Two taboo topics with James Altucher

I got an email from James Altucher, who I’ve had here on Mixergy several times, and he said, “Hey Andrew, just wanted to mention some things that have changed since I was last on your podcast.”

Usually that’s kind of a boring email, but James had me. There were a lot of lines in there that got my attention. Including the one that said, “My revenues are now $18 million dollars a year”

And I thought, $18M for a writer? For someone who sometimes looks like he lives on a park bench?

And there’s something else he wants me to talk to him about that I found unbelievable. Find out what it is right here.

James Altucher

James Altucher

Choose Yourself Media

James Altucher is an entrepreneur, chess player, investor, and author of Choose Yourself.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It is, of course, home of the ambitious upstart.

And I got an email from James Altucher, a guy who I’ve had here on Mixergy several times. He said, “Hey, Andrew, huge fan of Mixergy and everything you’re doing. I just wanted to mention some things that have changed since I last went on your podcast. Usually that’s kind of a boring email that starts that way, kind of flattery and, “Here are all the great things I did that no one else would care about.” But James had me.

There were a lot of lines in here that got me, including the one that says, “Andrew, my revenues are now $18 million a year.” $18 million for a writer who frankly looks like he lives on a park bench sometimes? A writer who loves to sit and do nothing but read all day and play chess and answer questions on Q&A sites. How is this guy doing $18 million? I have to ask him about it.

And then he says in a later conversation with me, “Andrew, there’s something else I think you should ask me about.” He tells me about how he and his wife split up and it’s something I should ask him about on Mixergy and I go, “This guy is un-freaking-real. I’ve got to get him on here as soon as possible.”

So we’re doing it right now. Let’s get into it. We’re going to talk about two really taboo topics–a person’s money and a person’s marriage. And I don’t know of anyone else except for James Altucher who would get into that, and I’ve always known that about James Altucher, at least for as long as I’ve been reading his blog at JamesAltucher.com.

And this interview, complete with all my prying questions, is sponsored by two great sponsors. The first will help you hire a developer. It’s called Toptal. The second will help you get your books in order. It’s called Bench. I’ll tell you more about both those later.

James, what did you think of that intro? Fair, this is what we’re going to get into, right?

James: Yes.

Andrew: $18 million from what? What are you doing $18 million from?

James: Hold on. It’s so interesting. Do you get a lot of emails saying, “Hey, here’s what I’ve been up to. I wrote another book, ‘How to be a Leader from my Fishing Expeditions'”?

Andrew: It really is exactly like that. Someone will have done something fantastic. I have them on Mixergy, and then it’s, “Hey, Andrew, since then our revenues have increased 10%.” That’s fantastic internally, but I don’t know what to do with that. Or, “Since then, I started my own blog.” I don’t think I have enough to talk to you about with your blog, right?

So I like the person. That’s why I had them on. I often will start a conversation that eventually might lead into an interview, but often it’s very much like, “Hey, Andrew got me a lot of attention for what I did before. I’m doing this little thing now. Let’s get some Andrew attention.” But it’s too little.

All right. $18 million?

James: Yes.

Andrew: Has it been $18 million in 2016?

James: So 2015, the business started in late February, 2015. I did $18 million in revenue the first year. I’m just being totally transparent. We did $18 million in revenue the first year. We did about $1.6 million earnings. And this year, we’ll do probably, I don’t know, $11 million in revenue, but we’ll do over $2 million in earnings. So I got much more focused on the bottom line this year. Ultimately, at the end of the day, how much money you take home is how good the business is. Anybody can generate revenue, but it’s hard work to generate income, as we all know.

Andrew: That makes sense.

James: Unless you’re living on what I call venture capital welfare, you need to make a living.

Andrew: So you blow my mind with this. I kind of know a little bit about where revenue comes from, because I’ve asked you since this email, but can you illuminate for the audience? Where does a guy who writes blog posts about how he gave up everything in his life, about how the one thing he wished he knew when he was 21, where does a guy who writes these kinds of posts end up with $18 million in revenue?

James: Well, okay. I’m going to have a cliché answer, which I’ll try to add some value and I’m going to have a detailed answer. Are you okay with that, two parts to the answer?

Andrew: Yeah.

James: I think everyone always says, “Oh, you have to have something unique to say or unique product or unique value to give other people and then you get paid for it.” That’s sort of true, but I don’t quite believe in that. I think on the cliché side this is what everybody says, and I agree with this. You need authenticity, which is obviously very important, because if you’re not authentic in what you’re offering, then people are going to sense that. There’s going to be a gap between what they get and what you offer, and that gap basically is how quickly–the bigger that gap is, the more quickly it will go out of business.

Andrew: Okay.

James: They have to match. If I offer the most stunning new phone in history, like Apple once did, it’s got to be pretty close to being the most stunning new phone in history. And add brand value to that, which Apple had and you’ve got to deliver.

Andrew: Just to get really concrete, what is it that you’re generating that much money?

James: Okay. I was going to get into the details part, but we’ll get into that.

Andrew: Go ahead. I see you’re going somewhere.

James: The second part on the cliché part is rather than delivering something of concrete value, which I do, but the very first thing you have to deliver is curiosity. You have to be curious about what’s going on in the world around you. Here’s the thing that’s different now than the world five years ago. The world’s changing really fast. I just saw a help wanted ad for an engineer for self-driving cars. That’s like a science fiction job that I didn’t even know would have existed a few months ago, and now it’s like an add on LinkedIn, “Help wanted, self-driving car engineer.”

But the reason I bring it up in the context of this podcast is look at the success of your podcast. It’s not that you are saying, “I’m Andrew Warner and I’m the only guy who has something unique to say.” What makes your podcast a success and your business a success is you’re curious and you bring on the people you’re curious about, like you mentioned in the intro, somebody can make you curious, but somebody might not make you curious. But curiosity rather than–

Andrew: Forgive me. I’m only going to interrupt because you’ve written a whole post about how you like interrupting because you’re so curious. I’ve got to get to where the $18 million comes from just to give people an understanding of who you are and what you’re doing.

James: So for 15 years I was writing for free, and I was delivering a lot of value for free. I figured I’m delivering a lot of value here on how to start a business. I’ve also written about the stock market a lot. I’ve created websites with millions of users relating to finance. I’ve kind of covered this whole range of entrepreneurship, the personal improvement to direct advice about finance and the world economy and how to deal with it and so on.

