The Tim Ferriss Effect — Podcast Edition

*Updated with even more incredible results.

If you had an up and coming, innovative menswear brand, which of the following would you rather have to boost exposure and sales?

  1. A near full page article in the New York Times with a color photo, six days before Christmas.
  2. A major fundraise announcement covered by The Wall Street Journal’s Venture Beat and syndicated by 10+ national news sources with a few big name investors listed.
  3. A full page ad with a color photo in none other than Esquire magazine with a well known professional athlete sporting your clothing in a recognizable stadium, in the December holiday issue.
  4. A brief mention on a 2 hour long podcast by someone who is well known to hate your product category (dress shirts)and for off the wall topics surrounding work, fitness, and food.

I can speak from experience as I’ve had all four happen.

A year and a half ago, Tim Teeman introduced my company, Mizzen+Main, to the national media world with an incredible profile in The New York Times.
Six days before Christmas.

We have an interesting story to tell. I created a moisture wicking, wrinkle free, four way stretch dress shirt that requires no ironing or dry cleaning. I successfully merged advanced performance fabrics with a traditional dress shirt.

It was 2x our highest sales day ever and remained, until late 2014, our highest day. I am still tremendously grateful to Tim for his interest in breaking our story. It’s hard to put into words what that means to a startup, and frankly, to me personally. This was not only tremendous validation for our early stage company but also a great driver of traffic and sales.

We raised over a million dollars in 2014 to grow our company from a dynamite list of investors, including Astor & Black founder and serial entrepreneur David Schottenstein, Zappos’ Founder Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund, and several others. Lora Kolodny had the exclusive on our story for the Wall Street Journal. Earlier investors include Lone Survivor author (and subject) Marcus Luttrell and executives from Google, Silicon Valley hedge funds, and New York sports and media leaders. This story extended far beyond the WSJ, with the prestige of Lora’s coverage being both potent and legitimizing. In many ways, it was a chance to be taken “seriously” in many people’s eyes. It led to our highest sales day ever and a healthy volume of visitors and ongoing sales for weeks to come, though nothing close to that spike.

I wrote another Medium piece, Did I Just F@*% Up My First Esquire Ad?, in late 2014 detailing the thought process of creating a somewhat untraditional ad in this vaunted publication. On the advice and experience of others with extensive experience in the apparel industry, I bought an ad in Esquire with placement in their December (!) issue. Due to last minute availability, we had a much better price than the traditional rack rate, but it was still an extraordinary expense. We had a photoshoot with Miami Dolphins’ Wide Receiver Brian Hartline in Dolphins Stadium. A full page ad in Esquire. Our time had arrived! We wanted to provide a bit more of a description than just a model in a shirt, so we had some beautifully designed infographic icons describing what made our shirts so different.

It was a complete and total failure. It was the largest expense I’d ever undertaken for our business, and we saw absolutely zero return. So to answer the question, yes, apparently I did f@*% up my first Esquire ad.

That, or, as many much smarter than I have written, the world of advertising, media, and generally growing businesses has indeed changed

It was a very, very painful experience to have failed so badly (and expensively) on a very public stage, especially since I wrote so openly about my decision making and the gamble I’d taken.

In a variety of experiences to date, I’d seen highs and lows in various initiatives to help grow my young business in a brutally tough industry.


In late December, I saw this tweet from Tim Ferriss:

I submitted an inquiry, and after several exchanges with his incredible assistant (that’s quite a job!), the decision lay in front of me with an even bigger price tag than my Esquire fiasco. Roughly 30 days out from my costly mistake, it was, admittedly, a terrifying decision.

I had to commit to a three episode sponsorship because that’s the only way it’s worth it for Tim, and even though the data says on a CPM basis, along with the wild success all his other sponsors have seen, it was not something I was prepared to jump into. Oh, how off base my concerns would turn out to be!

Tim chatted with me, for longer than I deserved, to express a few thoughts. He loved our shirt and gave me the very fair caveat that if this was a “make or break” decision for our business, he didn’t advise us to do so. He was tremendously confident in his ability to bring us new customers and a healthy amount of traffic, but he also said “don’t bet your business on me!” This is both a fair and tremendously honest approach to doing business. I know even more why Tim is as respected as he is.

Hitting pause — if you haven’t heard of Tim Ferriss yet:

  1. Crawl out from under the rock you’re living under! (Only half joking)
  2. Check out his blog at Four Hour Work Week.
  3. Check out his New York Times Best Sellers: The Four Hour Work Week, The Four Hour Body, and the Four Hour Chef.
  4. Download his podcast!

After speaking with a number of different people, most with almost no understanding of podcasts or podcast sponsorships, I had a mixed bag of feedback. Ultimately, I pulled the trigger on our biggest spend / decision ever hoping we’d have even a marginally positive result. So what has the result been?

As unequivocally as I can possibly say this:

Sponsoring Tim Ferriss’ podcast has been the greatest single decision I’ve made in an effort to grow Mizzen+Main.
The “Tim Ferriss Effect” is very, very real.

Tim’s endorsement was phenomenal:

Mizzen+Main. Don’t worry about the spelling, all you need to know is this: I have organized my entire life around avoiding fancy shirts because you have to iron them, you sweat through them, they smell really easily, they’re a pain in the ass. Mizzen+Main has given me the only shirt that I need. And what I mean by that, and Kelly Starrett loves these shirts as well, is that you can trick people. They look really fancy so you can take them out to nice dinners, whatever, but they’re made from athletic sweat-wicking material so you can throw this thing in your luggage in a heap or on your kitchen table like I did recently and then pull it out, throw it on with no ironing, no steaming, no nothing, walk out and you can probably wear this thing for a week straight or make it your only dress shirt and take it on trips for weeks at time, never wash it, it will not smell, you will not sweat through it. You gotta check these things out!

Let’s talk specifics. As of writing this (and I’ll provide further updates), it has been less than 72 hours since our first of three podcast sponsorships have gone live. Below is a ranking of our sales days, in order, and relative percentages of how our other top days compare to our best day for perspective.

  1. Day Three of Tim Ferriss First Podcast Sponsorship
  2. Fundraise Announcement, Wall Street Journal, 83% of Highest Day
  3. Day One of Tim Ferriss Podcast, 73% of Highest Day
  4. New York Times Profile, 69% of Highest Day
  5. Day Two of Tim Ferriss Podcast, 58% of Highest Day

The first three days of our presence on one of Tim Ferriss’ podcasts have been three of our highest grossing sales day ever. What’s more, we’re seeing increasing sales and visitors, not a dropoff.

I expect to have a positive ROI on our three podcast sponsorship within the next 24–48 hours depending on how the remainder of this week plays out. For context: we have 4–6 more weeks of meaningful downloads of this first episode and two more episodes to go, and we’ll already be in a net positive ROI, including cost of goods. I’m not sure how many marketing opportunities have ever even come close to that, not to mention the lifetime value of these new customers along with the positive branding aspects of our association with Tim.

A big part of the inspiration behind this post, and frankly a meaningful piece of what helped me make my decision to pull the trigger on this sponsorship, is a post by author Michael Ellsberg called: The Tim Ferriss Effect: Lessons From My Successful Book Launch. I didn’t come up with a separate clever, unique title because I’m both not that clever and I so strongly believe in the Tim Ferriss effect, I wanted to help spread the word!


UPDATES

In all honesty, I expected the sales to dip and remain at some sort of a slow trickle. Again, how wrong I was. This was written at the end of day three of our first podcast. In the interest of providing as meaningful of insights as possible (rather than the typical fluff I read from a lot of entrepreneurial posts), here is a new list. I was going to edit the list above but I will leave it there for the legacy of this experience and post.

Our first podcast sponsorship went up Monday February 23, 2015 in the morning. The second podcast went up Wednesday March 4 in the evening. Without further ado:

  1. First full day of Tim Ferriss Podcast #2 Sponsorship
  2. Day Three of Podcast #1, 67% of Highest Day
  3. Fundraise Announcement, Wall Street Journal, 56% of Highest Day
  4. Day One of Podcast #1, 49% of Highest Day
  5. New York Times Profile, 46% of Highest Day
  6. Day Four of Podcast #1, 40% of Highest Day
  7. Day Two of Podcast #1, 39% of Highest Day
  8. First evening of Podcast #2 (up for <6 hours that day), 36% of Highest Day

A few things to call out. First, with this second podcast going up at night, that day ended up being 54% of our previous highest day ever. Also, our former second highest day ever, our funding announcement in the WSJ, is now just about half of our new highest day. Lastly, for now, this is update being written about 36 hours after Podcast #2 dropped. We saw the third day of Podcast #1 become our highest day.

I joked earlier this week:

At this point it makes sense to say three things.

Thank you, Tim Ferriss, for the opportunity and genuine endorsement.
We appreciate our customers’ patience as we replace our wiped out stock!
Welcome, new #MainMen. We are glad to have you on board.

If you appreciated reading this post, believe in the Tim Ferriss effect, or like hearing real talk from fellow startup founders, please hit Recommend on this story! Thank you!

I’d love to hear your experiences in this realm or with Mr. Ferriss yourself.