Call me a masochist but I’ve always seemed to choose the hard way when embarking on any mission, whether it’s building a new business, learning a new language or completing some other ambitious task. Although I’ve heard of others finding an easy way or shortcut, I’ve rarely experienced this myself. Today, I want to teach you my mindset of approaching, embarking and conquering even the most difficult challenges.
First, let’s define the word “success.” I define success as a point in your endeavor where each addition (marginal) effort you make results in a much greater output. For instance, if you’re running a successful business, you no longer need to frantically hustle 24-7 trying different things, you simply need to work several hours per day and the business will not only continue working on autopilot but will keep growing. This is very different when you’re just starting the business because all your efforts and energy is employed on figuring out what works and finding traction.
This concept is applicable to any endeavor. If you’re learning a foreign language, the first few weeks (and months) must be spent on merely learning how to read (if the alphabet is different) and memorizing very simple words and phrases. After you’ve built the base, things get a lot easier because you can leverage what you’ve learned to absorb more and more stuff.
Thus, if I’m learning Japanese, and I’ve learned enough where I’m at a point where I can have a very basic conversation with a local, it’ll be a lot easier to learn more phrases and expressions. That’s not the case when I’m starting at zero and must spend all my time memorizing Japanese characters before I can even learn the words such as “Hello” or “Thank you.”
In other words, regardless of the endeavor, there are startup costs that must be factored in before you start seeing any return on your effort.
This stage is the toughest mentally. Most people quit here. More people usually quit before their new business gains their first customers compared to the number of people who quit while trying to scale their business from $5,000/mo to $50,000/mo.
More people quit learning Russian before they could string basic phrases together compared to people who’ve quit after they were able to have a conversation but got discouraged because they couldn’t read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Piece.
The first rule of overcoming this hurdle is to have realistic expectations. From my experience, I’ve noticed that many people have very unrealistic expectations. A few years ago, a student applied to my mentoring program. When I asked him what he wanted to achieve, he replied that he wants to make $500/day within a month and move to Bali. Oh, and he also had zero business experience.
Here’s a perfect example of unrealistic expectations. Of course, people do make that much online (I have good friends that make much more), but they certainly didn’t get to those numbers overnight. It took them months/years of trial and error to get there.
When learning a foreign language, an unrealistic expectation is becoming super fluent in a week or a month. While you can certainly become conversational in a month or two (or less, depending on the language), becoming fluent will take much longer because fluency means knowing everything in the language and you simply can’t learn all aspects of a foreign language is a month. There aren’t enough hours to do it. Unless you completely suspend any notion of reality, you simply can’t learn what took someone 20 or 30 years to learn in a space of just few months.
Having unrealistic expectations dooms from you the start. You give up much quicker because you feel that anything short of making $500/day or learning fluent Chinese in a month means you’re an utter failure. That’s absolutely the wrong mindset.
The key is to start with healthy realistic expectations. When it comes to building an online biz, a realistic expectation would be to make something like $30-50/day. That’s absolutely doable and you can build a game plan for achieving that.
If your objective is to learn a foreign language, a good milestone would be to hold a 3-minute conversation with a native speaker. That doesn’t require advanced knowledge so you can achieve this level fairly quickly.
When I moved to Brazil years ago, my goal was to learn Portuguese. I actually couldn’t care less about was fluency; I just wanted to have conversations with locals. I achieved that objective in a couple of months. Sure, my Portuguese is not “fluent”; but it’s a lot easier to become “fluent” now that I’m conversational than if my goal was “fluency or bust” from the start.
The base belief
Although there are people who have unrealistic goals and the blind confidence that they will achieve these goals tomorrow morning, there are also people who don’t believe that something is possible because of low-esteem or other factors.
Let’s clear the air here. It’s 2018. The Internet is over 20 years old, and people still ask questions like “Is it possible to make online?” to “Do Google Ads work?” to “I heard Facebook Advertising doesn’t work” to “Do blogs make money?”
I used to entertain these questions. No longer. The way I see it, these questions are philosophical in nature. If you’re a philosopher and you want to discuss the meaning of life or existentialism, that’s great, but I’m not a philosopher—I’m here to help you build a business.
Before you start any endeavor, you need a certain amount of base belief. If you move to Japan, you must believe that you will be able to learn conversational Japanese. If you move to the Middle East, you must believe that you’ll be able to learn conversational Arabic.
Similarly, if you’re starting a business or learning online marketing, you must believe that you’ll eventually build that business and learn marketing. You must believe that you’ll eventually get the hang of Facebook advertising, Google Adwords or something else, and start to make $30-50/day consistently—at least at the start.
This is an absolute must. It’s not negotiable. I don’t care who you are or your past failures, but you must absolutely know in your gut that with enough time and perseverance, you’ll get to a point where you’ll achieve a certain level of success. You don’t need to become a millionaire overnight, but you must know that you will at least make something online.
Now, if you’re someone who read the above and immediately countered, “But James! I don’t know about that—9/10 businesses fail,” I’m sorry but you’ve failed the test. You need to do some introspection and fix your mindset (or find another website).
Let’s imagine you’re building an online store. You know nothing about building an online store. You know nothing about marketing. You know nothing about websites or tools or WordPress plugins. You know nothing about sales funnels. That’s fine. All of that is secondary. At the very least, you must at least know that someone out there will give you some money for your product one way or another. That’s your base belief.
Or, let’s say you had to pack up everything and move to China tomorrow (I’ve actually been thinking about visiting China for a while). You also know that you would need to learn Chinese. Well, you must absolutely know that you will at least become somewhat conversational in Chinese. It might be the crappiest Chinese in the world, but you must know deep in your gut that will string some Chinese words together and the other person will at least understand you. Remember, we’re not talking about fluency in any way, shape or form.
This is one of the most important things to internalize. Everything starts from here. If you don’t have this minimal level of this base belief, don’t even bother starting.
One of my first businesses was selling physical products on eBay back in 2005. My background was mostly in selling digital products and advertising, so I had zero experience selling physical products. But I saw a product that was selling well, imported it from China and listed it on eBay. The result: I was profitable from day one. Even before I started, I knew I would succeed one way or another. I didn’t care about making millions, I just wanted to make few bucks and grow from there.
