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Ep01 Transcript: Interview with Michael Stelzner

October 3, 2022

Andrea Vahl: Hey dreamers. It’s Andrea Vahl here, and I am so excited to be joined by one of my personal mentors, probably the person who has had some of the biggest impacts on my business and on my career, he didn’t even realize I was gonna say that, Michael Stelzner and I am so excited to have you on the podcast.

For those of you who don’t know who, you really should know, but those of you who don’t know Michael Stelzner, he is the founder of Social Media Examiner, the world’s largest social media marketing resource.

He started Social Media Examiner in 2009. He started his podcast in 2012, with 33 million downloads. And he’s coming up to the 10th year of social media marketing world. One of the world’s largest social media conferences. So welcome, Michael.

Michael Stelzner: Andrea, thank you so much for having me.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah, I am so excited.

And we are going to talk today about some of the new things you’re launching. I’m excited to talk to you about, because you’ve had so much success and I wanna dive into some of these new things and why you’re starting new things and how they’re going and, and all of that.

But before we get started, I wanted to have you answer in one sentence, what has been your life summed up into one sentence?

Michael Stelzner: It helps that I have a background as a copywriter, but this is not gonna be an easy task for a lot of people, even this audience and everything,

I’m gonna say this, I am an entrepreneur and a content creator that runs a media company that helps marketers embrace social media and Web3. And I know that’s a lot. If I had to summarize it even more, I’d say I run a media company that helps the world understand social media marketing and Web3.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah. That’s awesome. I love it.

I think that’s a great summary and it is hard to summarize, especially when you’ve had so many different things in your life. You also have so many things going on with family life and all that stuff, but this is a great summary of what you’ve achieved so far. And I love that it also evolves, right?

Cuz we’re always evolving. So tell me a little bit more about your crypto business podcast. You’ve done so many great things, you started way back with the white paper. Was it white paper resource or white paper?

Michael Stelzner: White paper source. Yeah.

Andrea Vahl: White paper source.

Michael Stelzner: Yeah. I was writing white papers for other businesses. It was called Stelsner consulting in the beginning too believe it or not, nothing creative at all.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah, that’s great. So you started with that, then you launched Social Media Examiner and that has had amazing success.

How many people come to the website like each month or daily or whatever?

Michael Stelzner: I think there’s about 1.2 million people a month that read the website, which is kind of crazy,

Andrea Vahl: That is amazing. I love that. So now you’re starting the crypto business podcast. And tell me a little bit about that.

How did that come about? What was your goal with that? Where were you? What sparked that?

Michael Stelzner: So the date was sometime in November of 2021, we were preparing for Social Media Marketing World. This conference you were talking about earlier and then all over the news was this word Omicron.

Omicron and I went, oh, no, you’ve got to be kidding me. I just had months earlier canceled Social Media Marketing World because of COVID and omicron was the thing that lit the fire under my backside to do this thing that I’d been thinking about doing for a few months, which was to begin a new show, a new podcast on this crazy frontier that we call Web3.

And I really wanted to explore the concepts that are NFTs and Dows and social tokens, things that might sound crazy to a lot of people, but I wanted to explore how the business world would be impacted by crypto and crypto related technologies. And my objective really was to interview people that were way smarter than myself and hopefully bring great content to the listeners of my audience that were attracted to this concept.

And the hope was that if I could draw a big enough audience, I would potentially be able to do more with this.

Andrea, you might remember I launched the Social Media Marketing podcast about nine months before I launched Social Media Marketing World. So that conference is in the back of my head. And the goal was to build an audience and hopefully prove out my thesis that the world would be interested in this.

I launched it in January of 2022 and we’re just a few weeks away from my crypto business conference happening in San Diego.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah, that. So you’re essentially taking the formula that you had for Social Media Marketing World, and applying it to a brand new field.

When you started Social Media Marketing World, there was a lot of people talking about social media. It was pretty popular. Do you think you’re starting this crypto business conference even earlier, on the cusp of this trend?

Michael Stelzner: For sure! And one could almost argue too early.

(I) Started Social Media Examiner in 2009, the conference was in 2013, right? So that gave me plenty of time to create content, to draw an audience, to establish a reputation in the industry. We were doing online events, which I think you were part of some of our online summits before we did physical conference.

And for folks that don’t know, Andrea was a contractor for Social Media Examiner in the early years as well, helping us with our community management stuff, which was amazing.

My model is kind of a simple model, which is create great content and draw an audience to you that is interested in that content.

