What you will learn
In October last year, I met Justin and several of his apprentices at a conference in Bangkok. I was impressed by what I saw so wanted to get Justin on the podcast and pick his brains to find out how he runs his the apprentice program over at Empire Flippers.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
Mark: Hey guys Mark here, and welcome to the Authority Hacker podcast. Today is episode number 58 and we’re talking about hiring superstar apprentices for your business, and I am going to be joined by a very special guest, Justin Cooke from Empire Flippers, and today we’re going to go through how superstar apprentices can benefit your business, how they compare to regular staff, which sites to use to hire them, how to screen them, how to interview them, even how much to pay them, so if that sound interesting, then please stay tuned. The url for this podcast will be authorityhacker.com/apprenticepodcast and if you have any questions for me or Justin just post them in there in the comment section below. Now, I am recording this intro after we actually did the interview, but one small mistake I made several times which will become quite obvious is I used the phrase “intern” in place of “apprentice”. Really, it means much the same thing in this context, so don’t let that confuse you too much. But, enough of me talking, let’s enjoy the interview.
Hey Justin, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
Justin: Good man, thanks for having me on buddy.
Mark: Cool. And where in the world are you at the moment? You are in Vietnam, is that right?
Justin: I am in Saigon, Vietnam. I actually just went back and listened to your first episode, don’t you hate when people do that, they go back and listen to your episodes- I went back and listened to it, and there was a part where you were talking about conferences and how the best parts of conferences are when you are at the bar with other guys, you’ve had a couple of drinks, and they are just kind of talking business, they are not on stage, kind of given the fluffy stuff, they are like okay here is the real me, here is where I just totally screwed up and then you get to get some, I hope you guys have some scotch in your hand, we are going to get into it today.
Mark: [laugh] Yes, so for anyone listening, Justin and I met last year at DCBKK in Bangkok and I think you guys sponsored the opening party, was that right?
Justin: Yeah, but it were known as kind of the party crowd, so that makes sense.
Mark: So it’s you have to blame for all those horrible hangovers I had there.
Justin: That’s right.
Mark: Alright, so today we are going to be talking about hiring interns, which is something I’ve seen you guys first hand do very successfully. But, first just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are, you run Empire Flippers, which is essentially like a website broker/ platform, is that right?
Justin: Yeah, you got that right, it’s like a marketplace/ brokerage where we help others buy sell and invest in websites and online businesses.
Mark: Cool. And how many people work for you at the moment?
Justin: So, there is Joe and I, I’ve got a business partner named Joe, we’ve got another six apprentices that are on our team, and then we’re hiring two to three more, we actually got a post up about that today, for customer service, and then we’ve got I think 12 people in the Philippines and we have a few contractors that are on and off, we have an editor, podcast editor, we have a written content editor and a few other people, designers and stuff.
Mark: All right. And, did you make a conscious decision to structure your company in this way or did it sort of naturally evolve as you were growing?
Justin: Not exactly. So, some of it was intentional, and some of it wasn’t so we started off with an outsourcing company back in the day, so that is kind of where we got our VA, Virtual Assistant, Chops was hiring a bunch of Filipinos we had an office there, so we were very familiar with that so we kind of started with that and we followed the apprentice model based on the success we’d seen the Tropical MBA guys have and we thought the whole apprentice mode, which we’ll get into, was ridiculous, we thought that if you are going to pay someone 1500 bucks a month, or 2000 bucks a month, you are going to be getting dirt balls applying and they are going to be kind of the bottom, the basement, just dirtballs, and so we went on and met those guys, few years back and met one of their apprentices that had just showed up and he was this hungry young dude, willing to learn, ready to work, we were like, what, how does this guy, why is this guy interested in, and we realized there is an opportunity there for us to save money by hiring sharp, motivated people that are looking for an adventure, for them to have an opportunity and so we followed their model actually.
Mark: Alright, and so, what was the first step you took in order to implement that program?
Justin: So we already had a bit of an audience with our podcast, our new podcast at the time, and our blog and we talked about kind of like the lifestyle, a little bit, we definitely talked about our business, and we said look, why don’t we just put a job post out there, the kind of job post we’d want to have, right, where I say look, you are going to come out here to this crazy country in the Philippines, we are going to teach you everything we know, you are going to have a seat at the table, you are going to be one of us, you are going to be on the team, you are not going to make much money at the start, but we want you to grow in our company and we are very early on. And we just put it out there and then they had to create a YouTube video, three to five minutes and they had to fill out a bunch of questions, no resumes, nothing like that, and just put it up there to see who would apply.
Mark: And, where did you actually advertise for this position, was it to your list or-
Justin: Yeah, it was just to our email list, it was just to our own audience, that was it, we figured especially with the first one, we figured we better have someone that has heard of us, that kind of knows of us, later on, we realized there is a trick to it, and this is especially true for any of your listeners that may not have an audience and they are not talking about business and whatever, and they still need or want to hire an apprentice in their business, is that I want to leverage other people’s list and emails, so like I mentioned before, the Tropical MBA guys have audience that is interesting, Digital Nomadic Academy, Cody Mckibben, Sean Ogle from Location Rebel, there is a whole bunch of these people out there that have audiences of people that are interested in being a location independent, entrepreneur or even apprentice potentially, so leveraging their list could be helpful for you in finding that apprentice, and they are generally happy to do that, because this is providing value to their audience, they can get one of their audience members set up with this kind of apprentice path, and they end up doing really well. I mean, it’s a small circle, right, a couple of years form now they can end up doing a business together, they are going to be appreciative, it just kind of works out so there is value in them doing that.
