Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

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

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

 

Life in Review

Posted on August 13th, 2014 in My Story, Reflection, Self Improvement | No Comments »

Today is my first day back from China and Lithuania. Besides checking the odd email and for the most part, not responding on purpose, I haven’t worked at all since July 25th. I’m happy that for all that time away, my business has been running on autopilot and making me money. There were small fires and problems that I now need to handle, but nothing serious. Caecilia did a wonderful job handling things and I’m truly surprised at her ability to step up to the plate and make decisions on her own.

I have a mound of work ahead of me now to get back into the flow of things and also on all the new projects I want to work on and books I want to read. Before leaving for my trip, I would have felt an immense amount of pressure to get all of this work done. I would have skipped my morning routine and just jumped right into things because I was living for other people and according to other people’s deadlines.

However, this morning I woke up and faced my day with a sense of calm and certainty. I went through my morning routine of working out, reading for a half hour, meditating and planning out my day. However, before I started working, I decided to watch the Blacksmith application video of my friend Ben

http://vimeo.com/90481317

Watching Ben’s video made me cry. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed with emotion before. For the past couple years, subconsciously I’ve felt very lonely. I’ve never met anyone who had such a desire to learn, improve, and achieve as myself. I’ve always felt different in that way, and attending Sovereign Academy this past week has given me a sense of validation. There are so many young people out there like myself that have passion for life and growth and I’m grateful to have become such close friends with so many of them at Blacksmith this past week.

After we got back to Vilnius on Monday, I snuck away from everyone at the hostel and walked up to the top of a hill that overlooks the city. It was very peaceful and there were a couple people sitting around playing the guitar. My intention was to sit at the top of the hill and write about my experience. To document everything that happened and all of the wonderful people I met. I’ve been doing this type of stuff on my blog for years so I can always remember where I was at certain stages of my life. However, this time felt different. It felt wrong to write about my experience and get it down on paper. My experience and the wonderful people I met was just too personal. In 4 days I’ve established deeper relationships with these people than I ever have with my friends that I’ve known for years.

Instead of writing, I closed my laptop and just sat there looking out at the view. I spent about an hour and a half just feeling grateful, happy about life, and filled with emotion and the desire to achieve. This morning, instead of tackling all of this work ahead of me, I’ve spent the last hour reading product reviews and feeling grateful for all of the people I’ve touched through my business. I’m overwhelmed with pride about what I’ve accomplished and the people whose lives I’ve made a difference in and I’m excited about the challenges to come and the personal growth I’m about to experience.

There has been a few key turning points in my life where I’ve made a decision that has sent me on a wildly different path in life. The first was in college when I decided to work for Justin for free and gain firsthand knowledge from an entrepreneur.  The second was meeting Ben and deciding to move to Montreal to partner up together. And now after attending Sovereign Academy, I just feel different.  I’ve changed as a person. I feel bigger, I’m thinking bigger, and I’m re-infused with a vigor for life. It wasn’t the content of the speeches at Blacksmith, but the quality of the people that changed me. My pathway is clear and I know what I need to do to take my business and my life to the next level. There’s no more mountain ahead of me and there’s no more struggle, there’s just progress.

Mike O’Donnell Works With Wayne Marquez…Round 2

Posted on May 16th, 2014 in Consulting, Lessons, Reflection | No Comments »

Fool me once…shame on you. Fool me twice…shame on me.

A couple weeks ago I got a call from Wayne. With the exception of a few random conversations, we really hadn’t spoken a ton since we stopped working together.

The fact that he made me chase him around for over a month and kept dodging/avoiding paying me were definitely contributing factors. It’s not like he was paying me a salary or anything either, these were expenses I paid for on my credit card that he said he would reimburse me for. I knew at the time he was in a tough position from a cashflow standpoint, so I figured his actions were a product of circumstance, not personality.

We talked for about 15-20 minutes just catching up on the phone and he seemed like he was back on his feet again. His education company had picked up and he had just returned from Seattle locking down a new school contract. The reason he was calling me was because he was working on putting together a parenting workbook for inner city families in L.A.

Apparently, schools in Los Angelos are required by law to spend 5% of their discretionary budget on parents every year. They normally spend this money on parent teacher nights and food, but 5% usually comes out to about $50,000 per year! Through his conversations with various principles from those schools, they told him that they literally struggle to spend that money every year. If he could come up with a decent parenting workbook, they would give him the contract.

So Wayne went around and pitched a bunch of principles on his parenting workbook idea and in his words, sold the thing before he even made it. He lead his pitch with his absolute best activity for parents and children, tied it in to a personal story, and sold them on the entire workbook based on what would become just 1 page of the entire thing. He’s a hell of a salesman, I’ll give him that.

His pitch/story had to do with a quick activity that helped parents learn a ton about their child. First, you ask the kid to write their name in the middle of a piece of paper. Then, they need to place the names of their friends around their name. The closer the friends name is to their name, the better friends they are. Farther away means they aren’t as close friends. They also have to group friends in clusters based on who they hang out with.

Right away, the parent can get an idea of who the major influencers are on their child and who hangs out with whom. After this is complete, the child has to write 2 things next to each persons name about why they like that person and 1 thing about what they don’t necessarily like about the person. Now, the parent gets to see what their kids are attracted to and what turns them off. This is very powerful information that most parents never know and it only takes about 5-10 minutes to complete.

So Wayne has all these contracts waiting on him now to produce a workbook with about 60 pages worth of these types of activities. The reason he was contacting me was “Because he needed someone he could trust to do a full day of white boarding with him.”  In reality he only had about 10 of these activities pre thought out and he needed me to help him build the rest and take notes as we brainstormed. He offered to pay me $25 bucks an hour if I would help him out.

I had a ton of stuff on my plate with Cave Tools and Hyacinth Marketing and also had 3 interns coming on board within the week that I needed to prepare for. I figured that this would be a good way to rekindle a relationship with an old business partner and also get my creative juices flowing. He seemed to be back on his feet, so I ignored the thought of him screwing around with me like last time.

I assumed that helping him out as a friend meant that this was a personal job, not a business job. Like when you help a friend move out of their apartment and they hand you 40 bucks at the end as a thank you. In retrospect, I definitely should have discussed payment terms with Wayne first, especially knowing the type of person he was.

Wayne’s neighbor had free office space for us to use in New Hope, so we took over for the full day (9 hours). I have to say, outlining and creating a book was a pretty cool experience. We discussed layout, organization, illustrations, and reverse engineered a bunch of competitor books.

We decided to break the book up into the cover, credits and copyright page, introduction page, parent child contract, and then 4 activities per section (Self Awareness, Family, Friends, Education, Health, Money). The back had a corresponding student section for activities that both the parent and child would do and then compare answers.

All of the competitor books pretty much covered these areas, but they just had words on paper. There was very little interaction and the messages were very direct. The goal for this book would be to have less words and more activities. As the parents and children completed the activities, the answers/message would come through indirectly and would be learned because they actually engaged with the book instead of skimmed through it.

It was a good concept, but to be honest I would never do any of the things we put into the book. I mean these were some pretty basic parenting skills that I guess as a white boy from the suburbs I just take for granted that everyone already knows and understands. However, our target audience comes from a completely different background and household. We approached the book with the mindset that if someone did the entire book, as long as they came out with just one good insight, it would be a success. With that perspective in mind, the creative flow of ideas came much easier.

We worked on the book all day with a short lunch break in between. Over lunch, Wayne started talking as usual. Telling me about how he got a 10K commission for introducing his friend to the owner of the restaurant across the street because his friend bought it. Then he starts going on about how his wife has a new job and that he’s also been selling coffee on the side to distributors for extra cash. Now that he was a big coffee connoisseur he had all of these grand plans for launching his own private label coffee brand. He was going to sponsor farmers in South America and had a brilliant plan to use kids to sell the coffee in train stations. Typical Wayne…talk all day about the grand vision and then never take a single ounce of action.

In the afternoon we go back to work and the productivity seriously drops. Wayne is on the phone with his wife texting and he didn’t prepare with ideas for some of the later activities in the book. We were coming up with activities on the fly and wasting tons of time thinking of unique questions to ask. We ended up powering through and finishing up as much as we could before he needed to leave to go coach his daughters softball team at 6:30.

As we’re packing up to leave, he hands me one of the workbooks and tells me to take it home with me to keep working. Of course, I hadn’t agreed to continue working from home. I had a very busy schedule and told him that I could only fit in the 9 hours we did today because I had other responsibilities.

We walk out the door and Wayne starts to get in his car to leave without paying me. I make a comment asking to get paid and he tells me he’ll send me a check in the mail in a few weeks. I’ve already been through this once before with him so I tell him I was expecting to get paid today. His response is that he doesn’t have enough money to pay me. At this point, I’m fuming. He runs his mouth all day about all this money he’s making with schools and coffee and now he can’t afford $225. Bull shit! At this point, I say no I want to be paid in cash. I’m not dealing with him giving me a check and then the check bouncing and me having to chase after him again. I also said I was expecting to get paid personally, not as a business consulting fee. For $25 bucks an hour, there was no way I was paying taxes on top of that. All of our work together is on my computer, so I have all of the leverage.

He’s in a hurry on his way to his daughter’s practice, so he tells me he’ll think of something. He realizes that I have the leverage, so he gives me a call later that night telling me he’ll meet me tomorrow and give me a check. About a half hour before our meeting, he calls me saying he needs me to bring an invoice and a printed copy of the work with me. Now that he’s broken the trust, there’s no way I’m handing over my leverage until I get paid and the check clears.

