Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It is home of the ambitious upstart and the place where I’ve done interviews with over a thousand entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.
What’s interesting to me is that I keep thinking of businesses as serving the same groups of customers. And maybe it’s been that feeling inside me has been exaggerated since I moved to San Francisco and everyone is trying to create a consumer-based business, it feels like, for the same group of people without charging them. Sometimes it feels like that. But I love it when I see someone who creates a business that’s aimed at a completely different market, one that I never would have thought of and that it’s actually doing really well.
That’s what’s exciting to me about the guest that you’re about to meet. His name is Casey Graham. He founded The Rocket Company. It gives pastors everything they didn’t learn in school. I actually downloaded some of their sermon suggestions just to give you a sense of the kind of thing they do.
Pastors have to give sermons every Sunday, right? So, he gives them material to create their sermon so that it’s fresh. It’s exciting and they don’t have to keep coming up with it on their own. I say he does, but he doesn’t anymore. He sold the company and we’re going to find out how he started it, how he built it, why he sold it and what that sale was like.
This whole thing is sponsored by two companies that if you’ve been listening to me for a while you already know about. The first will host your website. It’s called HostGator. The second, I want to know of people even remember it by name, is the company that will help you hire great developers. I’ll give a second. It is Toptal. I’ll tell you more about them later.
First, I’ve got to welcome Casey. Good to have you on here.
Casey: Hey, man. Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: When did you sell?
Casey: February of this year, so about five months ago.
Andrew: Wow. What did you sell for?
Casey: What do you mean?
Andrew: How much?
Andrew: No, how much revenue? Excuse me, what was the sale price?
Casey: We sold at–the final price was $4 million.
Andrew: $4 million?
Andrew: Unbelievable. Before the sale, what was your annual revenue on this?
Casey: It was right over $2 million, about $2.2 million, $2.3 million.
Andrew: Okay. And in many ways–that’s fantastic–in many ways it’s like the content businesses that we’ve seen online, a large number of them are all teaching people how to market their businesses, those online marketing companies.
Casey: Totally. We just took the information thing and actually turned it into a valuable asset that somebody else would want to purchase instead of just being–I’d say it was an asset, not an ATM machine. Most information businesses are ATM machines.
Andrew: And when you say asset, what separates you from all those other people who have landing pages, collect email addresses, give a lead magnet out, ask people to subscribe to a membership? What separates you and makes you into an asset?
Casey: Two big things. Number one is we built a leadership team that actually had functions like a real business, so, having vice presidents and leaders that are running the company. Number two is recurring revenue. And then number three was building out a software product that made us very attractive to the buyer because we knew that they did not want us with our marketing machine getting on their turf. So, we built that significantly for that reason.
Andrew: What’s the software that you built? I’m looking at BuiltWith to get a sense of what software you guys built your site with, but you created your own software. What’s what?
Casey: Yeah. It was called Rocket Donations and we were helping churches create–basically create recurring givers in the church. We did a study of 1,056 churches and we found that the number one way … only 14% of churches will take in more money than their budget. So 86% of churches are break even or broke.
So we went inside the 14 and we found what’s the difference maker. And the difference maker was the same thing in business–recurring revenue, like a recurring donation, one that comes out every month or every two weeks, that kind of thing. So we built the best software to do that and we knew that this company had been chasing us for a long time.
Andrew: I see. What percentage of your business came from the software versus the membership on your site?
Casey: We just started. We literally got to like 30 or 40 customers before they just basically said, “Send us your number.”
Andrew: I see. Really? What’s the company that bought you?
Casey: They’re called Minister Brands. And they basically have come into the market and they are doing a rollup. It’s so fragmented in the church space. It’s like nobody has more than 1,000 customers on a software platform or 2,000. 4,000 would be unbelievable because there are only 300,000 churches in the United States of America and 200,000 of them are like crazy pills places, I mean middle of nowhere, no internet.
So, it’s not a big market. So, it’s only 100,000 legitimate churches you can sell something to that’s technology or software based. We just knew that if we started in that space. We had the engine through information they didn’t have and so they bought up for the information engine.
Andrew: And you started out as a minister yourself. It’s not like you saw that there was a market here and said, “I’m jumping in.”
Andrew: What exactly does a minister do?
Casey: Well, I was a pastor. I didn’t go to church until I was 17 years old. I didn’t have a background and all this stuff and long story short, just like anything else, you kind of get recruited in. You start small and then you grow. I was a pastor and basically I wasn’t the lead pastor. The lead pastor is the one you see like the preacher up front on a Sunday morning or the worship pastor would be somebody who sings on Sunday morning and everybody sings along with them.
Casey: I was the systems pastor. Literally my title was the Get Crap Done Pastor. So, from 22 to 27, I was in a startup. There are startup churches just like there are startup businesses. And I joined it when there were 111 people. It went to 2,000 people in about four years. That would be the same to you as a hockey stick technology company.
Casey: So, from that, we had all these people saying, “How are you doing it? What are you doing?” So, we put on a conference. I would teach breakouts and we said, “Here are the systems that we’re using,” because systems create behaviors and blah, blah, blah and all that stuff.
Andrew: Talk to me about that. What are some of the systems that you created as a pastor?
Casey: Number one was–well, there are many–but a perfect volunteer lifecycle. Like, how do you get somebody–you’ve got to have volunteers in the church–so, how do you get people who come and they’re consuming the message on a Sunday morning because it makes them feel good or they want their life to be better to actually showing up two hours early every Sunday parking cars, serving coffee, shaking hands all this stuff. We’ll, you’ve got to get people to raise their hand. That’s an opt-in.
So, we would teach people from the stage, how do you get people to raise their hand and say, “Hey, I’m interested.” From that, volunteer orientation–it’s a system. We’re going orient you to, “Here’s why we do volunteerism. Here’s the mission. It’s what we do.” Where does your gift set fit? It’s hiring. It’s hiring 101. And then how do you keep that volunteer over a long period of time? How do you keep them fired up and burn out because they’re doing it for free.
