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Michael Koenigs: Conquering Cancer, Making Movies & Selling Businesses

I am super excited to be here with Mike Koenigs. If you are, for some reason, getting to know Mike, he's a serial entrepreneur. He is a thirteen-time bestselling author. He's helped over 1,800 business owners and entrepreneurs write books and get them to be bestselling authors as well. He's a philanthropist. He's exited multiple businesses and an all-around great guy.

Dustin
Mike, welcome to the show. You are also a celebrity advisor.
Mike
When those opportunities come along and you have to say yes. I won’t name names but I will tell you, there are some crazy times.
Dustin
Mike, you look like you have a lot of fun in what you do.
Mike
I do. You and I came back from the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. Warren Buffett says, “I get to tap dance into work every single day.” I like to tap dance and fun shoes every day into work. Even when I’m working at home, I always dress up and put on some nice shoes.
Dustin
Does it make you feel good?
Mike
It does. Happy feet.
Dustin
I want to take us on a serious note because you've had something occur in your life. You navigating through what you've navigated through. It’s been incredible. I want to take us there. One day you wake up and you've got blood pouring out of your backside, more specifically your rear end, without getting too graphic. You, the never got a minute entrepreneur, say, “I’ve got to go get this checked out.” You go see the doctor, the doctor comes back out and says, “Mike, you need an oncologist. You need a surgeon and you need to get that thing out of you. Otherwise, you've got six months to live.” How do you as the achiever, the go-getter process that information? How does it hit you at that moment?
Mike
The first thing I thought, honest to God, was I’m going to be okay. I wasn't afraid. It didn't come as a surprise. That was the truth. I had been running hard for long. At that point, about 25 years non-stop with no brakes. That particular year was insane. Any business, ups and downs, an enormous amount of pressure. At the time, we probably had $600,000, maybe $700,000 per month in overhead. That meant to break even, we had to bring in $700,000 and around 50 people on the payroll, etc. It was grueling. We were going through a down cycle, there was some stuff breaking and all of this comes up and it was a wakeup call in a big way. The first thing I did, I went home to see my parents in Minnesota and I decided I wasn't going to tell them over the phone. I looked at them in the eyes and I said, “I have cancer. I had been diagnosed and I know everything's going to be okay. I’m going to survive, but I want you to know it and feel me.” They're like, “We believe you.”
I came home and made an appointment. I had surgery, which was painful. Thank God I had good surgeons because when you have colorectal cancer, you got what was called the zipper. The zipper means from your front, they slice you open, they basically pour your guts, they put it on the table and they slice up whatever they're going to do. They staple you back together, they stuff it all back in, then they zip you back down. You've got that beautiful beach scar for the rest of your life. If you're unlucky, you also wake up with a bag. Your man parts don't work anymore. There are a lot of risks here. What I told the surgeon somewhat jokingly, but not jokingly as they were putting me under, they give you the injection, they put the mask on and I said, “If I have to wake up with a bag, don't wake me up.” The good news was the first thing. I swear to God I did. Finished up, I looked it up and I’m like, “Yes,” because I knew the parts would be there, you don't know if they're going to work for a little while. The other thing is you don't poop for a week. I’m going to go on and one of their little tangent. You wake up and you have the button. You got the fancy little button with something called Dilaudid.
I always re-frame everything to make it happy. When you go in for your colonoscopy, they give you something called propofol. That's the Michael Jackson drug. I’ve talked to some doctors about this. You have happy dreams. You wake up and it's like you're in heaven. You've got little happy voices. You're like, “This is awesome.” Except they use a lot of air to fill up your internals so they can see inside. The gas has to leave. You wake up by farting yourself awake in a room full of other farters. The nurse is like, “Just let it out.” I woke up from the thing and my surgeon comes in. I’ve never told anyone this part of the story before and she's crying. She goes, “Your lymph has cancer.” She goes, “and that means chemo. I was hoping we'd find it all, but that's the deal. Is there anything I can do?” I said, “How about an extra dose of Dilaudid for the night?” If it's bad news, might as well put the happy juice in there. I can't say whether or not she did that or not. From there you are a wreck. Your body takes a long time to recover from surgery like that. It's major.
I got a port. They slice and they put this thing in because your veins collapse. That's where the chemo goes in what goes in. I had a fanny pack and you walk around with this little machine that squirts in the poison juice inside you. You are a wreck. It's when your hair starts falling out, you wake up on a pile of your own hair and it's rough. Because I had a young son, I wanted to increase my odds of survival from that. You trade long-term survival for short-term return. I figured I got to get this kid to eighteen. I did the math and I got an extra 7% points of survival by doing radiation also. I ended up going to Duke for radiation. I did the full meal deal. I would have tried doing the whole holistic thing, but it was a late stage and so crazy. There wasn't time. Now that I know what I know and I’ve written the book about cancer and everything else and collected the data, the people I know who don't go thermonuclear right away and do something about are the dead ones.
Dustin
That's the Steve Jobs’ story?
Mike
Yeah, totally. I know for a fact I’ve saved at least a dozen lives directly through conversations and then my book has done even more. I’ve gotten some people writing, but the people I’ve talked to and they say, “I’m going to wait around to do that,” they're dead. With one exception, I found out that person's almost dead. Everyone I’ve talked to who hesitates, they die.
Dustin
You're incredibly connected. You know a lot of people in a lot of different fields, especially the health field. One of your best friends is JJ Virgin. She's been on the show. You're connected, but your advice, you're not a doctor.
Mike
This will bring some heat and they'll be like, “You should be squirting green juice.”
Dustin
For most cases, you should. You’ve got to get rid of it.
Mike
I believe in a holistic approach. If someone's a supplement pusher, is not a doctor, discard anything that comes out of their mouths. I say, “Listen to your doctors first.” I don't believe in the medical system. I do believe that we have doctors who are such specialists. They don't understand holistic functional medicine. What I say is to get a functional medical team, get a great traditional medical team and get them to have conversations. The best thing I did is I got eleven-second opinions. In my book Cancerpreneur, I gave people a way to socially engineer the medical system and get you focused on by turning the doctors into heroes. My advice is to ask a lot of questions. The more interest you take, the more questions you ask, the more attention they're going to give you. They want informed people who ask a lot of questions, not with people saying, “So and so said I should be, take the bark root tea something and go whatever.” They’d be like, “What dead guy in a couple of months.” That's my opinion for what it is.
Dustin
Mike, it's one thing to conquer cancer. However, during this time, not only did you go through that, your family went through that, but you maintained a relationship with your wife and your son. You and a team packaged of business for sale. What was your process? What's your advice for the entrepreneurs that are out there that may be getting hit with this?”
Mike
I turned 53 and it's taken a long time to learn that just about everything that happens in your life is absolute noise, chaos and addiction to chaos, noise, phones and a total bull. As a society, we're so self-absorbed and we think that everything is going to matter. Almost everything doesn't matter at all. I didn't conquer the noise, chaos addiction while I went through this, but what did happen is I shut everything down, my team took over. We had our highest net profit because I had a good friend come in and get rid of everything that wasn't necessary. Oftentimes, the best thing in a business is for you to go away for a little while. I learned that. The other thing is it forced me to focus on the things that matter most, which is it's never about the things, it's about the people and the relationships. I had a lot of work to do, a lot of apologies to make to my wife. I wasn't present for my son. I was away. I was on stages. I was grinding, thinking I was almost to the next big thing, whatever that is. The richest dead guy in town doesn't do you any good. It was a beautiful reframe.
Honestly, even though there were three occasions, I know what it's like to be at a point where your body's in such pain and you learn how to manage it in your brain, but it's intense that you could tell your body it's time to leave. I understand when people say, “I chose to die,” or people who've maybe been through cancer and they get to the third time they're like, “I’m not going to do it again.” I’ll do it a second time, I would do chemo a third time. There's too much that breaks. Your brain doesn't work. I still can't feel the tips of my fingers and my toes, I have neuropathy, but it's manageable. You get used to it. This is a beautifully complex machine our bodies are.
Dustin
This whole experience gave you a great deal of empathy. Were you not an empathetic person before? Were you charging in and leaving dead bodies behind you?
Mike
What I had was a narrow focus and I was focused on success in business, building a platform, creating fame, creating packages and offers and that whole thing that went on. Self-absorption is like a big steel pipe and it's hard to knock around and see outside it. You don't see the light when you're stuck in a pipe. I would say what happened then is I saw a child. This is the moment I knew. I was chatting and I found out there's a young boy, he was probably seven years old who had gone through leukemia. Someone said, “My son went through cancer,” and I showed him my port. He pulled and showed me his port scar and we had this connection like my little brother. At that moment, I got this big download of for an innocent to experience that level of grueling bodily pain and for a family, I’m glad it was me. I could not bear to watch my son or my wife go through this because you're powerless. To watch a little innocent go through that, it's like, “God, how can this be fucking unfair?” Whether it's environmental or whatever the cause is, it doesn't matter. When you get that sweeping download, I had to take a breath and say, “God, it's good. I got to pull my head out on my rear end. What a gift it was to slow down.”
Dustin
I’m glad you're sharing it. It hits me and I know it's hitting other people. You wrote a book about it, which writing a book to you is easy for you. I’m curious about this book. This was not a business book. This isn't a marketing book. Not necessarily a personal development book, although that's in there. What surprised you with this book Cancerpreneur?
Mike
It is my favorite book as an exercise. I’ll give you the setup. First of all, I’ve written a whole bunch of books, but every one of my books was business books intended to make money. The thought process I was going through is, “I’m going to write a book that tells a story that makes people want to buy things.” I wrote them fast and they preceded a product launch. It would start a conversation and then someone would want something, it'd be a good giveaway and it would make $1 million in 100 days. That was the formula for almost all of them, and then build a franchise that continued to make money. Cancerpreneur came to be, I had a split focus. One of them was I had a live event I was teaching, which we called Publish & Profit, where people would show up. They'd walk away bestsellers in three days. I decided I’m going to prove my system works. It was a week before the event. I’m like, “I’m going to write a book in less than a week.” With an event coming up, which is pure, unadulterated insanity.
The other part was one of my best friends, Pam Hendrickson, was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that point I had answered questions and coached a lot of people. My theme was if someone you know ever gets cancer, give them my personal phone number, I will talk to them. I will guide them through and help them. I know I helped a lot of people survive. At that point I started getting a dozen calls a week and I couldn't do that anymore. I made a promise that was unmanageable. I thought, “I’m going to take everything I know about surviving and what my recommendations would be.” I had a perfect audience of one, which I always recommend. If you're going to write a book, write it as though it's a performance to someone you deeply care and love about and speak to the one. What I did is I sat down and I made a video. The other thing is I had to make a public commitment that forced me to stick to a timeline. I put up my phone, turned on Facebook Live and I said, “This is Mike Koenigs. You don't know me, I’ve written books. I’m going to commit to writing a book over the next couple of days and I’m going to share my process.”
I made this commitment and I’m doing this. I do what I say I’m going to do and I’ve got an event in a week, and I’m going to have it done by the time this event happens. I make the commitment. I sit down. I know what it's going to be called. I know what it's going to be about, but I’ve done no work. I sat down, I brainstorm the table of contents and I wrote a description of what the book was, what the promise was and who it was for. In this case, I don't remember all the numbers, but roughly something like 1.5 million people are diagnosed with cancer in the United States every year. A third of them die and approximately 7% or 9% of the US population are entrepreneurs. That means it comes down to 150,000 entrepreneurs are going to get cancer, 50,000 we're going to die, this is for them. This is how you can navigate with your family, your business, your marriage intact and your relationship with your clients and customers if you're a business owner.
What I did then is I turn on a camera, I looked at the camera, I had my outline and I started performing a chapter at a time to the camera. As soon as that little recording was done, I hit save on the video, exported the audio, sent it up to Rev.com, had it transcribed and I had contacted an editor right before that. In real time it's getting transcribed and an hour later each segment was already transcribed. I sent it to an editor who started editing it live and in Google Docs. I did this and it took me a couple of days to get the performance out of my head.
I spoke as though I were speaking to Pam Hendrickson, taking care of her, coming from a heart center. Energetically people can feel what you write and you can push emotions through words. We are energetic bodies flowing through the miracle of time and creation. A couple of days later, it was done. I did a third day where I interviewed some survivors and people going through it, including Pam. The editor went through it and marked up everything that needed to be fixed. I went back and I tweaked it, did it again, formatted it and I exported it out of Google Docs, published it as a Kindle. I exported it again, published as a paperback and at the live event I was there with a physical copy and I said, “Let's make it a number one bestseller.” We sold it. People were like, “I can do this too.” I said, “One of the bonuses for buying my program is you get the documentary I made of making the book and you can see how I did it. You can model it. The lesson in all that was, first of all, talk to the one. Solve a problem, speak from your heart and provide value. If you make your life a movie you'd want to watch, someone else is going to connect with it too. They're going to see that, they're going to feel it. You can change or save a life with a couple of days.
Dustin
That's an incredible process that you've taken 1,800 people plus through.
Mike
There's more I don't even know about because we certified people too who do it as a living now. It was quite a ride.
Dustin
I want to rewind a little bit. Do you come from a Podunk town?
Mike
Eagle Lake, Minnesota. There's a lot of ice fishing and rooftop stereo. A population of 763. You go by now, it's 2,200 or something like that. It's grown.
Dustin
You grew up there and you were a self-taught coder. A guy that barely graduated high school, ditched the whole college thing and got into programming. How did you go from programming to monetizing programming?
Mike
The backstory is my dad was a barber. He quit a few years ago. I’m the oldest of four kids. When you live in Minnesota, it's cold there a lot. I don't like the cold. I never have. He worked a lot. Besides barbering, he was the city building inspector, the clerk of the town, the village clerk. He also played guitar, he always served at rescue homes. He was one of these guys who volunteered for everything, for the church and the school. Let's say he has five jobs. He was always busy and always on the move, which on the one hand is great, but I didn’t’ get to see them a lot. It also meant that when we showed up somewhere, we are usually late and last. Someone said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d say, “I want to be rich, warm and first.” “How are you going to get there?” I was the kid in the left field dropping my glove and trying to catch them while the ball rolls by me. I had the attention span of a gnat. That plus I had no interest whatsoever in going to a Catholic school. I was sent to a parochial school and me and discipline don't mix. It’ll be like, “Tell me to do one thing, I do the exact opposite just because.”
With that bad attitude in mind, I decided the only way I’m going to get out of this little town is I got to do something extraordinary. I loved pinball, music, movies and video games. I decided I’m going to learn how to write video games. A neighbor loaned me an Apple II computer. I started coding. Not long after, my dad in the barber chair, he's got insurance salesmen over there and someone says, “The company sent us one of these IBM PCs and nobody in the office knows how to use it.” My dad says, “My son's good at computers. Why don't I call him up right now and see if he can come in and help you?” Dad calls me up and says, “Roger Elmquist over here needs some help. His secretary doesn't know how to use a computer. Do you think you can help him?” I’m like, “I think I can.” That turned into a real job and it paid a hell of a lot more than McDonald’s and I couldn't get a job at McDonald’s because it's a small town and all the smart kids have jobs at McDonald’s. The dumb kids start working with the secretaries. That turned into some guy walks in there who's an agent client. He says, “I got this trucking company and I need a billing system. Do you think you can write that for me?” I’m like, “I think I can.” I made a commitment.
Dustin
You don't have Google. How are you figuring this out, with sheer determination?
Mike
I’m pulling it out of my rear end, pulling it out of my imagination. I figured it out. From there, I took a job at a little retail center selling computers. I also spent about maybe 60 days, I went to a vocational school until I was about to get kicked out for not getting anything done, but I had my own business. That didn't count. Entrepreneurs don't get rewarded in the traditional educational system. There were some other things in between. I started working full-time when I was sixteen years old in the neighborhood gas station. I learned how to network and connect. That's what happened. What happened is one of the ways I learned how to write code, here's the other answer. I used to pirate a lot of software and I knew how to remove copy protection.
I figured out how to disassemble the software. I wrote in machine language. Back then there were all kinds of little tricks you'd have to do copy protection. I figured out how to disassemble that stuff. I got the attention of a guy who not only removed copy protection. He wrote software to do that. He had a video game company and I got this guy's attention. I said, “I want to write video games.” He goes, “Write me one. If you write a game, you have a job.” I wrote a little game demo in about 30 days. I’d learned how to program the Macintosh. That was new at the time. I got myself a job. I quit everything, moved up to Minneapolis and then one thing led to another.
Dustin
You went from that in your head, that determination and that rule-breaking persona. You went there and then you started signing clients for Digital Cafe like Sony and General Mills. How do you go from this renegade kid to now you have the first ever interactive digital media agency signing Fortune 500 companies?
Mike
The theme here is I couldn't win by playing by the rules so I had to break them and make up my own. You've got to realize back a few years ago, the way agencies worked is it was like the high priests of creative selling media, all of which were hard to get into. You had to play a game, which is you had to dress like a little snooty doody. You had to be a little tippy-toe kind of agency. To be a high priest in the agency world meant you had to pretend you're something. It's an actor's job. I had a business partner, we became business partners. I got interested in filmmaking. Along the way with video games, I started buying equipment. I built a mini studio. I’ve always loved audio engineering. I also bought a graphics card made by AT&T at the time that would overlay graphics on the video. I got one of the first video systems called the Video Toaster, which Penn and Teller were in town selling it and schlepping it with a company called Alpha Video at the time.
A lot of people don't know this. Those guys were the first people to do desktop video. I figured out how that stuff worked and because I had a coding background, I knew how to connect the stuff. I met two guys who had made five feature-length movies by the time they graduated from college on Super 8. This is a film. I’m like, “Let's make video movies.” That thought for people didn't make sense, but it's video. We started writing the screenplays. What happened was I started getting networked with the creative groups. A lot of agencies at the time, the idea of doing video graphics and desktop publishing were brand new to these. The agencies didn't have that skill set, but I knew how to teach. I knew how to communicate. I knew how to tell a story.
When a video game guy who knew movies, music and media came around, it's like it was a rare combination. We got hired to make at the time floppy disk movies to sell stuff. No one knew how to capture a frame of video and put it on a computer monitor and be able to manipulate it. Photoshop was brand new. I was part of the pirate community. I had access. I had every piece of software that existed because I knew everybody on the planet who did it. I didn't have money, but I knew how to get around. I knew how to swap and trade. I’m not saying I’m proud of it. It was the only way I could learn. I had access to every tool and through that I got to meet the programmers too. I knew the community. Pretty soon it was this legendary punk could come in and it's a smorgasbord. We got hired to do weird stuff. BMW, we did a screen saver. CompuServe was new at the time. It was AppleLink, CompuServe. I met Murdoch’s kid on CompuServe. He's the younger one of the two, the brothers are always fighting all the time. He's the creative one. He hired me to do some screensavers for whatever their online service was at the time, Delfi.
I started posting the stuff we were doing and then 20th Century Fox contacts me. I was doing online marketing back before the early ‘90s. There was no internet, but I picked up this and pretty soon my partner Dean and I, 20th Century was like, “Come on out and meet with us.” We ended up building a screensaver CD-ROM that shipped in Rolling Stone magazine to promote a movie. There was no internet. How are you going to move high volume, high data? We put trailers on a CD-ROM. That led to the big thing we did. We got hired by General Mills to produce a game called Chex Quest, like Chex the cereal. The video is Doom. We got to meet the Doom guys and they were gods at the time. Name the hottest video game now, it's like meeting the creators of that. We licensed the tool, made the product, produced the music and the animation. America Online subsidized six million CD-ROMs being shipped. It was a big commitment. Cereal sales increased and then we got the attention of the big agencies, the publicly traded guys and we got acquired is the bottom line.
Dustin
That was the first company you exited from. What's your advice in terms of entrepreneurs that are in that situation or want to go there? Maximizing value and exiting right, what's your advice? You've done this four times.
Mike
You got to find your unique thing. That comes from showing up, doing it and having the courage and confidence, which gets harder the older you get. As your testosterone levels, your hormone levels start to change. Getting up in the morning, having that drive, having that grind, you got to practice it all the time. What does happen is I know after four, what matters is do you have a product that consistently can be sold to an audience who loves you and says, “What else do you have? What's next?” Start that conversation. If you think of any product whether it's Snapchat or you're making sensors that do optical character recognition on a highway. The point is it doesn't matter what the business is. Can you train an audience to want to buy from you and create a conversation of desire with a little bit of je ne sais quoi. It's got to be, “How do you elevate value?” You do that by creating some legend, creating a character. You have to become and be. It's got to be done authentically. Does that mean you can stamp stuff?
We're at Berkshire Hathaway. I talked to these two guys. They're in the business of printing packaging for McDonald’s wrappers. We had a conversation. They're like, “What are you doing?” I said, “Here's what I do.” He goes, “I don’t know how the hell.” The last conversation I want to have is how are you going to print these stickers cheaper? I go, “You’ve got to have an elevation conversation.” It comes down to you've got to build a system that consistently sells a product that you can create a story that elevates the value so the perceived experience, which is what it's about, is higher. The conversation we are all in now as business owners, we're moving towards more elevated humanity. We still have a lot of low-frequency activity going on, but we're shifting from a doing economy and a knowing economy to being economy.
What that means is getting paid for who you are, whether it's you as an individual or a brand is what the game's all about. Build a brand that someone recognizes or they say, like digital café for example. Even though this wasn't true, they'd go like, “Digital Cafe. I think I’ve heard of that.” It sounds like something you’ve heard of. It’s a great name. We’d go to New York City or we'd go to LA, “I’ve heard of you guys.” I’m like, “I bet you haven’t,” but I wasn't going to say any of that. I’ll take the extra money. That was what happened. It's about creating that conversation, creating these stories. It's creating that desire and the demand and a feeling. People have to feel something when they hear it and they see it. It's about packaging.
Dustin
One of those things being a book and we talked about that. Everyone, every business owner should have a book as lead gen, as positioning his brand. One of the things I wanted to get into and is a perfect time is you've worked with a lot of influencers and celebrities. I know that's on people, that's part of the brand conversation. Align yourself with people that are well-known and you’ll elevate. How did you come to do deals with Robbins and Paula Abdul and the many others that you've worked with? What's your advice for getting their attention and then putting together deals?
Mike
There's a bunch of good stories. All of them have something in common. I’ll start with a story which is the day I met Richard Dreyfuss. I’m a movie guy because I grew up in the Star Wars, Jaws era. Even if you fast forward, Richard Dreyfus is an Academy Award winner and he's still making movies. He's an older guy. I was on a flight going to South by Southwest. I jump on the plane, I sit down and right in front of me I overhear two guys saying, “Do you see who's in front of us here?” A guy says, “It's Richard Dreyfuss.” I think to myself, “I want to meet Richard Dreyfuss,” and I still got my little young kid story. My farm kid, Eagle Lake, Minnesota, dumbass thing going through my head like, “I’m not good enough to meet him. I’m the dumb kid from Minnesota.” I’ve got that whole going on. I’m like, “What do all celebrities have in common?” They all have non-profits. They are always trying to raise money. They've got something going on, they've got their cause. I look up Richard Dreyfuss and I type in Richard Dreyfuss foundation, Richard Dreyfuss non-profit in my phone. Richard Dreyfuss got a non-profit. I’m like, “I got it.”
I always travel with my Sharpie pen in my bag and a couple of books. It doesn’t matter what my book is, but I got a couple in my bag. I wrote something on the front cover and I sign it. As we're getting off, I wedged myself, jumped into line right behind them. As we're turning off the plane, I say, “Mr. Dreyfuss, my name's Mike Koenigs and I have some ideas that will help you raise money and awareness of your non-profit.” He turned to me and he said, “Come with me, boy. I need you. Tell me what your idea is.” I go on and say, “First of all, I’ve got to ask you some questions.” “Go ahead.” I go, “How often are you traveling?” He goes, “I travel all the time. My back's killing me. I had surgery. I’m fat. If I could get off the road, that'd be the best.” I go, “Great.” I ask him questions about who he raises money from, how often he travels, pain questions, what stories inspire people and make them want to partner with them. He's thinking and by this time I had given him my book and he's holding it. We get outside, we sit down and he goes, “Where are you going?” I go, “I’m going to South by Southwest.” He goes, “Me too.” He goes, “What flight are you on?” I show him and he goes, “It’s the same flight I am. I’ll make sure we're sitting next to each other.”
The next thing, we're sitting next to each other for the next leg of the flight. I’ve got the selfie and the deal there. By the time we're off the flight, he wants to get-together. He had connected me with his assistant and I said, “I got an idea. Why don't you come to my studio? I got this great studio. I’ll interview you and that way you’ll have a video that you can send out for fundraising.” The other thing is at the time I had an instant customer. I said, “I got this system, this tool for capturing leads and I’ll have my team build the system that will send out follow-up videos of our conversation so that you don't have to raise money.” He's like, “You're saving my life.” The first thing he says when he walks into the studio, because a couple of weeks later he walks into the studio, we sit down and start shooting. I had told him he should write a book too. He goes, “I’ve been writing a book for a few years. I can't get the damn thing done.” I get to tell him the book writing story. He says, “Your damn book’s on my desk, I see it every day and it reminds me that I haven't written a book.” It's like that.
The whole point is I’ve always met celebrities through referrals. The secret to meeting a celebrity. The way I met Tony Robbins was through Pam Hendrickson. The way that came about is I responded to an infomercial when I was $250,000 in debt, fat, divorced and running Digital Cafe into the ground. I went through Tony's programs. It changed my life. The guy who took my order over the phone is Chris Hendrickson, Pam Hendrickson’s husband. He was my personal account representative. When we moved to San Diego, the first day, the guy I call is Chris and I said, “Why don't we get-together for dinner?” Pam, Chris, my wife Vivian and me, we sit down. We were instant friends. Pam is pregnant. We had Zach, six months apart from our kid. We became good friends, spent a lot of time together. When Tony was trying to figure out how to make online marketing work, she had been working with them producing products. She said, “Do you think you can help Tony out? He'd like to have a studio where you can make videos and he’d like to know some ideas on how we can promote Robbins online. I’m like, “I think I can do that.”
He lived in Palm Desert at the time. I spent a day with him. We had a great rapport. I went away, I came up with some ideas. One of them was the product that became Money Masters. It became the big introduction where I was good friends with Frank Kern, Brendon Burchard, Jeff Walker and Russell Brunson. I knew everyone. I said, “Tony, I’ll introduce you to the smartest guys who know online marketing better than anyone. I’ve already talked to them and we’ll do a launch for you.” Frank wrote the copy, we did videos. We ended up creating a product where he interviewed all of us. Instantly elevated. With Paula Abdul, I met her through a friend of mine named Janet Attwood. Here's the true reality with most actors until there was an Instagram and a Facebook is they had no direct conversation with their fans. They never owned a list. How were they going to get in touch? Janet said, “Do you think you'd meet with Paula and give her some ideas in how you can market and promote?”
I said yeah. We got together, spent some time and she said, “Can you come to meet with my manager and me? I got to do this shoot with Sprint. Do you think you can direct me? You’re the only person who knows.” I’m running around, helping her out. It makes for a great story. It's always a referral. The answer is how do you elevate your own value? Tell your story in a servant’s way so you are first in mind to solve someone's problem with your product and service. That's the way and the nature of celebrity-ism and movie stars and all that is they don't know everyone wants something from them. When you're a superstar, everyone wants something. How do you get past that? It's got to be through a trusted relationship, who’s observed your behavior and knows that you’re heart-centered, authentic and congruent. Those things pop up. Celebrities aren't easy to work with. They're getting pulled in a million directions. You're subject to a hundred of someone else's agendas. You’ve got to find a way to carve out something that's yours with them. It takes some time.
Dustin
I want to go to the movies. You've had two movies that I know of. One you went and raised some money around, the other you did in-house. What did you learn from those two separate movies? You said you've always had this passion for AV and all that, but I’m curious as to why you executed on the second movie.
Mike
This is something I’ve never talked about publicly, but I’ve shared it with my son who's sixteen. When I was fourteen or fifteen, I taught myself how to play trap drums. My dad's a talented guitarist/singer. We had a bass guitar at home. Dad said, “You're going to play bass.” I was like, “Dad, I want to play lead guitar.” “You're going to play bass.” I ended up playing the tuba. Here I am, accompaniment musician and deep inside I’m looking at the stage to going, “I want to be a star someday.” I’m playing drums and I’ve got a bunch of neighborhood kids. One kid played guitar, another kid played guitar and I’m playing drums. Someone else played bass better than me. I taught myself how to play drums. We play in the basement. Next door, there was a Volkswagen repair shop. We'd be playing in their garage and then someone will say, “We're having a party over here. Why don't you come over and play?” It was a gig or whatever. I’m like, “This is working.” I always was a big AC/DC fan. I had my moment where someone said, “I’ll play drums. You get up there and sing.” I used to mock sing and I’d be singing. My buddies were like, “You’re great.” I get up, it's my moment and I forget the words in front of everyone and I lose it. From that moment forward, I never stood in front again. I was always the accompaniment guy.
By the time we had Digital Cafe and my business partner made a deal with me, he said, “I won't sell the company unless we make our movie.” By that time in the background, the real reason we started Digital Cafe is so we can make movies. We never got around to it because we're busy trying to make a living. We had worked on some screenplays. We got mentored by a guy named Dan Bacaner. He executive produced the Coen brothers’ first movie Blood Simple. We're getting help. We wrote seven screenplays. One of them was good enough to make into a movie, but the deal was unless I agreed to take some of my money out and my partner Dean did it. We went out and raised money Hollywood-style. We made a feature film called Bill's Gun Shop. We shot it in high def. We did it in a video back when everyone was doing film and when we get the thing done, there are no screening rooms. We couldn't get it shown. We got accepted into festivals. No one had a screening room for high def. We’re too early. We thought we're going to get so much attention. People would say to us, “It looks like video.”
By then we're out of money, out of time. We finally got it done and edited, it was August 22, 2001. You know what happened on September 11, 2001. It devastated the indie film business. We couldn’t sell our movie. We finally got everything done. We have it edited. Several months later we finally sell the thing to Warner Brothers. We never got our footing back. The lesson I learned from that was when you put control into someone else's hands for distribution and creating it, we did everything Hollywood-style with union actors and all that, it pissed away a lot of money. Dean wanted to play in Hollywood and this was his ticket. It was complicated for a couple of bumpkins who are trying to make a feature in Minnesota. It started his career, it got him going. I learned a lot from experience, but that's when I decided the next feature I’d make, the next movie, I was going to control it. If you fast forward into the future, there are two lessons here.
One was when we started doing big product launches, if you think back to the dawn of product launches like in the Jeff Walker days, they were all long-form sales letters. I had Traffic Geyser, I knew how to make a video, I knew how to perform on it. Andy Jenkins wrote our first big launch video and the copy and that became Main Street Marketing Machines. It made $9 million in a week. What's the connection with filmmaking? If you think about it, a product launch at that time, each video was about twenty to 30 minutes long each. We wrote, produced and starred in a feature film that made millions of dollars that we had total control over. Every one of our launches, we did thirteen blockbusters, multimillion-dollar launches. We produced the equivalent of three features a year that made money. Along the way, at some point I got introduced to Tesla cars.
Dustin
What's the other movie you made?
Mike
It was a documentary called Life with Tesla. The idea I had was I wanted to find a way to step out, differentiate myself and be able to tell a different story. I bought the Tesla, which at the time having an electric car was unusual. My plan was I wanted to find a way for the United States government to pay for my car. Here's the way we did it. I had solar panels installed in my house. I got the car. I did a documentary, production expenses. The whole story was how can you drive a car and power your house without any electric or gas bill. That was the premise behind it, tax deduction. We had total control and then we gave it away. It hit festivals and we got some awards and stuff like that. The truth was I wasn't equipped, nor did I have the time, resources, people to propagate it properly. I ended up doing my own online TV show, a blog with a studio, which I got on TV.
We did 22 episodes and shot it as though it was a television program. I’ve always loved production and doing all this stuff, but I couldn't figure out how to make a living at it consistently without flipping the switch and doing something different. I felt like an outsider. How are you going to get distribution? Create your own. You look at where we are now, it's easy to take for granted that you can pull out your mobile phone, press a button, and be broadcasting live on Instagram. When we started doing our first live cast in 2008, it cost me $20,000 to use Ustream for a show. You're paying by the viewer. That was a big chunk of cash and super risky. It wasn't like you got a phone with a nice app, you press the button and everyone joins up. We had to do everything. It was hard.
Dustin
Is there a third movie stewing up?
Mike
At this moment, a lot of influencers are creating their own movies. I have a rule which is I never enter a crowded market worth a bunch of lemmings jumping off the cliff into the ocean to drown to death and their body's holding someone else down. Every business I’ve ever done, everything I’ve ever done, I either want to be first or I want to find a way to differentiate uniquely. At this moment, there's so much noise because Amazon's throwing so much dough. The value of production at the moment is an all-time low. Equipment is basically free. I know people who are building studios and they can't give away time in there. That was one of the reasons why I got rid of my entire studio with all my gears. The answer is yes, but I’m going to do it differently. It's got to break some rules, it's got to break some laws, and it’s got to break the rules of distribution. It's got to be something that fulfills a purpose, a cause, something that elevates humanity and it's got to blow something up.
Dustin
You're in the space arena. What are you doing in space and aeronautics?
Mike
Several years ago, I decided I had outgrown who I was, what I did, why I did it and, in a way, some of who I was doing it with and for. I always have loved small business and entrepreneurship, but along the way I’d have a conversation with a billionaire and they'd say, “Can you work with me?” I’d be like, “I got this business. I’ve got all these things.” If I take on a billionaire as a client right now, something's going to break. I don't have the mechanism to take them on. I had enough of that happen. I was like, “It's time.” Social media marketing, it's yucky now. It's noisy, corrupt, corrosive and divisive. I don't think it elevates humanity as a general rule. It's a soul-sucking waste of time, for the most part. I’m not saying I’m not going to use it, but it's not elevating humanity and amplifying. I don't feel good about it. I’m like, “Screw it. I’m not going to do it anymore.” Info marketing was done. I woke up and it’s funnels. It's like, “It’s another funnel and I don't want to have that conversation.” I don't want to have a conversation about niches anymore. That doesn't mean I won't use it.
I thought what is interesting now? What elevates humanity? Creativity, innovation, leadership and space, like medicine. What do we need now? What's going to be completely obliterated? What's going to blow up? The foundations of our society, our education system’s a wreck, our medical system’s a wreck, our governments a joke. The leaders are a joke. Media is a joke. It's time for an evolution. That's when I decided it was time and sold, liquidated, created some white space and sure enough you create some white space, the universe abhors a vacuum. This opportunity pops in front of me. Phoenix Space is the name of the company. It’s some interesting folks who had been in aeronautics doing Department of Defense, military and non-military stuff for many years, they took their intellectual property, a bunch of NASA patents. It got all wrapped up into this business and what they have is a unique tow line technology.
Imagine you have a jet that tows a glider, a drone with a missile attached to it with a satellite on the tip. Instead of a rocket, which is complex, super expensive and they break. If you're going to launch satellites, usually you're sharing space. It's like a rideshare service. They might put a couple of hundred satellites inside the nose. Putting stuff in space is a two-and-a-half, three-and-a-half year waiting list. It’s super expensive, time-consuming and risky. These guys have a bunch of technology. A jet’s been around a long time. Missiles have been around a long time. Drones are smart and getting smarter. The idea is you pull the drone up to about 20,000 feet and that's the most complicated, expensive part of rockets. It releases the tow line and the missile attached to the drone takes off to the edge of the atmosphere where it decouples. The drone goes back down to an airport. The missile launches the payload in lower at the orbit and you got a satellite in space. They can do it in a day. They can do multiple launches in a day from an airport. The devices are separate, they don't have human beings next to a missile. In rocketry, that's complicated and it's well-managed. There's a lot of rules you got to abide by here with the tow line. That's their unique value proposition.
Like any kid I’m like, “I like the idea of space, going to space and participating in space.” I became an advisor, became an investor. As a result of that, I figured out a few business categories that are super interesting. If you look at this, the world is a crowded space. It's ultra-crowded in social media, launches, marketing and info products. There's so much noise. It's a total commodity. Here's something new. There are not a lot of players. You can have the same conversation, but that company, when they put one missile into space, the company's worth $1 billion the next day. If you look at history, that's what happens. It isn’t about the money, but you’ve got to keep score. There are a few businesses like that that I’ve been advising and some of them are ordinary. This one's like the moonshot. I’ve got a couple of moonshots.
Dustin
You got a little pep in your step in the morning.
Mike
It’s interesting stuff and I like the people. They’re really smart. It's a good conversation starter.
Dustin
You have helped raise money for a lot of different things, $2.4 million for Just Like My Child. What does Just Like My Child do? Why are you passionate about this foundation?
Mike
Just Like My Child has our key program they do call the Girl Power Project. What it does is they've created a self-replicating program for educating girls in developing worlds. It's replicable anywhere for educating them, keeping them in school, teaching them about their bodies, teaching them about the value and importance of education. As a result, when they go through the program, they stay in school, especially when they start having their periods. They’re not ashamed. We're in Africa in particular. You quit going to school and they don't have menstrual pads, just simple stuff. Around that age, it's not uncommon to get sexually active, either be sold, traded for animals or be put into early sex slavery, which is also called marriage when you're twelve to fourteen years old. This is a program that flat out works. It's made its way. It was recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative, CGI. The Obama administration recognized it in its Let Girls Learn program two times.
Texas A&M has validated the data proving that the system works. It's ready to go worldwide. The real backstory behind it is my wife started the organization. Her parents are Holocaust survivors. We had three back-to-back miscarriages after Zach was born and my wife was left in this place of, “I want to love more children. What am I going to do?” She said, “There's a holocaust happening over in Africa. I think I can make a difference.” She started traveling. She witnessed a woman who died in childbirth, which is common over there and the baby that was born was a baby girl. She asked what's going to happen to her. Probably will be disposed of because they're going to give this baby to a family of relatives because two generations have died of AIDS. They’re poor farmers. Girls have no value. They need boys. Now they got another mouth to feed, which they can't feed anyways. Drop it in the latrine is what the solution might be.
Vivian says, “Save that baby, how can I save more?” That started a conversation, which then became building hospitals, schools, but they realized the number one thing you can do is educate a girl. You educate a girl, keep them in school, they learn about their bodies, they don't marry stupid, alcoholic, lazy people who pass around the disease. I’m oversimplifying it and making a broad generalization. If you look at the data and you spend some time visiting, it’s often what happens. The system flat out works. My wife's been there 31 times. I’ve been there six. My son was there five. For his Bar Mitzvah, he raised money, gave 100% of that money and built a school over there. We've integrated this into our lives. For my wife, she's a queen. She's an amazing human being. I admire her and she is my conscience, which all of us men need that and my inspiration. It's an honor and because of her, we started incorporating fundraising into our business model.
The best story I can tell you, which is replicable was a few years ago, it was back in the internet charge times when I remember Vivian and Frank Kern and that whole gang were all friends. My wife asked Frank for $100,000 for the foundation. He says, “Instead of writing out a check, Mike and I will do an event. We'll charge $1,000, let 100 people come in, we'll give 100% of the money to the foundation.” That became an event we called Paid for Life. A bunch of people we taught them product creation, put on a good event and it worked.
The next time, we brought in a bunch of other marketers. All the old guys in the business all came and spoke. We also made offers. They sold products and gave the money and we raised $350,000. That model became something that when you go to an event now and they incorporate fundraising as part of that and have something to give away, that was the evolution. A lot of the ways that we raised money, a lot of other people in the business, that's now a system that you see came from that. We developed a great way to get people in a room, get them excited about a cause. The truth is when you incorporate giving into your business, your clients are more loyal, they invest more with you and they trust you more because of your heart’s wide open. It pays to have a platform. It pays to have an audience. People raise their hands and say, “I love who you are. I love what this means and I love how I feel.”
Dustin
We're fortunate here at WealthFit for that and understand the power that it yields and the great things that it can produce. For folks that want to find out about the foundation, the book program, who you are as a person, where's the best way for someone to keep tabs with you?
Mike
The place to start is my website, MikeKoenigs.com. Just Like My Child is JustLikeMyChild.org. Beyond that, I’d say go to my podcast, which is MikeKoenigs.com/ca or CapabilityAmplifier.com. That's the website. That's the podcast I do with Dan Sullivan from Strategic Coach, one of the finest and smartest human being. He's an amazing human being. I’m privileged to work with him. Start there and reach out. Follow me on all the social channels. Even though I said nasty things about it, I do post on Instagram. I am on Facebook. I do pay attention to it. It's how I do it now that's different.
Dustin
Michael, thank you big time for being on the show. I appreciate you coming on and doing what you do. My request is this. If you found value in this conversation or know someone that could benefit from hearing Mike's story, please pay it forward. Share the wealth as we like to say and share it with someone that could benefit. That's it for now. I can't wait to have you next time.

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