WHAT THE AFF is a FREE newsletter covering the latest news, trends, tips and tricks in the affiliate marketing industry. If you haven’t yet signed up to receive this newsletter everyday (Monday-Friday) you should right away at http://bit.ly/wtaff-subscribe
Here’s the INTERVIEW
WHAT THE AFF interviews – where we bring you short and sweet interviews with the top online marketers on this side of the Milky Way.
Today’s guest is Attila O’Dree, aka iAmAttila. He’s a veteran in the industry, a past speaker at Affiliate World Europe, a well-known figure on the STM Forum. He’s basically been through it all in the past 20 years and we’re happy to bring you a glimpse from it!
WTAFF Crew: Describe yourself in 20 words or less (focus on personality, not affiliate experience).
iAmAttila: Serial entrepreneur, married with 2 kids. Loves technology, 70% introverted, 30% extroverted, not a fan of sports, world traveller, car lover, BBQ fan, avid non-fiction reader and documentary watcher.
WTAFF Crew: How long have you been in the industry for, what’s your beginner story?
iAmAttila: I first touched affiliate marketing without knowing it was affiliate marketing in 1996 by promoting Cyberthrillcasino on my warez sites I made and hosted on Geocities and Fortunecity.
I owned a web design company pre-dotcom bubble and did super well designing logos for many startups and getting paid huge money for it; then I got bored of the Internet and after finishing high school started organizing dance events and raves.
Did that for a few years, then moved to Serbia and since these EDM events lose money, I had a choice – move back to Canada or stay in Serbia and do something online. Then got into SEO, then paid media buys and here we are today.
WTAFF Crew: Creative wizard vs numbers geek – where do you find yourself between the 2 extremes and why?
iAmAttila: I am definitely a creative wizard that sees opportunity. I have huge problems with organization and logical thinking.
I have a really easy time explaining things and writing instructions that’s why I love to blog. Creativity is a major asset in online marketing because it allows you to think of a lot of new ideas and come up with super unique angles.
I’m also a tech nerd, and really enjoy technology – this actually is not a good thing because since I know so much about tech, I overcomplicate a lot of things and later learn from huge 7 figure affiliates on how they made so much (after that offer or vertical dies of course) and usually its SO SIMPLE.
Why? Because they don’t have the tech background and think really simple and just do it simple.
WTAFF Crew: What are you focusing now, in 2018? Why?
iAmAttila: In 2018 my focus has been on lead generation and branding. I took a break from blackhat as I was building a house and it took the life out of me to micromanage all aspects of it.
I feel lead generation is something that Facebook and Adwords will never ban because every business needs it.
Branding is very powerful, if you sell generic you compete on price – if you establish a Brand then you don’t have competition; you sell an image and you can price your product however you want it established.
WTAFF Crew: What’s the biggest challenge you are facing in AM/your campaigns/your business right now?
iAmAttila: The biggest challenge hands down is FACEBOOK’s crazy ban crazy attitude. They banned our wholesale WordPress sites company – www.wholesalewpsites.com saying they don’t support the business model.
When asked, the rep was puzzled too but said he couldn’t do anything. Can’t really run a sustainable business when instead of worrying about marketing, you have to worry whether your account dies right away.
WTAFF Crew: We’ve seen you post both on FB and on the STM Forum about not being dependant on a traffic source. Could you explain to everyone what you mean and more importantly, how can that be achieved? Give us some steps we can share with everyone.
iAmAttila: Luckily I listened to people when I started blogging so I created a mailing list right from the start. A highly engaged mailing list with a great open rate that has grown to over 11,000 affiliate subscribers to date.
A mailing list allows me to email my subscribers anytime I want, and I can say whatever I want. No policy worries.
Since email has been such an asset for my brand iAmAttila; I’ve started 2 years ago creating mailing lists in the nutra vertical by giving away lead magnets, to get people to optin to my lists.
These lists are nurtured with free-useful content, and we promote a lot of offers direct to the lists. Price is almost free, aside from copywriting costs, and it’s stable and I don’t have to worry about frequent bans like on FB.
WTAFF Crew: You’re one of the people in the industry that also setup services for affiliates. Can you walk us through what business you started and why?
iAmAttila: As I said earlier, I have an eye for opportunities. Early on I read a book called The Lean Startup; and I followed the advice in this book as well. (I like listening and following advice from smart people).
So when I got into affiliate marketing, and started hiring a designer, programmer, assistant to help me with campaigns, I created Banners&Landers to ensure I run a lean operation.
Two reasons why I created Banners&Landers – #1, to keep my employees busy since I didn’t have full time work for them 8 hours per day, and #2 to ensure if I am making zero money from campaigns because we didn’t hit a winner, their salaries will always be paid.
I never in the world expected Banners&Landers to be so successful that we’ve had over 4700 satisfied customers to date.
Aside Banners&Landers I realized not many people are creative, so I hired some super creative writers for myself to write us ads angles and landers – again, to ensure I run lean I created a new company called Anglesaurus where we come up with angles for affiliates. It became pretty famous for our 10 angles for $100 bucks offer.
WTAFF Crew: What events do you find most useful, where can people find you usually?
iAmAttila: I am a huge fan of anything STM organized; I know these guys forever and they are truly the pinnacle of affiliate marketing online.
I have attended every single Affiliate World Europe to date and will in the future as well; so you can definitely meet me there!
WTAFF Crew: To wrap it up… Affiliates and online marketers like to show off sometimes. We want to switch it around so we ask what’s the purchase you are least proud of?
iAmAttila: I honestly don’t spend a ton of money, that’s why I was able to build 3 houses for cash in the last 4 years – the last one costing me 1,200,000 Euros.
But one of the purchases I regret is buying the house of Miro’s grandfather (Miro’s my right hand man in charge of managing orders @ bannerslanders.com).
I bought this house for x and ended up selling it for way less. I jumped into it, thought it was a great idea but then life got in the way and we moved to Budapest, and the idea never materialized.
I wanted to renovate the house and open a car wash, a Fornetti franchise and a cafe as it was at a busy intersection. Wish I would’ve listened to my wife Dora not to buy it!!
WTAFF Crew: Thanks Attila! It’s cool to see how some affiliates like you put their money to work in so many other areas! ‘Til next time!
WHAT THE AFF is a FREE newsletter covering the latest news, trends, tips and tricks in the affiliate marketing industry. If you haven’t yet signed up to receive this newsletter everyday (Monday-Friday) you should right away at http://bit.ly/wtaff-subscribe
I’ve known Mike for YEARS and when I was looking for interesting people to interview, I knew he was the right man to ask! WARNING: You won’t be dissapointed! Guaranteed! Just like my previous interview, I give you ALL the goods, from A to Z on a man that to me is a legend in our industry. PLEASE Share this interview with friends, co-workers, relatives, help spread the word and the story that is…
Mike Schwalbach’s nontraditional “rags to riches” story will inspire you to go beyond the numbers and look at what really matters if you want to be successful.
Where does the story of Mike begin?
On one hand, I’m a self-made man who has found success through hard work. I was born in Amsterdam and raised by my mother, a German-speaking Portuguese immigrant. She left my father who was an alcoholic when I was very young. We had practically no money, living in the Bijlmer area of Amsterdam – a place which is not considered to be very nice. Everything I’ve learned about entrepreneurship comes, in a way, from her. She was a real survivor.
It was tough, honestly, but it made me who I am. I learned to work hard from a young age and found my entrepreneurial spirit early. I was independent and always made my own money because I had no other choice. My parents didn’t have to give me anything, which was good. I used that energy to build a number of successful businesses over the years.
On the other hand, I’m an entrepreneur who has been active in our industry for quite some time. I was one of the first heavy users of the internet, and I’ve always looked for opportunities, which means I’ve been a part of many projects that people know… I was involved with the company that built most of the major Dutch search engines, such as Funda (which is still the biggest real estate site in the Netherlands), Autotrack.nl (which targets audiences that need to buy a car) and AskJolene. I went to some of the first shows in our industry, InterNEXT and Phoenix Forum back in the late nineties, where I started to build relationships which have lasted to this day.
Starting your own business can sound real daunting, especially if you are used to promoting other people’s products as an affiliate. You know, where you simply run traffic, and collect commissions and that’s it. Yea this way of living is rewarding, you can travel wherever you want, and do as you please. But if you STOP, there won’t be any money to live off, the wheels will stop turning with you.
That’s why I’ve been exploring the land of starting your own product, service or store. In other words REAL business. As I said it, this is extremely daunting, because there’s just SO MANY variables. For example, e-commerce is exploding right now with a lot of affiliate marketers used to cloaking Google and Facebook or running Pin Submits on Zeropark switching to creating their own stores, and selling drop shipped items from china.
They might be doing this because there’s less and less opportunities in affiliate marketing (many disagree), or because they simply are getting bored of having to turn the wheel every single day, and looking to build a sell-able asset that can run if they decide to take a break for a month. This is NOT affiliate marketing, this is the next level many grow up to. In the world of e-com, you need to look after logistics, customer service, keeping a healthy merchant account, accounting, responsibilities after responsibilities.
I’ve decided to reach out to an old friend, you might have heard of him, he’s the founding father of Zeropark and Voluum, the revolutionary tracker used by internet marketers all over the world. He came from employee, and today heads one of the biggest self financed startups in Poland. Here’s the guy on the biggest billboard in Poland.
What’s the story behind Codewise, the company behind Zeropark and Voluum?
Codewise originally wasn’t my company, it was founded by 3 other guys and it was destined to be a rather typical outsourcing gig. In 2011 I approached them along with a bunch of other Polish outsourcing companies asking for a quote for my first startup idea. Codewise came back with the most reasonable offer and so our cooperation began. With time I came up with the idea for Zeropark and we worked on the two projects in parallel. Things seemed to be going well and we first did a minor share exchange. A while later we did a more sizable exchange after which I came to own a large chunk of Codewise. Keep in mind that during this whole time I was running a rather large one man affiliate operation doing on average $300,000 revenue per month. I used the profits to keep Codewise afloat as we hired people and continued to work on 2 projects that weren’t profitable. 0
At some point in 2012 I started to feel that I didn’t enjoy working with two of the co-founders. One of them had a bit of a power trip being CEO of Codewise the other was not very competent as CTO. The day before my first holiday, our then CTO made a blunder that cost me over $300,000 within the span of 4 hours – this was a blunder on Blitzcliq – our internal tracker we built to automate my media buys. I stormed out of the office without a word got a pack of cigarettes even though I didn’t smoke. The 3rd co-founder (my future CTO) found me in the park, we talked and we decided that we need to somehow boot them out. So we met with my lawyer and planned a hostile takeover. We quickly realized that without my funding Codewise would go bankrupt within 3 weeks. I arranged a meeting with everyone and my opening line was “I’ve arranged this meeting today because I will be ending my cooperation with Codewise.” Silence and shock. They had no idea it was coming. Mind you, this was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. I vividly recall washing my face with cold water in the bathroom minutes before saying “You son of a bitch, you can do this! You have to do this!”. They knew this was the end, we called recess and went away for 2 hours for both sides to come up with terms.
2 hours later we sit down again. With forced confidence and a wry smile the two guys demand $250,000 each claiming that Zeropark was on the verge of becoming something huge — they really had no idea to what extent this was true, nor did I at that time. Zeropark hadn’t even broken even at that point. My lawyer laughs and makes an unprofessional remark. I ask him to stop.
I tell them calmly that I will pay them $50,000 each, no more. Tense discussions continue, they know they have no leverage. Taking us to court would be costly and a massive waste of time, and without my know-how the company wouldn’t be worth a thing. They accept. Emotions are high and things are moving quickly. We find a notary that was working on the weekend and went to sign over the company to me. The guys were in tears, they were losing their baby which they founded well before I joined. It was intense. We signed the documents. Legally it was done. Codewise was mine. All I had to do was wire the money. Bartek (the last remaining partner) and I went to get sushi, and I recall wiring the $100,000 sitting in the restaurant with an ear to ear smile on my face saying “I can’t believe we fucking did it. The company is ours!”. We went back to the office feeling elated.
The next day came what I felt was to an extent an even more challenging task. It was Monday and at that time we had around 8 developers. How was I to convince these guys that 2 of the co-founders had just been ousted and that a company that was losing money was still going to be a secure place to work? Mind you, to hire these guys we had to lie about how well we were doing to create the illusion of job security when we had no clue of what the future held. To a great extent we really didn’t quite know what we were doing. I rehearsed what I was going to say so that I wouldn’t falter. I showed up at 630am before anyone came in and one by one I took them aside to tell them what had happened, convinced them that this was for the best and guaranteed that their jobs are safe. This took place in January 2013. I consider it the time when I truly took the reins at Codewise, got my shit together, and started moving the company in the right direction. I had no other choice.
Fast forward a few years up until the end of 2015. I’m facing an extreme burnout — something which I expand on later in this piece. Psychological, physical, I’m not sleeping, I can’t cope with the scale and the stress that comes with it. By now we’re a very profitable company and I no longer run any affiliate campaigns. We have a very successful second product, Voluum. Yet I’m in the worst place I’ve ever been in my mind, I’m breaking down. My partner is away in Japan for a month long vacation and I’m having internal battles debating if I’m able and willing to continue with this. He gets back and says he needs to meet with me outside the office. I’m nervous. I meet him and immediately feel that something isn’t right. We sit down and he straight away tells me that he’s made up his mind, he’s leaving the company. I’m in shock. I’ve been having these same thoughts.. Wtf is going on? This is the end. He explains that his stress runs in parallel with our success. The size of the company is greater than he ever wanted it to be, his role has evolved into something that’s taken him away from what he loves; coding. He’s become a manager, he no longer is excited about what he does and it’s taken a heavy toll on his life outside of work. He isn’t happy. He said he wasn’t able to relax during his month long trip. I completely understood him.. Having felt the same for the past months. I always knew that if he ever left I’d be doomed alone. I was convinced that this is it. Here are two guys, owners of a self-funded company that many are envious of. One that rakes in millions of dollars in profits and they both want out. It goes to show that only the surface of success is seen by outsiders. You’ve probably seen the iceberg analogy of success where people only see the tip; it’s completely true. There is more shit, pain and stress below the surface than you can imagine.
I told Bartek that I wanted to sit down with him upon his return to discuss my departure. He was also surprised. We decided that there are two options. 1) I buy him out and continue running the company. 2) He stays on until we sell the company together. I’m not sure what happened, but my competitive character kicked in and I decided that I wanted to try to run the show myself. I found that I always functioned best in situations where it was do or die. Situations which would cripple most people. Diving into the deep end was somewhat of a specialty of mine even though I didn’t always know how to swim. We negotiated terms and he was out. He had his farewell at our December monthly company meeting during which I broke down sobbing saying goodbye to him in front of the company. It was heavier than I had anticipated.
During our negotiations I had initiated dialogue with a few investment banks that had expressed interest in selling the company for us. I went to LA in January 2016 to meet one of them to get an idea of where Codewise stands in terms of a potential exit. They presented me with a 100 page dossier including a very detailed analysis of our company based on the metrics we provided, as well as comparisons to similar companies they’ve sold. This led to an estimated sale value which blew my fucking mind. The range in which we were valued reached into the mid 9 figures. I couldn’t believe it. At this point I had a very healthy distance to money, practically no emotional attachment to it. I told the bankers this, and that I’m not ready to sell yet. They said they hear this from every entrepreneur they speak with, but when they hand them a check with 8 zeros, it changes everybody’s mind. I said that I wasn’t ready to sell. Truthfully what I thought to myself was.. “If I was to get $100M+ in cash I would lose my fucking mind. I’m 29 years old, wtf will I do? I don’t have the energy to start another company.” but mainly I knew I’d lose my mind and I couldn’t let that happen. This was a critical moment in my career because I fully realized what we had built, and I saw that the potential value of it was far greater than I could have dreamed. I was on the the verge of building a self-funded unicorn. Holy shit. More importantly I realized that I’m not in this game to exit for a few hundred mil, there’s something deeper that keeps me going.
I got back to the office with a new fire, and that fire was lit right under my ass. It was do or die. Bartek was gone and I only realized just how much was on his shoulders when he was gone. I completely underestimated it. Somewhere from deep within a new Rob emerged and started crushing it. I honestly didn’t recognize myself in the beginning.. I had become a master of execution and delegation. Figuring out step by step how to fill in the hole that was left behind. I soon realized that I am able to keep this show on the road on my own and it was the sweetest victory in my career.
Fast forward to October 2015. I turn 30 and receive two awards (Fast 50 #1 & Big 5 #1) at the Deloitte Fast 50 gig for fastest growing company in Central Europe with a growth rate of 13,052% over the past 4 years. My parents were there, it was beautiful.
“..no one else comes close to the 13,052% recorded by Polish tech marketing hub, Codewise, which leads not only the Fast 50 ranking itself but also the “Big Five” listing of larger companies.” – Alastair Teare, CEO of Deloitte Central Europe
Last week we just moved into Codewise’ 5th office except this one we designed, built and planned starting two years ago. It’s a 3000 sqm (27,000 square feet) space designed for 250 people with a gym, soundproof music room and generally designed for life and not just work. Not to mention that Uber has offices below us.
I’m now in the best place I’ve ever been in my life, both personally and professionally. With this intro I wanted to get across that the road to success is a rocky and unpredictable one. Whatever the outcome may be for you I know it’ll be worth it. You’ll grow, develop and mature like never before. You need to remember that this is the priceless bit of the entrepreneurial journey. Money is secondary.
What made you want to stop being an affiliate and create your own business?