Mark: So you are saying that if someone doesn’t know any of these people, you think it might be worth them contacting them directly and they might actually advertise their intern position for free?
Justin: Absolutely. They are happy to do that generally, reach out to them on Twitter, give a message. We actually have a blog post on our site where we ask a bunch of people in a community we are part of the dynamite circle, hey does anyone want to do apprentice, we are really impressed with Jacob Puhl who runs Firegang Marketing, his guy is one of the early apprentices, we are impressed with them. We said look, with this model we’ve had a lot of success, do you want to hire an apprentice, here are the basic requirements, if you do this we’ll put a list of these positions up on our site, and we did that for eight different apprentice positions and we just recently updated it so we are happy to do that, we are happy to share with our list because we want other people to have their opportunity, right.
Mark: Right. And, when you are creating these job ads essentially, how do you present yourself out there, is it like hey, look, come work for us abroad we’re this fun company, lots of potential, how are you framing that?
Justin: Yeah, so one of the first things we say is this is the job we wish we’d had years ago, and we honestly feel that way, right, if you are in the US or you are in Australia or you are in the UK and say you are in London and it’s raining all the time, and you are seeing these entrepreneurs that are in, well, not Budapest right now but like in Chiang Mai, or they are in Saigon or they are in Bangkok or Manila and they are doing some fun, interesting things, you are like god, I wish I could do that, so farming it in a way to where like this is your opportunity to actually do is interesting, so we definitely, there is that thread throughout the kind of post but we don’t want them to think oh this is a way for me to fund my travels, I had someone mention that to me the other day, I want to be able to fund my travels, no, no, no, we’re building a business. So, we make it clear that it is a, you are going to be working, it is a position, yes you get to visit cool locations and we are going to do some amazing stuff, but you are going to be working a lot of the time so it’s not a laptop on the beach, sipping Mai Tai all day.
Mark: Right. Okay, and what are you trying to screen for that initial phase when people are first applying, you said before you made them do YouTube videos, what are you looking for when you are comparing those?
Justin: The truth is, we are screening for donkeys man, so I want donkeys, not to apply, or I want them to screw up in their application. So, I want them to not include their YouTube video, I want them to email our support staff, their resume. I want that, I’ll never see it, I won’t have to deal with it, so it just makes it really easy to sort them out, so it’s kind of like a funnel, so the post itself is top of funnel. I want to spend the least amount of time at the top of the funnel, because that is the biggest waste of my time, as they kind of filter themselves out by not following directions, that funnel gets tighter and tighter and gets to the people that I do want to talk to and that are qualified and that are worthwhile. I mean, worthwhile for this position, they are probably worthwhile, you know what I mean.
Mark: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point actually, I picked up this funnel concept of hiring from, I think it was Noah Kagan released the product in this many years ago, and something we’ve done a lot and had a lot of success with as well, we found that just doing little things like send your resume as a pdf or if we’re asking them to send a screenshot of something, we would ask them to do in a specific way as a jpeg, and if someone sent us a png, looking for these kind of ways to discount people early I think that’s really good.
Justin: Yeah, when they call us [10:03 inaudible] or they call them- I forgot there is a word for it, and you can use those on things like Upwork as well, that can be helpful in weeding them out, it’s gotten to the point where a lot of the guides for the people that are looking to work on Upwork mention that, so might want to have two.
Mark: Yeah, I’ve seen that most Upwork job ads these days have, you have to mention a certain phrase so that they know you’ve actually read it or something, all the guides teach you about it, that’s quite funny. Okay, so then what happens once you’ve sort of weeded out the donkeys as you put it?
Justin: So, we’re not talking about the first time we did this, because I think we’ve learned a bit since then, I’ll just tell what we’re doing today.
Mark: Actually, tell us about the first time you did this, I am quite curious now.
Justin: Yeah, so okay, so the first time we did it, we got it down to, and so after we got all the information, they were submitting a bunch of the information through google form and it goes into a Google spreadsheet, right, and so we can kind of just look at them person by person, and we’re grading the base on their answers to specific questions for the job. So, I think with that first when we are actually looking for someone that had some technical expertise and so we were kind of judging them based on the questions we asked them and their answers, so we knocked some of them out, we didn’t grade them based on a few things, things like fit in terms of skill sets, whether we thought their skills were fit and we give them like a 1 to 10, based on whether we thought they were coachable, so did they seem like kind of aline wall for like they don’t really want to take direction, we grade them on that. We graded them on fit, actually, we actually did a lot of those on the interview, so like whether they were a good fit for the company, were they coachable was after the interview, sorry, but we did grade them on some of the stuff based on their answers initially, and then we set them up for an interview, and we only did one interview the first round, now we do two rounds of interviews, but we do an interview, I think it was maybe 20, 30 minutes each, now we do 5 to 10 minute interview and then we’ll do another 20 to 30 minute interview as a follow up. But we did a few interviews and one of the mistakes we made the first time around is we ended up with three good solid candidates, two that were outstanding, and we just hired one. And, we didn’t know how well it would work, whether it would work at all, so we didn’t want to overhire, I was feeling like we were just testing the waters, but we knew we had two at least two, maybe three just outstanding candidates, and we only went with one and we wouldn’t make that mistake today, we would hire at least two out of that bunch. And the second guy by the way at that time went off to work with Tim Conley over at Foolish Adventure and then ended up basically becoming a COO for my buddy’s company, and running it, so yeah, he did really well for himself.
