How married co-founders deal with anxiety while running a business

My hope is that as you’re building your company, you’re listening to this. Or maybe as you’re running into work, or as you’re driving into work, you’re listening to this and you use it to build a company. I hope that you’ll give me the honor of letting me interview you when you’re ready for it.

I’m especially excited about this interview, because this isn’t an interview with someone who created a virtual reality app or came up with the latest and greatest anything.

This is a guy who sells pens and geeks out on paper online in a way that you didn’t even know existed. He’s building a real business with it, a business full of passionate customers who love what he’s doing, a business full of customers who are buying what he’s selling. To me, that’s exciting. His name is Brian Goulet. He is the Founder of Goulet Pens. It’s an online retail niche store that focuses on fountain pens, ink, and paper for writing.

Brian Goulet

Brian Goulet

Goulet Pens

Brian Goulet is the Founder of Goulet Pens, an online retail niche store that focuses on fountain pens, ink, and paper for writing.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It is home of the ambitious upstart. It’s the place where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. What distinguishes me from other interview programs and other podcasts, frankly, is that I really seek an audience of people who are doers, who are real businesspeople, who are real entrepreneurs. You can see the fruits of my labor, having done this for years in some of my past interviews, where you’ll hear people who I interviewed say that they listened to Mixergy for years, and now they’re here to give back.

That’s my mission here. My hope is that as you’re building your company, you’re listening to this. Or maybe as you’re running into work, or as you’re driving into work, you’re listening to this and you use it to build a company, and that you’ll give me the honor of letting me interview you when you’re ready for it. I’m especially excited about this interview, because this isn’t an interview with someone who created a virtual reality app or a virtual reality headset, or came up with the latest and greatest anything.

This is a guy who sells pens, and geeks out on paper online in a way that you didn’t even know existed. He’s building a real business with it, a business full of passionate customers who love what he’s doing, a business full of customers who are buying what he’s building, what he’s creating, what he’s selling. To me, that’s exciting. His name is Brian Goulet. He is the Founder of Goulet Pens. It’s an online retail niche store that focuses on fountain pens, ink, and paper for writing.

This interview is sponsored by two companies. The first is going to host your website. It’s called HostGator. The second company is Leadpages, which you probably know. But you may not know that I’m going to be speaking at their conference and I’d love for you to be there. But I’ll tell you more about both of them later. First, it’s good to have you on here, Brian.

Brian: Yeah. Thank you so much, Andrew. It’s an honor to be here, I will say.

Andrew: How much revenue are you generating selling pens and paper?

Brian: Man, you just came right out the gate with that. Didn’t you?

Andrew: Yeah.

Brian: Actually, I did a little bit research on you before I did this interview, and you did an Entrepreneurs on Fire interview…

Andrew: Yes.

Brian: …where you said that you don’t think that entrepreneurs should talk about their revenue while they’re building their businesses. So I think I’m going to have to take your lead on that one.

Andrew: Are you actually going to pass that?

Brian: I’ll just say, as a private business, that’s something I like to hold close to my chest. But I can assure you, it’s a legit business.

Andrew: Can we say it’s making millions of dollars?

Brian: Sure.

Andrew: Okay. I have the numbers here, but I obviously won’t reveal it. I agree with you, actually. My feeling is that for some businesses, it clearly helps them. If you listen to my interviews, you can kind of tell what businesses are specially helped by it.

Brian: Sure.

Andrew: It’s the businesses that want to show that they have staying power, that want to show that they can hire people and they can afford to pay them. That want to show that they either don’t have funding but they’re still strong and growing, and are worth partnering up with, or if they have funding they want to say, “I’m not one of those guys that has funding and don’t have anything to back that up.”

Brian: Absolutely.

Andrew: But I’m 100% with you. You’re not going to sell more pens by telling me how many pens you’re selling.

Brian: Right.

Andrew: What I think…

Brian: It’s different too, because I [inaudible 00:03:11] that work with a lot of business folks too. We’re privately funded. My wife and I own the business outright. We don’t have any debt. So I’m not out there trying to drum up funding or anything like that. So I take a great privilege in not having to share that information with anyone I don’t feel like.

Andrew: And you’re profitable?

Brian: Yeah, of course.

Andrew: I like the “of course” on that. You actually made the very first pens yourself, didn’t you?

Brian: Yes, I did. That’s how I got into this whole thing. I don’t make pens anymore. But I got into it very much as a retiree or as a high schooler, or just someone who’s a hobbyist would, turning wooden pens on a lathe. I had an interest in woodworking, and I literally just started doing it on a whim, because I was itching to do something with my hands. I’ve always been a pretty handy guy, loved tools, and things like that. So I somehow convinced my wife that as we were living in an apartment… Right after we’d gotten married out of college, I convinced her it was a great idea for me to drape a bunch of extension cords out onto our covered balcony in our first apartment and that I should get a bunch of lathes, and drill press, and table saw, and all of these things, and turn pens out on our balcony.

Andrew: In the apartment?

Brian: Yes, in the apartment.

Andrew: So I’m not a very handy person, but I went to Brooklyn Tech and they taught us how to use a lathe.

Brian: Okay.

Andrew: A lathe is that thing that spins really fast, and you hold up, it’s called a bit, but it kind of is like a knife, up against it, and then it starts to tear away the outer layers of the thing that you’re spinning, until you end up with a smooth surface.

Brian: That’s exactly right.

Andrew: Or a round surface, not necessarily smooth. Right?

Brian: If you think about like the spindles that you have on a chair railing or table legs, or anything like that, that’s all done on a lathe.

Andrew: You had that in your apartment? You can actually do that?

Brian: Well, it was on the balcony, so it was outside. But yeah.

Andrew: Still. You’ve got bits of wood, I imagine, flying everywhere?

Brian: Oh, yeah. Everywhere.

Andrew: Right.

Brian: I’d be out there. It would be 100 degrees. I’d be sweating like crazy, mosquitos all over me, and I’d be out there turning pens.

Andrew: Did you do it with the idea that you would sell it?

Brian: Well, initially, no. I was just itching to do something with my hands. Maybe this can be inspiring for people out there, that it doesn’t have to be like you can see this great business model to turn it into something. It’s been a very adaptive kind of story that I have. I started on making these pens, literally because I just wanted to do something with my hands. It was not until the first day I made pens, I turned four pens… Because what you do is you turn the pieces of wood, and then you buy these kits that have the metal parts for the refill and all that kind of stuff, the retractor and all that. Then, you press it together once you turn the wood. So you’d make a pen in a relatively short period of time. A half-hour, 45 minutes, you’ve made a pen, start to finish.

So it was a really gratifying thing as somebody who’s itching to do something with your hands kind of part time. The first day I did it, I made four pens and I was like, “What am I going to do with all these pens? Like if I do this more than once ever, I’m going to have more pens than I know what to do with.” I was like, “I’d better try to sell these things if I want to continue to do this hobby.” So literally, it was just like I wanted to wait to kind of fund that hobby, and that’s essentially how the business began.

Andrew: You ended up making how many pens by hand?

Brian: Over a three-year period that I was making pens, I made just over 900 pens.

Andrew: Nine hundred handmade pens?

