MBP #9: How Josh Dorkin Attracted 160,000+ to the Bigger Pockets Real Estate Community
I remember the first time I met Josh. It was at a conference in 2012, FINCON, being held in his hometown of Denver. I forgot how we got to talking but he mentioned he started a site called Bigger Pockets. I’m not a big real estate investor but one of my friends is and my friend, over the years, has often sung the praises of Bigger Pockets and what an awesome resource it is.
It wasn’t until later that I realized the site had over a hundred thousand members. Nowadays, that number tops over 160,000 – a number I can’t even wrap my head around.
What do you have to do to build a site that has so many registered users? What do you have to do to entice them to stay? We go over all that and much much more in the most entertaining and combative episode of the Microblogger Podcast so far!
What will you learn in this episode:
- Why Josh started Bigger Pockets and how differentiated away from all the other “real estate get rich quick” businesses
- How he got the first hundred users to register and use Bigger Pockets
- How establishing a distinct culture in the forums helped Bigger Pockets grow
- Why they started Pro accounts, and how the enticed people to sign up for it
- How building tools also built their audience (and how they pick what tools to build)
- How to build tools people will use, rather than what they say they want
- How the blog propelled growth and how he was able to convince real estate professionals to contribute (now up to 30-35 contributors)
- How Josh held a successful Bigger Pockets conference two years ago but decided against doing it last year
- Why he started the Bigger Pocket podcast (and Youtube, Slideshare, etc.)
- How press isn’t always as awesome as everyone makes it out to be (but it still helps)
- We discuss Carrie Rocha’s successes on media, who was our guest on Episode 8 of the Microblogger Podcast.
- Why Bigger Pockets started a publishing division and sold over 10,000 books in less than a year
- How Josh manages a 160,000+ member forum so that it’s a nurturing environment
Josh is a good friend of mine and his experiences (and success) with Bigger Pockets always inspires me. If you felt the same, please join me in thanking him by clicking to tweet @jdorkin to let him know!
- Flipping Calculator
- Rental Calculator
- Bigger Pockets Blog
- Bigger Pockets Podcast
- BiggerPockets Presents: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Real Estate Investing (Kindle)
- A BiggerPockets Guide: How to Rent Your House (Kindle)
- The Book on Flipping Houses: How to Buy, Rehab, and Resell Residential Properties by J. Scott
- The Book on Estimating Rehab Costs: The Investor’s Guide to Defining Your Renovation Plan, Building Your Budget, and Knowing Exactly How Much It All Costs by J. Scott
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known each other for a little over two years, but it feels like it’s been a
lot longer, probably a little too long.
He was afraid that he came off as a joke in the podcast as he talked about
how awesome Bigger Pockets was, how they had 160,000 members, and how
awesome he was as a businessman, a leader, a visionary. But now that I’m
recording this intro by myself, I have to admit something: he kind of is a
jerk. That’s okay, I’m only kidding.
He’s actually a really nice guy who’s extremely smart, and we’ll talk about
what he did to grow Bigger Pockets into the enormous success it is today.
Everything from getting the first hundred users to releasing products, and
always studying other industries for inspiration. I’ll be back at the end
to fill in any gaps. Enjoy.
Hey Josh, how’s it going?
Josh: Is this how we start the show?
Jim: This is how we always start the show.
Josh: Is this the energy?
Jim: This is the high energy that I have.
Josh: Well Jim, things are going really well. I’m super excited to be here.
Jim: You don’t sound like that at all.
Josh: What’s up, man? Thanks for having me on. I’m really psyched.
Jim: Yeah, I’m excited to have you on. It doesn’t sound like I’m that
excited, but I’m excited.
Josh: No, it really doesn’t.
Jim: You got me all laughing before we started recording.
Josh: For everybody, Jim’s a little sick, so I might have to take over and
ask him questions.
Jim: That’s all right. It can be your show then. All right, I’m done. That
was it. This is the end.
Josh: This is the Dorkin Show, it is the . . .
Jim: I wanted to talk to you about Bigger Pockets; I don’t want to talk
Josh: Let’s do it. Nobody cares about me.
Jim: I want to know, so Bigger Pockets, real estate . . . you told me that
it was a real estate social network. Tell me what that exactly means.
Josh: That’s not exactly what I told you, but if you want to misquote me,
you can misquote me.
Jim: Okay, what is Bigger Pockets then? Why do 150,000 people decide to
put in their information and register?
Josh: Yes, 160 actually.
Jim: Well you should update your website.
Josh: Is this how the show’s going to go?
Jim: This is the most combative episode I’ve ever recorded and will ever
Jim: You have yourself to thank for that.
Josh: That’s great. That’s great. All right, so Bigger Pockets, think of it
like a LinkedIn for real estate investors. I don’t know if you really want
or care about the history, or if you just kind of want the general premise
of what it is.
Jim: General premise. We don’t have to go into the fact that it started as
the Entertainment Prose Network.
Josh: All right, so Bigger Pockets, think of it . . . when I started real
estate investing, I was looking for help. I needed folks to kind of guide
me. I was making mistakes as most people do when they get into that
business, and the only help that I was able to find at the time was kind of
the get rich quick guys, you know, the people on late-night TV with the
Ferraris and the bikini ladies and all those.
Jim: The $10,000 seminars where it’s really just a pitch for a $20,000
Josh: Yep, yep. So that whole world basically dominated real estate
investing. There was no platform; there was no alternative in any which way
that was not tied into that. And I needed some place that I could go and
trust and not feel like I was kind of going to need to take a shower after
being on the website. So . . .
Jim: You built it?
Josh: I built it, and the idea was let me just get some help for myself.
Fast-forward almost ten years now and Bigger Pockets is 160,000 plus
members strong, 550,000 monthly unique visitors.
We’re kind of the . . . are the trusted destination for real estate
investors to network, to get information about investing, to help them
learn to do deals, do business. It’s crazy. I mean what started as a place
for me to look for help for myself is now this platform where business gets
done on mass levels. It’s amazing.
