January 22nd, 2021
The LA Marathon was moved to May, so I'm finally getting back started with my marathon training.

I was kind of dreading it, but now that I've run a few days, I'm remembering why I love training so much.

It gives me a tiny feeling of purpose every day. Every night, I go to bed and check what I have to do the next day. I plan my day around my training.

I have a hard rule that I can never go under on my training. If I have to run 5 miles, 4.9 is not enough. I'll run around the block at the end if I need to.

Here's my spreadsheet for training. I always use Hal Higdon for training schedules.

My marathon training spreadsheet.
January 20th, 2021
Instagram is the new Facebook. I go on there, and nobody makes posts anymore.

Just like how people stopped posting photos on Facebook or updating their relationship status.

Still, there are Instagram stories. But stories, these days, are mainly used for reposts and the occasional virtue signaling. 

I imagine posting stories will also slowly fade. I haven’t posted a story in months, and none of my friends seem to do it either…

Some interesting responses here:

January 18th, 2021
I should get 8 hours of sleep. If I get 5 hours of sleep, I'm irritable, pessimistic, and can't focus.
January 16th, 2021
I love working from coffee shops, and I’ve missed it for so long. I’ve been going to Panera bread every morning for the last week.

A nice mix of folks here, all doing different things. Some old folks chatting, some young kids studying, a realtor meeting his clients, someone reading the paper, etc.

The energy here is so much more productive than working from home. I can’t stand working from home.
January 15th, 2021
I do have a chip on my shoulder... When you bootstrap, you get laughed at... I never took it personal and I never held a grudge. But it's motivating.

With my business, it's hard to get recognition, and that motivates me.

One funny story is: I connected with an executive on LinkedIn, and later went to SXSW. I saw that same executive was going there. So I said to him: 'We should meet up'. We scheduled a 2PM time to meet.

At that time, I didn't have any money. I was staying an hour outside of Austin at a motel. And I drove into SXSW through the rain to go meet this individual. And... he never showed up for the meeting. And at 2:05PM I got a text message that said 'Hey, I had to do something. If you see me on the street, feel free to say hi'.

And I actually taped that person's business card to my wall in my office... Just to motivate me.

And the funny thing is. Years later, that person lost their job and got intro'd to me and interviewed to help work at our company.

I, of course, didn't mention it. And he was totally respectful. And very smart. It wasn't a fit, and I didn't not hire him because of what happened, but my point is that as an entrepreneur I still want more recognition for our platform. And some people still do think it's a joke. And I still get denied for certain things that I want to. That pushes me to keep going.

Love this podcast with Evan Britton, the creator of Famous Birthdays (1B pageviews/year).
January 13th, 2021
This is an excerpt from the Starter Story newsletter

I just heard about this product called “Newsletter OS” created by Janel from Barcelona. She reported having made over $30K in a few weeks.

What is it? It’s an instructional wiki for people that want to start their own newsletter.


She reported it took her about 150 hours to create. She made $1K on the first two days after launch. By my calculation, she’s now made over $30K.

This can be replicated over 1000s of topics & industries

This concept would be successful over lots of more ideas. For example, you could create an “OS” for:

  • Learn to code
  • Get into a good college
  • Get into law school
  • Getting into coding bootcamp
  • Get started with tennis
  • Running a marathon
  • Getting set up as a therapist
  • Buying stocks
  • Starting an e-commerce store
  • Email marketing
  • Woodworking
  • ANYTHING from our 3,000+ business ideas
  • I could go on for hours. You get my point…

All you need is some specialized knowledge about the topic.

How it works

It’s super simple. 

  • At its core, it’s just a Notion project (free to use). 
  • It’s sold through Gumroad.




I love this as a side project

Whether you’ve got a full-time job, or you’re running a bigger business, this could be an easy side project to:

(1) make some money selling knowledge you already have, and 
(2) grow your audience by helping others

You’re just selling your notes

Do you already take notes and do some writing for yourself? Well, this project is essentially just open-sourcing your notes to the public.

I realize there is more work than this... but not much.

Also, knowing you may open-source your notes can be motivation to write better (and become smarter).