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: Let’s talk about what’s special about them. What is it that you were especially proud of that made them feel unique?

Brian: So for me, it was all about craftsmanship. At the time, I was watching “The New Yankee Workshop” with Norm Abram on PBS, because we were broke and we had no cable or anything like that. So I’d watch it on PBS. I was always into tools and into woodworking, and I was just very called to… I had kind of that craftsman mentality, that pride of craftsmanship. So for me, that’s what it was. I loved wood, because it’s a natural material. It comes from the earth and you get to bring out the natural beauty of the wood, especially when you turn it. So being able to take that, and then use my skills as a craftsman to create something that then people would find value in buying was very just kind of internally gratifying.

Andrew: I’m looking at one of the early versions of your site. Is that where you started selling first?

Brian: Oh, boy. Yeah, that would be it.

Andrew: [It is?] You just built the website yourself?

Brian: My wife did, actually.

Andrew: Your wife? Okay.

Brian: Yeah. You’ll notice that is a theme throughout our story, that it’s not just me and please don’t give me a lot of the credit. I’m the face man, but my wife is very much a part of the magic that of what we’ve done throughout our whole story. So she has been playing at HTML since she was 14, 15 years old, built websites in high school, and all this kind of stuff. She has always kind of enjoyed it as a hobby. So it just very much kind of worked out, [whereas] I started building these pens and we needed to sell them. We’re both pretty socially savvy online, and so she started building this website. I was making the pens, and it just really happened to work out nicely there.

Andrew: Usually, if there’s a husband and wife or man and woman co-founder team, I try to get the female founder on because I want more women on the site. But there’s a reason why she’s not here.

Brian: Sure.

Andrew: Can you talk about that why?

Brian: Yeah, sure. So she’s a little more behind the scenes. She’s a little more private person than I am. She still has done some videos and we’ve done some things together kind of publicly. We very much run our company together as a couple. Which we also have two children as well, so we have a lot of commitments there at home. For her, she just doesn’t have as much of an interest in kind of putting herself out there as publicly as I do, even though she really still kind of does. But I know in recent years too, one of the struggles that we’ve had, I noticed something that’s probably of interest to you…

Andrew: Yes.

Brian: …and something I feel is important to talk about, is she’s had some anxiety that’s come about. Due to, I think, just in the general life stage that we are, having two young children, they’re now six and four, it’s just a lot of stress just to have young children like that that need this much care and attention. Also, to run our business, we’ve had to move our business several times as we’ve grown.

Andrew: You say “anxiety.” It’s more than your anxiety. What’s her anxiety like? Is this too early in the conversation to bring this up? Should I wait a little bit?

Brian: No, that’s okay. It’s okay. I’m very open to talking about this.

Andrew: Okay.

Brian: I think she is okay with it too. So part of it is just genetics. She’s kind of prone to it. It kind of runs throughout her family, so we always kind of knew that it was a possibility. She never struggled with it early in her life. But I think it was probably just because of the life stage that we’re in, because of the pace that we’ve had our growth, and just the general stress that comes with running your own business, I think she was kind of at a heightened state. So a lot of it came about when we did a major redo on our website, about a year and a half ago. Just everything leading up to that, she really led the charge on it. It was stressful.

We were early adopters on a new platform, and we didn’t really understand how much we would be really kind of in the jungle with machetes kind of cutting the path, in that respect. So that created a lot of stress for her, and that really brought out a lot of the anxiety that has kind of helped shape what the role is she plays in our business at this point, which is a little more kind of behind the scenes.

Andrew: Yeah. I told you before we started the interview that anxiety and panic attacks, and issues like that are huge for entrepreneurs. They talk to me about it in private, but not in public. I think it’s important for them to know that this is an issue that others face, and that we can talk about how they’ve gotten through it. I’ll tell you, I’m literally on Facebook Messenger today and yesterday talking to one of my members who created a great piece of software people are talking about, and he couldn’t talk to me yesterday. He missed our meeting, because he passed out from working too much. That’s not the first time that he passed out. The reason that we were going to talk on the phone is because he passed out from working too much before. I’ve talked to entrepreneurs who’ve had to go to the hospital because of this, and I want us to have more of an open discussion about it.

Brian: Yeah. I think that’s important. [inaudible 00:10:57] that I’m not the one that… I mean, I’ve supported her in that. She’s really kind of been more afflicted with it herself, and she’s a very high performer. I think she’s kind of a typical overachiever. So we’ve had to really kind of balance that out in the last couple of years as a married couple, as co-running our business together. But for her, I think it’s been a struggle kind of like with anybody. But it hasn’t been so much of the working until she drops kind of thing. I think it has to do with…

Andrew: Right. It’s a different…

Brian: …the type of work that she’s doing, and what causes the stress. I think that one thing that we’ve learned through that experience, it strengthened us as a couple. Because of the way we run our business and kind of how open we are, and how personal we are and we can get more into that in a minute, but I think we’re a little more open when we have these kind of general life things that happen to us. I really feel that’s important, because it’s really easy to look at somebody and kind of idolize them, or like the grass is greener. Or you say like, “Oh, you’re running this business. Things must be so great. You’re swimming in all this money. Yada, yada, yada.”

Andrew: What is it? I’m actually looking at your numbers. If you told people what you were doing, I think you’d give some people heart attacks. From your revenue numbers is what I mean.

Brian: Sure.

Andrew: So when you say that there’s something behind the scenes that we’re not seeing, what are we missing?

Brian: Well, it’s real-life stuff. We have two young kids, and kids get sick at the worst times. It’s like we’ll be doing a quarterly physical inventory, we have to shut down the whole site, and then crazy stuff will happen and our son will have a 103 temperature, and we have to manage that. Rachel, throughout, when she was having this anxiety, she was having to manage that through what were some very up and down times. We were still having to be a calming presence to our kids and be consistent kind of leaders in our company, and navigate through that. We’re very open with our team when we’re navigating through that kind of stuff. I’ll say this. I hadn’t even talked to you about this at the time, because it’s a recent development. We just had a miscarriage of our third child last week.

Andrew: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

Brian: Yeah. We had our interview scheduled a couple of weeks ago. It was because of a complication…

Andrew: I see.

Brian: …I had to go to [inaudible 00:13:05] last minute. So I’m sorry for that. But now you have more context.

Andrew: Absolutely.

Brian: It’s very unfortunate, and we’re still very heartbroken. But at the same time, it’s amazing when you have things like miscarriages and anxiety, and things like that, when you start opening up and talking to people about it, you realize really how common it is. I think especially speaking about anxiety in the space that we’re in here, this entrepreneur kind of high-driving thing, you want to think like, “I’m a superhuman. I can do it all. I have to do it all if I really want to make it big,” that kind of thing. You can very much get kind of a superman complex, and then if [there’s] any type of failure, any type of shortcomings, you can really beat yourself up about that. So I think it’s…

Andrew: But don’t you actually lose credibility with your team if you tell them, “Look. My wife and I had an argument,” or, “We had this other issue.”

Brian: Oh, goodness. No. It’s the complete opposite. I think if we try to appear as some kind of superhumans, then that makes us to be some kind of unattainable, robotic, impersonal kind of people. Very kind of a corporate feel of like, “Well, we know best and we’re [inaudible 00:14:10].”

