Starting a Business? Stop Wasting Your Time Coming Up with a Unique Idea and Strategy - with Derek Halpern

Sometimes I get tired of these online experts trying to convince me that what my business really needs is the one secret tactic they happen to be selling this week. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying their ideas or intentions are bad - I’m saying too many opinions can be a major distraction.

That’s why you need people like Derek Halpern in your life.

Derek runs Social Triggers where he teaches hundreds of thousands of readers how to increase web traffic and sales using human psychology. He’s a no BS kind of guy and, as you will hear in this interview, has the unique ability to silence the noise coming from the internet marketing guru world with one word: implement.

Before launching Social Triggers, Derek built one of the most popular celebrity gossip sites on the web. He didn’t do this because he had a clear strategy or roadmap. He simply implemented the ideas he heard in podcasts and read on blogs then kept the ones that attracted customers. Pretty simple huh?

In This Interview You'll Learn...

  • Why you don’t need a unique idea to have a successful business
  • Why delayed gratification is your best friend
  • Why you should stop trying to find the perfect answers for your business and start implementing
  • Why you don’t need a strategy when you’re just starting a business
  • How to discover the specific problem your business really solves by understanding the problems of your market. Derek shares this process toward the end of the interview before the final question.
  • How to build your network using the gravity approach
  • How you can increase sales using the psychological tactic of redirection


Show Notes

Podcast transcript:

Andy: Welcome everyone. Today I’ve got Derek Halpern with me.
Derek’s the founder of Social Triggers and he’s one of the most in
demand experts on using new media to attract customers. His
breakthrough psychology based approach to social media, online
marketing and generating sales has changed thousands of businesses use
the web. In addition to the blog which serves over a
hundred thousand monthly readers Derek host one of the top marketing
podcast on iTunes and web TV shows on YouTube.More importantly
than any of that I think, Derek, the first time you and I talk was in 2009
or 2010 before Social Triggers existed and I’ve always had a mad
amount of respect for Derek for two reasons and one is because Derek is
a no-bullshit kind of guy. Derek just gives it to you straight regardless
and I love that about him.Number two is Derek does his research on
everything. When you’re talking with him you know that you’re getting
information straight from the source. He’s not just quoting some book
that he read, he probably read the book and then interview the auditor
and then read the study in the book and then tested it with his audience
to make sure that what he read is actually true in the real world. Derek,
thank you for coming. Welcome to the show man.
Derek: Hey,
thanks for having me. I’m pumped to be here and hopefully we’re going
to talk about some cool stuff.
Andy: Dude, we are going to talk about
some cool stuff.You’re running right now, a
destination website for anyone interested in getting traffic or getting
more sales in their business. You’ve skyrocketed faster than anyone I’ve
watched in the blogging world in the past two years and I see no sign of
that slowing down for you. We’re going to talk about all that in a little bit
but I want to go back to like the beginning dude. When was the first time
you tried starting a business?
Derek: Yeah. How far back. The first
… was an ice tea stand when I was eight years old. I had an ice tea
stand at the post office, an ice tea stand at the bank and we had different
people at different areas selling an ice tea. I remember one of the big
lessons I learned back then and I actually still remember this to this day
was we were selling ice tea at this point, it must been the early ‘90s, for
25 cents a cup and I noticed something strange. People would not give
us 25 cents; they would always give us a dollar. We were selling ice tea
for 25 cents a cup but most people will just give us a dollar because we
were cute kids at the post office.
Then I started thinking, you know what? Everyone’s giving us a dollar
anyway. Let’s just charge a dollar and that’s what we did. We charged a
dollar for the ice tea, we made the cup a little bit bigger and we started
making a ton more money by selling the ice tea for a buck.
Now I don’t remember how much money I was making at this point but
my Mom had always let me know. She goes, “Yeah, you come back
with $90 after selling ice tea for three hours.”
Most recently like internet business. My first foray there was I was in
college, I was looking for something to do with my time, I was reading
this humor site that … it was about this dude that used to talk about his
college and how funny he was and he was hilarious. I thought this was
pretty cool, I like to read it. But one day I made a mistake. One day I
accidentally clicked on his ‘advertise here’ link and I saw that this guy
was getting $500 a week. This is back in 2005. $500 a week per ad. Now
I was an English major but there was five ads in that side bar, I know
500 times five is $2500 a week. So then my gear started cranking. I was
like, wait! This guy writes about the dumb things he does in college and
he gets paid. I do dumb things.
My first website was launched within six hours. When I first click that
link I was like, you know what? I’m starting a site and I started to talk
about the dumb things I did in college. Big problem …
Andy: Can I find the site? Is this still online?
Derek: No, no, no, no, no.
Andy: Damn it!
Derek: Most definitely not.
I talked about the dumb things I did in college and here’s the problem, I
wasn’t that good at it. I wasn’t that funny. I didn’t do that stupid of
things. People didn’t really care about my life and I found that quick.
Because I worked on that site I remember for a month or a month and a
half and I was getting no attraction whatsoever. So I went back to the
source. I was like, you know what? I still like this idea of the web-based
business. This guy is still getting paid to talk about dumb stuff. There’s
got to be another idea.
I went back to that guy’s site and I noticed he link to an entertainment
website. Like a gossip blog.
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: Checked out that gossip blog, at this point I was an expert. I
knew exactly where to go. I went to the advertise page and I saw this
guy was getting a thousand dollars a week for an ad.
Andy: On the gossip websites.
Derek: Thousand. And he had a thousand dollars a week per ad and
he had like five ads on that site for the gossip site. Now I knew.
Andy: Okay, okay. We went from being eight years old with the
lemonade since first.
Derek: Yeah.
Andy: I’ve got a question with you. How did you have multiple stands
going? I’ve always heard of eight year olds starting a lemonade stand
but how did you get more than one?
Derek: At one area, I had a friend in another area and then
sometimes we had like a runner that would run back to the house to get
the stuff. We had a friend here, a friend here and then us just running
back to get ice or more mix or more of the water or more ice tea.
Andy: Wow dude. That’s incredible. That was eight years old and then
the path of starting the business, were you still doing a lot of stuff
throughout high school, college?
Derek: So not business stuff. All through … I played chess.
I remember when I was about nine or ten my dad – [however 00:05:40]
old I was, my dad taught me to play chess and we’d always play chess,
we have to wager something. He would never let me play chess without
wagering something. We would wager pushups. My dad was really good
at chess and he would just demolish me on the chess board. He wouldn’t
give me a piece, he wouldn’t let me win, he would just beat me to the
ground and then make me pay up with pushups. That got all real quick.
Real quick. Doing that many pushups and not so I got real good at chess.
I started studying, practicing and I went back to my dad. It got to a point
where I don’t think he beat me in a chess game in like eight years.
Andy: Wow!
Derek: I just crushed him. I got obsessed with it. That’s kind of like
where my competitive spirit came in.
My first foray as entrepreneur was the ice tea stand. My first foray into
being a very competitive person who doesn’t believe everybody
deserves a trophy. I hate that whole concept that we have today where
everyone gets a trophy. I think you have winners, you have losers, you
have second, third and if you want to get to be the best you got to
actually put the time and effort. That comes from my dad beating me to
death in chess.
Andy: Got it. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that you spend a lot of
time on chess because just from interacting with you it’s clear that
you’re a very strategic thinker. It feels like with Social Triggers you’re
planning not three months, not six months but one, two or three years
ahead with what you have for a vision for that. Is that [thing true
Derek: Yeah. I definitely do – Chess definitely influenced how I
play the game of life.
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: It’s not necessarily about being strategic because when you
start playing chess you start getting really good at chess. It’s no longer
about being able to seal the moves. It’s always about what did one grand
master do in this position, in this game, on this day and where did it take
him. It turns into a game of memory almost. It’s like you’re playing
chess and you’re learning … how the pieces move and then you’re …
[draining 00:07:46] all these stuff into your head and you start to learn
how grand masters play and you try and use that and adapt that play
style. If that makes any sense.
Andy: Got it.
Derek: Now, what does this have to do with human behavior which
[what I 00:07:59] talk about now?
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: Well it turns out that like when you’re playing a game of
chess, when you move the pieces, if I move the pawn up two spaces, the
middle pawn up two spaces, there’s a … have and base on your
responses and automatic response I have, automatic response again.
With human beings it turns out that if you say a word in a certain way
there’s an automatic response they have. Once you know these responses
and once you know how human beings react, it’s no longer playing
strategically. Yes, it’s about knowing which response you want to
respond through or whatever but it’s all about knowing the … respond
almost the same way almost all the time.
Andy: Got it. Give me an example. Give me an example of a word that
you knew you know elicits a specific response when you say it to
Derek: For example, have you ever argued with somebody about
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: And knew you were wrong.
Andy: And knew that I was wrong. Yeah, just playing like devil
(crosstalk) hit just for the fun? Yeah, totally.
Derek: No, no. You knew you were wrong but you didn’t want to
admit it yet.
Andy: No.
Derek: Never? Come on! We all do. Everyone has gotten to this
position and they got …
Andy: Yes. Totally, totally.
Derek: … argue with a significant other where like maybe you
spilled the milk and you didn’t want to admit you spilled the milk yet so
you’re fighting with your girlfriend or something like that.
Andy: Yeah. My girlfriend Libby there’ll be times where like if we’re
arguing and there will be a point in the conversation where I’m like,
“Shit! She’s right.”
Derek: Yup. And you’re not ready to admit it yet.
Andy: No. No. Totally.
Derek: Here’s the deal. This is an example. When you fight with
someone or you challenge someone, our default reaction is to deny. We
don’t necessarily agree with them. It’s the default reaction. I think … to
really nail this home. This is something I’ve read about on Lifehacker a
while ago but it was a genius idea. Have you ever went to a coffee shop
and ordered coffee? And let’s say it’s a little bit late at night and you
want a decaf coffee. You’re like, I want decaf coffee, and they give you
a coffee. You don’t really know if they gave you decaf because it tastes
the same.
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: How can you figure out if they really gave you decaf? Is this
decaf? They’re going to say “Yes, it’s decaf.” But you don’t know if
they’re lying … because they know that if you’re asking is it decaf that
you … decaf. However, if you … script and use what I call redirecting,
right? You ask … order decaf coffee … you say this is caffeinated,
right? Make the assumption that your coffee is caffeinated and let’s see
if they put [inaudible 00:10:55] position to say “No, that’s decaf.”
