John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of an online invoicing company called Due. John is best known for being an entrepreneur and connector. On the Top 50 Online Influencers in the World list by the Entrepreneur Magazine, he’s in the second place. He’s currently advising several companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
John knows better than anyone what failure is. He fell a couple of times but never, virtually never, gave up. Now he runs big companies, supports people who are at the beginning of their path, and is able to refuse a million-dollar offer. How to succeed when everything tells you that you can’t take a step forward? Meet John and learn a lesson from one of the most vigorous men I ever met.
Host: I would like to talk about the most important thing and what to avoid in the process of building a company. I think we are living in the age of start-ups and fast growing companies, and everybody has a big pressure to achieve success. What is the biggest mistake that people make at the beginning of running the company?
John: Probably the biggest mistake that I have seen people making is that they are building a product that nobody wants. By far that’s the biggest mistake that I see. So many people are building products that they think are amazing or it’s a cool idea but nobody truly wants or they are not able to market or get it to those people that would want it. They’re building this cool app for seniors but then they realize after they launch it that only 5 people signed up and no paid customers for 3 months. Seniors aren’t downloading the app and they can’t event get to it. It would be awesome if they did, but those two things combined with each other are really killing for startups: not having the right audience, not building the right app or software product and then not being able to market it.
Host: You want to tell me that people do not do any research before launching their product?
John: I would not even say research. I mean people can do research all day long and make speculations that, for example, I have a friend who created this app for elderly care and it was kind of Uber for elderly care and there were a couple of people on the market so he went and build this product that worked actually phenomenally and it paid people, it did everything, and it raised like 2 million dollars and he thought it was great but then when they launched it, he could not get customers. He was like oh I don’t understand, there’s a bunch of people, they need this service, but he was trying to target someone who wasn’t online. An elderly person wasn’t online to sign up for the service, so it ended up failing because he couldn’t market to the right people and get it to those people. I think it is the combination of the right product with the right market fit and being able to get it to those people. Some people build amazing products but they don’t know how to market them.
Host : I think it is an introduction to my second question because I was wondering what the biggest obstacle for people who are start-upers is and for people they have to fight with? We can say that this might be some kind of lack of imagination. Maybe it’s competition, lack or perseverance, or creativity? What do you think about it?
John: I mean, I think it is just the ability, it’s not the people aren’t creative. Plenty of people are creative. Sales is key to the start-up surviving. If we don’t have sales and marketing that drive sales or anything that drives revenue, ultimately, your company will fail. So if money is not coming in at some point, you will run out of money, investors will stop giving money in and your partner will stop allowing you to take money out of the bank account and put it into the company.
Host: It is great that you mentioned the sponsors. I think people wait for the sponsors to start. I heard that this is the wrong thinking because they need to start with themselves and then sponsors will come. Do you agree with that?
John: I have never raised any money ever in my life. Sponsors, VCs, venture capitalist, friends, and family – I have never raised a dollar from any of these people. It has always been from my own pocket and out of my own bank account. Many people moved out to the Bay Area. If you have a cool product, you might get some money but eventually, that product money will run out and that is not always the case. Even me, I have an amazing product. Build your product, build your service up and make it so that you could bootstrap it. You need to make your company profitable at some point, get sales and start making money and actually being able to survive, the more money your company is making, the more revenue and the more profit your company is making the more likely your company is to get easy money.
Host: That’s clear to me. You said something about a perfect product and perfect service but you know maybe any story of when a product was just okay and it was nothing amazing but the way how it was communicated, the way people were served gave that company a big success?
John: A big company that was not the right product was Twitter. Back in the day before Twitter became Twitter, Twitter was a completely different company and ended up raising a lot of money mainly for the founders they have major successes and majors exist like “hey we will give our money” but ended up really raising 10 million, 20 million dollars and then they blew to a portion of it in their life. So ended up giving all the money back to their investors and later they were all like “oh we came up with Twitter”. Later on, same company, same team, same everything then they went to their investors and say that we have the right product and we know what Twitter is today. So I would say, be willing to fail fast and don’t get so invested in your product that you can’t see that no one is buying it.
Host: A couple of minutes ago I mentioned perseverance because I know that you went through some hard moments when you didn’t know you were able to walk if I didn’t tell about it but it’s on your website so I think I can, but you are there. I think we all know that you are a man of success and I think we all know that you have the authority of others. So could you tell me how to do that? How did you win and didn’t break down during those times?
John: A little back story, while I was in college, I was working, I had a full-time job while I was going to college but it wasn’t enough to pay my bills. So I take the job and I’m on construction sites for the weekends to earn just a little bit more money, I ended up being hurt and run over while I was working at the construction site, one of those biggest skid steers ran over my leg and snap my leg in half and after 5 surgeries they told me that I have an 80-90% chance that I would never walk again. But I ended up getting some amazing doctors and flying some in, me flying other some other places and ended up having several surgeries and stem cells injections. So I’ve always laughed that I am 2% lamb in my body because my leg is made out of stem cells from a lamb. But during that time it was very frustrating, I ended up in the bed for a little more over a year and during that time, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t get up, it’s really frustrating and that’s where I learned all the things that I know now because I was so bored like I want to be with my laptop for 18-19 hours a day just doing stuff. During that time I learned a lot about online marketing and I tried to make the best of it and I feel so many people were not making the best of their situation, I was in the complete crap situation. I literally have 2 or 3 doctors telling me that I will never walk again. And I have this one doctor telling me “hey you can walk”. Even if I have not been able to walk during that time, I didn’t give up, I was working, I actually build some products, built some services, started doing like very good. I made the best of my situation and for all the listeners out there, if you are in a hard time, if you are experiencing pain, go work on yourself, spend a lot of time reflecting on yourself and what I wanted to so, I wanted to be. I figure out something new that I could do that would make me become me, what I imagined my life, I had to do it several times in my life where I had to essentially reinvent myself and I’ve lost everything, I had other failures in my life or I’ve lost millions of dollars which means I made millions of dollars. The key is just to stay there and really pushing it.
