Isaac John aka Ice is an ex professional NRL rugby league player turned entrepreneur, podcaster, vlogger and card collector. He is the founder of clothing brand YKTR (you know the rules).
Since following him I have seen him leverage the power of social media, authenticity and storytelling to grow his business. Today we dive into his thought process, what is working right now for him, how it can work for you and the biggest challenges he faces with growing his business and personal brand
Victor Ahipene: Speaking nation, what’s happening? Welcome to another episode of Public Speaking Secrets. Super stoked to have you listening and tuning in. Today, I’ve got Isaac John aka Ice, who is a founder of a clothing company. I want to talk to you as his clothing company called YKTR. Check it out. It’s You Know The Rules. He’s also done a lot for getting his company off the ground which I want to delve into and some insights that he’s gained in a bit of the behind the scenes in that aspect. I’ve watched what he’s been doing and I know this works just not for clothing companies and it can work for you out there. We’ll get another aspect of that public speaking which is the digital side. With all that being said, welcome to this show, my man.
Isaac John: Thanks bro. Thanks for having me on.
Victor Ahipene: Give us a quick background of you, how did you get to kind of be doing the clothing side of things and then we’ll delve into kind of the aspects that you’ve used to leverage social media to grow?
Isaac John: Short or long version?
Victor Ahipene: Just go, the medium.
Isaac John: Medium, so I grew up in a small town had ambitious to play sort of rugby league. Play for the NRL and sort of was able to do that through my NRL career, very average player through had a lot of injuries and stuff like that. So through injuries I actually started reading up on books and had outside interests and from there sort of dived into business once I finished football. Kind of just wanted to really pursue business and YKTR was one of those things and been lucky enough so far for it to succeed.
Victor Ahipene: Cool. I guess part of that I see with the questions that people ask on your Instagram who will like, “Oh, how do you do it if you’re not an ex NRL player?” I’m like, I’ve been physio for the magpies I know quite a lot of sports, like all blacks and whatnot. I mean outside of them getting sponsorships from external companies.
They wouldn’t know how to leverage any of that anyway. I feel like it may be a little bit of a fire onto the flame, but if you don’t have the kindling or the water or whatever, it’s just going to die out anyway. Did you initially leverage that? Did it help for your initial growth or was it the kind of the stuff that you threw out and tried that you felt kind of grew the brand?
Isaac John: Obviously, I understand like it’s just where I’ve come from. I can’t really change my career or my previous past. It’s kind of a weird scenario because a lot of people would think that they’re like, “Oh because you’re friends with Chicko and Cory. That’s what made your brand grow.”
Obviously, anyone that’s sort of been in business understands that’s probably not the case or anyone that actually knows that’s not the case as well. To say it didn’t help would be fucking ignorant of me which I’d never say that, but to say that’s the only reason we’ve succeeded. I wouldn’t say that as well. I understand why people say it and it does make sense. I find that know anything about business or didn’t understand my journey. I just saw me personally just with all these NRL players and I think a business succeeded from that.
I understand that narrative a hundred percent as well, but it used to frustrate me a little bit, but not too much anymore. It’s just what it is that people that don’t know me. People don’t know the work that’s gone behind the scenes. People don’t know that almost ended up broke trying to pursue this dream as well. People just see what they want to see. We’re guilty of headline reading here in Australia and New Zealand. It’s just the same thing. They only see the result that I sort of see everything has that’s gone behind it. I do understand that. It is what it is.
Victor Ahipene: Speak on that. They don’t see the behind the scenes side of things. I know you’ve tried other businesses prior to this and then there’s obviously the trials and tribulations that come with particularly the clothing industry. What were the things that when you were first starting out that the mud that you’re throwing on the wall, was there any and seeing what sticks? Was there any systematic like, “I’m going to look at how I can leverage Facebook or Instagram or YouTube or podcasting to help grow my brand?” Did you have any plan or process to that? Because I’ve obviously seen it’s a fairly decent aspect of what your business is the content that you put out to get exposure.
Isaac John: To be honest, I just sort of went into a blind. Took a few online courses about Facebook advertising in that. Those that kind of helped me out. I’ve seen Gary Vee sort of talk about the best thing I learned, “Ah, someone asks her what’s the best business books or what was this book should I read?” He goes, “If you rely on business books given to your competitors because it’s going to help you succeed.” I love the education that I’ve learned from businesses actually from being in it, but the sort of turning point for us was probably about four or five months in obviously ran into a guy called Gary V if you follow my content.
