Andrew: Hey, there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I do it for an audience of real entrepreneurs.
As you might have noticed, more and more of the people that I interview have built their businesses while listening to Mixergy interviews. Now they come back and tell their stories of how they did it. It’s something I used to call the circle of Mixergy. I don’t know why I said I used to call it. That’s what it is, the circle of Mixergy. You listen, you learn, you build, and then you come back here and you do an interview about how you did it yourself.
One of the things that I noticed living in San Francisco is there’s a reason why every app is kind of built for the same group because we all seem to be the same. But I also believe that there are fortunes to be made outside of the Silicon Valley mindset about creating apps by 20 to 30-something guys for 20 to 30-something year old guys, that the rest of the world might happen to benefit from. And today’s guest is a great example of that. I’ve heard so much about him for so long. I didn’t think we could get him on. For some reason, I thought we’d have a hard time getting you on here, Trevor. Apparently, all we had to do was ask.
Trevor McKendrick is the founder of La Biblia Reina Valera. It’s a Spanish language Bible app. He did really well with it. I read articles about it over the years. Then he sold the business and he went on to do other things. I invited him here to talk about how he came up with the idea for this, how he got people to download his app, where he got revenue from this app, why he sold and how he found a buyer for his business and what he ended up doing next, which is this really interesting newsletter that you have to subscribe by email to. Trevor, what’s the name of the newsletter?
Trevor: How It Actually Works.
Andrew: How It Actually Works. I was on it. I read it. It’s the kind of thing that when I was a kid, I dreamt of being able to do. I don’t know why I didn’t. I think it’s because it’s a ton of research that you put into it.
All right. This interview is sponsored by two great companies. The first will actually do your financial books right. It’s called Bench. The second will help you hire your next great developer. It’s called Toptal. But I’ll tell you about both those sponsors later. Trevor, first, welcome.
Trevor: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: I was spying on how much revenue you were making, what you sold the company for. At your height, how much were you making annually from the Bible app, the Spanish language Bible app?
Trevor: I think my best year was I want to say $120k, $130k.
Andrew: $120k, $130k. I was trying to figure out what you sold your business for. I have a sense of it. Would you feel comfortable saying what it is?
Trevor: Yeah. In the past, I’ve put out enough numbers so people can figure it out, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it. I know your audience likes details. I sold it for $500,000.
Andrew: That’s what I figured. I saw you did an interview with Built to Sell where you said 5x revenue. The highest revenue I was able to find was $100,000, so $500,000.
Trevor: Yes. Go ahead.
Andrew: No, what were you going to say?
Trevor: And sometimes people—the deal was actually better than it sounds because people don’t realize that I had much more significant costs. People think the $100k, $120k whatever revenue was like straight to the bottom line. We can get into this, but I had significant costs I had to pay.
Andrew: What were your costs involved? I’ll be honest with you. I thought that you hired some cheap developers and the whole thing was you and them. I’ll tell you what, why don’t we get into it throughout this interview? Why don’t we go back a little bit? You told our producer, “I wasn’t super entrepreneurial as a kid. I was an accountant, but I realized that entrepreneurship was the best form of business.” Why as an accountant did you decide this was the best form of business?
Trevor: Being an accountant was just miserable. That was an easy thing to figure out. Being an entrepreneur, freedom is the most important thing to me, being able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I knew that I couldn’t get that in accounting or even at a corporate job. So I started trying a bunch of random stuff trying to figure out something that would work. That’s how I stumbled upon a Bible app.
Andrew: What’s the most random thing that you did?
Trevor: Oh, my god. I did other things in Spanish. I did like Spanish lessons. I did accounting, tutoring. I tried to build an Eventbrite competitor. I have a list of things over the years that I’ve worked on.
Andrew: Was there a formula that you’d gone through to figure it out, or was it just any idea that popped in your head?
Trevor: It depends. The reason the Bible app worked specifically is because I was looking for—I just wanted something that was going to be relatively easy, which is kind of my weakness as an entrepreneur because nothing is easy. But I look for apps in the app store that were making money. Apple just tells you what apps make the most. It’s right there in the App Store, the top grossing.
Andrew: Top grossing.
Trevor: This was back in 2012. I looked for apps that were highly ranked but sucked. So they had bad reviews. They were poorly made. It turned out that Spanish Bible apps fit into that category. You could tell they were not good. The English Bible apps were awesome, and these ones sucked, but they were making good money.
Andrew: From what? Because they were selling people on using them? You had to pay to use them, they weren’t a freemium model?
Trevor: Back then, these were mostly paid apps. The Spanish Bible apps were paid. And people’s preferences can be very different. I lived in Mexico for a couple years. Their taste for design isn’t as important. So you can kind of get away with having a shittier app, to be honest. I think my competitors got away with that for a long time until I came around.
Andrew: I do feel like in the U.S., especially in the tech community, we’re overly sensitive to design, where the rest of the world doesn’t really care that much about it.
Trevor: It really doesn’t. I shouldn’t be even specific to Mexico. I think it’s really a US-focused thing like you said.
Andrew: Yeah. We’re so aware like the details of the iPhone, where the corners are chamfered or shimmied or whatever it is they’re doing. Nobody cares about that. They care that they can make a phone call fast or that they can install apps. I’m so surprised that that was your model. How did you end up with an Eventbrite competitor then?
Trevor: Same thing. I was looking for apps that kind of sucked. I had some friends that were in the ticketing business or the event business, and they had all these complaints about Eventbrite. It’s like it’s obviously a huge market. Maybe I could try something there. That didn’t work out.
