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Custom Merchandise with Kevin Ramsey FTH: 083
Episode 8310th February 2022 • The Kim Doyal Show • Kim Doyal
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Kim Doyal 0:01

Welcome to F the hustle. I'm your host, Kim Doyal. You want a life that is meaningful and exciting. In this podcast, we're going to talk about launching and growing an online business that fits your lifestyle. After the hustle is all about doing good work, building real relationships, and most importantly, creating a business that supports and you want to live your life. You don't have to sacrifice the quality of your life today to create something that sets your soul on fire. And yes, that includes making a lot of money. So we'll be talking about selling, charging, what you're worth, and how earning more means helping more people. My goal is to help you find freedom and create a business on your terms. Hey, what's going on everybody? Welcome back to another episode of the Kim Doyal show. I'm excited today because we're gonna dig into something that I don't know a ton about. Obviously, I'm very aware of it. And my guest is going to peel back the curtain, so to speak. So my guest today is Kevin Ramsey. He is one of the co founders of Warren James. And we're gonna dig into that. But first of all, Kevin, thanks so much for being here today.

Kevin Ramsey 1:08

Thank you for having me. I'm stoked to be here. Yeah, so

Kim Doyal 1:11

this is great. And this is, I'm just gonna share this. And any of these little tidbits that you can share with your story would be great. But we connected via Twitter. And I've been saying to people recently, you know, having moved to Costa Rica, and like connecting with people here that I'm sure it's similar for you so much of my business has grown because of relationships. So I love that you just reached out to me, we had a little conversation, you're very patient, I'm like circle back in a month, we had a conversation. And so just the point in connecting and having real relationships with people can really shift the trajectory of your business.

Kevin Ramsey 1:48

Yeah, without a doubt, I've been trying to be more proactive personally, when it comes to platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, and those connections are at your fingertips, it's just a matter of like, you know, putting in the time looking around, like for me recently, I've been really focused on the new phrase, you know, called the crater economy and seeing who else is involved in that space. And yeah, it really, really helps with your business and helps with your personal growth, like having those connections, whether it be something now or like, years from now, right? Like having that relationship. Who knows what that can mean for you.

Kim Doyal 2:21

Exactly, exactly. I'm, which I don't want to go sideways with my stuff. But I am doing an event down here next year. And it's crazy. I think I've landed a sponsor a pretty big sponsor already without even having a hotel book because of relationships. So it's it's just one of those things. And I love what you said too. I am obsessed with the quote unquote, crater economy. I love that it's this tangible thing. Now, it's not just what creators call themselves. And just a side note, if you're not following her follow Cody Sanchez, she is amazing. She has. This is a random thing. I don't know her personally. But she has a newsletter and a platform. It's called contrarian thinking. But she's all about diversifying in the crater economy as well. So it's pretty fascinating. Anyways, I want to dive into Warren James, which I'm gonna let you explain what it is. And then before we go too deep into the company, I'd love to know a little bit of your backstory. So feel free to jump in where it suits you best.

Kevin Ramsey 3:20

Yeah, totally. So I guess a quick little synopsis of Warren James. We've been around for a little under three years now. And we really work with the top point oh 1% of content creators out there. And we run their direct to consumer merchandise businesses from start to fitness, finish everything from you know, designing, purchasing product, running the website, customer, customer support, fulfillment, you know, everything that goes into it, so that the Creator just needs to approve the product, approve the plan, and then market the product and then they get paid out on sales. So that's kind of top line of Warren James. But, you know, for myself personally, how I've gotten here, I've been in what, you know, the crater economy wasn't called this before. I think we were calling them influencers or there was a bunch of different names thrown around different times, but I've been in it for roughly a decade now. I got my start back in roughly 2010 2011 where I started a Minecraft server company called hunger craft. We were the first kind of automated event based Hunger Games in Minecraft server. This is back when Hunger Games like really blew up. And that was kind of my first foray into the space it we got to a point where we had millions of uniques every month playing on the server. We had one that we won the top Twitch live streams at the time this is like the first year that when Justin tv switched And back then, you know, creators are super dialed into gaming right like especially at that time. It's still today, right like Minecraft is one of the biggest verticals on YouTube. we would partner with content creators, pay them in some instances, you know, give them free product to help market the server. And that was kind of my, it kind of opened up my eyes a little bit to the power that creators have, you know, someone like camping Russia at the time or skies Minecraft jumping on the server and it would just, it would blow up, you know, the amount of people trying to join that we'd hit our capacity and then like they would upload videos and it was just being involved in an ecosystem in terms of like a service like that a game like that. It was pretty crazy. So that was that was really my kind of my first step into the space.

Kim Doyal 5:36

Okay, you're gonna have to totally dummy that down. So I'm very aware of Minecraft and Twitch and everything. I don't get the whole piece of you are hosting it. You had a server? So can you like, explain it to a fifth grader? For me?

Kevin Ramsey 5:48

Yeah. So Minecraft, the way that it there's a bunch of different ways to play the game. There's like the base game itself, which is kind of single player based. But what you know, a huge portion of the community plays is this server based element where the community can go and spin up a server, they host it on their personal computer, and you have an IP address related to that server, and you mark it that or you just keep it close to your friends. And people can join that. And it's there's a bunch of different things you can do. Right? You can customize the map, you can customize like the code of the game so that you're making a unique play experience. And yeah, so what we did was the base version of Minecraft is very survival based, like you're, you're mining, you're doing all the different elements of Minecraft. What we did was back when hunger Hunger Games was like, really, really popular was like the first movie was coming out. And we wanted to be able to be in The Hunger Games like to take part in the combat of The Hunger Games, but in Minecraft, so we, we coded our own game, we made our own maps, so that 32 people, every week, we would host a live stream. And we'd have commentators like spectators, and you would you would sign up every week saying like, Hey, I would love to be chosen to be one of the 32 people that are fighting it out to be the winner to get prizes. And we would select them randomly. And then every Saturday it would, we would bring them into the map. And then the casters would come in the live stream and go live. And it'd be like Last Man Standing combat and they would be running around the map, there'd be easter eggs and all these different elements. And it was like kind of one of the first of its kind in terms of like this event based Minecraft experience. And then the popularity of that led us to want to have it be available 24/7 Because at first it was just noon on Saturdays was the only time and if you want, we had 1000s of people signing up every week. So it's like, you know, the likelihood of being selected was really low. So we eventually made it so that you could play at any time of the day. And then we had, you know, millions every month competing in these different automated servers that were running 24/7.

Kim Doyal 8:09

Do that is nuts. I'm just sitting here, astounded. One I mean, I'm not in the gaming space. But just I love the I don't know, it sounds like you just jumped on this opportunity. But with with that piece, let me ask you that. So do you have a computer science degree? Where did you see this opportunity? What made you jump into that?

Kevin Ramsey 8:28

That's a good question I funded if I wasn't a Java class, at that point in time, which is what Minecraft is based on. But no, it was like my friend David and I were just kind of talking, we were playing the game or like it would be so cool to be able to play this ourselves, you know, and at the time, this is back in beta of Minecraft, so it hadn't quite reached like mass popularity yet. And within my school, there wasn't enough people that had Minecraft to be able to get 32 people together to play this game. So without having like anything, we just had like a little map that we made, we didn't have any code or anything. I went on to the Minecraft subreddit on Reddit. And I just made a post and like, Hey, guys, like, we're looking for a couple extra people to compete in this little this event. Like, you know, let me know if anyone's interested. And the next morning when I woke up and I checked the post it had like a 10,000 people that had comments and like, I would love to take part. And as soon as that happened, I was like, we got it this would be so cool. We have to we have to make this happen. So I went into my Java class and I like I booton rallied the whole class pretty much so like it was a it was a kind of a group effort to get the first like, alpha version of the code ready. And then from there, we eventually made some money we're able to like start legitimizing the development process a little bit, but it was like kind of almost community made to certain degree.

Kim Doyal 9:53

Oh my god, that is amazing. And then as it grew, did you get funding or you guys were just you were? How did you make money? If this were you charging people to get on what was the no accusation piece,

Kevin Ramsey 10:04

we Yeah, in hindsight, we could have made some good money. But our the thought was like this is, you know, by the community for the community, we don't want to make it pay to win because a lot of the competition at the time was like, if you want to spend 10 bucks, you could have a significant advantage over people that didn't spend money. And we didn't want that to be part of the game. So it was all esthetic based. So it's like, change the color of your name, or like, gave you a little badge on the website. And then in addition to that, we sold some sponsorships, like during the live streams, but that really was kind of breakeven, for the most part, like, especially at that point in time server costs were, were pretty high. Like, I remember, we were spending, like, 500 or something a month on servers in for me, you know, in high school, a team of high schoolers, like, it was it was a lot of money for us. And, yeah, it just, it just didn't

Kim Doyal 10:56

pay more than 100 bucks for hosting today. Like, let alone.

Kevin Ramsey 10:59

Yeah, it was crazy. We were like, we we were, uh, we were trying to figure out how to make it happen. And it really didn't end up monetizing it, unfortunately, did end up selling it a couple years later to one of our competition that wanted to kind of aggregate the marketplace a little bit into in own a bigger percentage of the market. That wasn't a huge acquisition. But it was something to get kind of at the end, the bigger piece for me was the experience of developing a game running a community, you know, running live events, you know, everything that went into it. And plus, you know, like we were talking about earlier, the connections that came through it, like, a lot of the YouTubers that I worked with at that point in time are still massive YouTubers today. And it just kind of it put me on a path for my career.

Kim Doyal 11:49

Wow, that is just amazing. Well, and I would think to that, what made it a saleable asset? Was the audience. Right?

Kevin Ramsey 11:57

Totally. Yeah, the brand name as well, like all the assets of it, or around it, as well as the code. That was also in all the maps and everything.

Kim Doyal 12:05

Oh, my gosh, okay. So first of all, I didn't know you started that in high school. That's nuts. But it's amazing. It's amazing. So what happened then between that and Warren James, that seems not a big leap, but I mean, what what's going on in between, then, from

Kevin Ramsey 12:21

from then that put me on a path that I was like, Okay, I want to go down video game development as my career path. So I went to Savannah College of Art Design for interactive media and game development. And my first year in college, I was playing smite professionally, it was it's a still around, but it was really popular at that point in time. It's like a MOBA, similar to League of Legends. And through that made, some connections started to get really dialed in with the eSports space. And back then, just like roughly 2013 2014, the space was extremely underdeveloped, there weren't too many players in the space, there wasn't a lot of money in the space. And we came up with the idea of at that point in time, it was pretty, it was pretty siloed in that an Esports community, for the most part, had a League of Legends team, or an Esports company had a Call of Duty team, they hardly ever win across games within the same organization. So the idea we had was like, why not create, you know, this brand, that is an umbrella brand across all of the major eSports games out there. So have a Call of Duty team or League of Legends team, a smite team, etc, etc. And then use the collective audience size to sell advertisement, as if like the Yankees had, you know, a soccer team, a basketball team, a tennis team, oh, yeah, Cetera, etc. And that was kind of what led me to my, after my freshman year of college, things started to pick up a little bit. And the thought was, okay, let's, let's take the summer to really focus on this project, and then see how it goes. And near the end of the summer, it was really, really quickly growing. And I was like, you know, what, I can always go back to college, you know, why not? pursue this for a little while and see what happens. And I ended up just, you know, never going back, so that I was at that organization for roughly two years or so. And through that, unfortunately, not always, you know, in hindsight, these sports Spaces has ballooned in valuation, but yeah, back then it wasn't super profitable. And I through that, through going to events and meeting companies and selling advertisement, I met Jazwares, the massive toy manufacturer and they they gave me a good opportunity to join them to kind of lead their gaming division in a sense because At that time, they had the Minecraft retail license. And they historically had worked with games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man. So they were very dialed in with gaming and they are very forward thinking company and they're like, we identify that gaming is going to be a bigger portion of retail moving forward. So we want to, you know, put our flag in the ground, and we want to make sure that we're paying attention to it. So they brought me on to kind of be that that person to keep my ear to the ground within the gaming space. So that was kind of my as well like going through hunger craft and going through these sports organization. I was like, I'm, I don't have any corporate experience, I'm still really young, I don't have an education, like, I it'd be great to, to have mentors at a bigger company and learn from this experience. So that kind of ultimately made me make the decision to move down to South Florida from Columbus, Ohio at the time, and go full time for Jazwares.

Kim Doyal 15:57

Your story is so fascinating. Kevin, I'm just I'm like, I want to pick it apart a little bit, though. I just, I love it. I love that you just had ideas and you acted on them. And then you dug deeper and you trusted your gut with some where, where along that path. Were you ever like, oh my god, what am I doing? Or here's a challenge. And maybe it's you know, ignorance is bliss at a certain point. But I mean, you make it sound very easy. That whole journey. What were there any challenges in there?

Kevin Ramsey 16:26

Oh, totally. Yeah. Every stage of the way, especially during, during the my own companies. It like you said ignorance a little bit is nice, because like, you don't know that you're not doing things correctly. But there were like moments where it's like, we how are we gonna make enough money to do what we're trying to do here, or a big thing that I faced a lot earlier in my career like, being, you know, I when I was at Jad, when I started at Jazwares, I believe I was I was 19 or 20. So, you know, going into these meetings with when I was at the eSports company, or when I was at hunger craft going to these meetings with major game publishers, or just major companies and trying to sell them on advertising or sell them on partnerships. And they they see a teenager walk in, you know, it's like, just fighting through some of the assumptions. People make a view when you're, when you're young. It's a double edged sword. Like, a lot of times people will be like, wow, like, you're, you're clearly not legitimate. You're like, you're just you're faking until you make it. But a lot of people, you know, just like the founder and CEO of Jazwares has a way a lot of people have a way of seeing on the other side of like, wow, like, you're showing signs of being an entrepreneur being successful later in life, like you're at such a young age, or you're trying to do these things. So it's a bit of a double edged sword, but yeah, totally there. It's so tough, like looking back, I'll like identify, like, oh, wow, I, if I was there, if I was there, now, I would have handled that differently.

Kim Doyal 18:02

But that's how we learn, right? I mean, you have to kind of figure it out. So okay, so you're working for jazz? Where Where was the leap to Warren James?

Kevin Ramsey 18:11

Yeah, so at the time I was managing licensing for within gaming. So I was like, trying to identify gaming properties for them working with Minecraft as well. And then we, at one point, like 2016 or so, came up with the idea of going out and signing all the top gaming YouTubers, and putting them underneath an umbrella brand called Tube heroes, turning them into action figures and plush toys, and then selling it into retail. So we got people like The Diamond Minecart Captain sparkle, SkyDoesMinecraft all the biggest guys at the time, and put them in Toys R Us target Walmart, they went global, it did tons of money within the two year period. And through this, I had my ear to the ground of YouTube, like I was always trying to identify up and coming creators for us to sign like we, in aggregate, we had like 10...