How to Radically Change Your Life

I have a friend named Layla who is one of the best people I know; when she was about 20 years old, in the 50s, she left her nice little home in Britain, and went by herself, literally wading through the jungles of Central Africa. Chest deep in muck, elephant gun held high above her head, she found the famous explorer she’d been looking for and spent the following years Indiana-Jones’ing with him.

The problem with tips and tricks is that incremental improvements won’t solve your malaise. You read articles about how to improve your life all the time, right? So why does your life still seem like 90% sitting around on the internet reading articles? When is the last time there was a seriously tangible difference in the quality of your daily life?

This is to all the people who are stuck and have been for a while, you know who you are.

I say this shit all the time, and you think I’m joking or that it doesn’t apply to you, but here it is people: If you want change then change, goddammit. Radically and permanently alter your daily life. Leave everything behind and literally, not figuratively, join the peace corps, or move to a commune, or travel the world. Cut yourself off from old patterns and old baggage.

The excuses welling up in your brain right now are so loud, I can hear them from here—shut your trap. Break your lease, quit your job, kiss your mama goodbye, and piss off into the wild blue yonder.

Come back in a little while for all I care. I’m not saying you should live the life of a hermit or vagabond forever. Layla isn’t a vagabond. She came back from Africa, and now she’s a real estate mogul in California. Why is she among the best people I know? Because she’s alive, she’s had among the best experiences I know.

There is probably something you’re working toward. You tell yourself that’s what makes the grind worth it. You want to be a big actor or writer, or a successful business person, and you’re diligently working through that between checking facebook and reddit. But if you’re honest, you’re frustrated and burned out. It’s because that one goal you have requires a huge infrastructure of other investments. Living a middle class lifestyle requires a respectable house (with, like, plumbing), a livable income, friends you can relate to and the rest. You can’t just “be an actor” because you have to maintain the rest of the web of requirements that seem to be a prerequisite, and you only have the sliver left over to act with.

The bottom line is that if you are stuck in your life, you have a choice between keeping all the shit that’s burning you out, and staying exactly as you are, or throwing it all away, all at once, right now, and grabbing life by the scruff. There’s nothing stopping you, just do it.

Commander in Chief

Ok, look, hippies. There’s something New Agey people need to understand.

We’re always busy looking for signs from the universe about our path, and shit like that. We say that when we’re following our path, it gets easier because the universe says “yes” and helps us. It’s more complicated than that.

There’s a danger here of learning helplessness, groping through the dark, frustrated at not being able to figure out the path that our mother universe has laid out before us. This sense that we’re doing it wrong because we haven’t discovered it yet, and that when we do finally discover it, the mysteries of the world will unravel before us in a divine cacophony of insight. We just haven’t been perceptive enough to see the signs that are waiting out there for us.

But that groping, that clawing at the door of an imagined mother figure, is the very force in our lives that holds us back. I asked myself why, with the red carpet out before me, could I not grow and maintain a roster of clients large enough to give me a livable income?

The fire in my chest for helping people burned true, I didn’t just imagine it. But it didn’t burn because I stumbled into the sign that unlocked my life for me.

It burned because I set it on fire.

There are no signs, but those you create for yourself. Your guides aren’t your parents, and you their hapless child. Your guides are your advisers, and you are their president. You set the course. You call the shots. By your singular vision and determination you will succeed. Or by your ambivalence and uncertainty, you fail.

Your doors slam shut in your face because you are ambivalent, not because they are wrong according to some external authority or plan. Stuff doesn’t work because you change your mind, your attention drifts, and soon you’re focused on something other than the path that you had been traveling on.

There’s no trick, there’s no sign, and there’s no plan, except the one you create.

If you want something through to your core, and you focus on it with a fire in your gut that the world can’t douse, then you will create whatever you’re burning for.

Enduring Value

I start working around 8 in the morning, and I’m normally done by 8 at night. Last week I took Sunday off, and built some games.

But what am I doing that I call work? How can I look back at the end of the day and know I was “productive”?

Hours worked are irrelevant. The real question is:

What have you built today that has enduring value?

I could argue that my photo readings have enduring value because they can change peoples’ lives, and who knows what value will come from that in the long term. But using that logic, sneezing at the right place and time has enduring value.

Energy Anatomy: A Grounded Guide to Energy Work & Energy Healing

No, what I mean is producing something that didn’t exist yesterday, that is valuable now, and will continue being valuable for the foreseeable future. I always feel like I accomplished something when I release projects like my Energy Anatomy book, which will be helping people learn about energy work for years to come. I always feel productive when I’ve published a blog post that I know will inspire someone and continue inspiring people.

And I think, assuming you follow through, it’s productive to build part of a project that will be released. Most of my days are spent working on projects that are not yet ready to be released. When they finally are released to the world, all the “potential productivity” is transformed right then to actual productivity. Before that moment though, you’re just spinning your wheels.

Research is spinning your wheels. Thinking is spinning your wheels. Half completed projects are wheels that are spinning in place.

But let’s be honest. We all spin our wheels, and spinning is necessary. It’s like training for a triathlon. Sure, practice swimming and running and biking. But then show up to the race. Otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels.

Not only that, but sometimes we take a day off and play. If you’re just running for the joy of it, don’t worry about the race. I do photo readings because I love doing them, even though they don’t meet my definition of productivity. I write software most of the time just for fun, not to be productive.

The thing is I know the difference. When I’m doing something for fun, I let it be fun. When I’m doing something to be productive, that simple question is how I keep myself honest.

What have I built today that has enduring value?

10 or 11 hour work days are well and good, but they don’t mean shit except that I’m a masochist unless I produce something that has enduring value.

What have you produced today?

Goal Orientation: Action vs. Outcome

Summary: To achieve an outcome, you have to take action, and that action should be your goal. You can’t directly choose an outcome, but you can always choose to take action.

Jason wanted to lose 20lbs. His “goal” was to lose 1.5lbs per week, and he started by just doing “a little” more exercise and “trying to eat better.” He started strong, with a big push of enthusiasm. He would lose a pound or two sporadically, but he gave up a few weeks in when he actually gained two pounds. He had failed at his “goal,” so he quit, disgusted.

Why did he fail? Why do I keep putting “goal” in quotes?

Because, Jason eventually realized, losing 1.5lbs per week isn’t a goal at all. It’s the outcome of an action, and the action is the goal. You can’t just decide to lose 1.5lbs per week, but what Jason figured out is that you can decide to work out for a fixed time every day.

To reach his desired outcome, Jason made a critical shift in his thinking. He worked backward to figure out that a pound of fat stores 3500 calories, so in order to lose a pound per week he’d have to burn 500 calories per day. He knew that 45 minutes on the treadmill burned 500 calories.

He shifted his goal. Action: run 45 minutes on the treadmill everyday. Outcome? He lost 20 pounds.

Critical Shift

To make the critical shift in your mind from a “goal” that leaves you powerless and frustrated, simply ask: is the goal I have in mind an action or an outcome?

Most goals are an outcome because outcomes are what we’re concerned with when we work hard to achieve. That’s understandable, but wrong. To achieve an outcome, you have to take action, and that action should be your goal. You can’t directly choose an outcome, but you can always choose to take action.

I started writing a book recently, and my desired outcome is to have the first draft fleshed out in four months. I want the manuscript to be 80,000 words. I need to write 5,000 words a week. 1,000 words per weekday.

This is like Jason deciding to burn 500 calories per day. It’s better than “lose 1.5lbs per week,” but it’s not quite fundamental enough either. He took it a step further by figuring out what 500 calories being burned looked like, and his goal was to run for 45 minutes per day. He can’t directly control how many calories he burns, but he can directly control how long he tries to burn them.

I started with 1,000 words per day goal. The problem is that 1,000 words can mean filler words, or it can mean densely packed, heavily-researched material. So for the first few days I worked really hard on the book. More than full time. But I wasn’t hitting my 1,000 word goal because a lot of the work was research, and writing a book is always front loaded with a lot of reading and fucking around before words go down. So I was frustrated that I wasn’t reaching the goal, and I started to slip, and after a few days of slipping, I stopped working on the book.

That pattern of failure is classic, it happens to people all the time. Good thing I knew.

So, I shifted again. It takes me an average of two hours to write 1,000 polished words. So that’s my goal: write my book for 2 hours per weekday. In 4 months, the outcome will be a first draft.

Erica Douglass: Success in Vulnerability

Update: I called Erica “a millionaire entrepreneur” in this interview, but she corrected me, clarifying that while she did sell her hosting company for $1.1 million when she was 26, she is not a millionaire. Buying companies is more complicated than buying a candy bar in which you get a whole candy bar for cash up front. She’s still damned impressive, but some people are pedants, so consider it disclosed!

Erica inspires me and many others with her story of how she became a millionaire entrepreneur by age 26. Her effort to enlighten readers as well as build new successful businesses like WhooshTraffic, a service that helps you rank high for keywords continue to impress today.

What Erica shares in this interview is gold. Everything from the traits you need to be a successful entrepreneur, to learning when to pivot, to how and when to find a cofounder, and even how to woo investors. You don’t want to miss this.

Click below to listen, or scroll for a complete transcript!

Erica Douglass Audio Interview, Success in Vulnerability

Transcript Contents

  1. Traits of Successful People
  2. Transparency Contributes to Success
  3. Strength in Vulnerability (Grow Your Company Fast)
  4. Keep on Failing
  5. When to Pivot (Market Research)
  6. Value of a Cofounder
  7. Where to find a Cofounder
  8. How to Get Money from an Investor (Failing Fast)
  9. Focus or Fail

Pete Michaud: Hi, this is Pete Michaud from PeteMichaud.com and today I’m talking to the lovely and talented Ms. Erica Douglass, who sold her first company for $1.1 million when she was 26, right Erica?

Erica Douglass: Yes.

PM: When she was 26. And then started her successful business blog Erica.biz, and is now killing with her latest venture WhooshTraffic. It seems like everything she touches turns to gold, and maybe today we’ll find out why. Erica, thank you so much for being here.

ED: Thank you.

PM: Great, so something I am always intensely curious about is what factors separate people who are consistently successful from those who struggle. So I want to start by asking you: what traits or habits do you attribute our continuing success to?

ED: I think success comes down to a couple of different qualities. The first thing is you’ve gotta be really persistent. I see too many people give up so quickly. They go do a business for a month or two, it doesn’t make them their million dollars, then they go do something else for a couple months, and before they know it several years have passed, and they’re still not getting anywhere with their business and they’re still trying all these new things.

I mean, it took my hosting company 3+ years of me running it to achieve a six figure annual income, and that was company revenue, not my personal salary either. I was basically living on a subsistence wage. Not very much. I lived with roommates, and made ends meet just barely, and had credit card debt and all that good stuff… ok, not so good stuff [laughs].

PM: [laughs] All that bad stuff. No but in a way it is good stuff though, because being willing to go into that sort of bad situation made you able to preserve and have the tenacity you needed to succeed, right?

ED: Right, I was just talking about this with a friend last night actually. I think every successful entrepreneur had this point in their life where they have to make a decision. And they have to succeed, and the only other option is to go home and live with your parents which is a terrible option for a lot of people, including me. I mean, I love my parents, but I don’t want to live with them.

