How a 24-year-old sold his INC 5000 company and became an “anti-entreprenuer” – Jonathan Levi

Today’s guest wanted to buy auto parts online and couldn’t do it properly. The process really stunk.

So, he created an ecommerce site that sells auto parts.

At its height,  they did $2,800,000 in sales, and then he sold it.

We’ll find out why.

Since then, he’s been teaching accelerated learning techniques. You can get those techniques in his book, Become a Superlearner.

He’s also investing in other companies and podcasting. You can see what he does on JLE.VI.

Jonathan Levi

Jonathan Levi

Jlevi StreetWerks

Jonathan Levi is the founder of Jlevi StreetWerks and is currently teaching accelerated learning techniques. You can get those techniques in his book, Become a Superlearner.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. You know me, right? After over 1,000 interviews you better. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the guy who speaks way too fast. Let me slow it down. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy. This is home of the ambitious upstart.

And today’s guest is a guy who wanted to buy auto parts online but couldn’t do it properly. The process just really stunk. So, he created an ecommerce site that sells auto parts. At its height, they did $2.8 million in sales, and then he sold it. We’ll find out why. His name is Jonathan Levi. He is the founder of Jlevi StreetWerks.

Since then, he has been teaching accelerated learning techniques. You can get those techniques in his book, “Become a SuperLearner.” He’s also doing a bunch of other things including investing in other companies and podcasting. You can see it all on JLE.vi.
This interview is sponsored by the good folks who are sending me money right now. Actually, they’ve sent the money already. They are Justworks. You’ve heard me talk about them. If you’re hiring someone and already have and hate the process of filling out the paperwork and managing all the payments to them and the paperwork, any issues that come up and it literally is paperwork, I want you to go check out Justworks.com/Mixergy. I’ll do the formal sponsorship spot for them later. But I want you to know about Justworks.com/Mixergy.

Jonathan, welcome.

Jonathan: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Andrew: April, 2011–what was the exact date you told me before we started?

Jonathan: April 23rd, 24th, something like that.

Andrew: 2011. What happened on that day?

Jonathan: Well, I sold what many people would consider my baby. At the time, I’d spent about seven years. I had just turned 24 years old a couple of weeks earlier. It had been a couple of years of running the business that were less than fun after graduating college. There had been some internal struggles, if you will. One partner had announced that he’d gotten into Stanford. So, he was going to go get an MBA. The rest of us said, “You know, it’s probably a good time to get out of this.” There was a lot of increasing pressure from China and things like that. So, that was the day.

Andrew: Was that the day you signed the paperwork or the day you saw the money hit your account.

Jonathan: They were the same day.

Andrew: The same day? Tell me about the way you saw the money in the account. What was that like?

Jonathan: Well, they handed me a check. I went to the bank and cashed it.

Andrew: And when the guy at the bank saw the check, what did he say?

Jonathan: I believe he said, “That’s a lot of money.”

Andrew: How much was it?

Jonathan: I usually don’t disclose that, but not a huge amount of money.

Andrew: It was under $5 million, right?

Jonathan: Oh yeah.

Andrew: But it made you into a millionaire?

Jonathan: We also split it. It did not. No.

Andrew: It did not? Okay.

Jonathan: We split the company three different ways.

Andrew: How many different ways?

Jonathan: Three different ways. I had brought partners on.

Andrew: Was the sale price for more than $1 million?

Jonathan: No, it wasn’t.

Andrew: Really?

Jonathan: It was a very small sale, which is why generally I don’t bring it up.

Andrew: Because you’re worried people will compare your sale to theirs and think they’re better people for it.

Jonathan: No, just because I think in my Silicon Valley perverted kind of reality, it’s not newsworthy. Anything under $20 million to $30 million is not newsworthy, which I think is part of the reason I needed to get out of Silicon Valley.

Andrew: Did you become a millionaire after that?

Jonathan: I did not.

Andrew: Does it bother you that I keep hitting you with this one thing that you escaped Silicon Valley for?

Jonathan: No. I’m very secure in my adjusted level of ambition.

Andrew: How do you get to that? I’m never secure in my adjusted–no, I don’t have an adjusted level of ambition. I’m never comfortable with where I am.

Jonathan: Let me tell you what. On that day and subsequently after, I looked at this big number in my bank account. I had done very, very well for myself running the business. I had bought a house and I had bought cars and toys and I had all these wonderful things and now I didn’t have to work, at least for the foreseeable future and I was no happier than I was before. In fact, I was probably less happy. That’s a hell of a thing to experience, when you’re supposed to have everything and the American Silicon Valley dream and all this freedom and you’re like, “I’m kind of miserable.”

So, that kind of spurred a process, a multi-year process of evaluation. I ended up going to get an MBA because I thought I was going to end up running this huge venture-backed business because that was the dream, the Silicon Valley dream to run a venture-backed tech startup. If you fast forward through the thinking process and how I arrived at it, I realized a lot of my “ambition” was really a lot of ego and the need to be in TechCrunch and the need to be backed by the best VCs didn’t really mean that my quality of life any better. It didn’t mean that I would like my work even more.

So, I’m kind of the anti-entrepreneur entrepreneur. I’m very happy with my lifestyle now and my companies now.

Andrew: I took a bunch of notes as you saw while we were talking. I want to talk about what you said about friction with your founders–I don’t want to forget that–talk about why you were miserable after the sale and we’re going to talk if we have time about this ambition actually equaling ego for you. But let’s get into how you built up the company. Before the company started, you were in school, right?

Jonathan: Yeah. I was in high school. There were not a lot of places to buy car parts online unless you were going to sit on the phone.

Andrew: Why did you even want car parts? I guess you and your dad went to get a Honda for yourself?

Jonathan: Yeah. Originally I wanted a Honda Civic.

Andrew: Why? No kid wants a Honda Civic.

Jonathan: So, this was after like “The Fast and the Furious.” And these cars I thought were the coolest thing and I thought they were the best blank canvas for self-expression. My father raised me to be very handy.

Andrew: I see. So, did you get that Honda Civic? No.

Jonathan: I did not. My dad said absolutely not.

Andrew: Because he also saw “Fast and the Furious?”

Jonathan: Yeah, and he figured it wasn’t safe enough.

Andrew: So, what did you get instead?

Jonathan: BMW 3 Series.

Andrew: BMW? What a jerk your dad is. How dare he?

Jonathan: I know. I know. Well, my dad later on kind of tells me–I didn’t have the best self-esteem, which probably could tie into the whole ego/ambition thing. I had a rough early teenage period. My dad thought that giving me a hobby that also I could take pride in–so, it was less about I have a fancy car. It was more about he saw this would be a project that I would work on, similar to building a treehouse but kind of for grownups in some sense. He saw that having a hobby that I would really take pride in, a canvas that I could express myself on was going to build my self-esteem.

Andrew: And that’s why you decided you needed to buy parts.

Jonathan: That’s why. It was all about the self-expression and the building the car to be the best it could.

Andrew: What kind of parts would you need to buy? I was never a car person. I grew up in New York and I hated cars.

Jonathan: Fair enough. So, I’m on the same boat, by the way now. I ride an electric bike around town.

Andrew: Oh wow.

Jonathan: So, it started out with lights, the nice little ring lights that you put in the headlights and then it went into wheels, body kits, superchargers.

