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

A Simple Framework for Getting Your Project Unstuck

Project Based Framework

Breaking Out of Stuck

Over the last few months, I’ve received dozens of emails from readers asking me how to get their idea or project unstuck.

I’ve done my best to answer everyone’s question individually, but for every person who emails me directly, I can be sure there are two or three others with the same problem who haven’t spoken up.

So today I want to talk about getting a project unstuck – and layout a specific framework for doing just that. 

This framework works for virtually any type of project in any industry, and I’m certain it can work for you, whatever your sticking point.

A Caveat: No, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every problem.

My intention isn’t to give you the answer.

My intention is to give you a framework for approaching problem sets so you can systematically improve your chances of getting unstuck and getting your book, business, blog, whatever to the next level.

If you have any critiques or comments on my framework, leave me a comment below – even the best framework or system can be improved!

1) Identify your Endstate and Mission

The endstate is essentially your ultimate goal. It’s the final situation you want to create for your project.

Think of it this way: in a perfect world, what would your project look like when it’s finished and shipped?

Why is the endstate so important?  Because without it we have no guidance or direction for our mission, and the mission is exactly how we reach the endstate.

A good endstate is measurable, tangible and detailed enough to allow us to craft our mission.

Examples:

  • In the Army, an endstate might look like: Alpha Company gains control of bridge X so friendly forces can pass through without enemy interdiction.
  • If you’re writing a book, a good endstate might be: physical print in the hands of readers.
  • If you’re creating a software business: repeat customers pay for our subscription based software.

Objectives and the Scope of an Endstate

Being too big or too small with your endstate can hurt your plans here.

While it’s good to set your sites high, there are diminishing returns when you start setting impractical endstates relative to what you’re capable of achieving.  That’s why it’s important to remember that an endstate is composed of multiple OBJECTIVES.

Objectives are those mission-critical events that lead us to the final endstate.

There are progressive objectives in just about any scenario, and each objective is the result of hitting smaller objectives along the way.

In the Army, when you lay out progressive objectives, each one laying the foundation for the next, they call it nesting.

Nest Your Missions

The endstate for the military in the European theater of WWII was Allied control of Europe.  This meant the mission, vaguely speaking, was to defeat the Axis power.  Obviously, if you’re a lowly company commander, this endstate doesn’t help you much on the ground, does it?

That’s why in the Army they ‘nest’ their missions; they identity major objectives that must be met to meet the endstate, and they continue to break these down into smaller missions for lower units.  So as a Company accomplishes their mission it feeds into the Battalion’s mission, which feeds into the Brigade’s mission, etc.

Each unit’s mission must nest with the higher unit’s mission.

In this way, if I’m a company commander and I execute my mission successfully (securing the bridge), this allows the Battalion (one command level higher) to meet their mission (secure the southwestern region)

Application

Applying this to the world of entrepreneurship or art is simple: if you’re setting your endstate way beyond your capacity, that’s okay, but remember – you can only execute the mission at your current level.

So go ahead, by all means set your endstate as having your book published in 50 countries and languages across the world.  But this isn’t your mission.  You need to keep backward planning (see below) until you get to an actionable mission for the level you’re at (which, most likely, is publishing a book on Amazon and getting digital copies in the hands of readers).

2) Backward Plan

Backward planning means identifying every objective that must be met to reach your endstate and planning from the endstate backward to your present situation.

Backward Planning and Underpants Gnomes

Backward planning is effective because you’ll never end up with a giant gap of uncertainty – every objective will lead to the next, which means you’ll never be at a loss for what to do.

If we’re not detailed with our backward planning, it can often lead to massive gaps.  This is the reason most people’s projects get stuck – instead of backward planning and creating a detailed, step by step roadmap for what to do, they end up with an Underpants Gnome plan.

Underpants Gnome Planning

In the second season of South Park, there’s an episode about underpants gnomes.  Underpants gnomes are gnomes that sneak into peoples rooms at night to steal underpants.  But they don’t do it for that reason – they have a plan:

Step 1: Collect Underpants

Step 2: ?

