As entrepreneurs, we have a tendency to think that our story or hardship is so unique that nobody can relate to us. The reality is our stories are far more similar than they are different. We just don't talk about our stories as often as we should. Our guest this week is MJ Gottlieb, founder of LOOSID. LOOSID is a mobile app that aggregates global offerings for those living a sober lifestyle or are curious about what it means to live a sober lifestyle.
As entrepreneurs, we have a tendency to think that our story or hardship is so unique that nobody can relate to us. The reality is our stories are far more similar than they are different. We just don't talk about our stories as often as we should.
Our guest this week is MJ Gottlieb, founder of LOOSID. LOOSID is a mobile app that aggregates global offerings for those living a sober lifestyle or are curious about what it means to live a sober lifestyle.
MJ’s story is littered with decision points that brought him to some very low places as he battled through his addiction to alcohol. Yet MJ’s perspective on the many decades of hardship and devastation is one that will empower and encourage every single one of you.
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The Startup Story - MJ Gottlieb
MJ Gottlieb: Hi, this is MJ Gottlieb, cofounder and CEO of LOOSID App, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. It's been a while since I mentioned it, but if you're new to The Startup Story podcast there is a way that you can advertise your business for absolutely free. Just leave a five star rating and a written review in Apple Podcast and if you do that I will read your review in an upcoming episode so make sure you plug your brand, URL, or social media account in that review. These episodes live on forever and so will your ad. I'm basically giving you a free advertisement for writing a review on Apple Podcast. It's my way of saying thank you for taking the time to write that review.
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Every month we hold a private livestream with one A list level founder so that you can get your questions answered directly by them. In July we had Ben Chestnut, founder of Mailchimp join us, and he was so gracious with his time. He hung around for every single question to be answered. Our guest founder for August is Julie Bornstein, the founder of The Yes and former COO and board member of Stitch Fix. Julie helped to scale Stitch Fix to $1 billion in under six years. Prior to Stitch Fix she was the CMO and chief digital officer for Sephora. Julie is an absolute force of nature and you will have the opportunity to join a private livestream event where you can have your questions answered directly by her. Yes, you heard me correctly. You have the opportunity to have your startup questions answered directly by a founder that has executed numerous times and can provide you with tactics and strategies to accelerate your personal entrepreneurial journey.
But here's the thing, you need to be a member of Startup Story Inner Circle. Look, if you're not already a member of the Inner Circle then you missed out on our private livestream event with Ben Chestnut, the founder of Mailchimp. So if this is an opportunity that you would want then all you need to do is join The Startup Story Inner Circle ASAP because our recording session with Julie will be taking place on Thursday, August 13th. Don't let this rare opportunity pass you by, just visit thestartupstory.co/VIP to sign up today so you can be part of the super private event. When have you ever been afforded the chance to sit with someone who has accomplished so much within the realm of business and entrepreneurship and receive direct mentorship from them? This opportunity can truly change the trajectory of your business but it is only for The Startup Story Inner Circle, so visit thestartupstory.co/VIP today. All right, now let's jump into this week's episode.
Our guest this week is MJ Gottlieb, founder of LOOSID. LOOSID is a mobile app that aggregates global offerings for those living a sober lifestyle or are curious about what it means to live a sober lifestyle. You know, so many startups began out of solving a personal need the founder has. Some solutions like Farm Girl Flowers or Varidesk have origin stories that are more common and comfortable than others. Then there are stories like LOOSID that are birthed out of a personal fight to change the stigma of recovery and sobriety. MJ's story is littered with decision points that brought him to some very low places as he battled through his addiction to alcohol and we cover some very raw moments in this episode. Yet MJ's perspective on the many decades of hardship and devastation is one that will empower and encourage every single one of you listening. See, as entrepreneurs we have a tendency to think that our story or hardship is so unique that nobody can relate to us. The reality is our stories are far more similar than they are different, we just don't talk about our stories as often as we should. So as we jump into MJ's startup story make sure you're in a place where you will not be interrupted because his entrepreneurial challenges really do begin when he was just a young child.
MJ Gottlieb: My father was a salesman and he always would tell me never take risks, go to school, and become a doctor and a lawyer, and get married and have 2.1 kids, and a white picket fence, don't ever take risks. And I resented him for that but it was this push/pull going on in my head for such a long time and I remember I was in college and I was studying philosophy. My parents called me and said, "Yeah, you've got to change your major and not do philosophy," and I was like why? This is the one thing that I love. They said, "Because philosophers don't get paid until they're dead." So I changed it and I just was not interested in school, and then I ended up starting a business while in school and once we landed our first national account quit school in the middle of my senior year, which horrified my parents. Not to skip all that way ahead, but it was the exact opposite. It was don't ever take a risk ever.
James McKinney: So being that was part of your upbringing, the narrative you were marinated in through the first 18 years of life, what do you think that tension you had was? The fact that you resented it meant that internally you knew that you wanted to do something that was of risk or what was pulling at you internally all the way through we'll say your high school years? Let's not jump to college yet, but when we think about your early days, what was pulling at you that you resented that idea?
MJ Gottlieb: Quite frankly I was just so torn and listen, I love my parents with all my heart, that I turned to drinking. I had that first drink and then I never stopped because I was just in such conflict. I was the exact opposite of everything they wanted me to be, and that's what it was. Then luckily I found basketball or basketball found me and I was good at it. I had so much aggression that I was able to take that out on the courts and excelled and did very well. I'm only what, 6'1 or 6'2 and I was too slow to be a guard and I always wanted to bang with the big guys, so I would go up against the 6'9, 6'10, 6'11 guys and I had so much aggression that I could out read them all. Just thinking about it, it really had to do with this internal conflict that I could never take risks and I was just so challenged by that.
James McKinney: Oh, that's incredible. As you talk about your stature and the aggression, I just kept thinking you had the John Stockton height but the Bill Laimbeer finesse.
MJ Gottlieb: Yeah or if you remember Ed Neely, I was just like that just roofless 7 footers they'd be like why is this 6'1 guy matching me up?
James McKinney: So coming to the end of your high school years and you talk about some of the internal challenges, you were living this life that obviously was contrary to some of the teachings of your parents and the tension that created, but as you were coming to the end of high school my assumption is that college is part of that narrative. You tipped your hand a little bit that you were a philosophy major. But in order to pick that major you had an idea of what you wanted to do or become. So going into college, as you were finishing high school which is a natural chapter of our life, going into college what did you think you wanted to become with this degree of philosophy?
MJ Gottlieb: That's interesting. I read a book called Zen and the Martial Arts when I was like 13 or 14 years old. There's a lot of philosophy in it, and then there's the dao de jing and all this stuff, and it taught you how to put pain out of your mind. I remember going into the dentist and he was giving me a root canal and I was like 14, and I said, "No novocaine," and he said, "Absolutely not, we're giving you novocaine," and I said, "I won't feel a thing." I remember putting my mind into another place and him, he finished and he was in absolute shock. So I realized that these teachings that I had picked up on in, and it was really eastern philosophy, I craved and so I wanted to take that in and study it in college.
Then when I got to college, I realized it was really western philosophy which is a lot more kind of science based. So it turned out I wasn't in the philosophy that I wanted anyway, so it wasn't too hard to convince me. But yeah, I was fascinated by the whole eastern philosophy on how you could become powerful by inactivity and the whole strength of water and all this kind of crazy eastern philosophy. It was the founder of karate do and I was studying all this stuff and seeing how these masters were able to achieve these amazing feats just by utilizing their minds. And that's something that I actually do to this present day, there's some incredible thought leaders like Jocko Willink and Mark Divine that teach C level corporations how to take the principles of the Navy SEALS and make you a better business leader, and that's something that I take into my business to this day.
James McKinney: Interesting. So during that season as you alluded to in your high school years, drinking was part of your life.
MJ Gottlieb: It was, yeah. I drank a six pack before practice every day and other substances.
James McKinney: And the only reason I want to bring that up as we continue on in this journey is that you have this tension of drinking being a necessity of your life and yet there's this philosophy that you're pursuing where you have control of your mind and able to put yourself in this sense of peace. Again, I go back to the idea of the tension. You talk about the tension as a kid in your upbringing, tension in college years. But you had also tipped your hand earlier that there was a business venture that took place in college years. So up to this point, there hasn't been any entrepreneurial itch that you've revealed that needed to be scratched so what took place in college where now this idea of having a business was part of your journey?
MJ Gottlieb: So I had been rapping for a number of years.
James McKinney: I really hope you have a track that I can just lay in the background of your story.
MJ Gottlieb: I wish. The funny thing is after my first business when I declared bankruptcy, they repoed my car with my masters and that was something that just devastated me.
James McKinney: Oh man.
MJ Gottlieb: So I had a rap group called B and W, Black and White. Now I was always obviously the white and the B, I had different partners here and there. Nobody really ever stuck and we printed up a bunch of shirts to promote B and W, and we went into the club in Denver - I was at University of Colorado Boulder - in anticipation of giving these shirts away to promote the music and nobody wanted to listen to the music, because nobody wants to listen to a white rapper but everybody wanted the shirts and said, "How much?" We were going to give them away for free. So at the end of the night, so we sold the 20 shirts we had in our hands and we had the other 80. We printed up 100. I got a loan for $550 from my dad and went back into the trunk and sold those 100 shirts, and had $1,000 at the end of the night. The next day, we turned B and W into a business, and it was B and W Racial Awareness Wear and it was all about if a black person and a white person can work together, so can everyone. It was really about breaking down the racial barriers that exist, and we were off to the races.
James McKinney: Wow. Now what's interesting, there are lots of things that are interesting about it. One, the fact that your dad gave you a loan yet he had perpetuated this idea you don't take risks. That's interesting in and of itself. But two, the storyline of B and W, were you in Colorado at this time?
MJ Gottlieb: Yeah, yep.
James McKinney: So you were in Colorado at this time, so again I don't have my timestamps exactly but if I remember from a little bit of research, this was in the early nineties, and yet we know the story of Fubu and Daymond John, a very similar story of clothing, clubs, selling direct from the back of the trunk and just hustling order by order. I feel like it was the same time period out of New York obviously, so it's interesting just to see the parallel there.
MJ Gottlieb: Daymond wrote the forward to my book. So I wrote a book called How to Ruin a Business Without Really Trying and Daymond wrote the forward to it. I know Daymond since 1996. Basically I was funded by Samsung and Samsun was looking to buy American companies, and the president of Samsung America Textile and Apparel Division said, "Hey, there's this kid coming up in a couple of minutes. He's got this company I think it's called Fubu. He's got a bunch of celebrities wearing the product. Check him out and let me know if he's worth anything, if you think this is something that we should pay attention to."
I remember Daymond coming off the elevator and he had this neoprene coat on with Fubu and we went into the Samsung conference room. He put in his VHS or Betamax and every single celebrity on the planet was wearing his product. I remember excusing myself and going into the Samsung conference room and calling my business partner, Gary, who's my COO now and saying, "We're in trouble," because we had just signed our deal with Samsung and we had already been around seven years, and here was this kid at the time, we were all in our twenties, and he had every celebrity wearing his product. I knew how valuable that was at the time. Daymond needed some help putting the samples together, I was happy to do that, and then he went to the Magic Show which is the big trade show out there and they wrote up $5 million in three days.
Then after that Samsung came to us that next Monday, the day after the show, and said, "Listen we want to focus our energies on Fubu because we think it's going to be something." I was like, "No, what are you talking about?" I was, that was one of the 55 lessons that I teach in the book, never make a decision when in any type of emotional state whether it's positive, negative. I was like, "No, how could you do this to us?" And they're like, "We want you to be the first ones in outside of Daymond and his three partners." I was like no, and then they became what they became. A couple years later, they were looking to buy another company and I had suggested a company called Drunken Monkey so we did that merger, and then Daymond and I had been working on and off ever since for the last 20 years or so.
James McKinney: Wow, incredible. Absolutely incredible. So ultimately the B and W faded away.
MJ Gottlieb: Faded away when that meeting with Samsung, when they said, "We want to focus our efforts on Fubu," and we weren't able to secure financing enough to save the seasons. So we had to go Chapter 7 liquidation.
James McKinney: Yeah. So what was the next step for you?
MJ Gottlieb: The next step was I put my furniture on the lawn and I had my business partner drive my car to an area of Englewood so nobody would find it, and they found it and repoed it. I moved back home to New York City; I was in Los Angeles. And then Gary, my business partner, he came out. We moved in with my parents and we walked to 100th Street and back every day, looking for any kind of manual job because I didn't want to show my face in the fashion world because I had just had a business the day before.
So we didn't have money for a bus token, so we couldn't take the bus, so I said, "The first $1.50 that I have I'm going to buy a token and wrap it around my neck in case I ever get in trouble, I'll always have a ride home." So we got a job mopping floors at a bar and I took the first $1.50 that I made and bought a bus token. Ripped off my shoelaces and wrapped it around my neck and it's still there 20 years later.
James McKinney: That's incredible. Now again, one of the themes in your life up to this point through your mid-twenties is just being raised with this idea that you don't take risk, don't take risk. Here you are now having taken a risk. You had a loan with your dad and you lost everything and you're moving back home. What was happening to you mentally? Because right now it sounds like all worlds are colliding in a lot of different ways.
MJ Gottlieb: Yeah. So I was drinking, I was mopping floors, and it was a very humbling experience. But I wouldn't trade that for the world because pre Corona, anytime I see a bar back, we used to have to… The guy that ran the bar was this kind of egotistical guy and it was a popular bar, and in back there was a lounge. People could smoke cigarettes at the time indoors. I had gained about, I don't know, 50 or 80 pounds just from depression. He knew our background so what he would do is with all the women on his arm he'd say, "Hey, Fat Mike the president," because my name is Michael Jonathon, MJ, "Somebody threw up in the second bathroom. Clean it up."
So my responsibility was cleaning, taking the cigarette butts from the ashtrays, and taking them from the pretty women and then giving them a nice clean ashtray, and then cleaning toilets and stuff like that. But it teaches you a humility that made me a much better person later in life because now I treat the bar back and the billionaire the same exact way, and that's something that I think you really need to have some level of experience in order to truly… there's a saying, "Those amongst us, no explanation is necessary. Those not amongst us, no explanation is possible." Once you go through that level of humility, I've had those jobs, I've been there. I've been later in my life sleeping in my parents place. I had to go through all that stuff. But I have friends of mine that have gone through a lot worse, so everything being relative but it just that humility is a great strength.
James McKinney: So you have this book of How to Ruin a Business Without Even Trying. We'll have a link in our show notes for that. And I have to believe that during that season there are quite a few lessons that you point to in that book about this season. While we won't unpack many of them, I have to believe that throughout the rest of your journey this season just hangs there as a point of remembrance. For some, it might be a shadow, for others it might be just this point of remembrance that gives us a bit more gratitude in the journey, gives us a little bit more motivation. How does that season hang in your life?
MJ Gottlieb: I take it into everything that I do. Because for one you can go from the absolute bottom to putting your life back together. Anybody can. It shows me adversity, I don't want to curse, but I say adversity is my B-I… There's so much strength in adversity and so now when I see adversity, I'm like oh wow, how incredible that is when I get to the other side of it. I was just on a call just before this and the person said "if," and I corrected him and said, "when." People can't say "if" when we're having conversations; I have to correct them. it gives me that kind of mental fortitude that I can get through anything.
James McKinney: Absolutely. The perspective that one gets when they've been to the bottom, when they've lost everything and there's really only one way but up, having lost everything myself 10 plus years ago there is so much peace amidst chaos that I have because I've lost everything. There's nothing that can be worse than what I've gone through, and so I'm expectant of what can be.
MJ Gottlieb: Yeah, very well said.
James McKinney: So I know there's a few ventures that lead you to you mentioned before Drunken Monkey. You helped negotiate that merger with FUBU. I believe there was a basketball apparel company that you had as well.
MJ Gottlieb: Five Star Basketball. That wasn't mind. I was creative director of that, but yeah.
James McKinney: So when you think through this, and we know… ultimately I know the story leads us to LOOSID, can you unpack what LOOSID is so we can help connect the dots from where we were as you were a bar back to where you are today?
MJ Gottlieb: So LOOSID is an app for all those who are interested or choose to live a sober lifestyle. So that would be anybody in recovery, anybody looking to get sober or anybody who is sober for other reasons, whether it be faith, spirituality, wellness, fitness. Then there's also a pocket called the sober curious movement which are those people who just have a genuine curiosity as to whether or not, what the benefits of sobriety are and facing life on life's terms. So it's for lack of a better example it's like a sober Facebook.
James McKinney: Interesting.
MJ Gottlieb: It's sober dating, sober travel, sober groups, sober events, an entire suite of recovery tools, so it's a very comprehensive platform that we built.
James McKinney: I'm going to be honest, the reason when your publicist reached out to me saying would you be interested in having MJ on the show, at first I was like oh another mobile app, great, let me see what this is. I saw the audience you were catering to and I thought there's a reason that this is a passion of his, and I knew that there was a story to be unpacked and told when it came to the foundational purpose for LOOSID. So knowing that we just walked through you losing everything, for B and W, you're working at a bar, you've just gained 80 pounds, you're battling depression, you're drinking, all the things. How does your life travel from there to desiring the idea of creating what became LOOSID?
MJ Gottlieb: For the next about 15 years I had built brands and then crashed them through the ground through my addiction to alcohol and other substances. I got sober not for myself. You could do anything to me. I could wake up in a jail, I could wake up in an institution, nothing could stop me. I was babysitting the son of an ex-girlfriend and I passed out, and to think that I put somebody, a young five year old kid, in jeopardy and this was shortly after I put my four nephews, one who was in a crib, one was two, one was like five and one was six, and I passed out... to know that I put a child in jeopardy I couldn't look at myself in the mirror.
So I got sober March 21st, 2012. The reason why it took me so long to get sober is I thought sober would be the end of fun. Coming from urban hip hop clothing brands and going to the clubs and all that stuff, I'd find myself in diners and coffee shops and I said if this is all there is, then I'm going to continue to use, which I did. I wanted to build a platform that showed the amazing life that you can have in sobriety. So not just a focus on how to white knuckle it and get through the day but show the hundred million plus people and those people who are struggling the incredible life that you can have.
This is why we partnered with Sober Vacations International, largest sober vacation travel company in the world. Put together thousands and thousands of events that we found that were happening all around the United States and have them in LOOSID. Sober dating. We launched the Boozeless Guide so every restaurant in America that has zero proof mocktail offering is in the Boozeless Guides. Community chat groups, which is our community where we have over 1,000 groups. There's groups for sober entrepreneurs, there's groups with sober with anxiety and depression, there's a daily gratitude group, and the list goes on. And it's showing these unbelievable experiences that can happen in sobriety. Because if people just think it's about coffee shops, diners, and church basements it's going to prevent them from the benefits of ever getting to the other side. So that's what LOOSID is all about, because we have to show what an amazing life you can live. So that's why I created LOOSID.
James McKinney: For the sake of time together there's so many points along the journey that I would love to unpack about all the different you mentioned casually all the different brands that you built and destroyed because of your addiction to drugs and other substances, but no need to unpack those things. But what I do want to unpack is that exact moment when you thought I want to solve this problem. What was that moment? Because when people think through the different technology solutions, the different product offerings, whatever the case may be, there is a very clear moment where them and a buddy are sitting there, they're sketching on a napkin or they're fussing around with something in the kitchen and wish something could be easier. What was the moment for you?
MJ Gottlieb: I had an agency that specialized in working with companies and moving them into the digital space, and showing them the value of the digital space. I was with a dear friend of mine who is now my business partner, whose whole family has been ravaged by addiction. She was looking at acquiring several treatment facilities in efforts to help people, so they wouldn't have to go through what her and her family had gone through. And I said, "Johnna," her older son Corel is my partner as well, and I said, "You can't open enough rehabs to touch every single person. The best way to do it is to take the entire community," which represents you're talking about I think 38% of people had an illicit drug use disorder of the adult American population. It's like 73 million people. This was a study I believe in 2017. "You can't knock on 73 million doors but you can let 73 million people come into one door through an app. So let's build a home for all those people who need help, as well as those people in recovery, as well as anyone who chooses to live a sober life. Let's get them all and put them in one place and make it accessible in the palm of your hand." And then I walked her through it and we did it.
James McKinney: Now why wouldn't, again someone from the outside, when I hear about the challenge you were trying to tackle from day one, why wouldn't we'll say an organization like AA try to tackle this? It seems from a funnel perspective here they are, people coming into the AA program wanting to become sober and change their life, it seems like that would be the funnel in which they would want to build this themselves. So why wouldn't someone like that do that?
MJ Gottlieb: Any 12 step group is, I'm a huge advocate for. It's a 12 step program and you work the 12 steps. There would be no sober dating, sober different various groups and sober events and travel, and stuff like that. They have a couple events a year for New Year's and they have some retreats, but they're very focused on the 12 steps, and the 12 traditions that they follow, and they're very focused. From my experience, if you go through the 12 steps and actively participate in the program on a daily basis, you will stay recovered.
The challenge is that so many people don't ever get through the doors or they're like me, who was in and out but never took the 12 steps. So like the definition of insanity is going to a 12 step fellowship and not working the 12 steps. So what I did is I would just go into the 12 step groups and just listen and then leave, and think that my life would suddenly change. Those 12 step groups do an absolutely incredible job at getting people in the state of recovered. But what do we do from the perspective of showing people how to live an amazing life? What do we do the other 23 hours of the day when we're not in a 12 step group? How do we enjoy ourselves outside of say the small network that we build? And so with us it's all about what they do is unbelievable, but how can we focus on one, the person that hasn't gotten there yet and unfortunately there's a lot. 89% of people don't make it to treatment that need treatment. And then what do you do with the other 23 hours of the day?
Something that I found a lot of trouble even in the fellowship, the steps saved my life but there was a small group that was around me. I wanted to expand my group. So with LOOSID, we have people that will jump in the LOOSID hotlines and say, "Hey, I feel like using," and someone in New York may say it, and then someone will come in from Los Angeles or Chicago or San Francisco or Florida or wherever, and be like, "Hey, I've been there too." And then people just start jumping in from all over the country and helping.
That's something that is what our community is all about. Because when you look and you really want to show how amazing a life you can have in sobriety, you have to show a very expansive, fun, adventurous life. Because if I were to tell you hey, if you get sober and the current stigma that is like church basements and diners and coffee shops, it's not too sexy. So I think that to their credit, they are exactly focused on where they need to be. I think that if the program changed in any way it would dilute the program because it's about getting them in a state of recovered.
James McKinney: Yeah, and I thank you for that incredible answer because it helped open my mind to some of the challenges of recovery in general. There's so many different ways to help someone in that process. In my mind, I was thinking from this funnel perspective oh if you go through AA or any 12 step process then automatically here's the LOOSID community. Not everyone goes through recovery the same way. Not everyone gets to recovery the same way. So obviously the more nets the possible. As you're thinking of this, of what becomes LOOSID, out the gate what was the biggest challenge you had? Because any community solution is so challenging because obviously it is dependent upon people, resources, there's so many things that are challenging within a community environment.
MJ Gottlieb: The biggest challenge is everybody says that how and why did you build the entire platform. What I mean by that is why didn't you just do sober dating, and then five years later do sober groups, and then… but why did you do everything?
James McKinney: And I have to believe when you spoke to Daymond, Daymond probably asked you that question because I've heard him in various pitch sessions where it's very much that same thing, like why everything versus just one segment.
MJ Gottlieb: Yeah. So the interesting thing is if you understand sobriety, so let's say you're married or have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Suddenly it's just dating is out of the equation, so then your app is not relevant. Let's say you're sober for other reasons, well then the recovery section isn't relevant. Let's say you're dating, you find someone, but you don't need someone anymore. If you look at LOOSID, okay you find someone. Okay, you toggle off your dating, you don't date anymore. But then you see all of these events that you can go to that you're not still focusing on the recovery side. There's all this travel, there's all these restaurants that have mocktail offerings.
You have to show… it's like saying you know what I'm going to give someone a tenth of a life. I want to give people 10-tenths of a life. So if I were to just segment, it would have cost one-tenth the amount of money because it takes us a team of developers seven days a week working around the clock to make sure every single element of the app is working, because there's over 700,000 comments going on just in the hotlines and groups alone. Excuse me, there's 500,000. There's almost 800,000 interactions in dating. There's so much going on and you have to make sure that you have developers working on all ends to make sure that the user experience is great, the app doesn't break, the app is built in a way where the code base if one thing breaks it doesn't break everything. It would be very easy if we were not to be talking about sobriety. But if you're going to be sober, there's no such thing as 30% sober. So I can't build an app that covers 30% of the audience that I want because then I would effectively be killing people in my mind, by not providing them the access to get help.
And a lot of people say, "Why do you let people in who are part of the sober curious?" And I say because we were all once sober curious, before we were sober we were thinking maybe I should become sober. There was a point in every person's life that they said maybe I shouldn't drink anymore, unless they never had a problem and they're just sober for fitness or other reasons. So why would I prevent them? We're here to welcome people with open arms, and there wasn't a sober curious pocket when I was coming up. I either had to step across the line or not, and put my hand up in the air and say hey I'm MJ and I'm an alcoholic or not. But I didn't know if I was.
So sober curious allows you to ask questions. We have to be all inclusive to anyone and everyone, because if not we'll effectively be turning our backs on people that can end up… I've been to a lot of funerals, let's just put it that way. You want to make sure that you're all inclusive of anyone who needs or wants help or anybody who chooses to live a sober life.
James McKinney: That's incredible. There's so much about that segment and that demographic that is foreign to me, and I suspect foreign to many listeners. Sober travel, all the things you mentioned, I'm incredibly intrigued about. But as opposed to unpack all the different elements that is in LOOSID, let's talk about some of the startup moments and the firsts of LOOSID. When you decide I'm moving and creating this LOOSID app, this is something that I'm going to do. How did you fund it?
MJ Gottlieb: So my business partner is the funding entity and I run the company. She believes in me and trusts me 100% and all she wants to do is help people going through what she's experienced her whole life, and the same thing is the case for her older son who is my partner as well. They've witnessed so much. They get it. Back to that, "those amongst us, no explanation is necessary; those not amongst us no explanation is possible." Like Johnna one of the two business partners, she might not be an addict but her entire family has been ravaged by addiction so she gets it, she understands it. So she understand the pain point that we're fulfilling. That's why she was trying to open up a rehab, and Corel gets it too. He's seen it from all sides. My business [partners get it because unfortunately it's something that they've been exposed to.
James McKinney: So that answers your first funding. Has that been the only funding to date?
MJ Gottlieb: Yep, that's it.
James McKinney: Incredible. When was your launch date?
MJ Gottlieb: So the launch date was November 15th, 2018 and the funny thing about that, that was when New York City had that snowstorm that we haven't had a snowstorm like that since 2011. We had Kelly Osborne who had just celebrated her first year of sobriety the month before, and the city was effectively shut down and we had every publication on the planet coming. I could hardly get there and it was eight blocks away from me here. It took my business partner seven and a half hours, it normally takes them 30 minutes, and the George Washington Bridge they just turned around and went back home. So that was a bit of a debacle. We still had maybe 100 people who showed up, and Access Hollywood showed up and Kelly showed up and People Magazine showed up. Probably 80% of the people that we expected simply couldn't get there. So that was the official launch, so that was Mother Nature slapping us around.
James McKinney: Unbelievable. At this point, so we talked about your first round of funding, we talked about your launch date. What was your acquisition strategy and how long did it take you to get your first we'll say 10,000 users?
MJ Gottlieb: So it's interesting. So what we do is took us a while to get the technology. We had the benefit of getting a lot of press. We've done a very soft user acquisition because we really look at the funnels and study the consumer behavior within the app, see what people are reacting too, what they're liking, what they're not liking, and then we iterate, and we're very agile development company. So now that we've hit the sweet spot and we've turned on user acquisition, when I say turned on user acquisition from the standpoint of ads and stuff like that really in the last couple of months. Sadly, since COVID our numbers have grown exponentially, but that's sadly because isolation to an addict is potentially deadly.
James McKinney: That was going to be a future question for sure about the impact of COVID because one of the numbers that I read recently is that the call-ins to the national suicide hotline grew by 300%. I knew there was going to be an impact to your user acquisition just because of, to your point, isolation jacks with you in a lot of different ways.
MJ Gottlieb: We tell people don't do one thing. There's one thing you should not do as an addict or alcoholic: isolate. Don't ever isolate, and then here we are. So now people aren't able to get around, get to 12 step meetings and thank God the 12 step groups have Zoom meetings now, but during those other 23 hours of the day people need to connect and engage. We saw a 106.7% increase in engagement since March 6th I think. We had a 1,970% increase in the hotlines and community section. Interestingly, the dating we had a 620% increase which I found very interesting. I thought it was going to go the other way but what I'm realizing is that people are lacking intimacy so people are actually talking a lot even though they're not meeting, and then maybe they're taking it to FaceTime. So yeah, so the user base has grown quite a bit, the circumstance for which they've grown is not good.
James McKinney: But aside from the growth experienced through the COVID situation, your first 10,000 was just slow, word of mouth, maybe some Facebook ads, just general tactics in order to grow. No massive growth hack techniques, nothing like that, just general advertising, word of mouth, publicity, things like that.
MJ Gottlieb: I believe anybody who starts any business to make money is going to fail. Money is not a purpose and you have to have a purpose, and money isn't a purpose. So if you don't have a purpose, if you're not serving some greater good, and when I say greater good you don't have to be saving the world but some greater good, some purpose, some social good. That could be you making a lot of money and then taking that money and helping people and helping your family or whatever it is. But not about buying a fancy car. Start a business that's based upon a passion inside of you and fulfills a genuine pain point that exists in society. Not just on the business level, but something that serves a greater good. If your pain point that you're fulfilling doesn't serve a greater good then make it attached to a greater good.
What I mean by that is when I had my agency the companies that work with us, they loved us and they hated us. They loved us because we did a great job for them but we forced them to get involved in serving a greater good. So you would take a company that would have a certain widget, a certain something that fulfilled the pain point but we would say, "Hey, why don't we take 10% of the proceeds and give it to kids that are suffering from lymphoma?" So we would have to get their hearts involved. Because when your heart is involved, you'll never fail.
So when you're talking about growth hacking, the greatest kind of growth hacking that exists is the passion that you have inside of you to help others with what you're doing. So whether that's feeding your kids or whether that's helping the addiction community or helping the homeless or whatever it may be, the greatest hacking that will ever exist is that passion that you have to be of service to others. At least that's my belief.
James McKinney: I love it, absolutely love it. Let's talk about passion for a second there as our time is approaching near the end. Obviously we know why you started LOOSID, we know why it fuels you and what your passion is for LOOSID. But I have to ask if we were to have this conversation let's say three to five years from now, where would you like to see LOOSID be at both numerically, functionally, geographically? What would you like to see from LOOSID in three to five years from now?
MJ Gottlieb: So we'll expand from North America to Central and South America, and then Europe there's a monstrous population there that needs help, and then Asia as well. We need to expand to all those areas. People ask us to expand every day in those areas, but we have to fulfil critical mass in the United States first. The way that I look at it is the bigger so from a long term perspective, the bigger we are the bigger platform we have, the greater my voice is to start creating some changes, and changing some laws, and changing clinical models that aren't working in the treatment industry, and exposing the people that are just trying to make a buck.
Because as the owner of an app company, it's all about data. We'll be able to track success metrics of people in sobriety, and we have over 14,000 treatment centers in our treatment center guide. We have over 3,500 telemedicine/tele help centers. We'll be able to have the data and really look at what's working and what's not, and be able to create a life journey, a life path for those people struggling so that way when they need a roadmap of how to get sober we give it to them and we walk them through that every step of the way. And anybody who's not behaving correctly in the treatment industry, we have the ability to call them out or at least, or start by getting them to change and if they don't want to change then call them out and get rid of them.
So from a long-term standpoint, we have a really big challenge on our hands. A lot of people are, very sadly the treatment industry is a very profitable industry and you've got to make sure that the treatment centers are in there for the right reason. Because a lot of them are doing it to turn beds and expecting, hoping, and praying that the person is going to relapse and come back. I'm not saying that for all of them, but a lot of them are all about just making money. We have to be in the business of saving lives. So we, LOOSID, have a great responsibility in doing that. My expectation is to become that global brand that is able to help people through every aspect of their journey.
James McKinney: That's fascinating. Again, just what an incredible goal. There's so many questions about the recovery industry that I have. Unfortunately, the podcast needs to stay laser focused on the LOOSID journey if you will. But when we think of for yourself we'll say, let's just call it whenever the end of the LOOSID journey is, whether it be through retirement, whether it be through an acquisition, whatever the case may be, when you look back on your LOOSID journey what hook will you have want to have seen where you can hang your hat on it, yeah that was the impact I made? What does that look like for you?
MJ Gottlieb: I really don't think I wouldn't ever really want it to end and retire. Once you get through sobriety, if you don't give it back you're a shoplifter. My first sponsor used to tell me that and we'd be in a 12 step group and he'd say, "Shoplifter," and look around the room. And so from my standpoint even if we were to exit I'd still want to run the company. That would be a nonnegotiable because this is about changing the face of the addiction and recovery community, and this is about being the one hub where everybody goes as the resource. It's such a responsibility that we have that it's not something that I could ever say this is what I did, and then I hung it up. Because there's always something more you can do. So fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not going anywhere unless something happens to me. But I don't see myself stopping.
James McKinney: For you, success in the journey is really about that systemic change, not necessarily a numerical metric, it's a systemic metric. You want to see change in the recovery industry in general.
MJ Gottlieb: The recovery industry but also there's hundreds of millions of people that just think that sobriety is something to be ashamed of, and we need to absolutely shatter that stigma. Until that stigma is completely shattered, it's almost like you say… I shot a documentary on the homeless for many years and when will you stop? Over the course of my lifetime there's still going to be homeless people so I'm never going to stop. So the same thing for the sobriety space. It's like every day I wake up to a new thing. Yesterday, someone reached out to me and said, "Listen, my son's in prison and can I share with him what you…" I wrote something in LOOSID and I said, "Of course. I'm happy to talk to him in prison," and then he emailed, I gave him my information and going to send a letter to his son in prison. I'm going to be able to text his son somehow. And so my point is every day there's a new opportunity for me to change someone's life so why would I ever want to stop that?
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love that. Absolutely love it. And our time is coming to an end, I want to make sure I honor our listener's time by getting to the three questions that they always look forward to, because they tell me each week. That first question has to do with your thoughts on entrepreneurship. Do you believe anyone can be an entrepreneur or is this a genetic makeup?
MJ Gottlieb: If you don't have the DNA of an entrepreneur, I don't think anything is going to prepare you for you've got to be Haymon, you've got to be cleaning toilets, you've got to be the CEO, you've got to be the head sales person, you've got to do everything. Miss holidays and miss people's birthdays. So I think that there's just such tremendous sacrifice that you have to make being an entrepreneur. Are they born? That's an excellent question. I can say if they aren't born, when they walk into it they're going to have to adapt quickly or they're going to get out very quickly.
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. Fascinating. It's one of those questions I love asking entrepreneurs that are in the mix.
MJ Gottlieb: I think anyone could be anything just to be clear. I think anyone could be anything that they put their mind to, but they've got to understand the fire that they're about to walk into.
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. Fully agree, absolutely. The other question from the final two that we always wrap every episode with is about gratitude. The reason I ask this question is that I believe with 100% assurance that if we lose sight of all the people along our journey that poured into us to get us to where we are today, we begin to think we did this on our own. The successes we may have, that we did this on our own. The failures we may have had, it's all because of our own doing. And both of those thoughts are isolating thoughts, which will ultimately lead to greater failure. So when you look back on your journey, who are all the people that you have such immense gratitude for, for where you are today?
MJ Gottlieb: I can't take credit for any of it because we all come in knowing the same thing: nothing. So every single person that's come across my path that has taught me how to be a better business person, whether it's my business partner Johnna and Corel, whether it's things that I've learned from Daymond, I have so many mentors from Gary who is my now COO… You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason and I think if you really… I think you should be born with 15 ears and one mouth. If you just shut up and listen, people don't understand why some of the most incredible negotiators in the world keep their mouth shut and let everybody else bid and all this stuff, and dump all the information because they let everybody play their cards and play their hands, and then they see everybody's deck and then they come in. they've learned so much and they already, they've won the war because everybody has been busy talking about everything they've exposed themselves. Every person I've come into that has crossed my path has shaped me to the person that I've become as a business person.
Now that is also all of the people that I'm grateful for that have screwed me, because I wrote a book about it. They taught me such incredible lessons because you learn from failure. You learn from you trust people and they do things to you and you learn not to make that mistake again hopefully, and that's why I wrote the book. When expectation let me be the lab rat and learn from my mistakes, though you'll invariably have many you won't have nearly as many as if you learn from my mistakes. So yeah, I can't take credit for any of it. It's all about what I've learned from the people that have taught me either by for lack of a better word screwing me, they're helping me too so they didn't screw me, or people that have given me great advice. Everything has made me a better person and a better business person.
James McKinney: I love that perspective. Our final question, we've been walking through your journey at a very high level, speaking to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs. As a gift to the listener for them blessing me with their time, I like to bring the conversation down to just you and one of them. so if you were to have coffee with one of my listeners, whether it be the frustrated entrepreneur who has a business but maybe they're challenged with some obstacle that continues to reoccur in their life, or maybe it's the wantrepreneur who's got a book full of dreams and ideas and some narrative as to why they can't pursue it. Or maybe it's the defeated entrepreneur, the one who's been punched in the gut time and time again, about ready to hang it up and call it quits. Or maybe just because of what your journey is, maybe it's the alcoholic entrepreneur. Whatever the case may be, I want to afford these final few moments to not be speaking to the masses but to be speaking to the one. What do you have to say to that one?
MJ Gottlieb: First thing I would say the three words that nobody wants to say. No addict wants to say, no alcoholic wants to say, no person wants to say because it shows them that they're vulnerable. Say the three words: I need help. And you will be absolutely shocked with the amount of people who will help you. Number two, understand there's incredible power in being in vulnerability. So if you go in thinking everything, you're going to lose. So go in, ask as many questions as you can ask, bring in subject matter experts that are better than you, surround yourself with people who are better than you and get humble. If you have an ego, you're going to lose. The ego blocks our ability to listen and learn so you need to kill your ego. You need to ask for help. And your attitude towards rejection, I wrote a blog post I think it was called "18 Reasons why your rejection is my favorite aphrodisiac." You need to understand how great rejection is because that puts you one step closer to the "yes." But what if you never ask that person and you go and you're on your deathbed saying "if only." If only I did this, if only I did that. So you need to look at rejection as your best friend. There's a book called Go for No and it's a fantastic book. These people, they go in and they train people. The people hit quotas and once they hit quotas they get complacent. Well they set rejection quotas. At the end of the year when people get their awards for the top sellers, they bring up the top seller and then they bring up the person that was rejected the most and it's always the top seller. That's because if my quota is to sell 100 widgets and I sell 100 widgets, but I'm only at 40% of my rejection quota I've got to keep going. So I'm going to blow past that quota, so that's another thing. So I would recommend reading that book Go For No. So rejection, say the three words nobody wants to say "I need help," get humble, and know that your ego is not your amigo.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value MJ brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. Lastly, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So let's support MJ by supporting those around us. See, every single person listening has been affected by alcohol addiction. Whether it's you or someone you know, alcohol addiction hits everyone. Once you've thought of that person in your life, reach out to them and tell them about the LOOSID community so they can get the help they need. Like I say, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs so let's show up for MJ and the mission of LOOSID in a huge way. All right, no for my personal ask.
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