Episode 13 - Jayson Gaignard
A Seat at the Table: How This High School Dropout Started a $2M a Year Business
4 Key Learnings – Jayson Gaignard
About this Episode
Jayson Gaignard is the founder of Mastermind Talks, the Mastermind Community, and the host of the Community Made podcast. Jayson runs an event for 150 people once a year, charting between $10,000 and $12,000 per ticket. He has one employee, incredible margins, and is the classic example of someone who jumped off of the proverbial cliff and learned how to fly on the way down. His events have featured the likes of Tim Ferriss & Gary Vaynerchuk. On this episode, Jayson shares with us the things he’s learned along his journey. You won’t want to miss it.
“I realized I was earning 22 times the national average income, which in some business circles is celebrated, but for me I realized that money and happiness don’t always go hand in hand. I wasn't 22 times happier than the average male. I wasn't 22 times healthier.”
More on – Jayson
Many people are phobic about networking events. But Jayson Gaignard’s by-application-only Mastermind Talks are different. Entrepreneurs gladly paid $7,500 to become one of 150 attendees last May. Gaignard has gotten more than 15,000 applicants for those spots in the past.
Friendly and unpretentious, Gaignard is a natural connector who does things like send email introductions on video. His ability to wrangle speakers–such as Tim Ferriss, James Altucher, Lewis Howes, and surprise guests like Gary Vaynerchuk–has helped to draw an audience of successful entrepreneurs each year.
Connect with Jayson
- The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
- Tribe by Sebastian Junger,
- The Tim Ferriss Podcast
- Community Made Podcast
- Chili Pad
Welcome to the Career Hacking Podcast. I’m your host, Max Altschuler and today’s guest is Jayson Gaignard of Mastermind Talks and the Mastermind Community. This episode is brought to you Sutra Super foods. SUTRA is a healthy and beautiful superfoods latte and alternative to coffee. It gives you balance and natural energy without any caffeine or stimulants. I love SUTRA Gold with tumeric, and ginger root, and maca root in the mornings. Tastes like a spicy chai. I drink the SUTRA Black in the afternoons with activated charcoal and raw cacao and it tastes like a healthy hot coco. Beautiful too. It’s great for traveling because it comes in stick packs and I can have it easily on planes, trains, and hotels. It can be made hot, iced, or even into a smoothie. It’s definitely my new favorite drink. Check it out at sipsutra.com and if you haven’t already, check out my book, Career Hacking for Millennials.
We’ve got an incredible show for you today. We’ve got Jayson Gaignard on here who’s the founder of Mastermind Talks and the Mastermind Community. He’s also an author. He wrote a book all about building relationships and bringing it back to his Mastermind network. Jayson runs an event for about 150 people once a year. He charges $10,000 a ticket, actually a little bit more. $10 to $12,000 a ticket. He’s got a business that’s making about $2 million a year for him. It’s just him and one employee. His margins are amazing. He dropped out of high school and this is a pretty special entrepreneur. Somebody who kind of jumped off a cliff and learned to fly all the way down, and built this community out of nothing. He’s gotten Tim Ferriss to speak at his events. Gary Vaynerchuk is another one so you get some really good A-list and inspirational entrepreneurs at his events. We’re really excited to have Jayson on the show today.
Jayson, thanks for coming on, and I would love to hear more about the Mastermind Talks, and the MMT program, and I guess start there. Tell us a little bit about kind of what you’re working right now.
Yeah, so Mastermind Talks is an invite only event and community for entrepreneurs. Since our inception in 2013 we’ve had over 16,000 entrepreneurs apply for MMT, which is capped at 150 people annually. It’s a really interesting group of individuals from various different industries from traditional brick and mortar businesses to kind of wearable technology and everything in between. We hold an annual event every year. We change location every year. This year’s in Park City in September. Last year was in Karmel in May. Yeah, I mean, I pretty much live my life one Mastermind Talks event a time, so I’m in crunch time right now. We’re 88 days away from our next live experience. Yeah, that’s MMT in a nutshell.
That’s great. How did you get started doing these? This seems kind of like a build your own path type thing, obviously. No degree that goes into this or anything else. How did this get started?
Yeah, well, there’s definitely … there’s a lot better ways to make money. That’s for sure. I don’t know too many people who sit down and are like, “I want to get in the events business to make a lot of money.” Ultimately I had a successful e-commerce business which I grew to about $7 million a year over four years from outside investments. I was traveling the world making a ton of money. With all that money and all that free time I started to ask myself questions like, “Why am I here? Will I be remembered? How many people will show up to my funeral?” I was not happy with the answers I was giving myself. Also, around that same time I realized I was earning 22 times the national average income, which in some business circles that’s celebrated, but for me I realized that money and happiness go very differently. I wasn’t 22 times happier than the average male. I wasn’t 22 times healthier.
