Have you ever wondered what separates the successful from the average?
There's something that sets apart those that walk the talk and those that just talk.
Those that succeed learn from those that came before them. Instead of constantly trying to reinvent the wheel and be “innovative,” people who succeed faster than they “should” usually went to the books (and now podcasts) to learn from the successful men and women that came before them.
And today, you have the opportunity to learn from one of them.
Sol Orwell has been an entrepreneur for over 15 years, started six companies that have amassed over eight figures in revenues, and is straightforward with his approach to building a business that is profitable.
In this Q&A, you will learn how Sol bootstrapped his nutrition company, Examine.com, to 2 million monthly visitors, why he paid $42,000 for a domain name, and how you can build an effective audience for your business.
So, sit back. Grab a cup of coffee. And learn from the mind of Sol Orwel.
Eric Siu: When Examine.com reached two million monthly visitors, what were you bringing in in annual revenues?
Sol Orwell: The interesting thing about Examine.com, if you look at the internet marketing space, is that we have had the same product for about two and a half years, where it is okay to have a new product every six months to a year. So, our revenue was probably highest when we first launched, but our biggest focus has been to make our revenues evergreen, so we are constantly making money.
Right now, we are collecting about one thousand emails a day, and we’re pushing them through our different references.
But, regarding revenue, we’re in the low seven figures, but as we develop one to two new products this year, revenue should start spiking.
Eric Siu: What was your biggest focus when you first started building Examine?
Sol Orwell: Our biggest focus has always been on how do we create our brand. Most people tend only to get published in their particular niche. So if you’re in fitness, you only get published in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and places like that.
Whereas we’ve broken that model and been featured in Mother Jones, New York Times, Time Magazine, BBC, and other large multi-channel media outlets.
Building up our brand, rather than trying to make money, was huge for us when we were starting out.
Eric Siu: You guys create all of your products by surveying your audience first, right? Can you talk more about that?
Sol Orwell: Yes, so once we started getting good traffic (10k/month), we simply asked our audience what they wanted most.
The number one thing that we got back at the time was that they wanted our supplement references and information all in one, easy to read spot. So we built that.
After we released that, we asked people what they wish we solved for them? They responded by telling us that all this scientific information is great, but I don’t know what to do with it. Just tell me what to do. So we built our supplement guides.
And then finally, when we asked again, we had a lot of professionals come up and say to us, listen, research is necessary, but there’s no way we can keep up with it. Can you help us?
So we built a subscription-based service around monthly research reviews, which has been our biggest driver of revenue. Additionally, we have been able to team up with other organizations, gyms, and trainers with that product. It’s been a real nice for boon for us.
Eric Siu: Is it true that you paid $42,000 for the rights to your domain name?
Sol Orwell: Yes, the domain alone cost me $42,000. A lot of people think oh, man, that’s a big amount to put in for something you don’t know is going to work. But the reality is a domain name is an asset, right? The worst case, I could have sold it for $30,000 within 24 hours, so it was a worthwhile risk.
Eric Siu: You guys built your business off of Reddit first, right?
Sol Orwell: Yes. My co-founder and I met on Reddit.
As I started losing weight, I got into Reddit Fitness and starting hanging out there a lot. I noticed that no one ever used the search function to find the answer to their question. They just asked it.
Every single day someone would be like hey, man, is creatine bad for my kidneys? People would get tired of responding to the same question over and over again. This is before Reddit built their FAQ system. That is where the original spark came from.
People would put in all this effort, publish new studies, and then the next time someone asks the same question; they just can’t be bothered to do it again.
So I thought, why not built a repository?
Eric Siu: What were you guys doing exactly on Reddit? Were you putting your links out there? What was going on exactly? Because, you know, they would usually rip you up if you’re trying to push your own stuff right?
Sol Orwell: We just told people we were doing this website and what naturally happened was that people just started linking to us nonstop. The problem people have with Reddit is that they try to push their stuff without being part of the community. They come in, drop their links, and they leave.
But, because we were part of the community, and everyone knew who I was, when we said we were doing Examine.com they didn’t think we were just on Reddit to SPAM them.
Also, we both had like 100,000+ Karma points and had been around for a long time, so it was a very symbiotic thing.
Eric Siu: It’s interesting because you talk about building a brand up first, but in a sense, you and your co-founder were building up a brand/community within Reddit, right?
Sol Orwell: Yeah. We had a reputation, right? We rode our reputation to where we could.
I frequently post in Reddit Entrepreneur, for example, and occasionally people will ask me what I have done or built. When I mention Examine, people get serious excited about it. They’re like oh, I love your site, I found it on Reddit. I had no idea you were a Redditor.
Eric Siu: From an SEO perspective you guys do epic content. It’s evergreen. How are you guys ranking for all of these crazy keywords?
Sol Orwell: It’s two things.
One, too many people are just focused on content generation when that’s never been the problem. There’s so much damn content on the internet that no one is impressed with you generating new content.
We take a different approach, similar to what Brian Dean does at Backlinko. We are far more focused on updating our existing content than always pushing out new content.
For example, every six months we update creatine. We add thirty or fifty new references. Instead of generating backlinks to this new page on creatine, it’s all going to the same damn page.
Second, we focused on networking and relationships. The relationships we have generated have supplied us more links than anything else even imaginable. I know the Editor in Chief of Men’s Health and Muscle and Fitness. It all happened because we reached out to them and built up these relationships.
Eric Siu: That’s great, now I’d love to hear about one big struggle you faced while growing Examine.com?
Sol Orwell: The biggest struggle, by far, we had was defining who the hell we were.
I’m a computer engineer. I did none of the research because that’s not my forte, but I’m a computer engineer. My co-founder had just finished his dietetic degree, which is for registered dietitians.
People are cynical of the information they read these days, so it is hard to prove our validity without Ph.D. or an MD
That was our biggest challenge. Showing to the readers that we were an authority and we could be trusted.
Eric Siu: How were you able to fight through that struggle and prove that you were an authority?
Sol Orwell: By building relationships.
We showed, let’s say, someone at Men’s Health that we knew our space and asked to write for them. Once we wrote an article for Men’s Health, we became more relevant.
Another tactic we used was building up a top notch advisory board. When a person would see XYZ on our advisory board, we immediately became more legitimate.
Eric Siu: Okay, so how does the machine work? I mean, what players do you need to make Examine run effectively? Nuts and bolts.
Sol Orwel: At the end of the day, the process is pretty simple. We’ve got people who are researchers who are reading the scientific papers one by one. Then we’ve got individuals who are editors/reviewers. These are guys who’ve got ten plus years of experience. Next, we have the copy editors who clean up the language. Finally, there are a few guys who send out the emails.
Eric Siu: Yeah, but how do you come up with ideas on what to write about?
Sol Orwel: It’s pretty simple as well. Our researchers pick new studies that interest them. Then they analyze and work with the reviewers to create a piece on it. But because some of the studies can be so esoteric and have massive depth, we have a lot of contractors, maybe 30 or 40, that help out as well.
Eric Siu: Okay man, last question. How did you guys go about finding these contractors?
Sol Orwel: Honestly, we just looked for other people who are doing work but are anonymous, and nobody even knows about them.
For example, I was talking to a friend earlier this week who was trying to find great people to do outreach. His solution was to find people that have podcasts that have very little traffic but have done maybe 100+ episodes because they are individuals who are used to doing cold outreach and stuff like that.
Eric Siu: All right. Awesome, man. Thanks so much for doing this.
Sol Orwell: My pleasure, my man.