In this episode, I sit down with Wilco de Kriej who is the mastermind behind ConnectLeads, a new revolutionary way of building your email list through Facebook. He walks through his journey from how 12 years ago he started selling sunglasses to now running a 7 figure SaaS company, generating 1.3 million dollars in his last launch alone.
Mark: Hey, everybody. Welcome to today’s podcast. I am joined here by Wilco de Kreij. He is a online entrepreneur. He started his first business back in 2002. He’s also the creator of some mainstream SAS applications like VideoSkin, ZoSocial, and most recently ConnectLeads. He also is what’s called a digital nomad; he’s been able to travel all over the world and in the Internet lifestyle. Thank you, Wilco, for joining the podcast.
Wilco: Thanks for having me, Mark. Happy to be here.
Mark: For the people that don’t know who you are, how did you get started online?
Wilco: Well it’s actually a funny story and we have to go way, way back for it. I was actually sixteen-years-old. Right now I’m … twenty-nine? Yeah, I’m starting to get old, twenty nine. It’s a long time ago. At that time the movie, ‘The Matrix’ was really popular. As you know, every character in that movie had their own pair of sunglasses, and I was like, “I want to have one of those.” I’m here from The Netherlands, and in The Netherlands they were nowhere to be sold so I was like, “What am I’m going to do?”
So I found a company which was in the US … Which for me is pretty much the other side of the world, right? And because of the shipment costs and all of that, I decided to put up an ad online saying, “Anyone wants to order one of those sunglasses, well you just order it with me, pay me, I’ll then build one big order and we’ll share the shipment cost.” I was hoping to have maybe my sunglasses for free because I added in a little bit of margin.
What actually happened is that over the course of like one month, one and a half months, I did seventeen-thousand euros, which is right now a lot like twenty-thousand US dollars, worth of sales selling sunglasses. I was sixteen-years-old. I had no money to invest, so all these people had to pay me first then I had to put your order in, in the US … Which my parents were not happy about because, remember, this is at a time that online sales wasn’t what it is today. I actually had to go to Western Union and hand over all that money in cash … Together with my parents, right? I was sixteen-years-old.
What it actually taught me was the opportunity that the online market space had. Even though in the end I made a ton of mistakes, I didn’t make any money out of it, I didn’t take into account taxes and all of that, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons along that period. The most important one was really just the massive opportunity it had, so over the next couple of years I did that every summer basically. I just sold a bunch of sunglasses and a few other products. I did that for a month or two, a year, and then sort of helped me through the rest of the year.
After a while I was just done backing all that stuff, and dealing with customer complaints … “Hey, I want the blue one not the green one, ” and whatever. That’s when I started dodging more into: “How can you earn your money online, without sending actual product to people?” Right? That’s when I started doing Google AdSense, and then Google AdWords, to affiliate marketing … Pretty much the whole bing-bang. Every kind of traffic search there is out there, I’ve been trying and testing that. Yeah, a long story short, that’s sort of how I rolled into the online business.
Mark: Okay. How did you go from that to developing software? I mean, you’re not a developer. Right?
Wilco: Yeah, no. I’m not a developer. That’s actually a kind of funny story too. Like I said, at some point I stumbled into Google Adsense, and that was going really well. To be honest, that was in the really early days so that was sort of like black-hat-ish. Right? I was doing a lot of SEO that didn’t have the most value. You know? Anyway, after a while Google caught up on that. They banned my account … Which they should have, right, looking back. I went from doing really well to zero.
You’d think I’d learn from that. Right? What I did then, it was legit but it was still really risky, by focusing on Google AdWords. Everything I did was buying traffic from Google AdWords, and I just sent it over to an affiliate offer. At some point Google said, “Hey, you have to have your own website. You have to have actually some meat to bring to the table, otherwise, you’re going to get a really low quality score,” which basically means you’ll get zero traffic. At some point I was doing really well again, driving traffic from Google AdWords to to all kinds of affiliate offers here in The Netherlands, and I went back to zero, literally overnight.
Now it had happened two times so I was like, “I need to do something different. I just want to do something different,” and at that point I decided, “You know what? I’m going to switch to the US market, because all this time I’ve just been doing things in the Dutch market,” and I just started with a clean slate. Right? Like, “What am I’m going to do?” I stumbled into a problem that I had on Facebook. Back then you were allowed to create a Facebook [dash 00:05:03]. I decided I’m just going to hire someone, build a plugin for that, and eventually I started selling that to others as well. That’s actually how I got to know you, Mark.
So the short answer to your question is I was in need of something myself, and I decided to have someone build it for me. I realized other people might need it as well, so I started selling it. That went really well and from that point on I decided that what I’m going to do, because I like building stuff. Even though I’m not a developer I like coming up with stuff, designing things, fixing problems … Yeah, like I said, that’s how I got to know you. That’s the plugin we once did a promotion for together when I first met you, I think, three years ago or so.
