This lifestyle entrepreneur removed herself from her clothing company by year three

Do you know those sorority and fraternity shirts that college students wear?

How much money do you think an entrepreneur can earn by making and selling them?

You’re about to find out.

Melanie Duncan is the founder of Custom Greek Threads, a Greek clothing company that specializes in customized fraternity and sorority clothing.

She also runs the online edge academy which helps you create in integrated online marketing plan, which includes social media, SEO, and other approaches.

Melanie Duncan

Melanie Duncan

Custom Greeks Threads

Melanie Duncan is the founder of Custom Greeks Threads, a Greek clothing company that specializes in customized fraternity and sorority clothing.



Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there Freedom Fighters, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of, well, this site right here, home of the ambitious upstart. Do you know those fraternity and sorority shirts that college students often wear? How much money and how much work do you think it takes to build a business like that? And when you do how much do you think you can make by creating and selling these shirts? We’re going to find out about that today.

Melanie Duncan is the founder of Custom Greek Threads, a Greek clothing company that well as its name says specializing in customized fraternity and sorority clothing. She also runs Online Edge Academy which helps you create an integrated online marketing plan which includes social media, SEO, and other approaches.

I invited her here to tell her story and Scott Walker, or Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law sponsored it, but I’ll tell you more about him and why is the place to go if you need a lawyer and you’re an entrepreneur. First Melanie, welcome.

Melanie: Thank you so much for having me, Andrew. I love being a part of this show.

Andrew: Thank you. Hey, I wouldn’t have thought that there was a business in this. I assumed you got into this because you were in a sorority and maybe you had trouble finding shirts. Is that true?

Melanie: It is entirely false, and I think that’s one of the biggest shockers when people hear about what I do online is that I never was actually in a sorority.

Andrew: Never in a sorority. What was college life like for you?

Melanie: College life for me was actually pretty different than the typical college student. My husband and I started our first business together. He was my boyfriend back then but we started our first business together my sophomore year of college. And so instead of a lot of parties and staying out late, a lot of my college experience was actually spent working in a warehouse which was very different. I went to Chapman University, which is a very privileged school in Orange County, California. So a funny experience for me but it definitely paid off.

Andrew: What kind of privileged background did you have? Or what kind of background did you have before college?

Melanie: Definitely not an Orange County one. I’m from Northwest. Both of my parents very typical nine to five types of jobs, not entrepreneurial at all. I never in thought I was interested in business. I was a psychology major in school and it wasn’t until meeting my husband who has a very entrepreneurial background that I realized this was going to be the way for me, moving forward for the rest of my future. But my background was just very typical you know nine to five parents, didn’t really know anyone entrepreneurial and definitely a lot different from my life now.

Andrew: You know what? There’s something that I noticed about you. We’ve seen each other in person. I’ve seen you on camera. I’ve seen you online. You have an elegance about you. All the details, like the flowers that are over your shoulder there really beautifully done and they don’t look like you obviously went to the supermarket to pick them up. The art on your wall. The ways the books are categorized. The way you dress. The way you carry yourself. And I haven’t met your husband but from what I’ve seen online, the same thing.

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: Where does that come from?

Melanie: Well that’s a great question. I think that style is something you really either appreciate or it’s something you just don’t place a lot of value on.

Andrew: I appreciate and place a lot of value on it I’m confused about it. I don’t how to do it. I wouldn’t know how to begin.

Melanie: Right.

Andrew: So where did you get yours?

Melanie: It’s a very overwhelming process because I’ve always been very interested in fashion and home design and you know, online design and web design somethings that I really do a lot with our brands now. Not necessarily Custom Greek Threads but moving forward with more of a personal brand. I think it just comes with training your eye.

I think that if you appreciate beauty and visual things it translates into different areas and I know it’s kind of cliche but I travel a lot. I’m actually living in Paris this summer, I just came back from spending ten days there. And I think every time I travel abroad and living in New York City, having very stylish life, a lot of my friends work in the fashion or home decor industries here so I think it just rubs off on you.

Andrew: What about in high school? In high school I remember I thought that khakis were going to be the way to dress elegantly and so I bought khakis and they were ballooned out on the bottom and I would wear these button down shirts that were way too tight for the balloon pant. It was very much like MC Hammer. But I tried and it didn’t work. In high school were you the same person? Were you this put together?

Melanie: You know it’s funny I actually was. I’ve always been very interested in personal presentation. Like I said, I grew up in Portland, Oregon which is, do you know it has its own kind of subculture? But I remember I took a lot of advance classes, all the girls would try to dress down, not wear any makeup like we’re really into the material and not being worried about their appearances and I would come in every day with my hair curled and I was always in a skirt or dress. So it’s always been a part of me. I’m not sure where that comes from, probably a little bit from my mom. But even in Portland, Oregon, this is what you got.

Andrew: So then what was this warehouse job that you had? I can’t imagine you working in a warehouse.

Melanie: Yes [laughs]. Well, you know, everyone’s got to have a startup story as an entrepreneur.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: So when we started Custom Greek Threads, very bootstrapped operation, no outside funding. And so when my husband and I did the marketing, the production, the customer service. I mean, I’m sure a lot of solo-preneurs out there are listening where you kind of do everything necessary to get that business off the ground.

Andrew: I see. So this is for Custom Greek Threads.

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: Oh, the business that you had before, that had nothing to do with the warehouse. What was that?

Melanie: Which business? Before in college?

Andrew: Yeah. I thought you said you started a startup in college together. Was it Custom Greek Threads? Or was there a previous one?

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: It was.

Melanie: The first one that we did together was Custom Greek Threads.

Andrew: Oh I see. So while everyone else is partying, you’re saying, “How do I make money off of these people?”

Melanie: [laughs]

Andrew: That’s the way I was.

Melanie: Well, what’s funny is my husband’s sister was in a sorority.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: And she came home one summer. We were hanging out at his family’s house, and she just bought this sweatshirt for her little… and they get assigned a little… I’m still learning all the logistics six years later. But anyway she just got this sweatshirt, and I remember it was rhinestone encrusted. It had their nickname on the bottom. And it had some cool Gucci fabric letters, just very over the top. We asked her. It was still a guild [sp], a very Champion generic sweatshirt. How much did you pay for that? She told us it was $150 for a sweatshirt.

Andrew: Wow!

Melanie: And we both looked at her, and she was thrilled, like she didn’t feel ripped off. It was the best $150 she ever spent. And we looked at each other and went, “Okay. There’s no way that there isn’t an amazing mark-up here and also we were talking with her about getting the sweatshirt. And she voiced a lot of pain and frustration because no one on campus offered it. A lot of the freshmen and sophomores even didn’t have cars on campus.

And so they would have to find a ride, drive 10-15 minutes away from campus, find some little mom-and-pop quilt shop, order the fabric online themselves because the girls wanted very custom, certain fabrics. This sweatshirt really signified a lot in terms of the organization.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: So a lot of time and effort, a lot of dedication. We thought there’s got to be a way to streamline this process. This was back six years ago, so in the early 2000s before there was the abundance of websites there are now. So we had this brilliant idea to be really one of the first major Greek suppliers online.

Andrew: You know, I hadn’t thought of it, but you’re right. It’s not just letters that are stitched on there. Even looking at your website right now, it’s letters with an interesting pattern. I see. They all want to pick their own. I see. So then is the first idea to just design it for them, sorry, or to let them design it, to have it made up locally and then ship online? How did you start?

