I have this family friend. He’s originally from Ukraine but has been living in New York City for over twenty years. He’s like 55 or 60 years old. Whenever I’m back in New York, I see him every few weeks. When he comes over, he always wants to talk about news or politics. Of course, his “news” is always bad. His “politics” is always negative. Then, he switches topics and begins telling me about his personal life. How everyone is sick (or dying). He wraps up the conversation by telling me how Ukraine is shitty, dangerous and only idiots go back.
The last part is especially ironic considering that he hasn’t been back to his homeland in over twenty years while I’ve spent a good part of every year there.
The man is only 55 years old, but he might as well be dead. He’s a citizen of one of the greatest countries in the world, a country with seemingly unlimited opportunities, and yet he’s acting as though he’s stuck in some tiny village (деревня) in the middle of Ukraine where there’s nothing left to do but to rot to death.
I remember feeling this way. There was a time in my life when I rebelled against the world. It wasn’t out of strength; it was out of desperation. A time when I believed that the deck was stacked against me, that I was destined to fail, no matter how hard I tried. A time when I actually believed that the whole world is going to shit and that our future is ruined and that we were better off 20, 30, 50 or even 100 years ago.
A time when I felt sorry for myself and searched for others to blame for whatever wasn’t working for me at the time, whether the fashionable culprit at the time were Republicans, Democrats, Trump, Hillary, Jews, Catholics, Muslims or The Federal Reserve.
Indeed, it’s a very tempting rabbit hole to fall into. It’s compounded by the fact that there are countless Internet communities composed of people who feel helpless and derive the only source of value in their lives from being surrounded by other helpless people.
And, so, no matter where you go, you’re finding people just like yourself. If you’re a failure in life and haven’t achieved much, you will be magically surrounded by others who’ve also failed and haven’t achieved much. If you believe that things were somehow better 50 or 30 years ago—when we didn’t have Internet and people died from primitive diseases that people don’t take seriously today—lo-and-behold and you’re suddenly surrounded by others who’re busy cursing at everything the modern world stands for.
The picture seems complete, but there’s something missing. What you don’t see are the people who’re making real money. What you don’t see are the people who’re making a killing selling either something they created or crafted by someone else. What you don’t see is real, genuine hustle.
What you don’t see is money being pumped out of the keyboard at faster speeds than oil deep inside some West Texas oilfield.
Maybe I’m more fortunate than others because I was exposed to hustling at a relatively young age. Back in high school, I randomly bumped into a guy selling t-shirts out of his high school locker. He introduced me to his friends who viewed money and hard work as their only religion. That was a long time ago, but the image of them working long days and weeks and reaping exponential returns is forever imprinted in my mind. Since then, I’ve met lots of people but I’ve never met anyone who worked as hard as they did.
It’s like once you see something, you can’t just unsee it. It becomes a part of you, for better or worse—forever.
You don’t see all this struggle and pain because the infamous 80/20 rule permeates everything that we do. It’s like a submarine that’s quietly cruising deep in the vast in the oceans. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In fact, my experience has shown that rule is actually closer to 90/10. 10% of my products are bringing 90% of the revenue. 10% of my customers bring in 90% of my profit. 10% of my campaigns bring 90% percent of my sales. 10% of my time brings me 90% of the benefit. 10% of my blog posts drive 90% percent of the traffic.
But what nobody sees is the opposite of the 90/10: the 10/90. The 90% ad campaigns that flopped, the 90% of the ideas that died a slow and painful death while taking a piece of my soul with them. 90% of the products that made no sales. 90% of projects that never left the drawing board. The 90% of effort that went seemingly nowhere.
Nobody realizes that to hit a home run, you need to first strike out at nine at-bats. That to achieve what’s working, you must first eliminate what’s not — without first knowing which is which.
Nobody sees the hard work, the grit, the campaigns flopping, the customer complaints, the ad accounts getting banned. The blog posts that are never read, the videos that are never watched. The emails that are never answered. The money that’s never paid. The last few hundred dollars in the bank account before a breakthrough idea is found.
Nobody sees the products failing, the suppliers screwing up, the return requests, the enormous shipping delays, the personal and professional rejections, the PayPal holds, the Stripe chargebacks.
Nobody sees the confusion, the pain, the uncertainty, the “what now” feeling of hopelessness, the erosion of confidence.
Business is war. You can’t expect to cross into the enemy’s territory and still look good for your mother in-law’s dinner that same evening. You will get scratched up, you will get bruised, you might even have a bit of blood on you—if not worse. Lucrative markets are lucrative for a reason.
Of course, it’s easier to sit on the sidelines and be a spectator than to get involved and get your hands dirty. It’s easier to treat it all as a hobby while having no skin in the game. Nobody wants to get their hands dirty.
In other words, what nobody sees is the insidious 90/10 that’s inherent in everything that we do.
But I do. I see it. I see it everywhere. And, over the years, it has become an informal religion to me. I preach it, I teach it, I live it, I dream it, I sleep it. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. And it’s the last thing that’s on my mind when I go to sleep.
How can I exploit the 90/10 today?
That’s why, since the beginning of the year, I’ve been balls deep in e-commerce, something that I first began doing in 2005. E-commerce is red hot right now because buying online has never been easier and marketing to those who’re hungry for your goods has also never been simpler.
And that’s why I’ve been so busy building a store after store, loading them with products after products. Then marketing these products to an audience after audience with campaigns after campaigns. Instead of treating my success as a one-hit-wonder, I view it as a war of attrition. Try lots of things, scale what works and eliminate what doesn’t. Rinse and repeat.
And that’s why I’m building different products and services, marketing them for vastly different audiences. Partnering with different brands, suppliers and manufacturers. I know that if I cast my net far and wide enough, I will eventually catch something.
I’m a professional, not some fucking amateur.
That’s also why I don’t have “ideas.” I’m building empires. Ideas fail, empires stand the test of time. Remember, I’m a professional, not some fucking amateur.
I know that because it’s that 90/10 back in play again, but instead of feeling intimidated by it or outright refusing to acknowledge it even exists, I’m embracing it full on.
It’s tempting to try one thing, sit around and wait for something to happen. And when nothing works out, scream at how unfair the world is. But then all you’re doing is committing the most cardinal sin of all: ignoring how the world really works. That’s like starting a new blog, writing one article and expecting to have massive traffic and become famous. No, what you must do is write 500 articles and then reflect. 1,000 is better.
Few years ago, I went to Thailand. It was my third or fourth time to the country, but this time I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before: everyone is working. Everyone is hustling. This doesn’t include just the young people, but older people too. While waiting for a taxi outside my Chiang Mai apartment complex, a man who must’ve been at least 80 years old passed on his tricycle with one of those compartments attached to the bike. He was selling fresh coconuts. I bought one. In few seconds, he opened it up and handed it to me to drink the juice.
Then I return to New York, and on the subway from the JFK airport, I noticed a young man, not much older than 30 begging for money on the subway car. And he wasn’t even doing anything to earn money like performing some stunt (that others do). Just walking from person to another, asking for some spare change. A young man who can’t get a job in one of the greatest cities on the planet? In a city with virtually unlimited opportunities?
Give me a fucking break.
I used to view the world as an evil creation where any ambition was futile, but now I view it as a boomerang. The more you work, the more you get rewarded. The more you put out, the more you get back in. The more you try, the more you eliminate what doesn’t work.
It’s an empowering feeling to wake up every morning, look outside and realize that you have the power to create, build, and shape the future that you want how you want and when you want. The world is waiting. And, it will make sure that you will get exactly what you rightfully deserve, nothing more and nothing less.
Or you can be like my family friend.
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