I probably wouldn’t say that I suddenly stopped wanting to be an affiliate it was a gradual and mindful process where I started to ask questions and wonder if this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Affiliate marketing was the foundation that led me to wanting and feeling able to start my own business. When Codewise finally became profitable I slowly phased out all my media buying even though it was practically running on autopilot via CPA buys. Having said that, I didn’t get any joy out of running the campaigns, it became completely unfulfilling, a pure grind at some point. If you’re at that point yourself, you seriously need to start asking yourself if this is what you want to do. As you mature, and realize that money isn’t as important as you once thought, you realize that success isn’t the amount of money you make, or how famous you are, it’s the process of doing and building something that you’re passionate about — something that is bigger than yourself.
What were the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge was leaving the affiliate mindset behind. The mindset of instant gratification, it’s addicting, and it’s comparable to gambling. I can relate having had a rather serious gambling problem when I was 19. I call it the shift from instant gratification to distant gratification, it almost feels like reprogramming your brain, it’s not easy and it takes time. There’s really nothing quite like affiliate marketing in terms of a quick potential return that you can then scale, it’s thrilling. Building a business can be very frustrating if you’re still stuck in that mindset, it takes time, you don’t see any results for months, you’re to an extent sailing into the abyss not knowing what awaits you. It’s intimidating the first few times, and when you start out your doubts and projections will typically lead you to failure or stagnant growth. Zeropark was my second startup, my first failed miserably, I won’t even mention it other than I learned more during the first than at any school or any job I’ve ever had. It’s all a bit like a role playing game, where you level up as you go, taking hits here and there, and as you gain experience you’re able to take on greater challenges more comfortably. Failure is part of the game. The winners grow with failure, the losers get crushed by failure. That’s what distinguishes real entrepreneurs from regular folk.
On that note, I used to be a semi-pro gamer (Counter-strike & Day of Defeat) and I played a lot of strategy games. I feel that this experience was also key to my success as I “gamify” everything that I do. Money is sort of a high score, or a resource/tool that you can use to grow further. I mention this as another challenge is the emotional attachment to money that I had for many years, something that most people never grow out of. It’s also called poor man’s thinking, a mentality based on scarcity. You will never get very far with this mindset, it’s prevalent among most people. If you’re interested in this topic I recommend reading Rich Dad Poor Dad. I managed to shake this scarcity based thinking relatively early which resulted in not having problems dropping $30,000 on exhibiting with Voluum at Affiliate Summit East ‘13 in Philadelphia when the platform wasn’t even ready, nor did I really just have the funds lying around to splurge out like this. We continue to do this, having dropped nearly $300,000 at Dmexco this year. People often ask me if I get a ROI on the shows, I say I don’t know, I don’t measure it, but what I do know is that one good meeting could pay for everything 10 fold, and it’s happened before. It’s this type of action that has put Zeropark and Voluum ahead of the competition. Where our competitors often don’t even exhibit to “save money”, we go balls out and rake in the winnings while they stand on the sidelines with their scarcity approach. I go as far as coining this method to madness as CDD (conference driven development). If you don’t have pressure to execute, you by default take on a more lax approach. CDD forces us to work harder, faster and smarter with a looming deadline of a massive conference where we drop big money. You have to put yourself out there to make it big, it’s not going to magically happen on its own. Spend money to make money is what I like to say. I’ve made people in our company lean towards this type of thinking, obviously it’s a bit different when you’re not the owner, but I call myself “The Enabler”, I grant anyone any expenditure that I feel at some point might benefit Codewise.
What were your biggest mistakes?
Not delegating. This relates to the previous question, as delegating is one of the greatest challenges for any entrepreneur, at least in the early stages. To some it comes easier, but it’s a skill that everyone has to learn one way or another. It’s the simple thought process and projection of “nobody will do it as well as I will”. Then before you know it, you are the bottleneck of the whole operation. What you also fail to realize is that it is quite likely that no one will do things as well as you from the get go. However, if you never entrust anyone to try, they will never learn, and never be able to become better than you at executing that certain task that you were hesitant to delegate in the first place. This is often the hardest for perfectionists. Believe me, being a perfectionist is not a strength, it’s a massive weakness. It’s a hindrance to becoming a proficient executor. You will always delay things, and not delegate tasks instead of just getting shit done and charging ahead of your competitors. I used to be that perfectionist, and I became mindful of it, it took years of self-awareness to get where I am today. I still to this day have that perfectionist voice creep up in my head, you just need to know when to ignore it.
Another mistake was neglecting my health, both mental and physical. I used to be very active at school, gym, sports, the lot. Work became my excuse to discontinue all that. There’s always time to do and take care of things, and there’s nothing more important than your health. At one point early on in my AM career I was grinding 16 hours a day, and instead of exercising I was taking prescription muscle relaxants. This led to a whole slew of problems, including me battling insomnia for years – only now starting to get better as I’ve taken a step back from running things actively. All sorts of prescription medications, depression, mental breakdowns. It’s all part of the hard knock entrepreneur life when you push yourself to the limits. Psychologists, psychiatrists, I’ve been through it all. I suppose what I want to relay to you is that the work/life balance is of utmost importance. Keeping your head straight requires work, exercise, offline holidays. When you’re young and in your 20’s you think you’re unstoppable, believe me that such reckless behaviour has extreme costs for your mind and body, and in turn, your business. On the other hand it’s also part of the journey, each person is different, and you just need to be aware of what you’re doing to yourself and figure out what your limits are.
This is the main reason that I built a gym in our new office, we’re in the process of hiring 2 full time PTs and I encourage everyone to workout during working hours. This to an extent all wraps back around to delegating, when you have so many things on your shoulders, your mind is on constant overdrive. It’s like driving your car and revving it in the red zone non stop, it’s going to break down quickly, and it’s going to break down hard when it does. You need to take your foot off the pedal and you need to figure out when that moment is. Remember, when you’re burnt out you’re probably 10-20% as productive as you would be when you’re well rested, feeling driven and fresh. I’ve found that taking time off when I felt a burn out coming on, like 2 weeks, would lead me to coming back and doing more in a week than I did 1-2 months before the holiday. I travel all the time now. Not only does it refresh my mind and enables me to keep growing the company, and extend the vision – I also get my best ideas when I’m out of the office. When you have that fresh perspective outside the daily routine, beautiful and creative things are assembled in the mind.
If you could travel back in time, and just have 30 seconds to tell yourself something, say 5 years ago. What would it be and why?
Wow, helluva question. To begin with, I’d like to point out that I used to have thoughts like this along the lines of “Damn, if only I could just travel in time and buy up all those typo domains, or do this differently, then I’d be super ‘successful’ now and I’d show everybody”. This is poor man’s thinking too, it’s dreaming, you’re projecting into the past, don’t do it, wtf. It’s an unsuccessful mindset that leads to these thoughts, you’re behaving exactly like the people who go out and buy lottery tickets. It’s foolish, full of false hope, counterproductive, and you need to grow out of it. I’m going to continue on this mild tangent..
As you become more experienced you realize that success is quite literally nothing more than a mindset, a way of thinking. Where the noobie entrepreneur only sees problems the veteran entrepreneur who has already tasted many victories and even more failures only sees solutions and ways around problems, there are no obstacles, only the ones you project in your mind. Not to sound smug but I’ve mindfully reached a point in my life where I see no obstacles. I always see a way out even in the most dire situations where I feel most people would have given up a long time ago – that is what defines a successful person. Always yes, never no. Always doing, never talking things up and not taking action.
Going back to the question.. 🙂 If I went back and had 30 seconds to tell myself something I’d say “Rob, you son of a b*tch, you have no idea what’s ahead of you, it’s beyond your wildest dreams. But stop dreaming and keep doing! Life is too short to play it safe!”.
If someone feels, they could never do what you did because they feel like they must do everything themselves or it won’t be done right, what would you tell them?
Touched upon the delegation part earlier but I’ll expand on it. I was absolutely terrible at delegating, 3 years into the company I was still ordering office supplies and equipment because I thought someone would order the wrong sh*t. Also, I was a bit of a control freak and didn’t want to let things go. Delegating is something that you learn by doing. With time you see that people who you’ve entrusted with certain tasks become more proficient doing them than you. When you get a taste of that, it’s a revelation. Your eyes suddenly open to the fact that this is the only way forward, and the only way to make it big. You have a shift in thinking where you start to identify your weaknesses, you see that you’re not the smartest one around, and you embrace it. The most rewarding thing at Codewise is when I see something amazing that someone or some team has done with zero input from me. These days I often have no knowledge that something like this was being worked on, and I f*cking love it! This big beautiful machine has become autonomous and I no longer have to be constantly stressing about being in control, trying to drive it forward “my way”.
At the beginning how did you justify the high cost of employees? How did you comfort yourself knowing you are paying programmer X 10,000 per month, but he’s just sitting around doing mini projects that don’t bring any money right now?
