needs to take, get help or do something for themselves that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the road. People fuck up all the time. And at least in my instances, there should, there should be the possibility of redemption.
Andrew: Got it. All right. Let’s end on a high note, by the way. Yeah, I love this book because I th I hope I’m not giving this feeling that this is a downer type of a book. We’re talking about someone who’s incredibly open about the things that we usually would talk about only at dinners or drinks with other co-founders with other founders, incredibly open in your book about this.
You’re you’re a great writer. Maybe I don’t, there was no ghost rider. I don’t even want to ask you that question because if there was, I don’t want to embarrass you. It’s a really well written book. We’re talking about digital goddess and it’s full of these great stories of challenges and then triumph.
And then at one point you highlighted one thing that you said, you mentioned one thing that I want to close it out with. You said that before you got started, you were reading a book called creative visualization to help you start thinking big. So you can launch big thing. What did you get out of that book?
What did, what did you take away that we can
Victoria: I think just the possibility that. If you envision something it’s more likely to happen. And that’s really, it really, it really did help me. Um, and just the openness of, of not being graspy and the possibility. So it wasn’t, it’s a great book. I think. I mean, it’s, you know, people might consider it a little bit too airy fairy, but I found it to be super useful.
And by the way, to answer your question, It was not ghostwritten. Unfortunately, if I could have afforded a ghost writer, I would have had been a lot more successful.
Andrew: I don’t know. I feel like this book is a really well-written book. It’s just, I told you I sat down here. I wanted to. I read it and I was drink tea. And I was, as I was going through my tea, I said, I got it. I just have to stand up. I have to go to the bathroom. One more page, one more page. I just have to see how this thing turns out.
She’s just mentioned this. I’m going to see how that turns out. All right. The book for anyone. Interesting. It’s called digital goddess. It’s available out. It’s everywhere. We’ve been talking about having you on for a long time. So glad you’re here. Digital goddess, the unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur, her her website, which she got for $30,000.
A great domain is big. Think.com. I like that. There’s no ambiguous spelling in there. Big think.com and I want to thank the two interview, two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re hiring a developer, go to top talent.com/mixergy. The second, if you’re ready to grow your leads, qualify them and actually make that whole process go viral a little bit.
I want you to go check out outgrow.co/mixergy, outgrow.co/mixergy, Victoria. Thanks so much for being here.
Victoria: Thank you for having me. It’s been so wonderful.
Andrew: Here. Hi everyone.