How I Turned My Teenage Hobby Into A 6-Figure Full-Time Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Jordan McAuley, and I’m the Founder of Contact Any Celebrity.
Contact Any Celebrity’s main product is our Members-only online database of celebrity contact information. This includes the best email, address, agent, manager, and publicist for 59,000+ celebrities, influencers, and public figures worldwide. We also publish an annual print directory of celebrity contacts, ‘The Celebrity Black Book (Deluxe Edition): 56,000+ Verified Celebrity Addresses for Fans, Businesses & Nonprofits’.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started Contact Any Celebrity in film school to make extra money in college. It was 1997, and the Internet was just getting started. We didn’t have the Internet in my dorm room. I had to use a dial-up modem (I had been using dial-up modems since high school).
The site still does really well. It’s a small miracle that it’s my full-time job 23 years later. Most businesses don’t last that long, especially on the Internet!
Most of my friends had barely heard of the Internet and didn’t have email addresses when I started out in 1997. This was before Google and Facebook!
I built my first website using Microsoft FrontPage (no longer around). I saved up and paid $75 for a domain name at Network Solutions (that’s how much they cost back then!). At first, I ran my site as a hobby for autograph collectors and film school types. I went to film school until I graduated in 2000.
I was only making a few bucks a week because I couldn’t take credit cards over the Internet. This was REALLY hard to do in 1997. Usually, customers had to mail a check or money order (or sometimes cash or even postage stamps!). I would then print out my list of celebrity addresses at Kinkos and send it to them in the mail.
Although I started my business for autograph collectors (this was a hobby back in the 80s and 90s), I later learned from film school friends that they wanted to get their ideas and screenplays to celebrities too. So I started thinking bigger.
During college, I had 3 internships. The first was at CNN in Atlanta where I was born and raised. The second was at Cartoon Network/Turner Entertainment also in Atlanta, and the third was a modeling agency in South Beach, Miami. (I went to college at the University of Miami in Coral Gables).
My website helped me get my internship at CNN. The CNN.com department was really interested in it, so I got to intern for the head of public relations. CNN.com was barely a department back then -- my boss actually had me submit it to all the major search engines so they would get ranked in Yahoo!
As soon as I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles. Because I had done three internships, I got hired at a production company in Beverly Hills that designs opening credits for TV shows and movies. (They’re still around, and created the opening credits for ‘Stranger Things'). However, a few weeks into the job, the company downsized and they fired me.
I didn’t waste any time and had another job at a talent agency in Beverly Hills in less than a week. This was a VERY hard job. I was an agent’s assistant. If you’ve ever seen the show ‘Entourage’ on HBO, my agent boss was exactly like Jeremy Piven's character. He liked to yell and insult a lot.
Meanwhile, I was still working on my Contact Any Celebrity site at night from the kitchen table of my extended-stay apartment, totally stressed out about going to work the next day.
One day I realized I was getting paid a lot more working from home at my kitchen table than getting yelled at and insulted by my boss. So I quit!
I had a one-year lease on an apartment in Hollywood and had just bought a car, so my parents freaked out. I had to explain to them that working for myself was not only more lucrative but more secure. I couldn't fire myself!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I decided to go for it and work full-time for myself from my apartment. I turned my website into a membership site and online database. I lucked out and somehow got a merchant account. Back then, the bank sent someone to your "place of business" to take a photo and make sure you were real. The guy took a photo of the outside of my apartment complex and I somehow was approved!
I read a ton of books on psychology and copywriting and hired my first employee, a friend from college who had just moved to Los Angeles too.
I also found my first mentor, Cory Rudl of the Internet Marketing Center. He featured me and Contact Any Celebrity in his popular "Internet Marketing Secrets" course that taught people how to sell online. He later invited me to be on a panel at one of his Internet marketing events in Orange County, California.
Sadly, Cory passed away soon after at just 34 years old when his race car (a Porsche Carrera GT) veered off-track, struck a barrier, and caught on fire.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I never really "launched" the business. I slowly built it over time. At first, it was just a hobby to share my information with autograph collectors and to learn how to build a website. (This was much harder back then than it is today!). Every detail had to be coded by hand. Soon, I realized there was a greater need for it than just autograph collectors and film school types.
