Andrew: Hey, they’re freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And joining me is somebody who’s known about Mixergy for years and years.
And we should have had you on Travis a long time ago because you’re a guy with multiple exits and an interesting background with the whole m and a experience. And, uh, you’ve been out there publicly for a long time, and I should have caught on and had you on, but for some reason I didn’t. And then you built this company, which you sold recently, and you’ve decided, you know what, I, I’ve been two heads down.
I’ve been disconnected from being public. It’s time for me to come back. And thankfully, the first place you came is, uh, to a friend of mine and he introduced me, uh, to you. So we can have you on Travis, uh, whose voice you’re about to hear is Travis Stephan. He is the founder of multiple companies. Um, I thought they were all like success, success, success.
It turns out that there was one big setback in there that nearly knocked, actually did knock it all out, put him in the hole for a million dollar he told me. And then he came out with his latest business. That changed everything. And the company was,
Travis: This las, this latest one was grow flow,
Andrew: how much did you sell it for?
Travis: just a hair shy of 70 million.
Andrew: What was the business?
Travis: It was a B2B SaaS serving the cannabis licensed cannabis businesses. We did compliance, inventory management, point of sale, analytics. We had sales tools, basically a back office suite for licensed cannabis companies. Uh, we had about 1700 in change across the country. We were one of the largest, uh, in the country for what we did when we sold.
Andrew: Can you gimme an example of like what a typical customer would come to you for and how you’d earn money from it, from
Travis: so, so let’s say for example, there are numerous different types of cannabis companies. You have the growers and cultivators, you have manufacturers, you have distributors, you have dispensaries, right? And you have various little smaller operators in between labs and so forth. We didn’t service those, but we service the other kinds.
The laws in each state, first and foremost are all wildly different. Licensure structures are all wildly different across state lines, and many of the successful companies have operations in different states. The restrictions that you have to encourage just from a compliance standpoint, keep in mind these don’t have any business value whatsoever other than keeping your doors open and legal with the government, and they don’t then see you as a, a black market operator every single time you have a new plant.
In the facility, you have to report that to the state. If that plant moves to a different room, a different shelf in the same room, you have to report that to the state. If the plant’s status changes, if it, if it sprouts, if it flowers, if it’s harvested, if it’s dried, if it’s, you know, manufactured in any capacity, you have to report all those activities to the state in very specific ways, or you could incur fines, you could lose your licensure.
Even like experience jail time. Um, it is a, a very weird market right now because it is still federally illegal and statewide. It’s, it is legal and numerous markets are varying degrees of legal. But by the time we sold, we had, uh, we had helped our customer companies sell over three and a half billion in product.
Andrew: So when you sell, how much of the exit did you get to keep person?
Travis: Wow. What a question. Um, so personally with, with any of them, it, it kind of varies on the deal. The deal types are always either, you know, all cash, all stock or a mix. And then like, so this last one was some mix. But, and, and with this one, there are elements of it that I can’t talk about, um, but I’ll talk about a little bit of it that I’m able to.
Um, so with this one, it was a mix of cash and stock to a company that, that, um, we really loved and, uh, were an in, they were an industry participant as well, uh, just in a different way. So we had a lot of complimentary crossover and they had a lot of customers we didn’t have and vice versa. So it was a really cool one plus one equals three sort of marriage.
And, uh, the team and the board. They’ve had a lot of experience in their sector, which is like FinTech and, um, with this one. So, so we basically, you know, we are able to, Make a fair amount of money for our investors on paper. Um, but a good chunk of that deal was stock. And with a deal like this, I mean, for myself.
So I was not a founder, like an original founder of Growth Flow from day one. Um, I came on kind of as like a founder, c e o kind of role with, uh, an executive team that I recruited. I wanna say it would’ve been a little over a year in the, the two founders went through an accelerator program that I was a mentor at.
And, um, they just realized they wanted to build the product. They didn’t wanna build the organization. So we took over the company fairly early, scaled it up to just south of 10 million in annual revenue, and that’s when we sold. So personally, I only had something like four or 5% of the company at Exit.
Um, and even inside that, a lot of our, our investors had liquidation preferences, um, because it was a, it’s a great area sector. There’s a lot more risk that. Incur as an investor when you play into a gray area sector. So their liquidation preferences, the way those work is, you know, they get paid a certain percentage of their overall investment before anybody else gets anything.
And then their equity gets converted into the commons. So they participate in that upside as well. Um, so they’re like in any business for the most part, investors almost always do better than founders.
Andrew: Wow. And even the professional investors do better than the angel investors at times when things just do okay, if not spectacular, like, uh, off the charts. And that’s really painful to see somebody do really well. and still end up with a fraction of your investment as an angel investor. And it’s one of the things that just feels like such an icky experience that I just didn’t enjoy being an angel investor.
Travis: It can, it, it certainly can, especially if you’re not willing to really play hardball. As an angel, you’re oftentimes a former founder. You have a lot of empathy for the people involved. Uh, if you’re a professional or institutional investor, oftentimes you’re a finance person, like you’re, you’ve got a job.