Andrew: Why do you think it didn’t? I agree with you. Eventbrite has a lot of excess stuff on it that’s great for Eventbrite but not necessarily great for the person who’s promoting an event. Why do you think it didn’t work out to compete with them?
Trevor: First of all, I didn’t have—I made the mistake that a lot of entrepreneurs make. I was in a room for like six months working on it myself. I’m not a developer, but I can kind of hack stuff together. So I made that. That was that problem. The next problem was they just have network effects in their business, the fact that everyone, both the events and the users already have accounts with Eventbrite—I mean, they’re a beast of a business. That was, frankly, a dumb idea, a dumb thing to take on.
Andrew: I don’t know. The logic of it makes sense in that you don’t have to have the big community of users in order to make it make sense if you have, I don’t know what, x-number of events that are using you for ticketing, that makes enough money and they don’t need other event owners to be on the same platform as they are. It makes sense.
Trevor: Yeah, I mean, in some sense, you can look at any big market. Based on what your ambitions are, you can tear off a little piece of it and live a comfortable life if you’re willing to work at it and find customers. Most of these products, at least almost all software products are like commodities. So if you just built it, then it’s a matter of getting the sales and then the revenue stays for a long time.
Andrew: Okay. So you were trying a bunch of different things. Then you came up with this idea for a Bible app. You used some kind of mockup tool to design it, and then you took the mockup that you made to where to get it built?
Trevor: It would have been Elance then. Now it’s called Upwork. I put the nasty, ugly mockups that I had online. You get inundated with—I didn’t use Toptal like I should have. So I got inundated with a bunch of requests. I ended up interviewing four or five different people on Skype and then picked one that I liked the best.
Like you said, it was $500 for the first one, which was cheap. I’m going to get probably hate mail for hiring for someone for $500 like I have in the past. If you search my name on Reddit, you’ll see people dissing on for hiring a developer so cheap. I paid them the money and he built like 80% of it and then he had he said like a health problem or whatever. I ended up having to finish like the last 10% of it myself.
Andrew: You coded it yourself? You figured out what he wrote. You were able to understand it well enough to add on and complete it.
Trevor: Yeah. I had dabbled in like iPhone development, Xcode development before a little bit. So I actually didn’t fix anything. The application was just incomplete, and I had this list of features he hadn’t finished, so I just went in and literally removed them. I just commented out the stuff he hadn’t finished.
Andrew: Like what?
Trevor: Like being able to share on Facebook, like highlight a passage you like and share it somewhere. That wasn’t working. I was like, “All right, we’re not going to do that for 1.0.”
Andrew: Got it.
Trevor: I had to figure out a couple other things, like uploading it to the app store and whatever, but did that, stayed up until 4:00 in the morning one night and submitted. It was actually a really good feeling, felt awesome.
Andrew: Then you went to church. You were still—did you still believe back then?
Trevor: Yeah. I’m happy to talk about that stuff as much as you want. I don’t know how interesting it is to your audience. But yeah, I was raised Mormon and at this time, I had been married for a couple months and I was still active in the Mormon church and I was still going to church. Yeah.
Andrew: Did you believe in it?
Trevor: Not as much at that point. I was 50/50 at that point. But that had nothing to at that time with my decision to start the app.
Andrew: You weren’t thinking the world needs another Bible. You were thinking, “There’s good money in this. There’s good revenue opportunity. I can make this better than what exists today.”
Trevor: Yeah. And I didn’t think it was going to be that big. It was just supposed to be another side project. My goal, like I’ve written elsewhere, was to pay our $600 rent at the time. So there was no like—people on the outside for all sorts of stories make people seem like their decisions are very methodical and like formulaic and it was like, “Yeah, I had an idea for this thing, but it wasn’t supposed to lead for all of this other stuff that it’s led to.”
Andrew: That’s what I love about your newsletter. You talk about how we expect entrepreneurs to have this big revelation about how they came up with their idea. So they make it up. So the example that you gave was I think it was Reed Hastings from Netflix?
Trevor: Yeah. This is a common thing, but most founding stories of companies are—I call them non-malicious lies. They’re not true. So Reed Hastings for a long time said he got the idea for Netflix because he had some $40 late fee from Blockbuster. That just did not happen. But it’s a very fast and convenient way to tell the narrative for your story, and it’s really easy for the media to run with that and for consumers to get what we were doing. Same thing happened with Uber—Travis Kalanick told the story of being at the web conference with his buddy and wanting to push a button and get a car. That story also didn’t happen.
Andrew: What was the real reason they did it?
Trevor: The real reason was the cofounder, I think his name is Garrett Camp, I want to say, he had been doing research for a year, year and a half about the area of Uber. This is covered in the book—I think it’s called “The Upstarts.” It talks about Airbnb and Uber.
Andrew: By Nick Bilton, is it?
Trevor: I don’t remember the author’s name. It’s the same guy who did “The Everything Store.” I’m not remembering all the details.
Andrew: Brad Stone.
Trevor: There you go.
Andrew: So he did some research and. . .
Trevor: Yeah. The point was it’s always messier. It’s not as planned. Then once Travis saw there might be something there, he was the one that started—I don’t like taking opinions about Uber or anything political. Once it was like a thing, he was the one that was driving it and pushing it and made it happen. The genesis moment is a fiction.
Andrew: I have to say as someone who’s interviewed entrepreneurs, I think they should be better about creating an origin story and accepting that every detail of the story doesn’t have to be included in the origin story. Yes, it’s a very messy process, but find one experience that represents the main point and tell that because forever people are going to ask you, “Where’d you get the idea?” And talk about it in a way that then supports what you’re trying to do.
