Last week we talked about the power of positioning when it comes to starting a podcast. We also touched on how sponsorships can become just one of the lucrative sources of revenue that comes from growing your audience.
But you’ve still got to create content, right? We may be overrun with interview-based podcasts, but there’s always room for another one if you’re better at engaging and extracting interesting information from your guests.
A lot of it comes down to practice — the more you interview people, the better you get at it. It’s possible, however, to get a head start with a sound foundation of knowledge that will help you both prepare and interview better.
The person who immediately came to mind for this topic is Andrew Warner of Mixergy. Interviewing people is Andrew’s passion, and he’s one of the best around in my opinion.
The art of the interview is really an exercise in human psychology. Getting good at it naturally spills into all aspects of your marketing and business, so get ready for some seriously great advice from Andrew.
The Show Notes
Become an Expert Interviewer, with Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner: Hey, I’m Andrew Warner. I founded Mixergy, where proven entrepreneurs do interviews and courses to teach ambitious startups. I never had a job. Yeah, I’m unemployable.
Brian Clark: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one. That’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our free Profit Pillars course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Hey there. Welcome to Unemployable, the show that provides valuable business intelligence for independent business people. I’m your host, Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Digital. Unemployable is brought to you by the all new FreshBooks, easy accounting software for freelancers and small businesses. Sign up for an unrestricted 30-day free trial, exclusively for listeners of the show, by heading over to Freshbooks.com/Unemployable. Don’t forget to enter ‘Unemployable’ in the “How did you hear about us” section.
Last week, we talked about the power of positioning when it comes to starting a podcast. We also touched on how sponsorships can become just one of the lucrative sources of revenue that comes from growing your audience, but you’ve still got to create content, right?
We may be overrun with interview-based podcasts, but there’s always room for another one, if you’re better at engaging and extracting interesting information from your guest. A lot of it comes down to practice. The more you interview people, the better you get at it. It’s possible, however, to get a headstart with a sound foundation of knowledge that will help you both prepare and interview better. The person who immediately came to mind for this topic is Andrew Warner of Mixergy. Interviewing people is Andrew’s passion and he’s one of the best around, in my opinion. The art of the interview is really an exercise in human psychology. Getting good at it naturally spills into all aspects of your marketing and business, so get ready for some seriously great advice from Andrew. Andrew, how’s it going? Happy New Year.
Andrew Warner: Great. Happy New Year, man.
Brian Clark: Mixergy is still doing wonderfully, I take it?
Andrew Warner: Yeah.
What Led Andrew to Start Mixergy
Brian Clark: How did you get to Mixergy? You just revealed you’ve never had a job. I’m jealous. I did have the displeasure of employment, but I got over that quickly. What about you? Tell us what happened that led up to Mixergy because so many people seem to believe in the concept of the overnight success. Usually it’s a ten-year overnight success. Hopefully yours was a little shorter.
Andrew Warner: I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience where you’ve been to somebody’s house, like I was back when I graduated from college. I did have a college job, like a part-time thing. The guy I worked for brought me in to talk to his friend and I saw the guy’s house and I said, “Wow. How did this guy get so rich? How did he get this house? How did he get this life? What did he do? What’s the path? I’m just getting started and I want to understand how I could do it too.” I’ve always wondered that. I never could ask people. I never understood how to ask those kind of rude questions like, “Well, are you really rich or am I just blown away by the design here?” I’ve always wanted to do it.
Growing up, I used to read biographies all the time, guys like Ted Turner, Richard Branson. I just love these stories. When I started my first company, which was an online greeting card company that I started in the late 90s, I used so much of what I learned from those stories.
It wasn’t like I ever took notes and said, “One day when somebody says no to me, I’m going to apply this process like Ted Turner did and get them to say yes.” It just became a part of who I was. That’s the thing about stories. You hear someone tell you a story and you start to embody parts of it. I had that online greeting card company. It did well. I got burned out towards the end. I sold off different pieces of it and just took off and lived on the beach of Santa Monica, actually, the Venice Beach. Then I said, “You know what? I want to come back.” I started hosting events and then the events did well, but I wanted my own invitation site for it, so I hired some of the old developers that I worked with to create invitations for it, invitation software. That thing just never worked out.
It just really bombed. I said, “You know, I want to start interviewing people to learn how to never make this stupid mistake again. There’s something I missed. There’s some kind of arrogance that I had that led me to have a blind spot.” I started interviewing people and publishing it online and people started listening to it. More importantly, frankly, at first I just loved it. I loved it so much that even when I had just dozens of people listening and I was, to be honest, I was a little depressed about it, or angry about it, I still loved it and I kept doing it and publishing it. Then an audience started to come. Then I learned from people like you how you can actually turn that into a business. It became a thing. Now it’s my full-time focus. I love it.
Brian Clark: Excellent. I did not know that story. To me, you did just magically pop up. Interesting that you mentioned rude questions because I’ve got a funny story for you. Now you’ve interviewed me twice. The last time I thought went exceptionally well. I thought you asked great questions, which is probably why you were the first person I thought of for this episode. I don’t think there was anyone else. The funny thing is that on Twitter afterward, after sharing the interview, basically someone said, “That guy’s an asshole. Why was he so mean to you?” I didn’t have that impression at all. I thought you asked great questions that made me give original answers instead of … It’s so easy to give the canned response when you do a lot of these things. What’s your reaction to that?
Andrew Warner: I can’t deal with these interviews where nothing real is asked and it’s like a promotion for the guest and they’re both in on it. Sometimes there’s an official affiliate agreement between the two. I’m not learning anything; I’m just being sold to. I definitely want to have a probing interview. I don’t think I ask questions where the guest feels … I’ll tell you a secret about how I do it, how I get to ask probing questions, tough questions, but not have the guest turned off. I’ll tell you first, before I tell you one of my tricks frankly, is that one of my big takeaways from that interview is that at the end of the interview you thanked me for doing it because I got you to think about your process in a way that you hadn’t thought before.
That was so flattering that when I suggest to people that they should do interviews like I do, I tell them, “Look, it’s not just about giving promotion to the guest. If you do a good job, you’ll have helped them think through their process and they’ll be glad to just have explored their minds, their thought process, their business in a way that helps their business.” They’d be proud to have something they could give to their employees to show them, “This is what we’re about.” I’ve had that happen too.
Here’s my technique. The technique is one that I used with Jonathon Triest. I was about to interview this guy, he’s a venture capitalist, I do some research on him, I realize, “Hmm. His family has money. Why am I interviewing this guy for a conference because what? What did he do? Didn’t he just get his parents’ money and start out that way?”
I think, “If I don’t bring that up, I’m going to feel like a bad interviewer. I’m going to feel disingenuous. If I do bring it up, it could be one of those situations where I shut the guy down. How do I bring it up in a way that I could feel proud of without shutting him down.” Here’s my technique. Before we started, I looked over at Jonathon. I said, “Look. There’s something that I noticed when I looked you up. The money that you’re investing in companies seems to have come from your parents. A lot of people in the audience are going to wonder, ‘Is this guy really daddy’s boy and just using his parents’ wealth to start out?’ If we don’t address the elephant in the room that might be in their minds the whole time and they won’t pay attention to what you’re saying. Do you mind if I ask you about that?”
Now, with that kind of setup, and that kind of caring and that kind of understanding of the audience in his position, how could he say no? Right? He said, “Yeah, I’d be happy to.” He brought that up and you know what? Because he brought that up we understood what his background was, but it also gave him an opportunity, because I didn’t do it in a got you way, I gave him some time to think it through, it gave him an opportunity to say, “Here’s my process for finding entrepreneurs.” One of the entrepreneurs that he invested in happened, I think, to be in the room or be at the conference, Gagan Biyani, and he said, “Look, here’s my researcher who helped me understand Gagan’s business. Here’s how I put this deal together. This is how I work today. Yeah, my money did start out with my parents.”
Brian Clark: The advanced warning, which I will note I got none of, I think our conversation just went where it went and you’re also very good at asking the next question. Have you ever had a hostile reaction from a guest when you ask a blunt question?
Andrew Warner: Yes. I’ve had it a few times and my response is … There are a couple of times, actually. The worst was I was on stage, I charged people for an event. I used to read sites that said, “Look, people will pay for content. You should charge. Have the guts to charge.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. Then finally I organized an event and I charged tickets and I got Tim Ferriss to speak, Gary Vaynerchuk to speak. I got Ze Frank, who now runs a BuzzFeed’s video, to speak. I gave this introduction for Tim Ferriss and I thought I was being funny, but he said, “That’s how you introduce me? You’re basically calling me a liar in front of this audience?” My heart sank with this whole audience looking at me. How do I fix this? What do I do?
I have this technique that I turn to all the time in tough situations like that that helps me and that is I want to learn from this experience and I’m going to be open and say, “I think this isn’t my best performance. Let’s talk about how it wasn’t my best performance. I’m interviewing you because I admire you and you’re smart. Help me think through how to solve this.” One of the things that Tim said was, he said every time he screws up, he tries to create a process for dealing with this kind of thing in the future so that he actually can not make the same mistake twice, especially if it’s a big fumble, like a big … I’m not a football guy. I don’t know if fumble’s the right word for it. Especially if it’s a big flub like that.
Now what I do is I’m not afraid when I have events to bring out my notes where I might have been afraid there. I’m not afraid to have a clearly written introduction, where back that I might have been a little afraid and so I wanted to be funny on the fly. I’m not afraid to have a timer so that I’m really clear about when I have to cut the guest off and move on. That kind of preparation only came because I screwed up. That’s what I tend to do. When I screw up and ask a guest a question that pushes them off, I say, “Here’s my intention. Let’s talk about what I could do better.”
Brian Clark: Seems to me that so much of being a good interview is much how you listen as it is what you ask, in the sense that most guests aren’t going to just tell you like Tim, that doesn’t surprise me at all that Tim just said it. Most of the time, they may be a little less than pleased but you’re going to have to be able to perceive that and rehabilitate. That’s just one aspect of listening. Talk a little bit about how you do that. You’re thinking about your next question sometimes and yet you can’t let that get in the way of what they’re actually saying.
Andrew Warner: I try not to think so much about the next question, but just allow myself to be curious about it. I find that questioning and analyzing in the moment is a bad idea. After I sold that previous company, I went and I volunteered for Dale Carnegie and Associates. I love Dale Carnegie. I read his book in school, taught me how to win friends and influence people, I mean really, I didn’t know how to talk to people and this book helped me build relationships. Then I went and I knocked on their door in high … In college, excuse me. I said, “Please, give me any kind of job. I’ll work for free. I just want to experience what it’s like to work at Dale Carnegie and Associates,” and I did. One of the things they had me do was give presentations, a sample presentation, to every one of their classes before the students got to talk.
I remember once giving a talk and going, “Oh, this is so bad. This is so bad. I’m supposed to be the guy who gives these people direction, who’s the role model? Like, I work now at Dale Carnegie and this is the excellence that they’re going to strive to, this junky speech?” I remember sitting down and I was just so bummed about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The next time I went to give a speech, I was even worse instead of improving. I remember sitting down and going, “Oh, this is so bad, it’s so bad.” Then I realized it’s thinking it’s so bad that makes it bad, that distracts me while I’m talking, that keeps me from being in the moment and being myself. I said to myself, “I’m not going to analyze until later, until I’m done,” and I could think about it with a real, clear rational head.
I’m not going to analyze while I’m talking. I’m not even going to analyze while I sit down after the talk because it’s too fresh. Give myself some distance and then analyze so that people can see me and not see my insecurities out there. I do the same thing. When I’m talking to guests, I try not to analyze. It’s tough sometimes. Frankly, even with you, I’m analyzing, am I giving you the answers that you’re looking for? Is it clear? Am I representing myself well? I have to just train myself to put that out of my mind so that I could focus on the questions, focus on the answers, focus on the conversation and focus on the mission. What’s the point of this conversation?
The Best General Interviewing Advice I have Ever Heard
Brian Clark: Absolutely. You mentioned the word curiosity. The best general interviewing advice that I’ve ever heard is to be genuinely curious about your guest and their story and then, to a certain extent, the right questions will flow out. Great in general, but may be difficult for some in practice. What are your thoughts?
Andrew Warner: I’d want to be a little more specific. If I were trying to set up a new website, I’d have specific questions. My mission was to set up a website, I’d have specific questions. How do I buy a domain? What domain should I go for? How do I set up my URL structure, titles and so on? I’d have really specific questions. I wouldn’t have to sit down and go, “What’s my next question?”
Problems would come up. I think when it comes to conversations, especially interviews, we sit down without a clear goal and that’s where we set ourselves up for failure. When I interviewed you, I was so curious how this guy who ran Copyblogger, which I read, which was a content site, suddenly turned himself into a software entrepreneur. What was that process like? I did it with genuine curiosity about that because who knows? Maybe I might want to go in that direction one day and I know for sure the people in my audience do.
With that, I’m trying to figure out the pieces. What did you do first? How did you figure out how to get developers? What did you do about design? How did you understand what your customers were looking for? If I ask a bad question, like how much money did you make and that maybe turns you off, I can be really genuine and come back and say, “Look Brian, I’m just trying to get a sense of how big could this be. Everything you’ve told me up until now sounds a little scary and I want to know does the pay off make sense for all this hard work and all this scariness. That’s why I asked you that question, not because I’m trying to pry into your wallet.” By having that clear goal, I don’t struggle for questions. The questions naturally come.
If I screw up, I can be open about what my goal is with you and you’ll understand why I did something that may have hurt your feelings in the moment and maybe you can work with me to help get me to what I’m trying to understand. That’s really powerful. I don’t think enough people do that. I know interviewers don’t do it. They don’t sit down saying, “This is what I want to get from the interview.” I was really proud and happy that when you asked me to do the interview, you didn’t just say, “We’ll just chat about something.” You said, “I want to understand your interview process.” That gives me a sense of where I’m going and that gives you a sense of where to take it. It’s not a struggle. It doesn’t seem like you have to think of the next question all the time.
Brian Clark: How much does research into the guest impact your curiosity? In other words, the more you know the better or do you like to have some unanswered aspects? Is that just something maybe you couldn’t find the answer to in the standard materials out there?
Andrew Warner: I think the more I know the better. I know I’m different from most interviewers that way. They like to sit down and say, “I don’t know anything. My audience doesn’t know anything about this guy. I’ll ask the questions that they would want to know.” I don’t come at it that way. I think I want to do as much research up front so I’m not asking the same questions that other people would ask. More than that actually, it’s because I want to set up a really good story. I love storytelling through interviews. I love storytelling in general. That’s one of the things I learned from Dale Carnegie. They would teach these business people how to be persuasive. Instead of teaching them how to hunt down facts, they would teach them how to tell stories. One of the things I try to do is set up the hero’s journey with my guest. I want to know first of all, why should anyone care about them?
I had this entrepreneur on just minutes before you and I recorded. I asked him up front, “What did you sell your company for? Who were some of your clients?” So that my audience could see this is this big thing he built. Now let’s talk about how he got there. Kind of like the trailer of a movie. I go through the hero’s journey. What were you doing just before? What got you off on this mission? What’s the first big setback you had? How did you overcome that setback? On and on until we see him go through telling the story of how he sold his company.
The only way I could structure it is if I do research to get some of those answers up front and then I could shape the interview with that in mind. Even though I’ll have found out things like that he had an idea that was like Uber before he launched this company, which he did, I still don’t know why he gave up on it. I still don’t know how it felt to have given up on that. He didn’t write anything about that online. I can use what I’ve learned to set up the story and I can use what I’m curious about to dig in deeper and get more heart and more details.
Brian Clark: The questions are in the preliminary answers, to a certain degree. There’s more why and how behind the ‘what’ that you may already know. That’s great advice. Well, my goal –
Andrew Warner: You know what? Can I say something else too, Brian?
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew Warner: That’s I’ve been in a little shaky in this interview, to be honest with you. There’s certain times where my stories haven’t really come out as stories. There have been times when I’ve “um-ed” and had to take back words. I feel a little bit weird about that. I feel like, “I’m disappointing Brian, I’m disappointing his audience.” That’s another reason why I as an interviewer do research. I want to find the stories that people can tell blindly, I wake them up at two in the morning and they could tell that story. If I get them to tell that story as one of their first stories, they feel so competent that their confidence takes over. Then there’s another thing that we do at Mixergy that’s unusual. I hire pre-interviewers that will talk … Did you get pre-interviewed?
Brian Clark: I think so. The second time, not the first.
Andrew Warner: Right, the first time I didn’t even have pre-interviewers. The second time I did. The reason I do that is if you get asked some of the questions that I’ll be asking, you’ll feel more confident telling that story a second time. I do that to warm up the guest, to get them to know what the direction of the interview is. I think that that kind of thing helps tremendously.
Three Unconventional Interview Tips
Brian Clark: I know why you’re nervous. I’m turning the tables on you and you don’t like it. That’s all it is. No, but my goal for this interview of course is to extract useful tips from someone who I think is at the top of their game, both for the audience but for me as well. I’m going to put you on the spot here. Give me at least three, more if you can, but at least three unconventional interview tips. Not the same old stuff people may have heard.
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Andrew Warner: Before we started, I talked to you about how I had this bad interview with Jason Fried, one of my heroes, founder of Basecamp. I asked him, I said, “Do you have any setbacks setting up Basecamp?” He said, “No. Sometimes things just work out.” I said, “Come on. Everyone has setbacks, everyone has challenges.” I didn’t want to make the story seem too easy. I asked him, outright, “Tell me about one of those setbacks.” He said, “Andrew, sometimes things just work out in life.” I thought, “I failed.” I failed to get heart in this interview, or I failed to get a challenge that would get the audience to root for him or to understand how he deals with a setback. I went out and I hired this producer of a top interview show, I used to mention his name but he said, “Andrew, I’m not supposed to be working with you. Please stop mentioning my name. I could do it, my boss knows, but it’s not like I’m trying to promote that I’m working with a podcast.”
I said, “Okay, I won’t talk about it but what I want you to do is just go through my transcripts with me and just help me understand what I’m doing wrong, how do I get somebody to answer a question like the one that I did Jason.” The guy looked over my transcript and he said, “Ah, this is just like my therapy.” I said, “What do you mean like therapy?” He said, “My therapist says that when she talks to a client and the client is putting up resistance instead of saying, ‘Come on, you have to’ and fighting the resistance, my therapist will join the resistance. When you do, people will just let down their arms and they start to cooperate.” I said, “What does that mean for this interview with Jason?”
He said, “Instead of saying, ‘Come on Jason, everyone has setbacks,’ you should have joined the resistance. You should have said, ‘Oh, it’s interesting Jason that you had no setbacks, that this thing was really easy. Sometimes companies have just an easy path and it’s nice that it was easy for you to set up Basecamp.'” Since then I’ve used that technique, Brian. People will fight back and say, “Easy? Are you kidding me? I was up last night with the servers even though I have a team of people here. I’m still actually writing. I’m still looking at copy because there was a mistake on the website.” Right? Joining the resistance is one of the top things that I’ve learned.
All right, here’s the second one. Sometimes people just don’t know how to give me an answer. There’s this blog post that I read once where a group of people were trying to figure out lunch every day. They couldn’t figure it out. Where do we go? Where do we go? Where do we go? One of the guys said, “You know what? I’m actually going to suggest a bad example, a bad suggestion, so that people fight against it.” He said, every time people were struggling to find a lunch option, he’d say, “You know what? Let’s just go to McDonald’s.” As soon as he’d say that, people would say, “No, McDonald’s, come on, that’s the worst option. Let’s at least go to Noodles. Even though it’s a lot of carbs, it’s at least healthier.” I do that in my interviews. I suggest a bad option. They’ll say where did I get this idea? I’ll say, “You copied it from someone.” They go, “Copied it? I come up with my own ideas.” Then that gets them started on what that idea is. The McDonald’s technique is really effective.
There’s a final technique, low-balling. I had a guest on. I was just trying to figure out how big her business was. I wasn’t trying to pry in to get a definitive number, but I said, “How big is your business?” She said, “I don’t want to tell you. I don’t want to tell you what our revenues were.” I go, “All right, I get it, but could you give me a sense?” She goes, “I don’t want to tell you.” I said, “I heard that you guys are going to make a million dollars this year.” She said, “A million dollars? Come on. We beat ten million dollars a long time ago.” I said, “Okay. That gave me a sense. I’m not looking to get your tax returns here. I just want to know how big this company is and an understanding that it’s bigger than ten million helps me tremendously.”
Just low-balling sometimes and going with that embarrassing option will get the person to fight back and give you some sense of proportion. By the way, I had a scotch night here with people and I told them that idea once. Then we kept having scotch and talking. One of the things that came up was that I love running. I was being a little modest when a guy said, “How much do you run?” I said, “You know, whatever. I run just a little bit. Six miles, maybe, to work. I just run a little bit.” The guy goes, “You should run a marathon one time.” I said, “A marathon? I’ve run so many marathons. Are you kidding me? I’ve done over 30 miles in a row on my own without even an organized crew of people giving me water. I could do that.” He said, “Andrew, I used your technique on you. I was trying to figure out if you’re a long distance runner or not. You’re being too modest. All you were telling me was about your daily runs.” It works everywhere, not just in interviews.
Brian Clark: That’s good stuff. Of course, every time I see someone who is a domain expert, I realize there’s so much that crosses over from marketing, psychology, as you mentioned, therapeutic techniques. It’s all about how to jujitsu the human mind to a certain degree in a way where you get the outcome you want without them feeling like they got the wrong end of the deal. Is that fair to say?
Andrew Warner: Yeah. One of the things that we do that took a lot of discipline is when I find a question technique that works, I go to this Google doc and I write it down. I especially did this when I was getting started. I don’t do it so much now. I wanted to just see what worked, what didn’t work, document it so that I’m aware of it. Even if I never go back to that document again, just writing it down, that act of keeping a record of it, helps me realize how to become a better conversationalist and a better interviewer.
That partially came from my conversation with Tim Ferriss, which blew up in my face. I was really proud when Tim started his podcast, he said, I told him about this document, he said, “Can I take a look at it?” I said, “Yeah.” I sent him a link to the Google doc so that he can see the techniques I use to get people to open up. It helps me become a better interviewer to document what’s working and what’s not. The bonus of that is that it helps the people around me, like my pre-interviewers, my friends who are doing interviews and others, become better at their work. I’d definitely recommend document what’s working for you.
Mixergy’s Business Model
Brian Clark: Excellent. Let’s shift a little bit to the Mixergy business model. I know you had the Startup Stories podcast as well. You mentioned you’re doing courses. Several years ago, when Mixergy was younger I should say, you had this interesting membership concept if I remember correctly, where interviews were available for free for a period of time and then they went behind the wall. I remember, here’s me being you, I was like, “How does that work? That doesn’t seem like it should work.” Take us back and tell us whether it did.
