Hey everyone, in today’s episode I share the mic with Jon Carder, co-founder and CEO of Empyr, a B2B platform that helps websites and apps generate revenue from online to offline commerce.
Listen as Jon shares inside info on how he got a deal with Yelp, the Holy Grail of enterprise-level customers, how he dealt with the “dark period” where the company struggled to move forward, how he got 50% of Empyr’s deals from “old school” conferences and 15% from cold calls, and the abundance mentality took Jon from zero to 8 figures of revenue within a year.
Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How Jon Carder Compelled 80 Million People To Use His Product, Empyr TRANSCRIPT
Times-stamped show notes:
- 01:01 – Eric introduces Jon Carder to the podcast
- 01:29 – Serial entrepreneur, beginning at the age of 10
- 01:38 – “Empyr is a business that helps websites and apps generate a new revenue stream from online to offline commerce”
- 01:48 – Partnership with Yelp, provided them with 10,000 restaurant offers
- 02:05 – How it works: consumers link a debit/credit card to Yelp, when they go into that restaurant and buy, they earn 10% back in cash automatically
- 02:25 – Yelp earns a percentage on every transaction
- 02:33 – 10,000 restaurants and national brands have joined
- 02:45 – Called “online to offline” and has been running for a few years
- 03:08 – If you’re a merchant, you sign up, give them your merchant number, and are online in 7-10 days
- 03:23 – Make an offer like “10% cashback” and market it on Yelp, Microsoft Coupons, Living Social, and major airlines
- 04:26 – End of the month, the merchant gets an invoice of impressions, people who linked their card, and how much money they generated
- 04:45 – Empyr charges a “pay per sale fee” which is 10% and is distributed to to whoever signed up that consumer gets a piece
- 05:12 – Going with the “Big Guys” because of the broad audience
- 05:18 – Opened up with whoever has a decent size consumer base
- 05:28 – A decent size is 1M members to 100,000
- 05:48 – Launched an API with developers
- 06:37 – $2/month per active user
- 06:45 – If you have 1,000,000 users that’s $2,000,000/month
- 07:04 – Hundreds of millions of consumers you can reach
- 07:32 – “People link cards a lot more openly than they used to”
- 07:52 – If the offer is compelling, consumers will link
- 08:00 – Jon has a couple dozen enterprise users such as Yelp
- 08:06 – How did you get your first 10 big clients?
- 08:10 – Living Social came in the last year
- 08:23 – 1 full-time, 2 part-time staff going after the high-end deals
- 08:45 – The deals came from conferences, face-to-face
- 09:15 – How Dan got the deal with Yelp at a conference
- 09:54 – Dan took the chance and met the Yelp representative at the bar and made a deal
- 10:37 – “Chance combined with a little bit of effort”
- 11:22 – 50% of deals from conferences, 10-15% cold calls
- 11:52 – His employee writes a line or two, by email, and gets responses
- 12:03 – Got deals with LinkedIn and Facebook through cold-email
- 12:59 – Have an abundance mentality and tell your idea to as many people as you can
- 13:12 – People may try to copy you, but you might miss important business deals to grow your company by keeping your mouth shut
- 13:43 – You can also get feedback quicker if you just share
- 15:43 – Empyr is a pivot from an original business model
- 15:56 – The original plan called Mogl didn’t work, the numbers did not hold
- 16:12 – Empyr as a platform is way more efficient
- 16:28 – Troubleshoot, it was difficult to get users to sign up to a point where you can start creating revenue
- 17:00 – Their cold email was 2 lines: “Hey, we’ve got an online to offline monetization platform. Not sure if you’re the right person to talk to about this, but who would be?”
