Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. And I’ve been doing this for a long time. A few weeks ago, I got an email from someone who I interviewed in the past, a guy named Bobby Berthume. I want to skim part of that email so that you know why I’m doing this interview. Here it goes.
He says, “It’s been a while since we last spoke. Quite a bit has changed. As you know, I became a millionaire in my early 20s and I did an interview with you about it back in 2009. What you don’t know is that afterwards, I lost it all–everything, from divorce, business partner who left, auditing, mugging in Barcelona. I left LA. I lost my house–you name it. But I’m back. It took years of hustling and suffering but my best days are no longer behind me.”
“I led digital at three ad agencies to recover and now it’s been three years at the head of my new company, Bull & Beard and we have a very unique business model in the ad agency digital space and we now have a seven-figure revenue with 100% year over year growth.”
I want to hear that story. I want to hear how he lost it all after our interview back in 2009. I want to hear what he did to recover and I want to hear where he is today. Bobby, I’m very excited to have you here on Mixergy.
Robby: Thank you, Andrew. My name is Robby instead of Bobby.
Andrew: Oh my goodness. Robby and I kept saying Bobby this whole time?
Robby: I wouldn’t care but Bobby is like an annoying name to me.
Andrew: You know what? I’ve got to tell you, Robby–every time I do an interview before the interview starts, I say the guest’s name, both first and last, especially if it’s easy.
Robby: I think the last name was so complex that you were putting all the energy on the last name.
Andrew: Exactly. I always say the guest whose name is like Mike or Steve. I’m going to pronounce even Mike to make sure I get it right. This is why. I was just rushing through the pre-interview conversation.
I should also say since we’re getting into this right now that my two sponsors which I’ll tell people about later on are Toptal and HostGator, but I’ll tell everyone about them later. Robby–at your height, you were telling me the car you were driving. What car was that?
Robby: Very proud of it. I think I had a lot of pride about it, but a BMW 650. I had an Infiniti FX. I remember going to the Beverly Hills BMW car dealership and kind of having an out of body experience just being there and thinking, “Who am I? What happened?” even at that point. That was my early 20s, 21, 22, 23. I look back on those years. I had started my company at 14 and that was kind of what our first interview was about was some of my journey to that point.
Andrew: You built websites for people and then you ended up creating websites for yourself and you found a really smart niche. You said there are periods in people’s lives where things change and they’re open to new websites. They’re open to help with this new transition in their lives. The one big one that you did was what?
Robby: Was Where to Get Engaged, which at the time was a wedding and engagement social network community driven around where it starts with the ring and that moment in time. Sort of the bread and butter projects back then were really building websites and experiences and apps that were more community driven, when that wasn’t as popular as it is now, as it is today.
Andrew: It makes sense because day to day life now, I’m going through the same websites, the same stuff because everything is the same. As soon as I have a major life event, I’m open to things like a new site and help finding a ring.
Robby: There are lots of different periods in your life. I’m sitting on a domain now, SurviveDivorce.com, based on going through period, going through divorce, to be candid.
Andrew: Actually, you told me about that back then, back in 2009 you said that you had that. You never launched it?
Robby: Yeah. That was one of the things that SurviveDivorce, I never launched. I think part of that was I went through a lot of things between 2008 and 2010. Some of those things included the divorce. So, I had moved to LA in early 2007 and when I got there basically the hammer fell and my marriage was over.
Andrew: That’s the first big shock.
Robby: Yeah. That was a very strange entry point into Los Angeles.
Andrew: Why? Why did–I guess by the hammer fell you mean your wife wanted a divorce. Why did your wife want a divorce?
Robby: It was really interesting. So, basically I helped her get a job at an ad agency in LA. After moving across country and signing the lease for the place and getting everything setup. She came to me and was like, “Hey, want to have dinner?” And that was okay. I didn’t really think anything was up. Let’s go have a bite.
She basically told me, “I want a divorce.” She had a job and I think she had the freedom and flexibility in having her job and her life and being in Los Angeles. At that point in my life, I had no idea that was coming. We had just moved there. So, I was like, “Are you serious?”
Andrew: Were there any clues head of time?
Robby: Definitely. But I got married just before I turned 19. So, honestly, I think that’s really young to get married. I think I had been–
Andrew: What were the clues? What did you see in retrospect that you didn’t notice at the time?
Robby: I think the biggest thing I did as an entrepreneur, even when I was home, there was still a big part of me that was always connected to what I was doing, to my work, to my entrepreneurial passions. I felt like I was providing. I felt like I was a good husband. I felt like I was a good person.
She was asking for a lot of the material things as well, “I want this,” or, “I want this experience,” I felt like, “I’m providing. I’m doing what you seem to want and what you seem to like,” that sort of thing. I had no idea that my marriage was basically falling apart before me, kind of unraveling.
Andrew: Because she wanted to do all these other things and you said, “We don’t need to do them, but I’m giving you this great life. I’m moving you to LA. We’re making good money. You have this new job. Why do you want this?” What are the other things that she wanted?
Robby: I think the key was not so much what was said but what was not said. So, I worked very hard on our marriage and I had no idea that it was ending or she felt the way that she felt.
Andrew: Be more specific. Give me one thing. I’m married. I feel like marriages end and at some point I’m going to be in the same situation you are. Tell me something specific so I know what to look out for.
Robby: I think the biggest thing is that I have a pretty intense personality honestly and I’m very driven as an entrepreneur. So, it can be stressful to be married to me. I think that’s honestly a big part of it.
Andrew: How did it express itself, this stress that was so painful for her?
Robby: I’ve always had generalized anxiety disorder, which has been an interesting pairing with being an entrepreneur and kind of always putting myself out there and pushing myself. So, I think some of that is really not giving enough of my time and focus and energy, which I think your spouse can feel in particular.
