Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner and I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses, and usually it’s with tech entrepreneurs who build software companies. Today’s guest tried that and it didn’t work. And so get what he’s selling now, at the opposite of technology. He’s selling hand grinders. Is that what they’re called, Raj?
Raj: That’s exactly what they’re called, Andrew.
Andrew: You know what, I went on vacation with a friend of mine from high school. He’s a foodie. He brought with him a hand grinder for the coffee beans. I was exhausted in the morning, half asleep, and I had to hand-crank my own coffee. It was pretty cool, but man, that’s a lot of work. And this, this ancient bit of technology is what has propelled Raj’s company into greatness, stardom. You’re doing well. You’re doing well. We won’t talk specifically about how well that is.
Raj: Thank you, my friend.
Andrew: I don’t know the right word to describe it. Raj, who you just heard on audio there, is Raj Jana. He is the founder of JavaPresse. Dude, what’s the deal with the spelling of “Presse,” P-r-e-s-s-e? Is that British?
Raj: I’ll be honest. When I first started “Java (space) Press” was taken and I just loved the name so much that I threw an “e” at the end of it and made it work.
Andrew: And it’s not a word in any other language, is it? No, it is. It’s French, isn’t it?
Raj: It’s got hints of Italian but I did the Presse with the “e” at the end. It’s essentially sort of to bring back the idea of espresso with JavaPresse but, like I said, when I first started I was moving so fast, just trying to throw stuff at the wall to see what stuck, I needed a name. I loved “Java Press” but javapress.com without the “e” was, the domain was taken so I threw an “e” at the end of it and called it a day.
Andrew: All right. And JavaPresse if I can sum it up in a sentence is a coffee company dedicated to helping consumers enjoy the perfect cup of coffee. In addition to the grinder that I talked about, he sells other things and he is continuing to add more to his lineup. We’ll find out how successful this business is, how he got where he is today, what’s working and what’s not. I think it’s especially useful for anyone who is in ecommerce. I want to understand how you’re selling on your site for Amazon, how Amazon’s affecting your growth.
This whole interview is sponsored by two great companies. The first is going to frickin’ blow your mind. It’s called “Mailshake” and what it does is it lets you reach people via email in a way that’s like mass personalization with follow-up. It’s just like this, it’s a secret tool that a bunch of people are using. I heard about it and now they’re a sponsor of ours for a limited run. Again, Mailshake. I’ll tell you about them later.
I’ll also tell you about the company that will do your books right if you want to know how much money you’re making, how much revenue’s coming in, how much you’re spending month-to-month. It’s called “Bench.” I’ll tell you that you, Raj, and everyone else listening more about both of those later.
But first, good to have you here.
Raj: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Andrew. I’m a fan of you and your work, and I can’t wait to do this. Let’s do it, man.
Andrew: Me too. I’ve been watching you as I did my intro. Most people would kind of sit still and wait for the intro. You’re like a boxer, shaking from side to side. Anyone should just rewind and see it. It’s like, “C’mon, hit me. C’mon, Andrew, what have you got? We finally made this connection work.”
Raj: All right.
Andrew: Pow! Here’s the first hit. Revenue, 2017, what was it? Oh, he got serious as soon as I said the word “revenue.” What was revenue in 2017?”
Raj: In 2017 we did $2.2 million in revenue.
Andrew: $2.2 million selling what?
Raj: We were selling coffee grinders, French presses, pour-overs, our own line of fresh-roasted coffee. We launched a fresh-roasted-coffee club back in September so it was a huge hit for the holidays. But yeah, a lineup of products.
Andrew: What’s the biggest seller?
Raj: The coffee grinders are our biggest seller.
Andrew: What percentage of your sales would you say come from that?
Raj: I’d say close to about probably 65-70%.
Andrew: Okay. So, I’m on Amazon and I see the JavaPresse manual coffee grinder. It’s got 4,165 customer reviews. It’s 4.5 stars out of 5. It’s phenomenal. What percentage of your sales have been coming from Amazon, this behemoth in ecommerce?
Raj: Oh, yeah. That’s definitely a behemoth. We’re roughly right now about, I would say around 70% Amazon and 30% Shopify. And the strategy behind, you know, I think in the beginning we were, we got successful on Amazon and then we wanted to move away from Amazon, and we wanted to go to our Shopify store and grow that presence. But what I realized was that there’s no reason both of those channels can’t work together. There’s no reason for them to be mutually exclusive. So that was sort of the strategy behind us wanting to launch the coffees, because everybody who buys a grinder, that’s pretty much prequalifying our best customer, somebody who likes…
Andrew: Are you getting somebody who buys from… Because here’s the problem with Amazon. The problem with Amazon is, I buy something from Amazon and I have zero loyalty to the seller. I don’t even notice that little hyperlink underneath the name of the product that links me to the seller. Let alone even when they come to my door, I don’t think about who sold it to me, let alone what I even bought. I just bought a thing from Amazon, right? The only time I ever notice a brand is if I specifically hunt it down or if it’s Amazon Basics and I say, “Huh. Interesting. They’re getting into actually making it.”
The problem there is that if you’re just building a business on Amazon, some other nudnik can come around, copy your model, and outsell you. There’s no loyalty. Are you getting people from Amazon to come to your site or some other way subscribe to your coffee?
Andrew: How? Tell me. That’s an interesting product. So someone’s buying this grinder. How are you getting them to come back to your site and buy coffee from you?
Raj: Firstly, we invest a lot in our actual unboxing experience and the customer experience. So, while they might not buy because of customer or brand loyalty, they end up using and sticking with our products and being a part of our world because of the experience we provide. So when they receive our products, not only do we give people a free bag of coffee from us, which is an opportunity for them to try our coffees and see how it fits in their world, but we provide God knows how much value in the form of guides, recipes, a fun and enthusiastic unboxing experience. Our customer service answers within five minutes.
I mean, a lot of things are done at a very competitive level to provide an experience that makes people want to be a part of our world. And I think that’s the difference and the mindset that needs to happen for someone who’s selling on Amazon and wants to create an ecosystem of their own on Shopify or their own website, or off of Amazon. Whatever your platform is, I think it’s really important to control the things you can control on Amazon, which is, one, product functionality and experience, two, making sure that people are proactive and leaving reviews and creating experience that people want to essentially congratulate you for through a review. And then once you do that enough, it compounds into something that essentially just attracts people to your page.
Andrew: What are you doing to get them to review, because that’s another challenge?
Raj: We ask them.
Raj: So, Amazon allows us to reach out to customers through email.
Andrew: Right. Just ask for a review. But people ignore that. I’ve talked to some other people in the coffee space. They’re trying it. It’s not working for them.
Raj: Well, I think that comes back to the way you market yourself to customers. That’s one. Two, it depends in when you ask. So if you ask too early, it’s too early in the relationship, but after a few days, after you’ve delivered the value that you want to deliver and you over-deliver on that value, whether it be from a customer service standpoint. I can’t tell you how many people reach out to us with questions and our team is ready to respond within five minutes. I mean, how many times has anyone ever responded to you within five minutes? You know, that experience alone makes people just say, “Oh my God. Thank you.”
Andrew: Do you in the response ask for a review? If someone says, “Thank you,” do you come back and say, “If you don’t mind, please review”?
Raj: Yeah. Absolutely.
Raj: So that’s one way to do it. Another time is when people leave seller feedback, a lot of times customers will think they’re leaving a product review but they’re leaving a feedback for the individual seller. And so, you know, that’s another way. We actually reach out to them personally and ask them, “Hey, look, you left us seller feedback. That’s great, and we really appreciate it, but would you like to leave us a review too?” And 80% of the time people are like, “Yes, I’d love that.”
And like I said, you know, the more… I think it’s just an old-fashioned commitment to delivering a really, really, really authentic and vibrant experience. And when you combine that with then you going in and wanting to get feedback or have them take some sort of action, whether it be feedback or buying your coffee or anything, whatever that may be, it creates more of an incentive to do so. And I think that can be applied to just about any business, not just a physical product business.
