After Bootstrapping 2 Multi-Million Dollar Companies and Interviewing Over 1300 Ambitious Entrepreneurs, Andrew Warner Shares His Top Lessons Learned
Have you ever wanted to start a business but just didn't know how to start? Whether you are in the beverage industry or not, this interview is for you. Learn Andrew Warner's top lessons learned after he bootstrapped 2 multi-million dollar companies and interviewed over 1300 ambitious entrepreneurs.
If you are an entrepreneur, some of the key insights you can take away from this show and use in your business include:
- Have empathy.
- Pay attention to your customer's pain and provide a clear benefit that solves the pain.
- Test everything and see what works. If it works, grow it.
- Don’t let failure define you--just keep moving.
- Systemize your business.
- Don’t be anonymous, be genuine and real.
Andrew Warner is the founder of Mixergy.
Mixergy is where the ambitious learn from a mix of experienced mentors through interviews and courses. Andrew Warner created Mixergy to help ambitious people who love business learn from a mix of experienced mentors. He does that through interviews where founders tell their stories and courses where they teach a solution to issues that can cripple founders.
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Javier: Hey there, beverage enthusiasts, my name is Javier Morquecho and I'm the founder of SpecialtySodas.com, where you can find the largest selection of craft soda and specialty beverages anywhere in the U.S., as well as this Specialty Sodas Podcast, where ambitious entrepreneurs and leaders in the beverage industry come to share their story. My mission is to build a community within the beverage industry so we can meet and learn from one another and connect for meaningful relationships.
I'm joined today by Andrew Warner, the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. So Mixergy is a place for the ambitious to learn from a mix of experienced mentors through interviews and courses.
So I'm excited about today's show because this will be a little different from my previous episodes. So while my focus is on the beverage industry, I wanted to bring Andrew here today because he has experienced bootstrapping, not only one, but two multi million dollar companies plus an online games site that offered people a chance to win a billion dollars. So, I'm happy to have Andrew Warner here today. And because he has a lot of insight that we can learn and help us to grow our businesses. So hi, Andrew, welcome, thank you for being here.
Andrew: Yeah, good to be here and that's a billion with the B we were offering.
Javier: Yeah, so let's start off by telling people where you are today with your current company. So what is Mixergy and why did you create it?
Andrew: Mixergy is a place where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I created it because after having a really big hit on my hands with my previous company, I thought I was infallible. It turns out that I wasn't. I started as, after that first big company that did well, I started a second one. It did not go so well. I actually lost a few hundred thousand dollars, closed it up, and I said, "You know what? I never want to make this mistake again." Let's go back to what got me started, which is being curious about what successful people do, learning from them and then bring them back to my own business.
So I started doing interviews largely so that I could learn but also because I wanted an audience of entrepreneurs to just learn along with me. And as a result of that, we had so many people who I've interviewed who used to listen to my interviews, we use what they learn and then they now have successful companies in their own right and they've come back to Mixergy to do interviews about them.
Javier: And so in order for us to get a better sense of the need for Mixergy, I wanna understand your background a little bit more so, you said you didn't learn too much in school but when you graduated from college, you were hell-bent on starting a business right away. Why did you want to start a business so badly?
Andrew: You know what? I really learned nothing from school. You know what, maybe nothing is a little bit too extreme. I learned about as much from school as I learned from the Discovery Channel. We're not really talking about life changing lessons for me. But I do know that on the way into school, I would read Wall Street Journal. I would read, back when Forbes Magazine actually good content in it, wasn't just a junkie rag, which is what it is now. I read about these successful entrepreneurs and think, "What if I can do something like that?"
Look at people like even Malcolm Forbes, who helped build up Forbes Magazine. The guy built up what became one of the largest fortunes in the country. He loved his job. He got to travel across the country on a hot-air balloon, because that's one of the stunts that he was into. He had a great life.
I wanted to know what does it take to get into one of those things, to build a life like that. School wasn't gonna help me. The Wall Street Journal did. I think it's a really good publication, still to this day. And books did. And so that's was got me fired up in life. And that's where school really stunk. It still does stink.
Javier: Well, at the time, you said you were dirt poor, right out of college, but you had read the biographies of successful entrepreneurs and you realized that throughout history most of the entrepreneurs started out with nothing. So you learned that there's always a way. If you're determined, there's always a way. So can you talk to us a little bit more about this philosophy?
Andrew: Yeah, I was so poor that actually I had $70,000 debt on my credit cards and a little bit of student loan, thankfully not that much. And I just, every month, would have to sit down for about two hours, look at what credit card I owed, look at what credit cards still had a little bit of credit left on it, and I would use one credit card to pay off another. And I just keep spinning that credit around, from one card to the other to the other to the other.
