//#1661 This founder combined influencer marketing and subscription boxes into one really cool startup

#1661 This founder combined influencer marketing and subscription boxes into one really cool startup

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Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I’ve been doing interviews now for over eight years with proven entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of entrepreneurs, one of which is actually the interviewee today. She listened to my interviews and now she’s here to do an interview.

I’m not saying all this like to brag about how long I’ve been doing this, but to say that by now I should be able to hit record properly. But apparently, the last time that Sherri and I recorded the recording didn’t come out. And so it was kind of awkward for me to ask her to come back and do it again, but she very graciously said yes, and here we are to talk again about how she built up this business. Sherri Langburt is the founder of BabbleBoxx. What they do is they help influencers generate some revenue and they do it in an interesting way by sending out a box of products. Each product is sponsored by a major brand and the influencers get to go through the box and talk about it and write about it and it gives them something to create content around. It gives the brand also a way of getting some attention without making you feel like an ad and letting each creator, each influencer make up the promotion in their own words and in their own spirit.

All right. I invited Sherri here to talk about how she did it. The nice thing about having her back on now is that she can talk about how she’s now an Inc. 500 company, but she’s not enthused about talking about it. I would think everyone would want to brag about being an Inc. 500 company. We’ll talk about what that means in a moment. First, I’ve got to tell you this interview is sponsored by two phenomenal companies. The first is renting my office to me. I freaking love Regus. If it was not inappropriate, I would be making out with the Regus office, not with the people in the office, with the office. That’s how much I love working with them and renting from them. And second from the company that hosts my new website. It’s called HostGator. So I’ll tell you more about them later. First, Sherri, good to have you on here.

Sherri: Thank you for having me back.

Andrew: What does being in Inc. 500 mean?

Sherri: So there’s the Inc. 5,000 and there’s an Inc. 500 and it means that you are among privately held companies in the United States that have proven to have grown fastest in a year.

Andrew: Okay. And you are . . . What’s your number on the ranking?

Sherri: 447.

Andrew: 447. So you’ve made it to the Inc. 500. I thought that you’d say, “Andrew, great. You’re here to talk to me about that,” and instead . . .

Sherri: No.

Andrew: Tell people what you told me.

Sherri: I’m just shy by nature, so it’s like I don’t want to be out there because I’m shy. It’s about me. It’s more about my personality as opposed to . . . I kind of signed up never thinking I would make the list. And then it happened.

Andrew: It’s shocking that you’re shy because you’ve got to send out so many emails, so many requests for influencers to get them to participate.

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: Who was the first person to reach out to brands? Was it you?

Sherri: Me.

Andrew: And still you’re shy?

Sherri: Very, yeah.

Andrew: What do you do to break through the shyness?

Sherri: I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?

Andrew: You do. You seem to do well. Is it hiding behind email? That would help me.

Sherri: Yeah. I would say yeah. I’m pretty kind of behind the scenes, and so this is kind of the first time in a long time that I got PR and so now I’m getting more PR and I did get PR when I first started my company but it was a completely different concept when it started and kind of being in that spotlight didn’t feel good to me, so I kind of stayed behind the scenes of it.

Andrew: Wow. And meanwhile, you’re the person who when you wanted to work for Weight Watchers, you got to tell people what you did.

Sherri: I stalked the company.

Andrew: You did. How did you stalk the company?

Sherri: So Weight Watchers was late to the online game and I just wanted to work there desperately, so I started reaching out. I saw a post that they were looking for a writer or this or that. And so I started reaching out to them, sending emails, calling the company, again, you have to remember was before LinkedIn, it was before a lot of tools that were out there, so I’m guessing formats of emails and things like that. And then at a certain point, I finally saw . . . I applied to more than like 50 jobs at the company, things that I couldn’t do like a programmer, a coder, email marketer which is not what I do and I was just applying for everything.

So then there was a position for General Manager for Weight Watchers Canada out of New York and I’m Canadian. I was a long time Weight Watchers person. I’m like, “There’s no one else who’s going to be able to know Weight Watchers in Canada based in New York. It’s me.”

So they wouldn’t respond to me because at this point the woman in charge of HR thought I was a little bit off my rocker. So there’s these little kits that girls used to put all their elastics and hair stuff in and they filled it with junk that you could only get in Canada, like, Marty’s [SP] and Aero [SP] bars and ketchup chips and things like that. [Lock 00:04:53] the key, did a whole proposal and sent it to the VP of Marketing saying Sherri Langburt holds the key to reducing points in Canada. So he called me that day. I mean, then when I started meeting with the whole team, they were like, “Either you’re going to be our best hire or the worst hire we ever made.” But they let me in.

Andrew: They did. That’s such a great idea. I feel like someone could copy that idea right now. Send a box without the key and have them call you up because I’d be curious to know what’s in there.

Sherri: Right. So that’s how I did it.

Andrew: And then once you got to work with them, what did you find out? What did you learn about working with them?

Sherri: Well, first of all, it was probably the best job I ever had because my background was really in tech and boring. So I was on the business side. And being on Canada it was kind of like an afterthought, like, I was allowed to do a lot more things under my domain than if I had been on the U.S. team given again that I was still in New York the whole time. So they let me do sales and marketing and growing the online subscription with my main thing, but I started doing their online advertising which no one has been doing and then these brands on the U.S. side and the Canadian side started talking about mommy bloggers. And so Weight Watchers was one of the first to do anything with mommy bloggers and then kind of inspired me to start my own blog to get into that space which kind of then evolved.

Andrew: What was it about mommy bloggers? I remember there was a period there where they were the hot bloggers. It wasn’t even the guys who were writing about the latest phones and the gadget guys, it was the mommy bloggers that seemed to be doing really well. What was it about them that appealed to brands?

Sherri: Well, I’ve worked with so many brands at this point, like, I feel like what the concept is, and it’s true, mommy is CEO of the family. So she’s the primary purchaser. And a lot of these women, it’s not just that they’re talking about their kids, they are talking about recipes, foods to buy, back to school, how to keep your kids healthy. There’s all different topics and I think that they’re connectors and they’re communicators, so they do tend to get a lot of traction socially online.

Andrew: So they’re communicating a lot with other people, so they do all the things that we now know works for social media, getting the word out. And then they also, and you’re right, internally, they make the decisions about what gets purchased and so you get to the mommy and you end up getting to the family. All right. You though, said, “You know, moms and dads, they’ve got a lot of pull but what about people who are not even in relationships, single people?” And so with that observe . . . What was your observation about single people and what did you do with it?

Sherri: So I was single at the time and it really . . . Every single brand approaching us was talking about mommy [inaudible 00:07:34]. Why isn’t any . . . Forget just being single, like, no one was talking to anyone else in the marketplace like travel bloggers or fitness influencers or anyone. So I wanted to start a blog that wasn’t about dating. It had some of that but it was about travel for one, cooking for one, insurance for one, legal issues, I mean, all these different things. And that’s kind of the first blog I started.

Andrew: And so you started doing it, Single Edition. I saw it. You did spotlights of people, you were writing about fitness for single people. And how did you monetize it?

Sherri: It was very hard.

Andrew: Yeah?

Sherri: I think I was ahead of this whole what’s happened now not in a good way and it was hard to monetize. I did monetize it with custom content but then behind the scenes what happened was a lot of brands were asking me to produce that type of content for them. So we had teams of writers writing articles and different types of content for other brands but the site itself I don’t know if I was that online advertising savvy to kind of generate money from affiliates or to grow my traffic. I was more of like a content creator as opposed to the other stuff.

Andrew: And you’re really pumping it out. You had interviews with singles and one of the things that I think you did was . . . Did you have a forum where people could basically answer questions themselves, so they’re kind of interviewing themselves but you’re editing and publishing it?

Sherri: Yeah, that was easy and I had tons of content coming and I didn’t have . . . Yeah.

Andrew: Right, right. And then every one of them becomes a celebrity on your site and feels a little more connected to your site. I think there’s a site called Indie Hackers that now does that. They’re basically geared towards single developer founders and they’ve got a podcast but I think what’s really strong for them is you do your own interview on our site type interview.

Sherri: And people hire those people based on that interview?

Andrew: No. It’s interviews with founders for other founders. Kind of like this but he focuses on individuals who are developers. He got acquired by Stripe and Stripe is trying to reach out to these indie hackers because they’re the ones who control what software it gets used to get payments.

Sherri: Oh my God. Okay.

Andrew: One of the questions on his forum is one that you would hate, but I’m going to ask you, which is revenue. What was your revenue for last year, 2017?

Sherri: I mean, it was over $1 million mark.

Andrew: It was significantly over. This is public now. Before maybe I could’ve understood hiding it. It’s public, right? It’s on Inc.’s website. Can I say it?

Sherri: I know, but no one really goes and looks at that, but yeah. So, yeah. It was significantly higher.

Andrew: I can’t say what it is? You’re going to feel uncomfortable if I say it?

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: I think it’s going to lack credibility if we don’t give the number out. Come on.

Sherri: Give it a go.

Andrew: There we go, $2.3 million. And the thing that’s significant about it is in the last three years, you grew significantly over 1,000% and that’s the part that Inc. really looks at, how fast is growth happening, and you guys are growing fast. I’m also impressed by the fact that you had seven employees when this was going on. All right. But coming back to where you were at this point in the story, which is, a few years ago before you even discovered that you can send out boxes, you said, “You know, it’s tough to get revenue. It’s tough to sell ads.” And then you came out with a website called Blog Meets Brand. What was Blog Meets Brand and how was it going to solve the problem that you and people like you had?

Sherri: So, before . . . Single Edition moved into more of a media agency. So, when I had my one blog, singleedition.com I turned it into a Single Edition Media because a lot of influencers knowing you start to get to know each other and they were complaining about the same thing that I was, like, brands don’t want to talk to us. And again, it wasn’t just people like me, it was like, fitness, beauty, all these other things. And so I started basically combining influencers and pitching brands to do campaigns and now that we have 50 of us or 100 of us or 200 of us people wanted to talk to us and we weren’t just singles, it was like different verticals. So we grew that and we were doing a lot of different campaigns for many years but my background was technology and I had a concept that we could automate some of what we were doing and launched probably one of the first tech platforms for influencer marketing.

Andrew: You know, before we get into the tech platform, how does somebody who tells me she’s shy before we start, who doesn’t want to do her own publicity for a long time and reluctantly is doing it now, how do you get all these bloggers together? How do you get the advertising? That feels to me like a very gregarious type of job? No?

Sherri: In the beginning, the bloggers, a few of them were really nasty to me, and now obviously, they’re not, but I think it was so new to everyone and it was just it was hard, but I just didn’t give up. And the first few times I did it, an influencer marketing campaign, brands didn’t want to pay us. They said, “We’ll test this out for free,” and so we shipped products for free. Brands weren’t paying us. But you just have to just keep going at it and going at it. And I think for the influencers now they see other articles sponsored by us, so more people see us and know us. We’ve been around for 10 years. We have our own social channels, we send out newsletters to all influencers, thousands of them sign up, and it just keeps growing.

Andrew: I still feel like there’s something that you do. Is it just putting together a list and that you start to put out the fact that you’re out of your head the fact that you’re reaching out to people and just go through a list? Is that it? Is it the process that keeps you going? Is it something else?

Sherri: In terms of what? Reaching out to brands?

Andrew: In terms of reaching out to so many people. So, in many ways, I help entrepreneurs reach out to a lot of people. Let’s give an example of interviews. I do interviews. Lots of entrepreneurs who built successful companies come to me ask me to do it, ask me to do interviews too, ask me for help for me so they could do interviews. And inevitably they’ll come back to me a little while later and they say, “No one’s saying yes to me. I’m not getting enough yes’s. Maybe the market is over saturated.” And what I’ve done is I use Zoom. I say let’s do screen share.

Sherri: I love Zoom.

Andrew: I do too. We’re using it right now. Zoom’s just killer. I used to use Skype. So I then say, “Turn on your screen.” They turn on their screen. I say, “Show me your email.” They show me their email and I could see they haven’t sent out any messages. They’ll send out maybe four, five. They won’t get a yes and they’ll give up on it. But in their heads, it feels like everyone’s turning them down. You must have done something to get past that. And again, the same thing happens for salespeople in general.

Sherri: It’s very . . . I mean, I’m doing something right now where it’s heartbreaking. You have people that you’ve spoken to for an hour or two hours and you send follow-ups and you’re waiting, you have deadlines, and you’re waiting on a response. I don’t know how to get them to respond to me. I do sometimes call people if I feel like I have a good enough relationship, but that is just a function of doing sales is that you’re going to get no’s. I mean, I said to someone yesterday, “I want to write an email saying, I’m not a vendor, I’m a person. Please respond to me because I think people think I’m a vendor.”

Andrew: That works?

Sherri: What?

Andrew: I feel like that does work.

Sherri: Well, your email to me worked. I feel awkward.

Andrew: I did, I genuinely. You know what? That’s what I try to do. I try to say, “What am I really feeling in the moment?” and send that out. And for me, one of my techniques, when I get started with any kind of sales, is to not even sell, to just say, “I want to call and understand, be the student.” And when you call and understand, people will walk you through their decision-making process and naturally they might sell themselves, but even if they don’t, they start to reveal what’s frustrating them, how they like to be reached, etc. And that helps tremendously.

I’ve said it before, when I was trying to get ads for Mixergy, I started calling around to anyone who wrote online about why they buy and how they buy and I would contact them and say, “I’m thinking of selling ads for my site. Can you spend a few minutes telling me how you go through your ad-buying decisions so that I can figure out how to sell on this? I saw that . . . ” No. I say, “I saw that you were helpful over there so that I established that you’re helpful, we’re in the same community.” And then I say, “Can you spend some time with me here and tell me how you buy?” And that helps me.

And once you start to understand their pain points, it’s easier to sell to other people because they experienced similar things. And that helps me. And then the second thing that helps me is, I create a Kanban board with each step of my sales process having its own column and then I make it a mission to fill up as many people in the first column and then, you know, like how many potential sales can I get in the first column, then I find their contact information and only then do I move them through the second column and move them to the third and so on. And what helps is if I keep putting offers out and keep seeing on the board where people stand, there’s always someone who’s close to saying yes.

Sherri: Well, we also do, we have like a robust email marketing person now. So we blast out . . . I don’t . . . But we’re sending about 40, 50,000 emails a week.

Andrew: 40, 50,000 emails. And it’s your . . . What do you send in email?

Sherri: Just different . . . We don’t really do . . . Sometimes we’ll do offers but it’s really just pitching what we’re doing so it can be . . . So there’s different things that work but then at the same time, myself and other people are always looking for new innovative brands that we can work with and you know, yeah.

Andrew: And then if you find innovative brand, you’ll go beyond the standard email that you send them and do what?

Sherri: Just a more personalized note and I think you could put something in the note that’s just more detailed as opposed to a mass email.

Andrew: What’s a personalized note for you? What do you look for?

Sherri: I mean, I once pitched a vacuum company and it was college season and we were trying to get them into a college box and it was a little mini vacuum and I talked about how back in college it was the best product I ever got to use, that I couldn’t live without it and I got a response.

Andrew: You know, and tool that I use is a site called pipl.com. Even if someone comes over to my house and I don’t know them, I just take their email address, I type it into Pipl. Pipl is spelled P-I-P-L.com. And it gives me everything about them. It gives me all their social profiles going back to like Myspace and before . . .

Sherri: Oh my God.

Andrew: It tells me their age, it tells me family members, it tells me phone number. It’s so weird. Now, it’s not 100% accurate, but if it leads to their own content, then I know it’s going to be accurate. And the thing that helps me is you’ll see something in those pictures that gives you a sense of what you could connect with, you know, like maybe they lived in Santa Monica where I lived or maybe they went to NYU or something that I could use.

Sherri: That’s great. Yeah.

Andrew: All right. Let me talk about my first sponsor and then we’re going to come back and talk about Single Edition Media and how it evolved from there. My first sponsor is a company called Regus. I think you told me that your sister-in-law or something rents office from them. Is that who it is?

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: Let me tell you why I say that I would make out with Regus. I went to get my teeth cleaned and this dentist that I went to was just awful. And the only reason I went there was they had an opening and I just wanted something quick, and so I went to Berkeley. And they were awful. And I left their office and I said, “Where do I go? I need some space for myself.” And I go, “I’m going to look at my phone for Regus.” I looked at my phone for Regus. There was a Regus office just a couple of blocks away. Boom, I walk in. My internet just works. The woman sees that I’m a little like frustrated. She doesn’t ask me to prove that I’m in Regus office. You’re here, you’re home, get settled.

I go in and I get coffee just the way that I like it. I sit down and only then do I go to her and say thanks for letting me in here. I do have a Regus card. Here’s my number from the Regus card on my phone and then she was able to validate that I was really an office renter of theirs. And I got to sit and work and be productive instead of being frustrated that this thing didn’t work out for me. And the reason I bring this up is that’s what renting from Regus is all about. They’re there to make you productive. I rent office space from them at 201 Mission Street. I got my four walls that are quiet. You don’t hear people screaming and loud and partying all around me. I got my space.

