Today I’m thrilled to have Sol Orwell on the show. Sol is probably best known for starting the company Examine.com, the leading resource to get unbiased information on nutritional supplements.
He also runs the popular site SJO.com where he writes about entrepreneurship. Anyway, what’s really interesting about his company examine.com is that he grew it to a 7 figure business primarily by using reddit. Enjoy the show!
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What You’ll Learn
- Why Sol started Examine.com and what led to its creation
- How Sol got a one word domain and why he bought it
- How Sol got his initial traffic
- How to leverage reddit to gain traffic for a business
- How Examine.com makes money
- How Sol created his first product
- How to rank #3 for creatine
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Now today I’m thrilled to have Sol Orwell on the show and today we are going to go back to the beginning and discuss how he created the seven figure company Examine.com, the leading resource on nutritional supplements. But before we begin I want to give a quick shout out to Seller Labs for sponsoring this episode, and specifically I want to talk about their awesome new Amazon tool, Scope.
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Intro: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. Today I’m thrilled to have Sol Orwell on the show. Now what’s funny about my story with Sol is that I asked him to come on my podcast and then like two days later he publishes this post on Facebook that reads like this.
He wrote, “Many people have been contacting me lately but not a single person has made a compelling case. Going to someone you don’t know with let’s chat or I want to mentor me or the worst I want to pick your brain causes me to only respond with just one word, why? Time is the single most precious thing you own and control, and I guard mine like a zealot.”
And so when I saw this and I just contacted him just before, I was saying to myself, oh crap, did I just do exactly what he was complaining about, and fortunately he actually replied after a couple of weeks and I managed to land him on this interview. Anyway, who is Sol Orwell? Sol is probably best known for starting the company examine.com which is the leading resource to get unbiased information on nutritional supplements, and he also runs the popular site SJO.com which are his initials where he writes about entrepreneurship.
Anyway what’s really interesting about his company, examine.com is that he grew it to seven figure business primarily by using Reddit, and with that welcome to the show Sol. How are you doing today, man?
Sol: I’m great, thanks for having me on.
Steve: So yeah, I was – after I contacted you and you posted that thing I was really worried, and if you look at your email I actually wrote another one afterwards and I pointed out the reasons why you should come on the show.
Sol: That’s right, that’s right. I mean to be honest it was more in the context of like you and I we had at least engaged, right? So I knew who you were and you knew who I was, that was fine. But what always happens is every time on — I was on Ramit site at that time and Brian Clark had mentioned me, and Nathan Shane. And the first [inaudible] [00:04:53] happened with Ferriss.
Man like people just come out of the wood work and I have no idea who they are, I have not context of who they are and it just makes you realize more and more as you build up an audience, you need to start building in almost filters, and most people just, they think- we talk a lot about entrepreneurship. We talk about you have to think about the you, right.
You have to convince the other person why they want to buy from you or why they should follow you, why should they listen to. But inevitably people forget that that applies to them also, and so when they contact you it’s all me, me, me, me and you are just kind of like, I have no idea why we should have a conversation. Which makes me sounds like a bit of a dick, but at the end of the day right, like we’ve got family, we’ve got friends, we’ve got business, there is only so much time we have and often time people squander it, but like you read, I’m quite the zealot about it.
Steve: Yeah, and it happens to me too and I completely understand. I actually don’t even open emails. Like I read like the first sentence a lot of the times and if I don’t really know who the person is, or if they are not compelling in like the first couple of sentences I usually don’t finish the rest of the email.
Sol: Yeah, no kidding, especially when you got like essay emails that are- that’s going to take like ten minutes to read and another 40 minutes to reply if you really want to do it right. You have to triage emails, right? And I think what’s interesting is as I’ve learned this more myself, I have become better at communicating with other people about this is why we should have a conversation, this is why we will get along, or this is what we will talk about and it’s done great for me too. So it’s one of those fascinating things that when you are in it you just become better and better at it.
Steve: Right, and then your little post on Facebook was a reminder that I should put more effort in my email even for people. The thing is we hadn’t talked for couple of years, right? I didn’t even remember if you knew who I was at that point actually so.
Sol: It was a while. I think it was an email chain though. So it’s always easy to just go back up and see it, right?
Steve: That’s true.
Sol: But yeah, a lot of people they come in cold, you have no — so I actually send, one of the people who sent me one of these emails, this is like, I thought this was just fun. He sent it to me and I was like I was just waiting for my girlfriend to come home, so I wrote him like the scathing email. I’m like listen, I’m not trying to be a jack ass, and I just like totally ripped into it.
And he replied and he is this incredibly successful CEO who’s got so many employees doing really well, and he is like you know what? You are right. So hopefully our [inaudible] [00:07:06] will impact other people in a positive way and everyone will win from this.
Steve: So Sol, let’s talk about examine.com real quick.
Steve: How did you start it and why did you start it and what lead to its creation?
Sol: So we actually just turned six years old two days ago.
Sol: Thank you, and basically I used to be a lot, lot heavier and when I started losing weight, I got suckered into it. I bought a lot of supplements. I’ll send you the link to the image so you can add it to the notes at the end. It was a lot of supplements and-
Steve: Is it a fat image or?
Sol: No, like two of my other supplements I owned.
Steve: Okay, got it.
Sol: Trust me it was a ridiculous amount. And so as I lost weight I realized there are so many companies, they are misrepresenting science, they are ripping us off, and I was actually in Colombia. I was hanging out with two of my post doc friends and I was complaining about this. And they said listen, you are bomb, you are not doing anything with your life right now, why don’t you do something about it.
So some back-story, I had we had had other successful businesses and to me entrepreneurship has always been about independence. I’ve never really chassed money per say, so a lot of it to me was just like relaxing.
And so after they caught me out on it I realized you know what, this is something that needs to be done. And so from day one we’ve never sold any physical products. We’ve never done any supplement sales, we’ve never done any coaching, we’ve never done any consulting. We’ve always been an education company.
And the hard part of it all was most often and most like areas like entrepreneurship or even- especially health and fitness it’s usually around the personal brand, right. It’s this one person that has a PHD or a doctor or whatever that everyone listens to, whereas for me the focus was always on I want examine.com to be a repository. Whenever people think supplements, I want them to think of examine.com.
So that’s kind of how we started, that’s what got us going. We were actually only covering body building supplements, then we got into health supplements, then all supplements, then nutrition. Now we are into like education certification or we are getting into it. But yeah, it’s been an interesting journey, we get over two million visitors a month now.
Sol: And the other important thing is that a lot of the time people get focused too much on their own niche, right? They only stay in their own little bubble. So we did- we are all over men’s health and men’s fitness and muscle fitness and all those, but our real point of pride is that we’ve broken out. So you’ll find our stuff in New York Times or BBC or all these, like we wrote about Boom Broth for mother Jones. So that’s been the most rewarding part is getting our message across to a lot of people instead of just the most focused hyper fit people out there.
Steve: So of those other publications that you mentioned, did they just start coming to you once you established your site as an authority?
Sol: So a bit of A, a bit of B.
Sol: Some of them do come out to us especially even when you search for let’s say Creatine or fish oil we are usually top five, so they do find us there. We do put a lot of effort in outreach. The reality is that most nutrition information out there, most any information out there is very sensationalized, right? We have click bit headlines and we are driven by page view. So we’ve put in a lot effort of whoever is writing in a no non-sense manner, we tend to reach out to them, introduce ourselves, explain what we do and just because of what we do and what they do, we become fast friends.
So it’s one of those things where examine.com is a calling card, you just look at the website and you instantly know, oh my god! These guys are nerds. And that’s done a lot for us. And the other important thing is we stay in our lane. We know we are researchers, so we don’t say hey, we are going to write for you or hey you should do this. We always say listen, this is the latest nutrition research and we can help you analyze it and get it across to your audience, and people love it when we just help them do the job.
Steve: So do you have scientist on staff that can like verify the stuff that’s being published? Does that make sense?
Sol: Yeah, so basically there is a bit of misinformation out there. There is researchers who are in the labs who are doing the bench work, and then there is people outside who are analyzing it. And so we have the entire spectrum. So we have medical doctors, we have PHDs; we have pharmacists which are very underrated. We have registered dieticians, we have people with clients, we have people who are only on the research side, and you need all these people because that’s the only way you get the entire breadth and depth, right?
You’ll hear some person say, oh, I’ve figured how to do exercise and nutrition. Like we have over 50,000 references and we only stick to nutrition and we have a team of up to 30 people who contribute. There is no one person who knows everything or even 10% of everything, and the only way to do it is with a huge army really.
Steve: I’m just curious what happens when you get conflicting advice? Because a lot of times doctors might not agree, right?
Sol: Right, so actually what’s really interesting is this is one of those examples where a lot of research is hyper specific, and research actually rarely conflicts. It’s just it’s so specific that in broader context it may seem like its conflicting. So for example, a few years ago a study come out saying that, fish oil my cause prostate cancer and you are reading like holy shit! I’m done with fish oil. But when you actually get into it you find out that they actually only analyzed people from 50 years and older, and it was only this one specific group from I think it was like 55 to 60 that were taking this and this and this. That’s all higher rate of prostate cancer.
And so the research doesn’t that often contradict each other. It’s just when you generalize it, it becomes very contradictory, but when you look in depth and like, oh, it’s different when someone has diabetes already versus someone who doesn’t, right?
Sol: It’s different versus someone who goes and exercises a lot. So it’s this, it often times is just adding one piece of the puzzle to the bigger picture, but people imagine it as if it’s like 50,000 pieces all put down at once.
Steve: Okay, and then they probably choose a title that’s more click baity or not click baity but, okay more clickable.
Sol: Exactly and it’s one of those things where because the internet is driving traffic and traffic drives ads and ads is what they are all after and the newspapers are desperate for, the quality of reporting gets — in a way it’s not even it’s getting worse, they have less and less time to analyze it or research into it, and that’s where we become sort of valuables. We are that resource source for them.
Steve: Okay and I was kind of curious about it. How the heck did you get a one word domain and I assume you had to pay a lot of money for it.
Sol: So I used to be in the domain name industry, I have dabbled in a lot of different things and so I know a lot of top domain brokers. And so examine.com cost me 42,000 and then SJO.com cost me 27,000. But the reason I mention it is, I knew that there was a base of at least 30,000 for examine.com. So if there was some emergency and I had to liquidate the domain, I could get 30,000 within 24 hours. So there is more on that it was some cost of maybe 10,000 into it, than oh my god! I’ve put down 42.
Even now man, examine.com alone as a domain is likely base of worth of 50,000, so same thing with SJO, right? 27 but I could easily sell it for 20,000 within 24 hours. So it’s one of those things where I would rather put in a bit of money, knowing that it’s still liquid than come up with something you know more generic — not more generic but more like harder to remember. Whereas examine.com often times I tell it to people, and they are like how do you spell it, and I’m like literally as the word is, so yeah.
Steve: I’m just curious why you felt it was so important to get a one word domain from the start.
Sol: I mean to me it was one of those things if it failed as a project I could repurpose it. So I could have bought supplement.com, and I think it was a friend of mine who had it. He wanted 25,000 or 20,000 but that would have stuck me into the world of supplements. So examine.com was generic and it was something I could have easily used for something else.
So back in the day- so I know the guy who created HostGator. In fact I bought a website from him in 2002 and used that money to start it, and I bought launchpad.com for 50,000 and he was like, what’s the plan? He is like, I have no plan, but I can use it for like ten different things. And that always kind of stuck with me where I’m like, examine.com isn’t one specific area. I can do whatever I want with it. And going to somebody and saying hey, I own examine.com versus I own Solsupplementresearchsite.com, it’s nowhere near the same, right?
Steve: That’s true, yeah.
Sol: And everything I do is really long term oriented. So I knew that worst case if it failed that’s all right, but long term examine.com was a brand that we could keep for a very, very long time.
Steve: Interesting. So would you recommend that for new people starting out too?
Sol: I mean, at the end of the day it’s really about how much money you have to throw at it.
Sol: Like to me 42,000 was let’s say 40% of my 100k outlay into the company.
Sol: So I wouldn’t spend more than 25%. I spent more because I knew the industry, I knew what would work, I knew what I could resell. But in terms of like overall marketing budget I would never spend more than 20-25% on the domain just because there are more important things at that moment, you can always rebrand. I just found it for myself it would be a lot easier not to.
Steve: Okay, okay, fair enough. Let’s talk about traffic. So you have this site, you have a lot of great information on it, how did you actually get people to go and take a look at it?
Sol: So originally like you mentioned, we actually spawned from Reddit. So when I joined Reddit fitness, so people who don’t know Reddit it’s basically the world’s largest message board. I joined Reddit fitness when it had maybe 50,000 people. Right now I think it’s at almost at seven million, and what I noticed is people kept asking the same damn question.
Sol: So I thought about entrepreneurship, I always talk about like opportunity is right there; you just kind of have to have your eyes open. So people kept asking the same questions, so like, is Creatine bad for kidneys, and somebody would post all these scientific paper links, right? And then three days later because no one never actually searches the history, someone else post the same damn article, and people eventually get tired of it, so that’s why we spawn.
And instantly we had a very symbiotic relationship where Reddit was a source of questions and answers for us and things to research on. And for Redditers anytime these newbies would come and ask the same question over and over again, instead of having to answer with these long witted answers or copy paste, they just be like go to examine.com, go to eaxmaine.com. So that’s how we originally started.
And then afterwards honestly man, like people ask me, how do you get links from X site or B site? Like high authority sites. It’s all relationships, right? Like the way we set it up is because we don’t do any coaching, because we don’t do any consulting, we are not competing with anyone. We are not competing with legend dietitians, we are not competing with personal trainers, and overtime I have built up relationships with all of these guys and girls that every time someone asks them about supplements, they all link to us. They all talk about us.
So for example right now I said, we turned six two years ago, we are doing a quick anniversary sale as of this conversation that is, and so Charles Poliquin, god father of strength and conditioning training. He has been on for example on Ferriss’ podcast twice. He has heavily promoted our sale, because we have this relationship, because we stay in our lane everyone talks about us and it just adds and adds and adds up over time.
Steve: Let’s talk about Reddit in particular because I have some experience with Reddit and I’m definitely not engrained on there at all, but like the culture there can be pretty nasty, right?
Sol: Quite super nasty.
Steve: And I’m just curious like how you get people, like I remember one time I posted a link to my site and I got roasted, right?
Sol: Yeah, for sure, for sure. So the thing with Reddit is they are very, very, very sensitive to people coming in to try to get traffic. I have been a Redditer now for over ten years. In fact in like four months or three months I will hit 11 years. So I was part of the Reddit ecosystem before I ever created examine.com, before I even had the idea of it. And if you-
Steve: For a long time you mean before-?
Sol: Yeah, yeah, so I was on Reddit for about like four years, right before examine.com even came into existence. And the other thing is everyone’s comments and posts are public. So if you go look at my history, if you look at what I have posted, I rarely post about examine.com and I post in other areas. I post in Reddit Toronto, I post in Reddit Canada politics, I post in Reddit NBA and NFL.
So if you look at me and if I’m posting an article or a link to examine.com, no one says anything to me because they know I’m a Redditer first, that I’m a part of the community more than someone coming in and trying to monetize it, or abuse the community for my own good.