Andrew: I do love the lights. I don’t know enough about cars to know much of what’s on the inside unless I hear it or see it. Lights you can definitely see. So, I get the lights. What’s the part that anyone who’s a real car fanatic would appreciate even if it goes over my head?

Jonathan: A real car fanatic would most likely appreciate a really good exhaust system.

Andrew: You put that into your car?

Jonathan: Oh yeah. The cars that I was building at the height of it, my mother used to joke that the only thing that was original was the doors.

Andrew: Okay. You were that handy?

Jonathan: Well, with time we hired mechanics to do a lot of the work on our show cars and stuff like that.

Andrew: Show cars?

Jonathan: But yeah, I used to gut cars in my parents driveway.

Andrew: Why do you have show cars?

Jonathan: To advertise.

Andrew: Oh, this is later on. Okay.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Andrew: So, we’re skipping ahead here. So, you get this BMW. You start to look for parts so you can really–what is it, trick it out? Is that the phrase?

Jonathan: Modify it.

Andrew: So you can modify it. You go online. We’re talking about roughly 2004, right?

Jonathan: Yes sir.

Andrew: 2004 there were websites up, no?

Jonathan: Totally. But I managed to find a nice little market niche with a lot of tech-savvy people. There were a couple websites where you could order the stuff but they were lousy.

Andrew: What was the experience like when you went online to buy this stuff?

Jonathan: Most times, you couldn’t check out online. So, even if you couldn’t see the stuff and look at pictures, which was pretty rare, you couldn’t check out online. You had to call in with a credit card. The products weren’t up to date. The prices weren’t up to date, that kind of situation.

Andrew: I see. I guess that makes sense. So, the more mainstream stuff, like if you needed a side mirror you could probably even back then buy it on Amazon, but anything much fancier than that, you couldn’t.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Andrew: But you would actually go home and make your phone calls and buy over the phone the stuff you saw online?

Jonathan: I’d end up sending emails and getting varied levels of service.

Andrew: Okay.

Jonathan: What I ended up doing is coordinating these group buys. The pricing was all lousy and people didn’t know–there was no information, “Does this fit this car?” So, I would send the emails and then I’d get 20 people who were interested and we’d all together buy these parts.

Andrew: Interesting. Where would you get these 20 people?

Jonathan: Forums.

Andrew: Okay. What was your favorite at the time?

Jonathan: It was called E46Fanatics.com.

Andrew: E46–what’s E46?

Jonathan: The chassis number of the 3 Series made from 1999 to 2006.

Andrew: Ah, okay. So, you’d get them and how would you find a manufacturer who would sell it to you, or would you go to a retailer?

Jonathan: Yeah. In the beginning we went to retailers and distributors. I was a 16-year old kid. There weren’t too many people lining up to sell to me. But we slowly but surely found more and more retailers and proved to ourselves that we–and when I say we at that time I mean me–had this marketing power in that we understood the client. We understood hype marketing.

Andrew: Hype marketing?

Jonathan: We were doing social media marketing before Facebook had paid ads, if you think about it. We were on forums and message boards posting pictures, having customers come over to my parents driveway and installing the parts and then having them post testimonials–not cutting edge stuff, but kind of really clever marketing.

Andrew: This was when you were starting out. There was just you going home after work, getting on the message boards. The first thing you did was it was lights, right? You got a group of people together who said that they would all buy lights if you can get it at the right price. Who would you call to get that right price?

Jonathan: There was a distributor who was also kind of doing the manufacturing, not far away, about 50 miles away. He trained me on how to install the stuff and told me that I could kind of take over his installations in my region.

Andrew: Okay.

Jonathan: As a 16-year old kid, you only have to do a couple of installations at $100 an hour to realize there’s a lot of money in this.

Andrew: How much money are we talking about?

Jonathan: On an average weekend, I’d make like $200-$300 in labor and another $300-$400 in selling the parts themselves once I started buying the parts.

Andrew: How did you learn how to put it together?

Jonathan: I drove up and got a workshop and how to do this stuff.

Andrew: Drove up to where?

Jonathan: Fortunately my dad is an electrical engineer. To Danville.

Andrew: Oh, I see. There was some workshop that you read about online and you said you were going to go take it?

Jonathan: No, I actually went to the manufacturer and said, “Why don’t you give me a free pair because I’ll advertise them for you and I have tons of friends and I have a lot of clout on this message board?” He said, “Why don’t you buy them at retail and I’ll install them for free and teach you how to install them?” And my dad put the kibosh to that. He’s like, “There’s no way you’re paying this jerk $300 for these tiny little lights.”

But then a new version came out that was like $180 and I was like, “I’m going to do this. This new model is revolutionary and it’s awesome and I’m going to learn how to install it.” For someone who’s tinkered with cars before, it was very easy for me to do. So, I started out by doing the installs in my parents’ driveway.

Andrew: Wow. You were a hustler as a kid, just emailing people, finding out what the deals were. How did you even know about group buying?

Jonathan: You know, you read the forums and there are people doing this kind of stuff. This was my fourth or fifth business, if you will. So, I had already failed a number of times and I kind of knew what worked and what didn’t.

Andrew: One of the previous businesses was a Beanie Baby business?

Jonathan: Yeah, Beanie Baby Speculation.

Andrew: What did you do with that?

Jonathan: I’ve still got all the Beanie Babies in my parents’ garage. I was going to wait until just before the bubble burst and I waited too long.

Andrew: Okay. So, you just bought them and you waited to see if you could sell them and you never did sell them?

Jonathan: Yeah. Not my finest moment.

Andrew: I had that with baseball cards. There was an article in Forbes about how baseball cards are increasing in value more than the stock market. I said, “I am so smart. I’ve got this. I’m going to hold on to them.” They were not worth much. Then there is aluminum cans. That seems like a simpler business. You did okay with that?

Jonathan: Yeah. I did that a little bit here and there when I was really young.

Andrew: Just collecting cans and taking them into the store.

Jonathan: When your material acquisition cost is zero it’s pretty easy to make money, right? Mom buys the soda. You drink the soda. You’ve got a business.

Andrew: What about websites that you’ve built? It seems like a common thing for younger people to build websites for their parents’ friends. You did that.

Jonathan: I did do that. I made $450 in total and quickly realized that service work is not for me because any time you’re not working, you’re not making money. As a full time student, you’re not working most of the time.

Andrew: I see. You did get a trip to Mexico somehow. How did that happen?

Jonathan: I did. I don’t know where you pulled all this information from, but I’m super impressed.

Andrew: I’m hunting now as we talk, since you told me that you were on E46Fanatics. I think I’ve got your screen name on there and I’m hunting for something interesting. We’ll get back to that.

Jonathan: Oh my gosh. That is impressive. I’m impressed, Andrew. You can teach speed reading.

Andrew: Yeah, right? What’s the deal with that, with the free trip to Mexico?

Jonathan: Yeah. It was just dad’s client who had a timeshare. So, I got two free trips. We had to pay for the flights. To be honest with you, I think since he was a friend of my dad’s, he probably would have lent us the condo anyway. But he said it was in exchange for the discount I gave him on his web design, which if I look back is just god awful work. Terrible.

Andrew: So, I actually don’t see much going on in that forum that is worth bringing up in the interview except that there are other people who joined you on that forum. Who’s Brian?