Step 3: Profit

When we set unrealistic or impractical endstates, or when we try planning toward an endstate months or years out without meticulously working backward, we’re usually left with an Underpants Gnome plan.  Instead of establishing strict, actionable objectives, we have an idea of what we want (Collect Underpants), and a general goal (profit), and nothing in between to get us there.

You can avoid an Underpants Gnome Plan by aggressively chunking and thrashing your plan (see below).

3) Chunk

Chunking means breaking up your plan into actionable, bit-sized pieces with estimated time requirements and unique ship dates for each chunk.

The idea behind chunking is to identify every single step along the path to your endstate in a clear and precise manor.  By identifying a ship date for each ‘chunk’ we eliminate procrastination or missing deadlines.  By estimating (as accurately as possible) the time requirement to complete each chunk, we avoid the possibility of hitting a massive, insurmountable objective half way through our project (stuff like that can cripple a project).

Chunking is more art than science, but it starts with getting really, really detailed in your plan by identifying:

1) Facts – what are the facts of your project?  If you’re bootstrapping a software company, a fact might be that you have one engineer on your team capable of coding the product.  If you’re writing a book, a fact could be you have very little money to outsource editing.  Facts are important for identifying limitations and restrictions (which affects your timeline and the chunking process)

2) Assumptions – what are you taking for granted or hoping/guessing will happen throughout the plan?  A common assumption: I can do it all myself.  This is almost never the case, no matter what the project.

3) Limitations and Restrictions – this is where you identify where facts or assumptions will limit or restrict your planning.  So if you have one engineer to code the product, this limits the ability to start on the next product until the first one is done (without negative side effects).

A good rule of thumb for chunking: break everything down into objectives that take several hours or less to complete.

“Write Book” is a bad chunk.  Breaking it down into parts – Table of Contents, Outline, First Sentence, First Chapter, Title, etc. – is much more effective.

You want to be able to accomplish a piece of your project every day to maximize momentum and keep your project moving forward.

4) Thrash (ongoing process)

Thrashing is the process of removing everything but the essential.

Very few products require more than a few features.  This is especially true when you’re first starting out and you’re trying to prove an unknown (i.e. sell a new product to a new market).  The fewer features you have, the more you can focus on what matters – and the less likelihood your project will go over time and budget (the killer of all startups).

But there’s an even better reason to strip your product/service/idea of extraneous fat (read: unnecessary features): it is necessary for idea validation.

Idea Validation

Idea validation is determining what features you need based on iterative testing with users.

Ultimately, idea validation is about product/market fit – are people willing to pay for your product or service.  In a matter of speaking, idea validation determines whether what you create has a reason for being created.

This is the biggest hurdle for most aspiring entrepreneurs to get over – sometimes the idea you have isn’t as good as you think it is.  But the only way to find out is by testing it in a market.  The only way to do that is by selling it to your customer.

If your customer doesn’t want it, time to think of a new solution.

If your customer likes it but there’s a holdup (cost, features, whatever), then you can continue to test new variations of the same idea.

The goal here is to test a decent sized audience so you’re not relying on just one person’s input, who could very well be the anomaly if you had taken a larger sample size.

Taken from the principle of lean starting, if ten people love what you make (and pay you for it), you’re probably onto something.

Thrashing Throughout the Project

While I mentioned thrashing as step 4 in this framework, it’s really an ongoing process that begins the moment you have an idea and doesn’t stop until you’ve shipped.

There are always things you can cut, slash, limit and refine.  This is not a bad thing!  Think about it – probably the best things in this world (product, service or art) are probably great at one thing, not okay at a bunch.

Your job is to be excellent at one thing.  Go for depth, not breadth.  Leave mediocre for the try-hards.

Wrapping Up

This is a really simple breakdown of the framework I use when I start a new project.  I didn’t include all the details here because they’re usually not the most important part.  What’s important is a clear vision and an idea of the path or roadmap to get there.

