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My guest is Ryan Moran. Ryan, how are you doing?
I’m ready to go.
I appreciate you coming on. For those of who don’t know, Ryan is an entrepreneur, Founder of Capitalism.com and host of The One Percent Podcast. He’s the world’s biggest Cleveland Indians fan and the future owner of the Indians. His best skill is eating leftovers. I appreciate having you on. We’ll talk all about that. First, I want to take a gigantic step back. What were you like as a kid growing up? Were you a straight–A student? Were you a rebel? Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I did. I was actually all of those things. How do you know that about me? Yes, overachiever. I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It’s interesting you asked me what I was like as a kid because I’ve been doing a lot of self-discovery work over not what elements of my childhood do I bring into now, but what did I not bring in with me that I wish I had. I indeed was a straight–A student, overachiever who knocked on doors, raked leaves, shoveled drives and had little garage sales where I sold baseball cards. I was all of those things. Those are things that I’ve carried forward. One part of me that I have been doing a lot of work and accessing lately is all I wanted to do as a kid was perform. All I wanted to do was tell jokes, ride bikes and hang. At some point in our lives, we lose access, shut down that part of ourselves that has a lot of fun. My work as a human being lately has been letting that come out to play more often. It’s very interesting that you asked me that now because I would have had a different answer for you months ago.
I think the podcast allows you to do that. Going on other people’s podcasts, having your own, it’s that way to get back into the fun, the banter, all the stuff that you miss once you start getting away from people. Let’s say in college where you’re with everyone that’s the same age group that you can relate.
When I’m stressed, that goes away and my podcast suck and they get serious and they’re all about like, “Here’s how to do X, Y, Z.” I’m not having fun. The audience isn’t having any fun and I’m teaching because I think people want it and then it sucks. If I prioritize the things that give me enjoyment in the first place, then everything else falls into place.
People can tell when you’re having fun or when you’re forcing it. Talk to me about your first entrepreneurial endeavor outside of being a kid, outside of selling the baseball cards or the lemonade stand. As an adult, what was the first venture that you took on full force?
People can tell when you’re having fun or when you’re forcing it.
I’m not sure that they’re separate. I legitimately, every summer, was raking leaves, was selling baseball cards, was umpiring, was doing everything that I could because I believed the way I would make my money was as a real estate investor. I worked with a real estate investor close to my hometown and helped him fix up houses. He told me about the financials of it all and he taught me how to trade stocks and buy income-producing covered calls and sell naked puts and stuff like that. Those two things come to me as hand–in–hand. I started getting fairly good at internet marketing when I was in college and when I graduated college mostly as an affiliate doing Search Engine Optimization. It later paved the way for me to build Amazon-based businesses because I knew about Search Engine Optimization and applied to Amazon and physical products as well. There’s a trajectory always.
I’m not sure that I can separate where I am now from those first ventures of umpiring and fixing up houses and selling baseball cards. That gave me the seed capital, if you will, that I thought was going to go into buying houses and renting out houses that actually went into buying websites and fixing up websites, and then that leading the next stage. I think the only thing that has changed is that my wins are bigger and my failures are way bigger. I’m just operating at a higher scale. My activities are mostly the same.
It’s funny you brought up umpiring. I was a long–time umpire. I was the head umpire from my town when I was fifteen and I felt like I learned a lot of lessons. I had to manage people’s schedules so I learned how unreliable people could be and how you have to vet them. There’s also a level of customer service dealing with angry people from both sides, a sense of structure. Would you agree?
I think the thing that it gave me the most was I got used to talking to people in authority and putting them into their place. I can remember one time, I was a twelve or thirteen-year-old kid calling this coach over like, “Coach, you need to calm down,” and him laughing because I had the authority as a twelve-year-old. That was the skillset for me of learning. You have to make a decision if he’s either out or he’s safe and you’re going to deal with consequences of somebody is going to be upset and somebody is going to be happy. Maybe you were right and maybe you were wrong. It doesn’t matter. You still have to make a decision. That was the muscle that I developed as an umpire.
Let’s talk about Amazon a little bit. I got in 2008. What year did you get in?
Later, it was 2012.
What was Amazon like back then? How did you get into it originally?
It’s funny. I hate to sound like a broken record. It was a little bit of a wide-open west from a ranking perspective. If you could get 50 reviews, you were the envy of everybody in your space, but also getting 50 reviews was a lot harder than it is now. Like Google was different several years ago, the ranking was easier. It was easier to manipulate links. Everything was of lower quality as well. It’s the same marketplace. The design hasn’t changed. The algorithm hasn’t even changed very much, but now you have to be higher quality in order to win. The puck hasn’t even moved. There are just better players competing for the puck. I think a lot of people said it’s getting harder. The reality was when I was ranking websites from my dorm room in college, this was before WordPress. I was hand-coding things on Dreamweaver, on a dial-up computer. Of course, it’s going to be easier because you don’t have access to the same tools. Now the tools are available to everybody. The game is easier for some. It is more opportunities, more resources available, but you have to use those resources to have a higher quality customer experience if you want to hang. That to me is what has changed.
How do you use your internet marketing background for Amazon? To me, the sellers that have the most success are the ones that are doing that. The people that end up failing when they’re just an Amazon seller and once Amazon changes something, they can’t adjust. They can’t adapt.
The phrase that is like nails on a chalkboard to me is Amazon business. No one says, “I have a Walmart business.” No one says, “I have an affiliate business.” No one says what their business is as defined by their customer acquisition strategy, nobody except for Amazon sellers because they tend to be bad marketers. The people who win are the ones who buy traffic to opt-ins, warm them up and create customer experiences and then close the deal on Amazon. The ones who win are the ones who are doing Search Engine Optimization and sending the traffic to Amazon and closing the deal on Amazon.
The ones who are putting money into their customer experience so that they choose them over everybody else, that’s called building a business. If you’re optimizing for Amazon, then you’re running a nice little cashflow game that is going to go away the next time there’s an algorithm change. They’re very different games. There are a lot of people who think they’re entrepreneurs or actually traffic manipulators or who are our algorithm manipulators and they’re not building something that is scalable or sellable. I have no opinion on this.
What advice would you have for the people that are stuck as the Amazon seller that haven’t taken the time to get into marketing and understand what’s working? Where do they even begin? What direction would you point them in?
The first step is they need to create a budget for their profits to invest in other areas. Most people though are putting them into direct response funnels, which is a completely different game than Amazon. My recommendation would be to put it into the audience or to put it into the customer experience. If nothing else, take part in the budget that you are making from your profits and put them into dialing in an amazing customer experience so that person is choosing you over everybody else. That alone will have you stand out among everyone else. If then you want to take it one step further, I love building or sponsoring audiences. I don’t like paying for shout outs or influencers. What I do like is going to the people that I want to have on as influencers or audiences and creating partnerships with them. I will create equity arrangements or profit share agreements with those influencers because if you don’t have an audience, you have nothing. You either need to put the money on the resources into developing it yourself so that you’ve got an extra leg on the stool of your business or you need to go out and create a partnership with that person so that there’s a long–term relationship. Otherwise, you have no ability to command your own traffic. You’re always beholden to someone else.
From there, if I were to go one step further, I’m totally biased on this. I’m hot on Search Engine Optimization. Everybody else is chasing LinkedIn and Instagram. Nobody is doing Google well. You have to think long-term to be good at Search Engine Optimization, just like you have to think long–term to be good at Amazon, but even longer on Google. As a result, I think the competition is weak in developing good Search Engine Optimization sites. You’ve got to think long–term and it takes resources and if you play that game well, you win. That would be my order of operations, but it starts with saying, “The check I’m getting from Amazon every month is the business’ money. It’s not my money. I’m on salary at my company and I need to create a reinvestment pool of taking 20% of those profits and putting them into something else. Whether that is hiring somebody, sponsoring somebody or reinvesting it into the thing that builds your asset.
