Andrew: Hey, everyone. You know me. I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.
For a large part of last year, instead of coming here to the office, which is a really nice office right in the heart of San Francisco, but of instead of coming here, I decided I wanted to go work outdoors, beautiful spots. Frankly, San Francisco doesn’t really have it, but if I go a little bit north, if I go a little bit south, then I end up in—well, north is Napa or Sonoma. If I go a little bit south, I end up at these beautiful places that are basically what you’d consider Silicon Valley. I take my phone with me.
For the most part, I use my phone instead of my laptop. I thought, “I think maybe all I want is a phone.” The only problem I have with using my phone for work, I discovered, was that the battery would just go down. It would really let me down. I would constantly update my phones, get the latest phone, and still it couldn’t do more than 4 or 5 hours of work and I would work for at least 10 hours.
So I started doing heavy research into batteries. What kind of battery could I take with me that would allow me to have the power that I need without the bulk? I like being a minimalist and carrying as little as possible. If I wanted more, then I’d carry my freaking laptop.
As I did all this research, I came across this product called Flux. And the thing that I liked about it was I wouldn’t have to carry a cable with it. It was about the size of an iPhone. It had the cable that I could plug in to any USB charger so I could charge it up if I needed to while I was out, but for the most part, I would just use the rest of it. There was another little cable on the inside that would plug into my iPhone and I could use that to charge my phone.
It was really compelling. To be honest with you, I didn’t end up buying it and I didn’t end up working outside the office as much as I thought. It turns out I needed my office and my two iMacs. But when I spoke at a conference recently, someone told me about this guy who’s kind of a new entrepreneur who is the creator of Flux. I said, “Wait, you created Flux? Tell me about them.”
There were a bunch of other people wanting to get to know me because I was just coming off stage, but I wanted to know this guy because I saw the product. I did my research. I love researching technology. So I found out a little bit about the guy behind this piece of hardware that I got interested in and I invited him to come on here and do an interview.
The founder is Alejandro Rioja. He is the founder of the parent company of Flux. Flux Chargers is a bestselling portable charger in over 75 countries. I just read that directly off of your marketing material, Alejandro. I try not to go with the puffy stuff. But I will tell you this. I did look you up on Amazon, because I’m that kind of a researcher, and I looked up YouTube videos and so on and your Amazon ratings are fantastic.
Okay. So I invited him here to talk about how he got his idea, how he got his first sales, did he get it made, how did he get it made, and so on all thanks to two great sponsors. The first will help you hire your next great developer, finance person and they’re just expanding and so on. They’ll help you hire some of the best people out there. It’s called Toptal. The second is a company that will help you close more sales. Their software is called Pipedrive. I’ll tell you more about them later. Alejandro, welcome.
Alejandro: Thank you for having me, Andrew. And thanks for [having me on your show 00:03:23]. I’m really excited to be here.
Andrew: Good. I’m glad to hear that.
Alejandro: I used to be on the other side just listening to interviews. So it’s very long-awaited to be on this side now.
Andrew: I dig that. I hear an accent. Where did you grow up? Where did you listen to the Mixergy interviews when you were listening?
Alejandro: I was born and raised in Bolivia. I came to the U.S. four years ago to UCLA.
Alejandro: I just finished my degree there.
Andrew: That’s where you are right now. You’re at a different company that happens to be housed at UCLA, right?
Alejandro: Exactly. Yeah.
Andrew: I’m kind of curious about how well this did. Can you give me an overall estimate of the revenue and how long it was that you guys have been selling these Flux chargers?
Alejandro: Yeah. So we started in June of 2015. It really took us about a year to start seeing some serious revenue. Our best months were at $100,000 in revenue, $110,000. That was the last Christmas and Black Friday and all those good sales days. It’s also seasonal. So, at the end of the year, most people end up buying these types of products. On the drier months, it’s between $40k to $50k per month. We also shifted and we do sell the one in one units. We also sell to companies that want to have this as a corporate gift and things like that. That’s why towards the end of the year, we have stronger sales.
Andrew: From corporations? Corporations are buying these chargers?
Alejandro: Yeah. Corporations are buying it as a corporate gift so they can give it to employees or to clients and things like that.
Andrew: Really? The reason I’m shocked by that is it’s a pretty big gift. It costs what at retail, $30? What does a company pay if they want to buy multiple chargers?
Alejandro: It could be between $15 to $20. Companies that have been buying from us are like law firms and so forth, where the customer lifetime value is higher and they can afford to spend $20 on a gift. A lot of companies actually do spend for a nicer gift. These people are a little tired of getting flash drives and things like that.
Andrew: Yeah. I hate getting flash drives. Frankly, even if I get them as a gift from a good friend, not a company gift, I toss them in the garbage because I don’t want to stick anything in my computer that could potentially lead to a virus. Frankly, whatever it is, just put it on the freaking internet, right?
Alejandro: Exactly. I’ve been on the cloud for many years now.
Andrew: Yeah. But a charger, I get that. I’m always running out of freaking battery. I have such battery anxiety, don’t you?
Alejandro: How we started, how we came up with this idea of selling this portable charger, me and my cofounder, Miles Anthony, also from UCLA, we once went to a social gathering and we were there for the whole day. Towards the end of the day, maybe like 6:00, 7:00 p.m., our phones died. While I was looking for a charger, someone handed me this bulky charger that needed an extra cable. I couldn’t help put it my pockets because it was too bulky. Kind of as a joke, we thought about seeing there if there were some other charger that could be like smaller but you put it in your pockets that would even give you 10% of battery.
