Category: e-business

LOU MONGELLO : Walt Disney World expert, podcaster, author, speaker & entrepreneur

Lou is the host of the wildly successful WDW Radio podcast. If you have any interest in the Disney brand or the parks you’ve probably heard of him. He’s also an author, public speaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He’s an inspiring guy. He left behind the life he cultivated after college to dive head first into his passion. That’s something I really admire. This interview is shorter than some others, but only because Lou is a busy guy. He answered my questions on a layover coming home from a speaking gig in the Philippines.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I’m up around 6:00AM, I get the family off to school and work and then I’m at my desk by 7:00. Triage the inbox, create and post a morning quote and image, and then hit whatever project is next on the list!

02. I’m very interested in your pre-Disney career. From what I understand, you were a lawyer living with your family far from Orlando. What did you originally want to do with your life? It seems like you had things pretty figured out, why weren’t you content?

I was planning to be an attorney forever, but I never woke up excited for work then the way I do now. Getting up to argue every day just wasn’t in my DNA. I’m blessed and fortunate to have found my true passion and calling.

03. Quitting a job and uprooting your family for a bigger dream is something most wish they could do, and you did it successfully. What was the tipping point and how did you convince yourself (and your family) that the time was right to make a change?

I knew pretty early on that this is what I wanted to do, and that I could turn it into a business. I didn’t know how, but I knew I had to try. I never wanted to look back with regret and wonder “What if…?” Fortunately, my family was (and IS) very supportive. I wouldn’t be here without them.

04. Here’s a quick question: Why Disney?

Simple: It’s what I’ve loved since I was a kid. I had gone yearly since I was 3 and was fascinated by the place and the memories my family and I shared. When I wrote my first book in 2004, I never hoped or expected it would turn into anything more.

05. Your podcast is currently hovering around #3 on the ranking of most popular podcasts on iTunes, right below Serial and This American Life. So, first of all Congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. Did you ever think WDW Radio would become so popular? Why did you decide to do the podcast in the first place?

Thank you! But let me be clear: That ranking, any recognition, awards, etc. is not about me – it’s about the community and family of people that listen to the show, and allow me to share my passion for Disney with them. I started it because I know the spoken word is much more powerful than anything I could write. You just can’t convey emotion or express yourself the same way. The medium is incredibly powerful and intimate. Plus, I’m a horrible typist.

06. You do a lot of public speaking around the country at all kinds of conferences and schools. What is the focus of most of these talks? Do you tie them all in with Disney?

They range from business, social and new media, Disney, entrepreneurship, to other motivational-type talks. The Disney Difference: Achieving The Ultimate Customer Experience, Leadership Lessons Learned from Walt Disney, “Quit Your Job and Do What You Love Full Time! I Did It, and So Can You!”, The Power of Community – Using Offline Interactions to Increase Online Engagement, How to Create, Grow, Launch and Monetize Your Podcast, and How and Why to Use Live Streaming to Build Your Brand and Business. For students (middle, high school, etc.) some topics include: IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT! Follow Your Dreams and Do What You Love!, Storytelling, entrepreneurship, etc.

07. Can you tell me a little about the Dream Team Project? You’ve raised an impressive amount of money for charity and I’d love for you to plug it a bit.

It’s probably easier to just read my story about the Dream Team at our website. It explains how it came to be and why I do what I do.

08. As any listener of WDW Radio knows; you love to eat. I bet most people think food in Disney World is mostly just overpriced hamburgers and soda. Is it possible for a foodie to actually eat well in the parks?

Ohhhh yeah!! Some of the best meals I’ve had anywhere in the world (the entire world, not just Disney World), have been at WDW. Don’t get me started on bluezoo, California Grill, Flying Fish, Artist Point, etc etc etc.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

Being a parent, I try to emulate what my father did for me, and strive to be even better. It’s something that motivates and inspires me every day, in everything I do.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

My “day” usually ends closer to the middle of the night, but when it does end, I usually will unwind a little by eventually falling asleep watching something educational on TV, or maybe a movie.

You can find Mr. Mongello on the web:

FRED PERROTTA : co-founder of Tortuga Backpacks & co-host of Power Trip

Fred is the co-founder of Tortuga Backpacks and the co-host of the endlessly fascinating Power Trip podcast. I don’t know Fred, but I use Tortuga products. I’ve gone through a lot of luggage over the years and I can definitely vouch for Tortuga, especially their masterfully engineered day packs. There’s a reason Entrepreneur listed them in their 100 Brilliant Companies. We talked about podcasts, advertising, travel & getting things made in China.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I leave the morning as my main personal work session. One day per week, I have one-on-ones with our team. Otherwise, I keep my morning calendar clear. I wake up naturally (not with an alarm), eat breakfast, then meditate with the Headspace app for 10-15 minutes. After showering, I make coffee and power through the most important tasks on my list until lunchtime.

02. Can you tell me a little about yourself pre-Tortuga? How did you get your start?

After college, I left the east coast for San Francisco and a job with Google. I spent three years working with clients to manage their advertising campaigns. Many of my clients were big spenders, but not household names. Almost all of them were online dating sites. I parlayed those skills into freelance work with startups after leaving Google so that I could pay rent while starting up Tortuga Backpacks. Oddly enough, we spend very little money on Google advertising now.

03. I use a Tortuga backpack, a Tortuga daypack, and Tortuga packing cubes…so you could say I’m a fan. Why backpacks? How did the company get started?

Rather than copying and pasting, check out our origin story here. We’ve written about this hundreds of times.

04. You guys advertise on a few travel podcasts, that’s how I heard about you. Podcasts are a relatively new medium and they seem to be working for you. How is it working? Is podcast advertising something more companies should be looking at?

We started with the Extra Pack of Peanuts podcast. Travis is a friend and loyal Tortuga user. He pitched me on the idea, and we decided to test it out. I listen to a lot of podcasts, travel and otherwise, so I knew that some companies were doing well with podcast ads. I loved the medium. Since Travis was already using a Tortuga, he could speak honestly about why he liked it. We probably wouldn’t advertise with someone who had never used our bags. Those types of ad reads are very transparent on other shows. I would recommend for other brands to try advertising on podcasts, unless they’re in the travel vertical. We prefer lots of availability and no competition there. 🙂

05. Speaking of podcasts, I love your Power Trip show. I’ve seen companies start podcasts and they may post a few episodes and then that’s it. You seemed to have found a happy middle-ground between advertising your products and giving great interviews and travel advice. Why did you decide to do the show and what has the response been?

Once our blog was rolling along, we wanted to test another medium. Jeremy and I both love podcasts, and it was easy to set up and cheap to get started. The only real commitment was our time. We liked that with a podcast, we could speak at length about our business and products and give people a look behind the scenes from the people involved. We’re on hiatus for the holidays now but will be back with a re-tooled version of the show in 2016.

06. Tortuga backpacks are manufactured in China. I went to China a few months back and fell in love with the people and the country. How did you end up deciding to manufacture there?

When we started the company, we bounced between sampling in China and manufacturing the first run in California. The reason we chose China is two-fold. First, Southeastern China is where most of the world’s textiles and soft goods are made. You can find an incredible network of factories, suppliers, and expertise there. Second, our bags are too complex to manufacture in the US and still offer them at an affordable price. Making travel accessible was more important to us than where we make the bags. See also Made In China.

07. Is there any simple advice you could give to someone wanting to develop a new product? What’s the basic process of developing an idea and finding a company overseas that can make it for you?

