Category: start ups

AMY FLEISHER MADDEN : author & indie record label entrepreneur

I’ve known Amy forever, she’s incredible. I saw her at every local South Florida concert when we were growing up. When I moved to Los Angeles I would show up at her house unannounced every week just to bother her. She is the founder of Fiddler Records, a very important institution in the history of South Florida indie music. Her book, A Million Miles, was recently published and has been getting rave reviews. Be sure to check out her links at the bottom because it’s hard for me to wrap up everything she does in a quick intro. I think you’re gonna like this one!

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

I wish I could tell you that I run five miles or that I write a thousand words by 10 am… But I can’t because I don’t. My morning starts when my five month old daughter, Elle, wakes up. Sometimes it’s at 5:00 am… Sometimes it’s at 7:00 am… But no matter the time my day starts with her. There’s a lot of singing, some dancing, and of course diapers… Lots and lots of diapers.

02. I’ve known you since the late 90s. We met in those exciting days in South Florida when everything seemed possible, every band was going to get huge. How did you get involved in that music scene? And is it still part of your life?

I have no idea how not to answer this without sounding like a total asshole… But I’m on a bit of a tight schedule (see answer #1) so let’s just get to the good stuff.

03. Your record label, Fiddler Records signed some bands that actually did go on to huge success (New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, etc.) This is probably a complicated question, but how did you go about negotiating these artists’ contracts away to major labels? Was that hard?

You’re right, that’s a very complicated question. To put it simply, I didn’t. Bands get big and when they do they don’t always play fair (and to be fair that doesn’t only apply to bands). It was hard because there really wasn’t any negotiating. I worked with bands and put out records that no label would have touched in a million years… Then when a few thousand copies sold it was clear to people what was going on and I had bands muscled away from me with the illusion of points and royalties that were never paid. To be really fucking honest, it sucked. It still sucks.

04. You moved from South Florida to Los Angeles forever ago. I believe you’re living in New York City now. Was moving away from home a necessary step in your personal growth? If so, did you know it would be then?

I’m back in LA now, but yeah I knew. Something in me always knew I needed to leave Miami. I traveled a little bit with my parents when I was growing up and as soon as I could drive I was never home. I’ll make something up and call it the Oyster Theory–let’s just say you’ve got to get a little itchy to make something beautiful.

05. You had your first book A Million Miles published last year. Just the task of writing a book seems like sort of an impossible endeavor, but you wrote it, got it published and it’s gotten incredible reviews. What made you want to write a book?

I thought I was going to die. I had a tumor growing on my thyroid and doctors couldn’t tell if it was cancerous or not–so I started to really think about ‘the end’. I’ve always wanted to write about music and touring and nothing gives you quite a dose of the hurry-ups like terminal feelings. I think I’ve really only talked about this publicly once before–at my Miami book signing–one of my doctors was there and someone asked a similar question and it felt wrong to withhold the truth with my doctor looking right at me. I don’t usually like to talk about it because I don’t want the whole story behind my book to be clouded with the big ‘C’, but I guess you caught me in an extra truthful mood. It’s late. I’m tired.

06. What advice would you give to someone wanting to get a new indie label started? Is that type of bedroom business completely dead?

I think that type of bedroom business is more alive than ever, but I’d tell whoever this wonderful young entrepreneur is that being a label is a lot like being a bank. Sure there’s an art to it, and there’s a need for talent, but at the end of the day the bottom line matters–and that’s a bummer. If you’re the softy emo type (like me) it might not be the best use of your time. Or maybe it is. Just go into things with your eyes open, and read everything you can. And email me if you have a question!

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

No, never. I still stare blankly into nothing at all and daydream about different careers and projects I want to start. I feel like I haven’t really accomplished anything. My mom is pretty psyched about the book, though, so that’s nice.

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

I’m writing what seems to be the next installment (I really don’t want to say sequel) of A Million Miles. I’m also messing around with something that could maybe be a movie? I don’t know. I’m learning how to be a mom, so that’s wild.

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

Ugh. Is it horrible to say nothing? Maybe it’s food. Food, yes, let’s go with food. Jon and Vinny’s on Fairfax is fucking inspiring, that’s for sure. Try the meatballs. And my family. My family inspires the ever living shit out of me. Oh, and this young kid, Troye Sivan. His record ‘Blue Neighborhood’ is all I listen to these days. My friend Malia James directed a video for him and it’s stunning.

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

What is this unwind that you speak of!? If I have an hour of mental stability left at the end of the day I enjoy a good snuggle on the couch with my husband. You know that scene in Titanic with the old couple holding each other on the bed as the water rushes in? Yeah, that’s us at the end of a long day, just add two cats. It’s adorable.