Melanie: Well, it’s interesting that we segued into the whole fashion conversation earlier on because I remember looking at the current Greek offerings because as soon as we were interested we would look some others. We would see if we could find anything online. We actually went to the local quilt shop where people were buying these Greek sweatshirts, and the quality of the garments were terrible. I mean, just, you know… These were cute college girls. Everything else they wear looked so cute on them, and they really loved fashion.

And then they’re buying these sweatshirts, you know, middle-aged men wear. Nothing against middle-aged men, but I thought, you know, there’s got to be a way that we could include the fun and the fashion and the expression that these people normally put into their clothing choices and combine that with having their Greek letters.

Andrew: Gotcha.

Melanie: And we were actually, I think, I mean, don’t put me on the record, but we were actually the first Greek organization to work with American Apparel and get all of their sweatshirts and t-shirts back when… They’re popular but really when they were up and coming. We started to use them for distribution. Our warehouse is actually in Garden Grove which is just a little bit south of L. A.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: And as most people know our American Apparel is in L. A. So we decided we didn’t want to have to deal with inventory or stock or anything like that. So we would have shipments from American Apparel every two days based upon what had been ordered the past two days on our site. We never had an excess of inventory, and we only paid for the goods once we already received payment from the customers.

Andrew: Alright. But when you got started, was it with a website in a warehouse? No, it was simpler than that, wasn’t it?

Melanie: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Andrew: What was that?

Melanie: So the way we got started, we had a website. I mean, we didn’t pay a programmer or do anything special. It was terrible. I think we always started with Volusion which is an eCommerce site where you kind of . . . they have the whole back end inventory for you.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: We had to lease a machine, an embroidery machine because we did all this research about the type of machine we would need and not to bore everyone with too many stats about embroidery but most machines are huge multi-head machines which means they can run 50 new Dodgers hats or they can run a ton of the same quantity.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: But we wanted something that could create a Delta Gamma sweatshirt and still be creating a pike sweatshirt for this person and do different ones at the same time.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: So we found this one machine that would do that but it was super expensive. We didn’t have the cash up front so we had to lease it and we actually leased that machine and put it in our garage.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: So, we ran it out of our garage and we had a website but we struggled significantly for about the first I would say eight months to a year because even though we were using a website as our ordering platform . . .

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: . . . we were not marketing online at all. I mean, not at all but we were [inaudible 00:01:11].

Andrew: So, where did you get your customers then?

Melanie: We would do a couple of things. We would go door to door. We would cold call. Try to find the national organization’s leader of Delta Gamma or Alpha Phi, something like that and our other main strategy at that time was we would travel around the country to the big Greek conferences. So, Delta Gamma would have a national conference in Dallas and we would pay a couple thousand dollars to have a booth there to set up our products and pass out brochures, but that was really expensive particularly for at that time when we did not have a lot of sales coming in.

You think of being an exhibitor so that up-front cost then the travel to fly my husband and I. We had partners at that time to fly them out to where ever they had to go, rent a car, hotel. Within a few months we were about $40,000 in debt from incurring all those expenses and seeing very little ROI from those conferences.

Andrew: Let me understand even going back further. The very first customers before you even though to go to those shows, before you had the money to go to those shows. How did you get the first customers?

Melanie: Just on campus. We started on our own campus.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: We reached out to, you know, like I said. My husband’s sister was in a sorority. One of our original partners was in Greek life.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: So, he would try to get people in his chapter to order from us, but it was a long process. It started with just word of mouth.

Andrew: What about this? When you’re in college, the way people think of you is a big deal and here you are hocking shirts door to door to sororities and fraternities, some of the most intimidating groups of people on college. Was there any intimidation from you?

Melanie: I don’t think so. No.

Andrew: I mean, you didn’t feel intimidated. You didn’t feel like, oh, these people are going to judge me. They’re not going to be . . . they’re not going to like me, they’re not going to want to do this, none of that?

Melanie: No.

Andrew: No. Why don’t you have that where I know that there’s some people when I bring this up say, oh, Andrew is just so sensitive. But I know from talking to entrepreneurs they’ll come up with an idea, they won’t talk to people. They’ll come up with an idea, they won’t try to sell it because selling’s embarrassing. Selling is too tough because they’ll procrastinate because they have to go and do this and go do that. Why didn’t you have all those obstacles where most people would?

Melanie: You know like, that’s a great question. I think I have an answer to it.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: My entire high school career whatever you call it, the time I was in high school.

Andrew: Yeah.

Melanie: I worked in retail at Nordstrom.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: My first job, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: Online at least. My first job was to be one of those people that has the little sticks of paper and sprays perfume on it . . .

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: . . . and tries to get people that are walking by in a mall to take it.

Andrew: Yeah.

Melanie: Even to this day, those people still bother me. When I go to Bloomingdale’s here in New York I’m always going around the perimeter of the cosmetic section so I don’t get bombarded, but when I was about gosh, 16 or 17 years old that was my first job.

Andrew: I see.

Melanie: So, I was used to having people snub me, ignore me, be irritated by me and then transitioning until I worked in sale or in cosmetics and also in fragrances for four years.

Andrew: I see.

Melanie: So, I sold very much face to face and I think that, that broke down a lot of barriers for me.

Andrew: My dad used to have me hand out flyers for his store and I hated it because no one wants a flyer on the street.

Melanie: Right.

Andrew: But I learned that if I looked someone in the eye and hand it to them then they can’t say no. It’s just there’s eye contact and they take it even if they’re going to throw it out later. Did you learn anything like that about how to get someone to feel comfortable with the spray with the sample that you maybe remember to this day?

Melanie: I’m sure there are tons of things. It’s been quite a few years since I did it, but I think it for me more so than learning any strategies that were particularly effective I’m sure there were certain things I said or ways that I got people to engage. But for me it was more so getting told “No” a million times or having people ignore me. And learning to not let it bother me. Not to take it personally. Not to let it put me in a bad mood. It was just part of it. The people that weren’t interested were not going to be interested. And it didn’t have to be a terrible experience. It was my job for the day.

Andrew: How much did you earn your first month? Do you remember?

Melanie: You know, it paid really well, surprisingly. I don’t remember what I earned the first month because I was hourly, since I was in school. But I remember it started out at $16 an hour and I did it more, I think some companies paid me around $25 an hour. So, in high school, people could tell [??] all day long, I was still making three times what my friends were making at their jobs.

Andrew: What did you do with your money back then? How did you spend it or save it?

Melanie: I saved it. I saved a lot of it. I bought a car, of course. High school, what’s the ultimate thing? I bought a car, I visited friends, traveled. But I saved a lot of that money.

Andrew: So, the money with Custom Greek Threads, what was the first month there?

Melanie: The first month in sales? Oh, gosh. It was tiny. I can’t even remember what the first month in sales was. But I know that we were spending a lot more than we were currently making.

And I remember our first big order, our first group order, I think it was 20 or 30 sweatshirts for this chapter down in San Diego. We were so excited. But we were still doing the manufacturing. These sweatshirts weren’t being sent to some artisan, we were doing them ourselves. So, embroidery is a learned skill.

So, they weren’t very good quality. And it took us so long. We ruined the whole first batch, had to do it over again. And it was so close to what they needed them for, we drove them personally down to San Diego to deliver them. But there were mistakes and I think we ended up refunding the whole entire order. So, sales were very low. I mean, less than $1,000 the first month.

Andrew: Okay, all right. So, actually, I have that in my research. $1,000 within the first month. And I thought “This is fantastic. They’re actually taking off. They’ve got customers.” But you’re right. When you put in all that, $1,000 is not that much. First year, did you continue to do word of mouth, knocking on doors and personal sales? Or is that when you started to get those shows?

Melanie: I think the first year, we were doing the annual conferences. We were doing campus visits just around southern California, there’s a lot of schools. And we were trying cold calling, that wasn’t working out very well.

So that was for about a year. And at about a year’s point is when we had two other original partners. And they left. They said “This is not working. This isn’t any fun.” The glamour of a business idea tends to fade away when you’re not making money six, seven, eight months.

We actually moved the business to Dallas, because one of our partners was going to manage it out of there. “We want it to be centrally located by UPS in Texas.” And here’s the four of us.

We then had a warehouse, that was a big step up. But in a warehouse with no air conditioning. In Dallas, Texas in the summertime, truly a sweatshop. And they just kind of said “Hey. This isn’t for us. All of our friends have graduated, got these fancy jobs, are making money.”

And here we are still not making any money. We weren’t paying for ourselves for I think at least two years in the business, we couldn’t even pay ourselves. And we decided to take on the debt of the lease of the machine, the debt incurred from all of these failed marketing attempts.

And that year was the turning point when we, at the last-ditch effort, we found a guy to do SEO for our site. And that literally changed everything. Within about a month, we started getting orders from across the country. And realized, had that big epiphany of “Oh, my gosh. We’ve been doing this totally backwards,” and started looking into everything online advertising. Google AdWords, social media and never looked back.

Andrew: How much money did you pay this guy?

Melanie: I think it was $500. Which was a lot of money at the time. But still, compared to what we were throwing in other directions, it was definitely a great price.

Andrew: When you started, was the site called CustomGreekThreads?

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: It was? And you had at the time?

Melanie: Yes.

Melanie: Okay, so it was always that. Do you remember what this guy did for a few hundred bucks that got so much traffic?

Andrew: You know, I think it was honestly, probably the bare minimum SEO. I’m sure he put in some meta tags, did some back-linking. Because we had nothing like that set up. I don’t think it was any wizardry. I think he just went in and actually made sure that we had the foundation.

And at that point, too, six years ago, there wasn’t the competition for ranking. Particularly in our marketplace. I think we had one other competitor that even had an online ordering portal. So you know, getting ranked for certain keywords was not as difficult as it is today.

Andrew: And I see you get traffic today from phrases like Greek threads, Greek sweat shirts, Greek letter generator, custom Greek. So you guys have gotten better and better at it. You know what, let me take a moment here just to acknowledge Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law, my sponsor and the entrepreneur’s lawyer. But instead of doing a full plug for him, maybe I can ask you. How did you incorporate your company and why did you decide to do that?

Melanie: Oh holy moly, Andrew, seriously?

Andrew: What happened?

Melanie: Not ready. Slap. No. How did we decide, you mean like the type of business we filed and all that?

Andrew: Yeah, were you an LLC? Were you a corporation? How did you decide to do it?

Melanie: Well, we are an LLC and I cannot take any credit. My husband is the one that found out, read all of the books and figured out how to file, what to do, that sort of thing. And I’m sure it’s been updated and corrected as we’ve learned and figured out what we did right the first time and what we did wrong the other time. But I think we’ve always been an LLC. We’ve made some recent decisions to switch things around as our other businesses have kind of grown and changed. But I’m definitely not the authority on that stuff.

Andrew: Okay. Do you have any legal advice? Is it just marry someone who’s going to run it for you?

Melanie: That’s not legal advice. That’s life advice.

Andrew: I’m going to give everyone life advice. Thank you, Scott Edward Walker for doing this ad and for helping me recommend that people marry someone who can handle all that for them. Actually, you and your husband have a really interesting breakdown. What is the breakdown in responsibilities?

Melanie: Oh we, I think the secret to our success and we get asked this all the time. How do you guys work together and live together and you know, do all of that and still enjoy each other. Very clear separation of roles. That’s key.

Andrew: That’s what I see. That there’s certain questions, even in private that I’ll ask you and you say, no, that is his responsibility. You should ask him.

Melanie: Well, the only time we ever argue is when we try to collaborate too closely.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: I do all of our copy writing and all of our content creation. Whenever he tries to weigh in or challenges me on something, even if it’s valid, I get a little defensive. My husband is definitely the tech guy. He is incredibly crazy good at like Infusion Soft. He doesn’t program or code web sites or anything like that. He handles our programmers and he knows a little bit about all that just to be able to be efficient with it.

My forte is definitely in content creation and teaching and branding. I do most of our site design. We work together on it for functionality, but I’m very involved in the look and the feel and the experience. All the brand touch points of all of our businesses, all the visual marketing. Custom Greek Threads isn’t the perfect example of it because I did all of the visual merchandising for that several years ago when I lived in California.

We had to have models for the clothing on the web site. But the tricky thing is about Greek apparel, you can’t have the same girl wearing Delta Gamma and Alpha Phi letters on the same site.

Andrew: Oh really.

Melanie: Yes, I learned this the hard way because I brought in some you know, cute California beach girl, put all of our stuff on her and we got floods of hate mail. People saying you’re only allowed to wear the letters after you’ve been initiated. So that, you know we have hundreds of sororities and fraternities. I had to go and find if I wanted to show an Alpha Phi sweatshirt, find a new model, a new girl, shoot that on her that day.

I actually went on, I think it’s called Model Mayhem. I don’t even know if it still exists. I would find just different models and bring them in and shoot everything Alpha Phi on one girl, the tote bag, the shirt and the pants. That was an entire process just getting that up on the site.

Andrew: What about the design? I’m looking at the first version of the site. It’s very blue, gray, black. Those are the three main colors. It doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as your current site.

Melanie: Right.

Andrew: Everything that you do right now just has such a cool style to it. Was there any hesitation at the time about launching it when you couldn’t get the design right? When you couldn’t get it the way that you like?

Melanie: I’m so glad you asked that. No. And that is one of the biggest things. I think people wait so long for it to be perfect and I wish I had a rendering of the first Custom Greek Threads site because you would just laugh so hard. I mean, It was probably the most visually offensive web site you’ve ever seen. You’ve got to get stuff out there and learn and shape and grow and Custom Greek Threads in particular is very conversion optimized, so we do a lot of split testing on it. It’s very much so about what is the most effective way for people.

There are so many options. If you go on the website you have dozens of sweatshirts to choose from whether you want to have a hoodie, or a zip up, or American Apparel, or a certain brand. You have all of that to start with. But, then when you sell custom goods we have literally hundreds of options from the thread colors, to the stitch types, to the fabric, to the extra text.

That site has to be really, really functional and…

Andrew: So, how did you do it at first?

Melanie: …[??]…

Andrew: When Devin’s not the technical guy. When you’re using…

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: …a platform that already exists.