- 18:12 – Empyr is sharing something short and tailoring it to the possible client—this makes a world of difference to get people to respond
- 18:39 – Jon’s biggest struggle was pivoting from Mogl, a consumer-facing brand, to a B2B brand
- 20:20 – The average successful company has pivoted 2.7 times
- 20:59 – There’s a lot of stress, you end up losing great people
- 21:09 – Jon had a COO and CFO quit during the beginning of the pivot
- 22:05 – How Jon got through the “dark period”
- 22:43 – Hope is such a powerful thing that an entrepreneur needs to hold onto
- 23:17 – It took a few “mini-pivots” to get to the idea that landed zero to 8 figures in revenue is less than a year
- 23:53 – Don’t take it personally when people leave you and keep the relationship intact
- 24:09 – Jon’s COO returned to the company because he was dissatisfied with the job he took when he left
- 24:29 – Jon stayed really good friends with his former CFO
- 25:45 – You have to have resilience—you take incredible amounts of abuse and stay energized to motivate your team
- 26:48 – You owe it to yourself, your investors, and everyone involved to pull it off
- 26:57 – People give up way too early
- 30:47 – Jon created a system to reach goals: The Five Steps to Great Execution (the “Great” in the title is an acronym to those 5 steps)
- 31:04 – Jon explains the 5 steps
- 32:22 – One must-read book: Delivering Happiness as it relates to establishing culture
- 32:51 – Reach Jon on his blog or through Twitter
3 key points:
- Celebrate RESILIENCE—keep working at your goal regardless of however many setbacks you face.
- Don’t take people leaving you personally and try to keep the relationship positive—you never know what your future with that person may look like.
- Emotions can FUEL you to keep pushing for that next step, so don’t resent the highs OR the lows; instead, USE IT!
Resources from this interview:
- Living Social
- The Five Steps to Great Execution
- Must-read book: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by
- Jon Carder’s blog
- Twitter – @joncarder
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Disclaimer: As with any digital marketing campaign, your individual results may vary.
Full Transcript of The Episode
Speaker: Do you want to impact the world and still turn a profit? Then you're in the right place. Welcome to Growth Everywhere. This is the show where you'll find real conversations with real entrepreneurs. They'll share everything from their biggest struggle to the exact strategies they use on a daily basis. If you're ready for a value-packed interview, listen on. Here's your host, Eric Siu.
Eric Siu: Before we jump into today's interview, if you guys could leave a review and a rating, and also subscribe as well, that would be a huge help to the podcast. If you actually enjoy the content and you'd like to hear more of it, please support us by leaving us a review and subscribe to the podcast as well. Thanks so much.
All right, everybody. Today we have Jon Carder, who is the CEO of Empyr. Jon is an experienced entrepreneur who has founded five internet businesses, his first at age 19. Then he retired at age 27. But wait, there's more. We'll talk about that in a little bit. Jon, how's it going?
Jon Carder: It's going great. Thanks for having me, Eric.
Eric Siu: Yeah, thanks for being here. Why don't you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do over there at Empyr.
Jon Carder: Sure. You did a good job describing sort of who I am, a serial entrepreneur, started pretty young. There's actually a bunch of funny businesses, if we have time, starting at like age 10. Empyr, the current company, is a business that helps websites and apps generate a new revenue stream from online-to-offline commerce. Maybe we'll get into more detail on it, but we're just announcing a partnership with Yelp, and what we do is we provide them with about 10,000 restaurant offers where their consumers can earn 10% cash back at these restaurants. The technology we have that makes it kind of cool is instead of these consumers having to buy a daily deal voucher or carry in a coupon, they just link up any debit or credit card to Yelp using our system, and then when they walk into those restaurants and buy, instantly they get notified that they just earned cash back. There's no coupon to show. There's no app to show. It's really frictionless, and pretty cool consumer experience.
Consumer gets 10% cash back paid monthly to them, and Yelp earns a percentage on every single transaction that occurs, so they're able to make money off of all of these offline transactions. We've got about 10,000 restaurants, a bunch of national brands are starting to join. The platform, and we can really work with just about any website or app who has a large consumer base who would be interested in saving money with offline purchases. It's called card-linked offers is sort of the boring way to say it. We like to say online-to-offline. It's just fairly new, a couple years old, and it's going pretty crazy fast growth so far, so it's keeping me busy.
Eric Siu: Awesome. Let's use a practical example. Let's say Mr. Eric Siu's Chinese Orange Chicken store or something. How would this work if I sign up for Empyr?
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Jon Carder: Yeah, so if you're a merchant and you sign up for Empyr, you just sign up. It's really easy. You give us what's called MID, merchant identification number. It's your basic business information, and you're up and live on the platform in about 7 to 10 days. Then we take that and we create an offer with you, something like say 10% cash back, something to attract the consumers in. We then take that offer and we distribute it on some of the best websites and apps. Really any website or app can participate, but we happen to start with some of the big guys, so Yelp.com, Microsoft, Coupons.com, LivingSocial, Bankofamerica.com, bunch of airlines. Your offer will be distributed to all of those, and they'll market it to their consumers.
When consumers see it, and if they want to get 10% off, they link up their card to whichever website and app they saw it on. They would walk in, enjoy a great meal, the server would bring over the check, and they would just drop in the debit or credit card that they had linked up into the bill. It can be any debit or credit card that's already in their wallet. We work with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express directly, so that's how the tracking is done. The server not knowing any better, will just walk to the back and swipe the card in the POS system just like they normally do, and within about 5 or 10 seconds, the consumer will get an alert from whichever website they signed up on that they just earned some cash back.
Then we'll also alert the business owner that they just got a sale, and at the end of the month, the business owner will get sort of an invoice. It'll say, "You got two million impressions across all of these various websites. Out of that, 1000 people linked up their card. 1000 people came in and bought from you. Generated you, you know, $10,000, so you owe $1000 in cash back to those consumers," and then we charge them what's known as a pay-per-sale fee, and that's usually like another 10%. We take that and then we share that with like Yelp and all the other websites and apps. Whoever signed up that consumer, on every purchase they get a piece of that paper sale fee.
Eric Siu: Got it. Okay. This is the merchant side, and it sounds like mainly right now you guys are going for the big dogs like Yelp just so you guys can ... It's easier to go through that direction, right?
Jon Carder: Yeah. We like the big guys because if you sign up one deal, you get a lot of revenue without a lot of management, but we have opened it up to really any website or app that has a decent sized consumer base. We just launched a program. Right now, the way Yelp brings in these offers is through our API.
Eric Siu: What's a decent size, really quick?
Jon Carder: I'd say like a million members would be really good, but like I said, we're starting to even be able to take on companies that have 100,000. Like you got an app that has 100,000 users, you probably can still do pretty well on the platform. What we did is, the first way we launched this was an API, so Yelp would invest a month or two months worth of development, pull in all these offers, create a place where consumers can link up cards on Yelp, and do like a whole program with Yelp through the API with a couple
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developers. Well, a lot of websites and apps don't have a lot of development resources, so we built a private label version now where we basically have a whole working sort of website that's responsive, that shows you all the offers, allows you to link up cards as a consumer, and we just slap your logo on there, or change the colors out so it looks like a part of your website. Then you can link to it and market it without having to do a lot of development, and you make money again on every transaction your consumers do once they link up that card at any one of the 10,000 merchants that are out there.
It's a pretty good monetization channel. Typically we're seeing about $2 a month per active user is what our, we call them publishers, what the websites or apps make. If you can get a million users to link up their cards and be active on a monthly basis, you make $2 million per month in revenue. That's pretty typical what we're seeing today.
Eric Siu: Okay. How many users do you have on Empyr right now?
Jon Carder: Yeah, so we don't talk about monthly active users because then you could decipher our revenue pretty easily, but what we do talk about is through the partnerships that we have, there's literally hundreds of millions of consumers that you could reach as a business owner. Yelp has 80 million monthly active uniques in the US, and Coupons.com has 25 million, and LivingSocial, they have 40 million people. Bank of America has 60 million, so you start to get into hundreds of millions pretty quickly. Ultimately, people that have actually linked up their cards is around 80 million. I think you'll find out is like if you wanted to get into this space, people link up cards a lot more openly than they used to. I mean, we link up our cards to Uber, we link our cards to Spotify, we link our cards to everything, right? So when they see all these great offers that they can get and they just have to link up their card one time to a website or app, and then just run around and buy like they normally do and just start earning cash back, the offering's pretty compelling. We've been able to get a lot of consumers to link up.
Eric Siu: How many of these enterprise-level customers do you have, let's say the Yelps of the world?
Jon Carder: Yeah, there's a couple dozen of those so far.
Eric Siu: Got it. Okay, so a couple dozen. How did you go about getting let's just say your first 10?
Jon Carder: Everything's pretty new for us because we had our first partner go live, which was LivingSocial, I want to say a year and a couple months ago, so all of these have come within the last year and half. Some of them were from me directly, and then we have one full-time guy working on these deals, and then two people that are part-time. Every one of the four of us that are going after these deals are pretty experienced, sort of what I would call high-end BD guys, it's like 10, 15 years of experience going after these deals. Some of them came from conferences. Even though conferences is kind of old school, and not cool and hip and techy, they work, because those face-to-face meetings are incredible.
In fact, I'll share a little insider info into how I got the Yelp deal, which I think for us is
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like the Holy Grail. Yelp is the biggest sort of online-to-offline search company on the planet, pure play search company. Google's the biggest, but they're not a pure play in terms of looking for offline businesses. You use that a lot to look for online businesses. I always wanted to nail that deal. I thought that would be the biggest one possible. I got this email in like November of last year, and it said it was from this company Street Fight. They throw these conferences, and it was like, "Hey, we're having this conference out in Colorado at some ski resort. It's kind of like executives only, C-level for the most part, really intimate, 30 or 40 of us going, 3000 bucks," or something like that. I was like, "Man, I don't know, you know. It's like $3000. It's like three or four days out of the work week. I'm so busy right now, but I really want to do this."
I ended up just sort of last minute, well I asked them for a list of who would be there, and one of the people there was from Yelp. I was like, "All right, so there's a chance, you know, that we just might be able to pull this off." I'll never forget. I was tired, I was just about to delete the email, and I'm like, "Man, this could be a game changer if we did it." I took the chance, and we went out there, and I happened to have drinks at the bar after the first couple events and happened to meet the gentleman from Yelp who was the perfect person to make the deals with. It was such a good fit. I knew it would be when we talked to him about it. I knew they just had to get-
Eric Siu: Did you meet him by chance, or did you arrange to meet up with him?
Jon Carder: I was ready to stalk him if I had to, but there was like 40 people there, and there was a little bit of luck involved in the sense that not everybody went to the bar afterwards. There was maybe 10 people out of the 40. He happened to also like to drink like I do. I knew who he was because somebody else had pointed him out earlier. It was sort of chance combined with a little bit of effort, but once we started talking, everything then became just sort of natural. It's such a great culture fit. Their company is so cool. The culture over there, I couldn't speak highly enough about it. He's just an amazing, amazing guy to work with, and ultimately everything just sort of happened naturally after that. That doesn't always happen. Sometimes you meet the company and you're like, "I really want to work with them," and they end up being really cocky, or very difficult to take the time to hear you out, but I found Yelp to be just a great culture. Everybody we've worked with over there so far is amazing.
Eric Siu: Cool, so it sounds like one of the secrets is to actually go to one of these conferences that people are at, and then meet them up in person and develop that relationship and take things further, right?
Jon Carder: I would say that's probably 50% of the deals we have, so literally just like conferences, the old school tech. The other 50% have come from ... I would say like probably about 10 to 15% have actually come from cold LinkedIn reach outs. I don't do that personally, but the guy we have full-time working on BD, that's one of his techniques, and it actually works. He'll go and find the CMO or chief product offer, or head of bus dev at these companies, and reach out cold with a little short, short email. It's like a line or two that just talks about, "We're trying to help you guys monetize online-to-offline," and he gets responses. We got into Facebook, a very high level person, using LinkedIn cold. It just so
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happened that Facebook was looking for this type of solution. You've got to get a little bit fortune there in terms of timing, but if they're looking for it and you're offering it, and you just get a short, quick message through LinkedIn, that works really well as well.
Then a bunch of others have come through connections. Like I'll know somebody, tell them what I do, and they'll say, "Oh, I know so-and-so over at MapQuest. You should talk to them." Once they get what you do, they can help introduce you. I think that's so important to just spend as much time as you can sharing your idea and talking to as many people about what the idea is, how it works, because a lot of entrepreneurs, earlier stage, people just getting started are kind of scared. They're like, "Somebody's going to steal my idea and copy it and beat me to the punch." I think that kind of scarcity mentality is very hurtful to the entrepreneur.
You need to have this abundance mentality, meaning, "There is so much opportunity that I need to tell as many people as I can, because they can introduce me to investors, to potential partners, to potential employees." Sure, along the way the idea will get out there and maybe somebody will say, "That's a great idea. I want to try to copy that," but that's going to happen anyways. If your idea really is that good, and the market really is that great, then maybe you can buy yourself an extra six months by keeping your mouth shut, but not that much time you're going to buy in, and you'll lose out on all the potential growth opportunities and investment opportunities that will come by networking.
I'm like, as soon as I come up with an idea, I just can't shut up about it. I tell everybody I come in contact with, and not only just for getting partnerships, getting employees, getting investment, but also to get feedback, so people can tell you, "You know what? That idea is really, really good," or, "That idea is horrible and won't work." You want to get as much of that feedback as early as possible. It's just so much better to just share the idea and talk to as many people as you can.
Eric Siu: Yeah, totally agree with that, and I think the whole abundance thing I think. One of the businesses we have is a marketing agency, and in the past, we're talking probably five, six years ago, it's like, "Yeah, we got to hog everything." But now it's just like if we can't help, we're going to refer the business out to other businesses. Then at the same time talking about other startups, some people try to hide it and then not tell anybody until it starts doing well, but if you tell everybody, it also kind of holds you accountable too, right?
Jon Carder: Yeah, it makes you really focus in on the product and the user experience and the idea early on, which is the time you should. You don't want to raise 10 million bucks and then realize you've got kind of a flawed model, because then you're in really big trouble, because you're not going to be able to write the follow-on round and you've already got a high valuation, and you've got to get the revenue now. I've seen a lot of companies end up in that like valley of death, where they got a decent traction and they got a bunch of early adopters. It worked pretty well with the early adopters. They didn't quite cross the chasm.
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This happened to us actually as well like five years ago. Then you raise a bunch of money at a great valuation, and then all of a sudden the early adopter kind of phase goes into the normal mainstream and they're not nearly as active in the product, they're not nearly as sort of viral with it. They don't tell as much friends, and all of your metrics start to curve down. The frowny curve is what we used to call it. You're like, "Uh oh, that's not good." Hopefully you've got enough capital to figure it out, but it's very difficult because if you do have to pivot, you use most of the money typically to pivot and work on the new, that sort of change in your business model, and by the time you're sort of out of that money, you probably don't have a ton of revenue yet on the pivot, and then you've got to raise money at a down run or something like that. That's a bad place to be.
It's possible to work your way out of that, and Empyr is a pivot from the original business model where we tried to ... When we came up with the idea, we wanted to sign up all the users and all of the advertisers ourselves, and just build our own little online-to-offline network, call it MOGL, M-O-G-L. We had huge traction in the early days, and then once we got to the mass markets, the numbers just didn't hold up, and it was so expensive to sign up all the advertisers and sign up all the consumers. Such a better model as a platform. No cost to acquire users. No cost to acquire advertisers. But it took us a while to learn that, and I think looking back in hindsight, I did spend a lot of time trying to flesh out the model and stuff, but I probably still didn't spend enough. I should have just nonstop been testing sort of gross hacking the heck out of it, trying to get to the mass market with as little capital as possible, instead of relying that the numbers of the early adopters would hold. Looking back, that's what I'd do. You can never get enough users on the platform before you raise a bunch of money, to really see what happens when you get 100,000 people using your product, a million people using your product, because that first tens of thousands, those numbers may not hold is what we learned.
Eric Siu: Love it. I want to backtrack a little bit to the LinkedIn, the template that you used. You said it's a one-liner. What does it actually say?
Jon Carder: Yeah, I think it's two lines technically. I'm probably butchering this because it's not me, it's my team member, Peter, who sends it out. It was something like, "Hey, we've got an online-to-offline monetization platform. Not sure you're the right person to talk to about this, but who would be?" Something like that. You're taking the pressure off of them to get you to somebody else, and you just want to explain what you do in a sentence, and then say like, "Who should you connect us to?" A lot of times, we've gotten connected to other people in the organization. They've been like, "Yeah, this isn't me, but let me just forward you over because that sounds intriguing." Other times we've had people like, like in the Facebook example, it's like, "We are working on exactly what you guys are doing, so we should talk." Yeah. One sentence telling them what you're doing, and one sentence asking for who's the right person to talk to. That worked well.
Eric Siu: I love that. The thing is, a lot of people will talk about predict the more revenue, or they'll read online for like sales templates, and they'll literally copy it word for word, almost word for word, maybe replace the company name. That's how these template die out, because everybody keeps saying the same thing. But what you guys are doing is
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it's basically it's very short, and you guys are customizing it, and it's also in some cases if you're going to Facebook, you're tailoring it too. That makes a world of difference in terms of getting people to respond, and you guys are a perfect example of that.