Mark: Yeah, that’s crazy. Okay, so you make so many mistakes along the way, especially when you create your first or second, specifically, software; just talk about some of the mistakes that you made when you created your first app.
Wilco: Oh, wow. There are many, obviously. I think the most important one … The most expensive mistake is hiring the wrong people. You want to make sure you have the best of the best, or at least those that are really good. Your software’s only going to be as good as the developers.
Also what I found in the beginning is that in the very first time I just started. I didn’t really know what they should build, I just said, “We’ll build something like that;” I wasn’t really as specific. Only after I started visualizing the whole project, or the whole concept of what it should be doing, that’s when I was able to make it all a lot better. If you’re just going to say to a developer, “You should do something like this,” but they’re not really sure what they should do and you’re just going to leave it to them, then chances are it’s not going to be as good.
Personally, that’s really a personal thing, is that I started out building WordPress plugins, which has a lot of potential conflicts with other plugins, other things and things like that. Even though some businesses are really successful selling WordPress plugins, I decided that for me it makes more sense to go for the SAS again, to go for the hosted solutions … Which means that it’s all running on our servers and if someone gets access to it, if they purchase it, they’ll just get a login account so they can just use it there. That really, for me, for our business, it really helps reducing the potential bugs, potential issues, and therefore, also the amount of support questions that we’re getting in. Plus, and I think that’s the biggest upside, is that it’s really easy to basically lock someone out if they shouldn’t have access … Which means it’s way easier to start selling a recurring stream of income off of that. If they have to pay yearly but it’s a WordPress plugin, it’s super easy to just keep on using it after that year.
I think that’s just some of the mistakes I made. As you probably know there are many, many others.
Mark: Right, okay. Let’s fast forward to today. You’ve created probably four or five different SAS apps now?
Wilco: Something like that, yes.
Mark: Okay. I want to focus on your most recent launch, which was ConnectLeads. Could you just talk about what that product does.
Wilco: Yeah, sure. So just recently Facebook released a new kind of advertisement to all its advertisers, and it’s called Facebook Lead Ads. If you have a Facebook Ads account, you have it already right now; everybody has access to it. What it allows you to do is you can run a Facebook ad which initially looks the same as any other Facebook ad. The difference is that with a normal ad, if someone clicks on it they will go to your page … To your opt-in page, or to your sales page, or wherever. Right? On that opt-in page they need to actually enter their email address. Especially if they’re on a mobile, that can be a bit of a struggle. You know? You have to type in your whole name and email address.
Now if it’s a Facebook Lead Ad what will happen is as soon as someone clicks on your ad, Facebook will then open up a popup with all the information pre-filled. It will already say what their name is, their email, their, for example, occupation, their gender, their marital status, whatever. All those information that Facebook has already got, if it’s already in there, and then just one extra tap and their email address and all that data is collected.
The first time I saw this I was like, “This is amazing!” I mean, especially with mobile devices it’s pretty hard to get people onto your email list and to get them into your sales funnels. Right? With this, it makes it so much easier so I was super excited. Then I started playing around with it and I noticed that if someone does that, and for example, I say, “Hey, you want to get this eBook? Click here,” and they’ll submit their email … You know what happens? Nothing happens. They problem is Facebook does collect the lead, but they don’t send it your way. You’ll actually have to go into Facebook where you can, somewhere in one of those tabs … You’ll have to search for it actually, but once you’re there you can down load a CSV file, an Excel file, which you then have to rework and then upload into your autoresponder. You’ll have to do that as often as you can do; ideally, every hour because people don’t want to wait for a day before they get it … Which, obviously, it’s not going to work.
At that point, once again for my own need, I was like, “There should be a solution for this.” You know? That’s what ConnectLeads is. It automatically connects your Facebook Lead ads with any of your autoresponder or CRMs or revenue platforms, to make sure that as soon as someone clicks that and submits their email address, their email address is going to be instantly synchronized into your autoresponder or CRM or revenue platform.
Mark: Yeah, I think that’s really changed the game for email marketing. I mean, the fact that you are getting a Facebook-verified email address, they’re not having to manually type in their email address … Especially from a mobile device. It’s very hard to type your email address on an iPhone because the buttons are so small. I think that’s what really changed the game. I think that’s why your launch was so profitable.
If you wouldn’t mind talk to me about, first, how much did the launch do in revenue?
Wilco: During the launch week I think around one-point-three-million dollars, US.
Mark: Okay, and that was within a week. Right?
Wilco: Yeah, in like five or six days-ish, yep.
Mark: Okay, and talk to me about the sales funnel. What was the price point for the main product, and then what was on the backend of your funnel?
