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?

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.

How to Choose a Profitable Niche Topic

Taking a break from soul searching posts, I want to address the question that I get most often from readers. I haven’t addressed it so far because I don’t want the topic of internet marketing to overtake my site. However, over and over, every time I talk about my business Kenrose Media, people ask me:

How do you choose a profitable niche topic for your books and sites?

Today I’m going to answer that question in excruciating detail.

I’m going to tell you:

  • what a niche really is,
  • what factors are important in great keywords,
  • and how to calculate all those factors to find the exact keywords you need that will bring in loads of traffic and make you lots of money.
  • Finally, I’ll give you an overview of how to build a site that targets the keywords you find,
  • and, how to get your site ranking for those keywords fast.

Hold on to your asses, this one will knock your skivvies off:

What is a “niche” on the Internet?

When people ask about finding a niche what they are really asking about is keywords. Anyone wanting to target a niche online wants to have a product up that’s available via keywords that lots of people are likely to type into a search engine, but for which there is very little competition.

That way a lot of people go to your site, and they buy your product instead of going somewhere else.

There are a few factors that make a keyword desirable.

Basic Factors to Look for in a Keyword

Search Volume

Search volume is the number of times a particular keyword is typed into a search engine in a given time period, generally per month. As of this writing, for example, the keyword “passive income” gets 60,500 searches monthly. That’s the search volume.

Competition

When a search engine displays results it calculates the relevance of every page that it knows about for the keyword that you typed in. If a page is very relevant, it goes to the top of the listing. If it’s not very relevant, it lingers on the later pages or doesn’t show up at all.

When we talk about competitive keywords, what we really mean is that there are lots of pages that are extremely relevant to the keyword according to the search engine calculation.

In other words, if I google “pete michaud is a stud,” pages will come up, but as of this writing there are no pages actually very relevant to that search term. If I created a page with that title, and posted it on a site with high Page Rank and lots of incoming links with the right anchor text, then I would instantly rank #1 for that term.

But no one does that because no users ever search for that phrase, so it would be pointless to rank for it.

The trick is to find keywords that people do search for—keywords with high search volume—but that also have almost irrelevant websites in the top results, just like the phrase “pete michaud is a stud” has.

There are other factors that I’ll cover later like commercial intent and desperation, but they are harder to quantify than the two main ones I’ve listed.

In the mean time, here’s how to find keywords that have high search volume and low competition.

Build a List of Candidate Keywords

You need a big a list of possible keywords that you think might be valuable.

Choose a Broad Category

There are a few strategies that making choosing your subject a little easier. The first is to start with the three major subject areas that are consistent money makers: Health, Wealth and Relationships. Then you choose smaller and smaller subtopics. In the comments of this essay Jonathan Hunt gives the example of Health → Dieting → Raw Food Diets which is a perfect demonstration of the technique.

Another strategy that Steven (in the comments section) reminded of is Pat Flynn’s: list your seven passions, seven problems and seven fears. Narrow that list to 10 potential markets, and narrow it as necessary.

In any case, no matter the strategy you use to choose the potential niche, remember that you’ll be thinking about it, writing about it, and working on it for a long time. If you have no interest in it, you might want to choose a different one.

Generate keywords

Once you know what broad subject area you want to tackle, like “Raw Food Diet,” you’ll need to generate a list of related keywords. Brainstorm a few by thinking of what people interested in your subject area might type into a search engine, like “raw recipes” or “raw food nutrition.”

Then use a keyword suggestion tool like the Google Keyword Tool which takes what you already have and expands the list to include keywords that Google knows are related.

When you have about 100 or more keywords related to your topic, move on to next step.

Narrow by Search Volume

Find the search volume of each of your candidate keywords, again using the Google Keyword Tool. This tool obviously only covers the search volume on Google, and there’s some evidence that the numbers are a little low. Still, the tool will give you insight into roughly how popular a given keyword is.

Enter all the keywords from the previous step into the tool, then check the box that says “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” to stop the tool from suggesting additional keywords. Now you know the search volumes for all the keywords in the list you made.

Throw away any that don’t get any traffic at all. It’s good if your main keywords get at least 1,000 searches per month, and anything 100 or above is fine if you’re targeting related, so called long-tail keywords. You might target those by writing a specific article on your site, but not necessarily base your whole business off those.

You should now have a smaller list of keywords that all get traffic from search engines.

Calculate the Competition

Next, you need to determine how much competition there is for the keywords on your list. A keyword with a lot of traffic is worthless to you if you can’t rank for it.

The level of competition can be approximated by the average Page Rank of the top results for the keyword. Page Rank is Google’s measure of how “important” or “authoritative” a site is. Page Rank values run between 0 and 10. 10 is the maximum, and only huge sites like Google.com itself have it.

Keywords that you want to compete for have an average page rank as close to 0 as possible. That will make it easy to beat the competition.

The old way to calculate the average page rank for a keyword was:

  1. Install the Google Toolbar
  2. Type the keyword into Google
  3. Click each top result in turn, and note the Page Rank that the toolbar reports
  4. Calculate the average by adding all the Page Ranks together and dividing by the number of Page Ranks you added.

Alternatively, you can use my new way:

  1. Type your keyword into my new, completely and absolutely, free service TimeToRank.com, and the average Page Rank will appear instantly and effortlessly.

A difficult decision, I know.

Once you have the average Page Rank of the top results for each keyword, eliminate those whose average is above 5. Even 5 is pushing it. With an average competitor Page Rank of 5 it’ll take you about a year of concentrated effort to rank against those established competitors. You want keywords you can start getting traffic from right away.

Narrow by Other Factors

You now have an even smaller list of keywords that both get search traffic, and don’t have brutal competition. There is more to a great niche than just traffic and competition though.

Commercial Intent

Commercial Intent is a measure of whether the people typing a particular keyword into a search engine are doing that because they intend to buy a product (good), or because they are just researching (not good).

It’s difficult to measure because it involves many different factors. Sometimes it’s enough to just go with your gut, but when you want real data, you might try Microsoft Adlab’s Online Commercial Intention Calculator (This calculator has been offline sometimes recently, but it’s the only free tool of it’s kind, so I apologize if the link is dead). Keyword research products like Market Samurai also use the Adlab tool, so if that is down when you look, it won’t work for that either.

The alternate way to figure out if there is commercial intent is to look at how many Adwords ads there are for the keyword. The logic is that if people are paying for traffic from those keywords, then they must be making money.

Depending on the keywords on your list, it may not be bad that they aren’t commercial. Part of selling is building credibility in your niche, so giving away information could be a good strategy. You could rank for non-commercial keywords that bring researchers into your site and make them aware of your product. Weeks or months down the line, that person may buy.

On the other hand, if none of your keywords have high commercial intent, you’re in trouble. It may be that this niche won’t make money, or it may be that you need to go back to the brain storming phase to figure out what someone would type in if they were specifically looking to buy a product in this niche, as opposed to just browsing.

Desperation

Desperation is a factor that I believe I am the first to pay attention to. It’s powerful because it almost creates commercial intent out of nothing. Desperation is simply a measure of how desperate people are for a solution to their problem when they do a search.

In my market, health related publications, there are many diseases that are utterly debilitating, but that there’s no really good research or cures for. The people suffering from these illnesses want solutions, not next week, but right now. They want to be able to sleep tonight, finally. It’s critical to them that they get the information as soon as possible; they don’t have the luxury of tinkering around on the internet for weeks and months in search of free answers.

I have not yet found a way to actually calculate desperation. This is something you’ll have to use your judgment to determine. Put yourself in the place of a person searching for the keywords on your list. Are they absolutely desperate to find a solution to their problem?

If they are, you may have a profitable niche.

Tying it all Together

If you made it this far and ruled out all the keywords on your original list, then congratulations! You just saved yourself months of effort and heartache. You won’t spend your time and money building a site that can’t make money. Your next step is to go back to the beginning and brainstorm a totally different list of keywords.

If you made it this far, and still have a list, awesome! Now you have a list of related key words that all get traffic and have very little competition. They are used by people who are ready to spend money. The next step is to build a site.

Building the Site

It’s out of the scope of this article and indeed this blog to go into full detail about how to build an SEO optimized site that can get traffic, but I’ll provide an overview:

  • Choose a domain name that’s as short as possible and contains the exact keywords you want to rank for
  • Make sure the Title attributes of each page contain the exact keyword you want that page to rank for
  • Make sure each page uses H1 headers with the exact keyword you want to rank for
  • Make sure the content on each page is extremely relevant to the keyword you want to rank for

And the final, extremely important step:

Get tons of relevant backlinks. Backlinks are just links from other websites going to your page. Backlinks tell search engines that your page is valuable. Getting them is a lot of work.

You could try Pat Flynn’s comprehensive Backlinking strategy. His way works. It will also take you countless hours, and you’ll spend a few hundred dollars on various pieces of software to make it happen, some of which are subscription services that you pay up to $75 per month for.

Alternatively, my friend Erica Douglass started a company called Whoosh Traffic, which builds hundreds of completely legitimate backlinks per month for you. It may seem a little expensive at first, but go read about the strategy I mentioned before, by Pat Flynn, which is a great strategy too.

Consider how much time and money you’re saving by letting someone else handle the backlinks, then consider that just an extra ten sales or so per month would make the service pay for itself. It’s an awesome deal, and Erica is a champ, she’ll take amazing care of you, and if she doesn’t, I’ll make her wash my car. She hates washing my car. Find out more about Erica’s service, Whoosh Traffic.

Wrap up

The next steps involve building and packaging a product, then sipping margaritas on the beach. But those are both advanced topics outside the scope of this article too 8)

What other questions about choosing a niche topic do you have? I want to make this the best article in the world on this topic, so let me know if I missed anything, and I’ll do my best to tell you the exact answer.

One Customer At A Time

Many of you have dreams of one day quitting your job and supporting yourself with your software, book, or other sales. If you’re reading this you are probably bright, creative, and ambitious, and you probably have a particular disease that’s endemic among online entrepreneurs. It’s a disease that holds you back from your real potential. It’s a disease that has a simple cure (although maybe not an easy one).

You think analytics are your customers. You think “sales” are an abstract thing you get from traffic.

You think clicks are people, but they aren’t. Every person who buys whatever you sell has a family, they have sheets that are a particular color, and a favorite flavor of ice cream.

They are individuals, and if you’re already to the point of having made sales, I bet you don’t know squat about any of them.

Here’s the power of knowing individuals:

Men’s Clothing in the 80s

My grandfather Don Klages owned a men’s clothing store in downtown Palo Alto called Wiedeman’s for many years*. In the 1980s he worked with a software company to build what may have been the first retail customer relationship management software, complete with a green text interface, and running on UNIX.

He was very clever to have been forward looking enough to have it built, but that’s not the point of this story.

The reason he built the software was to keep track of his customers’ details. Why hello Mr. Smith, you’re looking trim. It’s been, what? 7 months since I saw you? How is that blazer you got last time holding up? And how is your wife Delores?

He had a personalized relationship with thousands of customers. He knew their names, their spouse’s names, where their kids go to college, not to mention their clothing preferences and buying history. He knew all that even before he had the software, but the software allowed him to keep track of it even as his customer base grew.

The Wine Sale

Here’s an example of what becomes possible if you’re paying attention to your customers at that level of detail.

In 1988, when George H.W. Bush was inaugurated, he ordered a particular California chardonnay for the ceremony. Without missing a beat, my grandfather called the winery and ordered 50 cases of the same wine. (It would’ve been around $15 a bottle, but he bartered with clothing. That’s a lesson in itself.)

He then wrote a letter to his top 600 customers, which he could easily list using his software. The letter said thanks for being one of my best customers. As a gift, he had a free bottle of the fine chardonnay that Bush had ordered for his inauguration. All they had to do was come down to the store and claim it.

About 350 of those 600 customers did exactly that. They came, and they spent an average of $600 on new clothes when they showed up. For those of you keeping score so far, he gave away a little over $5,000 worth of wine, which he acquired for about $2,000 worth of clothing. He made about $210,000 on that promotion alone (nearly $400,000 in today’s dollars).

But the story isn’t over. Remember, my grandfather was keeping track.

The next year, he sent a letter out to those 350 customers who came. In it he thanked them for coming the previous year, and said he hoped they enjoyed the Chardonnay. And for being such great customers, he had bought them a bottle of Sauvignon blanc this year.

To the 250 that hadn’t come to claim their bottle the previous year, he also wrote a letter. It said that last year he offered them a bottle of wine for being such good customers, but he noticed they hadn’t come to claim it. He said he could only assume that they hadn’t come because they weren’t partial to Chardonnay, so this year he had bought them Sauvignon blanc instead, and to come pick up their free bottle at the store.

That round of letters got an even bigger response. The people who showed up the previous year were happy to show up again, and those who had not were shocked and delighted to know that their presence was missed, and they wondered how the hell he knew from a year ago that they hadn’t shown up.

He grossed over $300,000 for that promotion, which is well over half a million dollars in 2010 money, and he did it by spending a tiny fraction of that amount, and by paying attention to his individual customers.

One Customer At A Time

A couple hundred customers would allow most of you to quit your job. If you’re selling a subscription to your software for $15 a month, and you have bare minimum expenses of $3,000, then you only need 200 customers.

At that level, you don’t need to figure out how to “scale” or what kinds of promotions will bring massive traffic. What you need is to find people who are good fits for your offering, call them on the phone and sell it to them.

Instead of fretting over whether to spend money on Adwords, why don’t you spend a couple hours a day talking to people? If you get three people to sign up every week day, then you’ll go from 0 to 200 customers in about three months without any kind of additional promotion.

You sit behind a computer all day, and that’s fine for when you’re being creative, but if you want to get traction in your business, the best way to do it is to stand up, walk out of the room, and go talk to people. Individual people, who have families, hobbies, and bad hair days.

Don’t treat customers like analytics. They are people–talk to them, one at a time.

* For those of you in the Silicon Valley, he now rents the building to the Restoration Hardware on University.

Be Consistent To Be Successful

It’s relatively easy to be great. Most of “great” is just putting in the time and practice.

The factor that divides the successful from the average is not greatness.

It’s consistency.

No matter how busy or distracted or distraught you are, if you show up every day and do what you do, and you do it and do it and do it and do it, you will win.

Go do it.

Anchor in Data, not in Hope

Today I’ll highlight a fundamentally important point that I’ve mentioned a couple times before, but never emphasized as much as it needs to be emphasized.

This point could mean the difference between success and failure in anything you want to achieve. From financial independence to grassroots activism, if you don’t understand this, you will probably fail.

The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to grok because our brains just aren’t wired for it. I’ll tell you what it is, and more importantly, I’ll tell you how to beat it.

The Problem: Trajectories are Hard

I once told a little story about dogs who don’t have lasers in their brains. We’re good at using the imaginary lasers in our brains to figure out what a pointed finger might refer to, or how exactly we need to throw a spear to kill a boar in underbrush. Those are linear trajectories.

We’re not at all good at figuring out trajectories that aren’t linear. For example, the Richter scale, which is used to describe the power of an earthquake, is logarithmic. Is an earthquake that registers a 4.0 on the Richter scale twice as powerful as one registering 2.0? Four times more powerful? No, not even close! A 4.0 is 100 times more powerful than a 2.0. Your trajectory estimation software is useless for this.

Why the Problem Affects You

The problem affects you because it’s not only about earthquake magnitudes and wheat-related thought experiments.

  • It’s about how the audience for your blog grows.
  • It’s about how word spreads about your software service.
  • It’s about how revenue grows in your business.
  • It’s about how the time you spend learning and practicing doesn’t just make a you a little more competitive: it brings you into a whole different world of opportunities and experiences.

The problem is that our feeble brains have absolutely no sense of what to expect from any of these activities, and the dismal returns of a little effort belie the mind-blowing returns of that little effort continuously compounded.

The Solution: Anchor in Data, not Hope

In my case, I started a business that I wanted to support me passively. If I had relied my faulty trajectory software, I would’ve become discouraged and given up on the third month, when after putting in around 500 combined hours of effort, my wife and I earned a grand total of $130.67, roughly what I would have earned for one hour of software consulting.

I stuck with it because I had a secret weapon.

I was giddy about the $130 because we had calculated, using software designed for such things, how much money we should have been making, and we were way ahead. That it was peanuts didn’t actually matter, because I could see on the spreadsheet that the pile of peanuts would shortly turn into a mountain.

I could see on the spreadsheet that the pile of peanuts would shortly turn into a mountain

You can apply this to whatever you’re working on whether it’s selling books or getting users for your software.

People discourage themselves by generating a “hope” that becomes the anchor by which they judge their progress. They dream of selling thousands of books, or acquiring thousands of users. But they won’t do that right away, and they won’t know how long they should be patient, so they’ll probably just get discouraged and give up.

What you need to do instead is set your own expectations by deciding what a completely achievable first milestone is, then making an educated guess for the ones that follow.

For example, you may decide that this month you’re going to get your first paying customer, which is perfectly possible because if you only need one you can make it your full time job to go talk to people and convince them individually to sign up for your service. That one customer will let you know you’re on track and help you learn about what your market really needs from you.

Next month you decide you can use your knowledge from the first customer to get five new customers perhaps. You’ll have to use different tactics than you used to get your first customer, but five is very doable, and when you get seven instead you’ll be giddy, just like I was giddy with my $130 on month three.

You’ll know you’re ahead of the curve, you’ll know roughly how much revenue you’ll be making on month seven or month nine. And every month you’ll learn new things that put the next month’s goal easily within your grasp.

Generate a plan: I’ll get one customer this month, five the next, 25 the month after, 125 after that, and so on. And that trajectory that you calculate will work for you while you achieve traction.

Quick note about this method: at some point down the line this method will fail. In the example 125 users becomes almost 400,000 users in month nine and 2,000,000 users in month 10. That’s not going to happen because you will eventually find a plateau, probably around month 6 or 7 which have about 3,000 and 15,000 users respectively. But once you have those 3-15 thousand users you’ll also have lots of historical data to build a new and better estimate.

Here’s a graph. Notice it doesn’t even “blip” until month eight:

Don’t rely on your ill suited trajectory software to figure out how far along you should be. Generate expectations by doing a few simple calculations, and instead of being discouraged that you’re not at the peak of the mountain yet, you’ll be driven by the knowledge that you’re exactly where you should be on the journey to the top.

Techzing Panel with Rob Walling

Click Here to Listen to the Techzing Panel Discusion with Rob Walling →

I was on Techzing again with Jason, Justin, and this time the lovely and talented Mr. Rob Walling, of SoftwareByRob.com fame. We had a panel discussion which covered, among other topics:

  • Scaling a business using automation
  • Finding and managing freelancers
  • Building a content business versus building a software business
  • The value of growing an audience

Plus, you’ll find out more about what I’ve been up to with my publishing company in recent months.

If anyone is interested in a transcript of this show, like I did for the last show, leave me a comment. It’s a lot of work, but if people find it valuable, then I’d be happy to do it.

I hope you enjoy, let me know what you think!

Click Here to Listen to the Techzing Panel Discusion with Rob Walling →

Goal Mapping Alpha

It’s finally ready! As promised, the alpha version of my Goal Mapping software is ready.

For those of you who aren’t down with geek lingo, an “alpha version” is a complete piece of software, but it has only been tested by the developer (me), so it has loads of bugs, it’s probably ugly, and may not do everything that later version will do.

For those of you who didn’t have a chance to read my previous post about Goal Mapping, here’s a brief rundown:

Goal Mapping enables you to create a plan with concrete steps to go from where ever you are now to where ever you want to be. You create the map, then the software calculates the best path to reach your goal and tells you what your chances of success are.

I’m pumped to hear suggestions from people using this, but I’m really practicing what I preach with this release, because frankly I’m embarrassed of this software. I know it’s ugly, and I know it has bugs. What kind of a perfectionist am I!?

  • In particular, it’s not compatible with any version if Internet Explorer. The fix would have pushed the release of the software past today, and that was unacceptable to me.
  • It works on Windows in Firefox 3.5 and Chrome. It hasn’t been tested on a Mac, or in Opera, Safari, or any of the many lesser used browsers.
  • My immediate plans are on this ultra high tech to do list, and I’ll continue to update that list as I receive feedback. Over the next few weeks, you should see the software stabilize dramatically.

Instructions for using the software are built right into it, so without further adieu, I give you:

Goal Mapping, by Pete Michaud →

Planning Right? You’ll Fail.

Planning Right: The Problem

Imagining your future is usually right brained: your creative center generates a story for a future that could plausibly happen. It hits the highlights, and it puts magical arrows between them as if one event leads inexorably to the next. Get into MIT, start a successful company with your smart roommates, and retire early to a country that you can’t pronounce the name of.

But the arrows are wrong. They skip important chunks of the story, and you generated the whole thing backwards anyway.

It turns out that right brained planning uses the same cognitive process as creating a fictional story. When you generate the narrative that leads you from your present situation to your goal, your brain works backward, inventing events and circumstances that fit together like the plot of movie.

It’s a story that makes perfect sense: if you heard that it actually happened you would believe it. People go to MIT and get rich all the time, so we’re told.

But a story isn’t a plan, and the problem is that just because a story “makes sense” in retrospect doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen and it doesn’t mean you know how to make it happen.

Planning Left: The Solution

I was starting to get an inkling of this problem when I was still writing as Ken Sharpe. My plan to have a big exit for at least $2 million wasn’t really a plan at all: it was just a story.

To solve my problem I invented Goal Mapping*. A goal map is literally a map that contains the exact steps to get from where you are now to your goal. I started by simply making a flow chart:

Flowchart of Ken Sharpe's Goal

Click to Enlarge

Goal Maps have:

  • Boxes that represent events, actions, or goals.
  • Arrows pointing from one box to the next.
  • Box colors representing the influence you have over the events and actions on the map.
    • Green means you have control
    • Red means you have no control
    • Green with Red means you have some control
    • Yellow marks a goal node

Also notice:

  • There are multiple paths to the end goal, and the nodes are subjective. You can be as detailed or as general as you want, and you can add as many alternate paths as your creative mind can generate.
  • You should always prefer green paths over which you have a lot of control. If each step along your path is determined by outside forces, you are doomed to fail. If each step is firmly within your grasp, then you’re guaranteed to succeed.
  • There are events over which you have only partial control. You can see the green block that represents getting the infrastructure project working really well. It has a red outline—that was my way of saying that I have influence, but not direct control over that event. Those are better than red blocks, but not as good as green blocks.
  • It’s okay to admit that you don’t actually know the steps between one node an another. It’s very much to your advantage to mark the cloudy areas because those blocks are similar to red blocks in that you’re not sure what will happen in them. Without those blocks the connection between two events might look like smooth sailing, when it’s actually a quagmire.

If you know my story, you’ll recognize the path on the top of that flow chart as my original plan, and path going down the middle as very nearly what I ended up doing.

The act of making this flow chart forced me to create a plan out of my story. Here’s how it helped:

  • I used it to see the missing steps. The story went: “fix the company to become the CTO.” Fix what? How? How do I get a promotion after that?
  • I used it to see the improbability of the steps that were there. Even if I could become the CTO of the company, would I get stock options? Would they be enough? Would the company be bought or go public as I hoped? I had no way to know and no control over any of it!
  • I used it to generate contingency plans. When I saw how terrible my story was when it tried to be a plan, I generated other options that turned out to be better.
  • I was ahead of the game with a goal already in mind, but Goal Mapping can also help you set and work toward clear and explicit goals instead of floundering with only a notion of where you want to be.

Goal Mapping Software

It’s possible to build a goal map with any tool you want, including paper and a pencil. I created my original goal map above in an open source flow chart application called Dia. Anything can work, but I always wished there was software that:

  • Focused on making it easy to make nodes with text, instead of on crazy graphics and colors.
  • Colored the boxes based on how much control I had over the event, so I could visualize the probabilities in my map without tweaking individual boxes.
  • Told me what my best path was, based on the map I built. Bonus points if it could tell me my exact probability of success by taking that path.

No software like that existed. Now it does.

Barely Visible Screen Capture, Tah dah!

Building a goal map used to be a cumbersome process, but in the next week I’ll release an early version of the goal mapping software I’ve been building over the last two weeks. It’s free and web based, so there’s nothing to buy or download. I’ll give you the link, you’ll build a goal map.

It’s useful in its current state, but I’m hoping to get feedback from those who use it so I can make a tool that will stand the test of time as an intuitive and useful way to plan for the future.

Exciting things are coming up!

UPDATE: My Goal Mapping has been released! Check out this post for details.


* I’m aware that Brian Mayne of Lift International has something called Goal Mapping also. It’s not the same thing. I didn’t know about Brian when I originally created the technique years ago, and I agonized over what to change the name to now, but in the end the name is just too perfect: it’s literally a map you follow to the goals you set. It’s a goal map. What else could it be?

Pete Michaud Techzing Interview Transcript

This is a transcript from the interview I did recently with Justin and Jason at Techzing.

If you want to listen to the audio instead of reading, click here.

Enjoy!

Table of Contents

Justin Vincent: Just before we get into this episode of Techzing, I just want to give a little bit of background about Pete Michaud; and why this is such an interesting episode to listen to. At the age of seven, Pete was playing in the driveway and a horrible accident happened. A car was reversing out and actually ran him over, in fact, it was an Isuzu trooper that actually ran over his head and crushed his skull. He died and was taken to the hospital and the doctors then revived him, brought him back to life.

For the next thirteen years, he worked with a surgeon, who much of that time worked pro bono; rebuilding Pete’s skull and face. And at that age of seven, Pete had the kind of realization that someone may have when they’re 45 and they get cancer: they realize that life really is for living. But Pete had that at seven.

So Pete, who’s now 25, is married with two kids and is financially free. And he puts his good fortune down to this realization that he have when he was seven. Another interesting thing about Pete is that he majored in statistics. So, a combination of statistics, no fear and really going for what he wanted is how he retired by the age of twenty-five. And that’s what this interview is about.

Welcome to techzing 38, hosted by myself, Justin Vincent and Jason Roberts. And today we have special guest with us, Pete Michaud; the chameleon of tech. He started his online career as Ken Sharp, a lot like David Bowie, has had an alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. But more recently, he is actually an extremely well for himself and retired at the age of 25. Jason, I know that you found Pete Michaud in his essays, so maybe you’d like to do a little bit more of an intro there.

Jason Roberts: Yes, I guess the essay that caught my attention was “How I retired at age 25”. But after reading it; I realized that I had read almost all of his essays; almost all of them had appeared on the front page of Hacker News at one point or another.

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: At least, a lot of the more recent ones; and I realized they were all really interesting and that’s why I thought it would be a good idea that I’d get Pete on the show and to talk a little more with him about it. So, for starters Pete, why don’t you just give us a little bit of background on who you are and what you do and everything because at least from my point of view, you are an essayist, right? Your stuff that shows up on Hacker News.

Pete Michaud: Yeah.

Jason Roberts: You have some kind of a background in software development but beyond that, I don’t know too much about you.

Pete Michaud: That’s a difficult question really because, I guess Justin put it correctly, when he said that I’m kind of a chameleon. I don’t like to pigeonhole myself too much. But yes, I have had a career in software development. I’ve worked for big companies, and tiny companies, and medium-sized companies as a developer and architect also.

What I realized, I guess about a year ago is that, despite having done that, and despite being pretty good at it, I never really intended to do that and I didn’t really enjoy it that much. Because the reality is that, when you’re a developer, most of your time isn’t spent on development. Most of your time is spent with nonsense, with politics and with specs in dealing with clients both internal and external and all that; so, I stopped doing that.

Justin Vincent: That’s certainly the case the large kind of companies that you’re talking about, definitely.

Pete Michaud: Right, right; and even in smaller companies. When I was eighteen, with a partner, I founded sort of a boutique development company called Harbor Blue Group. And we were just kind of bogged down with small clients that wanted the world and didn’t really want to pay for it. And most of my time was spent dealing with clients, dealing with subcontractors that weren’t really doing what they were supposed to do. It took a lot of the joy and creativity out of programming.

So, I stopped. I stopped and I began doing things more for the love of doing them. One of the things that I’ve always loved doing is writing. I can’t say that I’ve always been particularly good at it but I’ve always had a passion for it. So, I’ve done it a lot. And I think I’ve had enough practice to start making cogent points when I can muster the creative energy to do so.

Jason Roberts: But you, you’ve been recently been writing quite a number of these essays. I was looking through them and they’re not just commentary like “what’s the latest programming language trick” or something, I mean you’re really putting some great ideas and writing some in-depth stuff. It kind of reminds me of Paul Graham. He has things he’s thinking about and really spent sometime on trying to figure out, what he’s thinking, puts it down on paper and you know, essentially he is an essayist, he’s not just a blogger.

Justin Vincent: Except that Pete’s seems to have almost a spiritual bent to some of the stuff that he writes, which is kind of interesting.

Pete Michaud: I think that’s pretty accurate actually—I mean, it’s complex. I have problems with the concept—there are essays to this effect too—but I have problems with the concept of supernatural as such.

Justin Vincent: Right.

Pete Michaud: But there’s something that I’ve always thought a lot about is what are the deeper realities that our limited perception can’t really fathom. Even the more mundane or more grounded essays that I write have to do with looking behind the curtain and seeing the inner machinations of the structures that we interact with, on a day to day basis. Both our brains, which are complicated, and our social structures… and our businesses and our motivations and all that stuff, they’re quiet complicated in the same sense that the universe is complicated in terms of physics and that sort of thing. So, it’s kind of a unifying factor in my writing.

Justin Vincent: It seems to me that you’re interested in, in almost hacking the human psyche a lot like NLP. Are you familiar with the NLP concept?

Pete Michaud: Yeah.

Justin Vincent: Yes?

Pete Michaud: Neuro-linguistic programming, yeah.

Justin Vincent: Yeah, so this is the type of thing that from your essays, it seems to me that really interests you. And then, with those psyche hacks, it’s about improving one’s life, improving one’s wealth and I guess desires as well. I mean —

Pete Michaud: Right.

Justin Vincent: Some of those essays are very interesting.

Jason Roberts: Yeah like what “Fear and Freedom” was a lot about that right? You talk about things that causes problems like Sunk Cost Fallacy, Loss Aversion Bias which are things that Justin and I talk about periodically. Because they definitely affect, say, doing a start up or launching software. All these cognitive biases that we have that kind of screw with our ability to act rationally.

Pete Michaud: Right, right. And I guess the core difficulty is identifying what you want to be doing in the first place, and what you should be doing in an ethical sense. And then even if you’ve figured out, how do you go about making that happen? And you’ve got all this whole quagmire of bugs in your brain that prevent you from breaking out and doing the things that you actually want to do and, maybe not “ensure”, but push you toward living a life that has been prescribed to you implicitly by your environment. And I want to break people out of that.

Jason Roberts: So, before we get too deep on that angle, one thing I’d like to, maybe get started with is the essay, How I Retired at Age 25.

Pete Michaud: Okay.

Jason Roberts: Because I think that story might serve as an anchor to all these other ideas.

Pete Michaud: Yeah.

Jason Roberts: Because it seems to me that your ability to succeed and to reach financial independence and gain control of your life in that way, gives you the confidence and also experiential background to write down some of these ideas.

Pete Michaud: Well not only that but the time also. I’ve been thinking about starting my site with all the essays on it for years, and I just never have had the creative energy to do everything that I was doing and that. So, it’s another aspect.

Jason Roberts: So, yes, tell us about that. So why don’t you tell us the story and then we’ll go from there.

Pete Michaud: The story of my retirement?

Jason Roberts: Yeah! How did it go? I mean in the essay you talked a little bit about how you always thought that success for you or gate reaching sort of a financial independence would be through building some kind of amazingly cool software and executing it and maybe flipping it or whatever and then –

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: But it didn’t turn out that way at all. It was actually something more mundane and more almost repeatable than you had originally thought.

Pete Michaud: Right. Exactly, I had this concept even right up until, months after Ken Sharpe which – just a little background, I know you’d mentioned Ken Sharpe. Ken Sharpe was the pseudonym of mine when I went to work as an architect for a medium-sized software company. I knew that my basic plan was to get into the company, which I knew had problems, and fix the company in order to make it saleable. So that there could be a big exit and some point in there I wanted to get in on that big exit and that was my plan. And in retrospect, it was a pretty dumb plan but that was going on in my mind and so I blogged about it.

That was always kind of my outlook. I knew that, for example, at that time I wanted $2 million in the bank. Because I figured $2 million was basically enough to live on without touching the principle if I lived very modestly. So that was the benchmark of success that I wanted to achieve. And I’d always, like you said, approached it as though I needed to hit a home run; a fast home run.

My time horizon was 25 originally. Starting out when I was eighteen saying to myself, listen, I want to be able to do whatever it is that I want to do by the time I’m 25. And if I don’t do that, I will have let myself down and failed and my goal, I guess because –

Jason Roberts: That’s a pretty high bar cause even the most aggressive people would say “I want to be a millionaire by the time I’m thirty,” and that even sometimes sounds kind of ridiculously optimistic. But 25, that’s pretty aggressive.

Pete Michaud: Yeah. I’m a pretty ridiculously optimistic person and –

Jason Roberts: I like it! I like it!

one of the most important things of being an entrepreneur is to be stupidly optimistic

Justin Vincent: To be honest, that’s one of the most important things of being an entrepreneur is to be stupidly optimistic.

Pete Michaud: Exactly. Just keep that naivety. It’s important; because otherwise you never get started. You start thinking about the numbers and the probabilities and you just give up. What I learned is that those home runs, they seem to happen more often that they really do and that’s another bias and it’s—I think, actually there’s a technical term, I think it’s “Availability Bias”. But the bias, basically is that we see the successful companies in the media, but not the unsuccessful ones.

There are all these Twitters and Facebooks and Zuckerbergs and you know, Farmvilles and all these hyper successful ventures. And it seems like more ventures than not create these superstar 37signals type Cinderella stories that you start from nothing and all of a sudden, overnight you’re great and everyone knows about you. But that’s not only accurate, even for most of the ventures that I just mentioned, even though that’s kind of the mythology around them. But it’s not at all accurate for the general marketplace. For most people, you’ve never heard of them, and you never will hear of them. Because hitting it out of the park is a combination of skill, and talent, and your network, and a lot of luck.

Justin Vincent: Well you’re certainly right about the fact that there are, I mean hundreds of thousands of internet millionaires that we have no idea about. Who make money through releasing content-based membership sites or various different affiliates systems and things like that. So yeah, I mean—

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: Also even that, but just even software development, even a lot of very successful web apps, software companies are small and—

Justin Vincent: Yeah, exactly, like Central Desktop for example—

Jason Roberts: Yeah. I mean they’re much more successful than quite a number of the, I guess sort of web famous entrepreneurs. And they did it primarily without any type of investment and yeah, they are very, very successful. And, but there are a lot – I mean, you can even have less success than them. I mean they have thirty full time employees or whatever it is–

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: So you can earn significantly less revenue, and be significantly less profitable than they are and still be very successful. But you’re right, nobody’s going to hear— – you’re not going to hear about these people. They’re not going to be interviewed on a show or written about in TechCrunch or whatever, so—

Pete Michaud: Well I started thinking about that and thinking—because I am interested in things like biases and brain hacks—I started really getting comfortable with the idea that my notion that I was going to hit some kind of home run somehow and have a big exit was not necessarily realistic. And it’s not necessarily the easiest way to go about what I wanted. Which wasn’t actually $2 million in the bank; it was actually freedom, it was actually the cash flow to organize my life in whatever way I wanted to. Which I have achieved now and it was very mundane, it was starting content blogs and identifying niches that really didn’t have much in them or what was there was scammy or incorrect. And so just addressing that and feeling my way along to self published books and that sort of thing; it turned out to be pretty easy. And it’s a process that didn’t require home run, it doesn’t require a big league venture capital firm to notice you or anything like that, it just required a little patience and some research.

Jason Roberts: Okay so let’s hear their actual specific story of what happened. Your wife was writing a book about, was it Reactive Hypoglycemia or something? Is that right?

Pete Michaud: Right. Reactive Hypoglycemia.

Jason Roberts: Because she suffered from that and she wanted to write – she was doing some research or she decided just to write it down and maybe she’d be able to share with some people on the web. Is that it?

Pete Michaud: Yeah, essentially—it actually didn’t happen in that order. She had been researching it for her own purposes, had noticed that all the information or most of the information out there was crap. And then she decided she was going to start a blog and try to make money with it. And she doesn’t have a background in technology but she does have a background in writing, she is also an academic. She teaches math at a local university here and that means that she has the training to read, and also access to academic data bases. So, instead of relying on google-fu to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong; you know, in terms of what’s out there about reactive hypoglycemia. She was able to gather all the primary sources and really figure out what we knew and what we didn’t know. And that’s how it started.

Jason Roberts: And that was in a blog format? Is what she started with?

Pete Michaud: Yeah that’s it. It’s still up, it’s ReactiveHypoglycemia.info.

Justin Vincent: What’s the primary revenue driver? Is it the Adsense or is it the sales of the e-book?

Pete Michaud: Definitely the books. Definitely the books. We have a dashboard that I created over the last six months or so. And 80% of our revenue comes from books and in that 80% is both e-books that we sell directly and Amazon also; self-published books on Amazon.

Justin Vincent: I see. So you’re self-publishing books on Amazon.

Pete Michaud: Correct.

Jason Roberts: You know, these are e-books or are these actual paperback books or either or both?

Pete Michaud: We have, let me think; we have a couple books that are both, we have some books that are only on Amazon and we have, I believe one book——no I take that back, now all our books are both on Amazon, all our e-books are also on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble also.

Justin Vincent: I can really understand why people buy those books. I mean for example, recently I suffered from some bad acid reflux. And I was googling about it, and you’ll see these ads on the sides that say, well check out the all natural cure to acid reflux. And then you’re going to the site and it will give you information and say look, you don’t need to go to a doctor we’ll just tell you how to eat differently.

Pete Michaud: Right.

Justin Vincent: I’ve got some good information on the, the e-books is going to cost 39 – 20 bucks or something like that. You know, when you have an issue like that, and you know it’s just a 20-buck gamble. It’s easy for me to make a decision to buy that book.

Pete Michaud: Right.

Justin Vincent: So, I can see really how that works.

Pete Michaud: Yeah, actually you touched on something that’s important. We weren’t this analytical about it when we first begun like I said; reactive hypoglycemia just sort of fell into our lap. But one thing that we’ve noticed about the books that have sold well versus the books that haven’t, is how desperate people are for the information. So with acid reflux, you’re in pain, you need a solution, you need a sooner rather than later; and so maybe you’re compelled to buy it. But if you’re not desperate for the information, then you think well, I just keep googling it.

So, there’s a book that we have, called Tietze’s Syndrome and that’s one that’s pretty popular, and the reason is that Tietze’s syndrome is a type of arthritis that occurs in the rib cage and it’s excruciatingly painful, especially at first. It’s from a virus, primarily, and if you catch it, you feel like you’re having a heart attack for about three weeks. And then, it lasts essentially forever after that, it gets better and better. But it still flares up and people are desperate, because they’re in this excruciating pain, and it’s not a well-known disorder, so doctors don’t really have much information for you unless you know exactly the right doctor to go to.

So, we have this book and we explained the symptoms and say we have the answer. We know what to do about it and its true, and the answer that we give really works. And you know, I want to throw this in here, one thing that people– I get questions a lot, when I’m just talking to people online about this, is people don’t understand why someone would purchase a book, when most of the information from the book is on your site. So, in the case of Tietze’s Syndrome, most of the information in the book is on the site. You don’t need to pay for it.

I think people who ask me that, don’t really understand the value that customers put in compiling the information and having it in a format that they can grab anytime and is organized in a concise way. You don’t have multiple sites all over google, of variable quality, competing to tell you contradictory things. You have a source of information that’s in your hands, put it on your bookshelf, you can grab it whenever you’re in pain or whenever you’re making a plan to stop being in pain. And it’s there and people find a lot of comfort in that and we don’t hide the fact that most of the information is on the site. That’s not really what we’re selling.

Jason Roberts: Well you know, it’s funny because, I think I heard a quote recently, I kind of read this or heard of this, said that in a – when I check my newspaper and said, people never paid for information they pay for distribution.

Pete Michaud: Exactly.

Jason Roberts: So in its sense—

Pete Michaud: Editorial control also—

Jason Roberts: Okay.

Pete Michaud: sort of a filter—

Jason Roberts: Right.

Pete Michaud: Sort of the same sense that Hacker News is a filter for people who are interested in programming and start up culture, we can rely on the community to tell us what’s important. It’s the same thing—our customers rely on us, to tell us what’s important about whatever the topic is like Tietze’s Syndrome or Reactive Hypoglycemia; whatever the case is.

Jason Roberts: Okay. Let’s get back to the story. Because I think the story, how would they call it—is really an illustrative of a lot of things; and I think we’re kind of jumping ahead and talking a little bit about why it worked. But let’s just see how it became. So your wife started doing research, want to start a blog and then what happened?

Pete Michaud: Well, first I set it up for her because I’m a programmer specialized in the web so it’s no problem for me to set up a blog. I set it up but it wasn’t something that I was really involved intimately with. I, you know, look over her articles for typos and that sort of thing and keep the blog up to date. But meanwhile, I’m working on a contract, a programming contract that’s paying the bills and she’s making, you know, two or three figures a month. Maybe a $100.00 or $250.00 or what have you; so it’s not really something that I’m paying close attention to. I’m hopeful for her and she’s having a good time doing it. But because my mind set was “where’s the next home run coming from? Where’s the next deal coming from?” I’m not even thinking about whether these blogs can make me independently wealthy, it’s not—

Jason Roberts: Right.

Pete Michaud: even on my radar. So, essentially what happened is, she’s growing and she’s doing pretty well at it. And one day, as I’m thinking about—like I said, I have this contract and working from home, it’s a very cushy contract but I hate it. And I guess the reason I hate it is that I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. When I took it I expect – it was a very, very small company and I expected maybe the company would take off (again the whole mythology about a stratospheric rise and exit or whatever). That wasn’t happening and it was clear to me that it wasn’t going to happen. So, I wasn’t enjoying it, I was thinking about quitting but I was afraid to quit because it’s what was paying the bills and what I do if I didn’t have it, I have to you know, eat into savings or go onto the credit card eventually, and I don’t want to be in that situation. But my hand was forced one day, my client or boss or whatever, came to my house with his wife and said: It’s over. Our company is about to tank we’ll probably have to sell our house and we can’t pay you anymore. So that was my two-week notice. He said we have enough to pay you for another week, and that’s it. And then we’re done. So, at that point, I had to do something, I had to think, okay so, do I go get another job at Acme Corp? Because I mean I have a decent resume and I interview well so I can easily get another job at Acme Corp.

Jason Roberts: How old were you at that time?

Pete Michaud: At this moment, I was 24 when this happened.

Jason Roberts: How old are you now?

Pete Michaud: 25 right now.

Jason Roberts: Wow, okay. So this is all very recent. Okay, so you say you’re 25 you’re like I retired like last Thursday.

Pete Michaud: Yeah, well. A couple of months ago, right.

Jason Roberts: Okay.

Pete Michaud: So I was considering what to do. Whether to get a job or whether to try to get in on the ground floor of a start up or what. And one day, my wife Steph said to me, listen, I have all these ideas and I’m meeting all my goals but I feel overwhelmed. I mean, I can’t continue at this pace on my own because I don’t really know what I’m doing technically. I need you as an editor, I need you as a designer also because I do all the type setting of the books and the covers and what have you. And it would be much, much better if you came on board and did this with me full time. And I’ll write and research and you optimize and market and we’ll have a few months run way to do that. And if our projections are correct, which they had been so far, then we’ll be fine. By the end of our run way, we’ll take an off.

Jason Roberts: Wait a minute wait, so at that time you’re only making with? $200 or $300 a month?

Pete Michaud: Right. On the blogs. Correct.

Justin Vincent: So what was your projection? Where did it end? And how close were you tracking to your projections and all that kind of –

Pete Michaud: What we did was the very first month the goal was $10.00 and then, our thought was—

Jason Roberts: I like it, at one sense he’s incredibly ambitious in that sense he’s very, like you know, modest. Like look, ten bucks, it’s a good start right?

Pete Michaud: Exactly.

Jason Roberts: Better than—

Pete Michaud: Exactly. And our idea was, we can double it every month. Because if we made $10 one month, in thirty days, my wife and I are pretty bright; we can come up with a way to make $20.00 instead of just $10.00.

Jason Roberts: Right.

Pete Michaud: And after two months of that, we can definitely come up with a way to make $40.00 instead of just $20.00, and so on and so forth. So what we did was we created an excel spreadsheet, pretty low tech stuff, and we projected. We put the first month down and we made our goal $10.00 and we just projected on outward and until it was in outlandish territory like a million dollars a month or what have you. And we knew that it would plateau at some unknown point but we were confident, because we have fairly modest living expenses, that the plateau would be much further after our living expenses which were about $5,000.00

Jason Roberts: Where in the country do you live in? Where $5,000.00 is actually livable for two people?

Justin Vincent : Kids? Do you have kids?

Pete Michaud: Yeah. We have two kids. We have two kids actually and $5,000.00 a month is plenty actually. We live in Jacksonville, Florida. And Jacksonville is a very, very low cost of living.

Justin Vincent: Right.

Pete Michaud: And that’s part of the reason we stayed here even though it’s not our favorite place and neither of us are from here. We stayed here partially because the cost of living is so low.

Jason Roberts: Right, which you hear about Florida about being a very inexpensive place. Cause in California, $5,000.00 a month per family?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: It’d be really brutal.

Pete Michaud: Right, that’s poverty line kind of stuff. But $5,000.00 a month is fine. It’s fine. I mean it’s not a lot but it’s perfectly fine. It’s enough to pay our mortgage and our outlandishly high utility bill because we live in an old house and it’s hot. But it’s really not bad at all. So $5,000.00 a month is all we needed as a base line and anything on top of that is great. It’s savings, it’s travel, whatever we want.

Jason Roberts: Right.

Pete Michaud: And so up until that point, Steph had been shattering the records. The first month, she made like twelve or thirteen bucks which was fine. But every month after that it seemed to – the multiplier was like five or something: the next month was $50.00 instead of $20.00. And so the month that she proposed this to me; I was at, I think I was at 250 or she was at 250, give or take. And she should have been, like 80. And so we were optimistic, maybe naively optimistic about it but I mean that’s part of most of the stories here.

Jason Roberts: Yeah, well I’m just saying that to take a job from making, I mean working as a software consultant which I imagine you’re making a pretty good income. And say hey, we’re going to take this $250.00 a month deal you’re got going on here and we’re going to magnify at times, you know, 20.

Jason Roberts: I mean that’s taking a big leap there.

Pete Michaud: Yes.

Jason Roberts: One thing to say is, hey, I will work on this with you for a month or two while I’m looking for another contract.

Pete Michaud: Yeah.

Jason Roberts: But you just say, hey we’re just going to go into this and see what happens. Unless you had, say six months or a year worth of savings in which case you’re like ahhhh you know what we got a few months but if it doesn’t pick up, we’ve got plenty of room I can still look for a job.

Justin Vincent: I certainly couldn’t convince my wife to do that.

Jason Roberts: Like what were you thinking at that time? Were you kind of thinking we’re going to do this? Or you’re just thinking oh well you know, I’m going to help her out when I know at the back of my mind I’ll probably look at something in a couple of months.

Pete Michaud: I was thinking that we’re going to do this. And I know that it’s crazy from the outside looking in. But I think the key is that we kept, pretty good metrics about what we were doing. For example each individual book was selling on Amazon, how much we were making on books on average and what niches were doing well and what niches weren’t. And I think part of the reason for our optimism was that we had a pretty good handle on how we could get, not from 250 to $50,000 a month but from 250 to $500.00 a month. And because we had a good handle on how to get from step to step to step, we were optimistic that we wouldn’t stumble on any given step.

Jason Roberts: Baby steps basically.

Pete Michaud: Exactly. Every month we’ve learned something new that would allow us to double our money. And we weren’t shooting in the dark at that point. I mean at that point we were shooting more on the dark than we are now. But we felt like we had some control over the activities that we could actually do to make money; and whether they were long term investments that would pay off.

I use the term “long term” loosely because what I mean is say three months down the road instead of tomorrow. Like an e-book sale through Google Checkout, we can get the money in two days. So whenever—we have a special inbox that we get all our sales data through—and whenever we get a new transaction in there, we know that in two days that money will be in our account. So $30.00 or $40.00 whatever e-book is sold and—

Justin Vincent: One thing I just want to say is, the use of the term “retired,” is a pretty loose use of that term because, truth is, you’re not actually retiring because you are going to keep on trying to build your publishing empire and you are going to keep trying to building revenue. But it’s just that it’s not really, really hard work like it might be running a start up or something like that.

Pete Michaud: Yeah, I think that’s accurate. I think what retired in this sense means is that I could stop working. I could just let it be a lifestyle business and work if I want on a couple of hours a month. I thought a lot about this before I published my “How I Retired at 25,” because I knew it would be kind of inflammatory and some people would question my definition of retire. But I really reflected on what constitutes retirement. Is it a large nest egg? And if so, does that rule out pensioners and people who rely on a fixed income from Social Security and Medicaid, or what have you? I’d say no, those people are retired because they have enough money to cover their expenses and they don’t have to work.

And the other aspect is how secure is this stuff? And from the outside, you know, a few e-books and some blogs sounds extraordinarily insecure. And I realize that, but I’m quite confident that it’s not because we don’t have a single point of failure. Our websites rollover onto a different server, should the first one go down, so web traffic isn’t a problem. We get a spread of traffic from various search engines, not just Google. We make a substantial portion of our revenue through—what I should say is our revenue streams are very diversified. So there’s no revenue stream that makes more say 20%.

Justin Vincent: Do you use some PPC or is it just organic search?

Pete Michaud: So far it’s all been organic search and we’ve been sort of poking around with PPC and actually talking to experts in that field. But no, we haven’t done that so far, nothing that we’ve done has relied on outlay for advertisement.

Jason Roberts: I want to go back and say a couple of things if you don’t mind. The first is that, your approach to this is kind of like the approach of writing software, I think. Which is that, you have a sense of what you want this software to be or do. And so you just start working on it right. You can’t spec the whole thing out really. You have it in your head, and say let’s just get from A to B right? You get that, and I think it almost seem like that framework of software development unless they played some part of your framework for how to build this business.

Pete Michaud: Yeah, absolutely. I’m nodding along as you were saying that because that’s exactly what it’s like. And there’s a strong element of refactoring in that also.

Jason Roberts: Right, it’s an iterative approach. It’s get something and then learn from what you get. You do some stuff, you work for a couple of weeks, you take a step back up and say okay, are we making any money? Is this working? Do we see any future in this? And then you just go back and give another iteration.