Andrew: I’m going to send an email right now to your team, right? It’s 54 minutes past the hour. It’s going to be, “How hard is it to grind my own coffee? I have a three-year-old…” Don’t text! I saw the screen flicker. You’re telling them to go respond. Don’t do it. Don’t cheat. I saw it. Don’t cheat. Let it go. “I have a three-year-old. Can he grind my coffee?” You’re typing right now. I shouldn’t have told you.
Raj: Well, I got to let them know. I got to let them know.
Andrew: All right guys. Everybody out there, somebody please test it without him knowing. Here’s the email address if you want to test it. It’s… hang on a second… It’s “email@example.com.” “Presse” has one “e” at the end of it. Oh, that’s interesting. Okay.
All right. Here’s what I’m hearing you say. Listen. The majority of my sales are still happening on Amazon because I started on Amazon. Shifting people over to Shopify is not an easy transition, and we’re okay with living in both worlds. Having said that, I’d rather have people come to my Shopify store, and what I am doing (“I” meaning you, Raj, I’m speaking on your behalf) is I’m giving people a free bag of coffee to sample and that then brings then to my site where they might want to buy more coffee.
I’m also letting them get customer support and that makes them feel good and appreciated. I am also, you’re saying to me, what else, including all kinds of forms, not forms but brochures and guides and stuff that makes people connected. You are so obsessed with writing this email. You also send people an email saying if you don’t review us, then we’re going to come to your house and beat you down.
Raj: Yes. No, I don’t do that.
Andrew: I was watching to see if you were paying attention to me, because the whole time I was talking you were looking down and you were messaging your team.
Raj: Look, Andrew, I’m always paying attention. And the bottom line is, if it comes down to creating a product experience, the five minutes might be an over-exaggeration of course.
Raj: But the point of what I’m trying to say is that if you can focus on delivering value in a way that differentiates you, like when we first started out on Amazon and we were just like any other brand of coffee grinder, or French press, or pour-over, I mean, if you go there you can find a whole list of companies that are doing all this stuff. And in the very beginning to get your edge and to deliver your edge, the only real way to build a competitive advantage is advantage is through service.
And eventually what ends up happening, if you go and look at our reviews on our grinder, a good portion of our reviews, our top reviews that you’ll just read, are about product functionality but a majority are about the service. So in the beginning, that’s really all we focused on. I had my team. We hired a team in the Philippines and as well we had a team in the States, so that there would always be somebody on deck to answer stuff.
Andrew: This is what I want to get in the interview. The fact is that if you’re responding within 5 or 15 minutes, or even frankly an hour, I’m totally fine with it. This isn’t a gotcha thing. I was just trying to test to see how it really worked and to see if that was really true or if I was being snowed and there was some other way that you were growing. Having said that, the thing that I’m interested about with you is some of the automation that you do. Because you ran this frickin’ company while you had a fulltime job. Most people can’t do it even as, like entrepreneurship as a fulltime career in itself. This was on the side.
All right, let me go back in time and understand. Let’s take a step away from all of these questions about the details of the numbers, and just get a sense of who you are.
Andrew: You’re a guy who was kind of entrepreneurial. You actually, before doing this, you started a, what is it called, a fraternity on the UT campus. UT is what, University of Texas?
Raj: Yes, sir.
Andrew: Okay. What was it about this fraternity? Why did you feel like you had to create a new fraternity? And I’m asking because this helped you understand how to get customers.
Raj: Yeah, absolutely. So when I was at school, I mean, growing up I played a lot of tennis. I was always very competitive leaning and, you know, we went to the state finals my senior year. And when I graduated and went to college I felt like I had lost a bit of my identity, and I wasn’t entirely sure who I was. So when I was rushing and going to all these organizations, I didn’t feel like anything really fit me.
And so when the idea of chartering a chapter of this established fraternity at UT came up, it was something that I jumped on as sort of me being an individualistic person and wanting to figure out who I was, and not really connecting with any of the organizations out there. But starting that fraternity was one of the best things I ever did in college because it forced me to be resourceful when we had nothing. We had zero budget. I was trying to rush kids and bring them on board, and have them join this organization that had seemingly nothing compared to all the other organizations out there.
Andrew: What did you do to get them to sign up, because you told our producer, “This is where I learned recruiting. This is where I learned customer acquisition.” Give me an example of something that you did back then.
Raj: I created a sense of exclusivity and a sense of me telling people, because I wasn’t wanting to sell the quintessential fraternity experience where there are like huge parties, you know, just lots of people, like I couldn’t compete with that. And so what it taught me from really early on, from a really early setting, was that, “This is your opportunity to essentially create your competitive advantage from what you have.”
So I had, you know, we had nine founders. All of us were really cool guys who didn’t really want to go the traditional route, and so we were very individualistic, very happy, creative. I mean, we were kind of like guys that just liked to have fun, and we weren’t worried about all the bureaucracy of fraternities. And so we sold that. We sold our competitive advantage. We sold the idea of being part of a family versus being just a number in an organization.
We sold having a much closer group of friends instead of not knowing the person who sat across from you in the room. We sold an experience that was only something that we could provide and we made that our competitive advantage. And we started showing up in places where nobody else was showing up, you know. Like, for example we’d go and perform in step-and-stroll competitions, things that no other fraternity was really doing it.
Andrew: “Step-and-stroll” competitions?
Andrew: What’s that?
Raj: It’s like a competition that’s generally something that more the African-American fraternities and sororities participated in.
Andrew: Got it.
Raj: It’s in African-American culture. But that was something that no one else was doing, so in order to get a reputation up on campus, me and our guys, like, we would just go out there and just start performing, being a part of that, getting our name out there. Then we’d go to different organizations’ events and just represent ourselves and put ourselves out there, get our names out in different ways, in different pockets of groups.
I mean, UT has over 50,000 people at the school, and so we were just going out and trying so many different things to differentiate ourselves, until we found the flavor that worked best for us. And then once we did, we perfected our model of attracting kids, attracting students, focusing on philanthropy, the things that we could actively control and turn into competitive advantages.
Andrew: I see. And then, I’m on your LinkedIn profile, I have never interviewed someone who had this kind of LinkedIn profile. It’s like 500 different jobs at Chevron, starting from an intern. You’re basically going down the lifer at Chevron, until you met this guy, Jerry. He was your mentor. He had been with Chevron for 37 years. You were on his path it seemed like, at least from the way I was looking at your LinkedIn profile. And then his wife comes in to the office one day and what does she do?
Raj: Well, to kind of give you some background, Jerry was one of my first mentors at work. When I came in he was the guy that I sort of looked up to. He had worked a really long time with the company and did well. He was happy, seemingly so. So he worked for the same company 37 years and he couldn’t wait to retire obviously, after working for 37 years. I mean, you kind of get antsy at that point.
Andrew: What was he going to do in his retirement? Was he the kind of guy who would tell you all the things he wanted to do?
Andrew: What was he going to do?
Raj: He was a passionate wood-turner.
Andrew: Wood-turner? Okay.
Raj: So, he loved woodworking. He was building a shed to house a lot of his projects that he had been putting off and never actually got around to, but the sad story was that with about three months left until his retirement date he had a heart attack and died.
Andrew: Three months before his retirement.
Raj: Three months.
Andrew: Never got to do all these things that he was putting off until retirement?
Raj: Yep. And this is…
Andrew: Man, oh man.
Raj: Yeah. And so, you know, in that stage, that’s what really hit me in the face and said, “You know what?” I’d been kind of side-hustling on the side and just doing small things left and right, but I think at the moment is when I realized that it’s now or never and I don’t want to live this life. I want to create a life that I love, and I want to do that using business because I think I can do this. And so we launched JavaPresse.
And that was really what makes JavaPresse, Java Presse. The quality of the products is number one, obviously, but beyond that it’s the lifestyle experience of what I want to create. I can’t convince people to go and leave their fulltime jobs or spend their entire life savings to go buy that dream car, but what I can do through physical products, and through our coffee, and through the experience we provide, is help people use something as small as a cup of coffee to enhance their daily lifestyles, and even if it’s just a couple moments a day, if they’re using our products to enhance those few moments with something meaningful, I’ve won. And I feel really good about that.
