How an NFT Business Actually Works [Case Study] Pt 2. – Michael Cirino & Harry Rosenblum
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Concluding a two-part interview, today we look at how a real business—built around NFTs and Web 3—works. We’ll look at the business model, how they attract customers, and how they generate revenue. To do that, we’ll be chatting with Michael Cirino and Harry Rosenblum of House of Attention and St3ak.
Rich: All right. So I know that you two are working on an NFT steak company, if I’m getting that right. Walk me through that process. What does this business look like? Because I find the idea of it really interesting.
Harry: So the business is called St3ak, but the e is replaced with a 3 in kind of a nod to Web3. And the idea behind St3ak was to take all of these ideas around food and transparency and data and the blockchain, and put them into practice and put them into practice around specific food that people are interested in and that you already have a relatively sizable audience for.
If you go onto Instagram or Facebook and you start looking at pictures of meat or pictures of steak, there’s lots of them. People love to show off their meat cooking. They love to show off the methods, they love to show off the sourcing. They love to talk about, I had a giant steak, I had this big thing and there’s a lot of cultural capital within. We wanted to bring the intention that we’ve been talking about around food into the Web3 space.
So the project is, at its most basic, it’s a membership club. And your membership card is an NFT that can be traded to other people. It’s not like getting an airline mileage club card. There’s going to be a limited number. There’ll be 2,000 of them in the initial offering, and those 2,000 people will then have to enter our online butcher shop that will be token gated by having that NFT in your wallet, in the crypto wallet. And the idea being that anybody can come and look and be like, “Oh wow, they’ve got interesting meat, they have interesting sausage.” This is the story behind it. But if you want to buy it, you have to be a member. And if you get tired of it or you don’t want the meat anymore, or you move out of the country and you can’t get it delivered, or you become vegetarian and you’re not interested, you can sell that membership on to somebody else and somebody else then gets to use that.
Initially, part of the creation of the project was out of an idea that I have been working on for a number of years. I did some consulting about eight or nine years ago with the Prefectural government in Kagawa, Japan. In Kagawa Prefecture there’s an island called Shodoshima. And Shodoshima Island happens to look like a cow if you look at it on the map, which is kinda neat. But it also happens to be the center of where they raise all their olive-fed wagyu beef. Most people don’t know that Japan has a small olive harvest and has olive farmers, because all the olive oil they make is really great and they sell it in country. It’s not an export product the way olive oil is in a lot of the European countries.
In the 1980s, there was a farmer in Shodoshima whose neighbor was raising olives. He pressed all of his olive meat for olive oil and was throwing away all the meat from the olives. And the farmer’s neighbor looked at it and said, “Wait a minute. Maybe the cows will eat it so they don’t have to put it in the landfill. Maybe we can reuse that.” There’s a Japanese concept of ‘moai’, which is this hatred of waste trying to use all resources. So what they discovered is if they dry the olives in the sun and roast it a little bit, the cows really like it. So he started feeding it to the cows. And when he took those first round of cows to slaughter, they all graded at A4 or a A5, the highest grade of meat in Japan. Not only that, the meat was delicious. The meat has super high levels of Omegas, Omega3 specifically. And so they started doing this. None of the olive meat in Shodoshima and Kagawa goes in the trash anymore. It all gets fed to the beef. The beef became well regarded in Japan as one of the best beefs around. They sell most of it in country in Japan, much like the olive oil.
They came to the United States, and I met them through a friend who was consulting with them in Japan, and said, “We want to bring this to the United States. We need some help.” So I helped them in promoting it. And because of the way that the Global Meat system works, they were only bringing in the sort of steakhouse cuts. They were bringing in what they call the ‘middles’. So they’re bringing in the ribeye, they’re bringing in the New York strip. The entire rest of the animal, even though the farmer was paying 50% more to have it slaughtered in a USDA slaughterhouse in Japan, was going back into the Japanese domestic market. So the farmer was automatically losing money on this project in order to be able to export some of it in the United States. And I said to them, “Why don’t you bring the rest of it here?” And they said, “Well, nobody will pay as much as we need to sell it for, because there isn’t a retail structure in the United States that can accept premium product like that and get it to the consumer.” Whereas the steakhouse model, you can do that. People are willing to go out to a steakhouse and spend $500, $600, $700 on a meal. People are not willing to walk up to a butcher counter and see ground beef here that is $6.99 a pound, and obviously even less than that in a more conventional system. But let’s say at even a fancy butcher shop, $6.99, $7.99, $8.99 a pound. And ground beef over here, that’s $22.99 a pound, you’re just not going to be able to move that product through that system.
