Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.
Now I’m doing these interviews from a stand up desk, which I’m not here to like talk endlessly about the stand up desk, but I am here to tell you the freaking lights are still too bright for this positioning. Now that I understand how lights should be, it drives me nuts that these lights are not perfect. I want them just right. I have to hire somebody to come in and adjust them. That’s how obsessed I am with the lights. And for no reason, Daniel–most people are listening to the audio version. They don’t watch it. But it upsets me.
Daniel: If they’re not watching it, they’re missing out on 50% of the sex appeal of the show.
Andrew: Right, including the thing that’s over your shoulder, which I’m going to talk about.
Daniel: I was talking about you.
Andrew: That too. Of course. Look at me. I’m showing more chest hair lately, wearing the v-necks like you.
Daniel: Grr, baby, very grr.
Andrew: And in this interview, we’re going to talk to Daniel DiPiazza. He is a second-time Mixergy guest. We’re going to talk about how he built his business, which is called Rich20Something. It’s a platform for millennials to master their money and mindset. Basically he teaches millennials through articles, courses, videos and live events, how to have the financial life that they want. We’re talking about freelancing, organizing their money, etc. And we’re going to talk about that thing that’s over his shoulder, which is a new book. Congratulations, Daniel.
Daniel: Thank you.
Andrew: It’s called “Rich20Something: Ditch Your Average Job, Start an Epic Business and Score the Life You Want.” And it’s available May 2nd. This interview is sponsored by the company that will help you hire your next great developer, it’s called Toptal, and by the company that’s allowing us to book, well now webinars with people. I’ll tell you more about them later, but for now they’re called Acuity Scheduling.
Daniel, let’s talk about money.
Daniel: Okay. Sure.
Andrew: How much are you bringing in with this site that’s essentially a blog with courses. I know there’s much more to the substance of it, but the software is pretty basic. How much are you bringing in annually?
Daniel: We just past the million-dollar threshold, which is why we’re having this conversation.
Andrew: Do you feel insulted by me and my process, or did you? First of all, Andrea got my email from you out of my inbox and she sent you a message back saying, “Tell me more about the business. Do you really have any money?” Let’s start with that. Did that feel a little insulting, that she picked it up and then she was questioning your money?
Daniel: No. Look, to give you some context, I came home from the gym today. I was talking to my girlfriend. I said, “What’s the quietest room I can interview in because I’m doing it with Andrew Warner and he doesn’t fuck around?” So I have a very serene space right now. You’re very particular about what you want for your show. It’s your show. I understand the criteria. I’m not insulted. I’m here to do business, man.
Andrew: All right. The business is sell the book. How about this–I feel like you wanted the interview to go up before the book was published, before it came out and my freaking schedule didn’t allow it and it was a little rude of us to have gone through a pre-interview process with you and then published afterwards. Are you pissed at that? Be honest.
Daniel: I’m not actually pissed. Here’s why–
Andrew: But you were, weren’t you?
Daniel: A little bit.
Andrew: Be open.
Daniel: A little bit, but to give the full story, I realized that the book itself is more than the book launch. If you get too wrapped up in, “I’ve got to get everything out in this first week,” you miss the point that the book is something that’s going to live on. If I spent three years writing this, I’m going to spend a long time promoting it. So whenever this comes out, I’m happy.
Andrew: All right. You know what? There are very few authors who feel that way. Most authors publish the book and then they are done after two or three months. Simon Sinek, the author of “Why,” I think that was the name of the book, right?
Daniel: “Start with Why.”
Daniel: “Start with Why.”
Andrew: “Start with Why,” exactly, yes. Good memory on that. He was one of the few authors that I reached out to after he published his book. I just said, “People are talking about this. I want to understand it.” He didn’t need to sell more books, but he still believed in his message so much that even though I didn’t have a huge audience at that time, it’s grown since then, he said, “I’m coming on.” I’ve always admired that. I appreciate you being here, and we’ll do whatever we can to get this up fast on the site.
You’re making a lot of money with the site. Congratulations, first of all. Second, where is the revenue coming from? What exactly are you selling?
Daniel: Well, right now we have four courses. Two of them we call flagship courses. They started from a very obvious and almost like no-brainer position from my end. We started making courses two years ago, and they’re the result of people asking me over and over again to lay out the steps that I’ve been writing about. Essentially what happened was I was writing about my own freelance experiences on the blog. I started off with test prep. I was teaching SAT and ACT.
Andrew: We’re going to go deep into what you did before. Just as a high level overview, the courses are where the revenue is coming from, right?
Daniel: Yeah. It’s all courses right now. Well, it’s courses, live events and we’re working in some one-on-one stuff too.
Andrew: So, on your site, Rich20Something.com/courses, Freelance Domination is going to teach people how to create an effective profitable freelance business. That’s one of them. Startup from the Bottom, that’s the other one. That’s a step-by-step blueprint for launching and scaling your own online business. Those are the two big courses. The live events are bringing in something, but my sense is it’s more about connecting with your people, right?
Andrew: Okay. Great. This whole thing you were talking about, Kaplan, did you actually do well on the SATs, that’s why you were teaching at Kaplan?
Daniel: I’m really good at picking between four bubbles.
Andrew: No, that’s tough. You know what? I’m laughing it off like ha ha, it’s easy. I remember the SATs. For me, they were tough. They really forced me to learn the language in a way that I didn’t before. I used to drive in to school listening to SAT vocabulary tapes or whatever. It wasn’t tapes, but you know what I mean. You were good at it? You scored how much on your SATs?
Daniel: 1390, which is pretty good.
Andrew: Out of what, 1600?
Daniel: 1600, yeah.
Andrew: Okay. So you went in and you taught at Kaplan, and they were paying you how much an hour?
Daniel: Paying me $18 an hour.
Andrew: And one day you looked down and saw a flyer that said what?
Daniel: It was $100 an hour for me to be there at that house.
Andrew: They were charging $100 to have you go to someone’s house, and they were only giving you 18% of that.
Daniel: Does that not sound crazy to you? It sounds crazy to me. Not really because of the way business works, but at the time, I was enraged.
Andrew: Were they training you or anything like that?
