Derek Halpern is the founder of SocialTriggers.com and is an expert marketer and entrepreneur. After building several successful websites in various niches, he’s refocused on what he loves most: Building and Marketing Businesses. His approach to marketing is effective and has helped him build a few wildly popular websites, one of which attracted more than one million page-views in a single day. Specifically, he uses the perfect blend of data driven marketing and content marketing to get traffic, attract customers, and sell products online.
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- Your Big Idea: Successful Entrepreneurs have One Big Idea. Follow JLD’s FREE training & you’ll discover Your Big Idea in less than an hour!
- “What you study in school, doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you study after you graduate, so go buy a book.” – a Derek Halpern original
- Derek has a super unique view on failure. The lessons learned in this segment are invaluable.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Derek realized that if you are not passionate about what you are doing day in and day out, then you will not achieve the highest form of success you are capable of. Listen to how Derek walked away from two six-figure jobs in his conquest of passion.
- Do you like what you hear? Listen up for an inside peak into DerekTV. That’s right! Derek’s mug on the big screen. Nice!
- Derek has a couple scenarios for our listeners to ponder, both are inspiring.
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- Resonate by Nancy Duarte
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John Lee Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Lee Dumas: Okay. So let’s get started. I am simply thrilled to introduce my guest today, Derek Halpern. Derek, are you prepared to ignite?
Derek Halpern: Yes. Let’s do it!
John Lee Dumas: Alright! Derek is the founder of SocialTriggers.com and he’s an expert marketer and entrepreneur. After building several successful websites in various niches, he’s refocused on what he loves the most – building and marketing businesses. His approach to marketing is effective and it’s helped him build a few wildly popular websites, one of which has attracted more than one million page views in a single day. Specifically, he is the perfect blend of data-driven marketing and content marketing to get traffic, attract customers and sell products online.
Derek, I’ve given a little overview. Why don’t you tell us about who you are and what you do?
Derek Halpern: That’s always an interesting question because who I am is directly what you read about me on the Internet. I love to read about things like psychology and I love to apply psychological principles to the Internet marketing world or just how to grow your business online. So even though that kind of sounds kind of cheesy, but that’s really what I breathe in every single day. Like I just sit there and read academic papers, read books. It kind of sounds boring, but that’s essentially who I am. It’s just a guy who likes to read books and papers.
John Lee Dumas: I think that’s a huge reason as to why your posts are so inspiring and to why your podcasts are so interesting, because you really dive into the meat of every situation. So thank you for that.
Derek Halpern: Yes.
John Lee Dumas: So let’s transition right now into the start of the show, which is our success quote. At EntrepreneurOnFire, we start every show off with our guest’s favorite success quote. I need you to have something special for us, being the kind of guy that you are. You told me that you did. Let’s hear it.
Derek Halpern: Alright. So this kind of plays off of who I am, but my success quote is “what you study in school doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you study after you graduate. So go buy a book.”
John Lee Dumas: Alright. That’s a Derek Halpern original, correct?
Derek Halpern: Yes. That’s all me.
John Lee Dumas: Alright. Give us an example of how you’ve applied that mentality to your life.
Derek Halpern: Yes. So this was back in maybe 2006. I was doing an internship at a Fortune 100 company and I had the opportunity to talk with one of the C level executives at this Fortune 100 company. I walked into his office. I had to wait for him to show up, but I noticed something strange. I looked around his office. He had bookshelves everywhere. The bookshelves were covered with books about sales, negotiations, presentations. All different types of books.
He comes into the room, he sits down, and I said, “Look. Before we get started with this meeting, I have a quick question for you. What’s with all the books?” He basically told me, he was like, “Derek, why would I try and reinvent the wheel when I could just learn about what worked for other people or what didn’t work for other people and get ideas like that? There’s no reason to be creative. I just go and borrow ideas from these other great books.”
I just sat there and thought to myself. I was like, “Whoa! I mean wow! What a great idea!” At that point in 2006, I wasn’t really an avid reader. But after he told me that quote, I decided to start reading, and I read this one book called “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist.” It’s a story about Warren Buffett.
