Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Andrew Warner: I founded a company called Mixergy.com and that’s where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses and I do it for an audience of rabid entrepreneurs who are just eager to soak up as much information as they can from other entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. These are people who know about Hulu.com and know that they could be watching The Simpsons, Family Guy and whatever nonsense they could be watching on TV, but they choose to watch a program where entrepreneurs are talking about business instead.
Avil Beckford: What’s a typical day like for you?
Andrew Warner: I check out who my upcoming guest is and see if I need to do any extra research on him. The heart of my day is doing research for the interviewee that I am going to have on my show, and I never know about the person’s industry as much as he does so I like to prepare. And I like to find out where the person’s customers come from, how much company revenue, and if they really run the company they say that they ran.
I usually do that part of the research beforehand and I like to be extra sure before I go into the interview. Then I do my interview, which takes an hour, maybe an hour and a half which includes setup. I send the interview over to Joe my editor who makes sure that it sounds good, comes across well, that we have sponsors in the interview and that it is everything that people expected from us.
Avil Beckford: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Andrew Warner: It’s kind of tough sometimes. We all get a bit frustrated, I know that this year I did an interview every single day and some days I say, “Why am I even getting up to do another interview? Who is going to miss it if I don’t do one today?” But I think about all the people who I’ve interviewed, take the founder of JibJab, he told me about how he built this incredible company back in the nineties, then the internet dotcom bubble burst. He suddenly found himself with no more money to pay his employee, no more customers, down to nothing.
But he kept creating his funny videos, he kept posting a new one not every day like me because his takes up a lot more time. He kept on improving and improving, and pretty soon a lot of it became a huge hit, and he got on Jay Leno, all the news programs seem to carry his videos and suddenly his business was revitalized. And it wouldn’t have been revitalized if he just sat on his butt and said, “Hey, you know, let’s wait for the economy to turnaround.” It wouldn’t have been revitalized, if he just said, “I created these good videos in the past, somebody will discover them.”
It’s only a turnaround because he got up every day and built his business, and got up every day and thought about how he could be funny, or how he could make his videos more impactful, and that’s what happened with him. And I have tons of stories of entrepreneurs like that, and I think of how they did it, how they left their mark on the world and I want to do the same thing.
Avil Beckford: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Andrew Warner: I would start off a lot simpler. The simpler, the better. I’d maybe say to myself, “Why bother recording my interviews with entrepreneurs, why not just write down some notes and quickly post it. Why not offer a list of possible guests who I might have and see who the audience is into, that they would want me to pursue and only then go after those guests.”
I would just find simpler ways to do things; it’s so easy to get caught up into things. I used to create these – in addition to the hour-long interviews – two or three-minute clips from the interview where I would analyze what the interview was about, where I would show a clip from the interview, and it just took forever to create. It took too long and nobody at the time was paying attention to the work I was doing, and I was just getting sucked into all this extra work that nobody noticed. What I discovered was if I could just do the interview, post it up, and maybe later on add a transcript it drew its own audience.
Avil Beckford: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Andrew Warner: I made a lot of discoveries, and the most surprising and important one is to publish every single day. If you look at the top bloggers the one who we respect, most of them publish every single day. You look at Gary Vaynerchuk, he does videos every single day. You look at Fred Wilson, and Seth Godin who sometimes publishes two posts a day. You gotta just get up and do it every single day.
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I started doing an interview every day because I said, “I’m a horrible interviewer and I use the phrase uhmm a lot,” which is really bad when you’re trying to pay attention to someone to hear them say, “Uhmm,” over and over again. My thoughts sometimes wandered; I’m a lot clearer now because I spent the last year just working on being comfortable in front of the mike talking to people and I did it for myself.
I said, “I’m going to do an interview every single day so I can get better at expressing my ideas so I can get better asking questions and shutting up when the answer comes in instead of interrupting so I get better at learning about the people who I’m talking to.” What I discovered was by publishing every single day, my audience grew, by publishing every single day, the access that I had to new guests grew.