That was the early idea for the chargers. We did a little bit of research. We looked up the top 10 bestselling chargers on Amazon. We put them up in a matrix, and we saw where we could compete in terms of branding, pricing, and features. We saw the market was pretty much segmented into two sides. There were the very upscale and overpriced chargers.
Andrew: I’m going to say it—Mophie. I see Mophie a lot at the airport. They cost two to three times what other chargers cost. Frankly, I don’t see them being any thinner. I don’t see them doing that much different than other chargers.
Alejandro: I think they’re very good at creating that brand equity and really having that strong distribution and took a big chunk of the market.
Andrew: And they were the first. When I wanted a charging case for my phone, the only one that I knew existed back when I had the iPhone 3G, it was just a Mophie. They were on it back then. They still do good products, but there’s so much competition and they charge three times as much as others.
Alejandro: Exactly. Then there’s the other side of the chargers where they charge on the cheaper side and will break within a couple uses. We hit that middle market with our $30 charger.
Andrew: I ended up getting one of those cheaper ones and it did break. It was this tiny thing the size of a credit card. I kept it in my front pocket and it bent. It was like $10 to $15, but it’s not useful.
Alejandro: We were looking for that compromise of quality and price and durability.
Andrew: You wanted to be sure what you were doing made sense. Before you had the product brought in or manufactured, before you had that all worked out, you said, “I’m going to go out . . .” You were living in L.A., like I used to, and you went to Santa Monica. You started asking people what?
Alejandro: Yeah. Actually, my cofounder, we went through the Startup UCLA accelerator in 2015, shout out to Startup UCLA. The very early steps on our entrepreneurial journey, they emphasize a lot on customer validation. What we did the first couple days and weeks was really to get that validation to see if people would buy our product, how much they would pay for it, and what kind of brand name they would like. We actually got a box of 100 chargers, which we would thought would take us a month to sell. I went to Santa Monica, 3rd Street. In one afternoon, I sold them all.
Andrew: Santa Monica 3rd Street is the promenade where you’ve got the Gap, Banana Republic, the Apple Store is over there. Tons of people go to it. There’s a mall at the end of it, but nobody goes to the mall. On the strip, it’s like three blocks from the beach, people are walking around, getting ice cream. You just would walk up to strangers and say, “Do you want to buy a battery?”
Alejandro: I started approaching people. It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. I had a lot of anxiety, but when I approached people, people were tourists and they had time and were willing to listen to a college student that had some product they were willing to sell. It was a combination of people having a good time, also had $20 to $30 because they were doing a lot of shopping. They were also tourists, so just being able to speak German and a little bit French and Spanish, I was able to talk to them in different languages.
Andrew: That’s impressive. You moved 100 of these different chargers. Here’s the thing. Where did you get the 100 chargers?
Alejandro: We worked with a manufacturer we found through Alibaba. My cofounder just went ahead and got those made. The first version, looked completely different to the one we are selling right now. It only had one cable and an adapter for an Android. He went ahead and got those chargers. It looked like a sunk cost. At that point, at that point, we only had the $5,000 stipend from Startup UCLA. We really need to make it back so we can keep going.
Andrew: What did you pay for the chargers, do you remember?
Alejandro: I think it was $1,000, something like that.
Andrew: $1,000 for 100. I see, so about $10 a pop, and if you sold them for $20, you were doubling. I see. When you say it was basically meant for iPhone because it had that lightning connector?
Alejandro: It had an Android and a tiny piece that would convert the micro USB to—
Andrew: I’ve seen those types of chargers. What were you trying to prove, that there was enough of a demand for battery packs that looked like this that people would buy them?
Alejandro: Yes. We were trying to prove and see first how easy it would be to sell these types of products. Our first strategy was not really to do online sales, more like a brand ambassador type of thing, also see where these people, our customers hang out. We went to a couple of concerts, events, things like that and we started selling there. We were trying to prove if people at those events were our ideal customers, and we thought those were based on the sales. Eventually, since we were selling to all these different people from around the world, they would go back to their countries and started ordering on our website, then we shifted gears.
Andrew: I see. Your thinking was, “I’m going to have a sales force that’s going to where people are and it’s going to sell in person.” Your vision was midmarket charger sold one on one, and the bonus would be that some of them would end up telling their friends who would buy from your website. It was not just about the charger. It was about the distribution.
Alejandro: That’s how we started.
Andrew: Doesn’t that sound nuts to you?
Alejandro: It does. Looking back, it was probably not the best idea. It was not too scalable. I was hiring fellow college students who were not well-versed in sales, so I had to train them. It got to a little bit of a mess when we had 15 to 20 people trying to sell and going to Santa Monica at some point.
Andrew: I see. But it was a good start to get some capital and to also really validate the message, the brand and the price. Here’s the part that—first of all, I’m surprised that UCLA would encourage you and suggest that you do this.
Here’s the part that actually shocked me. On my floor here in the office in San Francisco, there are these guys who ran an operation where people would go stand in the street and try to raise money for nonprofit organizations. We’ve all seen them here in the streets of the city and I’m sure Santa Monica and other big cities.
I always assumed they were people who cared about the cause. It turns out they’re not. They’re people who get paid every time they sign someone up to pay on a monthly basis to help the cause. I always thought they were running directly with the nonprofit. No. These guys that had office space had a company that partnered with nonprofits and they sent people out into the street.