Mark: Awesome. So how does that process evolve then, over the years?
Justin: We can define it better, so in the initial submission obviously we were looking to weed out donkeys, but we were also looking for kind of fit for the position, we still don’t require CVs, I don’t really care where you went to college or for how long, I care more about your fit for the position, your experience, we will check references now, especially toward the end of the process, we didn’t do that early on, which probably wasn’t so good, we do the second, we do the two interviews so the first one is just a quick five to ten minutes on skype can I work with this person, does he seem like a person I can work with, are they worth it, would they be a good fit, just kind of like judging them real quick and then we can weed out a few more and then we get down to it, and now when we get down to it like, if we have let’s say 40 people apply, when we get down to the final four to six, they are pretty good, so then we do final interviews, if we are looking for one, we might do four to six interviews, if we’re looking for two or three we might do eight or twelve and then we have to like make a decision and so we’ll look at our previous notes on their fit, on their skill sets, on their experience, and then make a decision based on that and we don’t have a set things, it’s not like I am only hiring one, I don’t care if the second person is great, but we’re not hiring them, no, we’ll pick up a second or third now if they are great.
Mark: Right, when people are applying for this, are they aware of what they are going to be doing on a day by day basis, I don’t imagine too many of these interns have experience in your specific industry. I guess it’s more you are looking for people who are generally smart people who are willing and able to adapt.
Justin: Yeah, especially starting off, I want smart capable people, and I’ll take that over almost anything else. Like, that is what you want early on, now, we want some skills so we have a customer service position, I post up right now for it, that we are going to want to know that you have customer service experience, so now we are going to teach you our business and our industry, right, and that’s a lot of things, there is not a lot of people out there doing what we are doing so you have to learn the business of course, but I want you to have some innate customer service skills to be able to deal with customers and tougher situations, and so I want in the interview and in the questions to ask you about some of your experiences and see what your answers are.
Mark: Right. And you also mentioned that you don’t care where someone went to college, like is someone going to college at all a big deal? Or do you also accept people who don’t?
Justin: No. It doesn’t matter to me. I want to know kind of what their experiences are, what have they done up until this point to prepare themselves to work for us, right, and I don’t care, they are going to be working for us, potentially, I want to know what they have actually done, what they have accomplished, right, so I am looking more at accomplishments rather than education, and I’ve had people try to oversell their education, right, it’s like well what have you done, well, nothing but I did got to his amazing school, and I was involved in these clubs and I am like yeah, I don’t care.
Mark: Right. So, basically where they are not able to demonstrate success in your line of business, you are looking for them to demonstrate success in other areas of their lives so that they are hungry, they are success achieving person? Is that right?
Justin: That’s right.
Mark: Okay. And how transparent are you with the sort of remuneration salary, because, this is an internship position, you are not paying them a fortune to do this I presume? But I mean, do you list out in the job ad, or is that something you share with them later, how do you structure that?
Justin: So yeah, I’ll answer your question, we mention it in the ad itself, some people don’t, we have not, I think a couple of points before, but I just thought it was a little, I didn’t like it because it’s not a ton of money, I think now it’s 2000 bucks a month, the first time it was like 1000, or 1500 bucks a month, plus we pay your rent and food or something like that, but now it’s like 2000, so it’s not a ton of money but you are also going to be, this new one is in Saigon, it is these days much cheaper so we do mention it upfront, and we do mention that after the six months period that we definitely want you to turn into a full time team member and that your pay goes up considerably and for this position, customer service we said 40 or 60 a year is totally reasonable for the sales people we are saying 80 to 120 a year which is reasonable, at some point after the six months, but they get an immediate bump because they get added to our profit share, or our compensation package after six months.
I should mention that I think an internship is the wrong way to put it, that implies at least in my mind that it’s kind of a short term post college gig, right, that you do for some period of time sometimes they are paid, sometimes they are unpaid, but it’s just kind of like you are going to make some actual money, learn some skills, and then go do something else; that is not what we are looking for, that is some of the reasons we call it an apprenticeship, we want to bring people on and give them full behind the scenes look at our actual business, so when we do our meetup, so we are doing strategy meetings, they have a seat at the table, right, they get to see what is going on inside of our business, we talk very openly about where we are at, where we are going and we want them to see not just what they are working on, but the other areas of growth in our business and the other things people are doing and working on and struggling with, so it’s more than just an internship in my mind and that is one of the reasons we – they are labels and labels, but I think they are important and some of the reasons we call it apprenticeship and eventually, we don’t people that are going to come up for six months of a year, we did the napkin math on this, and our estimate is that it takes about a year to make our money back and by money i mean our time to, and our efforts right, in kind of getting them at speed, it takes a while, it takes effort and energy, on my part, on Joe’s part and the rest of our team, so it takes about a year to get paid back, we break even in a year. Maybe nine months to a year, so we need them to stick with us beyond that to get a ROI on that hire, right. So we really want them to be with us for years, if that makes sense.