Jon Carder: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. You do customization as much as you can. [inaudible 00:18:28]
Eric Siu: Tell me about one big struggle you faced while growing Empyr. It sounds like things have been going well, but I'm sure there has to be some bumps along the way.
Jon Carder: Well, I think the biggest bump was the one I just brought up where we pivoted from MOGL, which was a consumer-facing brand. We had our own app and website where you could link up your card to our app and website and go earn cash back at all of these various restaurants that we had signed. In the early years, we had maybe a couple hundred merchants, mostly in Southern California. Pivoting from that consumer-facing brand to a B2B brand which we are now, which is a platform, has been incredibly challenging. It's probably one of the most challenging things I've had to do as an entrepreneur. I've been running companies for 17 years, and the first company was a credit card I got in college sort of funded the whole operation. I built the website for 300 bucks, my neighbor did for me. I just had a couple thousand dollars and bootstrapped the whole thing. The second company was also bootstrapped.
It wasn't until the third one I started raising venture capital. Raising venture capital is great because you have capital to work with, and I remember dreaming of having capital to work with when I was bootstrapping and saying, "Oh, I could be so much bigger, and it would be amazing to have a million dollars to spend." Well, when you start raising venture capital, it's amazing how fast that concept gets to tens of millions. We've raised now close to 40 million, and you can easily have a burn rate of half a million dollars with just 40 employees or 30 employees, and all of a sudden you've got to be able to hit really big numbers in order to get to the next round and it to be an up round. There's this new added pressure that is fine as long as the company doesn't need to pivot, but I think a lot of companies have to pivot. I've heard a stat somewhere that the average successful company has pivoted 2.7 times.
Eric Siu: Yeah, I think that's exactly right.
Jon Carder: Yeah, you've got like Twitter has pivoted. It didn't start out that way. Just a lot of companies that we ... Groupon was a pivot. There's just been tons of pivots, and it's really hard when you raise a bunch of capital and invest, and then you've got to pivot. That capital wasn't intended to support you through a pivot, so you really have to make some tough decisions. You've got to typically do rounds of layoffs, you've got to work twice or three times as hard, and you were already working really hard as a startup founder. It's just naturally hard, but now you've got to do the work of two or three people because you couldn't afford to keep them on. Everybody at the company's got to do that. There's a lot of stress. I think what happens is you end up losing a lot of people. They sort of get scared that it's not going to work, it's not going to make it. I had my COO quit, which was devastating. He was a cofounder and I had been working with him
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for like eight years. And my CFO quit all within the same month, right sort of at the beginning of this pivot when we realized-
Eric Siu: Wow. How'd you deal with that?
Jon Carder: You know, it feels like a punch in the stomach when it first happens. It like literally knocks the wind out of you. It's incredibly painful, and especially when you have a close relationship. I think as entrepreneurs, we're so married to our ideas. They're like our flesh and blood, and ultimately we feel like we're a wolf pack with everybody around us like, "We're going to make it no matter what." Then when somebody just like, "Nah, I'm out," you're just like, "What? How could you give up on all of us, and on this idea and everything?" Nobody's as married to the idea as the entrepreneur, and so it's incredibly personal and very painful, and I think you just have to deal with it.
What I've found, so when we were going through what I would call the dark period where we didn't have revenue growth and we were trying to build this stuff out as quickly as possible so we could do the pivot with the money we'd raised without having to raise too much more, and it was a lot of simple things to make it through all the pain. It was like working out. I started doing the Scientific 7-Minute Workout every morning. I didn't have a lot of time to work out at the gym, so I just did this Scientific 7-Minute app. Worked great. I would stay healthy, I would stay fit, I would stay sort of mentally sharp. Meditation helped a lot, and I think always keeping focused on that light at the end of the tunnel. Hope is such a powerful thing as an entrepreneur, and you just have to latch onto that no matter what anybody says, no matter what anybody tells you. Otherwise you would just give up. It's so hard, and your chances are so slim that if you don't have a tremendous amount of faith and hope that your idea is right and that this pivot is going to work, then you probably will give up, because you get beat up over and over and over again.
