Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart.
The person you’re about to meet has heard me say this countless times, it seems. Joining me today is a Mixergy Premium member who says these interviews have helped him build what’s becoming a million-dollar business. He started his company as a side gig. He worked at it while he had a full-time job. He kept hustling even through the tough times. You’ll see he had some pretty tough times.
Today he’s got a profitable, growing business and I invited him here to talk about how he did it. He’s here to complete what we called the circle of Mixergy — learn from other entrepreneurs, do, build and then come back and teach others. He says that is his mission here today. Kyle Brown is the founder of Clawhammer Supply, which offers the highest quality, most affordable copper moonshine stills.
This interview is sponsored by Toptal. I can’t emphasize enough that if you’re looking for a developer and you want the top people-I mean, really, the top people-what you want to do is go to Toptal. They have a network of top developers. They will talk to you about your development needs. They will talk to you about your culture and then they will go to their network and find you not 1,000 different people, but the best one or two people for you to interview.
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Kyle: Hey, how is it going?
Andrew: Great. Before we even get into your story, I think we should talk about what moonshine is. What is moonshine, this thing that your product allows people to create?
Kyle: Sure. You can make a lot of different things with our kits, but of course moonshine would be one of them. Moonshine would be, I guess, technically any high-proof alcohol made at home.
Andrew: I see. So, it’s not whiskey that hasn’t been aged. It’s anything that’s high-alcohol that you can make at home and start drinking.
Andrew: How much alcohol?
Kyle: Like what percentage?
Kyle: So, I guess homemade alcohol could be lower or higher proof, but most folks wouldn’t consider something to be moonshine unless it was really high-proof. Most people shoot for, for better or for worse, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-proof plus. That’s not always the best tasting stuff.
Andrew: That means 75 percent of the liquid that we’re putting in our bodies is alcohol. And you’re right, it is very painful. It makes me dizzy sometimes. But you also sell flavors, right? A way of taking away some of the pain and making the drink taste better.
Kyle: Yeah, sure. So, we sell some flavoring kits-apple pie moonshine flavoring kit, a new fire bomb. We actually are just about the roll out a peach-flavored spice kit, which I’m really excited about. I think it’s the best one we’ve created yet. You can definitely use those to make alcohol taste better. The cool thing about those products is they don’t have to be used with alcohol you make yourself. I just want to be clear about one thing. Making alcohol at home for consumption is illegal.
Andrew: It is?
Kyle: It is.
Kyle: In every state plus on the federal level. I guess Missouri is like the one state where you could read the rules and regulations and say, “Ah…” They may have left a loophole here for folks to make their own high-proof alcohol at home. But for the most part it’s illegal in every state and on the federal level.
Andrew: I see. So, I could get a still, but it at home and make alcohol, but it’s still illegal to do. I see. Maybe that explains why, as I was hunting around and doing research on you, it seems like people use your stills to purify drinking water, right?
Kyle: Yeah. Sure. So, you could make purified drinking water. You could make fuel alcohol with a permit and you can do that legally. The thing about that is it’s the exact same process and the same final product, fuel alcohol, as moonshine or ethanol that you would drink.
Andrew: So, basically you’re telling me when I’m drinking moonshine, I’m drinking the kind of thing that could fuel up my car.
Kyle: Oh, yeah. If it’s high enough proof, you could literally put it in your car or a lawnmower or a chainsaw, whatever.
Andrew: So, that explains why, again, as I’m looking around to see who’s linking to you, what are people saying about you, I see a lot of these survivalist websites linking and recommending your product.
Kyle: Well, that’s a targeted effort. Yeah. But the product fits really well with what they’re doing. This is a business interview, so we can talk about that and I’m sure we will. That’s a targeted effort on our part to get those products in front of those people and on their websites.
Andrew: Okay. I do want to get into how you do that. But let’s talk about where you were before. What was this job that you had that you were doing while you created this on the side?
Kyle: Yeah. So, my educational background is in environmental science, actually. I have a Master’s degree in environmental science. After grad school, I got a job as an energy consultant. I did that in Asheville, North Carolina and then in Boulder, Colorado for probably a total of five or six years. That’s what I was doing, actually, as I was building the business.
Andrew: What’s an energy consultant?
Kyle: Sure. So, what I did was help home owners, home builders, architects, engineers design and build energy efficient houses. So, specifically what I would do is create computer energy models of the houses before they were built, while they were even in the design phase and let them know what they needed to do to hit certain energy targets. Then as the house was being built, I would come out and do inspections. I would actually use tools to test the home as well to make sure it was going to meet the targets.
Andrew: This is lead certification?
Kyle: Yeah, exactly, LEED certification, Energy Star certification as well.
Andrew: I see. So, when I walk into my office building here every day and I see the LEED certification sticker on that glass door, it’s someone like you who has gone through all the effort to make sure that they earned it.
Kyle: Yeah. I did that for the home market. My wife, actually, is a commercial LEED consultant. So, she works on buildings like the one you work in. I worked on just homes exclusively, but yes, exactly.
Andrew: And at the time you were not married. You got married after you started this thing at one of the toughest times, right?
Andrew: Clawhammer Supply is struggling. You’re taking a risk on it and you’re also moving into this next stage of life. Most people would have said, “You know what? I’m going to postpone this relationship.” Frankly, I’ll be honest with you, Kyle, a lot of guys would have screwed up the relationship and said, “This is the perfect person, but I’m not the perfect person yet. My business isn’t doing well. I’m going to drop her while I build myself up and then regret that I dropped someone I was meant for and try to recreate it with someone else.”
Kyle: Yeah. The business has definitely been a stress on relationships, absolutely. Now it’s not. Now it makes things so much easier. But during the process of building it, yeah. It’s hard because as an entrepreneur-I guess entrepreneurs are sort of a rare breed. They’re determined. They’re hyper-focused. They’ll do anything it takes to build their business if that’s what they’re focused on. If your partner doesn’t understand that, that can really stress your relationship out.
Thankfully, April my wife has been really understanding. But there have definitely been moments where she’s wanted me to come to bed and I’ve wanted to stay up until 3:00 in the morning working on the website or a new product or whatever.
Andrew: Yeah. I get that. It seems like such a small thing. “We’re going to sleep anyway. Why do you need me there?” But I get it. There’s bonding there. The whole reason that you went on this path, the thing that led you on this path is a meeting with a construction guy. What happened in that meeting that set you off in the direction of Clawhammer?
Kyle: Right. So, I worked with a guy, actually. Right after grad school and before I was an energy consultant, I actually worked in construction swinging hammers. I worked with a guy from South Carolina whose grandfather, maybe even his great-grandfather had a still and it had been passed down and passed down again and this guy ended up with it.
He was a good old boy from South Carolina and had been in that sort of culture for a long time. That was new to me. But I was fascinated by it, the idea of having a still and making your own high-proof alcohol. I just thought it was awesome. I tried to acquire that still from him on a number of occasions. He wouldn’t let go of it.
Andrew: Because you just wanted one for yourself. You thought it would be so cool to be able to do this at home.
Andrew: I see. Why wouldn’t he let go of his still?
