Before we get started, check out Visual Website Optimizer. Did you know it’s a dead simple way to do A/B testing on your site? Just enter your site’s URL and you’re ready to create variations of your current site’s design. Once you’re done, test it against your current layout and see which one increases conversions. VisualWebsiteOptimizer.com.
Next is Grasshopper. Did you know that in addition to being the virtual phone system that entrepreneurs love, Grasshopper.com has one of the most popular blogs on entrepreneurship? Even if you’re not ready to get a new phone number from Grasshopper.com, even if you’re not ready to add extensions to your phone, even if you’re not ready to get text-based voicemail and a toll free number and everything else that Grasshopper offers you, check out Grashopper.com’s blog to learn about entrepreneurship.
Finally, who’s the lawyer that tech entrepreneurs trust? Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Scroll down to the bottom of the site and see what other entrepreneurs have said about him, including Jason Calacanis of Maholo who says, “He’s a great lawyer who loves startups.” WalkerCorporateLaw.com
Here’s your program.
Andrew: Hi, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and the place where successful entrepreneurs come to tell their stories, tell you how they built their companies, fire you up and give you ideas that you can use to go build your company and hopefully do what today’s guest is doing, which is an interview where you teach others how you built your business and help them.
So, how do you build a $1,000,000+ a year search engine optimization consulting company? Joining me is Phil LaBoon, founder of SEO consulting company Eyeflow. In this interview, I want to find out how he built his business. So, Phil, welcome to Mixergy.
Phil: Thanks for having me.
Andrew: I’m going to start out with the first big question that I ask a lot of entrepreneurs who come here. What was your revenue last year?
Phil: Revenue probably this year will be a little over $3 million.
Andrew: Okay. And what was it last year?
Phil: About $2.5 million.
Andrew: Okay. And you actually seem to have . . . your fiscal year isn’t the calendar year, right?
Phil: I don’t believe so. I actually don’t handle a lot of the finance things. It’s one thing for me that’s just – my Achilles’ heel is numbers, so I just hire the right people to make sure. Especially with our business, we have several LLCs all rolled up as partners and JVs, so it gets very complicated with us where we’re transferring profits and losses, and for me it’s just a little much to handle.
Andrew: But this is your business? You’re the founder and CEO of the company?
Phil: I own 100% of most of the businesses. Some, I bring in partners where I see necessary, but I’m the majority shareholder of most of the LLCs and 100% shareholder of Eyeflow Internet Marketing.
Andrew: Help me understand. What is the deal here with all the different LLCs? You and I talked about in the pre-interview so I guess when I say, “Help me understand,” I mean help my audience understand how they all work together. What’s the deal?
Phil: I’m a serial entrepreneur. I always have been. Eyeflow Internet Marketing is more of an umbrella for a lot of the startups that I do. Some of my startups have come from I’ve done SEO for clients, which is search engine optimization, and I’ve actually taken on equity within their firm or we’ve had a good idea so we’ve spun off and started our own LLCs. Some things we’ve developed that are really cool with Eyeflow, like new technology or software, and we’ve actually spun it out into new LLCs to keep it separate with the intention to build up the value and sell it off to real estate companies or mortgage companies or whoever we think could benefit from it.
Andrew: For example, what did you spin off as an LLC separate from the parent company that you think might have a future on its own somewhere else?
Phil: One of our newer products is Business Finder Plus, which is basically taking our local Internet marketing search, turning it just so that it’s this low cost – about $30 a month – local Internet marketing solution where every month we’ll submit you to all the different local sites out there. That was with a pre-existing client that I had on board. It’s actually the largest buying co-op in the U.S. We created this separate company. He loved the idea. I loved that he had this network, so we went partners on to a joint venture, and now we have a full call center that calls and sells this service to their three million plus person group.
Andrew: What kind of group do they have that they have so many members?
Phil: It’s a discount buying group. It’s really cool. It’s been around way before Groupon. It’s mostly, I would say, Groupon for businesses. They negotiate deals with a lot of big companies all around the U.S., like Hertz Rent-a-Car, Office Depot, where they get you the biggest discounts if you’re a business. You join their network for free, and then you get discounts from 40 of the largest companies out there that businesses use.
Andrew: Gotcha. Okay. And so they’ve got millions of businesses that are already their customers. You guys have a new product that you want to introduce to their customers, which is search engine submission or local site submission. You guys create the product. He markets it to his people. You guys split the business ownership, and eventually it’ll be a standalone company, possibly.
Phil: You got it.
Andrew: That’s the idea there.
Phil: Get the revenue up and then get that thing sold.
Andrew: Okay. Hey, you know, by the way, when I’ve been on your side of the interview and my business was a little bit complicated and the questioner assumed that he understood, it was very tempting for me to say, “Yeah, you got it” and move on. Don’t feel the need to do that with me. Stop me at any point and say, “Andrew, you really didn’t get it.” I don’t want to be super nice to you. I want to be super good to our audience here and stop and explain it. So when that happens, don’t be afraid to grab me by the lapels and make sure that I stop and understand your business clearly.
Andrew: One thing that you said is that you’re a serial entrepreneur, and I know that from doing research on you. I want to go through some of the businesses leading up to this before we dive into this one. You had a company where you were selling breathalyzers. Can you tell people about what that was? I thought that was a very innovative company. And how old were you when you launched it?
Phil: I was about 21 years old when I launched that business. Basically, I found a small business, a three person shop down in Florida. It had a great idea and a great concept and I read an article about it, but you can tell they didn’t really have much of a marketing budget, total startup, and I liked where they were going with it. I had some friends recently, at the time, die from drinking and driving. I was just turning 21. So I wanted to do something that made a difference, kind of young, naive, wanted to change the world, and we did pretty good.
It was basically a pre-existing product, which was a very accurate breathalyzer. It was a keychain to test your alcohol level. It’s much more accurate than anything you’ve seen on the market then or now. It was a one time use, and it was meant to stop a friend to give physical proof that you are too drunk to drive. Not to test yourself, but to actually test your friend and give them physical proof so it’s no longer I think you’re too drunk. It’s showing you’re physically over the legal limit to drive.
It was a great product. We did really well. I think we were just young and the company really didn’t have a lot of footing. I was 21. It was one of my first big businesses. I had a few startups before then that were just barely making it, and that was my first national exposure. We got in with the government. We were selling to Air Force bases. We were selling to the Navy, the Marines because these kids would come back from tour and essentially party too much, lose their licenses, and that would just ruin their lives. They wouldn’t be able to make it to the bases. It was quite a big issue with the military. It was just the stars didn’t align on that one.
Andrew: Why did you make the distinction between taking the breathalyzer test yourself and giving it to a friend? Why did that matter?
Phil: Because if you drink, you shouldn’t drive at all. That was really our theory.
