Sykes teaches students how to trade penny stocks. He has built a business around his controversial approach using blogging, content and social media marketing.
Sykes is also the author of An American Hedge Fund: How I Made $2 Million as a Stock Operator & Created a Hedge Fund.
In this interview, Sykes explains:
- How he uses content marketing to build his business and promote his charity
- What it takes to stand out on social media today
- How he deals with online critics
- Why storytelling is every entrepreneur and creative professional’s secret weapon
And lots more
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Bryan Collins: So you have an interesting approach to philanthropy, and a take on why every entrepreneur should engage in philanthropy. And I’m wondering if you could elaborate on that.
Timothy Sykes: Yeah. I mean it’s … philanthropy is very crazy right now where there’s a lot of negativity because people are like, “What? Why do you talk about your donations? Why do you talk about the money?” For me, it’s like I’m proud of it. I want to show all of my donations, not just about bragging about how much money I’m trying to donate. It’s about showing the money, what it can do in this world, and then inspiring other people.
Timothy Sykes: So as of right now, my charity, a community called Karmagawa, has 54 schools built. Our goal is to build 1000. But aside from just the 54 schools, for example, we have 17 schools built by my Instagram followers and Twitter followers who have seen me building schools. So I think it’s important for us, not just to donate money, but to share it and really utilize social media.
Timothy Sykes: So I’ve actually partnered with this great photographer, his name is Matthew Abad. And we created Karmagawa, which is, “Karma,” good Karma, “Gawa,” means to do or to make in Tagalog. And that is the Filipino language that my partner, Matthew, speaks. So we’re basically making good Karma, and we share all of this through photos and videos on social media so that it gets more people involved. Because I’m frankly … I’ve done all right in business, but I’m not rich enough to change the world. But now we have 500,000 plus followers on Karmagawa on Instagram. We often get 100,000 likes. It’s pretty crazy. So we’re getting more people involved using this new technology.
Bryan Collins: And how did you reach this realization or make this pivot in how you approach your businesses?
Timothy Sykes: I mean it was just a gradual realization. I always talk about my life. I show all of my trades transparently. So I just wanted to show my donations transparently. And then I started doing that, and I got initially some hate when it was the Timothy Sykes Foundation. We changed the name because it’s not about me, it’s about the community. And by showing all of these donations, showing these schools in the middle of nowhere … we went down to South Africa, we did a documentary about how to save the Rhino because rhino really only have a few years left at the current rate. It’s crazy. So it kind of just evolved naturally and organically. And now we have this great community of hundreds of thousands of people who are like, ‘Wow, show me more charity. Show me more [inaudible 00:02:30].”
Bryan Collins: So how could an entrepreneur, who’s maybe running a slightly smaller business than what you’re running, do a little bit of what you’ve done?
Timothy Sykes: I mean I think that everyone can just show what they’re passionate about. You don’t have to necessarily build schools or try to save the rhino. We’re all pretty passionate about something, and there’s usually a charity associated with that. Like helping people get involved with art, or singing, or saving … there’s a ton of different animals. Like even like your local animal shelter usually needs help. Or you can help feed the homeless or the poor in your area.
Timothy Sykes: And I think that you can really start to show that, not just in a way that celebrities who get DUIs show their charity work to make them seem better. But to actually show, look, we’re all humans, we can all care. And there’s a lot of negativity on social media. I think it’s really a nice change to start showing some positivity.
Timothy Sykes: And I think that not only will it help you personally, because I’m frankly much happier posting this kind of content that I care about than some of the other stuff where I used to post exotic cars where, okay, I have an exotic car. I like it. But I would post it repeatedly because I know that motivates my students to study my video lessons harder. I like my car, but at the same time, it’s kind of obnoxious, in that now I’m like, “Wow, this is much more me.”.
Timothy Sykes: So I think that everyone, no matter what business they’re in or what they’re passionate about, showing your true self and getting more people to not just like or comment. I think we have to look at social media as more of this like creating a conversation. Because at first, my charity post did not get a lot of likes or comments, actually kind of a lot of hate at first. Like, “Just do it quietly, don’t talk about it.” And I’m like, “I don’t do anything quietly, I’m just going to post about it.”.
Timothy Sykes: And now, two, three years into my kind of social media postings about charity, it’s really changed. And now, we get many more comments and likes and DMs. And everyone’s just like, “Wow, I love this. I’m inspired. I want to help.” And it’s kind of cool.
Bryan Collins: So do you put those postings up on your personal profile or on the charity profile?
Timothy Sykes: Yeah. So we have karmagawa.com, which is the website. We have Karmagawa on Instagram, which is like the biggest thing. So that has the most social media followers. And then I just usually repost Karmagawa. But I mean it’s all interlinked. The key is that my whole trend … I mean you can go through Timothy Sykes on Instagram, and you can see the trend change from my old posts, which were kind of obnoxious, but they were very good for me as a teacher, getting people to study harder.
Timothy Sykes: Now, I’m still getting people to study, maybe not as much because frankly I’m so overwhelmed with students. It’s a good problem to have. Now I get to focus on what I’m really passionate about. So I repost Karmagawa. We also just did a documentary on saving coral reefs. We went to six countries over seven months. I spent basically half a million dollars of my own money with no payback whatsoever.
Timothy Sykes: But for me, I wanted to share this kind of urgent problem. So we partnered with this videographer, his name is Amir Zakeri. So I partner with different creatives, and I think anybody can do that. Entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily the best photographers or videographers. So find somebody who wants to tell stories using this new medium and then work together. If you combine entrepreneurial money with creative freedom, with social media, some amazing things really happen.
Bryan Collins: So you are quite good at getting people’s attention. And I think you touched on that there with the types of photos you were putting up on Instagram. So how could somebody get some attention for philanthropy? Like I noticed, for example, you had an interesting picture of a giraffe.
Timothy Sykes: Yeah. I mean there’s no exact science. I think that you really just have to talk about it. For me, the pictures and the videos are nice, but it’s more about the caption. Like I explain what’s happening to giraffes because giraffes just got added to the endangered species list, and very few people know about that. We don’t realize basically half of our coral reefs have died in the past few years, and at the current rate, we’re going to have no more coral reefs in the next few decades.
Timothy Sykes: So just explaining everything, and using the internet to do a lot of research, showing maybe one photo or one video, or now Instagram has a slider. So I can use a few different photos, and few different videos, and kind of make a collage, and tell the story. And now social media, I mean just with all the shares. I think that’s the most impressive thing. With our rhino video, we had 30 million views, but we literally had like 6 million shares. So it just created this viral loop that just kept going, and more and more people were shocked about it, and the DMs were insane.
Timothy Sykes: And everyone just wants to help. This is the beginning stages. We’re not going to save any animal from extinction right away. But it’s getting people involved, and especially with the younger generation. That’s what social media is. And it’s frankly our younger generation, our children and our children’s children, who are going to have to deal with a lot of the consequences of what’s happening right now.
Bryan Collins: So you’re a day trader, a teacher, and you also are engaged in philanthropy. So I’m just curious, for somebody listening to this, how could they allocate their time so that they can spend a little bit on philanthropy, and a little bit on something creative, and a little bit on a business pursuit?
Timothy Sykes: Yeah, for sure. I mean it’s all about multitasking. So when there’s no great stock trade, I’m traveling or I’m working on charity. Sometimes the things clash, it’s not an exact science. But I just want more entrepreneurs to really kind of be more citizens of the world. Karmagawa is this community where it’s like we can all do something in our local area. It doesn’t matter how much money we have, it doesn’t matter what we’re really passionate about. Like all animals, all of our environmental needs, frankly, a lot of children, and a lot of poorer people need our help.
Timothy Sykes: So it’s just recognizing the opportunity that social media presents right now and doing your best. I mean if you can donate $50 to your local organization and do a post about the local organization, they’ll get some exposure. They’ll probably get more exposure because you gave some money, and then your followers and maybe your customers can also help. So it creates this whole kind of beautiful circle. It’s not just about huge amounts of money or huge amounts of time. Start small, start testing stuff out. Do one Instagram post, tag Karmagawa, we’ll repost you.
Bryan Collins: I like that. I like that. So even if you’re not necessarily running a business on … like you’re running, you know you could still do something with a bit more niche
Timothy Sykes: Yeah. I mean everyone can view it at their own level. You don’t have to go full throttle. I mean some people are like, “Well Tim Sykes, we can’t always build all these schools.” And I see these DMs and I’m like, “I’m not saying you have to build a school. Like donate a book to a child in need.” You can start very small. But for me, I started small. I kind of have an addictive personality. So I built one school, I wanted to build another, and now we’re building more. And then I realized, I can’t do this all on my own. It’s not just about money, it’s about getting everybody involved. So I partnered with a community of creatives, and now they’re really helping me tell the story better.
Bryan Collins: I like that. And are there any kind of lessons you’ve learned about telling stories? Like you touched on it briefly there when you said about sliders on Instagram. Are there any other takeaways?
Timothy Sykes: Yeah. I think just be real, and be emotional, and be kind of open-minded. Like a lot of people are very narrow minded. They’re like, “How can the other political view think like this? They’re evil,” and it’s … This is democracy. This is social media. And just try to take away feelings of hate or negativity towards anybody else, and just explain the situation.
Timothy Sykes: I find that even a lot of my haters became fans or customers. My first online hater wrote a blog post that said, “Timothy Sykes is full of BS.” We went back and forth in the comments. He became my first millionaire student. He now moderates my chat room. So I don’t hide from my haters. I try to have conversations with them, try to figure out where they’re coming from. And with charity, I think pretty much everybody wants to save animals, they want a healthier environment, and it’s just figuring out ways that we can attack these problems together.
Timothy Sykes: And then there’s really some power in size and in voices. Like a lot of these companies just take advantage of the environment because it’s more profitable for them to do so. But if enough consumers get together and start kind of unionizing, a lot of corporations are going to have some issues because they’re going to say, “Whoa, we have a lot of people now complaining about the use of plastic or the use of chemicals. We might have to change, otherwise we’ll have some boycotts, and our profits will go down more because customers start saying, ‘No,’ to the products as opposed to the slightly higher cost of being more environmentally friendly.”
Bryan Collins: Yeah. You touched on the size of your business there. So when I was looking at your business, you rely heavily on content marketing and creative work to find customers. And then inside your business, there’s lots of things like and [inaudible 00:11:23] and webinars and many videos and so on. So it seems like you spend a lot of time on creative work. So how big of … how much of the day do you spend creating versus day trading [crosstalk 00:11:36]?
Timothy Sykes: I mean it’s all education. Like it’s kind of crazy how similar stock trading and building this charity has been, because I’m creating a lot of content based around the facts and stats. I trade penny stocks, which pretty much the whole world hates, but you don’t even realize that you can actually bet against them. So everyone says, “Oh, penny stocks are all a scam.” And I’m like, “Yes. Many of them are. That’s why I bet against them, and you can profit from that.” And it kind of opens people’s eyes.
Timothy Sykes: And then with the charity, opening people’s eyes to the need for education and more environmentally friendly products. There’s no exact science with how I do it. I just start seeing different causes, or I see different situations where there’s misinformation. When I see a scam that’s being promoted over and over again by different websites, my blood boils. It’s not even about me making money on it. I just want to get good information out there. And when I see companies saying bad stuff about the environment or doing stuff that’s going to harm the environment, I just want to get good information out there.
