Noah Kagan, Founder, Sumo
Technology and Tacos
Whether it’s the askew flat-brim hat, the jewelry, or the flurry of f-bomb-laced discussion, Noah Kagan makes it immediately clear to his YouTube viewers that they are in for a good time.
Equipped with a contagious exuberance, Kagan wholeheartedly embraces the madness of entrepreneurial life, attacking each day with a fun-loving energy that he infuses into every aspect of his companies and personal brand.
From a YouTube video breaking down pro tips for Google Docs to his newest podcast episode covering the latest in tech, Kagan makes his followers feel less like students and more like drinking buddies. Drinking buddies, that is, with a guy who happens to be credited with creating the Facebook status update. No big deal.
It hasn’t all been fun and games for Kagan, however. He did, after all, get fired by Facebook early on, missing out on one of the biggest windfalls in modern tech.
It all worked out, though, as Kagan is now the “Chief Sumo” at Sumo.com, a tool suite for business owners looking to grow their websites, and AppSumo.com, “a medley burrito of the greatest, geekiest products for entrepreneurs.” Through a commitment to filling his company with world-class employees, setting clear, well-mapped goals, and being intentional about determining what he really wants, Kagan has developed a brand that is a beacon for entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to take their companies to the next level.
Kagan has successfully navigated the rocky, often treacherous terrain of business, from failed employee to eight-figure founder, and is passionate about helping others do the same.
Started From the Bottom
“Each human on Earth has super powers. I’ve realized mine are execution, sales, marketing, eating tacos, and throwing in occasional jokes.”
Kagan offers this self-assessment in a January 2018 blog post detailing the story of the first time he was fired from a job at 24. Many people have been axed from a job, but going from Facebook Employee #30 to sleeping on your friend’s couch has a unique sting.
Luckily for the many entrepreneurs and small-business owners who benefit daily from his marketing knowledge, that particular ending was only the beginning. The lessons he learned from that experience helped him to recognize, and confront, his own weaknesses, as well as how they stood between him and the businessman he wanted to become.
“I wanted attention,” he continues in his blog post. “I put myself before Facebook. I hosted events at the office, published things on this blog to get attention and used the brand more than I added to it.”
Kagan was also an early-stage marketing employee at Mint, but he soon realized that the title of “employee” wasn’t one that suited him.
“I kept getting fired,” he says, “so I had to make my own jobs.”
Equally as animated about marketing plans as he is about tacos (which he references liberally in his communications, going so far as to use them as the bullet points on his blog), the hyperactive entrepreneur decided to launch his own business venture dedicated to bringing the best of business software to small-business owners and entrepreneurs.
Since Kagan began his business seven years ago, the Sumo family has grown into an eight-figure platform that includes Sumo.com, AppSumo.com, KingSumo.com and BriefcaseHQ.com. While much of the growth the company has experienced can be attributed to the hard work of Kagan and the people he recruited to join him on his journey, he also believes that some amount of success is always owed to chance.
“There’s so much serendipity in business,” he says. “A lot of the people that have been able to help me in my career—and I’ve been able to help them—is from serendipity. It’s that I said ‘yes’ to that interview. I said ‘yes’ to that meeting.”
But he insists that learning when to say no, and how to do so in a way that builds the foundation of a future bridge rather than burning one to the ground, is equally as important.
“As you choose your priorities better, you’re going to say no to things,” he says. “If you’re saying yes to everything, you’re probably not getting what you want.”
One of the things Kagan knows he wants is a team of the best people the world has to offer.
Building a Team, Forming a Band
“The people you work with are the only thing that matters.”
Kagan passionately believes that the most essential resource for a brand is the crew of people who populate it, and he insists that recruiting is an ongoing effort that should always be in the back of a business-owner’s mind, even when reading spam email.
“If someone emails me a cold email that’s like, ‘Hey, here’s a service,’ and I’m like ‘Damn, that was a good email,’ I just start talking to them. I’m like, ‘Hey I don’t want your service, but I think you’re really good at sales. … Let’s stay in touch.’”
Kagan believes in the importance of building relationships with talented people, whether they are job hunting or not, and that this will bring a return on investment, whether tomorrow or 20 years in the future. He even has a set auto-response email asking people to send their information if they think they might ever want to work with him in the future.
On an episode of his Noah Kagan Presents podcast called “The March Show,” he emphasizes the underestimated importance of relationship building in today’s market.
“I think we are in an era of Tinder-ization, where people literally just get sex right away,” he says. “When you go to talk to someone, I think we want the result instantly. So if we want that sale, if we want that partnership, if we want that connection, if we want a relationship, we think that the first message has to be something that I’m going to get the result quickly from. And I just have to remind myself to build the relationship, get to know someone, and then you can do the ask.”
He also recommends two ways of working with someone before calling them an employee: contracting and collaboration.
Through contracting, Kagan says he can determine whether a person produces quality content, and by collaborating with another person on a project, he says he can decide whether or not they are the type of person who can contribute to the music his team is making, and if they will stick around through thick and thin.
“You want to build a team of loyalists. You want to build a band, not rock stars,” he says. “We’ve hired people in the past, man, where they were definitely a rock star, meaning that their work was phenomenal, but they didn’t actually want to be a team player.”
And he has learned since his departure from Facebook that it really is all about the team.
He approaches business the way a good coach does the big game. How can he most clearly communicate the important plays to his players? How can he ensure that each player is performing at his or her best?
The first step is to ensure that each team member is doing the work they are best suited to do.
“In basketball, you don’t put the center as a point guard. Why? Because a point guard needs to be dribbling and flexible and movable and a center’s not meant for that.”
He once asked an employee who specializes in video to do marketing and analytics. After two weeks of radio silence, Kagan concluded that the lack of productivity was due not to laziness, but to the fact that he had asked his employee to play the wrong position.
Kagan says that this is also an essential point of self-reflection for business owners. What are you best at? What do you love? And if time is being stolen from those areas by other responsibilities, Kagan encourages business owners to hire someone else to help them to play in the position they are best suited to play.
His second step to ensuring a high-performing team is clearly defining a goal.
Mapping the Route, Rerouting When Necessary
According to Kagan, every employee, even an amazing one, needs two things: clear boundaries and a goal.
“If you can give them a goal and boundaries, and then really leave them the fuck alone, you’ll be very successful,” he says. “From there, they will go and create and innovate, amazing things.”
But first, a team needs the right goal.
Kagan learned from his time at Facebook that setting a single yearly company goal, then creating smaller goals for each team that are constantly reevaluated and build toward the overarching goal, was the gold standard for advancing in business.
He offers a basic scenario as an example. First, pick a goal. Let’s say it is 15,000 installs on an app. Then determine the intervals at which small victories can be achieved building up to the main goal. The next step is determining where those incremental downloads will come from. Then create a list detailing how those downloads can be promoted on those platforms at that rate. After a month of executing the plan, it is vital that each of the list items is evaluated. The rest is simple: do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
“That’s why I don’t believe in hope,” he says. “I want to plan exactly what I expect to do, do it, and see how it performs.”
But throughout the journey, there are always distractions, bright, shiny, sparkly ones drawing businesses off the path to achieving their goals and into the swamp named Vanity Metrics.
Whether it’s the number of emails on your list or the reach of a Twitter following, vanity metrics can be a time and talent suck, and although exciting, they are in reality, hollow. Kagan illustrates this point using Sumo’s Instagram following.
Despite an impressive 100,000 followers on Instagram, and weekly ads posted for followers to see, they have had zero dollars in sales from Instagram. Zero.
He insists that instead of becoming distracted by the external, business owners should be zoning in on what is actually working to build the business, to be less interested in the size of an email list and more interested in how many people are engaging with those emails. With how many of them are actually becoming customers.
And like any good sports metaphor enthusiast, he also highly values the impact of a good coach. Kagan says he recently received coaching for his podcast from one of the top producers at NPR and for his YouTube channel from a top YouTube personality. He even has a coach for fantasy football!
Kagan believes that any aspect of his personal or professional life that needs improving is worth paying money for, insisting, “that type of return in knowledge is just compounded forever.”
Having it All
So is it really possible to have it all? Kagan believes it is, so long as you take that first, most difficult step in the right direction.
“I think everyone should have it all,” he says. “I think what most people don’t do is they don’t figure out what they want.”
Kagan, who still drives a scooter and lives in a small apartment, has made it clear to himself and to his team what he wants most, and is willing to take the steps necessary to achieve those goals. But even he isn’t immune to distraction or discontent.
“Do I think the next new, shiny thing will be better? Hell, yeah!” he says, laughing. “We always think the grass is greener, and there’s always dog shit in other people’s grass.”
Although he forgets it sometimes, this business has taught him two significant bits of wisdom: the next shiny new toy won’t solve a problem that needs fixing, and comparison and jealousy are merely a compass pointing toward what he should be doing for himself.
It can be tempting to get distracted by the next big thing, but experience has taught him the unmatchable value of the most mundane, day-to-day labor.
“It’s always grind in, grind out,” he says. “Every day, just keep putting in the work.”
That doesn’t mean the business world needs to be humdrum. His flair for the over-the-top—which inspires him to don a ridiculous blond wig in many of his videos, among several other immature antics—is at the heart of who he is, and at the heart of his success.
“I like emotion in business. I love being fucking fired up.”
- The underestimated importance of relationship building in today’s market
- How to create and keep a team of innovative employees who are team players
- Why some vanity metrics, although exciting, can be a time and talent suck
- How to set long and short-term goals that advance businesses
Full Transcript of Podcast Episode with Noah Kagan
Nathan: All right, done. So the first question I ask everyone that comes on is, “How did you get your job?”
Noah: I kept getting fired, so I had to make my own jobs. Well, I mean, I was trying to be a good employee, but no one wanted me.
Nathan: Yeah. Look, you’ve got a really interesting story. I’m not going to go into it, because I know you’ve talked about it a lot. You were quite an early-stage employee at Facebook, you invented the status update. But now, you’ve gone on from that, you’ve created some really, really successful companies, your early-stage marketing at mint.com. You’re a brilliant marketer, I’m a massive fan. I’m also a user of your products as well, in particular Sumo and AppSumo. I’ve bought so many different things from you guys. But I just wanted to open the conversation, because I met you when I just launched the magazine. And this is going to be interesting. This is going to be a really raw and interesting interview.
I’d met you when I just launched the magazine. I’d just got an interview with Richard Branson, we were about four months in. And when you first get started…and the Melbourne start-up scene isn’t that hot. There are some really successful start-ups, but you know, you just go to events and you’re just trying to work things out. And you came down to Melbourne and you were speaking at a university and…well, at a university building. And it was, like, a big thing that you were coming down, so I went. And man, I thought you were the coolest guy ever. There were a few other speakers there. There were some that by all means, have achieved–in terms of success–built…I saw some big companies. Do you remember the guy from RetailMeNot? He was there.
Nathan: Yeah, there was some base there, but there was something about you. You just seemed like the coolest, bad-ass dude and I was like, “Man, I’ve got to speak to this guy. I’ve got to try and interview him.” And so, after the talk or the kind of fireside chat, I come up to you, I lined up. And everyone was lining up to speak to you. And I remember you were even like, “Man…” You were like, “Go speak to Bevon. He’s way more successful than me,” and…the guy from RetailMeNot. And I still…I was like, “I want to get this guy on the magazine.” And I remember I pitched you. I was like, “Man, I run this magazine. And look, I’d love to interview you for it.”
And you were just like, “Man, don’t take this the wrong way, but why would I go and be interviewed on your magazine? You’ve got no reach, I never heard of you. I just come off Pat Flynn’s podcast. Do you know how many downloads that got me?” You were like…
Noah: Wow. What a dick.
Nathan: …”No offence, man.” And then, you were like, “I’ll tell you what. Just because I said no now doesn’t mean it’s forever. Here’s my business card,” and you gave me a SumoMe sticker. Not a Sumo, an AppSumo sticker and then, walked away. And I was just discarded, man. And…yeah, kind of like…you know, we have a lot of mutual friends. And as I’ve worked my fucking ass off to hustle and try to build Foundr, we’ve kind of…in a way, kind of been introduced to other people and…yeah. I didn’t…and when I said…when we were talking about doing something together with Foundr and Sumo, I just had to tell you. Not in a jerk way, because I have nothing but respect for your work, everything you do. I’m a massive fan, I’m a customer of your product.
But I just had to say, look, man, you rubbed me up the wrong way a very, very long time ago. And I would personally want to know, if somebody did that to me and…yeah. It kind of didn’t go…gel too well with you and then…you know? But now, we’ve reconnected and like I said, there’s no beef. But yeah, that’s exactly what happened, man.
Noah: That’s a…you know, it’s one…it’s interesting. And I appreciated you telling me. I definitely was pissed off when you emailed me, like…this was, I think now, about a year ago. You were like, “Hey, man. You remember three years ago, you were a dick to me in Melbourne?” And I was like…it’s like, “I don’t even remember it.” And it’s not that you’re not important enough to remember, or that I’m even so great. I think what’s interesting…because after that moment, it made me start reflecting on, like, “All right, how do I communicate to others?” And I’m like, “Can I stand behind what I’m saying?” Because I think we just do things and honestly, I just fucking kept going and didn’t think about it. And for you, it was a big thing.
Nathan: Yeah, 100%, man. Yeah, 100%. And then, part of us connecting again was you reaching out and you wanted to do a partnership. And I was just like, “Wow,” like, “You just never know.” Sometimes it’s good. You just never know. One day, you know? Just one day. And…you know what I mean?
Noah: You’re like, “Payback’s a bitch.” No, I mean…
Nathan: But I didn’t mean it like that, but…you know what I mean? But it’s just one of those things, right?
Noah: Well, I think the two things that I’ve learned from that is that one, just be aware of how you’re communicating with others. So for example, I tried to meet with this guy recently and he’s like, “Sure, we’ll met,” and then, he canceled on me. And then, I was like, “Oh, okay,” and then, he canceled again. And then…he canceled four times. And at the end of the fourth time, I was just like, “All right. Well, you’re done.” Like, “I’m done with you.” And it’s not that he…I don’t mind him canceling. It’s just like, I think, be aware of how you might be treating others. He should have just never committed to meeting me.
And so, that was just one thing where, be intentional, just straight up. Like, “Hey, man. I really want to help you with your magazine, just not…right now is not a good timing.” So as people are approaching me now, my focus is around Sumo. And I’m saying, “Hey, I’m not really doing any meetings outside of Sumo until 2018.” And it’s not a mean thing, but it’s just very clear talking. The other thing is, one thing you made me reflect on, Nathan, is serendipity. There’s so much serendipity in business. And so, the hard part, though is, as you get…and it’s not necessarily just more successful, but as you choose your priorities better, you’re going to say no to things. Because if you’re saying yes to everything, you’re probably not getting what you want.
Noah: And a lot of the people that have been able to help me in my career are…and I’ve been able to help them…is from serendipity: is that I said, “Yes,” to that interview, I said “Yes,” to that meeting. Like, Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, a lot of the people, like Max Levchin, you know, a lot of these people that have helped me and I’ve been able to work with them over the past 12 years is because someone said, “Hey, you should go meet this guy,” or, “do this thing.” And so, it’s something I still…you know, I don’t know if it’s a struggle, but I try to find the balance of, when do you say, “Yes,” to something and when do you say, “No?” And I think secondly, it’s like, how do you also make sure if you say, “No,” just do it in a respectful way?
Nathan: Yeah. Dude, it is so hard. You have to say, “No,” so often. So now, it brings me to the real kicker. I’m curious…and this makes part of a really interesting interview. You wrote back to me…and we’re getting really raw here and going really deep. You wrote back…you wrote to me a year later, because I got…because I could see you were pissed off and I was like, “Man, I’ve got no beef.” But you didn’t…you do want to have a bar. And I was like, “Oh, geez, okay. Well, I really rubbed up Noah the wrong way,” and I just kind of left it. And you wrote to me and you said, “Let’s be friends.” Why?
Noah: One second. I’m just taking notes over on my side. You know what’s funny? Have you ever sent an email to someone and then, like later that night or the next day, you start just thinking about it?
Noah: And I think everyone has some experience where, like, later that day or a week later, you’re like, “Man, I don’t know if I did that the way I wanted it to be.” And I had…two thoughts for myself was that one, the Internet is a small world. So the fact that we’ve come back to…around, four years later when I met you randomly at a university room in Melbourne, is not really as surprising. The Internet is small, so I do think people should be aware of how you treat others. And I do…you know, you were pissed about it and I was like, “Dude, I didn’t even realize it. It’s not…” I could have easily had my ego and be like, “Well, he’s nobody and I’m a…” It’s like, who cares? So for me, it was like, “All right, let’s move forward on it.”
The second thing that I’ve done–and this was actually from college–is that whenever you’re sending an email that might be a little bit more sensitive, like…because I had a response to your first email, but I didn’t send it to you. And it was…
Nathan: What does it say? Please, what…?
Noah: It was just like, “Fuck you,” and, “Dude, come on. I was at a conference and I had all these people. I can’t do every single interview.” But one thing my university professor taught me–which is an interesting story–was…I was at UC Berkeley and I was the president of the business school, whatever. And…which is like…and so, he…the dean of the business school did something, so I wrote this email to him and all the deans and these other people. And I sent this nasty email. I was like, “You’re a liar and you said you’d do this and you’re not doing it,” and blah, blah, blah. And it was right. It was actually very true and accurate.”
But he emails me back and he says…his name was Dan. He says, “Noah, you know, whether it was right or wrong, next time, save that email for 24 hours. Just save it in the Drafts folder 24 hours.” And I’ve never forgotten that lesson, because there are just a lot of emails that people have sent me stuff and I’m just like, “All right, you probably should have saved that in a Drafts.” And I saved it in the Drafts and then, a day or two–or however long it took me later–I was like, “Look, this is some guy I’m probably going to work with again. It was probably a misunderstanding, so let’s be friends and then, talk about it.” And that’s why we’re here now, on the show.
Nathan: Yeah, no. Look, I really appreciate your humbleness there, man. And I think one thing that’s key, right–and I let it get the best of me, too–is, you shouldn’t let emotion come into business. What are your thoughts on that, emotion in business?
Noah: I like emotion in business. I love being fucking fired up. I love being…and you know, a few weeks ago in the morning, I was angry every day for the whole week. And I was excited at how angry I got.
Nathan: Really? What were you angry about?
Noah: Because I think anger is kind of…I don’t know, just people were doing stupid shit. And so, I’m like, fucking fired up and I was like, “Thank God I’m angry. It means I care.” And you know, and I think you should work on things that you get fired up about. Or if you do sales, you should be selling something that you’re like, “I give a fuck about this.” And the issue is, I think to your point though, emotion is where you’re like, “I’m going to do something irrational and…because I’m emotional.” And I think that’s probably where people get a little bit mistaken.
And I’ve done that in the past and I probably still do that stuff. But I think there is a balance of, have passion and fire and emotion on things. And then, certain decisions, though, are you’re like, “All right, is this actually just a totally emotional or irrational decision? Or is this a logical, best decision for the business?” And I think that probably is where there needs to be some time to think through that.
Nathan: So let’s…I just want to say I’m really glad and humbled and honored that we have moved forward and where I can call you a friend. And you’re a very, very smart, intelligent person that I respect a lot and I’m glad we could…
Noah: Sometimes, sometimes.
Nathan: I’m glad we could connect and move forward. So talk to me about Sumo. As I said, I’m a big fan, we’re a customer, we use your product, it’s done some amazing things for us at Foundr. I want to talk to you about growing and scaling and in particular, problems that I’ve seen from the outside that you might be experiencing, that I’m curious that…like, how you’re approaching them and these new challenges. So first of all, is your team…? So I notice that you’re working a lot on your personal brand, you’re trying to grow your YouTube channel, which I think is very, very smart. Are you that involved in the day-to-day operations with Sumo? Yes, no? If not, how come?
Noah: Yeah. Well, so finishing the previous section. I think for everyone listening: if you have someone that you hate, or if you have someone that you think you hate, or if you have a…no, no. For real. Or I think two things that are helpful…not everything is in binary and twos, but just a suggestion for everyone out there…is like, if there’s someone that you’ve had beef with, or you think you have beef or you’re not even sure, is it even really worth it? And just go send them an email or a text, a phone call to them and be like, “I don’t even know why we’re being stupid,” and, “Let’s resolve it.”
The second thing that the guys on the team…Bar is a great example of this…is, ask for feedback. So if you’re doing things wrong or if people are mad or if you’ve done anything, then–even positive things–just be like, “Hey, can I get feedback?” When you’re doing sales or when you’re doing marketing or when you’re working with other people, I find asking and taking initiative and saying, “Hey, can I have feedback about how this went,” is a helpful thing. So your feedback is helpful so that next time I’m at events, I’m more aware of how I talk to people. And to the Sumo…
Nathan: That’s great.
Noah: Yeah. And to the Sumo thing, it’s been a…I’ve been doing this business seven years and I…someone said it to me recently that a lot of business in life is seasons. We think of seasons as the weather changes, but there’s seasons with our own lives. And you go through seasons with when you’re excited about your business and there’s plateaus in your business. And so, when I started the year with sumo.com, I took a…I was…I kind of took a sabbatical from the day-to-day and I moved to more of…I’m not…we’re not big enough to have a chairman, but…or a chairwoman…but I was kind of doing more of my podcast and YouTube. The business did okay, it really wasn’t doing that well. And so, around July, I came back full-time to help out with the marketing.
Nathan: Gotcha. And so, you’re lucky enough, though, that you have an amazing team in place that you can kind of step out?
Noah: Yeah, I’m…you know, I wonder, luck…I don’t believe in hope or luck. I just don’t. I think a lot of us make our own luck. Is it luck that you grew Foundr, or is it that you worked your ass off for the past four years? There’s some luck involved, for sure, but you’ve definitely created that luck for yourself. And I don’t believe in hope. People are like, “Oh, I hope this works out,” “I hope this marketing does well,” “I hope…” it’s like, no, make it do well. Guarantee it. Go do whatever it takes, instead of kind of hoping for that.
I think that the thing I’ve been blessed with and the thing I’m most fortunate about is the people I get to be around. And I hate when people say that shit. I don’t know if you…it annoys you, too. They’re like, “Oh, I love my team.” I’m like, “I don’t know, because you seem like a dick.” Not you, but some of the people. And I think for a lot of people, what I’ve realized over doing this business and Facebook and all my other companies that I’ve been a part of is, literally, the people are the only thing that matter. Really, at the end of the day, the people that you work with are the only thing that matter.
And as you want to grow any type of business–offline or online–you have to have more people to grow. It’s literally impossible until get really smart. And so, I think more people don’t…most people don’t spend enough time recruiting and working on…with the people or on the people that are in their businesses. So yeah, I’ve spent–I don’t know–seven years, looking for the best people in the world to work with.
Nathan: Yeah, no, look. And you’re very, very good at…there was a person that we worked with, who is a contractor who did some writing for us and you ended up hiring her. She’s an absolutely superstar and I respect and admire just what you’re doing there. So let’s just talk about that remote…the hiring piece, because I find…I think that’s one of the hardest things I…that’s what I personally am experiencing, especially here in Melbourne. I find it very, very hard to really find great talent and I’m going remote now. But I’m curious, is all your team remote? Because now, you’re back in Sumo, you said you’re really kind of full-time. Are you guys fully remote, fully local, or hybrid? What are your thoughts on that?
Noah: So my thoughts…we’ve…I’ll tell you, our business has evolved over the years. So when I started out, it was just me in a basement. And then, we were all remote and then, we were all in an office and then, now, we’re kind of in a hybrid. So I would say, 100% confidence, the most productive companies are all in the same place. So look at the…you know, here’s a…and things are changing, but the top 100 Fortune companies, the majority of them have a centralized office. Let’s even take the top 100 tech companies, the majority of them have a centralized office. And name five very, very big decentralized companies. Most people will name two. They’ll name WordPress and they’ll name Basecamp, or 37signals.
And so, the reality is like, all right, well, everyone who is winning is doing that. Only two exceptional cases are over here. So there’s…some things, you should just try to innovate and some things, you should just copy. And for me, what I’ve realized with hiring is that one, it always needs to be ongoing. So how much time you’re allocating in your week for hiring.
One thing I’ve done recently which has been really helpful is that in my emails…so with my autoresponder, I have an autoresponder email that says, “Hey, if you ever think you’ll ever want to work with me, just give me your information. Put your LinkedIn and your name and your email here. And basically every day, I get two to five new people that join my mailing list that are like, “Oh, yeah. Maybe I’d work with him in the future.” And so, it kind of keeps…
Nathan: Oh, that’s gold.
Noah: Yeah, it’s kind of ongoing recruiting. What most people do with recruiting is amnesia. They’re like, “Oh, shit. I need to go find this girl or guy to do marketing or do sales. Let me start from zero,” versus building up your…baseball or football or your soccer teams or rugby, it’s like, do you have your bench, do you have your minor league players? So how are you building up people so that when you are ready, you have people ready for you? Another thing for hiring I think more people can do better is, how are you just trying to find a…? I always think of it as a dream team. Like, how can you just find literally the best in the world at different things?
So what I do is that whenever I find anybody that I’m like, “Holy fuck, that was amazing,” I literally do whatever it takes to get them on the phone and whatever it takes to do a project together. So a lot of the people that we’ve been hiring, it’s like, we did a project of some sort in some capacity. And that’s the way that…to me, it’s like, you…the best people in the world are…it’s noticeably how much greater the company becomes. And so, to your point about location, I think the future’s going to be hybrid, where the majority in the office…and the best people in the world, for us, are not in Austin, Texas right now, but I want the best in the world. So wherever they are, let’s hire them and then try to bring them out as often as we can, to be in the office with us.
Nathan: And what are your thoughts on utilizing contractors? I read an article you guys wrote–it was really interesting–where you got a guy…I think he was from Australia, kind of an outside consultant…to come in. He wrote a guest post and he was…he tried to…he was a content marketer, he had an agency. And he helped grow the blog.
Nathan: You know who I’m talking about?
Noah: So that’s…yeah. So Chris is a guy…it’s exactly the same story I just told you. I found one of his blog posts online about how…he wrote an article about how HubSpot grew. And it was one of the most…it was just different and it was so impressive that I hadn’t seen anything like that in…I don’t know how long. And so, I said, “Hey, I have a blog, I want to promote you articles. Do you want to write one together? And I’ll promote you and so, you’ll get a lot of new business,” which is good for him. So we did it and the article blew up. He wrote one about Intercom. And I was like, “Holy shit, this guy is just…he’s great to work with.” His quality was…it was amazing, he had a great attitude.
And we were starting to look for a content writer for the Sumo blog and I was like, “I’ve already worked with this guy.” And the point is, it’s always great to just do a project of some sort with people so you can know how they work. That’s truth, versus, “Oh,” you know? When you do an interview process, you’re really just trying to get confidence to see how much full of shit they are and how likely they are to do good or not good. That’s really what you’re doing. You’re like, “All right, here’s my bar of if I believe them or not.” But a project, you’ll actually get to see it.
And so, with Chris, he was in China at the time. He’s Australian, but he was living in China. And I literally just messaged him this. I said, “Hey, what would it take for you to come work with us in our office full-time, starting next week?” And he was like…he basically named it. And then, I said, “Sure,” and then, he came. In our office next week. So you have to work…you know, and at the end of the day, everyone’s got their own motivations and goals, you have to try to understand what it is and give it to them. But the point being…is that the best people in the world, just do whatever it takes to work with them and just be aware.
I’m on the lookout, always for either marketing or for sales. If I…someone emails me a cold email that’s like, “Hey, I’m a…here’s a service,” and I’m like, “Damn, that was a good email,” I just start talking to them. I’m like, “Hey, I don’t want your service, maybe. But I think you’re really good at sales. Are you…? If you’re ever looking, let’s stay in touch.”
Nathan: Because one thing as well, I find is, some of these really, really talented people, they have their own agency, or they’re freelancing with a book of clients. How do you approach that, or how do you convince them to come and join you? Because you may not…
Noah: Yeah. I mean…
Nathan: …be able to pay them as much money.
Noah: Well, so Aman, who is amazing, he’s the guy who runs all of AppSumo and our…we have…actually have a new product that’s…I don’t know if you…it’s unreleased yet. It’ll probably out at the time of this podcast, called briefcasehq.com. Aman loves contractors. And he is like…he loves it. And the way he looks at it is kind of like going on dates. Because most people will go…be a contractor. You can hit up almost anyone at any company that has a job and say, “Hey, can I pay you $100 an hour,” or, “$200 an hour,” or, “$50 an hour to be a contractor and help me out?” And the interesting thing with that is that almost everyone will say, “Yes.” And then, if it actually works out for them, it makes it a lot easier to then convert them into full-time.
The thing that I would caution people of is that you don’t want to build a team of mercenaries, though. You want to build a team of loyalists. You want to build a band, not rock stars. And so, sometimes with contractors, you get all these people that are just literally mercenaries that are there for the money. And then, if things go bad or you stop paying them, they check out.
Nathan: And is that what happened to you in the early days, or…?
Noah: I’ve definitely had that. You know, we’ve had people over…and we’ve had–oh, man–so many different hirings and firings and quittings. Someone just quit today and I was excited for him. And so…and I’ve had other people we’ve let go that it made sense. So for those two people…the guy who quit today, he’s been…worked with our company for three years. He’s put in a good run and I think, honestly, it was time for him to go, for himself and for the business. And it’s not nothing negative, it’s actually better for him and better for the company. And you bring on someone new who’s fitting to where the company is now and where it’s going.
And we’ve hired people in the past, man, where they were definitely a rock star. Meaning that their work was phenomenal, but they didn’t actually want to be a team player. And you can’t build a great band with a rock star. It’s a band. Each person contributes to the overall music, not a rock star. And so, I was called a maverick. And the reality was, he was a maverick. And so, I was like, “Dude, you’ve got be a maverick and you’ve got to go do your own thing.” And that’s better for him and better for our business, too.
Nathan: So once you’ve found this rock star, how do you ensure this person does their best work? Because I think that’s a challenge, too. How do you lead?
Noah: Yeah, man. Great question. The best rock stars are…you know, the thing is, you can’t be a rock star as long as you’re okay being in a band. Some people don’t want to be as part of a team. And that’s fine, but you shouldn’t be a part of a team. So what I’ve noticed for the people…I work with people on some of the OkDork stuff and the people on Sumo and AppSumo. Here’s what I’ve realized of the most amazing people ever. They basically need two things: they need a goal and they need boundaries. And if you can give them a goal and boundaries and then really leave them the fuck alone, you’ll be very successful. And that’s where they’ll actually be able to do their best work, because the great people don’t need to be babysat.
Whenever I have someone where I’m like, “Oh, I have to go help them with this,” and, “I have to do that for them,” and, “I have to this for them,” I’m like, “Well, why am I paying them to do their job? They should be paying me to teach them.” And it’s not as an arrogant thing. It’s more that I need to be hiring the right people who, they’re showing…they’re teaching me things. And so, the really…the two guidelines that I look at is like, “Okay, what’s the end zone look like and what are their boundaries?” And then, let them play however they want to play, because amazing people don’t want to be told what to do. And then, from there, they’ll go and create and innovate amazing things. And those are the two things that I’ve noticed.
Nathan: But what about…? I’m curious around the standards, setting the bar. And I’ve watched a video once, it was a really good video. Each of you guys are good, man. There’s…you…
Noah: Thank you.
Nathan: You share some good stuff.
Noah: Appreciate that.
Nathan: I noticed…and this is an approach from a…have you…? I’m sure you’ve read it, “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish, around…
Nathan: …stand-ups, the daily…not the…the weekly traffic light reporting meetings.
Nathan: I’m really curious, when you set those goals. Like, you said you set goals, have those boundaries. How do you know if the goal’s set too high and what if that person isn’t meeting it? How do you gauge whether the goal’s too high or it’s not, or…?
Noah: Yeah. So we have different people…and I can’t tell everyone what they should do, I can only speak from my own experiences. I mean, I’m thinking of a few stories. Recently, one of the people on our team, I pushed him too hard and he was like, “Yo, F you.” And I was like, “Whoa. Okay, that’s good.” It’s good. And I think what happened there is, because we were doing email and text messaging and Slack instead of phone call, it caused confusion. So I would encourage people to say, as you’re doing your weekly check-ins with people to understand, “Hey, you’re on goal,” or, “You’re not on goal.” If you’re not on goal, am I pushing you hard, am I pushing you too hard, not hard enough, whatever that is?
I think people like goals. I don’t know, that’s something I’m noticing even recently. Like, with Chris–the guy from Australia–he loves to have something to achieve and he’s progressing towards it. I think you have to figure out each person has different styles. So like…I don’t know if you work out. Some people at the gym want to be yelled at, like, “Yeah, you’re a bitch,” “Yeah, you’ll never be able to lift that. You’re a punk.” And then, other people want to just be like, “I just want positive encouragement, like, “Oh, you’re special,” and, “No one else will be able to lift this,” and, “Wow, you’re Hercules,” or, you know, “You’re Wonder Woman.” And so, I think you kind of have to tailor it to each person.
I think you also…the thing that I’ve realized with working with people this year more than others, I’ve learned a few things for myself. But number one is like, you have to put everybody in their strongest positions. So what does that mean? If you’re in basketball, you don’t put the center as a point guard. Why? Because a point guard needs to be dribbling and flexible and moveable and agile and a center is not meant for that. And I don’t think people realize that in business, where…we have a guy, Brandon. I love Brandon, he’s great at making videos. He works with me on all the videos on OkDork and YouTube. And I tried to get Brandon to do marketing and analytics. I’m like, “Brandon, I need you to go analyze keywords to figure out what should we be creating content around.” And he didn’t do anything for two weeks.
I’m like, “Brandon, what’s up, dawg?” I’m like, “I’m going to fire you.” Not in a mean way, but… And then, I was like, “Oh, it’s not that. It’s just that he is a creative and I’m trying to put him in an analytical role.” And so, I do think that’s something that I’ve become much more aware of: is like, what is their power move and then, am I putting them in that place? So, like…another guy on the sumo.com team is Eric, who’s our product manager and he’s just great. He’s a phenomenal project manager. He gets stuff organized, he makes sure everyone’s on task, he’s a great communicator around it. And then, I was expecting him to do other things. But the more I started looking at him in his power play and his power move, he’s been phenomenal.
And so, I think that’s something that we need to get better at, as we’re working with people. Like, are they doing their best positions? And same for yourself. If you’re a great interviewer or if you’re a great marketer, how much time are you actually spending doing that versus other things? And if it’s those other things, hire someone else to do it.
Nathan: Yeah, I like that. One thing that I find is because we are a small team, though–and I’m talking from personal experience–sometimes, you have to have someone that does a few different roles.
Noah: Yeah. No, that…you know, life changes, right? Like, when I was starting out, you have to do all the work. I think when you start any business, especially for founders, the best thing is to do everything yourself at least once, so you understand it. Learn a little bit of code, learn…
Nathan: I love that.
Noah: …a little bit of support, learn the marketing, learn the sales, learn the design, so that when you talk to the people or you hire the people, you have some concept of it. At least, that’s been my experience.
Nathan: Yeah. No, I agree. Just coming back to the goals question, because I really want to nail that. So with Chris, for example–I think it was–I think you guys had to hit a…one million monthly uniques, or something along those lines for the Sumo blog. How did you know that that was the right number? What if it was 1.2 million? And how did you gauge that, whether it was too high or too low or just right?
Noah: So it’s funny you ask that, because that was actually…that became the wrong goal.
Noah: And I find…yeah. So what…it was 250,000…it was a certain amount of uniques a month. And the way that we run our companies in the Sumo group–which is appsumo.com and sumo.com–each company basically gets one goal for the year. That’s what I learned at Facebook and I still stick to that to this day, like, what is your one company goal and does every single person in your company know that goal? And then, do you review it on a weekly or monthly basis with the whole team? And what happens is that from that goal, each team has goals that should add up to it. It’s pretty simple math, like…
Nathan: And that’s where the traffic light comes into it, yeah.
Noah: Exactly. So let’s say we wanted to make…just keep it real simple, we want to make $1 million. All right. So the marketing team needs to bring 200,000 visitors, which will lead to 1000 signing up for the product and 1000 going to the sales team. And it’s like, okay, that math…then, you do the math. And so, what happened is, we had this traffic goal and we got the traffic number. But it turns out that when you get that many visitors, most of the quality of it wasn’t actually good customers. So it wasn’t actually a good goal for us to set on.
And that’s the hard part, because a lot of people in start-ups are like, “Yo…” like, “Oh, we have to change our goal.” And so sometimes, you should and then sometimes, you shouldn’t. They’re like, “I don’t want change.” I’m like, “Well, we could get 300,000, but the business isn’t growing.” So that’s the main, main thing with the goal, is that if you have a goal for your teams, does that actually make any…is that turning the dial? Because we could get 300,000, 400,000, 500,000, but the business wasn’t changing. Same with AppSumo.
In the first two years, my only goals were email-related goals: “I want my mailing list to be 500,000,” “I want my mailing list to be a million.” And when we went from 500,000 to a million, our revenue didn’t go up. But when we went from zero to 500,000, our revenue kept growing. And the reality is just that businesses change. Your customers change, you have to mature and evolve. And so, the goal changed. And so, you have to be able to do that on a yearly basis, or if it’s really often, maybe sooner. So with Chris and the marketing team, I’ll just tell you, we’ve evolved to an SQL goal. So that means “Sales-Qualified Lead.”
So instead of just like, “Hey, get thousands and hundreds of thousands of visitors to the blog,” the blog is responsible for generating a certain amount of sales-qualified leads, meaning that people qualified to actually talk to the sales team. And what we’re recognizing about that is that that may not even be the right goal, because we’re driving the target number of SQLs, but the sales team isn’t hitting the number. So the next evolution is that there’s going to probably be marketing-qualified leads, meaning we just sign up people that are self-serve. And then, we have to sign up a certain number of people that are…and the sales team has to generate their own sales-qualified leads throughout that whole marketing.
Anyway, so the whole point of it is that every…the businesses need…you need to identify what the problems are. And then, if you hit your goal but it’s still not changing the business, then you need to re-evaluate it.
Nathan: Yeah, no. You’re a very analytical, data-driven guy. I loved that breakdown you’ve always done. It was a while ago. You said, like…you did something. You put out a spreadsheet. It was a very, very basic spreadsheet. It was a quant marketing spreadsheet or something. And then, you said…like what you did at Mint. Can you explain that to me? Because I think it’s a really, really valuable lesson.
Noah: Yeah. Well, so I’ll just tell you one of my…I’ll give you a concrete example. So right now, one of the marketing channels that we’re trying to grow Sumo on which helps people grow their email list, is through Shopify. And I’ll just tell you, this is exactly what I’m doing now. So Shopify, we have around 6000 active users every day, using the Sumo plugin. And my goal…so here’s how I do quant-based marketing–this is why I don’t believe in hope–is that…so what you do is, you’d basically do a few things. I think it’s around three, but it’s pretty….it’s straightforward and I’ll give you a good analogy at the end of it.
You pick your goal. So my goal is 15,000 installs, which then leads to a revenue goal that we’re trying to hit. But I want to hit 15,000 in sales by the end of the year. Okay. So that means if I’m at 6000 today, I need to go from…then you work backwards. “Well, I need to go 6,000 to 10,000 in a month and then, 10,000 to 15,000.” Okay, I get it. So that means I need 4000 this month. Then, you have to map out, “How exactly am I going to get 4000? I’m going to get 1000 from ads, I’m going to get 100 from partnerships, I’m going to get 500 from content marketing.” And you make a list of all the things you can do to add up to that 4000 and you go and do it.
And at…we can check it on a weekly or monthly basis, “How many am I actually getting from these activities,” so that the next month, you can actually update it so it’s even more accurate. So some of them that are working, you do more and the ones that aren’t working, you do less. And then, that’s why I don’t believe in hope. I want to plan exactly what I expect it to do, do it and see how it performs.
The best analogy that I’ve…I don’t know. I don’t know if people really get it when I talk like that. But for me, I think about all right, if you’re going anywhere–if you’re driving somewhere, or if you’re flying somewhere–you go, you pick your destination. You say, “All right, I’m going to go to Melbourne today,” which is an awesome city. I love that city. I think it’s probably the best in Australia. I’m going to throw that out there.
Nathan: I agree.
Noah: I know that’s going to cause some drama, but I love Melbourne, man. It was cool as shit. But if I was going to Melbourne, I’d say, “I’m going to Melbourne.” That’s my destination. Then, I plan my route. So I’m going to get to the airport, fly to this thing, then take an Uber or a taxi to my hotel. Okay, let’s say I get to the airport and now, the Ubers are on strike. Okay, well, now I have to change. So it’s the same thing with your marketing. You plan your destination, you pick the route that you think you will happen. And as you go on it, you figure out which ways are better and you continue and which ways are worse and you stop. And so, that’s how we’ve done our marketing throughout our whole business.
We have a launch next week, we did the same thing. “How much revenue do we want to generate in this launch? What are all the things we’re going to do?” And then, we’ll go execute on it and see how it goes.
Nathan: Yeah, no, awesome. I like this approach. One thing you talked about was email list size and quality of leads. And sometimes, I just…I always wanted to raise this. Sometimes, I think it’s easy to get caught up in these vanity metrics that people use to–I guess–tell themselves that they’re growing or their business is growing. And I’m guilty of it too, you know: the size of our email list, the size of our social following, this traffic to our site. And I think it’s really, really good and smart that you guys actually were measuring that those leads weren’t converting. How di d you work that out?
Noah: So that’s a great point. And I think it’s so funny, because it’s kind of like a penis size thing, where it’s like, “I have got all these emails.” But what’s actually really more important…or even on Instagram or any of these things, where it’s like, “God, I’ve got…” Like Sumo, we have 100,000 followers on Instagram. Get this, though. We’ve put out…you know, we’ll put out once a week or every other week, like, “Hey, if you want to use Sumo, go buy here,” or, “go use this.” Literally, no joke, zero dollars in sales from Instagram. Zero, nothing.
Nathan: Difficult for a SAS product, eh?
Noah: Yeah. Well, I…or we just suck. So one of the two, or both. But the point being, is that I think people kind of look at the outside and like, “Well, you have to grow an email list,” or, “You have to do Instagram,” or, “You have to do this.” And I think what more business need to do is say, “Well, what’s actually working for my business?” So with an email list, I’m personally interested in…is not the size of your email list, but how many people actually open and click and do the things you want them to do? That’s actually what matters more. That’s kind of what I look at.
So your question about the marketing thing was that we grew our traffic. And actually, two years ago when we grew our traffic, it did correlate to more sales. So it was like, more traffic gave us more emails, gave us more money. And then, it turned out to not be the case. So we had to be a little bit more intentional about like, “Are we writing the contents that’s attracting the type of person we want?” And then, “Are we encouraging that person to give us an email or go register for Sumo?”
Nathan: No, that makes sense. Okay, so let’s switch gears. Another update I saw a while ago–which I thought it was a smart move–was the domain acquisition sumo.com for seven figures. We bought foundr.com about a year ago…
Noah: For how much?
Nathan: I can’t say. But…
Noah: Oh, you can’t…? So you’d say five figures?
Nathan: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A high five.
Nathan: So that was a whole other interesting story. And a lot of people thought, “I wish you were doing that.” But then, you come out and you bought Sumo and you spent a lot more money than we did, which I think is really, really interesting. Why? Can you explain to people why and what…the thought process behind it? It was a branding play, essentially, right?
Noah: Yeah. You know, I will say I suck at branding. And I’m still not very good at it, nor do I get it. One thing I would say, though, with sumo.com is that I spent seven years getting it. And the main thing I think about is that…have you ever…? Everyone knows what buyer’s remorse is. Everyone knows like, “Oh, I bought this car,” or, “this thing,” or, “I shouldn’t have drank that last beer at the pub, mate,” or whatever it is. There’s always some type of buyer’s remorse. But I don’t know if people actually reflect on, when do you get buyer’s elation?
Nathan: What’s that?
Noah: Like, the opposite of that. So the buyer’s elation is when you buy something and after you buy it, you’re even happier. Your happiness increases sustainably. So I’ve been…since I’ve had it, I’m so happy to see the domain. And every time I see a new Sumo company launch–there’s a whole bunch of companies now that add the word to it–I’m like, “Ah, guess who’s got the main domain, sumo.com?” There’s debate whether domains are valuable in the future, because more people are doing mobile apps and…or Instagram handles, so who cares about the domain? But for me, I think at the end of the day, I love that we worked really hard for it, there’s only one in the world and I’m very proud of it.
And also, the second part of is that whenever you’re…if you’re trying to buy something you really want, one, can you rent it at all? Is there any way you could rent it, so you don’t have…you could see if you actually like it? Or two, is there ways to get creative with financing? So when we say we bought it for $1.5 million, people were like, “Oh, damn, that’s hella crazy.” Which it is. And sometimes, I’m like, “Damn, that’s a lot of money.” But the reality is that we paid $500,000 up front and we’re paying over the next five years. So I didn’t actually have to fork out $1.5 million.
So if you’re trying to buy something you want, can you give them equity, can you do a profit share, can you spread it out over a number of years, can you rent to own? Like that. There’s creative ways of getting what you want.
Nathan: And have you been able to see…? Besides the branding play and besides the awesome feeling and just…because I agree. I know a couple of companies with “Sumo” in it and they have actually told me that there is some confusion, sometimes, like, “Is that Noah’s thing,” and stuff.
Noah: Yes, good.
Nathan: What other impacts have you seen…? I’m just really curious. Have you seen any other notable impacts or anything that you can correlate back to the domain change? It would have hurt for SEO for a while, I’m sure. That would have been painful.
Noah: Yeah, it did. It did. It actually…
Nathan: Yeah, it’s hurting us right now.
Noah: …screwed our SEO.
Nathan: Yeah. It’s hurting us right now.
Noah: Yeah, man. It hurt us for a good six months. Totally. We didn’t actually…I haven’t seen, like, because we’re sumo.com, people go crazy and our business skyrocketed. I will tell you, it fucked our SEO, same as yours. The one thing…you know, I do try to…we try to pattern-match a lot, if I try to pattern-match. And most public companies…almost every public company and most large tech companies have the main brand. So Slack started off as SlackHQ, Dropbox was GetDropbox, Facebook was TheFacebook, but all of them ended up getting the main domain. And what I will say is that when you’re doing recruiting or when you’re trying to be a bigger company, you have to think bigger.
And when you have a bigger brand like, “Hey, we are sumo.com,” I think that definitely sends a messages to ourselves and our mindset and then, also the people who we’re trying to bring into the company.
Nathan: I agree. There’s something very special about that one word, the one-word domain. I think that it…yeah.
Noah: Well, it’s like when you live in a city. Like, if you live in Melbourne, I’m sure there’s an area where you’re like, “Oh, shit. Nathan lives in the one area. That’s crazy, mate,” versus, like, that one other area that’s the bum area.
Nathan: Yeah. Yeah, 100%. It definitely…is definitely…
Noah: It’s status.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree. Okay, so…
Noah: How do you feel now? Now that you’ve owned foundr.com for a while, how do you feel?
Nathan: Oh, it’s awesome, man. Dude, last year was my whole branding exercise. We got all the social handles, we did all…it was a goal of mine to get everything. And yeah, the foundr.com, much similar…probably not set for us. It was seven years, but that was a long journey for me to get it. And man, it’s an amazing feeling, because I’m in this for the long term. I want to build a household-name entrepreneurial brand. And I think no one cares about Foundr Mag, we don’t just produce magazines. So you know, it was just a…for me, it was a necessary way to evolve. Yes, for us, it was a lot of money too. But much like yourself, we just dripped it out over a payment plan and you know, it’s…I see it as a massive win.
Noah: How did you do the negotiation? That’s something that I’m always curious how people…how did you approach the different handles and stuff like that? Any kind of takeaways that you learned through that process?
Nathan: Yeah, 100%. So it’s actually…I’ll say this publicly. You actually cannot buy and sell social handles, so that you have to link it to something like a domain, or you have to link it to something, or it has to be a trade of some sort. The way that I did it with all of this stuff–like the domain, all the social handles–is, you need to find someone that’s very, very good at it. And there are experts out there that are like asset acquisition specialists and I was lucky that someone randomly added me on LinkedIn. Someone randomly added me on LinkedIn–she’s from Australia, not from Melbourne–and she was just an absolute superstar.
She’s brokered…her company’s brokered one of the biggest domain deals of the whole year…of the year. It was a massive…it’s like, she…her and her company do this all day, every day. And so, she helped me…and she’s an absolute superstar. She helped me work through and pick off every single social handle. And she also advised me on the foundr.com deal, just from the background, just kind of…just helping me, like. So that’s how I did it. And yeah, I think much like you…you know how you said when you’re building your team, you want the very best people in the world? Same for me.
When I…if I don’t know something…like, you know how you’re trying to master and grow your YouTube. I saw that you said you got…”I got a consultant,” someone that’s really, really good that just tells you and shows you what to do. That’s what I did with the domain.
Noah: I think one, that was awesome. And can you message me her email…
Noah: …so I can something? The second thing that I would actually recommend–that I think I’ve done more this year than any other year–is just go find or ask for referrals of the best people in the world at different things you’re trying to learn. So I’ve been really aggressive, so this year with podcast and YouTube and even stupid ones. I’ll tell you some of the stupider ones. I’ll just be like, “All right, who’s the best at this? Let me go pay them to coach me,” or pay them to teach me, or pay them to help me accelerate my learning, because that type of return in knowledge is just compounded forever.
So I paid the top…a guy who’s the top…one of the top producers for NPR. I just was like, “Yo…” I went and looked and I just messaged him. I messaged a bunch of them and I was like, “Hey, I have a podcast. Can I pay you to just actually look at my show and help me improve it?” I found one of the top YouTube people that does coaching. I was like, “All right, how much is it? Sure.” It was, like, $250 an hour, I was like, “No problem.” Yeah, it seems…it is expensive. But it’s not actually expensive, it’s an investment that now, forever, my videos are better.
And I even have stupid ones. I have a fantasy football coach. So I pay a guy…no joke. I pay a guy $10 a week to coach me on how to be a better fantasy football player. And there’s…
Nathan: That’s awesome, man.
Noah: Yeah. I mean, you should get into all aspects. Even if you’re into chess, right? I was talking to a chess grand master last week. These guys don’t actually…it’s not even that crazy expensive. It’s probably like–I think–$50 an hour and you have one of the best people in the world helping you be great at chess. And so, just…I think more people can think about that for writing, for photography, for video and in any aspect of your personal or professional life.
Nathan: I agree, I agree. So you can use…some good services is clarity.fm or coach.me. There’s some good ones there. All right, we have to work towards wrapping up. I’m curious. You’ve also mentioned… Man, I know your work well. You would be surprised, eh?
Noah: No, I’m impressed. And I do…
Nathan: What’s that, sorry? You cut out.
Noah: No, I appreciate it. I appreciate that.
Nathan: You’re welcome. So you’ve spoken…or I have seen somewhere that you said you’ve…I don’t know whether it’s Sumo or across the Sumo group… you guys are an eight-figure business. What’s your biggest challenge, right now, now you’re over eight figures? Because what took you from multiple seven figures to eight–so, like, $2,000,000 to $10,000,000 or $10,000,000 plus–there’s different challenges. I’m curious what you’re biggest challenges are, right now, in growing it.
Noah: There is…yeah. I think we have a few different problems. And for me…I’ll tell you, I’ve been doing this thing and I’m excited to share it. For the past three weeks, I’ve been doing no complaining and I love it. I love it. So you can’t complain about anything. And what that does is, now, all I’m looking at is, what are my solutions and how do I look at…more optimistic about things? So the things that we need to solve to keep growing our business, number one, is that sumo.com has been flat this year. I’m not going to act like, “Oh, we made a ton of money and it’s killing.” No, it’s been a tough year for us.
I think there’s been some identity things, some strategy things, some difficulties with our hiring and then, with the people in the company, including…mostly myself, too. It’s not…I think I’m one of the main problems. And so, one of the major problems is like, how do we get Sumo back on a hyper-growth trajectory in 2018? And it’s figuring out, “Okay, what’s our strategy,” and then, “How do we have the right people on board to help figure out that strategy?” That’s one thing. With AppSumo, I think there’s actually some challenges of, how do we create a sustainable business? I think some of our customers aren’t going to be customers for the long term, they don’t actually have businesses.
So when we were promoting products to them and they were buying it, we were like, “Yay, we’re making money,” But they might not be actually using the products. And so, how do we create more of a sustainable company around that? And I think ultimately, what I’m trying to figure out too is, how do we piece together the different parts of our business? So we have, like–I think–four different products right now. And so, it’s like, how are they all related and how do we benefit by having these products all related? And so, just kind of tying that all together. And I know that’s not as helpful for maybe you or the listeners.
I’m trying to think of other things that maybe it’s better for…more helpful for the listeners. But that’s kind of the stuff that I’m thinking through, like, how do we tie our business together, how do I create sustainability for AppSumo? The one thing, I mean, maybe that’s helpful for the listeners is that every business has its problems. Like, Nathan, your business has problems, the listeners’ businesses have problems. I think what we’ve done well is, we’ve faced reality and we’re truthful with ourselves, like, what are our biggest problems and how do we solve it? So with Sumo, it’s like, how do we get our growth back?
And so, we think it’s like…serving an e-commerce customer is one way of that. We think it’s picking a strategy of targeting Shopify. And then, building the product and the marketing all around that is the strategy we’re looking, going into 2018. And then, with AppSumo, our problem is that the revenue is inconsistent. We have some products that are a great deal, some products that flop. And so, we launched briefcasehq.com, which I was mentioning earlier, which is basically $50 a month, you get all the tools you need to run your company. So just like Netflix for software.
And that solves the main problem of AppSumo, where it’s like one, major brands like Dropbox won’t want to work with us, because they don’t do discounts and two, the business is kind of fluctuating. So some months great, some months crappy. And so, it solves those problems. So I think in every business, it’s like, “All right, what’s the list of all the major problems we have and then, how are we addressing those?” And then, you keep going through that list quarterly, you’re going to do pretty damn well.
Nathan: No, look, I appreciate the honesty and transparency, man. A couple last questions. Probably we should just…one last question, or two more and we’re done with that.
Noah: Yeah. Yeah, sure, man.
Nathan: You know, you’ve done some crazy stuff. You’ve worked at one of the largest companies in the world–early-stage employee there–you’ve seen done some awesome things, you’ve got, across the Sumo group, multiple successful business. I can see you’re having a lot of fun along the way. Can you have it all?
Noah: Wow. Yeah. Hell yeah. So I think it should be hard, though. That’s one thing I think…it’s like, hard now, easy later. And people ask me from time to time…they’re like, “All right, what’s your exit? Are you going to go public? Are you trying to sell it?” And I won’t bullshit. If, Nathan, you’re like, “Hey, I’m going to offer you $100,000,000,” I’ll be like, “Fuck, yeah. I’m out.” I’d be like, “Everyone at the company gets rich, I get pretty well…” But what I think is actually more interesting is, at the end of the day, I just want to work on products I love. I love serving small business customers. I love it. I love helping products I like get promoted. That’s really what I love and I love working with the people I like.
And so, to me, if I can do that daily, fuck, yeah. It doesn’t mean that every day is going to be great and I think sometimes, I forget that. Not every day’s going to be a home run or an amazing thing. But I think the thing I try to do is that if things aren’t going well…like, a few months ago, I was complaining about people I worked with. And I was like, “Noah, you’re not powerless. What can you do about it?” And, “Let’s go make those changes.” And so, I think that for me, what I’ve been realizing lately is like, “What can I do about it,” and then, “What are my areas of growth?”
So for me, my area of growth is, like, I don’t know anything about Shopify. So that’s…for me…I don’t know, having it all, I don’t think of it that way. But that for me, is my area of growth, right now. We’re learning about that market and those customers and growing around there. I think everyone should have it all. I think what most people don’t do is, they don’t figure out what they want. What they do is, they say like, “Oh, Noah’s got a company, he makes eight figures.” It doesn’t mean…eight figures in revenue doesn’t mean eight figures in profit, by the way. I want to add that. A lot of people…you know, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this. I’m sure you interview a…you’ve interviewed…
Noah: …a ton of people. Anyone who starts talking about their revenue right away and how many employees they have, I think is full of shit and probably is not doing as well as you think.
Nathan: Yeah. I agree 100%. It’s another vanity metric, man, revenue.
Noah: Yeah, they’re like…or maybe they have a small penis, man. Who knows? But at the end of the day, I don’t really care about how…the money is…I still drive a scooter and I live in a small apartment. So the bigger thing for everyone out there is, like, what do you really want? Because once you figure out what you want, getting it is a joke. Getting it is the easy part. But I think a lot of us just…and I’m including myself at times. But we don’t spend the time to think, like journaling or walking or meditating, or whatever it is for each person. And then, if you spend time doing that, then going after it becomes the fun part.
Nathan: Yeah, agreed. All right, sorry. One more question on…just on that. So…
Noah: Yeah, do it. I’m actually…I already cancelled my next meeting. We’re good.
Nathan: Just one more question on that. Do you tell yourself that question still, “If I get to this, it’s going to be awesome?” Because I know everyone does it.
Noah: Yeah. I would say two things that I try to remind myself. So number one, if you have fun, your customers have fun. So a lot of the times…like for Black Friday, I’ll tell you, we spent three weeks trying to figure out what we should do for Black Friday. And then, my business partner was like, “Oh, I have a stupid idea.” And he was like, “We should just launch this new product that we’re working on and then use it as part of our Black Friday thing. So…and you’ll be able to see it on that day.” And I was like, “Dude, that sounds hella fun. That sounds like such a cool thing.”
And I think we’d lose that. And when you feel that way, your business is better, your customers are excited. And I think if you can come back to that place, it works well for you. To your original question, which is, do I think the next new shiny thing will be better, hell yeah. Hell yeah. I’m always thinking the…we always think the grass is greener and there’s always dog shit in other people’s grass.
Noah: There’s always dog shit in it, where I’m like, “Oh, man, if I had that guy’s business, my life would be better.” And what I’ve realized is two things. Number one, jealousy or when you look at other people–about what they have–it’s just a compass of what you need to be doing for yourself. So if you’re jealous of some other thing, it’s like, “Well, what is it about my life that I need or I want to work on?” And that’s it. And the second thing is, I do remind myself–you have to be around people like that or remind yourself of that–is that the next shiny thing won’t solve the problem.
And I’ve done…dude, I can’t tell you…oh man, in just AppSumo and Sumo alone, I’m like, “Oh, man. Once we build this one feature, we’re saved.” Man, I’ll tell you, in seven years at this company, it’s never worked that way. It’s always been grind in, grind out, every day, just keep putting in the work.
Nathan: Yeah, 100%, man. Yeah, I love it. All right, so last question. Where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Noah: Yeah. So the two businesses, that…if you want to hang out with me, or just…these are the businesses that I…it’s kind of like me in software form…is appsumo.com, which is our daily deals for small business owners like your audience and then, sumo.com, which is free tools to grow your email list. And then, if they want to hear my voice, I’ve got a podcast, “Noah Kagan.” You can just search that over on YouTube, “Noah Kagan.”
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look…
Noah: Can I give a shout-out of a book?
Noah: Is that cool?
Nathan: Yeah, of course, man.
Noah: So two books that have changed our business dramatically this year. Number one is “Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” I don’t know if you’ve read this book…
Nathan: No, I haven’t read that one.
Noah: …or other people have read it. But we had a lot of internal struggle and I was a big…a problem of it. And this book was dramatic in us working through our problems and becoming a stronger team. So I would even say it…I’ll just give that one, that’s it. So if people want to…if people have a team and they want to improve their team dynamics, I highly recommend it.
Nathan: Okay, awesome. I’m writing that one down. All right, awesome, man. Well, look, dude. It was an absolute pleasure to do this interview. It was really fun, great to connect. And…
Noah: Yes, finally. Four years later
Nathan: Yeah. Dude, we’ll catch up soon, in person or again.
Noah: All right. Thanks for having me, man.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Noah Kagan
- Learn more about Sumo
- Like Sumo on Facebook
- Follow Sumo on Twitter
- Check out AppSumo
- Follow Noah Kagan on Linkedin
- Subscribe to Noah Kagan’s Youtube Channel