As your business continues to grow, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself looking for some of that sweet, sweet mainstream press coverage. The kind of press that will cement your brand as a primary player in your niche.
When it comes to getting press, I don’t know anyone better at it than Peter Shankman. Peter originally founded HARO (Help A Reporter Out) as a kind of marketplace – through an email list designed to help reports and sources meet. He eventually grew HARO to $1M+ per year before selling it off.
We sit down with Peter to discuss his exit from HARO, how he uses social media to get press mentions, and how he leverages ADHD into an advantage as an entrepreneur.
A really fun interview with a fantastic guest – hope you enjoy!
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“You have to stay humble, you have to believe that you’re one step closer to failure because that keeps you going.” – Peter – Tweet This!
“If you have even a modicum of success, you have a responsibility to send the elevator back down.” – Peter – Tweet This!
Really appreciate Peter coming on and sharing his story with us. Did you dig this episode? Let us know in the comments!
Justin: Welcome to The Empire Podcast, episode 170. At some point, your business gets to the stage where you need press. Real stories from major publications mentioning your business. When it comes to getting featured in the press, I don’t know anyone better at it than our friend Peter Shankman, so I’ve invited him on the show to talk about it. He built his company, Help A Reporter Out, or HARO, more than one million dollars per year before selling it and has some unique insights into getting featured in online and offline media.
We sat down with Peter to discuss his exit from HARO, how he uses social media to get press mentions, and his latest podcast, where he looks to leverage his ADHD as an entrepreneur, so stick with us. You’ll find the show notes for this episode at EmpireFlippers.com/peter. Alright, let’s do this.
Voiceover: Sick of listening to entrepreneurial advice from guys with day jobs? Want to hear about the real successes and failures that come with building an online empire? You are not alone. From San Diego to Tokyo, New York to Bangkok, join thousands of entrepreneurs and investors who are prioritizing wealth and personal freedom over the oppression of an office cubicle. Check out the Empire Podcast, and now your hosts, Justin and Joe.
Justin: I’m far from a social media guru, Joe, but you’re a little more reserved when I am when it comes to social media. You don’t put yourself out there quite as much. Your Facebook shares are a little sparse. What is it about your social media sharing that keeps you from being out there as much as some other people?
Joe: I’ve always just been a private person, so for me it was hard to get into the social media game. I went through a couple of years, maybe like 2010, 2012, somewhere around there, where I was sharing, I experimented with it a lot, but it became like a chore, first of all, and then second of all, I felt like there was a lot of drama around social media.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that Facebook was like your passport to the internet, I probably wouldn’t have a Facebook account. Not having a Facebook account these days is too strange. It’s too weird.
Justin: It is weird, it’s weird. I meet someone who doesn’t have Facebook I’m like, what’s wrong with you? I know people that use it that don’t watch the wall ’cause they get frustrated with how they suck you in and that whole thing, and I totally get that, but not to have a Facebook account today does seem a little weird.
Do you remember, Joe, like 15 years ago, might not have been that long ago, 12, 15 years ago, there was a thought that keeping your stuff off the internet was the safer move, it was the better move, and there was a point at which, I think it was when we were running the mortgage company or something, maybe a little after, where I just broke it. I said look, it’s all gonna be up there anyway, I’m gonna put my, I had a ton of social media accounts and I’m just on the internet. I’m just on the internet now and that’s it. Do you remember kind of like going through that transition?
Joe: Yeah, in the mid-2000s I think is when we finally got on board with that stuff. A little bit late, maybe, compared to most young people at the time. From there, I think you really took to it a little bit better than I did. For me it just felt like another thing that you had to take care of and nurture that I just wasn’t willing to put the time in, but the drama aspect of it, especially in the last few years, I think has gotten out of control.
Justin: The drama’s kinda crazy. There’s a lot of stuff going on there that’s just super messy. Do you have any friends, I have these friends on Facebook, that are constantly sharing or doing video or whatever but they just don’t get any traction? They’re putting it out there but they don’t get any feedback, any comments, any shares at all. I’ve got other friends, one of them being Peter Shankman who we’re interviewing for this episode, where he does the same thing. He’s out there all the time doing Facebook live, putting videos up, and he gets a ton of mentions. I think it’s interesting if you look at, if someone wants to add him on Facebook I’ll put a link in the show notes, take a look, but look at his reaction from his audience versus other people and their reactions. It’s stark. It’s night and day.
Joe: I took a picture of the sunset the other day and put it on Facebook. It was my first post in a while and I don’t know, I got 50 likes. If I can get 50 likes, definitely anybody else can do it.
Justin: You’re counting. You’re counting likes.
We’re a little older, right? I’m a little younger than you, like a butt hair younger than you, and so I think I’m a little more into social media but anyone in their 20s right now, it’s just part of their life. It’s totally normal for them, whereas for us, we’re a little, like I can get into it a bit but it’s not as normal, which is surprising, because Peter, I don’t know his age, exactly, I’m guessing he’s a little older than us maybe, but he’s fantastic at it. He’s just got into it was able to really engage with friends on Facebook, people that follow him on Facebook.
Aside from social media, though, he’s also great at traditional media. I see him all the time doing videos on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, on just a ton of topics. He talks a lot about social media, what’s going on in social media. He talks about customer service, like the really bad examples of customer service or the really cool fun examples of customer service. Do you remember he did that thing where, I think he was flying, he was in the air, and he tweeted Morton’s or something and was like, “Hey, I’d love to have a steak when I land.” Or something. They tweeted something and he was like, “Hey, I’d love to have a porterhouse.” Or something, and they show up with a guy in a tuxedo and a porterhouse ready for him at the airport and it went viral. Do you remember that?
Joe: Yeah, that was cool. He’s actually helped a lot of people in our circles with being on traditional media. He gives them advice on how to do that, which is really cool.
Justin: Yeah he’s great. Really helpful, super helpful. We have a friend that just had a ton of things going on right in the middle of a conference and his company was kind of blowing up and he got this press he wasn’t expecting, and he was like, “How do I do this?” So he grabbed Peter like, “Peter can you help?” And he was like, “Dude, I got this. Let me get you in contact with a few people, we’ll get this worked out.” He’s fantastic at that. One of the things he’s great at is he’s really good at putting an interesting spin or adding commentary and then pairing that with current events, right? So if something happened right then, CNN, he’s on their speed dial and will call him up in New York and he’ll run down to their studio and pop in. He does this behind the scenes stuff as well. So if he’s in makeup or whatever and he’s got a suit up top and shorts on the bottom ’cause he was out for a jog or something and they just pulled him in really quick to do a bit. It’s fun from a voyeuristic perspective on how the media works, right?