PM: Right, or go back and get a job at Acme.

ED: Right, well in my case I started my company during Silicon Valley’s hugest recession during 2001. So it was really a terrible time to start a business, it was really a terrible time to be in Silicon Valley, there were no jobs. So I basically had to make it work. And I think every entrepreneur who’s been successful faces that reality, where you either have to succeed, or the alternative is living out on the street or living on somebody’s couch, or going back to live with your parents. None of which seems particularly appealing. And it’s having that strength within yourself to be able to, at that decision point, say I’m going to make this business successful, and I will succeed. And just making that decision that you will make it is a huge difference.

PM: Right, so what you’re telling me is that the pressure kind of makes you hungry, and that hunger drives you through the difficult part.

ED: Absolutely.

PM: it interesting how sticking with it is a big part of it for you. And I’m always impressed by how consistently you deliver value on your blog, Erica.biz, and I’m guessing that you also did the same–even though I wasn’t a customer with you at your hosting company—I’m guessing you were also good at consistently delivering value to your hosting customers.

In addition to that, one aspect of your writing that I really have always admired and that I think sets you apart is your ability to be authentic and transparent.

ED: Yeah.

PM: About your struggles and emotions, and I’m wondering what led down this path of making yourself able to be vulnerable that way?

ED: Well, you know when I started my blog—I’ve been blogging for quite a while, I actually have blog posts dating on my blog dating back to 2004. It wasn’t until 2007, after I sold my company, that I bought my domain name Erica.biz and starting blogging for an audience as opposed to just my hosting customer and friends. But on my early blog posts I used to write about my personal life. And for me, I’ve always been very open about my personal life, and a lot of people were very surprised and even a little taken aback by it. Like, why would you disclose that your company isn’t as successful as you want it to be?

And I said, well, because someday I’m going to look back on that and really be excited that I wrote about my company when it wasn’t successful. It seems somehow more true to me to write about your company as it’s growing, rather than to write about it only after it’s been successful.

And also some of the things I’ve written about honestly have gotten some amazing responses, and have connected people better to me.

Like the fact that I wrote about my hosting company while I was running the hosting company—this was back before blogging was even a well-known thing—the fact that I was even doing that attracted people to my company, and a lot of people said that I really like the fact that you’re talking about the business and I like following your business’s success. It makes people feel like they’re involved.

I like to analyze why things are popular, and the psychology behind it. The most popular show on TV right now is American Idol and I can tell you the reason why it’s popular is that the music industry for so many years has seemed like it has some sort of gate keepers that determined success, and we don’t really know who those gatekeepers are, they’re kind of these invisible figures with hands behind the scenes that control which music artist make it and which ones don’t. American idol brings control into the hands of the voters. If a person is playing good music but they don’t get the votes, they don’t move on. And the reason American Idol is so popular, and so many artists from American idol have gone on to become #1 hits is because we feel like we have a say in their popularity, and we feel like we contributed somehow to their success, even though our biggest contribution is probably a text message saying “vote” to 5 digit number. It still makes us feel like we’re a part of their success.

PM: Right, so it’s transparent and I guess the equivalent to the text message would maybe be a blog comment.

ED: Exactly.

PM: Or an e-mail reply or something.

ED: Exactly. And my blog readers feel like somehow their either contributing to my success or they are sharing in it somehow, and it’s really a powerful thing.

PM: Yeah I completely agree, and that’s been my experience reading you and I try to do that myself. But I’m wondering why is it that if it’s such a powerful thing to be vulnerable, why is it so rare in other business bloggers?

ED: [laughs] I think it’s because it’s an ego thing. You don’t want to admit when you messed up. It’s really hard, sometimes when I want to talk about something I really messed up on or something. It can be difficult because a lot of times there are other people involved, so how do you say “my team screwed this up” or “a partner that I worked with screwed this up,” because you don’t necessarily want to shine a bad spotlight on anybody else, and it’s sometimes difficult to know where that line is. So what I try to do is make all the screw up stories as personal as possible. I talk about my screw ups from the story and the lesson they gave me and I try to remove the focus from the other people or other parties involved in the situation.

PM: Right. I guess it would be ideal if everyone had your same mindset, like it’s a growth opportunity to be able to say “hey I screwed up, and here’s how I screwed up, and here’s how I‘m not going to screw up again.” A lot of people don’t feel that way, and I’m wondering, do you think that your willingness to expose yourself to that kind of risk has been big a factor in your business success? Not only in your blogging, but in your business success as well?

ED: Yeah, I absolutely do. People identify with the companies that I start because of my blog and my brand. I mean, when I started WhooshTraffic I didn’t expect it to grow so quickly because I thought: ok, I know SEO is a big market , but we’re in a niche of that market, you we backlink build from other sites to our clients websites, and it’s a niche of the SEO market. I didn’t want to start one of those all-encompassing SEO agency sort of things where we do your design, and your development, and your this, and your that, and the marketing—it’s very heavy feeling to me. I wanted to start a really light, agile company that just did one thing, and did it really well, and as we grow we can expand into other service areas.

But I can tell you, five months after we launched the company, it’s already pushing five figures a month in revenue. And I’ve been very open about that too, and we’ve done zero marketing for the site, no ads, no anything like that. We’re starting to market now, but the cool thing is that the blog community and the people that I knew, my network, made that possible. It made us grow to the point where we’re profitable now and now we can start real marketing campaigns, but we can pay for those marketing campaigns out of revenue, so that’s been pretty amazing.

PM: Yeah, that’s huge. And I’ve actually been watching you, and I’ve been really proud of you. I always love it when people that I kind of know are totally killing it, so I’m really, really happy for you.