At the same time, I also know there are some places where you don’t want to tell that story. So that might be VCs who sold businesses and then became venture capitalists are very good about saying in private to the entrepreneurs they back, “Here’s where I came up with the idea.” So it’s like the public-facing story that is clear and simple and sugary for the world that explains it—it’s not a lie, but it’s overly simplified, for sure—and then the private on that you tell or that you tell on Mixergy or you tell on Recode.
The reason is that origin story, not only will people ask about it all the time, it will give them an understanding of what this thing is about and why you’re doing it.
Trevor: Yeah. I made this mistake myself, being more analytics than I should and thinking that people are interested in the details, when if they’re just meeting you or just hearing your story for the first time, you need a better narrative so that you can grab their attention and so they remember you.
Andrew: I would think about you and say, “Was there a time when you were a big believer and you didn’t have a Bible and you were kind of curious about searching?” That’s maybe 10% of the ingredient. Tell that story to everyone except for me. But I love the way that you did that. How much work goes into a newsletter, HowItActuallyWorks.com? How much time do you spend putting that together?
Trevor: Probably 20 hours a week.
Andrew: Yeah. I figured it takes a long time. What the hell are you doing? I know I’m taking away from the main narrative here and I’ve got to get back, but I don’t see that making a lot of money for you. Why are you doing that? It’s fantastic work, but where’s the payoff?
Trevor: Yeah. That’s a fair question. I don’t know yet, to be honest. I’ve tried a handful of things that haven’t gone anywhere or I’ve lost interest in or whatever. The reason I think that happens is I had no interest in any of these things. I’ve been so focused on, “I’ve got to make money. I’ve got to do this to make a profit or whatever.” I’m like, “I have cash in the bank. We’re fine. We live herein Austin. We’re good. I don’t have to worry about that stuff. Let me do something that I’m interested in, that I can personally do better and different than other people that are out there and let that be the driver.”
That’s why this thing. I’m like no, I’ve been doing it for a month and a half now. People like it. I’ve got all sorts of like non-solicited positive feedback. I get to learn about the world in a way that’s interesting to me, but also can be useful to other people. A long answer to your question is like the money will come. If you build an audience, you can sell ads. I can sell courses. I can sell content. I have ideas for how to make money, but I’m not thinking about that exactly right now.
Andrew: But if it’s good, and if it’s—not good, if it’s great and it stands for something meaningful, you think that the revenue will come. I get that. I feel like I’ve wrestled with that issue for Mixergy for a long time, the profit motive versus the excellence motive and sometimes they’re in conflict. I give into one or the other, and it never makes me feel good, neither one.
Trevor: I have a question about that, actually. I saw that you did your bot course. I don’t know if it’s still going on. Is that an example of one of those? To me, it felt—your podcast is very good. I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass. But it’s very good. You get details from people that people don’t tell in other places. Then you come out with this course, but it felt like it came from right field, like this is a trend, maybe this is a way to make some money. I was just kind of curious.
Andrew: The answer is a little bit of both. I always felt that I wanted Mixergy to be about biographical stories that teach something along the way. I find that I learn best from biographies than I do from books that give me the seven ways to do something. So I wanted that. At the same time, I wanted to kind of duplicate what was done on—what was it called at this point? Wow. There was this old CD company that I listened to. I can’t believe at this point I don’t even remember the name of it.
Trevor: CD Baby?
Trevor: CD Baby?
Andrew: No. Even older, like way, way old company. What they used to do was take these real business people, bring them into a studio and tell them how to teach what they’re really good at. If someone was really good at networking, they would get them in there and talk about, “What does your CRM look like? How do you do it?” and make it interesting. I always wanted to do—Nightingale-Conant, that’s what it was called, Nightingale-Conant. I always wanted to do something like that.
So Mixergy was always a combination of the two. The idea for chatbots was just supposed to be one of these topics that we took on and taught. So I did it and for a long time, it was just taught through Mixergy, a long time meaning months. But it made no sense at Mixergy. It took on a life of its own because it was getting bigger and bigger.
At that point, everything was still within my mission at Mixergy. Why did it become its own thing? Partially because it called for it and partially, to be honest with you, yes, I saw there was more revenue there. Partially, I was thinking today I have five interviews. This is one of the toughest days. And I’m sick. I haven’t given myself a chance to recover all year because I’m just go, go, going.
And I thought what happens if I get sick? What happens if I can’t keep going? I always want to do this if I die. What happens if I can’t keep paying my staff? I’m not going out of my savings. I wanted Mixergy to come out of my savings, and then I said no, that is not the right way to run it. It should run out of its own profits. I then said if there are no profits because I’m sick, what do we do? Do we let everyone go? Do we start from scratch after I get back? I realized no, there should be something here.
One of the topics that was especially compelling to me was this productized service topic that Brian Casel talked about. I thought that’s what we could do with Bot Academy. Turn it into its own thing. Start off by teaching, but eventually make it the place where you come to hire our graduates.
That’s a long side—I’m glad that you asked me. In many interviews, I would love an extra five minutes to talk about it because the guest needs a lot more work than you do. In this case, I’m happy to bring it back to you. Does that answer your question, by the way?
Trevor: It does. Yeah. It makes sense that there was an opportunity and it got bigger, so you had to spin it out. That’s cool.