Andrew: But it doesn’t have to be that corporate feel. I see a lot of entrepreneurs who present themselves as superhuman so that everyone else is kind of intimidated, so people aren’t going to do anything wrong.

Brian: Sure.

Andrew: They’re also feeling like if they’re supermen, then people will trust them and just bring out more of themselves because they want to be more like supermen, and you’re giving all that up.

Brian: That’s certainly an approach. I would say, you’ve got to know who you are and you’ve got to know the best way, whatever you’re most comfortable with. For my wife and I, we’re very down-to-earth people. We’re kind of middle-class, rural America here in central Virginia. We’re not in like the high-paced city lifestyle, where we go, go, go and we have to feel like we can do all that. But for us, I think we’ve actually found a tremendous benefit and a relief of our own stress to be open and honest with people about real-life stuff.

Our team, at least… We have our team members that are bringing us dinner while we’re dealing with this miscarriage stuff, because they are so empathetic and they connect. They realize we are people just like everybody else, and we make mistakes just like everybody else. Yes, we’re very high performers and we’re very aggressive, and we have a lot of very ambitious goals that we work towards. But I think the most important thing for me that has really helped me to get to where I am has been to realize that it’s not like this super-breed of people that are out there starting these businesses. It can be normal, everyday people that do some really cool stuff and kind of stumble along the way, and I think that’s really important.

Andrew: You know, Brian, I’ve actually found, talking to entrepreneurs, that the ones who are really super-achievers talk like that a lot. They’ll talk about how they’re having trouble with their relationship. So they’ll talk about how they can’t even get in a relationship. They’ll talk openly about the screw-ups that they had. I think it was in the book “Good to Great” where… Why am I blanking on the author’s name? Where the researcher…

Brian: Jim Collins.

Andrew: Sorry?

Brian: Jim Collins.

Andrew: Jim Collins. Thank you. He and his researchers discovered that the real successful CEOs were the ones who kept pointing the fingers at themselves and saying, “Here’s how I screwed up. Here’s how we as a company didn’t do right.” Actually, it’s not even “we as a company.” They personally keep saying what they did wrong. The ones who weren’t doing well were the ones who acted like they were supermen and superwomen. Let’s go into then, how you built this company up.

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: You launched… Or you actually didn’t launch. You created the first sets of pens. It seems like when you finally created the website, there was more than pens on it. Am I right? There were like wine bottle stops and things like that on there.

Brian: Yeah. So there’s kind of like two life stages to the business. It’s really kind of like the pre-business, and then what I call the “real business”. The whole pen-making thing, it was essentially a glorified hobby. It was never profitable. I never paid myself anything for my work. It was all just reinvesting into equipment, reinvesting into tools, and things to help to try to build the business. It never really went anywhere. So just like anybody else who’d been doing it… I’d been doing it two and a half years at that point, and at that point I was working with my father and his business. I had kind of scaled back from that, because I wanted to go full-time and really try to make my pen-making as a craftsman to be my full-time gig.

So I committed myself full-time to it for about a year in that final two and a half years there, and I was really trying to make a go of it. But it just wasn’t taking. This was in 2009. Early mid-2009, after the economic crisis, a lot of my business had come from corporate gifts and things like that, and companies had just kind of shut the pipeline off in terms of corporate gifts. So I was having to really search and try to find a way to get…

Andrew: Before you get into how you found it, how did you get all those corporate customers? How did you get your early customers?

Brian: Huh. I would like to take credit for a lot of that, but I honestly just kind of stumbled into it. The owner, or one of the owners of the company that my wife was working for at the time kind of took a personal interest in these wooden pens, and heard that I made these pens. It was a couple of weeks after I started making the wooden pens, and I had maybe eight pens that I’d ever made. I took them to him, and they were terrible looking in retrospect. They were totally just prototypes, and I took them to him and I was like, “Well, here they are.” He was like, “Well, these seem kind of rough. But if you can figure it out, I’d love to get 120 of them by Christmastime…”

Andrew: I see.

Brian: …in like a two-month period. I was like, “You got it.” I was like, “I’ll figure it out. I’ll make it happen,” and I did. I aggressively figured out basically the process of how to turn the pens and make them look really nice. Then, that was like my main order that I had for the next several years. Then, from that I was able to kind of network through clients of theirs. So I was able to kind of work through that network, and I would attend craft shows and fairs, and all the typical handmade types…

Andrew: Got it.

Brian: …of fairs and things like that. I’m a Virginia Tech graduate. I licensed Virginia Tech products and was selling those, trying to sell them through the alumni [inaudible 00:19:08].

Andrew: You contacted the school? You found someone at the school who let you make them and you handmade them for them…

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: …and you sold it in the store.

Brian: I did, yeah.

Andrew: I see.

Brian: So I had officially-licensed Virginia Tech products. That never really went anywhere.

Andrew: I see.

Brian: So I was trying. Just like anybody who’s starting a business, you’re trying. You don’t know what’s going to work. So you’ve got to try all these different things before you figure out what’s really going to take.

Andrew: Okay, and then…

Brian: It was through that… My story is continuing here. This was not with fountain pens at all. This was with roller ball and ballpoint pens, and just typical kind of stuff. It wasn’t until I heard from a pen-making friend of mine that there’s this fountain pen tradeshow up in Washington, D.C. every year. It was around that time and I was thinking, “Okay. Well, I’ll attend this show. I know there’s people who like fountain pens if there’s a show, so there must be some kind of interest in it.” So I attended the show to kind of scope it out and see if maybe there was a possibility for me to get a booth there the following year, or something like that. I attended the show, and it’s a pretty good size show for a niche market like this. There’s maybe 2,000 or 3,000 people that role through on the weekend. It’s a pretty decent show, maybe 200 vendors at the Sheraton Premiere in Tysons.

So I attended this thing, and I didn’t know anything about fountain pens, not a thing. But I ended this thing and I was like, “Man, these people are really passionate.” I’m not joking. There’s people that wear fishing vests with pockets all over it filled with pens. They’re going there and talking about pens, geeking out with everybody about pens. I was just like, “Who are these people?” I was like, “What is going on here?” For the last several years, I’d been trying to figure out how to make the corporate handmade gift kind of thing work, and there was no community there. Everything was a cold call. There was no repeat business really. Everybody was a gift thing, so pens would go out and you’d never hear from the people that’d actually get the pens. I was like, “This is a complete 180 from where I am right now.” I was like, “These people are passionate about it, and I need to figure out why.” That’s when I really started to say like, “Okay. I’ve got to figure this out.”

So I bought a bottle of ink and some paper, and stuff at the show and I was like, “I’ll try it out.” With my original vision, I would make the pens and there were certain pens that you could actually convert into a fountain pen with different parts and stuff. So I was like, “Well, maybe I can make fountain pens. What the heck? I don’t really care. I just want to sell my pens.” So I tried to use the fountain pens, and I spilled ink the first time I tried to use it and got ink all over my hands. I didn’t know what I was doing. So I would search online and forums, and things like that. I was like, “Who the heck?” I was like, “I don’t know anyone who uses a fountain pen. There’s clearly people out there that use them, but I need to figure out how you kind of figure this thing out,” and I found some forums. There’s a network called the Fountain Pen Network. It’s a pretty good size forum.