In that book, Warren Buffett, supposedly when he was a kid, read through every biography of all the great American monopolists – Carnegie, Rockefeller, Jay Gould. All these guys. He said that that was one of the main reasons why he was able to become a successful businessperson.
So there I was, getting a C level executive telling me to read. Then one of the first books I read about Warren Buffett, Warren Buffett was telling me to read. I just decided right then and there, I was going to make reading a habit, and I began to read like two to three books a week back in 2006. I have now since slowed down just a little bit because now, you have to balance consumption with creation, especially when you’re in the creation world, but it’s a good way to get started. So that’s kind of like the genesis of how that all came to be.
John Lee Dumas: “Balance consumption with creation.” I love that quote.
Derek Halpern: Yes.
John Lee Dumas: Derek, you’re a master storyteller, which is why I was so excited to have you on the show. I’ve seen you tell your stories down at BlogWorld. I’ve seen you present. It’s inspiring to behold. At EntrepreneurOnFire, that’s what we do. We talk about the entrepreneur’s journey.
So let’s transition to our next topic, and this is going to go back a little bit, and we’re going to highlight a failure, an obstacle, a challenge at some point that you came up to in your life that you just decided that it wasn’t going to define you as a person. Take us back to that moment and to the steps leading up to it.
Derek Halpern: Yes. So this is an interesting question because I’ve always been able to become successful at almost everything that I’ve ever tried to put my mind to. That kind of sounds a little arrogant, but here’s the deal. One of my huge failures, to be straight up, was back in 2007 when I was running all these different types of sites. I was running sites about celebrity gossips, sites about makeup, fashion, men’s entertainment, men’s fashion. I had all these different sites about these different topics and I was generating a ton of traffic and making a killing. But by the end of 2007, I realized something. I never wore lipstick and I never wore a dress! At least I haven’t worn a dress since that one time in college anyway.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Derek Halpern: But I was working on stuff that I did not care about. I hated everything I was doing. And even though I built up this successful business, I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted to live it. So I ended up wasting two years, chasing down this dream, or chasing down money, essentially. What ended up happening was I got really depressed about it.
So I would say my biggest failure is not going after what I was truly interested in from the get-go, and I actually delayed myself several years because I didn’t go after that, because at first I was – as I said, the first two years I was doing that makeup, gossip stuff. At the end of 2007, I got depressed. I decided to then get a job at a Fortune 100 company. I got a fulltime gig, earning in a year what I could have earned like every two or three months or whatever online. So it was silly.
So I made this transition to corporate America, making less money because I thought that was the answer. Then I did for a couple of years, and I realized, you know what? That wasn’t what I wanted either.
Then what did I do? I went back to the source and I just started writing about marketing. I started writing about and building online businesses. That’s what I like doing. The issue was I was building the wrong type of business. I think there’s a lot of people out there that can identify with that. People chasing down someone else’s dream. Like maybe their parents wanted them to become a lawyer, or as another example, you are working at a job and you don’t decide to quit that job because you feel like you’ve got no other option, but you’re doing it just for the money. This creates this unhappiness. I know that was my unhappiness anyway. I guess that would be the failure though. It’s just not going for what I wanted from the get-go.
John Lee Dumas: So Derek, you identified this failure and you made adamant changes.
Derek Halpern: Yes.
John Lee Dumas: What would be a lesson that you really pulled out of your experience when you were in an industry that you didn’t have a passion for? Then you moved to the corporate world and you realized that wasn’t the answer too. What was a specific action that you took and a lesson that you learned from that experience?
Derek Halpern: Yes. That’s an interesting question because it’s so much a lesson, but it’s about how to change what you’re doing. It kind of just stems from that silly old quote, “you want to rip the Band-Aid off fast.” Right?
So I remember in the end of 2007, I decided in November 2007 I was unhappy with what I was doing. I had a job in corporate America in December of 2007. So I did it within one month. I decided in 2010 I was no longer happy working for another company like in maybe February, let’s say. Then by April, I was out of that company. So a lot of people will know what’s right for them, and they’ll sit back and deliberate, and before they know it, five years go by and they didn’t change anything.