Jim: That’s awesome. The growth rate was the one thing that really
surprised me. Granted everything takes a little time to get going, but it
took two years for you to get to 1,000 users and then another two gets you
to 12,000 and from there it just flies up. How did you get the first
hundred users onto the site?
Josh: Sure. So I didn’t know what I was doing. This was before there were
bloggers talking. I mean this was before everything, right? And so the only
thing that really was around back then were forums, and Bigger Pockets
started as a forum.
Jim: This was in 2004?
Josh: This was ’04, and I’m trying to figure out how do I build some kind
of community? How do I get people to answer these questions that I have? I
didn’t want to go to my competitors and go on their websites and be like
“Yo, check out this cool site that I’m building. It’s the best, yeah!” I
thought that would make me as shady as . . .
Jim: It would. It would.
Josh: Yeah, so I never did that. What I did was I went to ancillary
communities and I just provided value in the way that I was able to do so.
So for example, I would go to some kind of . . . I went to webmaster sites.
I went to finance sites. I went to different related and non-related sites
where people may or may not be talking about real estate.
I would go and I’d answer whatever questions I could answer and I had a
nice little forum signature and little by little people would drip in. So I
think that’s probably where the first hundred people came in was really
from that. I mean I did nothing other than that.
That was the only way that I built the community early on. It was just from
connecting in other communities, people seeing that I kind of knew what I
was talking about and they would kind of follow me back to my world.
Jim: So rather than going to real estate forums, you went to these other
random places and then went to their off-topic section or real estate
within personal finance? Because then you were no longer competing with all
these other folks, some of which were the shady types.
Josh: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: People you didn’t want to necessarily associate with. And then by
becoming an expert there, you could entice them to come to Bigger Pockets
to learn more and interact with them some more.
Josh: Exactly. And then again, I’m now not . . . I’m not that guy who’s
walking in somebody else’s playground trying to send them over to mine. As
I always like to say, Burger King doesn’t let McDonald’s advertise in their
world. It’s one of those things that I still to this day find weird.
I get an email every week or two from somebody who’s pretty much a direct
competitor saying “We want to advertise on your platform.” I think to
myself, “I don’t know, again, would McDonald’s let Burger King advertise in
I’m not going to let you grow your community off my community so you can
compete with me. I don’t know, I think it’s a little bit of a strange thing
but that’s just me.
Jim: It makes a lot of sense because it’s just a numbers, sort of
competition-type game. You’re not going to be able to go somewhere else
where that person is doing what you’re doing and expect to entice their
readers or whatever to always come over. You might get a little bit, but
you’re more effective doing the approach that you did.
Josh: Really quick, I’ll tell you what though, over the years a lot of the
platforms, I mean when we first started, that I looked up, I’m like “Wow,
I’m not even gunning for these guys. I just see them.” Now they’re smaller
sites than we are.
But a lot of those sites have all sent people to our community, shilling
for their community, using our private messaging system to try to come
over. There’s been a lot of shady doings and a lot of shady dealings from
competitors. It’s interesting.
Jim: That stuff might work on a one-by-one single case or whatever, but I
don’t think you can grow to like you did, 150,000, by going into other
networks and saying “I want to send a private message to each . . .” It’s
just not possible.
Josh: No, no. The scale comes I think from . . . I don’t know. I think
there’s a bunch of tipping points that we experience. I can probably go
through them all, but the listeners probably don’t really care.
I think the important ones were we established a culture. We created a
culture that was very distinct and unique. It was something that didn’t
exist at the time, which was let’s create this place where the upselling is
gone; it doesn’t exist.
The community is kind of . . . we try to keep it “pure.” It’s about people
helping people and people not pitching and selling people constantly. Is
there a way we can do that?
I think once we started to get to some small critical mass, the word
started to spread, “Hey, these guys, it’s kind of a cool environment. It’s
totally different than what else is out there.” People saw that they could
compare apples and oranges and say “You know what? I want Bigger Pockets; I
don’t want this other stuff.”
Jim: You talked about tipping points. The big ones were culture. What was
the . . . I saw you started introducing tools, and the first one was this
property analysis tool.
Josh: So way back in the day, we partnered with somebody to offer this, a
property analysis tool. That wasn’t something that we had built. I’m
guessing you’re talking about the ones we’ve started to build recently.
Josh: So back in the day, really quick, we actually partnered with somebody
to build . . . because we realized people are coming to our site and
there’s certain things that they want.
They’re there, they’re networking. They’re communicating. They’re doing
business, they’re learning, but there’s other tools in the space that are
of interest to them, so maybe we should start providing those to them
whether it be through partnerships or by building them on our own.
You know, that’s one of the big things we always deal with. Does it make
more sense to build? Does it make more sense to partner? But in terms of
the property tools we’ve got a flipping calculator and a rental property
calculator, and these two tools are designed to help people basically
analyze the deal.
Does this deal make sense? Do the numbers work? You know, we kind of took
it a step further and created these nice reports that they can print out.
If they’re one of our pro members they can personalize it, put their
branding on it, and what’s nice is as a real estate investor you’re always
asking for money. Investors are constantly begging, asking for money.
Jim: Right, right.
Josh: Whether it’s traditional banks, private money, partners, you name it.
The cool thing about these reports is you can now take it to these
partners. It’s professional-looking, and here’s everything. You look like
you know what you’re doing, even if you may not necessarily.
Jim: Yeah, yeah. How much impact do you think those tools as you create
them has had on people registering and signing up for pro and things like
Josh: So we’ve had our pro accounts for years now. What we’ve learned is
you’ve got to build a feature set that people want. It took a very long
time to get the first few pros. The idea was we’re not partnering with
these get rich quick guys, getting these huge splits.
We need a way to monetize this community. Advertising alone isn’t
necessarily sustainable. So can we transform from a place that’s just ad-
based to a destination that we’ve got multiple streams of income coming in?
