The 2 Most Important Business Lessons I Learned from Andrew Warner of Mixergy

Of all the cruel punishments the Greek gods bestowed on humans (and one another), the punishment of Sisyphus is one of the cruelest.

Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra and the son of Aelius (ruler of the winds and son of Poseidon…the guy has some serious lineage behind him).

He was also a prideful, deceitful, murderous ruler; not only was he a chronic liar (deceiving both gods and humans), but he killed travelers and visitors for fun in his own kingdom.

Basically, Sisyphus was a real prick.

Apparently, after one too many deceitful and murderous acts, Zeus decided enough was enough and condemned Sisyphus to an eternal punishment. Except this wasn’t any old punishment. Zeus crafted something uniquely horrible for Sisyphus.

Zeus condemned Sisyphus to push a large bolder up a steep hill.

Difficult for sure, but not the worst thing in the world (or underworld), right?…

Except, like all good Greek myths, there was a catch.

Zeus enchanted the bolder.

Anytime Sisyphus came close to the top of the hill with the bolder, it would slip through his hands, rolling all the way back down to the bottom.

No matter how Sisyphus approached the challenge, his effort was futile.

An eternity of useless, infuriating effort with no payoff.

Sisyphus and Entrepreneurship

In a lot of ways, entrepreneurship, art, and writing feel the same way.

We spend hours, weeks, months (years in some cases) working on a project, only to launch it and…people don’t like it, people hate it, or, worst of all: people ignore it.

Oftentimes, success feels like the bolder of Sisyphus, slipping through our hands every time right before we reach the top.

And if you’re committed to your work / art / writing, the work we do can sometimes feel infuriating futile.

But there’s an important difference between the struggle of the entrepreneur and the struggle of Sisyphus:

Our work isn’t futile by nature.

Every climb to the top of the mountain results in experience, lessons learned, and most of all growth.

The climb to the top isn’t futile, IF we learn the right lessons and apply them in future endeavors (and we’re not simply repeating the same motions as before).

Which is where Andrew Warner comes in…

The 2 Most Important Business Lessons I Learned from Andrew Warner

Andrew Warner of Mixergy.comA few weeks back, I had the opportunity to sit down with Andrew Warner to interview him for the next issue of Bootstrapped Magazine (the next issue comes out in two weeks, and the new website is under-construction, so stay tuned).

Andrew is the founder of Mixergy.com, one of the premier business training websites in the world.

Andrew has interviewed over 1,000 entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs, from the founder of AirBnB.com to Groupon to LinkedIn to Wikipedia (and everything in between).

The point is: he’s spoken to a lot of high-performers – men and women who have started and operated successful companies, many from scratch.

With so many interviews under his belt, Andrew probably knows a thing or two about what works…and what doesn’t.

Which is why I wanted to ask him that exact question.

The following is a small excerpt from the interview I did with Andrew Warner that will be featured in the next issue of Bootstrapped Magazine. Andrew dishes a lot more gold than this in a lot more detail, so if you enjoy this, you can preorder your copy today.

Enjoy:

TOM: What is the most common problem entrepreneurs’ deal with when they are just starting out?  From the interviews you’ve conducted, what have you found to be the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make right at the beginning?

ANDREW WARNER:    I’ll tell you it happens so much that people must be tired of hearing me saying it, it’s the same mistake I made.  I thought I knew what an invitation site was like because I organize events: “In a few hours I’m going to have some people come to the office for a little event here; on Sunday I’m going to have people come over for brunch in my house,” etc. I organize events all the time.  I use invitations all the time.  I thought I knew everything.  I didn’t realize that we all have our own unique experiences and if we just try to deal with our own pain and our own needs we are not going to necessarily address what other people need.

That’s the problem that I see over and over.

Just the other day I was talking to the founder of Magoosh.  Magoosh is a test prep site that is doing millions in sales.  It didn’t exist four or five years ago and the founder said, “We’re in the business of getting people into business school.  People who we want to cater to are going to take tests.  We’ll get them into business schools.  We know what it takes to do this. What we’re going to create is a user-generated test prep site, where instead of an expert teaching, it will be people who know the task.  We’ll ask questions of people who are trying to learn it, they’ll ask questions of each other, they’ll learn together… Boom.”

