Gamer turned marketing leader, podcaster and influencer Eric Siu discusses the importance of establishing strong values, maintaining relationships, and producing high-quality content in the data-driven world of digital marketing. Kicking off this week’s episode, Eric talks us through some of his key learnings as a digital marketing guru and what has helped him turn his ventures into the successes they are, from his experience rescuing and growing Single Grain to authoring Leveling Up. Switching gears to the digital marketing industry, Eric shares that there is no shortage of channels to market yourself or your company, so it is all about focusing on the right metrics, and the growth will achieve itself. We wrapped up a fascinating conversation by gaining an insight into Eric’s plans for “leveling up” and where he sees both himself and the future of the digital marketing industry headed.
About Slaves to the Algo
Whether we know it or not, like it or not, our lives have been taken over by algorithms. Join two-time entrepreneur and AI evangelist Suresh Shankar, as he talks to leading experts in various fields to understand how they are using or being used by algorithms in their personal and professional lives. Each episode highlights how businesses can leverage the power of data in their strategy to stay relevant in this new age of AI. Slaves to the Algo is brought to you by Crayon Data, a Singapore-based AI and big-data startup.
Suresh Shankar is the founder and CEO of Crayon Data, a leading AI and big data start-up based in Singapore. Crayon Data’s flagship platform, maya.ai, is the AI platform powering the age of relevance.
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Full transcript of S2EP1 below:
Suresh: Hello my name is Suresh Shankar, I am the founder and CEO of Crayon Data, an AI and big data start-up headquartered in Singapore. I am a podcaster, I host a show called Slaves to the Algo. Welcome to the show, we are now in season 2, and I am delighted to have with me as my guest today, a multifaceted man from California who is now in Miami, Eric Siu. Eric is an entrepreneur of the highest order, an influencer, and a data-driven digital marketing guru and he is now the author of a book. Welcome to Slaves to the Algo, Eric!
Eric: Thanks for having me, Suresh. It’s good to see you.
Suresh: Good to see you too. I first met Eric in Hong Kong, way back when we used to be able to travel, and Eric and I keep promising that we will try to meet each other in a physical space soon enough. But, for now, this will have to do. Eric, I am going to ask you to start off with an introduction to yourself and your journey, because when I see you, I see 3 or 4 different avatars. You are an amazing entrepreneur, you’ve got a fantastic podcast, a YouTube channel, and a big influencer. You’ve become one of the experts on data-driven digital marketing, you have launched a book! So, many different avatars. But how would you describe yourself?
Eric: I’m a teacher.
Suresh: Nice and simple and why did you choose that? That’s such a compelling insight.
Eric: Yes so I have asked myself this question in the past. I think if you take away everything I have right now, what would be left? Learning. I just love learning and I love teaching because it articulates my learning. Pre-COVID, I would teach at local colleges in Los Angeles. I would teach at USC I would teach at Pepperdine. A lot of stuff I would do online for free just because I enjoy teaching and I enjoy giving back and partly it’s selfish too because when I see someone’s eyes light up when I see that there’s a lightbulb moment, I get a lot of joy from that and as someone has said in the past it does feel like a drug and it certainly does!
Suresh: That’s nice and it’s nice that you talk about drugs because algos are the new drugs in some ways! And you become a person who has taken teaching, which you call your passion, and you kind of brought it into the digital world in multiple different ways. So let me ask, Eric, about the entrepreneur in you. You are the person that went out and bought Single Grain for two dollars. What made you go to do something like that? Just buy a company that’s failing with a lot of debt?
Eric: Yeah I mean looking back on it, it was a fairly reckless move and I don’t think I would’ve repeated it. But, I don’t have any regrets. So the story behind it was I was about 26 years old I was leading marketing at an online education start-up and we weren’t able to turn the company around. We had a great product, a great team, but we just didn’t have the right marketing strategy.
The CEO threatened to fire me a month into the job if I didn’t hit numbers. I bet the entire company because I have a background in gambling and poker so I said okay all in. I’ll bet the whole company to YouTube ads and it worked out! We went from acquiring 200 users a month to 3500 to 5500 to 6500, raised our series B and the company was saved.
So my podcast co-host Neil Patel from Marketing School saw what I did and he was like hey why don’t you come to help save this failing agency? And at first, I had no interest in it. I looked at it I was like this is a failing company, I’m not interested in the service business, I’ve worked in agencies in the past and I historically dislike agencies. But, then I reframed my mind, and I was like, wait, hold on a second. If I can fly this plane and change the engine while it’s going down I think I can do anything.
So you know I decided to sign up and I came in as a number two. There were four other partners in the company. Fast forward six months: nothing is working out. The partners want out. Neil pulls me aside and he’s like “hey, as a friend there’s no brand equity here, there’s nothing, you should get out.” And so I said hey I’m 27 years old, this is my first M&A deal, I’m air-quoting right now for those of you that you can’t see the video right “M&A” what do I do know about M&A at 27? So I said hey OK Neil one dollar for 10% of your shares, one dollar for another partner’s shares dollar for another partner shares, and the rest we’ll sell through finance paid through the profits of the company and I put in a contingency: if the company failed I would own nothing.
So, the way I looked at it, to answer your question now, finally getting to the answer, it was an asymmetric bet meaning that my upside was unlimited and my downside would be capped because it would be an NBA. I wouldn’t lose much, I would just lose the time investment, and if I failed it I will probably still be 28 or 29 years old and I can still go get an amazing job. So that’s what it was and yeah a year into it I made it go from bad to worse we dropped down to one employee. My outside accounting firm called me and said “hey, it might be time to shut it down.” So, it got to that point.
Suresh: That’s an interesting thing that you just said. You rescued your company you’re working with. This podcast is called “Slaves to the Algo.” So, were you a slave to your feelings or a master of the data? Because you also describe an unlimited upside, no downside. So which one was it in this case?
Eric: More so on data. I played poker a lot in college so I knew that if I have a flush pot multi-draw right now so I have an edge. I know what my numbers are in this scenario so if the upside is unlimited and the downside is very capped, heads I win a lot, and tails I think I still win.
Suresh: That’s an interesting way to do it and then you know you actually built that company out into a digital marketing powerhouse agency and you know you also mentioned another thing: you don’t like those businesses. So, how did you nurture it? How did you grow the company? Could you walk us through a little bit of that journey?
Eric: Yeah, so, you know going back to the asymmetric upside, service businesses are very good cash flow businesses. You can continue to scale it if you want, but you’re going to end up playing at a holding company game which is what the big agencies in the world do. They gobble up other agencies and they just keep doing that and they sell to a bigger holding company. That’s the game you play. So, for me, I was like OK well if I make it work and I generate great cash flows from it, I’m going to use more cashflow and go find more durable or more exponential sources of revenue.
So, either, I’m going to go invest in tech businesses or build our own stuff, right? So, you know that was kind of the long-term plan, to turn things around. But, just to back up a second, let me tell you how I screwed up first. I read a book called “Let My People Go Surfing” from the Patagonia Co-Founder. Great title. I took the book a little too literally “let my people go surfing,” “nobody wants to be micromanaged,” etc. makes sense. So, I stopped showing up to the office and from there you know things went from bad to worse. I had no vision, no communication, no culture, no sense of anything. I was like just let it happen as if the company will automatically run itself. That’s what happened and after that, I really learned my lesson.
If we build, we have to build intentionally. Al the things people used to tell me that I used to think was baloney: core values, culture, that type of stuff, if you think about it, that is an algorithm that runs your company. If this happens, then this. Or if they don’t follow our core values, then we fire them.
Suresh: Okay so you just described culture as an algorithm and could you just delve a little bit deeper into that because it’s so fascinating. All of the entrepreneurs talk about culture and values being the most important thing, but you just described it as an algorithm. So, I would love to go a little bit deeper into that thought.
Eric: Yeah, I’ll be the first to say I’m not an algo expert, but I mean at the end of the day I was just mentioning if this, then that. Life is just like a lot of if this, then that statements and I think the culture is really you can call it the plumbing of your company, but I like to think of it as the programming of the company because, with programming, you’re constantly adding new lines of code, you’re constantly making adjustments, you’re deleting code, thinking about crisper gene editing and removing things and you’re just doing that the whole time. When you add people, you add new code to it, your culture changes a little bit and so you’re constantly adjusting it over time.
People like to think oh my god we’re not computers! You know this is a little crude to say but I would just say we’re probably primitive versions of computers and primitive versions of algos whether we like it or not, right? So, I am going to leave that right there for a moment but that’s how I think about it.
Suresh: That’s absolutely lovely and I can that a little bit, but I’ll come back to that later because to me all of this is such an interesting part of you. But let’s move onto the second avatar which is Eric the influencer. You’ve built an incredible podcast, built an incredible YouTube channel, you’ve driven up the traffic on that. How did you do that? How do you actually use data and how have you used your feelings about the audience to become a really big influencer in the world of digital marketing?
Eric: First, I appreciate that Suresh. I think at the end of the day I still feel like I’m very much getting started and I think if anybody feels like they’ve ever become an influencer or an expert, that’s when things start to fall apart because people get complacent. So, what I would say is when I took over Single Green our blog was getting about 3000 visits a month which is not that much. Over the years, now we’re at about 350,000 which is decent for a marketing blog. It’s a very competitive niche from an SEO perspective. But we’ve also taken those insights, so we built other blogs. I have one that has 4 million visits a month. I am using the same playbook.
So, you know when you think about the best investors in the world? Let’s think about Warren Buffett for a second. Okay, he’s worth 85 billion dollars. 84 billion of that didn’t come until after his 65th birthday and when he was 58, that’s when he got to his first billion. So, when you think about the time it takes, to you know, get successful, get to where you want to get to, whether it’s in marketing, whether it’s in business, it just takes a long time.
What I found, let’s use my podcast as an example, example number two: after the first year when I was spending six hours on it every week, I was only getting nine downloads a day right so 270 a month. After the second year, doing the same thing, I was only getting 900 downloads a month. But, if I didn’t keep understanding that hey let’s not focus on the downloads, let’s focus on the learning/focus on the relationships that I’m building we wouldn’t be at where we’re at right now which is about $1.6-1.7 million downloads a month.
So, I’m just saying typically with business or any type of audience, it takes two to three years to get something going and it’s just a compounding effect after that. I think what I learned from that is you know if you think about going back to algorithms for a second. Algorithms don’t get impatient. Algorithms just keep going to keep compounding over time, right? Sorry, a machine, not an algorithm. Machines just keep on going and going. They don’t have emotion tied to it. So, try to take that investing mindset to business and also to building audiences and it’s a recipe for success.
Suresh: That’s a lovely thought and hold that but I’m going to go back to something you said earlier. You know you said that it takes time. When you got me on your podcast, I said it takes 8 to 9 years at least to build a good business and you said it takes time. When you started your podcast and when you started your channel, did you know that it takes time, or was it something you discovered along the way? Did you keep trying and doing things till it got big or did you always know it was going to be a 10 year a 5-year journey, etc.?
Eric: I didn’t. What I would say is, it was very painful when I was focused on the wrong metric. I was focused on the wrong KPI. This is why most people give up too easily because three months into it they’re like oh my god, I’m not getting any downloads I’m not getting any views! At the end of the day, what I want to tell those people is to stop being so selfish. Stop thinking about yourself so much because that’s what I did, and it was incredibly painful. But, when I reframed my mindset earlier, thinking oh my god I’m building relationships with amazing people like Suresh, I’m having amazing conversations. I can ask selfish questions because I was trying to save Single Grain at the time and a lot of these relationships became my really close friends and it led to other things down the road.
So, I should be optimizing for that because that’s infinitely more valuable. When I get a lot of downloads at the end of the day, what’s the most important thing? It all leads back to relationships. So, I didn’t learn about the compounding of that till later because I started to see that with multiple audiences. But I think it’s just important to rethink what is really important and focus on that metric instead of what everyone else is focusing on because if you focus on what everyone else is focusing on, you’re going to get the same results that everyone else gets.
Suresh: And that’s really fascinating. We’re going to go to that second thing. You said machines are patient and algorithms are patient. This is something that a lot of people don’t really get. They say hey we’re using AI and analytics and they think we’re going to get some instantaneous result. I like that you said they’re patient and they keep plodding away. Perhaps, from your blog or your podcast, could you share some learnings on how the whole patience thing played out? Could you share some insights on that?
Eric: Yeah, so, with the blog, initially when I first took over the company, Single Grain again only 3000 visits a month, but we didn’t have a good publishing schedule. So, we would publish maybe once a month? It was very sporadic. So, when I first took over, I was like, okay, we’re going to increase our publishing frequency to maybe three blogs a month. We’re going to make all our posts long-form. Before, they were maybe you know 300 words. This was a little while back when the new trend was to make most things long form because you can procure more content that way for the algorithm: Google.
The other thing we did was we started to build relationships with other blogs, you know, Hub Spot, Entrepreneurship Magazine, these other big websites. But then, we started doing guest posting. We started giving more authority to our website. I don’t want to get too much into the weeds of this but when it comes to SEO, two things matter the most: it’s the content and it’s the links. So, our quality of content got a lot better, our frequency increased. If you think about our algorithm which is doing that and building more links, our link authority, domain authority got stronger and stronger, and our output got bigger and bigger.
So, we started to compound. We started to reap the benefits of that. And, by the way, it was not immediate. It went from 3000 to maybe 10,000 the next year and maybe to 50,000. And maybe we took another year and a half to get to 150,000 and then 200,000 and now we’re at 350,000.
Suresh: So, that’s lovely. I am taking away a couple of really important learnings for our listeners out there. One is the idea that machines are patient, and they keep plugging away. The second, the compounding effect. Once it starts to roll in, you’re pretty much done, whether you’re Warren Buffet or Eric Siu. Warren Buffet and Eric Siu in the same sentence, there you go Eric.
But I have a further question on this whole thing. When you guys look at the growth of the blog, everybody talks about people becoming viral sensations and influencers overnight and you know people get millions of users and all of that. But my question to you is an as a person running a blog, you, Neil people like you, do you guys sit and say I’m going to look at the data?
While the machine is patient, do you actually look at the data and try and do it or do you let it become something that’s organic by just influencing the right content, doing a few things, and then letting the machine run? How much of it is conscious and how much of it is just something that happens?
Eric: Well, so, we try to be very conscious by looking at the data. Neil used to look at our analytics quite a bit but not so much anymore. Now we have people that look at analytics and SEO. But, yeah, looking at search consul look at what’s trending in the right way, looking at you know different tools that show us you know, by the way, what’s going on with the Google algorithm? Do we need to be worried about anything? Like that’s not something we look at it too much, but a lot of SEOs do. I would say it’s actually better. It’s just a problem that Neil and I are both trained as the CEOs. But I think it’s better net-net to just focus on hey what content are people most interested in right now? And produce that and just get the SEO basics right and then you’re going to grow your traffic a lot more.
When I think about the survival blog that we have, they get about 4 to 5 million visits a month, we just write really good content. We don’t try to build links or anything like that. We’re feeding the algorithm. We know the algorithm needs more content like this because there’s not a lot of content like that. When you do that, you don’t need to focus on links, Google is going to eat it all up. So, for that blog, the directive to the team is hey let’s just write whatever is most interesting, whatever is trending, and this is why you see a lot of new sites that just take off and then generate tons and tons of traffic.
The problem for Neil and me is that we’re in the world of, so that’s algorithm when it’s not super competitive. But in the world Neil and I are in, it’s super competitive. Neil might get millions of visits a month; I’d get a couple hundred thousand. Even that is considered really good in this niche. So, you have to, you know, put on different hats when you’re in a different niche and think about how competitive they are, and, so, in that respect, we are kind of looking at here what does the data tell us, right? That works for us but net-net, for most people, you probably want to focus on what’s going to create the best experience and what are people interested in.
Suresh: That’s great. I’m taking away with me three things. The first is that focus on the content and your story and the relationships you’re building, the machine is more patient than you are, let the machine do its work and wait for the compounding to kick in. Eric, this is such a fascinating conversation. We have two more facets of you to go a little bit deeper into. But, before that, let’s take a short break and we will be back with a little more Slaves to the Algo with Eric Siu.
– Break –
Suresh: Welcome back to Slaves to the Algo with Eric Siu. Eric, it’s been so fascinating learning about you the entrepreneur, you the influencer, and you the blogger. One thing I want to touch on before I go through the data-driven guru that you are, which is the fact that the numbers you talked about just before the break. We talked about 200,000 visits a month. These numbers seem small to a lot of people. But, in the world you and I live in, the B2B world, that’s a lot and people don’t get that.
So, is there something that differentiates the world of B2B influence versus the traditional way of B2C influence where people have millions of users and you’re posting all kinds of random Instagram photographs? So, is there a fundamental difference between these two worlds?
Eric: Yeah, I think you know that the word you always hear from other VCs IS TAM: the total addressable market. When we think about the world of B2B, it’s a lot smaller than the world of B2C. which is a lot broader as well. Especially, when we think about B2B SaaS, it gets even smaller as well. So, it’s a very small world. At the conference we met at, SaaStock, there’s only one other big conference that I know of that specifically focuses on this. I’m sure there are some other ones, this is software and all that, but it’s a very small world and everyone kind of knows each other.
So, when we think about B2B, B2B is one subset. A lot of people know me for SEO for better or worse so that’s an even smaller subset. So, whenever people think about me, the algorithm in their mind, it’s convenient to think of Eric the SEO. I’m not saying I like it or dislike it, that’s just what it is. I think that’s why the numbers aren’t huge, but I would take our 350,000 visits over like 10 million visits from like a news website because the traffic is less valuable, so to speak, because they don’t convert. They’re not going to buy a high-dollar thing as much. That’s why the CPCs or “cost-per-clicks” are lower. Again, going back to algorithms, that’s how it works.
Suresh: You mentioned Eric the SEO. I like to think of you in a slightly broader way, as Eric the digital guru. Just a couple of quick questions about the industry itself. Everyone is talking about digital marketing. Ten or fifteen years ago, people said no this will never take off. It’s gone from zero about 20 years ago marketing expense to probably over 50% of all marketing expenses. So, when you look at this world of digital marketing and all its facets, what are the pillars that you think drive success if you want to build a brand? Whether you’re a consumer brand or a B2B brand, what drives success in this world today? What are three or four big lessons you can give people listening in?
Eric: Yeah, I think if you’re trying to build a brand for the long-term, let’s say you have resources, the good news is you can go buy the attention, right? So, I’m an SAP or something, maybe I’ll say hey you know what I want to get in this SEO game so I can buy up the attention. You can acquire the attention. You can buy Facebook groups, you can buy different SaaS products, you can buy websites too. You can acquire that traffic. When I think about M&A, from the perspective of marketing, I think about how can I bolster my marketing with this acquisition? So, you can do that if you have resources. But, if not, if you don’t have any resources right now, if you’re B2B, I’ll be thinking about LinkedIn organic reach because it’s so strong. If you’re B2C, you have even more options. You have YouTube shorts, you have Instagram reels, you have TikToks, you have Snapchat spotlights.
You want to really leverage organic as much as you can because what ends up happening here’s the algorithm for the social platforms, they give you as much organic reach as possible, and then they start to monetize it was ads right? And then they start to throttle your organic reach. So, all the hard work you put in it goes to nothing right? So, you have to just keep moving along onto the next platform and then have whatever team kind of managing you know the work that you’ve done in the past. ClubHouse is another perfect example. Last week I did a chat with Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank. Tomorrow I’m doing one with another billionaire. So, to be able to build those B2B relationships with people and interact with people where I can collaborate with them, that’s infinitely valuable. You have a lot of different options. Twitter spaces, right? Again, the lesson here is taking advantage of organic. The first one is hey, if you have resources, maybe there’s an M&A type of play you can do. So, these those two.
The third thing I would say is, we talked about compounding. If you’re a company, like Suresh for example, let’s use you. You are the star of the podcast. If you had outsourced it to somebody else, what if they quit? There’s a consistency game to this too, because let’s say you are Hub Spot, and you hire someone to do the podcast for you, if they quit, you’re screwed. The consistency factor is gone because if you try to come to take it over later, a year or two into it, they have built the relationship. They have built that person’s brand for better or worse, right. So, I think consistency across the board is one of the main reasons why people end up “failing.”
Suresh: Yes, and you know, you also talked about very interestingly growing organically and how the platforms start to throttle the work that you have done. One of the big issues that you read about in the world today is the outsized impact of algorithms, some of which you can control, and you can kind of manage, and others, that are completely out of your control like Facebook and the Google algorithms.
So, what is your take on the effect of how much people are putting themselves at the mercy of the algorithm? How much are we slaves to the algorithm of letting it drive us to this new world that we are in? And I’m not asking you for the philosophical take about whether Google or Facebook is right. I’m just asking for the more practical, are we, you know, how do we become masters of this? How much of it is that we can’t do much and we have to go with the flow there?
Eric: Yeah, I mean I haven’t thought too much about this but what I would say is, you know, when I listen to the conversations on ClubHouse where people are you know sometimes, I’ll join rooms where people are giving marketing advice. You got to do this for the TikTok, you got to do this for the YouTube short you got to do this for the algorithm, you got to do this. So, it just sounds like they are slaves to the algorithm, right? A lot of the work that we do. It’s like, “oh, you got to publish at least one time a day,” right that type of stuff, or else you’re not going to they’re going to your social shadow banned you like that type of stuff.
And so, you know, in the grand scheme of things like how much does this matter, right? So maybe it doesn’t matter a lot for your business who knows right? But what I would say is, maybe it’s time to start diversifying from the algorithms because once you start to build this audience can you quickly drive them to your email list, so you can own that. Can you drive them to an SMS list where do you kind of own that, right? What other assets? Can you make where, like, maybe you have a community, maybe you have an event right? I think the community is a very important mode, a mode that people don’t think about as much.
If you can do, you know, a type of conference where you’re connecting a bunch of people right and then you have people talking with each other online, people will come back for the community. That’s a moat your email list is a moat-like I mentioned your SMS list is a moat. So not you know the advertising costs for Facebook, Google, that’s going to continue to rise and get bigger and bigger and bigger, can you build a tool right that a lot of people are going to come back and use over and over? I think we need to start thinking about hey, how can we start to disconnect from these big platforms, in case of something if they get regulated or broken up?
Suresh: That’s kind of really interesting because I think that’s the way the governments of the world seem to be going. But, coming back to the world that we can control, which is the thing that we get up and o every day as professionals right. Could you give our listeners, three big things to take away about the future of where you see digital marketing going? And possibly a couple of changes that as professionals they need to focus on things that they maybe have to do completely different in this new era of data, digital-driven marketing?
Eric: Yeah, I mean one thing I’ll say is, I don’t think social audio is going anywhere I think you know for ClubHouse, you know, Twitter has their competitor now Facebook is already copying them. So, I don’t know if ClubHouse is going to win long term, but I do know that that format is here to stay. There’s something very special about that format. So, you know, right now, like I’m traveling right now I have this road caster pro next to me in about an hour we’re going to do a ClubHouse for my book launch. Right now, I’m on my mic right here so I think audio is going to continue to get more and more important.
I do think, you know, there’s a reason why I’m doing this book. People are like, why are you doing a book? Nobody reads books anymore. But if I can build a community around that and there are 3 billion people in the world that have played games, talking about the total addressable market. What am I going to be able to do with that? And so that’s something I’ve never talked about. I’ve done 107 podcasts now for this book tour and I’ve never actually mentioned that. But to be able to harness the power of that and to be able to help people at a scale like that, that that’s pretty powerful. And so that’s a long-term play, right? We want to talk about long-term compounding, that’s this book right here. Not trying to go make money quickly like, you know, New York Times bestsellers right like that’s I don’t know I don’t want to pay 500 grand for that. So, so, anyway. There is that, I think.
Suresh: How much does it take to get a New York Times bestseller?
Eric: I’ll tell you on this podcast right now, 500 grand, guaranteed you will get a New York Times bestseller. Okay, they’re going to hate me for this. Forty-give grand, there is someone that can get you onto you know Wall Street Journal’s bestseller they have like their system or whatever, right? So there’s like games within games. This is why I think this whole leveling up thing, the whole life is just a puzzle or if you want to call it an algorithm, you can call it that, too. There are just different dynamics that you can insert to play things the right way.
Suresh: And this is the perfect time to segue into the new book and you know I completely agree the books are never going to go out of fashion just look behind me. And then, the best way I can detach. I mean, you know, this whole digital thing is that even all that reading is just kind of go start going straight into it and you go down that rabbit hole and never come out. So when I want to disconnect, I just pick up a book because of the analog. So I love this thing and I think it’s a great thought, you know. I mean I love the title and how to master the game of life. So tell us a little bit more about the book, and what you talk about in the book, and, and, you know, basically give us a synopsis of how to master the game of life.
Eric, just give me one second, sorry. There’s some sunlight. So, it’s a fascinating thing you’ve written this book is about how to master the game of life. So, tell us how to master the game of life.
Eric: I mean, I’ll be the first to say…
Suresh: And we’ll buy the book! We’ll buy the book, we’ll make you a billionaire.
Eric: I appreciate that. But like I’ll be the first to say I feel like I’m just getting started right now and I feel like I’m still going along the journey right. So it’s not like, oh, this guy thinks he’s mastered the game of life. I just think this is what’s working for me so far. And, you know, by the way, I also want to say that I was the ultimate failure growing up because I almost got, I almost didn’t graduate high school because I didn’t want to go to this one required class my senior year. I almost got kicked out of college because I was playing too much World of Warcraft and poker. So I had six withdrawals my first year in one F, and I almost got. I didn’t almost I got fired from two jobs, one was because I was trying to start a side business so that was kind of stupid to me. The other one was because I just was in college, I was. It was raining and I didn’t feel like going to work so that’s a bad reason, probably should have been fired, but I was 20 years old so.
Anyway, my point of saying all this is that I was the one thing I excelled at from ages eight to 22 was gaming, and I got in big fights with my parents all the time, they would take away my keyboard they would take away my mouse, and they never bothered to understand all the time and effort I was putting into games while I was doing that. And so, what ended up happening was I learned a lot about resilience, I learned about teamwork, I learned about communication. All that translates into, real-life so to keep it short.
I do truly believe that, you know, if you think about life or business in general, it’s just a series of puzzles. It’s a game. Like if I’m talking to Suresh right now, we’re building this relationship right, or if I’m looking to buy right I’m looking at a deal to buy a small agency to doing 7 million a year in top-line revenue. I’m like, okay, how can I make it where I can make the terms very favorable, make it a good outcome for them but also make it very favorable to us and make it where I can get this deal for free right? So there are games within games on everything. And to me, life is just about getting 1% better every single day right leveling up every single day 1%, and the whole thing is about, you know, going around the life and collecting power-ups, playing the game, long term, with no end in sight right and then you know when you die you die happy but you just know that you enjoyed the journey the whole time. And that’s what mastering the game of life is.
Suresh: That’s such a lovely summary. I mean, and I’ve been waiting to get me, get my hands on the book I went to a bookstore here. I’m trying to avoid only going and buying things digitally. Well that’s lovely very encapsulate this stuff right you’re employing 1% every day of your life and you know I like to level up in terms of the way we talk. That’s what we all used to do when you play those games, but it seems to me, Eric when you talk about this stuff now I’m getting a picture of your whole life. I mean, you actually to me strike me as one of the early users of data and algorithms poker, gaming, all of this stuff seems to lead you to, I think the way you’re looking at it, would that’ be a fair comment? And through this now.
Eric: You know, I don’t know if you know this coach. So my coach, his name is Jerry Colonna, he works with mostly you know SaaS CEOs or software CEOs and then you know when we when he coaches me we talked about I’m like hey, like, I just need you to ask me questions so I can unwire how I’m programmed. So I use the word “programmed.” So I think from ages zero to 18 or so like everything like how we do things is how we’re programmed all the experiences we go through. So, to answer your question, I think so I’ve never thought of it that way though.
Suresh: And I’m going to kind of just moving a little bit to all the Eric, could you, your book is right behind you, I think Eric’s. I’ve kind of seen some advanced copies of the book I’ve discussed this with them. The book is “Levelling Up: How to Master the Game of Life.” And there are some fantastic and simple learnings of how I think each of us can improve ourselves every single day. I would almost say it is a relentless attitude to self-improvement but done in a fun way. It’s not the hard work that we all sometimes associated with learning and growing so to get your to get hold of the book, and do subscribe to Eric’s podcasts and YouTube channels. Leveling up is a fantastic podcast.
Eric, I think, you know, I could carry on talking to you for hours and I’m looking forward to the day when we can meet in physical space probably sit on a beach to talk for a few days probably but I have a couple of questions to close this out, but yeah. One of the things that’s happening and I think this is something that Harvard Business Review wrote an article on a couple of years ago saying that this is now the age of relevance. That the old ways in which people were marketers were working, loyalty, relationships, etc. all of that doesn’t work and it’s all about staying relevant.
There’s also a fantastic bunch of things about the attention economy when there is like you know when we are constantly being asked to pay attention to so many things the people who get attention, are the ones who win. And obviously, the people who do get the attention you have to stay relevant to that. What’s your take on how in this world of completely exploring content, there’s like multiple channels one piece of content, how do brands stay relevant? How does a B2B brand stay relevant in this new age?
Eric: Yeah, I think it’s not stressing over trying to hit every single channel I think it’s when you think about relevance. I mean, you know, two things pop to mind when I think about getting attention. You can do some crazy TikTok video where you’re jumping off a building or something and I don’t know, flying with a squirrel suit or something. But the other one that I think most of us can do is just be useful. Right. So, even if you know nothing right now learning in public that’s largely how we grew, you know we saved Single Grain and grew it you know grew, all these things, tied to it now this like octopus of things together right?
But if we weren’t constantly trying to learn in public and be helpful in general we wouldn’t have been able to do that. So what I think is interesting, a trend I think is interesting, you just saw HubSpot by the Hustle reportedly for $27 million. And I think you’re going to start to see more of these big companies, you know making media acquisitions because there’s a lot of attention there and they can kind of bolt-on you know whatever offerings that they have. And so, but guess what the Hustle was very useful, it’s you know I enjoy. I love the podcasts that they do with my first million they talk about business trends, so I just love it, so I keep going back to it because I find the most utility by reading or listening or watching their stuff. So I think in the B2B world that’s what it is it’s not like, hey, come check out my case study, or check out this amazing. Look at these announcements about like, I never read that stuff right and I think I’m not saying I’m the end all be all. But I think, again, what’s worked for. If you look at Neil or you look at me or you look at other even HubSpot as an example it’s just, they’ve continually been useful, over time. And that, I think it’s very simple, but it’s not easy.
Suresh: Yeah. And I love the way that you just said staying relevant is ultimately especially in the B2B world about being useful to your listeners, your clients, and your prospects.
Eric, I think you know I could carry on as I said for a while. I have a personal question for you, and I have a comment to make to my viewers. First, the comment.
I completely understand why Eric calls himself a teacher, I saw both sides of Eric. But I think when he used that word, I’m a teacher and I look at all the things that he had right from his life journey from being, you know, a person who was into gaming and poker and then you know rescuing his company to becoming an entrepreneur to becoming an influencer and a podcaster and writing a book to become a digital guru. I think what he brings out, and I’m going to use a different word to describe you, Eric. I think you’re a learner-teacher because to me teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. And I think that by learning, and by broadcasting that I think you’ve got probably a lot of insights to a lot of people in the world.
But I have to ask you this question in the game of life, which level, are you at now? And how many more. What’s the next level that you are trying to conquer?
Eric: Yeah, I appreciate it. Um, you know, at the end of the book there’s a concept called the “Wealth Ladder,” written by is created by the CEO of Convert Kit Nathan Berry. And, you know, I’m not going to talk about that one but it’s you know go from you go from going to school all the way up to becoming an investor or you know you can run a platforms business or something like that.
I think to look at my age right now, you know I’m 34, years old I do feel like I’m very much getting started. I do have, you know, all the assets in place right the audiences will continue to compound the businesses will continue to compound, and I have a very buy and hold the type of approach. And I just want to continue to, you know, buy other you know marketing-related businesses and plug it into my audience and they just continue to build an audience. So, I don’t, I don’t have an end in sight. I think I’ve largely acquired the assets that I need to do what I need to do long term and now I’m just going to keep playing until I die. And my goal, if you’d asked me long term, I’m just really stuck to this book that I read when I was about 24, 25, years old: “The billionaire who wasn’t” by Chuck Feeney. This guy founded Duty-Free stores, gave away a billion dollars. So, you know, when I was 24 I was like okay if I give away $80 million, you know, I’ll be happy. So 1%, and then I got a little older, I was like, oh, you know, maybe we’ll do like 10% 800 million, and I got a little older and I was like, why not just go for the 8 billion and then if whatever I land on, I land on. And then so that’s what I’m going to do. And we’ll see what happens.
Suresh: That is such a lovely thought and I think it’s something that all of us should take away, which is that you know you’ve just started. So here’s my answer to you Eric, I’m 57 and I sometimes feel like I’ve just started. So you got a long way to go, brother.
Thank you very much for being on the show. Eric. Lovely to hear your thoughts on leveling up, on where digital marketing is headed, on how to become an influencer, and how to be a great entrepreneur when you don’t know what that step is going to lead you into. Thank you very much for being on Slaves to the Algo.
Eric: Appreciate you having me.
Suresh: Thank you.