We’ve got the partnerships, and let’s add in these paid accounts where
people are going to get a value-add.
The thing that I wanted to make sure of was, again, the reason Bigger
Pockets was created was to create this community where people didn’t have
to pay a fortune to get real estate education.
So there had to be a really fine line between what are we offering for
paid? And a lot of people have said “Josh, what are you doing? Close your
community off. You give everything away for free.” You can learn soup to
nuts what people pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for for free
on Bigger Pockets, and people think I’m an idiot for doing that.
I’m just democratizing the information, that’s it. The paid accounts are
giving people value-adds. They’re giving them tools. They’re giving them
the ability to do deal-making at a higher level, to find . . . we’ve added
some features that are kind of like what LinkedIn is.
What LinkedIn does is lets you better find people according to different
criteria. But those paid accounts, it took a long time to get them to the
point where people cared.
Jim: Right, right. Were you building the tools because you wanted to
release pro, or did you have pro already and you were building these tools
in order to be able to have these features that separated pro from regular
beyond what you already had?
Josh: So we had pro already and the idea was can we go and take Bigger
Pockets from this social network and SAS-imatize it, so to speak? Create
more of a SaaS platform out of it. And so, you know, these were . . . in
was an additional feature that would incentivize more people to upgrade to
Jim: Okay. So going all the way back to when you still only had a couple
thousand users, did you build anything to entice them? Or did you just sort
of . . . what did you use to keep growing at such a fast pace?
Josh: It was me. I used myself, my energy, my enthusiasm. So when I started
I was working a full-time job. I was teaching high school. Nights and
weekends, I was on there. I was connecting, communicating with people,
asking people to spread the word and talking to everybody and anyone I
could about what we were doing.
Even though you say fast growth, I look at it and I say “Wow, this has
taken a long time to get as far as we’re going.” I mean we’re growing at a
much nicer clip, but what’s funny is over the years your idea of what’s
successful . . .
Jim: Yeah, your expectations of success are the benchmarks.
Josh: It’s fascinating.
Jim: Yeah, because when I looked it up and it said . . . because it was
only until what, 2006, that you started publishing. I think when you broke
through a thousand you started publishing on the homepage, the numbers. Two
years to a thousand, it’s pretty good I think. I don’t know, I’ve never
looked at the growth of forums. But then another two years to 12,000.
Jim: Granted, I’m sure back then you were excited when you broke 10,000.
Josh: I was excited when I got user number five.
Jim: How long did it take to get user number five?
Josh: It probably took a good couple weeks.
Jim: Couple weeks?
Josh: We get five users an hour. We get more than that now.
Jim: That’s awesome. So when you said you did a ton of work, all this
outreach and whatnot, one of the things that I saw that you had relatively
early on, you had a bunch of things that no longer exist now, at least I
don’t think they exist anymore. You had a chat and things like that. But
one thing that has sustained is the blog. What’s been the impact of that?
Josh: So, getting to the blog in a sec, the things that we killed off,
that’s just been experimentation. Anybody who says they know what their
users want I think is crazy. We poll our users. We ask them all the time.
We have a huge network now of people that we’re asking, and they’re always
going to tell you what they want. And when you . . .
Jim: Yeah, how often do you build something that they say they want it but
they actually don’t even use?
Josh: All the time. All the time. Not last year, but the year before last,
we killed off five major products. Major products. Every few months we kill
off another product that we’ve built. It’s funny because you’ll get emails
from people like “Hey, it would be great if you guys could do this and da,
da, da.” We’re like we’ve had that for a long time. Nobody used it.
Now I can’t necessarily blame our users on that. Part of the blame is on us
and part is on them. Did we build the product the way it needed to be
built? Did we teach them about it? Was it integrated into the platform well
enough? I can’t blame them completely for the failures, we have to take
some blame on the failures because maybe we screwed up.
We try to re-evaluate that and see where that is. To the blog, which I
think most of your listeners probably care the most about, the blog started
. . . I think it was, and you probably looked it up, I think it was ’05 or
Jim: Something like that.
Josh: Yeah, I think it’s eight or nine years old now. Back then nobody was
really blogging. I remember Wil Wheaton; that was like the blog I knew. I
had seen a couple people were experimenting with real estate blogs, and
none of us knew what we were doing.
Blogging back then was literally going to the New York Times, grabbing
three paragraphs, writing an introductory sentence saying “Oh, I found this
awesome article on the New York Times,” and sharing it. That was a blog.
Josh: It took a long time for us, for everybody, to figure out what can you
do with this platform? How do you really reach people? But yeah, things
have come a long way since then. It was me, then I figured I was getting
somewhat burnt out so I added on a contributor and today we’ve got, I don’t
I think we’ve got 30 to 35 regulator contributors who contribute every week
or bi-weekly. If you add everybody who contributes kind of en masse, we’re
probably at 40 or 50 people right now.
Jim: Wow. How do you find these people?
Josh: So early on it was very difficult. It’s much different today. Today I
get an email every two days saying “Hey, I want to contribute to your
Jim: “I love your work. You’re the best.”
Josh: “You’re fantastic.”
Jim: “I want to link to this guy I know. He’s not paying me.”
Josh: Exactly. Exactly. But in the early days it was “Listen, I’ve got this
blog, it’s starting to build an audience, and I know you’re really savvy;
you’re smart. You don’t really have a blog; you’re not writing anywhere.
Would you be willing to come on board and write with me?” My first
contributor was all for it. He’s like “Yeah, it’s another place to get
visibility for myself. Why not?”
And when I realized that people found value in that, I saw that there was a
way to scale this thing and grow out our team, bring on other contributors.
And you know, that’s what we do. And you know, beyond the visibility
through the blog itself, we give them visibility in other ways as well.
We’ve got our newsletter which goes out twice a week and we make sure to
link to their posts and highlight their pictures so people start to know
who these people are. When the press calls, as they typically do, instead
of taking all the love so to speak, we’ll pass people on to our writers
first and foremost.
