January 5th, 2021
This blog post is a work in progress.

Ok, so I have an idea. And since I can’t implement it all myself, it will be best to write about it to get my thoughts on paper since I will be having someone help me with this...

I think it would be cool if we built a Starter Story Contributor program. The goal of this program is not to have guest-written articles, but to have “contributors” out in the field helping us find more businesses to cover.

One of our team members, David, lives in Spain and has been working with me for years now. One thing I noticed is he helped us find and interview many brands from Spain. Even though Spain is half the size of Germany, we have 3x the amount of interviews of brands from Spain.

My theory is that David was a bit of an “evangelist” for Starter Story. I know that he works with a lot of startups in Spain and is well-established in the startup community.

If we can have more people “in the field” in different countries and communities, we could (1) expand brand recognition/traffic (2) interview more businesses & grow our datasets (3) see trending business ideas FIRST and (4) reach new international audiences.

This reminds me a bit of the Forbes Contributor network, which has been a huge driver for them.

As always, interviewing more people is a virtuous loop for Starter Story. We publish their interview, and it benefits us. It also benefits the business with recognition and press, and they share it on socials and tell their friends.

So whenever we publish an interview, we are opening more opportunities for more interviews in the future. If we can do this at scale, we grow all of the business, including traffic, memberships, and brand.

Why I think this works fundamentally (what are the incentives?)

Businesses want press, especially new businesses that are having a hard time getting press. At Starter Story we’ve built a model that can cover any business, even small side projects. I’ve always said that every business has a story to tell, and there is always something interesting, deep down.

For our contributors, having connections at Starter Story is an asset. If our contributor is speaking to a business owner, they can say “Hey, we can get you a nice press piece for your business, and it’s free”.

Once the article is published, we can link to that contributor’s LinkedIn, socials, etc. This helps build the contributor’s brand, and also incentivizes them to get us more interviews. For each interview they do, they’ll have their name, link (for backlinks) and photo slapped on there.

How to find contributors?

The first place we can start is on our mailing list. I’m sure there are some people that would like to help. We can send an email blast about the program.

The next place is Twitter.

The next place is on the website directly. We could have a CTA on each article to get some people interested.

The other thing we could do is go directly to startup networks. Coworking spaces, startup incubators, etc. The benefit for them is to help their companies, and also to incentivize other startups to join their programs.

Compensation?

We could incentivize people and pay them on a per-interview basis,  but I’m not convinced we need to do this. We do all the heavy lifting for the interviews...

If you're reading this and have some ideas/input, I'd love to hear.
January 4th, 2021
December 2020:

- Monthly revenue (accrual): $46.1K (+78%)
- Traffic: 640K visitors (+22%)
- Content published: +277 (+21%)
- New email subscribers (net): +7.1K (+31%)
- Email collection rate: 2.4% (+4%)

Instead of writing about December specifically, I spent a lot of time summing up 2020 in my year-end review.

In that post, I really dig into why Starter Story has grown in the way it has... I hope you find it useful!
January 3rd, 2021
I haven't written in a few days as it's the new year / holidays, so I'm donating a bulk amount to the Movember foundation.

Back to writing today!

December 30th, 2020
2020 marks the third year since quitting my full-time job, and with tradition, I’m doing a year-end blog post (2018, 2019).

It’s always mindblowing to look back at just 12 months and see how fast things changed. 2020 is no different, and it’s arguably my most life-changing year.

As far as the business, Starter Story grew to $30K/month in revenue and 500k monthly visitors.

But more impactful than the growth in my business was the growth in myself. I grew a lot as a person. 

Here’s the real story: The growth in my business is actually the result of the growth in myself. 

My biggest learning in 2020? That I am my own greatest obstacle.

In 2020, I experienced real burnout for the first time. And through that experience, I learned a lot about myself and made some hard decisions, which ultimately led to my business growing 200%.

Here’s the story:

January


I burst into 2020 with an intense drive and motivation to make two different businesses successful: 


I was living at home with my mom (yes, at 29) to save on expenses. 

I told myself I could make both businesses successful through (1) laser focus and (2) hard work. I was confident I could balance both of them as a solo founder.

Started writing daily


In 2020, I also started a daily writing habit.

Every morning, or night, I’d set aside a few minutes (or sometimes hours) to write something.

My goal? To get way better at writing.

My rule? To write and publish something on my blog every single day. 

If I miss a day? I have to donate $20.

Turns out, this daily writing habit would help me grow in ways that I never imagined, but we’ll get into that later :)

COVID-19


In March, COVID-19 happened.

In a matter of days, my investment portfolio halved, traffic dipped 40% for Starter Story, and dozens of customers cancelled their Pigeon accounts. 

It was a very scary time for me. There were many days with no new customers and no new sales…

I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the news. I knew something had to change:

On March 19th, I wrote this:

"Stop being fearful. You need to go all in. You don't want to look back at this and wish you did this or that. Just take what you were doing before - and go even harder. Stay focused, energetic, passionate - and avoid the news."

Figuring I would be quarantined for the next couple of months, I put my head down and got to work.

I worked nonstop on my businesses and adapted them quickly to COVID. Stuck inside all day, I worked 12 hour days and every single weekend for two months straight.

Burnout


But the hardcore hustle mindset couldn’t last forever...

In May, I hit a breaking point.

The truth is… I was working myself to the bone, but my businesses were just “staying afloat”. They weren’t growing or dying, just on the long, slow ramp of death.

And this is when the burnout started.

How did it feel?

I had so many projects and tasks I knew I should do, but at the same time, I felt unmotivated to start any of them.

On my blog, I wrote:

“I’m in this really weird spot right now. I don’t feel very motivated about work. Nothing feels “important” to work on. I don’t feel like tweeting or writing. I don’t want to read any books…”

The problem with burnout is that it’s hard to identify right in the moment. At the time, I just felt unmotivated and apathetic. It lasted for weeks (longer than usual). 

I started to look for solutions. I heard about Bill Gates’ Think Weeks. I asked my other entrepreneur friends for ideas. Harry Dry suggested I take some time off.

So I did.

The Think Week


I got in my car, in the middle of the pandemic, and just started driving. 

I had no destination. 

My goal? To drive until I felt re-energized and ready to go back to work.

As I drove across deserted highways, I just sat there, thinking, for hours. 

How could I fix it? 

My first solution: “I’ll just work harder.”

But that didn’t feel like enough. I kept driving.

As days passed, I kept driving and thinking and driving and thinking...

And it finally hit me:

“I’m neglecting the biggest business opportunity of my life: Starter Story!”

Starter Story could be huge if I gave it the time it deserved. 

I realized Starter Story is actually the far better business opportunity, for me. It’s way better suited to my skills.

I wouldn’t be successful if I kept splitting my time between two different businesses.

Pigeon was my “ego business”, the one that I wanted to work out so badly. The business that could get me into YC. The business that was “cooler”. It was always my dream to build a successful B2B SaaS.

But Pigeon was actually a really hard business to make work, as a solo founder. So much support. So many features. So much competition. So much churn.

The writing was always on the wall, but I just pushed through because I thought I could make it work through sheer willpower.

But that was my ego, clouding my judgment and preventing me from thinking rationally.

It seems so obvious in hindsight, but it was the Think Week that helped me take a step back, and reflect.

I ended up driving 3,000+ miles across 10 days, across the western side of the United States, through Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.


I’m not sure I would have come to this conclusion without it. At the end of my Think Week, I wrote:

“These 10 days off were the best thing I could have done, and I’m so happy I did it - it gave me time to think, reflect, and recharge.

Summer & A New Agenda


Fully recharged, I got straight to work. Motivated as hell. 

My sister lost her job in the pandemic, so I brought her on full time to help at Starter Story.

We put our heads down and went full time on Starter Story, making some big changes and improvements fast: 


These were all things I wanted to do before, but never found the time. I was too busy balancing multiple projects.

$10K/Month


And this new focus? It paid off, fast!

That same month, we hit $10k/month.

This is the power of working on just one thing. Channeling all of my energy into Starter Story produced results immediately.

I was in awe of how one small change in my mindset could change everything so much!

And this was the moment where Starter Story really started taking off.


I can't thank my sister enough + the rest of the Starter Story team for how much impact they had on Starter Story's growth this year. It was your advice and ideas that truly grew the business. I just had to listen.

New York City


If you don’t mind, I’ll take a bit of a detour into my personal life, but I assure you this ties back to the business.

In summer, it was time to go back to NYC. 

I still feel like I had something to finish there, as I left abruptly in 2018 when I quit my full-time job.

Unfortunately, this was in the middle of the pandemic, and everyone told me I was crazy to move there, as the city was hit so hard with COVID...

This might sound crazy, but NYC turned out to be the best place for a pandemic:

All restaurants moved into the streets like you’d see in some European city. There were no tourists. Everyone who didn’t want to be there, left. There were no packed bars or clubs.

And because NYC has great transit and is so walkable, so many people spent time outside, at parks, running, etc.

I spent 4-6 hours outside every day, walking and running along the west side Highway, reading books, going to coffee shops, writing, etc.

I spent more time active and outside than any summer of my life. Funny how that works with COVID, right?

I also learned how to play tennis. I discovered a small tennis community at some public courts and ended up playing every single day for 3 months straight, sometimes even twice a day.

Best. Summer. Ever.


I met a girl


Around this time, I met my (now) girlfriend Kristen.

We’d actually met a year before, we crossed paths while traveling, in Vietnam, but the timing was off.

She lives in Florida, and that is why I moved to Florida! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s right.

Typically I don’t blog much about romance, but I do have something meaningful to say:

I spent most of my life waiting for “the one”, the perfect person.

But my friend Pieter Levels told me this a few months ago: 

"There is no 'one'. A great relationship is really about compatibility and communication. Finding someone that you can chill with, have a great conversation with for hours, and someone who believes in you."

It’s the same in business and other parts of life. You can sit back and wait and hope for that perfect opportunity, but it will likely never be perfect enough. 

The perfect opportunity is actually right in front of us. We just need to open our eyes.

There is no 'one'. The only way to find 'the one' is to cultivate it yourself. That means we have to be proactive, commit to something, and work on it every day. And that has nothing to do with them, only with you!

That’s what makes a great relationship.


I Am My Own Greatest Obstacle


What I realized in 2020 is that I am my own greatest obstacle.

All my problems in business? They tie back to me.

My own ego was blocking my success. I wanted a SaaS to work so bad, and that was clouding my judgement. I couldn’t face the truth. And I was afraid to fail.

In other words, I was lying to myself. I imagine other founders have gone through this, too, which is why I’m writing about it.

How to solve it? 

The first (and the hardest) step, for me, was simply identifying the problem.

What worked for me in 2020? Writing every day.

Writing is how I identify my fears, ego, insecurities, etc. Writing is how I solve problems, business and personal. Writing is what drove me to doing the think week. 

Writing is how I solved my problems this year. Writing is how I grew as a person. And Starter Story grew as a direct result of writing every day.

Writing doesn’t have to be the answer, though. The key point is that writing helped me go internal, to look inside, and understand myself better.

Meditation, journaling, therapy, fitness, personal improvement, quality time spent with family & friends. I think these are actually the solutions to most of our problems.

I think that’s the silver lining of COVID: forced isolation helped me become more introspective, which led to serious personal growth.

And personal growth led to business growth. After the Think Week, Starter Story grew faster than I ever imagined.

By November, traffic was up to 500k/month and revenue $25k/month.

And even with Starter Story growing healthily, I was able to work so much less. I was able to focus on my personal life, on my physical and mental health, and spend time with family and friends and my girlfriend.

And that’s my 2020. I am my own greatest obstacle. I choose my own fate. I choose the values I want to live by. And I am the root of my failures and success. Only I can fix it.