This is a huge question. I’ve already written about some of it here: How to run a physical product business from anywhere.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

Yes, we’ve roughly doubled our team in the last four months and are gearing up for a big 2016 including re-designed and new products and new content to help people travel better. Stay tuned to our blog for updates along the way.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

Travel. The more I travel, the more committed I am to our mission and the impact that we can have. The destination almost doesn’t matter, because I can take something inspiring away from anywhere that I visit. In 2015, I visited Thailand and Spain. Both countries made me excited about travel though they were very different.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

On low key nights, I cook dinner then read or watch a movie on Netflix. Otherwise, I’m out trying a new restaurant, grabbing a drink, or seeing a concert. I live in Oakland, just across the bridge from San Francisco. Both cities have an endless amount of things to do and to eat.

You can find Mr. Perrotta on the web:

KYLE ESCHENROEDER : co-founder of StartupBros

Kyle is the author of Self-Made U: How To Thrive When Degrees Don’t Matter. He’s the co-founder of StartupBros, a community for entrepreneurs looking to learn from like-minded people. I went to their Import Empire Summit in October and was thoroughly impressed. This interview is full of great insights. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy!

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I tend to go 6 months on-routine, then 3 months off-routine (or however long it takes for me to realize my life is better with routines). Some of the off-routine stuff is good to shake things up, but generally the good stuff happens when I follow something like this:

1. Wake up early (6:00AM or so)
2. Write stream of consciousness
3. Exercise (been doing body-weight on the local jungle gym)
4. Meditate
5. Eat at noon (8 hr feeding window)

That’s the good stuff. It doesn’t happen often, but when I do that for a week straight things are pretty sweet.

02. You seem like a cool guy, but you got your start trading commodities, seemingly the most uncool thing ever. What made you fall into that scene instead of something like music?

I took the Johnson O’Connor aptitude test one time. I scored really high on everything except music. Literally everything that’s useful in music is missing in me: tonal memory, rhythm, hearing the differences between sounds, all that stuff… I’m completely useless.

As for cool… I think every one of my ex-girlfriends would disagree with you, but thanks.

To me, trading commodities (or otherwise) is cool. One of the coolest things actually. It means having a view on the world and taking action on it. Putting your skin in the game against mega corporations. That’s badass man!

When done seriously anyway. These people who try to trade Forex or something based on following some service they pay $99 a month for without knowing anything themselves… that’s not cool, that’s upsetting.

Anyways, I always think the coolest people are the ones that are irrationally interested in something. Life can feel pointless sometimes and these people are the modern heroes that prove to us that it’s up to us to be interested in the thing.

Of course, this might all be a kind of consolation cool because James Bond is so out of reach.

03. I know that you backpacked through Europe and traveled a bit. Part of start-up culture these days seems to focus on the idea of location independence. Do you think you’ll ever move abroad for a few months to work remotely?

Probably not. Maybe. I don’t know. Right now I’m more interested in roots and community than novelty. I’ve traveled a bunch, and I’ve seen a bunch of cultures. I like the United States a lot. If there was a compelling reason to do it I might.

(Side note: I think the fetishization of travel is harmful and poisons the actual value in traveling.)

04. Can you just tell me a little about your company StartupBros? What was the initial focus and has that changed at all over time?

StartupBros was a blog that my buddy Will and I started three years ago. We had started and screwed up a bunch of businesses and wanted to share what we had learned. We worked on it with no pay for a couple of years and it ended up getting popular.

The most popular post by far was one where Will laid out how he started an importing company when he was about 14 years old. We were getting hundreds of emails a week asking details about how to import, sell on Amazon, etc.

People kept asking to give us money. So we finally let them. We launched our first Import Empire Jumpstart Group (the name of the training program derived from the blog post) just to our e-mail list and took in $100,000 or so. After that we focused on building, delivering, and marketing that program.

05. I attended your Import Empire Summit last October and I really loved it. What made you guys want to tackle doing something like that? Will you do another?

We launched the Import Empire program because we had a bunch of people yelling at us to do it. The Import Empire Summit is the same story. A bunch of people just kept yelling at us that they wanted in-person events. They wanted to connect offline. So we said we’d do it.

I’ve always been a naysayer of events like that and kind of looked down my nose at conferences, but holy shit man. You saw the result. Anybody that was there and participated got a crazy ROI on their money.