Melanie: Yeah. A lot of duct tape. You try to do the best you can do, and just constantly be learning and constantly refining and tweaking. That’s something that we would always just get something out there, see what are the most common questions. We did a lot of heat mapping and saw where are people clicking or where are they confused. The ClickTale, you can actually… We would watch people on the customization page and see…

Andrew: ClickTale allows you to watch their mouse as…

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: …it moves across the screen.

Melanie: Yeah. We would watch people on the customization pages and see where are they leaving, where are they spending the most time, and what are they getting confused about.

That’s where a lot of design came from. It’s not just what looks really good. That’s important, but more importantly is are they able to navigate the site, place the orders correctly, and understand it’s going to take two weeks because it is custom. That’s where a lot of the functionality… But, that has all been shaped and tweaked over six years.

Andrew: Here’s what I see in one of the original sites. It was just a series of drop down menus. First drop down menu is size. Second drop down menu is color. You see the colors at the top. Then, from the drop down menu you select the color that you want.

Then, the next set of drop downs offer the letters. Letter number one, alpha, beta, gamma, delta, et cetera. Letter number two, and you select that from a drop down menu. Then, the thread, you get to select that. I can see how you’ve made it… Then, a final box that says additional instructions.

I can see how you’ve simplified things and made them look prettier. So, you’re saying no hesitation. Even though you’re someone who would not dress as comfortably as possible to school if it meant that you didn’t look good, when it came to your website you were going to launch what you needed to.

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: Absolutely. I’m a big believer in that. I know everyone has their own opinions about it. For us, I think we had so much to learn. So much of what you need to learn comes from the feedback you receive from the market and from your audience. If you don’t put it out there, particularly if you spend too much time internally thinking about it…

I think a lot of people have it wrong, I think they spend too much time thinking about what do I want to create, what do I want it to look like, and what do I want to offer. Every company that we’ve had be really successful it’s because it’s been all about the customer and all about the audience.

Andrew: All right. First set of customers came from knocking door to door talking, to friends, et cetera. Second set of customers came from going to shows, talking to the big events. Finally, you hit on SEO and the Internet was your source of customers.

We can see how you kept improving by using programs like ClickTale to see where people were navigating on your site, what made them leave, et cetera. What about, then, creating the product? Was it still out of a garage? For how long?

Melanie: It was out of the garage for about a year until we moved the warehouse in Texas, or I think we leased part of a shop. So, someone else had an apparel company. We leased, like, a couple of square feet and had our operation there. Then, in Texas we had maybe like a 2,000 square foot warehouse. It was just so cheap there. When we came back we leased a little bit of space again.

The actual production was pretty streamlined because we didn’t make any of the garments. Like I said, we have wholesale accounts with American Apparel, or Alpha Shirt is who we use now who carries a bunch of just generic brands. We didn’t have to make the garments. We were just doing all of the decoration and customization on them.

Andrew: Okay. What is the place, 600 South Grand Avenue? What happened there?

Melanie: Yes. That was one of our first offices. We moved a lot.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: The first year we came back and we started scaling them we moved around. I think every six months we moved to a new, bigger warehouse because we had to buy more and more machines. We had to bring a seamstress in to do… We would line the hoodies with different things. We started a line of tote bags that we were making custom. That was one of our first offices.

Andrew: I heard your interview with Shane Mularkey where you told him that you had this alarm that said Ka-ching every time you made a sale for a while there.

Melanie: Yes. That was on my husband Devin’s computer. It was a notification that would let us know when a sale was placed.

Andrew: One of the reasons why he wanted to talk to you is to find out how you extricated yourself from the business and allowed it to run on its own so that you can do some of the other businesses that you’ve launched. What made you decide to do that? I want to understand also more specifically how you did it because this is not an easy business to outsource. You can’t just send it away to the Philippines the way someone might when it’s all digital. You have to have someone actually make the product, talk to the customers, etc. So, what made you decide, hey, you know what? I got to pull myself out.

Melanie: Well, we started that business knowing from the very beginning that was not going to be our career for the rest of our lives.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: I was maybe 21, 22 years old and I knew that my life wasn’t going to be making grape sweatshirts. So, I think that we were actually very blessed to start a business that we weren’t particularly passionate about.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: We didn’t start Custom Greek Threads because we love sororities. We do, we love them, they’re our customers, but I think a lot of people start businesses that are passion projects which can be very wonderful and very advantageous but we started a business that we really didn’t have any interest in being a part of.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: We really just started it to create it to learn a lot about business, to learn a lot about online marketing and so everything we did in that business it was with kind of an exit strategy not a typical silicon valley exit strategy but knowing that we didn’t want to be employees of this business. We wanted to get the right people in the right roles and then move on to our next adventure.

Andrew: So you’re saying from the beginning it always with that in mind. Can you give me an example of something that you did early on that would set you up to leave it later?

Melanie: I think it’s purely mind set. Early on we were doing everything. It wasn’t like we said, oh, I don’t want to learn how to make the sweatshirts because I’m not going to do that. We did everything in the business which was very helpful when we had to teach and hire and pay people because we knew how long it really should take and what it was worth skill wise, but I think it was just the mindset of knowing that we weren’t going to be there forever, not getting too attached . . .

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: . . . and also making sure that when we hired, we were hiring for long term. These were people that we wanted to be able to work remotely across the country from and trust them and get them to really understand the way that we work through problems and the way that we wanted them to keep the company culture.

Andrew: Okay. You went to Europe. You were traveling around and that helped you really solidify your plans as I understand it again coming from Shane Malarkey, mutual friend of ours. That helped you solidify your plan. What happened in Europe exactly?

Melanie: Well, Europe was actually our honeymoon.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: So, we got married and we took a three month honeymoon. So, we started out. I think we started out in Italy and we did Venice and Florence and Lake Como then did a bunch of areas in France and then came back to New York for about a month and a half. Our dream was to live in New York City, but we realized . . . we tried to rent it remotely. We realized there were still certain things that weren’t optimized that weren’t working correctly.

Andrew: But you tried to run the business on your honeymoon?

Melanie: Well, it was during the summer.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: Which for Custom Greek Threads is a much slower time.

Andrew: All right.

Melanie: We’re very busy in the fall and the spring. So, summer is really a skeleton crew anyways and so we brought those people in to make sure that we were at least maintaining keeping the basics going and we did a little bit of working in developments. We first started Facebook ads. We started Facebook ads for the first time. We were in a park in Paris which is pretty funny and then came back after that honeymoon realizing we liked the freedom, we wanted to move to the East Coast and spent that next year really focusing on how we could get the right people trained so that we could be completely absent from it.

Andrew: I see and what did you need to do in order to get there. I find that it’s much harder than it seems.

Melanie: To actually get to work remotely?

Andrew: To a place where the business runs without you. It seems so easy when you talk to people where they say, oh, just hire people.

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: But it’s never that easy. What did you do?

Melanie: Oh, yeah, employees to this day, employees or people are the hardest part of any business.

Andrew: Yes.

Melanie: They’re just the most wonderful and also the most challenging and for us, you know, bringing the right people in, that could be a whole other Mixergy interview. I’ve got some good stories, but it’s just trial and error. I think the number one thing for us is that we always hire for character and not for skills. We would try to bring someone in who is going to be really good at manufacturing or really good at customer service.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: We would run into issues with their attitude, with their loyalty, just with their general ability to kind of fit into the workplace and so we stopped that and hired people that were great to be around, that really wanted to learn that were super loyal, had positive attitudes and we taught them the skills that they needed and that’s what we focused on for every role. Just finding the right people and training to do the things we needed them to do.