Timothy Sykes: It’s actually the exact same thing. And it’s crazy that there’s more hate towards charity than penny stocks because a lot of charities just kind of use money. They kind of try to look good. And for me, I actually want to change the world. I think that charity can change the world if enough people get involved and there’s enough transparency. I think it’s all about transparency. I show every dollar that I make from trading. I show every dollar that I donate to charity. And I’m proud of it all. I show my income tax returns and audits. I want people to see that I’m in this for the right reasons. And even if people are a little dubious at first, once you start seeing how much I do content wise with watchlists, video lessons every day, I just gave a three hour webinar to my trading challenge students. Then I just did two charity posts about two other things. So I’m constantly just focused on what I’m passionate about and trying to get good information out there.
Bryan Collins: Yeah. Your many sites have lots of really in depth blog posts, and articles, and guides. And you touched there on all the videos that you create as well. What would you describe as your primary way of building relationships with your customers and followers?
Timothy Sykes: Sorry. Can you repeat that one [inaudible 00:13:39]?
Bryan Collins: The many different channels that you have, have lots of different articles that go in depth [inaudible 00:13:47] to do something, like [inaudible 00:13:49] blog posts. But you’ve also touched there on the videos that you have as well. So I’m just wondering, do you have a natural preference towards writing or is it towards creating video?
Timothy Sykes: I mean I just try to tell the story most accurately. Like video has popped up in the past few years, and it’s been a fantastic innovation. I used to write a lot of blog posts as opposed to doing a lot of video lessons. So I use these tools, and I just try to see what people get engaged with. I think that’s the future of social media and the future of business online, where it’s not just about likes and comments. Like it’s how do you actually get people to care? And now I have a lot more dedicated students these days, even though my social media, my own personal social media hasn’t grown, even though the charity social media has grown.
Timothy Sykes: So it’s interesting. It’s not an exact science. But I do all of my own tweets. I do all my own blog posts and video lessons. I know a lot of gurus, they kind of farm it out. And to them, it’s like a quantity game. Like they want as many customers as possible. For me, it’s quality. I would rather take one dedicated student than 100 bad students because that one dedicated student is going to utilize my lessons properly. They’re going to create a great testimonial. It’s going to lead to more students later on. And that’s kind of been the motto that I’ve gone on, used for charity.
Timothy Sykes: You really should take a look at my partner Matthew Abad’s photos. His nickname on Instagram is Badboi, B-A-D-B-O-I. And he’s very artistic, shoots a lot of different celebrities, a lot of different models, a lot of different … just different topics. But it’s very much about art. And he might not get the most likes, but every single photo, every single video that he posts is very engaging. I don’t know what the right word is. It’s just getting people to care about this stuff, and using the technology to make that happen.
Bryan Collins: Do you have an ideal early morning routine at the moment, Timothy?
Timothy Sykes: Sorry, what was that?
Bryan Collins: Do you have an ideal early morning routine?
Timothy Sykes: It totally depends on what time zone I’m in. I travel all over Asia. It’s very difficult for me because I’m trading stocks in the middle of the night, and then I’m trying to still do charity stuff. And I’m in Europe right now, so I get up usually around like 9:00, 10:00 AM, I’m doing my watchlist. The market opens around 3:30, 4:00 PM. So I’m catching up on emails and planning my charity posts before the market opens. I only trade usually the market open and the market close, the first and last hour of the trading day. So it’s not like I’m sitting at my desk looking for trades all the time.
Bryan Collins: Okay. So the other part of the day, you’re spent working within your business or your charity?
Timothy Sykes: Yeah. I mean it’s always working. We get a lot of influencers aboard these charity trips, so I’m also planning these trips. I’m travel agent, too, so it never stops.
Bryan Collins: I like that. I like that. And do you have any kind of productivity secrets or [inaudible 00:16:49] that you rely on?
Timothy Sykes: Just be sure to get a lot of sleep. Sometimes I go without sleep, and then I get sick, and then I fall behind for two or three weeks, and it’s terrible. Get a lot of sleep, hydrate, and really try to focus on your health. You get more energy, you can get more stuff done that way. And then just focus on your passion. You get an amazing amount of work done when you’re so passionate about something, and you don’t just do it for the money. Too many people I think do it for the money. They’re not really in love with their job.
Bryan Collins: I like that. I like that.
Timothy Sykes: Sorry, I’m coughing a little bit, too. [crosstalk 00:17:23] I’m not the perfect picture of health right now.
Bryan Collins: No [inaudible 00:17:26]. No problem. When you have to create one of these three hour videos that you described, I’m just fascinated, how do you get into the right mindset for that and stay in that mindset for three hours?
Timothy Sykes: I mean, so like if I do a live webinar, I’m just doing … literally, I’m just showing my screen to my students. I’m showing exactly what I’m thinking. I’m trying to narrate my trade. Sometimes I do live trades. Sometimes I do Q&A. It’s always a mix. Again, I just try to be as real as possible. Some people will say I’m not professional. And I say, “Thank you. Correct.” There’s so many fakes on the internet with teaching. Like, “Oh, I’ll teach you to make a million dollars,” and they just don’t.
Timothy Sykes: I actually do have millionaire students, so it helps just showing what’s actually worked for me, creating millionaire students, what’s actually worked for me. I actually have gone from 12,000 to five million. And I just try to show my mistakes, too. Like yesterday, I lost a few hundred dollars on a trade. So today I just did a 30 minute video lesson, or a 20 minute video lesson, explaining what I did wrong and probably what I can do better in the future. And people love it. My most popular blog posts and video lessons are when I screw up. And I just talk about what I did right, what I did wrong.
Bryan Collins: And how do you deal with negative feedback online?
Timothy Sykes: I always just confront it, and I … Some people say, “Tim,” like, “You’re a scam,” or whatever. And I’m like, I hear these conspiracy theories, but what is the scam? Like no one really ever disagrees with my trading rules, or my trades, or my students. They just say … they just think that I’m a scam. They just want to make that assumption. Or they want to say that charity’s a scam.
Timothy Sykes: Again, there’s a lot of bad eggs on the internet, people have been abused for so long. And there’s a great opportunity for people in every industry just to be real. And frankly, I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of success, but I’ve also had mistakes. My favorite chapter in my book, An American Hedge Fund, is when I lost $500,000 plus. Not my favorite, it was actually very painful. But a lot of the students love it in that $500,000 loss made me a better teacher because I talked about it openly.
Timothy Sykes: So I think everyone can just be more raw, more emotional, and just be more authentic. And it’s amazing how people will respond over time. And whether it’s a three hour live webinar, or it’s a 20 minute video lesson, or it’s a blog post, or it’s one tweet, just remember to be totally and completely real, and kind of treat social media as a confessional. We’re all humans, we all make mistakes, we’ve all screwed up before. And when we start to talk about it openly, other people start to say, “Wow, I’ve done something similar like that too.” And not just in trading, but environmentally.
Timothy Sykes: I used to use so much plastic. I can’t tell you how irresponsible I had been in the past. But now I see what it’s doing to the planet. I see the stats. So I want to do better. And I think that’s kind of the beautiful thing where a lot of these charities, big charities on social media, they’re very negative, and they kind of shame people, and they want to make them feel guilty. And we just don’t want that. We want to say, “Look, Karmagawa is all about community. Let’s try to do better as a race, and share these photos and videos to make more people aware.”.
Timothy Sykes: Once you become aware of the problem, you usually do better. So it’s very similar when I’m confessing about a bad stock trade, I want to do better in the future. Or I’m confessing about using too much plastic, I want to do better in the future. It’s crazy how similar these two businesses are. Maybe it’s just in my head, but to me, it seems like two exact businesses.
Bryan Collins: Did it take you long to get comfortable with that type of confessional, creative work online?
Timothy Sykes: Yeah, for sure. Now, I mean I’m just talking to a laptop. It’s kind of weird to look at from … like if you see me at a cafe, and I’m just talking to my laptop and being very intense. I definitely think that I’ve been able to go deeper the past few weeks, and months, and years really after seeing the initial feedback. At first, it’s kind of scary if you have some negativity, or if you made some just dumb ass mistake, like sometimes I do.
Timothy Sykes: I’ve spoken at conferences where I have hecklers, and most people are afraid of hecklers, and I’m like, “Oh, please do heckle me. Let’s have a conversation.” And there’s a video, I’ll actually send it to you, of me confronting one of my hecklers. And everyone came up to me afterwards, they’re like, “How did you do it?” And for me, when I share all of my mistakes, when I have no secrets to hide, it’s kind of liberating. Like you could just say anything to me.
Timothy Sykes: I’ve been on a few reality shows. I look like a jackass in my reality shows. So I have thick skin. I’ve just learned to be really fully blunt and transparent. That makes me the best teacher, and I think that makes me the best to manage the social media accounts that I do.
Bryan Collins: I like that. So where can people find more information about you, Timothy, or a Karmagawa?
Timothy Sykes: Yeah. Again, I really want people to go to instagram.com/karmagawa. That’s the main charity page. Get involved, start looking up what’s happening with animals and the environment. And you can look at instagram/timothysykes or timothysykes.com if you want to learn about the stock market and my teachings. Both of them are going to make you look at the world differently. And I think that’s the whole goal here. Like why would I trade penny stocks? Because I think there’s some opportunity, and I’ll explain why. Why should you care about the planet? Well I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do better there. And so it’s just about education and awareness for everything that I do.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Timothy, I just thought of something just for the Forbes article. Why did you pick animals for your charity rather than another cause?
Timothy Sykes: So we started with just schools. Before Timothy Sykes Foundation changed to Karmagawa Foundation, we had 15 schools, now we have 54. Our goal is 1000, like I said. But along the way, building the schools and going to a lot of these countries, we saw a lot of animal issues. And so in South Africa, we found out how bad it was with the rhinos. So we started a whole campaign with the rhino. And now, we’re just going by different animals, and different charities started contacting us. And it’s kind of crazy. Like the Karmagawa community, people bring up different animals that need help.
Timothy Sykes: We’re going to go to Costa Rica, and we’re going to actually try to save these monkeys that are getting electrocuted. Because in Costa Rica, there’s a whole lot of development, and the monkeys don’t know the difference between a tree or a vine or a power line. So they’re getting electrocuted. International Animal Rescue is a British charity that I just met with in London a few weeks ago. So we’re going to go to Costa Rica, try to help save these monkeys, try to help teach the builders in Costa Rica how to create safer power lines so that the monkeys are not getting hurt.
Timothy Sykes: So once you start throwing stuff out there on the social media, like what you want to do, people come back to you. Like charities hit us up. People say, “Hey, here’s an animal that needs help. Here’s a great charity.” And it’s a pretty beautiful community that we have. Our logo is an infinity sign, so we really think, if we give money, if we tell stories, it comes back to us, which is exactly what’s happening. We sell some charity merch that helps us build more schools. We’ve actually sold roughly $100,000 worth of charity merch. It all gets donated to building more schools, helping more animals. And then people wear the charity shirts, and then they post about it on social media. So that spreads the word.
Timothy Sykes: It’s just about getting everything out there, and really utilizing social media kind of in a different way that I don’t think any other charity or really any other teacher does. I think that there’s huge amounts of potential in social media. And I know that there’s a lot of negativity, and they say like, “Don’t look at your screen so much.” I say, “Look at your screen more. Just use it the right way.” Education I think is really just getting started. I feel like we’re like cave men painting on walls right now, educationally speaking, with social media. In the next few years, the next few decades, as there’s more tools, more people, more stories being told, and better formats, it’s going to be an amazing, amazing few years.
Bryan Collins: I like that. I like that. Okay. Well it was great to talk to you today, Timothy.
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