Andrew: I think where there’s a bigger challenge about what we stand for is in the types of guests we have on. Sometimes, I have guests on who are not the kinds of people I would have wanted to have on Mixergy. I do it because it brings in a bigger audience, or I do it because we kind of—I don’t know because I like them or we’re working together on some other thing. That’s a challenge. That’s one of the big ones.
I’ll tell you what, let me take a moment to talk about my sponsor. Now, that I’ve yapped for a bit, I’m going to yap a little bit more. It’s a company called Bench. Who does your bookkeeping?
Trevor: When I had my business, Bench did it. Bench is awesome.
Andrew: You used Bench? Tell me about it. Why Bench and how was it like to use them?
Trevor: As a former accountant, they were awesome. They have great a UI. They take care of everything, but there’s a real human that you can talk to. The reporting is beautiful. It’s easy to use. At the end of the year, you get this beautiful—well, beautiful to me and to accountants—of all of your data and your finances and everything and your tax accountant knows exactly what to do with that. They’re awesome.
Andrew: If you’re a guy who knows how to do your own books, why didn’t you do it yourself? Why didn’t you go get QuickBooks or something?
Trevor: It’s not worth your time. I don’t know what Bench is charging these days, like $100 or something. Especially as like a non-expert, if someone spends even like an hour of time on their books a month, your time is worth at least $100 an hour. Just pay someone else to do it. You’re learning all these things that are not core to your business. That’s a waste of your time, frankly.
Andrew: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Guys, if you want to sign up for Bench and really see the advantage of it, the micro version is $92 a month if you use this URL I’m about to give you guys. It really is so good. They’re giving us something they’re not giving anyone else, which is a free trial, really. Let someone do your books for free. Try it out. See if you like it. If you like it, they’re going to give you another six months at 20% off, and then you can pay their full price, which frankly is so cheap that I hate even asking them for a discount.
But we need the discount in order to lure you to a special URL where they could keep track of how well I’m doing for them as a sponsor, message reader. Go to Bench.co/Mixergy. That’s where you get that discount. But more than discount, you’re going to get really good service and software. They’ll do your books right—Bench.co/Mixergy.
The first day—I’m surprised that you, in many interviews that I’ve read that you did, you told people what you made the first day. How did you know it? How did you remember what the revenue was? Most people don’t remember the first day’s revenue?
Trevor: I remember for a while and then I’ll go back and look it up. It’s just kind of an important emotional number. It’s kind of like it’s this thing with this kind of manage your success. For example, the day I sold the business, I took screenshots of all my numbers and all that kind of stuff. Maybe I’m more emotional than other entrepreneurs. It was like my first thing. I kind of cherished it, maybe.
Andrew: Were you also thinking, “At some point, I’m going to tell this story. At some point, I’m going to teach people what I learned from this and I need this stuff to give credibility and add color to my story?”
Trevor: Yeah. That was a big part of the negotiations in the acquisition. The company that acquired me, they’re a public company called Salem Media. They make acquisitions like the one they did with me all the time. So I had basically no leverage. They gave me like their standard deal. We could negotiate the number a little bit. The standard deal was you could never talk about the acquisition. You can’t even acknowledge that we talked. It was really strict.
So like two weeks, like back and forth on the phone, I had to negotiate literally the ability just to like tell your audience that I had the acquisition and it’s kind of the details there, which was important to me because half a million dollars isn’t that much money. Part of the allure of it was I had a success under my belt and I could tell people about it. That’s an asset. I’m talking to you because of that. That’s worth something too.
Andrew: It’s worth something to me because I think it gives people a sense of what’s possible in this kind of business. I can see what a lot of entrepreneurs would say, “I’d rather not argue for that. The mystery actually could add some mystique, could make people imagine that I got $1 million, $10 million for it. They don’t know.” But an acquisition is big.
Trevor: That’s true. I don’t know. My newsletter talks about how it actually works. I’m too invested in truth, man. I want to know what’s actually going down. That’s like a core value of mine. So I could never exaggerate too much like that. I’m not always going to volunteer what the number is, but I could never exaggerate an inflated amount.
Andrew: So you made some sales. People were buying your app. Then you had the idea to do the audio version, and you invested in a professional recording artist. How did you come up with that idea? What was the model that led you to that?
Trevor: The App Store was trending at the time to in-app purchases. The apps themselves were going to be free. When I launched my app, it was a paid download. It was $0.99. So I was like, “I’ve got to . . .” Especially for an app of the Bible that’s very commodity, I was like, “I have to be free, so how am I going to make money on this?” The easy answer was I could just sell content. The natural thing to do or the really easy upsell was like an audio—people love audiobooks. The perceived value is super high. So you can charge a lot more for it. That’s where the idea came from. I was like, “I’ve got to find an audio recording of the Bible.”
Andrew: Why did you decide to record it when there are so many people who have already recorded the Bible? Couldn’t you go and acquire the rights?
Trevor: No, because the rights are really expensive. In fact, I wouldn’t even know who to talk to to get the rights. My product was good. My app was good. I was still—it was all bootstrapped. I was still in my first year of getting married. I was 26 years old. I didn’t have money to work with. I had to hustle to make this happen. I went and I found—again, it was on Elance. I posted I needed this Bible. I got a bunch of offers. There was only one serious offer and his offer was for $30,000, which to me at the time was like not happening. I was like, “Well, I guess I’m going to figure something else.”
Then I was like, “No, let me talk to him, see what he says.” He was in Peru. I was like, “$30,000, depending on where you are in Peru, that’s a lot of money.” So I talked to him and emailed back, “Would you do it for $7,000?” I just picked the number. I was like, “Yes, as long as you’re okay that it’s going to take longer, that I won’t prioritize you.” I was like, “How long?” He’s like, “Four or five months.” I was like, “That’s totally fine. That’s great.”