And the hope is a tiny little fragment of that audience will want to buy whatever it is you have to sell. And it will justify the creation of the content in the first place. Right? So content is like the great magnet that draws an audience to you.

I started out as a writer, I eventually embraced my voice and I realized that I actually enjoy using my voice more than I even enjoy writing.

So podcasting has been like a really great launchpad for me and for my company, Social Media Examiner to try all sorts of fascinating new initiatives, you know?

So the hope was that the crypto business podcast would blow up and there would be. Just tons of people that would wanna listen to it. And then I would have this killer conference, cuz you know, we know how to put on conferences and in the crypto world, they don’t really understand how to put on conferences.

Andrea Vahl: Your conferences are amazing. It is a cannot be missed kind of activity. You need to schedule, plan around it, block it off from everything. Your conferences are awesome.

Andd it’s interesting that you say you’ve evolved from the written word to your voice. I heard that you had wanted to be a DJ at one time. Is that true?

Michael Stelzner: Well, when I was a little kid back when cassette players were the thing me and my brother would go in the basement and we would make fake radio commercials and I would impersonate Wolfman Jack. They’re gonna know who that guy is, you know? And yeah, so I thought that was the cool thing you wanna be in radio, right?

And I never ended up doing that, but I did get two degrees in speech communication, undergrad and master’s and turned out this little thing was a thing, you know, I thought I was a writer and it turns out I’m not just a writer. I’m also someone who uses my voice. It’s been powerful. It’s been a lot of fun.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah. And I love that too, because I think some of these childhood dreams we’ve had in the past can manifest in a whole different way and become something where we create the world where it’s going to show up. Maybe you’re not gonna be a DJ on a radio station, but you’ve got a radio station with millions of downloads yourself, and you own that publishing outlet for that.

And you own that audience in a whole different way.

Michael Stelzner: A hundred percent. I agree.

Andrea Vahl: I love that. I asked you in our pre-interview questions. What is your biggest takeaway? You kind of revealed it here, that content is the key to your success.

Michael Stelzner: I think content can be the key to anyone’s success. For those that don’t know Social Media Examiner helps people with YouTube, we used to help people with blogging and podcasting, but we mostly focus on video, live audio, and social updates across the social platforms. And the truth is that anyone who desires to be influential or a thought leader, almost always is doing it on the back of content, right?

So maybe you start as a blog and then you publish a book or maybe you start as a podcaster. And then before you know it, you’ve got a audio book or a course that you’re teaching. Right?  These are all things that you can do with content.

What’s great about content is it’s highly scalable. You know, you can have an unlimited amount of listeners or viewers or readers, and it’s been the key to my success.

I kind of feel like it’s maybe even been the key to your success a little bit, Andrea. Back when you were Grandma Mary, you were creating seriously funny video content, right?

Andrea Vahl: Yeah, that’s true.

And that was my, that was my little childhood dream of wanting to be Carol Burnett. So I was able to do that. We all have things that can manifest and we can own that vision and put that out there no matter what we’re doing. Right?

But I definitely think that content is huge. And so underrated. People, you know, aren’t thinking about blogging or they’re maybe feeling like it’s too hard. And what I love about what you’ve done is you’ve leveraged content of other people and you continue to do that with interviews and things like that.

Michael Stelzner: Yeah, that’s worth talking about. You don’t have to be the expert.

I am not the expert. People think I’m an expert. They impute the wisdom of other people to me, even though I’m only interviewing them. Right? So the social media marketing podcast, which is my really big show, I’ve only done a handful of solo episodes.

Nearly every one of them has been interviewing people like Andrea, who’s a Facebook ads, expert, and other people who are TikTok experts and YouTube experts and essentially, asking the right questions so that there’s a learning moment for whoever’s listening or watching it. And that’s the great thing you don’t have to be an expert if you can curate experts, which is what you could argue I do really well, all of a sudden you can draw an audience to you. Who’s interested in that topic and you can build a successful business at any age.

Andrea Vahl: Yeah. That’s great. That is great because I think it is scary. And I think it’s easier when you’re doing interviews, you’re connecting with someone it’s not all you, you don’t have to come up with everything to say.

You can just ask the great questions and let the expert provide all the answers. So that’s awesome. So tell me a little bit about some of the unexpected obstacles that have come up with starting this crypto business podcast and the event. Because you’ve done so much, you would think “Oh, Mike’s got it all together.” But you still come up against obstacles, just like anyone.