Our team is good, but we’re not experts in every single field. So if
somebody wants to know about flipping, I’m not the guy. I’m going to send
my flipping writer. If someone wants to know about mortgages and tax liens
and all these different strategies, I’m going to point them to the other
So we want to promote them. We want them to get the visibility. We want
them to feel like they’re getting some value beyond just the traffic which
they get to their site, which all of them say typically we’re their top
Jim: Wow, so some of them are bloggers, because, initially, none of them
were. So you’re finding an investing guy or flipping guy and trying to pick
the different areas within real estate investing that you were either tired
of writing about or you didn’t have enough expertise, and seeking those
folks out to fill that hole?
Josh: Yeah, so our goal is to cover every niche within . . . our niche.
Real estate investing is a very nichey area, so to speak. You know, we’re
kind of the ugly stepchild of the real estate world.
But within that niche, there’s a ton of different niches as well, so I want
coverage of all those, because I want to become the go-to place, I want to
become the hub for that information.
Jim: Okay, so the blog is an example of a feature or a “product” that has
worked well. What’s a big one that you killed that you were kind of
disappointed didn’t work out well?
Josh: So here’s a great one. We built, five or six years ago, a meet-up
style events hub. It was fully functional. You could go on, you could list
your events and people could join the event. You know, just like a
Really, that thing was useless. Nothing was happening. Some people would
use it, but there wasn’t a lot of value in it. What we realized was having
this place that was dead looks really bad for the business.
If people end up there as the first place that they go, they’re like “Well
this site sucks, there’s nothing happening.” The cool thing about that
particular product is we may actually end up reintroducing it.
Jim: Because you introduced that local thing, right?
Josh: So we’ve got these keyword alerts that people can kind of find out
about any keyword that’s being discussed on the site, which is great, but
that keyword alert led to people planning local events on Bigger Pockets
and now we’ve got dozens and dozens of local real estate get-togethers,
meetups, gatherings, whatever you want to call them, happening across the
United States as a result of, A) people’s interest in going to events where
they’re not getting pitched and sold stuff, because again these don’t exist
right now, and B) because they want to get together in the real world.
And to me, that’s the coolest thing about what we’ve created. Not only have
we created this place where people kind of nerd out online, but they’re
getting together in-person, sitting down, drinking, networking, and above
that they’re also doing business which is really the ultimate goal of what
we’re doing here.
Another quick product was we had groups, and you know, you go to Facebook
and there’s groups and LinkedIn and everywhere else. And 99.9 percent of
groups, I’m sure everybody agrees, are just spam hellholes. Ours were too.
We had hundreds and hundreds of groups on the site, and what they just
became were places where people could go promote, advertise, spam, spam,
spam. We looked at it again and were like “Is there value here?” It’s hard
to kill a product. It really is.
Knowing that a big percentage of your people may be using it . . . but I
think in killing a product, if it betters the overall experience on the
platform, I think it’s something worth doing. So I’m not afraid of killing
off products that I think have a negative effect on the business.
Jim: So you said the meetup type of thing you created five or six years
ago, roughly around when you had 12,000 members. Do you think you just
created it too early?
Josh: Very possibly. Very, very possibly. Yeah, we didn’t have critical
mass at that point to have it make sense.
Jim: And it sounds like now there are all these events happening
organically. You don’t create a . . . well, you might create a Denver
event, but you’re not going to create a Seattle, Washington event but a
bunch of people in Seattle are going to do it.
Josh: Yep. I mean literally our people are so enthusiastic about Bigger
Pockets because it brings them so much value, they want to get together
with other BP members. They like to call themselves members of the BP
nation. So these guys want to get together. I mean we had a New York
meetup, there was one just last month, there was 75 or 100 people at it.
These are not like five-people events. Some of them are, but there’s
substantial groupings of people getting together.
Jim: Well 100 person events start off as five person events, right? And
they grow and they grow. The one thing that you started and not necessarily
killed, but the Bigger Pockets conference I just thought of, that you did
not last year but the year before?
Josh: It was . . .
Jim: Two years ago.
Josh: It was ’12, yeah. March, 2012.
Jim: So would that be an example of something that you did? Maybe it took
up too much time? But wow, how come it didn’t occur last year?
Josh: So the Bigger Pockets conference was planned when Bigger Pockets was
a company of myself and a developer.
Josh: While running the site, doing advertising, working with partners,
moderating, adminning, spending 80 hours a week on my business at that
point, I also planned a conference for 275 people, 30 speakers, 15 sponsors
at a convention center 100 percent by myself.
Jim: Which is insane.
Josh: Which is insane. It was a thousand hours or so of work. I planned the
conference in three months and executed the conference. So I had a serious
burnout. Our attendees, we polled them and surveyed them afterwards. All
but one person said they found incredible value, they would want to come
again, they thought it was fantastic, and ironically the one person who
said they didn’t find incredible value and they said it was overpriced was
the guy who actually ended up getting a free pass to the conference.
Jim: That’s funny. So that’s an issue of . . . I mean it was great, it was
effective, everybody loved it, but you just only have so many hours in a
day and you were just burned out? Do you think you took on too much?
Josh: Well, I think at the end of the day, the event is a very, very
positive thing for our brand and for the business. You know, if you look at
how much time I spent and I walked away with nothing. I mean I made
probably a dollar an hour off the conference. But to put that much time to
serve 275 of what at that time was maybe 75,000 members or 60,000, I don’t
know, did that make sense? I don’t know. That’s one of those things we
still toil about.
So to your follow-up question, why didn’t we have one last year and why
haven’t we had one since? I was planning one last year. We were very
excited to do it in Austin. My wife was pregnant with our third baby and I
realized that planning a conference with a kid on the way was not going to
So you know, and then this year, we’ve just been experiencing a lot of
growth at the company. So we’re really focusing on our core, which is the
web platform. At some point . . . we’re in the process of calling different
convention centers and different venues to potentially put the event on at,
but again there’s that time energy and the resource drain.
