We are bringing you an interview with Jason Akatiff, a legend in the affiliate marketing space but more notably the CEO and founder of the A4D affiliate network. Jason has been in the online marketing industry since 2003 and he has been a key figure in shaping the state of the industry. He has founded a couple of other businesses in the industry including an e-commerce company that generates revenue of over $50 000 000 a year.
He has been a role model and a figure to look up to by many entrepreneurs in the online space and here we have him sharing his background and knowledge with us through this interview held by Offer Vault.
Read along to the end to learn how he was able to become one of the most notable people in the industry, his driving forces, and his future aspirations in the industry.
I'd love to know what you were doing before joining the affiliate marketing space and before A4D?
I did a bunch of stuff before joining. I built houses, commercial buildings, and parking lots with my family. Afterward, I became a waiter for 4 years, then I ran a small mortgage signing company where I'd go notarize people and go through all their loan documents. After seeing that I couldn’t grow that business to the scale, I went on to take a job in sales.
I had read Rich Dad Poor Dad and Cashflow Quadrant, and I knew that if I want to be a real good business owner I need to learn sales. So I got a job which was to sell franchises for Blimpie International and then another franchise chain, and then ultimately I got laid off in 2003. And that is when I moved to do online stuff.
So how did you find your way into the online stuff, but more specifically the affiliate marketing industry?
Back in 2002-2003, I stumbled across a book that said I could make money on the internet. It was called Search Engine Cloaker. It was about a certain blackhat way to feed the search engine with keywords people wanted and then send the people to sites with Adsense ads. I did that and I ultimately got banned from Adsense. So then I moved into affiliate marketing in fairly short order.
That book had an online forum, and it came with a 100-page ebook PDF. It cost me $35, but I made around $100 back using that system. What that did was to spark something in me and show me that I could make money on the internet.
How did you get to the foundation of A4D?
A4D was never intended to be an affiliate network. In the beginning, I learned a bunch of different options to make money online whether via blackhat SEO, media buying, or whatever it might be but then I couldn't execute them all. So what I would do was either to bring the money or the resources like tech resources, IP addresses, and anything else I needed to be successful. Then I'd go find somebody that I thought was a good executor, maybe a coder. Then I'd tell them what we are going to build, how it works, and provide the resources to get it done.
So I got 7 partners and we ended up working with 5 different affiliate networks. The primary one was COPEAC but then we needed offers in other spaces. This meant that I had 35 different affiliate accounts that I had to manage personally.
At that time, my friend Rick Ruggiero who was the cousin of Mike Krongel, the owner of COPEAC had set up a small affiliate network and he was selling it for $20 000. So I just bought it to manage all my work much easier. Little did I know that the network had a terrible reputation and it sent a lot of fraudulent incentivized traffic and had to pay a lot of bills. So I had to dig out of that hole which took me quite a while.
At that time, I was also a moderator on Wicked Fire, which was the largest affiliate forum back then. There were probably 100 000 affiliates on there and around 10 000 who were active which was quite good. A bunch of people found out that I had an affiliate network platform and then they started joining it.
We had about 2 000 affiliates that joined from Wicked Fire and I had to go start hiring people quickly. At first, we had no office, we were working at my home. We had 2 people working on the kitchen table, face-to-face with computers with CRT monitors from back in the days. I remember one day my wife comes home and she's there sitting at our kitchen table and I look at her thinking to myself, “I’d better get an office”. That's when I first got my first office around December 2008 which was 4 months after starting the A4D network in August 2008.
Tell us a little bit about A4D. What should affiliates know about A4D and what do you guys specialize in?
A4D has specialized in a lot of things over the years. We were probably one of the largest first and largest free-trial Nutra networks back in 2008 up to 2012. We then got sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2012 and then got out of that niche.
So we then started doing a lot in the lead-gen space. We do auto lead-gen, auto insurance lead-gen, loan lead-gen, mortgage, and so on. So we live in the lead-gen part of the world and we also do quite a bit in e-commerce.
We've been working more with guys with Shopify stores and direct consumer brands and we are still building that segment of the business. The other large piece of our business is dealing with financial newsletters. We are selling them leads and they pay us around $50 per subscriber. I stay away from crypto, stock options, and anything that would involve or attract scammy stuff. So we try to focus on things that provide a good user experience for the customers, making sure that they are ultimately happy with the products and services that they're getting on the other side.
My days of making money, just for making money’s sake and not caring who gets hurt in the process are done. Now I have enough money and I want to create things and experiences that people like. And also to do more good in the world than just making money. There are ways to do good things and also make money at the same time so you don't have to steal from people, abuse people, or run SMS installs, or even bill someone on something they don’t even know. I want nothing to do with that kind of business or anything that resembles it.
When you guys get new affiliate applications, what are some of the qualities that you're looking for to grant affiliates into the network?
The main thing is we accept somebody that's got a plan. Somebody with a goal and a process-driven approach to achieve success because this isn't gambling. We want people that are treating this as a serious business and would like to be in it for the long haul.
What would be you know some advice you would give to a new affiliate who would want to see success in this space?
There are 2 kinds of people that are successful in this space. First, it’s the great creative people that become fantastic copywriters because they can sell well. The other group of people I see very successful in this space is very good data analytics people that can understand where opportunities are using data sets, and they optimize towards those opportunities. So these are the 2 most important skills to learn to see success.
Speaking of success, you are associated with being one of the most successful people in this industry. How do you define success?
Tony Robbins talks about our driving questions. Everybody has a driving question, and for me in a core personality trait, my driving question is "How do I get the maximum results with the smallest amount of effort?".
I also know what makes me happy is learning new things and growing. Success when I finally take on a really large challenge. I built a video game company at one point and it didn't ultimately wind up to be successful from a financial standpoint, but I learned so much through the process that I think that it was very successful. That’s what allowed me to build an e-commerce company that made around $50 000 000 in 2020 and we are targeting $120 000 000 to $150 000 000 in 2021.
For me, success is about building cool stuff and saying I built that, I sold that, and that's really fun stuff for me. One of my goals is to build this e-commerce company and to sell it for over $1 000 000 000 in the next 3-4 years. Then after that, I'd like to take that money and put together a small private equity fund and then go do a turnaround on a brand like Toys R Us. It would be great to go buy Toys "R" Us, maybe JC Penneys, or some old iconic brand that has fallen. I’d go buy that up, turn it around, and then turn it into a real viable company. So what's interesting to me is the challenge of creating and building things that are really hard and then finding success within.
What was one of the best investments you've ever made?
It’s hiring people. I started as a solopreneur all by myself and I had never managed people or even worked with other people from the management level perspective. I‘m still uncomfortable with the word boss because I see myself as an equal person most of the time even when I know am not. Understanding operations in a business and valuing the ability for somebody to come in and build standard operating procedures and measurements was a transformational point for me. If people want to build companies, they need to have people that do the operations. Ultimately they save you from doing work you don’t like.
I like building systems where I can get the momentum started and then hand it off to an operational person. I tell them what I'm doing, and how I'm doing it, then I’ll let them hire the team, train the team, build the systems around it, and then it can run from there without my presence. This changed my life.
Staff are not a cost if they are hired the right way. Actually, they should make you more money.
What would be some advice you would give to either someone who's getting ready to enter the real world out of school or maybe someone who is changing directions in their careers at this very moment?
This is a great question. So if we take younger people in their early 20s, everybody is in a hurry to become an entrepreneur and I often advise against that. I think it's an admirable trait to want to build a business and I'm a business builder. However, building and running a business requires a bunch of skills. It's about understanding finance, sales, operations, and everything. People often think of running a business as just making money by doing affiliate marketing but that's not running a business - that's a hustle. Often I tell young people to take the next 3 to 5 years of their lives to figure out the skill sets needed to be great at running a business. To learn these, they should go work in a finance department for a little while, then get a sales job for a while and keep making fast iterations on their skills.
People are always asking for mentors or other people to learn from and this is what exactly a job is for - if you do it right. You can go work for somebody and they are going to pay you, and at the same time train and mentor you to learn that skill. I think there's a really big misconception in the world that jobs are bad. Jobs are not bad at all, I've had lots of people that worked here in my companies, did great jobs, made us tons of money, learned a bunch of skills, and went and built a company at some point.
If you're young, I highly recommend you talk to an entrepreneur that runs a real business and ask them what skills are important for you to be successful. Then you go take jobs and roles in those things over the next few years of your life and start building your tool chest of things you know how to do, rather than starting a business while not knowing where you want it to be, what it should look like, and then making tons and tons of mistakes along the way. This will reduce some of the mistakes and it will accelerate your growth much faster once you start that business.
What are your favorite achievements so far that you’re proud of?
I'm proud of building A4D. I'm proud of getting sued by the FTC. Am proud that am still paying everybody, both employees and affiliates while never missing a payment. Am proud of running a business that is stable and successful in that way and making sure that affiliates are well taken care of.
I'm proud of all the people that have worked for me or have been affiliates of ours and went on to you know build great companies. I've got a whole laundry list of people that I've impacted and helped over the years. I don't need financial gain for those things but it makes me happy to see their success.
We appreciate Jason for sharing his experience and we believe that everyone must have learned a thing or two from this. For anyone who would like to know more about Jason you can follow him on his social media with the usernames Jason Akatiff, and also check out his personal website, jasonakatiff.com.