Andy: So, in this situation you’re saying that if somebody … if you
ordered coffee and you want decaf, instead of saying “Hey, is this
decaf?” people aren’t going to admit “Oh no, I screwed up.” So you say,
“Hey, is this caffeinated?” and if it’s not then they’ll be like “Oh no, it’s
decaf” because they want to be right.
Derek: Exactly. The trigger here or what I like to call them the
social trigger here is that people don’t like to be wrong. When they’re
wrong in the face of being challenged they will defend their … they’ll
defend themselves or even lie about it. Just to make sure that they’re not
wrong or to save face.
Andy: Got it.
Derek: You want to put people in the position to be right and you’ll
find that you’ll have a much better conversation or a much better
interaction with someone you don’t know.
I have one example of how people react and while you know that, now
you know that you never want to put someone like … let’s say you’re
selling a product, right? Let’s say a lot of people make this big mistake
when they’re selling. Let’s say your first sentence is “Do you ever wake
up and really feel frustrated by how much email you have?” That puts
people in the position to say “No. Not me.” and then they stop reading.
However, if you redirect it, this idea of redirection and instead wake up
and say “You know the other day I woke up and I realize I was
frustrated about how much email I had because I couldn’t get this much
work.” Now you’re putting people in this position where they’re
thinking “All right. Well, I’m not frustrated but I know how he feels so
let me keep reading.” You see. You’re turning it from a challenge or a
fight into something where you’re giving the person the ability to save
face. This is how human behavior works or whatnot.
Andy: That’s really interesting to me because when I think of the
infomercial world it seems like the infomercial world always starts off
with like “Are you struggling with this? Do you ever feel frustrated
when you do this?”
Derek: Yup. That is different in one main regard because when
you’re … with your infomercial … let’s say you’re selling a cleaner
product and they’re saying “Are you struggling with finding the time to
clean your bathroom the right way?”
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: They’re doing that to qualify their prospect but what I mean
is now … of course you want to qualify your prospect. That is always
the best way to sell anything. You want to qualify your prospect. But
there’s sometimes that you’ll try and qualify your prospect too much and
you’ll actually lose out on potential prospects. This is why a story,
especially online, is better than trying to over qualify.
Andy: Yeah. That totally makes sense. With the infomercials having 30
seconds to grab your attention versus online you probably … You still
have the 30-second window or like the thing at the beginning to hook
them but you’ve got more time.
Derek: Exactly. It just puts people in a position where they don’t
have to feel like an idiot almost.
Andy: Yeah. Let’s go back to … Did the chess thing for a while, had a
lot of fun with that. When you’re reading this guy’s website online and
seeing that he’s making all these money, were you making any other
money at the time? Did you have a job where you’re doing any
consulting or freelancing or what was that like?
Derek: No. I was in college at that time I had just quit playing
poker. I was playing poker for about two years or so. I had just quit
playing poker and I decided that I wanted to make a living that wasn’t as
[inaudible 00:14:32] as playing poker, unfortunately. I wanted to quit
poker and make a real living and that’s kind of what made me decide to
start this web stuff and specifically I told you about what made me start
the gossip site because I saw that one person making all that money on a
gossip site so I launched the gossip site.
Andy: Got it. Let’s take you to the process of a Derek Halpern mind in
2005. You see this guy, you see the ad, you go to the celebrity website
and you see they’re making a thousand dollars a week per ad. They have
five ads making like 25 grand a month. What do you do next?
Derek: Yeah. I’ll tell you what I do next. I launched a gossip site.
As soon as I saw that I launched my site probably within three days.
Andy: Nice. Nice.
Derek: As soon as I got the idea, done. Had that up and running and
I got to start working on it. The first thing I did was started to do what I
thought I needed to do and then I start to research. How am I going to
get people to read my site? How am I going to get people to read my
site? I kept reading everything that I could and I wasted almost no time
in the beginning trying to figure out the right course of action.
This is a problem that I know as the most entrepreneurs have. I didn’t try
to figure out what was right because I didn’t know what was right or
wrong and I wasn’t really in a position to determine what was right or
what was wrong. What I decide to do was every time I read something
that gave me a piece of advice, before I would read another piece of
advice, I would work on implementing what that person told me and see
if it worked. If it didn’t work I moved on to the next thing. If it did work
I moved on to the next. If this did work I would do that until it didn’t
work anymore.
Andy: Got it.
Derek: That’s kind of how I did it. I wasn’t like … there was no
strategy in place in the beginning. In the beginning it was just about
trying as much as possible and just seeing if it worked. I wasn’t about
finding the perfect answer if you know what I mean.
Andy: Totally. My friend Peter Shallard … we did an interview and he
said that there’s this window of entrepreneurship. It’s like two to three
years. The only thing you should focus on during those two to three
years is implementing pretty much. Then once you get attraction made
then you can focus on strategy and launching something like Social
Triggers. Does that feel true to you? Is that like the process that you
went through?
Derek: Yeah. When you’re first getting started with your first ever
business, you don’t have much experience or let’s say you work for a
company in the business space and when you first getting start it’s all
about just getting it going. Just get it out there and see what happens.
Get the experience.
Now, when I launched Social Triggers that was not my first blog. At that
point I had already launched about five majorly successful blogs. I had
the gossip site that did almost 30 million hits in 2007. I had a fashion
site that was doing hundreds of thousands of hits. I had make up site, I
had launched a blog that kind of help grow a software company. By the
time I launch … finally I launched Social Triggers, I had all this track
record of experience of building blog from scratch to tons of readers.
When I launched Social Triggers I use strategy at that point because I
knew what I was doing.
Andy: Perfect. With the first website you launched did you know that
you were going to make money from it? Did you know it was going to
Derek: Oh absolutely. People always ask me like how did you
know it was going to work? I’ll let you how I knew, because I saw there
was someone else doing it and that was making them money so there’s
no reason why I can’t make by doing the same thing.
Andy: Didn’t you feel any self-doubt of like “Is this really possible for
Derek: No. Not at any point. I actually did start my first website,
that gossip site. I launched it with a friend and we started together and
we were [inaudible 00:18:11] about two months. We’re busting our ass
working on this site for two months and we weren’t getting the return
that we wanted in the beginning. We weren’t getting results, we weren’t
getting trap, we weren’t getting exposure, we weren’t making any
money. I kept telling him at this point, “Listen man. I know this is going
to work. There’s no way it’s not going to work. We got to keep
[inaudible 00:18:29].”
He actually walked away from the business. He quit. He didn’t want to
work on it anymore. I decide to keep going and literally month three,
made some money. Month four, made some more money. Month five,
even more. By month 11, the 11th month after the site launched, I had
already done over a million visits in a month and I made something like
$20,000 in college, a month.
Andy: Wow dude! That was (crosstalk) in 11 months.
Derek: Yeah. There was no way in my mind I thought this is going
to fail because I already knew there are people out there doing this
successfully. If they could do it, I could do it. I just need to do it right.
Andy: Wow! Month 11, like 20 grand in a month for revenue but month
one, two and three, nothing.
Derek: Yeah. Month one, two, three nothing, four, nothing. Five, a
little bit. It kind of started picking up pace but month 11 was the big hit.
That was like the big month.
Andy: What was like a little bit? Like a hundred bucks, a thousand
Derek: I actually don’t remember the exact numbers because this is
so long ago at this point so I don’t want to quote and lie by accident.
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: I just know that month 11 was over $20,000 in revenue. I
think month ten was several thousands of dollars but not $20,000. Then
before that I was doing … I think month eight we had to do a couple
thousand. I don’t remember the exact number so I don’t want to
misquote anything.
Andy: What was the most exciting month to you?
Derek: The most exciting month was the 11th month when I earn
that much money in such a short time span because at that point I had
just graduated college and I decided I wasn’t going to get a job. I was
going to work full time on the website.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. Go ahead.
Derek: And once I did that, that was like … month 11 was two
months after I graduated college.
Andy: Wow!
Derek: At that point I was getting a lot of pressure from my family
saying “Derek, are you doing this because you just don’t want to go find
a real job?” [inaudible 00:20:26]. I kept telling them like “No. This is
going to work. I’m making money right now. I’m going to be making
real money soon.” Month 11 is when I made some real money. A ton of
money actually and all my family at this point was like “Wait a second.
How much did you just make?” That’s when they finally took it a little
bit more seriously. That was the big month for me.
Andy: Derek, what separates you from your friend that was like “Okay,
I’m in it. I’m in it.” and then two months is like “Okay, I’m going to
give up on this.” Because I see that happen a lot. People hit the road
blocks and hit the road blocks and hit the road blocks and then they give
up right before they’re probably going to make a lot of fraction.
Derek: Yeah. This is going to sound real cheesy and this is going to
sound real woo-woo because I’m not a woo-woo person. I like data, I
like analytics. That is the stuff that I love. But I’ll tell you what
separated me and him. I believed it was going to work, he wasn’t so
sure. Now I’m not going to say belief is all you need but if you’re
working on something and you really truly believe that there’s no way
this is going to fail, there’s no way it’s going to fail. You have to act
accordingly. That’s kind of what the main difference was.
Now, what was else the difference? The thing was most people in this
world are unable to get rewards that are delayed. They don’t like
rewards that happen in the future. This is why we eat unhealthy today
and complain tomorrow about how much we weigh or something like
that. This is why people don’t save for retirement, this is why people …
we don’t know how to delay gratification. Human beings don’t know
how to do that.
Me on the other hands, I am perfectly okay with delaying gratification. If
I think delaying the right gratification is going to help me make more in
the long run. They really nail this home.
When I first started Social Triggers I remember, this is back in 2011. At
that point I had already had some fast attraction and I talked to a very
well-known entrepreneur at this point and he asked me my plan. He goes
“What’s your plan?” I remember telling him “Listen. Here’s my plan.
My plan is to get 10,000 subscribers on my list that are loyal subscribers.
Once I get 10,000 subscribers then I’ll figure out what I need to sell
them to make some money.” He just looked at me and kind of laugh.
He’s like “You know what? That’s a good strategy. Most people don’t
have the patience to wait for something like that. But the fact that you’re
focusing on subscribers first money second proves that you’re willing to
delay gratification.”
Then once I did that I finally sold them my first thing after 10,000
subscribers then I decided I wasn’t going to do nothing until I got 20,000
subscribers. And I’m still at this point where I didn’t really want to focus
on building a business until I had 100,000 loyal subscribers. That’s kind
of like when I realize that it’s time to start using the momentum. You
know what I mean?
Andy: Yeah, totally. How do you define the idea of building a business
at a 100,000 subscribers versus just selling some stuff at 10,000?
Derek: I’ll tell you how. It’s a lot easier to sell stuff when you got a
100,000 people that want to buy it than it is when you got a thousand
people that want to buy it.
Andy: Totally. Do you not have the focus on business for the most of it
or the idea is get to a 100,000 people as quickly as possible and then
figure the rest out when you get there?
Derek: No. It’s about getting a 100,000 of the right people so I
never was just getting subscribers for subscriber’s sake. I was going
after the right audience and I knew what I was trying to solve and what I
was going to end up selling. I had an idea. I just wasn’t trying to focus
on selling it until I focus on building what I wanted to build. Does that
make sense? Because I was willing to delay my gratification until later.
Actually, the first 11 months of Social Triggers … it didn’t really earn
[inaudible 00:24:06]. But then when I start to build the company that’s
when I started to actually build a real business and now from March
2011 to March 2012 it was practically zero revenue. I mean it was
making money but it wasn’t making real, real money.
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: From March 2012 till now I don’t ever reveal my revenue
numbers but let’s just say I’m no longer a one man show now. I’ve got
full time employees, I got full time contractors, I have a full on video
team when I record Social Triggers TV. You can’t do this if you don’t
have a real business at that point.
Andy: Okay. You did the celebrity gossip stuff and you’re at month 11,
made 20 grand just out of college, feeling incredible. This is still 2005,
2006, right?
Derek: No, no. By the time month 11 was … so I launched my first
site in November 2005. I got to the gossip site idea in March of 2006
and month 11 was February of 2007. That’s about six years ago.
Andy: Okay. Great. Now you see that like this is proven, it’s working,
it’s generating revenue.
Derek: Yup.
Andy: What do you do next?
Derek: This is where you’re going to probably hit your head against
the desk because … what did I do next? I continued to build my site
from February 2007 till December 2007 and I got real depressed.
Because here I am, a newly minted college graduate, I had just bought
my first place on Long Island, New York. I’ve been living by myself.
Living the dream. The problem was I was getting depressed because all
my friends were working all the time and I was just [inaudible 00:25:48]
home all day working two hours a day. I don’t know what to do with my
life. I didn’t have any other … online stuff. I wasn’t going to
conferences or anything like that and I just got real depressed and lonely.
I do what anyone would do at this point. Knowing that, the successful
business, actually at that point a publicly traded company had reached
out to buy out my site and I had declined it at that point because they
wanted me to stay on and work with them for couple of years after the
buyout and I wasn’t ready to do that because I was so depressed. I did
what anyone would do at this point. I got a job at a Fortune 100
company. Earning in a year what I could have earned every two months.
Andy: Whoa!
Derek: Yeah.
Andy: Whoa!
Derek: That was end of 2007.
Andy: I agree with you like the 4-hour Workweek is just kind of BS at
some level. It’s super unfulfilling, the idea of it. I would have never …
Derek: No, it’s not that it’s unfulfilling. I was working very little …
and I did read that book, that was in 2008 I think I read that book but I
don’t remember the date. It wasn’t that it was unfulfilling. It was that I
didn’t know what to do with my time and I was still like … I was 22 at
the time. Here I am making more money than I know what to do with.
Living by myself, have everything I want basically. I didn’t know what
to do next. I kind of was yearning for companionship or friendship or
co-workers which is why I got the job.
Andy: Got it. How long did you spend in Corporate America?
Derek: Well, this is the thing. I stayed there for about two years and
I’ll tell you why. I read a biography about Jack Welch. You know Jack
Welch from GE?
Andy: Oh yeah.
Derek: I read his biography; I think it was either Jack: Straight from
the Gut or like Winning or something like that. I had in my mind that I
wanted to become the CEO of Fortune 100 company.
Andy: No way.
Derek: Yeah. I stayed there for two years and I remember when I
got into Corporate America it was December 2007, most people have to
wait two years for their first promotion. I got promoted in about six
months. I was [inaudible 00:27:49] like this. I just got promoted quickly.
I kept getting raises. I was basically on a good track. I was reporting into
a VP that report into a C-level executive so I stayed there for two years.
What ended up happening was I ended up quitting in early 2010 because
I realize something. Even though I was excelling as fast as I wanted to
excel, it was still going to take me 15 years to get to where I wanted to
go. How did I know this? Because … that’s what it took Jack Welch and
he was on the super fast track so I knew there was no way I can do it
faster than that; inside of a bureaucratic company. Once I realize that I
knew it was time to walk away and build my own business because I
could do that in three years. I didn’t have to wait 15 years.
Andy: Got it. When did you stumble on to the world of direct response
Derek: I stumbled on to that in … when I first started working for
the corporation I was commuting on a train. I had about 45-minute train
ride and I didn’t know what to do on that train ride. What did I do? I
started reading books. One of the books I read at that point was
recommended to me by a friend called My Like in Advertising by
Claude C. Hopkins. After I read that book he said one thing in chapter
four “The competent advertising men must understand psychology. The
more he knows about it the better.”
Once I read that book I was like this direct response copywriting guy
knows a lot about this marketing thing. I was already in love with direct
response after reading that book but when he said that thing about
psychology it all clicked. Because I was a former poker player, I actually
almost Major in Psychology in college and that … when he said that
quote the light bulb went off in my head. I said “The whole world is
governed by why people do what they do. I’m going to know exactly
why people do what they do all the time.” That’s kind of what triggered
that spark for direct response and for psychology. That one book.
Andy: Wow! What about copy? Writing copy I imagine for celebrity
gossip websites is … got to be somewhat different than writing sales
copy. Is that true?
Derek: Well, not really.
Andy: Yeah?
Derek: Think about it. Cosmopolitan magazines known for having
some of the best headlines on there. What do they talk about? They’re
not selling anything other than magazines. You know what I mean?
When I was running that gossip site I was reading about things like how
to write headlines at work. Because I wanted my stuff to go viral at that
point. at that point I want my stuff to go on the [inaudible 00:30:26]
homepage, [inaudible 00:30:27] page and that’s what I was trying to do
with all my content. I start to study what made content go viral without
really studying the idea of viral marketing. You know what I mean? I
didn’t know what viral marketing was. I was just looking for the types of
things that went viral or that got a lot of traffic as they say. I would try to
reverse engineer that so I could get a lot of traffic.
That’s kind of like my first foray into actually writing stuff that spreads
but it wasn’t until I stumble on Claude Hopkins thing where it all kind of
connected the dots.
Andy: Got it. Got it. When you started learning to write copy were you
studying anyone in particular? Did you copy sales letters like a lot of us
have in the past or did you just start …
Derek: Do what?
Andy: Did you copy like sales letters by hand or did you just start
writing it for your own websites and see the results you got with it? How
did you go about learning?
Derek: I went about learning by reading and doing. I would read …
I read a lot of copywriting books like Breakthrough Advertising, Tested
Advertising Methods, My Life in Advertising, [inaudible 00:31:29] on
Advertising. I read all the great direct response books. Then I would just
try to use that stuff. I started noticing that as I start to use it more and
more I start to get better at it and I start to get even better at it. Then as I
start to get really good at it I [inaudible 00:31:44] realizes I write like
this anymore but I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good copywriter simply
because I’ve practiced [inaudible 00:31:50]. At this point it’s kind of
like … what do they call this in sports? I know nothing about sports.
Andy: Muscle memory?
Derek: Yes. Like twitch. Where like you kind of react to
something. You don’t even realize you’re reacting to it. That’s kind of
how it is when I’m writing copy at this point.
Andy: Yup. It’s like in your blood almost. It just becomes a part of your
Derek: Exactly.
Andy: For this psychology piece I think one of the things you and I think
[inaudible 00:32:19] have a gift for this. Maybe not a gift but you just
work your ass off and getting really good at it. You have a skill to get
inside the heads of people. Especially your audience. I feel like you
really, really understand the people you’re marketing to. What are you
doing to do that?
Derek: Yes. People always call it a gift. It’s not a gift. I’m good at
it but it’s not a gift and I’ll tell you why it’s not a gift.
The CEO of Lululemon, she … I think her name was Christine Day. She
would always figure out how to make Lululemon one of the most
profitable stores on the planet in their vertical. What was she doing? She
was encouraging people to get feedback from customers and people who
are buying and people who weren’t buying and the reasons why they
were doing and how did she do it.
She setup like dressing the folding tables near the dressing rooms. So
people who are folding clothes could eavesdrop on conversations. She
also had a blackboard where people could write their comments about
whatever it is they want to write their comments about on this black
board and made them bubble that blackboard stuff up to the people that
She would also personally go around and personally eavesdrop on
conversations to see how people interact with her stores. She would then
take this advice and try to figure out how she could do what she does to
make a better store. Right? That’s how she came up with these insights.
It’s not that she knew her market as a skill, it’s that she put the time and
to learn her market. Which Social Triggers did the same exact thing.
When you sign up to, go to the website, you sign up email … signing up, you’re going to get
X, Y and Z but right now I want you to do one thing. I want you to reply
to this email and tell me what you’re struggling with. Even if it’s
something small don’t hesitate.
I read every single response. I had thousands upon thousands upon
thousands of people respond to that email. Over the course of my first
year let’s say. I read every single email. What happened? I start to get to
feel for the type of people that were subscribing to my site and the
problems that they had. Once I knew the type of people that subscribe to
my site and the problems that they had, at that point it wasn’t about
being creative, it was just about creating content that solve people’s
How do I come up with the … how do I get inside the head of my
market? I talk to them. I figure out which driving them crazy. I figure out
what makes them happy. Then I use their words in my articles.
Andy: Got it. This is mostly via email?
Derek: Email, I’ve run surveys, I’ve … when I do webinars there’s
the chat, there’s all types of things that I’m collecting data from.
Comments. (Crosstalk)
Andy: Go ahead.
Derek: What were you going to say?
Andy: What if somebody doesn’t have … what if they’re not getting the
traffic or they don’t have that audience built up yet? How would they go
about really understanding the problems of a market?
Derek: If you can’t do the research yet you don’t have to. You have
to have an idea of what you’re trying to solve. If you’re in business you
know you’re trying to solve a problem. Then you try to think about who
has this problem. You create what they call the customer avatar where
you start to think about “All right, well this is the type of person I’m
trying to target.” Then you start to write for that person. However, you
have these other things in place like getting them to respond to email,
surveys and everything like that. You have that stuff in place to reality
test your assumption.
You may think that your market is a small business owner. Right? But
you want to make sure you have something in place to make sure that
you’re actually attracting who you think you’re attracting. You’ll find
that you don’t always attract who you want to attract but there’s this
other person that you want to attract. I found this with Social Triggers.
When I first started Social Triggers my ideal customer was someone
who already had 10,000 subscribers and already had a profitable
business. That was who I wanted to talk to. That’s why when you read
Social Triggers you kind of still feel like the content is a lot more
advanced than some of these other people out there. Because I’m writing
for that more advanced reader.
However, after doing the research I discovered that I was writing for the
advance reader but I was attracting a lot of beginners still because the
beginners, they didn’t want beginner stuff they want the advance stuff as
well. So I reality tested my assumptions with all these questions and I
discovered that I wasn’t only attracting advanced readers, I was
attracting beginners and that allows me to tweak my approach
Andy: Got it. With Social Triggers … before you wrap up here, what is
the ultimate vision that you have for? You’ve got a business, it’s thriving
clearly. What keeps driving you or what are you after with it?
Derek: This is one of those questions that drive me crazy because
… I don’t necessarily know the full answer to that. I do know this. I do
know that Dan Pink once said that there is a gap between what Science
knows and what business does. It drove him a little crazy. You know
what? It drives me crazy too. My goal is to bridge that gap. My goal is to
bridge the gap between what Science knows and what people do. This
applies to every aspect of life. This applies to … being productive. This
applies to building a business. This applies to introducing yourself to
someone you don’t know. This applies to dating, this applies to
everything. My goal was to show people that it’s not always about your
gut instincts, it’s about what works and then adopting what works for
your particular situation.
Andy: Very cool man.
If you’re starting all over and you’re starting … well actually before this
question, a question I actually really wanted to ask you was you have an
ability to get connected with really powerful people and I feel like you
were doing this before you ever had the Derek Halpern brand so to speak
or the Social Trigger’s brand. You had all these connections in the
blogging world. How did you do that? How did you build that network
so quickly?
Derek: It’s funny that you say this because I’m probably the
world’s worst networker.
Andy: Really?
Derek: Yeah. My friend Chris Pearson always calls this the gravity
approach to networking. I wanted to steal that from him right now. What
is the gravity approach of networking? It’s just do something so big and
so amazing that people reach out to you. That’s kind of how I’ve always
built my network. It starts from beginning.
When I was doing the gossip site, some well-known people, I’m not
going to name their names or whatever but they were launching a gossip
site as well, they had reached out to me because they knew about my
gossip site and we connected. It just so happen that they went on to build
a multimillion dollar software business after the fact but they kind of
reached out to me. Most of my biggest connections kind of fell in my lap
because I was doing something that people were either impressed by or
that something that people cared about.
That said you can speed up the whole networking process and you can
meet the right people and how do you do it? It’s always about what you
can deliver to these other people. It’s always about how you can help
them. When you’re dealing with someone that’s really busy, asking
them for advice is the worst way to get their attention. Instead, see a
problem that they have and solve that problem for them, for free, as a
way to get connected to that person. That’s kind of how I still do it to
this day.
When I launched Social Triggers my network exploded because I did
these conversion site review videos with all these top website owners,
right? I did one with Pat Flynn, Chris Brogan, etc.
A lot of these people I didn’t know prior to those reviews but what I did
know was this. I was like “Hey, I see you’re trying to build your email
list. I know that you’re not converting as high as you should be. Let’s do
a site review. I’ll show you how to increase your conversions. You run
the video to your audience. You’ll get benefitted. They’ll benefit from it.
Your audience will benefit from it. What do you say?” They were into it
because it was like a fair trade almost.
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: That’s kind of how I’ve always built my network was by
giving something to somebody.
Andy: That’s really the strategy [inaudible 00:40:49] comes in of
launching Social Triggers; instead of just focusing on doing, doing,
doing, doing quickly. How much time did you spend coming up with
strategy for Social Triggers before you launched it? Did you have a big
Derek: About a week. I was sitting down with lunch with my friend
Terry in February 2011 and I was complaining about how all these
marketing people were running marketing blogs and had audiences and I
was just sitting there thinking like these people don’t know nothing
about building a website. I was frustrated by that because they were
saying things like follow a thousand Twitter users then unfollow the
people that don’t follow back and follow another thousand people. And
then use Twitter search to follow people that are talking about other
people. They would say stuff like … I’m sitting there, thinking like
that’s the dumbest way to build a business.
I was complaining about this and my friend Terry just looked at me, he
goes “All right, well. Do something about it.” I was like “You know
what Terry? I will.” March 2011 Social Triggers was born.
Andy: Beautiful dude.
All right, so if you were starting … now back to this question. If you
were starting all over online, you didn’t have the Social Triggers branch,
you didn’t have the relationships, where would you start? What would
you focus on? This is really for the people who might be in that position
you were in in 2005 where they see people doing these things online and
they’re selling information products and they’re like “Oh. These people
can sell information products, I can.”
Derek: Yup. I would start here. I would make sure you’re doing
something different and let me explain what I mean by different. You
want to do something that you know works but you want to do it
When I started the gossip site I analyze all the top gossip bloggers at this
point and it took me two days to do it so it didn’t take that long. I looked
at all the top gossip blogs and I was like “All right. Here’s a gossip blog
about celebrity babies. Here’s a gossip blog about celebrity make up.
Here’s a gossip blog written by a gay guy for a female audience. Here’s
a gossip blog written by a straight guy for a straight man audience.” I
was doing this, right? I was just analyzing the breakdown of the market
to see who is there.
Then I thought to myself, there was no one there that was like this
straight male blogger that was snarky. All the straight male bloggers
talked about half naked women. All the gay gossip bloggers were snarky
in writing. This is like … I’m not trying to be typical, this is just what
the state of the gossip blog here was. Right? I thought, why were all the
straight men talking about half naked girls? Why can’t there be a straight
man that was snarky? I decided to be that straight man, snarky blogger.
That’s kind of the position I [inaudible 00:43:29].
[Inaudible 00:43:30] launch the gossip blog which everyone else had, I
took this unique position, nobody else had. When I launched Triggers
there was thousands of other marketing blogs out there but nobody was
talking about this [inaudible 00:43:41] of conversion. I took that
approach because it was a great way to break into the industry and break
into it. You know what I mean?
Andy: Yeah.
Derek: Now, if you’re trying to start … you have to figure out what
you want to become known for. You don’t want to figure out what …
you don’t need to come up with unique idea. You just want to look at the
top people in the space and see what they’re known for and do
something different. There’s too many people out there that are trying to
do the same exact thing as other people. They’ll see someone like “Oh,
there’s the location independent guy. I’m going to be location
independent.” I like traveling so now I’m the location independent travel
and guess what? Nobody reads their site because people stumble on that
site and they think, “You know what? This is just like this other person
but it’s worse. I’m not going to read them.” They go read someone else.
You know what I mean?
Andy: Yeah. What about the advice of follow your passion?
Derek: I think follow your passion is okay advice, the problem is
sometimes your passion is not connected to a business model. At which
point you better find something that’s connected to a business model and
get passionate about that. Very simple, right?
Andy: Yeah. Totally simple. I remember thinking back I tried the
blogging thing in 2007. It sucked. I remember trying to think of like
“what’s the niche I want to carve out?” I remember like it just felt really
hard to do.
Derek: Yup.
Andy: It felt really, really hard to figure out what that thing is. Of course
I didn’t have the knowledge to go through and break a market up and see
everything and see where people are positioned and all of that. It’s just
like a really big question and you feel like your entire life rest on. What
am I going to commit myself to for the next 20 years or whatever it is?
Derek: Exactly. You’re absolutely right. You got to take that time
to figure out where you’re going to fit in the market and go after.
Now, people always ask me why does this work so well. Well, think
about the bed of nails. When you’re laying on a bed of nails you don’t
pierce your skin. You don’t get hurt mainly because … I’m not saying
anyone can do this but the reason why people can lay on a bed of nails is
because the nail is approaching just a piece of your skin that doesn’t
have enough pressure to puncture the skin because there’s so many nails.
You know what I mean?
Andy: Yup.
Derek: That’s kind of how that works. If you’re starting a website
and you’re talking about everything it’s like laying on a bed of nails.
You’re never going to puncture your way into the market because you’re
not going deep enough. You’re not applying enough pressure to one
single point to break into the mark. However, if you find that position go
deep, you’re going to be able to breakthrough, no problem. You know
what I mean? It’s kind of like that. It’s just easier to do it that way. I
guess the bed of nails is a bad analogy but I just …
Another good example is I guess you can’t strike oil by digging 101 foot
holes. You got to dig one 101 foot hole. I always tell people to really
niche down and be specific. Break in and then branch out.
Andy: Dude, awesome man. This interview has been super fun. Your
insight’s so valuable. If people want to learn more about Social Triggers
where do they go? What should they do? Let them know.
Derek: There’s two things they should do. First thing they should
go to and get on the email list. That’s where I share a
lot of the premium stuff that I don’t release to the public just because I
like email subscribers are worth more to me so I treat them better. It’s
that simple.
The second thing is I have a podcast called Social Triggers Insider and
they should definitely subscribe to that because they’ll get insights from
New York Times’ bestselling authors, world renown researchers and
professor from … universities where they’ll share some cutting edge
research and then I’ll break down how that research applies to you.
Andy: Dude, awesome man. When he says get on his email list I would
suggest doing that purely to watch the way that he writes. I sign up for a
lot of people’s email list just to follow up like with their auto responders
and see what they do differently. Derek does some really unique stuff.
Dude, thank you for coming on the show today. This has been
Derek: Hey, thanks for having me.
Andy: Later man.