You can find Mrs. Fleisher Madden on the web:

TOMMY LOVELL : co-owner of WHITEROOM Salon Brooklyn

Tommy co-owns WHITEROOM Salon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with his wife Elisabeth. Elle Magazine named it one of the top 100 Hair Salons in the country. I’ve known Tommy for a long time, he’s one of my favorite friends to talk to, always game for a rambling up-all-night conversation about anything and everything. We talked about growing up, higher education, weight training, and opening a business in New York City.

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

We don’t start at the salon until noon, so we have a lot of time to work in the mornings; and on a superficial level, I wish that were my answer! But the truth is, we get up relatively early and make coffee, play with our dog Arrow and just kind of hang out and talk. Our day at the salon is built around appointments, so if ever there is a gap, that’s the time we use to get shit done.

Three days a week or so, though, I go to the gym and train. I remember reading something Richard Branson said about how going to the gym regularly is the best way to get things done outside the gym. Like, if you want to make moves in business and stay motivated and energized, go move heavy stuff around on a regular basis.

02. Can you tell me a little about your upbringing? I remember seeing you out at clubs in South Florida before we actually met, but you weren’t born in Florida, right?

Yeah, I lived in Florida for about three years before moving to New York. I was born in Mississippi, which is where all of my extended family lives, but I grew up in Louisiana, in a town called LaPlace which is about 25 miles west of New Orleans. It’s what I imagine a pretty typical suburban upbringing would be, except at the end of my block was swampland. That was a lot of fun. I loved going out into it and catching snakes. Once, I traded a snake for a bike… Or a bike for a snake. I can’t remember. But I’m sure kids in the Northwest did things that would seem wild to me.

I’ve always felt a little special being from Louisiana. It’s the only state with parishes instead of counties. We’ve got Mardi Gras. It’s one of only a few places in the country with a distinctive personality, in my opinion. But really, it was just a place to get away from. That’s important.

03. How did you get interested in cutting hair? Is that what you always wanted to do with your life?

I never thought once about doing hair until the day I decided I would. In college, I majored in History and I wanted to be a professor. I took a break after two years, because it all just felt too typical (which is just as typical). I guess I was complaining to a friend about how the time away from school hadn’t really shed any light on… anything, really. I thought I’d figure so much out, but I was really just working minimum wage jobs to pay rent to have a place to stay before I went to back to work. As depressing as that was, the idea of going back to school and locking myself back into that same mold I was trying to free myself from was almost worse.

She said I should go to beauty school. I didn’t get it at the time, but she was making a joke. The joke being that beauty school is a place for drop outs. But when she said it, this light went off. I knew it was the answer. That’s only really happened to me for three or four things in my life, where I got an idea to do something that I knew was just really going to work out for me. I’m lucky to have been able to recognize it. The next day I enrolled in beauty school. I threw myself into it completely. That’s what I do.

04. You left Brooklyn and moved back to Florida to open your own salon a few years back. The salon was seemingly pretty successful, but you ended up moving back to NYC after about a year. How did you come to the decision to leave that venture?

Yeah, the move back to Florida… Everything was going great in New York, I was busy, I was making money, I was saving money. But I was looking for something, who knows what. The same thing every 26 year old thinks they need to find, I guess.

My old boss reached out to me and said he was going to open a salon, and that I should be a part of it. And here’s the problem with looking for something so hard, you can end up jumping into something you shouldn’t. I didn’t do any research. I didn’t do any of the things I now think are really necessary in making a business decision. I lost all my savings and ended up with a fractured relationship with someone I thought of as a bit of a mentor.

All in all, it lasted less than 4 months. As cheesy as it sounds, I had to go somewhere just to see where I’d been. I’d love to call it all a mistake, but it definitely leveled my head, so for that I’m thankful.

05. You seem to be very focused on weight training and exercise these days. How did you get interested in that and what have been the benefits for you?

A couple of years ago, I started going to the gym and just doing typical bodybuilding routines. Probably what most people think about when they think of lifting weights. From there I moved into strength training specifically. I decided I didn’t give a shit what I looked like, I just wanted to know that I was the strongest.

Growing up I would watch the World’s Strongest Man competitions on ESPN anytime they were on. Strongman, in its essential form, is moving heavy objects. Really heavy. Pick up something heavy and run with it. So it rewards not only explosive strength but also speed and stamina. I’ve always wanted to be the fastest, strongest, smartest… just the best, at everything.

Then last year, I found out that there were amateur strongman competitions with weight classes. I didn’t need to be a giant to compete. This is another one of those lights that went off for me. I threw myself completely into it. I got a trainer. I took it very seriously. 4 months after I decided to try it, I placed first in a local competition. That got me an invite to the national championships, where I placed second.

The funny thing is, I feel like I’m done. That happens to me a lot too. I used to think it was a weakness, but now I’m convinced it’s a strength. I want to be the jack of all trades, and pretty damn good at all of them.

06. You opened WHITEROOM in Williamsburg with your wife last year. Things seem to be going really well. What do you attribute that to? What do you think you’re doing that other salons you have worked for aren’t doing?

Relentless enthusiasm, a stoic work ethic and a refusal to feel sorry for ourselves. The truth is, we were lucky. The salon we worked for shut down overnight and just left this void that we picked up on. We also already had clients, so the money was there. I’m not saying it was easy; it’s definitely the most, and hardest, I’ve ever worked in my entire life. We also have some amazing people that let us use them as sounding boards.

I can’t really speak to what other salons do or don’t do. I remember saying over and over how we learned what not to do from that last salon. We vowed to not make the same mistakes. I also remember very clearly when I first noticed that I was right in the middle of one of the very mistakes I vowed to avoid. I think the thing that separates people, is the degree to which they’re willing to acknowledge the data in front of them and adjust accordingly. I’ve learned to focus on progress, not perfection.

07. I imagine opening a brick-and-mortar business can be pretty difficult and stressful, especially in New York. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start that process for the first time?

Honestly? There is no advice. Don’t do it. I’m not being pompous, but you won’t know when to apply the advice until it’s too late, anyway. Then you’ll start to imagine all the advice you’ll give to people, only to realize it doesn’t even matter. You basically wander in the dark with a light that points behind you. I think the people that will actually go for it, just have to. They almost don’t have a choice. And they’ll figure it out on their own. They know who they are.

Philosophy aside, the only advice I have, and this goes for anything, is that if there isn’t a move to make, don’t make one. Let the fruit ripen and fall on its own, but have your bucket ready.

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

The salon occupies most of my mental space. There are lots of little things that I get to work on. So many things to figure out. Our next move will be making a product. I’m saving up my excitement for that.

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

I can’t think of anything specific right now. These things really come in waves for me. Generally speaking, early Romantic piano music really does it for me.

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

Dinner, an hour long serial drama and Scientific American.

You can find Mr. Lovell on the web:

JOOBIN BEKHRAD : editor of REORIENT Magazine

Joobin is the editor of REORIENT, an online magazine celebrating contemporary Middle Eastern arts and culture. He’s also the marketing and communications director of ARTCLVB. I’ve never met Joobin but we’ve emailed back-and-forth about 30 times this week. He’s a super interesting and sweet guy. We talked about running an online magazine, Middle Eastern contemporary art, misconceptions about the region, and T. Rex (of course). This is a good one.

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

I always like to think I’ll wake up at precisely the same time I set my alarm to, but I end up turning my phone off and spending half an hour or so half-dreaming, and half-awake. Afterwards, I make myself a nice cup of strong Turkish coffee (or steaming hot Persian chai) and flip open my laptop with my fingers crossed that it’s going to be another good day. For breakfast, I usually down a glass of milk; my parents told me I had to when I was a kid, and the routine has been with me ever since. The thought of eating anything in the morning – I can’t bear it.

02. Where were you born? What did you originally want to do with your life?

I was born by the foothills of the Alborz Mountains in Tehran towards the end of the Iran-Iraq War. After high-school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and just played things by the ear. Well, I did have this romantic dream of starting a rock and roll band and being a hotshot guitarist. Keith Richards even gave me some advice. But other things happened, I guess.

03. I first heard about you from REORIENT’s Instagram. What exactly is REORIENT? What are you trying to accomplish with a Middle Eastern themed online magazine?

I’m happy to hear that! Unfortunately many of our Instagram followers don’t know we actually run a publication, and that the account is only a supplement. REORIENT is a publication celebrating the contemporary arts and culture of the Middle East and the surrounding region (I’ve yet to come up with a concise and accurate term!): Iran, the Arab world, Turkey, the Caucasus, North Africa, and Central Asia. We’re trying to turn people on, non-Middle Easterners and Middle Easterners alike, to the amazing work that artists, writers, filmmakers, and creatives in general are doing in the region and in the diaspora. Unfortunately, you hear a lot of bullshit about places like Iran and countries in the Arab world these days, as well as encounter all this negativity and animosity towards a region so diverse and culturally rich that many think is just one homogeneous, hostile region.

04. You also run the website ARTCLVB. Can you tell me a little about that? What sort of artists do you promote?

Artclvb is what we started out with; it was my father’s idea to start a company that would highlight the work of contemporary Middle Eastern artists. Even though many think that I’m mainly interested in visual art, I got interested in it much later than I did in other art forms like music and literature. I began helping my father out on the side, and after learning about the incredible work of Iranian, Arab, and Turkish artists, I moved back to Toronto from London to work with him full-time.

While we originally began promoting the works of Iranian, Arab, and Turkish artists, we’ve narrowed down our focus to Iranian ones now, for obvious reasons. Our connections amongst Iranian artists, and within the country itself are much stronger than they are elsewhere. As well, there isn’t any language barrier for us when it comes to working with Iranian artists, and in general, it’s a lot easier for us to work with them and help them achieve their goals.

05. I’ve noticed a much larger presence of Middle Eastern art over the past couple years in places like Art Basel Miami Beach. Hayv Kahraman is to me one of the most interesting painters working today. Do you feel that there is an emerging desire for these artists in America and Europe?

Hayv is great; we actually featured her on REORIENT a few months ago. There certainly has been a growing desire for contemporary Middle Eastern art, but still, the majority of buyers of this sort of art are, well…Middle Eastern. There’s a bit of activity in cities like London, New York, and Dubai especially, but elsewhere, there’s a lot of work that remains to be done. I think as a result of the improving relations between the States and Iran, we’re going to be hearing even more about Iranian art, which is amazing; minds will be blown. Really, things like this take time; they don’t happen overnight. Education is also imperative. Just because there are lots of wealthy Iranians in Toronto, it doesn’t mean they necessarily know anything about contemporary Iranian art. They need to be introduced to it in a systematic and gradual way for them to be able to develop any sort of real appreciation for it.

06. Why the Middle East? Most Americans barely travel outside their home state, let alone to that part of the world. Could I travel to a place like Tehran as a tourist to just eat food and check out some art galleries safely?

Iran has always been my love, as well as the Middle East in general. You start connecting the dots; in digging deeper into Iranian history, you unmistakably hit India, given the shared origins of the Iranian and northern Indian peoples. I also started doing intensive research on my own about Turkic culture and Arab culture. The region fascinates me; it’s absolutely amazing. Of course, being from it has played a huge factor in my interest. After I visited Iran for the first time again as a teenager, life was never really the same.

Oh, absolutely. If you ask me, Iran is one of the safest countries in the world anyone can travel to; and I’m not saying that because I’m Iranian. Actually, you’d have an even more amazing experience as an American. Hospitality is of utmost importance to Iranians, and we try our very best to make sure our guests have an amazing time anywhere they go (e.g. at our homes, etc.). Not surprisingly, I’ve been reading loads of articles written by Americans and Europeans who have noted that they’ve felt far more safe in Iran than in the States or other places in Europe, such as the UK.

As my father always says, Iran is foodie heaven. I’m a vegetarian, so I can’t enjoy all those sumptuous kebabs and other meat-based dishes, but you’ll wonder where they’d been all your life. Noosh-e jan! The gallery scene is also out-of-this-world. Tehran has an incredibly vibrant and active contemporary art scene, and whenever I visit the sheer quality of the work that artists are doing there leaves me awestruck. We have our own auction now – The Tehran Auction – and, as you may have heard, the most important collection of contemporary Western art outside the States and Europe. We live with the arts in Iran, and contemporary visual art hasn’t been an exception.

07. What do you feel is the one thing most misunderstood about the Middle East? If you could change the public perception of one thing, what would it be?

Allow me to point out two things: for one, many think the Middle East is, as I mentioned, one large homogeneous region. It’s anything but. There are countless ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, cuisines, and peoples there. Sure, due to geographic proximity, there are common cultural elements amongst these people (e.g. in Iran and Armenia, for instance). However, people sometimes speak of the Middle East as if it’s just one large Arab and Muslim country.

Secondly, many in Europe and the States think that by nature, we’re inimical towards Europeans, Americans, and Jews. We don’t hate people; we have a bone to pick with certain governments and their policies. This is precisely the case when it comes to Israel. Did you know that Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East (and that Iranian Jews are incredibly proud of being Iranian and love Iran), and that Cyrus the Great is mentioned in Jewish scriptures and the Bible as a saviour? As well, did you know that President Rouhani recently erected a monument honouring the Jewish martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War? The mainstream media is trying their best to show that by nature, we simply hate certain people and their way of life. It’s absurd.

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

Well, I just finished writing a novella, which I’m in the process of publishing. I’m quite happy that I’m done with writing it, and that all those thoughts that had been whirling around in my head are out on paper; now, I just have to put it out there. It’s a book about a teenager in Tehran who’s bored out of his mind one summer, and has only two loves: the girl next door, and his electric guitar.

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

I can’t say there’s anything in particular that’s inspiring me right now; I’m continuously inspired by things like books, music albums, and films, which I consume like a junkie. I’ve been collecting and reading travelogues by European writers who visited the Middle East, and that’s put me in a certain frame of mind, I think. As well, during the process of writing my novella, I found myself listening to unhealthy amounts of Roxy Music and T. Rex. Right now, I’m quite digging a mix I was asked to make for the fashion label Pull and Bear.

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


You can find Mr. Bekhrad 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: