There is nothing quite as important when it comes to entrepreneurship as the right mindset. Cultivating and defining this for yourself is one of the most important things you can do – and can make or break your company. Join Doug C. Brown and Mike Black as they discuss entrepreneurial mindsets, how Mike grew his company, Told Media, to a 7 figure business, cold calling, resourcefulness, and more.
In this episode, you will learn:
Mike Black is the founder of Told Media, a software development agency building better software for less. Told Media mixes development talent from Latin America with lead engineers in the U.S.Mike Black is the founder of Told Media, a software development agency building better software for less. Told Media mixes development talent from Latin America with lead engineers in the U.S.
Visit his website: www.toldmedia.com
We have a great guest. His name is Mike Black and he owns a company called Told Media. Mike is a very unique guy and a younger guy by far to me. He came up in a place where he had to be innovative and he had the desire to win. He’s had some rough starts here and there like all of us in business but he’s reinvented himself over. He’s not the type of guy that’s like, “Let’s defeat him.” One of his favorite quotes is, “It’s not the lack of resources, it’s your lack of resourcefulness that stops you,” by Mr. Tony Robbins. Since I had the pleasure of working with Tony, I could say that he would talk about things like this all the time.
Mike’s conditioned his brain and he’s had some good mentorship from his father. His dad’s always been in his corner because he knew his son evidently was an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial life isn’t always that easy. Mike was able to take his business from a startup cost of losing lots of money that they had invested in and bringing it up over seven figures quickly, then keep growing the business beyond that.
We discussed a lot of different things here. One of the greatest things I found was he’s got a sales cycle or sales system down where he looks at where are your people hanging out? For him, he gains business from places that people would never even think about. People are looking at, “How do I spend money to get client acquisition?” He’s like, “We don’t need to spend a lot of money. We just need to find out where these people are hanging out.” They are on park and WeWork. He’s getting clients off of Indeed.com and different types of places that a lot of people would never even think about.
What is he doing? He’s targeting people that have a problem that he can resolve. Going on to Indeed, for example. He’s looking at that and going, “We are an outsourcing company. We are a mobile and web applications and social media development company.” If somebody is looking to hire on Indeed for a social media manager, they will engage on Indeed and have that conversation. About 20% of the time, they’re qualified because they don’t necessarily want a full-time person within the company. They just want to solve the problem that’s within their company. He first finds out where they’re hanging out, then he works on solving their problem. That problem could be something they could do or it could be something that somebody else can do. They’ll refer them off by not asking for anything but just saying thank you. From there, the 20% that say yes provide value and are qualifying the lead.
We talked about a lot of different things, not just the sales process that he goes through. How do you go from loss to gain? What are the things that we have to do? How do we work our minds around this? Too many people, whether you’re a $50 million company, a $500 million or a $5,000 company and you’re stuck, a lot of times, it’s our mind and the processes in which we’re employing that are getting us not to go to the next level. We have to be consistent. Without further ado, let’s welcome Mike Black from Told Media to the show.
We’ve got another episode going on with a gentleman from Philadelphia. His name is Mike Black and he owns a company called Told Media. They are a mobile and web application development company. They got an interesting story where they went from nothing and built up into the seven figures and keep going type of story. Mike, welcome to the show.
I’m excited to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
You’re welcome. You have an interesting story because a lot of entrepreneurs hit the wall once in a while and we smoosh our faces. Our face gets pushed down and we’re down on the ground. I remember an article that I read that you did. You guys were living day-to-day when starting this process. Is that how it worked?
It wasn’t a very fun start. It was pretty brutal. When I started Told Media, we started off as a tech company. We’re selling software to the government and we’re doing a lot of government contract stuff. We didn’t know what we’re doing. We started through that tech company that failed to work with the government. We’re like, “We’re good at product development.” We started developing apps for people. We didn’t know what we’re doing. We’ve signed some bad contracts and went into a lot of debt because of those contracts.
There was one in particular where we were supposed to be billing at a high rate. We got three months into the project and realized that we had underscoped the project heavily. We’re like, “Oh, my god.” It’s more financially viable to apologize. We gave them all the code and design work for free and said, “Sorry, here you go.” We lost $100,000 on that project. From the failed tech startup and starting up the company that way, I went $50,000 in personal debt, which was not a great way to start a company. When your back is against the wall like that, as crazy as it sounds, it was awesome because you got to perform. You got to wake up and get to work. It was 80 to 100-hour weeks and no social life for a little bit, but we were able to pay off all the debt in 6 to maybe 8 months. From there, we’ve been doing decently well.
What I love about your story is you said you get your back against the wall. That happens. That happened to me. I invested in a business one time and this was when I didn’t have the money. I put $60,000 into this and I had partners. Four months later, we’re making $1,500 a month and all my partners are gone. I had two little kids in diapers and not a working wife at that point. My back was against the wall too. When our back gets against the wall like that, we dig in somewhere emotionally.
As an entrepreneur, it either crushes you or inspires you or motivates you. Even the fear might motivate because it’s like, “I don’t want to go back even worse than where I’m at.” You have a quote that you live by. It’s by Tony Robbins and it says, “It’s not the lack of resources, it’s your lack of resourcefulness that stops you.” I found that to be profound because it’s so true. Could you expand upon that? Your back is against the wall and now you got to build this up. You paid all the debt off and you’re growing and scaling.
That quote in particular is a no-excuses thing. I’ve started a couple of tech companies in the past that have failed, and it was a lack of resourcefulness. If I was more resourceful at the time when I started those other businesses, I would have done a better job of learning the things I needed to learn, find the people I needed to find, and gain the capital I need to get if I wanted to raise capital. As I built more and more business acumen, you build a little bit on that resourcefulness and you get better at things.
In particular to that quote, at the end of the day, excuses are excuses and there’s always a way. It’s not a lack of capital. It’s not like, “I didn’t have the money.” Go find the money, go find the people, and go figure out how you can make something work. There’s always a way unless the idea is something that should be killed and put to rest if it’s something that’s not viable. A lot of times, you can pivot and figure out how you can make it work by doing a lot of customer discovery. That’s what I love about that quote.
Customer discovery is another thing that I’d like to touch on because we’re all about raising revenues, growing the companies, etc. A lot of times, people try to do this in a vacuum. I’ve seen clients and business partners go into this vacuum and it’s like, “We can solve it.” What it sounds like is you went and you talked to the customer and you said, “What do you want?” They then said, “No, Mike, that’s not what we want,” or “Yes, Mike, that is what we want.” Is that what happened?
With a lot of the failed tech companies I’d started in the past, we did enough customer discovery but we didn’t do it totally correct. It’s important that you talk to your customers always and understand what they want, especially in tech. In anything you’re doing, you need to know what the customer wants. It’s a little bit more important in tech because you deploy a lot of capital in the things that you believe to be true. The more customer discovery you do, the more data you have to work with to make the right decisions. With those tech companies, there were some that we did a great job of customer discovery and that’s why we put things to rest. There were other times when we didn’t approach it correctly.
A lot of companies have done that. The challenge for many companies is they keep running down the same path enthusiastically without asking the questions that you asked. Years later, they were losing $7 million on this division. That’s because usually, they’re not talking to their customers to find out what they got to do to innovate because what happens now could be totally different a few years from now. There was a time I remember when there was no internet. You had none. You had no cell phone. We had to innovate. One of the things I loved about your story was you built your first million dollars in revenue without spending a dime on marketing. You said it was all warm outbound sales. Could you share a few of the best working tips from the outbound sales strategies that you used that made the biggest impact on your sales revenue?
I’ve gone a little bit better at this over time, and have gone a little bit of the cold outbound game as well. When it comes to doing B2B, both warm and cold outbound is where I like to play. I’m not as good at marketing, which is a good opportunity to go hire someone to bring in more inbound leads. When it comes to warm outbound, if you’re a B2B service, you need to know where those people hang out. For a development agency, if you think about it, “Where are people hanging out?” When I say warm, I mean someone’s looking for the service already. You’re still cold outreaching. They’ve never heard from you before but I call it warm because they’re looking for the service.
You can build an entire business to seven figures off of doing this warm outbound. A good place to start and honestly, where I built a lot of it which is going to be something I guarantee anyone has never heard of before, is from WeWork, which is totally non-conventional. Getting space at WeWork is the best investment I’ve ever made into my business. I’m not talking about networking at the office and stuff because that is also good, by the way. If you sell services to businesses, guess who has space at WeWork? Businesses do, but they have an online platform. In their online platform, a lot of people post jobs, both for “gigs” as well as FTE roles and they do it all the time.