Andrew: It is a really long read. I’m thinking about it myself. The Bible is huge.
Trevor: Imagine one guy read out loud the entire Bible twice because I had two different versions of it.
Andrew: What were the two different versions?
Trevor: So there’s a lot of different translations of the Bible. So I used a very popular Christian version and then a popular Catholic version. A fun fact that a lot of people don’t know—nobody knows this but it might be fun—is the most popular translation of the English Bible is owned by Rupert Murdoch and Newscorp.
Andrew: Isn’t that the—what’s it called?
Trevor: The NIV.
Andrew: Oh, that’s the most popular one? It’s not the one that’s the King James version?
Trevor: No. King James is up there and a lot of people use it, but the new international version, NIV, is the best selling, makes the most money, and it’s owned by a deep subsidiary of Newscorp.
Andrew: I had no idea. I wonder why. Why do people care? I guess it feels a little bit more modern than the King James Bible, which feels disconnected.
Trevor: Yeah, King James is very old English and a little harder to read. The newer translations are just modern English.
Andrew: I looked up the version that you had, La Biblia Reina Valera. That was in the 1490s is when they came out with it?
Trevor: The original was in the 1400s and then the one that I used, which is in the public domain, came out in like 1909, I think it is. The reason I picked it was because I could use it for free. I didn’t have to license it like I did some of my other books.
Andrew: So for months you said—were you still charging while you were waiting to switch over to the freemium? You were? You were charging and then you get the recording back. You point it into the app and you turn on freemium, which means free to download the Bible, pay to get the audio version of it. How did that do you financially?
Trevor: My revenue quadrupled overnight. The audiobook was like all systems go. This is what people want. Then that’s when I was like content is a thing that I can sell. Where can I get more content to sell? That’s what led me to—we can talk about this, but led me to talk to various publishers to license their books too.
Andrew: What are some of the next things that you licensed?
Trevor: Books that you wouldn’t recognize, but they’re popular in the Christian world. How do I want to tell this story? Do you want to hear about how I got the licenses? That’s interesting.
Andrew: I’m also curious about what books you picked, because there are tons of books out there. The idea that you would find the right one that you could actually turn into a business is interesting.
Trevor: Yeah. So I would honestly take whatever I could get. I just wanted to be the biggest catalog that I could get of Christian Spanish-translated books.
Andrew: And turn each book into its own app?
Trevor: No. Turn each book into its own in-app purchase inside my app. So you download the app for free, you get the Bible for free. Then you go into my little store and you’re like, “I can get the audiobook of the Bible and I have all these other books I can buy too if I want.” There wasn’t really anything like that in the Spanish markets at the time.
Andrew: At that point, it wasn’t about looking to see what people wanted and couldn’t buy or what they loved, but the version that was digital was bad. It was just, “What can I get my hands on that’s Christian?”
Trevor: Exactly. Part of the reason for that was because—the way I even got those licenses to begin with is I didn’t know anything about this industry. I didn’t even know this was a thing. I figured out that they have a big conference in Miami. I fly down. I’m a 26-year old white guy at a Spanish Christian conference in Miami, which is the Latin American capital of the world.
I had to convince them to license their books to me, which is honestly one of the things I’m most proud of about the whole process because I had to figure out the whole industry. I had to figure out what was interesting to them. I had to sell them on myself. I had to persuade them to trust me. Like I said, to answer your question, I wasn’t looking for any specific book. I was just going to take whatever they were willing to give me. So that’s what I did.
Andrew: Was your deal with them that you would give them a commission on each sale, or did you decide you were going to pay upfront?
Trevor: No. I didn’t want any upfront cost. I wanted it all variable because it was less risky for me. I think for all of them, we did a 50-50 split.
Andrew: Okay. After the 30% they had to give Apple.
Trevor: Yeah. We split the 30% to Apple equally. So it was after the cut.
Andrew: Okay. Wow. You know what occurred to me that I should have asked you earlier is when you were going into the App Store originally to see what was selling high, had high gross but had a lot of complaints, what were some of the complaints you saw about the Spanish Bible that you decided you were going to make better, that you were going to improve in yours?
Trevor: That’s a tough one. It’s been a long time. People would have complaints about the translation. They picked a translation that wasn’t popular. The app—what’s an example of it not working? I know people wanted to highlight stuff. You can use it. If I showed you the app now, you’d be like, “This is a sucky app.”
Andrew: You gave me a screenshot of what it looked like and you put it right—or at least our producer put it over the words not very good for your first version.
Trevor: For my first version, yeah. Even with that, I was able to get some traction and know maybe there might be a little something here.
Andrew: So you’re starting to add more books. Did it work out? People were buying them?
Trevor: Yeah. People bought them. So we were talking earlier about my costs. People see my revenue number and think that’s all mine when in reality, a lot of that was royalty splits with publishers. I don’t remember what the percent was. It’s funny. It didn’t end up actually lifting the net profit very much, but my revenue went up significantly from like $70,000 to $120,000, almost doubled by putting the books in there.
Andrew: I guess that helps you if you’re thinking about selling your business because you sold for a multiple of revenue, not multiple of profit.
