Mike Dillard, Founder, Self Made Man
In business, in life, and even behind the wheel of his actual race car, Mike Dillard goes from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye.
In stark contrast to his calm voice and introverted nature, Dillard is a pioneer willing to crash through boundaries and challenge common wisdom. He just prefers to do it through the written word, rather than grand speeches or face-to-face encounters.
The core principle driving Dillard’s pedal-to-the-metal attitude? He deeply believes in the power of one person to change their community, their industry, and maybe even the world. “I approach life with a core belief that anyone can accomplish anything,” his website bio reads. “That not only can one man or woman make a difference, but that it’s one man or woman who always makes the difference.”
He’s certainly made his own share of impact on the world, starting with his early days as a successful marketer and thought leader on the subject, and ultimately settling into his niche with the successful business education website Self Made Man.
That doesn’t mean his life as an entrepreneur has been all first place finishes, but choosing to take the road less traveled usually doesn’t go that way. No matter the setback, he held firm to his core belief that each and every person has within them the power to achieve their goals.
It was this deeply ingrained philosophy that made him restless when he realized he wanted to lead a less conventional life.
“I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur way back in high school when I was waiting tables,” he says. “I hated the fact that somebody else had control over my schedule and the amount of money that I made.”
One night, after a closing shift bussing dishes, he returned home to a bedroom lined with posters of Lamborghinis and Ferraris, and turned on the TV to decompress a little before bed. The only thing on at 1 a.m. in the early 1990s? Infomercials.
It was here that he got his first taste of the entrepreneurial spirit. Watching the work of Tony Robbins and Carleton Sheets, he was inspired to set big goals and dream even bigger.
Crossing the Starting Line
Dillard launched his first entrepreneurial endeavor in the network marketing industry while he was still in college in the late 1990s. The idea of entering corporate America terrified him, but his shy disposition also made network marketing a nightmare.
“I struggled mightily for about five years, never made a dime, never built an organization, couldn’t sell product, and I just realized that I really sucked at all of that,” he says, chuckling.
“I couldn’t have picked a worse industry! Network marketing is a ‘people’ business. It’s about building relationships, shaking hands, making phone calls, holding events, and all of that stuff was just miserable to me.”
Despite his struggles, he kept at it, and when a friend approached him with a shrewd piece of advice, his whole world changed.
“A mentor finally told me, ‘If you want to become a person who’s making 50 or 100 thousand dollars a month, you have to become a person who is capable of doing that.”
That was when it clicked.
“I realized that all these years I had just chased opportunities and marketing systems that were supposed to do the work for me,” he says. “When he told me that, I realized I had to become someone who is capable of producing that result rather than looking outwardly for it to come to me.”
From that moment on, Dillard began investing in himself, gathering knowledge, and honing his skill set, becoming a person who could not only chase success, but also catch it. He also realized that, rather than trying to force himself to fit the mold of the traditional bubbly and boisterous network marketer, he had the power to change the game altogether.
Inspired by authors Dan Kennedy and Yanik Silver, he dove into the world of direct response marketing, which centers on a specific call to action that can be delivered in writing, rather than network marketing.
Now, rather than trudging door-to-door or cold calling leads, Dillard could craft a sales presentation and post it online. After studiously practicing the art of the written sales pitch, and many self-taught lessons on Google AdWords, he began to thrive in an industry that had previously confounded him.
“That changed everything,” he says. “Within 18 months, I went from waiting tables to building a seven-figure business.”
When he realized he had honed some serious skills, he decided to write up a book, initially for his team members, called Magnetic Sponsoring. The 50-page spiral-bound volume taught the principles of direct response and attraction marketing. Encouraged by the response to it, he began selling the book online at $30 a copy, and within three months, was selling around 50 copies a day.
Over the next three years, he led several more courses for marketers in search of a new way to do business. What had begun as 50 pages bound at Kinko’s became a $25 million publishing company.
But after five successful years, Dillard was ready to call it quits.
“I had achieved every goal I’d ever had and dreamed of in that world,” he says. “There was really nothing left for me to do, so I started looking for my next passion.”
Dillard decided that his next pursuit would involve learning and then sharing a vital skill set he lacked at the time—managing money. It wasn’t a frivolous goal, either, as this deficit was causing him no small amount of trouble.
As a single 20-something who had grown up with posters of expensive cars on his bedroom walls and was suddenly making millions of dollars a year, spending wisely and investing intelligently was as far from his mind as it could possibly be. This was when Dillard developed the expensive hobby of buying and racing exotic cars. It’s still one of his greatest passions, but boy it is not cheap.
“Our industry is very, very good at teaching people how to make money, but nobody ever taught us what to do with the money once we made it.”
After blowing through the vast majority of the money he made from his first big break, he realized he was in need of some financial education, fast. Coincidentally, it turned out, so did the rest of the world.
The year was 2008, people were losing massive chunks of their net worth, and no one knew what to do. Dillard says that every book he turned to on store shelves had suddenly become irrelevant.
“It was a huge personal problem that I had,” he says, “and it was a huge problem that the rest of the world had at this point because the rules had changed. The previous paradigm was over, and nobody really knew what to do next.”
So Dillard committed himself to figuring it out.
Looking to launch something simple that he could run from home, and that would not demand too much of his time, he created The Elevation Group, a members-only website for people looking to learn about the art of managing money in the post-economic-crash world.
In his first webinar posted to the site, which cost a not-insignificant $97 a month, Dillard introduced his plan: “I essentially said, ‘Hey, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to investing, but I’m going to figure this out.’”
He sought out the most intelligent investors and entrepreneurs he could find on topics like multifamily real estate, precious metals, and oil and gas. As he invested money under the direction of those he interviewed, he documented where each investment was made, sharing that information with subscribers to his platform.
“At the end of the day, I think the timing and the market were just right,” he says. “It was the perfect offer at the perfect time, and we did $3.2 million in sales in our first seven days. We brought on 8,600 customers in a week, and within the first 12 months, we’d done over $12 million in revenue.”
Dillard was on the fast track to success, become a self-made Oprah of the investment world, and loving it.
But 18 months in, everything came crashing down around him.
After interviewing a man who ran a private investment fund, he and much of his audience decided to invest in the man’s company. Six months later, they woke up to a 50 to 60 percent loss in their portfolios.
A short phone call revealed the horrible truth—they had been scammed.
So began a three-year nightmare of contacting the authorities, working with lawyers, and appearing in courtrooms as a witness to the devastating handiwork of a con man.
“Overnight, the business tanked,” he says. “We went from roughly a million dollars a month in revenue to $200, which didn’t even pay for our expenses.
“Eventually they were found guilty and prosecuted, but at the end of it my business partner got cancer and almost died from the stress, and I lost every penny I’d ever made. That was a hell of a trip.”
When the smoke cleared, Dillard walked away. He gave his half of the company to his business partner, who, only a year later, sold the entire thing to another entrepreneurial duo.
What next? That was the multimillion-dollar question.
Still deeply shaken by his experience with The Elevation Group, he attended a Tony Robbins Date With Destiny event in 2014. After that week of inspiration and motivation, he finally gave himself permission to let go of the past, move on, and begin again. He just needed to settle on his next pursuit.
“I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life,” he says, laughing. “All of my businesses are always around something I am personally passionate about. I can’t build a business unless it really authentically comes from inside me.”
He ended up taking on two very different projects—one that turned out to be yet another lesson from the School of Hard Knocks, and another that would carry him into the future.
First, there was EverGrow, in which Dillard aspired to solve one of the biggest problems in the food industry.
“If you want to buy clean, healthy, organic food that’s not covered in poison, at least here in the United States, you have to be wealthy,” he explains. “You have to be able to shop at Whole Foods and make a six-figure salary just to buy vegetables that don’t have poison on them, and I think that’s ridiculous.”
As he gathered knowledge about hydroponics (a method of growing plants without soil) and worked toward designing an in-home replacement for the grocery store, he realized this project was going to require a serious chunk of funding.
“If you’re developing a tech product of any kind, or a physical product, it takes a lot of money,” he said. “And I was out of money.”
He needed to find a way, and fast, to make enough to pay his bills while putting as much as $100,000 a month into EverGrow. So in an effort get EverGrow off the ground, he launched his business-coaching platform, Self Made Man.
A year and a half, and a million dollars later, he had a working prototype that was fully automated, fit in the corner of a living room, and grew 36 plants at once. However, he had already spent double his budget and hadn’t yet created the accompanying mobile app, taken the product through safety testing, or hired employees.
Looking down the road at what was likely another $2.5 million in expenses, he couldn’t deny that he just wanted the whole thing to be finished. He was burned out.
Then he found out that a competing company, Click & Grow, was about to come out with a similar product that surpassed his own. It was then that Dillard learned being an entrepreneur wasn’t just about knowing when to push ahead, but sometimes about knowing when to call it quits.
“I care about this problem getting solved, and if it’s not going to be me, then at least it’s somebody else doing a great job that I can support.”
So, Dillard called the people at Click & Grow and invested six figures in their company.
He released a 20-minute video, which can still be found on his website, detailing his experience working on EverGrow and the lessons he learned along the way, with hopes that his audience could benefit from his experience.
“I realized that I had taken on something much bigger than I had ever anticipated,” he says. “You can have some talent and you can have a great product, but at the end of the day, pulling that off in a realistic fashion when you’re in an industry where you have zero expertise, zero knowledge, zero contacts…your chances of succeeding are very, very slim.”
But only one of his two pursuits had failed him. What had begun as merely the means to fund EverGrow was, as he finally realized, his true calling.
Finding His Groove
Dillard realized that he had known a lot of people in high school and college with entrepreneurial drive, but lacking the mentors who could take them to the next level. Here, after trying his hand in multiple areas where he lacked expertise, he had found a problem that he was uniquely qualified to solve.
Today, Dillard works exclusively on building up the next generation of entrepreneurs via his educational website Self Made Man, and by producing proprietary content with other entrepreneurs.
You may be looking at that name and wondering: What about self-made women? After all, entrepreneurship is a field where significant biases stubbornly favor men, despite a tidal wave of women entrepreneurs out there kicking serious ass.
Dillard confesses that he did originally feel called to connect with struggling young men, based mainly on his own experiences. He now acknowledges that a name like Self Made Man sounds exclusionary toward women. The company has since attempted to acquire the name “Self Made,” but was unsuccessful. In an effort to curb any gender bias, the platform makes it a point to feature women entrepreneurs prominently. Dillard insists that everyone is welcome.
So what is next for Self Made Man?
Dillard says that, very soon, they will be launching a new section of the site containing deep-dive master classes, which will take subscribers ranging from beginning to advanced.
The journey was long and treacherous, but Dillard has finally found a passion he can pursue that allows him to lead the life of his dreams. Between chasing chickens and feeding goats on his Texas ranch, he travels the world, drives race cars and, still with a love for clean veggies, tends to his organic greenhouse.
For Dillard, it has always been about leaving a positive mark on the world, and by finally settling into his niche, he’s found a way to do it.
“My mission and my purpose is to empower those who want to change their life and change the world for the better.”
- How Dillard leveraged his introverted nature to find success in an extrovert-driven world
- The biggest crash of Dillard’s career, which cost him $12 million in revenue overnight
- The one thing Dillard needs to build a business (it has nothing to do with money)
- The mission and purpose that has guided Dillard (through the bad times) to build the business of his dreams
Full Transcript of Podcast with Mike Dillard
Nathan: Well, the first question that I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Mike: Is that what we call founder/CEO these days? Well, is that what you mean, how do I get my job as an entrepreneur or…?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, like how’d you find yourself doing the work you’re doing today with Self Made Man, like, tell us about where you’ve come from.
Mike: Yeah, no, I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur way back in high school when I was waiting tables because I hated the fact that somebody else had control over my schedule and the amount of money that I made. And after a late night of, you know, bussing dishes and all of that good stuff, I’d get home at midnight or 1:00 and obviously, this was in high school so I’m heading to my parents’ home. I would turn on the TV to decompress for a little bit and, you know, midnight or 1:00, the only thing that’s on is infomercials at least way back then, you know, 20-something years ago.
So, you know, I start to see Tony Robbins and Carleton Sheets and all of these other guys on late night that would plant seeds of opportunity into my head at a moment when I was most susceptible to it, having just worked probably a 12-hour double shift. And so, that’s really what started me down the path of entrepreneurship, gosh, you know, again, 15-20 years ago.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. And I’m really curious because you’ve done a lot of stuff in the educational space but then also I want to talk about the hydroponics and what happened there, I never got to the bottom of that, I don’t know why. So, yeah, like what was your first venture and, yeah, what happen next?
Mike: Well, my very first entrepreneurial endeavor was in the network marketing industry and that was in the late ’90s, you know, around the year 2000 so I was in college at the time and that’s what was available. This is web 1.0 days, this is pre-social media, this is right when we used to see the very first examples of, you know, video on the Internet, so this whole internet marketing, you know, world did not exist back then and so the only way a broke college student could really pursue a business or at least one of the easiest ways was through network marketing.
So, I got my start in that and I struggled mightily for about five years, I never made a dime, never built an organization, couldn’t sell product and I just realized that I really sucked at all of that. I was very shy, very introverted but at the same time, the thought of having to go get a real job in corporate America for the rest of my life was even scarier so I, you know, continued to work at it and work at it.
And someone finally told me, a mentor finally told me that if you want to become a person who’s capable of making $50,000 or $100,000 a month or, you know, if that’s what you want to do, you have to become a person who’s capable of doing that and that was really a sobering moment for me because I realized that all of these years, I had just chased opportunities and marketing, you know, systems that were, you know, supposed to do the work for me and to produce the result for me, right?
Get in on the ground floor, have a great product or a great marketing system, you know, etc., etc., all of these things were supposed to produce the result. And when he told me that, I realized and I was like, “Oh, interesting, I have to become someone who is capable of producing that result rather than, you know, looking outwardly for it to come to me.”
And so, that was the light bulb I needed, from that moment forward, I really started focusing on increasing my value and skill set to others and I needed to figure out a way to build a network marketing business that was aligned with my introverted personality type and I couldn’t have picked a worse industry.
You know, network marketing is a people business, it’s about building relationships, shaking hands, making phone calls, holding events and all of that stuff was just miserable to me, so I had to figure out a way to make it work without all of that. And so, I discovered direct response marketing, somehow or someway I ran into guys like…or at least the work from guys like Dan Kennedy and Yanik Silver back in the day and “Scientific Advertising” and Claude Hopkins and that was the missing piece of the puzzle for me because it allowed me to, one, learn how to sell but, two, to apply salesmanship in essentially print or in the written form which allowed me to get around my introversion, right?
So, all of the sudden, I didn’t have to go door-to-door or call leads anymore, I could literally write a sales presentation, post it on the internet and teach myself how to use Google Adwords and start sending traffic there for three bucks a day and that changed everything. Within 18 months, I went from waiting tables to building a seven-figure business, making $1 million, and that was it, went to the top of the networking company that I was in at the time, became the number one distributor.
And then, that’s how I actually got into the information side of the business is once I started to figure out how to do this, I ended up writing an instruction manual for my team essentially teaching them the principles of attraction marketing and direct response that I’d learned how to use and I called it magnetic sponsoring and, lo and behold, that little document was about 50 pages I wrote in Microsoft Word, had it spiral-bound at Kinko’s, started to sell online.
I offered it to strangers online for 39 bucks a copy and within, I think, probably three months, I was selling around 50 copies of that a day at 40 bucks apiece. And so, you know, within a month or two, I was making $50,000 to $70,000 a month just from the sale of that book.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Through paid traffic?
Mike: Yeah, from Google AdWords and affiliates and really just word-of-mouth and that book really took on a life of its own, it changed that industry, it was the first book that taught internet marketing and direct response marketing to that industry and it’s really what put me on the map. So, that book led to probably four or five or six other courses over the next three years in that world, teaching network marketers essentially how to market, for real, you know, using AdWords and how to write direct response copy and all of that stuff.
And so that turned into a $25 million publishing company and at the end of that, I’d say after four or five years, I was kind of done, I had achieved every goal I’d ever had and dreamed of in that world. There was really nothing left for me to do so I started looking for, you know, my next passion, if you will, and it turned out to be in the financial education space because I realized that I’d made all of this money and I’d blown most of it because I was young, I was single, I was in my 20s and making millions of dollars a year and you grow up as an aspiring entrepreneur with posters of Ferraris and Lamborghinis on your wall and, you know, your goal book, right?
And so, you go out and you acquire all of those things but then I realized after year two, it was like, “Hey, I’m squandering a huge opportunity for actual financial freedom here because I’m not investing this and I need to figure that out,” and that was actually right around the time of the big financial crash of ’08.
So, the whole world was kind of reset in that regard as far as what was, you know, expected to be the safe path when it comes to long-term investment strategies. All of a sudden, everybody lost 40%-50%of their net worth, it’s like, “Oh, okay, nobody really knows what to do anymore,”and I really found that to be the case.
Every book that I ever found on a bookstore shelf, you know, post-crash was irrelevant, everything they said to do would have resulted in a huge loss. So, it was a huge personal problem that I had as far as the fact that I needed to get a financial education and it was a huge problem that the rest of the world had at this point because the rules had changed, the paradigm, the previous paradigm was over and nobody really knew what to do next.
So, I decided to turn that into my next business and it was very basic at the time. I wanted to run a very simple lifestyle business because I was in the middle of having a child at around that point in my life so I just wanted something simple that I could run from home that would make at least $100 grand a month and, you know, that I’d only have to work on a couple of hours a day.
So, I built a private wishlist member WordPress site, you know, Members Only site, and put together a webinar and I essentially said, “Hey, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to investing but I’m going to figure this out and I’m going to go interview the smartest entrepreneurs and investors I know. You know, once a month, we’re going to learn about a new investment strategies such as multifamily real estate or precious metals or oil and gas or whatever it may be and as I invest my money, I’m going to document who I invest it with, you can have their contact information if you want to do the same and, you know, we’re just going to learn this skill set.”
