Andrew: All right, before we start, I’ve got to tell you about my three sponsors because they’re especially relevant to the program you’re about to listen to. You’re going to hear Sean Percival say that, on the side, while working at three different companies, he built up an e-commerce site that did 70 to $80,000 a year in profit. Well, if you want to create your own online store, check out Shopify.com. In under five minutes, I was able to create a store on Shopify, add items to it, change the look and feel. I know you’re going to be able to do it within minutes. So try them out. Shopify.com. And Tim Ferris, on his blog, says that they’re giving away $100,000 to the best new store. I’ll link you over to his post so that you can read more about it, but I want you to just create a store, to just try it. So check out Shopify.com. The other thing I want you to know is, that I’ve done several interviews with people who sell products online, and they’ve told me that just having a phone number on your website can help increase sales. And if you want to get a phone number for yourself, you know who I use? You probably do already because I talk about them all the time. I use Grasshopper. And the reason I use Grasshopper, not just a regular phone system, is when you go to Grasshopper.com, you can get a phone number that’s a vanity number. I happen to have 877-4MIXERGY. Or you can have a local number, or a toll-free number. The other reason that I use them is, it’s a more professional system. It has all the features that the big guys offer, but it’s all web-based. So I can have multiple extensions. I can have greetings based on who’s calling, where they’re calling, what they’re trying to do. And you could do the same thing. Communicate size, strength, confidence to your customers, and they’re going to know that they can shop with you, or that they could do business with you. Finally, I want you to check out RichWP.com, because that’s where you’re going
to get a theme for your website that will give it the look that you’re looking for, that will make it easy to navigate for your users. In fact, the owner of RichWP.com, looked at Mixergy.com, my site, and said just by tweaking his theme, you can recreate Mixergy. Not that I want you to copy my site, but I want you to understand that it’s that tweakable, that it’s that adjustable, that it’s that customizable. So go to RichWP.com. Get the look and feel for your website, publish it, and send me a link to it, because I want to see what you’re up to. All right. Here’s the interview.
Andrew: Hey, everyone. It’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the Ambitious Up-start, and I’ve got with me today the founder and former, I guess, CEO of CustomEuropeanPlates.com. We’re going to talk about how Sean launched the company, how he grew it, and then how he sold it. And of course, I’ll ask him how much he sold it for. And I know Sean, that you’re pretty open about that. All right. The other thing that I’m fascinated about by with you is how much attention is paid to you online. And how I’ve noticed you on the right blogs. I’ve noticed the right people talk-up your projects, and help you promote them. I want to talk about how you do that. But first of all, let’s talk about Custom European. Did I explain that right, Sean? I think there’s…
Andrew: an essence of Seanness that I was trying to explain, that I want to probe in here. And I don’t know that I can really capture and explain what that Seanness is.
Interviewee: I think that’s right. I’m trying to figure that out myself. You’ve probably explained it better than I could.
Andrew: [Laughs] OK, all right. So Sean Percival, let’s talk about Custom European Plates first of all. How much did you sell it for?
Interviewee: I sold it for about a hundred grand.
Andrew: A hundred grand, and you built it up on your own, no outside funding. Just a boot-strap side business, right?
Interviewee: Totally boot-strapped, and I love to refer to it as the $12 start-up. The basic cost for me was the domain. It was the domain, and there was a weekend of time to get it started. Beyond that, it was all cash flow that was being put back into the business, to help it grow from there. So I’ve been meaning to do a series of posts on it. I may do a small e-book, or another book on it as well. But my whole idea was with that, that it is the $12 start-up. It cost me almost nothing. I didn’t have a multi-million dollar exit, but I made a bunch of money over the years, and I got a great exit on it still.
Andrew: OK, Sean, and let me suggest this too, for the people who are watching us, if you could get into the center of the camera, they’ll be able to see you a little bit better.
Andrew: There you go. Now they can see you. And guys, if you are watching us live and you have any questions, or feedback, or anything that you want me to talk about with Sean, just type it in, and I’ll do my best to get to as many questions as possible. OK, so 100,000 started off with 12 dollars. For anyone who doesn’t know what CustomEuropeanPlates.com was, can you tell them?
Interviewee: Yeah, I mean it was basically a very niche product. It was selling European license plates. And so those were the long license plates you see. And you’re probably asking, well, who would be buying those? Well, there’s actually a whole culture of people here in the United States who love to have that European feel on their car. Let’s say that they have a VW or a BMW. They want it to look authentic, like it’s from Germany. So they would actually buy these plates and put them on their car from there.
Andrew: I see them every once in awhile. And I think in the U.S., you also have to have a U.S. plate on top of the European plate, right?
Interviewee: It’s different state-by-state. California you can’t have it at all. California you have to have legal plates front and back. A lot of states allow you to have whatever you want in the front, and that’s usually where people put them.
Interviewee: … and that’s what usually people put on. Some people like me just don’t care, we want the authentic looks so we
take a few tickets a year just to have it.
Andrew: You did get ticket for doing it, right?
Interviewee: Quite often, probably four or five times a year
Andrew: How much money was it bringing in sales and revenue a year?
Interviewee: It was doing good. I almost forgot but it was doing well, it was doing may 70 to 80 profit a year. So essentially that is pretty much a full time salary for most people. I think that was in term of sales about 1/10th per year.
Andrew: Those are a pretty good margin. So a 110,000 sales, 70 to 80 thousands in profits?
Interviewee: I was going to say that the key was that it was just that I kept cost low as much as possible. I did some advertising and then I got to the point where I simply know I did not have any money for advertising I need to learn SEO. It is actually how I learned SEO may be 4 or 5 years ago was because of the say, I had no other ways to drive traffic there. Once the site was officially SEOed it was ranking and stills ranks for every terms associated with that project usually no 1 and so that is how you should drive all the sales and then it was a drop shift operation so orders would come in and they would be fulfilled by someone else. We did basic customer service but we did not had to get involved, we did not have to have staffs other than my wife helping me out. And so it was very low *means* website.
Andrew: So you sold it for about a year’s worth of profits? That seems pretty low.
Interviewee: It is and a lot of people were on me saying you really should have sold it for more, I probably should have waited till the economy got a little better. The timing was right and buyer was there. And sometimes you just have to say you know what you just got to pull the trigger. May be I could have waited and got and everyone telling me you could have got 300 for it.
Perhaps if I had waited for another year or two I was just anxious and I could upset the buyers. The opportunity was there. I was satisfied with all the money I made up over the years. It was not just the exit itself it was profitable business for about 3 or 4 years as well. I was happy with it and I was ready to move on. I think that is tough for entrepreneur and so I was toughed to move to next thing. I was very ready to.
Andrew: One of the reason I was eager to have you on here on is a lot of people here I do interview with venture back to entrepreneur and they say I am not going to get 20 million dollars to start my business I am a guy who has got a job, a very demanding job and life outside the work and I want you to bring entrepreneurs to make *synergy* who I could relate to, who I could learn from and may be on the side while I am doing this very stressful job I can build up for businesses and you did that and I keep bringing up the stressful job because you work for the three of the most diehard entrepreneurs in the southern California, right? Can you tell people a little bit about the jobs you work while you are building this business?
Interviewee: I mean I always say I work for the best entrepreneurs in LA and It’s Jason Calacanis, It’s Jason Nazar and it’s Mike Jones. These are the three guys. These are the three guys I want to work with. So I did everything I could to work with them and was lucky enough to. It was tough it was challenging to do anything when you have a full time job. But if you look back and I always make the joke like I don’t watch TV, now if I watch TV I would be a lot less productive because I would have commitments to watch shows. May be I watch half an hour a week. If you look those things in your life things the time in your life you are wasting that could be used to build something, to me its always more important to build, there is plenty of time to relax and watch TV when you get older and you retire but I look to everything things in my life and basically it sounds kind of boring and it sounds stupid but it’s just a 100 percent work. But because it 100 percent work that I wanted and now I can relax a little bit more and I can develop and be a little more patient and by the end of the day I love the work that I do, because I have axed out a lot of fun things and replacing them with the actual hard work itself.
Andrew: What are you doing actually for work now?
Interviewee: It’s good question. I probably have some kind of announcement in January and I left Tsavo back in September I have been kind of spinning my wheels to be honest I was not sure what I wanted to do. I had a few opportunities and so it’s been kind of tough. Right now I am basically working to two companies. I am working for MySpace and I am working with Mike Jones and all those guys again. We are going to help those thing turn around. And then I am also working with Mobile Roadie who builds iPhone apps. So I am essentially doing roughly 20 hours for each startups by helping them out.
Andrew: What are you doing for MySpace?
Interviewee: A lot of different things in marketing side though and content. Obviously they had lot different challenges, they had a lot of people on their way out, trying to help their team do more with less and trying to help them realize some of their goals, a lot of goals around socialization of the content and some trying to help them guide them and give them advice on best way to do that.
Andrew: What kind of goal? Can you give me a little more specific… Can you be more specific about what you are doing there?
Interviewee: Yeah, I mean, I can and I can’t. I can’t, I can’t give away too many details. I’m sure they’ll, if they’re watching, they’ll go crazy if I do. But, the, I mean, the idea is that the experience on MySpace has never been that great. Let’s say that they’ve sacrificed the experience for advertising. Now, it’s turning that around and saying that, you know what? We need to create a sticky experience. An engaging experience around these people. We have such a huge volume of people. There’s still 60 to 70 million people coming there a month. How do we keep them there? And how do we make it a better experience? And usually, a better experience online means content. And we have no shortage of content. Whether that’s through status updates or actual long form content or video. So it’s really about getting that content to the right people and allowing people to be great life casters, as well. If you look at things like Posterous and Facebook and Twitter, they allow you to be a, it’s a quick, easy life casting platform. Where MySpace really hasn’t been. All the tools are there but they haven’t really been well utilized or they haven’t been well laid out. So, it’s gonna be a two thing. It’s about bringing in external content for the users there and it’s also allowing people to be, make it easier for them to create content themselves.
Andrew: I see, okay. And, and on MobileRoadie, what do you do?
Interviewee: And MobileRoadie, I just, kind of, help them on the, one, the social media site. Helping them understand how that app fits in a social media and getting the right people to know about it. Giving them guidance there. And then, also, like the real big part of my job is finding the right people to build an app for. You know, like, we built an app for Brian Solis. We just did the app for The Web, the big tech conference. They started this company with the idea that this would be a bands specific app. They quickly realized, though, it’s better if they can do more verticals. And so, I’m kinda helping them go into different verticals. Everything from, like, web stars to authors to, you know, churches to events. Trying to see, like, this platform’s very flexible. I like to say, it’s like the WordPress or iPhone apps. You login, you sign up, you create an app, and then it’s on its way. And so, we want to be able to help them. So, I help them, kinda, understand what verticals can build an app, build an app with this framework that they built.
Andrew: Okay. Two great projects with two terrific companies. One, one is high profile. The other, actually they’re both high profile. MobileRoadie, especially now, is getting a lot of attention. I guess since you started working with them. But.
Interviewee: But, hey, it’s not all me. I’d love to say that. But, yeah, they’re, they’re getting a lot of attention. We’re getting a lot of great people there. You’re gonna hear some funding news in the next week or two. I’m, I’m not sure where it is but it’s, it’s in process. You’ll have some really big funding news, I think, that will really put them on the radar.
Andrew: Alright. I want to come back to both of those and especially to MobileRoadie. But, there’s something that you said a little while ago that I want to dig deeper into. You said, you’re spinning your wheels. The interesting thing is you’re working on two great projects, right now, but you’re not as focused as I always, as I always saw you. And, is part of the problem that you took out a $100,000 from this past business that it’s given you the freedom to figure out what to do next? And, maybe you’ve had a little bit too much freedom now?
Interviewee: Yeah, I mean, I think so. And, I, I was also at the point and I’ve been kinda between these two companies where one is a smart scrappy startup. And that’s what I love. I mean, that’s my favorite. Building something from the ground up, I mean, there’s nothing greater. And then you have MySpace, who is this, I don’t know how else to describe it, it’s a monster corporation. It’s huge. I mean, you have to get approval for things where, you know, in the past it was like, “Oh, you want it done.” We would just do it, whatever it took, lie, cheat, and steal. Well, you can’t do that in a big company. And so, you know, yeah, I’ve been, I’ve been kinda between these two things. I don’t, I haven’t been of what I want to do. Do I want to go with the big company and see if I can make an impact there. Or do I want to be and try and help lead a small company. So, it’s very tough. It’s almost been like a tug-o-war. I’m also to the point where I feel like, you know what, you can’t do a lot of things great. You can do a lot of things good but it’s always better if you can do one thing great. And so, in 2010, I want to do one thing great. And so I need to figure out exactly what that is. Whether that’s building these apps for MobileRoadie. Whether that’s helping MySpace with the turnaround. Whether it’s doing something on my own.
Andrew: Why not ditch all of these guys and just do your own thing from scratch and build it up. And do something that’s got much more potential than even European license plates.
Interviewee: Yeah, and, and, you know, I’ve actually, of course, been thinking about that. And I, actually, have started to do that. And I’ve been using some developers, in China, actually, to build a few prototypes and ideas. I always want to have something in the back burner, just in case. But, to me, it’s also timing. And I always joke, that like, in love and business timing is everything. And it doesn’t feel like the right timing to me. It feels like 2010 is gonna be a very different year. You’re gonna see IPOs. You’re gonna see this resurgence like we had in the ’99. I’m a little wary of that. And I’m also very wary of building the next real time product, ’cause the market is already saturated. I don’t want to try to get into a crowded marketplace. I like to own a smaller niche. And so, I’m trying to figure out what that is, actually.
Andrew: I see. Okay, alright, and there are a lot people, by the way, who are, who are saying the same thing I am.
Interviewee: OK. And there are a lot of people by the way who are saying the same thing I am saying. We are all watching you, we are all paying attention to you largely, because you pulled your attention towards you and now we are all asking ourselves what’s he going to do next? What is it that Sean is up to?
Interviewee: Is there pressure from that?
Andrew: I get nervous a little bit. I don’t want to disappoint. And that’s why I haven’t been talking too much about what I have been doing and I love what you do. I love being a showman we are like building up and getting anticipation going, and getting people interested. And I always love the emails I get when people are like “what are you doing, we want to know.” So, yeah there is pressure. I don’t want to disappoint.
Interviewee: Alright. I’ve got to tell you I am a terrible showman. I have trouble getting the words out even in my interviews. You can see it right now. But I am passionate about the mission here, which is studying entrepreneurs, bringing back their ideas to other people, who are inspiring entrepreneurs who are out there, building their companies right now. And so those people are going to be asking me for more depth on the custom European plate business. So, let’s go back in and dig a little deeper talk about how you launched and how you build it up. You said that it was drop shipping. How did you find the company that would do the drop shipping for you?
Andrew: The big moment for me was when I bought one for my own car and everyone was asking me about it. And people were coming to me in parking lots; they would pull up to me. I mean it was kind of crazy and what I would do was I was referring them to this site. I had to step back and say, you know what, if I had my own site I can get a piece of all this or if I was an affiliate.. I just started thinking like the ten people that I’ve told, maybe that is ten dollars each, a hundred dollars, if I did that all year. I started thinking like that and I just sent an email to him and said, Ted listen, I did build website and I had experience with that prior, why don’t you let me build a great website for you, do the marketing and then you give me a cut and that’s how it all started. I was literally identifying something that I had, that people had a lot of interest in. If strangers came up to you, to ask you about something that you are doing, whether it’s on your computer, or something that you are holding, like something thatÖ it’s takes a lot for a stranger to come up and say what is that and where do I get?
Interviewee: Alright so you made a deal with the guy who was already selling it. You could build the website pretty easily, right? Where did you build the site in?
Andrew: I didn’t have any money and I started looking for open source alternatives and I knew there had to be great. I had done e-commerce before but I always had to buy the e-commerce package and it was like 500 dollars and a monthly fee. I knew there had to be something like free. Once again the Word Press example, there is a Word Press for everything out there. A free, robust, great platform and it turns out the software is called OS Commerce and there is something called Oscmax there is something called Zen Cart. These are all free and are easy to use. It’s just a matter of getting them installed and working through it from there.
Interviewee: I’ve got to say, Iëve been hearing a lot of negative things about OS Commerce. In what year did you start?
Andrew: So, this would have been like 2003 or 2004, maybe when I first started playing around with that.
Interviewee: 2003 or 2004.
Andrew: Maybe ë04-ë05 actually.
Interviewee: Since then, and tell me if you heard anything about this, it seems that Magento for open sources has been the platform for E-commerce.
Andrew: I think so. Now, Magento… I haven’t done the E-commerce site in a while but I am hearing a lot of great things about them. They just stole one of our people from MySpace so they’ve got to be doing something well, Tim Shults. And, so I have heard great things about that too. So the only thing is there are some charges associated with Magento or is it free as well?
Interviewee: I think it’s all free open source and then of course they’ve got all their business build on top of it. And then people who can’t implement open source, who are just getting started, I’ve got a sponsor that I’ve got to mention here, shopify.com plug and chug, you just type in your products, you upload pictures, is as easy to use as MySpace or Spacebook I should say.
Andrew: Those are great too and I like those services. The only thing ever I get concerned about is being able to own my own domain. That’s very, very important. So if you use a service that’s kind of a turn key. And, they give you a sub domain, not really the best. You want to do a service that will give you your own domain. So, you can always move that if you need to eventually.
Interviewee: Absolutely. And these days most sites will let you do it. Shopify let’s you do it; you said for blogging, you mentioned Posters, they let you use your own domain.
Andrew: Yep. And, actually the people that bought that site, one of the first things they did was they moved it into another platform. I am not sure which one. They kept all the layouts exactly the same but they did use a different platform…. I have to find out what platform they used and I don’t knot if it was because they didn’t like OS-commerce. I think it’s just they have their own networking site and they are familiar with this platform so they moved it to something else.
Interviewee: OK. And Dave Yank was watching us live and is saying that Magento is free unless you want enterprise level. So, here it is. Today there are more options out there. Back then you used Os commerce, which was the best system at the time. Alright so now we talked about where you got the product, we talked abut the software that you used. Let’s move to talking about customers. And originally you said you started buying ads. Where did you buy ads and how did they go?
Andrew: Where did you buy ads and how did they go?
Interviewee: I started with the basic Google AdWords. Google AdWords is something that everyone should know. It takes a lot of experience. You want to start spending very little money as you learn the system. And then you kind of ramp up from there. Its one thing I’ve also learned at Savo is the, the function of ‘ramping up’ not trying to kick in the doors and just go crazy. To open up an AdWords account with $1000.00 a day is the wrong way to do it. You open an AdWords account with $5.00 a day, or $10.00 a day. Something that’s almost nothing. Just so you can slowly kind of learn the system as well. And there’s also, your ads will perform better over time. Because you have to, just like an SEO, when you’re buying ads, you have to build trust. And so, that ad block that you’re buying, it builds trust over time and it builds trust based on conversion. It builds trust based on how many people click on the ad and then immediately hit the back button. So you need to be sure you’re getting the best performance out of that because what you’ll see is over time, your ad will perform better. It will cost you less as well because they’ve determined that you are an authority and that you can be trusted. And so I started like I said five or 10 dollars a day just buying AdWords. I had my first sale the first day. And that was really what got me excited about it because I had already made my money back the first day. I spent five or 10 dollars, I had roughly a $20 profit margin on the product so once I had the first sale, I was done. I was in it and I was really excited about it.
Andrew: What did the plates go for? How much did you charge?
Interviewee: The price kind of fluctuated depending on the Euro and a few other factors. But they were roughly around $40.00.
Andrew: OK. All right, what else? There’s something that you said a second ago that, oh, Savo. You said that’s where you learned to ramp up slowly. Savo the company that you previously worked for. Didn’t they buy, didn’t they do hundreds of millions of dollars in these kinds of ads? How did you learn to ramp up slowly from a company that’s doing so much business in AdWords and other, in related ads?
Interviewee: Yeah I mean its the same thing as, they did a lot of revenue, scary amounts of revenue, but they did this across hundreds of domains. And so, I don’t know how much I should reveal. Like I said last time I did an interview with you I got emails saying ‘I’m going to sue you.’ Let’s see if that happens again. But basically they, every time they started though, they did start small. It was never a…let’s say that they knew that they could spend 10 to 20 grand on a site in one day. They would never start at that. They would always start something smaller and their scale was maybe $500.00 a day. And it really just a matter of…it was people managing, almost like day traders. And they would sit and they would watch these, you know the fluctuations in price, they would watch their click through rate and how much money they were making, and they would slowly adjust. It was like having a hundred little knobs that you keep adjusting and tuning and literally going up and up and up a little bit each day. Maybe its $100.00 a day that you scale up to. And so I watch them start at $500.00 maybe even $100.00 a day and then it would get to the point where it was a bigger spend. Maybe ten, maybe 20 grand a day being spent.
Andrew: Can we talk about the trouble that you got into last time you were on here? I was very quiet about it until you wrote about it on one of your websites, on lalawag. Do you feel comfortable getting into it here?
Interviewee: I think its fine too. The big issue is that, hey, I’ve kind of had to pull myself back because I’ve got a big mouth. I love sharing. I don’t realize that sometimes this stuff is sensitive information. But I just love sharing my experience, you know. Even if a company paid me, my experience is my experience. I’m going to talk about it. I can talk about it under my breath right now, or I can talk about it in front of other people, it doesn’t matter. But yeah, it was Jason (???) was made. I gave away too much information about processes of how they developed content there. And you know I was young and naive. I probably was stupid and said too much stuff. He felt burnt by it. I can see why. Yeah, he was a little pissed and our relationship was somewhat rocky after I left there. You know, working with Jason is kind of like working with the Mafia. Once you’re out it’s like ‘Hey, you’re out.’ But we’ve actually been able to patch things up. I think its been great. I’ve been talking to him a little bit more. I think he’s been a little bit more subdued now that’s he’s a little older and wiser and has a kid on the way. You know that probably changes you quite a bit. And so, yeah, he was miffed. I said too much about making content. That was kind of the gist of it.
Andrew: Yeah it was because you said, you talked about how they made content at Mahalo based on what people were searching for, how they even had somebody there to monitor the Howard Stern show , that that was your idea, ‘Bring somebody in to monitor the Howard Stern show,’ because when he makes news, if you guys create a web page about it people are going to rush over to your site. So, I actually like when you’re like that. The fact is that Jason is like that too. That he sometimes says things that he’s not supposed to and he gets a lot of attention. And its not like you revealed deep inside information.
Interviewee: I mean I always say and I think I told this to him once, you are a bad influence on me because…You’re right. He does that all the time. Less nowadays but definitely would say way too much…
Interviewee: I mean I always say, and I think I told this to him once, I’m like, “You are a bad influence on me,” because you’re right. I mean, he does that all the time. I mean, less nowadays, but definitely would say way too much, and if you take him out to dinner he’ll tell you way too much. Just like if you take me out to dinner I’ll probably tell you way too much.
Andrew: What kind of things would he tell you?
Interviewee: Oh, I can’t say.
Andrew: No, no, no, without saying too specific. He’ll tell you about people, he’ll tell you about ideas?
Interviewee: People, and this is actually common that I’ve learned with most of the “A-listers” is they just can’t shut up. And it’s everything from inside information, they love to talk about what’s going to happen next with the big guys, whether that’s Facebook or Google. You know, I’m in Paris, I’m hanging out with a bunch of people and they’re telling me all the inside track on the Facebook employees and what’s going on there. You know, really, really private information. People like to gossip. I was going to say something on… well, I think the reason he got so mad is because he did pioneer a lot of following trends and creating content around it. And I helped him with that, everyone at Mahalo helped him with that. You know, we [laugh] – I just got a text message saying “Be careful”… So essentially everyone at the office there helped to become pioneers of being on top of trends and it was something that it was during this kind of lull where, you know, CNN and the real time web, they hadn’t really caught up, and so a story would break and it would take twenty minutes for CNN to have an article on it, when we realize, you know what, we can have an article in two minutes, and then we can build it out slowly from there. And so he pioneered a lot of that trend-based content, and so I could see why he was sensitive about it. When you look at it today that now everyone’s doing it – everyone from Huffington Post to all these crappy blogs are doing it as well, too. It’s not a big secret anymore. I think back then it was more a secret about how much traffic you could generate from trends.
Andrew: I see. Okay, and what about shares in the company? Did you endanger your shares because of something you said?
Interviewee: You know, I did. He was really generous to offer me shares, and we were kind of going back and forth, and so I turned him down. It was a really small amount of shares. Looking back, though, I should have taken them. You should always take them, just to have them. Shares in general, though, I’ve kind of given up on them. You know, I’ve had a few shots to have them with these start-ups. Even with Savo I left before I got shares, just cause I just I was just, you know, wasn’t happy with the situation. I wanted to do something else. I don’t think you should ever build your career, and have a dependency on shares cause you never know what’ll happen. I don’t understand that world enough to know if I could’ve made, you know, done really well. To me, at some point I came to the conclusion where I was like you know what, pay me really well right now, let’s not worry about shares, I’m not looking for that, I don’t want that to be the driving force in my life for these companies.
Andrew: It seems that to some degree there’s fraud. I think that there’s fraud going on in the start-up community when it comes to shares. They hand out shares like they’re gonna be super valuable. They never say you’re gonna get
rich from it – maybe not never, sometimes they do – but if they don’t explicitly say it, there is a nod and a wink that says, “Don’t worry. You’re gonna be rich, buddy. Don’t take a lot of salary, work your ass off right now, you’re a part-owner.” Meanwhile, in most cases, the CEO himself doesn’t really end up with a great exit. How are you gonna, as a share holder, as an employee with a small stake gonna end up with a lot of wealth from it?
Interviewee: Unless you’re a co-founder, I don’t think you’re gonna make anything. Running the numbers on a recent opportunity that I had, it was like it was gonna work out to, in the best case scenario, a hundred grand. Well, you know what, it’s like I’m at the point where it’s like I’d rather make a hundred grand on salary or two hundred grand on salary, and then I know that that money is in the bank. I’ve made it, it’s there. I’ve done other stuff with other people and like we have other people, and we’ve done the numbers on them and it’s like they’re gonna make five or ten grand. Like, five or ten grand? I’m not gonna kill myself for five or ten grand – potentially. I mean, and so yeah, unless you’re in at the beginning, I would never count on shares to be… to really, you know, drive it home. Get a big salary, get well-paid, and go buy all the gadgets you want.
Andrew: Noah Kagan was on here, and he’s a guy who was one of the first employees at Mint. Before there was a mint.com that was operational, he was in there helping them out. And I asked him why he left and if he was kicking himself when they sold the business, and he actually said, “Let me be open with you on my numbers, how many shares I got,” Noah said, and he walked us through, and in the end, he might’ve ended up with a hundred thousand dollars at the end of a big sale, which was considered a successful exit. For spending a lot of time at a company, and considering the salary that he could command, a hundred thousand over all those years is not that much. And, what’s to say the company you work with ends up being a Mint?
Interviewee: Yeah, they got really lucky that their exit was one seventy? Which I think is a great exit. And also look at the huge exits, there are not that many. I think the last big exit I can think of is Youtube. Right? Well, there’s probably been a few others as well. So yeah, a hundred grand to him? Not a big deal. He can go get that in a salary, let’s not forget about all the taxes you’re gonna have to pay on that, all the nightmares that that involves…
Interviewee: Let’s not forget about all the taxes you’re going to have to pay on that and all the nightmares that are involved. So, yeah. I’m less interested in that.
I’m actually interested in stocks in general. I just started buying stocks. I have no idea what I’m doing. I am approaching it like SEO where I’m like, “Okay, I’ll start small and I’ll figure it out. I’ll put a few thousand into it here.” But yeah. As far as company stock, yeah. Like we said, don’t let it rule your life
Andrew: Yeah. And you know what, how about–
Interviewee: [Overlapping] To me, though, and I will say that, yeah. Like any good entrepreneur, Calacanis encouraged you and said, “You have the stock,” you know. Dah-dah-dah-dahÖ. He doesn’t pay a lot, and that’s not a big secret. But when I went to work for him I didn’t care about that. It was all about the experience I was getting and in every case–
Andrew: [Overlapping] How explicit was he about the benefit? About the prize at the end if the company sells?
Interviewee: He went into some detail and he was very–I mean, it was nice. He was very transparent about how things work. And he was very transparent as to what we could and what we would get paid. I think he was more transparent as to what he would get paid–because he obviously was the main stakeholder.
So he had a scale of whether he’s getting a private jet or just a rental jet. But for us it’s too hard to determine. I don’t think you can sit there with an employee and guarantee anything. One, there’s a vesting period. So not everyone’s going to fully vest. You never know the exit price. If it’s an acquisition of another company–another public company–there’s other things that happen as well.
And so yeah, I mean, like you said. I think it’s more about a, “Wink, wink, you’re going to do well on this,” but nobody wants to put any hard numbers behind it.
Andrew: And that’s what used to piss me off when I was running Bradford & Reed. Because I was upfront. I would tell people, “I’m not giving you any shares at all. The shares aren’t going to be worth anything that you’re coming to me with from another company.” But when I recruited them, they–in their heads–imagined these numbers. And they imagined that they were going to get this big payday. And I as a guy running a private company would have to find a way to match it. Or would have to find a way to explain to them that it’s worthless. And it was torture!
Andrew: So maybe in that sense it works. And maybe when you’re hiring young people who are fresh out of school with ambition–drive–they don’t know what an option even is. And to them it seems like it’s huge money.
Interviewee: Yeah, and something I employ– and I don’t know if this is from Calacanis or not. But the big thing isÖwhen someone comes to work for me, one of the first things I tell them, I never want to talk about money. It’s always like, “You know what? I want to train you to be so badass at ‘fill-in-the-blank,’ whatever it is, that you leave me in two years, or a year, and you go get a better job. And you move on with your life.”
I think that’s always more important to someone. I hate peopleÖit always drives me crazy when people are doing the same job for 10 years and they’re stuck there. I’m just like, “Listen: be amazing at what you do and start doing leapfrogs, and start building more, and more, and more.” So, as far as equity, a lot of people will come to you and say, “I have no money. I want to give you equity in my company.” Well, no equity of no equity is not worth anything.
I think it’s much better if you can go to them and say, “Listen: I have this skill, or I have this trait, or experience. I’m going to give it to you. And then in a year or two, go on to do something else. And really make something. And do better than me. I challenge you to do better than me.” I think that’s always a better incentive for an employee.
Andrew: And by the way, something happened as you were talking there. As we started talking about this whole Calacanis thing, our traffic jumped by three times.
Andrew: Maybe it’s the live video provider that we’re using is featuring us on the homepage. But now we’re approaching 200 viewers here. Or maybe it’s just that we talked about Jason Calacanis and he’s a big draw for eyes and clicks.
Interviewee: He is. He does have a tendency to do that. It doesn’t look like he Tweeted or anyone has really Tweeted about it. But yeah, I know that we are–
Andrew: [Overlapping] My guess is that somebody put it up on their website.
Interviewee: Cool. Maybe it was–
Andrew: Featured it.
Interviewee: — [PHONETIC] Fazee, the Ustream guy. Well, good. We may have a bigger audience now.
Andrew: Yeah! Damn good!
Interviewee: [Overlapping] Now we have more a bit pressure with what we’re talking about.
Andrew: [Overlapping] Well, whoever it is, thank you, and let me know who’s doing this. All right. So meanwhile, just building your own business on the side you ended up bringing in $100,000. $100,000 of your own money at the end of the day when you sold it, and throughout the life of the business, you were pulling in cash.
So if I had to really decide for myself–if I was a young guy starting out, where do I get the best education? Where do I get the most money? My sense is that it would be, go work at a smart company. Not so much for the salary but for the education that I’m going to get. And on the side, build my own business. Because that’s where I could potentially bring in money. That’s where I could really get a lot of education and use what I’m learning on the job. What do you think?
Interviewee: Yeah, I think it’s a perfect way to do it. It gives you a world of experience that you could apply to a future job or you can use to actually build something bigger. When I looked at that business I was never about–and the same with [PHONETIC] Lolliwag–I never look at these things as like, “God, I want to make as much money as possible.”
I mean geez, I love money. Don’t get me wrong. Who doesn’t? But at the end of the day I just said, you know what? Those are a nice side business. I want them to be low-maintenance. I don’t want it to ruin my life; I want it to be worth it. I mean, we had moments where we were out of money. We had nothing. But all of a sudden we had $600 in sales on that site and it literally saved us. The money was–it’s a merchant account.
So it just goes right into your bank account. And so having that as a cushionÖ.
Interviewee: It’s a merchant account. So it just goes right into your bank account. And so having that as a cushion. Or, it would be like–we would have Christmas. And we would do 20 grand in sales and we’d be like, “Well, geez. All right, well, let’s go buy something really nice! Let’s really have fun with this money.”
It was never this huge, “It’s going to have a million dollar exit.” It was supplemental income. It allowed [PHONETIC] Lori to stay home for a while and not work–my wife. So it was a really great thing. It was about having realistic goals with that. I knew that the site could be probably two to three times more in revenue. And actually the new guy is pretty much doing that already. Because he has bigger staff, and bigger resources, and so forth.
But it got to a point where I just said, “You know what? This is my goal. My goal was to do $100,000 a year in sales. I’m here. I can run this forever, or I have equity. I have–almost like a house that I could sell if I really need to.
Andrew: Okay, so let’s keep talking about how you built this up. We talked about where you got the product. We talked about how you built up the website. We talked about how you tried advertising. And advertising, you said, was so-so. But search engine optimization is what led to the biggest source of traffic for you, right?
Interviewee: Absolutely, yes.
Andrew: All right. Can you still do this today? Can you still build a website, SEO the heck out of it and then end up with a flood of traffic that’s going to bring in tens of thousands of dollars a year?
Interviewee: Definitely, depending on the niche. I’ve been doing it on smaller-scale for other topics, and I’ve been doing it on a micro-level for blog-like related content. Different things like that. My own name, other people’s names, reputation management, helping people remove bad results, these types of things.
And so, yeah, I could definitely do it. I haven’t done it. And [PHONETIC] Lori’s been on–my wife has been kicking me to say, like, “Why don’t we have out other site? It’s been a few months; we should have our other site by now.” Or another site.
And so, yes. It’s definitely possible. Once again, it’s about being realistic. [PHONETIC] Lori’s like, “We should set up 10 sites, and just do that.” And I’m like, “You know what? Let’s just do one site well.” So it’s definitely repeatable. Like I said, like we were talking about. It’s not going to be–I couldn’t do a hundred sites like this by myself. But you could do one, definitely, for sure.
Andrew: All right. So give me some tips for how to do this. One thing you said is you’ve got to find the right niche. How do you find the right niche?
Interviewee: You know, that’s always the biggest challenge. Life experience is really important. Identifying what people around you are doing, using the new–the real great thing about the real-time web is the monitoring. And so that always helps me determine if something is hot.
Activity, the amount of activity, the sentiment around it is useful as well. But just doing searches on Twitter. And if you get those results that are one second ago, and then they keep coming in, there’s something. There’s a fire there as well. So that’s a great way to identify it.
The online ecommerce space is very, very challenging. The service base is a bit challenge as well too. Bu there’s always room for people that want those impulse items. And so anything you can get around the price range of, let’s say $10 to $50; whether that’s a service or that’s an actual physical, tangible product is a good place to be in.
Andrew: What’s that noise in the background, by the way?
Interviewee: It is the–you can hear that?
Interviewee: It’s actually the–can you see that? Probably not. He’s up here somewhere. It’s the Nabaztag. He’s a Wi-Fi rabbit. And so, he reads the news to me, and people can send him messages as well, too. So I get a bunch of dirty messages throughout the day from him. [Laughs]
Andrew: I see! [Laughs] All right. How do we send you a “dirty message?”
Interviewee: Go to–it’s on Lalawag.com. It’s in the navigation. It says “Lala Wabbit.”
Andrew: Okay. So, Lalawag.com, and then see the Lala Wabbit. All right. What else? What other advice do you have for somebody who’s starting an ecommerce site?
Interviewee: So, the big thing that I do notice a lot of people do is thatÖ. You have to–that first 5-second experience of the site has to be really good. Because people, when they’re shopping, they’re frantic. I mean, they’re really looking for the Back button. So you need a great landing page experience.
And this happens–this will actually affect you with your Google Ads too if you’re buying Google ads. They determine what they call “Quality Score.” And that’s based on the landing page itself.
[Lala Wabbit starts talking]
Sorry, I have another update coming in. That’s TechCrunch. [Laughs] So, the landing page is key. Because Google does look at that and say, “Did they hit the Back button right away?” And at the same time, when they hit the homepage you have to draw them in. a good ecommerce site is going to have a pie “pageviews per session.” Because people are looking around a lot.
Whereas a blog or a news site may only have 1 to 2 pageviews per session, you have to get to the point where you’re getting 5 to 20 pageviews per session from the ecommerce site itself. And so it’s a great way to draw them in and then also show them great recirculation things. So it’s related products. It’s more photos. It’s getting them to keep getting deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of your ecommerce site.
Andrew: All right, so I’m actually on CustomEuropeanPlates.com right now. And the reason I went to it as we were talking is I don’t remember it looking especially stunning
Andrew: The reason I went to it as we were talking is I don’t remember it looking especially stunning. But I guess stunning isn’t the goal, right?
Interviewee: Not at all. Yes, I mean, they’ve done a few changes here. Obviously they’re trying to sell–
Andrew: [Overlapping] The gift certificates.
Interviewee: –Christmas stuff. So that’s hotÖ. Yeah. Because that’s always a good business to print paper and gift certificates that nobody ever claims.
[The Lalawag Wabbit talks again]
See? Here come the messages now. [Laughs] It’s all about simplicity on this site. And that was also a big factor with SEO as well, too. That if you’re basically weighting your page down with so much crap, just as the user has a bad experience trying to download it all, so do the bots. And so if you look at it, the optimization is all on text. It’s all on–it’s very keyword-rich.
If you type in things like “European plates,” or “European license plates,” or “German plates,” this site’s number one, because it’s not weighted down at all.
Andrew: Okay, yeah it was actually, I forgot the name of the site and I just did a Google search to find you. I typed in something like “European plates,” or “European license plates,” and boom, you came up. All right. SEO. What other tips?
Interviewee: On the SEO side, I mean, if you look at the site even though it’s been redone, it’s still relatively the same. As you noticed, immediately, the first keywords we’re getting hit with are in the navigation. We see that. The bot reads your site from left to right just like you would read it, as well. And so we start to see that we have European plates, we start to see all the keywords again.
These are driving them into the main product pages where–obviously the most important. [Overlapping] Bring in people to the landing pages is–
Andrew: [Overlapping] I see. So on the, yeah. On the left side, I see. It says “European plates.” It says, “USA/European Plates” is the next navigation link. And then underneath that there’s a link to Canadian/European license plates. So, all those are meant for the bots to be able to read it. So that if they’re looking for European plates, they know that this guy’s got it. Or USA/European plates, this site has it.
Interviewee: Those are the keywords. “European License Plates.” And that’s why those are pushed into the upper-left side as well. And at the same time, it’s optimized forÖ. It’s always hard to optimize a site for a bot and a person. But I’ve really tried to do this here where whether you’re a person or a bot, you’re going to find exactly what you need–most of the time if you’re looking for the license plates.
There’s a few accessories on the site, other stuff, but it’s really all about those plates. And that’s where I want to funnel that person into–or that bot into, in this case.
Andrew: Okay. All right. What’s a good–let’s move on past search engine optimization but leave people with a link or resource that they can go to if they want to learn that. If their business isn’t search engine optimization, if they don’t want to spend all day studying it, is there a resource that they can go to so they can learn just enough to do it well enough to focus on the rest of their business?
Interviewee: Yeah. I always refer people to SEOBook. That’s a great website, they have a lot of free and paid tutorial services as well. Guy Kawasaki has a service called All Top. And so if you go to seo.AllTop.com, it’s basically every SEO blog that you could ever want. Find one that has a good voice that really resonates with you.
You will find, though, like everything good in life, SEO, it’s a lot of trial and error. You’re building a page–hold on one sec.
Interviewee: You’re building a page that really, like I said, it needs to be easily digestible by a person and a bot. At the end of the day it really takes a lot of thinking and tweaking to get that right method. It’s going to be different for a lot of different products, based on context. Really, though, what it is–it’s about the minimal amount of information that is going to get your point across and have your message, and carry those keywords and everything else that you want to get into.
So like I said, yeah, seo.AllTop.com. It’s a great resource. Find someone that you really like. There’s another great blog and I want to make sure that I get this right, so let me just look it up.
Andrew: Okay, and I’m going to look at questions here that we’re getting from the live audience. Joanna Lord is saying that she loves this interview. Thank you, Joanna. Thanks for Tweeting it out, too, to your followers. Yup. Sean?
Interviewee: The site is called Outspoken Media. I believe that they’re an SEO consulting company. There’s a lot of great people that are involved with this site. Take a look at that. They have a wonderful voice, and they really articulate what everything is about. People get very overwhelmed with SEO because there is so much to know.
Really just start thinking about the quality of the page, the quality of the links that are coming in to you, and the relevancy. I mean, relevance is so key. Going out and buying a hundred links from an Indian firm that’s going to put you on all these weird blogs does nothing for you. A big benefit that I did is I went and I–
I researched every keyword through tools, and then manually. Literally by just typing them in, I found out who ranked for the keywords that I wanted to rank for. And in a lot of cases, I reached out to them. And we were able to form a partnership. Whether that was a link exchange or that was some kind of trade. We were able to help each other out.
And my forming these connections and linking each other, or me creating content for them, all these different things helped me. It helped that siteÖ
Interviewee: All these different things helped me, and helped that site, immensely. Probably more than anything I did. Because that one link from that highly relevant site would push me up tenfold more than a link-building campaign or anything else.
Andrew: So what did you do for them? You said that you wrote articles for them, I get that. Then you get the link back because they credit you in the article. What else did you do? Did you give them a share of the sales?
Interviewee: I did some of that as well. I set up affiliates. I never did really well with affiliates. I think that was just one area that I didn’t really–I used a company called Share A Sale, which is like Commission Junction but a lot cheaper. It helps you launch an affiliate program. The affiliate world is a whole different beast.
There’s a lot of really smart people that are involved there. ShoeMoney–there’s an affiliate summit that’s coming up. If that’s a big part of your business I would look to that conference. But I did everything. I reached out to people and said–
Andrew: [Overlapping] But you also–Sorry.
Interviewee: I was going to say–I reached out to people and I said, “Listen, I want to host your website. Let me host your website for free. And then what we’ll do is we’ll get Öput a link and just say ‘Hosting by European Clicks.'” These kinds of things.
And so I tried to really reach out and be helpful. You have to understand, these people get approached all the time for links and everything else. Instead I reached out to them and said, “Listen, why don’t I give you a plate? Why don’t I help you? How can we work together? We’re both in the same space.”
And a lot of these people were just resource sites. Going out to the direct competitors, a lot of times they’re wary and they don’t want to work with you. That’s fine. But there’s tons of other little smaller sites that are involved in every topic and every nice. That you can network with.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And finally, where’d you sell it?
Interviewee: So, it’s interesting. I thought it was going to be tough. And so I started looking at these online auction sites that would sell sites. I found a site exactly the same as mine. With the exact same margin, the exact same profit, the exact same SEO standing selling a different product. They were trying to get $18,000 for the site. And I saw that and I was scared.
I was like, “Wow! The market is really this bad?” And it looked like the sale was about to happen. And so I really dug into those sites. And then what I did is I literally–I just Tweeted it out. I said, “Looking to sell the site. Is anyone interested?” And someone approached me from Twitter, believe it or not.
So I think that’s–a kind of a benefit for me is that I have a lot of people that are in the space of buying sites. And I have–
Andrew: [Overlapping] So you didn’t use Flippa.com? You didn’t list yourself on Site Point?
Andrew: It was just you Tweeting it out. I want to sell this, who wants to buy it, and then you made a deal for $100,000?
Interviewee: It was just me Tweeting it out, and it was a friend coming up to me and saying, “I have someone that might want to buy your site.” And he made the referral there. And it was a company who was buying ecommerce sites. They were building a network, and it just happens they were building a network of automotive ecommerce sites. So my site fed in very well there.
So I think it was a little bit of luck, it was a little bit of surrounding myself with the right people. Within a week of telling [PHONETIC] Lori “I’m going to sell the site,” the site was sold. And I started to work up the paperwork. So I think a probablyÖunique experience. But definitely it’s possible. I think a lot of people would be shy talking about, “Oh, I want to sell something.”
So don’t be afraid. If there’s ever a point where I want to sell Lalawag, the first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to Tweet it out. Does anyone want to buy this site? And it’s a great way to kind of just bet and see if there’s anyone out there that might be interested.
Andrew: Okay. Lalawag is your other website. Just so anyone who doesn’t know itÖjust so anyone who keeps hearing us talk about Lalawag understands what we’re talking aboutÖ. It’s a blog that covers the Southern California tech community, right?
Interviewee: It is. LA has a–
Andrew: [Overlapping] With an interesting edge.
Interviewee: –great tech community. We have some coverage out here. There’s another site called SoCalTech. There of course is TechZulu who does a lot of video and a lot of coverage of Southern California.
I wanted to really get into the culture of Southern California tech people and the events is a big part. There are so many events out here. I wanted try and capture what the events were about and who was going to them as well.
Andrew: Okay. Let’s see. I want to take some of the–let’s take one question on that.
Interviewee: Sure, let’s go.
Andrew: [Overlapping] And then on to CustomEuropeanPlates.com, and then we’ll move on to social media. All right. I like, by the way, the people who are watching us live are trying to get me to use their system. There was a time when nobody even watched my interviews. Now suddenly I’m getting offers to move my whole live interviews over to somebody else’s platform. I love that!
Interviewee: Yeah. Well, who are you with? You’re with UStream right now, right?
Andrew: Today, right now, yes.
Andrew: Ustream is doing it and it looks like Ustream has me up on Ustream.com and that’s why we have close to 300 people who are watching.
Andrew: Okay. Let’s take Monocat. Because he’s such an active participant in my work here in Mixergy. Let’s take one of his questions. He wants to know, “Is it better to feature a list of products on the homepage? Or one big flash banner? Which converts better?”
I’m assuming for conversion you could just test, right? And then figure out for yourself which is better.
Interviewee: Yeah. I actually did both. And Flash, obviously, is not SEO-friendly. One thing I used to have on the homepage–it’s not there anymore was–because this was a custom product, I wanted to immediately get them excited about building a custom product.
Interviewee: Because this was a custom product, I wanted to immediately get them excited about building a custom product. So it’s all about putting your name on something. That was the whole pitch. And so where was actually a Flash piece that was a plate builder–plate creator. And they would type in their text, and they would see the result in real time. And then there was a big call-to-action to buy once you actually did that.
So I think it depends. I would not do these over-the-top Flash intros. I think those are really extinct. Don’t send a bunch of buzzwords floating up. I don’t think people respond very well to that. I think it’s better to–like I said, it really depends on the context. You can try both. But at the end of the day it’s about less is more.
If you look at BillShrink.com, if you look at Mint.com, they really have beautiful landing pages. They want to get you into the product right away. They want to give you a little background on all the pieces. Just make sure you’re not putting too many things on there. Because the user’s eye–they’re bouncing around.
It should come to the site, and I think you’ll find that the ideal mix is they have about three big doors they can jump through. And so as long as you’re not giving them too many doors that’s great. So give them the three doors with an emphasis on the big door. The one that you really want them to do through.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Well, what do you mean by “doors,” actually?
Interviewee: The doors are like, when you go to the Euro-plates site, there’s about three or four products that you can look at. Those are the big products. If you go to–let’s look at Mint.com real quick. Or actually BillShrink.
Andrew: You’re going to BillShrink.comÖ.
Interviewee: Give Tony Adam a shout-out here. So, go to BillShrink.com. Now, what they’ve done is the basically have four doors for you to look at. Now, they have four big services. They have wireless. They have savings. They have credit cards. Notice I can click on each one of them and that it’s all about getting me to input a little bit of information. Just the bare minimum. And they want me to hit that Go button. That’s all they really care about.
Once I hit that Go button there’s a high likelihood that they can get me engaged in their product and they can get me to convert. So like I said, this landing page is perfect. It’s very, very simple. There’s not a lot going on: “Here are the three big things that my website does. And here’s how you go to the next steps.” That’s what the landing page is all about.
Andrew: I see. Yeah. They’re making it very clear where they want you to go. One of these four places, and then like you said, they’re looking for the bare minimum action from me. Like, I clicked on “wireless service.” They want to know how much I’m paying for my wireless service and how many lines I have. And they make it very easy for me to input that information.
They’ve got a slider and then a drop-down. And then Go. And I guess once I’ve committed that much information, I’m kind of connected to the site already. And they’ve got me to keep them–
Interviewee: [Overlapping] You are. And they’re going to ask for more information. This is a site that–it’s all about creating an account. And the conversion happens if you take one of their offers. For most ecommerce sites the conversion is the actual–obviously purchasing a product. And so whatever you can do to get them to put that in their cart as quick as possibleÖ.
Get them out of the idea that they don’t need this; get them in the idea that they do need this. That it’s affordable, it’s a great value. And then you start looking for more information. Obviously BillShrink and an ecommerce cite needs a lot more information to complete the transaction. But they know if they can get that initial stuff started that it’s a lot more likely–there’s a lot more likelihood you will finish the process with them.
Andrew: Okay. All right, let me go over to CustomEuropeanPlates.com, your site. I think one of the first things you had people do on your site was enter their name or what they wanted on the plate. Right? Yeah. [Overlapping] Customize your plate text.
Interviewee: Yeah. It’s not here on the homepage anymore. But if you click–like I said, there’s the three big products that we well. That we were selling. If you click on one of the products, one of the first things is “enter your plate text.” Like I said, it’s a little different since I sold it. They don’t have the auto-updating which is kind of nice to see on a custom product. But once again, all the focus is on getting you to add that custom text–because that’s what’s really interesting and exciting about this product–and then “add to cart.”
Andrew: Okay. All right. So you said that you used Twitter to tell people that you were going to sell it and that’s how you sold the business. Which leads me into the social maven part of Sean Percival. The “Sean-ness” that I couldn’t describe in the beginning. We now see a very clear benefit to having that audience, and to using social media.
How do you do it? How are you doing it? Is it that you’re sitting on Twitter all day long? Is it–there are a few things that if you do them right will get you outsized results?
Interviewee: I wish I could have a quick synopsis and wrap it up, and just really tell you how to do it. I think, I guess–well, look at the story. I had a background in web development. I was working for a company–it was a travel company. It was a timeshare company. I was their webmaster. It was not exciting; I was bored with what I was doing. And I found–I think what happens is a lot of people, they fall into the rabbit hole of our tech world. And they find these luminaries like Jason Calacanis and these other people. And they start to look up to them. And I think that’s fine.
The big thing is how do you get them to know who you are? How do you get them to care? That was a big challenge for me. I started by just writing about them.
Andrew: How do you get them to care?
Interviewee: That was a big challenge for me. I started by just writing about them. And that’s actually how me and Calacanis got started talking was I started writing about Mahalo when it launched. So the key is always to have your own blog.
And I want to write a post about this. To be a good entrepreneur, you really need to be a publisher first. It’s so important to be a publisher first. I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I’m meeting now, and they’re always telling me, “Oh, I had a school newspaper,” or “I had this small little rag.” They always had some type of small publication that never really did huge things.
Calacanis had a big publication with “Silicon Alley Insider.” And so it’s really, really important to be a publisher. It’s the best way to get on the radar. These people are just as obsessed with knowing what people are talking about them as you are–or as me. So, writing about them was the great way to open the door. I made sure I wrote about them with class, and made sure I was offering them something as well, too.
Calacanis was always great. He’s always known as being the community CEO. I mean, the guy–I don’t know how he reads–he reads every Google Alert. He reads every mention of his name. I don’t know how he does it and runs a company. But maybe one of the reasons he does so well is because of all this crowdsource information that he’s pulled in.
And so what I was doing is when I was writing about people I was also offering advice. I didn’t want to be a newsperson. I knew I couldn’t compete with the likes of TechCrunch. They’re a big blog with a big staff. Instead what I knew is I could be funny, I had a sense of humor, and I knew that I was great for looking at products and establishing how they could be better. And so I always added value whenever I was talking about someone in a blog post. That was the big thing that got me started.
Andrew: So you’d find a site like Mahalo and in order to get the CEO’s attention you’d write a blog post about what he could do to improve his site?
Interviewee: Absolutely. Or I would write the–an in-depth look at something that nobody else was talking about. What got me started on Mahalo, and I think what caught his attention and everyone else’s attention isÖ. The first blog post I did I talked real briefly about what it was. And then I immediately stepped aside and I said, “You know what? I want to know who these people are behind Mahalo. Who are these guides?”
Because it was the first time when the guide–or the author–was kind of brought to the forefront. And so I actually just went and I reviewed his employees. Without even knowing who they were. And so not only did I get his attention, I got all the employees’ attention as well, too.
I was genuinely interested. It wasn’t like it was a ploy just to get them to look at my blog. I was genuinely interested in what they were doing and who they were. I was very familiar with Jason who’s very vocal, and out there, and had a big history. I didn’t know who these people were behind the scenes. And I think giving attention to something that not everyone’s giving the attention to is a really great technique.
When Jason launched, everyone was talking about the funding, and how it’s not going to scale. And I went the opposite direction. And I said, “You know what? Let’s not even talk about funding. Who cares about money? Let’s talk about the people that are building, and why they’re building, and why it’s special.” And that was kind of the start of everything from there.
Andrew: Okay. So, yes. I’ve noticed that too. The guys who have a spotlight on them are paying attention to see who’s talking about them. And if you Tweet about them, if you blog about them, if you do anything about them, they pay attention. And hopefully they’ll start talking about you too. What else do you do? What else do you do to get their attention and to engage them?
Interviewee: That’s a good question. I’m trying to think back to what really worked well. The next step for me was also probably going out to events. I was actually living in Orange County at the time. I’m actually born and raised in L.A. I bounced back and forth between Orange County, but getting face time with these people was really tough.
I remember when I first met Jason, he does this thing where he’ll blow you off a lot of times the first time he meets you. He wants to see if you’ll come back and actually say something again. And so I remember when I met him he did kind of blow me off at first. And I didn’t really know how to take that. But I was like, “Well, I’m not going to give up. I want to get face time with these people.” But it was also really important that–I immediately could tell that they were annoyed with their celebrity to a certain extent.
If you walk up to Mike Harrington and you immediately pitch him, that’s how to get on his “I don’t ever want to talk to that guy again” list. Is to walk up to someone and immediately pitch them. So I was really, really mindful of asking for help, or asking for anything from anyone that was a higher caliber than me.
I knew that these people were getting approached left and right. And I’m not high-caliber at all. I think that I’m well known but I’m not to the point anywhere close to what these guys are. I get approached like crazy. I mean, the emails that come in, I can’t help everyone that is looking for help.
And I know that these guys are in it too. So I always really try to–instead of trying to burden them with, “I need advice, I need a connection, I need help, I need you on board,” you know. A lot of people will say, “I need you on board, you need to come on board.” These people are too busy. Instead, I walked up and I wanted to get to know–the first thing I asked Jason was, I said, “Do you miss New York? What do you think about California?”
I think it’s great if you can kind of connect with these people on a non-bubble tech 2.0 ground before you start trying to do business with them as well.
Interviewee: …trying to do business with them as well. I really wanted them to be my, oop, I think we lost video.
Andrew: Yeah, it looks like I did lose your video. But can you still hear me? Oh, here, it’s coming back. There we go. Sometimes it goes away, but then it comes back.
Interviewee: So, I mean, I have a pretty strict policy. I try not to do business with friends and family, and I wanted these people to be friends before I wanted to do business with them. So, I started with that. I started with the grounds of getting to know them and become friends before we try to get them to talk about my product or talk about anything I’m doing.
Andrew: All right, now [Going Events] actually does help a lot because we get flooded with e-mails, but at an event, there’s only so many people who can come and say ‘hi’ to us. All right, what about this? What about how it seems that, well, let’s see. Mobile Roadie, you said something earlier about how you helped them see beyond what their original purpose was. Which was, creating music, iPhone apps for musicians, right? And you showed them that they could tie into people like Brian Solis, who’s a big name in the social media space. How they should create an app for the web, right?
Interviewee: Yeah, they were already on that path, so it wasn’t 100% my idea, I don’t want to take 100% credit for that. They were already on that path, and I just been kind of helping them walk the path. I helped them get the web deal, I got the web deal for them. I went to [Louique], because Louique has actually been a friend of mine. I made sure I became a friend of Louique before I actually ask him for anything, because he’s one of those guys I really admire.
Andrew: Is he a founder of the web?
Interviewee: Founder of the web, founder of [Seesmick]. And so, we went to lunch a few times. I got to kind of know him before I went and asked him anything. And the first time I went to him is I made sure I pitched him with a lot of benefit. And I went to him and said, ‘Louique’, I said, ‘can you imagine that if we had an iPhone app, what if you had 10,000 people watching this thing on the bus. Because they couldn’t make it to Paris’? Louique loves information traveling freely, and so he really kind of was into that, so that’s how we kind of started with the genesis of that product. And that was the first major event that we’ve done. It wasn’t the first event-based app, it was the first big one. And man, both me and Michael [Schmatter], the CEO, of the web, we went to Paris, we saw people using the app, I mean, it was something really, it was inspiring to watch, look over people’s shoulder and see them on their phone, engaging, and saying ‘I’m going’, adding photos, and…
Andrew: But how did you befriend Louique? I saw him in South by Southwest, he was mobbed with people, and all he was doing was just kind of shaking hands, saying ‘I’m glad you like my software’, he was promoting Seesmick at the time. And then handing out stickers. So, how does anyone break through that crowd and get enough, build enough of a relationship that you can then draw on in the future?
Interviewee: So that is basically, you never want to approach someone in a situation like that. They call that the ‘groupie’. When, after they do the stage, when they have a lot of people around them. That’s the worst time, because they’re trying to connect with all these people, they’re trying to give everyone a fair amount of attention, but it’s just not possible when they’re surrounded. So, you never want to do an event, you never want to do it after they speak. It was funny, the first time I met Louique, we had gone back and forth on e-mail. I think it was some stuff we were doing with Mahalo and Seesmick, I can’t remember. And I went up to him, and he had 10 people around him. It was after Web 2.0, he had just given a talk. Literally, like 9 of 10 were women that were obviously in love with him. Just like, completely star-struck. Their eyes were tingling like, it was hilarious. I mean, he’s Louique, he’s a good looking guy, he’s got a French accent, he’s very smart, doesn’t surprise me. And I walked up to him and said, ‘Louique, I just want to shake your hand. My name’s Sean, we exchanged e-mails’. He said, ‘great to meet you’. He gave me a card, and I turned around and immediately walked away. The big thing is, if you sit there and you’re dragging on them like, ‘oh, we got to talk, and we got to do this’, you’re putting them on the spot in front of a lot of people. And that’s a really uncomfortable position to be in. So, in the ‘groupie’ situation, you want to go up, you want to introduce yourself, where they connect the face to the name. And you want to leave. They’ll actually think of you like, wow, that guy’s low maintenance. I can actually see wanting to talk to him more because he didn’t overburden me the first time that we met. And so, beyond that, now I’m really trying to think how we got to know each other better.
Andrew: Was it that you were using Seesmick back when it was a video platform? Was it that you e-mailed him?
Interviewee: No, I did, and it was definitely something about e-mail. I think it got to the point where at one point I was in San Francisco. And I knew he was having people come by the office. And I said, ‘can I just come by the office for 10, 15 minutes? Would love to see what you guys are up to’. And I think it was, once again I went to him with a very, I didn’t ask for anything other than to come by. I asked for a very small period…
Interviewee: I asked for a very small period of time. Ten, 15 minutes is fine. He wrote back to me and said, ‘Come by the office. Let’s go to lunch. I want to get to know you.’ And so I think it was also had something to do with the fact that I was doing some interesting stuff that he wanted to know about. These were things around social media. These were things around probably, generatingÖI think we had also talked about, at one point, monetizing the Seismic app. And he was very interested to knowÖhe just loves feedback and so I was able to get in the position where he knew me as someone who had valuable feedback, who would give him feedback, but would not overburden him. I didn’t go to him and say like, ‘We got to have aÖbuild a partnership between Savo and Seismic. And we’ve got to do this and we’ve got to do that.’ You know, I didn’tÖI was a very light handed approach and I think he appreciated that.
Andrew: Ok. And by the way, because I’ve been so many interviews with internet entrepreneurs and I encourage my audience to keep reaching out to them, I see different ways that people try to connect with internet celebrities and with successful entrepreneurs. Some people immediately want a favor, want help. ‘Hey, you’ve got to partner up with me. You’ve got to help me out.’ Others willÖwillÖthe guys who really get results will email someone who I’ve interviewed and say, ‘Look, I think I could help you with this SEO problem.’ Or, ‘I think I could help you with this other problem over there.’ Or ‘Did you guys know that you guys are having an issue on your website?’ And when they offer help they get a tremendous response right away.
Interviewee: Actually that’s a great point. I’m glad you brought that up. You know what I did? Is I actually mocked up in Photoshop ñ one, I got to tell everyone: learn Photoshop. It’s not that difficult. It’s amazing what you can do with this whether you’re a publisher or you’re a product person. I literally mocked up in Photoshop what I thought the next generation Seismic desktop should look like. And I sent it to him. And I sent it to him and I’m pretty sure he didn’t ask for it. Maybe he tweeted out that he was curious what this would look like. And so I sent it to him. It was not likeÖOnce again, it was not a pitch. It was not like, ‘I want you to hire me’ or ‘I’m a consultant and you should, you know, I should be your strategy guy.’ And I’ve done this with Mazar. I’ve done this with Cal Kennis as well too where I just mock something up and I send it to them. Just becauseÖ I think what happens is it sparks something in their mind and it helps them, inspire them to go onto build something great and bigger with my stupid, silly little Photoshop. And so I actually did that with Luic. I’m sure that was a big reason why he wanted to have lunch with me and why he wanted to get to know me a little bit better. And so offering something of value to the entrepreneur without asking for anything in return, is the best thing you can do. Essentially what you’ve done is you’ve built equity with that entrepreneur. And you can cash out on that equity later on. Luic offered to introduceÖ I was actually lookingÖI was going to start looking for funding towards the end of last year. Try a few ideas. Luic was like ready at the drop of a hat to like introduce me to some of the biggest names. And I actually said, ‘Thank you. I’m not ready for that right now.’ So I’ve kind of reserved those. So reserving and basically building equity with these guys is probably the best technique.
Andrew: It looks like by the way that nowÖlet me read Kirsten Winkler’s tweet. She says, ‘The empire strokeÖor stuck back. Now Malhalla tutorials are on the YouStream homepage instead of Mixergy. All right. We’ll get that traffic back. We’re still over 100 people who are watching us live.
Interviewee: That’s funny. Yeah. That’s so good.
