Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses, and I do it for an audience of entrepreneurs who, to be honest, are going through stuff. We make it out to be such an easy thing—go build a company, change your life, make lots of money. And the reality of it is that you have to eat a lot of crap for a lot of years. Even when things are going well, you really suffer. And the problem with everybody making it seem so easy is when you suffer . . . in fact, let me when I suffer, when I’m going through some challenges, I always feel like maybe I’m doing something wrong. And it’s very hard to get back on track and say, “No, this is part of the process.”
Like you guys know, I run marathons. It’s very easy mile 18 to think, “This hurts. This is painful. Maybe I’m not meant to do this. Maybe today’s not the right day,” instead of saying, “Hey, wait, every other runner that I’ve ever met, when they’re running, they hit the wall. For them, it might be a different number. Maybe it’s 20 or 21. Maybe it’s 15 or 14 miles, whatever it is. They hit it. This is just me hitting the wall, and I got to bust through it.”
So that’s the reality of entrepreneurship. And the fact is that most entrepreneurs don’t talk about it. Because what’s the upside for it? Right? I’ll tell you. It’s really Erik, even for you, I’m going to tell you, it’s in your interest to lie. It’s in your interest to say, of course, I made it work because I was an entrepreneur from birth. It is not in your interest to talk about the challenges. It’s not in your interest to talk about the time that you’ve literally cried because things were so tough.
But when we do that, we actually get to change someone’s life. So we get to impregnate our thoughts, our experience in their brains. And when they go through this, that’s when that issue that we just brought up, when they go through their most difficult points, that’s when that little thing gives birth and it makes them realize, Erik Bergman went through this. Andrew Warner talked about this one time. This other entrepreneur said it. This is part of the process. I am here living the entrepreneurial dream, which actually involves a lot of a lot of nightmares. All right, I’ve talked a lot here. This is not about me. This is about Erik who just laughed. Erik Bergman is an entrepreneur who’s coming to me directly . . . Where are you today?
Erik: I’m in Malta, which is this teeny, tiny little country in the Mediterranean that most people never heard about.
Andrew: Except I’ve done several interviews now with entrepreneurs from there. Apparently the tax situation there is fantastic. Is that why you there?
Erik: Well, it’s one of the reasons that I stayed. I came here because I wanted to go on an adventure nine years ago, and I got stuck. I have been here since 2010.
Andrew: Through there Erik Bergman has created a phenomenal company called Catena Media. What they do is they do online lead generation for lots of different industries, largely for the gambling industry, and the guy took the company public.
And then he decided, you know what, it’s time for me to move on. Why? I don’t know. We’ll find out in this interview. And his next thing is to create a site and a business called great.com. I asked him what it was about. He told me two things. Number one, I can’t really define or describe it. It will take more time. Just go with next generation charity project. And number two, he said he’s going to donate all the money that he makes from it. Which I said, why? And then when he started to answer, I was rude like the New Yorker that I am. And I said, hang on, we’ll talk about it in the interview. So we’re going to talk about it, how did he start this company, the suffering that went along with it, how and why he left, and then what he’s up to with this new project, great.com.
And the whole thing is sponsored to two very, very understanding sponsors, who will put up with my BS like this and not even, like not care. The first will help you do email marketing right. It’s called ActiveCampaign. They hate that I say email marketing, but I think it’s a good entry point to understand what they do. And the second will host your website right. It’s called HostGator. And again, I’ll tell you about them later. Erik, good to see you here.
Erik: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Andrew: This company, it’s public on the Swedish stock market. I saw that the market cap is 3.58 billion Swedish krona. How much is that in U.S. dollars?
Erik: Roughly $400 million, give or take.
Andrew: Four hundred million dollars. And you own what percentage of it now?
Erik: Roughly about 6% I hold today.
Andrew: Okay, so $24 million in value. Did you cash out a little bit?
Erik: Yeah. I cashed out. More than that . . .
Andrew: Can you say how much?
Erik: More or less the same amount. A little bit more.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And it’s safe, right? Or have you invested in stuff and now it’s all gone away?
Erik: A lot of it has gone away.
Andrew: Really? To what? Where did it go?
Erik: Well, so the company is on the stock exchange, which means that it’s volatile in a sense, and the last two years has been a complete roller coaster. So when you say that their valuation is about 4 billion Swedish krona, it was 9 billion about eight months ago. So I used to have a lot more, and I still have way more than I need.
Andrew: But the amount that you took out, you didn’t waste that. It’s still safe somewhere?
Erik: Yeah, it’s in a lot of different shares. So that’s still there.
Andrew: Got it. And then by shares, you mean it’s invested in things and there are ups and downs but you didn’t blow the money on hookers and cocaine or anything?
Erik: About half of it.
Andrew: Just to be clear, you’re serious?
Erik: Yeah, of course.
Andrew: Oh, you’re serious about half of it you blew?
Andrew: No. Okay, you’re kidding with me. All right, good. I’m glad to see that you’re doing well. I want to understand like the business and whenever I go to Catena Media’s website, I feel like what I get is the business version of the business. I want to know what specific site. Give me an example of a site that you guys own so that I understand how the business operates.
Erik: So one of the websites that we own is askgamblers.com.
Andrew: askgamblers.com. All right, I’m on the site right now.
Erik: So this is a casino website. Think about it as the TripAdvisor of casino basically or gambling, and one of the main features that we do on AskGamblers is that we act as kind of a judge or something, and we help casino players who are in disputes with casinos. So let’s say you’re playing at a casino site, and they promised you this, this and that. And then you didn’t get those things for whatever reason that might have been. Then you can come to AskGamblers, and you can send in your evidence like, “Hey, they promised me this, this and that.” And we will look at those print screens and whatever terms and conditions you have agreed to. And then we will, if we think that you are right, which happens quite a lot of the time, we will bring this up with the operator, like casino, and say, “Hey, you didn’t give him this or that. Please send us your evidence for this.” And then they send their evidence. And depending on what we think is the right or wrong decision, we give the casino a recommendation of what they should do. And most of the time they follow our recommendation and pay out the player that way.
Andrew: Okay. And there’s also a blog where you’re giving people news on what’s going on in the gambling industry, the online gambling industry. I can also link over to different casinos. Well, I could if I wasn’t in the U.S., where the buttons are grayed out and it says restricted, right?
Andrew: Okay. All right. That gives me a good sense of how you’re operating. Let’s go back in time, because I feel like, I feel like you’re one of the few entrepreneurs where I get a sense of where your entrepreneurial like gusto came from. Fair to say, your parents weren’t entrepreneurial, but you personally were?
Erik: Yeah, I think that spirit . . . I think I was born with it in a sense, or I think I inherited from my brother. I think he was born with it.
Andrew: So what do you mean? What did your brother do?
Erik: Well, the first entrepreneurial big, big project that we did together, I was probably four years old, maybe five and we were . . . So in Sweden if you bring a soda can back to the store, you get five cents. And obviously this is an amazing business opportunity for any five-year-old out there with a plastic bag and the knowledge about garbage cans. So me and my brother we raided all the garbage cans we could find everywhere around my hometown. We went along the beaches. We went to the football games. And then we filled up our little, we had this little house in our garden that was supposed to be for toys and stuff, but we filled it up with soda cans and beer cans all over the summer. And then we brought it back to the store by the end of the summer. And we got back roughly $200, so that was thousands. So as the clever five-year-old that was, I invested it in stocks, and no, I bought ice cream and candy.
Andrew: I was going to say because your parents don’t strike me as people who are going to like open you up to the stock market. What did your parents do for a living?
Erik: So they’re very regular people. My father, when I was growing up, he was in an industry worker building water heaters. And my mother is a physiotherapist.
Andrew: And one of the reasons you wanted to be an entrepreneur was they weren’t really making that much money, but tell me about the people around you when you were growing up.
Erik: Okay, so when I was, and let’s back off a little bit. So when I was like 7 to 12 years old, I was a very lonely kid. I didn’t have many friends at all in school, and not elsewhere either. But then I turned 13, and my family moved. So I started in a new school, where this was the rich and fancy school of my hometown. And we, by no means rich and fancy. We were living in a small house outside of the city. And but this was where this school buses would take me. So I started in this school and by some miracle I managed to get a lot of friends very early on. And as a person who never had friends before, I desperately wanted to do everything to fit in, which is really hard if you’re not a rich kid going to a rich school. As sometime here as 13 year old, money became a very big . . . It became very important to me. It felt like that was my kind of entry ticket to fitting in, and that was hard.
Andrew: And so what did you do to try to like fit in?
Erik: Well, first and foremost, I guess I bugged my parents a lot to be able to buy whatever I needed. I also sold lots and lots of lottery tickets. So me and my once again my brother, he sold lottery tickets. And in Sweden there was this show called Bingo Lotto which is a bingo lottery show on TV and we . . . if you sold those tickets for a sports club, you could earn some money. So by the time now we earned about 50 cents per ticket, so 10 times more than a soda can. And we sold these tickets on the Saturday market where all the old people came to buy fruits and stuff. So me and my brother were too cute boys standing there and flirting with the [Agagda 00:11:23] eight years old and having her buy our bingo tickets, so that’s how we made money.
