Justin Cooke joins us on the Steve Jobs inspired Join Up Dots Podcast.
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Introducing Justin Cooke
Justin Cooke is our guest today on the Steve Jobs inspired Join Up Dots Podcast.
Today, we’re diving into the exciting world of online business investments and exploring how they’ve become a game-changer for investors worldwide.
Imagine having the opportunity to own a piece of the thriving online business landscape, with the potential for strong and non-correlated returns.
Until now, this dream has eluded many due to the complexities of managing these digital ventures.
But our guest today, Justin Cooke, is changing the game.
Justin is not just a pioneer in the online business industry; he’s a Founding Partner at WebStreet, a company that’s making online businesses a more accessible asset class for individual investors.
With a staggering $22 million+ raised across multiple rounds of fundraising and a portfolio of 30+ successful online businesses, WebStreet is revolutionizing how we view and invest in this digital frontier.
How The Dots Joined Up For Justin
What’s truly remarkable is that WebStreet transforms the traditionally active management of online businesses into a completely passive opportunity, allowing investors to tap into this lucrative market without the need for extensive expertise or time commitments.
But that’s not all; Justin’s journey in the online business world doesn’t end here.
He’s also the Founder and CMO of Empire Flippers, where his decade-plus experience has propelled the company from zero revenue to a staggering $450 million in business sales since 2012.
So how has he helped countless investors find online companies that yield the best returns?
And what is the key for online business owners to secure the highest sale prices when exiting their companies.
Well lets find out as we bring onto the show to start joining up dots with the one and only Justin Cooke.
During the show we discussed such weighty subjects with Justin such as:
Justin shares how he started his first businesses, using adsense as his start into understanding
We talk about the reasons why people sell their businesses and for many its the only way to grow another business.
Why having a personal brand might be a sticky way
Justin pens up about the scary process he had to go through to hire employees for his company
How To Connect With Justin
If you enjoyed this episode with Justin Cooke, why not check out other inspirational chat with Ben Guttman, Jane Stein and the amazing Olly Richards
You can also check our extensive podcast archive by clicking here – enjoy
Full Transcription Of Justin Cooke Interview
Life shouldn’t be hard life should be a fun filled adventure every day. So now start joining up dots tap into your talents, your skills, your God given gifts and tell your boss, you don’t deserve me. I’m out of here. It’s time for you to smash that alarm clock and start getting the dream business and wife you will, of course, are dreaming of. Let’s join your host David route from the back of his garden in the UK, or wherever he might be today with another JAM PACKED episode of the number one hit podcast. Join Up Dots.
David Ralph [0:38]
Yeah, good morning. Good evening. Good afternoon. whatever time it is welcome to Join Up Dots. Well, today we’re diving into the exciting world of online business investments and exploring how they’ve become a game changer for investors worldwide. Imagine having the opportunity to own a piece of the thriving online business landscape, with the potential for strong and non correlated returns. Now until now, this dream has eluded many due to the complexities of managing these digital ventures. But our guest today is changing the game. He’s not just a pioneer in the online business industry. He’s a founding partner of web street, a company that’s making online businesses and more accessible asset class for individual investors. And with a staggering 22 million plus raised across multiple rounds of fundraising and a portfolio of 30 plus successful online businesses. Web st is revolutionising how we view and invest in the digital frontier. Now, what’s truly remarkable is that web street transforms the traditionally active management of online businesses into a completely passive opportunity, allowing investors to tap into this lucrative market without the need for extensive expertise, or time commitments. But that’s not all. His journey in the online business world doesn’t end there. He’s also the founder and CMO of Empire Flippers, where his decade plus experience has propelled the company from zero revenue to a staggering 450 million in business sales since 2012. So how has he helped countless investors find online companies that yield the best returns? And why is the key for online business owners to secure the highest sale prices when exiting their companies? Well, let’s find out as we bring onto the show to start joining up dots with the one and only Mr. Justin Cooke. Good morning, Justin, how are you?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [2:30]
Good. How are you?
David Ralph [2:32]
I’m very well, indeed very well, indeed. So it’s one of these things that you look at it and you go, Okay, it’s a completely passive opportunity. And when I see the words, passive income and smart, passive income and all these kinds of things, I kind of go, it’s not passive. It’s, there’s there’s a lot of work involved. So tell me about it. How passive is it?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [2:53]
Yeah, you’re 100% right? running an online business is not passive. anyone tells you that running the online business is passive is trying to sell you something. Right. So I totally agree with that making sense to explain, you know, online businesses are not, I mean, if you’re running them, they’re not gonna be passive at all. And kind of how we got our start was to the company mentioned Empire Flippers. So just to kind of take it back, you know, we started a company called Empire Flippers as well, honestly, my business partner, I started building online sites ourselves. So I’m sure some of your audience is familiar with this building small niche websites to get traffic to monetize them. And this is back in 2010. So you know, we started building you familiar with AdSense, Google ads,
David Ralph [3:33]
oh, I remember pressing f5 on my computer constantly to see if I got any more money as through AdSense,
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [3:40]
of course, of course. So we started building small AdSense sites back in 2010. Just as a side hustle, my business partner, I had another outsourcing business. And we started building these small websites. And we realised you can get these sites up and working and making money 50 bucks a month, 500 bucks a month, $1,000 a month. And so we started building these sites for ourselves. Eventually, we realise these are interesting acquisition opportunities for people that are just starting out. If they can buy a business making $500 a month for 10 $15,000. It gives them a chance to like get a site that’s earning play with it, tinker with it, and kind of like learn that these online monies are real, right. And so, you know, this was kind of how we got our start. And over time, we realise there’s a huge market of people looking to buy and even sell or exit these types of websites, AdSense websites, affiliate websites, e commerce, FBA businesses. And so that’s kind of how we got our start in brokering the sale of websites and online businesses. We started off doing small websites, you know, website selling for 510 $1,000. And then we kind of moved up to 20 30,000 and then 50,000, and then the six figures and then the seven figures and we built out a team started off with me, my business partner and a couple of VAs and we’re now over 50 people brokering online businesses at Empire Flippers.
David Ralph [4:58]
Now what we all hear about the golden douce and I always think because I’ve got about five or six businesses, some of them are kind of the main ones. And one or two of them are just sort of floating around. One of them is predominantly AdSense, actually that he just brings in a couple of $1,000 every month. And you know, I just opened a bank account and it comes in. And I always think to myself, why would I want to sell that when it’s just going every now and again, have some cash? Why? Why do people want to do that?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [5:27]
Yeah, so there’s a lot of reasons people sell, sometimes it’s strategic, right. So if you have a side business making, let’s say, $2,000 a month, and you’re looking to, um, you don’t necessarily need to sell, you can just keep it and keep the cash flow. But like you, there are a lot of people that have multiple projects they’re working on. And sometimes those projects require an injection of cash, say, for example, you have an affiliate site, okay, and you’ve got an E commerce business, that’s just you’re funnelling cash into it is growing like crazy. And oftentimes, you know, your profits are stored up in inventory. So you’re like maxing out credit cards to make sure you’re adding inventory, so you can keep the business growing. So you may be in a position where it makes sense for you to sell this business for 40 $50,000. So you can either pay off your credit cards, or you can pump that money back into inventory to expand your ecommerce empire.
David Ralph [6:15]
Do you know that made total sense? I thought you were going to come out with a kind of fudgy answer that sometimes I got. But that absolutely. So what you’re basically saying,
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [6:25]
I’ll give you the I’ll give you the sad answers. I mean, there’s also situations where you know, you’ve got personal things that are coming up where you know, you’re going through a divorce, you need to split up assets, we deal with them. This is a tough one, it’s like wouldn’t
David Ralph [6:37]
a tennis partner wouldn’t tend to Mapes out there. If I was splitting up with someone, I wouldn’t tell them that I’ve got these online businesses flowing, am I gonna find them?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [6:46]
Yeah, well, I mean, you know, maybe your wife, your husband is like closely engineer businesses, they understand what you’re doing and what’s going on. Other times, it’s like business partnerships that have gone wrong, right. And so those are those are the ugly ones, because you need to get both sellers, both owners, both principals on board with the sale and getting them to agree sometimes it’s difficult. But you know, there’s lots of reasons people’s or other reasons, the more cynical reason would be, you know, there are sellers that get the business as far as they think you can go. They’re like, Look, I’ve maximised the revenue and the profits make in 2000 hours a month, it can only go down from here, right? And so you have a buyer that looks at this site and goes, Look, you know, $2,000 is kind of the minimum I take on, they haven’t monetized via Facebook, they haven’t added these travel channels, I’m willing to take a flyer on this one. So I can get up to four or $5,000 a month. So it’s this disconnect between what sellers expectations are and what buyers expectations are that allows us to thrive.
David Ralph [7:40]
Now, I’m going to talk from the sort of devil’s advocate on this because everything you’re saying makes sense. But I know there’s going to be people out there that maybe would love to buy a thriving online business, but then haven’t got that extra experience about adding the income streams. So how would somebody do that they’re sitting here going, passive income. That sounds interesting. I could buy a business where the traffic’s already coming through. It’s making two grand a month, I could develop it. But I don’t know how to what what do they do at that point?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [8:12]
Yeah, so that’s, that’s part of the problem. And I should clarify that if you’re buying a website or online business, typically, it’s not going to be passive income. And so we had this problem at Empire Flippers, and we brokered a bunch of sales. You know, we started off small kind of doing our own and just hustling it up, we’ve now done over $450 million in total sales. One of the problems we had was people come to us, and they’re saying, Look, I want to invest in online business, I want access or exposure to the space. But I don’t have the skills to run an online business, or I don’t have the time, I’m a busy executive, and I don’t have time to run it. And we always told those people find someone that can that has the skills or learn the skills yourself and come back to us in 18 months. Like that’s not you know, it’s a kind of a crazy answer. But we were dealing with a very niche customer, someone who has the money and has the skills to take over and run these businesses. And we realised we have a high quality problem that we weren’t solving people with money that don’t have the time or skills to run businesses. So we ultimately created EF capital, which we later change the name to web Street. And so what web street does is it pairs experienced operators with passive investors. So basically, operators are able to raise money from investors to buy businesses in areas they already have the skills and a proven experience in running and having success with it. Now we have a unique advantage Empire Flippers in that we’ve had so many people buy and sell and the businesses they ran, right. So we have like, you know, a history with all these people and we know exactly how much money they made, what their success ratio was. We have a unique pool of people that we can pull operators from. So the way I describe this is it’s basically you know, if you’re at the racetrack, right rather than gambling on the horse, you’re betting on the jockey. So in this case, you’re betting on the jockey to go and then pick the horse who they’re going to ride. So you’re investing in the operator that then is going to pick and purchase a business and provide you passive returns, while they simply run and operate that business. And we do this in a number of rounds. And that’s just to try and like, clarify the distinction between Empire Flippers, which is a more active acquisition, and Webb Street, which is a passive investment opportunity for investors working with operators at Empire Flippers.
David Ralph [10:34]
Now, I want to take you back to the early days, that’s what we do and Join Up Dots, we jump back and forth. And I always think the first business, were you very a cold hearted person just in because this was your baby. And you basically took your baby and you sold it to someone else? Wasn’t there a part of you that just kind of wanted to keep it because you’d put all your efforts into getting it somewhere?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [10:58]
It’s super challenging. Yeah, for sure. And a lot of times, well, I can say my case, in particular, there is some sellers, remorse that happens right? After you sell your first website or your first online business, you’re like, ah, should I have kept it, particularly if that business that does a well for the buyer? And they’ve you know, they’ve grown it or scaled it up? Or you look back and you go, Oh, man, was that really the right decision? And I think it depends on you know, I tell so is this like, it depends on what your position is or what your plan is to do next. So what are you doing with the money? What are you doing after the sale? This is particularly true for like the large businesses where you’ve been working on for the better part of a decade, and you’re selling for 234 or $5 million fu money. Someone say, like, you know, what’s your plan, because if you sell the business, and now you’re sitting on a pile of money, and you’re constantly just pulling out of that money, that can be a scary scenario, does that make sense because you now have all this money in the bank, but you’re just drawing down on your pile of gold. And so having a plan, post acquisition or post sale makes a lot of sense for sellers. And that’s something we help kind of guide them through when they’re looking to sell a business.
David Ralph [12:08]
Now, I want to talk to you about something that the marketplace has changed. Well, when I first started in online businesses, they were very bland, kind of corporate websites, you’d go over there, and you couldn’t really get a personality, you couldn’t really understand the viewpoint of the owners, Benny kind of moved to the fact that it was all about telling us the worst stories of someone and how they ended up in a pile of sick under their bed, not knowing it was all the dark nights of the soul kind of area, and then it went into the personal brand. Now, I remember there was so many people saying you’re gonna grow a personal brand, grow a personal brand. And in many ways Join Up Dots is a personal brand, because my voice is attached to it. But I was always very wary. But I didn’t want to grow anything that was attached to my name. Because ultimately, I didn’t want to be the business for the rest of my life, I want you to use a business to step away. So when you look at these businesses, and um, it’s a double question, so we’ll go with the first element. First element when people come to you with a personal brand and say it’s doing X Y, Zed, do you go? That’s a difficult sale, because you’re the person you want to face. You’re the voice, you’re the person on videos on YouTube and stuff. Well, how do you sort of like, present it to them? Yeah, so that’s
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [13:26]
a really interesting question. So the problem is, obviously with a personal brand, look, here’s the thing, when you’re building your business from scratch, and you’re just getting started, it’s so much easier to build on the back of a personal brand. So I’d say early on in the business, utilise that use that as leverage to grow the brand to grow the business, use your personal name as much as you can. And the reason why people connect with people People buy from and work with people they know, like and trust. And if you’re personally out there and makes it a lot easier, there has to be a transitional phase though, because if your plan is long term is to sell your business, and whether you’re planning to sell your business or not, you should always I think, get your business ready for a potential sale, whether you’re selling or not for a bunch of reasons we can discuss. But if you’re looking to sell your business down the road, dropping the personal brand and making it more business focused, is super smart. Now, David, you went the hard route, right? Because you said look, I don’t want to start with a personal brand. I’m going to make it not about me in the beginning. I think that’s more difficult, because it’s more difficult to grow a business as the business’s brand only without that personal brand aspect. But now that you’ve done it, you are in a better position to exit the business and to sell the business because buyers you know, when they’re looking to buy business and it’s very personal branding, a lot of times there will be earnouts included so the seller will have to stick around for a while. They’ll have to allow the use of their name for some period of time to transition the business. And it can be a bit more sticky a bit more challenging to get the acquisition through so you might not get as much money up front, you might have to accept money over the next 1218 24 months. So there are some challenges that come with selling a business that’s very attached to a personal brand. So I’d recommend anyone looking to exit their business over time. Yes, use that personal brand to kind of grow and expand, but then start to pull that back as you get closer to an exit.
David Ralph [15:20]
Now, the second part of the question, and you kind of might have answered it already really is, wouldn’t the the followers, the listeners, whatever expect the voice that they’ve grown up with? Wouldn’t they expect me if I come over to Join Up Dots, and it’s somebody else? Or maybe, maybe I’m kind of too precious about it?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [15:38]
Yeah, well, the thing is, like as podcast hosts, right, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on our own voice, we think that there’s a connection with us. And for the most part, you’re right. But there are ways to transition that, particularly if the buyer, if you guys get along well. And so that’s one of the helpful things too, particularly with a personal brand we’re looking to acquire, the buyer and the seller need to have some some kind of like rapport and relationship. So for example, David, if you were looking to sell your business, right, you may take on a co host, do that, discuss your schedule, whatever, like no like you, but like you may take on our CO hosts, and then you guys coaster for six months or 12 months, and it may be a transition out for you. And so that gives the audience a time or an opportunity to kind of like get on with the new buyer and to kind of connect and then that’s a you know, a longer you’re not immediately out of the business. But it’s there’s a path toward exit for you from the podcast itself. That makes sense. Well, let’s
David Ralph [16:37]
hear from Jim Carrey. And we’ll be back with Justin,
Speaker 4 [16:39]
my father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him. And so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant. And when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job. And our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance on doing what you love. Now, he
David Ralph [17:06]
was talking about his father didn’t believe. And one of the things that made me smile was when he was talking about AdSense because I remember, I created a first website, and I was pressing f5, like I said, and suddenly there was something like 67 cents or something came through. And it was the first time ever, but I thought Oh, my God, this works. This works. And it was like my gumbos magic feather. But suddenly, it kind of made sense to me. But as long as I grew traffic and put something on there, I could make a living. And when did you start to believe because we all go through those trials and tribulations of trying different things, and it’s not working. I’ve never met anyone who says, yeah, the very first online business I did was amazing. And it went off like a rocket. Maybe I’ve now met that person. What about yourself, Justin?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [17:59]
Yeah, so the reason we got started was because of our other business struggles. So we had an outsourcing company and my business partner and I had just moved to the Philippines, we left our jobs and moved to the Philippines to set up an outsourcing company. And so part of that was like our previous employer was everything. They were a major client, right. And so over the course of the first year, we’re in the Philippines trying to get our business off the ground or fledging business off the ground, they started cutting back to the point of they dropped like half of our business. So the reason we started down this whole path was because we had already had to let go of some staff and we’re getting down to like our core people. And so rather than letting them go, we were looking for something that they could do to make a little bit of money, like their salaries weren’t high, it’s the Philippines. So like, if we could just get them making enough money to pay for themselves, well, then we can keep them and then put them you know, have them at least like keep their jobs and then redirect them to new clients when we got them. So we started testing a few things. One things we tested, were building these small little niche sites this is back in into 2010 So I started it I started building these little niche sites around things like Blue Suede shoes.net, or one of them was like cat constipation.org I think it was like really niche stuff, right? So we started building sites putting AdSense on him. And and then we I did it first and then Joe helped train our team on how to do these. I think the first month we made like $6.82 or something and I was like oh my god, no, we spent $1,000 kind of building these sites made six hours it seems like a loser. And the second month I think we made like 200 something dollars or whatever. And I think that the third month was like four or 500 and we realised we were building a bit of a snowball. So while it wasn’t paying the staff yet we realised there’s an opportunity for it to do so. Now you know, our their business was still struggling. We’d still lost our kind of like major client and we were paying the bills but barely. And so what we realised is like rather than can To just like put money into building these sites out, and like letting the slow burn of kind of building that, that recurring up, we said, look, what if we can sell some of these websites, receive the money up front and reinvest that in building out more sites to build a recurring, right. So it’s like, look, if I got a site making 50 bucks a month, maybe I can sell that for 1000 or 1500 bucks, take all that money dumping into building new sites, and then keep the snowball going. And so that’s kind of once we sold that first site to reinvest into building more sites, we realise we might have a repeatable snowball that we could kind of build up. So we went from going, Oh, my God, you know, I hope this works. Because otherwise, we’re going to lay off our like our smart, talented staff to going okay, I think we have a process that’s going to help us out of this jam, basically.
David Ralph [20:47]
And that seems to me, I look back on it. And I know so many people are working on things, and I’ve been working on it for two years, and they’re still struggling $6 To $200 to $500. That’s a great proof of concept. What actually made that snowball, why didn’t it just go into a flat, cold, muddy puddle? What what what made the snowball escalate,
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [21:11]
we’re building the shit out of these sites. So like we went at it with like wanton abandon. I hope this works, we’re going to commit to it. So we put the effort in, we already had some skills. So we had had an outsourcing company. We had a team in the Philippines, an actual physical office with people in the office. And so we knew one thing we were good at is we were able to take process that we had learned and pass that on to our people, that’s something you do in outsourcing. And so we had that skill and that ability already, with people that we’re working for, effectively, you know, 250 a month or something $300 a month. And so if we could take a process that’s successful, hopefully crossing our fingers successful, and pass that on to our crew that’s not making that much money, then we might have a winner on our hands. And so that’s ultimately how it worked out. But at the time, we weren’t sure we’re hoping.
David Ralph [22:04]
Now when I look at you on your website, I’m flicking up and down as you was talking, I can see your business is standing there, and you’ve got many, many employees. Now, I also know that so many people get trapped in doing everything themselves because they can’t quite get to the point that they’re reinvesting. Now I look at that. And my gut feeling is you’ve got a load of freelancers, they want the kind of some kind of retention, you’re not paying a monthly salaries. Would I be right or wrong on it? Wrong, wrong? Okay, well,
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [22:38]
majority of our team make salary plus, there’s a profit kind of a profit share, basically baked in the business. So most of our employees are W two. And then we’ve got some 1099. But that’s mostly because they’re foreigners living abroad. So yeah, we we have a weird company in that we have a distributed team. So we don’t have a centralised office, everyone works online. So we’ve got Americans living in Prague, we’ve got Filipinos living in the Philippines and Dubai, we’ve got our Chief of Staff, effectively an internal CEO is Andy. He’s a Brit living in UK. So yeah, we’ve got people all over the place. So
David Ralph [23:18]
so how do you maintain quality on that? Because that there’s two things that I know that people do when they start a business. Number one, they put the grind in themselves, they work by and but then they can’t release it. And then the second stage, they struggle with releasing the staff that they bring it in. So they’re still micromanaging. So how do you make sure that the quality you somebody’s getting from somebody sitting in a laptop in the Philippines is the same as if they speak to you or Andy?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [23:47]
Yeah, so it’s through iteration over a long period of time. So trial and error, it probably makes sense to go back one of our problems early on is we were very slow to hire. And for a number of reasons, like, you know, when you hire your first person to help kind of like your first, I should clarify this, too. We had a team of people in the Philippines, but like, when you hire your first question, or you hire first, like, like full staff, full pay per person, it’s scary. And you put a lot of time and effort into it. And so it’s it takes a lot out of you. And it gets worse before it gets better. When you hire that first person, you have to continue doing your work, and then train them up to do your work to while continuing your work. So it actually is worse, and then eventually it gets better. And so I think, you know, we were scared and like not, not loving the effort that it takes and the additional work it takes to get people on board. So we were really slow to hire, but pretty soon we realised by hiring people and really kind of expanding the team. You know, we saw immediate growth and so we were holding the business back by not hiring is what we ultimately learned now over time, particularly with a distributed team as you build out your team to get larger and larger, you have to really focus on kind of your middle management, making sure that you have really strong processes in place that everyone, you know, is on board with kind of like what the requirements are. Now, to be fair, you know, there are areas we failed, for example, right now, today, one of our struggles is, you know, we don’t have everyone working from the same set of data. And so this is kind of in the weeds here. But we’ll have like our marketing team and our sales team, right. They’re pulling data from different sources and excluding bits of data. And so marketing saying, Oh, I think we’ve got this going on here, we probably have a problem here. And sales is pulling data and excluding certain bits of data and saying they have a bit of a problem here. So without a single source of truth, it’s really hard to create a narrative or come up with like solutions for particular problems, because we’re not working on the same data. So we’re not perfect at this. But I’d say generally, when you’re hiring your team, having really good SOPs, or standard operating procedures in place kind of helps with a lot of that alignment stuff. But we struggle with it too. So
David Ralph [26:03]
I’m always intrigued. Justin backstage. And most of us are kind of like computer geeks, we kind of fiddle around. And when we start building websites, and it kind of develops, but we’re, we’re basically in our bedrooms in our underpants just sort of fiddling around on the computer, then you get to a point where it’s a business and you’ve got 50 employees, does that make it more fun? Or do you think, Oh, quite long for the days in the underpants eating Doritos one hand on a website and just sort of bashing out content?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [26:33]
Yeah, I think I think it depends on the person. For me, I think the small teams are fun, we’re getting to the point where we were adding continue to add employees. And there is a point at which I think it becomes less fun when there’s a bit more bureaucracy, when there’s a bit more, you get a little more corporate. And so I think Joe and I are kind of the small company entrepreneurs, like we prefer the kind of scrappy approach. I mentioned this on our like team meeting and stuff like I like being the pirate ship. Right? I don’t want to be the battleship on the ocean where it’s really slow to turn has like just a tonne of people working and like I can’t I want to be the pirate ship hoisting the Jolly Roger and like, we just go out there and shit. You know what I mean? Like, that’s fun for me. So it depends on the size of the business, I think before we get the battleship stage, it probably be better for me to sell the business or to exit in some way. Because I
David Ralph [27:24]
have been going through a change in my life when I realised but I already had enough. And I’ve mentioned this on numerous podcasts. And as an entrepreneur, you’re always seeing opportunities. When you’re not an entrepreneur, you don’t see any opportunities, and you wrack your brains and you’re trying to think of ideas. But once it starts to kick in, you just see him everywhere. And I realised that I was constantly thinking, Oh, that’s good idea. I could do that. I could do this. But now I’m at a stage thinking. I’m already all right. I don’t need to do anything more. So do you sort of like wake up in the morning and kind of thing? Actually, I just really liked to be floating around on my pirate ship. Nobody bothering me? Or are you still in that? Looking at those opportunities and thinking, oh, yeah, we could add that to our empire.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [28:12]
God, honestly, I go back and forth, right, I’m on one side of the fence. And then three, four months later, I’m on the other side. So a little bit of both. I mean, another example I’ve a very good friend of mine that doesn’t say hates employees, but he prefer not to have people working for him. He doesn’t like the the added responsibility and the kind of like anxiety of having people work for him. And so he’s intentionally limited his business to where he just has a few people doing some tonight. And I saw from and I was like, you could really grow your business. And he’s like, I know I could, but I’m happy. Like, I’m just happy with where it’s at and what it’s doing. And like, I don’t want to go big. So yeah, that’s that’s him. I get that. For me. I like having a team. I like having smart, capable, talented people working with us. But again, there’s a limit to like how large I want it to be to the point where it gets boring for me. So yeah, but right now, particularly with Empire Flippers, right, that’s kind of the like, that’s the core, that’s kind of how we made our money. That’s kind of how we came up. And Webb Street is the kind of like young, scrappy or startup, right. And so that’s the one that has investors and pairs them with operators. And that’s the one that’s kind of like, you know, I’ve got a bit more like, rocket ship view of in terms of like its potential growth. And it’s also kind of a newer scrap your team. So bit more excited there. Yeah, that’s just kind of my thoughts,
David Ralph [29:37]
because I am totally transparent to Join Up Dots on every single episode. I’m probably too honest. For me, I’m good in certain regards. And one of the things that I always say to people is, you know, whatever you do ultimately becomes a job. You know, having a podcast might sound attractive on one side, but from the other side, you’ve got to think of the content. You’ve got to schedule the guests. You’ve got to do all that kind of stuff. Now you can Don’t isolate a lot of that by having a team around you. But ultimately, no matter what you do becomes a job. So I just want to ask you some questions off the top of my head so that we can get a flavour of what Justin’s life is. So, Justin, tomorrow morning, you wake up, have you got total control of your time? Or are there things scheduled in?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [30:21]
Tomorrow is Friday. Yeah, total control. So there’s, there’s a couple of days a week where I have scheduled calls. So normally, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, I do a bit of like planned scheduled work. But that’s about it for me, and I should I should make this clear is that over the last year or two, that’s really become the case it wasn’t before. So we’re 13 years into this. I’d say over the last two years, I’ve had way more control over my time, particularly the last couple of months, we just put a chief of staff in place that really runs the business. So my business partner and I are not running the business, we’re not in the business. I do things like this podcast episode, for example. And I do some team meetups I do our strategy calls every quarter, but I’m not on a daily or weekly basis in the business anymore. So So my time requirements have changed quite a bit.
David Ralph [31:10]
So could you get to a point because my business is basically, literally I can just wake up and do whatever I want, whenever I want. And when I add things in, so I will connect with people other than this podcast episode, but I knew that you were scheduled for, but we only literally do one day a month of podcasting, everything else I can sort just do whenever that’s cool. Yeah. And so I do a very long day, one day a month. And at the end of it, I’ve done about 14 episodes. And then after that, I just kind of if I fancy recording something, I will do something you know, so I’m generally about five months ahead of schedule. So the podcasting means I can just walk away from it for literally five months and just come back to it. Now, what I always think is, when you get to that point, which I think we all aim for where you have got that total freedom, what do you actually fill it up with, because most of us, like building the businesses were inspired by building the businesses, the businesses are our hobby. So when you’re not flipping empires, do you sort of like, flick your thumbs and stuff and look around? I don’t know what to do.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [32:20]
So because we have a distributed team, you it offers me the freedom flexibility to travel. So I just spent two and a half months in Europe, I was telling you a pre show that in less than three weeks, I’m gonna go to Vietnam, I’ll be there for at least a month. My wife and I travelled a lot. And so we have a kind of a home base here in Houston. But we do a lot of travelling. But I have to tell you with my newfound free time over the last two years, but particularly very specifically, over the last two months or so. And I am the Chief of Staff, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. So my wife and I have we have a little list of potential hobbies we want to try out and things we we do. I mean, this is really boring. I don’t know to be home for your audience. But I found a renewed love for cooking. Okay, so I’ve been doing a lot of cooking for my wife.
David Ralph [33:08]
Can I jump in what has found that renewed love? Where did that come from? Was it a sort of a lock down thing that you suddenly started doing?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [33:16]
know, when I was when I was really busy over a number of years, maybe a little bit of that. But for a number of years, I didn’t do I didn’t cook at all, I didn’t grocery shop, I didn’t do any of that I just paid. You know, when we’re in Asia, I had a maid that would do it. And in the US, you know, my wife would help out there. And it’s something that she just did, because it was like, convenient. I was working all the time. And I had so many things going on. But since I’ve got that time free, like it’s kind of fun for us to go shopping together, right. And it’s fun for us to come back and I’ll cook for her now. And like I like kind of making specific types of foods and we’re pretty healthy. So we try to eat really good food and we try to make interesting dishes with like, you know, high quality ingredients. And so it’s just, it’s just a fun thing for me to do. We have a we have a dog I love playing with the dog. So yeah, things like that. One of the things I still love doing is travelling as part of our travels, you know, did that two and a half month trip to Europe, we did a road trip. My wife was a road trip from Barcelona to Monaco we went Monaco up through Italy, Switzerland and up in the romantic road to the Southern Germany went to Paris flew to Paris after afterwards. So we do a lot of like that and we went brought our dog with us. So we do a lot of that kind of travelling, which is really fun. And then I get to meet up with some of our team and sometimes clients along the way, you know, there’s like SEO conferences and affiliate marketing conferences and you know, if I happen to be in the area, then I’ll pop in there and sometimes our employees are there or sometimes we’ve got peers there and it’s really fun to kind of connect and it allows me the freedom to do some of the parts of the business that I love where some of the kind of like the things i i Maybe loved earlier but don’t love as much now I can have someone else do it for us in the company
David Ralph [34:56]
is interesting. It’s interesting you talk about the cookery because um I’ve, I still can’t get it right in my head. But I’ve discovered a love for decorating my house. Hmm. Now, I didn’t like the decorating, when my wife would be saying to me, come on, we got to get that room done or whatever. And I’d go, I’ll just pay somebody to do it. But I’ve said to her, I’m gonna go through the entire house, but I do it at my own speed. And so I will go in and I’ll do one wall. And that wall might be that colour for about a week before I do the next wall, you know, I’m not not looking at as a job. I’m just going oh, and I put the radio on. And I’m on my own in there and your mind’s going. And more often than not, I do a couple of paint strokes, and then ping, oh, that’s a good idea for a podcast episode, and I come up to my HQ. And so that distraction from business, I think actually helps the businesses grow quicker, because you’re not in it, you’re just allowing those ideas to pop into your head.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [35:54]
I think so allows you the time and you get some like, you get to think about bigger picture. A lot of times when you’re working your business, when you’re like deep in it, you’re deep in the weeds, right? It’s hard to take step back and take that 30,000 foot view and kind of like see the broader machinations that are working in your business, it’s really easy to get caught up in the day to day or the week to week. So I think that definitely helps. It’s funny, you’re doing a design, I mean, like home design, we made paid someone to do it for us. And that is, first off, it’s awfully expensive. A second, it’s quite the hassle. Like my I told my wife, you know, look, you’d be in charge of this. And then I just couldn’t help myself in like stepping in as well. So the two of us were trying to like, work through with the designer to figure it out. We should trade off man, you can come over here and help me help me with our house a little bit and make some touch changes. And we’ll cook you a really good dinner.
David Ralph [36:42]
I paint my my wife and she said Do you paint every house like an exit strategy. And you know that thing that you have to paint a house in such blind colours. But when somebody comes in, they can imagine themselves putting their picture on there and stuff. I’m a bit like that I’m very minimal. I’m very sort of white and creams and sort of very bland colours.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [37:04]
Yeah, it’s good for selling a business, selling a home. It’s also good for rentals, I got some rentals in the area, and, you know, go with like the green and purple walls and shit. Like that’s just not good for rent, because they’re gonna walk and be like, What is this bar? Anything going on here? Man? I’m not I’m not down with this.
David Ralph [37:18]
Which takes me actually to an interesting point. How are people when they sell their businesses? Do they? Are they happy to leave it as it is? Because it’s operating? Or do they want to get in there and change the colours and change the logos and things? Do people kind of do a redecoration of the website?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [37:36]
Yeah, it really depends on the buyer, right and their kind of intention in purchasing the business. So in some cases, you know, when they’re just like, pretty, like a smaller business, where they’re just trying to, like, make sure this internet money is real, they’re buying a business, and they may come in and just make slight tweaks or changes. In fact, if they don’t have a tonne of experience, we tell them we’d be very careful in making large changes. But you don’t want to, you don’t want to screw up the revenue stream, you don’t want to make mistakes that cause you to lose money, right? So, but for other people where they have a team of people, or they have investors behind them, they have a much larger kind of like operation going on, they may come in and make more massive large scale changes to the business that they had planned. So it’s really gonna depend on the kind of buyers perspective, but for like a single person, not a single person, but a single buyer, that’s kind of buying their first or second business we generally recommend to tweak not make major structural changes, because you could make mistakes and screw up revenue streams.
David Ralph [38:31]
So do you love your business? Or is it still at the end of day a business? Do you wake up and go? Yeah, I’m totally fulfilled, or do you go? No, actually, some days are crappy in some days. All right. And it is a business.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [38:45]
I love the business. Like, that’s one of the things is that it’s difficult about it is I’m very, I feel very tied into the business, my business partner are the businesses OS and we are the business. And so I’ve just recently we’ve been stepping back as we move the Chief of Staff and, and it’s difficult, it’s painful, because not three months ago, we weren’t in the weeds, but we were a bit more like, we were definitely running it internally. And so not running internally is a bit of a challenge. So we’ve had some challenges going back and forth with our chief of staff on like, where, where our responsibilities and and his began. And so how much direction we give him versus how much autonomy has. So, you know, I love the business. But we have new challenges that are interesting to work through. But both annoying and actually interesting. If that makes
David Ralph [39:35]
sense. It makes total sense because what you’re saying is basically you’re a problem solver. And that’s what is so intriguing about new businesses, you’ve got to find the angle, you’ve got to find the marketing, you’ve got to bring it all together. And then sometimes it gets a bit boring after that and then somebody looks for something careless and it sort of moves on. So
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [39:54]
what I’m not really great, I’ll say one of the worst things we see from entrepreneurs and I’m sure you see this too is that I get caught up in this like shiny object syndrome. So some of the I guess we’ve been in communities of entrepreneurs and like our peer group, whatever. And some of us that we came up with some of the ones that have had the some of the worst success are the ones that jumped every six months or a year or two years to new business. You know, they start off, they’re doing consulting for one thing, and then they try an E commerce business, and then they want to be a tick tock star. And so like, not having that consistency over a long period of time and doing the same thing, I call it, you want to be the blah, blah, blah, guy, like, I want to be able to refer to you, David, for example, you’re the podcast expert guy, you’re the business specialists, guy, right? You help people with a particular type of business problem. And if you do that for 10 years, like I can always refer you clients, I can say, this is my blah, blah, blah, guy, he does this, this and this and can help you in this area. But if I don’t know what you’re doing one year, you’re like, I don’t know you’re doing some FBA thing or some Tik Tok star, like I would never refer you business because I don’t know what you’re working on that week.
David Ralph [41:01]
That is a great thing to to emphasise to the listeners out there, I get a lot of questions to say, you know, why aren’t you doing a YouTube channel? Why aren’t you doing Facebook and I have no social media. And basically I say, because I’m a podcaster. I, this is my marketing. All I do is the podcast, I don’t, there was a time I used to take Pat Flynn’s advice back in the early days or be everywhere. I think that’s terrible advice now, because a lot of the time, it’s crappy stuff you’re putting out because you’re not good at what they’re doing. You know, I go over to YouTube and Tiktok or my kids show me tick tock. It’s like movies. You know, it’s like real quality stuff. And you think my god, the old days of turning on a webcam, getting out the gym and thinking you’re sweaty and then saying a bit of motivational content that is few and far between. So stick to what you can do best? Yeah, well look at look
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [41:54]
on the pathway, no liquid path. And so like, for me, what Pat Flynn does good must be mind numbingly boring. He’s particularly focused on early stage entrepreneurs that are just getting started. Like he hasn’t like scaled up with his audience. He just stayed there. Because that’s where his expertise is, that’s where the money is for his business. So rather than kind of like moving forward, he stayed in that kind of like early on. Now, for us, we’re working with entrepreneurs, we’re in the late zone, like, we need people like Pat Flynn, we need people like you, that help, like encourage and help businesses blossom, because eventually we want to help them sell those businesses and we want people to get into to be able to buy the business. So we’re gonna late stage. So we do investments in conferences, we attend conferences, we support people like Pat Flynn and others that are like kind of like a cultivating the ground, to make it fertile for like new entrepreneurs come along. But for me, that’d be super boring. just dealing with brand newbie entrepreneurs looking to get started looking to make their first few dollars online, that would be extremely boring to do for a decade for me.
David Ralph [42:59]
Yeah, I quite like it. Actually, I do. I do like it. And it’s funny, it’s the most profit I have is from people that are doing really successful businesses and are trapped by the business. That’s my number one money spinner now. But they can’t free themselves out and they hear me say, as I say, you know, I do it one day a month, and nothing controls my time. And I think that’s what I want. But actually, the real passion piece is helping those guys out there. Know that if I focus, they get a direction and they work towards something, but life they want, it is best to have. And I totally believe that. And that’s the bit that wakes me up every morning. Excited to turn the microphone on. I get that, right, let’s hear from somebody who was equally excited by everything that he did. And he left left a bit of a legacy here, Steve Jobs.
