Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And one of the best ways to build a business that generates money is to help your clients generate money. Joining me today is an entrepreneur who figured that out. He, going back to the days of the internet, when it was really hard to sell something online, came up with what I thought was a simple, elegant solution. All you have to do is go to his site and he’ll give you a little bit of code and you put it on your site. And that code magically transforms into a button that people can press and buy anything you have to sell. It was so simple in a world of really difficult online sales.
I’ve been wondering what happened to him. I’ve been wondering why that business didn’t take off or maybe it was just a hidden growth company. I had no idea what was behind the company. I just knew was simple, elegant, worked. And I started to see it on lots and lots of sites.
Well, the founder of that company, E-junkie, is here. And one of the things that he told me was that he actually exited the company by some kind of transfer of ownership to his family business, and then took off and went off for a few years then came back. I had no idea this was going on. I want to know about it. I want to know how the business did before he left, why he left, why he’s back, and how the business is doing now in a world with lots of competition.
His name is Robin Singh. He is the founder, as I’ve said, of E-junkie. They offer a simple copy paste process that would allow you to add a Buy Now button, Add to Cart button, and so on to sell anything like downloads, code, intangible products, tangible products on any website, blog, social media, even on Facebook Messenger. So he’s really expanded beyond that simple button.
We can talk in this interview about how he did it, what lessons we can learn as people who want to sell online thanks to two phenomenal companies. The first will do email marketing right, it’s called ActiveCampaign. And the second, if you’re looking to host a website, and you’ve been using an E-junkie button to sell on your website, I urge you to go check out and sign up for HostGator. I’ll talk about those later. Robin, good to have you here.
Robin: Yeah, thanks for having me, Andrew, in spite of all the technical difficulties.
Andrew: Technical difficulties because you’re where? Where are you living?
Robin: I am in India.
Andrew: You were in the U.S. Why did you go back to India?
Robin: I think at some point, I realized that, like this wasn’t anything related to business, it was a realization that I am not living a very meaningful life. And . . .
Andrew: What does it mean to live a meaningful life for you? Be open now that we’re getting started here. Let’s go. What does it mean?
Robin: Well, that’s the thing. Like, you know, I had ticked all the checkboxes that are there for conventional success. And when I achieved, you know, what I had set out to achieve, I realized, it didn’t really make me feel happy. So decided to pursue meaning. I knew like, you know, this wasn’t making me happy so I wanted to know what would. And I decided to travel to just, you know, expose myself to different types of experiences other than . . .
Andrew: But now you’re living in India. You’re not traveling anymore. What kind of meaning do you get out of living in India that you wouldn’t get out of, say, living in California?
Robin: So like travel was like I experienced a lot of suffering in India, like, you know, in U.S. it’s there but it’s just not visible on the streets. In India, you see, like, you know, sick diseased animals on the street. So it’s very much in your face. And that made me realize that maybe I should be using my technologies to help these guys and so that’s the meaning I found.
Andrew: Got it. And that’s why you created Peepal Farm. This is an organization that where humans help animals, right?
Andrew: Okay, let’s go back to how you ended up here. You were living in India, you sent an email to a wrong email address. And that changed everything in your life. What was the email and who did you go off to and what happened? Tell me that story.
Robin: So like I was a freelancer and I had some clients, and one of them was Brent [Seth 00:04:18] at brent.com. And I was, you know, just following up sending a standard email, like, “Hey, do you have some work for me?” And I misspelled the email and it went to this guy at brink.com, B-R-I-N-K. And at that point, I’m talking 2001 when spam wasn’t that big of a deal. So you had all the emails at your domain come to you. And it landed with this guy called Danny. And his exact reply was, “I don’t know who the fuck you’re looking for. I’ll pay you 20 bucks to an hour if you can do this for me.” And I was like, “For 20 bucks, I mean, you know, I’ll do this and whatever I don’t know, I’ll learn.” So that’s . . .
Andrew: So what did he want you to do? What type of stuff?
Robin: So he was friends with Kevin Spacey, and he was working on Kevin Spacey’s website. And he had a great designer and not a great coder. And so that’s the role I fulfilled and we made kevinspacey.com.
Andrew: Okay. And Danny is Danny Vinik. He’s still running, as far as I know, brink.com the creative agency, and you worked with him for a while. And then he finally . . . I like how open he is like how he’s . . . I just like his personality. He finally says to you, “These hours are frustrating,” right? How did he express that, the time zone issue?
Robin: How did he express that or . . . ?
Andrew: From what I understand, he’s not . . . I’m looking at his bio on his website, he’s talking about how he went to four colleges, didn’t get any degree. He’s a punk rocker and so on. Even though he’s now an older man, wears a suit and tie very like proper businessman, he still has attitude to him all the time. From what I understand, he said to you, “Dude, the time difference here is killing me. You got to move here to the U.S. I can’t deal with you all the way in India,” right?
Robin: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, there were communication differences, even several stuff. I’ll tell you this, this is funny. Like, you know, there were a lot of cultural differences that didn’t get across in communication, so Dan gets frustrated with me about something. He says, “Eat shit.” And I’m like, “Why? I don’t understand what you mean.”
Andrew: Yeah, that would throw me too. Wow. Okay.
Robin: So he was like, “Look, it’s just different when we work. Like I can look over your shoulder and we’ll make a good team.” So then he got us a visa. And going to the U.S. Embassy, that wasn’t a pleasant experience but, you know, we got the visa. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a kid. I mean, I was 23. But like I had spent most of my time just in front of a computer. I didn’t even know I was going to Arizona. I thought I’m going to Amazon.