Andrew: You know what? One of the dopiest things that I did was I remember going to a friend’s birthday party. My dad, I think, liked Cadillacs. And so he got a Cadillac. And I remember saying . . . and I didn’t even like Cadillacs. What kid likes a Cadillac? I said to my mom, when you pick me up from the birthday party, come in that Cadillac. What? And then I was too embarrassed to tell her why or what, but did you ever do stupid things like that?
Erik: No Cadillac story. I mean, what I did was when I got a bit older, so I got 18 I started playing poker, and suddenly I started making a lot of money from poker . . .
Andrew: Poker online.
Erik: Yeah, poker online, I got really good at it. And as have been the kind of poor kid for the past five years and desperately trying to fit in and never feeling that I was enough, always that feeling of feeling a bit like a lie, knowing that, sure, I might have been able to buy some clothes for myself, but we were still driving around in old Opel when the other kids had BMWs. And living in a small little house on the countryside when the other side big fancy houses in the best neighborhoods. And then suddenly, as an 18-year-old I started making $4,000 or $5,000, even $10,000 a month playing online poker. And while I wasted all of it on champagne and more expensive clothes, I got a car. Couldn’t afford that one, got an apartment, got a big flashy TV and all of those things, I spent basically all the money on things that could be seen just to try to fit in in this is the world that was living in.
Andrew: This is you Erik, the kid whose parents didn’t make as much money as his friends’ parents, who had to go to school on a school bus where everyone else was I guess being driven in saying, I finally get to show you that I am worthy, I am one of you or even better instead of feeling lesser. This was you carrying your insecurities on your sleeve?
Erik: Yeah, this I think worthy is the key word here. Like all the time I felt I am not good enough. I’m not fitting in. I’m trying my very best to accomplish this. And I mean, I think there were always like, well, always, sometimes jokes like, okay, but Erik, go home to your old little shitty house or . . .
Andrew: People said that to you?
Erik: Yeah, of course, I mean teenagers. I mean comments like that that you know they just hit in the stomach or hit me in the stomach, and became the food for this like attention monster in my chest. I just won’t move myself. So I think that’s where it came from them that when I finally had the money, I just wanted everyone to know that.
Andrew: Did you get to date before this? When you were going through that insecure period before you started making money from gambling, did you get to date? Did you have a girlfriend?
Erik: Yes, I was actually surprisingly good with girls all my life.
Andrew: Okay. What was your thing? I feel like you’re a very good looking guy. Like you’re wearing a standard white shirt, that every time I try to pull off just a white shirt like that, it looks like I’m a dork from like, I don’t know the law firm that hired me as it late term intern. You’re pulling it off. Is it that you were always good looking?
Erik: So if you go very, very much back in time, so let’s join Erik three years old, or four years old or something like that, my most of my earliest memories comes with a girl or some kind of sexual situation.
Erik: Yeah, so my very first memories are about girls or even a boy in some kind of sexual situation, but let’s not go there.
Andrew: Why, why, why? You’re saying even from, even at a young age, you felt like you felt some attraction to boys too?
Erik: No, I don’t think this was about attraction. It was probably more about curiosity in general. I mean, now I’m four years old or something like that in kindergarten building house of pillows kind of touching each other for see what that is. So already back there. And then I’m the seven years old and I told you I was this lonely kid, but even then I was surprisingly good with girls, or all my friends, the friends that I had were female, or women. Well, I don’t think you can say women when you’re seven. So that became kind of my way of validating myself came from girls already then. And the people I had around me when I was 13 and I wanted to have money to impress people. The one person that was closest to me and actually didn’t see me for money was this girl named [Louise 00:16:29], who I was kind of dating on and off for six years, and she was actually like me in a sense that she didn’t come from money or anything.
Andrew: Also the outsider, also feeling like she didn’t fit in and the two of you fit in together.
Erik: I don’t think she worried as much as I did. So I think that she felt that she fit it. It was just me who was, had those thoughts. But yeah. So we, yeah, we had a very close connection with all of that. So it came from this and it’s been long . . . been like that all the time.
Andrew: You and a longtime friend of yours’ Emil Thidell? Am I pronouncing his name right?
Erik: It’s good enough.
Andrew: How do you say it?
Erik: You can skip the H.
Andrew: Emil Thidell. You started a web consulting agency. What was your vision for this? This is like soon after you were doing your whole affiliate, your poker stuff, right?
Erik: It was more or less at the same time as I was doing the poker stuff.
Andrew: So the poker stuff started out as you gambling and doing well, and then at some point became you promoting the online gambling sites that you were a part of, right?
Erik: Yeah, so the poker started with me being 16 years old having poker on my calculator in school. And then when we started playing, the guys in the class started playing together at all the basically everything between all classes and in all math, Swedish and physics classes where we have teachers who didn’t really pay attention. And from that, that turned out very well. Like I kept, I did the marketing on the side of that for poker pretty much all the time as well as starting when I was 18 or so.
Andrew: Okay, and how did you . . . What kind of marketing did you do? How did you get customers? How did you get people to go and play?
Erik: Okay, so as a professional poker player, you pay somewhere between $2000 and $10,000 a month in different fees. So it’s really, really expensive to play that much poker. And that is called the rake. And if you have a special deal with it, with the site you’re playing on, you can get your rake back and it’s called rake back.
Andrew: So the way it works is, if I’m playing, if all of us are playing together, the house will take money from the pot from time to time, right. That’s the rake.
Erik: Yes, that’s correct.
Andrew: And so you’re saying some people get the rake back after they’re done gambling?
Erik: Yes, at least parts of it.
Erik: So if you say if you play a lot, you will pay somewhere between $2000 and $10,000 in rake. And if you’re a professional player, then it’s very important to get parts of that back. And that the casino obviously wants you as a player because you’re a big player. So you can then get 50% of this back. So I got a deal like that for myself. And then I started promoting those kind of deals for people I knew and that I met in forums and tournaments and stuff like that. So if you were another player, I could arrange so you got 50% back. And then I took a 5% cut on that.
Andrew: Got it. The online casino would give you 5% of what they were playing, what they were getting.
Andrew: Okay, got it. And so this was how you got started with this stuff. Interesting. All right. And then what happened next? Walk me through this.
Erik: Yeah, so we started this little web agency, but that completely failed pretty quickly. The idea with that was to build very simple websites to like hairdressers, widget, or printer shops on the shoe store in my local hometown. Yes, horrible to try and do business with small companies, at least doing web.
So we completely failed doing that. So we realized that, let’s see if we can build websites for ourselves instead. So we did that and started promoting bingo actually, which was a sister project of the poker site I was playing for. So they had a bingo site called mariabingo.com. And we started promoting them and comparing their bonuses and their offers with others, and then sending players to those, to Maria Bingo into a bunch of other sites and we got a commission there as well. I’m on Maria Bingo right now. It’s still going, got it.
Erik: Yeah, that’s huge.
Andrew: So you can play online. Okay. How did how did you and Erik meet each other?
Erik: Me and Emil.
Andrew: Excuse me, Erik.
Erik: Yes, fun fact.
Erik: We’re born on the same day, in the same hospital, by parents who knew each other. So we’re literally known each other for as long as physically possible.
Andrew: Wow. And growing up, was he also entrepreneurial like you? No.
Erik: No, he’s still isn’t . . . He is a brilliant . . .
Andrew: What was he like growing up?
Erik: The stereotypical computer geek. When he was eight years old, he had built his first calculator.
Andrew: Wow, wee. Okay. All right, I get a sense of who he is. Let me talk about my first sponsor, then we’ll continue with the story. My first sponsor is ActiveCampaign. Erik, do you know them at all?
Erik: Not at all.
Andrew: Okay, great. I’m going to blow your mind here. What did you guys use for email marketing at your company? Even if it’s a competitor to my sponsors, it’s okay.
Erik: We’ve been using MailChimp and AWeber mainly.
Andrew: Oh my god, AWeber. I don’t want to rag on them. But here’s the problem with these . . . Let’s just combine all the different email companies and call them simplistic. The problem with them is you just get one big list. And if you want to like separate your customers from non-customers, you create a whole other list for the most part. What you probably experienced, Erik, is you have people who would come to different sites of yours. And maybe somebody who’s doing bingo gambling is different from someone who’s doing poker, but they don’t fill out a form and say, “Hey, I’m into bingo, or I’m into poker.” You guys did both, right?
Andrew: They’re not filling out a form and saying that, but they are looking at websites that are for bingo. They are looking at websites that are for poker or whatever else they’re interested in. And if you had ActiveCampaign, what you’d be able to do is just tag them based on that, and then follow up with them based on what they were on. So if they were maybe going into bingo, bingo, bingo, bingo, even though they’re a poker player, you might tag them like that. And then send them an email saying, “Hey, a lot of poker players are discovering bingo is a good way to unwind. We actually have this deal where you can go and check out bingo.” Boom, now you’ve spoken to them based on what they’ve done, not who they say they are, and transitioned them towards something that makes sense for you and for them. That’s the beauty of ActiveCampaign.
Now Erik, I’m going to be honest with you. Lots of different software can do this. Wait, I see you’re smiling and I’ve got to like acknowledge it. Does it seem a little too silly? Are you feeling like maybe this is not your model? Be open with me. I’m okay with you even ragging on the sponsor if you’re open.