That’s the purpose of this framework – to help you focus on what really matters.

If your project is stuck, I’d guess it has to do with lack of clarity or focus, and that is usually the result of failing to execute one of these steps I outlined in this framework.gunslingers

If you found this helpful, you should definitely check out my guide and workbook on starting, finishing and shipping projects: The Gunslinger’s Guide to Starting and The Gunslinger’s Workbook.

In that guide and workbook, I go into more detail and give you a workbook to actually frame your project.  I’ve received some great feedback, so if you’re stuck with a current project of looking to start a new one, grab it (it’s free).

I hope you find this framework practical.

Leave a comment below and let me know what steps you’ve taken or what framework you’ve used to ensure the success of your projects.   And if you’ve found yourself stuck, let us know where and why, so we can work out a solution.

 

9 Dos and 2 Don’ts for Creating Success in Business (and Life)

dos and donts of business success

Tapping into Success

Every day, hundreds of thousands of blogs are started, thousands of books are published, and hundreds of businesses are created.

The majority don’t last.

So what separates those that last from those that fail?

The ones that succeed – do they do something different?

Is there a common pattern, strategy or framework that successful projects use?  And if so, can we model it and use it in our own projects?

These are the questions I’ve been asking myself recently as I dive headlong into my new publishing startup. The essential question is this:

How can I avoid the pitfalls of unsuccessful startups and tap into the magic of the successful ones?

Creating Success

What I’ve compiled here are the fundamental dos and don’ts for bootstrapping a business from scratch.

All of these lessons I learned from the masters of the trade (Michael Masterson, Eric Ries, Seth Godin, Chris Anderson, and Nassim Taleb among others) and applied in my own projects.

What you see here is the distilled wisdom of dozens of heavyweights in the business world, as well as the knowledge I’ve learned from hundreds of books, courses and personal interactions, whittled down into a no-fluff, practical resource you can apply to your own project.

Most of this advice applies to bootstrappers and creative entrepreneurs – but it also applies to the artist, designer and leader.

The lessons included here are universal and impact all of us who build things from the ground up with our bare hands.

So if that applies to you, definitely bookmark this page for future reading.

Good luck, and enjoy:

2 Things You Should Avoid At All Costs:

What not to do with your business is important: the majority of failures are a result of putting time and energy into the wrong things, and if we know what these things are, we can purposefully avoid them.

The 2 biggest don’ts of creating success in business and life are just that – things you should definitely, at all costs, avoid:

1.  Avoid Re-routingre route to what

Re-routing is spending all your time building a solution…to the wrong problem.

This is one of the most common mistakes beginner-level entrepreneurs make.  But it’s not just a beginner-level mistake – plenty of pro’s make the same mistake when they branch out into a new sector, industry, or genre.

Anytime we try something for the first time, we’re liable to miss the mark.

That’s why it’s essential we constantly reevaluate our position, direction and goals (more on that below).

The Lesson: know what problem you’re fixing and why.

2.  Avoid The John Carter Mistake

John Carter was an epic failure in the box office.

Even when things weren’t looking good on set or in test groups, the producers continued to pump cash into the project. By the time they shipped, they needed to make close to $400 million to make money on the project.

With every dollar they pumped into the project, the more unlikely their chance of success.

The Lesson: don’t pump money, time and resources into a project that isn’t working.  A sinking ship is a sinking ship – better to cut losses and find a new way to be successful than drown in pride.

9 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Success (in business and life):

It’s essential you avoid the two pitfalls above.

Simply put, if you spend your time re-routing or get sucked into the John Carter Mistake, there’s literally no way your startup will make it.

But let’s say you can and do avoid these two major pitfalls…then what?

What CAN you do to actively improve your chances of success.*

*Note: success is relative and subjective.  In this case, I’m defining success as creating something people want to (and will) pay money for without your business going under (i.e. making profit so you can grow your business).

The following is a list of the 9 best ways you can increase your chances of success, both in business and in life:

1.  Challenge Everything

Just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean they should be that way.

No matter what industry of business, genre of art, or category of book, there is always a way to improve the existing paradigm.

There are better systems, better solutions, and better products waiting to be created.  The question is: are you willing to create them?

“Never accept the status quo – there is always a better way.”

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Ask yourself:

Is there a way this product or this service can be made better?

Why is this the way it is?  Can it be improved?

Where is their a problem and how can I fix it?  What are the pain points of others?  How do I help them?

Is there something missing that I can fill?

This philosophy (and it is just that – a philosophy for living life) of challenging everything includes challenging your own assumptions and beliefs.

Be relentless. 

Constantly test your assumptions and, if need be, change your beliefs – they might just be holding you back.

2.  Know Your “Why”

Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Why do you want to create this piece of art?

Why do you want to build this business?

Knowing why you do what you do is ESSENTIAL.  At the end of the day, your why is what determines your success because it directly feeds your solution (your what) and your execution (your how).

Why, how, what – this is what Simon Sinek describes as the “Golden Circle” – check out his short, powerful video below on starting with why.

“People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it.”[Simon Sinek]

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If you aren’t sure of your why, but you’re building something anyway, you’re probably rerouting.

Know your why – and then start with why.

3.  Hypothesize

No project should start without a hypothesis.

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries explains businesses through the lens of a scientific experiment – in other words: testable, measurable, and reproducible.

Ries’ startup philosophy revolves around creating a hypothesis for your product or service – if we do X, then Y will happen.

“the goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build – the thing customers want and will pay for – as quickly as possible.” [Lean Startup]

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For example: if I add an email subscription box to the end of every blog post, I will increase my subscription rate by 7%.

Or, if I decrease the price of my product by 5%, gross revenue will increase by 10%.

The point isn’t to know if it will work – the point is to have an idea, create a hypothesis for the idea, and then test it.

If it fails, tweak it and try again (email subscription boxes at the top of the blog post, or in the sidebar, or add a popup box to your site, etc.).

Constantly test.  Constantly measure.  Constantly learn.

And always adapt and grow.

4.  Be Willing to Change Strategies

When we hypothesize, we create a question that can be tested and proven right or wrong.

If the solution doesn’t work for a particular product or service, tweak the hypothesis and try again.  This is changing tactics – the small scale engagements we make with customers or inside our business (i.e. changes to how we write our sales copy; changes to visual presentation, etc).

Changes in tactics don’t change the fundamental problem you’re trying to solve – changes in tactics simply mean a shift in how we approach the problem.

However, at some point, we might find that nothing is working for our original hypothesis.  At this point, it’s time to change strategy – or, in Lean Startup terms, pivot.

Life is too short to build something nobody wants.” [Ash Maurya]

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Below is a video by Ash Maurya, author of Lean Running, who explains how to create products efficiently and effectively, why most startups fail, and how you can avoid making the same mistake:


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**Note: Check out Maurya’s amazing, free lean canvas tool here.  It will help you map out an effective, simple business plan (and if you have a hard time filling it out, it probably means you’re missing a key piece of the puzzle for your own business.  In effect, this will help you avoid creating a product that no one wants)

Pivoting means changing your business or business model.

This could mean changing from a “freemium” model (free content to bring people in; sell them paid premium content later on) to a premium, upfront monthly subscription model; from a company that produces and sells information products, to a company that builds software solutions.

Pivoting is sometimes drastic. 

It can be scary and it’s never easy (it challenges our pride because it means admitting our original ideas were wrong).

But if you know your why, pivoting becomes a lot more bearable.

5.  Expose Yourself to Positive Black Swans

The Black Swan is a term coined by Nassim Taleb in his groundbreaking book of the same name, which focuses on probability, randomness and human rationality.

A Black Swan refers to an event that is unpredictable, but has massive impact in our lives.

The internet, for example, was a positive Black Swan event; now we are a few keystrokes away from almost anybody in the world, increasing connection and freedom throughout the world (this change was unpredictable and completely changed the economic landscape of the 90′s and beyond).

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 were a negative Black Swan event – the ramifications of which we still experience every time we have to take our shoes off at the airport.

So while we can’t predict when or what form a Black Swan will take, we can focus on exposing our business and our life to positive Black Swan events (and, likewise, protect against negative Black Swans).  A few ways to do this:

  • Don’t over-invest in any project (see: John Carter Mistake above)
  • Do business in positive Black Swan arenas – things like art/entertainment and lean startups…not things like bonds and risk mitigation services.
  • Accept small loss for major upside – do not sacrifice major upside for small profit.
  • Focus on creating a business that has unlimited upside and limited downside.
  • When in doubt, be the owner not the employee.

Here’s a lesson on Black Swans from the movie Grinders with Matt Damon.  It’s 30 seconds long – it sums up why playing it safe isn’t the way to live life.  Sometimes, you have to take a chance:


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Taleb recently published a new book called Anti-Fragility – which explains in more depth all the things that gain from disorder.  A must read for all aspiring entrepreneurs looking to make a dramatic impact (and limit their downside exposure).

6.  Aim Small, Miss Small

In the movie The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s character teaches his son how to shoot.

His advice – aim small, miss small.

Once you know your “why” you should focus on the most specific problem you can fix (every product or service fixes a problem).

The smaller, as in, more particular and precise the problem, the better your chances of hitting your mark (because you know exactly what you’re aiming for).

Shooting from the hip (i.e. seeing what will stick) is usually not the best solution to anything.

Be Specific.

Be precise.

Focused on one problem and one problem only to start – and be relentless about defining that problem and your solution.

7.  Start Local

You do not need a website, a team of coders, or a dozen virtual assistants to get your business off the ground.

You do not need angel investors, the Shark Tank or Donald Trump to pick you.

There is a way to test and validate every product before going full scale, and guess what?  You can usually do this by yourself.

Your job is to figure out how to test your solution in the smallest way possible.

Below is a video by Neville Medhora, a guy who does a crazy amount of business testing (from drop shipping companies and one and one consultation services, to eCourses and digital products).

If this doesn’t open your mind to what’s possible, I don’t know what will (warning: some swearing is involved):


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Before you start your LLC, lock down the manufacturing and distribution facilities, and enlist a team of salespeople, maybe it would be more effective for you to create the first product and hustle it by yourself.

Can you sell it on Craigslist? 

Can you sell it on Ebay or Etsy? 

Can you set up a stand outside an event and sell it to real people?

The point is this: you must test and VALIDATE before you start scaling.

Sorry, but if it doesn’t work on a small scale, it won’t work on a massive scale (Facebook started out on a single campus, McDonalds on one street corner, and Apple with one product).

8.  Work ON Your Business…

Don’t work in it.

Working in your business is essential, but only in the beginning.

It’s necessary to work inside your business at the start; you need to know how it works so you can develop and refine your processes and systems.  But once you have the systems in place, and a profitable product or service, start hiring others to do your job.

Your goal should be to create a  profitable, organized and systematized business so you can scale.

You really shouldn’t be hiring people until you’re profitable (there are exceptions to the rule – I’m addressing solopreneurs/bootstrappers in particular here).

Working on your business and not in it is a concept heavily analyzed in The E-Myth Revisited, which explains the success of any startup requires the ability to create systems and processes in order to make your business turnkey.

Here’s a video all about creating systems for your business from the author himself:


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Creating a business is the only way to attain actual freedom through your creative work.  As long as you’re an employee or self-employed (i.e. a freelancer), you’re at the beck and call of others.

Freelancing requires you to be on the clock (it might be fun, but you’re still tied down).

If you want to create something that improves your quality of life, that increases your flexibility and freedom, be an entrepreneur –  focus on creating a business, one that can grow and scale, even if you’re not there.