Andrew: I see. Alright so it is more about the process than it is even about the person you bring on. A good process can take someone who’s inexperienced and make them good at it.

Melanie: Absolutely.

Andrew: So how do you process your business? How do you create a process for say coming up with Facebook ads, for discovering that Facebook is a new platform that you should be on? Or for keeping someone engaged in sewing without creating, what did we say earlier, a sweat shop?

Melanie: Yeah and that’s something we’re really working right now is making it fun. I mean we have a big crew sometimes it’s around 40 people during our busy seasons that are creating, we have a night crew and a day crew that are literally spending eight hours on their feet running embroidery machines which can get very monotonous.

Andrew: Yeah.

Melanie: And so right now we’re implementing some fun things. The majority of our staff in the warehouse, they’re male. So they’re in between the ages of 21 to maybe 30. It’s a pretty young group of guys and so we play a lot with competition. And we do competitions between the two shifts in terms of how many orders they get out, making sure they don’t get any damages which means even if they’re getting a lot of orders out if they’re not done to a level of quality it doesn’t make it valuable to us.

So we do a lot where they get certain prizes or monetary incentives for being really effective and collaborating. You know some guys are really good at maybe the extra texts and other guys are really good at actually hooping the garments where the embroidery hoops have to be pushed on to them.

Andrew: see.

Melanie: So we highlight what they’re good at, make them work together, then they’re all incentivized to make sure that they’re staying really productive. And it creates kind of a fun energy of competition.

Andrew: Oh man, that is so much work. You’re right I forgot that shirts needs to be hooped. And somebody actually needs to make each one individually.

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: I’m looking at your site right now, earlier I talked about the order process what it used to be and there was a drop down menu for the first letter and second et cetera, et cetera that still exists but I see now foreground color. People can pick the foreground color of their letters. People can pick the background color. You have to explain to them which background and which foreground on the image to make sure they don’t make mistakes.

Melanie: Yup.

Andrew Warner: You have to let them pick the stitch and type. Zig zag versus satin.

Melanie: Yup.

Andrew: Man. Any advice for someone who wants to separate themselves from the business and be able to run their business remotely?

Melanie: I think it just goes back to mindset honestly.

Andrew: I have the mindset, it’s painful. You know what I didn’t have was? I didn’t have the process where someone said, “Look just sit and everything you do document very carefully.”

Melanie: Right.

Andrew Warner: And then give to someone else and see if they could do it without even talking to you. And if they can’t figure out where they step on a landmine then go back and patch up the documentation on that and give it to them again. And then give it to the second person. Landmine comes from Bob Tyler, that’s how he says, “You have to go out there into the battlefield. You have to try it and then you have to show the map to someone else and see if they step on a landmine.” If they do put that on your map and then give it to the next person when they step on a landmine put that on your map so that the next person after that doesn’t. That’s what helped us.

And then I talked to my friend Ramit which said, ” The process you are using, the software you are using before to document is too tough. Use Google Docs. Google Docs allows peoples to edit much more freely so they don’t feel like they’re imposing on your system by improving it themselves. Doing that helps, I have lots of little tips like that. Give me more. Make me better. Make me like you. I see you’re always comfortable, you’re always happy. You’re never stressed.

Melanie: Well you have to let people make mistakes. I think so many businesses owners that have great employees, they micro manage them. And for us it was really important, particularly our higher level managers that do need to be very independent and very self-starting. It was really important to us to let them make mistakes, to let them try something else, try something they really wanted to try even though we didn’t think it was necessarily a good idea because just like we had to learn and grow and stumble and like you said those landmines, your employees and your teammates are going to have to go through the same sorts of lessons as well.

So instead of telling them, “No you can’t do that, that won’t work.” or “You need to handle this situation that way.” We always ask them you know if there’s a conflict if there’s an issue you know, “What do you think the proper procedure would be?” When they would call us for answers instead of giving them what they should do we would say, “Well how would you handle this if I wasn’t here?” And that started back when we were actually working on-site.

We noticed that people were constantly bombarding us with questions or “Oh, the printers broken” or “This happened it’s not working, oh my gosh the internet’s out, this machines not working properly.” And when we were offsite, even when we were still living in California, we wouldn’t get a phone call every 30 seconds. It’s just when we were there we were too available.

Andrew: Oh, okay.

Melanie: They used us as a crutch verses putting their heads together and figuring out, okay, Devon and Melanie aren’t here. We need to find a solution. Even when we were still working on site we started to only come into the office once or twice a week. You know, still be very present and available, but sometimes I think as business owners we’re too available and we hurry to fix solutions that people on our team are completely competent at solving themselves.

Andrew: How do you keep them all solving problems in the same way? In other words, let’s suppose I want to change the way that we do video layouts, right? I can hand it to someone else and say, you do it, you make mistakes. That person can come up with a process that takes a month, could hire a professional person to redo it and over engineer it or it could come up with something that was just a quick slap together solution that wasn’t very good. There’s no right or wrong answer there, but we need them . . .

Melanie: Right.

Andrew: . . . to all work. We need to all work the same and agree that we’re either going to be the company that works like hell until we get everything beautifully designed or we’re the company that . . .

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: . . . throws something out there and then improves, but that helps. Are there other suggestions that you have for getting people to create solutions, for making mistakes but to all work in the same way?

Melanie: I think most business owners don’t communicate very well and I think that we have to be overly . . .

Andrew: Look at me, the way I just asked that question. Not the most elegant way to do it, but I’m glad you’re picking up on it. Thank you, yes.

Melanie: I think that we need to really, clearly communicate our expectations.

Andrew; Uh-huh.

Melanie: I think a lot of entrepreneurs, we become entrepreneurial because we have very high standards. We love control. I mean now, maybe we’re extremely ambitious. I’m just making some assumptions, but thinking in that sort of a way and the people that work for you might not have any of those same standards. That could mean that maybe it’s not a right fit, but we have a lot of fantastic employees that are not at all entrepreneurial and honestly we would prefer it that way because when you hire entrepreneurs that’s a completely different bag of worms.

But what we do with our employees is we very clearly communicate what we expect them to do, what we expect their performance to be, how available or unavailable we expect them to be. We have a certain role right now that’s kind of a project manager for our entire info business and oversees a lot of the online customer service and ticket system and he’s 24 hours on-call. We expect him on Sunday if something needs to get done, he is there, it’s taken care of.

There is no whining. There is no attitude and it works because we’ve always told him that’s what this job is, that’s what it’s expected to be versus if we didn’t tell him that and then he has to work on Sundays, he’s not happy. We’re upset because he’s not being positive and a team player but you’ve got to lay the expectations out from the very beginning.

Andrew: All right, I get that. It’s sometimes hard to do that because you want everyone to like each other in the beginning but it’s much better. Right in the beginning you want to say, this is the fun place that I promised it would be in our interview and that’s no way to be. All right, let’s talk about . . .

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: What’s the revenue this year, 2013? Actually, this will be published 2014, but 2013 revenues where do you expect them to be?

Melanie: For Custom Greek Threads?

Andrew: Yes.

Melanie: A little over two million.

Andrew: Wow.

Melanie: Yeah. We were on a faster growth trajectory, but we got killed by the whole penguin update. The SEO has been brutal this year.

Andrew: I see that. Was it 2012 was 1.8 million in sales, right?

Melanie: Mm.

Andrew: Was it . . . what’s the first year in business? What year was that?

Melanie: Oh, my goodness. You’re going to make me think. So, I graduated college in 2008. So, the first year of business was probably 2006.

Andrew: 2006, all right and that was 25,000? Second year 60,000 in sales?

Melanie: That sounds right, yeah.

Andrew: Let me see what else that I’m curious about. Actually, here is an odd thing. Where is that link? I should have had that up here. There it is. You seem to process all your sales on, right?

Melanie: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: Why? Why not process your sales on your own site?

Melanie: You’re going to ask me another Devon question.

Andrew: Oh, okay.

Melanie: I don’t like he does these things. I don’t know why he does the things he does.

Andrew: All right.

Melanie: So you’re asking why it’s processed as that business or what was the question?

Andrew: I was just wondering why an order goes to that site to be closed.

Melanie: It’s probably something with our credit card processing.

Andrew: All right. Here’s another thing I noticed. You guys use and I don’t know if this is a Devin question or not. You guys use CureBit a lot.

Melanie: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: I interviewed the founder of CureBit.

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: Why do you use CureBit? How does that help with marketing?

Melanie: If I remember correctly, CureBit is more of a social sharing plug- in, right?

Andrew: Yes, that if I buy I can get a discount by sharing with other people if they buy something like that.

Melanie: Yeah, it’s phenomenally successful for us. Because of the way the Greek market is, Greek people, or someone in a sorority in college, guess who 90% of her friends are? Girls either in her sorority, or in other sororities.

Andrew: Right.

Melanie: So it’s a very incestuous, no, it’s a very tight community. So what we found is that’s why a lot of social sharing like Facebook, anything like that, is very successful for us. And Curebit is great because when they share it they get a discount if someone buys, and Devon was showing me some numbers from that a few months ago, but it’s been, I mean I think we had $10,000 in sales from it just for like a very minimal amount of spend. Because people want to share it with their friends to get that discount. And all their friends need the same stuff their buying.

Andrew: Here’s another thing I noticed, I typed in your name into Google . . .

Melanie: Uh oh, don’t do that!

Andrew: . . .and retail me not came up.

Melanie: What did?

Andrew: Custom Greek Threads. And retail me not came up as one of the top search results.

Melanie: Okay.

Andrew: You initially let them have and run discount codes for you right?

Melanie: I don’t believe so. I don’t think it’s an intentional one.

Andrew: Oh I see, they actually will get a code from someone and put it up on their site?

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: I see, I thought maybe it was part of your strategy to seed those codes out there because they rank so highly and then maybe they’ll send people over to you. But that’s not what you’re thinking?

Melanie: I don’t think it’s a deliberate strategy, unless Devin’s doing something I’m not aware of. But we do, you know, I think most e-commerce sites run into this. Any time you put coupon codes out there, there up on some other sites and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We actually run a lot of sales and a lot of promotions for that business at least once a month. So for us, it’s not something that is, you know, detrimental because it’s something we’re normally offering some sort of special on our site as well.

Andrew: Alright, the other thing that came up was Yelp reviews.

Melanie: Oh gosh, now you’re really lucky, you’re really lucky that Devin’s not here because he has a lot of opinions about all of the critics.

Andrew: Would he kick my butt for just bringing this up?

Melanie: Yeah, probably.

Andrew: He might. Don’t tell him I asked. What’s going on there?

Melanie: So Yelp is really interesting. And if I’m remembering, because there’s a couple different, you know, what are the main, what are the like similar competitors with Yelp?

Andrew: Boy, the only one that I can think of right now is Google.

Melanie: There’s a couple.

Andrew: It’s Google’s local service.

Melanie: Right. If I’m remembering correctly, and I might be misspeaking. We’ve had a lot of issues with Yelp because they tend to glamorize the negative reviews. And what I mean by that is, people who like to leave a lot of reviews, normally write negative reviews. There’s not as many people who are just really passionate about giving positive reviews to companies. If a company does something great, people buy from them again. And they don’t tend to go onto Yelp about it. Maybe a few of them do. But, Yelp seems to rank, and again I think I’m thinking of the right site, but Yelp seems to rank people’s reviews that are the most active on the platform.

And the people that are the most active are the people that leave the most negative reviews. So a lot of times we have people, a lot of positive customers leave reviews, but they don’t get the same ranking, or they don’t get the same views as the negative. It seems to be kind of a weird system.

Andrew: It is a place where people like to complain isn’t it?

Melanie: Yes.

Andrew: We don’t have that many, you can really totally rock it if you just had your customers go and leave positive reviews. But I’m not sure you’re allowed to ask that.

Melanie: Oh, we had actually did a fascinating campaign about a year ago . . .

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: where we in exchange for people, and I hope you’re allowed to do this, but in exchange for people after they place an order . . .

Andrew: Wait. Don’t say anything that you’re going to ask me to edit out later on. Because we’re good friends but you know I don’t edit.

Melanie: No, it’s fine.

Andrew: Okay.

Melanie: But we would actually ask people, like if they had a great review, we would message them and ask them to leave a review for us if it was a positive experience.

Andrew: Ah yeah, I think you’re allowed to do that.

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: And in fact, there are companies out there that help facilitate that. That if you have a good review you do that. If you, if someone sends you positive feedback they help turn that into a review on Yelp. Let me see, there’s a guy in Washington, D.C., who lived near Wise Guy Pizza. And he would not open up until after he did a party, specifically for people who were big on Yelp. And invited them, and bought them pizza. Just so they would, you know, review the site.

Melanie: Yeah. I mean, it’s huge. Because Yelp has such high ranking, if the first thing people see when they search for your business name is a bunch of negative reviews, it doesn’t matter if you have all the STO[SP] magic in the world, that’s what people are going to pay attention to. So it’s, I mean, we put a lot of effort into calling people, just following up with them. We were trying to get a lot of positive reviews. I don’t think we’re currently doing it, but we did have a strong campaign for it for a while.

Andrew: And I see you do buy ads. Most people I think that I talk to seem to try to get organic search. You guys actually put money out there.

Melanie: Oh, we do both. I mean, why not? If you’re getting sales from people searching, we want to have the best spot possible, and we also want to have an ad spot. So we do both of them and prioritize on the same level.

Andrew: And you also buy display ads. I’ve got to talk to Max of What’s Run Where because I’m not seeing the display ads.

Melanie: We do a lot of retargeting. That’s been really successful.

Andrew: That’s what I hear about a lot.

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: Is that you or Devin who manages that because that’s marketing?

Melanie: That’s totally Devin that manages it. We’ve been using retargeting for a while, for all of our businesses.

Andrew: Alright. And then you decided to launch another business. I won’t get into the full business. We’re almost at the end of the interview here, but what did you take with you? What did you learn here that you could apply to the next business?

Melanie: So much. You learn so much every single time. So we started Luxury Monograms after Custom Greek Threads or right during Custom Greek Threads after we moved to New York and learned just a lot in terms of… I think we started that business within six weeks from conception. And, of course, we already had the manufacturing facility which was the infrastructure of the business. But just getting something out there, getting the first website out there, seeing how it worked.