There’s other resources, bloggers, and things, but the information is very scattered and very kind of… It was all over the place. I was like, “Man, this is so hard to learn. As someone who’s like really interested to learn how to use fountain pens and just doesn’t know how, this is really hard. Like there’s a huge barrier to entry here.” Then, a light just kind of went off in my head. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. If I made it easier for people to learn how to use fountain pens who were interested, that would probably be a really valuable resource, and I would gain the trust of a lot of people.”

I was like, “The only problem is, I don’t know anything about fountain pens. I don’t know anything about social media, other than I used Facebook in college and had a Twitter account. I don’t know anything about video production or audio, or anything like that.” I was like, “But nobody else is doing it. So even if I do it terribly, I’ll be the best one out there that’s doing it.” So that’s literally the approach that I took is like, “I’m going to literally just jump off a cliff and grow the wings as I’m falling.” Because there was no one else that was really, really trying to do what I was doing, getting new people into fountain pens and really teaching them how to use it.

Because I had a site where I was making pens and had kind of an e-commerce thing going already, I was like, “If I just source out fountain pen-related products and sell them, and then educate people about how to use them, then I’m going to get business and it’s not going to cost me anything but my time.” Just for context, this was literally… We started doing that two months before my wife gave birth to our first child. So I was like, “Okay.” We had a mortgage. I had no income, because again my business was not thriving at that time. My wife was pulling the wagon financially, because she was working full-time, and I had this inkling of a notion of what this business could become. All I had to do was commit massive amounts of time, and then try to build an inventory-based business with no money whatsoever, as my son was being born.

I was like, “Okay. Well, maybe we’ll see how this goes.” Initially my vision was I wanted to try to sell ink and paper, and peripherals to complement my pens that I was making as fountain pens. Then, I would still become this kind of master craftsman. That was my vision for the first three to four months. It didn’t really sink in until a couple of months in that once I really learned what fountain pen people wanted in a pen, I won’t go into all the details, but the way that I had to make them was not ideal for the way most people want to use fountain pens. They’re too heavy and things like that.

So I kind of had to come to the realization that my handmade pens were not going to be the way that I was going to build this business. That was a really tough pill to swallow, because I essentially had to kill that whole part of the business, because the paper and the ink, and the peripherals were selling, and my pens were not. I had this 500-square foot garage filled with tools that I’d put all kinds of pride and craftsmanship into building all that, and yet I’m in my kitchen, in my dining room shipping orders. Like I would clear off the dinner table and pull out the bubble wrap, and we’d be shipping orders off of bookshelves in our dining room. I was never going out to the workshop to build pens. I was just shipping ink and paper from our dining room.

So I put two and two together and I was like, “Well, I have a lot of pride in the craftsmanship stuff. But I also want to provide for my family and I want to provide a service that people actually appreciate. So this is the route I’m going to go.” I stopped making pens, and I went all in on just the wholesale retailing side of the commercially-made products. That’s when I really started to get heavy into the social media stuff.

Andrew: Heavy into social media, you said?

Brian: Yes, absolutely.

Andrew: Okay. Let’s pick this story up in a moment. I’m just going to talk about my sponsors. I’ll talk about both, and then we’ll get back in the story. The first sponsor is a company called HostGator. Frankly, as I’m hearing you talk about this, Brian, I’ve got to say to anyone in the audience, that if they have any kind of personal hobby, any kind of personal interest that they want to explore, your model can be completely copied for that, especially if they don’t know it yet. In fact, maybe even… Yeah. That probably would even be better.

Imagine if somebody got really, really into custom-made shirts, but didn’t know enough about it and started to blog about how to get the right custom-made shirt, how to find it at a right price, how to get the best quality, the little shop in Europe that does it, or the one in Hong Kong. Right? Just keep learning and blogging what you’ve learned and sell handmade shirts. Or if they’re really into handmade watchbands for the iPhone and for the new Android Wear watches. Just do a site dedicated to whatever it is that you’re passionate about. You should, if you’re looking for a business idea, if you’re looking for a side interest, you’ve got to, you owe it to yourself to go and just launch it, and it’s really inexpensive. So frankly, if you find out that you don’t love it, you can stop or you can shift to something you do love.

Here’s what you do. Go to HostGator, and not just HostGator but go to this special URL that I’m going to give you. Because they’re going to give you 30% off their already low price, so it really is not going to cost you anything to start this. So go to hostgator.com/mixergy. They’re going to give you 24/7, 365 tech support. That means they’re around even on holidays, including Christmas or New Year’s Eve. They’re going to give you unmetered disk space. They’re going to give you unmetered bandwidth so that it’s going to be really easy for you to just keep growing.

They’ve got unlimited email addresses, which frankly I talk about. But you know you can expect that. What you don’t know is that they have really good uptime and incredible customer support. If you need them, they will be there on the phone, not by ticket via email. So take whatever interest you have. Go start your site. Send me a link. I will talk about it here on Mixergy. Here’s the URL again, hostgator.com/mixergy.

A second and final sponsor is… Well, actually, let me ask you this, Brian.

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: So the sponsor is Leadpages. They’re organizing a conference for people who want to create landing pages that convert. My worry is that I’m not going to get enough people to come to the conference for them. They’re going to fill it up for sure, but I want my guest to be there. I want them to say, “Andrew’s ads paid off, and to look around and see people come from Andrew.” Does it actually pay for me to say to my audience, “I’m worried that not enough people are going to come and that I will look like a fool in front of the Leadpages guys for not delivering enough on their ads?”

Brian: Does that pay for you?

Andrew: Yeah. Would you encourage me to say that and to be more open the way that you’re open? Or should I just say, “Hey, everyone’s going to come just because of me. Trust me. It’s going to be full.” That’s the superman approach.

Brian: I think being honest about it, yeah. Personally, I find it a little more refreshing when you’re honest about it and you say like, “Hey, guys. Look. This is the situation.” I know you’ve talked before about your ads. In your Entrepreneur on Fire interview that you did, you talked a little bit about that and how you were kind of having to grow and adapt, and that was a concern. You talked about kind of behind the scenes and how you kind of negotiated with some of the ad revenue and stuff like that.

Andrew: Yes.

Brian: I think that’s really compelling. Personally, I find that way more interesting than a really polished up kind of thing where you’re like, “Oh, I’m so great. Da, da, da, da.” To me, that doesn’t seem accessible. So personally, I wouldn’t say you lead with that and you say, “Hey, guys. I don’t really know what I’m doing. But man, it’d be great if you come to this thing.” Maybe not that, because people don’t want to see a lack of confidence. But you say, “Hey, guys. This is the deal. I know this thing is going to fill up. I really think this is a great thing that adds value to you. But I’ll be honest with you. I’m a little concerned that I’m going to lose this sponsorship if I don’t do it, and then it’s going to be harder to bring you value in the future. But this is a [really good] thing. Please go to bat for me. This is a [inaudible 00:29:17] jab, jab, jab, jab.” Right? This is literally like the right [inaudible 00:29:20].

Andrew: This is a right hook.

Brian: So this is, you’ve got to lead with 1,000 podcasts previously where you’ve added value to people, which you already have, and then you say, “Hey, guys. This is my right hook. I’m landing it right now. I need you guys to pull for this, because this is going to show my ad sponsor that I bring value to them.” Then, that’s being honest. You’re not trying to be the swindling or snake oil salesman, or anything about it. Yeah. Hey, you’re being honest.

Andrew: All right. So here it is. I’ll read the first two lines that they’ve asked me to talk about, and then I’ll be open, just like you said.

Brian: There you go.

Andrew: There’s a conference that wants to solve the single biggest problem that businesses face, conversion. We’re talking specifically about converting visitors into leads, and converting those leads into customers, and actually having those customers stay with you for life. So for 48 hours, this conference that Leadpages is putting on, it’s called Converted 2016, is going to show you step by step how to dramatically boost your leads and sales at every step of your process. You’re going to walk away with tips, ideas, strategies to measurably increase all those conversions.

They asked me to come speak at the conference. I said yes. They then bought a bunch of ads here on Mixergy so that Mixergy fans come out. I’m excited about that. I’m proud about it. But I’m also a little bit nervous that they’re going to have a big audience and not enough of that audience is going to come in from Mixergy. So I’ll be open with you, and that’s why in the past I’ve said that if you come to the conference email me beforehand so I can give you my phone number. So I can text you and we can text each other at the event, and we can meet up, so I get a sense of how many people have come and so that we could also show Leadpages how powerful the Mixergy audience is.

So it’s my request, but if you do it you’re also going to get a whole lot out of it. This conference is really well-curated, and it’s a good group of people not just onstage, but in the audience. They’re going to give us a big discount if you listen to Mixergy and you go sign up. The URL for that discount is leadpages.net/mixergy. Leadpages.net/mixergy. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys there. Thanks, Brian. I like that. That felt authentic, but not needy.

Brian: Well done. Absolutely. It’s got to be authentic. That’s the key with everything. It’s got to be authentic. Cool.

Andrew: You were, was it just blogging? It was social media? I’m wondering what you did that got you to stand out, that got people to even be aware of the fact that there’s a guy who cares obsessively about paper, about ink quality, etc. What did you do to let us know, to let people know that you were out there?

Brian: Yeah. I mean, the first thing that I did is I made sure that I knew what it was that people were looking for. So I had an interest myself in learning more, which in retrospect it would’ve probably made things a little easier if I had a background in fountain pens and fine writing, and stuff like that. I did not. So I literally had to learn about it, and then again my authenticity is coming from the fact that I was not an expert in the beginning. So I would have to write blog posts or share things, or do YouTube videos, or whatever and say, “Hey, guys. I’m really just starting out. But here’s what I’m learning,” and I would go into super-detail about what it is that I’m learning.

I’d make sure that I’d learn it really well, share it right back out, and be like, “I’m not an expert, guys. What do you think?” I would get their feedback, whether it’s on a blog in comments, or YouTube comments, or whatever platform at the time. I’ve been on Twitter, Facebook. Now, it’s like Snapchat, Instagram, everywhere. Whatever it is, the engagement, it keeps it real. For my community, the fountain pen enthusiast community, it’s a really tight group of very passionate people, because let’s be honest. If everybody stopped using fountain pens, no one would die. Like it’s not a life essential. I mean, a lot of people would act like they’re dying. But it’s not like pacemakers or heart surgery, or something like that where, yeah, people will live and die.

These are nice-to-haves. So because it’s not a commodity, it’s really passionate people that use them because they want to, and not because they have to. That’s like a very self-selecting process to get into something like fountain pens or custom watchbands, like you just talked about. Or there’s a million things, wet shaving and you name it, typewriters, antique typewriters, all kinds of stuff that people get into, knitting, scrapbooking, you name it. It’s the same kind of thing. There’s really passionate people that are into it. They find each other in places online. They share a lot of great information.

There’s gurus, if you want to call them, that kind of rise up and are the ones who are out there leading the charge for these communities. Gary Vaynerchuk, I’ve talked about him being an influence for me. He did it in the wine world. He had a wine blog that he did daily. He did 1,000…

Andrew: Is that a model for you, that if he could do that for wine you could do it for pens?

Brian: Absolutely. I mean, I’ll give him credit until the day I die, because he wrote a book called “Crush It”. He wrote literally about how he did his wine business and kind of took it, and did videos and all this kind of stuff. I’d read his book and I was like, “Oh, my gosh. I could do what he did in the wine world, but do it in the fountain pen world.”

Andrew: I see.

Brian: “The only problem is I don’t know anything about how to do it, what the products are, or anything of that kind of stuff.” But I was like, “But I think I can figure it out.” [inaudible 00:34:39]

Andrew: Do you remember one of the early posts that you did, where you were just figuring it out? Or where you did deep research and you felt maybe a little like an imposter for publishing it?

Brian: Like an imposter?

Andrew: The imposter syndrome. Maybe that’s not the right word. But maybe where you felt like you were reaching beyond where you should have, but you were trying to put something out there that was good.

Brian: I think, honestly, for me, I have really tried to stay in a place where I really know what I’m talking about.

Andrew: So what’s one that you researched heavily and that you still remember today?

Brian: Oh, gosh. I mean, all of them. Some of my earliest… If you want me to go way back to some of my earliest ones…

Andrew: Yeah. Because I’m looking at some of the early ones where you trying to find your voice, and it was something like… There was one about how your wife stole your lathe, which was kind of interesting.

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: There was one about you linking to somebody’s something.wordpress.com blog to show that she’s a good marketing genius, but she also… Here, Andrea Morris, The Marketing Genius. I guess she’s got a workshop, but she also has a blog, and you were writing about her. I see that you were trying to figure it out there for a while.

Brian: Sure. Absolutely.

Andrew: But then, you eventually got your groove. What are some of those early posts that became memorable, for you at least?

Brian: Honestly, I figured it out pretty early on. I think part of it was my kind of detailed background from being a craftsman. I really was kind of hands-on and wanted to understand kind of the finer parts of how things worked. So for me, I always took a very kind of practical approach to learning the products, the product specs. What makes the paper feel the way it feels? Why is the paper weight…

Andrew: I see.

Brian: …effecting the writing and things like that? I latched onto that very early on, because that was personally what interested me a lot and it happened to line up very nicely with where the needs were in the fountain pen community. There was all kinds of glossy marketing hype over some of these products. Especially when you get into really expensive pens, we sell pens now that are in the thousands of dollars. There’s all kinds of glossy stuff that you can talk about, but really understanding… Like for example, we sell a pen that’s made in Japan by these artists. The technique is called maki-e. It’s a urushi lacquer. It’s this very ancient technique that goes back to the 7th century in Japan. These artists, literally they train for 20 years before they’re able to put their name on one of these pens as having made them, and it takes 4 to 6 months to make one pen.

Andrew: Wow.

Brian: So it’s an extremely involved thing, but you can’t just cover it with glossy marketing hype. You’ve got to really understand the ins and outs of how it works and why it’s worth what it is. It’s not going to be worth it to everybody, but when you really care that much to learn [inaudible 00:37:11]…

Andrew: What is it about it that makes it so valuable? Do you remember?

Brian: The artist’s time. It’s all about time.

Andrew: Just the fact that they put the time into it?

Brian: It’s all the time. They use extremely rudimentary tools. It’s a fairly hazardous process, because Urushi lacquer comes from a urushi tree in Japan. It’s actually a very poisonous chemical that’s kind of like the same chemical that’s urushiol, which is in poison ivy.

Andrew: Okay.

Brian: So if you are working with it, it can be very hazardous if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it takes an extremely long time. It can literally take up to 40 coats of lacquer to build up some of these pens.

Andrew: I see.

Brian: And it takes two weeks to dry in between each one of these things. So it’s an extremely long process that takes a high level of mastery and a lot of time. There’s just not a lot of people that can do it, so that’s…

Andrew: So you would write about the process of making this pen, and what makes it so special?

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: You told our producer, Ari Dissermo [sp], you spent 18 to 20 hours a day working. You would blog every single day, working to get traction.

Brian: Yeah. I did that. So to kind of tell one of the more interesting parts of my story… So picking up where I left off a little bit ago, my wife and I had started the fountain pen thing. She was working full-time, pregnant, about to give birth to our son. I read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book and I was like, “I think there’s something here. I can do this.” So I started doing it. I shot some videos. I had about 10 videos under my belt, which as you know, you don’t know anything when you’ve only shot 10 videos. You’re still learning.

Andrew: Yeah.

Brian: My wife had just had our son. She was on maternity leave, and she decided right at the end of her maternity leave that she just couldn’t go back to work. She couldn’t leave me and our son. I was planning to be kind of a stay-at-home dad while I built this business, while she went back to work. We didn’t really have it that figured out, which maybe can be encouraging to some people. You don’t have to have it all figured out, as long as you can adapt quickly and work really hard to overcome your own lack of planning.

But she couldn’t go back to work, and I was like, “Okay.” I was like, “I graduated college, power-washed houses with my dad for a couple years, have kind of a stale pen craftsmen business, and now I’m not even getting paid anything.” I’m not really appealing on paper to go out and be like the breadwinner. So I was like, “Okay, let’s do the math. We have so much money saved up.” We had a mortgage.

Andrew: Mm-hmm. [inaudible 00:39:32]

Brian: [inaudible 00:39:32] or something like that. [inaudible 00:39:34] with a baby. She was quitting her job. [inaudible 00:39:36] this many months to really try to make this business work and pay ourselves, or this thing is dead. Like it has to go away completely. I had like 10 videos and maybe 30 blogs under my belt, and I was like, “Oh, crap. Can we really make this work?” It was just like, “We have no choice. We literally have no choice but to will this thing to happen,” and that’s exactly what we did.

Our son was two months old at that point. Anyone who’s a new parent, you know you’re kind of a zombie anyway, and maybe that was part of it. I think there was a small part of me that was like, “I want to do this while I’m young and naïve and have the energy, before I really know better how hard this is going to be. I think I need to do this now, before I have too many voices in my head telling me that this probably isn’t the smartest thing to do.” I was like, “Let me just go for it.” So we did, and that’s when I was like, “Okay. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to work harder than I’ve ever worked before.” Like my provider instincts kicked in like crazy as a new dad, business, you name it.

I was like, “I have to blog every day for the foreseeable future.” It was like a seven-month period where literally every day I blogged. This was on top of trying to learn the products, shooting videos, taking care of our newborn, of course, taking care of my wife, taking care of our house because I was maintaining our house, and then trying to build the business. We were trying to acquire new brands, so I was doing the networking and the marketing. I was trying to do all the marketing. It was all social media stuff. We had no money. We had no money for anything. Anything that we got in, profit-wise, we immediately had to put back into inventory, because we’re an inventory-based business.

Andrew: Yeah.

Brian: Like any detailed business is, I wasn’t very financeable. It wasn’t appealing to a bank. So I was like, “I have to literally just like take the pennies that I have,” I think it was $2,000 that we had, “to buy inventory.” I was like, “I have to know that everything that I buy I’m going to sell quickly at a profit so that I can turn around and buy more, and continue to grow it like that.” I kind of did some rough numbers about how much I would need to do that within the window that we had before our personal savings ran out, and then we had to just kill the business and say, “Rachel, you have to go back to work, because I can’t provide for our family.”

I was like, “I as a man, I can’t do that. I can’t fail like that. It’s not an option.” I literally just did not even exercise that in my brain as being an option. I was like this thing is going to happen, and I’m going to work as hard and as long as I have to until it does,” and by golly, a lot of things lined up correctly. My wife and I worked harder than we’d ever worked before in that first year that we started the business. But I tell you, it was also the most exciting time that we’ve ever had, because there’s nothing like having some traction, especially after having run kind of a treading water business making pens for three years, where I put my heart and soul into it and it didn’t go anywhere.

Then, kind of hitting on something where it’s like, “Wow. At the end of the month there’s profit there that we can reinvest.” It was so motivating we were like, “Yes. We have to keep doing this,” and that it became kind of a, whatever, perpetual motion machine at that point. Then, by October of that following year, we actually were able to draw a paycheck for ourselves, which honestly after about a year of the fountain pen part of the business, to be able to draw a paycheck I felt was pretty good. Because I think most people, it’s usually longer than that if you’re not like venture capital funded or something. [inaudible 00:43:09]

Andrew: Because of the inventory. That seems really tough. Why didn’t you borrow money to fill up your inventory?

Brian: Part of it was I didn’t really know that that was like a thing that was easy to do. I was 20…

Andrew: [inaudible 00:43:22] credit cards. You could’ve used that.

Brian: Ooh, yeah. No. I’m a little bit credit averse, personally. I’m kind of a Dave Ramsey fan. I don’t know if you know of him at all. But he talks a lot about some of the dangers of credit and stuff like that. I think that that’s probably a lot of the reason why businesses fail, is they overleverage bad decisions, and you don’t know that they’re bad decisions when you get into them. I think as entrepreneurs, we all tend to be very opportunistic and think that our ideas are so great.

So we tend to maybe have the house money effect, where we’re borrowing money from somebody and we’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to go all in on this great idea that I have,” and then chances are it’s not a great idea and it ends up failing. Then, you’ve just borrowed a bunch of money on this failing idea and just gotten yourself that much deeper in the hole. So I think especially in the beginning, you’ve got to be careful about that. Because, yes, it worked for me but, man, it doesn’t work for a lot of other people.

Andrew: Then, they’re stuck with both the pens and the credit, and the debt.

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: I see.

Brian: Then, I would have to go out and work. I would still owe the debt. I’d have to go out and get a job, and I’d have to pay back the debt on my failed business, which is so incredibly demoralizing. So it’s a tool. Like anything else, debt has its own risks that have to be factored into your reward equation that you come up with in your brain. I think too many people view, “Oh, yeah. Just get debt,” especially credit being as easy to get as it is now and as cheap as it is now, relatively speaking.

Andrew: [inaudible 00:44:48]

Brian: But I don’t think a lot of people are factoring in the cost of the risk as much as they probably should. So for me, it was just a personal decision. I was not very credit-worthy at that time, because I just didn’t have a lot of credit history. I paid my way through college by working and scholarships, and things like that. So I had no student loans. I really had no debt history at that time. So I wasn’t very credit-worthy. So I just didn’t see that as an option that was going to be very fruitful for me. I will say, my wife and I did borrow a little bit of money from my parents, about $10,000 off of their credit line on their house, after it was about six months in on the business and we knew like, “Okay. We know we can’t get to kind of that next level, unless we can acquire these couple of brands, and we can’t get there without a little bit of a cash infusion.” So we borrowed that money for about a four-month period before we paid it back to my parents.

Andrew: Right.

Brian: So that was kind of the one thing that we did. I don’t want to seem like a hypocrite. But that was kind of like the one thing that we did early in the stage of the business, because it was like we really kind of had to. But we paid it back as quickly as we possibly could, and we paid it back before we paid ourselves. So I’ll never forget my parents kind of throwing me a bone like that. Since then, we’re still self-funded and I know I could easily go out right now… I have track record of seven years of success and growth. I could easily go out right now and get a credit line for a very significant amount of money.

Andrew: Yeah.

Brian: But I still haven’t done it yet.

Andrew: You still don’t do it.

Brian: I still haven’t done it. I know I could. Believe me. I have meetings with business owners all day long that think I’m stupid, literally think I’m stupid, for not doing that. I’m like, “Okay. Well, that’s fine.” But for me, I sleep a lot easier at night. I don’t have goals of growing more aggressively than I am right now. Just [inaudible 00:46:39] talked about. I haven’t given you a lot of context and size of my business. We have 37 people right now, today, in our company and we’re probably going to be at 45 by the end of the year. So we’re still on a pretty good track.

Everybody listening, you can do some numbers and estimate about what we pay people and do some math. It’s a pretty healthy business, and we’re not in debt. So it’s like we’re doing it all off of natural profit. It’s a very legitimate thing that we have going on here. But I think part of that, for me anyway… This isn’t for everybody. But for me, I have made a lot smarter decisions because I’ve played with real money. It’s been my money on the line for every product line that I bring on, for every expansion I like to do.

Literally, right before this interview, I was going around and looking at spaces. Because we’re outgrowing our space, and we’re thinking about moving. So as I’m doing that, I’m doing the math and I’m like, “All right. This is a commitment that I’m making for the next five to seven years.” You add the math up and it’s like, “This is $1 million in rent that I’m going to sign on the dotted line that I owe. If this business tanks, I still owe that money. I’ve got to think about that.”

Andrew: Yeah.

Brian: If it’s very real in my mind, it’s going to keep me very honest and very true about how I run my business, and it’s not like play money. This is like where the rubber meets the road kind of thing. So for me, that’s kind of been my approach all along, which maybe has kept me a little more conservative. But I think it’s kept me to make smarter business decisions. Just [inaudible 00:48:02]…

Andrew: Let’s talk a little bit about hiring, since you mentioned you’re at 37 and you’re going to go to 45. The first hire you made was a friend, you told Ari, and that there was also some trouble there. Talk about that.

Brian: Actually, technically, the first hire I ever made was my church choir director’s 16-year-old son.

Andrew: To do what?

Brian: Just to help pack orders and just do very basic kind of assistant-type stuff. It was part-time, and it was not a very formal thing. Because, again, we were working out of our garage at the time. In the earlier days of the business, I was that craftsman-y kind of mentality and I wanted to really do everything myself. I had kind of that, “Well, if I hire somebody else, they’re not going to do it as well as me.” Very stereotypical thing for, I think, the kind of freelancer mentality. When you’re doing it, “Well, somebody else, they’re not going to be me. They’re not going to do it as well.” Well, maybe not. But they might do it better or they might do it so you can do something else.

Andrew: Right.

Brian: You can’t build a business with that mentality. So in the beginning, I was kind of in denial, which is why I worked 18 to 20-hour days. I should’ve hired people sooner, but I didn’t. There you go. A little vulnerability there. I just was not open-minded enough to think, “I need to shift and teach people how to help me, instead of trying to do it all myself.” But that’s been something that has been a learning process.

Andrew: So [who] was that first hire?

Brian: That first hire was that 16-year-old kid, and he was there for…

Andrew: Oh, sorry. The second one, then.

Brian: The second one was a full-time hire, and that was a friend of a friend through Facebook.

Andrew: I see.

Brian: We did a Facebook posting saying, “Hey, we need some help in our garage. Who wants to do it?” I think he was a friend of my sister, or something like that and he was like, “Hey, yeah. I could do it.” We talked to him on the phone and we were like, “Well, he’s not a schmuck. So I guess, come on over and you can start working.”

Andrew: What did he need to do?

Brian: He was packing orders. [inaudible 00:49:59]

Andrew: Just packing orders? Okay.

Brian: Yeah, packing orders and stuff like that. That’s kind of how we started. So basically, everything that we did and kind of what we’ve been doing has been, Rachel and I are very high achieving, very capable people. So we will work really, really hard to do kind of everything, like you have to do when you start your own business. Then, we’ve hired away and trained away things that we have been doing ourselves. We haven’t done a lot of the hire people to do things that we’re not able to do. That we haven’t really done as much, which…

Andrew: It seems very much like “The E-Myth Revisited”, like…

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: …Michael Gerber’s process.

Brian: Exactly.

Andrew: Is it based on that?

Brian: I read his book like three years into my business and I was like, “Oh, yeah. This resonates a lot.”

Andrew: Okay.

Brian: I was like, “I kind of wish I’d read this earlier.” But I read a lot now, because I realize how much that can save you just by like, “Oh, somebody writes a book and he has one concept that keeps you from making this terrible mistake. Wow. That could really save a lot of heartache.”

Andrew: [inaudible 00:50:57] Mixergy.

Brian: Yeah, exactly. I listen to the podcast all the time. I do all this kind of stuff. There might be one thing that I’m saying right now that somebody’s like, “Oh, my gosh. This changes my whole perspective on things.”

Andrew: Yeah.

Brian: “Yeah, that’s been extremely fruitful.” Right? So I find a lot of value in that. But yeah, very much kind of what Michael talks about in that book. For sure.

Andrew: What did you learn about hiring at higher levels? Is it still now the same systemized hiring that you had before? You do it. You systemize how to do it. Then, you pass it on to someone else and you watch them to make sure they’re doing it right.

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: Or does it become different at your size?

Brian: It definitely starts to become different. Because as we’ve grown, and we’ve grown… Our oldest team member just hit five years like a month ago. So in a five-year period, we’ve gone from my wife and I, to now 37 of us. In that time frame, we’ve had some turnover and stuff like that too. So we’ve actually probably hired more like 55 or 60 people in that time frame. But it’s impossible in that kind of time frame to manage everything that’s going on in the business and take on the higher level work, master it, and then train it away to somebody else.

We’re getting to a level with finance. We’re getting to a level with our video production and photography. Even some of the systems and operations that we have, managing our inventory, we’re getting to a level where maybe we could do it ourselves, but we don’t have time. Or it might require a level of expertise that we just don’t have, or a perspective that we just don’t have, or a personality style that we definitely aren’t. So we’re getting to the point now where we’re having to really hire people that have a skill set that we don’t have or we understand enough, but we don’t have that… Like my videographer, she went to video school. So it’s like, she knows way more about video than I ever will.

Andrew: So what’s your process for hiring someone who’s doing something that you just don’t know?

Brian: Yeah. I try to learn as much about that role, about what I need in that role as possible. I now have some consultants as well, who are… Like I have an HR consultant, I have a CFO consultant, and I have a business coach. So I have some of these people that are more experienced and have run a lot of different businesses. I do some networking groups as well with other CEOs. So we’ll kind of mindshare and share some experiences, as far as hiring processes and where we can talk to people who have done that role before. So I’m trying to do more networking and getting a better understanding, and talking to people that have done that before. I find a lot of value in that.

Then, just really having a good understanding of what it is that that role needs to be, and then finding somebody that’s the right fit for that role. I find that the technical stuff is important, especially for some of the roles like video and stuff like that. Like if you don’t know Premiere and you edit on Premiere, well then you need to know Premiere. You’d have to know that. But when it comes to somebody being successful in the long-term, they have to be the right fit for that role and for your company for it to really work long-term. If there’s any technical shortcomings, if they’re the right fit they can overcome the technical stuff relatively quickly, as long as it’s not like being a surgeon or something you need to go to 12 years of school to do that.

But like in this kind of business, what we do here, it’s not rocket science. You can figure it out as you go. It might take you some ramp-up time. We’re going to have to do some more training. We might have to send you to some classes. We can get you there, as long as you’re a good fit for the role.

Andrew: Let me ask you something. Are you going to do another interview somewhere else, where they’ll ask you for the revenue and you’ll actually tell them, and I’ll look bad?

Brian: Not in the foreseeable future.

Andrew: All right. Have you been public about the revenue with other people?

Brian: No. I’ve been very private about that.

Andrew: Okay. You told Ari, the producer here at Mixergy.

Brian: She tried to get some of it out of me and I was very vague with her.

Andrew: Okay. But you gave her a range, which was pretty healthy.

Brian: Yeah. I gave her a range, and I feel that it’s… We’d still rather not share it. I will say, she was pretty wily about how she went about getting that. I had to kind of stop and be like, “Okay. I see what you’re doing here.” So I know you really want to share that, but I’m still…

Andrew: Okay. Do you feel comfortable sharing the range at all?

Brian: I’d really kind of rather keep it…

Andrew: Okay.

Brian: …close to my chest, if you don’t mind.

Andrew: No. I get it completely. I do know what’s wrong. Like there’s a site called Manta… Actually, there are a lot of sites online that estimate. We used to use them. They’re always wrong.

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: Anytime you see a site online that estimates revenue, forget it. It’s so wrong.

Brian: Oh, sure. Absolutely.

Andrew: Right? The biggest…

Brian: I get solicitations all the time from companies that are like, “Oh, I see your Google Analytics are blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I’m like, “No. You’re way off base.”

Andrew: No. They’re so wrong. They’re so wrong.

Brian: Well, yeah, because I keep that close to my chest even from a lot of our team. Just because without the proper context, you can get all screwed up. You can be a $100 million business, and be completely in the red and be failing.

Andrew: Yeah.

Brian: Like the revenue is some kind of an indicator, but it’s really not what it’s all about.

Andrew: No. So what is it all about? Let’s close it on that. What’s the best part of having built all this?

Brian: I think for me, what it’s all about and I know you will resonate with this a lot, it’s about doing something that you really love doing. I think that everybody has a different purpose. Everybody has different gifts. I think that some people, they think they know what entrepreneurship is. They’re starting a business and they think they want some of the, what they perceive to be, those intangibles of what it is to run a business. But that’s why I think it’s so important for those who are actually doing it to talk about what it’s like and to have anxiety, because it’s so stressful to take that risk and things like that.

I think it’s important to get a complete picture of what it actually is. Not everybody is meant to be an entrepreneur. I think anyone can be, but not everyone can be an entrepreneur. So I think it’s really important to understand yourself and what it is that you are good at doing. You can be perfectly happy being an entrepreneur who works 150 hours a week, and you can be one of the calmest, happiest people in the world. Or you can be unemployed, at home, never leaving your house, and be an absolute anxious mess. I think it has to do with what it is that you are meant to be doing.

I would say that for me it’s been a journey. It’s not like… I haven’t been one of these people that had a lemonade stand when I was four and was selling people flowers out of their own garden.

Andrew: You told Ari you were an engineer. You felt like you were an engineer from an early age, and very quiet.

Brian: I thought I was … Yeah. I played with Legos all the time and K’nex, and I was very tactile. I was very hands-on. Which now kind of fits into the fountain pen thing. It’s also very tactile, but it looks very different than what I thought it was going to be as a kid. But for me, it’s been a journey. I think that life is very fluid. I think that you have to be flexible and adaptive to the opportunities that come about in life. I think that you have to constantly be pursuing what it is that you feel you’re called to do, because things are always going to be changing. But finding the thing that you’re really meant to be doing and not what you feel other people are meant to be doing or want you to be doing is really what it means to be happy.

Andrew: I’m on your site right now, gouletpens.com. The pen that I see there is Neptune’s Pearl, $150.

Brian: Yeah.

Andrew: Beautiful-looking pen, $150. Just like Gary Vaynerchuk discovered with wine where people collect it, I feel like that is a collectible. That’s not necessarily the pen you write with day to day when you’re writing like someone’s phone number or address down. It’s so collectible and it’s so interesting to see it. I have also noticed, as a kid I used to love fountain pens, most paper doesn’t take fountain pens well. Most paper doesn’t take pens well. Either the pen bleeds through…

Brian: No, not in the U.S. Yeah.

Andrew: Sorry?

Brian: I would say, not in the U.S. That’s definitely the case.

Andrew: I see.

Brian: Our paper is not very good.

Andrew: I get the passion for the whole thing. Anyone who wants to go check it out should go to gouletpens.com. That’s gouletpens.com. Of course, my two sponsors. The first one is a site that will help you build a business very similar to what Brian’s built if you want, or something else. It’s called HostGator. Go check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy. The second one is a conference that I will be going to. I’m going to be flying all the way out there to see you, if you sign up. Go sign up. Here’s a special URL where you’ll get a big discount. It is leadpages.net/mixergy. Thanks for being on here.

Brian: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Good to have you. Bye, everyone.


  • Erik Stoddard

    Great interview. Love interviews about non tech businesses, especially from a neighbor! Erik -Midlothian VA

  • Krandall

    You’d love it even more if you checked out the incredible web site with the phenomenal scope of products they offer. They are my go-to pen, ink and paper store.

  • Marla K. Brumbaugh

    Mine too, by far . . . I use my fountain pen gear in my business as a fine artist. (I am a Goulet customer ecause of my ink and paper obsession too)! They are endlessly thorough.

  • Good interview — Brian sent us. I had to crack up at the end, that a pen in the $150 range was a collectable, that people didn’t write with them! Hah! As an artist, I don’t take expensive pens out sketching because I am juggling sketchbook, pen, watercolor, etc., but in my studio, I’d use any pen I could afford. Brian, as I business owner most of my life, your way of doing things is great. Also not a big believer in going into business on credit, and have been very careful about how we used it, when we did…. btw, my husband, who steals my pens and now has his own, also enjoyed it. However, he also felt that no means no — about sharing the revenues. As if.

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