Mike Hardenbrook is the founder of Growth Hacker TV and Growth Geeks, a marketplace for hiring on-demand marketers. He’s an alumni of the famous Techstars accelerator program, and his work has been seen in Inc, Forbes & Entrepreneur. He specializes in cold email and paid traffic to drive sales – which in the last 10 months has resulted in over $1m in new revenue.
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Time Stamped Show Notes:
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [00:27] – Welcoming Mike to the show
- [01:07] – Mike has a wife and three kids
- [01:24] – He has been in businesses all across the board
- [02:59] – How do you generate revenue in your business? – Growth Geeks
- [04:10] – Expound on your work with cold emails to drive sales. – People responded really well
- [04:45] – You don’t want to come off as spam. Have finesse
- [05:10] – The 3-month program at Techstars – He wanted to get funding and connections for Growth Geeks
- [07:43] – Insights into the program – Teams compete for sales on the first day
- [08:55] – What was the most disappointing thing that happened in those three months? – It was frustrating
- [09:34] – Mike and his team had a hard time stepping away from sales and focusing on other things
- [09:55] – Talk about how you created that perfect pitch. – His co-founder did the pitch
- [10:20] – Mentors and directors help you refine your pitch, and you practice it several times before you present it in front of 500 investors
- [10:55] – Did you always want to get funding? – Yes
- [12:09] – What was the reason for the funding? – To have infrastructure to run a business not totally based on how much money you have
- [13:10] – What will be valuable to share next? – Something he’s working on right now – Workify
- [13:42] – There is a shift happening in how work gets done
- [14:08] – An open platform for entrepreneurs to use
- [14:27] – Giving entrepreneurs a tool to use to progress their idea
- [14:43] – Pipeline businesses vs. platform businesses
- [15:03] – They are excited to give entrepreneurs the tools to create a platform business
- 18:06 – What value is Workify bringing to entrepreneurs? – Connecting people with this service. People were reaching out to them to use their idea.
- [18:43] – Every service could be accessible in a marketplace
- [20:15] – Where do you see SaaS going? – Platform businesses are the future of online businesses
- [21:00] – Erase all of your past as an entrepreneur. What would you look to build with a clean slate? – You have to start with insights to build software
- [21:38] – Info products are a good place to start – they give you insights on your business
- [22:06] – I would start with building a course around cold email
- [22:22] – I would dig deeper to see what people want more of and what they aren’t using
- [22:58] – Start with info videos, and see what video does best to create a bigger business or software
- [23:50] – Read Chaos Monkeys
- [24:31] – [email protected]
- [26:36] – “Be fearless. Build a strong network”
Interviewee: Let’s do it Brotein Cake.
Interviewer: Yes. Mike is the founder of Growth Hacker TV, Growth Geeks, and Workify, a marketplace builder that always entrepreneurs to generate recurring revenue by selling services of others. He’s an alumni and mentor at the famous Techstars Accelerator program and specializes in cold email to dry sales, which in the last ten months has grown to over a $100K in new monthly recurring revenue. What?! Mike, take a minute, fill in some gaps from the intro and give us just a little glimpse of your personal life.
Interviewee: Totally, man. So, let me start with the personal because that’s important. I have three awesome kids and I share my life with an amazing woman, who lets me be this crazy entrepreneur, and we live in Scottsdale most of the year, but I spend my summers in Chicago, here, where the Techstars of all of our investors are. And there’s no better place than Chicago in the summer.
And then, as far as business goes, I’ve done kinds of random stuff. I’ve done things from something called dental tourism to importing motorbikes into Nicaragua, which is actually more like smuggling motorbikes into Nicaragua. Done content businesses, two sided market places, and more recently SAS businesses. So, basically, anything from lifestyle business to VC funded business. You could say I’ve done a few things.
Interviewer: I gotta say this Fire Nation, if you recognize Mike’s voice; you are one of the Fire Nation faithful because he was Episode 216 of EO Fire. Mike, do you realize that was like 1,216 episodes ago?
Interviewee: Dude, it’s crazy. Both of us, different places. Do you remember the last time that we saw each other?
Interviewer: Yeah, it was in San Diego, wasn’t it?
Interviewee: Yeah, it was in San Diego and we went to a Beatles –
Interviewer: Beatles cover band.
Interviewee: Cover band. Weren’t they all Asian?
Interviewer: They were all Asian. They sounded really good though.
Interviewee: They sounded amazing.
Interviewer: Oh, so much fun. And I just love how you’ve been doing your thing for the last – equates to 1,200 days. I’ve been doing my thing, which equates to the last 1,200 days, and here we are. And now I’m calling you from Puerto Rico and you’re calling from – is it Chicago right now? Or is it Scottsdale?
Interviewee: Yep. Chicago.
Interviewee: Downtown Chicago right now.
Interviewer: You used to live in Puerto Rico.
Interviewee: I know. It’s so crazy. Just flipped locations now.
Interviewer: Bad timing. Well, you come down here often, so we’ll definitely hang out when you do. But, kind of catch us up right now. What are the ways that you’re generating revenue? You just showed, here in the intro, $10K – I mean ten months growing into $100K in new monthly recurring revenue. What’s this all about?
Interviewee: The last time you interviewed me, we were doing Growth Hacker TV. We were teaching people how to do growth hacking, where founders wanted to do growth, but what we found out is that they really wanted to just hire somebody to do it. They were coming in and saying, “That was great what we learned, but where can I hire somebody to do that?”
So, it spun off into Growth Geeks about a year ago. Growth Geeks is on demand marketing services. And, so, basically, we just put together highly vetted and curated marketers that can do things at a set price. You buy on deliverables, you know what you get, you pay the certain price, and we’ve just gone out and businesses have been able to use it in their marketing plan without hiring a full fledged agency, without having to go to the risk the bottom with like five or maybe some places like I’ll work.
And, so, basically, that’s where generally most of our revenue is coming from. Now, most recently, we’re spinning it off to pull the engine away from what powers Growth Geeks and give entrepreneurs the opportunity to be able to go out and build their own Growth Geeks, but in any service. It could be lawn mowing, it could be marketing services, doesn’t matter. No limit. Interviewer: So, let’s kind of talk about this cold email to dry sales, which in the last ten months you’ve grown into $100K. Kind of expand on that a little bit. Interviewee: We went to a lot of places and found out where our customers were and we just started emailing them. We didn’t do anything pushy; we showed them something that could help them. If they could use it great, if they couldn’t, that’s okay too. And people responded really well.
We started building those campaigns out to where they were actually sequences, where we would have multi touch with people that we thought that would be a good match for our platform, and it’s just worked really, really well. And the best part about it is it gives you a lot of control. It’s not an expensive venture to do, but you have to do it with finesse because otherwise you just come off like a spammer.
Interviewer: Everything Fire Nation has to be done with a certain amount of finesse, and especially the more you can just be real, have authenticity, be transparent. That’s where you’re really going to be able to connect to people, even if it is on a cold email. Now, what I kind of wanna shift into a little bit, because I am curious to know when it comes to Growth Geeks, you’re post Techstar. So, when did you actually go to Techstars?
Interviewee: We were in Techstars last summer.
Interviewer: Okay, so last summer.
Interviewee: It was a three-month program.
Interviewer: Give us a little breakdown about that three-month program. Why did you decide to go to Techstars? Because a lot of people might say, “Well, hey, Mike, he’s an experienced entrepreneur. He’s done this, he’s done that. I thought Techstars was just for people that were brand new and trying to get experience.” Can you kind of maybe shift our mindset about that in your experience?
Interviewee: We’re always boots trappers at heart, profitable business, and we were running profitable business at the time, but we thought this idea with Growth Greeks, we could go at it at a bootstrap level or we could go really big and try and go as big as possible, and that would be with some funding.
And we thought that funding plus connections would probably get us the best shot at catapulting ourselves into a more – a better position to be able to not only compete with other freelance market places, but also to offer the highest quality. And the access to the Techstars network is amazing.
That was the other – and I think you know, John. Your mastermind group is really, really important to your own success as a person and a business. This is like one of the biggest mastermind groups that you can think of in the world. To give you an example, R. Dee mentored for our company. He was the CMO of eBay. He was the first CEO of Walmart.com. He started Blue Nile Diamonds.
These are the types of access that you get to these people when you’re in these programs, along with the funding. We went on to raise about $1.5 million.
Interviewer: So, what was the idea you went into Techstars with?
Interviewee: The idea was – we already had a lot of traction with sales. The idea was to get experience with people that knew how to run larger organizations, that knew how to go upstream into businesses, that knew how to look at businesses in a totally different way than say a bootstrapper would look, and then build our network from there.
Interviewer: But what else were you hoping to get from Techstars that was gonna help Growth Greeks? What specifically were you like, “This could be a really big thing.” Beyond the funding.
Interviewee: Just to make us better entrepreneurs. You walk into that building and three months later – even though we had been running our own businesses for eight years – we walked out totally different people.
Interviewer: Wow. The three months are happening; give us some of the highlights during those three months. What happens? What changes with your company? What surprises do you experience? What disappointments do you have?
Interviewee: So, it goes in three sections. And you come in, first day, it’s almost like an apprentice day, where you hit the streets and the teams compete against each other for the most sales. So we actually had to do upfront on the street selling, just for like a warm up into the program, which was pretty intense.
And then, the first month is what’s called ‘Mentor Madness’ and you just – you literally have like eight meetings a day, ten meetings a day with mentors. It’s like your head is on a swivel because you’re talking about your business, they’re giving their input, they’re offering help in ways that they can.
The next month is more about learning on what you can do and tactical stuff, so we had people like Jason Freed come in with Base Camp, would teach us right there on site. We had people from Kickstarter, which I know you’re familiar with Kickstarter, John.
So, we got access to some amazing people. And then the third month is really refining your pitch to raise money so that your company can go on and grow. But the whole time we rallied behind sales. Our team always rallies behind sales, so it’s always about that for us.
Interviewer: What was the most disappointing thing that happened during those three months?
Interviewee: I can’t say disappointing but I can say frustrating. The most frustrating thing for us is that we’re so focused on sales, and to take a step back and have to focus on other parts of it – spending a lot of time refining a pitch was frustrating because we just wanted to go and run our business.
Interviewer: Right! I’d be like, “Hello!”
Interviewee: Yeah. So, those were some frustrations, but I don’t think I was ever let down.
Interviewer: So, now it comes to pitch time. You’ve gone through the experience, you’ve refined your stuff, you’ve become a better entrepreneur, you’ve met some really cool people. Talk to me about the pitch. What exactly did you do to make your pitch more polished? And then talk about how you ended up just getting that – what was it? $1.3 million, $1.5 million? Let’s hear that.
Interviewee: I actually didn’t do the pitch. Bronson did the pitch, which Bronson is my cofounder. He hosts Growth Hacker TV – which you have to have on your show, by the way. But, basically, we worked through with the directors and with mentors, different angles of the pitch. You literally scrap the pitch about 20 different times after spending days on it each time.
And then, what it all leads up to is that you have this polished pitch, it’s pretty refined and impactful, you go and you pitch to private meetings for – in 12 different hotel rooms, before the actual event. And these are kind of VIP investors.
And then you go and reel – it’s a big event at the House of Blues, which is an awesome venue in the middle of Chicago, and you get on stage and there’s 500 investors there. There’s a lot of energy, and alcohol, and fun, and you pitch. And then you work the room afterwards. But, we actually closed most of our funding before we actually pitched.
Interviewer: Now, did you ever get to a point where you’re saying, “Okay, I’ve got a lot out of this. I’ve improved the product; I’ve learned a lot, I’ve made some great contacts. I don’t know if I really wanna take money?” Did that thought ever cross your and Bronson’s mind? Or did you guys always wanna get some form of funding?
Interviewee: So, for this business, it was. We raised early, a couple $100,000.00, early, from our network. Probably some guys you’ve had on your show. Tucker Max, and Mark Sisson, Nier Ayle, they all contributed. And then – so, we already had some funding and the goal was just to go – I think it wasn’t that we didn’t wanna get funding or not, it was – the decision was more on how much funding do we actually need.
Interviewer: So, now, what was the reason for the funding? What were you guys looking to use this $1.3 million in the first year? What was the point of that?
Interviewee: The point is to have enough infrastructures to be able to build a business and not be so desperate to make decisions based on just being able to keep food on your table. You need to run a business not like you’re – you need it to run like you’re scared, but you can’t make decision based on fear because next month you’re out of money.
And we needed to be able to hire high quality talent to both implement and develop the platform, and also contribute to sales, and also contribute to the quality of the platform in recruiting good talent, and amazing customer support also.
Interviewer: Yeah, customer support is always gonna make or break a business, so when you now have the funds to implement something like that, it’s really exciting because now you can have that part taken care of. You, Bronson, you guys can start focusing on the sales, the lead generation, the traffic, building your business. So I can definitely see how that gives you that breathing room necessary and the connections that you talked about.
For me, now, having done over 1,400 episodes of EO Fire, I know just how valuable connections, relationships are, and for you to be in that room and to have pitched in front of people, and to, even just rubbed elbows with the other people that were at Techstars, this is really exciting, cool stuff. And, I just feel like, Fire Nation, this is an experience that a lot of people should look for because it doesn’t have to necessarily be at Techstars or Y Combinator, there’s a ton of these accelerator programs.
Some that are three days, some that aren’t like Techstar’s three months. Some that are longer and shorter. You can find what works for you, but get up in there. I’m asking questions because I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m like, “Wow. I’m learning a lot. Is this something that I wanna maybe do with my next idea?” There’s just some cool options.
Mike, since you are on here for the second time now – I always refer people back to your previous episode, which is Episode 234, if they wanna hear your worst moment, your ‘aha’ moment, things you were doing back then, but that was the last episode. This episode is just, kind of, more of us wrapping and kind of seeing what you’re up to now. So, what do you kind of want to move into next? What do you think’s gonna be a valuable part of the conversation for Fire Nation?
Interviewee: Yeah. Let’s talk about something that we’re betting heavy on right now, and that’s insights about – we think that there’s a big shift happening on how work actually gets done. And the reason we think this is because we actually are witnessing it with our own market place, and how people are making purchases, connecting services with service providers and buyers.
And some people call it the 1099 Revolution, but we’re betting that’s it’s gonna grow exponentially in the years to come, which is why we’re actually doing this thing called Workify, where we break it apart. Because we wanna have this open platform for entrepreneurs to be able to use. Some people ask, “Why would you give away Growth Geeks so that everybody else can?”
Well, because we’re betting on a bigger play because we think that openness leads to a larger business, a larger opportunity, but also we seriously just love entrepreneurs and being able to give them a tool that they can use and not have to invest heavily in tech, but go with their idea and be connectors.
So, what I mean by this revolution is kind of like – there’s a book out about this called Platformed, but it basically is saying the pipeline business, which are like the old school businesses – think of an attorney that – he offers attorney services and you go to this website and you buy it directly from him. That would be a direct pipeline.
Or, you have a platform business where you have these connectors. Any businesses that are offering a service, you can find them on their platform. So you think about Uber is the biggest taxi service but they don’t own any taxis. AirBnB is the biggest hotel chain, yet they don’t own any hotels. Right? So, we’re giving this ability that you can be that connector, say for that attorney services, you get all the attorneys and you find all the people that need them.
I’m not saying that’s a great idea, but that’s the difference between a pipeline business and what would be a platform business. And so, I know I’m going off on a little tangent, but the thing that we’re really excited about is just giving that technology that’s gonna enable entrepreneurs to build these platform businesses.
Interviewer: So, Fire Nation, this is the kind of ideas that come when you just do the work. When you get up, when you work with entrepreneurs, when you work for entrepreneurs, when you do things that are just kind of outside of your comfort zone, these sort of ideas come, and Workify is one of those ideas.
So you’re gonna wanna stick around because we’re gonna be diving a little deeper into this with Mike after we thank our sponsors. So, Mike, we’re back, and Workify – this is something that you had this idea for, you’re working towards. How is this gonna be shifting the market? What kind of value is this bringing to entrepreneurs?
Interviewee: Actually, I said I was gonna share with you the incremental that we build on. So, first was Growth Hacker TV, marketers and businesses wanted to be connected, so we had Growth Geeks, Growth Geeks connecting marketers and business. Then people were coming to us and saying, “Hey, listen, we have a community of people that we wanna connect. Can we white label what you guys are doing?” And so then we started to, “Hmm. Maybe there’s something here.”
Then, we found that agencies were saying, “Hey, I would love to use this service because right now I manage a bunch of freelancers. This way I can plug in my workers, I can list their services, people can go and buy. When they buy, the worker gets notified, the buyer can communicate with the worker, and I can step out of the way, and I can take a piece of that business.” Then, you got the other businesses that have a SAS product and they wanna build around that product, an ecosystem of people that can support that product.
So, let’s say you use Hubspot – and they have their own marketplace, but let’s say you have Hubspot and you wanna be able to buy services around Hubspot that support the use of it, implementation – or even better, yours, John. Your podcast, buying design services, buying marketing service for your podcast. Every service under the sun for podcasting could sit in a marketplace on EntrepreneuronFire.com.
Interviewer: So, what I’m really digging about this idea, Fire Nation, is that once you have this one idea, it just grows on top of itself. It’s like that incremental step, and then before you know it, you have this marketplace that you can kind of remove yourself out of it. And, Mike, that’s kind of what you were talking about.
You’ve, in a sense, said, “Hey, I can potentially step out of this now. This marketplace still works and I just get a piece of the pie.” I just get when a transaction happens or when a connections made or when a sale is made – fill in the blank, and that’s huge. You have always been kind of the person that, to me, has gotten SAS even before SAS became a thing, and now you’re still kind of working in this industry.
Where do you really see this going, this software as service? It’s been around now for years. And is this something that you just feel like is gonna continue to be the thing? Or is there something out there that’s supplanting it?
Interviewee: I think that businesses and softwares that are gonna, like I said before, support these platform businesses and are gonna – I think that that’s the future of where the businesses are going online. I think that the pipelines are gonna start to phase out because platforms offer better choices, better quality, better prices, and an easier buying experience. There will be SAS that supports that. I’m not a visionary by any means, but I do think that business is in platform businesses online.
Interviewer: But let’s just kind of take you, Mike, right now, and let’s just erase all of your past. Now, I’m not talking about your family or anything, I’m just talking about the things that you’ve built, the things that you’ve grown – you still have the experience from doing those things, you still, right now. You have the same mind that you have, but you don’t have the relationships that you have, you don’t have the partnerships, you don’t have any of the businesses, and your entire slates clean.
You wake up tomorrow morning; you got money in the bank, so it’s not like a super rush to be getting some funding in. What’s something that you think you’re gonna do? What do you see yourself looking to build if you had a completely clean slate and you’re like, “Okay. This is gonna be Mike’s world.”
Interviewee: I still think info products are a good baseline to start because what they do is they buy time, and then they give you insights to transition to support those people that are taking your info products.
Interviewer: So, what’s the first info product that you create?
Interviewee: So, the first info product that I would create is something based around where you want to see yourself. For me, it would be in the business services because that’s where – or B-to-B, that’s where my expertise would go.
So, right now, like I said, cold email. I would probably go out and build a course around cold email, and then I would use that knowledge that I had already to start selling the product to reaching out to people to take a look at the product. And then I would dig deeper as I got to integrate with those people more often, and see what they want more and more of the tools that we’re currently telling them to use are falling off.
And so, if I wanted to transition into software, I would just find where those pinpoints are because I’m using them, they’re using them, they’re telling me, I have an open dialogue, and I can transition to that.
Interviewer: See, I love those steps because, Fire Nation, when you’re listening to Mike right now, you can see yourself taking that first step. Like saying, “Okay. I know how to do something good.” Like maybe you know how to use Slack well. Well, what about creating a little tutorial for Slack. I had a past guest of mine who made a ton of money with his Learn to Scrivener course because Scrivener is not easy to use, and he taught authors how to use Scrivener.
There’s just so many things you can create info products on, and then when that one just really hits – like maybe one, two, three, and four, your iterations do good, but number five you just crush it and knocks it out of the park, then you can say, “Okay. How can I build off of this? How can I maybe build a software that’s a solution for this, so that it’s not me just giving a tutorial or teaching, but it’s actually scaling and leveraging this problem into a massive solution.”
And so, really, really important things to take away from this, Fire Nation. And, Mike, I really personally enjoyed hearing about Techstars, because again, this a world that I never experienced and – kind of quick side note, have you read the book Chaos Monkey?
Interviewee: I have not.
Interviewer: You gotta read that book, brother. It’s pretty new. And you too, Fire Nation. Chaos Monkey. It’s unbelievable. It’s actually pretty detailed about a Y Combinator experience, about this guy that then leverages that into a company that he launches, and leverages that into a Facebook job, and then continues to go for it. It’s a crazy, crazy book, and I absolutely loved it. The inner workings of Facebook were fascinating.
But what I just love is it started all with him and an information product. And same thing with Mike. In a way, even with me. I’ve kind of had a “information product”, which was my book Podcast Launch, back in 2013. So, think about that process. And, Mike, let’s sort of end with a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you and your business, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Interviewee: Best way to get me is on my Gmail. [email protected]
Interviewer: Love it. And a parting piece of guidance?
Interviewee: Dude, you gotta be fearless. I know it sounds cliché, but don’t be afraid to try things. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. I’m a firm believer in building a strong network. Networks are not handed down, they’re built, and it’s fully in your power to do that. Just, no fear.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you’ve been hanging out with MH and JLD today, so keep up the heat. And head over to EOFire.com. Just type Mike in the searcher, his Show Notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. They are the best Show Notes in the biz. Timestamps, links, check it out.
And of course, check out directly what Mike has going on with Growth Geeks, check out Workify. This guys got some really cool things happening and when somebody offers you their email address, take them up on it. If you have any questions, shoot them an email, have them expand upon some of the things that you wish that I had asked them more questions about. And, Mike, I wanna thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Interviewee: Thanks, John. Awesome.
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