So my big lesson from all these experiences is when you want to change something, don’t sit back – or I mean I can’t say don’t do it, but I don’t sit back and deliberate. I try to rip that Band-Aid off fast and change as fast as possible.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. Very true words. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you for being so open with your journey, because again, it’s the journey that makes the man, and you’ve had the journey. You’ve learned from it and it’s created what you are now. Social Triggers is an amazing place that a lot of people get a ton of value from.
Derek Halpern: Yes. Thank you.
John Lee Dumas: We’re going to use this to transition to our next topic, which is that aha moment. Now, as entrepreneurs, we all have small aha moments throughout the course of every day and every week and they keep us going, they propel us to the next level and they keep us inspired. They’re great things to behold, but every now and then, we have that huge light bulb that comes on and we’re just like, la! It’s this great moment and we know it’s going to resonate so well with our audience, with our clients. Did you have that huge aha moment?
Derek Halpern: Yes. I’ll talk about this with regards to Social Triggers, right? I think it was 2009. I read a book by Claude Hopkins called “My Life in Advertising.” In that book – I think it was chapter four – he had a simple little quote saying, “the competent advertising man must understand psychology.”
As soon as I read that quote, I was like, “What?!” I kind of always knew about it because I was reading all these different books about psychology and marketing and human behavior. I played poker, for example. That was all about psychology and human behavior as well.
So I kind of always knew it deep down, but when I read that quote, that was like my aha moment. You know what? I’m going to double down on this psychology thing. That’s when I became obsessed with learning specifically about human behavior and psychology. It was that one simple little quote in 2009.
Then as you can see today, I’m living that aha moment still because I launched Social Triggers in 2011. I started implementing all these different marketing campaigns on places like DIYthemes and some of my other sites that I had leveraging psychological principles. All because I stumbled on that one little quote. So that would be my big aha moment.
John Lee Dumas: Derek, have you had an I’ve made it moment?
Derek Halpern: Yes. That’s a deep question.
John Lee Dumas: Very deep.
Derek Halpern: So I am one of those people that is probably – I mean, this is going to sound real pathetic, but I am one of those people that is probably doomed to feel like he’s never made it because I am of the mind that every day, you should be progressing further from the previous day. This is like anti-Buddha. You know how Buddha would be content with what you have, content in being and all that – well, I want to say nonsense, but other people believe that and there are a lot of happy people that believe that, but with me, I believe each day you got to go further along that path, or whatever path that is.
So keeping that in mind, I haven’t felt like I’ve made it even though I’ve successfully achieved a lot of amazing things because every day, I feel like I want to go further.
John Lee Dumas: So Derek, you shared your aha moment with us and where it’s brought you to currently at Social Triggers today. Let’s dive a little deeper into the steps that you took from right after having that aha moment through the building process of Social Triggers.
Derek Halpern: Okay. So that aha moment didn’t lead to the creation of Social Triggers immediately. That first aha moment when I realized the power of psychology, I started using that stuff on my other niche sites, which I have never disclosed, but I’ve started using that stuff on niche sites.
I did register Social Triggers as a domain name in late 2009. I knew I wanted to do a site called Social Triggers. I just wasn’t ready to do it yet. So I registered the domain name in 2009. I put up like four or five articles with no intent on growing this site. I just wanted to have some articles up there to age the domain. In the SEO world, the older the domain is, the more likely it is to rank.
So I put the site up in 2009, and I let it just sit for about a year-and-a-half. That’s when in 2011, I kind of got a little frustrated. I was reading a lot of the same blogs I used to read about marketing and online marketing and business, and I just got frustrated because people were creating what I would like to call “horrible content.” People were not doing a good job teaching people what they were trying to teach them. It was frustrating for me because then, here I am reading these sites and I felt like I was wasting my time, and I thought about this for a second. I was like, “Wait a minute. If I feel like I’m wasting my time, there are people out there that do not know any better. They’re going to listen to this horrible advice and they’re going to waste six months of their time.”
At that point, I remember I was complaining to one of my friends, Terry, over lunch. I told him. I’m like, “Dude, I’m really disappointed in the state of this particular sphere of blogging and sphere of information-giving.” He just like looked at me. He’s like, “Derek, why don’t you just create the resource that you’d like to be reading?” I just said, “You know what? Fine.” This was like in February of 2011. Then March of 2011, I doubled down on Social Triggers. So that was the process of getting started.