Wilco: We had three levels on the front end so it was either monthly, yearly, and for a special offer we had a lifetime licence as well, which was one-hundred-and-ninety-seven dollars, which was the most popular option. A lot of people wanted to go for that special offer where they didn’t have to pay any extra or later on.
Mark: What percentage bought the lifetime?
Wilco: I think it was sixty-five to seventy percent lifetime. The bulk of the others, like thirty-percent-ish, took the monthly one, and then a couple of percent took the yearly one. Something [around 00:12:09] that offer.
After they got they saw an offer for ConnectAudience, which we haven’t launched publicly yet. It’s sort of like ConnectLeads but the complete opposite. What that does is it allows you to connect your autoresponder account with your Facebook Ads account. You can actually say, “Well everyone who has opened …” for example, my last email, or who has clicked on my last email, or who is on that email list … Basically you can segment out a specific portion of your email list, of your current database, and it will automatically create a custom audience of Facebook so you can then target your Facebook ads towards that audience. You can run Facebook ads to those who, for example, did open your email but then did not click on the link. You can sort of re-target within their inbox. That’s what ConnectAudience is, and we sell that for two-ninety-seven a year. That one converted really, really well.
We also offered our sort of main SAS, which we’re putting a lot of effort in, which is called ‘UpViral.’ That’s a social referral engine to help spread the message, and because it connects and integrates with ConnectLeads, we figured to add a special offer for that as well, where people could get it for one-hundred-dollar off just for that launch period.
Mark: Okay. Break down the sources of traffic. What was the main source of traffic to your sites, at your offer?
Wilco: We actually had a pre-launch, and then we had a launch. During the pre-launch, we had three videos. You probably know Jeff Walker, right?
Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Wilco: Jeff Walker is famous for his pre-launch sequence, where he drips out three videos to sort of create awareness and to get people ready. Basically what I did is to get people ready and get them informed about the whole Facebook Lead Ad, so they understand exactly what it is, how to set it up. All I was doing was really teaching them as much as I can. You know? Then there are going to be more recipients for my actual product, once it actually goes live.
What I did during that period … I did actually two things. First of all, I asked all my big [firm 00:14:21] of affiliates to promote that pre-launch as well. They could send out emails to their customers saying, “Hey, check out this video. They’re awesome. Check it out.” What I did as well is after the people signed up to watch those videos I said, “Hey, if you get three of your friends to sign up for these pre launch videos as well, then you will get access to one special bonus video,” which was like the fourth video where I share the secret strategy related to all of this.
During the pre-launch, most traffic that was generated was actually because of exactly that. It was actually because the people themselves who signed up and then started sharing it on Facebook, on Twitter, et cetera. That’s really what we used UpViral for, which was the other tool I talked to you about. During the pre-launch the number one traffic source was definitely the referral campaign with the runner up, affiliate traffic, and then during the launch, by far, affiliate traffic.
This was really the kind of launch where I invited all other affiliates, said, “Hey, you want to promote this launch?” I added an extra incentive for them by saying, “Hey, we have this contest going on and whoever makes most sales, or in the top ten, you will get an extra commission on top of that.” That’s really just to give them a bigger incentive, even for you, for example, Mark, I think you actually ended up being on the top ten, to get people more engaged in the launch saying, “Hey, I’m just outside the top ten. If I get a couple more sales then I might win something.” It’s also a bit of an ego thing. Right? People like to win things, right, which is different for every affiliate. In any case, everything was built or set up in a way to make it as appealing as possible for affiliates to promote this offer to their audience, to their customers. That was by far the biggest source of traffic during this launch.
Mark: Okay. What commission percentage were you giving affiliates?
Wilco: Fifty percent. I always do fifty percent. You know? It’s about being fair to affiliates as well. I think in the market most people just give fifty-fifty as an equal spread. Yep.
Mark: Yeah, well I guess that’s not a bad payday for a week’s work. Obviously it was more than a work to get the product ready. How long did it take you to develop the app?
Wilco: Well we started building ConnectLeads about a month in advance, or one and a half months maybe. We wanted to be the first to market; that was really important for this. What we didn’t know up to that point: We had actually been building a big part of that product without actually knowing it because we already had the whole infrastructure for Connectio, which is our brand for various Facebook ads apps. So we had the whole infrastructure already ready. We were already experienced with the API that was required for this. We already just got approved by Facebook to use that API, which was really important, so we already had taken some steps without even knowing that we were going to build ConnectLeads. That made it definitely easier.
I think it took about a month, month and a half, between starting building it and actually launching it. Not all that time was actually spent on actually building it. Part of the time was also to get the launch ready, to get the affiliates hyped up. You know? There’s more things that go into building a platform; there’s and also putting it out there in the market.