Thing is though, when you are that kind of poor, it's not like you are living in a bad neighborhood. Frankly, I just lived in a good neighborhood, I had a good life. I didn't eat well because that cost money but I was deep in debt and I knew and I had the hunger to go build something great. And your question was, "Why did I wanted to do something that great?" Because I was inspired by what other people had done. That when you read about people like Ted Turner, who built up CNN, built up TBS and all these great channels from nothing. You can't help but say, "I'd like to do that too."
I know that there are people who are watching baseball games, I think the Giants earlier played today. I know the people who watched them was sitting in stands and a part of them said, "I wish that I could be out in the field too. I wished it, I know that it would be so cool if I could catch that fly ball too with the Giants."
And that's the thing that happens when you watch people do something. You start to want to do the same thing. You start to get influenced. So I'd read about all these successful people who built businesses and I couldn't help but say, "I'd like to do that too. It looked like fun. And you know what? It really what's fun. And it's even more and it's still is. Mixergy is more fun than even reading about other people's successes.
Javier: Yeah, and so I think that's really interesting that you've touched on two points, which we can talk too a little about later. But one is having heroes in the industry. And which you eventually have of course have called Interviewed your Heroes. But then the other thing is, living vicariously through the struggles and successes of other people who made it before, so I think...
Andrew: It's the way that people talk rubs off on who we are. The things they do rubs on who we are. I'd give you a great example. I went to work for Dale Carnegie and Associates. You know Dale Carnegie is known for the book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." The company is known for training people to become extraordinary speakers.
And one day, our instructor started to like, you know, like use the word "like" a lot, like in every like sentence. Because this guy who's a professional speaker who teaches people to speak, huge companies bring in Dale Carnegie to teach their people how to give presentations. How did this guy, like, used the word like all the time? And he thought about it too. And it turned out his wife was his teacher at that time. Her students were using the word like all so she started to use the word like, like all the like time. She brought that home. He then picked it up from her and then brought it into the classroom, right?
And so that's the way I did. That's the way things carry from person to person to person. One person says it, one person acts it, the other person picks it up and starts to be more like them, and then, another and another and another. And so I think we need to pick who is it that we want to be influenced by that way. And for me, the most interesting, most successful entrepreneurs that I could find, I think what they're doing today, what entrepreneurs are doing today and have always done is build the future. And they get to do it in whatever way they envision.
Javier: Yeah. And so I want to focus this conversation on Mixergy but we'll just talk about a minute or two about your previous company, Bradford & Reed. So you grew it to be the 19th most visited site on internet, you had 55 employees at its peak, generating more than $38 million in sales.
Andrew: And so you did your homework, yeah?
Javier: Yeah. And so the thing is, can you just tell us a little bit more about the company and then what changed in the company because you got burned out and you decided to sell it eventually by 2003.
Andrew: What changed?
Javier: Well first, what?
Andrew: It was an online greeting cards and online greeting cards were extremely viral. And we made them extremely viral because when you went to send your mom a greeting card or your mom would to send you a greeting card, we'd say, "Well, how about sending five to other people the same greeting card?"
We'd also made it viral by kinda making up holidays. So there would be like, now I'm saying like a lot. August 1, we might just decide that's send a smile day. We just decided so we start emailing everybody on our list saying, "August 1 is send a smile day, you don't want not to send a smile to friends and family, click this link. Pick a smile greeting card and send it out."
And so they pick a smile greeting card and they sent it out to somebody and we'd say, "Well, how about sending it out to five other people?" And they would. And so it became really, really, really viral and that's why it just kept shooting up the charts.
What changed was largely me. I was starting to burn out. I wasn't taking any breaks. I had no idea how to take a vacation and so that was having a deep impact on me. I was starting to lose my creative edge. I didn't care as much. That was a problem.
What else changed was the sponsors who were paying us started to suffer financially and I mistakenly thought it's better to have just two or three really good sponsors that I'm close with than to have dozens of sponsors who I can't get to know as well. And the problem with having two or three is if one fails, then you'd lost half or a third of your business. And so we had one big one fail, lost more than half of our business all of a sudden. It took awhile to recover from that. It was just very draining after already being drained and tapped out.
Javier: And so do you feel that you were just lucky at that time this greeting card business was new, a new experience to people? And because it was new, everything was going viral?
Andrew: I think there's always something that's new and if you pay attention, you don't even have to be the first person, but you could be one of the firsts to jump on it. I didn't invent online greeting cards. Frankly, I read an article about them in Business Week about their numbers and I thought, "All right. I think I could create one of those sites. It doesn't have to be as nice as those people but I think I could be it, more hungry, more determined. I can inject more virality into them than the people who are already doing it. They're doing it for like the love of the craft. I'm gonna do it for the love of money. And I'll just really pound on it and make it work.