So how do you keep them? So, those types of systems are the systems, the one specific one, we have financial systems we have preaching systems. It’s very similar to how any organization works if done right. Most churches are horrendous at it. That’s where the business came from.
Andrew: The more I dug into your site the more I feel like forget learning how you built your business. We could just learn how you run churches and apply that to our businesses. Frankly, we at Mixergy should be doing the same thing. How do we get people to raise their hands and say that they want to take an active role here? What roles do we give them? What do we do to keep them engaged so that they actually aren’t just doing our work for us but are growing with it?
Then you also had something on your site about small groups. How do you form those small groups? What happens in those small groups? It’s just amazing. And you’re charging for all those. So you said, “We’re teaching this to other people because it’s working for us.” At what point did you say — it sounds like 27-years-old — did you say, “I think I can build this into a business that just teaches other churches, am I right?
Casey: Yeah. It is. It was really simple. For two years, from 25 to 27, I’m teaching a class at a breakout. It’s a conference just like a regular conference. We would have a conference at our church building. It’s overflowing out the door every time I teach it on how to raise money in your church without being a slimy TV preacher. How do you do it? How do you do it without begging? What are the systems?
Andrew: What’s one technique? You told our producer that was a huge issue, that they did not want to seem like slimy televangelists.
Andrew: What’s one technique for doing it without seeming like a slimy televangelist?
Casey: Well, number one is you make it part of the conversation 52 weeks a year instead of making it a fundraiser one time a year. So, what I know is that people deal with money all the time. What most pastors do is they never talk about it and then all of a sudden they come out and go, “Talk about it. Campaign. We need your money.” And it’s like shock and awe. So, we teach them what’s called a giving talk. The number one thing that grew our company was we literally provided scripts that pastors would use.
They would stand up on the stage and we would say, “Say this this weekend 52 times a year,” and you’re just doing a script before you receive your offering and talking about money in three phases–in stats, stories and scriptures. So, use a stat, use a story or use a scripture. Talk about money, make it part of the conversation. Once it’s part of the conversation, it becomes part of the culture. Once it’s part of the culture, it becomes way easier to ask if you need to ask.
Andrew: I see. I love how this is also systems-based. I always thought that pastors just had a gift that they knew what to say every Sunday. That they knew how to ask for money, that they knew. What I noticed was that there are companies like yours that teach them all this stuff.
Casey: Yeah. Well, like I was saying, there are not many that are doing a great job at this. There’s a segment that are doing a great job. It’s just like in small business. There are 27 million small businesses.
Well, there’s probably only a segment to those that really are doing a hiring system, that really are doing a sales and marketing funnel or system. So, those are the people that we found and our target avatar was we’re looking for the learning leader. We need someone that’s a pastor that’s a learning leader. They just want to learn more and that’s who we went after.
Andrew: I see. You told our producer that before you actually built your business, you had to build your church and you would go around in a pickup truck cold calling, am I right? Or is this afterwards?
Casey: it was worse than cold calling. I would just walk in.
Andrew: You would just walk in to where?
Casey: Into a church building.
Andrew: I see. So, this was after you founded The Rocket Company?
Casey: No. I put my three months’ notice in and my pastor said, “You can go do it.” So, I just started rocking and rolling.
Andrew: You would go to churches and walk in and go, “I helped build this great church over here. This is how much we’ve grown. Can I help you too?” And you were selling them on a website content?
Casey: No, no, no. For the first four years, it was the worst strategy ever. It was me just helping them time for money. So, I would go consult with them. I would tell them the same things over and over and over again. Here’s how to do it I got worn down. It wore my family down. It wore my relationships down. I was working literally seven days a week because I would have to go on the weekends to be in the church and then work all week to get the business. Honestly it was terrible.
Andrew: This is you being a consultant paid by other churches?
Casey: Paid by the church, yeah. One guy literally paid me his paycheck to consult with them. He’s like, “We can’t pay you.” The church would pay me to come in and I would say, “You will have more money in 90 days than you’ve ever had if you just follow my process. Hire me.”
Andrew: I see. And who would you sell your services to? Is it to other businesses or churches?
Casey: No, the senior pastor of a church.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So basically you were a consultant to churches getting paid per hour that you spent with them. Got it. That was exhausting you. It almost destroyed your marriage because of what?
Casey: I wouldn’t say it was destroyed, but it was definitely on the decline. We went $80,000 in debt off a lot of credit. I brought a business partner in. He was a guy who sold a company for $53 million and he said, “Just handle it. I’ll go sell.” And it was terrible. Like it was a terrible model. I was out selling, selling, selling.
Our problem was never revenue. It was that I wasn’t managing the business. I was helping all these churches. Finally I walked in one day and my old business partner said, “If you sell one more I think we’ll be okay this month.” I said, “We’ve sold 40 in 90 days. How are we not making . . .” I looked at the books and I said, “This is insane.”
Andrew: Where did the money go?
Casey: He was a bank chairman and he opened a lot of credit and there was a lot of credit that he opened and he drained our savings because he hired his old staff back of the company he sold. He felt bad that he sold the company. His non-compete was up. He hires them all back. All of a sudden we go from me to ten staff. I have ever color notebook imaginable. We have a printer in our office. Like all this space. It’s just total stupidity and it was all my fault because I wasn’t paying attention.
Andrew: I see. It wasn’t malice. It was just that he was running your business like it was a $50 million company instead of a brand new startup.
Casey: 100%. He did not mean to do it. It was just like, “This is the way it is. You put in money up front and then over time we’ll recoup it.” I’m like, “No, no, no. I’m hand to mouth. I sell. We deliver. We get paid. That’s how we work.”
I screwed up. I had to fire literally three people at one time. I laid them off. It was no fault of their own. I fired everybody else except for my assistant. We were just at the bottom. I sat in an empty office, literally no furniture and I wrote a manifesto of ten things that I would never do again and we’re starting over and that’s where we started over.
Andrew: All right. Let’s pick up where you started over in a moment. But first I’ve got to tell people that my sponsor is HostGator. It’s an incredible hosting package that’s inexpensive. Let me ask you this, Casey. If you could start over again, I wouldn’t have thought that churches would be a good market to take this info marketing business to. Is there another one that you see that would actually work with that so that if someone wants to pursue it they can go get a HostGator account and sign up and get started? Is there a different market that isn’t addressed?
Casey: Are you talking about in the church space?
Andrew: Or outside of the church space or anything else. I feel like you’re seeing markets different than I am. I’m seeing homogeny.
Casey: You know, a really good underserved market that we just done some tests in is insurance agents.
Casey: You would think that they would getting lit up with stuff. They are from their companies and they’re getting internal training. But the Facebook advertising for an insurance agent, let’s just say, how do you get more customers? There aren’t many people doing that. So, that’s a very, very good market that I’m seeing right now that we’ve done some tests in. We’ve made some money in. I’m not going to be in it, but we just kind of had some fun with it.
Andrew: So, can you see somebody maybe going to HostGator, signing up for a hosting account, installing WordPress, which is what you built up your business on, creating some content and selling people on a membership where they learn even more?
Andrew: In the insurance business, only for insurance sales people.
Casey: For insurance agents, yes. Insurance agents, nobody wants to talk to them, so you’ve got to figure out how do you turn the conversation around where people actually want to talk to you. I think that would be a good one.
Andrew: Great idea. All right. Whether you have that idea or any other, all you have to do is go to HostGator and sign up. You’ll get an incredible account. In fact, let me give you a special URL. If you use this URL, you’re going to get 30% off the already low price. We’re talking about HostGator.com/Mixergy. When I say low price, we’re talking about now $4.87 a month is where it starts from. You’ll be able to get started with free shopping cart software. You’ll be able to install all the tools that you want.
You’ll have a 45-day money back guarantee if you’re not happy with it, but I think you will be happy because they’re going to give you unmetered disk space, unmetered bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, incredible tech support. They’re known for it. If you want to get started advertising your new business, they’re going to give you a $100 AdWords offer. They’re going to give you $50 search credit from Bing and Yahoo.
It’s a phenomenal company. Lots of people who I’ve interviewed have built their businesses on HostGator. I urge you to go check out HostGator.com/Mixergy. What a great idea, Casey.
What was on your manifesto? What are some of the things that you said to yourself, “I’m never going to do these things again?”
Casey: That I would never not know the numbers.
Andrew: Ah. . .
Casey: So I was the kind of guy who was sales, growth, that kind of thing. We created in The Rocket Company, if I say the number one thing that we created that was better than any company I ever see is our financial metrics and reporting system. We had a daily text at 4:00 to a weekly report, to a daily report, sales report and expense report to a weekly report, to a 90-day ruling average, to a monthly report, to a quarterly report, annual report. Everything was known at all times. There was not this like, “Hey, how did we do last month?” We took all the guesswork and everything was known at all times.
Andrew: What was on your daily report? What did you want to look at every single day?
Casey: Well, the daily text was on the number–yeah, the daily text was to our entire staff. It was the number one number that mattered. That changed. So, in different quarters it was this or that. So, in one quarter it would be recurring revenue. So we want to get x-amount in recurring revenue. We’re here, we want to be here. Another one would be Rocket Donations. So we spent a whole quarter … I learned this from my coach, Victor Cheng. Do you know Victor?
Casey: Amazing coach, would be a great interview. But Victor said when we were launching the software to get the daily text every day to say zero. So, every day it would say zero for like 100 days until we got the thing launched out of the ground. It was Rocket Donations. So, every day we look and just go, “That sucks. That sucks. That sucks.” But it was just that reminder that hey, we’ve got to sell. We’ve got to get this. So, that would be the daily text.
Andrew: What’s his name, Victor . . .
Casey: Victor Cheng.
Casey: Cheng, the number one, he is a genius. He would be so good on this podcast.
Andrew: I’ve got to get him on then.
Casey: He is amazing. I think like the only McKinsey consultant at like 22 years old or something, crazy.
Andrew: VictorCheng.com or something is his website for anyone who wants to go check it out. What else was on that list? Never again were going to take your eye off the financials, what else?
Casey: We were going to be built on recurring revenue. So, one time sales, we just went all in on, “We’re going to create a payment.” We got addicted to getting the big check, getting the big check, but like it was the sales treadmill and it just never ended. So, building on recurring revenue or payment plans or whatever, that was a big one.
Andrew: Is that the point where you said, “I’m not going to sell services. I’m going to sell content?”
Casey: Yeah. Totally.
Casey: But what we did what I’ve done a couple times. I kept having to sell the services until I got the content launched. The problem with–I didn’t want to raise money. It’s just not my game. I like to sell and make it happen. So, we kept having to sell services while we were launching our first membership site. I went to a conference.
I had never heard of information marketing in 2010, never heard of it. We had no email addresses, nothing. I went to one session and the guy talked about continuity programs. I left the conference. I went to my hotel room and I wrote this is exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to put it all in a package. We’re going to sell it for $99 a month and we’re launching in 60 days and we did.
Andrew: What was going to be in the package?
Casey: It was literally content to help–it was everything I’d been telling them individually. I was just going to say it on video one time and sell it every month.
Andrew: What’s the big thing that you were offering them? If they signed up–you were selling it for $99 admittedly to a group of people, many of whom are broke and you’re trying to help them get unbroken, get financially secure, what was the big win for them?
Casey: We actually had stats for my consulting and it was anywhere between 11% and 39% increase in their operational giving in 12 months or we’ll give them all their money back.
Andrew: Okay. You’re going to help them raise more money. When I looked at your site, what I got excited about was the sermons, the structure. That’s not what people needed immediately. The big win was help them get more giving.
Casey: Yeah. No. It was my gifting. It was where I was good at. Then we got really good at that. It was called Giving Rocket. The company wasn’t The Rocket Company. It was called Giving Rocket. Then I had a guy come to me and say, “Hey, what would you think of doing the same thing for preachers?”
They had to preach every week as well and it’s stressful. Can you imagine having to stand up every week in front of 1,000 people and produce a sermon that’s different? I know I can help them. Then it was like, “Oh, cool, Preaching Rocket.” Then we launched Preaching Rocket. Then it was like Volunteer Rocket. Then it was Worship Rocket. That’s how I kind of built out.
Andrew: I see. And the idea behind Rocket is we’re going to help you take off.
Casey: Yeah, grow. It’s all about growth. Period.
Andrew: You mentioned earlier that they didn’t want to sound like telemarketers. A lot of people who sell education don’t want to come across as sleazy info marketers. Was that at all a concern for you and if it was, how did you deal with it?
Casey: Yeah, we were. In this space–now there are plenty of people doing it in the space. In January of 2011, nobody held webinars and sold anything ever on it. So, we had this thing where it was kind of like this thing at first where it was like nobody had ever experienced it, so they didn’t have a mindset. No pastor would have said info marketing ever.
So they were just experiencing what was happening. Over time they’re like, “They send a lot of emails, like what’s happening here?” So, we dealt with that. My thing was I can take all the criticism in the world. I just want the people who actually want help and I know that if they buy into the deal and if they actually apply, they will be better. I’ve just seen it for four years, so I believed in it. So, I didn’t care.
Andrew: I see.
Casey: It did hurt. It hurt. I had some people who will tell me things that hurt.
Andrew: What’s one that especially hurt?
Casey: One of my old bosses, he told a guy who said, “Hey, watch out for this guy. He just wants to sell you something.” He was a guy who said, “Hey, let’s retire together. We’re going to be friends forever,” this kind of stuff. Then I heard that third party. It was a mentor guy. So, it was kind of like it just sucked. The reality was he’s right. I did want to sell something, but I also knew it would help the guy, so I just had to get over it.
Andrew: I see. Where did you get your first customers? I know that you had a family, so you couldn’t just say, “I’m not going to take a salary for a few years as I figure this out.” Where did you get your first customers?
Casey: So we signed up with a company called Infusionsoft. We were one of the earlier adopters and we had this coach. He just said, “Hey, do you have any email addresses?” I just literally went and looked up all the email addresses. I pressed A on an email and saw how many names of A were in it. I took all the email addresses and went B, C, all of this.
And we put it in Infusionsoft and had 843 email addresses and they said, “Do you have anything you can sell?” I was like, “No.” He was like, “Well, do you have any training?” I had a training recorded. He said, “Okay, I’ll teach you how to host this online and we’ll send an email out to 843 people.” I sent an email out to 843 people. I remember that day. I was sitting in a bare office. There’s no furniture left. It’s me. We send the email out. Within 48 hours, we made $3,000 or $4,000 and I was like, “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.”
Casey: It changed everything. That’s where the first customers came from and that’s when everything changed.
Andrew: You know what though, Infusionsoft was pretty expensive at the time. It’s still fairly expensive. You can get a much cheaper email software. Why did you invest that much in Infusionsoft?
Casey: Because when I lost the $80,000 and I had to go outsource a bunch of things. So, I flew around the world to the Philippines and did this crazy story. I almost got killed. Somebody almost stabbed me with a knife.
Andrew: We’re going to talk about that in a moment, but why Infusionsoft?
Casey: Because while I was on the plane back, I was miserable, so I was watching Tony Robbins videos. I clicked on a link and I saw in the masking–and I’m not technical. It said Infusionsoft. So I said, “Cool, I’ll Google it.” I Googled Infusionsoft at like 1:00 in the morning. It said, “How would it feel to have 25 people selling for you while you sleep?”
I entered my name and email and the dude emailed me at like 2:00 in the morning. It was amazing. I had no idea about automated marketing. So, I was like, “God, they’re on it.” I emailed him back, next day we get on there and I just went with it.
Andrew: You know what, there are some companies that are so good like that. For me it was an experience with Wistia. The guy sent me an email to show how good Wistia was for conversions. I clicked it and the minute I clicked it or two minutes later, he called me up. I was in Buenos Aires. I don’t know how he … I do know, actually. The software makes it really easy to keep track of stuff like that.
I was blown away by him and I realized there’s a whole world of marketing automation that I hadn’t been aware of that’s so much more accessible than it seems. It feels like the kind of thing that only Hulu.com or Amazon would have, but boy is it accessible. Wow. Okay. So, you signed up to that. Let’s talk about what happened in the Philippines. This is another little journey that you took along the way. What was the idea that led you to the Philippines?
Casey: The idea was when the guy came in and said, “We’re $80,000 in debt, I couldn’t pay the bills.” So I had to literally, how in seven days do I outsource the operations to stay in business?” So I booked a flight, $1,650. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Like two days later, I go to the Philippines and I find the ex-CEO of Chuck-E-Cheese has a financial accounting company in the Philippines and I call the guy and he answers his phone and says, “Come on. [Inaudible 00:26:51] for seven days.” I go stay in his apartment and we outsource all of our operations over to the Philippines and we stay in business. That’s how it came about.
Andrew: I see. It actually worked for you?
Casey: Ish. . .
Andrew: Well, there are a couple of problems. One is this knife issue. What happened with the knife?
Casey: Long story short, it’s the last time I was there at 5:00 in the market, a guy scaled down from the 14th floor from the 13th floor, which I was staying on. That was my first problem. I shouldn’t have stayed on the 13th floor. I was there by myself. The CEO had a trip he had to go on. I kept hearing these banging. I was walking around. Then finally I opened the bedroom window.