Andrew: You mean like Amazon the place not Amazon company.
Robin: Right. Amazon the place. I didn’t even know, my goodness. I was like I was stupid. I mean, just not exposed to American geography.
Andrew: I get that. You came in and E-junkie was like a side gig for you. What led you to create it?
Robin: So I have this website. I don’t want to sound hipster, but like it was kind of like a blog before blogs were a thing. And any conversation I had, like interesting things, interesting tidbits I would pick, I would just publish it. It was called OpenDB. It was like an open database. And there was no particular reason I had started doing it. It was just like, you know, this was shit and giggles. But then when Google AdSense came, so I slapped Google AdSense on it and I started making like, $400 a month right away. I mean, that was free money. You know, that is the first time I thought of financial independence.
And I was like, “You know what? There is a way of living where I don’t have to sell my hours to make money. I can just website. It’s going to have some ad revenue. I get 1,000 bucks, I’m going to just like, you know, live in a cheap place and it would be okay.” But I needed more time to get OpenDB from $400 to, you know, $1,000. And that’s why I needed more time. So I was hired in Brink to work on the sites because I was employed 40 hours with Brink. So what we did was . . . sorry, yeah. So to fund OpenDB, I started selling this software. I had a Russian friend, Boris. We made a $4 utility that we were selling. It would extract some graphics. You know, so I was doing that to make extra money . . .
Andrew: You would do that? You would extra graphics from where?
Robin: From flash files, you know, this wasn’t like, you know, popular in every circle, basically, you had like these swift files. And you wanted graphic because the save as wouldn’t save the assets from a flash file.
Andrew: Okay, so if somebody wanted the assets, one of the images that were in this quick, short video that was in the flash format, you created a tool to let them do it and you sold it on your blog, and you got some money in.
Robin: Right. But this is where it started getting painful. I had to like roll out of the bed because, you know, if my phone dinged. I got an SMS from PayPal, “Hey, you got four bucks.” And I had to roll out of the bed to deliver the software. Because on the page, I was committing like, you know, we would deliver it within six hours of the sale.
Robin: So that was like and I was like, “Okay, you know, I’m getting money, but I need this to be less painful.” And that’s why I decided to automate it. And it became . . . it was a script. It was called PayPal IPN. I just wrote it. I was like, “Oh, this is interesting.” Then I started implementing that script, as well, for people so they can automate the delivery of their digital goods.
Andrew: Let me ask you this. When you were selling your little piece of software for four bucks, what did you use to collect payment? Was it PayPal?
Robin: Yeah, PayPal.
Andrew: Using one of the PayPal buttons. Did they exist at the time?
Robin: Yeah, it was a PayPal Buy Now buttons existed. I mean, there was this simple API. So that still is unchanged, like, in a web except.
Andrew: But then, those buttons, couldn’t you also use those buttons to redirect people to a page after they bought?
Robin: You could, yes. The return URL, you can send them to your page, but then that would be a static download. And anybody can take that link. And it’s easier to share a link than sharing the file.
Robin: Okay. And so, you were thinking, “Look, anyone who’s smart enough to even understand what a flash file is, then has contents, and then pay for this is probably going to be smart enough to realize.” They could just take this URL and start sharing it and got it. And then all their friends have your software, and you said, “I need a better solution.” So you, your better solution version one, was you personally, when you got an order, get up, send the file over. Version two was I don’t want to get up within six hours. I’m going to sit here and code something that would allow people to do this. Got it.
Andrew: All right.
Robin: [inaudible 00:11:59]. Yeah.
Andrew: What was the IPN for it?
Robin: It was a PayPal Instant Payments Notification.
Andrew: IPN. Got it.
Robin: That was what the API was called. Yeah. So like, I wasn’t a businessperson. I was a programmer, you know. So it’s like very single-minded, it’s Instant Payment Notification. That’s what my script is called, PayPal IPN. And then I registered the domain, started saying, like, “Hey, you can buy the script as well, or I can implement it for you.”
Robin: And then, you know, I started getting a lot of people who wanted it to be implemented starting with friends. Then PayPal sent me a cease and desist that, “Hey, you can’t use our name.”
Andrew: Of course.
Robin: And like, so you know, E-junkie and, you know, not everybody is fan of the name. So that’s what happened to us. Cease and desist, under pressure, you have to come up with a new name. You’re not thinking most clearly. And so then yeah, that’s how E-junkie was born.
Andrew: And then what was the name E-junkie about? Where did it come from?
Robin: It was just . . . again, this was like lack of . . . it was addicted to ecommerce. Then in my head, that’s what it was like E-junkie.
Andrew: Got it. Ecommerce junkie. By the way, I’m looking at an early version of your site. PayPal IPN. You had discussion forum on there. And you said on October 2003. “I’ve decided to start a PayPal IPN Frequently Asked Questions page to answer all the questions that are coming in from the discussion board.” Got it. Here’s a list of people who can help you integrate PayPal IPN into your website. And it’s because it wasn’t like an easy piece of code. There wasn’t WordPress, right? How did people implement it back then?
Robin: Like what do you mean? It’s like so people had their static websites. And they would have to go, as far as I remember, they have to go, yeah, they have to do this setting. So there were no buttons that were provided. They had to go to their PayPal account, do specific set of settings, host this IPN script on their server, tell the IPN script, “You know, like, this is the price, etc. You need to expect so that was all configuration in the file itself. And then give it the URL of the file that needs to be delivered. And that was what [inaudible 00:14:30].
