Jeff Rizzo is the Founder & CEO of RIZKNOWS & The Slumber Yard, a digital media company that operates consumer review websites, which collectively garner over four million views per month. The company focuses on providing high quality, concise, and entertaining reviews of some of the most popular consumer products on the market. To date, the company has reached over 70 million people.Prior to starting his own company, Jeff worked as a middle-market investment banker at Duff & Phelps where he helped entrepreneurs raise capital, restructure their balance sheets, and sell their businesses, among other things.
Jeff has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley where he graduated with high honors.
Tools / Books / Resources mentioned:
Tools: Google Analytics, Google Search Console
Books: Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill
1:35 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Focus your company on specific audience and specific products.
Jeff introduces his business which reviews popular consumer products and publishes unbiased and authentic reviews in a unique what he calls anti-tv manner where there is not much competition. Jeff also talks about the ideal audience, male around 34 years of age, that his business reviews cater to.
4:11 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be realistic about business timeline and focus on your key strengths.
Jeff talks about how it took 3 years or so for him to get his feet on the ground with his business as he was learning as he went along. He survived those 3 years by relying on family support but knowing that time is on his side as he is only 22.
5:09 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Get the product out the door first and evolve based on feedback and reviews
Jeff talks about how his business model evolved where the initial focus was on selling products but he realized that unbiased youtube reviews is the better option and switched to it based on feedback.
9:04 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Market research and market validation is key. Focus on specific niches.
Jeff talks about the market research he has done to identify 2 areas where the competition is low for high quality video reviews and started making reviews. As he kept getting more and more organic traffic, he kept investing more.
12:36 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Identify key search engine optimization tools and focus on them to grow your business. No reason to be fancy.
Jeff talks about the tools he uses such as Google Analytics, Youtube Analytics, Google search console, Ahrefs, google adwords to grow his business.
15:40 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Motivation is key for entrepreneurs. Identify your key motivators.
Jeff talks about two factors that motivate him: (1) To prove his detractors wrong and show that he can be successful (2) create wealth for his family. He also talks about books that inspired him of which ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napolean Hill is at the top.
18:55 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Retrospection is key to grow your business.
Jeff talks about one thing he should have better is to stop and think about long-term. He also talks about expanding his business by adding more categories of reviews and also trying to get the best people and train them.
23:24 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Get a good business partner if you can and always have more cash than you think you need,Jeff’s advice to entrepreneurs is to get a good business partner based on his outstanding experience with his partner Matt. Jeff also believes that would-be entrepreneurs should have adequate money to get them through tough times as business always takes more time.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone welcomes to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and running your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. So, today's guest is Jeff Rizzo. Jeff Rizzo is the founder and CEO of Rizznos and the slumberyard; a digital media company that operates consumer review websites. Which collectively garner over four million views per month. The company focuses on providing high quality and concise and entertaining reviews of some of the most popular consumer products in the market. To date the company has reached over 70 million people. Prior to starting his own company Jeff worked as a middle market investment banker at Duffin Phelps where he helped entrepreneurs raise capital, restructure their balance sheets and sell their businesses among other things. Hey Jeff welcome to the podcast.
Jeff: Hi thank you so much for having me.
Ramesh: So, you have a bachelor's degree in business administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and it looks like are you graduated with a high honor from there.
Jeff: That's right I love that place.
Ramesh: That's awesome. Alright so Jeff let's get started with some of the basic stuff about the business. So, what is your business about and what do you would do?
Jeff: Well our business is very simple. What we do is we take popular consumer products and we publish reviews about them. Are they good, are they bad, are they worth your money and we try to have a little bit of fun along the way. So, we try to do like anti TV. So, what you see on TV is very polished, it's very professional. What we like to do is make our videos and our content as though your neighbor gave you information. We think there's something that's really valuable in the authenticity of here's when I think of a product, we weren't paid to say good things or bad things about it, here's what we think.
Ramesh: I see can you give me an example, some examples of the products that they review.
Jeff: Well we really do anything that piques our interest and a lot of times we choose the products based on what our audience asks for. But a lot of times it'll be technology products, headphones, speakers, wearable technology. A lot of home goods, so we do a lot in the bedding space and the home good space sports and outdoor. It really has to do with our audience you know our audience is mostly males. You know probably the average age is about 34 and so we just try to placate, or we try to play to whatever they want.