What I offer is a range. So I built up a platform, an email list, whether it’s an email list or a Facebook group or something, you have to build up some sort of platform, and you do that by offering a ton of content for free over years. So this is like years and years of building up demand for your knowledge by building a free platform, and then you come up with extra value that based on my curiosity of how are people making money right now, I have products on how to be an entrepreneur. I have products on the stock market. I have products for how to–

Andrew: Info products.

James: Info products, yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

James: Info products and courses and so on.

Andrew: And the most expensive one is how much and what does it teach?

James: The most expensive one is $2,500 or $5,000 for a lifetime. I’m not trying to sell it, by the way. Anybody listening to this, don’t buy my products. It doesn’t matter. But I had an idea to do a hedge fund in 2005, and I day traded this strategy for a while very successfully. The idea was–I’m going to give it to you in a nutshell.

If Warren Buffett buys IBM at–I’m going to make up a number–$100 a share and it falls down to $80, that’s a good stock to buy. Warren Buffett is like my free intern, and he tells me, “Hey, this is a good stock at $100 and now it’s at $80.” Thank you free intern. Go run off and get me a coffee now. I’m going to buy it at a 20% discount to what you just told me. And Warren Buffett is the best investor in the world.

What I did was I found let’s say 20 of the best investors in the world and I look at all the stocks they’re buying and there are various ways you can find that out plus my own network of contacts and I pick the one or ones I like the best and I offer those.

Andrew: When it’s selling for less than they paid for it.

James: Yeah. You try to find that out. You don’t always find that out, but I always try to find out as much information as possible as to why. I used to be in the hedge fund business. I used to be in the fund of hedge fund business. So I know many of the hedge fund managers. There are always ways for me to find out why someone bought something.

Andrew: Okay. So you teach entrepreneurship. You give stock tips. Which is the one that does the most revenue for you?

James: Stock tips does well over maybe it’s like $12 million in revenue.

Andrew: Where does the money go? When you do $18 million and you get to keep less than $2 million of that, where does the extra $16+ million go?

James: That’s a great question. Part one is, in 2015, for that particular product, the high end product, I worked with 82 different companies, all companies with good email lists that were different than my email list. Every company has various techniques for gathering an email list and I’ll give between 50% to 80% of the product.

Andrew: I see.

James: For the first year. And then I gave a year for free, which is why revenues go down for this year. And then in the third year, there are renewals. That’s when you start getting serious income. Not that millions of dollars is not serious income, but the income gets serious once you get the renewals going.

Andrew: Got it.

James: By the way, this is a very classic model, but you have to build it up in a very authentic way. The classic model is I had information that I had an excess amount of information about what hedge funds were buying or excess information about entrepreneurship. People wanted to buy it, and I built a platform in the middle to sell it.

Andrew: Who’s your number affiliate?

James: It’s hard to say. I had a lot of affiliates that generated about between $500,000 and $800,000. Maybe I had about 10 affiliates that were all about equal.

Andrew: Who are some of those that we might know?

James: There’s a guy, Doug Casey. He has a very strong list. There’s another guy, Tim Sykes, who’s a day trader, didn’t have a long-term investment strategy. So he was able to sell this. He and I have been friends for a long time. There’s another affiliate, Stansberry and Associates. They sell a lot of investment newsletters.

Andrew: Here’s what I don’t get about you. This is a pretty big infrastructure.

James: By the way, plus I have my own list. The biggest affiliate was my own list.

Andrew: Right. How big is your list?

James: My list is about 150,000 people.

Andrew: Yeah. They’re passionate, from what I’ve seen. Here’s what I don’t get–

James: By the way, every day I give free things to my list. Even if they never buy a product from me at all, they come to my list not for the products, but they know I’m going to be authentic about the products they offer, but also I still give out my highest value for free.

Andrew: This is a pretty big machine that you’ve built. You need to find and court affiliates. You need to have the software in place to give them their payments. You need to create these courses. You need to create the email. You’re a guy that can just disappear if you want to for a couple of days and just get lost in I don’t know what. I always assume it’s chess and reading books, but it could be something else. I’m wondering how did you put this–what does the organization look like to do that and then how did you put it together?

James: That’s a great question. I live for experience. I’m a very strong believer in experiences are greater than material goods. So I don’t own any items. So I don’t know if you’ve seen my blog posts about this. I own about two or three outfits. I own a computer, an iPad, and a phone and a bag to put everything in. I own nothing else. I don’t own a bed. I don’t own furniture. I don’t own sheets, dishes, computers except for this computer.

I don’t know what else–TVs, art work, I threw everything out about eight months ago. I live just in Airbnbs. I don’t rent. I don’t own. I just go around and live in Airbnbs. That’s an experience for me. That’s my lifestyle. It’s not a recommendation. It’s just how I live.

Andrew: The thing that I feel though is that you don’t seem to spend a lot of time emailing affiliates saying, “How do we make this work?” You don’t go to conferences courting these affiliates. How did you get all those affiliates? How did you spend the time and create the course, which takes other info creators a lot of time?

James: So a lot of this is 15 years of doing favors and helping people without any expectation back. So when I needed affiliates, there were two people I called who I had worked with let’s say 10 years in the past or 5 years in the past. One of them runs conferences of affiliates, and I asked her, “Hey, here’s the product. Can you help me find affiliates?” She hooked up about 30 affiliates. The other guy hooked up the other 50 affiliates. Suddenly I had 80 affiliates.

By the way, she’s in Minnesota. He’s in Florida. I’m mostly in New York. I’m in San Diego today. I see them once a year at best, only if we happen to be randomly in the same city. I have altogether about maybe a dozen employees. They’re mostly based in Denver, some in Florida, and zero in New York City where I spend most of my time.

Andrew: And they’re running things. So you need to create–

James: I don’t even know the day-to-day.

Andrew: So, if you need a landing page, for example, created for an affiliate, someone you hired handles that?

James: 100%.

Andrew: 100% they handle it.

James: I’m completely unaware of it.

Andrew: So how did you hire people that could do that well? That’s pretty tough. I’ve tried to find people to create these landing pages. Some of them sound brilliant and I’m sure they are, and then when it comes to executing, there’s always one issue and it often comes back to me, “Why didn’t I do something? Why didn’t I spend more time on it?” How did you find people who were good and strong and could work on their own?

James: Well, one of the affiliates and he’s also a shareholder in the business, one company had a very good copywriter, the copywriter for a small piece of the final product sales, he wrote the copy for all my landing pages and for all my sales copy and he’s very good. Then I review it and I rewrite and I do my own touch on it, but this is just on the sales copy. Again, it’s all relationships.

Andrew: I see. You found someone who does this really well. You gave them equity in your business?

James: Equity in the product.

Andrew: Equity in the product.

James: But his company that he works for I gave equity in the business.

Andrew: I see. So you give equity in the business to someone else so they have a vested interest in your success, and this person has a financial interest in you succeeding with this product so they do well with it.

James: Yes. Look, at the end of the day, it’s not how much you can personally grab in the next three months. If you want to build a business, you’ve got to think really long term, like 10 to 20 long term, something that can be generations long term, because you are delivering value. By doing that, I have no problem giving away–I want to be around the smartest people in the room. I mentioned to you I hired an affiliate manager. Again, it’s not just an affiliate manager. She organizes the biggest conference of affiliate managers.

Andrew: Who is this and what’s the conference?

James: I don’t even know the name of it. It’s for financial info product affiliates.

Andrew: So you said, “I want to partner with you on this.” It’s not just, “Would you do me a favor,” but, “I’ll give you a financial benefit for doing this.”

James: Oh yeah. She’s constantly getting paid, like every day, for the work she does.

Andrew: I see. That seems like your MO then. You give shares in each of these products to someone else who’s doing really well so you can trust they’re doing well with your name. You have final say in what goes out. Am I right?

James: Yeah. And let me say, this person, her name is Jamie, for six years she’s been trying to get me to do a newsletter. I kept saying no. Finally I said yes when we developed a friendship over those years, so I really learned to trust her and she learned to trust me. She learned I wasn’t going to put out anything if I didn’t believe in it. So she was able to tell the story, “Look, I’ve been trying to get this guy for six years, but he kept saying he didn’t have something he wanted to offer.” So she has a great story to tell to get the affiliates on board.

Andrew: I see. All right. This is the nerdiest thing that I’m going to do on a call, but I feel comfortable–for some reason, actually not for some reason. Because you let your nerd flag fly, I’m going to do it too. I’ve got to wipe my nose here.

James: Do it. I’ve been on your podcast like four times. I went on like your 300th or one of your special centennial episodes. We’ve run into each other conferences. We’re friends at this point. Blow your nose.

Andrew: Thank you. I’m keeping that in the interview. One of the things that I feel is that we should be really open about our weird eccentricities like that. I notice that I connect with you more, I feel more affection for you because you do that. You let that nerdy part of you come out in your posts.

Let me talk about my sponsor. Actually, my sponsor is a company called Bench, which actually feeds into a question I was going to ask you. Who does your books? How do you–yeah, who does your books? And then I’ll ask a follow-up question.

James: Good question. I am looking for software to more easily do my books. So, right now, the partner I have who took equity, basically one of the reasons I gave them equity is they helped me with the entire infrastructure of my business like doing the books.

Andrew: I see. What do you get every week or every day? How do you look at your numbers, and what do you look at?

James: I never look at the financials of my business.

Andrew: You don’t? Isn’t that dangerous? That’s one of those things people eventually come back on Mixergy and say, “This is a big mistake. I should have looked at my finances.”

James: I have basically a COO that I trust incredibly, and if he wanted to screw me, go for it. The business will go down the tubes, but I trust he’s not going to do that. I need to generate content 24 hours a day. So I needed to hire somebody I could trust or fail.

Andrew: But you don’t say to this person, “Once a month I want to look at all of my financials. I want to see the income statement to see how much revenue we brought in. I want to know where the money went. Let’s go through the expenses. We’ll spend an hour together, and then I’ll go back to content creating?” You don’t even do that?

James: I do that. I do it on a phone call though. I do it on a phone call with him. If he wanted to lie to me, he could. I do it on a phone call with him where once a month we go over where did the revenues come from, who are our best affiliates, which employees are working well. Then it’s almost like an accountability thing. I coach him on running a business, and he also coaches me on what’s working and what’s not and so on.

Andrew: What are the key metrics you look at and expect from this call?

James: I want to know what products are a) selling well, that’s the basic, but also I want to know what products people are having products with customer service and if there’s any way I can help there and what products are people not renewing. That shows me maybe they didn’t get the value I thought they were getting.

Andrew: I see. You want to see churn. Do you also want to know your biggest expenses for the month?

James: Our expenses are so low it’s ridiculous. It’s only affiliates as our main expense.

Andrew: I see. And then what about these 18 employees you mentioned earlier.

James: Yeah. A dozen employees, when you’re making millions in profits, that’s not a big expense. Everybody is a profit center. So if somebody did not become a profit center, I don’t even have to ask. I trust this guy, he will let them go. We’ve let people go if they weren’t profit centers.

Andrew: All right. If you don’t have the kind of setup that James has, what you need is a bookkeeper who can actually give you all the numbers you need and organize it in a way that won’t distract you from your business. I agree with you, James. You don’t want to be distracted from the thing people are signing up for.

That’s why I recommend that you check out Bench.co. What Bench does is they have a team of people who can do your books. I’m not in favor of this one bookkeeper who sits and does the books because a) the bookkeeper can make a mistake, b) the bookkeeper can end up being sick for a few weeks and then you’re screwed for that period of times, and c) James you trust and maybe you have a good person there, but they can end up cheating you.

Look at Mark Cuban, who said that he made money in the beginning of his career, and the person who was supposed to manage the checkbook ended up stealing it. He said, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” He had basically no money, and this woman took whatever little he had. So it happens to everyone.

So what you want is an organization you can trust that can actually get the job done, and I believe you need more than one person on the job. That’s why I recommend that you go check out Bench.co. In fact, I’m going to give you a special URL– Bench.co/Mixergy. They will do your books for you. They will get them in order, and then you could once a month take a look a them and know exactly where you stand.

If you want to do it more often, which I would recommend, you could do that also. Bench will take care of you because you’re coming in as a Mixergy fan and they’re actually going to give you 20% off your first 6 months of bookkeeping. So here’s a special URL to get the 20% off. It’s Bench.co/Mixergy.