Joe: Right. It’s interesting that he’s able to do that, a very cool aspect of his business, you know?
Justin: Alright man, we’re gonna talk to Peter in just a minute. Before we do that, let’s pay the bills with our featured listing of the week. Joe, what’s up buddy?
Joe: We’re talking about listing 43767. This is an FBA eCommerce Amazon Associates and AdSense business in the bed and bath niche. It’s actually built by Spencer Haws from Niche Pursuits back in March of 2015. The business is netting just over $15,000 and we have it listed at $488,000 and change. Business has been very steady in the last 12 months in terms of net profit. It’s had the normal ups that an Amazon business would have during the holiday season, but other than that, it’s been extremely stable. We’re very excited to have Spencer’s business on the Marketplace, and I think this is something that would be great for somebody looking to get a larger FBA business under their belt.
Justin: Yeah, he’s talked about this business a lot over at NichePursuits.com, and so I feel like we’ve kind of known this business for a couple years. He doesn’t share all the details or anything so that’s still private and secure for depositors and potential buyers, but he’s talked about the business, how he built it, how he got started, so if you want some background, there’s that.
We’re actually going to be doing a phone interview, should be up in about a week or so, with Spencer about the business so if you’re interested in that be on the lookout and we’ll share when that’s up and live and published.
Alright buddy, let’s dig into the heart of this week’s episode.
Voiceover: Now for the heart of this week’s episode.
Justin: He Peter, welcome to the show, man.
Peter: Always a pleasure, sir.
Justin: Today I want to talk about three main areas. The first is starting and growing and selling HARO, the second is getting press and social media, which is something you do extremely well, and then talk about your work with your community of entrepreneurs, what you’ve found successful, what you haven’t found successful, that kind of thing and we’ll dig into that.
To start off, you started HARO, and we’re going way back, this is like 10 years ago now.
Peter: It really is 10 years ago, yeah.
Justin: 2007, you started a Facebook group and what were you doing there, exactly? For anyone that hasn’t heard this before, HARO is Help A Reporter Out. It’s a company that helps match reporters with sources and help them find stories. You’re basically a marketplace. What were you looking to do there?
Peter: I was a PR guy. I’ve been a PR guy and a journalist all my life. I started the newsroom at America Online, I have a journalism background, and so I talk to everyone. Between being a journalist, being curious, and having massive ADHD, if you’re sitting next to me on a plane, unless you fake your death, I wanna know everything about you by the time we land. I talk to people and I have a huge Rolodex because of that, and I have a lot of reporters who are friends, so they would call me and they’d call me all the time and they’d say, “Hey, Peter, you know everyone, I’m doing blah blah blah, who do you know?” Okay, so I’d tell them. Over time, reporters started calling me on a regular basis, and look, I like giving back, I like helping, so that was always easy, but over time, it started taking up more and more of my day. I had people calling me every day saying, “Peter, I’m doing a story on blah blah blah, who do you know?” They were people, at that point, who I didn’t know. Well, I have no idea how to tell you but let me see who I can, I didn’t wanna let them down so I had to do my homework, and 12 hours later I’d find someone.
It got to the point where I was like there’s gotta be a better way to do this, so I built a simple mailing list. It was actually even a Facebook group. It wasn’t even a mailing list at the time, it was a Facebook group that allowed me to connect, when journalists emailed me their queries, I’d just send them to my friends on Facebook. We outgrew the group in about a month, I moved to the web.
I moved to the web and it was a little mailing list, and it was a mailing list that when it first started, sent out one email a day, that led to two eventually, but a year later it led to three emails a day with about 50 or so queries from journalists in each email, going out to, at that point, about a quarter million people. Now it’s closer to 500,000, and the crazy thing was, these were queries that you had to read, ’cause they could help your business. They were from CNN, they were from Oprah, they were from whoever, needing sources and if you could answer them, you just responded to the reporter directly, and the crazy thing about was that most email mailing lists, very, very low response or open rate. Because the day you didn’t open my email there was probably a query from the Wall Street Journal or something that you needed, my open rate on average was 79%, three times a day. So three times a day I was getting a 79% open rate on a quarter million people, half million now, I had never planned on doing any of this. I had never planned on making money from it, but all of a sudden I realized, wow, I can sell a very small text ad at the top of each email and do really well. That’s what HARO is.
Justin: It reminds me a little bit of Craigslist.
Peter: It was similar. At the end of the day, if you give people information they want in the way they want it in a way that benefits them, they are going to utilize it, and they’re going to not only utilize it but share it. That was huge, because as soon as people started sharing it, it became pretty clear that if you’re the one saying hey Michelle, there’s a story on archeology and I know you’re an archeologist, you can get press. Hey Rachel, there’s a reporter from Glamour magazine looking for really, really hot women who are also PhD candidates. You’re a really hot woman that’s PhD candidate. What a great way to make you look like a god and get a date out of it. It was just this crazy idea but it worked.
Justin: That’s one thing that’s really interesting about HARO is that it was so simple. You have a lot of people who are like, “Look, I gotta build all this tech first, I have to build all this stuff first.”
Peter: Screw that.
Justin: … Before I can even actually launch, and you’re like, no no, I’ve got a couple of people asking for something, I’ll put them on an email list, I’m gonna shoot them out emails, that’s the better way to handle it.
Peter: And to be honest with you, that’s the beauty of ADHD, which I have massively and I write a podcast about, and I have a book coming out in October about it, the beauty of ADHD is that our brains just, we don’t think about wow, look at all this stuff we have to do. It’s really tough to start a company. I’m like, hey, I have an idea, an hour later we have revenue.
Justin: It’s like the easiest solution. You’re like okay, I need something that’s kinda quick, kinda easy, that’s not gonna take up a bunch of my time, and it’s a great version 0.1.
