To listen to the actual interview between Small Business Naked and John Dicker click here.
Nick: You know, last time that we had you on the show, you kind of made Johnny and I look like assholes.
John: I did?
Nick: Well, maybe – it wasn’t really your fault though.
So Johnny today, we’ve got one of our old friends John Dicker online with us. Hey, John.
Johnny: John! How are you? Good to see you – or not see you but good to hear you again.
Johnny: What’s going on with Geeks Who Drink?
John: Oh, I guess I’m trying to remember where we were when last we spoke. I think we were – I think it was 2010 I believe, 2011.
Johnny: I want to say you were on Geek Bowl 3.
John: Oh my god. Yeah, that had to have been 2009 then.
Johnny: Hey John, before you go on, just in case someone is tuning in for the first time, tell us what it is you exactly do and a little bit about your company.
John: Sure. Geeks Who Drink is one of the larger companies that hosts and markets and runs pub trivia quizzes. Some people call it trivia night, pub quiz, pub trivia, what have you, at bars and restaurants. Right now we’re in 32 states or 33 at about 500 venues across the country.
Nick: Good lord.
Nick: That’s awesome. So back in 2009, how many – do you remember how many you were doing?
John: If it was 2009, it probably was about 70 maybe, 65, around in that neighborhood.
Nick: I wanted to say you were just trying to get in to like Kansas City or something.
John: That might have been a new venue at the time. I think that was more like 2010 or 2011 that we got in there. But yeah, we definitely added staff. We’ve added – we kind of had a small sales team whereas probably last time we talked, it might have been myself and one other part-time guy doing it.
Nick: All right. As we were looking back through the different episodes that we had and the different guests that we had, yours was definitely – I will just say it. Yours was the best. It was the number one.
John: Oh wow. Cool.
Nick: That’s why you’re the first guest that we’ve had on the show.
John: Oh, wow. Well, I’m honored.
Nick: Well, it’s our honor to have you John. I noticed a new tagline or something with your logo.
John: Well, we’ve kind of interchanged a few over the years. I mean there’s, “Join the revolution, wiseass,” and then there’s – sometimes we use, “Think it’s trivia? Think again.” So those are kind of the two – there are two main ones.
Nick: All right. Well, I like it. I think it’s fun.
John: Well, thanks.
Nick: Last time that we had you on the show, you kind of made Johnny and I look like assholes.
John: I did?
Nick: Well, maybe – it wasn’t really your fault though.
Johnny: You don’t remember this, do you at all?
John: Making you look like assholes? No. But …
Nick: OK. So you do this thing called trivia, right? And we said, “Well, why don’t you give us some trivia, see if we can pass your test.
John: OK. I stumped you on a few questions, huh?
Nick: You stumped us on a few questions and so …
Johnny: All the questions.
Nick: Pretty much, yeah. They were like pretty simple ones too. But anyway, so we thought we would turn the tables on you a little bit.
John: Oh, no.
Nick: But it should be something – all these questions, you should know very well because you have different themes.
Nick: So our theme is the Geeks Who Drink website.
Johnny: Are you ready?
Johnny: All right. First question Nick. Go.
Nick: So we will try and do the simple ones first and warm me up and they get a little bit harder. OK?
Nick: OK. So who won the very first Geek Bowl back in 2007?
John: Oh, it was the Moops.
Johnny: Wow. All right. I got you. In 2010, what theater hosted Geek Bowl 4?
John: Geek Bowl 4 is the – was the gothic.
Johnny: Wow, he’s good.
Nick: He’s right on.
Johnny: It’s almost like it’s his own business.
Nick: I know. We’re still in – they have these different levels like eight levels of questions …
Johnny: So we’re going to start off easy.
Nick: So we’re stang off easy. John, for those who become a quiz master, you have some compensation. What is the compensation for that quiz master?
John: All right, $50 and a $25 food beverage comp.
Johnny: Three for three. You’re not making him look like an asshole Nick.
Nick: Well, we will get there.
John: Yeah, probably.
Nick: Can you read that one?
Johnny: I can’t read it. Go ahead.
Nick: OK. How much did the first place winner take home in Geek Bowl 7?
John: Geek Bowl 7, because that’s not 8. Was it $6666?
Nick: On the website according to the check that was printed or that was taken a photograph of, it was $6000.
John: Oh, OK.
Johnny: That was close.
John: We bumped it up to last – for Geek Bowl 8, we bumped it up to $6666. OK.
John: I don’t feel too bad but yeah, I got dinged on that.
Nick: You were close. Rachel Nichols is a quiz master for you guys in what city?
Nick: More specifically?
John: She does Plano, I know. But I think …
Johnny: We will take Plano.
Nick: He’s still making us look like an ass.
Johnny: Plano is good.
John: But there – I mean honestly, there are a lot of other quiz masters. I know Rachel fairly well. You probably could have stumped me on a lot of other quiz masters. So that was just – I just got lucky on that.
Johnny: All right. Here’s one. I like this picture on your website. It’s pretty cool. It’s like some character-looking fellows drinking on your website and the question is, “How many people are in the Geeks Who Drink website header?”
John: Oh, the header. It’s seven.
Johnny: Seven. Geez, Nick.
Nick: Maybe these will get a little bit harder. OK. You’ve got – for the pub owners you’ve got a little video on your website that if you’re a pub owner and you’re thinking about hiring Geeks Who Drink, you’ve got four different pubs that were actually in that video. Name two of the bars.
John: Oh, sure. McCabe’s Tavern and Jack Quinn’s, both in Colorado Springs.
Nick: Can you go …
John: Yeah, the Irish Snug and then we have Bode who is Catacombs at the time but he – Catacombs closed and now he’s at the coffee place on 10th and whatchamacallit and it has a rooster theme to it and I’m blanking.
Johnny: All right Nick. I’m done with this.
Nick: I have one more question. I’m pulling out all the stops. All right, John?
Johnny: All right Nick, drum roll. This is it.
Nick: This is a good one. So in 2012, you were featured in Wired Magazine. OK? There’s a question in there. So multiply the number of years Bernard Madoff was sentenced to serve in prison by the number of UN member states whose …
John: Yeah, I’m not going to – I know this. I helped write this. I wrote this question and I don’t know the answer off the top of my head.
Nick: Yeah I finally stumped him.
Nick: Two-hundred and ninety-five. We had to go to that extreme to stump him.
Nick: You are the quiz master or whatever you title those guys that win Geek Bowl. Geek bowl champion?
John: I could never be a geek bowl champion. I’m not that good at trivia and I think the fact that I’m not that good at trivia is why I’m somewhat good at my job with an emphasis on “somewhat”.
Nick: Somewhat. Well, there’s – OK. So that was all fun. Those were – I try to pick out some questions to give some folks a little bit of a flavor of what you guys do in a fun way, so hopefully that was all right.
But you got a really cool business and I’m excited to hear over four years, see how things have changed. I think when we had talked last, you had recently gotten rid of a partner.
John: Well, he’s alive and well. We go out for drinks occasionally. But yeah, I kind of call the shots with the business when it was started. It was a 50-50 partnership.
Nick: Sure. Now you’ve got a little bit of a staff now it looks like.
John: Yeah, we definitely staffed up and I think – I mean a lot of times we were – in our conversation, what I liked about it from a few years ago is we kind of related this to a lot of other businesses and I think I’m not like a business guy. I didn’t go to business school. I don’t really read business books though I do like business journalism a lot and read stories that are in The New Yorker, Business Insider. I follow that more than I used to.
But a lot of times when business is young, the owner does everything. They wear every single hat and then as you get bigger, you naturally hire people to fill those spots so that the owner can do whatever he or she is best at or wants to do or excels at.
So when we talked – I think Christopher Short who’s our editor was on board at that point. But it used to be I wrote every question. I distributed it. I sent it to fact check. I dealt with all the writers. I was – in addition to selling and marketing, I was producing the quiz every single day.
So that’s a huge change starting in 2010 or 2011. We brought Christopher Short who’s one of our players initially and he used to work for the Gazette in Colorado Springs and was an editor there.
He is our editor and he really helms a team of freelance writers and fact checkers and now a two-person editorial staff. So …
Nick: So it’s even bigger than just him editing.
John: Right. It’s kind of like other people have said to me – sometimes we get flack like, oh, you’re so corporate and I like independent trivia where my host writes all the questions.
I used to be kind of cowed by that and now I really don’t give a shit. I actually feel that our model is superior because one person writing a question every single – if you’re going to do six nights of trivia, with each quiz having 64 questions – hold on. Let me shut that off.
Each quiz is going to have 64 questions and they’re going to be fact-checked and they’re going to be original and they’re going to be diverse. One person really can do that? Should one person write the Atlantic Monthly? Should one person write The New Yorker? Should one person write The Daily Show?
Johnny: Yeah. And you know what would suck? It’s if someone went to a quiz. They live in Denver but then they go down to Austin or something. Can you imagine getting the same damn questions?
John: Right, exactly. Well, that’s a separate issue but it’s just like as a friend who plays a lot of trivia said, “Independent nights are good for about a year and then the host returns to their pet subject matter.”
I think that’s something that as a group, as a collective of writers and editors, I think that’s a problem that we kind of have a leg up on. Honestly, it’s not even where I want it to be right now. I want – and I think you played our quiz. But every quiz starts with a visual handout round.
It used to be that in the early days it was like cut and paste from Google Images and it was very crude. Some of them still could be pretty good or funny or did the trick. But around 2009 or 2010, I started hiring graphic designers to make these rounds and make them look pretty and like oh, you want to engage with it.
From time to time, I’ve been able to afford to have illustrators and cartoonists. Like people you may even have heard of if you’re into cartoons and such and independent comics. We’ve had – like probably the biggest name is Tom Tomorrow who’s a pretty famous cartoonist in – I don’t think he does Westford [0:11:52] [Phonetic] anymore but he used to.
We’ve had him. We’ve had a lot of different people from The New Yorker and that’s something I would love to be in the quiz every single day, a totally original illustrated picture handout round.
Nick: That’s amazing actually.
John: I’m not there yet but that – like that – the end game, that’s the goal.
Nick: Yeah. It sounds like the difference between somebody doing their own graphic design for their business card and then actually hiring a real graphic designer. I mean just taking it to that level.
John: Right, right.
Nick: I’m in it to win it and I’m going to actually do this for a real job.
John: Right, right. That’s kind of what we’re going for.
Johnny: I think going back to what you said earlier as far as people trying to nitpick you and some of the things you’re doing. You’ve had some success and as we all know, success will be attacked and that’s just people trying to pick at you. But I think that’s a good thing. That means you’re moving in the right direction if you have people that are a bit upset or not liking what you’re doing to some degree. I think that means you’re on the right track. You need those people out there.
John: Yeah. No, you do. I don’t like and I like listening to critics but it’s also we really can’t win in terms of – the classic example is you did a sports question last night. You guys suck. I thought you were geeks. Then you get the exact – a day later on Twitter, why do you guys do any sports questions? Like you can’t win.
Then people are like, “You do too much 80s music,” “You don’t do enough 80s music,” “You do too much hip-hop,” “You don’t do enough hip-hop.”
Nick: Yeah, yeah
John: It’s jst – it’s kind of humorous but it’s really hard – the problem that I worry – what keeps me up at night more are people who don’t complain and just don’t come back, who I’m not engaging with and who I never know that I’m losing.
Nick: I think that’s the danger zone in business, period. Like if you’ve – a so-so experience in whatever industry, whatever business you have, and you just have somebody that just kind of goes away and doesn’t say anything versus, “Hey, this was an awesome experience. I’m going to tell everybody,” or “Hey, you guys did this and I’m pissed off,” and I would rather hear that feedback so that I can make that change.
Nick: If it’s relevant I guess.
John: Right. So sometimes it’s not. Sometimes people become keyboard cowboys and they want to fire off a bunch of vitriol that they would never say to your face.
John: I think we talked about this last time is separating the noise from the legitimate feedback you have to pay attention to. That was hard four years ago. It’s hard now.
Johnny: John, a lot of our audience are – well, almost everyone is a business owner. They want to be a business owner. That’s why they’re listening to this. Take us through your growth. I mean where were you when we first met you? Where are you now? Specifically, how did you get there? What did you do to have this amount of growth?
John: Sure. When we talked – I think I was at let’s say 80 to 100 venues. I was at that level. What we did as a company I think is put people in place so that I could do what I was most motivated to do which was sales. I invested in not huge investments but I invested in marketing material that really I think made us look professional and look fun.
Nick: What were those? I’m sorry to interrupt you. But what were those marketing pieces that you invested in?
John: Yeah. We made a DVD in ’07 which we really need to update. It’s awesome but it’s just old and then we made these sales folders that had client blurbs on the back. It had these handouts where it’s just kind of our press blurbs. It has sample picture handout rounds so you can kind of get a sense of what they’re about and then it has – now it has that kind of – some images of our marketing collateral, posters, banners, bar coasters, that sort of thing that we give to our clients just to help them promote.
Just stuff like that as opposed to what I think a lot of our competitors do which is just, “Hey, do you want to do trivia?” or they do mass mailers. They do kind of direct mail, which I’m sure works for a lot of businesses, but to me it’s just – it’s like you see it and you instantly want to throw it in your recycle bin. You’re not going to want to engage with it.
So even now I make a point of when I mail out to a bar, I write – I address the thing by hand. I bring it to the post office myself.
Johnny: Then are you following up with these folks with a phone call? When you say sales, what’s the sales arm doing?
John: Yeah. I mean like – I mean typical will be – we’re targeting bars in say Omaha, Nebraska. We will look up online, see what’s out there. If we have quiz masters who are people players, who have moved out there, sometimes they email us and say, “Hey, you guys, got to come to Omaha.”
We ask, “Hey, do you have recommended videos?” We will go on to like Beer Advocate’s website, Yelp, that sort of things, the local weekly’s best of and just see what are the obvious targets. Then usually when we’re on the ground, we find that there’s a lot more places that didn’t come up on the internet on the search.
But we will call. We will get the name of the general manager, send a mailer out, follow up with a phone call and email, see if we can set up a time to meet. Then one of us will fly out. So part of the growth is me being on the road and my sales team guide Ozzy Nelson who’s about as much of a character as you’re ever going to find on this planet, just logging a lot of miles, a lot of sweat equity.
Nick: Now, one of the things I remember I was talking about last time was you had a very specific kind of profile for cities that you wanted to open. I remember you talked about college cities were good I think when they had a good college population or there was like an IQ. The city had to have an IQ or something. Otherwise, it wasn’t going to fly. Is that still the same?
John: To a certain degree, though we’ve been wrong. Like for example, we wrote off Las Vegas. We thought, oh no, it’s too transient. I don’t think that’s going to be our crowd and we started there. I made a trip out there in May. We started a few places in July. It’s doing fantastic. I shouldn’t – that was stupid.
There’s still – I mean just the nature of our quiz, the questions being kind of irreverent, punchy. They do have a left wing bias. I will own that. It’s not necessarily the best thing for uber – like the reddest of the red states. We probably don’t fly.
There’s always liberal pockets in red states where we will do fine but like I’m not in a hurry to go to Mississippi, Alabama, a lot of Arkansas. A town like Fayetteville, yes, but a lot of other places – the other thing that goes along with what we do is the Craft Beer Movement. In the south, a lot of the south – I don’t think the Craft Beer …
Nick: It’s moonshine. I think it’s moonshine.
John: It’s not that bad but it’s not as big a thing as it is certainly in Colorado, the West Coast, even most – the East Coast, the Midwest. So those are the kind of things we look for.
Johnny: Why would you drink anything else down there besides Budweiser?
John: Right. Bud Lime too.
Nick: Hey, easy. That’s what I like.
Johnny: I want to go back to something you said earlier because we found this out in our industry. It was interesting when you were talking about mailing something out and then having a sales team that calls on them and then actually getting a strong lead and flying out and talking to that owner or that manager.
In our industry, we learned that one plus one equals three meaning if you send direct mail out like you were talking about that some of your competitors do, nothing happens or very little happens. But when you follow it up with a phone call or an email, you just don’t get twice the response. You get like three times the response because one plus one really does equal three when you’re doing that type of marketing. Would you agree with that?
John: To a certain degree. It’s also a matter of did they actually get the thing because a lot of times even with writing it out by hand and getting the name and spelling their name right, always – you know, hugely overlooked thing. Even that, they’re like oh yeah, I never saw it. The US postal system failed or someone on staff threw it out.
Johnny: Took it right away and …
John: But in general, yeah, because a lot of times they will be like OK, you mailed this to me. You wrote a cover letter addressed to me. I try to deal with the specifics of the bar. If they’re a bar that is really into music and they have live music, I will mention hey, we have a lot of other venues where we go on before the band. It works out really well because it’s something that you can keep. You don’t have to book.
It’s one less night a week that you have to book if you don’t have a band lined up where it can be the kind of de facto entertainment from Thursday 7:00 to 9:00 and if you get a band after – going on at 9:00, great. So I try to customize it when I can.
Nick: I know you were saying – we were just talking about kind of the redneck bars don’t really – they’re not fantastic. But what if you just had quiz nights that were really red neck? Wouldn’t that work? Having everything revolve around Duck Dynasty and Jack Daniels and stuff like that.
John: I think that’s a niche that someone else can fill.
Nick: OK, that’s fair enough.
John: I think it’s like – sometimes we get that like, hey can you do – like we get this a lot. Can you do an all-sports trivia during football season? I, A, haven’t seen any examples of that working on a long term basis on an all-sports night and B, it’s so much work for not that much return that I just – I don’t know. This is not our thing. But what we do do and what we’ve had a lot of success with are – about every month, every other month, we do a themed quiz and – like so we’ve done Harry Potter. We’re doing Seinfeld this coming Thursday.
We’re going to – I can’t drop hints of what we’re going to do – Ghostbusters. But these things are for people who are – want a particular niche scratched and it invites people who wouldn’t otherwise think to come play our quiz. But if it’s about Doctor Who or if it’s about Lord of the Rings, yeah, they’re going to be there. So that’s something that we do do but it’s like it’s not every week.
Sometimes Harry Potter, we didn’t do for two years and it blew up. We did it in the summer and it was insane. We had 101 teams at Punch Bowl Social in Denver. So yeah, that’s kind of like our answer to that.
Nick: You know what I love about what you just said? It’s that you know what you are and you know what you’re not. You’re not afraid to say no and I think so many business owners just they’re too afraid to say no and so they try to be everything to everybody.
Nick: And I think it’s really important that we figure out who is that perfect customer. Who are we as a company? Let’s stick to that and to hell with everything else.
John: Right. It is complicated. Yeah, I turned down Applebee’s or Tilted Kilt or any chain restaurant that makes their all-female staff put on a halter top. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of the female form.
Johnny: What’s going on with this? This doesn’t seem to be in alignment with what’s going on here. I want to hear the story behind this.
John: Well, why we would say no to that?
John: Well, it’s not our audience. It’s just not. I’m just going to say it. It’s a cheapening of the brand.
Johnny: So those types of restaurants and other things cheapen your brand. You feel like they’re a lower class kind of environment?
John: I don’t think – the type of player we’re going to attract would look on our website and see, “Oh, you’re at Hooters. You’re at Tilted Kilt. This is not for me.” That’s what …
Johnny: I got you.
John: And B, we’re not going to be successful at those locations.
Johnny: It’s just the wrong audience.
John: Yeah. Our question mix is just not right. So it’s a lose-lose. But I have to sound – when I tell them that a lot of times, they’re not happy to hear it. There’s no way to not sound like a snob.
Johnny: I could tell from talking to you this time around, I noticed a couple of things. I noticed you really are connecting with your business in the sense you know where you’re going. You understand it and I see a lot of confidence behind that also this time around. Like you really, really are getting some momentum and getting ready to roll with all the knowledge and experience that you have behind you. I feel that this time.
John: Really? Because I’m an anxious wreck honestly.
Johnny: Oh, yeah? Well, you hide it well or you were a real mess the first time. I don’t know which is the one …
Nick: You guys have been in business for what? Seven years now?
Nick: Eight years, OK. I mean he’s an eight-year business owner versus a three or four-year business owner.
Johnny: No. But just listen to the way you talk. It’s very precise and you know where you want to go and what you want to do. There’s a strong sense of direction.
John: Thank you.
Nick: How has it affected you now that you’ve got to be on the road a bunch?
John: Well, I have two kids now. I have a one-year-old and a four-year-old. So there is this – when I’m on the road – for me personally, it’s like I have to maximize every minute and it’s like a lot of times it’s like 8 o’clock and I don’t want to make one more call. I don’t want to make one more stop-in. I’m exhausted. But I’m just like I got to do it.
I got to stop in one more time at a place where the bar manager is in and out. That’s my favorite. The bar manager has an owner who – bar manager can’t make any decisions without the owner and the owner has no set schedule. Yeah, maybe, I don’t know. You just have to keep at this person and hope that the stars line up and you get in front of him or her.
But yeah, that’s – being on the road, that’s how it has changed me. It’s like I – but I also try to do trips where I can see the whole town, hit every bar once or twice and be home in one or two nights.
So, like I just did a trip to Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was able to get a direct flight and I was hitting every single place I wanted to and I even came back for seconds at certain venues. It’s not like going to Chicago or Boston where you need like a whole week and you still can’t hit every single place you want to.
Nick: Yeah, and this is a good time to go because the weather is good.
John: Well, I went about a month ago. So it was a little bit moist but, yeah. So that’s kind of for me personally what I try to do. Last year, I went to like Bend, Oregon and I went to Asheville, North Carolina. You know, two examples of places that you’re really able to see the town in 24 hours.
Nick: Well, that’s great that you can just kind – you kind of make a plan and then kind of target and then say, OK, I’m going to go to Bend and I’m going to target these businesses, so that when I’m going, I can make those calls.
John: Yeah. But it’s not like, “All right. At 9:45, I’m going to hit this place,” and then because I put it on Google Maps, I’m going to – it’s a lot of just going in circles all day and then seeing – some people won’t take you seriously until you knock on their door. They won’t respond to your emails. They won’t answer your phone calls. But when you show up in person, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, let’s chat.” So you don’t know until you’re in front of them.
Nick: What do you think is the biggest thing that gets their – a bar owner or a manager’s attention that you guys either send them or say to them?
John: I think showing up when you’re from out of town and especially if it’s like – if it’s not a huge market. That’s one thing, just – like hey, I came out from Denver to talk to you. That gets their attention and I think usually just seeing the material and seeing like OK, this isn’t just one person who’s doing this as a lark.
There’s a lot of thought behind it and just the marketing materials that we show them. That often gets their attention. Beyond that, people who see us at other bars who – you know, we’re successful at one bar. That breeds success.
Johnny: Does all your marketing help out so when you get to that city, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about you. I’ve seen your mail,” or “You guys have been calling on me”? I mean you’re probably not going in cold. You’ve talked to them or tried to communicate with them a few times.
John: Yes, right. Sometimes they tell me, “No, thank you.” Sometimes they have a good reason. Sometimes it’s like hey, we don’t have – this is common in Southern California. We don’t have an entertainment license and the city won’t let us have one or it costs too much and we’re not doing it. That’s a pretty legitimate reason. Other places that – sometimes online, they look more like a bar but in reality, they’re just a restaurant and they just don’t do events. They just want to turn tables until 10 o’clock and then they want to go home. That often shuts us down as well.
Johnny: Legitimate things as you stated.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Johnny: What kind of troubles and trials and tribulations have you had in growing?
John: Staffing is probably the number one.
Johnny: You say that so fast too. It was interesting.
John: Staffing is tricky especially when we’re not in the market and people haven’t seen our quiz and don’t know what they’re getting into. A lot of times, they will apply to be a host and then after training a few times and hosting ones, they’re like, “Yeah, this isn’t for me. Bye.” That can be real tricky or people who just – they let loose too hard on the mic. They think because our content is irreverent, that they can act like a belligerent asshole. We’re still customer service. We want people to come back.