Instead of creating this whole entire business and all of these product offerings, we have a very tight product offering launch and then based upon what was selling, what people were liking, what was getting press, we developed more options from there. So starting with the minimum dose, whatever you needed to get it out there to start getting feedback versus I could have spent years building this home decor brand. And getting a custom program side and doing all this incredible stuff, and instead we just did what we could do to the best level at that time, spending as little money as possible and from there tweaked and improved and moved forward.

Andrew: The site just looks beautiful. I’ve got to see; did it look this beautiful right from the start?

Melanie: Yeah.

Andrew: I’m talking about

Melanie: Yeah. That’s the original site. There has been very minimal tweaking to it.

Andrew: Wow. Really beautiful. Your whole design. Even… Let me see. What’s the new site? Where is that tab? I’ve got so many tabs open for you, Melanie.

Melanie: [laughs]

Andrew: And usually when I work I try to close as many tabs. What’s the new site, the one that I just talked about at the top of the interview? I just had it right here.

Melanie: Oh yeah.

Andrew: There it is.

Melanie: OnlineEdgeAcademy.

Andrew: It’s beautiful. Who designed your site?

Melanie: Well, Devin and I designed it. We’ are huge Balsamique mock-up nerds.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Melanie: On any given Saturday night you can find Devin and I in our living room. We have an Apple TV so we project one of our computers…

Andrew: On a Saturday night that’s what you’re doing.

Melanie: Oh yeah. Biggest nerds ever. We’ll be wire framing. I mean, this is hilarious. Derek Halpern is the only other person who gets it. I’ll post it on Instagram, like great Saturday night at the Duncans. We’re wire framing again.

Andrew: Oh and he was with you?

Melanie: No, well, he sees our posts.

Andrew: He sees that. I thought maybe you were having like a mastermind house and all documenting.

Melanie: I think Derek’s been over for some wire framing.

Andrew: Okay. So wire frame and then you send it out to someone to design it.

Melanie: Yeah. So Devin and I all of the layouts, all of the imagery, pretty much get exactly what we want, and then we have an in-house programmer that just kind of copies and makes it come alive. But, yeah, if you’re on the new OnlineEdgeAcademy, you’ll have to see it. It’s really cool. We just launched a bunch of very highly interactive testimonials. So you go through, if you scroll down past… We’re doing a special right now on a webinar training course, but if you scroll down to where we’re talking about the academy and you click on the grid of testimonials, like people’s particular…

Andrew: And then it changes right underneath it.

Melanie: If you go further down, there’s a whole interactive map of all the courses we have, and you click on one of the courses, a specific testimonial about that course comes up. So you can see our info business is getting a little bit more love and attention. It’s more of the favorite child right now.

Andrew: Why?

Melanie: But everything comes in phases.

Andrew: Why? Why is it getting more attention than the physical products business?

Melanie: Well, to be it very numbers, the profit margins are just night and day.

Andrew: Alright.

Melanie: Running a manufacturing business, that’s is definitely… I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone for their first business. That was not an easy business, and still to this day we have employees, we have overhead, we have machinery, we have the cost of goods. Information products, it’s like 99 percent profit. And it’s also something that I think for Devin and I, it’s what we’re really passionate about right now is helping other people that are struggling with online businesses. So it’s smart business- wide and also it’s what both of us are interested in doing. It’s getting all the love.

Andrew: And you’re good at it. I’ve never… Actually I have heard Devin speak only in that conversation with Shane Malarkey, but you’re good on camera.

Melanie: Aw. Thank you. I think one of my first interviews I ever did with you was on Pinterest.

Andrew: Yes.

Melanie: And you said that. That was so sweet, because back then it was a very new experience for me.

Andrew: Half of our work here is to get entrepreneurs comfortable on camera, to get them to talk about what they do in a way that’s interesting, to get them to be comfortable telling stories, you know? We work on that a lot and with you we didn’t have to work on it.

Anyone who wants, should actually check this out. Just type in Melanie’s name into the search box on Mixergy, or the word Pinterest and you’re going to see her teach how she used Pinterest and still probably does, right? You still use Pinterest to get customers. Which is amazing. Not just using Pinterest to share stories. Not just using it to share cool things online, but to share images, bring in customers to allow them to share images and to bring in their friends as customers.

I didn’t know that was possible until, I said there’s got to be someone out there who can teach me anything about Pinterest. I found you and that’s how we connected. It is fantastic. You guys have to check it out. Just go to Mixergy. On the search bar, type in Melanie’s name or the word Pinterest and you’ll see it.

What do you do to get good on camera? For me, here’s what I did. I’m going to tell you openly, hoping that you’ve got something and if you do, that you’ll be just as open. I hated being on camera and I just said if I could do it over and over and over again, I’ll feel comfortable. I’ll get to be myself. And so under Tech Crunch blog posts, there used to be the Seesmic box that allowed you to do a video comment. So I used that to just comment on whatever was on there in less than a minute.

That didn’t work because I couldn’t do it. So then I brought my wife on and that kind of worked. We felt more comfortable because I had someone to talk to. It wasn’t just me talking at a camera. Gary [??] talked into it. I don’t know how. I can’t. Then, we’d go out to parties. We’d come home a little buzzed. I would come home a little buzzed. I’d go on camera and I’d leave the response to whatever was the post on there.

Melanie: Amazing.

Andrew: And that got me to be more comfortable. And then I got so comfortable that I could start doing interviews and it helped a lot. I guess I was doing interviews before, but I wasn’t myself on camera and that helped. What about you? Did you have to get buzzed before you went on camera? Did you and [Devin] go out…

Melanie: That would make it very interesting. As you were saying that I was thinking about all of the explosion of podcasts that are happening right now. I was thinking it would be really funny if there was some sort of buzzed pod caster. People are just very authentic and open.

For me, doing interviews was a little outside my comfort zone. Filming videos is something that really freaked me out. We do a bunch of videos on, just little three minute high production videos, where we bring in a crew and film and that scared me to death. I think the only thing that got me through it, of course, is doing it more and more.

Every time that I’ve forced myself to do something I’m scared of, it has always been so beneficial. It has opened up, it’s cliche, but every time you expand your comfort zone, you just become a very different and more fulfilled and interesting person. Every time there’s something I’m scared to do, I take that as my internal cue that I need to do it. So video was something I was terrified to do. I thought, okay, video is going to be really important for me. And I’m going to get good at it. So I just did it, more and more and more and then the comfort comes from that.

Andrew: I’ve got a coach now who will go through the transcripts with me. If an answer didn’t come through in a way that I expected it to, we’ll analyze the question and the lead up to it to see why. If it did, we analyze again and we say, “What happened? Do you do any of that?”

Melanie: That’s so great because since I have been doing a lot of interviews over the last few years, I’ve noticed the range in people and their interviewing skills. Interviews are not just a conversation, like you said. It really comes from learning how to ask questions in a way to elicit a response, either for it to be valuable or for what you’re kind of looking and the road you’re trying to get them to go down.

In terms of learning how to prompt questions and answers like that, we do a lot of that with our coaching calls. We’ll bring on an [??] academy member each month to spotlight them and have them talk about one of the training and what they liked about it, and the results that they got. You know, you’re in front of hundreds if not a thousand people and it’s important that they know the correct things to talk about.