I was trying to get them to bring it here because I actually think the top round off those animals is some of the best beef I’ve ever eaten anywhere in my entire life. But they just, they couldn’t make it work. And so I said, what if we had a structure where instead of pricing the middles higher because there’s all this cost on the front end of slaughter, and then there’s all this cost on the shipping, and then they have to account for like the money they’re not making by putting everything back into the domestic market. What if we just bought the whole animal and brought it here and took it apart and then sold it? Can we do that?
And so that was where this sort of thing started. And I said, Great. We’re going to have a membership program and it’ll be available to members. And the members will be able to have access to this. And nobody has access to this. It’s not like you can go down to any butcher shop in America, literally not even one, and buy the same beef.
Michael: And I think, I just want to point this out. Harry started this conversation off by identifying that this is olive fed A5 Wagyu. Those are three huge descriptors of providence and excellence and well regard in the meat consumption world that are in the title of this product, so that we understand the quality level of this product. He didn’t say any of the US specific descriptors, right? Wagyu, you know that comes with 20 things in and of itself. A5 attached to that, and be led with this idea of ‘olive fed’, right? Which is such a unique descriptor of providence and of execution of sustainability. Which when he starts to tell that story, it expands like a cone of knowledge.
You’re learning all of this stuff, and how awesome would it be to go to this island and eat this food right there and see what the world was like, in the exact same way that you would with France. Steak became that idea of doing all that intention for Shodoshima, and for the Florentine cattle raised in Italy and butchered in very specific way. And the cattle that are being grown in New Jersey and Vermont under very specific and unique conditions there. And what happens when they change their feed, and how do they respond to growing cattle in a cold environment and all that kind of stuff so that it can be sustainable? And how do we celebrate all of this and give you access to that whole animal or make it into a place where those 2,000 members have access to this thing and we only need to have 2,000 people’s worth of product to be able to move this thing through sustainably, so we can then manage our part of that sustainability chain and still deliver an ultra-premium product so that they can be super excited about sharing it, telling the story, and then consuming it?
Rich: So let me just pause here, because I certainly understand the model so far. And you know, I’ve seen steak clubs and they send you the steak once a month, and I’ve never joined one but maybe they tell you some sort of story, too. So when it comes to this club that’s starting with just, I think you said 2,000 members. So I buy the NFT – and these are going to be some basic questions, but I just want to make sure because not everybody’s bought an NFT who might be listening – how do I first buy the NFT from St3ak as a consumer?
Harry: So when you…
Michael: No, I was just going to say, it’s going to be just on our website, it’s going to say, ‘purchase a membership’, and you’re going to purchase a membership and it’s going to explain to you that this is a digital asset and it’s going into your wallet that you’re going to set up with your account. And built into our website, there will be that wallet function which will be tied to your email address and to your membership. And that whole thing will feel seamless as if purchasing a membership with your credit card.
And then when you come back to our website you’ll log in, it’ll acknowledge the NFT, and then that will unlock the marketplace. The marketplace will be available for other people to see, but there’ll be no ‘buy it now’ buttons for the products that they can’t access, though there might be some stuff that regular people can buy like hats and maybe things like that. I’m not really sure if we’ll even have the ability to do that, Harry, but you can tell me.
But the goal is that when you buy your membership, that then opens up content on the website. And since all of it is native into the website, it’s really easy to consume and to play with, whether it be a product or a thing.
If you want to sell your NFT to somebody else, you’re going to have to learn how to sell NFTs, which means taking an Ethereum based NFT and moving it into a marketplace and then offering it for sale. We’re going to give you some advice there, but in the same way that you can sell a car after you buy it from a dealership, you’re going to have to figure out how to use Carfax or whatever it is per that online transaction. And there’s a whole ecosystem of different places there. So our goal is to make the front end of that transaction as easy as possible. All of our internal transactions as easy and seamless as possible.
