In Episode 583, Rob Walling chats with Sam Parr about about building an email list, selling to Hubspot, podcast growth, and how to spot business opportunities.
The topics we cover
[3:53] Building Hustle to 8 figures in revenue
[5:52] Growing an email list
[11:01] Selling to a B2B SaaS
[19:00] My First Million and growing podcasts
[23:45] TikTok marketing
[27:30] Spotting interesting opportunities
[34:70] Manifest cowboy
Links from the show
- Sam Parr (@theSamParr) | Twitter
If you have questions about starting or scaling a software business that you’d like for us to cover, please submit your question for an upcoming episode. We’d love to hear from you!
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Rob: It’s not just any show, it’s Startups For the Rest of Us. It’s episode 583. I’m your host, Rob Walling, and I catch up with Sam Parr. He’s the founder of The Hustle, a wildly popular email newsletter. He grew to several million subscribers, eight figures of annual revenue, and he sold it to HubSpot earlier this year. Sam is also the co-host of My First Million, which is a podcast that really dissects business ideas and looks with a pretty unique lens about areas in our economy, in specific industries, or just in the world where new business ideas and new startup ideas can take shape.
I really enjoyed today’s conversation with Sam because he’s just an interesting person to talk to. He’s thinking about so many things. He’s educating himself by reading books. He goes off on research tangents, I can tell.
I’ve heard some episodes of their podcast and you can tell that he’s just constantly thinking about how do these things work. Why do they work? Why are they maybe broken on the edges? Where are their opportunities to be found? As a result, I felt like the conversation he and I had was super interesting, and I hope you do as well. Let’s dive in.
Sam Parr, thanks for joining me on the show.
Sam: What’s up, man?
Rob: It’s good to have you on here.
Sam: I was reading your blog. I couldn’t afford to go to your event when I first started out, but I read your blog. You’ve been doing it for 10 years maybe, right? I feel like it’s been since 2012-ish.
Rob: Yeah, I started the blog in 2006, then wrote the book in 2010, and then this podcast started in 2011.
Sam: Yeah, I was reading your blog for a very long time. I’ve always wanted to go to your event and I modeled some of our events after your event. But when I first got going, I couldn’t fly somewhere. It was a big deal.
Rob: That’s so funny because you and I have never met and it’s cool to meet you for the first time. I was googling for a calendar event last night. I’m in my Gmail and I typed in your name. There’s an email from 2014 from you when I lived in Fresno. I actually want to read it.
It’s funny. You say, “Hey, Rob. I followed Justin Jackson on Twitter and he recently retweeted one of your tweets, and since then, I’ve been reading your blog a ton. Anyway, I saw that you’re into bootstrapping and live in Fresno. I’m throwing an event about bootstrapping in San Francisco on January 22nd and wanted to give you a free ticket. I would love to be able to say hi. Password for the ticket was Sam is cool,” which I thought was so great.
Then you’re like, “P.S. The pre-launch strategy case studies have really helped me for launching my own blog.” It’s a good cold email, right? I get a lot of these.
Sam: That’s awesome.
Rob: Yeah, and I replied. I was like, hey, I would love to, but it’s like a six-hour round trip and blah, blah, blah. I’m running MicroConf and all this stuff. Then we got into a thread about I was about to go on Mixergy again and we started talking about that. Then you asked me a question about time management. It’s so funny, man, how you and I run not parallel lives, but parallel industries or parallel tracks.
We do a lot of similar things with events and email marketing. It has been a big impact for both of us. My last SaaS app obviously was Drip. It is fascinating to me that we haven’t run across each other before this.
Sam: I’m happy that that email that I wrote to you was good. It’s 2014 so I was probably 24, 25 years old. I’m happy that I was professional sounding and not like a douche.
Rob: Yeah, totally. That could definitely happen. I have met a few people in person who I will find emails from years ago and I’m like, what were you thinking doing that email? But this one was definitely not like that.
Sam: That’s why you know it’s real. People say I’ve been a fan of you for a long time, you have proof.
Rob: Yeah. No, that’s so cool. But I want to talk about The Hustle. I want to talk about a lot of things today—hotdog stand, The Hustle, and selling the HubSpot. These are really interesting topics to me. You build, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s thehustle.co. It’s a new site, but it’s an email newsletter. You build it to eight figures in revenue, is that right?
Sam: Yeah. I mean, how do we not sell? I kept working on it for a long time. There’s clearly a path to $100 million revenue, I think, with these styles of businesses.
Rob: How is that? Because I think a media company is just sponsorships and this and that. Yeah, I just love to hear how you did this.