Michael Stelzner: First of all, and it’s really important. The concept, nothing, ventured, nothing gained is such an important concept. Right? So like Andrea, you’ve been working with me long enough to remember all the crazy things that I don’t do anymore that we did.

We just had all sorts of different things. We tried and we stopped. Right. But along the way we learned and then allows us to do other things. So if I didn’t do my online events, I could have never done physical events. Righ? Cuz, I learned how to develop relationships with the right people who would agree to come speak at the physical event…

So the challenge with starting anything new is the question of it might not work. It’s not, it’s more of a statement than a question. It might not work and you need to be okay with the fact that it might not work, but you have to make a calculated risk. You know, what I did was I looked at the patterns that have happened before having been in multiple different industries.

And I looked at how much media crypto, NFTs, and Web3 were getting in late 2021 and early 2022. It was ridiculous. You could not read about it, right. It was everywhere. And I remembered what it was like when social media was starting to kind of pop off. And I thought to myself, this is a very similar pattern.

And I also noticed there were very few people teaching. Which is what it was like in the early days of social. There were a lot of people who claimed they had secret knowledge and they were holding it tight and they were selling it for a lot of money, but there were very few people who were going out there actually sharing their wisdom.

So I, I said to myself, Hmm, wonder if this is a repeatable model, because I’ve been successfully able to use this model over and over again. So I went for it and invested enormous amounts of time and money and resources to develop the show and recruit the guests. And I ran into a bunch of obstacles along the way.

The first obstacle was, I’m going to these events and they’re all “Who are you old, man?” They don’t who this gray-haired guy is. Occasionally one person would run up to me “Oh my gosh, you’re Michael Stelzner from Social Media Examiner. Can I take a selfie?” But it was very rare. Most of these people had no clue who I was.

So there was like the starting from scratch thing and a new industry and not having the reputation and the credibility. So that was a struggle. So I just had to be patient and say, right, they don’t know who I am, but they will eventually, that was a major struggle. The other side of it is, sometimes there’s things that are completely beyond your control that you simply cannot account for. One of them is the market crash and the recession that we’re in right now. Right? So Crypto has gone through a crazy high and it’s in a crypto winter right now. So a lot of things have changed. Right?

And Gartner talks about this, hype chart. They talk about how at the beginning things hyped. And then they go through the trough of disillusionment before they ultimately reach the peak of something or another. And I can’t remember what all they are, but all innovation goes through a hype cycle. Right? And we’re on the downward trend of the initial hype cycle with a lot of this stuff, cuz it just got so much hype and I was there right as that hype was coming about.

And I rode that wave, but then all of a sudden it just kind of fizzled and I’m still in it, but when something fizzles and it loses media attention or it gets negative media attention. Then you have a lot of people saying, “Oh, I don’t wanna touch that.” “I wanna stay away from that.“ Right? So one could argue I was right on schedule when I launched this whole thing, but I could never have anticipated that the whole thing was going to turn into this crypto winter. Right? And when you have a dark period like this, and we’ve experienced a little bit of this, Andrea, like Facebook went through a dark period where a lot of people didn’t wanna be around it and they’ve abandoned the platform. But in this particular case, this is so new, the, the world of crypto that you have a lot of people that lost a lot of money and are scared to get into it. So as a result, you know, I’m banking on businesses wanting to see how this could alter the future of how we think about business and entirely new business models, right. That have never existed before that are built on the back of automation and the blockchain. And all of a sudden this thing crashes, right?

So all of a sudden my new audience flat lines. I take surveys. My audience isn’t interested in it. My existing audience isn’t interested in it. We plan for this big event. Now it’s gonna be a small event, you know, and we’re talking a couple hundred people and we’re actually gonna lose money on it. Right? So these are all the challenges that you face when you’re starting something new.

And I try to have a growth mindset. Andrea, I try to say to myself, okay. You know, the limiting belief mindset, and there’s a name for it, but, you know, when you get banged up and you reach roadblocks. It’s like, see, I told you that was gonna happen. You should have never done in the first place. Right?

But the growth mindset like, Nope, this is just a little speed bump on the way. I’m just gonna pick myself up, dust off all the dirt that’s on me and keep on rolling, because this is just gonna be a learning experience for me. I’m trying very hard to have a growth mindset because nothing ever, ever. Is flawless we all have dreams, right.

Andrea, and they’re not easy as we think to achieve them. Don’t you agree?