Daniel: They trained me. There definitely is that component of it. I don’t overlook that. That training helped me to launch my own business because I knew how to teach it. But at the time, my thought was if the skill is worth $18 to them but $100 to the family, there’s a disparity.
Andrew: I see. What did that make you realize about life?
Daniel: It made me realize you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.
Andrew: I see. Did you go back and negotiate with them?
Daniel: I didn’t because I just negotiated my way out of the job and worked myself.
Andrew: I see. Before you ended up working for yourself, you went to Atlanta and you wanted to be an actor.
Daniel: You know my story.
Andrew: We have a good pre-interview team and research team that helps. I’m so surprised when I think of you to think of an actor and frankly, why Atlanta of all places?
Daniel: Oh no, you’re behind. Atlanta is a hotbed right now. Atlanta, they have several different studios there. Screen Gems is out there, Tyler Perry is out there. Paramount has a studio out there. Basically what they’ll do is they’ll do primary casting in L.A. and New York and then they’ll fill out all the rosters with places like Atlanta, New Orleans, Michigan because they have great tax incentives. So you can get a lot of major roles there. It’s a good strategy to work your way up there because you can get an agent there and start getting major roles there.
Andrew: I had no idea. Meanwhile, instead of getting your way to the top and getting a TV show, you were at Longhorn Steakhouse. What’s that?
Daniel: Yeah. I think you have to if you’re an actor. You must work at a restaurant. It is compulsory. It’s mandatory.
Andrew: Because the hours are good and it’s easy to get a job and you can move on if you need to or start fast if you need to.
Daniel: It’s also just stereotypically perfect. That’s the main reason. But you’re right. It is flexible and the hours are good. You can make decent money working at a standard rate job. You can influence a little bit more how much you bring in.
Andrew: And then something happened with butter ball. What’s a butter ball?
Daniel: You don’t know what butter ball is? You’ve probably eaten it before.
Andrew: No. I didn’t even know what tater tots were until a few years ago. I grew up in New York. No place sold tater tots until fancy places started selling tater tots for like $20.
Daniel: The grocery store. You missed out. You missed out on Butterballs and tater tots. First of all, think about the South. Have you ever traveled down south like Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, all those places?
Andrew: No. I’ve been to some of the places you’ve mentioned, but not all of them.
Daniel: In the South, first of all, you have to understand like comfort food is a huge thing. I had to lay out these like 10 trays of these butters I had to scoop before the shift started because we had to make sure everyone was accommodated and accounted for before they came in so we wouldn’t have to do it during the dinner.
Andrew: It’s a scoop of butter.
Daniel: It’s a scoop of butter.
Andrew: Like a fat scoop of butter like an ice cream scoop?
Daniel: We’re talking like maybe two to three tablespoons. I would say a quarter of a scoop of ice cream, pretty big. So I’m scooping all these butter balls into these ramekins. At the time, I’m 20 years old, I’m scooping them in. I don’t have that much due diligence with the way I’m scooping these things, but I’m doing a pretty good job. It’s butter. My manager comes up from behind me and he’s looking at the shape and constitution and construction of these balls–pause. He says, “I’m not satisfied with this. I’m not happy with this. Scoop them all over again.”
At that point I scooped about 450, 460. This is a really–I’ve told this story a few times now. So, thinking back to it now, I feel like it’s almost a dumb story because it seems so stupid and simple, but at the time, I was enraged. I’m like, “I’m not even doing good enough to satisfy your requirements for a basic like rote task? This is a problem for you? Then this is a problem for me.” I immediately started to think for myself what can I do that’s going to leverage something I have up here rather than just doing this thing all day?
Andrew: Okay. That’s when you said, “Look, I was good at teaching SAT work. In fact, I was $100 an hour good. I’m going to start a business around that.” That’s what you wanted to do.
Daniel: That’s not the immediate bridge. The immediate bridge was, “What do I have?” I ran a skill inventory and pulled that out of my memory. I started off doing the SAT thing.
Andrew: SAT in person, getting customers how?
Daniel: Getting customers by finding who already had my customers rather than having to worry about putting an ad in Craigslist, go to the community bulletin board–that doesn’t work. So I looked online and I looked to see who already had my customers. I think to myself, who’s my customer? Well, it’s not really the students. The students in high school aren’t the ones paying. It’s the parents.
So where are parents already going? Well, we know in a lot of major cities, they have private test prep or private like consultants that help students that get into these Ivy League schools. When I was teaching Kaplan, I remember this. I remembered these helicopter moms would basically get every single thing they could get covered for their students so the essays were tight. It’s basically like a concierge for getting into Yale and Harvard.
But the only thing these consultants don’t do is they don’t actually teach the material. They can only bring the pieces together for you. You have to outsource, you have to bring someone else in like Kaplan or Princeton Review. So I went to these consultants and I said you have all these parents. They’re freaking out. It’s really important for them to get their students these things for college.
Rather than sending your clients to Kaplan and saying, “Go work on your score.” Just send them to me. Bring me in almost like a white label, just white label me. Bring me into your business, say that I’m part of your business. I already have the pedigree from Kaplan, which means I’m in the top 95th percentile, so you know I can teach this. If you work with me and bring me your clients, I’ll give you 50% of the money.
And that’s such a good deal for them, especially knowing that I’d already done this before. Everybody I asked was instantly into it. I went from zero clients to pretty unlimited overnight.
Andrew: I see. All right. So you did well with this business and you were no longer being graded on your scooping abilities of butter. Then you got bored and you said, “Okay, this is not going to get me to the big life.”
Andrew: That’s when you had an idea for a web design agency. Why web design? Did you have any web design skills?
Daniel: No. That’s the thing too. I think a lot of people are so worried that they’re held in prison by the skills they already have. Two things–one, get a skill if you don’t have one, learn it or figure out how you can leverage the fact that there’s a need for it without having to learn the skill. For me, I can fiddle around. If there’s an issue, I can maybe tackle it with WordPress. It’s not really web design though. I looked online. I looked at what was at the time Elance. I saw that there was so much demand for web design.
Pro tip–if you want to learn what skills are going to be really good and popular for you, especially with computers, online stuff, digital design, stuff like that, just go on Upwork, which is what Elance now is called, and see what people are asking for, see what jobs are being requested and you’ll probably see 100 different things that are possibly, learnable skills for you you didn’t know you could do.