Erik: Well, I mean, I’ve always hated AWeber. I always been too lazy to change.
Andrew: You know what, it took me so long to leave it. And it’s such a pain in the neck. All right, I’m with you. Good. I thought maybe you’re smiling is like, Andrew, this is ridiculous. Yeah, it’s . . . I totally hear you. I’m not going to rag on them here. But I will rag on a lot of other . . . I’m going to rag on the community of these sites that just gotten lazy, because people signed up and they’re stuck with these emails marketing software, or they signed up and they don’t know how to transition away, but they know that there’s something better.
Anyway, ActiveCampaign does all that. I’m not going to pretend that there’s no other software that does it. There are higher end software that does all this. Somebody watches a video all the way through, you can tag them. Somebody clicks on a website, you can tag them. Somebody clicks within an email, you can tag them. And then you can follow up via email.
The reason they hate me, by the way, Erik, calling it email marketing and the founder when I interviewed him specifically kept telling me, don’t call us email marketing. But it’s too complicated to say it does email and text messages and yes, if you’re into chatbots, they’ll connect into a chat. It’s just to fricking messy. I’ll say its email marketing, but you could do the rest.
The reason that they’re better than the competitors is they actually they have all these features and they’re easy enough for you to use. All right, so if you’re like Erik and you’re stuck with one of these . . . well, that’s Erik previous company. Erik’s not at the company now full time. But if you’re a company that’s stuck with those old school email marketing companies, you don’t know how to leave, ActiveCampaign has got a special offer where they will move you away from the dopey overly simplistic email software that you hate to move. They will migrate you for free if you use my URL, activecampaign.com/mixergy.
And by the way, they’ll let you try it for free. And if you sign up, they’ll give you a second month free. And by the way, since they have all these features, and maybe you don’t know how to implement, they’re going to give you two free one-on-one sessions with their people. First session, you’ll learn what you can do. You get really practical, you go take action. Second session, you check in—what worked, what didn’t work, where are you stuck—and then they’ll help you out too. Activecampaign.com/mixergy, I challenge anybody to show me a better email marketing company. I challenge you guys, honestly.
Erik: And I’ll challenge them with one more thing. Please, please, please try to put an email collecting popup on your site and measure the results of it.
Andrew: Really? Why?
Erik: Yes, because it can do amazing things. It looks like shit. People believe that it will create worse conversions and that will improve . . . well, get bounce rate through the roof. It doesn’t at least in my experience. We’ve got insanely good results with it, even though it’s a very old school tactic. And when we did it the first time, which is a couple years ago, it boosted our revenues with like 15%, 20% just from having popup like that and starting with a good email funnel after that.
Erik: So please try and actually see. It might not work, but try.
Andrew: I’ve been worried about that, about putting that kind of popup on my site. I wait till people take action by clicking and then certain things will trigger it. All right, I’m all for trying it. And then your email funnel, who created that for you? You guys did it in-house?
Erik: Yeah, I built it actually.
Andrew: You wrote it all out?
Erik: Yeah, let’s go back a bit.
Andrew: Okay, so you and your friend decide, you know what, this consulting agency failed. We’re going after the wrong group of people. We mentioned bingo. Speaking of bingo, how did that factor in?
Erik: Bingo or what?
Andrew: I thought bingo was maybe the first set of sites that you guys decided to build.
Erik: Yeah, so bingo was the first thing that actually became something. We tried all kinds of things. And it took, so we built this bingo website, and we worked really hard on it for like three months.
Andrew: What was it called?
Erik: Well, the very first one is called lunarbingo.com.
Andrew: Lunar bingo, okay.
Erik: You can find it in the archive. We don’t even own the domain anymore. I think there’s something there.
Andrew: Yeah, you’re right. It’s gone. Okay, so yeah, tell me about Luna.
Erik: Lunar Bingo.
Andrew: Lunar, okay. Yeah, Lunar Bingo.
Erik: That’s it. So this was our first website. And we worked really hard on it for like three months. And we made a big fat zero in revenues in this time. So we put those projects aside and went on and tried all kinds of other things. And we made . . .
Andrew: Why didn’t Lunar not do well?
Erik: Well, I don’t know to be . . . Well, I do know. We didn’t know shit of what we were doing. We tried to copy other people’s ideas. We didn’t know how SEO worked. We didn’t know marketing. Basically, we didn’t know anything. And we didn’t really try hard enough to coming up with new things. Instead, we moved on and we tried a lot of other things. And we made [year-end 00:27:37] revenues in four other projects.
And then a year later, we came back to actually checking these bingo accounts and this affiliate thing that we set up, and we had made about 1000 bucks without even knowing it. So like, hey, wow, this can be something.
Andrew: Meaning all the sites that you built but abandoned because they weren’t doing well, were starting to trickle in a little bit of money when you weren’t paying attention. And then you realized, hey, this is actually all adding up.
Erik: Yes, exactly. Only the bingo site was the one generating the most money actually. So we felt like hey, bingo is the thing. So after that this is now 2008, yeah 2008. So we started doing a lots of different bingo sites and 2009 we got from 1,000 Euros a year to 1000 Euros a month, something like that. In 2010 we decided to let’s give this a try. Let’s move to Malta and focus full time on this and then I . . .
Andrew: Why Malta?
Erik: It was actually the only place I knew anyone who lived here.
Andrew: You [mean 00:28:29] stay at home?
Erik: We thought that we couldn’t. So in Sweden there is a gambling monopoly. And since we were doing marketing for gambling, we thought we were breaking the law. Apparently we weren’t because we didn’t actually operate the games, but 22 year old me didn’t understand that. So I [left 00:28:55] my country, but I was wrong. Still, I’m happy I left. I had a lot of good times over here.
Andrew: What was Malta like when you got there? What was so fun about it?
Erik: So a couple of . . . I mean, there’s a lot of sunshine, which is an obvious win. It’s very, very small, which means that it’s walking distance to everything. It’s a big expat community. So there are people from everywhere doing all kinds of funny business, a lot of tech people. It’s kind of like a mini Silicon Valley for Europeans.
Andrew: When you say funny things, what do you mean?
Erik: It can be anything from big banks and stuff that they took online to weird porn projects that are just interesting to talk to people behind them, and everything in between. So it’s a big hub for gambling companies, but it’s also a big hub for small internet entrepreneurs in all kinds of industries.
Andrew: Okay, wow, that’s fascinating to me. I’d love to come there and do a set of interviews. And by the way, the reason that I needed a little extra time when we’re starting is I got this mic setup on me and then this recorder. I want to start doing in-person interviews with people and be able to do it on my own with the simplest rig possible. And this is the mic, this is the camera that it was talking about. It’s called the Zoom H4n Pro. I went with the simple one. And I’ve got a mic on me to test out. And I’m going to test it with a friend, Hiten Shah, who’s coming in here to do an interview with me in person. Imagine if I went to Malta and interviewed five of your friends who are in like the wackiest businesses and published that on this Mixergy? That would kill.
Erik: You definitely should.
Andrew: You think they’d be willing to do interviews with me if I come and hung out with them?
Erik: I mean you’re such a nice guy, who wouldn’t?
Andrew: Most people, believe it or not, they don’t want to especially if they’re doing funny business stuff. They don’t want to talk about it with me.
Erik: Yeah, I have a couple of very secretive friends actually who do very weird stuff.
Andrew: You think they’d be willing to do it if I gave them anonymity?
Erik: Some of them would, some of them wouldn’t. I have a couple of very secretive friends and I have a couple of very unsecretive friends. So that’s the thing here, pretty much everyone I hang out with run their own companies one way or another.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s what I’m seeing that a lot of really interesting things happening there. I wouldn’t even say Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is very much like open and futuristic. This is a little more closed and action-results oriented is what I’m sensing from the entrepreneurs I’ve met in Malta, right?
Erik: Yeah, yeah, there are lots of like small affiliates or people who love the four hour workweek basically tried to embody that. They are here.
Andrew: Okay. You started getting some real customers. You started to . . . I mean, at this point, it was just you building sites and the affiliate programs are how you’re making money. Once you discovered that building lots of sites could work and that maybe bingo was the thing, what did you do next?
Erik: Okay, We’re now in 2011. When we came to Malta, our plan was actually to get jobs so we could do this as a side thing. I applied for one job, didn’t get it. Emil was too lazy to even apply for any jobs so he didn’t get it. So we basically said, “Okay, let’s live on the bare minimum we can possibly do.” So we turned off the heater to the shower every time we had showered to save electricity. That’s the budget we were on. And we just focused on the business. And 2011 became really good. We started doing these kind of affiliate websites for anything we could come up with. So we did it for bingo to start with, and we did it for insurance, insurances, mortgages, business cards, hotels, basically everything that we could imagine.
Andrew: But Erik, how did you . . . bless you. How did you get people to come to these sites? What was your thing? Was it SEO? Was it something else?
