EPISODE 38
SYED BALKHI: OPTINMONSTER
Syed Balkhi is an award-winning entrepreneur and the founder of OptinMonster - a popular conversion optimization software. Aside from that he created and runs WPBeginner, the largest wordpress resource site on the web, and is responsible for launching the explosively YouTube channel, list25.


IN THIS EPISODE

​​​​​​​Some business owners relish the spotlight. They’re a prominent figurehead on their website or immortalized in the brand itself. Syed Balkhi plays it low key. Fact of the matter is, he’s been pulling strings from behind the scenes as an entrepreneur since age of 12. From a comfortable distance between himself and the consumer, he’s able to crush it— as he puts it — from the systems side of Optinmonster. On this episode of MODERN ONTRAPRENEUR, Landon traces the signposts of becoming a CEO under 30 as Syed shares the digital growth hacks that’ll carry your business to six figures and beyond.

JUMP TO TOPIC

1:31 - Manipulating Systems
Syed’s reason for keeping his face off the websites he runs.

2:43 - Channel Partnerships
Crafting win-win situations out of affiliate marketing opportunities.

3:53 - Hustler at 12, CEO Before 30​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​How Syed found his hustle early in the library of his first American school as an immigrant.

5:46 - Strive for Recurring Revenue​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​Be it software, retail or service, pivot away from one-off projects as fast as you can.

SHOW TRANSCRIPT
LR Welcome to MODERN ONTRAPRENEUR, today we have Syed Balkhi who is an award-winning entrepreneur and the founder of OptinMonster, a popular conversion optimization software. Aside from that he created and runs WP Beginner, the largest WordPress resource site on the web. Really?
"
SYED BALKHI
If you go on OptinMonster.com, you won't see my face. I'm under the radar - crushing it on the systems side.
SB Yeah it is.

LR Geez, there's a lot of resource sites on the web about WordPress.

SB This is the original and the biggest.


LR No kidding?

SB  Yeah, yeah.

LR That's amazing.

SB Started online.

LR Started on ... (laughter) Good, how long ago did you start that?
SB 2009.

LR 2009?

SB 2009, seven years ago.

LR Seven years ago, and when did OptinMonster start?

SB  2013.

LR 2013 and that's two primary things right now? Or no you just-

SB I have a lot of different WordPress plug-ins, those are two well-knowns. We bought Jost Analytics last year, rebranded to Monster Insights, we have WP Form, Solo Greenwire. We're in the WordPress business, and, you know, OptinMonster, it started out as a WordPress plug-in. Everybody wanted it, so we turned it into a software service, exactly.

LR Yeah, great, and it's obviously been going well. Now, it's soon...

SB It's going really, really well.

LR Super well-known product.

SB Sure, yeah.

LR  Yeah, congratulations on that. So what do you feel like your unique skill set is?

SB Manipulating systems.

LR Systems?

SB Yeah, optimizing systems and processes to find the best growth. I guess now the coined term is growth hacker.

LR Uh huh, growth hacker. So what does that, in terms of actual in the trenches, day-to-day work, what does that look like?

SB  So...

LR As a skill.

SB  My primary thing is looking at where is our customers coming from, whether that is Facebook ads, whether it's Google Search, whether it's through affiliate partners, and how can I optimize it and make it better. So in my core task, it's just look at that and say, "Oh, here's a key word we're ranking #6 for, for example.", and search, "Can we go from 6 to 1? Right, here's what we need to do."

Here's an ad that's performing really well, and this one is kind of dud. Can we take this out, move this, and, you know, hammer down, double down, this strategy, kill this strategy.

LR So this sounds like spreadsheets life.

SB Pretty much, yeah. I'm behind the scenes most of the time, if you go on OpinMonster or any of the sites, you will never see my face.

LR Right.

SB  So, I like under-the-radar and just crushing it on the systems side.

LR  Crushing it on the systems side? So what is working today best to grow your business?
SB  Channel partnerships is working really, really well for us.

LR No kidding?
 

SB Yeah. So we basically partner with companies or businesses, where there's a synergy there. For example, we have an integration with you guys at ONTRAPORT, right? So we wrote about your integration, we have an integration, we're in your integration directory, that's a very easy example where it's a win-win situation. There's a community of authors, and authors need email lists and they need to grow their conversions. So we go into that community and partner with them, show them how to best use the tool and drive traffic that way.
​​​​​
LR So this sounds like glorified affiliate marketing.

SB Glorified affiliate marketing?

LR So more hands-on, really?

SB Very hands-on, absolutely.

LR Very hands-on. So you have a person in charge of that, or a whole team in charge of that in your-?

SB  There are three people, but a lot of the time relationships start with me and then pass that ...

LR And then, got it. Yeah, so that's what's working in the most exciting part of the growth part of your business?

SB Absolutely, yeah.

LR Cool. So, tell me what you're learning right now. You obviously are like a machine of the cutting-edge. What are you excited about learning right now?
SB I'm really thrilled to learn about the chat bots that-

LR Yeah, everybody's talking about-

SB Everybody's talking about chat bots, but I'm seeing quite a few ... There's multiple platforms, and there's pros and cons to it. I want to evalu- ... When I'm looking at different platforms, I want to see what the longevity of a specific platform is, especially with so many businesses that we have, we don't want to tie down to one platform and then, turns out Facebook blocks their App, and then next thing you know all your subscribers, all the ad dollars that you spent kind of goes to waste.

LR I feel that.

SB  So I'm looking at different platforms, talking with them, seeing if there's a way where we can use our own white-label App while using their platform, kind of like an Enterprise solution. So this is the most exciting, in terms of learning-wise ... But, you know, we have a huge YouTube channel we're always trying to tweak and work with the YouTube algorithm. It's called List25, it has almost 500 million video views.

LR Whoa, that's crazy.

SB Yeah, 2.1 million subscribers. Yeah, it's really, really epic. So we're always, you know, testing out different things in that space, so yeah.

LR That's incredible.

SB Absolutely.

LR So nine years ago you started the WordPress thing.

SB Absolutely.

LR And was that your first endeavor in the entrepreneurial space?

SB No, no, no. I started my entrepreneurial stuff when I was twelve.

LR Twelve?

SB  My family moved to America from Pakistan. I didn't speak English as well as I do now, and I'm still pretty terrible

LR I think you've got it pretty well [crosstalk 00:05:15] at this point.

SB You know, I was in school and I wanted to play games because I didn't speak English. I would go to the library, but the firewalls blocked it all. So I created proxies to bypass it, and then I started selling proxy sites. That's how I started.

LR No kidding?

SB Yeah, domains and proxies.

LR Back in the day?
SB Back in the day, in 2002, 2003. And then I worked my way through in different industries, services, affiliate marketing, and then publishing with WP Beginner, and then List25, and then software after that.

LR So if you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice back then about your career, what advice would you give?

SB I would say get into software faster because, you know, service clients often were one-off projects, larger ones, you know. You retain some, but it was nothing like the recurring revenue that you get with software. So if I could go back, it doesn't have to be software, any business that generates recurring revenue.

LR Recurring revenue's the gold.

SB  That would be, that would be my number one advice to me at fourteen years old. Hey idiot, stop doing these one-off projects. Go build a recurring revenue stream.
 
LR That would have been the jam.

SB  Absolutely.

LR Absolutely. So if you were then able to zip into the future and look back on your career and think about what your legacy was, what would you like that to be? What is that all about for you?

SB  I wanted to make a huge impact on education.

LR On education?

SB  Absolutely, because I come from a poor country in Pakistan, right? You know, some parts are richer than others, but overall, you know, it's not America. And I think education was the biggest thing for me. So one of the things that we do at WP Beginner is 100% free intel education. On our birthday, you know ... July 4th, that's when I started it ... we do big donation campaigns, we raise money and support charities like Pencils of Promise or the Cambodian Village Fund, which is going out and building schools in areas where they don't have schools, they don't have education. Because I think, you can give somebody money or a donation of food, and they'll eat for one day. But if you teach the kids, educate them, then even if one out of the hundred kids do something, that to me is the best thing.

LR Yeah, good. So what do you think it means to be a modern entrepreneur?

SB Freedom.

LR Freedom?
SB Yeah. I think just being able to utilize all the technology that's at your hand and getting out of the manual processes and automating it. That, to me, is ... You know, I just had a four-month old kid, you know, four months ago.

LR You just had a four-month old kid? I didn't know that was possible.

SB (laughter) No, I had a kid four months ago. And me running 16 different companies.

LR Sixteen?

SB  Sixteen different companies, it wouldn't be possible without the automation or technologies. And I imagine, twenty years ago you couldn't do that.
 
LR You couldn't do it, yeah. So it sounds like scalability is really where it's at. It's like recurring revenue, scalable, automation, scalable ... So that to you, being a modern entrepreneur is all about focusing on scalability and iterating for the win.

SB  Absolutely, yeah. You know, test, learn, and improve.

LR Test, learn, and improve.

SB  Yeah.

LR Good. So thank you so much for being here, I really appreciate it. Will you sign our wall?

SB  Absolutely.

LR Great.

 
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