When we meet, he’s really pissed off that I don’t have the hard copies with me. We get into a small argument and I flat out tell him that I can’t trust him and that I don’t like the way he does business. If you truly can’t afford to pay someone, then you don’t leave that information until the end after they put an entire days worth of work aside for you. He assures me that the check won’t bounce and then I leave to go to another meeting. I then get a whole bunch of texts about how if I have a problem cashing the check to give him a call. This of course further reaffirms that I thought he was going to try and screw me again.

I deposited the check in my citizens bank account instead of finding a bank of America to cash it on the spot. In hindsight, that would have been the smart thing to do, but the thought didn’t even cross my mind. Wayne of course was pissed that I was now making him wait a full day until the check cleared and he went into a total breakdown.

I received about 15 texts from him that night freaking out. He was calling me a liar and doing all sorts of character assassinations. He was even completely making things up as if he was trying to rewrite history through text messages in case this came into a court battle or something. At one point he even threatened to show up at my house because I was depriving him of supporting his family. I only responded a few times to these outrageous allegations, but basically I said I will send it to you once I get paid. The number of texts and phone calls I got form him were absolutely ridiculous.

I sent him everything that Saturday when the check cleared and I haven’t heard from him since. Looking back on this experience, I definitely should have been very clear about how I expected to be paid before we started working together. This way he couldn’t have tried to pull his shit at the last second. I also should have just used my brain and really considered if it was worth it to work with him again. I knew the type of person he was and should have expected something like this to happen. He definitely hasn’t changed. Ironic that the only 2 people to ever fuck me over in business are Wayne and Matt Zinman. Very similar personalities and I met Matt through Wayne. To this day, Matt still hasn’t paid me the $1,500 he owes me and I’ve found out that he has scammed a bunch of other people as well. That’s another story for another day though.

Looking at the bright side, I’m happy that I did work with Wayne because it was a creative new experience and I did learn a lot throughout the day. We got a lot of really good work done together. I’m also happy that I understood the situation enough to not give up my leverage until everything was square between us.

Mike O’Donnell’s Goal Setting Framework

Posted on March 1st, 2014 in Business Development, Frameworks, Goal Setting, Lessons, My Story, Philosophy, Reflection, Self Improvement | No Comments »

Back in October, someone posted this article on Facebook http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304626104579121813075903866 and a bunch of us got into a very deep discussion about it. The article was written by the creator of the cartoon Dilbert and discusses how the Secret of Success is Failure.

The controversial part of the article and the reason it generated so much buzz is because Scott Adams says that goals are for losers! If you read the article it will make much more sense, but the point he is getting at is that there is always a feeling of emptiness when you achieve your goals. You have that slight high and then you are faced with the question “Now What?” I achieved my goal, I should be happy because this is everything I have been working for for so long. Often times people get depressed or lose their focus because they don’t have a proper road map for after that goal. Scott says you should be focusing on systems instead of goals. When you have a system in place, failure is just an obstacle on your way to success. Achieving goals are just milestones on your journey. I completely agree with everything he says in the article. In my opinion, the set “Short, Medium, and Long Term” goals mantra that you always here is bull shit. It doesn’t work and it sets you up for failure.

Today, I watched a 1 hour presentation by Todd Herman (Google him, he’s a fucking beast) in which he explained a framework for managing your goals. This framework was like the Scott Adams article on steroids and has inspired me so much that I stopped everything I was doing to do my own self evaluation based on his framework.

If anybody is reading this blog post, I recommend you open this diagram in another window so you can follow along as I build my goal setting framework. I have no doubt that once you understand this framework that you too will want to reflect on your own life as I am doing now.

 

goal setting framework

 

The top of the pyramid is “The Outcome” or what I ultimately want to do with my life. Ever since I read The 4 Hour Work Week, my outcome was to live that cush lifestyle and become a tycoon of business without having to work long hard hours.

As a full time entrepreneur for over 2 years now, I have gone through more bumps in the road than I care to recall. I’ve done the standard goal setting approach and have subsequently gone into mini depressions. I’ve lost my course more than a few times and at this point last year I was even calling it quits and looking for a “job” on career builder like a little bitch.

In Todd’s presentation, he talks about how “You set goals to feel alive. You’re searching for meaningful experiences of connecting a feeling to yourself deeply. “ But to bring things full circle you need to go Through your outcome.

The brain interprets things very literally. If your goal was to make it to the NBA, but you got a career ending injury 2 weeks after signing to a team, what kind of fulfillment is that? Yea you achieved your goal, but now what?

When Todd works with professional athletes, he gets them to tell him their outcome and then he repetitively drills them with the question Why? Why is that your outcome? It normally takes about 17-23 times of answering the Why to get a substantial answer from the person and to get them to see Through their goals.

If you asked me a few years ago what my outcome was, I would have said to live the 4 hour work week lifestyle. Some of my other answers would have been to make money, to have freedom, to achieve lifestyle design, to be able to move out and support myself on my own as a business owner.

The final “outcome” I just listed has been my biggest goal over the past year. I’m living at home right now and it sucks. I’m missing out on lots of things that I will never get back in my early 20s. Yea, I go out all of the time and do fun stuff with my friends, but I don’t have the autonomy I had when I lived on my own in Montreal. I can’t just bring a random girl home from the bar. It’s difficult to get into a relationship with a girl when everyone I meet lives 45 minutes away and I would basically just have to crash at their apt every weekend like a leech. These may seem like superficial kinds of desires, but they’re true and they are a major part of your early 20s. So that has been my outcome since I moved home from Montreal. Living on my own and supporting myself with my business has been the epitome of my “Success.” If I could just achieve that outcome.

The truth of the matter is that everything I just listed above is just a goal that if I achieved, I would feel empty inside and maybe go through a little depression because of the “Now What?”

Todd says that to get Through your goals, you need to add the words “so that.” The So That helps you build “Your Story” around your outcome goals. I want to move out of the house so that I can regain my autonomy. But there is so much more to that once you start asking Why?

I want to achieve these things so I can give back what? So I can do what? Why am I breaking my ass trying to build 2 companies at the same time and taking on ridiculous amounts of work? Is it to make a million dollars so I can be a young playboy and bang super models? Yea, that would be great for a while, but are money and lifestyle my true end goal or outcome? Or is there a different outcome that I want to achieve. Something that will give me a fulfilled life and make me feel happy.

Taking on my first intern has been an amazing experience for me. I have the opportunity to mold a young budding entrepreneur and pass on all of the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired over the years. Teaching my intern gives me an amazing sense of fulfillment and when I listen to myself giving him advice it puts everything into perspective on how far I have really come. Being a mentor and the person he looks up to for guidance and advice makes me feel truly happy. It’s like I’m experiencing what it’s like to be a father for the first time. Teaching your children the right mindset and giving them advice so you can watch them grow up and succeed in life in whatever they do because you helped them build a solid foundation.

Public speaking has also been a passion of mine for about 2 years now. I love the rush I get when speaking from stage and have often envisioned myself giving seminars to 1000s of people from stage and teaching them. That’s always been a goal of mine. The underlying motivation here really comes back to teaching and giving back.

I’ve always had a very capitalistic mindset. The idea of volunteering and giving back has never been something I could truly relate to. One day when I have tons of money I’ll give back, but until then I just need to focus on making tons of money. I remember when I was working with Wayne and he asked me why I was trying to launch the National Alliance for Student Debt Awareness with him? My response was that I wanted to make money and that I wanted to expose myself to him so I could learn from somebody that had much more experience than I did. I never really gave a shit about “The Cause” like Wayne did. My motivations were selfish (in a good way) and I was very clear about that.

Now that I’m reflecting and going through this exercise of using the goal setting framework, I see that I CAN give back and I CAN make lots of money and achieve all of those other goals at the same time.

So what is my Through Outcome that I’m busting my ass to achieve?

I want to build Hyacinth Marketing and Cave Tools into power brands and I want to build them in a highly scalable way that allows me to achieve lifestyle design. There’s no doubt about that. But I want to do these things SO THAT I can pass my knowledge on to my interns, students, family, and friends. So that I can speak from stage and help change people’s lives. So that I can do my Couch Surfing Across America trip. So that I can travel the world and have incredible life experiences. So that I can meet new people and share stories with them. So that I can be the exception and show other young people that if they really want something that they can achieve it. So that I can choose something new to learn each year such as learning a new language or becoming a true competition BBQ Pitmaster AND have the time to devote to these things. So that I can acquire all of the knowledge and skills and experiences that many people could only dream of.

That is my true Through Outcome when I look at my life as a full circle. Not just some empty goals that I want to achieve. I set out to start my own marketing agency, now what? I set out to build a physical products business, now what? Just like the NBA player I achieved those goals, but there has to be more. This is my more and this is my destiny in life.

The mid level of the pyramid is your performance goals. These are the goals you need to achieve to reach your desired outcome. Typically, for 1 outcome goal you will have multiple performance goals that you need to achieve to get there.

Here are some of my current performance goals:

  1. I will develop the processes for a call center so I can expand the website development portion of Hyacinth Marketing by 1 week from today.
  2. I will implement my project management software marketing strategy to build copious amounts of back links and increase my exposure and referrals for Hyacinth Marketing by 1 week from today
  3. I will start developing my 4th Cave Tools product line and launch by the end of May
  4. I will start to penetrate the Competition BBQ community and leverage my exposure to grow Cave Tools by 1 month from today

Before moving on to the final stage in the pyramid, we need to discuss the difference between Ow! Brainers and WOW! Brainers. Performance goals are great, but the difference between achieving your through outcome and failing lies in the way you have trained your brain.

Both Ow! Brainers and Wow! Brainers follow the same path in life. You have your starting point, your goals, and your Ideal Outcome.

People that are Ow! Brainers are stuck because they are constantly trying to go from Goal to Outcome. Wow! Brainers on the other hand, focus on getting from their starting point to their goals.

Ow! Brainers are fantastic at saying I started here and I’ve done all of this work and I still haven’t achieved my desired outcome. They quickly come up with all sorts of excuses as to why “This isn’t for me” or why it will never work out. They jump around from opportunity to opportunity and they eventually quit because they never get to achieve the desired outcome. They look at the top of the pyramid and say holy shit that’s a far ways away. They build their internal story around this mindset and then they quit. I’ve been on the Ow! Brainer side of things plenty of times so far in my life and I can completely relate to this mindset. I’ve accomplished a shit ton of things in my short career, but I still haven’t reached the financial success I have always been striving for.

Wow! Brainers are different. They go from the starting point to their goals and then they look back and say holy shit, look at everything I have just accomplished. If I keep making progress every day and knocking off my performance goals, I’ll eventually achieve my desired outcome.

Yea, I’ve achieved a shit ton of things in my short career and the monetary gain hasn’t been there yet. But the Wow! Brainer side of me says look at all of the knowledge and skills and experiences I have acquired. If I keep at it, I will achieve my Through Outcome because I’m building a foundation that can never be taken away from me.

This brings us to the bottom level of the pyramid which is your Process. Your Processes answer the questions of What, How, and When. The beauty of this stage is that YOU are 100% in complete control over your processes and how you spend your time. Performance goals are only about 90% in your control and there are other factors that affect whether you hit your performance goals or not. Processes are 100% on you. You need to take Personal Responsibility if you want to start hitting your performance goals.

A Process Goal for me would be that every day I am going to spend 10 minutes researching online and reaching out to BBQ teams and Pitmasters to give them free products or ask to be a sponsor. The great thing about the Process stage is the old 1% theory. If you work to get better at something by just 1% every day, then it will take only 70 days until you have doubled your effectiveness in that area. If you follow the 1% rule for multiple areas of your life every day, it will have a geometric compounding effect.

The Process stage sums up the entire framework with the word “INEVITABLE” By building and following your Processes, you make it INEVITABLE that you will knock off your Performance goals and reach your desired outcome.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been a huge financial success yet because I have a framework or system in place that I follow every day. It may take me a few more months or a few more years before I will be able to start living my Through Outcome the way I envision it. The point is that it truly is INEVITABLE that I will make it there.

As long as I am making progress each day, I will hit the bend in the exponential curve and everything will fall into place.

IT IS INEVITABLE

Mike O’Donnell Learns Some More Business Lessons…The Hard Way

Posted on November 11th, 2013 in Lessons, Management, My Story, Reflection | No Comments »

This is one of those reflection posts that is long overdue. The fact that I haven’t done a complete reflection yet makes me sense that this will be a painful read when I’m finished because the answers to many months of struggling will be so clear. This post will recap the Unlimit3d project from the beginning to where we are today…still in Milestone 1.

I first started devoting time towards the unlimit3d project back in April 2013. I was coming off an intellectually stimulating, yet financially fruitless partnership with Wayne Marquez and was in the beginning planning stages for Cave Tools. The Unlimit3d website represented a significant revenue opportunity and a chance to bring large scale recognition to Hyacinth Marketing.

I remember spending many nights on Google hangouts with the Unlimit3d team helping them build out the scope of work for the website and outline all of their ideas on paper. Throughout these meetings I would offer consulting advice for their business model and share insights about how I have built and scaled my business.  Through these meetings with the Unlimit3d team it became very apparent that Mark was the type of person that focuses on minute details and has a hard time seeing the big picture. After what I went through with Wayne, I knew this was the worst type of person to work with as they crush momentum at every stage of the game. However, I decided I could put up with it because of the potential income opportunity. All of these meetings were done free of charge so I could position myself to win the bid for the website. This essentially amounted to about 3 months worth of free consulting before we finally signed the contract and began work on July 15. Furthermore, I allowed the possibility of them going with another company to make me under price the website to ensure I won it.

What I would do differently now: I allowed the dollar value of the website to cloud my judgement. I knew the difficulties of working with Mark’s personality type and I put up with it for 3 months for free in the “Hopes” of winning the bid. Could you imagine how pissed off I would have been if I didn’t win the bid? If I am to devote this much time to hand holding and building an SOW again, then I need to charge an hourly rate for this service and all of the consulting advice I was giving. I also consciously knew that I was going to be putting up with a ton of frustration working with Mark because of his personality type, yet I still cut my margins in order to win the bid. Cutting margins in favor of “just working a little harder” is a losing mentality that will eat you and your business alive.

A much more subtle lesson learned during this reflection is to watch how much I talk about my business and the strategies I use to run it. Throughout our meetings before and during this project, I have discussed in great detail how I have built my business, hired foreign workers, and created systems and operating procedures to scale. Over the past few years I have been involved in so many different entrepreneurial ventures and aspect of business that my peers can only dream of doing. When asked targeted questions, my narcissistic side takes over and I tend to flex my big dick by telling all of my strategies. While reading the 48 Immutable Laws of Power by Robert Greene, I realized that there is a certain benefit to leaving some questions unanswered. Having a certain level of mysteriousness to your accomplishments can actually be of great benefit. Not that Unlimit3d would have the ability to “steal” and implement all of my ideas/strategies, but when explained in detail, they lose the wow factor. A great example would be how I coordinate all of my shipping and fulfillment for Cave Tools products across the country. When explained in detail it all seems very logical and realistic, but if all you knew was that I’m a 24 year old guy that manages national distribution of his products in his free time, well…you get the point.

We started working on Milestone 1 on 7/15/13 with an expected completion date of 8/23/13. Today is 11/05/13 and we are still working on Milestone 1. So what happened?  How could things have gone so wrong? While I am about to discuss quite a few flaws and problems that have occurred, I need to take responsibility for everything myself. Over the past 4 months I have blamed all of my frustrations on my client and have allowed them to put me through a living hell. However, my role in this process is supposed to be the project manager. It doesn’t matter what the client does, it is the project manager’s responsibility to keep everything on track and to enforce deadlines. If I was managing myself, I would have fired myself 30 times over by now. When I look at the root cause for all of my actions and allowing things to get this way, it all comes down to me chasing the money and chasing the recognition.

I prepared for the start of this project by customizing a project management platform that would facilitate perfect communication between my team in India and Unlimit3d. I allowed my project manager in India to handle the majority of communication with Unlimit3d and I spent my time tending to other clients and building Cave Tools. I put blind faith in the fact that my project manager could handle a personality type like Mark’s and keep things moving with me checking in occasionally. Regardless of the fact that I can barely handle working with his personality type, I ignored the fact that Indians are notorious for not speaking up when there are problems. Everything is always “ok” until you specifically confront them. Three weeks into the design phase we still had very little progress and that’s when the problem was truly addressed, not in weeks 1 and 2 when it was obvious that we were not on track.

In order to remedy the situation, I had to step into a much more operational role in dealing with the client. This was not scoped for and has required more hours of my time than I ever could have imagined. Upon taking over control, I quickly realized a few major problems. The first was that there was no clear leadership role on Unlimit3d’s side. They were a team of 5-6 people all trying to exert their wills. This caused very slow decision making on their end and it also resulted in us doing tons of rework by modifying designs every way imaginable. I finally forced unlimit3d to funnel all decision making through 1 person and to ensure quick turnaround times so we could catch up to schedule. The person they chose was Mark. Mark has an amazing ability for giving ambiguous requests and having a short memory when those requests are implemented.

The overall look and feel for the website was quickly taken out of our hands and everything had to be done exactly to the Unlimit3d specifications. As a designer it is important to be able to add your own creativity into the design. Unlimit3d was constantly asking our opinions on every single tiny detail of the website design and then after we spent time crafting our expert opinions, they would ignore it and go with what they wanted. While this sounds fine, it put us into a reactionary mode instead of a proactive mode. We became robots and did exactly what Unlimit3d asked because the design was no longer our creation. This caused major problems down the line because Unlimit3d did not foresee issues with color schemes clashing and how different layout styles would not work well together. These are all things we would have been able to foresee if the design was even somewhat related to our idea, but Unlimit3d was calling all of the shots. Before we knew it, they were having us generate 8-10 design versions of every page and spending tons of time redoing different designs.

After 2 months of work, Unlimi3d approached us and wanted to completely redo the design. I allowed this to be charged as a change order like we put in the contract, but in reality, I should have confronted the situation then. My team in India charged me 50% more than our original change order rate because they were frustrated and this was a much larger job than just a change order. I took the hit to my margins without passing a 50% increase on to Unlimit3d because I didn’t want to disturb the waters. Once again I was making concessions and chasing the future potential of the deal.

After the change order was complete, I placed greater pressure on them to be more specific and detailed in their feedback so we could wrap up the design phase. Mark responded by asking for weekly face to face meetings on Mondays. This seemed like a good solution because it would help move things along quicker. The reality of these meetings turned out to have no impact at all on feedback and design turnaround times. They ate up at minimum another hour of my time each week and in many cases prolonged feedback times because Mark would wait until after meeting with me to give feedback. In addition to reviewing his feedback, we would also spend time on general conversation and of course Mark asking about how my business was going. I would respond by flexing my big dick about all the cool things I was doing as mentioned above and before you knew it the meeting was 2 hours long and accomplished nothing. If anything, these meetings were me coaching Mark on how to run/build a business and how to be decisive and provide clear feedback.

Our meetings never resulted in actual feedback because Mark would then need to go home and discuss with Azeem. The deal was that he would send me the final feedback before 9pm at night so I could get it over to India and they could work while we slept. Not only did they rarely make the 9pm deadline, but the quality of feedback was often so poor that I would still need to go over everything and rewrite it in a way that my designers could understand what they wanted. This resulted in me working full days managing both Hyacinth Marketing and Cave Tools and then coming home for a few hours break and then working late hours so I could filter feedback and send to India. Working an outrageous schedule like this quickly wears you down.

I can’t imagine how much money I have lost because I have allowed the Ulimit3d contract to consume me. In essence, they got 3 months of free planning work out of me and they paid for 30 days of work for milestone 1 and have now gotten 4 months of work out of that payment. I can’t even begin to put a dollar amount to the 6 months of free work they have gotten from me, the impact of lost sales opportunities I haven’t been able to pursue, the drop in performance for my current clients, the lack of time to focus on promotional activities or Cave Tools, and the inability to work on forward thinking projects to take my company to the next level and generate more income. It’s truly disturbing when I think about everything I have put into this project and how little I have received in return. Chasing the money and recognition is the underlying factor that has been clouding my judgement.

After living through all of this and reading everything I have just written, I just can’t believe I allowed things to get so far out of control on my watch and my wallet. I think it has been a combination of a sense of duty because we signed a contract, and the fact that I had a personal relationship with Mark before entering into our business relationship. I have never been one to back down or to give up on something and dropping this project would have been accepting defeat. My personal friendship with Mark has also caused me to give him so many concessions and non charges even when they were clearly justifiable based on the terms of our contract. On the other hand he has clearly exploited our friendship and has used it to take advantage of me. Parts of me wish he hasn’t realized what he is doing, but he has slipped a few times in conversation recently which suggests otherwise. He is fully aware that he is taking advantage of me and knows that I have been bound by a contract and handcuffed by the potential social fallout if things do not end smoothly between us.

This brings me to the current situation today. Since Unlimit3d insisted on taking the lead for all of the designs, the project has gone vastly out of scope. They have cherry picked ideas and features from all of the major websites on the internet and thrown them into the website. Every time they have added a new feature, I have been put in the bad guy situation where I need to advise them that this is something that we never planned for and is out of scope. Things like adding in Google + Circles for social interactions, advanced preloading scripts, various algorithms from sites like Imgur. From their perspective everything on the web today is drag and drop, so they think it should be as easy as copy and paste. In reality, there are hundreds of hours of programming that go into creating these things. They expect a 5 hour change order, but when I tell them it would most  likely be another 30-40 hours they argue and complain as if I am taking advantage of them. Every time something comes up the persist and make us spend hours working on the design of the new feature, even though they will most likely want to cut the feature out when they see the bill. More work completed on our dime that will result in nothing tangible. Based on the 3 months of working together to build the scope, we outlined a very nice feature rich website for them. Now when I try to explain what they are doing, it’s almost like we scoped out a Corolla and they want a full featured Mercedes…for the same price. It’s classic bait and switch, but I’ve allowed it to go on without taking a firm stance.

We scoped out Milestone 1 to include the graphic design of the main pages and some preliminary coding to get the website up and functioning. Unlimit3d has taught me to never mix design and coding together in the same milestone. After 4 months of work on this milestone, there is no money left for the coding portion. Since the coding portion of this milestone has changed so much by going outside of scope, I have discussed with Unlimit3d that we need to re scope and re propose the website.

Right now we are trying to finish up the final designs for the website so we can get to the point where we can re propose. The problem however is that my team is so frustrated and so sick of working for basically free that their work output is dwindling. It’s like pulling teeth trying to get the modifications done correctly so we can finalize designs. This is causing me to spend even more hours operationally to make sure we get the designs right.

Our plan for when we re propose is to make sure we can make up some lost money in the later phases of the website. As I see it now, even without me jacking up prices to try and make anything back, the price is going to be so astronomical that they will either cancel the deal or try to go a la carte and pull features out of the website until they get the price down to something reasonable. Either way, I am screwed. If they go somewhere else, I need to accept a major loss on the books and 7 months worth of work down the drain. I also feel the social ramifications of explaining to mutual friends my side of the story versus his. If they go a la carte, then the 100s of hours we put in to designing these features are all for not. Do I now charge them to remove these from the designs? If It is as simple as deleting a layer from a design file, do the 1 hour change order really do justice to the work we put in to that? Do I then pull a number out of my ass and say to remove anything it will cost you X amount because of the time we spent on it? All signs point to this ending badly in some way or another.

Up until a few weeks ago losing this website would have represented a major failure for me and would be the last thing I wanted to happen. Now, I feel just like my designers and programmers feel. I just want to get rid of these guys once and for all and never have to deal with them again. Even if my new proposal is accepted and results in me being heavily compensated, is it worth it to go through 7 more months of this? They are a poison I have allowed them to be a poison to my business, my bank account, and my mental and physical health. In this situation, I feel as though the only way to stop the poison is to cut the limb off.

If I ever find myself in a situation like this again, there are probably 100 things that I would do differently. For starters, I would definitely separate graphic design and coding. I would also hire an American designer and charge them out at an hourly rate. That way they could work in real time with the client and get everything done according to specifications. I would structure the contract to be heavily in my favor as the company. When we built the contract with Unlimit3d, it was very Democratic and I made a bunch of concessions (which came back to butt fuck me) in order to get the deal through. I would obviously price the website accordingly and make the change order rate very painful so it could serve as a stronger deterrent. I would also set up the milestones to be much shorter in length. That way we could never get to far off track and we could always keep cash flow coming in. I would also manage the project with a much firmer hand to ensure things didn’t get out of control. When you have the mentality of chasing the big win, you tend to make poor judgements. When you have the mentality of this is the way our company does things, you make much more objective decisions.

The key to success lies in your failures, not your successes. In the grand scheme of things, this will probably be a small failure for me. However, in my world as it is today, I have just failed on a large scale. This reflection post has helped me to finally come to terms with this failure and accept whatever consequences arise over the next few weeks. I know I’ve learned more from this project than I even realize right now and I’m actually glad that I had the opportunity to weather this storm. Learning from your mistakes is the essence of entrepreneurship and builds the foundation for your future success.

Mike O’Donnell Spends a Week in Montreal – Sex Appeal – Championship Ring

Posted on June 24th, 2013 in Canada, My Story, Reflection, Toastmasters | No Comments »

It’s been over 8 months since I’ve been living back in the states. Canada is warm and the ladies are out, so I decided to go spend a week in Montreal on June 9th. Father’s day was the following Saturday, so I figured I would go up anyways from Sunday to Friday and hang out, work, and see a bunch of friends.

This is me driving up to Montreal in style:

 

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I stayed at Ben’s apartment for the entire week and he even had an open desk for me to work at in his office:

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It’s crazy how we both have gone in completely separate directions. He transformed his marketing agency into a high quality video marketing company. He recently did a speech at Linked Quebec, which is the largest business group in all of Quebec. His speech on video marketing was 45 minutes long and he absolutely killed it. Ever since then his business has been booming with tons of video orders. He also has 3 people on staff working with him in his office. When we used to talk about our future plans, he always said how he wanted to get into video more because that was his passion and I always talked about getting into physical products one day. Very cool that we both followed our “Long Term” business goals in less than a year from separating.

I showed Ben my entire business model for Physical products and he’s actually super interested in getting into the space. I’m going to wait about 3 months so I can show him solid financials and then we discussed that I might take him under my wing and show him the ropes so he can get started himself. Personally, I love physical products because you don’t have to sell (there’s already demand) and you don’t have to deal with know it all business owners like I am now in my Marketing company. The best part of all is that I’m able to pick up and work from anywhere with an internet connection like I did for this week in Montreal (more on this later ;).

It was great to be able to see all of my old friends as well. My roommate Matt had been living in England for the past year and just moved back on that Saturday so I got to hang out with him. I also hung out with Hokuto, Mia, Adam, Synden, and everyone else. Here’s a picture of me and my sneaky little 32 year old Japanese friend Hokuto out to dinner:

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Synden works as a chef assistant in 5 star restaurants in Montreal and it just so happened to be the grand opening of his new restaurant while I was there. Me and Adam were added to the guest list and got to hang out with tons of “Important” people and hot chicks for 2 hours while sipping on free wine and eating oysters. It was a really fun time and I also photo-bombed a few pictures from the Press.

Aside from my Montreal friends, I also hung out with Bob’s friend Mike Ruane and his brother for 2 nights. I’ve only met Mike twice before, but he’s a really cool dude so I called him up and we went out. Him and his brother are professional poker players and since online gambling is illegal in the U.S. they have been traveling the world for the past year and a half ish.

I also went out to lunch with the McGill Lacrosse coach, Tim Murdoch. He knew the owner of the restaurant so we got free food and he picked up all of my beers. It’s always a good time catching up with Tim and I need to do a better job personally of staying in touch with him. He went to Princeton and Harvard and is super connected. He lives a real relaxed life doing high level consulting for international companies. A couple months ago he actually introduced me to the CEO of a large franchise here in the U.S. They were locked in to a year contract with their marketing agency in New York, but he said he wants to do business together when he gets out of it. Sweet!

Tim and I also had a very interesting conversation about one of his buddies (My numbers for this story might be a little off, but they are in the ball park). Tim’s old neighbor sold his company for 40 Million a couple years ago and moved down to Miami. The guy had always asked for Tim’s consulting advice and Tim would help him out without charging him. Last year when the guy and his pregnant wife were visiting Montreal, they realized that her passport expired and they weren’t going to be allowed back into the United States. I’m not completely sure on the details there, but I don’t think she was an American citizen. They were terrified because they didn’t want the baby to be Canadian. They called Tim and within 24 hours he had his friends at the U.S. consulate clear everything and get them back to the U.S. Needless to say, this guy loves Tim.

So the guy has been getting bored just hanging out in Miami and he decides to start a new business. He hired a linguistics PHD from Oxford and together they created an algorithm that analyzes all public twitter feeds for investor sentiment on stocks. The idea being that most trading is done on inside knowledge and these guys all tweet little hints out without knowing it. Well, the guy invested 1 Million of his own money using just his Twitter analysis system and his smallest monthly ROI has been 6%. He averages around 30% on his money every month using just this Twitter algorithm. The guy is now in talks with Bloomberg and Bloomberg is going to be adding his Twitter algorithm into their main suite of products. Basically, this is going to revolutionize the way people invest. So cool that I’m only 2 people removed from this guy. Tim is always trying to hook me up with new business and the fact that they are going to be working together soon is going to expand his network even more. He’s a great person to know and I run a ton of ideas off of him.

That Tuesday while I was up there I also gave a speech at the McGill toastmasters. I called them up the week before and they scheduled me in and  made a big deal that  I was returning. That was awesome. I’m going to write a dedicated post to this speech, so more on this later…

On Friday before leaving Montreal, I went with Ben to the Atwater market to pick up some bacon and steak that he couldn’t stop talking about (with good reason). I picked up 2 different types of bacon from a small farmer. The first was called farmers bacon and the second was smoked bacon. Both were literally the most amazing bacons I’ve ever had in my life and up there for the best ever cuts of meat I’ve eaten. They were almost like pieces of Ham they were so thick. I actually grilled them up and made a video for Cave Tools about how to grill bacon. The steak was aged 30 days old and was the type of steak you buy in a restaurant for $120 – $150 apiece. I got 2 of them for $25 from this farmer and they were ridiculous as well. I shared all of this with my dad for father’s day:

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One of Tim’s comments while we were out to lunch was that I need more sex appeal in my Cave Tools marketing. After looking at my Youtube demographics, close to 80% of my views are guys. He’s so right. As a marketer I’m embarrassed I didn’t even think of this, but I guess sometimes you are just too close to realize things like that. During my 7 hour ride home I had a lot of time to think and scheme and I had 2 major breakthrough ideas.

The first is the sex appeal idea. My friend Claire has huge tits and a great body. Why not have her do a grill brush review in a bikini? We were supposed to do the video this past weekend, but she backed out. New boyfriend wasn’t so keen on the idea (it won’t last).

My idea was way too ridiculous:

Scene 1: She jumps off a diving board and I slow motion as she comes out of the water with focus on her tits. She says something along the lines of, “Hi guys, I’m Claire. I have 2 favorite things to do during the summer time. The first is go swimming and the second…well we need to go back to my apartment for that”

Scene 2: Slow pan to the left and you see her taking a bite of a hot dog. She goes Opps and wipes her face off. Then she goes into how she loves grilling and likes grill brushes with a long handle and gives the review.

I talked to her today and we’re going to tone the video down a bit and shoot something next weekend. My big plan is to use that video to launch a big online contest. Any girls all summer long that send in a grill brush review video in a bikini get a free grill brush. I’d promote the hell out of the thing and see how many video submissions I can get. Any video with tits on Youtube gets thousands of views so I could brand every video and drive massive traffic to my product page with them. Afterwards, I want to set up a profiles section on the website for Cave Tools Girls and let them each have their own profile with a bio. Kind of like Barstool Sports. In all seriousness, think this could be huge!

My second idea has to do with my “Couch Surfing Across America” trip which I haven’t wrote about on here yet. More on that in my next post…

When I got home on Friday night, my McGill lacrosse championship ring was waiting for me. This thing is such a beast. It’s heavy and just in your face huge. The diamond all around the McGill M ruby shine off the light as well so it’s always sparkling. I’m not sure what to do with it because it’s so expensive and I don’t want to wear it or anything like that. Somewhere down the line I’m definitely going to just wear this thing to a business meeting where I need to impress some big whig or something like that haha

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Mike O’Donnell Working Hard On New Amazon Business

Posted on April 27th, 2013 in Amazon, Business Development, Efficiency, Goal Setting, My Story, Outsourcing, Reflection | No Comments »

I made a pretty bold claim in my last post. 20 days ago I said I was going to be building a new business and would be generating good cash flow by May 10th. Well, I’ve worked for 18 of those 20 days on weekends and at nights and I’m ready to give an update.

Once I decided on grill brushes, I started interviewing manufacturers and negotiating. I decided to go with a manufacturer in China because they were obviously more competitive than the domestic manufacturers. I did however receive sample products from my Chinese manufacturer and then ship them out to a domestic manufacturer out in Wisconsin. The manager there was very aggressive and wanted to win my business. She took the specs of the product and figured out her price, but she still wasn’t even close. It would be nice to be a made in the USA product, but that’s not going to happen.

This happened during one of my first Skype conversations with the Chinese manufacturer. Not the most professional verbiage, but she’s definitely a keeper!

[4/08/13 12:31:46 PM] Tracy: so.. do you still have any question about the order?

[4/08/13 12:32:29 PM] Michael O’Donnell: Not at the moment. I need to have a discussion with my partner and then I will get back in touch with you

[4/08/13 12:33:38 PM] Tracy: Ok .. then I am going to take a bath .. BTW.. you are so handsome on that pic .. 😉

[4/08/13 12:36:34 PM] Tracy: have a nice day .. bye !

[4/08/13 12:48:05 PM] Michael O’Donnell: haha Thank you

 

Another Chinese lady from a different manufacturing facility said this to me:

hello Michael

[4/22/13 9:25:42 AM] Ruby.Y: Do you see the series “the Vampire Diaries”?I see your pic,and think you and Stephen who in the series something look like 😛

 

I looked him up. I don’t see the resemblance, but I’ll take the compliment. All these Chinese ladies trying to woo me into working with them. Americans should take some notes 😉

 

Sourcing from China has been interesting because I knew absolutely nothing about shipping 20 days ago. I think I’ve shipped maybe 3 boxes in my lifetime and they were domestic, so I had a lot to learn. Luckily for me Bob’s job is to ship things all over the world, so I had him as a resource.

The first step was to figure out how all of my brushes would be packed and how many boxes I was shipping. We’re placing 40 brushes into each box with dimensions of 56X26X58 cms and each box weighs approximately 8 kilos. We’re shipping 25 boxes (do the math and I’m importing 1,000 brushes), so that translates into 2.1 CBMs.

Now that I had my dimensions all figured out, it was time to start speaking with shipping companies. Bob was a major help with all of this. I also introduced him as my logistics manager to the Chinese manager Tracy and he started speaking Chinese to her. She got super wet over that and I think if he was over there she would have invited him into the bath with her. But that’s beside the point.

We figured out the HTS code (still not sure what this is) and Bob hooked me up with his friend Michael O’Donnell (truth) who is an import broker. I paid Mike to set up my import bond so I could place it on my shipping mark and send to China so they could place on the boxes. Then came the confusing part. Once in America, I need to split up the boxes and send to 3 different fulfillment centers (East coast, Midwest, West coast). I kept changing my mind on where things were going and switching up the addresses, which caused a mess. Then I decided to ship them all directly to my house so I could inspect them and then ship out. That caused more issues because now I needed port to door service and since I’m residential it costs more than shipping to a commercial location. Such a mess!

When I shipped my sample brush out to Wisconsin, I noticed that the Parcel Place in Newtown counted as a commercial shipping location. Boom, problems solved! For 3 bucks a package I could have them all shipped there, inspect them, and then ship out to each fulfillment center that day!

Now that that’s figured out, I’m in the process of pinning DHL and Fedex sales reps against each other so I can negotiate the cheapest shipping price. We’re shipping these via air cargo instead of by boat so I can get up and running quicker. Next shipment will be by boat, but for now I’m stuck paying the more expensive air freight prices. We still don’t know what the actual shipping price is going to be because the rates change daily and our shipment date is May 10th (gonna push my cash flow deadline back a few days). I’m expecting it to be around $4,000 to ship them all in. On the surface, that’s a HOLY SHIT high number, but for 1,000 brushes that just adds $4 to my unit price for each. Considering I’m saving a ton of money going to China, that’s actually not that bad. This first shipment is all about getting the business up and running. If I tried to be perfect and maximize my profit at this stage I’d never get off the ground. I’m moving at a blazing speed right now and there is no time for me to be perfect. I’ll refine later.

Next step was to create a brand name. I decided to go with Cave Tools because I want to play on the whole Man Cave theme and eventually expand into other manly products. Being the cheap ass that I am, I hired a designer from Sri Lanka. The dude could barely speak English, so I had to do a lot of back and forth with revisions before the Hand Tag design as complete. In hindsight, I should have paid a few extra bucks to get someone I could communicate with. It would have saved me money in my time.

 

 

Looks pretty damn good though if I do say so myself! A whopping $22 out the door for this gem!

Next thing I had to do was get high quality pictures for my product listing. Online shopping is highly visual, so you need to have kickass pictures if you want to get attention. I originally was going to have a Photoshop master create a digital image for me. Basically, I was going to have him create my product from scratch in Photoshop so I could show more details than a picture would ever capture. This was going to run me around $100 and I didn’t really feel like paying that. I also didn’t want to hire a professional photographer to take pictures for me with their super high end cameras. What to do? What to do? Solution: take pictures with my regular camera and have them professionally retouched to enhance the details.

So that’s what I did, I enlisted my mother to be my camera person and we went out to our grill and started taking pictures. Problem was that our grill grates look like shit after years of poor cleaning and there was rust everywhere. Hardly the image I want to portray for my grill “cleaning” brush. Fran had the bright idea of going to Home Depot and taking pictures using their brand new grills. Perfect! People were giving us really weird looks, but we had no shame. Upwards and onwards!

Once I had my pictures, I needed to get someone to retouch them. I have been burned by Bangladeshis in the past, so as a rule I never hire anyone from Bangladesh anymore. This time however, I made an exception because my man Ibrahim had a hell of a portfolio and his rates were dirt cheap! Before I share some before and after pics, I have to share this message that he sent me because it’s hilarious. His profile picture makes it even more hilarious haha

 

hello boss
how are you ?
i hope you are well by the grace of almighty .
boss i have completed your other 5 images work.
please see the attachment and if you have any problem please inform me and i will be trying to overcome it.
thank to you.
regards
ibrahim

Here are 2 before after pictures to show how great he did:

 

Before:

 

After:

 

 

Before:

 

 

After:

 

As you can see in these pictures, Ibrahim is the Fucking Man! I had him retouch 8 pictures for me at a negotiated rate of………. $2 an image. Being the gentlemen that I am, I gave him a bonus and paid him $20 for all 8 images. I’ll be working with him again in the future for sure!

 

Ok, shipping taken care of (almost), packaging and branding complete (Need website to finish branding), High quality pictures finished, now I need some sales copy.

Sales copy was written by yours truly. Started off by doing deep keyword research on both Amazon and Google and then dove right in. Amazon only allows 2,000 characters including the html tags for formatting (bolding, italicizing, etc.) o that’s not a lot to work with. This stuff may change over time, so instead of linking to it I will show a picture:

 

 

So now that everything is set up, we need to start marketing the hell out of this thing. Of course, I don’t want to have to do everything myself. That would be silly!

Right now, I am in the process of hiring a writer that will provide me with press releases, articles, and blog posts on a weekly basis. I’m thinking we’ll do 1 of each per week and then I will turn them into videos as well. All of this will be templated out in the next week. For example, all articles will be 500 words (100 intro, 300 body, 100 conclusion), standard article resource box and contact box. I will generate a list of headlines and my writer will fill in the places to make them unique per each article. All articles will be focused on 1 keyword specifically with the ability to target other keywords in the list I provide. You get the point. When I’m ready, everything will be pretty much drag and drop for the writer and I will order content in bulk so I can clump their research time and get cheaper rates. Every piece of content will also be “Spun” into about 50 slightly different versions of the same piece of content. This is so we can avoid duplicate content all over the internet. Make sense?

Each type of content is going to have specific instructions as to where to post, what automated tools to run it through, and what to do with each piece of content on certain days of the week. We are literally going to be building thousands of links per month to my product page and my Cave Tools website to blast this thing to the top of the search engines. Since I’m leveraging Amazon’s authority, I can build a ton of links without getting in trouble. As you can imagine with 1000s of links per month, this can get out of control very quickly.

Well, on Thursday night I stayed up until 1am building a ridiculous excel dashboard that is going to track everything. Every single link I build will be tracked on a micro level down to the exact keywords that are used in every post. Then I have a clean macro dashboard sheet that will tell me with one glance, how many blog posts have been done (and on which platform: wordpress, tumblr, blogger), how many press releases, how many articles, videos, micro blog posts (twitter, etc.), etc. On top of that, I also have a pie chart that shows the percentage of times each keyword has been used so I can keep track of my keyword usage and add substract keywords as necessary.

What I have built (still designing parts of it) is a massively complex personal SEO system that I can manage with very little personal time of my own. Why you ask? Because I have templated everything out and I’m in the process of dumbing all tasks down into instructions that a robot can follow without messing up. However, instead of having a robot do it, I will have my personal assistant in the Philippines, Caecilia, run this system for $2.50 an hour.

I just stopped writing this blog post for 45 minutes because I remembered an article I read over a year ago. With a little bit of research, I just figured out how to build my own web scraper by modifying the code from other people’s scrapers. On top of that, I figured out how to set up an automated timed scrape that streams directly into a Google Docs. What does this mean?

Well, part of SEO is to promote links you have built, not just build new links all the time. When you send a press release out to 100 sites, you end up getting much more links because other news sites pick your release up. This normally within a week or two news websites will stop picking it up because it’s old news. If you do a search for your exact press release title a week later, you may see there are 500 links to it because of the additional pick up. On top of my current system, I am now going to build a timed Google scraper that automatically finds all of my extra press release links a week later, drops them into a spreadsheet, which I will then create a process for Caecilia to add to my URL booster. Remembering that article right now probably just tripled the effectiveness of what I am going to do.

In the last 20 days I have gone from knowing nothing about physical products to building the processes and systems to go into Beast Status all while running my marketing company. The anticipation for my first shipment to come in is literally killing me right now. Let’s get this show on the road! http://www.amazon.com/Grill-Brush-Stainless-Porcelain-Char-broil/dp/B00CATVET0

Mike O’Donnell Life Screenshot April 2013

Posted on April 7th, 2013 in Business Development, Goal Setting, My Story, Outsourcing, Reflection | No Comments »

Every now and then I like to do a complete brain dump and write down the different things are currently “in the mix” in my life. This helps me reflect on the opportunities in front of me and it also serves as a screen shot into my decision making. Typically, some opportunities will take off while others will fade away or never get off the ground. The opportunities that you never hear about actually have a major impact over your thoughts and actions in the present, so they are worth documenting.

* On April 28, 2012 I moved to Montreal to start my partnership with Ben. This was a milestone decision that has affected almost every single area of my life. We’re getting very close to my 1 year anniversary of this big life decision and the past year has been an absolute roller coaster of ups and downs, successes and failures. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunities in front of me that I do now and if all goes as planned I expect the next year to be even better than the last.

 

3D Printing

The first opportunity I would like to talk about has to do with my Marketing Business, Hyacinth Marketing. About 3 months ago I got back in touch with an old friend who informed me that he was starting a 3D printing business on the side. They were in the process of securing funding to purchase large 3D printers that could print in multiple different types of materials such as silver, gold, ceramic, plastic, etc. Basically, their business model is going to be Manufacturing as a Service. Designers will be able to upload CAD files of designs to their website and they would print the design in the material of choice and dropship to the customer. They spoke with a bunch of different companies, but in the end they decided to have my company build the website for them! This website is pretty much going to be an “eBay like” ecommerce site, so it’s a total WHALE of a project.

I’ve spent over a month so far just planning the website out and going back and forth with them before we start. There are so many moving parts and features that they want included, that we need to be absolutely crystal clear on the Statement of Work before we start. Right now we are just discussing phase 1 of the project, but my estimate is that when the website is finally done it will have cost them around 35-45K and take about 6-9 months to develop. This is great for my business because it’s going to be a big contract that provides stable cash flow for an extended period of time. However, I am a little bit concerned about how this will affect our friendship if anything doesn’t go exactly as planned.

 

Equity Partnership

The 2nd big opportunity on my plate right now is an equity deal with my former sales mentor, Mike Kruszewski. In March of last year I sourced a web development team in India to help design his website and code the back end software for www.reportsonlineplus.com. Around that same time last year I became a member of the Equity Investors Network and had a conversation with Mike telling him about how Ben and I were approaching companies to do equity deals with in exchange for a full suite of marketing services. We never did much with the equity investing stuff because we were focusing on building up Convernet, but my conversation with him in March planted the seed. A couple weeks ago he approached me and told me that the business is ready to go, but he needs my expertise to help get it off the ground. We’re meeting sometime this week so he can present my deal to me and we can discuss the details of the partnership.

I’m pretty excited about this opportunity for many reasons. First, Mike was the person that hired me out of college and served as my mentor while I was working at Simplex Grinnell. I just think that it’s really cool that just 2 years later we are now discussing being business partners together. He’s a hell of a salesman and a great guy personally so I think we will do very well working together.

The second big thing is the opportunity itself. The life safety industry is incredibly behind in terms of technology. Most of the big companies still use paper files for everything to this day. It’s an absolute nightmare. Reports Online Plus is basically a fully automated SalesForce.com geared specifically to the life safety inspections industry and is incredibly easy for businesses to get started. I already have a small mom and pop inspection company that I have spoken to that wants to do a test run of the software.

Finally, the third big reason I can’t wait to do this deal is because of the automation factor. This is a software as a service company, so there really aren’t too many moving parts to keep the business running. Once we get the user base up (I have a great marketing plan for this) we will be making money every month on a subscription basis.

 

Physical Products

If all else fails, physical products are going to be my primary business of the future. I’ve hinted at it on here before, but I’m looking to transition into a more stable business where I can build assets and also have the ability remove myself from the business without it falling apart. This is that opportunity!

I started out researching how to import products towards the end of February/early March. I was looking specifically at importing a batch of cell phone batteries for around $3 a pop that sell for around $25 each. Basically, I just wanted to do something small and spend about $1000 so I could learn the ropes of importing and make a couple bucks along the way.

That vision quickly changed a few weeks ago when I heard about what Matt Clark and Jason Katzenback were doing with their Amazon businesses. They each used to be big in the internet marketing community until they started focusing on Amazon and are each making over $100,000 per month selling their own physical products. “Their Own” is the key term here. When you sell other people’s products on Amazon you need to compete for the “Buy Box” but when you sell your own brand of products you get full control over all of the marketing copy and are the only person with the Buy Box.

What they do is they pick out product opportunities and then contact manufacturers to do a private label deal. You would be surprised at how many products are actually all made exactly the same in the same facility and then they just slap a different label on it and call it by a different name.

Being the awesome guys that they are, they broke their entire business down into an 8 week training course and were offering to train a group of people on how to build a business just like theirs. I heard about this course and sent a quick message over to Justin Lee to see what he knew about it. One thing led to another and Justin was able to get us both in for FREE, bypassing the hefty $3,500 ticket price.

We’re about to enter week 4 of the course and things are starting to heat up. My action steps for just this week alone were:

  1. Make my final decision on a product. I’ve spent easily around 30 hrs researching different product opportunities and my final list has come down to: Tealight Candles, Elongated Toilet Seats, Dry Erase Boards, Bird Feeders, and Grill Brushes. I’ll save the details behind how I came to these conclusions, but I have finally decided to go with Grill Brushes as my product.
  2. Compare domestic and foreign manufacturers and work out a private label deal. I’ve done all of my research and starting tomorrow morning I will be picking up the phone to call each of the suppliers on my list.
  3. Create a new Brand name and product name. Still working on this part. So many damn action steps to complete in only a 7 day time frame.
  4. Design product packaging and labels. This is dependent on figuring out what I’m going to call my brand and product. By Tuesday I will have all of the specifications and hire a designer to create all of this for me. I also need to figure out what kind of warning labels and certifications I may need since the brushes touch food.
  5. Order my initial batch of inventory. By Wednesday I need to have my first order placed and be ready to start selling my own brand of Grill Brushes!

To an outside person reading this, I’m sure this sounds absolutely ridiculous and impossible. It’s crazy, but I have complete confidence that I’ll have this entire business up and running and generating cash flow before May 10th. I just wrote it down so now I’m committed! I’ll make sure to write a post when I make my first sale. I’m siked!

 

Training Courses

Along with getting access Matt and Jason’s course, I also managed to get access to 2 of John Reese’s courses for free as well. The first course is called Money Mindset and it is basically just a ton of great mini workshops to rewire the way you think and act. From a pure informational standpoint, I have heard a lot of the same things that he teaches before. However, the fact that he links everything with actions and makes you do the mini workshops is great because it forces you to implement the ideas.

The second course I am in the middle of right now is Outsource Force. I’ve done a lot of outsourcing over the past year, but the stuff he teaches in this course goes way above and beyond in terms of opening my eyes to the different possibilities. He takes things to another level and actually builds teams of full time workers overseas to run his entire businesses. He also covers a lot of information on how to design business models and automate parts of your business which is great. He’s a really smart dude and an excellent teacher, so I have a lot to learn from him. To put things into perspective, he teaches how to hire very qualified people who will work 40 hours a week for only $300. You can’t beat that baby!

Mike O’Donnell Receives An Education That Can Only Be Earned

Posted on March 21st, 2013 in Business Development, Goal Setting, Lessons, Management, My Story, Philosophy, Reflection, Self Improvement | No Comments »

It all started on Sunday, January 27, 2013. Sitting in the same seat in the same Starbucks as I am now, I met Wayne Marquez. I had just returned from the Traffic and Conversions Summit out in San Francisco earlier in the week and I was busy thinking about my life and my business. I had been home from Montreal for 4 months and to put it succinctly, my business wasn’t working out. I could throw a thousand reasons in the air about why my business wasn’t taking off, but at the end of the day, those reasons were just excuses to soften the blow of reality. My goal at Starbucks on that Sunday was to come up with a new plan to generate business and dig myself out of the whole. If I failed, I was heading back into corporate America to live a life I absolutely dreaded.

While I was in the corner trying to figure out the next stage of my life, Wayne Marquez walks in and starts up a conversation with another person in the room. It just so happens that Wayne is from New York, so my noise cancelling head phones are no match for his loud and obnoxious accent. What’s worse is that he is spewing out business ideas left and right. I have a personal pet peeve with “idea men” who never take action and this guy kept interrupting my concentration. So I fired back with 3 or 4 comments about how he can monetize every idea he just talked about. I thought I was putting him in his place by calling him out, but then I discovered who this Wayne character really was.

Shortly after graduating from NYU Law School, Wayne started a non profit called Directions For Our Youth, which survived him and has a multimillion dollar budget to this day. He also created an educational software program which was used by inner city schools nationwide and a children’s software company. With the economic downturn of recent years, school budgets had dried up and likewise, his businesses were running at a fraction of the profit they once were. He was in Starbucks working on his newest business, Apprentice Force. A long conversation ensued and by the end of the day, I decided to work with him to help bring Apprentice Force to the market.

Apprentice Force is a company that facilitates performance based hiring relationships between small business owners and people looking for work. The problem with the company however, was that Wayne was doing all the sales himself and hadn’t figured out a way to scale the company. According to Wayne, this was “Mickey Mouse Money” and he wanted to use my internet marketing background so he could start making real money with Apprentice Force.

Wayne had a lot of what he called “Clay.” A laundry list of achievements, a history of taking action and building businesses, tons of connections, and a well thought out business model. Tons of time and money had been invested into Apprentice Force and the business model was solid, he just needed to start scaling. Since there was no cash flow, he wanted me to work for free and to prove myself by helping him build the company. He told me that with my skills and his “Clay” we could both work our way to the top and start making real money.

As concerned and persistent as I was about quantifying the money I would receive once we started generating cash flow or obtaining a piece of equity in exchange for helping him build the business, I couldn’t pin him down to a deal. He said that once we got some cash flow he would feed me money, but if we were going to work together it would be on faith and trust and he wouldn’t agree to any set “deal” for my services.

Of course with my luck, my business struggles of the past 4 months were quickly fading away. My consistent networking and public speaking was starting to pay off in referrals and new business. Things were finally starting to swing my way, but now I had to make a big decision. Continue working in my business and sign up a few new clients or devote my full time effort to working with Wayne for free. As I put it in a text to my brother, “I can either continue doing the day to day and make a couple grand this month, or I can cross my nuts and shoot for the stratosphere.” Needless to say, I decided to work with Wayne. Even if I didn’t make any money at all, I would build a valuable relationship, learn a ton from a highly successful entrepreneur, and have the opportunity to push my skills to the limits.

We were both in a position where we didn’t have a lot of money to spend and we needed to start generating cash flow fast. During one of Wayne’s story telling sessions (He has tons of stories for any business or regular situation you can imagine) he told me about how he organized a “Debt Burden Day” during his time at NYU Law School (most expensive law school in the country at the time). On this day, every student wore red to school and they also wore buttons proclaiming how much debt they would be in upon graduation. One thing led to another and we decided that since student debt is such a pressing issue today, we could probably have similar success if we organized our own Debt Burden Day (later renamed Debt Awareness Day). Since Apprentice Force appealed to the same demographic, we could use Debt Awareness Day to slingshot Apprentice Force into the spotlight and quickly start generating cash flow. Within a half hour, Wayne secured office space for us in Doylestown and 23 straight 13-15 hour work days ensued. Every day of this campaign was documented on our blog www.creatingnasda.wordpress.com if you would like to learn more about what we did.

This post is about reflection, so I don’t plan on recounting everything we did over that time period. However, I would like to recount what I learned and how I have grown in the short time period of working with Wayne.

Brainstorming

The first major lesson I learned was how to properly brainstorm. I had participated in plenty of brainstorms before, but never with anyone of Wayne caliber. By nature, my personality type has always been very analytical.  While this serves me well in many respects, it also serves as a blockage when I brainstorm. Without realizing it, I get very caught up in how realistic certain ideas are and I get tied down analyzing everything instead of just doing a pure brain dump of ideas. Give Wayne a white board and someone to bounce ideas off of and he can literally brainstorm for 5 hours straight without stopping for air. During one of our 4-5hr brainstorming sessions in the initial planning phase, Wayne reacted to one of my analytical comments by saying, “Don’t piss on reality in a fucking brain storm! You let the ideas flow.” This comment really hit home for me and will be something I constantly remind myself of every time I brainstorm in the future. He hit the nail on the head.

 

Communicating Like a New Yorker

By the way, Wayne curses A LOT and it took me a little while to adapt to his style of conversation. We definitely had our growing pains in the beginning of working with each other. Of course by growing pains, I mean shouting matches where the words “Fuck You” were thrown around like the word “Sir” in the military. It’s just the New Yorker way of communicating I guess. Here is a video of me imitating Wayne after an argument. We laugh about this video all the time now:

Like I said, it took us a little while to learn to work together, but after the first week or two things got a little better.

 

CEO Mentality

As a quick extension to the conversation that initiated that video, I learned one of the big reasons why only a small percentage of the population could ever become a CEO. As Wayne would put it, “the CEO is the person that will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. When the rest of the executives are cowering in the corner and whimpering about a disaster or some impossible task, the CEO is the person that presses on even when failure is seemingly imminent.” I don’t know if I have CEO blood in me, but at the same time, I have never been passionate enough about something that I would stop at no costs to achieve it. This seems counterintuitive considering how passionate I am about being a successful entrepreneur and achieving lifestyle design, but I guess only time will tell what I’m really made of.

 

Work Philosophy

A lot of our differences to this day stem from a major difference in work philosophies. Wayne approaches work with the philosophy of a perfectionist. Everything must be absolutely perfect before anybody can see it or before he can move on to the next item on his to-do list. This philosophy is great when it comes to producing super high quality work, but the downside is that everything takes much more time to do. My philosophy is the exact opposite. I prescribe to the 80-20 rule and like to get tons of work done in short periods of time. The principle states that 80% of the work you do results in 20% of results and likewise, 20% of the work you do results in 80% of your results. The Pareto Principle, as it’s called, applies to almost every area of life without fail. Since we were striving to achieve the near impossible task of creating a national movement in 75 days, I was of the belief that we needed to get things going Now and we couldn’t waste our time getting caught up in minor details that would only produce a marginal increase in benefit. We could always go back later to cover our tracks. In many cases our polarized philosophies kept us both in check, but in other cases it killed us.

 

Business Models

One of Wayne’s best attributes is his ability to develop, analyze, and compare different business models. He has been involved in so many different types of businesses and situations that this skill comes naturally to him. The best way to really learn about business models is through time and experience. By listening to all of Wayne’s stories and challenging him, I was able to learn things that would have literally taken me years of failures to pick up on my own. Wayne shared the following software development model with me one day as a way of disarming me from my action-action-action mentality:

 

 

 

 

The diagram illustrates that the cost of making a change in the beginning (inner circle) only costs you $10, while the same change will cost you 10x more each time you progress to a later stage of development. The point being that preplanning is incredibly important and you need to have complete clarity of your vision before you move on to the next stages of any project/idea. In this situation, he was completely right. Lesson learned.

 

Money Is Not Always The Answer

Wayne cut his teeth in business while starting his non profit. If there is any path to take to the top, this is probably the hardest. Many businessmen find it hard to accomplish tasks with limited budgets, but in a non profit you need to accomplish the same tasks with no budget! Something I’ve learned through my experiences is that having very little money can actually be a good thing. It forces you to be creative and find better solutions compared to when you have money that you tend to just throw at problems.

 

First Impressions

While working at his non profit, one of Wayne’s main responsibilities was to raise money. Through all of his “pitch” stories, there was always one main principle/concept that seemed to stand out. Once people categorize you in a specific dollar range, it becomes incredibly hard to remove that perception even when you’re worth more. This short story illustrates the concept perfectly: When Wayne was starting out and had a very small budget, he pitched a company for a $5,000 ish donation to the non profit. Years later, when they had a million dollar plus budget and companies typically donated 5 and 6 figure sums, he could never get that same company to ever donate more than about $5,000. The reason being, that they categorized him in that range and could never justify donating a larger sum. I see this concept hold true in tons of areas in life, including when you start a business relationship by working for free (more on this later).

 

Leverage

Leverage, Leverage, Leverage! Working with super short deadlines and a minimal budget has helped me internalize the concept of leveraging. Time is a fixed resource. Everyone has the same amount of time available to work each day. The main factor that separates the most productive people in our society from the least productive is the ability to leverage technology, resources, people, etc. Every time I noticed that our progress was slowing down, it correlated to us getting “stuck in the weeds.” When we realized this, we took a step back and figured out a way that we could leverage these tasks by either getting other people to do them for us or by using a piece of software. Is it worth 5 hours of my time to research the best ways to organize a student population or is it smarter to pick up the phone and call someone who has built their career on organizing people? Any time you can pull yourself out of the weeds and learn to leverage, you will cut out costly mistakes and be much more successful at what you’re trying to accomplish.

 

Building An Asset

One of the first books that inspired me to be an entrepreneur was Rich Dad Poor Dad. In this book, Robert Kiyosaki talks at length about the concept of building assets. I have understood this concept for a long time, but I never really internalized it until very recently. My goal on that Sunday at Starbucks was   to find a way to start building an asset (in the form of an email list or info product), but working with Wayne has given me much more clarity about what that really means. While most people would categorize me as a business owner, I would really categorize myself as self employed. If I stop working, the business disappears. Now of course you could say my service business has assets in my email list, business processes, personnel, brand equity, etc. but my view of an asset is something that will keep working for me even when I am not working. This is just one of the many things I have identified as wrong with my business model, along with my USP and my “appeal to everyone” strategy. Hyacinth Marketing has been a great learning experience for me, but it is time for me to start focusing on building a business I want to do for the long term. While I am still working on (in) Hyacinth Marketing, I am devoting my free time towards a business that will be more sustainable. More on this in a later post.

So why didn’t we continue pressing on with the National Alliance for Student Debt Awareness and Debt Awareness Day?

I had to be crystal clear on the answer to this question before I ever considered pulling the plug on this project. After all, my only downside was to fail publicly. Public failure may seem scary for most people, but this was the least of my worries because I knew I would learn an enormous amount through the experience.  My position on failure is summed up perfectly in one of my new favorite quotes,

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

My upside, on the other hand, was monetary gain, a successful new business venture, tons of media mentions which I could use as credibility to open doors down the road, pushing the limits of my ability, etc.

When I put it this way, it looks like I made a poor decision based on the fear of failure. Actions speak louder than words Theodore! Who knows, maybe this will hold true if I’m in the same position as I am now a couple months down the road. Either way, I stand behind my decision and think it was the correct decision based on my time opportunity cost and the lifestyle I want to live.

While it’s true that successful CEOs possess the ability to press on in the face of adversity, they also possess the uncanny ability to determine viability at a very early stage. That way they can focus their efforts on projects that will give them the largest returns.

From day 1, I knew that our success would be dependent on our ability to motivate large numbers of people to take real action against an issue that affected them indirectly. It’s true that student debt impacts every student in America, but many of them don’t feel the effects until many years after they graduate when they finally start to pay off their loans.  While we knew the typical numbers in this type of situation were very small, we banked on the fact that we were sitting on a mass media powder keg. Based on the timeliness of Debt Awareness Day and the severity of the student debt crisis, we were hoping we could create a social media firestorm around the issue. We also knew that tons of other organizations had attempted the same feat we were attempting and never created sustained traction. By uniting each of these organizations and utilizing the Apprentice Force project management software to bring accountability to action takers, we thought we could create enough momentum to get the ball rolling.

When we finaaaaaly launched and started marketing ourselves, we realized that the “pain” was too indirect to get a ton of people on board quickly. In other terms, it would take a prolonged effort to get enough traction to make a significant impact and it would be a long time before we started generating any money from this venture. From a time opportunity cost standpoint, would I rather spend 80+ hours per week struggling to make this a successful venture or would I rather spend those same 80+ hours per week working to build an asset that I would own. The fact that I stayed on board for so long is actually a tribute to Wayne’s amazing ability to motivate people.

[Warning: I am about to make a personality judgement based on how I feel right now. I would normally refrain from doing this, but this thought process was critical to my decision making]

My second determining factor was the lifestyle I want to live. What if we had succeeded? I would be tied in to working with Wayne for the foreseeable future. Granted, I could always leave and do my own thing at any time, but like the software development model, the cost would be much greater to myself and to Wayne when I left. As frustrating as it was working with Wayne for 14 hours a day, I could live with that. I could control his attempts to micromanage my projects and I could deal with his perfectionist mentality. My biggest mental struggle of working with Wayne was the belief that he was the same person as he was when he achieved all of those great business feats.

Wayne achieved everything he did in life because, in his words, “He was a man of action. He didn’t get caught up with all the minor details; he just took action and figured it out along the way.” Can you see why he took an affinity to me? The fact is, once he became super successful and wealthy, he lived the easy life. For the past 11 years, he never had to do real work. His business generated 6 and 7 figures a year income for him and he spent his time travelling around and enjoying life. I don’t blame him one bit. If I never met him and learned his story, I would be destined to follow the same path. What I learned however, was that time changes people. He could talk about all his past achievements as much as he wanted, but as great as they were, he was no longer that same man of action. My opinion, based on working one on one together for over 300 hours in a month, was that he had become an idea man, not an action man. Without a team of people to implement his ideas, he couldn’t pull the trigger. Ironically, this was the reason I started speaking to him in the first place.

Furthermore, I started my relationship with Wayne on the basis of working for free. Just like the business that only donated $5,000 to Wayne’s non profit, how would I ever justify a higher salary (salary because I would be working for him, not as a business partner) when he had already gotten all the “goods” for free.

To be clear, I haven’t ended my relationship with Wayne. He still has the ability and experience to rise to the top again, but I can’t be the person that does the leg work to get him there. Like the saying goes, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink. The only factor holding Wayne back right now is his ability to take action. I’m in a delicate position right now because I need to maintain my distance, but at the same time, keep our relationship warm. If he gets some traction again, I want to be there to amplify it. If he doesn’t, then he is still a friend and a valuable business contact that will be mutually beneficial somewhere down the road.

Wayne described me to his wife once using this metaphor, “Mike is like a boy that grew up in the country. He has an entire arsenal of weapons and can tell you everything about each weapon in great detail. He has even used a handful of the weapons at the firing range, but he has never been in battle.” Wayne almost didn’t tell me about this conversation because he didn’t want to offend me, but once I heard him I agreed wholeheartedly with his description. I have spent the last few years studying all the titans of business and learning as much marketing knowledge, techniques, and strategies as I could. Starting Hyacinth Marketing and working with Ben in Canada was just me taking my weapons to the firing range. I’ve been practicing for long enough, but now it is time for me to find my battle. Pretty soon I will be starting my next business venture and I’ll be looking for a fight!

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