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Here’s the program.
Andrew Warner: Hey, everyone. It’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How can a blogger parlay his profits and fame into a collection of businesses? Joining me is Timothy Sykes. The last time he was on Mixergy he announced that his 2009 blog revenues were over a million dollars. Today, he’ll announce his 2010 revenues for the very first time, and he’ll talk about the successes and setbacks he experienced as he used his blog to build a business that includes Investimonials and Profit.ly.
Tim, welcome to Mixergy, again.
Tim Sykes: Thanks for having me again.
Andrew Warner: So, never announced it before, announce for the very first time, what were your 2010 revenues?
Tim: So total, in 2010, we did a little over $1.3 million. Out of that about $1.1 million was profit. So it’s a very high-margin profit business. The only reason why I talk about it, you know most of the time people don’t want to talk about money, but I like teaching and I like being transparent. So it goes with my whole theme.
Andrew: I was actually kicking myself after our last interview for not asking you about the expenses. So now you’re saying that your expenses are only $200,000 on $1.3 million in revenue?
Tim: Roughly, we still have to file our tax returns, but this is basically what it is. It’s just my parents, my mom ships out DVDs, my dad handles the accounting and customer support, and I focus on the content. We have a whole bunch of contractors. Yeah, it’s 80% to 85% margins. It’s nice.
Andrew: What about affiliate commissions, are those included in that?
Tim: I mean, I’m so bad with affiliates. I have all these sales and I purposely don’t include affiliates because then that would hurt my profit margins. There’s, I think affiliate sales total we did, like, maybe $50,000. It’s not much. Affiliate commissions out of the $50,000 are like $20,000 or $30,000.
Andrew: Okay. And for people that don’t know, what kind of products are you selling?
Tim: I sell instructional DVDs, newsletters, private coaching, and seminars. It’s all focused around the stock market. All of this was because I was up 55% my trading in 2010 after 141% in 2009. Every trade is detailed. It’s not like I’m just selling these products like some infomercial jackass. I’m actually doing the trading. I might have made a lot of money, and it sounds all rosy but I’m also working literally every single day, 16 to 17 hour days no matter where I am. I also visited 14 countries in 2010. I have my plate full.
Andrew: Yep, today’s Martin Luther King Day. My whole office is empty, reception is dark, you and I are here. You’re sitting here for an hour long grilling on Mixergy. I know that you are working all the time.
Tim: I have a dream. I have a dream. I’m doing a two hour interview.
Andrew: You know what I’m wondering is this. You’ve got $1.3 million in revenue coming in from your blog. Why not focus only on the blog? Why bother creating any side businesses?
Tim: It’s kind of interesting. I didn’t intend to create other websites. Given the numbers, I probably shouldn’t but blogging is not a scalable business. I can only sell so many DVDs. I can only give so many private coachings. These other websites, I think I’ve learned a thing or two on the Internet where I get all these people to my site. Investimonials is just like Yelp for finance. You just leave reviews. It operates on its own. Profit.ly, I’m already reporting my trade, so Profit.ly is just a place where you can report trades. All of this stuff is happening naturally. I’m just creating websites to capture it. It’s kind of like, you know, like MacDonald’s, they started out as just a restaurant, but now they’re like the largest potato farmers because they serve so many French fries. It’s the same kind of thinking and it also helps my existing business. Obviously, the biggest thing is that it’s scalable. Most people who start Internet businesses they’re not in this to make a million dollars per year. A million dollars per year is nice, but they’re in it to go big so that after three or five years they don’t ever have to work again. I’m already rich. I’ve had too much money for too long. So I’m not interested in making a million dollars a year. I think even if I made $20 million, I wouldn’t stop working. But it’s about growing something that could be huge rather than just selling a few DVDs.
Andrew: Okay. Yeah, I could see that TimothySykes.com is never going to be a business that you can leave to somebody else and trust them to run for a month, two months, a year. Where Profit.ly and Investimonials.com, other people can run them and you can just help direct them. That’s the vision there.
Tim: Yeah, I mean, help direct them and I like producing the ideas. The day-to-day operations, I leave that to my dad. He’s multi-tasking. He’s doing a lot of this stuff. Yeah, but also TimothySykes is focused on short selling penny stocks, which is like a very small niche strategy. Most people don’t want to short sell. Most people don’t want to trade penny stocks. Everybody wants to leave reviews, it seems like. We already have 12,000 reviews in the first year of Investimonials. We have a ways to go, but eventually, hopefully, we can build it like Yelp.
Andrew: Why not grow with TimothySykes.com to cover non-penny stocks or to focus on mainstream stock market analysis?
Tim: Before I really got into focusing on my niche, which is short selling penny stocks, I did write for MSN Money, AOL, the Street.com, and I tried writing about the stocks that they liked to talk about, like Cisco and Sirius Satellite Radio. I just didn’t enjoy it. There’s all these BS articles in finance like Five Stocks to Buy for Father’s Day. You’re like, this company makes ties, this company makes wine, my dad likes wine. It’s like, just kill me. So I really wanted to focus on something that I have a proven success and track record and experience in, which is my weird little strategy that no one really wants to know about except until I say and explain my success and how it’s replicable. If you’re just talking about normal stuff that you’re not an expert in, you kind of dilute your brand. I was getting paid $300 per Street.com article, which was nice. But I had some good calls and some bad calls, it wasn’t as good. If you’re going to just do stuff for a few hundred or a few thousand or even a few hundred of thousands of dollars, you kind of are selling out and that’s not cool.
Andrew: What about this and I’ll get to the new businesses in a moment, but the other thing I was curious about is, you’re a good profitable blogger. Why not teach others how to do it? That seems to be the road that a lot of bloggers who do well take.
Tim: That is one of my upcoming websties. Again, it’s just an offshoot. Later, in 2011 maybe in 2012, I’m writing two books. One is a strategy, how to turn $12,000 into $100,000 using my stock trading strategy, which I did in two years. Then also how I made $3 million as a blogger in the past three years, step-by-step because there are a lot of mistakes. That’s another offshoot, but it’s not priority because I’m still learning. That story keeps continuing. I’ve already turned $12,000 into a $100,000 in stock trading, so I’m currently writing that book. The next book is this book about, it’s going to be called “Blog Millionaire.” It’s how anybody can do this, anybody who’s an expert in whatever field you want. Obviously, the money’s different if you’re going to be a plumber versus a stock trader versus like a sex phone operator. If you’re passionate and you’re an expert, I think there’s a lot of money to be made. Hopefully, I can teach through experience just as always.