So, anyway, I go on Elance. I see web design is a huge demand. I don’t have the skills for this, but what I have skills for that I learned from the SAT thing, that I learned from acting class, very valuable, is I can pitch. So I thought, “What’s a unique way I can pitch this skill?” I don’t have the design skills, remember.
So I go on to Elance and I start filming these private YouTube videos. I say, “You need a website. I can get this done for you. I have a team.” I can get a team together. We can figure it out. I’m going to get this team together. Eventually, people started really responding to this because no one was doing video pitches at the time and still, I think no one is.
Andrew: Video pitch means what?
Daniel: It was like a 90-second, “Hi, this is Daniel. I see you have a specific need for a website. I can address that need. Let’s get the ball rolling.” I applied to jobs almost as a decoy to see what kinds of inquiries I could get from other web designers who wanted to do work. Does that make sense? I was doing some recon to see what the responses would be.
When I posted, “Hey, we need a WordPress site done,” I got these generic pitches with people that were obviously sending out canned emails and just really, really bad pitches. I thought, “This shouldn’t be hard to rise above this crap.” I started immediately establishing that connection with people. So I was a real face rather than some generic robot.
Also, there’s a strong advantage to the fact that most people hiring on these job board sites are American or European and most people doing the work are usually like East Asia or other countries that don’t speak English at such a high level of proficiency. So my fluency with English really helped to instill confidence in people that I could get the job done.
Andrew: I see. And the video helped show that.
Andrew: Did you send those videos via email to them, or did you do it via the freelance sites?
Daniel: Directly into the platform. Here was my pitch, “Hey, I see you’re working on this site. I created a quick 90-second video for you. It’s not a canned response. I just want to talk to you and say hi. I’ll look forward to talking to you more. Bye.”
Andrew: You know what? I’ve found that those short videos are really helpful for letting people know that you’ve taken a moment to pause and they’re not automated. You’re not sending an automated response. I mean for potential customers to ask questions, to just shoot–I try to keep it as short as possible because if it’s a potential customer for me, they just want to know they’ve actually taken the time to respond.
So 20 seconds is probably enough. We do it a lot with sponsors. We send them no more than a minute. I know that it’s a drag sometimes for people to stop their day and watch these videos. If they’re looking to hire someone, they really want a process. They want a longer video. In fact, they’d probably even like a Skype conversation just to get a sense of the person who’s going to do the work.
Andrew: But the big takeaway from this is to use those videos more often. That’s a great point. So you didn’t do the work yourself. You then went onto the freelance sites yourself and you had people do the work. You were basically project managing and being the relatable face that they could talk to. All right. Is that part of what you teach today?
Daniel: I don’t actually teach that strategy. Well, that’s a lie. We do teach it in Freelance Domination. But I try not to focus on it too much because, one, I think that it can be abused if you don’t do it ethically. So if you’re creating the illusion that you’re going to handle something and then you’re–
Daniel: You don’t have a grasp of it, it can hurt clients. It needs to be done with measuring care.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I see that you were doing that. I see how that takes you into a whole other world. When did the blog start?
Daniel: The blog started–I just actually looked at the registration because I wanted to see when our anniversary was. It started October 25th, 2012.
Andrew: Wow. Okay. Was that to support this business, or was it just to teach?
Daniel: That was to vent.
Andrew: To vent.
Daniel: That was to vent. I’ve always been a writer, always been a writer. It was a place for me to talk about what I was doing online and to almost do some self-reflection. I didn’t really have understanding of internet marketing at that time. It was simply an echo-chamber for a little bit.
Andrew: Why call it Rich20Something then if it’s a venting platform?
Daniel: I know. It was aspirational. I’ve gone through different phases where in the beginning, I loved the name because I had no idea what it would become. As I started to get traction, I was like, “Why did I name it this?” Now, it’s really official, so I can’t change it.
Andrew: But you know what? I’m looking at an earlier version of your site from December, 2012. The homepage says, “Free course teaches you how to become a young millionaire, no college degree required.”
Daniel: Yeah. What about it?
Andrew: That seems like more of a business model already set up than a venting platform.
Daniel: Well, that’s true. Here’s the reality. Rich20Something started as a separate site. I had another blog called DanielDiPiazza.com and I merged the two.
Andrew: Called what?
Daniel: DanielDiPiazza.com. I merged the two. Mostly I was writing on DanielDipiazza and Rich20 I was fiddling with. Within a three or four-month period, I merged those two and just started writing on Rich20.
Andrew: Okay. I see. All right. Let me take a moment here to talk about my sponsor. It’s a company called Acuity Scheduling. Do you do any webinars with people, any partner webinars?
Daniel: I do.
Andrew: You do? When you schedule a–actually, how effective are partner webinars for you for getting customers, before I get into this?
Daniel: They are pretty effective depending on who the lead source is.
Andrew: Depending on what?
Daniel: Who the lead source is.
Andrew: I see. So I finally started doing them. I’m really crazy for this chat bots. I know if I want to introduce it to people, I can’t just talk about it to my own audience. I started asking people to partner up with me. One of the challenges with that is how do you find a time where both sides can actually host the webinar together? I need to be available to do the webinar and teach it, but I also want the partner whose site I’m going to, to teach their audience about chat bots, I need him to be available then.
And I don’t want to have this back and forth with them that really ruins the professional relationship we have, where it’s, “Hey, are you free next Monday?” “No, not next Monday. How about next Tuesday?” You lose it all. Then once we do, I don’t want at the last minute to miss their phone number or for them to miss my backup phone number, right? I want it all to be professional and handled right, which I why I use Acuity Scheduling.
Acuity Scheduling, for anyone who doesn’t know, allows me to go to the site, AcuityScheduling.com and I connect it to my calendar, I pick the dates and times that I’m available and then I select the questions–actually, I handwrite the questions I want to ask anyone who books with me.
Then what I do that most people don’t do is I take their embed code, I put it on my site so that their calendar looks like it’s part of my site and I end up with a page on my site that looks like a calendar that I built for my site that someone can come to and say, “Here’s Andrew’s availability. I’ll pick one of the times that works for me and I’ll book a partner webinar.” That’s the way we do it. After they book, I ask them a few questions like, “What’s your name and phone number?” Then I give them a link to put it on their calendar so people do not forget.