Jonathan: Yeah. Eventually we branched out. We had a bunch of employees. The screen names have gotten all wonky because they’ve been converted. When we sold the company they changed the name. I don’t know which screen names correspond to which posts anymore. But yeah, we had a sales team monitoring the forums. That was our primary source of inbound leads.

Andrew: Yeah, I see Edison at JLeviSW is in there.

Jonathan: Yeah. We had Brian. We had Kenny. We had Calvin. We had Nick. We had myself.

Andrew: Yeah. I’m guessing that you are JLeviSW and because they changed the system so much, it says your join date was December, 1969.

Jonathan: Yeah. I pre-date the upgrade to the new forum software.

Andrew: Yeah. You had 12,398 posts if I’m looking at the right person.

Jonathan: Yeah. That’s on one forum, right?

Andrew: On one forum, you were obsessed.

Jonathan: We were on six or seven other forums. Yeah. We were really, really active. Actually, Donna Fenn, former editor of Inc. wrote a chapter in her book “Upstarts” just about how we were innovating with forum marketing. She looked at the rest of our business and said, “Yeah, okay, this is an ecommerce retail, but wait a second. What’s this you guys are doing with this marketing thing?”

If you look at the way that companies are now behaving on Facebook and interacting with their clients, I don’t want to claim that we invented this, but I will say that we were doing it long before any of these major companies were interacting one on one on Twitter and Facebook with any of their clients.

Andrew: Yeah. I can see it. You’re going in and saying to someone, “Yeah, that’s great.” You’re looking at their setup and complementing them.

Jonathan: Yeah. It’s all about establishing trust and rapport with your clients.

Andrew: Okay. Now you’re still in the getting started phase where you’re collecting a few people on the forums. You’re making a deal here and there. At what point do you start to create your own site?

Jonathan: Well, I’ll tell you exactly when it happened. I was doing these group buys and I was doing these weekend warrior installations and after a few people posting, “Hey, I went down to Jlevi’s and got my parts installed today and blah, blah, blah,” the owners of the forum were pretty quick to say, “Look, you can’t do commercial advertising here unless you pay.” I’ll never forget. The amount was $450 a month.

Now, I was making well above that, but I said, “Look, if I’m going to invest the $450, I’m going to get my money’s worth,” which means I’m going to do a lot of commercial posting and I’m not going to post about one product. I’m going to post about all the products that I think are worthwhile and are high quality.

So, I might as well build a website as well. For my $450, I’m not going to manually take orders. Now I can post links. I don’t have to tell people call me on the phone because that’s kind of semi-commercial, “Call me and we’ll meet up,” as opposed to, “Here’s the link.” So, I maximized my $450. I put up a PayPal check out button for every product. I manually made the pages and realized very quickly that that wasn’t going to scale. So then we went on–it was called osCommerce at the time.

Andrew: I thought I saw that. Was your first site built on Yahoo?

Jonathan: No. The first site was plain HTML from my kind of internet web design days. The second was built on osCommerce and then we upgraded to CRE Loaded. Honestly, one of the reasons I sold the business was because the software was such a disaster.

Andrew: OSCommerce was?

Jonathan: Just everything. All of our software systems were so bad. Migrating 30,000 customers and 12,000 products and so on and so forth, hundreds of thousands of orders to a better system was a lot more work than I wanted to do an d a lot more headache than I wanted to do.

Andrew: So, you build up the first site. I get that. I understand why you’d want to improve the site. But one of the things you told our pre-interviewer was that you couldn’t get manufacturers. You couldn’t get others to take you seriously enough to even sell you products to list on your site, right?

Jonathan: In the beginning, yeah. Absolutely. Going direct to a manufacturer was pretty much out of the question with my buying power. Fortunately for me, this product came out that I told you about which was $180. Eventually the exclusive rights were bought out by a massive distributor who was distributing a lot of huge brands.

I remember about a year and a half in or a year into the business, we were at Bimmerfest, which is this huge BMW car show. This guy comes up to me. His name was Tim Pack. He sees that I’m wearing the JleviSW shirt and the car is all setup to demonstrate his lights that he bought the rights to. He goes, “Where’s your dad? I want to meet the man who made our product such a success.” I go, “My dad is right there, but he has nothing to do with your product succeeding.”

I was selling hundreds of units of this stuff. Everybody was talking about this product because I was one of the dudes. I was all hot on this product and I was installing it on all my friends’ cars and all their friends’ cars. Pretty quickly after that, people started to take us more seriously. But for many years, we were working with that one manufacturer for about 70 percent of our products until that relationship went real sour.

Andrew: With who? With the manufacturer–with the reseller?

Jonathan: With the manufacturer who originally trained me.

Andrew: Okay. I’m writing that down, “Issue with manufacturer.” We’re going to come back to that and we’re going to come back to finding out who these cofounders were, “Cofounders… who?” I wrote that down. I’m a big note taker. Are you a note taker too?

Jonathan: I am. I’m a religious Evernote guy.

Andrew: Me too. I’m writing into Evernote right now. I’ve just been listening to Richard Branson’s book, “The Virgin Way,” and the one thing I got from it is take notes all the time. Take notes in conversation. He can’t believe when someone is just sitting there in a conversation not taking notes and he hates it when someone is checking email in a conversation, which I get.

It just reminded me, when I’m on a one-on-one call with someone, I should just go back to taking notes. It’s been incredibly helpful. Little things that I need to go back to later on are now in my notes and when I make a second phone call to them a week or two later, I can come back and say, “By the way, how’s the house hunting going? I know you were shooting that video. How did it come out?” So, it shows that I care. It reminds me what we talked about before. It’s tremendously helpful.

Jonathan: Sure. Although I can take it one step further to give a sneak peek to the accelerated learning stuff which is you should take your notes in mind maps, which create these visual outlines of the structure. Now you have two things that need to go back. That’s a category of things.

Andrew: Can you do that in Evernote too?

Jonathan: You can do it in Sketch, which is by Evernote. I don’t use mind maps that much because as we go along, I’m creating visual symbols for everything I want to remember. You haven’t given me too much information to remember yet. Anything you would give me, I would create visual symbols around.

Andrew: I saw that in your book. All right. Let’s see if we have some time to talk about that. Whether or not we talk about that, I’d love to have you back on here to teach this accelerated learning technique that you have.

Jonathan: Yeah. I’d love to.

Andrew: All right. My sponsor is Justworks. Look, I have so many people who I’ve talked to, so many people in tech are customers of Justworks. If I’m not looking at the camera right now it’s because I’m looking at the second computer because I want to get it right. One of my favorite guests is a guy who runs a company called Reboot. Reboot is a coaching company for entrepreneurs. Jerry Colonna has been on here years ago. One of his cofounders was speaking at one of my events. And I see that they too are Justworks customers.

I’m on the case study pages of Justworks trying to see why. I totally get it. They signed up and they said to Justworks, “Look, we hired people. Can you do our W-4s? Can you do our W-9s? Can you handle our I-9s or whatever it’s called? Can you do all this stuff for us?” And Justworks says, “Yeah, absolutely. We can absolutely handle that.”

