Erik Bergman: Making Money and Giving It All Away
About Our Guest
What would you do if you just made 15 million dollars? Our guest Erik Bergman did just that.
Two years ago, his first company went public. He made 15 million dollars, in one day, on his 28th birthday.
Erik Bergman is now 31, lives and works in Malta.
Born and raised in Sweden, he came from an ordinary family. His parents managed to send him to a fancy private school, where he felt like “the poor kid”. That experience had a big impact on Erik’s self-esteem and gave him the drive to make money, and a lot of it!
In this episode, Erik talks to us about:
How he was able to make 15 million dollars and how it impacted his behaviors toward personal and professional life
Why he started Great.com (and how much he paid for this crazy rare domain)
His origin stories
His philanthropic endeavors and where he has contributed his money and time
How you can make the most of your money and effort working for nonprofit
Lastly and on an unrelated note - sex and relationship
After Erik made his fortune, he helped build a school in Ghana (in western Africa). Since that trip, he started to plan his future and figure out the best way to contribute. So he started engaging in various projects and researching to learn more about nonprofit.
Erik knows deep down and there’s something he does best: making money. His new plan and possibly a project of a lifetime is to make money, and give everything away. This is the story of Great.com, a controversial charity.
Besides money, making the world a better place, Erik also has researched and read quite a bit about sex and relationship. He shared his own stories and a list of incredible resources. “People don’t talk about sex, not even in private relationships.” Erik confronted a truth we rarely acknowledge in public.
It comes down to one simple thing: How can we learn to truly love and respect ourselves?
Please join Erik Bergman and me on the Feisworld Podcast today. And hope you’ll share this conversation with one more person.
Learn more about Erik and his company Great.com
Links and Resources mentioned on the show
AskGamblers, the website that helps people to solve disputes with casinos https://www.askgamblers.com/
Charities mentioned: https://www.givewell.org/
Overview and statistics of really good nonprofit organizations. https://www.coolearth.org/
A good way to compensate for eating meat. https://www.givedirectly.org/
Give money straight to very poor people and easy follow up https://www.againstmalaria.com/
Mosquito nets and most efficient way of saving lives on large scale according to GiveWell.org
Another book on the topics of charity for whoever wants a deeper dive called: https://www.amazon.com/Doing-Good-Better-Effective-Altruism/dp/1592409660 (Author of the book has also been on: Joe Rogan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buyBzK5yM-s
Johanna’s (Erik’s partner) website on traveling/living/working in Malta: http://alltommalta.com/
Resources on Sex, Self Love and Relationships
Two ted talks:
The Keys to a Happier Healthier Sex Life: https://www.ted.com/talks/emily_nagoski_the_keys_to_a_happier_healthier_sex_life?language=en
The Truth About Unwanted Arousal https://www.ted.com/talks/emily_nagoski_the_truth_about_unwanted_arousal
Mating in Captivity” https://www.amazon.com/Mating-Captivity-Unlocking-Erotic-Intelligence/dp/0060753641
The Secret Desire in a Long Term Relationship https://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship?language=en
Book that taught Erik to do the opposite of what he wanted to do: https://www.amazon.com/Womens-Anatomy-Arousal-Sheri-Winston/dp/057803395X
[05:00] Where are you based nowadays? Why did you move there?
[06:00] What’s the story behind you and your friend making 15M USD on the first day you went public with Catena Media
[09:00] How did it feel to have that much money? What were the first things that came to mind and maybe the first purchases?
[11:00] Why was it such a relief to succeed in going public?
[13:00] What were some of the struggles/stresses/tensions during that time at Catena?
[14:00] What type of business was Catena Media and what did it take to be successful? Why do you think it was successful?
[17:00] What did you end up doing with the money you earned with Catena?
[20:00] Have you ever gone negative feedback regarding the money you earned with Catena?
[21:00] Can you share some words about the video you recorded for great.com? What is the main message you are trying to convey?
[24:00] What is your vision for great.com?
[26:00] What is going to be the business model for this new company? How could people contribute?
[29:00] What will you be doing with the money that you earn with Great.com?
[32:00] Are there any causes that interest you personally?
[36:00] Do you have a research department looking at the all the different charities, their impact, etc? How do you get this data?
[40:00] You spent 900,000 USD on great.com! What is the story behind it, your thought process, and how did make people feel? Did people feel it was worth buying it? What was some of the feedback?
[44:00] What is affiliate marketing about? How does it work? And how could people go about setting up their first business?
[50:00] What was your first affiliate marketing business?
[54:00] What are some of your recommendations for people that want to get into affiliate marketing as a side or main business?
[60:00] What is your new podcast Becoming Great about? How long did you started with this project?
[64:00] You mention in your website that you like to talk about any topic, including sex. What did you write that and what is your take on sex?
[66:00] Which resources helped you to be more knowledgeable about sex and to address some of the problems you were facing?
Transcript of Interview with Erik Bergman.
Where are you located right now?