By publishing every single day, people became more familiar with me. I don’t fool myself into believing that every one of my audience reads and looks at every single interview that I post every single day, but they do know that I’m there all the time, and they do know that when they come back to the site for something new, they do know that more of their friends were interviewed this year than last year, that more of their friends talked to them about my work this year than last year, every single day. I would say every single day is more important than great quality.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
Andrew Warner: The best answer I could give that would encompass both tech entrepreneurs and bloggers and anything to do online is this, it is okay for version one to not be great. In fact, it’s a point of pride that version one sucks. The teacher I respected most at college was the one who worked really hard, really cared about his work, who was doing something with his life and trying to get us to do something. And the message he left us with was, “In life, anything less than an “A” is not okay, you can’t go to work for the New York Times and have a few typos and say, “It’s an A- so it’s fine.”
Back then in his world, it was absolutely true. Anyone who saw a typo in the New York Times was holding it up like a trophy to prove that they were geniuses, that they were better than the New York Times. Today, it doesn’t work that way. Today you look at your favourite news source, or most reliable news source, and unless it’s the New York Times, for many people it’s not anymore, it’s full of typos. I look at the tech blogs that I admire, they have typos and their audience corrects them. They make mistakes with some of the information they release out there, but they don’t hold themselves to knowing everything, they improve and improve and improve.
It’s the same thing with the web apps that we use. I ask the entrepreneurs who I interview, “What was your first web app like, how did it work, what was in there?” And you should see the look on their faces; they look like they were just kicked in the teeth. It was so bad for them to remember, but it was okay, people forgive, it’s not like in the auto industry if you bought a car and it broke down on day one, you just wouldn’t want to buy American again if it was an American car, never mind that, you wouldn’t want to buy whatever manufacturer it was, you wouldn’t want to buy from the country that made it. Today, if you get a web app and it’s broken or doesn’t work, you go and tell the person who created it, “Hey, I found a flaw,” and they appreciate it and you feel good that you were able to help out.
It’s the same thing with the interviews I do, the first ones were terrible, the ones today aren’t perfect, still I think I have a lot of rough edges and I still need to work on the way I express myself, in the way that I ask questions, and the way that I lead my guests through their stories. But it’s okay, the audience gives me feedback, I improve every day and people are very forgiving of mistakes. In fact, they respect people, they respect producers who are willing to make mistakes, what we don’t respect are people who aren’t willing to put out.
If you don’t get stuff out there we don’t have any respect for you. If you’re just sitting on the sidelines criticizing, we don’t have any respect for you. If you’re sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to be perfect and then only do you launch, we are going to laugh, so that’s huge and that changes the whole way that the world works, it changes who can start creating. It means more people can start doing it with fewer resources and less perfect results and just improve and improve and improve.
Avil Beckford: What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
Andrew Warner: I think that the only big threat is myself. What happens if I get hurt and I can’t continue my business? Because I’m doing interviews, it depends on me and I’m not running a business where anyone can jump in and take over any part of my work. I’m putting myself at risk that way, but I believe that I‘ll find a solution to that too. So I guess the only threat to my life is me not getting up every day and being willing to do something, not being willing to adjust, not being willing to create, not being willing to listen to the feedback I’m getting from the world. If I don’t do that I’m destroyed.
If I get up every day, if I work, if I take in information, if I learn, if I talk to the people in my audience, if I talk to the people in my world, if I talk to people who are completely out of my world and I learn from them, and I have the determination to make something happen, life will be good. But it’s a challenge I have to tell you because there are some days when you don’t want to get up, there are some days when you doubt your whole direction, there are some days throughout my life where I’ve said, “Am I doing the right thing?”
I started out with nothing, and it took me forever to build the first company, and it feels like forever. It was really two years until we were on a roll financially, but it felt like forever. Every one of those days I said – and we are talking about the previous company that I created Bradford & Reed – “I’m going to absolutely make it and build something great,” but also at different moments in those days, I said, “What if I fail, What if I’m an idiot over here, what if all these friends of mine are going off and starting companies or going to work for great companies and they’re on the right track and I’m a complete failure.
And what happens when we meet in five years and I can’t even afford to get into the restaurant to have dinner with them, let alone have a conversation with them because I’m so embarrassed that I failed completely and miserably.” And all that stuff is going through my head, and I said to myself, after I felt like I’d had some big financial cushions, some confidence in my own abilities, “I’m never going to have those doubts again, that’s it.”