Pete Michaud: Yeah. That’s exactly right. I mean initially we had no idea that we were going to sell books. We just thought blogs and Adsense and the normal thing. But I mean Adsense, never really paid that much for us. And like I said about 20% is from ads and affiliate links and stuff but it really doesn’t add up to that much, it’s mostly the books. So we didn’t figure that out until maybe month three.

So, you’re right. You’re completely right. It’s completely iterative and I don’t know what December is going to look like. But I do have an idea of how I’m going to get from this month and I’m going to double my money. And I guess I should throw in there, just to make people not too optimistic about this, is that, the doubling every month stopped in December and actually our multiplier is more like 1.8. So—

Jason Roberts :Wait, wait, wait, back up. 1.8 what? Month to month?

Pete Michaud: Right. Instead of doubling, it’s whatever we made last month times 1.8.

Justin Vincent: He’s saying like a 180% rather than 200%.

Jason Roberts: That’s still. That’s still.

Justin Vincent: Yeah it’s amazing. I mean 10% growth is considered fantastic. And you’ve got, you know, 180% growth so—

Jason Roberts: And I think the first month. Your wife worked on this for a couple of months, or few months, by herself, and you jumped on and what month was that?

Pete Michaud: Ahhh. I’d have to look It up. She started in the summer.

Jason Roberts: Okay, so this is like last year?

Pete Michaud: Yeah, about a little less than a year ago.

Justin Vincent: Is your approach one of multiple revenue trickles? Which all combine to make it revenue stream; much like the way water coming from the mountain, when the snow melts all kind of traces trickles then turns into a river.

Pete Michaud: I think that’s pretty accurate. And I mean that’s not to say that we don’t identify the trickles that are stronger than the others or identify the trickles that could be made stronger because we do. But, yeah, I think that’s a big part of the stability of the income is not relying on any one thing, any one product or any one channel to provide, you know to pay the mortgage. Because if, if something crazy happened like God descended to the earth and deleted every instance of our statistics textbook for example; we have one of those. He deleted every instance of it from every computer in the world and it just didn’t exist anymore then it wouldn’t matter. Because we make good money from that but it wouldn’t be crippling to lose that completely. If Google blacklisted every site that we have, all at one time, it wouldn’t be crippling to us. If Amazon delisted every single book we had that wouldn’t be crippling to us either so –

Jason Roberts: Yeah, so you’re very diversified. So it’s almost better than get all your money and you sold some stock of your company, put a couple million dollar check in the bank and you know, place it in some secure, mutual fund or whatever, cause as we all know, that stuff can get hit. Or even –

Pete Michaud: Exactly.

Jason Roberts: You know, even if you put it in the bank, it’s like you could see hyper inflation, almost all and your wealth evaporate before your eyes.

Pete Michaud: You’re right. And the fact is that if I had succeeded in my Ken Sharpe quest and somehow despite it being a stupid idea, somehow I got the piece of the pie, I fixed the company and we had a big exit, and I made my $2 million dollars or however much. If I had done that, in the time frame that I was doing that, I would’ve lost, if not all of it, most of it in the crash.

Jason Roberts: Right.

Justin Vincent: So Pete, what advice would you give to someone like me who is building my business which is tweetminer.net? I’ve been building it for the last five months and basically it’s a twitter productivity tool and ultimately it’s also kind of a twitter and a facebook productivity tool. So, I’m just really relying on that one business. That’s kind of my project. What advice would you give to me?

Pete Michaud: I would say to you first of all it’s not really my area of expertise. So take whatever I say with a grain of salt. First you need good metrics. Part of the reason that we, being my wife and I, knew what we were going to make at any given month, at any given week really, is that we were keeping track of the important metrics. Like sales volume, like net profit per book after transaction cost and advertising whatever. And I think that if you don’t keep track of your metrics and your goals for those metrics on an on going basis, then what happens is you get bogged down in details that don’t matter. Or you become frustrated and you’d get bored. Maybe have this idea that tweetminer needs 500,000 users and you have a thousand users and you’re not really sure how to make a thousand, five hundred thousand. And if you don’t have metrics that you can track and know where you are supposed to be at any given time, then it’s very discouraging and it’s difficult to know what to focus on.

Justin Vincent: That is exactly the problem that I face. It’s how do I turn my three thousand users to twenty thousand.

Pete Michaud: What I’d say to you is you need to track your users over time, like a traffic graph sort of, and you need to know how many users, not that you want ultimately, but you need to know how many users you want next week or next month. And you need to work for that goal.

Justin Vincent: Right.

Jason Roberts: Yeah. You know the baby step approach is a key thing to think about because otherwise it becomes an overwhelming prospect. And it’s like in anything, it’s a kind of thing like say hey, I want to loose 30 pounds right? I’m like saying oh my god, I just want to lose a pound in the first week, right?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: Right?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: I mean a pound, that’s what, 500 calories. Its 500 calories a day, okay I want to get on the treadmill for half hour and maybe cut off that extra bagel. You know.

Pete Michaud: Let me echo something that you just said. The 500 calories a day, 3500 calories a week is a pound, that’s important to know. Most people when they start out don’t know that. So they decide to lose ten pounds in a week without really researching and knowing what’s feasible. It was obvious to me based on my background that ten dollars could be made on a blog in a month. So that was a perfectly reasonable first month goal. And there’s never been a time that hasn’t been obvious to me what the goal should be and what the way to the goal is. And if you find yourself in the situation where you want to loose 30 pounds but you don’t even know what it’ll be like. You don’t know what to eat, you don’t know how to exercise, you don’t know how many calories that actually equals, you don’t have enough information to make a plan that has realistic milestones. You need that information; you need to know that 3500 calories is a pound.

Jason Roberts: Just a couple of questions. I’m about to forget these – I lost my pen and I don’t want to forget them, so let’s cover them before I lose them because I think they might be interesting.

On the whole weight loss thing, so about 2 years ago, I said I need to lose about fifteen, twenty pounds. I’ve always been a fit guy and somehow after we had a couple of kids, I noticed that my wife didn’t gain weight but I have. So I was like okay, well I want to drop 20 pounds and so I make an excel spreadsheet and I’m going to shoot for a pound and a half per week. And I weigh myself every Sunday morning and my basic plan was I was just going to burn 500 to 1000 calories a day. That was my plan. I wasn’t doing anything with the diet. I said, alright I’m just going to do this and it worked.

It’s interesting because the first time I tried trying to lose weight, I tried playing basketball a few more days a week or I’m trying to eat better, but it really wasn’t a plan. It really wasn’t repeatable. I was like, god, I’m not losing any weight but still I could play basketball or I’d play soccer but I’m not really losing weight. But like I said, there were no metrics, it wasn’t a repeatable process, just sort of random exercise.

So but then I said alright, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do 500 calories, it takes me 45 minutes or what it was I on the treadmill and then – I would say hey, I lost a pound and a half in another week, hey that’s 3 pounds you know, and there was 4 pounds. Then all of a sudden what happened was, now I could tell when I slacked off and didn’t do quite as many minutes on that treadmill versus more.

I could tell what was working right? That was then I knew input versus output. It became really clear, and what happened once I understood the inputs and the outputs and I saw the progress on the excel spreadsheet and the graph, it became empowered. I ‘m like oh I am now the master of this. Right? Before, you felt kind of helpless but you’re like god you know I don’t eat that badly I work out and I still feel like I’m 15, 20 pounds heavier than I want to be. You know, that’s just depressing.

Justin Vincent: Okay so, just on that—this is exactly how I feel about getting to 20,000 users. What we’d like – could we brainstorm here just to help me in my business, like how should I think about it? What should I think? Where can I get this 20,000 users from? And what steps should I take?

Pete Michaud: First, let me echo Jason and say your weight loss experience with your treadmill is exactly what my experience was like in building this business. And I think the key components are, you had a repeatable process, a thing that you actually do that you could explain to somebody in a sentence. I’m going to get on the treadmill and burn x calories per day. That’s the first thing. The second thing is—

Jason Roberts: Which by the way I just worked backwards I said, alright, you know seven days a week, 500 calories, 3500 calories that’s a pound right?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: So if I—anything above that will be more than a pound and that’s all I did right. It was a simple math, just try it.

Pete Michaud: Exactly. And the thing—your repeatable process was directly related to your goal. You know that If you are on that treadmill until the digital display says that you burned x calories; you know that at the end of the week you would’ve lost a pound and a half. It’s physics.

Jason Roberts: Right.

Pete Michaud: You know that there is a direct relationship there. You had a process; you know that that process was directly related to the metric that you chose, which was your weight. So, to you Justin, I’d say, if your metric is users, you need to know what the process is that actually brings in users. If you know the thing that actually brings in users—or the several things also because I know it’s a little more wishy washy than losing weight—but if you have an actual tangible activity that you could explain what you’re doing to somebody else.

Like one thing that we did early on when the stakes were smaller was to get people to a reactive hyperglycemia site. We knew we wanted traffic because traffic meant ad impressions and clicks and we wanted back links also. So what we did, we went around places like yahoo answers and we give these really detailed great responses that plugged our own site for people asking relevant questions because we knew that places like yahoo answers we’re going to bring in enough people to achieve our goals, our traffic goals for that moment. We weren’t thinking about 20,000 people, we wanted 10 people from this one post and we knew that if we made the post we’d get the 10 people and we could go from there once we had the 10 people. So my question to you Justin is what activities, what tangible activities bring in users?

Justin Vincent: Well, so far I would say that just about all of those users have come in through twitter like most of them, I mean I’ve tried a number of different things. I’ve been on the front page of entrepreneur.com which has you know, 80,000 uniques a day it just drove very, very little traffic. So I’ve done some PR stuff, if you type – I guess also I’m on 140.com which is like a review of twitter apps, you know, got quite a few reviews on that but once again, that doesn’t drive much traffic; it just seems to be twitter so far.

Pete Michaud: Is it like an 80/20 thing like the twitter is 80% and the rest of the stuff is 20?

Justin Vincent: Yeah. It’s just people basically saying, “I like tweetminer” on twitter.

Pete Michaud: Understood. When do they say that? How did they find out about tweetminer to begin with?

Justin Vincent: Well at first I set up an affiliate program and basically 40% of the 3,300… in fact, are you in front of the web right now?

Pete Michaud: Sure.

Justin Vincent: Just type in tweetminer.net/stats. tweetminer.net/stats. So you can see in the top line with the members there, about 40% of comments come from affiliates there. I ultimately made a decision not to go down the affiliate route for now and in the future because I think that it slightly brought a bad name to the product.

Pete Michaud: Because the affiliates are not the quality – it’s like too scammy for you?

Justin Vincent: It’s just that, I mean I’ve got mixed feelings about the affiliate world. Like on the one hand, I think the affiliate world is kind of good and I like the concept. But on the other hand, the kind of business that I want to turn tweetminer into is more of a start up. Like a traditional Silicon Valley type of start up. I know it’s not silicon valley but I don’t think that affiliate, you know the – you’ve real branding of affiliate marketing goes hand in hand with that type of company. So I kind of start to pull back; but plus also the margins are very low anyway for the current price points, so—and the kind of fees that affiliates need would kind of take away from it.

Pete Michaud: I have an observation for you.

Justin Vincent: Yeah. Sure.

Pete Michaud: When we first begun talking about this a couple of minutes ago your metric was people or users and I heard a hidden metric in there in what you were just saying, which was your net right? Your margin.

Justin Vincent: Yeah.

Pete Michaud: And so I think maybe right now – I guess you’re going for critical mass or maybe you don’t need critical mass for this service, but you’re going for a certain baseline of users that you hope you can rely on being there and building off of. And my thought is maybe you should focus on that. Maybe you should say affiliates are not a good long term strategy but right now, they make 40% of my users, they drive a lot of my traffic. And if it’s the kind of traffic that you want, then maybe you need to instead of cutting them off, you need to say, alright, right now it’s working. And it’s going to get me to my goal of 4,000 users next month.

Justin Vincent: Right.

Pete Michaud: Which is for example. And when I reach the goal of 12,000 users which should be in four months, I’m just making this up, then I will stop the affiliate program. And maybe what you’ll do is you won’t accept any new affiliates but your existing affiliates can continue until they all peter out.

Justin Vincent: Right.

Pete Michaud: And that way you’re achieving your goal of users and I know that you wouldn’t necessarily be achieving your margin goal. But maybe those goals are at odds and maybe your margin goals should wait. And the reason I’m saying that, is because that’s what we did. Most of our margin early on was eaten up by printing costs. We weren’t interested in or relying on any of the money that we were making early on because we were spending it on, you know, it was small enough early on that we – one month was practically like a domain name or hosting for that month or the cost of getting an ISBN for whatever book that we were making that month. So we didn’t care about that and if we focused on that we probably would have not bought a domain or not bought another website and that would have stagnated our growth. And the growth was our primary goal at that point. That make sense?

Justin Vincent: A lot of sense. What do you think Jason?

Jason Roberts: Yeah. I mean I think it does. I think I can make a couple of analogies. I’ve been dying to make one or two analogies. So let me go. Okay. These are all great ideas that’s why I think it’s so interesting. One is this, is that you must think that like an artificial intelligence machine wherein you have this algorithm that’s trying to learn something right?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: And if it’s an algorithm of learning something you have something to evaluate at success it’s called an objective function. Objectively rank and maybe it’s between zero and one, like how successful is this rank. And even if genetic algorithms have a little algorithms that are searching to space for the optimal set up parameters. Now one thing that they do at first is try values at random. It does random things, it searches randomly until you get some information right?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: So a lot of times the initial business is just a lot of random movement. It’s a random expenditure of energy; you’re looking for something, anything. You’re looking for some kind of success right? And then once you get something like ah-huh, we start goal, there’s something here, ten dollars right? Great.

Pete Michaud: You’re exactly right.

Jason Roberts: Now we’re in this area, let’s hone in on this area, let’s put some more of this energy in this area. We don’t commit ourselves everything, every bit of our energy is just exploding in that one area. But just a small amount and are more than you would randomly distributed. And then you say okay, we got more; and then you start learning. So is this all about a learning process like you said but you have to get up early for one, you have this great energy, you don’t do something you don’t get information back right?

Pete Michaud: You bet.

Jason Roberts: You have to do something to learn something about what’s going to work. And –

Peter Michaud: I guess that’s the concept of minimum viable product.

Jason Roberts: Exactly. That’s exactly; you have to do something because you can’t just read stuff in a book because that’s not really functional knowledge. It’s just some kind of awareness. But the second thing is these learning algorithms are not going to work if the objective function is not measuring what you want them to maximize right? If you’re trying to maximize some value, you need to be looking at the objective functions. It’s actually maximizing that value whether it’s just going to maximize something else. So you maximizing features in your product or you’re maximizing revenue or you’re maximizing users or you’re maximizing your own happiness– what do you try to maximize? So make sure whatever you’re maximizing, whatever your objective function is, that that’s what you’re working towards. And that’s what I think Pete is really trying to emphasize which is that know your objective function and make sure you’re getting the right data that the objective function can be accurate.

Pete Michaud: Yeah. You’re exactly right.

Jason Roberts: And the one other analogy that I want to make was about a friend of mine. I have spent a lot of my life working in the financial trading industry. And I’ve spent a lot of time building these artificially intelligent or at least automated algorithmic trading systems that would attempt to look for patterns in the market, short term patterns, seconds, minutes and buy or sell, make money short term.

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: It’s very interesting game, very technically challenging and interesting game, but one interesting conversation I had with a friend of mine who worked for a trading firm, they are very successful and this was back 2001-2002 -2003 era and I had a little start up. We were doing this automated trading stuff and we had—we’d done a lot of research and a lot of statistics and thought we saw some patterns. And I would usually talk to him and he’s like, yeah, you know Jason, you’re just doing the wrong thing. I’m not allowed to tell you what you should do but you’re not doing it right. And I was like, come on, give me something for you know—

Pete Michaud: At least point me in the right direction.

Jason Roberts: Yeah. He was like let me tell you, we make money every day. I’m like what? How is that possible? He was like we never lose money, we make money every day. We close out positions every day, there’s a bunch of traders and they were just making sick money – now they are well-known company because they’ve grown so successfully.

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: But one thing he kept saying is that and then later on, I got a little more insight. Like years after he left and he went off on his own and stuff, but he would say the first thing you do is you go out there and you start trading a little bit. You just get yourself in the market right. You’re buying and selling by hand, not necessarily building algorithms right. But you start and when you make money, you need to understand why did you make money right? Just because you buy Google now and then you sold it ten minutes later, you bought you know gold futures or whatever it was. It’s probably random right? You need to really look and start understanding at a small scale, so sort of that search algorithm right? You’re searching while just trying some random stuff like until you make money right?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: Can I do that again? What happened? Why did I make money? Understand it and the hardest part is getting to break even while you’re not losing money, right? Just making a fair amount and I was like when you start making a thousand dollars a day, it’s a lot easier to get to the point where we make ten grand a day, but it’s really hard to get to the point without blowing out to make a thousand dollars a day.

Justin Vincent: Okay, can I bring something in? So, I wanted to talk about something that you speak about in your essays is Creativitis?

Pete Michaud: Right. Yeah.

Justin Vincent: I think it’s something that Jason suffers from; because he has been working on this product for about a year now.

Jason Roberts: No, no, no come on. He’s like painting me out in the wrong – okay if you want to paint the picture just so you can make a point go ahead but then I’m going to correct it.

Justin Vincent: Well talk us through Creativitis and how you think it’s possible to overcome it.

Pete Michaud: You know I suffered from it and still suffer from it to some degree for a long time. It was kind of the bane of my existence because I was never satisfied working. Like when I worked in a corporation, you can never make anything for the love of it. Even if you make something that you feel is good enough, they always force you to make it crappier at some point and –

Justin Vincent: What is Creativitis?

Pete Michaud: Okay, so Creativitis is the disease of perfectionists. Which is that a creative person like a programmer, or an artist, or a writer will continue to work on whatever project they’re working on forever. The reason is that, whatever project they’re working on is never quite as good as they think it can be or their vision for it is, and so they never release anything. They never show anyone.

It’s like the cliché of the novelist. The hypothetical novelist who has his big novel and has been working on it for ten years; but has never shown anyone. He has never been published and probably will never be published. Because it’s just something that he’s tinkering away at. And not showing anyone and not offering it for critique, not writing a novel and throwing it away and starting a new novel based on what he’s learned. But just continuously hammering away at this piece of creative—this creative product that will never be done because nothing is ever going to be good enough. That’s Creativitis.

And the short answer is, there is no cure. Nothing will ever be good enough. But the trick is knowing that that’s okay. Because you don’t need things to be perfect; you need things to be passable. And I talk about this in the article that – inside of this all but my retirement article I say – the stuff that we were coming out with was crap. Like last summer we had a couple of sites, they all had crappy free themes and they weren’t optimized. The articles weren’t even edited, I mean I got to editing them a little later but they weren’t even edited really. So I had typos and there is no really cogent marketing strategy, there was no strategy for ad words cause you know we don’t have any idea what we were doing with ads, but we were trying it. And so everything about it was crappy, I was embarrassed to show people, especially with my background as a designer. And I don’t think I’m a good designer. I think I’m an okay designer. I can make passable designs and I knew this stuff is crap and Steph knew that her writing that was on these websites was crap. But our crap websites were still better than what was out there.

Justin Vincent: Right.

Pete Michaud: Right. Having them out there is better than keeping them locked up indefinitely until they’re perfect; cause they’re never going to be perfect. And furthermore, even if you could make them perfect, you never even – you would never know what perfect is until you get feedback. Because people ask questions about reactive hypoglycemia, so you could go off on this bizarre tangent that you think is really important but that no one cares about. It doesn’t ever bring any kind of traffic. It doesn’t ever convert to any sales. But you have no idea cause you’re tinkering away. You think you need something perfect but you don’t and that is Creativitis and the trick to overcome Creativitis is to – it’s cliché at this point—but it’s to release something like that you’re embarrassed of.

Jason Roberts: Okay let me say something about that because, you know since Justin just set me up. First thing—by the way Justin I’m going to release it into this Alpha this weekend. So I’m going to send it to 10—

Justin Vincent: I don’t believe it. You worked for me for five years and finally it’s going to—

Jason Roberts: Thirty years, 20 hours a day. It’s amazing. I’ve been working on it mostly since Septemberish you know, hour and a half a day.

Pete Michaud: Okay.

Jason Roberts: So, maybe a couple of hours a day, alright.

Justin Vincent: it was before September, he’s telling all his stuff—

Jason Roberts: Ah that was kind of a variation and we kind of changed a little bit, pivoted and looked for something a little different.

But anyway, the point is this. I was thinking about it and I was getting like okay I’ll release it. But then I started thinking like god, I may email 20 people, mostly friends of mine, a lot of them were technical entrepreneurs or some combination. And part of me was just like I don’t want to release it because I’m not going to blow them away. Right? I want them to have go wow, that is awesome. That is unbelie- that is so cool.

Instead I just could hear Justin go, well I don’t know. I don’t really do much you know. Which sucks right? Cause you know you’re going to hear that. I know I’m going to hear that from some of my friends, who’re like oh well, I mean you know, it doesn’t do that, you got to do this, it’s like I can hear myself: “I know! In fact it will in a week!”, or like one thing is frustrating hear people tell you is that things I should do which you already knew and you thought about you know 20 minutes after starting a project –

Pete Michaud: It’s totally frustrating and that’s part of Creativitis because you do want to blow everyone away and I think everyone who does creative work has this little inner prima donna that wants to be pet and told how awesome they are. And I think that’s natural. I think it’s part of the drive of creativity but—

Jason Roberts: So I’m forcing myself to like okay I’ve just got to realize that’s not going to happen – that it’s just not important right? It’s not important that in the first couple of weeks a lot of my friends are saying how awesome it is. What is most important is that I just get it up. Like alright great Jason, good thing you got it out there right?

Pete Michaud: But let me throw this in too, the reason you think that, part of the reason you think that, the reason you desire that is because you’ve seen that in you environment, in the media. And what I want to emphasize there is that it’s an illusion. This is an example that I like to use: Twitter became popular like a year ago maybe. And everyone was talking about Twitter and it’s such a big deal or what is it, and is it something or is it nothing, and will it make revenue, whatever. Everyone was talking about it and there was this big overnight success. But twitter was started in 2006. It’s like 4 years old now. Those guys sort of labored away for three years before anyone said that hey, this is really awesome. This is cool. What is this?

Jason Roberts: Right.

Pete Michaud: There was this first version of Twitter that they released an alpha to a couple of their friends and their friends were like, what is this? This is like email… but shitty. And they labored on; they worked on it until people saw it and thought it was awesome.

Justin Vincent: You know what I think, someone who I blame for this whole concept of kind of wanting to be a rockstar and this—I’m kind of slightly saying this tongue and cheek, but did you ever hear of Kai’s power tools for photoshop?

Pete Michaud: Yeah.

Justin Vincent: That guy was the first rockstar who basically built something that was really beautiful, really functional, worked really well and he just seemed like, you know that – it just made you want to kind of emulate his kind of success.

Pete Michaud: Do you know his background? Do you know how long he was working on that? Or how long he’d been programming before he made that?

Justin Vincent: No I don’t know.

Pete Michaud: That would be interesting to know because I can virtually guarantee you—it’s very, very rare to find a story that doesn’t go like this—But Kai, you saw him at his peak.

Justin Vincent: Yeah.

Pete Michaud: And you never heard of him since have you?

Justin Vincent: Yeah.

Pete Michaud: What’s he doing now?

Justin Vincent: I have no idea.

Pete Michaud: Right, right, I mean he probably labored away on that in obscurity for a long time before anyone noticed it. And before ever laboring away on that, he probably was a programmer for 20 years doing crappy stuff that nobody cared about. And that I guess that’s part of the reason that I didn’t think that what I’m doing now was an option is that you want to go to some conference and go, yeah I invented facebook, I’m that guy, I’m the twitter guy and whatever. But I can’t. Like yeah I’m the “lots of mediocre blogs and books that you probably don’t care about” guy. Nobody wants to say that, it’s not sexy. But it works.

Justin Vincent: No, but you could still, I mean to be honest; it wouldn’t be very hard for you to go down to similar parts to someone like joelcom. Do you know joelcom? He’s a guy who is very successful, he’s done extremely well through essentially marketing. Teaching people how to internet market and just generally make money through the internet.

Jason Roberts: Yeah. But the thing is he wasn’t the internet marketing I mean Pete is actually creating value as suppose to gaming a system or something.

Justin Vincent: I will say that but having a look at some of Pete’s end products, I mean they’re very, let’s just say, they are not a million miles away from sales letter type sites.

Pete Michaud: Totally not, and I’ll be the first to admit that. The StatisticsHowTo.com is a site that we came up with that has a book attached to it. If you go read the page, its very SHAMWOW and sort of conjuring Billy Mays there saying “here’s the secret that your professor doesn’t want you to know about” and—

Pete Michaud: All that stuff it works and to me the line is not whether you’re being cheesy but whether you’re actually delivering value. And I have to say, probably of all the products maybe a dozen or two, a little more about a dozen products at this point or properties I should say meaning blog/book combinations. But out of all those, Statistics How To is maybe our best one in terms of market fit. And I know I’m biased but I believe, and I’ve been a statistics student in college, I believe Statistics How To is the best elementary statistics book that exists, ever… that’s ever been made and I have no—

Pete Michaud: Yeah. I have no problem with a hard sell that seems cheesy to somebody who is savvy about internet marketing. I have no problem with it because I know that when a student gets it they’re going to say “wow, why doesn’t my required textbook teach it to me like this?” Everyday, multiple times a day, I get emails from people saying this is. “I’m flabbergasted this – I was having such a hard time and this makes everything easy, it makes perfect sense.” The product itself isn’t gimmicky, the sales tactics maybe a little gimmicky, maybe people who know what sales letter are like or are familiar with them and have been exposed to them they’re like ah just a sales letter, it must be crap. The product itself is not crap.