Look, when you’re hiring people or even doing contractors, it’s a pain in the butt. I have to do paperwork, literally sit down here and do paperwork. I hired somebody. We had employee at Mixergy. It was for one person such a pain to have to fill out paperwork to sign up, paperwork to make sure that I’m in compliance with California law, in compliance with federal law, making sure that the person’s taxes are withheld properly, making sure week to week that the paycheck is done properly.

Making sure that I understand–and I never did understand how to login to their stinking websites. It’s one of the top companies. I won’t put them down. It wasn’t a horrible experience. But I didn’t even know how to login to their website because they needed me to use a special subdomain which LastPass could never remember and I could never remember and if I just went to the main domain it didn’t work.

All those little issues are problems that have been solved. We’re talking about Web 1.0 is what they’re on and we here in the Mixergy community are onto mobile, are onto easy customer experiences. The companies that handle our relationships with our most important people, our employees just haven’t advanced far enough. Well, they haven’t until this company, Justworks. Anyone who’s hired, who’s about to hire anyone needs to know about Justworks.

I would love it if you went and checked them out by going to Justworks.com/Mixergy so I get credit for introducing you. But if you just go and sign up to them at all, you’re going to be so freaking grateful that I don’t care about credit. I know that you’re going to love me forever for introducing you to them. You don’t to sign up. You can just go and check them out. Justworks.com/Mixergy. Anyone who hires anyone needs to go and check them out.

Save them in a bookmark for when a friend of yours tells you how frustrating it is to hire people. Save it for when a friend of yours tells you they’re about the hire someone so you can tell them, “Look, you want to give your employees a really good start into the company so that they see how seriously you take your organization,” save them.

The company name is Justworks. I want you to go to Justworks.com/Mixergy. Fantastic people trusted by so many companies like Casper, like Trello, like CreativeMornings and they’re really backed by fantastic people too– Justworks. And I’m grateful to them for sponsoring.

I’m surprised you hadn’t heard of them. Do you have a way of remembering now Justworks?

Jonathan: I do. I actually pictured Steve Jobs saying, “It just works.”

Andrew: How do you now connect that to the fact that they do employee management?

Jonathan: Bingo. So, I have a picture of him and all his employees from the movie “Jobs” where he was having pretty serious HR issues because one of his employees attacked him in that scene. Everything connects. It all connects to previous memories. That apparently was a poignant memory for me in that movie, even though the movie was lousy. So, boom, there it is. “It just works,” holding up the iPod and a bunch of angry employees, HR.

Andrew: You know what? That’s the way that I learned to memorize years ago, with pictures. At first I would have dismissed it except that when you try it out, within ten minutes you could remember–I remembered more than I ever did before, so I couldn’t dismiss it.

Today I use it for everything. I use it for remembering names of people. I love to swim. I was swimming on Monday. I don’t have any way of keeping track of how many laps I do but I’m obsessive about numbers. So, I create an image every time I touch the wall that reminds me of what number it is. I don’t know if you know the peg system.

So, the first time I touch the wall it’s a hat. For the day I’m picturing money. So, it’s how much money do I get to stuff in my hat? And then the next time I touch the wall it’s Noah, like Noah’s ark. So, many how many Noah’s arks can I stuff into my wallet is the visual that I have. Anyway, it’s a visual system that helps you remember and lets me go to a mile swim without having to write down how many laps I’ve done.

Jonathan: Incredible.

Andrew: Visualization is the best way to remember.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

Andrew: I would never have bought it except it worked so fast.

Jonathan: It works. And then if you put the stuff into a memory [inaudible 00:27:11] it works even more. It just works.

Andrew: You mentioned cofounders several times.

Jonathan: Yeah. So, not cofounders, partners. I started the business and ran it from age 16 to 18. At that point, I got admitted to Berkeley, which would not have happened if it weren’t for the business. I was not an exceptional student in my high school career. I had a customer who’d become–he was a very good customer who’s become a very good friend. I brought him on. He was a year ahead of me in school. So, he had already kind of figured out his shit, if you will. I don’t know if I can say that on here.

Andrew: Yeah.

Jonathan: Awesome. And so he was ready to take over sales. He was a really, really smart, thorough guy. Then I happened to live with a woman who did logistics and order operations for Xerox and was managing Kodak’s account and Minolta and all these huge companies doing shipments all over the world. She was also my mother, so I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to steal from the warehouse, if you will.

Andrew: I see. I was going to say, “How’d you end up sleeping or living with a woman before going to college?”

Jonathan: Right. Not quite. So, I got really lucky there. All this order operations stuff was easy for her. All the inventory at the time was stacked in her garage anyway. And given that I was going to be away at college–

Andrew: So, you made her a partner.

Jonathan: Yeah. I brought her into the company.

Andrew: And why did you make the other person a partner instead of saying, “I’ll give you a commission on the sales you make?”

Jonathan: Because I was young and dumb and didn’t know a whole lot. I actually gave away over the course–it was my best friend and my mother, so whatever–but I gave away 49 percent of the business, which worked out to be a good amount of money. It worked out to be a pretty good amount of money. Not as much as you expected, Andrew, but a pretty good amount of money.

Andrew: It never is as much as we expect, frankly. I think there’s a lot of showiness and a lot of exaggeration. I kind of worry that by emphasizing numbers in my interviews that I’m adding to that sense of exaggeration and sense of useless competition. At first I did it because I was combatting the TechCrunch world of how much funding everyone got. I thought there should be some conversation about revenue.

Jonathan: Right.

Andrew: Now I’m doing it because I think it–sorry?

Jonathan: Revenue numbers matter.

Andrew: They do.

Jonathan: I think exit numbers also matter to some extent, but yeah, there is this huge inflation. I was doing some internship after I sold the business at a venture capital from here in Israel. I was there–I won’t give too much information because people could piece it together. But I was there when they made a really big exit to a really, really big company. Think like one of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley and they sold a business to that company.

There were huge numbers being thrown around in the tens of millions. Then I kind of dug my nose into the office and said, “How much do we as an office make?” It’s like the numbers were disappointing. I said, “Okay, but the founders must have done really well. They must have held on to a ton of equity.” No. The founders each had four percent.

Andrew: That’s the kind of stuff I need to know more about. I’d especially like to know how that impacts angel investors. Frankly, one of the reasons I didn’t get into angel investing–the main reason is I wasn’t passionate about it–the other reason is I don’t know how much the angel investors end up getting. I don’t know where–I know some of the tricks that founders pull on other founders. I don’t yet know what happens with angel investors. I think I could use some private conversations about that.

Jonathan: I’d be happy to explain that to you.

Andrew: All right. So, you now are back at Berkeley. You decided that you wanted to go to school–or not back, you were at Berkeley. You decided you wanted to go to school. You said that you were starting to have issues with manufacturers. What were those issues?

Jonathan: The issues with manufacturers actually didn’t come until my third or fourth year. Essentially the main issue was we’d had one manufacturer who helped put us into business in the sense that they trained me, supplied us with 70 to 80 percent of our product catalog, but they thought that they had the right to kind of control us and mistreat us.

So, late shipments, billing us for things and then taking them from their own inventory when they had a surplus of retail orders–just general misbehavior and mistreatment of my employees and my partners. Essentially assuming that they could control us because 70 percent of our products came from them. I don’t do well when I’m pushed into a corner, right? I went on the rampage.

Andrew: What kind of control did they try to exert?

Jonathan: “We’ll sell everything you sell at cost until you go away or comply,” that kind of behavior.