Andrew: Ah, I see. If you say that this is to let you know whether you’re too drunk to drive, what you’re implying is drink up until this limit, it’s okay to drink and drive. If you’re saying this is to help you tell a friend not to, you’re keeping yourself protected and you’re also not sending the wrong message to your potential customers.
Phil: Yeah, and drunk people, usually they could be doing something wrong. They could be inhaling instead of breathing out. There’s just a whole . . . you ask a drunk person to follow rules and read a pamphlet, it just doesn’t work. Even the website I had was SaveABuddy.com. The whole focus was friends stopping friends. What the military did was they set up a buddy program where if you went out, you were supposed to designate a buddy to make sure your buddy did not get too drunk. I think that was a really good approach that they did. I think it’s a shame that it ended up not working out, but for me, there were just bigger and better things happening.
Andrew: I want to learn a little bit more about this business before moving on to what obviously became a much bigger business than this. I want to understand where you got this. You saw that somebody else come up with the technology, they had the business. You said, “I’m going to go and buy it from this person, not the business, but make him my supplier and then I’ll be the face and I’ll be the person who sells this to the military, who gets national press for it and gets people to come to my website.” Is that right? Did I understand that right?
Phil: Pretty much. What I tried to do was, I was looking for interesting products. At the time, I had this little business where I was going on websites like DealExtreme is a big one now, where I was finding products in China and Japan that weren’t in the U.S. yet. I was importing them in and selling them. I was selling back in day Red Bull before it became commercialized. They had it over in Thailand, and I was re-selling that to different gyms. Then Red Bull actually contacted me and asked me to quit, asked me politely, or I’d be sued.
So what I did was, I looked for other products. I actually had the same idea to make my own product, a portable breathalyzer, and then I found that there was a small company starting up doing the same thing. I met the owner and we really got along. It was a little three person shop based out of Florida. We got along and decided to do it together where I was pushing all the marketing and he was handling the manufacturing.
I got us several stories in the AP press, Fox News. I think we had a total of 15 videos and hundreds of newspapers across the country. I did pretty good at getting the word out in marketing and I was learning too. This was my first real online marketing project. Our website at one point was getting about 2,000 visitors a day. The profit margin just wasn’t there though, and then we had to deal with insurances and all these other things that came along, because when we shipped overseas, it was made of certain chemicals which wasn’t allowed to be shipped in bulk.
Andrew: Which were what? What was with the chemicals?
Phil: There were certain chemicals that we weren’t allowed to ship in bulk overseas, and we had one of our shipments delayed. It was a huge hassle for not a lot of money, and at the end of the day, it was a moral victory for sure. I did it for about three years, and I was putting them together myself to save money and trying to grow this and then reinvest back into my business. But at the end of the day, it just became a little too much for not enough reward. I didn’t see a future in it. I was investing more and more of my own money just to keep my head above water. I eventually got out and started getting into the real estate game.
Andrew: Before we go on, Phil, what was the website, or the company where you found the product? Where did you go to source products like this?
Andrew: DealExtreme, okay. I know my audience loves to get that kind of detail. How did you get . . . I’m sorry?
Phil: I was going to say a friend of mine just recently did a small deal on DealExtreme selling hookahs.
Andrew: Hookahs. The things that you smoke with your friends.
Phil: That’s it. Shipped, it was $7 for these little personal hookahs. He was selling them on eBay and Amazon. He was charging $15 to $20 and selling them all day. It’s not going to make you a millionaire, but he made a pretty good living and he still is selling these all around. If you can find a unique product for cheap in China – China’s the big place to get it cheap, these overstocked items, you can bring them over here, kind of create your own brand and sell them and do pretty well.
Andrew: All right, I’ve got two questions here written down, two lines of thought that I want to explore here. The first is, how’d you get military contracts? I know how to sell to guys like you. I pick up the phone, I call you up, I find your address on the website. But to go into the military and get the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines to buy from me, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. How’d you do it?
Phil: I was lucky enough that my mom was in the military. She was in the Air National Guard. In fact, I have a business with my mom where she’s a service-disabled veteran. If you know anyone who’s a veteran or service disabled, even if you file for 0% service disabled, you can file for all types of contracts. Now, it is a lot of work to do. It’s a lot of paperwork, huge amounts of paperwork, but the payoff is big.
For me, I learned what channels to go to, who to contact, and made a case study with local organizations. Once I had the case study, I went to other bases and contacted national. It was tough. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to do it. At the end of the day, though, it is a lot of rigmarole. We ended up learning that they have these cards that they can put up to $2,500 on without getting permission, so we set up all of our price points in bulk to be under the $2,500 so they wouldn’t have to file to get all the paperwork. There’s a lot of things that you can do, but it just takes time.
What I would recommend to all your viewers, if they’re a vet, even if they are 0%, they can still file for a 0% service disabled contract where they can go after all types of great government contracts. But the process, there’s whole organizations dedicated to training you on how to take advantage of your service disabled ability. But for me, I just started a business with my mom and she’s the owner and I’m essentially a partner and we go after business together. I provide the financial and she actually goes out and contracts the business.
Andrew: All right. I love that. Here’s the other thing that I’m wondering is the price. I saw the price online in an old article. You were selling it for $5 a pop plus $3 for the refill because these were one-time uses, so people would pay $3 to keep using it over and over. I’m in Washington, DC right now. I keep talking to people who have these incredible military contracts, government contracts to code up sites for this and that. They charge a boatload of money, they get five year deals out of the government, and here you are charging $5 a pop, $3 to save someone’s life on a refill. Why so low?
Phil: To try to get it out in bulk. You can’t charge a fortune for these things.
Andrew: You can’t charge the government a fortune? I would have thought that they’d pay like $10. What’s a life worth?
Phil: At the end of the day, they have to source your items, and they can see how much we paid for just the breathalyzer itself, which was open to the market.
Andrew: I see. So they went to DealExtreme too and they had a sense of what you were paying.
Phil: The product is actually American made. This wasn’t DealExtreme. This was actually, we had an actual . . . everything was 100% U.S. with the breathalyzer keychain. Other things I got involved with were shipped in from China, but this was 100% American made, which also gave it great credentials with U.S. military. You take anything small plastic keychain and we were probably the .00001% made in the US and that was important for us. We decided to do that right off the bat because you don’t want to sell . . . anything made in China looks cheap and the government wants to buy American made.
So it looked great on our packaging, which we had great packaging. I don’t know if you saw the stands we had. We had “American Made” with the American flag really big. And yeah, prices were probably two to three times as much as they could have been if we outsourced to China, but we knew the quality was there and we knew that a lot of the organizations we were going after, that would be important for them.
Andrew: All right. You also mentioned something about insurance. When you were saying this was tough because of this ba, ba, ba and I said, “Hmm, that’s an odd thing to have an issue with.” What do you mean?
Phil: There’s very harmful chemicals in here and basically two pieces of Styrofoam preventing you from breathing it in, ripping one open and inhaling it. Or let’s just say the most obvious – what if you take a test and it says you’re able to drive so the person drives. Can they hold us liable that this test said I was okay to drive. We tried to have as much text as we possibly could to prevent this, but you still need insurance. The insurance has to evaluate the risk and it’s very hard for them. They just look at this test tells you if you can drink and drive. That’s what they were thinking, and we couldn’t get around it. Insurance was very expensive, and I wasn’t ready to have myself personally liable for something that happened. You know, the litigious culture that we’re in. It just wasn’t worth it for me for the risks that we were seeing out there.
Andrew: All right. You know, Phil, it must seem like a million years ago to you and you’re on to bigger and better things, but I’m so glad that you talked about it. I love entrepreneur stories like that. I love that you came up with this idea and that you found ways to make it work and that you had those articles written about you and you had the fame that came along with it and you had the experience that comes with it. I couldn’t have this interview with you and not talk about it and just move on. So to move on now, now that we’ve gone into it, how did you decide to move on? It’s not easy for an entrepreneur like you, who got all this attention, who had a track record to say – pfft – I’ve got to move on. How did you make that transition?
Phil: It was a tough one. I put my life into that business for years and I was young. If you had asked me then, I probably would have told you the rest of my life would be around breathalyzers. I was writing articles. I was starting a nonprofit organization. Basically, I didn’t agree with MADD’s views, so I wanted to start an organization that wasn’t trying to ban alcohol in the U.S., which is what I felt they were trying to do, and actually trying to go after the issues that were causing the drinking and driving. I dedicated my life to it.
I think it all came when I had another opportunity to get involved in the real estate boom in Florida. I saw how much money was being made. I saw how people that had a fraction of the skill that I had, how much money they were making. I think it came down to a big jump into I need to try something else. I spent years doing this and I was making more at a consulting job. I was investing a lot of my money back into this. Anything I made went right back. It was tough, but I think that’s a good part. Knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. At some point, you’ve got to put those cards down and know that your hand’s beat.
Andrew: And so was it a clean break? Was it, I’ve got to move on from this and go explore Florida? Or was it the Florida real estate market starting to catch your attention and you were spending more and more time on Florida and less and less time on the keychain breathalyzers? Which way did the transition go?
Phil: I would say that it was pretty clean because I think my partner was very frustrated as well. We had contractors that we were dealing with to make sure that . . . there were a million people trying to start breathalyzer keychains after we got the popularity and they saw, “Wow, this is a pre-existing product. We can just go out and make a little plastic keychain and shove them in for cheaper.” So we saw all types of things. It was constant defense. I think he was getting frustrated and wanted to get out of it. I felt mutual and then we went our separate ways. He owns a marketing company as well in Florida. I’ve always done consulting gigs on the side, Internet consulting gigs for web design companies, PR firms, marketing firms, at least here in Pittsburgh. Then I got involved with a real estate brokerage down in Florida and we just went gangbusters with it.
Andrew: What kind of real estate? From what I see here in my notes, you were 23 years old and entered a Florida real estate investment partnership that generated $1.4 million in less than a year and then fell apart. That’s what the notes say. Let’s explore that a little bit deeper. First of all, what kind of real estate did you get into?
Phil: Mostly pre-construction, new construction real estate. We were down in Florida selling homes before they were built. It was very popular where you could literally put money down to buy a home, and before the home was even built, you could sell that deed for $50,000 more than you paid for it. My family got involved buying some properties down there, so I said, “This is something I need to get into.” I found a partner, started a brokerage, and we went gangbusters. We were literally making millions of dollars very, very quickly.
Andrew: So more than $1.4 million?
Phil: That’s where it becomes very . . . $1.4 with our brokerage. What ended up happening is my partner started another company where I was generating the leads. He funneled the leads into a dummy corporation that had an identical name, identical phone number. It took four years in court and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees and court fees. We finally got our judgment, but we still weren’t able to accumulate everything that we were owed. We generated, I would say probably closer to $3 million that first year, but it’s hard to track because there were all kinds of dummy corporations.
Andrew: So you’re saying the business generated about $3 million, but part of it went to this dummy corporation where he was taking the checks and putting it in the dummy corporation’s very real bank account and then taking it into his very real pocket is what you’re saying?
Phil: Well actually, what I was doing was I was generating all the leads, which was hundreds, I think it was about 15,000 leads that year for people who contacted us wanting to buy investment real estate or investment properties. So what happened was, we had our corporation which was a 50/50 partnership. The leads started going there and then shortly after there was an identical company, basically a mirror, same name almost, same phone number, same business card, same address, but I couldn’t track all those sales because he was the 100% owner of that. So as the leads came in, he was siphoning leads over to his corporation, not ours.
Phil: And then we found out about it, of course, and then that’s when the four years of hell went through of just lawsuits and appeals and now we’re in the collection phase, which is for my half of the $1.4 million. We couldn’t actually get the rest, which was several other million.
Andrew: Were you able to collect your half of the $1.4 million?
Phil: Still in collections.
Andrew: Still in collections. So you still couldn’t get it.
Phil: We have a judgment from the State of Florida, which is good. Now it’s the collection phase, which who knows.
Andrew: All right. Listen, I’ve got the word insurance here circled big from earlier in our conversation, so I’m going to say “allegedly” to all of that. You want to say allegedly with me? Let’s say allegedly. I’m going say allegedly anyway because who knows. It’s a very litigious country as you discovered in your first business.
Andrew: Okay. Actually, where do you get these leads and who do you sell the leads to? That’s an interesting business that I don’t know much about.
Phil: You mean in the real estate?
Andrew: Yeah. Are you putting up a landing page online and collecting leads and then selling them offline? What’s the deal there?
Phil: No, I actually did something that I thought was pretty smart. I started a site called Your Advice and Education on Realty Development. YAERD.
Andrew: Okay, I have all of this so far. Yes.
Phil: I created an informational portal with thousands of pages created by hand. We had a team of writers create. We built links and articles and built links to it. Even today, if you type in “pre-construction real estate” or “new construction real estate,” you’ll see that we still rank on the first page of Google, usually number two or three, for all types of investment terms. “Florida investment real estate,” we still rank number one. The site hasn’t been touched in years, but it still generates the traffic.
So people would come and basically say where’s the best place that we should buy? Then when they would do that, we would send them over to our brokerages. We’d recommend our developments that we had exclusive deals with, and that’s what my partner would then do. I would get the people who wanted to buy. I would hand it off. We had 26 brokers. Then they would close the deals.
Andrew: What’s the name of the website? I just did that search here.
Andrew: Oh .org, Okay.
Phil: It’s a nonprofit organizational site, basically, where we just upload content, upload images, and then now we sell those leads to various corporations, but it doesn’t do nearly as much as it used to. It used to get thousands and thousands of people a week.
Andrew: How much money could you get for a single lead?
Phil: Well, I was actually getting a percent of the sale, was the idea. But you can make probably anywhere from $50 to $100 a lead.
Andrew: Okay. And a percent of the sale is how much on average?
Phil: I was supposed to get 50% of the sale, because I owned 50% of the company, so after expenses, 50% of the profits. I just got an offer on that site not too long ago for a company who’s willing to pay 15%, but the problem is keeping people honest. I would much rather just sell the leads, where I think you’re probably looking at, in this market, maybe $25 if you go out. It depends how much time and energy you want to put in. If you go out and push and say, “I got these great leads. I want to sell these leads. I’ll give you exclusive. I won’t sell them to anyone else but you.” There’s all types of things you can do. I’m beyond that at this point in my life. We have so many other things going great. I’m soured on real estate at this point in my life.
Andrew: All right. But the idea was a leads-based business. You knew how to rank high for keywords. You knew how to create the right pages to convert people. You just had this little machine that you built. The little machine was producing outsize revenue. That’s what the business was. Allegedly, there was this whole situation here. Allegedly, wink wink. Allegedly, here for the insurance people. Did you get to pocket any money from that business, from all this work that you put into it?
Andrew: Not even a dollar?
Phil: I think I got a check for about $14,000, but I had a whole team operating, which was several thousand dollars a month that I had to put up for a year before I realized what was happening. We were selling pre-construction, so it takes a while to get paid on it. So he strung me along for almost a year before I realized what was happening. I ended up on that venture, it put me out probably about $250,000 between lawsuits and employees.
Andrew: So not only did you not get to put in more than a few thousand dollars, you actually had to shell out about $250,000?
Phil: Oh yeah.
Andrew: Where’d you get $250,000? You were a guy who was selling at a loss these breathalyzers.
Phil: The breathalyzers, that’s a whole another business. The real estate, that’s where I lost almost everything. I had to take a mortgage against my house. I had to borrow money from friends.
Andrew: Ah, so that’s where you lost the $250,000. From money from friends. It was their money. It was your house equity that you lost. Wow, this is some story.
Phil: Yeah, it was terrible. I started taking on jobs for $10 an hour, consulting gigs for next to nothing just so I could pay lawyer fees, which were thousands of dollars a month. It was a very hard time in my life because I had employees that wanted to get paid. I had to let go a lot of good people because I couldn’t afford to keep them on and now my whole business model was completely trashed. Realizing that a year of back pay, which was hundreds of thousands of dollars I wasn’t going to get paid now. It almost bankrupted me.
Andrew: Let me ask you this. First of all, thanks for being this open. The e-mail that I got from one of your people about your story just made me find a way to get you here. I said, “I gotta hear this story personally.” But to hear you tell it this way is even more shocking and more useful, I think, because it’s rare to see entrepreneurs be open. So, while you’re this open, let me ask you this. I’m not going to dig too much deeper. Now I just want to get a sense of the emotion of the situation. I keep thinking what if I’m making a big mistake here with Mixergy and who knows what happens here and there and I end up losing everything? Can I go and ask a friend to give me a $60,000 a year job? Can I bring myself to take a job that’s less than I think I’m worth? And it’s just so fricking hard. I would want to go and hide in a cave under a rock somewhere. I can’t even bring myself to think about it. How do you get yourself to a place where you can take that job? How do you feel in that moment?
Phil: It was terrible because here I am trying to charge $50 to $60 an hour for my services, and a lot of people can’t afford that and this was years ago. So then I had to go back and say, “Listen, I’ll do it for $10 an hour. I need money.” I wasn’t taking jobs. I was still a contractor, but it really hurt because I had to go back to companies and then trying to ask for $50 to $60, I could never do that again. Once you approach them and say you’re willing to work for $10, they’ll never think you’re going to be worth anything more than that. It was really tough. It ruined a lot of relationships. I personally brought in friends to the brokerage to become real estate agents for us and I burned a lot of bridges with that. It was just overall a really, really tough time in my life where I think a lot of people probably would have gave up on the whole entrepreneurial thing. I just never gave up.
Andrew: Why didn’t you? I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs who are real entrepreneurs. They gave up and they went and got a job in situations similar to yours and then eventually when they recovered they went out and became entrepreneurs again. Why didn’t you say, “Forget this. I’ve got to go get a job where it’s safe, where I can get insurance instead of having to pay for insurance. I get health insurance.” Why? Why not do that?
Phil: I just think I’m too stubborn if I have my mind set. That’s one thing, I think, that separates me is I’m just stubborn. I don’t think that anything’s impossible. I think that if you work hard enough, it’ll happen. I’m a huge, huge fan of non-entitlement. I think that in this country, I’ve been able to make and create several things and I come from a family where, as I said, my mom’s retired military, my dad’s a union plumber, yet I’m able to start a multimillion dollar company from scratch and have several perspective companies that are growing very, very quickly in startup phases. It’s being stubborn and having that commitment that you’re not going to fail. The people that quit, they typically never get back on the horse. I knew that if I got off the horse and became an employee, I would have that employee mindset.
My mindset is I want to be directly compensated for things that I do. I don’t want to be in a large pool where if everyone works well we all might make little bonuses each quarter. I want to be directly in charge of my life. I just can’t live any other way. I don’t want to rely on anybody else for good or bad. I just want to be on my own and have what I do determine my paycheck.
Andrew: Phil, where does that come from? It doesn’t seem like it comes from your mom or your dad. It seems like you’re the energy behind them that gives them that you can do anything feeling. So where does it come to you? How did you get that way?
Phil: I’ve always been like this. Even in elementary school, selling candy in class. There’s story after story of . . . even in high school, I started a whole snack cake business where I had a big cooler. I was going to Hostess and buying their snack cakes about a week before they would expire, getting them for dirt cheap, buying palates at a time, loaning off my parents. I guess in me, it’s inbredded. The school then told me, “You can’t do this.” The other people can do this because they’re fundraising for a team. So my freshman year, I started the ultimate Frisbee team so I could do fundraising. I built a whole entire 20-some person Frisbee team just so I could start selling things in school, then had the members selling things where I took a big part of the profit, but I did put part of into uniforms and trips to go against other school and that was my freshman year in high school.
I think it really depends. I think some people just have that entrepreneurial where they can’t look at a situation without an entrepreneurial mindset. I meet people like that all the time where they see things from a very specific view that I don’t think most people see it as.
Andrew: I’m actually getting chills as you’re talking. You said something that’s interesting. The school would not allow you to sell your own stuff and make money or build this little side business. It’s clearly an important moment in your life that you’re learning to become an entrepreneur and the school’s stopping you. That’s not the first time that I’ve heard that in these interviews. Why? Did they say why? Do you understand why they stopped you from selling?
Phil: I’m sure if I was an A student it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I was a very poor high school student.
Andrew: So they were saying this distracts you from your grades and your studies.
Phil: I think it’s more penalizing you. They don’t know what you’re doing. They don’t understand this. You’re not a good student. They must have some sort of bad connotation. I do think schools do not support entrepreneurs in the least, because I was constantly coming up with ideas in high school for ways to make money. I basically left high school early to take a graphic design job where I was doing web design and banners on cars and things and I did that starting when I was 15 years old. I think my school did hold me back a bit, but I think every time they gave me an obstacle, they would say, “Well, you can’t do this because. . .” and then I would find a way around it. They just gave up. They left me alone. After my freshman year, there was a big amount of back and forth. My parents, luckily, were involved enough with me that they got involved with the school and kind of threw around their weight as parents.
At the end of the day, they can’t pick favorites. They can’t just pick the A students to be able to do whatever they want. I kept out of their hair. I didn’t cause problems. I was doing my sales and running my own little business. It was pretty good after the freshman year. Everything kind of worked out well. I think they thought, “Hey, who’s this new kid coming into high school and thinking he’s going to start a whole business selling food constantly?” Cakes, pop, whatever. I actually had people selling for me. It wasn’t just me. We had other people. We had four or five people running around the school all doing sales and earning commissions on their sales, where I would pay all the costs and buy everything and package it.
Andrew: Oh, they were working with you. They were working for you. They were part of this little empire that you were building up in school.
Phil: We had these big lunchboxes where I would actually do inventory of what they’d sold and do management of how much they’d sold, how much did they get off of that. Before I graduated, I wanted to start this in other high schools where I could actually show other people how to do this. For me, I don’t know, it’s just . . . I’ve met other people like this where they’re just serial entrepreneurs. Every time I look at something, I think, “Wow, I think I can make money off of that.”
At this point in my life though, it comes to is it worth the time and investment, because as you build up more of a reputation, you can start to do other things, like you were mentioning getting investors in with your company. I was nominated for a 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. I was a finalist for the Tri-State area. I ended up getting swamped with investors coming to me. Any idea I had, I would sell them ideas and they would want to buy a percent of it. Not just to buy it, but they want to get involved and help push it and help evolve it.
As you get more accomplished, these things just start to come to you, and it’s like the rich get richer. Once you get recognized as you have good ideas and a track record of making companies that can make revenue, there’s no shortage of people willing to invest for a lot of money for a small percent of interest.
Andrew: All right. So we’re now halfway through our interview. About half an hour you and I have talked and I promise you, this is great nourishment for the people who are listening to us. They’re going to remember these stories. They’re going to love it and hopefully they’re going to bring it out to their schools or to their kids’ schools and get things changed because they see the value of what you got out of it.
Let’s now move on to the big company. Everything turned around at Eyeflow. How’d you come up with the idea for what became Eyeflow? Where’d it come from?
Phil: I never meant it to be a business. It was never meant to be an actual company. If you had asked me, I wanted to be a consultant. When I started Eyeflow, there was really no Internet marketing in Pittsburgh. There was no SEO. There was a little pay-per-click company. I like to focus on organic because it’s a lot more effective and you have much more potential for growth. I was doing research and I just started consulting with friends’ companies and web design studios. I had a degree in web design, so I knew a lot of people that worked as designers for various companies where I was more focusing on the analytical, how to make that company money. So I started looking at their script sucks or the “buy now” button is five buttons deep or that their shopping cart was terrible.
I started making advice and working with more and more companies and just one thing after another. It ended up coming out to be I need a few more people to help. I need someone to help me write this content because I can’t write all these articles. I need someone to pick up the phone to start building some links and contacting competitors to see where their links are coming from. Now, we’re almost to 25 people, and it still feels that same way where we’re just constantly looking at how to make our services better, how to create our own. I don’t see many companies really doing that, especially in our industry. They just seem to be usually reselling some other third party service that’s not that quality, in my opinion. A big one is Reach Local, where, essentially, most of the SEO companies are just salespeople. They’re just trying to resell something that they don’t understand and get a percent of the commission.
Andrew: And this was what year when you started out what became Eyeflow?
Phil: I took my first client in 2001.
Phil: Yeah. I think it was a uniform company or something like that. I was doing work for all types of little contractors and dry cleaners, restaurants, plumbers, everything and they’d work me hard. Some of these companies pay $200 a month, and I swear I spent 20 hours a month working with them. But, you know, it’s what you have to do when you start. Then I had case studies and more case studies. Now we still have a fairly low price when you compare us to companies in New York or even DC or Los Angeles. Just because Pittsburgh has such a low cost of living, we’re just a very desirable company to outsource to.
The big thing that I think really was our claim to fame was that we took a hit in the beginning by not offering hosting or web design or all the add-on services, but because of that, we now work with 50 to 60 web design firms and hosting firms. By us not competing and not trying to take the whole entire pie . . . let’s say someone needs some type of great PHP web design or they need something built in Joomla, I can go to a specialist and say, “Hey, I’m going to bring you business and, by the way, if you have SEO, bring it to us.” Because of that, we just built a huge pool of people who outsource. Half of our business is other companies that don’t have the capacity to do it, so they outsource to us knowing that we don’t step on any of their toes in any of their services.
Andrew: How easy was search engine optimization back in the early 2000s?
Phil: Extremely easy.
Andrew: That’s what I’m hearing, of course.
Phil: Yeah, it was keyword stuffing work, landing pages, link farms. Link farms are still working to this day. I don’t know if you read about JC Penney, what’s just happened with them in the New York Times. Then right after that, Overture got busted, or was it Overstock? Yeah, I mean, everyone’s getting busted. It’s these buying links, sticking them on sites. Google just released this huge update called the scraper update, but it’s just becoming, you know, it was so easy and it’s getting so hard now. I read an article five years saying SEO will be dead because it will always be a format. As many updates as they do, there’s always going to be people countering it, looking at what they look at. Now it’s just getting so complicated where I could have told you before, yeah, just use your keyword over and over and over and build a whole bunch of pages and use your keywords over and over again.
That was a legitimate strategy in 2002, 2003. Now, you can’t. You really need to focus on quality links, not just random links, but links from good quality sources that are in your industry and make sense that if you do buy, you run the risk of getting extremely penalized. I think that we’re going to be, SEO is going to be around for a very long time because it’s getting so complex, the average company doesn’t have the resources to keep up with it.
Andrew: It feels like in the early 2000s the hard part was convincing people that SEO mattered, that SEO could deliver traffic to their businesses, that it was worth investing in, that it was worth paying attention to.
Phil: One of the coolest things, I’ve never seen anyone mention that I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about, is if you go . . . so you’ll be first, it’s an exclusive.
Andrew: I love it.
Phil: If you go to Google Insights and what shows you trends, and I love this because it’s Google’s own tool, type in the word PPC and then compare it to SEO. It’s like an X. In 2004, 2003, pay-per-click was dominating and no one was looking at SEO. It’s completely lopsided. Then as you see it go on, it turns into an X a few years ago, and now it’s projecting SEO and you can see it forecast really high, and pay-per-click is dropping like a rock. Yeah, it was such a hard thing. No one knew what SEO was. Everyone just wanted to buy advertising. The big companies now, we’re approaching huge Fortune 500s and they say, “Well, why do we need SEO when we can just buy it?”
It’s like, well, because of ROI. Do you want to buy clicks or do you want to make conversions and get traffic or be there for the long term? With pay-per-click, you’re spending money, but every month whatever you spend, that’s what you have. SEO is an ongoing strategy where every month you get more and more and more building on top. It’s like a snowball effect.
Companies are now catching on to it. It’s definitely, we’re in our prime now. It’s 100 times better than it was selling SEO in 2000. Anything before 2005 was rough.
Andrew: Because there weren’t customers?
Andrew: Now, at least you can sell it.
Phil: Exactly. Well, they realize. They’re all dealt buzz words, and a lot of people, you know they’re traditional marketers, they don’t want to get into it. Pay-per-click is such a great looking model on paper because you can say, here’s how many estimated clicks you’ll get, there’s all kinds of, here’s what we expect. Where with SEO, it’s really hard to make an estimate on traffic increases because there’s so many variables as far as how much market share do you currently have? How much is there to expand? How aggressive are your competitors? There are so many factors where it’s hard for us. We can only give past examples of past clients which no one likes to see. Pay-per-click is just, on paper, much more attractive to especially larger companies that aren’t as prone to risk or investing in new technology.
Andrew: I could see how that would be more predictable. All right. So, you’re starting to build this business up and at some point you say, let’s look at either launching other side businesses or trading our services for equity in other side businesses. How did it start? What was the first one?
Phil: Wow, the first company that I offered equity. There have been several and most of them don’t work out. I have some that work out very well. Some that, like I said, at the end of the day I hate to trust anyone. I hate when I have to go back to them and there has to be an extreme trust level there that they’re going to pay you. Because everyone always forgets when you get them there because it may take six months, it might take a year to get them to where they want to be, and a lot of times they think they got there on their own. They’ll dilute their shares if they give you shares. I saw on “Social Network” with Facebook how that happened. Something similar happened to me where I don’t even know what happened. I just knew my shares became worthless. I see it happen all the time.
People wanting to pay with . . . we get approached constantly, “Can I pay you in stock? I’ll give you a percent of the business.” We traditionally don’t’ do it. If I have a relationship with you for a few years and we’ve been doing business, I can see you’re already willing to pay me $10,000 or $15,000 a month, yeah, I will take equity and then as we grow if we do better than we can make more. But it’s a rare thing nowadays just because we have so many people willing to pay us top dollar for our services, it’s less of a necessity. But sometimes it makes sense to me where I can see a business or I can see where it can really go and I’ll take a piece of it for sure, as long as the trust level is there.
Andrew: It’s hard to keep people from deluding or doing anything. You’re such a minority shareholder in their business, and they don’t necessarily need you later on after they’ve gotten the results.
Phil: You can’t take it back. With what we do, you can’t take it back. We’ll start other sites occasionally. We’ll build our own site and optimize that, but then you’re starting from scratch as opposed to a brand. It’s cat and mouse. I’d rather just take the money, pay me for my time, pay me for my knowledge. Don’t approach me with these pie in the sky, I’ll never take a pie in the sky. We get “get rich quick” schemes constantly here. Energy drinks is a huge one right now. We get calls every month about new energy drinks because that’s the new pyramid scheme. We get all kinds of things. You know, if you’re willing to sign a contract, give me $100,000 or $150,000 this year, we’ll talk at this time next year. But you have to be willing to invest. If you don’t have money, then I probably don’t want to work with you. You’ve got to rely too much on this. It’s going to be a headache. It’s good when you deal with other people, kind of in your income level or business size where it’s just there’s more of a trust level there than somebody who’s scraping by and hasn’t really made it yet.
Andrew: You said $10,000. What kind of rates can you charge in this business?
Phil: For us, we can charge up to probably about $30,000 to $35,000 is probably our largest clients.
Andrew: $30,000 to $35,000 a month?
Phil: Correct and that’s to handle everything. You have to imagine what we’re doing. It’s not just getting your site to rank. We’re like a whole online PR firm. We’re researching your competitors and seeing what they’re doing, where they’re backlinks are coming from. Manually contacting them with phone and e-mail. We have people in-house that are writing stories about your company and then getting them published as many places as possible. Getting involved with blogs, social networks, hiring specialty blogs to write posts about your company.
Andrew: Hiring specialty blogs?
Phil: Yeah, so you just pay a blogger $50 to $100 to write an article in their industry. Let’s say it’s fashion, which is something we do a lot of work in. We’ll contact fashion bloggers, get them to write articles about the new whatever you have and write their reviews. Obviously, they’re typically positive. Yeah, there are a lot of tricks to the trade. Forecasting fashion trends, I think 99% forecasting 2011 fashions, I can track it back to the company that is writing it. The Internet is becoming much less . . . people need to make money. These bloggers, for them to make $100 writing a blog post is huge for them. They’re typically not going to bash you if they’re . . . it’s like writing an information article, but they don’t fully disclose that they’re being paid for it, so they don’t have the integrity. We may do that with a couple of hundred blogs over the course of a year per client. It really becomes a big issue over what to believe and what not to believe. That’s why people pay. That’s what marketing companies have been doing forever. It’s just now it’s online, so I think a lot of people don’t realize how deep the rabbit hole goes when it comes to online marketing. We create the brands in a lot of cases.
When you do research, we even have a whole system built for that. When you’re researching a company, you see only positive things. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into it, and it costs a lot of money. Then we bring social media in, it’s the same thing. It costs a lot of money to manage your social media, Facebook, Twitter, posting articles, getting those friends up. Not just by getting random people to join, but getting qualified people who actually want to follow what you’re doing.
It’s a huge amount of work. We’re quoting clients right now that are several hundred thousand a year. So, fingers crossed, but, yeah, I mean every year, every quarter, we get bigger and bigger clients. As you show results and show you can do, we can now go after the next bigger fish. It just keeps going from there, and we’ve been doing this since day one.
Andrew: Your clients are, some of them are Geo Solutions, Giant Eagle, EDMC, I don’t even know where I got that list but that’s an accurate list, right?
Phil: Again, a lot of our clients don’t want people to know that their using internet marketing. Some do, some don’t mind, but EDMC is a great example. They’re a huge, huge client, and they work 160 campuses I believe. They’re owned by Goldman Sachs, a very big, very large company.
Andrew: What is EDMC?
Phil: They own five brands of schools. They’re the second largest online school under the University of Phoenix. They own all the Art Institutes in all the cities. They own Brown Mackie, South Point, they own a huge amount of schools all over the U.S., brick and mortar as well as online. They’re a very big company, very big client. I mean, we work with a lot companies, a lot of different mediums too. I don’t have the NDAs in front of me so I’m a little reluctant to say.
Andrew: No, let’s not bring it up. Let’s keep you safe.
Phil: We work with a lot of national companies in travel, a lot of travel clients and hotels, car rentals.
Andrew: Because there’s so much money in this space, specifically online, education, a lot of money there. Each lead, each conversion, each lead is worth dozens of dollars, maybe even hundreds. Each confirmed sale is worth thousands of dollars. Car rental, travel, a lot of money in those businesses. That’s why they’re willing to spend money on SEO because the dollars come back to them.
Phil: We work with all different types of businesses. Like Geo Solutions you mentioned. They do some very niche construction. They may only be a few dozen jobs a year across the country, but if they get one of those jobs, it’s millions and millions and millions of dollars. There are only a few competitors in the world that can do what they do, but they want to be the 800 pound gorilla. One lead more than pays for anything that we would charge in the course of the year. We work with all different types of businesses.
Andrew: How do you get these customers? If I’m here listening to this saying, this is inspiring, I see here in my list, my notes, 50 different companies including Fortune 500 and national franchises, whatever. This is very impressive. Someone who’s listening to this and they say I want to get at these big customers. How do you do it? Walk me through it the way you walked me through how you got the military contracts when you were younger.
Phil: I’ll tell you how I first started was with door-to-door and it was with hangers, where I had door hangers. That was my first start. I was doing the work. I was going door-to-door for sales. I was selling telephone lines in high school door-to-door. I worked for this scam company – I don’t think it was legitimate – trying to get people to switch to Verizon. I was door-to-door and I was getting really good at selling these phone lines even they were more expensive, it was hassle, I was doing good with sales.
I said I could do this and sell my own thing where it’s 100% profit margin because I’m selling my time. I went door-to-door with these little door hangers if they weren’t there. If they were there I’d talk to them and leave it and tell them I’d give them a free review and analysis. I had to build up case studies that way. From there, I started getting referrals from people. So after that process, then it was, you did good for this person, he has a brother. You have an e-mail database. You keep pinging your base with specials or different things.
Skyrocket ahead, I’ve talked with thousands of companies over the years. I’ve done presentations. I do free seminars within the city. So that gets us a lot of good leads. We do these free educational seminars which get about 50 to 60 people to and it’s free. We just say, by the way, if you want a free analysis, we’ll give you a free analysis. We rank, this is probably the best way, we rank organically in Pittsburgh, we’re half the first page of Google for most of the searches. If you type in “Pittsburgh SEO” or “Pittsburgh internet marketing,” it’s tough to find someone who’s not us or a reseller of ours or one of our side services or one of our employees’ personal websites. We dominant.
Andrew: That’s awesome.
Phil: We have Pittsburgh as [interference] ranks very, very well, which is our SEO group. We have Eyeflow. We have a sister company in the Pittsburgh design agency. We have all these sites that rank.
Andrew: There we go, I did a search “Pittsburgh SEO” in Google. First result Eyeflow, second result Pittsburgh SEO Group, that’s you too, SEO April PGHSEO lady, Chris Hornak. Is Chris Hornak someone you know?
Phil: Yeah, Chris Hornak’s our basically partner. He just became a partner this year.
Andrew: So, there it goes. You do dominate that. I don’t know of any other Pittsburgh SEO company that’s national the way that you guys are.
Phil: The other two that you mentioned are both one-person consultants. For the clients we have, a one-person consultant . . . we don’t really go after the same clients that they do. In fact, we’ll recommend them out. They’re both great. At the end of the day, for our market, for who we’re going after and who we compete against, you won’t find them until the second or third page.
Andrew: Earlier you said that some of them have worked out. I wrote it down to come back and follow up with you. This is reference to some of the partnerships that you’ve done or some the investments that you’ve made by doing SEO work. Like what? What’s a good example of one that has worked out?
Phil: One of the best one’s is the Allied Business Network, which is that buying group I mentioned earlier. We basically, they were a client, a pretty big client. They had a really kind of old system for generating leads, which was picking up the phone and getting businesses to join. What we got them to do is to start ranking for all different types of discounts and promo codes and things like that. People would come to them and sign up. Now membership has more than tripled in the last few years. We get equity based on the sales. It’s a little hard to describe how they generate money, but basically they offer discounts. They make a small percent on the backend. So they have to do millions and millions and millions of dollars in order to stay profitable. They can do it, and with the help of us, we do do it. For all of their clients they bring to the table, we just knock it out of the park.
That’s great, because as it grows, as we build more and more, we make more money residual every month. Imagine having 50,000 companies all using you to buy all their office supplies, all their car rentals, all their hotels. As we build more and more, we never go down. We make a nice chunk of change every quarter.
Andrew: In addition to doing SEO services for their clients, you will also help them find new clients and keep a percentage of the revenue that comes in from them. Is that right?
Phil: I’m not sure about that. Can you restate?
Andrew: What’s the business arrangement there? I thought all you were doing was reselling your service to them?
Phil: No, what we’re actually doing is we own a piece of the company now.
Andrew: Oh, of the actual company that has millions of customers.
Andrew: Oh, okay.
Phil: Instead of getting paid, we get a percent of profits that come in. So as the company grows, so does our income. The more that they make, the more that we make, it’s based on a percent system and it’s on a tier, so the better we do the more we make. We just happen to max out that tier quite a bit.
Andrew: Let me ask you this. I did a previous interview today with the founder of Dwolla, and I asked him the same question I’m about to ask you, but I think it’s going to be more significant with you. I asked you what was that first million like. Now, for you, the guy who had to take a $10 an hour job to go back and make another million with his new business, what was that like? What was that like to make that first million with this business?
Phil: Doesn’t affect me at all, I don’t think. I don’t even think about it. I’m not even close to where I want to be. I don’t look at myself. I look as I back where I was when I was 23/24. We have a lot of things going off, but every year it seems like totally different. I don’t want the money. It doesn’t change my lifestyle. I live the life that I live. I can’t imagine if I made $50 million a year that it would change my lifestyle that much at this point in my life. Just because I’m not motivated by money. I’m motivated by the idea, seeing it through to completion. For me, having a million in the bank, having a million, it’s not a big deal. It just goes into, most of my money goes into the 401(k)s and savings and things that I don’t even understand completely. I just know that my money makes . . .
Andrew: The first million that you bring in with Eyeflow, you don’t stop and say, “This is really big. I’m back. I’m on top of things. It wasn’t a mistake to keep on risking my livelihood this way”?