Kyle: I wondered. That guy was kind of down on his luck constantly. He’s the kind of guy who would roll up to work and eat a can of sardines for lunch, literally. I would say, “Hey, let me buy that still for you. I’ll give you like $300 for it,” which is a lot of money. We weren’t getting paid a lot swinging hammers. He just wouldn’t let go. I think that it was a family heirloom.
That’s one of the things that’s cool about the product that we sell today. It’s not something you just buy off the shelf. It’s something that people actually hammer, rivet, solder together themselves and it’s something that’s going to last a long time and they’re going to pass it down to their kids and their grandkids.
Andrew: I see.
Kyle: I’m sure that’s why he didn’t let go of the still. I’m sure that’s why some of the people buy our kits.
Andrew: I get it. Yeah. It does look like something that you’re going to want to pass on to your kids and grandkids.
Andrew: So, then you saw this. How did that lead to you deciding, “You know what? I’m going to build a business around this?”
Kyle: Yeah. So, that was completely an accident. So, I wanted to buy the still from that guy. He wouldn’t sell it to me. So, I decided, “Alright. I’ll just make my own. I’m a capable handy person. I can probably get this done.” So, I found some plans online and I modified the design. I had a design I wanted. I knew how much copper I needed.
So, I went out to search for materials and the smallest piece of copper I could find was like three feet wide by ten feet long. That’s like three times as much copper as I needed. So, what happened was I ended up building the still and I had all this copper left over.
At the same time, I had considered just buying one. I looked around online and I saw some stuff I kind of liked but nothing that exactly fit the bill for what I wanted. So, I knew that there were people selling stills online, like on eBay, really, at that point. So, my plan was to just build this one still for myself and I’d have enough for two more.
At this point, Andrew, I had zero money. I had no money at all, right? So, this was a huge investment for me. So, my plan was to build the still for myself, build two more, sell the other two and then I would have paid for the one that I had built for myself.
The way that that sort of started to morph into a business was I built the still. I had a blast building it. It was like one of the funnest, coolest things I’d ever done. Then I used it and was like… Using it was cool but it wasn’t as fun as building it was. And then I had built two more, sold them and was thinking, “You know, I kind of liked that.” I did it again. I just decided to build another one for somebody else because I really enjoyed that process.
Andrew: I see. So, you were swinging a hammer anyway. So, it’s not like working with your hands was a foreign experience. So, you said, “Instead of doing it for someone else, let’s just do it for this fun project that I love and sell it on eBay.” Do you remember what you sold it for?
Kyle: I have no idea. It probably wasn’t much more than I had in it in materials. Yeah. We can talk about this. The early stages of my business, I actually built finished stills and sold them online. It was a hobby for me, really. I really didn’t even consider it a business at that point. It was just a hobby that instead of costing me money-I’m really into mountain biking, but mountain bikes are really expensive and you have to pay for gas to drive to the trail, etc. This is like a hobby that I had that just didn’t cost me any money and maybe just made me a little bit of money.
Andrew: I don’t get that. It’s not like you’re not a business person and don’t have business on your mind. I get maybe it’s a hobby if you do one or two, but when you’re saying, “I’m going to do another two and another two and another two,” isn’t there somewhere in the back of your mind where you say, “This could be a business. This is potentially bringing in revenue?”
Kyle: Yeah. Exactly. That did happen. I guess the point I was making was in the very early stages, it was purely a hobby.
Andrew: I see. It was just fun to make the first two or four.
Kyle: Yeah. Exactly, the first few. And then I’m thinking, “Okay, wait, this actually does work. This could be a legitimate business here.” So, in my mind, it did morph into a business, I guess, at a certain point.
Andrew: What year was this?
Kyle: That would be… I’m going to have to look at my notes. I made some notes here because, like I said, I’ve seen tons of interviews and you’re always asking people, “Hey, when did this happen?” And they’ll say, “I have no freaking idea.”
Andrew: We looked at your LinkedIn profile and your LinkedIn profile doesn’t say that Clawhammer Supply started until 2013. But clearly this was before.
Kyle: Yeah. I’m horrible with LinkedIn. It started way before that. I just don’t really use that service.
Andrew: I think what you told April in the pre-interview was we’re looking at roughly 2009 at this point.
Kyle: Yeah, 2009 was the point at which I was building the finished stills and selling them.
Andrew: Is it strange that our pre-interviewer producer for this interview has the same name as your wife?
Kyle: It hadn’t occurred to me.
Andrew: And the other thing was that roughly 2009, real estate was actually getting hit and you were on shaky ground or you were starting to question what was going to happen with your future.
Kyle: Oh, yeah. So, things started heading downhill I think in 2006. By like 2008-2009, I was in Asheville, North Carolina and we were sort of somewhat insulated from the real estate crash because there was a thriving retirement market there. It’s just a hip place to be. So, it wasn’t like Florida where people were building homes just for the sake of building homes and flipping them before they were even finished with construction. There was a legitimate demand for houses there.
But the impact of the crash did set in in like 2008-2009. Me being in the home residential market, that definitely impacted me personally. The company that I worked at was like-at the core, it was an energy efficiency company, but they had grown and morphed since the inception. There was this insulation component where they were installing a physical product in people’s houses. I didn’t’ work in that side of the business. But that had far outgrown the energy efficiency contingency.
That was probably like 90-plus percent of the business, this insulation component. And then there was like little old me in this ten percent. It didn’t matter how much we did. If the demand for insulation was trending downward, my job was at risk at that point.
Andrew: I see. So, at that point did you start to think, “Well, maybe this could be a business?”
Kyle: Absolutely. That was one of the pivotal things that happened that, in my mind, turned this from a hobby to, “This definitely could be a business and I should probably see what I can do to make this a viable business.”
Andrew: Okay. And if it’s going to be a business, you need to start buying supplies, right? What else do you need to do?
Kyle: So, really, what I needed to do, I didn’t know what I needed to do. I had no idea what I needed to do at that point. I had no idea. The concept of scaling something was something that had never occurred to me.
Fortunately, I had friends who had started their own business. Those were the kinds of questions that they asked me when I was renting a dungeon garage, cold, damp, crappy space to work in and building stills for people for like next to nothing for little or no profit. The questions they were asking me were things like, “How do you scale this?” And I said, “I have no idea.” I had no idea what I needed at that point, really.
But I guess what was clear to me was that building finished stills was not going to work as a business idea, at least for me at that point in time.
Andrew: How long did you go before you realized that finished stills wasn’t going to be the answer?
Kyle: I think until the end of 2010. So, I built my first still in like mid-2009 and for a year and a half built these finished stills. Yeah. It wasn’t working. So, probably like a year and a half.
Andrew: A year and a half. Can you describe what it was like-not when you realized it wasn’t working, but when you should have realized that it wasn’t working to build the stills yourself in your garage and send them out? What were some of the problems?
Kyle: So, there was a very specific moment where it finally dawned on me like, “I can’t do this anymore.” At the end of 2010, I was selling on eBay and then I think like near the end of 2010 I had created a website and had sort of built up a good following, I guess, on eBay and started getting a little bit of traffic on the site. Then the holidays rolled around as well. So, there was this like perfect storm of things that kicked sales into high gear.