Andrew Warner: First of all, it did work and I still actually have it to this day but with a twist where you can get any interview for free. It works because I just wanted to not charge … I didn’t want to get into the sponsorship business at all. I kept resisting sponsors when they came up. I was frankly even a little chicken about charging my audience. I just wanted to put out good stuff and I was afraid of ruining it. I said, “You know what? The best way for me to create something that I could be proud of is to charge my audience for it because if it’s so good that they’ll pay for it then at least the insecure part of brain will have external validation and say, ‘Look, these people are actually paying for it, it’s good’ and I could improve it based on what they want instead of based on what a bunch of random sponsors want.”
I didn’t know what to do. What do I charge? What do I charge for? What I wanted was a membership model, so I had some predictability about revenue. I just kept looking for ideas. At the time, there was nobody interviewing the founders of Airbnb, there was nobody interviewing the founder of Y Combinator, Wikipedia. Those people just weren’t being listened to, weren’t being admired the way that they are today. When I did an interview with them, I’d get emails from people who literally said, “You should charge for this.” Again, the insecure part of my head said, “They’re just being nice.” They would say, “You should charge for this. You should charge for this.” I thought all right, you know what, one of the people I interviewed was Eric Ries who said, “Create a Minimum Viable Product.” I’ve been wanting to do a membership site for a long time. Let’s create a Minimum Viable Product where I charge for past interviews.
I charged for it. When I did, I got a lot of flack from the startup community, but I also got customers. People like Jason Fried emailed me privately to say, “Andrew, just keep going. Ignore the negative stuff.” I was so proud when he said that. Others had too. At first, it was just like a PayPal button. I said, “Pay whatever you want.” You could pay five bucks a month, ten bucks a month, 100 bucks a month. I still to this day have people who pay 10 bucks a month who are still ongoing customers. The $100 a month produced the most revenue, even though they were paying for the exact same thing that people paid 10 bucks a month for. I said, “You know what? I’d rather have more people than more revenue.” I stuck with 25 a month and I kept looking for ways to improve it. One of the things that I hit on that worked was bringing back some of my interviewees to teach what they’re especially good at.
I’d meet someone in an interview who would say that he’s really good at getting people to a website. He could do that day or night. I’d say, “You know what? Can you come back and teach it? I’ll make that members only.” Went with that and then I kept hearing from entrepreneurs that they didn’t know any other entrepreneurs. I couldn’t relate to that, Brian. I kept ignoring that. To me, I know tons of entrepreneurs. Maybe too many frankly. I’d really like to have a conversation with someone who’s a scientist in something that has nothing to do with software.
It was a big enough issue so we started a community where people can talk to each other, where they can meet other entrepreneurs. I encouraged them to form masterminds and help them do it. I encouraged them to take past interviewees out to dinner. We helped members do that. It’s evolved way beyond that to the point where today, technically, you have to be a member to get the interviews but we make it so simple for you to just enter an email and you get whatever interview you want. That allows me to grow my mailing list.
Brian Clark: How much revenue did the business make in 2016?
Andrew Warner: I like that you’re turning it around on me. I’ll tell you my hesitation. I’ll give you a rough number. I know –
Brian Clark: I’ve heard that you made $27,000 last year.
Andrew Warner: How dare you. I’ll tell you, it’s about a million dollars. The reason I’m a little hesitant to do it, and when I started Mixergy, Neil Patel said, “Andrew, you should show your revenues from your previous company.” I thought, “I’m against it, but you know what, let’s do it to give people a sense of where we are.” I published my full financials, audited financials from Ernest and Young are online. It was over 30 million dollars. The reason I’m a little hesitant here is, and maybe you’ll relate to this, I’m really afraid about being the guy that I couldn’t respect back when I was starting. The guy who says, “I’m going to teach you how to make millions by showing you how I make millions.” That little circular logic where he’s just selling someone a hope and validating the hope by showing that he’s making millions of dollars selling people hope. That thing was what I was reluctant to get into.
Brian Clark: Yeah, we just had a conversation a couple weeks ago on the show where the whole transparency, or ultra transparency thing, has really turned out to be financial bragging. It’s really kind of become off-putting. I mentioned that I would talk about revenue at least once a year. I felt that it had some value to validate, not to do things exactly like us, but that content marketing in general can help a bootstrap company that doesn’t do advertising to get to eight figures. Now I’m done with it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. There are companies that are still employing that tactic and it’s become off-putting. It starts off as, “Thanks for sharing,” and now it’s like, “Please stop.”
