Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It is, of course, home of the ambitious upstart, and I’m saying it with a bit of a smile on my face because the person who’s here with me today has probably heard me say this a zillion, billion, million times. He has been listening and supporting Mixergy for a long time. He is part of Mixergy Premium, and today I’ve got him here because I need his help.
This is a different interview than the kind I usually do. Usually I ask my guests about how they built their companies. This one I want to know how I can build mine better. So Naveen Dittakavi, he is the founder of NextVacay. The website is NextVacay.com. They offer amazing travel deals sent to your inbox, and we’ll find out a little bit about that, but the real reason that I’ve got him here is that I started a community for Mixergy Premium members and I want to know how I can just keep improving it.
A few years ago, I signed up for something called Ramit’s Brain Trust that my friend Ramit Sethi put together. And I signed up because he was doing one interview a month and offering a community, and he charged $50 a month for it. And I just wanted to see what’s an interview like that costs $50?
And I thought the interviews were interesting, but what captured my attention was the community that went along with it. It was just a lot of interesting engagement, lots of organization, lots of utility there, lots of connections being made. And it was just a Facebook community, something I would have blown off a long time ago except that other interviews told me that they cancelled their own communities, their own software and they moved to Facebook.
So the more I saw it grow, the more I paid attention to the guy who was running it, who’s Naveen. And I started asking him within our community what did you learn as you were running Ramit’s Brain Trust that we should be bringing to Mixergy? He started responding in the community, and I said, “Wait, I think I need to have a conversation with you.”
And so I’m going to record that conversation right here and let anyone in the audience listen, and the reason that I’m going to do this publicly is so that if you have any interest at all in communities, you’ll learn from him about how he’s built up Ramit’s Brain Trust community.
And if you don’t have any interest in communities, I think you’ll find soon in this interview that you should consider it, because Naveen and I were talking about examples of products that you wouldn’t expect to have communities around them to actually be growing because of their communities.
So that’s what this conversation is going to be about. As I said, different from everything that I’ve done before, but similar in one way and that is that I will do an ad read, which is kind of interesting, Naveen, that I’m actually learning and getting paid to learn because of the sponsors. I do love podcasting.
The two ads that you’ll hear me do later on is for HostGator. I’ll tell you why they’re a great hosting company, and for Pipedrive, I’ll tell you why they help us get more people on Mixergy and how they can help you grow your sales. I’ll tell everyone more about them later, but first, Naveen, welcome.
Naveen: Thank you for having me on, Andrew. This is an incredible honor.
Andrew: It’s good to have you on here, and I’m proud to have you on the site. Before we started, we did spend some time talking, and I said, “Dude, what’s the point of all this? Is this like a nice to have, or is there a business benefit?” And you gave me a sense of how many people who signed up for Ramit’s Brain Trust ended up buying another course or program from Ramit Sethi. Can you talk about that?
Naveen: Yeah. I can’t go into the actual final statistics, but essentially this–when you join a community that is active and engaged, where people are raving about what they’re working on, how they’re trying to improve themselves in Ramit’s world of I Will Teach and maybe what courses that they’re progressing through.
This is essentially selling the products for you. You don’t have to wait until you go through a formal launch where you’re convincing someone through a formal sales funnel to join the course. You are in front of other real people, not fake bots or plants, who are talking about their progress, their steps.
Andrew: You’re holding back a little bit because you want to be fair to Ramit and not reveal anything private. I promise I will help you keep things that are private private and learn what is okay to learn. This I’m going to feel comfortable saying publicly here and I’m going to feel okay–pretty much anyone who signed up for Ramit’s Brain Trust ended up buying another one of his courses.
If you bought that, you were happy enough with that, even though he was selling an interview for $50, you not only felt happy about it, but you were often happy enough to go and buy another course, which is dramatic to say for Ramit because he’s not selling courses for $10 or $50. He’s selling course for $1,000, multiple thousands. It also got people out of their homes and into a conference. What’s Forefront?
Naveen: Yeah. So Forefront was an event that we just held, that Ramit just held a few weeks ago in New York. It wasn’t a traditional conference where you go there with a notepad to learn and take notes from lecturers or guest speakers. No. It wasn’t like that, even though they had an amazing guest speaker, Damon John of “Shark Tank” keynote the last day. You went to Forefront because you were there to meet other people who were just like you.
This was an evolution of what happened organically within Ramit’s Brain Trust community product. People would meet up organically all over the world.
Andrew: I remember. I was sitting at Hayes Valley having a beer with my wife, and this guy who knew Mixergy came over and said hi. I said, “Hi, what are you doing in town?” He goes, “I’m actually going to Ramit’s Brain Trust, the bar over from here,” and it was a group of people who were going together. Tell me more about Forefront though. It’s different from a conference in that it helps people get together how? What’s the core of it?
Naveen: The core of it was putting together at that time 500 like-minded people from around the world. Imagine that you’re in New Zealand or Australia or Europe. There are not a whole lot of people who are working on online businesses or self-development or trying to take themselves to the next level.
So Ramit put out an event, which is now turning into an event series called Forefront, which seems to be going from various large city to large city, where people will fly from around the world to spend a weekend not learning any one particular thing or a marketing conference–
Andrew: Doing what?
Naveen: Just to meet other people.
Andrew: And then what do they do to meet each other? Are they all having coffee during the day?
Naveen: Yeah, they’re having drinks. Well, the first night was a big party.
Andrew: And then the next day? What’s the heart of it?
Naveen: The heart of it is essentially spending time together working on things that you enjoyed. So they did a lot of pre-qualification and put people into groups.
Andrew: What do you mean by enjoy, like what? Sorry to keep interrupting.
Naveen: Yeah. Absolutely. Something that I enjoy could be learning about making hot cocktails. Another person, they might enjoy power lifting. Another person–
Andrew: That’s what I was getting at. That is brilliant. I love that. I can watch people give presentations anywhere online, but I can’t go and make a cocktail with someone else except in person and that is a bonding experience. All right. So they did that.
Before we started I said my audience may not want to put together conferences. That’s not their business. And you said, “Andrew, people are putting together communities for physical product sales, and it actually helps them grow their sales.” I said, “Like what?” And you told me about some steak company. What’s the steak company?