And then you’re, you’re starting a company of your own and you have your own limited partners, your investors who you have like a contractual obligation to, and a fiduciary responsibility to. So it’s the way I see it. I never really felt like it was icky because that, that’s just those guys’ jobs. At the end of the day, and we knew the kinds of deals that we were making when we made them.
And yes, of course you always want, um, or I always want like a bigger piece of a pie, uh, in, in a situation like that because you gave your heart and soul to something. But, um, I still have a great relationship with, with our investors to this day for the most part. Um, there are some of them that, you know, no matter what you do, you can’t make ’em happy.
Um, and that’s just kind of kinda the nature of that. But our main ones I have a good relationship with.
Andrew: one last thing and then I wanna get into your story, but did you end up, I, I think you were not a millionaire before you sold, did you end up being a millionaire after the sale?
Travis: I, I was from a net worth capacity, uh, before this sale. Like thankfully, I’ve been like, I’ve been, uh, investing fairly well, like in real estate and so forth in other companies along the way. So like I have been in a, a good place for, for a while. Um, but more so after the sale now that that company is still a private company.
So like we will need that company to do well and they are now. Um, there was a, a moment in time though because of the, like we sold before this whole crazy tech downturn where everyone was doing layoffs and, and torching their evaluation. So it was scary for a moment there to see right after the fact. We sold, uh, there was a lot of uncertainty in tech in general.
But you know, thankfully the management team over there was really savvy and they were able to to keep the ship afloat and they’re back on the up and up.
Andrew: I think the first place that I saw you was when you were running a site called Workout Box, which. Is like a health and weight loss and body building type of site. And from what I remember, it was content based with like a membership upsell. Am I right about that?
Travis: That’s correct. Yes. Good memory.
Andrew: Like you were one of the first people to believe in that space back when the idea of selling content and selling a a and selling anything made you into an internet marketer, which a lot of people were just put off by.
Travis: Yeah. Yeah. This was like almost, this was probably 10 years ago now. We maybe have, I think we sold that company maybe nine years ago. Um, so it’s incredible the details that you remember on that. That’s awesome. Um,
Andrew: how big did that business get?
Travis: We were getting at our height, we were getting, you know, several hundred thousand, maybe over a million in, uh, unique visitors per month.
The site, um, the business from a revenue perspective was never super massive. I wanna say at our height, we’re making a couple of million dollars a year. Um, we did. We, the, the site. However, in my entrepreneurial journey, this was very early, I, I didn’t have an entrepreneurial education. I didn’t have a business education of any kind.
I was in school for exercise physiology and biomechanics. I was just getting my master’s during this time and graduated, moved to LA cuz I had seen an entourage and I thought it looked like a cool place. And, um, so I escaped Iowa and we were just building this company every day. And it was my business partner, Simon and I, uh, and he was traveling the world.
He’s from the uk. He was living in Fiji, he was living in Canada and climbing the Canadian Rockies and things like that. We were just building. I was living in Thailand for a little while and we were just building this company, being lifestyle entrepreneurs. We hadn’t taken any a venture backing, not because it was strategic, we just didn’t know how.
And during that time, I mean, we were just kind of the early days of internet marketing and learning how to convert traffic. It was still. Pre that. I mean, I think Google website optimizer had just launched maybe the final year of the company, so we’re just starting to get into AB testing a little bit.
Neither of us knew anything about paid traffic, and so everything was s e o. Everything was s e o. We were number one in search for. Workouts for exercises, for workout programs and exercise routines and feeding everyone on the internet at those. And then we got the Google Algo slap and um, and that kind of went away.
I think we lost 90% of our traffic, uh, basically overnight. And, um, just had to figure it out little by little. And thankfully it was just us and maybe a couple offshore engineers. Uh, that was it. We didn’t really have a team. We didn’t know how to build a business. We just were kind of trying to figure it out in, in a way that was like paid
Andrew: And you didn’t build. Didn’t build a community. You didn’t build a following for a blog. It was just searches for terms like home workouts, and then people would see a few home workouts and hopefully give you their email address and then sign up.
Travis: Yeah, there was no, there was not a lot of social media for business back then. I mean, honestly, I, I think Facebook was still just college campuses at the time. Uh, there was MySpace, but that didn’t really do much for
Andrew: But I, I think that there were some blogs that were really building followings at the time. I think Ramit Sati was the guy who was doing, um, At the time, I will teach you to be rich. And he built up and following, and then he had his email list and all that, and it seems like that wasn’t your thing. At some point you discovered search engine optimization.
You focused like crazy on that and then that took off. Okay.
Travis: Yeah. And I think, um, we had a little blogging feature on Workout Box for members and myself. We could post updates. We had forums, so we had a community aspect of it, but it wasn’t on any other platform or anything like that. Um, and honestly, guys like Ramit at the time, like, and, and maybe even still to this day, who knows?
I know he’s like, I still look at his stuff in awe a lot of times. And, uh, I see him at the gym and I’m always fan drilling and I’m afraid to say hi. Cuz I think he lives in LA too, or at least his doppelganger does. But, um, at, like, at the time, you know, he, everybody was leaps and bounds where I thought I was, I was just kind of learning on the job and we, we knew very little and thought we knew everything
Andrew: how did that end up? what happened to Workout Box?
Travis: We sold Workout Box to a publicly traded company in, I wanna say it would’ve been February of 2014, so about nine actually, almost exactly nine years ago. And we went through an m and a broker for that. That was the first time I, I’ve ever done something like that. And we got mdad on basically every detail.
Um, but what I will say is when we sold, I wanna say revenue was, Mid to high six figures or something like that. But it was autopilot. There were three of us in the company. It was myself, my business partner, and like one offshore engineer. We were paying by the hour. And uh, that was, that was effectively what the whole business was.
Actually, a friend of mine was like part-time running customer service and went with the company when it sold. Um, and he was actually my roommate as well. So that was, that was a, an interest. An interesting development, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t a massive acquisition, but it was more money than I’d ever seen in my life.
And I didn’t know,
Andrew: thousands or millions for you personally?
Travis: uh, it was, it was less than a million in cash to me personally. Uh, I, I think I was like a 35% owner in the company.
Andrew: Then how’d your life change after an exit like that?
Travis: I mean, I, I had never had a whole heck of a lot of money in my bank account ever, to be honest with you. I was always bootstrapping. I always had multiple projects.
So every dime I had in the bank after bills, and I always had roommates at that point, so their bills weren’t much. Um, I was throwing in into new projects and multitasking a lot just. Trying things. Um, so I was always like on the edge of broke at that point in my career, on purpose. Um, and I wouldn’t trade that time in my life for anything.
Cause I learned so much just through having to, like, there was no other option. But to learn at that point in time and, you know, tried a lot of things from a business model perspective that didn’t fit. Um, tried a lot of things from a product perspective that were just my ideas. And like I’ve learned now that that’s the worst way for need is for business, um, is, is with my own ideas.
So, uh, but had to go through those lessons in order to, to ingrain them into my skull.
Andrew: I want to know about the one that took you down into, into negative territory. But first I should say my sponsor is, um, origami, which creates Dows and. I’ve gotta tell you about this podcast I created for Origami. It’s about DAOs, and the most recent interview that I did was with this guy Colin, who. He had this business where he was turning all the phone booths in Manhattan into wifi, uh, booths, you know, so you walk through Manhattan and you get wifi, and it was like this amazing thing that made it to the news.
And I asked him, and I asked him, what’d you do after? And essentially what he did was he decided he wanted to live out of a van, play the guitar at night by Campfire, that kind of thing. Well, if you live in a van by yourself and you’re playing guitar to yourself, it feels pretty freaking lonely. And so what he decided to do was create a community of people who wanted to do the same thing.
But where does this community go? And so he had this vision and he posted it up on a blog and other people gravitated towards it. The idea was, what if we all get some land together and then we can be out by the campfire together and we can be in our vans, in our own little space, but also commune for dinner, or for campfires, or for whatever.
And then if you do that, why just have one property? Why not have multiple properties around the world? So if you’re in a van, travel to a place, see part of the c. Travel to another place, see another part of the community. That was his vision. Now, when you have a vision like that, you could do a, you could do it a few different ways.
A traditional model would be to say, I’m gonna buy some land and then I’m gonna rent it out to people, and that’s how I’ll make money. But the problem with that is, and this is a story that’s in the podcast by the way that I’m trying to promote here. The problem with doing it that way is you end up creating trailer parks, and we see trailer parks.
They’re basically some dude who’s collecting money for giving you as little land as possible. Even if it starts out with this big vision, it ends up being like that. And so he said, I don’t want that. What do I want? I want something that’s true to the community. And so he ended up creating a dao, a decentralized, autonomous organization.
The community members get to vote, the community members get to decide how things, uh, what to buy, how to run it, and because it’s a dow there, there’s infrastructure in place for doing all that. Like we all know NFTs as being these arts that you buy this, uh, digital art that you buy and sell, they’re the nft actually gives you voting power gets, gets you access to this land that you decided to buy for the, for the Dow.
In incredible, insane story. I love hearing new ways of forming organizations. That’s what excites me, and that’s why I created this, uh, podcast with origami, which launches DAOs, similar to the one that I just told you about. If you wanna hear about Kift and so many others who are starting new businesses in a new way, go check out join origami.com/podcast.
Join origami.com/podcast. Alright, which is the company that that took you into negative T.
Travis: Well hold on because that was awesome. And, uh, the, like weird synchronicities with that story that you just told Andrew were that, uh, um, one of my first companies that I started on my own, uh, during the. Workout box era, which we had run for five years actually was kind of like a precursor to Bitcoin and blockchain without us even knowing it.
Um, and it was the first time in my life that I had ever built something of my own and, and I just had this idea, I’m like, what if you could send someone money without even like actually transferring it? What if it just went on this weird ledger thing and I could just give you a code that only worked for you?
And I could broadcast it on the Super Bowl if I wanted to, but only you could cash it in. So we created this piece of technology worked and our lawyers got back to us and like, you’re creating a currency. We can’t have you do this. Like this is illegal and ridiculous, and you’re like 23 and your name is on it, so figure it out.
And so we ended up selling it to a Canadian financial institution who. I think figured out the same thing and put it on the shelf. Um, so like Dows and crypto is always near and dear to my heart, and I always wonder, what if I had, uh, gone down that rabbit hole a little bit deeper in a different way? And then I actually do own a mobile home park.
Andrew: You do? That’s a killer business.
Travis: Yeah. It’s, it’s a tricky business in terms of, so I own, uh, uh, a little, you know, growing real estate portfolio, and that’s the only. Um, one of those assets because it’s a little bit more high maintenance and all my other stuff is 100% passive and I just get checks. Um, but it’s, it’s a fantastic commercial asset if you can actually dedicate the time to it.
Andrew: And so how much time are you dedicating to managing.
Travis: I, I, I don’t dedicate any time to managing it, but my, one of my partners in, in the, in that particular asset does a tremendous amount and, uh, um, I feel bad that he does so much more than I do , to be honest with
Andrew: looking at your faces. I did that and I said something just, he immediately just looked down and I thought, am I going too long now? And I
Travis: No, no,
Andrew: have to keep going. And that’s what it was. It was like me saying some dude owns a mobile home and eventually it loses that, that, uh, campfire spirit.
Travis: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and, and honestly, like maybe 20% of our staff at Grow Flow were all Vanlife folks. Like they just loved it. And so that was a really fun aspect of the company culture as well. Anyway, your story.
Andrew: these freaking ideas. There was a period there where if you had an idea like that, some lawyer would turn you off and you wouldn’t do it. Like, I remember talking to, um, shoot, uh, StubHub. I said, I thought that you weren’t allowed to resell tickets. That that was scalping and scaling’s illegal.
It goes. Everybody thinks that this is illegal. Lawyers will tell you it’s illegal. He goes, I had to push through and understand a little further. And it turns out it’s not illegal. It’s just, I don’t know, frowned upon or something, or it’s perceived to be illegal. And he pushed through it and I think he ended up selling to eBay.
And that was one of the original podcast episodes that I did for Mixergy. Um,
Travis: That’s incredible. What a great
Andrew: yeah, this like, the fact that we were shut off. Okay. Tell me, tell me the company then that took you into,
Travis: So, um, the next one that I started after Workout Box and there were a couple while I was running Workout box cause I was multitasking a ton and didn’t realize the consequences of that at the time. Um, but I was spreading myself across multiple ventures, uh, that I was starting and, and sold a couple of those for a couple bucks and it was nice.
Um, but uh, the next one after workout. That I started on my own without a partner. It was, I’m just kind of embarrassed the name it, it was called Cyber Superpowers. Right? And Cyber Superpowers was, I was building product pods of like a product manager, an engineer, a strategist, and a designer. And I was fractionally renting out access to them.
So CU to customers that couldn’t afford a full product team and who had tried to just hire engineers by themselves in the past and didn’t understand what was happening. So they didn’t have that. Product manager voice, that was like communicating technical items in non-technical ways, et cetera, et cetera.
Ended up being a really good business. We’re doing a lot of client babysitting, so I hated my life and about a year in, we got an offer to sell from a graphic arts firm in Manhattan. They just wanted to expand their portfolio of products. They could upsell to their like Fortune 500 type customers. Um, I think like one of the, one of the sites that we ended up doing, like during the transition period when we were handing the keys to them was like the Puppy Bowl.
If you remember the, the Super Bowl, um, alternate viewing experience on another channel is just a bunch of puppies with a toy football. And it was awesome. I don’t know if it still exists, but, uh, we built the technology for that at one point. And. In that process, I had already sold a handful of companies.
We had gone through m and a advisors, we’d gone through an investment bank for one, uh, and then one of them just was very clean and it just went through an attorney and there were no issues. So I just thought that was the way to do it. It was the cheapest. I thought that I had a bunch of experience and knew what I was doing, and, uh, the guys on the other side knew what they were doing more.
And so they structured, uh, a down payment and an earnout, and it was a, it was a service-based business, unlike the tech companies that I was running. And because of that, the fact that it was a service-based business, I did not think to. Introduce any of the dynamics of a company like that into the deal.
Meaning what if the staff revolts against a new company culture, which is exactly what happened. Um, they did not like the, they were used to really, cause company culture has always been one of my favorite things to focus on as a c E O. And so the places that I try to focus on building in, you know, always number one is like, we wanna make this the best place to.
You know, to, to get the best possible talent. And the guys that we sold it to were kind of like an opposite approach. And, and that works too, just not when you try to cram a square peg in a round hole. So they were a lot more just productivity numbers, et cetera. And they came to me right, right when the earnout was supposed to happen.
And they basically said, uh, we’ve run the numbers. It’s gonna be more expensive for us to pay you the rest of your buyout agreement than it will be to defend ourselves in court. So we’re taking your company. go kick rocks. And um, so I kind of panicked and called our attorney and said, and he’s like, Hey, they’re right.
You know, this is how it goes. Sometimes contracts are not like super crazy restrictive. They’re just equations. And that was the first time I ever heard that. I just assumed, this is the law. They go to jail. Well, no, that’s not what’s gonna happen. So, um, all that said, so I’m no stranger to risk and not to this day.
It’s kind of where I thrive. Um, before entrepreneurship, I was a professional online poker player, also as a professional fighter. Fought in Thailand, fought in the States. So I’m like, I’m no stranger to putting it all in the line for something I believe in. And like my first company, I started with my student loan money instead of paying tuition.
You know, things like that. Right. And. There have been a lot of times where it’s worked out for me. There have been some times where it hasn’t, and this is one of those times. So we took the buyout agreement before any of the other stuff happened. We took the buyout agreement immediately and we parlayed that into, we leveraged that with a lender, uh, like a private lender.
And that lender basically said, all right, we’re gonna lend you, um, I think it was like 95% of the capital from the buyout, um, upfront, and we’ll take all the payments down. And you’ll also give us like a very small, like single digit piece of this new company. Cool. So we did that and it was going great.
The company was called UPS Share. We had I think like a quarter million users within the first three months. And um, we were just about to start to turn on monetization. I think we had just turned on monetization like. A week or two before this happened and happened and it was, it was like early days, but it was good signals early on.
And when this all happened, I basically, cuz the, at one point the lender then communicated with me is like, I haven’t received any. Like installment payment. So I had to get on the phone with them and say, this is what happened, and this is what they’re saying. Like, help, you know, I’m expecting them to help me go recoup.
And they instead called the loan . And um, so I have like, and we, I think we took like. I think we balanced out the deal, so we were gonna get like a million bucks in cash, something like that, to start the company. And um, so I basically split that debt with, with my co-founder. Um, and was like, okay, I mean, cuz the, the, the language of the deal was so dumb cuz we personally guaranteed it, which I don’t recommend a
Andrew: Personally guaranteed the loan,
Travis: we currently personally guaranteed the loan cuz neither one of us had assets at the
Andrew: Which a lot of entrepreneurs do, and it’s, and sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. And often you have no other choice. And if you’re really gonna believe in yourself, take the risk. I, I do. I totally get it. I’ve done it even though I knew from my dad at an early age.
Don’t ever do it.
Travis: Yep. Yep. So this is one of those times that it’s gone wrong. And, um, so, you know, we split the debt and so I was mid six figures in debt right then. And, um, we basically said, all right, what are we gonna do? And one, I mean, the plan was we’re gonna start another company, but at the same time we’re gonna go get jobs in Silicon Valley and we’re just gonna hustle on the side and just work ourselves to the bone for as long as it takes to pay this back.
Well, we ended up getting jobs in Silicon Valley and a couple months later, Simon, my business partner, I’ve been working for seven years and I’ve recently met him in person for the very first. After working together for seven years, we’ve just Skype and Dropbox all day long. And that was before like Skype video as well.
So it was all audio calls for seven years. And we finally met in person maybe like a month later. He, one of his friends had like, was like mentally ill. He took him up into the Canadian Rockies, they were gonna go hiking and get some nature and his friend kind of had a, like a schizophrenic episode and cut his throat and threw him off a cliff and it.
One of those moments that’s like, this is not real. Like this is insane that this happened. I was calling the R C M P every day. I was like, what is happening? Like, find him. This is crazy. Um, and, you know, finally got a call from one of his family members that told me what happened. And I was like, and they didn’t even know that we had incurred any debt.
Like, so I, I didn’t even, I was like, okay, my
Andrew: Are you saying your business partner did this? The one who had debt?
Travis: killed. He was killed. My business card was
Andrew: was killed by the person who had this episode. Oh my God. You know what? Going over your history, I saw how intertwined, even I think, on one business where he wasn’t your co-founder, he was the testimonial on the site.
Travis: Yeah, I imagine so.
Andrew: wait, so you’re saying this business partner was killed.
Travis: He was killed. Yeah, he was. He was killed. Um, and so I had a choice in that moment. I was like, I can either let this debt go to his next of kin, which is like his family. They’re like retired school teachers in England, or I can just absorb it. And so I just called the lender and I’m like, give it all to me.
I’ll take it, I’ll figure it out. And I didn’t wanna declare chapter 11 cuz there’s all the consequences that go with that from like being able to get mortgages, being able to be an officer of a publicly traded company at the in the future, like different consequences that go with that. And I just heard a podcast with Chris Saka.
Talking about how he went. I think it was something insane, like 27 million in debt or something after the oh eight crash, cuz he was doing high leverage trading and figured out a way to pay it back. I’m like, if he can do it with 27, I can do it with a million bucks and change. And so I just like put my head down and negotiated with the lender.
Con contracted for them a little bit. Um, you know, built other things on the side that were kind of just cash flowing businesses that no, had no ability to like sell ever, but like, made good money in the interim. Had the job that I had in Silicon Valley and just did everything I could for three years and eventually paid it back.
And, uh, that day I put in my letter of resignation and started the journey again.
Andrew: So. I think the company was what became lottery.com. Um, it’s a place to track your lottery games and that kind of thing.
Travis: Yeah, that was the job I got. Yes.
Andrew: you earned a million dollars from that job.
Travis: Uh, not just from that job. No, no, no. It was like that job. I was kind of like taking my Kochi Silicon Valley salary and living in the studio apartment and, um, just doing what I could, like I would, I was trading and, and trying to grind things up on the side. It was like the early days of crypto super bloom.
So I was trying to like, take advantage of that trend. I was also like moonlighting and contracting for a number of different companies. Like at the time I had the Viral Hero blog before it was a book. So I was getting inbound from a bunch of different companies around the world that were asking me to build their viral loops for them.
I think like there was, the first one was this Irish casino that reached out and they’re like, um, you know, well you, we’ve read your book, we love, or we read your blog. We love it. We want you to, you know, come build our viral loops. So I was like, 50. And I just had no idea what they were prepared to pay and they instantly agreed and I was like, man, I should have asked for more.
Andrew: You could have asked for more because you were doing growth hacking at a time when growth hacking was appreciated and before it got ruined as a term. Um,
Travis: Can I tell you one other cool thing that I did to, to make the little money for this? So. Um, . This was like a, a weird situation that just doesn’t happen very often. So there’s like a colloquial pop culture saying like, something is the bomb.com, right? You’ve heard this before. So I bought the bomb.com.
I bought the bomb.com from some guy who just had like, was squatting on it. And I remember reaching out to him and I’m like, Hey, I’m like a student. I would love to buy this. Like try and just do the whole thing where, you know, just com trying to convince the guy that I’m like, just. Gonna actually use it for a business.
And I’m like, I’m a student. I would love to buy this for like my first business or something. He’s like, oh, I’ve had this for 20 years, I don’t think I wanna sell it. I’m like, I’ll give you $5,000 for it. And he’s like, I don’t think I could let it go for less than like 20 grand. And I’m like, this guy has no idea what he has.
And so I ended up buying this thing for him, for se, for 17 grand, which I put all of my credit. And four days later resold it to the chive for 80
Travis: And um, and so that was like those kinds of weird things, just getting super creative to try to make a couple bucks. And all of that went to the lender, um, like.
All of that, like all those kinds of things. Like chipped away and chipped away and chipped away and was able to like ingratiate myself with a lender enough so that when I was contracting to them internally, like they weren’t having to pay me in cash, I was just basically saying, you know, I’ll do this thing for you and you’ll chip off 50 grand.
I’ll do that thing for you and you’ll chip off a hundred grand. So it’s just long hours.
Andrew: you have to pay taxes on what you’ve earned before you pay it to the lender. Right. So,
Travis: Probably yeah, . But
Andrew: about earning
Travis: money’s changing hands, if money’s changing hands, you’re right. But they, I had this debt that they owned and so they were just agreeing to forgive pieces of it over the course of time. So I think, I’m hoping that the i r s isn’t listening to this if this is like, actually not a way this works, but, um, that was the way that they treated it was they were like,
Andrew: What do you mean they treated it? Oh, because the money went to them, not to you. It went directly into, you didn’t put it in your account and then transferred to.
Travis: No. So when I was contr, when I was contracting for the lender, basically they, they said, um, like, we need this chunk done for this specific thing. And, you know, and I was like, I’ll do it. I want like 50 grand of my debt forgiven after the project is done. And so that, that’s essentially part of what the process was.
There was, there were, there were like chunks of cash that I would pay them, that I was taxed on. Uh, but like for the contracting, I. Time. It was all negotiation.
Andrew: Oh, because they would get you a client, you would do the work for their client. They would pocket the money directly.
Travis: That’s exactly
Andrew: That’s interesting. I wonder if that does allow any, any tax. Not a
Travis: clue. Fingers crossed
Andrew: of letter are we talking about? Are we talking about an individual who you lent mon, who you borrowed
Travis: It was like, um, it was a, a guy that I had met through, I think like a mastermind, or maybe it was through like the Warrior Forum or something back in the day. And he was running like, he was basically like a, um, kind of a hybrid between an, uh, an institution and an angel investment. It was like an angel investment syndicate, but they also had service offerings that they, they did like client work it.
It was a very strange, like, very complicated business. Um, but they did a lot of like investing through services for companies. Uh, so they would get equity in exchange for a bunch of outsource software development or a bunch of marketing
Andrew: There were a bunch of companies that tried that, and it, for the most part, it didn’t work. And it didn’t work because they’d have to pay upfront for all their developers and they wouldn’t get whatever riches they got until later on. And sometimes, and often, in fact, they wouldn’t even get that,
Travis: Yeah. Yeah. So that was a, and it was, it’s a super complicated business too, if you get involved in it. And simplicity is your best friend when it comes to, to a business. So that was that, that weird story.
Andrew: Okay, so then you finally quit because you pay off, and then what’s the next thing that you do?
Travis: Um, so the next one was, I started running a, what I was like, so I had, I had helped, um, a couple companies raise capital at the time. Like the benefit of going to Silicon Valley was I did finally learn how to raise money. And so immediately my, my mind goes to like, crypto is super new, so, you know, let’s try to get into some sort of like boutique investment bank type of business.
And so that’s what we did. We helped, I think 35 companies raise capital. Um, we helped, um, a couple companies do their first security token offering when that was like the first thing because lottery was one of the first companies to actually do that, and so I was able to be privy to exactly how that worked
Andrew: To do what?
Travis: to do like a, a security token offering.
So it was like an actual, like I c o but you know, s e c compliant fashion. So it was like very transparent.
Andrew: And so you saw how they did it and you saw that there were other organizations that wanna do the same thing, essentially raise I p o style money, but through a token offering. And so you were helping them do that. And so that’s, what was that company called? It was called Light something.
Uh, no, live It Up. Was it Live I Up Ventures?
Travis: You know, that’s a good question. I mean, I had a company called Bax that was like helping these companies raise,
Andrew: Bax is the name of your company, you know.
Travis: Was the name of the company? Yeah.
Andrew: I have multiple screens of LinkedIn of data on you, , and there’s still more than than what’s on here. You just keep starting these companies up.
Travis: I mean, at the time I was, at the time, I just was like of the mindset that I was just like, I was somebody that had to have multiple projects. Um, and I didn’t realize until like maybe the first decade of my entrepreneurial journey was done, I was shooting myself in the foot by not going super deep into one thing.
Uh, I was had like entrepreneurial a d d. Now the, the nice part about that is it paid me dividends in education beyond anything I’ve ever done, and I have. An MBA now, like I got that between exit seven and eight. I ha. I am a doctoral candidate now and the.
Andrew: because you wrote a blog post years ago saying MMA is better than an mba. Meaning like
Travis: Did I really? Oh my God, you really did do your homework, can’t you? Wow. Yes. Yeah. And I, I would have had no context to know that, cause I didn’t have any semblance of a business screen. And honestly, it’s probably accurate. Like, I would say maybe five to 10% of what I learned in the N B A program was something that was like new information.
But most of the time they’re studying people like us in, in those programs.
Andrew: So how do you not go crazy when you’re starting all these different companies, when you’re doing all these different projects? How do you actually deliver good stuff and not, I don’t know. Drop the ball and then fall behind and have to apologize to one person because you fall, you fell behind with someone else, and then you’re falling behind even further.
Like how do you keep it all?
Travis: Good question. So the way that I did it then, as I was building tech companies, I wasn’t like, except for that one situation with cyber superpowers, I wasn’t doing client work. There were no like client accounts that I was having to juggle. Uh, so there was no expectations that I needed to manage all that was happening through software and automation, et cetera.
Um, so like being able to partner with great people and have great teams was a piece of the puzzle. But I would also now as like 35 year old Travis. Not. Recommend that path to anyone. I, I’ve recommend really rigorously recommend a depth of focus. Like be the best in the world at one thing, and just make it as simple as you humanly possibly can.
Um, and, and the outcomes that you can create as a result of those decisions are gonna be exponentially greater. I mean, a lot of entrepreneurs like me, their brain is a constant idea factory, and the moment you learn, you can physically, you have the ability to create anything you want. , you won’t also couple that with a discipline to not do that thing
So these days, if somebody asks me what I do, when I have a new idea, I try to forget it. Um, and, that’s, that’s the biggest hack for me now. Um, but at the time, honestly, it was like, you know, if I had an idea, I was like, the whole world is, is my oyster. Like, let’s, let’s do. and um, it did lead to some really good outcomes and I’ve had a really wonderful life thus far as a result.
I mean, I’m reaping some of the rewards now, but I also believe that had I chosen one thing, cause I know a lot of really, like, I know a lot of entrepreneurs that I know, like, uh, just this might not be a popular take cuz it’s not exactly like humble or anything like that. But I know that a lot of the entrepreneurs I know, I think that I’m a more, um, capable and experienced entrepreneur than they are, but they’re.
Leaps and balance ahead of me in various ways because of their commitment and
Andrew: I’m thinking about someone like Andrea Lake. She did that one sticker business and that one stick, she still has it. That one sticker business basically has done killer business. I don’t know if she’s done anything else, but she’ll, she’ll try. I guess
Travis: Here and
Andrew: other stuff and she’s with
Travis: a full-time crypto trader now. Like she, she, she is, yeah. She is. She, I would say Andrea Lake. If Andrea Lake is listening, Andrea Lake is single-handedly responsible for almost 100% of the business network have today. Like I didn’t have any mentors when I was first getting started in business, and, uh, I didn’t know anybody who was an entrepreneur and.
Saw this d v d of young millionaires that had made it. And one of the, one of the lessons taught in the DVD v d was find a mentor and I didn’t know where, where else to start except for the cold call everybody that was on the D V D. And she was one of ’em. And she was the only one that responded and we’re super good friends to this day.
And, um, you know, I learned a tremendous amount from Andrea. So,
Andrew: Sticker junkie. Here it is, 1999, she started sticker junkie, 25 years selling stickers, and she goes, there’s a lot of money in stickers. I, I talked to her too in an interview and it was just amazing, but I didn’t realize that she’d done more than that I thought. I thought she had side hobbies like, uh, like yoga, but maybe she’s, she’s not the perfect example of someone who just stays focused on one thing,
Travis: Right. Yeah. I mean, like there are, I mean, think about like some of the big personalities in, in entrepreneurship today, like Ed Mullet. Ed Mullet has had one, one financial business for like 25 years. I think he had it. And the ed mullet is like a big time, like internet marketing guru or like inspirational speaker guy.
And just that one business. And he’s probably had some side things here and there, but that’s the one that he’s famous for and he’s run it for like 25 years and it’s one of the largest financial firms on, on the planet or something like that. So just that level of discipline I think is an unappreciated skill
Andrew: So if you could have focused, I, I think that growth hacking, if you would’ve like adjusted the branding of it as it went, that could have been an interesting agency. But agency work sucks for you. I think cyber superpowers. It makes sense. I get your point about the name being a little bit silly, but there are a lot of businesses that need an outsource C M O, an outsource C F O, and essentially that’s what you’re providing.
They’re not at a place where they could pay somebody $150,000 a year or even a hundred just to be A C F O, but they do need somebody to look at their, their finances beyond doing the books. That kind of thing still makes sense, don’t you think?
Travis: I do. Yeah. I think especially these days where where’re, you know, you’ve got, um, a lot of people want a more flexi, flexible work environment. A lot of people, you know, really wanna ensure that they can take control of their own income potential and they want it to be uncapped. Um, you know, After my last exit, there were a couple opportunities that I actually took advantage of and, you know, I became a, like a interim VP of growth for, for a, a few companies, like on a temporary and fractional basis.
And it was awesome. Uh, my, my buddy Sean Ellis, who wrote Hacking Growth, like does that for a lot of companies to this day. He’ll come on as an interim VP of growth for six months and then eventually, like he’ll install his system. He’ll hire the the permanent VP of growth to replace him and then he’ll like advise in the system afterwards and he does phenomenally well.
Andrew: Sean’s great at that. And also the other cool thing about Sean is that makes him a perfect fit for this is. He has that McKinsey feel and look to him, but he also looks like a guy you’d wanna just kind of hang out at a bar after, after hours with, you know, and that combination makes him
Travis: he is both genuinely , so yeah.
Andrew: Um, alright, let me close, let me close out with this. It seems like it’s real estate that’s really giving you all the con the comfort to the fu money comes from real. How did you get into real estate? And I know we have like one minute, but if you could gimme like a transition into that world that gave you the, the FU money, I’m curious about.
Travis: Yeah. Um, I think that like, it would’ve been just the old school Rich Dad, poor dad stuff that I read way back in the day. Uh, you need to have your investment income, you need to have, you get, you need to get outta the rat race, you know, playing the cash flow board game and trying to translate that to real life.
Um, And recognizing that, you know, traditional retirement accounts, if you can actually have a portfolio of cash flowing, real estate are kind of immaterial. Like you can reap those rewards today rather than when you’re 65, uh, or beyond. And I don’t really ever want to retire, quote unquote. I just wanna continue to do the things that I love.
So being able to take a portion of my income or any acquisition I’ve had and put it in real estate at any moment in time, um, has been fantastic. You know, I’ve got, I’ve got a good chunk of mailbox money every single month, and I have a great property manager. I own a, a nice little portfolio properties in, in Las Vegas where I do not live.
And, um, It was just a good market and, uh, so I have a property manager there that just takes care of everything. They just send me checks and, um, you know, thankfully because of that, I can take more risks as an entrepreneur and not necessarily be concerned with paying the bills and things like that. So, um, would definitely recommend it for anybody who has been only in the active income category for a long time.
Andrew: Yeah, I do think in tech, I always thought we just stay in tech. Everything else just sucks. But I can see that there are a lot of people who, for whom it didn’t suck. All right. Uh, how do people find you? Where online? Is a good spot.
Travis: Finally on online, uh, on socials for the first time in history, basically, um, I, I revolted against them for a long time cause I felt that they were a time suck and, uh, bad for mental, mental health. And as founder, you don’t really need that. Um, now thankfully, I’m just trying to, to give to other founders and teach as much of, of what I’ve learned as I can.
So just Travis Stephan at Travis Stephan, t r a v i s s t e f f e n on Instagram. Um, I’ve also started to create some content for Twitter and LinkedIn. Probably start to continue to do that more and more as the year goes on. And, um, over the course of time, I mean, I also am a mentor for the biggest accelerator programs in Silicon Valley and outside of Silicon Valley.
So if you’re an entrepreneur in any of those, you’ll find me, I’m sure. Um, and just, you know, kind of trying to be more and more active in any of the communities that podcast hosts create that I’m able to chat with their audience on. So, um, those are a couple places.
Andrew: You got a radio interview to do In less than a minute, I’m gonna let you go. I’m gonna say thank you for being on here. Glad we reconnected, and thank you all for listening. Bye everyone.