September 2016 Update

Posted on September 21st, 2016 in Business Development | No Comments »

Been way too busy this year with travelling and business to find any time for writing. Currently in my 17th country of the year and my Maverick Next buddy Perry just texted me how things are going with business. Thought my short candid response was pretty funny so I figured I would post it here as a mini update

“Up to my same old self. Hiring employees, firing employees, taking on 300K of debt and then overspending by almost 100K and being forced to negotiate payment terms with my suppliers. Typical reckless risk taking in an effort to prepare for Christmas Season. Other than that, just chillaxing in Thailand for the month”

Key point is that to everyone else this may seem reckless, but to me this is very very calculated. We’ve tripled the last couple years in a row and I intend to triple again this year and end up around the $3 million revenue mark. The bets are getting larger that’s for sure, but I’m confident we can handle it.

Q4 2015 Review, Yearly Roundup, Vision for 2016

Posted on January 4th, 2016 in Amazon, Business Development, Cave Tools, Consulting, My Story, Outsourcing, Reflection, Self Improvement | No Comments »

3 Months! Once again it’s been way too long between blog posts. Normally when I go this long without writing, it’s because I’ve gotten way too caught up in the hustle bustle of business and life. However, this time I think it’s just because I have gotten lazy. All of my morning routines have completely broken down, I’m sleeping in most days until after 8am and I’m working significantly less hours than I used to. Part of this is due to me delegating my managerial responsibilities to my new manager so I need to find new things to work on. Most of it is definitely due to experiencing so much success over the holidays. Doing huge sales numbers each day is actually having an inverse effect on my work ethic because the sales are just coming in anyways so why wake up at 6am every day. Either way, I need a reset so I can get on top of my game. With this said, I am utterly amazed at how much progress I’ve actually made in this last quarter. It’s a constant reminder of how important this blog is and how short my memory can be if I don’t take the time to reflect on my accomplishments.

Breaking Up With Jarod

Just like the news, let’s get the bad shit out of the way first so we can end on some high notes. This is one section that I’m actually glad I didn’t write about while I was in the middle of it because I would have just dragged on for pages about all of the ridiculous details of what happened.

As you will recall in one of my previous posts, I decided that after ASM 5 I was going to slowly pull away from Jarod. Keep the relationship intact, but no longer work with him because of differences in core values. In September/October, ASM decided to launch again for the 6th time. After the ASM 5 shenanigans, Jarod and I had both decided that we were no longer going to promote to course anymore.

A few weeks before the course launched, Jarod reached out to me and mentioned that he was not going to publicly promote the course, but he had a few close friends and family that wanted to get in. He asked me if it was cool if he brought them in under our affiliate membership so they could access all of the trainings. I had built all of the training in our membership myself, but I also knew that I had no hand in curating these leads so I didn’t think a 50/50 split on the commission would be fair to Jarod. Instead, I offered to take only a 20% commission split for the privilege of them going through all of my training videos and guides. Jarod agreed with me that 20% was fair compensation and everything was good.

Everything was quite on the home front until the ASM pre-launch videos start. All of the sudden, I’m receiving emails from Jarod from ASM Elite promoting the course. He’s using the email list of a couple thousand people that we created together over the past few launches to promote the course to the public. This is way different than asking a few friends and family because now he is using a shared asset that we both built. I called him up and kindly explained that 20% on friends and family was cool, but if he was planning on a full public promotion using our list and the bonuses that I put together, then I would certainly want to split 50-50 on those new members.

Jarod’s response to me was that he talked things over with his wife and he thought giving me 20% was now too much and that he was going to promote the course using our bonus package. So to recap, Jarod now wanted to use the list we built together to drive traffic to the bonus package I built to sell the course and then dictate how much he wanted to pay me.

Without tooting my own horn too much, Jarod didn’t have the intellectual capacity or the business acumen to create his own trainings to match what I had built, but he needed that level of content to sell the course. As we went back and forth, it became clear that Jarod was making a move to steal my content and use it to sell the course without paying me for it.

I had backups of everything on my computer because I had created it all, so I went into the website and youtube accounts and deleted everything I had personally created. I left all of Jarod’s stuff alone, but made sure that there was no way he could swipe all of my content. I forget the exact time frame of events at this point, but we agreed at this point to split up and leave everything else intact. I was happy that my trainings couldn’t be swiped and for the sake of the members of our group we would keep everything else we co-created available for them.

Jarod planned on starting his own Facebook group and I made a post in our joint group that we would be shutting down on a set date in the future and that everything would be migrating over to Jarod’s new group. We agreed on this together and I fully endorsed everyone moving over to his new group. Everything settled down, but after about a week went by, Jarod must have reconsidered things and he decided to boot me from access to everything and he made a move to take over control of the main facebook group. Lucky for me, I was the one that originally created the facebook group, so I had trump power over him. After he booted me from everything else, I ended up kicking him out of the Facebook group. Even though he once again struck first after we came to an amicable solution, he now resorted to his all too familiar pattern of threatening legal action and trying to trap me in a libel scenario.

At this point I was extremely fed up with all of his bull shit. I normally have much more tact than this, but I decided to make this post in the Facebook group to let everyone know what had been going on:

I’ve removed Jarod from the group. We agreed to have a smooth transition, but then he went ahead and changed all the passwords on me.

There’s a reason why Shane stopped working with Jarod and there’s a reason why I have also stopped working with him.

For me, the decision actually came after the ASM5 launch. As you may remember, we ran into some affiliate policy violations during the ASM5 launch.
We didn’t intentionally break the rules, but it happened and for short periods of time our affiliate account was suspended. In business and in life bad things happen. It’s inevitable. Most rational people realize this. What truly matters at the end of the day is how you handle yourself in the face
of diversity.

Jarod took the short term view of making threats and trying to trap people in potential law suits while I tried my best to settle things like men and have real conversations with people to work things out. Unfortunately, since we were a team, my reputation suffered as a result of his actions. It took me
a while to rebuild my reputation, but I did.

I decided from then on that I wouldn’t be working with Jarod anymore because he didn’t share the same values as I do. We were still completely cool and  there were no burned bridges.

The reason we are in the situation we are in now is because Jarod decided he was going to promote ASM6, use all of the bonuses that I put together, and dictate to me what he was going to pay me.

The fact is, the listing optimization blueprint, the launch formula, outsourcing training, all the operating procedures, The 100K per month business infrastructure, costing spreadsheet, manufacturer batch analysis spreadsheet, product research training, the sales letter, our entire affiliate marketing strategy, and a bunch of other stuff I’m probably forgetting about, were all created by me.

Outside of the software and some very Google-able info about patents, almost the entire bonus package was the product of my mind.

I’m sure he has backups of most of it and will repackage it as his own. I can’t do anything about that and I’m ok with it because business grows and changes over time.
At the end of the day, he’s not capable of creating that level of new training on his own. He still has a full time job and his business is nowhere near as advanced as I’m sure he has led you to believe.

I don’t care about allegiances or any of that stuff. It can only benefit you to join his new group as well if that’s what you want to do. He’s much more hands on than I am anyways.

He wants to build a community that he can sell software services to in the future. I run a physical products business and don’t have any “plans” for what this group will “bring me” in the future. I enjoy all the posts in this group, sharing updates of my own, and watching you guys grow in your businesses.

So I’ve decided to keep this group open.

It’s a shame that things had to end this way between us. I really wish my original plan of slowly pulling away and keeping the relationship in tact would have worked out. Unfortunately even an amicable solution wasn’t in the cards for this one.

Let’s move on to some more rapid fire updates and big wins for the quarter

File Sharing Transferred Over To Sync.com

As our team has grown and we have added more processes in place, so has the amount of data storage we need. My free dropbox account was reaching maximum capacity, so I start researching all of the best enterprise level cloud file sharing solutions. I tested quite a few, but ended up going with Sync.com as our new solution.

Here are a couple of the main features that I really liked:

  • 500gb of storage
  • Synchronizes across all devices
  • Company is based in Canada so it is outside the reach of the NSA
  • HIPPA compliant data privacy and encryption
  • Access control and user levels for who gets to see what

Sync has been an absolutely phenomenal software so far and it was an easy transition for everyone on the team to make. With the extra space and extremely high level of encryption/security, I’ve been able to take the majority of my important data off my laptop and into the sync cloud.

My laptop was backed up by carbonite, but now I have redundancy between both carbonite and sync as well as the ability to access any important files from any computer in the world versus needing my specific laptop. To put things into perspective, we went from using 16.5gb on Dropbox to now using 205.2gb on sync.

Building Out The Foundation For Traffic Data Analytics Company Wide

That sub title is probably a little too flashy for describing data analytics, but essentially that’s what I’ve done.

My problem arose when tracking events across multiple platforms. It’s hard to link up traffic data when you go from an Ad to LeadPages, then Leadpages to Amazon or Email to Amazon and try to accurately attribute conversions and cost per acquisition data. Let alone when you add another wrinkle in there of different ad copy on different platforms, generating the initial traffic. It’s just a mess when you are comparing the analytics on multiple platforms and none of the data matches up.

So I signed up with a software called ClickMeter, that essentially allows you to create tracking links and attribute them to various campaigns. The cool part about these tracking links is that from just the link itself, you can inject retargeting, conversion codes, utm parameters, and a whole bunch of other really cool tricks that can keep all your data from each platform contained in one single analytics area.

So after setting up ClickMeter, I had to go and switch out all of the links everywhere so we could start accurately tracking everything. As of right now, we have 76 tracking links across 10 different campaigns and over the last 30 days they have been clicked on 4,340 times. I didn’t have time to properly manage all of our paid advertising campaigns, so outside of Amazon ppc all paid traffic is now paused. That means across our organic content we are generating 4,340 visitors per month. That’s pretty damn good.

To be clear, I have not yet built the automated reports that will break everything down for me and pull all the data together into a strategic spreadsheet that I can make decisions on. But at least the infrastructure is there so when I have the time to tackle this bear of a project, I can pull it all together.

Here are a list of the current campaigns we have in there:

  • Barbecue Recipe Book: Tracks all traffic specifically coming from our free pdf giveaway of the recipe book as well as our new hardcopy version. Info about the hard copy version is later in this post
  • Bonus Pages: How many people follow the links on the insert cards in our packaging to land on our bonus pages. Can compare this to orders per month per product to figure out the exact conversion rates of our insert cards
  • Email Funnels: All the analytics from the email funnels we have. I’ll go into our new email automations later. This data is going to be invaluable when I give context to what we are doing email wise now.
  • Advertising Channels: As discussed above, will pull the advertising statistics from FB, Pinterest, Youtube, Google Adwords, etc into one analytics dashboard so we can measure effectiveness
  • Iris Isaguirre: All the traffic generated from the 300+ Youtube Videos and overlaying ads we have. Iris has a personal set of links she uses to promote everything so I can track sales and traffic data directly attributable to her
  • Janna Estrada: Janna is our new social media manager. Again, she has her own set of tracking links so I can measure effectiveness of all organic social media traffic.
  • Pinterest: Measures all organic traffic coming into our funnels from Pinterest images we post
  • Review Clubs: We are building our own list of Reviewers by directing them over to us from AMZ Tracker. This is against their TOS obviously, but I have structured it in a way that we have plausible deniability if they catch us so we won’t be shut down. Building a list of $1 reviewers is a huge asset.
  • Vanity Funnel: All traffic from each stage in our vanity funnels. This will make more sense when I review our marketing strategy overview later in the post

As I said, right now we are just accumulating data in here. When I get the chance to tackle the spreadsheet that will crunch this data, I expect to be able to take one look and have the ability to make strategic decisions on every area of our marketing strategy in a few minutes each month.

Cost of Goods Sold Analytics

I mentioned in one of my previous posts about how I now have the ability to see analytics on all of my manufacturing data. This data however was isolated on its own tab in my financial spreadsheet, which meant that I always needed to manually update my COGs on my pricing tab to make sure it was up to date.

The reason it worked this way was because sometimes you may have inventory in stock from 2 different manufacturing batches and I needed to manually update so I could use the most accurate costs. For example, say I purchased 1,000 units at $5 apiece and then purchased 2,000 units at $4 each. My inventory in stock is 2,500 units, so until I sell 500 more units, I need to use the $5 figure in my calculations. Now, all I need to do is flip a switch to say which batch is the active number and it will automatically update over to my pricing models.

This switch removes the human error that occurs with manually updating everything and it makes a huge difference in the ease of calculating pricing strategies. Especially as I add more and more product lines to the mix, this spreadsheet update will give me the ability to quickly scale

Producing a Print Version of The Recipe Book

Over the past few years, I’ve looked into publishing the recipe book as a physical book multiple times. Each time I attempted to tackle the project, I backed down because reformatting the pdf version was such a pain in the ass to do.

Well, I finally took a couple days of dedicated work and made it happen. It took a bunch of time to retype and format everything, but we are now selling the recipe book in physical form as well as a pdf download. As you will see in the marketing strategy overview video, the recipe book is now the most crucial point that all of our marketing efforts revolve around because it funnels traffic into all of our product funnel (highly underutilized asset that will be maximized once I get a dedicated ppc person on board).

I looked at a bunch of books in my library when I was designing the cover graphics and decided that I needed to have testimonials on the back cover to provide credibility for the book. Instead of collecting testimonials from our customers, I decided it would be a cool idea to acknowledge some of the friends and family who have really supported me the most with Cave Tools over the years. On the back, I put testimonials I collected from my Aunt Eileen, Uncle Jack, Matt Budenstein, Aunt Peggy, Tina Ahn, Justin Lee, and Zach Hirsch. As soon as the book was finalized, I sent each of them a free copy of the book as a way of saying thank you for their support.

My favorite part of the entire recipe book publishing process was the idea I had for a dedication page. The way the book laid out on paper originally was that the table of contents was on the right hand side of the book. Usually you start the table of contents on the left side, so I needed one extra page before it so I could push it over to the left.

I started out writing a typical dedication along the lines of thanking my friends and family for all of their support. As I was writing it, it just sounded too canned and insincere. I purchased the rights to these recipes and formatted them in a nicely designed book. This wasn’t really something I poured my heart and soul in to create. So I deleted the entire dedication and decided to have fun with it.

This is what I came up with:

This Recipe Book is dedicated to every steak that’s ever been cooked well done. They didn’t deserve to go out that way. With the recipes in this book I entrust to you great power and great responsibility. May the memories of those poor steak souls live on and guide you towards that perfect medium rare every time you take over the grill. 

This dedication is in line with the whole “Medium Rare” nickname joke and we actually get emails all the time from people about how funny they thought the dedication was!

Building a New Training Resource Center

I’ve posted a lot about the power of my training resource center on this blog before. Up until now, I had always been using Igloo Software to run it on Hyacinth Connect. The only issue with Hyacinth Connect was that nobody but myself knew how to really modify and update procedures on there. As our team keeps growing and the number of processes and procedures keeps growing, it was apparent to me that we were outgrowing the capabilities of Igloo Software.

It took me about a full day to migrate everything over, but I ended up building an entirely new training resource center located at training.mycavetools.com. This new training area runs on WordPress, so every member of our team has the ability to update it without learning new coding skills or anything like that. I’m also running it on the WishList membership plugin, which means that I have full access control to each area of the site so nobody has access to every piece of the puzzle.

With the new wordpress layout, it’s also much more organized and easy to see which procedures are active and which ones are no longer being used in the current strategy.

I also built a team page so everybody can see the roles of each team member. We also centralized our human resources/on boarding procedures here so it is very easy for new team members to get acclimated to their position in the company.

training center

 

Developing a 60-90 Day Perpetual Autoresponder Sequence to Monetize Our List

Building an email list and then never emailing them is something that I would be willing to bet 90% of internet marketers are guilty of. The problem is constantly keeping up with new emails each week. There’s just too much will power involved to do it the right way and be consistent unless you have a dedicated email marketing person on your team.

The idea of building out an entire autoresponder sequence is daunting and in my mind, I thought it would take months to develop. So I just never developed anything. In late September, I decided to sit down and crank it out. To my surprise, it only took about 2 full days of dedicated work to build out.

Here’s how it works:

  1. People primarily enter our list in 1 of 4 ways: Website Purchase, Recipe Book Download, Vanity Funnel Opt In (Product Coupon), or VIP List Opt In
  2. They automatically get tagged so we know what products they have purchased and where the lead originated from
  3. The receive a couple days worth of emails that are relevant to what they signed up for. Ex: A few follow up emails about the product they purchased
  4. After finishing that autoresponder they are sent to our Offers Sequence, which is made up of Offer Packets
    1. Offer Packets: These are short email automation sequences that span about 1 week each. If we are trying to sell the kabob set for instance, the person will receive an initial email earlier in the week with “pre-content” to sell the kabob set. Pre Content is usually a youtube video from our channel that deals with the subject matter. In this case, it’s a purely informational email talking about how delicious kabobs are and an instructional video showing how to cook kabobs. Then, a few days later, they receive the “Sell” email which gives them the opportunity to purchase the kabob set at 20% by going through our Kabob Set Vanity Funnel.
    2. The Offer Packets include product offers and affiliate offers. Using this technique, we actually earned a commission when somebody purchased over $250 of Omaha Steaks through our Affiliate Link.
    3. Each time somebody goes through an Offer Packet, they are tagged so we know exactly what emails and offers they have received
  5. The Offer Sequence is a collection of all of the Offer Packets paired with if/else statements so nobody ever receives the same offers or emails twice. So if somebody came into the list by purchasing the kabob set, they would skip over that offer packet and only see the offer packets and pre content for our other products.
  6. The Offer Sequence currently goes for almost 90 days of 2 emails per week per person. Once somebody finishes the entire sequence, they are sent right back to the beginning. Since everything is tagged, they will skip over all of the old emails they already saw, unless we have added new products to the mix. This ensures that everyone on our email list will at some point be exposed to an offer for every single product line we own as long as they stay on the list.
  7. As mentioned in the Click Meter section above, every single link in this sequence is tracked. Once I build my click meter analytics spreadsheet, I’ll know exactly what offer packets convert the best and can logically position them in the Offer Sequence to make sure we maximize the lifetime value from every single person on our email list.

This entire strategy took only about 2 days to build and it is going to be an invaluable asset to the company that will automatically generate thousands of dollars extra per year and ensure that we are keeping in constant communication and top of mind awareness for all of our customers!

automations

General Marketing Strategy Overview

My core competency is on the marketing side of things, so I have a tendency of gravitating towards adding in new marketing strategies all of the time. As good as it is to have all of this marketing going on, the downside is that it adds complexity to the business. Every time we add new products, everything across the board needs to be updated so it all integrates together properly.

In order to continue scaling the company, I need to standardize and simplify the marketing so we can grow fast. Each time I add new marketing strategies, it creates confusion among the team because they are constantly learning new things. I need my team to all be on the same page so they can act as one cohesive unit. For this reason, I’ve decided that we have plenty of marketing strategies in place and it is a more valuable use of time to start maximizing the results of the current strategies instead of continually adding new layers of complexity.

Once that decision was made, it became essential for me to have a broad overview training that explained our marketing strategy in easy to understand terms. Here it is:

 

New Hires and Role Changes

Janna Estrada

Social Media has always been an area of the business we have been lacking in. Up until now, I could never justify having a social media person on the team. There was just no way that they would generate enough additional profit through social media to even pay for their own salary. With that said, we finally reached the point where it made sense to hire a dedicated social media manager, even if that means she is costing us money each month.

The reason for this is because we have such an outrageously ridiculous amount of content. Over 344 Youtube Videos, Almost 100 blog posts, over 185 review posts on independent blogs, Hundreds of custom product pictures from our customers. All of this content was basically just sitting there after creation without ever getting promoted.

I interviewed about 10 people for the position and Janna was the clear winner. She’s actually the most articulate and intelligent person I have ever hired out of the Philippines. Her core values were in line with what I was looking for and she is a total go getter. During the day she works for a music startup (Focusing on bringing Records back into style) in the Philippines and then she works for me at night.

As good as Janna is, I did make a few mistakes when hiring her. For starters, I was looking for someone in the $4-5 range per hour for salary. On the jobs website, her posted salary was within that range. After I told her she was hired, I sent her a message on Skype asking what her desired salary was. She responded that she wanted $15 per hour. I was incredibly busy, so without double checking her posted salary on the website, I just fired back and said that $15 was outside the range for this job and that I was looking for someone more in the $7-9 range.

Of course she accepted the $9 immediately as it was double what her requested salary was. After this all went down, I double checked my notes and couldn’t believe that I just hired her at twice the amount I originally intended to pay her. Writing this down is making me feel even dumber for messing up like this, but I guess I was just juggling too many things at once and she caught me in a moment of vulnerability.

Anyways, the next day I followed up with her and mentioned the price discrepancy. Her requested salary on the website I hired her from was in Monthly numbers, so she said she was confused and thought the amount was in weekly numbers, which is why she wanted such a high hourly rate. I’m a man of my word, so I told her I would still pay her $9 per hour since that’s what I agreed to. However, I made it clear that at $9 per hour she was going to be compared to her American counterparts and that we were going to set a very high bar for her to make her earn that salary.

Typically around $5 per hour is a very nice wage in the Philippines, so at $9 per hour on a part time job at nights, Janna is killing it right now.

Janna has been on board for almost 2 months now and she is doing an absolutely fantastic job managing our social media. To the point where I don’t think I could get an American to do this good of a job even at $30 per hour. She posts the perfect mix of funny stuff, articles, promotional stuff, etc.

I also went out and purchased a seasoned Reddit Account for her to use from some dude in Bangladesh. Last year during Christmas time, somebody posted a Cave Tools link on Reddit and it drove over 15,000 visitors to our website. The traffic potential from Reddit is enormous. The problem though is that Reddit users are crazy and will turn on you in a second if they think you are trying to promote your own stuff on the site.

The seasoned account we are using has been around for over 3 years and has a bunch of “Karma” on it. Karma is essentially like the internal grading system on Reddit to determine how authoritative you are.  By using a seasoned account, we are able to show a history of activity on Reddit of non promotional posts so whenever somebody checks us out we look like a regular user instead of a new account promoting the same company over and over again.

Purchasing and using a seasoned account can be tricky. To make it work, I purchased a dedicated IP address out of Seattle that is used every time we log into the account. That way when Janna logs in from the Philippines, it looks like she is logging in from the same computer in Seattle every time.

Within 48 hours of purchasing the seasoned account from the Bangladesh guy, the account we received was immediately banned from Reddit. They have advanced algorithms to detect these types of things and I’m pretty sure the only thing we messed up on was copy and pasting the username and password during the transfer instead of manually typing it in. That’s how sensitive the process is to get the account under our control. Luckily for me, the guy I purchased the account from replaced it with a new account for free. So far the new account is going well.

Each day Janna logs in to the account and posts random comments in various sub forums and shares links to funny stuff like Cat Pictures. This type of activity helps generate a lot of Karma for us and keeps the ratio of postings looking natural so when we do post our own stuff it looks like just another find on the internet.

Here’s the list of current tasks that Janna does on a daily and weekly basis:

Pinterest:

  • Pin Sources: Amazon Customer Pictures, Blogger Reviews, Articles around the Internet, Original Pictures in Social Media Dropbox folder
  • Pin all images from blogger reviews and optimize with CTA Links
  • Invite Bloggers to collaborate on boards
  • Set up alliance jobs for all blogger pins
  • Pin images from other websites to our general boards (Use AllTop to find articles)
  • Search by Hashtag and follow people who are posting
  • Invite new followers to become contributors to our general boards
  • RePin images from top trending hashtags and optimize description with keywords and CTA Links

Facebook:

  • Respond to any messages sent to us
  • Post in open communities using Cave Tools page as profile
  • Comment on and engage with anybody who took an action on one of our posts
  • Use facebook as Cave Tools and like the pages of each blogger. Use their email address or website name to find them
  • Post in the I Love Barbecue page to help share some of our content

Twitter:

  • Search based on hashtags and follow people
  • Retweet and like posts from the top hashtags
  • Research automation robot to assist with these tasks
  • Follow all new bloggers

Instagram:

Reddit:

  • We will purchase a seasoned account for you to use and assign a specific IP address to use each time you log in
  • Daily activity of 10 minutes per account of regular reddit voting and posting in sub forums
  • Never interact from one profile to another so they do not get linked in any way
  • Once per month per profile mix in one of our links to good content. Good content is engaging so we are talking about videos, blogger reviews (potentially), images (on our site or maybe pinterest), blog posts. Not using Reddit to send people into the product or recipe book funnels because that is obviously sales and the post will get deleted

 

  • Each Friday create the content calendar for what will be posted on each account and when for the next week. Use Hootsuite for facebook and twitter. Instagram and Pinterest can be done daily on the fly

 

Jessica Walker

I spoke in a recent blog post about how my friend Jess hired an Online Business Manager (OBM) to essentially be her COO. To continue growing at the rate I want to, I needed to have another thinker on my team that could keep the wheels on the train. So I followed Jess’s advice and went through Tina Forsyth’s OBM community to hire my own.

Hiring for this type of position was something I have never done before. Usually I build out the framework and training for the person and then it is very easy for them to follow my directions. For this position to work, the person needed to build their own job and have free rein to take work off my plate.

Before posting my job listing, I made sure to read through Cameron Herold’s book Double Double. He gave me a free copy at Camp Maverick and it was incredibly valuable because he covers a lot of information on hiring and provides tons of good interviewing questions.

I designed the first interview to be heavy on the values side of things. I knew that whoever I hired was going to have good prior experience and the aptitude to do the job, so I really wanted to make sure they would be a good fit personality wise with me.

I did 7 total first round interviews, each lasting about an hour long. I then chose 3 people to do a 2nd round interview with. The 2nd round interview was set up where I actually let them interview me. I gave them a full hour to ask me as many questions as they wanted about any area of the business and I screen shared to show them all of the different processes and infrastructure we had in place. This was essentially their chance to sell themselves to me and to see where they would jump in and provide value if hired.

After the 2nd round interview, each candidate then had to prepare a proposal and a blueprint for what they would do and where they would provide impact over the first 60 days of working together.

I had a really difficult decision to make because both Jess and Shannon were very good candidates. In my mind they were essentially a tie. Over the weekend before I made my decision I ended up going to Ontario to watch McGill compete in the lacrosse playoffs. I helped scout the opposing teams with Coach Steinwald and prepare the scouting reports that helped McGill win their 2nd national championship!

Instead of going home, I decided to shoot over to Montreal to hang out with Ben and catch up. Ben is killing it these days and recently bought his own studio where they are now producing high quality tv commercials. We dissected each other’s businesses from an outsider’s point of view and really learned a lot from each other.

Ben is currently going through Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach program, which goes into detail about analyzing the Kolbe A personality test. Ben analyzed the Kolbe tests for both Jess and Shannon for me and without a doubt said that Jess was going to be the better choice. Both Jess and Shannon had similar Kolbe scores, but he said that Shannon was going to slow me down because her quick start scores were not where he would want for this type of position. Tie broken.

So far Jess has been doing a pretty good job. I’ve limited her to a maximum of 20 hours per month, which means that she doesn’t have a lot of time to do labor type of tasks. At $60 per hour, I only want her being a manager/point person for my team. Each week she does all of the KPI scorecard grading and also holds all of the team meetings with everyone. That way I only need to have 1 meeting per week with her to make sure everything is running smoothly. She’s also been able to build and update our operating procedures which has been very helpful.

As good as she has been, we’re rounding out our 2nd month working together and I’m still not completely sold that she is the right person for the job. In the beginning, I tried to put her in charge of hiring a new PPC person to bring on. Instead of taking control, she created a bunch more work for me by sending me all of the resumes instead of actually interviewing and widdling down the candidate pool. In other areas as well, instead of taking control she was hesitant and ended up making much more work for me. I had a talk with her where I basically told her that she needed to start owning her job instead of asking for permission on everything.

That kind of stuff is expected for the first couple weeks when you are feeling each other out, so I don’t hold it against her. We still don’t have a PPC person on board, so I’m going to make that my project for January. I think my main problem why I’m not sold on Jess is because it’s hard for me to gauge her performance. In a labor position there are key metrics, but for management it’s not like I’m sitting in on the meetings to see how well she is doing.

This week she is taking off for Christmas vacation so I am going to hold all of the team meetings. This will be my first live conversation (outside of chatting in slack) with each of the team members in over a month so it will be interesting to catch up and see how they are doing.

In January I’m going to have a 2016 planning meeting with Jess and follow the structure provided in the book Traction. This meeting is going to set the stage for next year and I’m interested to see what she brings to the table now that she is fully acclimated into how the company runs. In addition to planning out the entire year, we are each going to set our Quarterly Rocks. These are the 3-4 big things that we want to accomplish in Q1.

My goal is to launch 20 products next year, which means I need to do at least 5 per quarter. I also want to hire and onboard a PPC person and build the systems for Jess to effectively manage them. This PPC person is going to play a vital role in achieving my year end goal of building our email subscriber list to over 10,000 people.

For Jess, I want her working primarily on managing the entire team, working with me to build out the SOPs for standardizing our launch procedure, and keeping up on integrating all of the new products into our current systems.

I’m also going to do a full review on her work over November and December and probably have another conversation with her about being more aggressive and assertive. My goal is to mold her into acting and thinking like Cave Tools is her company so when she makes decisions she makes them with conviction.

Marian Concepcion Alba

Marian has been doing an ok job, but she still is not performing at the level I want her to be at. I set her primary KPI at 15 blogger reviews posted per week and she has yet to hit that mark. Right now she is generating around 7 to 8 per week and has yet to receive a monthly bonus. I think 15 reviews might be a little too ambitious of a goal, so I’m going to bring the KPI down to 7 per week so it is more attainable for her.

In addition to blogger reviews, I’m going to add some more metrics for her to hit. One of my goals is to get 1 review posted to Amazon per day per product, so I built a new drip campaign tool that will allow her to give away 1 of every product every day in exchange for a review.

Each week after the meeting, myself or Jess updates the target keyword we are going after for each product and sets it to active or inactive depending on what products we are giving units away for. Marian checks Amazon for the current ranking of the product on that keyword and enters in the current selling price. The screen is frozen so as she scrolls left the other products appear and the proper list of coupon codes is automatically highlighted green so she knows what to grab.

Instead of just giving the product away to the reviewer, we make them do a search and buy first. That means that they actually go to Amazon and search for our main keyword and then buy the product for $1. The search and buy technique has a massive rankings increase because they have to scroll through the pages to find our product. That raises our relevancy for the target keyword. This is what the reviewer prompt looks like:

*Please disclose in your review that you received this product at a discounted price in exchange for an honest review

**Use Coupon Code Immediately upon receiving this email. This promotion ends in 48 hours and your code will become invalid

****Purchase Instructions****

Go to http://www.amazon.com and enter “Target Keyword” in the main search box at the top of the screen. Click Go

Scroll down the page until you see the product picture in the main search results. I just tried it and it showed up on PAGE 1 for me.

If you see the product on the right column of the screen or at the bottom where it says “Sponsored” please DO NOT click on it. That is an advertisement and it will cost us extra money.

Once you find the product you can add it to your cart and checkout like normal using the one time use coupon code provided above.

Please remember that this promotion ends in 48 hours, at which point the code will become invalid. Unfortunately we can not provide an extra coupon code after the promotion expires. If you find yourself in this situation, then don’t worry. You can join our giveaway promotion notifications list so you don’t miss out on the next opportunity http://cavetools.com/PromoReviews

She’s also going to be tapping into Youtube influencers using a service called Content Boulevard so we can start getting video content produced for each product on a regular basis.

Between these 3 jobs, I want her to start consistently hitting her goals so she can get regular bonuses each month and be accountable to our performance based system like everyone else.

Iris Isaguirre

Iris has been doing a fantastic job building out our Youtube channel using Creative Commons cooking videos. We’re now at over 340 videos on our channel, generating over 10,000 views per month, and using Call to Action ads to drive traffic away from Youtube into our product coupon funnels.

Now that we have such a large base of Youtube content, I’ve transitioned Iris over to blogging. Her new goal is to produce 1 blog post per day and embed one of the Youtube videos in each one so we can have all of that same content on our website as well.

I also have her posting weekly on Epicurious and Chowhound so we can start tapping into those audiences and driving traffic. So far this process hasn’t being going super well. I checked up on one of her posts and it had 8 comments on it, all of which were negative because she posted a picture of Pork to go with a Steak recipe. This was something Jess should have caught and fixed but didn’t.

Once she gets the hang of blogging, I plan on scraping a huge list of bbq and cooking websites for her to start reaching out to for guest blog posts. I’ll set her up with her own highrise account so she can manage all of the leads just like Marian does with the Product Review Bloggers.

Product Line Updates

Grill Set:

When we originally designed the Grill Sets, the packaging was over the 18inch mark on the longest side, which classified them as an oversized product. In July, I spoke with Tracy about resizing the tools and the package so we could make them 18 inches maximum and get the product classified as Standard Size units. We placed an order for 3,000 grill sets in July and when they arrived I found out that they were still the 18 inch + size as before. Apparently she spoke with the engineer and decided not to resize them and never told me. This mess up cost me over $11,000 dollar in profit because of the increased shipping fees associated with Oversized Products. This was a huge mess up! I had a conversation with her in July to discuss the importance of communication on these things and made sure that on our next order they absolutely needed to be resized.

In the end, all we had to do was make the spatula 0.5cm shorter and cut out a few cms in the packaging design. We ordered 5,000 grill sets for Christmas and successfully had the product line reclassified as Standard Size. On those 5,000 units we are now going to make an additional $18,750 in profit by making that one little change

Temp and Smoke Magnets:

On my last blog post I talked about the major quality issues we were having with our magnets delaminating and falling apart on people. I came down hard on my US magnet manufacturer and basically told Tina that she better get her shit together or she was done. I’m one of her biggest accounts so I scared the shit out of her. I’m happy to say that she rose to the occasion and the new magnets are fantastic. Instead of having the design laminated to the magnet itself, we now use the same material as car magnets and screen print the design directly onto the magnets so there is no way for it to fall apart.

The new magnets are larger than before and actually cheaper to manufacture as well. Instead of selling the magnets at break even, they are now generating a profit for me because of the reduced cost of goods sold.

Unfortunately we had to abandon the old magnet listings because they were decimated by negative 1 star reviews. However, we have very little competition in that space so the new listings were incredibly easy to rank and we are already building up tons of new 5 star reviews on the new designs.

New BBQ Brush:

This year our grill brush product line was cannibalized by newer better models. Demand dropped significantly and I’m sitting on over 2,000 units of very slow moving grill brushes. This summer we are going to take back control over the grill brush space with our new design.

I took the same new design that everybody else has and tweaked it by making the twisted wires (Not the Bristles) out of Stainless Steel instead of cast iron. The cast iron is cheaper, but it always ends up rusting if people leave it outside. With the new stainless steel wires, I’m going to have the only rust proof design on the market. The original grill brush model was also an oversized product line, so I made sure that this design was Standard Size like the rest of my stuff.

I tested my samples out by leaving one outside under the grill, one completely exposed outside, and one in a tub of water for a couple weeks. The outside models stood up to the weather and the one that sat in water had very minor rusting. For me that’s good enough to make the rust proof claim for standard use.

BBQ Tongs:

In December we launched the Spatula as an individual product line. Now we are also manufacturing the Tongs as individual units that will be available in February. We also did the same thing by selling our kabob skewers in individual 10 packs without the rack. Between the grill sets and the kabob sets, this is an awesome way to create new product lines from already developed products.

Having individual units also goes a long way in reducing the costs of replacement products. In the past if someone received a damaged grill set we would ship out an entire grill set to replace it for them. Now, we can figure out which tool had an issue and just ship that one out to them.

We’re also able to hit more price points with the individual units. If someone doesn’t want to fork out 30 bucks for the whole set, they can buy an individual unit for 11 or 12 bucks.

Grill Light:

When I was in Aruba in March, I talked to a fairly new seller that only sold Grill Lights. With that product alone he was generating over 100K per month during the summer! This summer, we’re going to have our own grill light and it’s the newest model on the market. Just like my grill brush and thermometer were cannibalized last summer, the grill light market is going to experience a similar shake up with these new models.

The grill light is one of those electronic products where it is very difficult to customize and everyone essentially sells the same item under their own brands. Sure, I’ll have the edge in the beginning, but eventually this market will devolve into a price war because there is no differentiation.

To preempt this from happening, I’m designing really high end gift box packaging. All the grill light manufactures sell the lights in a standard color cardboard box. Instead of going with the color box, we are using a Sky & Earth box design and we created a custom foam mold so it looks really classy when you open the box. Here’s an example of what the box will look like:

IMG_19122015_002209

Burger Press:

The burger press market is another market that is filled with patents. There are only a few designs of the standard burger press that can be freely manufactured and they are all inferior to the patented designs.

