Have you heard the term, “growth-hacking”? It can be a bit of a buzzword. Today we’re going to learn about a real-life growth-hacking example. You don’t have to have a special sales and marketing gene… it just takes the willingness to learn. Today’s guest is John Rampton. He’s a serial entrepreneur, the founder of several companies, and a contributor to sites like Huffington Post and Entrepreneur. Today’s episode is a case study in perseverance, so you won’t want to miss it!
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- What John is up to as an entrepreneur and how his products help businesses, as well as how he got into the entrepreneurial world.
- The first steps John took to get involved in an online business, including a hack he figured out that wasn’t illegal… at the time.
- The framework John thinks about when it comes to risk-taking.
- Why hyperfocusing on specific niches and problems is one way to succeed.
- John’s thoughts on learning: how he finds time to squeeze learning into his busy days and making time for what’s most important.
- How something as simple as a calendar can function as a powerful tool, as well as information about Calendar.com.
- How an excellent marketing strategy can even sell a crappy product that provides no value.
- John’s most sage wisdom and best advice for marketers just getting started.
Jordan: If you’ve ever heard the term growth hacking, you know it can be a bit of a buzz word sometimes. In today’s show, you’re going to learn about a real-life example of how one person’s growth hacks took him from 10 sales per day to over 400. The best part is you don’t have to have some special sales and marketing gene to do the same, instead it’s really about a willingness to learn, to try new approaches, and solve real customer problems. We’re going to learn to do this from my guest today, John Rampton. John is a serial entrepreneur, he’s the founder of companies like Due and Calendar and he’s a regular contributor to publications like Huffington Post and Entrepreneur.
This is one of my favorite episodes ever because it’s such an excellent case study in perseverance, risk taking, and in awesome marketing. I’m Jordan with CoSchedule and here’s my fantastic conversation with John.
John, thanks so much for being on the show today.
John: Thanks for having me.
Jordan: Oh, yeah. My pleasure. Can you fill us in on what you’re up to these days to kick things off?
John: I’m an entrepreneur so I’m always working on new things. I have due.com. We’re a payments company. We’re working on credit cards, merchant services, doing credit card payments across the web for some of the big companies out there. I’ve been recently working on Calendar, calendar.com. It’s a productivity tool that helps people make them a little bit more productive.
Jordan: You’re making it easier for people to get paid and to invoice. You’re reinventing the personal calendar. I’ve been following that for a bit and it just looks fascinating. I’m excited to talk about that. You’ve had companies acquired. You’ve accomplished a ton as an entrepreneur, especially online.
But for those who don’t know you, you have a pretty incredible story of how you got into the online world. It’s sounds like about 10 years ago. Could you just share some of that with us for context? How did you get into the online entrepreneurial world?
John: I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur. When I was a young kid. I opened a candy stand across from my elementary school. I went as far as I rented a garage across from the school and I had a candy stand. I made money and I opened one at the front of the school. I opened another stand and I paid friends to run this candy stand at the middle of school.
I’ve always been this entrepreneur inside me. I love money. Wherever there’s money, I’ll chase that. I love it. It’s not about having more of it. It’s about the thrill of getting it or me even losing it, it’s the thrill of it. I’ve always really enjoyed that.
How I got into the online world is crazy. I was working at a company. I basically joined this startup while I was in college, starting at college. They basically put me in a room and said, “Sell our product.” I was really, really loud. They were like, “Hey, we actually need to get you your own office.” But we really didn’t have a big office so they punched a hole through and I was in the broom closet. They literally took a broom and punched a hole through the wall and that was my office. It wasn’t even big enough for a broom.
Now while I was there, I would call up people all day long. The people reading this might be the exact same. You’re calling, calling, calling, calling. You can only call so many people every single day. It gets really, really annoying. During the same time, I unfortunately had an accident. I was just trying to pay my bills. On the weekends, I was working at a construction job and I ended up being run over and having my legs snapped in half. I ended up, not necessarily not being able to call, but having frustrations on calls because I really couldn’t concentrate because I was in pain. I was doing this.