Andrew: So, if you’re selling something, they’re going to sell it at cost on their website to underprice you–

Jonathan: Unless we play ball or “We won’t deliver your orders. We’ll cut you off of these products,” like penalize us.

Andrew: So, what did you do when you started getting frustrated with that?

Jonathan: I went to every other competitive manufacturer. I went straight to Taiwan and I went on the warpath. I created new brands of products that would go directly against–this wasn’t a company who was held in high regard. I spent so much of my customer service hours apologizing for their screw ups that went on the warpath, I went out to my customers.

I released a PR statement saying, “We no longer products by this brand due to so many complaints by our customers. We’ve decided to make the decision that’s going to be not as good for our business but better for our customer service in the long run. Over the coming months we’ll be finding new suppliers and working with manufacturers to create new brands.” You can imagine their reaction. I actually had threats against my life after that little stunt.

Andrew: How did you continue to build your sales? We talked about the early sales coming from message boards. What did you do after that?

Jonathan: Well, we made a mistake in that we tried to go for the bigger and better products. When you’re selling a $24 item, it’s very easy to squeeze in an 80 percent margin. When you’re selling a $6,000 set of wheels, you’re lucky to get a 10 percent margin. So, we wanted to get to those big numbers. As we talked about before, we wanted to have these impressive numbers that we could show off and get into Inc. Magazine, which we did. But I made more money the first year running my business than the sixth year.

Andrew: Because it was more margins on the smaller stuff than on the bigger stuff.

Jonathan: Much more margins, much less overhead obviously, fewer employees, stuff like that. So, we grew our sales by expanding our product line, by going into new products, new models, new subcategories of products. We would sell you anything that we deemed to be high enough quality, whether that was tires, which we made nothing on, literally broke even, but if it got you to buy the wheels, which we’d make 10 percent on, we’d go for it. I think that was a mistake.

I think in retrospect, if we just sold all the $24 items–I had a friend whose revenue–he was a supplier and a friend–his revenue was a third of ours, his profit was the same. He had more employees than we did. I always thought, “Where is his ambition? Doesn’t he want to do $10 million in sales?” That was my goal. But the guy made more money and worked less than I do. That was a wakeup call.

Andrew: Yeah. Did you do any search engine optimization? Did you do any email marketing that worked for you? Was there anything else that was especially good at bringing people in?

Jonathan: Yeah. We were getting into that stuff towards the end. SEO was going to be our big way to hit $5 million. It’s quite hard, especially when you’ve done so much work on the message boards, which themselves are massively optimized because there’s so much new content being churned. Everything about our products, the first results were very usually either the manufacturer’s page or our posts.

Andrew: On the message boards, which in some ways gives you more credibility than sending people directly through the store.

Jonathan: Exactly. We did email marketing. We had an email list of only 12,000 people. We were really late to the game to get off our one-note symphony of the message boards.

Andrew: That is a challenge of having something that works so well.

Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, towards the end, we started to get beat at our own game. Two or three of our competitors built their own workshops where they could actually have unlimited–they’d have a flow of customers coming in so every day they’d have hundreds of new photos of products being installed and then they hired professional videographers, professional photographers, which we did as well, but those were–I hope my photographer is not listening–but their photographers were really, really good. They were producing really high quality stuff. The bar had just been raised so far beyond my driveway photos that eventually we got beat at our own game, truth be told.

Andrew: I remember being beat at my own game at my previous company. It didn’t occur to me at the time. What I saw was these newer people who are starting to work really hard and I said, “They’re not making as much money as I am and look at how hard they’re working. They haven’t figured it out.” What I should have realized is they’re working hard, they haven’t figured it out, but they’re getting a lot of the details right that eventually one or two of them will be all they need, one or two of those little details will make all the difference.

Jonathan: Bingo. Hubris is a powerful thing. The guy originally ended up taking 40 percent of my business I had originally brushed aside as some idiot college kid, which is ironic because I was an idiot college kid. He was hawking secondhand parts and occasionally buying parts from me.

I don’t want the message to be ultra-wary of everyone that comes into your market and guard your market, but don’t ever underestimate newcomers because it’s the innovator’s dilemma. You start out, you own a marketplace and then someone else comes in and they out-innovate the innovator.

Andrew: Was it this guy that you went on the warpath with that made your mom cry?

Jonathan: Yeah. That was the dude. I really don’t know where all this stuff is coming from. After you’re going to have to tell me where all this is. I didn’t know most of this stuff was online.

Andrew: All over the place. I’m clicking around as we talk. I know you told our pre-interviewer that your website didn’t look good. But I think it looks fantastic. I’m looking at earlier versions of it.

Jonathan: Are you looking at the black background version?

Andrew: Yeah. I shouldn’t say fantastic. It’s not like 2015 design. I think the black background makes sense when you’re showing a lot of photos.

Jonathan: Sure. There’s a saying in ecommerce though that nobody shops in the dark. I think psychologically black background is not great. But it was such an investment to change everything.

Andrew: That makes sense for me too. I don’t like dark backgrounds. I know that we at times at Mixergy have had it and I just accepted what the designer had in mind. As long as the forefront is white and the background is darker, I’m okay with it. But you’re right. I do feel much more comfortable in a well-lit website.

Jonathan: Bingo.

Andrew: That’s something I’ve taken away from this interview. I also see at the top of your page even back in the early days you had a toll free number with seven-day a week support.

Jonathan: That was huge. That was the big make or break for our company. We had a toll free number very, very soon very early on. I was putting my cell phone number on the website and doing email. Ultimately it all came down to customer service, whether it was on the message boards, whether it was picking only products that were not going to cause customer service nightmares.

I was answering emails all day every day. My dad once came to a lecture with me at Berkeley and at the end of the lecture, he looks at me and he goes, “That was such a fascinating lecture,” and I go, “Oh…” I literally would go to lecture, pop open my computer and just answer emails.

Andrew: Customer service. Wow.

Jonathan: And the toll free number was a big part of that. We had VoIP numbers.

Andrew: Yeah. You were using RingCentral to get the numbers in on everyone’s phones.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Andrew: This was back before–you know what, Google Voice doesn’t do that well enough. It goes to one number.

Jonathan: It doesn’t hold a candle.

Andrew: We use Grasshopper.

Jonathan: The RingCentral was a game-changer. Same. It’s the same stuff.

Andrew: What you want is a phone number that will allow you to send it to you or someone else or ring four phones and then whoever picks it up first is the person to get it. But one person getting the phone just doesn’t scale well.

Jonathan: No. You create load balancing. You create hierarchies. So, you have people that can flash their manager. You can get really, really impressive results with it.

Andrew: What do you mean by load balancing and manage your–

Jonathan: Like if some has answered a call in the last ten minutes, you send it to the guy who hasn’t had a call. So, it’s balancing. You can rank people basically by their expertise. There are different ways to do it. You can say, “Nick knows the most about all these products. If someone wants sales, always go to Nick if he’s available,” but that kind of sucks for Nick. So, you can load balance and say, “Even if Nick is available, sort the calls in tandem.”

Andrew: Oh, I’ve never done that. I’ve never gotten that creative with it.

Jonathan: Oh, you can spend weeks customizing the stuff.

Andrew: All right. So, now you’re continuing to grow. And then your partner gets accepted to Stanford.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Andrew: Are you upset at that point?