Andrew: I mentioned in the intro that before this you were trying to start a SaaS company. What was the SaaS company you were trying to start?
Raj: It was a brewery-scheduling SaaS. So, I had gone through a program called “The Foundation.”
Andrew: Yep, with Dane and Andy. I know it well.
Raj: Yep. With Dane and Andy, and I started in November of 2014. It was a really cool experience, my first real stint in entrepreneurship. I went through the process, cold-called probably over about 2,500 breweries. And it was funny because I was working fulltime when I was doing this and I had to call people during lunch because that was the only time I had.
Andrew: And you would just cold-call, and no sending out emails?
Raj: I sent out emails as well, but I mean, cold-calling was faster for me because I developed a process for cold-calling. I used to pretend that I was actually a college student and wanting to do a research project, and I wanted to ask somebody. And so I found that people actually didn’t really want to say “no” to kids doing research. And so I would just do that.
Andrew: You would just call them up and get them on the phone? And the reason is because what Dane and Andy recommend is that entrepreneurs do idea-extraction calls. They want you to call up potential customers, look for problems they have, and then suggest solutions and say, “If I build it, will you pay?” You made tons of these phone calls, and did you build the software?
Raj: I had gotten presales and then I realized how much the software was going to cost to build. The market I went after was a market I went after more out of personal interest than it was a market with a lot of money. So, you know, if you think about breweries, there’s about 3,000 breweries in the country. Maybe 1 or 2 % of them actually make money. The other 98 % of them are startups, just like I was, trying to make ends meet and grow this, or they had just emptied out their 401(k)s to come in and pursue a passion.
And so I was blinded by, you know, I love beer, I love breweries, I love the creative aspect of it, and so I think I was blinded by the reality of the market. And so even though I had gotten a couple of presales, it was nowhere near what I needed. And I also then recognized that there was definitely a ceiling to this business. And so at that point I was kind of disgruntled and a little upset. And then I met a mentor at a conference live event who was making money selling physical products online. And so I was attracted to the model and wanted to try something different. I jumped in with two feet and I just kept trying and testing until we made JavaPresse work.
Andrew: Let me take a moment to talk about my sponsor, because I’ve got to tell you about this cool piece of software. I don’t think these guys are going to advertise a lot because it’s a bootstrap company, they don’t have a lot of funding, if any funding. They’re just profitable.
But here’s the thing. So there’s this group of people who do things like get links from websites or sell like, do one-on-one emails that lead to salespeople calling people who are interested. I find this fascinating. I said, “How do you guys get so many people to respond to your email about link-building, or if you’re doing sales, how are you getting people on the phone with your sales people?” You can’t just call people cold-call the way, Raj, you did. What percentage would you say of the people you were reaching out to actually got on a call with you?
Raj: Oh, man. I’d probably say around 20 or 30, 20%.
Andrew: Twenty, that’s huge.
Raj: Another thing, for anyone who is cold-calling I can give you a little tip. This is what I did, which actually worked really well. I would call them before I sent the email, because I still did send emails. I had a VA who was scraping emails for me and I would send out emails, but when I called them I would say, “Hey, can I speak with yada, yada, yada?” They would put me on the line and, “Okay, I just want to ask you if you got my email.” Ninety-nine percent of the time if you asked them if they got your email first, people started scrambling and being a little nervous because they might have thought that they deleted your email or that they ignored you and just the confrontational piece of it, psychologically just makes them feel a little more defensive. And so at that point I say, “That’s okay, you know, the email was just about this and I was just wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions.” And a good amount of time people would say “yes.”
Andrew: And would you have sent the email? You actually send the email and then you make a phone call to see if they got the email? And then you talk to them.
Andrew: Oh, that’s an interesting approach. All right, so here’s the approach that I’ve been seeing people do. They’ll send out an email, and then if you don’t respond within three days they’ll send another one saying, “Hey, just pushing this up to the top of your inbox,” or, “Wondering if you missed my last email.” I didn’t know how this stuff was being done. There’s a bunch of software that’s really on the high end that will do this, or there’s Mailshake. This guy, Sujan Patel, created Mailshake. Do you know Sujan?
Raj: I believe so, actually. The name sounds familiar to me.
Andrew: He’s a marketing beast, but he’s one of these quiet people who’d like to be more out loud. He’d like to be, like, I think he’d like to be better known. But what he is really, is he’s one of these like clever marketers who’s doing stuff that’s, just, you shouldn’t be talking about publicly or else everyone’s going to take it and run with it.
One of the things that he decided to do was he created a software. And the software does this. If you have somebody who is scraping email addresses for you, or you have a database of email addresses, what you could do is sit and just write individual messages to each person, hope they respond, and chances are they’re not going to, at least not the first one. So then you have to come back with a follow-up message. I think it was Noah Kagan who said that 50% of visitors’ responses came from the follow-up message, not the first one. So you have to remind yourself, “Send a follow-up message,” because, you know what, people could either do that or maybe just write software that does it.
So the software that he created was, and he partnered up with someone else, you upload all the email addresses that you want to reach. You write one templated message with some fill-in-the-blanks. The software will send it out and fill in the blanks. If the software sees that you did not get a response within, let’s say, you set it to whatever time you want, let’s say three days. It follows up and says, “Hey, did you miss my last email?” If you want, you can even do a third followup based on whatever time you want. If people did respond, then you go in and you get to see all their responses.
If someone says, “Hey, I don’t want this,” great, just move on. If they say, “Yes, I do,” no more automated messages. Now you go in and you start talking to them, and you could say, “Hey, how about we get on a call? You’re interested in this. How about if we follow up?” Or you follow-up via email. Really powerful stuff. This is the kind of thing that should cost hundreds of dollars.
Mailshake is bringing it to the masses, actually not to the masses because he’s not marketing this I don’t think everywhere, to really clever marketers and people who build links, link-backs, is it called “link-backs,” you know, people who go to other websites and try to get links. People who need a lot of responses and they can’t just upload a whole bunch of email addresses into something like MailChimp, because you need follow-ups, because you need automation, you need intelligence.
I just told you like one little feature out of so many that they have that makes this happen. If you out there, or you Raj, are ever trying to reach out to people and you want them to get back to you, you need to check out Mailshake. Go to not just Mailshake, go to mailshake.com/mixergy. This frickin’ guy is not giving anyone a discount for going to the URL, Raj. Usually we say, “Go to mailshake.com/mixergy, whatever.com/mixergy, and you get a discount. But there’s no way this guy could survive if he gives me discount. His frickin’ price is way too frickin’ low. Someone talk to Sujan Patel. This makes no sense. You’re a SaaS guy, right? You can’t charge a couple of bucks for SaaS. You have to charge a reasonable amount of money. You should be charging five times this, essentially for sales software.
Andrew: If somebody knows Sujan Patel, tell him he needs to 5x his price. He needs to then give us a 50 % discount for going to mailshake.com/mixergy. Frankly, there’s no way that this is, he definitely should be charging a whole lot more for this. All right, anyway, it’s mailshake.com/mixergy. You will not get any, any, any discounts for this, but here’s what you will get. You will be known as coming through a Mixergy URL. Sujan will take super-good care of you, like every frickin’ sponsor of mine, because they know that when somebody has an issue with one of my sponsors, even if it doesn’t directly relate to something that happened in my interview, I jump on top of it.
I just got another message from someone who had some issue with one of my sponsors, had completely nothing to do with the Mixergy interview. I’m looking at my inbox. We’re going back and forth, trying to help them out. So there’s the benefit. Go to mailshake.com/mixergy. Meanwhile, Raj, fucking A, I spent eight goddamn minutes on that ad. I just got to stop selling from people I like. He’s got to just like sell bland ads. All right.
Raj: Love it. Love it, man.
Andrew: All right, it’s a good tool, frankly. All right. So, you start selling this and you do the same thing that Cathryn from BestSelf does, which is, you go to, what is it, Alibaba. You find someone who’s making this stuff online, right? You buy a bunch of it. Do they label it for you?