Mark: Cool, and, after you’ve made the hiring decision, okay, we want this guy, you fly them out physically to Vietnam, is that right?
Justin: So, normally, we have them pay for their own flight, so they have to pay for the flight, they have to book it, and there is a reason for that too, we don’t want to be buying them flights and have them, there is a commitment level, when they buy the flight they are committing to it and one instance, one time where we paid the money and had the guy pay us back, but normally we have them buy their own flight.
Mark: Okay, and what does their first day or their first week look like when they start working for you?
Justin: I think early on they were super freaked out, because we had done a lot of this and it wasn’t a great, there wasn’t a history, they weren’t even a lot of people doing it, right, the Tropical MBA guys, among the ton of others, so we are flying them out to this crazy foreign country, they maybe have never been to Asia, maybe never outside of their home country and to get off the plain is a freaky thing, right, so they are like, I don’t know, if these guys turn out to try to kidnap me or something I am going to hop back on the plane, that must have been scary, now the guys that make now a little bit better kind of what they are in for, because a lot of people do it, we talked about it. But yeah,s o the first day, the first week even is not all that structured, it’s mostly just kind of like the guys that come out here, they are probably going to come end of March, the last week of March, is the idea and then we have our whole management team flying in first of April, so I think whatever that Monday is I think it’s like a 2nd of April, 3rd of April, we are going to actually start on that date, so when they fly in, that first week, they are to be hanging out, they might get setup the email, we might get them set up few things but really they are going to spend a week just kind of hanging out in Saigon with us, getting a feel for it, eating some lunch like just literally hang out a bit and get to know us socially.
Mark: And do you help them sort of like, do you arrange apartments for them or is it just like you are on your own.
Justin: It depends, some of the guys we’ve hired like have been traveling and been in South East Asia before and some of them haven’t. So for the ones that are just kind of experienced with that and they roll up in Chiang Mai they know exactly where to go or they are in Saigon, they kind of know what they are doing, we don’t worry about them that much; but we do a lot more hand-holding for the people that are brand new and we’ll generally kind of get them set up, get them a place, pay for the hotel for a week when they first get here, until they can get a place that kind of thing. So we are pretty generous and trying to- and both with our time and just getting them comfy. Especially, and this is important for I think your listeners out there thinking about heading this route, when we first started, and I thought this was great actually, I would have them come out and stay in my house, I had a nice big house in the Philippines and made service and everything. So we have them stay with me in one of the extra bedrooms and we told them you don’t have to pay any rent, you don’t have to pay for any food, we have maid service, we have everything taken care of for you. It’s super easy and what is great about that is they don’t have to shop for an apartment, or something in a foreign country, they don’t know what they are doing there, they don’t know how to get it, they don’t know how to get anything they need- that stuff is all taken care for you, all we want you to do is learn and work, aright, and have fun. So learn, work and have fun, that was great, when we were starting out and had that, now i travel quite a bit so it’s more difficult to do that and we don’t do that as much anymore, but we do make sure they are close and they are in the same city with us for a while.
Mark: And how critical is it for them to be there in person with you and for how long?
Justin: Absolutely critical, I wouldn’t do an apprenticeship where they didn’t come out, now we’ll hire a contractors, that don’t necessarily need to come out and stay with us, but for any apprentice they have to come out for how long, I’d say, well Joe just went through a thing, we were with the sales guys, we have three new sales guys and they came onboard last October and November, and they were with us in Chiang Mai for a month, went down with Joe to Manila for a couple of months and just now some of them are starting to kind of go off on their own so three months or so for me, and that is kind of Joe’s crew, for me I like a good six months and ultimately I like to check in with them at least every couple of months so a lot of times they are relatively close in Southeast Asia so some of them are in Bangkok and were like hey let’s get together in two weeks and work on this project, they will fly out to Saigon and we’ll spend two weeks working together. You know what I mean.
Mark: Yeah. Do you think it’s absolutely critical though that people do work for you in person, and would you ever take an intern that was in Australia or the other side of the world?
Justin: So we’ve heavily discussed that. And because the question is are we missing out on good applicants because they are not willing to go on this adventure. They are not willing to move halfway around the world for at least six months or whatever, are we missing on on people and the answer is yes, and we are definitely missing on some people. But I think it’s also like, and we are realizing this now, we didn’t set out with this intention, but we have a culture to our company which does involve travel, which does involve SE Asia to some degree, a lot of us are out here are most of the time, so not wanting to take that leap may mean you are not a great fit for the company, so we’ve gone back and forth on whether we would, I think we are probably 80, 90% no, meaning we wouldn’t hire an apprentice that wasn’t willing to come out here for at least six months and work with us.