I think it’s important that they feel they’re a high priority. So, I definitely don’t think I was prioritizing her enough. Then on the other hand, I don’t know. I think I just took my life for granted. I think took her for granted. I took her time, I took her attention. I felt like I was maybe more important because of, “Hey, I’m bringing home this bacon and look at me and look what I’m doing.”
I think ego played a role in that and growing up and realizing in the beginning honestly, because of how everything went down–I don’t want to get into detail more to protect her–but because of how everything happened, I didn’t think it was my fault at all. I felt like I was abandoned, “Look at what she did to me.” I played that card 100%. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve taken ownership of what led to that and my role in it.
Andrew: What’s the anxiety thing you mentioned?
Robby: I’ve always had this weird thing with anxiety where I think I just overthink stuff. I’m constantly worrying about things and inventing things to worry about. That’s something that’s really dissipated, especially in the last few years, which has been really fortune. I remember even a time I was doing the interview for you in my early 20s, I remember traveling around, going Alaska, going to Hawaii but throwing up in the restroom because I was so anxious, having conference calls.
I had a life that a lot of people around me were like, “Look at what you have and look at the things and experiences in front of you.” But I felt like they had no idea me kind of behind the scenes, which was sometimes I was scared and I had fear. I was a human being.
Andrew: Do you remember on fear that you had at your height? I saw you. You looked like you were in control. When we were doing that interview, you were 23 years old. What’s one thing at the time that made you anxious that from the outside we wouldn’t have seen, that we would have thought you had it all under control?
Robby: I think at that point in my life, really the fear that I was aware of was really kind of holding on to everything. I don’t think that I was as aware as I am now, but I think back then money and success and entrepreneurship and my business, they really started to define who I was and what I was about. That’s a scary position to be in.
Andrew: Because if it goes away, then you’ve got nothing left.
Robby: Yeah. And you have nothing. That’s what happened to me. I did kind of go through an existential crisis after going through some things that rocked my world and took away some of the financial aspects and things that I had definitely propped my ego upon.
Andrew: How low did you go?
Robby: How low did I go? What do you mean?
Andrew: Financially, did you lose everything?
Robby: No. I didn’t. I guess during a period between like 2010 through 2012 especially were very hard. So, from a business perspective, yes, I lost my previous business. It started as Epsilon Concepts. We had branded into Eclyptix.
But basically my business partner and I ended up having a pretty deep fallout. Some of that was resulting in my realization that my life was changing and that I was working all the time and making money and had this lifestyle that was great. On the other hand, I realized I was losing myself. I realized I was becoming disconnected from my family, my ego was getting big.
I wanted to make a lot of changes. And when I did make some of those changes, one of those involved moving from LA back to the East Coast and spending time with my family and kind of reconnecting.
Andrew: Let’s slow it down. Okay. The divorce was the first thing. How did that impact your business?
Robby: The divorce was the first thing, yeah. I found out about that like I said earlier, 2007. It took about a year as far as legally being separated, going through that process. It affected my business. I think at first it was shock and awe. It was trying to get perspective, going to Sequoia.
And then I think it was I put a lot of hustle. I put a lot of energy into my business after that happened. I think I got to a point though where my business really took off and I was in LA Business Journal 20 in Their 20s and talking to guys like you and like, “Wow, look at this. Look at what’s happening.” That’s the point where I started to struggle with the most anxiety because I did have a lot to lose and I did have a lot propped up on the successes that I built. That’s where I think fear started–
Andrew: Why did the divorce make it harder? It feels like you had more time to concentrate on your business and the business flourish.
Robby: The divorce didn’t make it easier or harder. I think the divorce shaped who I am today and shaped me during those periods. But I think the divorce in a series of events, really between the time of 2007 and 2010, there was just so much that happened.
Andrew: What’s the next big thing that happened that had big impact on your business?
Robby: Another thing that happened was in 2009, I decided to–I was engaged after being married and going through the divorce. I was engaged to a girl in LA. I felt like, “Here’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.” That’s this moment that happened where I had this catharsis of, “Who am I? Why am I here? Why am I running the business I’m running?”
At that point, I actually broke up with my fiancé, ended that relationship. So, that really changed a lot of things. That was a big risk. It was kind of going away from a lot of my support system. I started to distance myself from my former business partner because he and I didn’t really philosophically see eye to eye in terms how we did business and what was important.
Andrew: So the beginning of that separation with your partner is what really impacted he business much more than the separation from your wife, fair to say?
Robby: Yeah. I would say separation from my wife caused me to spend all my time on my business and then when I separated from my fiancé at that time and then began to distance myself from my business partner and eventually moved, got remarried, just went through a lot of different changes. That period was just like a six months chockfull–I remember traveling, I remember being in Barcelona and getting mugged in Barcelona and thrown into the Mediterranean in December. It was a crazy event.
Andrew: I want to get to the mugging. I hope we have time for it. I want to understand where this business started to unravel. So far what we’ve got is a life that’s not fully stable, right?
Andrew: But it happens. Where is the business starting to unravel. It’s you and your partner and then at what point does that impact your sales numbers?
Robby: I think what happened was when I was mugged in December of 2009, I came back, moved to the East Coast. I think it was February, March of 2010. That’s the point from which I think things started to really suffer, me being away from LA because I had built it up around quite a few relationships where geography did matter. I wasn’t around my business partner. I think that it affected our dynamic. He ended up making some decisions and doing some things sort of apart from me behind my back that really hurt me.
Andrew: Like what? What’s one decision that he made?