So, I got a bunch of sales right before Christmas in 2010. At the same time, I was incredibly busy with my day job. We were training people, basically, to do what we did at that point. That was part of the federal bailout. There was all kinds of money everywhere for training new people for this and that and whatever. We took advantage of that. So, I was doing a lot of travel for work. I was on the road for like a week at a time. I probably spent three or four months out of the year travelling around.
So, I had all of these orders come through right at Christmas and I was traveling. So, I literally spent weeks doing nothing. But I’d wake up in the morning, go to my day job. I’d get out of there as fast as I could and then I’d go to my workshop. I would work until like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and then go to sleep for a few hours, wake up and do the same thing. That’s when I wasn’t on the road.
Andrew: Wow. That’s a ton of pressure. Is that when the pressure started to mount on your relationship?
Kyle: Oh, yeah. That was definitely one of the times. I was in a different relationship at that point.
Andrew: I see.
Kyle: Oh, yeah. We had some rough times because of all of that.
Andrew: I can imagine. I’m going to sleep and someone’s going downstairs and hammering away.
Kyle: The shop was in a different location. But you can’t be in a relationship with them and not spend time with them, not spend quality time with them.
Andrew: So, you’re doing this. It wasn’t your idea to sell the kits. It was a couple of different people who independently said what to you?
Kyle: Yeah. So, I had sort of just decided at the end of 2010 like, “You know, this isn’t working. It’s not fun anymore.” It was really fun up to that point. It turned from one of the coolest, most fun things I had ever done to, “You know, this is work and it really sucks.” So, I just decided, “I’m putting everything on hold. I’m not doing this anymore. I’ve got to figure something out to either make this process better or to move on to something else.”
Two of my friends independently from one another suggested that instead of selling finished stills, I just sell the parts. I told both of them that that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard, that there’s no way that it would ever work and that nobody would buy them, just flat out it won’t work. Fortunately for me, they’re smarter than I am, I guess, and were persistent and sort of held my hand and walked me through it.
The first thing I was hung up on was when I was building finished stills, I was cutting the parts out by hand. So, I had these templates and I’d trace the design on a piece of copper and I’d cut them out by hand. It wasn’t perfect. So, even if someone would want to buy that product, it wouldn’t go together very well for them, probably, because everything was cut by hand and the parts weren’t perfect, I guess.
Andrew: So, you’re saying, “How can I expect somebody to cut copper by hand and still build the still if it’s not perfect?”
Kyle: I guess yeah. My idea was that I would cut the parts and send the cut parts to them, but they wouldn’t precision, the precision wouldn’t be high enough for them to actually put it together without any hitches. They’d still have to modify it. I was thinking, “That would be too hard.”
The other thing was if you’ve never soldered anything before and you don’t have good examples to look at, it’s hard to pick up soldering. And then finally I just thought, “No one is into this. People aren’t into this the way I’m into this,” was my thought. So, I was utterly convinced that a product that consisted solely of parts that one could use to build a still would be an absolute failure and that nobody would ever buy it.
Andrew: So, what convinced you to give it a shot?
Kyle: Yeah, two things. Luckily, the two friends have different backgrounds. One of them has a mechanical background. He said, “Dude, no. You won’t cut the parts yourself. Just draw the designs out in a CAD program,” which I had actually already done, “Send them off to machinists and they’ll cut them for you and they’ll be like as a precise as they can possibly be.”
Andrew: Much more than you could do.
Kyle: Machine quality, right. So, “They’ll fit together perfectly every time.” I had no idea you could do that. I had no idea that was as accessible as it is and as affordable as it is.
And then the other friend said, “Dude, don’t waste your time making your product until you see if the product will work.” Fortunately, he had read Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek.” I think one of the suggestions in that book is if you have a product that you’re not sure about, test it to see if it works before you actually waste time building the product.
The way he suggested to do that was just create a fake product on a website, buy some AdWords to get some traffic to it and see if people buy it. And then if they do buy it, if they do hit the buy now button, have it send them an email that says, “Hey, sorry, thanks. We’re actually just testing this product. We’ll get back with you once it’s finished.”
Andrew: And you did that?
Kyle: And I did that.
Andrew: And you got enough orders that told you, “Hey, this is working.”
Kyle: Dude, it blew my mind. We got orders. I remember opening up-I guess I was tracking using Google Analytics or something like that. I’m thinking, “This has to be wrong. People are actually trying to buy this thing. I can’t believe it.”
Andrew: Have you ever told Tim that?
Kyle: No, I haven’t.
Andrew: I think you should. He’d love to know that that’s what you did using his book.
Kyle: Yeah, probably so.
Andrew: You know what? I’m looking at a really compelling video here called “How to Make a 5-Gallon Brewing and Distilling Equivalent Time-lapse.” Maybe I’m not reading it right. But using that backdrop, there is a time-lapse video of what it takes to create a five-gallon still. Is that what I would have to do if I got the still for my house?
Kyle: That’s exactly what you have to do.
Andrew: So, I saw a blowtorch in there. I saw an anvil in there. I saw clamps. So, people who buy it have to have all of those tools and all that comfort to build a still?
Andrew: That’s what they were saying yes to.
Kyle: Correct. Yeah.
Andrew: Okay. How did you know that they understood that that’s what would go into it when it was just an ad?
Kyle: Yeah. So, what we did was-by we, the friend that suggested that I have these parts manufactured, we sort of partnered up to start this business together at that point-what I wanted to do and what he was actually opposed to was to make assembly videos for this product and instead of holding off until the person bought the still to send them the assembly video, I wanted to just put the videos up online so that anybody could watch them before they bought the product.
So, a) that’s great content for us to have online and b) they know exactly what they’re getting themselves into before they buy it. So, before people buy the products, we want them to know that this isn’t like Ikea furniture. You’re going to have to have a blowtorch and an anvil and hammers, etc.
Andrew: By the way, anyone who’s listening to this should go and watch your videos. That especially, even if they’re not ever interested in anything that you’re selling, just watching it is so freaking compelling. It’s so interesting to watch someone make something. It’s like those old PBS shows, but on hyper-speed. So, all I’m doing is watching the process evolve over five minutes instead of-how long did it take you?
Kyle: Depending on the size of the still-I’ve built a number of them. So, it doesn’t take me much to knock them out. But on average, it’s going to take anywhere from four to ten hours to build one depending on the size.
Andrew: Four to ten hours and I’m watching it now in five minutes and two seconds.
Kyle: Right. People love it, man. We get emails every day from people who have built the stills and say stuff like, “I had an absolute blast building this thing. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.”
Andrew: It becomes one of those show pieces, not just something you just went over to the store and bought on Etsy. It’s a piece. It’s a story. It’s an experience.
Andrew: Tom is a friend who you partnered with to build it. You guys got together. Eventually, actually, the stuff started flying off the shelves, right?
Kyle: No, not at first, not while Tom and I were actively working on this together. It was a slow beginning.
Andrew: Wasn’t there a period there where even though you had no packaging, no instructions, none of the stuff that I’m looking at today, people were buying so much of it that you couldn’t keep up with demand and you had to stop?
Kyle: Sure. So, more accurately, we had been working on trying to get an actual kit product together for like several months. You know, we both had day jobs. Tom had a wife and two kids and had even a more demanding schedule at work than I did. We worked together at the same business in North Carolina. It was a lot of work to get this product together.