The rate at which information can be exchanged when people are in the same room (and maybe after a shot of tequila) is much faster than the internet. There were many multi-million dollar conversations. That’s not an exaggeration. We attracted the best in the industry. Not just the speakers, but the attendees. It blew my mind.

Then there were the relationships. It was surreal to meet so many people that I had worked with to build their businesses over the last couple of years. There were a lot of tears. I’m being serious. Grown adults crying tears of joy about how their lives changed because of the businesses they built and the relationships they formed.

That’s a long way of saying we do whatever paying customers tell us to do and we’ll definitely do another Summit.

06. The Import Empire Summit was, for me, all about hearing success stories and getting inspired. Who have been the most inspirational people to you in your life?

It totally depends on the phase of life and mood I’m in. This is really hard. It’s really whoever I need at the moment. Here is a short list of people who have been the most inspirational to me at some point in time.

Bob Dylan, Nietzsche, Nassim Taleb, Josh Greenberg, My sister, My other sister, My parents, My grandpa, Seneca, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Ryan Holiday, James Altucher, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Charlie Munger, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, Peter Thiel, Paul Graham, Venkatesh Rao, Kevin Smith, Alan Watts, Richard Linklater, Dr. Seuss, Krishnamurti, and Einstein (via Walter Isaacson)

07. You guys talk a lot about importing, branding and selling on Amazon. What simple advice would you give to someone trying to get a new idea/business like that started?

Set your risk and then stop pussyfooting. Stop thinking you need to know everything to start. One of my biggest goals with people starting these businesses is getting them to actually do something. So many people are in the habit of researching and buying training programs and then doing nothing. It amazes me.

That’s an annoyingly vague one. So let me give an annoyingly self-serving one. Then I’ll give an annoyingly simple one.

The single best place to get the basic information on starting an importing/e-commerce business is this free training program Will put together: Import Relay. In a couple hours you’ll have a great understanding of how to get going with this (and what “this” even means).

The annoyingly simple answer:

1. Find a product that seems to be selling well on Amazon and is pretty cheap.
2. Find it on Alibaba.
3. Buy a sample order of 5-10. (Use PayPal to protect yourself.)
4. Sell those samples on eBay.

Doing this will give you a fundamental understanding of how these businesses work. You’ll know in your bones that you’re capable of doing this business in a bigger way. And it’ll cost you $100 or less.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

Yes. There’s going to be a major transformation to our training program coming soon. Also, there are new-new things that I can’t yap about just yet.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

1. Who Owns the Future? is giving me an interesting new framework to look at our digital economy, especially in regards to valuing information.
2. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies is helping me appreciate the power of the software that we are creating now and will be able to soon create.
3. Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy: Markets, Speculation and the State is making me appreciate capital allocation (and showing me the positive side of bubbles).
4. On Desire: Why We Want What We Want is giving me perspective on my desires.
5. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind made me realize the power of the question What do I/we want to want? and now On Desire is helping me dig in deeper.

Movie: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History – It’s about Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. Ken Burns directed it. It’s on Netflix. Go start watching it!

Podcast: Shane Parish’s The Knowledge Project is phenomenal. There’s only a few episodes out there but they’re some of the highest quality interviews I’ve heard on thinking and investing.

Blog post: Venkatesh Rao wrote The Calculus of Grit in 2011 and I just read it last week. Very relevant.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

Sometimes I play basketball with Will and some of our buddies. Usually I read or watch a movie and then go to bed. Yes, I know it’s bad to watch movies while falling asleep. Don’t judge me.

You can find Mr. Eschenroeder on the web:

PAUL GELLER : founder of Dialect NYC

Paul is one of my all time best friends.  He’s a musician, freelance philosopher, app developer and e-business entrepreneur.  Developer of Socialist app, founder of Dialect NYC, & Former Executive Vice President of Gov. Affairs for Grooveshark.  This list could go on and on.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started? 

1. I wake up before my alarm usually — not that I even set one anymore.

2. 20 minutes of connection and meditation.

3. Shower.

4. Athletic Greens (Life changing. Raw greens and probiotics)

5. Sunwarrior Warrior Blend (Chocolate). It’s Vegan. Non-GMO, all raw plant protein.

6. 16 oz of Bulletproof coffee with ghee and MCT oil

7. 1 hour of reading the Zohar / Torah and if I am feeling really energized I’ll read an essay by one of the great Kabbalists. Rav Ashlag is the most widely published. It’s a great way to remember why you are here.

8. I try not to check my email or RSS feeds until after I’ve accomplished 1-2 hours of spiritual study every morning. There is nothing in my inbox that requires an immediate, reactive response. Ever. There is nothing in yours either.

On RSS Feeds: I don’t consume my news any other way. I don’t like news surfacing algorithms that try to predict what I will be most interested in. I only use RSS. I skim the most recent (not most popular) 700 or so stories of the day, send the ones I want to read later to Pocket and then move on. If you are only reading what is in your Facebook feed then you are only seeing what people like you think is important. We all know where that gets us. I use Feedly as my reader. Then Producthunt. Then Redditedit – Boom.

02. We became friends in high school when we took a guitar class together. We went on to form and play in a fairly successful band. Why music? Does music still fit into your daily life? 

Music, the industry, my passion for the industry and for the artistry hasn’t waned. I still wrestle with it. What if that’s what I was supposed to do with my life? I try not to think about it. I listen to music all of the time – mostly while I am walking around the city but I don’t spend any time on “discovery.” Though I have developed great products that helped do that when I was at Grooveshark.

03. You got into e-businesses very early on, late 90s-early 2000s. So many internet businesses fail, so few succeed; Is there room out there for someone with a simple good idea? 

So many people confuse “having a good idea” with having “a good business.” See: Quirky – I am guilty of this first and foremost. I’m full of ideas and I have this innate ability to manifest them. When I built it was a good idea. It was a product I wanted to to use so I built it, but did it deserve to be a business? Probably not. Building your app or your web product is the easy part. Getting people to care is the real challenge. Time and attention is a zero sum resource. Your web “idea” will be competing against everyone else’s even if it is not directly competitive. It’s competitive in the same way that a video game is competitive with a movie. There is only so much time in the day. Is there room for it? Only if you make room.

04. You moved to New York City a few years ago. What is it about that city that made you feel like you needed to be there?

I want to look tragedy, hardship and failure in the eyes every morning. And then have an almond milk latte and an organic juice.

05. Grooveshark was famously sued and you worked with them for years. How did that feel? Did you ever feel like just giving up and getting a regular job? 

I was actually a personal party to that suit. Myself, the two co-founders and 4 other non-founding employees along with the company itself were sued for $17 billion. At that age? It’s scary. You can go crazy. I almost did. Maybe I totally did. Maybe I still am. I’ve always wanted a regular job. No one would hire me. I could go be a line cook at Carrabba’s again maybe. That sounds nice. I think I’ll do that.

06. You’re one of the most successful people I know…What advice would you give to someone trying to get a new idea/business started? 

I’m not successful. But when I do get to where I am going, what I will say is this: Money is an effect.

07. Can you describe a moment when you felt like you really made it? What did that feel like?

Terror and Panic. I had just gotten off stage at the Billboard Conference in San Fransisco, November 18th, 2012. I checked my phone and there was a voicemail from a CNET reporter asking me if I had a comment about having just been sued for $17 billion. That was the first time I felt like I’d made it… and the emotions were terror and panic. I went ice skating.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

Yes. I’ll share it with you if it comes to be.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…) 

1. Kabbalah – For me, this is the answer I’ve been looking for. The fusion of math and mysticism.

2. We Have Concerns (Podcast) – I share their concerns. It’s comforting.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

The Rick & Morty Show. Spaghetti.

You can find Mr. Geller on the web: