Helping location independent entrepreneurs build businesses and find community
Dan Andrews is the creator and host of the Tropical MBA podcast, a show for location independent entrepreneurs. The show has been downloaded millions of times since 2009.
Dan is also the author of Before The Exit and co-founder of Dynamite Jobs.
In this episode we talk about Dan’s journey building the TMBA universe, being ahead of business trends, building community, business partners, and why the Legitness of Dan’s message has attracted that audience and built that community.
Transcript and show notes can be found here
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Dan Andrews 0:00
And it was that realization that what they were doing was important, but I disagreed with them in an important way that inspired me ultimately to say, I there's a space for our voice here, I want to say something too.
Jay Clouse 0:16
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators, and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Jay Clouse 0:42
Hello, welcome back to a new episode of Creative Elements. I'm glad that you're here. I'm glad to be with you. And I'm glad to have a little bit of a distraction from 2020 elections. This is a really exciting episode for me, because today I'm talking with Dan Andrews, the host of Tropical MBA. And you may recognize that name because Tropical MBA is actually where I first discovered some of the guests on the show, including Cat Coquillete and Ryan Robinson. Tropical MBA is a podcast for location independent entrepreneurs. And I love this show because every week Dan and his co host, Ian Schoen are serving up some realness about what it's like to make a living online. And they do it in a totally honest, no bullshit kind of way. I've listened to the show for years. And in fact, back in 2017, when I was just starting my own location independent online business, I wrote the guys an email, I said, "Dan and Jane, Jane is the producer. For the last few months, I've been listening to T MBA religiously and digging deeper and deeper into the back catalogue. I absolutely love the show. And first and foremost want to thank you for making it. I'm at an earlier stage of my entrepreneurial journey, mirroring predictable sustainability. But I would love to hear more guests at the stage in the first 1000 days." Dan, and Ian actually responded to my email and invited me on to the show in Episode 427.
Dan Andrews 1:59
And here at the pod, we get a lot of emails from listeners, we can respond to all of them, but some of them are great questions. And today, we're gonna highlight one of those. So one of our listeners reached out to us and said, Hey, I love what you guys are doing, but you're not really solving my problem. So what we did is we just called that listener up.
Jay Clouse 2:26
Dan Andrews 2:27
Oh, hey, Jay, how do you pronounce your last name Jay?
Jay Clouse 2:31
Clouse very German.
Jay Clouse 2:33
Now, at the time, I was just starting my online mastermind called Unreal Collective. And it was going okay, but it was a grind. And at one point, I ran out of cash and started freelancing. Back in October, I knew it wasn't going to make sense to start new groups over like the Thanksgiving holiday. So I had Thanksgiving and Christmas and kind of new year as to whether before starting someone else, which meant that I suddenly had like a three month cash flow gap. And so I picked up some freelancing, I did some WordPress development, and I still have some of those clients. And now it's kind of nice having those because that type of work is actually paying my bills pretty steadily. But it's not building a business kind of the way that I want to and doing things my own way, you know, it's client work. And the question is, how do I balance the time of my own creation, with sort of the opportunity cost of not doing client work, I link to the full episode in the show notes. So you can listen to it later if you want. But the guys gave me some advice that really stuck with me. In fact, they really challenged me to think bigger and not be afraid to take some chances if it meant getting more clear on what I was actually trying to do.
Ian Schoen 3:40
You know, oftentimes, in these businesses, the ideas that you have, in the beginning aren't what the outcome is, in the end, meaning like the outcome could be completely different. I could see this business like Dan said, you finding a partner, and one of the masterminds, you're really attracted to somebody business. And you think like, well, this is actually my purpose in life. This is what I'm interested in. you partner with them, you shut down the mastermind thing and you live happily ever after. And so, you know, getting back to what is your idea of like a big success? What is your idea of a big dream? Right now, what I'm hearing so far is like, Hey, I just like to make this like a sustainable living. What I'm also hearing is like, I'm a little bit afraid to break it, because like, if this thing breaks, like so does my income, and then I have to go back to like serving WordPress clients. But at the same time, if you don't try and break it, I don't think it's ever going to have the opportunity to be anything big. You know.
Dan Andrews 4:28
The idea that came into my mind when Ian said that was like increasing the velocity of exhausting your options. So like, as long as all these things are like potential options on the horizon, it sustains the present, which isn't serving you.
Jay Clouse 4:42
That idea from Dan of increasing the velocity of exhausting my options, is something that I think about a lot to this day, has given me a framework for thinking about new projects and experiments. Okay, so back to Dan. These guys have been podcasting for a long time. In fact, Dan got into the podcasting game long before I even knew what podcasting was, he was an avid podcast listener as an employee back in the late 2000s.
Dan Andrews 5:06
What was going on in my life was a two hour commute, and a gift from my employer at the time, which was an iPod. And so I combined the two things and my love of radio and found out about podcasts. And at the time, we were interested in growing the business we were working together, so I was just pipelining everything on iTunes at the time that had to do with business. At the time, I was like, Oh, my god, there's so many business podcasts, like, surely the world would not need another one. So that wasn't even in my mind. At the time, I was just listening to all these pirate radio stations of individual entrepreneurs, sometimes they were consultants, or creatives, or a lot of times they were like Internet guru people, like mindset people, you know, and they would tell you about how you can, you know, get a better life by building a business. And this is the sort of message I really wanted to hear, at the time, was also concurrently reading books by people like Dan Kennedy, and Seth Godin, and people like that. And so yeah, it was really, by the time I got to my desk, I was just overflowing with inspiration and creativity from these podcasts.
Jay Clouse 6:12
You heard that right. Dan was listening to podcasts on an iPod, which is in fact, why podcasts are called podcasts. But while Dan was getting all this energy to start a company, he was still working a nine to five. That changed a little bit more than a year later, when Dan and Ian started their own company. But this wasn't your typical internet startup company, Dan and Ian were selling podiums for valet parking, portable bars for bartenders and events, and modern furniture for cats. I'm being 100% serious. They were selling cat furniture.
Dan Andrews 6:43
And that changed my perspective on some of these shows. Because I started to meet some of the people who were producing them, I started to reach out to them via email. And I realized that what we were doing was so so different from what they were talking about in some important ways. And I combined that with my level of radio, I also had a band at the time. And I thought, Well, why don't I go from making three minute audio clips to making 30 minute audio clips, I can do this. And it was that realization that what they were doing was important. But I disagreed with them in an important way that inspired me ultimately to say, I there's a space for our voice here, I want to say something, too.
Jay Clouse 7:24
And so he did. Dan started the tropical MBA podcast, which was then called the lifestyle business podcast. And he was even sneaking into the office of his former employer to record the episodes.
Dan Andrews 7:36
I had these sort of the call center, headphone microphone. And I think I tried to record like six episodes, sitting this my old office that used to be mine, sitting there at like 9:30pm. And trying to make sense of what was happening in my life, I think, because now all of a sudden, I'm like, I'm back at the scene of the crime, where it all started, where my career had was something for real. And now I'm making less than half the money. You know, I'm wearing crocs and driving a $350 car. And I'm loving it. I'm trying to figure out what's going on, you know, I'm trying to make sense of like this new life that I have. And that's where the podcast came from.
Dan Andrews 8:19
This is Dan Andrews. And I'd like to thank you for downloading the lifestyle business podcast. This is a podcast and individuals who are interested in unconventional approaches to life, business, and their careers.
Jay Clouse 8:34
That's from episode one back in 2009. And I actually want to play a couple minutes from that episode, because it's fascinating to me how clearly Dan expressed the idea of a lifestyle business before it was nearly as popular and cool as it is today. And as we found a lot on this show, listening to early versions of people's work is a lot of fun. Here's Dan.
Dan Andrews 8:55
Essentially, I see lifestyle businesses as a radical approach to the concept of work life balance. So the old model goes like this, you have a job or a business. And you go there from eight to five. And you've determined that eight hours a day is the ideal amount of time to spend working. You step into the office, you do office stuff all day long. You do business stuff, and it's focused on one currency, and that currency is money, cash and you make all your business decisions to increase that currency, so if you if you're considering whether to launch a new product or get into a new market or make an acquisition, you're always thinking of how much cash is this going to bring into the business. Now, five o'clock, the bell goes off, you leave and then you go live life. You spend time with your family or you pursue hobbies. And the idea is, is that you've earned as much cash as you can, you've benefited from that, and you go out into the world, and you you create a great life for yourself outside of the office. Now, what we've seen, especially with the internet and the global economy is that that wall is starting to break down, everybody is carrying Blackberrys and you have customers all around the world, you have suppliers around the world. And you're starting to find you answering emails after five o'clock and the walls are breaking down. You're also finding when you're, when you go on vacation, the time is supposed to be walled off from work, you're still checking your emails, and you're making sure things are moving along. And you start to think, well, there's got to be a better way. And I think that's when this concept of lifestyle business really starts to rear its head and you say, look, there's more currencies to consider, than just money, especially when the traditional distinction between work, and life is sort of breaking down. And so the lifestyle entrepreneur essentially says, alright, I'm done trying to put up walls, I'm done walling off two weeks a year to sit on a beach, and I'm done. You know, not answering emails after 5pm. What I need is a vocation or a business that allows me to achieve more than one currency.
Jay Clouse 11:29
Today, Dan and Ian not only run the Tropical MBA podcast, but they've built a private community around it called the Dynamite Circle, and a location independent job board called Dynamite Jobs. So in this episode, we talk about Dan's journey building the T MBA universe, being ahead of business trends, building community, business partners, in why the legitness of Dan's message has attracted that audience and build that community. I'll be sharing some of my all time favorite episodes of tropical MBA this week in our Creative Elements listeners group on Facebook. So join us there if you haven't already. And as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram @jayclouse. But now, let's hear from Dan.
Dan Andrews 12:16
Most of the podcasts that were the most successful at the time, were what I would call a self licking ice cream cone. So it was the lessons they were peddling on the show would then inspire you to take action on the lessons which would then inspire you to buy their products, which then would give them more fuel to talk about more things on the show. So the whole ecosystem of influence and purchasing and success was happening, almost like a pyramid scheme, where like, the more you believed in what they were saying on the show, the more money they would make, the more things they would have to talk about. And it wasn't completely invalidating of their ideas. I just thought, Hey, I sell cat furniture. I think, you know, like, I'd really like to hear from somebody who sells cat furniture. And you know, the thing about selling cat furniture, having a job or just making money like a normal person is, you're typically so busy doing that, that you don't think to sort of put on a second radio cap at the end of the day, and try to sound smart about it, you just want to, you just want to be done. And you just want to
Jay Clouse 13:25
I want to sell more cat furniture.
Dan Andrews 13:26
I just want to sell more cat furniture. And what I realized is that the amount of people that actually share things in a way that is consistent with their actual life online that is useful to entrepreneurs, is so so small. So if there's 100 people successfully selling cat furniture online at night, less than 1% of those people are producing some kind of, hey, here's how you can participate in that success, as well. And I thought, well, it's almost like a podcast for the rest of us for the 99 other people who don't want to be influenced peddlers, but rather just want to be what we are, which is folks who sell things online, we sell services online, we sell our time online, whatever it is, how about just to show that like connected with that idea, rather than, you know, ultimately, we're all gonna end up at some Tony Robbins conference and figure out how we too can sell $15,000 coaching programs or whatever, fine, but it just wasn't ultimately the niche that I wanted to be a part of.
Jay Clouse 14:27
And you're selling cat furniture. Did you expect that this podcast would be its own part of your business or line of business? Like what were your expectations of the show at the time?
Dan Andrews 14:38
My expectations? It's tough to say I think I would believe like both answers like there was a moment when you know, we have this concept called rip pivot and jam on the show, which is this idea of like when you see precedent cases in the world often that can be the most inspiring thing because it's not about like having a good idea it was about it's about like seeing something that's already working and, and finding out how you can put your own twist on it. So there was a moment when I, you know, was a big fan of this other podcast and I logged into their private community. And I realized, like, number one like that it was a decent product and how much money they were making, and it was good. But I also realized, this isn't my community like I don't, I don't vibe with any of this, like, none of these people will be my friends, I don't do similar kinds of businesses, they're at a different level than I'm at, there's a real opportunity for me to like, do something for folks like us. And so I did have expectations that one day, I was exposing myself at least to that opportunity, that there would be a community of listeners, that would be really interesting people to connect with.
Jay Clouse 15:44
We'll talk a lot about the Tropical MBA community later. But I wanted to nerd out a little bit on podcasting first, because in 2009, in the days of listening to podcasts on iPods, podcasting looked very different. For starters, the player you're listening to this show on right now probably didn't exist.
Dan Andrews 16:02
I believe at the time, it was basically like you're on Apple or you don't exist. Yeah. And you had to, like sync up, you know, like there was syncing happening. Like it was a thing, you had to make sure your computer was connected to the Internet, and I was downloading all the shows you liked. And then you had to plug your iPod into your computer. And then, you know, you could listen.
Jay Clouse 16:21
What was the path for getting people to discover T MBA back in the day, when it was this style of, you know, syncing?
Dan Andrews 16:29
A zero, we, as far as I can tell over the years, it's been word of mouth 100%. You know, I might have like, tweeted out the episodes at the time, but I just, I don't ever remember doing any promotion whatsoever. We were too busy trying to sell this cat furniture, Jay. So honestly, like, I over the years, like promotional strategies I've been like suggested and put across the desk. And there's always this part of me. And I think maybe the creative side of the audience might resonate with this kind of like, I don't know, you call stubbornness or stupidity or whatever. But I always just thought, if the podcast is good enough, one person is going to tell two people. And so my job is to make a good podcast. And my job isn't to go around to message boards and say, Hey, have you listened to like act like I just some fan or, you know, trying to pump some kind of advertising scheme or whatever I just, I just never cared. And there's a kind of a strategy baked into that, which is product first. And most of the attention on the product. A lot of people disagree with that. And for a very, very good reasons. It just never really occurred to me.
Jay Clouse 17:41
I think actually, you're right. Most listeners of the show would agree with that the tension that I think people find in that space is if you have any dependence on this thing for income and sustainability. That's a really hard strategy to take, because that strategy takes a really long time potentially to get to a level of meaningful revenue.
Dan Andrews 18:01
That's an interesting point. Yeah, I like that point. I also think it's a very good strategy in the sense, I always used to say, like, I used to be in the music business, you know, and I would say, like, there are certain songs like this whole idea that, like, there's this conspiracy against small town artists, and they won't get signed to big labels, I always thought I was such horseshit. Because I was like, my challenge is always just like, find me a song that deserves to be all across MTV right now. That isn't, and nobody could ever step up to the plate on this one. It's like the here's the deal. When the counter, I don't care what decade it is, when the Counting Crows right round here, that song is going to be on the radio, and there aren't round hears sitting around at the bottom of bargain bins, CD record stores, that song is way way better than the crap the local band that you fell in love with because you went to go see their shows at the college campus. It's just a better song. And so there is a strategy there, which is to say, like, you know, I was listening to my Spotify, discover weekly the other day, just a bunch of crap songs are so boring. And then all of a sudden, the shins came on. And this great song, and it was immediately I was hooked. And I think it's a good sort of standard to hold yourself to as a creative, which is, I know a lot. I'm aware of a lot of people who just have just the next podcast. And it's like, my goal is to get as many famous people on it, and to put it out to all my channels, and it'll be a marketing thing. And I think that can work. But I actually think it's a more interesting strategy to say like, What's something you can do on your show? That when the first riff happens, how can you be the shins? How can you be about how can you identify to the audience that like you are special because you've found yourself to the one place in the world where we're going to have this conversation. And that, to me is an interesting strategy to try. Maybe it doesn't have as broad of appeal as, you know, interviewing famous people or whatever.
Jay Clouse 19:59
I like that. I go back and forth on the idea of distribution. Because if you have a shitty song, but good distribution, you get almost the same effect as the round hear song that makes it despite maybe not having distribution in the bag like distribution can change so much if you have it, but sometimes you have to sell your soul to get it to.
Dan Andrews 20:19
Yeah, I mean, you could also say like, well, what's the harder problem to solve, and typically, the harder problem to solve is the more valuable one. And so what I would say is like distribution nowadays, especially for podcasts is basically free. So the harder problem is what's worth distributing. And if you can create that, you know, most podcasters, their heart really isn't in the game. For speaking, we can speak about any artist, they're doing it for a another reason I create this podcast because you know, of this outcome I want. And that's a, that's a strategy that can compromise the product.
Jay Clouse 20:55
I've heard you say before that you just have a love of radio and you want to be in the game? Is that what keeps you doing it 10 years later? Or is or do you see this now as like a core part of your overall business strategy?
Dan Andrews 21:07
All of the above will be the answer. And one, I think critical thing to that you mentioned advertising revenue before we got on like, the fact that it's financially sustainable is a really critical part. Because if it were just me and a mic, and like audacity and like trying to cut out my ums and ahhs, 15 years in or whatever, I would have quit. So the fact that we were able to find some way to make it financially sustainable, don't have a creative team around it. By the way, the whole team is creative. There's no marketing people on the team, like everybody is like a producer, a sound engineer, a presenter, these are the folks that we have at our production meetings, not distribution, folks. So the fact that that that has been financially sustainable, it's been absolutely critical.
Jay Clouse 21:53
After a quick break, Dan and I talked about how tropical MBA built an audience, and why the beginning of a project is so important. So stick around, and we'll be right back. Welcome back to my conversation with Dan Andrews of Tropical MBA, a show that has been around as long as T MBA is really rare. We're talking about more than a decade here and nearly 600 episodes. So I asked Dan, what has allowed the show to stand the test of time?
Dan Andrews 22:19
Well, the first inflection point, I think, is the conception. And this is like the cheapest thing that any creative can do is like have a good conception, which is free. Like you can have a piece of paper and write out multiple things. And in the case of a podcast as an example, the conception is who is this meaningful to how much of a difference is this going to make to whom, for example, like, I'm a very big fan of personal blogs, and I think they're a huge opportunity for creatives. And people like me who are interested in writing, I have all these fantasy careers in my head of all these blogs, I could start and make a good living off of starting tomorrow. It's all about the conception, if what you're going to do is travel to a new city every week, and tell people the best restaurants that you ate out there. That's a conception that is number one, extremely expensive to produce the content. And number two, doesn't mean that much to people, because they may or may not spend 30 bucks on a plate of noodles, because it's something you wrote. So that's the sort of conception that creatives get really into because they say, Well, I get to travel around, I get to eat food. And they don't think about how much do people really care. And you look at people like Tony Bourdain, or whatever you say, Well, people care a lot, right? Well, the problem is is for Tony Bourdain, his business model to work is you need a shit ton of people to care. And that work because he had he wrote this book that was phenomenal. And one thing led to another and 20 years later, all these people care with 10 years or whatever. What I suggest to creatives is that initial conception, your acquisition of fans should be cheap, which means that you have to focus on a very narrow niche. And then what you do for the fans should be very profound. So in other words, they spend a lot of money. That's how you decide how profound The problem is. If people don't spend money on it, they don't actually care about it that much. Look, anything in your life, think about even the things you care about the most if things go wrong with them, you're willing to spend a lot of money to get it right. And so money is a really, and creatives are scared of money. But it's a wonderful. It's like a objective way to measure how much people care. So let's go back to the original example of the travel blogger. Why not? If you're going to go to a new place every week, open up a bank account, and then talk about the experience. Hey, if you ate a plate of noodles on the way to the bank account, why don't you write about that, but now all of a sudden your conception is better. You can still talk about spaghetti. You can still talk about your plane flight. You could still talk about being a digital nomad or whatever it is you want to add your unique flavor and creative flair onto it. But the conception is profitable because It's affordable people know, I need to open a bank account in Ukraine, I need to open up a bank account in Brazil. Now, they're willing to also pay a lot of money to do that, because I wanted to fly there, they may be willing to hire you, you know. And now all of a sudden, you're writing the same exact blog post, you're creating the same creative, but your conception is better.
Jay Clouse 25:22
I love this concept, I'm going to refine a little bit. When you're thinking about conception, how much do you also think about competition in that marketplace with the same conception? Because you can come up with a conception that is profound is accessible, but there's already 20 people doing it? Do you think that should be a hurdle? Or do you say if you have a good conception, and you have an interest in doing it just go after it?
Dan Andrews 25:42
Well, off of all, like, I can think of a bunch of profitable niches off the top of my head. And I don't think the competition does nothing but show that there's an enormous opportunity. I mean, look, what we do at our business at dynamite jobs, we're solving problems in a billion dollar industry, I can think of the 30 people that are also solving that problem, there's room for five more, so find me a niche where there's no more room for you mean, if you're creative, that's where you find your salt, whether you're worth your salt, right, which is, you really can't differentiate yourself from all the other people that are making beaucoup bucks in this niche. And that's the thing, I think creatives, they often want to be creatives, because they are, they're seeking freedom. And so they hate to nail themselves down. And this is why I always focus on this idea of, hey voracious input, be completely free with how much you consume, how much you learn, but focused output, like you got to solve problems with your creative work. And that's how you progress to grow a bigger audience and ultimately have more flexibility in the sorts of things you can do.
Jay Clouse 26:45
Yeah, I love that perspective. I love the perspective of there actually should be competition and what you're doing to validate that there's a market there, unless you are like super cutting edge, and you are certain that your data is right, and your timing is just perfect. A lot of time when there's not competition, you're either not being honest to yourself, or there's no real opportunity there. Yeah. So you were saying one of the inflection points for the show was conception. So tie that together, what was the conception of your show that you think really nailed it?
Dan Andrews 27:13
The conception of our show was folks who are making money, actual real money on the internet, such that they don't have jobs. They can work whenever they want. And they can live wherever they want, okay. It's a show for those people who do it in another way outside of teaching people how to make money online. And that's it. It's like, again, this is a timing thing. In 2007, if you made money online, outside of and you just sold cat furniture, or valet podiums, or you sold services, you were completely isolated. There was no no other place to like gather, you know, except for the Tony Robbins lounge. And so that's what we created was this alternative. more salty, a little bit drier, a little bit realer. Like, this isn't all about like mindset and Kumbaya. Enjoying the pyramid. This is, you know, we run online businesses and we commiserate with each other because most of the people in our lives don't really understand what we do.
Jay Clouse 28:17
Okay, so you may be wondering where the name Tropical MBA comes from. in the intro, you heard that the podcast was originally called the lifestyle business podcast. Well, as Dan's business evolved, they began to see value in the experience of building a legit location independent lifestyle business. And Dan thought that legitness, maybe something he could use to appeal to interns.
Dan Andrews 28:38
Yeah, it came from the internship idea, which was basically, I was crafting a post, I was interviewing developers in Manila, I was living on a tropical island called Negros at the time, I just come over from Thailand. And I was like, at a certain point is developers like telling me wants to make 1000 bucks a month. And the thought just occurred in back my mind, like two years ago, I would have taken 1000 bucks a month to like to get a load of all this, like, you know, to be like, I don't have a real job. I'm working for this, like crazy new style of company that I don't really see anywhere else. And like only a few people seem to have. I mean, at the time, like, we were the only blog or podcast sharing a journey of location independence via e commerce on the web. So there's a timing element and creative element of yeah, we just don't see anybody else talking about this anywhere. So we're talking about it turns out, there's a lot of other people doing it didn't have enough time to talk about it. And that was essentially the idea of the tropical MBA, which is like, and that was a way that I was trying to earn an audience as well online saying, like, look at all these other jokers, they're like trying to charge you 1500 dollars, I will pay you 1500 dollars. And it was also a bit of a audience flex, which is like, I'm trying to demonstrate to everybody here that I'm legitimate, like I'm putting my own money on the line, to inspire the audience to follow our journey and to inspire one person to join our team. And I thought that it was a lot different than what other voices On the internet, we're doing it at the time,
Jay Clouse 30:01
For sure. And this is one of the reasons I'm excited to talk with you. Because so many of the things that you guys have been doing talking about on the show for a decade are really in right now. Like we're forced into a point where a lot of people are working remotely. Ecommerce is having a huge moment right now. And people are really exploring, like, well, what can we do now with Shopify, and Dropshipping? And even outside of that people are talking a lot about community right now. These are all things that you guys have been doing for years and years and years? How weird did it feel back then? do you guys feel like people were looking down on it, they just didn't understand it, like how off the beaten path did it feel then.
Dan Andrews 30:36
I was just hoping you were gonna say, Dan, you are a true visionary. And then I was just gonna drop the mike and I would be done. A lot of people looked down on it, for sure. Especially like some of our business mentors, they thought that we were being jokers, because we weren't doing things in a serious way, or a straightforward way or in a way. And some of those critiques did land with me, because, you know, maybe they were right about certain things. Maybe we did have too much fun, or, you know, we did go down some, I don't know. I mean, it's, in order to like encounter ideas like this, sometimes you just can't sit away and grind away at spreadsheets all the time, have to explore ideas. And we had this platform in this audience where we could and so it was exciting to see if an intern thing works out. And then, you know, you get, we would classically get mentors, or consultants come in and say, Oh, these guys, you know, they were serious about their business, they would never hire an intern, they don't understand, you know, and it's like, well, on the one hand, okay, like, you're right, I guess we weren't, we didn't know that. Like, we'd, we don't know how to be serious business people. We're just the people that we ended up being and so you do get exposed to those critiques as well. And all for the positive, I think, you know, it's funny that you mentioned, you know, being ahead of all this stuff. For us, it was really always about necessity. These weren't, like decadent experiments, like, Hey, I'm gonna put an internship for fun. And so I can buy a blog audience was like, No, because we really needed people to do our AdWords campaigns. And we could not afford them. There was a reason I was in the Philippines, it wasn't because it was a tropical island, it was because you could hire developers for $1,000 a month, like, we were, like, bootstrappers, to the core, we could not compete in California, with other California product businesses, we had to do things in weird and wacky ways to convince people to work for us for less to, you know, build a coalition around what we were doing to get things done like an e commerce store cheaper. Remember, there was no Shopify back then. So how do you get an e commerce store? Well, you're rich, wealthy person, or you have a company for 10 years, and you drop $200,000 on it, or you fly to Manila, and you try to figure it out. And so that's what I was doing. And so it wasn't really visionary or novel, it was, like a necessity to do these things. You know, I think that that's sort of the theme of our careers just sort of poking around and running little experiments. And I think that's what bootstrappers and creatives do you run experiments and certain stuff seems to work.
Jay Clouse 31:23
When we come back, Dan, and I talk about how he built and fostered a community around the show, right after this. Welcome back to the show. I've met and interacted with a lot of people within the DC, which is short for Dynamite Circle. The DC is the private community built around the Tropical MBA podcast. And Dan told me the community formed quickly and organically due to the authentic voice of the show.
Dan Andrews 33:16
Almost immediately, an informal community started to come about because again, like this is back to product conception, we were genuinely trying to determine what good ideas were about what we were doing. And because there was that authenticity about it, our listeners immediately started participating in the process of giving feedback of wanting to debate it or share what they had learned. Because I wasn't coming on the show, saying, here are the three laws of attraction and how it you know, I wasn't presenting myself as someone who really knew I was just a cat furniture guy. But I cared because I wanted to sell a lot of cat furniture. And so I think the listeners understood that it was a iterative process of, if we share our ideas, we're going to grow faster, we're going to get to the goal that we want, which is financial freedom, lifestyle freedom, all that. And so the community almost immediately started popping from an intellectual perspective, became super clear, very fast that we all wanted to meet each other. In fact, we started doing mastermind phone calls very early on, and that was what initially connected us all which is like, hey, every Sunday night, we'll just get on the phone with each other. And then it became obvious what we should meet each other because we're location independent. So why don't we just meet each other, and that one thing led to another and it became obvious that there was room for a community that tied together the cat furniture sellers of the world, essentially, because connecting with each other was worth a lot to us so that we would be willing to pay a lot know who each other were.
Dan Andrews 33:43
Can you keep talking down that path and talk about how that evolved?
Dan Andrews 35:16
I mean, so we use the podcast to grow our community in a bunch of different ways. It wasn't always like direct, like, Oh, we want our listeners to be our customers. It was like, we want our listeners to join our team. So that became a very popular thing where I would bring on interns into our company, who were, you know, so rather than, like, you know, I guess the competing podcast would sell them, you know, a how to make online riches and 60 days course, what I would say is like, Okay, well, I'll pay you 1500 bucks a month, come to Bali, and like live in my house. And if you run my like, my AdWords campaigns for me, like I'll pay you to live and, you know, six months down the line, let's see how it goes. And so we started to build community that way, we would talk about our ideas openly on the show. And when I had a bunch of interns living in my house, we had to go on a visa run together. So we put it out on the show, like, hey, anybody who's listening to this, right now, we're going to this like really remote island. We're all going to hang out at this resort. I got it reserved, like just show up. And sure enough, people showed up 20 of us. And that was the beginning of what would become a private community that would perpetrate events like this ongoing for the next decade, essentially.
Jay Clouse 36:21
Are there any other inflection points that stand out to you up until today from starting the show that have changed the way the business operates? Or how you think about it?
Dan Andrews 36:30
Yeah, I mean, one, Guru ism that was shared with me was basically, I objected to when I first heard it. And the idea was, what is the least you can do for your customers? I thought, well, what a horrible, horrible idea. And it took me a while to learn from experience that this is actually a very useful idea to consider, which is, it's essentially about elegant value delivery. And also not trying to be too smart that there are things leavers that you can find that are like small leavers that move big things for your customers. So one example was back in 2012, I decided that what I could do is help people start businesses, because that was certainly the biggest need in our audiences that people wanted to one day ascend to join these groups of location financial freedom people, so I thought, okay, teach this stuff. It's easy, it's just business. So I charged him $2,000. And 44, customers paid me like that it was like the craziest product launch we ever had, we definitely tapped into a need. The problem is, is well, for 2000 bucks, that's not really enough to start a business. I can't, I can't get you from zero to hero in 10 days. And, you know, I thought at the time, maybe I would, you know, I could. So this was a very trying product. And, you know, customers had varying levels of satisfaction. Sometimes they blame themselves, sometimes they blame me, you know, the whole conception was that there was just so, so much to this, you were getting so much for your $2,000 you were getting food, you were getting this, you're getting that you're you know, you're getting design help, and we're gonna take your headshots, and it was just 100 different things you got for your two grand, fast forward a couple months later, get this idea. You know, what's really cool, hanging out in an awesome hotel in Bangkok with other smart people. So one thing led to another, I put up a sales page, I'm like, you know, for 300 bucks, you can come hang out in this hotel in Bangkok. And like, at the end of those two days, my customers were coming up to me saying, You changed my life. I'm thinking myself, but you didn't even get a headshot. I didn't give you the headshot. You don't like I didn't give you the copy breakdown. I didn't help you start a business. But I changed their friggin lives. And I think in some ways they meant it. Right. It was an emotional weekend to feel like you weren't alone, to feel like now you had a family that was professional that you can learn from and continue on your journey with. And I just realized that being successful doesn't always have to be hard. You know, with a product or with a business that you can ask yourself, Is there a more elegant way that I can deliver value? And that was a big deal for us when we decided that these events provided they had rules and expectations and the right people were so so much more valuable to people than instruction, for example. And that was an important inflection point.
Jay Clouse 39:28
How did this become more of a formal structured part of the T MBA universe?
Dan Andrews 39:35
A lot of it depended on the forum software actually, you know, again tinkering around and there was a precedent case again called sovereign man. And at this first meetup, he used to have a private forum where he would charge like $1,000 a year I forget what he charged. It was a lot I think 1500 and I eventually shut it down because it was too much of a pain in the ass. I think a lot of people online they have a quite of a rosy idea. Like what it means to run a community, like I recently saw Paul Graham say that of all his time at Y Combinator, which is, you know, as far as I know, the very first accelerator, a very first successful one, and has a piece of some of the household names we all know today, he said, the most stressful part of running that was the comments at Hacker News running, essentially being a community manager. And so it's all to say that, in some ways, running a community isn't quite running a business. It's running a community, like a church or a club. And it's managing all kinds of opinions and stakeholders, because your customers aren't just buying things that they consume, they are actually stakeholders and participants in the community in the product. And they're tough to grow too, because the members are also stakeholders, and their position in the community changes if things change. So that's all to say that, that's why sovereign man shut down this community, and also this community called stack that cat, there's a lot of communities that have shut down over the years, because the founders found it to them to be a pain in the ass. And if I'm being completely honest, I have found certain elements of running a community over the years to be enormous pains in the asses, and maybe I could go make more money, certainly doing other things. But it's pretty badass. And when we saw this particular piece of software that allowed people in a virtual way to commune like in a Facebook group, sort of way we talked about nowadays. And we installed that software, that was really all the structure we needed, I knew that the combination of that piece of software plus the fact that people actually knew each other or knew of each other, was enough. And I think that's always what separated the DC from other communities. And that can make it difficult to when you serve first join, or whatever is that like everybody more or less knows each other. And it's because we've all met at in person events. And that's really what the core of the community has always been about.
Jay Clouse 42:00
I see so many people talking about communities now, because the tooling has gotten a lot better. And people with audiences are looking at this saying, Well, if I have this easy tool, I can just throw my audience at it. And some of them are going to stick and have a community. And I think we I think we're in like a phase before there's a huge blowback on the idea of community because I think a lot of people are going about it in this very lazy, poor way. Which is totally different from your experience, because you guys actually built the community in person, and then said, Now let's try to find a way to connect each other when we can't be in person, which I think is like a big differentiator that a lot of people are going to miss out on when they try to just build these communities now.
Dan Andrews 42:38
Yeah. And I think part of being creative is like being in the mix every day and understanding your intuition. I mean, I have speaking of I told you so moments, I've had a lot of interesting, cool conversations where folks who sort of like read the Neil Patel riot act to me, so to speak, which is to say that they're really big into sales, or marketing or community strategy, and they read all the leading thinkers, and we were not doing the things that like the top 10 blog posts said to do, and therefore we should really consider doing them. And if we did, we'd have a much better community and business and stuff. And this is a form of naive interventionism, or, like, most of the time, I would realize that like, especially being so deep into having run a community for so long, myself, and having been part of a lot of them, is that there's something that a 10 point bullet list of best practices, there's a lot of things that isn't captured in that, you know, and I think as we get more mature, as founders and as operators and not just, you know, maybe a consultant, for example, would come in and, but just a very general strategy that you should employ, and you should pay them to employ the strategy and all that. It's also say that these things are quite complicated. And often it's about trusting your intuition and experience about what those particular people might value. And in the case of any business, you only need a couple hundred people or 1000 people to value it for it to be sustainable. But yeah, the boilerplate stuff, it's it's pretty unsubtle.
Jay Clouse 44:08
I don't think people even understand when you are trying to, quote, unquote, monetize a community or build a community as a paid product, the product that you're selling is often out of your control. It's the other people in the community. And like, you can't dictate the actions of them. You can't make them stick around. You can't make them give time. And people just kind of expect that I throw up a digital space, and we're ready to go.
Dan Andrews 44:32
Yeah. And there you go very back to the conception, which is well, who are those people? And what are their attitudes and what are they willing to provide? And a lot of people do it in the case of like, they set themselves up as the guru of the community. And it's like, well, how's that working out for you? Because then you have to figure out how much they value guru ism and how good of a guru and consistent one you're going to be.
Jay Clouse 44:53
And now your job is moderating everything all the time.
Dan Andrews 44:56
Exactly. And that's not a bad necessarily way to do things. But it is gets tied back to your initial conception, it's worth considering. The DC was always conceived as a community of peer to peer learning, we avoid opinions and guru ism. And it's always been about being in the trenches together. And so for example, at our conferences, continue that tradition is I rarely speak at them, you know, I don't, I don't even go up on stage at a conference, except to like, say hello and introduce things. But uh, we're not there to hear like what I think about, you know how to run a business, we're here to share, give an opportunity for our peers to share their experiences.
Jay Clouse 45:34
I imagine at some point, you at least entertain the idea of just dedicating all of your time to building like a media and community business. sitting here today, you know, you guys are working on a software company right now. What made you not want to go in the direction of just going all out media and community?
Dan Andrews 45:53
Well, I'm not 100% Sure. So there's, I think there's a bunch of different elements to that. The first is wanting to stick to our roots in terms of being practitioners. This is sort of, um, you know, an event horizon, like we are part of this small group of internet publishers that were practitioning preachers. And the way you got your calling card was the legitimacy of what you did when you weren't publishing. And I've seen it happen a lot of times where, you know, entrepreneurs, they sell their company, and they, they kind of putter out with the next one. And they just become sort of like freelance thinkers and idea barters and stuff like that. And it's a hard thing to keep up unless you're a really great thinker, you have a really great conception. And so I think there's a big, big part of Ian and myself, especially Ian, that wanted to keep the practitioner side of the preach alive, and to have that sort of legitimacy. And so yeah, we that's really held us back on the publishing side, because our identity for our identities that matters that we're in the game, like you mentioned, that said, I think if you came to me with a challenge, I think we could fulfill on that challenge. I think a lot of it too, is like, you know, Ian's a product guy. And I'm kind of a publishing guy. And so there's also a, a another existential question that goes back to the charter of our relationship, which is, why are we partners, you know, what do we each bring to the table, and Ian brings product to the table. And in a publishing business, your product is his words. And so I think that's another part of the answer to that.
Jay Clouse 47:36
I want to jump in here and share another short clip from Episode 516 of TMBA, which covered Dan and Ian's backstory, because even though you're only hearing Dan's voice on the show, and Dan started, the tropical MBA podcast, listeners of that show, are also very familiar with Ian. So here's how that came about.
Dan Andrews 47:54
How Ian got on the show was sort of interesting. I don't know if you really wanted to do a podcast at the time. I just think he wanted to be involved. He just saw that it was something cool. Like, that's the way I read it, you know, he would always like be around and be like, Hey, man, you know. And so by the third or fourth episode, I think in that time, in my mind, I was thinking, you know, Ian's the product guy. I think I was ambivalent about whether or not the show needed Ian's perspective, you know, my perspective should do. But I do remember sitting down for the third episode. Now, because I had done, you know, five deleted podcasts and two real ones. I was like the expert like coaching Ian along on how to do this podcasting thing. And it became really clear, like, within the first 10 episodes, I was like, I can't even believe I thought I was gonna do this alone. From then on, it was like, you know, Ian was the co host.
Jay Clouse 48:49
I think a lot of people listen to the show, probably have very limited experience with a business partner. And now you brought up Ian, I'd love to hear a little bit more about what you've learned having a business partner for a decade now through different types of businesses and still having the same partnership. What's been beneficial about that? How should people think about it, if they're interested in exploring a partnership in their own business?
Dan Andrews 49:12
Well, you're good at this, by the way, i like this, this is the opportunity with business partnerships is that they're potentially explosive, you know, and either direction, bad or good. And in the early days of ventures, you're kind of groping for like multiplicative potential. You know, because it's so so complicated to get to any kind of cruising altitude, where you're making money without working and you're paying other people and you're making serious cash to get there is like such a scrap that you just need things to go well, and somehow this idea of two people contributing to each other, pushing, being honest. Being in the foxhole. We're rooming every single day can have a multiplicative effect on the other side, it can have a disastrous tarnishing effect, if the relationship is not ministered to as the most central thing in the business, just like a marriage, right, it's like you can consider it like that, unless it's like some kind of strategic partnership or JV. Most business partnerships that I see they operate more like a marriage. And so it's worth treating it like that.
Jay Clouse 50:27
It's interesting, because I think a lot of people who are in this early stage scrapping at maybe it's a side project that is publishing, and they're trying to make some money from that on the side, they're thinking to themselves, I just wish I could clone myself. And actually, what you and Ian seem to have, and what I've experienced as good partnerships are not a clone relationship, but very much like different skill sets that come together to help move things forward. Because in the relationships, I see where it's two very similar people, it can kind of get muddy with, well, who who's responsible? For what, because we could both be doing all these things.
Dan Andrews 50:59
Yeah, there's that. And then there's the issue of if your business partnership is based solely on, you know, your skill sets and your labor input. I don't think that that's super smart, either, because that's going to change. And the ideal situation is that your labor isn't part of the equation. And so you really have to ask, like, what are the emotional skill sets or the interpersonal situation or the intuitive, just like in a marriage, like, Hey, you know, you're going to take care of the kids, while they're toddlers. And then when they're teenagers, like, you're gonna go back to your career. Like, I think like, if you can imagine, changing that situation, your business partnership, it might not be, because it's like those people skills and those relationship skills that are the first thing you know, and then that kind of passion for wealth and for running organizations. And for being a responsible leader. Like that is what you're looking for, in partner the same, you know, any kind of partner. And so I would look less for, like, the absolute skills or whatever, because you and I have both changed our skill sets and our responsibilities, like a lot of times in the business. So it's a very, I mean, it's, I feel like, even ridiculous talking about it right now. Because it's just like, such a high level thing. But so it's, it's maybe like, if you have a partner in anything in life, whether it's like a team sport, or a marriage, or whatever it is, it has a lot of potential, you know, to, to help you accelerate way better than you could ever do on your own. But it's also complicated.
Jay Clouse 52:33
Alright, last question.
Dan Andrews 52:34
Did I mentioned I hate Ian? I just wanna...I think that came out there, right? I just wanted to make sure...that guy's a total asshole, you know, always arguing with him.
Jay Clouse 52:43
Putting putting you back in the visionary seat. Where where do you see opportunity on the horizon, as it relates to publishing or media or community.
Dan Andrews 52:52
You know if I'm gonna like call a shot, like kind of, you know, we call this whole, like, you know, hire expats thing. You know, like, that was something that, you know, now you look at the Empire Flippers, which is, you know, I was in the room when that business was conceived of, and we generated that brand name, as I was part of that mastermind, I'm very proud to have been around those guys, they created something so wonderful. I think the last time I checked in with them, they basically 90% of their team is like Americans who live abroad. like they've built a multi multi million dollar force. This was a joke, when I put it up as Tropical MBA, like, not to myself, but to other people, they really thought it was a joke. And my I told you so moment is like, yeah, just type an EmpireFlippers.com and then laugh your way, you know, this is this is actually how businesses are getting done. So if I'm going to and like you said, we've done a lot of stuff over the years where we've sort of done things five years in advance. Right now, what I think, is the rise of productized services, and location independence. And you put all this stuff together. And I think that it's going to become increasingly feasible to for the node of productivity and revenue to not center around people in your business, but around services and products. So essentially, you're going to be able to like duct tape a bunch of services, provided, it doesn't matter who they're provided by, it could be a SAS, or it could be a freelancer, but you're actually thinking about the service as the primary node, not the person. And you're going to have to strap together a business that way.
Jay Clouse 54:24
Kind of like a like a done for you outcome. Like you come to me and you say, I want to basically just be able to record a podcast and I want everything else done. And I want my audience to grow. And somebody basically says that I can drag through, you're not a comedy.
Dan Andrews 54:36
Now you're saying like software engineer plus producer, plus Reddit marketer, who knows a little bit of Facebook ads. But instead, I think it's going to become increasingly possible for you to say, four times a month podcast production, like that's a $4,000 unit, plus ad sales. That's a $500 a month unit. Plus, like social promotion. That's a $1500 dollar a month unit. And really, it's like an Amazon product. Like, I'm not evaluating the personalities, I'm just evaluating, like, the reviews and the precedent cases of those units. And so in some ways, I think, yeah, people are getting a little outdated people were like so 2015. And, you know, of course, people remain to be extremely powerful nodes of, you know, productivity and revenue. However, I, you know, seeing how individuals like me and you are basically creating like these productive services on the web that are so modular and so specific, and they're so affordable to create, that they're just they didn't exist 10 years ago, and now they're everywhere. And I think sort of duct taping those together to run a business is the future.
Jay Clouse 55:44
And the key will be conception,
Dan Andrews 55:46
The key will be a conception.
Jay Clouse 55:53
This episode was a ton of fun to record and edit together. I mean, who doesn't like to hear one of their inspirations, tell them that they're good at this. But in all seriousness, Tropical MBA has been a huge inspiration to me both in format, and in the way that Dan has built community. I hope that this very show can host the same type of raw, authentic conversations with fledgling creators that T MBA does with early entrepreneurs. I really encourage you to consider dance prediction at the end of this episode. As a creator, you have the opportunity to jump in early and build some of those done for you offerings that he's talking about. They're a great opportunity to start earning income and they don't require much money up front. If you want to learn more about T MBA, visit tropicalmba.com. The link is in the show notes. And you can bet that I'll be listening to their new episode this Thursday. Thanks to Dan for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork for this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you like this episode, you can tweet at me @JayClouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.