If you look around today, you'll see that there's new stuff all the time. One of the new things that I'm especially excited about is bots, sending people messages via whatever messaging app they happen to be on, as opposed to email, still fairly new. It's working for a handful of people who are trying it. I think you jump into something while it's new and you have a much better chance of succeeding than if you wait to be the thousandth person to do it.
All right, when we were doing email marketing, email newsletters would get like 80% open rates. Eighty percent open rates! Right, we were one of the first people to jump in and do that. Today, if you start an email newsletter, it'll take you forever to get new people to add you. It'll take you forever. It's just painful. And once you get them to subscribe, you're open rates would be tiny, maybe 10%, 20%. Your click rates are gonna be tiny, maybe 1% to 5% or 6%. Right, that's awful.
Javier: Yes. So I think it's the value of going on to a new technology and finding out what the new trend is and being a leader in there. But you said that, yeah, you're passion was the money. I'm looking at the numbers.
Andrew: Yeah, it was.
Javier: And but so, because maybe things were going tough, you decided to sell the business. And there's a couple of lessons I wanna learn about this business and we're gonna do it kind of in lightning realm. I'm gonna say the lesson and just give me a few statements about it.
So lesson one: Sell your company in parts. Can you tell us about this?
Andrew: Oh. That wasn't intentional. I did it because that's what the opportunity was. We had someone who was representing some of our email subscribers to their advertisers and just said, "I'd like to buy out this part of the business so instead of paying you a share of the commissions that we make, I would just like to buy the whole list from you." So we sold the list. Someone else was interested in greeting cards so we did that. There were just little parts that just...
Javier: And you don't recommend that. Or do you recommend that?
Andrew: I don't necessarily recommend it. It's just the way that it worked out for us. I think it would have been cleaner and easier for me if I could do it all at once. I just didn't have that opportunity. And frankly, I wasn't ready to let go of it all at the same time.
Javier: Lesson number two: Get out when the going is good. What can you say about that?
Andrew: Yeah. It's so hard to realize when you're at the top, especially because we just love our stuff so much and feeling vulnerable. I think it makes a lot of sense to look around and really just say, "If I were to start this business today, would I start it like this? If I were to start any business would this be the one I start? And if it's not, then it's good indication that it might be time to sell."
Javier: Okay. Lesson three: Your competitor maybe your best acquirer.
Andrew: Oh, yeah, I think that's so true, all the time. I don't know. So many people I've interviewed have actually talked to their competitors. They're friends with their competitors. They're at least on the conversational basis with them. Too many people who are in the audience don't talk to their competitors. And frankly, when it's time to sell, they're the ones who are the easiest buyers because they know your business because your business can fly right into theirs. I think it makes total sense.
And frankly, I had a friend who's a competitor, like not super close friends but we kept in touch, and when someone in my company went to try to get a job there, he told me and we we're able to tell her, "Look, you can't take inside information from me and start peddling it to someone else. You're gonna get caught." And that's a good warning to everyone else in the company.
Javier: Okay. Lesson four: Take money out along the way.
Andrew: I didn't believe in doing that. I believed in just constantly putting it all back in the business. I think I should have taken out a little more as we went.
Javier: And why?
Andrew: I think it would have been good just to protect myself, to protect the downside a little bit. To never allow myself to be poor again, you know, because it's one thing to have a lot stress where it fires you up. But when you have an overwhelming amount of stress, it just becomes distraction. So when things got bad, if my head went to, "I'm just gonna die." I mean I'm not gonna have any money, I'm not gonna have any time to like relax and clear my head after all this. I'm not gonna be able to get a job because I'm unemployable. Everything went to disaster.
If I would have a little bit of money on the side, I think in my head, I could have said, "You know if this doesn't work out, I'll still be safe. I'll still be able to go and take a nice vacation. Clear up my head and I'll come back strong." And that little bit of comfort would have reassured me and kept me from being too distracted by my stress.
Javier: Yeah and so while your first company was a success in terms of the numbers, there was one thing missing from this story. Something that maybe even more important than your top line or more important bottom line and that was your legacy. So what does it mean to build a legacy and to create something that changes lives and outlives the founders.
Andrew: Yeah. I think that's really important. If you drive through midtown Manhattan, you'll see a statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt. His legacy is the railroad. They're still around, the ones that he fought for, the ones that he pioneered. He was in the shipping business and he said, "You know, I think railroads are actually going to be the future of transportation." He got into it and left a legacy.
But the person who I think left an even better, the entrepreneur who left the best legacy of them all, is the guy who I took his first name, Andrew, Andrew Carnegie. Andrew Carnegie is the guy who gave away all of his money. But when I went to libraries, they were Carnegie-inspired libraries. When he gave away his money, he used it to help create libraries all over the place. And so he touched me, I went to learn from his libraries that he started and it was still existing after he died.