I think what you’re referring to is the fact that we were moving slowly. We weren’t making any progress. I think I had decided to move to a kit format in like November, December of 2010 and we didn’t actually sell the first one until April. So, it took us like four months. I think at one point I just said, “You know, Tom, what we need to do is let’s just go live with the product.”
At this point, we didn’t have assembly videos. We did have good instructions at that point written out. We did not have like any parts. We didn’t have boxes. We didn’t even know what we were going to include. I said, “Let’s just go live with this. It will like light a fire under our asses when people actually order them and then we’ll be sure to get it done.” That was the thought.
Kyle: So, what we did was we went live. I think we had like the test product up. Like I said, we had been collecting emails for a few months. So, we sent emails out to everybody and said, “Hey, it’s live. It’s ready to go.” So, we were basically dealing with four months’ worth of interest from people who had been checking out the site and they weren’t able to buy.
Andrew: I see. That’s why there was so much interest.
Kyle: By so much, we had like 10-20 orders, something like that. However, it was stressful as hell because we had nothing ready to send to anybody. So, yeah, it wasn’t pretty. The rollout wasn’t pretty by any means.
Andrew: I see. I’m looking here at an old post on a site called HomeDistiller.org. People are asking about, at that point, are you for real? Should they trust you? This was November, 2012.
Kyle: Yeah. We got a lot of email from people in the beginning that said, “Hey, it looks like you just set your Facebook page up yesterday. Is this a scam? Are you really going to send the stuff?” I said, “Yeah, if we get our act together.”
Andrew: Did you get your act together? Were you able to ship it out to people who bought?
Kyle: Yeah. It was rough. We were able to get the orders out. But it was rough. Tom and I, again, like I say, we were just both really busy. We had never worked together before. We worked at the same company but we didn’t work together. So, we really weren’t sure who was good at what. We ended up doing things we weren’t good at.
The first order of parts got screwed up. Then once we got the parts, we realized we didn’t know how to box them and send them to people. Then I let Tom send out a bunch of orders. He sent like our ten kits that we managed to get ready to the most recent ten orders, not to the first ten orders. As a result, we had some cancellations. That’s how it goes, I guess, when you’re getting started.
Andrew: How do you find a company that will cut your material for you? Where do you find those businesses?
Kyle: Yeah. They’re more common than you would think. Just get online and Google “machinist,” I guess. We have our parts cut on a water jet. You have several options for cutting stuff like that, water jet is one of them. So, get on Google, type in “water jet” and you can find someone to cut parts for you.
Andrew: I’ve been talking to members and one of the things they ask for is more specifics, so let me ask another specific question. When you ran the AdWords test, how much money did you invest before you knew that people were interested in the kit?
Kyle: I’m going to guess-Andrew, I can’t tell you because that was so long ago-but I’m going to guess like $100.
Andrew: All I was looking for was a range. We’re talking under $500 to tell you there’s enough interest.
Kyle: Well, a niche product like this, like a moonshine still, especially at that point, it didn’t cost much per click to get ad space for the key words I was interested in.
Andrew: They were words like “moonshine still.”
Kyle: Yeah, “moonshine still.”
Andrew: Okay. And then once people clicked, they got to see that it was a kit and that’s how you knew that there was something here.
Andrew: Okay. Alright. So, now you guys are working so much that you discover, after selling about $4,000 that you’re actually losing money on each kit you’re selling.
Kyle: Yeah. That was an awful discovery. That was like a kick in the gut, for sure. Yeah. So, we had sold probably like $4,000 worth of kits over the course of several months, I’m guessing. At one point, Tom said, “Hey, I was glancing at these numbers and something didn’t seem right. It seems like we’re not making as much money as you think we’re making.” I said, “No, we’re making probably 50 percent margin on these.”
I had made a mistake somewhere in my spreadsheet. It’s hard to tell. When you’re starting a business, unless you’re very diligent about your accounting, which we were not, you probably have a good bookkeeper, which we did not, it’s hard to tell if you’re actually making money or losing money, because at the same time money is coming in the door and your orders are ramping up, you’re having to go out and buy a lot of material, not just for the orders you have but to anticipate the next orders. So, you can build in a little buffer.
So, yeah, I thought that we were making money and we literally had lost a few bucks on every sale. So, we had worked incredibly hard to get the kit developed and to get those first orders out and had paid to do so, had paid to do so. That was a bad feeling.
Andrew: Were you still selling on eBay?
Kyle: At that point, yeah, I’m sure we were selling on eBay and then on our site, actually. We were live on our site at that point, so we were definitely seeing all of the selling on our site.
Andrew: Okay. What was your site built in?
Kyle: It’s been on Shopify from day one. It’s been on Shopify.
Andrew: Even back then, okay.
Kyle: That’s one of those learning-it’s one of those things. You just don’t realize how easy it is to build a website until someone comes along and says, “Hey, what are you doing screwing around with like Dreamweaver and Photoshop and crap like that? Have you ever heard of Shopify?”
Andrew: How did you find out about Shopify?
Kyle: Again, the buddy that suggested “The 4-Hour Workweek” had suggested that I check out Shopify and whatever else was around at that point. His point was like, “Dude, are you a web developer?” “No, I’m not.” “Are you good at that?” “No, absolutely not.” “Then why are you wasting your time trying to build a website? You need to be taking the path of least resistance when it comes to that and then spend your time actually selling stuff.” So, that’s what we do.
Andrew: That makes so much sense. I remember, actually, Shopify used to be an early Mixergy sponsor. I asked Toby, “Why are you sponsoring Mixergy?” He said, “You know, I know your audience knows how to build stores for themselves. They probably already know about Shopify.”
“I want Mixergy as a sponsorship spot so that your audience will tell their friends to stop trying to use tools like Dreamweaver to build their own stores. You guys are the people who everyone else turns to, the Mixergy audience. I want the Mixergy audience, when their friends say, ‘How do I build a store?’ to say, ‘Look at Shopify.'” And there’s a reason for it. Your buddy, your friend, is the kind of person who Toby was looking for.
Tom is no longer a part of the business. What happened with Tom?
Kyle: So, it was just really simply a matter of logistics. I ended up moving from North Carolina to Colorado. At that point, he had helped me get started. He helped me shoot the original assembly videos. He helped me with finding a machinist to cut the parts and even helped send out the first few kits. But I sort of slowly, actually probably quickly, took over most of the responsibilities simply because Tom just did not have the time to invest in this business. Like I said, he had a demanding schedule and a family at home.
So, I ended up moving from North Carolina to Colorado and said, “Hey, Tom, here’s the deal. I’m moving. We’re going to have to do something. We’re going to have to split this business up somehow. So, either you buy it from me or I’ll buy it from you. Name the price if you want me to buy your half out.”
Andrew: And he did.
Kyle: Yeah, he did, $500.
Andrew: $500. Okay.
Kyle: Really, at that point, he had probably sunk $500 into materials and water jet fees and what not. So, he said, “You know, how about this? This was your idea from the get-go, the still thing. You’ve done almost all the work. Just pay me back what I put into this thing and I’ll just consider it me helping you get the business started.”
Andrew: And it wasn’t much of a business at the time as you said.
Andrew: So, soon after you made this move, things did start to take off. What happened?