Speaker 5 [43:54]
Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all the difference.
David Ralph [44:28]
So where did you find your competence just in when things weren’t going in the direction or you were sitting there thinking I know what I want but I haven’t got the experience to do it. Where did you find your confidence?
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [44:41]
It’s a good question. I I had a long term belief that I would be successful and so I don’t know how to I don’t know I can’t share like how to find or get that you just I just had it. Yeah, I just I just had it and so like I stuck with it right that gave me the kind of like courage. to stick with things that weren’t producing results early, so when I was marketing for Empire Flippers, right and out there kind of hustling it up, like we weren’t getting great results in the beginning, but I knew that over the long haul that things like that can snowball SEO, for example, and putting content out could snowball, and I honed my craft and I got better out, I got better writing content, I got better producing content, doing podcasts reviews, seller reviews. And so I similar to Steve Jobs, I thought that I would look back on it and be like, Okay, well, the dot, here’s how I connected the dots. But I didn’t know where does it go going forward, there was actually a point at which Joe and I, my business partner, we had a point at which we had to give up some projects we sold or dropped products are probably making us this early days, 10 $12,000 a month in profit. And the reason why is because we really wanted to double down on the brokering of Internet businesses we saw like there was huge demand there. It was getting a lot of traction from like a marketing and like online angle. And we had all these other things. We’re delivering content and helping people find niche keywords and research and that kind of thing. And we dropped or sold everything else our outsourcing company we sold because we thought that that was the winner. And we just had an innate belief that that was going to be the thing and we didn’t know at the time. But like we thought that that was the case and we happen to be right. So I think taking Gamble’s as part of being an entrepreneur, educated, Gamble’s good Evie good expected value. Gamble’s is really a part of being an entrepreneur.
David Ralph [46:33]
No, I agree. I agree totally. And it is, when you were saying that I have the same thing with Join Up Dots. And I have same things we have other, I just build like kind of excitement. But it’s it’s going to be bigger and bigger and bigger. And there’s been so many times that I have thought I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. But there’s never been a time that I thought I’m going to stop. And it just comes down to that, you know, I’ve been once you stop is never going to happen. But if you keep on going, you’re going to end up somewhere. And that somewhere is genuinely I think better than where you were.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [47:06]
It’s I think it’s less people worry about and you hear this advice, be very careful, you know, if you’re gonna be working on something, or working on something for 10 1215 years, and like what if it fails or something? I don’t look that happens it I’m not gonna say it doesn’t right. So I don’t want to bullshit you or like blow smoke, that that can happen. Way more likely, though, is that you’re gonna work on something for six months, or a year or 18 months and give it up and do something else on switch, you’re gonna hit that Seth Godin talks about the dip, and you’re gonna bail out, right, that’s way more likely, and you’re gonna switch gears, you’re gonna move on to something else, when you could have had success by just honing your craft and getting better and better at what you do and what you love to do. Like that’s the better move. Most of the time. There’s, it’s not without risk. But I think it’s way more risky to shift gears and chase shiny new objects.
David Ralph [47:57]
Yeah, I’m a pup caster. And come here for Join Up Dots when I’m 72 and mumbling and wearing a nappy or something, and I will still be here doing it. Well, Justin, what I will still be doing is taking you on a journey on the Sermon on the mic when we send you back in time to have a one on one with your younger self. And if you could go back in time and speak to the young Justin, what dots would you help him turn into stepping stones? Well, we’re going to find out because I’m going to play the music. And when it fades, it’s your time to talk. This is the Sermon on the mic.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [48:37]
With the best bit of the show, doesn’t remain on the mind the sermon on
duty. Be very careful following a path that others have laid out for you. When I was young, I kind of went through the motions. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. I thought I was taking on a path in terms of like career and just like kind of like whatever happened, like whatever kind of wind blew like I would just kind of follow that. And it took me a long time to realise you can actually forge your own path. You’re not stuck with the scripts that other people have written for you. You can write your own script. And so taking risks that allow you to kind of build the life and the business and the career that you want is a way better option than just simply taking a job or taking whatever recommendations come your way, actively reaching out and finding the things you want and going after them is way better than just kind of like passively going where the wind blows. And I think you know, at least through my 20s I spend a lot of time accepting what was put in front of me rather than chasing down the things I really wanted.
David Ralph [49:55]
Powerful, powerful word. So Justin, what’s the number one best way that our audience Those who’ve been listening can connect with you, sir.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [50:03]
Well, you can check out our business brokerage over at Empire flippers.com. If you’re looking to invest in these types of businesses and don’t want that kind of active management is required, you can check us out over at web street. What should we talk? Whoa. And then you want me? It’s actually me, not some marketing team over on Twitter. That’s at Empire Flippers.
David Ralph [50:21]
Justin, thank you so much for spending time with us today, joining up those dots. And please come back again, when you have more dots to join up, because I do believe that by joining up those dots and connecting our past is always the best way to build our futures. Justin, thank you so much.
Justin Cooke Empire Flippers [50:37]
Awesome, thanks, David.
David doesn’t want you to become a faded version of the brilliant self you or wants to become. So he’s put together an amazing guide for you called the eight pieces of advice that every successful entrepreneur practices, including the two that changed his life, head over to join up dots.com to download this amazing guide for free and we’ll see you tomorrow on Join Up Dots.06