Andrea Vahl: For sure. And I love that growth mindset concept as well. And I think you are always kind of pouring into making sure that your brain and mindset is in the right place because I think that’s what it takes here.

I think it is hard to anticipate things. And I think it’s a little bit about dealing with disappointment when you have an idea of how things are gonna go and the outcome is a little bit different. Is there anything you do work through that disappointment of things not going exactly as planned.

Michael Stelzner: Well, the first thing that I do is I pay attention to where the world is changing and going. And the moment I begin to see that maybe things might not be as good as I think they’re going to be is I reassess the situation. Right? Like originally I envisioned thousands of people and I had literally half the San Diego convention center committed, you know what I mean?

So I’m like, all right, we’re not gonna do this downstairs and upstairs, we’re just gonna do it upstairs. Right? And then I’m like, all right, I’m gonna slow boat the recruitment of speakers, because that costs a lot of money. Right? Every speaker I have, if I have too many, I need multiple stages. Right? And all of a sudden production costs go up.

So what I had to do is I had to be like Braveheart “Hold, Hold, Hold!” The problem was our plans had to get thrown out and reassessed and thrown out and reassessed and you know, I’ve got a decent amount of employees that work for me. More than a couple dozen and it’s unnerving for them because they keep hearing changes happening and they don’t understand why.

I have to keep them motivated. I have to explain to them, look, we couldn’t have anticipated this, right? The demand isn’t there. And when the demand’s not there doesn’t matter what you do. You’re not gonna be able to be as successful as you want. And then I eventually had to internally say, I guess I need to be okay, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on this event. And that’s a hard pill to swallow. And eventually I became okay with it because, I am a person of faith. I felt like I was led to do this. And I said to myself, all right, God, what do you wanna teach me through this whole process?

Because that’s how I have a growth mindset. I know that even if I don’t do another crypto conference, I’m gonna continue to do my podcast and I’m gonna continue to believe in this future. And I’m gonna hopefully continue to teach my larger audience, the opportunities that are here. And hopefully as things start turning around more and more people will come back and be interested and I’ll be in a really good spot, you know?

You know, that drawing, you probably have seen it. It’s a little cartoon where they show people in a cave, digging for gold and one person quits. And it shows that the gold is literally just a couple knocks away. Right. And the other person doesn’t quit and they keep going and they get the gold.

Right. So it’s kind of like, when do you give up? When do you give up? No, I’m not gonna give up. I still believe in this thing. I still believe it’s the future. It’s not easy to do. Especially when you have another business that you’re running and all these other initiatives that are going on.

I’m not gonna lie it’s never fun to lose money. It’s never fun to like, feel like a failure. And I keep reminding myself, no, I’m not a failure. I just haven’t achieved the vision yet that I’ve set out for myself.

Andrea Vahl: I love that. I think that is so perfect. I haven’t achieved yet, the vision you set up for yourself. I love that. We’re gonna tweet that out.

I hear you saying some of the things you’ve done have been to pivot and allow yourself to not get locked into a plan. It sounded like you had reserved half the convention center and you weren’t locked into that and you could pivot and change.

And that’s why I think it is important to hedge your bets a little, plan for success, but also allow that pivoting. And then the other thing it sounded like you really did was not over extending yourself, even though you lost money, you’ve got the successful business that is running and you know everything is still gonna to be okay.

You’re still able to keep your employees. You’re not extending yourself beyond where you need to be.

Michael Stelzner: And, I’ve learned so much from this entire experience, that’s going to impact the main business. Right? So we’ve learned how to do things more economically. We’ve learned that we don’t need to have fancy LED walls behind us. Like we had at Social Media Marketing World, we learned that we can do a single track event. I mean, like, hello? Why didn’t I think of that from the beginning, I could have saved so much money, right? Like everything everybody’s on the keynote stage, cuz there’s only one stage. Right? We’ve learned all sorts of things that we have never done before, right?

Because the moment you are pressured or forced to do more with less is the moment you learn to rethink how things can be done. And now a lot of these innovations that have happened as a result of us, quote, unquote, losing money on this smaller conference are going to actually result in a saving money on the bigger conference.

Andrea Vahl: Awesome. I love that. And one of the things you had said from one of my questions that I asked you in our little pre-interview thing was, if you could go back in time and tell your younger self something, what would it be? And you said take more risks. Is that still true? Given kind of the risks you have been taking?