Peter: [crosstalk 00:12:35]
Justin: You knocked out a lot of books, we’re gonna talk about that. I like your approach to books. Let’s talk about the marketplace problem. Whenever you have two sides of anything, you have a marketplace, you have both journalists and you have sources, which was more difficult? It sounds like you had the reporters first and you needed the sources, is that right?
Peter: A little bit of both. The reporters knew me, but you know they knew me because I talked to them and worked with them in the past. It wasn’t just like I found a list of reporters and emailed them. If that was the case they’d be like, “Who the hell is this guy?” Everything has to come down to trust. Everything you’re building and everything you’re creating has to come to down to trust, it has to come down to people being willing to trust you and vouch for you.
That’s why HARO is so uncopiable because people are like, “Oh, just a mailing list of reporters? I have one. I just bought one.” Great. Good luck with that. They’re not gonna trust you. I joke it’s an overnight success that took 15 years.
Justin: That’s funny too. I’ve seen a lot of people say, not as much now, but back in the day, “Look, I’ll just copy Craigslist. How can that be so difficult? It’s a super easy website, anyone can do this.” When did you know you were onto something where you were like, wow, this is not just me helping out friends, this might actually be a business?
Peter: The thing started in March of ’07 and by August of ’07, not only did we have advertising, but we kept growing by thousands of people every day. On August 6th, it was my birthday, August 6th, 2008, I wake up, I do the morning HARO, I’m sitting on my couch, time to do the afternoon HARO and my doorman calls and he’s like, “You have about four packages down here. They were all just hand-delivered.” I go downstairs and it was my birthday and there were four different birthday cakes from different agencies, PR agencies, like, “Dude, thank you so much for what you built, you’ve changed our lives.” I’m like, hmm. I thought about that for two seconds and then I’m like, oh, cake.
Justin: This is 2008, so you realized you were onto something. When did you feel like you’d made it and was there any turning point where you went, “This is getting out of control”?
Peter: I still don’t feel like I’ve made it. That’s the beauty of imposter’s syndrome is I never feel like I’ve made it. I’m still the guy sitting at home who hasn’t done anything with his life. There is a level of feeling when, Seth Godin wrote about us in his morning, he has these morning blogs every single day, and he posted something on his morning blog and we had like 7000 members sign up in like a half an hour. I remember I was with my dad at temple services in the morning and I’m like, “I’ll be right back.” That was when I felt it.
Also people started emailing me, “Hey, you did something really great. You were so helpful blah blah blah.” It’s a nice feeling. The thing is, as entrepreneurs, the most dangerous thing you could ever do in the history of the world is believe your own press, because the second you believe your own press you’re gonna fuck everything up. You have to stay humble, you have to constantly believe that you’re one step away from failure because that keeps you going.
Peter: I’ll never forget the day I sold HARO, the next day I came home and I was in an elevator and I just made a lot of money, and I came home and I remember being able to go, man, I’m the shit. I got some money. For the first time in my life I believed my own press. I walked in my apartment and my cat, who’s since passed on, but her name was Karma, Karma, at the time, had puked on my entryway rug, and when I say puked on the rug, you think, oh, she puked, no she and her brother NASA had gotten into an empty bag of food the night before, I hadn’t been home, and they would eat all the food, drink a whole bunch of water, go onto this carpet and puke. They repeated that like 30 times. I spent the first three hours of my life as a millionaire cleaning up cat puke, and it’s really hard to be pompous when you’re on your knees scrubbing cat puke out of your rug for three hours, so I think that was supposed to happen.
Justin: You’re like, “This is not what millionaires are doing. There’s something wrong with this picture.”
Peter: I’m so, so glad it happened. I honestly believe it was Karma going, “Nice job there, but remember your station, son.”
Justin: When did you think about exiting HARO? Was there a point at which you said this is too big for me, or I don’t like it anymore? What was the turning point where you were like, I think I’m gonna let it go?
Peter: It was actually very, very simple. I had a moment where I’m like, okay, I have two options here. My two options are I can grow this company to, keep in mind I had two employees, they both worked remotely and all they were was editors. They were editors every single day. I had two options: I can grow this company, I can hire a sales staff, a marketing staff, da da da, and then I’d have to manage them and I suck at that. Or I let someone else do it and I take money and I walk. That to me was such a no-brainer. I don’t want to be doing something that I don’t love just because there’s more money to be made. I can always make more money. Anyone can always make more money.
For me, I wanna be happy, and happiness trumps money, so for me I wanted to be able to make sure I could get the cash I had, which is great. Now I can start, I can do something new, I can start something fun, awesome. It was a no-brainer for me. I’m just not a good manager, I understand that.
Justin: That’s gotta be an interesting acquisition for the buyer because they see there’s one guy, he’s got two employees, to be fair, you probably didn’t scale it up much at all, so there’s probably lots of opportunities that you were missing out on. Did they find you? Our audience is interested in buying and selling and they’re kind of in that space. Did they find you? Did you reach out to them? How did the mechanics of that work?
Peter: The company that bought us was actually our largest advertiser. It was a company at the time called Vocus, Vocus was then acquired by Cision, Cision and Vocus were acquired by PR Newswire so it’s all one big happy incestuous family, but it was acquired by a company called Vocus and they basically said, “Hey look, we are paying a lot of money every quarter on your ads. We would like to purchase you.” And I went, “Okay.”
It wasn’t that easy. I remember sitting down with the guy, the VP, like I said, a great conversation. I didn’t hear from him for like three weeks, I totally went crazy. I finally heard from him about a month later, he sent me an offer. I just remember looking at it, reading it, closing the email, shutting down my laptop, looking straight ahead, screaming. It was a lot more than I ever thought it would be. It was a lot more than I ever thought it was worth.
Look, I’m not a business guy. I created something cool and I thought it would be beneficial, and what I realized is that they had real metrics on how these things work, and yeah, it was pretty incredible.
Justin: Well what’s so incredible about it too is that they were already an advertiser for you. They were working with you regularly so they knew the business to some degree, and they knew the success they were having with the business, I think, which makes it an easier purchase. What were the terms? Did you have to stick around for a while? Was it an earn-out? Was it straight cash? How did that work?
Peter: It was not an earn-out. It was in earn-out in the respect that I had to stick around, but I didn’t have to meet any goals, I had already met all the goals when they bought it. I stuck around for two years, had a lovely time, then walked, and it went pretty seamlessly, it was pretty easy to do. They were good people, I was friends with them, there were really no issues. It was surprisingly painless. Again, it was a purchase that, for me, was life-changing in terms of the sale, but this is a publicly traded company. I was one of the smaller fish in their life, right? But it was fine by me. I had absolutely no problem with that.
Justin: Peter, so this is 2010 when you sold. I’m a little confused on what happened. I met you in 2013, I think, in Thailand. What happened between 2010 and 2013? I know that you created ShankMinds and we’re gonna talk about that in a bit, but that’s a gap for me. What were you doing during that time?
Peter: I was consulting. I was doing some stuff with HARO, but I was also focusing. I was giving a lot of speeches. A lot of my revenue comes from talks at conferences and private events, so I was doing a lot of that and I still do. I still do a lot of that, and then I was going down about once a month down to Vocus’ headquarters in DC, spending the day with them, talking to my editors, things like that. HARO was not a hard service to run, it was actually very easy, and so I didn’t have a lot to do when the people who wound up taking it over were trained and were up to running it, it really was not a lot for me to do for them. So yeah, I spent those three years, I got married, I bought an apartment, had a kid, all the stuff you’re supposed to do. I became an adult for a few years.
Justin: You were adulting. That’s what you were doing. Got it.
Peter: Yeah, exactly. That was pretty fun.
Justin: Alright so let’s switch gears here a little bit. I wanna talk about press, and this is something I’ve seen you do workshops on, give some talks on, and quite honestly, I don’t know anyone with more experience pitching stories to media than you, in particular, Peter. What do companies do right and wrong in terms of pitching in 2017? Has it changed any in the last few years? What have you seen that makes it successful or not successful?
Peter: I like to think that people have gotten better but they totally haven’t. At the end of the day, pitching still comes down to understanding your audience, knowing your audience, knowing the reporter you wanna target, knowing who they write for, knowing who their audience is, knowing what their editor, it’s basically doing your goddamn homework and no one does it.
It’s funny, I just launched a course, Master the Media, and it’s designed to teach exactly that because it drives me crazy, I must have seen tens of thousands of pitches during my time running HARO and beyond. Keep in mind, I was a journalist to start. Just last month I got a pitch from a company that targeted moms for their product. “Dear Peter, we know that moms like you have it tough.” I’m sitting there going, no. You are hurting the universe. You need to stop hurting the universe with that.
Justin: Yeah, that’s not helpful.
Peter: So I’m like, if I can make that a little better, then I’ve done my job to help the universe.
Justin: I see very little of the reporters because I get a lot from other companies, third parties trying to sell me stuff, and when they come at me with something that’s like, “Would you like to be on the first page of Google?” I’m like, what? What are you doing there. What’s this all about?
Peter: That’s just spam. These are people who have actually take time to write a pitch and they do nothing beneficial with it. God, just five seconds, Peter, it’s a male name!
Justin: Yeah, then on Twitter. All reporters are on Twitter, all reporters are on social media right now. Just looking them up briefly and seeing what they talk about and what they’re onto right now, I think can put you leagues ahead of your competitors.
One of the things I struggle with, Peter, maybe you can help our audience with as well is that, we have a very specific business: buying and selling online businesses. Very specific, so I don’t see requests come up very often for what we do, but I know that we have some interesting stories, so how do you match your business interests with something that the reporter’s actually looking for? How do you blend those two?
Peter: In your situation, every business story that works with the online world, there’s no reason that you guys can be an expert in that. There’s not a day that goes by that an internet company wasn’t acquired or re-acquired or whatever the case may be. You could easily be a talking head on that.
I think what a lot of people don’t think about or don’t realize is that it’s not about you having to get press about yourself. A lot of times, you could be an expert in whatever it is they happen to be talking about. A lot of my media mention, and going on TV mostly every day are me being called to talk about other stories, to talk about Uber or Amazon’s earnings or Trump doing something stupid or whatever it is. They call me and I have knowledge in that industry, that gets my name out there. Every day is not a full feature story on Peter Shankman, nor does it need to be.
Justin: I’ve done some of that through being a digital nomad or being an American living abroad and running a company, so those are areas of interest that aren’t directly related to Empire Flippers, but it just helps get our name out there.
On those sames lines, what we’ve noticed is some of the blog posts and things we’ve written or done podcasts on that are not directly related to buying and selling businesses has gotten popular. Either viral on Hacker News or Reddit or whatever, and it’s about how we got scammed by a Russian syndicate. It’s how we lost a lawsuit in the Philippines. Those things are not even close to related to what we actually do, but we’ve noticed that helps our business anyway. Is all press good press? Aside from the very few obvious examples, let’s say, if you’re marching with Nazis that’s probably not so good. For business in general, is most press good press?
Peter: I think there is a level of press that is beneficial, and there is a level, most press for you in that regard is beneficial. There are things that I don’t do, there are things I turn down. At the end of the day, you want to be able to ask yourself is me being a source or whatever for this story, is it going to benefit us not just from people knowing us a little more, but is it going to make us look smart? Is it something we should talk about? Things along those lines. There are certain things you don’t wanna talk about, there are certain outlets you don’t necessarily wanna go on, especially in today’s political climate.
Justin: Let’s talk a little bit about new media versus old media. With everything that’s going on in particular, are there any differences or advantages to one over the other? Do you look at one more for certain stories or another one for other stories, or is it just all’s good?
Peter: It really depends on where you’re looking to get press for. There have been situations where I got tons of press in an outlet I thought was perfectly connected to my industry, and it turns out it was, but the call to action wasn’t there. I had an online venture that was covered in an offline media outlet about that online world, but the call to action, people had to remember the article, go online and check out my thing wasn’t there. So you have to understand your audience and make it as easy as humanly possible for the readers to then connect the dots, as it were.
Justin: Yeah, I think we found, for us in particular, we found more value in the nichey stuff that’s more highly-targeted to our potential customers that tends to do better than the wider audience. I think the wider audience probably helps our industry, but the nichey stuff helps our bottom line, if that makes sense.
Peter: No question about it, no question about it. Again, you wanna know that audience. That’s the only homework that you can do.