This means working on your business and not in it.

9.  Never, Never, Never Quit.

Yes, you might have to forget the project you’re working on, or change your tactics, or even pivot your strategy – but don’t quit on creating.

Never stop doing what you love because it doesn’t work on the first try – it rarely if ever will.

“If I fail more than you do, I win.” [Seth Godin]

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Self-determination and freedom are not easily won – it’s a struggle and you will take some hits.

That’s why so many quit or never try to begin with.

But not you.

Have faith, act courageously and keep fighting.

The Moral of the Story

Is to constantly push your own abilities; to learn and grow and improve; to seek out challenges and test yourself.

You don’t have to create your empire this weekend – and, in fact, you couldn’t even if you wanted to.

But if you start today, in the smallest way possible (just one word on a piece of paper; just one call to a prospect; just one sketch of your design), you begin the process of creating something brilliant.

And in this singular act, no matter how small, you begin building your empire.

So I guess the underlying moral of the story is this:

Never stop creating – START TODAY.

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If you like what you’ve read and need help starting, finishing and shipping your project, here are a few ways I can help:

1 - Join the Resistance by subscribing to our newsletter here (it’s free)

2 – Check out a book I wrote called 2 Days With Seth Godin (PDF version) or on Amazon Kindle that can help you get your book, business, or blog unstuck.

3 – Check out the Cache where I have several products (all pay what you want) and dozens of high impact blog posts to help you through your sticking points so you can create your life’s work.

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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.


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The Brutal Reality of Excuses and How to Conquer Them

What Do You Really Need?

Do you really need more money in your bank account before you can create something worthwhile?

Do you really need to develop a routine before you can start making something great?

Do you really need more time in the day before you can dare boldly?

Or is it possible that you can create something worthwhile regardless of the number of zeros in your checking account; or that by making something great you create the routine you need; or that just maybe ‘no time’ is precisely the right time to dare boldly…

Breaking Through Excuses

Writing a book, building a business, creating something without permission – these things are hard to do and they’re plagued with setbacks and failure.

Of course, the enemy knows this and uses it against us.  Excuses are just another tactic used by the enemy to stop us from creating our life’s work.

But like anything the enemy throws at us, we can overcome it.

We can prepare ourselves by recognizing these universal truths of creation:

1)  Excuses are ever-present.

I promise you this – there are a million reasons you shouldn’t start today, why tomorrow works/feels/seems better – but none of these reasons matter.  They don’t keep you from doing the work: you do.

With a simple choice, right now, you delay building your worthwhile project.

Or, with the same simple choice, right now, you begin building your empire. 

The choice is yours every day.

2)  Nothing is built in a vacuum.

There will never be a perfect time, place, or set of companions for you to begin your journey.

There will always be mountains to climb, swamps to traverse and dragons to slay.

This isn’t a reason not to start, it’s the reason you MUST start – otherwise there is no journey, no hero, and no story worth telling.

3)  You have one life but many chances.

The crazy reality of life is this: it isn’t training.  This isn’t a sparring competition getting you ready for the actual fight.

This is it. 

This is the real thing.  This is the main event.  You were born into it.  You have one life to live – no do overs, no second chances.

So you have a choice: fight like hell or throw the match.

Either way, you’re going to take a hit (many hits, actually).

While it might seem like throwing the match, which requires less of your energy and strength up front, is the easier choice, the fact is this: you’re going to take way more hits throwing the match than if you stand your ground, keep your gloves up, and hit back.

And I’m sorry to say but opting out to spectate or referee isn’t an option.  You might not like it, but that’s the reality.

So how will you fight?

The Best Way to Overcome Excuses

Is by starting.

Start right now.  Not tomorrow, not next week – right now.

Now is the best time for you to start; now is the best place for you to begin your journey; now is the best way for you to climb the mountain and slay your dragon.

It’s not easy, but let’s be honest: would you have it any other way?

Good luck and keep fighting.