Kyle: Yeah. So, things absolutely did pick up. I kind of put things on hold while I was in the process of moving but then started things up again once I was settled down out here. Yes. Sales did slowly ramp up. Over time, it was sort of slow. But then I think probably within a year and a half of that, things really started to pick up.
Andrew: That December, 2012, according to my notes, you hit $90,000 in sales.
Kyle: Right. So, up to that point, I think the most we had probably done was like $4,000 over a month. So, we were doing like $4,000 a month. At that point, with our products, it’s hard to make money. We didn’t have a very good margin. I was certainly making some money selling $4,000 a month, but copper is expensive. I’ve since raised my prices, but I wasn’t charging enough for the products at that point either. Copper is especially expensive if you’re buying in small quantities.
So, we were doing like $4,000 a month up to that point, maybe over the course of a year, but we were not making a lot of money. So, I think in October of 2012, we did something like $10,000 in sales just out of nowhere. We went from like $4,000 to $10,000. I can’t remember exactly what happened to help make that jump. I just had been adding content to the site over months and months and people were picking us up and we were getting more traffic. Things were just starting to take off like they do. We had done $10,000 in October. I thought, “Man, that was cool. I hope we can do that again.”
I was, again, talking to a buddy who suggested that I use “The 4-Hour Workweek” strategy and said, “Hey, dude, I did $10,000 this month.” He has his own business. You actually should check this guy out. His name is Jack Carrier. He owns a business called DogTagArt.com. He sells pet Id tags. He crushes it. He’s a ninja.
Andrew: I would love to have him on to do an interview. I’d love to have him on. I’m looking at the site right now. I would never know. It’s functional, but I just am not connected to this business at all in any way. I love it. That’s the kind of company I want to feature.
Kyle: Yeah. It’s cool.
Andrew: So, he was talking to you about doing what to get more customers?
Kyle: Well, I was telling him like, “Hey, dude, I did like $10,000 in sales. I’m really excited about it. I hope I can keep that up.” At this point, his business had really taken off. He just kind of laughed and said, “Dude, you’ll be doing like $60,000 a month before you know it and then you’ll do $120,000.”
And at this point, I still had my day job. He’s like, “Dude, this is proof that it’s going to work. You should just quit your job and go all in.” I said, “No, not going to happen. There’s no way I’ll ever do $60,000 in sales in a month.” I just didn’t have the financial security to quit my job at that point. Ironically, November we did $30,000 in sales and December we did $90,000 in sales. So, two months later, we had exceeded-and then I think a month after that we did like $120,000 in sales.
Andrew: I don’t know how. How do you get to do that much? What happens? You’re saying content marketing helped you. What were you writing that drew in so much business? I’m actually, actively, as we’re talking, I’m hunting to see what happened at the time. Here’s what I see from 2012 or even before then. I see a guy on a site called JaywalkBlog.com show a picture of what it’s like to create a still using your supplies. I see people in the comments getting interested. I see a forum post. I don’t see that much more going on. So, what happened?
Kyle: Well, the content, I guess, I’m talking about is content on our site. I suppose in that niche, there wasn’t a lot of good content out there. So, just from an SEO, from that standpoint, our traffic did this at that point as well. It was just the result of the material that we had just kept dumping up on our site.
Our YouTube videos-we were crushing it with our YouTube videos as well. I think I even started doing some advertising on YouTube, which is like a hidden-I’m not sure if it is as lucrative as it was. But at that point, nobody was advertising on YouTube and I could get really high quality clicks on our adds for like a penny a piece because nobody was advertising on YouTube.
Andrew: Frankly, it still is really tough. We did a course on it with a couple of guys, actually a couple of different ones, people who are especially good at it. It’s still at tough thing to do because video is hard. Let’s break both of those down-blog posts and video. Which did you do first? It was blog posts, wasn’t it?
Kyle: Oh, yeah. We’ve been blogging since day one. Andrew, that’s something I learned on Mixergy. Somebody came on and was talking about SEO and said, “Hey, the best SEO you can have is high quality original content up on your blog. Do that and you’ll get traffic. If you’re selling stuff, you’ll get sales. So, that’s what we did.”
Andrew: These are blog posts like, “Blue Corn Whiskey,” right? This is one of the posts. Do you remember one that was especially effective for you?
Kyle: Well, I guess like I said the assembly videos, we just crushed it with those. Over time, they had built up a good ranking on YouTube. As far as the blog posts go, at that point, our most successful post was one on how to make apple pie moonshine, which is something that a lot of people are really interested in.
That just blew the doors off of all the other posts we had done at that point in terms of traffic. That post has sort of morphed into-I’ve updated and rearranged that post over time. We got so much traffic on that one post. At one point, I was thinking, “How can I turn that traffic into a profit? How can I turn a profit on that traffic?”
Someone who’s Googling “how to make apple pie moonshine” isn’t necessarily wanting to go to the length of building their own still and then distilling their own whiskey and then turning it into apple pie moonshine, right? They’re probably thinking, “How do I take like a bottle of vodka and turn that into apple pie moonshine or maybe buy some moonshine from somebody else?” You can buy moonshine in stores.
So, I was thinking, “I need to make some sort of a kit that people could use to make their own apple pie moonshine.” I did so solely because I saw the popularity of that post.
Andrew: Just because that post did well you said, “We need to capitalize on the fact that people are excited about doing this and they probably don’t want to build a still and start to distill their own moonshine.” Got it. I see the post on here and I see it got you other links from other sites. How did you know that this was a topic you should cover? Most people would say, “I am creating a product. I should blog just about that product.” If they’re going beyond a little bit, it’s not to recipes. How did you know what to write about?
Kyle: Yeah. Sure. So, again, Andrew, back to my Mixergy University education-I had heard people come on and talk about writing articles, creating content and how you go about doing that. You’re creating content that people actually want to see and that’s going to net you traffic. So, I learned about that I’m sure on a Mixergy interview about how to use the Google Keyword tool, which is now housed in AdWords. But you get on and you just type in ten different search strings and it basically tells you how popular these search strings are. Let’s see here… I imagine that I originally created the article on how to make apple pie moonshine because we got emails about it.
Andrew: Ah, where people are asking about it and you said, “If enough people are asking, frankly at that early stage, if one person is asking, that’s a good indication that that’s a topic to cover.”
Kyle: Exactly. It just validated that there would be a lot of traffic on that key word by using the key word tool.
Andrew: I’m so glad that you’re getting so much value out of it. I don’t know if you can-I’m sure, actually, you can-hear my voice. My voice has been so overly used in the last week. It sounds like I have a cold, which I don’t.
I got up this morning and I went to something called Peak State Fitness because an entrepreneur who was over at my house last night for a little bit of whiskey and dinner and we were talking about what was interesting in town said, “There’s a guy, Scott, who does Peak State Fitness. You should come and check it out.” We both went this morning at 7:30 to yell at the top of our lungs and to move and to be motivated.
I do that kind of stuff-stay up late, go out early, work to get these interviews and talk endlessly so that people like you can get value out of the work that I do. I’m glad to see that it helps. But I really should, actually, just stay home one night and do nothing, just maybe read. I’ve been taking on way too much. As we’re talking, I hear in my voice that it’s been overused.
