2016 and counting…

I moved 1,200 miles across the country this year, but it hardly captures the ground I’ve made.

I’m a (human) gestation period through a yearlong personal and professional development program. (See Praxis). Since January, I’ve been apprenticing under the Founder & CEO of a tech/accounting startup–which recently closed a $4.2M Series A funding round. (See Ceterus). I’ve experienced unprecedented growth as part of both. It’s been the most difficult, stressful, chaotic, roller coaster ride I’ve ever taken. These have also been the most rewarding, invigorating, fulfilling, and actualizing months of my life.

During this time I’ve gained exposure to all the nitty-gritty business of doing business. I’ve also come to recognize the brilliance of people passionate at work to create solutions. I’ve seen the trenches and served on the frontline of what I consider to be a great entrepreneurial endeavor. I’ve experienced a few victories. And I’ve come to know defeat. I see both as allies for learning now.

I’ve never felt more limber than I have these few months. I’ve never felt more open to possibility.

In the past six months, I’ve:


This is merely a snapshot of the things I’ve been doing. It hardly does justice to all the learning that’s been happening behind the scenes. It’s been an incredible journey so far.

I couldn’t summarize what it’s taken to get here.

There have been many long hours, late nights, and early mornings. There have been whole days where I felt like I was banging my head against the wall. There have been weekends where I didn’t turn the lights on or leave my apartment and stayed glued to the couch, entirely spent. There have been dozens of late-night ice cream and beer errands.

There have also been some of the brightest, happiest, and most hopeful hours of my life. There have been dozens of “Aha!” moments. There have been countless small victories with violent fist pumps and silent cheers.

And there has been an incredible support network beside me through Praxis, my family, co-workers, and friends.

2016 has been monumental already. I look forward to sharing all that precipitates in the coming months as I continue to grow.

As always, thanks for reading.

Best,

M.E.

 

If you can only reach two percent.

If you can reach only two percent you’ll be successful. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. Two percent will make you a fortune.

Consider the global marketplace. It’s vast. 7.4 Billion people is an impossible market to reach. It’s unrealistic. You’ll never sell to everyone. And it doesn’t matter. Two percent is still a huge crowd. Exchange even one dollar of value with that crowd and you’re in like Flynn.

Say you can’t reach that many people. Say  you can’t create value for them all. Simple, don’t try to. Just increase your value offering. Up the ante to $10 of value created. Voila! You’re filthy rich, and made the world a better place by hundreds of millions of dollars.

You might say that’s simple, unrealistic computation. I don’t disagree. Figuring out one perfect equation would be immensely difficult. But you don’t need the perfect equation. In life, like algebra, there are plenty of ways to solve for x. You only need one of them. Just plan on showing your work.

The success of your product, idea, business, or service has never been about the number of people you reach. It’s always about the amount of value you can feasibly provide to the people you do reach.

Want a sure route to success? Don’t try to save the whole world. You’ll fail 100 percent of the time. Only throw life preservers to the drowning. For every person you can’t reach, increase your value offering to those you can.

It’s a simple as that. Now go do it.

 

Stay Hungry.

Six months ago I sat salivating over South Carolina’s tastiest chicken biscuit and an irresistible business opportunity.

I had flown to Charleston to pitch a pretty aggressive business development proposal to my then-boss. My presentation projected 200% growth for his company in 12 months, led entirely by yours truly. It was ballsy. It was unlikely to be accepted. But I believed I could do it and I had to try.

I didn’t know what was going to happen when I took that 1,200-mile flight to a city I’d never visited before to pitch the most aggressive presentation I’d ever crafted to a man I’d never met. But I wasn’t scared. Quite the opposite. I was as alive as I’d ever been.

So when my proposal was rejected I didn’t lose an inch. I gained miles. What I did that day made me proud. It gave me confidence and resolve. It gave me closure. It made what happened next seem natural, providential even.

My experience has given me an acute awareness that failure is part of life. I’ve learned failing usually signals an opportunity to succeed at something else, perhaps even greater. What happened in South Carolina that week did not shock me. It came as no surprise. Not to me. I’ve been working my entire life to position myself for the exact type of situation that unfolded.

What I didn’t know when I got on the plane to leave Oklahoma was that I wasn’t going to South Carolina for this proposal I worked so hard to create. I was following a path years of diligence had carved for me.


It was 24 hours before my proposal and I had taken maybe a bite out of my biscuit. I lost my appetite for food. A new hunger had taken hold of me.

Sitting before me on that table was more than South Carolina’s best breakfast food. There was also opportunity served. The type of opportunity so one-of-a-kind you can’t even dream it up. But for me it was also the kind of opportunity that made me hesitate and ask myself, “Am I capable of this?”