Raj: Yeah, so when I started out, I started out on Alibaba and I would just kind of price-cast. I’d talk to like 15 different people. We’d be Skyping, Whatsapp’ing, whatever worked at the time, and just haggle it down. I found somebody to do a test order for me, and built a relationship and, you know, I got really good at kind of telling what kind of people I wanted to work with in China. So I was looking for people who were super-responsive, lots of smiley faces, like willing to work with me and willing to add customization. But at the beginning I just launched an NVP. I had a plain white box. I had a product with our logo on it and some insert materials just to test it.
Andrew: You created the box? You had someone create it in the US?
Raj: I had a designer in the US create it, yeah.
Raj: And then I just sent the files over to the factory in China and they started manufacturing it and quality control.
Andrew: Oh, they manufacture boxes with your art on it. Got it. And they’re, and the grinder. I’m looking at Alibaba. Coffee grinders can go anywhere from 80 cents apiece to like, let’s say five bucks, six dollars, for kind of like a variation of your coffee grinder. All right, so this was you testing to see, “Can I even sell it?” You take this stuff to Amazon. How did it do?
Raj: I got my first sales within a couple of days. Sorry, I just lost your audio.
Andrew: Say it again?
Raj: I got my first sale within a couple of days.
Andrew: Within a couple of days. That must have felt, how?
Raj: It was probably one of the best feelings in my life. I’ll never forget it. It was September 6th, 2015. That was my first sale, and I felt amazing. It more than anything gave me confidence that this would work if I worked hard at it. And so then I just went on this train. I had to learn, I learned how to sell online. I wanted to get the best mentors. And that was the cool thing about having a fulltime job when I was doing this, you know. I wasn’t scared to invest. I was investing in the best mentors, the best courses, the best books. I mean, I was constantly looking for bigger and better ways to learn about how to effectively sell products online.
Andrew: What did you learn that you can pass on to us now?
Raj: What did I learn that I can pass on to everyone else?
Andrew: Yeah. What about…
Raj: I think that…
Andrew: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Raj: So with physical products, where most people lose is ultimately with the product experience. You mentioned actually Cathryn. I’m pretty good friends with Cathryn and Allen over at BestSelf. And even if you look at their product, I mean, they’ve got such an amazing unboxing experience, and you can tell that they put time and effort into thinking about it.
Most physical product owners think that you’re closing someone on the sticker price or the price you pay on the website. That just gets people in the door. Where you really make your money with physical products and the way you really scale your company fast is that once they make your purchase, what are they going to do after that? Are they going to tell their friends about it? Are they going to show your product off in front of, in their kitchen whenever they have friends over? Are they going to do it?
In today’s day and age with how mobile shopping has evolved, people, if they see something they like they’re automatically just going to go to Amazon or go to the website on their phones and purchase it immediately. And so when you capture in on those hot conversions or those conversions that are happening immediately when a happy customer enthusiastically shows your product to the masses, you actually catapult your sales and compound them in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to before. It just feeds the entire ecosystem.
So I think that while you’re focusing on getting as much traffic as you can to your websites and maximizing your paid advertising, I think that focusing ultimately on product experience is so important. And it’s something that we’ve systemized within our company to collect feedback, implement the feedback.
Andrew: Can I ask you something? I feel like it’s going to come across wrong, but I’m looking at an unboxing that you’re doing on YouTube from 2015. The box has something with bubble wrap on the inside of it. It’s standard bubble wrap, and then wrapped around it is a guide. That doesn’t seem like an Apple-style unboxing. That just feels like a very straight-up unboxing.
Raj: Exactly. There’s no… It’s not necessarily the feel of the product or the unboxing of the product that allows this. It’s combining that with your remarketing efforts. It’s combining that with allowing them to go to an experience, or experience a website that’s got more…
Andrew: But we’ve mentioned unboxing several times. I could be missing something, but I don’t see what’s so special about this unboxing experience. It’s just bubble wrap inside of a box. It looks very much like the kind of thing you would have gotten from Alibaba.
Raj: So when I say “unboxing,” I guess I’m thinking of it in a grander scheme. When I think of a product unboxing, I think it’s not everything in… First of all, that was shot in 2015, so we’ve made several iterations of the product…
Andrew: Yeah, there’s a newer version that we don’t have here.
Raj: So we’ve made several iterations to the product over time that’s improved the box, the quality, the inserts we include, everything. But even if you look at that, though, just look at that product experience, the fact that when you open it up there’s a guide, the guide takes you somewhere. Like in the Amazon world I can’t tell you how many people just don’t do that. Like, 90% of the products you get don’t have any type of educational resources that you provide. Ninety percent of the products you get don’t provide a community or a Facebook group. Ninety percent of products don’t provide something beyond the purchase, like either quick customer service or, you know, a 100 % refund policy, or like a refund policy and more. I mean, there’s so many way…
Andrew: But it has to be 100 % refund policy because Amazon insists on it.
Raj: Yeah. So what we do actually, which is kind of cool, there was a period in our company’s time where we went through a lot of product quality issues, where some of the products, our NVP that I launched was breaking within two months, and then that forced us to go back in and reinvent the product. And now we have our own patent-pending additions to the Burr Grinder. But at the time, we were getting so many returns. I mean, pretty much virtually everybody was reaching out to us, wanting to return.
Well, what we did at the time was we said, “All right, we’re going to refund you, but not only are we going to refund you, we’re going to send you a new grinder, and we’re also going to send you this, this, this, as well as a free gift card to go do this,” at the time. So when you over-deliver at that capacity, that sort of propelled us to creating brand loyalty, because then when we actually made improvements to the product, or when we improved the unboxing, or the actual box quality, or when we improved the insert, or when we added free coffee to the box, or when we included more stuff to the experience, those existing customers that experienced our lowest lows now were enjoying and telling everyone about our highest highs. And so I do think when I say “unboxing” I’m not necessarily, and I take fault for that, when I mean unboxing I mean the entire product and brand experience that comes after the unboxing.
Andrew: Okay. So part of your thing is that you have a community. Where do I find the, what’s the name of the community on Facebook?
Raj: Oh no, I don’t have, I’m not saying “me” have a Facebook group. I was just using that as an example.
Andrew: So what do you do? I still don’t…
Raj: I have email. We do a ton of email marketing.
Andrew: But Facebook, I mean Google, sorry, not Google, Amazon will not allow you to market your group to people, or not allow you to do marketing afterwards.
Raj: Well, when somebody buys our product from our website with, like, a free bag of coffee, they’re being part of the experience.
Andrew: So on your website you do it, but on Amazon do you also give the coffee?
Andrew: You don’t. Oh, on Amazon you don’t, so you can’t even bring them back. So what I was saying earlier was someone will buy your coffee from Amazon, and the way you bring them to your website is because you give them free coffee, that’s not true?
Raj: No, no, yeah. They don’t buy it on Amazon. They buy it through our website.
Andrew: Only when they buy it from you do you… So, what I asked earlier was, “How do you get somebody from Amazon to your Shopify store or to your personal website?” And I thought you were saying, “I give them free coffee on Amazon and that encourages them to come to my site.”
Raj: No, no, no. Sorry, sorry. I guess it’s…
Andrew: Okay. So let me understand. What do you do to get people to buy from you on Amazon? What can you teach us that’s working for you?
Raj: Okay, one thing, use lots of social proof, and when I say “social proof.” I mean selfies of the product, social media of the product, and highlight those. And focus on customer service reviews, so if people don’t want to leave product reviews, ask them to leave customer service reviews because that, again, leaves a social interactive piece to Amazon that you’re not getting. Those are the two biggest things that we did, and I focus a lot…
Andrew: And when you say “social media proof” I don’t see that on Amazon. I do see people showing the photos for sure, and I do see a lot of positive reviews, but there’s no social media in here, right?
Raj: There used to be a lot more when we were a private label. So now we work with Amazon’s retail team and so they’ve removed a lot of the actual selfies, but we used to have a wall of selfies, just in that product description space. That was just, like, tons of product. So before you even got to the review section, that was like there was literally about like 15 or 16 different product selfies.