The next rule with becoming successful is that you must be absolutely obsessive about it. This is also not negotiable. You must feel that you have to succeed at all costs (within limits, of course).
Forget motivation. Forget some fuzzy feeling of happiness or whatever the hell that even means. None of that matters. What matters is your absolute determination to crack the puzzle. And to crack the puzzle, it’s not enough to treat it as some hobby that you do in your spare time like that 200-page book you’ve been “reading” for a year.
It needs to become a central focus in your life. I don’t want to say it must consume your life, but that’s a good way of putting it. The more obsessed you are, the faster you will succeed. I will go a step further and say that if you’re truly obsessed with succeeding, it’s not really a question of “if”—it’s a question of “when.”
One way to become obsessed is to want it bad enough. You must be in such state of pain that you simply must do something—anything—to change it. Ten years ago, I wanted desperately to leave the Bay Area and move to Brazil. The only way to do that was to build a side business to finance that lifestyle. Casey Neistat, in one of his videos, mentioned that his drive to succeed came from hating his life (he was living in a trailer park and working two jobs).
One of the guys I’m currently mentoring hates his current country and wants to move abroad. It’s this rebellion against his current situation that will eventually propel him to succeed. Nobody has ever succeeded by reading a business book while being completely comfortable with everything in their life.
Brute forcing success
There are several ways to speed up this grind. Money is one way. Money buys time. When you have money at your disposal, you’re able to buy experts, buy data, buy people and pretty much anything else. This will allow you get results quicker.
Of course, if you had a million dollars at your disposal, you wouldn’t be reading this article and following this path because you most likely have a competitive advantage that you can exploit.
If you’re starting from scratch, you really can’t buy time and expertise, so your only option is to grind it out. And to do that you must “brute force” success.
If you’re not familiar with this term, it means trying everything until you get the outcome you want. Brute forcing a combination lock means trying to open the lock by trying every possible combination. It’s the complete opposite of finding shortcuts or tips. It’s also the complete opposite of having a certain view of the world and believing certain things work while others do not.
Optimizing your efforts
The problem with brute force is that you can’t brute force everything simultaneously. Unlike a simple combination lock, your endeavor probably has many moving pieces and many “combinations” to get right. You must pick your battles. Thus, it’s important to focus on one objective at a time and only move to the next objective once the previous one has been solved. This forces you to focus on what’s important and remove everything else.
For instance, let’s say you just moved to Brazil and started learning Portuguese. The primary objective here is to become conversational. This main objective can be broken down into various phases. The first phase might be to learn conversational words and understand at least 10-20% of daily conversations.
In order to get to the 20% point, you write down every word that you don’t understand. Then, at the end of each day, you look all of them up and memorize their translations. You keep doing that every day until you understand about 20% of the spoken language.
Once you reach that phase, the next phase becomes understanding 50% of spoken speech. Daisy chaining these phases helps you to get from zero to your main objective in a controlled and predictable manner.
When it comes to making money, your objective could be to make $100/mo. But if you break it down into various phases, you can attack this problem in a predictable and sequential matter. The first phase might be to pick a good product. The second phase might be to get engagement from the audience. The third phase might be to market to that audience more efficiently. And so on.
The currency of hustle
When you’re grinding it out and brute forcing success, it’s very difficult to know whether what you’re doing is moving you closer to your goals or not. You need metrics. You need data. You need an effective feedback loop.
There’s a currency at play here. This currency informs you whether you’re on the right path or just wasting time. It’s not money. It’s also not time. It’s shipping. The faster you create, the faster you make things, and the faster you put them out into the world to see, the faster you learn what works or doesn’t work.
The opposite of shipping is perfection. At this stage, perfection is your worst enemy. I’m not saying that perfection is necessarily a bad thing. It’s good practice to create high-quality products, but you have to know what the product or service is first. When you’re trying to find your beachhead in a crowded market, your job is to make something; perfection can wait until later.
If you’re brute forcing success, forget perfection. Nobody cares about it. I’m more than certain that your customers don’t. All they care about is whether what you’re creating solves their problems and makes their lives a little bit more comfortable and better off.
Hustle dream team
Last but not least, even if you internalize everything above, it’s important to surround yourself with people who can push you. Surrounding yourself with people who make shit happen helps exponentially. After all, it’s true what they say: you’re really the average of the five people you interact with. This has been an integral part of my success.
I’ve been fortunate because back during my college years I accidentally became involved with very successful guys who got a lot done. They worked hard, build lots of products and essentially printed money. Although we don’t really keep in touch anymore, merely seeing them work so hard and achieve so much in such a short period of time truly opened my eyes to what’s really possible.
I can certainly tell you that it’s one thing to talk about making some “bucket list,” writing down your goals, or saying that you’ll launch this or that “this year,” but it’s entirely a different thing to witness a bunch of guys accomplishes a month’s worth of tasks in one day with your own eyes. That’s what I call compressing time.
If you can’t physically surround yourself with winners, the next best step is to join an online community where people are making moves. Although I’m part of several online communities, there’s only one (a paid mastermind community) that comes somewhat close to being physically surrounded by hustlers.
Most importantly, you must enjoy the ride. There’s hardly a point of suffering through what might seem an endless tunnel when all you’re looking forward is the tropical ending. Whenever I embark on a new venture or project, I view it as a puzzle that must be cracked—at all costs. I actually enjoy the ride.
I also know that if I keep tinkering with the moving pieces, I’ll eventually stumble on the right combination that will pay exponential dividends for the rest of my life and also serve as a jumping point for the next challenge.
Humans tend to overcomplicate things and making money is certainly on top of the list. But it’s not rocket science. Generally, you have two options: build your business or work for someone else’s business. Either you create value or help someone else create value. Those two paths summarize my early years. When I was in my teens and twenties, I alternated between running my own businesses and helping someone else run theirs.
Blogging is a different beast. I started mine completely by accident. Mostly out of sheer curiosity and boredom. It was sometime in 2009, and I was living in a small apartment in Rio de Janeiro’s colorful Copacabana neighborhood. I was living alone. I was lonely and bored. Naturally, I figured sharing my thoughts on the Internet would help me connect who were in a similar situation. Making money with my blog was the absolute last thing on my mind.