There’s a lot of money on the table in this market so I really wanted to get in there. I came across this very unique design one day while searching around on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Shape-Store-Innovative-Freezer-Container/dp/B00XHI1AGA

Nobody sells anything similar to this product and because it’s made out of silicone there are no utility patents out there. I looked up the company and they launched using kickstarter to raise money and they have tons of press pickup because it is truly a unique product.

As a side note, all of their marketing says they source their silicone in the USA and manufacture in Canada. I found their exact manufacturer in China so they are blatantly lying and will most likely get caught and fined very soon for the deception.

Before I found this out, I actually tried sourcing manufacturing in the US. I contacted a bunch of silicone manufacturing plants across the US and was able to receive a quote from one that had the ability to make it for me. To make it in the US, I would have had to hire someone to create the CAD designs for me and then the mold would have cost me upwards of $40,000 with a unit cost in the $10-12 range. Absolutely fucking ridiculous! No wonder American manufacturing is dying.

By going through the manufacturer in China, I was able to get them to product my 3D CAD models and develop the mold for a grand total of $2,480. My unit cost is still in the $10-12 range so we are currently working on redesigning the CAD models to bring it down to a more reasonable price range.

Instead of doing 8 quarter pound burgers, our design is going to make 6 third pound square burgers. Yes, I’m going to be making square burgers like Wendys haha I think it will add another level of uniqueness to the product because you never see square burgers and there are no square burger products out there on the market.

When you make homemade burgers you are supposed to put a thumb print in the middle of the burger so it doesn’t puff up into a ball when you cook it. Our design is going to have little dimples already pre built into the mold to do this for you. This is going to be my most unique product yet and I think if we can get the pricing down to where it needs to be, it will be a major success!

When my manufacturer sent me the original 3D designs, the side of the tray said “Patent Pending.” I did a little research because I knew this wasn’t something I was planning on patenting and I found that if you haven’t yet filed a patent and you are using Patent Pending, then you can be fined up to $500 per unit. So if I made 2,000 units with Patent Pending on them, then my total liability would be up to $1 million dollars! The manufacturer told me that it was ok and all of her clients put Patent Pending on their products even if they haven’t filed for a patent. I told her she was bat shit crazy and all it takes is for one customer to get curious and start looking for my fake patent. We removed patent pending from the design…

 

Meat Claw Shipping Woes

Almost every blog post I have ever written since starting Cave Tools always involves some sort of fucked up shipping incident that costs me tons of money. Why would this post be any different?

Ever since my epic fail on the Meat Claws infomercial and appearance on The View, I’ve had about 15,000 Meat Claws stashed in my parent’s garage. This caused major cashflow problems throughout the year and severely limited my ability to develop new product lines. Sure it wasn’t costing me anything to keep the inventory at my parent’s house, but it was about $40,000 worth of inventory sitting there all year generating no money. My only hope was that I could somehow sell through them all at Christmas Time.

In November I started the process of shipping out all of the boxed so they could be available in the fulfillment centers for sale. Like usual, I shipped the boxes out of my local parcel place. After a couple trips of shipping out 30 to 40 boxes, the employees there started asking me all sorts of personal questions about my business. I’ve known these guys for years and we always joke around with each other and have a great relationship, so it wasn’t super out of the ordinary.

One day as I was leaving, I went to pay for printing about 25 shipping labels and they charged me about $1 per print compared to the usual 5 cents. When I questioned him on the pricing he replied with a sly remark that it’s a business expense I could write off and that of course I could afford it because my business was obviously doing so well. I was really pissed off at his asshole comments, but decided to pay anyways and then never print there again.

Later that week I printed my shipping labels at home and went down to ship out a couple thousand units. He saw that I printed my own labels and made a comment about me not printing there, to which I replied that at $1 per print I couldn’t afford it and the only reason I printed there in the first place was so I could toss them a couple extra bucks each time. I went about my business preparing the boxes and didn’t engage in any conversation with them at all.

As I was preparing the shipment, I overheard him talking to the woman employee in the back under his breath and he said something along the lines of “I’m sure he probably has insurance to cover his inventory anyways.”

I’ve never felt so uncomfortable before in my life when I left. To the point where I recorded an audio file on my phone on the drive home explaining the entire situation because I was certain they were going to steal all my inventory instead of shipping it out. The retail value of that single shipment was probably in the $30,000 range so I was terrified and almost went as far as driving directly to the police station so I could get something on record ahead of time if something happened.

In the end, I decided to calm down and just keep checking the tracking numbers to make sure it all shipped out the next day. It did and nothing ever happened, but I will never go back there again.

Instead of putting myself in that situation again, I ordered a bunch of packing slips from UPS and scheduled a pickup at my parent’s house for the remaining couple 100 boxes. The UPS guy that picked it up was actually my cousin Andy, so it was cool catching up with him and loading the truck together.

I definitely learned a bunch of lessons from this encounter that will stick with me forever. For starters, people treat you way differently when they know or think you have money. Even if you think they you have a good relationship with them, money changes perceptions pretty quickly. Especially when the people you are dealing with are probably earning minimum wage. I’ll also never again put that amount of inventory at risk without my oversight.

Missing the 7 Figure Mark Because of Shipping Screw Ups

I’m going to finish the year at around 930K in revenue between Medium Rare Industries and Hyacinth Marketing. About 870K being generated by MRI/Cave Tools and 55-60K by Hyacinth Marketing. This is a significant improvement over last year. I haven’t looked at all the final numbers yet to compare, but it will be about 400% growth over the past year. As awesome as that is, 7+ figures was easily within my grasp and I screwed it up because of shipping.

After experiencing shipping delays last year around Christmas time, I told myself that this year I would have everything in stock by October at the latest so there was plenty of room for error. In order to get everything in stock by October, I needed to place all of my inventory orders in August. However, I essentially took the entire month of August off this year while I was traveling around in Europe. All I needed to do was sit for about 4 hours to make my projections and place my orders and I would have easily made 7 figures. Instead, I procrastinated and never placed my inventory orders until about the 2nd week of September.

My plan was to launch the 10pc Skewers and Spatulas by the end of October or early November so they could be in full swing by the holiday rush. However, since I delayed on the manufacturing side of things, the skewers never launched until the 3rd week of November and the Spatulas never arrived until the 2nd week of December. The skewers ended up doing alright for the holidays, but the Spatulas missed the mark almost completely.

Normally when I bring inventory in, I send it to an intermediary warehouse in San Francisco and then ship to the fulfillment centers using Amazon’s UPS account. However, since I was late on placing my orders, I decided to ship everything direct from China to Amazon. This was the first time we ever did this before and we ran into a bunch of unforeseen obstacles.

When the skewers arrived, the trucker went to the designated fulfillment center and waited in line for 4 or 5 hours before they could get to the front of the line. When they got there, they were rejected because we never made an appointment. Apparently when you are shipping to the fulfillment centers using your own trucking instead of the Amazon UPS account, you need to make a delivery appointment. Amazon doesn’t mention this anywhere on the shipment creation screen, so there really was no way to plan for it.

The trucker was pissed because he was never able to drop the inventory off and he had to go back to wherever he was dispatched from. While this is going on, my freight forwarder was calling me on my cell phone trying to figure out how to set an appointment. I was somewhere up in the mountains on my way to Montreal so I had no service. I ended up pulling over to a gas station in the middle of some run down little mountain town so I could get wifi and figure everything out. I sat on my laptop in this little gas station convenience store for about an hour going back and forth and trying to get instructions from Amazon on how to set an appointment.

We finally figured it out, but the next available appointment date wasn’t for another 3 or 4 days. That means I had to pay for the 1st full day of the trucker and for a couple days worth of storage until they could drop the inventory off. When they got there on the appointment date, the trucker waited a full 8 hours in line and never made it to the front of the line. He had to turn around and go back again. Luckily, we were able to set another appointment for the next day. This time, the trucker made it to the front of the line, but because of the wait time he arrived about 2 hours after the allotted appointment time. Amazon has a rule that you have to deliver the goods within 1 hour of your appointment time, so they automatically canceled our appointment and once again the trucker was turned away.

At this point, I was furious because all the extra storage and trucking fees were murdering me on my margins. All the trucker needed to do was check in to let them know he was waiting in line and they wouldn’t have canceled the appointment. Finally, on the 4th attempt we were able to deliver the skewers. Even with all of those delays, we were still able to get them in by the 3rd week of November.

Those two were new products, so I wasn’t banking on the additional revenue from them putting me over the 7 figure mark. What really killed me was stocking out of the Smoker Boxes for about 3 weeks over the holidays. Even though I was late on ordering, I still would have had enough time to replenish the inventory if it wasn’t for my freight forwarder completely dropping the ball on me.

We had already gone through all of the issues with delivering the skewers, so we were prepared for the appointments to deliver the smoker boxes. I had been in constant communication with them about the importance of speedy delivery on the Smoker boxes because they were one of my best selling products and I was running low on inventory. Everything was set to be delivered on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and if all went as planned, I never would have stocked out.

Each month, I get charged a little over a thousand dollars in interest on my loans I took to finance the year. Since I had a bunch of money in my account, I decided to pay off about $10,000 worth of the loans so I could reduce my interest payment. What I didn’t realize, was that my magnet manufacturer sat on their check for a few extra days instead of cashing it right away. Between the loan payment and them finally cashing their check, my account didn’t have enough money in it when my freight forwarder went to cash their check for the smoker box delivery and it bounced.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to an email from them saying that the check bounced and they immediately canceled my delivery until the money was paid. Within an hour from them sending that email, I wired the money directly into their account. However the damage was done and they never made the delivery on Tuesday. Everybody was off over Thanksgiving and there were no open appointments the week after, so because of that one little mistake, we never got the smoker boxes back in stock until the 2nd or 3rd week of December. This mistake alone probably cost me about 80K in sales.

I was absolutely furious with my freight forwarder! I have been a customer of theirs for over a year and a half and have always paid on time. Yes, it was my fault that I didn’t have enough money in the account for them and the check bounced. But the least you can do is pick up the fucking phone and give me a call. Especially when it was clearly communicated how important this inventory was because we were in the busiest time of the year. They had their money within one hour of sending that email, but because they didn’t take 5 minutes to call me, they cost me about 80 thousand dollars. From a customer service standpoint, that’s absolutely pitiful.

Of course afterwards, they were apologetic and did their best to smooth things over. What else could they do? They totally fucked up. I’ve been through the gamut of shitty freight forwarders so I’m not going to fire them, but that large of a mistake is really difficult to swallow.

Christmas Season Sales Review and Projections mess up

I discussed my Q4 sales projections and methodology in my last blog post. Well…I was way off! Last year my sales inflection point was on October 31, so I expected it to be the same for this year. Instead, the sales inflection never came until around November 18th. That’s 18 extra days of regular sales numbers when I was expecting about 2x to 3x the demand. Those 18 days were incredibly stressful and full of doubt. I had ordered a shit ton of extra inventory and all I could think of was how I was going to get stuck with it all and have to pay a major tax bill that I probably couldn’t afford at the end of the year. I also had a garage full of around 15,000 meat claws that I was sure were never going to sell.

During this time period, I went back and inspected the logic behind my projections. The logic seemed sound at the time, but I realized that it was all based on relative increases in demand instead of fixed increases. For example, I expected grill brush sales to at least double because they doubled the previous year. The problem with that logic is that my average daily sales this year on that product line were higher than the previous year. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but if I went from 10 a day to 20 a day last year, then instead of going from 15 a day to 30 a day this year, I should have projected to go from 15 a day to around 20 per day.

Using fixed numbers would have given me a much more accurate projection of demand than the relative increase. When multiplied across 11 different product lines, the margin of error on my projections was huge. According to my projections, the absolute lowest revenue I should have done was $500,000 between November and December, but I was expecting to realistically do around $600,000 or $700,000.

Next year, I’ll be sure to use a more conservative estimation process by going with fixed demand numbers. Of course, we still did extremely well over the holidays, so I can’t be too upset. My biggest day came on November 26 when we ran 2 lightning deals and did $26,502.11 in one day!

Lightning deals are invitation only by Amazon where they feature your products on the first page of Amazon at a significant discount. I submitted applications for all of my products, but only the Grill Brush and the Grill Sets were included. On November 26, we sold 719 grill brushes at $11.99 and 322 Grill Sets which accounted for about $22,000 of the sales that day.

Selling 719 grill brushes in one day boosted my Best Sellers Ranking up to number 6 in all of PAtio Lawn and Garden!

After Lightning Deal - Grill Brush

Cyber Monday was just a few days later and gave us an additional $16,542.89 in sales to really kick off the holiday season. After Cyber Monday, I really saw our sales skyrocket on a day to day basis and as we got closer to Christmas we strung together multiple 10K plus days and then even a 3 or 4 day period where we were consistently doing over 15K per day. I took screen shots along the way to show the ridiculous progression. I was literally checking my cell phone every hour of the day during the holidays just watching the sales come in.

December 2:

December 10

December 14

December 15

December 16

December 18

December 23

These numbers were all fueled primarily by the fact that the Meat Claws ended up being ranked in the #3 and #4 position for “Gifts for Dad” on Amazon through the month of December. I don’t track the rankings for all the other similar variations like “Gifts for my uncle” or “Gifts for Brother,” but we were up there on the first page for almost all of those as well!

I think the Meat Claws lend themselves as really good gift ideas, but I also promo’d out about 100 units to target “Gifts for Dad” and I jacked up my advertising bids to help them reach those rankings. At one point we were selling over 700 meat claws per day and I had to jack the price up to lower the demand. I went from being terrified that I would even make a dent in my inventory in November, to being afraid of stocking out of the Meat Claws in December! By the end of the year, I was selling the Meat Claws for $19.99 while my competitors were all fighting over sales of essentially the same product at $9.99.

Currently, I’m left with about 550 units to carry me through January and February until my next batch of 10,000 units comes in to cover the summer.

Between November and December this year, we did $426,323.66 in sales across 28,088 units. November and December accounted for about 49% of our yearly total, which came out to be 56,604 units for $871,497.44. If it wasn’t for the shipping delays, I totally could have knocked off the 7 figure mark, but again, with numbers like these there is no room for me to complain. We killed it this year! Last year we did 11,157 units for a total of $203,329.62 in sales. That’s 429% growth in one year!

With the plan I have in place for next year, I’m hoping to hit over 600% growth in 2016. Yes, that’s about $6 million in sales! I’ll talk more on that in a bit, but for now, let’s look at my year over year growth since starting out on my own.

2011 – $1,000: I picked up the Millevoi Bros contract in October and was still working for Simplex Grinnel

2012 – $20,935: I partnered with Ben in Montreal starting in May, but September was our last month working together so the end of the year had no substantial income

2013 – $89,003.89: Living at home and seriously struggling to get the marketing company back on it’s feet. Almost quit and got a job because the majority of this income came towards the end of the year. The beginning of the year was brutal partnering with Wayne trying to get the National Alliance for Student debt Awareness off the ground. Towards the end of the year I started Cave Tools and we did $51,949.65 in sales from May to December with just the grill brush.

2014 – $263,001: First summer where I really put my full effort into Cave Tools. Hyacinth also generated about 60K. With 263K in sales, I still only ended up with a profit of $9,822 that year because I was self funding and everything was getting reinvested into Cave Tools.

2015 – $900,000+: I don’t have my final year end numbers yet

Looking at the numbers this way really puts things into perspective. It wasn’t until mid way 2015 that I really got my feet under myself and could start taking a regular salary. It took me 3 years of serious struggles to lay the groundwork for our success this year. I can remember so many times when I was at the absolute breaking point and ready to throw in the towel, but there always seemed to be one more opportunity on the horizon that if I could just hit, I would be able to sustain myself.

Taking Over Exclusive Amazon Sales Privileges for Amara Baby Food

Bobby’s friend Jess started a company called Amara Baby Food a few years ago after winning a Start Up Chile contest. They have an strong Angel backer and have been doing pretty well on the retail side of things by getting into Whole Food and a bunch of other super markets in the US.

Jess reached out to me for some help in September because they weren’t making any sales online. I didn’t have the time to help her out, so I put together a couple of listing optimization videos for her so she could manage Amazon herself and start making sales. I had already done an hour long consulting call with her the previous year, so I figured that between that call and the new trainings, she could handle it.

Even after all of the free training I gave her, she still wasn’t making sales. The online world was completely new for her, so she didn’t have the ability to really implement things the way they needed to be. In November, Jess came to Philly to have a few meetings with VCs so she could raise more money. We went out to lunch together and she explained to me that even though they were doing well on the retail side, cashflow was extremely tight. It takes a long time to turn inventory in retail and if they didn’t raise more money by the end of the year, they were probably going to go under.

I was in the middle of preparing for my Q4 so I didn’t have any available time to help her out. I tried pushing her off until January, but I took a step back and realized that I had the opportunity to help save her business. If I didn’t do something quick to help her out, her business was going under. As a friend, I would feel horrible if her business failed and instead of helping her out, I spent my weekends drinking in the bar with friends.

I know It’s not my responsibility to help everyone and I definitely need my down time so I can rejuvenate, but if there was a way to make it work I at least wanted to give it a shot. I consulted with one of my Amazon Masterminds and I studied some old material I had from Dan Collins, who primarily does Amazon Consulting for other businesses instead of his own brand.

About a week or two after I met with Jess, I presented a solution to her. The plan was that I would get an exclusive for all Amara sales on Amazon in exchange for 25% of her net payouts. She would be responsible for all financial and inventory matters and all I needed to do was make her products sell.

My presentation was definitely met with resistance because the typical exclusive deal in retail was usually around 5% and that’s for a major brand like Whole Foods. She tried to negotiate, but I stood my ground. Anything less than 25% was not worth it for me because I would be working for cash instead of building my own asset and I used the exact same contract that Dan uses for the 6 or 7 brands he manages, so I knew that was the going rate for this type of work.

There was also a line in the contract that states that if her company is sold, my contract must remain intact in its entirety unless the acquiring company wants to buy me out of the contract. Their goal is to sell to a big company in the next few years, so they didn’t want to be locked into anything that would hurt their chances of selling. I understood where she was coming from, but also explained that if I get her Amazon account up to say 20 or $30,000 per month in sales, then I am building the asset for her that will be largely responsible for them hitting the numbers they need to hit to sell the company.

We each went back and forth and I made some concessions, such as having a trial period where they can cancel the contract if I don’t hit certain numbers in the first few months. We are now set to fully launch tomorrow, January 4th and I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do for her brand.

To me, this is a win-win situation. They will go from $0 in sales each month to most likely around $10,000 per month within the first few months and continue to grow as I work my magic. For me, the only expense is going to be my time. I will have to front load a lot of time in the beginning, but once they are up and running, my team should be able to handle the majority of the work. If I can get them up to around $10,000 in pay out each month, that’s an extra $2,500 in profit for me every month. Hyacinth Marketing currently does maybe $1,000 in profit per month across multiple clients (I fired a bunch of clients so I could focus on Cave Tools this year), so this one client will make a huge difference for me. At the end of the day, it’s also going to feel great to help them out with their cashflow problems so they can stabilize the business and continue growing their retail side.

Landing Interviews and PR

The other day my buddy Perry reached out to me because they are launching a podcast called www.cashflowstartup.com and he wanted to talk about my success in ecommerce. In the entrepreneurial world there are typically 2 main types of businesses. Venture backed business are the most well known kinds of businesses where you raise a bunch of capital and try to launch something that is disruptive and has a high chance for acquisition. These types of businesses are normally all or nothing. You either hit big or you fail. The other type of business is a cashflow business where you usually bootstrap it and build a company that generates cash and helps you achieve a certain lifestyle. Cave Tools definitely falls under the cash flow category.

In my opinion, most new entrepreneurs should start out with a cash flow business before going the venture backed route because it helps you learn the ropes of business and also helps you achieve a certain level of financial security where you can target a disruptive business idea without worrying about how to pay the bills. I’m actually very amazed that nobody owned the cashflowstartup domain already because I’m sure it gets a ton of organic searches.

The interview went very well and we discussed a lot of the lessons I have learned and advice I would give to new entrepreneurs who are just starting out. Right now they are building up their interviews, so it hasn’t gone public yet, but I expect it to be live in the next few months.

In November somebody also reached out to me from the www.profitwithpassionsummit.com. I was surprised from this phone call because the entire summit is focused on Christian Entrepreneurs and I am not religious at all. Somebody apparently recommended that they interview me for the virtual summit.

I explained to the guy that I wanted to be very clear that I was raised Catholic, but no longer consider myself a Catholic or Christian. I told him that I do however have very strong core values that closely align with Christian values. My answer was either exactly what they were looking for or they were desperate to fill up the speaking spots. Either way, I was in.

The sent me over some sample questions before the interview so I could get an idea of what we would be talking about. It was kind of funny because all the questions were phrased like “As a Christian Entrepreneur…” to basically try to get me to say I was a Christian. I have no intentions of pretending to be somebody I’m not and I clearly told them multiple times that I was not a Christian, so I just ignored the Christian part and responded “As an Entrepreneur…”

The Summit goes live on January 29 to 31 and they have an entire marketing team promoting it, so I’m looking forward to seeing what type of exposure I will get.

Consulting on how to Outsource Properly

Lately a lot of my friends in Maverick Next and Sovereign Academy have been reaching out to me for help on how to outsource properly. I always love helping out my fellow entrepreneurs and I’m flattered that a lot of people view me as an expert in this area. It reminds me how much I learned when partnering with Ben in Montreal and how much I’ve built on that foundation in the last few years. Especially in this past year, my approach to outsourcing has evolved dramatically.

I still have all of my Outsourcing material I put together for ASM Elite, which goes into granular detail about how I hire and manage my team members. In the last 2 months, I’ve sent these videos to my friend Ben to help him with his info marketing business and my friend Isaac to help him with his Amazon business. The videos are great because I can just send it over and then have a quick follow up call to go over any questions they may have. I also did a hour long consulting call with my friend Nesh in Australia to help him integrate some VA’s into his business which is a meal service for people on the Paleo diet.

Final Year End Review

2015 was easily the most successful, fulfilling, adventurous, and fun year of my life so far. In the beginning of the year I was still living at home. My business was growing, but financially I was struggling to make ends meet. I remember telling myself in the beginning of the year that this had to be my year. After living at home for almost 3 years since returning from Montreal, there was no way I was going to continue being a dependent “Struggling Entrepreneur” by the time I turned 26 in October.

My first big decision was to leverage debt to grow the company. Taking on almost $100,000 in debt from the bank was one of the scariest decisions I ever made. That decision was a major game changer for me and set the stage for the success that followed throughout the rest of year.

In February I attended the ASM conference in Vegas. I had recently made about $15,000 in profit from the affiliate launch and planned on using that money to sustain myself so I could finally move out on my own. However, at the event I was offered the opportunity to join a high level Amazon mastermind in Aruba that cost $15,000. Instead of taking the money and moving out, I decided to invest it in myself by going to the mastermind.

That single decision resulted in:

  • Me getting accepted into Maverick Next and building a ton of new relationships with extremely motivated entrepreneurs
  • Getting the chance to meet Ramit Sethi and get his advice on whether or not I should start a new brand in Europe or not
  • Going to Camp Maverick and hanging out with tons of 7 and 8 figure business owners
  • The inspiration for my KPI scorecard system
  • My entire youtube marketing strategy
  • In depth analysis and understanding of my personality type as it relates to business
  • My weekly Amazon mastermind group which keeps me on top of everything going on in the industry
  • My ecommerce mastermind group
  • My scaling to 7 figures mastermind group

 

I took a huge risk by allocating about $40,000 to the meat claws infomercial and it failed miserably. I learned a ton of lessons from that failure and was able to successfully use the other $60,000 or so dollars to launch 8 new product lines throughout the rest of the year. I also built tons of new scalable processes into my business and hired 4 new team members in Marian, Iris, Janna, and Jess.

Instead of becoming tight with money after the $15,000 mastermind, I decided to double down and invest in myself as much as possible this year between masterminds, courses, and voraciously reading new business books. I’m not sure what the exact dollar amount is, but I estimate that I spent close to $25,000 this year on self-improvement. The value I gained from this investment is incomprehensible when you consider that the same dollar amount could barely afford me 1 year of college tuition.

At the same time as I was quadrupling my business, I was also making a point to travel more than I ever have in my life. This year I went to Las Vegas twice (ASM event, Fantasy Draft with College Friends), Chicago (National Housewares Tradeshow), Aruba, Ireland, France, Lithuania (Sovereign Man), Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, and Connecticut (Camp Maverick).

While traveling, I also came to the realization that I finally achieved the geographic and financial independence I have been working towards since starting out on my own. Of course I’m not truly financially independent, but I have more than enough to live the lifestyle I want to live in 2016. To me that’s freedom and it feels incredibly liberating.

Setting my Sights on 2016

This year was an amazing year, but I’m determined to make 2016 even better.

Personal Goals:

  • Move Abroad: I leave tomorrow for a 10 day “Scouting” trip of Panama and might jump over to Medellin in Columbia for a few days as well. Assuming I like Panama, I intend to make it my home base for the next year
  • Become Fluent in a new language: I’m going to apply the same techniques I used to become conversationally proficient in French on Spanish. I’ll also most likely take Spanish classes so I can become completely fluent and work on my accent.
  • Live Without a TV: I really enjoyed not having a television when I lived in Montreal. It forces you to read and get out more. I’ve watched entirely too much TV over the last 3 months so I intend to cut the habit by purposely not having a TV in my new apartment
  • Travel Extensively: Exploring new countries has always been one of my passions. Next year, I intend to hit most of South America and hopefully make a trip to Hong Kong to visit my brother.
  • Meditation: I worked meditation into my daily ritual for a good 3 or 4 months this year before I broke the habit. My meditation practice worked absolute wonders on my mental health and business growth this year. Next year I will make sure I stick with it and meditate daily
  • Body Sculpting: I haven’t been to a gym in well over a year. I do pushups and sit ups daily to keep in shape, but next year will be different. After I move I will make going to the gym a priority and focus on building muscle mass instead of just staying in shape
  • Pick Up a New Hobby: Outside of my lacrosse team, I never truly got involved in the Philadelphia community. I was too busy with my business and probably a little too lazy as well to get my ass off the couch on week nights. I’ll figure out what my hobby is after I move, but right now I am considering at least one of the following: learning salsa, scuba diving, kite surfing, surfing, and possibly bungee jumping in the various destinations I travel to.

Business Goals:

  • This year we launched 8 new products, 2 of which came in December so they don’t really count. Next year my goal is to launch at least 20 new products. If we could quadruple with 6 new products, think of what 20 new products can do.
  • Scale my business from 900K to 5 or 6 million in revenue so by the end of the year I am ready or close to being ready to put Cave Tools up for sale. 5 or 6 million is largely dependent on how well the new products do and how quickly I can get them out. At the very least, I expect to do $3 million.
  • Increase our email list from about 2,000 subscribers to over 10,000 subscribers
  • Maintain a 40-50 hour work schedule with minimal work on weekends
  • Learn as much as I can about investing and start getting skin in the game

Recharged and Ready to Conquer

Posted on September 12th, 2015 in My Story | No Comments »

It’s September 3rd and I’m writing this while flying to Vegas to meet up with my friends for our fantasy football draft. I haven’t been in Philly for a weekend since before July 24th. During that time, I’ve traveled to Ireland, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Connecticut, and now Las Vegas. From July 24th to August 24th I didn’t work more than 8 hours a week. During that time, all I really did was check emails and delegate to my team. They performed wonderfully in my absence and took the initiative to make sure they got their work done. We even launched our latest product line, the smoker box, while I was away and succeeded in topping the hottest new sellers list in our category.

When I reflect on this past month and my life in general, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful. I’ve earned it through my hard work of course, but there’s something to be said for the practice of gratefulness. On my 3 hour drive home from Connecticut I had the windows down and I sang at the top of my lungs and just smiled and was grateful for the good in my life. I’m aware that I’m on an upswing right now. I’m recharged from my travels and there are a million things I want to implement in my business. Life is good. The more I can internalize the practice of mindfulness the better off I will be on the next inevitable down swing.

I’ve Decided to Move Outside of The US

My last post was very introspective. I wrote it free form without editing so I could get it all out of my head and start to conceptualize and develop my ideas.  It’s been a few weeks now and I’ve had a lot of time to think about things from a less impulsive perspective.

During my travels I experienced freedom in a way I never have before. Since then, I’ve noticed that I have been more confident and I’m thinking and acting much more independently than I have in years. I’m living life on my terms instead of trying to please everybody. I don’t know how long I’ll be away for or how much I’ll decide to move around, but I do know that I need to continue exploring my freedom.

So Where To?

I’m not going to make that decision right now because I know I can’t move until January or February of next year. There is just too much at stake for 4th quarter sales for me to be in a transition period right now. I will say however that I am strongly considering somewhere in Thailand or Panama City. I’ve never been to either of these places before, so I don’t know what it would be like to live there. When we get closer to December / January, I’ll make a list of pros and cons and start seriously researching each place to see if it fits into my goals. Cheaper cost of living is definitely preferred, but the most important reason for moving is really the personal growth side of things.

One of my goals is to become a sophisticated investor. Right now, I’m developing my business skills, but later in life I see myself as the type of person that buys, sells, and invests in a bunch of different businesses. To get to that point, there is a lot of investing and financial knowledge that I need to acquire. The way I see it is that if I can lower my living expenses by 1 or 2 grand per month, then I can freely invest that money without fear of losing it.

By moving to a place like Thailand or Panama, I can be aggressive and shorten the feedback loops required to learn through experience. I’ve also purchased both Security Analysis and The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham so I can learn the theory side of value investing.

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with entrepreneurs from all walks of life and I have to say I’m scared about what’s coming down the pipeline for the U.S. in the next handful of years. Right now, all of my wealth is held in my business. If something were to happen and people stopped buying commodities, I would have nothing to show monetarily for my hard work. I’m in a position where I should be heavily leveraged on growing my business, but at the same time, I need to make a concerted effort to take more money out and start diversifying into some other types of investments as well.

If I’m taking more money out, then I sure as hell better be laser focused on growing the pie as well. To do that, I need more personnel and I need more product lines. Part of moving to a cheaper place means having the ability to cost effectively open up an office and hire educated employees at a fraction of the price it would cost me in the United States.

We’re at a point financially in the company right now where we can afford on self-funding alone to be launching  1 to 2 new product lines every single month. There’s no doubt in my mind that by the end of next year we can have a full line of bbq and cooking products in our store. The only limitation to achieving this goal is bandwidth.

The 2 key hires I see right now to make this happen are a product development manager and a marketing launch manager. The product development manager will be tasked with researching new products, contacting manufacturers and cultivating relationships with them. They will need to build up a serious pipeline to ensure that we hit the 1 to 2 new products per month mark, but it’s completely doable.

By cranking up the product development engine, we also need to crank up the marketing engine to ensure each launch is successful. The marketing launch manager will be tasked with making sure all of the steps in our launch sequence are completed on schedule for each product.

These are 2 major hires, but they don’t need to cost me major dollars. Both positions are already fully built out and detailed. I just need educated people with attention to detail that can follow directions and execute the plan. If I can get both of these engines cranking, then we go from a 10 product company this year to a 30 product company next year.

Scaling to that size is not as simple as it sounds. From a management perspective, I need to start siloing other parts of the business out and hiring specialists. Before cranking those engines, I need to make sure I have the additional infrastructure and support available for that type of growth. My next hire right now is a dedicated social media manager / content producer. For this position, I’ve been looking into hiring a work from home mom in the United States. I’m looking at about $10-15 per hour for a 10-20 hour per month job to start.

After I fill that position, I’m looking to bring on an advertising campaign manager. I’ve already started systematizing and building the tools needed for this person to quickly analyze and update all of our campaigns.

The advertising analysis tools I’ve built are actually so impressive that I’ve decided to shop them on the market. Originally I was thinking I would create my own Amazon Advertising course and sell it, but I decided it would split my focus too much. I’m not an info marketer and I don’t have the infrastructure in place or the audience to easily launch a course like that. So I decided the best way to take it to market would be to reach out to someone who is already big in the space and partner with them. The first two people that came to mind were Ezra Firestone and Kevin Bombino.

I hung out with Kevin all week at Camp Maverick, so I decided to call him first. He actually lives in Vegas so I was hoping to meet up with him this weekend. Unfortunately, our flights are just going to miss each other on Sunday when he gets back from Burning Man and I return to Philly. Instead, we are just going to teleconference together next week.

Kevin owns Link Emperor, which is an SEO software I have been using for 2 years for my clients, Press Advantage, which is a press release distribution service, BrickFTP, which is an enterprise level file transfer system in which they spend over $100,000 per month just in advertising to compete against Cisco, and he owns Scientific Seller, which is a suite of Amazon seller tools. Very respected in the industry and has a huge list to promote to. He’s also like 30 years old and flies around in his own jet like a boss even though he admits owning your own plane never makes financial sense and is a complete cash suck.

So we’re going to meet next week and I’ll see if I can partition my tool off to him to add to the Scientific Seller brand. Regardless of if we move forward together or not, I value the fact that he has good morals and will be completely honest with me in terms of market viability and commission splits. I don’t know if I would feel the same way if I was entering into this conversation with Ezra.

Speaking of tools, I have been hard at work developing a bunch of new tools for various areas of the company. Let’s start off with the amazon advertising tool

Amazon Advertising Tool

This tool is really cool. With Amazon ads becoming so competitive, the only way to remain profitable is to bid on longer tail keywords. The primary keywords like “Grill Brush” are just too expensive because everyone and their mother is bidding up the prices. Longer tail keywords like “Weber brush for grill” on the other hand can be purchased for cheap and will result in an ROI. As you can imagine, the longer tail you go, the more variations are possible. So you get into a situation where you are someone like me with 9 or 10 ad campaigns running at a time, each with a couple hundred keywords in them.

Until very recently, this was incredibly difficult to manage and there were/are no tools out there to help you manage it. A few weeks ago, Amazon released a new feature that allows you to bulk download your campaign data into an excel spreadsheet. That’s where my tool comes in.

All you need to do is insert the bulk data into the raw data tab and then everything populates into a separate tab with a nicely formatted report. You pick the campaign you want to analyze from a drop down and it will tell you which keywords are hitting the desired metrics, which keywords need to be dialed in a little more, and which keywords we are losing money on without making sales. It’s all color coded so you can go down keyword by keyword and make quick modifications. The suggested increase or decrease is already provided for you based on a set of rules I created, but I can make judgement calls on the fly if I would like as well. Make all your edits right there in the spreadsheet and then copy over into a bulk upload file and voila, your entire campaign is updated to meet the specific metrics you are targeting for every single keyword. This tool save hours and hours of analysis every week and it removes the lazy factor of guessing what the bids should be because it auto calculates for you.

You can then insert the raw data from your automatic Amazon ad campaigns and it will analyze the data and find top performing keywords that aren’t being targeted in your manual campaigns. Just like before, it will automatically tell you what your suggested bid should be. All you need to do is bulk upload them into Amazon and your manual campaigns are up to date.

Finally, the spreadsheet also keeps track of all relevant metrics that you could never get access to through the Amazon interface. I now have an historical record of my macro and micro statistics on a weekly and aggregate basis. By creating a couple formulas, I’ve also been able to determine the exact cost per acquisition we are paying to acquire customers. This data is so invaluable from a management perspective. Before this spreadsheet, we were essentially flying blind. Now, we’re able to make tweaks on the fly to dial in every single campaign to our goals.

All we need to do to make this spreadsheet work is record a couple metrics once per week. Whenever we want to update the campaigns we just need to paste in the raw data. That’s it. Everything else auto calculates. Of course this task has been delegated to Caecilia already, so every Monday morning the spreadsheet is completely ready for me to make strategic decisions.

Ad Campaign Dashboard

Main Statistics Dashboard

Bid Adjuster

Keyword Bid Adjuster

COGs Analyzer

The Cost of Goods Sold Analyzer was born out of necessity because of how many manufacturing batches we are doing across multiple different manufacturers. I always had most of this data, but it was never in an easily digestible form where I could make legitimate decisions off it.

Now, for each product I can see the historical rates for Manufacture Date, Re-order Time since last batch, Quantity, Manufacturing Costs, Import Costs, Total Cost of Goods Sold, and Per Unit Costs of Goods Sold. If I want to look at the Grill Brush, then boom, the last 5 shipments are all right there for me to compare. That’s my micro statistics.

On the product macro side I can also see overall how much money has been spent on Manufacturing and Shipping, as well as total average re order time, average order size, and average cost of goods sold.

Then, we take it to the next level and look at those same statistics based on manufacturer because some manufacturers do multiple products for us. By having all of this data at my fingertips, I can easily see how strong my relationship is with each manufacturer and track how often we are ordering from them. For our Grill Brush and Grill Set manufacturer, I can accurately say that we have spent over $55,000 with them, we place an order once every 5 months, and when we order from them, the final cost of goods sold is typically about 63% manufacturing and 39% shipping compared to our aggregate statistics of 69% manufacturing and 31% shipping.

I’m 2.5 years into this business right now. If at any point before this you asked me about that ratio, I would have very confidently told you that the majority of our costs comes in on shipping, not on costs of goods sold. That’s not because I was ignorant, it’s just because the data wasn’t available to me. I tend to think of products in terms of unit costs and shipping in terms of total costs. Now that I have hard data, I can tell that I was mistaken.

 

Freight Estimator

My freight estimator is another pretty cool tool. It’s not entirely accurate, but it gets close enough for me to make a good prediction. Every couple of months, my freight forwarder has to issue a General Rate Increase (GRI) based on what’s happening in the industry. I take those numbers from the GRI and plug them in to the tool and everything else is calculated.

All I need to do is pick my product from a drop down and set how many units I want to import. It then scans through a table on another sheet to figure out the dimensions of each carton, the weight, how many total cartons, units per carton, and cubic meters of the shipment. It then cross references this information with the pricing information to give me a breakdown of Ocean, Trucking, and total shipping costs.

Freight Calculator

New Blogger Review System (review embargo on launches)

My blogger outreach system is bad ass. I’ve discussed it on here before and I know how powerful it can be when utilized to its full potential. The problem is that we just haven’t been able to get it cranking at full speed. I have Marian working it 40 hours per week and we still can’t get up to 15 published reviews a week. So I decided to do an overhaul.

I started out by asking Marian a bunch of questions about what she thought of the system. It turned out there were just way too many steps that needed to be done and we were collecting so much extra information that we were never actually using. The system was just too complex to run the way I wanted it to run.

My job when I sat down to review the system was to simplify it, automate as much as possible, and break the management portion down into easily digestible chunks. This is the picture I came up with in my notebook:

20150912_170812

At any point in time, a blogger would fall into 1 of 4 categories: Prospecting, Agreeing to Review, Follow Up, and Review Analysis. The original operating procedure for the whole process was one document that was about 20 or 30 pages long. With this new chunking format, we can have 1 shorter operating procedure for each categorization of the blogger. We also removed a bunch of unnecessary steps so the process could be simplified and executed repeatedly without missing steps.

Marian’s KPI of 3 per product per week also seemed to be very unfair because she couldn’t control who was posting which product reviews when. So instead of breaking it down by product, we just say now that we want 15 total reviews per week and we’ll decide which products to push in our weekly meeting.

When we got a blogger interested in our products, we don’t just send them the product. Instead, now we are making them agree to our terms. Our terms are there to basically ensure we get high quality reviews instead of junk. The reviews are still completely honest on the blogger side, but we ask them to agree that they will:

  1. Make actual opinions instead of copying and pasting our product description
  2. Include at least 1 custom picture. (We will then promote these on pinterest)
  3. Include a link to Amazon and our Website (Amazon link gives us an affiliate commission unless they replace it with their own. Website link has tracking on it so we can see how many people the bloggers send to us)
  4. Include an Amazon Coupon Code for 15% off (Incentivizes Amazon purchases from their audience)
  5. Reasonable turnaround time of 30 days

If they don’t agree to these terms, they don’t get a product. Now of course they can agree to these terms and not follow them, but what we are doing is getting a commitment from them. From a psychology standpoint this is huge and we can then reference our agreement afterwards if they miss a step.

If a blogger doesn’t post their review in 30 days, then we have a 3 email follow up sequence that is sent to them over the next 3 weeks. When I looked at what Marian was doing, she was blasting a template follow up email every day to the bloggers who didn’t post within 30 days. Literally some bloggers received the same email from her 15 times. That’s harassment and is a quick way to get bloggers blasting you on the internet. Now, we use a more sophisticated approach of referencing the agreement and telling them that if they refuse to post a review they will be blacklisted in our system. Nothing aggressive, but all true and strategically written to elicit a response from them.

After the review is posted, Marian cross references to make sure they completed each of the steps we were looking for. If they didn’t, she kindly follows up with them to ask for modifications. When a blogger does a quality review, she enters their email into a special hidden page, which automatically sets up a follow up sequence for them to continue reviewing more products for us. This process will continue to offer them new products automatically as long as the reviews they are posting are high quality.

blogger page

Now we are weeding out all the bad bloggers and building a list of the good bloggers. Each blogger is then tagged in the system so we know exactly what products they have reviewed and which ones they have not reviewed. Now instead of always prospecting, we can do targeted email blasts to get tons of reviews at once from the blogosphere.

In the world of PR, there is a strategy called an embargo. This is where you release a little bit of information on the story to a bunch of reporters, but tell them that they can’t post the whole story on the news outlet until a specified date. The purpose of this is to line up a whole bunch of press that all gets published at the same time and causes a media firestorm.

We can now apply the exact same principles to product reviews with bloggers. When I come out with my next product, I am going to stage a blogger review embargo for about 30-40 days after the initial inventory hits Amazon.

We’ll get our inventory in and start making some initial sales. Then we will do a blast email campaign out to our high quality bloggers seeing who is interested in reviewing this new product. Anybody who says yes then automatically gets sent to a page where we lay out the terms of the embargo (Aka. Review must be published on X date). We’ll then have these people in a specific email list so we can follow up with them and make sure the reviews are all posted on the right date.

Now we have a product that is about 30 to 40 days old on Amazon. It’s picked up a good amount of sales from our initial launch and it’s starting to move up the keyword rankings. All of the sudden in one day 50 blog posts flood the internet reviewing it and saying how amazing the product is. Each blog post has custom pictures and coupon codes which send hundreds or maybe even thousands of visitors to either Amazon or our website. Even if only a small percentage purchase, Amazon sees a flood of activity going on and will increase our rankings. We can then take all 50 blog urls and start approaching press websites to show credibility and then get them to buy in on it as well.

 

Slack Communications

Slack isn’t a tool I developed, but it is a software that I have recently integrated into the company and have been getting great results with. Basically it’s an internal company communications system. Instead of me having individual conversations with everyone on Skype, all of the team members are now able to have open communications with each other via Slack.

We have a general chatroom for company wide announcements, random chat room for non work related conversations, a marketing space where Iris and Marian can collaborate, and a bunch of other cool features. I’m really trying to build more of a company culture through Slack and use it for team building. Instead of everyone being on their own island, they are now part of a team.

Starting on Monday when I get back, I am going to be doing weekly 1 on 1 meetings with each team member. This way we can stay on track of the previous week’s accomplishments, solve any lingering issues, and get on the same page moving forward into the upcoming week. I’m going to start having them each share their big wins for the week in Slack as well. So Marian will share the newest blogger reviews links and Iris will share the newest Youtube video links and Caecilia can share customer testimonials. This will give everyone a much more holistic view of all the awesome stuff going on in the company and it will give me more opportunities to publicly praise them for doing a great job. When we get our social media manager on board, this will be the perfect medium for her to source as much content as she will ever need.

Locking in Caecilia

During the last 2 weeks of August, Caecilia failed a bunch of her KPIs and received a warning. She is my rock right now so it’s essential that she is performing at the top of her game every week. When I asked her about what happened, she told me she got caught up in family life and work with her other client.

I immediately started probing. I looked at her time sheets and saw that she’s been working about 30-35 hours per week for me. I wanted to know how many hours total she was working per week including other clients. She said she was working about 50-55 hours total and only had the one other client. When I asked about her ideal work life balance so she could still be a great mother, she said she was happy with around 50 hours per week of work.

We’re moving into a high growth period in the company so I knew I needed to lock her in to me full time. I asked her straight up how much her other client was paying her and she said $5 per hour. She’s been working for me for 3 years now, I completely trust her, she plays a vital role in the operations of the company and is pretty much irreplaceable to me right now…and I was only paying her $3.50 per hour. Shame on me for not appreciating the importance of her role in the first place. I couldn’t imagine what I would do if I lost her.

So I made a proposal that I would increase her salary to $5.15 per hour, which would come out to around $6 per hour each month she hit her KPIs Bonus. The only caveat was that she would need to put in her 2 week notice with the other client and work solely for me. She needed to discuss with her husband first before making any decisions. Within 2 days she got back to me and accepted the offer.

With the exception of the Freight Calculator, everything from Locking in Caecilia to Implementing Slack, COGs Analyzer, Amazon Ads Tool, Blogger System Overhaul, and Deciding to Move Outside The US has all happened within the last 9 working days.  From August 24th when I got back from Camp Maverick until today, September 3rd when I’m leaving for Vegas. I know I can’t keep this pace up, but it’s been one hell of a spurt of productivity since I’ve been back.

 

Current Masterminds

Masterminding is one of the absolute most important activities I do on a weekly basis. They keep me hyper focused, accountable, and provide a constant stream of new actionable ideas. Right now I’m a part of 3 different masterminds.

NextCommerce: This is with all of the ecommerce people in Maverick Next. I love that this mastermind is not just Amazon based, but more ecommerce in general. I find that learning only within your niche is very limiting so it’s important to branch out in other general areas and then apply those same types of ideas back into your business.

Nextcellerator: I was just added to this mastermind so I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a meeting yet. However, this mastermind is focused on taking the people doing over $250,000 per year and scaling them up to $1 million. Basically it’s a support group for implementing all of the business building and management tactics taught in Traction. Essentially everything I spoke about above with building a culture and having weekly 1 on 1 meetings, setting up KPIs, etc. In the next 6 months I know I am going to be doing a lot more hiring so this will be the perfect support group to help me through that process

ASM Aruba Mastermind: A couple of the guys from the Aruba trip reached out to me to see if I wanted to join their mastermind. I was skeptical at first because I’m already a member of 2 other masterminds and I’m starting to take my time extremely serious. So I jumped on a call with Jim the coordinator and basically interviewed him for about a half hour to see if it was really worth my time to join with them. I’m happy I did because I had my first call with them today before my flight and it was incredibly valuable. The group has a wide range of experience with some people on the lower end doing only $10K per month and a couple on the higher end doing over $400K per month. Normally that wouldn’t be a good thing because it’s so hard to relate to each other’s current situation, but they have been very specific about who they let in to the group so every member is a value add. One of the biggest take aways I got today was from Jessica who is doing similar revenue numbers as I am and recently hired an “Online Business Manager.” This person is essentially a COO and runs all of the daily operations in her company and goes out and hires outsourcers and manages everything for her. All she is focused on now is new product development. The COO works about 20 hours per month to manage it all and gets paid a salary of $1,000 per month.

She told me everything she did to hire this person and what certifications and experience she was looking for. She also gave me her job posting and a copy of the actual contract they signed together. I’m going to keep track of her progress with her hire for a couple months before pulling the trigger, but to get someone like that on my team would be invaluable.

 

Preparing for 4th Quarter Madness

Last year I was totally caught off guard by the demand surge in Q4. With Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Christmas, and all of the other consumerism going on, people will buy anything. This year I’m prepared.

Well, I’m actually a little behind schedule because of all my traveling. I pushed off inventory ordering a little too long so a few product lines might be a little tight on replenishment, but overall I think we’ll be ok. If we do face any stockouts it will only be for about a week maximum, compared to last year where the west coast screwed me and I barely had any products to sell from December 9th to the end of February this year.

My method for demand projections was much more sophisticated this year compared to last year. What I did was take all the sales data from last August to December and graph it for each product line. It was immediately obvious that demand for every product line spiked on October 31. This makes complete sense because Thanksgiving is at the end of November and people want to give it a couple weeks for shipping just in case.

After October 31 hit, most product lines spiked demand by 2 or 3 times and held that demand until I stocked out. So to come up with my projections, I took my current inventory and my average sales per day and assumed constant demand until October 31 so I could come to my estimated inventory levels on the day things start to spike. From there, I looked at Google Trends for the main keywords for each product line to see how popular the product was during the 4th quarter. Based on the trend lines, I estimated 2x, 3x, and 4x demand for each product and I assumed that demand would last for 70 days after October 31. The 70 days takes us into January which of course is not realistic because demand will slow down after the last minute Christmas sales, but I used that number so I could ensure I had enough inventory to last me through to about February.

Next I calculated 4 different potential revenue numbers. The first was that across the board each product line doubled, the next was tripled, followed by quadrupled, and the last number was a mixture based on my Google Trends expectations for each product. This gave me my best case, worst case, and most likely scenarios for the 4th quarter sales. In my worst case scenario, I think I’m going to do at least $500,000 in sales!

After basically completely missing out on January through March, I didn’t think it was going to be possible for us to cross the 1MM mark this year. However, with the way the 4th quarter is shaping up, I think we will have a very good chance of crossing that milestone.

The next step after projecting was to make sure that no matter what we had enough inventory. Even with the loans from the bank and the biweekly payouts coming in from our current sales, it’s looking like I am going to come up about $20,000 short on the amount of money I need to order sufficient inventory. That number is still a question mark though because the shipping expenses are still a variable.

The other day I went out and sat down with a couple different banks to see if I could secure additional financing ahead of time. My meeting with Beneficial Bank went very well and they basically said they would be interested in buying out my loans from Citizens and then giving me an extra $20,000 on top. This is of course assuming the application process went well and they would want me to move all of my banking over to them. After I got that offer, I called up Citizens and told them I was shopping their rates and to see what else they could do to help me out.

Unfortunately, the Citizens thing dead ended because MRI is still less than a year old and loaning money out to Hyacinth is too risky because they only have last year’s tax returns to go on. Amazon has also offered me a loan for $19,000 but the interest rate is very high on it. It would cost me about $1,000 just to get the $19,000. It’s an option on the table, but not a very attractive one. Switching to beneficial is also a potential, but again not super attractive because switching banks can be a bitch.

Right now I’m working on figuring out the shipping expenses and seeing what product lines we can consolidate together to make things cheaper. Once I have a legitimate pulse on my costs, I can move forward with the extra financing or not.

New Products For Christmas

After seeing my projections for 4th quarter, I decided that it would be even better if I added 2 new product lines in time for Christmas. Again this is where I was a bonehead by not placing my orders sooner due to travel, but I think we will still get them in on time. I was seriously looking into Grill Lights, Burger Presses, and Salad Spinners as potentials before I left for Europe. Due to timing though, I knew I wouldn’t have the resources to fully launch any of those by Q4. Instead, I decided to partition out the Skewers into their own product line and the Spatula into its own product line. The only thing I really need to do to launch these is to design packaging for them and we are good to go.

Another thing I’m looking into right now is rubs and spices sourced in the USA. Whenever I tell people I’m in the BBQ business, they always ask me about what kind of sauces we have. I’ve never wanted to go that route because I don’t want to deal with the headaches of food spoil. However, one of the conversations I got into during Camp Maverick totally changed my mind on this subject.

Right now we are constantly looking for new customers. By adding spices and rubs (long shelf life), we can add more of a continuity element into the business and start retaining our customers for the long term. This is such an obvious strategy and something I advise people on all the time. Sometimes the solutions are right in front of your face, but you’re too close to your own business to realize them. Another great recommendation I got was to partner up with Omaha Steaks as an affiliate.

Speaking of Camp Maverick…

As you can imagine, the camp was absolutely epic! I got food poisoning the first 2 days so it cut into my networking a little bit, but I pulled through and had a blast the 2nd two days. Some of the highlights that came out of the camp

  • Cleared the air with Shane about the ASM 4 launch debacle
  • Hung out with Tucker Max and Mike Brubeck (his company imports 24 tons of marijuana into the US per month) and got a lot of relationship advice. It started out with Tucker helping Mike strategize on how to find a wife since he’s 34 and looking to settle down. Then it expanded into some advice for me and this guy Dustin as well.
  • Learned a ton from Cameron Herold about PR and the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Cameron is the guy that took 1800gotjunk from around 10 million per year to over 100 million in only a couple years. Now he’s the business coach for super successful CEOs running 8 and 9 figure businesses
  • Met Dan Go, who runs a large fitness company. He lives in Toronto so I introduced him to my buddy Trevor from Blacksmith to help make that connection
  • Met the owner of Nature Wise, which is a 14 million per year supplement brand. Starting talking about exit strategies with him and then introduced him to my friend Jock who is a business broker. If David decides to sell, that would be a huge connection I made.
  • Spent a good amount of time with Andy Nulman. He was the CEO of the just for laughs comedy festival in Montreal, has exited multiple business throughout his life (worth over 100 million), and actually teaches a class at McGill University. I spoke to him about Tim Murdoch and secured an introduction between the two of them as well.
  • Jason Hanson from shark tank was there. He was the ex CIA agent that runs an escape strategy boot camp. He tied us up and taught us how to escape from Gray Tape, Zip Ties, and Rope. Really cool experience

Current Product Issues

Right now I am dealing with way more product quality issues than I would like. We literally have issues going on with 6 out of 9 product lines at the moment! When shit goes wrong, the stars align to make sure it all syncs up.

Grill Brush and Thermometer: These products don’t have quality issues per se. What actually happened to them was they were cannibalized by the market. New models were developed for both product lines and we were slow to react. In fact, we didn’t react at all. I ordered a ton of inventory for both products because I wanted to have enough to make it through the summer. That estimation assumed demand would be the same this summer as it was last summer. When the newer and better models hit the market, my demand dropped. Now I’m stuck with a ton of inventory and I can’t roll out a new model until I either liquidate it or take a loss.

I don’t want to take a loss because I’m dealing with thousands of units. Right now, my strategy is to drop my prices as low as I can to still remain somewhat profitable on them while at the same time offloading as many as I can during the 4th quarter. In January, we’ll assess our inventory levels and the market and determine a strategy moving forward so I can make sure we have top of the line models out there for the summer.

This type of product line cannibalization really hurts momentum. By the time I see the new models out there, it’s already too late because my competitors have a good 3 months advantage on me in the market place. To ensure this doesn’t happen again, I need to build some type of follow up process with my manufacturers so we can stay on top of new developments every month. Ideally, if I can get a product development person on board, part of their job could be to stay on top of market trends.

Temperature and Smoke Magnets: Everybody always complains about everything being made in China, but the USA is just as bad. We are crushing through magnet sales right now selling over a thousand per month. The magnets are supposed to be outdoor magnets that can withstand rain and sun shine. Apparently that’s not the case. The magnets are really just a sheet of vinyl laminated to a magnetic backing. The glue used for lamination is incredibly weak so people are reporting the magnets just falling apart after a few days of being outside.

When you are selling at the volume we are selling right now, this type of error is catastrophic. The 1 star reviews and negative feedbacks are pouring in right now. It’s gotten so bad that I completely changed the product descriptions on both pages to be a simple FAQ about what is going on and how best to treat the magnets. Everyone sees the 1 star reviews on the page, so I figure why not hit them head on and explain what we are doing to solve the problems.

I’ve also pushed heavily on Tina and I’m forcing her to source a new magnet factory for me. Tina works for Astro Dynamic, which is a local print shop. I recently found out that they were just subbing us out though to some other magnet factory. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now so I basically told her that she better find me a solution to my problem or we’re pulling the business from her.

Grill Sets: Our most recent batch of Grill Sets also had some quality issues. I’m not sure what the specific quantity was, but a portion of grill sets missed the buffering portion of the quality control process. This means customers were receiving spatulas and tongs with sharp burred edges on them. We went through a flurry of about 50 people freaking out about it and we had to issue a lot of refunds and exchanges. Things have settled down on that front, so I think we are in the clear. Overall though, this can’t be happening. I came down pretty hard on Tracy about the quality issues so they are comping me on 100 grill sets and they are paying extra special attention to our next batch to make sure the quality is there.

Kabob Sets: When I ran my sample Kabob Set through the dishwasher it rusted. My manufacturer rep Anson told me that it rusted because they used a lower grade metal for the sample. On mass production they would use stainless steel. We then got into about an hour long conversation about dishwasher safe being a requirement and I was assured it would be ok.

Now after selling over 1,000 kabob sets and advertising them as being dishwasher safe, I’m receiving reports from customers that they are rusting in the dishwasher. You have to be fucking kidding me! When I spoke to Anson about the issues, his response was that they don’t have dishwashers in China so he didn’t know. I even copy and pasted his direct response about them being dishwasher safe into our conversation. It turns out that they did use stainless steel in the production, but it was a lower grade stainless steel that doesn’t hold up well in the dishwasher.

I basically told him that this was his 2nd strike. If he wanted to continue with a long term relationship them there couldn’t be any more fuck ups. I’m not the materials expert. My job is to ask the right questions and his job is to find the answers for me. I let him angle around to save face, but he knows the relationship is on the rocks right now. They had already started manufacturing for our 4th quarter replenishments, so I made them scrap it all and start over with the new higher grade stainless steel.

I then removed all mention of dishwasher safe from the Amazon listings and email communications. The problem is that it’s written in big font on the back of the packaging that it is dishwasher safe. Now that I’m thinking about it, I might as well expressly communicate via email that they are hand wash only so I can avoid any other future issues until we turn the inventory.

Overhauling Our Marketing Funnels

I’ve started mapping out how we are going to completely overhaul our marketing funnels. We have a ton of infrastructure in place that is being underutilized right now. The new way it’s going to work is going to be very logic based email marketing. All advertising is going to be driving toward top level opt ins on broad category based interests such as food. Right now the top 3 funnels I am going to work on are the recipe book, the temp guide, and the smoke guide.

Once they are in my email lists, I can then tag them and segment the lists to send specific offers to. For example, we could send people a couple youtube videos about steak recipes and then follow up a few days later with our Omaha Steaks affiliate offer. We could tag people so we know which products they purchase and what would be good to offer them. For instance, I already know that people who bought our thermometer are 30% more likely to buy the meat hammer. We can use this data to our advantage in very targeted email campaigns.

The possibilities for logic and automation are huge right now because we have so many product lines. However, this is no small endeavor. I’m estimating it is going to take me about 3 weeks of focused work to put it all together the right way. Getting it all set up is just one part of it though. To manage this thing is going to be a job in itself, so I’m also going to have to hire an email marketing person.

Here’s an example of what I envision the Recipe Book Funnel to look like:

20150912_163917

At the top we have traffic sources that go to a recipe book squeeze page. When they confirm their subscription to the list, they are immediately offered the chance to buy a physical copy of the book. (Just need to format it for Createspace to sell physical copies). Regardless of the decision they make, they receive a content email a few days later that includes a youtube video involving really good steak. A few days after that, they are offered a special deal on Omaha Steaks. Then we go back to some content emails, which lead up to an offer for the Temperature magnet 7 days later. If they take the temp magnet, they are immediately upsold on a special deal for the digital thermometer. We then go back to some content emails that build up to the Wood Smoking guide offer 7 more days later. Again, if they take this offer they are immediately upsold on the Smoker Box product.

This whole process will take about 14-20 days to complete. At the end we will offer for them to join the VIP list and we will move them over to the general list for lower frequency mailing. Throughout the entire process we will have the ability to tag them based on the actions they have taken. We can then use those tags later when segmenting the list for other types of campaigns.

Another awesome idea I had was to overhaul the recipe book. The recipe book gets offered for free to every single one of our customers. That’s a huge touch point, so what I’m in the process of doing is creating banners for every product funnel we have and sticking them in to the footer of the recipe book. Each product has an evergreen 20% off coupon funnel so essentially what I am saying is that if you buy one of our products we will continually offer you 20% off anything else as long as you get on our list.

This is going to be a huge strategy for increasing our list size and making sure everyone that buys from us gets on it. We’ll still be profitable, but at a lower margin for the repeat business. That’s ok though because now instead of having 1 or 2 Cave Tools, most people will have a whole bunch of our products. All the sales will also be funneled through to Amazon so we will increase our rankings and also manipulate the “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought This” section.

After they go through those funnels and buy on Amazon, we then start tagging them in our email database and directing their future purchased back over to our website.

As we sell to more people overall the recipe book gets that much more exposure. That means our product funnels, Omaha steaks offer, vip club, social media channels, and all the other offers get that much more eyeballs on them. With this change alone, I think we can take our email list from the current level of 2,000 people to over 10,000 people 6 months from now.

Now imagine the type of power I can have with that kind of list. Take our current thermometer issue where we are suffering from rankings and sales because of newer models out there. If we had a fully tagged list of 10,000 people and knew that 9,000 of them hadn’t purchase the thermometer yet, this is an example of what we could do. Segment the list into groups of 1,000 people each. Create a different coupon offer for each group of varying discounts. Then each week for 9 weeks we could mail out the offer to each group of 1,000 people and totally blow through all of our excess inventory and still remain profitable because we would be controlling everything. Even if only 5% of people took the offer, that would still be a movement of 450 units which would be plenty to spike our rankings for a targeted keyword on Amazon and let the organic sales take over.

The Power of Changing Your Frame

Posted on August 11th, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I woke up today at 7am.

My return flight from Vilnius left at 6:40 this morning.

I had every intention to be on that flight, but I missed it. My mistake will probably cost me well over $1,000 depending on if I can get a refund for my plane ticket and how much it will cost me to purchase a new flight home.

This is an incredibly painful situation to be in. From a monetary standpoint, I have just lost a meaningful amount of money. From a psychological standpoint, I have created anxiety and fear.

The pain of my circumstances should have caused me to desperately seek conflict resolution. There is anger about missing my flight and fear about not knowing what I will do and a whole bunch of other emotions flying around in my brain.

In the past, I would have viewed this situation as a disaster. I would have allowed my emotions to cloud my decision making. When I woke up and came to the realization that I missed my flight, I didn’t go to my computer and immediately start finding a solution to my problem. Instead of making phone calls and booking a new ticket, I deliberately avoided conflict resolution.

I understood that I couldn’t change what had already happened, I could only control my path moving forward. So I grabbed a cup of coffee and told myself that I would consider my options once I was finished. While drinking my coffee, I had quite a few realizations.

The first shift in my thinking occurred when I examined the situation from a completely objective viewpoint. I asked myself why I was going home in the first place. My answers were because I wanted to get back to work and start implementing and because I had a Mavericks event in Connecticut to go to next week.

These are two very valid reasons to return home. There’s also the psychology of home in general. Home is our base. It’s a safe place. The whole idea of having a home puts your brain at ease because it removes the fear of the unknown. What goes up must come down. When you travel, you know in your mind that it is only temporary and that at the end of the day you will always be able to come home.

That’s why when presented with the realization of not being able to return home, any normal person would have launched into a mad rush to solve that problem and put their mind at ease. But when I took a step back and examined my reason for wanting to work, I asked myself was that really valid? Did I really need to return home in order to work? The answer of course was no.

I’ve designed my business to be completely location independent. I did that very deliberately. Returning home to work was not a valid reason. The only reason I decided to go home in the first place was because my brain was seeking equilibrium and the idea of home was the solution. In terms of finding a flight right now to return home, working was not a valid reason to base my decision.

I then looked at my 2nd reason, which was attending the Mavericks event. Attending that event will provide incredible value to me so to me it is a valid reason to make my return travel decisions. But that event doesn’t occur for another 7 or 8 days.

So now I’ve overcome the false objections I put up in my mind of having to return home in order to work on my business. I’ve identified that my driving emotion for returning home was the desire to reach equilibrium and I made a conscious decision to accept the unknown of not returning immediately. I also have a clear reason for returning to the US at a specific date in the future.

Until that specific date, I have no valid reasons to return home. This is an incredible freedom.

I’ve been talking about freedom and taking actions to achieve freedom for years. But I was blinded to the fact that I have already achieved freedom. It’s been right there in front of me this whole time and it took getting hammered and passing out around 3am and missing my 4:30 am taxi to the airport for me to realize it.

The frame in which I view this situation has now been reversed. It’s now a question where will I go in the 7 or 8 days that I have and why will I go there. I was invited to go to Poland with a bunch of guys from the camp. I could go there and I could have a lot of fun with them.

But I’m not going to do that.

The real underlying idea here is that safety and fear have control over my decision making. I’ve now made progress in understanding those driving emotions. Going to Poland with the other guys would be a great time, but it would also be the safe thing to do.

In order to achieve growth, I need to hit fear and safety head on and challenge myself by traveling somewhere alone. I think that by being alone and relying solely on myself it will remove so many more false barriers that I have put up in my mind.

Yes I am returning to the States in about a week, but now I need to seriously question myself on why I am living in Philadelphia. At the end of the day, my decision to live where I have been living was based on safety.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve had the opportunity to meet quite a few nomads. I think it’s a cool and trendy topic for conversations which is why many people set out on their journey in the first place. But somewhere along that journey they come to their own realizations and have their own mental breakthroughs.

I’ve just had 1 major breakthrough in my thinking and I’ve identified that safety is the limiting force in my life at this point. If I can overcome safety then I can remove myself as a limiting factor to my own success in both my personal and professional lives.

When I frame it this way, my path forward becomes incredibly clear. I can now use travel as a vehicle to challenge my limiting beliefs. The purpose of travel for me is not to fuck off and vacation to a new city every couple of days. I have very firm business development goals that I want to achieve that would be compromised by a nomadic lifestyle like that.

As I see it now, the next step needs to be settling down in another city or country where I am consistently placed in situations that are out of my comfort zone. Sure, there will be additional trips to check out cool places, but I’ll be settled enough to achieve my additional goals.

In a sense, my path as developed so far is very paradoxical. I’m challenging the idea of home as a mechanism for safety and comfort. Yet my solution is to essentially settle down somewhere else.

When I think critically on how I landed on that solution, the primary reason was because I need a certain level of consistency in my life in order to achieve my business goals. So now I need to ask myself how can I marry using travel as a vehicle for challenging safety as an emotional driving force in my decision making with the need for consistency so I can achieve this other set of business goals that I have.

The solution for that is to travel to new places for an uncertain amount of time. Settle down for the purpose of reaching consistency in my professional life. While I am in this new city I need to continuously place myself in situations that are out of my comfort zone. I then need to be aware of the fact that I will eventually become comfortable again. I will build a group of friends and life will eventually develop into a new set of routines.

Whether this takes 3 months or 2 years is irrelevant. The idea is to be conscious and aware that this will happen and to have the courage to once again pull myself out of my comfort zone. This process needs to repeat until I have achieved the goal I set out to accomplish in the first place.

 

When I first sat down to write, my goal was to challenge the emotion of safety. But challenging safety is not the goal. Challenging Safety is the solution to my problem. Travel is how I will achieve that solution.

The goal is achieving objectivity, becoming a more rational human being, and overall personal growth.

At the very core I think everyone has some driving force to become better. Whether it’s in achieving progress in a sport, growing their business, or developing better relationships it doesn’t matter. We all want to be better at something in life.

The reason we are not where we want to be is because of our limiting beliefs and because of the frame through which we view the world and approach our decision making.

If we can understand how to change our frame, then we can unlock true freedom. We can understand that anything we want to achieve in life is truly possible.

The path becomes clear and it’s our responsibility to take the actions necessary to get there.

As I’m thinking about this and reading through everything I’ve just written, I have to say that I’m truly terrified. Getting up and taking action to plan out my next couple days in Europe is absolutely terrifying for me. Not because I don’t think I can handle myself for a couple days on my own.

What scares me is that I know that planning out these next few days is just the first step. When I take that step, I can never go back. That step is going to lead me into a series of decisions that are going to completely change every aspect of my life.

I feel like I’m in a red pill blue pill situation in my life. By exploring my ideas and writing it all down I have an idea of what it will be like to be awake. But to awaken, I Need to make a whole bunch of decisions that I don’t Want to make.

It’s going to take a lot of courage to set out on a journey to actively conquer emotions. So far I’ve only examined Safety, but the scope of this journey is going to be much much wider than that.

Regaining My Stride by Michael O’Donnell

Posted on August 6th, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I got accepted again into Sovereign Academy and I’m totally siked to be going back to Lithuania! After everyone is accepted, they create a Facebook group for us so we can start communicating and introducing ourselves. Just like last year, there are a ton of super interesting people doing all sorts of business ventures all over the world.

When I did my introduction, I talked about Cave Tools and what I was hoping to get out of the camp. It was funny because one of the other members, Casey, commented that his girlfriend is the lead industrial designer for a company called Outset Brands and wanted to know if I ever heard of them before.

When I first started Cave Tools, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing so I contacted a bunch of manufacturers in the US to see if they could make my grill brushes for me. Outset brands is headquartered about 10 minutes from our house in Newtown (I moved out to Philly in June). When I called them up and asked about manufacturing they basically just said no and blew me off because I would be a direct competitor. Almost like if Pepsi called up Coke and said, “Hey, can you make some soda for us and put our label on it?” I didn’t really know what I was doing so I just moved on.

Anyways, Casey’s girlfriend is their lead designer which is a pretty crazy coincidence. We met up the other night for drinks to get to know each other before camp. Just like every other BlackSmither I’ve ever met, even though we are complete strangers we had a million things in common to talk about. We had a couple drinks and then went over to an Art Gallery in Old City to meet up with his girlfriend. I’ve never been to an Art Gallery before so it was a pretty cool experience. He knew the owners and pretty much everyone there because he goes every month and has invested in a couple pieces.

It was cool talking to his girlfriend as well because she designs products like I do, but from a totally different approach. When I design products, it’s a data driven thing where I just pick out the features I want and then get the manufacturers to do it. For her, she has entire design books of sketches that she draws up and tries to pull in different themes into the designs. It’s much more of a mix of engineering and aesthetics versus shooting for solving market needs.

Outset is also at a different stage of business though where they already have a full product selection so they are just designing different variations of every product. Where they may have 20 different grill brush designs, I would only ever have 1 until I fill out my catalogue of products.

 

Getting Accepted into Maverick Next

I’ve mentioned the Mavericks (Probably rather unintelligently because I didn’t know much about them) on my blog in the past.  In short, they are a group of 7 and 8 figure business owners, mostly based in the US. They cover a wide range of industries, but in particular, almost every major mover and shaker in internet marketing is either a member or connected to the group in some way.

Shortly after Blacksmith Camp last year, one of my friends, Jock posted something on Facebook about how he was attending the Maverick Next summit. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I ever heard about Maverick Next. Next is the Maverick Version of Sovereign Man where they look for young entrepreneurs and try to mold them. To join Next you have to be under 25, but once you are in you are allowed to stay until you are 28 years old. At that point, you are expected to be doing at least $1 million per year and apply to the main Mavericks group.

In order to get accepted into the group you have to be doing 6 figures per year in revenue in your business. They also look heavily into your character and experiences. They are also looking for people who exhibit “Maverick DNA” which they basically describe as the intersection between Business Growth & Profits, Entrepreneurial Lifestyle, and Impact Driven Objectives. There’s obviously much more to it than that, but those are the 3 main areas.

After Aruba, I found out that the Mavericks were putting on their own event in Connecticut August http://gocampmaverick.com. This camp is bad ass! The way I imagine it is like being in the movie Heavy Weights where they have a giant lake with tons of activities and they even have the big blob thing that launches you into the water. The only difference is that the attendees consist of about 300 – 400 of the most influential business owners in the country. Oh…and all of the lodges are luxury cabins and there is unlimited top shelf drinks for 4 days.

On the sales letter it mentioned that 100 spots were reserved for Maverick members and Next members. The remaining 100 spots would be open to the public, but special priority would be given to people who were personally recommended. Attendance was application-only “to curate the ideal mix of entrepreneurs, business leaders and impact makers from a multitude of fields together in one remarkable place.”

After reading the sales letter, I immediately sent Sophia (Yanik’s cousin/event planner I met in Aruba) a private message on Facebook. I opened up with a friendly comment about Aruba, then mentioned I heard about the camp and intended on applying, but said that I don’t know if I even qualify as someone who could be recommended, but if the opportunity arose for her to please think of me. It was a really well crafted, friendly message that wasn’t pushy at all.

Sophia never responded.

Remember, I also messaged Yanik after the Vegas event on Facebook and he never responded either.

At this point I felt like shit. I had built a nice little friendship with Sophia and for her not to respond meant that I totally overstepped my bounds. I felt really awkward and kept over analyzing things. I figured I must have come across as a taker instead of a giver and like I was trying to take advantage of her position for benefit. All that type of stuff.

In the middle of the whole ASM Launch debacle I also saw a picture posted on Facebook of the whole ASM crew and Sophie out on a sunset boat ride relaxing after a long day of work. Of course she would be there with them during the launch helping coordinate things. With all the rumors that were being spread and the inevitable talk about how Jarod (and Me lumped in) was trying to catch them in a lawsuit her perception of me was probably destroyed.

In my head I just wrote it all off because there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was still apply when the camp opened up and see what happened.

Then, a couple days after getting accepted into this year’s Blacksmith Camp, Sophie messaged me! She said she had been having tons of issues with her facebook and didn’t realize I had messaged her. I didn’t even need to apply to the Maverick Camp, she would just streamline me in and give me a VIP discount price that they give the Mavericks themselves. She also wanted to put me in touch with Dima, who runs Maverick Next.

Just like that I was in!

This happened on a Tuesday. On Wednesday morning I was introduced to Dima via email and we set up a call to speak the following week. Then at 10pm at night, I randomly received a call from Dima while he was driving in his convertible to New York. He mentioned that he knew it was really last minute, but he organized a lunch with Ramit Sethi in New York on Thursday and wanted to throw it out there in case I could make it.

My dad and I have been following Ramit since he came out with his 1st book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, in 2007. He’s one of those guys that just absolutely kills it and I have been following his advice for years. Of course I would drop everything and shoot up to New York in the morning to go meet him!

I caught the 7am train up the next day and met up with a bunch of the other Next members for lunch. Turned out that Ramit wasn’t eating lunch with us, but we did have a full hour and a half blocked out with him in a conference room on one of the top floors of a giant building down town. The conference room was leant to us by some giant real estate development company and had an amazing view of the entire city with floor to ceiling windows.

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There were only about 10 of us total so it was a real intimate meeting. He loved that we were all firing off real high level strategic questions to him instead of asking tactic style questions like “What tools do you use for X” For me personally, I had just gone through the firing process with Dorothy and was reevaluating a lot of my management techniques so I got a ton of actionable advice from him.

One of the key things he said to us that really stuck with me was “If apples don’t increase bananas and bananas don’t increase apples, then don’t sell bananas”

As young entrepreneurs we all have a tendency to dip into a lot of different things. For me personally I have been considering launching another brand for diversification. A lot of us have multiple different businesses or services we provide as well.

The key to that statement is focus. You need to focus on what’s working instead of spreading yourself too thin. Also, sometimes you have to turn down work even though it will make you money because it will not help you advance your long term goals. This is a concept that has been repeated multiple times in the last 2 books I read, Traction and Built To Sell.

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After hanging with Ramit we hit up a happy hour and all got to hang out some more. We also chilled with a venture capitalist that owns an incubator in New Jersey which was pretty cool. Then at night we had a full dinner planned and did this crazy experience at the McKidrick Hotel called Sleep No More. I never got home until around 1am that night.

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The Next’ers that I met in New York were really cool and interesting people as well and now that I’m a Next member we all talk very regularly. Matt owns a travel company that takes people on trips to Cuba (Newer company since the law changed. On pace to cross $1 million by early next year). Larry and Perry are twins that sell their own brand of Chiropractic products and they are also copyrighters. Through introductions from Next they have written copy for Eban Pagan, Ryan Deiss, and tons of other super high unreachable Internet Marketing icons. They also wrote the entire sales letter for Real Social Dynamics which is basically the dating company of Mystery from the book The Game. Daniella is tough to explain, but she does productivity coaching type of consulting. She’s 25 years old and at the time we met in New York she had just finished up at Facebook headquarters and was preparing for a session with Congress! Dimitry owns a brand of Turkish towels sourced from a small village in Turkey. Casey runs Hackathons in exotic places all over the world where programmers from all over the world meet up to co-work together and have fun at the same time. Denice runs a fairly large EDM magazine covering everything that goes on in the industry. I introduced her to my friend Pete who is the photographer that took the picture that is now the cover for Alice in Wonderland’s new album. Zion runs a suite of about 10 wordpress plugins and also does web development. He’s a “Connector” that knows everyone. He’s only 23 and he has 3 or 4 full time employees in his agency. I also met Ally, who is Sophia’s partner that helps with all of the event planning for the Mavericks.

New York was basically my interview for Next and I got accepted. Once accepted, they gave me access to a shit ton of information products on everything from copywriting, to funnel design, an entire financial education course, meditation courses, and all of the recordings for the past 9 years of the Underground Marketing Conference. I also got personal email welcomes from Yanik and each person that helps run the Mavericks. I forget her name because I haven’t used her yet, but basically the one girl is there if I ever need an introduction to someone she will try to make it happen.

The next week I had an hour long call with Dima discussing where I am now and where I want to be. He asked me a lot of tough questions that really made me think about my goals and what kind of impact I want to make on the world and things like that. After our call he also asked me to take the Kolbe Index and Wealth Dynamics personality tests.

I have taken the Myers Briggs in the past and I’m an ENTJ, but the Kolbe and Wealth Dynamics tests are much more business personality oriented. I didn’t think I would get much out of them, but I really learned a lot about myself and it put a lot of my successes and failures into perspective.

Without going into full detail about my personality results, I’m a creator. I thrive on creating new systems and solving complex problems. Once I’m done building a system however, I have very little patience to sit there and run it. I just move on to the next thing. This correlates so strongly with so many examples in Cave Tools it’s scary.

The test also told me that my ideal business partner would be an operator. Someone who can take everything I build and ensure that it is properly implemented and ran on a consistent basis.

I never really thought much about finding a business partner before, but after being in a lot of conversations recently on the topic, I’m definitely way more open to the idea. With the right operator, I think I could seriously increase my potential exponentially.

Now that I’m a Next member, I also have a new weekly mastermind group. They sub niched everyone out, so I’m in a small group with just the people in Ecommerce. Each week is a mix between accountability / getting shit done and discussing new strategies and techniques.

Group Members: Arielle is a part of Kaliedescope Global which is some type of crazy conglomerate I can’t wrap my head around. Somehow a bunch of the Mavericks combined their $1 million plus companies into some giant holding company to pool resources. They are in all sorts of niches and I even found out they acquired Jock’s (from Lithuania) business brokerage company last year. Arielle is in charge of a couple different supplement brands. The other day she had somebody else in the organization sending her a list of like 200 products coming out of Mexico that she was supposed to take and launch a new brand with. Crazy stuff. Larry and Perry are in the group with their Chiropractic products. Chris is from London and runs a $1 million plus ecommerce store of electronics products. He uses a dropship model and has suppliers all over the world that ship to the end user. He is also considering launching another business and setting up an office in India with one of his partners doing something else. There’s also Bren who is Dima’s roommate in San Diego. Bren does marketing consulting for high level type of clients and ecommerce brands. A new girl named Sarah also joined, but I haven’t had the chance to meet her yet. She’s an affiliate marketer from New Zealans.

As frequently as they can, Bren and Dima bring in super successful entrepreneurs to do private webinars with us and teach us the kind of stuff that people would never sell in an information product online. They pull back the curtains and dive deep into their businesses and strategies.

 

Webinar with Anjit – CEO of MindValley Media

The first Next Webinar I jumped on was with Anjit from MindValley http://mindvalley.com. They are based out of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and are currently doing about $35 million per year selling all sorts of information products. Anjit is an absolute beast when it comes to entrepreneurship. In the last 6 years he’s built 5 different 7 figure companies.

I learned a ton from Anjit on this 1 hour webinar. He spoke mostly about how to scale and automate things in your business. Basically everything in their business is templated out. He describes it as creating universally deployable business assets.

Anjit is also a huge practitioner or the business management methods taught in Traction. He went through his entire KPI process that he uses to manage all of his employees and even gave us his templates so we could use a similar system. Since this webinar with Anjit, I’ve implemented the KPI scorecard for Caecilia and Marian and their productivity and accountability has sky rocketed.

Youtube Ads Webinar with Zane Miller

This webinar was a fully detailed case study of how Zane spent $700 in Youtube ads to generate over $66,000 in sales on affiliate offers.

I’ve always known about Youtube ads, but never really gotten into them because it takes a lot of work to produce a professional commercial. This is apparently true for most internet marketers because 80% of the YouTube ad inventory goes unsold every day.

Lots of supply and little demand means that you can get dirt cheap views around 3 to 4 cents each. You can also target specific videos or even full youtube channels that you want to run your ads in front of so the targeting can be very specific.

I recently got my first campaign up and going so I’m interested in how it will perform. I’m using the video file from the infomercial and driving visitors into a 20% off meat claws coupon funnel http://buymeatfork.com

The most important takeaway from the presentation for me was he taught us how to remix videos under the creative commons license and add them to our own channels. We get about 10,000 ish views per month on Youtube based on the cooking videos I made and edited myself. It’s a lot of work to do those videos so we only do them every so often.

By searching for videos under the creative commons license, I can literally take professional cooking videos on any subject and modify them with my own branding and calls to action and then add them to my channel.  Here’s an example of one we added https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSeYSYECzZs

I’m hiring someone now to be a full time youtuber for me. Basically I am just going to abuse the hell out of this loop hole and have them add about 3 new videos per day every single day to our channel. We are going to cover tons of different topics and target all sorts of keywords. Every video will be overlaid with calls to actions that go into our coupon funnels for each product. It’s going to be ridiculous!

Satori Method Strategies for Higher Performance and Higher Consciousness – Tristan Truscott

Ever wonder what it’s like to spend an hour and a half hanging out with a true Zen Master?

This was a really really interesting call. There was only about 7 of us on the call so it was extremely personal. We started off by discussing the 4 aspects of healing: Conscious Mind, Subconscious Mind, Energy Body, and Physical Body. Then we went into talking about meditation, spirituality, and daily rituals and things like that.

This one is tough to write about because the concepts are so abstract, but I got a ton out of it.

Profiling Webinar with Blake Dunkley

Blake is a high level consultant that helps 7 and 8 figure businesses that are stuck and haven’t been growing for a couple years. He has an excellent track record of helping these companies break through and then as part of the deal he actually gets a percentage of their lift over the next couple years.

For this webinar, Blake was going to profile a couple of us based on our language patterns and the underlying beliefs systems that he could pick up on by the way we speak. Apparently before the call he had profiled Dima and was eerily accurate in his assessment. First up was Lawrence. Blake asked him how he would describe himself. After about 2 sentences of a response, Blake told him to stop and then went off on his assessment.

He told Lawrence a lot of things about himself and about the obstacles he was most likely facing in his video production company. To me, I’m thinking this is some type of hokey pokey fortune teller trick mixed in with business consulting and coaching. But it turned out that he hit the nail on the head and they had a super productive conversation.

After Lawrence went, Dima writes in the group chat that he wanted me to go next because he thought it would be beneficial for the group to see me profiled. I took it as a compliment, but at the same time was very nervous because I now had to be in the hot seat in a very vulnerable position in front of 10 other Nexters.

By the way I was speaking he had said he figured I had a fairly systemized business but wasn’t quite there yet with where it needed to be. I then explained to him how I had been implementing some of the principles from Traction and how it has been night and day in terms of accountability over the past month. As we were going back and forth, my key question to him was along the lines of “Do you think you can run a $100,000 company on the processes of a $5 million dollar company and a $5 million dollar company on the processes of a $30 million dollar company, or do you think it has to be an iterative process along the way as you continue to pull yourself out of your comfort zone?”

This launched us into a whole new line of conversation and he agreed with me that it needed to be an iterative process. Dima said that was one of the best questions I could have possibly asked him.

Towards the end of him profiling me he started going on about how founders reach a certain point where they need to hire a CEO to take the business to the next level because they are not capable of doing so themselves. I’ve heard this line of talk quite a few times before and instead of taking it I challenged him on it. The way I see it, there is a path in life that the CEO who takes over the large companies follows so just because the founder started the company doesn’t mean that he can’t as a person integrate those same CEO skill sets into his arsenal and take the company to the next level.

What I wanted to know was if he thought founders are typically limited specifically because of the personal connection to their own company, or if he thought it had to do with skill sets and development. At the end of the day what it comes down to is how flexible you are and how willing you are to change and adapt based on the set of circumstances in front of you.

Paying it Forward With a Webinar of My Own

I’ve always been a big believer in Paying it Forward and trying to add as much value as I can when I join a mastermind or a group like Next or Blacksmith. Sure, I could sit back and just benefit from all of the knowledge being shared, but it doesn’t hurt me to share. When you share and contribute it positions you as a leader in the group and it always comes back to you in the end.

For this webinar, I went over my entire process for tracking sales data an projecting inventory and future sales for my products on Amazon. I also provided my exact spreadsheet in a template form and gave instructions on how to have a VA automate the entire process

 

Wrapping Things up With ASM Elite

With the exception of a couple coaching calls I think I still need to do, I’m pretty much done with all of my requirements for ASM Elite. It took me about 2 days to put together all of the materials for the trainings and everything, but I’m really happy with the results. The one video in particular which I have received a ton of very happy positive feedback about was the video on setting up your 100K per month business Infrastructure. So I decided to include the video here in this post

 

 

Bulking Up Training Resource Center and Implementing KPI Scorecards

Up until this point, my training resource center has been primarily geared towards the marketing department. I’ve had tons of trainings for Caecilia regarding customer service, but they have all been scattered throughout in dropbox and various folders on my hard drive.

I took the time to build out an entire customer service training center for her now and it’s really sweet. On the home tab of her area I renamed her title as our Customer Experience Manager. Instead of providing customer service, which is reactive, she is now in charge of architecting our customer experience, which is proactive.

She now has full control and authority over which customers we give refunds too and/or ship out new products to whenever issues arise. She also has her own set of coupon codes of varying discount levels that she can hand out to customers to incentivize future purchases.

She’s encouraged to be as personable as possible when communicating with customers and to tell short stories to help relate to them whenever they send us messages. This way she is starting to create a real bond with our customers and overall increase her likeability.

While she is now writing longer response emails than previously, I’ve also given her a full set of training on how to create closed loop emails to reduce the amount of back and forth. For instance, in the past if a customer had an issue with our thermometer accuracy, she would respond by asking them if they have attempted re-calibrating yet. That would initiate a response from the customer and then she would need to respond back again as well. This interaction could take a couple days to complete, which overall increases customer frustration.

Now with a more closed loop style response pattern, she asks them if they have tried recalibrating yet and then attaches a pdf instruction guide with an embedded youtube demonstration video in it so she covers all bases and there is no need for a response from the customer unless there is another issue.

We also have an entire product specific FAQ section in there to cover every possible question customers have about each product. This section is editable by Caecilia so any time a new question pops up, I provide her with a detailed response and she adds it in.

While everything is now almost completely templated out, she understands that she can pick and choose from each response and customize it so it is geared towards that specific customer and their needs.

Overall since implementing this new system, I’ve seen a major increase in the overall happiness from the customer responses and people are way more likely to leave product reviews because they genuinely like her. One customer the other day actually responded back a couple times just because he enjoyed talking to her and he told her how he loved the spelling of her name and thought it was very beautiful.

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Hyacinth Connect also now includes a full set of training on Accounting and Bookkeeping. For a while I was hesitant to not do the bookkeeping myself because I felt it helped me keep a better eye over the financials of the company. However, I’ve been placing a large focus on only doing high leverage activities lately and bookkeeping was something that would take me a good couple hours each month to complete.

I ended up hiring a CPA in the Phillipines who is well versed in US accounting principles and does bookkeeping for multiple US clients. I created Read Only access accounts to all of my credit cards and bank statements for her so she has access to all of the reports but could never harm me if she wanted to.

When I was accepted into Maverick Next, I was given access to an entire info course on Wealth Dynamics. Basically the info course covers all of the financial knowledge you need as a business owner whether you are running a small business or a real estate investing company. There’s tons of good information in there that I am still working through.

Inside that course they also have a full 14 part video series teaching you everything you need to know to run Quickbooks. I downloaded the entire Quickbooks course (Sells for $399) and added it into the Accounting section of Hyacinth Connect as a supplement in case Liz ever runs into any snags.

I don’t expect her to need those videos that much because she works in Quickbooks every day, but the point is that all of the information and systems are set up now for me to not have to do the bookkeeping myself.

When she finishes reconciling the books each month, she saves all of the reports into my dropbox so I can print them out and add them to my hard copy financial binder. By printing everything out and adding to my binder, it forces me to review the numbers each month so I save all those hours and still stay on top of the financials.

I’ve now implemented a full KPI scorecard for Caecilia (Customer Experience), Marian (Social Media and Blogger Outreach), and Iris (Youtube Marketing). Inside their Hyacinth Connect is a full explanation of their incentive plans outlining the objective goals that they need to reach.

Each set of goals are evaluated on a weekly basis and they are given a score. Over the course of a month they are allowed to miss up to 10% of their KPIs without getting in trouble. If they miss more than 10% then they are given a warning and we set up a call to go over a plan to make sure they get back on track. If they get 3 warnings in any trailing 12 month span then they are subject to potential termination.

If they reach all of their KPIs in a given month, they are given a 15% bonus based on the wages paid during that month. Typically Filipinos receive what’s called the 13th month bonus at the end of the year. Around December you are supposed to give them a bonus equal to 1 month’s pay. This is expected in their culture and has nothing to do with performance.

In the incentive plan description, I’ve explained how we are no longer doing the 13th month because it has been replaced by the new performance based incentive plan. A 13th month bonus equates to about 8% over the year, so at 15% per month, they are eligible to receive almost double the bonus they would have received in the past.

Since implementing the KPI scorecards for everyone, accountability has been at 100%. Something I have never been able to achieve before! They love it because at all times they can view their scorecard and they know exactly where they stand and how much extra money they will earn if they complete their job successfully. When I met with each of them to review their incentive plan, I made it very clear that my job as their manager is to make sure that I give them as much help as possible so they can hit their bonus every single month.

They know exactly what their metrics are and how well they are doing so nothing slips through the cracks. Instead of me following up to make sure they are on track, they are updating me daily on their progress. If for instance, Marian is falling behind on her blogger outreach for the month, she puts in the extra hours herself to make sure she hits the mark.

By making everything performance based and objective, I now have employees working from home in a different country regulating their own work schedules and putting in as many hours as needed to get the job done. That’s fucking amazing!

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Overall between Marketing, Customer Service, and Accounting we now have over 75 detailed operating procedures accompanied by instruction videos to cover every task. The operating procedures are also integrated into our task management software Asana so they have to check off each step as they complete it so the little details don’t get skipped.

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Here is an example of the Marketing Operating procedures inside Hyacinth Connect. I use an index system for everything to make it easy to reference certain procedures. For example, all Customer Service procedures are named using Strategy ID: C#.

The only thing that isn’t fully documented out in the business right now is the operations side of things. This is a job that I will eventually fill or start to train once I hire my first American employee.

 

Exploring the world of Patents and Intellectual Property

My business is built around selling commodities. Selling commodities is extremely difficult because there is such a low barrier to entry. We have 100s of competitors popping up every day on each of our products and under cutting price and copying our listings. It’s just the nature of the game. Eventually, I know that I need to start getting into patents because it will give me full control over a product category.

I’m not an inventor, so I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for potential patent licensing opportunities.

About 2 years ago I did some web development work for a freelance chef that does home cooked meals for wealthy families. Recently her husband contacted me because his friend Gene had developed a new product he called the Rackula.

It’s a regular kitchen spatula, but it has hook like grooves cut into the back so you can use it to pull out the oven rack. You open the over, pull out the rack, use the spatula to get your food, then use the grooved front of the spatula to push the rack back in.

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This guy is an inventor, but he has no experience or knowledge about how to manufacture at scale. We spoke on the phone a couple times and went back and forth regarding potential deal structures.

His goals were to get the Rackula in retail outlets like Walmart and Costco and he claimed to have contacts there that were willing to go ahead with it assuming he could get them manufactured. To me this was a lot of hype because he didn’t have any written letters of intent and he didn’t even have a clue about what the final cost of goods sold would be to get the things made.

Regardless of it that kind of deal was on the table, I knew I could sell them pretty well online. I started out by speaking with my Meat Claws manufacturer and sending him the design specs of the product because I know they are experienced in developing plastic molds. I quoted out the cost of developing a custom mold and sorted through different handle designs so I could figure out an estimated COGs for the product. This process took me about 1.5 weeks. During that time, he was emailing me every other day asking for updates.

I tried explaining to him that it takes some time to do the due diligence, but he didn’t get it. He was really pushy and wanted everything done immediately. He also kept trying to tell me exactly how he wanted the design to look like. This made sense because he was the inventor and patent owner, but I had to keep reinforcing that this was not a partnership. The deal we were doing was on the right for me to manufacture a product covered under his patent. The ultimate design and colors were up to me and would be determined by my assessment of the market.

Once I ran the numbers and knew that it was financially feasible, I initiated the conversation of compensation to see what he wanted. His response was that he didn’t know what it was worth and he hoped I would treat him fairly. Not the smartest negotiation tactic there, but I’ll take the leverage.

I did some research on patent licensing deals to see what the standard was for this type of thing. I also reached out to my Business Attorney to see if he was capable of writing up the contract or if he had any references for me to use. Ron had done a few patent licensing deals in the past, so he gave me some good advice such as how to limit the number of licenses he can give out to minimize competition and also adding restrictive paragraphs into the contract so he couldn’t take my packaging designs or anything like that.

Since I would be putting out the money for the mold and manufacturing the product, I didn’t want Gene to know what my final cost of goods sold was. This ruled out making the license based on a percentage of COGs. Instead, I offered Gene a fixed rate of X cents per unit.

Gene responded to my email very aggressively saying that he was upset about my offer and that all licensing deals were based on a percentage of revenue or profits on the product. At this point, he had been very pushy on time constraints and now he sent a very aggressive email instead of just picking up the phone and discussing the offer. To me, this came across very unprofessional and I knew that if we moved forward he was going to be very difficult to work with.

His concern however about basing the license on revenue or profits was valid. But it was only valid in the traditional retail sense. In traditional retail, you are selling B2B, not B2C. The Rackulas would have a set sell price and we would know exactly what the revenue/profits would be based on how many units were sold. When you are selling B2C online it’s a much different ball game.

Prices fluctuate every day and your cost per acquisition changes on every single sale. It’s incredibly difficult to determine an exact profit per sale on a product when you are running so many different advertising campaigns and each has their own metrics.

I wrote out a full explanation of this for him via email and then told him I would follow up with a phone call the next day after he had a chance to read through and understand the differences. We spoke again and worked everything through, so at this point we were pretty much down to writing up the final contract.

This whole process was going on right around the end of our infomercial test market. While I was waiting on Ron to get back to me on a couple more questions regarding the contract, I found out that the infomercial failed. I went from expecting an immediate profit from the initial order of around $20,000 to having close to $40,000 of tied of cashflow on the meat claws inventory.

Based on my financial turn of events, I wrote Gene an email explaining that I would prefer to “shelf” this project for about 3 months and then circle back to finalize the deal. Gene flipped out in another email to me explaining that he wasn’t going to let his future sit on a shelf and not to worry about ever contacting him again.

Again, this was something that I have to say I thought was very unprofessional. At no point were we in an exclusive negotiation. I would expect him to be pitching his ideas to other companies just like he should have expected me to be considering other product opportunities and have other things going on in my business. Just because the deal isn’t a go right now today doesn’t mean that it couldn’t work out at a later date if the opportunity was still on the table.

When I think about the psychology behind our interactions, I think his mindset is probably representative of most inventors. In all of our conversations he approached things with the mindset that he held all the cards. As an inventor, he’s obviously proud of his product and he owns the patent on it. But all he has is a product. The manufacturing expertise, distribution, marketing, and business skills are what ultimately determines the success of the venture.

Granted, I wanted to get in on the opportunity because it was a chance for me to do my first patent licensing deal, but In a small size company I always need to do an opportunity cost analysis and compare against other potential opportunities. For me, there are a ton of products out there that I can launch and only a limited supply of time and money to launch them.

Salad Spinner Research

At the beginning of this year I had set a goal to have at least 10 products out by Christmas time. That goal was never reinforced on a week to week basis, so I definitely let time get away from me. Instead, I got caught up too much in operations and systems building and all that kind of stuff. Those activities are very important to the business, but far and above, product development is the highest leverage activity and is responsible for growing the business.

Now that I am on this whole KPI and accountability kick, I’m starting to prioritize product development over everything else because it is the most important factor to our growth and success. Currently, I am looking at grill lights, a burger press that forms the meat for you and you can store in the fridge or freezer, and salad spinners.

When it comes to cooking tools, there are normally very few patents involved. Salad spinners are definitely the exception to that rule. I did my research and came up with a list of improvements on the current designs out there on the market. I then reached out to 5 or 6 manufacturers to start negotiations. None of them brought up the topic of patents to me in any of our talks.

After speaking with the new manufacturers I decided to also message my Meat Claws manufacturer to see if they made salad spinners as well. Mike and I already have a strong relationship so he immediately brought up the patent topic.

Salad Spinners are patented up to the hilts! Apparently it took OXO 5 years to develop their 1 touch spinner model, which is the most popular model on the market. After they developed it, everybody flooded in and started patenting every other close variation or tweak on the design that they could.

For a little bit I was scared and figured I would just move on to other products instead of mess with patents. When I was out with Casey his girlfriend told me the OXO story and said I might as well go nowhere near it because it’s not worth it. But then I figured, the reason nobody else is really selling salad spinners is because of all the patents. If I could do a design that wasn’t locked down by patents, I would at least have protection because any new comers would have to put in serious research before launching a salad spinner.

So I rolled up my sleeves and spent about 3 hours mining the USPTO for all of the patents out there on Salad spinners. There were over 63 patents regarding the spinners, 39 of which were relevant to what I was going after.

I’ve never done patent research myself before, but after reviewing a couple I got the hang of it real quickly. Patents are either Design Patents, which are about the look and feel of the product (Very weak to uphold in court), or they are Utility Patents, which have to do with specific functionalities (Aka OXO’s one touch model). On a side note, Gene’s Rackula patent is a design patent. If I ever wanted to do it, I could just make my own version with the same functionality and modify the design slightly to make it unique.

Each patent has to do with 1 specific improvement on design. To protect another improvement you have to get another patent. With this understanding, I could quickly scroll to specific sections of the patents and disqualify them from overlapping with the models I was considering. I kept track of everything in a spreadsheet with links to each patent and a short description of the core functionality that each patent covered.

After scrolling through my finished spreadsheet, it was interesting that the vast majority of all of these patents are held by only 4 companies. Progressive International, Chef’n Corporation, Lifetime Brands, and Kwok Kuen So, Kowloon (Some Hong Kong Company).

patentresearch

These are basically the only 2 types of models that I can move forward with right now.

20150723_111418Before receiving the samples, I was all about the model on the left with the knob because it is way more aesthetically appealing. However, in my testing I found that the model on the right is way more functional.

The problem with it though is that as soon as I tried it out, I didn’t understand that there was a locking mechanism to hold the handle flat. I push down on it and the plastic piece came flying right off. This is definitely a potential concern for customers so we are going to have to modify that piece a little bit.

When we finally start manufacturing these bad boys, I’m also going to have my graphic designer put together a really professional brochure style guide that goes with it. I know going in to this that my model is not going to be the best on the market. But I can still sell for a few bucks cheaper than the OXO model and use packaging and the detailed brochure guide to increase the overall perceived value of the product.

 

Run In With Meat Head from Amazing Ribs

The Amazing Ribs website gets over 3.5 Million Page Views per month and is the ultimate resource for anything and everything barbecue. When we designed our meat temperature guide we basically just looked at the guide they had and used the exact same layout, but change the wording around.

I did a ton of research on copyright law beforehand to make sure that what we were doing was completely legal and above board. Now that the temp guide have legs under themselves and are selling, we’re on the Amazing Ribs radar.

On June 16th I received an email from Meat Head (Guy who runs Amazing Ribs) freaking out and telling me I’m violating his copyright by selling our version of the guide.

I responded by telling him I did all of my research before making the guides and that temperatures fall under commonly known information, which cannot be copyrighted. Furthermore, the design was no doubt inspired by his layout, but we made modifications and changed all of the wording around, which also ensures that we are not infringing on his copyright.

I then sent him links to official documents that backed everything up and told him I’m not looking to make any enemies here and just wanted to let him know we made absolutely sure what we were doing was above board.

His response was somewhere along the lines of “You know I’m extremely angry and trying my hardest to be nice. Why would you want to poke me in the eye with a stick like this? You know how powerful I am in the BBQ world, if you want to remedy this you need to start paying me a licensing fee”

I sat on the email for a while before responding back. Legally, I’m perfectly entitled to sell the magnets and I’m not doing anything wrong. But at the same time, do I really want to bump heads with the most influential person in the entire industry. One Negative tweet to his 70,000 followers could be incredibly damaging to my brand. Is it really worth the risk when I consider how much total profit the magnets bring in?

We went back and forth for a while and finally I proposed that instead of pulling them from the market and taking a loss, that I would remove the listing from our website and then just sell out of the remaining stock on Amazon and stop making the magnets. I would do this because I agreed that the look and feel of the magnets were too close to his and I wanted to remain friendly. But, I did have intentions of redesigning the magnets and continuing to sell the new design in the future because at the end of the day, temperatures are publicly available knowledge.

He agreed and I thought everything was cool. Then a couple days later he emails me again asking where we stand. I responded by just reiterating everything we agreed upon. Then he sends another email back about how powerful he is and how I am now a competitor and one of his enemies.

This made me furious. This guy is basically trying to abuse his position of power so nobody can sell anything that he decides to claim. I wanted to just tell him to go fuck himself, but I sat on the email again and based on the advice from my dad, I just never responded.

The thing that pisses me off the most is that his entire business is built around articles and tutorial type of information. He has an information business and I have a products business. Yea, we overlap on 1 small area, but that doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. If he took that same approach with everyone else, he would be going after every single blog on the internet because he is king bbq and nobody else can write any articles. Ridiculous.

For now it’s quiet on the home front, but I know that I’ll be hearing from him again as soon as the new design gets launched.

 

More Amazon Issues

I don’t know if it was me or Caecilia, but one of us clicked on a link in a phishing email by accident. Next thing you know I’’ in my seller central back end and I see that we now have about 50,000 products listed in our inventory. All sorts of cameras and electronics products.

So I jump on the phone with support because I think there is a glitch and someone else’s back end is showing over my account. As we are mid conversation, I get booted from my account and can’t log back in. The support rep sends a password reset, which gets me back in. Then 30 seconds later I’m booted again and pw resets wont work.

These fuckers took over our entire account, changed all of the settings around and even changed all of our company policies to say that if you want to order you need to email some bogus gmail address.

I’m happy I was on the phone with support as this happened because he forwarded me over to the fraud department. They immediately locked down our entire account and made it so the hijackers couldn’t withdraw the payments balance, which at the time was around $15,000 that Amazon owed us. We then had to sit and wait for 3-4 days until they did an investigation. Throughout the investigation our account was locked so we couldn’t sell anything. Of course this happens to us in the middle of the summer. Eventually we regained control and fixed up our policies and everything again. I didn’t do the actual calculation, but we definitely lost between $5-10,000 worth of revenue because of this hijacker.

A few weeks later I noticed that Amazon kept splitting up my parent child variations. This one was totally on me. I had been exploiting a loop hole in their “SizeName” variations template. Typically SizeName is reserved for small, medium, and large versions of the product. What I was doing was selling my entire book of products on each page and classifying them under SizeName variation. Instead of “Small” my size names were “Grill Brush + Digital Thermometer.”

This strategy worked for a good 2-3 months and brought in a bunch of extra sales across all the product lines. Amazon was on to me now though so I had to fix everything up so I was in good standing. I used bulk upload templates to automatically fix all my listings and change them from SizeName to ItemPackageQuantity, which means how many units they get per order.

Instead of selling 2 different products, I could still sell different quantities of each product and give discounts for the higher quantities. This worked for every product listing but the meat claws. In the back end, there is a field for “Package Quantity” for each product. Once it is set it is stuck like that in the system. When I originally created the Meat Claws product on Amazon we put the number 2 in there because there are 2 per set. But it really is supposed to be a 1 because you get 1 box with the order.

Instead of fixing it myself, I called up support and had them walk through live with me the process of fixing the listing. The system is so fragile that even with the support rep helping me, it got confused over trying to change the ItemPackageQuantity field. The only solution was that we had to delete the Meat Claws product listing and wait 24 hours for the system to clear before adding it back in again.

We did that and lost a full day of sales. The next day I called up support again to help me re-add the Claws back in. Everything got messed up again and we had to delete the listing again and wait another 24 hours. On the third time around we finally got everything to work and get back in there, but then it took another 3 days for all of the reviews to come back to the listing.

At the end of this whole mess, we ended up losing probably about 4 days worth of our regular sales volume on the Meat Claws, which of course resulted in another couple thousand dollars of lost revenue.

This time it was all my fault though because I should have never been exploiting the loophole in the first place. Definitely makes me wonder if it really is worth it to exploit short term tactics versus playing by the rules. We probably made more money while the strategy worked than we lost in those few days of missed sales, but it easily could have been much worse.

My Quest To Become a Polyglot

For quite a few years I have thought that it would be really cool to be someone that spoke multiple languages (polyglot). When I was in Ireland I did the Irish Rosetta stone for a few months. Picked up some key words and phrases, but never got anywhere close to conversational.

When I was in Montreal, I religiously did the French Rosetta stone every day for a couple months. Again, I never gained even close to the fluency results that I was hoping for.

About a year and a half ago I read an article on Tim Ferris’s blog about language learning. In the blog it talked about this guy and how he has broken down language learning to a science. Based on the techniques he follows, he can become conversationally fluent in a new language in 3-5 months. The blog post was really awesome, so I decided to add the book to my wish list on Amazon.

A couple months ago I finally read through the book and I have been learning French ever since. So what is the secret sauce behind this technique?

First off, the technique revolves around spaced repetition learning. When you are trying to learn something, you can jam it into your short term memory with rote repetition or you can use spaced repetition to drive it into your long term memory. There is a bunch of science behind why spaced repetition works, but the idea is that you learn something and then right as you are about to forget it, you learn it again.

The practical application of spaced repetition is using what is called a Leitner Box. A Leitner Box has 7 levels to it and if you can advance something all the way past the 7th level it is mathematically ingrained into your long term memory and you will never forget it. On level 1 you learn a word. If you get it right it goes to level 2. But on Level 2 you may not see that word for say 3 more days. Each time you get it right, the word advances another level and the spacing gets longer. On level 5 you may not see the word again for 1.5 months. If at any point you miss the word, it drops all the back to the 1st level and you need to advance it all the way up again.

Managing all of this on your own would take a while and get confusing, so we use a software called Anki that manages this whole process for you. This is the core tool of the process.

Now we need to make flash cards that we will use to learn and review the words. Instead of school where you may do a full section on Greetings and then a full section on Fruits, we start off with a Frequency chart for the language. The frequency chart is the list of the top 600 ish words used in everyday conversation in the language. This way we are focusing on the absolute most important words and shooting straight for conversational fluency.

Next we need to associate a picture with each word. In my opinion this is where Rosetta stone fails. In Rosetta Stone they provide all the pictures for you already so there is no meaningful connection made in your head that links the word to the picture. Just the whole process of searching for a picture of a baseball player throwing a ball for the verb “jeter” forms a bond in your mind.

So we add in the picture of the guy throwing the ball, the word Jeter and we go to Forvo.com to find an audio clip of a French person saying Jeter. Now when we study we see the imagery, we can read the spelling, and we can hear the pronunciation of the word on each flashcard.

Note that there is no English involved at all on any of the flashcards. This is because you don’t want to be constantly translating back and forth in your head. You need to use images and study French completely in French if you want to really learn it.

The system itself is great, but what really makes it incredible is the ease of use. If you want to become fluent then you need to study a little bit every single day. I often skipped days of Rosetta stone because it’s hard to find time to sit in front of your computer to study every day. With Anki, I load everything up on my computer and then export the file into my dropbox. On my phone I have the Anki app and I just import the card deck directly from dropbox. Now I can quickly study whenever I want because it’s on my phone and it gives me reminders if I haven’t studied yet that day.

I have been at it daily for probably almost 2 months now and according to Anki, I have 592 cards in a Mature State and 459 in a Young/Still learning state in my memory. That’s a lot of progress right there! Just the other day I started a 2nd deck where I am now learning the verb conjugations. Getting all of the tenses down has been a little more difficult than just learning the vocab, but in another month I expect to be able to start putting full sentences together for tons of different conversation topics.

[Update – Writing this from Chopin Airport in Poland while waiting for my flight to Lithuania. I just left Paris with my sister for 4 days. I never got a chance to study conjugations as much as I would have liked because of all of my recent travels. However, I was very conversational in Paris and could understand and get across whatever we needed in any situation. Another month or two and I think I’ll be able to hold full conversations about a variety of topics]

Testing the Limits of My Stoicism by Michael O’Donnell

Posted on June 18th, 2015 in Business Development, My Story, Valleys | No Comments »

Stoicism: the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.

