Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Interview with Phil Ammendolia: Entrepreneur and Forward Thinker

I met Phil through a facebook group for writers. His story drew me in right away. I wanted to learn more about him and how he became a success. I wanted to know what made Phil so confident in himself. How did he brand himself? What made him go after his dreams and succeed. 

Phil's facebook page is filled with pictures of him living his dreams. He's a lucky man, but luck had nothing to do with it. Read on to learn how Phil turned something he loved as a hobby into a profitable career he enjoys. 

Writers - pay close attention to what he's learned about marketing yourself, branding yourself, and faking the confidence that gets you in the door.

Below are the questions I asked him:

1.    You bought the rights to a book: The Lazy Man's Way to Riches. Why did you do this?

When I was 17 years old I saw an ad in the Sunday Parade Magazine from a millionaire offering to tell you his “secrets.” Whether it was the recklessness or naiveté of youth, I sent in my hard-earned cash and anxiously awaited the arrival of Joe Karbo’s The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches. I read it from cover-to-cover. Actually, it was more like I devoured it. It totally changed the way I thought. I’ve re-read it every few years since and it’s been a constant companion.

36 years later, I’ve had the coolest life a guy could ask for. I turned a boyhood hobby into an amazing and profitable career. I travel the globe staying in 5 star hotels, attend really cool events and work with a group of amazing people in an industry I love. I’ve earned “Sales Representative of the Year” honors. Fox Racing awarded me a Rolex for achievement as a director. I reintroduced the Bell Helmet brand to the motorcycle industry and increased sales by 11X in three years. When I was a teenager, my walls were covered with posters of my heroes. Today, many of those people are my friends. Last year, I had dinner in Shanghai with 15-time GP World Champion, Giacomo Agostini and we visited again in Milan, Italy a few months later. Evel Knievel was a friend of mine. Several years ago he invited me to his “Evel Knievel Day’s” event in Butte, Montana, and I was able to give him what would be his last custom painted helmet, courtesy of Bell Helmets. Thanks to lessons I learned from Joe Karbo, I’ve been a key contributor in building some of the coolest brands in the Action Sports Industry, like Fox Racing, Bell Helmets, and Alpinestars. Considering I started my career dusting oil cans, it’s amazing.

Sincerely, this isn’t intended to brag. When I look back at my career, it’s actually humbling and I’m comfortable that none of it would have happened if I hadn’t read that book.

Joe Karbo passed away in 1980 and I remember feeling a sense of loss when I heard the news. I knew that a friend of Joe’s, Richard G. Nixon, had bought the rights several years later, but I lost track of it over the last 10 years. Last year as I did my occasional re-read I started wondering what had happened to the book. I did some research (and had a few amazing coincidences) and found that Richard had passed away in 2007. I contacted his estate, met with his very kind widow and worked out a licensing agreement.

The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches had a profound effect on my life. It has had a positive impact on an amazing number of people, (Joe sold 2.7 million copies direct, without a publisher), and I have stacks of testimonial letters written by everyday people who have had uncanny success after reading it. I felt compelled to be a part of the history of the book, keep the information available and keep the spirit of Joe and Richard alive. I chose to apply the techniques to my career, but when applied properly they work equally as well for people starting or building a business, athletes, scholars or anyone who sets their mind to anything worth doing. I’m a firm believer this material will increase a person’s potential for success and I’m compelled to share it.

2.    What was your hobby as a child and do you still enjoy it today?

When I was four, my oldest brother took me for a ride on his Vespa scooter. I was terrified and hooked. To this day, if it has two wheels I love it. If it has two wheels and a motor, I love it even more. I still ride a variety of bikes on the street, in the dirt and occasionally on a racetrack. Aside from my family and friends, nothing gives me as much adrenaline-packed enjoyment.

3.    Are you planning to write you own story next? If no, what's stopping you?

For me, it’s not really about that. Of course people need to know enough about me to have some faith in what I say, but in my mind it’s more about them. I want to help. It’s my dream to rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit in America and offer people ideas, step-by-step tactics and support to help them achieve their dreams.

4.    You talk about branding. Writers must brand themselves. What would your recommendations be for a newbie writer?

First and foremost, be yourself and be true to your vision.

Next, write what people want to read. Know your target audience and listen to them.

What do you do if your message is one that you feel strongly about and know people really need to hear, but nobody is looking for it? Camouflage it. Make it look like something they want to read.

I’m not suggesting that you be devious. Instead, let me give you an example. When I talk to people who are building businesses, one thing I hear over and over again is that people aren’t comfortable making videos. Thanks to YouTube, properly done video marketing is one of the most important and most effective things you can do to build a following. No one searches for “How to make a video presentation.” But, because my audience tells me they need this skill, I feel obliged to address it. If I call it, “How to make a video presentation,” no one will read or watch it. But if I camouflage it and include it under a “How to make money,” story I’ll offer something that’s needed (because I’ve listened to my audience), and I’ve wrapped it in a package I know they’ll want to open.

Finally, realize that in today’s world, it’s marketing that will make or break you and branding is one part of that. Find or create something that makes you stand out. If you see Guy Kawasaki’s butterfly, you know it’s him. Seth Godin promotes his bald head and glasses. Mari Smith uses her booming personality, big smile, turquoise and bling. They use every avenue of online marketing. They are all brilliant writers. Even more, they’re brilliant marketers.

Write. Market. Market. Market. Write. Put your message in the right places. Use social media, blogs, and websites properly. No one cares if the lunch line is too long at your local burrito stand. Only, and I repeat ONLY post what your audience cares about. The beauty of being a writer is that you can write to your heart’s content while building a warehouse of marketing tools.

5.    Books that touch people so deeply, as this one touched you, are rare. What spoke to you that kept you thinking about it all these years?

Joe learned by doing and he speaks from that point of view. This isn’t a theoretical study. He DID it. He’s real and he comes across that way. And, his material works. The better I’ve been about applying it, the better it has worked for me. When you see the testimonials, you’ll know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

6.    What 5 words describe your training courses?

Practical. Real. Easy. Understandable. Step-by-step.

7.    What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?

5:30 most mornings, thanks to my dogs, Rocky and Bruno.

I eat a variety of good foods. Some days it’s fruit, sometimes wholegrain cereal and other days, eggs. I typically only have one cup a day, but I am guilty of being a coffee snob and brew mine in an espresso percolator I bought in East Berlin.

8.    How do you go about buying the rights of a book?

In my case, it came down to my love for the material. When I approached Richard’s widow, I was sincere in my desire to keep this material available. I knew it was important to her and I wanted to work out something that was good for both of us.

I consulted an intellectual properties attorney, did some research and had several heart-to-heart talks to find a win-win solution for all involved.

9.    Why would an author sell her/his rights to their work?

Perhaps the work has run its course through the traditional marketing channels or maybe it’s never found an audience. Though I encourage authors to learn to market, some just don’t want to do it. If a marketer can build a following it’s possible that the author would get a lot more than they would if they let the material sit. And they can work out an agreement to get ongoing royalties.

I mentioned that Joe sold his book directly, without the aid of a publisher and sold 2.7 million copies. I’m pretty willing to bet that the percentage he kept was greater than it would have been through a publisher. Would you agree? 

In today’s online and print-on-demand world, this is easier than it’s ever been (not that it’s easy). But if you don’t know how to market, your work could be forever lost. Authors do have to be realistic if they head down this path, but if it’s the right deal, it might make sense.

10. Will you be changing the jacket cover to better suit today's market?

That’s a great question. The original covers have a certain nostalgia and a recognition factor, but they are dated. I’m getting books converted to e-formatting right now and plan to survey. It’s up to my audience. What’s your vote?

11. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?

By telling me how I can help them. What would they want to learn about marketing, branding, or building their business? What’s frustrating them? What do they want help with?

12. Will your courses be taught online or must people come to a school?


13. When you get negative feedback, what do you do to keep moving forward?

There are two types of negative feedback; constructive and hurtful. If it’s hurtful I dismiss it totally and completely. Period. If it’s constructive, I’m actually excited. I want to deliver what my audience wants. There’s no better way to do that than to have them tell you.

This is not suggesting that you compromise on your message or your vision. But it’s a lot easier to have an impact on the world if you have people listening to you. They’ll listen if you write what they want to read. Wrap your important messages within that framework. As your following grows you earn the right to deliver more and more of your own special message.

14. Who is your biggest cheerleader?

No question about it, my wife, Laura. She’s amazing.

15. What one piece of advice has stuck with you about achieving your goals?

I’d have to say that it’s the fact that most elderly people have more regret over what they didn’t try than they do over having tried and failed. 

Evel Knievel said, “You’re not a failure if you fall. You’re a failure if you don’t try to stand up again.”

16. Where does your confidence come from?

Here’s a little secret that might be helpful to anyone trying to gain a foothold. Confidence? It’s just an act. Among even the most successful of my friends, we all agree, no matter how many things you’ve accomplished, each time a new challenge arises there’s a little voice inside that asks, “Was I just lucky last time?”

I think the trick is to act confident. That act creates the reality. I did follow Jack Canfield’s advice from The Success Principles and wrote down 100 things I’ve been successful at achieving. As well as academic, sports and business successes, the list includes things like learning to walk and learning to ride a bike. As I wrote it I did find that it helped to see how many things, big and small that I have accomplished. On rare occasion, I’ll pull it out and review it.

No matter who you are, if you think about it long enough, you’ll remember a time when you succeeded. My main thought in this regard has always been, “If I did it once, I can do it again.”

17. What type of bike do you ride?

If I’m touring with my wife, we ride a Harley-Davidson Road Glide. If it’s just me, I ride my Moto Guzzi 1200. If I’m adventure riding, it’s a Kawasaki 650. For the dirt, I have several Honda’s, including a vintage 1973 Honda Elsinore CR250M MX.

Was that too much of an answer? (not at all:-)

18. What does PM x PI = LD stand for? Did you use this formula to achieve your goals?

That formula is something I thought of when I was considering how to best help people who want to start their own business in today’s world. It stands for “The power of your mind times the power of the Internet equals the life of your dreams.” Most people are far more creative than they’ll give themselves credit, and that creativity can be developed even further. Take a great idea and properly use the power that the Internet offers and you have a better potential for success than at any time in human history. And it really doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in.

As you consider your dream business, don’t forget to consider your dream life. One without the other is worse than worthless.

19. What is your favorite quote?

One of the first things you’re taught when you’re learning to ride a dirt bike or mountain bike is that “you go where you look.” If you look at the big boulder, you’ll ride right into it. If you look at the clear path, you’ll head there. So, you learn to look where you want to go. 

As I’ve observed life, I’ve seen that same law applies to virtually every endeavor. How many times have you dropped a piece of toast butter side down on your carpet and thought, “I knew I was going to do that?” So, the rule is, “You go where you look.” I’d modify it to say, “You go where you think; every time, all the time.”

20. What one word best describes you?


21. What are you reading right now?

Just finishing John Assaraf’s The Answer and starting Mari Smith’s The New Relationship Marketing.

22. How can my readers find your book? Do you have a website?

You'll find his blog there too!

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