Note: I hope this story serves as a bit of a cautionary tale for other founders, creators, and entrepreneurs. I wrote this from the perspective of me, but in reality, Starter Story is a team of people, and I do very little of the work. We are a team of 6 now, and it’s all thanks to Sammy, Gemma, David, Maribel, and Anjali for all of their hard work and that we were able to grow so much! Thank you!!

2021


Last year, I set a goal of hitting 500k monthly visitors and $30k/month in revenue.

At the time, those goals sounded crazy, but somehow we actually hit it!

Our goals for 2021: Grow Starter Story to 5M monthly visitors and $100K monthly revenue.

It won’t be easy, but I look forward to new challenges and working toward it every day.
December 28th, 2020
Starter Story: 5M monthly visitors and $100K monthly revenue by December 2021.
December 27th, 2020
Spoiler alert.

In the final scene of Pixar’s Soul, Joe gets a second chance at life.

When Joe is asked about how he is going to spend his second life, he says:

“I don’t know, but I’m going to live every minute of it.”

He smells the air, then smiles. Then the film ends.


It is the most powerful ending of any film I’ve ever seen. It’s not corny or preachy, either.

I watched Soul for the second time in two nightss, and this time I cried even harder. As the film closed out, I curled into a ball and wept.

There are so many messages to unpack from this film:

  • Finding our “purpose” in life is not what will bring us happiness
  • We become lost when we obsess over something that disconnects us from our lives, even if that something seems “good” (like music, business, etc)
  • We are lucky to have a purpose at all, many people don’t. But we are not ‘better’ than them for this.
  • Sometimes, all we need to do is just tell someone how we really feel (when Joe finally tells his mother why he loves music).
  • It’s not the destination, it’s the journey (when Joe realizes playing with Dorothea doesn’t feel any different)
  • Happiness comes from helping others (helping his student not quit)
  • Happiness comes from enjoying the small parts of life, like pizza, getting a haircut, and human interaction on the subway
  • We are so caught up in our ambitions that we forget to ask our barber about their ambitions. We forget to listen.

I’ll keep watching this film, and writing about it. I can’t think of another film that has impacted me more.
December 26th, 2020
The best movie I've seen in years. Pixar's best. It's one of those movies that leaves you thinking for days.







December 25th, 2020
Today, on Christmas, my online businesses generated $1,355. 

No big sale. No promotion. And I didn't even work today.

Last year on Christmas, we generated $83 (which ain't bad btw!). 

But one year later, we're doing 10x. I also checked traffic, and email subs, and those have pretty much 10x'd as well!

I just think it's crazy that we can have a great day of business on Christmas, of all days, which is usually one of the slowest days of the year...

I'm not trying to say this to brag, but I just feel accomplished because this is the result of an insane amount of hard work and focus this year (and some serious changes we had to make to get here).

I'm putting together my year-end post right now, and I can't wait to talk more about all this. Coming soon!
December 25th, 2020
It's funny how hard I work, yet I’ll probably make 10x more money on Bitcoin than I will on my own businesses.

With obv 100x or even 1000x less work.
December 24th, 2020
When an artist releases something that's highly anticipated, and everyone hates it right away, don't write it off.

It could be that the artist took risks and didn't create something that would just please critics and fans.

Just needs a bit of time.

For example, 808s & Heartbreak by Kanye West. When that came out, many of his "old fans" hated the album. But in hindsight, that album is revolutionary. It spawned a new generation of artists: Drake, Cudi, Weeknd, Lil Uzi Vert.

When I go back and listen to that album, it's timeless. It's amazing. Even though I hated it at the time.
December 23rd, 2020
Just because someone has an important title at a big company doesn’t mean they are actually good at what they do.

In my own experience, even at fairly big companies, there are only a few people that actually know what they’re doing and have an impact...

In engineering, there are typically just a couple of engineers who (1) know the codebase super well and (2) are capable enough to move fast.

In design, there’s usually just one “mind” who sets the tone for design at the company.

