How to Start a Business or Podcast from Scratch

Business Jul 04, 2020

Highlights from of tips provided Tim Ferris, the author of the 4-hour work week and other 4-hour this and that on how to start a podcast and business in general. If you would just want to capture the key takeaways and messages from this talk, just skim through the headings and the highlited/bold text in this post.


I want to take a stab at a very common question which is if you were starting a business from scratch if you were starting a podcast from scratch what advice would you give well I will give you some advice and I've thought about this a lot and I've been asked this a lot and the recommendations tend to be exactly the same

Create your own category as opposed to trying to dominate an existing category

So first I would say that it is easiest and in my mind much more fun to create a category and own it as opposed to trying to dominate an existing category with something that is incrementally better so if you try to slot what you're going to do into a pre-existing category and then beat the best it is very hard to do that in dramatic fashion and there are a few homework assignments that I would recommend you read immediately to really hone in on how to think about this so number one is a single chapter in a single book is the law of category in a book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing:  Violate Them at Your Own Risk! read that and if you're thinking yourself I don't have time to read books if you don't have time to read two or three books that I am recommending to you unless you have built tons and tons of companies already then you shouldn't build any companies at all because you want to measure twice and cut once when it comes to starting businesses because you start a machine a monster that you have to feed that is a prison and is not something that derives youth freedom then you are screwed and it's going to be a lot harder to fix after the fact so back to my point number one the loft category chapter and the 22 immutable laws of marketing related to that and I would say 20 to 30 percent of this book is very very interesting and will reinforce the same idea which is blue ocean strategy or the blue ocean strategy and you can certainly look this up but the entire book is worth reading I ended up somehow reading it at Burning Man I have no idea why it was there why is reading a business book at burning it for God's sake but it's probably because there's 112 degrees in the afternoon but I digress alright so that is the importance of category creation or category killing and then the very next point we have is

Don't obsess on scaling and becoming as big as possible

Don't obsess on scaling and becoming as big as possible alright so I think it was oh I want to say it was BJ Novak on the podcast famous for the office an incredible writer in his own right it might have been someone else so feel free to jump in Adam and correct me if I get this wrong but they said if you if you work for the awards your work will not be good but if you do good work the awards will come so don't worry about winning best of iTunes don't worry about getting hundreds of millions of downloads just do great work in a category in a chosen product or service or offering or type of writing that makes you new alright and to do that there are a few books that I would recommend all right so the the first and this is again related to the question of scale so scale and scaling are dangerous words and sometimes you don't want to have a gigantic business I certainly don't want to have hundreds of thousands of employees that I have to account for or structure an org chart for or manage those are not my core strengths nor things that I enjoy so this book Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big I think is worth visiting and revisiting with subtitle this is the suppose the gist the main thrust companies that choose to be great instead of big and this is by a bow Burlingham this book talks about companies that may in fact dramatically constrain what they do to remain small so maybe it's an artisan leather worker who makes leather pants I'm serious this is a real example and they and they make perhaps a hundred pairs every year and that's it if you want to buy from them you need to be one of the hundred people who reserve a pair of pants and among their clients are people like shell crow and so on right so they're able to build a fantastic business maybe even a multi-million dollar business that is constrained by design so that they can have an ideal lifestyle and life and craft a life not just a business right so don't just think how can I make the next unicorn to use silly startup parlance or how can I next time have a huge exit in 12 months 18 months, more people are going to fail with that type of objective at the outset then people who set out to build the best product possible whatever that is that is easily differentiated, easily explained that scratches their own itch so that's the next recommendation

Scratch your own itch

Don't make something for an imaginary or hypothetical audience particularly one that you don't really understand why speaking as a 39 year old male who is single am I going to make a podcast for new mothers, well I could but the likelihood of it succeeding is very very low, why don't I simply write the book that I can't find for myself which is what I do with 4-hour workweek or create things that I can't find for myself say, a audiobook version of the Letters of Seneca which I did when I produced the Tao of Seneca audio book series because I wanted to exist now how many people out there actually want to listen to letters from philosopher who has been dead for 2,000 years well I don't know but I know the answer is at least one and if I can get it excited about it and I am excited about it I bet I can convince other people to be excited about it that's about as sophisticated as the planning goes all right so scratch your own itch and at the very least you will end up with something that you are proud of otherwise if you build something for an imaginary audience you will very often end up something that doesn't please you that you have to live with because you put it out into the world and then you are succeeding trying to be something other than yourself in many cases. Very compatible with that how big should your business be how large does your enterprise need to be to fuel your life as it exists right now it even let's say supplant your full-time income well you really only need one thousand true fans and there's an essay called one thousand true fans written by Kevin Kelly founding editor of Wired magazine an incredible technology futurist his predictions are incredibly accurate and have been for decades now he's written an essay called 1000 true fans a revised version of that is in Tools of Titans my latest book also but i think you can find both online now and the general takeaway is that if you can find if you can cultivate if you can target and convert and proselytize a thousand died hard vans these are your true fans the people who will buy let's say in the case of an author they will buy the Kindle version they will buy the audio version they will buy the updated and expanded edition they will go to your events they will effectively consume anything that you put out because they trust you up to that extent, you don't need to do anything else all right that is all you need because they'll become your strongest marketing force and they will convert other concentric circles of say from the true fans out to the semi diehards out to the casual fans it all radiates outward so 1,000 true fans I think is a very measurable useful heuristic to use when thinking about building a business and it's very very compatible with Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big so how do you make decisions related to those 1,000 for fans well there are a few different things you can do and I would say that a lot of it comes down to being very precise in your thinking and in your objectives in German there is a proverb "everything with measurement and objective" and if you want to succeed in business if you simply have a easily differentiated product you can explain it simply you focus on 1,000 true fans and you have clear measurable objectives with check-ins say every week every month every quarter or all the above to track your performance and those key performance indicators those key metrics you are ahead of 99% of the world who's trying to start a business and people always talk about saying whatever the number that's thrown around there's so many made-up numbers like you need 8 ounces or 8 glasses of water a day who came up with that there's no science behind it you should drink water not going to be wrong but then something like 85% of all startups fail or 9 out of 10 startups fail whatever it is, most people who start businesses shouldn't start businesses because they do none of this planning maybe none of this thinking they do none of this differentiating or measuring all right if you do those things I think you stand at least a 50/50 chance if you actually do the prep work in the training in advance so two books that I would recommend and you could probably read them in this order since one is shorter than the other this one right here is a gold mine this is Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive: The definitive guide to getting the right things done all right this book forget about time management you can fritter away hours and hours and hours and hours days and days maybe in weeks and weeks and months and months if you get a few critical things done if you are able to focus on the most critical things often the most uncomfortable things then you can outpace everybody and/or just about everybody the effective executive is super short it's an incredible read and you can see I just have notes upon notes upon notes related to this I reread this all the time and it's critical because being efficient doing something well doing something quickly does not make it important you can screw yourself by doing a lot of unimportant things well and that is one of the primary causes I think for a lot of startup failure being effective is doing the right things and literally if you were to follow me around and I very rarely have journalists they follow me around that they might propose doing a profile and following me for a week they want to see what you do and how you use your time and they expect this well-oiled machine that's making the best use of every second like even if you were to talk to the crew that's here helping film this right now they're gonna cough this guy's like walking around as pajamas he's taking 20 minutes go to the bathroom get a glass of water like this is the paragon of efficiency no I'm not I'm actually focusing on being effective so by say filming what I'm filming right now and doing this I'll have months and months of content even if a kind of screw around I'm not the most well-oiled machine today so the effective executive read that and really instill it and memorize as much of it as you can. the next is 80/20 principle so I do talk about this and the 4-hour workweek quite a bit but be kind of cheesy for me to recommend my own books I'm not going to do that right now but the 80/20 principle the secret to success by achieving more with less 80/20 principle also known as Pareto's law and this is the original there are a number of books also by Richard which are fantastic but the original is very very strong and the 80/20 principle really people were for doing different ways a power-law distribution, Zipf law is shorthand for the rough observation that say in the case of Pareto who is a economists and sociologists 20% of the population and I think it was Switzerland time possessed 80% or more of the wealth in that country or it might have been region similarly though he noticed that 20% of say the pea pods or plants in his garden produced 80% or more of the peas and you could observe this very disproportionate ratio of a small number of things producing the vast majority of say outcomes that you want or in the case of obviously the sociological implications of economics these disparities and you can apply that to for instance identifying after you've thrown a lot against the wall so this will help you to throw things against the wall as well the other recommendations that I've made as a first-time entrepreneur you don't know what you're good at you don't know what people are going to like really and so you throw a bunch things against the wall, try a bunch of different types of advertising you try a bunch of different explanatory messaging maybe so you have text on the website try bunch split test etcetera and then eventually start figuring out what kind of works once you get to that point then let's say you have a thousand and you're burning midnight oil oh my god this thing I thought was going to save me from my nine-to-five now I'm working 18 hours a day what do I do well one of the first steps you could take which is what I took is looking at your customers and identifying the 20% of customers that are producing 80% or more of your revenue and it could be that 5% producing 95% the it doesn't have to add up to 100 right but conversely if you look at the 20% of customers that consume 80% or more of your time and what you may find very often you'll find is that the most lucrative customers the ones you should be cultivating that you should be modeling so you can target similar customers are those that take very little time and that the squeaky wheels the ones that you're spending so much time on are in fact only contributing five ten percent to the bottom line and even if they contribute more what if you fired on one or two of those customers would allow you to replicate these low maintenance high-yield customers and this can be applied a million different ways so the 80/20 principle and then the last one I'm going to mention because it's very easy to lose sight of why you started so we talked about small giants we talked about blue ocean strategy we talked about all of that you may find yourself at some point a year in two years in 10 years in who knows where you sit back and you look at your life and you say this is not what I wanted when I started on this journey building this company or taking the side gig becoming freelance or whatever it might be at that point if you need a recalibration if you feel like there is a gear shift needed then this book which is one I traveled with in 2004 there are two books I had Walden by Thoreau now this one Vagabonding by Rolf Potts and I've given away dozens maybe hundreds of this book and the subtitle is an uncommon guide to the art of long term world travel but vagabonding is not about travel per se in my opinion it is about philosophy and is about thinking about materialism is it is about examples and case studies of people who have experimented with doing the opposite of more and more reducing their possessions utilizing time instead of money building that currency etc vagabonding is a a great way to create some wanderlust and desire to adventure in yourself it is also I think a very helpful course correction if you found yourself trying to keep up with the Joneses or build a company for the sake of building a company and if you're simply working to make something bigger without much thought to say balance in your life relationships or adventure and it's just about adding a few more dollars to the bank account every day or week then vagabonding if you want to create a business from scratch at some point it will be less than scratch if you follow the instructions we have up to this point and almost certainly we all lose our way and we get distracted we might be pulled off course by some shiny objects and your job in that case because it happens to everyone is to have a means of correcting your course direction and one of the tools I use is vagabonding by Ross Potts and last but not least

The end goal is not to create idleness

I will say that the objective of 4-hour work week and everything that I've ever talked about is not idleness I don't promote idleness I have nothing wrong with hard work as long as that hard work is applied to the right areas as long as you have a clear target and you have your site and your scope very well calibrated so that you are hitting with a high ratio of success I have no problem with hard work and I tend to be either on or off if you are on all the time and if you are hustling 24/7 in a very scatterbrained fashion that in itself is a form of laziness - indiscriminate action is reflective of too little thinking and planning and that is lazy and it's one of the most destructive forms of laziness because it is socially reinforced and people will encourage you to do that in other words they will say don't just stand there do something well if you're constantly doing things that are not carefully thought through you will end up doing the opposite of the 80/20 principle you will end up specializing in unimportant things you'll become an expert in doing the things that are trivial well and that is a travesty in this huge waste of life so work hard I've no problem with that but only when it is applied to the right things so everything we've measured it and objective like I said earlier pick up these books revisit them often as I do and I think that you can dramatically improve the chances of your success and fulfillment when you want to build a business write a book a podcast or anything else so good luck.

Shuaib

A student of business, self-improvement, human behavior, economics, the financial system, practical digital technology and now digital marketing

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