Trevor: Yeah. Depending on how they wanted to look at it, I don’t know if they thought of it as profit or revenue. I think they wanted my users. I’m not 100% sure, to be honest. But yeah, getting those licensing deals was—one of the main takeaways that your audience might like is I went in there not knowing anything and I had this complicated way of trying to tell them I needed their stuff, when in reality—I started testing my pitch with them in which I figured out that if I said the words digital distribution, they like understood what I could give them, whereas before, I don’t remember what I was saying, but I was not connecting. Once I figured out their language, it was really easy to communicate with them.
Andrew: It wasn’t more revenue. They were looking for digital distribution?
Trevor: Yeah because this publisher is like super old school. They don’t know what the heck is going on. They’re like, “We’re supposed to be thinking about digital. We’re supposed to be doing this. Here’s someone that can do this and it’s just Spanish. We can just talk to this guy.” Another thing was I go to this conference and it’s a conference basically where all the booths are from publishers and all the attendees are like retailers. The publishers are trying to convince the retailers to distribute their books.
So I go there. I didn’t have a badge. I’m just walking around. Initially, I would go up to people and I would tell them—I would start talking about myself and I would say, “This is what I do.” People would react politely, but the conversations didn’t really go anywhere. So what I changed up and what I did instead, I would go to their booth and I would just peruse around in the booth. I would look at their stuff.
They would come up to me and say, “Can we help you with something? Can we answer any of your questions?” I’m like, “Oh, sure. Tell me about this product or this product.” And they go into detail and they talk about it like, “Oh, great. Thank you.” I say, “Can I tell you a little bit about what I do?” At that point, they’re like, “Sure, you can tell me whatever you want. You just listen to me for five minutes.” That was a way to really get people to listen to me. I needed a lot of information from these people.
You have the people working the floor, but the people I needed to talk to were the licensing managers or the ones that manage the back catalog of all of these assets. So I had to figure out who that person was, whether they were at the event and all that contact info and I couldn’t get that unless I’d already kind of given something up to the person that I was talking to. That’s a cool technique that I think could work in a lot of businesses.
Andrew: Really smart. You know what? It reminds me of Jamie Siminoff, who most recently founded Ring, the doorbell company with the video camera. I guess it’s a security company that started with a doorbell that had a camera in it. One of his previous business he couldn’t afford a booth and he would just go to events and talk to people and promote. I don’t think he was as clever as you are, which is to say, “I want to go and ask them first about what they’re doing,” and when it naturally comes back to me, then I can pitch my own thing.”
Trevor: Yeah. It’s like a magic trick. It worked really well.
Andrew: So one of the things we always ask guests is how did you get more users? How did you get more customers? I know that our producer talked to you about that and you gave an answer that would be so difficult under any other circumstance for me to accept, which is it just came from the App Store. I get it. The App Store was really funneling customers at the time, funneling users at the time. Did you do anything like App Store optimization to get more people to download it? Did you talk about this somewhere?
Trevor: Yeah. So the one thing that I did do was App Store optimization, which is SEO but specifically for the App Store. There’s not a whole lot you can play with, but there’s a couple things. I tested different keywords. I read everything imaginable online to figure out—you get 100 characters, right? Should I do a comma and a space or just a comma? Should I duplicate—if I put in Reina Valera Biblia, should I repeat Biblia later? These are kind of like super in the weeds, but I messed around with a lot of that.
Andrew: The difficulty with the App Store—the same thing happens with iTunes is you can’t A/B test. You can’t tell specifically if anything you did necessarily resulted in more. All you can do is say, “On average, I get this number of users. Today, I got a little bit more. It might be because of that thing that I did yesterday, right?”
Trevor: Yeah. That’s like a painful thing to acknowledge, but it’s totally true. There’s not a lot of A/B testing you can do in the App Store.
Andrew: There was nothing else that you did since then or nothing else you did in addition to it. I don’t see a lot of interviews that you did back then. I don’t see a lot of reporting on it. It could be that I just didn’t find it, but did you?
Trevor: So a lot of people ask this same question and they also ask, “Weren’t you afraid when you were on Fox News that people were going to be mad at you as being the Atheist Bible salesman and not use your app?” And people didn’t realize my customer base speaks Spanish. So whatever you look for, if I had talked to the Spanish audience, you wouldn’t find it because it’s like two totally different demographics.
Andrew: I see that. But this is after, wasn’t it? Your Fox News story came out 2015. What year did you sell?
Trevor: The end of 2015.
Andrew: Okay. This is before. Got it. I didn’t realize that. There’s the headline, “Atheist Raking in Six-Figure Salary for Creating iPhone Bible App.”
Trevor: Yeah. There it is. What’s interesting about that—this also leads into my newsletter—is being able to see the difference between how the media covers something and people’s reaction to it and what actually really happened. To me, that difference is fascinating. That was the first time I’d ever been in it. The media had like the public’s attention. It’s like a laser beam. They can focus it on whatever they want. For a couple of days, they put it on me. It was bizarre.
Seeing people’s reaction, some people were like, “It’s a free market, he can do whatever he wants.” Some people sent me hate mail and made all these assumptions about me and all these different things that were factually incorrect. I knew that obviously because of my story. This was one of the things I like to talk about in the newsletter.
Andrew: I think you even wrote a post about it on your blog I guess a couple years ago. This is “Media Isn’t About Truth.”
Trevor: Yeah. There’s bad incentives that come from advertising, unfortunately. It’s not nefarious, but it’s just kind of what happens.