Robby: I really don’t want to go into it just because it dredges up some old stuff. But basically I think he was just struggling with some behavioral problems that were affecting his role as CFO of our company. He was managing our books. So, he was in the position where he could and did make a pretty negative impact making some unethical decisions, basically booking projects outside of me, six-figure projects resulting in getting audited.
Andrew: When you said that he booked projects outside of you, you mean he made the sale or he just recorded the revenue?
Robby: He would essentially–I had one client, for example, where we worked together, spent I can’t remember the exact amount, maybe about $20,000 on developing a blueprint and strategy for their application and getting everything done from a product strategy perspective. Basically what he did was he went to that client. He was still in LA. I had left LA. So I was working on the upfront portion of the project.
Then he met with him, colluded, essentially started another company, accepted $100,000 from that company, paid our company in Serbia like 20% of that amount and then pocketed the rest. So they ended up coming after him, but that’s an example of some of the things that he was up to.
Andrew: I see. He was making sales to your clients, having your developers start to develop it but not pay them what they were supposed to get paid.
Robby: Yeah. Exactly. That and basically withdrawing a lot of money for different reasons.
Andrew: Like literally withdrawing. We should say that you also had a digital agency. You were actually developing software and websites for people.
Robby: Literally withdrawing a lot of money at destinations, at places that it’s obvious what he was there for. So I don’t really want to talk about that aspect.
Andrew: What do you mean? Let’s talk in hypothetical then. How could somebody go to a different places and take money out of a company’s account?
Robby: I think when you have access to an ATM and you’re young and you see big numbers and you start experiencing big numbers, he owned 20% of the company or 20.5% of the company and I think one of the issues was he was seeing how much money I was making. When I left, I think he kind of resented aspects of that for better or worse and for right or wrong. I also think he got used to this lifestyle associated with having money. So part of that lifestyle is traveling, just doing different experiences.
Andrew: And he charged it to the company?
Robby: And he charged to the company, exactly, withdrawing money. Then he was giving me stories. It’s for this. It’s for taxes. It’s for all these good reasons. Honestly it was partly my fault. I wasn’t. . .
Andrew: You took your eye off the ball.
Robby: I took my eye off the ball.
Andrew: I see. When you didn’t take your eye off the ball, how were you–actually, let me take a quick break and talk about what was the change between keeping your eye on the numbers and then suddenly getting distracted.
The first sponsor I want to tell everyone about is a company called Toptal. Actually, in the past Bob–Robby. Man, I keep wanting to say Bobby now. It’s such a jerky thing for me to do because I’ve been through Dale Carnegie training. I know how important someone’s name is. If you suddenly called me Andy, I would still feel a little bit rubbed the wrong way. So, I’m sorry. I completely recognize it.
Robby, usually when I ask my interviewees if they’ve heard of Toptal, they say, “No, tell me about it.” You’ve heard of them. How do you know them?
Robby: I actually just heard of them from a brand awareness perspective. I don’t really know much detail. I’d love to heard more.
Andrew: I see. They’re starting to buy some ads out there. Part of that campaign is buying ads on Mixergy. I think they bought a year’s worth of ads here.
What they do is they’ve got this network of developers because they realize that hiring good developers is really hard. If you need to hire a quickie developer who’s going to do exactly what you tell them, you can go to one of the freelance sites. If you need to hire somebody full time, yeah, you can hire one of your friends or what you can do is you can go and get a headhunter, but headhunters are expensive and you run out of friends quickly and not everyone should be working with their friends.
So, Toptal said this is a major problem. How do we solve it? They said what if we just get together a network of really good developers, keep them in our rolodex and make sure they’re really good by testing them, by having others test them, by making sure they go through an obstacle course, essentially to make sure they are the best of the best. Really good developers are flattered by that. They love going through these kinds of tests.
So, they ended up with this network of developers and now when someone wants to hire a developer, they can contact Toptal. Toptal won’t just say, “Here, have one,” they’ll say, “Tell me more. Tell me about how you work, tell me about what kind of project you need. Tell me about whether it’s a full-time position, part-time, project-based, etc.”
Then they go to their network and they actually have people in their company called matchers who will go to their network and match you up with the right person. You get on a call with them, if you think it’s the right match for you, you can get stated, often within a day or two. It’s a phenomenal, phenomenal company that just keeps growing and growing and growing.
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What headhunter is going to give you a trial period of up to two weeks? It just doesn’t exist because usually you have to hire someone and put them on your books. Here, they know who the quality of their people and they know that they have this network and that you’re going to be happy with it. If you want that extra 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for 80 and you want them trail period, etc., go to this URL: Toptal.com/Mixergy–top as in top of the mountain, tal as in talented. Toptal.com/Mixergy. Great sponsor.
When you were keeping your eye on the books, Robby, what did you do? What was your process like?
Robby: I think I trusted. I think I had blind faith and loyalty.
Andrew: So, you never were the kind of person who goes through their books on a regular basis.
Robby: I think it’s a good example of sort of the mind frame I had at that period, which was again, sort of I think my ego had gotten to a certain level. I was very worried about things happening to my lifestyle. On the other hand, I think what happened really towards the end of 2009 beginning 2010 when there was a lot of disruption personally and I was doing a lot of soul searching, I think during that period, I took my eye off the ball.
Andrew: I see.
Robby: That’s the period where I leaned back a little bit thinking I’ve worked a decade and I’m not even 25 and I need to figure out these things. I feel like I can trust my business partner. He’s going to do these certain things. He’s going to treat me right. I never thought that would happen. I never got that far.
Then all of a sudden I found out. I really found out about the magnitude of everything the day before Christmas Eve, 2011. That’s when basically a year half, two years of damage had accumulated, ever since basically moving from LA during that period is when things started to happen.
