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This time, we’re chatted with another heavyweight in the online space. For the past decade, Travis Ketchum has been the CEO of Campaign Refinery and Contest Domination, helping tens of thousands of businesses build bigger email lists filled with qualified leads. If your focus is email marketing, analyst building, then you’re going to love what we have for you today. Travis, welcome. It’s a pleasure to chat with you.
Oh, wonderful being here. Thanks for having me on.
Well, I’d like to start by asking a little bit more about you and your background.
Sure. Where should we start? How far back do you want to go?
Let’s go back to the cradle. No, no, let’s go back to when you first decided that you wanted to have a business in the online space.
Sure. I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship in general, right. I’d go a little bit further back, the car washing and lawn mowing and paper routes. I was always hustling to make something happen, right. I always had this dream of having my own thing. That’s always been in the periphery, right. Technically, my first legitimate business, you had to be 18 to have that, be here in the United States, was actually started in high school.
I remember having to get past the school filter and do all these things and apply for a business licence. It was actually a drop shipping business on eBay and was drop shipping laptops all over the place and building high-end game machines.
That was where I got my taste of money, the value of your own business and the leveraged ability of a business to generate revenue.
In fact, in just a couple months, I went from basically a broke 18 year old to being able to pay for at least the first full year of college, room and board, the whole deal. That was a really eye-opening experience.
Once I got through school, got the normal job, hated it, quit right after nine months and went and worked for a best-selling author and speaker, filling her events live in-person events, filling her affiliate programme, all that stuff. But I realised I’d been building a list and building assets for someone who wasn’t me. Right.
I had basically replaced one job for another and that’s when I thought, “Okay. I need to build my own list as fast as possible. What’s the best way to do that?” A contest is what came to mind, but I didn’t like any of the contest solutions that were out there.
I went and dabbled around and tried to find some developers and had some false starts and errors and wrong alleyways and all that stuff. But eventually, I did get this little WordPress plugin idea that worked and it followed my very simple, minimal viable product vision of what it should look like. I had been blogging on the side for years and it only collected a couple 100 leads over about four years.
Then I ran this contest and I generated 2000 leads in a week. That to me was the aha moment that A, this works and B, you know what, software is kind of fun. That’s what kicked things off and got me down the path of being really, I guess a software entrepreneur.
Are you a coder yourself, Travis?
No, I know just enough to be dangerous, to go break things, but not enough to actually build it myself. When I was at school, I actually, even though I went to school for marketing in a minor international business, but I’ve always been technically minded because I was building computers and nerdy in that regard. When I was at school, I actually self-trained myself to build enterprise IT. By the time I started as basic help desk, like “Hey, my Outlook doesn’t work.” To by the time I left, I built, it was a $14 million server system for the school. I worked my way up that way.
I have some technical jobs and I know enough about database structures and that stuff to at least know what to ask for from a developer, but not enough to go build it myself, right. But I can investigate technologies and weigh their pros and cons and say, “Hey, I think these are what we should maybe be weighing.” But not be deep enough into the code to know, “Hey, we need to pick this technology and go this route.”
I leave that up to the people I hire, because they’re experts in that space, but I can weigh in and say, “Let’s investigate these pathways and see if that makes sense.” But I don’t actually do the development myself.
Got you. That’s outsourced, is it you found some coders that can take your vision, if you like, and bring it to life?
In the early days, that was the case. Yeah. I mean, now obviously I hire people full-time, but in the early days it was actually a pretty big risk because when I was creating that first version, that client, that best-selling author and speaker I was working for, we basically had a difference of opinion. They told me to take a hike and I was like, “Well, I just signed an 18 month lease with my then girlfriend, now wife. It was literally the next day she wanted to part ways. I was like, “Oh no, I just signed the longest lease of my life for more money than I’d ever paid for a place to live and I have no income now.”
Like, great. I actually financed that first version on a credit card. I had no idea it was going to work out. I figured if it really went to heck in a handbasket, I could go down to the Apple store and start slinging iPhones to people or something. I could figure out how to make it work, but yeah, just hire people outsource in the beginning and eventually hire them full-time now.
That’s an amazing story. Your back is literally against the wall and you’ve got to make this a success. What were the steps that you took to give yourself the best chance of success?
Well, being under pressure is definitely a good way to do it, right. Having a big rental check to stroke. I still had a car payment at the time. I had student loans, the whole deal, right. Pressure makes diamonds sometimes, right. Then, basically what I did is I tried to really trim down the scope. I think a lot of people, when they get the software and this still happens to me sometimes still, I have to rein myself back in, but you get what’s called feature creep, right. It’s like, the first thing is deciding what does it really absolutely have to have? It won’t work without it. What does that feature list look like? Everything else is version 2, or version 1.1, at least. For me, that literally meant, I didn’t even have a members area in the beginning.
My delivery was an AWeber autoresponder with a link to an Amazon S3 file that was unprotected on the first version. Right. Then I knew I needed enough sell, but I didn’t know how to do that. Instead of saying, “Oh, let’s make a bunch of crazy features.” I said, “Well, I could sell a different licence to the product.”
I knew just enough to go in and literally rename the file to a different zip and rename it, so when you installed it, it said, “Business licence.”
But it was actually the same software. I wasn’t trying to scam people, but it’s like, “This one has our blessing to use with clients, and this one is for individual use.”
But it, simplify, simplify, simplify, and once you can really trim it down, I think you’ll find that 90% of a software thing…
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