In this episode, Barbara and Colin discuss:
-What is Colin’s advice that contributes to startup success
-Why is Market Research vital to businesses
-How to utilize marketing strategies and visibility tactics
“If you do have a good product, and you believe in it, you do need to put some marketing into it, you need to make that investment to get that product out there.” – Colin C. Campbell.
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Dr. Barbara Hales: Welcome to another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors.
I’m your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. Today, we have with us Colin C. Campbell, a serial entrepreneur for over 30 years and the author of “Start, Scale, Exit, Repeat: Serial Entrepreneurs Secrets Revealed.” He has founded and scaled various internet companies that collectively have reached a valuation of almost $1 billion. Certainly, this is someone to listen to. Having successfully navigated the exits of companies like Tacos, Interactive Internet, Direct Canada, Gigs for Less, and many more, he has not only cemented his name as a startup expert but also collected an array of accolades, including spots on Inc. 500 and Inc. 5000 rosters for several years in a row. A sought-after speaker in the world of entrepreneurship, Campbell has spoken at several high-profile universities and events. He also leads Startup Club, with almost 1 million members, continuing to share his experiences as he interviews experts, authors, and serial entrepreneurs. Welcome to the show, Colin.
Colin Campbell: Well, thank you for having me on.
Dr. Barbara Hales: What would you say are the main points for entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Colin Campbell: The main points are really about trying to solve a problem. If you’re in a particular industry or in life, you see different things that are problems and need to be solved. That’s an opportunity to start a business. Ideas are everywhere, especially now in an AI-driven world, which is shaping many new startups. So if you can solve that problem, you can launch a startup.
Dr. Barbara Hales: For someone interested in starting a business but unsure about the best fit for their target market, do you help brainstorm and advise them on the best approach?
Colin Campbell: Yes, it’s all about identifying the problem, solving it, and understanding the purpose. You also need to have a genuine passion for the industry because the startup journey is a roller coaster with many ups and downs. Loving what you do is crucial to getting through the tough times. For example, one of my companies is paw.com, focuses on designing dog products for all animals. I had three aging King Charles Spaniels, and our passion for animals, especially dogs, led to the success of the business.
There are other important factors when launching a business. We have a chapter in the book titled “The Four Sticky Note Business Plan.” I teach this to cohorts at universities for startups, and anyone can join these cohorts. They’re free and incredibly helpful. The “Four Sticky Note Business Plan” is designed to simplify the strategic planning process. In just 30 minutes, you can create a strategic plan for your business using sticky notes for a clear and concise approach.
The first sticky note is about the story: What’s the purpose and what makes you unique? The second note is about setting a specific and measurable stage gate in the near future, like 90 or 120 days, where you deliver results, possibly a minimum viable product or your first 10 customers. The third note is for identifying the funding required to reach that stage gate, and the fourth note is about the necessary resources and key performance indicators (KPIs) to track.
This exercise can significantly increase your chances of success. Joining an incubator or finding a mentor is another valuable step. For instance, we interviewed the leader of Score, an organization run by the SBA with over 10,000 volunteers, which can triple the chances of startup success according to studies. Many of your listeners have mastered their specific trades, but entrepreneurship is a skill that can be learned and mastered like any other. It’s critical for the success of any startup.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Do you recommend that there be some type of no research or polls or surveys to your target market so that you could hone in on what they are looking for?
Colin Campbell: Yeah, once you have your idea, let’s try to take your idea. The first thing I do, actually, is try to find a group of people I can vet the idea with. It should be a group of trusted people. They shouldn’t be the naysayers. You know, you don’t take it to your mom. It shouldn’t be the naysayers. You know, you don’t take it to the ones who are always saying, “that’ll never work, that’ll never work.” But what you do want to do is find a group of trusted people that you can first vet it with, and keep vetting and making it better and better and better. I’m a big believer in market research and data and understanding. If you can add those elements into your planning process before you pull the trigger, that’s ideal. Also, that will help you with investors because if you have data that can back up a particular concept or idea, that can help you with your investors as well.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Well, that’s really a good idea. Now you have had the opportunity to interview a lot of experts. What are some of the tips that they’ve given you?
Colin Campbell: Well, I think this one would be interesting for your listeners. I had the opportunity to interview an 88-year-old founder of a company called Reebok. It was fascinating, absolutely fascinating. I’ve interviewed him about three or four times for the book. He’s in a chapter in the book and a couple of other spots throughout the book. His story was that in 1979, his company hit $9 million in sales. He decided to go to the United States, thinking it was a big market. In the United States, he applied for some awards to get a five-star rating for shoes. Well, guess what? He came back; they wanted three categories on his shoes and five-star ratings. Isn’t it interesting how important reviews were in 1979? I know a number of your listeners also find reviews absolutely critical for their livelihood.
Dr. Barbara Hales: What’s really amazing is that he was able to get them when nobody was on the internet.
Colin Campbell: Well, this was reviews from a magazine, not on the internet, not on the computer. It was Runners Daily, a magazine that printed once a year, like a consumer’s report for running shoes. By getting those reviews, he secured a distributor in the United States. The next turning point was when someone wore the shoes on television, and that someone happened to be Jane Fonda. She wore their shoes on national television. Now, it’s old again as new again.
He never knew that she was going to wear the shoes, and he never paid her to wear them. She just wore the shoes, and the company went from $9 million to $900 million. The way he caught that break by positioning himself to seize it is very interesting. One thing he did well was going into “the white space,” as he calls it – a space where no one was playing at the time. When we’ve gone into product development, like the company I mentioned earlier, par.com, where we’ve copied others, I’ll tell you right now, we have a 100-year supply of shampoo at the company. It’s the same old, same old – just dog shampoo. While it’s a nice shampoo, it’s nothing different. However, when we went into a white space, a space that no one was in, like aerobics was for Reebok, Joe Foster went into that space, and yes, he caught a break. Jane Fonda wore those shoes, and she was the influencer.
Is influencer marketing important today? Absolutely. All our customers can be influencers, they can be super fans. I love that story about Joe Foster, and we have many more throughout the book. It really is a trade, entrepreneurship, starting a business. You can do it on your own by instinct, or you can try to learn from others and apply theories. The book has a lot of stories, including my successes and failures, drawing conclusions. If you can apply these theories, you can increase your chances of success. Serial entrepreneurs have about a 38% chance of success, whereas first-time entrepreneurs have about half that. 38% may not sound perfect, but in life, even if you have one company, you’ll have multiple products – some will fail, and some will succeed. So you need to mitigate those failures and focus on scaling the winners.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Your story really highlights the importance of having a plan to gain visibility, and that’s everything. It reminds me of a story that Jack Canfield shared when he first tried to get his Chicken Soup for the Soul book out, and nobody was buying it. He was in debt from publishing, and over 40 publishers had rejected it. So he and his partner were trying to figure out how to increase visibility. Just at that time, the trial for OJ Simpson was ongoing, and the jury was sequestered, unable to read or bring anything to court, watch TV, or listen to the radio. They wondered how the jury would spend their time outside the court. What they did was they sent a book to each jury member and the judge. The following day, when people came to court, each one had that book under their arm. Of course, the public wanted to know what they were carrying and reading. The rest, as they say, is history.
Colin Campbell: I’ve never heard that story. That’s absolutely fascinating. In our book, we talk about something called newsjacking. They essentially jury-jacked the news, and it’s fascinating. We do that all the time; we try to identify opportunities. Two weeks ago, I was asked to comment on an entrepreneur who had launched a festival. It turned out to be a disaster – the fire festival, if you’ve heard of it. I was asked to comment on it, and this happened because my PR agent sent a notice that I could provide insights from our book, “Start, Scale, Exit, Repeat,” which has a formula that could help this individual improve their chances of success if they attempt to launch it again. It’s interesting how newsjacking can be done on both a local and national basis. That story, I think, really broke some records.
Dr. Barbara Hales: This just goes to show, everybody, listen, if you’re trying to get something out and increase your visibility, why not think of how you can do that? How you could, like Jack Canfield or like the stories you mentioned, be seen. Because a lot has to do with that. Now, what are the success rates of people who had a product or a book that came out maybe five or six years ago, it didn’t really do particularly well, or it did well and then declined, and they would like to bring it out again? Can they launch it in its original fashion, or do they need a second edition, or do they need to modify it in some way before they can go ahead and relaunch it?
Colin Campbell: I’m not an expert on book launches. This is actually my first book, and this one took 10 years to write, so I’m not certain I am the most productive when it comes to this kind of stuff. But thankfully, yeah.
Dr. Barbara Hales: The next one goes much faster.
Colin Campbell: Oh, does it. Okay. Very, very good. But thankfully, it was a best seller when it debuted. So we’re happy happy about that. Now, I would say don’t, obviously, they have to change what they’re doing. And there is a system, a methodology that you can use for launching your product, your idea, your book, whatever that is. And we talk about that meticulously throughout the book. I actually give some examples. I say, you know, there’s sort of four scenarios. You either have – and I use these movie examples – you know, Bad Girl, for instance, they spent $90 million making this movie and they killed it. So you can have a product that just doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean, just at a certain point, you might have to kill it. Right? And then you had a – I don’t know if you remember this movie Waterworld. I mean, it was a blockbuster in the wrong direction. They spent millions advertising it, and it was a dud. The Rotten Tomatoes num score on that is very low. And then you have something like Hugo, which I absolutely loved. My kids loved it, with a Rotten Tomatoes of 93%. But it was marketed horribly, it was marketed very poorly. It was done by Martin Scorsese. And he sort of used his – they used sort of his brand, which wasn’t associated with that kind of movie. And then you got the nexus of a high Rotten Tomato score with great marketing. And I think last year, we saw that with Top Gun.
So if you really do have a good product, you really believe in it, you do need to put some marketing into it. You need to make that investment to get that product out there. And you can learn pretty quickly through different tests and, you know, in advertising, whether it’s Facebook or Amazon, whatever it is, you can learn pretty quickly whether or not you have a product that can sell. If your ROA is your return on ad spend is X amount, that’s going to drive growth going forward that you have something on your hands. And I do encourage entrepreneurs that have these 93% Rotten Tomato scores to go out and raise money. Because that’s when you can scale your company. We had a company here called Dot Club in 2012. Dot Club was an alternative to .com, .net, and .org. And we knew it was going to be big. We have done studies on it. As you had said earlier, we had hired a company to do a study.
Well, I was at a Fortune 500 company, and they never decided to launch it. So I said, well, I’ll launch it myself, we raised $12 million, we launched the company, and we sold almost a million domain names, eventually selling it to GoDaddy Registry. But we did believe in it, we knew it was a good product, we went to market with it, and we were able to back that up. And when you believe you have a great product, don’t let it just sit on the shelf, right? People do. Right, and but right up that four sticky note business plan, we’ve put together just basic thoughts and plans around this launch. And if you think it’s the right product, get to a certain stage, and get started proving your concept. This is the key that all startups need to do. They need to prove a concept. Once the concept’s proven, it’s easy to raise money, you know, it’s a lot easier to raise money at a much higher valuation, and much more money than it is in the early stages. There are very few investors who really like investing in startup ideas because of the failure rate, it’s like going to the casino. Do you put your number, you know, on the roulette table? Do you put it on one number? Or do you break it up into like thirds or red or black or, you know, if I double my money, I’m happy with that. But if I lose all my money, I’m not so happy with that. So because of that high-risk profile, if we want to attract investors, we really want to focus on proving our concept and not just being the first product or the first 100 customers. It may mean if you think about the way Facebook has grown, it started with Harvard, one college, and then it went to two and then 10 and then 100 and then broke out of colleges, and as you know, it’s become what it is today. But you really have to focus on winning and proving in one market and then replicate that in so many other markets.
Dr. Barbara Hales: When would you say that the ads that you put out were most successful?
Colin Campbell: So that really is dependent on the products. We have many different companies here. We have a real estate business, technology businesses, and an AI platform coming out this week. So it really depends. I think to find your target market, who, on that first sticky note, I also talked about adding a persona or a who, who is the individual that is going to consume this product. We want to understand that person. And if we understand that person, we can target them. So for instance, in B2B, we had a company in the 2000s, which was a hosting and email platform company sold to telecoms. So you get your email and your website from AT&T, Vodafone, and British Telecom, all those companies use the company that we founded. In that case, our customer was a mid-level executive. Their number one concern at a telecom was getting fired. So once we understand who our customer is, not the telecom, but the mid-level executive who makes the decision, we can figure out how to reach them.
One trick I use, and I think all your listeners can use, is to become the expert in your industry. With AI, it can be a lot easier to do a blog now, for a doctor’s office, or a school. My wife and I own a school. Two weeks ago, I said to her, “You haven’t updated your blog since 2021.” And she goes, “It takes a lot of time.” I said, “Alright, you ate articles in the next 10 minutes.” All I did was go to Chat GPT, and type in, “What are the training qualifications for an AMI teacher?” It gave me eight, I would say, or gave me 10, gave me 12 training qualifications, and it spits them out instantly. Within 10 minutes, I had eight articles. I sent her all of the articles. Now she looked at these articles, and they were very good. Of course, we’re going to review and check them, especially with your particular listeners, but sometimes it’s easier to edit than create. I was shocked at how these articles sounded. They were amazing. They were spot on.
Using AI for your startup or your practice, adopting and embracing AI, you can either hide from it or embrace it. Those who embrace it will benefit. It’s a huge opportunity for anyone in the 2020s. This is a historical opportunity, a paradigm shift. The opportunities in paradigm shifts are huge for those who know how to navigate the tornado, as Jeffrey Moore calls it. He wrote “Crossing the Chasm.” If you know how to navigate the tornado, you can do very well. So I highly recommend everyone become an expert in their space and publish a blog. It can take you five minutes or work to do now. It’s unbelievable. If you put a little more effort in, it can help.
Dr. Barbara Hales: This is true. Now let’s turn our attention to your book. Is your book in ebook form as well?
Colin Campbell: Yes, it’s in every format, including audible which has not come out yet. We submitted it three weeks ago. We had a young gentleman read the book who did an amazing job. It’s published by Forbes and it’s available on every platform from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, up in Canada, Indigo, or whatever store you normally buy books. You can buy “Start, Scale, Exit, Repeat.” It has the Kindle version and a hard copy. I know most of your viewers are listening, but we invested a lot in the hard copy book. It might be one of the few hard-copy books you would pick up and hold. It has 53 chapters, 200 call-outs, 30 original illustrations. It was a massive project, and we tried to make it a fun read. Now, I should warn you, that Forbes initially printed 1500 copies. They told us yesterday there are only about two or three days of inventory left. But they’re restocking 2000 more copies by the end of the month, October 31. So if you don’t get it right away and you want a hard copy, it might take a few extra days. The audible version will be out next week.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Are you going to do a book tour?
Colin Campbell: A traditional book tour, I don’t know about that. I booked a number of speeches at universities and conferences. I’ll do that for a few months. I have about 30 podcasts this month, so I’m working on that too. So I’d call that a tour. But we are doing a book signing in Fort Lauderdale, where I’m from, and in Toronto, my hometown.
Dr. Barbara Hales: That’s great. For our listeners interested in getting the book, where did you say?
Colin Campbell: Anywhere, just go to Amazon, anywhere you buy books. “Start, Scale, Exit, Repeat.” You can type it in and get it.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Great. Thank you for all the tips. I’m sure our listeners are thinking, “Gosh, I haven’t done this before, but I should try it out.” I’ll get the book and see what tips it offers, besides the ones you gave today.
Colin Campbell: Oh, yeah. It’s not just my information. We interviewed about 200 people, but only about 50 made the cut for the book. We took the best ideas and put those in. It’s written in a conversational way, all about sharing stories and coming to conclusions. It can be quite interesting, reading all the stories in the book.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Absolutely. Thank you for being on the show today. This has been another episode of “Marketing Tips for Doctors” with your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. Till next time. Thank you.