Where are our resources best applied? Does it make sense to put a bunch of
team members on the conference where this year we’d probably plan for 500,
this or next year? Do we put all this attention to serve 500 people, or do
we put our attention towards the 550,000 people?
Josh: If we’re going to do it, it’s got to be worth your time, it’s got to
make money, and it’s got to be an amazing event that’s going to really help
to grow your brand and your name. Not that I’m not convinced that that’s
the case, it’s just I think it’s kind of a coin flip at this point.
Jim: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. But the other thing that you did
start 59 weeks ago or whatever is the podcast.
Josh: This is the Bigger Pockets Podcast featuring Jim Wang.
Jim: I think you were trying to tap into that energy. We just have
Josh: Yeah, yeah, you know? I’m not combative.
Jim: I’m not combative either. I’m defensive. That’s all I am, a little
Josh: A little defensive. Just a little bit.
Jim: You just called me combative.
Josh: I don’t know. I don’t know. Go get a tissue, man. Wipe the tear off
Jim: Oh, jeez. We’re going to have to edit this out.
Josh: So yeah, 59 weeks. 59 weeks ago we started the Bigger Pockets
Jim: By the time this comes out it’ll probably be 120 weeks ago.
Josh: You know, you never know how far behind you are Jim. I had wanted to
do a podcast for years. I know that everybody knows Pat Flynn and one Pat’s
big things is be everywhere. And I’ve also had a similar approach. I think
I learned, I don’t know how many years ago, what happened was Google has
all these algorithm changes and one day one of these algo changes just kind
of whacked us really hard. I was like wow, that hurts. That hurts really
Jim: Yep, yep.
Josh: I sat down and I was like “Listen, I’m so reliant upon this one
company to bring us traffic, to bring us users. What happens if Google says
‘Piss off, Bigger Pockets. We’re not going to list you and you guys are
going to disappear.’?” I’d be in deep, deep trouble.
Jim: Deep trouble.
Josh: So I wanted to find a way to reach people in other paths. So we’re
doing YouTube. We’re on different networks and we’re putting our message
out via different platforms, SlideShare, you name it. But the podcast, man,
I had no idea what we were in for.
We started this thing in January of 2013. We’re 59 shows in. We do a show a
week. The growth has been absolutely incredible. We are, after 59 shows,
we’re at over 20 . . . we may be close to 21,000 listens per show.
Josh: We passed a million total listens a month or two ago. It’s nuts. Not
only is it fun, I mean I love doing this, it’s awesome . . . you know, for
us, the cool thing about our show is we get to talk to experts in our field
and we get to pick their brains.
Jim: Right, right.
Josh: And we get to ask them questions that we think our users want to hear
about and want to know about, and they do. And so the show’s just been
amazing. And the great thing about it is it has become a new driver of
users to Bigger Pockets.
So you know, people are finding it, whether they’re finding it through
search or they find it through iTunes, as we’ve grown we’ve gotten on all
these Apple top lists and top business podcasts and top investing podcasts.
We just keep attracting new listeners, and as a result, new users to Bigger
The enthusiasm level from those people who come from the podcast to the
site is dramatically higher than somebody who just finds the site and is
like “Oh, cool, this is a great place to be,” because they’ve gotten to
They know who we are. My co-host is a guy named Brandon Turner. He’s
amazing. We kind of bust each other’s chops for somewhere between an hour
and two hours on our longest shows.
Jim: Two hours? That’s a long time.
Josh: We just did a two hour show, but people love it. And the reason we do
these long shows, what we found is that our listeners are listening on
their drive to work, on their drive back, while they’re working out. And
early on, they were always saying, when we were having only 52-minute
shows, “Well this thing’s not long enough. I want more. I want you guys to
ask more questions. I want to get more out of this interview.”
Yeah, we thought about doing a two-part series. I’ve never been a fan of
two-part series on blogs; I’ve never been a fan of it on podcasts. So we
just crank it out and make you listen whether . . .
Jim: How do you track whether someone comes from listening to the podcast
or from Google or from somewhere else?
Josh: So I mean Google Analytics is great for finding out where people are
coming from generally, but in terms of finding out whether they’re coming
from the podcast, that’s way, way harder. That’s really just talking to
Josh: Our new members, we’ve got a new member introduction section. A good
percentage of those people now all say “Hey, I found you guys through the
Josh: So it’s that, it’s polling users, that kind of stuff.
Jim: So it’s not so much you’re looking at just random numbers and
analytics, but you’re going, because you have that new intro for them, so
everyone says “Oh, I listen to the podcast. Love you guys.”
Josh: Yeah. Or they critique us and say “Josh, you’re annoying,” or
“Brandon, you’re annoying. Stop being so combative.”
Jim: Do they really say that?
Josh: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Is that why you projected the combativeness on me?
Josh: No, they don’t say I’m combative. It’s amazing when you start getting
20,000 listens a show the things people will say. It’s . . . everybody, we
love the feedback. We like negative; we like positive. The negative people
are more vocal than the positive.
Jim: That’s always the case.
Josh: It’s always the case. And you know, what you find is people want the
format to be the way they want the format to be. A lot of the comments are
“You guys talk too much; stop talking and let your guests talk.” And for
us, we don’t see the show as Larry King.
This isn’t us interviewing somebody. It’s a conversation. It’s a three-way
conversation where we’re all interacting and you’re going to learn
something from me; you’re going to learn something from Brandon; you’re
going to learn something from our guest.
Now they’re the primary focus, but we’re talking. So if you don’t like it,
you don’t have to listen. There are plenty of other podcasts in the space.
Most are pitching you and selling you and upselling you, but again we
wanted to be different.
Jim: Also part of it, as you were saying, by listening to the podcast they
get to know you more and the only way they get to know you more is if you
talk. So if you’re just asking questions like a Larry King, how much of
your personality is shining through? And that connection just isn’t there.
Josh: Right. I’m a New Yorker. I need to be difficult; I need to be gruff.
Jim: I don’t know if that’s true.
