I’m living the immigrant dream. Moving to Houston at the age of 14, going from Saudi Arabia (pre-Internet) to Texas resulted in some massive culture shock. The Internet was my outlet.
I immediately started dabbling in building websites (being the nerd that I was, my first website was on QBasic). It was in 1999 that I made my first serious entrepreneurial attempt — in the world of online gaming. Building up popular sites around online games such as EverQuest and Ultima Online, we helped facilitate virtual item and currency sales. It was successful.
After that I moved into the local search space. Moving into an underdeveloped neighborhood of Toronto, I immediately set out to map all of the local businesses in that area (this was before Google Maps even existed). It was also successful.
Flush with success, I decided money was not my motivator. Thus I retired, and spent five years traveling around in the US and Argentina.
Yet the itch was ever-present. As I lost a significant amount of weight, I created what most people know me for: Examine.com. Analyzing scientific research on nutrition and supplements, we became the trusted source for unbiased information. Selling educational information to health professionals, it also became successful. Today it clocks in at roughly 2 million visitors a month.
And making it full circle, I now talk about online entrepreneurship on SJO.com.
The reason I expanded on my past in-depth is that while I’ve worked in industries that literally have no connection with each other, I have found some basic truths about what drives success.
I’ve had successful companies in a variety of industries. In that time, I’ve learned 5 simple rules on being a better entrepreneur.
1. Take Investment Only IF You Really Need It
Venture capitalism is akin to pornography — it sells you something sexy, but the reality is not so hot.
I personally know a dozen people who sold their companies for eight figures, yet the amount they took home barely broke six figures. Outwardly it appears to be a success, but the reality was that the effort was not worth it.
The reality is that the moment you take outside capital, you lose:
- Control. You are no longer the boss; your investors (and subsequently your board) are the people with the final say.
- Time. Once you take capital, the clock starts ticking; either your business does really well and you are deemed a success, or else you are considered a failure and gutted. There is no slow growth or middle ground.
- Balance. In a funded startup, there is no such thing as downtime. Your personal time fades away into oblivion, and you live and breathe your company.
- Share of the pie. As I mentioned, once you take funding, the investors are getting their money and their return back before you make your money.
- End game. Few entrepreneurs actually take the time to pause and ask themselves — “why am I doing this?” Too many get seduced by big numbers, totally forgetting why they got into this in the first place.
Starting up an online business is easier than ever now — from incredibly cheap hosting, to using WordPress as your CMS, to Facebook making targeted ads incredibly powerful (and Kickstarter letting you pre-sell), the cost of getting going is so incredibly low that even if you do need funding, waiting as long as you can is likely the way to go.
When Inc Magazine analyzed the companies in their Inc 500 they found more than 50% were started with under $50,000. Almost 80% self-funded them!
Bootstrapping your business will give you a lot more control, which often leads to a better business.
2. Inspire Loyalty in Your Employees
If you look at Examine.com’s about page, you’ll see I’m the seventh person listed.
This is by design. The goal of Examine.com is not for me to get famous, but to shine a light on the actual truth when it comes to nutrition and supplements. For us to achieve that goal, I am not the person people will identify with. The people who are listed first are the actual talent providing the unique value to our customers.
Far too many times, I see entrepreneurs make their business about them. Sorry, but running a business is not an opportunity to be self-indulgent and celebrate yourself.
Your business is about offering something about value, not about you.
My employees know:
- Working for me will be a platform for them. At Examine.com, team members like Kamal and Kurtis are the ones who get quoted in the media (such as BBC, The Guardian, Mother Jones, and more).
- That I always have their back. Internally we can respectfully disagree, but publicly, no one can talk ill about my employees and not hear from me. As the leader, it’s my job to make sure they know that I support them. This support also gives them the confidence to take on more responsibility internally.
- The customer is not always right. If any are ever abusive, I am glad to fire a customer — I refund them their money, and invite them to spend their money elsewhere.
What’s amazing about this is opportunities open up for me in this way. I became a digital advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger because his team saw the work Examine.com was putting out, and invited me to join. They knew I wasn’t chasing the limelight, and it has opened up a lot of doors for me.
Make your employees the industry leaders and always take care of them. They will in turn take care of you.
3. Be Real
Being authentic is overused and the word has mostly lost it’s meaning. I believe real captures the zeitgeist well, as it succinctly sums up how you should act online.
Online, people really want to connect with you. I’ve always been open about my love for cookies, my hate for raisins, my disdain for life coaches, my abhorrence for flip flops, and so forth. I’ve even taken political positions (“If Trump were president, I would have never been allowed into the US”).
And sure, I may have put off some people with my opinions. But by being real about who I am, I build up a level of trust. People even comment that I’m the same person offline as I am online. Subsequently, if I offer anything for sale, these people know that it’s coming from a real human being, not a robot.
All because I showed the real me.
Be yourself, warts and all. People will love you for being honest and real.
4. Your Best Customers Are Your Existing Customers
It seems that every time I converse with an entrepreneur and ask them where their growth will come from, they talk about how they are going to ramp up advertising, or do more joint ventures, and so forth.
Let’s take a step back. The most difficult part in convincing a visitor to become your customer is having them actually open up their wallet, take out their credit card, and enter those details.
Consequently, the easiest way to generate revenue is to go to your existing customers, find out what their problems are, and solve those problems for them.
Provided you do a good job, your customers will already trust you, and will know that they can rely on you to solve their problem.
It’s a no brainer.
Find your existing customer’s problems, and solve those for them.
5. Your Reputation Precedes You
The Internet being what it is, many people revel in its relative anonymity. It’s not uncommon to hear about how Person X scammed Person Y.
But here’s the thing — people do hear. They will find out. Your reputation will be stained. And doors will close (often times, without you even knowing).
I’ve been talking about entrepreneurship for about a year now, and I’ve no plans to sell anything (no ebook, book, course, mastermind, group, etc). I have a reputation of bringing people together; it’s something I greatly enjoy.
At the recent two12 event ($5000 per ticket), the event space was limited to 75 people. Of those, 26 people showed up because I said “You should come.” Of course, that “you should come” only worked because of my reputation.
I don’t say this to show off, but to let you know that while people think about how a negative reputation can tarnish them, they often forget how a positive reputation can open up a lot of things for you.
As another example, Jayson Gaignard runs an annual event called Mastermind Talks. Each ticket costs $8000, and there are only 150 tickets. The event easily sells out, simply because of Jayson’s reputation. He announces no agenda, no speakers, nothing — and still over 11,000 people have applied to attend! Why? Because his reputation is so strong that entrepreneurs know going to his event is a worthwhile investment.
And best of all — your reputation accumulates over time. Do well, and people will find out and recognize it.
Your reputation alone can move mountains.
Following These 5 Simple Rules…
My next project is in the pet space; I bought PET.ORG 6 months ago, and intend on releasing it early next year. I will be bootstrapping the project (very cheap to get it going). Because people have seen how I treat my own employees, I’ve already had half a dozen veterinarians contact me about being part of it. On top of that, because of my reputation, I’ve had entrepreneurs already start introducing me to other people they know that are successful in the pet industry.
And once we start selling information (I only focus on digital educational products), we will then map out our subsequent products based on our initial customer base.
So there you have it. Following my own five rules, I’m already a leg up for when I enter the pet space.
Follow these 5 simple rules to be a more effective entrepreneur.