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BiggerPockets Business Podcast 21 – Reframing the Rat Race: How to Use Your Day Job to Prepare for Entrepreneurship with James Anderson of Forged Axe Throwing

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 21 – Reframing the Rat Race: How to Use Your Day Job to Prepare for Entrepreneurship with James Anderson of Forged Axe Throwing

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What went into building an (almost) seven-figure axe throwing business that earns hundreds of five-star reviews?

For James Anderson, it all started well before he left his 9 to 5. 

As a marketer and tour guide, he learned how to create buzz, split-test, design systems, and craft world-class experiences… skills James later put to use bootstrapping the Whistler, B.C.-based business he co-founded.

In this episode, you’ll learn why James believes market research is “the most important work that you never get paid for.” He gives us his tips for measuring the effectiveness of both online AND offline marketing campaigns, reveals his company’s current profit margins, and shares a hilarious story about an exhausting grand opening that forced him to temporarily shutter the business on its very first day.

You’ll also learn how James diversified his business by developing scorekeeping software, how he handles insurance, what lessons he learned from a previous Christmas light venture, and the BIG opportunity most entrepreneurs aren’t taking advantage of today.

James’ story is a real blueprint for how to transition from a traditional day job into entrepreneurship, so if you’re interested in doing the same, make sure you listen to this episode today.

If you get value from the show, please rate and review us on iTunes, and subscribe to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast so you won’t miss the next one.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J: Welcome to the BiggerPockets Business podcast, show number 21.

James: And so our first day of business we closed. We had to close the doors because we were not ready, which is so embarrassing to think about. But on the good side, our phone was ringing off the hook and we were booking parties for the entire next week.

J: Welcome to a real-world MBA from the School of Hard Knocks where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there, this show is for you. This is BiggerPockets Business.

J: Hey there, everybody. I am J Scott. I am your co-host for the BiggerPockets Business podcast, and I am here again this week with Mrs. Carroll Scott. How are you doing today, Carol?

Carol: Pretty darn happy. As always life is pretty darn great, and I’m happy. Before we get started, thank you. I want to say thank you so much to all of our listeners. So many of you have already gotten online and filled out, or listen, or survey, so thank you so much for that. And if you’re a listener who hasn’t done so already, here’s another reminder to please help us out. We would absolutely love to hear from you and tell us what you think about this show, what we can do to make it even better for you. So go to biggerpockets.com/bizsurvey. That’s biggerpockets.com/ B-I-Z survey so we can get to know you a little better and keep making it what you want it to be.

J: Awesome. And we have a great show today so we’re going to jump right in. Today’s guest is he’s a true entrepreneur at heart. His name is James Anderson and he has started several businesses over the last decade. And his latest is a brick and mortar business aimed at creating and providing his customers great experiences. His business is called Forged Axe Throwing and you can probably guess from the title what his business does, but in the past three years he and his partner have grown that business to nearly a million dollars in revenue.

J: He tells all about the details there and he tells us how he grew the business, and he gives us a lot of actionable tips along the way. At the end of the conversation we have a really good discussion about what you can be doing today to get your entrepreneurial career off the launch pad, and how you can potentially start a brick and mortar business yourself even if you don’t have any cash. Okay?

J: So if you want to find out more about James and more about this show, you can check out our show notes at biggerpockets.com/bizshow21. That’s biggerpockets.com/ B-I-Z show 21. Now, before we jump into this interview let’s hear a quick word our sponsor.

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J: Thank you so much to our sponsor. Okay. Now, let’s bring in James Anderson. James, welcome to the show.

James: Tank you so much, guys. Pleasure to be with you. Longtime listener, first-time caller. I cannot wait to talk with you guys today. This is awesome.

Carol: Well, I’m a longtime intrigued person and never done what is happening in your business. So tell us, James what is Forged, and how in the world did it start?

James: Yeah. So Forged is an axe throwing arena, and we have been in business for just over three years now. So I’m actually sure a lot of your listeners have probably either experienced axe throwing themselves or heard about a venue opening up because the sport has seen an explosion worldwide. There’s been venues opening up all over and we were lucky enough to be one of the first venues out there pushing the sport forward, and we’ve been ecstatic with the growth of everything. We’ve seen tens of thousands of people come through our doors, tons of smiling faces, millions and millions of high-fives clapped. It’s been an epic journey starting this business.

J: That’s awesome, and I have dozens of questions, I know, Carol has dozens of questions but before we get to Forged and all about Forged, we want to hear a little bit about you. So can you take just kind of back through your backstory, who are you, where did you come from and kind of what led you to opening this business?

James: Absolutely. So just going way back, I’m from originally Vancouver Island in Canada. so I’m from a city called Victoria on the southern tip of the island, and I’ve always been involved in sort of the outdoor pursuits and really interested in getting out there experiencing things. My first job I ever had was teaching snowboarding and in the summer times I’d teach windsurfing at a summer camp. So I’ve always been into coaching, into doing things outdoors and experiencing sort of new things and sharing that stoke with other people.

James: I’ve done a myriad of jobs throughout my career. When I was just out of high school, I actually moved to Costa Rica and I ended up working in eCommerce business. This was in 2001. So eCommerce was pretty fresh at the time. We actually got in into the beta of the Google AdWords program. So I was helping figure out how to run ads for this American eCommerce business that was offshoring things. We had to set up her own voice over IP system because there’s no such thing as Skype. There was no RingCentral. None of these tools we used today. It was like a huge PBX box.

James: We had routers and cables running all over the place. We had to hire an admin guy just to run our voice over IP system. It was a real education in small business. And that’s where I got my first taste of small business actually. But shortly after that I moved back to Canada and I ended up going back to school. I studied tourism because that was… I realized that was really what I wanted to do, my passion and I went to a school in Kamloops, British Columbia for adventure guiding. It’s Thompson Rivers University.

James: At that time, I was thinking I want to just use my love of the outdoors and I want to spend as much time as possible outside and teach people about the amazing world, the outdoors and that way I can go skiing every day, I could go kayaking, I could do whatever I wanted so I got really, really involved in whitewater and rafting. I met a really good friend of mine now, and who’s now my current business partner, Brett. We would always talk about what rafting company we were going to start. We both had this itch we wanted to start something.

James: We were trying to figure out how we could start a rafting company. Maybe we could buy the one that we work for, but the thing about whitewater rafting is there’s only so many rivers you can do it on and on all the rivers especially here in Canada the rivers that you can do it on are permitted. So there’s only so many permits that are allowed per river. So as time goes on those permits start to become more and more and more valuable, and the guys getting out of the industry are going to sell these things for millions of dollars, and we’re like wow, we’re broke. We don’t have millions of dollars.

James: My job at that time we’re tree planting which I was getting paid 10 cents a tree for, and then I was raft guiding. You don’t make a million bucks raft guiding. I can tell you that right now. A great lifestyle, but it’s not a moneymaker. So we were looking for someone else to do. We actually started another business which was an event lighting business. Our busy season would be the Christmas season where we would install Christmas lights millions and millions of lights all over Victoria, Whistler, and Kamloops. We had a cruise going all over the place and saw on Christmas lights. Then we sort of got into wedding lighting and then we were selling lights to festivals and events and things like that.

James: Actually, this week exciting times, those businesses are selling this week. No joke. So we’ve held on to them for years, but that seed money we took, and from one really profitable Christmas-light season, we realized we wanted to start something that had better cash flow year-round and we wanted to expand our breadth. We’re tourism guys. We don’t want to be in a home service although home service was a great business at that time, it gave us the opportunity. We wanted to get into something where we could share that love of teaching and excitement, and where our clients just loved us and want to come back. You don’t quite get that in the home service industry.

James: That’s what we thought was missing and we found the opportunity for Forged. We went for it and invested all our own money. We didn’t take any loans. We did it all ourself, which is probably a mistake in hindsight. It’s great to use leverage when you can, but we did it ourself. We were really proud of that, and again, we started Forged. So it was two months from the time we got our lease in February of 2017 until we opened our doors.

Carol: Very cool. So this is back in 2017 and remind me what is your business partner’s name?

James: Brett, yeah.

Carol: Brett. So Brett and James were doing what when… So like you said axe throwing is a whole… It’s not totally new right now. We’re in the middle of 2019. So it sounds like though this was very, very back in the beginning of when axe throwing became a thing. So what specifically were you doing with Brett? And you had just a spark of interest like oh, let’s just open an axe throwing company. How exactly does that happen?

James: Yes. That’s a great question. When we were doing the event lighting, it was very seasonal and so we would work for crazy for three, four or five months, get everything up and it sort of tapered on, and then it tapered off. Our busiest season or busiest month would be November, December. And then after that no one wants to talk to you about Christmas lights except to take them all down, right? So it’s very, very, very seasonal. And Brett was… He would sort of make his money and he would go traveling.

James: In 2015 or ’16, he was on a road trip in Panama and we would text back and forth on WhatsApp, just sharing business ideas and stuff like that. And I was working at a tourism marketing firm. Actually, I had a full-time job as well as running the event lighting business. Marketing was sort of my background. I had this tourism degree. I thought I wanted to try and use it. I made some incredible connections working in a marketing firm and an agency. It was really, really amazing. To this day my former employer Deirdre is one of my mentors and she’s given me invaluable amounts of incredible advice. So huge shout out to Deirdre if you’re listening to this.

James: I was actually tasked. One of our clients was a large tourism organization, and I got tasked with finding some trends that millennials were doing that we could pitch to BuzzFeed. So I was like, okay. I started looking at all these things in Canada, what do we have? We have craft beer just like everywhere else. We got cool food just like everywhere else. We got this, we got that, and then I was like, “Wait. There’s this dude throwing axes in his backyard in Ontario. That is crazy cool.” I thought that was so neat.

James: Actually, I texted Brett who was in a hostel in Colombia at the time or something like that on a surfing bit of the trip, and I was like, “Hey, man. Do you think this could be our next thing?” And the next message he sent me back was like, “Hey, I started drafting logos. What do you think of this? What do you think about the name Forged? And I was like, “Oh, sweet. Okay. He’s in.” I remember I was actually at a media event and it was a really heated one. We were doing this public community sort of feedback thing and we were getting all this feedback for one of our clients in the marketing firm. They were doing this sort of unpopular development, and I was the media guy so we were getting all these heated questions and I was like kind of sweating it out.

James: In my pocket I’m getting all these messages from Brett. He’s super excited about this new business, and it was a complete realization of like I don’t want to be at this event right now. I’d really rather be focused on my phone and what’s happening in here. So we started working on it. We had this plan. That summer, Brett and I went to Burning Man and a lightning experience. All kinds of art, colors, lights, everything is all happening and we’re talking about what we want to do. I was like maybe it’s time for a big lifestyle change. We’ve got the lighting businesses that are doing well and maybe it’s maybe it’s time we do this.

James: So we decided then and there that we were going to make a major change and we’re going to take our profits and reinvest it in ourselves which was our business. Actually funny enough, our camp at Burning Man we called the Sexy Dumpster Dive Camp, and we had this huge sign that we made with marquee letters. Brett made the thing with crazy lighting and everything like that. We hung it on our wall here at Forged because we had it in the back and were like, “Well, let’s just throw it on the wall.” And it’s since become so popular, we started making merchandise with it. So these are some of the hats that we have right now.

James: So it says the Sexy Dumpster Dive Camp and people love it. They get their photo taken beside it. They pick up a hat on their way out. So it’s sort of come full circle. So that’s how it all happened. I moved from Victoria to Whistler. The first assets we bought for the business were two camping cots, and we set them up in our warehouse. Brett and I would just wake up. We would drill holes in the wall. We’d blow the drywall out of our nose and do plumbing or whatever it was that day. I’m terrible at construction. Luckily, Brett is really, really good. So I would be the laborer at Brett’s direction, and we got her done in two months with the help of tons of our friends and family, and every favor we could call in.

J: Okay. I want to talk about the construction but I just want to start with what happened before the construction because I want to know what did you do to validate your idea? I mean did you just say, “Okay. axe throwing is a trend. Let’s give it a try,” or did you somehow validate that there was actually a market for this. Did you do like a study of your demographics and decide this is the right place to do it, this is the right place to have a building. I mean, did you do like a business plan. What did you do before you said, “Okay. We’re going all-in and we’re going to actually put some money into this?”

James: Yeah. It’s funny to think back on that because once you achieved a certain level of success… We’ve been open for three years. We’re not at the peak of success or anything like that, but people say like, “Oh, you’re so lucky you started at that time. That’s so it’s so amazing that you had that opportunity.” It’s like well a lot of things happen for us to get there. The first thing is like I did… Both Brett and I went to school for tourism. We’ve been studying tourism for years. We’ve literally been working in the industry for ages.

James: So we’ve seen trends come and go. We’ve done tons of research on the subject. I had the fortune of working for this tourism marketing firm in Tartan Group for four years, or three and a half years before we started Forged. So we were in the trenches. We were doing research of all these different trends. A huge trend that we both saw within the industry was that adults are looking for different things to do in the realm of what we call soft adventure. Not everyone is going to go hike Everest, and not everyone’s going to be a pro downhill mountain biker.

James: You don’t have to do those things to participate in recreation. And what happens a lot of the time is people age out of recreation. Maybe they play hockey in high school and then they drop it in the university if they’re not quite good enough, or they keep going on university and then they drop it because they get a family and kids, and then don’t do anything. There’s this weird narrative especially in North America and Western Europe where it’s like, “Well, when you’re done work, what do you do? You go to the bar and you drink it all away, and then you talk to your friends about how miserable your life is.”

James: It’s like no, people don’t want to do that. People want to do fun things, we want to do cool stuff. I got nothing against drinking beer, drinking beer is the best. I love it. But you want to do something while you’re drinking beer. You want to compete with your friends, you want to have a good time and soft adventure, something that you can teach someone in a short amount of time that they can share with their friends, they can share that excitement and stoke, and that you can participate in year-round is key when we looked at the area that we were going to come to you Whistler is a resort town. It’s got some of the most famous skiing in North America and some of those famous mountain biking in North America.

James: The dirty secret of most resort towns is the majority of people who come here don’t actually participate in those two incredible hallmark experiences. Skiing is pretty scary to a lot of people. We got a lot of international travelers and maybe one person in the family wants to ski, what’s everyone else going to do during that time? Yeah, they can go shopping, now they could go to the art gallery but there’s literally nothing to do inside. In Whistler, we’ve got a movie theater, we got the art gallery. We got a spa. We got an escape room, but there’s nothing to do for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, letting meet and greets. And anyone else who just wants to flex their muscles, get a little bit of adrenaline out there and do something that is authentically Canadian when they’re in Canada, so axe throwing.

J: So you mentioned soft adventure, and I’ve never actually heard that category. I assume it’s a real category. There are probably millions of categories I haven’t heard of, what other businesses would fall into that category of soft adventure, just to give our listeners some context here.

James: Yeah, absolutely. Adventure tourism is oftentimes looked at as the most hardcore. I used Everest just as an example, but when people think of adventure tourism they think like, “Oh, you got to be at a certain level of athleticism. It’s really for this elite group. Anything that involves an activity, an element of culture and a sense of place where you’re being educated and learning about the environment that you’re in falls into the category of adventure.

James: I had the opportunity when I was working with a marketing firms, work with this organization called the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and I saw adventure from many different facets. There’s walking tours through cities all over Europe that would fall into a soft adventure where you’re not just doing like a city tour where you’re like, “Oh, this is that and this is that.” But you’re walking with a local guide who’s showing you a local food prepared in a traditional way that maybe has some sort of historical significance.

James: You’re exerting yourself, maybe you’re doing a bike ride along like a fairly easy trail through the woods or something like that. It doesn’t have to be a hardcore mountain biking, but it has to be something that pushes you, just a little bit whether that’s physically or whether that’s intellectually where you’re like, “Oh, that’s not what I thought I was going to be eating or it’s not a typical hamburger. That’s a different thing.” And it gives you a real sense of place.

Carol: Very cool. So you’ve defined that this whole soft adventure thing, you and Brett together, you saw this huge opportunity that there was a need in a trend for this soft adventure. You decided your focus for your soft adventure was going to be axe throwing. So what then? You said you had some money that you rolled over maybe from your lighting business. How much money did you each put in and what specifically did you do with that in the beginning?

James: Yes. So Bret and I each had… We said to ourself we think we can start this for $60,000. which is Canadian dollars by the way. It was probably about 50 grand US. And we ended up putting a little bit more in overtime, but that was our initial sort of guarantee to each other. Hey, well I’m going to put in this much, you’re going to put in this much. The first things that we did, we did a lot of work beforehand, obviously. We did write a basic business plan, not a 50-page MBA plan but like a three-page here’s what we’re going to do, let’s refer back to this often and make sure that we’re on track. And then we got our lease. That was the first real challenge.

James: There’s a real shortage of places you can rent with high ceilings and a square footage cost that is going to work for our kind of business. We’re in the recreation business which requires a large amount of square footage per person. If you look at like the bar and restaurant business, that’s much more condensed. You can pack people in there, you have four people sitting in a small table. We’re throwing axes around. You can’t do that. You need a lot of space. So we needed to find that number, that square footage cost that was going to work. So that took a really long time.

James: And then when we’re approaching the landlord, we asked for some concessions and they they played real hardball with us because there were so many other people who wanted to rent this place. So originally we wanted to rent two units and open up with a bigger space and they were like, “Nah, you know what we’re just going to give you one and we’re going to give this roofing company next to you the other space.” That was a real disappointment and we had to change our plan. We lost half the space we thought we were going to have, and this roofing company went in beside us.

James: Funny story, that roofing company actually stopped paying their rent like a year into their lease and the cops were called, and we jumped on it. As soon as we saw the cops we’re like, “Oh, hey.” So we call the landlord. We’re like, “The police are outside. Any chance we could take a look at the unit?” They’re like, “What? Cops? What’s going on? Those guys don’t pay rent.” So the bailiffs came over, they switched the locks and we were in there the next day being like, “Oh, yeah. This looks great. We’ll take it.” Even though there was drug paraphernalia all over the floor, the place was in a terrible state of disrepair but we were like, “You know what, this is our chance to finally take over that unit we wanted. We’re going for it.”

J: Awesome.

Carol: Any day.

James: Sorry. To get back to your original question what did we do with that money? It was mostly for construction materials, tenant improvements. We were making sure the place looked really, really good, and then we reserved some money for marketing as well because I knew that we really needed a good launch to get local support for our product and make sure that everyone in town knew that we were here and and that was what we spent the money on.

Carol: Excellent. So tell us more about that launch. So it sounds like you really focus locally and you mentioned that you put some of that money aside for marketing specifically. So how did you get those first customers? How did you get your name out in the community? How did you make sure that you had the launch that you wanted?

James: So when we first started, we had two months of construction time, but during those two months we also had time to join the local chamber of commerce. We had time to join Tourism Whistler which is our destination marketing organization. A lot of tourism economies actually rely on the destination marketing or DMO model to promote the destination, and we all buy into that so we pay monthly dues. But it gives you a chance to go to networking events. So we got out there, we did all those things, have business cards printed pretty early and made sure that we were going to every local event that we could find. That was the number one thing. As we’re getting closer, we got a huge banner made for our front door which actually is now our side door. It’s not the best place for a door, but originally that was our front door because we couldn’t get our front unit that we wanted. So I put a huge sign there and that faced the brewery next door. So everyone coming in and out of the brew was like axe throwing. That is crazy. What is going there?

J: Those are your customers. You want the drunk people throwing axes clearly.

James: Not drunk, but responsibly, maybe socially lubricated. It’s so refined.

J: Yes.

James: So we had this big banner saying opening party on this day. We did an open a house. We didn’t charge for the first day. We wanted to get people in the door. I created an event on Facebook and we promoted it on Instagram. We’ve been promoting on Instagram our entire build so as we were hitting milestones. When our feature wall went up, we did all this whole barn board. It looks very retro, super cool. We posted that up there. We posted when the targets first went up. We posted slow-mos of us like practicing throwing axes. And then we went out to every local business in town with a flyer and invited them, and all their staff to come out. It’s one of the hardest things to do early on when your idea isn’t proven and you don’t have a big business behind you is looking someone in the eye and and asking them to come support you and believe in yourself. It was really challenging.

James: But we went out there. We had small brochures made and we just said, “Come on down, invite all your staff, tell your friends. We’re running an open house. We serve beer. We got licensed for that day.” It turned into a great, great event. I was really nervous because we were still doing construction up until the final minute that our party started. We were literally painting lines on the floor. Brett’s brother was in town and we’re like, “Hey, can you spray paint this as well while you’re here?” I was painting this line and all of a sudden I look up and there’s someone there, and he’s like, “Oh, hey. I’m here for the open house.” And I was like, “Oh, great. So I threw on a T-shirt real quick and I stashed the paint, and I was like, “Let me show you how to throw some axes.”

James: So I started teaching him, and as soon as it was done, I was like, “Man, that was great.” It took 10 minutes. We just give him a quick intro. I was like, “Hey, why don’t you grab a beer?” And I motioned him over and I realized like, “Oh, hey, there’s four more people ready to throw some axes.” So I taught them and I turned around, I’m like, “Oh, man. Now, there’s a lineup.” And we had a lineup out the door all night. We did hundreds of people that first night. We have released the liability waivers everyone has to sign because we’re throwing axes so we got to make sure everyone’s on the up-and-up. So we ran out of waivers.

James: We had to call our friend, Matt who’s an accountant at an office around the corner. We’re like, “Any chance you could print off like a hundred more waivers for us. We’re running low.” So everything, everything happened. A really, really funny story. We were so focused on the sprint to the finish of construction. We were so nervous that we weren’t going to be able to finish the construction on time. We didn’t think actually about operations which is kind of key for running a business. We were just so focused on our one singular goal of opening the freaking doors that we kind of forgot about the business. We did this huge party. Brett and I were like high-fiving all night. A bunch of our friends came in from out-of-town to support us. It was so awesome. We had the best night.

James: It was about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and you know we’re sweeping up and doing all this stuff. And one of us looks at each other and we’re like, “Oh, hey. I guess we’re open tomorrow. Who’s going to work here.” And we were like, “Oh, shit. I guess it’s us. We got to actually show up everyday now and do this thing.” We haven’t spent all our money on staffing. We don’t even know what the experience is yet because we’re very into experience design, and we wanted to make sure that this was… We’re not just renting people axes.

James: When they come and show up they’re buying an experience. When you throw axes with Forged it is freaking epic. And it’s not something you’re going to get anywhere else. We were like, “Oh, I guess we’re doing this. It was 3:00 in the morning and I was just so exhausted. We’ve literally been working like 75 days straight on this thing and we both sort of decided like, “Hey, I need 24 hours. Why don’t we close for one day?” And so our first day of business, we closed. We had to close the doors because we were not ready, which is so embarrassing to think about.

James: But on the good side our phone was ringing off the hook and we were booking parties for the entire next week and I did a little white lie. I was like, “Sorry, we’re closed for a private event,” which was me and Brett sleeping because we were freaking exhausted. But we opened the next day. Brett and I ran all of the events ourself because we were designing that experience as we went. So after every group were debriefed in what worked, what didn’t work. What if we introduced this trick shot at this time? What if we played this game a little bit earlier? Why was that group a little more quiet? How do you think we could break them out of their shell?

James: We’re trying to really design that experience so that it was replicatable, so that when we did train people and taught them how, we’re like this is the experience you teach them because this is what you do at Forged. I think that is part of the reason why I’ve been successful. I should say that since we’ve started hiring people, our manager, Jess and our other staff and Christa our assistant manager. They’ve added to the experience and they’ve made it better than we ever could of ourselves. So it has really been a team collaboration, but early on it was just Brett and I doing everything for the first three months and we would just trade shifts. And one of us would do emails, all the other person hosted a group and it was very full-on.

J: So-

Carol: Very cool. Go ahead J.

J: I was just going to say you mentioned experiences a couple times and so I’m just curious how have you crafted your experiences? How have you kind of made it so that it’s not just walking and grabbing some axes and some beer, and drunkenly throwing axes. Clearly people are walking in, and because they have no knowledge of axe throwing. I’d almost be intimidated to walk into this place because I’m like, “Are they going to show me how to do this? Are they just going to hand me the axes and expect that I’m going to figure it out myself? So how did you craft those experiences? What was the process and what did that experience or those experiences ultimately look like?

James: You know what’s funny, Jay? We actually get groups who still come in and when we give them the demo and then we turn around, we hand the axe to them, they’re like, “Whoa, what do you mean? I thought this was a spectator sport. We’re like, “No, no. It’s not a show. You’re going to do this with us.” And they’re like, “Oh my gosh. This is crazy. I can do this? Yeah, you can do this.” For us, the experience starts when people first find out about your business. So for us a lot of times starts on Instagram or it starts through a brochure or it starts through a Google search. So what’s the first thing that they’re actually going to see about us.

James: We’re very casual the way our entire business is structured and we want that to come across in our marketing. So it’s like relaxed casual, but we take safety very seriously obviously. So safety is a huge concern for people. We want people to know that is a front of mind. But at the same time we’re here to have fun. We joke around. If you read our FAQ page, there’s a lot of sort of tongue-in-cheek jokes in there and stuff like that. But it starts there and then it carries on so when people call us. We have like a greeting that sort of hits them with mostly information that they’re going to want so it tells them the hours and it tells them how to book and it tells them all those things. So otherwise the phone will be ringing off the hook. So we have sort of that automated answering service to help us out.

James: But then if they want to get through to us, say, they press one or whatever, talk to our staff and if they want to book over the phone, that’s great. But instead of like boring hold music, we got dope hip hop on there. We’re making this fun. The whole thing is about sort of having fun and all of the touchpoints are really key for us. And then when people finally walk through the doors they’re not walking into like a sterile boring-ass warehouse, they are walking into a dope experience.

James: Our whole construction, Brett is the mastermind of design and he was like, “You know what we should do? We should do like wrought iron piping with exposed old wood and barn board. We’re going to put the Burning Man sign on the wall. We’re going to do all this cool stuff.” And I was like, “All right. Cool. Yeah, right on.” And then we actually wallpapered our bathroom with archival logging images from this… This whole area that we’re in was founded through logging camps through resource extraction. So we found all these old archival images. Brett’s girlfriend, Jess actually, “I’ll put the wallpaper up in the bathroom.” So people are just like, “Where are we? This is such a crazy place.” And that’s part of the experience too, that visual feast that they get when they get there.

James: And then as soon as they start throwing they’re introduced to their host who’s now like their best friend who they’re going to hang out with for the next hour and when they leave, it’s full of high fives. If they do an amazing shot they’re going to get a Polaroid taken put on the wall of fame. It is very much like a designed experience. We are a recreational experience and we’re there to provide people the best experience of their life so when they’re heading out the door maybe they buy a hat or a T-shirt, they’re proud and super stoked that they can wear that and be like, “You would never believe what I did when I was in Whistler.

Carol: This is so much fun. I love listening to every little last nugget in this story and there’s so much powerful stuff in there. I think it’s fascinating how you’re talking about when you started to make sure that you had that line out the door that it was all more traditional marketing which I think is fascinating given the year that you started which was 2017, right? So 2017 is very much, as we know now, the age of everything is online marketing and it’s online, online, online, digital and it’s such kind of taking a step back from traditional, yet you found so much powerful success in many of those traditional avenues. So I’m wondering as the time has gone on over these past three years has that changed at all? Has that morphed exponentially? Has there become and of both? How has it changed as your business has grown as far as your marketing avenues?

James: That’s a really good question, and the answer often surprises people when we talk about this. I am a huge believer in just marketing in general. I’m a marketing evangelist. I spent a lot of time working at this marketing firm and when I was there, my job title was digital specialist. I was the guy if you want to pay-per-click ads, if you wanted a content management strategy, if you wanted whatever, a social media plan, I was the guy who’s making all that. And so for the longest time I was so focused on this digital world and then hopping over into this business, and actually our lighting business actually gave me a small foray into that. We did Direct Mail for that and it was something I was like I can’t believe this works but we’re literally willing to try everything.

James: Direct Mail had a huge, huge success rate for us. It was incredible. We had a little taste of it and when it came over in Forged, we literally try almost any form of marketing that we can get our hands on. But the thing I think people love the most about digital ads and that space is that everything so trackable, right? You can attribute your return to a specific click from a specific source, to a specific keyword. People really love that. But I think the thing that a lot of people forget is that there’s a lot of tracking methods you can use for offline advertising and still attribute your returns to the proper campaign as long as you’re setting things up right.

James: I use a service called CallRail to manage our call tracking. So we have hundreds of different phone numbers that forward to our primary number and we’re tracking every single campaign that’s out there. If you’ve ever done offline advertising, you’re really familiar with the calls you get from the sales rep and they’re like, “Oh hey, James. It’s spring. It’s time to get your new campaign up. Last season you spent 2,000. How about you go for that full page,” or whatever their pitch is. I’ll be like, “Oh, you know what, Carol, just one sec. Let me just pull up my call tracking. Hmm, yeah. I see we got like 10% less calls from you guys this season versus last season. We made slight adjustments to the creative, but what do you think could attribute to that?”

James: They’re like, whatever. They’ll come up with some idea about why things are the way they are. It gives you a very strong negotiation point first of all for your future advertising campaigns. And if you find a dud of which we’ve had many. We’ve probably had just as many failures as successes in the marketing world. You take that money and you move it somewhere else. We’ve got a marketing budget that we use and if we have underperforming ads chop it. Let’s get rid of that thing, let’s move to another source. We’ve found great success in many offline channels such as brochures, targeted newspapers, industry publications such as there’s a wedding publication in our region and we ran a full-page ad there and we were blown away with the amount of bachelorette parties that started booking and I was like, “I did not expect this many ladies in our space. I thought it was going to be all dudes.”

James: A lot of our marketing was sort of male focused and all these women started coming in their feather boas and their novelty hats, and I was like, “Great. I love this. This is awesome. This is so much fun.” And so we started focusing on that market. Our need to-

J: That’s a great point. A lot of us go into these businesses assuming we know who our customer is or who our customer is going to be, and we need to be open to the fact that maybe those aren’t the best targeting customer, targeting avenues. Maybe we should be looking at others, and so it’s a great example here of how you would think for an axe throwing business it would be a group of guys with plaid shirts and beards, and drinking beer and coming in, and let’s do this. The fact that there are lots of women in bachelorette parties, that’s really cool. I would not even expected that.

James: No. It was the surprise for us, a welcome surprise. We got enough dudes as well so it’s great to get the ladies in there. I mean there’s all different sorts of marketing channels that you can do. That all being said I do spend a healthy amount with the big tech companies. Facebook and Google take tons of my money and I’m happy to give it to them since we’re seeing great ROI. We do treat our website as an eCommerce business because that’s essentially what it is. We were very focused on taking online booking straight out of the gates. We recognize that a lot of our competitors in town or other experienced providers in town, I should say we’re not offering a very friction-free online booking process. And we’re like, “You know what, this is crazy that it’s easier for me to order toilet paper than it is to book a snowmobiling tour. Why is this so hard?”

James: So we really focus on reducing the friction reducing the amount of clicks it takes to make your booking, and we’re huge fans of all the online tools as well such as you know AdWords, and Facebook, and Instagram marketing, and display ads. We use all of sort of the traditional online marketing suite of tools, but we definitely still invest heavily in offline for our specific type of business, and I think a lot of businesses that operate in brick-and-mortar, many of the touch points that you want to ensure your… In marketing you want to have touch points so that you can make sure your message is getting out there and you’re a parent to your customers.

James: Many of those tough points are still in the offline world. People don’t just live online especially for physical brick-and-mortar businesses. They’re out there, they’re in the community, they’re in the grocery store. They’re at your competitors or partner businesses. What can you do to increase those touch points and offline advertising is still up there?

Carol: It’s working for you clearly.

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Carol: Can we talked a little bit about the numbers, James? I read somewhere in something somewhere online that you’re now in just two and a half years a million dollar business.

James: I mean, we’re actually just under. So we’re at 960 for the year which we’re very proud of in axe throwing revenue. So we’ve got our hands on a couple other things, but, yeah we’re very proud of the success we’ve had. We still see the business growing so we’re very excited about the future of the sport.

J: Okay. So I want to dig into the numbers a little bit because I know a lot of our listeners are interested in this, and I’m just really interested in this. I’ll use them as an excuse but I want to hear this. So you said your annual revenue, and I assume it’s gross revenue so the amount of money coming in is about $960,000 a year?

James: That’s right.

J: Okay. And how much of that goes out the door for expenses things like rent and employees and all that other stuff?

James: Yeah. So operating in the you know brick and mortar space a couple huge overhead items that’s an online business wouldn’t have are things like rent. We pay an enormous amount in rent so it looks like about $6,000 a month for our space. And then you’ve got things like insurance. When you operate an axe throwing venue you might be surprised to know that insurance is the thing that they they charge you for. So when people-

J: Especially when your business is right next to a brewery.

James: We’re actually in between two breweries. There’s one in the other side as well.

Carol: Oh, there you go. Perfect.

James: And they’re great partners of ours. We love both of them. Shout out to Whistler Brewery and Coast Mountain Brewing. Those guys are awesome. And then the biggest line item for our expenses is labor. I talked a lot about our experience and how important that experience is to us, and you can’t get an experience if you’re short-staffed. We’re very focused on that ratio of host to guests to ensure that we’re delivering the optimal experience and we’re getting five-star reviews. I’d encourage listeners to check out some of our reviews because we do get five stars. We really do. And the experience is what makes it. Our staff is what makes it.

James: So every month, depending on the month, but it’s between like 15 and $22,000 on staffing. So it’s a big cost to staff the business. And then Brett and I do take a modest salary from the business. We’re fully living off of our income we got from this business. It’s our primary source of income, but we’re not living a high life. Not driving a Bugatti or anything crazy like that. We are investing a lot of our money back into the business. We’re both younger guys. We’re in our 30s. We don’t need to live the high life. We’re very, very excited about growing the business and investing in ourselves and our future success.

James: When a lot of people… They want to know like net revenue like, “What are you taking home? What are you taking home?” It doesn’t quite tell the whole picture. If you saw my salary you’d think like you could probably make that… I made more when I was working at a marketing firm. When I was working in an agency I was working a lot of hours and I was making great money, and it was a great job. And I took a big pay cut to be an entrepreneur, but the net value of what I’m creating is in my business and I’m so proud.

James: When I was a kid I loved playing with Lego and now that I’m adult, I love playing in business. I get to build an amazing thing and it is my business. I’m so proud of this thing. And so a lot of that money gets reinvested. We don’t have to reinvest it. It’s not like the business would die if we didn’t, but it’s like, “Hey, be cool. What if we looked at this little thing and the return might come over five years, but it would really increase our value on the business and the perception of the business.” So it’s like these are all projects that we are very willing to take on and invest in back into it.

J: Okay. So you’re investing back into the business. What are the goals? So is the goal to grow this venue bigger? Is the goal to start multiple axe throwing businesses in other locations? Are you going to franchise, something else? What’s the ultimate goal here?

James: When first started actually franchising was really top of mind because we’re like man we’ve made this amazing experience. We can train staff to do it, we got great management in place. We could make another one and another one, another one. But there were a few other axe throwing touring venues that came up around the same time as us and and two of them really got interested in the franchising game and they started heavily pursuing that. We’re like, “Okay. So if we do want to franchise we could do that, and we can try and go head-to-head with these guys or we can look at another avenue of growth.”

James: We are always working on our venue here, but one key area growth that we saw was axe throwing venues love running leagues and running a league is tough because you got to track everyone’s points, their scores, their standings across an entire season. And then my venue wants to know how they stack up against the venue in Red Deer or Calgary or wherever or New York. And so we’re like how do we make this easier? We actually got involved in making an axe throwing scoring system. You can see our program at 81score.ca. That’s for our venue.

James: And then we partnered with one of the largest axe throwing franchises out there to offer the software to all of their venues. So we’re like, “You know what I don’t want to go head-to-head with these guys. How can we leverage the success of axe throwing as a whole, benefit our business, and grow a side piece of revenue?” Being in a resort town means our revenue is cyclical. We rely on the seasons. We have boom times and bust times. We’re just about to get into a bit of a bust time right now until the snow falls. How do we even out this revenue problem that we have?

James: You do that by getting involved in diversifying, into more markets. And we’re like if our ax throwing software was running at 200 venues we really don’t have to worry so much about those revenue gluts. So that that was one of the primary things that we did was create right now the world’s largest ax throwing software suite which is a very niche product. With the growth of axe throwing comes the need for things like that and we’re luckily able to fulfill that gap. For our own business though there’s always things that we’re doing. I’m not sure if you can see behind me but we got this like drawing. I’m sure you guys are real familiar with them in the real estate space. We’re redoing our bathrooms. We’re adding two more lanes.

James: We’ve actually since we took over the front unit we took over another unit beside us, and we’ve exhausted the amount of expansion we can do in our current location. So now we’re trying to optimize how our location runs. We’re adding seating, we’re improving the retail experience, and we’re looking for new partnerships and packages that we can do with wholesale providers such as the bus tour companies, the mass tourism companies so we can pre-sell a lot of our experiences to our guests before they even get to Whistler. And there’s a lot of work you can do on the backend like that.

J: That’s awesome. And so just to plug your business a little bit, I actually went to TripAdvisor to see what your reviews were and to see how many you had, and wow you’ve got like 700 five-star reviews. You’re consistently five-star. I think it was close to 700 reviews on TripAdvisor. So clearly you are doing something right. So with that in mind, I want to lead into kind of the last question unless Carol has some something else, but for somebody out there who’s looking to start a brick-and-mortar experience type business like this, if you had to kind of summarize your learnings over the last three years and best practices, the mistakes you made and how you wouldn’t make them again what are some tips or what are the best tips you could think of for somebody that’s thinking about I want to go and I want to do this?

James: The first thing I touch on is that with the rise of eCommerce and online business, there’s actually an enormous opportunity for people to invest in brick and mortar. It’s something that’s been largely ignored especially by younger entrepreneurs because they see… Everyone sees the success stories of Silicon Valley or you know whoever affiliate marketer and the scalability. That’s great. I love all the stuff. It’s awesome, but there’s great businesses sitting in every town, city, province, state, across the world. I would really take a close look at what markets are being underserved in your immediate area or in whatever population can support the type of business that you’re looking at. Start running an analysis.

James: A big part of an entrepreneur’s job. Everyone romanticizes on entrepreneurship right, but a big part of the work is the work that you never get paid for. It’s the million business plans that I’ve made that are sitting on a shelf that I’m never going to use because I’m like we did all the due diligence, we did all the research, we did this, we did that, and then it all like fizzles and dies. I’m sure you guys have a bunch of those sitting around too, right?

J: Absolutely.

James: The work that you don’t get paid for is all that research. And if you’re an entrepreneur, you got to love that. You got a love that drive and that quest for opportunities. It’s not like I jump on every opportunity that we find. Brett and I come up with a thousand really, really bad ideas for every good idea that might like bubble to the surface and we’re like. “Oh, oh my god. We got something finally.” So I’d encourage everyone to start looking. First of all, you really got to be curious. You got to look, see what’s out there. Especially in brick-and-mortar with the lack of people interested in the space right, I’d really encourage people to look at any businesses that might be for sale that you think you could add value to. I think there’s huge opportunity in looking for some of those entrepreneurs that might be either aging out of their business or they’re looking for a target, they’re looking for succession and they don’t have it.

James: It’s really hard to find now. It used to be there was no online business that was taken all the young entrepreneurs and everyone wanted that opportunity. Now, no one wants it. There’s businesses selling for one X earnings. It’s wild. Get in there, improve that thing and make some money. There’s huge opportunities sitting on people’s doorsteps.

J: I love that. I mean, these days all you hear about are people talking about online businesses and nothing wrong with that. But you hear start an Amazon business or start an eCommerce store or do internet marketing or whatever the online business is thinking this is great because I can start with no money and I can sit at my computer and do all this, but the key is there’s so much competition there. And the reason there’s so much competition there is because everybody is trying to do this. And the place where there’s no competition right now… Not no competition obviously, but the place where there’s a lot less competition than there was just a few years ago are in these brick-and-mortar stores because everybody’s kind of…

J: The young folks are focused on online, the older folks are transitioning out, they’re getting towards retirement and they’re shutting down these businesses. And like you said this is a great opportunity for people to come in and literally be able to say, “Don’t just retire, don’t just shut down your business. Let me take your business over. I will give you one time earning, or one-and-a-half times earnings which is a very low number.

James: Super low.

J: You get your investment back in a year or two years.

James: It’s exactly that. Right now, money is super cheap to borrow. I’d really encourage people. A lot of people are nervous about taking financing and I get it. When you’re starting a new venture it’s slightly riskier than buying an existing one. We did start from scratch. I’m not saying don’t do that but if you’re curious about the space, you want to get your feet wet in entrepreneurship, look at those opportunities. One times one-and-a-half times earnings, if you’re borrowing money and you can make back that investment in one and a half years that’s nothing man, that’s nothing. You’re just getting started at that point. One and a half years ago that’s nowhere near like our business where it’s at right now.

James: There’s so much value, so much change and so much energy you can inject into a business like that. When I talk to people about this, I always like I’ll link it to real estate because there’s been… I’m sure you guys are familiar with the huge rise there of the reno shows, the flipping shows all this, and the advice is exactly the same. Look for a value that you can provide some value to fix that place up and make some money through either increased revenue and rent in the real estate analogy there or improve sales in the retail analogy or whatever you want it to be, and grow that business. If you want, there’s an exit always there.

James: You can always look at selling in the future. There’s always people who are going to be wanting to buy and sell businesses. It’s a market place. I would really encourage people to look at what financing is available right. Money is crazy cheap at the moment so if you can’t make broad money work right now… In the ’80s interest rates were at like 20%. Right now they’re sitting at like 5, 6, 7% percent. It is really low so I’d encourage people to explore that.

J: And here’s another tip for anybody that’s thinking about buying a business but doesn’t have the cash. Even if it’s a small amount of cash that you don’t, there are enough people out there that are looking to get out of their businesses or looking to sell their businesses that you can go to them and you can say, “I know you want…” I’m going to make up numbers, “You want $100,000 for your business. I’ll give you $150,000 for your business, but I want seller financing. I want to pay you that $150,000 over the next five years or the next 10 years out of the profits from the business.

J: And for a lot of sellers out there who may not need, and this is the way it works with seller financing real estate, for a lot of sellers out there who don’t necessarily need the money today for something else they may be happy to wait two or five, or 10 years for their money or to get their money over a period of time in return for a higher sales price. So relying on the the seller of a business for seller financing is a great opportunity as well.

James: Absolutely. And the other thing is a lot of these people want to see their businesses keep going. I mentioned earlier I sold my lighting business this week and the guy I sold it to you is my longtime manager. I gave him a skookum deal because I really liked the guy and I know he’s not going to dry my business into the ground. I’m really proud of what I created. I worked on that thing for seven years. I don’t want to just sell it to someone who’s going to screw it all up. I want Josh to take it on and he’s going to do a bang-up job. Sure, I gave him a great deal but ultimately I really want to see that business succeed. So I think there’s a lot of value in that to entrepreneurs who want to see their legacy or the business continue that they built. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make a business and seeing it fall apart would really crush me.

Carol: I love this, James. You are just clearly such an entrepreneur at heart. At the core of your soul is in entrepreneurship and to hear the pride in everything that you’ve done, and the desire to leave a lasting legacy is just, it’s fantastic. I just love listening to you. It’s been great, it’s been great.

James: Thanks, girl.

Carol: But I hate to say this, we need to get to the Four More. Oh my gosh, we could talk for hours but let’s get you the part of our show called the Four More. It’s where we’re going to ask you four questions that we ask every guest and then at the end we’re going to ask where we can find out more about you. Okay? Ready for number one.

James: Ready.

Carol: So, James, what was your first or your worst job ever, and what lessons did you learn from it?

James: I’m going to try and answer this one, but the worst I’ve ever had was actually tree planting. I got to put a caveat there that I did it for a really long time and it changed from one of the worst jobs I ever had to one of the best jobs I ever had through sheer just determination and a hard will. So in tree planting it’s really an industry that exists primarily here in British Columbia, in Canada. It paid about 10 cents, maybe 15, maybe 20 cents per tree and it’s mostly college-age kids who are going out and doing it, but these logging companies are mandated by the government to replant the forest that they cut down so for every tree they cut down, they got pay us to go plant one.

James: So there’s millions of dollars spent every year on reforestation efforts in British Columbia and it’s through mountainous terrain. There’s no automated system that can be able do to do it because it’s in really remote regions. So they pay guys like me to go do it. And when I first started… I think this season’s only two months long so you can only do like 50 days of actual labor while you’re out there. The first day, I think I made like 30 bucks. And camp charges you $25 to stay there because that’s all your food, you got a place for your tent, they provide the transportation. So I made $5 that day for like 12 hours of work in the beating sun, mosquitoes in my ears. I was losing it. I’m like what am I doing? I should get a job McDonald’s.

James: But I stuck with it for a really long time. And I started making a little bit more money, a little bit more money. And pretty soon I was clearing 10, 15, 17, $18,000 through the summer season and I… Actually, I’m at my desk right now at Forged. Above my desk, I keep my shovel because this thing reminds me what hard work is all about. This shovel has planted millions of trees and provided tens of thousands of dollars that I’ve used for my education, and to start businesses. It started as my worst job I ever had and turned into you the best one because of the opportunity it provided.

J: Love that.

Carol: That is awesome. I love that you still have your shovel.

James: Excalibur. It’s a great shovel.

J: Okay. Question number two. What’s an opportunity you said no to and in retrospect was the right decision?

James: Oh, man. There’s there’s so many opportunities. When I think back to when we first started the lighting businesses actually, Brett started… We started independently of each other. Brett started one in Whistler and he told me about it, and he’s like, “Hey, I was working in Calgary. I did this winter work and I was doing this thing.” I remember hearing about it at first, and I was like, “Brett, man. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s like enough of a market for that. It sounds too niche.” I went and got a full-time job. I got my marketing job. And the next year he’s struggling a little bit with it and I remember talking to him and he was doing this, he was doing that. I was like, “Yeah, I made the right call.” And then the next year he had a breakout year, and he’s the hardest-working guy I know.He made a ton of money, a ton of contracts and I was like, “Oh, shoot. I missed the boat. This was a huge mistake. Why didn’t I get in on this earlier?”

James: Brett identified it, I falsely thought that we wouldn’t be able to make it work. I went back to him. It was sort of my tail between my legs and I was like, “Ah, any chance he could teach me how to do that now because I see the level of success and why don’t we mirror it in Victoria?” And lucky for me Brett is like best friend and nicest guy in the world. He ran a training day for me helped me off the ground and then we ran the businesses in tandem for years after that. So that was one that I definitely screwed up on or an early days. Luckily we were able to correct the course.

Carol: That’s wonderful. Okay, third question. If you could go back in time before you started Forged what advice would you give yourself?

James: I would always encourage people if they’re curious about entrepreneurship is to… Everyone loves reading and reading the case studies, listen to the podcasts and and trying to learn as much as they can which I think is great, but the critical piece that you’re never going to overcome if you don’t do it is starting a business now. If you do not start something, no matter what it is start something or help someone else improve their business. If you see yourself as an entrepreneur, there’s some critical things we’re going to have to do. You got to know how to get customers. You got to know how to figure out operations. You got to know how to deliver either an experience or a service in a top-level method. You got no cash flow.

James: Help someone else do those things or do it yourself. I always look at jobs as… Oftentimes people are like, “Ah, the rat race. Rat race this, rat race that. I can’t wait to get out.” Now, if you’re in the rat race, look at it as an internship for your future business. I learned so much at my marketing firm job and I was lucky enough that my boss was very keen on teaching us about aspects of the business how to get contracts. She would say like, “We got a request for proposal here. James, you want to take it?” And I was like, “Oh my god. Here we go. I got to try and secure a piece of new business.”

James: She’d say like, “I don’t have time to go to this conference.” And I’m like, “I’ll go. I’ll go meet those people.” Jump on those opportunities because all of those things are elements that you can use in your future success. If you’re doing nothing, you just got laid off, you don’t have a job, you don’t know what to do, just start something man. There’s got to be something that you can deliver to people that is going to provide value. So that is the core of entrepreneurship right there. You can read all you want, you can listen all you want. You can do an MBA. You can do all those things but if you never actually do business you’re not going to make it man.

J: It’s all about taking action. I love that. Okay. Question number four. What’s something you splurged on that was totally worth it?

James: Yeah, right. I was kind of getting ready for this question. So there’s a few things I splurged on for sure. I’m not a huge fan of fancy car. I mean I love fancy cars but I don’t personally drive one myself. I rent them occasionally. But one thing I do love is travel and I try and reserve a small amount of money every year to take a trip. Every year it feels like, “I don’t have the money to do this. I could use this money and I could buy like whatever I need like a new computer or I could buy like whatever for the business. Maybe I’d just take that money, put into something else.”

James: But it’s like your mental health is actually extremely important and one of the things that I find helps my mental health is travel. So last year… I do a trip every year but last year my girlfriend and I went to the southern United States which is an area I hadn’t been to before. We went to New Orleans and we went to Baton Rouge, and saw a football game, an LSU football game. We ate and drank and had an amazing time. We’re down there for 10 days. I’m not traveling an opulent luxury here. We’re Airbnb’ing, and we’re renting a car. We’re just doing whatever we want.

James: But it’s a lot of fun and it also gives me a chance. Claire, my girlfriend loves doing things and I was like you know, while we’re here, why don’t we check out this kayaking tour because I really want to see how they’re delivering the experience. Why don’t we check out this food tour? I’d really love to see how they’re doing this. It gives you a chance to do a lot of market research when you’re in different tourism hubs like that and also gives us a great chance to spend awesome time together. Yes, it was maybe a little bit more spendy than I should have done but totally, totally worth it. One of those things I’d never take back.

Carol: Sounds like a great trip.

James: It was really good. LSU football, well go LSU. I just got to say those fans, Death Valley, incredible, incredible stadium. The most amazing fans I’ve ever seen. We were there for the homecoming game last year against Mississippi State and-

Carol: Wow, that is hardcore.

James: … it blew my mind. We don’t have anything like that up in Canada. Tailgating is not a thing because we got hockey and it’s freezing. So you guys are onto something. You guys are onto something down there.

Carol: Awesome. J what you got?

J: I think that was the fourth question. I’m going to ask a fifth question.

Carol: I’m so bad at counting.

J: You are so bad at counting.

Carol: What is that? Wow.

J: It sounds like you want a fifth question. I’m going to ask you a fifth question because I know this is the Four More, but I’ve had a number of people that always ask me why are we asking what people’s favorite business books are, because I know we often talk about on the Real Estate Podcast or the Money Podcast, they ask the question what’s your favorite book. So I’m going to ask that question as number five today, what is your favorite business book that you’ve ever read?

James: Okay. Do I have to pick just one or can I name maybe a couple.

J: Name a couple, go for it.

James: Okay. I know it’s a cliche and I bet you a lot of people are going to say this, but when I first read, it was 2008, I think, when I first read Tim Ferriss is 4-Hour Workweek that was a big change in mindset for a lot of different things. Primarily he was working on a supplement business and things like that. I wasn’t really interested in that and I didn’t want to do that, but the way he was approaching things and he was looking at… The way he negotiated contracts for advertising, I thought, “Man, that’s really interesting. The advertising is a perishable asset. It’s worthless once the thing goes into print.” That’s a really interesting way of looking at it. I hadn’t thought about it.

James: And the way he talked about currency arbitrage, I thought was very interesting. We currently work with people all over the world and it’s something that maybe that book inspired. I’ve reread that thing three, four times because it’s just a great case study of someone who’s tried to look at things unconventionally and say, “I didn’t need to do an MBA to succeed in business, I just had to think critically and follow what’s working and test everything I can. I really love that attitude that he has towards things. So I thought that was really, really good.

James: And from a pure business standpoint, I read a book about the 80/20 rule, and I think it’s just called the 80/20 rule. And I was running my lighting business at the time and I was reading this and I’m like, one of the things they sort of talked about, they give all these examples it’s like you know that 80% your problems come from 20% of your customers? And I was like, “Yeah, they do. What am I doing with these people? They’re killing me here.” Their contracts are tiny. It does… It’s not a huge part. I’m like, “Why am I trying to make these guys happy? Nothing’s going to make them happy.” I just got to get rid of them, like here.

James: You know what I did is I wrote this really nice letter to my competitor and I was like, “Hey, man. I actually can’t deliver the best service to these people. I think maybe you can.” They’re like, “Thanks, James. We really appreciate it. You’re a little man.”

Carol: Here you go. Here’s a little present for you. High five.

James: Then I guess I wrapped that one with a gift bow, sent it over to them. They loved me. They sent me some business in the future. They were like, “Yeah, James. You’re a great guy.” And I’m like, “Thank you. I really appreciate you taking care of that customer.”

J: Win, win, win.

James: Yeah, that’s right.

Carol: That is so cool. Okay, so James the more question, where can our audience find out more about what you’re doing and connect with you?

James: Yeah. So if you just search for Forged Axe Throwing, I guarantee you that we’re going to show up there. So we’re online at forgedaxe.ca or forgeaxe.com. If you want to check out our axe throwing software, it’s 81score.com or if you participate in the world axe throwing league you’ll be using our software actually so you can check it out there. And if you are curious about the axe throwing industry, I get tons of questions on how do I start my own venue? How do I do this? How do I do that? I packaged everything up for you. If you go to axecourse.com, I will tell you exactly how we did it. And in there is a Facebook group where you can ask me any question you want. I post videos all the time about how we do different things, set things up, why we do them this way. And so I can’t wait to hear from you.

James: If you’re curious about the industry at all I’m super keen to know where your venue is and how I can help you get there. I just want to say if you get into axe throwing, rising tide I believe raises all boats. I want to see axe throwing as the next Olympic sport. So I’m dying for more entrepreneurs to get out there and latch on to this so that we can grow the sport, the community. So I can’t wait to see you at the next tournament.

J: So for all our listeners out there James is begging you to compete with him. Start your own axe throwing business.

James: Do it. I love competition. I love competition because it makes me better, it keeps me sharp, and it means that we’re heading in the right direction. There’s enough room for us, I guarantee it.

J: I love that abundance mentality.

Carol: Love that.

J: Awesome. James, this has been absolutely fantastic. I know our audience is going to love this. I’ve loved this. This was tremendously educational and also entertaining so thank you so much for being with us today, and we look forward to chatting with you soon.

James: Guys, it has been my pleasure.

Carol: I had so much fun, have so, so, so much fun with everything you do. I want to work with you, my goodness so much fun.

James: [crosstalk 01:07:48]

J: Carol is only saying that because we know that you’re getting ready to take your whole staff on a bungee jumping trip right after this recording so that’s why Carol is saying that.

Carol: Awesome.

James: That’s right.

Carol: So much awesomeness. So much awesomeness all the way around.

James: Huge shout to Whistler Bungee. I can’t wait to be jumping off that bridge. It’s going to be wild.

J: Awesome. Thank you so much, James. Talk to you soon.

James: Thank you, guys.

Carol: Loved, loved, loved, James. Seriously was that such an awesome interview, J?

J: I love the fact that he was so enthusiastic about his business. I mean, seriously, he was probably one of the happiest people that we’ve talked to. The enthusiasm just came right through and I love the last part of that discussion about… For people that want to be starting their own business that want to be jumping into entrepreneurship, basically don’t sit around and wait for it to happen, take action. And even if you’re not ready to start your own business, go help somebody with their business. If you’re in a nine-to-five job, use that is an internship and use that to learn to prepare when you’re ready to start your own business. I mean, just amazing insight there for anybody that’s looking to get started with entrepreneurship.

Carol: It really is. Just one last thing at what you said about how much fun he’s having and how much he loves it. Who in the world would not want to go through the doors of his business and tell our little friends about it? It’s no surprise that they have, what he said almost like 800 five-star reviews. That experience just permeates in everything that he does, everything that he says. He’s really mastered creating an experience and he was able to teach us so many great things about how to make that happen. All right. Let’s wrap this up baby.

J: All righty. She’s Carol, I’m J.

Carol: Now, just get out there and start your business today.

J: Awesome.

Carol: Have a good one, everybody.

J: Love it. Take care, everybody.

Carol: Bye.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Using your 9 to 5 as an internship for entrepreneurship
  • How James started with planting trees for 10 cents
  • How he got the idea of Forged Axe Throwing
  • What “soft adventure” is
  • James and his partner’s business plan
  • How they found venues for axe-throwing
  • Their marketing strategy centered around creating excitement
  • Why they had to close on their first actual day of business
  • How to automate customer service
  • Traditional marketing vs. online marketing
  • How to track offline marketing efficacy
  • Decreasing “friction” for customers
  • Why they didn’t franchise
  • Opportunities for buying businesses
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Right now, money is super cheap to borrow.” (Tweet This!)
  • “The core of entrepreneurship is to just start something.” (Tweet This!)

Books Mentioned in this Show

Connect with James