There’s such a difference between chasing short-term cashflow and building a long–term asset. They’re different mindsets. When you put up a product that you hope ranks on Amazon, you are building a short-term cashflow. When you are building up an audience that will buy product after product, you are building an asset. One is long-term thinking, one is short–term thinking. Most entrepreneurs in this world are addicted to short-term results and they don’t build assets. It’s why most people can’t sell their companies. If you do the hard work of bringing on people, building systems, setting a long–term vision for the company, that’s an asset that will make you rich.
The tools are available to everybody, but you’ve got to use the tools to a higher quality if you want to hang on.
I think the partnerships go hand–in–hand with Search Engine Optimization. We have hundreds of partners and they’ll write for our blog and write a backlink or vice–versa to theirs and getting links everywhere. Over time, it’s just building your SEO. We have articles that we’ve written for someone else’s blog that appear on the top five of Google a year later because we spent extra time making that small investment back in the day.
At the first-ever Capitalism Conference, there’s a conference I hold about once a year, I brought on Gary Vaynerchuk. This is right before he popped. I brought him on because his singular goal in his career is to buy the New York Jets, mine is to buy the Cleveland Indians. I’ve been following him for several years for that reason. I’m like, “This guy will contextualize the next steps forward for me.” I brought on Gary and he said, “If you’re at $1 million and you want to go to $100 million, it is all about people. It is all about your emotional intelligence, not your own personal intelligence. It is all about who you surround yourself with and investing in other people.”
I did not want to hear that advice. I wanted to know that there was a step-by-step plan because I was under $5 million. I was definitely under $10 million. I think I was under $5 million at the time. This was back in 2015. I wanted to hear that there was a clear path to go from $5 million to $50 million. That clear path was better to learn how to lead. You better learn how to succeed through others. I didn’t want to do that because I sucked at it. A few years later, I suck less. I have probably sacrificed a lot of short-term profits to get adequate at finding, recruiting and managing talent. I know that in the 50-year cycle, I will out–earn the kid from 2015 that was just looking for short-term win the short-term way.
How do you decide when the right time to hire is and what you should be hiring for?
It’s always the right time to hire when you know what you’re hiring for. Part of my job when I’m advising someone I’ve invested in is getting them to think about doing less. I had breakfast with both my mentor and my best friend who encourages me to do less. He hears my vision. He goes, “Who’s the one person? You do not need to build an executive team. You need one person probably for the next stage of this business.” He was basically telling me, “You still have this idea, Ryan, that you need to build this team and then the team will move things forward. You need one person and you need to identify what that one role is.”
Do you know what that forces me to do? I hate that this is the answer. It forces me to make job descriptions. It forces me to think about what KPIs I’m going to track. It forces me to be able to describe what that person is going to do when they join me. I wish that wasn’t the case. I just want to be able to find amazing people and say, “Figure it out.” I made a mistake too many times. I need to have the filter for how I will know that is the right person and how they will know that they’re on track towards their goals because I’ve done the opposite and it doesn’t end well. It’s always the right time to hire when you are clear about who that next person is and then you move forward.
I love the honesty because I think a lot of people look at entrepreneurs who have had success, who have a team and they’re like, “This person has figured out hiring,” when no one’s figured out hiring. We’re all better little by little and avoid those costly mistakes. Can you talk about some of the mistakes and what you learned from them?
It is firing too slow. I think it was Brian Lee who is the Founder of The Honest Company. He was also the Founder of LegalZoom. He’s got $3 billion companies on his resumes. He’s so smart, working on his fourth. Brian said to me once, “Nobody knows how to hire. The only thing you need to be good at is firing.” His strategy for hiring is hire fast, fire faster. Not hire slow, fire fast. This is either the right person or it’s not. I have hired people who are up–and–comers. That was a mistake. I’ve hired people who I haven’t worked with in the past. We did a test project together. That was a mistake. I have kept people on too long after I knew they weren’t a fit. That was a mistake. I have hired multiple positions at the same time. That was a mistake. I have hired without getting my team’s feedback on the person. That was a mistake. I have hired without having a woman in the interview because they’re more emotionally intelligent than we are. That’s a mistake.