Now, did you want me to talk about the growth after that, or did you want to see like what made that go?
John Lee Dumas: Yes. Why don’t you continue into the growth?
Derek Halpern: Okay. So I am very much a marketing guy, and when I launched in March of 2011, I knew that if I wanted to make a splash fast, I needed to have my face everywhere. I needed to have my brand and my domain and just Derek Halpern on every blog in the shortest amount of time possible. That way, it was like a blitz campaign that people would just know who I was in like three weeks.
So what did I do? Well, I gave a presentation at a subcon where I went through what you want to call like a site review. I just pulled up some websites and I walked people through how they can improve the conversion rates of their blogs just from building a mailing list.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. I’ve seen the Pat Flynn and the Amy Porterfield one. Extremely valuable. You can find them on YouTube, and I’ll definitely link those up in the show notes.
Derek Halpern: Exactly. So I did those site reviews, and I realized – well at first it started as an in-conference presentation. I got a conference, a presentation at a conference, right? I got this idea because in Affiliate Summit 2009, I saw something called an SEO site clinic where five or four SEO experts were on a panel and people volunteered their sites to get torn apart from an SEO perspective. This room was packed. Packed! Standing room only. I was like, wait a second, people love these site reviews.
So that’s when I started to create a site review presentation where I would do site reviews for conversion rate optimization, and people love that too. But check this. I gave that presentation at Subcon. Chris Brogan was in the audience. About two weeks later after this presentation at the live conference, he hits me up on a Saturday. He was like, “Derek, let’s do a video. I want you to do a site review of one of my sites and we’ll post it on ChrisBrogan.com. I was like, “You know what? Good idea. Let’s do it.”
As soon as I did that, I did the site review with Chris Brogan. I then decided I was going to do site reviews with everybody. I reached out to Pat Flynn, Amy Porterfield, David Risley, all these different marketers, and I did site reviews of all their sites. Then I had all these site reviews go live in like maybe eight weeks.
That was kind of the blitz campaign that I engineered. I knew I had to get my name on every single website. What better way to do it other than to just give people insane value by teaching them about the power of blog conversions. Back then, I don’t know if you realize this, but back then, nobody was really talking about blog conversions. So it was a hot topic, people wanted to know about it, and I was the only one who was giving information about it. There were some other people, but I kind of really focused in on it more than everybody else.
John Lee Dumas: That’s great stuff. Going back to the creation of Social Triggers, I resonate so well with that because you just said there’s something that’s just missing from these certain sites that I’m going to. I’m going to create it. Then you went out and you did it.
That’s the birth of EntrepreneurOnFire as well. This is a five day a week podcast that’s submitted to iTunes Monday through Friday every single day and there’s a fresh episode waiting for somebody just to download.
I was that person that was driving to work, that was driving around, and I used to love listening to podcasts. Pat Flynn’s was great. Yours are great. I would go through an entire two years’ worth within two weeks, and I was just left wanting more. So I stepped in with EntrepreneurOnFire to fill that void, like you have filled a void with Social Triggers. So I really enjoy hearing the parallels that we’re going through.
Derek Halpern: I think that’s one of the biggest reasons entrepreneurs do what they do. They just find something that frustrates them, and decide, you know what? I’m going to fix it. That’s what you did, that’s what I did.
John Lee Dumas: Well, you’ve definitely fixed it. Let’s move into Social Triggers a little more specifically now because I’ve heard the story about how and why you’ve created your podcast on Social Triggers. Can you share that with the listeners?
Derek Halpern: Yes. So this is all part of the game. Internet marketing, unfortunately, is not a very nice place. There are some really grimy and shady people in this world that are selling hope to the hopeless and doing all these really horrible things. I thought to myself, Internet marketing isn’t evil by itself. There are just some evil people in it. Now, what I was wanting to do to kind of clean up the face of Internet marketing was I knew there were these academic researchers doing really important studies at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, all these studies. Colombia. I was thinking to myself, if they’re doing this work, why don’t I bring them on my podcast as a way to one, bring a nice, fresher face to the Internet marketing world, but two, to show people that this is actually legitimate. This doesn’t have to be make a million dollars in four hours by pressing this red button. Do you know what I’m saying?
John Lee Dumas: Right.
Derek Halpern: That was why I wanted to go that research route. For people who don’t know, on Social Triggers and the site of my podcast, I only feature New York Times bestselling authors, well-renowned academic researchers and professors from top universities. So that’s kind of like how I made that different as a way to bring this little cleaner face to the Internet marketing world.
But there was an added benefit. I just wanted to be connected to the people who were revolutionizing the marketing space, the people who were doing this academic research. I wanted to meet those people. What better way to meet those people, other than to pull them on a podcast for an hour and talk to them, right? I mean if I just called them cold and said, “Hey, you want to talk for 20 minutes?” Chances are they’d say no. But if I said, “Hey, you want to talk for 30 minutes on a podcast I’ll share with all my readers? If you’ve got a new book coming out, I’ll gladly link up your book.”
Do you think they want to do that? Of course they do. There’s something in it for them. So they want to take that call from me. That was the reason, is I wanted to connected with those researchers. Then of course, clean up Internet marketing.
John Lee Dumas: Right. It’s such a powerful show. Your personality, their expertise equals a phenomenal hour of content. So I’m a subscriber.
Derek Halpern: Sweet [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: So let’s move in to your current business right now. You have a lot of things going on in a lot of different areas. What’s one thing that’s really exciting you about your business right now?
Derek Halpern: Right now, Social Triggers is extremely exciting. Right? My podcast is great. It’s doing awesome. I have tens of thousands of downloads a month. I think I have had 150,000 downloads total in like maybe eight or nine episodes. So that’s really awesome. But what I’m most excited about is what’s coming. Alright? I released a great training course a couple of months ago. That’s doing well. I’ve got a nice WordPress pub, and that’s great.
But as I said earlier in this interview, I like to always progress every single day. What’s coming out soon is what I’m going to be calling “Social Triggers TV.” Okay? I’m not sure if I want to have Social Triggers TV in the name or just Social Triggers Video, but it’s Social Triggers TV. It’s essentially me sharing one insanely practical tip with people on video, professionally-produced. I’ve got a video team that’s pulling this altogether for me. I was just filming this on August 23rd. So this was just yesterday. I’m filming it, professionally-produced. I’m going to give some action tips for online marketing, while also pulling in that great interesting psychological research in like a five minute video. So that’s what’s pumping me up right now. I can’t wait to release that!
John Lee Dumas: That is exciting. We actually had Michael Stelzner on the show last week and he was so adamant about the fact that it was him releasing one great piece of content every day that propelled Social Media Examiner to where it is now. So I love the direction you’re going. I’m excited to see it happen.
So Derek, the word “entrepreneur,” is a mystery to a lot of people. At EntrepreneurOnFire, I really like to pull the curtain back and expose the day-to-day activities of an entrepreneur. Now no two days in your life are the same. I’ve realized that. However, you do have some commonalities that you do day in and day out. What are two tasks that seem to occupy a majority of your day?
Derek Halpern: The two things that I – I mean like everybody else, is email. I’m on that email thing way too much and I wish I wasn’t. Unfortunately, email takes up a ton of my time. So whether you’re working for a company or you’re working for yourself, you can’t really escape that email biz. What also occupies a lot of my day, which is going to come as no surprise to you, is I read a lot. I’m always reading. So my day is email and reading, to be straight up. That’s what I do every single day of the week.
John Lee Dumas: Great! Thank you for sharing that with us. So Derek, we’ve now reached my favorite part of the show. We’re about to enter the Lightning Round. This is where I provide you with a series of questions and you come back at us with some amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Derek Halpern: Yes. Oh voila! Mind-blowing! You put me on a spot here, bro! [Laughs]
John Lee Dumas: You will definitely come through. What was the one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Derek Halpern: The one thing that was holding me back? So I’ve noticed that when people have entrepreneurial ideas, the one thing that holds them back is themselves. They think, you know what? I’m not going to do it because it’s already been done before. I’m not going to do it because my mom said it’s not going to work. I’m not going to do it because my friend said it’s not going to work. So the one thing that held me back in the beginning was thinking to myself, there’s no way I can do this. It’s not unique. But once I realized it didn’t matter if you came up with a completely unique idea, it was all for the races, as they say.
