340 Reboot Your Business in the Digital World – Mitch Joel

What you will hear in our discussion with Mitch Joel:

  • Creative? Opportunities for You in the Digital World
  • Stressed about a Big Goal?
  • What Writing a Book Can Do for Your Life and Biz
  • Not Seeing the Linear Increase in Your Business?
  • Wisdom from “one of North America's leading digital visionaries”

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More about our featured guest

When Google wants someone to explain the latest developments in marketing to the top brands in the world, they bring Mitch Joel to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California.

Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and called him, “one of North America's leading digital visionaries.”

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum – a global digital marketing agency operating in close to 20 countries with over 2000 employees (although he prefers the title, Media Hacker). He has been named one of the top 100 online marketers in the world, and was awarded the highly prestigious Canada's Top 40 Under 40.

Joel is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Strategy, The Globe & Mail and many other media outlets.

He is a regular columnist for the Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine, The Huffington Post and other magazines and newspapers. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation (published by Grand Central Publishing – Hachette Book Group), named after his successful blog and podcast is a business and marketing bestseller.

His second book, CTRL ALT Delete, (also published by Grand Central Publishing) was named one of the best business books of 2013 by Amazon.com.


Full Transcript

[00:00] Joel: As promised, they call this guy the ‘Rockstar of Digital Marketing', Mitch Joel. And in addition to the things that I've mentioned in the intro, he is also a regular columnist for the Harvard Business Review, for Inc. Magazine, for the Huffington Post and he was a recipient of one of the most prestigious awards available to him, and that is Canada's Top 40 Under 40 award. And this guy Pei, he is a true media hacker, self-diagnosed as a true media hacker.


[00:36] Mitch Joel: I'm only being a media hack, yeah.

[00:38] Joel: Oh okay. Media hack, yeah, yeah. I got you. Hey, Mitch Joel, you are here, finally we got this coordinated. So welcome to ReLaunch.

[00:47] Mitch Joel: Happy to do it. Thanks for having me.

[00:48] Joel: Yeah. We are happy to have you here as well. And this show Mitch, is highly practical because it is all about the relaunch and specifically, how you did it. And well, we've all experienced numerous relaunches in our personal and in our professional lives. I generally ask our guests to zero in on the relaunch that has been the most transformational for them and then just kind of unfold the story from there. And we'll do that with you here in just a few minutes, if that's okay. But I'd like to start the show off with a quick piece of takeaway gold, if you will. And I purposefully didn't really talk about this with you during the pre-show chat because I wanted to… “Well, we'll see how good he is thinking on his feet.” I'm thinking Pei, he is pretty good, he's done this before.

[01:34] Pei: Well, let's test it.

[01:35] Joel: Okay. We'll see. Anyways, so Mitch. So Google, I think we've all heard that name before, Google… They like to bring you in to explain the latest developments in tech in online marketing to some of the biggest brands and some of the largest organizations throughout the world. And most of our listeners, they're podcasters, they're authors, they're content creators, they're solopreneurs, they're couple-preneurs and just a small team of people looking to make a difference. So I'm just curious here, what would you say is the top challenge that the big brands are facing that the little guy can learn to master and to apply in their business plan and in their life?

[02:24] Mitch Joel: I think it's primarily the domain and space that I occupy with almost a 100% of my time, and that's this ability for a very small business to reach a very, very large or significant or niche audience, whatever audience it might be through these digital channels. I mean, really before, the barrier to reach an audience was so out of reach for the small and local business owners.

[02:49] Pei: Right.

[02:50] Mitch Joel: It was out of control. And now the fact that you can do a lot of this for free, a lot of it is cloud based, so it's either free or subscription based in terms of access and things like analytics and tools to connect. It's staggering. And I think about big businesses, the problem with big business is always dogma, how they've always done things, and also fear of changing because it's big. And if you change something big and there's only a little thing happens, it's pretty traumatic to the business.

[03:20] Mitch Joel: So for a small business to be what we would call here in our agency which is called Mirum, Digital First, is actually really, really easy. The challenge of course is that local or solopreneurs often wonder well, “I don't need to speak to the world of the internet, I need to just speak to my small audience,” and it's a bit misplaced that logic now because through mobile devices and social technology and our ability to target, that's basically what you can do in a much more efficient and practical way than almost any other media channels. So to me, it's a… It can be tremendously powerful for massive multinational organizations which is typically the clients I work with. But when I look at it, I'm often marveled at the fact that small businesses are so hesitant when it would be my sole area of focus if I owned that type of business.

[04:08] Pei: And also from what you said, it sounds like there's so much opportunity for the solo or couple-preneurs out there too, while leveraging the availability for the new technology and the clouds and… Yeah, it's interesting time, isn't it?

[04:28] Joel: I wonder why that is, Mitch? Sorry, to… Go ahead.

[04:30] Mitch Joel: Well, think about it this way. Think about you have a hobby and you enjoy to paint and you do a lot of it and a friend goes, “Wow, your stuff is really good. You should sell some of it.” And you're like, “Hmm, okay.” So what are your options? Before the web, you'd do a vernissage at the local coffee shop and you'd put the pieces in the coffee shop on commission. So if someone buys it, they would give you the money when you sort of pop by every week. Your audience was very limited based off of that location's traffic etcetera. And then fast forward to our world, then Etsy. The fact that you can… Or eBay or whatever it might be. The fact that you can post your work to the world and figure out really how big the audience is and that audience is no longer just based off of geography but it's an audience that's based and driven off of interest.

[05:16] Mitch Joel: And that's a very, very simple but large paradigm shift that most brands and businesses fail to get. My favorite story about this is, we were visiting my sister-in-law in New York and she had this beautiful triptych painting that was done, it really matched the room the room I thought, “Wow, this is beautiful, where did you get it?” And it's a funny story that she had seen a similar painting, or three paintings rather on eBay and she bid and lost the bid. And then got an email from the person saying, “I know you bid… You were one of the bidders. If you're interested, I could make another painting like that and sell it to you.” And so not only did they go through that process, but the painter actually would send them pictures of it in the process, “Do you like this, is it too much green, or would you prefer more red or is there any… ” Not that she was asking direction necessarily, but it was more about that artist realizing that their ability to sell to an audience of interest rather than an audience based off of geography and time is very predominant. So, if the painter in their garage can do it, I see no reason why solopreneurs wouldn't be able to do it. And you see this every day.

[06:18] Pei: How cool. And by the way, that painter, although he may not have his own website, but he's got the list 'cause the bidder… He's got the bidders emails.

[06:29] Mitch Joel: Yeah, and Etsy allows… Etsy gives you the storefront as well so you don't have to really have the site. If you really wanted to use just Etsy as the site.

[06:37] Joel: That's a good point as well. I love what Mitch is saying about interest because that's where solopreneurs, and couple-preneurs can really make a difference while big brands are struggling with that as Mitch pointed out that that's kind of a…

[06:52] Pei: ‘Cause even a little bit change, it takes a lot of effort for big companies.

[06:57] Joel: Right, but…

[06:58] Mitch Joel: Well, it's also philosophically, they're more in the position of thinking about reaching mass audiences through advertising, and so when they see digital, they don't see it as necessarily a greater good of marketing but rather “how do I reach a mass audience?”. So, the mass audience used to be on TV or newspapers. Perhaps now they're on Twitter, or Pinterest, or whatever might be, and their sort of step towards that isn't to engage and connect. They're doing some of that. It's… I'm sort of painting a wide brush here, but in general, the big ad dollars are still basically that. They're still ad dollars.

[07:29] Joel: Okay. So, let's back up a little bit. We could get into that and have that conversation for a long time, but let's get back up and talk about Mitch's relaunch, the one that was the most transformational for you. And then if we have time, I'd love to get back into the conversation that we started. So, go right ahead. Mitch's relaunch.

[07:52] Mitch Joel: My relaunch probably happened in 1993, '94. At the time I was publishing a physical print magazines in the music genre. And it was really exciting, and it was a fun time, and that was for…

[08:03] Joel: Were you a musician yourself?

[08:05] Mitch Joel: I play… You know, I'm not a musician. I like to tell people that I play bass. I'm not really a bass player.

[08:10] Joel: Okay.

[08:11] Mitch Joel: So, I know how to play it, but I don't think I really have the acumen to take it on in a more serious way. But I always had a passion for the space, and interviewing rock stars and stuff like that, and I'd been very successful at a young age running two magazines and helping to sort of have my toe into a third, but I burnt out. It was a very hard run. It was very very tough, and in '93, I really felt myself sort of with the pressure and stress of that, and not realizing that I was under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. And I did my own relaunch, or my own reboot. Wound up coming back home. I was traveling a lot and on the road like crazy, and decided that I was gonna change things. And in that process of about nine months, I closed or sold my interest in the magazine. I got more interested in digital publishing, but I think more from the relaunch side was just my personal world where I had to figure out how to deal with things like stress and anxiety better. I wound up losing close to a hundred pounds in nine months just in terms of getting my health aligned and realizing that life is holistic. You need to have mind, body, spirit very very much aligned, and I was definitely neglecting that one part, my body for sure.

[09:19] Mitch Joel: And I think that in that sort of personal journey, I definitely was able to uncover some past interest professionally in my life that really led me onto the next phase which was going from publishing and medium, more into advertising and digital. And I look back at that moment as being very fortunate one that I made it through it obviously because you wanna make it through it in a healthy manner, but primarily at a more macro level in terms of really setting me on course for what I wanted to, or what I hoped I might be able to accomplish in my life.

[09:51] Pei: Wow. That sounds like a very rewarding… Did you say nine months?

[09:58] Mitch Joel: Yeah. The nine months was, for sure, the weight loss side of it. You know, “Rewarding”, its an interesting word. I don't think that… I still consider it a journey, and I think part of the relaunch is understanding that there's not really a destination. That it's this journey you're on, and anybody who's either lost a lot of weight, or dealt with something highly emotional, or changed their lives, I think the ones who really do transform and relaunch in a healthy way are ones who don't look at it as a finite thing. So, I don't look at it and go, “Wow. I lost all that weight.”

[10:25] Joel: Let me ask you this, Mitch. Let me ask you this. I appreciate you blazing through this, but let me help you unpack a little bit. Was it a challenge for you to realize that this was a journey and not a destination? The reason I ask you this is 'cause that causes a lot of people to stumble. It's like, “Well, I need to get from A to B. I need to get from here to there.” And sometimes… Yeah. So, go ahead.

[10:53] Mitch Joel: I was walking on the streets of Chicago with a very close friend of mine who had sold a company for hundreds of millions of dollars, literally. And I had asked them where they're at in their life, and they said, “Oh look, I'm looking forward to doing this next thing and starting that.” And they're down on where they were at, and I had this moment of realization which was that a lot of people wanna start things, and a lot of people when they start things wanna think about how it's gonna end. And very few people enjoy the middle, the process.

[11:21] Pei: That's for sure.

[11:22] Mitch Joel: And I actually at one point kicked that can around in terms of maybe creating a book about this concept of the middle, and being able to acknowledge it, accept it, enjoy it, be part of the process. It's a very hard thing to do, so I don't look at it and go, “Yeah,” and again, it's not a checkmark where I go, “I've done it.” I find myself constantly catching myself like a safety net, and saying, “You have to remember that it's a process,” and that even though there might be a contract that says ‘you've got to get this done in six months', that it's still a process. And while a contract says that on paper, there's just the realities of life and all that.” I think ultimately what I wanna be able to do is look back on the macro thing, the whole thing and say, “Was I able to enjoy the process, even when there was more challenge than positive?”, and then also in the end, whenever the end might be, “Do I feel like I helped move it in a positive direction or was it a negative direction?” And the truth is, in this, sort of idea of the middle, is that the growth really, unfortunately, comes from the hard parts, not the good parts. [chuckle] And that we all know.

[12:25] Pei: Interesting, that's how it happens. So, Mitch, do you have some tips for people… To give to people who… They understand it's important and they know they should be enjoying the journey, but is kind of… They still keep their eyes only on the fruit at the very end. So, what helped you have that realization?

[12:50] Mitch Joel: Yeah, you have to make time for yourself. And, again, I come from a bit of a fortunate position, because really what do I do? I love to write. And so for me, while my writing is public on the blog and in the articles I create, there's also journals and notes that you take just to, sort of, get yourself into the right place of writing a book or a blog post or whatever it might be. And I really believe that a lot of my own ability to do that comes in just that, sort of, writing process. But I say that, and I say, “Selfish,” because a lot of people don't do that. They just don't realize that it does this. There's a whole bunch of data and research that'll tell you if you write down your goals and how you're gonna get them, you have a 10 times delta in your ability to achieve them. We don't know why, it's just the effort of writing them down and acknowledging them, we don't know. So, for me, I think, the secret weapon for me is the fact that I write so much.

[13:41] Joel: Let me ask you this question, Mitch. Six Pixels of Separation, that's one of your book, and your latest book, Ctrl Alt Delete. As you were working on those books, what did you get from those books? It would be easy to say, “Well, what can the reader get,” or, “What can they expect?” But I always like to, kind of, flip it on the author and talk about, well, what did you learn? Experience? Get back in touch with?

[14:10] Mitch Joel: Depth, you get depth. A book is a very long process. It has to be very organized and very specific in how you're gonna drive it, 'cause it's long and you're also trying to keep attention. You're writing it in a day and age of tweets and blog posts and articles and, again, when I wrote the book I didn't take a sabbatical. I wound up still blogging every day and writing articles and doing all the things that I do and running the business that we have. But it was the depth. It was the focus. It was even saying, “Oh, I did cover that, I think, on my blog,” but I took the blog post and went, “Wait a second. There's five examples here I could not expand upon. There's… My thinking has changed since that.” So that spending time on one topic with such a layer of depth, where you're reading, which is your, sort of, research, and then you're writing, which is your, sort of, teaching, which is a thing I stole from Susan Orlean, who's a very well-known creative non-fiction writer. That thing is… It's a gift. It's a gift to have that type of time in your life to spend going so deep on a topic. It's a real gift.

[15:15] Joel: Appreciate that. So, if we jump right into Ctrl Alt Delete, why did that book need to follow that first one? The Six Pixels book. What was it, a sequel? Was it a prequel? Or how did that process, kind of, unfold itself, for you?

[15:35] Mitch Joel: Yeah. I wish it was a Star Wars-y type of story. [chuckle] If you love to write, like I do, and I've been writing professionally since I was 16, writing a book is like Moby Dick. You're going after this whale and all you've got is a fork and some tartar sauce.

[15:50] Joel: Right, right, right.

[15:50] Joel: It's a pretty daunting thing and when you do it you feel like, “Okay, I got the whale.” So, I went into the first book, Six Pixels, with like, “I'm just gonna write a book.” Like, “Oh, it'd be nice to have that on a bookshelf next to the other authors I love. That would be great.” Right?

[16:03] Joel: Right, right.

[16:05] Mitch Joel: When you do it, it's, I think… And I don't know this, I'm speaking from second party influence, my wife, I think it's like childbirth. When you're going through it you say you'll never do it again and once you're done you're like, “Hey, maybe we should have another.”


[16:16] Mitch Joel: You can't imagine having another after you just went through what you went through, but we do this. And I don't know if it's a biochemical reaction or what it is, but for me it was the fact that I'd written the book, I'd continued to speak, grow the client base, do what what we do, and I just felt like there were more changes taking place in the world, and I felt like these changes were… In the book I talk about them in these chunks of five movements, they are not [16:37] ____ movements that have changed business forever, that most businesses aren't yet paying attention to.

[16:42] Mitch Joel: But the real catalyst for the book was when I realized that we, as individuals, have to bring ourselves differently to the work environment. And there was just sort of that moment of crystallization, where I thought, “There's definitely another book here, and it's something that I'm passionate about and something that I want to explore.” So you sit down with your… In my case it was my literary agent, my publisher, and, “This is the working title. This is what I'm thinking,” and pieces click together and it happened to work out, in good timing.

[17:09] Pei: Well, excellent. Now, when the concept of reboot your life… You reboot your businesses. That's why we're here, we want to help people relaunch. So, as you research, as you wrote the book, what did you find out that seemed to be the biggest struggle that people, during this process, besides wanting the end product and not enjoying the journey?

[17:40] Mitch Joel: Well, I think that that's, sort of, the little thing. It's the journey. We see… For me, the big thing was we see journeys as being fundamentally linear, bottom left to top right. “Can my life just go in that direction? My sales, my followers, I just want everything to go from bottom left to top right on any chart?” That's exactly what I want. And what I talk about in the book in specifics when it comes to individuals, is something I called “Embracing the Squiggly.” That life isn't linear, that life is very, very squiggly. And that I started off writing for a music magazine, the person didn't wanna publish anymore. I started my own magazines, I happened to fall in love with the internet, I pushed some articles onto the internet… It was this weird… It wasn't linear at all. I didn't go to school, get a law degree, practice law, become a partner, retire, get a gold watch and die. Most of us don't go on that trajectory, but we perceive that trajectory to be the right one, and where I think people fall…

[18:37] Pei: Why is that the case, by the way?

[18:39] Mitch Joel: It's society, it's just the way we've set up society. As an education, you go through elementary to secondary to university to work, to 20-year… And obviously, we're not seeing that anymore, we're seeing successful people of some of the bigger companies be drop-outs, start things on their own. Peter Thiel giving people money to start their own business, the solopreneur movement, the four-hour work week movement, Tim Ferriss and you can go on and on, and see this. But the vast majority still believe like, “Go to school, get an education, take a good job.” What are we seeing? We're seeing the financial world not really embrace that as a reality. You see multiple people coming out of universities with MBAs not having worked and being in debt. This is a commonality now, specifically in North America.

[19:19] Mitch Joel: So we have to be able as people to not just look at our lives from where we are now back and go “Wow, it was really squiggly and interesting how I got there,” but maybe embrace this idea of the squiggle at the beginning. “My life is gonna be like that, it's not always gonna be right, there's gonna be lots of mistakes, I'm going to go this way, it's not gonna work. I'm gonna go that way, I'm gonna meet that person.” But if you embrace that, I think you open yourselves up to opportunity. And when you do that, I think the core of what Ctrl Alt Delete is about opens up to you because if you can become comfortable with doing it with your own vocation and life trajectory, you'll be equally comfortable doing it at work or doing it for your own business.

[19:56] Joel: So let me ask you this, Mitch, and then I've got maybe one or two questions besides that. As you were moving through not just your book writing process, but just your business and your speaking business process, what were some of the bad habits, or some of the beliefs that you had to confront within yourself that you had to learn a new way of thinking to get over some of the things that were potentially holding you back?

[20:32] Mitch Joel: I think we all have self-limiting habits.

[20:34] Joel: Of course.

[20:35] Mitch Joel: My own… Sometimes it's just I'm worried that I'm gonna be exposed as a fraud. It's like someone's gonna walk into my office and be like, “Come on, you don't really know what you're doing.” Its like, “Please step to the side.” It's silly, but that's just our own human body of thinking. I've always been like that as a human being, I've never been one to say, “I'm the greatest and I know everything.” And so, I think that we all deal with the our… The sort of stories we've been told by our parents rearing, and whatever that might be, and then there also is just the stories we tell ourselves in the darkest of dark of nights and its… And I'm always amazed with people who are super, super confident and really like what I would perceive to be extremely successful, because I would almost be like too nervous to be that person, 'cause I'd think that I'm really a fraud because my nature and my personality is quite introverted. So I deal with that a lot, I deal with that sort of… My desire to wanna work alone. It is part of what I think is just in me as a writer, I like to… Which is hard when you have a team of as many people as we have, you know, we used to be 100 plus, now we're over 2,000 people in this company. So these are the things that we all have to sort of… I have to struggle with.

[21:46] Joel: Sure, sure. Really love how you're talking about that because, yeah Mitch, these are all struggles that we go through, but one of the things that you've figured out, which has made you wildly successful on many different levels, writing, speaking, and then just driving a business, and that is that you have learned how to harness some of your best features and your enduring qualities. And you've really learned how to tap into them and then let other people tap into their… What they do best. And that right there is the mark of a successful business owner and an entrepreneurs. Focus on what you do well, like a rock star, if you will, and then let other people shine in the areas that they've been uniquely gifted to shine in. And when you're able to not beat yourself up but to delegate, or to automate, or to delete some things that don't even need to happen, that can be a difference maker. Did we get this right, Mitch, or are we off?

[22:55] Mitch Joel: No, I think you're in the right wheelhouse. The truth is, the only thing that I would add on is that it's not just me. And I think that that's always been me, too, is I rely very heavily on my three business partners and then, obviously as we've been acquired and we've grown and changed, on the partners within that, that I do look at things very much as a partnership, and I think the reason why partnerships have worked so well for me is that I'm… As you said, I think I'm very self-aware of my obvious limitations, and I tend to bring in people not who complement what I do, but who actually complement what I don't do. And the joke that we used to have with, there were four business partners here prior to the acquisition is, I do the things that they hate and they do the things that I hate, and we could say that about each and every other person. However together we very much… We use that as the complementing factor, and that creates discourse which is… Healthy discourse I should say, so that I can look at one of my partners' perspectives and go “You know, he's thinking very linear, and I'm much more circular in the way I think, but I can understand his perspective, and I'm willing to even try that because I'm curious.”

[24:02] Joel: Indeed. Love what you said there that, you work with people that don't complement what you do do already, but you work with people that complement what you don't do. And that right there is a business plan in a sentence. Work with people that complement what you don't do or you don't do well. Mitch Joel is our guest today. The name of his books, you need to pick these up, it's ‘Six Pixels of Separation', and his latest book, ‘Ctrl Alt Delete'. Of course we'll have the purchase links in the show notes that accompanies this episode, as well as links to all the social media hotspots. And Mitch, this is been great. You've given us some tremendous ideas and provided a lot of value for the ReLaunch nation, so we really appreciate your time on the show today. You're welcome back here any time, my friend. If there's anything that we can do to help you out, we're more than happy to do that as well for you, Mitch. Thank you so much.

[25:04] Mitch Joel: Well, thank you for the work that you do. I'm sure it's very valuable to the people who listen, and that's the most important thing. So thank you.

[25:09] Joel: Have a wonderful rest of your day, Mitch. Bye-bye.

[25:12] Pei: Thank you.

Connect with Mitch on Twitter, Facebook and his website.

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Joel Boggess

Keynote Speaker | Corporate Trainer | Award-winning podcaster I help teams ignite their courage, take bolder steps, and get greater results. Together, we create possibilities that bring empowerment, meaning, and financial impact.

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