I think what goes a long way is giving people the questions ahead of time and kind of walking them through what to expect. Anytime that you just throw something, some people are great at it, but most people, in order to feel comfortable and prepared, need to know what you’re going to ask them.

Andrew: Yeah.

Melanie: Then they’re able to have time to think about it, collect themselves. When we didn’t do that, we noticed a lot of people would say oh, a day later I thought about this that I really wanted to talk about.

Andrew: Yes.

Melanie: Or I thought about, you know, this is actually a great story I should have shared. So, we give people. . . If we’re going to feature them or do an interview, we give them the questions, hopefully, within a few days in advance.

Andrew: That’s huge. You’re right, and usually we will go through pre- interview processes with every guest. I John Malarkey’s notes as a . . .

Melanie: [laughs]

Andrew: Or, I use. . . Someone had, Anne Marie, here, in the office, did an outline of what he talked about, pulled in the key ideas, did some other research, and I said, “That’s what we’re going to use for the basis of this conversation and I’ll. . .”

Melanie: Take that, Sean.

Andrew: Take that, Sean.

Melanie: [laughs]

Andrew: All right. Thank you so much for doing this interview. Hey, listen guys. I usually don’t recommend a website, frankly because, what am I going to do? Start promoting websites at the end of each interview? I tell you what the interviewee’s site is so that you can understand their business, and I know that often it’s not directly related to what my audience cares about. But, I’m going to insist that you guys check out these websites, just for the design. Check out. . .

I got too many tabs. Let me close retailmenot. Close this, close that. Here we go. Check out Why am I forgetting this? There it is. No. Talk about research. Hang on a second.

Melanie: See. [laughs] I always say this is going to happen. Devin does the same thing, where he has 30 tabs open. It gives me an anxiety attack. If I have more than four open, it stresses me out.

Andrew: You know what? It does for me, too, especially if I’m sitting on someone else’s computer, and I see all that. You know what?

Melanie: Right. [laughs]

Andrew: Here’s what. I actually have opened this tab a few times. When I’m at the top of the page, there is not top bar. When I’m scrolling there is, and, anyway, that’s what’s throwing me off. I like the design of that.

Check out and see the design and the way she works on that. Melanie, I love the effort that you put into everything that you do, not just these websites. Even before we started the interview, you said, “Where is this going? What do you want to talk to me about?”

Melanie: Right.

Andrew: And that helps a lot.

Melanie: Good.

Andrew: Thank you.

Melanie: Well, I’m glad. I’m sorry. It’s so funny, the lighting has totally changed. When we started this interview, it was sunny, and no it’s nighttime here, in New York. So there’s been a bit. . . It feels like we’ve had a nice amount of time together, where there’s been this whole changing of the day.

Andrew: I know. You know what? That’s why I can never have offices with windows, and I feel like I’m in a cave here, but that’s the only way I can record. Otherwise, it just wreaks havoc on the camera and the lighting.

Melanie: We need to do a little styling in the background.

Andrew: Totally. Especially that. That’s got to go away, right?

Melanie: [laughs]

Andrew: That is the one design element in my background.

Melanie: [laughs] [??]

Andrew: See, what did I tell you? I don’t have that.

Melanie: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: I’m looking over your shoulder. I like what you’ve got there. You’ve got like a chess piece holding up. . . What is that? It’s a bookcase with clock. I like it.

Melanie: Yeah. Well, do it, a little styling in the background, a bookcase, or something.

Andrew: Even in the foreground, frankly, but we’ll talk about that another time.

Melanie: [laughs]

Andrew: Melanie, thank you so much for doing the interview.

Melanie: Thank you for having me, Andrew. It’s been a lot of fun.

Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, guys.

  • Jen

    I really like her and admire her bootstrapping background. However, I have to disagree her Yelp response. Before he asked her about this, I Googled her and saw the same low reviews. I’m actually one of those people who review A LOT and my reviews are balanced. I know that’s anecdotal but I can attest to, in my local area at least, they are generally spot on. I’m actually doing lots of research on Yelp right now because I’m planning a similar business based on a re-segmented market and Yelp is quite a reliable resource for users. If I were her, I’d take that feedback seriously and work on customer satisfaction. I’ve learned that having a defensive attitude with customers can bite in the long-term. She has the resources and talent to turn that around.

  • I just finished listening to the JV Crum III interview and a brainwave came to mind. I remembered Gary Vaynerchuk saying that every time he’s in an airplane, he’ll try to sit beside old people and then he’ll ask them question about life, passion, work,etc. He says that since they’ve “played the game” (of life), they have nothing to prove and answer the truth. I know this could be a debatable thing, but most interviews (i’ve listened to 250+ on Mixergy) are people below 40 yrs old in the tech sector, so it would be nice to talk to a successful entrepreneur that is 70 or even 80 yrs old and ready to unload the bag about everything. What do you guys think?

  • I agree, I actually think most people come online to write bad reviews when they have felt really burnt and just want to voice their outrage.

    I would take those reviews very seriously and I have a feeling (don’t quote me on this) but star ratings will affect your ranking and if doesn’t now, I’m guessing Google will eventually implement it. I am seeing a trend where large sites are really investing in star rating, and I guessing it’s to help with SEO.

    I am a bit confused to why their 24 k facebook page is not ranking as well as the new facebook page they have created for the site I am not even sure why they have two pages? Maybe some strategy?

  • vidinotes

    The other side of the coin is the strong evidence that yelp fabricates and/or promotes negative reviews until the business pays up. If I was ordering a sweatshirt I would look at specs, guarantee and the ‘about’ page.

  • J-542-

    I think it’s only a matter of time before Bill Gates has an interview. The man has a lot of wisdom to share and he’s admirable as a peson. It’s also upsetting that Steve Jobs will obviously never be available for an interview, he would’ve been fantastic.

  • Nikhil kodilkar

    Hey Andrew I think the transcript has a typo, the heat map software is by instead of

  • Arie at Mixergy

    Thank you–we fixed it :)

  • Arie, I am so freakin’ lucky to be get to work with you. Thank you.

  • Robert Bradford

    Melanie and Devin are AWESOME. Hustlers to the core. I know you don’t do many paired interviews Andrew, but it would be cool to interview these two together. They always say that you should keep family and business separated, but I’m interested to find out how they make it work….

  • umi

    I was following her on Instagram for about a month and knew she was doing ecommerce stuff from her pictures but had no idea she was this important that she got on Mixergy. Nice.

  • Jason M. Burke, CCPS

    Regarding Yelp… they have hidden 13 Positive Reviews and only show 1 Positive review from Custom Greek Threads. I have run into this problem with my own business, thankfully I have a couple Elite Yelpers as customers or I would be completely screwed. Great Interview!

  • Joel, Who do you have in mind? Would love to have a few names.

  • Although he’s not 70, like J542 said below, Bill Gates could be a great candidate. But I was thinking about Warren Buffet and the such. I don’t have other particular names in mind of older people unfortunately, but I’m sure you could find plenty. And also, i’ve seen tons of interviews of Richard Branson and it seems like it’s always the same superficial questions over and over (aka “what is the secret of success”, or “tips”). Andrew could do such a better job of digging down the real reasons, actions, examples, challenges, etc. I’m sure that Andrew could pull that off

  • I’m still hunting down Woz. If you have connections to these guys, bring it on!

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.