Josh: Oh, it’s definitely true.
Jim: I don’t know, I’m from New York. I’m from Long Island. Maybe that’s
Josh: I’m from Long Island too.
Jim: Oh, okay, now the deep, dark questions come up.
Josh: But you know, I went to high school in Queens, so I’ve got that
Queens thing. It’s a chip on my shoulder.
Jim: Queens, it’s one of the boroughs. It’s one of the boroughs. I say
this as I live in Suffolk County.
Josh: Yeah, there you go. There you go. Out in the rural boonies.
Jim: Rural, where we make wine. I don’t live that far out east.
Josh: Nice, nice.
Jim: So the podcast is good because it gets you a closer connection with
the listeners and the readers. It gets more people. Has there been anything
else that’s sort of driven the growth? The meteoric growth?
You have your hard work, the blog, some of the tools, podcasts. Maybe some
other tools that you’ve introduced then retired because they didn’t really
work out. Was there anything that maybe you released and surprised you with
how well it did?
Josh: So I would say there’s a couple things that come to mind. I think one
of our biggest assets, we added this keyword tool that really helped people
kind of . . . instead of pull, it became a push relationship.
Jim: So like alerts? Like when an alert came up or something like that?
Josh: Yeah, yeah. So “Hey, I’m a Virginia landlord, so I want to hear about
any time somebody’s talking about Arlington or landlord in Arlington.” And
so that’s just bringing people back in. They’re like “Oh, this is catering
directly to me.” People love that.
One of the things that I think a lot of listeners might think is something
. . . well, let me backtrack. One of the things everybody talks about is
press, and I kind of want to address press.
At least as my experience, because I think everybody gets excited about
press. We think “Hey, let’s go spend all this money and get a PR agent and
strive to get all these write-ups.” One of the things that has been
somewhat disappointing is we’ve gotten a lot of press over the years, and
that’s not disappointing, that’s great.
But early on, I was always . . . I mean when we got press, I would tell the
world. I’d email everybody I knew. I’d blast it out 10,000 times and I was
so proud of myself. And what I came to realize is it’s great, but does it
drive revenue? Does it drive users? Does it drive any of the metrics that
we care about? And what we found is nominally, it’s really mostly nominal.
So I’ve had TV spots. I’ve done radio, I’ve been interviewed on the big
platforms. Mostly, it’s been nominal. You know, granted we haven’t had a
preview on CNBC if anyone’s listening.
Jim: Oh, they’re listening. Producers are listening.
Josh: There you go. But I think the one thing I want to kind of push out to
your listeners is press is great and it helps you build your kit and your
credibility, but if you expect press to kind of blow up your site
overnight, which I expected early on, I had no idea.
I was like I remember the first time we had some kind of write-up that was
going to come out. I called my server guys and I was like “Guys, we’re
probably going to crash the sucker. We’re going down, prepare for it.” And
there was like a blip. I was like really? Wow. Like ten people from this
really good interview? That sucks.
But again, it builds up your package. It builds up your kit and extends
your credibility, so even if you’re not necessarily deriving traffic from
it, you do build branding and you do build credibility through the press.
Jim: You mentioned that because real estate investing is kind of niche, do
you think that was a contributing factor to not how little, but how little
impact some press . . . like you said, you weren’t on CNBC where it was a
bunch of investors.
Josh: We’ve been on CNBC’s website. I think there’s a distinction between
being interviewed about a topic, so in my case getting hit up by the press
to talk about real estate . . .
Josh: And having the press write about your company, your platform and why
it kicks ass. Can I say ass?
Jim: You just did.
Josh: I did.
Jim: It’s cool.
Josh: So why your business is so cool. And we’ve had those, and those have
been the ones that have given us the little blips. But again, I had a two-
and-a-half minute feature piece here in Denver on CBS News and it was
It was all about how our company’s helping real estate investors. Yeah, it
was fun. But in the end I think we had like a hundred new users on the site
Again, we’re niche. We’re real estate investing. But if you look at the
marketplace, 28.1 million people are real estate investors. So we’re not
that niche. We’re not that niche.
Jim: Because I know a lot of personal finance blogs that rely heavily on
PR and getting on TV and in the news. It’s almost like a cornerstone of
Josh: But does it work?
Jim: I’ve never asked if they’ve tracked the numbers, but a lot of them,
they swear by it. Part of it’s also, I guess, the whole novelty of it, it’s
kind of cool.
Josh: It’s cool and sexy, right? Yeah.
Jim: But I always found, at least with [inaudible 0:41:37], I would get in
like the New York Times or whatever. They’d be personal stories. I remember
the first time, like in 2004, they interviewed me because I published my
net worth and published my budget.
Josh: I still think you’re crazy for that, by the way.
Jim: Yeah, I don’t do it anymore. Very few people do it now. It’s still
part of it, but back then it was even more taboo.
Jim: But that resulted, I don’t know, it was a couple thousand people. But
what did it amount to really? A couple more dollars in AdSense? And it was
awesome; it was great. I’d do it all over again. I’d get in the New York
Josh: Oh, sure.
Jim: It’s just cool. But in terms of spending the time, it’s almost not
worth it. One other thing is I did a couple interviews on Marketplace
Money, and I love Marketplace Money. It’s a great show. But it would be
like four or five hours. I’d drive down to D.C. I’d sit in an office. We’d
record and I’d drive back. It would result . . . I wouldn’t even notice,
like when the show came out, I wouldn’t even notice a blip. It was still
Josh: Yeah, again, so I think it’s cool. I bet you if you go back and look
at your analytics, your Google Analytics, and look at did this create a
step-up on your traffic or does your traffic start exploding at that point,
most sites would probably say no.
And if your listeners have proof that the press has worked for them, I hope
that they’ll jump on your show notes and leave comments and share pictures
and share analytics with dates. I mean that would be awesome, a case study
to kind of see the effectiveness.
Just because it didn’t work for me or for you necessarily, doesn’t mean
it’s not going to work for somebody, but I just put it out there because I
think it’s one of those things that especially early on, until you get your
first couple write-ups, you’re so excited.
You want to get press so bad. In the end, I think over the long haul, it’s
probably just very incremental in terms of what it helps you with.
Jim: Yeah, I think nowadays with a lot of people relying on email, it’s
easier to see the impact if people are subscribing.
Jim: And for that, whereas for Bigger Pockets, when they register they
might have to put a little bit more information. When it’s just a popup, I
guess the bar is a lot lower to contribute. You just have to write in your
email. Plus, you don’t know when people subscribe, and they’re probably not
tracking. They may subscribe just to get your freebie and leave. That
part’s hard to track. Nowadays, I think it’s easier to see if there is an
impact. I know Carrie Rocha from Pocket Your Dollars, last year she told me
she went on 350 at least TV, radio, being in the paper.
Jim: Yeah, I’m going to have her on to talk about it because I’ve talked
to her about it before and it’s crazy the insight she has about that. And
she sees gains from it through email signups. So if you see it, then do it.
If you don’t, it’s kind of like eh . . .
Josh: Well, I think if you’re on 350 programs in a year, you’re getting
enough. And that’s . . . it’s one of those things, do you put your energy
towards that? Her plan, I’m guessing, was I’m going to focus exclusively on
this as a means to grow traffic. If you can do that and you want to commit
the resources and the time . . .
Jim: And you’re good at it. She’s good at it.
Josh: Yeah. I bet you it’s a very effective way. I look at one of the
players in our space, Zillow. They’re not direct competitors, but everybody
knows Zillow, the $85 billion dollar or now hundreds or whatever they’re
worth. You know, Zillow, I distinctly remember seeing Zillow and saying
“Wow, these guys are putting out press releases like once or twice a week.”
And it wasn’t like fluff press releases; it was press releases with data
and information. The journalists could take that information, that data,
and create an actual piece around it. The typical press release from a blog
is “Hey, we’re this cool blog.” Well nobody cares, right?
Jim: Yeah, yeah.
Josh: So if you’re providing some kind of insight, some data that helps
somebody write a story? You’re now giving them value and they’re going to
be more inclined to write that. Now the question is how many of these press
releases and how many times do you get cited before it starts to have an
impact? I’m sure there’s bigger, brighter, smart people than me that know
the answer to that.
Jim: There are a lot of brighter people than you.
Jim: It seems like you study a lot of what other similar sites, maybe even
not similar sites, what they do. Is there something that you’ve seen
someone else do that you’ve then implemented that worked well? Like press
Josh: You know, I think if I’m not studying the market, and the market not
being the stock market but the market being the Internet world, then I’m
not doing my job. So it’s funny, I rarely, rarely end up on the website of
a competing website. Most people say “Hey, make sure you know what your
competitors are doing and watch them and keep an eye on them.” I actually
don’t care. I literally don’t care what my competitors are doing because I
don’t see them as competitors.
Josh: So I don’t go to their sites. I don’t look at what they’re doing. I
don’t care. I look at ancillary products. What is box.com doing? What is
Asana doing? What is Kickstarter doing? What are they doing that’s
effective? Why are people excited these products? Why do people love these
And what can we do not to emulate or copy them, but what can we take away
from what they’re doing? That’s more of my focus. How can I learn by
watching what successful companies in the Internet world are doing and I
study those guys?
I read and study, you know, smart, successful people whether it’s on
conversions studying Peep at Conversion XL or occasionally getting over to
Pat’s site on Smart Passive or maybe ending up on Jim Wang’s site.
Jim: If I’m lost.
Josh: Yeah, if I’m drinking that night.
Josh: But you know, studying the people who know what they’re doing, who
are successful, and the brands that are doing a good job and trying to
figure out how we can put policies in place that potentially help us grow
in a similar pattern.
Jim: Did you do that in order to decide to write the books, the flipping
book? And what was the other one, I forgot. The rental property?
Josh: We wrote the book on flipping houses, the book on estimating rehab
costs, then we’ve put out a bunch of e-books as well. But no, you know what
it was? For the listeners, we actually started a publishing division last
year. Bigger Pockets has all the information you could ever want about
flipping and everything else. I mean it’s all there. We have over 750,000
Josh: On our Bigger Pockets blog, we’re over 5,000 articles. Our articles
are not like 200-word articles. Our average article that comes out today
are 700 to 1,000 words. These are in-depth, really detailed pieces. The
genesis behind the publishing was can we kind of package it as an all-in-
one? And do people care?
So one of our success stories, a guy named Jay Scott, he’s been on the site
for a long time. He’s built a very, very successful house flipping
business. He’s one of the people in the industry that I wholly trust. We
just kind of talked and it’s like “Yeah, I’ve got this book. What do you
think? Would it be something you would want to work with me on?” We agreed
I said “Listen, I’m not Wiley. I’m not a big publishing company. Do you
really want to go this route?” And in the end it was we’re independent. We
can kind of come up with a split between us. And instead of getting a penny
a book, we’re going to get dollars, lots of dollars.
We actually just last week passed 10,000 books sold and it’s been less than
a year. The average non-fiction book, according to some data I found
online, and it’s online so I don’t know if I trust it, but supposedly the
average non-fiction book, and this includes books from big, major
publishers, sells 3,000 copies. That’s 3,000 copies in their lifetime.
Josh: So I look at 10,000 books sold and I say we’re doing a pretty damned
good job. So we’ve got those books that we sell direct. You can buy the e-
books or you can buy them on Amazon. And we’ve got . . . I think we have
three books that are at some point in production right now, three
additional books that are being written or outlined or worked on to add to
These are actual full-fledged books. And on top of that we’ve got, I don’t
know, we’ve got I’m not even sure how many Kindle books that we’ve got and
free e-books and things like that.
