March 30, 2021

How Gaming Can Lead to Leadership and Success in Entrepreneurship with Eric Siu Ep. 11


Eric Siu is the founder of content intelligence software ClickFlow, which helps you grow your traffic while looking like a genius. He is also the Chairman of ad agency Single Grain and has worked with companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, Salesforce, and Uber to acquire more customers.

He hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Leveling Up, which combined have over 43 million downloads to date.

He also speaks frequently around the world on marketing and SaaS.

In his youth, Eric was not academically or socially successful, but he was a serious high-level eSports and poker player. He ultimately found how to convert his focus and success in gaming into a very successful career in marketing. He also contributes to Entrepreneur Magazine, Business Insider, Forbes, Fast Company, Time Magazine, and more.

Where to Find Eric 

Website: https://www.levelingup.com/

Instagram: @ericosiu

Twitter: @ericosiu

Facebook: Growth Everywhere

LinkedIn: Eric Siu

Youtube: Eric Siu - Leveling up

Tiktok: ericosiu

SPONSOR

This episode is sponsored by Entire Productions- Creating events (both in-person and virtual) that don't suck! and Entire Productions Marketing- carefully curated premium gifting and branded promo items.

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Transcript
Eric Siu:

Most people, I think they want instant gratification and it's super hard, but being able to think of decades, being able to think like an investor instead of time in market or sorry, instead of timing the market, you spend more time in the market. I think that's what it is. And people can think like that, then they're better than 99% of others out there.

Natasha:

Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and the myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

I'm putting the finishing touches on a digital course for entrepreneurs to learn how to grow their companies and find more profit in their current revenue. To download the free profit finder guide that I've created and also to put yourself on the wait list for the course, go to natashamiller.co.

Eric Siu is the founder of content intelligence software, ClickFlow, and chairman of ad agency Single Grain.

He hosts two podcasts Marketing School with Neil Patel and Leveling Up, which combined, have over 43 million downloads to date. In his youth, eric was not academically nor socially successful, but he was a serious high level e-sports and poker player. He figured out how to convert his focus and success in gaming into a very successful career in marketing, which we'll be talking about in this episode.

Now let's get right into it.

Eric Siu:

I failed forward. So that's the short answer, but yeah. My path is a little unconventional. So when I started working somewhere, when I was about 23 years, I started working at this e-commerce shop called Four-Wheel Parts. And one of my coworkers sold me a magic e-commerce store.

And that was like, oh, I'm going into entrepreneurship. This is it. And promptly tank, that website learned a lot about how important it is to vet your partners. I'm not saying they're bad people. The other law about partnerships. And then I bought another website from him. Did it learn my lesson? So I bought an IT training website called Upper Training that probably failed.

By the way, I had no interest in magic or software training and probably failed at, I think this is age 23 or 24, failed immediately. And continue to work on someone else's dime while trying to figure out this entrepreneurship game. About two years later, I had tried to start a consultancy called Evergreen Search, which is like a, just think of it as an agency.

And I was also doing work on Upwork too. So I was freelancing while I was working full-time somewhere. One of the leads reached out to the front desk of the company. And the next day the COO calls me in and boom you're fired. It wasn't like I was trying to start anything competitive. It was basically trying to generate site income while I was working this one job, helping this publishing website.

I was actually very excited that I was fired. I was, oh, I can do whatever I want. So I wasn't down or anything. And then I started getting clients that way. But then I had the opportunity to go work at a startup and I led marketing there. And then that eventually led over to me taking over this company called Single Grain does ad agency, which I bought for $2.

That was the real start to the journey. And I was about 26, 27 years old. And from there promptly, it made the company from bad to worse, dropped all the way down to one employee. And that was really my beginning to entrepreneurship.

Natasha:

Okay. So how did you bring it back up and how long did it take?

Eric Siu:

So I had actually read this book just a little more on the failure real quick. I read this book called Let My People Go Surfing from the Patagonian co-founder. Great book. And I took it literally. And I was like, oh yeah, let my people go surfing. So I stopped showing up to the office and let my people go surfing and then started hearing all these crazy reports. And then, I had no sense of what culture and communication looked like, and that's what happened.

So the path to making it work also, my outside county firm called me and said, it might be time to shut it down. And I decided to start focusing the company on, instead of SEO services, on paid media services. At the time we had no employees left. Maybe we had a couple of clients here and there with the one employee we had.

Thankfully, when I took over the company, I had also started to focus on SEO. So our SEO started to go up while the company started to tank and we started getting all these amazing leads. We started ranking number one for the keyword digital marketing agency. So we've got clients and we couldn't fulfill the clients.

So we started going to other agencies and we said "Hey, we'll give you the leads. You pay us 25 to 30% of the monthly," and they would do that. And so we generate a nice, healthy profit, a couple hundred grand, five, 600 grand or so from just affiliate. And that was great. And then we realized that these agencies could not retain the clients really well.

And so what we did was it's okay, it's time to build it up. This time was focused on paid media. So we started hiring kind of mercenaries and then full-time people. And then we started to build a team around that. And then from that point on my original thesis of taking a risk company with the intent of taking the cash flows and reinvestigate and other more durable sources of income or revenue that started to pan out.

And then now combined with everything that we have, it's over eight figures, which is great. So we went from, bought it for $2 to eight figure business. That's what happened.

What do you attribute to moving from failure to scaling up and success? Because there has to be something in between.

Yeah. For me, I think it's failure, failure, failure, success. That's been the story of my life. That was the ultimate failure. I almost got kicked out of high school. Almost got kicked out of college, got fired from two jobs. My credit score was like 480. When I was 19, 20 years old, I played a lot of poker so I've learned how to fail forward.

And a lot of these scenarios, whether it's playing games or playing poker, taught me how to fail and taught me that failure is the price of success, right? Like it's a prerequisite, but it's part of the journey. So whenever I'm finding myself doing something new, like I started playing tennis for the first time on Sunday.

It's oh yeah, learning how to fail. I really suck. And so that's really made me numb to the pain and I think that's what it is. By the way I didn't really get a lifeline from anything. It's just, I spent a lot of time head down and figuring it out. And thankfully it worked out, I won't say I had any genius stroke of luck or anything like that.

Natasha:

Did you have mentors or advisors, or did you study? Because going from failure to really being mature in your space and being a thought leader, there has to be some major development, not just failure.

Eric Siu:

Yeah. So I'll give you a couple of specific examples. So at age 26 to 27, this was before I took over the company.

I had basically finessed my way into EO. So I wasn't quite a co-founder of the company. I was a partner, but I had the COO title. And so luckily I joined EO and then my forum, this is the group that I was with for seven years or so. I was one of the founding members and I learned a lot. I don't know what I don't know.

I've learned about cashflow forecast and things like that. So they had helped me along the way. And also I was reading a lot and also I was learning a lot from podcasting. So at the same time, when I took over the agency, I had started to learn a lot from people. And I would selfishly ask a lot of questions tailored to the business.

And I think from that, it was really through osmosis. They'd give answers and then really they're sharing their experiences like in EO or YPO, it's known as gestalt. I just decided to take their experiences and make it into my own. And that's what happened. So I think I had the guidance of books, the guidance of podcasts, like learning from others and also the guidance of a peer group like my EO forum.

Natasha:

I love that you said that because I'm the same way as far as learning from others and the gestalt method and just listening, absorbing, and then putting into action what sounds like it's relevant to me and my business. Okay. So moving along. Congratulations. You wrote a book called Leveling Up.

You're a gamer. Is this a book that parents of gamers should read and also their gamer kids? So that they don't end up going, oh my God, my kid is like a loser, is a failure.

Eric Siu:

Yeah. That's exactly what my parents thought. I got the book right here is a physical copy right here.

Natasha:

Beautiful. Yeah. And I love how it's laid out and I love how the icons look like game segments. It's just really well done. So talk about the book and who's it for, and what are your hopes for it?

Eric Siu:

I think what we found is that there's a unique angle for both sides, that the parenting angle is huge because you're going to do anything for your children. And even today I was interviewing someone for a head of talent role and she's oh, I bought two copies, one for my nephew, one for me.