He also wrote a couple of books. And one of those books, Warren Buffet gave to Bill Gates to say to him, "Here's what you could be doing with your future." And it was a book about philanthropy and Bill Gates says that it helped shape his thought on philanthropy. And as result, Bill Gates left Microsoft. Not a result of that just book but it had enough influence and it helped guide him towards leaving Microsoft and dedicating his life to philanthropy and then taking on Warren Buffet's money too. And we're talking about how ideas can actually outlive the businesses that the founders create and still continue to influence people, right?
Javier: Yeah and so we're starting to see like more of a pattern here. You're heroes early on are the people you have read about. You work at the Carnegie, Dale Carnegie, and you learned from the people there. And you're talking about learning from the business people and leaving a legacy and doing something more meaningful.
So after you sold the company, Bradford & Reed, then you took a small vacation, you read more, you traveled, you read the Wall Street Journal, and then, within one year later, you started Mixergy. But it is not the way Mixergy is today. So you started a live event meet-up format where you wanted to be like the mentors you so admired. So what was wrong? What failed about this strategy?
Andrew: I didn't say what they were about. I actually had people coming to my events. We had over a hundred people in a small venue, just surprised we'd packed it up. we were constantly more than sold out. And nobody knew what it was about except to just have a good time. I never stood up and said this is what it's about.
I see that a lot in people who run companies. They never their tell people what's it about, what's the purpose of it. I see it a lot in people who do interviews. They never say what the interviews are about. Why should we care to listen to these interviews? What's the mission? What are you trying to get out with it?
I made that mistake. So people came to the events. They weren't about anything because I didn't say what they were about. And so they couldn't withstand the test of time. They couldn't survive.
Javier: Yeah. And so you discovered interviewing and Mixergy was born. And you mentioned, you need to stand up. You need to know what it's about. You need to have a mission. In fact, Mixergy's slogan is Mixergy is a mission. So what is the Mixergy mission?
Andrew: To have proven entrepreneurs teach. They are today so many different people who have great ideas, written books, never done anything beyond just theorize about what it takes to build a company. And they're selling their books and they're selling their courses on this stuff and they haven't really built a business. And I think until you've ridden a bike, you can't teach people how to ride a bike.
I think until you've built a company, you can't teach anyone else how to build a company. There are so many nuances to doing it right. There's so many different things like knowing how your employees are potentially gonna leave you and go work for the competition. How do you figure that stuff out? You can't know that stuff until you've actually done it.
Javier: You said you didn't have a mission in the beginning and you also say other startup founders don't have a mission. So why don't people stand up? Why do you think they're not having a mission when they're trying to change the world?
Andrew: I think they're kinda lying to themselves. I think for a lot of people, their mission is to make money because they're just out of place in life where they're hungry for it and they're afraid to say that that's the mission. I think it's okay to say that. I think it's better to have a better mission, a bigger mission. But I think it's okay to say, "My mission is money." I think it's fine and it's clear and we all know where you're going with it.
I think I'd rather have someone say... if I were to go back to the greeting card business, my personal mission might have been money but the business' mission was to prove that internet companies could actually be profitable at the time when everyone else was raising money and not generating profit at all. I think I did not articulate it clearly enough but we all knew that what we were trying to do and show that we can actually build a profitable company. That you can be profitable online and that you could do it with a bootstrap business. And we were going to prove that that was true.
Javier: And so how do you find your mission and is there is such a thing as fallible mission?
Andrew: Yeah, probably, there are pretty stupid missions. I don't care, the ones that are probably gonna get you killed. But I'd rather die for something that I really cared about, you know, even if I knew it was certain death. I'd rather go into something that I absolutely cared enough about and do it.
Andrew: I think we're just afraid of being who we are. I think we're afraid of sitting down and journaling it and saying, "What do I really care about?" I read Salman Rushdie's autobiography and he talked about how he found his wife's journal and he read it and he couldn't believe the hatred that she had towards him. And then when she said, "It's my black journal." It kinda made a little bit of sense to him because he also kept what he called the black journal, never heard of this before.
These journals where you get to write the most hateful things that you have in your head just to get them out. I think we don't need to write the most hateful things but I think we need to sit down and write the most honest things that come to us on a journal and one that we're prepared to burn and rip up afterwards so that we're not, you know our head saying, "I hope no one sees this. I'm going desense to myself." And as we're writing, I think it's important to say, "Where am I going after here? What do I really want? What am I jealous of?" Just really get that stuff out there. And the reason why I like it in writing as opposed to in your head is when you're writing it, you can actually see when you're not thinking clearly, when you're just like half-assing it and putting down a cent or two.
Javier: So I think this is really important because it highlights the value the understanding and really knowing yourself. But on the flip side, you have limiting beliefs and those are the things that prevent you from truly achieving your goals. But now, we're talking about another kind of, maybe it's a limiting belief, this black journal beliefs where you talk about the things that maybe you don't like and then your hatred. So can you talk more about limiting belief versus this other belief?