Andrew Warner: I’m of two minds about it. When I had that greeting card company, it was bootstrapped. We were doing over 30 million and I got no respect. The question that people would ask me, Brian, it’s how much funding do you have? When I said I don’t have any outside funding, they just would not pay attention to me anymore. I really, at the time, had a chip on my shoulder about that. I said, “Revenue is just as significant and nobody cares about it.” I came into the tech startup world where it’s still, to this day, more talked about, how much funding do you have than how many customers do you have? You could still see it on TechCrunch. I wanted to be the opposite. I wanted to say, “Let’s talk a little bit about revenue and bring it up.” Even if we don’t get specific about it, I think it’s important.
I think to that degree it’s helpful. I remember watching you at BlogWorld years ago on stage in a panel with three other people. The first question, or one of the first, was how much money do you make? I think at the time you said a million dollars. I was just getting started with content. To be honest, I felt insignificant creating content because before I had software and software was the great validator. That’s a real business. Writing is what you do in school. I remember you saying something like a million, it might have even been 100,000, I don’t know what the number was. You said, “That’s the last I’m going to talk about it here,” because you didn’t want to go down that route and I respected that.
I also felt like, “Ah, this is what it could be. I see what Brian’s business is and I feel a sense of confidence when I’m on his site, I feel a sense of pride when I’m on his site. It actually could be not scheme-y, how to get rich, but still make money and still be something that you can actually hire people and pay for a team of people to make better,” and that gave me a lot of confidence to continue with Mixergy when I saw you do that. I’m really cautious about being in the world of bragging, which especially in the Instagram world we’re getting into and in the world of putting too much emphasis on revenue, especially because there is no ultimate number. Revenue is not the be all. I also appreciate that there’s some value to it, that we are giving people some sense of what’s possible and what was done.
The Year Ahead for Andrew and Mixergy
Brian Clark: Now that’s a story I like to hear. What’s coming up in 2017 for Mixergy and Andrew in general?
Andrew Warner: I’m really intrigued by these dinners with interviewees and dinners with entrepreneurs. I’m seeing so much come out of that. One of the heads of Techstars was taken to dinner by some members and then the guy who organized the dinner got together with the guy from Techstars. Techstars is a funding company. I thought this is what I wanted. I don’t want meet ups where we get tons of people. I want this kind of bond where people get to have dinner and talk to each other. I want to help my members do that. I’m also intrigued by, and Brian I wonder what you think about this, you and I started talking to schedule this on Facebook Messenger. My wife and I text each other. I Slack with developers and other people. Messaging is the way we communicate with people we know, with people we love, with people we feel connected with. Every time I want to market to my audience, I get together with my team, open a Google doc and we start a long form email.
I feel like that’s a little out of step. It’s kind of like back in the day when I would get lots of junk mail to my house, but really email is where I lived and junk mail is what I was starting to ignore. I think there’s a model for reaching people using Facebook Messenger and other text-based communication platforms in a way that’s more engaging, lighter and more current. I’ve been testing it. I’m so excited about it that I can’t stop talking about it internally. I want to introduce it to people. I’d love to share it with your audience. I don’t even have a page yet ready to show them. Actually, if they go to Mixergy they could see it. That, to me, is the fascination that I’m going to explore in 2017. How do we do that? How does it work? You talk about your part of the third tribe, how do we not become part of the bad tribe, the first, one of the first two? The ones that are vicious marketers. How do we do it right in there? I’m curious about that.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I talked about that at the keynote of our event in the fall. People are spending more time on messaging than social media for the first time, I think, starting last year. It’s also still email. People have to realize that email is a messaging app. In fact, it was the original messaging app. It’s just so deeply ingrained in our lives. The statistics on email use among millennials was really surprising to me. They check email as much or more than anyone. I agree with you that things are changing. My main focus will still be on email until we get some kind of critical mass … Right now, of course, the messaging world is diverse and unorganized, if you will. Do we need one platform to take over? Email’s a standard protocol. How are we going to standardize messaging?
Andrew Warner: I’d like to convert you to it. I’ve seen stats that show that younger people spend more time in messaging apps than they do in email, much more. We’re talking about …
Brian Clark: Definitely my kids, the next generation. I was surprised.
Andrew Warner: It’s there now. If you saw the way that people engage with … If you’ll allow me, I’ll create like Mixergy.com/BrianClark, just so you can go see what could be done. First of all, if I message you, if I create like a drip marketing campaign, I was a part of your course, the email course that you do did teaching me copywriting, that kind of experience via Facebook Messenger is so much more engaging than email and I’ll tell you why. I put out an image and I teach a little bit and then I have a button. The person presses the button and then they go into another sets of message.
