The Agency Founder Podcast by Moonshine Marketing aims to interview successful founders of marketing agencies at different points in their journey to pass on their victories, defeats, challenges, and lessons learned to help take your agency to new heights.
This week we’re speaking with Nicholas Goldberg of Validus Marketing, an agency focused on lead generation for microblading and PMU artists.
Nicholas outlines his personal non-conventional journey getting into Marketing. Throughout his years as a marketer, he decided to specialize in marketing for microblading and other PMU (Permanent Makeup Artists) related services. Since then, he has launched Validus Marketing which has seen widespread success. He also shares some of the biggest challenges he’s faced, and the hurdles he’s overcome.
The link to the podcast can be accessed at the top of the page. A full transcript of the podcast can be accessed below. Thank you for listening, and happy marketing!
Speaker 1: Welcome to The Agency Founder Podcast. Are you ready to grow your marketing agency? We pull back the curtain to show you how real marketing agency founders struggled, built, and scaled their agencies. Practical advice, lessons learned, wins and losses. We hold nothing back now. Now, your host, Jeromy Sonne.
Jeromy Sonne: Welcome to the Agency Founder Podcast by Moonshine Marketing. Every single week we interview successful founders of marketing agencies at different points in their journey to pass on their victories, defeats, challenges, and lessons learned to help you take your agency to new heights. This week we’re speaking with Nicholas Goldberg of Validus Marketing, an agency focused on lead generation for microblading and PMU artists. Nicholas, thanks so much for being here.
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah. So, okay. You’re going to have to… My dude bro-ness is showing a little bit. What is PMU artistry and what is microblading?
Nicholas Goldbert: We had no idea what it was before we ran into it either. So PMU stands for a permanent makeup. So it’s in the beauty industry and it’s a pretty new thing. But imagine getting tattoos basically of your eyebrows done, that’s a really popular one, or lip fillers, stuff like that’s considered permanent makeup.
Jeromy Sonne: Okay. Got it. Interesting. So permanent makeup and microblading. That’s a really fascinating niche. I’m excited to learn how you landed there. But first I want to know a little bit more about you, okay? Tell me about your background, how you got into marketing in general, what your journey has been like up to the agency founding moment.
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah, it’s been pretty unique. I’ve had a super long backstory that we won’t really have time to get into, but as far as how I got into entrepreneurship, it was pretty unique. I went in the Marine Corps right after high school and I ended up getting hurt. And I was infantry and they basically gave me an option of… My surgery went wrong and they’re like, “Hey, you can either continue in an admin job or you can just get out early.” A couple months early for the contract.” And I did not want to do admin.
Nicholas Goldbert: So I got out, went to school kind of impulsively for cybersecurity because I was really into hacking when I was really young. But at the time when I was 10, 12, 13, cybersecurity wasn’t even a big job industry anymore. It wasn’t even really in schools, colleges, until 2015 and ’16 is when they took it seriously.
Nicholas Goldbert: I saw it, hopped right into it. One summer I came back home and when I was going to school I got this hunch for app development. So I had an idea for an app and my friend was like, “Hey, I know somebody that is really into marketing. He’s got an app that’s really successful. Let me intro you.” His name was Brett Knutson, and little did I know he owned a $20,000,00.00 app. I had no idea who I was meeting with or who this guy was.
Jeromy Sonne: What was the app?
Nicholas Goldbert: It was called Hive Social. It was basically a place where you can meet people similar to your interests and what you’re into in a local area. It was really unique. He had the co-founder of EA Games as his head investor. It was a really cool thing. I’m not even sure if it’s even still active anymore though. I know he’s pursuing a lot of other things now, so I’m not even sure if it’s still around. But that’s how I got into it.
Nicholas Goldbert: And then down the road we did start a company together, completely outside of marketing. But eventually I started finding Gary Vaynerchuk, his Crushing It books. And it just got me into influencer marketing and marketing in general. Got a little bit into drop shipping, and then curiosity just brought me over to Facebook advertising, which is how I got into the agency world of stuff.
Jeromy Sonne: So you found marketing via the Gary V. gurus of the world. And I’m not saying that as a slight or anything. It’s just really interesting to me because you hear about those dudes and they’re banging the drum of marketing and digital agencies and everything like that. But I don’t know if I’ve actually met somebody where they were like, that’s what sold them. I’m genuinely really curious about… Did you just start watching the videos and you were like, “This is for me.” Or did it take awhile? Tell me about getting into the universe from that angle.
Nicholas Goldbert: So it actually wasn’t Gary V. that got me into it. So what Gary V. did to me is I have a very particular skill with people where, not to sound condescending or to being-
Jeromy Sonne: No, you’re good, you’re good. I hear you.
Nicholas Goldbert: I don’t know. It’s just something, a gift that I have that people just tend to really like me. I’ve had multiple prospects on the phone tell me word for word that, “You could literally sell me rocks. I don’t know what it is about you, but I just want to buy from you.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s awesome. I appreciate it.”
Nicholas Goldbert: So Gary got me into influencers because Crushing It was a lot about influencers that were featured in the book, like Dwayne Johnson. And so I learned about influencer marketing and then that just led me down the path for myself into different forms of marketing. So I learned a lot from Dan Fleischmann on influencer marketing, shout out him. He’s awesome. And then, I regret how I found out about this, but so I’m still amazed, social media marketing, that’s when I found Tai Lopez and I took his course. I won’t even speak on my experience.
Jeromy Sonne: Oh you took on Tai Lopez’… Again, I’m not hating or anything. I’m genuinely curious, what was that like?
Nicholas Goldbert: Okay. So I’m a very honest person and this is just from my experience. So anybody listening and you want to go for Tai Lopez, definitely do it. It leads you in a lot of awesome directions. But please do not listen to him and just go through that one course and then go try to get a client.
Nicholas Goldbert: Because there is not nearly enough information, not even nearly enough to know how to run ads efficiently, how to generate leads. I think it’s a really good building block for understanding the concepts of social media marketing. But I think you should definitely learn a lot more before actually just being like, “All right, I took Tai’s course and I’m ready to go.” Because that’s what I did and I highly regret it because there is just so much more I needed to learn.
Jeromy Sonne: No, no. Tell me about that. Did you sign some clients? Was there some blow ups? I’ve had client blow ups. It happens, you know what I mean? So no hate, but yeah, just generally curious about that.
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah. So it ended up, so we got our first client, it was a dentist and we were very, very unprepared. One thing he doesn’t cover very well is the legal aspects of a business. And what you need to know as far as client retainers, contracts, agreements, the actual legality of it, how it should work with proposals. We didn’t know any of that.
Nicholas Goldbert: And our first client we ever brought on, I don’t know how, but we managed to get a $1,500 retainer and we were doing lead generation. So I just somehow got good results, at least at first. We were generating good leads. We did a teeth whitening deal and it brought some people in and then they would upsell from there.
Nicholas Goldbert: I focused on Russell Brunson. I was a big fan of his books as far as the secrets and stuff like that. We did funnels where they would have sales funnels in the back end. But so we did… It didn’t go well. It definitely didn’t go as well as we wanted.
Nicholas Goldbert: But I will, honestly, if I’m being honest, it was a lot of the client issue, because we would bring them people that their specific practice, only their practice, could not work with. So there was people in their area that had a certain type of insurance that they just didn’t take. So even though we had 15 people willing to come in and get work done, they’re like, “Oh, we don’t take your insurance.” So it definitely wasn’t all our end. It was definitely some of it on theirs and it was just unfortunate.
Jeromy Sonne: Sure. Yeah. Some of those things can definitely happen. So, okay, you did the Tai Lopez course. You got a couple of clients. There was a blow up, right? And you’re like, “Okay, I’m not really ready.” And so then what do you do? So you’re like, “Okay, but I’m sticking down this road. I’m still interested in it.” And so what’s that next step?