But then when you go to release that asset or to change it in that way, that is very unique to Web3. Now it’s time for you to do some learning or some kind of additional things, right? If we create multiple versions of these NFTs and it becomes incentivized for you to grow in your knowledge beyond just being able to live inside little ecosystem, hopefully we can help you along that journey. But right now our goal is to onboard people into this Web3 space by a seamless and almost invisible membership ownership that accesses a private e-commerce platform.
Rich: So the NFT. I was going to say, so the NFT, for me to purchase it, I need to have what’s called a digital wallet. And I believe that there’s both virtual digital wallets as well as physical digital wallets where I can store this NFT. So there is a little bit of knowledge that a consumer’s going to have to come with or at least be able to learn from your site.
Michael: So that wallet function is being taken over by our site right now. So we’re working with partners, and wallet function will be just attached to your email address, and we will create what is called a ‘custodial wallet’ that does all the stuff that you just talked about without you having to understand the Web3 terminology, that is based around your login information that you’re providing to us.
When you decide to move this asset from our safe ecosystem of e-commerce marketplace content and NFT ownership, like that closed loop system that we are controlling, when you pull your wallet out of that custodial area into. Virtual wallet, like Meta Mask, or Binance, or Coinbase, or if you pull it into a ledger like a hardware. That then allows you to have a safety time to have this asset and access for a while you’re learning and trading other assets in that way that maybe not are as valuable. And then you can feel comfortable to then have that institutional knowledge without leveraging an expensive thing, like a membership.
Harry: And the membership will also, it’s not just about buying. So that’s the other big piece of this project I think that sets it apart from other meat clubs is that it is not just about the buying, it is also about being part of a community. In the same way that my interest in vintage cars leads me to be part of a community where I interact with people, I give advice, I take advice. I am looking at what they’re working on, I’m working on my own. That same community building is part of the project as well. So the idea is that through both social media and discord, we will have places for people to both just consume content that we’re putting out. Whether that’s videos, whether it’s articles, whether it’s photographs of this is the cow, this is the farmer, this is the dry aging room, check it out and see it for yourself. Or also people interacting.
And then we’re also going to be doing a series of traveling live. And then also having, as part of that partner steakhouses, so that anybody can come to those events. And the idea would be to say, All right, we’re getting this incredible beef from a farm that only raises three cows a year in Vermont. And we are, have the ability to get you this beef that is not available in any kind of a more conventional distribution system. And we’re going to be serving it at this steakhouse. And you can come and do that if you are a member. And you want to come to that event, you will get special access, you will get VIP options, you will get discounts on attending those kinds of events, and being able to experience that as well.
Rich: So the NFT, just to be clear, is basically entry into this virtual space where then I can shop. I’m obviously going to be spending more money, and it sounds like a lot more money for an individual steak or top round or what have you. But the issue is no one else is going to have access to this except for the people that have that NFT that grants the membership. And at some point, like you said, if I am no longer interested in this for whatever reason, I can then turn around and sell this or any of the marketplaces that exist for buying and selling NFTs.
Michael: And our goal is to sustainably grow that membership so that either it can be a fixed set of product that we have available and we know what our marketplace wants, and they can start to influence that decision making. Like, hey, we really want to see this kind of stuff for the 4th of July. How can we start planning for that in January so that we can get our supply chain to do all of this stuff in line? And by them knowing and learning from us, from us showing chefs preparing the food and showing farmers working with the animals, their knowledge base about this passion grows.
And then they can use that data that Harry was talking about at the beginning of this conversation to make better decisions on what they want. No, we really want this kind of crazy, big cuts of meat for the 4th of July, but how do we make it function inside this world that we now understand, predictably where we don’t want that. We just want the best burgers and hot dogs. So it’s get the best factory to make us 600 pounds of the best hot dogs in the world and they’re going to be awesome. You know what I mean?
But somebody thought about it and they got like the. All the bay leaf from somewhere and all the other stuff from somewhere, right. And all that thought came together to make this superb product that only this handful of people can access because they decided to be there and to contribute their time and energy for it, not just because they’re rich.
Rich: How do the olive farmers, the regular farmers, and the butchers and everybody else along that chain, how do they enter their information into the NFT, so as a member, I can learn more about the meat or the steak that I’m eating?