In product, there’s often just one product manager that is so good, that they are driving the entire ship for the entire company’s core product.

This is for a reason. The more people you put on making a decision to solving a problem, the longer it takes to solve.

If you throw 10 designers into a room to make a collective decision, they’ll argue about color palettes for a month.

It doesn’t mean that other people are not working and adding value, I just don’t think I’d consider them to be experts and I certainly wouldn’t take advice from them for my own business.

So next time you hear about a fancy expert who did XYZ at BIG_NAME_COMPANY, remember this. There’s a good chance they were just a butt in a seat.

--

Update:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1341751279643553793

Someone just told me about Price's Law. Very cool!
December 23rd, 2020
For most of 2020, I was afraid to tweet.

I had this mentality that “tweeting was wasteful and not worth my time”, but in reality that was a defense mechanism against my fear of rejection.

In this case, it was the rejection of my ideas and my work. I worried they would be criticized, or worse, not even recognized.

As I gained a (small) following over the years, this has seemed to get worse.

I would tweet less and less. I only wanted to tweet when I had *something absolutely epic* to share…

But again, this was actually self-doubt.

I worried that my “normal” life and everyday things weren’t interesting enough, and that I had bigger expectations of what was “tweet-worthy”.

This is wrong. I should have just kept sharing normal, authentic stuff.

Back when I was just starting out, I followed Pieter Levels religiously. Whenever he tweeted, I ate that shit up because of how authentic he was.

Pieter continues to just share interesting little things that happen in his business & daily life.

That’s the point of Twitter. 

Just share cool shit when it happens.

Just share your real thoughts when they happen.

Just stop giving a fuck anymore, about likes, engagement, etiquette, optimizing, etc.

That’s when Twitter becomes fun, and valuable, and when you build connections and friendships and business opportunities.

December 22nd, 2020
Adding a simple table of contents can do absolute wonders in SEO.

And it takes about 5 minutes to do:

Just make each element an anchor link:



These anchor links will actually get picked up by Google and inserted into the search results:

This gives users more incentive to click on your search result.


If you use the right keywords, Google should start ranking you for some of the "longtail" searches *within* your blog post:



This blog post now gets 150+ pageviews per day, and has grown consistently over time:



December 22nd, 2020
This morning I woke up at 3AM. Couldn’t sleep.

But now I’m working. What’s cool about running your own business is you can do that.

You can work until 3AM, or you can wake up at 3AM and start working.

I don’t have any meetings this week, and I don’t have to “be up and on Slack” at a certain time.

Back when I had a regular job, I would get so stressed about my sleep problems. I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, and I would sit and think about how I wasn’t going to get enough sleep.

I realize that this is a bit privileged because I don’t have kids... But even if I did have kids, I’d still be able to wake up early and get solid work done and then have time for the kids.

47.1% of people choose to own their own time. These are also the kind of people that also want to be able to wake up at 3AM, not have any bullshit meetings, and live life on their own terms.

You can’t put a price on that.
December 21st, 2020
Selling knowledge will be the biggest business trend in 2021.

And it won’t be in tech circles.

It will explode in mainstream professions like mental health, fitness, law, etc. 

In 2021, “regular” people will finally realize they have a massive opportunity to sell their specialized knowledge, and make legitimate money doing so.

Here’s why I know:

My mom is a therapist. She is 61. Her therapy practice is overloaded since COVID. 

She does 8-10 sessions per day, and now has a months-long waitlist to see her.

She is working to the bone, squeezing out every last drop of her own time and energy. 

She has no more time to give. She has raised prices, but the leads keep calling every day and the waitlist continues to grow longer.

If she could, she’d make copies of herself. If she could do that, she could help thousands of people per month, instead of hundreds.

So how can she help thousands?

That’s where info products, blog posts, courses, etc come in. It’s the only answer to helping more people.

She can create blog posts, Instagram posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, sell e-books, courses, etc around the topic of mental health.

Maybe that sounds scummy to sell this kind of thing? I used to think this in 2018, but now I don’t.

She charges $150 for an hour of her time. Why can’t she charge a similar amount for hundreds of hours of her time, in the form of written/video content?

In 2021, a lot of people like my mom will have this revelation: That helping others through content, videos, etc is far more scalable than doing it 1 on 1.

Consultants, personal trainers, therapists, doctors, lawyers, artists, photographers, interior designers, life coaches, massage therapists, motivational speakers, etc…

They will all realize they can supplement their incomes by selling their knowledge online, and they don’t need a big audience to do it.

My mom doesn’t have an audience, but she does have people banging on her door for her services. That's more than enough to make some money today.

This is the opportunity that comes with (1) being an expert at what she does and (2) her profession being thrust into the online world with COVID.

It's no longer a cool idea, but an essential step in growing her business.

So, typically, online content (like e-books) are created as a lead magnet to sell more products, sell consulting, etc.

But for my mom, it's actually the opposite! She's got so many hot leads she can't do anything with. Selling her knowledge is a real solution to her problems.

And that’s what I learned with the Lean SEO course. I wasn’t an SEO influencer. I just had a few people who knew I was doing cool things in SEO. I made a good chunk of change by sharing that knowledge in a scalable way.
December 20th, 2020
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” - Helen Keller

This is my argument for anyone in a job they don't like.

If you're staying in that job for "safety", take a step back and think about the long run. Will this job/career/industry always be "safe"?

You might be actually worse off by staying in that job, even though staying feels "safe" right now.
December 18th, 2020
In business, planning doesn’t really work.

Planning is like New Year’s resolutions. 

We set New Year’s resolutions because we want to change something.

But we don’t want to change now. We want to change later.

This is procrastination.

We like the idea of “the new us”, but we don’t like it enough to actually do the work involved and build the necessary habits. That’s why we usually fall back to our old selves on January 8.

If we really wanted these changes, we would have started yesterday.

It’s the same in business. Planning is like setting New Year’s Resolutions for your business.

It’s exciting to “make big plans”. We feel really good when we do it, and it’s fun! 

(The fact that business planning feels so fun is already a sign that it’s bad)

But just like getting a six-pack requires going to the gym and eating 1200 calories/day, reaching ambitious business goals also require a serious change to how we work every single day.

So, the better thing to do is figure out how you can change/improve your business through daily work/habits.

Break things down into their smallest tasks and work on those tasks every single day.

Get things done as quickly as possible, and try to be as complete as possible with your work.

Software teams have done exactly this with the Agile implementation framework.

Agile is anti-planning. At most, there is a one-hour meeting every two weeks with what needs to get done.

At Starter Story we also operate this way. One meeting every two weeks to get on the same page with what we’re working on. 

We break things down to the smallest possible tasks and execute on them. The faster, the better.

Things change every day, and so do we.

We have ambitious goals, clear direction, and a strong vision, but no elaborate plans to get there.

Just a place to express our ideas freely, and good systems in place to get work done, fast.
December 17th, 2020
The movement is happening.

In 2017, nobody was on Twitter.

Nobody was working on quirky side projects.

Nobody was thinking about quitting their cushy corporate jobs.

Nobody wanted to leave New York City to live like a nomad.

COVID changed all of that.

Everything is going online.

Everyone is going remote.

Everyone is planning and plotting how they can quit their shitty jobs.

People are building businesses. Starting podcasts. Selling courses. Buying bitcoin.

REGULAR people. Not weirdo-early-adopters like me.

The vaccine is almost here.

The movement is happening.

It’s so fucking exciting. 

If you’re reading this, you have a massive head start.
December 17th, 2020
Here's an SEO case study for a website that surfaces trending products to sell!

https://www.loom.com/share/86025ddf23b34df0aaf96b2be92ce83f

I think this could be huge, if done right, because: 

  • the intent of traffic is very high for what he is selling
  • competition seems low based on light research
  • it's data heavy (most blogs can't do this well)
  • trending products are constantly changing (if you can stay up to date, you can win)