Mark: Right. What kind of tasks do these people do in their first months, and how are you training them at that?
Justin: Pretty low level, so I think Greg and Mike Swigunski came out and they are on the marketing team, one is a content manager and one is like a sales marketing liason; we had some formalized training for them meaning we had a google presentations to give them based on our sales process and operations and everything, but we gave them some pretty low level tasks to start off with, I think for Mike, he was going through out of Hubspot email list and cleaning up some data, so bad data, getting rid of that, and just searching through Hubspot to get rid of that, I think for Greg it was coming up with, he was content manager, so having him come up with some outlines for content he wanted to write, and reviewing them with me, so just an outline, give me an outline of kind of your main point, who the target market is, what do you want to say, and kind of the five or six bullet points you want to address, and then we’ll go over, whether I think we should say that, any changes I want made, whether I think it’s a good piece of content, to target or not that kind of thing. So, with Greg, I really wanted him to get a feel for our voice, and to kind of our beliefs, kind of where we are coming from with business so that he is able to write and publish content and not publish content that isn’t a fit for that.
Mark: Right. So, just to clarify then, it’s kind of like low level-ish task, something which you probably would traditionally outsource, it’s like to a Filipino team or whatever is what you give them to start with just so they understand the business.
Justin: One things I add to that is that you need to be really careful to not give them, it’s easy to give them bullshit task for like, tasks that are just not valuable, that you may be doing or that you just kind of, it’s like legacy stuff in your company, they just kind of keep doing but you don’t know the value of and it’s important to not give them the bullshit. So don’t give them the crappy tasks that are not valuable, because now you are just shifting crappy work, and crappy non valuable work to someone else, and it would be hard if we need to cleanup later, it’s easier for you to stop it then rather than pass on. So you want to pass on tasks, maybe low level tasks, but they have to be important and they have to be valuable to you.
Mark: Yeah. And you also mentioned that you involved them in sort of strategy meetings and the sort of the direction of the company from fairly early on, and I know you guys are quite open with numbers and that kind of stuff, how successful have you found that approach?
Justin: Great. So, we had the strategy meeting-
Mark: Sorry, was it deliberately you did that for the interns or was it just your sort of general company ethos beforehand?
Justin: We’ve been doing that for several years now, so we were doing it even before, we do these quarterly strategy meetings, three times a year. But, mostly quarterly meetings where we talk about strategy, we have a process for that what we look at, our five year plan, where we want to be, kind of the dreamy stuff, right that doesn’t change very often, maybe every once in awhile just a little bit, but like the five year plan where we are going to be, what is our annual goal for that year, and then what did we do last quarter, did we hit our goals, did we not hit our goals, and what are we doing this next quarter to meet our annual goals, so we just kind of work it back, five year plan, what is our annual goal to get to that five year plan, what did we do last quarter based on our goals previously, and what are we going to do this next quarter to hit our annual goals.
Mark: How often have you had an apprentice, sorry I keep calling them interns, the apprentice give you some like awesome idea which you’ve implemented in that in such a meeting that’s really like transformed your company?
Justin: Not much. Not the first one anyway, so the one we have coming up in April, it will be, we are hiring some customer service guys that will come out in March, so maybe mid April we do a strategy meeting, so we will be three weeks into their kind of time with us, and we’ll be doing this kind of strategy meeting which they will be like, just kind of like soaking it up, but it gives them a good feel for, because we argue and debate those two right, so there is, and, now with ego, but like to the benefit to the company and Joe and I will get into it sometimes, Joe and Greg will get into it, and we’ll get into these kind of arguments about what our goals should be, so they get to see how we argue, how we work through problems, I think all of that is super valuable, in addition to knowing kind of what our goals are and making sure everyone is on the same path to hit those goals, like seeing how we interact, I think is really valuable, so the first time they see that, I don’t think it’s very valuable, I don’t think that they add any value to those meetings until maybe the second or third round when they are a part of it.
Mark: Yeah, it’s really interesting you mentioned that, because Gael, my business partner, we also sort of get into as you say quite a lot, but it’s more from a sort of data logical what is the best decision for the business point of view, people are always fascinated when they experience that first hand and quite often they sort of think oh why are they arguing so much, but then-
Justin: Have you recorded those?
Mark: We haven’t actually, but it’s funny because we always come together like about an hour or so after we start and it just like we figure out the solution together and we are both absolutely on board with it.
Justin: Yeah, we had one, we were in Phuket, or no, and we’ve been going on like all day, and going through stuff and everyone kind of hit the wall, right, we thought we were somewhere and then we just everyone hit a wall and so we took like an hour, hour and a half off and people could nap or they could just chill or shower, whatever they want to do; and then, I think Mike and I were talking, we kind of had some breakthrough, we were like oh we are being so silly about this, like we just need to back it down to I think it was like metrics on, we were just talking how many we need to sell to hit our goals, and then we went through how many submissions we need or whatever, but we just started like breaking down the metrics and we were like oh I think we go this, when we got everyone back together we were like, we were hungry again because we were back on track, so the things like that are pretty fun actually.