And she's like, yeah, my nephew played a lot of games. Graduated, has no idea what to do with his life right now. It feels completely lost. I was like, oh yeah, that's basically me. So it's a perfect book for that. I think the parenting angle is basically, the thesis is that gaming creates leaders. It creates successful people.

Elon Musk played a ton of games. Maybe he's on an extreme side. Mark Zuckerberg played a lot of games as well. Some of the best gamers I've watched from when I was nine years old, they were winning championships and cars back then. They sold a couple of startups, a couple of tech startups.

And so there's a lot to learn I think for parents just to understand that the stigma around gaming is unfair and there's always a stigma. There is a stigma towards the internet. There is a stigma towards Bitcoin. Stigma towards Snap. All of these companies, right? Stigma towards gaming.

Natasha:

There wasn't even a stigma in the ancient times for electricity. Any new function scares people. Or scared some people. It excites me.

Eric Siu:

And then it becomes inevitable and then you have to accept it. And so we're at a point now where 3 billion people in the world have played games and then it's becoming more accepted. In some countries it's the number one sport they'll probably become top three at some point. In the United States we're behind.

But I think parents need to understand that, hey, like gaming just really, it's a world where you go and train. And that's where I learned teamwork, resilience, communication, collaboration, all these different things, right? It's the same thing as sports. If you overtrain too much, you might tear your ACL. Same idea, same habits, and then you can carry that over into the real world.

You just can't stay in that shadow world for too long. So there's a parenting angle, but then the other angle mainly is really targeting my younger self. I told myself at 10 or 11 years old that this feeling, it feels really good. I wish if I can recapture this in real life, I'm going to be good. And now the understanding is, yeah, you are going to be good.

Really, the message is to get out to all these people, just to understand that, hey, even if I can help them change one little behavior, they're going to be on the right track. And so the message to me is really more important than trying to make money from the book or anything like that, which is why I chose to do a hybrid publishing model.

Natasha:

Do you think that really great gamers, so somebody at is at the top of their craft, that could translate very simply into successful entrepreneurship?

[00:10:38] Eric Siu: Yeah. I'll bet my life on that. Look, Toby, who's a CEO of Shopify, he has openly hired people on Twitter that were pro StarCraft players. Because in StarCraft, which is a real-time strategy game, you learn resource management, resource control, and you learn after you accrue the resources, what do you do with the resources after?

And you have to think in real time, it's a much more sophisticated game than chess. There's a lot more movements there and that's why he hires these people 'cause they have a strong understanding of how all of the things fit together. And so without gaming, without even playing a ton of poker, I don't think I'd have all the mental models that I have right now.

Natasha:

I don't know this about you. Have you thought about creating a course for gamers to help them walk over the bridge from gaming to entrepreneurship?

Eric Siu:

Yeah. So what we have coming with the book as well, which we'll follow probably two months after is, we have a journal coming out. Let's call it the Leveling Up Journal, which is about fostering great habits.

The book is about power ups, which is about just getting stronger and there's 15 of them in the book, but there's a lot more in real life. And so even building that habit, it's going to compound over time and then down the road, we can lead them. Like my superpower is marketing. So if they want to come into that world, great, they can. If they don't, just go build your habits into something else and then go make an impact on the world.

Natasha:

I can see so many ways of this working like in a high school curriculum, early college curriculum. I love the idea of it. So tell me about your podcast. Are you trying to monetize them directly or is it more of a funnel for your products and services? And you have a few out there, so can you name them so that we can all go look for them?

On the podcast, so there's Leveling Up. There's Marketing School. Are you asking about how I'm planning to monetize the book with all my traffic sources?

The book and your podcasts. You just said the book isn't really going to be a major revenue. You're not looking for it to make a lot of money necessarily, but of course it will be a funnel of some sort, but also the podcasts that you're doing.

Eric Siu:

So the book, even though I'm not looking for it to make a lot of money, my bet is it probably will. So yeah, there will be a funnel that's tied to it. I think, driving people to the book, like a free plus shipping type of offer and then getting the journals and then getting training, marketing training, because the plan is to start a boot camp and that relates directly with Marketing School. So the podcast I do with my co-host Neil Patel, that one's about $1.5 million a month right now. And we have events that are tied to it where we charge 25 to 35 grand for a ticket for a year. And there's that one. And then we charge advertising for it.

And then we want to add a boot camp to it. The whole idea here is it's 12 weeks. It might be an income share agreement type of thing where you don't pay anything until you get a job and you pay 15% of your income for the first two years with a cap of 30 grand, something like that. Or you could just pay 20 grand upfront.

And so there's that. And then with Leveling Up, the podcast that will just continue to grow and I'll just continue to interview amazing people just to learn from my own sake. And that's what we plan to do. But the entire funnel, if I were to think about this long term, is the agency. I'll always keep that, even though we have other businesses. But the agency will be used to train people up and they can either stay within the agency or they can come to our portfolio companies, or there's a recruiting angle as well, where Neil and I get asked all the time for marketers.

And so there could be an angle to bring people into other companies and we'll train them up. So really taking people from zero to actually getting a job. I think that's the goal because ultimately my goal is to level up the world with marketing. That fits in with that mission.

Natasha:

That's amazing. You have a lot going on, your core business, the satellite businesses, podcasts, the book. Those are all standalone businesses, even though they're projects. But there's a lot. So how do you manage it all?

Eric Siu:

Yeah, I think the easiest way to think about this is, there's a company in Canada called Tiny Capital and they used the profits from their web design firm and they go buy other online businesses. And so fundamentally that's the model that we have. We built a couple of things, but we are actively buying other businesses right now, whether they're service based businesses or product based businesses.

And the idea is we have operators that run each one. So for example, we have someone that runs the software company. I'm really not in the day-to-day on that. I just help him from a strategic standpoint. That's the model that we have, even for our events business. We have someone that runs that. And so there's really not a lot of work from my side from a day-to-day standpoint. And I just focus on, the highest leverage thing I can do is create content or do deals.

Natasha:

That makes a lot more sense because from what I estimate, from what I know what you do, I'm like there aren't enough hours. There are not enough VAs. But I understand now. So what is your title for these companies?

Eric Siu:

My title at the end of the day, it would just be, I don't even know what to call myself.

It's weird to call yourself a CEO because you're not really in the day-to-day on it. So I would just say probably the easiest thing to just say would be chairman. So visionary chairman, whatever you want to call it.

Natasha:

I would love to know this is a little bit of a vulnerable question. That'll be so helpful for people that are listening to hear this, but what challenge or problem are you trying to solve in your business right now?

And that's going to be a trick question because you have so many businesses, but if you had to think of one thing that you're stumped on, or it's a challenge. I want to show people that even people with great, wonderful businesses, there's always something going on or to learn.

Eric Siu:

Yeah. Each level has a new set of problems. So yeah, for us right now, it's recruiting a really experienced executive team that's been there, done that. So I think the more experience we get, the more we realize it's a who problem. And also who's actually done it type of problem. So it's a constant struggle on that front. And I think most businesses would say that.

Natasha:

Yes, I would say that. And I will say like in San Francisco, the market here was, pre-pandemic, so intense that I could barely get anyone to work for me for less than 150 or $200,000 a year. And I think that might be changing and I think I might be hiring soon. So how do you approach collaborations with people like Neil Patel and Josh Kopel?

Eric Siu:

Yeah. With those two, it's really 50:50. And so Josh approached me for the Restaurant Marketing School podcast. That's what we call it.

Natasha:

Which I love. I've listened to all the episodes. I know you haven't done a formal launch. I wrote a review and this is what I said in general, I know that this is for restaurants, but it absolutely parlays into everything that I'm doing.

Eric Siu:

Thank you for that. I wasn't sure. I first started recording with Josh when I was in Miami for New Year's. I'm so glad you like it. And so I think it's just fun. I think Josh is doing great stuff. Neil, the way that one worked out was he mistakenly thought that I said we should start a podcast.

And he said, let's do it. And then we ended up doing it. I think it was by accident. And then we basically signed a thing for 50:50, and then we just do everything together there.

Natasha:

That's great. So you were friends with him or you were colleagues with him and then it was just a natural-

Eric Siu:

I think, for those trying to think about, because oftentimes I get asked, how did you meet Neil? How do I replicate that? I don't think it's replicable because I got lucky in a time where I was actually asking a lot of questions and for whatever reason, he was responding to me. Usually you go someone after you get annoyed, but they kept taking it further. And then he's okay, now let's just do a phone call.

I'm like, okay. So then we do a phone call and then he's okay, now let's go meet at Taco Bell. And we met at Taco Bell in Orange County. It was more a mentor-mentee relationship initially. And then now I see him more as a peer, but it took time to get there. Yeah. I just don't think that's replicable.

Natasha:

But I think the idea of that for people listening and even for myself, is you have this alliance for someone, then there's a synergy and you may have felt like the mentee to the mentor. And then Neil probably quickly realized, whoa, this guy has got stuff that I need in my world. And then bam, we went together and did the podcast and so many other things.

Eric Siu:

Yeah. We get a lot of ideas from each other for sure. And a lot of inspiration. It's a different relationship than any other one I have. It's sometimes he'll call me randomly and we just talk for an hour or 90 minutes. It's really random. And then people will ask, oh, are you competitors? He has an agency. It's growing really fast.

And we don't see each other as competitors because we have so much going on and we just don't care because we're also not in the day to day as well.

Natasha:

There's enough business to go around for you guys. Just pre-pandemic for me as an event production company, there were more events than there were agencies to handle them. So there's enough for everyone.

Okay. So this is going to be an interesting question because you have so many businesses, I would say for your highest revenue business, which whatever one that is, do you know the benchmark of net profit for that industry?

Eric Siu:

Yup. So for agencies, if you do really well, 25 to 30%. If you're a lot smaller, you can get it up to 50%.

Natasha:

And right now, wherever you are, what would be like, I killed it. What number for you?

Eric Siu:

So I like 0%. Let me tell you why. Seller's discretionary earnings. 25 to 30%, like I just mentioned. That's great. As long as I know I have that, I'm good. But I historically have driven my profits to zero because I don't- what the agency primarily, because again, my thesis was always take the cash flows and go reinvest it in more exponential sources of revenue.

So I use it as my funding mechanism every year and it works out well. It's my angel investment every year and I don't need to answer to anybody else. That's what I like. As long as top-line continues to grow, then I just continued to use it as a funding mechanism. And I don't think that's for everyone. I'm fortunate enough where there's not a lot of obligations right now. And so your mileage may vary.

Natasha:

And do you have an umbrella company with all of these off shoots? Is that how you structure?

Eric Siu:

So there's a holding company and then there's a spot where I want to put all my media assets, for example, and things like that, just to make sure things aren't.

Natasha:

If you had to say, what is one of the most meaningful and major main strategies that you're going to focus this on this year to scale and grow your business? What are you really doubling down on?

Eric Siu:

So I'm spending a lot of time on Clubhouse as you've seen. To me, that is just building relationships at scale. I think that's great.

The other aspect is really around the training stuff. So whether it's around the book or Neil and I, we also have this thing called Marketing School Pro and then it's our low cost offer for people to get into a community. It's like 300 to 600 bucks. So I think it's building the education kind of muscles around that.

But if I had to narrow it down to one thing, it's just hiring.

Natasha:

Yeah, hiring. So about Clubhouse, I've been on, I'm not on 10 to 12 hours a day, like some people. And I'm wondering for you, you're on more than I am. Do you have a strategy when you go in? Do you have measurable things that you're going for and what are they?

Eric Siu:

I think I'm lucky because in some rooms I go into, they just pull me up and they immediately say my name. Like I'm some celebrity. And then I feel bad sometimes because it cuts other people off, but I get to talk immediately. And then what happens is, I talk for a little bit and then I just go idle. And that's why I'm just idle in the room.

And then the followers are growing and then my iPads out in the other room, and it's just growing. In the evening, that's when I become a lot more active. So yesterday I did a room for about three hours or so. About 600 people joined and that part's amazing. We're building relationships with people.

Natasha:

I love it for the relationship building and I've actually gotten a lot out of Clubhouse. So I'm right there with you.

But I'm wondering, let's talk about those 600 people in the room. You may not have done a count, but how many followers on Clubhouse do you think you attracted? And then how many Instagram followers?

Eric Siu:

So in that room, I think I gained about to be conservative, I got about 200 followers from doing that room and then I engage with a couple of people in the crowd.

So one was like a Instagram influencer. He had a million followers or something. The other one started a company, brought it from zero to 50 million in a year, super young woman. So yeah, those are the types of people that are coming into these rooms. Cause it was a very touchy subject. And then I realized, one of my high school friends came up and then she was talking, she does like artist management and hip hop.

And then one person she looked up to growing up was actually in that room who managed the Wu-Tang Clan. And then they're just like vibing with each other. So that was really cool. There's a lot of random stuff like that that just happens. And yeah, I just think that's super special, but that's Clubhouse. And I also use it for recruiting too, because I can find a lot of amazing people just by searching for keywords.

Natasha:

Yeah. I think Clubhouse is a huge future. It's going to go through phases like everything else. It was cool to be on the first wave or one of the first waves.

Eric Siu:

Facebook just launched a copycat word. They're launching a copycat. So that'll be interesting.

Natasha:

Of course they are. So back to the book. So we're nearing the end. I want to make sure that you are able to talk about the book and the capacity that you want to. Is there anything you want to say about the book that we haven't covered?

Eric Siu:

The book is fundamentally, the subtitle is how to master the game of life. I've always tried to recapture the feeling I had from age 10 11, just saying, oh I'm really excited to wake up every day. And I genuinely feel that right now. And that to me is the ultimate sign of contentment. I think that's what happiness is. So approaching life as a game and just playing until the day I die, that's what it is.

And I've spoken to a lot of founders and they have more money than they can ever imagine. And they all say the same thing. I just love playing the game. And I think if life is viewed as a game, we understand that gaming creates leaders, gaming creates successful people, and it's not a complete waste of time, then I think we're going to be able to give a lot of people in the world, a lot of confidence that they can do great things.

And the final thing I'll leave people with. There's a lot of power ups in the book, but I think one thing that sticks with me is just understanding that a lot of things take time.

Like I'm looking at this Pokemon card over here that I bought from one of my former employees. He works for Gary V now. I paid a couple of thousand bucks for this thing, for a piece of cardboard.

Natasha:

Gary V loves that stuff. It's so great.

Eric Siu:

Yeah. And this was one of those things that, look, this will appreciate. The idea is, this is an investment that'll appreciate. And so most people, I think they want instant gratification and it's super hard, but being able to think of decades, being able to think like an investor instead of time in market or sorry, instead of timing the market, you spend more time in the market.

I think that's what it is. And people can think like that, then they're better than 99% of others out there.

Natasha:

You learned about Eric's experience of failing forward, his new book Leveling Up, how to master the game of life and business, as well as what he's focusing on getting better at, and doubling down on to scale and grow his business.

Want to find out more about Eric and all of his projects? Check out the show notes where you're listening to this podcast.

For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review where you're listening to this podcast now. I'm Natasha Miller and you've been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Eric Siu Profile Photo

Eric Siu

Founder, Chairman

Eric Siu is the founder of content intelligence software ClickFlow, which helps you grow your traffic while looking like a genius. He is also the Chairman of ad agency Single Grain and has worked with companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, Salesforce, and Uber to acquire more customers.

He hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Leveling Up, which combined have over 43 million downloads to date.

He also speaks frequently around the world on marketing and SaaS.

In his youth, Eric was not academically or socially successful, but he was a serious high-level eSports and poker player. He ultimately found how to convert his focus and success in gaming into a very successful career in marketing. He also contributes to Entrepreneur Magazine, Business Insider, Forbes, Fast Company, Time Magazine, and more.