Matt Miller spent the first 9 years of his career as an Air Force pilot, before entering the private sector to work in both the medical device and advertising industries. While a top performer in the corporate world, his long term desire was to be his own boss.
A good friend one day mentioned the gum ball machines he and his young daughters owned, and that conversation began a 10 year business quest that has brought Matt’s company, School Spirit Vending, to the cutting edge of both the vending and school fundraising industries. Today, School Spirit Vending’s franchising program provides a proven and profitable business system for busy professionals and their families looking to develop secondary income streams, while raising millions of dollars for education at the same time.
Read Our Full Transcript Of Our Great Interview With Matt
JD: Hi there, folks. This is WP-Tonic, show #108, and we’ve got a fantastic guest on the show, folks. We’ve got somebody that really runs a very successful business, and we thought you the audience would find it really interesting to learn what he has learned with his road to success.
It’s Matt Miller from School Spirit Vending. How are you doing, Matt?
MM: I am doing awesome, Jonathan. How are you guys doing?
JD: We are doing great. Would you like to introduce yourself as well, Matt? And give some background —5 seconds — 10 seconds?
MM: Yes, so I live in Central Texas. I was formerly an Air Force pilot and an advertising executive. Both of those encompassing about 20 years in my career.
Running School Spirit Vending is actually the third reinvention of myself, I guess. And thankfully business has gone extremely well to where I’ve been an entrepreneur for about five and a half years exclusively — and kind of doing my own thing.
JD: Sounds great. Would you like to introduce yourself, John, to the audience?
JL: Sure thing. My name is John Locke, and I run a small WordPress web design consultancy in Sacramento called Lockedown Design.
JL: That’s great. So Matt, we’ll go into the first question. So you started this business, and it’s basically — the core of it is vending. [The] vending [industry] has got a little bit of a reputation. But you seem very legitimate.[You’re running a] fantastic business and also you have cracked vending to a certain degree. What led to this business and your road to entrepreneurship, Matt?
MM: You know, Jonathan, I was in the corporate space and the rules were always changing.
They were never in my favor, and I decided I need to do something on my own. So that I could actually have more control over. I’d read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. And I had also read Tim Ferris’ ‘Four Hour Work Week’. So I kind of had in the back of my mind this thought process of [creating] more passive income, and no longer having time and money directly related to one another.
After messing around with a number of different ventures that were typically pretty successful, I finally stumbled upon — believe it or not — gumball machines to start with. A good friend of mine from church mentioned that he and his young daughters had a couple of gumball machines, and they were doing business together. He was teaching them about making money and that type of thing. And I remember that conversation. I was flat broke at the time. This was about 12 years ago.
So I thought, “Hey, what the heck. Maybe this whole gumball thing could work for me, too.”
I slowly but surely cash flowed a business together, over a period of a number of years. Then around 2007—2008 hit — the business had been doing very successful — but the economy tanked. I was looking for other things to do.
Because, you know, there weren’t as many people frequenting the locations where I had vending equipment. I had a couple young kids come knocking on my door selling me stuff for local fundraisers for their schools. And that’s where the whole idea of custom stickers, and sticker machines, and schools came from with School Spirit Vending.
JD: Yes, so can you just give a quick little bit of background on what you precisely offer to people? Because I’m sure the audience would be really interested [in that].
MM: We offer hassle-free fundraising for schools. We custom design mascot stickers for the school, and then we place sticker machines within the school.
The machine ends up being an ongoing fundraiser all year round for the school. It ends up being a franchise opportunity for the families that we work with within our business franchise team.
JD: It’s just a fantastic idea isn’t it? It’s a win-win for everybody, isn’t it, Matt?
JD: I just love it and I love your entrepreneurship story. It’s one of the great parts of America. It’s got tough a bit still there, and that’s what I love about this country, Matt. So obviously you’re not a WordPress developer, but you have extensive experience in business, and I thought was a fantastic story, Matt. But you do use WordPress for your website. So how important is the website for your business? And your online marketing, and your marketing in general?
MM: Well, WordPress has been huge.
I’m not a programmer. I am not really a developer. But I’ve got a guy that I’ve worked with for years that does all that work for me.
There are constantly upgrades, changes, and modifications that we’re making to the variety of websites that we host. You know, they’re the foundation for everything that we do. The thing I love about WordPress and the basic understanding I have of it is the versatility that it has — the opportunity for plugin upon plugin upon plugin to work, and to add to the mix of what we do. So what’s been cool for me is we started out with something very basic, and over time we’ve put together a pretty complex organism — that being the website for our team. And then of course the ones [websites] that we use externally. They’re foundational for everything that we do.
JD: That sounds great. Got a question to ask Matt, John?
JL: Yeah, sure thing. This one is more like an entrepreneurial question. But when you were making the shift [to School Spirit Vending] — when the economy in a downturn and you’re making this shift from gumball machines into School Spirit Vending with the stickers and stuff like that — what kind of adjustments did you need to make in the business to make that shift work?
MM: Well, it went from having a business where everything was basically purchased at a store — from gum balls from Sam’s Club — equipment gotten online too — all of a sudden I had to find a new supplier for equipment that fit our needs.
Then we also had to start producing the majority of the product for the machines ourselves. So it became much more complex.
I realized really quickly that graphic design was going to be instrumental in our business. So my son who is almost 20 now — was 10 at the time, and he actually traded a couple of hours of work at a good friend’s yard (who is a trained designer) for a couple hours of training on Photoshop and [Adobe] Illustrator.
I bought an iMac. I bought the Adobe suite, and my ten-year-old son Zane became our first designer. He now has been in design for 10 years. He does design for companies all over the place, and has ventured into app design and web design as well.
In fact, he helps out with a lot of the WordPress stuff on our sites also. But anyway, [There was] lots that we had to learn and lots of new processes we had to put together. Because we created something that had never been created before.
JD: It’s an amazing story really, John, isn’t it?
JL: Yeah it is. It’s a great story.
JD: So what mistakes have you made with your online marketing, Matt? Or what are some of the things that haven’t worked so well?
Like Pay Per Click, Facebook marketing —and maybe you can us give some things that you you’ve tried, and some of the lessons you’ve learned about your online marketing journey.
MM: Jonathan, I think the biggest mistake that I’ve made over the years is that I didn’t do any of it. Just because — to be honest — it was so complex to me. And vending, it was simple. You get a machine, you get some product, you put it out there, it makes money.
But a lot of this online stuff from SEO to pay per click — all that stuff was kind of voodoo to me in a lot of ways. So I ignored it.
To be honest, it was just a couple years ago I started attending Social Media Marketing World out in San Diego. Then I got involved with Podcast Movement as well. And in both cases, I learned how to maximize and to begin to utilize those online tools to continue to grow our business.
One of the biggest things that we’ve done is the podcast. I became a podcaster myself about a year ago. I took Cliff Ravenscraft’s Podcasting A to Z course. I taught myself it within a month, and I actually host three different podcasts myself today.
Two of them are actually internal podcasts that are private and only for our franchise team, and helping grow and build our franchise community internally. Then one of them is called School’s Own Podcast. School Spirit Vending is the sole sponsor of that podcast. But we go out and we interview companies in the school fundraising and resource space that are innovating and doing really neat things for the schools around the country, and give a much deeper dive and look into those companies than the typical dive schools get on a trade show floor for 5 minutes at a PTA event or principal’s event.
So that’s the primary focus we’ve had.
I’ve started doing some Facebook ads, and of course Facebook — doing video on Facebook is one of the most inexpensive ways to market today, in my opinion. But we’re still kind of learning the ropes there. There’s a lot of tweaking that we do from ad to ad, but we’re really starting to see some traction there as well.
JD: So what do you see as some of the biggest challenges for your business and for your franchisees, Matt?
MM: I think the biggest challenge is keeping up with it all.
As you guys know, every week there’s a new tool, right?
In fact, I’ll give you a great example.
Just yesterday, I was reading an article on how on Pokémon Go — how businesses need to have their location set up as — I don’t know what it’s called [Editor note: Pokestops is what Matt is referring to] — I haven’t played the game — but now businesses are being encouraged to spend money to promote having Pokémon’s at their location, so that people will come in. And it’s driving traffic to their business.
Well it’s a game. But today, with the gamification of our society in a lot of ways, it makes total sense. And all I’m hearing about is this game, everywhere I go. People are utilizing it to get exercise, and have fun, and to develop community. So it’s tough to keep track of, because every day there’s something different.
I just found, for me, I need to focus on a couple of key areas, and get really good at them. And a lot of the other stuff is just a distraction. Because you can either be a mile wide and an inch deep, or you can be an inch wide and a mile deep. I prefer to be the latter.
JD: Funny enough, we were discussing before we started the live recording, Matt, the importance of copywriting — the copy on your website. What has been your experience of that in your road about producing really interesting materials and copy?
MM: You know, we haven’t used a whole lot of copywriting, Jonathan. With what we do, most of what we’ve done has been with video or with audio up to this point. I’d like to begin to use more of it, to be honest, and this is going to sound completely ridiculous (I’m sure) to the audience, but for a long time, — in fact the first seven years or so, we didn’t want people to find our website except for people that we were talking to about what we did. Which was the educators and administrators and volunteers in the schools that we were in. So we really didn’t have a wide-ranging audience. So it was better not to do that [type of] promotion.
We’ve changed that, and that’s another reason why we’re a little bit behind with some of this. It’s just because for years it was just a word of mouth kind of thing. That was done intentionally.
JD: I totally understand actually, Matt. So before the final question before we go to a break — the franchisees — what is your ideal franchisee? Who are you for to come on board? To be part of the family?
MM: We’re looking for somebody that’s already successful at what they do, but maybe not completely satisfied. Somebody who would like to develop an outside income on top of their career, that could potentially — over time — become a full time income. Depending on their work ethic and what they want to accomplish, you know, somebody who is good at working with people. And potentially somebody who would like to develop a business in a family environment.
We encourage family involvement all along the way, just like my son was involved at a very early age. So a lot of families are attracted to what we do because of that fact.
JD: That’s a great answer. I think we’ll go to our first break, folks. We’ll be back and we will be discussing more about this fascinating story and how it relates to WordPress, i.e. helping you build a business.
We’ll be back in a minute.
We’re coming back. We’re having a great discussion with Matt Miller, President of the School Spirit Vending company. It’s a great story, a great all-American entrepreneur story, I feel. So I’m going to pass over to my co-host John. And he’s got some questions. Off you go, John.
JL: Sure thing. So Matt, one of the books that you mentioned reading early on — that was a pivotal business book for you — is “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. And that’s a book that I actually read as well when I was making the transition — when I was first even thinking about making the transition from working for somebody else into working for myself.
What are the lessons you got from that book, that other entrepreneurs could take away from that?
MM: You know, John the biggest thing I would say is just the fact that you don’t have to trade time for money. You can truly make money while you sleep. Now it’s rare air. It doesn’t happen for everybody. It takes work. It takes a lot of work.
Whether you put together some sort of tool or course or something online, whether you write a book — whether it be you’re a musician and put out an album — or whether it be you have a vending company like me — they’re all essentially forms of passive income. But they all take a large amount of effort. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. But my thought process was, I could take a couple of years to put forth that extra effort, so that I could benefit for the rest of my life, versus working for somebody else for 40 years and being completely at their whim.
And [when you look] at all the changes within the corporate structure that I worked [within]. So I worked hard — I worked in the advertising space, I delivered pizzas for Pizza Hut for about a year and a half, along with putting this together and working full time, because I needed some more seed capital for my business — so that I could reinvest it in more equipment and more locations.
Thankfully though, I did that with a purpose, and it was a little short period of time that I had to be out of balance to put that together. Today, I’ve got machines that are literally producing income all over the state of Texas and Oklahoma, which is where I have my own locations. Then of course our team has locations all across the country.
We don’t have to be there every day. The machine does all the work, so that the franchisee has the ability to do whatever else they want to do with their life, during those hours of most school days, if that makes sense.
JL: Yeah, it totally makes sense, and I really like what you said about, sometimes you have to put in that extra effort at the beginning to achieve your long-term goal and success. It doesn’t always come immediately.
But if you have an end goal in mind that motivates you to keep working — at that long-term goal.
So I want to ask you too, about some of your success or leadership principles that you listed here. You listed a few: Focus, Discipline — and certainly you exhibited those. Persistence, Relationships, and Hard Work.
Could you expand on some of those and how that applied your situation? And how it applies to some of the families that work for you as franchisees, or as other entrepreneurs.
MM: You know, John, I’ve always kind of followed the whole idea of inch by inch, everything is a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard. Or how do you eat an elephant? Well, one bite at a time. I think the one thing that has really propelled me forward more than anything, and can serve any entrepreneur or anybody in any form of work — is you’ve got to break things up into smaller pieces.
You’ve got to get excited about — and committed to — daily victories. Over time, those daily victories amount to a ton.
You know, that first gumball machine maybe produced fifteen or twenty dollars a month in revenue at the very beginning. Fifteen or twenty dollars in revenue — I mean, that that didn’t even pay for a full tank of gas in my car at the time. But it was a start. Two machines produced thirty to forty dollars in revenue, etc.
Because of our society today, and instant gratification with just about everything that we do, we kind of have this microwave mentality. That if it doesn’t happen overnight, it’s not worthwhile, or that there’s too much effort involved. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There’s no such thing as “get rich quick”. It doesn’t exist.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘Outliers’, talks about taking 10,000 hours to be great at anything. Well, you don’t have to take 10,000 hours to be great at running a vending business like I do. But you have to be willing to pay the price.
And for some of us that price might be time. For some of us that price might be money. For some of it, it might be health challenges. But we’ve all got to be willing to work through whatever that price is for ourselves, in our lives, to ultimately succeed.
I think too many people get distracted or allow themselves to be taken out of the equation along the way. Just because they don’t have a long enough term vision, and a long enough willingness to change.
You know, I’m trying to lose weight right now. I’ve realized in the last several months of working with a virtual trainer online, that it’s going to take me probably a year to two years before I lose the weight that I really want to lose.
So instead of trying to figure out some fad diet, or something to lose 20 pounds next week, knowing that within two months I’ll have put back on 30, I’m getting busy changing the way I live and then being patient along the way. The pounds are slowly coming off. I’m getting more and more fit every day, and I’m getting healthier every day, as well.
But it’s not going to happen overnight with the weight. And it’s not going to happen overnight with anything that we do.
JL: Yeah, I like how you say that, too — you’re saying that you have to have a realistic expectation of how long any goal is going to take, and keep your eyes on the prize. And just be persistent and celebrate those small victories and not get impatient for the big prize at the end. Because it often is incremental progress.
MM: No doubt.
JD: That sounds like great stuff, actually. I was thinking about what we were saying earlier, Matt.
Reflecting back on your journey, have there been some fundamental mistakes that you’ve made that you could share with the audience, that would help them maybe not make similar mistakes?
MM: I think one of the biggest things, Jonathan, is the fact that I set my goals too low, if that makes sense.
JD: It does.
MM: When I was working full-time, my goal was to stop working for somebody else, and to own a house in the country with a few acres.
Well five years — five and a half years ago, I accomplished that. To be honest, for a period of time there, I was bored out of my mind. I had no purpose; I had no direction. I took naps in the afternoon —
JD: You did? You did start napping, Matt?
MM: [laughs] I did, I did. But the challenge with that was I was rudderless for a period of time. It was one of the worst times in my life. Just because I had no focus, I had no direction. What it took for me [to break out of the rut] was I hired a business coach — a guy by the name of Aaron Walker.
I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Dave Ramsey.
MM: Aaron was Dave’s — one of his very first advertising clients on the radio, 20 years ago. The guy’s a multi-millionaire. He’s bought and sold eight businesses over the last 35 years in business, and just has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. And he has “been there, done that”.
I hired him, and I’ll never forget a conversation we had about 18 months ago. He said, “You know what, Matt? You need to get off your butt and do something. Because there’s a ton of schools out there that you’re not in, and the only reason why you’re not is they don’t know who you are.”
And that short conversation changed everything for me, because he saw what I was doing, and saw that kind of day to day [routine was] without purpose. And he was able to help me get refocused, and re-cage and refocus my efforts. We’re on track to grow over hundred percent in the size of our team in this calendar year alone. Because of the things that we’re doing, and the processes that we put in place, and the focused attention and effort that we put into that part of what we do.
JD: It’s fantastic to hear your driving the root business forward, when we need more people like you, Matt, if we’re going to build this country up again. What are some of those processes, some of those things you are putting into place that are helping with this charge, really?
MM: A lot of it revolves around systems. You’ve got to put systems in place, to enable you over time, to have others take on some of that responsibility, as you grow and need help.
I was a solopreneur until about a year ago. I did everything. I finally realized — once again with Aaron’s help — that the only way I was going to continue to grow was if I hired some people.
Thankfully we had put some systems in place to help us do a lot of the things that we do [today], to where I don’t do those things anymore. I’ve got others that do them. And actually do them more effectively, in most cases. It allows me to spend more time focusing on what I’m really good at.
I don’t know if you guys have read Michael Gerber’s book, ‘The E-myth Revisited’? But he talks about three different types of people: the technician, the manager, and the true entrepreneur.
I was a technician for years. I was in the middle of doing the day-to-day vending. And then I was a manager for a little while — just kind of managing people within our team.
Well, to be a true entrepreneur, those two roles are taken on by others, so that you can focus on the vision, the growth, and the bigger picture. Because of the systems in place, we have more time to do whatever the heck one wants. So that’s where we spent a lot of time in the last year and a half — putting those processes together. So that others can step into those roles and do them effectively.
Just a tool I’ll throw your guys way, that — I don’t know if you guys are aware of it or not — I was not until about a month ago — but it has completely and totally changed a lot of this for us [at School Spirit Vending].
Because I was a spreadsheet guy for years, and I did most of it on Google Drive, so that we could share it with others. Well, Google at some point in the last couple years acquired a company called Streak. And now they have a pro platform called Google Streak.
It’s a CRM platform, but you can use it for just about anything. And we’ve begun to implement Streak within a variety of different areas in our business — from tracking contact with schools, to tracking processes with new franchisees, and making sure all the different paperwork and steps and all that are being taken care of by the people whose job it is to do those things.
it’s a really cool tool. It’s very inexpensive. In fact, there’s a free version that probably most people could utilize without any problem at all.
But it ties in with Gmail. It ties with your Google Calendar. It ties with Google Drive, and it brings all those things together in a way that makes all them in my opinion 10 times more powerful working together than each of them individually.
JD: Well, we’ll make sure that’s in the show notes, Matt. Thanks for that tip.
Google Streak — I haven’t actually [heard about this yet], but I’m going to go find out about this.
MM: Go to Streak.com
JL: Thank you so much for that.
JD: It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Matt.
How’s the best way for people to get hold of you? If either they’re interested in the product or in becoming a franchisee?
MM: The best way to reach me — there’s a couple ways. First off, folks can just email me at [email protected] . Otherwise they can — I wrote a short e-book called, ‘Live Your Dreams: The Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Own a Vending Business‘.
It shares some insights of the years that I’ve been in vending, and some things that most professionals have never even thought of. Because to be honest, I never looked at vending as a real business until I really sat down and took a look at what was happening.
But they can go to http://ssvbusiness.com/wp-tonic/ and download that for free — at a landing page specifically for your guys’ audience. And that will begin a dialogue if folks want to talk some more.
Otherwise if they’d like just to read the e-book and maybe get some more insights, that’s fine too.
JD: That sounds great. How can people get a hold of you, John?
Please subscribe to our iTunes channel. It really helps. If you’re very gracious, leave us a review. That really helps it, as well.
I’d like to mention our live show, which we also record on Saturdays, and we start at 10am PST. We have a great panel of WordPress experts. Then in the second half of the show — in the second hour, we do reviews of websites. If anybody joins us on Blab.im, and they want some advice about their website, we’re there to help you and not to say that starts at 10am Pacific Standard Time.
I think it’s been a great show with a great entrepreneur. I thought this would be interesting and it has turned that way. Thank you, Matt.
Thank you John, and join us again for another WP-Tonic show.
MM: Bye guys, God bless.