I now know what I’m capable of, now I’ve given myself an incredible cushion financially; there is no reason for me to be worried; there is no reason for me to have doubts, I can approach life with complete confidence like those self-improvement gurus up on stage. I have to tell you that it doesn’t happen for me all the time, there are some days when I say, “I can’t believe I asked that question in the interview, I can’t believe I made that financial decision, what am I even doing having interviews on the internet, or what am I doing talking to these people, when I don’t know their businesses, and have to go and ask them questions and dig in deep into their companies, or why did I make that decision to put my money in this bank, invested here and not there.” So that’s a big challenge, but overcoming it has incredible rewards.
Avil Beckford: What’s unique about the service that you provide?
Andrew Warner: I’m looking at people who talk about businesses, like the guy on CNBC who brings in entrepreneurs and talk to them about how they built their businesses. They would tell him their stories and he would shake his head and say, “Wow! What a country, this is incredible, can you believe that this is happening?” And he would have some younger people on, say they were 17 years old, and he would say, “What were you doing when you were 17 years old?”
But all he wants to do is be amazed that this exists in the world, he doesn’t want to stop and say, “Wait, let’s think about this, when you’re giving me your numbers, is it that you made $2 million in sales or in profit?” There is a big difference there, is it net or is it gross, what are the margins you have in the business? So he doesn’t dig into those questions and a lot of people don’t. They just need that number and that’s it.
The other thing, he doesn’t say, “How did you get here? What did you do?” and I know that it’s boring for a television audience if the host stops an entrepreneur and say, “Okay, I understand, now that you’ve got a business that’s doing $X billion, you’re amazing, you’re fantastic, you skydive without a parachute, you’re so fantastic that even when you do that you still land on two feet, but let’s go back to when you were just starting, how did you get your first customer when you were nobody? What did you do to get your second customer?” Just go really granular and I know that it may be boring if you tell me about how you sat outside an office of a potential customer, and you tried to get a sale, and I know it will sound bad that you didn’t get the sale, but I want to know about that on Mixergy.
I know for a mainstream audience that would be terrible, but on Mixergy, for my audience of entrepreneurs, we want to know that stuff. We want to know how you did it, we want to know where you failed, we want to know where you succeeded, we want to know what you did that made you who you are, we don’t want to just be in awe of what you created, we want to know how you got there, and we want to know what we can do to get there because we’re not just here to be passive viewers and audience members in life, we’re here to be in that game.
Avil Beckford: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?
Andrew Warner: If I were doing a dating show, I would talk about the big LOVE, I would talk about how you meet people, but I would also get so annoyingly granular that it would piss off many people. I would say alright, “When you kiss, do you put both lips on, what point do you open your mouth, how long do you keep the kiss there?” I would get that frickin’ granular. If I were interviewing two people, I would say, “What was the first thing you said to her? When did you know he would be the right person? What did you say after that? How did you feel?”
I want to know every single thing. That sounds really nerdy to get into that when it comes to kissing, it sounds equally nerdy when you get into it with business. When someone is asking me about business and he is saying, “What did your landing page say? How did you get people to convert from viewers to customers?” That stuff is so frickin nerdy when I say, “How did you have the confidence to hire people when you did not have the money to pay them?” Some people when I interview them and ask questions like that will give me these little smiles like, “Come on you just do it,” and I say, “No you just don’t it because the rest of the world just don’t do it.
Put yourself into that frame of mind and tell me how you did it, where did you get that confidence? Did you wake up in the morning and say, ‘My life is absolute garbage unless I build this company.’ Did you have a mother or father who told you that you have to make it or else you’re a big failure? Did you have the confidence because that year you happen to be in a relationship and the girl or guy you were dating was making you feel you were on top of the world? What did you do specifically, let’s get into that and if you think it’s nerdy, suck it up and deal with it.”
That’s what this is about, and it’s the same thing for landing pages, the same thing for sales, the same thing for why you decided to sell your company. I want to know the whole thing. I want to understand every part of it. And that’s just the way it is and if you look at the people who made it, they have that kind of passion, they have that kind of interest.
