- 2300 customers
- $3.5m in ARR in 2020
- Don’t overthink
- Persistence is the key to success
- Research about customer’s pain points before developing a product
- Be yourself
- Focus on your personal growth
- Make a product that has a positive impact on the world
- What matters in life is the ability to build relationships
- Entrepreneurship is all about taking risks
- Build trust with your customers
- Don’t make claims if you can’t honor your commitments
- Business is a phenomenal vehicle for leadership
Great. Hey Calvin. Thank you very much for coming to the show. Founder of Simplero. You’ve got 2300 customers and you’re about $3.5 million in annual recurring revenue.
But before we talk about a product, I would love to know who you are and how you got to build Simplero.
Thanks Hammad. Great to be here.
Really, really excited. We had a really fun chat before we started recording. Dammit. We should have recorded that too. No, this is great. So yeah, born in Denmark.
Were you born in Denmark?
I was born in Denmark as well. Yes.
You were born in Denmark, but then when you do leave Denmark?
I actually never left. I go back still quite a lot. Probably a couple of times a year, but probably less.
Probably, about six or seven years old when I left.
Yeah. Your parents still live there, but you were like, I’m done. Fuck it. I’m out of here. Let me move to the UK on my own at six years old. No.
Great place by the way, Denmark.
Yeah, it is. I’m so happy. I don’t live there anymore, but it’s a great place. I’m very grateful that I grew up there and that I go to get to visit. Well, not right now, but you know, normally I would. Yeah, so born and raised there, lived there till I was like 33 or something like that.
And the way I got into it, I was always a programmer because my parents were programmers. They taught me to code when I was a kid and the way I got into Simplero was that I was struggling for many years as an entrepreneur.
Just, I was always paying the bills and I was, you know, mostly freelancing and tried to start a product company but it didn’t work out.
And then I’d freelance some more to pay the bills. And there’s kind of, you know, I was paying the bills, but not really succeeding the way I want it to. And that led me down this path of personal growth.
So Calvin one second. So you said you struggled for a very long time . I think you can emphasise on that because a lot of people really undermine that.
How long did you struggle for and what happened? Because that’s the story I want to know.
Yeah. Years, let me see. So I moved back from the US to Copenhagen at the very end of 2001. And that’s when I started my first kind of real company. And the first two years were actually great. So the company I work for in the US did an open source web application framework.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It was called open ACS. It was a thing back 20 years. And so, I immediately got started an agency basically that worked specifically with that framework. Right. And got some big name clients, GMIT and Greenpeace international, and some others, some other big clients.
And the first two years were great, but I didn’t want to do an agency. I didn’t want to be a consultancy. Right. I want to create a product company and it was way harder than I thought I was always second guessing my clients, like, yeah, I could do that better. I’d much better ideas about this.
Right. And then when it came to me doing a blank slate product to solve a problem, and then I was like, I could really see a potential in for a basically a Danish version of the economist.
No. I was always a fan of the economist, not so much anymore, but I was a fan of the economist for many years and something I inherited from my dad.
He always subscribed to the economist. So I read that as a kid. And I was like, I would love to see, you know, news organization, media organization, Copenhagen, Denmark, do something like that. And it did not exist. So let’s try to create that. Right. And then that didn’t work out. Like it’s completely failed.
Like. Yeah. I mean, just so early in it.
But, so what did you do? What was that angle where you’re trying to develop, you know, a subscription magazine.
We have not even got that far. Right? I started to try, like, who can we find some journalists that we can get on board and pitch them on the idea. And I had a partner and then like that didn’t go anywhere.
Right. I started a company with a partner in the US. She ‘d built a group and an intranet for Greenpeace and I’d built the CMS for Greenpeace.
And she had this idea of essentially putting together a CMS, a content management system with collaboration. So it became a collaborative content management system.
She had a well trafficked site called boxes in the arrows about information architecture. And I was like, that’s great. And I think where I was coming from psychologically was, I’m kind of a failure, but I’m a good coder.
So if I partner up with someone who has that magic success sauce, then some of it will rub off on me and it’ll work out. It didn’t. I drive with her.
I was with a bunch of other people. Starting thing. One of them was I got a bounty job board. So they had this idea that in order to attract people who were not looking for jobs, that you, we could offer this bounty to someone else who was like, so someone who’s really good at their job, not looking for a job, right?
How do we get them activated to apply for a job? Oh, maybe they have a friend that has time to peruse these job boards notices. Oh, this job would be great for my friend over here.
And then they get a $2,000 reward or something like that for making the connection if the person ends up having the job that one had. We had this distribution ready.
We had a contract with someone who was like the biggest job board in Denmark. And we built this whole thing and then it turned out nobody wanted it.
Like none of the companies that were hiring wanted to try this and, you know, then their sales team was supposed to give that didn’t work out. And then like, we were three partners and the other one of them dropped out.
I was just six months into it, spent a ton of money and time building this thing and it didn’t work. And so there’s just a string of stuff like that. One after the other. And so I would always return back to just selling my time for money. And I didn’t want to keep doing that.
So I have a question.
I mean, you started in 2001 your story, and then I think you started Simplero in 2009 something. That’s eight years of a lot of failures. What kept you going?
That’s a good question. I will tell you what kept me going, my namesake Mr. Calvin Coolidge kept me going. There is a famous quote from him that I would keep returning to.
I probably, you know, read it at least once a month, probably even as often as once a week, I have it right here and it says. Cohen Coolidge is the 30th president of the U S in the United States. And I was thinking, this is good enough for him.
It’s good enough for me. He goes like this, nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts, persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. I knew I didn’t want this. Right. I didn’t feel good struggling.
I didn’t feel good pretty much at any level physically, relationships and spiritual. I just felt like I wasn’t super unhappy. It was like, Oh, you know, family and, you know, things good on the surface, but inside I wasn’t in a good place. I knew this wasn’t me. This wasn’t what I was here to do.
And so I was just, I just kept going, kept going, kept going. Eventually, trusting that eventually will work out. I was like, it has to cause I can’t like otherwise I’m just going to go kill myself.
So it’s a personal question. This has happened to be a couple of times, did you go through a phase after you had your latest failure, whatever you had a failure when you thought, okay, you know, I’ll fuck up this business, that’s it.
And I worked so hard for six months a year or whatever. Did you go through a time where you were just down, you could not get out of bed and then you were just feeling miserable.
And then you mentioned, you got out of, and you started again and then you fucked up again and started again. And eventually you made it, did you go through that?
Yeah, I didn’t have long periods, but I would have a recurring probably at least every month kind of spending a weekend or a couple of days where I could barely drag myself out of bed, pizza and Cola and porn and whatnot to kind of, you know, drug myself out.
Yeah. Yeah. So when you look back, what happened, how come you have not succeeded?
How come I was not succeeding? I wasn’t. Yeah. I think most of all, not wanting to be me, not knowing who I was, not wanting to be me. Always wanted to be someone else.
Great. Great. Great. Okay. Let’s move on to Simplero. So that was really interesting as you said, sharing your story.
Well, these failures, let me ask myself. So, you know, starting with a therapist and a coach and taking a coach education and discovering body therapy and workshops and personal development, and it ended up working with a spiritual teacher for, you know, to speak with him for an hour every week for two years.
And that, there’s just so much to unravel and unpack inside of me. And that I wouldn’t say, at the end of that process, but after like five years into that process, I had a moment where I was asking myself. Yeah. The other reason I was struggling so much actually was that I was, I felt unsuccessful. I actually hated that word successful.
Are you successful? To me? It sounded like, are you worthy of existing? as a human being. Right. That was what it sounded like in my head. Someone helped me reframe it to be successful. Just means like, do you achieve what you set out to? Like, what was the goal?
Did you reach it? Then you’re successful. If you didn’t reach it or you didn’t have a goal, you didn’t reach it.
You’re not successful if you didn’t have a goal, like, as you are successful with things like yeah, whatever. But so that helped reframe that, but my mindset was like, just tell me what I need to do to be successful.
Right. And successful to me meant to be a billionaire and create some radically world changing product such as, you know, like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs before the age of 30.
That was my standard. So like an easy, low stakes game here, but that was kinda my bar and I wasn’t hitting it. And so that’s what led me down in the process, but what I realized after five years into it, it was like every other entrepreneur I knew struggled with some of these same things.
It’s like, you know, the emotional roller coaster and, you know, there’s so many beliefs out there, like, this is what you need to do to be successful, no, this is what you need to do. And they’re all contradicting each other. And sometimes people can contradict themselves. Right.
And it’s just their opinions about stuff or what worked for them, or even what they think worked for them, which might not be what actually worked like, you know, when we look back at what works.
Yeah. It was like a thing. Not much has been talked about the struggles. I mean, people talk about the struggles entrepreneurs go through, but yeah, you know, the mental aspects of the real highs and the real lows and the long slog of struggle you have to go through. People don’t talk about that.
They just see the successful, why or what happened to them. I think that’s real. It leads to failure you say I fucked up, let me walk to somebody else the next bit as well. That happened a long drag where you’re trying to make it work, but it’s not working. It’s not working.
And you keep trying, and eventually either you take off or you just fuck it up completely, but that part is really stressful.
I remember some years ago, there’s a well publicised suicide, someone who was building a company and gotten VC funding and it was looking good and committed suicide, and that sparked some conversations.
I remember reading an article and I think of a fast company saying that about a founder who also had a therapist.
And to me, reading that was a thing that I think about a person who dad did was eye opening to me, it was like, Oh, you’re allowed to do that.
I had this rule in my head that, you know, you have to succeed wildly, like Bill Gates or Steve jobs. And you can’t talk to a fucking therapist or a coach or anything like that.
Cause that’s cheating. Right. Then you didn’t do it yourself. That wasn’t really you. It’s crazy. But that was my mindset. Yeah. And so yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s not something that we talk about enough. It’s challenging mentally health wise.
Right? And you put yourself out there and you, you take a chance and you try something and then, you know, people have opinions about it, right?
And like, if you’re not successful, that sucks and if you are successful there’s a lot of people that have opinions about, you know, you and your success and what you’re doing and what you should be doing and why you didn’t do this name and stories about you that are like all that crap.
Right. Well, if you are successful, they tax you 62%. Right.
Very good. Interesting. Let’s get back to that.
Yeah, well, so I had this moment where I was like all the other entrepreneurs I know, needing these same techniques and tools and insights that I’ve learned. So let me teach that. And, the moment was like, Hey, I’ve been chasing success.
Like just tell me what to do to be successful. Or, and I’ve been chasing to make some money. And I was like, I can pay the bills that have been my modus operandi up until this point. And then in 2008, I finally had a moment. It was like the crisis mounted, just so big that I was like, okay, what the hell is that?
And I was like, okay, time out. Maybe it’s time that I found out what I really want to do versus just, you know, what I think I have to do to be successful or fight the virus.
And I did sit down, started answering some questions and then sort of halfway through that process, what leaped out at me was I’m here to integrate spirituality and entrepreneurship and it’s not like, Hey, I’m doing entrepreneurship and there’s like spirituality, and he’s kind of like helping me on the side or it’s something I do on Sunday when I go to church or whatever you do.
No, it’s at the center of it for me. So the business that I start, the businesses that I started and built are not about, you know, how do I make money? It’s about how I make an impact in the world with my product and service, right?
And so, that impact is aligned with my life purpose, with my reason for being here. And it’s about mental peace, right? Questioning your beliefs and not buying into your thoughts.
Like I had this idea that if a thought came out that said, Oh, Calvin, you’re such a loser, you’re a failure. But that meant the thoughts in my head meant that there was truth to it. That it was true. Like if I wasn’t a failure loser, I wouldn’t think that. Right. So the fact that the thought enters my mind means it’s true.
And so I was terrified in my own thoughts. Oh, I hope that thought doesn’t enter my mind. Oh, I just thought of it. Damn. Right. It’s a fucking prison to live in. And so just learning to realize that thoughts are just thoughts and they come from everywhere and they might have just been something that you heard or you picked up an energy for something.
It just happened in your head. I have no control over it. And I can just let it go and be like, what an interesting thought that I’m a loser, but what does that even mean? Like, so what, who cares? What’s for dinner, right?
Let’s get on with emotional peace. The purpose was really like, I mean, at the end of the day, what matters in life is love, right?
The ability to love ourselves first and then share that love with others. What else is there? Honestly, seriously? I haven’t found out what that might be.
Right, right, right. So how did that whole thing tied into the product?
It did, because I was like, I need to teach this stuff.
This is freaking, you know, groundbreaking. I need to teach this stuff to other entrepreneurs. Let me try to do that. And there was like, how do I do that? I’m a software guy and sort of you know, a crappy entrepreneur, what can I do here?
I don’t know anything about doing a workshop or a seminar or, you know, so I started searching on the internet and then I found Jeff Walker and product launch formula and online courses and that entire world.
Right. So, and then I was like, ha, this is brilliant. Like online courses, I can do that. I can learn this stuff. And they seemed really scammy to me, like that whole world and the way they talk, then the aesthetics of it, like I came from a tech background, right? there’s always like, Oh, make money online.
Oh, these douchebags, like get rich quick schemes. And so I was very skeptical of the thing, but I was like, I was on my birthday in 2008 that Jeff Walker was doing his launch. And I was like, if I go to bed tonight and I don’t buy this thing for $2,000 over the internet. I might never see this money again.
I was in debt and I was like, but if I don’t do it before I go to bed, when I wake up in the morning, it’s going to be over. Right. It’s going to be too late. So I was like, all right, I’m just gonna hold my breath and do it. So I did and I don’t regret it. It was great. I learned a ton from Jeff Walker.
He’s a great guy.
Did you use the Product Launch Formula to launch your first version of Simplero?
I did not. No. I used the product launch formula to launch my first information product. So that was what I wanted to do. Right. I was like, Hey, let me teach this course and teach these spiritual techniques to entrepreneurs.
I quickly found out that people weren’t buying that, but they did want help with marketing. And now that I had studied marketing, I could teach them that and help them. And with that, and then I needed the software to run my own business.
And so I just started building that cause I was like, Hey, first we were using Shopify for our cart and we’re using Aweber for email and some other things and all of it was like, Hmm, no, I think I can do better. Let me do my own.
So I built my own billing thing cause I need to do installments and then my own email thing and let me do my own membership site. And then it just grew from there. And then people in my circle of friends and Copenhagen started to ask, Hey, can I use it too?
And I was like, Sure. I’ll let me set you up. Oh, Oh, Oh, ding your car in alphabet. I’ll bill you at some point, but I haven’t figured that part out. So for now you can just use it. I’ll help you. And so I got my first customer base. I don’t know. I forget how many, but like 20, 30 customers, they’re using it, not paying for it for over a year.
Until I started, finally billing them.
Okay. So how long did it take you to actually have the product ready for the prime time to actually sell.
Well, let me put it this way is, I mean, it was ready for prime time from pretty much day one. Right? Because I just build the pieces that I need.
And then I did that and then very quickly started, you know, a few months in, started getting other people using it and helping them set it up.
But then it was a year and five months after my first code commit until my first billing, my first dollar in from customers using it. And it wasn’t, I think it was like $2000 a month at that point in the beginning.
And so it wasn’t until two and a half years into it that I reached the point where I was making about $10,000 a month, which covered all of my living expenses.
That’s a real journey because you built something, you wanted yourself, but then you kept building it and you were persistent.
And you believed in your own product and to keep building and keep improving for two and a half years until you got to a point where you were making $10,000 per month, which again is a very long time.
Right. So what was the evolution of the product Like, from the point where you gave it to customers, to the point where, you know, you kind of started making money, how did you build a product?
Well, you’re still working on your own problems or you, getting more feedback from the customers.
Yeah combination. So I was doing everything myself and in the beginning and I would use it. So I would make money by selling my own courses and coaching programs. And so I would use it right.
And every time I was like, Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if it did this? And I’d just quote that up and then people started using it. They started emailing me. I didn’t have a support system or anything. So they were just emailing me, Hey, like what about this? And can it do this and that? And then I was like, yeah, that’s a good idea.
One of the things that I found that I loved was customer service and product. And especially the combination where, you know, you’re helping someone and you’re just being more real with people and more honest than they’ve ever experienced before as a customer service thing.
And then especially when someone comes to me and they’re like, Hey, this is a little, like, I don’t understand how this is working.
I’m like, yeah, that’s really confusing. Let me go fix that. And then I go fix it and make it better. And then immediately deploy it and like here it is. Thanks for letting me know about that. Right. And they’re like, Whoa, that’s amazing. So when you can get those, like 30 minutes after they submitted this ticket, you have to fix out in production
That’s pretty awesome. It feels great. I love those moments myself. It feels so good.
Right. Do you do all yourself the product development, customer support and how are you actually getting those customers to sign up?
Well, yeah, I mean, for many years I was doing, I was doing it myself. I got people to sign up through word of mouth and you know, some of my friends in the community, Denmark, were out there teaching people how to do these online businesses.
And they would always recommend Simplero as a platform for their customers. So that’s how I got started and that’s how I got my customers. And it’s pretty much been true. Mostly the entire time, because here’s what happened for me was that I got way deep into that internet marketing world I met, I didn’t meet Roland.
I don’t think he was really there back then, but, you know, Frank Kern and Ryan Deiss, I’ve met him in one of these events. And so I met Dan Kennedy. I started buying everything that Dan Kennedy had.
I mean, they’re great people, but what I found was there was this culture in that world where nobody gave a hoot about their customers. Nobody gave a hoot about delivering value. Nobody gave a hoot about delivering, you know, building trust.
It felt to me like the environment back then was kind of like, you bought something, you got in there and they’re like, look how I tricked you into buying this thing.
I’m going to teach you how you can do that to your customers. Right. And it was like this feeling of deception. And I was like, I don’t like this. I don’t like it. So I basically opted out of the entire internet marketing world for 10 years. It was like, I don’t like that. I don’t like that style. Like for me, integrity is a super high thing.
It was like, if I say something I’m going to follow through, if I make a promise in my marketing, it’s on me to make sure I deliver on that promise.
Right. I don’t want to have my customers saying, Hey, what about that thing that I saw in that email? Like four days before the cart opened, where you mentioned some unrepresented thing and then like, You never did that.
Right. I would never want to have had that happen. I never want to make a claim that I don’t make sure we fulfill. Right. Yeah. So, I saw a lot of that back then. People would say whatever to make the sale.
Yeah. It’s really interesting because I was speaking to a founder, I interviewed a couple of weeks back and they are doing $15 million in six years whereas in the first two and a half, three years, they were just doing about $20,000 in revenue.
And all that time, they spent just talking to customers. And he told me, if one guy left with a bad review. They would spend days chasing the customer and fixing the problem and making sure that the customer went back, removed the review, and at least rectified something. And that paid off.
And when they know they got to know the customer properly and for 3 years they did that and the company just went sky high after that. So what happened after you started making $10,000 per month at that time you had a decent amount of customers? I’m sure. Back then the product was stable as well.
What happened after that?
Yeah, well, it’s just been honestly, just a slow and steady process of, you know, building the product and serving our customers the best that we know, it’s been a massive maturing process for me personally. There is a lot, I was not. Oh, I was not a very mature person.
I was quite sort of emotionally broken. So there’s a lot of work that I had to do. And it was actually like the software was phenomenal for me in my life. In several instances, it was a point where I was very depressed and I was never really about to kick the bucket right or pull the plug under myself.
But, I was definitely fantasizing with the idea.
And the fact that I had customers whose livelihoods depended on me and they would email me and ask about this. And that honestly kept me going. I was like, I’m obligated into these people.
Like, I have to keep going. Right. I’ve got to get myself out of bed here. I have to keep showing up for these people. So that was a real blessing for me.
And then later on I went, yeah, on another sort of deep dive into personal growth. It’s I mean, that’s been constant for me for the past 17 years really.
And I think I will continue to be, but I did a deep dive into music and singing and creative expression and all other areas. And having the company as sort of that bedrock that allowed me to explore all these other sides was really phenomenal, really helpful for me. And so now that’s a skill that I have.
I’ve always played the piano, but now I sing, I write music. I produced music and it’s something that I’m bringing in more and more into the company, into the business. I have a song that I sing live for people on the first day when someone joins the team. And, you know, that becomes a bonding moment for everybody and other things.
So, I mean, being able to pick up something like that in your early forties is kind of magical. I really devoted a long time to it. Really just, yeah. Studying, getting better at it.
Yeah. Great. So I know you’re pressed for time, so I’m going to keep it short. One last question.
I mean, your story is amazing. So if someone is watching this or listening to this and they’re thinking, okay, I’m going through all this shit and here’s this guy who’s been through all of that. What’s the one advice you would give them?
Keep going, I mean, keep going and really do the inner work. It was, I think one of the things that Dan Kennedy would always say is the head trip stuff is the highest value, right? You can work in your business. We all know it’s not a good idea. We can work on your business much better. We can also work on ourselves.
Right? These psychological shifts that you make is by far the highest leverage that you can make. And it’s fundamentally about growing up. Right? Most human beings on the planet today are children in a grown-up body, right? Emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, we’re still kids. We’re children.
We haven’t mastered the art of growing up. And so it’s each and every one of us who has the responsibility to do that ourselves now, to be that parent that we need so we can fully grow up. And that’s what business is a phenomenal vehicle for leadership. It’s a phenomenal vehicle for doing that because you get confronted with all of your shit every day.
Great Kelvin. Thank you very much. And thank you for so openly sharing your story and hope I can get you back on the podcast very soon.
Thank you very much. Yes. All right. Thank you so much. It’s great to meet you. It’s great to do this. Thanks to everybody who is listening.
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