As a development agency, I’d see someone looking for, let’s say an angular developer, not to get too technical, but they need some engineering work. I’d reach out and when I do those warm outbound sales, it’s getting on the call and problem-solving. I never sell super hard. I solve their problem. Eighty percent of the time, I point them in a different direction, and then the other 20%, when I feel like it is a good fit, I’ll let them know like, “We can help you with this. I’d be happy to be helpful.” If not, “Here’s some resources.” WeWork is great. It’s something no one leverages super hard.
At Told Media, we’ve done probably $700,000, $800,000-plus through WeWork. Indeed is really good. It depends on the type of business you’re running and the types of services you’re selling. I’m doing a lot of content stuff. We’re selling content contracts which is a little bit different from development. With the content stuff, people are posting what they need, let’s say a social media manager. If you go on a platform like Indeed and try to hire a social media manager, it becomes easy. A lot of times, people want this exhaustive list of things for that person to do. There are not many people that exist that can do that, especially the price point people they are looking to hire at.
We have a 26% response rate on Indeed when we reach out and say, “We saw you’re looking for this type of person and we’d love to get on a call. We can help you with this stuff.” We have an email sequence we put them through. I call that warm, even though it is cold because they’re already looking for the service that you provide. It might just be in a different format. If you can show the value in working with an agency versus an FTE, which a lot of times, it’s easy to show value. For us, it’s like, “Not only we’re going to be less costly, but we’re also going to be better.”
If you’re doing content, you have a lot that goes into that and not one person can do all those things. Whereas when you access a group of people that can do all those things at a less rate, it’s a simple value prop. You got to think about, what are you selling? Are people interested in going B2B? There’s a percentage of people, and at the end of the day, it’s the problem. When they’re hiring someone, the problem is, “We need to hire someone so we can grow.” The solution isn’t always the best to bring someone in-house and you can sometimes solve for that using Indeed. That’s the second place that has been great.
Getting into cold outbound, I don’t do this with the dev agency. I do it with the social stuff that we do and the content stuff. Doing cold calling has been incredible. I started doing it. I never ever picked up the phone and cold-called. It is mind-boggling to me how easy it is to get past gatekeepers. I cannot believe it. It’s been incredible to see how well it works. That’s been fun to get a bit into that and figure out how to best convert those things. It’s been a lot of fun doing all that.
You’re doing a lot of great stuff here. Firstly, you’re finding out where the people are hanging out, the people that may already want your service. You’re engaging with these folks and you’re trying to solve their problem. You look for their problems, pains, frustrations or whatever is going on. You’re either qualifying or disqualifying and showing them away for those that are disqualified, “We’re not the right fit for you but someone else might be.” Out of that 20%, you’re like, “Let’s provide them additional value, not just the value of the conversation.” You summed up what successful sales is all about. It’s all about win-win. Many people don’t play it that way. For a lot of people, cold calling is like, “That is going to be hard.” You’re right but not if you know how to do it. It can be an incredibly effective tool.
Let me correct you there, you don’t even need to know how to do it when it comes to cold calling. I picked up the phone and started cold calling with zero experience. With that being said, I understand sales very well so I get that stuff. There are a lot of natural things I’ve picked up from running businesses. I’ve never cold call before. I didn’t know how to do it. I just picked up the phone and started calling. I couldn’t believe how incredibly well it works.
The caveat to that is I’ve tried training some people and I realized that you want to find people that have that natural skill of being able to talk to people. It’s good if you can find people that can talk without reading off a script. That becomes problematic from my experience because the way that I do cold calling is getting personal with the person and building a relationship quickly with them, and not going on a script at all. Minus when there are certain things that I want to say, I’ll have it in the script so I can look at it real quick.
I like to be personal and have personal conversations when I’m doing my cold calling. A lot of times, it goes very similarly. Whenever I do any type of cold call, I always start off with, “How is it going?” I laugh when I say that because I try to be friendly. A lot of times, you can hear them get a little happier because they hear someone that has high energy and happy as well. I ask them straight up like, “Can I talk to the person who’s in charge of marketing?” Because that’s who I want to talk to. I don’t go in anything else. It is totally mind-blowing to me. I would say, 80% to 90% of people give you the person’s contact info. It’s crazy. I don’t know how deep you want to go into the actual strategies around cold calling.
We could do a whole episode on those strategies. That would be awesome. We’ll have you back. We’re talking with Mike Black from Told Media. They are a website and mobile applications development company, and social media. He’s sharing some great stuff here. Mike, when you started out, you said that the most difficult thing for you was figuring out the right business model to scale and hire the right people, which you touched on. What was the process that helps you to finally find out how to do that?