You can validate in days

I don’t even think you need to spend 150 hours as Janel did.

As long as you’re an “expert” in some small, specialized topic, you could start selling & validating in a few days.

And even better, your “wiki” is a work in progress, being updated as you go. As you promote and sell, you can add more stuff, create fancy graphics, etc.

It’s “open source”

What I also like about this project is that it has the benefits of open source. 

By using a tool like Notion, you can invite friends, collaborators, and more experts to improve the content.

Easy to repurpose content

Don’t have an audience? Well, the content of the wiki will build your audience.

Take your notes (or the pages) and repurpose them to YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, or even when someone emails you a question about XYZ.

It’s a good SEO play

And lastly, you can have lasting sales with SEO. You can convert your Notion project to a website with something like Super.

That way, customers can find the content of the wiki directly through search engines and then buy the product to get the “full suite”. Try to collect emails on these pages.

Want more?

If you liked this business idea, I’ll be sending another business idea like this tomorrow at 12:15PM EST to our premium newsletter. Sign up here to get it for 35% off, ends today.

P.S. Credit goes to @csallen for this idea from the Indie Hackers podcast.
January 12th, 2021
I spent this morning writing down some thoughts on focus. This is just a 2-minute read. Hope you like it, and feedback appreciated.

In my opinion, focus is the single most important aspect of starting and growing a business. 

This goes for all companies, at all stages. It doesn’t matter if I’m one guy with a laptop in a coffee shop, or I’m running Apple… Being focused is still priority #1.

What do I mean by focus?

Focus means: Thinking about and executing on “one thing” only. 

During our best working hours, we should spend 90% of your mental and physical energy on this “one thing”.

If we have 10 different “one things”, then we’re not focused. It doesn’t mean we won’t be successful, but it does mean we can’t reach our full potential.

Why it’s so hard to focus on one thing

Focusing on one thing is the exact opposite advice we hear from everyone around you.

Everyone has new ideas and priorities for us: Friends, investors, books you read... they will all say:

“Try this thing. Do that thing. Hire this person. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

As a leader pushing a company forward, our objective is to politely disregard 95% of this. In one ear, and out the other.

But this is way easier said than done. Take it from the creators of the 3rd most valuable company in the world:


Our insane focus might look bad to others

When we have “a lot of things on your plate” or “a lot of priorities”, you appear busy, high level, and important. 

And most people (incorrectly) associate being busy and high level with being successful.

Therefore, our insane focus might actually look “bad” on the surface, especially to employees, investors, and customers.

This can lead to criticism. I believe this is why so many leaders lack focus:


Premature De-focusing

I believe many founders “de-focus” too early.

Often, we’ll reach some goal, and once it’s “conquered”, we’ll move on to the next thing, or the next priority.

But this is where we need to stop and think: 

“Can I go deeper? Can I focus more?”

We might actually just be scratching the surface of what’s possible.

Harry Dry, the creator of Marketing Examples, is a great example of this:

Harry’s only priority: write amazing content. Once he reached 10K subscribers, he didn’t stop or move on to different priorities, like a YouTube channel, hiring people, etc. 

He just focused harder, and deeper. He kept writing more, and better.

Now, he’s well on his way to 100K subscribers, and one day, 1M subscribers.

Successful vs. really successful

The most interesting part of all of this:

Being unfocused won’t lead to failure, it will just lead to less success with more work.

According to Warren Buffett, it’s the difference between successful and really successful:


January 11th, 2021
In 3 minutes, I’ll explain how all good businesses use urgency to drive a lot of sales.

What I mean by urgency:

Urgency means influencing people into buying something now, rather than later.

I think it might be the least talked about, yet most-effective marketing concept I can think of.

I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot over the past year... and I’ve been trying different things at Starter Story (and seeing great results).

Since internalizing this concept, I’ve also noticed how pretty much every good company does it, too. I’ll be showing a few examples below.

The Breakdown: (tl;dr)

(1) People will buy more of your stuff if it’s “scarce”
(2) All companies do this, to some degree (it must be Marketing 101, but I never took that class)
(3) It’s very easy to implement for your business

What you need

(1) An incentive (discount, upsell, future price increase), and
(2) An expiration date (today, tomorrow, this month)

Why does this work?