If I need a letter mailed which I will need a letter mailed. I’m sending a virtual reality goggles to somebody who won a contest that I did. Apparently, virtual reality goggles from Facebook won’t be automatically shipped to Australia, so they’re going to ship it here. You know what? I’m not going to ship it. I’m going to take the goggles, I’m going to go to the receptionist and say, “I don’t know what to do. It’s not for me. Can you do it?” And she go, “Don’t worry, Andrew. I got it.” She’s going to take the address from my assistant. She’s going to virtual assistants. She’s going to write it down on the package. She’s going to make sure that the person gets their virtual reality glasses. Anything I need, any conference room, I need scotch night, they do the whole thing.

And more importantly, if you’re listening to me on a day-to-day basis, if you don’t have an office space where you could sit and work and be productive. The little things that distract you, you won’t notice them because you become blind to them but they will, things like food if it’s in your house, people who are in your world, coffee shops that have bad internet or that force you to sit at a different table and take all your stuff and go and go to the bathroom. Regus is all about getting you to be productive whether it’s in your home base office or any other Regus office throughout the world, and I’ve done it everywhere.

If you want to start with them, you could do one of two things. You can go to regus.com/mixergy. You’ll sign up. I’ll get credit for it. They’ll know that you’re part of our crew and they’ll take great care of you. Or you can frankly contact anyone on my team and we will all help you connect with our person at Regus. It’s contact@mixergy.com, contact@mixergy.com. And I know some of you guys out there have virtual companies. Find the person who’s not productive or who could use a little bit more work, rent them an office from Regus and you’re going to see that suddenly they have place to work, headset to get to going and they’re going to be more productive for you. Regus.mixergy.com or email me, contact@mixergy.com, or frankly come to my office sometime and I’ll introduce you.

All right. You then moved on to . . . Single Edition media became your hub for getting all these sponsorships and then getting all the writers together, all the content creators together to promote the sponsors. I’m wondering how much guidance you gave them. I’m wondering how that worked out, who worked out well. Tell me about what was working and what wasn’t.

Sherri: When we do a campaign, we onboard the influencers but we send them detailed guidelines. So we go to the brands and we know what we have to include as keywords, messaging points, links, whenever they want. And then our team, our account team, will then, it was me, create these guidelines that they have to follow and then you give the influencers the guidelines and, you know, they’re pretty good at following guidelines so then they create the content.

Andrew: What’s a guideline? How do you guide somebody without making it feel like you’re overbearing?

Sherri: I mean, it really just has like the handles that they have to use when they share a message on social media and the hashtags so we could track things. What are the brand messaging points? Is their product description? But then sometimes it could get very complicated. I mean, if you’re dealing with regulated companies like pharma and banking, the guidelines can be really . . . There’s a lot of things you have to follow and make sure that you adhere to.

Andrew: All right. And you make sure to get that to them. And what happens . . . You know what? Some of my sponsors give me some guidelines. Like, Active Campaign does not want to be known as just the email marketing automation company. They go beyond email, but I still call them email marketing automation. I haven’t gotten penalized yet. The founder, I guess, has been really nice to me. What happens for you if somebody violates the guidelines? Do they not get paid?

Sherri: It depends. Typically, they won’t get paid or some . . . And there’s more offensive misconduct. You know what I mean? Sometimes they just get product and don’t even do the campaign and we’re like, “You accepted a product and you never even responded to us.”

Andrew: Oh, okay.

Sherri: Yeah. But we’re always juggling and getting another influencer to replace them. So if someone can’t do, typically, they’ll write us or they’ll call us and say, “This doesn’t make sense for me,” and “you realize I’m a vegetarian and you sent me a meat product.” Yeah.

Andrew: Okay. So, at some point, you told our producer, I guess it was around 2015 you were at an InStyle event and then you came up with an idea. Am I right about that?

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: What happened there? Are we just taking one incident and placing too much weight on it when we say that that’s where the idea for BabbleBoxx came from?

Sherri: No, it’s exactly right. So we partnered with InStyle two years in a row to do an influencer event. So it was our concept and they were our partner and we’ve collaborated and we brought in, like, I think it was 15 brands. We’re doing one again this year in October. And then we bring in like 200, 300 influencers, 15 brands. And so the feedback we got from all these brands was, “Wow, it’s great to cross-promote with other brands and like providing . . . ”

Andrew: But you’re doing this where it’s, they all get together and hang out with their . . .

Sherri: It’s at a cocktail party meets trunk show and there’s like 200 influencers there and like 20 brands and they all do their own activation. So one is doing nail polish, one is doing hair blow outs.

Andrew: Ah. And if you’re an influencer you just get to have your hair blown out, you get to have your nail polish on and in the process you get to understand about the companies behind that.

Sherri: Exactly.

Andrew: And then are you expected to write about it? Is that the way it worked when you did it?

Sherri: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends, but it guarantees a lot of organic traffic because a lot of the activations that the brands will do are very sharable, so selfies and step and repeats and this and that and that’s done on purpose so that the influencer will take pictures and share them.

Andrew: Did you do the one with . . . Where is this? Eddie Bauer?

Sherri: No.

Andrew: No. Okay. Because I see what you mean.

Sherri: [inaudible 00:24:48]. If you search InStyle in Single Edition, it should come up.

Andrew: Okay. The reason I’m asking is because it seems like what InStyle will do at these parties is they will have like little photo areas, little picnic areas where you can take pictures, places where you can hold champagne up and take pictures. That’s the kind of thing that you were doing.

Sherri: Yeah. So it was at one of these events, the second one that we did that I was like, subscription boxes became so popular at that time and I’m like, “We have all these influencers. We have all this experience. Why don’t we just create a box that’s multi-sponsor that only goes out to influencers?”

Andrew: It just kind of send the same experience that they’re having live have in their house.

Sherri: In a box.

Andrew: Oh, look at this. In a box. I see it. Neutrogena, were they one of the sponsors when you did it?

Sherri: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: Okay. Yeah. And so I see one blogger just posted a bunch of photos from the event and she did it really well. All right, I see. Okay. And so you thought, “Great. Now we can do this in a box. We can send it out. This is going to be another thing.” When you start out thinking about ideas like this, do you think of, “How is it going to scale?” or are you just thinking, “This is a good idea. It will work today”?