Andrew: I would love to have you come back here and just do a session on that. For now, maybe you can give us one or two tips. You’re watching other people blog. You know from experience what it takes. What are people doing wrong? What advice would give other bloggers?
Tim: Yeah, a lot of people just write from the heart. They’re not thinking about, they’re not meticulously planning blog posts for a specific reason. A lot of my blog posts and I get crap for this from finance bloggers, which are just a joke because finance blogging is absolute shit. I don’t respect anybody. I’m sorry, no one’s earned the title of deserving respect yet. A lot of these people, they’re like, here’s my stock idea, and they write this long, just rant about a stock, whether good or bad, and there’s no purpose.
If you’re a blogger, and this is what I’ve actually started doing some consulting on the side for upcoming bloggers where, look, if you’re writing a blog post, sure include the emotion, that’s very good. But also have like a sign-up link, at the end or in the middle of my post I say, this lesson was taught in this DVD. Or you can learn more from these free video lessons. Every blog post directs people. We have like five different e-mail lists, five different e-mail providers. To get people to sign up to lists to learn, we have like 20 set video lessons on Screentoaster.com, which is down forever because they suck. That’s a mistake. When you choose a video provider, choose one that’s not going to crash. We also use Screener which is much better.
The blog posts need to serve a purpose. Promoting a product, promoting your e-mail list. Grow your e-mail list. That’s rule number one, and most people don’t even understand that. So they join like these blog networks where they give away their e-mail lists and they give away any right to contact these customers directly. That’s the biggest mistake. Blogging should be used for selling. People don’t get that because they’re information hippies, and they think information should be free. We’re all dancing around with little dandelions in our hair. It’s disgusting.
Andrew: Speaking of selling in every blog post, I was curious about your take on 50 Cent launching his own line of headphones and partnering with a penny stock. I said, “I’m going to go check out what Tim Sykes has to say.” I go to your site and I see a blog post that I’m looking at here in front of me, 287 words in this blog post, 240 of those words have nothing to do with 50 Cent, are just about selling DVDs and subscriptions. I’ll give people a taste of what it is.
“There are just a few hours left to take advantage of my 50% to 75% blow-out sale on all DVD guides and newsletters. No more extensions as my family and I have now caught up with e-mails and shipping to this ends tonight at midnight.” Then next paragraph is, “Check out the 50% to 75% blow-out sale. Act fast.” And then you say, “In the past few days, you might have heard about rapper 50 Cent,” and I said, yeah, I did, finally we’re getting into it. And then you say, ‘”Stay tuned you silver members and get excited as the stock breaks, as it will be great stock to trade soon.” Then you go on to tell us that silver members will get this by e-mail.
The whole thing is a sell. I’m not here to laugh at you. I’m here to learn from you. There’s some thinking behind this. What is that? Tell me.
Tim: The 50 Cent one, I probably should have played it better. I did too much selling with that story because the stock was just irrelevant. When the media picked it up, the stock had already gone from 10 to 50 cents within a minute. Then it came down to 24 cents, then it was hanging around 30 cents where it’s at. It really hasn’t budged since the media went crazy over it. I underestimated how popular of a story it would be. I basically told my members like this stock is irrelevant, the media’s going to take it and say, “Ha, ha 50 Cent, penny stock, ha, ha.” So, I did a lot of selling. It also happened during one of my sales. So, this is what we had been focusing on. Ignore the media hype surrounding penny stocks. The media has no idea how to handle penny stocks . . .
Andrew: The point that I’m making and the question that I’ve got is why is it that it’s 40 words about 50 Cent and 240 words about DVDs and subscriptions and so on? Is that you’re thinking that you’ll get traffic from search engines based on just the headline alone and before people get to any amount of content, you’ll be selling them? Is it because you figure people like me will just come to check out your thoughts and it doesn’t matter what information you have for us, you just want to sell based on that hook that happens to be relevant to the news?
Tim: Yeah, well, I have a ten minute video lesson on that stock for members only. The post that you’re reading is actually just a copy and pasted post from AWeber because I sent out, or from VisionBlast, because I sent out an e-mail blast to everybody using the 50 Cent hook to get them to open the e-mail and take advantage of the sale. That e-mail brought in $10,000. So, it was a good e-mail. But in reality, I do much better with stocks where there’s some movement, where there’s some way to profit. There’s no way to profit off the 50 Cent thing. So, I just used it as a hook just to get people to open an e-mail.
Andrew: That’s what I’m getting out. Okay. So, you just used 50 Cent as a hook to get people to open the e-mail and people like me to go over to your website and click on the headline, and then once we got in there, you said, “If you want this for real, you have to pay me. Here are tons of links that will take you to where you can buy. And if you don’t want this specific answer, my take on 50 Cent, you can also buy a DVD where you can learn the strategies that I use and come up with your own take.” That’s essentially what you’re doing.
Tim: A lot of people don’t like that approach. It pisses people off. You might have gotten turned off. Some other people might have, because they’re like, “Just tell us what you know about 50 Cent. Don’t freakin’ try and sell us.” But, I make this analogy quite a bit because I get a lot of poor people that e-mail me and they’re like, “Can I just have a free month or free year?” And you know, we manually input everybody. We tag everybody in our system. It’s a very well-defined tagging system. We use Highrise, which is nice, so that we know how much people have spent and their future spending likelihood. It’s getting actually a little more scientific, which is good because we’ve had none of that until the past few months.
I’m not interested in people that want free content, because, think about it, if you go to a steak house and you sit down and you order the steak, you eat and get the receipt. Then when the receipt comes you say, “You know what? Do you mind if I just don’t pay this time? It was a very good meal, but I just don’t have $50.” They would throw you out. They would call the cops on you. But on the Internet, people think you should give content away for free because you’re trying to attract them into the brand. I get, no matter what I do, I seem to get three, four or five thousand daily visitors. If I give away better content, if I do an e-mail blast, then I can monetize it.
That’s the only question. How well can I monetize my traffic? Now, that I’ve made about $3 million over three years, I’ve only had about 3 million visitors to my blog. So I’m making basically a dollar per person when they visit my blog. That’s pretty damn good.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s damn good. All right. Now I want to understand, you got this blog and you built it with software that’s free on the Internet, hosting the cost practically nothing. Basically, out of thin air you created this business that produces $1.3 million in revenue, $1 million plus in profits. Now, you get to that level. What do you do next? What’s the very first product that you said, “We’re going to make it into a business?”