We just put out an e-book from Jay as well, “Diary of a New Construction
Project”. In this e-book, Jay literally walks from “Hey, I’m going to take
a house and build it from scratch,” to the day he sells the house, and
walks you through every single step, every single thing he’s gone through,
showing receipts, photos, the ups, the downs, the progress. It’s amazing.
It’s almost 200 pages. We give it away for free.
Jim: Oh wow, you give it away for free?
Jim: That’s crazy. How much time do you think goes into producing each of
Josh: Man, that depends.
Jim: Sounds like it’s hundreds of hours.
Josh: Oh, if not . . .
Josh: If not thousands. A full-fledged book is . . .
Jim: When you say full-fledged, printed out on paper? Or you just mean the
whole . . .
Josh: I’m talking like a 400, 500 or 600-page book. It’s a serious
undertaking, not only the drafting, the outlining, the writing but also the
proofreading and building the pages, getting the cover, then the
production, the distribution. I mean we used Create Space for the self-
publishing side and it’s great. It’s great. It’s convenient. But yeah,
there’s a whole heck of a lot of time that goes into it.
Jim: Wow. So before you go, two questions. One, how do you manage a
membership site with 150,000 people?
Josh: Drink a lot.
Jim: Of water?
Josh: No, that’s not true. No, I actually . . .
Jim: Pounding vodka?
Josh: I don’t drink but rarely. It’s a lot. We have . . . I think we’ve got
a dozen moderators right now. We have a full-time staff of what are we, six
people now? Five people plus a bunch of part-time plus we’ve got . . .
Jim: Do you have like community moderators and things like that?
Josh: So yeah, we’ve got community moderators. We’ve got, you know, we
built a self-reporting system into the platform. That was one of the cool
moments, as well was when we implemented that where users could kind of
report other users for bad doings.
It was a definite tipping point because I wanted to put the trust in our
users that they believed in the community and they felt so passionately
about it, we wanted to get rid of the “Reddit folks,” right? I love Reddit,
it’s awesome, but Reddit’s a battle zone. I mean you go on Reddit, be
prepared to wear your armor because somebody’s going to try to slay you.
We don’t want that vibe on Bigger Pockets. I want people to come onto our
platform and feel comfortable and not be afraid that somebody’s going to
criticize them, because I think that’s the biggest fear, whether it’s
personal finance or real estate investing. People feel stupid. “I don’t
know this. Am I stupid? Other people know this.”
Jim: “I have a stupid question.” Then when they ask, it’s like a
vulnerable moment. So they just joined. They just introduced themselves.
Now they have this question about this project they’re working on and they
ask, then they get pummeled by someone who just wants to be a jerk. And
there are trolls everywhere.
Josh: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Someone just wants to be mean because they had a bad day or a bad
morning. And now you take someone who could maybe in six months be a very
big contributor to the forums because they didn’t know anything, learned a
ton, and now they’re gone.
Josh: Well not only that, they’re probably gone and they probably never got
started. They probably never did the project. And I don’t take credit . . .
I’m not trying to take credit for everybody who’s on our site’s success
because that would be crazy. But you know, it just takes a little
negativity, especially when it’s something as scary as real estate
investing because real estate investing is a very scary thing. I know
you’ve been in that world and you understand it. It’s frightening. It’s
So we want to have this environment that’s a nurturing environment where
people aren’t afraid to post stupid questions. We say ‘there’s no such
thing as a stupid question’. And if somebody comes in and beats somebody up
for a question, they’re gone. We have like zero tolerance for that crap.
They’re gone. We’re not going to put up with it.
Jim: That’s good. I like that.
Jim: Josh, thank you for your time. This has been a lot of fun.
Josh: Was there any value in this whatsoever?
Jim: I think people will get a little bit of value out of this.
Josh: For the five people who made it all the way through?
Jim: For the five people that listen to this podcast, yeah. No, I’m just
kidding. I’m sure there’s going to be at least ten. I know ten people that
can stand to hear my voice.
Josh: Well, your family is all listening to the show.
Jim: They are. They are. This is my big day. My big day! Josh, if people
want to find you, where do they go other than BiggerPockets.com?
Josh: That’s . . . so Bigger Pockets is where you would come to find me if
you have anything to do with real estate. LinkedIn, honestly I only connect
with people on LinkedIn that I know.
So if I’ve met you or had a conversation with you, that’s the only chance
I’ll connect with you on LinkedIn. Facebook, they can follow me on
Facebook, follow me on Twitter, G+, but I do keep some of those networks
sacred to . . .
Jim: It’s unsafe?
Josh: Yeah, that’s it. I’m happy to answer any questions if anyone’s
listening and cares about real estate, have them jump on, and I’ll follow
the show notes so if people want to . . .
Jim: Sounds good. I’ll tell all my friends that have any interest in real
estate to go to BiggerPockets.com.
Josh: I tell all my friends who want to hear someone drone and bloviate to
check out . . .
Jim: Well okay, time to go. Time to go. Thanks a lot, Josh.
Josh: Thanks, Jim.
Jim: I hope you enjoyed that chat. So here’s a funny story. So the first
time I meet him, we’re joking around and I tell him that he looks like Adam
Levine, the front man for Maroon 5, except he’s uglier.
I think, technically, I said he’s not as good looking, which I thought was
a compliment, and I’m not sure he took it that way but we’re still friends
so it probably wasn’t so bad.
In all seriousness, I think Josh is on top of his game and he’s constantly
innovating. I always look to Bigger Pockets to see what he’s doing to grow
his readership, his membership, and all the new things he’s doing. It’s a
source of inspiration for me.
I hope you also took a lot away from this chat about his experiences and
For show notes, links to interesting stuff and a place to leave your
thoughts, you can go to microblogger.com/9, that’s the number 9.
And finally, before you go, if you enjoyed the show and you haven’t yet
left a review or anything on iTunes it would help me out a ton if you could
do that right now.
If you didn’t love it, please, please, please just send me some feedback at
email@example.com so I can make it better next time. And if you’re into
tweeting, I can be reached at @wangarific. Thanks, see you next time.
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