It was on a palm tree-lined beach where the giant first made eye contact …
Tony Robbins, the six-foot-seven life and business coach, leaned in just inches from Chris Vaccarino, locked eyes, and made a startling demand.
“He’s a massive human being,” Vaccarino recalls. “He’s three times my size and his face is literally two feet from mine.”
The two men might have been face to face in Fiji, but their minds were fixated on Los Angeles where Vaccarino heads a business growing so rapidly it won a contest that earned him a seat next to a collection of renowned business mentors including Robbins.
It wasn’t just Robbins’ demand but the piercing gaze with which it was delivered that gave Vaccarino chills.
“The way Tony looks at you when he wants you to do something is incredible,” Vaccarino recounts. “It’s empowering and you have no choice but to act.”
What exactly was Robbins demanding Vaccarino do?
“He told me I needed to fire my clients that were asking for too much and not adding much value to our bottom line. He said I needed to set boundaries or tell them to take a hike.”
Firing a client is something Vaccarino would never have considered a few years ago.
Back when his lips were peppered with paper cuts from licking envelopes, fulfilling orders in a living room with his then-girlfriend, and wondering how he’d pay the rent and survive.
Scaling YouTube Stars
It was A Great Big World who rescued Vaccarino from a “crappy sales job.”
His brother’s band, A Great Big World, had caught pop star Christina Aguilera’s attention and when the two combined for a song on the band’s debut album. Vaccarino jumped at the opportunity to tag along and sell merchandise on behalf of the band. In addition, Vaccarino created an ecommerce site for the band and offered subscribers what he describes as “care packages” from the band every quarter.
But the music soon stopped …
“We couldn’t get any other artists to yes after pitching them because they already had merchandise contracts,” he says. “It was a draining moment.”
Even after pivoting and having some success helping artists release albums and books, Vaccarino once again hit a wall. After a fulfillment disaster that left he and his fiance’ licking envelopes — hence the aforementioned paper cuts on his lips — and packaging orders in his living room, Vaccarino says the big meetings he was landing weren’t resulting in new clients.
“We just couldn’t get anyone to say yes,” Vaccarino says. “It was draining. I didn’t know how I was going to pay the rent or survive.”
Business accelerators and incubators threw shade as well telling Vaccarino his business idea wasn’t defensible or scalable.
Then, one day it scaled ...
Soon after partnering with actor and YouTube star Jake Paul, Fanjoy found its footing creating merchandise influencers of all types can sell to their audiences. Since everyone in the world has someone they admire, it’s Vaccarino’s goal to bridge the gap between fans and the people they admire in a more meaningful way.
“We help influencers become entrepreneurs,” Vaccarino says. “It’s not just merchandise. We’re helping influencers sell a piece of themselves to their audiences and build meaningful connections.”
By focusing on digital stars like Jake Paul who are building massive audiences on YouTube, Fanjoy became a fast growing business juggernaut that found its groove at just the right moment.
You see Fanjoy recently entered the Shopify Plus Build a Bigger Business competition which offers winners — the company’s growing the fastest — all expenses paid trips to Fiji for five days of mentorship with some of the biggest entrepreneurs in the world, including Tony Robbins, Daymond John, Tim Ferriss, Marie Forleo, and Debbie Sterling.
During the 2017 contest, Fanjoy posted explosive revenue growth:
- $2 million in May
- $3 million in June
- $4 million in July
- $5 million in August
“We’re on track to do $35 million in sales this year,” Vaccarino says. “When Harley [Finkelstein, Shopify’s COO] called to tell us we had won it was awesome. It really validated all of the hard work we had been doing the past three years.”
Suddenly the sacrifice seemed worth it…
Before Fanjoy found its joy, Vaccarino repeatedly had doors slammed in his face, lost $40,000 overnighting packages that were late, and relied on his girlfriend, now fiance, to pay many of the bills.
“We’ve done well adapting to what the market says to us,” Vaccarino says.
Speaking of listening, Tony Robbins made a second demand of Vaccarino.
Robbins also wanted Vaccarino to fire someone else … himself.
Expertise From the Island
The wheels really started turning thirty-thousand feet above the ocean on the flight to Fiji. That’s when Vaccarino started to think about being face to face with Robbins and the other business mentors scheduled to make the trip.
“It was incredible thinking about what I wanted to say and how to say it,” Vaccarino recalls.
It didn’t pan out as Vaccarino envisioned.
Instead of rehearsed or formal, Vaccarino says the group Q&A sessions followed by the one-on-one mentoring opportunities were natural and organic experiences chock full of free-flowing conversation, camaraderie, and respect.
“They were all really human and have already gone through the highs and lows I have,” Vaccarino says. “Even as successful as all of them are they were still impressed with what we had achieved and took time to appreciate those accomplishments.”
Only the handful of competition winners get the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the all-star mentorship team assembled in Fiji. However, Vaccarino is generously sharing the additional demand Robbins made and what he learned during his other mentorship one-on-ones so you might benefit as well.
Tony Robbins, Life & Business Strategist
Besides firing clients that unnecessarily drain your time and attention, Robbins also suggested Vaccarino focus more on the future of Fanjoy rather than the day to day operations.
“He told me I had to stop being the operator and doing everything. I need to act as the owner of the business and chart the strategic course for the future. I’m already hiring the people I need to make this a reality.”
Daymond John, Founder & CEO of FUBU
Besides the importance of branding, Vaccarino also discussed the importance of sourcing the right materials for the merchandise he creates for influencers as well as potential co-marketing opportunities.
“Daymond put us in touch with his sourcing person. We may even work with him in the future on some projects. He was great.”
Joe Gebbia, Co-Founder of Airbnb, and Tim Ferriss, Investor & Best Selling Author
With just 21-employees to support a company on track to generate $35 million in sales, Vaccarino relied on Gebbia and Ferriss for hiring insight.
“We wound up with a hiring checklist thanks to these guys. They helped us identify the biggest problems we needed to solve and how to translate that into the skill we needed to look for in potential hires.”
Debbie Sterling, CEO of Goldieblox
To keep one of the promises he made to Robbins, Vaccarino recently hired his fiance' to operate the company. Importantly, Vaccarino turned to Sterling for advice on working with the one you love.
“Debbie and her husband work together. Working with a spouse brings with it a unique set of challenges so setting goals, boundaries, and being really transparent with one another are keys to building a relationship and a business together.”
Importantly, Vaccarino suggests he’s able to focus on implementing the advice he received in Fiji because his commerce platform, Shopify Plus, easily integrates with third-party applications and technologies that allow Fanjoy to automate flash sales and make the site user-friendly for vendors and partners.
“Shopify has helped us overcome a lot of obstacles and obviously the one-on-one talks with Tobi (CEO) and Harley (COO) in Fiji were invaluable.
“Without Shopify, I don’t think I’d have gotten as far as I have as quickly as I have.”
But it’s where Vaccarino is going that may surprise you…
Healing the Paper Cuts
It’s almost as if Vaccarino is trying to keep Fanjoy a secret…
Despite shipping a record 125,000 items in August 2017, Vaccarino isn’t actively marketing the company or doing any serious business development.
“They come to us,” Vaccarino says of clients.
Expect Fanjoy to quickly make an international name for itself as it sets out to find the next mega-influencer in a variety of emerging or fast-growing spaces regardless of where they are in the world like:
Until then, Vaccarino is building out his team, creating a global manufacturing footprint, and implementing the insights gained from a once in a lifetime trip to Fiji and an epic staredown with Tony Robbins.
“The time I got to spend with Tony Robbins was awesome,” Vaccarino says. “You’re right, it certainly is a long way from the paper cuts I got packing orders in the living room.”