ED: Thank you.

PM: You’re welcome. I think though that you’ve been so successful that many beginners in not only writing but business as well, kind of feel intimidated when they hear your story. Like, hey I was 4 years old when I made my first billion, or whatever.

ED: [laughs]

PM: So maybe it seems to them that you have some kind of magic that they can’t possibly reproduce. So I’m curious, have you ever had a false start on a business or project that didn’t work out, and did you learn anything from that?

ED: Yeah absolutely, if you go back through my blog archives, after I sold my business I wanted to start a new business. The first thing I wanted to do was take a year off because I felt like that was really important. Of course I didn’t take the year fully off, because about 3 months after I sold my business, I started Erica.biz and I was blogging. But back then my blog wasn’t very big, it wasn’t nearly a full time job, and it was just a couple hours a week.

But I got to the point where I was exhausted all the time, and I realized that I wasn’t really taking some time off. Then I started considering that maybe this wasn’t a psychological exhaustion that would be solved that would be solved by me selling my business. When I was still running my hosting company I was tired a lot. And everybody just told me, ok you just gotta stop working so much, it’s just because you’re working so hard. Well it actually turned out that I had celiac disease, which is an auto immune disease where your body can’t digest the protein found in wheat which is called gluten. So you have to go on a special diet which is a gluten free diet, and even then you don’t heal right away.

But it wasn’t until late 2009 that I was actually diagnosed with celiac disease so I doing all these different thing in 2008/2009, you’ll see all these sites that I wanted to start that never really got off the ground, including the main site which was called Inspiring Innovators which was designed to be an interview series with successful entrepreneurs, and it was going to be a membership site where I could do webinars with the customers and things like that. A great business idea, in fact I’m encouraging one of my friends to do the exact same business idea.

PM: Sure, it sounds like mixergy.com.

ED: Exactly, and this is before Andrew came out with mixergy.com.

PM: Right.

ED: So it was definitely something that I really wanted to explore but I was so sick all the time that I couldn’t get the site up, and I couldn’t get the interviews done because I was exhausted. So that was a real issue and so that site never really came to fruition, so if you go back through my blog archives, you’ll see some posts where I wrote: oh I’m so excited, it’s going to be launched next month, etc, etc. Well it launched and we did even have a few paying customers, but it never really got off the ground.

And actually WhooshTraffic wasn’t WhooshTraffic to begin with. When Parnel and I started working together—Parnel is my cofounder for WhooshTraffic—when he and I started working together, actually what I wanted to do was create as community site for bloggers. Another idea that I think is really strong because bloggers don’t really have a community site, that we could do forums, we could do a directory of all these different blogs, a directory based on traffic rank, we were pulling Alexa’s API data, which is a unique way to measure blogs against each other. We had all sorts of things planned for that site—I’ll spare you the 20 page business plan, but that didn’t come to fruition either.

We actually launched that site, got some traction and we got some members, and then I did a promotion for a product that was all about building these little niche websites, and my readers really wanted to know how to rank these niche sites in search engines. And this was going on at the same time we were launching, bestblogs.net was what it’s called, if you go there now it just redirects to WhooshTraffic. But I paid $500 something dollars for bestblogs.net domain name too, so there was definitely investment involved. And of course I paid Parnel to work on the site, he’s been paid full time for nearly a year now, since mid 2010.

So I had all this invested in it, and then my list was e-mailing me, well you just promoted this great product on how to create niche sites, so now we want to know how to rank our niche sites in Google, and I thought ohhh… I actually know how to do that. That’s something I know how to do a lot of. I really get it. I really know how to do that: I’ve been in SEO since 1997, so SEO is something I’m super, super familiar with.

So I sent out an e-mail to just the people who had bought the product. There were about 300 of them, I think. And I said, can you do this quick 5 minutes survey for me? And at least 70 or 80 people filled it in in the first couple of days, so we had a good idea of what was going on. And I asked, wold you pay for a site that just did interviews and webinars and stuff, and 30% of the people said yes they would pay for that, and I said would you pay for a site where we build the backlinks to your site for you? And like 70% of the people said yes to that, I thought: this is it. I told Parnel at that point—it was July 2010—and I said Parnel, I think we gotta pivot, [laughs]. The word pivot was just coming into swing then—there was a big thing about pivoting your startups. And I said I think we’ve gotta stop the community site—not that the community site was a bad idea, not that it even wasn’t going to make money, it was just that our trajectory to make money for that site was like a year, and our trajectory for WhooshTraffic—what became WhooshTraffic—to make money was like 3 months.

PM: Yeah, you know what I love about that is that I encourage people to just do something. Do something and it doesn’t matter if you fail, because you’ll learn something and you’ll meet people, and you’ll be in a better position to do your next thing. And thing I love about what you just said is that you did something, and it could’ve worked out fine, but it actually didn’t turn out to be the thing that you wanted to do, the WhooshTraffic, and you would’ve never stumbled upon WhooshTraffic if you hadn’t undertaken the previous project.

ED: Exactly. And I feel strongly that—Parnel and I have been such great cofounders, and we’ve become best friends too, he and his girlfriend and I hang out a lot, and we live like ten minutes from each other. So I feel very strongly that that working relationship was really meant to be. I think the bestblogs.net wasn’t a bad idea but the real key with that idea was to help me find Parnel right when he needed to find work that paid him, and right when I needed a programmer or somebody to turn my ideas into reality. So we really hit it off right away, and we’ve been working together ever since, and it’s been absolutely fantastic.

It’s funny, I never really wanted a cofounder. I always thought I could just hire people because I have the money, I could use seed capital. But I have to tell you, it’s been a much better relationship to have a cofounder than it would be to just have people working for me. And especially the fact that I could throw it some seed money myself—I’ve put about $50 or $60,000 into WhooshTraffic of my own money, that has not recouped in terms of my salary yet, but will probably recoup by the end of 2011, in terms of my salary. So it’s a good payback for me.


PM: Right, that’s a great return on investment. And I’m curious, a lot of people face this situation—a lot of nontechnical people face this situation where they’re deciding, should I hire someone on odesk and hope for the best, or should I find a technical cofounder, or—they’re looking different options. And I’m wondering, where did you meet him? How did you connect with him?

ED: Ok, there’s a great question, I love that question. I think that’s so important because there are so many people out there who want to know, how do I find a cofounder? Should I get a cofounder? That’s been something that’s been on my blog to-do list to write for a long time, and it’s probably something I should talk about—let me write that down actually.

PM: See, if you hadn’t have done this interview, you wouldn’t have been reminded to write that down.

ED: That’s right!

PM: And it’s going to be your next blockbuster post.

ED: It is!

PM: Synergy.

ED: How to find a cofounder. Or not find a cofounder. And originally I did find somebody from odesk to do what I call a working comp of the bestblogs site where I hired a designer and developer from odesk both, and we got the site up and looking good. I wireframed it, and then I scanned the wireframe in. I literally wrote it out with pen and paper, scanned it in, showed them what I wanted, and they turned it into reality. But the problem with hiring someone on odesk, although it was cheap, and although I think if you just need a mockup, a prototype, to send to investors or to show to your 3 Fs—family, friends, and fools [laughs]. If you just need a mockup, I think odesk is definitely the way to go. If you want a long-term relationship with someone who’s going to do projects with you, I think you consider hiring someone full time or getting a cofounder. And I think you need to pay them. That’s really important. Parnel couldn’t work for free because he didn’t have, you know, a bajillion dollars saved up. He’s young, so that’s totally reasonable. So I paid him a salary to begin with, and that’s where you’d going to want to either consider investors or in my case I had the money, so I just paid him outright. But that’s key.

PM: Right, it’s key. And I’m curious, you had the money, and you say you could get investors, but for a lot of people investors seem alien and out of reach, so what do you suggest to people who are listening right now who maybe don’t have the kind of platform that you have—how do they connect with the kind of investors that would make it possible for them to pay somebody?

ED: That’s a tough question to ask me because I’ve actually never had an investor in any of my companies before.

PM: [laughs] Ok, so maybe you’re not the right person, but if you have any insight… because you go to a lot of conferences and that sort of thing.

ED: I think what you have to have to get investors, as an investor—although, I don’t invest in companies, disclaimer—but I do a lot of analysis of why I would or wouldn’t invest in a company because I just think that’s going to be valuable later for me, as well for the company owners who contact me and ask me, hey can you invest in my company—to which I always say no, by the way, because I don’t do that. But I also look at their business model. What investors really want to see is they first of all really want to see a good team, so you have a little bit of a cat and mouse game. You have to find a good programmer, but to get the programmer you’ve got to get investors so it’s a little bit of the chicken or the egg problem.

But the second thing they want to see is an idea that actually has traction, and in my particular case, if I was investing in any companies, I wouldn’t necessarily invest in companies where the modus operandi is to get as many eyeballs as possible into your website, and then we’ll figure out how to make money. I really, really hate that model personally. I’m more of a B2B type of person. I think the B2b model is very, very simplistic, because either people are paying you or people are not paying you. If people are paying you, you’ve got something. If they are not paying you, you’ve got a problem. [laughs]

So for me, I would want to invest in that type of company, just because first of all it’s what I know, it’s where I’ve been. I’ve never started a consumer internet company, or been part of a successful consumer internet company. I’ve always either worked for or started business to business companies. And secondly you can see pretty quickly whether it’s going to have traction or not. If it’s not going to get traction—if nobody’s paying… you set up the buy button, you send it out to your list, and nobody bites, nobody buys anything, then you know you have a situation where you’ve gotta pivot.

PM: Right, either pivot or go back to the drawing board.

ED: Right.

PM: They say “fail fast,” is what the term is in the startup community.

ED: Exactly, and as a potential investor I’d want to see that you have contracts on the table. If you have a customer that saying, hey we’re a head honcho in this industry, and we’re willing to buy your stuff if you can build it for us by this date, that’s what I’d be looking for as an investor. Because if you’ve got it in writing on the table, like we’ll pay you $10,000 a month for this service if you can build it for us by this date, and it has these feature specs, that’s investor gold right there.

So as a potential founder, you need to go out there and make sure—make damn sure—that people are going to buy your stuff. And if possible get it in writing. The more in writing contracts you have, where people have signed on the dotted line, saying yes I will buy this if you build it with these features, then the more likely you are to get an investor.

The worst type of companies to invest in—and this is going to pop a lot of people’s bubbles in their heads—but the worst type of company to invest in are where somebody’s like I’ve got this great idea and if you just give me money, then I can implement it. I would always, as an investor, say heck no to that, because I want to see you go to prototype, and I want to see you going out there. Customer development type things—Steve Blank, if you don’t know who he is, read his books, he’s amazing. Go out there and do your market research, and make sure that you’ve got people, in writing—the bigger the stack of contacts you have, the most likely I will be to give you a check.

PM: Right, and I think I want to emphasize for people listening, that when you say go out there I think you literally mean put on your shoes and walk out your door, and get in your car and go somewhere and talk to people, because e-mail can only take you so far.