Even while we were trying our pivot, not only were big high-level people quitting, but we kind of didn't quite have the perfect model, and we tried a couple things that sort of failed. We were sort of mini-pivoting until we got to this idea that we have today, which is going tremendously well. It's zero to eight figures in revenue in less than a year. Couldn't be happier, but that was like almost impossible, like a totally pipe dream like just two and a half years ago. If I would have told investors that that was going to happen, they would have said I'm overly optimistic, I need to be more realistic. Yeah, it's just sometimes you're the only one that believes.
But I will say in the point where my COO left and my CFO, even though it's incredibly painful and personal, you can't take it personally and you have to keep that relationship intact. I wanted to tell him to just F-off, and like, "I hate you and I can't believe you're leaving me," but I didn't. I said, "You know, like I sort of understand. I'm hurt, but you know, let's keep in touch." What's ended up happening is that COO has now come back to join the company because he went off to work at a big company that offered him twice the salary, and this crazy large sort of salary package, but then he wasn't happy there like he was here. It's really fun working at a startup when you're all huddled together and trying to change the world. He came back, and my CFO who quit, we've
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stayed really good friends. He invited me to his wedding, which was a blast, and thank goodness I didn't miss that. I think just in general, you never know where those things are going to come back around. I've actually had a couple people now sort of quit and come back, and it feels great to bring them back on when everything's working.
I think you just kind of have to be expecting some of that to happen. That's just part of the really challenging thing about being an entrepreneur that you don't always hear about on TechCrunch and stuff like that. They're always talking about like, "Oh, I started a business. It was great idea, and I won, and I'm rich. Whoo." I think a lot of companies probably, like we were just talking about 2.6%, pivot. You don't always hear about those stories, or like how hard it gets in the middle of that pivot, but I'm here to tell you that sometimes it works out really well if you stick with it, like really, really well, but it's definitely painful during those years.
Eric Siu: Yeah, so to recap, my next question was going to be, you founded five internet companies, what's the one thing that you constantly experience? It sounds like getting punched in the gut all the time, and having hope to take you through the hell I guess, right?
Jon Carder: Yeah, really the older I get I think you're sort of born an entrepreneur, because you have to have this resilience level that is sort of like probably a mental disorder, like some kind of bipolar or something, because you have to be able to take just incredible amounts of abuse and be able to stay incredibly positive, to the point where you're energized and fired up and trying to fire up other people. That's not something you can teach. That's sort of something that you have. If you have that, you're in the right industry. Never give up, and be an entrepreneur.
I think nowadays you get a lot of people that want to be entrepreneurs because it's kind of sexy and cool, and like "I'll get rich," and all that kind of stuff. I think those are the people that quit after the first couple setbacks. They're like, "Oh, yep. Not a good model. I'm going to go change to my next startup idea, and you know, now I've got a failure on my belt, so I'm like a real entrepreneur." It's like, "No, you probably shouldn't have quit, and you probably could have stuck with that for a couple more years, and you probably could have turned it into an amazing business."
I'm just a big fan of never giving up, having that resilience, and I think you owe it to yourself and your investors and your employee and everybody to see if you can pull something off there. I think there's a movement I've noticed of just giving up early, and I don't know where that's coming from. I know they celebrate failure sort of in the Bay area, but we got to not celebrate it too much. We got to celebrate resilience. we got to celebrate never giving up and constantly tweaking the model until you get it right, because that's where great businesses are often formed.
Eric Siu: Yeah, and I think the one thing that might help training resilience, and this is due to me being a degenerate in college and playing a lot of online poker, is playing poker, because that requires a lot of resilience because you're going to get punched in the gut quite a bit. Even if you're one of the best players in the world, you might lose for a couple
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months at a time, sometimes even a year. If you want to train that up a little bit before even jumping into entrepreneurship, I recommend jumping into your local Indian casino or something and playing some poker.
Jon Carder: That is actually a really good analogy. I like that a lot. Yeah, because you beat up a lot, and then in poker there's luck involved, and I think in the entrepreneur game there's absolutely luck involved too. Sometimes you got to have the wisdom to know like, "That's something I can't control and it just screwed me. Shoot." Time to get back up, dust myself off, and go at it again.
Eric Siu: Would you say at the point you've become pretty numb to the bad stuff that happened? Do you kind of move on quickly?