Sherri: No. I just thought it was a good idea, “Let’s test it out and if it works, we’ll keep going.” I have an idea every second, so I can’t do that with everything so usually it starts with one idea in a certain time . . .

Andrew: How do you know what to pursue?

Sherri: That’s a good question. I just had a meeting about this the other day. I don’t. And sometimes you think maybe you have a good idea and it doesn’t hit right away so you give up. But right now, I feel like you just have to . . . I think you get . . . If there’s an immediate interest, then that’s a good sign. If you’re pushing something too hard and too hard, but if like four or five people that you pitch it to either a brand or an influencer says, “Yeah, that’s really cool or interesting,” then I’ll go broader.

Andrew: Okay. All right. And so you said, “This is a box.” Who did you reach out first and what was their response?

Sherri: Make Up For Ever and they said, “This is really interesting.” Yeah.

Andrew: Because Make Up For Ever was someone who was always looking for more ways to reach influencers. Is that how you picked them?

Sherri: I mean, we wanted to do it . . . It was a holiday in 2015 and we wanted to do a beauty box, so we reached out to a bunch of beauty brands and they were . . . Yeah. So, they were in the box, Lakh Wah [SP], which is Winky Lux, Lakh Wah. I think Perfume Mania products was in the box and Clarisonic, the device that cleans your face.

Andrew: Those four or five different beauty brands all in the same box. When you reach out to influencers, how do you know what to pay them?

Sherri: You have to kind of look at like CPMs and kind of figure out their reach, their social and it’s a constant back and forth.

Andrew: And at first it was just you kind of ball-parking it?

Sherri: Well, yeah. I mean, I could look at a blog and if it is custom brand dedicated content, so it’s a little bit different, but what were the CPM, I’d be willing to pay, I know what their traffic is and you could see what their social following. The rate that you would pay per tweet would be lower than the rate especially now than Instagram, and so you have to . . . Yeah.

Andrew: And it’s just you getting experience doing it. There’s no formula for number of subscribers, number of followers, none of that. Huh?

Sherri: No.

Andrew: Or is there?

Sherri: I’m sure every company has their own kind of formulas.

Andrew: Do you have any tools that you use, any software that gives you a sense of how these influencers are doing? I think I’ve seen some for YouTube.

Sherri: Well, there’s . . . I mean, Blog Meets Brand is a tool that we can . . . That’s one of the companies that we use and that I own that we track different campaigns, but there’s other tools that we use certainly.

Andrew: What’s one that you can . . . Wait. So Blog Meets Brand, if I’m on that website, your website, you own it, how do I use the tool that tells me . . . There it is. Let’s go to Products.

Sherri: You have to sign in and become a client. You won’t be able to do it.

Andrew: Where do I go?

Sherri: You have to sign in and become a client. Yeah.

Andrew: Oh, okay. So you have your own in-house tool for your clients.

Sherri: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew: Got it. Is there another tool that you recommend that we can use just to go try?

Sherri: I think Hashtracking is one, but I think that you have to login to all these and become like . . . It’s still going to be a whole sign-up process.

Andrew: But there isn’t one that’s like . . .

Sherri: HYPR is a great one to find influencers. HYPR Brands, I think it’s HYPR Brands.

Andrew: Okay. All right. You did it. Did you give them . . . Beyond guidelines, did you help them write and create the content that they were going to use?

Sherri: No.

Andrew: No. It was just, they have it, they know what to do, they’re going to go do it. And 10 . . . Uh-huh?

Sherri: No. I mean, these people in all different like recipe creation and in the images in fashion and beauty, they are like magazine quality. It’s amazing what some of the content from these influencers produce.

Andrew: And just kind of know. This is . . . You’re putting it in their hands and the brand has to feel comfortable with that. I tell you, I did an ad right moment ago for Regus. I don’t feel Regus is that comfortable giving me their brand even to speak about here. The whole idea of me getting to do whatever I want with their brand makes them uncomfortable, I get the sense.

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: So I guess you have to find brands that are more comfortable with letting influencers go and understanding that the last thing that’s said online is not the . . . I mean, that anything that’s said online is not the only thing that’s going to be said. Just be okay with something’s not fitting in exactly with your brand.

Sherri: Yeah. You have to be a little bit more lenient

Andrew: Right. So, because they’re all pulling their dollars too, they had more spin, so advertisers got bigger reach because they were all pulling in their money together. The first one worked out well. You decided you were going to do it again. And at first, did you come up with the promotional calendar or did that take a little while to do?

Sherri: No, right away. In December, once the campaign was done, we banged out one box per month. So, beginning with, I think we had a January resolution box that went out right away. Maybe it was two in January and a Super Bowl box and then Valentine’s day and Mother’s Day and there was one every month and then it grew from there.

Andrew: You know what? I got this package with a t-shirt sent all the way from Israel, a t-shirt from a startup and I didn’t know what to do about it. I got the sense of what they were trying to do is get me to talk about it or wear it in an interview or something, but they weren’t clear with me. And I felt guilty getting it, so what I did was I wrote out a note or took a picture and I sent it to the guy who’s company must have paid to have the t-shirts sent to me. Nothing came of it.

Sherri: They didn’t ask you to interview him?

Andrew: They didn’t even ask that. And then again another month I got another one, and then another month I got a third one. I don’t remember the name of the company that sent it to me. The only reason it stands out is it’s because it’s from Israel. They shipped it all the way from there instead of having somebody here hold the t-shirts and ship it. But it didn’t make an impression at all. Part of the reason why these guys are failing is because they’re not doing what you’re doing which is reaching out and just trying to work out an arrangement before the thing gets sent. Is that right?

Sherri: Maybe, yeah. I got a book from a CEO the other day.

Andrew: And what did you do?

Sherri: I don’t know why he sent me the book.

Andrew: Right.

