Joe Karbo and how his ads for The Lazy Man's Way to Riches made him a copy writing legend

The Official Biography of Direct Response master Joe Karbo

Joe Karbo and the Newspaper ads that launched one of the most successful self-help books ever sold

Joe Karbo was an ordinary man, a "lazy man" by his own admission, whose struggle to overcome adversity, poverty, and failure led him to extraordinary riches.

Some people thought Joe made his fortune from the enormous sales of his book, "The Lazy Man's Way to Riches" but the reality is that he made millions prior to even thinking about writing that now classic book.

Joe was one of the foremost copy-writers, headline writers and direct response experts of all time.

He established new precedents, and built the foundation for today's direct response industry - making himself a self-made millionaire in the process.

Joe reveals all of his secrets in "The Lazy Man's Way to Riches," that is Joe's philosophy on life and how to live it richly, successfully, joyously and of course lazily.

Joe Karbo's Early Life:

Joe was born in Los Angeles, the son of Polish parents who owned and operated a tailor shop. He attended Manual Arts High school in Los Angeles, California and served in the US Navy in the South Pacific during World War II as a medic and pharmacist.

After the war, Karbo married his new wife Betty and had the first of their eight children.

He had planned on enrolling at the University of California but due to the financial pressures of providing for his new family, he had to forgo the University and look for a job.

Turning down several jobs, including one assembling roller skates, he established a wholesale paper business and began buying unwanted cardboard boxes from department stores and reselling them to small businesses.

He sold that business in 1950 to take acting classes at Pasadena Playhouse. He later went on to play bit parts in movies, radio and television shows.

Joe also appeared in many television commercials and for a time was the television spokesman for a Maywood, California car dealer.

Both the dealer and Joe became famous and Rich because of Joe's low-key, common sense, and refreshingly honest approach to selling cars on television

Joe Karbo the TV Star and Innovator

From 1961 to 1963 he and his wife, Betty, co-hosted "The All-Night Show" in Los Angeles on KTIV, Channel 11.

Joe felt that it was a waste that TV stations went off the air from midnight until 6 AM in those days, so he bought that six hour block of time and he and Betty played movies all night on TV.

They also interviewed guests live like (Sammy Davis, Jr., Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, and countless others.

Their show was the first all-night show in the US. (Midnight to Eight AM.)

Always thinking, Joe knew there was an audience up all night made up of swing shift workers, hospital workers, city workers, (policemen, firefighters) who would watch TV - if there was something good to watch.

He was right.

Joe sold his own late-night advertising time, but few potential advertisers believed the late-night audience was worthwhile.

So Joe to offset the costs of his television time, Joe turned to mail order promoted his own products during the show. Selling things ranging from glow in dark Christmas ornaments to vitamins, basically whatever he could make a profit on.

He wrote his own advertising copy for both the show and his ads.  And as a result of a combination of his like ability, ad copy expertise and the fact that he had a monopoly on TV (no other shows broadcast after 1:00 AM) he quickly became rich from his own all - night TV show.

But nothing lasts forever and in 1962 the station that televised Karbo’s program was sold to the Metromedia Corporation.

The station would not re-negotiate his contract because they’d witnessed the success of Joe’s format and now wanted to do all-night TV themselves.

When Joe and Betty's show was forced off the air, Joe was left with lots of product and no way to sell it.

To make matters worse Karbo had massive debt load from the purchase of inventory for things he sold on the show.

Feeding a Family of 10 Without a Job and Crushing Debt

Facing certain bankruptcy, Karbo found himself unemployed $50,000 in debt, renting a ramshackle house in a bad neighborhood with his wife and eight children.  Money was so tight during this time that Joe found himself refinancing his car just to pay the rent.

Looking for a solution Karbo sought the advice of several different attorneys who all advised him to declare bankruptcy.

But that idea didn't sit well with Joe.

Shortly thereafter, a close friend told him about a “system of mental conditioning” that seem to have had amazing results when tested on corporate executives.

With nothing to lose, he began following its principles. First, he wrote out his goals, including “I own a $75,000 house on the water”, “My bills are paid” and “I earn $100,000 a year.

Karbo then called his creditors together with the intent of proposing a win/win situation for all involved. When he got them altogether, he was upfront and told them he couldn’t pay what he owed.

As Joe says, “I told them, if you don’t believe I’ve gone bust, force me into bankruptcy. If it turns out I have got a lot stashed away, you’ll recover it and maybe put me in jail. If you believe me, let me do what I do best: sell merchandise. You have my word, I’ll pay you back!

After just 90 minutes he had convinced his creditors to give him an unprecedented nine years to repay what was owed.

Karbo who had always had a knack for writing ads turned to mail order and the publication of several “how-to books”

18 months after negotiating with his creditors, Joe Karbo penned "The Power of Money Management, or, How to Get Out of Debt in 90 Minutes without Borrowing."