I started hearing from nonprofits, authors, entrepreneurs, and media people that they also needed my database. As autograph collecting died down with the advent of social media (no one writes letters anymore), I pivoted the site and marketed it to professionals.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have an affiliate program that pays 50% monthly recurring commissions. That's been great for sending traffic from referral partners.
I was one of the first businesses on Google AdWords. I was on the platform day one because I had been advertising on Yahoo! before Google existed.
Google used to send cool gifts if you advertised on AdWords. I remember they sent me a Google mini-fridge and a beach towel. Google representatives even took me to lunch at Spago in Beverly Hills to learn what I liked and didn’t like about AdWords!
Free trials work really well for us. We offer a free 7-day trial. This way Members can try the service and not risk anything. If they try us and cancel during the free 7 days, at least we get good feedback about why they canceled.
We then offer them the print book as a downsell. Usually, these are fans looking for one or two celebrities, and that’s fine. Entrepreneurs, authors, nonprofits, and the media use us long-term and know the value they’re getting, so they stay past the trial. We offer annual ($197/year) and monthly ($39/month) plans.
One day I was on a plane reading Tim Ferriss’ ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ on a plane and saw that he mentioned my site!
I didn't know Tim Ferriss, I just picked up his book at a bookstore. Turns out he had used my site, and recommended us not once, but twice in it! He still [features Contact Any Celebrity(https://tim.blog/4-hour-workweek-tools/%23targetText=Contact%2520Any%2520Celebrity) in the 4-Hour Workweek Tools section of his website.
'The 4-Hour Workweek' became an instant New York Times bestseller and remained on the bestseller list for a LONG time. I’m sure a lot of people found us because of 'The 4-Hour Workweek.'
I’ve always been good at PR and getting media mentions. Contact Any Celebrity has been featured in a lot of media: CNN, American Express Open, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fox News, USA Today, and many more. I've gotten lazy about PR lately and need to reach out to podcasts. If you have one hit me up!
One cool story is a Member who wanted to get her custom bedazzled shoes to celebrities. She used my site to send custom bedazzled shoes to Paris Hilton.
Soon after, Paris Hilton wore them on the red carpet! That story was featured in The Guardian in the United Kingdom where they mentioned Contact Any Celebrity. We hear a lot of stories like this.
I got interviewed on CNN because I had a good friend who was a producer there. It had nothing to do with my interning there. It was cool to go back to CNN Center where I had interned, only this time for them to interview ME!
One funny story is I wanted to be featured in The Wall Street Journal. I had a friend who knew a writer there and he got me an interview. I went into their headquarters in New York City and met the reporter, who asked me questions. But I noticed he didn't have a pen or notepad like most journalists. He wasn't recording or writing down anything. So I knew it probably wouldn't work out.
Then I get back to my office and found out that my employee had been chatting online with a reporter from… The Wall Street Journal!
The journalist was looking for people who chewed ice at work. My employee was soon featured in a story about ice chewing ON THE FRONT PAGE! But he didn't mention where he worked or even our website! I was like you've got to be kidding me. Sometimes you can't help but laugh.
The best is the charities and nonprofits who use our celebrity database to raise money for their cause. There are so many awesome stories I can’t keep count.
Nonprofits and fundraisers hardly have to spend any money. They use our celebrity database (on the free trial) to send out requests for signed memorabilia. Celebrities are used to sending signed items to nonprofits, and charities get some amazing items.
They then auction these items off at fundraising events for their organization, and raise thousands of dollars for their cause! Their success stories give us great word-of-mouth within the nonprofit community.
Every year we publish a print directory of celebrity contacts, ‘The Celebrity Black Book.’ The Celebrity Black Book’ is sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and more.
We use Lightning Source to print all of our books on-demand. They’re owned by Ingram, who distributes most of the books in the United States. LightningSource handles distribution to all the major retailers, online and brick-and-mortar. Though our book may not actually be in the store (though sometimes it is), a customer can order it from Barnes & Noble’s customer service desk.
I used to print thousands of books in advance and keep them in a closet in my apartment. But paying in advance to have them printed plus packing, shipping, tracking deliveries, etc. was such a headache. Print-on-demand is so much better!
Know that if you use a print-on-demand service, they are most likely using LightningSource. Save a bunch of money and do it yourself directly through them! (Amazon also has CreateSpace for publishing directly to Kindle.)
We publish three other books, ‘Celebrity Leverage: Insider Secrets to Getting Celebrity Endorsements, Instant Credibility & Star-Powered Publicity’ and ‘Secrets to Contacting Celebrities: 101 Ways to Reach the Rich & Famous’ plus ‘The Lost Secrets of Fame & Fortune.’ The latter is a book from a 17th-century philosopher who wrote maxims on power, politics, and strategy that still apply today.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today I’m focusing on writing another book, this time a memoir on my business plus working on producing content.
I also promote The National Publicity Summit where authors and entrepreneurs can meet TV producers and online editors in person (or virtually via Zoom) for national exposure. It's a great event and highly recommended if you need publicity!
I’m not great at social media, so I probably need someone to help with that. However, social media hasn't converted very well for us in the past compared to SEO and content, though. I'd rather focus on what I do well, which is SEO and content and email marketing.
There are so many celebrities, influencers, and public figures, so the possibilities are endless!
When I was first getting started it was movie stars, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts.
When I worked at the modeling agency in Miami, they were concerned because celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Charlize Theron were bumping supermodels off magazine covers.
Around 2005, everyone wanted to contact tabloid stars being hounded by the paparazzi like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and Oprah Winfrey are still the most wanted.
This year, in 2020, everyone is focused on politics. Celebrity helped Donald Trump become President. I got to meet Ivanka Trump during ‘The Apprentice’ days. Most politicians are celebrities now (or want to be).
Pop culture is always evolving. Reality stars didn’t really exist when I was starting my site, and now they’re bigger than movie stars. Social media also didn’t exist. Now we have to add influencers to our database.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I guess I was lucky in that I started really early. I was on the Internet using AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy in the 90s. Dial-up Internet with a 2,400 baud modem. My parents would get so mad because they'd pick up the phone and hear static and not be able to make a call. It was me online -- that’s what it sounded like back then. I got my website up in 1997 as soon as I learned HTML and how to get a web host from my dorm room just using a dial-up connection.
I also worked my butt off!
Since the 6th grade, I always had a summer job. I worked for two years at a local video store in my junior and senior years of high school. I learned a lot about customer service, how movies are marketed, and what people are willing to pay for. I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch and Talbots one summer, Talbots in the morning, and Abercrombie at night. I mistakenly thought malls closed at 9 pm. Nope, you’re in there folding clothes and doing inventory well past midnight!
I worked at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games selling hotdogs and beer during my senior year of high school. I had to wake up at 4 am and drive to a train station just so I could get to work by 6 am. (It normally would have only been a 15-minute drive, but the Olympics closed downtown Atlanta to cars). I ended up not getting paid because the company went bankrupt. I learned from that to always get paid first!
I did three college internships and two full-time jobs after that. I also worked on my website all through college in addition to my other jobs and internships. I definitely feel like I paid my dues. I was never very good at school. I just worked really hard!
A big mistake would be that I didn’t focus that well in the beginning. Because I started my business so early, I was partying at clubs in Miami, and after that in Los Angeles. I was young, so I don’t beat myself up for it - it was definitely fun!
I also had "shiny object syndrome", always looking for other businesses and money-making projects I could work on. Looking back, I should have just focused on Contact Any Celebrity. My site still does really well. It’s a small miracle that it’s still my full-time job 23 years later! Most businesses don’t last that long, especially on the Internet.
I’ve been able to meet some really cool celebrities. Most are super nice. It’s funny, the most famous celebrities are usually the nicest. You realize that’s why they still have a career -- because they’re nice and appreciative of everyone. I try to remember that.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
In the beginning, we used a custom database company (that is now InfusionSoft). However, they dropped us to focus on InfusionSoft. That caused some growing pains! I had to rush and have our database re-designed and programmed by a developer who still works with me. He’s great. Early on, I built my website in my dorm room with Microsoft FrontPage. Now it’s mostly on WordPress, which is so much better.
Our Membership platform is built with MemberMouse, a WordPress plugin. It accepts Stripe and PayPal. We used to accept PayPal, but our account got shut down. If anyone knows how to get it back, let me know! They never gave us a reason, they just closed our account. That’s why it’s important to always have a backup.
Stripe has been amazing. It's very easy to set up and their features beat every other merchant account system I’ve tried. Most merchant account backends are archaic, even today. We use Shopify and Amazon to sell our books. We sell more books on Amazon, but you don’t get to keep any customer information. With Shopify, you get their name, address, email, phone number, and more control of the website.
Zapier is amazing for consolidating all of these different systems. We use Drip for email, which has been great and highly customizable. We used to use GetResponse, but Drip seems to have better deliverability and control (workflows, integration with Zapier, etc.)
We use HighRise as a CRM, but they no longer accepting new customers. Honestly, we could probably use Drip as a CRM, but I always like having two backups in case one service drops us or goes under.
I A/B split-test everything with Google Optimize. It’s free and easy. That was advice I learned from Corey Rudl early on -- he would say "always be testing!" and get irritated if you weren't doing it. You might think something on your website converts, but you really don't know until you test it. For example, sometimes an "ugly" website or sales page converts better than a pretty one. CrazyEgg and HotJar are great for seeing where people click on your site and how they act.
We use Kinsta for hosting. They've been fabulous. All sites are hosted on Google Cloud which makes them faster and more secure. Their support is awesome, too.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read a LOT of books and listen to a TON of podcasts. The one problem with online marketing books is they’re usually outdated by the time they come out. Instead of books about online marketing, I like reading about the bigger picture. Books like Robert Greene’s ‘The 48 Laws of Power,’ Robert Cialdini’s ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ and anything by Ryan Holiday, Dan Kennedy, and Seth Godin.
I used to spend a lot of money traveling to business conferences. You had to pay for the conference, plus the flight and hotel, not to mention the time away. I’ve found that podcasts share the same quality of information, and you don’t have to go anywhere! If you listen to one or two a day you’ll get tons of profitable information at no cost.
My favorite podcats are: ‘Marketing School’ by Neil Patel & Eric Siu, ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’ by Tim Ferriss, ‘Side Hustle School’ by Chris Guillebeau, ‘How I Built This’ by Guy Raz, ‘The Blogging Millionaire’ by Brandon Gaille, ‘Social Media Marketing’ by Michael Stelzner, ‘Pivot’ by Kara Swisher & Scott Galloway, ‘Entrepreneurs on Fire’ by John Lee Dumas, ‘The Art of Online Business’ by Rick Mulready, ‘The James Altucher Show’ by James Altucher, ‘The School of Greatness’ by Lewis Howes, ‘The Jordan Harbinger Show’ by Jordan Harbinger, ‘Bulletproof Radio’ by Dave Asprey, ‘’The Digital Marketer Podcast’ by Digital Marketer, ‘Niche Pursuits’ by Spencer Haws, ‘Internet Marketing’ by Site Visibility, ‘Noah Kagan Presents’ by Noah Kagan, ‘Recode Media’ by Peter Kafka, ‘Leveling Up’ by Eric Siu, ‘Search News You Can Use’ by Marie Haynes, ‘Akimbo’ by Seth Godin, ‘Smart Passive Income’ by Pat Flynn, ‘Recode Decode’ by Kara Swisher, ‘Perpetual Traffic’ by Digital Marketer, ‘The Unofficial Shopify Podcast' by Kurt Elster, ‘The Digiday Podcast’ by Digiday, ‘Youpreneur’ with Chris Ducker, ‘Authority Hacker’ with Gael Breton & Mark Webster, ‘The Copyblogger Podcast’ by Copyblogger’ ‘MoneyLab’ with Matt Giovanisci & Andrew Fiebert, and ‘Online Marketing Made Easy’ by Amy Porterfield.
I listen to at least a few of the above every week. Ok, probably more than a few. But the tips and tactics you learn are worth it. (I love the PocketCasts app, but all of these are available on iTunes and Spotify for free).
These days most podcasts are also on YouTube. The great thing about listening to podcasts using an app, however, is you can adjust the playback speed. I play mine on 1.3 - 1.4x speed. (PocketCasts says I’ve saved 65 DAYS listening to this way - that’s 1,560 hours I saved just by speeding up the playback a little!)
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Start now! You get paid in proportion to the amount of value you put into the world. Find something you’re passionate about and enjoy doing that also has value to other people. Then find a way to put it out there. And don’t be afraid to charge for it! Promote your best stuff for free, then charge to work one-on-one with clients or do it for them. People want everything "done for them" these days because they don't have any time. You can charge a lot for that!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’ve had two full-time employees in my home office in the past, which was a pain to manage. Now I have virtual employees. If you’re an expert in content creation or social media reach out! Those are the two areas I need help with right now.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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