How to manufacture virality for your brand (without gimmicks)

I usually focus on revenue in these interviews but I do care about other indicators of size.

So when I heard that Michael Krivicka from Thinkmodo was available to do an interview I wanted to get him on here. What Michael does is create viral videos. A lot of people use that term for videos that are popular but he had created truly viral content.

I want to talk to him about how he does it. Michael Krivicka is the co-Founder of Thinkmodo which has created some of the most watched and shared viral videos in the world.

Michael Krivicka

Michael Krivicka


Michael Krivicka is the co-Founder of Thinkmodo which has created some of the most watched and shared viral videos in the world.


Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses and I usually focus on revenue. And I care about revenue because I think most companies in the tech startup space don’t really care about revenue at all. It’s all about funding.

But I do care about other indicators of size. And what I really am trying to do with Mixergy is find entrepreneurs who build something that’s gone big, something that we want to duplicate, and bring them on here to talk to them for an hour about how they did it. And so when I heard that Michael Krivicka from Thinkmodo is available to do an interview, I said, “Yeah, absolutely. Let’s do it.” Because what he does is he creates these viral videos. And I know a lot of people say that they create viral videos, but what they do is create some fun videos.

One or two of them have gone viral and now they think they’re experts. What Michael has done in his career with Thinkmodo was he takes brands and says, “You know, they’re kind of okay. No one’s going to talk about them. No one’s going to spread any word or video about them. But I can come up with something creative that will get spread.” And he manufacturers this virality. And I’ll talk to you and give you an example in a moment. Actually, I’m going to let him do it because I think he’s going to do a much better job of introducing than I do. And then it goes popular, and people talk about the brands on the news and online and everywhere else.

And so I invited him here to talk about how he did it. And I was going to ask him about Thinkmodo and how great it is. And he said, “Well, you know, Andrew, I actually closed it down since I talked to your producers.” I said, “Really?” We’re going to find out why he closed down that business that’s done so well.

This interview is sponsored by two phenomenal companies. The first will do your email marketing automation right. If you’re doing email, you go to check out ActiveCampaign. And the second will help you hire phenomenal developers. It’s called Toptal. Michael, good to have you here.

Michael: Very nice to be on. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Let’s give people a sense of what you’ve done. Popcorn, Indiana was one of your clients at Thinkmodo. What is Popcorn, Indiana?

Michael: Popcorn, Indiana is a really fantastic and delicious popcorn brand. They’re actually not based in Indiana. They’re based in New Jersey. And they do a lot of very fun flavors. They’ve been producing them over the years. And they, ever since I’ve done this campaign, have actually branched out into stores that I’ve never seen them before.

Andrew: I’ve seen them. I think they might even have one in the heart of New York City, no?

Michael: By now, yes. I wouldn’t be surprised because they’re doing phenomenally well.

Andrew: And, you know, it’s a shock for me because what they do is they just will send you popcorn. And I don’t know that I would ever buy it for myself. But it’s a nice gift to give to someone. It’s interesting. It’s flavorful. And people for some reason don’t have guilt around eating popcorn the way they do around eating chocolate. Okay, so they come to you. And I like it. It’s interesting. But I’m not talking about Popcorn, Indiana. You found a way. When they came to you, what did they want?

Michael: Typically, the challenge is brand awareness. That’s the sort of more general kind of challenge to say, “Hey, we’re doing great. We have a good product. Profits are pretty good. But we’re just not out there. People are just not talking about us. Is there’s something fun we can do to get, you know, into the social media sphere and get especially younger people who only know one particular kind of brand of popcorn that either they get at movie theater or somewhere else? And we want to start conversations, but start it with something fun.” And that’s where the conversation starts. And then we sit down and try to come up with fun ideas to create a viral video about for this particular brand.

Andrew: Describe the video that you created for Popcorn, Indiana. I saw it. I think it’s really fun.

Michael: So the video that I created for Popcorn, Indiana is one of the two things that I’m kind known for. And that is the sort of fantasy gadget creation. So this is something that many of us probably had the idea in their life at some point where there is a device that’s, you know, placed somewhere in the living room and conspicuously just going to sit in there. And you’re either watching TV, playing a video game, or doing something that, you know, you have your feet up on the table and you’re just too damn lazy to get up and grab that popcorn that will be typically in a bowl.

So you just say your word pop and this machine’s device shoots popcorn straight into your mouth with this very advanced technology, which is clearly BS. But the reason, the fact that we did it, the fact that we designed and we engineered and we made it look real, real enough for people to talk about it, that’s what the virality comes from. That’s where the [inaudible 00:04:21] really comes from.

Andrew: You actually created this device that shoots one pop popcorn at a time into somebody’s mouth just when they say the word pop. And did you pretend that it was created by Popcorn, Indiana?

Michael: That is correct. So it was tied into, it was shot as this sort of mini documentary. It was scripted in a way that this company was behind it. They came up with it because they wanted to . . . you know, they’re inventing new flavors. They’re inventing a lot of stuff in that space. But what if, and this is where it all gets really interesting, what if we can reinvent the way people eat popcorn? What if there’s a new way to do it and more fun way to do it?

Andrew: Okay, now that’s the kind of thing. If this exists. I want to share it with my friends. And if I’m not sure if it exists, I’m going to share a video and say, “Hey, does this exist?” Or, “It’s kind of cool.” The thing that’s interesting is that the news started covering it. What kind of news outlets do you remember covered it?

Michael: Pretty much anyone. I mean, it was featured on Today’s Show. It was featured on all kinds of Fox News. CNN did a piece on it. Everybody picked it out because it started trending online, which is what we want, which was how the game starts. And then the kind of earned media coverage comes in. And . . .

Andrew: Well, first of all, you said it’s earned media online. I’m sorry, it’s first people share. What do you do to juice the shares to get people to pay attention to it?

Michael: We don’t do anything. We’re not that kind of company.

Andrew: Nothing. You just put it online. Nothing.

Michael: That’s correct. Yes.

Andrew: You’re not buying views.

Michael: No, no.

Andrew: You’re not sharing it with people.

Michael: [inaudible 00:05:39] sharing it.

Andrew: No?

Michael: No, I’m glad you asked because this is something we’ve been battling over the years. Because it is now very common and very well known that there’s a lot of these sort of shitty players in this space where you can just basically purchase views. You got the right amount of money that you can guarantee, even to your client, you can guarantee 10 million views.

Andrew: Just to kick things off, didn’t do any of that?

Michael: Nothing.

Andrew: You didn’t even send to people. You just put only what? What did you do?

Michael: The only thing we do is that we kick it off. We have a launch partner or some kind of an influential online website, whether it’s Mashable, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, depends on what is the nature of the concepts, whether it’s tech, lifestyle, humor, whatever it is, and then we give it to them. They’re the first ones to host and that’s it. From then on . . . So there is a bit of a strategy where if somebody gets at first, but in terms of what we do, we don’t do anything. We just watch it spread. It goes virally. It start showing up on Reddit. It start throwing up on, you know, people’s Facebook feeds and just kind of goes from there. And this was pre-Facebook video, by the way. So this was YouTube was the kind of a big player at that time.

Andrew: Okay. And so you put it in there. You give it to one online site. They start things off. The ball starts to roll. People start to share it. I saw a lot of local media cover it and that got Popcorn, Indiana, a lot of great press. Who does that? Who reaches out to the press?

Michael: So they find it. They have now departments. They look for these things. They look for what’s trending on YouTube. They’re now [inaudible 00:07:01]

Andrew: You never did anything. You never reached out to local media. You never had a PR? No, you didn’t?

Michael: Absolutely not.

Andrew: I’m looking at your face, you’re almost insulted by that.

Michael: That’s correct.

Andrew: Here’s the thing about you that drives me crazy. I feel like you’re really good at this, but the business part does not excite you. It almost disgusts you. You gave me this look when I said, “Do you have PR people?” “Like why would I ruin my art or why would I ruin this?”

Michael: Yeah, the only thing we’ve ever done and we certainly have relationships with some existing and pretty big media outlets or especially specific shows. We’ve done a number of things for the Today Show. For example, a few years back, I mean, pretty much every second project was covered by them when their producers just knew us. They knew that this was our video because they saw it featured, like I said, on Mashable summer. They reached out to us and they say, “Hey, listen, can we do something with some of our anchors with it? You know, can you bring into the studio? Can be prank [inaudible 00:07:54].”

Andrew: Got it. They’re you’re looking for something clever. You do this . . . And once you have a relationship with them, you start to go back to them and say, “Hey, we’ve got this new thing. We’re going to . . . ”

Michael: Oh yeah. Why wouldn’t I? Ultimately, they want to do something, you know, fun and that gives us . . .

Andrew: You know, that’s the shock of you that you don’t have the hunger to say, “All right, we got the Today Show. How do we now line up three other shows? How do we now make sure that we have television covered, how about radio? How about influencers?” You don’t have that in you. That’s not who you are. You are a creator of this type of video and you know how to connect it with the brand. And that’s your passion.

Michael: That is correct. And we really pride ourselves doing that this way that we don’t use influencers. As you said, we don’t use supermodels. We don’t use celebrities of any kind. And the only couple times that I used something else because it was a requirement from the brand was, for example, we’ve done a golf cart hovercraft and a golf cart jet pack for this brand called Oakley who had a relationship with Bubba Watson, very famous golf player. And I’m not into golf. I didn’t who the hell he was when I met him. So now, you know, ever since I’ve done the project I have a whole new respect for that. But he was somebody who just came attached with the project. So we actually tried not to have a man because we always want to be sure that people know this is not going viral because there’s such and such in a video. This is going viral because it’s a great idea. You know, I just believe in myself.

Andrew: You believe in yourself. But that also says something that you wanted to go viral because it’s good. Not because of some clever marketing gimmick revenue, though. Because of this, you didn’t make much money.

Michael: We started because we have to prove ourselves. We were nobodies when we created the company. We had no background in advertising. We didn’t study advertising. We didn’t go to school for it. And we had no prior portfolio to show. We were both from . . .

Andrew: I’m going to start getting into like the whole story here. But bottom line, you guys made less than a million a year?

Michael: In the first few years, yes, we did.

Andrew: Oh, really? And then the last year how much?

Michael: It was several million.

Andrew: Oh, really?

Michael: Do I give specific numbers?

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, give specific numbers.

Michael: I’m not sure if I can to be honest because my . . .

Andrew: Just ballpark it then.

Michael: It was under 10 million that we made.

Andrew: And over five?

Michael: And over five, lets it that way. Why not, sure.

Andrew: All right. So you did pretty well for yourself then. I thought . . .

Michael: That was not bad running an agency that is just two people. We had one employee that we had for the last four years, I want to say, and we’ve been around for I want to say almost eight years. So that was not bad. We fought the idea of scaling because we didn’t want to lose control because we wanted to do . . .

Andrew: Oh, yeah, I’m going into that. I couldn’t believe it. I highlighted in my notes how many times I found in my research that you did not want to scale or go big. You’re a guy who grew up or actually was born in a small village in Czechoslovakia and your dad and mom one day when you were 10 years old said what to you?

Michael: We going on vacation. We’re going to Germany on vacation. It was in the middle of the night. They woke me and my sister up, put us in a car and car was packed. We didn’t think much of it. I was little. I didn’t know what the hell is going on. We sat in the car. We drove across the border. And then we arrived in Germany. We met somebody who we knew there. That was I believe was a relative or a friend.

Andrew: This was West Germany?

Michael: This was West Germany. Yes.

Andrew: Okay. And how did you get to West Germany? How did you make it through?

Michael: So once you leave Slovakia and you’re in Austria . . . No, actually, I’m sorry. We went to the Czech Republic. So we crossed the check border there. And then we went through the checks through Germany border, and then we arrived in West Germany. And once we crossed that, it just looked like to the border patrol that we were just going on big vacation. That’s what it looks like to them. That was really kind of important. And actually my dad and my mom kind of planned it at that time. And when we arrived there a couple of weeks later, they put us in the room. So there’s going to be a very serious talk. But we want your yes or no. Do you want to stay here? We don’t want to go back to Slovakia.

And then we very quickly learned that they planned this thing for almost a year. And they did it because they didn’t want even the closest family members to know because they will try to hold them back. So, you know, of course, my sister and I we said yes. It was a wonderful country. And I made a lot of wonderful friends. I spent my whole high school years, my entire high school kind of period there. That was in 1986 just so you know. A few years later the wall fell, communism fell. We applied for asylum shortly after we entered in ’86. And then we didn’t get our German citizenship until, I want to say, right before I left to the United States, which was in 1996 when I graduated high school.

Andrew: And part of the reason you went to the U.S. was you grew up in Germany watching all these movies . . .

Michael: That’s right.

Andrew: . . . that were so popular at the time. “Ghostbusters” was one. What else?

Michael: “Crocodile Dundee.” Anything that took place in New York. Everything happened in New York. Godzilla didn’t go to Akron, Ohio. Godzilla went to New York City. You know, everything just for some reason, there’s was something magical about New York City, and that was always my plan. So when I first went to the United States, I went to Florida, because that’s where my sister already lived. I did my associate degree there. But I really didn’t like it. It was just not my thing. The energy, everything was just all wrong. It was too slow for me. It was too pretty. It just looked too good. There was a certain rawness missing. And I came to New Jersey where I did my bachelor’s degree.

And that was an interesting city. And that was close enough to New York City that I could do all my internships there and just traveled as much as I could with the [patron 00:13:10] and that’s where I found it. I found that this is where I want to be. This is where I want to live. This is where I want to work and eventually you want to, you know, start a family. So what started off as just a trip to, you know, pick up the language and just kind of do my studies here, that turned into from student visa to work visa and then just kind of kept going. And, you know, just kind of one thing came to another and I became . . .

Andrew: You got a job as an editor in New York City. You were making award winning short films, but you weren’t loving it.

Michael: I wasn’t loving it because I wasn’t reaching the masses that I wanted to reach. You know, at that time before 2005, when YouTube was born, the only way to reach a bigger audience was when you showed it a film festival or, you know, rent a movie theater . . .

Andrew: And even then it was huge. Give me an example of a film that you made that you’re super proud of but only reached people who care about awards?

Michael: Yeah, that was a film called “New York Talk.” It was a short film that I shot on 16 millimeter camera. I submitted to a bunch of festivals. It was shown everywhere in Europe. Here in the biggest short film festival in the United States which is the Los Angeles Short Film Festival. And I even traveled there to watch on the big screen, which was really cool. So that was really the only way to do it. There were submission fees. And you know, at that time, I didn’t have much money. And that was it.

But once YouTube was born and I could just see, oh, my god. This is a whole new world where digitally people can access it for free all over the world. I was like, “This is this is great. I want a piece of this. I want it. What can I do? How does this work?” So I was just very closely studying what was going viral, what were people sharing. At that time it was low resolution, you know, four by three aspect ratio. It was just very kind of rough and raw and gritty. And then it became more sophisticated. And then other brands and agencies started using it actually.

Andrew: What attracted you to it? I remember starting out doing interviews that were video based and saying, “I’m spending so much time researching a guest. I’m looking them up. I’m prepping. I’m understanding my audience.” And then some kid has his brother bite his finger and that two-year-old who says, “Johnny bit my finger,” whatever it was, that gets millions of views. And I think, “This is just a random thing that there’s no substance to it. It’s not at all attractive.” What attracted you to that world?

Michael: What attracted me was that I’ve certainly seen that one too. And I’ve seen many others that were so goofy, silly, stupid even. And here I am watching it, you know, myself and trying to figure out what is appealing about it. Then maybe it’s the obscurity of it. But seeing that it got millions of views. But then I started seeing some really clever viral videos that were actually in branded. They were some kind of form of a marketing tool for someone else and I just thought, you know, that is it. If there is a way to use this, you know, use a great because it eventually comes up to a really cool idea.

And then some of them were hoaxes. Hoaxes were working really well at the time because the audience was very uneducated online. I’m not saying people are stupid, but they couldn’t quite differentiate between what is a hoax, what is a video that is pretending to be something or show something, and then what is real.

And that’s where it brings me back to the Popinator. It just looks so real, so good, that even the news media picked it up and say, “Hey, there’s such a thing as Popinator.” No, it wasn’t. And that really appealed to me. And I started a blog. A blogger was very popular at that time, the platform and I started writing just copy text about advertising ideas that I had that I wished I would see, but I really didn’t see anywhere else. And then I started turning those text entries into short film videos kind of these low budget short videos. And until one of them went viral . . .

Andrew: And I saw it and I want to bring it up. This was so good. Even years later, it’s so good because it looks so frickin’ authentic. All right, let me take a moment talk about my sponsor. And then you’ve got to describe this. It’s called “Nude It.” That is that first viral video I want to ask about that.

All right, the first sponsor is a company called ActiveCampaign. People who have been listening to me for a long time know that I was a little frustrated that we’re not doing well with our advertising. So I finally hired a writer and I gave her specific outline for how I want these ads to go. And so guys, I’m going to read from this writer that we just hired to up our game. And let me know what you guys think. I’m loving this approach.

All right, so the company is ActiveCampaign. What they do is email marketing that targets people properly. And so there’s a company called Teton Sports. They do high quality equipment for all things outdoors. And they were really killing it on social media. I mean, we’re talking about social media is really where you get excited about getting more views, getting people to share. But what they wanted was a more targeted way to reach specific people because a hiker has a different need than a hunter. But if you’re posting on Instagram, you can’t really target each one separately.

And so Teton Sports’ CMO did a lot of research on all these CRMs. And he found that ActiveCampaign provided more background information that would help him make meaningful email offers to his audience. That’s what they’re known for, targeted marketing that is actually recognizing who’s reading the messages. And you can mine data based on integrations with Shopify, Stripe, Storenvy, Gumroad, and so many others. So you can really get a lot of information about your users is what he discovered. He said, “You know what? Let’s give this a shot.”

And so what ActiveCampaign allowed them to do was target specific audiences through custom forms, through link tracking based on what people are clicking on a site, through site traffic based on what people are doing on their site and tags. We all know this, right? When you’re on a smart website, it’s noticing what you’re doing. And if you have good email marketing software, it can take all that data and actually use it to customize email messages. So now when a customer submits a form, makes a purchase, asks for information, etc., all that’s going into ActiveCampaign and then it allows Teton Sports to target them properly. So now a hunter can get a different email than a hiker.

And as a result of this, ActiveCampaign help them scale their email marketing efforts without hefty price tags of other email, without the complication of other email software, and the simplicity that allows them to actually use all those features. And as a result Teton Sports 7X’d their email database and are getting bigger and bigger results all because of ActiveCampaign. If you’re out there and you want to do email marketing right, go check out That’s where they’re going to give you . . . well, they’re going to let you try their software for free. If you decide to sign up, they’ll give you a second month free. And then also they’ll do two free consultations with experts. You can actually use all these features properly.

And finally, if you use a bad email marketing software, they’re going to migrate you for free.

All right, Michael, this was an experiment in my advertising. Here’s my feedback. Number one, I really liked the story. Number two, I really feel that what she could have done better was given me a bigger win at the end, just to say, 7X the email list is not a big enough. It’s got to be more financial gain. And I think that we could have slimmed down the message. It’s a little long. What’s your feedback on that ad?

Michael: So you’re pretending to be a client now?

Andrew: No, I’m just thinking through. I want to do a good job for the advertiser. I think we did a good job. Actually, we need to now do a better job. And I think that the way to do a better job is we need to slim down the ad. That ran a little bit long. What’s your feedback on the way that I read that ad?

Michael: I think your pacing was great. And yeah, it was a little wordy. You know, I would slash it in half. I’m an editor. I have an advice that I would definitely make it whatever it was half of it. But I think you did great. Great examples and follow it up and wrap it up again. That was good.

Andrew: All right, thanks. You know what? That is the big thing. I have to keep getting people to edit down even further. And I have to do more editing myself. All right, let’s talk about Nude It. What was Nude It?

Michael: Nude It was a fictional iPhone app that is basically a revolutionary augmented reality app that when you launch it and you point your phone’s camera on anybody really anywhere, you can see them without their clothes on. This app supposedly removes your clothes in real time. And you can see everybody naked. So this was, again, a fantasy scenario.

Andrew: I’m going to describe the video first. I thought it was freaking brilliant. It’s just three guys, two of them are playing poker and waiting for the third guy to play poker. But what he’s doing is he’s picking up his new iPhone. This was back when the iPhone was just launched. He’s holding it up and he’s going, “What is this app?” And then he can actually start to see things like he sees through his shoes and sees his toes. So he points the camera out at his friends and they’re saying, “Come on, sit down. Sit down.” Meanwhile he’s got this mouth open because he’s looking at them without their shirts on and they go, “What are you doing? Come on, sit down.” Finally one of them grabs the phone away from him and sees the guy who originally held the phone naked because the app is showing the guy naked.

And this woman comes in and goes, “Guys are you going to tone it down?” And one of them holds up the camera looks at her and the camera just stays still on him as he’s holding up his iPhone pointing at her in disbelief of what he seeing on his phone which is presumably her naked through this app. And the whole thing is just carried through. There’s no indication that, “Ha-ha got you at the end.” There’s no, “This was just an app. My name is Michael. I’m trying to create viral videos.” No, you never give it away as far as I remember. It’s just there leaving people to go hunt down what this frickin’ app is.

Michael: Until today, every week I get requests for this app from my mainly it’s Middle Eastern countries. I could see by, you know, where this email originated and where they’re from and they said, “Please send me this app. I need it right now. I just saw your video somewhere.” It gets reposted all the time. It gets re-shared. It gets re-uploaded. So by now it’s millions and millions views. It’s all over platforms that didn’t exist at that time. And it’s amazing that it still works, that it’s still tricks people into thinking that this was real.