At first, I said this is kind of antiquated. We’re living in a dotcom world. Don’t you understand about email. I didn’t say it that fiery. I’m usually much more curious than that and I express my curiosity, but I was trying to have those questions answered. They gave me the numbers. Salespeople who sell on the street, if it’s run right and it takes a lot of organization to get them to run right, will crush when it comes to sales, but what they have is an ongoing recurring revenue model, where you have a one-time sale with a $10, maybe $30 profit margin, which is not enough to excite the really good salespeople and create that infrastructure, right?
Alejandro: Yes. So we started on our website, we will celebrate when we had one sale per day, but when we would sell on the streets, we would easily get $5 to $10 per hour. In the early days, it makes sense for us to go to the streets. Then once we were able to bump up on the sales, online, we stopped going to the streets.
Andrew: Okay. I kind of heard that you guys or you maybe met a girl you ended up dating while doing this? Tell me.
Alejandro: Yeah. We were not really dating, but a girl that we hired, I got really close with.
Andrew: I see. It wasn’t someone you met on the street.
Alejandro: No. It wasn’t someone I met on the street. I also used it as a pickup line. I saw some cute girls and talk to them, and if my pickup line didn’t work, I would shop them a charger or something like that. It was interesting at that point.
Andrew: Okay. So I looked into your background. You at one point were also doing SEO. You were a software engineer as an intern at Shopzilla. I got to know the Shopzilla people when I lived in L.A. They were monsters at SEO and monsters at getting traffic at Google back before Google started to shut down partnerships like that because of competition. Why didn’t you say the big thing I could bring to this partnership, my big skill is online sales? Why did you go into this offline world?
Alejandro: Like I said, we kind of like got there sort of by accident. When went through Startup UCLA accelerator, at the end of 10 weeks, we do have to go to San Francisco to pitch to the UCLA VC fund. When we were pitching, we were the only company that was pitching something that had an ask.
So everyone else was pitching an idea, this is the market, this is what they do, but they didn’t have an ask, download our app or sign up for our product. We actually had an ask and was like, “Are you going to buy it? It’s $25. Find us at the end of the presentation.” I kind of said that as a joke and I put a promo code there. But it turned out a lot of people took me up on the offer and were lining up with their credit cards and we had the Square reader.
Andrew: They would buy from you at the end of your pitch?
Alejandro: Yeah. We also started doing a lot of the pitches, sales pitches at this point, where we’d go to the demo day and a bunch of other things to sell the product. We saw that and then we saw the online sales. It was a lot simpler for us to get those sales than the amount of work that it would take in SEO, but we were still working on the SEO on the side, but not as much because we were prioritizing early revenue.
Andrew: I see.
Alejandro: Later on, six months and a year in. . .
Andrew: Let’s take a moment here. We just lost our connection for a moment, but you’re back. You can hear me okay, right?
Alejandro: Yeah. So it took us about six months to a year to see the SEO results. That’s when we really shifted.
Andrew: I’m going to come back and ask you about SEO. I also want to know about how you got tech bloggers to care about this. And then we’ll continue. But first, let me tell you and everyone else about a company called Pipedrive. If you are out there listening to me and you do any kind of sales, you owe it to yourself to sign up for Pipedrive.
Pipedrive has revolutionized our sales internally at Mixergy. The reason is this—first of all, it forces you to articulate every step of your sales process. Secondly—and you know, a lot of people are freaking messy about your sales process. When you guys were out there on the street, did you give your salespeople specific like what to say, what to do, step by step sales closing techniques?
Alejandro: Yes. I actually had a template of all these different objections that people will say and then what you could say for it.
Andrew: I just threw my pen on the floor in anger. Of course you did. All great—even Jacob, who used to have his team over here, used to have a sales process that he would teach them. I would watch them. I would listen to his sales process. I would hear people opening. Meanwhile, most people have nothing. They think they’re going to sell and figure it out, which is maybe great if you’re one person selling. Maybe it’s great, probably not, but maybe. Once you say, “I have to get bigger than one person, bigger than me and my gut,” then you need a freaking process.
Andrew: It helps to force yourself to articulate your process early on, especially if it takes multiple calls, multiple emails or multiple messages, demo maybe in there to close a sale. Here’s the part that frustrates me—most people don’t do it. Pipedrive forces you to. You can’t use Pipedrive the way you would an address book or any of your competition. They say, “You want to use us? It’s do or die. You have to articulate your process or get out and you don’t pay us and we don’t want you as a customer.” That’s the first thing.
The second thing is once you have your process—for you guys, you were selling on the street, it’s one person at a time. Most salespeople can actually start to bring in other people, sales development reps, other people, assistants on the team to help close a sale. So, for example, if after a demo someone needs to send out an email or send out a kit or someone needs to follow up with something, it doesn’t need to be the salesperson. Once you move the person in Pipedrive from one step to the next, someone else on your team can help back you up and collaborate.
Okay. That’s the beauty of Pipedrive. It also has fantastic stats so you know how well you’re doing week to week, how well your team is doing week to week. Anyone out there who is doing sales, don’t make me throw my pen on the floor in anger. You really need a process that will help you close more sales. I’ve been talking about them long before they sponsored back when it was a distraction and I couldn’t stop talking about them because they worked. I urge everyone who’s listening to me to go at least try it.