Sol: So when I do, like if in Reddit entrepreneur which I got I think two-300,000 people. If I go in and I drop a link, no one is like hey, this asshole is just promoting himself because I’m part of the community. Because I comment there, because I post there other things that have nothing to do with me, they are a lot more forgiving. So that’s it, a lot of people just try to use for themselves, they just try to promote themselves but Reddit is very sensitive. If you are part of the community then you can promote happily and they’ll like you.
Steve: So as a new business who would like to leverage Reddit, do you recommend — okay how would you approach that?
Sol: So yeah, I would not recommend Reddit as a leverage for traffic. The traffic tends to convert poorly. What Reddit is great for is research.
Sol: It’s amazing, it’s a great way to find out what are people talking about. So Reddit basically- again for those who don’t know, any article you can give it one up vote or one down vote, and the more up votes it gets the more popular it is. And so you can actually sort what the most popular posts ever have been in the past month, in the past week, in the past year or all time. So if you are getting into a new area, if you are getting into a niche and you go to that specific section in Reddit and you look at what their top articles are or questions are, you instantly know what you need to write about because users have already voted for you.
So it’s a great way to do research, it’s a great way to find out what’s going on, but it’s way too long term to be like, oh, I’m going to use Reddit for traffic.
Sol: And the other thing is honestly Reddit traffic converts relatively pace poor. In terms of conversion it’s as bad as Twitter and Twitter is not something I ever recommend to anyone to focus on in terms of generating revenue. It’s good for other things, again it’s good for community building, it’s good for networking, there is a lot of interesting people there. It’s great for research as I mentioned, it’s even good for employees, you can find — because Reddit is as a chess pool, right?
People are mean and they are nasty to each other and being successful online is a big part of just having a thick skin. So you can find people on it that have thick skins that are subject matter experts on whatever you are talking about and poach them for writing, hire them full time whatever.
My co-founder for examine.com, he was a moderator in the Reddit fitness section, and the only — well not the only, but a big reason why I chose him was because people would hurl abuse at him and it would just bounce right off of him. He never took it personally and that’s great for working online.
Steve: So you said you got your start on Reddit, but I would imagine that you just mentioned that that traffic doesn’t really convert and what not, and so how did it evolve from Reddit to other traffic sources then?
Sol: Right, so Reddit basically what it allowed me to do was say hey, look how much traffic we are getting. So it gave me the topics that we needed to talk about. It gave me the initial let’s say 500 visitors a day or 300 or 1,000. I think right now we get maybe a couple of thousands a day just because we are still embedded in the system, but again honestly man, it was all relationships.
It was going to these people and like for example, I have a genetic disorder which causes my ligaments and tendons to tear easily. I’ve had seven surgeries and I have huge shoulder problems. So this guy named Eric Cressey, he teaches a lot — he trains a lot of professional baseball pitchers. That’s his area of expertise, and so he created a product and he talked about shoulder health and it worked for me. And I mass emailed him and I said, hey man like I just wanted to say thanks for the shoulder thing, it really helped me blah, blah, blah. And again I showed my value and all that jazz we were talking about.
Sol: And he replied and that’s where our relationship started, and that’s kind of then he started writing about — so he covered things that we wrote about. So it was all these confluence events and eventually as more and more of these important or influential people started writing about us our rankings went up and up and up, right. So if we’re like let’s say 75,000 visitors a day now, Google sends I think 40 of those, 40,000 that is.
Sol: Because we rank so highly for fish oil, Creatine and all that. It’s all interconnected, right? The more better relationships we build, the more links we get which increases our search engine rankings which makes it easier for us to build even further relationships, and it just goes round and round and round and round.
Steve: So let me ask you this, was that accidental or do you make an effort like I’m going to contact X number of people every single month and just see where it goes?
Sol: So a big part of who I am especially if you look over my Twitter feed is I share anything I find interesting. And I would say 75% of it has literally no connection to me at all whatsoever in a professional capacity. I am of the mindset of if I read something interesting, I will share it and then I will contact the author and say, hey I like your work.
And I work online long enough that you’ll hear from people who hate your work 100 times more than you’ll hear from people who actually like your work. And so when I reach out and say, hey I like your work and I talk — and I’ll mention about why I’m even saying this because for example I’m used to people hatting on my stuff, this is why I wanted to say thank you for it. That’s where the relationship starts building.
So I have always been about how do I get deeper relationships with people. You and I previously talked about like the cookie off and all that kind of stuff, I’m very fascinated by human connections and it helps my business, but I’m more interested in, is this person doing something interesting?
For every four or five people I come across in any industry I will maybe contact one person because when I contact them I want to contact them from position of authenticity saying I actually like your work and I actually want to get to know not, oh you are influential so I think we should become BBFs. So that’s my approach.
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Can you give us an example of an approach email that you might write? And like earlier in our conversation, at the very beginning we were talking about how we get lots of emails and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, right? So how do you stand out from the crowd?
Sol: Okay, easy. So for example recently think I read someone on Mental Floss. This writer on Mentalfloss.com, she had written about some supplement, let’s just say supplement X. And I read it and I really liked it, and so my next step is to then further read the person’s other stuff. And so I read her other stuff and she has the same genetic disorder I have EDS, and this will be another little spin and I’ll add on the end. So I send her an email saying, hey Cate, you know I read your article, really liked it and I tweeted it too obviously first.
Sol: But I really liked it, I enjoyed, it’s always good to see no nonsense information because we get a lot of nonsense. And then I explained, this is what we do and this is why I’m so used to nonsense, and then I’m like, oh, and one of the big reasons I really wanted to reach out was because I have EDS and not a lot of people talk about EDS. Man, it’s always like good to read about it, people becoming more publicly aware of it.
Sol: Now, and then so I just sent that email and she replied being like, oh yeah, somebody knows what EDS is. But the way it ties into the rest of the things is I hate reading books about business, about marketing, about entrepreneurship. Every time I see a list — sorry I have to be honest. Eveytime I see a list of like 42 business books you have to read, I’m like, what are you going to read in the 9th book that you didn’t read in the first eight books, right?
Like business in itself is an easy concept. Figure out something people want and sell it to them. And we can get into the marketing psychology and that’s all important, but that’s the basic premise.
Instead, I spend most of my time reading random things that have nothing to do with business. So for example right now I’m reading about living with the borderline mother, which talks about how women with BPD impact their families.
Sol: I’m also reading the oral history of the daily show, and I just recently finished Michael Jackson Inc. which talked about the business that Michael Jackson made and how he made all of his money which was through music licensing. So what happens, because I read so much but I read about things that have nothing to do with business and entrepreneurship, whenever I meet someone, I can instantly go on depth with something that’s of interest to them because I have also been exposed to it. So the reason I became good friends with the editor in chief of Entrepreneur Magazine is because he is a huge NBA fan and so am I.
And so he loves the Miami Heat, I’m a huge Raptors fan, we are both under East Side, and so when I speak to him in this language he knows I’m a serious like fan, right? And I find this is the key, this exposure to external things is what makes ‘networking so easy for me’ is because I connect with people on a 100 different things instead of, oh, did you read about the latest AB test that growthhacker.com is talking about? That’s boring as hell.
We want to connect on a personal level, we want to work with people we like and we like them on personal connections, not oh I think you are supper smart because you are successful, and oh I think you are supper smart because you are so succefull, none of that. So I focus on the personal side or the human side.
Steve: So let me just kind of summarize what you said to me.
Steve: So when you do your outreach, you try to find out as much about that person as possible and pick something non business related to kind of establish rapport with?
Sol: Yeah, I connect with them on things that I’m also interested in or something that I’ve also been exposed to. And I always — I don’t read one thing, I read multiple things from them and often times when I start reading other stuff, I’m like, no, we are not going to connect and I don’t bother. I’m very big on only contacting people I actually want a contact with, and so my cold email response rate is above 50%.
Steve: Wow! Okay.
Sol: Because I only contact people I actually want to have a conversation with, and that I think — and I always write my emails from scratch. I’m a fast typer which I think makes it a little bit easier for me. But I always write emails from scratch so that you can almost feel the energy or the vibe in my words that I like you, I think you are an interesting person, I like what you are writing, let’s become friends. That’s always my mindset.
Steve: So while we are talking, would you mind opening that email app that you sent to that woman?
Steve: I’m just curious about the part where you are establishing yourself as someone she would actually want to talk to as well, right? Because that woman who had EDS she probably gets a ton of emails every day also I would imagine, right?
Sol: Yeah, you know what? I just opened up another one that’s just sitting in my inbox.
Sol: And so this guy is an editor at a popular science magazine. And so the email is, Hi Stephen, after our exchange I found your post via my RD friend Robin and saw exchange on Twitter. I spend quite a bit if time reading your stuff, very interesting and your bit about teaching creationalism to debunk it actually made me laugh. And so he had talked about creationism in school, and I had done a lot of research or reading about how the Texas curriculum has a massive impact on what’s taught in the US because they are the number one text book buyer in the States.
So there is that little randomness that I’ve learned that we were able to bond on. And then so hey, anyway I just wanted to quickly introduce myself, hey I’m Sol, this an old email now. Over four years ago I helped found examine.com. We are an intermittent organization, no donors, no sponsor, no advertisers and we just look at the evidence behind nutrition and supplementation. We recently released an examine.com Research Digest where every month we analyze nutritional studies. If you are interested I’d love to show it to you. I promise you it’s like nothing else you have seen before, regards. That’s it.
Sol: That was the entire email and he responded to me like, hey I just visited your site. The few pages I visited sum up exactly what I’ve found. I really like your human effect matrix, blah, blah, blah. And so he actually mentioned — this is actually funny, he mentioned this seems like a site that Reddit fitness would find very useful.
Sol: And then I responded being like, blah, blah, blah, and so it’s just this right there. One little mention about creationism and that basically I understood what he was talking about on the text, his perspective, that was our connection, that’s it.
Steve: What attracted to you to this person in the first place, and did you contact him with the intention of getting the word out about examine.com?
Sol: No, so I actually contact a lot of people. I am very, very — so I am big on human connections, and the reason I mention this is it opens up things that you would have never considered. So like my life goal is to enjoy as many shenanigans as I can. And two real life examples are one, I bought this piece of art. It is this gorilla and there is like all this color on the outside, and it’s very calm on the inside.
And I send an email to my list saying I bought this piece of art and this is why bough it. It reminds me of me. It’s chaotic on the outside, it’s very cool on the inside and this is why I love it. And a guy replied and he is like, hey I am Banksy’s broker, if you every want a Banksy let me know, and I’m like [inaudible] [00:32:33].
I would have never thought about me buying a Banksy. For those who don’t know who Banksy is, he is a very well graffiti artist. Very well known, like people they will cut out, if he does graffiti on like a house, they will actually cut out that part of the house and save it as a piece of art.
Steve: My goodness, okay.
Sol: And just because I was interested in art. Or another time I was hanging out with an entrepreneur and I’m like, hey man, like I’m really — we were just talking and I’m like yeah, one of these things I want to do is get my pilots license. And he said, hey, I have a plane but I don’t get the minimum number of millage I need on my engine every year. You are free to use my plane for free; you just pay for the gas. I’m like yes.
So what I found is that I almost rarely ever go into any conversation with a plan, with a mission, being like oh, this is how this is going to help me because almost everything awesome that’s come out it including the cookie off and the sausage off that you and I talked about was completely irrelevant to my business interests or to anything specific. It was just okay, let’s see where it goes. And so the case that attracted me to him was, he had actually published a graph about reliable sites about science and nutrition.
Steve: Okay, got it.
Sol: And that’s what made me go like, oh this is cool and I agreed with most of what he wrote. Like I have like guys like David Wolfe and Food Babe, they are horribly misrepresenting nutrition and research and science and all that stuff. And so that’s what originally made me come across his work and then reading about creationism stuff I’m like [inaudible] [00:34:03] we should get to know each other and that was it.
Steve: It sounds like we have similar thought philosophies except that I use my podcast to reach out to people that I actually want to get to know.
Sol: 100% right, it makes sense.
Steve: And you get to chat with them for like an hour so.
Sol: Exactly and you can get to ask questions that you want to ask, works perfectly for you.
Steve: Exactly. So let’s talk about okay so you are getting all this traffic from examine.com and you are getting back links from experts that you’ve reached out to. From what it sounds like, examine.com did grow pretty quickly, right?
Sol: Actually no. It’s one of those things where people think that there is this big hokey pokey and all that. I published numbers like a year ago in traffic, and don’t quote me on this exactly, but I think it took us about two years to get to 10,000, then another year to get 20 and another year to like 40 then 50 now 75.
It seems like it’s quick growth but in terms of the actual graph, it’s actually pretty linear a curve. Because we are not like one of those cool Chinese sites, right? Like it never — TechCrunch is never hearing about us. Mashable doesn’t read about us. It’s not that the Technorati has ever taken attention to us.
Sol: We have been slowly but surely sloggin away and it just keeps growing and growing and growing and growing and that’s it.
Steve: Okay, it sounds like my blog as well. No hokey pokey at all on my end either.
Sol: No, no hokey pokey. This is — but it’s one of those things where it’s like a snow ball going down a hill, right? The momentum builds up and builds up and builds up and in absolute numbers it seems like it’s a big jump, but as you keep going it just seems to be a pretty relatively stable hill.
Steve: Okay, let’s talk about monetization. So you have all this data right?
Steve: And I remember you mentioning before that you do not sell supplements or anything along those lines.
Steve: So how do you guys make money exactly?
Sol: So we are an education company.
Sol: All we do is we have three products, two of them — all three of them are PDF based. Two of them you just buy straight up and then the last one is a subscription which we’ve built for professionals. So in that email I was reading you I mentioned the Research Digest. Every month we analyze six nutritional studies and we break it down, we analyze it. And so if you are registered dietician or personal trainer or a medical doctor it’s supper useful to you.
And in those health industries you have what we call continuing education units. So for example to be a registered dietician you need to do 75 hours of approved credit work every five years to remain an RD. And so our Research Digest is approved with all the training organizations, with registered dietician organization.
So it’s like a double bonus for professionals, they are learning, they are being better with their clients and they are also getting their accredited hours. The other two products then are more for the end user basically like, hey, take this supplement, don’t take this supplement. It’s very much what we found is our free information is I think three million words now on our website. It’s just incredibly in-depth, but at the end of the day people want step by step directions, and that was where we found our monetization was.
Steve: Let me ask you, how did you figure out what to create?
Sol: A lot of it is through conversations.
Sol: So one of my talks for example is about the three lessons I’ve learned over 18 years of entrepreneurship, and one of the main lesson — one of those three is you need to talk to your customers. And when I say talk I don’t necessarily mean just surveys, which is what everyone does. You need to pick up a phone and you need to have a conversation with them, because it’s when you are having that conversation that you really realize what they want from you, what they are looking for, what they need, what they want you to solve, and it’s in that conversation that you realize not only what they want and what you can sell to them but also what language to use.
Steve: How did you choose who to talk to on the phone because obviously it’s not scalable?
Sol: Yeah, honestly it’s one of those random things. Like when you are new you are just desperate to talk to anybody.
Sol: So you are like listen, I want to talk to you. Eventually now so our Research Digest we have three tiers. We have a monthly, a yearly, and a life time. And the reason we added life time is if you look at a credit card and on average a credit card will last you three years when somebody signs up for you.
And so what we did was if we can just get someone to pay us upfront for three years, that’s a win and so we would talk to our life time customers who have paid us a 1,000 bucks and we said, all right, what do you want from us? And so we usually, we tier down now to like the most highest paying customers and then go downwards there.
Steve: I guess before you have any customers at all, like how did you even know that you needed this membership tool? You see what I’m getting at?
Sol: Yeah, yeah, so-
Steve: Like in the beginning you don’t know anything.
Sol: Yeah so we had already built an audience. We weren’t making money and we specifically on purpose didn’t make money. We were like all right, we are going to build something high quality and there is a rush towards eye balls and all that kind of stuff but that’s more like a generic brand thing. Like oh I’m Snapchatting, I’m going to get ten million eye balls or 100 million eyeballs and I’m somehow going to monetize it.
For us it made sense. We are doing research, its high quality information, its high quality users, right? It’s like Shane over at Finance Street, right? He gets a million page views a month. But his audience is very, very high level, so he know he can sell them high level stuff or like what Ramit does or IWT.
Sol: So we were building up an email list and from them we started asking what do you want? And so the first thing people wanted was, oh you know we want one way to quickly look up what the human research says about supplements. Boom! That was our first product.
Steve: Was that via email that you asked these questions?
Sol: Yeah, this is all via originally, right? Just to kind of get it going. And then we started having conversations with people who bought and then on the front they were like, yeah it’s great, I love it, but I’m a little bit overwhelmed because this is huge. It is like 1,000 pages, it’s a huge tabular data. They are like I don’t know exactly what to do. That’s when we created our next product which was Stack Guide which is step by step directions.
Sol: And then after we did that we talked to more people and we talked to more like trainers and RDs and they said, you know what, I love it, this is so great, I use it on my clients all the time, but my client will come up to me and be like, hey man, I read this study about fish oil causes prostate cancer, what do it do? Or high protein is as bad as smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. What do I do? And then we are like all right, this is where our other opportunity is. Is that they need to stay on top of the latest research and we can do that for them.
And so our next one that we are working now is certification and the same thing, they are like hey, how do I know who I can trust with supplements? How can I come across as a teacher of supplements? How can I be an expert in supplements like you guys are? We are like all right, there is the opportunity for us. Let’s teach other people how to be great at supplements, that’s our expertise, so yeah.
Steve: Okay, okay, so it sound like you started by pulling the audience via email and then you actually had some customers and you ended talking to those customers by phone to figure out what to do next?
Sol: Like and maybe you just want to have a conversation, and it’s even people sending messages in contact form, great, that is your opportunity. Customers buy — we are big on — so there is a man named Joy Coleman and he talks about 100 days after. Brilliant speaker definitely, if you’re listening to this, go check out his stuff. And he says basically you have 100 days to convert a customer into an evangelist, and we are big on that.
So when they buy we reach out to them, ten days later we are like did you download it, or we check if they downloaded it. Hey, what did you think? What did you like, what did you did you not like. 35 days later we contact them, three months in we contact them. So we are very, very big on making ourselves accessible and that just parlays into everything we do.
Steve: And how did you know when was the right time to actually develop a product? Because you have this wealth of information.
Steve: At what point did you say, hey it’s time to start making money?
Sol: There wasn’t a specific moment that just hit for us. It was one of those things that the demand was coming and coming, and I think we were at maybe 10,000 visitors a day. And I just felt — and this is like two and half years in, this was not overnight. And I was like, all right, I think we are at this position that we have leverage. To me it’s all about leverage, right? Do we have leverage over in a way our audience to say, we are awesome, you guys trust us, this is what we are going to sell.
And I think I was hoping we’d sell 1000 over four days. I think that was my original target and I think we sold 1,400 in the first day alone. So the demand was definitely pent up and waiting. So it just, we felt like we had enough of an audience that this was the time to go, but there was no specific metric that I can point toward and say this is how we knew at this moment.
Steve: I guess what was trying to ask is like at this point you have a staff, right that you have to pay?
Sol: At this point, no. it’s just my co-founder and I.
Steve: Okay, okay, got it.
Sol: My arrangement with my co-founder and this is how I do everything now is, listen you focus on your one thing and for my co-founder was research, and I will take care of everything else, the customer service, web hosting, web design, web development because I had programmed the website from scratch. Customer service, editing, copy editing, all of it, I’m going to do it.
And so what’s great about that is then and then like you give a percentage of the company and I gave him a stipend basically. Like I think I paid them $800 a month or something. I’m like, listen, you know the potential — and the nice thing is I had a reputation, I had already built sites, he’d already seen that stuff, we’d actually hang out in real life too. So he knew I was the real deal, and so he was willing to go along with it, and obviously he has been well rewarded for that now.
Steve: Okay, so all the scientist and everything they came after you already started making money and you could afford to pay people, right?
Sol: Yeah, so once we actually made that money from the first sale, that’s when we started — so we had already built up a team of advisers that we regularly had conversations with that gave us feedback, but it was definitely that led us to get to the next, next level.
Steve: Okay, and in terms of — I just typed in Creatine just now and you rank number three I think right now.
Sol: There you go.
Steve: Are those SEO efforts just a result of outreach and just people naturally linking to your site?
Sol: Yeah, so pretty much now we get random links all the time from random websites. We use [inaudible] [00:43:41] .net, for example I use it just to see what people are talking about. And I’d say about 80% of the links that go up; I had no idea they were going to go up just because we built up the reputation in the brand.
Steve: Okay, got it, got it, and today are you still involved with examine.com?
Sol: So I’m essentially like a chairman if you wish.
Sol: We do a conversation once a month with the top people on the team just to see what everyone is up to, that we are all on the same page. But for example Kamal who runs it now. So Kamal has a double MBA MPH which is a Masters in public health which is like the macro level policy stuff from Hopkins, and he was doing his PHD in nutrition when we picked him up. He’s like yeah, you know we are working on our side effect database. I had no idea it was even happening. I was like okay, cool tell me more about it.
So I’m effectively outside of the organization, and part of it I think that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with when they hire people is they micro manage them, or whenever they screw up or do something wrong, they are too harsh on them. But the reality is that someone like you or someone like me who’s been doing it for five, ten years or whatever that we are deep in, we have all this domain expertise built up that they don’t. And people are very uncomfortable with their employees failing, and I’m big on like let them fail but they better learn from that failure and we’ll go over why the failure happened, and then they will be better for it.
And so during this sale we’ve had, we’ve sent out this segment of emails and that segment of email and this and this and that. I’ve heard to do none of it, all I’ve done is talk to some of our affiliates who I initially contacted years ago and just be like, hey, we have a sale going on and they are like, cool, that’s it.
Steve: Nice and so that was kind of like my Segway because we chatted a little bit before this interview to see what you are up to now, and I just want to touch on those topics. Like your cookie challenge and some of the philanthropic stuff that you’ve been doing as well.
Sol: For sure, for sure. So to me the entire point of entrepenunerhsip is independence. I am so independent that I legally changed my full name. That the idea that I did not get to choose my name was completely unacceptable, so I changed it. And a lot of entrepreneurs I know get lost in making money or hitting some goal or this or this or that.
But for me it’s more like what stupid things can we get into. And so this entire cooking thing happened because I was trash talking a friend about this place has the best cookie, she is like no. We went there, she tried them, she’s like yeah, you know what, you’re right, best cookies ever. I’m just giving you the super quick version.
Steve: Sure, sure.
Sol: Then she started trash talking me the week later on my Facebook thing, I found better cookies, I’m like, you are crazy. Her friend came in, I have no idea who her friend is, never met her before. Her friend is like, I make even better cookies, I’m like you both are crazy. We agreed to do a blind taste test and I’m like you random person you came to my wall. I’m inviting myself to your house; we’ll do the cookie off there.
So we had 18 cookies there, it was insane event. I posted on Facebook, people started saying, hey I can make better cookies. And this is usually where the story ends where I’m like okay whatever. But being the person I am I’m like all right, prove it to me, send me your cookies. So one person sent me cookies, then three then five then ten from Australia, from the UK, people started sending me pies, peanut butter, random stuff.
So in the last 13 months I’ve had over 130 people send me cookies and other versions of deserts. And to me it was always about a reminder that if you have an audience, you don’t need to make to make money from it. You don’t need to become more internet famous from it or be a celebrity or whatever from it. You can use it to have and do ridiculous things. And so earlier this year, January we had our second cookie off. This one became an event. There was 140 people showed up, we had 27 professional bakers and pastry chefs come with their cookies, and then we made it a charity event.
So we raised 2,500 bucks. And so in June we are doing the sausage version and this time I’m charging it even more because I want to raise $10,000 for charity. So it’s one of those things where to me having an audience is more about what can we do and what fun can we have than, oh I’m going to sell a course now, or I’m going to do coaching or consulting. So yeah that’s what I’m up to.
Steve: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of fun man, and it’s for a good cause at the same time as well.
Sol: Exactly, and I’m big on like supporting local charities just because you know the money is going to be in your neighborhood, it tends to be better spent. You know the people so you know exactly what they are doing with it. So yeah it’s really satisfying to be honest.
Steve: Cool, so hey, we’ve been chatting for quite a while, like where can people find more about you or reach you the right way of course? And where can they find more about the sausage challenge that’s coming up?
Sol: Oh yeah, so honestly so if you just head on over to SJO.com and link to my Facebook and my Twitter where I talk about all this stuff. All that stuff is out there. Just SJO.com, that’s all they need to know.
Steve: Cool man. Hey Sol, thanks a lot for coming on the show man, it was a pleasure having you.
Sol: Dude, it was my pleasure, thank you.
Steve: All right, take care.
Hope you enjoyed that episode. Now I love Sol’s story and it just goes to show that if you really want something it’s never really too late to take action and change yourself for the better. For more information about this episode, go to my WifeQuitHerJob.com/episode174.
And once again I want to thank Klaviyo for sponsoring this episode. Klaviyo is my email marketing platform of choice for ecommerce merchants and you can easily put together automated flows like an abandoned cart sequence, a post purchase flow, a win back campaign, basically all these sequences that will make you money on auto pilot. So head on over to mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O, once again that’s mywifequitherjob.com/ K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.
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Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.