Naveen: Yeah. So I’m a medium rare Hindu, which means that my mom really does not like that I enjoy beef. And what that means is that I was seeking like how do you prepare steaks in the best way. Why am I spending $75 at a restaurant, and why is it so much better than what I’m doing at home?
And then I came across the company from a Kickstarter called the Steakager. This company gives you the equipment to be able to dry age steaks in your fridge at home, and it is a phenomenal product. And within a month after them launching their Kickstarter, they send an invite to all their backers, bringing them into a community.
Now, what happened was it wasn’t just all of us who were talking about how our agings were goings or what we learned in the process or the different cooking styles of preparing steak. They also opened it up to anyone so that anyone could join the Steakager community. What did this do? It made ravings fans like myself enlighten my other medium rare Hindu friends into the group and say, “You’ve got to check this out. I’m not the only one. I’m not a crazy person who’s doing this. There are a lot of other crazy people aging their own steaks at home.”
It allowed for people to see one, that this product is real, it’s proven, that people are posting photos from home of their preparations and their aging process and that it’s actually not hard to do. It takes away all the risks and fears that people when they’re buying a $200 physical product might avoid. You just see that you should put it on your Christmas list.
Andrew: I get it. I am not into steak. We keep a vegetarian house. But I do see here in the community that you suggested I join, and I’ve been watching it, people posting photos of their steak and it looks freaking delicious. I’m reconsidering this whole — no, I’m not reconsidering the vegetarian part, but it does look good.
Naveen: I have converted somebody, by the way.
Naveen: I have converted two people from vegetarians.
Andrew: From vegetarianism to steakism.
Andrew: So we talked before we started, and I took some notes about some of the things that we need to keep in mind. You said, “Look, Andrew, before anything else, decide who’s in the audience. Where are they now and when do they graduate?” That’s one of the first things that you want to do. So, when you look at Brain Trust, for example, where are they now?
Naveen: So you have to look at it also from the timeline, so when you create something versus when you’re onboarding someone a year or later. So where are they now? When Ramit’s Brain Trust started, I was not involved at inception. They had just put together this product because they knew from their research that people wanted to chat amongst each other, people in their courses wanted to chat. They wanted to piggyback, learn from each other.
So they put this product together. It was kind of the interviews were structured and ready to go, but the community was kind of just haphazard and you get in there and this was a mess. It’s just like people talking, and it just felt really weird and just didn’t have any kind of structure and didn’t make any sense.
If you actually go on many Facebook groups, you will see that. There’s no structure to a lot of these different groups and there’s no coherence either. So I stepped in because I saw that this could be something really special because I saw a bunch of people who were similar to me, other business owners, and I was like, “Let me just step in and help a little bit.”
And that was in November of 2012. A month later, there was an opportunity to have breakfast with Ramit in Los Angeles. Because of the person who I helped, I had helped them with their work or their business, that person texted me saying he was chosen as the volunteer organizer for this breakfast and that it was going to be in Beverly Hills in December. So I actually booked my ticket right then and there to fly out to have breakfast with ten other students with Ramit.
At that breakfast, Ramit told me how much he noticed that I was helping in this community and was creating structure and form and how he could now see a product vision for it and invited me to start working with him formally and grow the community a long-term product out of it. Since then, it has been an amazing experience for a lot of people, and it’s been amazing watching a child grow.
As I said earlier, when you bring someone in to a new community, everyone is on the same level. However, a year or two later, you’ve got sophomores and juniors and seniors, and you’re bringing in people who might be freshmen. How do you make sure that they don’t feel intimidated by the people who seem so far ahead of everyone else or the people who are already hanging out in their cliques? In these cases, this community is very welcoming and open and is not interested in putting people back and saying, “Hey, stay amongst your freshmen.” They’re very much like, “Come join us in Houston at this coffee shop and lets’ all chat together.”
Andrew: All right. So I see two different things there. One is there was no order and you helped bring order to it and second, people who come in from the outside need to feel welcome. Let’s pause. Let’s hold on the second part and focus on the first. What did you do to start bringing order to it? Because you’re right, I have seen a lot of Facebook groups that are just the latest post happens to make it to the top, and there’s no reason for me to pay attention to it and no context for me to put it in. What did you do to bring order to it?
Naveen: So, when I saw that, there were a couple of things going on. One was that it was all take, take, take and not–
Andrew: Take, take, take?
Naveen: Take, take, take, not so much give. So I approached that in two different angles. I showed people how to take and I showed people how to give. So we’ll start with how to take. When you ask questions to a community that you’re a part of and if your question doesn’t have enough context or support so that the person who was reading it could provide you with some kind of actionable direction, you’re wasting everyone’s time because you could have just Googled the answer, like, “Let me Google this for you.”
Naveen: And instead, what I did was I started to ask very pointed, direct questions with certain levels of specificity showing the work that I’ve done in the past to try to answer this question on my own and the ideas of where I think I could go next and which one I’m leaning towards pursuing and if anyone had any advice who might have been at that juncture.
Andrew: I see. It’s not just the question that you could have typed into Google, but it’s one that shows you’ve done the research, including typing into Google. You’ve gotten a little bit of direction and now you’re being clear about what else you need.
Andrew: Well, what about this, that there’s someone in our community right now in our Facebook group who’s asking, “Has anyone used Asana?” because he wants to use Asana to help organize his company? Why does he need our community specifically for that? How do you know what kinds of questions to encourage and what kind should be Googled?
Naveen: Right. So let’s take that question. “Has anyone used Asana? Can you tell me what your thoughts are?” Well, you’ll probably get some responses like, “Yeah, I love Asana.” “No, I hate Asana.” But you don’t know why people are saying that. They might have a particular way of doing task management and so on. In order to ask that question, “Has anyone used Asana and do you like it?”
You have to add a lot more context to it. “Hey, guys, my name is Jim. I am considering evaluating Asana. I like the ideas behind Asana for task management because right now I currently do these things on paper, like an example, example, example,” maybe some photos, “But I’m looking for a more specific solution where I can bring in my team because we’re all remote and I can’t really pass my task list off.”
Andrew: Gotcha. Be really clear about what you’re looking for, why Asana is even coming up as opposed to Basecamp or something else. So now, I see that that’s a better way for him to ask the question–his name is Ronald. He’s a good guy. He’s a member, he’s a paid member. Do I go back like a jerk and say, “Hey, Ronald, edit this question and here’s how I think you should put it up,” or what do you do?