I’ll tell you what, if you try it and don’t like it, I want to hear from you. My email address is Andrew@Mixergy.com. I promise there’s no way that you’re going to say Andrew’s misleading us on this or this is a stupid idea. You’re going to get it. You may just say, “I don’t like to be this process, but you’re going to get it and my guess is if you use this process, you’re going to close more sales. So check this out. Go to Pipedrive.com/Mixergy. That’s where they’re going to give you 14 days for free, plus 25% three months after that. Go to Pipedrive.com/Mixergy. I stake my reputation on them.
Here’s the big mistake I made. By the way. I’m not an angel investor. I don’t get any pleasure out of angel investing. But here’s what I learned. From now on, when I use software in the early stage and I love it like I did with Pipedrive and Zapier, I’ve got to call them up and harass them until I invest and then start talking about them endlessly, which is frankly what I ended up doing anyway.
When I first used Pipedrive, it wasn’t buggy. It just wasn’t gorgeous. I should have invested. I should have said, “Hey, I’m still using it even though it’s not gorgeous. Even though it’s got some like kinks in it, I’m still using it. This has got to be so good I should invest.” Meanwhile, I lost out. Killer product. Never going to lose out like that again. If I use something early stage and it’s still buggy and I still love it, I’ve got to call them up and harass them until I invest.
All right. That’s because I’m kind of a pain in the ass. Look at all the research I did for Flux to see if Flux was right for me. I love it. All right. SEO, what worked for you for search engine optimization?
Alejandro: So a couple things, maybe what people already know, but always get high quality backlinks. The way I started getting backlinks was getting interviews from people.
Andrew: You would go out and have someone interview you?
Andrew: About what?
Alejandro: About what I was doing, coming from Bolivia, anything that would fit their blog. I did a lot of outreach. I’d find a blog or a friend of mine would get mentioned in a blog and I will ask them for an interaction there. It started with very small blogs, blogs that would get 100 reads and things like that. We also put up a link on our website and said if you want to review our product, I’ll send you one for free and things like that. We started with very small ones and kept leveraging those to more and more. For some bloggers, we would do a referral fee. That’s how we started getting high quality—
Andrew: What was your process for outreach to get interviewed back before there was much for people to interview you about?
Alejandro: The first interview that I did was with Imprint Lab. I think they reached out to me. They had seen me pitch once. They just wanted to hear what I had to say about the accelerator, about coming from Bolivia and things like that. That was a nice interview. Then from there, a couple hundred readers, one of them was also interested and kept building them from [inaudible 00:23:43].
That was around the time when I opened up my Facebook. I was very private on my Facebook and then I opened it up and started adding people, adding a lot of entrepreneurs that I admire and respect. Those guys would get interviews in similar places. I would look at those different websites and get interviewed there.
Andrew: So you’d just reach out to them. Was there a process then?
Alejandro: Yes, there was.
Andrew: What was your process?
Alejandro: So it basically was not to reach out through email. I did some scrappy beta analysis where I would get the most responses through Facebook, then Twitter, then email. With Facebook, I would send a quick DM I kind of crafted. It was like three or four lines that say I saw you interview my friend here. I can talk about this if you’re interested. I’d love to set up something.
Alejandro: Most people would reply. More than 50% of people would actually reply with yes or no, and then it was just like a numbers game. In Twitter, it was a little less personal and definitely email had not much of an effect.
Andrew: Email had not much of an effect?
Alejandro: Yeah. Not really. They couldn’t really see my personality. They couldn’t see a picture. So it was easy to delete. On Facebook, they would get notification and reply. So, if anyone is trying to do outreach for interviews, at least, it was worth it to really reach out to people through Facebook, then Twitter, then email. This is the one thing that really changed our business. For about a year, we were making $500, $600, maybe $1,000 in sales online.
I looked up portable chargers and the first thing that comes up is Digital Trends “Top 10 Portable Chargers.” I went to the writer, hit him up via email. His name is Simon. I said, “Hey, Simon, we have this product, we think you’ll like it. What do you think?” He didn’t reply. I’d say, “We’d like to send you a free unit, just let me know where you want it.” I reached out to him 10 times.
Almost when I was about to give up, I asked a different person on the team to reach out to him. It was a girl. She reached out to him in a couple minutes and said, “Here’s my address. Send it to me.” We sent it. He reviewed it. The keyword “portable chargers,” according to a Google Chrome extension I have, gets about 100,000 searches per month. That page probably gets 80% of those clicks. We were number one there. So we got a lot of the traffic to our site.
Andrew: I see. I’m seeing that list right now on digital trends. They seem like they add to it from time to time. They adjust it. So that’s the list that you were on. I see. You got other chargers. You should have mine. He didn’t respond, but he did respond when there was a girl who emailed him. Then we also got that little bit of data insight.
Alejandro: So, when we see a female writer, we’ll reach out from a male team member and then . . . .
Alejandro: Yeah. It may or may not be. We don’t really have a large dataset. But it’s been working out for us. We reach out to different sites.
Andrew: Okay. So it was a lot of going out and interviewing. I just find that when someone doesn’t have a topic, it’s hard. Did you give them a list of topics?
Alejandro: Kind of. I gave them a little bit of my background. I have a CS background. I know a little bit about SEO. I think the fact that I was from Bolivia caught their eye too. Either of those three would be the main topic. When we were doing the interview, another topic would come up and we’d go into more depth.
Andrew: Okay. Ryan Carson just pinged me, asked if it was time to do another Mixergy interview. He had maybe the best interview request email I’ve ever gotten. It was a list of topics he could talk about, which is good because otherwise, I have to figure out why I should have you to talk about it. It was a list of topics and then, “Here’s why you should have me on,” and a point about how he also drives traffic. So even if I say to myself, “I can’t think about traffic. I can’t think about how he’s going to help promote this.” Even if I don’t want to think that, it’s hard not to notice it. It’s hard when you’re thinking about, “What would I have him on? Is it useful for the audience?” to not look down and say, here are all the things he’s going to give me. So, frankly, Ryan Carson just needs to say, “Yo, it’s Ryan Carson. I want to come back,” and I’ll say yes to him, but it’s very compelling. I think that most people don’t think that way, Don’t think about, “I’m going to write the headline for you and give you two other options as a way of getting you on and it’s a big mistake.” All right. You’re still working with some guy—
Alejandro: That reminds me when I was in the interviews, I would write the interviews and I would do all the work for them. All they had to do was hit publish.
Andrew: You read their questions and you’d write their answer, then you’d write the next question and the answer?
Alejandro: Yes. Sometimes it was the same questions, but if they didn’t have them, I’ll write them myself. All they had to do was really publish them. They had a picture and links and everything put in. In the Google doc, it will show them and that was it.
Andrew: One of the things I found though, when something you just get off of Alibaba sells, there are a bunch of other people who sell the exact same thing. Why didn’t that happen to you? I’m looking to try to find competitors. I don’t see that.
Alejandro: Yeah. So the first version we sold, it had some competitors. It was called Flux Card. But over time, we were working with a manufacturer. We did some improvements to the box, to the material. It’s a matte finish, a very soft matte finish. We also positioned it on Amazon and online. They allowed us to be the top on that.
Andrew: Were there other people who were selling the same thing as you, or were you able to work with the manufacturer to adjust it enough that it’s too different for other people to copy?
Alejandro: I’m sure there are people who are selling something very similar. But I think what we’ve done with the branding has allowed us to capture all the people that are looking for something like that.
Alejandro: With the built-in cables and the name Flux.
Andrew: Flux, why do you think the name was so good?
Alejandro: There’s three meanings to it. One, we were looking for a name that was easy to spell in different languages. Second, we were looking for—Flux is the flow of electrons, so it will flow from the charger to your phone. The third is a pun on the word fuck, because when your phone dies, you’re like—you drop the F-bomb.
Andrew: “Fuck, my phone died.”
Alejandro: That’s it.
Andrew: Got it. Tell me what you doctor with your Amazon listing that got your attention? I’m noticing some things, but I’m not an Amazon seller, so I’m sure I’m missing a lot. I see that unlike most people, what you have is check marks, first of all, under the title, there’s a description of what it is. Each point has its own little checkmark, which catches my eye, so it looks like a real bullet point. You’re doing a few things to increase sales there. What are you doing that I’m not noticing?
Alejandro: So the title for startups is filled with keywords. So, if people search like portable charger for iPhone 7, that’s in the title, Samsung Galaxy or something. The keywords in the title have the most relevancy. Then with the checkmarks, we try to be a little more of a psychological intention, where people have seen a checkmark or have some positive association with what we’re selling.
Also, in those bullet points, we describe the product a little bit more and why they should buy from us, what are the differences compared to the other chargers. There is a tool we use. It’s called AMZ Tracker. That tool allows us to basically look up what their relevancy is or keywords are, how we can continually optimize our listing. It also allows us to request, the amount of reviews is really good.
Andrew: To request reviews?
Alejandro: Yes, to request reviews to people. The AMZ Tracker has like a step-by-step guide.
Andrew: I’m on their website now. Just to be clear, it’s AMZ like Amazon, AMZTracker.com for anyone who wants to check it out. So they give you a guide to how to promote yourself on Amazon. They give you software to help you see how well you’re doing, title length, the bullet points, high-res images, even like rating your listing, number of reviews. If you don’t have enough, they give you an X next to it and recommend you improve it.
Alejandro: They have this tool also called Unicorn Smasher that allows you to see what the sales are of the other products. You can see the competitors are selling that much of what these people are selling. You can see what the competitors are selling, this type of keywords, which ones to target.
Andrew: That’s UnicornSmasher.com for anyone who wants to see it.
Alejandro: I’m a tools guy. I try to use as many tools as possible.
Andrew: What other tools do you find that are helpful?
Alejandro: For SEO, Ahrefs.com is the main one that I use. There is also Backlinks Indexer. Backlinks is a link from a site to your site. We were talking about SEO. I got sidetracked. But the key things that we did was getting those high-quality backlinks and then building up that tiered backlink pyramid.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but a tier backlink pyramid is—it’s not black hat if you do it organically. Most people try to do one of those things and link wheels or buying low quality backlinks. What we do is we have the main site at the top and we have high-quality links, like let’s say Huffington Post, Digital Trends, link to that site. Other blogs like my blog will link to blogs to increase their domain authority so that domain authority can permeate to—
Andrew: Say that again. I think we just had a hiccup and also it’s a bit hard to understand this. Tell me again what you’re doing for SEO.
Alejandro: Yes. So the main thing that we’ve done and the main metric that I learned that really affects how you rank in Google is domain authority. Domain authority is a combination of a lot of factors like site age and things like that. The thing that you can really influence is backlinks, how many sites are linking to your site, how many high-quality sites link to your site is very important.
So what we do is we first make sure that the sites that are linking to our site are relevant. For example, review sites, interview sites, and tech blogs. Then we link from our different blogs. I have a bunch of them. I link to those. So the domain authority, the sites, like TechCrunch increases a little bit to that specific pages and in turn makes our page also get higher.
Andrew: I see. So your blogs are promoting that one blog post about you, which then has more Google juice to send to you, got it. You know what else I noticed, I was looking at some of the interviews about you. It seems like you give them the anchor text. Here’s one that’s on Medium by In Their Shoes. It says you’re from Bolivia. You founded Flux Chargers. They hyperlink that. The bestselling portable charger, they hyperlink to your sales page, in over 75 countries. By the way, that is your phrase. My assistant put that in my notes and that’s why I read it in the intro. Where does that come from, the bestselling portable charger in 75 countries, what’s that based on?
Alejandro: Yeah. Like I was saying before, I write the interviews for people. I take the most advantage out of it. So I use the anchor text as best as possible. In terms of sales, we basically kind of do sales by using the different tools and seeing with different countries we’re beating other people. Some of it might be a little bit off. But you can estimate, this is a good estimate.
Andrew: Okay. So AMZ Tracker, then there’s Unicorn Smasher. You use Ahrefs, of course. Everyone seems to use that. Was there one other one you want to include here?
Alejandro: I also mentioned BacklinksIndexer.com.
Andrew: What do you use that for? I was on that and then I kind of clicked off.
Alejandro: Indexing means when Google picks up on your link. What we did, we bought, for example, a lot of domains from Flippa. We built those sites. We had some content generation that we do. Over time, what we’ve done, we do a lot of tools and try to automate as much as possible. We try to create content to bump up the domain authority of those sites. Every time I’m on a blog post or something, we will use those links to link to that page. We have to index that page and it indexes those automatically for those. You can give them the root domain and it will automatically try to index it.
Andrew: What percentage of your sales was coming from Amazon versus your own site?
Alejandro: I think right now, it’s probably I want to say between 30% and 40% is Amazon, the rest is about 30% is online and then the remaining 30% to 40% is from bulk sales. Bulk sales is another initiative we started about a year ago.
Andrew: Let’s pause for a moment. I want to understand about bulk sales, but first I should do my second and final sponsor and then we’ll go back in. How’s this interview going for you, by the way?
Andrew: You feeling good?
Alejandro: I like it because I’m able to talk about things in different areas. I like it.
Andrew: Good. My second sponsor is a company called Toptal. Here’s the thing. It is so hard to find really good developers. There’s a reason why so many companies come to San Francisco and are willing to pay sky high rents for their office, for their home because this is where the developers are. So people are willing to spend more, people are willing to do more because a good developer is going to change your business so much more so than maybe just about any part of your company.
The challenge is how do you find the right developers? What I find is younger companies think how do I find the cheap developer. Smart companies think how do I find the best developer. When you’re looking for the best developer, it’s a hunt. That’s why the people behind Toptal said we’re going to start a brand new company, do the hard work for companies by creating one of the hardest testing processes out on the internet for developers knowing that the best developers are going to love going through this process.
I actually read a Medium article buy a guy who was rejected by Toptal. He did this whole postmortem—why he wanted to work for Toptal, what he would do wrong, what he would do next time. Toptal is the best place for developer, for designer, finance people to get work. They want to go through their testing process. Toptal did this testing process. And then they said now when a business wants to hire, they could talk to us, tell us what kind of work they need, what languages they work in, how they communicate with their developer.
Are they using Slack, Jira, what is it that they use to communicate? We’ll find the right person who fits both from a developer point of view and from a culture point of view and slide them in like a part of your company because they are. You can hire them full-time, part-time. I’ve known people that hire full teams of developers from Toptal.
So, if you’re out there and you’re listening to me and you want to hire the best developer, you’re tired of the bullshit of people who are not good, you want someone who can out think you, who can out think your team and raise the bar, I urge you to have a conversation with Toptal. I’m about to give you a URL, but I this is a personal thing that I want you to not sign up, but instead, talk to someone at Toptal, tell them what you’re looking for and then they’ll match you up and if you want to hire a person, you can often get started within a day. I’ve hired people and then started the next day.
If you don’t, if it’s not a good fit, they’ll let you know and you can do what other people have done, complain to me. I get a lot of complaints from people who say, “I wanted to hire from Toptal but they said it wasn’t a good fit.” I’m proud of that. If you’re not a good fit, they’ll tell you.
Go to this URL where you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal 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. It is top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. So it’s Toptal.com/Mixergy.
These guys bought more ads from me in 2017 than anyone else. We tried to ask them to pause for a little bit so others could have a shot. They wouldn’t. It was just working so well. I know why, because people from my audience need good developers and when they find a place with a good developer, they keep working with them and that’s why we keep working with Toptal, Toptal.com/Mixergy.
Alejandro, I can tell you’re not in software development right now because if you were, you would be so writing down their name. This is the thing that every guest is writing down.
Alejandro: I was typing while you were talking. I have it open.
Andrew: There are two companies that my interviewees go for—number one is Toptal, more than anyone else, they write it down, then they follow up and call. Number two is a company that’s not sponsoring right now but ActiveCampaign. It’s amazing how many people I’ve interviewed have very basic email software. In fact, I’m going to actually tell you I don’t think you guys did that much. What was your email strategy? Maybe I’ve been on your site that you’re not asking for my email address anymore?
Alejandro: Yeah. Our email is—
Andrew: Yeah. What is it? I thought I found it.
Alejandro: It’s just a MailChimp email sequence.
Andrew: But you’re not asking me—here’s the thing I’ve noticed that a lot of people I interview do. I go to their website and it immediately brings up a pop up that says, “Want 15% off? Enter your email address.” You guys don’t do that. Why not?
Alejandro: I read somewhere in a blog that those pop-ups were getting penalized by Google and that will hurt your SEO. We also did some testing. I believe if you try to exit, you will have an exit pop-up.
Andrew: I don’t see it. Even the use promo code—oh, there, I see it now. But even the use promo code Fest for 15% off, it doesn’t trigger a pop-up for enter email. It’s just here’s the code, use it, get 15% off. Okay. So email marketing is not huge for you.
Alejandro: So we didn’t do pop-ups right away because those get penalized, and two, on our tests, we didn’t really convert that much. So we found the user experience is more important than a million people and you’re losing the sales. Maybe this is something your audience will like. Most of our revenue now is bulk sales.
By bulk sales, I mean wholesaling through distributors, wholesaling through companies that will give it as corporate gifts or as a marketing campaign. How we do this is we go to LinkedIn, type in the company or the role that we think will be interested in buying this. We use LinkedIn Premium, we export their email. We put them on mail merge, which is this tool to basically put in subject, name, email.
Andrew: That’s the tool that plugs in via Chrome into Gmail, right?
Andrew: They have the most generic name which helps them and hurts them. It’s just called mail merge, right?
Andrew: Let me try this with you right now. You’re looking for CMO. My Premium expired with LinkedIn because my credit card was lost. That’s okay. I can still do a search for the person. You’re going to do a search for CMO and then what company would you search for?
Alejandro: We go for [inaudible 00:46:07]. Those work well for us, Coachella and different types of concerts and things like that. We think of a place, look them up, put them on a list. We also have a script. We have a one-page document that we send with prices. Also, the script takes their logo, Google searches their logo and puts it on a charger, puts it on the PDF automatically, puts it on an attachment on the email and then sends it right away.
Andrew: If it was coming to me, you would say, “Hey, Andrew, would you like to buy this charger?” It would say Mixergy on the charger already in the image and then you’d have—what script do you use to do that?
Alejandro: That’s one we wrote.
Andrew: You wrote that. I’m sure sometimes you end up with a crappy logo, but you just accept that sometimes it doesn’t work out.
Alejandro: Yeah. We look and make sure that it works out. Shout out to Scott, who works on the team as well. He’s the one that actually built the script. He’s really good. That’s what the script does and that’s how we approach the bulk. We make it a little bit more personalized. We also say we’ll send you a unit for free if you look it up. We noticed this is a key point, selling even a unit for free just increases the conversion rate at least by 50%.
Andrew: What software do you use to manage all of that? What’s your CRM for all that?
Alejandro: We just go straight from mail merge into Gmail. It’s kind of like custom put together with Python.
Andrew: Okay. So that became a big thing for you, and it’s just that process, just finding people on LinkedIn, putting them into your list, sending them an email, offering them a freebie, that whole thing.
Alejandro: Yes. That’s basically the idea. You have to actually close the sale.
Andrew: Get on a call with them?
Alejandro: Get on a call or just keep going through email back and forth, negotiate on pricing or just kind of ask for their address and things like that.
Andrew: Have you used something called Mailshake?
Alejandro: I’ve never heard of it.
Andrew: They seem to do what you’re talking about. They want to sponsor—I’m checking them out. I saw that one of my members was using them and was getting results. I’m trying to understand how exactly it would work. It seems to go find your leads, then start putting the email and do the mail merge via your Google account.
Alejandro: Yeah. I’ll look them up.
Andrew: I’m fascinated by this type of software too, but I try not to get too obsessive about the software because it becomes a distraction. When you geek out on it the way I do, it becomes a distraction. So I see what you’re doing, I see how it works, still I was on the Flux Charger on Amazon. You told me about keyword stuffing and I saw iPhone 7 and so on. You know what I didn’t see? The iPhone X. It made me wonder are you guys taking your foot off the gas here?
Alejandro: Yeah. So this is where we—yes is the short answer. We got distracted and it was good and bad. The first company was started was Flux Chargers. We saw the success of Flux Chargers was the digital marketing, the distribution and things like that. So we went and did Flux LA and then we did SEO and marketing for other people. Then both of these companies were getting revenue. So we started Flux Capital. We didn’t want to pay ourselves.
Andrew: You just wanted to take all the money that you didn’t need for school and just reinvest it in the business instead of paying taxes on it. Okay.
Alejandro: Yeah, not just for taxes. When I would pay myself, it wouldn’t really grow, but if we invested in the business, it could grow much faster. Back in the day, we were still college students, I pretty much still am. I still live in the dorms and things like that. We lived with like $1,000 a month. So that’s pretty much what we pay ourselves.
Andrew: So you said, “I know all this SEO stuff. I love it. I have a process that works I’m going to create Flux.LA. That’s your digital marketing agency and you started going after customers. Then you said, “I’m going to invest in companies.” You told me at the start of this interview or before we started, you told me you’ve invested in two different companies already.
Alejandro: Yes. So one of the companies I invested is called Everipedia, what they do is kind of a Wikipedia for everyone. It was one of the companies of my friends, a guy named Mahbod—
Andrew: Yeah, Mahbod from Genius.com. I interviewed him about it.
Alejandro: Yeah. So, when I met those guys, Travis, etc., the vision they sold me on was powerful, so I felt compelled to back them up. We started Flux Capital and set up some of those investments. If we got the money ourselves, we would get greedy and waste it. I knew I was going to waste it if I was going to do it myself. We also got excited about crypto. At the start, we were buying and speculating. But over the last summer, we hired someone who knew machine learning. We went the longer route to find someone that was really good and was able to build a script to buy and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin based on different factors. That’s what also we’ve been doing.
Andrew: Let me ask you something. When you go through an accelerator, they want you to do research and see if customers, not research, but actually talk to customers, do sales, see if people want what you want to sell. That’s at the beginning. They also want you to think long term and think beyond this product, what is the vision? What’s the big thing that you’re doing? When you told them that vision, what did you say? What was it going to be?
Alejandro: There’s three people I like to have in my group. People just getting started, people at the same level as me that I can compete and continuously learn, and people ahead of me which I admire and I really want to be like. One of those people that I really want to be like is Richard Branson. Richard Branson built the Virgin Group, which is a set of companies that really do things really well, Virgin America, Virgin Galactic, etc. I want Flux Ventures to be something like that.
Andrew: Did you tell them that?
Andrew: What do they say about that?
Andrew: They weren’t buying it. The challenge with that is Richard Branson started out with record stores, then record label, then took a turn away from all that and went into Virgin Atlantic, which he had a partnership with the founder of that company, pushed out that founder and ended up running it. He wasn’t doing five different companies all at once, right? He mastered one and then he moved to the next, which was the next logical. Then he took this big giant leap. That’s what I would imagine they would say to you, that you weren’t thinking enough about where does this battery thing go, would you want to be the new Anker or what Anker became.
Alejandro: Yeah. We’ve been using this Flux opportunity to explore things we like that we would otherwise not have the opportunity to do if we were to take a 9:00 to 5:00 job. In my opinion, they may not be the smoothest and most logical connection, but there’s still some resemblance and connection. We did the marketing. Anything we learned and made good at Flex LA, which is a marketing company, will also help Flux Chargers. The more we bump up our SEO juice on every site, the more it helps every company.
We’ve done a bunch of different things. Not all of them take off all the time. In a sense, it would be good if we focus on one. At the same time, we’re exploring different things to have a better base of things that we do in sales, marketing, cryptos because frankly, we think that still our big hit is still to come. It won’t be a marketing agency or something like that. We’re trying to increase our skills such that when we think of that big idea, we have—
Andrew: All of this is setting you up for that. Not setting you up—I just started re-listening to the Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech where he talks about connecting the dots and how little things that don’t end up taking you someplace. He just followed his instincts and passions.
Andrew: That’s basically what you’re saying. You’re saying I’m curious how to sell online. I’ve learned that. I’m curious about physical products a little bit. I’ve learned about that. I’m curious about calls and emails to sell products and you’ve got that. You’re curious about SEO and you’ve got that. You’re putting together this collection of skills that will eventually, when you find that one thing or when you happen to touch it will supercharge it. That’s where you are right now.
Alejandro: Yeah. Every time we’ve started a new project, we’ve come in at a higher space. Now that we’ve started a project, we have all the connections with the press, so we can easily market it. We know how to do SEO. We know some sites that are strong that can provide that SEO juice. That’s how I view it. Like I said, I don’t think we’ve had the big hit yet. I think that’s still to come. We’re trying to learn so we can be prepared for later.
Andrew: Okay. If anyone wants to follow your journey, see what you’re up to, what’s a good website? I’ve got tons of them for you. What’s a good one to send them to?
Alejandro: I’d say my personal website, which is AlejandroRioja.com. That’s the main one. I recently removed myself from most social media except my Snapchat. This is something I didn’t talk about in the pre-interview. I actually rap. I have a different personality which is called Young Slacker.
Andrew: Young Slacker?
Alejandro: This year, as part of a random exploration time, which is really what I think about Flux, an exploration time, a learning time, I also want to next year launch a couple songs.
Andrew: Is this you?
Andrew: That’s not you? That’s you re-SoundClouding or whatever that is.
Alejandro: On Snapchat is where I post my original stuff.
Andrew: You don’t post any on SoundCloud?
Alejandro: Not yet. I’m working on an original song right now. I have 50 pages on Google docs of the lyrics. I’m definitely working on something.
Andrew: Nothing you could perform right now for us?
Alejandro: Um. . .
Andrew: Do it. I’m going to do the close out and then you hit it. You want to play some music or find some music behind you to do it. Unplug your earphones. Guys, I want to thank Alejandro and you guys all for listening. If you want to check out his website, it’s just like he said, AlejandroRioja.com. If you want Flux, just go to Amazon and search for Flux battery, let me see what the URL is—FluxChargers.com. My two sponsors are—get ready, I’m going to put it on you in a moment, if you want to close more sales, be systemized about it, Pipedrive.com/Mixergy will help you do it. If you want to hire your next great developer, I did. So many people who I’ve interviewed have, go check them out at Toptal.com/Mixergy. Alejandro, it’s on you, man.