Actually I had kidney complications because of stress when I was 23, so I had almost this crisis of meaning at a very kind of early age and ultimately I discovered that after being an entrepreneur for seven years I had built a business I hated to enable me to buy things I didn’t need, to impress people I didn’t like. I just felt like I was stuck on that hamster wheel and got out of … became comfortable with the idea of scaling that business down to zero. Even though I could have sold it, it would have meant that I would have stayed in that business probably for another year or two years. I just couldn’t do it to myself so I decided to scale it down to zero. Things didn’t necessarily go as planned. Actually, before I started doing this someone posted on Facebook that they had an extra ticket to go see Seth Godin in New York to participate in one of his speaking engagements, one of his workshops.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Seth’s work but I’ve never had an opportunity to see him speak kind of live in person. Didn’t know what it was about and I got there and it turned out the theme of it was the connection economy and how there’s huge value in connecting like minded individuals. At the time I just felt very disconnected and isolated as an entrepreneur, because up until that point I built my business oftentimes at the expense of my relationships or at the expense of my health and those kind of things. I started these things called Mastermind Dinners where I’d invite eight entrepreneurs out for dinner with the core focus of connecting them. I didn’t do this as a business.
I was paying for these dinners out of pocket but I just loved being in proximity with fascinating entrepreneur who were up to some really cool things, and continued on with these dinners for a few months and then had an opportunity to do an event with Tim Ferriss, who I’ve known for a little bit. Just saw it as a chance to do what I do at the dinners but on a larger scale. Because I was in transition at the time I didn’t plan to make MMT my career by any stretch. For me it was my thought process was that I could focus on planning an event for the next six months. It was very project basic. I can focus on that for the next six months and then after that I could kind of figure out what I’m gonna do as far as really making money.
I always say that ignorance, confidence, and hard work can go a long way sometimes when you’re an entrepreneur. Because of my ignorance MMT turned out to be rather different than most events. It’s actually significantly closer to the planning of a wedding than it is a conference, just because of it’s high touch nature, and assigned seating, and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, because of our unconventional methods we yielded unconventional results, I guess you could say. That first event was a big success so we decided to do a second one, because I thought the first one was a fluke because it’s generally really hard to make money in the event space-
-and it’s really hard to do events period, but we had a second event. The second event was incrementally better, but then we decided to kind of really double down on it and the rating, I guess, of our live experiences has gone up year over year. Our next event will be our sixth one, and that’s the one that’s taking place in Park City
Wow. I want to know two things. I want to know how you curate such a amazing intimate audience. I mean, you know Tim Ferriss so how are you connected there? Then before that let’s get into the business model real quick.
You know, you said it’s really hard to make money in events, and it is. Bigger events are actually in a lot of cases sometimes a lot less profitable because the costs just go up so much and there’s only so much you can charge, but your events are smaller and intimate so your costs are probably a lot lower, and you’re charging high ticket fees. You don’t have sponsors, do you?
What’s the model there?
Yeah, so I like that they credit that I’m some genius and foresaw this model far in advance. Well, that wasn’t the case. Initially when I started I didn’t know how much to charge because I had no point of reference. I mean, I had no experience in the event industry. I’ve gone to events but not all that much. I reached out to a few friends of mine who produce events and they said, “Well, with the speakers you have you can probably get about $1,000 a person, max.” I was like all right, I’ll charge $995. Initially people would apply. If I thought they would fit I would extend an invitation, all that kind of stuff, and they were securing spots at $995.
Well, because we had so much demand out of the gate, we had 4,200 people apply for that first event, I’m like, “You know what? I’m gonna send 100 people, let’s say, to a landing page and I’ll charge a higher price and just see what happens.” That higher price was $3,397. I had just as many people signed up from a conversion rate perspective at the $3,397 price point as I did at the $995 price point. For me, the people who signed up at the $3,000 price point were better quality people. Ultimately that’s all I really cared about.
I just wanted really good people at MMT. That’s how we became a high price point event. Usually when you have success in this industry the common strategy to scale from what you said is bigger events or more events, but instead of scaling in size every year we scaled by raising the price and the caliber of people who attended. Our event year one was at $1,000 to $3,000 range. Year two was $4,500, $7,500, $10,000, now it’s $12,500. That’s been our kind of scaling model.
Yeah, so how did you become so well connected where you could find the people who could spend this kind of money and are other entrepreneurs who are bringing value to the events, and find the people who got you off the ground like Tim Ferriss and whoever else was an early speaker for you?
Yeah, so I can touch on that two different ways. As far as speakers are concerned this is a really unique story as far as how I got Tim. Tim was coming out with a book called The Four Hour Chef and that would have been, that’s his third kind of book that he came out with. He had Four Hour Work Week, Four Hour Body, and then Four Hour Chef. Three weeks before he released the book he realized he was gonna get basically a ban from all retail distribution. Barnes & Noble, Costco, Wal-Mart, everybody. Being a two time New York Times Best Selling Author, obviously the expectation is that your third book is gonna a bestseller a well. He had to think kind of quick on his feet and he’s one of the best just book marketers I know. He created this book bundle campaign that if you buy five books he’d give you additional resources. If you buy 50 books maybe he’d do a webinar with you or something like that.
He had this Hail Mary package that if you bought 4,000 books he’d do two speaking engagements. At the time I was doing these dinners. I thought of a friend of mine named Scott who does these big events in Canada called The Art of. We’d have a couple thousand people that show up at every event. They have nine events a year. I sent him an email. I said, “You know, this is a great opportunity for you because Tim doesn’t speak that often and he’s never spoken in Canada.” The minute I clicked send on that email I said, “You know what? This is a great opportunity for anybody really.” Tim was only offering one package and I ended up emailing Tim and said, “You know what? I’ll take the books.” I bought $84,000 worth of books.
Initially. Then the fun part of this story is that I kind of told you I got out of my last business but two things happened that were beyond my control on the way down that landed me a quarter million dollars in debt. I was in a terrible position when I started Mastermind Talks. I didn’t know how I was gonna make rent let alone come up with $84,000. In my last businesses I’ve always built them on credit cards. I built a few seven figure businesses never raising any capital or any of that kind of stuff. In the case of this 84k that I had to come up with, I had to come up with that money in three days because those books need to be ordered that week. It forced me to kind of overcome some of those, I guess, those beliefs so to speak. I was raised don’t ask for help from anybody. My father was a very proud person and that kind of stuff.
I ended up calling three friends that morning. The first one said, “Sounds interesting. Can you share some more numbers and some figures?” I’m like, “I can’t. I don’t even understand this business or this market.” Plus I’m not an entrepreneur that thinks in numbers. I just see opportunities and I jump on them and then I’ll figure it out as we go along. So to the person I’m like, “I’ll loop back with you.” The second person I called said, “Sounds awesome. Let’s start a business together 50/50.” I said, “This sounds really cool. I have one more person to call.” The third person I called said as I started kind of explaining it he said, “Come to my office tomorrow and pick up a check,” and didn’t ask about the business model. Didn’t ask about … didn’t talk about repayment terms, none of that kind of stuff. I didn’t question it.
The following morning I picked up that check, I deposited it, I sent the money to Tim right away. That’s how we got Tim as a speaker. The funny thing is is after Mastermind Talks, a couple months later I reached back out to that friend, I said, “Why did you give me that money? On paper that’s like the worst investment you could make. A 27 year old entrepreneur with a wife, a six month old daughter. I don’t know how I’m gonna make rent. I just failed off my last business so to speak and this is an industry I have no reference for. I have no experience in.” He said, I’ll never forget it, he said, “I wasn’t investing in the business. I was investing in you.”
When he said that two things became clear. One is, you never know the value of your network until you really need it. The second thing is when you hit rock bottom in life, and we all hit rock bottom, but being left with two things. One is your relationships and the second thing is your word and the integrity of your word. Always invest in relationships and never tarnish your word ultimately. That’s how we kind of got Tim initially for MMT and then really what I did was I built the event around Tim. There’s a philosophy called Anchor Tenants in real estate where if you have a mall that’s just flailing or something like that, if you get at Nordstrom’s, a Nordstrom’s may attract a Macy’s, and a Macy’s may attract and Apple and all that kind of stuff. With Tim I knew I could get people who were friends with Tim to speak for free. Well, people were already connected with Tim but never at the same place at the same time. I made the event almost like a catalyst of reconnecting with all of his friends.
It was a much easier sell for me to reach out to somebody and be like, “Hey, we’re doing this event and, yes, we don’t have any money, but we have Tim Ferriss there and I know you haven’t seen him in a couple years and all that kind of stuff.” That’s how we did MMT.
Tim’s an A so you could get a bunch of Bs now who are really good for your event still, because they want to speak with an A.
Being on the same lineup with that person-