ED: Yes, exactly, and you really want people to sign these contracts. And also, if you’re a company founder, you want these people signing the contracts to actually know who you are, so you don’t e-mail them tomorrow, and they go: who is that guy again? So you want them to be able to say, oh that’s this person, we talked about that, I’m really glad you’re starting to build this, and then of course you keep those potential customers in the loop.

And you know that even if they give you a contract not all of them are going to be willing to hand you a check, but that also helps if you go to meet them personally. If you see that their working out of a shack or their garage, and they’re driving an old beater car, and they say they’re going to hand you a $50,000 check, you may be going ehhh… I want to make sure that you’ve got the $50,000 to give me. If they have a nicer office, they’ve been in business a little bit longer, they’ve got some employees, they’ve got some traction, and it’s clear that they have the $50,000 to give you, then it’s going to be a lot easier sell on your part too, so as a founder you want to know that sort of thing about your customers.

PM: Well Erica, do you have anything else you want to add before we wrap it up?

ED: I’d just like to say, as a founder, get as clear on your idea as possible, and go out there and seek customers. And also I would say the biggest mistake I see a lot of early stage founders make is that they want to be everything to everyone. We set up WhooshTraffic as a backlink building service. We are not an agency, we do not design your website, we do not set up your website, we do not rearrange your website for you. When we have customers ask that, we refer out to people we trust who do that sort of thing, but we don’t try to do everything, and I see that as a common mistaken. The problem is that if your company tries to do everything, then it’s not sellable because then you get to the point where you are doing a whole lot of stuff or you have to hire very specialized people. What we do is very sellable because we do one thing and we do it very, very well, and then we provide customers with great technology to track their ranks over time and stuff like that. But our business is infinitely sellable because it’s not required that one of us do all of the high end, specialized work.

PM: Right, and customers can immediately qualify themselves. They know if they have a website and they want to rank high for a particular keyword, they know that they are your potential customer.

ED: That’s it.

PM: But if you can’t explain to them why they are your potential customer then they’re probably not going to give you money.

ED: That’s it.

PM: Yeah, I love it, that’s a perfect thing. Well Erica, it was awesome talking to you, and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story and experiences. And I hope you stay vulnerable, and hungry, and I wish you success in everything that you do.

ED: Thank you Pete, I appreciate it so much.

PM: Thanks for listening everyone, go rock the world.

Ritual Creates Change

Some days I try to inspire you to make you feel like success is within reach (it is). Other days I tell you to just do something, anything, every day. I go on about showing up, and adding one stroke to your gallery, even when it’s hard, even when the stroke sucks.

That emotional oomph that fills your chest and makes your mind race with possibility isn’t enough. If the oomph is all you have then you’re bound to fail.

That euphoric feeling you have just after being inspired is a window of opportunity that’s valuable but brief. You can’t possibly start that company, quit your job, lose the weight, gain the weight, or meet The One™ during that brief high of inspiration. If you try, you’ll lose steam very shortly and you’ll end up with no business, a job you hate, too fat, too skinny, and alone. That sucks.

Here’s the trick: the window is just long enough to establish a new ritual.

To create meaningful, lasting change you must create rituals. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the same things all the time, but it does mean having a certain time for doing a type of thing.

If you want to lose weight, you know you need to walk on that treadmill for 30 minutes every day, and you’ll damn well do it too, because that’s your ritual. It’s just what you do. You do it when you’re busy. You do it in the hospital. You do it unless you’re dead. You just do it, until it’s done.

And when you’re all done just doing your ritual, then you win. You make the change you want, you get the result you want.

So think about why you read my blog. You want something. You want to change something about your life. What is it?

Now ask yourself: what ritual do you have in place, right now, today, that is bringing you closer to the change you want?

(Hint: if you don’t have even one ritual, then you’re just jerking off. What are you going to do about it?)

Dealing with Setbacks

Summary
Setbacks, even minor ones, send most people packing. The people who stick with it always win.

I haven’t really had a place to live for a few weeks now, since my ex-wife is staying in the house. So I’ve been traveling and floating between hotels and friends’ houses. I haven’t had a reliable connection because my computer requires a 47,000 square foot facility and a team of PhDs to keep from launching into low orbit.

Despite that, I showed up and you saw my essays every day you were supposed to. I think that’s a good example of what I mean when I tell you to show up no matter what.

On Friday I finally moved into a house near my other house, so my boys can walk back and forth whenever they want to. The house I found is awesome, but it doesn’t have the internet yet. I knew that going in, but I had talked to the neighbors who are also awesome, and they gave me the password to their wireless network. Score.

I moved in, set everything up, and presto! The net didn’t work.

Damn.

My plan had been to get set up in the afternoon, and have an essay ready that evening. It would have been later than usual, but it would still exist, which is what counts.

There was nothing I could do. I didn’t have a laptop, it was too late at night to buy one or call a friend. I was exhausted from moving, and I had a billion things flying through my head, from custody to how I was going to fit my giant desk through the door, but if I had had an option to be able to write, I would have done it.

Sometimes your plans don’t work out. Sometimes your milestones fall through.

That’s the moment most people give up.

Didn’t land that big client for your business? Didn’t get as much excitement from the viral launch as you’d hoped? Someone you were relying on flake out? Guess it’s a sign. Might as well give up.

Except the people who you see succeed are the ones who kept trying, even when it was hard, even when the universe seemed bent on stopping them.

Maybe writing an essay one day late, on a laptop borrowed from a stranger isn’t such a huge stretch. But those moments add up, especially early on. Those simple moments when it takes just a little more effort and self-discipline to add to your gallery.

Those are the moments when you have to choose: do I give myself a break then blame “the economy” when I fail, or do I show up everyday (even when it’s hard) and do it until it’s done?

9 Ways to Change For Good

Achieving freedom means changing the way we interact with and experience the world. You don’t think yourself into freedom, only actions can take you there. You may think I’m telling you something you already know, but are you sure you know how to truly change your behaviors in the long term?

Most people don’t know how to motivate themselves to act toward their passion without any lunch bells, office hours, or stern authority figures. That’s why the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University shared the top 10 mistakes people make when they are trying to change their behavior. The presentation is insightful, but lacks actionable advice or concrete examples. The information is important enough to explain more fully, so read on for a full treatment.

Willpower Isn’t Enough

It’s a mistake to rely on willpower alone for long-term change. I know a brilliant girl named Jeanine who is also a chronic yoyo dieter, with dreams of a svelte figure and a perfect 22 BMI. When she’s on a diet, she scrapes by without her habitual Caramel Macchiato, without her Ton of Fun sized Luncherito, without her double chocolate Sara Lee cheesecake. Finally, after a long and stressful day of making her boss a lot of money, she succumbs to the open bag of Cheetos that her son left in the pantry.

Her heart is in the right place, but she was doomed from the start. I’ve already explained in detail why she cannot fight her urge to consume sweets over the long haul. But more than that, she hasn’t set herself up to succeed. She hasn’t asked herself a critical question:

How would I achieve my goal if will power simply didn’t exist?

Make the Change Easy by Default

Boulders don’t have will power, but they roll down hills because gravity compels them to. Girls who have packed a few too many ribeyes around the midriff won’t lose their wobble by hoping really hard. But Jeanine is a busy woman. She’s going to just grab whatever is available.

So she should make it easy for herself. When she shops for groceries, she should buy only healthy foods. Those cheetos should never have been in front of her. She can’t eat food she doesn’t have. That’s just one small example of making the good behavior (eating healthy food) the default behavior.

Think of yourself as that boulder. Don’t struggle to move, because you can’t. Ask yourself instead: How can I create a hill that I can’t help but roll down?

Change Your Context

The key lesson from the question of how to create a “hill” around yourself is that your environment shapes your behaviors. Sometimes “environment” refers to your social environment, as in the five people you spend the most time with. Other times it really is your physical environment, like an alcoholic bartender.

You’re surrounded by familiarity in both situations, so your brain will automatically try to act the way it’s been trained to act in that context. When I quit smoking a month before my 21st birthday (telling myself I could pick it back up when the big day came), the only difficult moments were when I was drinking with my friends. I learned to avoid that context while my addiction subsided because it triggered my addiction.

Harness the Power of Triggers

No behaviors happen without a trigger. Drinking and spending time with friends causes a cascade of chemicals that triggered my desire to smoke. A momentary lapse in stimulus in the context of unstructured access to the internet triggers my obsessive need to check e-mail.

But I got some benefit, however small, from smoking and checking your e-mail. Those actions met some primal need that I had. That’s why avoiding bars isn’t enough to make an alcoholic stop drinking. It’s not completely about convenience or opportunity. Maybe it’s about coping with emotional distress. Maybe it’s about relaxing after a stressful day at work.

To change behaviors in the long term you must address the underlying needs your reptile brain is trying to fulfill. When I’m triggered to check my e-mail, I acknowledge my urge, and fulfill it with a positive behavior. I do 10 pushups instead.

Create Positive Behaviors

Shift your focus from avoiding bad behaviors and triggers by creating positive behaviors that fulfill the same need. When triggered by a negative self image to down a gallon of ice cream, call your BFF instead, she’ll make you feel like a million bucks. Instead of smoking to relax, try breathing deeply. Instead of checking your e-mail to get that dopamine rush, try 10 pushups.

Whatever behavior you have and whatever triggers it, develop a plan for a better, alternative behavior, and stick to it when the time comes. It’s not that you’re trying to “quit smoking.” It’s that the very next time you’re tempted to smoke, you will choose to do something else instead. You’ll choose to spend 5 minutes on your exercise bike, maybe. It’s one trigger at a time that you’ll conquer until you’re behaving the way you’d like to.

Take Baby Steps

It’s one tiny success after another that adds up to big changes. Your goal isn’t to build a wildly successful blog, your goal is to write your next blog article and post it when you scheduled yourself to post it. Do that a few hundred times, then maybe you’ll be successful.

Building a profitable company is not about eight or nine figure paydays, it’s about showing up, building one more feature, providing one more service, solving one more problem, selling to one more customer.

No one knows how to “be successful.” Lots of people know how to show up and take one more step in the right direction.

Focus on Concrete Behaviors instead of Abstract Goals

The problem is that “be successful” sounds like something you can do, but it’s not really actionable. “Take one step” may not be a fast track to fame and fortune, but it’s something you can actually do.

We fail at goals like “get in shape” because they are contentless. You can’t “get in shape,” even though your brain thinks you can. What you can do is walk 15 minutes every day. You can do 50 pushups before bed. You can drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Translate goals like “have a successful business” to actions like “get one more customer today.” But be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking you need to read about how to get that customer.

Know When to Stop Thinking and Start Acting

We believe that if we have more information we can take action, but humans aren’t that rational. We normally use information gathering as an excuse not to start a business “yet” or not to chat up a cute girl “yet,” as if some esoteric insight is going to fundamentally change our approach to these situations.

You don’t need to research another fad diet, you know damn well that limiting portions and exercising will make you lose weight. You don’t need to research yet another online business model when you know damn well that you need to just create something, and iterate.

Don’t use information gathering as an excuse not to act.

There is a reason you’re trying to stall though. Change can be overwhelming, and in the same sense that tackling huge challenges is untenable whereas taking small steps is workable, changing forever could seem hopeless, but anyone can make a change for a little while.