There’s just a dude hanging off it’s like doubled-up Walmart yarn, green pieces of yarn. I’ve got a picture of it. He’s got blood all over him. He’s got a knife and he’s trying to get in the window and he’s screaming at me like he wants to kill me. I freak out, run down 13 flights of stairs, armed guard at the bottom. We stand in the street and we’re looking up. There’s a guy on the 13th floor rand he’s stuck and can’t get in. It was crazy.
Andrew: This was his way of trying to get into your room to try to rob you?
Casey: No. It was that somebody who stayed there that was friends with the old CEO used to sleep with his wife.
Andrew: Oh wow. I see.
Casey: I just happened to be the guy who showed up there. It would have been like a total random act of violence. Just terrible.
Andrew: Okay. What’s the other part that didn’t work out that made you say it worked out-ish?
Casey: Well, it just sucked. I mean, everybody talks about the benefits of outsourcing and you get these people on the other side of the world and it’s cheaper. It just wasn’t’ easy. I was up in my closet. Literally I have a one-year old at home and my wife is in bed and I’m up at 2:00 in the morning because it’s 2:00 in the afternoon there, talking to somebody that her name is not her name. I call her Rhonda, but that’s not her real name.
We’re trying to communicate. They speak English, but getting the stuff back and forth, it was just a major headache. Again, I’m not against totally outsourcing. I know there are great people that do it and that’s wonderful, but for me, it was a very painful experience.
Andrew: You stopped doing it?
Casey: Totally. I ended up–go ahead.
Andrew: No, go ahead.
Casey: Well, I ended up taking this book of business that I had. I found an accounting firm near me and I sold it to him.
Andrew: And the business you were doing there was in order to get money fast within three days, you said you were going to cut your expenses, but you were also going to start a bookkeeping business there, right?
Casey: Yeah. These were bookkeeping customers. So, when I was going in and doing accounting, I said, “Hey, we can do your bookkeeping for you as well. I’ve got this new partner on. He knows accounting.” So, we had like 45 customers. It was an outsourced bookkeeping operation that went from all in house US that went to all overseas in seven days with one US interface and none of the customers knew it and we were just trying to survive and advance.
Andrew: I see.
Casey: It was terrible. It was terrible.
Andrew: But you were able to sell it so that you got some money and you did okay. Was this also for churches?
Andrew: It was?
Casey: Yeah. It was a visionary screw up. I should never had been in the accounting business. I should have never done that. It was my fault. I screwed up.
Andrew: So interesting that you are such an entrepreneur. Even as a pastor you’re an entrepreneur. Even as you’re looking around for what else to do, you couldn’t help but get into the bookkeeping business. Today you’ve got a couple of other things going on that we can talk about later on like Sales Mojo. You were looking into the insurance salesman business, creating a company for them. I look here at my notes about you. You even as you grew up you were doing door to door sales. What’s the weed picking business?
Casey: Seven years old, me, Brad Leopard and Nick Cooper, two friends of mine, went door to door and we just asked people, “Hey, can we pick weeds in your garden?” There was actually a business owner. Her name was Miss Cassidy and she owned Cassidy Glass. She also had the biggest yard in the entire neighborhood. She said, “Sure, you can do it.” We’d get $21 for all of us. It was $7 each. In the summer, we picked her weeds in her garden.
Andrew: Incredible. This is like part of who you are.
Casey: There’s no reason why I should be doing this. My dad worked at US Steel. He was literally the guy on the railroad, the song. He was the guy on the railroad, literally with that pick.
Andrew: “I’ve been working on the railroad, all the live long day.” That’s him.
Casey: That’s Blake Graham. And my mom, Pat Graham, was a substitute teacher.
Casey: So it’s in me.
Andrew: First year of sales, you told our producer $12,000. This is when you shifted to digital sales, right?
Casey: No. That was the first in business ever.
Andrew: The first in business. When you got to digital sales, do you remember what your first year sales were once you discovered this new way?
Casey: We took it up to about $400,000.
Andrew: $400,000 in one year?
Casey: Yeah. We crushed it. It was right timing. Nobody was doing it in the space, right market. Nobody was info marketing the churches.
Andrew: So the guy who I knew who get this was Rick Warren because he had a big bestselling book that I even read.
Andrew: That’s when I discovered that he couldn’t go on television in an interview because he’s selling sermons to other people and he couldn’t take his material and then make all of them look bad. So, he didn’t. How did he do it? How did people before you do it if they weren’t doing this digital sales the way that you were?
Casey: They were doing it the way that people were doing it before digital sales. They would do events with their church, direct mail, people would come to their church and they would buy their tape series. And literally like John Maxwell would be another one. John Maxwell, have you ever heard of John?
Casey: Well, he started as a pastor in San Diego selling tapes out of the back of his car. That’s where the whole John Maxwell legacy came from was doing that and holding conferences at his church through direct mail.
Andrew: One of the women on my team also works for John Maxwell’s company.
Casey: Oh, cool.
Andrew: I knew him as the business advice guy. What was he selling back then?
Casey: He was a pastor. He was helping pastors get to the next level in their leadership, raising money, the whole nine yards.
Andrew: I see. And your insight was, “Let’s go digital.” Let’s talk in a moment about how you got your first customers when you went digital beyond that first mailing list. But first, I’ve got to talk about my second and final sponsor. It’s a company called Toptal. Do you know about Toptal?
Casey: I don’t.
Andrew: As a business owner, you’ve got to know about these guys.
Casey: I’ve heard you talk about them, but I don’t know exactly like what they–contractors or. . .?
Andrew: Yeah. I’ll tell you about them in a moment. I’ve got to tell you that I can tell that you’re a listener because one of the things you asked was do I still enjoy it. Dude, the reason I still enjoy it is because of conversations like the one that we’re having right now.