Harry: So right now we’re in the process of figuring out what that data collection is going to look like, and then how it’s going to be visualized. We had a meeting last week with a company that does data tracking for meat production, and they currently track 1,284 different data points throughout the meat chain. That’s a lot. And it’s a lot for the regular consumer. It’s a lot for me. It’s too many, it’s too many data points.
So right now we’re in a process of kind of whittling down between what data is important, the birth of the cattle, to how the cattle is raised, to what it is fed, all the way through what data can be collected and is important to the butchers who are actually cutting that meat up and trying to figure out what are the things that are useful to the consumer in terms of both quality and just general interest in the same way.
To go back to the automobile analogy, that when I look at a car that’s like mine and I notice oh, you’re running different size wheels. Oh, that’s interesting. Oh, what size tires do you have on? Oh, what are your brakes that you’re running on? That these are data points about that product that because I’m an enthusiast matter to me but might not matter to the next person. So we’re trying right now to whittle down what are those data points, and come up with, we’re going to start with a dozen or two dozen data points. And then we are working on how do we visualize that. So that it’s really boring if you open up your steak and there’s just a printout of a spreadsheet that’s not really useful to the consumer and it’s not really fun and it’s not beautiful. So we’re in the process of figuring out how do we visualize and how do we present that data
And to go back, even though the project is not focused solely on Japanese beef, if anybody who is listening has been to a Japanese steakhouse in Japan, when you come up to the door, they have a document by the door which has the nose print of the beef and of the cattle that they are serving at that moment. And that changes out when they are serving a different animal. So, things like that to be able to present to the members.
Michael: And Rich, what I think for me, not to get too meta here or to tie it too back to your world on the nose, but what inspired me about listening to you talk, is a lot of the things that you were talking about; to do SEO optimization, to drive attention towards the thing that you were talking about, was the layers of communication and intention that you needed to communicate. If we’re talking about the best beef in the world, let’s talk about all the best beef producers in the world in a regular way so that we are elevating them with us so that we create a context of voice so that our voice is shared in context with them. In the process of doing that, I’m going to know who all the best beef producers in the world are, because I need to know them because I’m communicating about them as myself is trying to drive traffic in this way.
So like when I think about the intention that each of these stages of the things are happening, these are all points where I can use my voice to optimize people, to be able to find us, to be able to talk about this path of discovery. Because for me, the trickiest part in this very noisy world is discovering things that are worth your attention.
I know I love meat. I know that I love grilling. I want to know more about interesting ways. Well, how do I get that? And not just a bunch of marketing shit for like pellet stoves. Because I don’t need marketing shit for pellet stoves, right? Like I know that they exist. I know that there’s four brands, and I know that they’re on sale at Amazon all the time. Stop. That’s it. I care enough. Now how do I get beyond that? And if Pellet Stoves wants to drive me to something beyond that, it has to be inherently valuable to me.
And that’s what really excited me about your superpower, was getting the content to reflect the reason why people were showing up. So you could check in with that audience on a regular basis and what they were wondering about so you could make sure you were delivering it.
Rich: Awesome. And, thank you. Michael and I saw each other present at an event, and we were excited enough about each other’s presentation that we had an awesome conversation afterwards that ended up in this podcast.
Obviously, the NFTs that you are creating with St3ak are significantly different than me just buying a jpeg. What do you think are some of the innovations that NFTs are capable of, either that you’re just starting to see, or this is what’s going to be happening next year?
Michael: I think if you just Google ‘Starbucks NFTs’ and ‘scotch and soda’, those are the two best use cases for fan-based, audience-based reward systems using digital assets to reward typical buying patterns, and things that people do on a regular basis anyway that create positive feedback loops. I think that those two brands and those two executions are very clear case studies on what can be done for pretty much anything, right? Like airlines. I literally, anything, you can just look at those two case studies. I can tell you deep about it, but they are designed and the articles that are written about them speak towards this invisible nature of rewarding users for their behaviors and giving them the ability to extend behaviors into things that they would potentially care more about, by leading with passion and leading with intention.
If Starbucks says you keep buying the same coffee all the time, that’s cool, you get to earn points. But what if those points were actually turned into money and you were incentivized to spend that money on shit you cared about in the coffee world. But you could also spend that money on like an oil change. I’m not going to tell you to spend that money on, it’s money now. And that is just a whole different energy because they can spend their money on trips to Costa Rica to go to coffee plantations and have the best coffee in the world, and they can get a 25% discount if they use their Starbucks dollars to do that kind of travel buying. And Starbucks is creating this whole chain of stuff. But hopefully it’s only around coffee because they don’t know shit about beach destinations necessarily, and they need to bring somebody else to amplify that. But that’s now a partnership that hopefully if you trust Starbucks and their ability to tell you what good coffee is, you’ll also trust their ability to say, “This is why we partnered with Marriott and their Moxy hotel properties on the beaches of Costa Rica” or wherever the fuck. You see what I’m saying? And again, it’s stacking that intention in those teams together because you showed up for really good coffee, and if I’m asking you to buy something else, it better have that same sort of purpose or value behind it.
Rich: And we’ll link to a couple of those stories in the show notes. But Harry, I was curious what your thoughts would be.
Harry: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of things that we are just starting to see the opportunities of in blockchain and in NFTs. One of those is not new to that, and it’s around what we’ve been talking about with authenticity and around ownership. But I think that large assets, houses, cars, things like that, those transactions are going to start to be recorded on the blockchain such that you aren’t going to need a third party or a governmental agency to say, alright, we have to do a title, you don’t have to pay us for a title search when you buy a piece of property. Because you will be able to look at the blockchain and be like, oh yeah, Michael actually owns this property, and he owns it free and clear and there’s no liens on it because there’s nothing in the blockchain. And so he has the right to sell it to me. It makes that transaction actually between people a lot easier.
I think the same thing will be true of vehicles where you aren’t going to have to go to a DMV, you aren’t going to have to pay somebody like Carfax, I don’t have a problem with them, but like you’re not going to have all of these outside data sources that need to be accessed and then presented together, because all of it can just be on the blockchain for that vehicle. And then when that car goes to the junkyard, NFT disappears. There’s no need to keep it. And you aren’t going to need to have big paper files and things like that.
The other thing that I find very interesting, and I think the Starbucks, I’m not a regular Starbucks customer, although I’ve thought about actually seeking out some Starbucks so that I can look into this because I haven’t used their membership program. But I think there’s a lot of interesting opportunity around anonymous CRM and NFTs.
So I personally like, and that may be true for other people I would assume, and maybe true for listeners. Like, I have too many logins to too many things that really don’t need my information. Like I don’t need a login with an app or Ace Hardware to have Ace Hardware or CVS track all of my purchases and tie that back to me so that they can advertise to me when I look at Facebook or Instagram or Google or anywhere else. But they can know what I already bought.
So to use the coffee example. If the coffee shop knows that I buy 12 coffees a week from the coffee shop, they don’t need to know my name is Harry. They don’t need to know I have a beard. They don’t need to know I have two children. They don’t need to know I have a dog. They just need to know that I come in and I buy those coffees 12 times a week. And then they can better serve me as a customer with that information, rather than selling my information to other people. Or rather than that information being sort of convoluted into all these other sales channels. It can be a much better direct relationship, and in fact, be anonymous, because they don’t have to know.
Rich: If somebody’s listening today to you guys talk about NFTs in the steak business, and they’re wondering if there’s an opportunity for them to add NFTs to what they’re already doing, what are some of the first steps that they should take to better educate themselves to understand what they can and can’t do with NFTs at this point? Where would you point them?
Harry: I love this question. I think it’s an incredible question. I think as with anything, the first thing you have to do is assess your market in whatever industry that you are in and determine whether or not you either have enough people in the right kind of demographic groups who may already know about NFTs and want to be using NFTs and are interested in seeing the uptake of that. Or people who are NFT curious, for lack of a better way to describe it. And if you do have those people, then I think there is a conversation to be had for how you engage with them and what the actual use case is. If you find that you don’t have those people, then I think you have to wait until there is a larger, wider uptake. Because those of us who are in this world and are talking about it – as with anybody – it’s very easy to have blinders and to think that to attach an outsize import to what you are talking about. And if you really look at the big wide world, NFTs are still owned and utilized by an incredibly small fraction.
Michael: Excellent. I would say to just echo Harry’s point, the innovation isn’t necessary unless you can apply the innovation to a need that your audience currently has. And I think that the value that it really is creating is a unique investment tool for passionate audiences to do something that is just beyond Indie Go-Go and Kickstarter and stuff. It’s a little bit faster. It’s a little bit more ephemeral. But it can be as small as buying a CD to support an artist or a t-shirt, but it’s a little bit bigger than investing in a project or spending buying stock. It’s this real middle of the road thing that says, I’m passionate about this thing and I want to see it happen. And if you can use that energy, you can find some way of applying the Web3 space to take an audience’s voice and amplify it through something that you can create.
I would say House of Attention was designed as a group of creative people to do that at a very high level. St3ak is one of the projects we’ve done. We’re also building a digital theme park right now called Borderlands, and that project itself is designed to be a home for these digital experiences, these digital audiences that come and gather. Not just if they’re digital first, but because most things become digital at some point anyways when they grow to scale, right?
If you have a bunch of people that are passionate about steak, that’s going to become a digital community at some point because they’re not all going to be in the same room. And once it becomes text messages and emails, how do you take that energy that’s conveyed in the room and transfer it over to that space? And then how do you bring it back?
And again, those are a new set of rituals that we as a civilization, we’re all in our middle-aged times. Like we’re dealing with that because of the pandemic. Some people will never know what it was like before that, right? Some people will never know a Thanksgiving or Shabbat dinner that’s not virtual at the same time as hybridized or whatever you want to call it. That the experiences will only exist in all of these realms because there’s no presence that doesn’t have that digital layer.
I don’t want to make it sound like it’s going to be dystopian. I want to build rituals that are actually amplified in a positive way because of that. If we’re going to accept that text messaging is part of watching sports, make it inherently awesome in the ways that only text messaging can be, because it’s there as that platform. Don’t try to have it replicate yelling at each other in a bar. Do that, too. You know what I mean? It’s not and/or, it’s an ‘and’, it’s not an ‘or’. If that makes sense.
Harry: Yeah. And that’s some of the work I think that we do at House of Attention as well. Outside of state and Borderlands is consulting work for people. I mean we’re working with a property that’s talking about what they’re going to do for the World Cup and trying to figure out how do they engage with the audience. And is part of that engagement every game that gets watched at that property, do the people who attend because of where they are in physical proximity get an NFT out on the tables. Are there QR codes so people can claim the NFT, which then serves them as cultural capital? That they can be like, “Oh man, I watched the World Cup, and I watched the World Series, and I watched the Super Bowl at this place”, and then that can unlock something else for them.
Michael: They get free beer whenever they walk in. They’ve been to five cultural events that year, and every time they walk in, when they check out all the beer just comes right off their check automatically. Do you know what I mean? They don’t even have to think about it. They just never get charged for beer.
And again, it’s that simple of a rewards program. Or it can be as complicated as creating some sort of trading system. Or it can just be a whole different type of innovation that we’re working towards. Some of this stuff doesn’t really need Web3 to be there, but Web3 is going to be where it’s headed anyways, like the metaverse, right? The Metaverse has been around for a long time. They’re just digital paintings that you can walk around that react to your presence. That shit exists for a long time. Video games, like all that stuff, these are just more accessible because the tools that it takes to create them, and then the AI that it takes to power them and to make them interactive is all becoming radically more accessible.
And it’s going to be in web three in decentralized technology. So you can either talk about it like that or not. But again, I’m just going to apply that innovation because it’s beautiful, right? It makes beautiful images, it makes beautiful spaces to be in. And it will tell really awesome stories as a format in the same way that movies are different than still images.
Rich: Guys, this has been great and very eye opening, and you’ve done a very good job of kind of explaining how we can get into this. If people want to learn more about St3ak, about House of Attention, and about you two, where can we send them?
Michael: Httn.xyz, or you can look up House of Attention on LinkedIn, Instagram.
Rich: All right. And will have those links in the show notes. Michael, Harry, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for showing up today and sharing your expertise.
Michael: Thank you so much having us, I really appreciate it. That was great.
Michael Cirino and Harry Rosenblum are part of the creative team behind House of Attention, where they’re taking an innovative approach to Web3, NFTs, and immersive experiences, including their Japanese beef membership, St3eak.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.