The shellshock wore off with the rejected proposal, and I knew what I had to do. Nothing would stop me. No one would stop me. I knew the only way I could answer that question was to meet it with my best effort. So I did. And everything fell into place.

In the following weeks I uprooted and moved 1,200 miles away. I had no second thoughts. I hadn’t even figured out how I would make it all work when I left. But I found solidarity in the drive. I knew I would make it. I believed I would.

In the short months that followed I learned just how capable I was. Capable of working hard. Capable of learning. Capable of observing. Capable of improving at least 1% or more each day. Capable of waking up early and working ‘til late. Capable of dedicating myself to labor I believed in and capable of being mentored. I was as capable as I was willing to be.

Now I no longer worry if I’m capable. Instead I believe with enough resolve, effort, and willingness to get in the trenches and deliver, I am capable of anything. Anything. And I intend to prove it. Every. Single. Day.

I’ve come a long way since that chicken biscuit, but I’m still as hungry as ever.


Present day, I report directly to the Founder & CEO of a VC-funded startup. No two days have been the same since I started. I’m intellectually stimulated and challenged daily. I get to dive in and solve problems all the time. I get to learn new softwares and help design and implement new processes. I have 360 degrees of exposure to a rapid-growth business that’s taking an $81 billion industry by storm. And I’m only 24 years old.

I could be in law school or working toward an MBA. Instead I experiment daily with actual business operations and with actual entrepreneurs. I could be married and working on a family. Instead, I’m single and creating a fulfilling life. I could have taken a high-paying corporate job, grown roots, and bought a house. Instead, I‘m mortgaging myself so I can be an asset wherever I choose to go, with no cap on income potential. I could be living out any number of prefabricated lifestyle templates. Instead, I’m not. Instead, I’m blazing my own trail and I’m creating a life governed by my own terms.

It all happened because I bet on myself. Not on a credential. Not on conventional wisdom. Not on the status quo. It happened because I refused to follow the beat of someone else’s drum. It happened because I needed to prove to myself what I could do given the chance to thrive. It happened for me and it can happen for anyone who wants to go out and discover the life they’ve always wanted.

Your story to the life you’ve always wanted can begin anywhere, too. Mine started with a chicken biscuit. And that’s why I believe it when people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Stay hungry, my friends.

 

A Degree Won’t Make You Rich(er).

Across the country right now many students are being duped into believing myths of a causal relationship existing between higher education and upward mobility. It’s long past time purveyors of this perverse notion carefully reassess their commentary.

At best, it is an inaccurate assessment of reality. At worst, it is a fatal error. It’s naive to assume a degree determines equity or value in the marketplace. A degree, much like a driver’s license, is no more than a signal. Just as a license does not indicate ability to drive, a college degree indicates no special aptitude for performing tasks necessary to earn a wage. Each serves as an emblem, neither as a guarantee.

Unfortunately, many young people are marinated in this unhealthy distortion of reality for 15,000+ hours before being released into the great big world to investigate for themselves. It’s hardly a surprise so many choose to pursue a college degree. From a young age, I too heard the fiery sermons about going to college to ensure landing a good job. I heard all about how degree holders, on aggregate, make over $1M more than non-degree holders.

Sadly, I bought into the lies…

I went off and I earned my college degree. Thankfully I only wasted four years. During this prison sentence I realized how inadequate institutions of higher education are at determining a person’s ability to earn an income.

I’m not one who sits still and classrooms are the bane of my existence. So I skipped most of my classes while there. I still did well on the homework and was an ace at examinations, but my poor attendance cost me many top marks.  No skin off my nose. My real education while at college was hard-earned on my own beyond the confines of cinderblock cells. It’s outside the classroom where I learned to create value for others.

My senior year of college, I might as well have dropped out. Looking back I wish I had. I wasted a lot of time trying to skate by as the end neared. My periphery compliance prevented me from giving more attention to my interests. I could’ve gained more from that time.

For instance, I launched my freelance career that year. I also bartered with a handful of other students to complete their assignments or take entire courses for them. Each moment I spent in the classroom withdrew time and effort I could have better spent growing these businesses. I learned far more from both of these activities than I ever did in a classroom.

I also learned from these transactions that many people don’t give a shit about the education element of higher education. Most inherently recognize that it’s only a signal, not an indicator of skill. They’d be content simply purchasing the signal if it was possible. But heaven forbid they forego four years of revelry. What’s sadder yet is that many young people can’t formulate a decent response as to why they’ve chosen to pursue a degree. They’ve never flipped the burden of proof. Many of the reasons, if challenged, would better justify simply moving to a college town for four years, finding a job, and foregoing school altogether.

Challenging the Narrative.

While the reasons for seeking a degree are as many and varied as are the institutions ready to provide one, the number of young people amassing crippling debt burdens is even greater. Young people are being cheated. Not [only] by lenders and the government. But also by a fraudulent education system. The product these institutions market is not what it claims to be. In most cases, I’d even argue the product is harmful to the wellbeing of its consumers. Sadly, it’s more a feature of the system than a flaw of it.

The folklore of the institution of education pretends otherwise: “Attend school as long as possible. Make stellar grades. Listen to the teachers and professors. Get a good job. Don’t worry about what it costs. Your education is the best investment you could ever make.”

This narrative is bullshit.

For one, it’s blanket statement applied gratuitously to every student in every circumstance. Rarely would you ever hear a guidance counselor tell a student he or she should consider making different plans after high school. This isn’t unfair. It’s unrealistic. Some people are not cut out for the classroom–I might even argue that most aren’t.

For those who can manage to learn inside the borders of a class, assuming that college is always the best option is dishonest. In many cases the cost of obtaining a higher degree comes at much too high a toll. The debt can be paralyzing and the incessant ranking against peers demoralizing. Furthermore, the authoritarian exposition in which most formal education is set harmfully stifles creativity and originality of many of its brightest pupils. Some young people would be best to pursue learning on their own terms.

Speaking of learning. The institution of education presumes good grades and obedience to the pedagogy equates to an understanding of subject matter. Again, this is erroneous. In some cases it might be true. But it is certainly not true of every student in every case. Speak not of cheating, but the academic system as structured encourages rote memorization and rewards those who best regurgitate material. This diminishes the incentives of developing sound logic skills, of challenging the status quo, and of discovering answers for oneself.

With all this emphasis on grades and obedience and little demand for providing real social proof of an attained skill or prowess in an area of study, the school releases these young, barren minds into the world on the job hunt. Saturated with lofty ideals and a sense of entitlement cultivated by years of promise that arriving at that this moment would pay dividends, receiving a diploma often marks the pride before the fall.

It’s no wonder many young people walk around jaded and plagued by despair. They’re not much different than many millions who have lost it all in the stock market on speculation. Except in most circumstances every adversary the young people ever had egged them on to push all their chips in on college. At least with the stock market there’s an air of skepticism that goes with the territory.

The narrative of college also fails to critically engage young people in thinking about what they could do instead. This is perhaps the most grotesque error. The advent of technology has put an instruction manual on any possible skill in the pocket of every young person. What young people need instead of college is experience. College takes away time and focus from gaining meaningful experience. It also presumes that the degree is a more valuable signal than the experience that could have been gained in the same amount of time. I caution this thinking.

There are also many other classic arguments like: “You need college because you’re no Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg.”

I say great. The world might not need another Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook. Most people don’t have revolutionary ideas, but they do possess revolutionary points of view. It also might be intellectually lazy to set the status of ‘billionaire mogul’ as a standard of success of foregoing college or dropping out. Their stories still provide useful examples though, even if–especially if–you don’t have a revolutionary idea.

Here’s why. You don’t have to have a revolutionary idea to forego college. You just need to figure out what people want and how to deliver that to them. This is where your revolutionary point of view will come in handy. Whether those people you’re providing value for are potential employers, consumers, customers,  friends, or anyone. Create and sell what people want, and you’ll always have whatever you need. You don’t necessarily have to provide exceptional products. You have to provide products or services that people want, exceptionally. And this doesn’t require a degree.

Some other examples.

There are rappers, musicians, artists, athletes, writers, chefs, business owners, and even eight U.S. presidents who don’t (or didn’t) have college degrees. You don’t need one either. Learn to recognize what people want or could use. Figure out a way to get it to them at a price they’re willing to pay. That’s all. If you can figure that out then all of college and higher education is obsolete.

But what if I’m studying business?

You won’t get business acumen in the classroom. College as a prerequisite to business acumen is a myth MBA-types and elitists cower behind. They lurk behind their lofty suffixes because deep down they’re afraid of the truth. The truth that their time and effort was all for not. That it was wasted. That they could have obtained it better, cheaper, or faster. I pity those who entertain this mindset for their lack of intellectual depth. Somewhere in their pasts, someone must have eradicated their imaginations. They are no longer humans, but computers. They’ve traded in their outside-the-box thinking for algorithms and actuarial science. They’ve given up sentient thought.

If they had any imagination, they could fathom abstract like success and achievement as existing outside a vacuum. They could recognize that income potential and upward mobility are not static ideas, but fluid, ever-changing enigmas with subjectively calculated value. Degrees are no different.

A Degree’s Value is Subjective.

Just because the world says a degree is worth a lot doesn’t mean potential employers will care. It also doesn’t mean it will necessarily make a person feel more successful or happier. Much like a bottle of water is worth more than a diamond to a thirsty man in the desert, the ability to create value is worth immensely more to an employer than a degree–even an ivy league one.

Today, obtaining a college degree is easier than it ever has been. That’s what makes it so dangerous to tout its value and necessity. It’s simple supply and demand, or what I’ll call degree inflation. The more people that have a degree, the less value it holds to differentiate you in the marketplace. 

Because of the massive influx, the signal that a degree once held has dwindled from a flare to an ember. If you want to distinguish yourself, a degree is a poor mechanism for doing so. You could use some social proof or a value proposition instead. You could use experience or a skill set. You could use any number of things as a better signal–even if you want to use these in conjunction with a college education. But don’t fool yourself that the degree alone is sufficient.

So, say you feel like college is not for you. How do you go about creating a better signal?

Simple. Here’s one method I propose:

Make a short list of a handful of things that interest you. Whatever they are, write them down. Don’t be afraid to go big.

Next, make a short list of things you are good at. Not just things your mom tells you you’re good at. What things would everyone you know say you’re good at?

If any of the items on these two lists merge then congratulations. You’ve found a starting point. You are now equipped to find a business owner who has a need for a service that lives at the intersection of your interests and skills. When you find said business owner, ask if you can shadow him or her for a week or more. If this is granted, do it ASAP. Take notes. Learn everything you can and constantly assess ways your skills could add value to the operation.

At the end of the shadowing, first, draft a thank you note to the business owner. Along with it, draft a proposal on how your unique interests and skills could be engaged valuably to the business owner. From what you learned about the business in shadowing, detail what you witnessed. “The following areas could benefit from innovation, and I’m just the person to do it.” Why? Because you want to learn and improve his or her enterprise and at your age you need experience more than money. Do not pitch your skills. Do not pitch your financial situation. Meditate on the business owner’s vision and pitch your desire to help achieve it.

When you’re hired, as you most likely will be and begin working to fulfill this agreement, document your work. Build a portfolio as you go of the projects you create–if the info isn’t sensitive. Start a blog or build a quick website to host the things you learn and to feature the projects you create. Boom. You’ll never have to worry about a degree again.

To all the young people out there who have fallen victim to statistics and the social commentary about college, don’t fret. The same opportunity is open to you. While your limited availability might impact your prospect to gain real experience, openness to ideas, a strong work ethic, a hunger to learn and unswerving dependability can help you overcome that.

Ultimately, it’s your life.

Whether you choose to pursue a college education or not  is entirely up to you. Don’t make a blind decision. Be mindful of the opportunities you’re foregoing and the time, effort, and money you might be wasting. Don’t rely on a degree as a signal of your worth. Create a better one.

 

 

Fix It Before It Breaks.

I  bought into fear of innovation and change until I found a loophole. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier to embrace with the right mentality. Just focus on the reason innovation matters. It’s something we all know. Every improvement makes our lives better.

“Don’t fix what isn’t broken,” they say. How broken does something need to be before we replace it with something better?

Take the iPhone for example. I’ve heard sentiment expressed about the rapid release of newer technology.  Just ask around some afternoon. Before long, you’ll meet someone who expresses contempt that a newer version comes out every year. This frustration illuminates a common misconception about innovation.

Profit-motive might drive the innovation or it might not. The innovator might or might not have sinister intentions. It doesn’t matter. The product matters. So does the improvement the product yields for everyone who uses it. Every advancement, big or small, raises standards of living. Every advancement moves the world forward from where it was.

Innovation finds no satisfaction with the status quo. Intrigue prevails over frustration during gaps in performance or errors. Innovation figures out why these occur rather than damns them.

Innovation examines the whole world as a puzzle waiting to be solved rather than as a problem or nuisance of fate. Under this microscope possibilities to create and build a better one become endless.

Innovation and its entrepreneurial counterpart are at their core anarchistic. No set structure or central plan governs the moves. They testify of benefits from the chaos prevalent the absence a system.  In such chaos, harmony and spontaneous problem-solving arise.

Don’t believe me? Look around at any group. Be it work force, team, or committee, etc. In absence of guidelines for solving problems people spontaneously generate solutions. People naturally solve problems according to the information they have. I guess you could say there’s an innovator within us all.

That innovator needs to be unleashed. It needs to be given the proper fuel to enact change.  And it needs something to practice on. Lo and behold the world is full of problems waiting to be solved. The innovator needs to be given the driver’s seat.

Innovation doesn’t glimpse out into the world and witness problems. It looks at challenges as opportunities to create valuable solutions. It knows pessimism doesn’t solve problems. It arraigns criticism through speech as a hollow approach. Innovation attacks failing systems of thought by providing alternatives.

Innovation debates through the products of its ideas. It begins with a resolve to create. Innovation has little time for thought experiments. Innovation runs field experiments, instead.

Innovation and entrepreneurship witness harmony where once before only chaos existed. They see potential in everything rather than conflict or destruction. They trade in a doomsdayer perspective for hope and belief in ingenuity’s ability to solve problems.

Innovation recognizes alternatives as possible even if they don’t exist yet. That’s the essence of entrepreneurship and I believe it’s the foundation toward achieving a freer, more prosperous society.

No License Required

Take-Home Message: These applications are revolutionizing the way we complete tasks.

One of my favorite topics involves the use of technology as a means for making our lives better. I am utterly fascinated by innovation, and the way it ceaselessly transforms our world.

Take the smart phone, for example. Even in my lifetime, this was once inconceivable. Yet, today, nearly every 11-year-old has access to a full warehouse of tools that at one point in the not-so-distant past would’ve cost almost a million dollars. (Here’s a cool article that discusses this advancement more.)

A growing trend today allows individuals to make even more use of technology to live better, more opportunistic lives. It’s the rise of the peer-to-peer freelancing industry. These softwares and applications are vast and growing, and they are revolutionizing the way people interact.

These applications don’t simply allow people to be more informed. They free us. They allow us to seek out directly the people, products, skills, or services we crave in a timely, affordable manner. They have dramatically decreased the overhead cost of running businesses, too. Imagine connecting with someone from around the globe to do your company’s billing or data entry at a fraction of the cost (which subsequently is much higher than the wages they might otherwise earn). It’s a win-win for everyone.

Here are some highlights from a few of my favorite examples of these innovations:

Upwork/Elance“Anything that can be done on a computer – from web and mobile programming to graphic design – can be done on Upwork. ” Upwork/Elance allows individuals to create accounts showcasing their talents and their hourly rate. It allows users to sort through and interview applicants, select the one they want, and rate the performance. It gives you access to over 10 million freelancers in more than 180 countries, and is a leading platform for global talent sourcing.

Freelancer“Post your project and receive competitive bids from freelancers within minutes. Our reputation system will make it easy to find the perfect freelancer for your job. It’s the simplest and safest way to get work done online!” Freelancer has similar features to Upwork and Elance, however, with the added element of allowing service providers to issue bids for the project proposals.

Wonolo: “Work now. Get paid. Live life on your terms.Don’t let job schedules run your life. Wonolo connects you with immediate hourly or daily jobs from the biggest and best brands, allowing you to work where you want, when you want, for whomever you want.” Wonolo allows users to find temporary work immediately. At the touch of a button, employers can post jobs and find someone to fill their need. Wonolo is a means to “leverage technology to create a flexible workforce to solve unpredictability in business.”

TaskRabbit: “TaskRabbit allows you to live smarter by connecting you with safe and reliable help in your neighborhood. Outsource your household errands and skilled tasks to trusted people in your community.” TaskRabbit is allowing people to take back control of their hectic lives by connecting with people who can help them.


If you are interested in learning more about talent sourcing platforms, check out this list of 50.

The Why Chromosome

Take-Home Message: One thing that separates those who change the world from those who simply watch: A Vision. 

vi·sion·ar·y
adjective

  1. a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.

Have you ever observed someone describe a deeply-held belief? What did they look like doing so? What did you look like listening to them? How did it make you feel?

The ones who impacted me most profoundly made me feel something powerful awaken inside. They made me believe. If for but a moment, I shared their vision too.

They paint with their words. Not simple pictures, but beautiful, distant landscapes, and unfathomed horizons with brilliant, vivid clarity, these artists take hold of their brushes and gently, masterfully apply stoke after stroke with seamless effort, offering us an invitation to imagine.

These artisans paint us, too. With original insight, they carefully incorporate into their masterpieces our deepest fears and the sullen images of every shattered dream we ever encountered. Then, surreptitiously, the skilled hands of a genius fast at work replaces those pagan images of ourselves with bright, beautifully-colored, novel self-esteem and faith.

They possess a fierce, yet compassionate presence. They intimidate anyone unwilling to share in the enjoyment or embodiment of their vision. Simultaneously, they welcome into their presence all who share it.

Many mock them for their baffling distortion of reality. Yet, if at all moved by detractors, they become only more driven. They exist relentlessly for the pursuit of higher ideals. In the face of defeat, they embolden their vision all the more menacingly. They refuse to die until winning many victories for mankind.

Their beliefs do not equate to fantasies. Not to them. They see what we do not, they see that which exists beyond the veil. They hold confidence in both ideas and their ability to cultivate these into realities.

Others perceive them as discontent with each new creation. They simply see more yet to be done in their time. Others dub them profit-mongers, heretics, and cheats. These accusations distract them not. Their vision propels them toward a society of more apt standards of valuation for a man’s worth.

They envision the world as it could be and as it will be. They fret not of the present. To them, the future remains static, and we must approach it boldly.

They do not ask what. Rather, they contemplate why? They do not question how. They wonder when.

They live today to create tomorrow. We call them visionaries.

Everyone Sells.

Take-Home Message: There’s nothing wrong with selling. 

A few months ago, I overheard someone having a conversation about how they didn’t get a degree just so they could be a salesperson. This reference to sales as a lowly, dark-arts job almost made me laugh. It made me consider my own thoughts about the art of selling, and how I feel when approached by a “salesperson.”

I hate feeling like I’m being sold. It’s a degrading feeling for me when someone is telling me what I need, particularly when the person has failed to ask what I want. From my own observations, this feeling is universal. We all hate being sold. It makes us feel like we’re being duped or something, I suppose. And we all hate having the wool pulled over our eyes.

So, when someone even resembles a salesperson, we immediately throw up our guard and march to a different tune. It’s like an evolved defense mechanism we all have and frequently use.

I think we should stop shirking away from these encounters so quickly, though. In fact, I think we should embrace them and use them as learning opportunities. I believe this and am seeking to combat this behavior because I think we are all salespeople in one way or another. We all believe in something, work for something, and want to connect with others on some level. To do this, and to do it effectively, we have to be able to reach out to others, and in some sense, persuade them of the legitimacy of our ideas.

Everybody has a product to sell–no matter whether you’re an employee, a founder, or an investor. It’s true even if your company consists of just you and your computer. Look around. If you don’t see any salespeople, you’re the salesperson. –Peter Thiel, Zero to One

Peter Thiel makes a compelling case in his book, Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. He discusses sales as a skill requiring immense time and effort to look flawless. He also says it’s something that works when hidden. Because, no one likes feeling sold.

But, in the world in which we live, there are an immense number of goods, services, and ideas which are being slung all around us. We are each being sold on something almost perpetually. Some people are terrible at selling, while others are so good we never see them coming. Most of our encounters, though, even if they are not situations which involve a monetary transaction, require a sale.

Because of this, I believe we should start regularly engaging the people who attempt to sell us something, be it idea, product, or service. I think each of these encounters provides an opportunity for learning and improving our own techniques.

I think in so doing, we can transform our view of sales. I personally have attempted to shift my outlook lately on this. I’ve been approaching some of these interactions with the mindset that the “salesperson” is attempting to add value to my life, rather than dupe me. It’s allowed me to have much more friendly conversations with these people, and even on occasion, learn a thing or two.

As I’ve set out on my own mission to “sell” ideas, I’ve thought it important to become a better listener to others who are attempting to do the same. I’ve learned a lot from changing my mindset to one less hostile. In the back of my mind when I’m being sold, whether it’s an idea, product, or service, I’ve been attempting to think of Frederic Bastiat’s words: “By virtue of exchange, one man’s prosperity is beneficial to all others.” 

I believe Thiel’s and Bastiat’s words both have practical importance to our lives. We are all selling things, and because we are, we can all be better off. I think it’s important to recognize the value of being better off as a result of exchange. In fact, it’s been only out of recognition of this that I’ve been able to make any ground in improving my attitude with “salespeople” who are just doing the best they can.

I’ll close with this thought because I think Ash Ambirge summarizes this transaction process eloquently.

Sales is about a mutual exchange of pleasure. The first keyword is mutual, and the second pleasure. When a transaction between a seller and buyer takes place, it isn’t because the seller is greedy and the buyer is stupid. Buyers are not stupid; they know exactly what they’re doing. And what they’re doing is giving you something you want (money) in exchange for something they want (what you sell).

–Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

15 Days of Self-Improvement

Take-Home Message: As the world evolves, so should you.

Writer’s Note: This piece is inspired by 15 days with Ash Ambirge, rather, her e-course, “You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts.”

Thanks to the rapid rise in communications technologies, jump-starting the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of becomes more possible each and every day. Today, we each carry around access to a platform of permissionless innovation in our pocket. With internet more accessible than ever, there’s no time like the present to take control of your life by turning your ideas and skills into cold, hard cash.

So, how do you make it in this great big world with your ideas?

Easy. Set up shop online and allow your customers to find you. But first, let’s take a quick look at some important steps.

First and foremost, you need to think about the lifestyle you desire. What does it look like? Do you want to travel? How frequently do you want to work? How much money do you want to make? These are good starting points.

After you’ve answered those, let’s weigh in on your passions. What could you do every day for the rest of your life? What makes you come alive? What keeps you up at night? What ideas are you carrying around in your head that you’d like to turn into reality?

Great! Now, that you’ve identified those, we are are getting somewhere. Here comes the tough part. Who would want what you’ve got to offer? What’s their story? What are their hopes, fears, dreams, goals, needs, wants, etc.? What makes them tick? And, other important questions, like: Are they abel to pay for your idea? and Are they willing to pay for your idea?

Cool. If you answered yes to those, then, it’s time to start figuring out how to make them paying customers. But before you start spilling your candy in their lobby, let’s figure out how you can add value to their lives aside from your product. How can you become irreplaceable to them? What valuable tips, free advice, and attention can you provide them by virtue of your online storefront?

These are important steps, and they each need the proper attention should you like to see your business idea succeed. With the proper attention to detail and enough grit, your idea will sell itself.

So, you know what you can offer, and who you’re offering it to. Fantastic! You’ve validated your business, because you know your target demographic is not only able, but willing to pay for your product. Now, what do you say to them?

This is the imperative part. You are trying to become the go-to expert in your particular field. When you’re hunting for new customers, it’s important to take a rifle-approach, not use a shotgun. You don’t go yelling at every Tom, Dick, and Harry about your product. You speak to Tom like Tom needs to be spoken to. You woo Dick. You sweet talk Harry. You make them each feel seen.

You cater to the differences among your target audience. You make them feel like you get them, because, you do. You’re  business soul mates. If you want them to be your customers, you can’t just have things to offer them. You need to welcome them into your life and make them know you care. Give them attention. Understand their needs, and provide them with the resources to meet those.

So, how does this all happen?

Use your words, of course! As you are building your website and developing your marketing strategy, you are thinking about Tom. You are thinking about Dick. AND, let’s not forget about Harry. Each of them is important. You are crafting your message to them and making it not only accessible once they are on your site, but you are making yours site easy to find. You are using keywords and discussing topics that they find relevant. You are making the pages navigable. And, you’re providing opportunity to collect their email addresses, so you remain in control. You want to do this so you can keep them interested. It’s like asking someone for their phone number, you want to keep the ball in your court.

But why is it important?

At the heart of every business, there should be at least one important fundamental understanding: You’ve got to make money. Not just to keep the lights on, but you’ve got to make money, otherwise, your ideas can’t infiltrate the world and make it a better place. And to do this, you need customers. Paying customers. Preferably, these customers keep coming back for more, too, because what you’re offering them is so great and so important to them they’ve got to have more. (It’s kind of like slingin’ crack, except, the good kind, like, the kind that doesn’t kill anyone or make them an addict.)

Thanks, again, to technology, the cost of acquiring these new customers is diminishing. It’s what an MBA-type or economics would call, “Diminishing Marginal Cost of Customer Acquisition” or some other super-fancy jargon. But, let’s make it a habit of purging that type of talk from our lingo. We want to use words that empower our customers. We don’t want to tell them how smart we are. We want to show them how valuable we can be to them.

You can do all of this through your website, through integration of Google Analytics, and email marketing software. Here’s how: Build your website (as we discussed earlier) for your audience. Make it navigable, and use the world that will make them feel relevant. Earn their email address by showing them something of value. You will be monitoring how customers find your page and how they behave once they arrive through Google Analytics. You will be using email software to continue providing value to them long after they click away from your site.

Sound easy enough, right? I think so, too. So, let’s set to work on it together as we turn our ideas into reality. I’m going to keep learning more and modifying my answers as I develop more insight, and I hope that you’re going to begin answering some of those questions for yourself.

Let’s go change the world together. It’s simple. Now, let’s go to work.


Because I don’t want to steal all of Ash’s thunder, I kept this piece semi-vague. If you’d like to learn more, visit her site. It’s phenomenal. It’s called The Middle Finger Project. I will continue to share my insights from her course, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts,” as I trek through it. If you’d like to learn along with me, you can find her course here.

How I Work

Take-Home Message: Find what works for you.

This exercise has been circulating among my Praxis friends and colleagues, and I accept the challenge. In this post, I answer questions about “How I Work.”


Location: HQ is Enid, OK, but I travel around as I feel.

Current gig: Contracted Programs Associate with The Foundation for Economic Education; Freelance Photographer; Praxis Student

Current mobile device: iPhone 4S

Current computer: 13″ Apple Macbook Pro (Mid-2009 Series) Upgraded 8GB RAM

One word that best describes how you work: Resourceful.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? 