Sam: When we first launched, I always wanted to start a media company. I admired Ted Turner. You can’t really see it, but I’ve got this wall with pictures behind me and Ted Turner’s on there and so is Felix Dennis, two guys who had media companies. One’s British, one’s American.
I always wanted to do media because I like content. I love sharing ideas. Even in 2012 and 2013, if you looked at the math, you’re like damn, to build a media company to be huge, it’s really, really challenging. This page view model sucks. Upworthy and all that stuff got a lot of traffic at the time, but it was very clear like, oh, man, this is […] content and this is not going to stand the test of time. This sucks. But good content—at least what I describe as good content is […] I liked—was hard to share and get the page views.
I’m like this model stinks, so I got to figure out how to do this. I read Mixergy. Andrew had an interview with Ben Lerer, the founder of Thrillist, and two or three other people who had email lists, and I’m like, oh, that math is pretty crazy. One writer can reach as many people in the world. I just type in an email, and if I have your email address, the likelihood that I can get you to read it is pretty good, at least higher than writing an article.
I just thought, what niche that I care about is big enough to reach millions of people? I picked business and technology and it worked. In order to build a $100 million business, you easily can get—when I say easy, I mean simple. So it’s simple but hard. You easily can get to like $40, $50 million a year in sales, through advertising sales. The way that you do that is you charge $35 to $40 per 1000 sends, you have one major list that has 3 million people, and then you have a handful of smaller lists that are in similar but different targets.
Collectively, your list should be like five million people that will get you to around 50 million in revenue. Then you have a subscription service, which we did, trends.co. When we sold, it was going to do close to eight figures in revenue. If you just did trends, but for different niches, that can get you to another $30 or $40 million in subscription revenue. Then our events were pretty thrown together. They weren’t the best thing, but they made seven figures, and that definitely could have gotten to like $10 million in revenue.
Rob: That’s incredible. A 5 million person email list is anomalous. That is not something that exists everywhere.
Sam: I think it’d be incredibly challenging to get five million on one list, but we had nearly two million on one list. It’s easy, in my opinion, to be like, well, if you give it two or three years, it definitely could get to three million, and then you could launch like 8 or 10 offshoots that could get hundreds of thousands and collectively add up to five million.
Rob: Got it. That’s how you do it. How did you grow an email list to two million?
Sam: We got between 90,000 and 150,000—I don’t remember the exact number in the first year—just through me blogging. I would blog a lot. In the first six weeks, we had maybe a million people come to the website, and of that number, 3% or 5% entered their email. I just continued doing that for a year and that added up to 100,000 people. I would just post content like crazy. Then eventually, from around 200,000 or 300,000, I forget the exact number, we started buying ads. We could buy ads on Facebook and do an arbitrage.
Rob: That’s what I was going to ask about. It sounds like it’s anything else. It’s driving a ton of traffic and having a funnel. You obviously had email capture and a certain percentage signed up.
Content marketing is something obviously a lot of SaaS founders who listen to this podcast use. But the biggest lists that I know of like the AppSumo list and The Hustle figured out a way to pay for subscribers. That’s fascinating. How did the economics of that work? Is it because we were able to charge such a high CPM or cost percent?
Sam: It’s a SaaS business. It’s not literally SaaS, but it’s the same. If you get a SaaS calculator on churn and LTV and just use our numbers. We email every day, but Saturday.
If we’re emailing every day but Saturday, that’s 26 sends a month-ish. Then you say, so it’s 26 sends a month, your churn is 4% or 3% a month, you’re charging $35-ish per 1000 sends, therefore, if you want your payback value to be like—I forget what we wanted ours to be—it was pretty tight payback time because we didn’t have a lot of money. Basically, if you could spend $3 to acquire a person, we knew for a fact that we could make like $18 off of them. So it was like, all right, just spend.
Rob: Right, so there was a lifetime value.
Sam: Yeah. It was incredibly sophisticated. We had a team of maybe six people dedicated to this, we use Periscope, and we had all these dashboards every day. We check them and we would say, we had all these sources. Let’s say it’s Facebook and then a subset of different ad sets and audiences, then Instagram and then a subset of different, and then podcasts and then which podcasts and everything and which creative.
Then we would say, all right, within eight days of that sample size, what’s their open rate? We’d categorize them as gold, silver, and bronze. We do the LTV of gold, we do the LTV of silver and bronze, and then we’d say, all right, spend more there. It was quite sophisticated.
Rob: That’s something that really high end SaaS companies—I say high end or […] sophisticated SaaS companies do as well—is they get into their funnel and they look at their retention grid. We used to look at in Drip and I could see it was, oh, by month 10, we’ve only retained 84% of people. A lot of folks shy—especially in the bootstrapping community—away from that stuff. They shy away from getting into the metrics, getting into the weeds, and they just kind of want to handwave it and build a great product.
Sam: Because it’s really hard. Technically, I don’t know how to do it. I can look at it and feel it out. But I had to hire guys who could really properly do it like scientifically do it.
Rob: You had a subscription business. You had effectively a SaaS business without the software, and then that’s where you say it’s simple but hard because SaaS is really complicated. SaaS is complicated and hard because building a product and then doing everything you’ve done—doing the marketing, doing the funnel, making the sales—is, I would say, a more complex business than a newsletter. Do you think that’s accurate?
Sam: Yeah, I think so. I think maybe there are more people who could build a SaaS business than build a business I did, maybe. But I didn’t find my business to be intellectually challenging at all. To me, it was like getting big muscles. It’s like, well, if I just lift weights, increase those weights every week, and then eat a lot, you’re going to get big muscles. It’s just going to take like four or five years.
That’s how I felt about my business. I was like, look, I’m just going to create good […], which I’m very talented at and I’m skilled at. I’m going to hire good people to do it, and I’m going to do it for five years. It was pretty straightforward on how to do that. I would say that my business was simpler, but SaaS is way more valuable for a reason.
Rob: Right, the exit multiples. You sold to HubSpot, which is really interesting to me when I heard that because I would expect you to sell to a media company being a media brand. You had a tweet about this recently. I was reading a tweet thread. But what was behind that decision to sell to a SaaS company?
Sam: When we launched, I always thought like a Salesforce or at the time, when we all thought WeWork was legit, I thought WeWork should buy us because I’m like, man, look at the math. I knew how much sales we’re driving to some of our advertisers. I’m like, if one of them just bought us, it’s far better to drive 5000 customers over the course of a year to a thing that spends $40,000 a year in subscription revenue than it is to just ad arbitrage this. It’s far better.
The issue was I didn’t think that Salesforce or another company like that would be bold enough to believe that that could be true. HubSpot hollered at us, and I was like, finally, someone is brave enough to do this. When HubSpot bought us, they were worth $16 billion. I looked at their numbers, their quarterly earnings report, and I was like, these […] guys are growing 45% a year or whatever it was, whatever they reported. They only have like 100,000 customers. I’m pretty sure literally every business in America could potentially be a HubSpot customer.
I think this has legs. So I was like, I think this could be a $100 billion company inside five years. This is a no-brainer. We have to do this because it could take off. At its peak so far—a couple of weeks ago before the sell-off—it was like $40 billion. It’s proven to be not all the way true, but close to true.
I look at a lot of the media companies’ stocks and it’s like, […], I don’t want to own BuzzFeed. I don’t want to own Vice. I don’t want that. It’s also a really crappy life. Making money off of ads, it’s kind of addicting and it’s kind of exciting, but for the employees, it’s pretty […]. For someone who wants to be a purist and a writer, it sucks that you have to—sometimes, even if you say you don’t, in the back of your mind, you don’t say certain things because of your advertisers.
I didn’t care because I’m like, I own the company. It’s not like I can get fired. But I was like, this woman, Katie, just sold all these ads. If I act like a douchebag, this advertiser is going to get canceled and she’s going to lose money. In the back of my mind, I was like, I don’t want to hurt her, therefore, I’m going to tone it down. I think that sucks. I don’t like that.
Rob: Is your model still the same or is it funded by HubSpot now and there are no ads anymore?
Sam: The way it works, we went into the year with a bunch of ads booked. This year we probably would have crushed on ads because of what’s happening. We gave it all back. We canceled all of our contracts. HubSpot’s the only advertiser.
We make money through trends. Trends is a good business, and that potentially could pay for a lot of the HubSpot media budget. The math is simple. It says, let’s just say that they have 100,000 customers, they have X amount of leads that they’re getting per year, and Y percent of those leads become customers. Their line of thinking is if we acquire The Hustle, that just gives us more leads and more customers, and they can track all of that.
Rob: Absolutely. It’s top of the funnel for them. With MicroConf or TinySeed, would I acquire an email newsletter that was aimed at SaaS people? Absolutely because I know the numbers. It doesn’t make sense, and for HubSpot at that scale, to me, when it was announced, at first I was like, wow, that’s a really interesting acquisition. Then I dug into it and I was like, oh, this is a seven-figure email list, which like I said, is an anomaly.
HubSpot knows their numbers. They’re really smart marketers. They know their funnel. I know Dharmesh. I’ve known him for years. I know how that culture must be. It makes a ton of sense why they would do it.
Sam: Also, just a few other things. For example, a lot of people in the SaaS industry are really good at just content marketing. Content marketing, if you’re a journalist—which I’m not but I hired a lot of those folks—that word content marketing is like the worst word on earth. Because they say, no, I’m not a marketer. I’m out looking for the truth, and I’m creating cool […] that people love, but I’m not marketing.
Anyway, HubSpot, I imagine they were like, we already reached this amount of people based on search, but how many people share HubSpot content just because it’s badass? Maybe they’re like, not as much as we hope. With The Hustle, we didn’t know anything about SEO. We only wrote stuff that we thought was cool and we grew entirely from people sharing. They’re like, man, if we bought this, maybe we can get some of this DNA in our company. I imagine that’s how they felt.
Rob: Yeah. When I talked to SaaS founders about B2B marketing approaches, I mentioned content and SEO separately. They’re related, but they can be done separately. You can do content marketing that is truly driven just on the virality and the pop of getting on high on Reddit, high on The Hacker News, and all these things that have no SEO value; or you can create stuff that doesn’t do any of that and is solely focused on SEO or you can create content that does both. I’ve seen all three succeed. It sounds like The Hustle originally was just the content side, and now HubSpot’s bringing that SEO expertise.
Sam: Yeah. To me, when people say content, they’re like, how do I do good content? I’m like, I don’t know, man. That’s like asking me, how do you do good art? Are we talking painting? Are we talking to make you rich? Are we talking about how to make you happy? Are we talking about music? There are a thousand different things here so we got to be more specific.
Do you just want to rank on search? Okay, let’s talk about that. Do you want to go viral through sharing through just emotions? That’s another thing. I think you can do both, but they serve different purposes and they are both important.
Rob: Right. Lars Lofgren who ran SEO for KISSmetrics, then I Will Teach You To Be Rich, and now he’s on doing his own thing focuses on—it’s all about SEO, but he needs the viral pop in the early days or wants some type of pop in the early days to build the links to then get the long tail SEO. For him, he’s like, all my content, if I’m not getting organic traffic, 6, 12, 18 months down the line, I have failed. His focus is to get that recurring flywheel going.
Sam: Yeah, and that’s really hard. It’s kind of hard, but it’s not that hard. You start seeing patterns. With content, I can tell you which type of emotion will get shared more often. I can read a headline and be like, oh, that’s going to take off. You’re not right 100% of the time at all, but it’s like a batting average. I could be right like 30% of the time and that’s really good.
Rob: Right, and you get better. It’s a skill. It’s a learned skill. So you work at HubSpot now.
Sam: Yeah, kind of. Right before we sold the company, I had recruited a guy who ran—I think I could actually say this now—Motley Fool. He was an executive there who was the head of growth. His name is Jordan, and I wanted him to be CEO of The Hustle.
We got this deal worked out and everything. Then HubSpot hollered at me and said, we want to buy you. I said, this is a good deal, I’ll take this. So I had to go to Jordan, man, I’m sorry, I have to do this. I told HubSpot, look, I had a CEO lined up because this company’s gotten too big for me. I can’t be a CEO of it. They go, all right, fine. We’ll replace you and you only do the podcasts. I go, great. Deal and they hired Jordan.
Jordan is now the boss. Jordan previously was an executive at Motley Fool. He is now the boss and my only focus is on our podcast. It’s working pretty well. I think in December we’ll hit 1.5 million downloads.
Rob: Wow, good for you guys. The podcast My First Million?
Sam: My First Million, yeah.
Rob: Which is a trip because My First Million was on my radar. I had heard about it, but I thought it was different than it is. When I listened to it I was like, oh, this is really good. But I thought it was kind of a start your business type thing, and it’s like, I’m not there anymore. I used to listen to those. But then Courtland Allen, you guys did an episode swap, I believe. Courtland and I are good friends. We go back years. I was like, all right, I’m going to listen to his episode. I was like, I really liked the show. Your format is so dynamic. Do you have a fixed format, even? I probably listened to 10 episodes and I feel like it’s just whatever you guys want to talk about?
Sam: It is. The name is really bad. Of course, my first company was called The Hustle., so clearly, I’m not good at naming things. It was called My first million because—so the hustle owned the podcast the whole time, and Sean was one of my closest buddies. He goes, I want to launch a podcast where I’m talking about people getting the first million users, the first million revenue, or whatever. That’s what he did.
For years leading up to that, every week, me and Shawn and a couple of their buddies would meet and just brainstorm. For some reason, we started doing this. Someone didn’t show up for his interview. and he goes, hey, I booked the studio but no one showed up. You guys want to come riff and just do our thing what we do? I go, yeah, all right, whatever. I showed up, we did it, and then it hit. Then it was like, all right, well, let’s just brainstorm.
We started brainstorming, and that took off. But then we’re like, let’s just talk about whatever we want to talk about and maybe people will find it interesting. That’s what we do now. When we log in, basically, we log in at 1:00 PM, we both pop up on our screen just like you and I just did before this, but we purposely don’t say a word to each other. We won’t talk to one another or if someone says, how was your weekend? We say, shut up, don’t say anything. We hit record then we have the conversation that we want to have so that way it’s far more organic. Then we don’t really edit it and we just put it out there.
This past November, so a month ago, we just started doing some growth stuff. But prior to that, if you asked me how it grew, I would be like, I don’t know, man. It just did. I have no idea. It still shocks me that people listen to it.
Rob: I guess on growth, it’s like no one I know has been able to growth hack podcasts, so I do want to ask you about that one.
Sam: No one.
Rob: Yeah, it’s always—
Sam: I know one person. Jordan Harbinger.
Rob: Okay. What did he do? What was his approach?
Sam: I’ve talked to him. Jordan has been my homie for a while, and I was like, you know, Jordan has I think 10 or 15—I forget the number, but I believe on the high end it’s like 15 million monthly downloads. I was like, Jordan, are you 15 times better than my podcast? Let’s say we’re at a million. He goes, no, if anything, I could be a little worse or even just slightly better. But I’m probably 15 times better than you at marketing. I go, what are you doing? He goes, all I do is I buy ads on podcasts. That’s all he does. He goes, that’s the only thing I’ve ever found.
So I guest on other podcasts, I buy ads on those podcasts, and that’s all I do.
Rob: You said you were going to start doing some growth stuff for your podcast, is that what you’re going to do?
Sam: Yeah. We bought a bunch in November, December, but they don’t go live until after the new year.
Rob: Wow. I guest on a lot of podcasts, I’ve never bought an ad. It’s something I need to think about. Something that I did for this show last—when was it? It was probably pre-pandemic. So I did some tests because I’m an old school marketer, right? I used to do direct response stuff. I grew HitTail on Facebook ads. I tried Facebook ads, and of course, getting someone to switch mediums doesn’t work. It’s like they’re on Facebook, they don’t want to click over and subscribe to anything. So then I started buying ads inside podcast players.
Sam: That’s what he does as well.
Rob: Yeah, Pocket Casts and there’s Downcast. I mean, there’s more than most people think there are.
Sam: Yeah, there’s Castbox, there’s Stitcher. Maybe there are 30 or 50 that could do it.
Rob: Yup. I tried a bunch of them and I actually had some luck at it, and then they got really expensive when the COVID hit. I mean, that price quintupled, I think, overnight. I don’t remember what the price went to, but it was like $4 per new user. Of a podcast, I don’t know. That’s a pretty long funnel.
Sam: You have to do the math, so it’s the same exact thing. So Jordan’s math, his show is like every day. It’s like, well, if my show is every day and I have three or four ad spots every day, it makes sense.
Rob: He directly monetizes it. This show is not directly monetized, obviously. It’s always just been the podcast of MicroConf really. That’s how MicroConf pays the bills, you know? It’s like, can I even equate a listener of this podcast to tickets sold or whatever? It’d be pretty hand-wavy.
Sam: Also, it depends on how big your target market is. We slowly got into a little bit more pop culture stuff, not entirely, but we’ll kind of go on that. People, shockingly, will say that they listen because they find it to be funny and entertaining. That’s weird to me. I can’t believe people are laughing at those stuff. But anyway, because of that, our total addressable market I think has gotten a lot larger so we can do that. Jordan, his addressable market is just anyone so it’s a little different.
Rob: I’m envious of businesses like that. I think it’s a genius to just have a wider focus. I’ve always been focused on software. First, it was software startups and now it’s SaaS. It’s just a small world. It’s not as big as a lot of people think. You had a luxury with The Hustle and now with My First Million that you have broadened that scope. I think it’s a really smart thing to do.
Sam: Yeah. Do you use TikTok?
Rob: I don’t.