Erik [5:15] I'm from Sweden, but now I live in Malta. It’s like a small Silicon Valley for European tech companies because it's sunny, they speak English and have good taxing systems here. So that's why everyone ended up here.
Fei Wu [5:39] Wow. I'm learning something new already! I think you moved there because of Catena Media, no?
Erik [5:49] Well, no, I moved here long before Catena. Depends on how you look at it. So I moved from Sweden in 2010, and the main reason was that I wanted an adventure. I was already working with what later became Catena Media, but Catena Media formally didn't start until 2012, which is two years after I left Sweden.
Fei Wu [6:21] Wow, I have a lot of questions. You sold the company for $15 million. And it was you and another business partner as well.
I assume each one of you and your partner got $15 million for selling the company, is that correct?
Erik [6:37] Yeah, eventually we got a lot more than that, but $15 million was what we got on that day. It's founded by me and my childhood friend. We were born on the same day, in the same hospital, by parents who know each other.
Fei Wu [6:54] What? This was arranged! [laughs]
Erik [6:57] Ironically, the day when the company went on the stock exchange was our 28th birthday. That was also by luck, it wasn't our decision, it was the bank who decided on that one.
We lived together for a long time, me and Emil. We both worked far too hard, so he got really burned out from the business. A lot of that came from the pressure that I’ve put on him, I’ve put a lot of pressure on both of us. He was a calm, quiet computer geek who loved to do that, and I wanted to do the big scale business.
So, actually, one year before we even went to the stock exchange, he more or less passed out and wasn't a part of the business anymore. It took him like three years to recover. That's been the dark side of the Cantena story.
And actually, these are the things that I prefer to talk about when it comes to the business because I think that everyone always only talks about how all this is awesome. “The bigger the results, the better”. I've reached all the results, I've done all those things, and I’ve lost my health and some of my closest friends in the game. That's the part I prefer talking about when it comes to these things.
Fei Wu [8:33] Sometimes that’s what it takes.
Erik [8:38] There are both sides of it, but I think that's the most interesting aspect. Sure, I believe that I did a very good job and worked very hard, but I also got insanely lucky. And all this business transition was happening at the right time, in the perfect place. So I would not be able to redo it. And for me, it's more important to speak about the downsides of this because someone chasing my dream will still end up struggling in the same way.
Fei Wu [9:12] You’re still pretty young, 30 years old. A lot of people of your age don't have a million dollars.
How did it feel to have that much money?
Erik [9:46] The main feeling I had when I made that money and when all of those things happened was “I survived!” because I barely did the last year.
Emil completely crashed in early 2015, this was early 2016, just one year later. I had pushed myself far too hard for far too long.
The main feeling was, actually, not joy or this big celebration, it was “I survived!”. I recall more of things like “Okay, I managed to complete my commitments, things that I promised investors, things that I promised people”.
I mean, sure, that day was a big celebration in many ways: I was super excited, super fulfilled, I had reached all those financial goals that me and pretty much everyone else has been chasing, I wouldn't have to work a single day in my life. I had financial security for me, any future family or whatever. All of this was obviously amazing. The main thing was a relief, that was the biggest thing I felt by far.
Fei Wu [11:00] Sounds like Catena Media was VC funded and it took a long time for the deal to close, so I didn’t quite understand, why there were so many struggles.
Why it was such a relief to sell the company?
Erik [11:34] It, actually, wasn't VC funded. We didn't raise any capital at all. We still had VCs in a sense, but it wasn't funded by them. We sold half the company to them very early, but we didn't raise any money doing so.
We went from zero to IPO in three years. I was on the far too much pressure. When we started the business, I was 24, I had no previous experience and was the CEO taking on all of these things.
The entire last year from the time when Emil got burned out I just wanted to lie down and quit, but that wasn't an option. There was also a lot of pressure from the outside, especially from myself. I would say, this was my identity. If you would have asked me who am I during this time, I would say: “I am Catena Media”. That was my personality, my identity. Everything that I was going to do was that company, so if that company would fail, that was more or less suicide for me, because it was my entire life.
We went financially very well, but there were so many employee discussions, so many things, so many people from the outside, such insane pressure.
More or less years 2014-2015 are blank in my memory. I can barely remember those years. I did not sleep much, I had a whiskey bottle next to my bed for two years. I drank whiskey to fall asleep every night for two years.
Fei Wu [13:29] It's fascinating for me to connect with CEOs and founders, I absolutely enjoy it. All of a sudden you learn so much of what you didn't know working as a full-time employee. You think that commuting and such things are very tiring and a lot of work, which it is, but when you run your own company, that level of anxiety and stress will quadruple to a degree that you find it hard to get out of.
What type of business is Catena Media and why do you think it was successful?
Erik [14:26] It's a marketing company affiliation, online affiliation based on comparing products and just sending traffic through search. That would be the short answer.
The reasons it was successful – there were several things.
First and foremost, I believe, luck and timing were essential. Those are not very fun talking about, though, because they can't really be replicated.
The part that can be replicated is that we were really enjoying what we were doing. It came from a passion for creating things, so we didn't get tired at least for the first couple of years. We just wanted to do things and play with them.
It came from companionship between me and Emil. We were a perfect fit for each other: I'm very business-oriented, very extroverted, I love meeting people, love negotiations, all these things, and he hates that. But on the other end, he’s the guy who built his first calculator when he was eight, so he's a wizard when it comes to computers. So I came up with the ways of making money, and he made sure it could happen, basically. And that was the foundation of everything.
We came a long way, just the two of us. That's why we didn't raise funds to do anything. Because before we even took anyone on, we were making 40,000 euros a month in profits.
So joy was one thing, a perfect match of partners was one thing, hard work and discipline in general was another thing. We were very passionate about this and we worked really hard and very disciplined.
I'm a firm believer in that you just need to begin, to get started. So we basically never thought about anything. We started, we did something, and if it worked great, then we did more. If it didn't work – we tossed it out the window and were already starting with the next thing.
So it's a combination of all of these things. And yeah, also, luck and timing - two very big, important elements, which are hard to replicate.
Fei Wu [16:39] Thanks for clarifying that. I love the message: “Just start”. That's how this podcast and many other projects started for me and for a lot of people I know.
How did you spend those $15 million dollars?
Erik [17:37] Every now and then I get the question “What's the craziest thing that you bought?”, and I look at them and give a very boring answer - nothing. Unfortunately, when I was a kid, I used to count all my money in the amount of chewing gum I could buy, because chewing gum was about five cents. Then I turned 15 and chewing gums weren't the big currency anymore, now it was the number of beers. Then I was 20 and money was everything that mattered to me, so I counted everything in how many bottles of champagne I could buy, basically.
Then I made a lot of money and suddenly I couldn't really count it like that. I could buy anything and it didn't matter, but still, I felt the need of being sane, in a way.
Then I ended up having a conversation with a friend of mine. He had just come back from India, and he had visited an organization working with child sex slavery, which is the worst possible conditions you can ever imagine. He told me his stories and I sat there crying. I couldn't get this out of my head, so I met with the guys who ran this organization. And they told me that it costs roughly $1,000 to save one girl's life.
I found this out somewhere around the IPO, so I had enough time and money. After this, I counted everything in a little girl's life, who’s done nothing wrong but being so unfortunate. So I haven't done anything crazy from that perspective. I haven't bought a fancy car, a boat, my own plane - nothing.
Have you ever gotten negative feedback because of your money?
Erik [20:07] Yeah, I get lots of it. Cantena is also a marketing company in the gambling industry, so I come from the gambling industry, which means it already is a tricky situation. And then, I'm very involved in charities, which raises the question: “Okay, so you kill people in the gambling industry, and then you give away to become a saint or anything like that? You just want to be a hero”. And I get that, I fully understand that angle. I would probably have said the same thing if I was on the other side of this. I have nothing to say to really defend myself, I completely understand that aspect. I come from a family where humanitarian values are key, but I ended up in the gambling industry because I loved playing poker when I was 16. And then it just took off. So a lot of people say these things, and I would too. That's pretty much just the way it is.
Fei Wu [21:07] But you're doing great things these days! I want to talk about great.com, which is very easy to find and has a very clear message. You have a lovely video, very passionate, very emotional.
Could you explain what that message is about? What was going through your head in terms of structuring that story?
Erik [21:59] That was more or less the first time I was recording something in that way. I wanted to share my emotional state that was the core in this and share this experience that I had which changed my life. So what I'm talking about in this video is the story about me going to Gana, visiting this school. And when this happened, I was quite lost in my life. I was not sure what I want to do with things that made this money. But at the same time, I'm struggling to find purpose.
So I wanted to tell this story. I wanted to become a good storyteller. I think that's so essential in everything that is marketing, and, basically, everything that is relationships. I practiced a lot with people who are good storytellers. And that story, actually, was a part of me just writing something down in a completely different perspective. I was doing that on a presentation, and Emil - another Emil, who was there - he was like: “Wow, what a story! How long you been practicing that one?” I'm like: “I just wrote it down! This was my experience”. He said: “That thing you need to keep telling!” [laughs] It felt really good. I'm very happy with how it turned out.
Fei Wu [23:40] I know you're building Great to encourage other entrepreneurs to build their great businesses. And essentially, the idea is to give it away. I think what you mean by that is give the money away to support other people in needs, whether it's charitable organizations, or maybe individuals.
What is your vision for that company?
Erik [24:14] Okay, so my goal with Great and with everything I do at the moment is to do the most possible good with whatever talents I have. But I also want to enable other people to do more good with whatever talents they have. And for a lot of people their talents are tech development or programming or whatever that might be, and the best thing they could do for the world could be working for a company that is very commercial in the sense that it focuses all the attention on making money, but then gives all of it away in a very business-like inefficient way. So that's what we want to do - we want to create something that is very commercial, but I'm the only owner and we will never raise any funds from it. 100% of the profits will go to charity. So the difference will basically be that I'm using my business skills and my knowledge from what I do, and will able to do what I believe is the best thing I can do for the world.
But the aim is also to enable other people to be part of that journey. So instead of working for whatever big Silicon Valley company there might be, they could spend their talents here, be paid more or less the same and do more or less the same thing, but with that big meaning. So I want to find those kinds of products and take it from there.
Fei Wu [25:47] What if people listening right now, myself included, were eager to participate? What are some of the path they could be taking?
Erik [26:06] We're creating a marketing company, it's going to be very similar to what I've done before. And the aim is to create comparison services for pretty much everything in the future. This is going to start from the gambling industry because that's what I know. It's going to be great.com/casino, but in the future will also be great.com/traveling, great outcome/insurances, great.com/health, hotels, whatever. We will compare all services and products in all different segments. We will get commissions on that and commissions will be donated. The idea is not to have donating as our business model, the idea is to do it in the best possible way with a long term goal and just donating whatever profits would otherwise be given to already rich investors.
Fei Wu [27:09] I see. So I understand the business model a little more. As an example, if these big clients and companies would choose to be part of your organization, then that partnership, as a result of someone purchasing a room or a vacation, a percentage of that is automatically donated to a charity.
Erik [27:42] Yeah, that's the short version. This business model is called affiliation. And for those of you who listen to this and want to start your own business, affiliation - Google it, learn about it. To me, that's the easiest way of running a side business, you can do that with one hour a week. And you can make a hundred dollars a month or something doing that. You can start how small you want to how big you want.
So affiliation is amazing. Basically, you can plug into hotels.com or a lot of different companies and their systems, and you will work only on commission. So if you don't deliver anything, you're not costing them anything, which means it is super easy to get started.
Hotels.com is an affiliate to pretty much all the hotels out there. And you can already plug in, play and go with them. You will earn roughly 10% of hotel booking. So if someone books a hotel room for $200, that's $20 down your pocket, if you can get that person coming there. And it's going to be very similar to that for all kinds of products.
Fei Wu [28:51] And then the difference is that many of these affiliated companies and programs are keeping all the profit, but you aren’t.
What are you doing with the money that you gained from great.com?
Erik [29:25] Yeah, so we will be business like anything else. Our goal is not to be a charity organization, we will never receive anyone else's donation, no one will donate money to us. So we will be hotels.com, in a sense, the only difference is that we will donate all the profits. So when a regular company does dividends, payments and pay the shareholders, we will donate it. And we will donate it to a very large extent, based on data, because one of the biggest challenges with charity is that it's hard to know which organization does the best job or is the most efficient, and which causes the most efficient to work with. Also, how do you compare planting trees to curing cancer? I mean, there are all of these very tricky elements, and I've spent the last couple of years really researching this and learning a lot about these things.
There are causes that are so much cheaper to make a difference in than others, so we want to go very number-oriented and support those causes. And if you listen and you're interested in finding out which charities make the biggest difference, go to givewell.org. That's an amazing organization. What they do is that they tell: “These are the 10 organizations that we really recommend that have the most transparent data, the most follow up, which are very open with their mistakes, the causes that you can do, where each dollar makes the biggest difference”. So they will tell you their top-ranked organization. Right now it is “Against malaria” Foundation. And they are top-ranked, because according to them, that's the cheapest way that you can save a child's life.
Fei Wu [31:19] There's a research element, I like that as well. It's not just saying “I've already done my job, I'm just going to throw my money right here and then claim it”. You are doing research on the side. I'm curious if there are any other causes that interest you personally, as well.
Erik [31:42] I'll start in a little bit of a different direction. The reason why I started doing this is that I did a lot of mistakes early on. So one of the mistakes I did was supporting this organization that I told you about before with this prostitution situation. So the organization is great and does a lot of very good things, but the challenge was that I met with them, donated hundred thousand dollars to this organization to save 100 children from this, and I don't know what happened, I don't know if they managed to save these hundred children. But what I've realized: let's say they did manage to break into these brothels, they saved hundred children. But they have still not done anything about the demand, so there are still people who want to pay for this and want to do this, and there are people who want to kidnap girls. So what could have happened is that a hundred other girls got kidnapped instead. And maybe they were put in an even worse condition so they couldn't be rescued.
So even though it was an amazing organization with a fantastic cause, there is no way for me to know that I actually made a positive impact. This is the downside of a lot of charities - even if they got the best intentions, it's hard to see if it makes a difference. And with this lesson in mind, I started really researching this and see where can my money make the most impact. Who has done this research before? Who knows about this? Who can I talk to? And some causes that I've been donating to is, for example, Against Malaria Foundation. They give away mosquito nets in areas with a lot of malaria and have a very good track record of doing things. I support an organization called Give Directly. They look at satellite pictures to find the areas where they have the worst roofs on their sheds. And the logic is if you don't have a roof, you have nothing. So it's a very easy way of finding super poor people in Sub Saharan countries in Africa, and they give cash straight to these people. They will be able to do whatever they decide with that money. And the catch is that if they do something good, we will come back three months later and give them more money. 9 out of 10 roughly will do something very good with this money, because they are poor not because they're stupid or took a lot of risks, but because they’re born into that and they never had the opportunity. So most of them will take the money and spend it very wisely. And they will also spend the money to buy things from someone else who is super poor, so the money spins around there.
Fei Wu [35:28] Wow. It’s fascinating for me to listen to this. I feel like you have a lot more leverage, potentially, than any of us. Is there a not for profit branch of great.com? I know there's one for profit, but you're basically giving it all away.
Do you have a research department or a social media team in great.com to help you strategically decide where the money is going?
Erik [36:22] Right now we have parts of our team working with these. I'm very passionate about these things. But one of the things that we want to do with Great is also have great.com/charity, which we're obviously not going to make any money from, but where we want to educate on these questions and make it so much easier for anyone to find these organizations. Because when I talk to people about charity, it's very common that there's a lack of trust in where the money goes. And it's valid. Some organizations are not as good as they claim to be. But a lot of them are, it's just that the newspapers will tell you about the charity organizations that do shady things, because the charity organization that does something good, it's not a news article. We are very tainted with this. So what we want to do on great.com/charity in the future is to really map it out.
So first, we want to make it easy. Start by giving you questions like “Do you care the most about animals or humans?” It's not a right or wrong question, it's philosophical. And you might say: “I care the most about animals”. Okay, then we can say: “Do you care the most about ending suffering for as many animals as possible or do you care the most about saving a species which are about to get extinct?”. And let's say you want to save the most animals possible, then we could guide you towards the best organizations that work with veganism, for example, because that's actually the most efficient way of eliminating suffering. So we can then give you a top list of the best organizations doing this, and that it's based on the data and actually educates whoever wants to donate money and help setting these things up.
The challenges with charity organization are both trust and marketing. They don't know marketing, the reason why they're in charity is often that they don't care about marketing, so we want to solve that thing. That's going to be a big part of what we'll be doing in the future.
Fei Wu [38:44] I would love to see that and follow on that as well. It's very frustrating for the good charities who are not really getting the attention, and being noticed by people who could actually help them is great. And, on the other hand, I think there's no follow up from these organizations because maybe they're busy or they've moved on to the next thing. So because of these examples, someone like yourself could have given us so much more clarity and information, and therefore it's going to impact not just you personally, but also those who are hearing about these examples as well.
You spent $900,000 on great.com, and the more I talk to you, the more I think it's worth it. You basically bought 10,000 awesome domain names with all the subdomains and subdirectories.
What was your thought pattern towards spending $900,000 on domain names?
Erik [40:40] Yeah, that's a good story as well.
So with Catena, I built the company to sell it, I never built it to love it. This was something that was built to sell, in a sense, and it almost killed me. And this is a project that I built to love and to live with it. I'm 31 years old and I intend on working at least another 50 years with something that I love doing, so my aim with this is that great.com is going to be my project for the next 50 years. That also gives a whole other scale to things. I mean, Google is a company that's roughly 20 years old, so can you even imagine what you can do in 50 years with this intention? So keeping that in mind, the name is going to be very important. Spending $900,000 on a domain name, if you split it up in 50 years, is suddenly quite cheap for the name you get to keep. So the logic was basically how much is a name worth in terms of marketing if you're going to build something really big. And my goal is to build something really big. So then $900,000 at the time felt cheap. I would probably pay three times as much if I had to because I believe the name makes such a big difference. I mean, people listening to this podcast are very likely going to remember the name “great.com” a week from now. But if it was called “thegreatorganization2019.com”, or whatever I could have bought for 10 bucks, no one would have remembered it.
Fei Wu [42:23] Hmm, that's a good point. I love the way that you're thinking through. Did anybody come to you, especially friends and family or someone close to you, and tell how they were feeling? How did people react? Didn’t they think it wasn’t worth it at all?
Erik [42:40] The logic is that I'm buying something for $900,000 to give all the money away. This is the part that people struggle with to understand. And this is very, very challenging to think of it this way. So if we take this back to saving a child's life, which costs about $2,500, this means that $900,000 or more than 300 lives are being put in into domain name, and I'm doing it and claiming that I'm doing it for the good. This is the part that I struggled with the most myself because this means that these 300 children will not be saved, they will die, and that's on my shoulders. And I struggle with that. I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing, but I'm committed to doing the right thing and committed to doing a difference with this. So personally, I believe that Great is going to be an organization that will donate billions over the next 50 years. That's my goal, what I want to accomplish with this.
So then I need to invest a million dollars in the name, and I think that will make it possible to donate a lot more than a million dollars extra. But this is the place where my logic doesn't necessarily make sense or becomes a bit philosophical: is it the correct move to invest instead of giving and give later? Could I even make that argument? Will it ever be considered right not to save 300 lives? I don't know.
Fei Wu [44:40] Yeah, it's clear that you've spent a good amount of time thinking about it. Recently, in talking to entrepreneurs and influencers, I heard them saying that you have to learn to accept as well. Like when the relationship turns around and people that you used to help, actually, are there to help you now. What do you think of that dynamic?
Do you think you will be able to accept something from someone who is less privileged than you are?
Erik [45:30] I think that one of my top skills is that I ask for help. I do that very openly, very often to anyone at any time. And that's something that I've done naturally for quite some time. Only recently I realized that's not so common. So, anyone who would offer to help me in a coffee shop with whatever it might be, I would gladly accept that help and would gladly help as well. That's one of the things with Great I struggle with right now - a lot of people want to help. And I don't have any easy way of letting them help, because there isn't that kind of tasks at the moment. That's one of the challenges with this right now is that I want to ask for help, but I'm not sure what to ask.
Fei Wu [46:28] Yeah. I think a lot of people listening to the show are really incredible. And we also have people who are not American, immigrants living in America, whose parents came here or they came by themselves. I tell people making money is a lot easier than dealing with a lot of other things, but for most people, it's not easy, they're struggling. For example, it's difficult for parents to consider getting another job because they don’t have any more hours in the day. And you mentioned the affiliate program.
Can you help us better understand how do we even get started with affiliate marketing?
Erik [47:55] So for anyone who needs more money, I would first actually started in a completely different direction. You can limit your spending because that's something that everyone can do to some extent tomorrow. Ask yourself: “What did I spend money on the past month that I actually didn't need?” And that's, I don't know, maybe extra $10, maybe $100, maybe $1000, depending on whoever you are. But I think that's by far the easiest thing, to limit spending. And money not spent is worth as much as extra money gain, even more, because you've already paid taxes and stuff.
There, that's a completely different direction. If you want to set up an affiliate business and start playing around with this, the first thing I would do is to try out wix.com, where you can super easily do your own websites, anyone can do this. You can use it for free when you get started. And I would probably connect with Amazon's affiliate program, so you will be able to earn a commission on anything that's being sold on Amazon. So whatever you are passionate about, you could start writing about this in a way that you would enjoy doing it. You can do that from an Instagram account or from your website, and you will just have Amazon links. This is the easiest way to get it. It's not the most efficient way and not the way you will make the most money, but this is a way that pretty much anyone could get started in less than 24 hours of doing something. And if you just spend an hour a week doing something like this, after a year some money will be coming in. If you spend more than an hour a week, it will go faster. But there will be visitors and there will be small amounts of money coming in, and personally, I believe that the most important thing is to see that some money comes in. Then anyone who says they didn't have time will suddenly have time because it's so fun to see that first money coming in.
Fei Wu [50:19] So true.
Erik [50:22] Suddenly, you realize: “Oh, I don't need to spend all this time on Instagram, I could do it right on my website”. So for us, with the first website we built, we made 1000 euros the first year, but we actually gave up after three months because we had made no money. And then we started doing other things. We came back to this project a year later, and we had made 1000 euros that year. Then a year after that we made $10,000. And the year after that we made probably $50,000 and then it is skyrocketed.
Fei Wu [50:59] What were you selling for this first website, if you still remember?
Erik [51:02] This was Bingo. So we did bingo online, and we would compare different bingo websites with each other.
Fei Wu [51:13] How did you profit from it? How does revenue travel for a bingo site?
Erik [51:21] We compared bingo offers. So we had a guide, it's about how do you play games in the shots and this kind of things. And we got paid for each player that started playing Bingo. So we cooperated with a site called Mariabingo.com back in the days, they have bingo.com today as well, so they're huge. And it was super simple and also only commission. So we set up a deal with them, which took 20 seconds to get started or something like that. Okay, two minutes, probably. We just connected that to our website, and whenever you came and started reading through our website, you went to them and started playing, and we would get paid for you as a referred player from us.
Fei Wu [52:14] And they made it easy to set up the affiliate link?
Erik [52:20] Super easy. And if you're doing it with Amazon today, it’s also super easy. It's super easy with pretty much everything today. So that's how it started.
Fei Wu [52:37] If someone, for example, likes shirts and shoes, that's a pair on Amazon which costs $20-30, so commission's very small versus people who want to sell camera equipment. Do you think there are some strategic decisions people need to think about in terms of how much they want to make versus what they love to talk about and what they love selling?
Erik [53:07] So I think that the two most important thing is, how quick does it come to get started and how much do you enjoy what you do. If you're a very money-oriented person, maybe whatever makes the most money is where you find the most joy. If you're not a very money-oriented person, then that's the wrong decision to make because you're going to fail. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're not going to get there. So you can think so much about strategy and you can make the optimal thing, but the reason why it's a lot of money in a certain area is usually that it takes longer and more work to get there. I mean, I gave up after three months, it was just luck that we accidentally started to make money off the thing we actually gave up. But if we would have made money in the first three months, we probably wouldn't have given up.
It's more important that the first $2 come in pretty quickly, then it will become $200 at some point. I don't think it matters that much that it's small numbers, it's just that you need to see something happening.
Could you elaborate a little bit on something that's maybe a little more difficult, but more efficient than Amazon’s program?
Erik [54:30] Okay, so if the goal is to make the most possible money, and to do this over time, for me, this comes from gambling, because that's what I do. And that's where I ended up. And I ended up there by falling in love with poker at the age of 16. And in gambling, for one player, if you do this in in the US, you will earn somewhere between $200-1000 in commission for one player. So it's obviously a lot harder to get to these players and get out there than it will be to find something small, but the paycheck will be bigger. If you want to do it in the US, there are a few regulated states where you can do this, so you need to actually have a license, with New Jersey, for example. Or you can do this outside of the US and you can very easily partner up with big companies. Then you connect with each company, and they have their own affiliate program, their own terms, their own decisions, you get to negotiate with each one of them instead of just going to Amazon and have all the products. So it's more complicated, but at the end of the day, it's potentially a lot more money.
Fei Wu [55:59] And you also mentioned a key element - content creation. I think content creation sounds like something that's also important. So you don't just set up a website and be done with it, like, “Here's some shoes and clothes. Good luck”, you actually become a curator in a sense, because why people should come to your site? And what is the value that you are providing, on top of just these Amazon links? These are also important questions. Could you maybe talk about that?
Erik [57:14] This is why it becomes so important to enjoy what you're doing. Because to create content that you don't enjoy is either long suffering or impossible, depending on how you look at it. So the value that is being provided in what we have been doing, for example, is that we have one website called Askgamblers.com. And one of the values that they offer is that if you ever as a player have been mistreated, we act as a judge, in a sense. So you can come to us with something like “This casino promised me this and that I could get these offers, and they didn't deliver on that”, and then we will look at some print screens, whatever they say we take it up with the casino, and then they give us their proof like “Okay, this person didn't read these terms and conditions or didn't do that” Or, actually, they might say: “Oh, they're actually right”. So we take them through this process and then we give a recommendation like either we recommend that the casino pay the player, or we recommend that the player gives up. And if the casino doesn't go with our recommendation, that becomes public, like “Yeah, these guys don't listen to our recommendation”. And this way in 2018 around $10 million were paid out to the players, thanks to these services that askgamblers.com offers. Well, that's one of the things where we add a lot of value, where we help mediate these conflicts.
Fei Wu [59:02] It's not even just writing about gambling, about playing a certain game, but you're connecting different people and services together to really provide value, right? You know, there are certain pain points that come with gambling, for sure. And a lot of people, especially as consumers, we sign these user agreements all the time without reading them until we're hurt later. And we’re in a powerless position to not know what our next steps are. So that's brilliant, what you’ve been doing.
Erik [59:37] Regardless of whatever product it is, people want to sell what they're passionate about. If you're passionate about something you probably know more than most other people. And there is always one way or another you can help out: you can teach people how to podcast, then you could probably sell microphones and stuff like that on Amazon, or whatever. That's just one tiny way of doing this, where you're actually giving value. And that way people will come and learn from you.
Anyone can start something today. And that's why I reiterate - aim for $10, don't aim for $10,000. Aim to make $10 because when you do, you're going to get a kick out of it, you're going to enjoy it. And then you're going to aim for 50 bucks, and then 100 bucks. 99% of all business ideas never become anything because they're just an idea. So whatever you can do with it - just get started. It's going to matter so much. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll make zero money, but you’ll learn something anyway.
Fei Wu [1:00:36] Thank you for all of this. Is there something that you’d love to share with us, but I haven't had a chance to ask you about?
Erik [1:00:42] I'd love people to come and listen to our podcast. We started podcasting a couple of months ago. Our podcast is called Becoming Great. We talk about a very emotional side of the business, so how will we build great, what’s important to us.
The last episode we recorded this morning, actually, and it was about how the business has impacted our relationship before. So it's me and my business partner Emil, and today we spoke about how our extreme goal orientation have kind of killed relationships for us because we're so focused on business that love was pushed aside.
What is an ideal outcome you hope to get out of Becoming great?
Erik [1:01:40] First and foremost, I believe so much in the form of podcasting. I think that the conversation that we had now, if we were to try and accomplish the same emotional connection in writing, that would have been so hard. And to read this, if we did this as a Bible, it would probably be half an hour of reading. And for people to find half an hour to read is so hard! I'm never reading something that's more than five minutes if it's an article online. But here people can plug in and hopefully feel connected to our voices in these things, so I believe more in the medium of podcast than I believed in any other medium in terms of online.
I'm very late into the game of podcasting, but I want to use our podcast as an information platform and a recruitment platform for everything that we do. So I want to be able to talk about charity, what we do with these things, I want to be able to talk about how do we want to build an intelligent organization where we care about each other. One thing that we have is a checking process on each of our business meetings. So we start every meeting with between 30 seconds and two minutes of everyone talking about how they're feeling right now, where are they today emotionally, and then we can adjust to this.
So what actually happened, among the reason we had this relationship call, was that four of us were checking, and three of us were feeling super good. But I was feeling really shitty. So I actually started crying during this checking process, because I've had some very rough things going on with Johanna, my fiance. Then we’ve just put all everything aside in the business and focused on me and this, and that does so much for the connection and the team spirit.
These are the things that I'd love to talk about for other businesses to be inspired. In my previous business it was always “put on the strict face and get straight into it”, and if you're focusing on your love life, that means that you're weak rather than anything else. So these are all things that I like to talk about. I like to inspire and hopefully be able to recruit people that can really relate to this and want to be a part of this.
Fei Wu [1:04:14] I have the last question, which is kind of funny.
Why did you write that you’re willing to talk about sex on your LinkedIn?
Erik [1:04:37] Okay, so I'm super passionate about the topic of sex in general. The reason I came into podcasting was that I was asked to be on Framgangspodden, the Swedish equivalent of the Tim Ferriss show, a huge podcast in Sweden. I've been on it twice. First one was two years ago. And then me and Johanna, my fiance, we had actually just broken up. And the only reason for that was our sex life didn't work. We didn't manage to figure those things out. I have a very, very strong sex drive, and we're not on the same page in this. And I spoke quite vulnerable about our relationship but didn't touch so much about the sexual aspects on it because I didn't have any answers or any solutions. And then me and Johanna, we got back together 5-6 months later, and I've devoted a lot of my time to solving this. And I am far from solving it, but we've come a long way and it's better in every single way. So I went on the same podcast again, late last year, September or something. And then I said that it was the reason why we broke up. So I brought up that we split up because of sex and talked about the solutions and the approaches that we've taken on since then. And I got so many people reaching out to me that were so moved about that story because people don't talk about sex that way. I'm very vulnerable talking about these things, I'm very open about my experiences with this. And I feel that I've learned so much that no one has ever talked to me about, I've gone on a spiritual path in figuring these things out. And in Sweden, and I'm guessing it’s the same way in the US, no one teaches us sex, we need to learn that on our own. And yeah, we think it is weird that we don't understand it because everyone is supposed to be good at it. But no one has ever read a book.
Fei Wu [1:06:54] And where did you find your solutions? What are the resources that you found?
Erik [1:07:03] So this started with me starting to contemplate “Okay, what is this? What's going on?” I'm becoming more and more religious and believing more and more in synchronicity in the last couple of years. And a year and a half ago, I met a man named Ken. And we went to have lunch for no reason whatsoever. We sat down and he went straight into telling his life story, which was very open, very vulnerable and very much about sex in a way that you don't start a conversation. And when he was done, I was looking at him with my mouth open and being like: “You’ve just described my life”.
Fei Wu [1:07:49] Talking to another man like that can be extra awkward, I guess.
Erik [1:07:53] Yeah. And he's 53, I was 30. So it felt like he actually lived my life in many ways, but he was seven years ahead of my curve. So he and his wife had more or less split up for similar reasons. And then he decided “I need to fix this, what is it that I want to do?”, so he had read all these books, done all these seminars, watched everything that you can possibly do and done the research, and he became my mentor, in a sense.
So I've read a lot of books that he recommended, I did a lot of things that he had done. One very specific thing - there is a TED talk about this as well, by Emily Nagoski. She speaks about the gas and the break. When people think about sex, they usually think: “I need to turn someone on, I need to get more and more things on the gas”, so this was something that I always did in my relationship - I tried to come up with reasons for us to have sex. And that could be a hotel weekend, that could be a nice dinner and a bottle of wine, that could be coming up with a game that could be buying a toy, whatever. It was always a reason to have sex. The downside of that is that it also comes with guilt and expectations, which is actually a reason not to have sex. So I might have coming up with a reason to have sex, but it's an equally powerful reason not to have sex. And pretty much everyone has enough reasons to have sex, we have that biologically, but our society has come up with a billion reason not to have sex, which is usually stress, or “I'm not good enough”, or “I don't look good”, or whatever there might be, “I could get a child”, I don't know. So I focused all the attention I had on making Johanna want to have more sex instead of making her feel safe or giving all focus on what can I do for her to feel more secure. So I stopped focusing completely on anything that could add pressure, I stopped coming up with romantic things to do, because she always read that as “Eric has expectations”. Now, anyway, this has just been one big shift in how our relationship looks, where I'm focusing on and what I can do. And all of this kind of things spiraled into me learning a lot more about it and reading a lot about it.
Fei Wu [1:10:30] That is brilliant. It's very fascinating for me to listen to this, and for people to even have that level of awareness. You know, some people go through life thinking that maybe there's something wrong with their partner, or there's something wrong with them, or that there's no way to really solve it. But this is definitely shedding light on a common problem that a lot of people are experiencing. Thank you for being so open. Thank you so much. And I really hope that you keep going, and who knows, maybe I'll build something that will be part of great.com.
Erik [1:11:08] This is a pleasure. So happy to be here.