Andrew: So you asked people to take a selfie with their product and that makes it feel like someone’s using it and you get a sense of the people who are using it, and then you took it and you put it in there. Okay. All right. So that helped you. What else helped you, back in the old days when you were just getting started? What helped you stand out on Amazon and get people to buy it back before it was your own personal product, when you were reselling something from Alibaba?
Raj: So, a big thing were images, the main image, not necessarily the images that followed, but I mean, I used to run tests where I would like take images, print out a bunch of pictures, and put them next to one another, and ask my friends, I’d be like, “Hey, which picture do you like the best?” And if about 8 out of 10 times people weren’t picking my image, I would go back to the drawing board and think of a different way to highlight our product and make it stand out.
So when we initially didn’t have the best-seller badge or the high reviews, I mean, really I was just focusing on a really catchy image to get people’s attention. And then once it got the attention they got to the page, they saw the social proof, they saw the selfies, they saw all this stuff, and they took a chance and they made a gut decision to buy. And then once they buy, the real secret, as I mentioned earlier, is just overloading them with resources and support so that they tell their friends about it and then that leads to more people who don’t really care about the image or the selfies. Their best friend told them that this product is awesome and they’re going to buy it.
Andrew: I’m on your Amazon for one of your products and you use the couponing system on Amazon, where if I mouse over this promotion section, it shows me I get 18 % off if I buy two items, if I buy seven JavaPresse manual coffee grinders, I get three free ones, and you give me the code there. You accidentally had a free code in there at one point, didn’t you?
Raj: Uh, yeah.
Andrew: What happened? Tell me that. One sec, I’m going to adjust the lighting. You’ve got to tell people about that.
Raj: Oh, man. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I don’t know if anyone… For those who don’t sell on Amazon, Amazon allows you to give coupons obviously, and you can display those coupons on your listings to allow people who land on your listings to take advantage of special offers that you might be running. When I was first starting out, and I wanted to do that, I wasn’t actually creating coupons for everyone else, I was creating coupons to give to my family and friends so that they could try our product out and leave feedback if they wanted, if they liked it, and all that good stuff.
Well, I accidentally hit a button inside of Amazon that said, “Display this coupon on our listing.” And so once I made the coupon live, within about three minutes I’d sold out all of my inventory, and I was, one, pretty ecstatic because I was really naive and not really knowing what was happening. I was like, “Oh, this is great. This is working.” But then I realized that there was actually a bot out there that was scraping the internet for deals and the second it saw 100% off coupon displayed proudly on my listing, it just went and applied it automatically.
Andrew: So what did you do with all those sales that came in for free?
Raj: All those what that came in for free?
Andrew: All the people who came in and, I shouldn’t call them sales, all those people who got a free product from you. Did you give it to them? Did you undo it?
Raj: Well, it wasn’t everybody. It was one person. It was one bot that bought a bunch. Yeah, it was one bot that just bought all my stuff.
Andrew: Wow. So what did you do? Did you give it to them or undo it?
Raj: I lost it. I mean, ultimately that was my fault. That was my fault for doing that out there. Amazon clearly says, “Do not put this out there if you don’t want to,” so fighting with Amazon would have just been a waste energy, emotional energy, and time. And so for me I chalked that up as my, you know, first semester of business school for lack of a better word.
Andrew: How much money would you say you lost on that?
Raj: Not as much as, thankfully not as much, probably around two grand. So it wasn’t that much. It was one of my first test orders, so it was a very inexpensive, relatively speaking. Two grand is nothing to snuff about, but at the time I’m just grateful it wasn’t more, and I’m grateful that I learned that experience really early on because it allowed me to be more careful moving forward.
Andrew: Okay, I’ve got to do a second sponsorship message. This time I’m going to look at the time and I’m going to make sure that I keep this to under two minutes, starting now.
All right, here’s the problem. Most business people do not know where their money’s coming from specifically, what product’s selling well, what their return rate is, and all that stuff. They don’t know where their money’s going. And that’s a problem. Here’s why. Because when you know your points, you are… by points I mean like a business is like a video game, if you know how much money you’re making, where you’re losing points, where you’re making points, you’re so much more likely to grow your business and go for the things that generate points.
Like, I used this bike in my backyard. It’s kind of funny but I can’t go out running as much as I could before now that I’ve got kids. I hate being on an exercise bike indoors, but I can’t go riding outside. So what I did was I hooked up this bike out in my backyard, and I have this iPad app attached to it, and it forces me to ride sometimes for two, three, or four hours in the backyard when the kids are asleep. And I realized the reason is, it shows me my frickin’ points. The higher I climb in this virtual world, the more points I get, the closer I get to getting a special bike in this virtual world, and so I’m pushing myself to extremes.
The same thing is true for business. If you know month-to-month, year-to-year, how much you’re growing your business, what your sales are, what your revenue—sales and revenue are the same thing—what your expenses are, where money is going, you’re going to start to hunt down those expenses and reduce them, start to look for opportunities to bring in more money wherever it’s coming in. The problem is, most of us don’t have a good bookkeeping system. We don’t have someone who’s on it and will always be on it. And that’s what Bench is about.
They have a team of people… Oh, I’m getting close to my time here. They have a team of people who do nothing but keep track of your books. In fact, before the team even gets hold of your books, Bench will suck in your data, that means from your bank, from Stripe, from wherever, to see what your sales are. They will take in your data from your credit card company so that they know where your expenses are, and from your bank, and then they give you this beautiful set of books.
But before they pass it to you, their team of bookkeepers goes through it, make sure there are no mistakes, make sure it’s done to your specifications, and then ba-bam, you have your books and you know exactly how your business is doing. If anyone out there wants to try Bench for free, for free, this is a free trial, they’re not giving this to anyone else. They’re giving us something unique. All you have to do is go to bench.co/mixergy. Not only will you get your free trial, you’re also going to get 20 % off for your first six months with Bench.
But forget about all that. The real benefit is that it’s going to transform the way you do business. A team of people, they do not get sick, they do not miss a day of work, they just do your books and make sure that you know exactly where your money’s coming from, where it’s going, and how to grow your business, bench.co/mixergy.
All right. I think I went like three minutes on that one, two and a half.
Raj: You were pretty close. I was watching the time. You were about two and a half.
Andrew: Yeah, I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to get better at that. But I get carried away with some of these guys, you know? I kind of think that one of the things that I like about Tim Ferris is, he does this weekly email and all he does is he links out the products that he loves. Some he has affiliate commissions from, some he doesn’t, but he’s into products. He’s into like, lately I saw that he has this hat that he loves. It also becomes a man-purse he talks about. I get it. I don’t want products in my life, but I do like software. Good software can really change the way you do things.
Andrew: I had this one software. What do you guys use to keep track of your team, to do your tasks? What’s your task management software?
Raj: We use a combination of Slack, Asana, Google Drive, and that’s pretty much our world.
Andrew: I switched from, Slack was too noisy, too distracting, and too disconnected from tasks. We couldn’t connect it to Asana. I loved how beautiful Asana was, but there was no chat in there beyond chatting for tasks. I switched to frickin’ Basecamp. Oh, so good. Everything in one world.
Andrew: Our team is finally connected, because now I can tell them, “Look, no matter what, you have to keep this one thing on your desktop all day long and make sure that you get alerts from it, and the beauty about that is the philosophy behind that company is, “We don’t want excess. We don’t want to distract you.” And so it’s a very quiet environment where you can just focus on tasks, focus on your work, and not have people constantly pinging you, and all these other apps that connect to it constantly pinging you. Love it.
All right. Anyway, that’s why I get excited about some of my sponsors, like frickin’ Bench and Mailshake, they’re fucking awesome. I can’t believe I got some of these sponsors. That’s the kind of thing that someone’s business is going to be transformed by that, just by signing up.
The other sponsors like Top Tao, it’s going to take you a while to hire someone and have your business transformed, but it will transform you even bigger and in a better way than any of these software apps. But it takes a little while. If you sign up for Mailshake, all right, this is me going off too much. All right. I get excited about it. You know what, here’s the thing. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Everyone says, “When are you going to stop?” I get excited about this all day long. I love it. I get to talk to you.
Raj: You look excited, man. I’m pumped just being here. Your energy’s rubbing off on me. I might go do 200 pushups right after this.
Andrew: You should. Oh, I’d love for you to do it in the interview. Can you actually do 200 pushups?
Raj: No, I can’t.
Andrew: You know, as long as we’re getting a little distracted from the interview, let me tell you this. Where are you from? What’s your ethnic background?
Raj: I’m Indian, 100%.
Andrew: Okay, yeah, and I know at one point you lived in India. One of the things that fucking sucked for me growing up in New York was I didn’t know a lot of cool people who were dark, like dark-skinned, and it wasn’t until college, because frankly I realized, because all high school and elementary school kids are all frickin’ dorks. And so of course everyone was dorks, and then I turn on TV and everyone was fucking white and they all looked great, you know? Straight hair, right? They couldn’t necessarily grow a beard, even though I could at 13. And so it wasn’t until then, and so I’m looking at you. You look really good. If I knew you back then, I would say, “All right, this is what I can grow into.”
Raj: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: You look good. You look good. You’ve put on some more swagger. I’ve seen some earlier photos of you. You were looking like, you didn’t have this kind of swagger. You didn’t have this look.
Raj: I played sports, which helped a lot growing up.
Andrew: What helped a lot, sorry?
Raj: Growing up while playing sports, definitely helped a lot because you got this like competitive sort of edge, which I think translated into all parts of life, and definitely a big part of my own business and personal just philosophy. I think that, I mean, I feel…
Andrew: Do you still feel, when I didn’t run, when I wasn’t athletic, I would always think, “I should be athletic because the same competitive spirit that makes you want to score another point in the game, will make you want to do better in business. Did you have that? Do you feel like, “I’ve got to score another point. I’ve got to sell more on Mixergy. I’ve got to get more people to buy.” Do you do that?
Raj: I do that, but the better we do, the more I’m starting to realize that that competitive nature is only productive if it’s channeled in the right way. Like, for me, continuing, like, sales is always going to be number one, and growing sales, growing the company, and moving that forward. But as I’m growing as a leader in my own company, I’m starting to invest in the opposite way too, which is, you know, “How can I make my employees’ lives better? How can I make the people I work with better?”
I mean, I think that competitive edge, it goes beyond just the numbers, even though that’s generally what we as business owners look at. I think it’s starting to translate into a lot of the intangibles of wanting to invest in the people around me, you know, like we were… Ever since we started becoming successful with JavaPresse, we have a partnership with Make-a-Wish and, you know, so that drives me. Like now our metrics are, “How many kids can I help?”
Like, I mean, I think that competitive edge definitely bleeds into a lot of different parts of what we do, but I wholeheartedly agree that it doesn’t go anywhere. It might change a little bit, but it’s 100 % there and I love it. That’s what I live for. So I’m kind of like you, like just pumped up all day to just do and live and be and…
Andrew: That’s what I always wanted to do. I used to, like, read business people’s biographies, autobiographies, get excited about it. All right, now I get to be a part of it. All right. Let’s talk about people. Because you had a fulltime job you had to create systems. You had to delegate early on. What is one of the first people that you hired?
Raj: Customer service.
Andrew: Customer service. How did you find someone who could do customer service and respond well? That’s a tough thing to hire for.
Raj: So, I did the customer service first. Any job I’ve hired for, I always did it myself first, and so I had an idea of all, like 90% of the questions that were coming in. Once I had those 90% I felt comfortable that these were about 90% of the inquiries, I hired somebody to handle 90% of the inquiries while I handled 10%.
Andrew: Just those? You said, “Here are the top questions.” How did you write it, Google Doc?
Raj: Yeah, so I added Google Doc and we had it, “If this is the question, this is the answer. If this is the question, this is the answer. If this is the question, this is the answer.” And it worked for 90% and then the other 10%, if there was help, that’s when I turned into a coach. And I would say, “Okay, you know, this is how we would handle this, and eventually like, you know, the customer service representative who is still on our team, she’s amazing, her name is Irene. She continued adding to the document, and now we brought on another one of our assistants, Sarish. I mean, she’s adding to it and continuing to grow it. And so I just think it takes some steps.
Andrew: So it’s a copy and paste situation, where anything that they’re adding to, anything that comes up a lot, they copy one of their best answers into the Google Doc, and anything that question is asked again they copy the answer into the Google Doc… Sorry, from Google Doc into email.
Raj: Yes, and that makes customer service faster too. So, you know, we talked a lot about response and getting in touch with customers as they reached out to you. It’s important to have this Rolodex of answers so that if customers do reach out and you need to get back to them quickly, if you have an answer done, I mean, it’s literally a click of a button, so you can…
Andrew: You know what? I’m looking at the email that I sent you. It was a reply to by you. It seems like you guys are using, is it Gmail to send out? You are?
Andrew: You’re still using Gmail for customer service, one Gmail inbox that everyone has access to, to respond to the messages. Wow, not even Help Desk software?
Raj: We tried Help Desk, and maybe I should go back and revisit, but I tried it back in the day and I just thought it was really clunky for at least what we were using it for. I probably need to revisit that actually. There is probably a more efficient way.
Andrew: Check out Help Scout. I’ve been really happy with their bunch of software that I could recommend for that, but what I like about Help Scout is it has eliminated a lot of the features, kept things really clean, and if you’re someone who doesn’t want to get into Help Desk software, it will forward your messages. If someone assigns it to you, it will forward it to your Gmail account. You could see the message in Gmail, hit “reply” and then it goes into Help Scout and back to the person.
Raj: That’s awesome.
Andrew: So you don’t ever have to be in there, and they are also really good with these canned responses so you can turn all of them into Frequently Asked Questions on your site, but also into canned responses so that it’s one click to send this response.
Raj: That’s brilliant. I’m definitely going to look into that. Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: I know the founder from a Mixergy interview. I’ve stayed in touch with him a lot. He will not frickin’ buy an ad from me. The problem is if he does it’s going to be like a 20-minute ad. He does good work.
All right. It was that. I see how you’re starting to systemize that, and how you’re starting to delegate it. What’s the next level system, something that’s a little more complicated that you’re especially proud of systems-wise, because you were working fulltime and you had to do this?
Raj: So, the systems that I focused on getting off my plate were things I was already doing in my business. I wouldn’t say any of them were particularly super complicated in the beginning. Like, for example, then I out-sourced creating fulfillment orders for customers, who had default products or, you know, just needed refund or something like that. I created systems for monitoring listings, so now every single person who leaves a bad review on our listing gets a comment from me, where I actually reach out to them and say, “Hey, look, sorry this is not representative of our culture, our team, our vision. Please reach out to us. We’d love to take care of you.”
Stuff like that were the things that I focused on first. Anything that was customer-focused, I wanted to systemize quickly. So, once I did that, then I was able to take my time. The next thing we built was a system for collecting feedback and turning that into content schedules or product improvements that I can communicate with my agents in China. Actually, cool note, just based on sourcing in China, you mentioned Alibaba in the beginning. I started out on Alibaba, and then once I got really cool with the person I was working with, after a couple of orders, I actually ended up poaching them. And so now they are my personal agent in China.
Andrew: Coaching them on what?
Raj: Poaching. We poached them.
Andrew: Oh, poached them off of Alibaba.
Raj: Off of the factory that… Alibaba’s kind of like a marketplace, so we actually brought them on our team, and now when we want to source products, we just go directly through a native-speaking individual who is one of my best friends whose name is Joe now. And he crushes it for us. He finds products for us.
Andrew: Oh, I see. So you weren’t working with a factory through Alibaba. You were working with, I forget what they’re called, an agent, who then would work with the factories, right?
Raj: Well, the agent worked for the factory, and so that’s how it works. And so Alibaba’s pretty much just like a chat, like somebody puts up a listing. It’s kind of like Craigslist, like somebody puts up a product or a listing, and in order to get in touch with them you need to send them an email and then, you know, you’d contact back and forth. And then eventually you can choose to do business with them or not, but that’s your choice.
Andrew: So the person you’re connecting with there, you hired, and now that person is on your team fulltime?
Raj: Yes. So that took over a lot of the sourcing systems and processes that I was using. You know, because I was creating like things for my team to reach out to people, send one email once they respond, send this email. I mean, I had this entire like ecosystem for negotiating.
Andrew: Making sure that the people you wanted to work with were actually worthy of your time to consider and then for figuring out whether you should actually hire them or their factory to produce the next thing that you were looking to do?
Raj: Yeah. I made people jump through all sorts of hoops and then eventually I just entered, like, the system was so complicated and convoluted, it was just going through so many hoops that I just thought about hiring the guy and I reached out to him and said, “Hey, how would you like to just work for us fulltime?” And he was like, “Yeah, I’m in.”
Andrew: What did you do? You did a Google Doc with all the steps?
Raj: Google Docs. I use Google Docs and I’m starting to maybe use a mix of Evernote and Google Docs. I really like Evernote. I like how clean it is. And so I’m trying to figure out the best way, because now we have so many processes in Google Docs that it’s like, it’s hard to keep organized.
Andrew: We have a similar situation. So then I went to Google’s YouTube channel, their G-Suite YouTube channel, and search I think is still broken in Google Drive. And so what they recommended that you have a naming convention for your files. So now every process doc that we have starts with “PRO” as in “pro.” This is their recommendation. And then it’s sorted by folder.
And now what I want is everything that’s old to automatically have the word “archive” in front. It gets convoluted. I don’t think that Evernote solves that problem anymore. I think the problem with Evernote is that their search is even more broken. They don’t have, like, search handles, is that what it’s called, where you can say whatever. You can’t even search within Google Drive within a specific folder. That’s how bad it is.
Here’s the nice thing about Google Drive. There’s something called “Drive Stream,” which will put a virtual copy of every file that you have in your Google Drive on your desktop. That in some ways makes it easier to search through and hunt through, and it doesn’t take up any space unless you explicitly say, “Keep this on my computer.” So now it looks like a standard file structure on your desktop, really, really helpful.
Raj: You’re like a SaaS ninja.
Andrew: I love this stuff. And then what you can do is you have something like Hazel, which is what I do. I don’t like anything out of order on my Google Drive, so Hazel will take all of my files and sort them. So if I create a new Google Doc and it goes into the nonfolder, it just looks like a mess, Hazel goes in and the next day grabs it and moves it into a folder. Everything needs to be organized. But that’s one of the issues, and I’m fascinated by people who do this really well because I see that they’re organizations function well, that there’s a predictability and rhythm and growth in the way that they operate.
Raj: You know, with our staff in, you know, when I first started out, you know, I actually hired team members from the Philippines. Now I have people from the States on my team. But when I first started out, it was a team from the Philippines and I just had them work two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. So the way we structured our systems for tasks that I needed her to finish were, I just had an Asana project. One was for morning tasks, one was for evening tasks, and they were duplicates of one another. And so I would just create a task for everything, everything from answer emails, create fulfillment orders, collect stats.
Andrew: So you’d just copy it, so if it was February 28th, you would just copy it and it would be “morning tasks for February 28th” and they’d have to go through them and it would be “answer email,” etc.
Raj: Yep. And you can automate it in Asana where every time they finished it, it would automatically come back in their queue for the next day. And so that’s how essentially when we first started, and I still use that. A lot of our tasks are still run that way, our email marketing calendar, our marketing calendar for everything else, all the promotion. I mean, it’s all run the same way in Asana. But that was the second focus for me, really, after figuring out how to do the tasks myself. Then I could just quickly…
Andrew: Then you could do the task list for yourself and then you test it and then you give it. I do the same thing. So I do it in Basecamp, but I find that if I could do it there it’s better than a Google Doc because then I get to see as people go through the checklist, then we can keep improving the main checklist. I always add, the last checklist item is “Go back to the main template’s checklist and change anything that could be improved or suggest ways to improve.”
Raj: I love that. I love that. Oh my God, that’s awesome.
Andrew: I know that if they change it every day it becomes too much, so what I say is, “Go back to the main task list and just add a suggestion for how to improve it.” If you see the same suggestion come up over and over, then you know you need to fix it. If it happens one day and people are pissed, but the next day it doesn’t matter, we could eliminate it without adjusting the main checklist. I see that helps.
Andrew: What was the process that you were saying earlier that you have for dealing with broken refund system? How did that work?
Raj: Yeah, so a customer reaches out. They’re upset. No questions asked. We refund them and get their address. We send them another product, but we usually, and I’ve given authority to my team to, you know, gift people if they’re really upset. So, you know, like we’ll usually send a new product with something special, whether it be like an extra or, you know, a $5-off gift card, or something cool like that.
So that turned into our, you know, I told you about four or five months into our company we ran through a lot of like physical product defects, like some key inefficiencies in the product design that I did not anticipate because it was an NVP that I was working with at the time. And so we had so many refunds. But really focusing on over-delivering. So we would tell them, “Hey, we will give you a free refund,” which is what everyone expects, and then on top of that doing more. You know, that’s pretty much how that worked.
Andrew: I saw that in the Amazon reviews, that somebody said, “They asked for my address and then they sent it over to me.” Okay, and so that’s a process that you had to document and then pass on to someone in the Philippines. How did you hire people in the Philippines to do that? What’s your process for hiring?
Raj: So my process for hiring in the Philippines, I usually use something like Upwork or online jobs at PH.
Raj: Yeah. And you can just put up a job description, have something very specific. When you create a job description on Upwork, always make sure to include something in there that requires them to do something. Like for example on ours, in like the number third or fourth requirement always say, “Tell me you love coffee,” or something like that.
Andrew: Because you want to know that they’re not responding to everything blindly.
Raj: So, when they do that, then I go through there and then I’ll usually do some sort of test. So I’ll have a test buy, and I’ll pay for this, most people don’t, they just try and get free work. But I don’t care, I mean, it’s not that expensive in the Philippines and I think it’s worth it to figure out because when you pay somebody, they’re actually going to do the work. So I’ll pay for a test where they’ll go in and I’ll time them. I’ll time them, I’ll check their accuracy, and I always look for communicators. If you’re not communicating with me on a consistent level, I don’t hire. And so that was my process for hiring.
Andrew: Do you want them to tell you when it’s taking them too long, when there’s an issue? You want them to keep messaging. If you’re on Upwork, do you use the Upwork chat to communicate with you?
Andrew: So then you eventually get them into your Slack, I imagine?
Raj: Yeah. So then we move them into Slack, and that’s a pretty consistent thing, essentially when you on-board them in Slack or just as you’re working with them. I mean, in the very beginning I am over-communicative just because I want them to feel like that’s the norm.
It’s so easy for VAs in the Philippines to kind of fall off the map. It’s really easy. I mean, they can just disappear and you’ll never see them. So having that accountability of you personally being a communicator or someone on your team communicating with them, to let them know that’s the standard, is really crucial, and that definitely helped out a lot for us. And that was definitely learned through mistakes too. I mean, we went through a phase where, you know, someone would do one job and then I would try and reach out to them and all of a sudden they were gone, and I just never got in touch with them again.
Andrew: Yeah, I get it. And then they become like robots almost. You send them what you need and then you get back the work and it’s either good or not. But there’s no human connection. And so you don’t feel any connection to them but they also don’t feel any ownership of the work they’re doing.
Everything you do, I always go back and I test. I say, “Did you do this?” How is he really doing it? Not so much because I really want to catch you. You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t trust you. But because I want to see how he does it. Is this really consistent? What’s going on? I do see that someone like David Villalobos now commented now commented that he was disappointed with the product and gave you two stars. You went back in there and said, “Hi, David. This is Raj with JavaPresse Coffee Company. I want to thank you for your feedback and reach out personally to apologize. This is definitely an error on our part, and I’m so sorry about that. As far as inconvenience goes, your product is on warranty.” And then you go on and tell him how to get this right.
This is Amazon pinging you, “Why do you have to respond to them? Why can’t you have one of your people in the Philippines do that?”
Raj: Firstly, I like reading our feedback because it helps me be a better leader, and it helps me understand what’s happening in the minds of our customers. So I read every single review we get. I still do. I have a certain time in my day where I go back in and actually read our reviews, because I do think it’s important for founders or executives or CEOs to have a pulse on what your customers are thinking, and if there’s any gaps in the customer experience that you need to address.
And generally speaking with crappy reviews, I have the opportunity to fill a lot of holes. So whether it be something with the size of the handle or, you know, like the instruction manual didn’t have this, or I wish they would have given me this, or it would be really nice… I get so many product ideas from our bad reviews, like, people are just like, “Oh, I wish there was a was to, you know, add our handle to the grinder.” Well, you know, now we’re developing a little clip that you can put onto our grinder to stick the handle to it. I mean, negative reviews are my lifeblood.
Andrew: Ah, I didn’t think of that. That is a pain in the ass, and nobody has a handle on the grinder. Well, I’m sure somebody does, I don’t know.
Raj: Yeah, so that’s like, I mean, but that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t actively looking at feedback. Now I do have my team go in and also do this, but I personally still think that it doesn’t take long for me and I don’t mind. And I do think it’s important for me to keep a pulse.
Andrew: You know, I’m looking at my notes on you. One of the ways that we connected with you is from Hollis Carter from Baby Bathwater. Did you go to their conference? I’m going to go there in a few weeks I guess at this point.
Raj: Yeah, I am a huge fan of Hollis.
Andrew: Why? What are we going to do there? I’ll tell you why I’m going. I’m going because I want to be around smart people like you where we can just talk super open. I know that as open as we are right now, we can get, like, 10 levels deeper into what is going on and get direct, like, ideas for what I could be doing here, exactly from your point of view. What exactly is going to happen at Baby Bathwater?
Raj: It’s a conference that’s for people who hate conferences. That’s the best way I can explain it.
Andrew: But what’s the conference about? Some conferences are about more marketing. Others are about podcasting. What is this about?
Raj: What’s cool about Baby Bathwater is there’s a really wide range of people that attend. So, for me, what the most valuable part of Baby Bathwater is the network. I mean, everyone in there is not only extremely intelligent, extremely successful, but also very humble and very eager to add value, and so when you get that many people in one room who are that eager about adding value, amazing things happen.
One of my best friends are in Baby Bathwater. Allen and Cathryn are in Baby Bathwater. So it’s a great group of people…
Andrew: For years I didn’t want to go because I’m not a skier and it’s happening on a mountain. But apparently nobody goes skiing, so what do we do?
Raj: Well, you can go skiing, but you can only go skiing, I think, in the March event. They have a September event too. That’s the one I’m going to and I’m not going to ski.
Andrew: You don’t have to. Yeah, you don’t have to. It’s pretty common for people not to ski. So what do you do? Just sit around, you hear a couple people talk, basically like a fireside type of conversation, and then you just talk one on one with people, right? Because you’re all shoved in together in this beautiful environment. Apparently they do luxury, luxury everything, and then you just kind of shoot the shit and see what happens, right?
Raj: That’s exactly what you do. And I’m telling you, you shoot shit with people who are just as smart as you or, actually, 99% of them are going to be smarter than you, at least I realized that. I felt like I was the dumbest man in the room and that was amazing for me. So it was just having the one on one conversations. I mean, even when I attend conferences, whether it be huge conferences, I mean, the biggest value I take are from the dinners, the lunches, the time I have to spend one on one, quality time versus speaking over everybody.
So you get a lot of… That is Baby Bathwater and I really like that. It’s in an intimate setting. It’s in the mountains. I mean, you can be on your laptop doing work, but for the most part everybody’s really present there. So, that’s another thing, when you’re just at a conference in San Diego or New York or anywhere, I mean, you’re usually pretty connected to the outside world, whether it be on social media or you’re checking email.
But when you’re out there, you’re pretty present in the moment and I think that when everybody’s like that, which it is, turns into something pretty magical. So huge fans of Hollis and Michael, they’re good people.
Andrew: I had Michael out here to do an interview I punked out of. I wasn’t sure, like do I come across too promotional if I include the URL that he gave me for Baby Bathwater, is it not? Screw it. I’m still back and forth but I felt like I should have been a little stronger about it.
I’m going to say that if anyone wants to go to Baby Bathwater, I’m going to be there in March. That’s coming up in a few weeks, a few days at this point. It’s babybathwater.com/mixergy. They are insistent that every single person who wants to go talk to them so that they can reject people for whom it’s not a good fit, and for people who it is a good fit for, if you’re curious, go to babybathwater.com/mixergy.
Did they talk to you? Did they want to make sure you’re a good guy?
Raj: Yeah. So, yeah, I had to get on a call with Michael. He was the gate keeper for me.
Andrew: How did they do that? They’ve been doing it for years. They talked to every single person.
Raj: I love it. I think that what makes it special.
Andrew: I do too, but I worry for them. I don’t know why they don’t have somebody at least screen out the bad people. Maybe someone else takes the first pass, then they do it. They don’t seem to be burning out on it. They love it.
Raj: I think that’s what makes them awesome. Like I said, good people with good hearts and so if you’re a cool person, and it doesn’t matter what stage of business you’re in, they’re very much focused on people who are driven to add value and to make a difference. I think that’s what makes that entire group just something really cool to be a part of.
Andrew: Wow, it looks like Neville Mendora’s going to be there this time. All right. It’s babybathwater.com/mixergy for anyone who wants to go check it out. If they want to, you actually give us the URL. Most guests do not think to give us the URL. You’ve got one. It’s javapresse.com/mixergy. What’s going to happen at that URL if anyone wants to go there?
Raj: If anyone wants to give our amazing fresh roasted coffee club a try, I would love to indulge that. You go to that link and you can get your first bag for $5, your first bag of our fresh roasted coffee club. So, yeah, that’s what’s going to happen when you head to that link. It’s www.javapresse.com/mixergy.
Andrew: Yeah, and it’s JavaPresse with an “E” at the end because you’re very fancy, very European. I dig how you have proof on the bottom left of your site. That tells people who bought recently. I just had the founder of Proof here at the office for Scotch.
Raj: That’s awesome.
Andrew: He just got accepted into Y Combinator. I said, “How are you getting accepted into Y Combinator with this little thing that people are frickin’ ripping you off for? They’re copying you left and right.” He goes, “Oh, we got this Silicon Valley religion.” I said, “What is that?” He starts telling me about how they think bigger than this little thing. Now they’re changing the world and now they have the lingo down—boom, boom, boom.
They even have a PassYC guy who’s, like, with them. The founder of Perfect Audience, he came in here for Scotch. Now they’re in here with these people, Y Combinator, they’ve got a bigger vision and—boom—transforms what they’re doing.
Raj: I mean, you know this just as well as anyone, the vision is what sells.
Andrew: I know, you did it well too. It wasn’t just, “I’ve got better coffee than everyone else, better hand grinder.” It’s, “If we could take a moment to actually think about what we’re drinking or to pause and enjoy the coffee, we’re going to have a better life until this guy’s ready.” You’re sitting in San Francisco. You’re funded by some Y Combinator company.
Here’s the thing, if you want to think very much like Silicon Valley, you can’t talk about the thing. You have to talk about the future you’re creating. And never mind, most people in doubt would go, “I don’t know, am I overpromising, will this happen?” Put that thought out of your mind. Everyone understands that this is not, like, you’re not prophesying the world and going to let us all down if you don’t get there.
This is the vision that you’re setting, and you are setting a great vision with this company. javapresse.com for anyone who wants to check it out. Throw a slash Mixergy at the end if you want to get your first guide to coffee for $5. Raj, thank you for being on here, and before you go out, I also want to thank my two sponsors.
Make sure that you and everyone knows that if you want your books done right, you should be going to bench.co/mixergy. I hope when people say “books,” I mean their finances, not their books from Amazon in their library. Bench.co/mixergy, and the second sponsor is the company that will help people actually respond to your emails.
It is a tool that I’ve described just one or two features of. You should go check them out at mailshake.com/mixergy. Kind of sounds like “milkshake” but it’s mailshake.com/mixergy.
Raj and everyone else, thanks so much for being on here.
Raj: Thank you.