Mark: Yeah, so, I wanted to ask as well how long after hiring an apprentice a) did they end up going into sort of more permanent full time position, and what do you estimate the saving is on hiring someone as apprentice, training them up versus hiring an already qualified person just to do that role anyway?
Justin: That’s a really good question, and I don’t know. So I know that, what we found is that if we hire apprentices, and right after we bring them to our manager meetups, we get our management team together about three times a year and we get together for like three to five weeks, and we do it in different locations. So if we bring on apprentices right before that, it seems like they get up to speed much faster, the reason is we are all in one place, we are all working together, and it’s easy for them to get training and for them to ask questions, and for them to start integrating in. So it may take only, two to three months for them to start being valuable, whereas before it might take four, six months if we didn’t bring them on at that time, so we time it right now and I think that’s better. In terms of should we hire some of those who are already qualified, pay them more instead saving the money early on, that is a good question, I don’t know, I think that, I am not sure about this, but I think that our ethos and our culture is somewhat based around taking your lumps early on, so having everyone come out and kind of go through the apprenticeship model where you are [32:01 inaudible] and you’ve got to deal with that, I think is valuable, I am not- I think as we grow that may change but it’s been valuable up until this point. So we’ll see in the future.
Mark: I mean, certainly I know, I didn’t meet most of your apprentices who were at DCBKK, everyone seems to like really love your company, not just love your company, but really love your company or seem to really bought into it, and so I think there might be a kind of longer term they are more attached to you or they will be more loyal or something like that kind of going on as well.
Justin: I think so. We do the manager meetups, we also do some kind of really fun stuff, right, and I am not saying that we are buying their loyalty, but we are buying their loyalty; no, we do some really fun stuff, so we do like we are renting a yacht, or we are chilling in this crazy villa, or we rent out the penthouse in Phuket or whatever, we do this, those are the kind of stuff they might not do on their own, but like with the company budget and our team together like it’s worth it to us, our account argues with uhs about that but we think it’s perfect to us, and so we do these kind of really fun stuff that they might not do, otherwise, and I think also that most of the people on our team like, one of the reasons we don’t hire, when we started we didn’t hire more than one person in addition to the other reasons I mentioned, was that we didn’t want to hire a bunch of people and have them determine the culture kind of direction of the company with how we are, now if we take two or three people they kind of integrate into what we have already built and the team we already have rather than them kind of pulling us in a new direction.
Mark: That’s really interesting point actually, I never even thought of that, something we are trying to do is hire quite a few people at the moment, but, I guess that probably has pretty big implication if you bring in a big batch of people like that.
Justin: I think it’s harder to get them all on the same page, now you might just like, if you can direct it a bit, and you end up with something that is good, then you grew a lot faster then you would have otherwise so that is good, but I think it’s just a little more risky, right.
Mark: And something which I wanted to ask you, so a lot of people who run online businesses, I mean, depending on the business model you take, there tend not to be very high barriers to entry for someone new to come and steal your business model, or your clients or your idea or something like that; do you guys consciously protect yourself against that in any way or are you worried about it or do you sort of mitigate that through having a great relationship and structure and culture.
Justin: So, years and years ago, we were a little bit worried about that, we were especially worried about like having people have access to our code or account, like a bunch of other things, right, get how do you share access and thing like class password; we were worried about the things like that, we were worried about, if we give all the secret sauce away, what is to keep someone from just going and copying it? Like why can’t they just copy it, and I am sure people building authority sites are definitely in that position and I think we loosened up over time and realized that if we want to grow we are going to have to bring people in that have like it’s beneficial to their job to know other parts of the company, so I can’t just Chinese wall and segment it all out, and say you only have this bit of mind share, this is all I am giving you and I see some of the SEO I know, I have a buddy that does that right now still, and he’s got a pretty large business and it’s becoming a challenge for him do that. What we found is that, and by the way, initially we thought our apprentices will be just kind of interns, they would come with us six months and maybe a year and they will kind of go build their own business and we would wish them well, and we realize that is not true, a lot of them want to stay with us so that is good, how can we keep them with us, and then, for the guys that do eventually want to go off and kind of do their own thing, so let’s say that you bring out someone to help build authority sites with you and they are with you and they are with you for a year or a year and a half, two years, and things are all good, but, they eventually say to you that you have an open relationship meaning they can come and just talk to you about this and like look, I think I want to build sites for myself, one thing you can do is say look, I’d love to have you start doing that why don’t we set you up, I’ll be in an advisory role and they it do it under your brand, or as part of like some tests or strategies that you guys can then report about on Authority Hacker, so you still own a piece of that business, they then have a piece of the business as well so they have some ownership, but they are still under the wing or under the brand of Authority hacker which benefits you as well.
So I think offering those kinds of opportunities is great, we did that recently, we have a guy named Mike Vranjkovic and he was a part of our sales team for quite a while, for a number of years now, and when he came on he wanted to be, he really liked our investor program, he liked what we were talking about there, he comes from a financial background and he always wanted to be a part of that so he was a part of it when we started off, and now he is like look, I think I can run this, I want some more autonomy and we said look, let’s run with that. So he is now managing partner, of an investment arm that we are setting up for FBA businesses, where he is actually running it, Joe and I are more in an advisory role with that business, we’re not directly running it definitely not the day to day or week to week, and it gives him the kind of freedom and flexibility to spread his wings and take ownership of something that succeeds or fails on him but also still have kind of the mentorship and advisory capacity of us and someone to bounce ideas off of, right, and so I think there is ways to structure that for them to kind of leave the nest and still be a part of your community as a whole.
Mark: And, when you are structuring that, is that like an equity based partnership in a separate company or what is the technical way you divide that up?
Justin: It can be. It is in our case with Mike so it is an equity split, and we are going to take equal shares, an equity of a larger fund which is probably more, it gets into more than, we are still working that our, but like it will be an equity split but it doesn’t necessarily have to it could be commission based, or it could be profit share, so it could be like dividends to the managing partner or your old apprentice, could take kind of commission based approach, maybe give them a really small base salary and give them some upside on the profits, or the profits they grow above and beyond where it’s at now, things like that doesn’t have to be equity although if they want ownership then I think that some equity would have to go with that.
Mark: Yeah, I remember, you mentioned earlier Jake from Firebrand, his presentation he has had a lot of success with hiring interns as well, or apprentices-
Justin: You were there, yeah, you were there.
Justin: This was by the way, I think it was Corey right, they were just fantastic, and one thing I learned from them, which we hadn’t done up until that point, is we hadn’t really thought about like third party education, where like how can we help them with mentorship that is outside of Joe and I, how can we help them kind of like really get better in their space, so Affiliate Marketer I think that’s the right name, we just signed up for courses for our marketing guys, they are going through that right now, and we’ve been talking to the guys about potential mentorship so we got that from Jake and Corey, which I think was great, it was helpful.
Mark: Something Jake said was I forget the exact terminology but it was like bypass the difficult years of entrepreneurship the years that they start were just trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and you don’t really know anyone, and you as a successful entrepreneur can kind of tell them okay, just do this, don’t do this, and here meet these people.
Justin: Yeah, if you want to be a marketer, let’s say that you love marketing and you can either start writing for nobody, right, start with your blog and noone is reading it and head that way, or you can kind of piggyback on the brand we’ve built, and start testing out things through baked in audience, right, just some of the marketing parts, yeah that is absolutely true and you are going to have just a bigger impact right, so the changes you make are just more important they are going to mean a lot more at the bottom line, there is a lot more dollars being messed with, to test things so yeah, I think it’s just more interesting, then starting off with nothing, I actually just did the podcast, y=do you Simon from Lead Pages?
Justin: So yeah, one of their early partners of Lead Pages and he left the company starting over from scratch, and talking to him he was starting over from scratch with nothing sounds horrible, I’d like having cash, I’d like having teams, I’d like having people like that is just more interesting position for me, I can’t imagine wanting to start over from scratch, that doesn’t sound great.
Mark: I think as well, from a hiring person’s, or hiring manager’s perspective it doesn’t cost you anything to give this kind of guidance and connections introductions and help apprentices to avoid these kind of mistakes. It doesn’t add anything else to their monthly costs.
Justin: It can cost you if they are bad, we haven’t run into this, but this is a bit concerning to me, but if we hired someone that was particularly bad, or just kind of a bad representation of our brand, and they were asking for introductions, and it just was kind of like I wasn’t sure which was was it going to go, I might be a little hesitant with that, but luckily, we haven’t had that problem.
Mark: Just, one of the things that came out of that, do you guys have any non work training stuff that you do with them, so I mean, do you pay for their audible subscription or buy them books not necessarily related to your business but just to improve them as a person, or do you guys do anything like that?
Justin: No, but I did, the guys at the DC event, they were talking about the mentorship and courses in terms of improving them, just themselves, not necessarily for business, and I thought that was interesting, so we’re open to that, we told our guys we’d be open if they brought it to us we’d take a look, so before, we hadn’t even thought of it before, and then Jake and Corey brought it up and we are open to up we haven’t really done anything there. But we do a lot of travel and we do tell the guys in terms of taking potential customers out of actual customers like they will do that pretty regularly for steak dinners and stuff, but not exactly what you are asking, so they had no audible subscriptions to life coaches or anything yet.
Mark: Cool. And someone who’s been doing this for a while and has what I would say a really good relationship and really open relationship, with your apprentices, what kind of feedback are they giving you about what they want to see, what you should change, what you should implement and which of those things have you implemented over the years?
Justin: They are not strong at doing that early on, I think it’s just they are kind of like getting a sense of themselves, it also depends on kind of their confidence level, and almost invariably everyone that comes out their confidence level is much lower than it should be, when they start, and much lower than it needs to be for them to be effective, right, so they are just worried that they are not good enough, or whether they are going to hack it or are they going to hack it, are they going to make it and so there are some working through that to let them know look, assuming that they are good enough, to let them know look, this is going to work, here is what we need you to do, and then after a while, maybe there are some pushbacks, so there is a little bit of battle, for example, Greg and I, I was the content manager for us have some creative struggles, right, I’ll say look I think you should say it this way and he wants to say it his way, and look, but you are representing our brand, right, and you have to do it this way and here is why, right, and so we have some of those struggles. In terms of ideas we’ve implemented, I’d say the structure for our new investor program is heavily coming from Mike, so he has put together a lot of that, and that is through his conversations with other people, a lot of our team will get feedback from our customers, and bring that back to the table, and sometimes it gets tough because we say, some of us doesn’t know how to pause a process, let’s say, oh, sorry, working as intended, whereas if they don’t like something else, and we didn’t realize it was a problem we were able to fix it so the more they talk to our actual customers, and get feedback from them, and this is a weird world we’re living, a good portion of our sellers are location independent people, right, so entrepreneurs in Chiang Mai, or Saigon or wherever, Bali, and so our guys are flying around pretty often and they are hanging out with this people, they are having a couple too many beers behind the bar and talking and that is how they do business right, so we get feedback, real feedback from them in real situations and we apply that in meetings when appropriate.