Human psychology. People prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains, otherwise called loss aversion.

So, in other words, your offer makes the buyer feel like they are losing money if they don’t take it. Crazy, huh?

This is why every company does Black Friday deals

Black Friday is the penultimate example of this tactic.

Black Friday has a limited time offer: 1 day only. If you buy no

(1) The incentive: Discounts on gifts that you were already going to buy anyway.
(2) The expiration date: 24 hours

And the last reason BF works so well is because of supply scarcity. If you don’t buy RIGHT NOW, the items will sell out.

But it’s not just Black Friday

Marketers can and will make up anything they want:

(1) October 13th - National No Bra Day
(2) September 29th - National Coffee Day
(3) August 26th - National Dog Day (Barkbox):

And it doesn’t really matter WHEN you run it

Most smark marketing teams are running the same deal, all year long.

For example, The New York Times runs “limited time offers” on an ongoing basis.

Every time you visit their site, they have a “new” limited-time offer. While in reality, it’s always the same offer:




Urgency: Supply scarcity marketing

This also works well when you promote the scarcity of your supply of the product.

In other words, stating you have a limited quantity. And this is simple economics. The lower the supply, the higher the demand.

It is not relegated to physical products. This is done perfectly by @stephsmithio, who artificially limits the supply of her digital book:


Urgency: Using it with an upsell

This isn’t only for discounts. It can also work for an upsell.

This is what James Clear does for all new subscribers on his email list:

Instead of offering a discount, he sells his normal thing but gives the buyer an incentive to buy it now:

(1) Buy my book today and prove that you did
(2) If you do, you’ll get this extra thing that costs nothing to send you




This is age-old marketing advice

This “tactic” of driving urgency is not new, or revolutionary advice. You probably already know this.

However, what I love about this “tactic” is that it’s stood the test of time.

1888:

“Believed to be the first coupon ever, this ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola was first distributed to help promote the drink.”

Just a few years later, Coca-Cola was sold and consumed in every territory of the United States


January 10th, 2021
One of my goals for 2021 is to get better at keeping receipts and tracking business expenses.

I wanted to find a better way to “automate” saving receipts. I started building something in Zapier for this:


Anytime I have a receipt, I email it as an attachment to this email address:


I set up a filter in Gmail to automatically skip the inbox if it’s coming TO this email:


The Zapier logic is set up to look under the Receipts folder for any emails WITH an attachment. If it finds one, it uploads it automatically to Google Drive:



After it uploads to Google drive, it also updates inside my expenses tracking spreadsheet with a link directly to the Google drive file. 

That way, I can easily attribute it to the expense from my credit card.



Picture Receipts

When I take a photo on my iPhone of a paper receipt, I can simply email it to that same email address, and it will also upload to the Google Drive.

Non-attachment receipts?

If you ever get an email with the receipt in the body of the email? Simply forward it to [email protected]. They’ll convert the email to a PDF and send it back to you, for free. I set up another filter to handle that:


January 9th, 2021
Harry Dry told me I should focus more on the newsletter for Starter Story. As it’s nearing 50K subscribers, it may be the most valuable thing I have.

I think he’s right, but now I need to figure out the "right" way to focus on the newsletter, what’s going to be on it, and what the vision for it is.

That’s why I’m writing this right now.

The hardest part about any newsletter is the insane amount of work that it takes to make it really, really great. It’s easy to slip into making it “just OK” over time.

A newsletter takes work, every week. So what I want to figure out is: How I can sustainably create a great newsletter…?

And I think the answer is to start leveraging my writing here on my daily blog. I already write every day.

But that also means the Starter Story newsletter would be more about “me”. That is a good and a bad thing.

Good, because it would be higher quality and more thoughtful.

Bad, because it ties the Starter Story brand to me. It maybe becomes a more personal brand. 

But over the last few months, I’ve become less afraid of that. I see lots of people doing really well with their personal brands, i.e. Joe Rogan, MrBeast, Anthony Pomp, etc.

I think the only thing I can do is test stuff out over the next few weeks. This week, I tried the first "different newsletter" and it did pretty well.


We generated $1,600 in memberships from that newsletter. That alone gives me the motivation to keep working harder on the newsletter, and it justifies the work.

If you have any ideas, let me know.

I also think it’s interesting to have a "style" of the newsletter. Like, James Clear has the "321 Newsletter", which is actually quite simple.

The lesson there is that longer is not better.

I also am going to look a bit deeper into Pomp’s newsletter. What I think is interesting about Pomp is that he writes every day, kind of like me, but then shares it with a paid audience. Once a week, he does a free one.

The biggest question, for me, is how can I really enjoy doing the Starter Story newsletter? That is what is the most important piece to growth and monetization in the long run.

I think that also means the content will change. I will probably lose some subscribers. But that’s all part of figuring things out.
January 8th, 2021
I got an email from a reader a few months ago. They had just quit their job and were about to start a coding bootcamp to learn to code.

I also did a coding bootcamp, years ago, and it is what set me off in this journey. 

I wished him good luck, and asked him to keep me updated.

A couple weeks later, he told me this:

As for the coding bootcamp, they kicked me out after I failed a test by one point on the theory of coding and took the 800euros admission fee I paid. I really liked that week of coding, so I am now pursuing that journey by myself.

When I saw this, my heart dropped. 

I remember how stressful those tests were. I almost failed them, too. I always wondered what I would have done if I got kicked out. Would I have given up? Gone back to corporate?

But then, he said this:

It will be more difficult and take more time, but I am determined to become a developer, get a dev job, and let my side business become my main business.

When I read this, I knew he would be successful.

It is this kind of determination that makes for a successful entrepreneur: Thriving with their back against the wall. Always finding a solution. Optimistic. Never backing down. And never taking no for an answer.

I just got an update from him today:

One final update since I got released from the bootcamp. I started my job search on the first of December and after approximately 180 applications and a handful of meetings, I received my contract last week Friday. Will be starting as a frontend developer on the fourth of January in the new year.
 
In that first week in October I also read Can’t hurt me by David Goggins and have been running more than 100km every month, since I see it more as a mental exercise than a physical one.
 
Nobody can hurt me or stop me! I am happy but also aware that this is just the first step in a new journey.
January 8th, 2021
This is an email response I wrote for someone who was in a similar situation as me last year, and wanted some advice.

Appreciate you reaching out. Man, I got so much to say about this...

I think the biggest learning for me was that I really only wanted SaaS because it's "SaaS". SaaS, in my head, seemed "better" than other businesses and business models because that's what the startup media had made me think.

But it's actually not "better". What's better is what's better for you. And by you, I mean bootstrapped founder. And by you, what unique qualities about YOU can you take advantage of to build the best business for YOU.

For me, that makes more sense. I'm not cut out to build a B2B SaaS app. I suck at sales, my code is sloppy, I'm too focused on features, and I think like a nerdy engineer... Starter Story is the way better business for ME because I can have way more fun, have a bit of sloppy code, and I don't have to do any sales or support.

There are lots of interesting business models that aren't SaaS. Like, for example, The New York Times. That's a media business that sells a subscription. They make money on ads + subscription. There's a lot of hype about building a media business and I have really bought into that hype train.

Everything is changing, too. Online communities, selling courses, all that's becoming way more mainstream (and more valuable) and I see so many people making 1M/year+ or even more NOT doing a SaaS.

So, I think there is HUGE opportunity for something like [REDACTED]. Because the market is quite big. Just some things that come to mind: [REDACTED] or like this [REDACTED].

I don't know too much about [REDACTED] but it sounds like you landed on something big!

If you enjoyed working on it, I'd explore more and at least try some more stuff. When I did that at Starter Story, I uncovered so much more.
January 7th, 2021
(1) All great businesses start from some embarrassingly simple idea
(2) Many startups fail because they compare their tiny idea to “big business”
(3) Great entrepreneurs gain confidence in being embarrassed

Avoid comparison, ignore big business!

When starting out, we often compare our tiny idea to big, established businesses. We go to their websites and assume we have to do all of the things they’re doing today.

This prevents so many people from even getting started, out of fear and paralysis. 

It stopped me from getting started for years. Why? Because I assumed I had to be an expert in design, coding, marketing, sales, etc etc to even get started.

But this is (obviously) wrong. 

You don’t need a fancy website. You don’t need an LLC. You don’t need to be able to code.

In fact, it’s actually better to ignore all of that when starting out. 

Bottom line: Avoid comparing yourself to businesses that have been established for years.

That’s why we focus on covering very young businesses at Starter Story. Here’s a link to all case studies that (1) have started in the last 2 years and (2) have over $50K in monthly revenue.

Imagine telling your family your new startup rents out air mattresses

You may have heard of Airbnb. Their original idea? To rent out air mattresses to sleep on...

They knew their idea was crazy/embarrassing and they were OK with that. In their first 6 months of starting the business, they often made less than $200/week.

Instead of comparing themselves to multi-million dollar hotel brands, they were over the moon to be making a few hundred bucks with a silly idea. Here’s their original landing page.

Imagine starting something today and making a few hundred bucks? Does that sound reasonable?

More “embarrassing” ideas

Many of the world’s biggest businesses can be traced back to an embarrassing idea:

  • Nike started as a reseller of non-Nike shoes (when running was what weirdos did).
  • Under Armour started by selling undershirts from the back of his car (sketchy)
  • Starter Story started by me calling founders and asking about their business (my friends asked me “how is this a business?”)
  • Whole Foods started as a health-conscious supermarket (very uncool in 1980): 


On confidence, and being like a kid

Think of that little enterprising kid who lives next door, he/she’s always starting new (and tiny) businesses.

Maybe today, he’s starting a business walking people’s dogs.

He doesn’t get embarrassed about his idea, he just walks over to his neighbor’s house, knocks on the door, and asks to walk their dog. And then he makes money.

“But walking dogs is not a real business!”

It actually is, especially in the pandemic:

  • Donald’s dog walking side hustle makes $5K/month
  • Melody’s dog walking business makes $54K/month.
  • My mom pays $200/week to have someone walk her dog...

Still not big enough? Rover makes $100M/year, and how did they get their start? They started in dog parks.

A better word for “embarrassing” is “simple”

Our ideas only seem embarrassing because they are so simple. 

Your family and friends likely won’t get it, because they are mostly exposed to “big business” - and big business feels complicated. And they associate complicated with successful.

So in their heads, your tiny little idea is a bit embarrassing because it doesn’t seem complicated enough…

But you know, everything grows from a simple idea.

Simple is special. Tiny is terrific.
January 6th, 2021
This is an internal planning document for marketing we wrote up at Starter Story. I figured some of you might find it interesting?

What is this?

This is an email campaign which is used by the New York Times, that we will try on Starter Story. They send simple update reminders weekly to nudge users into purchasing their subscriptions.

Goal

  • To increase awareness about our paid subscription: Often, users don’t even know we have a paid subscription. Even if they don’t convert here, we are letting them know, and they may buy in a future time.
  • Hard sell: Let’s stop beating around the bush. We should be upfront with customers
  • Setting constraints: To compel users into buying “right now”, to take advantage of a limited time offer.

Design

  • Rough draft of the design.
  • Here it is in Canva
  • Still needs a bit of work/cleanup
  • Still needs update to copy, and more images of faces, + perfect alignment of faces


Klaviyo

Here is the template in Klaviyo. I did a test send to myself and it seems like the images are not hidden.

Links

  • “Proceed to checkout” should go straight to checkout page for regular premium, with promo applied
  • “View offer” should go straight to checkout page for premium plus, with promo applied


Copy

  • Ditch the 9-5 grind.
  • Start your dream business today.
  • Let’s start a million-dollar business.
  • Find your next idea.
  • Learn from the best.
  • Become your own boss.

Subject lines

From: Pat @ Starter Story
Subject: “Ends [soon/today/tomorrow]: $1.71 a week. [Headline].


Flow

We should start these after the final email of the nurturing sequence . We can run as 50/50 AB test against the lifetime membership offer.

We can send each one of these every 7 days, and make sure it is a weekday.

We should stop sending these if the user didn’t open any emails in the last 14 days.


Fine Print

...
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!