Justin: Let’s talk a little bit about your, I see you, you’re often on CNN, you’re on MSNBC, you’re on all these major networks and you’re talking about social media gaps. I remember the Justine Sacco incident, and there are others that you’re talking about, what businesses are doing right or wrong with social media. Should companies, and should brands and personal brands, can they still be funny? Or do they need to be a little more careful in what they say? How do you do social media today?
Peter: They can certainly be funny. There’s the dictionary people, I’m totally spacing on their name now, Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster had a phenomenal tweet a couple of days ago when our esteemed president spelled the word heal, as in people need to heal, he spelled it H-E-E-L.
Justin: Yeah I saw that.
Peter: So Merriam-Webster immediately tweeted out the three definitions and spellings of the word heal, which I thought was brilliant. It got thousands and thousands of retweets, that’s really, really smart.
There are certainly ways to do that as long as you are aware of the audience you have, the climate in which they live, you wanna make sure that you are doing the right thing.
Justin: How do you avoid those kind of gaffes or do you think it’s more important how you react after in terms of owning or fessing up to it?
Peter: In a perfect world, avoid them to begin with, but if you do screw them up, just own them. Just own them and, look, we screwed up, here’s how we screwed up, here’s how we’re gonna fix it, and here’s how we’re gonna make sure we don’t do that again.
Justin: Gotcha. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about ShankMinds and what you’re doing over there. You’ve built a community of entrepreneurs, and I was wondering, ’cause you’ve talked to a lot of them, ’cause you’ve done these Masterminds where you go around the country and go city to city and actually meet with people and hold these Masterminds, and I think is part of why you did that because of your involvement in DC and you saw some value in Masterminds there and started rolling it out? Was that the impetus there?
Peter: That’s part of it, but I’d say a bigger reason for me was simply because I am of the belief that if you’ve had any modicum of success, you have a responsibility to send the elevator back down. For me, I like to do that. I like to know that I’m helping people, I like to know that there is a benefit there.
After I sold HARO, I got all these invitations, “Hey, join our Masterminds, only $100,000 a year.” I’m like, guys, if I could just drop a hundred grand I probably wouldn’t need you. There was nothing out there cheaper. How can I help people? The Mastermind group I have at ShankMinds.com, we are a 200 person online digital Mastermind, and we have twice-weekly calls where anyone can jump on, talk to me, talk to anyone in the group. We have a very active Facebook group, we have in-person events all the time out of the believe that that’s what you have to do, it’s a nice thing to do and it’s a good way to give back. I don’t know everything in the world either, and so being able to help people and being able to get help to see what people are talking about, to see what they’re working on, and to get ideas that I might not have thought of, are awesome.
Justin: Yeah it’s tough, right, because people come to you and they say, “Look, Peter, should I do this for my business or should I do that? You haven’t had experience with every business. Sometimes you just have no idea and you wanna help them but you’re like, look, I’m not the guy for you. I’m sure in my network there’s someone. I’m sure in our community there’s someone, but I don’t have experience there, quite honestly, and I can’t help with that.
Peter: Again, that’s what it comes down to. How can I utilize either my experience, my connections, my everything, to help other people get what they want as well.
Justin: Let’s talk a little bit about your podcast, Faster Than Normal. You’ve had some really interesting people on this show. You’ve had Seth Godin, you had Tony Robbins, I know you’re working on Sir Richard Branson right now trying to get him on the show. You’ve talked to other entrepreneurs that have or that are understanding of ADHD about how this can be a benefit. I don’t know much about ADHD, Peter, honestly, so tell me a little bit about what that means as an entrepreneur, for any of our listeners that may wonder about it too.
Peter: ADHD is, essentially, the brain creates, everyone’s brain creates a certain amount of dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. These are the drugs that keep you happy and, more importantly, keep you focused, and some people with ADHD, their brains don’t create as much of it, so there are two options there. You can figure out ways to create more of it, that could come either through medicine, in some ways, medication, or through natural ways of doing it. Once you create that same amount, you can focus, you can do things.
My issue is that I didn’t know what I had when I was growing up. When I was growing up it was called sit-down-you’re-disrupting-the class disease because it didn’t exist. It was, you need to sit down. Once I realized what it was, I realized that I had spent my entire life coming up with ways to self-medicate. Not negative ways, but positive ways. I’m a licensed skydiver. I wasn’t happy just doing a 5K, I had to do an Ironman triathlon. Chasing that high that normal people have built in, and it’s okay, but you have to understand how your brain works and you have to understand the best ways to use it. Once you understand that, you can actually do tremendous things. Like I said, start a company in an hour or quit your job and say I’m gonna go out on my own because I think I’ll be better off an be happier than I am.
For me, I realized that was a gift, and so I wanted to learn how to utilize that gift to do the best I possibly could. I’m helping to try and change the conversation around people, you’re diagnosed with ADHD, you need to get on medication. We’re putting five-year-olds on Ritalin and amphetamines for Christ’s sake, we don’t have to do that. I’m not saying medicine’s bad, I’m not anti-med, but I don’t think it should be the first line of defense. I talk to people who also believe that their ADHD has been very beneficial to them, and they’ve used it to their advantage, and from there the goal is to try to change the conversation a little bit. What’s cool about that is it’s happening, it’s working, and people are seeing that it’s not the end of the world. What’s nice, the people I talk to, not only do they share their successes but they share their failures and we talk about ways that we’ve learned to take better care of ourselves, ways that we learned to put these things into play. I don’t drink, right? It’s not that I’d get drunk and do stupid shit, it didn’t ruin my life or anything, but I don’t have one drink. I don’t know how to have one drink. Six drinks. I joke that I have two speeds: I have namaste and I’ll cut a bitch, and that’s it.
For me, it’s just a lot easier to avoid the triggers that take me out of the best possible place I could be, and the best possible place I could be is powered by my ADHD, and there’s a negative to that as well that you try to avoid. The podcast, I started about a year and a half ago and it was designed to teach that and show that to people who might thing, “Oh my god, I’m so broken.” No you’re not. You just need to understand how to better run your life. That’s turning into a book. Random House reached out and the book comes out in February, it’s called Faster Than Normal: Turbo Charge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain. It’s not only for people with ADHD but it’s also for every normal person who feels like they wanna get four hours a day of productivity back in their lives. I’m really excited about what it’s become.