Andrew: Yeah. And then would they have to also put a file on their web server?
Andrew: Yeah. This is like painful days. This is . . . I get it. And then to get customers. Once you decided you’re selling this, some people came to you, but you said, “I’ve got to go out and get customers.” You cold emailed people?
Andrew: Who did you cold email? Who did you decide was going to be your customer?
Robin: I initially started with authors. Like people who are not with big publishers, and were like they had their own books, like, on topics like Flash animations, again, Flash was back in the day. So I would just like get their email off of their bio. Sometimes it was given in the books, sometimes you can just look them up, find their website and email them. And I was like, “Hey, if you want to do an eBook version of your book, I can implement this for you.”
Andrew: And let them sell their own book on their own website. And you would sit and personally implemented for them?
Robin: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: And how much would you charge for this?
Robin: I don’t remember at all. I’ll be making up a number, if I say anything.
Andrew: But it seems like it was under $100 for them to own the software forever, right?
Robin: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s shocking that you did it back then like that.
Robin: Yeah, I mean, this is 2003. I mean, 16 years ago, I don’t know. I must have had my reasons.
Andrew: Oh, no, here we go. Actually, I’m looking at . . . this is 2006. By 2006, that’s when I discovered you. We help you sell online for $5 a month. That’s what you were doing.
Andrew: If people had more products or needed more hosting space, then the price would go up as high as $125 a month, but no one was going to hit $125. Not really. You’d have to have a gig to send out to do it to pay $125 a month.
Robin: You’d be surprised.
Robin: You’d be surprised. Yeah. And we went actually like so they were like custom plans, too. So people wanted more space. People were selling movies. And yeah, there were, like, a lot of people were there using the $125 and over.
Andrew: Wow-wee, I had no idea. And this is largely you cold emailing people one at a time, one at a time. And then Google comes out with their Google Checkout product. And they reach out to you?
Robin: Yes. Like, yeah, because they had a development program or something like they had a beta launch. And so they sent an email. It’s like, “Hey, would you like to . . . would you be interested in checking the beta version of Google Checkout for E-junkie?” I was like, “Yeah, totally.” That was a good experience here, like so. Then I went to Mountain View, and it was really cool seeing the Google campus. Like, again, like, you have to see it, from my perspective, now it’s, like, probably it’s a common thing or not. From my perspective, that was like, “Wow.” Like a kid from India who didn’t expect to go to U.S. is visiting Google.
Andrew: Frankly, even just hearing about it in retrospect, Google is like a block or two away from me here, and still being invited by Google to come and integrate feels impressive. It feels like this big company cares enough about what you’re doing. They want you. They’re almost wooing you. And so they got you in there. And they wanted you to do what with their software?
Robin: Just integrate Google Checkout as one of the payment options like working other than just PayPal.
Andrew: Oh, that was it. Their payment plan. I mean, not payment plan, the ability to collect credit cards using their software.
Robin: Right. It was discontinued later on I think after six years.
Andrew: Got it. Okay, let me talk about my first sponsor, and then we’ll get back in here. My first sponsor is HostGator. Let me ask you this, Robin. You’re a guy who has seen lots of different websites. Imagine, there’s somebody who’s sitting in my audience going, “You know what? I would like to come up with something new.” I can get a hosting package from HostGator. It’s only a couple of bucks, what, three, four dollars a month, I don’t even know, I’ll take a look. It’s insignificantly cheap. But the idea is the hard part. What would you suggest having seen so many people sell using E-junkie. If they just said, “You know what? I’m going to sell on my website. And I’m going to add an E-junkie button to collect payment.” What would you suggest that they sell? What’s a good thing?
Robin: Like my personal favorite is eBooks.
Andrew: eBooks? So blog about a topic and then sell a book about it.
Robin: Yeah, it’s content, community, and then commerce, yeah.
Andrew: What’s an example of an eBook that you see selling well? I, actually, kind of feeling a little bit down on eBooks because it feels like nobody is going to read personal websites anymore. Nobody is buying off of sites. It seems like everything has gone into the big platforms. We’re reading on Facebook, Instagram, Medium, even, and we’re buying off of Amazon. That’s what it feels like. But it’s not true from what you’re seeing. What’s an example of an eBook that’s doing well on your platform?
Robin: Like they’re all the niches and, I mean, like we have a couple of actually, recipe eBooks, so cookbooks. They are really popular. One of our top selling products, actually. And then a lot of Indie comics.
Andrew: Oh, wow. You know what? I’ve kind of seen that, that when something becomes hot, like, Instant Pot, for example. Yes, I will go on to YouTube to watch Instant Pot videos to get a sense of what’s possible. But they often will then redirect me back to their site to see the recipe. And then when I’m on their site, they’ll say, “Do you want the whole cookbook?” With all these vegetarian Instant Pot recipes. Oh, yeah, sure. Who cares? 10 bucks is fine. That’s what you’re talking about that. Yes, there are other platforms where people are spending most of their time. But if you do them right, you can bring people back to your platform for more, and then you sell them the eBook. That’s what you’re talking about.
Robin: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Andrew: You know, it’s a topic that I’m especially excited about that way, 360 degree cameras. Nobody is watching video on 360 yet, but when you take 360 degree video properly, you can then go back and reedit the shot. You know, like you ever take a video of something and you realize right behind it, was the action, but I didn’t move fast enough. With these 360 degree cameras, you just keep filming and you’re filming everything in front and back side to side. And then later on, you go back and you say, “That’s where the action was.” And you get to pick that out.