Michael Stelzner: A hundred percent. I mean, if I really thought about that question, I would say buy Bitcoin at $5. Okay.Because its like a $20,000 today right.? Like that probably would’ve been the best piece of advice. Or buy Apple at $4. Right. But, yeah, take more risks because once you have gone over the scary cliff and repelled down into the canyon of risk. You realize it’s not as scary and you could do it better and better each time. Right. And things that have held me back, like I probably would’ve done a lot more video stuff a lot earlier.

I might have started a podcast earlier. I probably would make maybe different kinds of investments. Maybe I would’ve kept my second home, instead of selling it to buy my third home,  and I would’ve had another investment property, it just seemed too risky at the time. Right. So, you know, in hindsight, as you age and get more mature in your fifties, like I am you just begin to realize, a lot of things that you’ve been holding back on.

There’s really no reason. Like, you know how to do this stuff. You just need to trust yourself to be able to go for it. Right. I would, for sure, this gray-haired guy would tell this black haired, younger version of. Go for it. Go for a kid. You got it. I know you can do that.

Andrea Vahl: That’s great. That’s great.

Yeah, I did watch some of your older interviews. It was just so fun as you were starting. Some of those other businesses. It was so great to see, as you’ve done so many amazing things and I think it’s exciting to see. The way you think, I know that you are such a huge statistics in analyzing type of person.

And that’s, I think also a key to your success is you’re really watching the numbers, watching the trends really, have a deep analysis before you’re doing things. I think that’s been a great thing.

Michael Stelzner: Thank you.

Andrea Vahl: So, one other question that I ask everyone is, what is an assumption that people have about you? That’s wrong?

Michael Stelzner: I think people think I have it all together. And that’s not true.

I think people are like, don’t worry. Mike’s got it all figured out. No, it’s not true at all. I’m a deep thinker, but I don’t have it all figured out. You know, I just try and a lot of things and some work and some don’t and the ones that work, I just keep sharpening that ax, if you will, until I get really good at just that thing, that axe right.

But I do not have it all figured out. There’s so many things that I know nothing about. That I have to defer to a lot of other people for, you know, a lot of people just assume I know social media marketing, like the back of my hand. And I don’t! I know about it to be dangerous because I’ve interviewed amazing people like you, Andrea, but I do not know that and I don’t have it all figured out.

And the good news is I think to everyone who’s listening is you do not have to have it all figured out. You just need to know what the next step is that you need to take to where you want to go. and if you don’t know what the next step is, you need to know who can tell you what the next step is to get where you wanna go.

And if, as long as you have someone guiding you, or as long as you just worry about the next step then, things can all come together.

Andrea Vahl: That is awesome. And that is a perfect segue into your favorite quote, one of your favorite quotes. Why don’t you share that with us?

Michael Stelzner: Yeah. So, when you ask me about this I have a couple of minimal sticky notes on my Mac and this one is, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein.

I love this quote because I think it’s a lot of work to try to convey things in a clear and concise fashion. And I think too many people aren’t willing to do the work, if you can do the work and process and think about how others are going to receive your message and whether it actually makes sense, right?

Whether it’s coherent, whether it’s focused, whether it’s interesting to your target audience, these are really important things. That are the key to marketing and also the key to content and really the key to success and to life. So work on it, practice it because if you cannot communicate it clearly. You got a lot of work to do.

Andrea Vahl: That’s awesome. And that is one of your gifts for sure. Mike, you definitely dive into some of those complex problems and make them a lot simpler. It’s been a mission, I think, throughout your career. Definitely tying that all together. And I just wanna thank you so much for coming on the show. You are such an inspiration to me.

I feel super blessed to call you a friend, a mentor, and someone I’ve known for a long time and have been able to work with for a long time. So thank you so much, Mike.

Michael Stelzner: Thank you, Andrea, for doing this show. I can’t wait to hear what people think. If people wanna reach out on Twitter. I’m at Mike_Stelzner.

If that’s your platform of choice, I’m also at Stelzner on Instagram. I would love to hear. Yeah.

Andrea Vahl: And tell us where people can find out more about your crypto business podcast.

Michael Stelzner: If you go to social media examiner, all of our podcasts are there, but if you really wanna listen to the crypto business one you can just search for crypto business on any platform, Spotify, YouTube, you name it, and there’s plenty of great content there for you.

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Late Starters Club Podcast
Late Starters Club Podcast

This is the place for inspiration, motivation, and mindset resets. You will walk away ready to take action with practical and informative advice from some of the most amazing “Late Starters” on the planet.

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