Jonathan: No because I wanted to follow him a year after. But to be honest, our personal friendship had kind of gone by the wayside–

Andrew: What happened?

Jonathan: I’m hesitant to discuss it publicly because it’s kind of also his personal life. But after he and I both finished college, we’d moved in together. I think it was a little bit too much together. We had very, very different habits and very different routines.

Andrew: What’s your habit that would have frustrated him? We can talk about you.

Jonathan: I’m more of an extrovert than he was. By saying that I’m in implying… You know what I mean?

Andrew: I see. But you were bringing people home a lot?

Jonathan: No. Not at all. I think it was just a clash of two different people who were together way too much. I kind of didn’t like the way that he was growing and maturing and he kind of didn’t like the way that I was growing and maturing.

Andrew: What wouldn’t he have liked about you?

Jonathan: I think I don’t know. That’s hard to say. It’s hard to say. I only see it from my perspective and I was getting very angry a lot of the time at his behaviors.

Andrew: What did you get angry about with him? We can be open about that. We won’t push too far.

Jonathan: I kind of felt a little bit judged and looked down upon intellectually, which could tie into insecurity stuff or it could tie into just interaction styles. I felt like he wasn’t coming out and spending time with friends and things like that. Now we’re really kind of pushing on the boundaries.

Andrew: Here’s something that you’ve said. You said that you had leadership failures. You personally had leadership failures and you soured the corporate culture. What were your leadership failures?

Jonathan: That is absolutely true. I used to think, Andrew, that because my name was on the door and because I founded the company, that meant that I had authority. The fact is that’s not true at all. No matter how much authority, no matter who signs the paychecks, you still have to explain your reasoning, you still have to involve people in decisions.

So, I would march in and say, “Hey, guys, I’ve done research for the last week. We’re switching to this software system. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be so better. It’s going to fix all the problems you had with the old software system. So, check it out. Everybody install it on your computer. Let me know if you have any questions.” Drop the mic. That doesn’t work. People don’t like that. People don’t buy in–

Andrew: I’ve done that. You do so much research and you want to include other people, but it’s such a mess to do research with five other people and have all of their needs included and then finally come back out. But there is a way to do that. What is the right way to do it?

Jonathan: So, that’s one of the biggest takeaways I learned in business school. Why are Japanese companies so efficient? Well, the American company will spend years researching or months researching and then–how does it go–they’ll spend months researching and years implementing.

The Japanese will spend years researching and talking to everybody, engaging people, getting all the opinions in and then implementation takes weeks. Once everybody in the company has already bought in and they feel they’re a part of this decision, implementing it is lightning quick.

Andrew: At a startup do you think that it can be done faster than years where we just spend more time doing research and talking to people and less time implementing?

Jonathan: BY the way, part of that research is internal research. It’s understanding people’s issues with the existing software, to use that example. Understanding that you have to explain the mental math behind your decisions, even if you don’t end up taking people’s feedback, you have to explain to them why.

So, if they understand that it’s their best interest or at least that they feel heard–I think those were my biggest leadership failures. Also creating a closed door kind of culture where everyone kind of kept to themselves. I’m an ADD case, so I often would just sit in my office and work with my headphones in, so everybody else started doing that. That’s not a very fun environment to work in.

Andrew: You also were in Hawaii when you got a text message with a shocking alert. What happened?

Jonathan: Yeah. That was good fun. So, there’s something in the United States called–this is funny. I haven’t talked about this stuff in years, so it’s kind of a blast from the past. There’s something in the US called the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, NHTSA. They regulate many, many, many things, among them, a very small part of among them what type of lights you can have on your vehicle.

It turns out that high intensity discharge or HID, those bright white lights that you see on European cars, you cannot sell retrofit kits to convert old lights into those lights. You need to actual sell the completed headlight, which has been spec’d with what’s called–I don’t remember the term. It’s been that long. It basically directs the light in a very sharp pattern.

Andrew: Okay.

Jonathan: Basically the fine could be up to $1 million per unit sold of these lights, which is ridiculous. We had sold probably 3,000-4,000 kits, a lot more money than I had to kick around in fines.

Andrew: So, when they text you, what did they say, “Pay up?” Actually, no, they’re not texting you. Someone else texted you that this came in.

Jonathan: Someone else texted me this came in and we could all be in a world of hurt. It was basically a glorified cease and desist in which nothing every materialized of it.

Andrew: So, they never came and fined you. Did they ever let you off the hook and say, “Hey, forget about what happened before. Thanks for stopping the sale of this?”

Jonathan: No. We were ballsy. What we ended up doing was only selling the completed headlights which were not DoT-certified but they were exact replicas for the most part of the DoT-certified spec headlights.

Andrew: I see. That then got you at least to–

Jonathan: Within compliance.

Andrew: I see. But you did cease and desist for a bit while you were figuring this out?

Jonathan: We stopped selling the kits to retrofit your normal lights immediately.

Andrew: And that’s it. How much sales did you lose because of that?

Jonathan: That was maybe 10 percent of our sales.

Andrew: Okay.

Jonathan: It was not a huge amount.

Andrew: All right. I see the frustrations. You’ve got software. You’ve got partner issues. You’ve got your life that you might want to move on to other things, not do the thing that you started at 16 and want to continue doing. Where do you get someone to buy this company?

Jonathan: That is a great question. We went to a couple of business agents, business brokers, if you will. They were throwing around numbers that we didn’t particularly like. One of them had written a book which I promptly read and decided that I didn’t really like the multiples they were kicking around. But I also didn’t like the idea of growing the company any further or waiting out the market.

Andrew: What do you they do for the multiples? I thought it was multiples of revenue. But it sounds like it’s more like multiples of profits.

Jonathan: Multiples of something called EBITDA.

Andrew: Earnings before interest depreciation and amortization

Jonathan: You forgot taxes, but yeah, EBITDA. So, we didn’t really like those multiples. We looked at ourselves more as an internet company than an internet storefront. But to make a long story short, we had a friend–I’d had a friend from high school who came from a fairly prominent family.

The family had sold their business in the 90s. Mom had retired. The son didn’t go to school, was kind of going from possibility to possibility, was considering doing pro golf for a while. Essentially, they wanted to buy a company so that Mom could get back into the workforce and son could have the experience of running a business on his own.

So, yeah, they bought the business as a family. They were someone that I knew in my kind of network. The whole story came about when I was complaining, like, “Man, these business brokers tell us we’re only worth $350,000. I did not do all this work to build a $350,000 business. Who the hell is going to buy this thing?” He goes, “Well… You know…” So, we got to talking from there.

Andrew: I thought for a second there you were going to accidentally reveal the number.

Jonathan: No.

Andrew: I don’t want you to accidentally reveal the number because it doesn’t add that much to me, but boy it makes people so pissed when they think I’ve tricked them somehow into revealing something and it causes all kinds of problems with my relationship with them. Are they still running the company now?

Jonathan: No. They sold it two years later. They did not have a lot of luck running the business.

Andrew: Why not?

Jonathan: Well, again, I don’t want to get into libel here. But they kind of took a lot of what we told them and how we told them to run the business and then did the exact opposite. So, these are the products that make 70 percent of our revenue. They’re not sexy products. They’re tiny little $24 plastic trinkets but they look really great. Customers love them. You’ll never get a return because they always work. I would get an email that says, “I think all this $24 crap cheapens our brand. So we’re going to stop selling it.”

Andrew: I see.

Jonathan: What? And then they changed the name because they thought the old name had bad karma. Look, I don’t know if it was that an inherent part of the business was myself and my two partners or if it was just kind of gross mismanagement. The fact is we left them with a lot of money in the bank and a lot of inventory and a lot of customer goodwill and within two years, they had to sell the business, again for an undisclosed amount which was less than a tenth of what they bought the company for.

Andrew: Wow. I see the business is still up and running right now.

Jonathan: Yeah. They sold it to my good, good buddy in Canada. The guy who was doing a third of the sales but making the same amount.

Andrew: Oh, really? I was trying to see who owns it. WhoIs search is getting harder and harder to do. I used to use BetterWhoIs.com to do it. But now I don’t know who has really good WhoIs search.

Jonathan: GoDaddy. It’s owned by a company called Bimmian now. Really, they’re genius. I love Ian like a brother. He’ll just wait it out. He waits it out. He lets everyone go at everyone else’s jugular and at the end of the day, he’s beating us all in terms of profitable. He’s just the quiet giant.

He’s going to innovate and make his own products and then eventually one after another after another company in the space starts hurting and he goes, “Hey, I’ll give you $25,000 for your old business.” He told me when I sold my business. He’s like, “I’ll give you third of what they give you. But eventually I’m going to get it anyway.”

Andrew: What’s his URL for all these companies that he owns?

Jonathan: Bimmian.com. And you won’t see that it’s connected to all these different companies, which is part of the genius. It’s like you can buy from him or you can buy from his competitor, but either way you’re buying from him.

Andrew: I see. One of the things that you did after you sold was you took some time off and you started to travel. You went and did volunteer work. Did this have something to do with your reexamining ambition and how ambition plays off your ego?

Jonathan: Totally.

Andrew: How did you get to a point where you needed to do that?

Jonathan: So, I was at a conference in October of 2011 called EO Alchemy. I was the president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization, which if anyone in the audience, I don’t get anything for saying this, but if you have a $1 million plus business, go but, find the nearest EO chapter and join it. It is well worth whatever they’ll charge you and it’s the best business networking and business education group you can ever be a part of.

Andrew: I’ve heard fantastic things about them from other interviewees.

Jonathan: I cannot wait until I qualify again. The problem is Udemy does $1 million in revenue on my courses, but that’s not my revenue on my courses, but that’s not my revenue through my business. So, I don’t qualify.

In any case, I went to this EO Alchemy. Imagine a TED conference, but strictly entrepreneurship. I heard everyone from Jean Paul DiJoria to Magic Johnson to Biz Stone. All I remember–this is before all my memory techniques–but all I remember is they all had the same damn message, which is doing good is good business. Essentially building your life and your companies and your lifestyle to serve others, not being the Bill Gates who waits, makes $45 billion and says, “Cool,” and is like hands up now, “You got me. I’m going to do philanthropy.”

I thought that was a really powerful message. I thought to myself I’ve helped people inflate their egos and inflate global warming and I haven’t really done anything for anybody. So, it made me reevaluate. That was a big part of the depression, like, “What the hell have I been doing for seven years?”

Andrew: You went through a depression towards the end of the company?

Jonathan: I wouldn’t call it depression. I would call it a struggle. I was having all this struggle with my mother and who was at the time my best friend prior to this and questioning was this a worthwhile endeavor if the whole magic of being successful and being happy and sitting on these stages is doing good is good business.

I decided I needed to take some time off and go and do good and see what that feels like, see if that’s for me. So, I went and I volunteered for a few weeks in Costa Rica. That was a really cool experience. I invested in KUTOA, which is a one for one bar company feeding children in need. That felt pretty good. More and more I got into this idea of social businesses.

Andrew: And now are you in a social business?

Jonathan: It’s hard to say. I would call it a social business in that it’s personal growth and it’s self-help and we’re moving in the direction of spreading this message to everybody. The long term goal is whether or not I make a profit off of it, I want the techniques that we teach to be taught in schools. You teach kids how to read and you teach them basic mathematic skills. Why has nobody taught in any school that I know of, including Montessori schools memory palaces or visual memory techniques?

Andrew: That stuff drives me nuts too. I feel like we’re learning things for the test that we all know going into it we are going to forget. I guarantee you if you ask kids two years after they graduate high school who Chiang Kai-shek was and they will not remember.

Jonathan: That doesn’t have to be the case. I just gave you a little spoiler. I’m giving a TEDx talk on October 12th about exactly that, which is it doesn’t have to be the case. We invest so much money in each student and they invest in themselves. Do you know how much I remember from my Berkeley education? Zilch. That was not a cheap degree to obtain.

Andrew: Horrible way to learn. Frankly, we don’t use it fast enough. I don’t remember hardly anything from college. I’ll tell you what I do remember, some of the stuff that was more experiential like accounting that I had to use right after I graduated.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Andrew: So, what you’re teaching now, you’ve got the “Become a SuperLearner book,” which is available on Amazon for very little money.

Jonathan: Right.

Andrew: Why are you charging–what was it for the Kindle, $2.99? And then I got the $1.99 upgrade for audio book.

Jonathan: I don’t even know what they’re charging.

Andrew: I thought maybe you were doing something for marketing. It was maybe $3.99. So, you’ve got that. You also have the Udemy course.

Jonathan: Yes.

Andrew: Which is one of the most popular, more successful courses there. What are you teaching there?

Jonathan: On Udemy I teach–there are books coming out for all this stuff–but I teach also the accelerated learning and memory. I teach productivity. I now have a course on personal branding, which kind of teaches people how to build a multimedia Internet empire. So, how do you connect the books to the podcasts to the courses to the blog, all that kind of stuff. Then there’s a travel hacking course, which is a fun little hobby of mine.

Andrew: Let’s see… I’ve got your page here on Udemy–is it Udemy or Udemy?

Jonathan: So, it’s supposed to be Udemy, but I call it Udemy.

Andrew: Why? Like U Dummy?

Jonathan: It’s just such a habit. I don’t even know, Udemy. I think it’s like YouTube.

Andrew: Yeah. They picked a name that is pronounced 500 different ways by people.

Jonathan: Udemy. When you go to their office, they all say Udemy. They’re very well-trained.

Andrew: Yeah. I’ve had them here. I’ve had them here at the office. Even when they’re drunk, they still stick with Udemy, or buzzed, let’s say. That reminds me, I’ve got to get scotch for tomorrow’s scotch night and cheese and all this other stuff. You also have something–what’s the Japanese thing you’ve got going on Udemy?

Jonathan: Yeah. It’s just a Japanese version. Actually, this week we’re releasing a Spanish version and we have a German version of the SuperLearner–

Andrew: I see. It’s someone else translating it.

Jonathan: Yeah. I don’t do any of the translation stuff. Only the German, the rest of them are all subtitle translations. We’ve realized the translation stuff doesn’t work very well. We’re probably going to kind of shelf it.

Andrew: All right. I think I’ve got everything here covered. I’ve missed nothing, I don’t think. Oh, here’s what I wanted–usually I would just stick this in. My stomach is growling. So, I’ve got to end it. We’re also at the end of our hour here. You said something at the beginning that I usually would have just jumped in on right away, but I’ll save it for now. You said you had self-esteem issues as a kid.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Andrew: What happened?

Jonathan: You know, that’s a good question. I think part of it, I was raised as an only child. I grew up as an only child. You tend to get undivided attention and then you tend to get out into the real world and start to make your own friends and start to realize that you’re not going to get undivided attention just because someone loves you or you love them.

So, just because you’re very close friends with someone doesn’t mean you’re going to get undivided attention. Honestly the truth is I was a very different kid. I know everybody likes to say that because it sounds super cool and trendy and emo. But I was a pretty weird kid and I had different ideas about the way the world works. I still do. But I wasn’t ready for the backlash and the teasing and the name calling that would come with that. I think that sticks with a person.

Andrew: What did they make fun of you for?

Jonathan: All sorts of things, man. I was big into like techno music. So, they’d make fun of that. I had a DJ company. So, people made a lot of fun of that.

Andrew: Really? I would have thought the DJ would have been a cool thing?

Jonathan: Yeah. Apparently I wasn’t spinning the right music. But yeah, it’s like I just wasn’t–I didn’t fit in so well in middle school and I think that stuck with me.

Andrew: Did you date?

Jonathan: Not until high school.

Andrew: Did that bother you?

Jonathan: Yeah. I think so. I think a lot of it was also insecurity around women, which is an interesting subtopic.

Andrew: What happened there?

Jonathan: Just unrequited love, the same thing everybody goes through, but I took it real hard.

Andrew: Would you have crushes on one girl at a time and be really obsessed but she wouldn’t be into you at all?

Jonathan: Yeah. There was a whole series of those, my friend.

Andrew: I see. Why do you think they weren’t into you? Because you were so weird and different?

Jonathan: Funny enough, one of them at one point was into me but then kind of pulled me aside but then said, “I don’t think my reputation could take being seen with you.” That was a blow.

Andrew: In retrospect, were you really a dork or did they see you that way.

Jonathan: I tried so hard. Up until recently I realized I tried super hard and that’s just about the least cool thing. It’s only been in the last year when I realized trying hard is pretty uncool.

Andrew: What would you try hard in? What would you do?

Jonathan: All kinds of things. You try to communicate your intelligence to people. You try to communicate your accomplishments to people. That’s super uncool. But like running the whole business only reinforced that because when you’re 16 and trying to sign half a million dollar contracts, you’ve really got to put it out there. So, it was just this long process from age 12 to probably about a year ago where I realized I really don’t need to inflate myself to have people like me.

Andrew: Yeah. You really don’t but it’s hard to get to that point, especially if you’re someone who’s aspiring to something important, something big in your life, then you want to inflate because you know where you are is not really where you want to be. It’s not the destination yet.

Jonathan: I think it says something that I run a blog called Becoming Superhuman. I’m not happy being who I am. I always have to go to bed a little bit better than I woke up that morning.

Andrew: I’m good with that. All right. I think we’ve added to our audience’s intelligence. We were talking about other podcasts before we started. There are some that I really like. There are some that I feel aren’t doing enough depth. I’m happy with the depth that we got into over here.

Jonathan: Man, you’re good at digging. You got me to talk about stuff that I usually shy away from, a lot of stuff.

Andrew: What’s the one that you’re going to doubt yourself for having talked about here?

Jonathan: I don’t doubt. The only thing is when it comes to other people’s privacy or them not wanting the story to come out, the people who bought my business might not be so keen about them not succeeding.

Andrew: Here’s the cool thing about a program that lasts as long as mine. Most people don’t dig in to the end. They just see that you’re on. They might skim through the transcript two or there paragraphs and then they move on. It’s too painful to them to really look into it. They don’t want to really spend time on something they feel they already know. That’s why I really get away with a lot in these interviews. As long as I don’t’ make it one of the first two questions, I think we’re fine.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Andrew: All right. Its’ been good having you on here. Anyone who wants to see all the different projects that you’re involved with and the speed learning and other courses you’re teaching should check out JLE.vi. That’s like Jlevi, JLE.vi.

Jonathan: That’s correct.

Andrew: My sponsor is Justworks. If you’re happy with this interview and you want more, please subscribe to it. You will get every single interview directly delivered into your phone. I see there are a lot of other people in the iTunes store who are beating me. I am not yet evolved to the point where I can accept that. I’m also frustrated that a lot of them have nothing to offer. I challenge you–listen to any other podcast and a week later see if–in fact, as soon as you’re done, see is there anything actually useful or was it just mind candy?

A lot of programs are like Gatorade. Gatorade seems to be healthy. It seems to be for athletes. It seems to be for people who are improving their bodies. But in reality, Gatorade is nothing but sugar water and some electrolytes. Please, you can have a little bit of salt and get better benefits than you get from all a Gatorade. But it looks right.

A lot of other podcasts for business just look right. This one has a lot of substance. Unfortunately, because of me, it doesn’t look exactly right. I decided to where a shirt with stripes on it. On camera, I know the stripes kind of move funny. I don’t give a rat’s ass. But what I do give a rat’s ass about is my research, my preparation, the quality of the guests and the quality of the information here.

Anyway, if you like all that rant and this is something you really believe in, subscribe and leave a rating. Let the rest of the world know the substance that’ sin here once they get into it.

Jonathan, thanks so much for doing this interview.

Jonathan: It’s been a pleasure. I hope to talk again.

Andrew: All right. For everyone out there in the audience, thanks for being a part of Mixergy. Bye.


  • Joe Deal

    May want to fix the typo in the interview title… sorry, can’t help myself.

  • Pingback: How a 24-year-old sold his INC 5000 company and became an “anti-entreprenuer” – Jonathan Levi | iSafal()

  • Fanatic interview in terms of digging deep and pulling out all the details of the story. I pretty much can’t listen to other podcast anymore because I find myself always wanting more when the interview is done. They don’t pull the story together at all. You don’t notice it at first listening to a Mixergy podcast, but when comparing it to others you can really see how Andrew lays the story of perfectly for the listener to consume.

    Andrew, in terms of tracking your swimming, I’ve got a Garmin 910xt which works beautifully for tracking open water and pool swims. I do triathlons and it also tracks my bike and run stats. Worth every penny! I’ve got a half ironman in April and a full later that year. Care to join me?

  • Lauris Ancupans

    Just listened to this. Great interview and somehow really felt the energy of Jonathan. Really good!

  • Srboteka

    Great interview. I love how Jonathan spoke well about good and bad times and all leanings. Made me interested in his books/courses. reason why I always love Andrew’s interviews, you hear the person, not PR about company.

    Regards – “Andrew: That’s the kind of stuff I need to know more about. I’d especially like to know how that impacts angel investors.”
    How about making that ‘private’ chat about angel investing — public conversation? Sounds great and I am very interested in the same topic. I guess lot of people on Mixergy will be very interested in the same.
    Maybe Master class? Another interview? Hangout? Whichever will work for Jonathan and you Andrew, it would be great.

    Jonathan, are you still involved into car market in some way? Did you burn-out now and just ride bike? I’m interested, as driving is my passion and even being dad and running startup, I just took week off to drive from Barcelona to Belgrade in RS265. Its too addictive rushing through hills!

    Cheers & thanks for sharing Jonathan.

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