The Jay Kim Show #21: Nathan Chan (Transcript)
Today’s guest is Nathan Chan from Foundr Magazine. Nathan is a very chilled dude. He is based in Australia, and he has a very inspirational story like many of the guests on this show.
He was working in a day job doing IT for a company, and he just absolutely hated the grind of the daily rat race. During that time that he was working there, this was a couple of years back, he was side hustling. He was just consuming content, learning, and building this business on the side which became Foundr Magazine. He even says at one point he was using his IT company’s conference room to record his own podcast episodes.
He shares with us today his secrets on how he landed big name interviews with Richard Branson, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, and how he basically catapulted Foundr to becoming one of the top ranked business magazines in the world. I hope you enjoy the show.
Jay: Nathan, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you here. This is probably Hong Kong’s first entrepreneurial podcast. You’re inspirational to me. I’ve been following you for a while. I love your podcast, and I have to admit that I listen to your podcast and I have gotten a lot of ideas from you, and you do share a lot, so thank you for that. Can you just tell our audience here in Hong Kong a little bit about yourself and how you went from being a full-time employee for someone else to now being a successful entrepreneur?
Nathan: Yeah. Sure thing. Firstly, thank you so much for the kind words Jay. It’s awesome to hear that you’re enjoying our work and follow what we do, and it’s been a ton of fun so far. March 2013 I started a little magazine. It wasn’t actually even called Foundr at the time. It was called something else but I was actually sued for trademark infringement four months into starting it, so I had to rebrand and call it Foundr. I started this digital magazine in the app store, Google Play Store and I started it while I was working my day job just as a little side project, because I didn’t really know where it was going to go to be honest Jay.
I never thought it’d be some big media startup. Didn’t really have that big a hopes and dreams for it. It was so much unknown. I didn’t know anything about apps, publishing, design. You name it. Had no background in anything, but I was just extremely hungry. From before I started it I just came out of doing a master’s in marketing and couldn’t really find a job in marketing. For some reason, I don’t know why, after reading the Four Hour Work Week and a few other books I just had this drive and hunger to want to start my own little side hustle business. I launched the magazine. The first day we launched it we made $5.
Jay: Not bad.
Nathan: Yeah. Not bad at all, and as time went on we started to make a little more money, because I identified that there wasn’t really a magazine in the space for young aspiring and novice stage entrepreneurs and startup founders. As time went on I was just like, a few months in after I recovered from the lawsuit and stuff, I was like, “Wow. Maybe I can turn this into a business.” [Mike 00:04:19] was just watching the subscription base just grow, and that’s the beautiful thing about recurring revenue in a subscription-based business model, it’s very scalable and it’s very predictable.
While I had my day job I could just see at first the goal was to build up the magazine so it could replace operating costs, and run it at a profit, and then the next thing was running it at a profit to replace my income, and still cover operating costs. It took me about 12 months, and after 12 months I actually got there. All I focused on was the magazine. Had like the worst website in the world. Had no blog. Had no podcast. Had no social media presence. Had nothing. No other assets, just this magazine, and that’s what I focused on all day every day, and it took about a year and a half before we actually even launched anything else.
Then as time went on now three and a half years later we have as you mentioned a podcast, a high traffic blog, social media, and many different courses and assets that we’ve created, a subscription membership site and then the magazine, and working on all sorts of other products. That’s us and where we are today.
Jay: That’s awesome. I want to ask you if you don’t mind can we take a step back? You said you had done a master’s in marketing and then you were working at a job but you just had this hunger, so basically the job you were working at was not fulfilling you, or was it just you are just that type of person that you’re a high achiever, overachiever, and you just wanted more, and was it like a push or a pull for you to keep just pursuing this side hustle until you found Foundr?
Nathan: I definitely wasn’t an overachiever and I definitely had never marked myself out to be an entrepreneur, to be honest, Jay. Just kind of fell into it. I was working in IT support at a travel company. I loved the company. The company was and still is an amazing company with an awesome culture. It was actually a 20 year old startup and I’m still really good friends with the founder and he’s a mentor or mine. It’s a 300, no, maybe $400 million company. He’s taught me a lot: Daryl. The work that I was doing just wasn’t for me. That’s why I went back to uni and was looking for other work.
Jay: I love the how did you become an entrepreneur and I love hearing successful entrepreneurs talk about it, and you’ve definitely made something out of a side hustle. Two things, first of all did you get any pushback or support from your family? For me I come from a background of finance. I was on Wall Street for a long, long time and I still am an investor now. When I was growing up my parents being Asian they wanted me to be a doctor. The thought of being an entrepreneur wouldn’t even cross my mind. They’d probably disown me. They’d be like, “No. I didn’t work this hard.” My parents are first generation immigrants into the US.
They’d be like, “I didn’t work this hard to put you through school for you to just go and try to chase a dream.” How was the support from you on the family side, because I think this is something that for Asians more so, it’s a tough hurdle to get that backing from your parents. Then B, the second question was going to be at what point, at what metric did you use when you were doing your side hustle were you ready to jump ship? You mentioned the revenue part, but was there a specific metric that you used that you were like, “Okay. Now I can go off on me own.”
Nathan: For me there was definitely a metric that I used to be able go off on my own. To start the magazine it cost about three grand US. I spent that money, any money that I had on my credit card, kind of maxed it out to create that. There was definitely a number of what I was looking to achieve with the magazine before I could leave my day job, and I had a certain amount of savings saved up. Before that I was really terrible with money, Jay. I just love to travel and just always spent money on traveling around the world, and definitely had no financial literacy where I was good with money.
For some reason when I started the magazine I’d become quite frugal and much better with money. In regards to the support, at first my parents weren’t that supportive. They didn’t really understand, and it was only when in about six to eight months in where they realized that I was actually working on like a legit company or project. When we got Richard Branson they started to become really supportive and now they’re like super super supportive. My parents are amazing. My mum comes up with killer ideas sometimes, man. It’s crazy.
Jay: That’s awesome.
Nathan: She knows nothing about business but sometimes she comes up with really killer ideas. She’s got a good strategy and I think that’s one thing my parents have taught me is to become really resourceful because my parents they never really had much money even when I was a kid. They’re going okay now, like they’ve retired and they’ve paid off their mortgage, and they live quite comfortably. The amount of revenue and all the sorts of things that we’re doing, that’s kind of really unbelievable to them. They’re really really supportive right now, so, no, all good on that front.
Jay: That’s awesome. I’m so happy to hear that because it’s funny when you said that when you finally got Richard Branson then they were like, “Okay. You’re legit now.” That’s pretty funny. That’s probably something that my parents would do as well. Listen, your website, your magazine, your podcast. I mean you have so much gold and free value that you give out there, and I love it, and I’ve consumed a lot of it. Thank you for that first of all. Let’s say you are you again back, and you’re working and you’re listening to this podcast. You’re like, “Look, I’m working in IT support and I just don’t really like this gig. I want to do a side hustle and I just don’t know where to start. I’ve been reading Foundr Magazine. I’ve been reading Nathan’s website, and listening to his podcasts.”
Nathan as you’ve talked to some of the most brightest minds and the greatest entrepreneurs in the world, what have you distilled from all those talks and all those interviews as the first thing that someone should do if they want to begin their entrepreneurial journey?
Nathan: I think there’s a few things. I think one of the reasons that a lot of people don’t start is because they’re afraid to fail, and they care what other people think. I think the first thing that you need to do is just not give a shit. The moment that you don’t give a shit is the moment that you actually start taking action. I was there, Jay. The magazine was our first serious business that I launched, but I was playing around trying to do online marketing and all bits and pieces for years before I actually launched anything. I think that’s part of the problem is so much media, so much hype, so much wanting your first thing to be a success that you obsess around it, so much to the point of you want to make it perfect and then you just never launch.
I think that’s the biggest thing. You don’t know until you launch. You have to just let go of whatever apprehension that you have and let go of whatever fears you have and let go of whatever your family think or your friends think of you, and just start small. Don’t even think this is going to be a startup, I’m going to go and try and get into Y Combinator, or anything like that. Just think to yourself, you know what, my goal with this venture is to make 50 bucks the first month, and if I can do that maybe I’m onto something. Just focus around that. Focus around whatever it is that you’re launching whether it’s an e-commerce product, whether it’s a SaaS, a piece of software.
Probably that’s probably not the easiest thing to start with. Maybe an e-commerce product or some call it a service-based business, or maybe a digital-based business. Whatever that is just really, really focus on getting that first sale. Don’t worry about setting up a pretty website. Don’t worry about just worrying what other people think. Don’t worry about if it might fail. Just try and create a business that is reasonably simple, that has a market that’s already proven. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel too much and just try and get that first sale. I think that’s where you’ve got to start.
Another way to keep yourself accountable is to financially back yourself. That’s what I did with starting Foundr. I put two grand on my credit card to use the off-the-shelf publishing software to be able to launch the magazine and create the app. If you can make yourself financially accountable whether it’s spending a year’s subscription on Shopify which is 300 bucks or something along those lines and just trying to make yourself accountable is really powerful.
Then another thing you want to do is just do as much research and ship. Know your space enough that you have the confidence to ship that product or service, and once you have, find someone that’s done what you want to do and show them what you’ve done, and try and see if you can convince that person to help you every now and then, but serve first and ask later of course. I think that’s really key, finding someone that’s traveled down that road as well.
Jay: That’s awesome. That’s great advice. I think entrepreneurs, I think the fear that you get being an entrepreneur, you know, I’m not sure if that ever leaves. In some way, shape, or form I think every day you’re faced with different things that could fail in your businesses or in one of your businesses, but I think what you said is exactly right that you just have to get out there. Get your minimum viable product, or whatever it is, push it to market and just get it out there. We’ve all spent time on GoDaddy trying to find the best domain name or tinkering around with that website design.
In a way it’s just stalling really, and so if you just get it out there. I think you’re absolutely right, and what you said about serving first, I think, a lot of people are blinded by they hear these “overnight” success stories and they think that they can just mimic it, but it doesn’t really work like that. I think the sooner that you realize that, the better you are for it. I know that you’ve seen extreme success in Instagram particularly. How did that all come about, and how did you manage to be so successful on Instagram?
Nathan: I think that’s on point man. You just got to launch and see what happens and not really care what other people think. The key thing is if you want it bad enough you will make it happen. I find a lot of people that’s a common question: “I want to start a business but don’t know where to start. Can you help me?” We always say you go to this resource. Go to foundrmag.com/startnow. It’s a step-by-step guide of how to launch an online business. We’re actually creating, working on a course to solve that problem. I never thought that I’d get into courses but it’s going to become a really big part of our business soon, and I envision now that we’ll have hundreds of courses one day behind the Foundr brand.
To answer your question around Instagram and stuff like that, that was just a natural progression. When I left my day job I was looking for some sort of scalable channel that I could use to grow the subscription base of the magazine, and Instagram was that channel that I just found from a series of tests. I was testing blogging, I was testing paid Facebook ads. I was testing Twitter. I was testing just trying to drive traffic with Facebook by paying. The thing that really stuck that cost me no money and little to no money to get started and just generate serious traction was Instagram.
I think any good marketing is throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks, and Instagram stuck for us, so that was November 2014 that we started on Instagram. I left my job around August of 2014. Started the magazine in March 2013, so just over a year it took. Then from there at the same time we launched the podcast, we were on Instagram, and the first day we were on Instagram we got serious traction, and I was just like, “Okay, wow. How can we scale this thing up?” That’s kind of what we’ve done ever since. Up until to this point we’ve built some serious momentum for the business not just because … Big part of it is definitely Instagram.
Jay: I see so many, I don’t know who came first, but now that I’ve followed you I see so many other people all of a sudden coming up with these similar inspirational quotes, and it’s like a thing now. Every thought leader or influencer does that which is awesome. I think going back to your podcast or magazines, you’ve spoken to so many amazing just brilliant people. Which of those would you have to say, if you had to pick three top interviews, if you can even do that of your favorite or most inspirational or most educational, which episodes would they be?
Nathan: Really depends because …
Jay: Tough question I know.
Nathan: Educational versus personal favorites is a tough one for me, because I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of my heroes. One would be my favorite issue would be the Richard Branson issue because he’s one of my heroes and we spent a lot of time on putting that together. Then another one would be the Seth Godin issue because I’m a massive fan of his and we’d spent a lot of time putting that together, same with Tim Ferris.
Jay: Yeah. Amazing.
Nathan: Just really depends. You can only cover so much sometimes with certain people, and you can only hone in on certain things. For example, we did a podcast interview with a guy called Ben Chaib and he’s someone that’s just in the Foundr community, but he’s an absolute sales weapon. When he did that podcast he just didn’t hold back, and it was insane crazy the things that he shared on his exact sales process and how he sells products and services and how he teaches people how to sell. Oh my god, it was just amazing. The feedback that we had from it was just really, really powerful. It really depends, man, but does that help answer your question?
Jay: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that was a tough question to ask, but I think you’re absolutely right. I look to you and your podcast because you’ve been so successful, and I have to admit that when I’m looking for guests to pitch and whatnot, I’ve definitely looked at who has been on your show and seeing who might be up for being on my show. You’re absolutely right, there’s guys that go really deep tactical that I just love. Guys like Neil Patel who are just amazing marketers and they actually will share really deep dive secrets and tactics on how to improve SEO and content marketing which I think is awesome, and at the same time you have the inspirational hero category where it’s like I can’t believe you’re actually having a conversation with this guy. You know what I mean? That’s amazing.
Nathan, I want to talk a little bit about you as an entrepreneur. Is there a habit, a ritual, some sort of thing that helps you get through the daily grind as an entrepreneur? Just a skill that our audience can work on or a secret to your success on a daily basis.
Nathan: I don’t know if I’d call it a secret but it’s one thing that I think really helps me. I think it’s not something that everyone is born with but if you can hone on this it can be incredibly powerful. That is when I look at what I do with Foundr, and I think you said, Jay, that I’m successful. To be honest with you we’re doing okay and we have had a reasonable amount of success with the brand, but I think we’re only just getting warmed up. We’re only just scratching the surface. What you have seen is just only a small portion of what my vision is for the brand and what I’m trying to do.
The reason that I dream so big, the reason that I’ve been able to take it to where it is in three and a half years, which I think, I mean if I knew what I knew now I could have done it 100 times faster. It’s just I didn’t have the experience. This is an obsession for me. The reason that it’s an obsession is because I love what I do. This is what I was born to do. I have so much fun. I wake up every day and I’m super excited just to work, and I’m surrounding myself with amazing people, not just other likeminded entrepreneurs but also the people in my team. They’re incredibly talented, and we have so much fun at work.
I’m building out this amazing weapon team, and I think that’s my secret, that the work that I do with Foundr I’m extremely passionate about it, so much to the point that a lot of it is all I think about and it’s an obsession, and I’m so dialed into this space and my surroundings and what’s happening in this space and all the different pieces of the puzzle. I’m constantly obsessing of how we can make things better and how we can provide more value, and how we can grow the business essentially by providing more value. That’s how I get it done, and that’s why I feel I’m just getting warmed up.
I think if you want to build a successful business it has to be an obsession, and if it’s not you can’t win.
Jay: I think that’s probably another struggle that a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs have is finding … Passion is a weird word, and some people use it in the wrong context, but I think at the end of the day whether it’s what leads you to finding what your obsession is or vice versa. Sometimes you start off doing something that isn’t an obsession and it becomes an obsession because you get some traction, and it starts to work, and you start falling in love with what you’re doing. I think that’s absolutely important. It’s kind of like life is too short to be doing something you don’t love. Thanks for that, that little piece of advice. Nathan, have you ever been here to Hong Kong?
Nathan: No. I haven’t, Jay, but I would love to. I’ve been to Hong Kong many times in transit from flying in and out of places, but I would love to. I’d love to go to the races. I love the horse racing, so I’d love to go to the, is it the Hong Kong Cup?
Jay: Jockey Club. Yeah. You got to come up. Since you love horse racing, it’s a perfect place, because everyone in Hong Kong loves horse racing and gambling.
Nathan: That’s awesome. Yeah.
Jay: Definitely come up here. We would love to have you. We got to look to wrap up here because I know that you have back to back stuff going on. If there’s one final piece of advice that you can give to the audience after all the work you’ve done, after you spoken and interviewed so many successful people and just built your business to where it is now, what’s the one piece of advice that you would leave for my audience?
Nathan: I think it comes back to what I was saying before. There’s a lot of people that fantasize with the idea of starting a business or fantasize with, “It’d be nice if I could leave my day job and have my own business and live the dream,” and all that shit. I think it’s a little bit of a myth, because most people don’t really want it bad enough. I think it’s very, very rare to find people that are super, super hungry that want it so extremely bad, and they’re willing to do the work. They’re willing to stay up until 3:00 a.m. and then get up at 7:00 a.m. to go to their day job. I would recommend and say to anyone and challenge anyone that if you want to start a business, like how bad do you really want it?
If you just think it’ll be a nice thing or you say that you want to start a business or you say that you’re working on something but you’ve never even launched it, well I challenge you to actually just get really hungry, and I don’t know what it takes for that person to get really, really hungry, but you’re not going to make it unless you are.
Jay: That’s good advice. Especially with everything, the internet and social media, and everything, it’s very easy to fantasize and fall into that spiral of, “Oh, I could be an entrepreneur too.” 9X% of the people in the world should not be working for themselves and not be an entrepreneur. They should work for someone else. It’s just that. It’s literally that 1 or 2% that have that drive and will do whatever it takes. Like you said, stay up until 4:00 and get up at 7:00 or whatever it is to follow that obsession and chase the dream. Thanks for that Nathan. Thank you so much for your time. What’s the best place that people can find you?
Nathan: You’re welcome Jay. Best place people can find me just Foundrmag, F-O-U-N-D-R-M-A-G.com, or you can hit me up on Twitter @NathanHChan.
Jay: Great. Can you quickly talk about Foundr Club, because I know that listening to your podcast I know that you’ve been talking about that a little bit, but what exactly is Foundr Club?
Nathan: Pretty much long story short Jay, we found that a lot of people [inaudible 00:28:14] what’s going on. There’s people that love the brand that follow us on social, on Instagram, or Twitter, or Facebook. People that love the brand that just read the blog. People that love the brand just read the podcast. People that love the brand that just read the magazine. We seem to attract the coolest amazing people, and they were reaching out to us and we’d only know them. I felt that there needed to be a way to connect that community, and that’s what we did. We’ve connected that community by creating this amazing club, and people can access the magazine and training and give people access to some of the people that we interview and do monthly mentor calls.
Pretty much if you’re wanting to become a successful entrepreneur and you need a network of people to learn from and hang out with then that’s what we created Foundr’s Club for.
Jay: That’s awesome. That’s exactly what a lot of people need, and where can they find that?
Nathan: If you go to foundrclub, F-O-U-N-D-R club.com, you can sign up there.
Jay: Okay. Awesome. Foundrclub.com. Great. Thank you so much Nathan. I really enjoyed speaking with you today. I really appreciate the time, and thanks for all the advice and all the free content that you keep giving out to everyone that visits your site. We really appreciate it.
Nathan: You’re welcome. Thank you so much for your time, brother, I really appreciate the opportunity.
Jay: Take care now. Bye.
Nathan: You too. Right. Ciao.
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