Andrew: I’ll talk about my second sponsor in relation to what you said earlier. The second sponsor is Toptal. You said that you used Elance, which is now Upwork at the time. Maybe you should have used Toptal. I actually don’t know that that’s true. I know that Toptal is the one that’s paying me. I think when you’re starting out and you’re just trying to make your $600 a month rent, Toptal isn’t for you. You’re going to get two hours of Toptal, maybe three, four hours of developer work. I don’t know what you’re looking for. That doesn’t make sense for you.
Toptal is for after you’ve figured things out and then you say, “I need now to scale it. I need someone who can out-think me on this problem and come up with solutions I couldn’t come up with. Blow my mind a little bit.” Am I right?
Trevor: Yeah. Once I had some money because my initial app wasn’t very good either. So once I had some revenue, I went out and hired a good developer and designer and paid them 10x, much more.
Andrew: I know we’re kind of in an ad, but it’s still relevant here. You said to our producer when you’re paying someone little money, you have to do a lot of management. When you’re paying them more money, they’re smarter and they can figure things out for themselves. Tell me a little bit about that. What kind of micromanaging did you have to do when you were working with someone from Elance and how did this new smarter person make things better for you?
Trevor: When I was with Elance, they implement something, like a button or a piece of text and maybe it’s off-center or it’s the wrong color or every trivial thing I would assume they would do right, you have to manage, versus you hire someone good and I say that you’re paying them to think for you. That’s totally true. Instead of you telling them exactly what to do, they come to you with, “Here’s a problem we need to solve and here are a couple of options. Here are the tradeoffs and which way do you want to go?”
Andrew: I think the better example that I give—not that that’s a bad example, but the example that I give that takes us a little bit away from this to make it clearer is I had a nanny who could not watch videos on her laptop. Most people, if she would have gone to them, would have said, “Okay, use this software. Use QuickTime or install VLC.”
I instead said, “Let me see what’s going on with your laptop.” I didn’t give her what she wanted, which is software that would let her play the video. I realized she went to some website to watch free videos which installed some piece of garbage software that disabled the other videos but only allowed her to watch using this piece of garbage software. That kept causing confusion. The answer was not to install a new piece of software or to recommend that she switch but to understand, “No, all this other software has to go and now here’s how you prevent this from happening again.”
Same thing with smart developers. They’re not going to do exactly what you say. They’re going to understand the problem and outthink you and come up with a better solution. So if you’re out there listening to me and you’re getting started, there are tons of free sites you can go to or inexpensive sites where you can go and hire developers. When you’re ready to hire someone who’s really good, who can outthink you, go to Toptal.
In fact, one of the things that I’ve noticed is many dev shops will actually add to their team from Toptal. So they’ll go out, they’ll get clients, and then when they sell something that they don’t have any specialty on their team for, they say, “No problem,” to the client. The client doesn’t even have to know. They go to Toptal. They say, “I need this team of people who do iOS development or who do chatbot development, whatever.” Toptal gives them those developers and those developers sit as if they’re part of the team, including having an email address on Slack, talking to clients and basically being a member of the team. That’s how good Toptal is.
If you’re using an agency right now, there’s a good chance if they’re a good agency that they’re using Toptal developers. So you might as well do the same. Go to Mixergy listeners only because this is created by two Mixergy listeners. Toptal is built by two Mixergy listeners. So Mixergy listeners are going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. Again, that’s top as in top of your head, tal as in talent, T-O-P-T-A-L, Toptal.com/Mixergy.
Let’s come back to this story. Why did you decide to sell? You were on a roll here. Why sell out?
Trevor: Because for a couple of reasons—there’s the phrase when the hors d’oeuvres are being passed is the time to eat. This company that made the offer, they had the biggest pockets. The offer they made was going to be the biggest offer I was ever going to get. So if I was going to sell, it had to be then. And I knew that it couldn’t be a huge business. The market wasn’t there. I personally wasn’t invested in it. I was just going to hold on to it forever, but when they came along and they made a decent offer, it just made sense and then I can move on.
Andrew: How’d they even find you?
Trevor: From all the media coverage, right? So the initial story was I was on this startup podcast from Gimlet Media. That went well. From there, Business Insider did a post about the podcast and then from there, it just blew up all over the internet. That’s how I got on Fox News and all the other places. So the guy in charge of acquisitions at the acquirer saw that and he reached out to me.
Andrew: I got it. I see. So you weren’t doing press to get downloads. You were just doing press and it happened to lead to this. How did you hook up with the Gimlet people?
Trevor: Optionality. So I follow them on Twitter. I follow Alex Blumberg, the founder, on Twitter. He put out a tweet saying, “Hey, we’re looking for stories from our audience about entrepreneurs.” So I emailed him and I said, “I’m an Atheist Bible salesman. Here’s my two-paragraph story.”
Andrew: That was your line, the Atheist Bible salesman.
Trevor: I knew it was a good story.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s clever.
Trevor: I knew it had a good ring to it. So they emailed me back and we set up an interview.
Andrew: Then you got on the program and that got you all this media attention. You said to our producer if you want to sell at the right price, you need as many options as possible. Were you able to find other people to bid along with them?
Trevor: There were two other offers. One was from a private investor type that was just buying apps and online businesses. We were acquaintances. Once I got the offer, the real offer, I reached out to him and then I reached out to another company called—I think they changed their name, but they’ve been around for like 25 years called Logos Bible Software, Faithlife I think is their new name. They’re like the power Bible study software company.
So their CEO and I follow each other on Twitter. I reached out to him, and we had a couple of conversations about it as well. That ended up being helpful because like I said, I don’t have any leverage at all with the main acquirer. When I could tell them that I was getting offers or having conversations with other people, it helped kind of speed up the process, at least a little bit.