I myself am not a technical person, my ex business partner and CTO did the hiring. If you don’t have a technical background and you want to build a tech product, service or platform, you need to surround yourself with the best or you will fail at some point. At best you’ll hit a bottleneck which I see happening to many of our partners. Technology is everything in this business. How did I justify the high salaries of talented tech people? That was the easy part. I knew I was building something that had huge potential. The difficult part was firstly finding these people, and once you found them, convincing them to join a tiny company that had little to show for itself. It was a game of presenting the company and vision in a way that you yourself didn’t even believe at that time. If you get the right players on board, give them what they need, treat them with respect, then they will respect the company and you. Why? Because you’re likely providing them with a life and work environment that would be difficult to find elsewhere. When people feel like they’re part of something, they care, slap some good old CDD (conference driven development) on there and you’re on the right path.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated?
Motivation is a fickle thing, it comes and goes. There are some days when you wake up and it’s there. Other days you cannot even force yourself to do the simplest tasks. The day goes by without you having done anything productive other than clicking between tabs, jumping between trivial tasks and being on social media. You realize with age that motivation isn’t something that you can count on. However, I’ve found that motivation follows action. Most people wait around for motivation to come to them, I’ve learned to plow through and take action. Motivation typically follows once you get the ball rolling.
The other thing that motivates me (mind you I’m a big Gary V fan) is the fact that I’m going to die. Life is goddamn shorter than you can comprehend, and you want to be the loser who waits around for motivation or the “right moment”? Or do you want to be the guy who gets up and crushes it every day regardless of the odds. This book is one that I preach to any person who finds trouble getting sh*t done – it’s changed my life, professionally and privately, especially the concept of digital success (as opposed to analog) which you can read about in his book. I’m going to be inviting the author to our office as I love his ideas and thought process so much.
“I know it’s cliché, but life is too short to play it safe. Given our natural limit of about 100 years, we have every reason to throw ourselves at the world with a good measure of (smart) reckless abandon. That’s the mark of the imperfectionist. It won’t be satisfying at the end of your life to have solid excuses for not doing all the things you wanted to do.” – How to be an Imperfectionist
I write these things, but mind you, it took me years to realize, learn and become mindful of them. I would say that I’ve only entered this zen flow this year; of doing things, and seeing absolutely no obstacles — roaming around with a permanent success mindset. It’s infectious, it spreads to people who surround you. You attract more like-minded people when you’re in this state. It’s beautiful. If you’re that naysayer, who sees problems, little problems when there’s a big exciting vision, instead of just believing that it can be done, knowing it can be done; people don’t want to be around that guy.
The reason this is important is because it leads me to company culture. You’re out to build something, but what you may not realize is that your company is nothing more than the people you hire and the technology they build. You are the company culture, it is an embodiment of your character, way of being and persona. Nothing else. It will of course change and evolve over time as the company grows but it will completely reflect the type of person you are and who you turn into over the years. This is why it is important to be in the right mindset. If you’re still in the scarcity mindset, fearful of the future, it’ll be projected onto your people. You have to show your toughest side in the worst moments, make it seem like you always know what you’re doing and where you’re heading. It’s tiresome as hell, I’ve had mental breakdowns over the years, days when I wouldn’t even come to the office. I’ve been fighting insomnia for years now, and it’s only now getting better. Taken all sorts of meds to help me function. It’s a rough road the one you’re considering embarking on. People see my success and have no idea of the things I’ve been through. But I don’t regret a thing, it’s changed me, I’ve grown as a man, and I feel I have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of this world than most people will have in a lifetime.
These days what keeps me motivated is just coming into the office, this beautiful space, with a 100 people all smarter than me in some way. It feels like a family, it’s my happy place, even though I do burn out here after a bit due to information overload. But then I take a vacation like I’m doing tomorrow to Peru for 3 weeks, do some Ayahuasca come back and see that we’ve broken all sorts of records in my absence. Nothing is more glorious. You also start to see that you can have a serious impact on this world when you reach a certain scale. I have distant plans to do some serious philanthropy and start other not necessarily digital businesses to make a positive impact on this crazy world we live in.
“One of the biggest issues I have, and what’s keeping me from expanding my company like Rob did, is the fact that people are fucking idiots. I feel that unless I do everything myself, it won’t be done properly. This is really, really keeping me from growing my internet business, because i feel stuck. How did you ROB overcome this? What do you say to people, how do you find someone who is kick ass so you don’t spend your nights without sleep worrying that you are just wasting money and the person you hired is a total moron who will just take their salary and not deliver?”