Anyway, those are kind of a pain to use, even though they’re beautiful when you get them right. They’re a pain in the butt to use. I see people on YouTube showing me the clips, but they never go enough depth. I would love it if somebody said, “You know what? Yeah, I can show you on YouTube how good it looks.” But you need a little bit more training and I’ll create a book or I’ll create a video teaching you how to do it in-depth the stuff that would bore most people on YouTube wouldn’t get you a lot of views and likes, but it’ll be so in-depth for someone like me who would want to buy it. All right. I’ve talked too much about this. Whatever your topic is, if you’re listening to me, you should go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
When you do, you’re going to get the lowest price that they offer anywhere. In fact, I’m actually going to look at it right now. Look at this. It starts at the plan that I like, which is what they call the Baby Plan, starts with $3.98 a month. Yes, they have a cheaper plan. Yes, they have more powerful plans. But I just like that as a way to get started. When you do that, you can run any website you want. You can actually run unlimited sites on that plan, unlimited domains, you get unmetered disk space, unmetered bandwidth, unlimited email address, 24/7, 365 days a year technical support. And even a money back guarantee, hostgator.com/mixergy. I love it. All right. You started getting acquisition offers around 2008 from who?
Robin: Yes. Yeah, we had like three. And I will . . .
Andrew: From? What kind of companies offered to buy you out?
Robin: One, the most serious one was a payment processor. And then the other two were just individual investors who just wanted to purchase the company and run it.
Andrew: Anyone that I would know? Is it like a famous person who wanted to come in and buy E-junkie?
Robin: I would rather not say. I don’t know if that would be something [inaudible 00:23:01].
Andrew: Can you say if they are famous? Can you say if they’re well-known or not?
Robin: Their software is well-known. Yeah.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I get it. And you decided not to sell, why? What were you thinking you were going to do?
Robin: Well, basically, like, you know, I was okay. Like I just don’t think they would have retained our support team. And also, I think by the time they met the number that I was asking for, it’s like we had grown so rapidly that it made me feel like I shouldn’t sell. I just should keep running it.
Andrew: What was the number you asked for?
Robin: So those were two factors. I asked for 2.2 mil.
Andrew: Okay. And they would have done 2.2 all up front? Or were they starting to say, “Yeah, 2.2, but we’ll give you half of it up front. And then the rest, you have to hold on and work with us”?
Robin: Yeah, I was very clear on that. And if I would work, I would just work like 30 days just give the charge and just walk away. I don’t want any private equity. All I want is cash. Because, I mean, you know, private equity just doesn’t mean much [inaudible 00:24:14].
Andrew: How much money? At your height, how much money were you guys bringing in in revenue?
Robin: Over a million a year.
Andrew: Okay. And are you guys still at a million a year?
Robin: No, we are like, you know, we are over a quarter million. But sorry, over 0.75 million, but less than one. So it’s somewhere between there.
Andrew: So it’s gone down a little bit because of the extra competition that’s come in now.
Robin: Yeah, I would say, yeah, definitely. I mean, for a while, we lost clients because like the engineering was weak once I left. It was just like not being run. It wasn’t being run right. So, you know, we lost people because of that. And then also, there’s like, you know, when I did it, it was innovative. Like, there was only one other company, their payloads, and from New York, and they were doing it, and I only started E-junkie, because I didn’t know about payloads. So anyway, it was just two of us. And then now, there’s like 50 other companies.
Andrew: What happened when you left? Let’s talk about that. I don’t fully understand. When did you leave? Why did you leave? How did you leave? I don’t understand any of it.
Robin: Oh, it was I think like towards, like, end of 2010. No, at beginning of 2011, is when I finally left. And there was another management hired by the company. And I didn’t just leave E-junkie. I was just like, you know, I don’t want to, like, I don’t want to do any sort of business anymore. I just don’t. I just wanted time to myself, wanted to get out.
Andrew: Why? Were you burned out?
Robin: I think I was just bored.
Robin: You know, like, yeah. Like, I had like . . . and my challenge was that I wanted a certain lifestyle. And I didn’t want to have to work for it. And I got to that point. And I was like, “I don’t know why am I doing, what am I doing? You know, like, whatever I need, I have. I don’t need to work, so why?” I just couldn’t answer that question.
Andrew: Were you depressed?
Robin: That’s what I was diagnosed as, but I don’t think I was depressed. I was just like, basically, I had achieved the goal post, and I didn’t want to move it any further.
Andrew: Okay. And so, when you weren’t working, what was . . . or towards the end of that period, what was it like? Were you just sleeping in? Were you just sitting at your desk and not doing anything? I want to know how it manifests itself so that if someone else is listening to us, and they eventually go through this, they’ll recognize it and see Robin Singh and his experience in their own lives and realize, “Okay, I’m going through something.” What did you do in that period?
Robin: So I spent a lot of time reading. I would read online. I would go to the library and just familiarize myself with topics that I had not cared about. And I would like to spend a lot of time writing, just scribbling things, trying to figure out what am I missing? If this is what I had been told would make me happy, and I have done it, why am I not happy? So [inaudible 00:27:51].
Robin: Yeah, absolutely. So . . . Yeah, I called it a brain dump.
Andrew: Do you still have your old journals from back then?
Andrew: Wow. Okay. Do you ever go back and look at them and just feel sad about that experience. I’ve done that.
Robin: I don’t actually. It’s funny, like, you know, I have a weird thing with my life. I don’t even look at my last days to-do. Every day I wake up, I just start fresh.
Robin: I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve always struggled with this. So like maintaining a continuity in life has been, which is very hard, like . . . So that’s why I have this desire to do everything right away. Because I feel like, you know, if there’s an interruption. If I sleep, when I wake up, I just be starting fresh. It’s like having a lot of thoughts and not being able to process them in time and night happens, then you have to sleep.
Andrew: That actually sounds like a really healthy way to live. Just start fresh every day. Instead of building up all the to-do’s from yesterday, and the days before that. Just starting fresh like it’s a brand new day. And it feels like it also would give me urgency every day to complete things because they disappear the next day. Is it as refreshing as I imagined?
Robin: It is. I spent all of my today, like, it was raining, it’s hot and humid, and I spent all my day planting some herbs that I have purchased. And, like, I had like a hundred of those almost, and I’m like, “No, I have to get this done today.”
Andrew: Despite the heat, despite the humidity, you got to do it. Despite the weather, you got to do it. Okay. So you didn’t leave by selling? What is it that you did transferring ownership to your family? I don’t understand that part.
Robin: So I just like, you know, transferred my stake to the rest of the partners in the company, like the ones that are close family. And I was like, I don’t want it. I don’t want, like, I don’t want to do anything. And I don’t want anything from this.
Andrew: You just gave it up. You didn’t say give me money from it. You just said, “Take this ownership”?
Robin: Yeah. Because I had like enough of my personal money, where I could live the way I wanted to live?
Andrew: And where did you get your personal money then?
Robin: Just like working over such a long period.
Andrew: From E-junkie or from the job that you had before?
Robin: From E-junkie and the money I had before and my salary that I will saving?
Andrew: Okay. How did you end up with your family as co-owners of the business?
Robin: Because I couldn’t have legally owned the company in India. So it was sold in the very beginning to the family. So they always owned it.
Andrew: Why didn’t you decide to own it in the U.S. then?
Robin: I couldn’t legally. I wasn’t legally allowed to have a business.
Andrew: So even though you’re doing all the work, you couldn’t own a company legally in the United States because of the visa, the work arrangement that you had. And you couldn’t own it in India, because you weren’t living in India, is that right?
Robin: I mean, it would have been just more complex, like the taxation [inaudible 00:31:05].
Andrew: And so, your family owned it, even though you were the one working it. Am I right about that?
Andrew: This sounds nuts.
Andrew: You weren’t resentful of that? You were okay with it?
Robin: Yeah, yeah, in India family it’s much different. It’s not that . . . and this is like close family you’re talking about. So it’s, I mean, till 2011, believe it or not, I just took from a personal expenses. I would just take pocket money from my dad. Okay. It’s was a different relationship.
Andrew: Okay. By the way, I’m looking at the . . . Go ahead.
Robin: Sorry, you go ahead . . . Like I have all this hate [inaudible 00:31:48].
Andrew: This delay from the connection. We spent forever trying to make it work before we started. Sorry, you go ahead. I’m here to listen to you.
Robin: Like I always hating having to deal with money. I always just enjoy making new technology.
Andrew: Why do you hate making money?
Robin: No, I don’t hate making money. I just want. I hated dealing with it, like, having to . . .
Robin: . . . think about like accounting, and it’s just not interesting. Like having to deal with taxes and this and that. It’s also . . . it’s boring. It seems like a waste of time to me. It’s just not . . .
Robin: Yeah. It’s understanding an abstraction layer that doesn’t mean much to me.
Andrew: I’ll get to what I was saying before, when we were stepping over each other as we were both trying to talk. I’m looking at a version of your website from 2011. Look at this. There are articles about you on entrepreneur.com, CNN, and so on. But you’re also bragging on the site, and rightfully so about how MTV, VH1 is using E-junkie, and TechCrunch. And I do remember this, TechCrunch used E-junkie. And the reason TechCrunch was using it, I think Michael Arrington was running it at the time. He was trying to figure out what is his, like, what he was going to sell to his audience. And he, I think, by that point, he come up with TechCrunch Disrupt. But he also was selling reports on startups and startup investing and all that stuff. And he was using E-junkie add to cart buttons, which look really nice on his site to sell these reports. Right?
Andrew: As far back, I think he did.
Robin: [inaudible 00:33:27].
Andrew: Google was using you guys, too. So while when you went away? What was the company like? How did the company get run?
Robin: So Brink was brought into . . . like we outsourced all the development to them. But we like the person we brought in for direction just didn’t have the necessary experience. Then we brought in, I think, brought two more people in 2009. No, sorry, sorry, not 2009. It was 2019. Yeah, 2016, we brought couple more people. They were just like nobody had enough experience. And they were not listening to clients, I think. And it was just like it went downhill from there.
Andrew: Yeah, they don’t seem like a cultural match for E-junkie. They have beautiful design, beautiful sensibility, they go really upscale, but what they don’t have is the ecommerce connection, as far as I can tell. And more of that, like digital marketer feel that you captured in your product in a simple way that just felt good. Am I right?
Robin: I guess. Yeah. I mean, you know, I can’t. It’s hard because I wasn’t there. I don’t exactly know. I had been. So I can’t do a fair evaluation. What I can tell is looking at the numbers, like, whatever they were doing just didn’t work, or just the competition was flashier.
Andrew: All right, let me go into my second sponsor. And then I want to come back and find out why you decided to come back after all this . . . Actually, we should talk about what happened with the travel that was fun, and eye-opening. It seems like you changed from it. And then why you came back? Why I came back? I’m writing notes on this. And then we’ll talk about what happened with the company with all this competition.
So my second sponsor is a company called ActiveCampaign. We talked about how content is still a good way to bring people in, and then let’s show them why they should be buying from you. I’m actually saying that the web is a really good place to bring people in. But it’s not a great, easy place to build long-term relationships with people. So for better or worse, that’s why we see a lot of websites as soon as you come to them, or interact with them in some way, they try to get you on their email list. And yes, sometimes as users, it feels like, “That’s a little bit much. Why are you getting me on the email list?” But as a business, you have to think about how do you get people to subscribe. Am I right Robin? Longer term relationship comes from subscription. Am I wrong?
Robin: No, absolutely.
Andrew: You get them on your email list. And then if you have this 360 degree camera content, or something else, recipes for Instant Pot, whatever you got, you tell them when you publish a new thing, and you email them and you bring them back to your site, or you put the full content in your email list. Or frankly, what you do is you bring them over to your YouTube channel, etc. If that’s where the content lives. And then over time, you build relationships. And when it’s time for you to sell, you can sell and yes, you can use an E-junkie button, an E-junkie shopping experience on a HostGator site, or whatever you like.
The reason that I like ActiveCampaign is this, they’re inevitably going to be people. And Robin, you know this yourself, who inevitably, every time you send a link to your YouTube video, they’re clicking, clicking, clicking, clicking. They’re YouTube people. So what you might want to do is, next time you have something like a YouTube Live event, maybe you reach out to them. Or maybe you are thinking about doing a video on Instagram. And so you reach out to the people who are into the YouTube video and say, “What do you think about this Instagram thing that I’m doing?” Or you email just to them, and you bring them in.
There are inevitably going to be some people who buy. Or you want to tag them as people who buy, so that you don’t try to sell to them. The next time you’re doing a big marketing push, you know, they already bought. What you want to do instead, is tagged them properly so that you can sell them in the future.
So how do you do all that? Well, if you have ActiveCampaign, yes, you can follow along with the links that they’re clicking. And that way, you tag them based on what they’ve clicked. Yes, you can also easily put a bit of code on your site, and when they buy, tag them as buyers, and treat them as buyers.
And well, you can also do is, see what they’re doing on your site. They give you a little bit of code so that if you put a YouTube video on your website, and they saw the YouTube video, not by going to YouTube, but by happening to click on your site, and they saw that Instant Pot recipe for 100% vegan soup. You don’t tell them about it when you’re promoting it again via email. You know, they watched it because they were on your site. So all that stuff is marketing intelligence. That is what ActiveCampaign does really well, better than anyone else at making it super simple, so that you actually use this.
Don’t just file it away in your head, it is something you should do and feel guilty about it. They are here to make sure that you use that and so many other superpowers. In fact, if you follow on, Robin, you should be using this, too. If you go to activecampaign.com/mixergy, not only will they make their software so easy that you’ll use all these features, they will give you two free one-on-one sessions with their professionals to make sure that you use it, come back check in, and then update what you’ve used with them, and make sure that if there’s something that didn’t work out for you, they’ll be there to support and get you up and running.
I’ve never seen a company do this before, activecampaign.com/mixergy, you’ll get to try it for free. You’ll get your second month free if you pay, if you decide to be a customer. And you’ll get two free one-on-one sessions with them. And finally, if you’re with a different company, and it’s a pain for you to move your email list over. Good, don’t make it your pain, make it ActiveCampaign’s pain, let them deal with this.
Now, I’m scrolling on their site looking at their visuals, they changed it. What I like about them is they’re showing, “Look, it’s not hard to set these triggers up.” If somebody does something on Facebook, boom, do it. If somebody actually clicks on one of your emails, you can automatically make them into Facebook custom audience, so that you can target them on Facebook ads. I got too much to say about this, activecampaign.com/mixergy. I better shut up. All right. Even . . .
Robin: I think you got me sold.
Andrew: They’re fantastic, you’ll love them. All right, travel. What did you learn from travelling?
Robin: To sum it up. Like, you know, essentially, I realized that every . . . like there’s plenty of suffering. And to the point where any basic consumption also causes suffering. However, we can’t stop basic consumption, you know, because we got to live. So we just got to keep that in perspective, and make our actions count, so be just more responsible for my actions.
Andrew: Wait, how did travelling make you feel more connected to the pain in the world? When I travel, I just feel liberated and free and happy. How did you end up feeling like that?
Robin: I think it would depend on where you are traveling.
Andrew: Yeah, where did you travel?
Robin: I traveled to India and there’s this place called Auroville that I wanted to visit since I was 17. And I had just never gotten a chance because my life had snowballed into this big thing going to U.S. So it was 32 when I decided to . . . I said, “Like, you know, I’m just going to actually just go to Auroville.” So I went to Auroville, met a woman who was sick, old, anemic, and been broke. And she was taking care of 40 or 60 stray dogs all by herself. And just looking, like meeting her, talking to her made me realize that she had nothing and she is giving everything to alleviate suffering, and here I am doing nothing, or, you know, I just usually travel for pleasure. Whatever I do, I do to just please myself. And how that has an impact.
Andrew: Oh, wow. Okay.
Robin: Like the . . . So it wasn’t just like meeting Lorraine, it was watching everything. It was watching waste management and realizing wow, like, you know, look at the trash we generate, and the impact of that. And then, you know . . . so all of those like many townships. I would see like anything. I saw farms. And I was like, wow, even organic farming, it’s not without suffering, like, when we running the tractors, and the earthworms are being killed. So just I saw pain and suffering everywhere.
Andrew: This is like supposed to be . . . I’m looking it up right now. It’s supposed to be a Utopian community, where people from all creeds, all religions, can come together where there’s a sense of spirituality and peace and helping people. Am I right about all this?
Robin: I mean, that doesn’t sound accurate. It was never meant to be Utopia. It was meant to be a place where world’s problems could be solved. Some very grounded problems, like, you know, clean water, clean food, those kind of problems, but also, how people can get along together. So that’s where it was set up. So it was like kind of this as today, we’re giving land to people who wanted to do cool projects. And that’s how that they started in ’70s.
Andrew: So then, how did this experience make you want to come back to run E-junkie?
Robin: So it didn’t. So like in 2013, February, I just made a quick trip to U.S. just to wrapped up a few things, locked my house, locked my car, wherever it was, and I just like packed my bags, moved to India, to Auroville, started helping animals there. Anyway, so I started Peepal Farm then and which is a nonprofit that I run now. And now, like, 18 months ago, it got to a point where it could run without me being heavily involved.
Andrew: You mean Peepal Farm could run without you being heavily involved?
Robin: Yeah, so I lived on, like I live on the premises. I’m on call 24/7. It’s is just that I have not enough time where I can pull myself back and be able to look at other things. So I’ve been looking at . . . So that’s why, I mean . . . and I’ve been looking at E-junkie because I was setting up ecommerce for Peepal Farm . And it was kind of bittersweet. I was like, “Wow, like, even after all these years, I need a solution. And E-junkie, fits the bills. That is great.” But it was a bitter experience to how challenging it was for me to use it.
Andrew: Got it . . .
Robin: So I was like . . . And so, that happened almost like 24 months ago, and then 18 months ago, I was like, “Okay, I need to get in, I need to fix this. I don’t care about the money. It’s a problem for me. And like in three years, it’s going to be . . . I want to make it an employee-owned company.” So I just want to . . .
Andrew: You mean, you turn over the ownership to the employees?
Robin: Yeah, yeah. And if I’m working, I would, of course, take a stake. But other than that, I will like separate it from the family company. I don’t know how it will work legally and admin wise, and then have the employees take ownership.
Andrew: And so, this is your plan to just come back and do it. And so, what have you changed so far? And then, what is it been 18 months since you’ve come back?
Andrew: What did you change so far?
Robin: For one, we develop a better version of the card, which is a much smoother experience, even on phone, like the version two card was working great on size. It was working fine on mobile. It just wasn’t a light experience. There like, you know, and I think like even any . . . a second of a hang up can discourage a buyer. So first, we changed the buyer facing part, then we changed the website to get our messaging across in fewer words. And then we launched this new product called Product Card. So because E-junkie had initially just focused on people who wanted to sell on their website.
Robin: But now, there are so many more channels. You know, you might not even want to have a website, you just, again, like a come to the topic of the eBook, you might have an eBook, or a comic, and you just want to create a page and sell it. So we were like, “No.” Then we said, “Okay, you will have ability to just create a page on E-junkie, you don’t need a website even.”
So that’s something we added, then we also added a lot of features for tangible goods sellers. Because this is my experience from Peepal Farm. Because when we started products at Peepal Farm, we were selling it online, we were selling in stores, we were selling in our gift store that’s on the farm. So there were all these various channels and consolidating the sales was tricky. So then we added, like, those features to E-junkie, where physical goods sellers can have like small sellers, like, people who go sell in craft fairs, and people who have a small store, maybe they even supply to a few local stores. But added features that they could use it more easily.
Andrew: How did you know that they were interested and even using you?
Robin: Like I think it’s a belief that if I come across a problem there for which there is no readily available solution, then that’s an opportunity.
Andrew: And there is no readily available solution for selling physical products today? Not an easy one.
Robin: It is. Just like not an easy one, which would cater to all these needs.
Andrew: What’s one of the needs?
Robin: Basically, I’m selling in multiple channels. So I need a point of sale system. I also needed to be tied to my online sales, but I need to be able to send invoices. And I also need to be able to process orders specifically for wholesalers. So they were all these, like, customer requirements that I just couldn’t find anything that would do easily without making me . . . you know, and I need to be able to accept these payment processes.
Andrew: You know, there are few things that are still here that I like and remember from the early days. Like you have an easy demo that says, “Go buy for a penny.” Which I think is the way to go. You’re probably losing money on that penny sale, are you? Imagine.
Robin: How so?
Andrew: Credit card processing fees.
Robin: No. So with PayPal, if they don’t . . . I mean, they just swipe the penny. So you won’t get paid anything. But it’s not like anything gets deducted from your account.
Andrew: Oh, you using PayPal for that. So I do like actually getting to try it before I even set it up on my site. And it’s always been easy to just go and try and see the experience. And still to this day, it is. The other thing that I really like that is hold back even, that is a carryover from the early days, is there is one click that puts an overlay for me to buy. So I’m on your site. And as soon as I hit a button, a quick overlay comes on and says it’s going to cost a penny. How do you want to . . . what do you want to do next? Proceed to pay by PayPal or credit card? Or do you want to continue to shop and add more things to your cart.
And if I continue to pay using a credit card, again, the overlay quickly comes on. And I could see an easy place for me to enter my address and my credit card information and then process that $1 payment. I always love that simplicity of what you’ve had. And it’s just more beautiful today than it was back then when it looked like a WordPress site almost. But it’s the same thing. What stands out for me as I look at the Buy Now button is, if I go into this selling on social media, and I hit the Buy Now button, and I hit try demo, you just take me over to a PayPal button. Are you just creating a PayPal button in some cases for people? Couldn’t they do that by themselves?
Robin: Sure. You can make a payment button in your PayPal account. However, there’s a lot of back end functionality that E-junkie adds, that’s tied into the button. For example, let’s say, you want to initiate a download as soon as the button is pressed, or say, you’re selling a physical product, and you’re maintaining inventory. So you want that data to be sent to, you know, like a shipping company. So all of that is made possible with E-junkie’s button and PayPal doesn’t offer all those functionalities especially [inaudible 00:50:31] delivery.
Andrew: So even though, it looks like the same PayPal process, you’re actually adding a lot more to it that I don’t see until I start using it. I do also like that you guys accept every frickin’ payment method. Yes, there’s PayPal, as we’ve talked about, but Stripe is in there, Braintree is in there. You accept Paytm, the Indian payment processing company, right?
Andrew: Citibank’s processing thing that who the hell even uses that but all right, you accept that, and a bunch of others. It’s super simple. The only thing that shocks me is that you don’t want to just keep running this thing and expanding it, and simplifying certain parts of it, expanding other parts of it. It feels like such an exciting business to be in, but you’re not excited by this. You just want to be a do-gooder. Before we got started, you were worried much more about your frickin’ cat than you were about even the internet connection, and whether I would give people a link to your site. That’s who you are right now. Isn’t it, Robin?
Robin: I’m excited about the product, absolutely. I mean, that’s why I got into it. That’s why we’re fixing it. So I’m the product lead. And I’m not the lead developer anymore. And I just want to stay involved but like my motivations, not the money. I want to see the product succeed. I want the credit to go to the guys who actually run the company. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I want it to be better than the rest, and it will be. I mean, it is right now. It’s just like we are not marketers. We are techies and we are geeks. And we just don’t sell very well.
Andrew: I’m glad you decided to do this interview. It feels like you reaching out a little bit. I wish that in the beginning that you would have done a little bit more of this Robin, that you are an unknown person with great software. And I think you deserved a lot more attention than you were getting at the time, but you’re going after now. All right.
Robin: Yeah, thanks.
Andrew: For anyone who wants to go check out the website, it’s e-junkie.com. Apparently, the whole company is going to be employee owned. And Robin is going to spend more time helping dogs and cats. Why didn’t you just take care of your cat? We were talking before we started. I said it’s 10:30 p.m. his time, right? That’s when we started, 10:30 p.m. You have somebody coming over to take care of your cat, why?
Robin: It’s a volunteer. So it’s a stray kitten. And it doesn’t have a mom, and she needs to be fed every three hours. So in the daytime, it’s the clinic staff, we run a clinic here on the property. And in the daytime, it is the clinic staff. In the evening, like, so somebody does 8:00 p.m., somebody does 11:00 p.m., and then, there’s nobody to do it in the middle of night. And then I do it at 6:00 a.m. So it just like it’s a weird timing.
Andrew: Is every tech entrepreneur going to end up being a do-gooder. Is that what’s happening?
Robin: I certainly hope so.
Andrew: You do?
Robin: I certainly hope so. Yeah.
Andrew: Is it because you have the money to do it now, or because what? How does running E-junkie successfully lead you to become a do-gooder? You’re one of many people I’ve talked to who are doing this.
Robin: I don’t see that thing. I don’t think you need a lot of money to do this, but money, one, it gave me enough free time to think about it, otherwise, I was just on a treadmill. You know, so having money gave me time so I could think clearly. And two, I could do it much more easily. I could do it at a faster pace because I had the money and I didn’t have to do a Kickstarter campaign and wait for people to, you know, contribute. And I lucked out that way because, like I said, God knows, I’m horrible at selling myself.
Andrew: All right. This site is e-junkie.com. It’s beautiful. You guys should go check it out. And if you’re in an Internet Archive mood, see what the website used to look like. I thought the clean look of the site was really strong. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re hosting a website and you really should be, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. The second, if you’re running an email list and you really should be, go do it on activecampaign.com/mixergy. And finally, if you’d like me to be so wealthy that I become a do-gooder but I probably won’t, you should go check out Mixergy Premium.
On Mixergy Premium, we bring back entrepreneurs who are fantastic at something, at one thing. There’s one person who is especially good at e-commerce. There’s one person who is especially good at getting traction. One person who is especially good at getting PR. All that we bring them back after the interviews and we say, “Look, just spend an hour teaching this thing.” And then our producer takes that material and turns it into this beautiful well-laid out, well-edited course that will walk you through how you can do the amazing thing that they do already. If you want to see what that’s about, go to mixergy.com/courses and you’ll see all these courses taught by proven entrepreneurs. I will. My only do-goodery will be on this planet is making more entrepreneurs.
I think the more entrepreneurs who make the more customers, get taken care of, and the more customers get taken care of, the happier the world is. And then yes, some of those entrepreneurs will end up being doing do-goodery stuff. I will continue to be an entrepreneur and continue to not . . . I wonder if I’ll ever end up doing anything with the money that I do beyond just like continuing to work all the time. I have no passions. The only thing that I want that’s brand new is the latest Apple technology or Google Chromebook, something or other. But that’ll be another headache for another day. Robin, thank you so much for being in here. Thank you all for listening. Guys go out there and build a great company.
Robin: Thank you, Andrew.