Andrew: You know what? One of the best places I did research on you was the Built to Sell site. Man, John Warrillow has come really far with that business. His whole message is build your business as if you’re going to sell it even if you’re not going to. That means systems. That means creating things that don’t depend on you. I’m wondering how much of that you did. Did you do that at all?
Trevor: I did. It didn’t end up being super helpful. Well, it was a little helpful. I did. I had process for, for example, when we license a new book from a publisher, we had to convert it from their format into ours and get that uploaded. So I had an SOP with written instructions and I had a freelancer that could do that. I had to pay royalties. We had to get the reports and I had a process and hired a developer to automate that. I had development stuff to like speed up the build and upload it quickly and things like that. Some of that did transfer over when I taught them this is how we calculate the royalties and things like that.
Andrew: All right. You sold it. You remember the day when the sale came in. One of the things you remember is you took screenshots of all the numbers so you had them. The other thing you did was you went to your wife and you said what?
Trevor: I don’t know. My wife wasn’t home the day that it closed.
Andrew: Sometimes I tee things up and it makes sense, sometimes I need to be a little clearer. You guys went out of town. You got a burger. You took a picture and then you said, “Let’s go on vacation.” Am I right?
Trevor: I remember the vacation part. What happened, she was out of town the day of the close. It was September 3rd. So that’s why—
Andrew: Oh, she went out. So you went out to In-N-Out burger by yourself. Got it.
Andrew: This is why capitalization helps. It says, “He went to . . .” I see. “He went in to get a burger.” Got it. You went to In-N-Out burger by yourself, that’s how you celebrated. No champagne, no heavy dinner, that’s it?
Trevor: I did one other splurge thing. I went to a concert in Vienna in Austria that I really wanted to go to that was only going to be in Vienna.
Andrew: So you flew to Vienna.
Trevor: This is kind of nerdy, but I like classical music. The concert hall where Beethoven premiered some of his main symphonies, they were playing those same symphonies. So I got to go there and listen to that. It was kind of cool.
Andrew: Where did you guys go on vacation, you and your wife?
Trevor: It was during the acquisition process, the negotiation, we were in Europe for two months.
Andrew: All right. Let me close it out with this. We asked you like we ask a lot of entrepreneurs what book would they recommend. A lot of people give the same book. You gave one that was really interesting. It was the Wright Brothers biography by David McCullough. Why that? I’ve never heard of that one.
Trevor: It’s the best story about a startup that I’ve read, where it talks about what their motivations were and how they had to be so determined and persistent. Yes, they ended up making some good money, but that had nothing to do with why they were in it to begin with. It’s a relatively easy read as far as biographies go and it’s a good one.
Andrew: I freaking love biographies. I feel guilty how much I love biographies because I should be reading more of these books that give me the seven steps to whatever, greatness. “The Wright Brothers,” I’ll get it later. Look at this. The latest app that I’ve been loving—this is something I should be too embarrassed to tell people—it’s Libby. I’ve been with Audible forever. Libby connects to my library. I went to my library once. I got a library card. I put in this app Libby. It is so good.
It’s so good because it gives me unlimited audiobooks and it makes it so simple. Here’s the one that you just recommended. I hit the borrow button and now I get to listen to it. It exposes me to way more books that I was exposed to before. So I got the book that you recommended, good recommendation. If people want to follow up with you, I think the best place for them to go is to go check out your newsletter. Why is it a newsletter? Why can’t I just go to your site and read it?
Trevor: Because it has more value and I have more of your attention if it’s in your inbox. If it’s just a blog post, there’s no sense of urgency. There’s no sense of specialness to it. If it’s in your inbox and it’s the only place you can get it, then you have to refer people to the newsletter if people want to read it. Go ahead.
Andrew: If anyone’s curious, they should go to HowItActuallyWorks.com and click that link underneath, read a previous email here. If you’re not sold on it at that point, it’s not for you. If it is for you, you’re going to click that link and you’re going to love it. My one thing that I would suggest to you is you see all those people who love it underneath it. I have no doubt they’re real because I believe you. I would get permission to use their first and last name. I think it adds so much more weight to say Ken whatever his last name is.
Andrew: Send out an email to them. If you want, we can help you out by contacting them. That’s part of what we do. Anytime someone compliments me, I have someone on the team say, “Can I use your full name? Can I take a screenshot?” I love your story. I’m proud to have you on here. I’m proud that you’re a Mixergy listener. I’m excited that people are getting to hear it. Everyone else, please go check out HowItActuallyWorks.com.
My two sponsors, the first is the company that Trevor actually used. It’s Bench, Bench.co/Mixergy is going to do your books. If you need a great developer, when you’re ready for the right developer or a team of developers, go check out Toptal.com/Mixergy.
Finally, I want to say that a very bad thing happened in the podcasting world. Jordan Harbinger, who used to run the Art of Charm Podcast is not running it anymore. The guy took it to the top of the charts. That’s really hard. Then he’s not with them. I don’t know why exactly. I’m going to have him on here to talk about it. I’ve got to say, he’s a good showman, good podcaster. If you’re done with this and you’re looking for another podcast, I’m throwing him a bone, giving him a free ad here because I want to get him started right.
Go to your podcast app and look for the Jordan Harbinger Show. You’ll see good interviews, well done. He is the kind of person going right to the top. He always does. You’re going to get to watch as he builds up this podcast from nothing. Hit subscribe and follow along. Cool. Thanks so much for doing this, Trevor.
Trevor: Thank you, Andrew. Good talking.
Andrew: Same here.