Host: I think that is really impressive! You turned frustration into satisfaction. And we can say that it wasn’t one day, one week or even one year but you made it. So no excuses for people who don’t go for a marathon right now. Basing on your experience, because you have huge experience, there is something that we call 10 commandments, do you think there is such a thing for entrepreneurs? Maybe not 10 but some top tips for people based on your experience what they have to do, no matter what section, no matter what the brand is but they do have to do this at the beginning.
John: I would say build an amazing product, get customers, get revenue, and get pushing forward. As long as the customer and money coming in you have a business if you don’t have those things coming in you don’t have a business. So thou shall not build a company without revenue, those things are the key, I can’t stress that enough , building the greatest product doesn’t have to be the greatest thing out there. In the first release my product it kind of work crappily but it was better than what was out there, I truly feel that you should be proud of the fits version of your product.
Host: That’s very important what you are saying. Have you ever had a moment when you truly wanted to give up, you thought that you would never do this? I was just asking because there are so many people who hear a lot of success stories, and this is great because this is very motivating, but you know what it can tell people also.
John: Besides my leg, I fell several things in my life, I had been broken and I had a very successful start-up, I started in a company helping people sell their lands and sold it for eight-plus figures. I made tons and millions of dollars and I went to purchase another company after then 6 months later went out of business and I lost every penny that I had. Legitimately every penny. So I probably went from a person worth $15,000,000 to having -$11,000,00 in my bank account and I have been married two months before so I barely got married, I moved away from home to get this business, spend this money and the business failed, I have to end up letting some employee’s go, I have to lay-off some of the best employees in the world. I have an 80,000,00 square foot warehouse with a $150 000 in inventory and 2 million dollars in bills. I ended up selling everything, pay as many bills as I could and then fully leave the company, then literally I folded the company and I packed everything in my house, I sold everything, we moved in our car and we moved home and that was not so long ago, that was like 2 and a half years ago. I was lucky that one person that I have helped in the past, helped me in the past and then I went up to what I knew and it felt really good. Since then, I built another 2 million dollar businesses and it’s really getting back on the horse . When failure is not an option, eventually things will work out. So things when they don’t have to work out, they probably wont’t. When there is no other option than to succeed then that’s where people really shine, that’s also where other people fall apart because they are too frustrated, you have to find it in yourself and push forward and work as hard as you can to make it work. You have to work smart, you have to be lean, and if you are not making money and there is no money inside, your start-up will fail and your family will be on the street.
Host: When I listen to you, I think that you are really a fighter. Now, you are the number 2 online influencer! What is the kind of feeling? I think it is something making you happy, or puts pressure? Or is it proud for you? What do you think about such a title?
John: It’s awesome, it’s great that get to be recognized for that. It’s really nice being recognized by other people but it doesn’t just stop there. if you are an individual and you are not the list do not say that you are not important.
Host: My next question is about the list and I think it is the good moment to talk about it. Comparing things that you just said about, it is very important to tell people that it is not only success, not only sunny days in those people lives and they really have to fight, and they fight smart. When it comes to company, we all agree that is all about sell and gain money, but I read some article that you wrote and I wonder how would you describe importance of people in the business, and relationship in the business?
John: Without people, your business is going to be nowhere, and going to go nowhere. So people are key to your business, customers are key, talk to your customers, talk to people, have some relationships. One of my customers has been my customer now for 5 years and they are some of my best friends and they love what I do for them and the way I help them succeed.
Host: I think you have the similar approach that we have here at Brand24 that it’s not the sale but helping other people, and when you help them, not just trying to show your product, not only showing that you need money. I think this is the biggest value in the whole business and I hope that they will be changing because people, as you say are the biggest asset in the business. So, I have a question for you. Is it true that one CEO that you follow is Richard Branson? And why if I may ask?
John: Yes, I love him. The things that I like about Richard Branson is that he speaks his mind and he also tells about his failures. Richard Branson wasn’t successful at the young age. He didn’t have to start his own company but he tells all his epic failures and how he made his bad decision. One of the things that I also love about him and admire about him is he actually has it, he talks about his successes, he talk about his failure. He is there writing articles and blogs, he brings people to other island and mentors tens of thousands of people and truly helps them. He’s creating real relationships in helping people online.
Host: That’s what I also like about Richard Branson, he is very direct and he is not afraid to speak about his failures just like you do, and people appreciate it I think so.
To sum up, you tell that failure is the part of the success?
John: Yes. Failure is definitely a part of the success. Every time you fail you will learn and you will become better and the next time you do it, hopefully, you will learn from that failure and make it into a lot better success.
Host: Thank you very much for your time. It was a wonderful conversation with many valuable insights and not only for me but I think for our audience. So thank you again.