It’s not just read the whole thing, but it’s read it and respond, read and respond, kind of like call and response. If you’ve ever been to a Tony Robbins seminar and you go through a whole day, you say, “How did I not get bored here? The guys been talking to me for a whole day.” It’s because he’ll do things like say, “If you agree with this say, ‘I’.” Everyone goes, “I.” That little bit of interaction wakes you up and makes you feel like you’re having a conversation, even though you literally are not having a conversation with Tony Robbins. Same thing with some of the best preachers out there. I think that’s possible via messaging in a way that’s not in email.
Brian Clark: What do you think about chat bots in messaging?
Andrew Warner: I think chat bots, where I’m trying to communicate with a robot and trying to find out like how to book a flight, I think we’re not there yet. I think they’re a little too cute. I think the chat bot that accepts that most of my messages that I get in my life come to me via Facebook Messenger, for example, or Slack, or whatever the platform is, and says, “I’m curious about running.”
I just signed up for a tri. I’d like to learn on a daily basis a little bit about running. I’m not going to install an app because I’m not going to an app for this. It’s too heavy. I’m not going to go into email because email is all the drudgery, but in Facebook Messenger if you just say, “Look, here’s your one tip for today,” and it felt a little engaging and because Facebook Messenger makes it easy for me to cancel, I know I’m never trapped in your messages and you can’t share my contact information, I love it.
Especially if he says, “Hey, how much did you run yesterday?” I say, “Yesterday I ran five.” The tip is, “When you run five miles, what you’re doing is you’re stretching this muscle of your body. Here’s a stretch, with pictures in Facebook Messenger, that will help you do it. Will you be running today?” I press a button saying, “Yes.” Go, “Great. Once you’re done, here’s what I’d like you to try.” That kind of back and forth is more like a real conversation that could happen in Facebook Messenger, can happen in Skype, though it’s not really happening much in Skype, can happen in Kik and can happen in other platforms. I’m so fascinated by that and I think that that is the future of communicating with people, just like email overtook paper-based mail.
Brian Clark: The tech in this area, because as you said chat bots aren’t exactly there, even though they were the rage of 2016, you’re right. The way things are speeding up, that may change this year.
Andrew Warner: They might be smart enough to. Frankly, I invested in a company called Assist that will do that, they are doing this. For Lonely Planet, you can go to your Google home, which is like Alexa, and ask a question about travel. Lonely Planet will answer. They’re really smart. I’ve seen it. I can actually buy tickets from Fandango within Facebook Messenger because of Assist. These are smart bots. I think we as marketers don’t need those. I think most people aren’t asking for that super interaction today. They will soon. I think marketing via there, I think that’s where people want to hear from you. That’s where people will feel more connected to Brian if you do that. I set one up as just a total experiment. It’s just a whole other world. I’m just getting started with it.
I’m just figuring out how to communicate with people, but I love getting stats. I love to see that over 80% of people will open up my messages and click on a button to respond to it, even though they’re basically doing call and response, where I’m saying, “Would you want to learn this?” They click yes. I say, “Did this make sense?” They click yes. That kind of little engagement, I get to measure. I get to tag them too, Brian, which is interesting. I get to say something like, “If I sell this one thing, would you buy? Yes, no, maybe.” I tag the people who say yes and I could come back to them later and say, “I think I figured out how to sell this to you. Is this what you wanted?” I tag the people who say no and I come back later and I say, and I literally have done this, I come back to them via Facebook Messenger and say, “Yesterday you said no, or five days ago you said no, I’ve been really thinking about this. Can you tell me why?” These are really smart things that are happening with Facebook Messenger.
Frankly, I’m talking about Facebook Messenger because over a billion people use it and because Facebook is so in your face about it that when you install Facebook app, they tell you you also need Messenger. They’ll tell you actually, “Hey, your sister just messaged you.” You go to click it and they say, “Install Messenger,” so you go, “Fine. I have to see what my sister said.” Then you install Messenger and then they get really persistent. They say, “Hey, you don’t have your notifications turned on.” You have to turn on notifications. Now you have Facebook Messenger app on your phone, notifications come up. When a marketer who you care about, like I care about running, sends you a short message, it pops up on your phone. You say, “Let me go check it out.” If they’re at all rude, you don’t have to look for their unsubscribe information. You just go to the list of all your messages, you swipe left and you delete them forever. Bye bye.
Brian Clark: Interesting stuff for sure. Andrew, thanks for being here. My deepest wish at this point is that one of your fans on social media will call me a jerk because of this interview, but I don’t know if I got there. I just don’t know if I pulled it off. Thanks again for being here, man. Best wishes to you this year.
Andrew Warner: Yup, thanks.
Brian Clark: All right everyone. Really solid interviewing tips there. I got what I signed up for. I hope you did as well. Thanks to Andrew for that. As always, in your own business, keep going.