Erik: Yeah, so we got good at SEO, and what we figured out early on. So this is early SEO days, so somewhat early SEO days, what the value of link exchanges, which was a big thing then combining that with . . . scaling that with buying lots of small sites. So we bought a lot of small sites, and we put the links in the blog rolls. So you know, on the menu bar, we had the system that could easily inject links there to anyone. Okay, we had hundreds of websites. So we did link exchanges with pretty much everyone. And we always did . . . we always took the shorter straw in every link exchange, and we did this fully knowingly so that everyone would do the trade very quickly with us. So we didn’t have to hassle and negotiate.
Andrew: What’s the shorter straw when it came to link exchanges?
Erik: Yeah, so usually when you’re looking at, if you’re . . . if we’re trading links together, you’re usually looking at some metrics like, how valuable is your site, how valuable is my site. And we always made sure that we gave away more value than we got, so either they got more links in numbers or they got more powerful links than we got it.
Andrew: Got it.
Erik: In return then we did so many more of these because we didn’t end up negotiating or hassling from front and back so many times. We just scaled it. So this strategy worked then across pretty much any industry we wanted to try.
Andrew: Okay. And so then you were doing well. At what point did you decide to go public?
Erik: Okay, so in 2012, we started to make good money with various things. I think we made roughly $40,000 a month in profits, something like that.
Andrew: Really? Just from all these different sites that did nothing but link exchange SEO and then funnel traffic out. You weren’t doing . . . were you doing blogging? Were you doing communities or anything online?
Erik: No, no, we had very crappy products but we were good at SEO and good at email marketing. So we did SEO and email marketing.
Andrew: Email marketing. So you were good at doing those popups that would collect people’s email addresses and do a funnel that would send people to an affiliate and keep track of the clicks and keep improving it?
Andrew: Wow. Okay.
Erik: That’s pretty much all we did.
Andrew: All right, let me stop for a second. As a guy who grew up feeling insecure about your place in your friendship circle, feeling like you didn’t have enough money. Finally getting a little bit of a pop with poker and starting to show off by buying cars and champagne and so on. Now you’re doing 40 a month in this part of the story, what do you do? How does it affect you?
Erik: Okay, so we’re missing an important piece in that puzzle. And that’s what happened when I stopped winning at poker. So I’m 19 years old and I built up an identity around I have money, everything I am is money. That’s what I’m by far the most proud of and I’m not proud of saying that today, but looking back that was my identity and what I cared the most about. And then I stopped winning. So I didn’t start losing, which was a blessing, but I stopped winning and I had a lifestyle that was really expensive.
And in just a few months, I couldn’t afford anything anymore. I had burned all my money. I couldn’t keep the apartment. I could barely keep the [car 00:36:25], and I had to move back to my parents’ house. So when I was graduating from high school or whatever the word for is when I was 19 and planning for my life to become this big party, I was suddenly dead broke and I completely failed this, even though have had all those money, I burnt it on crap. So that’s the downside of the poker part.
Andrew: So then how did you handle that?
Erik: Well, I got devastated and didn’t really want to talk to anyone for a while. Then I started . . . I applied for a job. I didn’t get the job. I tried some other things to make money, didn’t get, then really managed to. And that’s when we started the business. So that became kind of the downswing and the way out of it.
Andrew: And that’s why you said, I’m going to go to Malta and start over. Did you get depressed at that period?
Erik: Not badly. I’ve been . . . it’s been way worse during the start. Well, during the Catena story, that’s been way worse.
Andrew: When you say not badly, what was your depression like at the time?
Erik: So this is 19 year old me and not sure if depressed is the right word. But I was definitely in a bad place, feeling that I completely failed, everything that I was. And since I had made money to my identity, and suddenly I had felt worthy of whatever that might have been, now that identity was gone. And I identified myself worth with having money, with couldn’t afford these things, with buying . . .
Andrew: Now suddenly you have no self-worth.
Erik: Exactly. Whatever I tied myself worth to was now gone.
Erik: Yeah, that was not a good time.
Andrew: All right.
Erik: With this in mind, now when I started making 40k a month, I actually didn’t care that much about money anymore. I had already won that game in a sense that I had a lot more than any one of my friends had. And it wasn’t important to prove it in that way. That’s also one of the beautiful things about Malta was that everyone ran their companies, but no one really showed off. So back in, when I was living in Sweden, and everyone had expensive clothes and expensive watches and whatnot. Here you could meet super millionaire and he’s still is wearing flip-flops and shorts, and you can’t tell him them apart from a customer support agent. So it’s a very different vibe, and no one cares about your address. No one is driving a car. It’s a very casual place where everyone hangs out with everyone.
Andrew: Okay, all right. And so you kind of broke through that issue internally because you made it and you lost it. And then you were starting to turn things around, so you didn’t go crazy. I want to know about why you went public. But let me take a moment to talk about my second sponsor, and then we’ll continue.
My second sponsor is a hosting company called HostGator. Anyone who was listening to Erik talk about all the different sites that he starting should understand that it’s actually fairly easy to launch new sites with brand new domains. If you go to hostgator.com/mixergy and you see that they have three different options. The cheapest one is like $2.64 a month. I recommend you don’t go for that. But instead you go for the next level up which is $3.98 a month is apparently what it starts at.
Basically all this stuff is insignificant, but what I want you to do is pick that middle option at least because that’s going to give you unlimited domains. And the benefit of having unlimited domain hosting is every time you buy a domain for like $9 . . . You bought yours one for 900,000. We’ll talk about that. But you can get a domain for nine bucks or less, then have it hosted on HostGator and throw another and another and another and another. And it’s really easy to do that to experiment with different ideas.
One of the people who is listening to me is a guy who decided, you know what, I’m kind of interested in this whole Cuba thing. I think that there’s a lot going on in Cuba. I hear Andrew talk about Cuba. I’m going to create a website. And so he just went to HostGator, hostgator.com/mixergy, which gives you a super low rate. And he said, I’m going to just install WordPress and create a site called Why Not Cuba?
And I’ve been thinking, Erik, about going to Cuba this year with my wife and kids, and I saw his site and I think we’re going to go with him and kind of hang out while he’s there. God knows once I talked to my wife about it, she’s so fired up. All she wants to do is ask about when are we going to Cuba. As Americans, we can’t get there. So if you’re out there and you have an idea, bring it to HostGator. Whether it’s one website or multiple sites, they’ll make it easy for you to host and rehost and rehost and rehost, hostgator.com/mixergy. Think of that alligator. hostgator.com/mixergy. Super low rate, get tagged as a Mixergy customer, help me out and help yourself out with a great site.
Why did you decide to go public? Usually companies don’t go public until they’re much bigger and further along.
Erik: Well, depends a little bit how we want to tell this story. How much time do we have?
Andrew: As much as you need? I got nothing else. In fact, when Hiten comes. he’ll hang out here with us. I’ll give him a scotch.
Erik: Okay, then we’ll do a longer version of this story. So we’re still at 2011 and 2012, we took on VC company. And the reason for that was simply that, okay, we make money right now, but we feel like we’re only fucking around. We have no idea what we’re doing. No one understands what we’re doing. And I couldn’t really explain it to my parents or anyone else. So the reason, we wanted to build something big. We wanted to turn into a real company. And that’s when we started doing casino. So that’s exactly when it became a company. Until then we have one employee . . .
Andrew: What do you mean you started doing casino?
Erik: So back on, before then, we did all kinds of different things. And October 2012, we gave pretty much all the attention to casino. We hadn’t done that before. So we started doing casino in 2012, and that’s when Catena actually started. So Catena then went to the stock exchange in February 2016. So that’s three and a half years later after we started it.
Andrew: So it doesn’t sound like the long story. Now, that’s pretty short. What you’re saying is you started to zero in on this one area, forget about insurance affiliates and all this other stuff. Casinos, online casino affiliates, right? Not creating your own casino?
Erik: Yes, correct.
Andrew: You hesitated.
Erik: I’ve done a lot of casinos as well. That’s why I hesitated.
Andrew: I thought so.
Erik: And we actually started a lot of a lot of . . . Yeah, we started a lot of casinos as well. But that’s a smaller story and a sidetrack. So yeah.
Andrew: Okay, so you started doing your own casino, your own affiliate stuff, you started focusing, you needed to raise money. And once you raised money, they’re looking for an exit. And so once you started raising money, that pushed you towards the exit, towards the IPO?
Erik: We actually didn’t raise any money at all. So we sold half of the company to a VC company to do and . . . well, not to a VC company. So these were three entrepreneurs who had built and sold a bunch of different biggish companies in the casino space. And they were gods in my world in terms of what they had accomplished, but mainly because of how people that I knew who had worked for them spoke about them.
Andrew: Who are these guys?
Erik: So they’re called Optimizer Invest, Henrik Persson, André Lavold, and Mikael Harstad. There’s two Swedish guys and a Norwegian. And they’ve founded companies.
Andrew: Okay, Optimizer Invest, we make good businesses great. That’s I think there also in Malta.
Erik: Yes. So we sold half of the company to them in October 2012. And they just . . .
Andrew: And the difference between raising money and selling half is you get to keep the money when they invest half?
Andrew: Got it, so you got to cash out a little bit. They came in, they added expertise and what?