And I shot this with a kind of very, very cheap camera that I was shooting the screen on my phone, and then the people behind it. And just the way the trick was down, we rehearsed it and we synced everybody’s action. So it was really just a playback that you were seeing on the phone. But not knowing that as a viewer, it looks like holy moly, it really is removing people’s clothes off.

Andrew: And you just did this because you were frustrated of making bad videos or bad advertising offers that you were getting. And you said, “I want to make something good. That’s it.”

Michael: Good. And it’s entertainment, let’s call it that.

Andrew: There was no, at the end, “This was created by who is the bald guy. Come to my website. And I’ll create videos for you.” It was none of that.

Michael: It was not. But I did relink people to my blog at that time. I said, “If you want to download it, go to my blog,” which that was the biggest message. And actually I got a huge, huge amount of followers when it launched and Mashable pick that up. And Huffington Post wrote about it. And then it just kind of spiraled from there. What happened afterwards, actually, a few months later, somebody made the actual app and put it up on the iTunes Store, even called it the same name. I think it was $1.99 and it was a number one selling app in a number of Asian countries. And of course the app didn’t know what it was supposed to do what my video showed.

But he even used my video to promote the app, so he tricked people into it and he made a lot of money. This guy, he was based in Switzerland. And it was just like a very simple Photoshop layout. And you had to select if you’re for pointing it at a male or a female either white or African American. It’s kind of a very silly app. But a lot of people thought it was that app that my video promoted. And that’s then I learned a big lesson that I have to copyright. I have to trademark this somehow. And I need somebody who has a business sense and can turn this into a business and agency or some kind. And that’s when I kind of met my business partner at that time, which was in, I believe, this was in 2009, 2010, something like that. And from there [inaudible 00:24:45]

Andrew: How did you meet your cofounder.

Michael: Say it again?

Andrew: How did you meet your cofounder?

Michael: So that’s how we met him. He saw that video and he . . .

Andrew: Oh, that was it. He just saw that and he said, and so what . . . ?

Michael: He saw the video, he reached out to me right in here.

Andrew: What was his skill? What was he bringing to the table?

Michael: He was very skilled. He was very actually experienced. A few years older than I am. But his background was more scripted. He was a line producer at SNL and he’s done a bunch of stuff for movie studios.

Andrew: Oh, this is James Percelay an SNL Live producer. He saw Nude It. He reached out to you and he said, “Look, now you need to start to understand how this business works.” And one of the things that he told you to do is get celebrities to follow you on Twitter.

Michael: No, that was my idea too. No, no, this was all my thing.

Andrew: And so what he do?

Michael: No, so he became my business partner. We started an agency. But he was somebody and I use this phrase every single time, he was somebody who could open doors I couldn’t open. That’s my best way to describe why I . . . you know, to get somebody very specific to call and pitch an idea to. You know, I didn’t know how to do that. You know, I might have the greatest idea but if I can’t get through, if I can’t . . . I don’t have an agent, I don’t know have anybody that [inaudible 00:25:52]

Andrew: Could you give me an example? Because you’re not working with celebrities. It’s not like you were trying to reach them.

Michael: That is correct. But at this point now I have a huge portfolio of things I have done and people know who I am. But at that time I didn’t. But he was somebody who was very well connected and he helped us set up the first two clients that we had at Thinkmodo. That was all him [inaudible 00:26:10].

Andrew: Oh, really? Okay. One of your first two clients was HeadBlade who’s founder did an interview with me. HeadBlade is this blade that you can put on your fingers and then use to shave your head. You’re known, by the way, at whoisthebaldguy. You use HeadBlade?

Michael: I did a number of times. I was using it in for a while. But then I somehow spiraled back to my first original, you know, shaving device, which is just the basic Gillette razor. There’s just something about it that works.

Andrew: And was it you who came up with the idea to reach out to HeadBlade or James? Or how did that go about?

Michael: So I was communicating at that time with somebody who worked at HeadBlade. He was actually one of my fans to my blog and he saw my Nude It video, and we kind of stayed in touch. And then he reached out and said, “Listen, you guys are now starting a company I see. Hey, why don’t you do something for us? You know, we don’t have much money. We’re still kind of a startup. But listen, we want to see, you can prove yourself with this.” And that’s kind of how we saw it. You know, we took them opportunity. We only asked them to kind of cover our production costs just so we can break even and then show the world that we can do something really, really amazing.

So we created this shaving helmet, which was another one take recording similar to Nude It that was shot on iPhone. It was shot in somebody’s bathroom. And you can even see the person shooting it in the mirror reflection to eliminate any kind of doubt that there was like a big production company, you know, behind it. And it featured who are now very famous, the twins called Lucas brothers who have their own Netflix special. They’re standup comedians, but at that time they were nobody. They were I think driving a moving van.

And we found them through a Craigslist ad. They came in and we needed twins to do this trick where we put a helmet on somebody and the inventor while he’s talking about how it works, and there’s razors moving inside it and then 20 seconds later it takes it off and this person’s head is shaved while there was a switcheroo that we did with the twin brother. And that’s how we tricked everybody into thinking that this was a real device. And for people like me who shave their head on a daily basis, it was something very useful that can shave off literally 10 minutes on my morning routine.

Andrew: And the device you guys made, even though it didn’t work, it was just there to trick the viewer. You actually put the real blades in there. You put these little pads for the blade to go on within the helmet so that it could give the impression that was really shaving. You showed the battery that will connect it and powered it. You even showed where the shaving cream would spit out onto the person’s head, which is really well developed, really intricate. Was that you creating it back then?

Michael: Thank you. Yeah, it was. Somehow we came up with it and we teamed up with a really talented fabricator who was I want to call him artist because that’s really what he is, he’s an artist, and he can pull off anything. He designed on many of our mechanical and sometimes electronic props that we’ve used for many of our Thinkmodo projects. But he’s somebody we came to with this idea and said, “Listen, can you do this? Can you create a device that would be believable that looks like when you’re looking at it and moves there’s enough stuff that we seem that makes the viewer belief, ‘Okay, this really works?'”

And that’s what he did. He later on designed our selfie stick. There was a fully automated selfie stick we’ve done for another project. And he’s done many of these things later down the road. But for this particular project, we hired him to do the shaving helmet. And we made two prototypes, just in case one of them would break before our video shoot. And that was it. So it was really wonderful just like the Popinator and just like many other kind of fantasy gadgets that you might have thought at some point in your life but you never actually went to great lengths to make them.

Andrew: Do people actually believe that one too, that the shaving helmet existed?

Michael: Absolutely. There’s a case study on the website that you can see and everybody is picking it up. It’s like, “Holy moly, there’s such a thing like a shaving helmet. You put it on and 20 seconds later your head is shaved.”

Andrew: And that’s your goal. You’re kind of pranking the universe with the idea that they would go look for it. And then did your client, did HeadBlade get more sales? Did people go to their website?

Michael: So first of all, we crashed their website with our video. It just crashed. They were not ready for the traffic that we would send their way. And then their sales increased. And of course, also some demand for the shaving helmet itself, which didn’t exist. And then at some point, we clearly had to break the story. We had to tell, well, this was just the marketing kind of tool. But in a very fun way we started conversations about this razor blade company that we used their razors in the shaving the helmet.

So just like with the Popinator, just like many others, it was a fantasy gadget. We built it. We design it. And even though it wasn’t fully functioning, you know, the way it’s shown in the video, it started conversations. It got them, you know, a lot of buzz and it got them a lot of SEO kind of improvement for their site. It worked on many, many levels, not just U.S. but also internationally.

Andrew: And the way that they got attention was obviously it was their blades that were in the helmet, but also there was a link on YouTube underneath it directing people to their site. And the way that you then got your next batch of clients is, I’m looking at the description on the YouTube video, it says, “HeadBlade hired viral marketing agency, Thinkmodo,” and then there’s a link to your site to create an engaging and entertaining video to get people talking about head shaving. That’s the way that you then got the next batch of customers, right?

Michael: That is correct. Just like we’ve done with Popinator to create a viral video to talk about popcorn and how we can refresh and reinvent the way people eat popcorn. So that’s where we go with our mindset. That’s where we go with our thinking to say, “Okay, we’ve seen this for many, many years ever since this company, this product existed, what else can we do? What else can we do in a new fresh way but that’s also viral that really gets people talking about it and sharing the video? There’s got to be a hook. There’s got to be a way to kind of disrupt this and flip it and make it even if it’s just believable in terms of a hoax,” which is how we started. We no longer do hoaxes because they no longer work. But those you can call hoaxes because we tricked the viewer into thinking that something was real.

Andrew: And part of it is that the user is tricked and wants to believe it. And they want other people to tell them whether it’s true or not. And part of it is that we don’t talk about yogurt companies. We don’t talk about popcorn companies. We do talk about gadgets today. That’s capturing people’s imaginations. That’s where you start. All right, I want to talk about how you create your video and why your videos are better than some of the knockoffs. Why don’t we use as a hook for this in a way of understanding it the remake of “Carrie.” I think the new movie was called “You Will Know Her Name.” You guys . . .

Michael: It was just called “Carrie.” “You Will Know Her Name” was a tagline, but it was just called “Carrie.”

Andrew: Oh, there was a remake of “Carrie,” it was still called “Carrie”? Okay.

Michael: Called “Carrie.”

Andrew: Got it. Okay.

Michael: It was 2015.

Andrew: So there’s a new “Carrie” video. You guys did a piece for them. Can you describe what that is? No longer tricking the viewer now, what are you doing instead? How does that . . . What was going on there?

Michael: So we tap into what we’re best known for today, which is this super elaborate hidden camera pranks. So we trick people in a space, whether it’s outside in New York City or in a coffee shop like this one, into believing that they’re seeing something supernatural. And in this case, we had a girl who pretends to have telekinetic powers. The entire place was rigged. Then with their hand motion after a guy spills coffee on her laptop, she sends him up flying up a wall. Book starts flying and just tables and chairs are moving and it just becomes a very scary shit show. And that was probably till today is sort of the classic Thinkmodo video that we still get, you know, remembered as that, “Oh, my God, this was like the ultimate thing.” I mean, we’ve done everything right with that video. It’s a fantastic viral video.

Andrew: Because now it’s no longer a prank on me the viewer, it’s a prank on someone else that I’m in on and I get to watch. And now when the news covers it, they get to say this production company decided . . . Thinkmodo decided that they were going to do this thing. They talk about how you did it, how you goofed on people. They show your video and then they talk about how it fits in with the remake of “Carrie.”

Michael: That is correct. That’s exactly it. I also want to emphasize that it’s very important how we bridge what we just did, our video, to the thing that we’re promoting, whether it’s a product or service, or whatever it is. It’s important that that too make sense. So this was a girl who pretended to have telekinetic powers just like in the movie “Carrie.” But then in the end, when you listen to it, it says, “There’s other people out there like me, who can do what I can do.” This is something that Carrie just says in the movie. So we basically showed one of these potential peoples in this coffee shop and then bridged over to the movie. It was very clever. And then that does incredibly effective promotional for Sony’s picture.

Andrew: All right. I’m going to talk about my second sponsor. And again, I’m going to read one of our new writer’s work. The second sponsor is a company called Toptal. I’ve used them so much to hire a creative person. I now work with the finance person. And of course, they’re known for hiring phenomenal developers. But I’ve told everyone about that. So I hired a writer to tell me another story or give me another story to tell the audience. And so she wrote about Shariq Minhas. He was an engineer who led teams at Hotwire and Expedia. And together with his cofounder, they wanted to build something new in the travel space, a brand new startup.

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So he decided, “You know what? I’m actually going to try Toptal.” And the beauty about Toptal’s rigorous screening process is that, as a result, he didn’t have to spend a lot of time vetting candidates, researching them. Toptal had it all covered. He hired four Toptal developers and had success with all four of them. One of the developers is continuing to work with him for more than a year.

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And I think that one was a little bit better, Michael. What do you think?

Michael: That was great. That was really fantastic. This is not your first time doing it I can tell.

Andrew: You know what, though, I think that the ads are getting a little bit too Andrew-centric and repetitive because I don’t have . . . these guys at Toptal are buying a bunch of different ads for me. I don’t have 150 different stories to tell. So I said I want to tell stories. So I hired a writer. Let’s see how we’re going to do with that.

Michael: No, that makes sense. I don’t know what the kind of requirement is in terms of time that you have to cover. But this . . .

Andrew: That’s the other thing, Sachit sells these guys on 30 to 60 seconds. When I tell my story, I go on for four to five frickin’ minutes. No one wants to hear me talk for four to five frickin’ minutes about an advertiser. But if I like them, I can’t shut the fuck up.

Michael: And that’s good. That’s a good problem to have.

Andrew: I know. But, you know, it’s not a problem that the audience should be inflicted with. All right, let’s talk about Chobani. Chobani said, “You know what?” Or someone for Chobani said, “You know what, this prank thing makes a lot of sense. These guys over at Thinkmodo, they’ve popularized this thing. We can do that.” Right? And so what they do and why . . . I want to understand why they didn’t get it right to understand how you think and what you do that works.

So why don’t I describe what they did and then you tell me why they didn’t do it right. They started out by showing us somebody building a bear mask and a human being going inside the bear mask. And then they showed us how this person in a bear costume went around and freaked people out by just scaring them and how people were ogling this and were shocked and were taking video on their phone of this scary looking bear. And then at the very end of it, somebody placed a Chobani cup of yogurt in front of the bear. And that was it? What’s wrong with that? Or what’s different from the Thinkmodo, from the Michael approach?

Michael: So from what you described, actually very little, because you’re just describing it. The problem is in the way it was shot, the way it was edited, the way it was executed. It starts off with the very sort of classic Thinkmodo setup, I’m going to call it, where we show part of the prank setup so the viewer understands they’re in on it. They understand what goes into the elaborate kind of hidden camera prank that we’re about to see. And they the enjoy, you know, just seeing these people pranked. The problem with this particular video that you’re referencing is that it was overly produced. It was shot, you know, as a commercial. The music was also off. It just felt scripted. It felt scene setting.

You know, the energy was missing and also the reactions that were captured, a lot of them you can take were either staged. They were fake. If there are some of them that were real, they were not that impressive. They were not that entertaining to watch because this thing was just too obvious. This wasn’t something that, you know, invokes some kind of supernatural force or it wasn’t something extremely funny. It was just some guy in a bear costume standing on the corner. And that was all to it. The other problem with the video is that it doesn’t really build. You know, if you’ve watched our videos, they build. There’s other phases. It never stays flat. Even with this Carrie telekinetic coffee shop that we saw, it builds constantly, and you can almost want to hold your breath because . . .

Andrew: What is that building?

Michael: All right, building is that there are different phases. You keep taking it up a notch. So we first show the setup, how we build the wall, the stunt, how it’s rehearsed, and then different people come in. We see montage of customers entering this coffee shop and then they witnessed this altercation. And then boom, she sends a guy up the wall.

Andrew: And they see just one. One person just sends a guy up the wall?

Michael: Yeah, and we show in different angles.

Andrew: And then that’s the end of it. This is the cool thing that these guys set up.

Michael: That’s not it. That’s the thing.

Andrew: But then there’s another.

Michael: And then we do another one. And so a bunch of people witnessed this thing. We showed it from different angles over and over again. Holy shit, they clearly did this over the course of several days. And then there’s a pause and all of a sudden, now she moves tables and chairs. Holy moly, now we just took it up to a whole nother level. And then look, fuck it, let’s take it up one more notch. And all of a sudden books are flying off the shelves. Frames are falling off the wall. She’s screaming. Things are breaking. You escalate it to climax. That’s very important, and that’s what these guys didn’t do. It just kind of stays flat from where it started. It’s just a bear moving around, opening his mouth, his jaw and that’s it.

Andrew: And he’s scaring people. They’re never one upping themselves within the video. And that’s what you want to do. You want to make the audience feel like, “I got it,” and then, “Oh, no, I didn’t get it. There’s another level. And then how far these people going to go until the whole thing falls apart?”

Michael: You have to build it because it’s going to fall flat very fast and especially if you go to a high noise level, let’s say there are screams and they start them off right away. And which is what they did here too. And then that’s it. There’s where else do you go from there? So you got to build it. You know, it takes 90 seconds maybe up to 2 minutes to tell something that becomes better, better, and better and bigger. And then at the end, “Wow, that was a great ad. And let me at least watch it again. Not only that, let me share with everybody I know.” And I just didn’t have that feeling. They just didn’t do it right.

Andrew: And the reality of watching a real actor versus a real person is different. I can’t really put my finger on it. But those actors were good. But it didn’t feel like . . . I don’t know, something didn’t feel natural. Something felt unnatural about it. Didn’t feel like, you know, when humans react, it’s never what you’d expect. I don’t know how to describe it. I’m trying.

Michael: You’re absolutely right. You’re definitely on the right path. Like so, for example, when I shoot hidden camera prank videos, I shoot them for the course of two full days. And the reason I do that is because I want to capture as many different reactions as possible, because different people react differently to different things. Some freeze, some scream, some run away, some laugh. And that’s what you want to see. Because as the viewer, I don’t know which one of these you are. So as a viewer, you want to be able to relate to one of these. And that’s where the kind of the research comes in that we put into our projects. We monitor them. We look at what people are writing on social media about our pranks when they share them and they say, “Hey, that guy at 0 to 35 seconds in, that’s me.” That’s how I would read. They would related to something in there.

Andrew: I think one of the reasons people don’t do this is you can give someone a heart attack. You could hurt someone as they’re trying to get away, right? They’re trying to get away from this woman and they fall. We’re in a world where we give people trigger warnings before a podcast. And so you’re not giving anyone a trigger warning. What if somebody has this fear? Is there any issue with that liability?

Michael: That’s a great question. We get asked a lot. And so the one thing I can say, without revealing too much, is that what you see in the video in the final edit, by the way, I edited all these Thinkmodo videos is that you there’s a lot of stuff you don’t see. There’s a lot of reactions that didn’t make the cut because they were either not good, people are not impressed, or people didn’t care at all. But there’s also it’s a much more controlled environment than what it really looks like in the video. So in the video in the editing especially, I make it look like it all went rogue, a lot more out of control than what it really was. And there was sometimes a vetting process that we have with some more IPAs where sometimes they approach people we’re about to prank just to get from them how they might react or if there are somebody who they think might get a heart attack, which is something you’ve just mentioned. Yeah, that certainly was a concern. [inaudible 00:43:52] Thinkmodo bad things happen . . .

Andrew: So you’re watching who’s coming in, you get a sense, do we want them . . .

Michael: Exactly. But it never happened. The reactions are always real. The people who walk in have never any idea of what they were going to witness. But they have already been met. Somebody already just spoke to them in line while they were waiting for the coffee and now we have a sense, “Okay, this is good or this lady might give us a really good reactions. Let’s call it . . . ”

Andrew: What do you charge for something like that?

Michael: We don’t charge.

Andrew: No. For creating the video.

Michael: Oh, for creating the video?

Andrew: Coming up with the concept, the whole thing.

Michael: So now my price tag is around 300,000 to 500,000 for any camera prank of that scale that I’m talking about.

Andrew: And 60,000, 70,000 goes into just the production?

Michael: More than that.

Andrew: Really?

Michael: Yeah, yeah. It also depends on what kind of prop I have to create. So for example, another video that I made was the Hum Rider. There was a car that you push a button then it raises up. I can drive over traffic in case you ever stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. That car itself costs 350,000 just to build.

Andrew: So it’s 300,00 to 500,000 plus the cost of producing?

Michael: So I’m giving you a comfortable range right now. Sort of like a general range. There are things I’ve done for a million bucks. There are other things that I’ve for 200,000.

Andrew: What’s your profit on something like that?

Michael: Say again?

Andrew: What’s your profit on something like that on a shoot?

Michael: My profit is several 100,000. You know, it depends.

Andrew: And you what? Here’s the thing that because you invest so much time and money into these shoots, that becomes news too. So there was one that you did for “Spiderman Homecoming” I think was the name of the movie where people are in a Starbucks drinking their coffee and then Spiderman comes from the ceiling and grabs it. And I thought, “Well, that’s a nice cheap one.” So yeah, you do have to spend money on the costume, but that’s it. And then I saw the news stories on it that talk . . . that showed it and then they said, “These people had to create a whole new ceiling. They had to create a whole new experience,” right? And I thought, “Oh, yeah, they are.” And really Thinkmodo was spending a lot of money on this.

Michael: There’s a lot that goes into that. And that becomes newsworthy. It becomes part of the new stories.

Andrew: Right. Yeah.

Michael: That this is what it took to pull it off. There’s so many behind the scenes. There’s so many people you never get to see because they’re in the background hiding. They are for safety reasons. There are stunt people . . . and the thing for “Spiderman Homecoming,” that was really fantastic . . .

Andrew: You hit on something big. It’s so hard to hit on something big. Thinkmodo finally a good name, big reputation. A model that works even when you’re getting copied. It feels like shoddy imitations. And you can keep upping yourselves and still you don’t want to take on more clients. And if you have two companies that are competitive, you say, “No,” right? You want to limit yourself to what?

Michael: Not more clients but more people to hire. We didn’t want to grow a team. If you’re talking about scalability.

Andrew: Yes. That’s why you didn’t take on more clients because you said, “I don’t want a big team.” Why don’t you want a big team? Why not look around and say, “Look, 100 people work for me, 500 people work for me.” The whole thing. I just met a guy at the airport the other day, longtime friend, I asked him how are things are going and he goes, “We’re up to 100 people now.” I go, “Interesting.” Interesting it shows size, but also interesting that that’s the metric that he’s using for success.

Michael: And so it’s a great question.

Andrew: And you don’t like it. Why not?

Michael: Because we’re going to lose control of creativity. We’re going to lose creative control . . .

Andrew: And you care more about creativity than owning a better house? Like right now you’re on the third floor of your house. Really?

Michael: Yeah, I’m in my home office right now. I do care about the batting average. You know, I care about the success rate when I measure it by the number of videos that are successful, you know, and that is in the 90% range that we’ve done over the years. And our standards for measuring this are very high just so you know.

Andrew: Where do you live?

Michael: You know, how many of view something get it’s just one way to . . . .

Andrew: No. I mean, what city do you live in?

Michael: Oh, I live in Pelham, New York, which is in Westchester County.

Andrew: So in New York, you don’t watch these people who are driving . . . they’re not driving, they’re being driven. You don’t, you don’t say I want that? You don’t say I want to send my kids on bigger vacations? You blowing it off. That’s not it. You don’t want to be able to say . . . see me at the airport to go, “Andrew, we’re up to 250. Twice as big.” And then so I’m your friend. No?

Michael: I want to like what I do. And I’m afraid I’m going to stop liking it if other people get hired. If more people get hired, even if I train them and I supervise the whole everything. But in the end, it’s no longer my work. It’s no longer me, hands on, you know, creating, directing this, editing this. Then it just becomes something else that I’m afraid that it’s just not going to be authentic anymore.

Andrew: Did it get to that point where you were starting to see that this wasn’t fun, it was actually becoming a management role instead of a creative role?

Michael: I’m not a good manager. So that’s certainly, yeah.

Andrew: Was there a time where you got to that point where you said, “I’m managing and I’m not good at it and I don’t love it?”

Michael: Yeah, there was. We try different things. We tried even working with a different production company. If there’s some way to outsource what we do so we can take on more clients, because the project can take up to three months to create from ideation to production to launch to everything. And it’s a lot of lot of work for a company of two people or at least three people when stooped Thinkmodo. Yeah, it’s just something that I feel uncomfortable.

Andrew: So you tried it and it didn’t work. When you tried hiring a production company, what happened there?

Michael: You give control to somebody else and it’s no longer your vision. That was too hard for me.

Andrew: And what do they do? What do they do that was different from what you usually would do?

Michael: So it a stop motion project that we’ve done. It was these people in toilets that were moved through . . .

Andrew: I saw it. This was for Namecheap. This was around net neutrality. Namecheap was trying to show that they support, that they want net neutrality, and they were trying to get people to take action. They hired you guys. So you hired a production company. You said, “Look, I’m not going to do stop motion.” What did they do that was different from what you would do?

Michael: So they have to take over. They have to direct. We can only go that far in terms of creative sort of laying it out, you know, what it is that we have in our mind and then they sort of do it. They execute it. And while they’ve done an amazing job, they’ve done a really fantastic job in what they think is right, there was a reason why this thing didn’t go as viral as we thought. It didn’t perform as well as we thought.

Andrew: What did they do? So the hook with that one was people sitting on the toilet and they’re on their phones and their toilets are moving and like using stop motion. And I think what was the goal behind that? It was like, “We’re supposed to do what with the toilet?” What was the reference to the toilet?

Michael: So don’t flush our rights away.

Andrew: Don’t flush our rights away.

Michael: That was the song that was actually created. So this was actually a music video. This was a music video to a song that we wrote and we had someone perform it and then we managed the visuals to the lyrics. And the idea was don’t flush our rights away and, you know, keep net neutrality because we need it all of us. Otherwise you flush our rights down the toilet. And since it was an activism video, there were other problems for, there were other reasons why this didn’t work as well as we thought it would. But it was because it was a conflict between these very funny edge of visuals and the message we’re sending. And there was this really cute song and just the recipe was wrong and the ingredients were right, but the recipe was wrong. And part of it was . . . but this was a project where I gave the production away to someone else.

Andrew: And you’re saying if you are on the ground, you could have found a different approach to it.

Michael: So I was there. I was there in the shoot. But again, there was another director directing the crew. I wasn’t actually directly the shoot.

Andrew: So what I’m trying to get at is what would you have done differently if it was you versus another director?

Michael: It just would have been a different project. It would be different visuals. It would be different . . .

Andrew: [inaudible 00:51:04]

Michael: It just would be different. It’s hard to describe how I would . . .

Andrew: It just would’ve been different. Got it. And that one didn’t work. Does the client still pay even if it doesn’t go viral even if it doesn’t become a thing?

Michael: So I’m giving you one of the 10% that didn’t . . . not that it didn’t work, they underperform based on our standards. You know, we still got coverage. We still got picked up in the media and stuff like that, but it just wasn’t up to Thinkmodo standards. Yes, the client absolutely pays. Every client goes into the deal knowing that we can’t guarantee one single view and that is . . .

Andrew: But you feel really bad about it.

Michael: I feel bad about it because they underperformed. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So this was one of the . . .

Andrew: And when you feel bad about it what happens to you? How do you think about it? Do you think, “Ah, I can’t believe I took their money,” or, “I can’t believe I put this out,” or, “It’s never going to work,” or what? What’s your inner chatter around that?

Michael: My inner chatter is just a lesson learned. Let’s never do this again. I mean, I certainly feel bad. We have a conversation with the client that, you know, just happens. It happens with every other agency that they . . . I mean, shit. I read about a huge mega million dollar campaigns that are backfiring for Nike or Pepsi or whatever. So, you know, it’s part of the business and you’re just not always 100% right and . . .

Andrew: And you don’t think about. You say lesson learned and move on.

Michael: t hurts at that time and then you . . . let’s move on.

Andrew: When it hurts, how does it feel? For me it’s like when the interview doesn’t work I go, “I didn’t direct them clearly enough. Why am I not directing them? They’re not here just to be interviewed. They’re here to be guided. I should have interrupted them in that first question. Like the first question needs to be stronger.” I go through that in my head of all the things I should have done. What is it for you?

Michael: I reevaluate. I sit back, clear my mind, and I just kind of try to reexamine what went wrong, you know, why didn’t this work? Was the timing right? Was the messaging right? What’s up here? And this one, was it very different from everything else we’ve done? I’m glad we tried it. I’m glad we stepped outside of the comfort zone. We tried to stop motion execution. You know, it was good that we tried something new but we very quickly realized that this is just not the right aesthetic. This is just not the right activism kind of messaging that we want to do and let’s go back to what we’re really good at, which is the hidden camera pranks or this fantasy gadget scenarios and let’s keep going with that and then always work. Always.

Andrew: So you finally had this company that worked, $5 to $10 million. You’re getting creative control. You have clients who get you. Why leave? My sense is it’s probably a cofounder problem. You and your cofounder couldn’t agree on a direction and you said, “You know what? Let’s just disband it. We’ll each go our own way.” Am I right about that?

Michael: If that would have been the case, then we would have closed it many years ago. You know, the fact that we did this for eight years and we did it very successful. And even the last project that we exited after which was a karate prank for “Cobra Kai,” season one of “Cobra Kai” on YouTube premium, which just literally this weekend crossed 100 million views on Facebook. That kind of tells you that we didn’t leave it because of what we were doing stop working. That’s proof that it was actually we left on high.

But we left because we just felt that after eight years of doing this particular type of marketing, this particular type of content, we want to do different things with it that we have been keeping on the back burner for years because we just couldn’t find the time. And one of my kind of incentives is that I want to start creating a long-form content for TV and digital basically making shows that take this and adapted to the show format what I’ve been doing for eight years, which is in hidden camera prank videos.

Andrew: I’m on your content on your website. Your new site is

Michael: That’s correct. That was my alias for many years.

Andrew: Sorry, you’ve had that for years. But this is where you’re operating from. When I’m on there I can see it’s a “A viral video agency.” That means that you’re still doing viral videos for clients. The stuff that we just talked about is still available. But you have a vision to do much more than that. And that is to take this stuff and turn it into like a show, right?

Michael: That is correct. So no longer using it as a branded entertainment for clients. But actually making and developing shows and producing shows for TV networks and then digital outlets like Facebook Watch, YouTube Premium and for some of the streaming clients, which is Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix and YouTube Premium. So I’m very interested in that because those were some of my clients in the last few years and I just see a perfect fit for that.

Because one of the problems we’ve been having at Thinkmodo is to show the impact of our viral marketing videos for example a movie we’re doing and we’re promoting, because there was a big disconnect between, you know, creating a viral video that’s online that you watch either on your desktop or your phone. But then there is a disconnect because you have to then go into your car, drive to the movie theater and watch the movie there because it doesn’t come out officially. You know, so we wanted to do something that lives in the same space that we live on and that’s where we saw the biggest connection.

Andrew: So imagine something like what you did for “Cobra Kai.” You create some viral video on YouTube and Facebook, somebody sees it and immediately goes to click and see the actual show. And then if they don’t have a membership with YouTube, then they have to up and buy that, right?

Michael: Yeah. There’s a free trial that YouTube still offers to every new customer. But yeah. And there we saw a big impact. And the client would see it too. They call us and be like, “This is fantastic what you just did because this is exactly what we wanted.” So that conversation, you know, from what we did to the product, that connection, that hole is much, much smaller, it’s very minimal. And the impact is much bigger than promoting a brand that is selling their apparel, you know, in the store or a movie that we can only see in the theater. There’s just the real life disconnect.

Andrew: And James is doing something similar too. His LinkedIn profile says viral architect at new agency announcing soon and what he’s saying he wants to do is innovate new forms of branded viral content, similar to what you guys are doing, but just different enough that it wasn’t a good fit for you guys to continue.

Michael: We both have different ideas, different things that we want to try. And that’s certainly something that he wants to get into. So, you know, I’m sure whatever he does, it’s going to be great. He’s a fantastic, fantastic creative partner with a lot of skills and resources and experience.

Andrew: And you guys are still friends? Will you have a beer together?

Michael: It’s been a while since we saw each other, but we left on good terms. And again, I don’t want anybody to think that there was something that broke us apart because something didn’t work. It’s just not how it happened.

Andrew: Okay. All right. When do we find out when a new show is coming up? How long does this take?

Michael: Soon. I’ll be making some announcements soon. I’m working with a production company based in L.A. and a producing partner based in L.A. on some of the long-form content. And then I’m also at the same time working for the viral video side with clients for projects that unfortunately aren’t launching this year. You have to wait a little bit until next year. But I do like that time frame that it’s longer than something super short. We don’t have to rush and not sprint.

Andrew: You know, I’ve been watching Casey Neistat. He says, “Look, it took me a while to finally get an HBO show. And the nice thing about being on HBO is everyone feels that it’s more respectable than to being online. But it takes forever to publish. And I give up some of my control.” And now he likes YouTube videos because he doesn’t have to wait for anyone. But I guess you like the extra time because you want more setup. I’m looking at a screenshot of this car that you created that goes over traffic. You want to be able to build stuff like that. That doesn’t happen overnight.

Michael: Yeah. And especially if I rely on fabricators and vendors that create these very custom, very unique prototypes for us. They need their own time. They need to test things because there’s a reason this thing doesn’t exist that we have to order materials where there’s a testing phase. There’s a building phase. There’s an engineering phase. There’s a design phase. There’s all kinds of stuff and that is out of my hands. So I have to give those guys that proper time that they need. I can’t just agree to something go, “Oh, yeah, let’s launch in a month.” Well, that’s something . . .

Andrew: And this is the type of thing that you love. I get that. I see it. I’m shocked. But you’re just saying, “You know what, Andrew, I want to sell more and this guy is keeping me back.” But that’s not who you are. What you are is the person wanted to create, who wanted to have big audiences love your stuff. Your dad was an actor too, right?

Michael: That is correct, yeah. I kind of grew up as a son of an actor who was very famous in Slovakia at that time, which was a communism country, and so we had some of his famous colleagues over for Sunday brunch. So I was kind of the popular kid in my little town where I grew up.

Andrew: Because everyone knew your dad. Your dad was Jozef.

Michael: Yeah. He was on TV. He was TV shows. I would watch him on children TV and that’s kind of something I want to do. I want to create shows for kids.

Andrew: I feel like you aspire to be like your dad?

Michael: Yes, the opposite way which is he was in front of the camera. He was an actor, and I want to be behind the camera. I don’t care [inaudible 00:59:28] front. So I want to flip it. I want to be the kind of the creator behind it and doing cool stuff. Versus for him he wanted to . . . he was an actor and he performed roles and he took on characters. That was different.

Andrew: You know, I see his stuff on Amazon I guess he wrote a couple of books too, right?

Michael: Yeah. He’s getting into some children books that I’m actually reading to my own kids right now. It’s “Happy Toby” it’s called. He started the series. He now has that time to get into it. I think he’s working on the third book now. So he can’t stop that creative kind of soul in him and he just got keep doing and expressing himself, which is great, which is really wonderful.

Andrew: Like father like son. I’m glad to hear your story. I’m glad to see how well you’re doing. You blew my mind with how well you were doing frankly when I kept reading all the stuff. I also have a research. Now I have two different researchers looking into you. It’s every guest. One that researches before my producer gets on a call with you. And largely it’s to weed out people who are not a good fit. We do some research, we realize, “Hey, you know what? This guy is full of puffery. Let’s just nicely say no.”

But the benefit is I get to see a little bit about your dad and then the producer gets all prepared. And then I get more from you and all that research said, “This is a guy who’s willing to give up money. He’s not doing well financially because he cares about art. It’s going to be interesting to see how he does his art and how he grows.” And he’ll tell me that he’s not doing well. And then you blew my mind with the revenue, $5 to $10 million. Really solid revenue and your stuff is just, I was going to say beautiful, it’s not beautiful, it’s like authentic. It feels authentic. It feels like I make it to some degree. And then also . . .

Michael: I want to make a statement that I didn’t pay you for saying this. I just want to make a statement to the people who are listening.

Andrew: My people know I’m an asshole. They know as much as I also think that it’s nice that you’re being creative, that I wish you would make even more money because it would make it even better Mixergy story. But I’m glad . . .

Michael: And I’m always open to trying new things. And even new clients are kind of afraid to come to me because they think that they might not have the right budget or whatever. So I always encourage, “Listen, just shoot me an email. Let me know. Let me take a look at what you’ve got. And maybe there is a viral video in there we can produce for less and still do something cool and effective. It doesn’t need to be a half a million dollar budget so you just never know.”

Andrew: For anyone who wants to go check out your work, I highly recommend they check out and then start to look at the YouTube videos. Man, they’re just really good. Thanks so much for doing this, Michael. I appreciate it.

Michael: Thank you. Thanks for having me over. This was really fun.

Andrew: And I want to thank my two sponsors for making this happen. The first is going to make your email and all online marketing make it strong, make it effective by making a targeted towards the individual based on what your site and what you will know about them. It’s called ActiveCampaign. Check them out at And the second will help you hire phenomenal developers really at a reasonable price, And everyone else, thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, everyone.

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.