Mario Schulzke is the founder of IdeaMensch, a website where entrepreneurs share ideas, experiences, habits, and failures.
The site (as of November 2015) contains over 2,000 quality interviews with successful entrepreneurs, business people and aspiring start-ups from all over the world. The mission of IdeaMensch is to help inspire you to put your ideas into action and get it launched.
From acquiring funding to overcoming obstacles, you’ll be sure to find someone who has been down the path you want to travel by reviewing the interviews on the site.
Mario is also a full-time instructor at the University of Montana in Missoula. He leads the digital marketing department and teaches two classes: Integrated Online Marketing and Marketing Analytics.
As the leader of the department, he creates the curriculum for his students based on the most recent best practices for internet marketing. He boasts, “My students are learning about digital marketing by reading Moz.com and KissMetrics,” two of the most trusted online blogs where you can learn the right way to do SEO, social media marketing, and web design.
Prior to moving to Montana, Mario worked at R2C Group in Portland, Oregon.
How did you get started with IdeaMensch? Where did the idea come from?
I launched IdeaMensch in 2009. As a first generation immigrant from Germany, I had to work for other people to keep my work permit. I always wanted to start my own business, but I was never allowed to. I’ve always been obsessed with entrepreneurship.
One day, while working in my corporate job, I decided to get started by learning from others who had already started businesses. So, that’s how IdeaMensch started. The goal of IdeaMensch is not so much to discuss ideas as it addresses, “How do your bring your ideas to life?”
How do you go about getting so many quality interviews for the site?
When I first started, I had to BEG my friends who were entrepreneurs to complete an interview for me. It was like pulling teeth in the early days trying to get good interviews with successful people.
Later, I was able to work with business development professionals who wanted to use the IdeaMensch brand as a networking tool to get an in front of tech industry leaders.
They would approach people they wanted to meet and say, “Hey, I’d like to interview you for IdeaMensch. Would you like to be featured on the site?”
This gave them an “in” other people didn’t have and helped them build relationships and provide value to people they wanted to either work for or do business with.
Everyone got something out of it and I got quality interviews.
I had an angel investor who would approach business people with the interview concept. When he wrapped up the interview, he’d say, “And by the way, if you ever need funding, keep me in mind.”
So, organically, the site’s content began to grow from all these people bringing me interviews.
Did you pay the “reporters” who brought you content?
No. I didn’t have to pay them. They wanted to do it because it gave them a great way to get a foot in the door with people they wanted to meet.
So, now that you have all these great interviews, how does the site make money and how much does it make?
I’ve monetized the site in a few different ways.
First, there are some ads on the site that bring in a little revenue, but this is only a few hundred per month.
Next, if you look at individual interviews, you’ll see that we always ask people to recommend books they’ve read. So, we link those books to Amazon and make a nice amount from affiliate revenue each month.
When I was doing events, that’s where the site really made a lot of money.
Can you tell us more about that?
I did a 48 state tour in 2011 over the course of 90 days.
I reached out to the handful of entrepreneurs I already had on the site in each state and told them what we were doing and asked them if they wanted to speak. We’d have 5 or 6 speakers at each event, each one speaking about their idea for about 10 minutes. It was similar to TED talks.
We never paid for a venue – our contacts in each city help us set up the locations and sometimes we’d get approached by corporate sponsors wanting to present the event for $1,500.
Tickets were $20 each. Some events were huge – we had 250 people at an event in Burlington, Vermont; and some were duds. We only had 15 people show up at an event at Rutgers University. We hosted events in all sorts of spaces including wineries and co-working spaces. Every city was different.
Overall, we sold 4,000 tickets to all the events. We never paid for any advertising or promotion. Usually, our friends in each city would help us promote the event, plus we have a huge mailing list of 10,000 people. Sponsors also helped to spread the word.
We made some pretty good money, but it was a LOT of work. I don’t know that I would do it again.
The big advantage of the tour was it helped to establish IdeaMensch as a brand.
What’s next for IdeaMensch?
I’m finishing up an E-Book which will contain 500 ideas for starting a business. All the ideas come from the successful entrepreneurs who we’ve interviewed for IdeaMensch.
One of our questions we ask is, “What is one idea you’d be willing to give away for free?” So, we got a ton of great ideas from that.
How much do you think you can make from E-Book sales?
I’m projecting that we’ll sell about 100 per month at around $13-14 per book, so that’s about $1,300-$1,400 a month.
As the brand grows, our email list continues to grow and we’ll use that to launch book sales. We’ve got over 10,000 people on our email list.
Are there other ways to generate income from the site?
At this point, I think I could do consulting with business people to help them improve their business. I could charge $500 a month and have dozens of clients, but I don’t really want clients.
I’ve got ideas for launching other sites using the interview model, which we’re just getting started.