And there’s a big opportunity I think in that regard, at least there was then, because our industry is very, very good at teaching people how to make money but nobody ever really taught us what to do with the money once we made it and I thought that that was a huge gap in the market that someone really need to fill.
So, we charged $97 a month for access to that or $597 a year. I launched the webinar to offer that to my audience and it just really blew me away, I had no idea what to expect because I was no longer the guru or expert, I was no longer the teacher in this format, I was essentially the host, I was Oprah, right?
I was just interviewing other people. And, you know, at the end of the day, I think the timing and the market was just right, it was the perfect offer at the perfect time and we did $3.2 million in sales in our first seven days, we brought on 8,600 customers in a week and within the first 12 months, we’ve done over $10 million in revenue and my lifestyle ambitions went away and we had a team in an office and all kinds of stuff going on.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, that’s impressive. And what I’m curious around is, you know, you said your first business around, you know, information marketing and educating network marketers, you said that it was $25 million, was that $25 million a year?
Mike: Total, total, the most we did was about 6.3, I believe, was our biggest year.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, still that’s pretty, like, a great business and you said that you squandered all that money, like, what did you spend it on? Just out of curiosity.
Mike: Well, we actually…you know, we had a team at that point and we had an office, we probably had six or seven employees and I had a business partner that I brought on, right? So, business partner, boom, there goes 50%, right? And there goes your affiliate commissions and, you know, before you know it, you got 10% left maybe.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, got you, got you. Okay, that makes sense. And then, so you started The Elevation Group, so I actually had seen The Elevation Group around…so I started Foundr in what? Coming on five years now and I’m over at The Elevation Group maybe when I was just kind of starting to understand this wide world of the online space and this kind of education space and everything that’s going on.
So, I don’t know, are you still active in The Elevation Group or… I’ve always wondered that, yeah.
Mike: No, you know, we ran into a tough spot when one of the guys we interviewed in year two ended up being a con man, so…
Nathan: Oh, my God. So, what happened?
Mike: Yeah, you know, we were on our 18th lesson, 18 months into it and, you know, we went down to Australia down to Brisbane to interview this guy who ran a private investment fund and, you know, produced a lesson and everybody loved it. You know, we came back and had a Q&A session for him to talk about his fund and, you know, he had all of these documents and their past performance and there are, you know, KPMG financial docs and all of that stuff.
So anyway, I ended up investing in it and a lot of our audience did as well and about six months later, we woke up and we had like a 50% or 60%loss in our portfolio and so obviously, everybody is freaked out. And so, I get on Skype with him and I’m like, “Hey, what’s going on,” and he was like, “Oh, it was an error by our head trader, like, a human error, right?
Instead of a 1% trade or whatever or 0.01, it was a 1, right? And so, instead of a 6% loss, it was a 60% loss,” and he was like, “Just tell everybody to invest more money and we’ll make it back twice as fast.” And when he said that, I was like, “Oh, no.” And so we called, you know, our attorneys and had a meeting with them that was not fun because at the end of it, they basically pulled out this giant encyclopedia-sized book, opened up to a specific page and said, “This was the scam you got taken by.”
So, that began a three-year nightmare of, you know, contacting the federal authorities, being a witness in that case against, you know, those guys but, you know, obviously, overnight the business tanked. We went from roughly $1 million a month in revenue to like 200, you know, which didn’t pay for, you know, our expenses and it was unbelievably stressful and it took a long time.
You know, eventually, they were found guilty and prosecuted and all of that good stuff but at the end of it, my business partner got cancer and he almost died from the stress, I lost every penny I’d ever made and yeah, so that was a hell of a trip, unfortunately.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, I’m so sorry to hear that and I feel ashamed that this person…it sounds like he was Australian.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, he’s stuck there, he can’t leave the country again.
Nathan: Wow. Because the reason I ask that question is when I was looking…like, I’m preparing for our interview because, man, I’m a big fan of your stuff, you’re very, very good at what you do and I want to talk more about the sales stuff. You’re very good at selling online and I think you really helped our audience there but, like, The Elevation Group, there is still something there and I wanted to know like…
Mike: Yeah, yeah, so I walked away after all of that was done because I was just emotionally over it, right? Like, that was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through in my life and the last thing I wanted to do was continue to pursue that. So, I gave my half of the company to my business partner Robert at the time and then a year later, he ended up selling it to a great set of another entrepreneurial duo, some great guys who have been running it for the last year or two.
And they’re, you know, really rebuilding it in their vision and their eyes and they’ve done a fantastic job and yes, so that’s essentially what happened to it.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, that’s cool. And so, what happened next?
Mike: I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life, you know, and for me all of my businesses are always around something that I’m personally passionate about, I can’t build a business unless it really authentically comes from inside me.
I don’t pursue things for money because I just don’t find that fulfilling in any way and I’m not willing to get up and bust my ass every day for something that I’m not incredibly passionate about. So, the big turning point for me is I actually went to Tony Robbins Date with Destiny event in the end of 2014 and that happened to be the same show, if you will, or event that they filmed his documentary at so I’m in the audience in that film.
And that really reset everything for me, it was a huge, huge turning point and I essentially gave myself permission to move on with my life coming out of that week and I had two ideas as far as what I wanted to do and what I was passionate about. And that was solving the food…one of the biggest problems that we have in the food industry these days which is the fact that if you want to buy clean, healthy organic food that’s not covered in poison at least here in the United States, you have to be wealthy, you have to be able to shop at Whole Foods and make a six-figure salary just to buy vegetables they don’t have poison on them and I think that that’s ridiculous.
So, that’s a huge problem that I saw that I, you know, could see a solution for. The second item that I was really passionate around was Self Made man, was providing mentorship at that time specifically for the next generation of entrepreneurs and to share my lessons learned and wisdom with that group and I ended up marrying both of them together.
And so, I decided that my primary company and endeavor was going to be the food challenge because that was a new world for me to get in, it was something that I have never done before and so that piqued my interest and if I pulled it off, it was a huge, huge opportunity that could be worth, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars to me, you know, if everything went well.
The problem is that if you’re developing a tech product of any kind or physical product, it takes a lot of money and I was out of money at that point so I needed a way to not only, you know, rebuild my net worth or war chest but to also fund the development of the hydroponic business. So, alongside that, I started Self Made Man and started writing courses again and selling those and that became the cash flow engine that funded EverGrow which is the name of the hydroponic business.
And that’s something that, you know, I’ve been really, really proud of because I never grown anything in my life before, I’ve never developed, again, a tech product before or physical product before and here I was trying to take on one of the single biggest challenges in the world which was to disrupt the agricultural industry, right?
So, the concept was pretty simple: if you want to reduce the cost of something, you have to decentralize it just as we’ve seen Airbnb do with hotels, Uber do with transportation, oDesk could do with hiring engineers, Etsy doing with, you know, allowing arts and crafts folks to sell their goods without having to get into a store.
And so, the concept for me as well if you want to reduce food cost by 80%-90%, you have to decentralize the existing model and get rid of all of the infrastructure. If you get rid of the farmer, the farm, the tractor, the 18 wheelers, the distribution change and centers and the grocery stores, well, then you can get rid of 80% to 90% of the cost behind that food production, right?
And so, the question became, “Okay, how do you do that?” The technology existed to grow, you know, plants in your kitchen, we’ve all seen the arrow garden and things like that, you know, for 10-15 years now where you drop in a little seed pod and it has a light and it grows, right? But, you know, growing three plants or three sprigs of basil or mint on your kitchen table doesn’t change anything tangible for you, we really needed to build something that could replace your run to the grocery store for you and your family.
In order for that to actually succeed, it needs a few components: it has to be completely easy, it has to be as easy as a refrigerator, right? You don’t have to think about it, or microwave. Everything has to be completely automated from beginning to end and it needed to grow, you know, in my mind, at least 36 plants at a time which was what we ended up designing into our system and, you know, that’s roughly one full head of lettuce a day, if you will, and I don’t think anybody eats that much greens but that would really fulfill our volume requirement to make a real dent in that world.
So, I started out literally by going to Amazon and buying five books on hydroponics and that was my education when it comes to growing plants. I had no idea how to get the thing designed so I went to Google and started typing in industrial design firms and I literally just started cold calling design firms here in Austin and I went to 99designs, I hired a Photoshop guy and I took a stock photo of a really beautiful kitchen and I said, “Take this image of a Voss water bottle,” and I don’t know if you all have Voss but it’s a very clear, slender glass bottle, right?
It looks very pretty. And I said, “Put the bottle in the kitchen, take away the logo and fill the center with plants and make it look beautiful, right? Put a little shadow on it and whatnot.” And that essentially gave me a piece of concept art that I could send to these industrial design firms and say, “This is what I’m looking to develop, you know, from a conceptual standpoint.”
And that was it and I had never had a conversation around design before but that’s what I used to eventually find the firm that we hired to design the system and I pulled out a notebook every night and I just started to do rough sketches and designs on how to figure out…how to maximize the amount of plant production in a given volume of space and that volume of space is ironically determined by the standard sized door frame.
So, our system, its primary limitation was the fact that it had to fit through a standard size door, right? You can’t order this and then boom, it’s not going to fit through your door and you’re screwed. So, you know, we had those measurements and we’re like, “Okay, it’s probably going to be put in somebody’s corner of their house. We want it to look fantastic but at the end of the day, it’s probably where it’s going to go.”
So, in order to fill it up, you know, with the max amount of volume, it needs to be a cylinder, it needs to have plants growing 360 all the way around but if it’s in a corner, how do you get to the backside? Well, okay, now it needs to rotate. Well, you know, if you’ve got light that needs to get to all of these plants, if you put the lights around it vertically, you know, maybe four lights around the system, then those lights, no matter where it is, there’s always going to be light shining into the rest of the room and into your eyes, right?
So, okay, we need to figure out how to align the lights so that they’re facing down and that way it’s not putting light pollution out there and make it an uncomfortable for folks. So, you know, we need to have sensors to let people know when they need to add more water to the system and we need to have sensors that let people know when it’s time to change out the nutrient cartridges, right, that are feeding the plants and we need to have a Wi-Fi antenna and a mobile app so these things can talk to each other and make this really simple, right?
We need to have wheels on the bottom because somebody needs to move this thing. Well, if it’s full of water, you know, it weighs a couple of hundred pounds, what happens if the floor is uneven, you know, and the thing just starts to roll down through the house? What if it tips over and a kid starts to climb it? So, all of these questions, we didn’t even consider when we started down this path and we just…you know, more things would come to mind and we’d have to change iterations and at the end of the day, you know, it was pretty awesome.
We made a fully functional prototype, you can go to evergrow.com and you can see the system in my living room and it worked and, you know, it was awesome. That took us about a year and a half to get to that point and a million bucks in cash which I funded through what I was doing with Self Made Man on the other side, right?
So, you know, after about a year and a half, I got to a point and I’m like, “Okay, the original budget for this was like 500 grand, I’m over a mil in and we’re not even close.” We’ve got a prototype but that’s it and at that point, I’ve become aware of what tooling is and the fact that it was going to take $800,000 to get the tooling made to produce this thing and manufacture it.
We hadn’t even started the mobile app, we hadn’t started the shopping cart, we hadn’t built a website, didn’t have a single employee yet, didn’t have an office, haven’t gone through safety testing and I’m like, “Man, what’s it realistically going to take to get this to a production-ready state and at that point I can go do, like, a crowdfund campaign, right, for the first production run?”
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, because I’ve seen this on a crowdfunding campaign.
Mike: Yeah, similar ones and they’re like, “Well, probably another $2.5 million,” and at that point, I was like, “Oh, crap,” because juggling Self Made and this at the same time… To get $1 million in free cash flow after I’ve paid my personal bills and taxes and to put a million bucks in cash in a year into something else, you’re looking at having to run another business that’s making $4 to $5 million gross to end up with $1 million in cash afterward, right?
So, doing that alone is difficult, let alone doing it just to fund your real project and I was burned out, after a year and a half of doing that, I couldn’t do it anymore. So, at that time, ironically, a competing company called Click & Grow who had one of those three plant, you know, countertop systems…
Nathan: Oh, I backed that campaign.
Mike: Okay, cool. Yeah, so they’d been around seven or eight years and I was like, “They got a really great product and a concept but, you know, all they’ve ever had is this little three plant countertop thing.” Well, right at that time when I’m going through that dilemma, they come out with three more systems so one that grows 9 plants, 31 plants, and 55 plants and not only that, but their 35-plant system, you know, ours grows 36, was up for sale in retail at $1,000 when ours was going to cost around 3,000.
So, they’ve got a simpler system, they’ve got us beat by price in a huge way, they’ve got $25 million in funding from YCombinator, they’ve got a team of 30 people, they’ve been in business seven years, they’ve got a customer base that’s buying their seed pods. And I’m like, “Okay, now I’m really in an interesting position because if I’m going to keep this going, I’ve got to go out and raise money but I can’t, in good faith, go out and raise money knowing that our product is basically second best at this point.”
So, I didn’t know what to do and a friend of mine said, you know, “Look for a way to win any way that you can, you know, even if it means pulling the plug on it,” and so I ended up calling the founder of Click & Grow, Mathias, and having a couple of conversations with him and I ended up investing six figures into a bridge round that they had open between their A and B raise.
And so, I essentially became one of a dozen or so investors in Click & Grow and pulled the plug on EverGrow, so hopefully here in the next three to five years, they’re doing really well, they’ll have an exit and maybe I’ll get my million bucks back.
Nathan: But, you know, for the most part, you’re able to still get behind your problem that you’re trying to solve in a meaningful way.
Mike: Yeah, and that was a part of it too and at the end of the day, it’s like, “Hey, I care about this problem being solved and if it’s not going to be me, at least it’s somebody else that’s doing a great job of it that I can support, right?”
Nathan: That’s amazing.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. The interesting part too is having to pull the plug and talk about this publicly, right? Because I’ve been keeping my audience and my list up to speed on all of this and building anticipation and I’ve never had to pull the plug really on anything before and so how do you do that gracefully, right? And two, how do you do it in a way that ultimately will benefit your audience and provide them with some lessons learned?
And so, that became the 20-minute video that we put up on EverGrow which was essentially me telling the story that I just told you and putting that out there which was an interesting thing to do.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Because usually, right, most founders, they’d want to still compete, was there a big part of you that still wanted to compete, Mike?
Mike: You know, yes, but at the same time, I realized that I had taken on something much bigger than I ever anticipated, you know, it’s kind of like going into…it’s like Elon essentially but he’s obviously clearly much more talented than I am.
Deciding to go from information marketing to building a computer company or manufacturing computers or a freaking rocket ship or cars and you can have some talent and you can have a great product but at the end of the day, pulling that off in a realistic fashion when you have…you’re in an industry where you have zero expertise, zero knowledge, zero contacts to base your success off of, your chances of succeeding are very, very, very slim.
And the price that I would have had to have paid to continue down that road would have just been, you know, too high not only from a financial perspective but from a stress perspective. And so, at that point, I was like, “Okay, I need to go back to the world that I know best and that I’m really good at and I have a lot of equity in but I need to establish a new challenge for myself there.”
The last thing I wanted to do is just go back to internet marketing and writing books and courses again, I’d done that for 10 years and now I’m just tired of it. And as you and I started to talk about at the beginning of our or call before we started recording today, you were very much on the same path and the fact that we’ve both realized that there’s a cap and a ceiling to building a business around yourself and your brand as a expert, you know, quote-unquote, and it’s a very satisfying business and it’s a very easy one to build but there’s a cap there.
If you ever get off the treadmill, oh well, you can’t, your business dies so you’re on it forever and there’s no exit, you can’t sell it because nobody’s going to buy your personal brand and you’re not going to sell it to them either.
Nathan: Yeah, so what are…I want to touch on that as well but there’s a couple of key things…like, I’m mindful of your time as well and there’s a lot I want to talk about. So, one thing that you’ve done that I think is very, very smart and and some startups have done this, like, for example, you’ve used a cash flow-based business to fund and build an asset-based business and this is something that many companies have done.
Like MailChimp, for example, they were actually an agency at one point and they use the agency to actually fund the building of that SaaS product and I think that’s really smart. Like, did you just think up that idea or did you look at some of these other startups that do that?
Mike: No, I just had to figure out a way to do it, right? Like, I had to figure out a way to the fund EverGrow and clearly, you know, I have the ability to successfully, you know, build an information business. And so I just had to do it but I had to do it strategically in a way that would allow me to produce a set amount of cash flow which for me meant $300,000 or $400,000 a month and gross revenue that would produce 100 to 150 in net because I had to pay my bills and then I had to put at least 80 to 100 grand a month into the business and I had to do it in a way that would not take any of my time, right?
Because at that time, I needed to be on EverGrow and not on the information side. And so if you’ve ever been in the education space, you know that to really build a successful business there that’s profitable over the long term, you need at least three products. You know, a low dollar front end product, a mid-tier product, and a high dollar back end product to have that level of profitability that I was looking for.
Well, I didn’t have time to make all of those, that’s a year’s worth of work right there. And so, I was like, “Okay, these are all the constraints that I have, how do I come up with a solution that will solve all of these in one fell swoop in essentially 30 days?” So, necessity is the mother of invention and so I was like, “I’ve only got time to make one product.
In order to hit those kinds of revenue numbers, I have to be able to sell this product online through paid advertising in a consistent manner,” meaning it can’t come from a single product launch, I have to be able to advertise this on Facebook and generate systematic revenue that’s consistent month after month after month after month and that has to be done automatically.
So, the only way that I can pull off those numbers with one product is that I’ve got to sell a product that’s at least $1,000 to $2,000. That price point is going to give me the profitability or at least the revenue that I need to not only put, you know, at least $500 of that towards customer acquisition and ad spend but it’s also going to leave me at least $500 to $1,000, you know, as profit to then go put into EverGrow.
And so that’s what I did, I built one product on essentially teaching folks my previous business model in magnetic sponsoring and The Elevation Group which is essentially how to build a monthly recurring revenue business out of your passion and I sold that via an automated webinar, so I only had to hold it once which means my time was completely free, I didn’t have to touch it once it was finished.
And I sold it for $1,500 which meant if I could acquire a customer for 500 bucks or less, it’s going to leave me with $1,000 in profit for every single sale and if I can, you know, sell 10 a day at $1,500, that’s, you know, roughly $15,000 a day in revenue, $450,000 a month and I’m hitting all of my targets.
So, that was the theory, it sounded like a plan, didn’t know if it was going to work but essentially executed that and, you know, thank God it did because you never know. All of this is dependent upon how the webinar converts and I didn’t know how it was going to convert so we just started testing it and, lo and behold, it converted really, really well. On a $1,500 sale, we were consistently acquiring customers for $200 to $300 a piece and we did that every day for two years and that one single product and webinar is what funded all of EverGrow for roughly two years.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s incredible and that’s kind of what I wanted to get to before we get to what you’re doing know with Self Made Man which I think is really cool and it’s awesome that’s we’re thinking on the same page but you’re a very smart guy, so it’s cool. But I was going to say, you know, you are very good at selling online, whether it’s in the information, you know, products, business educational product space, whatever, I think you would be…I’m sure, I know you would be good at selling physical product, service based-businesses, you know, SaaS products.
So, how have you been able to build up your skills and repertoire to be really good? Like, if somebody wanted to be a better copywriter or better at doing sales presentations or better at selling using words, like, where’s the best place to start, what do you recommend, like, what was your journey there? Like, you said that you’ve been mentored and, you know, learn from like Dan Kennedy but if someone wants to start from scratch not knowing anything around how to sell products online which you’re very good at, what would you recommend to do?
Mike: Yeah, that’s it, that’s it, it’s start buying every book you can on the topic, you know, the old school stuff from guys like Dan Kennedy, John Carlton, you know, Frank Kern. There’s an endless amount of copywriting courses and books available and you just have to dive into it but you have to dive into it with an obsession.
When I mean dive into it, I don’t mean read a book over the course of a week, you know, every other night and think, you know, how to write a copy. I mean read every single day for an hour or two and then write out all of these successful sales presentations that you can find by hand. And since most of them are in video format today, you want to go out and you want to find the ones that you know are super successful, you want to have those transcribed which you can get done for, you know, 10, 15, 20, or 30 bucks and when you get that transcribed, you want to write it out by hand.
And that’s really, really, really critical because what you’re going to do is not only acquire the knowledge from a scientific and a behavioral and a psychological standpoint, you can come to understand those things like the sales formulas but in order to actually write in a way that sucks people into a story, the art of this skill set, you have to write out presentations by hand because it’s going to imprint on your brain, if you will, a certain type of pacing, a certain vocabulary set, a certain sentence structure and way of using punctuation that is an art form that’s really difficult to teach but you can model it.
Like teaching a musical instrument, right? I can teach you how to read music and I can teach you the structure of it but until you actually just start to play it and ideally mimic your favorite artists and kind of feel the rhythm of what they’ve produced, you know, with your own hand, it’s not going to make sense to you.
And so, that to me is a really, really critical step and you keep doing this and you keep studying and you keep reading and you keep practicing for, you know, every night for a year and you don’t stop and that’s how you acquire that skill set in a way that’s truly effective and that’s essentially what I did.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s an amazing action item because I think that skill set, if you’re running any kind of business, that will serve you for the rest of your life, knowing how to sell.
Mike: You have to have it, you have to have it. And anything you do, right? Like you can have the coolest product in the world but if you don’t know how to sell it, it was all pointless, you know? So for me, this is the single most important thing anybody can ever go acquire and maybe you’re not going to master it but you’re at least going to require the psychology that’s going to allow you maybe to pitch, you know, an investment group or a VC firm or at least hold a freaking email campaign or write a headline for your article or a podcast that gets attention and clicks, right?
There’s no avoiding it, you have to have this skill set to write ads for Facebook, you have to have it for everything.
Nathan: Yeah, 100%. So, that brings us to…so you invested in that other hydroponics company, you know what happened with me is they actually…they wouldn’t send it to me because they don’t send to Australia. I don’t know why but…
Mike: Yeah, I could tell you it’s because their system uses seed pods like a Keurig coffee machine, right? So their whole business model is a subscription set of seed pods and because those seeds are, you know, an agricultural good, it’s just like coming into another country, you know, when they ask you if you have any food or crops, right?
So that’s what it is, they don’t want to, you know, get those things out in the wild in Australia and pollute the ecosystem.
Nathan: Got you. Yeah, Australia has very tight laws around what can come in, they’re very, very stringent so that kind of makes sense. Okay, so now coming back to it all, you said…you know, offline we’re talking about Self Made Man and, you know, what you’re doing with the brand now as you’re looking to produce courses taught by instructors, it’s very similar to us, we just think it’s a genius idea and I think it will require.
So, like, what’s the game plan there, man? I’d love to hear, like, please do share because this is a big market, right? Like, I’m not…you know, this is a big market, right? You know, there’s plenty…you know, I don’t see you as a competitor or anything like that, I just think you’re really great at what you do and I want you to share, right?
Mike: Yeah, yeah. Well, I have to say I’ve always been jealous of your brand name, I was like, “Ah, it’s such a great name, I wish I had that.”
Nathan: Really? How come?
Mike: I just think it’s great, you know, I think it’s unique, I love how you guys leave the “E” out and kind of make your own version of it, right? And, you know, the the tough part about Self Made Man from a brand perspective is, again, that kind of originally started as a mentorship for young men because, one, that’s the advice that I’m qualified to give, you know, as a guy.
And I just always saw a lot of young male entrepreneurs out there who…you know, or specifically in high school and college and didn’t have those mentors when they were young growing up and they’re trying to come into this space so I was like, “All right, there’s a problem I’m qualified to solve and help with. And we had the domain at the time, we had selfmademan.com, so I was like, “Yeah, I mean, we’ve got this asset sitting here, I’m going to use it.”
And so, the challenge is is that, you know, there’s a side of it that leaves out the amazing women in our world and that’s definitely not something that, you know, I want to do but the brand name itself kind of automatically does that, unfortunately. So we’ve tried to get self-made in, you know, just itself but we’ve not been able to do that so, you know, that’s kind of the downside to it.
At this point, we don’t say it’s for men or, you know, just for men or anything like that, we just let it be what it is and everybody and anybody is welcome and that’s just kind of how we’re pursuing it, right? So, as far as the business model goes, again, you and I are both on the same page and that we’ve realized that it’s better to build a company that is an asset that you can sell someday and it’s not built around you and your name and your face, and so that really was the goal with me for EverGrow and so I wanted to continue that goal here with Self Made Man.
And the concept at that point is simple, it’s how do you build a platform where you can allow other people, you know, to shine on it essentially and so that’s what we’ve been building for about a year now. You know, I had my buddy, Justin Tupper, on the Self Made Man podcast about a year and a half ago and he is the founder of Revolution Golf and Revolution Golf is…
Nathan: Big company, yeah, it’s a great company.
Mike: Yeah. Well, you know, he started that eight years ago, I remember helping Tupper get his start in internet marketing at an event when he didn’t know anybody, right? And his biggest passion…
Nathan: And he recently sold it.
Mike: Yeah, his biggest passion in life is golf and he built this platform where he has professional golfers come on and they sell a monthly, you know, subscription to that service and I had him on the podcast and I was like, “Yeah, this makes a lot of sense.” And they sold the company, like you mentioned, I believe to the Golf Channel this year for a really, really fantastic amount of money and I was like, “I need to do that,” and so that started that ball rolling, you know, from a programming and development standpoint a year ago.
We’ve started producing just a ton of proprietary content video lessons with, thankfully, people who are some of the most amazing entrepreneurs in the world just like you who happen to become friends, right, through the relationships I’ve built over the last 10 years. And they were more than happy to fly down into Austin and film, you know, a lesson with us and the goal for me when I’m thinking about that is, “How do we make sure all of this contents relevant three or four years from now?”
So, everything we filmed is in 4k, everything we filmed is in 360 VR, and so that’s essentially the front end experience, if you will, or offer is the access to this amazing library of content that we’re constantly producing and adding to for $19 a month, $97 a year.
And then, as far as, you know, the back end goes, you can’t really build a scaled-up business with those price points, it’s going to cost you more than 20 bucks to acquire a $20 customer so at that point, you’ve either got to raise capital and go into debt to do it or you have to expand your product line. And so for us, we’re going to produce master classes much like the courses that I’ve traditionally sold throughout my career that are unbelievably detailed, you know, 20 to 30 hours in length, step-by-step, A-to-Z, where you can literally start, having never even registered a domain name and then three to six months later have a complete working, you know, online business at the end of the day.
And we’ll sell those from $1,000 to $2,000 a piece and that money essentially will be used to fund the continued growth and development of the business while we scale up, you know, the subscription base, if you will.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, that’s amazing, man. Yeah, look, we are 100% on the same page but…
Mike: Well, I got to ask, have you guys built a similar platform?
Nathan: We haven’t built the platform, no, we haven’t built the platform yet but yeah, we’re just starting to work…
Mike: So it’s like that would be too crazy if we built the exact same thing.
Nathan: Yeah, we will build a customized platform to optimize for, you know, completion rates and all these kinds of things but no, we haven’t touched that side of things yet. For now, we just want to get start building out what our audience tells us they want and just working with instructors, so my goal this year is for us to build a really solid team that can do this at scale, producing really high quality courses that are out there taught by experts at scales and then, next year hopefully we can focus on the platform and double the production rate of courses that we’re producing.
And then, yeah, eventually the same thing as you, some sort of subscription, we haven’t, you know, nailed that yet so whether we go ala carte or whether we go full subscription or a la carte with subscription or… Yeah, there’s a few different ways, yeah, and we kind of have to test that out which I’m sure, like, you know, you’ll be testing different things as well, right?
Mike: Yeah. Well, I mean we just…you know, I went and joined every e-learning platform out there that I could: Linda, CreativeLife, SkillShare, Udemy, you know.
Nathan: Yeah, me too, I’ve spoken to the founders of some as well, tried to work it all out, yeah.
Mike: Yeah, and I just tried to find the best qualities out of all of them to make ours, right, and what we ended up going with. So, who knows? You know, we’ll go live here on Monday with the pre-launch, I don’t know when this will go live, by the time your audience is hearing this, I’m sure we’re probably already live and up and running.
Nathan: Yeah, this will go live in a few months.
Mike: Okay, yeah, then, you know, we’ll be a couple months into it at that point, so, yeah, who knows at that point, yeah.
Nathan: Yeah, no, look, I’m sure you’ll do really, really well, you’re fantastic at what you do, Mike, like, I’m a big fan.
Mike: Yeah, likewise, brother. It’s been cool to watch you guys develop the Foundr and you’re definitely the prettiest brand out there by a long shot, I aspire to hit you all’s quality at some point. Yeah, so you guys set a phenomenal benchmark in that regard.
Nathan: Thank you. Yeah, look, it’s hard to get that cut through, right? Because there’s a lot of stuff. That’s what I said, like, I’m happy to talk with you, it’s cool because we have a similar vision and, you know, at the end of the day, we’re both promoting entrepreneurship and just really want to serve and help the founders, you know, build a successful business. So, I don’t…yeah, you know, like, whether it’s, you know, Entrepreneur magazine, Success magazine or any of these other publications, whether it’s a publication or it’s an educational company, like, I just think it’s really cool and I really respect and admire all of your work, I love your podcast.
I never found out about what happened with the hydroponic stuff so I’m glad that I could find out, I always thought that was a really cool idea, I loved it. So, yeah, man, like, I’m mindful of your time and we’ll probably work towards wrapping there but where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Mike: Yeah, just, you know, mikedillard.com is probably the best place to go. My story is up there and the EverGrow and Self Made Man and everything that we’ve been working on the last few years so that would be it.
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