Andrew: How did you find out?
Robby: I was literally just browsing statements. I remember thinking, “Where’d the money go? What happened? I thought we had more money? What’s been going on?” At that period, I was doing consulting. I was going to Serbia. I was moving around a lot and wasn’t really as focused on the business and just kind of taking these things for granted.
I remember thinking, “Where did all this money disappear overnight? What is going on?” I went into the books and then it was pretty obvious just because the withdraws. Even that month, there was $20,000-$30,000 withdrawn from ATMs where he was going.
Robby: In a month, just a month.
Andrew: That seems like someone who’s either trying to pad their bank account, which is not likely or they’ve got a problem and they need $30,000-$40,000. I know you don’t want to talk about what happened with him too specifically, but that seems like a really big problem. What a shock.
Robby: Yeah. When it happened, I remember getting the call. The financial aspect of that was huge, but also our friendship. We were best friends as much as we were business partners. Going through that loss, it almost was just as strong as going through divorce in a way. It was like, “Wow, is everybody going to betray me?”
I remember this raw emotion. I was ready to talk to him. One of the issues, he just disappeared. He totally vanished. I couldn’t get my books, couldn’t get access to our records. Everything I had to figure out like, “Okay, why was this certain amount withdrawn and deposited?” It was like, “Who are you?” I didn’t even know who he was. It was crazy.
Andrew: I find just going through books to be incredibly critical but also not compelling. I don’t want to go through every line item in my books every day. I know my friend Wil Schroter every morning will look at his books in detail and key numbers from each aspect or his business to make sure he’s on track.
I don’t do it. It becomes a drag to do that every day. So, what I’ve done is now I get my bookkeepers to commit to getting on a call with me where we go through the books. Frankly, a large part of that call is me just going through the books on my own and them screen sharing with me and watching and being there to answer a question as it comes up so I don’t have to go back and forth with them via email.
Robby: I think that’s kind of how it’s setup. I have a 50/50 business partnership now in place. He knows sort of the whole story there. So, one of my things was, “I want to be involved with our books.” I do some of our day to day bookkeeping and we have our CPA relationship, but one of the aspects is let’s keep each other accountable, even if we don’t feel like it’s worthwhile to discuss the books or look at it, even if it’s once a month, I think it’s an important exercise, never completely turn your eyes elsewhere.
Andrew: You know what it is? When things are great you don’t want to look at it because you want to build things up. You want to look at top line numbers maybe but you don’t want to look in detail. When things suck, you don’t want to look at it because you don’t want to be weighed down. I know me, I don’t want to look at my books and feel like maybe this whole thing is worthwhile.
Robby: It’s more pressure.
Andrew: Yeah. So, I stopped paying attention to it. I’ve noticed that that happened to other entrepreneurs and that scared me straight and that’s when I decided I need a system to really go through this on a regular basis. The audit, why were you audited Was it just one of those things?
Robby: I think because of the activities of what he was doing, both of our activities in the sense that we were traveling a lot. The meals and entertainment and I think some of those expenses were very high back in those days because we were young and we were traveling and we were entertaining and sponsoring events. So I think some of that may have triggered an audit or definitely flagged it.
And then going through that process, that was hard because I wasn’t in California. He was really running that process and it was when I still trusted him. I didn’t know the full extent of what he was doing or about to do past that. In the middle of everything, the audit happened.
Andrew: Why did you leave LA?
Robby: Why did I leave LA? I left LA because honestly it felt like a fresh start. I had gone out there and achieved success, but it was a life that I didn’t have ownership of, a life that wasn’t really for me. As put together as people around me thought I was, I think that skin of me was, I think that I missed my family.
I really had sort of this almost like midlife crisis in the mid-20s where I was just do I want this for the rest of my life? Do I want this Beverly Hills lifestyle? Do I want people judging me? Do I want to have the pressure of providing for everybody? Do I want to maintain this persona or do I go on and maybe take a step back and reevaluate where I’m going and why I’m going there and what the point of all this is? I know that sounds very like an existential crisis, but it was.
Andrew: What about this?
Robby: I think it ties into a lot of what I’ve done recently.
Andrew: We’ve talked about a little bit of your client work. You guys had a business with a considerable number of clients. But you also had WhereToGetEngaged.com, which looked okay in 2010, then I see got a really nice facelift in 2011 and then the freaking thing seemed to have fallen off a cliff. I can’t find it online. Soon after 2011, it disappeared for a bit, right?
Andrew: What happened?
Robby: That’s a good question. We were working with a client on that site. That was after I moved to the East Coast.
Andrew: So, you didn’t own it directly?
Robby: No, didn’t own it directly.
Andrew: Oh, you developed it for someone else?
Andrew: So, your whole business was developing sites for other people.
Robby: Correct. Exactly.
Andrew: I see.
Robby: We had some properties and products. We had the digital directory and we had some aspects that we owned–domain names, portfolio aspects, but most of it was more on the consulting side, sort of like a digital agency.
Andrew: I see. So, it was it just a digital agency. So, the fact that that business fell off a cliff, what does that mean to you?
Robby: It meant a lot. That was our biggest client. That was a seven-figure client from a revenue perspective and 2011 especially was a great year and then all of a sudden I think the client went through some things financially where the money essentially disappeared. I got the hard news. I remember late 2010 on a ski trip and he called and said, “The retainer is going down to this level and then we have to stop the work completely.” I knew this was coming, but why did I not prepare like I should have?
Andrew: I see. Were they more than 50% of your business?
Robby: They were probably about 60% of the business.
Andrew: I paid at my previous company to have my books audited just so I can prove that all my numbers are real. I remember going through the audit paperwork afterwards and seeing the financials and being super proud and seeing how bound it was and saying, “Okay, this is going to look official.” I still have it somewhere.
But there was one line that stood out. I said, “I don’t know why they would even care about this.” The line was about how a big portion of our revenue is tied up with one customer. I thought, “That’s actually a smart thing. Why are they acting like it’s a problem? We want tone big customer that we partner up with.” And then that customer started to have financial trouble and started to disappear and then I realized afterwards that is why Ernst & Young wanted to flag that. That’s a big problem, having one customer be such a big portion of your revenue.
Robby: It is. Yeah.
Andrew: Fair to say that’s one of the reasons you guys went out?
Robby: No. It’s not one of the reasons we went out. I don’t think I would have gone out of business if not for what happened with my former business partner and how everything ended because I would have continued. I would have persevered. I would have continued building it. I have the logo tattooed on my wrist. It’s in white. It’s kind of hard to see. But that company, that brand, it was a part of me. I don’t think I would have abandoned ship because of that.
Andrew: Epsilon Concepts.
Robby: I think that was Epsilon Concepts and then we rebranded to Eclyptix. I think that was a nail in the coffin. When that happened, it was a nail in the coffin, it was like, “We have to work even harder.” I knew it was coming. It was part of the anxiety that I felt was, “Okay, we have this success, but on the other hand, I have only have. . .” there’s great benefits with having three, four, five clients a year. We were only doing a certain amount of select projects per year. So, there was some prestige and aspects of being able to pick and choose your battles.
On the other hand what happens when one of the big boys or big girls or whatever you want to call them, when they go away? I feel like losing Where to Get Engaged as a client as a result of their financial situation changing, when that happened, it was just another significant loss of something that I felt very loyal to.
It was like literally my ex-wife, my business partner, a client–everything had to be peeled apart layer by layer until all that was left was little old me trying to figure out, “Okay. . .” I really feel like going through the suffering I went through these years, things like the IRS tax audit, that scares people. The IRS scares people. I’m already anxious and having all these series of unfortunate events happening and I remember feeling this gut-wrenching anxiety and thinking about the IRS and all of these things.
I can’t write my book. I had bought “Millennial Entrepreneur” years ago. I remember thinking, “I can’t tell my story now because now I’m not successful. Now I’ve lost it.” That was even I went to work and got a real job as director of digital strategy at a couple ad agencies.
Andrew: What was it like to go and get a job?
Robby: Honestly, it’s interesting. It sounds kind of crass and egotistical to say this, but in a way it was humiliating. Even though I was interviewing for a director role, six-figure salary, I think a lot of people resented me as a director, as a peer, as a colleague because I was still young, still 25, 26, 27 and they were looking at me like, “He’s in the glass office with a view.”
The first job, Spark in Tampa, I remember pulling up in my 6 Series and I park like in the CEO’s spot and he had a 3 Series and I remember thinking like, “Okay, this is not a good start to the relationship. How are people going to view me?” I think they did have a question of, “Why are you getting a job? What’s going on?” I was candid about, “Look, here’s what’s happened. I’ve spent a decade building this agency and building these experiences. I’m really passionate about advertising and marketing. I want to get into this world and embrace it more.”
I think they knew that I wouldn’t last long and I really didn’t. Working in the job role, there’s only so long I can go before either I want to become a partner or I need to start my own thing or I’m just kind of biting the time until I have the capital to do something again.
Andrew: Were you open with people about why you got the job, that things didn’t work out with your previous company or did you act like this was a next step forward?
Robby: Yeah. When I joined Woodbine, the last job before Bull & Beard and that’s where I met my business partner. We’ve been in business now for three years. I worked at Woodbine about a year and nine months. When I joined, they definitely knew my story and they knew about my site and my brand and I still had everything active at that point.
I’m getting a job because I knew things were suffering and I needed to find a different strategy. I actually brought the brand to them, Eclyptix right before I found out the full extent of what my ex-partner did and said, “Hey, this is something you guys want to activate for lead gen or whatever, we can do it that way.”
Then when I found out the full extent of the financial damages and having to go through the audit and stuff, when I found out that, that was the day before Christmas Eve, 2011. Immediately when I got back from Christmas vacation, I came back to the CEO of the agency and their CFO and I immediately said, “Look, here’s what happened. Here’s the extent of what he did. Here’s the stress and things I’m going to have to deal with.” I thought I might lose my job at that point. I remember them saying, “Can you leave the room for a few minutes.”
I left them room and I came back and they actually wrote me a check for $10,000 on the spot and that was after working there about three months and said, “Here, we hope this helps with the stress and the things you’re going through. We appreciate you being honest.” They were amazing about that situation. So, I didn’t leave them either. I stuck around for a year and nine months. Even then, I gave them a two-month notice. I felt very grateful for them and bringing us together and how they treated the situation.
Andrew: A lot of entrepreneurs feel trapped because they can’t get another job because they’re not employable. What were the skills you had that allowed you to get another job?
Robby: I think in terms of successes and client lists and really just the confidence that I had. I think the confidence that I brought into interviews that I had in terms of the network and the people and commonalities as far as employers, it really took a lot of the risk away in terms of hiring an entrepreneur.
Andrew: Wait. Let’s talk about the confidence. How does a guy whose company is failing, who feels like his whole world is falling apart–you lost your house, you lost your wife, you lost your fiancé, you lost your business partner–how do you muster up the confidence in a meeting to look like somebody who’s worth hiring based largely on confidence?
Robby: This sounds kind of strange, but for me, often times it was crying in the shower. Don’t let people see that side of me. I’ve talked about that side of me, so I would be open about my struggles, but when it comes to business, I never lost confidence in myself. I never once felt like a failure in terms of, “Look at what’s happened to me or how am I ever going to get back?”
I think there was a period when I did struggle with some depression resulting from some stuff going on, but I think that was because there was a period where I felt like my best days maybe were behind me. I was really young for that to happen. That didn’t last long. When things really started to switch was I believed in myself. I said, “Hey, regardless of all these situations, I am an incredible strong person as a result of all these situations and if anything, I’m young. So, I can recover from this and still make a huge difference.”
Andrew: And this job helped you get that confidence?
Andrew: But you had some confidence going in. What was it that you still believed in yourself? What was it that you still know that you knew that allowed you to go into an interview and express confidence? You were good at what?
Robby: Yeah. Good at marketing, good at digital, good at technology. Hey were looking for Director of Digital Strategy and Development. Frankly, I felt like that’s a job I can knock out of the park.
Andrew: What does it mean? What’s digital strategy and development?
Robby: Yeah. It’s for an ad agency. So, in this case, it’s strategy behind digital campaigns for brands like Lowe’s or Cobalt or so on. We had a bunch of different clients, but basically helping develop a strategy campaign, a strategy for a website, a mobile app, stuff like that.
Andrew: Give me something specific. If you were in an interview with them and they say, “We have a client called Lowe’s. You’ve probably heard of them. They’re the home repair company.” What would you do for them, Robby? What would you tell them?
Robby: In that case I wouldn’t give a strategy off the cuff. Really sort of like a doctor, I need to really understand the client in order to develop a research plan or a treatment plan, per se, a digital strategy in this case. I need to really understand who I’m working with and what their goals and objectives are.
I felt like because I got started with first agency at the age of 14 and being in digital so long, what I’ve kind of brought to the table and what I’ve talked about has really been this intersection of marketing technology and psychology. I think it’s understanding of human beings and how they work and love languages. I read a lot of self-help books. You mentioned Dale Carnegie. I’m a big fan. Merging that with traditional marketing and the theories applied with technology and what it can do in terms of ad platforms.
Andrew: What’s one campaign that you created and led that you can talk about to give us an example of how you work?
Robby: Yeah. I think they’ve been less in terms of campaigns that I can talk about because most of those, especially on the campaign side, most of that’s been done really in the past five or six years. A lot of that is covered under NDA. The bulk of what I do is more in the product road mapping, so, developing strategies for, for instance, a website. What are out features and functionality? Who’s our audience?
I would say a good example of that would be Wonderopolis and Camp Wonderopolis. This is something I’ve been working on really the past three years. Camp Wonderopolis is an online summer camp that happens every summer. So we built out this big web component. It’s mobile responsive but it’s a web application.
So, in that role, I’m the one sort of leading the charge. I’m meeting with a client and really coming up with everything–features, functionality, soups to nuts. And then my team is actually developing it or I’m bringing on a resource to develop it out. So, I think that would be a good example. Wonderopolis, they get over a million uniques a month, very high trafficked gamified site for children’s learning basically.
Andrew: All right. Quick sponsorship break and then I want to come back and talk about this thing from Serbia that you’ve kept going all along. The sponsor is a company called HostGator. Have you ever used HostGator? Do you know them?
Robby: I’ve heard of them. Yes. They’ve been around a pretty long time.
Andrew: They really have been around forever. I think they were around Web 1.0.
Robby: I think they were around back in the day, as they say.
Andrew: I really admire any company that could have first of all withstood the downturn in the market and continued to thrive afterwards. Mostly it feels like we have a Web 1.0 world, then Web 2.0 and then we have this whole mobile world and there aren’t very many companies that could actually transition. The few are the big ones that we actually know about like–I was going say eBay but eBay did not, I don’t think, Amazon, of course, and Google.
The thing about HostGator that is so amazing is that they decided they were going to go really low priced because frankly hosting shouldn’t be that expensive. Everyone should have a website. Everyone should be able to have that site work. The site shouldn’t go down if you have too much traffic. You shouldn’t have to pay every time you need a new email address. You should just get it.
What HostGator said is those are just kind of–they should be the easy things. People should be able to expect them. Where they’re going to wow people is they’re also going to add tech support, which means when you have a problem, they’re not going to say, “You paid for the cheap version. You don’t get any tech support. Go hire someone who’s going to do this for you.” No. They decided they were going to invest in customer service so when someone has a problem, HostGator will be there for them.
The thing about that is that’s the long game. I could talk and I have talked so much about how great that is in ads. No one pays attention to it because most people think, “I just need the lowest price right now. I just need the lowest price right now.” It’s not until things go wrong that they think, “I wish I signed up for HostGator.”
But if someone’s a HostGator customer and they do have a problem and they do get to talk to someone on the phone to help solve that problem, I feel like they’re customer for life and they end up bragging about it. They end up talking about their hosting company. I think that’s one of the things that HostGator did really well.
Let me ask you this. If HostGator was a customer of yours and you knew there were tons of hosting options out there and these guys have a couple of unique features, how would you tell them they should be promoting themselves?
Robby: I think honestly it would be similar to what they’re doing now. I would be employing influencers like yourself talking about it on this podcast. That’s a really good strategy, honestly. I think they’re talking to their target audience in terms of entrepreneurs and people that are going to be utilizing their services. I think telling the story in a different way is a big part of that as well.
As you said, there’s so much competition. To me, the hosting world has become pretty much a commodity. So, I think the hosting companies that can really set themselves apart and be different, be worth talking about for whatever reason that might be and has to be something that’s true and original and unique.
So, I think the support aspect, I think that is a good area to talk about. I used to own a small hosting company that we would use for our clients and then we’ve used several different companies over the past 14-15 years. It’s really stressful when you can’t really phone a friend. When you have to use a support ticket system or you’re working with a GoDaddy and a company that doesn’t really have a relationship with you as a customer. It’s a dangerous place to be in.
I would really work to reduce fear, knowing that a lot of people in the hosting area are scared, scared of, “What happens when my site goes down?” If they’re not scared, maybe they need to be taught a little bit about security and what could happen.
Andrew: I see what you’re saying, that for a lot of people, hosting is a commodity and now that makes sense. It makes sense why they would buy ads from me because they want to personalize it a little bit more. That’s probably why they have that gator everywhere so you remember the gator. But they still want someone to kind of be the face.
Robby: And the voice.
Andrew: That’s probably why they’re paying me for these ads. I looked it up. HostGator, according to Wikipedia, was founded in 2002 by Brent Oxley, who was then a student at Florida Atlantic University. I don’t know what the hell Florida Atlantic University is, but the fact that this guy was a student. I’ve got to get him on Mixergy. I don’t know why we never even thought to get the HostGator founder on Mixergy. I’ve got to get my team on that.
Anyone who wants to sign up for HostGator should not go to HostGator.com because we have a special URL that’s unique to Mixergy listeners and it’s going to give you a 30% discount and that’s in addition to everything else that they give you and of course, you get 45-day money back guarantee. So, if it doesn’t work out the way that I say it will. First of all, I want you to tell me so I know. Second, you can cancel. So, here’s a URL. Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy.
Robby, there’s something that you said that I’ve got to come back to. You said that you had anxiety and it’s pretty much dissipated. How does that go away?
Robby: Yeah. I think that’s been the journey, right? I read a lot of Eckhart Tolle. So, I don’t consider myself a New Age kind of a person, but Eckhart Tolle, he has a couple books, but “The Power of Now,” and “Awakening a New Earth” are two of his books that I think really resonated with me.
Andrew: What did you learn from it? I’ve tried to listen to his stuff and it doesn’t sink in. What did you get?
Robby: He talks about that in the book. It’s like if you’re not really ready for this, if you haven’t gone through enough suffering where you’re opening–I read the book, “The Power of Now,” I read it and it didn’t do anything for me. I read it again about three years ago when I was starting Bull & Beard.
Things were going well. I was on a cruise with my–this is about two and a half years ago– I was on a cruise with my wife. We had one on the way and life was good. We had the second on the way. So, a lot has changed and things have settled. But I still was anxious. So, that’s when I read the book again basically on the cruise I read it two or three times. I think it’s because it was weird.
Honestly I was arguing at that time with my wife. I was starting to see some of the same aspects of the behavior when I was younger started to come out. I started to realize situations can change and I might lose people and I might get remarried and start a company but if I don’t change from within, I’m just going to repeat the same mistakes. I’m going to build another company and then lose it and then go through all the same stuff over again.
Andrew: What’s one aspect of your personality that you’re likely to repeat and you have to stop?
Robby: It’s always been just the anxiety and the worry, like inventing things. That jerk in your head like Eckhart Tolle talks about, for me, it’s knowing when you say, “I don’t’ want to think about that. I don’t need to worry about this aspect. I’m just going to focus.”
Andrew: How do you stop that? When the jerk in your head is saying, “I can really screw up this interview with Andrew, Andrew’s not going to edit it and I’m going to look like a fool.” Even though it’s not that big a deal, you can’t say to your head, “Stop doing that.” How do you get your head to stop it? What’s your process?
Robby: For me, meditation has been really helpful. Before this interview, I closed my eyes and got perspective on like, “Hey, I might say something maybe I regret later. I can’t control what’s going to happen. I’m thankful for the opportunity to tell my story.” On the other hand, I don’t have control over the situation. So, I can either fight that or I can let it go. That sounds easier said that done. That’s true.
But my journey has been sort of a process of letting it go to different degrees and realizing the whole world didn’t spin out of control. Then finally it was like I’ve been worrying all these years and creating these things to worry about, when in reality I was building my own prison. I was listening to Gary Vaynerchuk and he talks a lot about–he doesn’t like complainers. You can’t complain about the things you create. I think I was that guy, complaining and anxious and always worried about all the things that I had built.
There was that point of what’s the point of all this? I don’t need to live like this. I think there was a very real fear and I think there’s a fear that people with anxiety struggle with. For me, I was kind of reluctant to give up on the anxiety and the worry and the fear. If I don’t worry about things and if I’m not anxious, isn’t that like keeping my eyes off the books, isn’t that the same stuff?
Maybe I’m an extremist, but it felt like a scary thing to do to say, “I don’t have control over anything.” I was trying so hard to be in control over everything. I think part of me just realized that that it wasn’t realistic. It’s funny. I talk to entrepreneurs now. My company is growing fast and we’re having fun and all these great things are happening–Forbes Agency Council, Young Entrepreneur Council, get to meet a lot of great entrepreneurs that also have seven-figure businesses or are at the stage you’re at.
I’ve talked to a lot of them and there’s a fair amount that are in 20s and 30s and they may be successful on the front end, but there’s a lot of them suffering struggling with a lot of things I was going through. I can see a lot of marriages. I have a people that started a business three or four years ago and have run in parallel and to see what sort of things are happening.
Quite frankly, I’m grateful for the stuff I’ve been through because I don’t take my business partner for granted. I don’t take my wife for granted. I don’t take my kids for grant. Because I know that I can lose them. I’ve lost people before. I’ve lost things before. I know how that feels. So, it’s not this, “I hope this. . .” I have confidence because I’ve had success. When we started this company, I told Jason, “I’m not worried about us making money and being successful.”
I’m worried about dumping my heart and soul into this company and doing it for the wrong reasons. Like I said, I want something sustainable. I’m an older, more mature entrepreneur at this point and I want to build something that I’m proud of. I want to do more than just make money. I did that before and it was also fleeting. I wasn’t sustainable. So, I think it’s given me some good perspective that I hope to be able to give to others through some of the writing.
Andrew: You said something about how you didn’t want to lose your anxiety because you felt that that’s what made you sharp, that if you worried–
Robby: Maybe that was my edge.
Andrew: Wasn’t it your edge?
Andrew: You thought it was?
Robby: I think getting out of my own head has been key to achieving success. But this time around, I’ve been able to achieve financial success without making excuses, without saying, “I have to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week if I’m going to be successful.” I’m constantly making excuses for myself.
I have my third child on the way. We recently took in my niece for a period this summer. Literally five year old, four year old, two year old and a pregnant wife and a dog and a cat and I’ve been able to run a company and have successful on the financial front without sacrificing my family, without sacrificing my relationship with my wife.
I think knowing that, but also being aware that that can change easily. Like tomorrow, I can get pulled into, “Look at these opportunities. Look at this work. I’m excited about it.” All of a sudden I’m not there and present with my wife for a week and two weeks, a month, time passes. These things can repeat themselves.
That’s where I’m at. It’s not so much thinking about the past. It’s thinking about the future less than I used to think about the future. It’s being more in the moment and just being aware, being aware of the fact that I should be grateful an things can change overnight. So, never get too cocky in your position in life or start looking down on others. I remember doing that myself. I remember driving around in my 6 Series thinking, “This is so easy. I’m making money. People always talk about how hard it is and the struggle.” I look back on that and I’m disgusted.
Andrew: Why wasn’t it helpful to have that ego, to be able to say–
Robby: It was helpful. It was. I think it did give me some of that confidence that people liked. But I don’t think that you have to–pardon my French–I don’t think you have to be an asshole to be confident. I think that I just took it too far. I think that now I still have that same confidence but it’s a confidence that lives more inside of me and I don’t feel like I need to name drop or brand drop or talk about money. I hear or talk to people like that now and I’m just kind of like, “Wow, that’s how I used to sound. That’s pretty obnoxious.” I really try to avoid that kind of language these days.
Andrew: Bull & Beard–what size revenues are you guys doing?
Robby: We’re in the low seven figures. We started with double revenue each year. So, really key to that model in the beginning and we’ve continued to work with the company in Serbia I cofounded about nine and a half years ago now. In the beginning, that was key for us to be able to white label projects and have immediate revenue for our company and then really growing the matchmaking side of the business.
Andrew: What’s the matchmaking side? How do you explain what the business is?
Robby: So, basically, I think the easiest way to explain what we do is we work predominately with ad agencies because that’s also a space I have a lot of comfort and familiar with and brands as well, but we match make. So, we provide agencies with a lot of digital resources–web developers, teams, talent, tools that could be doing an email marketing campaign or maybe they’re building a website in Drupal or Joomla then they need a resource.
Andrew: And then you give them the developers?
Robby: Yes. So, they call us. Then like a real estate agent knows the neighborhoods and the schools, the same things. So, we’re connected a variety of different teams and different tiers and have different styles and processes.
We basically connect dots. I do a lot of writing and content development, but really the whole goal is to build relationships with a variety of agencies and brands so they trust us and there’s credibility there and then matchmaking them with the right resources to not only connect them with the best value or the best quality, but really to reduce risk.
I realize being in the agency world that you have six, seven, eight-figure budgets being spent on marketing and advertising services. When you get into digital, there are even more unknowns and variables and I realize how much fear was dominating the industry.
So, Bull & Beard, the idea is strength of a bull, wisdom of a beard, being that sort of strategic counsel, the hard-charging energy aspect, which is what I think I’ve always had, this energy, but coupled with the wisdom of having been there, down that over the years and then you learn from it. Even in our matchmaking business, we’ve made poor decisions on freelancers or teams in the past, but I think you learn from that and then your decisions in the future reflect your experiences.
Andrew: I’d love for you to come back and just to an interview on that. For this interview, we just did it and we kind of a riffed. I’d love for you to do a pre-interview session with one of my producers and then do an interview on just Bull & Beard.
We leave everything as backstory and we just talk about, “Where’d you come up with the idea for it? How’d you get your first customers? How do you make your sales?” That business, I think, it’s different and you made it work very fast. We’re talking about a three-year old business that’s doing low seven figures meaning what, $2 million?
Robby: Yeah, like right at that level.
Andrew: Somewhere around there. If you’re fantastic, I’ll follow up with you as soon as we’re done here.
Robby: Yeah. I think it would be interesting. It’s interesting because–I don’t mean this in any way to toot my own horn or talk about the company in this way–I’ve worked with Epsilon Concepts and Eclyptix, worked for different agencies, but it’s been really interesting because we go and talk to agencies or clients of ours and they continue to compliment us on our business model, “Wow, I love that. Nobody’s really doing that in your industry.” I would love to tell the story of what we do and how we do it and the trajectory over the last three years. That would be awesome.
Andrew: All right. Cool. I’ll follow up by email.
Robby: I spilled enough blood, got that done this time.
Andrew: For anyone who wants to find out this time, they can just go to BullAndBeard.com. Of course, my two sponsors are the hosting company that’s going to help host your website right and do great customer service. It’s called HostGator. Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. My second one is the company that will help you hire your next great developer. It’s called Toptal and go to their website at Toptal.com/Mixergy.
Alight. Robby, thanks so much for doing this.
Robby: Thank you, Andrew. I appreciate it.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it–I keep banging on the table when it’s done–bye.