Erik: Well, they added mainly two things I would say, being role models. So we had someone that we really wanted to impress, and they added way, way bigger dreams than we ever had. That was the two like main things that came with that. So we started working towards their dreams which well, their goals which was to build this casino empire, and we really wanted to impress them. So we worked a lot harder than we had done before. We started hiring a lot of people. Because before, we didn’t want to take that big step out of our comfort zone, so we didn’t have any employees really. And now we went from having one employee to having 10 employees within three months.
Andrew: Because they were leveling you up. What was it about them that inspired you so much?
Erik: I think there was they were just challenging me. Like, so we didn’t have a finance guy. So we didn’t have order in finance and like, why don’t you have this? And I didn’t have a good answer. Of course, we should have someone who kept track of finance. I shouldn’t sit there and do that.
I had to get a finance guy. And there was the same thing with all kinds of the like, why don’t you have this and I didn’t have a good answer. So I got that. So it was more like they challenged, they challenged where we were and how we would get there. And I really want . . . I looked up to them a lot and I really wanted to impress them. So that became my main drive behind those things.
Andrew: Is Henrik a billionaire?
Erik: Not in dollars, but in Swedish kronas.
Andrew: Okay. I’ve seen a lot of stuff about him once I did a search for him. Wow. Okay. All right. I think you guys are the company now is it 350 people, and soon after they bought half of the business. It looks like you guys went out and started buying other companies, right?
Erik: Yeah, so 2013 became the year where we really tried to scale things up and it became horrible fricking nightmare of a year. So I had no idea what I was doing. And suddenly I’m 24 at the time, and now I have 12 employees. I have for the first time, way more costs than I have revenues and none of my projections of future revenues is making it . . . working out.
We’re just losing money by the minute, and my bank account or our bank account is just shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. And then we finally managed to sort some things out and get the money kind of up a little bit.
Andrew: What’s the thing you sorted out?
Erik: Actually, I don’t think we did anything specific. Just the projections that I did was three, four months off, and things actually worked out. And then we got in a big legal dispute with our landlord who sued us for four years [rent 00:47:36].
So that’s a long side track again. Yeah, so basically, we have this office, and once we were in there, and then the guy came and knocked on our door and said, “Hey, you can’t use this as an as an office. It’s a restaurant.” All our agreements said that this was an office. So we were thrown out by the government, and then our landlord sued us for breaking the contract, which was obviously insane because we were forced to by the government. But he was taking us to court and they turned out that he was a very, very powerful man in a very small country. And you don’t really want to take that battle. Yeah. So that became, so we ended up settling outside of court and that took a lot of attention. And it was, yes, chaos.
Andrew: Okay, so I’m starting to see this. And eventually you’re saying the chaos started clear up and you ended up at a place where you could actually get back on track. Going public, why? Because you needed to help them get some liquidity or in order to acquire other companies with your stock?
Erik: Okay, so the truth about this, which is not really the most official story, is Emil, my business partner, he got completely burned out in 2015, early 2015. I was in tears whenever I spoke about business outside of the office.
Erik: I was in really bad shape. I was totally overworked from all this pressure of everything that we wanted for the vision was striving towards. And we tried to sell the company for quite some time. And long before the IPO, and reason being that the VC guys wanted money, and I wanted out. And we didn’t manage to sell it. We found one buyer who wanted to buy it for . . . put in an offer on 28 million Euros. But they had the condition that I couldn’t sell my part, or at least not most of it, and I had to stay on for two years. And I was like, fuck that I’m not going to work for someone else when and especially not if I can’t sell my shares. So we didn’t take that decision, the deal. So the main reason at the time that we that I personally wanted to go for the IPO was that I needed to get out and I didn’t have a way of coping with it.
Andrew: But you were still CEO even afterwards, even after the IPO?
Erik: No, I hired an external CEO like nine months before the IPO.
Andrew: Was this Robert Anderson?
Andrew: Okay. All right. So I see you want to be able to get out, you brought in a CEO, you were able to go public. Talk about your partner, he went through some really difficult times after that IPO. What happened?
Erik: Yes, actually the year before the IPO. So, me and Emil, as I mentioned, he’s stereotypical computer genius, introverted kind of guy. And I’m a business-minded guy with the narcissistic approach into big ego and huge dreams. And this two can clash little bit when we’re chasing my dreams, and I’m pushing him. So I pushed him too hard, and the VC guys pushed him too hard and he pushed himself too hard. That I put a lot of the blame on this for me and he crashed.
He wasn’t himself. He didn’t . . . one day he just didn’t show up to work. Turned out that they hadn’t really slept for weeks and weeks. And he wasn’t himself. And this was early 2015. And it would take until I would say this summer, the past now, the 2018 before he really recovered. And our relationship got a big hit on it and I’d say that’s barely recovering now.
Andrew: Why? How did it hit? What is it that you remember that you feel bad about looking back?
Erik: So he crashed, and I was in way worse shape than I realized. And I knew that when he crashed the right decision was to, “Okay, Erik. Let’s stop here. Let’s pick him up. Let’s see how we can solve this. Fuck the company, fuck, whatever is going on. Just focused on this.” And I didn’t. I left him there and I kept running. And realized today that I actually I wouldn’t have been able to lift him up because I could barely carry myself. But it took me a long time to realize that that I was in too bad shape myself. And yeah, I think that this is something that is spoken too little about. I believe that this is the part of pretty much every extreme success story, one way or another, is the sacrifices that’s been coming through it and sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s not.
Andrew: You’re saying you sacrificed your friendship with him. It was an opportunity for you to decide either I save him or the business. You decided the business. If you’re honest with yourself, that was intentional. But if you knew back then that you are making that decision, you would have still made it because you needed to.
Erik: To be honest, I don’t think that I would have been able to make another decision because I think that . . . so I was running at a way higher pace that I could handle myself.
Andrew: What does that mean? Were you doing any drugs to keep going? He must have been if he wasn’t sleeping for weeks.
Erik: No, I didn’t do any drugs. He did tons and tons of Red Bull. I don’t think he did any drugs either. But I was way in over my head in terms of work hours, in terms of pressure that I put on myself, in terms of goals that I wanted to achieve. I all, every waking minute I was working one way or another, and if I wasn’t in the office, I was in my head thinking about this and this and that. We were, as you mentioned, we bought tons of companies. I think that I’ve been involved in 20-25 mergers or something, mergers, acquisitions, something like that. So that became a bit and I, to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I was learning on the job.
And when this happened, we had done . . . yeah, the first bigger deal that we did was million Euros or something like that, which was early 2015.
Andrew: I’m smiling because AskGamblers, the website you mentioned earlier, was a €15 million deal. And before that, there was [Zero Corp 00:54:38] another €15 million deal. There’s Bettingpro €14 million roughly so I could see that even one is a lot but boy, you guys just kept going even from there.
Erik: Yes. Yeah. So we did tons and tons of those things. And yeah, I think that if I would have stopped, I would probably have fallen. So think of it like if you’re going downhill on a bike or whatever, and you’re going so fast that you’re not in control, and then your body falls. And that’s what happens. And there is simply no way for me to stop without crashing myself. I might be able to stay upright if I’m just going, but if I’m trying to break or trying to do anything else, I’m just going to crash and I think that’s where I was when he crashed. I don’t think that I could stop because if I did, I think it would have caved.
And so he did, he crashed, you crashed. And he stayed with the company, though. He’s still with the company now.
Erik: He’s a shareholder.
Andrew: But he’s not in the company day to day.
Erik: No, no, he hasn’t been . . .
Andrew: Oh, okay, he hasn’t updated his LinkedIn profile, so I assumed he was still there when I looked him up.
Erik: Okay. He hasn’t been since 2015.
Andrew: Have you guys talked at all?
Erik: Now we do. So the biggest change for him happened about a year ago. A bit more, maybe year and a half ago. When he fell in love with his sweet 16 kind of girlfriend from [inaudible 00:56:25].
Andrew: I guess we call it the high school sweetheart. Okay.
Erik: The high school sweetheart. Yeah, kind of and she was recently divorced and had two kids. So suddenly, he had a, I don’t know, two-year-old and five-year-old kid or something like that to take care of. And I think that’s what gave him meaning and purpose. Someone to kick him out of bed. Someone who didn’t care that he had boatloads of money. They just wanted their meatballs for lunch or whatever it is.
And that got him back on track. So I think that kids, I believe those kids have been the most meaningful thing. And yeah, now he’s . . .
Andrew: So he reached out to you or you reached out to him?
Erik: I kept reaching out to him regularly for these years and . . .
Andrew: And he finally was willing and he was in a good place to talk to you again.
Erik: Yeah. I really able to get hold of him. He moved back to Sweden. So he’s been living in our old hometown. So at some point, I went to his house, because he didn’t pick up the phone.
Andrew: You told our producer after the IPO, you were fighting with your girlfriend about things we owned. What do you mean by things we own? What would lead you to a fight with your girlfriend?
Erik: I’m not sure what she is referring to there. Your producer . . .
Andrew: Okay. Euphoric feeling from the IPO lasted for one week. Essentially we immediately afterwards I felt the same as I had done before. All the dopamine was gone, And now it was back fighting with my girlfriend.