If you’re out there and you want to have partnerships like this, you need a tool make it easier. If you want our customers to talk to you, you need a tool to make it easy for them to do it. I’ve talked to so many software entrepreneurs especially who are now encouraging their team to get on the phone with potential customers to do demos that really help close sales and help the companies understand what their products–helps the company understand what their customers are about and I’ve talked to people who do it after someone buys so that they make sure the software that the customer bought is actually being used at the company.
There are lots of different reasons to use it and one URL that will let you use it for free, it is this–make sure to write it down–it’s AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. They’ll give you a whole bunch of free time. By the way, Acuity is spelled A-C-U-I-T-Y, AcuityScheduling.com.
All right. I see then where you’re going with this. Did you ever hit up your audience and say, “You guys can hire me?” Is that where you got some of your early customers?
Daniel: For what?
Andrew: For anything. I see here that you were doing consulting while you were blogging. Was there ever a period where you said to your audience, “Hire me,” or did you start with the course first?
Daniel: So when I transitioned away from–this is now in 2013–I just moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles. At that time, I was thinking it was time to move on from the web design and development, not because it wasn’t good, but I’m always trying to get more aligned with where I’m going. It’s not that it’s not a good business, it’s just I don’t want to do this for too long because I have bigger plans.
So, at that point I moved to consulting, but I wasn’t necessarily just consulting with the people who read my blog because I was looking to find people who, well, one, honestly, were further along in the process so they could benefit from the more advanced stuff I learned. And also we just could afford to pay. So, at that point, I was looking for internet businesses who were doing at least seven figures. That’s what I started with. I started with–
Andrew: By reaching out to them?
Daniel: Well, yeah. The first person I ended up working with was Ramit Sethi, who you might know.
Andrew: I do know him. I didn’t realize that. Okay. He was your first client? How did you get Ramit to say yes to working with you?
Daniel: I created a really awesome pitch. So he was looking for copywriters. He was looking for a junior copywriter.
Andrew: And you’re a good writer, so I can see why that would get him excited. So you just pitched him?
Daniel: Well, I didn’t just pitch him. He asked for two things on the application. One was a case study article for one of his courses demonstrating as a fake student how great it was. Then the second was a partnership article that he’d write for maybe Yahoo Finance or Biz Insider and write as him.
So here are the two things I did that really, I think, crushed it. First, for the case study, I noticed that usually he had a picture of the person that was doing the case study. This was back in 2013 when things weren’t as video friendly now. WordPress was still moving along and we weren’t all social media’d up.
So I cloned his entire–I cloned several pages of his site on my site using custom WordPress drag and drop software to make my site or a portion of my site look exactly like his. So, when I created the case study and I sent it, it looked exactly like he was reading it on his site, rather than just send a Word doc, which I think most people would have done.
So I created a clone of his site and in place of the picture, I pretended it was a woman and I gave myself a wig. I wore–I basically made up this fake person and I went through all his case studies and literally took the language and decoded it and used the exact same language in my case study that he uses in his, just changed some numbers around and just molded it. So I created that.
Then the second thing I did was for his partner articles, I probably read 70, 80 partner articles that he had online, and then I recreated Yahoo Finance with the same software and even him like painted him into the font, the margins, the borders, the advertisements on the side. It looked just like something Ramit would write and I wrote that.
They told me when I–actually, once I got fired, which I’ll tell you about that if you want–once I got fired, they told me that it was so accurate that they had to check for several days to make sure I hadn’t plagiarized it because it was so good.
Andrew: To make sure you hadn’t plagiarized something he already had written.
Daniel: Right. Because I was the first copywriter that they’d hired or one of the first.
Andrew: So, because of that level of detail and that level of presentation, he hired you and I’m guessing once you say you work with Ramit, because he’s so particular, because he’s so detail-oriented, that helps you get other clients, right?
Daniel: Totally, yeah. For sure.
Andrew: Why did they fire you then?
Daniel: They fired me because I just dropped the ball on some detail-oriented work. And I had a beef about that for a while. I understand–look, me and Ramit are not friends. Me and his brother, Manish, are very close friends. We just have clashing personalities. At the end of the day though, it just wasn’t a good fit. If I want to write my own books, I can’t work for someone else.
Andrew: So what’s an example of something you dropped the ball on?
Daniel: So we were doing a launch. This was December of ’13, I think. We were doing a launch, just a lot of critical things had to happen, and I guess I didn’t get some of the pieces in on time. They have a very distinct hierarchy with their management structure. So they’re very like org-charted out. To me it didn’t make sense that I couldn’t just talk to Ramit about something. I had to go through a manager. There are only 30 people that work in the company. I can’t get access to this guy and I want to be able to discuss things with him but I have to go through the manager.
Andrew: And you’re supposed to write in his voice.
Andrew: I see.
Daniel: So it was just–for me it wasn’t a good fit. Yeah, I dropped the ball on a few detail oriented things, for sure.
Andrew: Okay. The big thing that got you really going was your own personal launch.
Andrew: What’s the first product you launched?
Daniel: The first product was Freelance Domination 1.0. It was the beta version. That happened September, 2014.
Andrew: And how did you know what to put into that?
Daniel: Well, it got easier as I got more experience working on different businesses. I realize these weren’t random experiences and they weren’t–they were valuable experiences that most people hadn’t had. So I realized that as I was doing these things, starting up with Kaplan, moving to web design, working with Ramit and other clients, as I was writing about that stuff, all of that was really unique experience and knowledge that other people didn’t have.
I started asking my audience, talking to them about what they wanted. I already had so much traction writing about freelancing that I figured the next logical stuff was to make a more robust, augmented version of that.
Andrew: What was your process for asking your audience what they needed to know?
Daniel: Well, at the time–still even to this day, but at the time even more so, I was extremely, extremely active with almost every member of my audience that responded to me on a first name basis. At that time, in the contents of the blog, I was responding via video sometimes with YouTube videos. I was replying to every single email. I would just ask people one on one and saying, “Hey, I’m looking to build this. Is this something you want?” And people repeatedly said yes.