That comes with experience. Here are some big tips that I’ve learned from not being good at it when I first started. First off, either get mentorship that is senior in terms of talent or try to hire senior talent as quickly as possible, or even pay for it to help with vetting. When it comes to recruitment, whenever you’re hiring for any type of role, what I’ve gotten a lot better at is doing a good job of looking at the initial background on the person’s LinkedIn.
I’m going to use software development because that’s the role I’m in. It’s hard to look at someone’s background sometimes and know exactly what they’ve done on projects. I’m better now looking at LinkedIn and go, “They’re a software engineer. In this company, they’re senior software engineers. In this one, they’re more of a contributor.” I’m not technical. I’ve never written a line of code but when I get into the interviews, I can ask the right questions to try to figure out what did they actually do in that role. This is important for any role.
A lot of times, they’ll have something that looks flashy and fancy on LinkedIn, but then you find out what they’re responsible for at the company. It might be a letdown or it might be great depending on what they’re doing. That’s how I’ve gotten a little bit better at hiring. That small thing right there of understanding how to break down someone’s LinkedIn and dig into what they didn’t accomplish at the company. There are some small tricks I’ve picked up over time.
When I interview someone, I want them to be honest, so I’ll ask them things like, “When we do a reference check, what is your boss going to say about you?” That implies, “We’re definitely going to do a reference check so you shouldn’t lie.” There are things I’ve picked up on that. Whenever it is a technical type of role, I always have someone senior do the technical interview. Whether it is development or if it’s marketing or whatever it is, I want someone that understands that thing to do the technical interview.
You have a systematic process on there. We could do a whole episode on this and maybe we should in the near future. Mike, if somebody wants to get ahold of you or experience a little bit more about your company, how do they do that?
I want to thank you for being here. I know people are going to get a lot out of this. I was wondering, who’s one of your heroes in life, present or past?
If I had to pick anyone, it’s such a common answer, but my dad is definitely my biggest inspiration and hero. He’s incredible. The way that he approaches life is incredible. I’ve learned by being with him to not take things too seriously, always have fun, and always do the right thing, so typical dad stuff. My dad’s at the top of the list.
Being a dad myself, for all the people here, this is probably the most important point that we made to this whole thing. Your children are going to emulate what you do. As a leader in a company, people are going to emulate what you do. You learn that through osmosis and growing up with a great father. That’s translating into your success. Mike, I’m going to bid you a wonderful day. It is a pleasure to have you on here. I appreciate you being here. I know a lot of people are going to get a lot out of that. Go to ToldMedia.com. Check him out. He seems like a great guy in the conversations I’ve been having and they deliver with their clients. Until next time, Mike, thank you again for being here.
Doug, I can’t thank you enough. This was fun.
That was a great interview with Mike. When many of us get our backs against the wall, we’re always stressed. We can either look at this as, “This is a terrible thing,” or, “I’m about to learn something.” What Mike did was he went the latter, “I’m about to learn something. I got to dig in because I don’t have options as I had in the past. I have to dig in because if I don’t dig in, then the downside is even higher than already hitting the wall.” That’s when you’re back is against the wall. If you don’t dig in and start doing what’s necessary, then the business is going to take and slam you to the floor. That’s what happens.
He looked at the equation that I teach all the time, which is money in, money out, equals something. He focused on the money in, but he had to get creative because he didn’t have any money to put into marketing or prospecting. He had a limited budget. I remember reading one time where they would Veem each other. In other words, his partner would invoice Mike and Mike would pay him via credit card and then the partner would have to give Mike back the money in order to pay the bills for the company. That’s where they were at.
They went from that and quickly grew up into a seven-figure plus company and they’re continuing to grow. There’s the message. No matter where you are if you’re stuck, one of the things that Mike said was to get mentors and people who can help you out. If we’re doing things from our own frame, then all we can see is what’s in that own frame. We’ve created the frame and that’s what’s got us stuck there in the first place.
I appreciate you all being here. If you liked this episode, please go up and give it a five-star review. If you want to hear anything in the future on a subject matter, please comment, send us a message, an email or whatever it might be. We’ll be happy to look at that and see if we could do a show for you in the future on that specific subject matter. Until next time, make it a great day, go sell something, go grow your revenues and continuously focus on your success.