It really forced me at this time to figure out new ways to sell. That’s when I started becoming more of an online marketing, not marketing guy, not because I wanted to or because I was hired at a job. It was more out of I needed to pay my bills and I couldn’t call people 24 hours a day and make enough money to pay my bills. That’s what I really started learning.
Hey, text messaging is pretty cool. If I text messaged a bunch of our customers, I can start getting more sales. My average day on calling on the phone, I get 10 sales. Then if I text message a bunch of our customers, I get one or two more calls. I started learning email. I started learning prospecting. I started doing content. I started finding better ways to do sales online. That’s when, over the course of the next two years, I went from being the top sales rep doing 10 sales a day to my best day I had over 400 sales in one day. The next highest sales rep had nine.
This was something I truly learned and was able to scale. There’s so much in this online world. The online world never, never sleeps. Phone calls and people calling do sleep.
Jordan: That’s incredible. You go from an entrepreneur starting up candy stands, scaling those, hiring your friends to making calls like Ryan Howard on The Office from a broom closet and just crushing that then with online because you needed a way then to really go beyond, like you said, this limitation because you can only be on the phone for so long. You applied online principles to your current job then, to the job you’re in sales at. I know how it started but what was the first step for you to do that?
John: For me, when I started in this online thing, text messaging was just getting hot. People were on mobile phones. Back in the day, there weren’t really laws. This would totally be illegal now. But basically, I went and built a little scraper bot that went and it searched Google. We were selling real estate virtual tours to people.
We kind of started that industry. I went and wrote a little bot. I figured out how to code a little bit. Basically that little scraper that went on people’s website. It searched in Google ‘top real estate in Arlington, Virginia’ and it would go through every single search result on the top 100 pages and just look for a phone number. Then I take that phone number and put it into an Excel spreadsheet and I would email the phone number @AT&T.co, @tmo.net. Back in the day, that’s how you text message people. It all went through that protocol. I just did it so it would bounce back and I’ve found the right phone numbers.
But I got to a thing where I have like a million phone numbers. I’d text message a million people a day. Again, nowadays, you would look at this and you’re like, “Crap, it’s totally illegal. That’s against the law.” But back in the day, I was just like, “Hey, this is a hack. There’s nobody saying I shouldn’t do this or no laws against it or anything like that.”
I just found a way and a hack out there. Today, there’s modern day hacks that you can do and things out there where you can hack your way and find out really amazing ways to get new customers. That was one way I found to get a new customer.
Jordan: Especially in marketing, I think, a lot of us get stuck in sort of the status quo. A lot of us just get stuck and we would just keep making calls from the broom closet. We would just do the way we were taught to do it and just think, “Man, I just wish I could get better at closing these sales,” or whatever the deal is. But you’ve just totally shifted the game and changed it all together with that. How did you come up with that? What’s your framework for finding these kind of things and taking these kind of risks? How do you think about this?
John: For me it was I got a text message from somebody, and I was like, I hate these people but that was a really good idea. The next thing was I went and somebody had emailed me. Then I saw another person sent me a flyer. I paid attention to what people are doing in the regular world and then I just applied it to me. If I got a text message, I was like, “Well that’s a unique way.”
Then I went and found different ways. Then I built another little thing that had every real estate agent and I went and started going to them. I went to a real estate agent and I said, “Hey, I’ll text message all the real estate agents.” I basically went into a bunch of these big firms and I just said, “I’ll text message every US person in the whole US if you make sure every single virtual tour you do for the next six months is using me. I’ll text message every real estate agent in the US that this person is the coolest real estate agent in the US area.”
I brokered probably like 10 or 15 of those deals. That was with big firms. They just wanted it for ego. I did other things where I went to a real estate agent company and I said, “Hey, I can go find every single business owner in your area and email them.” They were like, “Oh, okay.” Then they committed to doing things.
I just found different ways of doing things and brokering things. Back then there was this thing called Craigslist. It was kind of starting off, kind of getting big. I got paid $6 every single one. I went on craigslist and I said, “I’ll pay people $5 for every single one.” I had other people selling my product.
Jordan: Just like the candy stand.
John: Just like the candy stand. It’s all about that. That was my next step, was going from things, and people think that’s online marketing but for me I’m just using my online skills to go post automatically to every single Craigslist posting out there and say, “Hey this.” Then, I went and built a script that basically rotated IPs and emailed people and said, “Hey, I see that you’re looking for a job,” because people posted their resumes online, “I have a little job that pays $5 every single one. I know it’s not much but if you have real estate friends, every single time you sell this, you can earn $5.” Some people were selling 25, 30 a day. Five or six they’re earning an extra $30 a day. For these people, $30 a day for a stay-at-home mom is a lot of money.
John: The average American right now is going bankrupt. It’s $210 a month. But $210 turns into $450 next month with interest in last month and this month. The next month it’s $700. Then the next month it’s $1000. All this time, you’re two years in, you don’t know what to do so you’re gonna go bankrupt because you can’t pay off the $10,000 you owe.
$30 a day, I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but that means a lot to a lot of people. I started going after a lot of those people. They started making five sales each, three sales each, but I got to a point where I had 1000+ people that are all selling my stuff. If they sell, cool. If they don’t, I’m not paying them.
It’s a different way to online market. I found very, very unique ways. I feel there’s so many marketers limit themselves. A lot of people listening to this, don’t limit yourself to what you’re doing out there. Go find new and interesting ways. There’s other people that can do it. There’s new ways to sell your product. There’s always unique things to do.
Jordan: John, this is genius. I’m really hearing three big things that you were doing. You were solving real problems for people. For one, you were solving real problems both for the affiliate thing or whatever. But you were solving their problems. You were solving the firm’s problems or the broker’s problems or whoever. You found these niches too. I think that is so amazing that you just really intensely focus on these individual niches. Is that something you would say was part of your success is just hyper-focusing on how do I solve this problem for these specific people?
John: Yeah, it comes down to I truly enjoy helping people. I just noticed that I’m like, “Man, I wanna help myself but I can make these people an extra $10, $20, $30 a day. If I can do that and help myself at the same time, it solves two of my major goals in life which is helping people and making more money. If I can solve those, it’s a good win-win for everybody.
Jordan: The other thing too then on top of those is learning seems to be a really important part of how you got successful here. I’m imagining you didn’t go to school for computer science. But you’re writing a bot.
John: I’m writing a bot. I just went and googled how to do it, guys. Everything is online. I’m not just some random scat out my butt, I would say probably 50%, 60% of all the code written on the internet is a copy from someone else’s code. There’s a lot of things out there where you can say, “Oh my lord, that person’s doing this.”
Just Google it. There’s most likely somebody out there who’s willing to teach you that or go to sites like Upwork and hire somebody to do it. I bet you can find somebody who can go and scrape websites and put together a database of emails for $100. There’s always sites out there and people out there willing to teach or build it for you.
Jordan: How is learning still a core part of how you function as an entrepreneur in a market or when you’re growing things?
John: In your life, you’re always going to be going up or down. There’s no flat ever. You’re either going to be learning or not. I’m a big book reader. Oh, book listener. I actually have a very hard time reading and paying attention, that was my school and subject that I did horrible on. For those of you who took their SAT and ACT, I got a perfect score on everything except for the reading comprehension. I got a really, really bad score in that. I went in to my counsellor and she said, “Hey, if you answer all questions C, just fill in the number C on every single answer, you’ll do better.” That’s what I did.
I listen to books. I’m always, always, always listening to books. When I’m in my car, I’m listening to books. When I’m walking to work or walking to the train station or walking anywhere, doing anything or exercising, I’m always listening to books. I typically try and read a book every other week. I’d love to read more and do more. I’m also reading articles on internet. I’m paying attention to what’s happening in my industry. Cool tips and tricks and stuff like that, I’m always, always, always, always learning.
For listeners out there, it doesn’t have to be, people out there like Bill Gates are like, “I’m reading a book a week.” You guys, most of us don’t have time for that. It’s crazy that he does concerning how influential he is, he has time for that. I would say make time for things that are important for you and find time to learn.
Learning doesn’t even have to be reading a book. Learning doesn’t have to be doing this, or doing that. It could be reading an article. It could be talking and learning from a friend. I always like going to people like in this call. I’d love to learn from you. I’m gonna listen to podcasts and stuff like that. You guys are listening to this right now. Obviously that’s helping you learn. But always be listening, paying attention, learning in life.
Jordan: You said really making time for the things that are most important. You’re either going up or down. You really have to take control of that and you absolutely have. Let’s talk about how a calendar, something as simple as a calendar, that’s a really powerful tool. Obviously, at CoSchedule, we’re pretty into calendars too, that’s kind of a thing we do so we believe in them. Why don’t you give us the overall picture of calendar.com, amazing domain by the way, and just talk about how can we use a calendar as a hack to do this stuff and grow.
John: Calendar was built out of I was pissed off. I used a lot of different calendar services. None of them was quite what I wanted. Our phones have changed over the past 10 years but our calendar is still the same. It really has not evolved. Our calendar is more about a personal calendar versus a business calendar, anything like that. It’s taking things that you’re doing in your everyday life and trying to make you more productive.
For example, analyzing conversations that are happening and saying, “Oh my word. You actually wasted 20 minutes of this hour conversation. You should really cut your weekly meeting down by 20 minutes to make you 70% more effective.” It’s telling you, you really need to block out time because you’re ineffective during certain times of the day. You should make sure you’re blocking out time for family because you’re missing out on a lot of the things your family is doing.
It’s making you a lot more productive in everyday things that you’re doing in your life. That was my goal is just making you a lot more productive, a lot more effective, and leading to better conversations, a better you. That’s my goal.
Jordan: Like you said, the calendar has sort of remained unchanged. Again, you found this problem and you found this solution. But it’s also a juggernaut of a thing. You Google Calendar and you could spend the rest of your life clicking on links. How are you carving out a space to launch this thing? I believe you’re either in alpha or beta right now. What is the marketing ramp up look like to launch this thing and to really get critical mass?
John: For us, it’s more about finding really, really core, not influencers but people who have the same problems as I do and approaching those people and finding out their problems and figuring out what they need and building a product for them. I don’t build products ever to going out there and be like, “I’m gonna make $1 billion with this company.” We attacked Calendar from the perspective of these people have problems, we have this problem and we’re building the product for us.
Just like Due, we build a product that we use, that we want. Calendar was the exact same way. It’s something that we use on a daily basis that we can’t live without. We attacked other problems, for example, we haven’t even officially launched Calendar. It doesn’t even launch for a month or two. Yet, we have a lot of different customers using it. It’s in alpha right now. It has problems but we’re working on them.
But before we even launch Calendar, we interviewed for an hour for each person, over 1000 people. 1000 hours were put into this on phones with literally two devs, two marketers, and one other kind of product person in the phone with 1000 different people, actually up to almost 1200 people that we’ve interviewed for over an hour for each one of them. Finding out how they use their calendar, watching them, paying attention to what they do, the problems that they have, and then just talking through like, “Hey, here’s what’s going on in your life. Here’s why this matters so much. Here’s a problem that I’m experiencing. I have to work around this every single day and it’s such a waste of time.” That’s how Calendar started.
First of all, we had those problems, and then we started interviewing people, and talking with people. We have some of the highest CEOs in the world. If you think of the top 10 most influential people CEOs in the world, three of them are using our product right now in a daily basis. They’re using it literally multiple times a day because they love it so much.
Because we found out. We interviewed them. We found out what their pain points were, what their struggles were, and then we integrated it into their life and built them something that they can’t live without. That was our goal of building that. Again, our goal is not money. I could care less if I make $1 off this for the rest of my life. But my goal is to change the way we use our calendars, make us more productive, and build something that truly integrates into our life and makes us a better person.
Jordan: Again, you are focusing on a niche and you are solving an absolute problem. Would you say now, as we bring this one in for a landing, would you say that marketers potentially have a product problem sometimes? Because it’s really hard to market no matter how good you are, if you have kind of a crappy product, that’s really hard. It’s really hard to get passionate about something like that.
John: Actually, you can market a crappy product. Those listening to this, you can always market a crappy product. Unfortunately, in my past, I’ve marketed a lot of crappy products. You just have to market it 10 times better than other people.
You could sell a piece of food to anyone, literally. You can package it up and wrap a piece of poo. But that piece of crap that you’re selling will not have the viral effect of other people selling it for you. The best salespeople on the entire planet are your customers. It’s not you. You will never be a better salesperson than your customer. You can still sell it, but you’re going to have to work 10, 100, 1000 times harder than somebody with an amazing product.
Let’s say if you’re a marketer, try and build a better product. Try and work with your customers to build the best product on the planet. Then your marketing will have 10 times more impact than it would if you’re marketing a crappy product. But it is still doable.
Jordan: That is so oddly motivational. That’s the best sound bite too.
John: You can market crappy products, you guys. There’s some really good crappy products out there that are marketed. I’m not gonna call them out, but I can think of three or four products that are just complete and utter crap. But they do such a good job marketing it that you can’t help but purchase it.
Jordan: Bottom line here is it really doesn’t matter, your product. You might have more of an uphill battle but it doesn’t matter your product. You can still be successful. What is, this is sage wisdom time now, what is your best advice now for marketers who are trying to achieve growth in similarly noisy, crowded, and competitive industries. What’s your best advice for us?
John: My best advice, it really depends a little bit. Sorry I’m gonna put this on you guys. It depends what stage you’re at. If you in the very, very beginning stage, like a startup, one to five people which I’d imagine are a lot of the people that are listening to this, this may seem a little bit odd, but I would focus a lot on your personal brand and really, really boost your personal brand and become an expert in the space.
Become that person that everybody goes to in the space. You are the industry leader. Companies are made by people, not by companies. If you think of most of the companies out there, they have a major person who is their brand and that most important person behind the company. You think of Facebook. Who is Facebook? It’s Mark Zuckerberg. If Mark Zuckerberg was not there, Facebook would not be as big as it is today. Now, other people like Sheryl Sandberg have stepped in. Virgin, who’s virgin? I’m asking you.
Jordan: Right, Richard Branson.
John: Richard Branson. They are the people of the brand. I would say focus a lot more on your personal brand and build it into the company. Build part of your company. Again, this is totally different advice that you probably won’t hear, focus more on your own personal brand. Make yourself the most invaluable thing to your business where your business cannot live or breathe without you. People will recognize you as the leader in the space then bring your company up to that level.
In the beginning days, I would focus so much more on you and yourself and becoming an industry leader in the space. It’s so much easier for a person to become a leader in the space than a brand to become a leader in the space. Usually, brands that are leaders in the space are brought there because their CEO or a high-level executive in the company was brought there.
If you’re at a little bit bigger of a company, I really love content but I’m doing it the exact same. I’m becoming a leader in the space through content, and through marketing, and through all the things that I’m doing. I’m upping my personal brand and then bringing the brand with me. That would be my advice.
Jordan: That is so good. Now, if our audience wants to follow you more, follow your products, and your companies. Where are the best places for them to find and connect with you?
John: I’m on Twitter a lot. I’m just @johnrampton. That’s the best place to find me online. I also own johnrampton.com. You can message me through there and contact me anytime. I love responding to email stuff. If I can help you guys out in any way, let me know. I would reference the podcast, be like, “Hey, I listened to this podcast on this site,” reference that. Try my products out, due.com and calendar.com, that’s not my goal. My goal is to help people out. If I can help you guys in any way, reach out through my personal site or on Twitter. If I don’t respond, don’t feel offended. I get reached out to a lot but come to me with your problem, “I’m struggling with this or I need this in my life. Can you help me?” Not, “Hey, John. I’m doing this. Can you help or can you write about me or talk about me?” Talk to me about your problem that you’re doing and I’d love to help you guys out with that.
Jordan: John, you’re absolutely the real deal. Thank you so much for dropping all this wisdom and your experience with us. I really appreciate having you on the show. This was a blast.
John: Thanks guys. Seriously, reach out. Love to help you guys out.