There are other ways to probably even validate better. But I think my initial validation was, “I just came off the heels of working with Ramit. So I understand how courses work and how launches work.” I had a pretty solid audience at that time, like between 5,000 and 7,000 people. I think I can do something with this. So I kind of just took what I had and kind of just went for it.
Andrew: What did you learn from Ramit about how launches work?
Daniel: I learned the level of detail that has to go into them. I learned the–I got really good at the framework for structuring copy, although I would say this. Leaving working at I Will Teach, I thought that I was a good entrepreneur, but I was really a good copywriter marketer, which is just different.
Andrew: Tell me more about what that means, and then I want to get into specifics about the structure of copywriting or the details you needed to be aware of.
Daniel: Yeah. So I just thought that I was hot shit. I thought that–also, because I had an email list that I’d grown and I did my first launch with it and it made decent money for me at the time, it made $40k, I was like, “Oh man, I am good at this. I am great at business.” And what I realized over the past three years after that is you can have a successful product launch and still not know how to run a business because they’re mutually exclusive.
Just because you can send out an email that gets people to buy things doesn’t mean you know how to like manage the money inside of a business and also create a predictable recurring sustainable business model that can hire people and do these things that businesses need to do to grow.
Andrew: I’m trying to understand. What you did was you said, “I need five emails to go out to my audience,” or some number, right? Do you remember what the number was?
Daniel: It was–well, consider that I had a pre-launch, so warming people up, getting people used to the idea, asking the audience, polling them, getting a fervor going for about a week or two.
Andrew: That’s what, the Product Launch Formula, right?
Daniel: Product Launch Formula, yeah.
Andrew: You bought that course?
Daniel: I don’t know when I bought it. I think I’ve seen a couple versions of it. I think I was mostly going off of what I learned at I Will Teach. They integrate from that stuff too. We’re all kind of–
Andrew: I do see a lot of people start off with not a plain Google doc, but like the structure of Product Launch Formula, which is like a set of bullet points, each bullet point represents an email that needs to go out that’s part of the Product Launch Formula.
As an overview of it, basically what we’re saying is you ask the audience for feedback on what you’re going to teach. You tell them you’re thinking of teaching it. You then say, “I’m going to be selling this,” and you pre-sell it before you actually create the course and then you keep dripping out emails and there’s a set of emails you knew to send out.
Andrew: So, at that point, you got customers, they came to your site, they bought. What are the mistakes you made with that?
Daniel: Well, the first launch is always the hardest and most stressful. I obviously left a lot of money on the table because we didn’t have any type of–we’re still figuring out pricing, but we didn’t have any type of upsells. We had no types of down sells or offers later or afterwards. Usually we find that we maximize profit a lot just by tweaking those factors, but then I think even the first launch we did, we only accepted via PayPal because I didn’t understand how integrate different checkouts. So we lost a lot of money there, I’m sure.
Then in terms of launch mistakes, thinking back to it, the webinar was not good. It was too long and it was too much teaching, not really any selling because I was scared to sell, which was odd, because I’m not generally scared to sell. But yeah, definitely rookie mistakes.
Andrew: What did you use for your structure for the webinar?
Daniel: I think I took what I learned from Ramit plus I look that what other people were doing and I kind of just like–it was just too bloated. It was hundreds of slides. I don’t know what I was doing. It was crazy.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what? For Product Launch Formula, there’s a guy, Bryan Harris now, who essentially–do you know about his Slingshot product?
Daniel: I do, yeah.
Andrew: Slingshot essentially says look, you don’t want to go through the whole course, what you want is a schedule that tells you what emails to send out when and how to name your product and so on.
So it’s software where you pick the date you want to launch and it creates a project management–its own like project management software inside of Slingshot and each step of your process is on a calendar and on that calendar’s date, you’re told exactly what to write and that essentially is not product launch formula, but a formula for launching a product. I can see how people are starting with that.
For webinars, I found David Siteman Garland’s course to be fan-freaking-tastic. I had no idea how good he was at teaching it. He gives you a clear process. The only reason I connected with him is I kept asking people, “Who does webinars the best? Who sells the most?” It’s David Siteman Garland who you’d never guess because the guy’s a fun kind of hang out guy.
Daniel: Well, you know what? Everyone has their own process. I think you have to find what works for you. If you want to talk OG internet marketer, I see guys like Frank Kern and I’m sure he’s crushing it, but he has his own thing he does, where he seems like he has this natural Georgia southern drawl and he draws you in and by the time two hours have passed, you feel like you watched a movie and take out your wallet.
You have guys like Russell Brunson who I really like his stuff now. He has his stack where he stacks the different type of value you’re getting. I’m using a lot of that now and that works really well. It’s been converting really well for us. Everyone has their own thing. I think it depends on who the presenter is too because you have to have your own presentation style.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s true. It does help to have some framework in the beginning and some understanding of how long it goes. Meanwhile, Bryan Harris, that guy is some kind of savant freak or something. I told him I wanted to do webinars. He always has a Google or an Evernote doc with notes for himself on anything that he’s interested in. So, he sent me an Evernote doc with webinars that he’s watched and links to them. I think it had notes on those webinars.
I don’t know where this guy came from, but unreal what he has. This is like his own personal staff of stuff. I think there’s a note to himself to remember to go do something like go to the dentist in there. It’s not like he’s publishing this publicly. He just says, “Here, this is how I studied it.” Anyway, I love that level of detail that people in our world have.
Daniel: Oh yeah.
Andrew: All right. I see how this thing works for you. It suddenly is starting to take off. The next step is, I’m assuming, to start to figure out how do you do this better after you teach the course, right?
Andrew: What are the big things you did better after you did the first one?
Daniel: Well, after we did the first one, after we did the first launch, I still didn’t have a team, so I didn’t really have any pressing obligation to go forward. You have to remember. Fresh off of 2013, 2014, I was still trying to figure out, “Is Rich20Something a thing? Is it going to be the next web design where I like make a little bit of money and I keep moving on to the next thing, or am I going to make a home here?” I think honestly, if I’m being honest, 2014, I just kind of did whatever I felt like doing. I didn’t really have a structure or a plan.
So I did improve the course then in January. We relaunched it. But even improving the course, I re-recorded slides, I made it look better, I made the back end much nicer, it was much more well prepared. I still wasn’t 100% sure that this would be anything more than like a really good side hustle because I was still consulting at the time. I’m still working with–I was working with your friends, Art of Charm. I was working with them.
Andrew: Oh, really?
Daniel: Yeah, a bunch of other players in the field. I was new to L.A. So I was just getting out here and just meeting people. I didn’t know if it was going to be a thing. We did eventually improve the course a few months later. At the end of ’14, I was like, “Oh, this is my business now. Okay. I have to get serious.”
Andrew: I see. Yeah. You did a master class here for us at Mixergy, Start Your Freelance Business. I have to be honest with you. I didn’t know if you were the right person to teach it because you can’t tell who’s got substance and who hasn’t. We contacted people who took your program to understand and people who knew you to understand, “Is this guy real or not? Does he actually have something?”
I’m going through my notes here. We might have checked in with Manish. We checked in with some of your students. We just kept asking. I’m looking at a bunch of emails going back and forth from a couple years ago.
Daniel: I didn’t know you did that.
Andrew: Your stuff worked. That’s hard, frankly, right? The truth is we’re living in a world where its’ very easy for someone who teaches a class to turn around and say, “This works. It worked for me. It worked for these two other people who I have videos for.” If it didn’t work for you, you didn’t work it, right? That’s the easy answer. But I never use a piece of software where it doesn’t work and the founder says, “You didn’t work it right.” Sometimes I do. Those guys are idiots.
Andrew: We improve based on that. So I’m curious about what you did to make this thing actually work. Why don’t you hold the answer to that for a sec. I have to tell people about Toptal. It’s a company that helps you hire your next great developer. The reason I’m telling people about it now with such a ferocity is I’m going to interview very soon a founder who got into a heated battle with his cofounder–heated. We’re talking about lawyers, everything but knives and guns came out, really successful company but it was a painful experience.
The reason for that is, the reason he had the cofounder is he wanted someone really good to build his software with him, to build his software for his company. And it’s hard to find that really good person and he said, “You know what? If I hire someone, they’re going to be a hired gun, they’re not going to know much and I’m going to have to tell him what to do. I want someone who can think like an owner.” So, he went and brought someone on who was an owner.
That’s not why you do it. You don’t have to do that. If you’re looking for a great developer who thinks like an owner, who thinks the way that you do, the best way to get them is to go to Toptal. One of the things that Toptal does is they talk to you to understand your temperament, the way you work, what you’re looking for.
Then the next thing is they go to their network and they find a match, someone who uses the software that you need, someone who has the same temperament as you, someone who’s going to be available to you in the format that you want. Maybe it’s Slack. Maybe it’s Asana. How do you communicate? Who can really jive with you? It’s kind of like a marriage.
So that’s what Toptal is about. That’s why they want to talk to you before they get started. If you’re looking for a developer, go check out not Toptal.com, but Toptal.com/Mixergy because they are giving out audience something they’re not giving anyone else. I should say it’s top as in top of the mountain, tal as in talent. I know for some reason, I pronounce that a little bit off–Toptal.com/Mixergy.
When you go there, you’re going to see that Mixergy listeners are getting 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours and that’s in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks–no risk trial period, two weeks. Go check them out at Toptal.com/Mixergy.
Daniel: That’s a good deal.
Daniel: That’s a great deal, by the way.
Andrew: They really are fantastic with that. I just know that what it is is that they’re losing money in the beginning with clients–definitely losing money with clients–then as they continue to work, they know you’re going to keep working with their people and make money with you over time. All right. But what did you do to improve your course? What did you do to make sure it actually worked?
Daniel: You’ve got to get feedback, man. The first iteration of the course was these are my conjectures on how to do this, on what might work for you. Then we just took student feedback. So, one of the things we did was we included case studies throughout the course that made it a lot more relatable. We would use the material from the course with students.
The first iteration of the course in 2014, I had a chance to work with a lot of students one on one. So, basically what we did was we took their success or sometimes their failures and then we added it to the appropriate area of the course so people could see what it looked like in real life. There’s this weird thing with online courses where you only see things in a vacuum.
You only see the clean and pristine version of how something should work. When you see the messy version, then one, it shows this sis real legit, people are working through the program and here’s how it works. Two, it also, I think, kind of relieves some of the anxiety as a student that you have to do everything perfectly.
Andrew: Because you’re seeing other students not be perfect and still get the results.
Daniel: For instance, here’s a cold email that student John sent. “I would have changed this line and that line, but it still worked. So I used this template.”
Andrew: I see. What did you do to make sure that your people were graduating and getting results. I remember when I saw the Ramit’s course–Ramit Sethi is the founder of IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com, I guess I should have said that. What he had at the time in his course was a button that said something like, “Become a case study,” right?
Andrew: What did you do?
Daniel: Here’s the thing. We have quite a lot of case studies, but that’s also because we have quite a lot of students. I think the sad truth about online courses is most people don’t finish them. I think the numbers are something like 2%. I don’t know where these numbers are coming from. To be honest, we haven’t actually tracked what the percentage of our success rate is. We do know that every thousand students we get will get at least 100 people coming back to us and saying the course is great and at least 20 or 30 of those will end up being case studies that we put out.
Andrew: Is it built into your CRM somehow to keep track of them? Is there something else?
Daniel: We do. So we have a very simple autoresponder that follows up with people and we also have integrated Intercom–are you familiar with Intercom?
Daniel: Yeah. So Intercom is great because it checks to see when people are logging in, how active they are and then it pings them and it asks them to submit forms. We use Typeform to get really detailed data and we get video testimonials.
Andrew: So, if you see someone go through every module, then they might get an email saying, “Can you fill out this form and tell me about your experience?” That’s the kind of thing.
Andrew: I see. And then does that tie into your CRM or the email software that you use?
Daniel: Yeah. It ties into Infusion, which we use to track students where they’re at in the program, it also shows if they haven’t logged in a few weeks and it gives them a nudge. So, we just keep them engaged.
Andrew: Intercom will do that?
Daniel: Yeah. Intercom will do that. Intercom is getting pretty freaking cool, man.
Andrew: I didn’t know Intercom connected to Infusionsoft that way.
Daniel: Intercom is independent from Infusion but it also is its own CRM and it also does send out emails.
Andrew: Yeah. They’re almost competitors with each other.
Daniel: A little bit, but I wouldn’t pick one over the other. I think I need both.
Andrew: Okay. So Intercom keeps track of where people are on the site and allows you to talk to them in real time and Infusionsoft is what you use to send email based on what Intercom is noticing.
Andrew: So you’ve done all this. Tell me what you’ve learned about being a rich 20-something, about being freelance? What’s in the book? It hasn’t been published yet. So I didn’t get a chance to read it. Tell me.
Daniel: What have I learned about being a rich 20-something?
Andrew: About becoming that, about teaching people how to do it?
Daniel: Well, first of all, I’m going to be 29 next week. So I’m quickly exiting this lane of the 20s. I’ve learned a lot, man. I think the number one thing I’ve learned is that the–I’m more excited about what’s going to happen at 30. Rich20 is cool and I really enjoyed my time here, but I think that what I’ve learned is like the rich is not just about money. There’s a lot that goes in to living a rich life.
Andrew: What do you mean? This is basically–what I’m asking is–the book is called “Rich20Something.”
Andrew: I’m basically giving you like a softball and giving you an opportunity to talk about what’s in the book as a promotion for it and also as a way of teaching some of the ideas in there.
Daniel: Okay. So let’s talk about it this way. The first thing is if you’re going to start this journey by yourself, you need to have the right mindset. The book really talks in three main parts. It’s kind of like a classic story arc. The first part is all about getting your mindset ready so you can dive into this game with the correct outlook.
So that includes how to prepare for the journey in terms of some of the confusing twists and turns you’re going to see, how to get your to do lists ready so that you can start being more productive, how to connect with people outside of your immediate network and start finding people who can help you. Getting all these things out of the way so when it’s time to get into the more tactical and strategic things which are covered in part two and three of the book, you can actually build the business without having to have some of those incremental skills building up along the way.
You already have that resource. I came to this conclusion because as I was teaching people SAT years ago, I realized that one of the main reasons why they don’t do well on a test is not because they’re not smart but because they don’t know a lot of the things they’d need to know to get that question right.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Daniel: If I’m asking you a question about a right triangle but you don’t know the difference between a right, isosceles and obtuse angle, you’re not going to get that question right even if you’re smart enough to understand the concepts.
Andrew: I see.
Daniel: So we start the book with breaking down the games being played around us. One of those things I have is called the Three New Truths, where I talk about these three interesting ideas that are counterintuitive. One, college is dead. People don’t like to hear that and I go into why that is. The other one I talk about is you don’t need to pay your dues. That sounds very inflammatory, but I have a very specific take on that. The third one is money is easy, also something very scary. So we talk about some of these mindsets and create a shift in that before we move into the strategies.
Andrew: Why is money easy?
Daniel: Money is easy once you have skills or you can find people around you who can create something and you can get those people to work on your behalf on the behalf of a team. It becomes easy once you understand what systems are needed to make that happen.
Andrew: I see. And what are the systems needed to make money be easy?
Daniel: Well, I think the bottom line is you’ve got to start with the skills. Systems come later. It starts with the skill. Now, this is–by the way, this is my personal brand of entrepreneurship. Everyone has their own opinion.
Andrew: You’re saying if you have a skill people want, you will get paid for it on a freelance basis. What’s an example of a skill that people want right now?
Daniel: Man, people are–first of all, get on Final Cut Pro. You should be editing videos. You should know how to do that. If you have no skills, learn how to edit videos. Obviously web design and development is out there. Even outside of the tech space, I have students who are on apps like Rover, one is called DogVacay, where they’re making like $3,000, $4,000 a month just walking dogs on the side.
Andrew: But that’s not the freelance work you’re advocating, right? You are? You’re saying as a start, you don’t have to get a job, you can do one of these like “Uber for. . .” type businesses.
Daniel: Well, when I was writing the book and also when I was doing the courses, Uber was not as much of a thing. I didn’t even have the mechanisms to talk about that at the time. I actually do think there are good alternatives just to understand what it’s like to have a side income. Your side income can be something you create or that do have these other services that are linked up with these apps.
It’s good to understand what it’s like to have an income besides just your 9:00 to 5:00 job. That’s something that most people with the mindset part of the book need to unlock, that if you have one stream of income, that’s a problem. You need to have multiple. I prefer that you go out and do your own thing, that you start doing web design or development, that you start doing personal training. I have students who are chefs.
Andrew: Copywriting, etc. But until you get to that, you need to get comfortable with side money that is on your time and on your schedule, so DogVacay is one of those options and I’m about to have Postmates deliver food here. You’re talking about that. All right. That’s the beginning. What’s next level stuff? I’ve talked to your people.
The thing that I notice a lot about them is the do the kinds of stuff that go around running an online business like web development, design, copywriting, right? Let’s say they’ve got that skill. That’s a skill they’re developing that. Selling that is not very easy. It doesn’t come natural to people. What’s your–I understand how I could learn it. I understand how someone new could learn it. What’s your process for selling that skill?
Daniel: Is that true that it’s not easy to sell that?
Andrew: You know what? I’ve some good copywriters who are kind of quiet and no one knows about them. They don’t know when to reach out, they don’t know to do what you did, which is to not just go to Ramit, but to go to Ramit with a full-blown site, to not just go to Ramit, but also to recognize that Derek Halpern is out there and also has a name in the space and gets credibility and so on, The Art of Charm. So what’s your process for them for getting freelance work?
Daniel: Well, copywriting is definitely a challenge. The reason I was so confident with the copywriting is just because writing is my wheelhouse. It’s always been my wheelhouse. But I think one of the best ways you can start with a skill that’s hosted on another platform. It’s your own thing, especially if it’s around online business is to have something with more of a tangible deliverable because with copywriting, even if it’s great writing, we don’t know if it converts and we don’t know if it’s going to work.