When you’re in the online business for long enough you realize that 90%+ of people with Internet are idiots – with all due respect. Here’s my question for you, why would you hire an idiot? I have 100 people in our office and not a single idiot. I understand that you’re using the word lightly however that’s the most important thing that you need to get right, is hiring A players and surrounding yourself first with 2-3 amazing people, don’t hire anybody just cos you got tired of looking or because you start thinking that you’ll never find the right person. If you hire B players, they’ll later start hiring C players and before you know it you have a shit show and not a company. Your first hires are the most important, you need to seriously vet them, feel out of they’re the kick-ass type or at least have that potential if they’re young or junior.
Having said that, the first years are stressful as hell. You don’t know these things right away, you pick up on the nuances. I also never recommend going into starting a business alone. Find a partner you can trust, someone with a different set of skills and slightly different point of view – but not to the extent that you argue over bullshit. Then both of you go into the interviews and you discuss after and make the decisions together spreading the stress and worry more thin.
Another thing I recommend and something not to underestimate is headhunting agencies. We’ve actually only just hired our first in house IT recruiter. Up until now most of our hiring was done by agencies or word of mouth. It will seem pricey but remember, your company is nothing more than the people you hire. Why wouldn’t you splash out some cash and pay a professional to help you find exactly who you’re looking for. Hiring isn’t easy, some people aren’t great at it, if you’re having thoughts like this, then you’re definitely doing something wrong. You need to fix it or you won’t get anywhere, and it is possible to fix.
Running a start up comes with extremely high burn out rates, I know your partner left because he just didn’t want to handle it anymore. What were the biggest things that made you sometime question should you leave too and give it all up? (feel free to rephrase Q, i want to ask, what are the things that basically cause people to “burn out as fuck” in your world?
I touched upon the health issues I faced, the stress, the sleepless nights. At times running your own business can seem like the most burdensome and lonely thing in the world. All your friends are comfortable and safe working at corps and you have no one you can really talk too. Depression creeps in and you start asking what the f*ck is this all for? The beginning is the toughest, it seems so long ago it feels hard to recollect now. You don’t really know what you’re doing, you have little experience and yet you need to do or die. It’s the time when you learn exponentially, it’s the time that really defines what caliber of entrepreneur you are. For me what made me question things was just feeling like sh*t day after day, quite literally not sleeping, the stress would kill me at times, drinking to cope with it; it was hellish at times. To be honest, there are more bad times than good when you’re starting out. You start hiring people, before you know it you have 10 people, then you realize you are responsible for them and their families – that’s a lot of pressure to deal with as a young person when you’re used to only being responsible for yourself.
The other thing that I would sometimes question is that yes, I’ve left the affiliate space behind but to a great extent I still have a foot in it being in a large part a facilitator of that activity. My business partner mainly left because he grew to hate the affiliate space and the shady, sketchy and self entitled people and practices that were and still are very prevalent in the industry. Affiliate marketing just isn’t very fulfilling regardless of how you approach it. The way I got over it is I realized we’re looking to build something much bigger, and say 2 years from now we may very well be doing something very different.
Going back to the loneliness, that was often the worst part. You start to feel very different to other people as you learn more and more about how the world really works. You start to see that everyone just sort of goes blindly about their lives not asking questions, just being part of the system. You find it hard to find anyone you can really talk to about these things, but at the same time you realize that you’re privileged to be in a position to ask these questions.
“… get an education go work at a corporation, find a partner, get married, buy a house, have kids. That’s the path of least resistance”
Like with everything in life there are good days and bad days. You need to remember you’ve strayed off the beaten path that was laid out for you since the day you were born, the path that 99 out of 100 people embark on, get an education go work at a corporation, find a partner, get married, buy a house, have kids. That’s the path of least resistance, it’s easy and it’s boring. Do you want to be that person I would ask myself — or do I want to plow through the struggles and come out on top and grab the world by the balls (pussy) and say “f*ck you, I’m going to do shit my way, the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to me!”. When you reach that point, everything you’ve gone through.. you feel you’d do it again, because you realize that you’re blessed to live a life that others will only dream of for the rest of theirs.
Your deep understanding of the inner workings of the world that everyone else is blind too puts you in a position to change it — it’s the most liberating feeling I know and it’s worth every cost.
iAmAttila comments: WOW, what an amazing, amazing story, it really opens up your eyes to the positive opportunity, and how the right mind frame, and thinking can get you from affiliate riches to mega millions. Rob is living proof, that if you set your mind to it, you can build anything; and I thank my friend for taking a full day to sit down with me, go back and forth in talking about his story, and writing it with me.
Did you like this interview? Check out my other recent interview!