Tim: It’s not like Timothy Sykes is ending. It’s just concurring businesses.
Andrew: Right. You’re parlaying it. You’re building on top of this another business and then maybe other business, other business for sure. I’m curious what’s the very first one? Was it Investimonials or was it Profit.ly?
Tim: Yeah, Investimonials, because I’m trying to capture customer reviews and testimonials. People are posting it in the comments section of a blog. People are e-mailing me. There was no easy way for me to keep track of all these reviews coming in. This was just when I had one DVD. Now I have 12 DVDs. I have four newsletters. I want people to review my Twitter feed. So we created Investimonials just to keep track of all my reviews, and then also reviews of my favorite websites and other commentators. So we have 9,000 products now on Investimonials. All financial, books, stuff like that and it’s all just like a user based review community so that we can see who’s full of shit and who’s not. We still haven’t really found a way to make money off of it. Affiliate marketing, financial products is very difficult unless you do these sleazy e-mail blasts that say, you turn a thousand into a million. I refuse to do that because those are, that’s the penny stock promotions that I bet against. I’m not so desperate, and I feel like I need to lure in greedy dumb people to buy products. Investimonials right now is just about capturing reviews and seeing which products are good versus which ones aren’t.
Andrew: Okay. So you have the idea. What’s the first thing that you do?
Tim: I hired some Indians. I spent about $8,000 building this terrible website. This was back in, I guess, September of ’09, and it took about three months. We got a TechCrunch article, which was nice. It was on Thanksgiving Day, 2009. Three months of work and it was a terrible Indian built website. I’m sorry Indians out there, but Ganesh is not happy with your work. It barely functioned. There were so many problems. When you’re building a new website, this is lesson number one, if you’re building a foundation and it’s shaky, everything else is going to crumble. I was very fortunate in December one of my subscribers, this guy Sam, he made like $50,000 on one of my picks. I did a blog post about him where he had a nice $50,000 Christmas bonus. Maybe it was $30,000. He was like, “You know what? Your website sucks. I like the idea of Investimonials. Let me help you out. Give me some equity.” I gave him some equity and he built . . .
Andrew: I’m sorry Tim. Let me pause right there because I want to understand what happened with the Indian programmers. A lot of us keep hearing that if you have a website that you want to build, just go hire outsourcers. They’ll build it for free. It’s a flat world and so on. But I’m hearing more and more experiences like yours. Why didn’t that work for you?
Tim: I cheaped it out. If you want to build a massive review website, there’s a reason why companies raise money to hire solid programmers to build solid things that don’t crash. Indians, and not to pick on any one race, but outsourcers at $10, $15, $20 an hour, they use code for different websites. It’s kind of like a junkyard. It’s like a scene from AI, where you have all these pieces trying to put together to create a site. It’s not very good, because when you use junk, other stuff comes. It’s kind of rusty. That’s the way the website was. That’s not good for a foundation. I would encourage everybody to, not like hire some big Madison Avenue firm, but I would say, “Build a solid foundation. If you’re going to build a business, invest in it. Don’t try to cheap out.” I’m a cheap Jew by nature. To get it clear, I’m not ripping on Indians. I rip on all races, because I don’t care about that stuff. But definitely plan and invest in something. If you’re building a website, it’s basically like real estate. What are you going to do if you’re in real estate, if you’re building a house? Are you going to use the cheapest wood that will probably break or crack in a storm? Or are you going to go with some nice wood? Think of that as your website.
Andrew: Can you give an example? What’s one thing that didn’t work right with this site?
Tim: It was just so buggy. Trying to create new apps on top of basic stuff. One category is Twitter reviews. We want to review financial people’s Twitter feeds. So I wanted to vote through Twitter, kind of like the 140 Characters Contest, where you can vote straight through it. With the Indians, we spent $8,000 on this basic website listing everything, and it’s like a massive database of products. Then I wanted to build this Twitter app into it. They’re like that’s another $10,000. I was like, “This is just one app.” It was because the whole architecture would have had to change, and we didn’t think about that at first. We didn’t have a set plan going in. We scrapped the Indian website. It was a total waste of $8,000 to $10,000, and luckily I had a subscriber who’s very competent and that’s where you see the current Investimonials. I didn’t pay him a dime, he just has equity. So I would definitely encourage people to take equity, maybe not straight up equity, because now he’s actually left because he wasn’t making any money. It wasn’t worth his time. A little equity and a little cash, get them invested in the project.
Andrew: I think one of the reasons that you can do it where other people couldn’t is you actually have an audience. I think most people start e-mailing me, maybe they’ll e-mail you and they say, “Do you know someone who can work for equity?” That doesn’t seem to work. That’s not the way to do it. How long did it take him to build the first version?
Tim: You got it. Sam, my new guy or now my ex-new guy? It took him about two or three months. I was pushing him pretty much every day, because we had already launched and we lost all our momentum from the TechCrunch article. TechCrunch article didn’t even get us anybody. This was interesting. I was all about getting TechCrunch. I was like we need to be on TechCrunch. And the article hit. Yes, it was Thanksgiving Day, but it was a different crowd. I mean, that’s a tech crowd. We needed a finance crowd. To my knowledge, there’s no one source of users that you can get anywhere in finance. Tech seems to have those kinds of things. If we were a tech review site and we were on TechCrunch, that would work. Sam got it finished basically by January, and it looks very nice and it works. There’s still a few kinks on the back end, but we can build on top of it, which is what we are currently doing with new subscribers. Now, I only work with subscribers, because we do barter deals. I make them money with my picks and my strategy. I do private coaching sessions with them. Stuff that I don’t mind giving. I love teaching in the first place. Now, they’re working on my website, so it’s a great relationships.
Andrew: The people working on your site aren’t outsourcers. They’re not full or part time employees. They’re fans who are getting paid in stock tips or getting paid in DVDs.
Tim: Yeah, I mean I pay them a little bit. On Investimonials now, I think in about a year, a little over a year, I’ve spent probably like $40,000 total. The site is bringing in five grand a month. It’s made, it’s gradually making back the 40 grand. So it’s not a huge success at all. It’s been a massive time waste actually, and that’s why I wanted to talk you about this, because I think that a lot bloggers out there or businesspeople that have had success in one area, they think that those rules apply to something else. The rules for TinothySykes.com and Investimonials.com are totally different. It’s very interesting.