Imagine looking at your finances and saying, “This is how much money I made this week. This is how much I last month. This is how much I made this whole year,” knowing what your big expenses are. It becomes like video game with points. You know what your points are. Go to Bench.co/Mixergy.

It’s interesting. These people that you end up having around you, I sometimes wonder, James, is this a persona you’re putting on, James, this guy who’s just kind of hanging out? I feel like I love your hair because it feels so free and liberating, but I wonder if in the morning you spend half-hour getting rid of the bed head that must naturally come when you have puffy hair.

James: This is the bed head. I just got out of bed.

Andrew: That’s it? You don’t put any product in?

James: Of course not. What product is going to untangle this? I’ve been tangled since I was a kid. I mean that both emotionally and in my hair.

Andrew: Are you really tangled? I feel like you’re kind of playing off of a tangled situation that you had emotionally years ago, and now in your 40s you are on top of the world. You understand who you are, you understand how you want to live your life, you’re actually in touch with your old broken feelings enough to talk about them, which means that maybe you’re distant from them.

James: I think that’s true. Michelangelo said inside every block of marble there’s a David, Michelangelo’s David. It’s the sculptor’s job to chip away until you find that David. I sort of think that’s true about human life. We’re all trying to not find out information, but ask the right questions so we can chip away at the block of marble in our lives to find who our authentic self is.

I’m not saying I’ve done that, I’m just saying I try to feel what makes me feel good, how can I have good people around me and constantly trim the toxic people around me until gradually I build up more and more value and live more and more of the life I want to live. I’m 48. I’ve been doing this all my life, trying to figure out closer and closer to living the life I want to live, and it’s a hard job. I have to trim and prune every single day.

Andrew: You mentioned get rid of some people from your life. I can’t find it here, but in my research to prepare for this, I saw that you said–oh, here it is, actually. I can find it. I’m using something called GetLiner.com that helps me highlight on my phone, which is good because that’s where I end up reading a lot of articles. It says, “By the way, it’s not the neighbor down the street who hates you for your success. They couldn’t care less. It’s often your closest family members, friends, colleagues, professors and so on, not all of them, but some of them.”

I wondered about you. Who is it in your life that you had to get rid of because they weren’t rooting for you? They were rooting for your failure, actually.

James: Well, let me ask you a question, not specifics, but does that line resonate with you? Can you see the sense in that?

Andrew: Not anymore. I do feel that growing up definitely almost everyone around me, if they saw that I was succeeding or trying to do something, they would try to knock the wind out of me because I don’t know what it is. If I said, “I want to make money,” they would say, “No, money really isn’t everything.” “I didn’t say it’s everything. I said I want to make money.” Or I would say, “I want to build a business.” They go, “Listen, everyone wants to create a company. No one is going to succeed at it.”

I think I got really good at getting those people out of my life and evangelizing like Malcom X standing in Harlem preaching, evangelizing my truth until I only got converts around me. So my wife is a convert. She believes in what I’m saying. My brother and my sister are converts. Anyone who isn’t, I kind of lost them a while ago.

James: Not that you don’t want yes men. You don’t want that in your life all the time. But you want people who are supportive, who challenge you.

Andrew: They want me to do well. They don’t start with the negativity every time I want to do something.

James: Right. That’s really key because negativity is contagious. Not challenging, you want people to challenge you. But people who are always negative and always try to put you down or who are actively angry at you, this you can’t spend a single second. If I lose money, like Mark Cuban’s a great example. You said someone stole some money from him. He can make that money back. In fact, he made billions back. But you can never get the time back an angry person steals away from you. These people are thieves in your life, and you can’t let them around you.

Andrew: You know what, James? I’m sorry. This is a rude interruption, because this isn’t about clarifying. This is about my personal statement here. I’m wondering as you’re saying this if maybe I was strengthened a little bit by having some of those people around me. I don’t have anyone around me who when I want to do something say I can’t. So internally, I’m not battling against them, which used to fuel me. I wonder if I should have a couple of these negative punks in my life.

James: No. On the one hand, if you say–this happened to me last night. I said to a friend of mine, “I’d really like to try being a standup comedian. Whenever I give a talk, people are laughing the whole time and I love standup comedy.” And this friend of mine said, “Are you really going to stay up past 9:00 p.m.? You go to sleep at 9:00 p.m. You’re not going to be Louis C.K. overnight. You’re going to be hanging out with the 20-year-olds at the open mics. Is that the scene you really want to spend your time in five nights, six nights a week?”

The answer is no, it’s not in my top things to do, even though I appreciate the art of standup comedy. So, okay, I had someone challenge me and I agreed. That’s not someone saying to me, “You’re not funny. It’s a talent you’re born with, either being funny or not funny and you’re boring.” That type of person is out of my life. But the kind of person who challenges me and asks good questions, that person is in my life.

Andrew: Why do you have to travel? You mentioned you’re in Airbnbs. Why can’t you just settle down in a house? There’s some need that I’m trying to understand that comes with moving around so much.

James: It’s interesting to be in different places for a tiny, tiny percentage of what the place is worth. With Airbnb, you could stay at a multimillion dollar apartment in New York City for let’s say $400 or $500 a night. I don’t know. It’s interesting to see how other people live. I don’t like the paperwork involved in renting, and I certainly don’t like the paperwork involved in owning and the fact that owning traps you in place.

And the money I would have spent on owning I can spend on investing in myself, on learning, on traveling, studying new things, not dealing with the time spent in maintaining a house or even a rental. So it’s just a much easier lifestyle for me.

Andrew: I’m wondering about your podcast. You were here doing a podcast with me and at the time I don’t think I valued podcasting that much. I did it because I loved it. But I didn’t think it was ever going to be big. Then you go out and you create a podcast, an interview program. You’re starting to rack up freaking downloads. I saw in The New York Times you told them that you did two million downloads. Did you prove to them that you did two million a month?

James: Yeah.

Andrew: You did? They wanted proof?

James: They fact-checked everything.

Andrew: They did. So what are you doing to get to two million downloads a month?

James: That was across two different podcasts. It was across the James Altucher Show and another one I was doing, which I had just stopped, actually, called Question of the Day with Stephen Duber, who wrote “Freakonomics.” But in general, you and I both have been in podcasting for years and years, and you get better and better at it and you ask questions. It’s your curiosity delivers value, not the other way around.