Nicholas Goldbert: So the next step was I met a very good friend of mine, Ravi Abuvala. I found him before he is who he is today. Currently he’s doing 550K a month and has just… That’s the only some of his businesses. And when I found him, he only had 11,000 followers. And I don’t know, we just hit it off. I found what he was doing. He was doing lead gen for other agencies, which there’s plenty of that out there. And we hooked up with him and I ended up signing with him.
Nicholas Goldbert: So we started doing some lead gen for us, ourselves, to get clients. We can dip into my thoughts on that too later. So that was my next step was like, okay, let’s fix what went wrong with the first couple of clients. And this is actually how we got into microblading. We ended up signing a girl that was in New York and she asked us to do microblading. And I’m like, “What the hell is that? I have no idea what that is.” And we ended up running her campaign and we spent $160 and made $4,000 in revenue for her in two weeks.
Jeromy Sonne: Wow! That’s a pretty big ROAS, return on ad spend, right? Yeah, that’s interesting. So you were like, okay, maybe there’s something here in this niche of microblading. Is that what the next thought process is?
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah. So from there I actively joined a ton of Facebook groups, including the one I met you in, Jeromy. And I realized at that point it was one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned today is don’t learn from anybody who hasn’t already done and been where you are, or you want to be. If you really want to learn well find someone who is where you want to be or has already done it and learn from that person. I made mistakes of trying to learn from mentors who had never worked in marketing, didn’t even know what to do. It was just a big mistake.
Nicholas Goldbert: So at that point, my next step was, okay, clearly we’re not doing something right. Let’s finally start learning from people who have already done this. And if you want a master shortcut, even though you’re still going to go through a bunch of crap no matter what you do, find someone who’s already done it. And that is where, roughly five months ago, and this is why I stress the point, don’t just take the Tai Lopez course and think you’re good to go.
Nicholas Goldbert: About five months ago, my current mentor, my main mentor, he literally destroyed my business. He looked at it and was like, “Oh my God, how are you functioning? You need to restart from the ground up.” And so five months ago we restarted completely and just changed our messaging, everything about us. And then we got to the industry we’re in now and within six weeks of making that restart we made more money and grew more in six weeks than we did in an entire year.
Jeromy Sonne: Yeah. Some of those lessons can be really painful, right? Subtle shifts in your business model can make a huge, huge impact. Do you want to talk about what those specific shifts were that you made a little bit? You don’t have to go into super specifics but what did you change? What were you doing before and what did you change that made such a big impact?
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah, it was incredible. So I don’t know, have you heard the name John Whiting, Jeromy?
Jeromy Sonne: I have not.
Nicholas Goldbert: Okay. So he’s my current mentor, but him and my friend Ravi, I mentioned earlier, they’re both very big on… If you were to take The 4-Hour Work Week, the book, and just put it into a person, it would be those two people. One of the biggest things we did is both of their models are outflow equals income. And we were not nearly taking enough advantage of our time and actually doing outreach.
Nicholas Goldbert: And this is where I learned one of the biggest lessons was, people think that getting clients is step number one, and it is not. That’s step three or four. What we had to do in order to make a big difference was messaging. Your messaging has to be on point and it has to resonate with your audience in their own words.
Nicholas Goldbert: I see so many generic marketing websites now where I’ll go on it, and it’s like, “We do SEO and lead gen and Facebook ads and eComm.” And they do everything under the sun. And it’s not for any specific person. So it’s going to be hard to resonate with somebody like that. So if you come on to our website, if you go to validusmarketing.com the first thing you read is guaranteed lead generation for PMU artists and salon owners. That’s pretty clear, who that’s for.
Nicholas Goldbert: So we fixed our messaging a ton. We created an organic Facebook group where we give free marketing advice for any PMU artists. And its like a value ladder at that point where we can do consultations and turn to clients, but messaging 100% made a massive difference.
Nicholas Goldbert: And John even has his way, you survey your own audience to find out in their words. So, we were marketing to them in our own words. And then the day that we surveyed 100, 200 of them we found the 10 most common used words and what they want from marketing. We put them into our marketing and we just exploded.
Nicholas Goldbert: So, if you create that ecosystem of your own natural… You have a Facebook group where you’re just nonstop educating, nonstop value adding and not just trying to get clients from it, they will come to you 1,000,000%.
Jeromy Sonne: That’s interesting. So, you’re almost taking a… Interestingly, for somebody that sells paid ads you’re almost taking a content marketing approach. Would that be a fair way of saying that?
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah, so we have a two sided ecosystem. One is that organic side where people find us and we don’t have to find people. So it’s more incoming leads. Now the other way is complete, complete automation. So we have all automated, this is 100 Instagram messages going out to our ideal client. We’re starting with Facebook messages next.
Nicholas Goldbert: And just so you know the effectiveness of figuring out your messaging and then start outreach. So we were doing a hundred emails a day. We sent out 36 emails, got 13 responses, 8 calls booked and 4 sales in one day. That was all from one day’s outreach, just because our messaging was so on point.
Nicholas Goldbert: But we have messaging going out every single day on every single platform and we’re still trying to improve. We are supposed to be doing, getting somebody on board for cold calling. And it is the bane of my existence. I hate cold calling with a passion.
Jeromy Sonne: Not a fan of the cold calling. Interesting. So you have automated outreach and then you have content marketing. Which are you finding actually works better, out of curiosity?
Nicholas Goldbert: So your content marketing will take longer for sure, because we just reached 200 members in our group and now we’re starting to generate leads from it. So it does take a bit. Now, we’re definitely, so for us specifically, because things like, I think anything with your face, contour makeup, eyebrows, that is a very Instagram centric content. So on Instagram, I have a sales tracker that I could just pull up. But if we did 100 messages a day, we normally get anywhere from three to five responses. And I’m very good at what I do so I can turn those into booked calls, maybe three of them. So it’s definitely Instagram is our number one driver. 100% Instagram.
Nicholas Goldbert: Now, we had the biggest problem with spam, with email just recently and could not get out of the spam box for the life of us. And I think we just fixed it today. So knowing that I can send 36 emails out and close four clients from it, that’s insane. So that’s also our biggest driver, email and Instagram.
Jeromy Sonne: That’s interesting. That’s really wild. So you keep saying, taking a step back, you keep saying, we, you have co- founders?
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah. So, low key regret this. Ben and Justin, I love you both. So I have two co-founders, Ben and Justin and we are all equally involved and equally put in as much effort as anybody on the team. Now starting out, because of the salary aspect of this, three people putting revenue each way is very hard to do when you’re starting out. There’s not a lot of money to be made.
Nicholas Goldbert: We were literally taking… I took 400. Now I have other sources of revenue. So it wasn’t a horrible thing for myself. But both of them were going to school full time. Justin was able to drop out recent, I shouldn’t say drop out, he took a break. And now he’s almost full, I think he is full time, just invested all day in Validus because we’ve been able to do that now.
Nicholas Goldbert: But I would say if you can just have maybe one co-founder or just yourself to start off until you need help. When you have so much crap going on throughout the day then you actually need help, that’s when I would recommend maybe bring on some help or hire someone to start setting the appointments for you versus you having to do it for yourself.
Jeromy Sonne: How do you choose to divide up work? What’s the team dynamic like? Do you spend a lot of time on things like team culture and stuff like that? Talk to me about that sort of stuff.
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah. So I’d say there’s definitely challenges as far as making a business with your friends. I’ve always been one to never have that as an issue. But for sure, when you get in arguments with co-founders it can be awkward. But the team dynamic is pretty incredible. We all want the same thing. We’re all really young. We’re just striving to create what a lot of people doubt a younger generation can do. And because of that and all of that similar goals, it really does help drive each other to know exactly what to do, where to go? We’re all very understanding. So finding somebody with similar goals as yourself and similar attitude as far as work ethic goes, that’ll make or break your business, in my perspective.
Nicholas Goldbert: But as far as how work is divvied up, it’s actually pretty easy to segment because… So what I’ll do is I take care of all sales. I’m in charge of sales calls, sales setting, as well as Facebook and Instagram ads. So that’s all my job as a day-to-day basis. Now, Justin, he will take care of everything automation. So all automated outreach, our own onboarding automations, client automations for followup, for leads. Everything automation is Justin. And then everything funnel building and photo, video, editings, that is all Ben. So he’s very on the creative side. Justin is very systems and automation side. I’m very sales advertising side.
Jeromy Sonne: So, that’s really interesting. I think that it’s pretty clear that you have different skill sets that you all bring to the table and mesh well. I’m curious, a lot of companies, a lot of agencies I talk to they focus a lot around culture and things like that. What would you say your agency’s values are? You know what I mean? And how do you define those out? And how do you use them to guide your decision making?
Nicholas Goldbert: As far as our values, I don’t think you would meet people that care more about their actual client than us. We ended up even after doing well, it’s just the value as us, as a person just blends into it. We’re incredibly caring. We want to do everything we can to actually see our clients success. Because when we get a text saying, “Oh my God, I can afford to move to a studio now.” Or, “I don’t have to worry about bills this month because the leads are converting.” That’ll be better than any paycheck I could ever receive. Just knowing you helped another human being in a time that’s really hard for them or even if they’re just trying to grow and you can be a part of that.
Nicholas Goldbert: So as long as our main value is just to see growth, in not only ourselves but our clients, and we’ll do anything on our end to improve that. We’ve even taken people on who literally said, I can’t afford you, straight out. And I learned about a girl’s situation and we brought her on anyways. We’re very much into helping others in a very, very authentic way.
Nicholas Goldbert: So we brought someone on before in a sense of just, “Hey, I know you can’t afford this, but we just want to help you as a person. So we’re going to do this month for free.” And what actually ended up happening is she did so well that first month she became a paying client the next month, which was really cool to see. So understanding and compassion is a very big motto of ours, if that makes sense.
Jeromy Sonne: No, that’s really interesting. I like that client approach first, leading with that compassion, leading with helping folks out. I want to say, I want to really dig in though, what has been, in your opinion, the biggest challenge so far and what do you see as your biggest challenge moving forward?
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah, absolutely. So biggest challenge, 100% was, and I already touched on this, but it was seriously lack of knowledge was the biggest, biggest hurdle. And I feel that’s where a lot of people in the marketing space when they start off hit. They’ll hit this spot where they’re like, “Okay, how do I get clients?” Or, “Okay, how do I pick my pricing?” Or stuff like that. And there used to be this really cheesy thing that I would go by and it was, the biggest lesson you can learn is heartbreak, no money and some sort of other loss. And a model I live by now is, the biggest lesson you can learn in life is from the people who have already done what you’ve done and are where you want to be and learning from them. That’s going to be the biggest lesson in your life.
Nicholas Goldbert: So the biggest hurdle was just finding the person to learn from, or a source to learn from that will actually effectively grow your business. So I think knowledge is definitely one of the biggest hurdles that we had that we overcame. And a lot of people get obsessed with the knowledge phase. And I’m sure you’ve seen this Jeromy, where there’ll be so focused on, “I don’t know enough. I need to learn more. I need to learn this.” That they’ll never actually take that first step and try to start the business. People get stuck in that phase. So, just knowing how much to learn from who, and then knowing when to take that first step was our biggest hurdle.
Nicholas Goldbert: Going forward as far as what exactly is going to be our biggest hurdle, this is going to be kind of stupid, but I don’t see one as of right now. But if I had to pick something I would say maybe just scaling to where we want to be, only servicing one niche. I definitely do have a fear of that and a sense of… Now, there’s hundreds of microbladers, That’s what they’re called, microblading artists. There’s hundreds of them that get certified each day.
Nicholas Goldbert: And I’m also somewhat afraid of scaling as far as pricing in our business. So we’re at a baseline. The lowest package we accept now is 997, and it’s 350 ad spend, 650 for us and to actually pay for any systems and process that we have to do. Like Twilio, we put some money in their accounts because we have a lot of outgoing texts and stuff. Anything like that.
Nicholas Goldbert: So my worry is… Now, microblading is pretty specific in a sense of you get a lot of money per… You get 350 all the way up to 1,000 per client that you microblade. So as long as we can prove to them that, “Hey, if we spend this much money on average, if you do what you’re supposed to we can make this much in return.” I think that would help a lot as far as scalability. But I’m just a little worried about scalability as far as future endeavors go.
Jeromy Sonne: Interesting. Yeah. And now scalability because people aren’t going to be interested or because the market is too small, the niche is too small?
Nicholas Goldbert: The market’s massive and it’s actually only getting bigger. My problem is the willingness for people to pay the amount they need for marketing. Because a lot of people… This is one of those things, it could have very easily been a pyramid scheme, this microblading. There’s girls that we work with that do education, that they teach you how to microblade and then they certify you. And a lot of people have really bad work or they don’t know how to get clients, and they don’t have the startup cost to get going. But then you’ll have random people… We just accidentally run into some people that are like, “Yeah, I spent $37,000 last month on marketing.” And I’m like, “What the hell were you doing?”
Nicholas Goldbert: I think it’s just about… This is where positioning and messaging comes into play again is once… Because we’ve never run Facebook ads for ourselves as far as we don’t need to do that yet to get clients. And it’s something we’re going to be starting pretty soon here. So I think if our messaging is pretty clear and we’re able to get that across, I don’t think it’ll be an issue going forward. But I think it’s just the matter of fact of people willing to pay, but you just have to provide enough value to them that it’s hard to say no. You know what I mean?
Jeromy Sonne: Right. I hear what you’re saying. Well, Nicholas, this has been really fantastic. I super appreciate your time and definitely loved learning about your non-conventional journey into the marketing world. Definitely a really interesting story and a unique perspective to be sure. It sounds like you’re well on your way. I think, for this podcast I love to interview people at different stages and having somebody from a nontraditional background, as well as a, I won’t say super early on, but definitely earlier in the grand scheme of all agencies has been a really, really cool experience. So I appreciate your time today.
Jeromy Sonne: Everybody that I have on show, I let them pitch one thing, whatever they want for one or two minutes at the end. So I’m going to go ahead and let you do that right now.
Nicholas Goldbert: Yeah. Anybody that’s listening and thank you, I appreciate your time today too. I always love being on stuff like this to just share what we know as marketers and our experience because it does help people learn. So thank you for having me. I appreciate your time as well.
Nicholas Goldbert: As far as pitching, I’m pretty straight forward here. If you guys do know or have any salons or PMU artists, anybody in the beauty industry that is looking for advertising, we offer money back guarantee if we don’t reach a certain amount of qualified leads in that first 30 days. We’re very well priced and we have a ton to offer as far as the future, going into. We’re testing with a lot of new permanent makeup services, like fiber blasting to get rid of extra skin and wrinkles. And there’s just endless routes going into this PMU space.
Nicholas Goldbert: So, we’d love to hear from you guys. If you do have any referrals we also do referral bonuses. So if somebody signs up for three months you get a chunk of each management fee every single month that they are with us. That’s really all I got. Other than that, I would say again, just thank you for having me and I appreciate it so much.
Jeromy Sonne: Absolutely. If you all know anybody that owns a salon or is in that beauty space that would be a good fit, definitely send them to Nicholas. He’s a really smart guy. Had the pleasure of knowing him for a few months now. For everybody out there listening, take this as inspiration definitely. Find yourself some smart mentors early on, focus on that scalable repeatable business. And take these lessons to heart and go out there and grow your agencies. So everybody listening, happy market.