Andrew: It's not so much that it's like discussing what you think is evil to say out loud. Maybe, I think I would actually not call it my black journal the way that Salman Rushdie did in his autobiography, but I'd call it my evil journal. It's the part that is so like, I'm so afraid to say it because it sounds evil because I shouldn't say that I wanna be rich. I shouldn't say that I don't care about how other people feel. I shouldn't say... whatever it is, just write it down because my sense is, having done this myself and having seen other people do it, is that the stuff that we're afraid to feel actually ends up being okay.
So if your mission is, you know what, I would like to be, I'll throw one out that someone said to me the other day a little sheepishly, he said, "I'd like to be the modern Tony Robbins." Something you're a little embarrassed to say, feels a little bit too conceited because who are you to say you're gonna be like Tony Robbins. He's an experienced speaker, he's someone who's had all these live shows and then moved on to infomercials.
Right, you "shouldn't" be saying that almost. I said shouldn't in quotes. But that's what I think the evil journal is about or the black journal's about. You sit down and say, "I'd like to be that person. And I'd like to be it because I'm driven to have people pay attention to me." And I'd like to do it in this way. And just like get that stuff out there and through all that conversation, you're gonna come up with a mission. One that actually feels right. One that at first makes you feel like I shouldn't want that, it feels a little wrong. But then later on, will actually feel a little bit clearer. You'll feel like, "Yeah, that's me."
Javier: And I think that's good because you really get to draw out your authentic self and you get to be who you are and people will value that mission because that's who you are and it inspires other people and maybe you attract other people to work for you or to purchase your products because of your true mission.
So let's fast forward to today. You've interviewed well over a thousand three hundred people, ambitious people who are trying to change the world through business. If there's one lesson you'd learned through this experience, what is it?
Andrew: Empathy. That the greatest business ideas start by empathizing, by seeing someone is in some kind of pain and caring enough to say, "I think I can help alleviate that pain." To me that's the most incredible things that I've learned from all these interviews. The great story of that I've heard... actually, there are so many great ones. I'll give you one simple one.
These two guys decided that they were going to create a better job site for their school. They looked at their school job site and they said, "This is just so slow, it's clunky, it doesn't look right. We could do better." And they just started and they just hacked away at code and created a better job site in almost every way. It looked better, it worked faster, better search and they showed it to students, they showed it to schools and nobody cared, even though it was clearly better. Turns out that people were just okay using the junky job site that the school had. They've never had a problem with it. So they weren't looking for a solution and they didn't care when one existed.
So these two guys just decided to shelve the idea essentially and they went to look for something else to do. And as they looked around, they saw that on campus, the other students were just angry. And they were angry because their favorite bar closed down. I don't know if you have a favorite bar. Where do you live by the way?
Javier: In Los Angeles.
Andrew: L.A. Do you have a favorite bar in L.A.?
Javier: I actually don't go out to those too.
Andrew: You're not a bar person?
Javier: But no, I'll go out if I get invited but I don't really drink that much but I like a... Yes, that is, a stump question.
Andrew: Mine was... it was King's Head in Sta. Monica. It was a couple of blocks away from my house. It was I think it was on Sta. Monica Boulevard. I loved it and if they close down, I'd be upset. Well, on this college campus, the one dive bar was gonna close down and people were more than upset. They were furious. They were really hurt and angry.
And so these two students decided, you know, we're gonna create a t-shirt. One that says, essentially, Save Our Dive Bar. And they sold it and they said, "How did that do?" You know actually, that did well, sold a lot. And they did, they actually made money, not coding up a website, just creating a t-shirt. Nothing more fancy than that. The people bought it.
"Did you give the money to bar?" And they said, "No, we kept it all for ourselves." I said, "Did this Save the Dive Bar t-shirt actually save the dive bar?" And they said, "No." The dive bar shutdown." They said, "It probably should have. It was pretty dive-y." I said, "Weren't people upset because they bought these t-shirts?" They said, "No, we never said we were gonna save it anymore than someone who buys the t-shirt that says Save the Whales isn't expecting the t-shirt company to actually save all the whales on the planet."
But what they were doing was giving the people a t-shirt to express their anger, their frustration. And that's why it sold. They paid attention to the pain. So I said, "What do you guys do next?" And they said, "It turns out other people who were selling t-shirts had probably the same probably experience when we were selling our Save the Dive Bar t-shirt." They said other t-shirt people didn't know how many t-shirts to print in large, how many in extra large, how many in medium. If you get the numbers wrong, you lose money, either because you made too many shirts and you have to throw them out or because you haven't made enough and you've lost sales. And so that's a big pain for people who are selling t-shirts.
I say, "What did you do with that?" They said, "We created a new t-shirt company. It's called Teespring". You could see it today. It's one of the mega hits of the internet startup world, Teespring. Where if anyone wants to sell a t-shirt, they could go on there, they could design their t-shirt, make it look nice. They have a great landing page. And then they give this landing page out to people and say, if you wanna buy t-shirt, go buy it on this page. And none of the t-shirts are printed until people have bought and paid for their t-shirts, so you know exactly how much to make.
This became a mega hit. Let me see how many millions of dollars these guys are doing. I see, I think it's in a hundreds of millions of dollars in t-shirt sold. Huge, huge, huge success and it's because they paid attention to the pain that people had. First at the dive bar, the dive bar pain that the students had. And later, t-shirt makers, they understood the pain that they had.
Javier: I really like that you touch upon that. You need to identify what the consumers want and identify their pain and really have empathy. So I just want to go back. So my audience in the Specialty Sodas Podcast includes people from the beverage industry, and are also creating a physical product. So you've interviewed over a hundred people who created physical product companies and you've interviewed over 25 people in the food and beverage industry, including Steve Schwartz of Art of Tea, Barry Nalebuff of Honest Tea, Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Coffee, Zak Normandin of Little Duck Organics and Joe Heron of the Crispin Cider Company, and this is just to name a few. So what do you find is the common experience of entrepreneurs in the physical product or the food and beverage industries?
Andrew: I see two things. The first is the difficulty in manufacturing that everybody whose done physical goods products who I've interviewed, I think, every single one has had a problem with their factory, with their manufacturing. And, man, it's worth spending a lot of time picking the right person.
I interviewed a woman just yesterday. She had a company that got investment from Peter Thiel, credible investor, maybe even the best individual investor now in tech and all. She got investment from him. She started this company that got a lot of press, it's called Everest. It was gonna help people achieve their big goals. And the thing just failed and I asked her what she did next.
And then she created this back brace, this thing makes you hold your back in the right way so you don't get back pain. It's called Better Back. She sold $3 million worth of that in the first year, huge success. I said, "What did you do to make it work?" And she just sweated finding the right place to manufacture it. Tested these people, put them to the ringer. Made sure that she had the right one so that she wouldn't have to go through what so many other people do, which is like spending money on a product that you can't sell.
So that's the first one. And then the second thing that I learned from interviewing people in the food industry is tasting is just really big. How do you get tasting out there? I forget the name of the company, but there's a bar that I interviewed. Let me look that up, site: Mixergy.com, bar, all Food. It's this family that decided that they're gonna make this food bar. There. Perfect Foods bar, I love it. It taste so good. I get it from Whole Foods.
They, as a family, would just go and endlessly do tasting at Whole Foods and endlessly do tasting anywhere they could. And they're just so hungry with their desire to be out and in front of people. Same thing with Quest bar people. Quest bar used to give out Quest bars so much that I think anyone who wanted one could basically get one to taste for free. And I feel it's a huge one. How do you get more people to taste it because nothing else seems to have as much impact in the early days?
Javier: And so you have two good points. Do you research on manufacturing before you spend the money and really know where you're gonna source your product from, and then the second thing is once you do create a product, get it out there and have people taste it. So, yeah, that's two important points.
The next thing that I want to talk to you about is...so on your website, you categorized your interviews as a Search for Knowledge. And you have over 40 different business topics ranging from the startup phase to the growth phase, all the way to either exit, failure, or a sustained business model. So you created collections of knowledge about particular topics, hand picking series of interviews meant to teach a certain concept.
So I wanna spend the remaining, let say five, seven minutes, talking about what you learn from interviewing people in these different categories and from these, I wanna reveal some of the core fundamentals and principles and tactical and practical tips that actually work that people can use today. So there's eight areas in this. So we'll do 30 seconds on each or so.
Okay, I'm gonna go through the eight and just tell me what you learn from it in like under 30 seconds. So bootstrapping?
Andrew: Bootstrappers have to sell as fast as possible, ideally, before they even make their first product.
Javier: And so branding, finding you brand identity?
Andrew: The thing that comes to mind when it comes to branding is what the founder of Saxx underwear told me. He said that people judge a product based on so many different things but that one that actually tells them that it's really luxury is the price. So if you're gonna sweat anything, he said, increase the price.
Javier: Okay, so customer...
Andrew: Yes, but one thing... Uh huh?
Javier: Customer acquisition, social media and traffic?
Andrew: Give people a benefit in return for the action that you want. So, I think, like a clear benefit, ideally, where results are gained. There are a lot of people who now have, still do have subscribe buttons on their sites. Nobody wants to subscribe to anything. It just doesn't work. That's one of the first things that Justin Premick, who used to work for AWeber told me when he saw my site. He said, "Get rid of all the word subscribe on your site. Nobody wants to subscribe to anything. Just tell them what the benefit is and subscription is just a method towards getting that benefit." So if you're gonna give them a free video, just say get a free video. Don't say subscribe.
