Category Archives: advice

Gary Halbert’s Hamburger

There’s no better way to demonstrate this concept than it’s original form, so I won’t change it whatsoever.

But I wanted to further ingrain this concept in my head, so I physically wrote it out.

This is an excerpt from one of the Gary Halbert Letters I’m so very fond of.


“I want to start a business but don’t know where to start”

God I’ve heard that question so many times before.

A good deal of people I know see my lifestyle:

  • No boss
  • No set working time
  • Take any day off
  • Don’t have to commute anywhere
  • Can work from any location

….and they think it’s great.  And I got admit…it ain’t bad!

Many of them realize that working 9-5 is not just 9-5, but also the night before, the morning of….so it consumes and dictates nearly your entire day, what you can do, when you go on vacation etc.

If you like your job…this isn’t really a problem, but if you don’t….yeesh.

So back to the question I get from someone who’s never started a business and now wants to after years of working:

“I want to start a business but don’t know where to start”

To burst most bubbles quickly: It’s doubtful it will happen. I’ve seen long-term working people start successful businesses only a few times. Usually the longer someone’s worked, the more likely they will not succeed.  Most people trying this are in the wrong frame of mind almost immediately. They just want to “make some money” without doing much work.

Anyhow, for this question I will try to assume the role of how I’D PERSONALLY go about starting a business with no particular business acumen.

————————–

First and foremost I’d GET MY LEARN ON.  That’s right….prepare to READ A SHIT LOAD OF STUFF.  And TAKE NOTES.  It’s like school.

Then I would try to implement what I’ve learned and make $100 from it.

That’s it.

————————–

I think those three short sentences above can teach you an immense deal about business.

The benefit of this is:
1.) It’s easy to make $100 in just about anything.
2.) Simply DOING something will very quickly show if you like it or not.
3.) Your desire to learn will be way more intense if you’re currently DOING something real….not just thinking about a hypothetical business you might build.

It is ABSOLUTELY GRATIFYING to destroy the dreams of people who say, “I want to start a business but can’t think of anything”.

Me: “What business books have you read?”

Them: “Ummmm, none.”

Me: “Have you ever written down what you like to do, what skills you have etc. on a piece of paper?  Spent a couple of hours on it?”

Them: “Hmmmmm…..not really.”

Me: “Have you sought out business people you admire and asked them to show you how their business works”

Them: “I once saw YouTube video of Bill Gates.”

Me: “So basically you’ve done NOTHING to realize your dream of starting a business?”

Sincerely,
Neville (destroyer of dreams)

P.S. Here’s some motivation to consume if you fall in that camp.
Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret

The Process of Killing an Idea

All through college I started alllllll sorts of random businesses and small websites.  With A LOT of work, some of them could’ve taken off, but they would be uphill battles.

At one point I had (no joke) TEN little businesses running at the same time.

This is on one hand GREAT for the creative side of me, and gave me GREAT practice actually executing ideas REALLY REALLY fast.

On the other hand, it would bog me down into businesses that weren’t solid as I initially thought, and constantly distracted me.

So over the years I’ve learned how to KILL “decent” ideas…you might be able to relate:

——————————————————

So here’s what happens:

1.) I’ll randomly think of some idea or small little problem to solve.

2.) Get all excited about it and how big it can be.

3.) Start executing.

4.) Buy domain name, setup website, write content, make graphics, figure out technical aspects yadda yadda.

5.) Put a lot of work (not necessarily SMART work though) into it, get marginal results.

6.) It sits around.  Makes enough money not to pull the plug, but not enough to focus on it.

7.) Eventually lose interest.

8.) Sell it or pull the plug.

——————————————————

What I SHOULD be doing before even THINKING of anything else is:

  • Analyzing who the target market will be.
  • Is this market big enough? Do these people pay lots of money for services/products?
  • Exactly what field is this in?
  • What product/service will I be offering them?
  • Is there competition, what are they doing wrong/right?
  • Will my product/service be better?  Marketed better?
  • all sorts of other analytical questions that kill the hype in your head.

——————————————————

In the past, I’ve had a really tough time asking myself questions like the above…because it kills the mood!

But sometimes a good mood killer is the right medicine to cure the temporary hype you’ve built up in your head.

At least for people who execute any business idea really fast, I think it’s great to be optimistic about every idea, but it’s also nice to put that idea through a barrage of battering tests before it sees fruition (people who have issues executing should probably do the opposite).

——————————————————

Now I’d like to take you through a real life example of a recent “Brain Hype” I’ve had…and how I killed the idea through rationality.  I’ll show you how I still get so excited about certain ideas that I need to run them by wise friends to kill them.

——————————————————

I’ve been wrestling with the problem lately of my business House of Rave, and how I wanted to grow it to $1,000,000/year doing less work than I do on it now.  While it’s grown moderately, things like the economy have prevented fast growth (oh yea, and my own laziness and lack of marketing knowledge).

So I KNOW this goal is possible, I just wasn’t going about it the right way.

I noticed two things which might help:

  • When I publicly post a concrete goal on this blog and set a consequence if it doesn’t happen, I do it.
  • I work better in front of an audience (AKA I’m a showoff).

Thinking about those two things, I got the idea of publicly showing everything I do to quadruple HoR within one year.  In my head, I coined the project, “The Million Dollar Project.”

In my head I started getting REALLY hyped about this idea!

The wheels were spinning, and my Boogie Board was ablaze with scribbled ideas.

I started thinking about all the media outlets that would cover me, how people would diligently follow along, how they would ANTICIPATE EVERY POST I make, how people would scramble to copy what I was doing, how I would build a huge email list, how advertisers would pay huge money to sponsor my site, how I could sell “premium content” for detailed tours of the business, how people would signup for monthly subscriptions to the site.

I even started doing “fuzzy math” in my head: “Hmmm, if I get 6,000 people paying $20/month for a subscription, I’d make $120,000 a month!

Basically the “Hype Machine” has temporarily taken over!

I then started poking around to see if domain names were available.  I kept saying, “The Million Dollar Project” in my head, so I went with that.  RATS….it was taken! So I shot off a quick few phone calls and emails.  20 minutes later, the owner was willing to unload the domain for $250.

One more phone call and a swipe of the Visa, the domain TheMillionDollarProject.com was transfered to me.  PROGRESS!

I was getting giddy from all the excitement of doing “How HoR Runs” blog posts and live-recording my screen showing the inner workings of House of Rave, and how I’d soon be building The Million Dollar Project AND House of Rave at the exact same time.

THHHEEEENNNN I decided, “If this is such a good idea, let me run it past a few friends.”

My first target was a close friend who runs a big company and whose opinion I definitely respect.  I told him, “I’m going to make something called The Million Dollar Project where I openly talk about getting House Of Rave to a million dollars.

When I got done with my spiel, I remember his momentary pause which made me second-guess my entire idea (when you know someone pretty well, you can tell a lot from those small reactions).  I could tell his excitement wasn’t even close to mine.  He started asking some general questions and the conclusion was, “It’s an OK idea.

But it wasn’t a GREAT idea that got him excited.  And I knew it right then.

The problem with this idea, is that it’s actually decent…but it wasn’t well thought out.

——————————————————

So I call another friend whose opinion I highly respect, and who has a natural risk-adversity….but is still a successful entrepreneur.   He’s often the perfect person to rip the beating heart out of a poorly thought-through idea….but does it very nicely :-)

So I enthusiastically spill my idea, and he comes back with:

Him: “Ok, who is the target market? Who will be your average visitor?  Will these visitors already own a business?  Will they be wanting to learn how to make a business?  Will these be eCommerce professionals? WHY are they coming to this site?”

Me: “Umm…I haven’t thought about that.”

And THERE inlays my problem: I didn’t think about all that stuff!

He then started to help me flesh out those answers.

It turns out I COULD do this project, but it would be better named something like “Quadruple My Business.”  Basically, some name that implies a benefit.

I could then tailor the site to current online business owners who want to increase their business, and then show them how I did it myself with a live example.

I could also tailor the site to people who want to start their first online business, and show them with a live example.

Basically, instead of telling a nice (yet useless) story about House of Rave, I could teach people (useful) marketing techniques to increase their ecommerce businesses.

All of a sudden I had a working idea, but it wasn’t sexy as what I imagined in my head.

Hmmphh….

I somehow only thought of all the benefits The Million Dollar Project would bring me, but left out how it would enrich OTHERS.  D’oh.

The excitement from the idea quickly faded, and I then recognized the amount of work that would go into it.  I don’t mind the work, but it should be moderately exciting to me so I focus on it and stick with it long enough to see it succeed.

——————————————————

And so the legacy of The Million Dollar Project came and went without ever seeing the light of day (except the domain which I needlessly spent $250 on).

But perhaps this is a GOOD thing.

Instead of getting involved with a hardly-thought-out idea, I can spend my time focusing on more profitable things.

Learning how to slay the Hype Machine dragon has allowed me to focus on actual profitable projects rather than every hare-brained scheme that pops into my head.

Why I’m Not A Doctor

When a kid says, “I wanna be a doctor”, the process usually goes:

  • He graduates high school
  • Enters college and enrolls in some form of pre-med program
  • Goes through years of biology and other doctor-ish courses
  • Goes into the hibernation known as “studying for the MCAT”
  • Applies to medical school

Somewhere along that path 90% (actually I just pulled that statistic out of my ass)….but a LARGE percent of these “I wanna be doctors” never make it.

Most of them soon realize they either hate biology, they’re not smart or hardworking enough to score high on the MCAT…or that they don’t want to work so hard to be a doctor after all.

Unfortunately these realizations often come late in college…when they’ve already spent much of their college career attempting to be a doctor.

Well I’m Indian….which either means I’m destined to become a doctor or an engineer.  Both admiral….however as a high school student I couldn’t REALLY tell if I truly wanted to become one of these…simply not enough experience.

However, I was a fortunate little lad…my high school offered this class where you leave school for three hours every other day to shadow different types of doctors. This is nearly HALF the school day you get to dress up in scrubs and follow different doctors as they make their rounds.

This was a two year course…the first year being preparation, the second year actually following doctors.

The 2nd year came around, and it was SO COOL as a student being able to leave everyday in my car (we had special passes which let us freely walk around school).  We got to shadow an allergists, dentists, general practitioners, sports medicine doctors and a lot more.

By shadowing, I mean we followed them everywhere, including their rounds with patients.  Some places occasionally made us do bitch work (like organizing patient records)…but most places really made us feel we worked in the medical industry.

This was a REMARKABLE OPPORTUNITY for myself, because it made me realize something:

I DIDN’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT BEING A DOCTOR!!

I quickly found out I had the same amount of empathy for others as a crotchety old man.

Have you ever had a great doctor who takes lots of interest in your medical problem?  Yea…that WOULD NOT have been me.

While I enjoyed leaving school for this, I really detested the whole aura of being in a medical facility.  I never think, “I’d love to spend 12 hours a day in a place filled with a bunch of sick people!”  It’s just not my thaang.

95 year old man slowly dying a painful death in a hospital?  PUT THIS GUY OUT OF HIS MISERY! Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep him alive? What’s the end goal of that?

Sometimes I just didn’t understand what the point was.  If I ever became a doctor, I’d be more like Dr. Kevorkian.

I must admit certain specialties such as the allergist had it pretty decent: He had very normal hours, mostly healthy patients (with the exception of runny noses), a family-like community of patients and staff, and roughly $400,000/year in profit. He basically owned a business he could eventually sell.  That was neat….

However the monotony of this got to me.  He enjoyed what he did….but it’s not something I would want.  It simply didn’t interest me.

It was around this time I started getting very much into business and reading about business men whom I admired.  The way they made money was scalable….the way doctors made money was much like how the janitor made money: by the hour.

This did not appeal to me.

A doctor has a very likely chance of making a great living for the rest of their working lives….but a business person can either go broke, do as well, or make it REALLY big….without necessarily having to be present all the time.

THIS appealed to me!

How to get published on anything

Back in college, to write for The Daily Texan (#1 college newspaper in the country) you had to:

  • Generally be in certain classes
  • Apply for the job
  • Go through interviews
  • Submit writing samples
  • Be a “staff” writer for a year
  • Get promoted up to a writer

I wanted to publish some business-related stuff in the newspaper, and  all that BS above seemed useless and time consuming.

Figuring that EVERYONE who applies says, “I want to write for you guys”, I tried the opposite (kind of like this mentality).

Before I ever talked to ANYONE at the organization, I went ahead and actually wrote out three full, quality articles. I even went out and got quotes from experts and copied the typical newspaper-story format.

I then printed out four copies of each news story and brought them along with me for my very first talk with someone at the newspaper.

I literally walked into the office and asked, “Who do I speak to about publishing something, I’ve got articles ready to go.”  The person in the office was a little intrigued that I had ALREADY written the articles BEFORE I’d even made an arrangement and took a quick glance at them.  Deciding they were decent enough, he walked me over to the “Special Features” editor and told him I had three good articles ready to go.

Now a newspaper has to pump out quality content every day, that’s hard, and I somehow KNEW they would accept my articles quickly, but I didn’t realize HOW quickly!  They asked me to come in later for an editing session….me and editor sat down for two hours brooding over every sentence (a process I didn’t really like), and the 1st article was ready for print that week!

BAM…I was a published newspaper writer in two days :-)

The next several articles were the same story.  Editing session –> publish.

Some good advice Linda?

Hot Car = Hot Tea

Tea post
Tea post

Tea post

Tea post

I used to do this with plastic water bottles,
but plastic bottles + lots of heat = not good.

So now instead of gross water that I never sip, I just keep different flavors of tea in the car all the time!

Random Reader Question

A reader asked this question:

I started reading your blog years ago with my mother – I was just a kid. Fast forward to now and I am 1 year away from a business degree which was absolutely influenced by you and your start-ups.

However, I have always found it interesting that you opted to graduate with a political science degree and throughout my college career I kept it in the back of my head. I had always used it to remind myself that what I am learning in school is not necessarily going to make me successful – I have to do that on my own.

I am finally writing to you about this because I just have to know why. I have spent many sleepless nights in the past few weeks deciding what to do with my final year of school. My best friend and I are one summer away from having our own website and I am endlessly battling with myself between majoring in marketing or finance.

As far as careers go, I am much more interested in a marketing career, but with my research I find time and time again that for an entrepreneur, or really anyone attempting to become financially independent, that finance is essential knowledge. I would like your advice on the matter because I know you have developed your own projects without majoring in either of these subjects.

I would like to know your stance on a situation like this and any advice would be much appreciated.

From all the experience I’ve had with “successful” people is that the educational background wasn’t necessarily the reason for the success, but definitely helped in it’s own unique way.

We can take a familiar example like Adam McFarland who graduated with an engineering and programming background, but has ended up being part of a very successful car oriented ecommerce site. Did his engineering and programming education itself make this happen? No….but it sure helped when he created and then re-vamped the site using his coding background.

So here’s what turned me off business school:

First and foremost I just didn’t get it.
“BUSINESS”
What does that mean?
Isn’t everything technically business?

Dig a little deeper and it breaks down into things like marketing, finance or accounting. None of those seemed particularly interesting to me at the time.

Second, I took a look at what the graduates did after school and where they went to work. It just didn’t seem exciting to me (keep in mind that’s simply my opinion). Our business school at The University of Texas had a very high out-of-college job rate, but that didn’t interest me as I was more into starting a company.

Third, I was originally a computer science student (but eventually couldn’t cut it…apparently a huge percentage of computer science students are WAY better than I am at coding). I was interested in building a talent which I could build something with….something that would give me an advantage over others. I was already into computers so it seemed a natural fit. If I could do it all over again, I would have worked harder towards getting a computer science or engineering degree. That stuff takes years of education….business lessons can often be picked up in a few good books.

Perhaps this might work well for you:

  1. Piece of paper with “Marketing” vs. “Finance”
  2. Write down the names of the associated classes you must take for each major
  3. Which one appeals to you more?

If reading financial statements and learning the intricacies of banking/accounting are interesting to you, then finance might be better. And if whatever the hell it is they teach in marketing is more interesting to you…..well you get the point.

My conclusion is this:
Marketing or finance….which one appeals to you more? There’s really no one-size-fits-all answer here. I think either of them will provide you with valuable experience you can apply to other situations or businesses in your life.
You might also find my advice to a college grad an interesting read.
What might interest you even more is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech about “Connecting the dots” later on in life….how things he learned early on had a serendipitous way of helping him out later on in life:

The Opposite

Favorite sitcom = Seinfeld.

One of my favorite episodes was “The Opposite” where the character George Costanza does everything the opposite of his instincts.

“It all became very clear sitting out there today, that every decision that I’ve ever made in my entire life – has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I wanted to be. Every instinct I have in every aspect of life…be it: something to wear, something to eat…it’s all been wrong.”

George then has a situation come up (an attractive woman looks in his direction) that he usually does nothing about, and Jerry eggs him on:

“Here’s your chance to try the opposite. If every instinct you have is wrong; then the opposite would have to be right.”

He goes and talks to the woman in a very “opposite” way and gets the girl. Then more situations arise where he does the opposite. If anything it’s at least hilarious.

Later on in the episode everything is going GREAT for George! His life turns around as he gets the dream girl and the dream job and says, “This has been the dream of my life ever since I was a child, and it’s all happening because I’m completely ignoring every urge towards common sense and good judgment I’ve ever had!

See YouTube video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKUvKE3bQlY

I remember originally seeing this episode and thinking, “What a great idea!” Recently I’ve tried slowly applying “The Opposite” mantra in any area where I don’t think I’ve been performing well:

–If a small issue comes up (in a customer order or website issue) instead of following habit and putting it on tomorrow’s to-do list I’ll do the opposite and fix it right then and there.

–When I come home late and still have something left on the to-do list, I usually postpone it till the next day. Instead I’ll do “the opposite” and finish it right there on the spot.

–Every once in a while I’ll get a difficult customer who wants something unreasonable. Instead of getting annoyed and acting snide with them I’ll do the opposite and try my humanly best to make them happy.

–If I’m on a long bike ride and hit a point I know I’ll be too tired to bike back home, instead of turning back I’ll do the opposite and keep going.

The examples go on…..I’m sure you can imagine a few for your own life.

Suggesting a life changing tip from a Seinfeld episode almost sounds ridiculous…but not really. Essentially I’ve equated “The Opposite” with motivation to do something NOW instead of waiting or hesitating. It mainly helps you push limits and break habits that were formed for no real reason. When I tell myself “Oh stop being lazy and just do it” the message sometimes isn’t that convincing.

However telling myself, “Do the opposite…this particular thing hasn’t worked out well in the past, why would it work now?”
….that works pretty well.

Here’s some of the character insights behind the episode:

So if you’re doing something you know hasn’t worked out for you in the past, try the opposite!