Andrew: There’s something that you said earlier that a few people tweeted out. Let me find it right here. Joanna Lord I think started this off and a bunch of people re-tweeted her. You see it? You said that it’s good to beÖto be a goodÖYou see? I’m not a showman. I can’t even read properly! To be a good entrepreneur you need to be a publisher first. Why? Why do you have to publish?
Interviewee: God. I don’t know. There’s something so amazing about publishing itself. If you look at some of the history of publishing, I mean the rivalries, I mean the way some stories have come to fruition. I mean these are much like inventions and start ups the way that everything comes into place and it’s about who you know and saying the right thing and telling the right story. So being a publisher, even if you’re a crappy publisher, even if you’re a small publisher you learn so much about it. The big thing you learn about though is how to present something. How to have a good eye. How does something look good on a page? If you’re building websites, I mean this is important. The on page experience is so critical. If you look at most people’s blogs and sitesÖif you look at Mint, the polish is there. And I’m going to keep using thatÖI’m sorry. Bill Stream. There’s so much polish and attention put into that. That is publishing in general. They’ve published a site. Learning all these details helps you in everything. It helps you make a better proposal. It helps you be a better storyteller. It helps you write a better email. And I’m probably the worst example because I write some of the most crappy, tiny, misspelling laden emails. But at the same time, a lot of people really do learn from that. So I don’t know. There’s just somethingÖthere’s so many parallels between entrepreneurship and publishing. You’ve got to get in there. And actually it also doesÖI think the biggest thing though, it helps you be confident. Because if you’re publishing something you better stand behind your words. It’s there forever.
Interviewee: You’ve got to get in there. And also it actually does–I think the biggest thing though, it helps you be confident. Because if you’re publishing something, you’d better stand behind your words. It’s here forever. You can’t “unpublish” once it’s published. So getting the confidence to stand up and say something, it’s not easy.
But it is easier to do it through a blog. It’s easier to do this through an online platform in some ways. The next step is you can go from publishing to speaking. And speaking–and being able to speak publicly–opens up so many doors for you. There’s very few times that I do a big speaking gig and I don’t get a job offer in the audience that day. So, being able to go to that next step to speaking is also really critical as well. But–
Andrew: [Overlapping] Oh, we’ve got to say this too! Sorry to pat myself on the back–
Interviewee: Go ahead.
Andrew: –or to pat you, too. But you spoke at a Mixergy event and I think at that event you were offered the [PHONETIC] Sabo job, right?
Interviewee: It is. It’s true, yeah. Someone walked up to me afterwards and said, “I know you have a job, but if you’re interested, you have another job.” And so, yeah–[Overlapping] I think I owe a lot–
Andrew: [Overlapping] And that was the first time that you met them?
Interviewee: That was the first time I met them. I think I owe a lot to you, because, yeah. I mean, that next week I was sitting talking with Jones. A week or two later I was talking with Jones and started. Yeah, I think I owe a lot to you.
Andrew: Well, thank you. I owe a lot to you. And I know a lot of the people who watch Mixergy owe a lot to you. Because you’re just so helpful. Like you said, when we were redesigning Mixergy.com you sent us not just notes. But you sent us–
Interviewee: That’s right.
Andrew: –Photoshop images saying, “This is the way you should lay this out. Here’s the issue with this over there.” It was tremendously helpful. And of course, there’ve been a couple of readers who I wasn’t able to help. And I knew that they were good people and I introduced them to you–and you helped them out so many times. So I owe you at this point.
Interviewee: I really–I always try to. And yes, I think that’s a great example. I think the issue was, with you it was, the newsletter was really hidden or something like that. We talked about having a better call-to-action and rearranging things. And if you look at Mixergy now, I mean, you should post a photo of the old site.
I mean, it’s just amazing where it’s come. It’s an amazing product. It’s literally just one person behind you. I know Jason [PHONETIC] Cosper helped you out a little bit on it, and you had another developer.
Andrew: Jason actually helped me get rid of the blog before Mixergy.com.
Andrew: It used to be blog.Mixergy.com and yeah, he got me hosting. But [PHONETIC] Adarsh was the designer who really redid the whole site.
Interviewee: [Overlapping] Adarsh. Got it. Yeah, I mean it’s a great example of–I mean, look at that site next to Lalawag. I think they both look like beautiful sites. We didn’t put a lot of money into it, we’re kind of small guys, we don’t have big design backgrounds. But we still can create an engaging experience, and I think we’ve done that with the other site.
Andrew: [Overlapping] All right. Lalawag, we keep bringing it up. You’ve talked about how much money you’ve made with Lalawag.
Andrew: Can you tell people how much?
Interviewee: Yeah, I mean, I basically made about $3,200 in advertising last year. And I have done no direct sales. The way that I’ve done this is I’ve done a few affiliate programs. I signed up with Technorati Media. It actually has an ad platform. And that’s where a bulk of the revenue comes from. And then I’ve done just standard Google Adwords. And you know, advertising’s-
Andrew: [Overlapping] But I’ve got to tell you. $3,200 doesn’t seem like that much money a year. Sorry, there’s a bit of a lag. That’s why it sounds like we’re stepping on each other. It’s not that much money a year. I would’ve thought that you’d make more money from this.
Interviewee: Yeah. I think I could if I had pushed it. And there’s a few–I think when you have a site that’s like Lalawag, I think it’s important to get those monthly sponsors on a six-month to a year contract. And it’s something that I started with. I tried to get [PHONETIC] Bizspark involved. I tried to get [PHONETIC] Mark Suster and other VC’s involved. I think it was the economy. No one wanted to step up and sponsor anything last year.
And it got to the point where I was like, “You know what? I just can’t push this. I can’t keep forcing and trying to really do a hard sell. I’m not good at a hard sell.” What you need to do is you need to become the authority in whatever topic you are. And then; you need to find that product that’s a perfect alignment with that. Get them to pay you $500 to $5,000 a month to sponsor your site. And get–that’s how you actually generate great revenue.
And people do that with those little square 125 x 125’s. Something that I don’t do on the site. You know, like I said, the money was never a huge focus with it. I just wanted to put that number out there to say that if you just slap ads on the site, and you drive a decent amount of traffic here’s what you’re looking at, to get.
Andrew: Here’s what it did get you. It got you a lot of attention in Southern California. The people in the tech community know Lalawag. They want to be featured on the site. They know who you’re mentioning; they want to know the guys behind it. Have you seen anything–do you have an example of how it’s helped you out that way?
Interviewee: Yeah, you know, it’s funny too. Because I love to push the envelope–especially on publishing–a little bit. And so I was always a little worried about, “Well, God, who is reading that site?” And I met with a pretty major VC and he said, “Yeah, I know you. I know Lalawag.” And it’s funny, too. I met with–you never really think about what you’re putting out there and how it does gain you recognition. When I met Owen Van Natta, who’s the CEO of MySpace, the first thing he saidÖ.
Interviewee: When I met Owen Van Natta, who’s the CEO of MySpace, the first thing he said to me was he said, “Sean.” He said, “I know you from TechCrunch comments.” And I immediately was like, “Well shit. Have I said anything bad? I’m really worried now.” [Laughs] But yeah, it’s definitely got exposure. So far I think the exposure’s been good.
Like I said, the big thing about publishing in general is moving emotions. And one thing we do is we engage our audience in a topic they really love. And I really, really, try to make them laugh. Sometimes I make them laugh at other people’s expense. Sometimes my own expense. Sometimes it’s just my general arrogance that’s making people laugh. But at the end of the day I am bringing some joy to their life beyond the standard tech news.
I identified that tech news was very well-covered. These blogs are great. You talk about TechCrunch, you talk about any of the sites at TechBeam, they’ve got it down pat. Now, what there really isn’t–there’s not a ton of social commentary. There’s not a lot of parody. And I wanted to be involved. I wanted to be in that space.
It’s basically me and Lauren Feldman are the only ones that are stepping back and saying, “It’s great that you want to be serious about this, but let’s talk about the lighter side. And let’s talk about the people behind the scenes.”
Andrew: And hot girls, by the way. So it’s tech, and it’s young girls in bikinis.
Interviewee: [Overlapping] And hot girls. Yeah, Well it is L.A. [Overlapping] It is Los Angeles, so–
Andrew: [Overlapping] And by the way, one of those hot girls is your wife! You’ve got pictures of yourself, or you’ve got pictures that you took of your wife at some porn convention!
Interviewee: It’s true.
Andrew: Are you guys swingers? Is that what’s going on here?
Andrew: I know people hate when I go into the personal questions, but–
Andrew: You guys have to see Lalawag, and the pictures the guy has up on his site! Be open.
Interviewee: That’s something can’t talk about on video. [PHONETIC] Lori is amazing. I don’t think she’s here, so we can talk about her. She probably won’t even hear this. She’s very accepting, and she’s always supported me. And that’s how I know we have a great relationship and a great marriage. Or–
Andrew: [Overlapping] That means that you can date other people?
Interviewee: [Overlapping] No. We’re definitely not going to talk about that.
Andrew: [Overlapping] That you can have sex with other people?
Interviewee: No. Definitely not talking about that.
Interviewee: Our relationship is–wow. You’re getting really personal. Our relationship is definitely nonÖ. It’s not conventional. That’s for sure. Los Angeles is not conventional as well.
Andrew: [Overlapping] What does that mean that it’s not conventional?! By the way, the reason that I’m asking is there are hints of this stuff out on the website. You don’t have to give me the details. I don’t want to know what you guys do. I’m just trying to get at what’s behind the site. What are you trying to say here with all these pictures? And with what you said here?
Interviewee: [Overlapping] These are conversations that we have over a beer sometime. But you know what? I’m telling a story. And some of that story’s true, some of that story is fluff.
Andrew: I see.
Interviewee: There’s always room for embellishment. That’s the whole point of a lot of what we do online. If you look at people that overshare on TwitterÖ. It’s like, you don’t have to tell me that you just bought that thing or that you’re traveling. You’re doing it to tell your story and to embellish it about yourself.
If you look at people that doÖare well-established, they have their thing. And it’s like, if people want to think about me as that “wild content swinger from Los Angeles,” I’m okay with that. I’ve obviously written some of the story to help perpetuate that idea.
Andrew: So you’re intentionally trying to perpetuate this story about you guys having this crazy sex life?
Interviewee: Well–[Laughs] man, you’re really going to get me in trouble now.
Andrew: It’s over an hour into the interview. No one’s even listening at this point.
Interviewee: That’s true. And they’ve taken us off the homepage. Which is great.
Andrew: They took us off the homepage and replaced us with Mahalo. So go ahead.
Interviewee: Yeah. So, now–I identified, another thing I identified in tech is that tech’s not very sexy. Los Angeles is very, very, sexy. And so that was the biggest thing that I wanted to get through. I was going to–I’ve been going to things like CES, and prior to that there was something called Comdex. Do you remember that?