You know what I’m going to do? Tonight I’m not going to take off because I like this guy Scott who was leading Peak State Fitness. I said, “Why don’t you come over tonight? We’ll have a couple of burritos. We’ll talk about where your business is going and we’ll just chat.” So, tonight, after I get my baby to go to sleep, he’s going to come over with another friend and we’re going to have some dinner and talk about his business.
Kyle: Good deal.
Andrew: Yeah. Good deal. If I collapse, I don’t think it will be worth it. Maybe this weekend I’ll get some time to just sit. Alright. So, it’s going well with text. You’re moving on to video. Video is a challenge, right? It’s harder to edit. It takes some stage fright. What was it like for you? How did you start?
Kyle: Yeah. It is a challenge. It definitely takes a lot more time to put together a video then it does to put together an article. There are tons of people out there who set up their computer and use their webcam and record themselves putting together a crappy sugar shine recipe in their kitchen. We wanted to try and set ourselves apart. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done that. I’ve created-
Andrew: I was going to say I see you doing that, actually. Worse than that, it’s you in your kitchen in 2012 on YouTube. Not only are you doing it-and I think the video is fine-but across the screen, to make sure everyone knows, it says www.ClawhammerSupply.com.
Kyle: Oh yeah. It was awful.
Andrew: But it got more thumbs up than thumbs down by far. The YouTube audience loves the thumbs down button. It got about a quarter million views. So, I’m not putting it down. I’m just saying that that is where you got started.
Kyle: Right. We made our fair share of crappy videos. But I think what we realized was that you can invest a little bit of money and time in your camera equipment, your lighting and your space and you can significantly up your production value and really set yourself apart as someone who’s professional versus someone who is just screwing around in the kitchen.
Andrew: So, when you got started it was just you just screwing around in your kitchen, talking into a camera. It wasn’t what you were talking about with someone who just has a camera sitting there and they’re cooking. There was movement in the camera. There was editing in it, right? So, it was more effort than most, but it was a start.
Andrew: Okay. And it was just you at home. When did you take it to the next level?
Kyle: Man, I want to say it would have been the beginning of 2013, I guess. I moved to the house I’m in now. I’m actually in my garage right now, which is where I’ve built a movie studio. So, this backdrop that we talked about before the interview, it’s reclaimed wood. So, I built like a little movie studio for myself at the beginning of 2013. So, basically I had somebody come in and insulate and drywall my garage so I could heat it and work out here in the winter time. I built a backdrop.
Again, another thing I learned on Mixergy was a simple strategy for lighting. So, somebody had mentioned a post on Wistia, which I’m sure is still up there, about $100 lighting kit that you can buy from Home Depot. I literally saw that-I was probably in my car within 30 minutes on my way to Home Depot to buy that stuff. I bought a mic.
Andrew: That’s the Blue Yeti, right?
Andrew: That’s the Blue Yeti mic?
Kyle: Yeah. So, I just got this one because my other mics, they don’t interface with my computer very well. If I want to use like my iPhone or my Canon DSLR or an iPad, I can use those. But yeah, this is the Yeti. I just got it. Yeah.
Andrew: What did it cost you to get that backdrop? What we’re looking at is planks of wood that look reclaimed, right?
Kyle: Yeah. So, the backdrop is all reclaimed wood that I got from a Habitat for Humanity reuse store. It was incredibly cheap, less than $100.
Andrew: Impressive. How did you know how to design it?
Kyle: There wasn’t much design involved. I just went to the reuse store and picked out every old 2×4 they had that was reasonably straight and I started nailing them to the wall.
Andrew: Well, it looks really good and it makes a huge difference. What about the design of the intro where there’s that old time card-looking thing that says “Premium Copper Stills.”
Kyle: Yeah. Sure. You know what that was, actually? That was an ad that I had someone create for a magazine. This like tiny little magazine, this old time bluegrass music magazine had ad space in it. I thought, “These people might be into what I’m selling here.” I had a friend who’s a musician who knew about that magazine. I had him create that as an ad for that magazine. I think probably what you’re seeing in front of that video is something that I had like chopped apart and maybe even put back together. I’m not sure. It might be that original ad.
Andrew: I see. Wow.
Kyle: Yeah. My buddy, Doug Chayka, he’s definitely worth checking out if you want something designed for a reasonable price. You want someone who’s just incredibly talented at just visual illustration and artistry. That’s this guy. I think his website is DougChayka.com. He does work for The New York Times, like I was saying before the interview, San Francisco Chronicle, different magazines, etc.
Andrew: I don’t want to brush over the period in your life that was tough. There was a time where you actually would have panic attacks.
Kyle: Oh yeah.
Andrew: What happened that set off a panic attack?
Kyle: That was like the end of 2012, where we went from $4,000 in sales in August to $90,000 in sales in December. I had a full-time job during that period. I had one part-time employee. I was working out of a garage. We simply did not have the processes and systems in place to deal with $90,000, nor did we have the material, the manpower to put them together and send it all out.
At that point, I had taken this job here in Boulder with a fairly successful high profile business. So, they’re a Fortune 5,000 business, definitely in the top tier of their specific niche, which is energy consulting. I had a very demanding job there. By normal standards, it was a very demanding job. On top of that, I have $90,000 of product to somehow materialize into thin air and then send to people.
Andrew: Before Christmas.
Kyle: Before Christmas, yeah.
Andrew: I see. So, when you had a panic attack-I’ve never had that. What is that like?
Kyle: Well, I would just say there are times-I guess I don’t want to be too dramatic about it. But there are just times when I would get overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that I had to do. So, if you want to do that panic attack, I guess, that would be one way to say it. But I was just really overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that I had to do at my job and the stuff that was amassing at this business I had started, thinking, “There is no way that I will be able to get all this done.” And I had to. I had to get all of it done.
Andrew: What did you do to have it-actually, before we get into what you did to get it done, what did you do to get over that feeling? I know when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can’t really do much because I’m busy wallowing in overwhelm.
Kyle: Sure. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I definitely experience moments of paralysis because of anxiety. But there’s no option. You just have to do it. You have to get it done. I remember there were times when-during the month where we did $90,000 in sales, I didn’t even want to look at my email because I knew there were going to be more orders.
Like today, we can probably scale up to twice as much business as we’re doing right now without much of a problem. But at that point, every time I got a new order, I was like, “I just want it to stop. I want the orders to stop.” But you can’t just shut your site down in times like that. You have to roll with it.
Andrew: So, where do you get more material? How do you get it cut? How do you get it packaged and shipped out? What about the practical considerations?
Kyle: Yeah. I called in a lot of favors from friends. So, I said, “Hey, what are you doing tonight? What are you doing tomorrow night? What are you doing this weekend?”
Andrew: Did you have enough friends in Colorado at the time?
Andrew: Okay. Impressive.
Kyle: New friends. So, like, “I don’t know you that well, but why don’t you come over to my house and we’ll do some work in my garage.” So, I called in a lot of favors from friends and fortunately had a guy on staff at that point. The part-time guy, he ended up quitting his job during that time and significantly ramped up his responsibilities and had him dramatically increase his output and then had some friends come on and help me out.
At the end of December, though, at the end of that month, I quit my job. I felt bad. It was a really tough time. My employers at that time, things were rocking and rolling for them.
Andrew: And they needed you.
Kyle: They needed me.
Andrew: And your wife was pregnant too.
Kyle: My wife was pregnant. Yeah. And then I had this huge burden, which was Clawhammer. So, a lot of stuff going on. I felt really bad about leaving the business like I did. I gave them as much notice as I could. I worked as hard as I could to get everything done to fulfill all my responsibilities for them. But at the end of the December, I hit the road. Yeah. And I barely made it. I made it, but barely made it.
The way I think about it is you work, you work and work and to build a business. Finally, like in October, I saw this tiny little glimmer. November I was like, “Okay, yeah, there’s the light at the end of the tunnel.” And then like December, I realized, “It’s not the end of the tunnel, it’s the freaking train coming right at me.”
Andrew: Frankly, if you would have disappointed people, then all of these forums that I’m looking into to get some insight into you would have ripped into you so badly that you’d have had to work extra hard to undo it.
Kyle: Yeah. We have a great-I would say we have an excellent reputation and record online. In forums, reviews, we have a pretty flawless record, I guess, on the internet. You can’t get rid of things on the web. That’s something that people understand. Say like your significant other, for example, they ask you, “Why do you have to work 15 hours today?” What I say is, “Because if we screw this up and people start posting stuff online about our business that looks bad for us, we will never be able to get rid of it.” So, you have to constantly keep on top of that stuff.
Andrew: Yeah. We’ll talk a little bit about some of the places where you sell and what that means, but yeah, anywhere. What about this Google Voice thing? You had a Google Voice issue because Google Voice automatically recorded people? What happened?
Kyle: Oh my God, yeah. I probably told April that I think I broke my phone. Do you have that on your notes? I ended up breaking my phone at one point. I was so pissed off because. I still use Google Voice as my business number.
Andrew: I do too.
Kyle: There was a glitch. I switched from Android to iPhone, right? They don’t play well together always. This is one case where there was like this glitch that if you had something set a certain way in the Google Voice settings, Google Voice would just randomly move into this like, “We’re now recording your call mode.” It would make this announcement to both parties on the phone as you’re talking to them. So, I’m in this position where I’m getting like, I’m not kidding, like 30 phone calls a day. I’m getting like 30 phone calls before noon at this point.
Kyle: This was when I still had my day job. So, I’m calling people as I’m brushing my teeth, as I’m getting ready in the morning, as I’m driving to work. I’m calling people when I’m taking a leak. I’m calling people at all hours of the day just to keep up with phone calls and my other responsibilities.
There’s this glitch with Google Voice where it just starts randomly recording my call. If someone’s calling you asking you questions about buying a moonshine still or even a moonshine still kit online that can potentially be used for something illegal, the last thing you want to do is record their phone call. So, this thing would pop up. At first I’m like, “Did they hear that?” And they would say, “Did you hear that?” And I would say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Andrew: Because you’re freaked out at the moment. You don’t know how to respond.
Kyle: Yeah. Additionally, I think, I thought they were recording our call. It just keep doing this. It happened several times. I got so pissed off. I just slammed my phone against my steering wheel as I was driving and totally shattered the screen.
Andrew: That’s why you broke it.
Kyle: Yeah. And then I just Googled it. Of course it was a simple fix. It took like 30 seconds. It’s frustration.
Andrew: It’s funny. I haven’t been able to get my Google Voice to record. I don’t know what I need to press. For you, you had it only record.
Kyle: yeah. I don’t know.
Andrew: Let’s talk quickly more about what you did to get more traffic. We talked about blog posts. We talked about YouTube videos. You also mentioned at the top of the interview that you’re actively recruiting survivalist sites. Mixergy is a place where we can talk openly about how you’re getting business. That’s not happenstance. What do you do to get all these survivalist sites to be aware of you and to write about you and link to you?
Kyle: Yeah. Sure. This is a very recent thing we’ve been doing. What we realized is that a) survivalists are-just to clarify, survivalists, preppers, they’re people who are interested in self-sufficiency. They’re interested in preparation for emergency situations where basic services and utilities that we all take for granted might not be available.
Andrew: So, it’s not just the end of days, but it’s also, “Let’s live on our own if we can.”
Kyle: Yeah. Exactly. Let’s just try and live as self-sufficiently as we can, off-the-grid type stuff. So, what we realized is that those people our interested in our product. We realized that because people would email us and/or call us and tell us that. So, we realized that there was a good match there.
And then I started looking into the kind of sites that exist that cater to these people and the kind of traffic they get and just like my brain exploded. If you get on Alexa-what I did was I just went through and manually typed in survivalist, prepper, etc. and pulled out like the top 20 sites and started plugging them into Alexa. They rank incredibly well. There are tons of sites out there with a ridiculous amount of traffic.
Andrew: I’m looking at one right now. How do you pronounce this sites name-SHTFPreparedness.com?
Kyle: Yeah. I learned this not to long ago. It’s “when the shit hits the fan,” SHTF.
Andrew: Got it. I see. So, ShitHitsTheFanPreparedness.com. They have a lot of traffic and they’re sending you traffic. You’re getting a significant amount of traffic from them.
Kyle: Yeah. So, this was, I think, our first ever targeted campaign where we’re actually trying to get bloggers and people with popular sites, with audiences that would be a good match for our product to write about us. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we just tried our best, I guess.
So, we came up with a list of people. I used Mechanical Turk-I’m sure you’re familiar with that service-to actually-I came up with a list of like 275 sites, uploaded that to Mechanical Turk and said, “I want two things. I want their Alexa ranking and I want the email address of whoever runs the site.”
Andrew: And you would get the email address either from the site or from the “who is” record.
Andrew: Oh, you just leave it up to them.
Kyle: I just left it up to them. I said, “Give me that and make sure it works.” And then we pulled that together and just came up with an email template and say, “Hey, we like what you’re doing. We think your audience would be into our product. Here’s what we do. Let me know if you have any interest in collaborating.” We imported all that information from Mechanical Turk into MailChimp and then sent out a blast to 200-plus people. We got a great response from that, an incredible response. It feels like a cold call.
Andrew: What were you asking them? Were you just telling them “We exist. You might want to write about us,” or was there something else?
Kyle: So, we made the mistake of literally like offering them nothing. There was no upside. We said, “We’ll help you maybe create content for your site. We sell on Amazon. If you’re an Amazon associate, you can link to our product.” But we didn’t really offer them any upside at all. That was the feedback we got from folks, like, “Hey, we see that you want us to promote your product, but what’s in it for us?”
Kyle: So, we got smart after that initial blast and said, “Okay, let’s sweeten the deal.” Anyone who had either responded to us or even opened the email on MailChimp we responded back to and said, “Hey, if you want to write a review about our product, we would be happy to send you one for free.”
Andrew: So, you would send them a free kit if they reviewed it.
Kyle: Yeah. Again, we had the Turkers give us the email address and the Alexa ranking. So, we knew where people were ranking. We were sort of deducing how much traffic they get based on where we rank and how much traffic we got. So, if they had a fair amount of traffic, if they had a decent amount of traffic, yeah, we were absolutely more than willing to send them a free kit for review.
Andrew: It seems like for some people you weren’t even sending a full kit. You were sending them the flavors.