Javier: Okay. Marketing, PR and media marketing?
Andrew: The thing that stands out for me about that is I did an interview with Gabriel, the founder of DuckDuckGo and this guy was really fighting a quixotic battle. He was going up against Google with a tiny search engine called DuckDuckGo. And I never thought he was gonna succeed with it. I just thought it was hobby and I like the guy a lot but it just didn't feel like he can make headway in that space. And he did. And he's just constantly grown and grown and now it's built into the iPhone. He shows his number, I forget where they are right now, but he's getting massive usage, still not Google level, nothing like Google level but, man, it's still really respectable and a strong business.
When I asked him how he marketed, he told me something that I realized in retrospect, having known him for years that I watched him do. He made a list of all the different possible marketing mechanisms, thought of how he could try each one of them, and test it to see which one would work. And then when something works, he just kept growing it. So, one of the crazy things that he tested was, "What if I buy a billboard?" And he bought a billboard and used it for PR and it was like a very antique Google billboard, which meant that he got a lot of PR for it, which then send out his numbers, got a big spike in his numbers. Actually, if you look at the chart of his growth, you can see that was one of the big bumps.
So the thing that I learned was, there's no one big thing that is ideal and works for everyone, or even for anyone who's listening to us, but those little tests are really important.
Javier: Scaling your business?
Andrew: I don't have a specific guest in mind for this except, not through an interview, but Noah Kagan, when I talked to him. He often says, "Find what's working. And just keep expanding on that." So scale whatever is working and he says he often sees entrepreneurs start something and then it kinda works and then move on to something else instead of just pounding the one thing that's working.
Javier: Networking and hiring?
Andrew: The vast lesson I learned from hiring was how people do the job and like them do tests before you hire them to see if they are really up to it. And I did that when I was looking for the first pre-interviewer for Mixergy. I had people pretend to pre-interview a book and write out how they would pre-interview the book. I had them pre-interview me. I had them do all kinds of things. And the people who were really good at it, just enjoyed the whole process and loved it and it didn't even took a long time because they wanted to solve the puzzle on how you would pre-interview a book. How would you create pre-interview notes for book? And so it was a very positive experience for them. And so the more tests like that you could that's actual work to be done, the better, I think, the hiring process is.
Javier: Okay. Failure and comeback?
Andrew: I think the problem with failure is that it often defines us in some way that we don't brush it off. I think we need to be a little more, maybe arrogant about it, say, "This is not significant. I'm way better." And just keep moving.
Javier: Okay. Selling your business versus lifestyle business?
Andrew: You know what? What come to mind when you say lifestyle and selling your business is my conversations with John Warnock, who has preached now for years the idea that you should be systemizing your business so that anyone else can run it and understand that at some point, you may want to sell it to someone else who have to run it without you. And the upside of doing that is that your business will run day to day without you still have think about how to growing it. And if you chose to sell it, then you've a business that actually works without you and can sell them and that your buyer isn't worried that you're leaving.
Javier: Okay, so those are eight topics and I appreciate you going through top lessons from each one. And so you built Mixergy and you built a really great community. And you've created fans who really appreciate what you're doing. Can you just talk about how do you feel then, with your experience building a community, why do you think people are going around Mixergy?
Andrew: I actually think that I done a pretty bad job of building a community because I talk to my audience but I don't let them talk to each other very well. And I've struggled with that. I created a community for Mixergy last year. It petered out. It didn't go well. I'm trying again this year. I hired someone, a guy named Tam Pham, who's created communities for multiple companies, including for Hustle Con, where I watched him really engage that community and was so good at it for Lean Startups, for James Altucher, for other companies and my expectation is that having him run it will allow us to have a community where entrepreneurs who are in the audience will get to know each other and will really start to build a community.
Javier: And so, what is the one thing you've learned that building a community is not necessarily interacting with you but interacting with each other. How more powerful is that?
Andrew: What do you mean how more...
Javier: More powerful is it in building a community? You said, one of the thing, you struggle with is having them interact with one another. So why is that different from being able to interact with you?
Andrew: Because they can't all get to talk to me enough. I try. I mean, You and I have talked on the phone. I get people to come over. In a few hours, people are gonna come over for Scotch in here at the office. The other day, someone happen to be in town, I went to lunch with him. But I can't talk to every single person in the audience. And if it's just them consuming content, there's no real community. There's no real engagement. You want to get to know someone whose kind of a rep of these ideas that you're reading about.
I went to work for Dale Carnegie because the book was really good but I wanted to see what's it like when someone actually lives these ideas. So I knocked on their door and said I wanna work for you guys for free. I just want to do inside and learn from you. And I think that's the power of the really good community.
Javier: Okay. So as we're coming to the close of the interview, literally three to four minutes. I want to wrap up with some final questions. So what are you most proud of about working at Mixergy?