Mark: Yeah. It’s amazing. Once you launched ConnectLeads and saw how successful it was, there was probably two or three or four other knockoffs that kind of came a month or two later, just to try to leverage this buzz that was built with ConnectLeads. I think the fact that you were first to the marketplace with this type of app … I mean, obviously, it was very well done but the fact that you were first to market definitely, I think, helped with the success of the overall app. Do you agree?
Wilco: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I knew in advance I need to be first to market. That’s why we just … The developers, we worked though the weekends, we made sure that everything … Because actually, when I launch something I want to make sure it’s good. To be honest, some people, they just launch things. I’m asking for a sort of feature, and that’s say, “Well that’s not done yet, but we just launched it anyway.” That’s not me. If I launch something, I want to stand behind it. I want to know it’s really, really good.
Before I could even say to my affiliates, “Hey, this is going live then and then,” I needed to be sure that it was done. The only way to be sure that it’s done is to make sure that it’s done before I even announce it. We actually made sure that it was fully working before I even started making a buzz around it. That also gave us more room in between, from the moment I started inviting my affiliates up to the point that we actually went live, to do more follow-up testing, to have some beta tests involved, to add more platforms to the dashboards, to more autoresponders.
I knew we had to be first to market in order for this to work, but at the same time I didn’t want to sacrifice any quality. I could have actually launched, definitely, three, four weeks earlier if I really wanted to but I didn’t want to push that. I sort of risked that knowing, or expecting, that nobody else would beat me to it anyway.
Mark: Got you. All right, so people listening, they see that you did this one-point-three-million-dollar launch is a seven-day time period. For people that are like, “Wow! How do you do that?” What type of advice do you have for people just starting out? Maybe they have a product that they’ve created but they’ve never really done a formal product launch. What kind of advice do you recommend?
Wilco: Sure. Well the first thing for people who are thinking of starting stop thinking and actually start doing. I guess that’s what everybody says. Right? Just take action, that’s the really most important thing. I could give a lot of tips, but I’m actually going to do for something I just got in my inbox. I don’t remember his name, but I just got an email from someone who is a no one.
Not a no one, but someone who’s not in this space. Right? Usually when people launch a product they’re going to ask … Befriend of affiliates, people who they’ve known for years because they go to events and things like that. It looks like that makes it easy. Right? So for someone who’s completely new in this industry, it’s not always easy to get the attention of maybe people like you or me. That might seem weird but that’s sort of the way it is.
So I got this email, just an hour ago, from this guy who basically wanted me to promote his product. Now he didn’t say that. He showed a personal video for just me and he said, “Hey, you know what? I want to promote ConnectLeads. I want to put it in front of my audience. Basically the tip that I want to give here is even if you think you see excuses not to do something, just go for it. Be humble and just provide value to others. If you want to get the attention of someone, maybe even affiliate, see how you can provide value to them. If that’s your starting point, you’ll see that a lot more is possible than if you start just thinking about, “How can I get, get, get?’
I think that’s sort of something that just … Yeah. I just got it in my inbox, and he got all my attention that he wanted, just by giving value first instead of just asking for anything. I think that’s good advice for anyone starting up. The most important one: Just take massive action.
Mark: Yeah, you know? It’s unfortunate because I feel like connections, and building friends and influence, has just been underrated. People don’t spend enough time on it. I mean, I know me personally, I take a good amount of my day just connecting with other like-minded people and just trying to continue to build my network of connections. You never know what type of opportunity is going to come of it, down the road. Right?
I mean, anyone. You might meet somebody, or connect with someone, and then a year down the road that could lead to some form of business. If you kind of build that into your DNA, where you’re just on a regular basis connecting with other smart, like-minded people and genuinely want to understand what their business is and how you can help them, that can really go a long way. I think people just overlook it and they see dollar signs. I can’t tell you … I mean, I’m sure you get this all the time, just people every single day just peppering you to say, “Here’s my next, latest, greatest product. Come and promote it,” when you’ve never even built a relationship with them.
Wilco: Yep, it happens. Yeah. Totally agree on that.
Mark: Yep. Okay. Well for anybody that wants to follow you or keep up with what you have going on, where do they go?
Wilco: I’d suggest to go to UpViral.com or Connectio.io. We’re starting to have a blog around there as well. You can always look me up on Google, Wilco de Kreij. You can hit me up on, for example, Facebook and you’ll probably find my personal email as well.
Mark: Awesome. Well thank you so much for coming on. It was great to kind of see behind the scenes of ConnectLeads. I think it really has revolutionized the industry. It’s really, to me, where the future of building an email list and email marketing is going. Congratulations on such a successful launch and thanks for stopping by today.
Wilco: No problem. Thanks for having me and have a great day.
Mark: All right, thanks Wilco.