Interviewee: It was the big computer show. I would go to these events and I would just be amazed at how unsexy the people are. The fact that there’s almost no women–once again this is around ’95, ’96 and so on. There were no women in this space. And it was really, really frustrating. Now, when I came to L.A. and I got into this space, I realized that, “You know what? Not only are there a lot of beautiful women here, there’s a lot of really smart and interesting women here as well.”
So, if you see what appears to be more females than other sites on my site, it has to do with the fact that it’s in Los Angeles. That women in general don’t get the coverage that they deserve in the tech atmosphere, and that there’s something very beautiful and sexy about what they do, and the class and the sophistication that they bring to our space. And so it was really important for me to show that.
And at the same time that–hey: some of these girls are pretty wild, and some of these guys are pretty wild too. And so that’s really all we tried to shine through. We looked at the events. I looked at the culture that was going on around events. The over-drinking, the sleeping with each other. I was like, “You know what? This is interesting. This is something unique to Los Angeles. Let’s make sure that we show that, and it shows through.”
Andrew: [Overlapping] You’re saying that at Los Angeles tech events, people are making out? They’re sleeping with each other and they’re drinking?
Andrew: people are making out, they’re sleeping with each other, they’re drinking?
Interviewee: Absolutely, I would say more than any other tech scene that I’ve seen at least. San Francis has that to some degree, but San Francisco is so hyper cliquish with all these small little groups with people that barely talk outside of their own group. Where as LA, also LA was going through this resurgence, so it was like everyone wanted to know everyone, and everyone wanted to get to work with everyone. So you had everyone running to each other, as opposed to other markets where I think you have people separated and running away from each other in a few directions. So it was very unique last year, and it still goes on today, and there are still lots of people making horrible dating decisions. And you know, having good and bad times, making good mistakes and bad mistakes. So yeah, we wanted that to show a little bit. I tried not to go into the intimate details, but I did want to pickup on the fact that there is something happening beyond the computer screen here as well.
Andrew: silverlakejane who’s watching us, and who’s obviously from Southern California says “she thinks tech is hot”. She’s from LA right? Silver Lake
Interviewee: Tech is sexy, and that’s why my bio is HTML means How To Make Love. And it’s one thing, it tells you that I love coding and I love sex. And those are two great things
Andrew: Have you had sex with someone else since you’ve been married?
Interviewee: No, can’t comment on it.
Andrew: You can’t comment on it?
Andrew: All right.
Interviewee: I can’t talk about it, other than to say how much I love my wife, and how great the sex is with her. I can’t comment on anything else.
Andrew: All right. OK. All right. You guys check out lalawag.com. You tell me if you think there’s an implication, if there’s something else going on or not. I’m very curious about your feedback people. All right is there anything I missed here, I think I went through all my notes and then some.
Interviewee: I think so too, I mean we got a lot of stuff too, maybe not for the interview, I do have some interesting gadgets I’d love to show people.
Andrew: All right lets do it!
Interviewee: We can do a show and tell. This first thing is really kinda cool. This is actually a projector, now see how small this is? This will actually fit in the palm of your hand and it will connect to your IPhone. And so, I think you’re finding that there is a lot of people that are watching media on their IPhone. This project will actually project the screen from your IPhone onto a wall.
Andrew: Who makes that?
Interviewee: This is made by a company called Cinemin, with a unique spelling C-I-N-E-M-I-N. It’s called a Cinemin Swivel, and they’re calling these pico projectors.
Andrew: What does it go for?
Interviewee: Whats that?
Andrew: What does it cost?
Interviewee: It costs $300
Andrew: OK. Did you by it? Or did they give it to you for free because they wanted you to tweet it?
Interviewee: This one I actually did buy. And that’s been kinda tough because I am getting more free stuff. And so I’m always challenged to disclose them properly. You know, I figure as long I’m not too vested in the company I don’t have to say. But this is something I did get for free.
Andrew: Wait before you continue. Whats the business benefit of having that projector, or is it just for watching movies up on a screen from your IPhone.
Interviewee: You know I think it’s more of a personal thing. One of the main reasons is as I do more with IPhone apps, I want to walk into a room and show people the IPhone app. And we’ve been doing a lot where we’ll huddle around the IPhone app, because it’s usually an app that’s like a prototype, an ad hoc version, so they don’t have it on their phones, they don’t have an IPhone app. So I wanted an interesting way to kind of show that. I’m also very fascinated with the idea that in the future there may be some way that people want to project an activity stream onto an external surface. Think about how much time people are sitting sucked into seasmic, and sucked into their IPhone client. What if you could just have that stream as more of an ambient flow in the background. I’m a weird inventor too, and so I like to try and experiment with those ideas.
Andrew: And that, in the little bit of research I did to prepare for this interview, I read that you had to hack your IPhone in order to be able to project something other that a movie on there.
Interviewee: So in typical Apple style, they only let you project YouTube, or photos. But I was like well damn, I want to show applications, and I want to show a screen capture. Like why can I not, why do I have no TV out on this thing. I want to make videos with it. And so, I was lucky enough to have an extra IPhone, so I jailbroke it. And now I’m able to actually do whatever I want. But you know, it’s typical Apple. I don’t know what they’re worried about, but they don’t want you projecting their icons and their other apps.
Andrew: OK. All right. Whats the second device?
Interviewee: Second device is something I’ve kind of squirting around town. This was given to me, it’s called the Owl, or the Owli. And you see what this is, it’s a big fish-eye lens. Basically your IPhone goes into this, and then all of sudden you have an actual professional lens. And there’s a microphone that plugs in here too. So if you’re, you known I love doing reporting, I love creating anything with a low-fi source. And to me the IPhone is very low fidelity. And so this kind of kicks it up a notch. If you’re doing IPhone videos, if you’re doing quick you get a nice great lens.
Interviewee: …you get a nice great lens and you get an actual microphone so you can actually hear what they’re saying as well too. This is built by a bunch of guys, this is an idea, these guys reached out to me. We were talking about earlier, like how do you get someone to help you, they reached out to me and said ‘Sean, it looks like you know the guys at Quick, here’s what we are developing, what are your thoughts?’
So I want back to them and said ‘Let me introduce you to quick, let me introduce you to TechCrunch this is how you should approach it.’ I pitched them, they’re on their way, they got on TechCrunch, they got on Quick they got a whole bunch of stuff…
Andrew: Yeah, they got on TechCrunch because of you?
Interviewee: I don’t’ know if it was because of me. I pointed them in the right direction. I think it was more they connected with Daniel who is one of the guys over there. But it was they needed to prove their stuff so we…Quick was the best way to do that because that’s the best application for it to. And so its like this is how I help people. And that’s all they ask for. They never bug me again. I went to their website and actually bought the product. I love supporting people I believe in.
I bought the product. A few days later he sent me a refund and he sent me the product for free. He wrote me one of the nicest emails I’ve ever had he said ‘Without you we may not be here.’ Great gratitude. If those guys ever reached out to me again I would help them in a second. In the meantime what I do is I go on shows like this and I talk about the product and I take it out with me. They know the value in having people like me have the device in hand. And once again, it was a light-handed approach. They were just very nice. They didn’t ask for too much and in those cases I’m always happy to help out as much as I can.
Andrew: All right, do you have one more that you want to show us?
Interviewee: I think that’s about it actually. I got the Kindle. I think the Kindle is interesting. I wish I had more time to read it. That’s about it. What is your ówhat’s going on with gadgets down there? Anything exciting?
Andrew: For me, the number one gadget is my iPhone. I actually had a Kindle. I was given a Kindle by Noah Kagan because I introduced him to somebody he ended up doing a lot of business with. I returned it. I didn’t need the actual device. All I need is the Kindle on my iPhone and I’ve got my iPhone with me all the time anyway. I just pull it out and I sit and I read. I’ve been here I think maybe seven weeks, and I think I’ve averaged about a book a week on the iPhone just through the Kindle app. I love it because its always there and if I’m stuck somewhere instead of wasting time just going through email another time, or reading blogs again, I read my book.
Interviewee: Cool. Are you going to write…once again like real quick and we can wrap up I don’t mean to flip the interview on you, like how long are you going to be down there? Are you doing a business down there? Is this your honeymoon? What’s going on? Let’s get in Andrew’s life.
Andrew: Olivia and I got married in October. We quickly went to Ixtapa Mexico for our honeymoon and then we decided that we wanted to move somewhere and we picked Buenos Aires because so many people who I had interviewed kept recommending Buenos Aires. So many of my friends had moved to Buenos Aires for a short period of time, and I noticed that they were still plugged in. So I said ‘All right. I want to try a different city but I still want to feel connected. I still want to do interviews like this and know that I can count on the bandwidth and count on the infrastructure to support it.’
So we came down here without an end date for when we should leave. But we recently signed a six month lease on a new apartment so we’re going to be here for at least six more months. What I’m doing is, oh! And I rented an office space which is month to month which has been fantastic for me. These guys, its the Regus its a company that has I think 700 office spaces throughout the world. They gave me an office with my own connection to the internet that nobody else in the office shares that has been incredibly dependable until last week. And today I needed to do an interview with you and I started worrying because they had had some trouble with the internet on the whole floor, not just my connection. And they said, ‘You know what? Why don’t we call another Regus office for you and we’ll set you up with office space over there.’ And sure enough, here I am, brand new office, backgrounds a little different behind me. This one is much bigger than my office and the internet is solid. So I can continue doing my interviews from here.
Interviewee: That’s cool. Is cost of living down there pretty low? Is the office space pretty cheap?
Andrew: I think once you’re here, the cost of living is cheap. Of course you end up paying a lot to fly down here and we actually paid to move our cat and our dog down here and to get them to the vet and help them transition. The cat actually had trouble here. Couldn’t go to the bathroom on his own for two weeks.
Interviewee: Oh man. (Laughs.)
Andrew: It’s what you do before you have kids. Who knows? After Olivia and I start having kids we might just decide to let the cat and dog go fend for themselves. No..I’m kidding.
Interviewee: So you are going to have kids?
Andrew: Yeah, at some point we will have kids. But we had a little bit of spare time. We said, ‘We don’t have kids yet, we’re newly married, we want to go explore the world. How do we do it? And how do we do it in a way that I Andrew get to do what I am passionate about which is doing these interviews?’ So, coming to Buenos Aires is the way to do it.
Interviewee: Wonderful. Cool. OK so we’ve probably gone longer than we should. I want to thank everyone for tuning in and thank you Andrew for having me. Sorry. I’m taking over your show.
Andrew: I like it, you should actually be doing these interviews instead of me! I notice you don’t get tongue tied and here I am constantly struggling to even get a single question out.