Justin: I think it’s particularly a great niche for you as an entrepreneur, as someone who has had ADHD and has looked for ways to focus that in a positive way. I think that’s gonna be really helpful. I think a lot of people are gonna get value out of that that are in that same situation.
I was thinking about our business, and I know earlier on there were, we would have to, we would start multiple projects right at the same time, we had many different things going on at once. For kind of a scatterbrained approach it made sense because it was fun. There was lots of things to do. As we’ve grown, and this has kinda changed over time, but we’ve come to more focus to really doubling or tripling down on a particular thing, a more focused growth approach, and it’s less fun for working on many different projects. Are there weaknesses that come with ADHD? Do you try to overcome those or do you just always put yourself in a position where it’s fun and helpful and works with what you’ve got going on.
Peter: No, there are tons of weaknesses. Again, you have to be aware of what they are and you have to understand how to get past them. I don’t have write access to my calendar anymore. My assistant took write access to my calendar away probably about seven years ago because I would screw things up. I would book two dinners on the same night on separate continents, or whatever it was. You didn’t book this podcast with me, you booked it with her.
Those kind of things that I’m well aware of, I’m aware of what things don’t work for me. Again, avoiding drinking, I have to work out first thing in the morning. If I don’t work out first thing in the morning I don’t get the chemistry in my brain the right way. I am well aware of what I eat. Stupid things like my closet is set in two sides: one side says speaking and TV, the other side says office or travel. Speaking and TV is button-down shirt, jacket, and jeans. Office and travel is t-shirt and jeans and that’s it. I don’t deviate. I have tons of other clothing, I have sweaters and vests and suits and really nice stuff, but they sit in the second bedroom closet because if I had to look at them every day, oh my god, that sweater, I remember that sweater. Laura gave me that sweater. I wonder how she’s doing, I should look her up on Facebook. Three hours later I’m naked, I haven’t left the house. You have to understand how to train yourself and live your life the way it works for you, and allow you to be the best possible.
Justin: That’s true for other characteristics too. We’re talking about ADHD right now but broadening it out to other characteristics, through ShankMinds, you see a lot of entrepreneurs that are having success, the ones that aren’t. I was wondering, I was thinking about asking the question what characteristics do you see in some of those that are having more success, but that’s not really the right question because you have the characteristics you have, right? So what do you do, and how have you seen people develop their skills in the right way outside of ADHD. How does the community help them do that?
Peter: I think one of the best ways is that we try to stop getting people to focus so much on time. Everyone’s like, “Oh, I don’t have enough time. I have no time.” And I’m like, well, you know what, actually you do. You have the exact same amount of time that I have.
Justin: Elon Musk has.
Peter: That you have, that Elon Musk has, that Beyoncé has, exactly. What you don’t have is the priority. If you can’t make the calls every week, “Oh, I just don’t have the time to make calls.” No, you do. You just have the priority to do something else, and that’s fine, but own it for what it is, right? Don’t tell me you don’t have the time because that’s insulting to the 150 people a week that do make the calls in our group.
Justin: That are hustling, that are in the shit.
Peter: Exactly. Don’t tell me. I have a friend who used to never get up, she’d always, “I don’t wanna get up in the morning, I don’t wanna work, blah blah blah.” And she’d never make it happen, tried so hard, never made the gym, and I finally had a discussion with her like, “You know, I noticed that your timestamps on Facebook are usually around 1 a.m. Midnight, 11:30, 12 o’clock, 1 a.m. Maybe if you went to sleep earlier?”
Peter: “Oh well, I like to be up.” Okay great, then that’s your answer. It’s not that you don’t have time to go to the gym. Your priority is to be on Facebook, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but call it what it is.
Justin: I know you’re bullish on entrepreneurship. That’s something that you talk about a lot, and you’re not the one that goes, look, anyone can do this. Everyone can do it, it’s easy, you do this, you do that. You talk about the ridiculously hard work. Yes there are benefits, you get to design your lifestyle, you can set your pay and your hours, but most of us, there are no setting your hours, there’s working all the time. You’re very clear about that. One of the questions that I had is do you think it’s for everyone, or does anyone have the capability to be an entrepreneur, or are there some people, they just won’t make it. They won’t become one. It’s just not for them.
Peter: I think at the end of the day, you need to understand that you are in control of what you can do and can’t. Sure there are some people who are not designed to be entrepreneurs, or the case maybe is.
I had a friend once who called me, a woman I was dating actually, she called me. I was at the W, the lobby of the W Hotel in Times Square, I was about to have a meeting it was like 3 p.m. on a Thursday. She said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Oh, I’m at the W Hotel, 3 p.m. on a Thursday, about to have a meeting.” And she said, “Tough life. W Hotel on a Thursday. Why don’t you do some work?” And I’m just like, “Bitch I am working harder than you ever have.” She just didn’t get it, and that’s not a problem, she just didn’t understand it. For me, I know that I’m gonna bust my ass and that is not for everybody, no question about it. You have to make sure that if you want it, you gotta fight for it.
I’ve heard two quotes, “Entrepreneurship is trying to jump off a cliff and build a parachute that works on the way down.” And what was the other one, “It’s living your life the way no one else wants to for 20 years so you can live the life everyone else wants to for the next 40 years.” Basically busting your ass.
Justin: One of the things, my wife will put up a nice Facebook photo of us at this really nice steakhouse and we’re hanging out with friends, and it’s like nice lighting, and everyone’s like, “Oh man, just living the life over there.” Well no, that’s actually a business meeting where we’re trying to get this deal done with someone, so we bought them a steak and we’re sitting down with them to talk through it, you know what I mean? It’s funny that you’re working even when you’re not. Now we get to work in cooler places, I think.
You’ve set up these Masterminds around the country and now it’s virtual but I still think you guys have the local meetups, what makes a good Mastermind in your opinion? How do you run one?
Peter: I think the best thing that makes a good Mastermind is having a tremendous different amount of brains, that all of which are willing to speak, and all of which are willing to share, and all of which are more about giving out helpful information than they are about receiving it. I tell people when they join that you have to be okay with offering 10 times the amount of help that you ask for, and that tends to be very beneficial.
Justin: We do that too. One of the things we look at is it’s not a brag-fest. Don’t use your help for someone else to show how smart you are, ’cause that’s not helpful for anyone. You wanna come genuinely and try to help, and I think that’s a better approach.