Ramesh: I see. So which websites should they go to look at some of your reviews?
Jeff: Well they can go to either. So www.rizknows.com has a lot more of our technology reviews and www.myslumberyard.com has a lot more of our home goods reviews.
Ramesh: Okay great. So how do you make money?
Jeff: So, we make money off advertising. It's very simple. We get a lot of people to watch, we get a lot of people to come to our website and then we sell ads against it.
Ramesh: Okay so let's talk a little bit about your own journey. When did you start this business?
Jeff: I started in the year. I want to say late 2013.
Ramesh: So about five years in the business. So, what's the motivation? Why did you want to start the business? You've been doing quite well with the Duffin Phelps and all that stuff.
Jeff: It was great, I loved it there. I had a wonderful time. I know I can always go back to the investment. At the end of the day I went to business school. I went and got a degree in business. I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur and, so you know one day I wanted to leave and try something on my own and I fiddled about for a long time until I finally got some traction. But yeah, I think anybody interested in business always has dreams of being an entrepreneur, just like you.
Ramesh: So how long did it actually take for you to start the business?
Jeff: Well you know it took me about three years to get any traction. You know most of it I lived off loans from my dad. I lived at my parent’s house, I made no money and I was really inventing our business model as I go along. But I obviously had a luxury, I was 22. So, you know I had a lot of things that were afforded to me that a lot of other people don't have. So, I could take the time to try and learn about this business and really there weren't that many businesses like us at the time. I mean there's a lot now. There was a good number then. But there wasn't really a template on how to do it. It's not like we are manufacturing something where there's an ironclad template on how to do it. So, I was just basically learning as I went along.
Ramesh: Okay so talk a little bit about if you can about how the business evolved. Because you talked about the business model. What was the initial concept and then how it evolved over a period of time?
Jeff: Well it started that I wanted to be an online retailer and I thought you know one of the best ways to drive traffic to my website would be that I’ll make educational videos. Because at the time there were certain categories of products that you just couldn't buy everywhere. Amazon was big, but not as they are now, and I said well you know what I’ll start selling things on a website and I’ll make videos about them to teach people about them and it took me all of about two three months to realize well people really want the education and I'm not nearly as sophisticated enough to build a very large e-commerce platform. So, when am I start just doing the videos, do my best job there and I’ll let the retailers do what they do best and I'm really glad I did not become an online seller. Because I think I would have been out of business in the first year.
Ramesh: I see. So, did this evolution come with the knowledge that you've been gaining or was there a mentor, advisor, other people guiding you to get to where you are?
Jeff: Well of course everybody has friends and mentors along the way. I had nobody that was in my space, that even knew anything about my space. Most people thought I was crazy. Because I was sort of at the forefront, there really weren't many people doing YouTube videos. So, I was laughed at when I made YouTube videos and now we see just how gargantuan YouTube is. So, you know you have people that help you along the way is just with general business items. But nobody could give me a template on how to run a YouTube business.
Ramesh: So, it looks like based on what you said, it took about three years for you to get comfortable of the business and then the money that the company is making, is that right?
Jeff: That's right.
Ramesh: Okay okay. All right so now let's switch little bit about Jeff Rizzo as a person. So, who is Jeff Rizzo? So what kinds of motivations and drives, what's your personal journey?
Jeff: Well I think I’ve got a fairly interesting one. But you know I went to junior college. Didn't get into a lot of colleges I want to and then I worked really hard to get into Berkeley and got into Berkeley as a transfer student and you know I was far behind a lot of the other students and I really competed hard to get a job in Investment Banking and I loved what I did as an investment banker and then one day I wanted to start my business. It's you know it's I guess somewhat typical right. But not a lot of people really transfer to Berkeley and go on and do all this stuff. So, I think I'm a little bit unique for that facet.
Ramesh: So, during the three years as you are trying to find your ground in the business, it's not easy three years, right? So, lots of ups and downs, lots of mental struggles. I don't know about you but in general people go through whether I did the right thing, or should I go back to job. So, can you talk about your journey during those times when you're trying to no find some ground.
Jeff: It was very dark, and I was 22 and you obviously know how big social media is now and, so you know I think a lot of it was motivating. I had a really big chip on my shoulder, because everybody thought I was stupid and because I had left a great job in finance and it was really dark. I had no money. I was living at my parents house you know and my business really wasn't anything. But you know obviously was all worth it, because now I’ve got a giant chip on my shoulder and I just want to make our business as successful as I can. So, it was tough then, but it's a lot better now and I just don't want to ever do it again.
Ramesh: Right right. So, you talked a little bit about the market research you have done, the ideal customer you said the male and then 34 years old. So how did you go about the process of doing the research and how did you find that sweet spot of the customers for your business?
Jeff: Well I focused on a couple of categories where I knew that there wasn't a lot of information out there. I wanted a burgeoning industry that was really interesting that checked off a whole lot of other boxes and I found one or two and I started making videos and it just took off. Because the competition was relatively low, the demand was really high for videos. You know there's a lot of other things sprinkle in. But at the other day it came down to just supplying and demand. Nobody was creating high-quality entertaining videos. I wanted to do it and it was about a category that was growing quickly.
Ramesh: So, I mean market validation is one of the things that I believe in. So, for you to find the market validation for your ideas, was it that traffic that is coming to websites that validated the idea? So how did you know that you were on the right track?
Jeff: Yes, I woke up one day and I was looking at the videos that I had created, and I was wondering hey is anybody seeing you know these videos. I was obviously working as a consultant at the time just to make something and I think it was about 150,000 views over a few videos and I was like whoa this is not something small and then I started to invest in everything.
Ramesh: So, to get to that 150,000 or whatever, did you do some promotion? Did you put some money in? Or was it organic traffic that you're getting you know.
Jeff: It was all organic traffic. I think to date as a company we spent about two thousand dollars on marketing and that includes t-shirts that we made for a bunch of people to wear around. So, we've spent almost no money on marketing.
Ramesh: Wow so that is actually very interesting Jeff. So, I mean can you give some listeners some ideas how that happened. Is it just entertainment of the videos itself? Word of mouth or what is it?
Jeff: I'm sure word of mouth played a part in it. I just can't quantify that. It just so I gotten lucky. Everybody gets lucky. I got a major break. It was at a time when people weren't really creating as many YouTube videos. Certainly not on the reviews side of things and yet Google started to put YouTube videos on the first page of Google. Particularly so on mobile devices. So, there was like two major trends that I lucked out. I didn't realize it at the time, but I lucked out and it just completely took off. I mean I owe most of my success to the fact that I was in the right place at the right time. So, you know of course the videos speak for themselves. So, they need to be helpful and you need to do all those things. But at the end of the day Google started putting YouTube videos on the first page and people started using mobile devices more and that was really the secret sauce.
Ramesh: That is very fascinating. So are you a technical person. I mean you get dirty with the technology or do you rely on other people to help you in that area?
Jeff: I know enough to get by that I'm outclassed by almost everybody I need on the tech side. I can you know I can code a little bit. I know a little bit about computers. I know a little bit about cameras, I know a lot about filming and lighting and audio. I'm a jack-of-all-trades in a king. You know you put me up against somebody that does it for a living and I'm pretty garbage.
Ramesh: That’s good. But you have enough information to get by. So, what are the tools that help you in your business? Things that you rely on the most.
Jeff: Well we use Google Analytics a lot. We use YouTube analytics a lot. We use Ahref a lot. We use Google search console a lot, Google AdWords a lot. All of the kind of you know the general stuff. I'm sure you're very familiar with a lot of these tools. A lot of the basic things, we don't really have anything proprietary.
Ramesh: Okay so basically the search engine optimization related stuff, keyword research looks like that those are the kinds of things that you're doing.
Jeff: Yes, and I would say you know this is a proprietary either. But we just have such a large audience that we pull a lot of our great Intel from them.
Ramesh: That is actually is a very good technique that I’ve learned where, yeah so you learn from your customer and then the pain points that are having, that's great.
Jeff: It's exactly right, I mean we obviously lucked out there too.
Ramesh: That is great. So, okay so now I went on your website. I did some research and then I was doing a little bit of research on you and I found some things. Number one he talked about combo sleeper right. So as one of the characteristics, I would like the listeners to know and then you have other people who are back sleepers or things like that. So, can you talk a little bit about that?
Jeff: Yes of course I love talking about this. Okay you know one of the things when we talk about mattresses, which is you know we talk about a lot of categories. But we really like mattresses too and so part of it is when people ask us hey what's the best mattress? Well you can't really answer that right. It's like asking any question, it all depends and so one of the biggest things it depends on is what your preferred sleeping position is. Whether it's side, back stomach or if you sleep in a variety of positions, a combination of position. So, among the other things we like to assess what people's preferred sleeping position is and then you know other things come into play. Height, weight, height to weight ratio, sleeping temperature. I mean there's just so many things that come into play. But sleeping position is perhaps the biggest thing.
Ramesh: All right and then the second question about you is that you write poetry, I’ve learned okay. So what kind of poetry do you write?
Jeff: Oh, that's a joke, I think somebody put that up just to play with me. Yeah, I think you know me now already enough to know that I am not a poet. I am a pretty average person.
Ramesh: Okay the third one I found out, probably I'm sure this is true. So, you were a fourth grade Spelling Bee champion.
Jeff: That's right, I actually wasn't Spelling Bee champion. I think that's wrong also. But I got a hundred percent on every single spelling test in the fourth grade.
Ramesh: Oh fantastic. So, height of the academic achievement.
Jeff: That's right, that's right.
Ramesh: Okay so all right so now let's switch a little, like who are the people that inspire you? So, when your personal journey or the business journey people that motivated you.
Jeff: Well I think anybody out there that is building a business is motivated by people that don't believe in or part. Like I say have a chip, a lot of the athletes that I follow they have a chip on their shoulder. So, I think at some point some of that comes down to, I just really want to prove some people that put me down and made me feel stupid, wrong. The other part of it is that I'm inspired by my family. You know there's so many people out there with inspirational stories. But at the end of day I want to build long term wealth for my family and be able to provide for my children and give them a better life than I had and provide for my wife and all of those things. So as much as I get inspiration from other successful entrepreneurs, a lot of it comes down to I want you and I need to do this stuff for my family. You know it's as simple as that sounds that's really what makes me want to do it and of course I really want to work hard for my team. My business partner Matt is the greatest person you'll ever meet your life and I never met anybody that worked harder than him and I'm so lucky to have him on my team. So, I just never want to let down my team, that's part of it too.
Ramesh: That's great Jeff. So, a couple of other things, are there any books or movies or things like that inspired you or found interesting?
Jeff: Well you know actually this is interesting. So, when I was first starting my business, I was having a very tough time and I knew I was on to something, but it was tough because no one believed in it. There really weren't a whole lot of businesses like it and I kind of questioned myself every single day. Should I quit and get something more traditional and it was really a roller coaster and I was just feeling great one day and feeling terrible the next day. My mom heard on the radio about a book called Think and Grow Rich and it's an old book, I think it was written in the 40s.
Ramesh: Napoleon Hill.
Jeff: That's right, that's right. It's one of the top ten right business books ever and I had never heard of it and, so I bought it in and there's a story in there about a guy, I forget his name. But he ended up mining for silver. And him and his cousin I believe, they had the silver mine and they started making money and then all of a sudden one day it had dried out, then they worked at it for months and months and they made no money and then they just sold it off and they said you know what? We thought we had something, but we don't have it. They sold it to a geologist who ended up going out surveying it or he sold it to a scrapyard owner I want to say who found a geologist, surveyed the land and said there is a massive deposit of silver three feet beyond where they stopped digging and I felt like that was perfectly analogous to my entrepreneurial journey that I just couldn't give up, because I was three feet away. In fact, I wrote three feet away on a notebook that I still had to this day.
Ramesh: That is fantastic. I mean I think as entrepreneurs definitely you know when it seems like the end of the road for us, just beyond that is actually the light. Looking back Jeff what are the things that you think you could have done differently as a piece of advice for the listeners?
Jeff: I think I should have paid attention a lot more and stop to think a lot more and I'm trying to do that more now. But I'm still not great at it. Just stopping to think, you know I think if I would have taken a couple of weeks to really think about the long-term prospects of my business and not just work day by day and been so consumed with the day by day, I think I would have moved a lot quicker towards my ultimate goal. As silly as that sounds right I mean everybody says that's so cliché. But I wish I would have taken two weeks to just reexamine my business and where it was going and clearly that just makes me feel really stupid now. But I wish I would have done that.
Ramesh: But as entrepreneurs we face the challenge that the near-term making the next month's check, it's almost a paramount right. So, I think you're pointing out the right thing which is having a longer-term picture will help out. But I think we have the pressures of the near term.
Jeff: 100% agreed. But it just makes me feel so ignorant and so stupid and I really want to vow to try and see the forest through the trees for now and I'm really really disappointed that it took me this long to build my business.
Ramesh: So, you're about five years into the business and then looking ahead I mean you feel that you're in firm footing now or are you bound by the vagaries of the Google search engine algorithm change? Do you think suddenly if the change algorithm that you might not get the traffic, you might not get the business. So, I mean what are your thoughts?
Jeff: I'm not worried about it one bit. Not at all. In fact, I welcome it. I want them to do it. Because Google's incentives aligned with mine. They want to match you up with relevant content and I want to provide relevant content. I think I provide the best content out there. I think it's more engaging, I think it's more helpful, I think it's more entertaining, I think it's more personable and, so I really think long-term Google is moving towards what we're doing. They're moving away from fly-by-night review sites that don't put any time in their work and that are just trying to rip off affiliate commissions. I really think long-term Google is trying to match people up with what we're doing versus what other people are doing. So, I have no worries whatsoever. Plus, I think the long term, I think we’ve got a lot of things indicating that video will continue to dominate and that's probably our core competency.
Ramesh: So, looking ahead how do you plan to expand or continue the business? What are the thoughts you have? Are you planning to grow into more categories of products or how are you planning to grow the business?
Jeff: That's exactly right. I want to do more categories. Firstly, I want to do a better job in the categories that we have, and we need to hire more staff and I mentioned that it's a non-traditional business model. So, it's finding staff is actually really difficult. Luckily, we have a great team. But we need to do a better job than the categories that we're in and then we need to move into new categories as we see them and as we discover them, and I’ll tell you what, there are a few that I'm really excited about. But we're just not ready to just yet.
Ramesh: Okay so without naming the companies like who are your competitors. Like what kinds of businesses or websites or whatever, who do you see as your competition?
Jeff: You know our competition is every media site out there. Everybody does reviews from The Wall Street Journals and all these guys New York Times. So, everybody is our competitor and at the end of the day we're competing for people's eyeballs right and their attention and, so we really compete with everybody. Of course, we compete more with the review sites that are in our space. But you know when people are searching for things online, it's so easy to go down a rabbit hole. So, everybody is a competitor and the only way that we can differentiate ourselves is make our content better and more entertaining and more engaging and more personable.
Ramesh: That's excellent. Hey Jeff as we come towards the end of the
podcast, so I'm going to ask you probably a few more questions. One is based on your experience based on both the ups and downs of your journey, what are the few like three to five things that you would like to give an advice to people who want to start the businesses?
Jeff: I think the best thing I ever did was get a business partner and I’ll tell you what? Matt my business partner, I cannot say better things about him. I mean I got so lucky and everybody talks about that you should hire people smarter than you. Maybe it's not always a reality, but Matt is certainly smarter and works harder than me and somehow, I got lucky to get him. So, first thing I would say is get a business partner. I don't care how much the company you give up, you know half of whatever is more than a hundred percent of zero. So, get a business partner. Second thing would be being have more money in the bank than you think that you'll need. I think you need probably five times as much as you think you need. Because everything takes longer and possible more than you expect it to.
Ramesh: Right right and that is very true.
Jeff: Very very true, everything does.
Ramesh: All right so any last-minute thought Jeff?
Jeff: Last minute thoughts are well thanking you so much for your time and having me on I'm humbled that you would even take the speak with me I just want other people to become entrepreneurs and be a big part of their communities and be productive members of society and I'm so lucky and fortunate to be an entrepreneur. I want everybody in your audience to become an entrepreneur.
Ramesh: I believe that too. I mean you come across as a very self-effacing guy. You know always seems like eager to learn and then giving a lot of credit to people that work with you. So, you're a very, you know come as a good guy all right.
Jeff: Thank you very much.
Ramesh: That's fantastic. So, wish you the very best in your business to you and Matt. So, thank you for your time.
Jeff: Thank you too. Hope you have a wonderful day.
25:08Ramesh: All right take care.