Justin Vincent: This is just another example with how the world isn’t black and white there is at least gray areas. And so, and that is interesting to me and it is something I wanted to bring out to you was this aspect of how some of your sites were sales letterish.

Pete Michaud: Yeah.

Justin Vincent: They do have the body behind them and you know, given your background, like how does that kind of stick with your stall in the sense of you know, you originally wanted to be like a tech all star but you’ve ended up going down a different kind of road.

Pete Michaud: Yeah. I think I’m fine with it. I guess I wanted to be a tech all star for the wrong reasons or maybe I should say I never really did want to be a tech all star. Like I said a year ago I realized, I don’t really “like” programming as a profession and I don’t particularly want to be known as a programmer. Because I have more to offer than that or I feel I have more to offer than that; and it has to be proven. But being known as a person that uses sales letters to make his living, I’m better with that than being unknown as a person who creates crappy internet apps.

Jason Roberts: Well you know, it’s not like just saying unknown it’s all about the fact that you can be financially independent or not.

Pete Michaud: Yeah exactly and it’s an easy trade off, Jason, between am I proud of the work I do in terms of the people that I help in the markets that I’m trying to serve? Yes. Am I proud of the work I do in terms of going to some big conference and bragging about and wanting people to look at the specific stuff? No. But that doesn’t matter to me because the point isn’t to be well known for that. The point is to be able to do whatever it is that I want to do. And most people in general, especially most people my age, have almost no control over their time you know; they’re really stuck.

Jason Roberts: At 25, so let me just ask you this. You graduate college at what? 21-22?

Pete Michaud: Yeah, actually I never graduated college; I dropped out when I was a senior because of family issues. I did really well in college but I dropped out.

Jason Roberts: Were you going to school for? Is that how you ended up there?

Pete Michaud: I ended up there—well my wife lived here before she was my wife and of course true to my geeky nature, we met online so I ended up moving here.

Jason Roberts: Okay she’s teaching at a college?

Pete Michaud: Right. She teaches at a college here in Jacksonville.

Jason Roberts: Okay so you began you’re professional career as a programmer, how old are you then, 21 or something like that?

Pete Michaud: Actually if you want to be pedantic I began working for a company when I was twenty-one, yes. But the reality is that I’ve been doing sort of freelance small coding kind of stuff since I was, I don’t know, since I was fifteen or sixteen. And I’ve been an enthusiast before like pretty much everyone. And I started getting into serious, or I wouldn’t call them serious now, but they felt serious at that time; serious client-facing small to medium business enterprise apps when I was eighteen. So by the time I went and worked for Acme Corp, as like I’d like to call it, I’d had a lot of professional experience both in facing the client and in solving actual problems with real code.

Jason Roberts: Yeah. So you had a pretty good perspective on the professional programming and software development before you just got – it wasn’t like okay so I got to get a job, learn how to be a programmer, you had a lot of experience with that. So, that allowed you to sort of get – it sounds like you developed your feelings about it pretty quickly after a couple of years and that’s the point where your last consulting gig, you decided to after that that you’re going to move into a different direction.

Pete Michaud: Right, yeah. And just to clarify, I really like programming. I program almost everyday but I program stuff that I want to program. And on my site you can find – I wasn’t really sure where I was going with my site at first when I started and you can still find stuff like little javascript toys and that kind of thing because that’s the kind of creative stuff that I like to come up with. And so I do like writing code, I don’t particularly like the profession of—

Jason Roberts: Of writing code for other people. I’ve done a couple of start ups and stuff. And now, I have three or four clients and I’m juggling that. You know I love to program. But coding for other people is not very fun. I mean I’m just like trying to get to the point throughout in the day we’re okay; I’ve done 5 or 6 hours of billing. Now I’m going to code on my own stuff, then I’m really happy.

Pete Michaud: Yeah exactly, and part of my issue, I notice some people have this sort of inhuman work ethic and I admire them for that. But part of my issue in the past has been, I don’t feel like have the energy to work on something 8 or 10 hours that I hate, or that I at least am apathetic about, and then come home and continue working on something. I mean I always intend to do that but I never ever get anywhere and that’s like I said, part of the reason I never started my blog and I never worked on my side projects… I have them on my mind but when it actually came time to code them, I’d be burned. I’d be burned out and I think that’s pretty common.

Justin Vincent: There’s very few people who can actually do the take the side project approach. I also think it’s a combination of that and Creativitis that it just is stifling to 99.9% of people wanted to start their own business.

Pete Michaud: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess that’s why I count myself lucky that I was laid off, which doesn’t sound very lucky, but it gave me like—I should’ve just had the courage to say hey listen, I need to change what I’m doing here because it’s not bringing me any closer to my goals and I’m not happy with it. So I just need to stop and I need to take a risk and find a different avenue or a different opportunity and I was kind of forced to do that when I was laid off. And that being laid off gave me the space to breathe the space to thinking and apply my creativity to other projects and that was important for me.

Jason Roberts: Well I think a lot of times that people have started companies is because they kind of have no other choice. Or they got a situation where it’s like, okay—you got to pick out something out now, you better think of something fast. And so let’s just take it back there, I don’t think we quiet finished up the story. So we got to the point, you jump on, you know she’s making you will say a few hundred bucks a month and then you start doubling or tripling or quadrupling on a monthly basis for awhile. You start really putting in time, you guys are working full time on it and so you’ve done just one blog which is reactive hypoglycemia. Did you have a meeting like okay, the e-books are working for us, now let’s come up with other topics, properties?

Justin Vincent: How many did you have?

Jason Roberts: He says he had twelve right? Roughly twelve, a dozen?

Pete Michaud: Yeah. Give or take there are – we have about ten in the pipeline that kind of a different approach. So soon we’ll have about thirty but—yeah, between blogs and books we have between a dozen and two dozen, right.

Jason Roberts: Okay so when you started you had one but then how did you get –

Pete Michaud: When I first started was—

Jason Roberts: How did it go? How did it evolve from one to two to three? I mean was it like – what was the process for you?

Pete Michaud: We always had the idea that would be kind of diversified and before I really started working on it full time, I had set up either two or three, I think it was three, blogs and initially we didn’t sell e-books. We didn’t sell any books.

But when we first started selling books we did it through Lulu which is sort of a crappy, self-service, self-publishing outfit. And then we graduated to CreateSpace which is Amazon’s competitor to Lulu which is a little cheaper, a little more feature-rich. And then we moved to – once we started making the kind of volume that would make it worthwhile—we moved to a company called Lightning Source. Which all the— not all but most of the self-publishing companies—they contract with Lightning Source to actually do the printing.

So we’re going directly to them as publishers now and part of the deal with lightning source and the reason people don’t use it is that it’s a little more advanced. There’s no pretty book cover flash application and you have to buy blocks of ISBNs, and you have to pay as couple hundred dollars set up fee for every book. So it’s not something like a really non-technical, non-experienced person can use, but it’s better if you’re doing the kind of volume that we are.

So we kind of graduated through that and like I said, even initially we knew that we wanted to have a diversified streams so we started reactive hypoglycemia, we started Tietze’s Syndrome, we started another one. And we just sort of snow balled it from there cause we figured if each one of these only makes a thousand dollars a month, say, and a year from now each one of these blogs, after a year of existing will make a thousand dollars a month, given all the different revenue streams they have. And if we have thirty of these or a hundred of these or whatever, then we’re going to be making really awesome money. But we don’t need to be making that because all we really need is five of those.

Jason Roberts: Right. You know it kind of reminds me, there was an article that was—or kind of a blog post that popped up about six weeks ago I think Justin – didn’t we talked about the guy who’s talking about how, you just have like a thousand or ten thousand different things that make a dollar a day or something in that amount.

Pete Michaud: Max Klein, I remember that one.

Jason Roberts: Yeah who was that—what was the exact—

Pete Michaud: Four hundred projects that are a dollar a day.

Jason Roberts: So that’s a one extreme right?

Pete Michaud: Yeah.

Jason Roberts: And the other extreme is that I have one project that just blows it out and makes everything. But you’re kind of more in the middle which is like, we’re not going to do 400 but probably a lot more diversified than just one, collect the eggs in one basket. Especially since, it’s not like a piece of software that really takes years for it to reach some kind of maturity, we could say okay this thing it just – it is what it is and it works right. It doesn’t really need more cause usually most software products that people is going to pay for need to be refined and worked on and maintained for quite a period of time.

Pete Michaud: Exactly.

Jason Roberts: Blog and e-book or whatever depending on how more complex it is, it sounds like you can knock one of those out, you know. I don’t know how long it takes you a couple of months, six months whatever.

Pete Michaud: Yeah it depends on the book but yeah, you’re right. You’re exactly right. That’s part of the reason for example one thing that internet marketers like to say is that membership sites are great because of their recurrent revenue and I don’t disagree with them. But membership sites require maintenance and one of our primary goals—my wife and I didn’t get into this to start a company and spend all out time on it. We got into it to retire to work on passion projects.

Every step we’ve taken has been with automation in mind. And anything that we couldn’t automate it or would require long term maintenance or any kind of significant maintenance, we sort of shied away from. Our books are timeless more or less, maybe we’ll update them in five years from now or what have you but, our books are basically timeless. Our sites aren’t topical, they don’t need to be updated frequently. And we don’t plan to do any projects that need to be updated frequently because that wasn’t our goal.

And I guess it’s important to understand what your goal is at the outset when you start a project. So like with Justin, don’t know if your plan is a big exit or using your company to parlay it into CEO position at a different company or whatever. But I would strongly bear those things in mind and maybe even based on your answer do research about what other people had done and what their real history and their actual step by step process was to get from where they started to where they are, which is where you want to be.

Justin Vincent: Yeah. I mean I just want to be running a web app with an active bunch of customers who likes the software and it produces enough revenue for me to live on. So I can just focus on it full time rather than have it as my side project.

Pete Michaud: Right. Well let me ask you this. There are certainly other people who fit—Patrick McKenzie comes to mind. He’s the Bingo Card Creator guy and he recently went full time on his Bingo Card Creator; which again is a great example, something that he spent a long time building up, that’s not glamorous but it works for him. So my question for you Justin is how many people have achieved what you want to achieve have you talked to? You asked, you picked their brain?

Justin Vincent: Well I think we’ve had a few of them on the show actually. We’ve interviewed them and—

Jason Roberts: We’ve talked to a few but yeah I think he always have on the show, that’s actually someone’s name I’ve written down. You know I keep thinking that you know we should try to contact—

Justin Vincent: It was just like free consultancy for me really.

Pete Michaud: Maybe I should be charging you for this!

Jason Roberts: You should charge us.

Justin Vincent: We’re bringing value to you as well as you’re bringing value to us.

Pete Michaud: Well that’s a –

Justin Vincent: It’s synergistic.

Pete Michaud: Yes, synergistic, I love it. I used to work at Acme, I’ve heard that before.

I mean you’re an outlier there because most people have this pie in the sky like, yeah I’m going to build this big app and I’m going to live off of it and it’s going to be company at that. But they’ve never done anything like that; they’ve never talked to anyone who’s done anything like that. They don’t have any kind of real tangible plan to make that happen and I think that’s important and I think you are running this show have a leg up on other people.

Justin Vincent: Well it was literally because of this show that I actually started doing it.

Pete Michaud: There’s synergy for you.

Justin Vincent: Yeah.

Jason Roberts: Is that – so you have any kind of plans going for in the next couple of years and you said you have ten things in the pipeline. Is there something that you want to move beyond just you and you’re wife working on or is there something that you were more than happy to just do it at that level. I mean is that – cause here’s the thing, I mean when you just keep it with you know small like say you and your wife, the good thing about it – sounds like you can manage it and build kind of revenue stream but you don’t have any of the headache of employees, none of the complications.

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: And you have freedom because one of the reasons that you want to do this is freedom. You want to have freedom but, well, there’s tyranny from above or just people telling you: you have to do this, you have to do that, you have to be here at such time. And if you don’t, we’re going to fire you or we won’t pay you. You can’t just say, “well, I don’t want to do these things”– I have a mortgage and you know I can’t buy food or whatever, right? But there’s also that tyranny from the bottom, with a bunch of employees, and you have to manage them but if you go away, you know things aren’t getting done, things are getting screwed up, you have political problems and management problems and there’s a whole headache. And they’re sucking away your time and they’re sucking away your energy.

You have to say: what do I want my life to be? I want to spend it being creative and free.

Pete Michaud: Right. And I’ve experienced both of these extremes and you’re exactly right. Neither one of them are what I want. And I want to answer your question two ways.

First, we don’t plan to expand to the point that we have employees and headaches like that (although we do have subcontractors to do some things, like administration and bookkeeping, and that sort of thing).

But the other aspect to your question is what do we want to do and that’s kind of a broad question but even when I was little, when I was about 12 I guess, if you would ask me “what are you going to do when you grow up?”, I used to always say, partially tongue-in-cheek, but really was some kind of naïve optimism, that I was going to save the world. That’s what I use to tell people, I’m going to save the world when I grow up.

And exactly what form that’ll take and what that’ll look like and the decades that follow, I have a vague idea of but I don’t know exactly but that’s I mean kind of my direction, I want to be a philanthropist. I want to involve myself in worthwhile social causes and in socially conscious start ups also really are really important to me. They are appealing because they’re self sustaining, they don’t require donations. They’re good for society at large, and they can justify their own existence financially, which I think is phenomenal.

My answer for my wife, if I could… she has a big, soft spot for animals and we do a lot of volunteering as it is with a local animal rescue and she wants to get involved in legislating to help animals and to prevent animal abuse and that kind of stuff.

So, that’s the kind of stuff we want to focus on moving forward. And I think we’re going to be able to because we don’t have to worry where the mortgages is going to come from that’s like you said.

Jason Roberts: You know the thing I’d like to say, that I think is remarkable, is the fact that you’re 25. I mean we’re talking to a 25 year old who sounds like he’s forty.

Justin Vincent: Yeah.

Jason Roberts: Right? I mean, you really not only have you figured out a business that works, but you seem to have derived a lot of deeper philosophical understanding of why it works and what you want from it, which I think is great. It’s just you’ve done it such at young age, and you’re able to put it in words. You’re not just like, “ahhhh yeah I made a lot of money, it’s awesome. Woohoo!” Which is fine at 25 or even 30. You might not expect much more. When someone actually does achieve financial freedom and they’re young, the fact that they become sort of philosophical and share these philosophies about why things are working or what you should be doing… I should say I’m impressed.

Justin Vincent: Yeah, greatly.

Jason Roberts: And secondly, you know what’s interesting, you have two kids already, right?

Pete Michaud: Right.

Jason Roberts: You’re totally blowing Justin out of the water. I mean, not only are you financially independent… he doesn’t have kids yet!

[LAUGHTER]

Jason Roberts: So I mean, why are you so accelerated along this path? Not only married, have two kids, and financially independent at 25. I mean that’s what you’re doing when you’re 45. You’re 20 years ahead of the game, so how did that happen? What is it about your thinking? Or your perspective?

Pete Michaud: I think the short answer is in an essay that I wrote recently, that you may not have read but – the essay is called Is Your Face Real? And the reason for that is people ask me all the time if my patch is real—my eye patch—and the answer is, yeah but it’s complicated. It very much is real.

And the short version is that I was hit by a car when I was seven, and it profoundly affected my outlook growing up. Because I died, and I knew it, and I really felt—even though I was only seven—I felt the gravity. I’ve been given a second chance at life. Maybe even, in a way, “born twice”. I can’t waste it.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. And that’s part of the “Fear and Freedom” essay. When you’re looking at death, when someone realizes that they’re going to die, they don’t go nuts, they don’t do crazy stuff, they do exactly they would have done if they’ve had the courage to do it to begin with. They are honest with people, they’re honest with themselves, because it doesn’t matter anymore because in a month they’ll be gone. And I think I had that realization– that if someone has it all they have it when they’re 45 and they had cancer or whatever – and I had it when I was seven. I think it profoundly affected the way I think about things.

Jason Roberts: I did read that article and I you know I was wondering whether we should bring it up or not. Because in some sense it’s not important, because what’s important is what you’ve done. But I think it is really interesting and when I saw the picture, you were a little boy and you had essentially your skull crushed; I mean it was heart breaking. I was like, oh my god, because I just think of my little kid, my son, I’m like, if you were my son– I mean it’s just unbelie – it’s unimaginable. And the fact that you lived. And the fact that you wrote about a doctor who was the one who really reconstructed your skull, is that right?

Pete Michaud: Yeah. Dr. Yakuboff, right.

Jason Roberts: Who then at a certain point, waived the fees because your parents weren’t able to pay for it, and he just kept working with you, working on doing surgeries to help you fully recover, is that correct?

Pete Michaud: Yeah that’s right.

Jason Roberts: That’s just amazing. So in a sense, I mean it’s miraculous. I mean, I don’t know how much you want to tell about this story but – you know you said you died. Were you literally in the emergency room and you heart stop beating and they – or was it just you know you were just in very critical condition for awhile?

Pete Michaud: I died. And actually the doctors—I’m told this, I wasn’t conscious for this portion, but I’m told by my parents—that the doctors came out early when I arrived at the emergency room and said: listen, you need to go say goodbye because he’s not going to survive. And on the off chance that he does, he’s going to be profoundly retarded, there’s no way around that. His skull has been crushed, it’s impossible that there’s no brain damage, and that having been said, we don’t even think he’s going to survive, so you need to go say goodbye.

I died and I almost didn’t come back to life, and my parents had that realization also about me at that time. And it’s like you said, it’s this really heartbreaking sort of profound thing, but I wouldn’t—I tell to people and I stand by this—that if I could go back in time, like Quantum Leap style, and prevent it from happening, I wouldn’t. Because it’s really informed who I am, and it’s affected my entire life in a really positive way.

Jason Roberts: You know it was kind of amazing actually looking at you, it’s that—because you had that picture of you. When I first saw the patch too I thought maybe you were just messing around.

Pete Michaud: Sure, right.

Jason Roberts: Because a lot of times people take pictures of themselves, hey this happens to be one of your favorite pictures, and it happened to be at Halloween. So I never—I wasn’t sure until you wrote that article whether it was real or not. But the second thing is, I saw that picture of your – you showed when you were a kid and your face actually not too long after it was crushed is crushed and now, it’s like – that’s really amazing because you actually look like Ben Affleck. Actually you look like a movie star. I mean it’s like get a hell of a job on you, right? And your like a really – you know, you look like a good looking guy. It’s not like, oh wow, I feel sorry for the way you look. He did a really good job. You’re like it came through fine, right? Not only you look like a movie star now you’re also probably twice as smart as you were originally ¬¬–

Pete Michaud: Yeah, no I – he’s – I cant speak highly enough of him and he did incredible work. He’s definitely not a slouch. He’s not a cranial surgeon, he specializes in burn victims and hand reconstruction, which was extremely intricate. He invented techniques that I can’t fathom or explain to rebuild me because no one with my level of injury had really survived before so there’s never an occasion to have those techniques, and yeah he’s –

Justin Vincent: There’s something about your site, there are some moments where I felt slightly reminded of Tony Robbins. And I don’t know if that’s offensive or not but I don’t mean it to be. But do you see potentially some kind of a future of public speaking and motivation that type of route?

Pete Michaud: Possibly, Possibly. And I don’t take offense. I think some people think like: oh, he’s just being gimmicky. Like my about page—but you know I’ve had a lot of people comment specifically about the kind of stuff that I say, like “scorched and reborn” and all those sort of dramatic language, and about authenticity, and all that stuff.

I’ve had multiple people comment now that they wondered at first before they got to know me, whether it was true or whether it was just a gimmick. And all of them pretty much agree that it’s not a gimmick. It really is an accurate reflection of the way I think, and of my message, and how I move people to do what they’re moved to do–what they move themselves to do.

So, to answer your question, it’s possible. It’s possible that people find my story or my message interesting enough to do that, but nothing’s set in stone. I mean, if that’s the form my “world saving” comes in, and I think that’s the most good that I can do, then sure.

Jason Roberts: I don’t think being a motivational speaker, I mean I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that. Obviously these people do huge service to a lot of people, they help people fix their lives, and reinvent themselves, and gain confidence and control over what’s going on.

But yeah that’s why, the fact that you’re 25 and you’ve done what you’ve done, and you’ve overcome what you’ve overcome, it’s really amazing. I think coupled with the fact, what you’ve done this early an age, what you’ve been able to sort of achieve, create a pretty successful business, and all that is great. That’s impressive any way, especially at 25, but then the fact that you had struggled growing up with what happened to you I think that makes it really sort of inspiring story. That’s worth being shared.

Pete Michaud: Sure. Well I hope it helps people. That’s all I can really hope for. And I know some people kind of feel… they’re kind of snarky about Tony Robbins, you know what I mean? Like, oh, you must be some kind of a shyster and full crap, because for whatever reason Tony Robbins doesn’t speak to them. And it’s easy to be cynical about work that other people are doing. But I hope that it does help people and I hope that the people that it helps outweigh the people who are skeptical about what I am and what I write. So, just for the record, it’s authentic!

Jason Roberts: Everything that you’ve written is—none of it is really “out there.” It’s really about putting together pieces, and thinking rationally, and not letting fear rule your life, and not letting cognitive biases just lead you astray. And learning right? You know doing something, learning from it, I mean these are all ideas or concepts that are well understood by people, especially kind of people reading your blog or listening to this broadcast. I think they are also the kind of things that are always worth bringing up again and again because we have this cognitive biases, we have these struggles, we have this emotional, psychological struggles Creativitis, or fear, or Sunk Cost Fallacy, and things like that. And because we have these bugs we have to fight them everyday.

Jason Roberts: Right? Just because you read about it and you understood it 3 years ago it doesn’t mean you’re not still suffering from it, or it’s not still leading you astray. You have to everyday wake up and say alright I am not going to suffer from Creativitis. I am not going to keep fear from –

Justin Vincent: Well, it’s always like you have to monitor every single thought you have, every single second of the day, to kind of force your brain down a certain path.

Pete Michaud: You know what you actually end up doing is, I mean if you want to embark on that kind of thing, it’s impossible to monitor every single thought. But what you do is you have a clear idea of what your metrics are. And you track them at reasonable intervals, and you re-evaluate if it’s not working. Just like the business, it’s all very much related to and I think my philosophy in life segues nicely into how I developed my business too.

Jason Roberts: Yeah, right. Something else I’d like to bring up real quick. You mentioned how your ideas are in line with the Overcoming Bias / Less Wrong blog, the writing in there, and it’s sort of a rationalist approach to things. What’s the guy, I can’t pronounce his name the guy from Overcoming Bias –

Pete Michaud: Eli. Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Jason Roberts: That’s right. And he’s at the Singularity Institute or something –

Pete Michaud: Yeah, that’s right, the Singularity Institute.

Jason Roberts: He has written some amazing stuff about large scale artificial intelligence systems, and all this kind of stuff. But he’s also very much writing about what you talk about which is sort of rational approach to life right?

Pete Michaud: Actually, Eli is a big influence on me to be honest. And I’ve read – he went through a period about a year or two,when he was extremely prolific. It seemed like everyday he published something, even on weekends. And each of those things that he published was so incredibly dense. It was like everyday reading the best blog post you’ve read all month, sort of. And he did it everyday. And they were long too. They’re not quippy, like Seth Godin’s stuff. They’re long, they’re developed and he did it daily, and I’m still in blogger “awe” of him. And I’m still very much influenced by his approach, and his clear-eyed, unsentimental thought process.

Jason Roberts: Yeah, I read a few of those in the past, and you kind of got me interested in going back and re-reading. One of the things I remember he wrote which really stuck with the idea of putting in an overwhelming effort. Like putting in an effort to point like your life and the life of your entire family depends on it, I mean that kind of an effort, right?

Pete Michaud: Right. That was a great concept.

[CROSSTALK]

Jason Roberts: And I can’t really remember the terms he put it in. But it was amazing, just thinking about it, that kind of effort. It’s completely different than any kind of effort that you normally—you’d say, oh I really put in a hundred percent. Now are you – a 100%?

Pete Michaud: Right, exactly.

Jason Roberts: Not even close—

Pete Michaud: I’m holding a gun to your head and I’m going to pull the trigger if you don’t achieve this goal.

Jason Roberts: I’m going to murder your family in three hours unless… you’re like, what would you be capable of doing in like, 48 hours? You’ll be amazed.

Pete Michaud: Right so Justin, if you don’t 50 new users on tweetminer, Eli is going to come to your house…

Jason Roberts: And kill your family.

Justin Vincent: Nice. I feel really motivated.

Pete Michaud: Amazing isn’t it?

Jason Roberts: It is, it is. He’ll set up the spreadsheet for you and everything.

Justin Vincent: You know we’ve been going on quite a while. We’ve done – coming up to 2 hours I think at this stage.

Jason Roberts: Yeah, this is going to be about the longest podcast of all time for us. But I have to say it’s really interesting talking to you, Pete. I really enjoyed it and I’d like to actually have you back again some time because there’s a lot of questions that I didn’t get to ask, and I have a feeling you know, you’re going to be writing more interesting essays that we’re going to want to discuss.

Pete Michaud: Well I’d love to do that, it was fun.

Jason Roberts: Thanks so much for coming on the show. I wish you the best of luck with your business and with your writing and yeah, we’ll be in touch. So I guess that’s a wrap. We’re out.