Sam: You should. It’s pretty fascinating. When I was 18 and I was into business, I was considered a freak. Not a freak, but people were like, what the hell? So when I was 21 years old, I got a job offer at Airbnb. They had like 200 employees and my mom was like, what the hell is a startup? That sounds like a Ponzi scheme. This is not real.
Now it’s way more common. There are 18-year-olds on TikTok who have millions of views and all they do is talk about startups. The target market is quite huge. We did something really cool. Last week, we said on our podcast we’re going to get $5000 to maybe two or three people who take our YouTube videos, chop them up into clips, post them on whatever social media channel, and use our hashtag. We’ll give you $5000 based on some combination of do we think it’s cool, creative and does it have a lot of views.
There’s a handful of guys that have channels now on TikTok that have gotten roughly 10 million views in a week. It is crazy. The target market for business content, particularly amongst young people, is significantly larger than I thought.
Rob: All right. Well, I got to turn into TikTok now. I’ve been around long enough that each of these is like, really, another one? But I hear it. You’re not the first person to tell me this, I’ll put it that way.
Sam: I’ll share this with you. Check this out. Can I send a link here?
Sam: Here it is, chat. So if you click that thing I sent you, and you’ll see that #MFMclip currently has 8.6 million views. These guys are making videos based on our stuff. I don’t think you could see the view count on your computer, but if you look on your phone you’ll be able to see the view count. Some of these videos have over a million views.
Rob: Is it because they have channels?
Sam: No. They just launched these. Their channels are named after us. There are channels like MSMsnips or MFMclips.
Rob: Got it.
Sam: They just made them.
Rob: We’re doing this on YouTube and not seeing anywhere near this reach. It sounds like the blue water is TikTok. That’s what it seems like.
Sam: Yeah, but I didn’t know that. It’s all like these 18-year-olds making these clips, and it boggles my mind how they’re able to do this. It’s huge. Collectively, we’ve just reached. We’ve just gotten an additional 8.6 million. This contest, by the way, is seven days old.
Rob: Right, and it’s not costing you that much.
Sam: It’s going to cost us $15,000.
Rob: Yeah, it’s a great hack, man. One thing you guys do on your show is you bring business ideas. You’ll brainstorm business ideas and you’ll also analyze existing businesses. There were some trucking companies and you went down a rabbit hole of like, I saw this name, then I Googled it, and I found out they’re a big conglomerate.
The business idea side is fascinating to me. I think folks listening to this are always trying to come up with bootstrappable ideas that put you on the spot. What have been some recent bootstrappable business ideas that maybe you and your cohosts have discussed, have thought about, or just anything that’s on your radar that’s pretty fascinating? If it’s software, that’s cool, but if it’s not, that’s fine too.
Sam: Is that okay if I change software to internet?
Sam: The thing about our show is basically I am not an expert in, let’s say, email marketing software. I’ve used a lot, but I wouldn’t say I’m an expert like you. Let’s just say that that industry interested me. I would have to go and work at Drip, ConvertKit or MailChimp in order to kind of master and spot problems. It’s really hard to spot problems to solve.
With our show, what we try to do is make it so you don’t have to go work somewhere. We just show you interesting problems. One of the most fascinating problems that I’m obsessed with at the moment, I’ll tell you a couple. But the first one is the trucking industry. A lot of people say autonomous trucks. You just said I talk about trucks. That’s because I’m a little obsessed with it.
But right now, in America, there’s a huge shortage of truckers. A lot of people who work in the startup Silicon Valley-ish industry like we do, we don’t really give a […] about that because we don’t know many truckers and we don’t really think about it. We just think, oh, it’s this other group of people who just gets it done. Well, I have a legitimate fear that in the next 5 or 10 years, how are we going to be able to get […] to our house? How are we going to buy stuff without trucks?
A lot of people say like, well, driverless trucks are going to be a thing. I’m like, probably not. I don’t think it’s going to be as popular as you think and as soon as you think. A huge thing that interests me at the moment is basically just lead gen for trucking companies. I spun up a website just to see if I could do this, and I made $1000 in two days off of it. I’m very fascinated by it. Lead gen for truckers, I think that a lot of the people in the space—so basically, you get paid $50 to $100 per person who applies for a job with a commercial driver’s license.
Rob: I was thinking it was lead gen of people hiring them to haul stuff, but you’re saying it’s employees. It’s just finding new drivers? Because of the shortage.
Sam: Yeah, there’s a massive shortage and they are really struggling. What I would like to do is start with that business. I think I could scale that to seven figures in revenue and make it relatively profitable, then use that money to actually create a proper company where I could make the environment better for these guys because I think it’s messed up. I’m an investor in this company called CloudTrucks, which is doing the same thing, so I’m very fascinated by that business.