Naveen: Yes, you do, absolutely.
Andrew: I do?
Naveen: You’re doing them a favor. You’re doing them a service by helping them restructure their questions in a way that they’re going to get value out of the community. So you say, “Hey, Ronald, listen, good question. There are a lot of people here who are into productivity, and I definitely see that you can get some direction here, but in order for you to get the most out of the Mixergy Premium community, I want you to ask the question in this particular way.” And you give them the template for that.
Naveen: And you say, “Don’t worry. I’m really glad that you posted the question, but click on that edit button and edit your question to provide your rephrased question in the new templated way.”
Andrew: I see. All right. And I would message that to him privately.
Naveen: You’re doing a couple things there. It’s important. You cannot approach this from a dictatorial standpoint or I can’t remember, “Lord of the Flies” like leader standpoint. You’ve got to be very welcoming and very gentle, because if you don’t do that, you’re going to scare people off from even participating in the community and then without participation, without engagement, it’s going to die.
Andrew: Okay. Private message him, I’m assuming, right?
Naveen: You can private message him, but if you’re gentle enough, you can publicly post that as a response to his thread.
Andrew: I see. Specifically–go ahead.
Naveen: That allows the rest of the community to see that Andrew or your community manager is stepping in to help make a difference, and then people will start to follow that structure naturally.
Andrew: Okay. You said encourage engagement. I can see how if I was harsh publicly, people would be scared away. Even if they agreed with it, they’d think Andrew is going to be too harsh on me. I don’t want to risk it.
Naveen: They’re going to be very concerned, “Is my question good enough?” And that is something that you have to avoid at all costs.
Andrew: What do you do then, now that we’ve talked about how to avoid discouraging interaction, what do you do to encourage interaction? What worked for you?
Naveen: So you get into these topic threads that we would introduce. We had early access–I had early access to the interviews and would review them and then think about, put myself in the shoes of a beginner or intermediate student and think about like what are these self-development concepts that are talked about in the interview and then what can we then create a congruent post for and then wrote–I wrote that post so that it was engagement.
I would start off with the engagement. Not only would I write the question, it was like, “Hey, guys, we’re doing this. This is what was covered in this month’s interview. The challenge was this. Check out what I am doing in the challenge in the comments.” And then start the ball rolling and the people would start participating.
Andrew: I see. Because in the interview Ramit would ask the guest at the end, “What challenge do you have for the audience?”
Naveen: Right. That was one of the posts that would go up each month. Another post might be something that was covered in the middle of the interview or might just be an offshoot, like for example, “What do you think about–what’s your morning routine? Let’s talk about our morning routines. Have you ever experimented with going to bed an hour earlier?”
Andrew: Because the guest might have said, “I go to bed an hour earlier. That’s what allowed me to clear up my productivity and so on.” And then you might pull that out of the interview, make that as a topic of conversation and then add what you did and encourage other people to do the same.
Naveen: Right. And then after you start to notice community leaders and people who are active and high participants, I would start to message them and let them know like, “Hey, Natalie, I just posted this thread up on RBT covering sleeping patterns. If you don’t mind, can you take a look at it and share yours?” And that would be a private message and that would just boost engagement from the high participants, which would then get the ball rolling and then we would get a post that went from one or two to 20, 30, 50, 100. Some of them went to 500. It’s crazy.
Andrew: This sounds a little bit too in the weeds, but did you use Facebook Messenger to message them or email?
Naveen: Mostly messenger because what ended up happening is that as I became more and more prominent with the community, people would send me a friend request and I’d just become their Facebook friend and we’d end up meeting in real life and becoming real friends or they’d become my consultant and contractors and it’s just amazing where things can go.
Andrew: How did you keep track of who was most active so that you could message them and ask them to contribute?
Naveen: There was a spreadsheet I was keeping initially when I thought that I needed that, but then what ended happening was because I was so involved in it, I was able to remember who the subject matter experts were in my head. What that ended up doing is I did end up sending a lot of, I guess, traffic, of questions to a handful of experts instead of keeping a database and rotating through it.
So, when a question came up about a career question or interview-style question, like how to handle an interview or how to handle a salary negotiation, I would always forward that to this guy, Raj. Or if a question came up about fitness, I would forward it to another guy, Mark, and so on. And so I had my go-to crew of people who I would forward questions and dialogue to. But if I were doing it again, and especially after understanding how a community might live for four years, I would definitely be keeping a database, like a CRM of acolytes in the community.
Andrew: Yeah. We’ve been for Mixergy Premium using a spreadsheet and adding tags within the spreadsheet, only because I know the spreadsheets stink, but they’re quick and easy to use. Then once we understood how we wanted to use it, we could find the right CRM that did the stuff that we need.
Andrew: And now what I’m noticing is the CRM needs to just be really good at tags. It has to allow us to easily tag people.
Andrew: More than, frankly, anything else, that’s by far the most important thing. All right. Let me talk about my sponsor and then we’ll come back and I’ve got more questions, including the objective. You said the next thing you want to be aware of is what the objective of the community is. I never knew what the objective of Ramit’s Brain Trust was and maybe I missed that.
But first, I have to tell people about my first sponsor, which is a company called Pipedrive. Pipedrive–have you ever used it?
Naveen: I have seen it being used. A client of mine uses it. I don’t use it personally.
Andrew: What do they use it for?
Naveen: They use it for their sales team.
Andrew: Yeah. There are a lot of people–in fact, that is what it’s meant for. I interviewed a guy who told me that his sales just started to take off because he used this piece of software and he told me about it and afterwards I asked him for it. I emailed him and I said, “What was it?” And he said, “It’s Pipedrive.” And I think he might have even introduced me to the founder. So, I tried the software and it changed our booking process the way that it changes sales.
What it did for us is it said, “Just organize how you sell.” For us, a sale is not getting you to pay, it’s getting you here on Mixergy. That’s when we close a deal.” So, I laid out each step in my process. I laid out each step in my process for getting a guest on here and then I started working the steps.
I’d get as many people into step number one, which is suggest a guest. That’s the lead step. And then as many people of those as made sense into the next step, which is to qualify them and say yes, they’re fit for Mixergy or not and then contact them via email, then follow up and then all those steps were laid out properly.
What’s helpful about it is that it calls you out on your BS. Like I could say, “Why don’t we get enough people on Mixergy here?” and think it’s because no one loves Mixergy and just blame the world for not respecting Mixergy or whatever. But with Pipedrive, I get the data. I get to go in and see, “Well, no one’s showing up because over the last year, we’ve sent out 40% fewer interview requests.”
Or, “No one’s showing up because over the last year, we’re sending out interview requests. People do pre-interviews and we’re not good at making sure that they come back after the pre-interview to do the interview. So, we’re only getting 50% of the people who do a pre-interview to do an actual interview. That’s where we’re failing. We have to fix that part of our process.” It really calls you out on it.
If I say to my team, “Every week we should send out ten interview requests so that we have enough interviews to publish on the site,” there is no lying about it. I go into Pipedrive and I see, “Did we send out ten this week?” If we didn’t, why not? Did I send out three of my own requests this week? Did Andrew, my assistant, send out three requests this week? Did Ari send out three? Who was dropping the ball? I get to see all that.
And I get to see–we had this assistant who came in and she was finding a lot of guests, a lot of potential guests, great guests and we were so proud of her for doing it. And then one day I said, “How many of those people actually make it on the site.” It turned out one out of all these hundreds of people she suggested actually made it on the site. I realized her guests look good, but they’re not good for Mixergy. So, we had to rework the way that we worked with her.
That’s great for sales. Imagine being able to go in and say who’s contributing the best leads. Who’s actually closing the sales? Where are we dropping the ball on these sales? Pipedrive is fantastic for that. I’m talking too much about it because I think it’s so good that I want to evangelize it. I could talk forever about it. Like a preacher I can talk about it because I know that people are going to have their lives saved, their businesses saved if they signed up.
But I’ll stop talking because I think the best way to understand it is to try it. Anyone who’s listening to me can get two free months of Pipedrive. That’s plenty of time to actually close sales and see how this works and really experience it. All you have to do is go to the special URL. It’s Pipedrive.com/Mixergy and you’ll be glad you did.
So you said get clear on the objective. Frankly, that’s been one of my concerns with Mixergy with starting a community for Mixergy, that if we had a community of people who were all into marketing using a specific kind of a marketing like Facebook marketing, then I could understand the Facebook group is just for that. But we don’t have anything that narrowly targeted. It’s much broader than that and I think for good reason. But then how do you create a community around it. What did you guys do at Ramit’s Brain Trust?
Naveen: So, there–again, I wasn’t part of the inception plans. But I bet you that things changed after they saw what it was turning into, as I’m sure that things are changing for you as you’re seeing what Mixergy Premium turns into on the community side.
You go into one thing thinking that you’re going to create an interview series and a place where your customer base will interact. But then you start to see that they’re interacting, sure, online, but they’re also interacting offline. They’re getting together in Houston, Atlanta, New York, Chicago.
They’re getting together in cities that you never thought they would get together in, in Munich, in London, in Bombay. You really didn’t think that you had customers there, but guess what? You do. And they want to meet each other and talk about the products or service or experience that they’re going through with you.
And it was happening organically. This was not something that was created from the marching orders of Ramit. People started using that Facebook Events tab and just creating things. So what ended up happening is that I Will Teach started supporting that because of course that’s what people want to do. That’s what the value is, is in in-person interaction as well as the online interaction.
They started supporting that and they started putting resources behind event meetups and this question came up recently in Mixergy Premium was how to do in person meetups. I shared what I Will Teach did. They advocated for the Facebook event to be created by whoever was going to host the event. By hosting the event doesn’t mean that you’re picking up the tab, you’re just organizing the event.
And then they would allow you to paste the Facebook event URL into the platform. The platform, then you tell them where the event is being held, in Houston, Atlanta, New York.
Andrew: You’re saying that the Brain Trust, RBT, created a platform for enabling people to organize meetings. But you’re saying the bigger picture is watch what people are doing and then start to create process around that.
Naveen: That’s correct.
Andrew: So you might not have been or they might not have been clear about how this community is going to be about taking online and going offline, but by watching people get excited about that and create their own meetings, that’s when you guys realized a large part of what we’re doing here online and in the group is allowing people to meet offline. Is that right?
Naveen: That’s right. And they put the efforts behind getting the meetup in front of people. In marketing, a lot of it is awareness. What they did is they made sure that you’re not just relying on people who are in the Facebook group, but they’re also announcing that meetup to people in their geographic area based on their billing zip code, based on opting in and telling people where they live and they were able to see those announcements that a meetup was happening in their hometown. And they boosted engagement. They boosted turnout and of course that ends up boosting revenue down the road.
Andrew: I see. All right. That makes sense, watching what people do. I think that I haven’t yet found anything organically come out. And maybe I’m missing it and actually saying it out loud here is going help people stand up and say, “No, Andrew, you’re missing it. We actually have been doing this one thing.”
I haven’t noticed anything, but I did kind of feel before we even started the community that getting together with other entrepreneurs was the number one reason why people wanted a community and doing it offline seems like a natural extension of that that we’re going to experiment and see if they want to do that.
So, when I realized that what they wanted was to get together with other entrepreneurs, the first thing we did with the community was help people form mastermind groups so that they could meet with other entrepreneurs on a regular basis and work together on it.
One example that I like of that is someone who contacted me and said, “Andrew, I have a problem where I’m not testing enough and can you give me some feedback on how I’m doing A/B testing on my site?” I gave him a little bit of feedback. I gave him some suggestions and I said, “He’s probably not going to follow up on this because I’ve given him so much to do.
And then I went back into the community and said, “Here’s a guy who’s going to be working on A/B testing for the next few months. Every week he’s going to test something now. If you want to join him on a weekly call and see what tests have worked for him and which ones he’s going to do next and run your own tests, apply to join his mastermind.” So he now has a mastermind that he can tap into and that will hold him accountable.
I did that. I think we need to do more of that because it’s working. What I’m taking away from you is just keep trying things and watching what people are doing and look for the winners and amplify that.
Naveen: Yes. Make sure that they bring that value back to the core community. You don’t want to create situations where you have splinter groups and they basically just kind of leave, which is fine.
Andrew: That happens a lot to us. I’m so glad you brought that up. That does happen. People created masterminds and then they disappeared because there was nothing else for them to do because we said create masterminds. And then they would email me and say a few months later, “Andrew, I haven’t been in there and I thought you should know what came of these masterminds that we created.” I thought, “Wow, this so lost.” So what do we do? What worked for you and what do you recommend I do?
Naveen: So we did a lot of recaps. There was a lot of value in sharing what went on at the offline event, what people were talking about or what they took away. We made sure that those people who were contributing were featured. So RBT had thousands of people in it. It was an honor to be in the community around emails. Those were handmade. Those were not some kind of automated digest tool that was creating a roundup of posts from the past week.
So we hand-curated and hand-summarized the emails that were going out to members and we highlighted the people who were taking action and adding value and we were showcasing them and honoring them and what did that do? That ended up creating ravings fans and people who want to continue to add value and be featured. And that’s what worked for us.
Andrew: That makes sense. I should get people to do that. It feels a lot like that steak group that you were talking about. Unless someone after they buy comes back and posts a picture of their steak, I don’t know what they’ve done with it. I don’t know that this actually works. All right. Good point. Let’s go on to the next one. You told me that guidelines were important. How did you guys communicate guidelines?
Naveen: Initially there was a little bit of policing reminding people that this is the way that you’re going to get a successful answer from the group. But then of course when you have a community of a couple of thousand people, you will run into situations where especially over the course of four years, you’re going to run into political situations where people think, “Why can’t we apply these concepts towards government or politics or things like that?”
Immediately we were stepping in, either myself, Ramit, or other leaders were stepping in and helping people recognize interesting points, maybe some of them are valid, but here’s the thing–this community is about this particular topic. Like for example, taking yourself to the next level is a premise of RBT.
So, while your concerns about government and politics are interesting and definitely have a place, the place is not here because in our case, in our view, we personally do not have control of the outcomes of the situation, like individual power and individual control. Therefore, the topics that we like to talk about are entrepreneurship, creating a freelance business, working on your career, negotiating a salary. These are things that you personally can control and make adjustments in your life. Therefore, while we appreciate your sentiments, let’s keep the topic focused on the things that we can control.
Andrew: And would you do that publicly?
Andrew: You would?
Andrew: In the comments, someone says something like, “I think this person should be elected because we need this kind of stuff to help foster entrepreneurship.” And you’d go in and say what you said to me right now publicly so everyone knows.
Naveen: That’s right. Again, constructive, nice, but also firm and explaining why we want to keep discussion points in the particular area.
Andrew: I did an ask me anything with you. I don’t know even know if I got your permission. I said you’re in the community, I want to ask you some questions. I’ll just post a picture of you with, “Hey, Naveen, I’ve got some questions for you because I want to learn.” And I just wrote them out. You answered a bunch of them but it took you some time. I asked you why because I thought maybe you just didn’t feel comfortable talking about–that’s not what it is.
You said, “Andrew, I want to give detailed responses. That takes me time.” I wonder about that, that are we encouraging people to spend a lot of time, which means they’re going to write less or are we encouraging people to just write without overthinking?
Naveen: Sure. You know, it’s based on my personal experience, but whenever I took time to prepare for things, I had the best outcomes. Whenever I prepared for the SAT, I did really great. Whenever I prepared for other exams, I did great. Whenever I prepared for meetings and like knew everything about my prospect, I would close the sale. Whenever I would prepare–think about it, whenever you prepare to go to your professor or TA for office hours, you had your ducks in a row because you knew there was a line of people and you had ten minutes or less in front of them.
So by helping people embrace that online, where we’re so used to like on the programming side Stack Overflow, where you can just type in something and you get an answer, we’re not looking to do that. We’re looking to foster people actually taking their next step and they’ve thought about what they could do and what options are available to them before asking for help and then I ask for help not on the actual next step but on which direction they should go or a nuance they should consider while they’re taking that next step. That provides higher outcomes for the user.
Andrew: Okay. I guess I worry about that causing people to overthink every question. I remember I used to have this breakfast with some entrepreneurs in LA. One of them came in with printouts of what he wanted to write on his blog. He was going to start a blog and he printed this stuff out to talk to the group about it. Someone just said, “This is for a blog? Just write it and then improve the next one and the next one after that.” By overthinking it, he ended up never publishing that blog.
Andrew: I worry that then that same thing is going to happen in the community, if you tell people to really think through every question and write it out in details that it’s going to end up with fewer comments and they’re going to be overthought and painful.
Naveen: Well, you show them examples of simple questions that are well put together. You’re not telling them to write essays or to overthink it. You’re just telling them present the different options they’ve considered. Clearly you have considered things. Hopefully they’re not using the community to just verbally vomit the first thing that comes to their mind. That’s what you’re asking for. Show us you’ve done some work here. Obviously if you do more work you’re going to get more out of it, but show us you’ve done some work.
Andrew: Okay. You also said to me before we started, “You’ve got to create a safe place for discussion.” Safe from what? What are we trying to do here?
Naveen: Yeah. So depending on the type of community, it depends, right? If we’re talking about the Steakager community, it probably wouldn’t be a safe place for my mom because she doesn’t like me eating steak, right? But if you’re talking about an intimate community where people are talking about salary negotiations or relationship issues, it has to be safe from a privacy standpoint and safe from a comfortability standpoint.
So somebody has to set the tone of how much they’re going to reveal, how much they’re going to allow themselves to be exposed and then it will go from there. So, if you find that some people in RBT were talking about their salaries and being very specific as to what their salaries were and what their next step was and what their performance review said and so on.
And we got there because there were other people like myself and other people who shared what they had done in the past and had provided concrete–not necessarily as an independent post–but we provided concrete and very specific feedback based on our personal circumstances in our response.
Andrew: Where you shared your numbers and showed, “I feel safe here,” so they would too.
Naveen: What I said in terms of privacy, this is where certain settings can play a role, a closed group versus secret. You have to evaluate that for your Facebook settings, if you choose to use Facebook versus open like the Steakager.
Andrew: One of the communities that I got really excited about was Soylent. I hate eating. I just wanted to be given exactly what I need to eat and do it as fast as possible. So I bought a case of Soylent from Amazon and it was okay. It tasted really good, but it made me a little ill at first. So I went to the Soylent community. I noticed all this passion for it. People gave me advice. One guy said drink it out of a straw. I said, “Huh. Don’t chug. You drink it out of a straw.” This thing that I want for speed actually is better with a straw. It turns out, it really does help me a lot to drink it out of a straw.
What I noticed was this was around the time that the bar came out and people would post messages saying, “The bar is actually making me sick, like pukey-sick.” It wasn’t anger that they came to the community to vent. They came on to say, “How do I eat this so it doesn’t make me sick?” which is so shocking to see that’s what this community has been trained to do, that we are not going to complain. We’re going to figure out how to improve. I always wanted a community like that. That’s the reason why Chris Dixon said that Andreessen Horowitz invested in Soylent, because of that.
Naveen: Yeah. I learned a lot from their presentation at Hustle Con this past year. What I took away, because I’m looking at it from a different community angle, I looked at it that this company, who is concerned about people reverse engineering their product because Soylent is marketed towards generally I think it was marketed towards developers and hackers and that kind of thing initially in the Bay Area. The people who are that background tend to want to understand what’s going on behind the scenes.
It is this new innovative concept of engineering food, and they wanted to know what actually does that mean. Can I do it at home? Why should I buy this thing? So they created their own forum trying to discuss the chemistry and the concepts behind Soylent. Soylent was a little bit concerned about that. They’re not controlling the message. People are talking about and possibly bashing the product independently.
So what did they end up doing? They ended up getting involved in that community and started to go behind the scenes, showing the pictures of the industrial distillation and how they go about creating their products, talking about the recipes to some degree saying, “These are the things that we learned in our process of manufacturing Soylent. These are the environments you need to have. You’re trying to do this at home. Be concerned about these things from a danger and safety standpoint.”
What did that do? That satisfied the curiosity that the developer/hacker community had for how do you actually chemically engineer food and it showed them the enormous value that the end product has when it’s done for you. And that simply allowed them to control the message and move more product. Who really is going to–how many people are actually home brewing versus when they go buy craft beer at the store? It’s the same thing. How many people are actually going to reverse engineer your Soylent process versus buying a done for you bottle.
Andrew: It was interesting that for a long time I felt like in the community there were a lot of people who just wanted to create their own version of Soylent and the community encouraged it. The Soylent people allowed them to talk about it and encourage it to some degree. But then I’ve noticed a lot of those people shifted to, “How do I improve the Soylent powder that I bought to make it fit my lifestyle a little bit better?”
I can see how creating an environment where people can talk about anything and making them feel comfortable saying it might shift them towards having more respect for the company, which then leads to better purchasing decisions or getting them to buy from you.
Let me take a moment here to talk about my second sponsor. This is not a whole interview about Ramit. But I went to internet archive to see what did this I Will Teach You to be Rich website that Ramit started that’s now created all these courses, millions of dollars in sales, communities of people who get together for drinks in San Francisco and fly out to New York to do stuff together and just continuing to grow and grow and grow.
I said, “What did it look like in the beginning?” It just looked like a standard WordPress site, just a WordPress site. I don’t remember the theme he had, but it was just a WordPress site with a WordPress theme and Ramit’s opinions and then well-researched articles on things like whether you should buy a house or not and which credit card should you get and so on. And look at what he’s built it up into.
And the reason I say that is because I feel a lot of times people overthink what they should be starting with and what they could build and I like how simple he was. I like how simple it started for him. And it ties into my sponsor HostGator because with HostGator, you can start and create basically what Ramit started with, which is a website that is a WordPress website. They’ll do it for you.
Within one click, you get your WordPress website. You can start writing about any topic. Ramit was not the first person to write about personal finance. God knows in the personal finance space, there were people with way bigger names than he ever had and that he currently even has. But he still went in there with his opinions, with his point of view, with his dedication to detail. The guy loves detail. He did it. And then he just adding and adding and adding.
If you’re listening to me and you’re finding yourself with a topic you’re interested in, I urge you to go to HostGator and frankly, if you don’t like my sponsor, HostGator, I think I did a really good job of curating the right hosting company, but if you don’t, you could go find someone else. I happen to like HostGator because they’re going to keep your website up. They’ll make it easy for you to get started.
They’ll have unmetered bandwidth. They’ll give you unlimited email addresses. They’ll give you everything you need, including ad offers, where they will basically be giving you money to go out and buy ads to get your initial traffic. They’ll keep your website up. They’ll be there if your website is down with phone support all for a very low price.
So, if you want to try the one I’ve curated, I’ve got a special offer for you, 50% off. All you have to do is go to HostGator.com/Mixergy and you’ll get started with it. I know there are some HostGator offers out there that they’re offering discounts with other people. What I like about the discount they’re offering Mixergy people is first of all it’s 50% off and second, you don’t have to commit for a year to get it.
You can just go in there for a month, pay month to month if you want to get it. My expectation is that you’re going to love them so much, you’re going to be with them for years and years and years and that’s why they’re sponsoring Mixergy. So many people have done that that these guys at HostGator have been sponsoring me now it feels like nonstop for the last couple of years. They’ve gotten good results signing people up who have gotten good results who keep staying customers of HostGator.
So go create your site there. Build it up and hopefully you’ll come here and do an interview about it or if you already have your site and you’re not happy with your hosting company, I am telling you it’s so much easier to move than you expect, especially if you have a WordPress site because they will do it for you. Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy.
Community leaders–you are someone that Ramit saw was active and he tapped you. You then went and started tapping other people. How did that work? How do you figure out who to do it and how do you even make it worth their while?
Naveen: So the types of people, they start to step up. They start to see that it’s a place where they can share and relate as well. You simply reach out to them and say, “Hey, I see your contributions here. I really like that you’re helping out with these topics. You mind if I ping you in the future whenever we get another question about salary negotiation or how to not reveal your current salary kind of question or something like that?”
Andrew: You need their permission in order to do that? You couldn’t just email them?
Naveen: I just Facebook message them because basically we’re friends already on Facebook.
Andrew: No, but I mean like at that point, wouldn’t you just say, “Hey, you know what? I know this guy,” let’s go more specific here. I always like when I’m listening to someone else’s podcast when they’re specific. So we had this guy, Solomon Klinesmith. Solomon was one of the most active people in the community back when it was on Mixergy before I shifted it to Facebook. And I found that putting it on our site was kind of clunky.
We shifted to Facebook. He’s still very active. He’s got his own business. Do I now tap him and say, “Do you want to be a leader here?” And then what does leader mean? What do I need for him to do, to encourage other people to write? Do I need him to write more as a leader? He’s already writing more than anyone else. What do we do with people like him?
Naveen: So, in my opinion, I found success when you’re asking for something very small. Do you mind if I–I value your opinion. You seem to be helping a lot of other people. Do you mind if I reach out to you in the future and put another student in touch with you or call upon you to help out? Getting that–it’s kind of the foot in the door technique from persuasion and influence.
Getting a little bit of someone’s buy in allows you to be able to reach out to them next time when the need is there and get them on the line, get them in the group, get them wherever and then contributing heavily. And that’s what I did. I basically use a technique that Ramit shared with me, which helped build relationships and helped recognize that these people were valuable to–I find them valuable and that they’re valuable to Ramit and that we would love to get their opinion on certain subjects whenever we need help.
Andrew: I see. So that’s why you say, “Can I tap you if I have a question that you’d be especially good at?” I know Solomon, for example, knows SEO really well. So, I might say, “Can I tap you if someone has a question about marketing or search engine optimization specifically?” He says yes. And what we’ve done is at least started a conversation where I’ve asked him if he’s okay contributing more. He said yes and then that gets my foot in the door and we eventually move on to what? What kind of positions did you have for the people who were there?
Naveen: So Ramit’s courses are around certain topics. Getting started at the ground level, freelancing, entrepreneurship, fitness, careers, whether that is changing your career entirely or salary negotiation and on and on and on and we got into nutrition and food later. There were certain people who were naturally just talking about their wins and their challenges they were overcoming. And I started to note mentally who those people were. And I started to have conversations with them. I asked them like, “Hey, if another question comes up, I might cc you in the comments. Please weigh in.”
So I remember doing this and it created a lot more involvement and engagement in the comments. I would do this to not just a subject matter expert, but I would do the same thing when I’m writing a post. I would get more people involved. I would say, “Hey, Natalie, I started the Friday brag thread. Can you share something that you’re proud of doing this week?” And then I would reach out to somebody else and then all of a sudden a post that had only two or three comments now had five, had ten and then it started to snowball and become a very powerful post.
Andrew: I see. But then when you’re deputizing them to do things because you want them to help grow the community, what are some of those positions?
Naveen: There are no formal positions. They’re just like, “Hey, I value your opinion,” or, “Hey, why don’t you. . .?”
Andrew: That’s it. It’s not like you would say, “Someone needs to create a new brag Friday post. I’d like you to do it,” or, “I’d like you to encourage more people to create communities. Here’s a handful of people I think you should contact.” Did you do anything like that?
Naveen: That happened quite a few times. I got tied up or it naturally didn’t happen, the Friday brag post. And people would message me saying, “Hey, there’s no brag thread yet. I want to share something. I would tell him, “Go ahead and share it. Start a thread. Here’s how you write it. Just copy this and paste this and share your brag.” And people started doing that and slowly some of my chores were lifted off my shoulders as people started to take on more engagement and celebrate together. So, yeah, that’s how I did it.
Andrew: What are these mandatory guided tours and walkthroughs you used to do?
Naveen: Yeah. So one of the things–and this is as the product got older. As you are a year or two in and you’ve got advanced students who have a certain level of expectation in terms of quality, content and quality of discussion and form of discussion and you’ve got people who are hearing about this amazing thing called Ramit’s Brain Trust and wanted to join and how do you bring them up to speed very quickly?
You don’t want to get in a situation where you’ve got advanced students or people who have been there a while seeing mistake after mistake after mistake and bad fits, like political questions or this or that. So we created a video walkthrough and we first started it by doing a live tour. I would have a live tour and walk people through what to expect–
Andrew: Whenever they joined they would be connected to you and you would do a one on one live tour with them?
Naveen: They wouldn’t be connected to me. I would have a welcome post because I knew when a launch was happening and I would ask them to opt in and then we would do a welcome tour.
Andrew: For multiple people at once using hangouts?
Naveen: Yeah, something like that.
Andrew: I see. It’s not like you would do one on one with everyone at that point.
Naveen: Not at that point. I did do that later. But at that point I learned what do I need to do. What are the common questions that I’m going to get? And then from there I created a script and we did a project where I did an on demand video tour of what to expect in Brain Trust, common problems and issues that come up and what we have heard are the most valuable parts of the community.
And people basically had to watch those and if they didn’t watch them and they started engaging, I would point them back like, “Hey, have you checked out that tour we put together. A lot of these questions were answered there. Check it out. Let me know and then if you have a question after that, I’m happy to help.”
Andrew: I see. That is a lot of work. What did you get out of all this, you personally?
Naveen: Oh, me personally?
Andrew: Did you get paid for it?
Andrew: Beyond that what did you get?
Naveen: So there are two things. Let me first answer on the business side of I Will Teach. When you take the time to onboard people in this way and go to the next level of onboarding them one on one depending on the product size, you get sticky customers. You get sticky members, members who immediately see the value in what they’ve signed up for and immediately understand or are welcomed in by people who they’re excited to now talk with and surround themselves with.
And that is, to me, very–it’s very impactful. So people ask me, “Why are you doing so much stuff? Why did you do so much stuff with Ramit?” It’s because Ramit provided me an opportunity to be able to touch many people’s lives very, very easily. He did the hard work of writing a book and building an audience and this and that and continuing to grow his business and his audience. Here I am able to help another person overcome a struggle or a challenge. Now I can do that at scale within the group.
It was truly amazing. I have–we just moved, so we don’t have it up yet–but I have a board where people have mailed me notes from all around the world on how I’ve touched their lives because of this particular program. I’ve helped them through some really tough challenges and just helping them getting them back on their feet or helping them go full-time into their business, whatever the case is.
When I receive a note, a physical note or email note, I get a lot of reward and a lot of good karma from that. That’s why I do what I do. I can make more money by focusing just on my own things. But I don’t know. There’s something about giving back and helping somebody else overcome a challenge. When you’re there, I guess as a counselor and you see them succeed and blossom, it’s very hard to replace that with making more money.
Andrew: Speaking of money, this site of yours, NextVacay, it’s designed for people to find a trip and save money doing it?
Naveen: Yeah. So my wife and I, we love to travel. As we’re planning on our finances and stuff, we wanted to see the world and wanted to see much of it, but you only have so much that you can see in a given year, whether that’s time off from work or whether that’s restricted by finances. I’ve been kind of like a travel hacker and I’ve flown for free plenty of times using miles and points and all that.
But then I started coming across some hidden areas of the internet where people were talking about insane flight fares that were going on and sometimes you could hop on them, sometimes you couldn’t. We were able to go to India to see her grandmother after we got married for $300 each. That’s insane. A ticket is usually at that time a year like $1,500 or so. We were able to go to Barcelona for around $600 each.
We were able to really see a lot of the world for prices that we would normally pay to fly across the country. And we were doing it ourselves and then we started getting questions from our friends like, “How are you guys swinging this? I know that you guys are pretty well, but this well, where you’re traveling three or four times a year abroad? What are you doing?” I said, “Oh, we’re doing this because the price is the same as a domestic ticket, man.” They were like, “Can you tell me more about this when it happens next?”
I was doing it, again, from the goodness of my heart. I was just doing it and telling my friends. And then I started to notice the number of people asking to know about this was increasing. I was like, “I wonder if there’s something here.” We started to create a beta program for it and we started to notice that people were willing to pay money to hear from us when we found these amazing flight deals out of cities near them. That’s where it started.
Andrew: I see. That’s why you ask me when I get to the site what city or what airport is closest to me. I pick that and then you only tell me about deals that are near or that our out of San Francisco or near it.
Naveen: Well, within a three-hour drive. In the Bay Area, it’s all the major Bay Area airports plus Sacramento. Actually the Bay Area, you also get deals out of Los Angeles because it’s often a very, very cheap flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles and then you can hop on a–
Andrew: And you’re manually finding this and sending it out?
Naveen: Yeah, it’s all manual. You can get API access if you have millions and millions of dollars and you can get GDS access and all that stuff. We have a team of people now who search every city every day for hot destinations and we look and we see, we detect patterns now in how the airlines price themselves and how airfare wars are happening. And we send those deals out to our members whenever we find them.
Andrew: That’s $25 a year.
Naveen: Right. Right now it’s $25 a year, probably going up. But right now it’s $25 a year.
Andrew: And how many members do you have?
Naveen: We’re currently growing at an enormous pace. We’re growing at four figures of members a month, thousands of members a month. We’re working to get that number higher.
Andrew: Thousands a month?
Naveen: Well, yes. So a little over–
Andrew: Let’s just say over 1,000. You told me the number before. You don’t want to say it publicly, it sounds like. So, I’m not going to embarrass–I’m not going to trick you. But it’s over 1,000 new members a month who are signing up. How many members do you have currently?
Naveen: We currently have 4,000 members and we just got started.
Andrew: Okay. All right. That’s in addition to I see on LinkedIn you’ve got other projects going. Anything else you want to talk about that you’re doing?
Naveen: No. That’s my main focus. That’s my passion these days.
Andrew: Not writing software? Weren’t you a software–
Naveen: Yeah. I still run a software development company. I still have existing clients. I do not take any more clients.
Andrew: That makes sense. All right, Naveen, thanks so much for doing this. I want to ask you these questions for so long and I like having this formal environment to ask it because the nice thing about being an interviewer is I don’t have to interrupt and tell you how I’m doing, like give you a break from talking and talk about some random stuff going on in my life and be kind of like a human being. I can just ask questions the way that I would if I–actually, I don’t know.
I don’t know any other opportunity to get–I guess the way that I would if you were a consultant. Instead I get to benefit and all these other people are going to benefit and they’re all going to thank both of us because we did this. And I appreciate you doing it. I’ll be the first to thank you. And everyone who’s out there wondering what this is for, for something called Mixergy Premium, I don’t often talk about it here in the podcast, but if you want to sign up and check it out, we offer all the backload of over 1,000 interviews as part of it.
We also have over 150 courses done by proven entrepreneurs, including Justin Kahn, the cofounder of Twitch.tv, who they come on and they teach one thing that they’re especially good at, things like how to figure out what your customers actually want so you can sell them, how do you buy Facebook ads, how do you create a community, get a lot of people on there. This was a guy name Mark Bonus. His whole plan is he creates online communities on Facebook. He says, “Why get people to like your Facebook page instead of getting them to just join a group and then once they join a group, you can market to them?”
What I wanted to spend time here was talking about how to actually get people in that group to engage and to talk and get some benefit and I appreciate you doing that. If anyone’s out there listening and wants to go check out that group, Mixergy.com/Premium and Naveen, your site is NextVacay.com as in next vacation, NextVacay. Thanks for doing this.
Naveen: Thanks for the opportunity, Andrew. One last thing–I hope that people join the Mixergy Premium community. I found so much value from the community but also from the courses. And even though like as I’ve used Mixergy to grow my business over time, there’s so much, there’s a vast–you’ve already talked to so many people from so many different areas that we find valuable and relevant at certain stages of the business.
And it’s gotten to a point where I have a lot of my contractors use my login and password, sorry, and he goes in and he earmarks interviews that I should–my homework assignments, interviews I should review next, and then we decide which ones, like are we in the growth stage? Are we on the outreach stage? Which one should we do next? We walk through those courses together and we do the homework. The Mixergy Premium community has definitely played an instrumental role in the success of–my personal success and I thank you for it.
Andrew: Thanks. We just now created an app, iPhone and Android which allows you to create your own collection. If anyone else has an assistant that wants to create a collection for them, they can say well, “Here’s Naveen’s,” or, “Here’s Andrew’s,” or, “Here’s John’s collection of growth interviews. Here are courses on marketing,” etc. and you can just go in and listen to them back to back using the app.
Well, thanks for saying that. Thank you for being a member for so long. Thank you for–you and I have gotten to know each other and I’m looking forward to spending more time with you. Thanks for all the help over the years. Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Bye, everyone.