Choose a Timeframe for the Change

Changing for a set period that you decide in advance takes the pressure off. Instead of imagining a dismal future, devoid of soda, you can tell yourself that you’re doing something good for your body and you can have soda again in a week. Or two weeks. Or whatever you decide.

Probably the most well-known application of this rule is Steve Pavlina’s “30 Day Trial” concept. His idea is to commit to a new action for only 30 days. At the end of the 30 days you can do whatever you want, but you promise yourself (and maybe others) that for those 30 days, you’ll stick to it.

This helps overcome the indomitable concept of “forever” by only committing to a little while, but it also keeps you going long enough to actually instill the action as a habit. That way you can make a conscious decision about whether to continue with the now-habitual action, or whether the action really doesn’t meet your needs and expectations.

Keep the Change

So now you know how to make a change and maintain it.
Willpower isn’t enough. You have to rearrange your life so that the behavior you want becomes the default behavior. You do that by changing your context to create new triggers and get rid of your old ones. When you can’t get rid of the triggers that lead to bad behavior, you replace those bad behaviors with positive ones that fulfill the same basic needs.

You take baby steps toward concrete actions, instead of fantasizing about abstract goals. You stop thinking and just do it. And finally, you choose a timeframe for whatever goals you may have.

Changing behavior doesn’t have to be difficult. Use these findings to set yourself up for success.

How My Failure on Video Turned to Success

Today was the day that months of effort, research and investment would have paid off if I hadn’t failed on video.

The Setup

I have been talking to a couple local photographers to figure out lighting equipment and environment issues. I bought the softbox lighting, and light stands. I bought the backdrop, then secured it in place with copious velcro. It took me hours just to first create a loop at the bottom using fabric tape, then fill the loop with a bag of black aquarium gravel to weigh the fabric down evenly across the length of the backdrop.

After talking sound with everyone I know, especially Justin Vincent, audiophile extraordinaire (you should hire him, but he’s not looking), I have purchased and returned many hundreds of dollars worth of handheld recording devices, microphones, and recording interfaces. When the guy at Guitar Center sees me coming, he thinks “Oh shit, not this guy again…”

I went through two cameras and a tripod before talking to my friend Richard Thompson who is an incredible photographer and video guy (you should hire him too, but you can’t afford him). I finally settled on the Panasonic TM700 based on his advice.

Even though I knew it would barely be visible in the final product, I searched high and low for the perfect table, which is 2 feet by 4 feet long, and has a black, reflective surface. IKEA had it.

I hired a great designer named Jeff McIntosh to do a slick video opener, and worked with him to fine tune it (you should hire him, but only if you promise to be nice to him).

I brought it into my new copy of Adobe Premiere, and did a couple test projects to learn the ropes, all the while leaning heavily on my good friend Fidel Watlington to help me beat the learning curve (you should hire him if you want some real talk).

I wrote and polished a few of my talks over the course of some months in my Toastmasters club (you should join it). I practiced each talk over fifty times and delivered them multiple times to multiple audiences.

The Payoff

And finally, after all that expense and months of effort and planning, I spent all day on Sunday shooting my first video. It’s a modified version of my About page. Shooting video for the site will introduce a new group of people, so it makes sense to introduce myself to them the way they found me.

I cut all the video together, and rendered it glorious 1080 high definition.

But it sucks.

This is how much time, effort, and learning I had to put in in order to fail valiantly.

  • The sound equipment worked admirably, but the workflow to sync the sound and video files is unmanageable. That’s why I just have sound from the onboard camera mic (yuck).
  • The lighting in the studio isn’t strictly controlled because I thought I could get away with just softening the light from the windows. In reality, I began shooting when it was light out, and ended when it was dark, and the lighting visibly changes when I cut between shots. Plus, my rim light was too far forward so it blew out half of my face, while the back light was positioned too close to me so every time I moved my arm back, it lit up brightly.
  • I didn’t have a good technique for organizing each clip, so I had to rewatch hours of footage over and over to find the decent takes.
  • I didn’t have anything to drink while I was shooting, so my voice becomes more gravelly as time goes on.
  • Despite my best efforts looking at the lens, I’m still not quite looking directly into the camera.
  • The list continues.

This is how much time, effort, and learning I had to put in in order to fail valiantly. So how do I move forward?

Picking myself up

  1. The first and maybe most important part of the answer is that I have a video that actually exists, shitty though it may be. This is a critical starting point to creating success out of failure.
  2. I hoped that everything would come together right away, but I know from experience that learning curves can be steep, so the next part of the answer is that I’m not going to let my initial failure deter me. Tenacity is your best friend if you want to do great work.
  3. I have the good fortune of having an amazing group of friends who can support me too. But remember that we create our own luck by working hard to be available to opportunities as they arise. I’ve spent years getting to know most of the people I mentioned here, and countless others. I’ve spent years producing valuable work, and supporting them when they need my help. Just this Saturday, I spent five hours of my free time implementing a cute HTML5 physics simulation for a friend of mine who was out of his coding element. That guy is an amazing graphic designer. It’ll be pretty “lucky” to have him around when I need some help with visual work, won’t it?

I won’t be sharing the shitty video with you, but I will show those very talented friends of mine, who can catch mistakes that I don’t know about already. I’m going to use what I’ve learned about my studio to rearrange and improve the lighting. Based on my hands-on experience with the audio workflow, I’m going to head back to Guitar Center yet again and pick up a boom mic that can plug into my camera.

I worked hard to produce something, instead of nothing, and I’m using that learning experience as a building block toward producing success. That’s what I write about here week after week, and that’s what I’m doing. That’s why this post, even though it isn’t what I planned, is a success.