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: I just feel . . . It sits there and I feel guilty about it. Here’s one that I got that I did like. This is from Scott Bintz. He sent me his book. I really liked it. “The Principles to Fortune.” But he said, look, “This one’s Andrew’s copy and then here is one for you to smile and send it on.” [inaudible 00:32:13] right? I get it. And then he signed it.

Sherri: Now it’s on your shelf.

Andrew: Sorry?

Sherri: Now it’s on your shelf.

Andrew: It’s here. Yeah.

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I know what I’m going to do. Next time I have scotch night, people will see it and I’ll offer it out to them. But then he also sent me coffee. Sherri, it was sitting here on my desk for three weeks. I didn’t know who it came from. There was no note, no nothing, no expectation. I don’t know what to do with it. So one of the things I’m getting is, “I’m going to send you a gift and there’s going to be some warm feelings that you have towards me because of the gift.” That doesn’t work.

Sherri: Right.

Andrew: Send a gift, send a note, follow up, request something, tell me what it’s to do. Even if it’s just, “Hey, I know that you like whiskey. Enjoy this.” That will be nice. Does anyone feel guilty about getting this stuff and because they do they feel like they have to do extra promotion?

Sherri: No. This is like a business for them. This is their job. We did a full . . .

Andrew: It’s a business to me. I still feel guilty and I feel like, “Now I’ve got to do something with it.” Nobody has this?

Sherri: No.

Andrew: I might need therapy.

Sherri: And some of the products’ boxes have really hundreds . . . Like last year we did a men’s box, it had a Roku device in it, Western Digital like iCloud storage device and a Fujifilm camera. So, like, these were expensive boxes and items to get in one box. So, yeah, they don’t feel guilty.

Andrew: And it’s just because they’re getting paid, they don’t feel guilty about it and also it’s like improv. “I’m going to send you a bunch of stuff. Let’s see how you can improvise content creation.”

Sherri: The show “Chop” on the Cooking Network.

Andrew: Wait. They give you a bunch of stuff and you’re supposed to chop it up and make it into food. Is that the premise?

Sherri: They give you a basket with three chefs and they give you a basket and it’s all like really weird foods combinations like jelly beans and milk and you have to make a recipe.

Andrew: Okay. You are starting to do this now on a regular basis. It’s one to two boxes every month. You get different sponsors, different influencers for each one. Let’s take a break and when I come back I’m going to talk about what brands asked you that kind of change the business. The second sponsor is a company called HostGator. I went really long with the first advertiser, so I’m going to go short with HostGator and just tell you, we started a brand new business where we do chat bots. We teach people how to create chat bots and we let businesses that want to hire us to create chat bots, come to the site and hire our graduates.

When I needed a hosting company, we tried a bunch of them and we realized HostGator was the cheapest and try them. We looked at a bunch of them and we realized HostGator was the cheapest, they just freaking work, and we went and we installed WordPress on it and it just has been working. The only change we needed to do was as we got more and more traffic from it, we called up HostGator and we said, “Hey, on your website you always emphasize the cheaper products. What do you have that’s a little bit stronger, more expensive maybe and will hold up to the massive traffic that we’re getting?” And they told us about another plan. I don’t even know what it’s called, but I bet it has a cutesy title because they love cutesy titles at HostGator like the hatchling plan, the Baby Plan.

But I don’t know what the title is. I just know it works and I haven’t talked about them or to them except for these ads since because I don’t want to think about it. I just want that part of my business to work. If you need a hosting package that works for you, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. When you throw the /mixergy at the end, I get credit and I really appreciate it and you help keep me going, but more importantly, you’re going to get up to 62% off their already low prices and I think even more important than that they will know forever that you came from Mixergy and that if you ever have an issue, that my team and I usually it’s me because I get wound up about it, we will stand behind you and make sure that you get the customer service that you deserve and you need. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy.

Companies came to you, they said, “We like it. We want you to create what for us that’s . . . ” What was it?

Sherri: Oh, you mean the custom boxes?

Andrew: Yeah. That was the next big evolution. Am I right?

Sherri: Yeah. So we had Nestle Waters wanted a custom box, so then we started doing custom boxes. And in the custom box scenario our design team re-skins the box. I don’t know if you can see any that are behind me. Can you see them? Does that make any sense?

Andrew: Not exactly. I saw them better on your website. Where are you today, by the way?

Sherri: In my office.

Andrew: In your office, okay. I know because of the rain and that . . .

Sherri: It’s really raining.

Andrew: . . . you had some issues, I thought maybe you went there. Where do we see it on your website? Is it under the box? There it is. Go to babblebox.com, boxx is with two X’s and select the box and underneath you’ll see a dropbox for a custom boxes. I don’t think describing them could do these things justice. You’re basically starting from the outside of the box in. There’s one, what is this? For a water company that looks like a trunk made out of wood that I almost feel like I need a crowbar to open up.

Sherri: That was for Nestle Water in Texas. So it’s a wood crate with the map of Texas and they wanted to promote their Ozarka Water.

Andrew: Yeah, there it is. Map of . . . Yeah, exactly. And so each one of these from the outside has the brand’s feel to it and your creativity attached to it. And then on the inside is what?

Sherri: So we put the brands’ products, right? So it could be just their products but a lot of times in this case for Nestle they just had water, so we came up with the whole tailgate concept, right? So we found and curated artisanal food products from Texas that were like won different kinds of awards and each of the influencers kind of got this kit that was like “Talk about why you love Texas and/or create recipes or go to a tailgate or make a picnic with all these items.” But it was really focusing on the fact that this water was pure and from Texas.

Andrew: So I’m constantly trying to track results. Do your sponsors want to know . . . I guess you guys probably don’t call them sponsors. You call them brands. Do the brands want to be able to track back sales to this kind of influencer marketing to know if it pays off?

Sherri: Well, I mean, we track everything like impressions and shares and comments and engagement and everything. You know, sales is hard. So, if you’re talking about a Nestle, I mean, I think there’s certain brands that are really direct-response-driven and we tell them right away “This is more like PR content markets top of the funnel. It’s all the way over here. But it’s not a direct response play.” So, anytime we hear like our main goal is sales, this is more branding conversation, social awareness. Yeah.

Andrew: And so I guess brands then have some amount of budget that they have to dedicate towards building their brand. Is that right?

Sherri: I hope I don’t lose power. I hope I don’t lose power. There’s like thunder happening.

Andrew: Oh, wow. I can’t hear it. I wish we could hear it on.

Sherri: You can’t hear it?

Andrew: No, not yet.

Sherri: Oh my God. Okay.

Andrew: Oh, yeah, I heard there.

Sherri: Yeah. Okay.

Andrew: All right. I hope we continue. I don’t want to have to do this a third time after a very awkward message. I’m going to have to send you a box and make it look really nice. So brands just have some money that they allocate towards building their brand without direct response expectations and that’s what you’re tapping into. Is that right?

Sherri: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: Is there a department that you reach out to for that?

Sherri: I mean, sometimes it can be the brand direct and it could be a brand manager, it can be the PR person at a brand. But then if it’s an agency, it could be anyone. It can be an account manager, an account director, supervisor, you name it.

Andrew: All right. So far we talked about all the easy parts. It feels like you’re just kind of figuring it out from success to success building and building and building until you end up at Inc. 500 and don’t want to talk about it. But it hasn’t been all that easy. There was a period there where you just couldn’t get anyone to even pay attention to you. You felt that lack of funding was an issue for you. Email marketing was expensive. Where do we start? What was the biggest issue for you building up your business?

Sherri: I mean, I’ll say that the hardest thing is really the lack of funding and getting people to trust and know who are. You know what I mean? So I started this when no one wanted to talk to me. I was sending emails and people really just ignored me and just kept pushing through but there were thousands of no’s. Like when you were talking before about people send three emails and then they think, “Oh my God, he doesn’t like me.” That’s not a function of it. Like, if you send out 10, 20, 30, call me when . . . Like after a day if I send out 300 emails and if someone didn’t respond, I’ll be upset. But when you send out four, you know . . . So, yeah. I think that there was . . . I think that people that I approached that I knew didn’t believe in my ideas, so that was hard and I just kept going.

Andrew: And for you keep going means finding other people just . . .

Sherri: More people.

Andrew: You’re playing the numbers game where someone else might go to four people and then someone is a superstar would go to 40, you’d go to 400 potential people. That’s your game.

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: And do you adjust. Did you find any ways of adjusting your message to get better response rates to get someone who doesn’t know who you are to trust you?

Sherri: Yeah, of course. I mean . . .

Andrew: What do you do?

Sherri: You just you refine your messages. I mean, look, when I created BabbleBoxx, that was game-changing. When I created Blog Meets Brand that was game-changing for Single Edition. So it was like when I finally have the confidence and say, “Let’s build the platform,” or, “Let me try this box,” BabbleBoxx really took what I’ve been doing for all these years to this next level.

Andrew: Okay. But you know what I think has worked for you? I’ve been snooping around your site over the years just like going back and seeing what it’s worked. One thing that you lean on a lot is the brands that you’ve worked with that once you get a brand that you make sure that the other ones know that you’ve worked with them. Am I right? Right?

Sherri: I think everyone does it. I know if you go to any ad agency side, it says “Clients we work with.”

Andrew: Right, right. I do think that there’s a little bit of a hesitation sometimes about using the first company. And I know that some brands don’t like to be mentioned.

Sherri: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: I’ll give you an example. I know someone who’s worked with Tim Ferriss. Tim Ferriss does not like to have his name used for anything. You can’t call up a potential customer and say, “I work for Tim Ferriss. I think I’d be a good fit for you.” And so he can’t do it. And somewhere in that spectrum is where most people live. And I think many people feel that most of their clients are going to be more like Tim Ferriss than they are about the typical client who’s going to be more open and maybe will hold that.

Sherri: Right. And we actually . . . What’s interesting you said that, we try to be careful. We actually had recently two brands write us saying, “How come we’re not on your website? Like, we want to . . . ” I’m like they actually care and they wanted to be in the top row.

Andrew: Oh, wow.

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: All right. You also told our producer, “Look, one of the big issues that I’ve had is not trusting my gut.” Do you have an example of that? I do.

Sherri: For me or for you?

Andrew: For you.

Sherri: You do? What?

Andrew: Yes. There was a partnership agreement that you shouldn’t have done but you did it. I’m not going to say what it is. I saw the look on your face as I said it. Talk around it. What can you say? Oh, no.

Sherri: I had everything I needed to do to launch something and I didn’t believe I can do it myself and in the end, it didn’t work out, so I . . .

Andrew: So you got a partner because you felt like you needed some strength?

Sherri: Yes.

Andrew: What did you feel you were missing?

Sherri: The online tech savvy. No, I’m good at writing and creating and PR and marketing, but the specifics of like direct response and Facebook ads, I don’t know how to do that. And I felt like, you know, I’m going to partner with someone and we’re going to go gangbusters.

Andrew: And you partnered up and what happened?

Sherri: It didn’t work out.

Andrew: And in your gut, you knew that you didn’t need this, but that’s the part that you need to keep learning to trust, to trust that you’ve got this.

Sherri: Yeah, yeah. I had someone come in to meet with me a week ago saying that they want to be my partner in this business and they want 25% of it and I go, “What are you going to do for me?” “Well, I don’t know, but I want . . . ” Well, it’s just, yeah. So you have to . . .

Andrew: But the . . .

Sherri: Yeah.

Andrew: The draw of saying yes to that is we feel like it’s tough, it’s challenging and you’re always looking for somebody to come and kind of . . . There’s a sense that someone else is better and they could save the day. Is that it?

Sherri: And you’re not alone. I mean, I work 20-hour days, like, and the stress and the . . . Being an entrepreneur is so stressful. It’s not just my life, it’s all these people that I work with. It’s their lives that are depending on us doing okay. And so if I see a day or two days that things are slow, I’m not sleeping. And to be able to offset that or some of the responsibility with someone else could be amazing.

Andrew: You know what? I keep thinking about this Paul Graham essay where he said, “We think that people who make their money lose it because they go to Vegas and spend it on hookers and blow.” That’s not what he said but it was essentially like that. We think that it’s the wasteful spending that’s going to do it, but in reality it’s things that seem like intelligent decisions like investing in a business that you shouldn’t. Not cutting off an expense that is unnecessary and that could just keep building up and building up and building up, and because it’s legitimate business you feel like, “I’m not going out to dinner and wasting all my money. I’m not blowing it on extravagances.” You feel then you’re safe, but that’s what gets you, so now I’m paranoid about that.

What’s the thing that kicks your . . . What’s the thing that fires you up that gets you to start paying attention that . . . How do I tee off this question? One thing for me is I look at my numbers every month with the bookkeeper and if I see that we’re down in any way, that just makes me so frustrated that I’ll go to extremes to make sure that we don’t lose money the next month. Do you have something like that that is an alert that triggers you?

Sherri: Yeah, the same thing. Exactly . . .

Andrew: It’s your monthly spend. Do you have a similar habit, once a month you go through with your bookkeeper?

Sherri: I look at my books by myself every week. You know what I mean?

Andrew: Every week.

Sherri: Or I’m looking at all the sales that are coming in and all of a sudden, you know, last week and this week are slow. Yeah.

Andrew: And so, if last week is slow, you mean if it’s low compared last year or is it slow compared to the previous week or what?

Sherri: If we just don’t . . . We’re a bunch of salespeople. Like, who’s getting responses? Who’s getting meetings? Who’s had calls? Who signed IOs? Like, all day long.

Andrew: But it’s the books that keep you going. Once a week you sit down and do it.

Sherri: I’ll look at the numbers, yeah.

Andrew: I don’t have the discipline to do it. There’s so much else that comes up during my day that calls my attention. I can’t do it on my own, so I need the bookkeeper like a babysitter to go over with me and to make sure that we go through it line by line, line by line, and that if there’s an issue, I don’t have to email them and get a response later on, but I can just say, “Hey, this is an issue. Can we fix it so I can continue to understand what’s going on?”

Sherri: Right. Yeah.

Andrew: So congratulations on getting here. Let’s close it out with the future. What’s the next big thing for you?

Sherri: I want to keep growing. I want to launch some of these new ideas I have under the BabbleBoxx umbrella and just keep doing what we love to do.

Andrew: How do you grow? Can you really scale it? I feel like Google AdSense can scale to forever because it’s mostly automated. It’s not depending on custom work. What is it . . . What will allow you to keep growing?

Sherri: I think that there’s different . . . First of all, the custom box program, and it might not be . . . We’re starting to see the brands. When they order them, they’re not just ordering them for influencers’ stuff. They’re ordering them for other channels, so for social giveaways on their own social channels, for media relations. So I think we could grow their, right? So if Nestle did that box, all of a sudden if they wanted 1,000 of these kits created for whatever reasons, there’s a growth area.

Andrew: Oh, okay.

Sherri: And that takes us beyond influencer marketing into a different realm, right? We create boxes for anything.

Andrew: So, like, where Harry and David will send a generic basket with apples and pears. You’re thinking, “Some of the bigger brands want something more customized to them. That could be our market.”

Sherri: Well, yeah, because we’re doing those custom boxes and then they just order more of them and then they can be using them for press media relations like, “I want to send this to ‘The New York Times’ or ‘Allure Magazine’ or whoever.”

Andrew: Got it. All right.

Sherri: So that’s one area.

Andrew: If anyone wants to go check it out . . . Sorry?

Sherri: So that’s one area.

Andrew: What else? What’s the next one? I feel like you were teeing something else up.

Sherri: No, no. That’s it.

Andrew: What’s another one? I feel like I just cut you off, did I?

Sherri: Productizing. Productizing our brand and also tapping into the influencer network to do more with them.

Andrew: How do you productize that?

Sherri: A lot of people are asking us if we have our own product line. So can we come up with our own? And, again I don’t want to steer to a way . . .

Andrew: Meaning the influencers would create their own product line?

Sherri: No, we would create our own product line.

Andrew: And then reach out to the influencers to help sell it. Oh, I see. So you could have your own beauty brand or something that’s purely . . . Like, what was that one? I interview the founders. The High something Teeth company. “Whitening Teeth” on Instagram. They’re just huge on Instagram. All they do . . . There it is. High Smile.

Sherri: What is it?

Andrew: All they do is once you start to see them, you’re going to see them everywhere on Instagram. All they do is with teeth whitening kits that you can buy at home to use and they use Instagram tremendously well. You see people with their before and after on Instagram. You see people on YouTube talk about how they’re going to do this. And they pay influencers to try their stuff and that’s kind of what you’re thinking of, find a product that you can work with influencers directly on.

Sherri: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s different ideas.

Andrew: All right. If anyone wants to go check out your stuff, I really just suggest that the best place for them to look is that custom box. I feel like those things are beautiful. And it’s a babbleboxx, boxx with two X’s, .com, babbleboxx.com. And I want to thank my two sponsors who made this happened. The first is a company I’ve been renting office space from forever which probably is really nervous about me having their brand in my mouth even for a little bit, but I’m grateful to them for trusting me for a little bit. It’s regus.com/mixergy. And the second is the company that hosts my website that is completely trusting of my brand even though at one time wore a hat with the exact wrong animal and wrong, like, mascot. They laughed it off and they sent me the right mascot. HostGator, hostgator.com/mixergy. Sherri, thanks so much for doing this.

Sherri: Thank you.

Andrew: Thanks. Bye, everyone.