Andrew: It’s more than that though for you, because you will pick a point of the podcast that you find interesting. You’ll then write a post I think on Medium about it. Then you might pick the same story, give it a slightly different twist, and you’ll post it on Facebook. Then you might even go to freaking LinkedIn, which I never check except to look into your background, and you’ll post it there. I feel like that’s part of your strategy.

James: Oh yeah. You want to be a machine. I’ll give you an example. Can I give you an example?

Andrew: I’d love it.

James: This is related to the Airbnbs. So The New York Times did this story that I was living in Airbnbs, and it just so happened a few weeks ago that my host in the latest Airbnb called me and said, “Hey, the Head of Hospitality for all of Airbnb is staying in the apartment right underneath you and he wants to meet you.” I said, “Sure, come on up.” So he came up. Of course, he’s Chip Conley, the Head of Hospitality for all Airbnb. He brought a bottle of wine because he’s a hospitable guy.

We started talking. I was like, just like you would be, “This is great stuff. I’m going to put on the recorded.” So we did a podcast. Right after he left, I wrote down “The 10 Things I Learned from Chip Conley.” I posted that on Facebook. It got a lot of engagement. Then I said, “This will probably work well for an infographic or for LinkedIn or for Medium.” So I did different articles for those places. It might be a chapter in my next book. The podcast was just released yesterday. You create a spider. You have eight limbs for your content. Podcast is only one limb. Book is another. Articles are another. Infographics are another.

Andrew: And you kept thinking, “Where else should this go, and how else can I make it fit in these other mediums?”

James: And a) is it valuable? And b) is it free? You build audience with valuable, free content. So you just get in front of everybody you can. Not everybody is reading LinkedIn, like you said. But some people do. I have half a million followers on LinkedIn who do read my stuff. You don’t read on LinkedIn. You might read on Medium. Or some people don’t read at all. They listen to podcasts. So give people a chance to find you. Don’t be arrogant and say, “They’re only going to find me on Medium, or they’re only going to find me on Facebook and that’s it.” Or, “You’re only going to find me on my blog.”

Andrew: Is it you doing it? Is it you actively going into LinkedIn, copying and pasting out of your editor and posting?

James: No. I have what I call The Machine. They take my stuff, and they come up with all the websites that it should be. I have graphic designers making infographics. I have podcast editors editing the podcast, as maybe you do. And then I have another person posting to Libsyn or wherever you post your podcast.

Andrew: And then the actual writing–I’m looking at here, this is what you talked about, “How to Find Your Calling: What I Learned by Accident Because of Airbnb.” I see a picture of your podcast at the top of it. It’s a post that you published on LinkedIn. Who wrote this?

James: I wrote that.

Andrew: You personally typed every letter of this.

James: I personally typed every letter of that.

Andrew: I see. You will write it, and then someone else will post it to LinkedIn for you. But you actually do all the writing.

James: I do 100% of the writing unless it’s like sales-specific copywriting, which is a particular skill set I don’t have. But I write my own stories. I have a voice that I’ve spent 20 to 25 years building. I want to write with that voice.

Andrew: I see. Why not have someone else do that? I guess it’s not good for business. You actually enjoy the writing, don’t you?

James: I only enjoy the writing. I love writing and I love storytelling and I think the reason I build up an audience is because I’m curious just like everyone else, “What is going on? How’d you build a process like Airbnb? How did Airbnb become the place I decided to stay?”

I’ll tell you a story. Two years ago I wrote an article on Quora, “10 Ways I Would Improve Airbnb.” So when this guy Chip Conley came upstairs, I said, “Can I show you this article,” in the middle of the podcast, “Can I show you this article I wrote two and half years ago about how to improve Airbnb?” We went down every item. I had 10 ideas on how to improve Airbnb.

So I’m able to take old content. Now I mix it with this new element, and now that creates more content. It’s all to deliver value. Now I did a favor for Airbnb–not a favor but we met and now I’m going to speak in two weeks at the Airbnb open in LA. Gwyneth Paltrow is speaking. Eric Holder, the former Attorney General is speaking. I’m speaking. What an exciting thing.

Andrew: What do you get paid for that?

James: Nothing. I’m happy to do it for free.

Andrew: Interesting.

James: Like what else in my life am I going to get an experience? 5,000 hosts will be in the audience. I love Airbnb. I’ve only lived in Airbnb for years. Where else am I going to get this experience? I’d pay to speak.

Andrew: I’m thinking now I should be doing this too, like what did I learn from having my conversation with you? I don’t remember all the details even though they live with me. I would have to go back to the transcript, highlight the key areas using Liner or Evernote or something, then write a post. Then I think I might question whether the post is right because I’d like it to be better, and then the post would never get published because I have to do other things.

James: Well, very important–so, as soon as Chip Conley left the Airbnb I was staying in, one minute afterwards, I wrote down 10 things I learned from Chip Conley, and then out of that the next day, I’m able to sit with that and more details come back. I wouldn’t have remembered the 10 things I learned. You only remember like one percent of everything you consume. I was able to write a story, and that’s the story you read on Medium or LinkedIn or wherever right now.

Andrew: Does it ever get tedious to write it for Medium, then for LinkedIn and essentially have the same thing?

James: Well, there are different audiences, 100% different audiences.

Andrew: And you adjust the content?

James: Sometimes a little bit. You don’t always have to. If I’m talking to audience A here and audience B here, it’s not like you have to change that much. They really don’t intersect.

Andrew: I see. So it could just be the same thing on Medium as on LinkedIn and be totally fine.

James: Yeah. You look at books like “The 4-Hour Workweek” or let’s say Tucker Max’s “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” those were initially collections of blog posts, and they do a little bit of editing. I do a little bit of editing to make sure there are some differences. But those bestselling books that sold millions of copies were initially collections of blog posts.

Andrew: But is that you doing the editing? I’m getting such in the weeds here, but it’s interesting to me. Do you make the small tweaks to take the post that fits on LinkedIn and make it feel better for your blog and more tweaks so it fits better on Medium? Do you do that, or does someone else do that?

James: Yes.

Andrew: You do?

James: I do that. Let’s say I write something on Facebook that’s like really personal and might not be appropriate for LinkedIn. I might change some things a little bit to make it more appropriate for someone who’s really on LinkedIn searching for résumés. For Medium, I may make it more appropriate for entrepreneurship. For Positively Positive, I may make it more appropriate for positive thinking and so on.

Andrew: And then do you look at your numbers there? Do you see, “Did I get enough thumbs up for this to have worked?”

James: I know if something gets good engagement on Facebook, then it’s going to get good engagement everywhere.

Andrew: I see.

James: So I do look at the numbers to be honest, but I don’t like to be addicted to the numbers. That’s a hardcore addiction and I’m an addict. So I try not to get addicted to much to the numbers. I don’t know the download numbers at this moment of my podcast last month. We just finished October. I have no idea how many downloads we got in October. I’ll find that out at some point, but I’m not calling up actively trying to find out.

Andrew: I was at Podcast Movement, the conference. My thing is I love people. I just want to talk to–I literally wanted to talk to every single one of the people who came to the conference. I was exhausted. Just as I was going back to my room, I saw this woman, Pamela Rothenberg sitting there. I start talking to her.

James: She’s my podcast producer.

Andrew: Sorry?

James: She’s my podcast producer.

Andrew: Yeah. I didn’t know that until later. I’m just talking to her about relationships. We’re just talking about life. We’re talking about dating. We’re talking about my wife, not her wife. And then the next day I find out she’s actually the person who finds guests for James Altucher. So I text her and say, “Can we talk about that?” And then she told me about how she got Arianna Huffington to say yes to doing an interview with you. I said, “That is amazing. Can you work with me?” Did you know she was working with me too?

James: I didn’t know that. But here’s the whole thing–my business is based on my principles of choosing yourself. So I encourage my employees to seek out other jobs.

Andrew: So you’re okay with it.

James: 100% okay. The COO of my company helps other people launch their own newsletters, and he takes cuts of their newsletters. I don’t see any of that money. Everybody should do what they can do, as long as they’re doing good things for me.

Andrew: Now I’m starting to worry about you. Do you have money in the bank?

James: Yeah, I have money in the bank.

Andrew: You do?

James: Yeah.

Andrew: Is it your COO, CTO someone like that who’s keeping track of that, or do you know for sure because you see it in the bank?

James: I keep track of that.

Andrew: Okay. Good. Let me talk about the–the reason I asked and then I’ll come back to the sponsor message–the reason I wanted to bring her up is she’s insanely consistent about her follow-ups. She told me how many emails she sent–I forget what it is, some insane number, like 30 back and forth emails with Arianna Huffington, because apparently you had to interview Arianna Huffington in person. You got an interview and then you said, “No, I need it to be in person.”

James: I found that particularly if they live in New York City, I found that if you get them in a studio in person, it’s probably about double the downloads.

Andrew: Is that right?

James: It’s not like people know directly that it’s in person, but they’re more comfortable sharing with their friends if the audio quality is at level and the rapport is much easier when they’re in person. Like you and I know each other. I didn’t know Arianna Huffington, really. She had been on my podcast before, but it’s not like I was friends with her. So I wanted it in person. So Pamela, she’s really great. She says no to these people. She said no to Steve Case. She said no to Arianna Huffington at first unless they came into the studio and they come into the studio.

Andrew: What I want to know is I spent time getting to know her even though you vetted her, I felt. I spent time going to the conference to get to know her. How did you find someone like that? What’s your process? It doesn’t look like you obsess over it?
James: Well, things happen serendipitously, I want to say. I was working for years on my podcast with another guy who now is the COO of my overall business, and his son’s ex-girlfriend was Pamela and Pamela was just a huge fan, was listening to all of my podcasts, was writing down notes from my podcast for herself and was constantly talking to David, her ex-boyfriend’s father about my podcast. She had another job. So David was like, “I need a little bit of help now that I’m taking on more work here. Can you help out?” I said, “Let’s not just have her help out. Let’s hire her. Move her to Florida.”

Andrew: And you paid to move her to Florida?

James: To be honest I don’t even know–have no idea what I pay her.

Andrew: And then is this like a trial–

James: It could be $15 million a year for all I know. Maybe that’s where all the money goes.

Andrew: Do you do a trial with these people?

James: Do I do what?

Andrew: Trial, like hire them for a couple–

James: Yes.

Andrew: You do. Okay. Let me talk about–since we’re hiring–

James: I’m not a bad business man. I’ve run many businesses. The way to do a business is to get your relationships in shape over years so you can do what I’m doing now.

Andrew: All right.

James: It takes time though.

Andrew: If you don’t have a friend whose son dated someone who can do your development work on your site and you actually need someone who can really think creatively, I’m going to tell you this James, you can file it away in that memory of yours and maybe at some point it will come out, but I’m also telling it to the audience. If you need to hire a great developer, you can’t often count on a friend of a friend of a friend.

What you want is the best of the best of the best. The problem is the best of the best often are working at Google, working at Facebook, working at these places in Mountain View. I’ve got friends who have gone through the hiring process. It’s insane. And for all that, the big prize is you get to live in San Francisco and drive an hour and a half in a bus down to Sunnyvale or down to Mountain View, which is hellacious, then another hour and a half on the way home. It’s hellacious.

Some of these people say, “You know what? I don’t want to do this. This is not my life. I decided to code because I love code, but I don’t love being in traffic.” What they end up doing is traveling the world, and many of them apply to work for Toptal because Toptal says, “Work wherever you want. All we want is for you to be the best. The rest we don’t care about.” Toptal then gets the best of the best because they go through an insane training, not training but selection process and they have them in their network.

So now when a company wants to hire a great developer and they happen not to be Google, not to be Facebook, they can tap into Toptal, say, “Toptal, here’s the way we work. Find me a great developer. Find me a great developer who works with the languages we use, who works with our crazy office experience or Slack or however it is we do it.” The only thing Toptal will not find is someone who will come sit in your office every day. You get to work with them.

They match you up. If you love them, you get to work with them. If you don’t love them, if you don’t think they’re a great fit, they will find someone else, or they will say, “Sorry, we can’t find someone for you.” But they’re not going to mislead you. They’re going to give you someone fantastic, because a good developer won’t just do what you need her to do, will actually think creatively and come up with a solution to your problem and then go create that.

You’ve heard me talk about people like Derek Johnson, who I interviewed here on Mixergy who heard me talk about Toptal, who hired a Toptal developer who then his CTO said, “This guy is as good as I am,” and was really happy. You’ve heard me talk about other people.

If you want to try it for yourself, here’s what I suggest you do. Don’t just go to Toptal.com. Any old schmo can go to Toptal.com. Be a little smarter. Go to this special URL that I’m giving just Mixergy listeners, where you will get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit–80 hours of developer credit–when you pay for your first 80 hours, and that’s in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. Try it out. Make sure you love them. If you don’t love them, let me know, let them know and they’ll make it right. Here’s what it is, go to Toptal.com/Mixergy.

Let’s talk about relationships, the last place that I want to pry. Here’s the thing. I had my wife on Mixergy just a few weeks ago. One of the hesitations I have is if we ever break up, what do I do? Do I just make her disappear? I have to kind of acknowledge it. You were so public with your wife. You wrote a book together. You traveled together. You did a podcast together, didn’t you? Was it painful when you broke up? Did part of you think, “This whole presentation that I made to the world about the two of us being in love is now damaged?”

James: Well, it’s not damaged because it was very real. I was in a relationship, a marriage that I was very happy with, and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in that marriage. Things happened. I’m very happy to say things that discredit me and I’m very self-deprecating and I’m happy to hurt myself. I would never say anything poorly about anybody else, and Claudia is a great person.

Andrew: So what did you do?

James: So it was devastating to me. What happened to me was I essentially decided, “You know what? I need to clean house.” It was almost a psychological thing. Maybe people tell me later, “Oh, maybe you were depressed and that’s why you did this.”

I feel like doing my practice of every day trying to improve physically, emotionally, creatively, spiritually helps me to bounce back from depression really quickly, but in this one instance, I did something different, which was along with all those things, I threw out all of my belongings. I just threw out, like I said earlier, I threw out artwork, all my furniture, bed.

Andrew: Your diploma.

James: Bed, dishes, my diploma. I asked this woman I know, “Go bring your entire family and a truck.” I had two leases that were coming up on two different apartments. “Bring everybody. I’ll pay you and you can take every item, 100% of the items and either throw them out, keep them, sell them or donate them.” And just a few weeks ago after a year, I saw one of my ex-landladies and she said, “What did you do? That place was spotless from end to end by the time you moved out.” I took full credit, of course, like, “Oh yeah.”

Andrew: I take good care of my places.

James: Yeah.

Andrew: But wait, why did you guys break up? Be open with me.

James: If it was my fault, not fault, fault is the wrong word. It’s a no fault situation. I don’t want to do anything that harms somebody else, and I think Claudia is still dealing with her situation. So I would never say anything. In all my writings, I always say stuff that hurts me. I never say anything that hurts anybody else.

Andrew: What did you do that you wish you’d done differently?

James: Nothing. I’m a good husband. I was a good husband. I’m a good father. I don’t have kids with Claudia, but I have two children. Here’s what happens. Life happens. Okay. No matter how good and successful you are, no matter how much money you have in the bank, things happen in life that are unusual and–

Andrew: Did she find someone else? Is that what it is? Did she cheat on you?

James: No. And I didn’t cheat on her.

Andrew: You didn’t cheat on her. Have you slept with anyone since then?

James: Yeah. I have a girlfriend right now.

Andrew: You do? Was it Claudia, or your current girlfriend–

James: Right over there.

Andrew: She’s there? How did you meet her? Was she a fan of yours?

James: Well, she had read some of my stuff, and we started texting. By the way, she was always critical of my stuff. This is to your point earlier. She wasn’t negative, but she was challenging me on things, and she got me taking interest in photography because she was a photographer. She got me going to the gym because she’s a fitness trainer. So I don’t know. Then we finally met.

Andrew: I sense that you felt like there was something you wanted to say about relationships and breaking up that you learned, and that’s why you suggested that I bring it up.

James: I think the key thing is that life changes. Like you could be in love with somebody, you could think you’re going to have a life together with somebody and life just happens. It’s like the expression, “Men make plans and God laughs.” Again, horrible things happen. I saw Louis C.K. make a joke the other day. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire. You’re going to have really bad diarrhea three times a year.” And that’s just true.

You can’t try to protect yourself from the bad things that can happen in life, or you’re going to live in this very tiny, tiny comfort zone. Life is about experience and learning from them, and you become a better person as you learn how to bounce back from difficult situations. So this was an incredibly difficult situation for me. I can say there was nothing I did that could have prevented it, and everybody who knows me says the same thing. But I did have to learn how to bounce back from it, and that took some time.

Andrew: Why go into another relationship so fast? Why not get to sleep around and enjoy your fame?

James: It’s funny. I called up one of my friends to tell him what happened, and his wife was in the next room and he’s a very funny guy, well-known humorist author. He’s like, “You know, you can totally like get around now.” And I’m like, “I’m just not that type of person. I like being in relationships.

Andrew: What do you like about being in relationships?

James: I don’t know. What do you like about being in relationships?

Andrew: I like–here’s what I wanted when I was watching–I lived in Manhattan and I would watch these couples on Sunday morning walk around. The woman was always in her pajamas, but she felt really comfortable. It felt like they had a nice evening, and they didn’t have to do anything especially that evening.

They’re not doing the walk of shame because they live together, so they’re going to a nice brunch and they feel so at ease with each other that to me I felt like I would like that. I want to just lay around and read with someone. I want that kind of comfort. So that’s something that I like about being in a relationship that I can’t get when I’m just with whoever.

James: Yeah, wanting to lay around and read with another person without worrying whether you’re boring them or whatever.

Andrew: Putting on a show.

James: I think that’s a really nice thing. It’s not like–I don’t know how old you are, but I’m 48 years old. It’s not like I’m in my 20s, whatever. I want to relax a little bit more than I want to do jumping jacks. So that’s it.

Andrew: I like that. I also like the continuity of someone seeing my progress and seeing what I’m trying to do and seeing me accomplish it or not and having had that person there is helpful.

James: Yeah.

Andrew: What’s your girlfriend’s name?

James: Pamela also.

Andrew: Oh, Pamela, but a different Pamela.

James: Different Pamela.

Andrew: Can we bring Pamela on camera.

James: Yeah. Oh no. She just took a shower. She’s standing here naked.

Andrew: No, she’s not. You’re not comfortable with someone standing around your house naked. I’m not.

James: Right now we’re in a hotel.

Andrew: Can you angle the camera just to her head. No. She probably wants to do her hair or something. She’s not like you.

James: She’s shy.

Andrew: I’m so curious. Can she shout back what is about you that she loves?

James: What is it about me that you love?

Pamela: James is like the most creative, inspiring person.

Andrew: How does that creativity express itself outside of writing?

James: That’s a good question.

Pamela: How does creativity express itself outside of writing?

Andrew: Yeah, in the relationship?

Pamela: I don’t know. It’s really awesome to have someone you’re with and is your best friend and can inspire you and give you feedback and look at each other’s work, grow together.

James: She’s an artist also. So we’re constantly working together on stuff.

Pamela: To bounce ideas off each other.

Andrew: What kind of art do you do, Pamela?

Pamela: I’m a graphic designer and photographer.

Andrew: And he gives you feedback on that?

Pamela: Yeah. A little bit. I’ve done some graphics for his work.

James: Yeah. She’ll take like an article I wrote or a quote that’s been highlighted a lot in one of my books and make a graphic around it. She’s doing the cover of my next book.

Andrew: He doesn’t buy you little presents, does he?

Pamela: He does.

Andrew: He does? What’s one small present that he got you that was especially special?

James: That’s a good question. You can say anything.

Pamela: Little things. Like he’s surprise me with some jewelry.

Andrew: Wow.

Pamela: Things that support my creative endeavors, maybe like some Apple products, graphic design products.

James: Totally selfish on my part.

Pamela: Cameras, anything we need to kind of work, some work stuff too.

Andrew: If you were to be really vulnerable right now and tell us why you don’t feel comfortable coming on camera, what’s that honest vulnerable reason?

Pamela: Well, I’m totally naked.

Andrew: You literally are.

Pamela: No. I just came out of the shower.

Andrew: Is James comfortable with nudity like that?

Pamela: Oh, he loves it.

Andrew: Is he naked around the hotel and the Airbnbs with you?

James: I demand it in my life.

Andrew: You do?

Pamela: Almost all the time completely naked. Have you seen that “Seinfeld” episode?

Andrew: Do you ever find James pinching himself going, “How the fuck did I get here? I was a guy that read books. We were supposed to hate the rest of the world because they didn’t love us enough and now you’re in my house naked, in my hotel room?”

Pamela: Yeah. Every day he thanks me.

Andrew: Does he really do that? I feel like he’d be very appreciative because of that.

Pamela: He is. He tells me every day.

Andrew: I am too. I do think that it helps. James, did you date when you were in high school?

James: No. Zero.

Andrew: Would you have been able to date Pamela in high school?

James: Definitely not. She would have been so out of my league in high school. It’s ridiculous.

Andrew: All right. I’m so curious about what you look like. How do I see your photo online? Why do I even care what someone looks like?

James: Go to her Facebook page. Right when we were going to the plane, she took a photo of herself and posted it on Facebook.

Andrew: How do I find it? What’s her last name?

James: Pamela Sisson.

Andrew: All right. Pamela, congratulations. Actually James congratulations.

James: Yeah. That’s the direction it’s going.

Andrew: All right. Thanks for being this open with me. I really like that about you, James. I’m looking forward to having you on again in the future, and Pamela, I hope we’ll have you on at some point.

James: Yeah. Thanks, Andrew. Once again, congratulations. Every time I come on, it’s like your podcast has reached a whole new level. And again, it’s not because–this is the mistake people always think. It’s not because you have something unique to say, which I’m sure you do, but it’s because you’re so curious and that’s how you get things to say. What you have to say evolves on a daily basis, and that’s the key to a successful podcast.

Andrew: I do find that my curiosity is what makes this whole thing interesting. Sometimes I feel like my curiosity is a little too selfish. Do you ever feel that when you’re asking questions?

James: My curiosity is only selfish. That’s the best curiosity. I’m not going to be curious about things I don’t personally think will benefit my life. I’m insanely curious about the things that will help me.

Andrew: I think that’s actually when I’m listening to other people’s interviews, that’s what I’m more drawn to. I want to know what they’re curious about. I can’t focus. I’m looking at Pamela. Way to go, James. Good lord. Let me see your hands. Are you pinching yourself right now?

James: I was pinching myself, actually.

Andrew: And look at this. This is a photo of you walking down the street of Manhattan. She makes you look good. She makes you look like Bob Dylan, like you’re out doing something.

James: Otherwise I would just stay in the apartment. She gets me out of the apartment. I would never leave wherever I’m Airbnbing.

Andrew: I like this whole black and white series she’s got with you. Look at you. You’re in a conversation. I can’t even tell who you’re with, but it looks like you’re really deep in thought, which you are, so deep in thought you’re not even buttoning your cufflinks.

Pamela: I catch those moments, you know?

James: She looks for the moments and has the camera always ready.

Andrew: That is what I like about you, James. All right. I’m going to keep flipping through these photos. I like the one with you playing backgammon. All right. Thank you so much for being on here. Anyone who wants to go see you should just go check LinkedIn or Medium, or frankly if they just look around their house, there probably is a stray piece of paper with some writing from James.

He gets everywhere. He will not stop until everything you read is written by James or everywhere where you read there’s at least one piece of content by James. I’ve got to tell you James, for a guy who is everywhere, you keep up the quality. I like it. I like how open you are. I like how you tell stories, and I like how there’s a point to it.

James: Well, it’s very difficult to keep up the quality, I have to say. This is really the monster in my life is every day wrestling with that.

Andrew: Look at this photo, you and Pamela reading the Sunday paper. That’s what I was talking about. That’s what I wanted in a relationship. That’s what I got in a relationship for.

James: That’s the paper with me in it, and I refused to read the article. She kept trying to read the article that was about me, and I still haven’t read the article.

Andrew: It’s a good one. You’ll love it. I didn’t realize it was on the cover of the Style section. I just read it online.

James: Which my kids, I always remind my kids now I’m a fashion icon and they have to listen to me, but they refuse to listen to me.

Andrew: I get it. No one likes their parents, for some reason. Look at this. All right. I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to put this away. I have other work to do. Thanks, James. Thank you all for being a part of it. And to my two sponsors, hang on, I forgot to even thank them and I don’t even know what tab I have them on, but I’ll do it from memory.

We have the company that will help you hire the next great developer. They’re called Toptal. And if you want to be on top of your books, know what your revenues are, know where you’re making money, where you’re losing it, where you’re spending it, etc., get someone to organize your books and I recommend you go check out Bench. Bench.co/Mixergy. Bye, everyone. Bye, James.


  • sonibvc

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