Andrew: Like what, what’s different that you’ve learned?
Tim: For one, TimothySykes.com is a pay site, and Investimonials is all free. I thought that by making it free we would have a much greater audience and the potential would be much greater. No. I would encourage nobody to start a free site. I would say always start with a premium site and try and build that, because even if you completely mess up you still have a few paying customers. A free site, you have nothing. Everything takes double the time that you think it does to build a new app. We introduce lists on Investimonials. No one uses lists, even though they should. So we need to revamp the whole list feature, which took a month and a half to build. We have to make it more simple like Twitter. Then maybe people will use it. Even then, who cares if they use it? It’s a free site, there’s no business model. We have a few premium ads. We have few affiliates. But again, it’s five grand a month. It’s so difficult to build something. Whereas TimothySykes.com, I know I’m an expert in the field. I know what I’m giving people is unique. I know there’s a specific value. If I charge $50 a month, I know I can make people $500 or $5,000. That’s a good deal for them. That’s a good deal for me. There’s a value proposition.
Investimonials, people love it because you’re getting reviews on finance sites and finance products that you never had before. But it’s all free. Maybe we should have charged $10 a month from the start. We need to fund it. Then if we charge $10 a month with our 7,000 members, maybe we wouldn’t have 7,000 members, but we would have 1,000 and we’d be making 10 grand a month instead of 5, working our butt off trying to get little scrappy affiliate deals. So that’s something to think about. It’s counterintuitive.
Andrew: I see, to have a business model going into it and more specifically have a model that depends upon your users paying instead of trying to scale up free.
Tim: Yeah. I mean there’s a lot to be said for like TimothySykes.com is not scalable, but it’s still pulling in $1 million a year. I’m including all DVDs and trading and stuff like that. Whereas, Investimonials, trying to make a million dollars a year at this point, very difficult.
Andrew: What about getting users in there. The good part of free is that you should be able to get a lot of people into the site. How does that work out? At least that’s what people say.
Tim: Again, we have 7,000 members versus TimothySykes which only has 1,000 paying subscribers. I mean the million dollars is literally off a 1,000 paying subscribers. We hit a high of like 1,300. It’s come down to 900, and now it’s at 1,050 or 1,100. Basically, 1,000 members. Investimonials is seven times that, but it’s surprisingly difficult because even when we did a booth at the Traders Expo, we took out, we spent, that’s part of the $40,000 is we spent roughly $10,000 on a booth. Everyone, no one could understand what our business was. People have been so abused in finance by people selling their e-mail addresses and spam and selling them on products that they don’t need that they’re like, “Why is this site free?” That was our number one question at the booth. Being a free a site actually is a negative because people are like, “What’s the catch?” When I say, “Look, there’s no catch. We’re trying to do something good. We’ll figure out the business model later.” They don’t get it. It’s kind of interesting. Again, we should have charged.
Andrew: Wow, there are review sites for everything out there that are free and people kind of accept them. But I can see how in finance it might be different. What else did you learn?
Tim: I’m writing a whole book about what I learned. The Indians, one.
Andrew: Outsources in general are tough.
Tim: I like how you’re politically correct. That’s nice. Outsources are tough. A lot of it just the unwillingness of major media to cover a new startup. Like you said, there are review sites everywhere. There are no review sites for finance. There’s none. We are freakin’ unique. There’s a few websites that have little review sections, but in total, all of our competitors have about 2,000 reviews out there. We already have 12,000 reviews. So, we’re six times the entire space in finance. Yet, people don’t realize this because they don’t do the research that I do. Major media, aside from that TechCrunch article, we haven’t gotten anything, because they’re like review sites are a dime a dozen and who cares what normal people think. We want expert opinions. Perhaps, another thing that we should’ve done is hire some expert columnists. We haven’t hired anybody because I’m too busy with TimothySykes. The biggest lesson is be careful with how many businesses you start. Our friend in common, Neil Patel, when I asked him to invest in Investimonials at first, when I wasn’t sure what was going on, he was like, “I don’t invest with anybody with two businesses.” Now, I have Investimonials, Profit.ly, and TimothySykes and I’ve got two books and three DVDs and three more websites. I’m going anti-Neil Patel, and perhaps Neil Patel is right, he is wise.
Andrew: On the TimothySykes.com site though, you can come out with lots of different products and manage them and be on top of them in addition to all the free stuff you give out. Why? Why can you do a weekly video chat with your audience or weekly video class with your audience and run that membership e-mail that people count on it, are paying to get and . Run the DVDs and all those products? How can you manage all that?
Tim: How? I just work my ass off. That’s . . .
Andrew: But you’re working your ass off there and you’re working your ass off on Investimonials. There’s something about a separate product that’s a website like Investimonials that makes it hard to balance in addition to everything else that you’re doing, whereas if you offered to do a paid class once a week, you’d be able to be on top of that.
Tim: Yeah, you don’t know where your limit is. I’m a no limits soldier. I do have partners on Investimonials and Profit.ly, which is nice. They do some of the work. TimothySykes, I have no partners. I’ve tried to take on a few guest commentators to do stuff, but I don’t know how good their content is. I can’t give my audience over. It’s my name on the website. I tried to actually go . . . I own PennyStocking.com. I was going to go use that, but then Neil Patel SEO expert said no, you can’t lose all of your . . . I mean I have 4,000 blog posts on TimothySykes. I’m destined to be a one-man operation on that forever, which is okay. It’s not the end of the world. But I would definitely suggest having partners take on some of the load. Investimonials, we have interns. This is a great, not a mistake, this is actually one thing that I’ve done right where every few months I do a blog post where I say, “Call for interns.” We get like 80 applications each time. So roughly 300 applications per year. We take on about 50 of them. About 40 of them fall off the face of the earth because I work them too much or whatever. We have a solid set of about eight interns who do a ton of work. If you look on Twitter, there’s a guy named, the Twitter name is IVIntern, and he’s just going around tweeting to every single financial product maker on Investimonials saying here’s your link. We’re tweeting them and we’ve gotten some people that way. So it’s not just me doing everything. Investimonials, obviously, we’re still getting like 100 reviews a day, 75 to 100. The content is coming in and the SEO is actually increasing nicely. So it’s not like a total lost cause yet.
Andrew: Tell me about the interns. What do you have interns do?
Tim: A lot of them is just leg work with e-mailing people. Just as customers have problems with Investimonials being free, the advertisers or potential advertisers, product makers, they’re like, “What’s in it for me?” We’re saying look we can give you exposure. There’s no way for a financial firm, product maker, like a newsletter to get exposure really. Unless you write for the Street.com or StockTwits or MotleyFool, but then you have to give away content for free with, hopefully, at the end a little upsell button, like this guy, if you want to subscribe here. Investimonials is pure product exposure. We need to get that story out there. I have the interns contacting everybody. We also have interns for Profit.ly where you report your trades, so it’s just about contacting everybody. The interesting thing is the best way to make a relationship; form a relationship online is to meet them off line. When you meet somebody in person, something crystallizes. It’s really weird. Interns can’t do that, so I do that.
Andrew: Okay. What else, what else have you learned as you built Investimonials, and then I’ll move on to Profit.ly?
Tim: Yeah. I mean, mainly it’s just that it’s very difficult not to tag something. Everything works in tags these days. In finance everything is tagged by ticker. So we’re trying to make reviews, and I’m sure this works for other industries too like if you’re covering tech and you don’t tag something as Apple, it’s not going to get as many views. We’re screwed where we’re just giving product reviews and we’re not tagging it by ticker. We’re not real-time news. Everyone in finance is, oh the real-time web, I need real-time breaking information. Me, as a long-term trader knows that that’s bullshit, but that’s the way the web is set up.
Yahoo Finance, Google Finance, all of this stuff is tagged by ticker, and we have none of that. That’s a huge mistake. I specifically designed the site because I wanted it to be real, but there’s a fine line between being real, and if your business fails then you can’t be real. I would definitely suggest anybody starting a finance website or any other industry to use your industry’s tags. Play the game at first. You can be real later, once you’re big. Then you can say, “You know what? We don’t need any more real-time information.” But sometimes you have to sell out in the beginning, just like I did with MSN Money and AOL. It got my name out there. I got people, like, oh, this guy can actually write. He can actually research. I thought that was mistake to go to that. But from Investimonials, now looking back, I probably should’ve not burned all my relationships with these major financial networks and used them.
Andrew: Usually when I talk to you, you project so much confidence. Like you have never done anything wrong, usually when you’re sitting here. Now, you’re admitting a lot of failure, a lot of mistakes. Why and how does that affect your brand?
Tim: I’d hope that my brand is brutal honesty. A lot of people don’t get that because they just see the cocky success of TimothySykes.com. But I think that you have understand your ups and your downs. Because a year from now, I mean I’m not giving up on Investimonials, I’m not giving up on Profit.ly. We’re building some cool stuff, and I’ve learned from the past. I think that’s the key. Learning from past mistakes and it makes you stronger. Like my hedge fund didn’t do well. We lost over 35% over two years. There were rumors that I had lost everything. The hedge fund still finished up 2% year-over-year over four years, which is pathetic, but it’s still up. Investimonials isn’t making a ton of money, but it’s making a few thousand a month and it’s creating a whole nice review infrastructure for future products, which is nice. Even if I failed at something, I would still try and admit it because that’s what I’m trying to do here. My whole philosophy, and as you’ll see in my upcoming books and DVDs, it’s learning from everything. I know that’s not good for PR, like you’re not supposed to admit it.
Here’s a quick story. My best selling DVD day of all time was when TimothySykes.com early in the days, back in late ’07, launched. I got in this fight with Trader Monthly, which is a magazine. Randall Lane disinvited me from this party at the last second because he didn’t like how much attention I was getting basically. I went to the New York Post, I leaked the story. I said this is ridiculous because I was actually supposed to film a video segment for MSN Money. The New York Post is friends with Randall Lane, because they’re both publishers. I didn’t think about this at the time. I was just angry for being disinvited for the party and having my whole MSN Money video messed up and me looking like an idiot. So I leaked the story. The article ran very one-sided towards Trader Monthly. It said, “Party’s Over for Hedge Fund King.” I was never a hedge fund king. My hedge fund got to like $3 million. I was like a hedge fund tadpole. That would have been more accurate. This was a very popular story. I beat out Barbara Streisand for the most popular articles that week. Everyone recognized it. I sold like 100 DVDS. I brought in like nearly $30,000 worth of DVDs. I was like, “Woohoo, this is awesome!” My agent quit. I didn’t get more PR at all. I didn’t get anymore media appearances for like six months because everyone was like, “We don’t want to have this loser on.”
It’s very risky to admit failure and especially New York Post page six is, they’re going to distort everything. I didn’t know how to handle the media at that time. I don’t even think about what’s good or what’s bad anymore. I’m just trying to tell you how it is. Because as I’ve learned since the past three years, subscribers, students, reviewers, everyone just wants to hear the truth and it’s very rare to get it. So, yeah, I screwed up a lot.
Andrew: I’m surprised to hear you say that. I kind of feel that you’re the guy who I look to, who’s just cocky, who’s in your face. You called your audience idiots here last time. I said only a guy who thinks that he’s invincible can stand up and do that.
Tim: A lot of people misunderstand that. They think that I’m, that’s it’s all an act or that I’m like some marketing genius. But I really think that some of my audience or the majority of my audience are idiots. That’s not putting them down. That’s me being honest. If I said my audience was smart, then I would be lying to you. So I don’t want to lie to you. I know I say it maybe like in a funny way. People are like, “Oh my god, he really is a dick.” I have to tell the truth, and I think that’s what’s going to really do well in the future. Especially in Profit.ly and Investimonials, it’s all about being honest.
Andrew: What’s the point of doing an interview with me here today? Usually I imagine the point is, either the first interview when I was a nobody, it was just another reason to get a link over to your site. The second interview, I had a big audience, maybe some of them would end up buying, especially if you were outrageous. Now, you’re admitting failure. I’m trying to make this sound like here’s a guy who did really well with his blog, and now he’s going to do much better with his products even though he’s had some setbacks. You’re not doing that. What’s the point?
Tim: Well, what’s the failure? It’s cataloguing every up and down in this experience.
Andrew: What’s the outcome that you’re hoping for from this interview?
Tim: No outcome, it’s telling a story. It just gives me an opportunity to catalogue, and I’ll link back to this a year from now and I’ll say remember when Investimonials was only making $4,000 a month and there was no clear business model. Or maybe I’ll say this was, Investimonials was making $4,000 back in January 2011, now it’s losing $4,000 a month. Here’s the problems I messed up on in the past year. I don’t know where it goes. Just like I don’t know where TimothySykes.com goes. All I can do is catalogue and archive everything, and I think looking back students will be able to learn from that. That’s the beauty of it.
Andrew: All right. I scribbled down earlier to come back and ask you about the 7,000 people who are members of your site. To most people who don’t have a blog that’s doing a million a year, having a new site that has 7,000 members in it who are locked in as members, not just casual viewers, is impressive. How’d you get that?
Tim: The good news about Investimonials is that it’s, we have 9,000 products. I didn’t even think finance is that big. I thought that maybe at tops there would be like 4,000 products. I underestimated the industry size. That said, we’re using interns and myself to meet all of these different financial product makers, and when you meet, like somebody who owns a newsletter, we say, look in order to get you exposure, even if you’re not even a premium advertiser. We only have like a dozen premium advertisers. We have hundreds of non-premium advertisers. We say, look, get some reviews, get some exposure. They send out to their lists. By them sending out to their lists, it helps get us exposure. The interesting thing is 7,000 people is nothing. What are you going to do with 7,003 members of random people’s list, you know people that are interested in Forex and options and penny stocks and some people that don’t even know anything about finance, they just reviewed “Wall Street 2.” There are lots of different ways. It’s not that bad. It’s not that good. It’s learning. It’s a learning experience.
Andrew: It does seem that at every point you try to get people to register. I’m now on the site. The reason you’re screen went black right now and the reason mine did earlier is because I was killing bandwidth trying to go over to your site. Now that I’m on the site, I see the first thing is, I forgot what it’s called, but essentially it’s a pop-up that asks me to get to register and earn 20 IV bucks. If I try to leave feedback, I’m essentially required to register. If I’m trying to own my own page on your site where people could review me on Investimonials, I have to register. You’ve gotten really good at putting it in all over the place.
Tim: Yeah, we want people to register. You actually don’t have to own your own page. We have a suggest feature where, this is also what a lot of interns do, they do database work. We have this massive database now of people and products and we’re working on tagging everything. “Wall Street 2,” if you’re interested in that movie, then you’re interested in celebrities or crime. So we’re trying to actually create a backend here to see what people are really interested in and that could get interesting. You need pop-ups. You need to remind people to sign up, because otherwise they’re just going to visit your site. They’ll be like, oh, Investimonials, good idea. That’s not going to get them to sign up. Profit.ly actually was growing nicely where you can just report your trades. Now, we have a big yellow button that says join now for free, and our sign-ups have doubled just by saying, look, it’s free. Before we only had a click here to log in. We didn’t even have a sign-up button because it was so ghetto. Always have a sign-up button. Tell them if it’s free. Make it pop out of the page. Get them into your system somehow so that if you’re building a feature later, then you can go back and say look at this new feature, it’s awesome.
Andrew: Of all these registration techniques, what’s been the most effective?
Tim: That would make me into somebody who’s cold and calculating. Really I try everything. Twitter is a great platform to say, look get these 20 free videos, and I use a little bit.ly link, and I have a page that says here’s why you need these 20 free videos, and we get 10 people a day from that. Investimonials, I say here check out this review of Jim Kramer, what a balding piece of shit clown he is. Stuff like that, and people love that. Jim Kramer is very popular. You see what topics people are interested in. They want free video lessons. They want balding clown pieces of shit on TV. They want to review them, maybe not use those exact words. But you have to try everything. You don’t know who your audience is. My Twitter is my number one source of experimenting with different words and topics and concepts. It’s worked out great. Twitter also feeds into my Facebook. I have 8,000 friends on Twitter and like 5,000 Facebook friends, which is ridiculous. I’m at my max. I just paid some guy two grand to switch over all my Facebook friends to a freakin’ fan page, pathetic.
Andrew: You can do that? You can move people from your Facebook page to a fan page?
Tim: Yes, you can. This has been a problem for a while. I had like 2,000 pending friend requests, and everything I’ve read says that you have to do it manually. This one guy e-mailed me out of the blue. He says I’m a long-time fan. I checked him out our Highrise. He’s actually one of my subscribers. I was like cool, I know this guy. He’s not some random idiot off the Internet. He’s been paying me $50 a month for six months. He’s like here, I’ve got this cool new service. We just did it the other day. Now I have 7,000 fans on Facebook. I have to delete my friends. I don’t know how it works. It’s annoying. It’s a waste of time.
Andrew: That’s pretty cool. All right, Profit.ly where did that come from?
Tim: Just like me trying to keep track of all of my reviews, I have to keep track of all my trades. They’re never ending. As long as TimothySykes will be running, I’m always going to have trades and I’ll always have reviews. Profit.ly, specifically to post my trades and keep track of it all, because manually, Adora who use to work with me, we have a little table on the right-hand side of TimothySykes.com. We used to manually enter in the data every single time I did a new trade. From the very start of the blog I said, “Is there any way to automate this,” because sometimes I do five trades in a day. To manually enter, entry, exit, and link the blog post, it’s just time consuming. So Profit.ly was built by another one of my other subscribers who came to me. He’s just a programmer, Mike Moseri. I call him the Egyptian Magician. I’m Jewish and he’s Egyptian, so it’s kind of reverse slavery. I’m getting him back. I like to make fun of races. Don’t take it seriously.
He came to me and he said, “I love your stuff. I’m making money off your trades. How can we work together? Pitch me a few ideas.” I was, like woo, programmer who wants ideas. I jotted down all these different ideas. Keeping track of my trades and other traders’ trades is where it came. Actually, I’m going down to Miami, Miami Boca, for all of February and March. We’re going to work on Profit.ly 2.0. We have a whole backend where it’s going to make people better traders. Right now, all you can do is post your trades. You create a little track record. We have just under 3,000 people signed up, which has actually done nice. We learned a lot of things from Investimonials. Every time you make a trade or you post a trade on Profit.ly, the default option is to post to Twitter. Automatically, it’s viral. In Investimonials, we still don’t have that feature. We designed it wrong. Investimonials is in .net, that’s a big lesson. I can’t believe I didn’t mention it. Never design in .net. No one uses it. Microsoft sucks.
Andrew: How long did it take him to create the first version of Profit.ly? How long did it take Mike to work on that?
Tim: This is why I call him a magician. It was under a month. The site isn’t very pretty. It’s just based on Twitpic. We basically just copied their stuff. So, it’s a nice framework for us to get started. This is a good thing. We never had a clear business model there either. It was just like getting traffic. By the way, Investimonials, Profit.ly, and Timothy.Sykes all get the same traffic now. Despite Profit.ly being only six months old, Investimonials is a year, and TimothySykes three and a half years. These other websites have taken off traffic wise, but traffic means shit. Ads suck. Anyways, I get a little off. I have a lot of things going on.
Profit.ly right now is just a place to report your trades. There’s no backend. We’re working on a whole backend. It should be interesting to see. But I would highly recommend everyone just throwing stuff out there and seeing what works. If you’re experimenting like this, well, you’re basically speculating, okay, we think a lot of traders will want to post their trades and create a public track record. Be transparent and learn from it. Every time I make a trade I know I have to post it on Profit.ly because that’s my business model. I know that I have thousands of people watching me. I don’t want to f**k up, because if I mess up, I’m embarrassed. Just because I share everything doesn’t mean I don’t feel like an idiot sometimes.
This interview isn’t one of my proudest moments. I wanted to come on here and say Investimonials now has 1 million reviews, but I can’t say that. It is what it is. Just like with Profit.ly, you have to show your good trades and your bad trades. Right now we have it so that you can pick and chose whatever trades you want to show. A lot of people do that because, the interesting thing, I don’t know if you know this, 90% of traders lose money. Academic study after study say this, and yet if you look at websites like Elite Traders, Stock Twits, the Lion.com, these communities and you look at their fantasy standings or their posts, it looks like 90% of traders make money. So people are lying. Profit.ly is trying to make them accountable. That’s why we also built, the biggest thing that we built so far is we have a way to verify your trades. It taps into the brokerage accounts, taps into the clearing firms, you’re reporting, so you can’t lie. Lots of people don’t use that yet but on the new site they will.
Andrew: And it’s just all people coming in and typing in every trade. In the future, you’ll confirm it, or I guess now you’re confirming it a little bit, in the future you’ll confirm more, and then pushing it out to Twitter. That’s the whole business?
Tim: That’s it for now. What we’re doing, what we’re working on are stats that are going to make you a better trader. There’s very cool things that you can do with data mining. It’s the same thing with Investimonials. In the future, if a product has like 600 good reviews versus a product that has like 4 reviews, which product are you going to go towards. All these traders on Twitter, they’re trying to become gurus. They’re trying to create the next TimothySykes.com. They say, “Hey Timothy Sykes makes a million dollars a year, and he’s not even that great of a trader. I can do better.” We’re giving them the tools to actually create that, so we’re kind of reverse engineering TimothySykes.com because now up-and-coming gurus, who, I also own a publishing company so I’m starting to publish other gurus DVDs and books like that, Dr. Dre business model. We’re giving them the tools to show that they’re actually worthy of teaching and worthy of getting followers.
Andrew: The reason that Profit.ly is getting as much traffic as it’s getting, 3,000 a day is not great but it’s not nothing. The reason it’s getting it is why?
Tim: Mainly because of Twitter. People share their trades. Sometimes, like this one guy posted a $50,000 trade and he verified it, so he’s not lying about it. Lots of people want to know about that as traders. They want to know the dollar amounts. No trading website talks about dollar amounts. Everyone’s all, it’s all taboo. TimothySykes.com, Profit.ly, we talk about dollar amounts. That’s what pays the bills. Percents don’t pay bills.
Andrew: But if I see a tweet like that and I’ve seen them through you on your Twitter stream, I click over and I say, huh, that’s interesting, and then I go back to Twitter. How do you keep that person engaged in the site?
Tim: Right now, that’s all you have because good things take time to build. Once you do that in the future, let’s say probably, let’s say April, there’s going to be a whole set of options on what you can do now. Like, you know, okay this guy made $50,000. Do you want to learn from him? Do you want to see how he did it? Do you want to watch a free video lesson? We’re going to have all these different gurus on Profit.ly, and it’s going to be based on their track record. We’re not backing some guru with some crap track record. We don’t care how many Twitter followers he has. We don’t care who recommends him. We care about stats. The stock market is an industry full of data. People purposely ignore the data because a lot of the data isn’t pretty. On Profit.ly, we might have, I think, what 2,500 members. I would estimate based on academic studies and my experience that over 2,000 of them are losing money. That’s amazing to me that people are spending so much time on trading and their losing. The whole goal of Profit.ly is make them better. It’s an ambitious goal.
Andrew: All right. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who want, who say I’ve got a little success here with my blog or some other business I want to build on that? Let’s give him some actionable advice.
Tim: First, I would say spend at least two hours a day researching your industry online and how others are doing it. The cool thing is that when everyone posts their websites and they post their features online, you can see what’s working and what’s not. You can really copy off others. That’s why you have all these Groupon clones and Facebook clones. I’m not saying go out and build a Groupon clone. I’m saying learn from it and see where the trends are going. Profit.ly and Investimonials, these are, this is my reaction to seeing what people want and seeing what’s inevitably going to happen.
Second, I would say try to create businesses around what you’re already doing. Don’t go out, if you’re writing a blog about how to make money on SEO, don’t go out and start a restaurant review site. There’s no cross marketing potential whatsoever, maybe a little bit. Totally different verticals. Wow, I’m sounding like a businessman. Verticals, who uses that? That’s ridiculous. Two different industries. Try to focus on what you know. Try to become an expert. If you’re like kind of a blogger, kind of a website guy, or a designer, or a programmer, if you’re decent at your job, make sure you become a freakin’ expert before you do anything, because then you’ll see the ins and the outs. I know this isn’t very explicit advice. This isn’t like you must go to this site and do this. If you become an expert, you will see what problems everybody has. We use Zendesk. Do you use Zendesk?
Andrew: No, but I see that you use it really well.