Also, it takes a lot of brain power, intellectual power to make that happen, even for a simple sales page. So I would start with something where you can immediately see the results. We know that for instance, I’ll give you a freebie right here. I put up these little videos on Instagram. They’re these meme-style videos where there’s like a big block of text up top and a big block on the bottom. It attracts attention and people gravitate towards those and they get a lot of views.
I can’t make those on my phone. They have to get done in Final Cut Pro. I’m not going to do it. Someone needs to figure that out. Someone needs to come to me and say, “Hey, Daniel, I know these videos are doing well and I know they’re a pain in the ass to make. I’ll do these for you.” And you need how to do Final Cut Pro then. There are all these skills that people need, entrepreneurs like me need, but we don’t have–
Andrew: I see, you’re advocating not selling the skill, but selling the results. They wouldn’t come to you and say, “Hey, do you need someone who knows Final Cut Pro,” but instead they would say, “Here’s a specific thing that’s working for people like you, do you want me to make it for you too?”
Daniel: Yeah. I don’t care if you use Adobe Premiere. I don’t care what you use. Make the video.
Andrew: I see, but, “Here is the result.” So you’re saying don’t go pitch copywriting, pitch a product launch for someone’s course and it would be seven emails or pitch product launch for someone’s software based on how info marketers are selling. That’s one of the tips.
Daniel: So when I pitched Art of Charm, I didn’t pitch copywriting. I pitched marketing. I pitched conversion based marketing knowing I was with Ramit so there was that stamp of approval there and then knowing they wanted to do a product, I said, “I’ll help you guys create this product and I’ll launch it and it will be as much hands off for you as possible.”
Andrew: Okay. I see. By the way, one of the things I’ve learned about Ramit and others is that there is like a back channel where people talk about the people who they’ve worked with to make–so I’ve been on a few threads where it’s, “Hey, this is a person coming through, he says he’s working with you. What do you say?” And it’s like multiple people on there.
Or here’s a person saying he’s worked with me and technically it’s true, but I actually don’t think that he did good work for me. So, if he’s continuously bringing up my name, be aware that I’m not vouching for him, but I can’t make the guy shut up. That kind of thing, that reputation is really–it’s a destroyer or a supporter of someone’s career.
All right. One more tip from the book that’s really useful and we’ll close on that.
Daniel: So I’d say a final tip from the book is–you want to talk about specifically with freelancing?
Andrew: Actually, I won’t close on that. There’s an issue I’m working with that I’d like to bring up to you and see if I get your feedback on it. Take me through one more tip from the book. I like the idea of sell the result, not the skill. First get the skill and sell the result. What else?
Daniel: Yeah. I think another thing too is understanding who your customer is and who your client is. A lot of times beginning freelancers get frustrated when they’re not getting the results they want because they’re not targeting the right client. If you want to start working with clients who are going to pay you on time, who are going to be a pleasure to work with because trust me, that’s an issue. You want to have clients that you like working with, otherwise you’re going to hate this job you’ve created for yourself. You have to target correctly.
That’s one thing I learned too. When we’re doing web design, I was thinking to myself, “Man, I want to just make as much money as possible.” I soon realized that it wasn’t about how much money you’re making. It was about how much time we were spending with people that we didn’t like. I distinctly remember because I was so hungry at the time, taking that $800 job.
And this guy just wanted more and more and more. So client selection is important. Make sure you have it–this sounds very standard, but have your customer avatar dialed down. Who do you want to work with? Who are the people around them who are similar to them? Focus on a specific client. You don’t want everybody. You’re not everybody’s contractor, you know?
Andrew: When it comes to avatar, I’m assuming what you’re saying is just pick one person and then use them as a representative of other people like them. So I might actually say, “My ideal is. . .” There aren’t that many Derek Halperns in the world, but it might be, “Here’s an info marketer who I know who’s just getting started. That’s the person I’m looking for.”
Daniel: There are plenty of people like him, not him, but there are definitely people. I’m kind of–like I’m in a different locust, but I’m like similar. Lots of people.
Andrew: Writing the book–I’ve been wanting to do one for a while. I don’t know where to even find the freaking time to sit down and do this. I’m recording three interviews standing up today. What was your process?
Daniel: First of all, I will have you know if it’s not clear enough, I wrote the whole thing and I realize that a lot of people in my industry, the entrepreneurship thing, have ghostwriters do it. That’s not ghostwritten, baby, every single word. First of all, I think that not everyone likes writing books. Not everyone likes writing.
Andrew: Yeah. What was your process for writing then?
Daniel: So the first thing is I went in there with absolutely no idea what I was going to write and I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to produce. Once we got the deal, I was like, “I have to do something. I have to create something. So I went to Greece. That’s kind of my creative base. I go there when I’m working on a project.
I went to Greece and I was sitting there and I was like, “Okay, time to produce, time to work.” I realized the key to me getting the book out was not editing myself while I was writing it. So I spent about two days in just a complete malaise with no production and the next five days, I dumped everything in my brain that I had on the paper. I probably spilled maybe 30,000 words on the paper. I’m talking no edits, misspelling, all the red squiggles on the paper because I realized this book was part of me, so I had to be able to just dump everything in my head out there.
Then once I got back to the States, I’d looked at everything I’d written–first of all, I’d forgotten most of it because it was like a Matrix moment. I looked at everything I’d written and then I started to piece together the things that made sense and I organized it. So I did most of this book from a large brain dump that was about 100 pages and then I expanded it from there.
Andrew: I see. And you didn’t get distracted by social media and Greece and everything else around you?
Daniel: Well, there were artificial time constraints. I was paying to be there. I didn’t have much time. Why am I going to be in Greece on Instagram? What’s the point?
Andrew: Right. All right. The book is on Amazon and everywhere else. It’s was Penguin’s Imprint that published it. It’s called “Rich20Something: Ditch Your Job, Start an Epic Business and Score the Life You Want.” It’s written by someone whose writing I’ve enjoyed and I’m looking forward to reading the book.
The two sponsors I’ve mentioned are the company that will help you hire your next great developer. It’s called Toptal.com/Mixergy and the company that will help you book anyone with you, really, by making it easy. It’s called AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. That’s A-C-U-I-T-Y, AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. Daniel, congratulations on the book.
Daniel: Thanks you so much, my brother. Appreciate it.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, everyone.