I used to read these stories about real estate guys – hoteliers, and the interviewers who are writing pieces about them would inevitably say that when they were walking around a hotel with the owner of a hotel, the “son of a bitch” picks up pieces of paper on the floor that missed the garbage. The guys would be multimillionaires, billionaires, have drivers. They would be in a conversation but could not keep from picking up that piece of paper. It’s that kind of attention to detail they have, and that’s the kind of detail that the reporter reported back then when I was reading about this stuff, and it’s that kind of interest we have with businesspeople. We want to know why, how, specifics.
Avil Beckford: Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it. What kind of lessons did you learn in the process?
Andrew Warner: I want to do an interview every day, not for the rest of my life, not because it changes the world for me to do an interview every day, but because it meant a lot to me. So I started doing these interviews, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get those interviews up every single day. I couldn’t find enough guests, I couldn’t find enough time to record the interviews, I couldn’t find enough time to post them and I didn’t understand why. Why can’t I even post an interview a day? What’s taking me so long? Where is the problem here?
What I didn’t realize was, I was adding all kinds of nonsense to the process that was adding time but not adding value. Like I said earlier, I was starting to say, “Nobody will want to watch an hour-long interview unless I pull out the most important parts of the interview so I started recording these little commercials for my interviews which would take forever, and no one is going to view the interview unless I pull out the key points.”
So I started writing a blog post about those interviews, and I said no guest is going to want to do an interview with me in the first place unless I show him why he should do an interview with me so I started writing these long emails to every single person who I wanted to interview. And I said, “I cannot interview everybody it has to be the best of the best of the best,” and so I was limiting the number of people who I could interview. So all this little stuff that I thought was essential that I didn’t even realize I was doing, that I didn’t even question whether it was important to the process. I just kept on adding and adding and adding until there was no time to do an interview a day, till there was no time to think, there was no time to be really productive.
It wasn’t until I said, “Let’s go down to the bare minimum, what do I absolutely need to do?” It’s going to irritate some people if I go down to this level, it’s going to irritate some people if they don’t see in text the key points of my interview, but that’s okay. It’s going to irritate some people if they don’t see that little commercial with the three minutes of the most essential information from the hour-long interview.
And most people weren’t irritated by that. I just needed to get down to the basics so that I could do more, and the same thing happens in life too, doesn’t it? You start to think I need to have a car to function in life. I need to go out to lunches and dinners with friends because that’s important to do in business and in life and I need to buy this and I need to add that, and I need to have the best of everything. And then nothing gets done.
I went to Argentina and I sold my car that I loved, I put a lot of my things in storage, I gave away a lot of my stuff before I went away. I took just two bags and a dog with me, and my wife took two bags and our cat with her and we moved to a new country that we didn’t know anyone in, that we didn’t know much about and we lived there for a year and we realized that a lot of the stuff that we had was just empty distractions that were keeping us from the stuff that we wanted to do and that’s the big realization that I made in life, and I just keep thinking whenever there is a problem I think, where do I buy the solution, who do I give money to so they can solve the problem, what piece of new technology do I need to buy to solve this problem?
What I discovered is the better answer is the opposite. It’s what do I need not to do that won’t require this new technology, that maybe won’t require some of the technology time that I’ve put in so far. What is it that I don’t need? And that’s a much harder question to ask because there is nobody advertising less. Apple is advertising the iPad, my friends are advertising the iPad, companies that I do business with are advertising the iPad because they want me to buy it to interact with their new software.
My friends are advertising it because they think it’s so cool and they can’t help but tell me, so when I have a problem, it’s natural for me to think, well this is the solution, of course I’m going to think that because it’s been advertised to me. What I’m not going to think, “Look at this office, there is so much frickin’ things here that I’m trying to produce.” Maybe I don’t need to produce that for what I’m trying to get involved with. So that’s the big challenge, the big realization that I’ve had.
Avil Beckford: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
Andrew Warner: There were lots of big breaks, but here is one. I went to downtown New York, not too far from my office to talk to a customer of mine. On my way out of there, I heard this guy say, “I’m sorry guys I have to run, I don’t have the time. I have to go and look at an apartment uptown. I can’t help you guys today, maybe tomorrow.” So I recognized the guy and said, “Mike, I’ve got a car downstairs, my brother and I will give you a ride up to your apartment and you can get there on time.”