Erik: Okay, so I know. Okay, yeah. So basically, we did the IPO and I made more money than I will spend in my lifetime, and that became a big relief that I had succeeded. I had survived. And there is a picture of me just screaming and it’s not a scream of joy. It’s a scream of relief. I’m like white in my face and I look like I’m a ghost or something. So, and obviously at that time I was filled up dopamine and serotonin and whatever all the words are for them, and I was so happy. So there were so many things that came from that and that feeling lasted for, I don’t know, two weeks, something like that. And after that things got back to normal. And my vision of reaching all these goals somehow was that from now our life is going to be Candy Land. I mean, everything is going to be amazing. I’ve reached all those goals I’ve been struggling for since forever.
But life didn’t magically change. It got back to normal and I got a cold. And apparently rich people get colds as well and I got sick and I kept fighting. Well, Me and my girlfriend we were struggling a lot. She was actually working in the business as well. And she had been under way more pressure than I realized. And I had been as well, and we had all this problems that we didn’t have a solution to, actually mainly sex problems which is a whole other story.
Andrew: And I’m going to pause on the sex problems because this is an issue. You’ve expressed this to our . . . I love Arie. We are so like . . . I love that she doesn’t just look for the business part, that she knows this is important to talk about that. What happened to your sex life?
Erik: Okay, so we touched upon earlier in this episode that I got a lot of my validation from women, and my earliest memories are about . . .
Andrew: Sex with women.
Erik: . . . being good with women.
Andrew: How old were you when you first had sex?
Andrew: Fifteen. Okay, with this girlfriend that you talked about?
Erik: Actually another girlfriend, but that’s less important.
Andrew: Wow. Okay. All right. And so, yeah. So, yeah, you got a lot of validation even when you couldn’t get it anywhere from your relationships.
Erik: I got a lot of my validation from women all my life, so myself worth when it wasn’t money as a teenager, it was women one way or another. And I have a very high sex drive. And Johanna my fiancée is a lot more normal, which was a big struggle, especially when she was completely burned out from business. I was completely burned out from business and well then sex didn’t work at all, which I believe is a very common thing for . . .
Andrew: It makes sense.
Erik: . . . people. Yeah, and I believe that entrepreneurs are actually really shitty in the bedroom. And if you’re . . . I base that on that some of the key skills of being a good entrepreneur is being good at negotiating. And it’s being good at fixing things, and some other stuff, but let’s focus on those two. If you’re a negotiator that’s basically getting someone else to do what you want them to do, preferably without them even realizing that it’s what you want to do. It’s a very good skill in business. It’s a really shitty skill to have in a relationship because you . . .
Erik: Because it’s manipulation. So, if I can get her to do what I want her to do, she’s actually going to sidestep what she wants to do for me, without even understanding that that’s what she doing. So she’s not being true to herself. She is kind of just wanting to come up with a way of doing things for me. Which is a really shitty spot to be in if you want to have good sex, for example, because she’s going to do things that might not be for her without even realizing . . .
Andrew: But doesn’t make good sex for you just not good for her?
Erik: Yeah, but that’s the short-term thing. So if you have good . . .
Andrew: Because you’re saying if it’s great for you but not for her, it doesn’t end up being good for either of you long-term?
Erik: Exactly. Exactly. So if, let’s say you were having sex five times, and each time it’s good for me and not for her, do you think there’s going to be a sixth time? Or do you . . .
Andrew: Got it. but what about what you said before, which is she’s thinking that this is what she wants? And so your manipulation makes her feel like this is what she wanted all along. So you’re getting what you want. She thinks she’s getting what she wants.
Erik: Yeah, so I think that’s her brain thinks that but not her body, and you can’t trick your body.
Andrew: Right, right. Okay. All right. And so you are getting to have sex a lot?
Erik: Yeah, so this is just where I’m coming from. So that’s kind of negotiation skills. So if you’re good entrepreneur, you’re a good negotiator and it’s actually means that you’re a pretty shitty boyfriend. And I definitely was. And it’s the same thing if you’re a good entrepreneur, you’re fixing things. And fixing things means the problems is outside of me. Which obviously means that I’m fixing her, so I’m kind of stepping into whatever she . . . An entrepreneur is never the problem. The problem is outside of the entrepreneur.
So I’m trying to fix all the things with her or fixing her like she is the thing that is wrong. And that’s also really shitty energy to come from like, “Yeah, this is your fault kind of. I’m going to fix you.” So I did all kinds of stupid mistakes in terms of all of those things, instead of ever like looking in the mirror and saying like, okay, Erik, maybe you should look into this and see where things are with yourself. So I think that entrepreneurs in general have these two things in common and a lot of other things that actually makes us worse partners instead of like, okay, let’s see, can I listen? Rather than trying to fix. Can I understand? Can I . . .
Andrew: How bad did things get before you realize that you need to improve?
Erik: We actually broke up. we went to couples therapy for a while. It didn’t really help. We were actually ended up breaking up a bit after the IPO, spending quite some time apart, realizing that, fuck, I really don’t want to be without her. And the only struggle was actually sex. Everything else was good, but that was a very big part of everything. That is a very big part of every relationship, I would guess. So, we got back together in 2017, yeah, summer 2017. And since then, I really tried to understand these things and realizing that okay, most of the problems were me, not her, me trying to change things, me trying to accomplish things, me turning . . . and another thing with entrepreneurs, we’re very goal oriented like, this is what I’m going to accomplish. It’s also a really shitty thing to have in the bedroom.
It’s like there is no finish line, there is no goal, that’s the us to really . . . sex it’s a dance. There isn’t supposed to be . . .
Andrew: A goal. You don’t mean even the orgasm. You mean trying to get her to do something that validated that you’re important enough that she would do it?
Erik: Yeah, which it sounds good . . . So basically, I was wired and I’m still I’m wired in that way one way or another that I get my validation from . . . part of my validation comes from sex. So if she doesn’t want to have sex, I hear that as there is something wrong with me and I feel bad about it, and it comes out in my temperament, my feelings, my whatever and it becomes projecting a lot of shit [one way 01:05:55]. So all of these years becomes negative spirals. And doesn’t fix anything.
Andrew: What about this? So one of the things that I found was when I was dating, it was easier for me to get that kind of a fix because then I could just keep going from girl to girl. We were both really happy and then we moved on, and there was no opportunity to see that we weren’t a good fit or that I suck in some way. Did that . . .
Andrew: You don’t go to that. You seem like a more of a monogamist, or more like, I don’t know, monogamous or not, but you like long-term relationships.
Erik: Okay, so I’ve been with Johanna for nine years, and I was . . . well, I wasn’t a good teenager, let’s put it that way. So I messed up and I hurt women a lot by doing that I hurt myself a lot, and that have turned me into monogamous. Or I think that I’m more of a polyamorous guy, but I’m in a monogamous relationship, which is also very tricky. So I have so much love in me and I love so many people, and I’m very deep into connection, especially with women. I dance a lot. I love this.
Andrew: And sex gives you deeper connection because someone’s letting you into a part of their lives that they don’t let everyone in?
Erik: Not sure about the letting anyone in the part of their . . . but it’s I think that it’s like a dance. It’s a deep connection thing that . . .
Andrew: Does it bother you that some of your friends are polyamorous but you’re not?
Andrew: It does, especially like people who you see you having conversations, like they’re not any better than you. They just happened to be with someone who’s allowing it.
Andrew: And how do you deal with that?
Erik: Well, I really love Johanna. I really want to live my life with her. And I believe that the only thing that kind of stops a polyamorous relationship is it’s fear. I think that everyone in a relationship wants their partner to be happy no matter what. It’s like the end result. Whatever she wants to do, whatever makes her makes her happy, I would want her to do in theory. If what she wants to do is fuck a bunch of guys, that would scare the shit out of me. So in theory, I still want to, but the fear takes over.
Andrew: So you negotiated with yourself and realized, you know what, I’m willing to accept this better deal, which is not to scare the shit out of me by having her be with other people, not screw up my relationship with her by me being with other people. I’m giving up that part of myself to be with her.
Erik: For now, that’s where I am. I actually I would be willing to let her be with other people if that’s what she wanted, and get to a point where we are more open with each other.
Andrew: But you feel a little bit like she’s being selfish. She’s being selfish to not recognize that this is what you want and give you this part of yourself and let you fully be you. You’re a guy of extraordinary abilities, extraordinary demands. The reason you push yourself so hard is because you couldn’t deal with just a small little site that produce 1000 a month, where you had to turn off the heat every time you’re done taking a shower. That she is not recognizing this in you and giving you an opportunity to be that person. As much as you love her, you wish that she was big enough to let you have that.
Erik: Okay, so there’s two sides of this. One side of me is really fucking pissed off, that thinks that she is so selfish and is . . . Yeah, part of me is really, really angry with her. Another part of me is very, very understanding. And I realized that this is all about fear. There is so much fear around this, and it makes complete sense because it’s scary as fuck. And we’re so brought up with that this is wrong. This is not how relationships work, and it scares the shit out of me too.
So a bigger part of me is understanding, and I’m not sure how these two things will play out. I mean, we’re young. We’ll see where things turn out. But we’re continuously talking about this topic in one way or another and touching upon it and we’re growing a lot together, and I have no idea where things will end up. And regardless if it would ever turn into a polyamorous relationship or not, I believe that it’s the best deal to be with her because I’m madly in love with her.