I was first introduced to Stoicism by Ryan Holiday in “The Obstacle is The Way” and then further explored the subject when I read “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius.

Whether they know it or not, all successful entrepreneurs have to have some degree of stoicism in their personality.

In my 3.5 years as a full time entrepreneur I’ve gone through some serious peaks and valleys. That’s just the way it is and you have to expect setbacks as you grow and your business progresses.

As the title of the post suggests, I’ve been enduring a ton of shit. Over the last 50-60 days it’s been almost like the stars have aligned to cause catastrophe after catastrophe to just wreak havoc in my business and personal life.

When I look at the past couple years of writing on this blog, I think I’ve tended to write mostly about the positive things going on. I’ll touch on the negatives, but I never truly do them justice. I’ll elaborate on a big win for 4 pages, but when it comes to some giant setback (and there have been many), I’ll normally knock it off in a few paragraphs max and move on.

I don’t brush over the setbacks because they’re not important. In fact, they’re probably the most important part of me keeping this whole journal so I can reflect and learn. It’s just that for me it’s very hard to dwell on the negatives. I just want to shrug them off and move on, not spend 6 hours writing about them and reliving through it.

I can honestly say that this has been one of the toughest valleys I have ever gone through. I’m struggling to find a way to put everything down on paper in a way that will truly portrait how difficult and stressful this valley has been for me. One thing after another compounding on top of each other really fucked with my psyche.

Don’t worry though, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel and I’ve had a few kick ass wins towards the tail end here.

Promoting Amazing Selling Machine as an Affiliate Round 2

Last year in September Jarod, Shane, and I promoted ASM as affiliates and we totally kicked ass. After all expenses and our 3-way split we ended up each coming out with around $20,000 in commissions.

Between September and April a lot of things changed. For starters, the 3 of us had our break up. I’ve written about the break up here on the blog already, but basically Jarod felt that Shane wasn’t contributing anymore and he was too distracted with other things he had going on to really commit to our partnership. A lot of this was true, but a lot of it was also Jarod’s jealousy of Shane’s success and Jarod’s own insecurities.

I played things in the middle during the break up and retained my relationships with both guys, but Jarod caused a big rift with Shane. Even though they made up later, it was one of those things where their relationship was cool on the surface but damaged down below.

When we got to Vegas in February, I hung out with Jarod and his wife Shannon most of the time. Shane was too busy doing stuff with Matt and Jason to really spend any significant time with and he was still bitter about the way things went down. By default I pretty much sealed myself in as being partner’s with Jarod.

At this time in February I still hadn’t committed to doing the ASM 5 launch again with Jarod or Shane. I was planning on launching my own course with Ricky on Udemy and competing against ASM. As the conference went on, I decided that I was going to do the Aruba Mastermind trip with Matt and Jason.

I remember being out to lunch with Jarod and Shannon and telling them that since I decided to go on the trip with the ASM guys I thought it would be a big conflict of interest if I was also going to launch my own competing course. With my course now out of the picture, it made sense for me to partner up with Jarod again to do the ASM 5 launch.

We discussed if it was worth it to ask Shane to come back in again as a partner. In the last launch he didn’t do too much of the operations/labor involved in promoting, but he did have the network and some extra clout as Jason’s brother. Both of us agreed that we couldn’t do as well again without Shane and it was worth the extra split so we asked him to join up with us again.

For a couple weeks he held us at bay and kept saying he wasn’t planning on promoting the launch. Eventually we found out that he partnered up with Dave Kettner’s team. This caused an issue because Shane still had access to all of our stuff we put together and our whole community of ASM Elite member’s so he could see everything we were doing and he was competing against us.

Since he was competing against us, it made sense for us to ask him to leave the facebook group. Jarod and Shane weren’t on great terms so I had to ask him to leave. He seemed to understand and was cool with it. But as soon as he was out of our group he changed the passwords on the Jason Fladlien membership that we all purchased together for $3,500 last launch. Fladlien is the top affiliate so basically Shane took away our ability to spy on his launch. This wasn’t cool because we actually paid for that access. When Jarod confronted Shane about it, things got heated and you could tell there was a lot of animosity and both of them felt like they got the short end of the stick.

So that’s the whole sociopolitical side of things leading up to the launch. On the launch preparation side I was dealing with my own set of issues working with Jarod.

The price of the course went up from $3,500 to $4,995 which was a significant increase and meant we needed to change our strategies up. We needed to bulk up our bonus packages and do a much better job of relationship building with our prospects if we wanted to sell them because it was a higher ticket item.

Of course bulking up the bonus packages meant that I personally would have to add in a ton of new training material. Jarod can manage some software development, but when it comes to being innovative and developing marketing strategies I don’t think he’s ever had an original idea in his life. He’s constantly chasing the ball and basically just relies on me to share things with him. The way I would describe it is that I’m the type of person that pays it forward and would never want to be leaning more on the take side than the give side. Jarod is the type of person that consciously tries to manage it in his head where he never shares more than he gives so that way in his head he is always making out in the relationship.

So when it came to the bonus packages, I was pretty much responsible for creating everything and teaching all of our students (and Jarod) a bunch more strategies. It was more work for me again, but I figured with the increased price tag and one less person to split with, the commissions I would make would be worth it for me.

As far as the launch itself went, I was the leader. As the marketing guy, I came up with our strategy again and the steps for implementation. But literally the entire way for weeks leading up to the launch I had to keep fighting with Jarod over everything. He kept questioning me on every single step because he couldn’t conceptualize the strategy. This was basically the exact same strategy we employed last time to crush it in the launch. But every step of the way he kept wanting to follow traditional strategies like running ads to cold traffic because “That’s what everyone else does.” The problem with following what everyone else does is that we don’t have any of the assets in place that major affiliates do, which is why I had to create a totally different strategy in the first place.

It was incredibly frustrating because I had to explain myself over and over again every step of the way and show him why all of these traditional methods wouldn’t work. The only way I can explain it is like having a little kid ask you Why 50 times in a row over something that should be clear cut.

 

By the time the launch finally came around, it was like an all-out witch hunt. Right away we received a violation because our domain name was asmmastery.com and they updated the TOS so no affiliates could have “asm” in their name. We had 24 hours to take down the site or we would be suspended from the launch.

So we bought a new domain name and transferred all of the content over so we were in compliance. We also held a webinar for our sub-affiliates to let them know about the change. Our sub-affiliates were basically a bunch of people that we signed up that would promote the course using our bonus package and we would split the commissions with them. They each had their own pages on our site as well so we had to redirect all of those links to the new website.

We replied back to ASM that we fixed everything and they were cool with it. Then about 8 hours later they told us that redirecting the site was not enough. Even though you couldn’t go to that old domain anymore, they wanted us to take it down completely. Basically this was their way of fucking up all of the previous work we did and all our sub affiliates did because any links out there on the internet wouldn’t even redirect anymore.

We weren’t happy about it, but we complied and were reinstated. Right after we were reinstated we received another warning because one of our pictures was “misleading” to them. The wording was cut and dry about what ASM was offering and what we were offering, but they thought it could be confusing so we had to change the image immediately or be suspended. This exact image was used by at least 3 other affiliates that I know of and was prominent on their sales pages. Again, we changed the image immediately and we were back in business again.

Keep in mind each time we received these bogus warnings they would suspend our account. For a 7 day launch each day counts so this was huge. We would see sales come into our account and then they would just take them away from us. Sometimes we would make sales during the couple hour period where we were suspended for bull shit and then they would just not count them towards our commission. It was ridiculous.

Meanwhile, I’m working 12-15 hour days trying to keep up on the launch, Hyacinth, and Cave Tools. Jarod still has a day job so every time I needed help he would hide behind his job. The work split was totally all on me, but at this point we were in the middle of things so if I stopped then neither of us would make money. I just had to push through and say fuck it.

At this point we are about 2 days into the launch. We are running our facebook robot and messaging people just like we did last launch. Last launch we did extremely well messaging Robert Kiyosaki people and converting them to our group so we scraped a list of his followers and started messaging them. One of the messages went to Dave Kettner and he freaked out. This time around Robert partnered with Dave so basically he was pissed that we were poaching his prospects.

There is nothing against TOS about this, we were simply presenting an alternative offer to people and letting them make a decision. But I became good friends with Dave in Aruba and on a personal friendship level that’s a dick move. I agreed with him and gave him my word we wouldn’t send any more messages to Kiyosaki people. The way I see it is that money gets spent, but relationships last. My relationships and reputation to me is so much more important than money.

I took me an hour to smooth things over with Dave. During the beginning of our conversation he was kind of heated and he started saying some things that were very telling. Specifically he made a comment about how he’s heard about how Jarod and I run our business and he can’t believe how immoral we are and that we resort to scumbag tactics and a bunch of other stuff like that.

At this point we hadn’t done anything wrong and at every step of the game while ASM was after us we were just complying and doing whatever they said. But there were a bunch of rumors going around that I had no clue what they were and it was damaging my reputation. The rumors were most likely started by Shane after the fallout with Jarod, but there is no way to prove that.

Next thing you know Jarod starts direct messaging Jason during the launch. Jason is in the middle of a multi million dollar launch and probably has a ton of shit on his plate and Jarod is calling him out and blaming Shane for trying to shut us down. He’s then calling up their CFO and complaining to him and making threats and all sorts of stuff without even telling me he’s doing it.

Basically I’m in damage control mode trying to speak to everyone and clear things up and Jarod is going out and just totally handling things the wrong way and causing more enemies for us.

Now we have a ton of people inside ASM super pissed off at us when less than a month ago we were all best buddies in Aruba hanging out. They’re just looking for another way to shut us down again. Jarod had started a Rafflecopter campaign to promote the launch. Basically it’s one of those things where if you share the link on social media you get “points” and at the end we would give a prize to the person with the most points. It’s supposed to induce virility to your campaign. Again, nothing  against the TOS for doing this, but they shut us down for another 24 hours over it because they felt like it.

Jarod calls the CFO again and prints out the TOS and timestamps it so they can’t change any wording around. We get reinstated again but are told any more violations and we are completely done. Keep in mind we still haven’t had a “True” violation yet. It’s all just been this crazy witch hunt.

Next thing you know, one of our members from ASM4, Sandra sends us a message. Her friend who she has been trying to get into ASM for months purchased the course through our link but was conveniently added to Dave Kettner’s group instead for some reason. She sent us the entire conversation for proof of the person asking to be in our group.

So now they are literally just taking sales and commissions away from us. We send the proof over to support and instead of transferring her friend over to us like they did last launch, they send a message to Dave to let him know we are stealing sales from him. This is after I smoothed everything over with Dave and we were cool again. So then he writes a letter to the girl just completely bashing us and making all sorts of ridiculous claims about how we are liars and cheats.  The girl thought that was very unprofessional and sent us the entire letter and still requested to be added to our group.

So we got the commission for her, but now I’ve got Dave bashing us. I ended up having a whole other hour or two conversation with him to clear things up and he admitted he was just pissed and should have contacted me first before he blew up. Again, tons of damage to my reputation was caused by all of this because in a state of anger he was freaking out and bashing us to ASM as well.

Next thing you know the final blow comes in and ASM says some of the wording on our sales letter was misleading and that this was our final violation so they were shutting us down for good. At this point I could give a shit about the launch and the commissions. All I cared about was my reputation and I felt like I was in constant damage control mode. The amount of stress I was holding during this month was ridiculous.

So finally I messaged Jason myself. Just like with Dave and everyone else, I smoothed everything over and made sure we were on good terms. Jason appreciated me reaching out and having an honest conversation with him and handling things like a man.

The next day we get an email from their lawyers saying that even though we were suspended they would still let us keep all of our commissions and everything. I’m pretty happy with the outcome and feel like my diplomacy was rewarded. I didn’t care about getting the last laugh, I just wanted things to be over and done with.

A couple hours after that email I get a phone call from Jarod and he tells me about how he really “Stuck Them.” Since Dave Kettner helped shoot some of the videos for the course, Jarod was trying to get them on Libel and sue them. He had spoken with his lawyer and because Dave made false statements about us and he was paid by ASM to work on the videos, that constituted libel. Every time I was trying to stick a fig leaf out and end things he was always out to get the last laugh and keep fucking things up.

Fast forward to today and now I have to coach these new members we added and I have to put together all of the bonus material. It made sense for me when I was expecting about 25-30K in commissions, but now at 10K for the amount of work involved it’s just not worth it to me. But I have to do it anyways.

Part of our bonuses are weekly coaching calls, which is supposed to be Jarod’s responsibility since I’m doing everything else. But he’s been pawning a lot of that shit off on me as well. Again, I’m in the situation where I can just hit things head on a cause a confrontation or I can just bang out what I need to do and get over with it. From a pride standpoint I want to just freak the fuck out on him and end my relationship, but in the long run that’s not the right thing to do. I’m just going to put my bonuses together and push the weekly calls on him and that way we do right by our students and live up to our promises.

After my obligations are over with, I’m just going to slowly move away from Jarod and keep doing my own stuff. By not causing a confrontation, the tension will diminish over time and if I ever need him for something I can keep that relationship open.

Firing Dorothy and Lessons Learned

Towards the beginning of May, right at the start of our busy season, I had to fire Dorothy. Dorothy was in charge of everything from social media to blog posting, blogger outreach, press releases, youtube video submissions, etc. This was a huge blow to lose her. She was great for the first 4 months (Or at least I led myself to believe she was), so what happened?

Basically she just stopped working for a full month and was sending me bogus update reports about work she didn’t do. I was too busy to check up on her work and I had too much trust in her that she was doing a good job. She most likely picked up another job and was just getting paid by me until I finally figured things out.

I did a full audit on her work and from what I could tell she maybe worked about 4 hours for the entire month of April (and got paid her full salary). She was working just enough to show some activity so she could bluff the rest and still get paid. Even the work she did complete was done half ass or started but never finished. Outside of the employer/employee relationship we had a lot in common and would probably be friends if we lived in the same city. So why would she do this to me? What would lead her to basically steal from me?

I don’t she think she’s a bad person. After reflecting back and taking an objective view of the situation, I actually take full responsibility and believe that I led her to do this to me. I did so many things wrong with her that I’m actually surprised she didn’t do this to me earlier.

Perceived Time Investment:

I hired Dorothy back around November and it took me a good couple months to get her trained to be my content marketing manager. In the beginning I used my training materials I created when I was running my Penn State internship program. However, those trainings were somewhat outdated and they were too process oriented instead of strategy oriented.

By process oriented, I mean that my video tutorials were focused on one specific operating procedure/process and that’s all they were good for.  As I started training Dorothy I reevaluated my training methods and started building tons of strategy oriented trainings.

Basically if you go into our training resource center now, you’ll see about 40 operating procedures geared towards specific processes. These are living step by step documents that can be changed and evolve as our strategies change. In addition to the operating procedures you’ll also find a bunch of videos. The cool thing about most of these videos now is that they are strategy oriented instead of process oriented. For example, you’ll see a video in there about all the different ways to optimize a youtube video, but it won’t be about our specific youtube posting process. This way the process can change but the videos can be used for training on a broad range of applications.

It took me about 3 months to create all of this and get Dorothy fully trained. What I was doing was building a reusable asset, but in my head I associated all that time as an investment in Dorothy. This really clouded my judgement and in my head made me feel that she was so much more valuable than she really was.

Salary + Time Tracking

Leading up to Dorothy all of the outsourcers I ever hired were hourly employees. To do this job the right way, I knew it needed to be a full time 40 hour per week job. So instead of hiring Dorothy on an hourly basis, I gave her a full time salary with the expectation that she would work at least 40 hours per week.

I wanted her to feel like she was not just a VA, but a part of the company. I very naively expected her to work really hard and put in the extra time to make sure everything got done on time. She would routinely take days off in the middle of the week and I was cool with it because she said she would make it up over the weekend. She never actually made the time up.

Usually we use a service like Upwork to automate the time tracking and payment of our hourly employees. However, with Dorothy we used a separate time tracking software that was not linked to her payment each month. The problem with this was that for me to actually verify she was working I would have to manually check the time tracker software. I was way too busy to do this and she knew I wasn’t checking.

At one point in the beginning she didn’t use the time tracking software for a full week and I never realized it. I think she was just testing the waters to see how much I was actually keeping track of her. Once I started checking the time tracker she started coming up with excuses about how it wasn’t working on her computer and it was slowing things down. Then she convinced me to stop making her use the software all together because she was flipping back and forth between her computer and her son’s and didn’t want tracking software on his computer. Again, I had full trust in her so I allowed her to stop tracking her time. As long as I could see that her activity level was up that’s all I cared about.

Firm KPIs and Management

When it came to activity level, I had no clue what that even meant and I’m sure she didn’t either. When I initially hired her the expectations were something like 1 blog post per week, 2 press releases per product per week, 1 youtube video submission, etc. Not once did she ever hit her marks and I even ended up removing press release responsibilities from her all together because she wasn’t a strong enough writer to do them properly. After the press releases were removed, I expected her to just focus more on the other tasks, but that never really happened. In fact, her overall activity level and output on the other tasks went down.

By the time she started not working on me, there were pretty much no key performance indicators in place to measure output and there were no incentives or penalties associated with not hitting certain objectives.

Everything looks so damn clear now that I’m writing it all out. Of course this was a recipe for disaster and there was no way anyone could be expected to succeed in this environment. Think about it from her perspective.

  • Manager is too busy to check up on me
  • There are no clear requirements on the amount of work I need to do
  • There is no way to tell if I’m working or not
  • I’m getting paid on autopilot regardless of it I work

What it all came down to is that I was just lazy and way too comfortable with having Dorothy in place. Hiring and training a new person is difficult so I justified everything and turned my back on the problems because I had other stuff to deal with. I knew she wasn’t working at full capacity, but it was still better having her there than to have to hire someone new.

Even when I did my full audit and had my phone call with her to discuss it, I had no intentions of firing her. I was planning on just talking through it and telling her she needed to “Get her activity up again.” How ridiculous is that? This girl basically stole from me and the pain of hiring someone new was so great that I just ignored everything that was happening. Luckily for me when I asked her about it all she just resigned on the spot. She knew she got caught and there was no way to even sugar coat it with an excuse.

Looking back on this whole situation now, the timing was horrible and the impact of losing her really hurt the business, but it needed to happen. I’ve learned so much from reflecting on this experience that I never would have learned. I have a new person in place now named Marian and I’m restructuring my entire marketing program to have performance based incentives.

I always felt like management was easy. You just make sure everyone is doing what they need to do and you’re good to go. But there is so much more to being an effective manager and this whole experience made me realize that I can’t just wing it as a manager. Just like I study marketing in detail I need to learn and properly implement the core principles of management.

Within the next year, I want to start hiring real full time employees in the US and building a true company culture. This is going to require a vastly different skill set than just managing a couple hourly VAs from my computer. People have different personalities and work ethic and different ways of needing to be incentivized and measured.

In order to take things to the next level I picked up the book Traction. The core message of this book is to install your “Entrepreneurial Operating Framework.” These are the principles that the majority of the Mavericks implement to scale their businesses and there are entire groups dedicated towards the application of Traction to your business.

I’ll discuss the Mavericks in more detail in my next post. Basically they are a bunch of impact driven 7 and 8 figure business owners that I now have access to and may or may not be hanging out with in August 😉

Meat Claws Infomercial Tanks


We finished up the infomercial production and aired our 2 week test market in April. The infomercial was shown on ESPN, Fox News, Food Network and Spike TV during the day from 6am to midnight in Tampa, Detroit, Chicago, Evansville and New York and had an estimated reach of 1.2 Million viewers.

Kick Ass Product, Kick Ass Infomercial, Kick Ass Audience size. With all 3 of those boxes checked you would think success was inevitable. It wasn’t. The infomercial failed miserably and we only ended up selling 12 units! I sell 12 fucking units a day on less than 100 impressions on Amazon alone.

For a little while we thought we may have gotten bumped by a bigger advertiser or maybe received tons of horrible air times. Not the case. We looked through the tv logs and everything was executed exactly according to plan. We just flat out failed.

Most infomercials fail and I knew that going in. The video shoot and test market cost me $7,000. I’m cool with that. It’s a small price to pay when compared to the potential upside of succeeding. If I could go back I would totally make the same decision to move forward and do the infomercial. You have to take those kinds of risks so I’m cool with it.

What I’m not cool with is the absolute ridiculous amount of inventory I have now.

Assuming all went well with the test market, the initial purchase from Landmark Direct would have been 10,000 units and I would have turned I think about $20,000 in profit if I remember correctly. At the time leading up to the airing I only had about 5,000 units on hand and some of them were reserved for The View (discussed below). Last Christmas the meat claws became hugely popular and we stocked out because we started selling a couple hundred per day.

I typically have a 90 day supply chain if I ship via ocean and closer to 60 days if I ship via air. The summer isn’t very long so I was in a big catch 22 type of situation. I lost a shit ton of money by stocking out over Christmas so stocking out during the summer was not an option, especially now that I had money from the bank. From a projection standpoint, could I expect similar demand numbers during the peak of summer? Would they maybe even be higher?

I needed to plan ahead and order enough units in case the infomercial was a success (for their purchase and the increased demand in all other channels), the view was a success, and my projected demand over the summer.

I decided to order 15,000 units and ship them via air (Way more expensive than ocean) so they could get here immediately. Approximately 10,000 would go to the infomercial, a couple thousand would go to The View, and with my 3 to 5 thousand units already in stock I would have enough buffer to match demand and then make more ordering decisions on the fly.

Looking back, that purchase order was based on a lot of best case scenario assumptions. But the alternative of low balling it and stocking out would also have been devastating.

As soon as I got word that the infomercial failed, I called up my freight forwarder, Jay, with an urgent message to switch the air shipment to an ocean shipment. This would have saved me literally about $10,000 and given me more time to move my existing inventory before the excess arrived. Unfortunately, when I spoke to Jay he told me the shipment had just arrived in San Francisco and the next day was expected to be shipped to my warehouse. Fuck! I have to say that is my biggest and probably only regret. Looking back there had to be some way I would have been able to meet deadlines and still ship ocean.

I have no clue how long it will take me to move that inventory now so keeping it all in the warehouse in short term storage would kill me in fees. So instead of sending it to the warehouse, we had all 8 pallets loaded up on a truck and shipped cross country to my parent’s house. Shipping them across the country added a nice extra $3,000 to my purchase, but it had to be done to minimize the damage.

Instead of shipping them to the parcel place in Newtown, I had a them schedule a truck with a lift gate on it so they could be delivered directly to the house. A full on fucking tractor trailer showed up in our neighborhood with all the meat claws.

Our driveway goes uphill so I had to work with the truck drive to get each of the pallets up to our garage. He pulled from the front and I used my legs to push from the back. It felt like I was hitting a blocking sled in football practice trying to get those damn pallets up the driveway. Except I was pushing 5,964 pounds (3 tons) of meat claws and $42,000 worth of tied up cash flow and misery up the hill on a 90 degree day.

I could probably launch 3 new product lines with that money. I don’t even want to think about the opportunity cost of what I could be making right now if that money was liquid. I’m just hoping demand repeats itself over Christmas this year and we can start making a dent in the inventory.

On the bright side, my mom helped me break down the pallets and stack all the boxes in the garage. There was also very little damage. I think only about 8 units are unsellable. This is a miracle compared to when I used to receive 1,000 units of grill brushes and when we opened the truck gate about 300 of them were lying on floor and the boxes were all ripped up and destroyed.

Marc from Landmark Direct hasn’t abandoned hope yet on the Meat Claws. According to him, the way things typically work is infomercial > catalogs > retail. Sometimes certain products will work out in a different order though so now we are going to be trying catalog marketing with the meat claws.

I already signed the deal with them and they are working on the graphics and sell sheets now. For me it’s a cash positive opportunity (costs me nothing) because they still purchase direct from me at the agreed upon wholesale rate and the catalog fees are built in to the price they list them at. I’m not expecting huge things from the catalogue marketing but we’ll see what happens. Any time I can make money and increase exposure without having to manage the campaign myself, I’m all for it.

So Much For “The View”

Back in September/October of last year I was contacted about an opportunity for Cave Tools to be featured on The View. I ended up not doing the deal because I didn’t have enough inventory to support that type of campaign. However, I kept in touch with my contact Diana and planned to circle back for this summer.

The requirements from last time were that I needed to have 1,000 units of each product available for them to do a deal on the show. I planned ahead in my ordering and I ordered an extra 1,000 units of meat claws and bbq sets so they could be set aside for the show.

When I followed up in the beginning of the summer to start planning things out I was notified that Diana was promoted and I now had to deal with Teagan. They also let me know that now the requirement was 2,000 units of each product. When you have a 3 month long supply chain, you don’t necessarily have the flexibility in inventory to just spare an extra thousand units for one promotion.

At this point I was already pot committed so I wanted to figure something out because I had the extra inventory. For the meat claws this was around the same time as the infomercial test market so I thought it would be the perfect mix of being on mainstream tv at the same time as the infomercial aired. We negotiated back and forth and they ended up telling me they would feature us on their Must Have Mondays online only segment.

In the beginning everything was structured that I would provide a deep discount deal in exchange for being on The View. Now I ended up with a deep discount deal where I literally was going to break even in exchange for an online only promotion. Not what I planned for but again at this point I figured we would just go through with it and hopefully the exposure would pay off.

The contract I had to sign with these guys to work with them was ridiculous. I discussed this in the other blog post, but basically I was taking a lot of risk and there were tons of penalties in place if any of the units were defective or if shipping wasn’t done exactly to their specifications.

At this point, we are getting really close to the air date of the tv show and must have Mondays flash sale segment. Part of the contract stated that all of our inventory needed to be in their warehouses by 3 days before the show aired. Teagan is completely dragging her ass and isn’t giving me the information I need to ship the products to the warehouse no matter how many times I ask her.

Everything is being coordinated via email to get this deal done. During the day I was attending an ecommerce conference in Philly called SCOE. Turned out to be an absolutely horrible conference and completely hyped up. I literally could have been one of the best presenters there if I was on stage. Way too many amateurs and completely unorganized. One of the presenters even stole word for word and image for image a marketing funnel that Ezra Firestone made and released in his course called social secrets. He just put the exact templates on a powerpoint with his name on it and hocked it as his own shit.

The only good thing to come out of the conference was that I met Dan Roitman and got to hang out with him. I originally met him briefly in Ezra’s mastermind in Vegas and tried talking to him when I found out he was from Philly. He basically just blew me off and seemed totally uninterested in speaking.

When I saw him at SCOE I decided to give it another go and speak to him. Dan is the guy that built Pimsler into the 2nd largest language learning program in the world after Rosetta Stone. I’m pretty sure Pimsler does in the mid 8 figures every year. He also owns a VC company that goes around and buys up people’s ASM brands. I forget what I said to him when I walked up to him, but I made it a point to discuss monthly revenue numbers fairly early in the conversation so he knew I wasn’t just some newbie marketer that was going to waste his time.

It sounds weird from the outside in to be so open with sharing numbers, but this is very common in the ASM/Amazon community and it’s almost like a grading system. It’s like where are you at? 20K per month, 50K per month, etc. Anyways, once I shared some numbers he really opened up and we actually hung out for all 3 days of the horrible horrible conference. It was basically one of those things where I paid to be there and I knew it sucked but I didn’t want to just leave because you never know if the next presentation was going to be good or not.

So I’m at this hotel for a conference on Wed, Thurs, and Friday. The show airs the next Monday and according to the contract I needed to have my products in their warehouse by that Friday. In between speakers I keep running out to the lobby to open my laptop and check my email so I could get the damn info from Teagan. It wasn’t until Thursday afternoon at 5pm that she finally sent it to me and I was still expected to get it there by Friday.

I’m freaking out and now trying to coordinate a shipment from San Francisco to Los Angeles (8 hours) by myself in the middle of this damn conference and get it done in one day without breaking the bank. Of course every time I call UPS I have to sit on hold for 30 minutes and their people are incredibly unhelpful and rude. I always have my freight forwarders handle the shipments from China and then UPS picks up from the warehouse to take stuff to Amazon so coordinating a shipment like this is a huge project for me and something I never did before.

I finally called Teagan up and forced them to give me an extension because there was no way in hell the products would get there on time. She gave me until Monday. Jim, the guy that owns the warehouse I use in San Francisco was doing his best to help. I would be running in and out of speeches to catch a call with him as we tried to coordinate everything. He even researched uHauls and was going to drive my products down to LA himself on Saturday and return on Sunday just so I could make it there on time. When we costed out his time and the uhaul and everything like that it came out to be like 3 grand just in shipping. That wasn’t going to fly.

Finally I got UPS to do the shipment and get it there by Tuesday and I told Teagan that they were just going to have to deal with it because there was nothing else I could do with such short notice. The whole process was incredibly stressful and was basically piled on at the same time that I fired Dorothy and all this other shit was going on. I was just happy that we got the products there and was looking forward to the show results and coupling them with my huge potential infomercial success.

On Tuesday night around 10pm I got a call from Talisha at the warehouse in LA. Apparently Jim and his guys at the warehouse shipped 990 bbq tool sets and 3,000 meat claws to them. WHAT THE FUCK! According to the contract that’s $10 per missing unit, so that’s $100 right there in penalties. For the extra 2,000 units of meat claws, I would now be responsible for shipping them back up another 8 hours to get back to San Francisco.

Keep in mind I was very very clear with all of the shipping instructions and made Jim and his guys aware of the strict penalties I faced if anything fucked up. Everything was provided in clear written instructions on how to prepare the shipment and how many units to send.

Talisha said they would waive the fine for the extra bbq sets, but we would still be responsible now for shipping all of those units back to San Fran. They are coordinating the return shipment this week actually and I’m expecting it will cost me about another $800 or $900 extra. Whatever it ends up costing, Jim is going to split it with me. I could have pressed to have him pay in pull because they fucked up, but he was going out of his way to help me with looking into renting uhauls and making calls to help figure everything out. I figure this way we just split the pain and move on.

As far as the Must Have Monday segment goes, they were projecting to sell the shit out of our stuff because of all the thousands of viewers and everything that would flock to the page. It turned out to be all hype and we only sold 158 units of each.

So let’s sum up this whole “View” experience. Get all hyped up in September for the show and then not have enough reserve inventory to execute. Plan months ahead to reserve inventory so we could be featured on the show only to be told at the last minute that requirements were changed. Suck it up and go through with the online only deal because there was still huge exposure expected. Go through a crazy stressful 3 day run around trying to coordinate a big shipment on a tight time schedule. Shipment gets fucked up and the online segment barely sells at all. Now I’m responsible for paying to get my products back from them and the overall net result of the deal will most likely be a couple thousand dollar loss.

Technical Issues

The Must Have Monday show aired on Monday and I’m finding a lot of this stuff out towards the end of that week. On Thursday at the end of my work day a little bit of coffee spilled on my keyboard. I’m talking a very little bit and I wiped it up immediately and the computer continued working fine that night. Friday morning I wake up and what do you know? My entire keyboard is fucked up.

One of the letters is basically held down and repeating itself. Not from a mechanical side, but from a circuit side so there is nothing I can do to stop it. After tinkering for about a half hour trying to find a way to type my login password in correctly, I was able to use the finger scanner to get access to my computer. I hadn’t used that thing in over 2 years so I was surprised it worked. From there, I plugged in an external keyboard and was able to locate the drive file for my laptop keyboard and disable it following the steps in an online guide from my phone.

After disabling the keyboard I had to restart the computer so the changes could take effect. That was last time I was ever able to log into the computer. My hard drive was at about 95% memory capacity from all my work shit and for weeks I had been telling myself I would set aside some time to clean stuff off and put it on my external hard drive. I think it just didn’t have enough memory to handle having a disabled keyboard or something because I could never get the laptop to go passed the login screen again.

So by this point it’s about 11am on Friday. Just recently finished up with the ASM debacle, Dorothy quit, Marc from the infomercial is giving me mid test market updates that we are way behind expected sales, and I just found out about the View thing getting all fucked up, and now I don’t have my laptop that I use to run both of my businesses and has everything I need on it. As if I wasn’t down in the dirt enough, you go and pull the plug on my life support.

No time to sit around and sulk and feel sorry for myself so I got in the car and headed 40 minutes away to Best Buy. Of course they don’t sell any Windows 7 computers anymore so I had to buy a Windows 8 touch screen laptop for over $1,000.

I then drive 40 minutes home only to realize that one of the wires was defective. Had to get back in the car and do another round trip of 40 minute drives to Best Buy to get that replaced. It’s now towards the end of the day and I have to set up an entire laptop on a new operating system (Windows 8 is a giant piece of shit) and install all of my software again. Luckily I had set up Carbonite for automatic backups about 3 months prior so none of my core files were lost.

The problem however was that I had so much shit on the carbonite cloud that it took about a full week before I got everything back and downloaded onto my new laptop.

For the entire next week I experienced the true pain of switching to Windows 8 and none of my programs working well with the new operating system. Quickbooks and my printer were the worst with integrating smoothly with Windows 8. Between those two things alone I probably spent a good 20 hours on support phone calls with people over in India that are fucking retarded and make you want to scream.

To be totally clear, 20 hours is not an exaggeration. I had multiple 2 hour phone calls with support reps from both companies literally like every day the following week. We would go over all of the same exact steps and I would have to re explain everything over and over again. They have to follow a specific process so telling them you already did a step didn’t matter, they would always start from the very top of the troubleshooting guide. It was absolutely horrible. After getting off a call with these guys I was just completely drained of all will power to do any work.

At the same time we were also experiencing separate unrelated issues with our router not working. I had to spend a couple hours with those guys as well and they could never figure out what was wrong. We basically just had to reset the entire router and create a new set up of everything from scratch.

This dumb technical shit pretty much ate up an entire week of work for me. Even the work did get done that week was unfocused and scattered.

Everything in this post so far went down between April and May with a heavy concentration in the middle weeks. Between the end of May and today, June 18, I’ve finally gotten out of the damn slump and have a ton of good shit going my way again. For now we’ll cut this blog post off. Next post will be much more upbeat

Ramping Things Up Into Hyper Drive – Mike O’Donnell

Posted on March 25th, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I can’t believe it has already been a month and a half since the ASM event in Vegas. I’ve made a ton of progress over the past few weeks in terms of ramping the business up and getting ready for the madness of summer.

 

A large part of my progress can be attributed to the fact that Caecilia and Dorothy are managing almost all of the day to day tasks in my business. I’ve winded down Hyacinth Marketing so I only have a few clients left. I upsold the remaining ones so I’m actually making more money on them and streamlined the operations so I’m personally doing less work.

 

For the first time in my life, I can truly say I’m spending the majority of my time working on my business instead of in it. Instead of getting bogged down with day to day tasks, I’m building a lot of systems and delegating more and more to Caecilia and Dorothy.

Leveraging Big Data From Big Companies…For Free

 

I’ve been experimenting with scraping for about 2 years now. I’m not a programmer, but I can understand the core elements of html and css and piece things together to do what I want them to do. Up until this past month, I would consider myself a complete novice when it came to scraping. Now I would consider myself an absolute expert. I’m doing tons of cool shit with scraping and am honestly addicted to it. I just want to scrape websites for the sake of scraping them just to see if I can do it!

 

One of our highest ROI activities is to give free products away to bloggers in exchange for a review. We reach their entire audience and get a review out of the deal. Some bloggers get upwards of 30K views per month, so it more than pays for the small cost of shipping the product out to them.

 

The other day I told Dorothy to build a list of about 100 bloggers that we could use to send products to. It took her at least 5 hours and her list was shotty at best. I knew there had to be a better way. There’s a website called www.tomoson.com that I used in the past, which connects brands with bloggers so you can do reviews. I canceled my subscription though because it was $90 a month and the only real value they have is a trust score that lets you know the blogger isn’t going to disappear on you before leaving a review. So I started thinking about it and figured why have Dorothy do all the leg work when these guys already have all the information on the bloggers compiled?

 

I started doing some more research into scrapers and spent about 4 hours one night getting nowhere with it. Later that week I tried again and was able to get some of the data I needed but not all of it. On my 3rd foray into cracking Tomoson, I was able to scrape their entire database of bloggers. Approx 18,000 to be exact, and completely categorized by niche in a tabbed out spreadsheet. Boom Baby! I’ll get back to how I’ve utilized this in a bit…

 

Shortly after scraping the Tomoson database, I commented on my friend Pete’s post in our Blacksmith Camp (Lithuania Entrepreneurs) facebook group and mentioned how much of a bad ass I was. A few days later Pete messaged me and told me he was developing a new software that hostels could use to run/manage their businesses. He was wondering if I could get a list of all the hostels in Europe.

 

All that “wasted” time I spent figuring out scrapers turned out to be pretty helpful because I was able to get this one on my first try. I went over to Hostels.com and scraped their entire database. In 4 hours (scrape time. My time approx 30min), I sent Pete a tabbed out spreadsheet of every country in Europe, broken down by every city in that country, broken down by every hostel in that city. I think it was about 26,000 rows of data in the spreadsheet!

 

Pete was obviously ecstatic about the goldmine I just sent him and he offered to pay me anything I wanted for it. I told him that since he was starting a new venture to save his money until they are cashflow positive. At that point he could pay me whatever he thought it was worth to him.

 

A few nights ago I was speaking with Justin’s wife Dreama. She recently started her own paleo chocolate pyramids food brand. She’s doing really well and starting to pick up distribution all over Vancouver. She also has a local celebrity Cross Fit/Radio personality as her brand ambassador helping her promote the chocolates.

 

She knew from speaking with Justin that I was using bloggers as a source of PR and wanted to see if I could teach her anything. Her case was a bit difficult because she can only ship locally since it is a refrigerated product. That means we could only use food bloggers located in Vancouver. Very niche case in terms of scraping big data, but I set out to see what I could do.

 

In an hour I found a list on UrbanSpoon of Vancouver food bloggers. Scraped the entire thing and sent her all of their information along with the categories of food and restaurants that they typically review. She absolutely loved it and sent the whole spreadsheet over to her intern who is now contacting all of them!

 

I also sent Dreama my entire operating procedure for blogger outreach (20pg) and youtube tutorial video explaining how I set up all my systems and have my outsourcers managing the entire process for me. It felt really great to be able to give back to Dreama and Justin like that after they have given me so much over the years.

 

Remember my business partner Ben from Montreal? We had a chance to catch up the other day after not having a serious conversation for almost a year. We’ve kept in touch over facebook, but honestly no excuse to not have a good convo in that long. Ben is a fast learner, so I actually spent about 15 minutes and explained exactly how to scrape to him and what softwares to use and gave him a quick live tutorial.

 

The next day he messaged me and was super excited.

 

“I mostly cater to professional services and IT firms… I attended an event for IT CEOs 2 months ago and I now have a list of all the participants, their title, their emails, the size of the business
[9:24:03 AM] Benjamin Beauregard: powerful shiznit!
[9:24:13 AM] Michael O’Donnell: It’s your new secret weapon
[9:24:26 AM] Benjamin Beauregard: you’re my new secret weapon
[9:24:31 AM] Benjamin Beauregard: lol”

 

Amazon has a list of what they call Hall of Fame reviewers. The status is determined by how many helpful votes your reviews have. If you get a review from an HOF reviewer it’s a big deal and you can literally see your sales increase over night because they are thorough reviews and people trust them.

 

So of course, I went ahead and scraped the entire list of HOF reviewers and all their contact info and now added it into our product launch to get at least 3 HOF reviews on every product and have them voted up to the top so they are front and center for all potential customers.

 

Was that enough examples of how bad ass scraping can be?

Building a Blogger Out Reach Process For Mass Publicity

 

Scraped data is cool, but you need to have the systems in place to be able to utilize it. Sweet I now have 18,000 blogger’s information, but do I do with it?

 

First thing I did was ship the excel spreadsheet off to Heidi to clean it up and make all of the data look nice. She’s my data entry girl and she spent probably about 10 hours working away at the spreadsheet. I definitely don’t envy that job, but she didn’t mind. After Heidi was done with it, the spreadsheet was pretty much ready to import into my new CRM system, Highrise.

 

We trimmed the list down to about 9,000 bloggers in our niche (Mommy, Food, Home and Garden, etc.) and added custom fields so we could tell what products they reviewed and when, what their unique blogger id was, address and shipping information, etc. Pretty much everything we would ever need to know about each blogger was uploaded into the system and is easily searchable. I can now do a quick look and find only US based bloggers who have reviewed our grill brush, but not our grill set, use rafflecopter for giveaway promotions, and has X amount of social media following. It’s pretty sweet!

highrise

 

So now that we had this entire searchable database, it was time to build a process so we could efficiently work it. I streamlined Dorothy’s gmail address into the CRM so she could send emails without ever having to leave the system. I then created template emails (initial contact, reviewed different product in past, 1 month follow up, etc.) that she could literally click 1 button and would auto populate the emails for her.

 

The goal is to get up to 1 giveaway per product per day so we have a constant stream of blog reviews coming in from around the internet. We did about 30 giveaways total over Christmas to generate that ridiculous amount of buzz we got! She spends about an hour per day on blogger outreach right now. I can only imagine what it will be like when we get up to full speed.

 

Dorothy does all of the communication with the bloggers to set up the reviews. We then give them the option for us to ship it to them or for them to buy from amazon and we refund them the money. This is sweet because we are generating sales velocity on amazon from giveaways as well. She then gets their shipping info and sends it over to Caecilia.

 

Caecilia goes into the backend of our fulfillment and sends out the product to the blogger. She then responds to Dorothy’s email with the expected delivery date of the product. Dorothy communicates with the blogger and then sets a 1 month reminder in the CRM system to follow up if the review hasn’t been posted.

 

Once the review is posted, Dorothy adds the link to our SEO software and promotes it on social media to help generate more traffic. She then pins all of the pictures to pinterest and adds the blogger as a contributor to the pinterest board. This means that any time in the future the blogger uses our products, they can pin a picture to our board. We are effectively leveraging our bloggers and customers to build our social media presence on Pinterest! I’ll talk more about pinterest later, but this is ridiculously beneficial because they are doing all the work for us.

Implementing Professional Helpdesk Software

 

I never knew how powerful and useful helpdesk software could really be. Now that we have it, I’ll never go back. Just having the peace of mind that it brings to the business is providing the foundation for my rapid listing expansion that I’m working on in the next couple weeks.

 

Caecilia used to respond to customers by logging in directly through Amazon. I get customer emails in my outlook as well so sometimes I would respond. On some occasions emails could be marked as read, but never responded to. It was just a very amateur way of handling customer service from an operational standpoint.

 

With HelpScout, emails are never marked as read or unread. They are just open or closed and it keeps all communication together so no customer is ever over looked.

 

I also added in Smart Automation into the help desk. Now, when emails come in, they are automatically tagged based on the product the customer ordered and the channel they ordered through. Using those tags, we can sort the emails into different folders. By having the sales channel on there it helps keep things so much more organized. Did they order a grill brush from amazon, a meat claw set from shopify, or maybe a bulk order of 3 thermometers and 1 grill set from 11main.com? With auto tagging it makes the back end operations so much smoother.

 

When Dorothy sends emails to Caecilia, they automatically get tagged as blogger outreach and ship now. We also tied the help desk over to our CRM so everyone automatically gets added into our CRM system and tagged in there so we know their information and purchase history. Even if they have purchased from different websites and different times, we can merge the data based on overlapping information (ex: email) and create 1 profile for them. All of this is done automatically.

 

I used to have a bunch of Notepad documents in Caecilia’s dropbox for our frequent responses. Just like I did in the CRM, these are now templated out so she just clicks a drop down and 90% of the work is done for her.
Before we had the help desk, I really had no way of measuring Caecilia’s effectiveness. Now we have all sorts of automated reports that can tell me what is going on in customer service with just 1 quick look

scout convesions

scout productivity

 

 

See the average response time? We need everything to be under 24 hours. In my opinion, she is really toeing the line. We had a conversation about response times this week because a couple slipped through to 48 hours. In the past when that would happen I would normally catch it and respond myself. Now I get alerts when these things happen and I can more effectively manage our customer service. It’s Awesome!

Tying Everything Together With Task Management Software

 

I really struggled with training Dorothy over the first couple months. I had my detailed written outlines and video tutorials on how to do everything. I knew she went through them all and I did some live demonstrations with her to make sure she completely understood everything. But time and time again she would mess things up or skip steps.
I started looking into the Hyacinth Connect (my training resource center) analytics and it was obvious that after going through the training she never really went back to reference them. When you have 38 Steps involved in publishing a blog post, you can’t possibly do it all right by just keeping it in your head. You have to follow the system and constantly refer to your framework. Same thing goes for our video submissions which have over 24 steps involved.

 

The number of steps involved may seem ridiculous, but I want to make sure we get the absolute most benefit out of every piece of content we product in terms of publicity and SEO value. We are going for super high quality on everything instead of just churning out content in mass volume.

 

In Dorothy’s Hyacinth Connect dashboard she has access to almost 30 different operating procedures and trainings on various tasks that she is supposed to perform. Caecilia has about 8 different tasks that she is required to perform. In the past I had them giving me daily reports, but that didn’t really do much to ensure all of the tasks got done on time. Not every task is a daily task and I already have too much on my plate to keep track of everything they are doing and making sure it was all done on time.

 

Setting up Asana (Task mgmt software) has been an absolute game changer in terms of management and productivity. I can now create tasks and assign to either Caecilia or Dorothy and know that it is going to get done. If it doesn’t then I can track and follow up on it. In order for Dorothy to start a blog post, she has to duplicate our Blog Post Template Project, which already has prepopulated in there all 38 steps in chronological order. There is no skipping steps or missing anything because she literally has to check off each box and mark is as complete before she can advance.

Example of Standardized Product Launch Template with Tasks and Sub Tasks

Example of Standardized Product Launch Template with Tasks and Sub Tasks

 

Dorothy is finally starting to catch stride and she is doing an awesome job. I’m finally using her at her full potential and I can tell just by talking to her that she is absolutely loving her job. There is firm structure in place so she always knows what is do and how to do it, but there is a ton of freedom involved as well and I let her use her creativity and I respect her input.

 

Caecilia on the other hand is having a little bit of difficulty adopting to the task management software. She has never really had much structure when working with me, so this is more of a change for her. She is also still an hourly worker so she has to manage other clients as well. Hopefully soon I can full time her and then make sure she completely adopts into the new processes and ways of doing things. She’s at about 30 hours per week now so come summer time we should have plenty more work for her.

 

I also downloaded the Asana app on my phone so I can see what is going on on the fly. Since Caecilia is struggling to adopt at the moment, I actually subscribed to her task feed. Whenever she completes a task I get a notification on my cell phone. She doesn’t know that I am being notified, but in the mean time it is helping me keep track until she becomes better.

Heading Back To Lithuania For Sovereign Academy?

 

A little early to jump the gun on a guaranteed acceptance, but I’m liking my chances. I just submitted my application video for this year’s camp last week and I’m amazed at the amount of progress I’ve made in just 6 months. It was also really cool to compare my 2014 application video with my new 2015 video. I ran this one by my dad before submitting and he wisely advised me to modify my ending to give a stronger What’s In It For Me reason for Simon to bring me back.

 

2014:

 

2015:

 

A few days after I submitted my application video, Simon posted this message in the Facebook group.

simon1simon2simon3

 

I know this year’s camp is going to be even better than last year.

 

Remember I ran into Yanik Silver in Vegas? When I was speaking with him I was asking about the young entrepreneurs camp that he runs called maverick next. Their website is still set up to apply for last year’s camp, so I PM’d him on facebook to follow up and remind him who I was. I’m on their list now so I’m going to apply for that camp as soon as registration opens http://mavericknextsummit.com/

Infomercial Production Has Commenced

 

I mentioned in my last post that we were working on an infomercial for the Meat Claws. This whole thing came about when I randomly stopped by the Parcel Place in Newtown to ship out a box. The owner mentioned that I had a bunch of mail in my P.O. Box that it was accumulating because I hadn’t checked it in a while. That’s the address I use for Cave Tools, but I never thought to check it regularly for mail. Inside was a letter from Landmark Direct.

 

From there we started talking and basically the deal they gave me was that they would shoot the infomercial for $7,000 with professional actors and everything like that. Then they would run the infomercial as a test market for 2 weeks. If I sell the target number of products during those 2 weeks (300 units) then they will purchase wholesale from me and I have to give them the TV rights on the product for a full year.

 

I wasn’t planning on doing any TV advertising over the next year so I was completely fine with giving up the TV rights. $7,000 is a bit expensive for a video, but they are doing a professional job on it and I will own it either way. If I pass the test market, they said they will purchase about 10,000 units at wholesale straight up. Basically, if I do well in the test market, I will turn a 20K ish profit over night. It’s a very TV Infomercial type product in my opinion so I am pretty confident we will do well.

 

The cool part about them running all the tv ads is that they only have the rights to phone sales direct from the TV. Everything else still comes through me and I get all the increased exposure and brand recognition.

 

I also priced the wholesale rate of the claws lower than I normally would for them. That way they can be profitable longer and they will run more advertising. My product inserts drive people back to the website so they can claim their free bbq recipe book. On the bonus page, I add them to my retargeting list and I also make additional offers to them. The way I see it is that this TV campaign is going to create an absolute firestorm of exposure around my brand and all of my other product sales will go up as a result.

 

I’ll post the video on the blog once it’s finished (only a few days left), but in the meantime, check out the script we agreed upon for the video. It’ll be interesting to see how closely the video comes out to what is written in the script.

Meat Claws Script #4 – Final

The International Housewares Tradeshow

 

I am so happy I did not get a booth for the IHS! I applied back in October or November and was told they were already sold out of booth space. In my head, I was just thinking I would lay a folding table out, put up a Cave Tools banner and call it a day.

 

This thing was huge! All of the biggest brands in housewares (think every product at bed bath and beyond) were there with massive booths. I’d bet the average booth spend was somewhere in the $15,000-$30,000 range. Companies built these giant structures and would send anywhere from 5-20 employees and execs to work the booths. Some even had private meeting rooms built so they could meet and negotiate with big purchases like Walmart and Target.

 

I think if anything I would have really hurt my brand by showing up as an exhibitor. Not that it really matters though because the biggest thing I learned at the tradeshow was that I definitely don’t want to go the whole retail route. It is such a cut throat game with everyone hocking the same products and fighting to the bottom on price.

 

I would grab a pizza each day and sit at a random table. Normally I would try to sit with purchasers (I could tell bc of color of their badge) and pick their brains about how everything works and what matters to them. Really interesting stuff. According to one guy, IHS is all about who can put on the biggest show and spend the most money. Kind of like puffing out your chest to show how relevant you are so the big box stores buy your stuff.

 

If I really wanted to get into retail for bbq products then the National Hardware Show would be the best place for me to go. I could go that route and try and pick up more retail accounts, but I don’t see it happening. My quality is way better than your standard mr bbq or Weber, but from a pricing standpoint I can’t compete. The price I would need to sell at doesn’t justify the marginal quality increase for the retail stores. In stores there isn’t much “selling” of a grill brush that goes on. People look at it and the price and toss it into their cart. Online I write full sales letters to show the importance of each feature and I can justify the price of the brush.

 

Online and retail are completely different environments and business models. If I went retail I would need to deal with returns, ship in pallets and change all my packaging to point of purchase displays. It would just be a totally different animal. It would also probably cost me a shit ton more money and take way longer to turn profitable. I spoke to one guy that spent 2 years and about $250,000 of his savings to develop his own soap dish and start getting it into stores. What a fucking idiot! He put his whole savings into it and is nowhere near close to breakeven. I can buy soap dishes in China and start selling them tomorrow and be in the green in 2 months.

 

When I normally go to events and shows they are entrepreneurial events. All of the attendees are business owners. This was such a corporate event and everyone was an employee for the most part. Totally different type of people and atmosphere. Made me so glad I’m not working in corporate America anymore. It’s hard to explain, but it just really bothers me.

 

The tradeshow was held in McCormick Center. The place was giant. I’m talking 4 full days of just walking up and down aisles of booths for 6 hours straight just to see everyone. The pamphlet book of companies was about 2 inches thick.

 

One of the funniest things I picked up at the show was the strong preference for American companies. You have to understand that all of these big companies like Cuisinart and Kitchenaid do exactly what I do and manufacture their products overseas in China. But everyone there is an employee, not a business owner so they don’t realize that it’s all the same shit. They understand the products are made in China, but they don’t make the connection that all of the Chinese manufacturers that the tradeshow hid in the back are actually the ones that make all of the stuff these American companies are selling.

 

People looked down on the Chinese section in the back because it was all “Low Quality” Chinese products. But when you walk back there you see all of the same products that all of the Big American Brands are selling. Execs from the American companies would go at great lengths to meet with the Chinese in private meeting rooms or far away from their booths so nobody would know who they were actually meeting with. It was actually quite hilarious.

 

I spent a good amount of time going around to American brands, taking pictures of their innovations and then going back to the Chinese section to negotiate with suppliers and see if they could do the same thing. I’ve looked at bamboo cutting boards before, but never saw one with magnets like this one American brand had. So then I went back and met a Chinese mfg and discussed it with them and they can do it for me. The magnets are a cool feature because as soon as you’re done the knife just sits right there.

cuttingboard

 

A lot of companies would also hire really cute girls to be their sales reps for the show. I would go up and talk to them/hit on them just to see their rehearsed pitches. It was really funny cause they knew what I was doing but they couldn’t not take me seriously because they had to work. A lot of times I would ask the rep or company if they would be open to letting me private label from them. AKA, They would order from their mfg and then put my packaging on it. This makes no sense because I would just cut them out and go to the mfg myself. By asking them about private label though, it would bring down their guard and I could ask a whole bunch of pointed questions about the product and sales. There was one product I really liked that the rep told me how they manufacture in Vietnam. I never would have found that product, but now I know exactly where to look.

 

One morning I was particularly hung over walking around and I came across the Mr. BBQ booth. Taking pictures is very frowned upon at the show because nobody wants their stuff to be exposed. I came across a double grill brush model and started asking a lot of questions about it and also taking pictures. I’ve seen a lot of these things popping up online and they claimed they had a patent on it. I called bull shit on the guy and he looked into it and their patent was pretty much worthless. He then started asking me some questions and I just told him we sell bbq products in our store.

mrbbq

 

I then went to the other side of their booth to get away from him. I proceeded to take pictures of a bunch of their packaging and picking up and feeling the weight of a bunch of products. The next guy that came over was seriously pressing me on questions and was getting pissed at all the pictures I was taking. Finally he read Cave Tools on my badge and asked me straight up if I was a competitor. I was like yea we sell similar products, I’m just checking out what you have. At that point he escorted me out of the booth and told me not to come back haha

 

In terms of products and ideas, I would say it was a successful show. I’m not at the liberty to just launch a whole bunch of new products right now because I already have so much stuff going on, but I got some good ideas and contacts with manufacturers. Also got some competitive pricing on my current manufacturers.

 

I am planning on launching 1 new product though that I picked up at the show, a grill degreaser spray. The company that makes it is Parker and Bailey up in Massachusetts. They have been around for years in the cleaning chemical business and are made in the usa. I asked the President about private label and he seemed open to the idea. Called him up on the phone when I got home and the wheels are in motion. This is a little more difficult than usual though because they don’t do packaging at their facility. Normally they just ship a pallet to a retail store.

 

So I’m working with a packaging facility up in Boston that should be able to do what I want. Basically Parker and Bailey will make a bunch of bottles for me and then ship them about an hour away to this packaging facility. They will then box them up in my Cave Tools designs, put the insert cards in, and then ship them all out to my Amazon warehouses. The average retail price of the degreasers is about $7.99 in stores, but online with my marketing I’ll get in the $12-17.99 range for them. My landed COGs after packaging and all the shipping will be somewhere in the $5-6 range. After advertising and sellers fees and stuff I should be able to turn a 30-40% profit margin on the product. Sounds good to me!

Rapid Product Listing Expansion

 

When we were out to dinner one night in Vegas, Shane made a comment about how you can use merchant fulfilled listings to list multiple products together. He didn’t really elaborate more on the subject, but said it was a huge game changer for him. So I wrote it down and started mulling it over.

 

In the past, all of my stuff was Amazon fulfilled. AKA a person orders and Amazon ships it out. Merchant fulfilled would mean I would have to ship it out so I always stayed away from that due to scalability issue. But the thing with merchant fulfilled is I can still parse the order over to Amazon and have them ship it out of their warehouse like normal. The only difference is that the process isn’t automated. We would have to do it manually for every order.

 

I do this when we sell on other sites like eBay for example. It’s kind of a hassle though because of the admin work involved. However, now that I have my kick ass help desk in place with auto tagging based on sales channel and product, the idea didn’t seem too bad anymore. All I needed to do was teach Caecilia how to ship products out and handle orders from multiple locations.

 

With FBA, everything has to be packaged together for you to list it. For example, If I wanted to sell 2 grill brushes at once, they would have to be packaged together in 1 sku so Amazon knew what to ship out. With merchant fulfilled, I can sell 2 grill brushes on a listing and they don’t need to be packaged together. When someone orders it, Caecilia just ships 2 individual brushes out. Same with combo listings now. I can sell a product listing of Thermometer and Meat Claws. When somebody orders it, she just ships one of each and they never have to actually be packaged together.

 

I already have people buying 2x and 3x of tons of products now where in the past that would rarely happen. If you think about it, they used to have to change the quantity field to get more. Now it’s right in front of them and they can see a discounted price for higher bulk orders. This is instantly increasing our average order value and profit per order.

 

This is a monster discovery! Think of it from an online real estate standpoint now. On my grill brush listing, I was always targeting the word “Grill Brush”, but now I can sell a 2x grill brush listing and also target “Barbecue Brush”. I can then sell a 3x listing and target “BBQ Brush.” The possibilities are endless and I can now take over a whole range of keywords to increase my exposure.

 

Normally with a new listing you have 0 reviews and 0 traffic going to it, so this would be super difficult to get the momentum behind it all. But what I’m doing is using parent child relationships. Normally they are reserved for things like sizes or colors. You wouldn’t want separate listings for each variation of the same T-Shirt, the reviews for the blue color would also be similar to the white color, so parent child brings it all together under 1 Parent Listing.

 

Each child can rank for their own target keywords, but when you click to view the child you see all the other children. So if you stumble across the 3x listing by searching “bbq brush” you also see all the reviews I already accumulated on the 1x brush and you can purchase the 1x brush at the same time. Basically they borrow credibility from each other and there is no lag in building momentum.

 

Between multiple quantity of the same product and mixing 2 or 3 products together as one listing, the possibilities are now endless. At my current product catalogue I can do something like 800 listings. I’ll never be able to do that many, but the point is that I can take out any keywords I want. I’m even targeting keywords like “gifts for men” which get massive search volumes. Normally I would never go for that because it’s too generic to get serious momentum and rankings behind, but with the borrowed credibility of reviews and the fact that all traffic on the product can see it under the parent listing, it makes total sense.

bulklisting

 

It takes a while to write and optimize each listing, but I’m starting to get pretty good at it. Let’s just say I can get about 80 listings up by next month. What is stopping me from copying and pasting those 80 listings over to eBay, NewEgg, 11Main, Fancy, and every other ecommerce site online?

 

The answer is nothing! I’ve already built the pricing and shipping models for 7 other stores so I can know exact financial stats on each site so I’m always maintaining margins. When people order on all those other places, it used to be a major bitch in admin. But now everything is auto tagged in our help desk and Caecilia is managing all of the multichannel fulfillment orders and shipping them out to customers.

 

Right now my plan is to get as many up on Amazon as possible. Then go through and copy and paste to all the other websites. I have most of my formulas and spreadsheets built and automated now. I just need to add in sales reports for each of these other websites and tie it into my inventory management spreadsheet. Sounds easy, but it’s much more difficult than it looks. I’m fine if reporting lags behind a little bit though until I get it all figured out. I know because of my models that the listings will be very profitable on the other sites, it’s just about getting the reporting to catch up.

 

Pinterest Advertising For Dirt Cheap Traffic

 

One of the big takeaways from the Ezra Firestone mastermind I did in Las Vegas was to get set up doing Pinterest advertising. A few years ago when Facebook advertising was new, it was like the wild wild west. You could get tons of cheap traffic on any offer you ran and turn it profitable. Now that everyone is advertising on facebook, it is way more expensive and harder to turn profitable.

 

With Pinterest, we are right at the beginning of that cheap stage. The difference between pinterest and facebook is that facebook is all about interest targeting based on things people have liked in the past. Pinterest on the other hand is a futures engine where people pin things to boards that they want to get in the future.

 

The promoted pins are also native to the news feed. This means that there is very little difference between a regular pin and an advertisement. People can’t really tell the difference. The strategy here is to drive people to an engaging article and then use that to sell them or you remarket to them later to sell the products to them. It’s a much more indirect way of selling to people than just driving an ad that says buy my shit.

 

So the way I set it up is I look on sites like Buzzfeed and Zergnet for viral type of headlines. Things that people click all the time. We then write an article about it to get people to the page. I’m testing out a soft sell on some products and a hard sell on some others to see what works and what is converting. Total sales on the campaign right now are in the red, but a huge indirect benefit is that I am building a large retargeting audience that we can continue to market to so sales will come in later that can be attributed to these campaigns.

pinterest

 

The actual numbers I am getting right now on the Meat Claw campaign are pretty outrageous. 1,181 visitors for only $60. At $0.05 per click all I really need to do is make like 1 sale per 200 visitors to be profitable.

 

I installed heat maps on all of my landing pages, so once I get a little more data, I’ll be able to see exactly how people are interacting with the articles and the website once they land. We’ll make the necessary tweaks and we should be able to turn pinterest into a cash cow for us.

Preparing For ASM 5

 

ASM 5 is launching in April (couple weeks) and Jarod and I are starting to prepare now. We have our own affiliate system ready so our members can promote our group to their family and friends and receive commissions. Jarod has also been working on developing more software for ASM Elite.

 

I actually backed out of the software side of things so I didn’t have to fund it and I gave him full ownership rights. In my opinion, getting into software development would be too much of a split focus for me at this time. I think there are also a lot of big dogs in that arena that would end up blowing us out of the water anyways. They can reverse engineer our stuff just like we did to our competitors. The only difference being that they have full time employees working on their software where Jarod and I would be piecing things together ourselves.

 

Jarod really wants to build his own software company so I’m happy to step out of the way and let him go for it. I still get to use all the tools for free anyways, so really all I’m doing in giving up the potential profits from a business opportunity that would make me pull my hair out anyways.

 

We have software, we have our affiliate system, we have our strategy we used last time for scraping interested people and contacting them. In terms of our offer, most of that is going to fall on me because I am the marketing/strategy guy. I’ve decided that our angle this time around is going to be more on the done-for-you side of things. We surveyed all of our members to get their opinions on us in the beginning before they purchased, what their thoughts and feelings were about ASM, what they need the most, etc.

 

Turns out that a lot of people need guidance on the actual processes and workings of running the company. I have tons of processes and guidelines I am willing to share (not giving up the house on marketing techniques though) that will be super helpful for them. The angle and the sales letter I am going to write will end up being a lot about how everyone is offering them so much Extra information when the biggest problem people face is execution. People want to know that they aren’t going to fail and our done for you scripts and processes and training will help you run your business like a pro and make sure you don’t fail. It’s going be good

 

We are also adding a lot more training into our members area. Jarod did a 30 minute presentation on the entire patents process. I just did a 45 minute presentation on outsourcing. We’re also going to add in some advertising modules in there so our content is bulked up. We’ll have a list of recommended softwares and step by step operating procedures for them to use.

 

The way I see it is that this is going to be the biggest launch ever. They just bought Amazing.com. Last time around a lot of people weren’t super trustful of amazingsellingmachine.com because they didn’t know who they were. With Amazing.com there is an instant credibility boost. Kyiosaki and Richard Branson promoted last time. This time I can see them pushing even hard and getting more big names to promote as well. Jarod and I just need to scalp the followers of these big names just like last time and we are golden. The only difference is we split things 2 ways instead of 3 ways. I would love to get an extra $30K ish dropped into my account, I really would 🙂
This is also the last time they are launching the course in the U.S. After this launch they are setting their sites on Europe and other parts of the world. Luckily for us…

I Leave For Aruba In The Morning

 

At the Aruba mastermind, one of the biggest action items is to get every single one of us up and selling in Europe. They will take us through all of the tax requirements and get our businesses set up so all we need to do is ship our products over and we can start selling. In terms of future ASM launches, this will position us as having the international experience necessary to mentor new students.

 

Originally when I was considering the whole Europe thing, all I could think of was that I would need to start a whole new brand because bbq isn’t huge in Europe. But apparently I don’t need to set up foreign bank accounts or a foreign corporation to start selling there, so in the mean time, I might as well send some products over and test the waters. Plus I’ll be able to deal with VAT issues and stuff like that on an already established business instead of adding that on top of all the new business regulations associated with a new foreign entity.

 

Coincidentally, I just got off the phone 10 minutes ago with an Amazon Canada rep. He is part of the recruited merchants team and his job is to help get Cave Tools selling in Canada. They are going to map all my listings over and help streamline the entire process so I can start selling in Canada as soon as possible. All I really need to do is ship products up there and I should be good to go.

 

Canada definitely isn’t going to be near the demand as the US is, but it will be an extra sales channel and less competition. There are some international duties I need to pay to get the products over the borders, but that’s it really. After that, I don’t need to pay any taxes in Canada from what I understand.

 

I was going to have to do this anyways for the UK, but currency conversions will be interesting. For instance, I’ll be paying for products in USD to China, but then when the products sell they will earn CAD and then Amazon will pay my bank account back in USD. Currency rates fluctuate so this could be interesting and it will definitely add a wrinkle to my spreadsheets to track all of this shit and make sure I know my numbers. I’ll also have to adjust all my pricing in Canada and the UK to accurately reflect the currency differences.

Injecting Cash Into The Medium Rare Bloodstream

 

My biggest issue last year was staying on top of inventory. Now I not only need to be on top of American inventory, but Canadian and UK and whatever other countries I decide to target in Europe. I could go into all the retarded issues and regulations I had to deal with to get my line of credit and loan, but it would just take up space and infuriate me. In short, it took an extra 3 weeks to get the money and the government owes me $250 that they probably aren’t going to give back.

 

Anyways, I now have access to a little over $100,000 worth of capital to use in the business. Aruba alone cost $15,000 but I paid for that mostly with my commissions from last ASM launch. Only about $5,000 of it came from the bank money. Besides the remaining payment on the infomercial, almost all of that money is going towards inventory and new product launches.

 

I calculated that about 80K is going to go towards just stocking up now for my core products to make sure we don’t face stock out issues over the summer. The other 20K is going to go towards ordering new products. Just like that, all the money is spent.

 

My goal for this summer is to string multiple 100K months in sales together in a row. Once my next 2 shipments get into inventory (been waiting at the dock still because of the strike), I should have a retail value of about $220,000 worth of inventory. That’s only about 2 months worth of inventory on hand at projected/desired sales levels. When you have a 90+ day supply chain that’s not enough inventory. I just placed a bunch of inventory orders yesterday, so we should be able to have some reinforcements coming in in about 60 more days. From there I will monitor and continue to place more orders as the sales increase. If I have to, I will do some plane shipments, but really hoping to do as much ocean as possible.

 

In terms of inventory requirements in Europe and Canada, I’m not sending a whole bunch right at the outset. I need to take care of my primary source first, which is America. I’ll most likely test the waters with 500-1000 units of each product and then measure to see how things go to see when I should send more inventory. The cool thing about adding international markets is that I don’t need to go through manufacturing just for them. I can group my manufacturing together into larger order quantities so I get better pricing. Then just split the shipments up based upon demand.

My Life is Progressing at a Rapid Pace

Posted on February 9th, 2015 in Amazon, Business Development, Goal Setting, Lessons, My Story, Reflection, Self Improvement | No Comments »

I couldn’t believe how long my post was in December. I’ve never had that much to write about in just a 30 day time span. We’re now in the beginning of February and things are moving so fast that I feel like if I don’t write them down I either forget them or they become irrelevant.

In December I mentioned the beginning of my partnership with Ricky and how we were planning on developing our own course teaching the concepts of how to manufacture and private label brands. I didn’t really know much about Ricky at that time because I had only met him in Lithuania. I could sit here and write all about Ricky and how he owns two Million Plus per year businesses and how we were planning on working together.

I could write about how he completely opened up to me and shared tons of resources. How much confirmation I felt when I looked at his hiring processes and the management systems of his business and I realized I was already building the same systems into my business. When you’re on your own, sometimes you feel like you have these great ideas and you’re doing everything right, but never really get confirmation that what you are doing is the right thing. To look into a young multimillionaire’s business and see the exact same systems and processes is amazing and lets me know how close I really am to blowing my business up beyond my wildest dreams.

But all of that stuff I could have written about is irrelevant now. I’m on my final day of a 7 day Vegas trip that has completely changed my life. Unfortunately tomorrow I have to tell Ricky we aren’t going to be able to move forward working together anymore.

The course we were building would be in direct competition with Amazing Selling Machine. Granted, the ASM guys are so much more advanced and we wouldn’t even make a dent in their business if we did 6 figures with our launch. But the point is, no matter how much money I could make working with Ricky, I don’t want to do anything to get on the bad side of ASM.

Next month, I’m going to Aruba with Matt and Jason (creators of ASM) and about 30 other 7 and 8 figure business owners for an exclusive mastermind. They are literally going to break down my business with me and help me scale it up rapidly. I’ll get to the details of that whole mastermind later in this post, but the point is that I’m leveling up so fast I can’t believe it. It’s hard for me to decompress sometimes because so much is going on in my life. A couple weeks ago, the idea of working with Ricky was the most fantastic opportunity ever and now it feels like a footnote that I can’t even write about because it’s in my past.

Jason Katzenback and Matt Clark Jason Katzenback and Matt Clark

When I came back from Lithuania, I approached my life and my business from a whole different perspective. That whole experience expanded my mind and helped me think bigger. Before this week in Vegas, I had this goal that I was going to do a million dollars in top line revenue in 2015. It felt like a lofty goal, but the more I thought about it and talked to myself in my head, I knew it was possible. Even if I fell short, I knew I was going to get damn close to that million. Now I just feel like I’m going to completely blow through it and do over a million.

After my Christmas stock out, my sales have been shit. I haven’t even checked Amazon in about 2 weeks, but I think I’m doing about 5 thousand a month on Amazon. But I’ve been spending my time working on my systems and building the infrastructure and advertising funnels that are going to take me well over 100 thousand dollars per month consistently as soon as I flip the switch.

All I need right now is access to capital. I have the confirmation and I have the confidence and I have the support structure around me to grow fast without the wheels falling off. I just have a couple more small pieces to fit into puzzle and I’m golden. Most importantly, I know exactly what to do to fit those pieces in.

So that’s the big picture.

Now I’ll try my best to provide a linear recap of this week and how I’ve arrived at that big picture. I’m sitting in an open tent in sunny 70 degree weather in Vegas right now smoking a cigar and writing. Hopefully I get into a flow because I feel like I can just sit and write for 10 hours straight right now.

Decompressing From The Week Decompressing From The Week

I don’t come to conferences for the content anymore. I’ve heard it all before and I have more than enough skills and business acumen to succeed. I come to conferences for the networking and to develop relationships that help me level up.

Because of my network and my relationships, I was able to get into a small mastermind led by Ezra Firestone the day before the ASM event started. Ezra is one of the top ecommerce strategists in the US and probably the world if you get down to it. He owns multiple brands and has consulted for some monster fortune 100 companies on their ecommerce strategies. Facebook actually called him up a few months ago because they were making so much money using Facebook advertising. Facebook literally wanted to know what the hell they were doing to make so much money on their ad platform so they could incorporate his feedback and build a relationship with him and his team.

So the day before the event, I spent 8 hours in a small room with Ezra and about 20 other very high net worth people learning from him. Learning everything he’s doing and how he is designing his funnels. How he scales business process and the services he uses to coordinate everything into a money making machine. I got to ask him questions and get on a first name basis with Ezra and all of these other amazing people that are doing amazing things in life and business. Again, the content was just content. It was good, but what I really got out of it was confirmation again that I AM a fucking rock star and that I am doing everything right. I can’t stress enough how important that is to me.

Ezra Firestone Mastermind Ezra Firestone Mastermind

I sat next to Ken (bald guy behind my hat)  for the entire time at the mastermind. Ken owns multiple real estate businesses and is developing some condominiums right now. He also owns a couple supplement brands that he’s in the process of scaling up. Next to Ken was Freddie. Freddie is an older guy that’s been around the Internet Marketing space pretty much since inception. Freddie is partners with Jerry West, who is arguably one of the best SEO guys in the world and the only person I will listen to for SEO advice. I was actually going through one of Jerry’s courses on the plane ride to Vegas.

I also got to meet Alan (far left of picture). Alan is a Scottish guy with a ridiculous accent that I can barely understand half the time. He lives in Panama, has real estate businesses and a brand in the home and garden niche. He’s in the process to scaling up over a million this year as well. He also knows and is involved with Simon Black’s sovereign man confidential. Think I had an in with Alan when I told him I was one of the 50 entrepreneurs from around the world that Simon selected to come out to Lithuania for a week last summer? Alan also knows the owners of Red Frog beach in Panama, which coincidentally is exactly where Justin has his condo in Panama. I’m going to introduce the two of them this week.

I also met Iyathos (half head next to Ken) from Colorado. He’s doing about 250 thousand dollars per month with his physical product brand. Another guy I met in the mastermind was this Indian dude Mikial (next to Alan). He has a speech impediment and as bad as it is to say, I let that influence my perception of him and I didn’t really go out of my way to meet him at first. When I did meet him, I found out that he used to be a trader and was a multi multi millionaire and had Maseratis and houses all over the world. Then he lost it all in 2008. Now hes building up his empire again. Cool and Funny ass dude. We had some really fun times drinking together.

So I met all these people and hung out with them all day. Most of them are doing more than I am right now in business, but guess what. I was able to hang with all of these guys intellectually for the whole weekend and I actually taught them a lot of stuff. They were coming to me with questions and I had all the answers and strategies that they wanted to learn.

Now that I knew all of these guys, I had my own crew to hang out with through the entire event. Remember a few months ago when I promoted the ASM course and did over 130 thousand dollars in sales for ASM? Well, that got me a VIP pass to the live event. VIP means that my badge had a little ribbon on it that signified status. That little white ribbon made everybody treat me differently this whole week. I don’t get caught up in that status bullshit normally, but it is amazing how that changes perceptions.

When you have a conference of about 4,000 people and you are one of the few VIPs, you are a big deal. The only other way to get a VIP pass to the event was to pay an extra $10,000 just so you could hang out with and network with the other VIPs. Just to get good seats, people were showing up and waiting in line at the Venetian at 6:30 in the morning and the doors didn’t open until 8:45. I hung out later at night drinking and partying with all the other VIPs and then would roll out of bed at 8am and walk over to the conference center. 4,000 people had been waiting in line all morning and I just walked right by everyone and took the elevator up to our private VIP room. Sat down, had a banana and a coffee and shot the shit with all of the speakers and other VIPs. Then we’d walk in to the conference and take a seat in the second row from the stage. That’s what I mean when I talk about status and networking and the ability to get on a first name basis with all of these high net worth people. (No, I’m not on a first name basis with Kiyosaki or Branson. Just pictures)

Robert Kiyosaki Robert Kiyosaki Sir Richard Branson Sir Richard Branson VIP Badge VIP Badge

 

One morning I was sitting there having a casual conversation with Robert Kyosaki’s wife. Then I’m sitting there talking with Jason and Matt about the future of their business and getting inside info on what’s going on. I don’t know the exact numbers for their business, but I think they are around the 100 Million dollar mark now after launching ASM 1 about 2 years ago. They just rebranded and purchased the domain amazing.com for $780,000 and their goal is to become the number 1 place where aspiring entrepreneurs go to learn how to build and scale businesses.

Matt’s only 28 years old by the way. When he was 25 (my age) he had built 2 million dollar ecommerce businesses already, but he was in about 180 thousand dollars of debt and had no way of paying it back because his businesses weren’t profitable. Now look at him and what he has helped create in just the last 2 years. Matt is definitely a robot though when it comes to interpersonal communication. I think when you are so business oriented and you have to think and make decisions at such a high level every day, you can become devoid or detached from emotion. I find myself getting that way sometimes when I get super consumed with my business.

Last night was great though because we were all out at the bar and Matt had a few drinks into him. He loosened up and Matt, Alan, and I talked for probably about an hour and a half. It was funny because for the previous couple days Alan kept telling me he heard Matt was part of the brotherhood. By brotherhood, I mean the skull and bones Ivy League school type of thing. The secret society that the movers and shakers of the world are all a part of. Movies and the media have kind of sensationalized the whole skull and bones secret society thing, but it’s real and we talked about it over some beers.

Alan literally just called him out straight up on it. In the middle of our conversation Alan was like, I see you are here with so and so, what’s it like to be a part of the brotherhood? This is top secret kind of stuff and I have no clue how Alan was able to track some of the members down and know who they were. For a second Matt just looked at us with a bit of shock and then just started talking about what it was like to be a member. What he said made a lot of sense.

If you’re a local business owner, there’s a network group for you. Once you get into 6 figures, there’s another networking group you get into to associate with those like minded people at the same level as you. Same thing when you start doing a million a year. As you keep going up though it gets harder and harder to find and associate with the people that are on your same level.  That’s pretty much what it is. It is the premier society of the people that make the world move.

After talking to Matt, Jason comes over with Shane and says hey what’s up Mike how’s it going? I’m literally on a first name basis with these guys. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, but Shane is actually Jason’s brother. I was in a mastermind with Shane for the past year and we did calls every Friday afternoon to share strategies with each other. We also partnered up on the ASM launch so I’m very close with Shane and now I’m connected with Jason. Shane is in a similar level up position right now because Jason brought him into his business and is funding Shane on a bunch of projects. A couple months ago, Shane was doing about 100K per month. Now his goal for this year is to do 1 Million per month by the end of the year. All of the sudden, Shane now has 8 brands in different niches and he’s taking his business international. He just started selling in Europe and he’s working on tapping into India and South America as well. Unfortunately we are not masterminding together anymore because he is in the next level of people now, but I consider him a true friend and he’s someone I can call whenever I want.

At the bar, Mikial also introduced me to the guys from VOX. In the US there are pretty much 5 companies that manufacture every type of supplement and consumable. All of the major brands all come from the same places and they keep all of the formulas secret for everyone. VOX is a very big deal. To put their business into context, earlier last year a ton of people rode the Garcinia Cambogia wave. Overnight, tons of people were doing in some cases 300 grand per day selling just Garcinia. VOX was the first of the supplement manufacturers to develop Garcinia 80% which at the time was the highest level out there of the active ingredient. So when you look at their business, they were selling to all the people that were doing 300K per day. I can’t even imagine how ridiculously wealthy they got feeding the wave.

After hanging with those guys for a little bit, I’m sitting at the bar talking to this guy Gabe who partnered with Anik Singal on the ASM Launch and they took 2nd place. I don’t know his specific cut of the money, but in total they did about 2 million bucks I think on the launch so he made a nice chunk. We’re sitting there talking and right behind him is Yanik Silver. In terms of movers and shakers in the world, Yanik is on the same level as Matt and Jason, Ryan Deiss, Perry Belcher, and Simon Black. Check out Yanik’s bio, it’s pretty ridiculous http://yaniksilver.com/who-is-this-yanik-silver-guy/

So I go to Gabe, watch this, and I make a joke and made fun of Yanik. I’ve never met him before, but it was a funny ass joke and he came over and we started talking with him. We all did our introductions and when he got to me he mentioned he thought we had already met before. Want to know why he thinks he already met me before?

Yanik runs a group called the Mavericks http://maverick1000.com/#!/ . They only accept a certain number of people in the group and you have to be a millionaire to get in. They coordinate exotic adventures all over the world and all the millionaires just go and do shit like climbing mountains or sky diving and then hang out and network together. It’s a couple grand per month to be a Maverick and it’s simply for the opportunity to do cool shit with other super successful people. Shane is joining the Mavericks now by the way.

Yanik also runs a similar camp to Simon Blacks for young entrepreneurs. I think he calls it MaverickX. I knew this going into our conversation and I also know my friend Jock Purtle that I met in Lithuania also went to the Maverick X camp last year. So I mentioned to Yanik and I asked him if he knew Jock. Of course he did, and then I dropped that yea I know Jock from Lithuania because I went to Simon’s camp.

Yanik and Simon as far as I know are the only 2 people around that do these young super successful entrepreneur camps so I knew they were friends. I’m also pretty sure Simon is a Maverick as well. So anyways, we talked about that stuff for a while and now I’m on Yanik’s radar. The reason I think he thought we already met is because Simon just released his video for this year’s camp in Lithuania. Guess who has a 20 second speaking role on that Video? Yours truly! Yanik had to of watched Simon’s launch video and already saw me before we met at the bar. All of my networks are starting to intersect and IT’S FUCKLING AWESOME!

Side note: How cool is it that I have known Shane and Jarod for the past year strictly through the internet and skype. Never met either of them in person until this week, yet we did the 130K plus launch together and have helped each other grow our businesses exponentially over the past year. I feel like most people couldn’t comprehend having internet relationships like that, but that’s what’s so cool about the technology we have available today. I did the same thing with Justin. Never met him in person until we knew each other and worked together for over a year.

Me - Shane - Jarod Me – Shane – Jarod

As for Aruba, it cost me 15 grand to go with those guys and mastermind for the 3 days. Before Lithuania if I was faced with that decision I would have said I couldn’t afford it. Guess what? I still can’t afford it, but I did it. I did it because I know the relationships from that trip will sky rocket my business even further than where I am now. I need to come up with another 10 grand by the end of this month so my credit card doesn’t get declined. It’s a scary position to be in and it’s risky, but Fuck It. I’ll come up with the money and I’m willing to go into some debt to get it. If I didn’t have all of the confirmation about what I’m doing in my business, then I would have had to miss out on the opportunity. But I do have that confirmation and I know I’m going to ramp up very very quickly as soon as I flip the switch when I get back.

I’ve built my business to be a multimillion dollar business even though our revenue isn’t there yet. So the way I look at it is that if I truly believe I’m going to do a million this year, then I’ll profit somewhere in the 300K range. That 15K is a drop in the bucket. Again, it’s not about the content, it’s about the relationships. I was very nervous when I committed to Aruba because I could easily put that 15K into inventory and advertising to grow my business. But that would be a short term view on things and that would be chasing money. Instead, I’m investing in my long term because I know it will work out for me.

Over the weekend I did a core values exercise with an executive coach. One of the things I learned about myself when I did my introspection was really my view points on money and risk. I’m where I am at today because I’m not attached to money and I’m willing to take significant calculated risks in order to get high pay offs in the long term. From working with Justin unpaid for a year to learn about entrepreneurship, to walking away from Ben’s equity offer in Canada, I’ve been making decisions not based on money, but based on gaining experience and working on myself and my skill sets.

I haven’t discussed it yet, but I’m going to be doing a TV infomercial for Cave Tools. That’s going to cost me 7 grand minimum and there is a high chance it could flop. If it doesn’t do well in the test market, then I essential paid 7 grand for a sales video. If it does well in the test market, then I crush my million dollar goal because I have the funnels already built to capitalize on the halo affect of that campaign. I’ll say it again, I don’t have the money in pocket right now for this stuff. But I’m thinking bigger and I’m putting myself in situations where I can make it work. I’ll get the money for it and I’ll turn it into a profit.

If the infomercial is a flop, then I got experience in that market and dealing with tv producers, etc. That’s worth it to me. To go to my original point, I’m not afraid to lose money and I’m willing to put myself out there and I think that’s really one of my core values that I want to stay true to.

With Shane out of the picture, Jarod and I have decided to continue moving forward with ASM Elite. ASM 5 is launching in April, so we are planning on doing another very large launch and this time splitting it 2 ways instead of 3.

I’m just thinking of it now, but we definitely need to have the conversation regarding ownership and funding of software tool development. That whole thing fell through with the 3 of us, but I think Jarod and I might pick that back up where we left off.

The first night of the event we hosted a dinner party for our members in ASM Elite. We went to a really nice Italian restaurant called Buddy Vs. Shane was there the night before and spent $900 just on himself between drinks and food. We weren’t planning on picking up the tab, but everyone kind of expected it so we decided to just split it 3 ways for a party of about 20 of us. The damage wasn’t as bad as I expected, but we figured if we could get at least 1 new signup in April out of it then it pays for itself.

Dinner was great because we got to meet all of the people under us. We are all pretty much their mentors now and they come to Jarod and myself with business questions all of the time. Some of these people are way more wealthy and experienced than I am in business, but I’m in the position of mentor because I know ecommerce inside and out now.

We actually have about 10 people from this weekend that bought the ASM course for $3,500 but didn’t come in under a group like ours. Just to have the ability to get mentored by Jarod and I, they are willing to pay us $1,500 a pop to join our group and have access to us. All of our members also have friends and family that they want to be able to join and get in when ASM 5 launches in April.

For each new signup, Jarod and I get to split a $1,500 commission. As soon as we get back, we are having our developer build in a sub affiliate link software to our membership site. So now we can make all 40 of our current members sub affiliates for us. That means when they promote our group to their friends and family, they will get a couple hundred dollar kick back.

It sounds like an MLM type of thing, which I would never ever do, but the reason it works is because we are actually and truly making our members rich as hell. These guys are going from regular jobs to making 10-20k per month in a few months based on the education provided in ASM and the mentorship we provide. They want to tell everyone they know about the course because it truly is life changing for them and we are in the perfect position to capitalize on the opportunity and make everyone else rich in the process. It’s awesome.

A couple of our members actually approached us this weekend and said they feel bad because they are taking up our time with questions and they want to pay us for our time. So now Jarod and I are going to roll out a monthly consulting retainer to our group so they can get a certain amount of access to us per month. It will probably be about $50 a month or something depending on how we structure it, but when you get 40+ people paying you that kind of money it becomes some serious passive income. Income we can use to develop more software and to build our own businesses.

We all met in a bad ass suite in the Venetian last night for beers and we were very open with them about it. It didn’t feel like we were selling to them at all because it’s what they want. We’re going to release a survey to the whole group so they can be brutally honest about what we’ve done right and what we’ve done wrong so far. That way we can continue to develop our membership and release information and software that they need to succeed.

We’re also looking forward because ASM 5 is the last time they will release the course in the US. After that they are going to be releasing a course on how to break into Europe. Jarod and I need to now set up business entities and get our businesses up and running internationally so when the time comes for the next launch we are still ahead of the game and can provide the value they need. I can barely keep up on inventory now in the US, but that just means I need to get more capital and use it to fund inventory for an international subsidiary.

Cave Tools in my opinion doesn’t even lend itself to a European market because bbq is such an American dominated lifestyle. In Europe they live in cities or in rural areas. They drink beer in the pubs versus Americans that have yards and like to drink beers outside and grill. If I’m going to do this successfully, I’m probably going to have to start a new brand all together and start researching and getting into the minds of my European customers.

All of this sounds great on paper, but the problem outside of capital is really bandwidth. I don’t have the time to do all of this stuff. That was one of the big questions I spoke to Ezra a lot about. All he does in his business is create ideas and then he has smart team members that do all of the work. I need to become that visionary in my company instead of the operations guy.

One of his biggest pieces of advice was about hiring smart help before you have the work for them because it forces you to utilize their help to the maximum so you get your money worth. I’m going through this with Dorothy now. She’s may be working 30 ish hours per week right now, and that is forcing me to delegate more and more work to her so I can get the value from her time.

Filipinos are great, but at the end of the day they are task based. I need a “Mind” to work with me on my team. Someone I can say hey we’re doing this project, now get it done. I know I’m not going to get the value out of this person and I may go red for the first couple months, but that is going to force me to delegate more and after the first couple months the business will be doing way better because I’m not stuck in the weeds anymore.

I was thinking about all of this before I came to Vegas and I’ve already got my first real hire figured out. Remember my unpaid internships at Penn State? The type of person that is willing to do an unpaid internship is exactly who I need. I don’t need a technical person, I need someone who is hungry like I was when I worked for Justin. Somebody that understands the tradeoff of building experience and deferring money in the beginning so you can focus on building your skills and experience. That person is Ryan and I’ve already talked to him regarding a possible job. I was on the fence about it before this week, but now I know I need to hire him no matter what.

The good thing about Ryan too is that he’s just coming out of college in May. I can hire him for cheap, somewhere in the 25-30K range per year and I will completely change his path in life. By living at home and working for me for a year, he will learn more about business than he ever imagined. The best part is that he knows it and he shares those values.

Can I afford him right now? No. But I can’t let that influence my decision. I need to think like a multi million dollar company and I need to act like one because it’s coming. If I can plug him in as a manager so Dorothy and Caecilia can report to him then I am golden because that frees me up to work on business growth for the majority of my time. If I can train him to make operating procedures on his own and teach him how to work with VAs then my business grows exponentially. I don’t give a shit about hard skills. I care about mindset and he has it and that’s why he’s going to succeed in my company.

This is going to be the most wild ride of my life. I have the entire map and the entire vision and the skills to make all of this work.

It’s getting late and I’ve been at this for quite a few hours writing. The last little story I’ll include on this post is pretty interesting.

Matt and Jason ran an Aruba mastermind back in October. I went out to the bar with a bunch of the people that went to it so I could pick their brains. I had talked to most of them with the exception of this one guy John. He had been kind of eyeing me up and giving me looks all night. He finally comes over and starts asking me about my business and we’re talking for a while. It’s mostly me sharing about myself so when I turn the conversation around to start to get to know him a little better, I ask his name.

He tells me his name is John and I introduce myself as Mike and he says yea I know. I actually know everything about you and your business already. I’m the owner of Grill Beast and we are direct competitors.

Now I’m like shit, I just told this guy so much stuff. But it turned out to be awesome. He had been trying to figure out how to approach me the whole time because in this situation most people would probably be very stand off ish because of the competition. But we were both cool with it and he told me how much he loved my brand and that they spoke about my company a lot in Aruba and he was kind of using me as a model. This guy came out of nowhere and started crushing me on my thermometer listing. I told him how I saw him fly up and it forced me to raise my game to compete with him.

We started then talking about our suppliers and cost of goods sold and all sorts of stuff. At the end of the day I don’t care if he knows about me and he doesn’t care if I know about him because processes are what drive business. We’re both not trying to dick each other over and the healthy competition forces us to raise our game.

It was really cool to actually get insight into his business. Especially after he literally knew everything about me and had been trying to reverse engineer all my shit for the past couple months haha

 

4th Quarter Madness – Michael O’Donnell

Posted on December 22nd, 2014 in Amazon, Banking, Business Development, Cave Tools, Coaching, Goal Setting, Management, Outsourcing, Sales, Shipping, Training | No Comments »

4th Quarter Madness – Michael O’Donnell

I just outlined the topics for this blog post and holy shit a lot has happened since my last post on November 2. Last year I didn’t get to fully experience what a Q4 was for ecommerce because I only had a grill brush and our grill set had just recently launched and had no traction whatsoever. The last month and a half has been absolutely crazy for the Cave Tools business and just for life in general.

The craziness is what I love about being an Entrepreneur though. Whenever you ask somebody “What’s New?” you normally get the standard response of “Same old, same old.” The fact is, when you have a regular job, you pretty much repeat the same things every day and nothing ever changes. I on the other hand don’t know where to start half the time because once I get talking, I could go on for hours. This blog post only covers the last month and a half, but it might be my longest blog post ever.

Books I’m Reading

Before getting into the meat of things, I want to talk about the books I have been reading. I really feel like the books I’m currently reading have a major impact on my thought processes and how that manifests into results for my business.

Recently, I finished the book Cashvertising by Drew Eric Whitman. This book was recommended to me by my good friend Clayton Bradshaw and his description was that the book was his “Bible” when it comes to advertising. I can honestly say this was one of the best marketing books I ever read. It reminded me a lot of Influence by Robert Cialdini, but thinner, more current, and much more direct.

This book has done wonders for me when it comes to writing ad copy and positioning my products and brand. Drew is from the Philadelphia area as well which is pretty cool because he references things in the book that I can relate to. He also used a local ad agency as one of his examples. I had the opportunity to meet the owner of this company last year when we brought him in to speak to the MDM group.

I knew right away that he was legit and I spent a ton of time talking to him and asking about his influencers. He was a big Glazer Kennedy (GKIC) guy back in the day and I could tell when I read through all of his materials. To see this guy used as an example in “The Bible” on advertising about a year later was really awesome.

Currently, I’m about 75% of the way through “Introducing NLP,” a book that was recommended to me by hypnotist and master internet marketing mentor from Sovereign Man in Lithuania, Cliff Mee. I rarely quit on a book once I get started on it. I like to power through even if it’s not a book I am enjoying. The first 30 or so pages of this book were very dry when they were discussing the Neuro side of Neuro Linguistic Programming. However, I powered through that part and the rest of the book has been fantastic. I’m loving the linguistics side of thing and how they break down true meanings behind words and how people say them.

I have no intentions of putting in the time and effort to become an NLP master right now, but the book has been incredibly insightful. From a psychology standpoint, it’s been a wonderful book.

The next book up on my list is Spin Selling by Neil Rackham. I learned a ton from J Massey in Lithuania and his system for sales was very impressive. This book apparently provides the core foundation on how he structures all of his sales calls so I’m really looking forward to it.

After Spin Selling, I have “The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels” written by Alex Epstein. He was a speaker I helped bring in from the Ayn Rand center back was I was up at Penn State. We really hit it off and I’ve done a below average job of keeping in touch with him since. We exchange emails maybe once per year. Anyways, he has been doing an excellent job building the Center for Industrial Progress and is really starting to make a name for himself so I’m looking forward to reading his book. I also have “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” and “Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It” coming up in my queue. Very excited for both of these books as well.

Cave Tools Featured on The View?

Shortly after I posted my 3 month follow-up blog post on November 2, I received an email from an Advertising Agency that works with Television stations. Normally when I receive these types of emails they are spammed out, but they were claiming to be able to get me on some big name TV shows so I responded to see what was up. Before she could disclose any information to me, I had to sign an NDA.

I did a little research on the company and they looked legit. The NDA wasn’t crazy, just pretty much saying I can’t disclose who they were because they were a behind the scenes agency and they don’t want random people contacting them. They prefer to reach out to brands that they have already researched. I returned the signed NDA and then a couple days later we jumped on a phone call.

She didn’t really give me too much information at all. It was more of an on the spot interview about my company, our brand values, what separates us, how much inventory we hold in stock, etc. For not really knowing what to expect on the phone call, I thought I did a really good job. She loved the meat claws in particular, but because they only sell for around $12-13 she said she would want to bundle the claws with the digital thermometer and market them on TV shows geared towards women and moms.

Before she could discuss any further with me, I had to sign more documents. They sent me a blank IRS W9 form that I had to fill out and a 9 page contract with crazy regulations in it. I read through the entire contract a few times and wrote down all of my notes. I also sent the contract to my dad and asked him to do the same. Later that night we compared our notes so we could be absolutely certain of every term in the contract. Basically the contract amounted to if anything got messed up in any way, they would take my first born child haha

Some of the terms in the contract included:

  • They determine the price they sell my products for on the TV show (Basically would be doing a flash sale similar to QVC but on different networks).
  • They won’t pay me until after they have all my inventory and the flash sale is over
  • They can return products with no penalty or charges at my expense
  • I can’t display any logos or anything showing that Cave Tools appeared on certain TV shows (Basically they own all IP related to the promotion)
  • If there are any delays in shipping, I get charged 3% of the total purchase per day late (this was huge considering I needed to front everything and not get paid until the end). In addition, I would get charged a $10 per unit fee that was not delivered on time. When you’re talking 4,000 products, I consider that taking my first born child and destroying my company
  • I needed to up my business liability insurance from $1 million to $2 million dollars. This sounds like a lot, but it would only have cost me about another $200 to up the insurance.
  • When we shipped them the products there were lots of specifications as to what needed to be shown on the outside of each carton. Missing 1 single element would result in multiple other penalties. FBA warehouses would not be able to do this for me, so I would need to place a certain amount of inventory in a storage facility and have them custom prepare my products for shipment to the Warehouses of this Ad Agency.

After reading through all the regulations and with the understanding they would be purchasing 2,000 units of thermometers and 2,000 units of meat claws, we decided we would do it. My only concern was that I wasn’t going to have enough inventory on the back end to support all of the extra promotion and sales.

I returned the signed documents and was asked to provide my Best Price that I would sell to them for. With wholesale, I normally sell at around a 30% ish profit margin. However, with all of the additional risk associated with this contract, I discussed with my dad and we decided to give them pricing that would secure me a 50% profit margin on the sale.

I was worried that my pricing would be too high for them because their model really is to do a flash sale at deeply discounted prices. It also said multiple times throughout the contract that this is not something we should be expecting to make a lot of money on and that it was more of a chance to get mass exposure for the brand. I gave them the pricing anyways and figured that if they rejected we could always negotiate and see where things went from there.

She got back to me and said that my pricing was a little high, but they could still feature me on The View! The only problem I saw with it was that I literally had about 10 business days to get all of the inventory prepared and shipped to their warehouses.

At the time (and still currently) the longshoreman union in Los Angeles was kicking up a lot of shit because they knew it was the holiday season and they had leverage. Even though the average salary is somewhere in the 150-200K range per man, they wanted more money and were randomly stopping work and congesting up the ports to cause a big stink. I had a shipment of Meat Claws that waited at the port for over 12 days before they even unloaded the carton. I also had a shipment of thermometers on the way which should have been in on time, but as of the time I’m writing this now Dec 14, it still has not been unloaded at the port. The ports were also adding an extra $1,000 fee on top of all containers to account for the congestion.

This extra fee by the way was illegal, but they were trying to force it through anyways the bastards! Eventually the lawyers settled the extra fee dispute and they weren’t able to charge the extra fee on containers that had already been waiting at the port. I did however have to spend an extra $450 out of budget as a proportional fee on my thermometers container.

In the end, I had to back away from the opportunity. I asked if we could follow up and do the promotion in February for a Valentine’s Day style promotion, but have not yet heard back. I’ll follow up again with her in January so I have plenty of time to prepare this time around.

I still think the opportunity will be available and I’m happy I didn’t chase the money/exposure because I never would have been able to handle it. We’ll talk about that later on in the post.

Boston Coaching Gig Falls Apart

In November I talked about an opportunity I had to become an ecommerce coach with a wholesale company based up in Boston. At the point, I knew that something had to give because I was going to be taking on more work than I could handle. The payment they were offering me was only $40 per phone call, but the upside was that I’d have the opportunity to do 3 events before the end of the year and make about $2,000 per event.

Shortly after hiring me, Chris went on his honeymoon and was out of the picture. While he was gone, his brother Alex was running the operations of the company. My $40 per half hour phone call really turned out to be per 1 hour phone call. They also had absolutely no structure and I was pretty much learning on the fly.  The students they brought into the program were all very suspicious of the company as well and thought the whole thing was a scam. It wasn’t a scam, but they were just growing too quickly to keep everything running smoothly.

I started out doing the coaching calls and was also putting in a lot of extra effort problem solving and doing non coaching call types of things. Then when it came time to do the first event, I spoke to Adam about my flight and he told me they were trying to cut costs so they wouldn’t be bringing me to the event. I explained how that was a condition of my hire, but he really didn’t give a shit and said Chris wasn’t here so he was making the decision.

Alex also got me on an hour phone call and was trying to get me to show him my entire business model and advertising funnels so he could copy it and create a course on my business model that he could sell to his students. He wanted me to pretty much do all of this for free and was pissed off when I told him I wasn’t going to just turn over my entire business for $40 per hour in coaching calls.

The writing was on the wall for me, so after about 1.5 weeks I told him I wasn’t going to work with them anymore. It’s taken me until yesterday to actually get paid for the coaching calls I did. I’m still getting emails from their students now who they took over $10,000 in fees from and haven’t delivered on any of their promises. When I spoke to Justin about it he agreed with me that it was ridiculous and said he thinks they are the kind of guys that bill first and worry about delivering later. Definitely not stand up guys or the type of people I would have any interest in working for.

I guess I’ll chalk this one up to a learning experience. My biggest motivation for doing the coaching was so I could learn the wholesaling business model. I didn’t even get that out of it. I downloaded all of their material before I quit and when I went through it, it was all pretty much bullshit. Their whole company is really built just on a fantastic sales pitch, but there is no substance behind it when it comes time to teaching what they preach. I feel horrible for all of the suckers they get to sign up for their programs.

Developing Marketing Automation Tools and Partnership

Not a ton to report on the development of our Ecommerce Marketing automation tools. We have all been very busy, but Jarod has been managing our Indian programmer and we have so far completed  2 of the tools. A couple more are on the way still and the website itself is starting to look pretty nice.

I created our product listing blueprint and the product launch guide based on all of the strategies Shane, Jarod, and myself use on a regular basis. They came out really nice and we have added those guides and all of our webinar recordings to the website for our students.

We started talking the other day about how January is the time when we will need to finally turn this thing into a legal business structure and give it a name. Right now everything is on a handshake basis so we definitely need to protect ourselves. There’s also a little bit of tension going on between Shane and Jarod because Jarod and myself have been doing more of the work, Jarod especially. I’m hoping it all blows over because even though Shane isn’t a major asset when it comes to marketing and operations side of things, he has all of the personal connections and relationships we need to get our product into the hands of mass customers with little effort.

I think a lot of the tension also has to do with the fact that Shane and I are making a killing over the Christmas holiday with our Amazon businesses and Jarod’s is lagging behind. In the end, I think it just has to do with the seasonality of our products, but anytime you see your partners making 4 times as much as you, there is going to be the fear of missing out.

Shane’s brother Jason, the founder of ASM, is also in the market to purchase tools from people. Lately it seems like all of the successful people in ASM are creating their own tools. It’s a race to the finish line for who can create the best tools and take them to market the fastest because there is the opportunity of a buy out on the table. It would be really cool if we could get this entire business set up and then cash out only 3 months later. That is actually very likely right now!

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas Explosion – Tis the Season for Cave Tools

It seems like every time I get some success and start to get ahead of the game I get a bunch of shit dropped on my lap. I think it was the great Sir Isaac Newton who said for every force there is an equal and opposite force. This time around the negative force wasn’t anywhere near equal to the amount of success we had, but we definitely have a lot of shit to deal with as a result of our holiday success. For now though, let’s focus on the positives.

This year I wanted to do things big for the holidays. In September and October I did a lot of research and built a list of big time product review and mommy bloggers that I wanted to review my products. Some of these websites get around 30,000 views a month on regular months of the year and way more during the holidays.

Out of my list of about 50, only about 20 got back to me and said they would do reviews for me. I shipped out free products to every one of them and also requested to be listed in their Holiday Shopping Guides that they put out for their readers every year. One of the ladies got back to me and said she landed a big time advertising spot for free for her blog and wasn’t going to charge me at all. She loved my Meat Claws so she featured the post at the top of her blog. Throughout the entire holidays, her blog was featured as a banner wrap on double decker buses throughout San Diego and Los Angeles and I was the first thing people saw when they went to her website!

From an inventory standpoint, I started preparing back in August and I pretty much doubled all of my inventory for each product. When I ran my projections, I was expecting probably about a 50-80% boost in sales so doubling up would have left me with plenty of extra after the holidays were over. The worst thing I could possibly do was stock out during the biggest shopping month of the year!

Looking back, I probably should have 7 X’d my inventory because sales went absolutely crazy for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and I didn’t even discount my products. After those two days I started scrambling to get more inventory on planes as soon as possible because I knew I was going to stock out at Christmas.

At around the same time, the Port Unions started kicking up a lot of stink in Oakland because they wanted to be paid more. Those guys all make around 180K per year plus benefits, but they knew everybody was trying to get shipments in for the holidays so they had leverage.

They all pretty much just stopped working and allowed the ports to get extremely backlogged. One of my Meat Claw shipments sat on the boat for 2 weeks before they even took the container off and processed the inventory. After they finally processed my boxes, they needed to be shipped to my warehouse in California and then shipped out again to go on to Amazon warehouses, so this delay was major.

The Ports then (illegally) tried to impose a congestion fee of $1,000 on every container because of the backlog. Lawyers got involved and ultimately they weren’t able to charge me for my meat claws because they had already been sitting there waiting before the fee was announced. My thermometer shipment however did get knocked and I ended up paying an extra $450 because of the damn unions.

The thermometer shipment left China in October and as of today (12/21) they still haven’t reached my warehouse in California. That shipment in itself has been an absolute nightmare. Normally I ship the thermometers by air. You need extra documentation and testing that costs about $5,000 per shipment for the batteries to be approved for air shipping. What I do is allow my manufacturer to coordinate the shipment because they send them to Hong Kong first and then to the US and get around this ridiculous fee. What I didn’t know was that I can ship them via ocean with no problem and use my own guys. So my manufacturer coordinated the ocean shipment and about 2 days before they left port I realized they only did the shipment, not delivery to my warehouse or customs clearance or anything else.

Basically the thermometers were just going to be dropped off in Oakland and nobody would know what to do with them. I started scrambling to get the back end shipping figured out and my manufacturer said to simplify things they would just let me use their freight forwarder. So now I’m dealing with a Chinese freight forwarder (Dolphin Logistics) and signing power of attorney and other documents for a company I know nothing about. Dolphin was making me incredibly nervous because they were so unorganized and they kept asking me dumb questions like is my warehouse on a military base? They were probably just checking off boxes on the forms and making sure, but come on!

Instead of paying the Chinese freight forwarder, my manufacturer paid them directly and then refunded me the excess money I sent them (about $1,200). The freight forwarder won’t give me an invoice for this shipment because obviously the manufacturer took their own spread on the deal, but I’m just happy they were able to figure it out for me.

So all of this shit is going on and at the same time the holidays are here and people are buying like crazy. At one point, I was selling over 100 Meat Claws per day! (UPDATE: 12/29/14 reviewing sales reports. Before stocking out I had 3 days in a row of 300+ Meat Claw sales) To offset the demand I was increasing my prices like crazy. My grill set normally sells for around $29 and at one point I had it up over $40 and they were still flying off the shelves. I literally stocked out of everything except my grill brushes and now I won’t be back in stock for at least a couple more weeks.

Sales were skyrocketing overnight. I went from my best ever of around $1,500 in one day to stringing along multiple 6-$7,000 days in a row!

 

November 22 2014

November 22 2014

November 28 2014

November 28 2014

December 2 2014 - 50K

December 2 2014 – 50K

December 9 2014 - 80K

December 9 2014 – 80K

December 11 2014 - 85K

December 11 2014 – 85K

Up until this point I have been completely self funded so there is no way I would have been able to prepare for the holidays the way I actually needed to. Next year I’ll have a line of credit from the bank so I should be in really good shape.  I think I could have probably done a good quarter million dollars in a month if I was fully stocked up. And that’s with only 4 product lines! Next year I’m going to be super aggressive with my bank funding so I’m hoping to have at least 8-10 by that point. For the record…I also received my ASM Affiliate check this month and had Hyacinth Marketing revenue of a couple grand. Can you say first 6 figure month? Boom Baby!

Of course, with every two step forwards I take, I take one big step backwards. We had a customer service nightmare on our hands I ended up over selling the Meat Claws by over 1,000 orders before we realized what was happening and could shut down the listing. We had to cancel all of the orders on Dec 18 and then inform everyone they weren’t getting their products by Christmas time and they weren’t getting them until Jan or Feb now either.

This whole issue was actually Amazon’s fault and they accepted responsibility for it. But at the end of the day, we took the brunt of the hit and people were justifiably extremely pissed off. I had to sit and write a letter to send to everyone explaining the situation. In the span of about 3 days, Caecilia and I probably fielded over 4,000 emails. Just day and night doing email all day long. It was brutal, but the letter helped soften the blow and I don’t think we are going to get a ton of negative press and feedback online as a result. Amazon is set up so you can’t bulk email customers, but Caecilia found an intricate work around to do it so we were at least able to bulk email the letters. She gets paid hourly, so I gave her a bonus of 10 hours worth of money because of the amount of time she saved us!

Sometimes shit just happens that’s out of your control. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Customer,

I’m writing this letter to express how deeply sorry I am that you will not be receiving your Meat Claws order.

Over the past two weeks, both Caecilia and I have been reaching out to provide updates on the delayed shipping situation. We gave you our word that no matter what, we would get your order to you before Christmas.

Today is now December 18th and unfortunately we are spending our day cancelling/refunding orders instead of shipping them out. This is not a situation we are taking lightly. We pride ourselves on going above and beyond with our customer service and always providing fast shipping for our customers. Today we let you down.

For some of you, this letter will seem unnecessary. For many of you, this letter won’t be enough.

I understand that many of you are angry and if I was in your situation I would be to. I’m not writing this letter to point the finger at Amazon or attempt to justify the actions that were taken. There are always 2 sides to every story.

At Cave Tools, we believe in full transparency. For those of you interested in an explanation, I have laid out all of the facts on page 2 of this letter.

They say that somewhere between 20 and 80 percent of customers will do business with a company once and never again. We sincerely hope that you will give us another chance to earn your business in the future.

Next time you shop for Cave Tools on Amazon, use coupon code QQZJQ3VZ at checkout for a 30% off discount. This coupon code will apply to our Grill Brush, BBQ Tools Set, Meat Claws, Digital Thermometer, and our Meat Tenderizing Hammer (available in February).

Caecilia and I will be working around the clock to make sure we answer any and all questions you may have. You can direct your inquiries to orders@mycavetools.com  and we will do our best to answer as soon as possible.

For the next week, I have redirected our customer service phone line to go directly to my cell phone. If you call (267) 282-1009 you can speak with me personally.

 

Sincerely,

Michael “Medium Rare” O’Donnell

Signature for Story

Cave Tools – Owner

How Fulfillment by Amazon Works: Cave Tools (the seller) sends inventory to Amazon warehouses. The warehouses receive the inventory and typically within 48 hours that inventory is available for shipping out to customers. When an order is placed on Amazon, a message is automatically sent to the warehouse and order is shipped to the customer immediately.

Timeline:

  • November 24: We stocked out of Meat Claws
  • November 26: New Meat Claw inventory shipped to Amazon Warehouse. We set the restock date on Amazon to December 8th and started accepting pre-orders with the understanding that all orders would be shipped no later than the 8th
  • December 1: Meat Claws received at Amazon warehouse and expected to be processed within 48 hours. Even with holiday delays, we have plenty of time because we set our ship date to December 8
  • December 3: We receive notification from Amazon that 100 units have been lost. We shipped the Meat Claws in boxes of 40 each, which means they would have had to lose 2.5 boxes. Investigation ensues. There is still plenty of inventory to satisfy our commitments even if they can’t recover the lost units.
  • December 6 – 8: Inventory still showing in “Receiving” status. Phone calls to support every day notifying them of December 8 shipping commitments. We are told that our inventory is being expedited and that it will appear by “The end of the day today”.
  • December 9 – 12: Phone calls every day explaining that we are now late on our orders. Amazon assures us they are accepting responsibility and explains that for some unknown reason their computer system decided to ship all of the inventory to another warehouse across the country.
  • December 13: Amazon support notifies us that our inventory is now expected to be available on December 17 and we will be able to make delivery in time for Christmas
  • December 14-16: Phone calls to support checking on status. No new information
  • December 17: Inventory still showing as 0 units. Support launches another investigation. At 7:30pm we are notified that our new inventory, which was supposed to be reserved for customers like yourself, was actually sold and that is why inventory is showing as 0. Amazon accepts responsibility for the error and support does not know why we were previously told that our inventory would be available by December 17.

 

The news we received yesterday came as a complete shock. How could we possibly have sold the inventory without knowing about it? Why were we continually told that our inventory would be available to ship to customers before Christmas?

 

 

 

There are many unanswered questions right now and we are still reviewing all of the information with Amazon to see how we can get to the bottom of this. More importantly, how we can avoid something like this happening again to us and other Amazon Sellers in the future.

While I don’t want to speculate about why we were told certain things about expected delivery dates, I can offer my best explanation as to how I think the inventory was sold without our knowledge.

When inventory is received and processed at Amazon warehouses, we are normally notified that the entire shipment is now available for shipping. For example, if we sent 100 units, after they were processed, 100 units would show as available inventory on our dashboard.

According to my conversations with Amazon Support, this didn’t happen. Instead, small spurts of Meat Claws became available at a time. Using the above example of 100 units, this means that throughout the day 10 units would become available, then 5, then 7, etc.

Before our Seller’s dashboard could update the inventory numbers, those incremental units were being sold already. As far as we knew, Amazon support had been telling us that it would all be received on December 17 and our inventory stayed at 0 on the dashboard.

The next logical question would be how did we not notice the additional sales revenue coming in since these units were in fact being sold? Even though the inventory stayed at 0, our Seller’s dashboard would still be reporting the additional income.

Amazon shows us total sales on a day to day basis. However, this sales number is a top level number that includes all of our product lines together. The specific data, such as how many Meat Claw sales were sold on a given day typically lags behind a good 2-3 days.

Since the Meat Claw sales were coming in incrementally and both us and every Amazon support person we spoke with was under the impression that our inventory was still being transferred from one warehouse to another, we were unable to determine what happened until yesterday.

To Amazon’s credit, their support staff spent a good 3 hours yesterday sorting through all of the information before they could come to this conclusion and let us know what happened.

 

As mentioned previously, we are not trying to point fingers or justify the events that happened. We truly believe that at every step of the way both Cave Tools and Amazon took actions and communicated with customers using the best knowledge that was available at the time.

We are sincerely sorry that you did not receive your order and we hope that the above explanation provides some clarity as to why.

We are continuing to review all of these events in detail to see how we can learn and grow as a company. You are a valued customer and we will do our best to earn back your trust.

Trouble in Wire City

At the same time all of this was going on, I was having some serious wire transfer issues.

Chinese New Year is coming up soon and the entire country pretty much shuts down for a full month. Nobody works or does anything. The problem with this is that if you want to stock up for summer time, you need to place your orders before the holiday and hopefully ship out as soon as they get back to work so you can be ready in time.

After what happened to me last summer with my grill brush stock out, I wanted to load up like crazy. For my first time ever, I’m actually filling an entire ocean container with Cave Tools products. It will be a split between 3,000 grill sets and 3,500 grill brushes. So I spoke with Tracy and just like normal I sent my 30% deposit so we could start manufacturing. About 15 hours later Tracy Skype’s me and she’s upset.

She forgot to tell me that they changed their banking information since my last wire and they couldn’t receive the money I sent them, about $5,000 worth. Not only that, but the company name changed, the bank changed, and the account numbers all changed. Can you imagine the look on my banker’s face when I went down to work out the recall?

I’m not sure how true this is, but this is my understanding of the way it works over in China. Non Chinese people are not allowed to own manufacturing facilities. So they get a Chinese guy to own the place and then a bunch of foreign corporations own various percentages of his company. Throughout the year, they change the banking and business names around so they effectively distribute their income to the various accounts of the actually businesses that own the manufacturing facilities. This is obviously very shady and probably not legal from a tax standpoint in China, but that’s on them. I’m just a paying customer 🙂

The recall took about 7 business days and somewhere along the line intermediary banks took about $150 out in fees. I got my money back and then re-wired the full 100% to Tracy and everything worked out. They even started manufacturing before they received the money so I wouldn’t get hit with any delays. It was an honest mistake and Tracy helps me out so much throughout the year anyways so I wasn’t angry with her. I let her save face and we moved on.

While this wire was under investigation, I had another wire I sent for an order of Meat Claws that my manufacturer claimed they never received. The money had left my account already and we double checked that all the banking info was correct. What the fuck!

So now we started a 2nd wire investigation to see what happened and determine if the Chinese bank was trying to screw me. Meanwhile, my manufacturer was storing my products in their warehouse and wouldn’t release for shipping until the balance was paid. They ended up storing my products for almost a month before they finally said I needed to pay and get rid of them because they didn’t have room to store them. Now I had to float another $4,000ish so we could move forward with shipping before I received my original money back.

The Chinese bank kept telling my manufacturer and me that we needed to produce what’s called the swift 103 bank copy. I drove down to my bank 2 days in a row asking for the documentation, but the banker I was working with had no clue what it was. She called the wire department a few times, but wasn’t asking the right questions and I was getting pissed off and arguing with her. Basically as soon as she heard the first no she just told me nobody knew what the swift 103 was. Even though this is a universal bank form for wires.

I was being really short with her so finally she just gave me the phone number to the wire department and said call yourself because nobody knows what you are talking about. I was on the phone with them for less than 7 minutes and I was able to get to a manager that knew what they were talking about and they sent the 103 swift to the Chinese bank.

After the investigation was complete, they said the reason the bank didn’t accept the money was because on the beneficiary company’s name we left out the Co, LTD. at the end. What a fucking joke! Of course the intermediaries took out some fees again along the way, but in the end I got most of my money back and the Claws are on the way now.

New Website Finally Launches

About 5 months ago I purchased cavetools.com so I could eventually move away from mycavetools.com. When it comes to web development, I have worked almost exclusively with WordPress throughout my career. WordPress is great, but the platform itself is meant for informational websites, not ecommerce.

I had a pretty damn good ecommerce set up on WordPress, but it was buggy and often times I was getting calls from customers because they couldn’t place orders. I get around 3,000 visitors per month to my website, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t converting into the sales numbers I would expect. I was literally only doing a couple orders per month using that website even with all of that organic traffic.

For my new website, I wanted to use an ecommerce platform that would convert my visitors into buying customers. I did my research and chose Shopify as the platform I was going to go with. I then went through a bunch of ecommerce training materials and started analyzing big ecommerce websites like Amazon and Zappos to see what kind of marketing features I wanted to pull in to my website so I could maximize conversions.

I then took my whiteboard and drew up the website design and wrote up a word document explaining all of the features on the site.

Home Page

Product Page Design

I then contacted my shopify development programmer in India, Nalini. We discussed all of the features and the intricacies of the design. From a coding standpoint it wasn’t going to be easy to do what I wanted to do. I understood that, but I also wasn’t happy with the development time and final price she gave me.

So I started contacting Shopify development agencies in the U.S. to get a comparable rate and see what they could do. In the end, I found an agency up in New York that’s run by 2 brothers that used to be big time ecommerce guys back in the day before starting their agency. It was only going to cost me about $500 more than using Nalini and I would be able to call them and speak with them since they were in New York. Part of me was also interested in how they handled the entire web dev process since I do a lot of that stuff in my marketing agency.

I got a quote from them and also documented all of our conversations so I could use similar processes on future websites we build in Hyacinth Marketing. He also gave me a 2 week turnaround time which was great.

In the end, the website turned out fantastic and I couldn’t be happier with it. In the last 7 days we’ve already done over $1,000 in sales and I have inquiries for 4 rotisserie grills. They were the toughest thing to sell on my old site and now people want to buy them all the time from me. Here’s a screen shot of the new site:

website home page

The day after we launched the site (Dec 9) I had an awesome idea. I wanted to see if my graphics guy Ibrahim could photoshop in my tongs on a kickass banner image I found. So I brought out my product light box and took like 30 pictures of the tongs at all sorts of angles and sent it over to him. It only took him about an hour’s worth of work, but he did a fantastic job. Far exceeded my expectations on what the result was going to be. I gave him a 3 hour bonus payment on top because I was so happy.

Before After

The new website has all sorts of really cool features such has product zoom when people hover over an image (same as Amazon) and 2-step opt in processes all over the place for lead gen. Instead of normal email capturing like you see for our VIP member’s area In the footer, I have buttons all over the place to give away the free recipe book. When people click on the button, they think they are getting it for free so they mentally commit to it. After they click the button a pop up appears and asks them for their email.

Since they already mentally committed to it, they are way more likely to give their email address. The system I’m using also pre populates their email address in the field if they’ve been cookied on other websites before that also use this system. The result is that they mentally commit and then their email is already typed in so they only have to accept and they get it. Really awesome technology!

I also created semi-automated funnels for retailers who want to carry our products and bloggers that want to do reviews. In the past we did everything on a person by person basis, but now I’m able to build email lists of each type of person. In the future I’ll be able to contact them all at once and provide consistent messaging. I can see us running liquidation deals and things like that for wholesalers when we want to move a lot of inventory at once.

I already received a call from Cigars International because they want to carry our products on their website. Normally wholesalers order like 5-10 units at a time, but they want to purchase an initial order of 500 meat claws. Only problem is I don’t have any left in stock after Christmas, so we’ll follow up in January with them.

On all of our packaging we advertise free recipe book with the purchase. When you offer it for free with the purchase, people get pissed if you then ask them for their email address because technically it’s not free now. So what we do is we insert a business card into every package telling them where on the website they can go to download the book and people don’t have to give their email address.

This insert strategy is great because I can sell products anywhere, including in retail stores, and people still have to come back to our website. On that bonus page, I wanted to devise a special offer that I could give people so I could capture their information. The problem with Amazon is I don’t get people’s email addresses so I can’t build my own customer list. The list is a major asset for the company so I created what’s called a self liquidating offer.

A self liquidating offer is simply an offer that you break even on, but still acquire a customer. I wanted to find something valuable I could give away for extremely cheap that would help me acquire customers and be enticing enough for people to buy.

The two big things people in my industry are always looking for are internal meat temperatures and wood smoking flavors/temps. So I found a guide for each online and told Ibrahim to recreate them exactly but with my branding on it. Then I just went in and changed the suggestions and wording around so we weren’t stealing anything and nobody was going to try and sue for copyright infringement.

I then had both guides turned into magnets. The internal meat temperature guide is for the refrigerator and the meat smoking guide is an outdoor magnet for the grill. The beauty of this all is I’m acquiring customers for break even AND I’m getting branding in their households. Every time they have a party or people over, they see Cave Tools front and center. Brilliant!

I actually thought up this strategy randomly about 6 months ago as I was driving into Philly for a lacrosse game. I was so excited and knew I was going to forget it so I made an audio recording on my phone and just talked for 30 minutes straight about all the details so I had it down. I also spoke with Justin about it and he helped me finalize my strategy. I think originally I was going to give the magnets away for free, but he mentioned that would kill me from a cash flow standpoint and that I’d much rather break even instead of taking a loss.

Just like everything else I do in my business, the magnets had to be scalable. I wasn’t going to be manually shipping all of these things out to each customer. That would take forever! I did a little bit of searching and found a local mailing fulfillment center that could print and ship all of the magnets for me. To keep the costs down on the offer, we only ship them once at the end of the month and use USPS.

I just got all of this together and finalized 2 days ago. Just in time for everyone to open their Christmas presents and go download their recipe books. I also shot a video of me personally thanking every customer for their purchase and put that on the bonus page and also ask for people to leave a review right there on the spot.

This is perfect because we are getting them right when they are the happiest and just opened their product. We are giving them a free recipe book and some other really valuable and cool offers. They can’t possibly be unhappy because we have given them what I like to call a Customer Experience.

bonus

Corporate Structuring and Taxes

We’re coming up on the end of the year. While it’s great that we made a huge chunk of cash here at the end of the year, I need to watch out for the tax man. Since I started Hyacinth Marketing in 2012, I’ve been using my Dad’s accountant Bobby Trauffer for all of my stuff. Bob is good, but at the end of the day I have no relationship with him and he has messed up a couple times on me before.

Over the past 2 years I have been a part of a local business group in Doylestown and had the opportunity to meet and become very close with an awesome accountant. So starting January 1, I’m going to be moving everything over to Doug. I’m also hoping he can help me out with tax planning next year because this year I am screwed.

I decided to reinvest almost all of the money into new inventory and product lines. If I could do this much money with 4 product lines, imagine how much I could do when I add more. So In the past month I’ve spent probably about $60,000 ish between inventory, fulfillment, new product samples, paying off my loan to my dad, etc. Then I come to find out that when you reinvest money in inventory, it doesn’t count as an expense on the books. What that means is that even though I no longer have that money and I did the right thing and invested in my company, it will all be taxed as a profit to the business.

I haven’t gone through everything to prepare for taxes yet, but I’m not looking forward to it. I have a feeling Uncle Sam is going to put me through the ringer.

Currently Hyacinth Marketing is an LLC and is the only business I have. Cave Tools is just a brand name that Hyacinth Marketing owns. Eventually down the road I’d like to sell Cave Tools so I need to have separate books and corporate structures for each company.

I met with my attorney Ron last week and starting January 1, we are going to do a downstream merger and asset purchase. Basically that’s a legal way of saying I’m starting another company and it’s going to buy all the Cave Tools stuff off Hyacinth for free.

We’re also going to change Hyacinth Marketing into an S-Corp so I can pay as little as possible in taxes. The new company is also going to be an S-Corp as well. The way I understand it is that as the owner of an S-Corp I have to pay myself a “Reasonable” salary. Reasonable is not defined by the IRS, but if we made 100K I would probably have to pay myself 50 or something like that to pass through without any flags. That first 50 would be taxable, but then I could do a shareholder distribution for the other 50K and that wouldn’t be taxed. I like the sound of that 🙂

The new company is going to need a name and I don’t want to call it Cave Tools. The reason for that is because people can do an importer record lookup and figure out exactly where I source my products if the name was Cave Tools. Nobody is ever going to know the name of the company because Cave Tools will be the DBA name, so I’ve decided to have fun with it. We’re going to call the new company Medium Rare Industries!

One of the other really cool things with having 2 companies now is that I can bill Cave Tools from Hyacinth Marketing. Basically throughout the year I can allocate expenses to certain books and that way I can keep them both under certain tax brackets.

We’re also going to be adding a 3rd company in there for the partnership with Shane and Jarod, so Doug is definitely going to have his hands full with me for accounting.

Hiring a Full Time Marketing Employee

Remember Karen? The full time marketing girl I hired and was really excited about? Well she strung me along for about a month with excuse after excuse and I finally had to fire her. I tried giving her the benefit of the doubt so many times, but at the end of the day she really set me back.

So now we have Dorothy on board and she is doing awesome so far! She costs more money, but she also has way more experience and she can think for herself on a lot of things which is good. She’s a single mother of two and I have her working my hours, which is her night shift. Hopefully once she is fully trained we can work out a better arrangement for her so she can work regular hours and still have enough communication with me.

Right now I have her trained on Blogging, Press Release writing and Social Media. This week we will be adding in Video Marketing and then some other specific marketing strategies. My plan is to just keep teaching her stuff until I can fill a full 40 work week for her of just straight marketing. After that, I’ll hire another person and cross train them. With all the different strategies I have in my head from over the years, I think I could easily have 2 people working 40 hours a week just on marketing Cave Tools.

The thing I love the most about having Dorothy on board is that it is forcing me to create operating procedures for every aspect of the business. I read and learn so many strategies every year that I never have a chance to implement. When I train Dorothy, I create a detailed word document explaining all of the instructions. Then I shoot a video of me following the instructions to a T and demonstrating the strategy.

I probably have about 20 operating procedures right now. My goal is to build out operating procedures for everything in marketing and then start doing operating procedures for operational tasks as well. This is exactly what I did for Caecilia too. She has a 15 page Customer Service Representative manual with instructions and videos on how to do everything she ever needs to do.

When I’m done, I’ll pretty much just have like a monster book on how to run my company. I’ve talked before about my online resource training center I set up called Hyacinth Connect. Each employee gets their own area they have access to and then inside the area is all of their training materials. Instead of just giving them pdf operating procedures, I added in a wiki so everything is editable.

Whenever the wiki is edited I actually get an email about the updates. So at this point I know for a fact they haven’t been using it the way I want them to. But my goal is to start to train them to update operating procedures and add new operating procedures on their own when they discover new ways of doing things. I’ll work more on this aspect once Dorothy is fully trained and can manage her own work week. Since I get email notifications when the wiki is updated, I plan to start giving small bonuses to incentivize the behavior.

Considering Credit Cards

Up until now, I always just used my bank credit card for the business. However, my dad suggested I start getting airline credit cards and rewards cards. I spend a lot of money every year for business expenses, so I might as well start getting free flights from it all!

Looking into the various cards now, but hoping to rack up some serious points in 2015

Mentoring Matt Greenwood

I met my friend Matt Greenwood while I was in Lithuania. At the time he was developing an app and running a nightlife company in Madrid. The company was still pretty young, but it seemed like they were on the right track.

We were speaking the other day on Skype and Matt told me about how his company went under and he moved back home and had to get a job. Shitty situation, but something almost every entrepreneur has to face. I’ve been speaking with Matt pretty regularly now and helping to mentor and coach him along.

He has a job now, but he’s working on a couple different ventures on the side. I’m teaching him a good bit about outsourcing and really just being there for advice when he needs it. It feels great to be able to give back to people in the Lithuania group.

Meeting up with Tim Murdoch

Tim Murdoch (Head Coach for Montreal Lacrosse Team) was in town the other day and I got to meet up with him and grab a couple beers. His son Max had a lacrosse tournament in Feasterville, which is only about 20 minutes away from me. Unfortunately 2 teams canceled last minute, so the tournament was over after only a couple games. A lot of the parents were pissed off because they traveled from 9 different states to get there and their kids only played 2 games.

We dropped Max off at the hotel and went out for a two hours to catch up on life, business, and lacrosse. I don’t know how much I’ve talked about Tim on here in the past, but he’s a beast when it comes to business. He makes a very good living doing consulting for large companies. He only has about 5 clients and tries to work a maximum of a couple hours per day. The rest of his time he uses to coach lacrosse and enjoy life.

It was about a year ago he told me how he knew the founder of this new company and the guy was giving him an equity stake in it. The company pretty much hired Oxford Linguistics experts and developed an algorithm that aggregates public tweets and based on public sentiment they can very accurately predict what will happen with certain stock prices.

Tim went to Princeton and Harvard and sits on the US and Canada businesses board, so he knows everybody. I pretty much just look at him like The Great Connector. He was telling me how in after only a year already, the company is growing like mad. They expect it to be worth around 600 Million in about 2-3 years. Pretty much everybody in the financial sector is trying to license their software from them. They launched  with Bloomberg as their big whale and now they are almost at the point where they could fully stand on their own without Bloomberg just because everybody wants in now.

This was about 2 weeks ago so my raw facts might be a little off, but out of say 14 of the big wall street investors in the company, Tim has introduced the founder to 6 or 7 of them.

It’s always great speaking with Tim because he gives some outside advice on how I’m doing in my company. Somewhere down the line I can totally see him recommending a big client or important person to me. Definitely one of my best personal relationships that I try to keep warm and check in with every couple of months.

Webinars with Ricky

Last week my friend Ricky from Lithuania reached out to me with an idea. It had been a little while since we last talked, but he wanted to run a partnership idea by me and also catch up on life. We haven’t had a chance to speak yet in detail, but here is a synopsis of what’s going on.

I kind of forget Ricky’s entire background, but I’m pretty sure he worked at Goldman for a while and then quit to start his internet business. He’s a year or two older than me and has lived all over the place. He also hates digital footprints so he has almost no public presence on the internet. In 2015 he finally wants to come out of the shadows and stop being a behind the scenes guy.

Ricky is big on info products and webinars. Between his businesses they did about 2 Million last year in webinar sales. He’s also a workaholic similar to myself but on a different level. If you take everything at face value, it seems like he works about 12 hours a day 7 days a week all year round. I don’t think necessarily because he has to, but he wants to. Just like me, but on a more extreme level, he really enjoys everything he is learning and is passionate about his business.

So anyways, Ricky is a great guy and he was also the one who started our monthly Blacksmith webinar training series where we all teach each other different strategies we know. He tried launching an Amazon business last year in the adult niche (Aka Dildo Store haha) and completely failed and had to liquidate his inventory.

His idea is to partner with me on a webinar series that will teach people more about the physical products business model. He has all the webinar systems in place so he’s thinking that if I put in some up front work with him, he can probably do a good 5 figures with it and I would get a new passive income stream out of it.

If this was anyone else contacting me for this opportunity I probably wouldn’t do it. Ricky is such a smart guy though and in exchange for my knowledge he’ll pretty much teach me the entire ins and outs of the webinar business. Like I said, we haven’t had our full catch up conversation yet, but this could be a really good opportunity moving forward into next year.

I’m also thinking of eventually turning my outsource work into an online course. If this works well, Ricky would be my go to partner to help me launch it. When I’m done, I’ll pretty much have a turnkey content marketing outsourcing course that people can just hand off to outsourcers and blow up their businesses.

Objectives for new year

We’re already at 25 pages of content, so I’ll wrap this up quickly. Some of the work goals I’m setting for next year include:

  • Adding in digital cooking courses that I can upsell to all of my physical products customers. These would be almost 100% margin and my product sales already prequalify everyone so it’s the perfect money making storm. I have Chef Carmen lined up for some conversations in January. I’m not sure if I really need to bring him in on this though or if his credibility would be worth it. In the end, he has the expertise, but I’d be writing the course content anyways. He would just be the guy to cook it all up.
  • This is an entire blog post in itself, but Estonia just released a business E-Residency program where people from anywhere in the world can easily set up an Estonian corporation and take advantage of the tax breaks and be outside the reach of the US Government and US Dollar. I’m just going to say that for now this is on my radar and could be a real possibility a few years down the road
  • 2015 will be the year of email marketing for me. My people received probably 4 or 5 emails all year last year. That’s horrible! With my new expertise in funnels, I plan to start developing really intricate relationship building sequences and use email to generate a lot of additional revenue
  • Money Goals? I have no clue what I want to make in money. I just want to keep driving on because I love what I do and what I’m learning. The 4th quarter this year was fantastic. With the different businesses I have going on and the addition of a bank line of credit this year, I think there is a real chance that I can do $1 million next year. For all I know I can either far undershoot this goal or crush it. Regardless, it’s all about the ride

Sovereign Academy 3 Month Checkup – Mike O’Donnell

Posted on November 2nd, 2014 in Business Development, Coaching, Consulting, Goal Setting, Lessons, My Story | No Comments »

Over the past 3 years, I’ve gone to quite a few seminars and marketing conferences. I always learn a lot of new techniques, pick up 1 or 2 new key relationships, and come home energized and ready to grow my business. However, this increased drive and energy typically fades after a couple weeks and I return to my “normal” working habits. Granted, my new normal is at a higher level than it was before, but the energy boost and increased drive is what fades away.

This time around was different. I didn’t come away from the Blacksmith camp with a checklist of marketing techniques I wanted to implement. Instead, I came away with some major mindset changes that have allowed me to get out of my own way and really take my business and life to the next level.  I also came away with about 40 new key relationships and a firm support group of other entrepreneurs my age all striving to better their lives on a daily basis. I can’t hold myself accountable to my friends at home. They are in a totally different place in life and have completely different goals than I do.

With the Blacksmith Alumni facebook group, I now have a group of people that I can hold myself accountable to that will help me raise the bar for success and keep my focus on the things that are important in my life. I really want to go back to Lithuania next year. For that to happen, I need to take action and prove to you that I’m worth your investment. I’ve been incredibly busy since returning home and wanted to take this opportunity to share with you everything I have been working on.

Lifestyle Changes and Liberty

One of the first lifestyle changes I made was to commit to reading a minimum of 10 pages per day before I sit down at my computer and start working. I downloaded an app called Habits and placed it on the home screen of my phone so I can see and track my commitments every day. Some of my other habits include working out every morning, getting out of bed by 6am at the latest, and doing daily meditation. The app is great because I see a big red circle on my phone every time I don’t complete a habit I committed to. As J Massey would say, If I want to be a person of integrity, then that starts with living up to my own expectations. If I say I’m going to do something, then I’m going to do it.

When I compared myself to the other Blacksmith members, I would say I was above average in entrepreneurial education, but I had a lot to learn on the liberty side of things. Before the camp, I really didn’t know much about Simon or have a firm understanding of the current international economic situation in the world. When I returned home, I immediately became a member of sovereign man confidential and I started reading The Creature from Jekyll island.

I literally read through all 600+ pages of Jekyll Island in under 2 weeks. I couldn’t put the book down. It completely opened my eyes to everything going on in the United States and the federal reserve and changed my outlook on the world. Between reading Jekyll Island and SMC, I’m continuing to read and expand my knowledge about what’s going on in the world.

Out of all of the mentors, I connected the most with J Massey and became very interested in Real Estate. I read Cash Flow Diaries and subscribed to his podcasts so I could learn more about real estate and make use of my time while driving in the car. I also took a real estate investor I know out to lunch to pick his brain about getting into wholesaling. Then I joined a bunch of local Cashflow 101 meetups and started attending local real estate events so I could build my network and learn from more people.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs About Money

For me, playing Cashflow with J helped me overcome some self limiting beliefs I held about money. Before the camp, I had been growing my physical products business solely on profits. Whenever anyone asked, I was proud that I never took any investment to grow my business. After hanging out with J, I learned that that was the complete wrong way to look at things and that if I had my systems in place that I should be accepting to money so I could accelerate my growth.

I started sitting down for meetings with my local banks to see what type of financing they could provide for me. I also sat down with my friend Alan who is a mortgage broker. He has connections to tons of investors, so we started working on deals to see how much money I could raise. Just sitting down to have these conversations with everyone was incredibly enlightening for me and I learned a ton.

I found out that the banks wouldn’t give me a business line of credit until I could show a tax return with a minimum of 150K in revenue. My business was on pace to do over 150K in revenue this year already, but last year I only did around 60K so I would have to wait until my tax returns in January if I wanted to go that route.

The investors that Alan introduced me to all wanted equity in my company. For the amount of money I needed, I wasn’t comfortable giving away equity and the interest rates they wanted to charge on short term loans were through the roof. I considered all of my options and ended up taking a loan for $15,000 from my dad. I already owed him about $5,000 so I figured I would put the money into inventory and hopefully be able to pay him back after the holiday season. Once January came along, I could get up to a 150K line of credit from my bank and use it to pay off my debt to my dad. That way I would be solely responsible for all of the money owed.

I used the money from my dad to fund inventory purchases for my current products and also planned to launch a new product before Christmas. With my levels of sales, I should have had enough money set aside for inventory, but I mismanaged my cash on hand. I was tracking everything up to this point on excel spreadsheets and never had a true financial picture of where my company was at any given point.

Mismanaging my cash flow was a big mistake that I couldn’t let happen again. So I met with my accountant and over the next couple weeks I went through the painful process of importing 1,000s of transactions into quickbooks online. Now I have a clear financial picture of what’s going on in my business and can run financial statements and appropriately reserve money for future expenses.

After funding inventory, I wanted to use my excess cash to develop new products that I could launch before the holidays. Timing was tight because it typically takes about 70 days from the start of manufacturing for me to get my products in the warehouses and ready for sale. I ran into a bunch of snags with manufacturers and ended up abandoning the idea of having new products by the holiday season. Having new products would have generated more money, but I didn’t want to rush things and launch a product that didn’t meet my quality standards. Instead, I devoted my efforts towards something I hoped would make me even more money in the short term.

Amazing Selling Machine Launch

In October, the Amazing Selling Machine course reopened for sale to the public. This was the course I went through that helped me learn how to source and manufacture products. I partnered up with Shane and Jarod from my Amazon mastermind group to sell the course as affiliates. I’ve been around the internet marketing industry for years, but affiliate marketing was new to me so I was excited to see what we could do.

The course cost about $3,500 so with each sale we would get a $1,750 commission and split it 3 ways after expenses. None of us had an email list to market to, so we decided that we needed to create an awesome bonus package if we were going to get people to sign up under our group. We started out by researching the bonus packages of all of the top affiliates from last year’s launch and we did our best to match or provide a better bonus where we could.

We tried everything when it came to driving traffic for people to buy the course through our link. We each placed about $1,000 into an account and then used it to pay for facebook ads, twitter ads, craigslist postings throughout the country, a news paper classified ad, and even some plenty of fish (dating website) ads targeted at entrepreneurial type of people. Nothing was working and we were spending a lot of money and time to make this work. By the 2nd video of the launch, it looked like we were only going to make a few sales and barely make our money back. Let alone still having to provide all of the bonuses we offered.

Then, one night as I was working it came to me. Why were we spending so much money trying to drive cold traffic when the other bigger affiliates were just going to poach our sales anyways? What if we flipped everything upside down and only focused our advertising on people that we knew were already interested in the course. Under each sales video in the launch there was a facebook comments feed. Each video literally had 1,000s of comments from people who had watch the videos and engaged with them.

I called a meeting with Shane and Jarod and told them we needed to stop all of our advertising immediately and only focus on the people who engaged via the fb comments. I did a little bit of research and about 5 hours of work later I built a scraper that dropped the profile urls of every commenter into a spreadsheet. We now had a list of about 2,000 unique people we could market to.

If you send a private message to someone on facebook you aren’t friends with, it goes to their “other inbox” and they never see it. However, if you pay about $1, facebook will drop the message in their regular inbox and they are pretty much guaranteed to see it. We now had a $1 cost per acquisition for targeted traffic.

Jarod had a background in creating bots with a software program called uBot. The next day, he created a program that automated the entire process of private messaging everyone on our list and accepting the $1 charge. We split the list into 3 and we each ran the program on the background of our computers and messaged every single person. This automation program saved us probably about 20+ hours of work!

Instead of telling them to go to our website and “check out our bonuses” we decided to send them a message telling them we created a skype channel where they could ask us questions about the course that weren’t answered in the videos. Everyone had questions and our message wasn’t trying to sell them, so we had excellent response rates. Now once we had them on skype we would friend request them and engage in conversations. On the final days before the cart closed, we were able to follow up with phone calls to every non buyer and convert them over to our group.

We went from a potential total failure to ranking #14 on the top affiliates board and selling over $125,000 worth of the course in 7 days! After expenses, we all cleared about $20,000 in profit and will be paid after the 30 day refund period expires at the end of November.

For me, this is a completely life changing amount of money. I’m 25 and still living at home, so all I wanted to do with the money was just pay myself and finally move out again. But that would literally be the worst way to spend the money. Not only would the government take a huge portion in taxes, but I would be ruining my opportunity to put that money towards other cash producing assets such as new inventory and new products.

New Business Opportunities

I’ve discussed it with my dad and when I get paid, I am going to pay myself about $3,000 to keep myself going and make a payment of approx $5,000 towards my loan from him. The rest of the money will be spent towards new products (possibly launching a new brand) and towards a new business I am forming with Shane and Jarod.

There are approximately 5,000 students who are in or have gone through the Amazing Selling Machine course. All of these people and other Amazon sellers need marketing tools to help them promote their products. Our goal is to reverse engineer all of the software out there and start making our own versions and selling monthly memberships to people. We each left money in the shared account and already have a full time programmer working on our new software suite.

Once it is finished we will be giving all of our members who joined under our affiliate group lifetime access. We will then use their word of mouth and also tap into the ASM facebook group and other Amazon groups to get an initial base of users. We will not only be making money off of our new software suite, but we will also build a giant list that we can market to for the next ASM launch!

Becoming an Amazon Coach

Right around the time we were wrapping up the affiliate launch, my mentor Justin Lee gave me a call. I worked for Justin as an unpaid intern for a full year while in college so I could get firsthand experience from an entrepreneur. Justin has played a major role in my success and helping me become the entrepreneur that I am today. After spending some time catching up, Justin told me that he ran into an old real estate buddy who started an Amazon wholesaling business about 5 years ago. They were growing faster than they could keep up with and were looking for some coaches to help them out with their growing student base and he wanted to know if I was interested.

I spoke with his friend Chris Bowser and he ended up flying me up to Boston last week to meet his team. Chris essentially owns 3 businesses in one. They run facebook and radio advertisements in cities throughout North America and drive people to free events where they learn about wholesaling on Amazon. From the events, they sell people on a coaching program and 3 day boot camp to get them up and running. Once the people are trained, they can purchase products directly from Chris’s wholesaling business which uses bulk buying to pass deals on to their students. It’s a very cool business model and I’m excited to learn the wholesaling side after being on the private label side of selling for the past year and a half.

Starting this week, I’m taking on 5 new coaching students and I’m expected to increase that number over the next couple months. They are also going to be flying me out to some of their events. With everything I have going on right now, it’s probably not worth my time to be doing the coaching for the amount of money they are paying me, but I’m very interested to learn this new business model and I think the relationships I build with Chris and his team will be very beneficial for me in the future.

Marketing and Outsourcing

At the same time as all of this is going on, I still have my Marketing agency providing SEO, PPC, and reputation management services. I decided that I would just keep my current clients and stopping trying to get new ones because I would rather focus my time on all of these other amazing opportunities. However, I keep getting phone calls and new referrals coming in from all over the place. This past week I on-boarded 2 new clients and have 1 more on the way. It’s funny how you can go through droughts in business and then all of the sudden everything tends to hit all at once.

Right now I’m working 7 days a week just trying to stay on top of everything, but I’m absolutely loving it. I’m learning a ton and I’m challenging myself every day to work smarter and more efficiently. I’m also building a bigger and better team around myself to handle all of this new business.

Starting Monday morning, my first full time outsourcer will be coming on board. In the past I’ve always done hourly or fixed projects with my outsourcers. Now I’m at the point though where I have the cash flow and work to support someone full time. I’ve created a full online training resource center for Karen with written and video instructions for everything she is going to be doing. In the beginning, I will have her doing blogging, video marketing, press releases, and social media management for Cave Tools. Once she gets comfortable with that, I will start training her on how to take over some client work for my marketing company.

Last Thursday I held my first training webinar for the Blacksmith alumni and went into detail about my entire outsourcing system and management practices. It felt awesome to be able to give back to the group and share my knowledge with them.