So we’re driving up to the apartment and the whole time I’m thinking, “I should be at my desk, I should be working, what am I doing, just kind of hanging out, what’s wrong with me here, I’ve got to be more efficient,” but I’m enjoying the conversation so I continue, and Mike and I are having a great conversation with my brother, and it’s terrific. I pull over and let Mike out in front of his place and he says, “Thank you! By the way I know that you’re trying to build up your business Andrew we have this customer called Life Minders, they have been buying lots of advertising from us, if you email or contact them and mention my name they’ll buy from you. Alright, goodbye!”
He leaves and I’m sitting there stunned, the guy just handed me a customer, one of his best customers he just introduced me to. That would never have happened if I was just sitting at my desk. It would never have happened if I didn’t get to know him, if I didn’t have this conversation. I called up Life Minders, and they ended up buying from me. The very first cheque to me was for over $300,000. I looked at it with my brother. We had never seen that much money in the business. I don’t think either of us has seen that big a cheque ever in our lives. It turned around our whole business. We were deep in debt at the time. We could barely pay the bills at the time. That cheque turned things around.
The next cheque from them was for I think $1 million, the next one was for $2 million in advertising and it turned around our business. And what I learned from that was to just go out and have conversations with people and get to know them and really learn from them. That kind of information would never have been on a blog, would never just be on the internet somewhere, and would never have been advertised. I had to get to know Mike to get that kind of information.
Avil Beckford: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
Andrew Warner: Before Mixergy was a series of interviews with entrepreneurs talking about how they built their businesses, it was an event that I would put on with some friends. But that wasn’t enough, I needed software to let people know who was coming to the event, and I wasn’t happy with evite and all the software that was out there so I said alright, “I’ll create it, I have experience in the internet space, I know how to create software. I’ll just create my own invitation system.”
I started and then I paid a little bit of money to have it done, and I thought it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I’m going to pay more, I’ll get what I want so I paid a little bit more and then I said, “That’s not really it, I’ll pay a little bit more and get what I want.” This isn’t what other people want necessarily but I imagined what they needed and wanted and I said, “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out, it’s just money, I can live my life and I’ll be fine, this thing will be fine.” Then I started spending more and more money and before I knew it I was spending, I think it was $300,000 that went into this little piece of software that I wanted and I was never going to be in the invitation business.
But when you spend more than $50,000 or $100,000 on a business, you are in that business. So I started focusing more on the invitation business, how do I improve it, how do I do it even though I didn’t care about the invitation business, I just wasn’t passionate about it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I started to say maybe I could sell that invitation business and then do what I really want because you know if I could just improve it a little bit, and I can tweak it, I know that I can make it work. I know I have made other things work that didn’t work out first. I’ll just spend more time on it, then I’ll flip it and make some money on it and then life will be great.
What I didn’t realize is how much I didn’t like being in that business, and if you don’t like being in a business, and if you’re just in it because there is some money down the road. If you are just in it because you happen to be in it, or if you are just in it because you are too proud to say it’s not working, then your life is just going to be miserable, and the business is never going to go anywhere. The best thing I did was say, “I admit I shouldn’t be in here, I don’t even know how I got here, and I admit that it failed and I’m going to move on.”
I even did it by video, “I’m too embarrassed to admit it, but I’m going to say it publicly, because I have to get past this embarrassment, and I’ve got to just own it and see how it feels afterwards.” I did it, I admitted it was a failure, and man, life felt so good. I remember riding my bike in Santa Monica, California where I live and I was just enjoying Kanye West who was on my iPod, in a different way. I was enjoying cycling in a different way, I was just feeling like there was a world of possibilities now in front of me because this shackle that I had imposed on myself, that I put on each ankle and both wrists were removed. I removed them and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be for me to remove it, and it didn’t feel bad for me to remove it. It felt great and now I feel like I can do anything.
This was my biggest failure and also one of my biggest successes.
- How Andrew Warner built an email list of 23 million subscribers (startupfreedom.com)