Mark: Cool, and if you were to start from scratch, let’s say you had a new company, tomorrow and you want it to hire an apprentice, what sort of steps would you take, you’ve never done this before, you didn’t have a sort of brand or reputation what steps would you take to get this going?
Justin: So if you have, well hopefully you already have a company but if you are thinking about starting a company and hiring apprentices is not a good idea, and you are definitely not going to hand, you are not be able to hand them over things that are beneficial and profitable because you don’t have any beneficial and profitable yet, but, let’s assume that you’ve already got the business rolling and some money coming in, you want to hire an apprentice; I mean, you could do this simply as, and I think what I would do, if I had zero audience let’s say because that I think is somewhat applicable. I would probably put up a medium post that links to a form, and I’ll give you, you can use a link to our latest post so you can get an idea or feel for the format, but I would write a post at Medium, I would link to a Google form for people to fill out, do the YouTube video same as we do now, and then I would start reaching out to people that are in the kind of digital nomad space, the location independent space and that would be a Tropical MBA guys, Cody Mckibben Digital Nomad Academy, Sean Ogle, but there is a bunch of people in that space, maybe some YouTubers, they are doing kind of the Chiang Mai stuff, and see if they would promote to their audience, if they [45:47 inaudible] their audience’s position, that I have since put up and explain it to them and if I can, if I don’t have connections to those people, if they are not willing to do it, try to maybe ping my connections to get me an introduction to them. But a lot of times, I mean, those guys are pretty open to and they support the movement so if you have, it’s not like you don’t have to pay them, they are not looking for money, they are looking for something valuable they can share with their audience and give them opportunity to do the shit that they love. So, it’s win- win there really.
Mark: Awesome. So, listen, I think I’ve taken enough of your time today, it’s gone on for quite a while, but you’ve been really kind enough to come on the show and share these tips, it’s really awesome stuff, I’ve personally learned a lot from this, I know our audience will too, so I think it’s only fair I give you a bit of a chance to tell our audience a bit about Empire Flippers and why it might be worth them checking out your website.
Justin: Yeah, to be honest with you, we talked about this via email or whatever, it’s great to talk about something other than just buying and selling websites, and this business I do all the time, so talking about staff and our team which I think is a great competitive advantage for us is really fun. Obviously, if anyone wants to check out kind of what we do, go to empireflippers.com reach out to me on Twitter at @empireflippers shot me a message. We’ve got a post, I’ll give you a link to it from the customer service position that is up right now, it’s available until February 17th, but even beyond that, it will still be up, so if any of your audience is thinking about hiring apprenticeship and they want kind of a model, they want some ideas, please don’t copy it exactly, that would just be weird, but yeah, see the model, feel free to take some of the points we mentioned, if it helps you.
Mark: Awesome. And, actually, one final question I have for you, not about apprentices, but about website sales, what are your predictions for website valuations in 2017, do you think we are going to move the multiples are going to go up, down, stay the same?
Justin: We see them go up through us, but it’s all kind of specific to you, if you look at FBA businesses, are you talking about authority sites in particular or just across the board?
Mark: Authority sites in particular.
Justin: All right, so I think authority sites took what all kind of like AdSense affiliate type sites, Amazon affiliate type sites took ahead a couple of years ago, with all the crazy Google changes, and so last year they started to come back so we saw multiples go up, I would imagine those will continue, I think the bi side is really starting to kick in, so we are getting more and more people that are interested in potentially buying a site, potentially buying online businesses, even building portfolios, there is some interesting people doing investment funds, which we are looking to be a part of, but they are doing investment funds and buying multiple websites or buying 1.2 million dollar deal, 600 thousand dollar deal and wrap it all up under a company so I think that multiples are likely to go up, and they continue going up so I think there is a wonderful opportunity in the near future I think valuations are going to continue to go up, so that raises the question should you sell now, or should you sell later, if you could hold off, I think it’s going to continue to get better and better, if you have a better use for that money meaning maybe another business or something, and you think you’ll be able to do better with it cash in hand and then investment now, that you should probably do that.
Mark: Awesome. Alright, let’s wrap up there, Justin, empireflippers.com is the url once again, thanks again for coming on this show, it was great to catch up again, and great to hear your advice, thanks everyone for listening today, we’re back next week with our regular schedule, so every Monday you can hear a new episode, so it’s authorityhacker.com/podcast. Okay, thanks again Justin.