On Thursday, I had the amazing opportunity to interview a great friend and mentor of mine named Brian Greenberg. Let’s just say that he’s been in the internet marketing industry since it’s birth around 14 years ago, and he’s a very successful man with many incites to share with college students here at W.P. Carey.
Here’s the interview!
What’s your background – what you studied in college and what you do now?
I studied at University of Arizona, but both of my parents went to ASU. I studied business marketing and entrepreneurship. I really liked both schools, so there’s definitely no rivalry.
What did you learn from your marketing major?
I learned how to measure and track marketing efforts. The whole goal of marketing is to increase sales, but if you don’t know what’s increasing or decreasing sales, then your marketing efforts are pointless. My marketing major taught me the importance of tracking results and making decisions with the data you get from marketing campaigns.
What did you learn from your entrepreneurship major?
How to build business plans. And the major enabled me to investigate and experience each part of a business from finance to the marketing to the operations – which was very valuable.
I started my first company in 2003 called Wholesale Janitorial Supply, which was just 3 years out of college. Before that, I built sites for my father’s businesses, touchfreeconcepts.com and touchfreesolutions.com. Right out of college I took a lot of jobs working for an internet marketing company, and then used those skills to work with my dad’s companies where I did all the project management such as managing design, software development, marketing, and customer service. Those businesses used to be 7 figures. Now they do about 750k in revenue. The main reason for the drop was because we got less traffic from Google when they updated their algorithm in 2012. Many companies lost rankings and traffic from Google when this update hit. Google’s penguin algorithm update was launched in the spring of 2012.
Why did you chose to get involved with the internet?
I saw great future in the internet. It also happened organically. A manufacturer lived down the street and got my dad a distributorship so he could get wholesale prices. My dad handled the operations and negotiating with suppliers. Then Touch Free Concepts got set-up as a drop-ship company. A drop-ship company is a company that basically just fulfills orders and ships products for you so that you don’t have to fulfill your own orders in house. So in this example, another company would ship our products without us having to be involved in the process. We literally just send them the order forms and they ship the products to the customers which automates everything. Another company handles inventory and shipping. The people who they partnered with are drop-shippers. UPS shipped the products, but it was stocked by another company that had 30 warehouses.
How were your companies different than competitors?
We competed on price and set-up businesses so they had a low amount of fixed cost so we could compete with anyone on price. Plus, the usability of the website was better than competitors. And they focused on building up the customer and gaining trust by using testimonials and reviews for products. Visitbilty on the internet, such as being on the first page of Google for all the products they sold, was also important because we had better marketing – so we were #1 for all the top keywords you could imagine. That helped us dominate competitors with a weak online presence.
I also started SEO-Services.com in 2007 and sold that in 2012. We ranked #1 for “seo services” for 3 years which is one of the best, most competitive keywords on the internet. SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it’s the process of ranking websites higher in search engines like Google. The goal is that if your site ranks higher in search engines, you and your clients get more traffic and more sales. We topped out at 1M in revenue and had over 50 clients. We wanted more big clients instead of having hundreds of smaller clients. We spent over 50% of the budget on actually ranking clients rather than just taking someone’s money, which is what a lot of SEO companies do. We just did SEO marketing for our other businesses that we owned as well – like Touch Free Solutions, which is one reason they did so well online.
Did you have any big failures that we can learn from?
I started an e-commerce platform to compete with Shoppify and other big players, but lost 250k to a programmer that didn’t do his job as well as he should have. He basically didn’t program features as efficiently as possible, so a lot of time and money was wasted. And since I paid him hourly, I had to pay him to fix his own mistakes.
How did that happen?
There was no accountability. 3.5 years, that lasted. I had that guy, and he brought in other programmers but it got expensive and outdated because it took so long.
What are some of the biggest lessons you learned in business?
#1 thing about business is the scalability and automation and passive income. Rich Dad Poor Dad. To get on the right side of the chart, you need a business that other people can run for you.
Do something you enjoy doing. It might take a while to figure out what you really enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. If you’re going to put 10,000 hours into your career to become a master, make sure it’s something with a lot of growth potential.
What are the top 3 skills you’d recommend that W.P. Carey students acquire?
3 skills, hmm. 1 project management skills. 2 negotiating / persuasion (Getting to Yes – great book recommendation). 3 resourcefulness – the ability to get things done. You’re a good business owner if you can make great decisions quickly and get things done. People that can’t pull the trigger have the most difficult time getting started in their own company. This is simply risk taking. The ability to take risks is paramount to being successful in business, and it’s like a muscle. The more risk you take, the easier it is to take more risk.
How did you scale your companies so fast? Technology and automating everything as much as possible. If there’s something I can get done automatically with a computer, I’ll do it. Partnerships also help scale things. Strategic partnerships – so like having a contract with a company to do the shipping or get people to do customer service for me or sales like insurance. They are all contractors, so you can easily replace them and work with another contractor and maintain great accountability.
What’s more applicable advice you’d give to college students while they are in college?
Build your own website. Take a simple course on html code. Everything is going towards the internet and technology, so you need a basic understanding of technology and how things work. Otherwise, you will be left behind and less useful.
What you would major in at W.P. Carey if you had to graduate with any business degree?
Computer. (So CIS would be the best major?) YES! If you just major in marketing, you will just end up doing sales out of college, but most of marketing is internet based so you need to understand internet marketing since that’s the most powerful.
If you could only pick 2, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned in business?
Passive income. Don’t focus on the dollar, focus on serving people and provide value the money will come.
What are you doing today?
I run an online insurance brokerage called True Blue Life Insurance that I started in 2012. When I was just out of college, I worked for Metlife as a financial advisor. I earned my series 7 (securities brokerage license) as well. I got good at internet marketing, so couldn’t wait for the chance to start an online insurance agency. The pay-per-click ads for insurance are some of the highest in the internet. My mouth was watering at the money potential in the insurance market. The life insurance market is one of the most profitable. It took over 2 years to start ranking…but I was patient. My first website was called Compass Quote and after 3 years it was ranking on first page for keywords like “term life insurance” traffic worth 500k/mo. I started this site in 2005. Compass Quotes traffic got cut in ½ by Penguin, which is Google’s 2012 algorithm update. Lesson learned – when you become a master – you can get knocked down, but you have the skill and knowledge to get back up. Leaders are readers. I had the knowledge, so I got back up.
What are some books you’ve read recently?
I’m reading a lot of biographies and other great books. Here are the titles.
Steve Jobs Getting to Yes
In the Plex
Built to Sell
The Power of Habit
Good to Great
What industries would you dominate if you had to start over right now?
I would definitely get into online commerce. I’m an entrepreneur, so there’s nothing really specific. But I have that creative spark, so it would change from time to time. Steve Jobs said, “You come to the point when you realize that the people who build everything around you are no smarter than you”. So you can build whatever you want. I would go into e-commerce first. But don’t just do one thing. Have multiple streams of income. Start in multiple businesses…just do no more than two or three otherwise, you can’t focus, and you will probably burn out or fail. So test in multiple industries, and whatever interests you most, execute. Opens up the ability to be a consultant.
What is the future of technology?
The people who know the most are people like Larry Page and Ray Kurzweil. The point of singularity – computers will continue to assist our world. We will have a paperless world. Medical records. Photos. Contracts – everything will be online. Cloud-based technology. Television, cable, phone systems. Everything will be in the cloud.
Wow. That was a lot of high level knowledge. Take some notes on this and leave a comment if you thought this interview was helpful…and I’ll do more interviews. Connect with me on Google+.