Note: This book is being written live. I’m writing and publishing each chapter as I’m doing each thing. Writing (and this experiment) began on Sep 1, 2017. The timeline for this experiment is one year or less.
In seven years of off-and-on entrepreneurship I’ve built one moderately successful business. That business peaked at $40,000/year, and it took several years of hard work to get to that point.
I expect to sell that business within the next few months (for not much money). Once I do I’ll be making $732/year.
That makes me the perfect person to do this experiment.
Serially successful entrepreneurs are inspiring. But you and I aren’t serially successful entrepreneurs. How much can you emulate a superstar who churns out success after success by trusting her experiences and her processes and by turning to her existing audience of 500,000 people? That’s great, and surely there are things that you can learn from that, but you can’t do that.
But you can do what I can do.
I’ve barely scraped the surface of success. I don’t trust my experiences. I have no processes to speak of. And my audience consists of 12 people (that’s not sarcasm).
Despite all of that I’m going to be financially independent within the next 364.99 days. And oh yeah, I’m starting from complete scratch. I don't have any project ideas, nor do I have any plans for what exactly I want my financial freedom to look like. Maybe it's a single app that I dump all of my time into. Maybe it's several small tools. I don't know yet. So when I say that I'm starting from scratch I mean it.
I chose “financial freedom” instead of something like “making six figures” because the first is closer to what I really want. The second is arbitrary. The first allows for more lifestyle creativity. Cutting expenses is nothing to be ashamed of. But before going further, and before you start thinking that I’m afraid to commit to making actual money, I want to define exactly what I mean by “financial freedom”.
In order to succeed,
- Within one year my income must cover the entirety of my expenses plus the entirety of the expenses that Sarah (my wife) and I share. That is, I must make enough to pay for my own food, clothes, entertainment, health care, car insurance, etc and also 100% of housing costs and any other shared expenses that come up.
- I am free to cut expenses in any area except that I must continue to choose organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, grain-free, etc whenever the possibility is available, even if that means double or triple the cost. Sacrificing health is not an option.
- I must be able to save at least 25% of my taxable income after deducting the expenses (even if Sarah pays for a lot of them) from above.
- I must not have a boss.
We live a pretty unfrugal life right now. We’re not wasteful. We buy almost zero things. But when it comes to food and experiences, we know what we like and we’re (currently) not afraid to buy it. If I don’t want to move then I’ll need to make at the very very least $56,000/yr to meet the above criteria. But that would mean drastic lifestyle changes like not being able to ski whenever I want, not being able to order the most delicious-looking thing on a menu, etc. That’s not the end of the world. I can still be happy without skiing. But shooting for an income more in the $80,000/yr range would make life a lot more fun.
When you read this live book you’re helping to keep me accountable. That, in turn, makes me more likely to actually do what I said I was going to do.
In order to magnify that help I ask that you please sign up to follow along if any of the following are true:
- You're curious about the outcome and/or think you might learn something along the way.
- You’re a nice person who simply wants to help me have a higher chance of success.
- You want absurd deals on whatever I make during this process, possibly including freeness. I can't tell you the exact deals because I don't know what I’m going to make yet, but I can tell you that you won't be disappointed.
Why this idea?
I’ve committed to taking on 2-3 challenges at any given time and documenting them publicly, but I’m only taking on a single challenge right now. So I need to add another. That’s the non-depressing component.
The depressing component is that this challenge was supposed to be “Building a 6-figure SaaS business from scratch in 6 months.”
My friend Jason and I had an idea for a new SaaS (software as a service) project last week. One of those “oh snap” lightbulb moments. It was brilliant. And the more we thought about it the more brilliant it got. My head started turning. I’ll make this my next challenge, I thought. I’ll challenge us to make a six figure SaaS business from scratch in six months (not because I actually care about six figures but because we might as well shoot for something, and that’s a catchy title) and I’ll write one chapter per week about what we’re up to and how it’s going.
Unfortunately the day that I was going to publish this challenge (Monday of this week) is also the day that that idea failed. The idea was more-or-less to make the SMS equivalent of MailChimp (which is obviously an oversimplified explanation). Each bit of planning and research got my hopes higher and higher until I eventually stumbled upon some things (carrier spam filters and some other technical stuff) that made it unfeasible. That sucked.
Side note: We could have easily gone several months before figuring out that this couldn’t work. How lucky are we to have found this out less than a week in? Very lucky. It stung initially, but thinking about how we were both able to come out of this so unscathed has me smiling.
When that idea fell apart I was crushed for about 24 hours. Moping around, eating comfort food (which is something I don’t do), and just not in a good place. I loved the idea, loved the idea of working with Jason even more, and loved the idea of documenting the development in this unique way. I was crushed because of all three of those. As it pertains to this site, though, I was specifically crushed because my next challenge was over before it started.
I can’t write about that. Crap. What am I supposed to do now? Back to the drawing board.
Wait. Do I really want to touch people in a meaningful way? If so, isn’t talking about that drawing board an important part of the process? Is that not a more realistic place to start from than already having the perfect idea and the perfect partner?
I don’t know why it took me so long to think of that. Perhaps because it’s such a vulnerable place to be starting from. There’s not a clear direction, and that’s scary. Telling family, friends, and former colleagues that I’m only making $732/year is even scarier. But the whole point of doing these challenges is to confront that scariness, so let’s do it! I can’t have a proud zero to success story if I don’t embrace the zero.
[closes eyes, breathes deeply, okay you can do this]
I’m still going to write about starting a successful business. But this time I’ll be starting from scratch, without even an idea.
I’m also doubling my timeline from that original idea from six months to one year. Not because it’s going to take me six months to think of my next idea, but rather because, upon further thinking, I have always had a problem playing the long game. I’ve always chased my tail trying to find success in an unreasonable timeframe, and I don’t want to encourage that mindset moving forward.
Why this format?
Because of the accountability aspect mentioned above. This will force (or at least strongly encourage) me to show up and do the work. Especially if you're following along. I won't want to let you down.
Because this book-style format forces me to tie my thoughts together semi-coherently. I'm not word-dumping into unrelated blog post after unrelated blog post. All of these words have to make sense as part of a bigger picture, and that constraint should help me think about the bigger picture.
Because I’m starting to realize that creativity isn’t something that just pops in your head. It’s something that has to be worked at. One of my favorite authors, Cal Newport, says it like this:
The reality of creative production sometimes is that it’s very workman like. You gotta put in the hours. And the hours are often: you’re sitting there thinking intensely, or you’re sitting there writing and it’s just hard to craft what you’re trying to do. … It’s hours, and the more intense they are the more you get out of the hours. So that’s my theory. Focus as hard as you can. Rack up the hours. Repeat. Good things come out of it.
Because wisdom is sometimes in the cracks. If I successfully completed this challenge and then wrote an article titled "10 easy tips to earn six figures", would that actually help anybody? It's my theory that there is more to be learned from watching me try and fail (repeated x 25) then there is from reading a glorified recap.
Because survivorship bias sucks. Reading post-success articles from people who have already made it is misleading. Not only are you missing out on all of the juicy details, but you’re also getting an unfair impression as to the likelihood of success. My experiment might work. It might not. But it will stay online either way, and it will showcase both the good and the bad either way. And either way I hope you can learn a ton from it.
Because I've never given myself this kind of a chance before. I've always been chasing my tail trying to reach financial independence within the next month or two, but have never played the long game. I'm excited to play the long game.
Now is not the perfect time to start. My audience growth strategy is beyond incoherent right now. I don't even know via which medium I want to communicate with people. I haven't even gotten around to putting up the proper forms to collect email addresses or phone numbers or whatever I want. Yes, it’s so bad that I don’t even know if I want email addresses or phone numbers.
I should take some time to figure out and implement a good audience growth and communication strategy before starting this challenge. Otherwise, especially if this turns out to be something that people care about, I'm throwing opportunity away.
But on the other hand, screw that. What I've come to realize that there is no perfect time to start and there never will be. If I worry about having every little thing right first then I'll never get going.
For better or worse this is me getting going.
Why I’m Confident
I talked above about my lack of success thus far. Then I told you how successful I’m going to be in the future. Does it feel like there’s a missing piece that I’m not telling you about? There is. That missing piece is my self-awareness regarding all of the things I’ve done wrong in the past.
I've been commended several times (by people who aren't necessarily horn-touters) on my writing style, my coding ability, and my design skills. I’m not worried about this more concrete skill set. My problem has been everything else.
I’ve never played the long game. I’ve never had a strategy. I’ve never worked for more than three months before giving up (probably because of the lack of strategy).
I’ve never respected the big picture. But that’s changing this time, and so too, I’m confident, will the outcome.
If you want to try a different way of learning or if you simply want to see me succeed then please consider following me on my journey.
The Game Plan
I just publicly committed to going from zero to success in one year. That was a fun first step. Unfortunately I don’t have a second step lined up. What the hell am I supposed to do now?
I could start making something. Maybe a SaaS or an iPhone app or an online course. I don’t have any ideas for any of those things, so that’d be tough.
Since I don’t have any ideas I could start by brainstorming and coming up with ideas. But then what am I supposed to do once I get those ideas? Do I try to build all of the ideas? Or only the best one? Or the top three? Do I test the different ideas in any way before spending time building them out?
I can’t lay out a complete strategy right now because I know almost nothing about almost nothing. So I’m going to start by coming up with some ideas for businesses and then I’ll go from there. Seems like a reasonable enough start. Maybe I’ll make multiple of those businesses. Maybe just one. Who knows. But I have to start somewhere.