Phil: I don’t know any other way, so to me there was never an option. It was never an option that I’m going to go back into and try to work a job. That would never happen. I would always at least be a consultant, maybe take a few clients and become a consultant for six figures a year. I could see myself maybe taking that route. As much as I always try to say that, it never happens. Once I hit a new tier, I always keep moving up and I tell myself that that’s not going to happen. I’ll be happy with this and I’ll live my life. I do a lot of traveling. In the last year I’ve been to I think 15 countries. Traveled all over Europe, South America, Central America. I do what I like to do and I work virtually as I do that. I just don’t think that I would change my lifestyle. A lot of people have that million dollars in their head, and for me I was so beyond that. I have a judgment that’s close to that.
Andrew: A judgment that you’re entitled to more than that. You’re just not a money guy. You’re not thinking about this stuff. Not at all?
Phil: No, if you see the way that I live.
Andrew: How do you live?
Phil: I don’t live expensively or extravagantly. When I do travel, I don’t stay in nice resorts. I’ll typically stay at hostels or kind of low cost so I can really . . .
Andrew: I read that somewhere. I thought it actually said that you stayed . . . I read it over and over to make sure that I understood it because at first I said, he’s staying at a hostel, and then I looked at it and I said no, he’s staying at a hostel neighborhood or city. What is there a city where there are hostels and he’s not staying in a . . . what’s the deal? So, you’re actually staying at a hostel?
Phil: I like hostels. I mean for me it’s . . .
Andrew: I do too.
Phil: They’re awesome. I got hooked in Costa Rica. I spent a lot of time down there. In fact, I’ll be going there soon. The last few years I’ve been going down for the winters. You meet some of the most down to earth people. I love the people who are just willing to risk it all and go crazy and just travel and live their lives. While I’m still attached to my desk, I’m the same way for half the year. I travel and stay in these hostels and meet people. They think I’m a poor beach bum, just like them. You know, mid-twenties, kind of traveling, not knowing what he wants to do. But they see me with my laptop all the time.
A few of them might Google me and find out that I have a big company and I do this and that. To me it’s just the people that I enjoy meeting from all over the world. I love experiencing other cultures. I love immersing myself. Some of the best friends I ever met in my life, I’ve met traveling, staying in hostels with. It also keeps you down to earth when you’re traveling in these third world countries and you may not have electricity for two days or you’re sharing a shower with ten other people, not at the same time, but the same bathroom and shower. It’s humbling, and I think for me I like to do volunteer work. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work as I travel to keep me busy while I’m working.
Andrew: I saw that too. You know what? I went into this interview trying to see that that wasn’t real, that was just like a resume thing. He must have told some reporter that. I’m going to get to know the real Phil and find out how he got the reporter to believe that he was volunteering somewhere.
Phil: I love volunteering. To me, it keeps me busy. If I’m down somewhere, I’m not a big fan of art. I don’t like museums and art. My last trip to Costa Rica, I volunteered at a dog shelter. It turns out all they really needed was money, so of course I donated money as well.
Andrew: Are you a married guy?
Phil: No, I’m not married.
Andrew: Are you dating when you’re going out to these hostels, hanging out with people?
Phil: Yes, I have a live-in girlfriend for nine years.
Andrew: Nine years?
Phil: I know, amazing.
Andrew: That is impressive.
Phil: Sometimes she comes, sometimes she doesn’t. I don’t think she enjoys the lifestyle as much as I do especially the older we get.
Andrew: How old are you, by the way?
Andrew: 29. It’s good to hear that there are older people out there in there Internet building. I’m older than you. I know that a lot of people get frustrated when I interview guys who are like 20, 21 years old. They feel like they can’t relate to them all the time. They feel like I’m sending the message that there’s just one time in your life where you can build a business, and if it works, great, blow it up. If it doesn’t, get on with the rest of your life. It’s great to hear that that’s not true. I know that it’s not true.
Phil: When you say older guy, I was like man.
Andrew: You know what it is? The guy who’s 19 years old, like your own story. When you were just in your early 20s and you were building this business, it gives reporters a hook. It gives them a reason to write about you. So, guys who are at that age, who are building successful companies get written about more than guys who are 29, 39, 49, and 59. It gives the audience a skewed sense of what entrepreneurship and what business and what life is really like. This is my fight. You like to save puppies who are in foreign countries, who are injured. I like to expose the truth about entrepreneurship. You are probably a better man. You are going to have a better place in heaven, but I’ve got to deal with the person I am.
Phil: I do that too. My whole life doesn’t revolve around charity. It’s not like I’m running around. I have two dogs. It’s important to me. I also did work at a playground. We re-sanded it down and re-stained all the children’s playground equipment. I don’t think I’m a saint for doing that. There are a lot of people that do way more than I do.
Andrew: Believe me, compared to me, you’re a saint. Anyone of those gets you way more . . .
Phil: If you go before me, make sure you tell heaven . . .
Andrew: I’m learning to become a better person, but that’s not what this is about. This interview is about exposing successful entrepreneurs, teaching how they did it. I think what we did here is . . . I’m on fire right here. I loved the stories that you told here. I love that we got to expose this. I’m telling you there are going people who are at the end of this, and we’re coming to the end, who are going to hit rewind and listen to this again and maybe save it for a run or save it for a time in their lives when they’re not in a good place. I urge you to do that. Save this somewhere on your hard drive at a place, for a time when you’re not in a good place and you’re worried about, I don’t know, going back to $10 an hour. Phil did it. He somehow came up on top. You’re going to be able to do it to. If you need to, say hi to Phil and find a way to connect with him.
Phil are you on Twitter? Can they say hi to you on Twitter?
Phil: I don’t really use Twitter. I don’t really use a lot Facebook, Twitter, any of that which is so ironic. I just can’t believe people want to hear what I’m eating for lunch. I mean, I know that’s like the big cliché. I personally don’t use it because anyone in my network knows what I’m up to. I’m a really open person, as you can see. I just don’t . . .
Andrew: The best way is go to a hostel. If you’re in a hostel, if you’re in a foreign city, consider going to a hostel and if you’re in there, look around at the people in there instead of looking down. Phil, thank you for doing this interview. I will link to you with an anchor text of Pittsburgh SEO, and my audience, wink, wink, will understand why I’m doing it.
Phil: Thank you very much.
Andrew: Actually, it’s very appropriate. It’s not like I’m cheating here. They should know that even though you apparently paid other people to write blog posts, I am actually paying to publish this blog post and part of that payment process starts as soon as I hit stop and I send this over to Joe who will edit this interview and get it up there. I am honored to pay to do this blog post because this is a great story. If all my interviews were like this, I would be on fire. I would be I don’t know what, the replacement for the guy who’s replacing Larry King.
Phil: I will try to syndicate it as much as I can too. We’ll push it out through all the social, all our contacts, all of our social media, our social bookmarking. We’ll do all of that for you.
Andrew: All right. I love it. I’m going to go celebrate. Phil, thank you for doing the interview. The website is Eyeflow.com. Thanks for watching.