Jon Carder: You know, I wish I could say I do, but I'm a pretty emotional guy. It still hurts me. I had somebody quit a couple months ago, and I was like, "Oh, it still hurts." I'm like, "And now the business is doing really well, like what are you doing?" They just got a big title increase that they couldn't have got here. They got a CEO role, so I wasn't obviously quitting anytime soon. I understood, but it still hurt. It's still painful. I don't think you go numb to it.
It's funny. I'm going to Necker Island next week to hang out with Richard Branson. I've been fortunate enough, one of my board members knew him, and so I've gone to the island now probably seven or eight times, and he is the most emotional dude on the planet. He's going to kill me for saying this, but he cries during commercials. Like I kid you not, he gets [inaudible 00:28:50] and cries during sad commercials. I think being emotional is part of being an entrepreneur. If you were just numb to all of it, you probably wouldn't have the high highs that make you work crazy hours and make you believe in crazy ideas and do crazy things. I think emotions can fuel you, and I don't think you end up ever becoming numb. I think you just get used to really high highs and low lows. Being an entrepreneur is absolute rollercoaster. The highs are the highest highs, better than sex and drugs in many cases when you really knock it out of the park, but also the lows are incredibly depressing and like everything is collapsing around you.
Like I said, I think like you have some makeup in your DNA that allows you to sort of flourish in that type of environment, and if you do, don't ever stop becoming an entrepreneur, because you'll never find that high and low in anything else that you do in life besides building companies. It's the only 365 days a year, 24/7, nonstop, I mean, you're sleeping as an entrepreneur because you're dreaming of business ideas and you're waking up and you can't fall back asleep because you're thinking about it. It's just always on high, low, emotional rollercoaster, and that's what we love about it. That's why when I try to retire, that's what I found was one of the things I missed immediately was the lack of a really exciting life. Surfing all day and drinking booze was really cool for three weeks, and then it was really boring.
Eric Siu: Awesome. Awesome. Capping off here, two more questions on my end. What's one new tool that you added in the last year that's added a lot of value?
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Jon Carder: One new tool. I've got this blog post on this. It's sort of a system that I've developed, and it's been a work in progress for 17 years. What it's called is the five steps to great execution, and actually, great is G-R-E-A-T, each stands for one of the five steps. Again, it's sort of been developed and tweaked over 17 years. Now when we deploy this, it's a way to hit any goal and get anything done. It talks about you've got to set the goals correctly, you got to have real goals, measurable, actionable goals. You've got to have reporting so that you can see how you're doing towards those goals. That's where a lot of companies stop.
I think one of the most important things is the letter E, which is evaluate. Every week you've got to have a weekly meeting to evaluate the progress that you're making towards that goal. Inside those meetings, they're short 30 minute meetings, you've got 10 minutes for issues that have come up, you got 10 minutes for ideas to improve those issues, and then the last 10 minutes is to find the top two things that you are going to work on or you are going to commit to over the next week to get done that will move that goal forward.
Then the A is just putting it into your agenda, so putting that time to work on those top twos into your calendar, set times that never move that you always work on those top twos to make sure they're always getting done. Then T is just take care of business, get it done. Get those top twos done. If you do that, you follow that great execution roadmap, you can accomplish anything, and any team can accomplish anything. I find a lot of teams and a lot of companies, they're just missing one or two of those letters, and like the whole things crumbles and you end up at 75% or 85% to your goal over and over and over again.
Eric Siu: Awesome. We're going to link that up in the show notes. What's one must read book you'd recommend to everyone? Just one.
Jon Carder: I love reading, so that is so tough. I've got so many ones I just absolutely love.
Eric Siu: The first one that comes to mind.
Jon Carder: Shoot. There's actually a couple. It's going to be so hard to nail down. I like "Delivering Happiness," by Tony Hsieh. It's great for culture. I'm a huge believer that culture goes a real long way in business. I'll just stick with that if I'm only allowed one.
Eric Siu: Yeah, great book. Great book. Okay, cool. Well, Jon, this has been awesome. What's the best way for people to find you online?
Jon Carder: Yeah, so the best way is my blog, where you can find that great execution blog. It's just joncarder.com. It's spelled funky, so J-O-N-C-A-R-D, D as in David, E-R.com. You can also find me on Twitter. @joncarder also works as well.
Eric Siu: Awesome. Great. Jon, thanks so much for doing this.
Jon Carder: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it, Eric.
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