I have paid way too much, “This person is worth six figures. I should pay them six figures.” That was a mistake. How much time have we got? I learned by making mistakes and then I get better and I’m less likely to make them again. It is how I learned. It is the only way I know how to learn. I just guess and I take them across the chin and I take a few to the nose and I go, “That hurt. Let me do it differently next time.” The next time, I get punched a little bit less and I move forward. I’m not recommending that strategy to anybody, but it is how I’m wired and it’s how I move forward.
I’m very similar. We put out so much content in our Facebook group, our blog, our YouTube channel, our podcast and we get clients who will read it for months and my recommendation is just to do it. At some point you’ve got to go for it. If you learn, fire quickly, adjust from your mistakes and move forward and you’ve got to get that mentality. In my opinion, it sounds like you agree.
If you get into a relationship, you are going to fight. Inevitably, you are going to have problems if you’re in a romantic relationship. If you start a business, you will have days that it sucks. If you are born, you will have trauma. You can accept those and move forward anyway or you can try and insulate yourself against anything bad ever happening by not getting into a relationship, not starting a business and killing yourself. Those are your options. Business and hiring are the same. You are going to get mistakes. You’re going to get punched, you’re going to make bad decisions, you’re going to lose money. It’s part of the process. Make them as fast as possible, get them out of the way and move forward. Maybe you’ll be lucky and one of the first three people will be amazing and you just jive well together and you move forward. That’s great. You’re one of the lucky ones. Expect that you’re going to get punched and then move forward.
One of my favorite questions when I interview people who are running seven, eight-figure businesses is what does your structure look like? I know you invest in different companies. How do you set it up? Do you have a project manager, a team leader, a COO? Who’s underneath them? Can you give us a little bit of a sneak peek behind the scenes?
I do well with partners or having that person on the team who is my anchorperson. I always have one person that I do all of the numbers with, all of the systems with, all the operations with. That’s my Chief of Staff at Capitalism.com. In my investments or other businesses, it’s the operator or the one person that I’m mentoring. There’s some anchorperson who’s running the business. That’s how I work best. Under them, there’s almost always a project manager. The project manager is in charge of freelancers. They’re in charge of agencies, they are in charge of ensuring that we hit our goals, that we move the ball down the court. I think it starts there. From there, there’s got to be somebody in charge of sales. There’s got to be somebody who is in charge of acquiring leads, creating conversions, acquiring customers, managing Amazon.
If you don’t have an audience, you have nothing.
There are people who ask me about the secrets of Amazon and I’m like, “I don’t know anything.” I know enough about Amazon to know what the 80/20 is for us to win against everybody else and for me to know if my Amazon channel manager is doing a good job. If you think that the secret to doing well on Amazon is you knowing all the secrets of Amazon, you are not an entrepreneur. You are chasing short-term cashflow. You are not building a business. Somebody in charge of sales, somebody is overseeing what your customer acquisition strategy is. If there’s nobody in that role, it’s you for a while, but I want to hire for that position. It’s my singular person, project manager, somebody in charge of sales.
What do you look for in that singular person and in your project managers? Are there any higher–level people in your organization? Are there certain traits that you’re looking for?
I’m looking for personal responsibility. I’m looking for an eagerness to grow and for some operations background. Do they have the ability to take the bird’s eye view of the company and see what is going on? Can they jump into something quickly and clear a bottleneck? I’m looking for my operations person. Operations have a financial aspect to it. It has a systems aspect to it. It has a people aspect to it. Do they have those core skill sets? I’m a growth guy. I think about scale and about hiring. I think about spending money. I think about being aggressive and about winning. I think about the goal line. I think about vision. You’ve got to have the person that says, “We should not do that. That’s a terrible idea. Here’s why.” I’m hiring my filter. I’m hiring the person that says, “No.” I’m hiring the person that decides how fast we go and we’ve got to have a good dance together. If somebody can’t tell me no, they’re not the right person.
Can you talk a little bit about how you structure meetings and how you build a culture? I met your team at SellerCon and they all seem very similar–minded. I know you are going out to lunch with them. You talked about the structure. How are you actually managing them and communicating?
You just asked a growth guy about managements, because I am not nearly as good as that as I need to be in order to do that. Let’s talk about culture. Culture is a top-down thing. If your company culture sucks, there’s something about you that sucks. I only know this because I’ve had a lot of sucky culture and so I realize I’m the problem. Culture is not about ping pong tables. For me, it is about, “Would I go to war with the other people on the team? Do I trust the other people on the team to have my back?” In order for them to have my back, they need to know that I have theirs. Sometimes that means a lot of hard conversations and it means a lot of difficult decisions, but they all know I’ve got their back and vice versa.
When it comes to management, the only thing that I do that I feel like I have the authority to talk about is that every quarter we set 90-day objectives together. I can stay out of their way knowing that they know what’s expected of them and I know what’s expected of them. Apart from that, I try to stay out of their way unless they need me. I confess that I have not been able to get the same results out of a virtual environment. I have a personal environment, but I have had a few virtual people that have been amazing and that feel like they’re part of the culture. That might just be a personality thing. Overall, I would say I don’t feel like I have the authority to be able to speak on that because I’m still guessing my way forward on that.
I think a lot of the best entrepreneurs do that. A lot of entrepreneurs struggle to do that, to actually hand off the business and say, “You’re in charge. I’m hands-off.” There are a lot of people that can’t do that.
There are people who do it and still can’t do it because I might be in that. I probably err on the side too much of staying out of people’s way. One thing that I’ve had to come full circle, like I’ve had to come forward on this, is that I think that people want to have full autonomy. People want to be told what to do and they want to know if they’re doing a good job. I have had to practice providing more direction than I’m comfortable doing naturally. That comes from operating in a virtual environment. I expect that if I’m clear upfront with somebody what my expectations are, they’re just going to run with the ball. I have found that there are at least three to six months of me coming down and working with them more ongoing before we can do this.
I always think, “Get the right person, give them the expectations, let them go.” In my experience, there’s a longer curve than I expected of being in the mud with them for a while until they are ready to go off on their own. Of course I’m talking about a team that’s less than ten people, so I’m in charge of that. In a corporate culture, it’s going to be a little bit different. I am not yet good at this, but I’m learning that in my experience people need a little bit more of a close–knit touchpoint to be able to feel like they’re freed up to go on their own before they can operate. Unless you’re just going total freelance designer, “I need this thing done. So-and-so, I need you to write this article.” That’s a little bit different. When you have somebody internal or somebody who’s committed on a monthly basis as an agency, I think there’s more of a handoff that needs to happen.
How do you structure your day? What does your day look like? Is it a lot of meetings, a lot of podcasts? Is it consistent? Is it different every day?
I have a week–to–week schedule that is consistent. My day–to–day is less consistent. Depending on how many projects I have going on, depending on what I’m focusing on, my weeks are broken up a little bit different. My day is broken up a little different but the week tends to be consistent. I try to be very protective of my creative time. My creative time is recording. My creative time is thinking, it’s writing, it’s brainstorming. My projects are finding good people. I have one central hire that I’m hell-bent on finding and that’s my major focus. I save my meetings, buffer, email for the end of the day because I’m far less creative at the end of the day. I’m very protective of my day until about noon. That’s my creative time. My meetings tend to be from 3:00 to 5:00. That’s also when I’m mentoring one of my brand managers or one of my anchor operations people. I’ll get together with them and we’re working through things. My creative time is until about 12:00, 1:00 depending on when I eat lunch. I try to be very protective of them.
Can we talk about owning the Cleveland Indians? When did that goal come to be? How are you breaking down that goal? I know a lot of people out there have much shorter goals in that and they can’t think that big picture. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The goal came about when I was twelve or thirteen. The reason it came about was that my dream as a kid was actually to be the general manager of a baseball team. I wanted to be the guy signing free agents, making trades, making acquisitions. When I was a young teenager, I realized two things. One, I thought I was going to be a pastor. My career route was not going to be that to be on staff at a baseball team. Number two, what I realized was that if you’re the general manager, it means somebody else hired you. You’re not in control of getting that position. My chances of making enough money to buy the team were higher than being the person who interviewed well and hired for that position. I just decided that I would become the owner instead of the general manager, but I still want to be involved in the trades, in the acquisitions and being in the dugout. I’m on my eye doing and knowing a chance and firing people when they strikeout.
What do you think of the Trevor Bauer trade? I’ve got to ask you that.
I’m so glad you asked me this. I think this will go down as a similar trade to Bartolo Colón in 2002. In 2002, the Indians traded Bartolo Colón in the trade deadline for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore, three all-stars. You are going to see this compared to that in the long haul. We’ve freed up potentially $18 million in payroll, got better on paper in the short-term, got younger in the long-term. It was such a good trade. They had to make it. It was an absolute slam dunk of a trade. My hope is that we’ve now freed up enough payroll to re–sign Francisco Lindor for the long-term. The deal has got better on paper in the short-term and the long-term, it was an absolute slam dunk of a deal.
The opposite of that would be the Mets keeping onto Noah Syndergaard, which they could have made the same type of move, gotten the same type of impact. I think that’s going to kill them in the long-term that they didn’t do that.
When the Blue Jays traded Marcus Stroman, they didn’t get a nearly as bigger return as Bauer. Who knows what the return on the table was? The Indians’ front office has proven to be extremely creative. I’ve never seen anything like it. Who knows what the other deals that were being dangled around were?
Can you talk about the Capitalism Conference? I want the readers to know more about it. How do you come up with the idea for it? What do you see as a vision of it going forward?
A few years ago, around 2015, I felt like I had hit the ceiling. I felt I could only think up to about $5 million. I decided that you’re the average of the five people you’re hanging out with supposedly. It’s not like I was going to go hang out with the best entrepreneurs in the world. I figured that I would hire the best entrepreneurs in the world and sell tickets. My selfish reason was I would upgrade the people that I was hanging out with. I would upgrade my knowledge, my expectations, my skill set. A few years in running the conference, I built my first eight-figure company, had my first eight–figure exit. It is the way that we stay sharp for my community. We bring in the people who are ten years ahead of all of us. For a few days just incubate new expectations. That was my intent behind it. That’s why I do the Capitalism Conference every year.
Some people want to be told what to do, and they want to know if they’re doing a good job.
Capitalism.com is a media play for entrepreneurs. I don’t think there’s anybody having a real discussion around wealth and capitalism, even politics. I think most of the noise that we see is noise. I wanted to do something about that because I feel this responsibility to my generation that is suddenly skeptical of capitalism to do something about that. Because of the fact that in this world, when we have all this abundance, we’re questioning capitalism. Are we crazy? This is absurd. We have longer lifespans than ever, we’re safer than ever. We don’t have a lack of food. We have too much food. We have an abundance problem and we’re questioning capitalism. We need to be questioning personal responsibility. We didn’t even question individuals more than we need to question capitalism. I just feel the need to defend to that.
Ryan, this has been great. Where can people find out more about you? What are you most excited about for the rest of 2019?
My biggest focus is doing less and making better decisions. I’m not hard to find. I’m @RyanDanielMoran on Instagram. My website, my podcast are both called Capitalism.com. I’m worth a Google and I can be found there.
Have a great rest of your day.
Thanks for having me.
Founder of Capitalism.com, host of the One Percent podcast, father, Browns fan, and future owner of the Cleveland Indians. Started my first business at age 5, when I sold hand-drawn pictures for a penny each. Traded baseball cards from six to ten. Umpired little league baseball starting at 12. Worked at Dunkin Donuts in high school. Learned internet marketing in college and made my first million at 26 via email marketing and info products. At 26, I saw an opportunity in the marketplace with physical products brands. Fell in love with them, and I built and sold a couple of companies. Today, I have a portfolio of brands, and I document the journey on my podcasts. I believe that entrepreneurs create better solutions than governments do. I believe that markets are wiser than politicians, and that erring on the side of freedom is always a good thing.I am fascinated by brands, marketing, and politics. After building and selling several eCommerce brands, I invest in and advise physical products brands as part of my overall long term strategy to one day own the Cleveland Indians. My strengths are monetization at scale, creating content, and making big and bold decisions. My weaknesses are hiring and team building, building systems, and managing. For this reason, I am always hiring implementers and managers – because together, we create cool things.
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