Andrew: The people who I interview who started out by listening to Mixergy interviews. I'm so thrilled about that. The founder of InVision comes to mind. He's got this software that's so incredible, I just kinda thought it was around tech space forever because it such an embedded part of what people do. InVision allows designers to create mock ups that function-like real web apps or real mobile apps. It such a beautiful piece of technology that's used by the companies that we all respect. And he's Mixergy listener, an Mixergy fan and a Mixergy customer and I got to interview him, after he built up his business.
That's one of the proudest moments of my life and the fact is that there are many other people who I've interviewed who were listening because they want to understand the startup world, who did, as a result of these interviews, get to know the startup world better and build a better business and then come back, not just, "Hey, you know what? I got what I needed and I'm blowing this whole thing off." But to say, "I'm coming back and I'm gonna teach it."
Javier: And so what is the biggest sacrifice you made when building Mixergy that is different than from your previous experiences building companies?
Andrew: My anonymity, but I kind of enjoyed that sacrifice. Yeah, that's the big one. I really could just operate anonymously at Bradford & Reed and the reason that that's so exciting is that I could just fail and nobody would know it, even in little things. I could do really jerky things and no one would know it because I was totally anonymous. And so that gave me a lot of freedom.
Javier: Well, I would want you to talk more about that, just really quickly. Is there a benefit to not being anonymous and to put yourself out there?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, tons of benefits for not being anonymous. One of the best one is... I'm really excited about messenger bots. There was this guy who created it, a mobile bot making machine, essentially. A software that lets you create bots for Facebook messenger. I wanted to use it, I had some questions about it because I've not been anonymous and I'm actually well known in the tech space, I was able to reach out and talk to the founder, get to know what his software was about, get my questions answered, have some that the feature requests that I wanted built in to the software within weeks. It's phenomenal, Mikhail who built up many bots. That's the best part, one of the best parts.
Javier: And so if you can pin down the key factor to Mixergy's success, what would it be?
Andrew: That I'm genuinely curious and try to be as real as possible. And I know everyone says that, but you know what? I had an interview yesterday that sucked. In the middle of the interview, I said, I think this interview sucks and I think it sucks because of me. And I think that it takes a lot of guts to be able to call it out right there and I think that you can only do it when the person's listening to you and sees that you're genuine. When my audience knows that I'm not just doing it for shock value and knows that I'm not doing it to be jerky to the person. I think that openness, that realness.
Javier: Are you okay with just like three more minutes?
Andrew: No actually, I have to go. Let's do one more?
Javier: Okay. So if there is someone who you would like to see on the Specialty Sodas Podcast that can learn, because my goal is to help the beverage industry. Is there someone in the beverage industry that you admire?
Andrew: I don't know the name of the person or I don't know who they are. But I love to find the guys who are independent, who are profitable, and actually have a lifestyle business so it's ongoing. So...
Javier: Okay. And so... Go ahead.
Andrew: No, that's it.
Javier: Okay. So if anyone wants to reach out to you, how can they do that?
Andrew: There are two ways. I'm still doing Scotch Nights so if they listened to me here. They're welcome to come to the office for Scotch night. It's just actually 201 Mission St., but email me beforehand. And the best way to get in touch with me is just firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you want to see the interviews that I've done, go check out Mixergy.com, M-I-X-E-R-G-Y.
Javier: And if there's one last thing that you want people to remember about Mixergy, what is it?
Andrew: It's that on the site, we spend hours prepping for each guest to do an interview with them, we mean, have a hell team of people, and the reason that's important is because of that, we're not just chatting with the person, but we're pulling out ideas that are, I think, quality like a college class should have been. The kind of college class I would have wanted, where I'm actually learning something that's actionable, that's useful that will change the way I think.
Javier: All right. So once again, this Andrew Warner, the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstarts. Mixergy is a place for the ambitious to learn from a mix of experienced mentors through interviews and courses.
If you enjoyed this conversation, please feel free to like and share the episode and you can also subscribe to Specialty Sodas Podcast on iTunes or Google Play. Or you can join our email list to stay connected. And don't forget to leave us a review and join the discussion in the comment box. We look forward to hearing from you so that we can continue the conversation.
So thank you, Andrew, for being here. And thank you everyone for being a part of the Specialty Sodas Podcast. See you guys next time.
- What are you most proud of about working at Mixergy?
- What were some of the biggest sacrifices you had to make when building and growing the company?
- If you can pin down the one key factor to Mixergy’s success, what would it be?
- What are your plans for the future of the company? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
- What is the biggest challenge you are having right now to help grow your company, and, what are you doing to solve it?
- What advice would you give to someone who is starting a company and wants to be able to find their niche and grow their customer base the same way Mixergy has?
- When you are starting a company, you can’t always do it alone. Are there any people, companies, associations or trade journal groups that you felt were instrumental to your success and that you would like to thank?