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? 

Whiskey.

You can find Mr. Bekhrad on the web:

GARY ARNDT : world traveler, writer, photographer & host of The Global Travel Conspiracy podcast

Gary is an inspiration. He’s traveled to over 170 countries and territories all over the world. He runs the website Everything Everywhere and hosts The Global Travel Conspiracy podcast. He’s an award-winning photographer and his writing has been published in The Atlantic, Outside Magazine, & The Huffington Post. We talked about making decisions, group travel, podcasting, and overcoming fears.

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

Given how much I travel, I don’t really have a typical morning routine. I have different schedules in different places. I’m always in different time zones and have various degrees of jet lag. I have a set schedule for posting things to Instagram and my website, but that is based around Central Time in the US, so things will be different all around the world.

02. You’re well known for selling your house in 2007 to travel the world. I’m curious to know how that decision was made. Was there a tipping point that just made you feel like if not now, when?

The decision to travel was made in an instant. From there it took me over a year to make it happen. That involved tying up loose ends, selling my house, packing, etc. There really was nothing stopping me as I had no wife or kids, so once I came up with the idea, it was simply a matter of execution.

03. After years and years of constant travel, you finally rented an apartment in the states. How is that going for you? Do you miss the uncertainty of not knowing where you’ll sleep at night?

It has taken some adjustment. It is odd the things that require getting used to. I realized that I’ve been in a state of almost constant interruption the last 9 years. Maids knocking at your door, planes to catch, etc. Being able to be at home and just work without interruption, is a big change. I’m also getting used to not eating out every meal and trying to get into some sort of routine to be more productive.

04. I’m a huge fan of The Global Travel Conspiracy podcast. Why did you decide to start a podcast? And who is your dream guest?

I had wanted to do my own podcast for a while. About a year ago I was contacted by CBS who had just launched a new podcast network. I had several ideas for a show, but I decided to just go with a simple interview format. In terms of getting the most downloads or exposure, I suppose getting someone like Anthony Bourdain or Rick Steves would be the ideal guest, however, there are lots of travelers out there with great stories, and those are the people I really want to talk to.

05. I know you do some work with G Adventures. What exactly is your relationship with them…and how do you feel about group travel like that?

I am a brand ambassador for G Adventures. I have been working with them for over 5 years now. They are a great company and I average about 2 trips a year with them.

I do a lot of solo travel, but by no means do I put down group travel. The types of trips G does are exactly the sort I recommend if you want to go on a guided trip. The groups are small, they use local transportation and lodging, and focus on experiences and local culture.

They offer a wide range of tours for different comfort levels. For example, if you are a very experienced traveler, you probably might not bother with a group trip to a place like Western Europe or Southeast Asia. However, no matter how experienced you are, you can’t really travel to places like Antarctica or Bhutan by yourself. You have to go with a group. Those are the type of tours I tend to go on with G.

06. Imagine you’re talking to someone who has never done any serious traveling, maybe they’ve been dreaming about exotic countries, maybe they’ve purchased some Lonely Planet books but just haven’t bought that plane ticket yet…What advice would you give to someone looking to start traveling the world for the first time?

When all is said and done, you just have to do it. Book the ticket. All the planning in the world isn’t really going to prepare you for when you are on the ground.

Many of the fears people have about traveling disappear once they are on the ground and have to confront them. What they are really afraid of is the unknown, and once you are there and can see and experience it for yourself, it is no longer unknown.

07. One of the things I love about travel is that transcendent moment that comes around every once in a while, an example for me would be seeing Machu Picchu for the first time after dreaming about it for years. Do you have any significant moments like that you think about?

Yes, but they don’t really come from the iconic places you think they might. It comes from seeing things unexpected, or something which you never thought was that big of a deal. One of the greatest moments I’ve had was watching the sun set and the lights turn on, on the Hong Kong skyline. I was able to feel the energy of the city.

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

I have several big things I’m working on. Now that I’m not traveling full time, I have the time and resources to finally get them done.

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

I read a lot of history. I just finished a biography of Genghis Khan, and now I have strong desire to finally travel to Central Asia.

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

I like to read. My Kindle is something I take with me wherever I go. I just got the newest version and it is an absolute delight to read on.

You can find Mr. Arndt 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:

ANDREA DUCLOS : OhDearDrea blogger & cookbook author

Andrea is a friend; she lives just down the street. I took this photo of her at her sparkle themed birthday party a few years back. She’s the blogger behind OhDearDrea and her cookbook The Plantiful Table: Easy, From-the-Earth Recipes for the Whole Family was just released. We talked about blogging, writing recipes, traveling to India and getting healthy.

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

Ideally, I’d like to find a happy balance between ‘sleeping as late as I can’ and ‘oh no, I’ve slept too long and wasted my whole morning”. It’s tough. Some days I’m up bright and early at 7:45 to help my kid get ready for school, but most days I like to sleep in till about 8:45. Then I make a giant bowl of steel cut oats with a bunch of healthy stuff thrown in before jumping on the computer to do a tiny bit of work.

02. You’re a successful blogger. Everyone seems to have a blog this days, but yours really hit and you have tons of followers. How did you build it up to be so widely read?

Mostly luck. I started publicly (over)sharing online at the age of 15 or 16. Ever since then I remember attracting a good amount of followers and readers for no particular reason. When I started this new blog (I took about a year off from my old blog) it seemed to again pick up readers pretty quickly. I think the second time around, part of the draw was that my blog seemed pretty different from a lot of the other new blogs popping up. Everyone was posting pictures of their adorable families while I was sharing my (sometimes too real) story of being a single mom. There were no magic tricks or advertisements, it just sort of grew organically on it own — thankfully!

03. You are very open about your personal life on OhDearDrea. Was that a conscious choice? And have you ever regretted sharing anything?

I’ve always been a very open person. My whole life, I’ve felt that if I can’t feel comfortable being completely honest about who I am and what I’ve done, then I must be doing something wrong. I just like to be an open book. I don’t want people to question who I am; I want them to see me or see my words and know my whole story. I think I can be honest to a fault, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really regretted anything. I feel like I’m lacking that embarrassment gene, things are what they are. I fall, I fail, its life. I kind of see what I share that way too. I mess up just as much as anyone, but I just have to learn and keep moving forward. No regrets.

04. You wrote a cookbook and it just came out! How did the opportunity to write that come about?

Yes, It came out! The second week of December. I don’t want to jinx myself, but so far it’s only had great reviews! I actually had a rather large publishing company contact me about two years ago with the possibility of publishing a book. E-mails were sent back and forth, but at the end of the day I got a, “Sorry, I love your book, but the guys above me said the company isn’t ready for a vegan cookbook.” Well, okay then. This gave me a bit more of a push to consider reaching out to companies. It was sort of one of those “I have a friend of a friend of a friend” things where I got a contact at a company, sent over an e-book along with a little brochure I put together of what I envisioned the book to be, and I got an e-mail about a week later discussing the potential of a book. Despite my horrible grammar, they liked my ideas and signed me up!

05. What was the process of writing the book like? Constant trial and error? Eating nonstop?

It was mostly exhausting. I’m not sure how the cookbook process works for most people, but on top of being asked to do 125+ recipes in three months, I also had to run my blog full time and raise a three-year-old. Most of the recipes in the book are serious staples in our home so it was pretty easy to nail those down. There were a few that took a good amount of tries before getting it right. Mostly, it was rather expensive! I wanted to make full size portions to measure everything properly. So, when I’m making multiple giant meals in one day — well, it took a lot of veggies and a lot of eating!

06. You collaborated with Above The Clouds this year on a trip to India that was open to your blog readers. What was it like setting that up? And what was it like taking a trip to a country you had never been to before, not only as a tourist but acting as a sort of travel guide?

It was pretty awesome! The trip was of course amazing, but even the set up of it all was great. Above The Clouds has been around forever, they definitely know what they’re doing. I didn’t have too many concerns on my end. I was just lucky enough to plan my dream trip and have them really make it happen. We went back and forth on the itinerary for months trying to perfect it. For me, the details are everything (and for Above The Clouds too), so from the hotel, to the first welcome dinner, to the events planned, everything had to have a bit of magic to it. When I (and we) actually got to India it all went really well. I arrived two days early to get over jet lag, scope out the restaurants, and pick out a venue for our goodbye party. Despite language barriers and having almost no sense of direction, I was rather comfortable with my surroundings and happy to welcome the girls to the trip. Above The Clouds then took on much of scheduling type of details, while I just tried to make sure everyone was content and happy.

07. What advice would you give to someone trying to get a new blog started?

I think blogs are pretty great. I wouldn’t have much advice for someone trying to make a profession out of it, except maybe, “Don’t quit your day job just yet” and “Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away.” But if there is no hurry to try to bring in cash from the blog, then go for it! They are a great creative outlet and a great way to connect with other like-minded people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise! Just pick a name, open up a site, and share your story!

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

Sleeping more. It’s been a hard year, so my main goal is trying to get my health to its maximum potential and to just be happy and have fun everyday. Other than that, I just want to find my voice on the blog again. I feel like I sort of lost it in this tough year, but I do feel like it’s coming back. Outside of blog/business stuff, I’m just hoping to plan a lot of trips! California in May. France in August. And maybe Hawaii at some point. We’ll see where else I end up.

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

This may be a strange one, but I’ve been reading A LOT of health books lately. And watching a lot of health related TED Talks. I’m happy to see so much information coming out about the dangers of our current medical system. I’m excited to see so many more people open up to the world of a more natural way of life. No fairy dust or magic tricks, just good ole’ natural food and plants to keep us well instead of pumping chemicals in at every doctor’s wish. I feel hopeful that the world, or at least our sad American diet and culture, will slowly start changing.

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

I work on an opposite schedule. The early part of the day is my unwind time. The night is when I type furiously on a keyboard trying to spit out my brain on the blog and answer some e-mails. So to unwind, I like to just kick my feet up outside or on the couch and try not to worry about all the bad stuff, but to focus on the good.

You can find Ms. Duclos on the web:

The Plantiful Table: Easy, From-the-Earth Recipes for the Whole Family

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…)

Books:
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:

BRENT CSUTORAS : founder of Pixel Road Designs

Brent is the Founder & Chief Marketing Officer at Pixel Road Designs, Chief Social Media Strategist at Search Engine Journal, and Social Media Strategist & Owner at Kairay Media.  He lives and works like crazy in Boca Raton, Florida.

TheTenthDegreeBrentCsutoras

01. What’s your typical morning routine?

I have two young boys, so when I get up it is normally them waking me up for breakfast. I cook pancakes, eggs, toast, your typical breakfast stuff and then get their lunches ready for school. Once they head out the door, I grab my coffee, a bit to eat, a vitamin, and spend my first 30 minutes on the computer reading about Futurology on Reddit. I am obsessed with Futurism and the adoption of future technology by society.

02. What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor? How did you get your start?

This is really tough, because as a child I would go to 7/11 and buy candy, pencils, erasers, and other little items, to then resell with a mark-up at school. We would sell out of our backpacks and make a pretty decent profit off the goods we sold.. up until we got caught and the school made us stop.

I would also take our lawn mower, rake, edger, and broom, and walk up and down the neighborhood asking people if they needed yard work for any payment they would give me. The next week we washed cars and then rotated.

When I first moved to Tokyo, Japan, when I was around 21 or so, I realized that there was a huge market for Japanese anime books in the US. I took some time to identify the books that sold for the most, and the most often, in the US on Ebay, and then went around to all the used book stores in Japan. Used book stores in Japan are super popular, so there were numerous ones on every street and many had frequent buyer programs that would let me get a lot of the books free. It was common to find series of books that would cost me about $0.50 and would sell for $15.00 to $20.00 per book.

I launched many more businesses and companies over the years, but those were where I got my start.

03. You have a pretty impressive resume on Linkedin. Pretend you’re talking with someone with no clue what a “Social Media Strategist” is…How do describe what you do?

When a company, regardless of size, decides that they are interested in putting some effort into marketing their brand, product, or services in social media, I help them determine the right strategy for success, depending on their unique setup, business, and goals.

Every company is different and their goals are unique to not only their company, but also their ability to implement any strategies with their existing team and resources.

04. Social Media Marketing definitely has a relationship with design. Are there any graphic designers or artists that really spoke to you or inspired you? Or is this line of work something you just happened into?

What really led me to the design world, was my inability to find a design firm, or individual designers, who could design projects that would have a marketing influence on it’s viewers.

There was so much evidence showing how impactful design was to marketing and influence, but online it was not really coming together like I needed it to for my clients.

Out of necessity, I started working with some designers to get them to better understand the marketing goals behind my design projects. Over time, we started getting really good at it and I finally decided to launch Pixel Road Designs and provide what we had built as a product for other marketers and businesses.

We started working with some amazing clients, like NBC, Warner Bros, O.Berk, Davita, Playboy, AdAge, and over the years the company just continue to grow and mature.

05. You do a lot of public speaking…seems like a stressful racket. Were you always good at getting your point across in public or did it take a while for you to get comfortable in front of a crowd?

Ask anyone who knows me.. I am a talker. However, I will say that the very first time I spoke, I have no idea what I said and was about as nervous as I could be.

There are two things that really helped me a ton, allowing me to lose virtually every feeling of nervousness when speaking after only a couple times speaking publicly; First, the very first session that I saw at any conference, was Guy Kawasaki speaking about how to give a good presentation. I learned some really important elements from that which have been key to my speaking ever since. Second, I was surrounded quickly by really great public speakers, like Todd Malicoat and Neil Patel, who both mentored me a lot in my early years.

06. You guys have had some really impressive clients (NBC Sports, Yellow Pages, Warner Bros, etc.) Is there a particular job you nailed down that made you feel like you really made it? Or maybe a dream client you’d love to work with?

This is tough, because I had been working with a lot of fortune companies with my social media consulting company, but I have to say when we did a bunch of projects with NBC Sports for the Olympics in Sochi, that was pretty huge for us. In part because, well it’s NBC and the Olympics, but also because they told us later that we were one of the best design firms they had ever worked with, which made us feel really good as a team.

That was a big point for us and showed us we were on the right track.

07. What initial advice would you give to someone trying to gain an online presence for a new business?

This is tough, because there are a couple things I would suggest based on their specific goals, the type of business they have, and their internal resources and budget.

I would definitely make sure they have a good and modern website, that is mobile friendly and easy to use. I would then make sure they had Google My Business and Webmaster Tools setup for their website. I would also recommend creating social profiles for the top communities, like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

These are the core elements every companies needs to even be present.

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

I have been on Reddit for about 10 years, so it is not new really, but I have really been focused on Reddit a lot over the last year and a half. I am considering creating an educational course teaching people how to participate effectively on Reddit and also really considering writing a book as well.

09. You seem to be really into science and current events, what’s currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…) 

Futurism really excites me in general, but really it is the evaluation of all the current science and technical advancements we are seeing every day, and how those advancements are going to advance the human race and society, that excite me the most.

I am also very interested in Augmented Reality, as I think it is the next advancement that will have the most profound effect on society, bridging the distance we have put into our lives with all of our technological and social media advancements.

If you want to hear me talk for hours, get me started on futurism.

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

Mostly what I like to do to end a day and unwind a little, is to drink a beer and watch a TV show before bed. I really enjoy Blacklist, Game of Thrones, and Elementary these days.

You can find Mr. Csutoras 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 Sociali.st 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: