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John Jantsch: This episode with the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Asana, a work management software tool that we use to run pretty much everything in our business, all of our meetings, all of our product launches, all of our tasks. And I’m going to show you how you can try it for free a little later.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Abdo Riani. He is a consultant and coach, founder of a number of businesses we’re going to talk about today including the community called Startup Circle, where startup founders get together and talk about all the trials and tribulations of starting a business. So Abdo, thanks for joining me.
Abdo Riani: John, thank you very, very much for having me. I’m very, very excited for this episode.
John Jantsch: Well, thanks. So tell me, you gave me kind of your background in bio, and I think it’s an interesting story. Give, if you don’t mind, I don’t know if you’ve got this down to like the five minute version or something, but give us a little insight into your entrepreneurial journey prior to Startup Circle.
Abdo Riani: Absolutely. So John, I started business because I was blown away by how a few lines of code can make such a big impact in people’s lives. It was back in, I don’t actually remember the exact year, but I was a sophomore in college, maybe eight years ago. Actually I’m still in college right now, just a month or two away from completing my PhD, but back then, John, I wanted to make an impact the way business owners make impacts. I have always respected entrepreneurs because they create value from scratch. They give birth to new things that can contribute to many people’s lives, many stakeholders.
I had always been passionate about the environment, and I wanted to create something that can boost awareness for the environment and can boost recycling rates, so I created Recycler Spotter, a platform that rewards users for their eco friendly actions. And back then you know I needed funding to create the platform, at least I thought I needed funding to create the platform. This platform that can gather users that can connect them to the nearest recycling facility that can help them scan their barcodes and get points for recycling, that can help them use those points to get rewards from local businesses. But I just wasn’t able to get the funding I needed to create this technology, this application. A lot of investors were interested, but many required some tracks, some results, some revenue before they could invest. But for me at that time, and the way I was thinking about it is how am I going to be able to create traction, how am I going to be able to generate revenue if I don’t have this product.
But then I started thinking about it differently. I started doing things that don’t scale. Instead of creating the product, I became the product. I went to market under the condition of the unavailability of the product, so was the one connecting people to the nearest recycling facility, literally using my cell phone, I was doing it. I was the one keeping track of people’s points. I used excel sheets for that. I was the one that helped them get rewards from local businesses through email. I was the one doing all of that. I was the one in the middle connecting three stakeholders, and that helped me, not only go to market quickly, and under, limited to no budget, but also it helped me actually raise funds for creating the scalable version of the application. Many of those are recycling facilities noticed that a lot more people were coming in, and they said, well, can you give us a little more exposure, and we don’t mind paying for, or prepaying for our listing on your website when it’s ready. And when two people said that, I said, well, I can do the same thing with a lot more companies then.
Why don’t I try and ask. I generated, or I raised, I guess, I’m going to call it raised, $20,000 that helped me create the scalable version of the application and that allowed me to serve thousands of people instead of being the one serving 500 people manually.
Now two years and a half later, I realized that I was a lot more passionate about starting businesses than running business, so I started a [inaudible], startup development studio that helps nontechnical groups have entrepreneurs, all in the same idea I followed when I started my first venture, which that is taking ideas to market by doing things that don’t scale. And that helped me, or allowed me to get involved in the launch of about 50 startups over the course of four years, and it wasn’t until the beginning of 2018 when I said, you know what? I want to offer different other products. So I want to offer coaching services. I want to offer digital products. So why don’t I try and do that? And one of the challenges that I was faced was that I didn’t have an audience. I didn’t have an audience that trusted me. I mean I could buy an audience through apps, but I needed people that trust me because I am the asset. They’re going to be investing in me, and I have to prove that I can help them take their ideas to market or grow their businesses.
So one of my hypotheses last year was what if I can leverage people or experts instead of fighting for the attention of their audience? What if I can highlight experts’ expertise, and as a result of that get their promotion, get their testimonials, and get their recommendations to the audience? And that’s when I created the Bootstrapping summit where I highlighted, where I documented the journey of 100 Bootstrap entrepreneurs, and that helped me get exposure to about 5,000 people, that is 5,000 subscribers, and was actually a lot more than 5,000. And thanks to that I was able to sell my coaching services.
Now, a couple months later came Startup Circle. So looking back at my journey of launching startups, I realize that the reason why I was sometimes successful at launching startups, because, not because of resources, it was because of a small change in mindset or a small change in plan. And it was few conversations with customers, especially with mentors, and partners that I thought, those are just small discussions that made such a big difference. What if I can give other entrepreneurs, other passionate entrepreneurs an opportunity to chat with successful founders? Even if it’s a 15 minute chat. Even if it’s a 30 minute chat once in a while. And that allows them to get personalized answers that can help them move their businesses forward.
So I created Startup Circle, which is exactly that, a daily live Q&A session with successful entrepreneurs where, and we keep the sessions small so that those who join, attendees or the entrepreneurs that join can not only ask questions, but follow up questions and get personalized advice and connect with the speakers and get to remember. And Startup Circle has so far allowed me to connect many passioned entrepreneurs with many successful founders through, so far, about 150 live Q&A sessions. We host them on a daily basis, and the goal is really to get to a point, perhaps, in the future where we can democratize guidance, where every entrepreneur can connect with their idols, or at least those who are a few steps ahead of them so they can tell them what to do, what to avoid, and what to focus on to move their businesses forward. So this is a snapshot. I’m not sure it was five minutes, but hopefully I shared the journey.
John Jantsch: That was perfect. So you’ve actually, in some ways, I don’t want to gloss over this because I think it’s an important aspect of this, in some ways you have also learned along the way how to kind of start and leverage joint partnerships to build a business, build authority, build connection, build sales. You’re doing, you actually mentioned the Bootstrap event, so you’re actually using that as a kind of a marketing channel, aren’t you?
Abdo Riani: Exactly. That had, that made a huge difference, John, last year. I mean, I had invested a lot in content, marketing. I had invested a lot in social media marketing. I had written guides that were 15,000 words long, and applied many strategies that helped me distribute those guides and help me create some virality, but it wasn’t until I created the Bootstrap, and so that simple idea that if you highlight people’s expertise and can give them exposure, and can build the relationship with them, why would they mind sharing and distributing your message to their audience? So I, the Bootstrapping summit allowed me to accomplish my goals very quickly, in fact launching online events or launching joint partnerships is what I consider now every entrepreneur’s opportunity for two, three months overnight success because it can help you accomplish so many things, whether it’s relationship building, whether it’s exposure, whether it’s branding, about branding, in fact, thanks to that I was able recently to become a Forbes contributor. I have been trying to become a Forbes contributor for a while, and thanks to that, thanks to that proves that I am the Bootstrapping guy online, or one of the Bootstrapping people to write about one of the Bootstrap entrepreneurs to write about Bootstrapping online. It has helped me get that branding and the attention of the editors.
So I wanted to apply this same idea, John, and exchange this through email in different ways. One of the other ways I’m doing it is, I mentioned chambers. So I went to local chambers, and I told them one of your goals, I know that one of your goals, and I’m looking at your calendar, I know that one of your goals is to educate local entrepreneurs, is to provide them with human capital resources that learn from experts and get advice to help them grow or start their businesses locally. And I told them that I know you have a budget for that, and perhaps it’s not feasible to get many experts to come in and give a presentation for a couple thousand dollars every other week. So one of the things I proposed I could do is bring those experts, although not in person, bring them online where we can have them talk about something and share some insights and answer questions live. And a lot of chambers were very open to the idea, and currently actually am in the planning stages of launching the first ones with here, one of the local ones in South Texas. So that is another application of what I call the accelerate method, or a way to accelerate your growth no matter how you define growth actually.
For me, the distribution that’s exactly what I asked for, when they ask me how else, how can we compensate you? And my answer is distribution. All I need is for you to distribute this event or this initiative so that people can come and learn about me and learn about Startup Circle, and also learn about the speaker and the topic. So it becomes a win win, and it’s also doing the same thing with other companies, companies that offer complimentary services and that need or want to educate their members so that their members can use those companies’ software and build successful business. So whatever they want to, that those companies offer the software for, so yeah, John, took some time to answer your question, but [inaudible] online is important.
John Jantsch: I like the chamber idea because I think it’s a very old school business that you are bringing some new ideas to, and a lot of online marketers have been doing summits and webinars and using this technology for years, but there’s still a lot of local business, and I would put the chamber in that, that haven’t come around to that, so I think it’s a great sort of proven application to bring to those businesses.
Hey, as I said in the intro, this is brought to you by Asana. It’s a work management software tool that we’ve been using of a long time. Our entire team, it just allows us to be so much more productive to unify our communication, to keep track of tasks, to assign and delegate, pretty much run everything from meetings all the way up through our client work, and you can get it and try it free for 30 days because you are a listener. So get started at asana.com/ducttape. That’s asana, A-S-A-N-A, .com/ducttape.
John Jantsch: Tell me a little bit about, I mean putting together one of these summits, just kind of go into if somebody’s thinking, okay, this sounds interesting. I like this idea. What goes into putting one of these on?
Abdo Riani: Oh, a lot. In fact, you know when I launched the Bootstrapping summit back in May, I had actually never interviewed anybody in my life, John, back then. Right now I run one to three sessions a day, but back in April, I think, i had been thinking about launching something like this for a while, but I hadn’t done it, and I just woke up, and I said, you know what? I think this is the right time. I have the time, and I have the energy, and I have been thinking about it for a while, so let’s do it. And what goes on is obviously interviewing a lot, so you have to first be prepared that you are going to interview people and that you are going to prepare for those interviews, and that you are going to try to get as much information from those speakers or guests as much as possible.
What is more, I don’t want to say more important, but as important as the interviews is promotion. So the idea is that you are going to get most of your attendees, most of the people that are going to sign up for the summit, are through the speakers, through the guests. The guests are encouraged, I guess, to share with their audience, preferably through email, one or two dedicated emails, and if you can, if you want to go an extra step, then you find partners, partner companies or promotional partner companies. For my last summit, for example, I had 14 promotional partner companies, and those are companies that are I cold emailed that reached out to and told them about the summit and what it’s created for, and if they would be inclined to partner with me on this by sending two dedicated emails to their audience in exchange I would do the same thing for them.
So to summarize, two things that you definitely need to have is number one, you definitely need to have speakers about a topic, and the more specific you are in choosing the topic, the better, because people will be coming and expecting some outcomes from joining the summit. And the second thing is the promotion, just as important, mostly those who are going to be your guests are those who are going to promote you. Just need to make sure that they are aware of that, and they are willing to promote, in fact one of the mistakes I made last time was that I had 100 sessions. I then realized that I didn’t need 100 sessions. 100 sessions, or 100 interviews is a lot. I could have focused on perhaps 40, and tried to be more specific with the topic instead of saying, for example, Bootstrapping, in general. Perhaps Bootstrapping [inaudible] startups or Bootstrapping [inaudible] startups or Bootstrapping AI startups. That was number one.
And the second thing was that quantity of sessions didn’t matter. What mattered was how many people promoted, and about 20% only of those people promoted. So if I had perhaps 40 people, and only 20 promoted, I would have had the same result as 100 people, and only 20 promoted. Even in terms of content, it didn’t make that big of a difference because I realized later that a lot of people who joined and attended every single session got to a point where they got tired, sometimes confused, some … It’s normal that entrepreneurs get to different places through different routes, so when you hear 10 different entrepreneurs talking about how they bootstrapped their startups or small business, and you hear 10 different ideas, you sometimes get overwhelmed and confused, so focus is important. And then you just go to market, then launch.
John Jantsch: So tell us a little bit in closing about Startup Circle. Can … how can people … what can people expect when they come there, and what’s kind of the best way for somebody to participate?
Abdo Riani: Absolutely. So StartupCircle.co. You need to register. We keep the sessions small, and the way we, the way we do it, in other words, the way we assign people to sessions is through a couple questions. So we ask you who, first of all who you want to attend, which sessions you want to attend. You find a list of upcoming sessions, and by date and time. It’s easy to find the page and select the speakers that you want to attend. You reply to our welcome email or the first email that you will receive with a list of people that you want to attend, and a quick description about yourself, and finally one of your most active social media accounts. The reason we ask if we want to make sure that those who join really need to be there. Those are free sessions, but we want to make sure that if you join, you need answers from the speaker or this topic. And once you’re in, then the way the sessions are organized, for about 20 minutes, we I interview the guest, focusing on one topic. And then you open the conversation. You can ask your questions through chat. You can unmute the microphone. You can turn on the video. You can do whatever you want for about 20, 30 minutes. And then you connect into the next session, the next session, the next session. We host many sessions.
John Jantsch: Well, Abdo, thanks for joining us and telling us about your entrepreneurial journey. And love hearing about Startup Circle. We’ll have the URL in the show notes. So, Abdo, thanks. And hopefully we’ll run into you out there on the road.
Abdo Riani: John, thank you very much for having me. This has been great.