Meet Gstaad Guy the ultimate renaissance man – he’s in his 20s and has already built 2 successful and radically different businesses, proving following your passions is always the best idea. Check out Gstaad Guy’s lessons on founding a tech startup and growing a 50k+ Instagram following.
Gstaad Guy [00:00:01] Two days ago, I got an email from Cipriani to remove the Cipriani logo from some merchandise. But I’m a strong believer in asking for forgiveness and not permission. Permission takes way too long. Just go for it.
Sam [00:00:37] Today, we’re in conversation with the man behind Gstaad Guy. He’s in his early 20s but has already had two careers and is about to potentially launch a third. Gstaad Guy has built an Instagram and YouTube following from his comedic skits, traveling the world and exposing the comedy in people who take what should be fun and light, and make it serious. Prior to comedy, Gstaad Guy built a startup and has many lessons to share from it. Welcome to the show.
Gstaad Guy: It’s good to be here.
Sam: So let’s start with: what was your motivation? What was the moment of inspiration that caused you to both start your company in college and then embark on this path of Gstaad Guy?
Gstaad Guy [00:01:22] So they both sprouted from very, very different situations. The situation that caused me to start my startup in college was from a personal problem I had in my life: the need for organization. I set out to build the solution and ended up solving that same problem for millions of others. With Gstaad Guy, it was nearly an accident. I was making fun of a friend of mine who at the time was in Gstaad with his family and had actually called me on Facetime and was complaining about his masseuse being late to his appointment.
Sam [00:02:01] That was one of my favorite skits, by the way.
Gstaad Guy [00:02:05] Thank you.
Gstaad Guy [00:02:05] So actually, most of my skits are based on real life scenarios, not of my own life, but from my friends or people around me. I’m sad too – a lot of them are actually my friends.
Gstaad Guy [00:02:17] But the first ever video was actually a video of myself making fun of friends of mine. Who said his masseuse was late and I was making fun of things. He started talking about that. I sent it to his mother. His mother loved the video or found it absolutely hilarious. That was making fun of her son, who is ridiculous.
She forwarded the video to her different Gstaad WhatsApp group chats like Gstaad Tennis and Gstaad Dinner and Gstaad Christmas party and whatever it may be in. The video went viral within a very small community, but everyone was talking about the video.
About a week later, my father received the video from his friends in a hunting group chat. My family doesn’t go to Gstaad. So we saw the video actually had taken a path of its own and it spread very quickly. So I thought, OK, there might be something here, but I never really thought much about it.
I traveled for about a month. This was right after I graduated from university. And I just wanted to explore with some of my best friends. We were in Japan, Korea and all over and then got back to London in late January and it had been about five weeks since that first video that was posted by me. But while I was away, it was picked up by a few London – they called themselves elite meme pages, which focus on a similar style of comedy but strictly meme based.
I was having lunch with my family and someone stopped me and said, “Hey, you’re that guy from that Gstaad Guy video.” And at that moment, I knew there’s something here. I made one video on a whim and someone’s recognizing me in the street.
So the next day I made an Instagram account. She called me the guy from that Gstaad Guy video. So naturally, that’s what I named the accounts and I just started pushing these videos out. And yeah, here I am today.
Sam [00:04:18] Amazing. That’s awesome.
Sam [00:04:21] So you have this idea to start a company in college. Talk a little bit about how you took that germ of an idea and actually turned it into an executable business plan.
Gstaad Guy [00:04:38] So I think that the business plan was never really the goal. I think that’s what allowed it to get to that stage. It did get to it in a good way. The fact that I was actually trying to solve a problem for myself and that I knew that this was a real problem that was affecting others around me. In my heart, my hope was that fixing that problem for people could come at a price and we could turn it into a business. So we never actually fully monetized that hope very well.
But we did solve the problem for millions of people around the world. We have just over 2 million users today and we are solving that specific need. I think that that is the most important part in starting a business today, actually filling a void of some sort and making sure that it’s a void that needs to be filled and not a void is being created for the sake of creating something.
That’s something that I’m seeing around me very often today. People just kind of starting companies for the sake of starting a company without actually defining a clear user base and a clear need that user base may have.
So once I had defined that problem of mine, I sketched it out on a napkin practically and started speaking to people who had similar tensions that I was having. And we were all on the same page. And that’s how we raised our first round of funding.
Actually, we – My father and I started the company together and we were actually having tea with an old friend of my dad’s. And on a napkin, we were describing what the idea was. And he said, once you actually decide you’re gonna run with this, I’ll back you. And we raised our first round of funding, which was two and a half million U.S. dollars that way – that was fantastic.
Sam [00:06:30] And tell us a little more about Gstaad Guy. You decide, you’ve started this Instagram account. You’re now going to produce content on a more regular basis.
You know in a way, social media is liberating because it’s direct contact with your fans and an audience. But what are the other aspects that you had to think about in kind of building and growing that audience?
Gstaad Guy [00:06:55] So with Staad Guy, it was a completely different experience in getting it up and running to be a business. But a lot of the lessons I did learn from my startup applied to Gstaad Guy. Instagram has made it incredibly easy to just put content out and get it seen, especially if it’s fairly niche. If you find that corner of people who even kind of like you and just keep giving them content that they like, it will spread. That’s the beauty of Instagram. Their algorithms do help push the small guys. And this is a new change. Their algorithm about three years ago, or maybe even less, what people were really seeing was the biggest pages on “explore feeds”. So the bigger we’re getting bigger and the smaller weren’t getting the exposure that they deserved, really, because people do want to see unique new content and grow with that. So the timing of that guy really worked by my side. I’ve never seen an Instagram page in my life with the engagement that SugarHouse has – ever. I think that the fact that I’m the only person putting this type of content out at the moment has something to do with that. But also, there’s the fact that Instagram has made that possible at the same time.
Gstaad Guy [00:08:24] So how did you think about scaling your audience on Instagram for Staad Guy and there may be some parallels with scaling to ultimately two billion customers for your startup?
Gstaad Guy [00:08:37] So in the early days of Instagram page, a lot of influencers or ‘influencers’ in brackets. I don’t really like that word typically, but people who influence as a business will say that the best way to grow is for partnerships. So to piggyback off other people of similar size, I was very lucky that I had pages such as Norby Means Super Slutty Snake is one of them or is one page actually has two million followers called Watch on Ornish who all had amassed massive followings of their own. Well, I thought Guy had nothing, and they just loved my content and wanted to work with me, not in order to gain any of my followers because I really didn’t have any. But just because they loved my content and wanted to actually show a piece of that on their pages. So I got very lucky in that sense. People were promoting me just because they loved videos. So that happens fairly rarely. That’s why when people have been asking me for advice, I say really focus on the content and everything else kind of happens. Which applies to many other businesses and industries. If you really have a really good product, it speaks for itself. And that’s what the message I’m trying to get at is. If you have a toaster that doesn’t work, you can have the best marketeers and advertising agencies in the world pushing the toaster. But if it’s not toasting your bread, it’s not going to sell. And that’s more or less what happened with StaadGuy. I never really needed needed to push the content because it kind of pushed itself and sort of moving on its own.
Sam [00:10:16] So as you look back on your time building your startup, what are some of what are some of the challenges you encountered? What are some of your learnings from that experience?
Gstaad Guy [00:10:34] So the main challenge for me was that it wasn’t only my first venture, but my first ever job or anything. I started this in high school and I know there’s a lot of talk about a lot of people who have started in high school and or even in their early college years like Mark Zuckerberg. But that isn’t the norm in any way. So except for the few exceptions who can really make that work? It’s very tough. I had no knowledge of anything really to do with business or starting a company. Luckily, I had my father by my side to help me through that. But the main challenge was pretty much everything to do with starting the company. Fast forward a few years. Once we solved that initial need I was talking about putting that solution into place for millions of others, trying to make money off of them was a big challenge. And we were confused by this portrayal of what it means for a startup to succeed because of the media and we were focused on more and more users and focused on a higher and higher valuation. And we nearly forgot the basic principle of business, which is making money. And we always said once you have more users, we’ll figure out the money to get more users – and more users. And this is an issue that so many startups are going through today. They get millions of users on their platform and everyone is happy and and loving the app or website or whatever it may be, but the company can’t even make enough money off those users to pay for their servers. And that’s a similar issue that we came to. So, for example, we actually partnered with eBay four years ago now. And through that partnership with eBay, we’re hoping that we can bring in some revenues that way. But they were so minimal that they couldn’t even pay for the coffee in our kitchen. And that’s a big challenge that we still face today. And the challenges that led me to really come to the point that we’re out now where we were being significantly diluted down as founders and as a team and the businesses in a very tricky position where the goal is to keep the business going and the users happy. But the incentive isn’t there anymore, given the circumstances for the team and management.
Sam [00:13:07] And now you’re thinking about sort of a third career change. I say that, you know, with the greatest respect because you’re twenty three. And I think it’s amazing that you’ve had all these experiences and it’s a real inspiration, I think, for people. Plus, I myself was quite a.d.d during my career. So it’s not surprising. But talk a little bit about how you’re thinking about this next phase of what you go on to do next.
Gstaad Guy [00:13:38] So a part of me really wants to kind of double down on Staad guy and see where I can take that. And another part of me thinks that there’s so much more I could be doing than an Instagram page type of thing. So I’m looking at different traditional type jobs where I can have a steep learning curve and learn from people around me and have people around me who can help me grow over time. But at the same time, I really believe that I’ve been given this platform and this opportunity to to scale this in a big way and just see where it goes. I have monetized Staad guy, but not enough to pay the bills. And a friend of mine who’s a really big YouTuber, actually one of the biggest YouTubers in the world. Logan Paul, I was talking to him. He’s one of my best friends. And I’ve watched him kind of grow from being a student now making it to the top of YouTube. And I was talking to him about how he made that leap from dropping out of university. And he was studying to be an engineer and not going down the engineering route and instead pursuing Vine that, at the time, was the app he was using. And he told me that once he was making more from Vine than he could ever make from a starting engineering salary, he chose that path. And I would say that would most likely do the same thing if that were the case at the moment. But it’s not. So I am looking for the next step for me. I’m not sure where it lies, but it’s an exciting time in the world. There’s opportunities in practically anything. There are startups trying to solve practically anything. So you need to be very picky with what path to go down. But it’s very exciting.
Sam [00:15:31] It’s super exciting. As you look back, you know, in a sense, both your startup and Staad guy, you know, didn’t provide you the kind of usual forum that a larger organization provides. Plus people coming out of college to kind of learn from a variety of different people and just build a set of experiences that then underpin them as they go forward. Do you feel you miss that at all?
Gstaad Guy [00:15:59] I don’t really think so. I speak to a lot of my friends who are at large corporations, and they’re supposed to have this defined structure of support and growth. But I feel like if you’re looking for that support, especially with the Internet and YouTube, you can ingest that material in other ways. So I may have not had someone saying, hey, you should do this or do that. But I watch Ted talks, I listen to podcasts. I research just even something as simple as typing a few words into a YouTube search. You can learn a month worth of things in 20 minutes. So I think that I may have missed out on the actual experience, which would have taught me a lot of these things, but I’m kind of going into the unknown on my own and just figuring things out. Thereby, they taught me a lot more than I think many of my friends have been trying to learn from other people.
Sam [00:16:58] So tell us a little bit about how you think about the monetization avenues available to you with Staad guy, so with Staad guy in particular.
Gstaad Guy [00:17:09] I thought in the very early days that if I mounted enough of a following, I could one day go down the typical Instagram route of partnerships and Instagram ads and brand deals, that type of world. But when I started realizing the incredible engagement I was picking up on on the page and, more importantly, who my followers were, which are the only people who could read understand the joke, especially really early on or people who were in that world who were going to star in Monaco and and very extravagant and expensive places who were willing to spend money on practically anything. So I was thinking about how my friend Logan was talking about how he built up his whole career mostly through merchandise sales. So there was, of course, the YouTube ads coming in and brand deals, but most of his income came in from merchandise. So I thought even if it turns out to be a joke, I may as well just try to sell a few T-shirts and sweatshirts with my face on them. So I decided on this. I think it was noon on a random day. I was having my sandwich like I always do, and I thought, okay, I’m going to sit out and do this. So by 14:00, I had a Web site registered on Shopify. Everything was ready to go and I was doing production on the Mount and I still am. So when a customer places the order, the item is then produced and the margin is much slimmer than it would be if I was to use something like Alibaba to produce in bulk. But there’s no risks, really. My only risk is the $30 a month was paying to Shopify for the website and domain. So – it was 14:00. I was live at 2:30. I posted the Instagram story saying the web store is now life and at this point I only had 5000 followers. So this is really unheard of. I don’t think anyone with such a small following has ever thought to create merchandise because why would you?
Sam [00:19:06] And how did you design the merchandise?
Gstaad Guy [00:19:10] It was so simple. There’s a Shopify web store. And in the web store, you have all these add on apps where you can use other companies, websites that are syncs with Shopify and kind of drag your logo onto a sweatshirt and that’s it. So I had, I think, 50 items that I created, pillows, blankets, bathing suits, hoodies with my face, with like taglines I’ve said in the past with a picture of a schnitzel of yours. And so they were just some random things that I knew people would at least find funny. I never expected people to really just start buying right off the bat. So at 2:30, the website was live at like 2:45, I posted an Instagram story and that’s the beauty of Instagram. Within five minutes, you can get a message out to 5000 people. And, now, for 40000 people on my account today. But that’s unheard of as well, except for these past few years, you could never get a message spread that fast, that quickly ever in the past. So I think you have to thank Instagram for that. And by, I think, 3 p.m., I had sold a thousand pounds worth of merchandise and I was in shock. I never thought people were actually going to be buying this stuff. I never thought anything. I didn’t put any effort into the logo design into the website. The brand was that it was badly done. That’s just part of the aesthetic. The fact that it looked like I did this in between lunch and dinner, you know, and people loved it. And I kept that going and it kind of became routine for me to film video, edit video posts and then make the merchandise about the video. So it’s kind of like the concert approach. So for a concert on tour, every city they go to, they have an ASP in New York or Chicago and they have specific merchandise. I did that for every single video. I did get into some trouble. I got a lot of videos in which I talk about Laura Piana Brandenberg, LVMH and I, Constance, the lover of everything, lopiano partially because it’s beautiful and it arguably is one of the nicest brands in the world. Also partially because it’s absolutely a ridiculous brand. I mean, there are some items in there that are up to $50000 just because they’re made out of a material that no one in the world even heard of. Like the Vicuna, which I talk about often in my videos, which is this Peruvian llama that Lopiano owns the rights.
Sam [00:21:38] Sabiha baby llama. Yeah.
Gstaad Guy [00:21:40] So it’s ridiculous. The whole world. And I started using Laura Penner’s logo, my merchandise and writing stuff, guy with it. And they weren’t too happy with that. I had to change that. And actually, two days ago I got an email from Chip Brioni to remove the Cipriani logo from some merchandise. But I’m a strong believer and ask for forgiveness and not permission. Permission takes way too long. Just go for it.
Sam [00:22:05] Bill Clinton pioneered that.
Gstaad Guy [00:22:09] Exactly. So I just went for it. I thought, you know what? Let’s see how far this goes. And yeah, I had to change my logo, which took half an hour, maybe 20 minutes down the line, but I still made a lot of money off of it. In the meantime, I had a lot of fun. And people are wearing these items around the world now.
Sam [00:22:29] I need to buy one of your T-shirts myself. That’s a fabulous strategy.
Gstaad Guy: Thank you.
Sam [00:22:39] Thanks for listening today. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please do view the show. We love hearing from you. Good or bad. So e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram DM us. All right. The episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Milewski with music by the awesome Nashville based singer songwriter Doug. You can learn more about Doug at Dougallenmusic.com.
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