After talking his way into a line of credit with both a printing company, several local newspapers magazines in the Southern California area, Joe sold 100,000 copies of his book via direct mail and paid off his creditors in less than 36 months.

Sidebar: In just ten years after first negotiating with his creditors, Joe became a millionaire, partly from sales of his books and from a vitamin mail order company he had started several years earlier.

Joe then decided to sell the inventory of various products he had sitting in storage that was left over from his now defunct late night TV show.

Joe sold Glow in the Dark Christmas ornaments with one of the best ads ever written. One of his headlines was "The Fun Begins When the Lights Go Out."

Joe had taken several hundred door viewers (You know the kind of door viewer in hotel room doors) instead of cash from a man who owed him money.

He sold these door viewers with an ad that he wound up running for years - selling hundreds of thousands of door viewers in the process with an ad headline: "See Through Walls, Fences and Locked Doors."

Joe Karbo Always Helping Others

Joe wrote many other books and pamphlets. He wrote ads for products for others as well, taking a percentage of the profits instead of a fee for the ads.

After Joe achieved financial independence he decided to retire. But that didn’t last long. Soon Joe started helping others write ads and sell their products.

What he noticed though bothered him. Most weren't mentally or emotionally equipped to handle success.

Karbo then resolved to write a simple book describing the principles he had discovered that helped turn his life around.

That book became the American Classic 'The Lazy Man's Way to Riches.'

In this book, Joe shared the proven techniques and secrets that he discovered that allowed him to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and to life the life of his dreams."

The book that changed the world of advertising and changed millions of people all over the world

Joe wanted to write a guide book that would help others do what he had done. But this book was something different as it was written as two books in one.

Book One:  The first half of the book would cover how to prepare for success, how to develop a positive mental attitude, how to set goals and achieve goals and how to become a better person.

In short, it taught the reader how to become the person who could be a success, and a person that others would want to do business with.

Book Two: The second half of book would deal with Joe’s favorite subject in the whole world, the selling of goods and services via direct response ads. He referred to it as Money in your mail box.

Karbo would go on to reveal all the mail order and direct marketing secrets that he used to make himself, and so many others rich.

Now, here is the fascinating part, Joe wrote the now famous ad for The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches book, before he actually wrote the book!

He wrote the ad and ran a single test ad to see if there was an audience and a market for the book.  (Where do you think Tim Ferris got the idea?!)

Today this is sort of thing isn’t allowed, in fact it’s illegal.  FTC guidelines state you can't advertise something for sale if you haven’t yet created.

But times were different back then and Joe’s book was a huge success almost overnight.

Joe Karbo's Test Ad Produces an Unexpected Home Run

Joe's ads were incredible and the response was overwhelming. The demand was huge for the book and it caught Joe completely unprepared.

As a result Karbo had to refund all the orders (many of those orders came as cash in envelopes). But he wasn't discouraged because he knew he had a block buster on his hands!!

He and Betty packed their kids into the car and headed up to their cabin in the Lake Arrowhead near Los Angeles.

Six short weeks later he completed the book that would change not only his life, but the lives of millions of readers.

He Titled His Book, "The Lazy Man's Way to Riches"

Joe Karbo's The Lazy Man's Way to RichesJoe's direct response ads for the "Lazy Man" ran for years in every major newspaper and magazine in the United States, and most large foreign papers as well.

Joe’s ads were so different than anything seen previously in direct marketing that the ads themselves became famous. They are studied still by direct response copywriters the world.

What’s interesting about the success of the Lazy Man’s Way book is that Joe refused to sell it in book stores. He only sold it direct to the reader – and is one reason it did so well.

Publisher after publisher offered Joe enormous (for the times) royalty advances for his wonderful little paperback book, but he turned them all down.

Joe often said to publishers "After all", you’re happy, even thrilled if a book sells a few hundred thousand copies, but the audience for this book is in the millions!"

And of course, Joe was right. Before his death in 1980 Joe sold well over two million seven hundred copies (2,786,500 to be exact) via direct response mail order ads.

In 1993 - 1995 Viking/Penguin Publishing published an abridged 20th Anniversary Edition that was sold in North American bookstores.

It quickly sold out as well. However bookstores often do, when they ran out of inventory they didn't reorder new copies, instead only taking "Special Orders.”

Joe was also President of the Huntington Beach Chapter for the United Way and did various other charity and volunteer work.

A Sad Day

In 1980, Joe, at age 55, while being interviewed by a morning television news crew from KNXT- TV at his home in Huntington Harbor, California, Joe had a massive heart attack and passed away.

Joe Karbo's Legacy and Work Lives On

Joe's collected works came together in the Joe Karbo content archive and is managed by The Lazy Man's Way to Riches LLC.

Other books in the archive include: The Power of Money Management, The Road Map to Riches, 30 Days, with Joe Karbo, and Getting Good Ideas and Protecting Your Ideas.

For more information please visit The Lazy Man's