What else am I interested in? Okay, I have an interesting one. Here’s one that we just talked about. It’s so fascinating to me. There’s this company called Storyworth. Have you heard of Storyworth?
Rob: Yeah, and I had in my Trello board forever to send it to my parents. It […] an email once a week.
Sam: Dude, it’s so cool and it’s so simple. I’m a customer of theirs. and the guy who started it, I shared an office with him. It’s called Storyworth, storyworth.com. It’s the simplest […] on earth. It’s one guy running it, and it’s very easy. You spend $25 or $50 a month (I don’t remember) and it automatically sends email prompts to family members and asks them questions about when they grew up. What was your favorite memory about your father? Eventually, they write. Then after 30 weeks or something, you’ve got this practically a book, and then you could upload pictures.
Now you got this book, and you could pay an additional fee in order to get this book. I think it’s amazing, and it’s the simplest business. I think that you could launch this in a weekend. I know it’s working because these guys, Storyworth, I see them buying ads on YouTube, and I think I even saw them buying ads on TV. I’m almost positive that the company only has two or three employees. On LinkedIn, they’ve only got two or three people. I knew the guy who started it, Nick, and it was just him for a long time.
That business is incredibly fascinating. I think there’s actually space in the market for more people, and they could do it slightly differently.
Rob: Right angle it differently. Yeah. I’ve seen them advertising. I’ve seen their ads on Instagram, and I used to hear it on some personal finance podcasts I listen to. That’s super interesting. You have a recent podcast episode that it’s the company you would build if you have the energy and the time, and then starting a company based on who you want to employ. What did you dig into that?
Sam: It was energy, time, and money because that’s an interesting question. One thing that I think is kind of crazy, have you ever studied recycling?
Sam: Okay. Do you have a blue bin at your house?
Rob: Yeah, two of them.
Sam: That blue bin, that’s […]. That gets thrown away in the trash and burned.
Sam: Yes. It’s a complete lie. The energy that it takes to recycle—you live in Minneapolis, right? So they’re pretty green. I bet that they have these areas that have these huge bins where you throw plastic ones, this bin plastic too, and this bin is green glass, blue, or whatever. It doesn’t work in such a way where you can just give a bucket of tons of different plastics to a company, they sort it out, and turn that and reuse it. It’s all dirty and it’s got styrofoam in it. It doesn’t really work that way.
The majority of stuff that we’re throwing away in our blue bin just goes to the trash. We created this system so we feel good about consuming more […]. It’s like, oh, I’m recycling. It’s okay. It’s not a big deal that I just bought 24 cans. It’s no big deal. It kind of is a big deal. I’ve talked to a lot of waste management companies and they’re like, we try, but it’s just impossible.
It costs more money than we make from it. It takes actually more energy than we’re actually saving. What I’m incredibly fascinated about is recycling and how we can solve that problem because I think it’s like a sin—I don’t believe in God—against humanity where I order something from Amazon and they send me all of this packaging. I’m just going to throw it away and it gets burnt. I feel horrible that I just used that much energy to get the stupid book.
I’m incredibly fascinated by what’s going to happen with different recycling businesses. I think there’s a world where you could create a better recycling business. There’s actually been a lot of people. The company Waste Management was started by a guy named Wayne Huizenga. Wayne Huizenga launched Waste Management and he bootstrapped it. I think there’s a world where you can do that. Additionally, Wayne Huizenga started Waste Management. Then from there, he started AutoNation, the world’s largest car dealership. After that, he started Blockbuster
Rob: Wow, unreal.
Sam: And then he bought the Miami Dolphins. I believe he bought the Miami Dolphins and then one more sports team. I could be getting the sports team wrong, but it’s Florida football and maybe a baseball team. This guy is amazing. I read his biography because I’m so interested in waste, and I’m like, how do we solve this problem? Recycling is a huge industry that I think is under-talked about. I think this problem is not discussed enough about the amount of waste that we have. I’m like, what do you do?
How do you rally around this? There are a few interesting things. There’s this company called the Buy Nothing Project. It’s basically started by two friends in Washington. They’re now in 44 different countries. They create a website with local groups, and they form these gift economies. It’s basically a ton of different Facebook groups where people lend stuff for free or they give stuff away for free—just stuff that they don’t want. This company now has 4.2 million participants, 44 countries, 6500 communities, and 13,000 volunteers.
It should just be like, reduce reuse, not reduce, reuse, and recycle. Just say, reduce reuse, and then just cross out that recycle. Anyway, that’s an interesting way of solving this problem. I’m kind of obsessed with that at the moment.
Rob: That’s interesting. It’s fascinating how deep you go on these things. I mean, that’s what makes your podcast, your show so interesting. It’s not surface-level cursory thinking about recycling. It’s like you’ve just told me I knew 5% of what you just […], 20 times more about it. You obviously did a bunch of research. You must have read books on that. I mean, what drives you to do that? Is it just natural curiosity, the desire to learn about these things?
Sam: I’d make a joke, I’m a manifest cowboy. I remember being a little kid and walking around a city and seeing skyscrapers. I’m like, holy […], a guy or a woman just came up with this idea and convinced all these people that we should build buildings that are 50 stories high, and they built it. That’s amazing. I cannot believe that you could do that. But I was like, but I can’t do that. Others could do that and super few heroes can do that, but not me.
Once I got a little success in business and when I had the Hustle Con and I met the founders of WeWork, the founders of Casper, folks like you and your wife, and people who are doing interesting […] I was like, oh, they’re smart. Maybe they’re smarter than me, but they’re not billions of dollars times smarter than I am. We’re in the same ballpark. We can shape the world any way we want. I’ve always been obsessed with the idea that I can bend the world to my reality.
So I loved figuring out how things work. If you read his biography about Wayne Huizenga with Waste Management, I’m like, oh, that was super easy what he did. It took a lot of work, but it was very straightforward. I could totally do that, but that’s how I wanted to spend my time.
Rob: I think that’s such a good lesson or just a way of thinking about things that I think some entrepreneurs have naturally and I think some entrepreneurs learn along the way. I think folks who are listening to this today, that’s something that you should take away from this conversation is the idea that there aren’t many outliers. Like you said, the people who sell a company for a billion dollars are just not that different from us. They’re probably about as smart as most of us. Maybe they had a leg up.
I mean, I always talk about it as hard work, luck, and skill. Maybe they got a little lucky. Maybe they worked a little harder, but we can all work hard. Developing skills is something any of us can do now. It’s not like 50 years ago where there’s no internet and you have to go to university to learn anything and maybe you don’t have the money to do it. I often say, we live in the best time in history to be an entrepreneur because I truly believe that you can build the skill, put in the hard work, and be successful almost on your own merit.
It depends. I know that if you want funding, but bootstrapping especially, I bootstrapped 10 businesses or whatever and no one knew who the hell I was. It was just me working hard and shipping stuff.
Sam: How much in revenue was your biggest company, like your run rate?
Rob: A few million. That was Drip. It’s much more than that now. But, yeah, when we exited.
Sam: I don’t know if you talked about it or not, but I imagine a $3 million SaaS business is definitely eight figures in personal wealth, or at least in that ballpark, I would imagine. I believe in luck, luck’s a thing. I’m not like this guy that says, well, I just worked really hard. Luck is real. You could say it’s just lucky that I was born at this time in America, but then you could also say it’s lucky that I was healthy.
It’s lucky that I came from a family that was emotionally supportive. I came from a family that could put me through a good high school and things like that. Luck is real, but I think that if you give yourself 15 years, you can create eight figures in wealth. Now, I do think that there are some people—like Elon or Bezos—I think that when we talk about people who are or are not better…
Rob: They’re outliers.
Sam: Yeah, they just have more horsepower. Their brains are just better than mine. Would I want to trade spots with Elon Musk? No. I’m super happy and I don’t think he’s happy. But I will acknowledge that I think he’s just smarter than me. It’s amazing that we’re both considered humans. That said, there are a significant amount of people who I’ve met or who I’ve read about that are worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars and I say, you’re not better than me even at all. Or sometimes I’m better than you, but you stuck with it for 20, 30, 40 years. Bravo to you.
The only thing that you’re better than me is that you did it and didn’t sell.
Rob: Well said, sir. Well, thank you for joining me on the show today. If folks want to keep up with you, you are @theSamParr on Twitter. And of course, My First Million. It’s a good show.
Sam: That’s awesome, man. Thank you. This is cool. I’m happy we got to finally talk. I’ve been listening and reading forever.
Rob: Yeah. It’s great to finally meet you, man. Thanks for coming on. Thanks again to Sam for taking the time to join me on today’s episode. I hope you’re having a great end of your year. We’re almost to 2022. I know I’m excited about what the new year is going to bring and looking forward to what we can accomplish with our next 365 days. With that, I’ll be back in your ears again next Tuesday morning.