John Lee Dumas: Wonderful. What was the best business advice you ever received?
Derek Halpern: It was definitely that story that I told you about when I was in that office of the C level executive at the Fortune 100 company and he told me to read books. That was the best advice ever.
John Lee Dumas: What is something that’s working for you right now with Social Triggers?
Derek Halpern: Focusing on quality and not quantity when it comes to creating content.
John Lee Dumas: Very succinct. Thank you. What is one book that you read in the last six months that you’ve really enjoyed?
Derek Halpern: So one book that I’ve read in the last six months that I really enjoyed is actually a book that I reread in the last six months because I read it before. It’s a book called “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte. It’s about how to give great presentations that resonate. Her book, even though she focuses on the presentation world, it’s really a handbook for communication. If you read that book, you can become a better communicator in meetings, in presentations, and it actually makes you a better writer if you apply what she says to the writing world as well.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome. So this last question, Derek, is my favorite. It’s kind of a tricky one. So take your time, digest it, and then come back at us. If you woke up tomorrow morning and you still had all of the experience and knowledge that you currently have today, but your business and everything you’ve created around it has completely disappeared, leaving you essentially with a clean slate, which many of our listeners and other entrepreneurs find themselves in right now, what would you do in the next seven days?
Derek Halpern: Let me give you two answers because I think a lot of people are not in my situation where if my website or my business blew up today, I wouldn’t panic tomorrow because it’s not like I’m living hand to mouth. You know what I mean? So I don’t have to do anything in the next seven days. I have time to sit down and reflect, and I just have that ability to just sit back and reflect for a while and figure out the best course of action.
However, if you’re in a position where your business explodes. The very next day, you’re starting from a clean slate. No connections, no money, nothing, and you need to get going. What I would personally do immediately is start freelancing because freelancing is one of the fastest ways to start pulling in revenue for whatever business you plan to release or whatever you plan to do. Freelancing or consulting. It’s one of the best ways to do it, it’s the fastest way to do it. So that’s what I would do if I needed money.
If in my current state, my business blew up and I had to rebuild everything, I would just do the same thing I did last year. I would create a new website that targeted the ideal audience that I wanted to attract, and then over the course of the year, I would build up that audience and then sell them stuff. But I would have that opportunity and that ability to wait for a year. Not everybody has that.
John Lee Dumas: Very true. Derek, let’s end the show by giving Fire Nation one more piece of advice. Then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Derek Halpern: Alright. So my one last piece of advice is to start creating a reading habit. Alright? This advice was shared with me years ago, and I still have this advice today. Now a lot of people think about this and they think, they get like, how am I going to find the time to read? I’m going to get overwhelmed by reading. I just don’t have the time to do it.
Here’s the deal. You don’t have to read three books a week. All you got to do is put a book next to your bed on your end table. When you wake up in the morning, do not get out of bed until you read for 10 minutes. I mean most of you, you have to pee or something, right? Maybe you do that first, and then go read for 10 minutes.
Then the same applies when you go to sleep at night. Do not go to sleep until you read for 10 minutes. That 20 minutes a day of reading, surprisingly enough, of 20 minutes a day reading a book, will allow you to read more books than most people probably have read in the last 10 years. So just do that every single day.
For a plug, I think that if you’re building or trying to grow your business by leveraging the web, you should pop over to SocialTriggers.com and sign up for my mailing list. You’re going to notice that when you sign up for that mailing list, you’re going to get an email back from me that says, “Thank you for signing up. You’re going to learn how to get traffic, leads and sales for your business. But right now, I want you to reply to this email and tell me what you’re struggling with. Even if it’s something small, don’t hesitate.”
Make sure you reply to that email because I would to meet some of these great listeners from EntrepreneurOnFire. That said, that’s it.
John Lee Dumas: Wonderful, Derek. Thanks again for your time, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Derek Halpern: See you later.