Over the years, I kept working on these two interests in parallel. I kept writing about my experiences in Brazil. I also kept building different businesses. Gradually, both things started to grow. My blog started to attract more and more readership. My businesses started to generate more money.
Then, one day, something unexpected happened. I had just returned back to my apartment after a morning swim in the Atlantic Ocean. I opened my laptop and loaded my favorite email client. There was an email waiting for me from an unrecognized sender.
The email was short and straight to the point.
“Hi James, I really enjoy your blog. I’d love to schedule a call with you over Skype. I will pay you for your time.”
I thought it over and agreed. Moments later, I received the payment. Few days later, I advised him on a specific issue he was having. (We quickly became good friends and still keep in regular contact after all these years.)
“That was interesting,” I remember thinking myself. “Someone agreed to pay me for my words and thoughts, for my bits and zeroes that I had plastered all over the Internet.”
“I finally monetized my blog,” I thought to myself.
I was wrong. There was no moment. There was no epiphany. Nothing really happened.
What I didn’t realize is that I didn’t just start ”monetizing” my blog the moment someone paid for my services. I was ”monetizing” my blog the entire time. While I wasn’t being paid directly, I was being paid in another commodity: attention. People discovered my content and found it useful enough to continue reading instead of doing something else with their time.
Attention is a much more important commodity than money. If you can capture someone’s attention, money will soon follow.
The whole notion of monetizing anything is misguided. You don’t “monetize” anything—you either provide value or you don’t. A table that I’m typing this article on right now provides me with value. So is the laptop that helps me craft my thoughts and convert them into zeroes and ones so that I can shuttle them onto the Internet for all of you to see. Then there’s my apartment that’s keeping me warm and safe from all the predators so that I can live long enough to hit the “Publish” button.
All of these things provide value. That’s why I purchased them and own them. That’s why the person or company who created these products or services are duly rewarded with my money.
Of course, the things I mentioned above are all physical products. Blogs are not. They are digital products. And, as it happens to be, words and thoughts are much more powerful than the chair, the table or even my apartment.
Blogs are personal communication mediums. And communication mediums are an extremely powerful way to connect with people. Instead of having some end product that you can touch and feel, words and thoughts are the atoms, the building blocks of life. They can influence emotions and get people to think in a radically different way.
That’s because humans are irrational and emotional beings so thoughts, feelings and ideas always come first. Physical products evolve later.
Writing is like having your own virtual factory from which you can produce anything in the world. If you write about travel, you take the reader on a journey to some distant and mysterious land. If you write about productivity, you help the reader master their time and achieve more. If you write about different tables and how each can help become more creative or more productive, you help the reader choose the right one for their unique situation.
Before I went to Bali for the first time last year, I had no idea where it even was (pretty embarrassing for a geography nut like myself). I had no idea that it was a true tropical paradise on earth. I had no idea that it would be one of the most amazing places in the world to visit and live.
So, I immediately did what I always do when I don’t understand something: I began educating myself. I found a couple of good Bali blogs. I started learning more about this region of the world.
Most importantly, I studied how this region of the world can benefit me, and what I was looking for in a vacation destination. There are plenty of amazing places in the world. But that doesn’t mean I’d like to go to Siberia, Tierra del Fuego or the Galapagos Islands. While all of them are interesting in their own right, I had just spent a freezing winter in Eastern Europe and the only thing on my mind was sun and relaxation. Siberia was out. Tierra del Fuego was out. Galapagos islands, maybe next year. Bali was the overwhelming winner.
Two days later, I bought a one-way ticket to Bali. Two weeks later, I had rented a scooter and was busy exploring this amazing island. I stayed for an entire three months and can’t wait to go back. None of that would’ve happened if someone didn’t educate me on this amazing country by helping me see how it was the perfect solution to the winter dread I was experiencing through the use of their crafty use of words on their blog.
David Ogilvy, one of the most successful copyrighters and advertisers, once said that if you can write a good copy, you can print money. I couldn’t agree more. I would even take it a step further and say that if you can write anything well, you’re monetizing your very own words.
Naturally, when people think about “monetizing” their blog, they start thinking about all the products they can create, whether it’s some eBook, a course, or something else. That’s the obvious path because people just want answers handed to them on a silver platter.
Unfortunately, they’re missing the forest from the trees. It doesn’t matter what “premium” product you create, whether it takes the form of a book, video or a workshop. Everyone can do that. You can outsource book publishing and course creation to some guy in Bangladesh or Jakarta. You can outsource software creation to some guy in Kiev or Minsk. You can outsource article writing on any topic under the sun to anyone in the world who can stitch two English words together. The problem is that if everyone can do it—and they can—the end result becomes a commodity. Commodities aren’t worth much.
But you can’t outsource thoughts and ideas. You can’t outsource original value. You can’t outsource your experience of living in another country while struggling to learn the local language in order to integrate yourself into the confusing culture. You can’t outsource failing for the twelfth time and finally succeeding on the thirteenth with a business that finally gets traction. You can’t outsource helping someone overcome procrastination and laziness so they can finish their first book, the one they’ve been putting off for twenty years. You can’t outsource helping someone quit their shitty 9-5 job and allow them to discover true freedom. You can’t source the pain, the suffering, the triumph, the jubilation. You can’t outsource making a person feel one way one moment and then something completely different another moment.
Monetizing products is about demonstrating how they will benefit someone. Monetizing words is about making someone feel something. Whether it’s getting someone to buy a one-way ticket to Bali, or getting someone off Facebook so they can finish an important task first. The person must impact someone. They must be able to connect to those words in a profound and meaningful way. They must want to take action.
If you can’t do that, then none of that matters. In that case, you might as well sell me a finished product that serves a specific purpose like a nice table or a comfortable chair, and let someone else’s words, thoughts and ideas inspire, motivate and ultimately affect me in ways I didn’t think were possible.
In today’s Wisdom for Men podcast, I review two of my favorite books that have helped me find meaning and purpose in this world full of chaos. The first book I had read years ago and it has influenced a lot of my thinking going forward. The second book I had read recently, and it has also been influential in helping me find my mission.
So, if you’re someone who’s confused about your life’s purpose and meaning, are wondering why you’re not getting anywhere else, or are just tired of the endless politics, fake news and culture wars, this podcast will help you find a purpose.
Enjoy the episode and I will talk to you next week.
A healthy life is a life of endless changes and transitions. Moving to a different place, changing your social circle, or even having something else for breakfast are all examples of healthy changes. But there’s one transformation to rule them all, one that encompasses all your skills, dreams and aspirations and makes you one with the world. In this article, I want to talk about how I underwent such a change and how you can do the same.
As many of you know, my background is in software engineering. I was very fortunate that getting computers to do fun things just happened to be a skill that was in high demand. That allowed me to easily land a lucrative job with all kinds of nice perks and benefits.
Nevertheless, there was always something missing. A certain unfulfilled void persisted in my life. Although I didn’t mind being told what to do if it included being compensated by a nice salary, I always dreamed of being in charge. I wanted to be the guy making deals and deciding what products will get built instead of the guy who translated people’s wishes into zero’s and ones. Sure, I was introverted, but I was willing to overcome it if it meant doing something that had actual meaning. Instead of working at a software company, I wanted to have my own software company.
My first software venture was a complete flop. At that time, I was living in tropical Miami Beach, but instead of enjoying the sun and partying, I locked myself in a local Starbucks and spent my days (and some nights) coding a new app.
It didn’t take me long to realize an important thing: even though I was really good at something, it represented a tiny portion of the overall toolbox of skills that I needed to succeed. I had a talent for building apps quickly—even rapidly picking up a new language, if needed—but I sucked at everything else, things like marketing, sales, and, most importantly, the knowledge of integrating these things together.
The problem wasn’t that I sucked at other things; everyone sucks at everything initially, the problem was that I didn’t even know they were precisely the things I needed to be good at. Essentially, I was surrounded by many “unknowns” that I had to first turn into “knowns” and then master them.
As expected, when I launched my new product, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. Even though I could build a decent product, I couldn’t educate others about the product’s benefits and generate demand for it to save my life. Nobody cared about me or my product. It was a complete disaster, a disaster that left me depressed for a week.
My core skills—the skills that I had honed over many, many years—suddenly proved to be woefully inadequate.
Not being someone who’s easily deterred, I immediately jumped on Amazon and ordered every book on marketing and advertising I could find. I read a bunch of them in a weekend and began putting some of the ideas into practice.
Of course, I still sucked, but as time went on, I sucked less and less. Subsequent product launches were gradually getting better and better.
Later on, I began to understand not only how to build a great product but also how to connect with the people whose needs were being solved by the product I had built. There was more interest. Sales picked up. Profit began to slowly trickle in. It was the beginning of what would be a long process of endless trial and error.
Treading water in an open ocean
What I didn’t know while I was gainfully employed as a code monkey is that I was completely insulated from other functions of the company, functions that were actually responsible for putting bread on my table and making sure I could buy the latest gadgets on the weekends. It was almost like discovering that I was an adult who had spent all his life living in his parent’s basement without ever venturing on my own.
Most jobs are like this. Actually, not only jobs. The entire human race is like this. You’re given a very specific role that you’re expected to do, day in and day out. Naturally, over time, you get very proficient in that role.
The problem is that your expertise and skillset are only valid in the context of that structure. If the structure breaks down or disappears altogether, so do your skills and all the time spent building them. It’s like suddenly finding yourself in an open ocean, frantically trying to swim to shore, something that I felt after launching my first product in Miami’s Starbucks.
Generally, that’s not a bad thing. Our world is organized along “super structures,” things like private corporations and public bureaucracies that absorb people and, in exchange for their time and labor, furnish them with an artificial meaning of life.
These “super structures” enable you to live your entire life, from cradle to grave doing one thing and doing very well. I have a friend who’s finishing up a Ph.D. in some very abstract and theoretical area. Another friend is really good at quality assurance (QA) at a decently-sized software firm. The predictability and stability of knowing that every day will start and end the exact same way gives people a certain comfort. It shields them from the inherent chaos and instability of the world. They know that they can be at work at 8 am and then get home at 7 pm, right in time for their favorite Netflix sitcom.
But all of that is just a mirage. Risk and instability exist even if you’re shielded from them. If the structures that have absorbed them (i.e., companies they work for or universities where they do research) would collapse or drastically change, they would be left on the street with a shaken view of the world. It’s as though the world would go from orderly and predictable and disorderly and confusing in an instant. But this is the real world.
The real world is indeed disorderly and confusing. It’s erratic, random, disorienting, even more so with the rapid proliferation of the Internet. Our entire planet is quickly becoming a small village. This is fostering rapid change. Revolutions can be started with a simple Facebook campaign or a Twitter hashtag. Corporations can lose billions of dollars and lay off thousands of employees because of bad PR triggered by some random guy in Iowa, Cairo or Kuala Lumpur.
Although risk and instability will always be a fact of life, there are ways of mitigating it. The first is by admitting that they exist and understanding that words like “job security” is just a nice word and nothing more than that. The second is realizing that you and only you are able to furnish and guarantee your own stability and security. You are responsible for your well-being.
Most people think that by excelling in one skill and putting that skill to use in a company or bureaucracy, they’re more stable than someone who builds their own company. That’s another very common illusion. Work is simply a transaction of time for money and nothing else. Stability is never exchanged because it remains with the person who organizes this exchange—not you.
When I worked as a software engineer, I was rewarded with money, but I had zero overall security. When I left my job and decided to carve my own path and live in amazing countries all over the world, I realized that my extensive knowledge was useless now that I was on my own. I needed to fortify myself with new knowledge and experience.
This is the greatest transformation a human being can achieve. The path from dependency to independence. The path from slavery to sovereignty. The path from trading your valuable time for artificial meaning and the illusion of stability to real control and capital that prints money on demand. This trumps everything else out there. This is the only self-improvement that counts.
It’s the only transformation that matters because it furnishes you with real, tangible meaning that makes all other facets of your life come together in beautiful harmony.
Of course, your transformation will differ from mine. After all, we’re all different. But regardless if you’re a software engineer like me, or a biologist, a designer, a photographer, videographer or something else, you must find a way to encapsulate that skill into something that’s greater than yourself. One skill is not enough. You must find a way to become self-sufficient and independent—even if it means starting over with a clean slate and forgetting everything you thought mattered.
When I started blogging back in 2008, I wrote about anything that popped into my head. I wrote about travel, dating, relationships, language hacking, the best nightlife in Rio de Janeiro and, occasionally, what I had for breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc.
I never had a clear strategy or purpose. I didn’t sit down and think long and hard about my message and how I wanted to present it. The blog was really a blog—a daily log for my thoughts and ideas, as well as a tool for meeting like-minded people who happened to be around me.
I achieved both objectives. What was once a very modest blog, quickly gained traction and mushroomed in popularity over the years. It has also allowed me to meet lots of different people around the world that I otherwise would have never met.
I don’t say this lightly, but starting this blog has singlehandedly been one of the best things that I have done in my life.
Over the years, as I grew up and matured, I started to develop a certain outlook on life, a certain way of thinking, a certain philosophy. All of these thoughts crystalized into a manifesto that I’m about to share with you.
The future is unlimited
The world is made up of two types of people: those who think that everything is going to shit and that our best times are behind us and those who think that the future is replete with amazing opportunities. I’m firmly in the second camp.
It’s really difficult to be a pessimist. We’re living in the most peaceful and prosperous time in our history. We’re healthier, stronger and more capable than at any point in our history. There was a time when people needed to hunt for food, but today we’re more likely to die from obesity than from hunger. There was a time entire villages and cities were erased off the map because of things like famine or plague. None of this is a threat today.
Of course, things aren’t perfect and they never will be. We still have our share of problems, challenges and things that need fixing or outright overhauling. I’m not going to sugarcoat and tell we’re living in some kind of utopia. That’s far from the case. But think about this: just the fact that you’re reading this right now means that you’re probably doing ok.
We are all entrepreneurs
The Internet and technologies built on top of it have revolutionized the way we think, create and connect with others. They have revolutionized the way we create value and wealth.
Becoming an entrepreneur is laughably easy: if you’re connected to the Internet, you’re already an entrepreneur. If you’re reading this, you’re already an entrepreneur. If you have a blog with zero visitors, you’re already an entrepreneur. You just don’t know it yet.
The skills you need to be successful are very easy and straightforward to acquire. First of all, there’s a multitude of free information on just about everything at your fingertips. Great courses are available for those who need stronger guidance and a more organized curriculum. For those who need more, one can hire experts in any subject area and upload their knowledge into your brain in a fraction of the time it took for them to learn it.
Infrastructure can be set up in a matter of clicks and for almost nothing. Few more clicks and you have a storefront. Another click and you have a payment gateway. Managing this storefront, site or a brand is done with clicks. You can sell any products, whether they’re tangible or not, with, you guessed it, a few clicks.
In fact, sometimes I hate using the word “entrepreneur” because it evokes images of someone working 24-7-365 while trying to build million dollar businesses. This is definitely not the case. Many of the guys I know opted for a more low-key approach. They work a little and bring in several thousand per months. While this isn’t enough to live in a place like New York, it’s more than enough elsewhere (see below).
This brings me to my next point…
Traditional jobs are finished
From Amazon opening up a store with no cashiers to driverless cars to automation to outsourcing to endless discussions about “basic income,” (i.e., what to do with people who will be unemployable) the jobs the way we understand them now are becoming a thing of the past.
This is happening because the economies of scale ushered by the Internet typically favor those who’re comfortable creating their own value by mixing and matching the newly available tools of production: new capital, new labor (outsourcing), new technology, and so on. The industrial revolution commoditized labor and pitted workers against capitalists, but the new revolution we’re experiencing is making traditional workers obsolete.
Why would I work for someone as a programmer when I can build a boutique software company and hire developers in Russia or India?
Why would I work for someone as a copyrighter when I can launch my own store, write a sales page and sell products to 7 billion people in less than one hour?
Why would I work for someone as a marketer when I can launch a niche product and begin marketing it by creating laser-targeted campaigns to reach my target audience?
Why would I work for someone as a designer when I can put my work on designer portals and find new clients for my work in hours?
Why would I work for someone as a photographer when I can build a brand around my work and find customers without the middleman?
There’s little reason to give away your surplus value as a 9-5 employee when you can capture it all—and grow exponentially—as a solopreneur.
It’s outright dumb to trade time for money when you can create value and get much higher returns for your sweat and blood.
A generation from now the idea that someone needs to “work” from 9 o’clock in the morning to 5 o’clock in the evening would be a strange thought.
Even from my own vantage point, I have a hard time understanding why people choose to voluntarily enslave themselves for a meager wage when they can make much more by exposing their value to the world.
Own the platform
Okay, so you’re ready to become an entrepreneur. Now what?
I’m a huge proponent of the first approach. It’s about ownership. Do you respect yourself? If so, take ownership of it. Build your own platform and make content that resides there. That means building your site or a blog on a server that you control. It means thinking hard about the things you stand for and the value you can offer to others.
There’s also another approach: “throw shit at the wall and see what sticks.” This approach is employed by people who love to work for free by creating content and distributing it on platforms they don’t own. They accelerate the other platform’s growth and enrich its founders while getting next to nothing in return.
Whether it’s making videos and uploading them on YouTube, putting up lots of photos on Instagram, or just tweeting random stuff without first thinking what they stand for, they hope that enough subscribers will somehow translate into decent revenue.
This is a poor strategy because there’s no strategy.
Do the opposite of the masses
One of my favorite sayings is, “If you want to be different from the rest, you must be willing to do different things than the rest.” When I first read that, I understood and never thought about it again.
Recently, I’ve seen that phrase again, but this time I realized that I didn’t really understand it the first time around. It’s actually very difficult to do things differently than others.
Think about it. What do most people do? They work 9-5, go to the gym every now and then, come home, put on Netflix, watch a few shows and then go to bed.
Although I work relatively hard, I have a bad tendency to slack off every now and then. (Instead of watching Netflix, I watch vlogs on YouTube). This meant that how I spend my time is eerily similar to how the masses spend their time.
This is a poor recipe for success. You don’t succeed by watching YouTube (unless it’s my stuff) or Netflix or hanging out with your 9-5 friends who have zero ambition. You don’t succeed by consuming crap. You succeed by being so determined that nothing else matters except the success of your business. You succeed by focusing on the business 100%. You succeed by having a tunnel vision.
Most people don’t focus on anything that hard and that’s why they live mediocre lives; after all, it’s hard to do hard things. So, if you truly want to be different, you know what you gotta do.
So, what do you do with your newly free time? You acquire knowledge and try different things. That’s called hustling. Hustling is the process where you endlessly experiment with different approaches in order to figure out which one is going to work. Think of it as “brute forcing” success.
Many people want to take the easy road. So, they spend their days, months and even years discussing various ideas and philosophizing instead of taking action and trying something—anything. The problem is that no one knows what will work or not. Nobody knows what’s good for my business except me. Nobody knows what’s good for your business except yourself. Nobody has the answer unless you test it out.
In my work, I wear many hats. But if there’s one verb that best describes my work, it would be experimenting. I experiment with different ideas, campaigns, models and plans on a daily basis. That’s the mindset you want to adopt. Instead of asking a question, try it. See if it works. The nice thing is that if you discover something that works, it will be something that only you know.
Location-independence is real
The world is getting increasingly interconnected. You can book a flight ticket, AirBnB, and catch an Uber to and from the airports almost anywhere in the world. There’s no place on earth that you can’t learn about right now. That certainly wasn’t the case even twenty years ago.
Once upon a time, the whole location-independence was like a mythical term that some people achieved and others strived towards for. “Oh, yeah you’re location-independent? How do I become one? What do I need to do?” Becoming location-independent was considered by many as reaching a higher level enlightenment or seeing God.
No longer. Now, it seems like it’s a choice people make, like, the type of burrito to order or deciding which socks to wear. All of my close friends are location-independent. All of my entrepreneur contacts are location-independent (one of them has been living in Thailand for two years, so I don’t know if that counts or not.) There’s really nothing sacred or interesting about becoming location-independent and living in various countries. It has become so mundane that even I barely talk about it even though it’s something what I do and what others I know do without even thinking about it.
One of the nice things about having a sustainable online income is that you can design your life however you want. This means there’s really little reason to be in a place that doesn’t match your values. Don’t like America, but want to live in Brazil? Move to Brazil. Want to spend six months in Russia? Move to Russia. Always wanted to live Bali? Move to Bali. Go where you’re respected. Go where you feel good. Go where you find more enjoyable. Just pick up and go.
Trade New York City for Bangkok
Although picking one country or city over another is a personal choice, there are some things that just make more sense from an economic/financial perspective. An example is living in expensive Western cities when you’re not actively creating wealth there.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s little reason to live in places like New York City or London unless you absolutely have to. There’s no doubt these are excellent cities. I won’t argue that the energy and variety that these great cities offer are truly second to none. Chances are, however, you can find the same kind of amenities in other cities around the world for a fraction of the price.
For instance, for the last few years I’ve been living in Kiev, Ukraine. While Kiev is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of New York, it’s certainly a great city in its own right (3.5M people), so if you’re a big city guy like I am, you’ll feel right at home. I have also lived in places like Chiang Mai and Bali. These were much smaller places with an amazing quality of life—and about 10-20% of the cost of living in NYC or London.
As far as I’m concerned, rich Western cities exist for two types of people: those who made it (e.g., $10M+ net worth) or those who are slaving way to make ends meet. If you’re making even as little as few measly grand from online sources, these types of cities offer you zero benefit.
The Internet and its accompanying technologies are busy upheaving the old order and rapidly changing the way we live, work and enjoy life. What remains is the right battle plan and the willingness to see it through.
If there’s one thing that I credit my growth and self-actualization over the years it would be books. A good book is nothing less than a conversation with a very smart person. Books have influenced my thinking and really made me the person that I’m today. I’m a voracious and a fast reader and read about 1-3 books/week.
Naturally, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is what kind of books I’m reading and whether I can recommend a book or two. So, instead of replying to each person individually, I’m embarking on a new experiment. Every week, I will do a podcast where I will review a book or two. I will discuss what the book is about, who is it for, the main argument of the book, and even relate it to some of my experiences. I will also discuss some action steps you can take that will improve your life.
Areas I will be covering includes business, technology, politics, entrepreneurship, philosophy, psychology, and more. I will not be reviewing fiction books.
In today’s inaugural episode, I discuss two of the most influential books that I’ve read. Although, there are many books that have influenced me over the years, if someone came up to me with a gun and asked me which two books I can recommend, it would be these two.
Enjoy the inaugural podcast and let me know what you think.
I recently decided to expand the way I spread my message by creating various videos on YouTube. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million words. So far, I’m enjoying the journey and plan on creating different content and different channels.
Spending lots of time on YouTube while viewing all kinds of interesting content has allowed me to discover creators that I wouldn’t have discovered any other way. The majority of these creators don’t have their own blog or any other channel (or at least don’t market them on their channels), so their main presence is exclusively on YouTube. Many of them aren’t selling their own products either; they’re creating videos for fun. Nevertheless, one nice thing about a huge platform such as YouTube is that there’s an automatic way of making money: become a YouTube partner.
Earning money with YouTube is simple. Make a video, toggle the setting so the ads appear and wait for the money to come in. Advertisers pay Google/YouTube for the ads to be shown, Google keeps a portion and the rest goes back to the video creator.
It’s a win/win for everyone, especially for people who’re starting from scratch. That means you don’t need to spend years building out the brand and then creating products; advertisers simply pay per video views, regardless if the channel has 1,000 subscribers or 1 million. Naturally, the more people see your videos, the more money you make. (Although, because advertising is based on supply and demand, the amount you per view is largely dependent on what kind of content you have.)
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll become automatically rich. First of all, if you don’t have a large following, the amount of money you’ll make will be very little. It takes a relatively decent audience (typically, more than 5-10k subscribers) to see a steady income that can cover your cable bill.
The second problem is much bigger and negates the benefits provided above. It’s the fact that you’re using YouTube’s platform for your content instead of building on your own platform.
When you create your own content and then host it on another platform, your content is governed by the platform’s rules. This forces you to abide by the platform’s rules. The first issue is that you give up some of those rights to the content. The second issue is that you’re dictated a certain way to make money and no other way.
you have to blog on your own domain. medium, facebook, linkedin, huffpo will do what are in their interests, not yours. i have been doing it every day for 15 years this year. feels great to own my archive, my brand, my content, myself.
So, if you create the best videos in the world and put them on YouTube, you can no longer charge whatever you want for them.
Last week, YouTube introduced a new monetization policy. Starting next month, people with less than 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of views will no longer be able to monetize their videos. Once you reach those thresholds, you can reapply to the program for a chance to be able to show ads on your videos and get a portion of the profits.
This announcement affected thousands and even millions of creators out there. Although creators that don’t meet those thresholds weren’t making much money to begin with, it still signaled that YouTube was becoming more picky about the videos it wanted to be associated with.
But, mostly, this was a signal of something much more important: YouTube is now more concerned with its advertisers than with its up-and-coming creators. YouTube had grown up. Not everyone was automatically welcomed to its gated garden. And if you want to be part of the club, you need to go through strict checks. It’s like going through face control at a posh club instead of a cozy coffee shop that’s open to everyone.
This underlines something I’ve been talking for a long: it’s very risky to build important things on someone else’s platform. You’re building a dream house on a land you don’t own. Thus, you could have the most amazing content, but you’ll always be rewarded according to the most common denominator: in this case, specific ad rates that advertisers negotiate with Google, YouTube’s parent company.
Own the platform
Building your dream house on a land you don’t own is always a poor business strategy unless you make a little tweak: build that dream house on a land you do own. That means owning the platform.
Creating your own platform should be the cornerstone of any business, especially online businesses. I’m no exception. My own platform is Maverick Traveler (and some of the other sites I own). This is where all my content resides. This way I’m in absolute full control of the content I create, how I choose to present it to my readers, and how I monetize my products and services.
When you create content on another platform or channel, you’re powerless to do anything if those platform’s owners deem it unsatisfactory for their audience. If they don’t like you or your channel, they can flick a switch and make you disappear. That will destroy years of hard work and eliminate any revenue.
But when you own that platform, nothing like that can happen. Unless you screw up technically and delete your own site (and there’s backup for that), your site and your brand (along with your products and services) will always be online, 24/7, 365 days per year.
One of the side-effects of building on your own platform is that you’re forced to think through difficult problems. First of all, you need to decide what your brand is all about. If you’re just creating random stuff on YouTube or Instagram, you don’t really need a specific strategy; you can create random videos or post random pictures, but when you create your own platform, there needs to be a unified theme that generates serves a specific objective.
Creating and uploading a video to huge platforms like YouTube is straightforward because YouTube is an already establishment video platform, a problem that was solved when the company was being built. There’s also no discovery problem because your video is simply a search away from the site’s visitors.
On the other hand, when you create a brand tomorrow on your own server, nobody will know about it. Thus, you need to worry about how others will discover it and why what you do will be relevant to them. It’s much better to solve these problems in the beginning than after five years of fruitless labor where you’ve created lots of videos or written many articles but nobody knows who you are.
Leveraging other platforms
While it’s critically important to build your own platform, don’t simply discount other platforms. They have their uses as well. In fact, the best strategy is a hybrid one where you cultivate your own platform and leverage the other platforms to spread your message.
For instance, you can have a main authority site or a personal brand that hosts your articles and other types of content. And then you can use other platforms for spreading that message. It’s a strategy I’ve been using for more than a decade for great results. My main site is hosted here along with all the articles I’ve ever written. But, I also leverage other platforms, like YouTube for reaching new types of audiences.
To be sure, building your own platform requires an initial investment. You must provision a server to host your own content. You must design and build a site. Build products and services. Do marketing and customer acquisition.
But, all of this is something must do anyway in order to be successful. It’s not a question of “if” these questions need to be addressed—it’s a question of “when.” And, it’s much better to address those issues now while your brand is evolving, and you have an array of options than in some distant future when your brand has matured and your options are much more limited.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article called, “13 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Eastern Europe.” The article contained my observations about the region as an Eastern European guy who had traveled to every single country and also spent plenty of time living in many of them as well. I discuss things that your typical travel guidebook and your run-of-the-mill travel blogger never talk about.
The article generated a lot of criticism and upset a lot of people. I was accused of things like lying and deception and was even labeled as an ignorant British/American tourist.
So, to set the record straight, I decided to reply to all the criticism in a new video.
If you enjoyed this video, definitely make sure to subscribe to my new channel. This way you’ll be notified of new videos before they drop on the blog (I’m also creating many videos for YouTube only, so they won’t even appear here on the blog).
Disclaimer: this article is not financial or tax-based advice and should not be taken as such. I’m just sharing with you things I learned while researching taxes and other financial matters.
For most of my life, taxes were a complete mystery. That was fine because I never needed to worry about them. I was either employed by others or made too little on my own, so doing them myself or using a piece of software usually sufficed. Then, as my income rose over time, I simply hired an accountant to solve this problem. In both cases, I was successfully shielded from needing to understand this important part of any business.
Until now. Late last year, I partnered with another entrepreneur on a new business. For this company, we decided to incorporate it not in US—where we’re both from—but in another country, mostly because of better legal protection and lower taxes. This was a wise decision. This decision also prompted me to finally understand taxes on a much higher level.
In the simplest sense, taxes are a way for governments to take a cut of the action. It’s a form of exchange. Governments provide basic services such as police and paved roads so that you can get to work and build businesses and, in exchange, you give them a percentage of your salary or profits.
There are all kinds of different taxes, and to complicate things even further, the specific cut the government will get depends on the entity that’s being taxed.
Individuals are taxed differently from corporations. Different corporate structures are also taxed differently. So, if you’re operating as an individual, you will pay taxes at a particular rate, and if you’re a corporation, you will pay taxes under a different rate.
To complicate things further, each country, state, and other jurisdictions have specific tax rates. In America, individuals are taxed on a sliding rate that varies anywhere from as little as 10% to as high as 39%. The American tax rate for corporations is a fixed 39.1%, making it one of the highest in the world.
Most companies typically don’t pay those rates because as a business you have perks like deductions and credits, which allow you to lower your taxable income by “deducing” things like business expenses and other items, things that aren’t available to individuals or employees.
Taxes get more interesting (and complicated) when you become a global citizen. Usually, moving overseas exempts you from paying taxes in your former country. For example, if you’re a Canadian citizen and move to China, you no longer need to pay Canadian authorities a part of your income, regardless where that income is coming from. (Although depending on your status in China, you may be liable to pay taxes there.)
If a country stops taxing you when you move out, the country implements something called a “residence-based taxation.” Only the residents of the country are taxed. Germany is an example of a country with residence-based taxation. Anyone who’s a resident of Germany—regardless whether they’re a citizen or not—is liable to pay taxes in Germany. This means if you move abroad, you no longer need to pay taxes there.
Many countries around the world are like this. Canadian residents citizens only need to pay taxes if they live in Canada. Danish residents and citizens only need to pay taxes if they live in Denmark. If they move abroad—or remain abroad for the majority of the year (usually more than six months, but depends on the country), they’re essentially exempt from paying taxes in that country while still remaining to be the country’s citizens.
Another type of taxation is called “territorial-based taxation.” In countries that implement this system, you have to pay taxes only on the income that originates from inside the country. So, if you’re living in a country like Georgia (Republic of Georgia, not the US state)—a country with territorial-based taxation—you’ll only have to pay taxes if the source of your income is inside Georgia.
Territorial-based taxation is great because you can leave a country with residence-based taxation that taxes everyone who lives there and move to a country that only taxes local income. It’s specifically advantageous to nomadic entrepreneurs who most of their income from customers in other countries and, thus, don’t need to pay taxes on this income.
Finally, there are also countries that don’t have any income taxes whatsoever like Dubai or Bahamas. It doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen or a resident. It also doesn’t matter whether your income comes from inside the country or outside. No taxes means no taxes.
Unfortunately, the only people that can’t take advantage of the different tax systems abroad are American citizens. America is the only country in the world which taxes its citizens (and permanent residents) on their worldwide income—regardless if they reside in America or somewhere else. Americans must file their taxes every year even if they’ve been living abroad for the last decade (or more). That’s because American tax system is based on something called “citizenship-based taxation.” As long as you’re an American citizen, you must file your taxes yearly.
Fortunately, being nomadic offers many advantages even to American citizens. The first is the double-taxation treaties. American tax authorities (like most other countries) perfectly understand the fact that other countries may tax you because you’re living and work there. Thus, the amount that you pay elsewhere is used to offset your tax obligation in America. For example, if you’re living and working in Denmark (a country with resident-based taxation) and paying taxes there, that money you pay to Denmark’s tax authorities is used to offset the money may need to pay American tax authorities. That makes sense, otherwise, you’d be paying taxes twice on the same income.
For American citizens, the other nice perk of living abroad is that you’re granted with huge exemption that reduces your taxable income. As an American taxpayer, you’re granted an exclusion (the first $100,000+, it’s adjusted yearly for inflation) if you’re not living in America. So, if you’re not present in the US for around eleven months out of the year, you can use this exclusion to reduce your overall tax bill.
While it’s certainly not the same as not needing to pay any taxes when you move out, it greatly reduces your tax bill if you’re traveling around the world and not really living in America. There’s little reason to pay for things like government services when you’re not in the country to take advantage of them. That partly explains why lots of American location-independent nomads limit how much time they spend in America to less than a month per year.
All of these different taxation systems are options that you can leverage once you unchain yourself and embrace the freedom to live and work anywhere in the world. Once you’re not tied to a particular country, you’re free to live in a low tax country or even in a country without any taxes.
The holy grail of legally lowering your taxes is by mixing and matching the right countries and their requirements for becoming a tax resident. Although American citizens must file (and possibly pay) their taxes regardless where in the world they are, living outside the country can significantly reduce your the amount of taxes you’ll need to pay to Uncle Sam.
Things get really interesting when you get into more advanced stuff such as forming a foreign company and becoming an employee of that company. This allows you to do even more interesting tax and legal optimizations.
What was once a boring and mundane topic, taxes and legal planning are gradually becoming an integral part of my overall nomadic strategy as I’m traveling around the world and looking at countries with not only a pleasant quality of living but also ones that aren’t burdened with high taxes and ineffective legal frameworks. After all, taxes are important. And while you don’t need to become a tax attorney, having a basic understanding of different tax systems will help a great deal. Or, as one wise man once eloquently said: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
For a good portion of the past year, I’ve been busy working on a new book. Unlike my previous books which were mostly about mindset and self-improvement, this one will be primarily about travel, location-independence and entrepreneurship.
The objective of the book is to show you how to travel and build businesses around your passions and interests. The first part of the book is all about travel: where to go, where to not go, how to meet like-minded people, how to establish a productive routine (super important on the road), and how to pickup foreign languages very quickly. Plus a lot of my cool travel hacks that I’ve picked up over the years. You’ll find these applicable regardless if you’re looking to backpack around the world or simply move to another country for several months.
The other part of the book is about my passion, which is building agile businesses in areas that I’m interested in. In the book, I spent time talking about background story behind my business ideas and very quick ways of testing and implementing them. I talk about some of the motivations behind each idea, expectations for the project and how it all went happened.
While I’ve written several books before, this should’ve been my first book because it perfectly captures the essence of the brand and everything I stand for: a junction of entrepreneurship and freedom.
Although I feel like I’ve included everything that I wanted to cover in the book so far, I would like to ask you what kind of information you’d find valuable.
For instance, the other day, I was chatting with a long-term reader and he mentioned he’d like to see more travel stories.
What about you? What kind of things do you want to see in the new book? What kind of things do you want me to cover? What kind of things should I omit?
Travel stories? Living experiences? Business building? Mindset?