Greg Elfrink

November 12, 2018

At the end of every quarter, we look back and reflect on what we were able to accomplish.

We believe that being transparent, and sometimes brutally honest, should be an important part of our work culture.

We have been doing quarterly reports for three years (and monthly reports before that!) to track our growth as well as our missteps. The main reason we do these reports is to inspire our audience and help you become more successful entrepreneurs.

Ultimately, all the success we’ve had is because of you out there grinding and hustling every day. So for that, we thank you.

We think you’re awesome.

So what exactly did happen in Q3? Well… quite a bit!

As always, let’s start with some hard business numbers, our revenue, and a few other interesting statistics.

Executive Summary: Q3 2018 Report

While we didn’t beat out Q2 2018, our largest quarter in company history, we came pretty close.

You can see what kind of sales we achieved broken down by quarter below:

Marketplace Quarterly
 

Here is a look at our marketplace across all-time:

 

You can see the trend steadily shooting upwards from the beginning of 2016. That trend has grown explosively since then, and while this quarter was slightly smaller than Q2, we’re on a great trajectory.

While earlier quarters showed large ups and downs—or as we call them, “lumpy sales”—you can see the sales even out in later quarters. Part of these lumpy sales resulted from selling some of our first seven-figure deals, which skewed the charts. However, these sale jumps are leveling out as we gradually become the go-to broker for seven-figure and up businesses.

Being a broker has always been a bit of a chicken and an egg problem. A seller has to trust that you can get the deal done before they submit their business for sale, but to get that trust you have to show that you can handle a deal their size. Once you prove that you can handle it though, this can open the floodgates for sellers with similarly sized businesses to list with you.

This chicken and the egg problem is a big reason why it initially took us eight months to sell our first seven-figure deal and took us only weeks to sell another.

While we have attracted more and more seven-figure businesses, that doesn’t mean we’ve let go of the smaller end of the market. In fact, we have that smaller end so well processed that we are able to do deals that other brokers don’t have the time or resources to pull off.

We’ll get into how that played out, but first, let’s dive into the business data.

Q3 2018 Business Data

Business Data

Team Member Total: 57
Founders: 2
HR: 1
Sales: 13
Marketing: 6
Operations: 27
Engineering: 4
Contractors: 4
Email Subscribers: 66,706
Podcast Downloads: 20,210
Site Visits: 328,334

Revenue

Brokered Site Sales: $7,917,914.84
Listing Fees: $12,474.00
Additional/Other Revenue: $87.58
Average Deal Size: $114,752.39
Total Revenue: $7,930,476.42

Earnings

Brokered Site Earnings: $1,024,813.58
Listing Fees: $12,474.00
Additional Revenue: $87.58
Total Gross Earnings: $1,037,375.16

Revenue Breakdown

Okay, that is quite a bit of data to scroll through.

Let’s break down each section so we can see what it all means.

Brokered Site Revenue

In Q3 2018, we brokered 69 sales for $7,930,476.42 in revenue, which pushes our all-time revenue to $61,398,795.43. While we sold three more deals in Q2, our Q3 number is up from Q1’s 63 deals sold. Overall, it is nice to see that even if there is a dip from a previous quarter, the overall trend is still upwards.

While it is hard to know for sure, there is a pretty convincing argument to be made that we have the most deal flow of any brokerage, considering we won the IBBA Top Global Deal Producer award a few months back and are now selling even more deals than we did back then.

Below, you can see our average deal size for Q3:

 

Similar to this quarter’s revenue, we saw a dip in our average deal size from Q2 to Q3. Our average deal size in Q2 was $128,765.84, while it was $114,752.39 in Q3. The Q3 deal size is also slightly lower than our Q1 average of $119,883.18.

While this is not a huge drop, it is something that we are going to keep an eye on. Increasing our average deal size has been a major factor in our growth over the last few years and we’d expect this to continue to go up.

As more 7-figure businesses use us as their preferred broker, we think it’s likely deal size will continue the trend upwards over the next few quarters.

You can see all of the current seven-figure businesses we have for sale at the time of this report here:

  • Listing #45021: A Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) business in the sports niche valued at $3,030,330.
  • Listing #44772: An eCommerce business in the furniture niche valued at $1,301,285.
  • Listing #44934: An information product and Amazon Associates business in the photography niche valued at $1,206,162.
  • Listing #44799: An eCommerce business in the beauty niche valued at $1,172,287.
  • Listing #44671: An affiliate business in the audio niche valued at $1,162,460.

 

Want to Find Your Dream Business? Click Here for a Free Buyer Discover Call > >

 

Business Listing Fees

Business listing fees have always been a small portion of revenue for us. We charge a $297 first-time listing fee for sellers to help cover the cost of vetting their businesses. For returning sellers, we charge just $97.

Charging entrepreneurs to submit their business with us helps us weed out the tire kickers and save our vetting team’s time. However, it’s never a big revenue stream and we refund any business that gets rejected by our vetting, which is around 75% of businesses. So you only ever see the listing revenue from businesses that ended up listing with us.

In Q3, we created $12,474.00 in listing revenue. While this is not a lot of revenue, it does cover some of our vetting costs and allows us to take our vetting further than our competitors.

Additional Revenue

Years ago, before we had switched over to a full-time brokerage, we used to have several different income streams that ranged anywhere from affiliate offers we promoted to our own products or investment groups. However, we’ve noticed that whenever we turn our focus away from the brokerage, it never leads to the same ROI as just doubling down and focusing on our marketplace, meaning this revenue stream is almost always nothing.

We did make $87 from an old affiliate program, and sometimes we make some extra revenue with our Empire Flippers Retreat, but it is minimal and not much to speak of.

Traffic and Audience

Blog Traffic and Analytics

Our blog serves as a huge traffic machine for us. We’re big believers in posting great pieces of content and using content marketing in general to drive our traffic.

While we have plenty of articles for people just starting out, we also have hard-hitting data studies of businesses that we’ve sold, such as this post discussing the SEO makeup of six-figure affiliate and display ad sites.

The best part about investing in content marketing is that while each post might drive just a little bit of free traffic, over time that traffic snowballs and continues to give us a competitive edge that going to conferences and running paid ads can’t easily duplicate.

You can see our Q3 traffic below:

 

In Q3, we had 328,334 site sessions versus the last quarter’s 280,217 sessions.

This large increase shows us that we’re on the right track with our content, since it takes a while for content to rank in Google and spread through other channels. There is usually a time lag from when a piece of content is produced to when it hits its stride and is discovered by others.

You can see our traffic broken down by channel below:

 

Our organic traffic shot up significantly, from 69,930 in Q2 to 90,310 visitors in Q3. That is a solid jump of over 20,000 people finding us via organic free traffic, which is exactly what we love to see. Meanwhile, our direct traffic went down from 53,284 to 36,467 visits. It is hard to tell where exactly our direct traffic comes from, so it is difficult to gauge why this metric fell.

Although our direct traffic failed, our paid search traffic went up from 2,462 visitors in Q2 to 12,803 visitors in Q3. Part of the growth is because our brand has grown to the point where the keyword “Empire Flippers” is searched thousands of times per month and we have Adwords campaigns proactively protecting the brand keywords. Another reason is that we are scaling our successful paid campaigns to grow our reach. Organic free traffic is a huge boon to our business, but we know better than to rely on just a single traffic source.

You can check out a bit of our brand growth using this Google Trends chart that goes from 2012 to the present day:

 

While attributing any of our content to direct business sales is a challenge, it is still interesting to see where our site visitors hang out the most.

Here are our Top Three Most Viewed Pages:

Here are our Top Three Most Viewed Listings:

Here are our Top Three Most Viewed Pieces of Content:

Here are our Top Three Most Viewed Recent Pieces of Content:

Podcasts and Shows

Podcasting is one of our favorite marketing channels, but we almost always underuse it. Still, we’re seeing the benefit of content creation passively working for us every month, even with shows that haven’t had episodes come out in a while.

In Q3, we had 20,210 podcast downloads across all of our shows compared to 21,942 in Q2. This is somewhat disappointing since we just launched a new show called Real Money Real Business this past quarter.

We’ll get into what happened there below, but first, let’s break down our other podcasts.

Empire Flippers

Empire Flippers is our flagship show where Justin Cooke and Joe Magnotti host and interview a wide variety of guests. Historically, this is our most popular show. Though no episodes have come out in months (and when they do, it is sporadically), it is still our most mentioned content piece at conferences.

You can see our downloads chart below:

 

We had 17,215 podcast downloads in Q2 and only 13,501 downloads in Q3. Unless we produce more shows on a more consistent basis, it is very likely this will continue to be a downward trend.

One inspiring observation though is how well this podcast is doing despite us not producing new episodes. It is a testament to the show quality and every month it brings us new leads and fans who have never heard of Empire Flippers before.

Web Equity Show

The Web Equity Show is co-hosted between Justin Cooke and buyer broker Ace Chapman. This podcast is done in seasons and is tightly focused on the buying and selling online business space.

Every season does a deep dive into one aspect of this world.

You can see the downloads we had in Q3 below:

 

We had 3,994 downloads this quarter versus 3,847 the previous quarter.

It is nice to see that the podcast is performing slightly better than in the previous quarter, but we expect to see a BIG jump for the show in Q4.

The reason?

We just launched Season Four of the Web Equity Show, talking all about how to build big funds, raise capital, and scale your acquisitions, which a lot of our audience want to know about as they scale their own businesses.

You can catch Season Four, Episode One of the Web Equity Show here.

We’ll also be moving the show to our podcast page soon, so the show will be easier to find.

Digital Journey

Digital Journey was designed for aspiring digital nomads. The idea was that telling these stories would inspire our audience to escape the nine-to-five grind by buying or building a digital business.

Our two co-hosts, Nick Nimmin and Rob Fortney, did a great job inspiring hundreds of people with their guest interviews. Unfortunately, we had to discontinue the show after Rob’s passing.

His legacy lives on as people continue to download the podcast monthly.

You can see the podcast downloads below:

 

Last quarter, we saw 880 downloads of Digital Journey, and this quarter we saw 670 downloads. Our prediction is that these downloads will ultimately trend down as the show grows older without updates, but for now we’re happy to see that people are enjoying the various inspiring stories that were featured on the podcast.

Real Money Real Business

Real Money Real Business has been an idea that we’ve wanted to do for a LONG time!

We wanted to repurpose our seller interviews done on our YouTube channel about businesses being sold on our marketplace into another medium. Unlike other podcasts that interview entrepreneurs, we actually have VETTED these businesses; we’ve literally seen and, in some cases, helped them MAKE their profit and loss (P&L) statements.

In theory, this sounds awesome (or at least it did to us), but in practice, we saw some early signs of trouble, which you can see from our podcast downloads below:

 

We created an entire podcast launch plan and rolled it out to our fans. People were stoked to see a new podcast from us, but when the launch ended, the downloads went WAY down!

Part of the problem was how we communicated the launch. We didn’t clarify that the podcast was repurposed seller interviews well enough and not a new podcast by Justin and Joe, which a lot of people were expecting.

We had tons of outreach from our audience wanting to appear on the podcast too, which meant that we hadn’t clarified that you had to be selling your business with us to be interviewed. After all, if we hadn’t vetted your business, we’d lose the unique selling proposition of the show.

Another issue we ran into was that the seller interview process just didn’t translate well in a podcast format. On YouTube, there were parts of the interview where we discussed business statistics and showed them on video; in the audio format, this fell flat and was jarring to the listener.

Our intent was always to publish the BEST seller interviews on these podcasts. These entrepreneurs could teach the audience nuggets of wisdom, and we would get to advertise the fact that this talented entrepreneur was also selling their business with us.

It didn’t exactly work out that way though, as people felt it was too commercial with one listener even leaving a review saying as much.

The good news is… these were all GREAT lessons for us to learn.

We’re revising the scripts for these podcasts to make them more engaging, such as including more knowledge bombs for entrepreneurs, rather than just promoting that the business is for sale. We’re also getting rid of the statistic dumps and adding in more storytelling questions that will lead to far superior interviews.

While the initial podcast launch didn’t work as well as we thought, we still believe this can be a valuable medium both for us and for those listening in.

Email and Contacts

Email marketing is an integral part of our business and giving value back to our audience. We use various email funnels to help customize the information our audience receives, such as allowing them to create an account to tell us about their preferences.

Between Q2 and Q3, our email list grew from 58,237 to 66,706 subscribers.

While email is super important to us, we have found it hard to jump our subscriber base, which grows at an extremely steady trend, as you can see below:

 

 

Over the next few quarters, email is going to be a major focus for us. We will be creating brand new email funnels and all sorts of interesting content that is going to help our audience out in a big way.

As the director of marketing, I think this is probably one of the most exciting areas of growth for us. Once we get this system truly refined, we will be able to scale the whole machine with more content marketing and paid growth strategies.

If you want to stay updated, make sure you click one of the two links below to tell us what kind of content you want to receive:

Which One are You Interested in?
Click Here to share your buying interests.
Click Here to share your selling interests.

Customer Experience

Zendesk Support

Zendesk is still our workhorse when it comes to customer communication. We use Zendesk for everything, from deposits made within our marketplace to seller’s negotiating with potential buyers.

While Zendesk is by no means a perfect software solution, it is the best one that we have at the moment. Customer experience is a constant focus of improvement and we’ve made great strides in this area over the last year.

You can see our Zendesk stats for Q3 2018 below:

 

One of the most interesting pieces of data here is that our average first reply time for Q2 (4.46 hours) has now fallen by over a full hour (3.17 hours).

Alas, our satisfaction rating dropped from 92% to 89%. According to Zendesk, the industry average is 96%, which is a bold goal for us to shoot for, especially when you compare industry averages with the other metrics.

As you can see, our first reply time far outstrips the industry average of 18.40 hours. Additionally, the average amount of new tickets is only 936 industry-wide, while we had 9,751!

Customer Feedback

In Q3, we had a total of 9,751 new tickets, 9,559 resolved tickets, 411 good ratings, and 57 bad ratings.

Every metric went up compared to last quarter, except for our good ratings, which dropped by 13. Meanwhile, the new tickets grew by over 1,000.

So what exactly ARE people saying about us? Let’s take a look.

 

 

While most of our ratings were good, and sometimes complimented us on the very thing someone else rated as bad, we did notice some common trends.

The positive trend was how thrilled people were with how fast we got back to them. That is a great sign of us delivering on being there for our customers.

The negative trend was that although we were fast in responding, many customers felt our responses were just canned messages. We do use a lot of macros throughout our Zendesk communication, but this is an area where we could definitely improve.

In fact, we are improving this area specifically so that customers feel they are getting exactly what they need the moment they ask for it. How are we doing that?

Well… we hired again. Which brings us to what happened in Q3.

What Happened in Q3 2018?

Because we are a fast growth company, there is a lot that happens in just three months. Below are all the going-on’s that happened between July and September.

Affiliate World Europe

 

Last year, we attended Affiliate World Bangkok and got to meet a ton of awesome people, including Eric Dyck who runs The Robust Marketer podcast and iStack Training. This year, we also attended their Europe event in Barcelona, Spain. We met tons of people and made plenty of connections.

One of the unique things about Affiliate World is that it doesn’t feel like your typical conference. It is more like a tradeshow and a who’s who of affiliate marketing and eCommerce store owners.

We plan on returning to Affiliate World Bangkok this year. So if you’re around, definitely shoot us an email to meet up!

Vietnam SEO Summit

 

Being a 100% remote company, our entire staff is made up of digital nomads. This means that for the most part, we’re all living in some pretty exotic locales. At any given point in time, we have team members in Europe, Asia, and even South America.

Living in these locations lets us connect with local entrepreneurs and sometimes leads to cool opportunities.

For example, my friend Diep Nguyen, an SEO agency owner in Saigon, invited me to speak at the Vietnam SEO Summit.

We spoke in front of 200 Vietnamese digital entrepreneurs about SEO and how content marketing fits into the puzzle of driving more leads, more sales, and ultimately more profit.

This event led to a Vietnamese newspaper writing about Empire Flippers, which is pretty awesome.

DCx Budapest and DCx Prague

 

We’re big fans of the Dynamite Circle (DC), and we sponsor as many of their events that makes sense when we have employees in the area. This quarter, we were able to sponsor their DCx events in Budapest and Prague.

The DC group is one of our favorite groups of digital nomads. Our company has grown up alongside the DC, and we’ve had the pleasure of both seeing and helping their community members scale up their businesses.

Empire Retreat 4.0

It is hard to believe that we have already done FOUR Empire Retreats in the last few years! I still remember when we came up with the idea, sitting in a local coffee shop in Saigon and brainstorming how it would work.

Suffice to say, this year was our most successful Empire Retreat yet. We sold out the event within a week of launching it and had to rent out the third villa just to house everyone who decided to hang out with us. We had plenty of people returning to the Retreat for their third year in a row and plenty of new faces, including our good friend Matt Diggity from DiggityMarketing.com.

 

While pulling these events off is a lot of work, we try to make them as smooth as possible for our attendees. A large portion of the credit goes to our marketing coordinator Mike Swigunski, who has quite the talent for turning stressful event planning into a seamless machine that just works. Good job, buddy. Our attendees and fellow employees thank you especially!

The Retreat brings together a handful of six-figure and seven-figure online entrepreneurs to mastermind, network, form new partnerships and collaborations, and just have fun.

If you’ve never seen one of our Retreat videos before, you can check out the latest one below:

Redesigned the Look and Feel of Our Seller Submission Process

 

A few months ago, we redesigned our valuation tool for a better user experience; a big chunk of our time this quarter was dedicated to redesigning how people list their businesses with us.

We decided to move away from the long, ugly form of the past and embrace a similar philosophy that we brought to the valuation tool. Instead of a long-form guarded by a paywall, we created a gamified form that only asks for payment at the end.

This has done wonders for increasing how many submissions we get per week and has opened up doors for some interesting retargeting options for us.

It was a lot of work, but we instantly saw a big boost in conversions that has made it all worthwhile!

If you haven’t seen the submission page yet, and are ready to sell your business, click here.

Launched Our Scoreboard

 

Transparency has been a big part of our culture.

A big reason for our growth and success is the fact that we are honest and willing to show you the numbers. We have been brainstorming how we could really encapsulate that idea and be even MORE transparent with our audience.

That is when the idea of having a scoreboard was created.

The scoreboard shows you how many visitors we have, our current listings, the number of businesses we’ve sold, our contact database, sales volume, average multiple, and more.

Currently, this scoreboard is being updated on a monthly basis, but we plan to make it a board that updates itself in real time.

If you’ve ever wondered why you should choose Empire Flippers over another broker, then check out our scoreboard. You’ll also see the top 10 reasons why people pick Empire Flippers over the competition when it comes to successfully selling or acquiring an online business.

Click Here to Check Out the Scoreboard.

Another Round of Hiring (Sales, Vetting, and HR)

It is crazy to think that just a couple of years ago our team was less than 20 people altogether.

Now? We’re closing in on 60 employees with 53 full-time employees and four contractors.

We have been the largest team in the industry for a while now, and with our new additions, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Our customers get the value in building a brokerage machine that allows them to quickly, easily, and successfully buy websites and online businesses. We believe in this process so much that we are the only brokerage to have every base covered by a team of professionals who are highly skilled in their specific area—vetting, marketing, sales, and migrations—rather than an individual attempting to do it all.

So what did we hire for?

We hired a brand new round of vetting specialists and business analysts, a new customer service specialist, and a Human Resources Coordinator. We’ve gotten so big that the administration tasks for managing our teams have evolved a need for a real HR expert to come to help us out. So far, it’s been awesome!

Hiring new people can be both a fun and scary task. On one hand, it is great bringing on new people that have new perceptions and insights—some of our best ideas have come from our newest employees. However, it can be scary to see if it will help grow the company the way we want. Usually, it takes about six to eight months before we know if someone is making a real impact that helps the business in a meaningful way.

Our track record is pretty good here though, to the point where we can almost track every big revenue jump we’ve had as a company directly to the fact that we hired more hands to help out.

If you want to meet some of the new team members, check out our About Us page.

And while we’re holding off hiring again for now, if you’re interested in working with us then make sure to head over to our careers board and subscribe to be the first to hear of any new opportunities we have.

Empire Company Meet Up in Saigon

 

Twice per year, we meet up as a company to work hard and play hard together. We host these events all around the world and invite our team to join us. It is a great time to build up company culture, for friendships to blossom, and to get through a ton of work. These meetups often involve tons of meetings that allow us to work through our biggest challenges and find new innovative solutions to grow our brand.

This time around, we went to Saigon and had a blast. Although, once you get above the 50 employee mark, the logistics of such a situation become much more difficult.

Still, we were able to pull it off!

We’re all looking forward to our April meetup in Budapest.

Three Years on the INC 5,000 List

Last, but certainly not least, we made it on the INC 5,000 list once again.

Every year, INC Magazine publishes the fastest-growing companies in America; we’ve made it on that list three years in a row!

This year we came in at 583 of the top 1,000.

It is always exciting to earn this award, and we’re looking to seeing if we can make it a fourth year.

That’s a Wrap!

Q3 was crazy busy and now we’re well on our way into Q4.

It has been exciting to watch both our company and team’s grow in their skill and commitment to helping people sell and/or buy online businesses.

Hopefully, this report inspired you to keep on pushing towards your goals.

It is pretty amazing what can happen when you combine hard work with vision.

How did your quarter go? What will be your vision for Q4? What are your goals?

Whatever they are, we’ll be here rooting for you every step of the way.


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