I chatted with Travis Rosser from Kajabi while I was recently in California. We talk life, business, successes, obstacles, and mindset.
Kajabi is a marketing and content delivery platform that was started by Travis Rosser and his long-term mate Kenny Rueter in 2009. Travis did design and Kenny did programming back then. They never worked together but would meet regularly for lunch, and then eventually started doing some joint consulting projects with the dream of one day building something together.
I love hearing the back-story to a good business partnership; how it came about and what key ingredients make it work. Travis told me a great story about one of the boys' first online endeavors together. I’ll let him tell it in his words…
“Kenny had invented this kid's car wash. He invented this thing called ‘Crazy Spray' – this car wash for kid's bikes, made out of PVC pipes, sprinklers and hoses. So, Kenny builds it and he puts it in his driveway. He's like, “Oh, this thing's awesome, you got to try it!” So I went and built it for my kids and my kids loved it. Then we're like, “Hey we should sell these on the internet.” Because that's what we should do, build a business on the internet! And then we were lazy; we're like, “I don't want to cut these pipes, put them in boxes and ship them; let's just shoot video's and teach people how to do it.”
“And so way back then, this was in 2008, we built this thing, we put it on ClickBank, we got WordPress, got all the plugins – and here Kenny and I are programmers and designers and it took forever to figure out! We literally at one point were like, “What are we even working on anymore?” We forgot! And then he gets it up, we got it going, made a couple hundred dollars on ClickBank and we were like, ‘That was fun, but maybe there's an easier way to build a platform that allows someone to share content, video content, and then monetize it.' So the idea was born.”
With absolutely no connections, the boys knew they’d need some pulling power in order to start Kajabi, so they started reaching out to the ‘big wigs’ via Twitter and offering to do things for them for free. “I’d literally just offer our time for free and we slowly got to know them. Then as we pitched this idea, in the end of 2009, the first customer was like, ‘yeah let's try it out!'” Travis recalls.
Although the method Kenny and Travis used would have been time-consuming, this theory of reciprocity is one that I totally agree with. If you put yourself out there and help people, it’s bound to be reciprocated. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Be helpful, engage in conversation and then choose a time that’s right to enlist their advice or support.
Travis sums it up perfectly when he tells me, “And out of just dumb luck and being foolish, you know, being hungry and foolish – the Steve Jobs thing, we just kept reaching out, and then we always had this weird confidence about it – like okay, one day this is gonna work. And to really make a JV (joint venture) work you have to come providing something of value. Otherwise, they're just doing a favor for you.”
To make a JV work you have to provide something of value - otherwise it's just a favor. @travisrosser
So after helping them fix their WordPress sites among other things, they eventually said, “Hey we’re building this system, do you guys want to put your courses on Kajabi for free?” And so during that year in 2010 people like Andy Jenkins, Frank Kern, John Reese, Jeff Walker, and Brendon Burchard were on the system.
Before they had any customers on Kajabi, the system had already made millions of dollars!
Travis likens this to the ‘Tiger Woods Effect’ – “It was kind of like giving Tiger Woods your golf clubs and then he goes on and wins the Masters. And it was like, ‘I want those golf clubs!' And again, it was just being hungry and foolish.”
When I asked Travis what the hardest part of a being in a business partnership was, he told me that it’s the two different brains having to make a joint decision on something – looking at it from two different angles. By the same token though, he recognises this as one of the company’s strengths.
A Good Partnership“I was just joking about this before – in a good partnership, someone needs to be OCD and someone needs to be ADD – and I'm the ADD one. Moving too fast! By myself, that's completely worthless. OCD by itself is not that great either, but when someone is good at building good shit that works the way it's supposed to, and it's organized, those powers come together, and then there are moments of brilliance too.” Travis Rosser
Travis attributes both his and Kenny’s business strength and resilience to their childhood and upbringing. I was intrigued to learn that Kenny grew up with a stutter from the age of nine till about twenty years old. He endured some rough years – teasing and bullying; but that’s what taught him never to give up, “…because sometimes the hardest things – you either overcome them or they're just not there anymore. And that's entrepreneurship!”
Kajabi is such a great name. I was curious as to where it originated – a question I’m sure the boys get asked all the time. It’s actually an aboriginal word, meaning, ‘to fly.' Travis used to work at a summer camp where they played a game called Kajabi-can-can involving a trash can, ropes and a circle of at least 10 people. Travis thought it was ‘the coolest name ever’ and so he bought it 10 years before the notion of the current business had even come about!
They researched the name once more before making the final decision for this business endeavor, to be sure they knew exactly what it meant. When he saw one of the definitions being, “an old word that was used for flight and taking off,” he knew it was the right fit.
I had a tour of the Kajabi office and there are so many interesting features based around that theme – airplane paraphernalia all over the place!
I’m a firm believer that making mistakes is the best way to learn and grow. Travis is the first to admit to the mistakes they’ve made along the way, as well has having a good laugh about them. His story about the Kajabi launch is priceless!
“We had a team in the Philippines to do support for us, and the Philippines is a full day ahead of us. And think about this, we launched on a Thursday. Then Friday comes, then pretty soon Saturday comes and our whole team is off, they're done! They've been off for a day now, and we have 2500 tickets in our queue!
We're both at different soccer games with our kids and Kenny's texting me like, “We got a problem.” We raced to Kenny's house, got all the Mac computers we could find, put them on his kitchen table and started answering tickets. We got help from neighbors and friends. To this day, his father in law still works for us because of that. He's like, “This is fun!” I'm like, “This is fun? I'm dying here!” I had so much anxiety from that, that I was getting chest pains, thinking I had a heart attack – turns out it's anxiety! I went to the ER thinking I had a heart attack. And it was just too much stress at one time.”
A crazy beginning, but one Travis says was totally worth it because of their vision. It’s interesting to note too, how a business vision evolves over the life of a company. At first, the vision was to build a cool product, to make more money for his family and to just be part of building a company. Now, after such growth and success, his main focus is on helping as many people as he can to transform their lives through their businesses.
“You know, back then we had this idea that everybody was good at something, or they knew someone who was good at something and that we were going to build this platform to help them. And seven years ago we had no idea how powerful that was. To date, our customers have made over 400 million dollars! I love sharing the passion, the knowledge, and the pain. For example, we just met with a guy who has a course on OCD. And he's now helping people overcome mental illness and issues and the same pain that he had. That's powerful.”
“We always come back to, ‘why are we doing this?’ We're doing this because we have an opportunity to change people's lives.”
Travis grew up in a small farm town in California. He’s seen people struggling to pay bills, including his own family, and what he loves about his business is the fact that it gives anybody with knowledge in a certain area, the opportunity to build something based on that knowledge, to start a business and share it. To further detail this, he told me about a recent fishing trip…
“We went fishing in the Bayou, and our fishing guide was the most awesome guy ever, and at the end, he tells me, “Yeah, people pay me 300 bucks to come hang out with them for the afternoon. I'll show 'em how I do everything.” He's like, “I'm thinking about making a DVD and selling it on the internet.” I'm like, “Funny we met!”
Travis sees what Kajabi is doing as an opportunity for anyone who is concerned about their future – not having enough social security, being worried about retirement etc. to be able to take matters into their own hands, and not just survive, but thrive. They celebrate their customers wins on the “Kajabi Hero Wall” page of their website. Each customer who has made $1000 using the product gets an interview and a photo of themselves wearing their hero t-shirt taking pride of place on the page.
“And now I look at my parents, they're getting old you know… what if my Dad could take all that knowledge he has, and easily share it? Because that's the future. What if your retirement was in here – what you've learned? Take for example people who have worked in a factory their whole life, and they learned how to use this machine really well. Right now in America, there's this huge gap of skilled workers. Some of these jobs are six figures, working a machine, or different cranes and all this cool stuff. What if a guy could shoot a couple videos? He's now retired, he's done, but he charges 500 bucks for this knowledge? I mean, that's the future! We're at the beginning of this industry – the ‘Knowledge Economy.' Sharing knowledge.” Exciting stuff!
Travis’ favorite success story is one that involves a music teacher from Canada…
The Masterful Musician“She's a lady from Canada, who was going bankrupt. She already had this online music career where she did Celtic Music, and it sold pretty well. She made a little bit of money selling albums, t-shirts and cool little souvenirs. And then people would ask her, ‘how are you promoting your business?' So she decided to make an eBook. Then she went to a Chalene Johnson event, and a Brendon Burchard event, and she heard about Kajabi. She puts the course on Kajabi and in her first month she makes $30,000!
Then the next month her husband quits his job in construction that he hated and they start working together. I met her in March, and it was six or seven months later, and she's like, “My marriage has gotten better!” At this point she's made $600,000 and then eventually she made over a million dollars, and now she's way beyond that.”
With RockStar Empires and WP Elevation rapidly growing, I was keen to hear how Kajabi (a team of 25) attracts and keeps the right staff while maintaining a consistent and authentic brand. Travis hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that the culture at Kajabi has evolved from knowing exactly how they wanted it to be from the very beginning. They have stuck strongly to that vision for the whole journey.
“We didn't manufacture it, it evolved. It evolved first because we wanted to make Kajabi a place where we wanted to work.”
I’m sure many of us can relate to Travis’ story about being stuck in a small cubicle whilst working in the software industry. He shared the cubicle with four people, back to back with that awful fluorescent lighting that makes you feel like you’re in a police line-up. With harsh deadlines and no acknowledgment of good work or ideas, Travis formulated the exact template of what ‘not’ to base his future business on. So they went about building a place to come to work that was fun and relaxing, where people would be rewarded for doing good work, and where, “…the people that work for me care about me.”
“None of us have an ego on this team, not even Kenny and I; it's all about everybody else. If something happens, like the trash needs to be emptied, I'll go empty the trash. Someone needs help; I'm going to help. We've had things happen, like where the code has gone down because one person made a mistake, and people just roll up their sleeves and we all fix whatever happened.
Everybody that's high level in our company was at a lower position. Whether it was being here to answer support tickets, and now they're coding, or Andy who was an Intern and worked for free for six months. To the point where he was like, “I want to learn how to code.” He had a normal job and then at 3 o'clock he'd come in every day, and then pretty soon he was deploying code. His name was on all these different codes, and I'm like, ‘Kenny we probably should pay him!'”
Instead of building your own website on something like WordPress, what's the main advantage of Kajabi?
“The original goal was to take the tech headaches away and let you focus on your content and your passion. And the cool thing is now, seven years in, we feel like we're closing the gap of the reason why you use WordPress. Because you want it to be more custom, probably more control over how everything looks and works, and now new Kajabi is running on theme language like Liquids. So the entire thing can be re-coded.
We're using better third parties for all the videos, so the videos consistently load on all devices no matter what. Because it's our own code base, and it's protected under our own system, it's not going to get hacked or have an update issue like WordPress would have.
I mean, sometimes people try to say that we cost money and WordPress is free, but as you know, it's going to cost money to fix things.”
I don't have a big list to promote my course. What can I do straight away to start growing my list?
“Great content, that's for sure. Right now. Get on Facebook Live and shoot something about anything that's bothering you, something you learned, or something that's about your industry. That's number one. The next thing is, find a system like ours and build a landing page – just send them somewhere. Even if you don't have that free report, or free whatever. It's about sharing your story and connecting with your audience.
The other thing is focus. Real focus. You gotta niche down as much as you can and if you really think about what you're teaching, it becomes more obvious. Like I always say, it's not just golf, it's left-handed golfer's; and it's not just that, it's left-handed golfer's getting out of a sand trap. Start there. People don't get it – because that's such a smaller list. I'm like, ‘that's the point! You can them, then broaden the niche – you could eventually get all of golfing if you did it right. A smaller niche you're going to get to know better, they're going to communicate with you and they're going to tell you what they want.”
What's the most successful course ever on Kajabi?
“Definitely Brendon Burchard. He's made in the high 10 millions at Kajabi.”
Are you going to integrate quizzes and gamification? Like badges and leaderboards and stuff?
“Quizzes for sure. We use Wistia for all the content so you can now, as a Kajabi course creator or product creator, see progress, like if a person’s watched the videos. So the long term plan is to take that data and then have the course react to it. Like, ‘oh you've watched all five videos, boom, here's a new module available.' So it's really about not just gamification, but motivation to complete.”
What's happening in mobile E-learning?
“Kajabi, luckily, is very mobile right from the beginning. Everything, you can literally shoot from your phone and upload right from there. I mean, Kenny just recently was making a landing page when he was out – he did it all from his phone.
There's something cool that we worked on a while back – the Apple TV stuff. We have it all integrated now; we haven't got too many beta customers in there, but the concept is, a Kajabi course that can be easily moved over to the Apple TV. So we're testing that out.
What's the one thing you would like to tell Travis five years ago?
“That it's gonna work out. There were just so many times that I wondered if we were doing the right thing because it gets so hard.
There's been a lot of times when I've thought, ‘Are we gonna make it?' And if you don't, it's okay because where you're heading is where you were supposed to go.”
I ended the interview by asking Travis, “What's the one thing you'd like to fix in the next 30 days if you could?”
“I always want to fix better onboarding. I want someone to get from zero to a thousand dollars as quickly as possible. The better we can do at allowing someone to join Kajabi, and see the success path, the better it is for them, and so every day I think about that.”
The interview wrapped up with Travis telling me that for anyone in business, there’s nothing wrong with making money and wanting to make money, but you also need to ask how you can best serve your customers. At the end of the day, it’s the customer who is paying you money, so you owe it to them to serve them the best product in the best way.
Finally, Travis suggested I interview Gary Vaynerchuk on the show. So if you know Gary V, put in a good word for me will ya'.
I learned so much from this interview with Travis. I admire his drive, determination and selfless nature. My main business motivation is to help my clients change their lives, first and foremost, so I get so much energy and enjoyment from speaking to a successful entrepreneur who shares the same values.
Please leave me a comment below and let me know if this interview resonated with you. Did you get something new out of it, or did it reinforce your current business mindset?
It’s an incredible gift to be able to learn from the best, and Travis Rosser definitely is up there! Now it’s your turn to rock!