Cathie Anderson

RizKnows builds growing online following with gear discounts, reviews

How entrepreneur team built online audience with big-time discounts, concise gear reviews

Nearly 150,000 people subscribe to Jeff Rizzo's reviews of sports, outdoor and electronic gear on YouTube. He's expanded this year to a website that lets shoppers know where they can find deals.
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Nearly 150,000 people subscribe to Jeff Rizzo's reviews of sports, outdoor and electronic gear on YouTube. He's expanded this year to a website that lets shoppers know where they can find deals.

Oakmont High School graduate Jeff Rizzo told me that he figured out who his real friends were after he quit his job in investment banking to launch a business out of his parents’ garage in Roseville.

“It was a leap of faith,” Rizzo said. “I had a great job out of college. Then I quit it to try something unconventional, and I really learned who my friends were. When I was doing good (financially), they all wanted to hang out with me. When I wasn’t doing good, a lot of them didn’t. But it worked out.”

Rizzo, who has a degree in business from UC Berkeley, opened up his media and marketing firm, RizKnows, in mid-2013 as a YouTube channel where he reviewed different types of gear that he knew appealed to guys: stuff for sports and outdoors, technology, home and hardware, those sort of things. His goal — then and now — is producing helpful, entertaining and concise video reviews. This year, he added the website to the mix. There, consumers will find what he described as “big time deals” on gear.

“I preferred watching videos as opposed to reading written reviews, just because you can see the genuineness of whoever is talking about it,” Rizzo said. “Over time, Google started to integrate YouTube more into the native search results. That’s really where I got a big break because some of my videos were showing up above some of the biggest media sources in the world.”

Rizzo recently brought on a business partner, Placer High School graduate Matt Ross. The two became friends while working for Duff & Phelps investment bank in Southern California. The 26-year-old Ross got written up in newspapers around the world after writing a brutally honest cover letter that this columnist has discovered typifies the humility of so many native Sacramento-area residents.

One sentence from Ross’s letter read: “I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crap about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship.”

For the past three months, Ross has brought his A-game to bear at RizKnows, arriving to work each day at 5:30 a.m. So far, the two men have updated the website and honed in on improving the quality of all video reviews. They also have a mobile app in the works.

They’ve received one sign that their work is paying off: “This plaque from YouTube commemorates when I hit 100,000 subscribers. It took me almost three years to get there, but any day now, we’ll hit 150,000, and we did it in less than six months.”

Rizzo also has secured angel investment from Mark Haney, the chairman and chief development officer of Haney Business Ventures in Rocklin. Neither party disclosed the dollar figure. Haney told me: “I start by investing into the individual. I’ve known Jeff for a while, Matt more recently, but these guys are just bar raisers. They have motivation, intensity, intelligence, and they’re hard-working.”

The operation is profitable, Rizzo said, with revenue coming solely from advertising. Because RizKnows.com points consumers to deals, many people think the site actually is an online retailer, Rizzo said, but their focus is on finding deals that their subscribers may be too busy to research for themselves.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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