One of the investors invested a lot, like $10,000— which is a lot for a student, and it failed.  But they thought they knew the problem; they thought they understood it.  So I said to them, “What are you guys going to do?” And the founder said, “You know, what we decided to do at that point was go and talk to other students and see what they didn’t like about this, and do what THEY wanted.”

It turns out people who are looking to study for big tests do not trust the community.  They want someone that they can put their faith in, who is the expert, who has been doing this for years, who can guide them flawlessly or as close to it as humanly possible.

They discovered, the whole idea of community-generated questions was just never going to work, and so they scrapped it and went in a different direction.

They actually started building a small site using nothing but Balsamiq mockup software and PowerPoint…Then that started to work because they took it out to people and said, “Would this make sense for you?”  And they took the feedback and adjusted until they had something that worked…This is a common story that you hear over and over and over again and we still all make that mistake.

TOM: So what are the most common traits of successful entrepreneurs?

ANDREW WARNER: You know Mark Suster, the venture capitalist, told me that he likes to invest in entrepreneurs who have a chip on their shoulder.  I’ve never heard anyone say that they want to work with entrepreneurs who have a chip on their shoulder.  So I’ve been giving that some thought as I’ve been doing my interviews and what I realized is that there are entrepreneurs who take these setbacks that we all have — the criticism that we all get from the world — and they use it to their advantage.

One entrepreneur told me that every time a venture capitalist turned him down, he added that guy’s name to a list so that when he succeeded he could look back at all the people who missed out.

Now, you take a look at that and that issue could, for many people, cause such inner doubt that they become obsessed with it and become debilitated by it. The doubt of, “Well if this venture capitalist who knows what he’s talking about just turned me down, maybe I have nothing here and shouldn’t continue.”

He took that and made it into an asset. When he thought about one of these guys who turned him down; instead of saying, “Aw, why do I want to do this if Steve doesn’t want to invest in me?” He said, “Steve didn’t want to invest in me, I’m going to show him.”

Your Turn up the Mountain

Two powerful and important lessons:

  • #1: you don’t know the problem or solution – your customer does, so don’t assume anything (ask, learn, and test).
  • #2: you’re going to fail but successful entrepreneurs turn failure into fuel for their fire, setbacks into assets, and anger into positive change.

This is the type of advice that can be hard to hear.

The honest kind always is…

And it’s especially uncomfortable if you’ve continued to try to solve your own problem (without figuring out what people want) or if you base your ideas on the opinions of others (instead of turning that into motivation to prove them wrong).

I’ve definitely been there myself before, trust me (and still make similar mistakes today)…

But that’s the beauty of these lessons:

While your own situation might seem insurmountable – a giant bolder that needs to be pushed to the top of a mountain – it isn’t.

Everything that stands in front of us in this life is conquerable, from writing, to art, to entrepreneurship.

The question is: are you willing to learn, grow, and adapt from your failures; to approach the obstacle that defeated you last time in a new way, with new techniques and strategies; to pivot, even if you’re not sure how, to make something happen (no matter how much it pains you to abandon your first idea)?

No, it’s not easy.

But nothing worthwhile ever is.

Good luck, and keep creating.

Started, finished, and shipped in Banos, Ecuador (under mild Malaria-like symptoms)

Total writing time: 4:45

I’m writing a book on entrepreneurship, collaborative project development, and how to lead a team to ship a product to market. I explain in-depth how to apply the lessons covered in this blog post (and more) to help you successfully turn your idea into a profitable product or service.

Sign up here to get early access and exclusive updates to my new book

Once More Into the Fray

The Creative Journey

In the movie The Grey, John Attway (the protagonist played by Liam Neeson) is a grizzled wolf hunter.

He works for an oil pipeline and protects the employees from wolf attacks, which (according to the movie) are common in the wild of Alaska.

The movie begins with this crew of workers getting ready to fly home.

But before John gets on the plane, he contemplates suicide.  The only thing he wants is to be reunited with his wife but he knows it’s futile.  Life has become so seemingly meaningless for him, he figures the only way out is to take his own life.

He’s moments away from pulling the trigger, but something compels him to hang on for one more moment.

John ends up getting on the plane,

On the flight back, the plane malfunctions and a hideous crash ensues – only a handful of people survive, including John.

It doesn’t take long before a pack of wolves attack the survivors.  To make matters worse, a blizzard rolls in.

John realizes the only way to survive is to move outside the kill radius of the wolves, which can be up to 300 miles.  He picks a direction – the treeline – and heads for it.

What follows is a desperate struggle for survival against blood-thirsty wolves and the terrible ferocity of nature.

The Struggle for Survival

When you see the plane crash, the forlorn escape out of the wilderness and all the terrible things that transpire afterwards, it almost seems like John should have pulled the trigger - that just giving up would have been easier than what he went through.

If life is going to be so hard, why deal with it?

Toward the end of the movie, when John has only an ounce of life left in him, he begs God to save him.

At this point, he’s the only person still alive – the rest of his crew got picked off one by one over the course of the last few days.  He’s done everything he could to help them survive, but couldn’t protect them.  And now, after a terrible and brutal few days, he just wants the struggle to be over.

He asks to be saved.

For a moment, he stares into the sky.  He waits.  He prays.

Nothing happens.

He picks himself up and keeps walking.

He marches deeper into the brush and once again runs into wolves…but this time something is different.

After days of trying to escape, after running for miles trying to get away from the wolves, after desperately trying to survive, John finds himself in the wolves den: the exact center – the root – of all this death and destruction.

Instead of escaping their kill radius, John walked right into the heart of it.

Live and Die

So there he is, surrounded.

The alpha wolf waits for him to make a move; John knows it’s all over.

Calmly, John pulls out a picture of his wife and reflects on a memory of her in a hospital bed, right before she died.

He puts the picture down and pulls out his father’s poem.  It’s a poem he’s kept in his wallet his entire life – a poem that clearly means a lot to him.  He reads it one last time:

“Once more into the fray,

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.

Live and die on this day.

Live and die on this day.”

It’s a warriors poem.

It’s a message for the fighter, for the soldier, for the gladiator.

It’s a battle cry.

John could have given up at any point throughout the journey, including now, but he doesn’t.

And at the end of it all, he enters the wolves den and squares off against the Alpha wolf.

He takes out his knife and goes into battle one last time.

Stand and Fight

So here’s a person who, even after everything falls apart around him, keeps fighting.

He keeps fighting for a simple reason: because that’s what a warrior does.

And this final fight, in the wolves den (the symbolic end) against the Alpha wolf (the physical manifestation of his inner demons), John doesn’t submit.

He stands and fights.

It might seem like a pointless fight – after all, there’s no way he can win, so why try?

And therein lies the beauty of the story: John wants to be reunited with his wife, but he also wants to uphold the virtues of the warrior, the virtues instilled in him by his father.

What better way than one last battle with a great enemy?

The Impossible Battle

The creative struggle is real…

It’s hard…

And it’s universal.

I’m not talking about the carefree painter who paints without direction – who paints to paint – and whatever turns out, turns out.

I’m talking about the creative struggle of creating with purpose – for a purpose.

  • The design of the perfect user interface.
  • The structure and pacing of the perfect novel.
  • The systems and processes of the perfect business.

These things are hard as hell to create. 

And the journey can make you want to quit, to throw in the towel, to simply accept what life throws at you instead…

After all, if the enemy is too great to beat, why fight in the first place?

Once More Into the Fray

Here’s the deal – life’s not about surviving.

If that were the case, we’d all lose: nobody is exempt.

So if your life is nothing more than surviving: skating by at a dead end job; accepting your status in the rat race and unhappily climbing the ladder; spending 50% of your waking hours – 50% of your life – doing something you hate because that’s the only option you think you have…

Well then you’ve already lost, haven’t you?

On the other hand, if each day you live to create, to love and serve others, to do everything in your power to make yourself and your world better…

If each day you keep moving toward your goal, no matter how long the journey, no matter how difficult the struggle, no matter how terrible the battle…

If each day you can muster the strength to fight the creative enemy just one more time…to fight your wolf…

Well then it doesn’t matter if you win the battle.

What matters is that you entered the fray.

And what matters every day moving forward from here is that you continue to enter the fray.

Every day. No matter what.

So when you feel like quitting because the battle seems impossible to win, remember:

Great enemies are the only enemies worth fighting. [tweet]

Here’s to entering the fray.


*Photo credit: MyJayKay from morguefile.com

Do Great Work

The Most Likely Resultmorguefile

This is it – your project is almost complete.

You took the uncertain and difficult steps from start (creating the idea) to finish (bringing the idea to life), and now you’re ready to ship.

It’s tough work, creating something from scratch, but you didn’t give up. And now is the moment of truth – the point where you reap the reward for your hard work and labor.

Confident, you launch your project and…

Nothing happens.

Nobody one-clicks your book on Amazon; nobody enters the store; nobody calls the ‘buy now’ number…

Crickets.

You check to see if it’s a system error, or maybe the server isn’t updating properly, or maybe there’s a traffic jam down the street…

Nope – everything is normal, but nothing happened.

Great and Everything Else

The reality for most aspiring artists, writers and entrepreneurs is that no one will notice what they do. And when they ship, no one will pay attention (a few of my prior entrepreneurial attempts fall squarely in this bracket).

Of course, the initial thought to remedy this is advertising and marketing – “if only I can get my message in front of enough people, then I can make a sale…”

This could work – statistically, the more people you expose a message to, the greater the chance of your message resonating with someone.

But more than likely, no amount of attention will change anything.

Why?

Because most things aren’t great.

Pareto

In 1906, an Italian Economist by the name of Vilfredo Pareto noticed an interesting trend in the distribution of land: 80% of land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

Going one step further, he analyzed the distribution of other data sets, including the number of pea pods in his garden that contained peas (20% contained 80% of the peas).

This observed distribution became known as the Pareto principle –most things do not distribute evenly, but unevenly, and they generally have a ration of 4:1 (specific distributions vary but are nonetheless uneven).

The Pareto principle applies to everything, from public sentiment (only a few bands have the majority of the attention) to effectiveness (most seminars and newsletters and eCourses simply aren’t effective).

This distribution most certainly applies to startups, art, and creative pursuits:

Most will be ignored.

Are You Overvaluing Your Origami?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Well, that might be the case for other products, but mine is great. I put so much time and energy into it it must be great – the right people just haven’t see it.” (internal dialogue of the archetypal entrepreneur)

This response I’ve heard a million times (I’ve told myself the same thing many times before).

Sadly, it’s usually not true.

In a study conducted by Dan Ariely (Psychology professor and author of Predictably Irrational), researchers found that people overrate their own creations based on the amount of effort they put into them:

“Our research shows that labor enhances affection for its results. When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. We call this phenomenon the IKEA effect, in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.

In one of our studies, we asked people to fold origami and then to bid on their own creations along with other people’s. They were consistently willing to pay more for their own origami. In fact, they were so enamored with their amateurish creations that they valued them as highly as origami made by experts.”

In other words, it’s impossible to objectively valuate something if you’re invested in the process.

You can believe your product is great – you can HOPE it is – but the true value of your product is the value given to it by the market (i.e. other people).

The John Carter Mistake

In 2012, a little movie called John Carter was released into theaters.

Actually, it wasn’t little at all: it was one of the most expensive movies ever produced. And when it finally shipped, it bombed. Hard.

But here’s the funny thing – everyone (as in, everyone involved in the project) thought John Carter would be a blow-up success. That’s why producers invested $250,000,000 (yes, that’s millions) into the project.

Even when signs pointed to no (actually, to hell no), producers kept pumping money into the project. The thought was: throw enough money at it to get it in front of everyone’s face and we’ll still come out of this alive…

The producers behind John Carter thought if they could scream loud enough, they’d get enough people to notice what a wonderful movie they created. Counter intuitively, every dollar pumped into this movie, instead of increasing its chances of success, actually increased the chance of it failing (greater the investment, the greater the needed return).

And as far as getting people to notice them?

Well, they got their attention – but it didn’t matter.

Great Work

So if you’re shipping a project and people don’t respond, it’s probably not because you’re not screaming loud enough…no amount of screaming will change anyone’s mind.

And it’s probably not because you didn’t put a ton of time and effort and resources into your project…it doesn’t matter how much money you pump into John Carter…it’s still John Carter.

No, the reality is that you probably haven’t hit great yet.

And if you want people to notice and to stick around, you need to do great work.

This is probably disappointing for the person looking to make a quick buck or catch an uptrend – for the person in the trenches superficially (i.e. the writer who doesn’t write).

But for those of us in it till the end, for those of us who enter the fray every day, this should come as a comforting thought.

The Outlier and Your Life’s Work

Every project we undertake is a chance to improve our skills and hone our craft.

Every hardship we suffer through separates us just a bit more from the rest of the pack, as others will surely quit.

And, as others quit, we rise to the top – we become outliers.

By committing to the process (especially when it’s difficult), and having the grit to see it through, as sure as 80% of land in Italy is held by 20% of the people, you’ll find yourself, years from now, holding your “unfair” (see: completely fair) share of the success distribution.

So take heart – your project might bomb, people might ignore you, and things might not go as planned…but if you strap on your helmet, pick up your rifle, and go over the top just one more time each day, sure enough, you will find victory.

Remember, it’s not about a singular win –it’s about creating your life’s work.

And you create that one project at time, one small win at a time, over the course of your life.

Keep fighting.


Join the Resistance and get exclusive content not published on the blog:


You can also check out my new book 2 Days With Seth Godin on Amazon here or pay what you want for the PDF format here.

5 Things You MUST Do To Ship Your Project Successfully

Doing the WorkFinished

I’ve been busy recently…

Very busy.

January came and went with the initiation of several big projects – stuff I didn’t think I would finish by February…

But, somehow, I’m on track to ship (subscribe to my blog to get insider sneak peaks and first releases of awesome content, products and projects before everyone else).

Here are a few things I did that helped me focus my effort so I could create some great stuff I really think will help you on your own journey:

#1. Establish a Deadline

No matter what happens, the projects I’m working on WILL ship.

Maybe that means I don’t leave the computer the weekend before they ship, but so be it.

As long as you set a ship date – and understand that shipping isn’t an option – your project will ship.

#2. Identify Perfect…and then Identify Good Enough

Perfect is what you strive for.  But good enough is what you NEED.

It’s important to identify what makes your project perfect, but perfect rarely happens.  If you don’t know what good enough looks like, you will spend time spinning wheels trying to reach the unattainable.

On the other hand, if you identify good enough beforehand, and the project is good enough, you can still ship on time.  And shipping is what matters.

#3. Thrash

Thrashing is all about tearing apart your idea to find the holes, the missing pieces, and the weaknesses of your project.

Thrashing is brutal.

When we sit down to really understand what and why we’re doing something, or how to put our project together, it means we inspect every part of who WE are.  If there’s not clear solution to a part of your project, it’s easy to feel terrible.

Don’t.

Thrashing is essential.  If you don’t thrash, you’ll never find your voice, manifest your vision, or ship your final product.

Thrashing occurs throughout the project, but when you spend serious time and effort thrashing in the beginning, you’ll produce a better product and run into less trouble along the way.

(here is a great article by Jonathan Fields on Thrashing)

#4. Chunk

Chunking is taking the thrashed version of your idea and creating individual ship dates for each component/piece/part.

I like to chunk down pieces of the project into 1-3 hour intervals.  This means every piece of the puzzle I can accomplish within a 3 hour time-frame.

This allows me to realistically set a ship date that know I can reach it.

-> “What if I don’t know how long something will take?”

I rarely know how long something will take.  But I’ve learned something through my experiences: a 30 minute blog post WILL take 3 hours.

That eBook you think you can write in a 7 days WILL take 1 – 2 months.

The manuscript you’re working on, the one you think will take a few months…give yourself a year.

My rule of thumb: When in doubt, multiply by 6.

#5. Ship

That’s right: actually shipping is essential to shipping your project successfully.

But how many people actually ship?

Everything here is focused on shipping, because shipping matters (see item #2).  Even if iteration 1.0 doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, it’s out there, and you can refine and re-release later.

The goal, of course, is to thrash and chunk in such a way that you create a stellar product and ship something incredible the first round.

But if you have to ship something less than what you planned, ship anyway (you’ll learn more than you would otherwise, I promise).


Get free updates, exclusive content, and first looks at AWESOME projects coming down the pipeline: Join the Resistance.