Andrew: Because what? What is it that makes me love her so much?
Erik: It’s a beautiful question. I should tell her more often. So she has a lot of amazing qualities. First one being that she is so loving and caring. She makes me feel safe no matter what. She always listens to me. She’s a very devoted fan of everything that I do all the time and adores me and gives me a lot of validation in whatever way she possibly can. She’s funny. She’s smart. She’s going to be the most amazing mother someday. She shares my humor. She shares my dreams and goals for life. And yeah, she keeps me sane, so pretty much everything is amazing about her.
Andrew: She’s a yoga teacher now certified, right?
Andrew: Are you that person now too, someone who’s open to yoga? Or you still so driven that you recognize at least she’s got more of a Zen attitude on the world and you want that to rub off on you and chill you out?
Basically, I’m asking are you more like her now? Or are you still you but you want her calm and peaceful presence to change you or just chill you out a bit?
Erik: Suddenly there’s a couple of things that really changed during, since we were apart. And some of them is that she has gotten closer to where I am, and I’ve gotten closer to where she is. So I kind of neglected her spiritual Zen aspect for the first seven years of our relationship. And she was done a lot less interested in the sexual aspects and whatnot and other things that I’m interested in.
And today, I’m a lot more into her stuff and she’s a lot more into my stuff. And so I’m actually much more into meditations. I struggle with yoga. I’m interested in some other stuff. I would be able to do it if they pass on our silent retreat and just sit there for 10 days for example.
Andrew: Me too. I could do that but not a 60 minute yoga session.
Erik: I don’t mind a 60 minute yoga session, but I’m not passionate about it. She is, so I leave that to her. We’re getting [inaudible 01:12:50].
Andrew: And we’re getting a little off topic. I’ve got to say that as I was looking for photos of you and her to get a sense of what you guys are like together, I came across a photo of you the day you went public. I got to tell you knowing what I know now, I still don’t see an ounce of like hesitation, sadness, struggle in you. The smile just looks so carefree. It’s like okay, now I could take a deep breath and maybe in truth, you did get to take a deep breath and your partner got to take a deep breath, and you had to then go back to the stress, but boy you guys look so happy at that moment. It is just so good to see the behind the scenes on that.
All right, so you bought a domain, great.com for $900,000 largely because of something called . . . What was it? I can’t find it, itforchildren.com or something, IT for Children. Yes, that’s what it was, my memory’s right. Tell me about how Emil introduced you to IT for Children? Why that lead to great.com, and what are we doing with this business that you’re giving away all the money from, all the profit from?
Erik: Okay, so after the IPO, these feelings of this complete the rush of joy left me a couple of weeks in, and it ended me . . . well, didn’t end me. It left me feeling empty and me and Johanna, we split up. I didn’t know what to do with anything and what I thought I would feel with all this money and success didn’t happen.
And I started looking into charity and various things and see if I could find meaning there. And I went to Ghana to visit this IT for Children. They needed money to build a school building. I think it was $15,000 or something like that, that I donated to, for them to complete that building. And I went there. And I came to this village called Busua in south of Ghana, and I visited this school yard and on the right-hand side were these gray buildings with steel bars for the windows, and on the left side was this splash of colors. It was yellow, green, and red. That was the school building that IT for Children had built. And it just felt right to be a part of that.
And then the class started in the afternoon. And our class is about teaching kids computers, and it’s voluntary, so they can come if they want to. I didn’t think many people would come. I mean, just think about that first. Would you have gone to a class that was voluntary after school hours? Or would you have done something else? I would have done something else when I was 10, for sure.
But there was a line of kids outside of our classroom with hundred kids, and we only had 70 places, 70 spots to sit up and trust me it was crammed with 70 people in there. So we had to deny kids who wanted to learn, who wanted to be there outside of school hours. And that was just whoa, weird feeling [present 01:15:56].
The main thing happened later that day When the kids had left, and I start talking to Torsten who is the main guy there in the project. And he told me that the other teachers could borrow our school building whenever they wanted. But it was on one condition, it was in our school building you never hit the kids.
And that was like, whoa, to me, it’s so obvious that you should never hit the kids. But in here, it wasn’t obvious. In the gray buildings, the kids got hit. I mean, think about going to school as a kid, having to be terrified.
Erik: And in our school building then, the kids were safe. The kids, they lined up to be there outside of school hours. They loved to be there. And to me that just felt right. I was like, “Okay, this is something I really want to do. This is something I want to be a part of.”
Andrew: You know what? I got to tell you, I saw you write something about in that building, that kids don’t get hit. I thought you were like, having a hard time with English and it didn’t hit me, it didn’t occur to me that you meant, literally in this one building, kids don’t get hit. The other buildings, the kids do literally get hit.
Erik: Yeah. So that, I mean, I realized that I won’t . . . well, I probably knew that before, but I want the world to be a safe place. And I want to be a part of that in whatever way I can. So that became my first powerful experience with charity or what it can mean and what can happen with, what money can be used for when it’s not squandered on champagne or expensive crap you don’t need to impress other people, but you can actually do something meaningful with it.
So that became the first part of great.com. So I wanted to . . . I involve myself in a lot of different charities after this, but it never really felt right. I don’t know much about running a school in Ghana. I don’t know much about trafficking in India, or an orphanage in Uganda. So I asked myself, “What do I know?” And I realized that I know business, I’m good at business, I enjoy business. So I wanted to come up with the best ways of doing business, and then donating all profits to charity. And that’s what great.com.
Andrew: And this now you starting any business that makes sense if you’re in the exploratory period to figure out what business does make sense. And as you make profit from it, you’re going to be giving it away.
Erik: Yes, yes, exactly. And it’s also the . . . so Catena was built to be sold from my perspective in essence. I pushed myself way too hard. I almost . . . Well, my friend, my business partner, crashed. My girlfriend got burned out. My relationship got ruined. My personal health was definitely endangered. And it became a big financial success in a very short time, but the personal cost was big. And I hated it at a large extent. And now I want to come up with a way is, how can I love this? How can I do this for 50 years and enjoying the process? Because if I can get to a certain goal in four years by pushing myself far too hard, what can I do in 50 by not pushing myself too hard, but actually enjoying the process? Probably a lot more.
So now Great is going to be fully remote organization, where everyone is working with . . . based on trust and full flexibility. We want to be ridiculously transparent. So we actually want to share all salaries and all of these things. We post all our meetings . . . well, not all of them, a lot of our meetings on YouTube, just from video recording, so anyone can see what’s going on.
And all of these different things that we’re basically playing around with, we want to be very vulnerable and honest with things. So we start each of our meeting starts with a check-in process, where people spend between 30 seconds and two minutes just telling them about where are they emotionally right now. So we know how to interact with each other. And yes, a couple of weeks back I was in a really bad place, and I’ve had a really tough weekend with Johanna. And I started crying during that process on our Monday meeting, and we actually decided to postpone all plans and just talk about those things because it meant more. And I think that if there can be such an environment in an office or in a company, there’s so much to win from it in the long term.
Andrew: The Emil that you’re working on with at this business, is it a different Emil?
Erik: Yes, it’s a different Emil.
Andrew: Okay. And these, what are the calls that you guys published? I don’t know if you still do, but you were publishing calls for a while on YouTube. Yeah, I guess you still do.
Erik: Yeah. So at the moment, we are doing three calls a week that we publish on YouTube. One is . . .
Andrew: Internal or with who?
Erik: Yeah, internal. So we’re currently six people and we’re spread over more or less six time zones. So we do all our calls on Zoom. And we have a weekly call every Friday based on what we’re doing or similar things about organization and we just published that for whoever wants to see where we talk about our OKRs, our goals. Our targets, our salaries, our whatever is important. And then we actually we do a podcast every week. So we’re recording that one. And we do a podcast . . .
Andrew: Becoming Great, for anyone who wants to hear it. Super entrepreneur, a multi-millionaire, and tantric . . . oh, you’re tantric. Really? Tantric sex?
Andrew: Is it good? Does it work?
Erik: I definitely think it works. Yeah, it definitely works.
Andrew: And tantric beginner Erik Bergman are exploring the idea of building organization with personal health and growth in focus. Erik’s colleague and friend podcast host, Emil challenges Erik’s . . . he challenges Erik’s challenges. Becoming Great is a podcast hosted by the charity initiative, great.com. That’s what it’s about and the weekly calls. I like how is it Frederick, who I guess is part of your team. He’s on your weekly Zoom. He’s laying in bed in his undershirt. I don’t know if he’s wearing pants or what, but you will publish it on YouTube because that’s what happened on March 15.
Erik: Yeah, man, I think that, to me, this is a big part of what I want to do is I want to encourage transparency and vulnerability. I want to be on a podcast and talk about my crappy sex situation. And my challenges with that. And I want to share whatever struggles comes with building a company one way or another, because I believe that the world would benefit from it.
Andrew: Do you have someone on your team whose name is Spirit?
Erik: Yes. So yes, the fact his name is Spirit.
Andrew: He’s in Sweden. Okay. This is what we’re talking about. And you don’t know yet what you’re selling or do you know?