Talk to me a little bit about ShankMinds. If anyone in our audience is thinking about joining or would like to take a look, who is it for? Who is it not for? Who’s the ideal member?
Peter: It’s for entrepreneurs anywhere from you have started your first company and you’re slightly generating revenue, all the way up to you’ve sold a company or two. The benefit, I think the number one benefit for ShankMinds members is that they have access to a lot of different brains, all of which think differently. One of the biggest problems is entrepreneurship is lonely as hell, and you are sitting there talking to yourself, and who are you gonna bitch to, your employees? No, you’re the boss, you gotta be the boss. There is a feeling of comradery there that you don’t get in other places, plus we have members from around the world. It’s great to have, “Hey guys, I’m in LA tomorrow, where should I go for dinner?” Or, “Who wants to join me for coffee? Let’s meet up in person.” You know, real life stuff, and I love that. It’s really good people, all the way up to, “Guys, I need someone who’s really good at Infusionsoft, who do you know?”
Justin: That’s one of the benefits we got originally through the Dynamite Circle, but one of the problems there is it’s limited. They limit it to people who are brand new with their businesses. They can’t really do it. I think they probably lose out on some mindshare. They lose out on differing or interesting opinions on things that maybe ShankMinds doesn’t have that issue, right?
Peter: Well that’s the thing that I love about our group, I love DC too, but I love about our group is I like to let in people who are just starting out because they have just as incredible ideas that you might not have ever thought of because you’re in the shit for so long. These guys are coming in from an entirely different perspective and it’s brilliant. It’s wonderful.
Justin: Yeah I’ve gotten value from people who are just starting out. Maybe they hit less often, but when they hit they’re coming at it from a really different perspective that I haven’t thought of because they’re fresh eyes. They’re looking at it new.
Justin: Cool, Peter. Well, hey man, it’s been really fun having you on the show. If anyone wants to check you out, obviously, ShankMinds.com. Where else can they hook up?
Peter: ShankMinds.com is that, my life is at Shankman.com, my last name, and I am @PeterShankman on all of the socials.
Justin: Awesome, man, thanks for coming on.
Peter: Justin, my pleasure.
Voiceover: You’ve been listening to the Empire Podcast. Now some news and updates.
Justin: Alright, Joe, so let’s talk some news and updates. First off, we’ve got the launch of the Digital Journey podcast and YouTube series. This is basically for anyone who’s interested in building and growing and scaling an online business, something that allows for location independence, that allows them to work and travel abroad. I think this is a great episode. We’re interviewing people really in the trenches that are building these businesses that have been growing, that are earning a profit, that are growing, and trying to really pull out some tactical tips and tricks that they’re using in their business that will hopefully help others. We’ve got a couple of guys that have been helpful with us in launching the show and getting it out for Empire Flippers. If people are interested in that, I’ll definitely link to it and they can check it out on our YouTube channel, I’ll link to that as well.
Another bit, Joe, we’ve got some upcoming events. The first one, the Dynamite Circle Bangkok event which we go to every year. It’s in October, middle of October, and we go to Bangkok for about a week and hang out with a bunch of our friends that run online business and do the travel thing, so we’ll be there at DC Bangkok, so if you’re there make sure to give us a shout and let us know, we’d love to hang out with you. We’ll also be at the Rhodium Weekend event, I won’t be there, but Joe will, in Las Vegas. Vegas baby, doing the Rhodium Weekend thing. The third event will be at, in the near future, is the Drop Ship Lifestyle event, which is in Mexico. Neither of us will be there, but we’ll have James there and Mike Swig will be there, and I think James is doing a talk on how to sell your business, so that’ll be really fun.
Joe: Yeah, I’m doing a hell of a trip starting in Manila, going to Bangkok, then Vegas, then a couple of stops in the US, then all the way down to Colombia, so it’s gonna be a very long and lengthy trip here from mid-October to mid-November.
Justin: Yeah man, I’ve got some travel coming up too. I’m doing Hong Kong in a couple of weeks and then Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, and then off to Colombia for our meetup in November. We’ll have our entire management team in Colombia for about three weeks in November, then I’ll be doing South America for a bit. I’m actually moving, man. I’ve been in Saigon, home base in Saigon with an apartment. You’ve always thought I’ve been on the move, because you’re always telling me, “Well you’re just traveling around.” We’re talking privately, right? Like, “You’re just traveling.” No, dude. I have an apartment and an address here, but I will be just traveling around again as of October 9th. We’ll be hitting the road, going back to suitcases and doing the travel thing.
Joe: Sounds fun for you.
Justin: You hate it, man. I know, you love your place in Manila, you like your cave, your comfiness, right? You get everything the way you want it, your bed, your TV, your remotes, your couch, I get it, I get it.
Joe: Yeah, I don’t understand how people do without that. I can do the travel thing like we have upcoming for a month or so, but then after that, I definitely get to the point where I just wanna go home and have my own bed and my own maid and my own TV.
Justin: I get that. I adapt pretty quickly I think, so even if it’s not from a place that I love, it’s awesome, it’s great, and I feel like it’s home. If it’s a place I don’t love then I get used to it pretty quickly and I’m okay with it, maybe better than some. I admit, though, that there are some niceties of having a home base that I’m sure that I’m gonna miss.
Last bit of news, buddy, we currently have, as of today, we have 67 listings valued at just over $13 million dollars on our Marketplace right now. The interesting thing is, we actually have 48 listings in vetting right now, valued at just around $13.7 million dollars, so 67 right now at 13, 48 in vetting at 13.7, we’ve got a lot of deals coming down the pipeline. If you’re looking to buy a business, particularly a low-high six figure business, we’ve got a lot of options for you over the next two to six weeks, so I’d say October is looking really good for low six to maybe low seven figure businesses on the Empire Flippers Marketplace, so if you’re in the market, definitely have a look.
Joe: All you Q4 guys with money to spend before the tax man gets you, let us know.
Justin: Q4 dropping cash. Alright man, let’s do some listener shouts, also known as the indulgent, ego-boosting, social-proof segment. First up we’ve got a five star iTunes review, buddy, from ZingBrady. It says, “Perfect combo of knowledge and entertainment. I must say with the mix of experience with online business and their vast knowledge of the field, I was able to learn more through three episodes than I did in my last three eBooks combined. Keep up the work, buddy.” Well thank you, ZingBrady, buddy, appreciate it. Appreciate the review.
Got a couple of Twitter mentions. Richard on Twitter said, “Hey buddy, have there been any deals done on Empire Flippers in Bitcoin yet?” And the answer is yes. We’ve done, what do you think, Joe? Two dozen in Bitcoin or is that aggressive?
Joe: I’d say it’s a little aggressive but we’ve probably done 15 deals in Bitcoin.
Justin: Most of them have been five-figure deals, and we just recently did a six-figure deal. Six figures in USD we’re talking about.
Joe: We’ve done some six-figure deals before but this one was a big one as well. Anybody who’s interested in buying or being paid out in Bitcoin if you’re a seller, we absolutely support that. As far as I know we’re the only broker that supports that.
Justin: We’ve done other six-figure Bitcoin deals? No, right? Is this the first one? Or we have?
Joe: Yes we have.
Justin: Oh gotcha, okay. We’ve never done one though, he was asking me, and we were tweeting back and forth a little bit. He asked me, “Have you ever had someone buy in Bitcoin and then we paid the seller out in Bitcoin?” We haven’t had that happen yet, it’s always separate sides. The buyers are gonna pay in Bitcoin, we basically swap it to USD. We’ve never had it where we kept it in Bitcoin and paid out the seller.
Joe: We might have had one where the seller got partially paid out in Bitcoin. We get a lot of sellers who say, especially if they get paid out a very large amount, they’re like, “Oh, let me try out this Bitcoin thing. Can you give me $5000 in Bitcoin?” If they’re getting paid out 250 grand, they say, “Well, I’ll try 5000. Check my luck.” Kind of thing. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, I’m sure we’ve definitely had the kind of case where somebody has paid in Bitcoin and maybe a little bit of a partial payout to the seller in Bitcoin.
Justin: It’s interesting. I was just reading an article today talking about this developer, and he was developing some property in Dubai and saying, “Look, why don’t people, the new cryptocurrency multimillionaires, why don’t we allow them to pay Bitcoin for these physical real estate properties in Dubai?” Yeah, that’s interesting. It’s a way to diversify, definitely to cash out from your Bitcoin, your crypto, wins, but I don’t know man. Buying an online business that’s cash-flowing seems to be useful and probably better. The only thing is you have to have some skills to run the business where you don’t necessarily sit on real estate in Dubai, that’s kinda the kicker.
Joe: Yeah, I would say anybody who has a large amount of Bitcoin most likely knows how to run an online business.
Justin: You’d think, right? It kinda goes hand-in-hand, but yeah, who knows.
I’ve got another Twitter mention from Unrealist, said, “Another question, can you apply a filter on the Marketplace, i.e I want certain lifestyle sites, or all sport niche sites, et cetera, et cetera.” Unfortunately, we tried, We had this filter going up, I mean, you can filter. You can sort by monetization type, by price, by a bunch of different things, which definitely helps, but in terms of filtering out, we tried this filter, we spent some money on it, we had some work on it, ended up being so ugly and clunky and non-user-friendly that we just scrapped the entire idea. We’re gonna roll it into a longer future update to the Marketplace that is not even started yet. It will happen eventually, we tried to do the quick and dirty version and it was just too dirty, quite honestly.
Joe: Too dirty. Yeah, I mean, I think the Marketplace in general just needs an overhaul, especially with as many listings as we have up and are going to go up by the end of the year. What we need is a real UI person to come in, take a look at it, see some user behavior, get some customer feedback and go from there, rather than us just trying to slap a slide bar on it and say, “Oh, this works.”
Justin: Yeah, you’re right, we tried to do that and it was not pretty.
Ryan asks on Twitter, “If we’re starting a new site, should we go with MailChimp or a service like ConvertKit? Do site buyers have a provider preference?” Well here’s the thing, Ryan, I think it matters a little bit the company you go with for your marketing automation, I imagine a little bit, but I imagine a lot more what better fits your business. So if ConvertKit better fits what you need to do with your email list with your marketing, then go with them. Don’t stick with MailChimp because it you think it’ll sell better because of that. It’s such a small, minute detail that you’re better off using the one that gives you the things you need for your business.
Now, if either would work and there’s no real preference, then I would generally go with the one that’s more popular that has more users, et cetera. If you were looking for something really basic and you had this brand new marketing automation provider or your choice is to go with MailChimp or AWeber or something, I would definitely go with MailChimp over this kind of new and who knows who they are provider, if that makes any sense. You wanna go with the one that’s more popular, has a lot more users, because a buyer will be more familiar with it. Now, ultimately, that’s a small change to any kind of valuation or how buyers perceive it, so go with the one that’s best for the business, that should be your primary driver.
Alright, buddy, got a couple of mentions. Did a really fun podcast interview over at BeyondTheUniform.io. It’s a guy interviewing ex-servicemembers. I was in the Navy previously, so we talked a little bit about that, about getting out, about transitioning to entrepreneurship, and it was a totally different interview than what I normally do. It’s not the usual blah blah blah, how did Empire Flippers get started stuff. It was a really fun interview and I’ll link to that in the show notes. We also have a great story by a guy who I can’t mention his real name because he’s doing the fake name thing over at ProfessionalWebsiteInvestors.com. The guy has a ridiculous success story. We know him personally, we’ve hung out with him in person. He’s also a customer, but bought a site from us for around $25,000 that’s probably worth around six, $700,000 today. He’s absolutely crushed it, he’s got chops both in the business world and also in buying and building up sites, so I’ll link to that in the show notes but it’s ProfessionalWebsiteInvestors.com and the guy’s really cool.
Joe: Yeah, check that out, great guy, love to do business and have some parties with that guy, so he’s fun.
Justin: That’s it for episode 170 of the Empire Podcast. Thanks for sticking with us. We’ll be back soon with another show. You can find the show notes for this episode and more and EmpireFlippers.com/peter, and make sure to follow us on Twitter @EmpireFlippers. See you next time.
Joe: Bye-bye everybody.
Voiceover: Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Empire Podcast with Justin and Joe. Hit up EmpireFlippers.com for more. That’s EmpireFlippers.com. Thanks for listening.
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