Kyle: Yeah. Some of the folks we sent spice kits to-if they didn’t rank very well, we’d send them maybe a spice kit or just a one-gallon kit. If they had a really high ranking, we’d send them a 10-gallon kit and like all of our accessories.
Andrew: 10-gallon kit meaning they would make it themselves.
Kyle: Correct. Yeah.
Andrew: Yeah. I like that you have a firebomb cinnamon spice. Fireball is the worst. Anyone that can save people from drinking Fireball…
Kyle: I don’t know if it’s just branding or what, but…
Andrew: They’re killing it. As a company, I admire them. I would study them. I respect what they’ve done. But if I go to a house party and somebody has Fireball, I’m disappointed.
Kyle: In 2014, I think, that was the fastest growing brand of any type of alcohol. They just annihilated it.
Andrew: Yeah, crushed everybody.
Kyle: Right. And then we’re thinking, “Shit, we can make something like that and do it better.” So, that was our goal. The funny thing is that it came out at the end of 2014 that they got pulled from the shelves in a number of countries in Europe because there was like propylene glycol or some sort of antifreeze ingredient that was also-it was like a flavor retainer is what they call it. But it exceeded the levels that are allowable by the equivalent of the FDA in certain countries in Europe. So, they got pulled from the shelves.
Ironically, our Firebomb, Fireball knockoff, Firebomb, we literally use like all natural spices and everything that we can buy organic. It’s actually organic, even. I think we even got some traffic due to that.
Andrew: Right, people saying, “If you want some alternative to this, here’s something better. It tastes better and it also is healthier.”
Andrew: You know, we actually, frankly, should be done with the interview. But I’ve got to ask you about something that you told April in the pre-interview. She asked you if you were entrepreneurial growing up. You said, “I had big dreams but I didn’t follow through.” A lot of people are like that.
What changed in you that suddenly got you to not just keep those big dreams, but to follow through even when you had to work out of a garage, even when you were overwhelmed, even when it seemed like this idea wasn’t going to take off, even when you had family obligations, even when you had a job that called you and you could have escaped to-what got you to keep following through?
Kyle: Yeah. Early on, well before I had this business, I had plenty of big dreams. But like I said, as someone who knows nothing about owning their own business and doesn’t have resources like we have now, like programs like Mixergy, you can get all sorts of off-track, wasting your time, spinning your wheels and doing things that you are not qualified to do and you may never figure out.
Like if I was to have to build the site-if I would have actually had to build a site on Dreamweaver and get that thing online running, I probably would not have a business right now because I would not have been able to figure that out. But things like Shopify exist. That helped me jump over that barrier, I guess.
Yeah. I don’t know. As an entrepreneur, I think in some senses you’re just a rare breed, I guess, if you’re an entrepreneur because most of us, I guess-
Andrew: You’re saying it’s innate, that there’s some entrepreneurial part of you that is being expressed. But if it is innate, then you would have had it even as a kid. You would have had it even when you had that paper route that you apparently didn’t follow through on or you sucked at, right? So, it seems like there’s a switch.
Do you feel that once you got started on this that you just were too committed to leave, that once you were rolling-kind of like if someone is not into exercising but they have their exercise clothes on and they’re at the gym then they’re much more likely to continue. So, you already had started a business. You incorporated. You were cutting copper and buying and building a site. So, you just were on the path and you continued. Was that it?
Kyle: Man, I’ll tell you what. Probably the biggest driver for me-you don’t do a good enough job, I think, plugging yourself, self-promoting. You don’t do enough self-promotion sometimes.
Andrew: No, I don’t do enough. I should do more. I’ve seen people that do well that are heavy on that.
Kyle: I’m going to do it for you, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you.
Kyle: So, I’ve listened to a countless number of Mixergy interviews. I had just listened to so many people tell their stories about building their business from scratch and then, at some point, finally making it. Time after time I would think, “You know, I’m not a dumb guy. I’m at least average. I know that I’m at least average at everything else I do. I should be able to figure this out.” You’ve had some incredibly talented, dedicated people on your site. But they haven’t all been rocket scientists, you know?
So, I think that’s great motivation for me, just seeing other people and what they’ve done, having a goal in mind and then just deciding that I’m not going to give up because I can do this. I should be able to do this. I think that’s what has motivated me.
Andrew: I’m noticing that that’s a lot of what people take away from the interviews. It’s often not the specifics like, “How much money did you spend on your AdWords test?” It’s a lot of, “Kyle had this period where nothing was selling. Maybe it doesn’t mean that my idea stinks because no one is buying it. Kyle had someone tell him that he should do things a different way and he didn’t listen. Maybe I should actually be a little more aware of this feedback that I’m getting from people.”
And that is not something that you necessarily are even conscious of and write down because you don’t know it’s going to apply, but it does impact the way we think. I know that that’s one of the reasons why people listen to these interviews. It’s so cool to know that you have been listening, that you built your business. How much revenue are you at now? What did you do 2014?
Kyle: Yeah. I think we just barely missed our $1 million target there.
Andrew: How close did you come?
Kyle: I don’t know. We actually don’t have the numbers finalized for 2014 yet, so I can’t tell you exactly.
Andrew: Who’s doing your books now?
Kyle: Somebody down in Boulder, Oliva Mazal, Bliss Bookkeeping.
Andrew: That’s the name of her company.
Kyle: Bliss Bookkeeping. She’s great. She’s awesome. Don’t go check out her site because I don’t want her to get overwhelmed. She gives me a lot of special attention.
Andrew: That’s one of the challenges of recommending a bookkeeper, that if a bunch of your friends go over because we all need bookkeepers, then that bookkeeper is going to be overwhelmed.
Kyle: It’s Bliss Bookkeeping, Oliva Mazal.
Andrew: I’ll say I use inDinero and one of the reasons I went to them is because they are a company of people who are bookkeepers. I felt that if one of them decided to flake out or something would happen where they got a lot of business, it’s a business. There are lots of people there who do books.
Alright. I want to thank a few people for helping put this interview together, starting with Anne Marie Ward, who followed up with you and helped get this thing along. I mentioned that this interview was produced by April. April Dykman did the pre-interview and put together a bunch of notes. My research on you was from Andrea Schumann, who helped put this together.
When the interview goes up on the site, Arie Desormo will be the one who writes up the headline, gets it in there and when people hit the comment, she’s going to make sure that everyone is responded to or forwarded on to me or that everyone is taken care of when they have issues. I’m really appreciative to Arie for doing that.
And I’m appreciative to you for coming here and doing this interview. Like you said before we started, I asked you, “What’s a win for you?” And you said, “You know, Andrew, a lot of people who come here, do Mixergy interviews maybe out of the goodness of their heart, but also let’s be honest, they have a business that we entrepreneurs can benefit from.”
And you said, “Andrew, there isn’t tons of overlap. It’s not like you’re doing an interview about survivalism or distilling water or any of it.” You said, “I’m coming here just to say I got a lot out of these interviews and I’m going to pay it forward.”
I’m so grateful to you for doing that, for spending all this time. And congratulations on building this business. Clawhammer Supply-incredibly inspiring story.
Kyle: Yeah. Thanks, Andrew. It’s great to be here.
Andrew: Thank you. And thank you all for being a part of Mixergy.