Erik: Yes, I mean, it’s the commercial side of this business is going to be very similar to what I’ve done before . . .
Andrew: So it’s marketing or gambling?
Erik: Affiliate marketing, it’s going to start with gambling, because that’s what I know. I wish it would have been something else. But I feel the reason we’re going into gambling is several. One of them is that I feel a responsibility for whatever damage I’ve caused with my engagement in charity. Well, it’s not in charity, with gambling. So if I go into gambling today, and I can actually represent something else in gambling, I believe I can do a big difference for how the gambling industry looks and what it is. So one of the podcast episodes we talk about that I’m probably responsible for someone committing suicide, because I’ve been involved in so many gambling transactions that one of them has probably led to that.
And no one takes this dialogue. So if I’m representing this industry, and I’m doing this, I believe that I can actually change this industry from the inside, something that I would not be able to do if I stepped somewhere else. So it would be a lot easier for me to become a hero or whatever if I decided to do something completely different. And since I’m going to give away all the profits, there’s no upside for me to do gambling, but I feel a responsibility of doing what I can to change this industry because I think that I’ve been part of doing a lot of harm in it.
Andrew: I get it. And so you’re going to use it like Robin Hood to get to where you want.
Erik: Exactly. So, basically, the money that would be generated from marketing within casino otherwise would very likely be reinvested in the casino industry. Now parts of it will be donated to charity instead and not build the casino industry more, but rather help people in need.
Andrew: Is Spirit Rosenberg like a Hassidic Jew? Is he Muslim? Or is he Christian? I can’t tell or is it none of the above?
Erik: I think he’s an atheist, actually.
Andrew: And I don’t know if you guys still have it up but used to have a team page for each person and he’s saying, “If God created anyone with a purpose, my purpose in life would be to listen. I’ve always had a knack for listening and understanding others. My dad never really went to church and yet he always seemed to be a preacher in the home specifically in the living room,” and he’s talking a lot about God a lot on his page. Atheist you think?
Erik: I’m not sure what he is. Yeah, [inaudible 01:26:11].
Andrew: Yeah, maybe he was a Hassidic Jew or a Muslim is because of the head thing that he had on in one of your team meetings which frankly works really great.
Erik: That team meeting was . . . so one of the team member’s name is Derek. And he got married two weeks back. Yeah, two weeks back. And we did a video recording where we celebrated him and sang to him in the beginning of our call, so Derek wasn’t in the call. And Spirit played the role as a priest, so that’s why he’s dressed up as a priest. So we started the call by saying, okay, we’re here to celebrate the beautiful wedding of vanilla and chocolate. No, no, Vanessa and Derek, sorry. And does anyone have any objections? Blah, blah, blah. And then we all gave our objections to the wedding. So and he just kept the outfit on.
Andrew: Got it. All right, does it bother you that only 17 people watch that one weekly meeting. It’s on YouTube. You don’t promote it. But as someone who’s competitive, who wants to see your numbers go up, does it make you feel like, “Oh man, come on. Only 15, only 19 people, this frustrates me. I’m never going to do it again”?
Erik: Yes. So once again we have this [project meeting 01:27:23]. We have one of them, which is this very competitive guy that hates that this is not something that has taken off at this time. And my once again narcissistic ego perspective, and this really wants people to watch this and care about this. At the same time, I have this dreamer within me who realized that, “Okay, we have not figured out a good way of doing this.” As of today, most of the calls are not any entertainment value. They’re never going to be a high entertainment value. So what we need to be good at is picking out the golden nuggets of each part of this is, and finding the [inaudible 01:28:03] to do that. Because if we’re doing video calls that are one hour or two hours, and they’re actually only relevant to us in its full length, obviously people are not going to care about it if there’s five minutes of quality in each one of these.
So we need to be good at picking out those things, and then being in the long run people will like what . . . there will be an effect of people actually engaging in this. We have a few people that watch every episode all the time, which is a lot of hours every week. And those are very few but in the long run, I think that snowball will grow.
Andrew: All right, this has been one of the longest conversations I’ve ever recorded. We’ve been talking including the conversation before we officially started for an hour and 40 minutes. I wonder how people feel about it going this long. Guys, if you made it this far, please let me know. Just tell my whole team, email@example.com. I want us all to hear from you guys. I know I love this. I like how this went. For you, what time is it right now in Malta?
Andrew: 1:11. Was it worth your while to stay up to 1:11 to have this conversation with me? It’s totally fine to say, you know what, maybe [not 01:29:13].
Erik: I’m happy stay up for two more hours. I’m having a lot of fun.
Andrew: And only thing you’re on right now is caffeine from coffee?
Erik: Yes, and the passion of life.
Andrew: I can see that. All right, for anyone who wants to go check you out, I think the best place for them to go see you is probably great.com, but there’s nothing on great.com.
Erik: If you go to great.com/media, you will find the links to our podcasts and my everything from Instagram to everything else. And there will be a lot of other things going on.
Andrew: I see it.
Erik: You’ll find the links to all the YouTube things as well. And I’d like to add one more thing because before we end this as well, and it’s we . . . one of the reasons why we’re doing . . . why I believe in podcasts, why I want to do this fully transparent, and want to do these things is that I want to create big reach for recruitment and finding awesome people who wants to do something very different.
And right now I want to find a CEO or a CPO not quite defined what that has, who will actually be in charge of building this. And that’s preferably . . . so we will be the perfect fit for someone who has already been part of a big journey, and maybe did an exit themselves or maybe was a part of the project as an employee, and wants to do something again, but with a lot more meaning that have a very high emotional intelligence and believe in vulnerability and transparency in these things, and wants to be a part of a lifelong journey rather than starting over and take long strategic and operational decisions in a way that as far as I know, no company has done before.
And yeah, that’s starting with a $900,000 domain name at great.com. And in the long run, my belief is that it will result in billions of dollars in donations over the next decades.
Andrew: And your vision as someone who’s been a part of a team, a leader of or close to leadership of a team that it’s one of these like hustler type companies that you like, the people who would go to something like I don’t know if you know, Baby Bathwater where they’re producing profits heavily. They know what it takes. They’re not necessarily like venture backed, but they know what it takes to do it. And now they want something meaningful to apply those same skills towards something that has big meaning and they’re willing to sacrifice big personal profits in order to have big impact on the world.
Erik: Yeah, they don’t necessarily need to sacrifice big personal . . . Do big personal sacrifices if they don’t want to. If there’s someone who has done an exit themselves and they don’t need money, if they’re in my situation, that would be a perfect candidate. If they’re not but they’re still really good and really passionate about this, I mean everyone else but me earns salaries. It’s just me who doesn’t. So that’s not a deal breaker in any way.
It’s yes, someone is driven by this who wants to build the big remote organization and believe in these things, and its very product oriented or preferably the love child between Elon Musk and Bill Gates. So it’s a tech genius, kind of what . . . not tech genius. Passionate about tech because I’ve never been. So I think that we would be a perfect fit for each other. And yeah, I think that I could really add value to someone like that and this dream. And we actually recorded the ninth episode of the podcast Becoming Great about this role. So it’s not even live yet, but I guess it will be live when this episode goes live . . .
Andrew: All right, that’s a really good place for us to end it then. Anyone who’s listening to this now is really bought into this vision and at least your story, and if they want to follow up now that this episode is over, they should go check out Becoming Great, that’s the name of the podcast in whatever app they’re listening to?
Andrew: All right, there you go. Becoming Great, go look it up. There a few episodes in there right now. By the time you hear this, you will hear the episode that we just talked about. I think that’s a great place to send people who are interested. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first will host your website right, it’s called HostGator, check them out a hostgator.com/mixergy. Let me say it slower, hostgator.com/mixergy. I wonder if anyone actually can hear me say it clearly enough to go there.
And second if you’re like Erik and you hate your email marketing company, switch, level up. Go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. And I’m really grateful to both of my sponsors for . . . I know there’s a lot of companies who hate it when I get into sex conversation. They don’t like it when I talk about like tantric. They would have loved for me to pass it on. I think ActiveCampaign just and HostGator, they just kind of trust me. Same thing with some of my other ones like Toptal. I think that’s a really good fit. Erik, thanks for doing this.
Guys, all of you, thanks for listening in, and this experiment of me recording myself here on this thing worked okay. The audio recorder still takes double A batteries, and it died or it was close to dying so I stopped it. I’m going to go to the store and buy batteries. I don’t like that it uses real batteries. Meanwhile, the iPhone, we have camera equipment that literally costs thousands of dollars that I take out, can’t record for more than half an hour. I didn’t know this was this was standard limitation.
This iPhone with this little mic on top recorded us for one hour 42 minutes no problem, no issue in 4k. So that experiment was interesting. I’m now ready to go to Malta, ready to go to Chile which is my . . . Chile excuse me not Chile. Chile Santiago, Chile, where I’m going to record interviews with entrepreneurs and all over the world as I run marathons on every continent in one year. And record interviews with entrepreneurs around the world as I do. These are constant little tests that I do. I want to get to know people in person, Erik. Erik, I’m glad I got to know you this way. I hope I get to see you in person. Thanks for being here. Bye, everyone.