I freaking love this conversation. Your creativity and putting this together, the insights that you have into business, the excitement that you have, you can see that my energy level changes as I talk to you–this is what I love. I’d love to do this every night at my house the way that most people would like to watch television and veg out. I’d like to have this kind of interesting conversation because you can’t do it every night. I get to have it here and man, do I love it.
So Toptal is the company that decided that they were going to aggregate the best of the best developers. When I think about why they did this and why developers would jump through their hoops to be on their list of best developers, I think about how I join marathons. I run 26.2 miles. Most people think, “Well, how much do people pay you for that?” Or that’s the kind of joke, “Who are you running away from?”
No. I actually pay money to do this. I’ve paid hundreds of dollars to go run marathons and then you have to pay money to fly out to run these marathons. The reason I do it is I want the challenge, just to be able to complete the marathon and be awarded that gold medal that frankly I’d either toss in the garbage or send to my mom just proves that I would be able to do it, that I would push myself, that I can do more than I thought.
The same thing with Toptal–they put this really tough test and series of obstacles in front of developers before they could make it into their database because they know that the best of the best developers, the people who aren’t just a pair of hands but are creative developers who can find solutions to problems using code, they love that stuff. They eat it up. They want to be validated by being in the list and they feel a little crushed by not and they work harder to try to be in the list.
That’s what Toptal did. They put together this database of the best of the best developers. Then they went out to businesses and said, “Look, when you have to find developers, what do you do? Of course what they do is if they want the really good developers, they have to put a lot of money, a lot of time, pay for headhunters, pay for ads, pay for a team of people.
They said, “We’ve got a better way. We have this team of developers here, this big list of people who have gone through all of our obstacles.” And they didn’t give up any point. Believe me, they are tricky people over at Toptal when it comes to how do you get on because they want people who love to try to out think those obstacles.
They said, “Here, we’ll not only makes those people available to you, but we will match you up with the perfect person based on what you’re doing–are you developing an Android app? Are you developing a web app? Is it something else? We’ll match you up with the right person and then you can start working with them.”
Now, when I say something like this, I’ve got to tell you, Casey, that a lot of people think that then it’s going to be super-expensive. I only know this because I have people who listen to my interviews come for scotch or come to my house and they say it’s really expensive or they thought it was expensive until they call them up. No.
One of the advantages that Toptal has is they don’t recruit from San Francisco the way that other people do. You can work for Toptal from anywhere. So, they get not super cheap, but not nearly as expensive as you’d expect developers. They took the same process and they now work it for designers and they’re going to expand beyond this.
If you want to hire the best of the best, the best talent, that’s why it’s called Toptal, top talent, here’s a URL that if you go to it, they’re going to give Mixergy listeners 80 free hours–let me read it exactly as they have it. Mixergy listeners are going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours and that’s in addition to the no-risk trial period of up to two weeks.
The reason I’m reading it, Casey, exactly as I wrote it is I don’t want people who are freeloaders. So I’m trying not to emphasize that you get 80 free hours. I’m not even using the word free. I’m intentionally reading it as 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for 80. Here’s the URL. Anyone out there should go check out Toptal.com/Mixergy. Cool.
What are some of the other techniques, Casey, that worked for you in the early days?
Casey: The biggest one was I said I was–I wasn’t like a famous guy in the industry. So I wasn’t a Rick Warren. I wasn’t an Andy Stanley, names you may or may not have heard of, the names above the names. I wasn’t even the names under the names. I was a C-player is what I said. I was a C-player. But what I spent my life doing as a pastor is learning from other churches. I became best friends with everybody’s assistants.
Andrew: Okay. Their assistants?
Casey: Their assistants and their number two guys. The number two guy will tell you the truth. The CEO has his thing and whatever, but you talk to the assistant or the number two. So, I always wanted to know, “What’s the truth? How is this really working at your church?” So, I was a learning leader. It just was natural. I was always seeking learning. I built all these relationships.
So, I was a C-guy and I knew B-players and I knew that the B-players knew the A-players. So, what I did is that I got all of my B-players and it changed everything. The hockey stick happened on this. I called in every favor for the last like eight years of not asking for anything except, “Can I learn? Can I learn? Can I learn?” “Hey, would you get me in front of your pastor? I want him to be on this big online event. All I want him to do is do a recording and I need him to talk about preaching for 20 minutes.”
Everybody did it. They called in the favors. We had the biggest, literally in the world, names come on the event, talk about preaching. We had like 22,000 churches sign up to watch the event. So, it was a live simulcast. Excuse me, it was broadcasted as live and we were live interacting and that kind of thing. It was pre-recorded interviews that were on it. We sold 1,010 $99 subscriptions in like two hours.
Andrew: 1,000 subscriptions at $99 a month.
Casey: In two hours. So that took us … and what it did is that like I went from a C-guy in the industry to knowing B-guys, but I was interviewing or connected with the A-guys. It put a stamp of approval that, “Hey, this is legit.” Andy Stanley, people would ask me, “How’s it like working with Andy?” I’d be like, “I have no idea. He just did a video.”
Andrew: I find that same thing happens with these interviews. I connect with so many people. Sorry. I’m just clicking one of your pages, that’s what that background audio was. I connect with people in the interviews and everyone assumes that we’re friends. In some cases, we do become friends but their star power rubs off. So, I’m actually on your site right now. The reason you heard that background video is that I was bringing up something that I saw earlier. I think it’s when you’re talking about this event, are you talking about the Preach Better Sermons 2014?
Casey: It was 2012, yeah.
Andrew: 2012, the original one.
Casey: Yeah. It became an annual event.
Andrew: So, that actually helped me too. When I was checking you out, I saw some of the faces of people I recognize and I say, “Okay, these are good people here that are part of his world.”
Casey: Yeah. And they are, but it’s like I know John knows Bob and that kind of thing. I’ve just learned with the highest level people, the worst thing you can do is try to know them.
Andrew: Yeah, I agree. Frankly, let’s just pause on that. Getting to know the second person is one of the techniques that worked for Tim Ferriss. Back in the first interview that he did with me eight years ago, seven years, he said that’s what he did to really rise up because everyone is trying to talk to the celebrity. The celebrity doesn’t have much time for you, but the person who’s helping him out is the guy who knows everything, who has the time who can really help you.
Casey: One of the things we did, even in John Maxwell’s organization and the largest church in America, we went to the assistant of the head person and said, “Hey, me and my assistant are wanting to learn your systems of how you work with the CEO. Will you just teach us how you work?” They would invite us into their office. We’d be sitting there for two or three hours and they’re teaching us everything they know. Then the A-list guy comes in. It’s natural at that point. It’s really a strategy that I don’t understand why more people don’t use.
Andrew: How did you know what to put into your community, what you were going to offer for $99 a month?
Casey: I didn’t.
Andrew: What did you start putting in there as you figured it out?
Casey: Well, I screwed up. I thought they wanted to know what I knew, which is coaching. But then we started surveying them like three months in like, “Why are you staying?” They kept sending stuff back that said, “Those scripts you give us we can read on a Sunday morning, that’s worth all the $99 a month.”
So, I was doing all this coaching and all these coaching tips and videos and all this kind of stuff. They’re like, “That’s cool but I just have to stand up Sunday and this meets my need.” It’s the first time I really realized that most people suck at building information membership sites. They think they have a good … most people suck. The churn rate is three to five months.
The way we were able to beat that was we literally just gave them what their biggest pain was. It wasn’t me coaching them on these new strategies. It was just, “I’ve got to stand up. I don’t know what to say.” “Here, read this.” It was the easiest thing for us to pull off. I realized really quickly that they don’t care about me. They care about their pain. Everything in our company became about what’s their pain, how do we solve it simply.
Andrew: You signed up for my membership a while back.
Casey: I did.
Andrew: What did you think about how I was doing things? I feel like there’s a lot I should learn from you.
Casey: Well, I signed up because of … do you know Les McKeown?
Andrew: Yes, a little bit.
Casey: Predictable Success. He told me to–maybe you did an interview with him or something–he said go to Mixergy. I went and it was at the time, I can’t remember specifically, but I don’t know what it is now and I hate that, I’m sorry, but it was basically a bunch of stuff that you can choose from.
Casey: I don’t have time to think about like what should I pick to choose from. It’s like here’s a big buffet that I can go pick from. I just need you to tell me, “Here’s the one thing you can use. Here’s the job description that is used at Zappos that they do to hire assistants.” That’s what I need. Give me the tool and then the coaching as I go. But it was more coaching heavy than it was tools.
Andrew: I see. How do you solve that problem? You’ve got a lot of information. What did you do to not overwhelm people?
Casey: Yeah. It’s literally getting them to solve one specific thing. We have a product called Assistant Rocket. It’s literally how to find, hire and train an assistant. That’s all it is. It’s every spreadsheet. It’s every job thing. Here’s how you post the ad. It’s one idea. It’s not this big thing about business, grow your business, one specific pain that I have, how do you find, hire and train a rock star assistant. So, I would say more specific and give me the actual tools.
Andrew: But is Assistant Rocket part of The Rocket Company membership?
Casey: No. This is all new stuff.
Andrew: I see. Oh, this isn’t even part of The Rocket Company?
Casey: No. Rocket Company is all church.
Andrew: Right. So, at The Rocket Company, you did a lot. You have a lot of material on there. How do you organize it and keep people from feeling overwhelmed by everything they have access to?
Casey: Because it’s one thing at a time. It’s one lesson with one action. So, I taught a course called Get Paid Daily in 2014 and I taught people how to build membership sites that actually work. I’m behind the scenes with people in membership sites. It’s bull crap. Nobody keeps people for a long period of time. Not nobody, very few people keep people for long periods of time. So, how do you actually keep people? You keep people by simplifying what you give them, not expanding it. That’s it.
Andrew: I see. When someone signs up and it says you have nothing to lose, everything to gain. See what these Preaching Rocket recently said about this 12-month coaching program and what it did for them, the 12-month coaching program is one thing at a time that comes into them? That’s it.
Casey: It’s step by step. The first module was how to get five days ahead in your sermon prep. So, it’s 30 days on 5 days ahead. That’s it. It’s one simply video and it’s all the resources of how to do it and interviews of other people that did it. But it’s one idea.
Andrew: And was it the surveys that got you to that or was it something else?
Casey: Yeah. It was surveys. Literally we just asked people. The biggest thing my board taught me, one of the guys on my board, he’s like, “Hey, just talk to your customers.” That’s it. I know it sounds so simple, but most people don’t do it.
Andrew: But surveys aren’t a way to talk to your customers.
Casey: I picked up the phone.
Andrew: You called them up?
Casey: We literally have call week. We would spread up a list. We literally did that last year. We called people in prep for Rocket Donations. We had 16 questions that we would ask them and not ask for anything and they couldn’t believe that we were just calling to talk to them. It was like, “Okay, when is the pitch?” It was like, “No. I just want to know.” We were asking them, “What’s your fear? “What do you mean what’s my fear?” “Like as a pastor?” “No, what do you fear?”
And we would ask them and we were getting down to the primal things that drove them to take action. We were getting stories out of it. We had 100 real people that we talked to and they said, “Here’s what’s happening,” and we knew what was going on and that’s stuff that we did.
Andrew: And when you get people’s fear, do you remember one of the fears that they had?
Casey: Yeah. One of the biggest fears people had is not being enough.
Andrew: And they would say that, “I feel like I’m not enough?”
Casey: No. That’s a simplified version.
Andrew: How did they express it?
Casey: They would talk around it of like, “You know, I’m working a lot. It’s stressful because I’ve got the church and all these people are now they need me at the church.” I’ve got an 18-year old daughter who’s going off to college and I’m having to miss her thing because I’ve got to go to this deal. So we would lead them through the process of asking. So, basically what you’re saying is this.
Andrew: I see.
Casey: Our fears are … there’s about a few common fears. It’s universal.
Andrew: Not being enough is one issue. What else did you hear from them?
Casey: A lot of them felt unqualified. So it’s just like me or you or anybody else that’s like, “Hey, I’m in charge now somehow.”
Casey: I am supposed to have the answers. I’m supposed to know … I just don’t know what to do. I feel unqualified, unschooled, I’m scared. What do I do next? Just help me know what the next right decision is because I’m scared if I make the wrong decision, I’m going to lose it all, that kind of thing.
Andrew: So how do you organize all … how do you even use that? If someone tells you I’m afraid that I’m not enough. And you’re creating software, software is not going to make them enough. How do you use that to create and sell this new software?
Casey: Yeah. It’s more about knowing their mindset than it is a direct thing of like, “Hey, you know you’re not enough. Buy this software.” But it’s understanding the mindset that like, “Hey, I know you may not feel like you’re enough in everything, but would it be like,” the marketing language would be like, “What would it be like?”
The reason they’re working all the time is they don’t have revenue. It’s bad leadership. What would it feel like to know four months from now, six months from now, twelve months from now that you had x-amount of revenue coming in no matter what, how would that relieve your brain when you’re with your 18-year old daughter.
Andrew: I see.
Casey: When you’re on Saturday morning at your kid’s soccer game and you know that payroll is covered, there’s nothing to worry about, how would that feel for you? For us, we kind of think, “Oh cool, we’re in business. We have payroll.” But for them, it’s like every Monday morning, the pastors quit and commit suicide the most on Monday mornings.
Andrew: Can a see a sales page where that comes across?
Casey: You go to Rocket Donations. We sold the company, so I don’t know.
Andrew: So, I’m going to be speaking at a conference for Leadpages and I want to talk about how people put talk to their customers and then put what they’ve learned into a sales pitch. Can I follow up with you on that?
Casey: I would have to send it to you, yeah.
Andrew: Okay. I’ll follow up with you on how you do that. We did a pre-interview with you and at the end of the pre-interview, this was months ago, I think this was before your sale, the pre-interviewer, Ari, asked you what questions didn’t I ask you and you said, “What’s your passion now?” That’s what you could have asked me and your response to that was, “I love that you have a church company but you feel like you graduated from the business.” Is that why you started to sell? You felt like you graduated from The Rocket Company?
Casey: I don’t know if it was necessarily graduation. It’s not like I got beyond it. I love entrepreneurs. I love business owners. I got to where I didn’t want to go to any church conferences. It’s not that I was mad at him, I just didn’t care about it anymore. I didn’t read church books. I wasn’t connecting with people. My whole circle of influence changed. Andrew, I don’t know if you know many people that used to be pastors that start a business that serves pastors and now they’re in the business space, it’s almost in some people’s eyes that I’ve left the faith.
So it’s been a transition to now that Casey’s this business guy, it’s more spectacular if I was a business guy and now I’m in the church, but I’ve gone the other way and I just can’t help it because I’ve circled back around. At 7-years-old I was a business guy and like it’s just not the market that I want to serve anymore. So I just love entrepreneurs. I love business owners and I want to help them.
Andrew: I get it. I’ve seen that in your eyes. I’ve seen it in the stories you’ve told throughout this interview. The day of the sale, do you remember what that felt like?
Casey: It was amazing. One thing about selling the company is that I don’t know how many people you’ve talked to about selling and buying, I’m sure you’ve talked to a bunch, but you’ve got to push them to close as much as they want to buy. So, we literally at 5:00 standing in this room, literally these pins that I have right here, I was pacing back and forth saying, “Send the–I’m stick of lawyers, send the thing right now.”
It got to like 4:30 in the afternoon. We signed the papers. We jumped up and down. We had a celebration that night. My wife and I stayed out. We had an amazing time, went dancing in Downtown Atlanta. It was a fun time, but then it turned after that. It wasn’t all that I thought it was going to be.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Casey: I went into like almost a depression, like I felt like I had some guilt associated with. I spent nine years building this thing. I recruited people to the staff and said, “Hey, let’s do this.” Then I sold this and I felt like, “Did I sell out on people?” So I just went into like, “What am I going to do? I’m 35 and I don’t have to work again for 20 years.”
Andrew: How did you get out of that funk?
Casey: I’m getting out of it.
Andrew: You’re getting out of it now.
Casey: I’m getting out of it now. It’s been a slow process. But I’d say the number one thing was to quit thinking about myself and to start thinking about others. So every day creating a daily rhythm to say I wake up in the morning, it’s about me, the middle of my day is about others and then the end of my day is about us, our family and started structuring my days around that instead of just sitting here thinking, “What am I going to do the rest of my life?” That will just spin you into a tailspin.
Andrew: My sense is the more entrepreneurs you reach the way that you just did here on Mixergy, the more business people you see you have impact on, the more excited and fired up or to use Tony Robbins’ word juiced you’re going to be about this. I think that anyone who wants to go check you out of course they can go check out The Rocket Company’s website, but for now I suggest they check out CaseyGraham.com. You do a podcast on there.
Anyone who likes podcasts because they’ve been listening to me can subscribe to your podcast and get a sense of it or they can just look through your site to see how you think about business, how you approach, how you approach selling, how you approach different technology and I’ve just really enjoyed getting to know you here. I know that anyone who’s gotten to know you through this interview is going to want more. Instead of recommending they check out one of your businesses, I’m going to suggest they go check out CaseyGraham.com. Cool.
Why don’t I finish this off by also thanking my two sponsors, the tow people I mentioned were the company who is going to help you host your website right. It’s called HostGator. And the company that will help you hire great developers or designers. It’s called Toptal. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring. Casey, thank you for being on here.
Casey: Thank you so much.
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Bye, everyone.