I preach him and everything. He sort of done everything. He was preaching at that time. I just started to implement them and see the little bit of success. Probably the first one was vlogging and we started to vlog. I’ve seen our sales sort of drive up and then obviously learned how to edit and stuff like that and just build brand based off his philosophies of humanizing it. When people see YKTR they usually know our story, usually know who I am as well and off the back of that then that sort of moved into blogging which is writing articles and documenting the journey moved into podcasting in that sort of unintentionally personally branded myself. That was just the method that he taught and that’s the one I followed. It just worked for us.
Victor Ahipene: From like, not necessarily the dollar figures or anything, but from a percentage of breakdown of sales, how much would you attribute to say vlogging blogging podcasting, like not each one, but as in compared to say your paid marketing or SEO or anything like that?
Isaac John: I don’t know because if you look at the way we use vlogs purely top of funnel so if you understand the funneling system. We don’t try and really try and monetize off it. Sometimes when we put paid ads behind it, I’ll test it. Like 80% of our Facebook ad spend goes toward top of funnel at the moment where all the rest is bottom of the funnel which is automated through dynamic product ads and retargeting and stuff like that which is almost automated. Your bottom of the funnel shouldn’t change.
So we use vlogging not so much for sales but purely for branding. I don’t think people understand the difference between branding and sales. Branding sort of long term, branding sort of the difference between people buying a handbag for fucking $2,000 versus $100. You know what I mean? So vlogging is about building brand. It’s not so much for sales, but that just ends up working, turning into sales eventually. It’s kind of playing the long game and long tail of it.
Victor Ahipene: I think there’s what you’ve done really well is, I choose whose stories I watch not be necessarily a consumer of like, “Oh, what’s Ice got to say today?” Because a lot of the stuff is great but you’ve got a certain clientele that are asking you these questions that are maybe at the entry level wanting to get started or find out about certain things.
It’s just understanding different markets and how people are communicating to them. If we were to say start with your vlogging, what have you found has, if people going out there and looking to leverage their brand with vlogging, what are some of your tips on anything for them to get started in that realm?
Isaac John: Make sure you’re just being real. Make sure you’re not trying to fabricate anything. I think a lot of what I’ve been successful at is growing a loyal following with the brand and myself is I’ve been transparent the whole way. We’re going into pretty testing times coming forward from this corona virus. I’ve got friends going out of business. Got people within our building, going out of business already and it’s only been like a couple of weeks, you know what I mean? I think even when I was struggling I was sort of saying like, “Oh fuck, but we’re not going that well here or whenever I make mistake, I was the first to put my hand up and document the journey.”
So I think the trap about social media is everyone tries to put the best version of themselves out there, which is understandable. So if you were to take 20 photos of yourself, which one would you put up? You’d obviously put up the best one when you are. So I feel like people’s vlog style becomes like that. They just want to put out this real super polished version like everything’s good all the time. If you look at my Instagram now, I only want to put good photos up. If you look at it now, it’s just screenshots of Twitter and stuff like that.
I feel like being real is super important. It’s just quicker. I could put out a vlog in a day because I’m just being myself. I’m not trying to fabricate anything that I wouldn’t do. I’m not trying to live this life that I don’t live. At the moment, I’m just collecting like sports cards and shit. I’m just documenting and stuff like that as well. So I feel like it’s hard for a lot of people because a lot of people insecure about who they are especially our public opinions. So I’ve been able to build these walls up through just being myself. I get paid out well through DMS and stuff all the time saying all that you’re faking or the sort of stuff like that which just comes with the territory as well. If you want to start vlogging, just make sure you’ve been yourself because you can’t get caught.
Victor Ahipene: Yeah. I think it’s interesting. I just finished Russell Brunson’s latest book Traffic Secrets. He was talking about it’s funny, like a lot of the people that I deliberately follow he talks about this like I think it’s five F’s or something when putting out content. It’s like having five different kind of topic streams. For example, basketball cards, league podcasts, clothing, whatever.
So that, yes, you’re not just continually pitching the same thing or putting out the same content, but then later on down the track you can potentially branch off into other aspects. Having watched your stuff up and I’d love to hear your side of it. It was deliberate like I see your recording some courses and stuff now. You’ve highlighted to a lot of people who may be in jobs are, “Hey, look, there’s different opportunities that you can have with business.” Then that’s kind of just his there organically lead to, “Hey, I might put something together that can help people.” Or was that part of a plan?
Isaac John: Not really a plan and just sort of come off the back of sort of answering all the same questions all the time and sort of just trying to speed it out. The reason I started writing blogs of skip around, it’s like what equipment do you use or how do you start a clothing company or how do you podcast? The reason I read those blogs in the initial phase was just to speed the process up of replying to people and not just giving them short answers.
Actually try and give them some value so that ended up saving me time. The online course such as talk about trying to build multiple streams of income and building a personal brand is probably the best thing you can do right now. You look at it a lot. The biggest people in the world, like Kanye West for example, but his brand like is these were fucking billion dollars right now. You know what I mean? Like Kim Kardashian, that’s a personal brand. Even Donald Trump being able to be the president is because he is a personal brand.
I feel like that’s the way to moving forward and like say please come in months and YKTR followers. I think I’ve built up enough of a personal brand that I could potentially pivot in a different direction, whether that be with myself or potentially someone hire me. It’s been super important. What was the original question?
Victor Ahipene: No, no, that was pretty much how did you go towards the online coaching or those different types of content that you’ve just—
Isaac John: I’ll tell you why I did it because everyone was going, “Oh, can I come pick your brain for two hours and I’ll buy your coffee.” I’ve seen someone else do it and that on their website they’ve priced their coffee at 500 bucks. If you want to pick my brain, it’s going to cost 500 bucks and we can do it on Skype. I’ll get my own coffee. So I heard someone say price your time at a point where they can’t say no to.
So I started doing consulting and priced myself at 500 bucks an hour. I’d just done it because I didn’t want to do it, but then people were starting to pay it. A lot of the conversations were only going for like 20, 40 minutes. So I was like, “Yeah, fuck it. Let’s go.”
Victor Ahipene: Yeah and it’s funny man, because I think I heard Tim Ferriss or something. He got in that kind of conundrum with friends when he was first kicking off. I think he said like, “All right, cool, it’s free. You just got to give me $1,000 and if you don’t take action on the advice I give you, I keep your 1000 bucks.
If you haven’t done everything I’ve said in two weeks, if you’ve done everything in two weeks, I give you a thousand bucks back.” It was like, “Yeah, because there’s always the mate that you’re like. Aw man, I’d love to give you a time, but I know that all of you aren’t going to read that book that I told you to read or post that blog or start their podcast or whatever.” Yeah, so I found that an interesting one because then it says, “Oh, you really want to pick my brain. Cool. Put a thousand dollars deposit down and then let’s see what’s up.”
Isaac John: Yeah, I think a lot of people would just get obsessed with knowledge as well. I was guilty of that. There was a time in my life where I’ve read about a hundred books. I was just like, I say this all the time. You know, when you have a bear in those bunch of useless facts underneath your breath so just like the annoying guy.
Like I could tell your fucking bunch load of shit that didn’t mean nothing. You know what I mean? I was just a bit of know it all and go to coffees with the boys and the boys are just going to shut the fuck up. It got to that point where I just go, “Fuck, I’m just full of shit.” I’m just like a bunch of useless knowledge and I just wanted to apply some way, but it’s been a great foundation, obviously reading because I’ve got a photographic memory.
If you asked me something right now, “Oh, I couldn’t remember my off the cuff but when I’m in a conversation I can relate examples back to books like top of my brain like that.” It’s kind of a weird. I said I’ve got a photographic memory, but if you say something, I remember that part of chapter three of this book. I can’t remember. If I’m in a scenario, “Oh there’s like this timeline, but ABC.” It’s sort of being great in that sort of sense.
Victor Ahipene: Run us through and this is the thing that I’m interested in. I’ve been watching of your journey as your YKTR media. How did that kind of come about and where do you see it in the future? Because I think this is a huge part of like stepping away from you being the personal brand for part of your company. I don’t know. That’s just the way kind of I see it’s something bigger than you.
Isaac John: Yeah. Just from a pain point to be honest, I have a modern day journalism just—
Victor Ahipene: What is it for listeners out there?
Isaac John: We’ve actually changed just it to YKTR sports. It’s actually a pretty dodgy place right now because there’s no fucking sports going on. What YKTR sports is just trying to go to an alternative that connects players to fans and fans to players. I just sort of saw rugby league media besides the Matty Johns show which is kind of fun. It was just actually really funny.
Everything else besides that, I was just old school players just with the younger generation like our back in my day. Then you open up newspapers, they’re just negative, negative, negative all the time. None of the sources actually ever come from the player. That was sort of the pain point from it. We have got massive ideas from it, but it’s just an execution point.
Obviously media costs money and if we were to film shows and stuff like that, but the basis of it was we essentially flipped down Corey Norman’s narrative around where he was nominated for Kim Steven Medal last year, which is then like spending your time with the community and stuff like that where two, three years ago his perceived to be like this bad boy and he’s just a regular bloke..
I’ve seen his name get dragged through the mud through YKTR and vlogging really flipped the narrative and people that met him be like, “Oh, he wasn’t like the person I thought he was.” Probably the best example I’ve had that and probably Quade Cooper.
Victor Ahipene: That was also an awesome interview, man.
Isaac John: I’ve known Quade since I was three or four and the way he’s portrayed in media was never the way I knew him as a friend and talking to him behind the scenes and stuff. It was very, very different. That was probably the moment we’re like, “Fuck we got some here.” In saying that like everything’s sort of pulled back as well. Like Fox sports are in trouble. It’s the whole rugby leagues in trouble.
Really wanted it to build a like American style. A media format where not just talking to 40 plays about footy, but talking to them about say sports cards for example or where does Jason Taumololo eat on a Wednesday, what’s his cheat meal like? I feel that stuff’s done get a lot more important than the actual 80 minutes of the game.
You’re always going to get people that stat nerds and love all the stats and that type of platform is good for like someone like Denan Kemp were very big on stats and like, “Oh he made an 80 meters post contact meters today.” For me, I don’t really care about that stuff. What’s Cameron Munster doing on Tuesday night? What’s he watching? That stuff seems more interesting to me. That’s what we wanted to put the narrative around.
Also, I’ve done a podcast with Mark Boris one time in his office and after the podcast, he sort of goes we want to do is run a clothing company. At the time I thought I was killing it, “Fuck how good am I going like running this business like ABC.” It sort of just got my mind thinking, I was like, even I’m running a clothing company, it’s cool and all this sort of shit. Like, “Am I actually making an impact?” And a sort of a question of wrestle with myself a lot of the time and just started just obviously through media and that just kind of got over it, but there’s also been the backlash of it as well because when you see the word media, people think also so they’re like, “Oh, why aren’t you reporting on this or that?”
We’re not reporters. We don’t report on stuff. We just want to tell stories in a different way. It’s still been a backlash from it. I’ve had people turn off like YKTR, not stop buying from like YKTR because of it. Few guys are getting really personal with me because they’ve got a difference of opinion. There’s been real interesting transition where it goes forward.
I don’t know because obviously there’s no sports on at the moment. It hasn’t made any money. We’re kind of just be doing it for fun as well just as a side hobby. It’s been a different narratives to be the guy that people laughed and you’re the guy that’s selling clothes and then you try to tell all these different stories, but it’s different what they heard in the media so we must be lying. He used to respect you as an entrepreneur and support your brand. Now you’re doing this and yes, it’s been interesting but I’ve kind of really enjoyed it at the same time as well.
Victor Ahipene: Yeah, I mean from me personally, I see it like I love Denan’s podcast when he’s given a bit more of an insight into the players and then yours as well in that space because I think I follow a lot of the NBA. I follow a lot of the NBA players or ex-players podcasts and stuff like this where they’re actually like talking to the players.
Isaac John: How good is that?
Victor Ahipene: I freaking love this slide. The next thing I want man is I want you or someone else to start doing 30 for 30 type docos of the Australian and New Zealand sports like
Isaac John: Yeah, that was sort of like those other sort of big dream and big picture and we’re obviously going to start with blogs first like we got a few blog ideas. Even just boys going out and having like eating. Like, “Hey Adam Reynolds, where do we go on a cheat day?”
Victor Ahipene: Yeah. It’s like a carpool karaoke and comedians and cars and that sort of stuff. They go off for a reason is because you actually get to see the not the Boofhead league player given that year now a game of two halves. It’s real 110% all credit to everyone. We’ll go back to the drawing board stuff yet you go, “Oh that guy seems like an idiot.” Then they actually get on to a platform and it’s like, “Oh man, they are actually a human being, which a lot of people forget.”
Isaac John: Oh that’s the biggest thing because we put sports players on the pedestal as well. So when we see them on a TV, we think these fucking mystical type beings and they are ungrateful. They’re overpaid and all this sort of stuff, but we going to realize this is just normal people just like everyone else. A lot of the times, like my friends that I’ve grown up with and they knock about my footy players now I’m like, “Oh fuck. It’s just normal.”
That’s what a lot of people don’t realize that everyone is just normal. I say this a lot, like if you want to hang around football players don’t talk football. That’s like number one rule and being a football player in the past and hanging around them and having some of the biggest names in the game is like my close friends. The amount of football that we actually talk compared to other things. It’s probably about 90 to 10 by 10 percent football. I haven’t seen another route.
Other people talk about horse racing, like having to beat or what to watch it on Netflix or like sports cards is a big one right now. We’ve got a crew. I’ve only in NRL players and all black players. We call it card gang. I would go one out of the guy in there. It’s about 10 of us in there like Kalyn Ponga, Connor Watson, Andrew Fafita, Ardia Savea, Aaron Smith.
Some of the biggest names in sports right now, what we do is talk sports cards or what are you trying to collect? You feel like a little kid again. You do realize that people were just normal people. I just want to show that side of players because I’m sick of him getting bagged for I don’t know just for doing shit that anyone else would be doing at 21 and 22 having to bury or pissing on the street. Come meet the person.
Victor Ahipene: Yeah and that’s what I think everyone listening to this should take away from this. You can tell from it. It’s just an authentic conversation they were having. I’m sure a lot of you enjoyed it, but when you’re going out there and putting your content on YouTube, on Instagram, on whatever to start building your personal brand, try and be the person.
If you’re speaking on stage, you’re the same person when you’re off stage. You’re the same person when you go home and like, you know Gary V. He’s an example. I’d say most people listening to this podcast know and if you meet him in the street, he’s not the dude go and I’ve heard stories about other guys like Kiyosaki and stuff—back in the room, they won’t talk to you unless it’s not like you haven’t paid him 10 grand. He’s not going to say hello to you and tell you to piss off stuff like that.
Isaac John: And do you know what, like a lot of people have sort of come up to me like when I’ve been out and that like, “You’re exactly the same as on Instagram which is true.” But then you’ll see a lot of people that spent time with me over maybe a couple of days that are come stay and you’re like, “Oh bro, you’re completely different.
It looks like you’re always on the go all the time.” When I get home I’m fucked. I really enjoy my space as well and people got to realize like a lot of my content comes from me just being on my own. It looks like I’m out there and outgoing and I can be when I want to be, but then also like just being on my own as well. Just got to realize that there’s a balance there somewhere.
Victor Ahipene: Yeah, cool. Finally, just give us a bit of a breakdown. What’s your number one tip obviously apart from the authenticity to getting lots of content out if you’re a solopreneur or you’re that speaker out there, what would you say the best way to start building that personal brand?
Isaac John: Find what your medium is. Are you a writer? Are you comfortable in front of a camera? Are you better speaking to someone as well? Find out what your medium is and just try and make sort of Gary V based on their content pillar strategy.
I find podcasts the best because when you can video them too. You can record them and then three you can turn them into written and stuff as well. I feel like podcasts are the way forward. That’s why I’ve been super aggressive and trying to be, I open this hour and a bit the best podcast there in Australia when people come to share that with them to jump on my podcast because the amount of content that you just strip from that is huge.
This podcast right here, I might have said 10 things that can be turned into quote cards on Instagram. This could be turned into six one minute clips as well. If we recording opportunities into videos then of course you’ve got the long form content that you can put on a Spotify. They can put on podcasts if you put it on YouTube.
I gravitate towards content that’s moving forward. I feel like vlogging, like our views, they get nowhere near as much, but I still enjoy making vlogs because always I looking back when like a year ago, where I was a year ago. Document and journey is always important from that sort of standpoint, but understanding where your brand or your personal brands voice is best documented.
I enjoy writing as well. I can cover across all three bases, which are pretty lucky to do. I’m confident in doing and don’t care if I can fuck up as well. I think that’s a big part of it as well. I see a lot of people trying to vlog and they will look awkward in front of the camera or they start a podcast and they can’t really speak or their tone of voice has kind of weird. Find what suits you and just roll with that.
Victor Ahipene: Well, we’ll do a hundred podcasts and get better at it. Do a hundred podcasts, real quick. I appreciate you jumping on man. It was really last minute. I’m sure there’s a ton of knowledge that we can strip into one minute videos and repurpose into wave audios and have them all over the net. If people want to follow you, find out more about either you, your clothes or what you’re doing on social. Where can they go? What can they do?
Isaac John: Hit me up on Instagram at iice_ for their Instagram name for ages. Probably not the best one, but as we can find me YKTR_ find us on Instagram as well. You can find me on YouTube, The Ice Project. YKTR in YouTube, but probably podcasts. I think the last project find me on Spotify and ITunes. They’re going on there.
Victor Ahipene: We’ll link all of that in the show notes at publicspeakingblueprint.com. Man, it’s been a pleasure. I enjoy jumping on and I hope everything with this Corona virus doesn’t affect you too much, but we’ll see you on the other side anyway.
Isaac John: I definitely will affect us. To what extent? Who knows? It’d be all day on the camera anyway.
Victor Ahipene: Cheers man.
Isaac John: Alright. Brother see you later.