Tim: So, we use Zendesk, and I don’t know seven, eight months since we started using it. We’ve gotten 5,000 customer support e-mails. Out of those 5,000 customer support e-mails, you start to see trends. You should get people . . . this is actually a huge thing that I’ve learned from every website. Encourage people to e-mail you. A lot of business, they’re like, “I don’t want to deal with e-mail.” Have you ever tried to e-mail Amazon? Forget about it. It takes forever and they have no easy way, because they deal with millions of people. You as a small time entrepreneur, TLC matters. By getting their e-mail, by getting their phone number, ideally, and talking to them, you can see exactly what their problems are. We have our best conversions via phone. Use your website to plunder their information. Talk to them in real life and e-mail. It’s amazing, just like making social connections online. The way to crystallize this is to meet in person. It’s really weird. Start to think of your online presence as a just brand extension and really the real business that you do is in everyday life. Turn off the computer and call your freakin’ customers.
Andrew: How do you do it? How do you stay on top of all of those e-mails? I see that you open yourself up to Zendesk e-mails. You get e-mails from people that complain to you that you’re a jerk, that you’re puffing yourself up. You get e-mails from people like me that want to do interviews. How do you stay on top of it?
Tim: One guy said that he wants me to get raped in the butt.
Andrew: Was that part of my e-mail? I forget. It was kind of late at night when I asked you to do the interview.
Tim: No, it wasn’t yours. I was some random person. But my mom saw that one, that’s why it was funny. She’s like I can’t believe someone would say that. Because my mom and my dad answer a lot of customer support now. We actually have my dad’s assistant too. We have helpers and we also have macros. Number one question, what broker do you use? We have this set answer where I say, “I use Think or Swim. Think or Swim is my favorite broker. Here are five blog posts why.” We get an affiliate feed from Think or Swim. Getting that e-mail is nice. We try to follow up within three weeks. We day, “Did you open an account? If not, here’s the link again,” because then it becomes a sales opportunity. Understanding your customers. Learning about what they need and what they want. I didn’t plan on having 12 DVDs or 4 newsletters, it was all a case of not planning ahead of time. With these other gurus that I’m starting to do, we’re planning ahead, because now we can see what customers want and what problems they have.
Andrew: All right. I think this is a good place . . . is this a good place? Yeah. Everything in my notes has been covered.
Tim: What? We’re doing a two-hour interview? Let’s flip this around for a second. What have you learned from Mixergy? What have been your biggest mistakes?
Andrew: From doing Mixergy? First of all, I can’t do a two-hour interview because I have to do an interview with Neil Strauss in a little bit, and this guy and I have gone back and forth a million times on one freakin’ interview. He won’t even come and do a video interview.
Tim: He’s the author of “The Game”?
Andrew: Author of “The Game.” I’m reading the book.
Tim: That’s a good book.
Andrew: The guy went from being a nerd. He got himself all dressed up, shaved his hair all nice, got a good look. So I’m wondering why he won’t come and do a video interview with me. Why does he insist on doing a phone based interview with me? If it’s going to be a phone based interview and we’ve it got scheduled, why do we have to keep moving it?
Tim: Maybe he’s ugly.
Andrew: I have no idea. Maybe it’s not real, maybe he didn’t get as comfortable with himself as he says in the book. I don’t know.
Tim: I don’t know. But I’ll tell you one thing, you’re doing a masterful job of upselling your audience to another interview. Now, let’s take it to another level to Neil Strauss and “The Game.”
Andrew: And if you guys really want the good stuff, you have to sign up for the silver membership on Mixergy. As you know, if you bought my DVDs . . . sorry?
Tim: You have a premium membership, don’t you? Or did you can that?
Andrew: I do have a premium membership. I don’t promote it much. I’ve got to promote it more like you do.
Tim: Correct, because I remember you promoted it at the beginning. I was like, oh, that’s interesting and then I never heard about it again. Mistake number one, Mr. Warner, you must always let customers know that you have these premium products. I know that it gets annoying and some people unsubscribe. They tell you to get raped up the butt. You know, you’ve got to sell. You’re in business here. We can’t all start greeting card companies and become multi-millionaires.
Andrew: You know, I would love to have you on here to do a whole program on how bloggers should sell online, how they should create products, the whole thing, and talk just like that. That kind of blunt openness.
Tim: One of the plans, just because I’m not busy enough, but it’s actually going to be an extension of this whole kind of circle that I’m building is where I’m going to teach gurus. I have to find a guru name. Maybe your readers can help me find a good domain name. Every website with guru is taken, like gurutoguru or gurunomics. All of these sites are taken. That is one of the things. I know a few other gurus. You would be one of our main guests, but there should be something like that. I literally saw your premium stuff a while ago. I haven’t gotten any e-mails. I don’t see much about it at all. That’s a mistake, because I probably would’ve signed up had I been reminded. What is it the average guy, the average Internet person takes seven times to buy something before they actually, you know, they have to hear of a product seven times before they actually buy. I only heard about it like twice. I wasn’t convinced.
Andrew: Yeah, I kept it off the homepage until recently. I don’t promote it.
Tim: It should be a pop-up. It should be a giant Andrew Warner head, saying, “You want some more of this? You want some premium?” That’s what you should be doing. It should be a pop-up of just your head.
Andrew: You know what, actually, I’m going to take that video clip and I’m going to put it right up on the website. The first thing people see is a pop-up with that . . .
Tim: Do it. There’s nothing wrong with pop-ups. Just make it so that there’s a way to make it so that if you, if you’re a first time visitor to the site, you get the pop-up. Afterwards, you don’t get it.
Andrew: All right. Well, I’m all for it. I don’t like pop-ups. As you know I’m going to be experimenting with, well, maybe you don’t know, I’m going to be experimenting with lots of different products this year. I told my audience I would show the whole process up on the website.
Tim: Good, nice.
Andrew: So those of you who are just downloading this stuff through iTunes, come back to the website and you’ll see it. All right. Tim, website is TimothySykes.com. Hopefully you’ll come back here and do another interview with me soon.
Tim: I’ll try and be cockier next time.
Andrew: All right. Cool. And hey, will you guys please send him the most outrageous e-mails that you can? Come up with some clever insult to Tim, e-mail it to him, and Tim tell me what the most clever e-mail is you get from my audience or the most aggressive e-mail. I would like them to beat this guy who wants you to get raped. Is that inappropriate for me to say?
Tim: I agree. I don’t think so, but welcome to my life. Say inappropriate things and don’t worry about the consequences.
Andrew: What’s your e-mail address?
Andrew: All right. Flood it, flood it people. Thanks Tim. Bye.
Tim: Thanks a lot, man.