Google Calendar, Gmail, Square Register, Microsoft Word/Excel, Google Docs/Sheets, Adobe Creative Suite (Namely Photoshop, InDesign), Notes App, Passbook/Wallet, Maps, and Uber

What’s your workspace like? 

I work for the first few hours of every morning wherever I am (at home, or from a hotel room, etc.). I check email, social media and analytics, grab a book (usually philosophy in the mornings) and a cup of coffee to start off every day. I also run through a to-do list.

I carry my briefcase and camera bag everywhere I go. In my briefcase, I carry universal adapters, chargers, a 10′ ethernet cable, 1TB external hard drive, various-sized thumb drives, one large legal notepad, one small legal notepad, assorted pens, Sharpies, highlighters and ink refills, page-tab Post-Its, a screen cleaner, at least two books, and my commonplace book. In my camera bag, I carry my camera, alternate lenses, external flash, charge-ports, spare batteries, Square Reader, multiple memory cards, lens cleaners, and various other necessities.

I can set up shop anywhere in under three minutes (I’ve timed it), and tear down in same. I guess you could call it digital nomadism.

What’s your best time-saving trick? 

Drink lots of coffee, work through breakfast/lunch, and wear a watch. I move faster, the world moves slower.

Also, minimize windows I’m not working with so as to remove distractions. I also try to listen to music to the beat of how quickly or what type of work I’m concentrating on. This sets my pace.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Google Calendar isn’t the worst. I set alerts on my calendar for an hour or so in advance and check this list last thing before bed and first thing in the morning each day. Also, I carry various notepads with a to-do list on it each day. The fulfillment I receive from crossing items off my list is euphoric, truly.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Canon Rebel T5i. It’s light enough weight I can carry it anywhere. I shoot pics several times per week of random things. For me, it’s a a sense of escape. Beyond those three, I just need books. Always books.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Problem-solving. My work is versatile and resourceful. I’m regularly learning on the fly and adapting the new systems I learn to existing problems in other areas. Because I always challenge the status quo, I’m constantly looking for more efficient ways to do things. This helps me usually anticipate problems before they arise or adapt quickly when they do.

What are you currently reading?

I keep a running list of what I’m reading on my website here. I like to read several books at once across different subjects to feel stretched. Currently, this is my list:

Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist, John Piper
Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler Cowen
The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and EffectivenessEpictetus
Medidations, Marcus Aurelius (rereading)
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Religion and Politics, Jonathan Haidt

What do you listen to while you work?

I use Spotify, Youtube, and iTunes Radio. My music tastes are rather eclectic.

When writing, I prefer either silence or classical piano, some of my favorites being Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight” (Beethoven), Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 (Mozart), and Claire de Lune (Debussy). I also enjoy writing to the works of Thomas Tallis, see Spem in Alium.

When I’m not writing, I prefer Indie (Favorite Band: Frightened Rabbit), Acapella (Favorite Group: Vocal Spectrum), Acoustic or Instrumental (Michael Henry & Justine Robinnett)  or ’70s & ’80s Classic Rock (Van Morrison, Beach Boys, Cat Stevens (pre-Yusuf Islam), The Beatles, and many more). Another cool artist I like is Aino Venna. I occasionally hit up the Disney movie soundtracks, too.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

I’d consider myself an “outgoing introvert.” I draw my inspiration from within and too much time around groups exhausts me. I have no problem approaching a stranger with conversation and public speaking gives me an energy in its own right. But, I need time to read, write, and reflect each day to recharge my batteries.

I’m most comfortable sitting in an overstuffed chair, with a craft beer or espresso, a good book, a notepad, my computer, and a pen.

What’s your sleep routine like?

It’s like a 16-year-old boy’s relationship status. On-and-off again all the time. Sometimes I do really well at racking up eight hours per night, and sometimes even more. But usually I operate a rolling cycle of a couple weeks snagging a handful of hours or less each night before playing catch up.

I like to stay up well into the next morning working often. When I’m on the brink of extreme exhaustion, I sometimes find a new sense of inspiration in my writing. It’s usually these times when the words simply spill out, without holding back or without over-thinking. So, I enjoy this sporadic cycle. It works for me.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see___________ answer these same questions.

Satoshi Nakamoto or Ash Ambirge. Realistically, I think everyone with a desire for self-improvement should try this exercise.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you something you know to be untrue.” –Evan Burns, Founder & CEO, The Odyssey & Olympia Media Group

I helped launch The Odyssey at Oklahoma State University in fall of 2011 with a few other students. In my second year, I moved from the creative side as an editor to managing a sales team of six–it was my first job in sales. After 3.5 months, I was the only remaining sales executive. Evan and I discussed the difficulties I faced when he shared this advice with me. He told me to stop walking into sales meetings like I was a college student and to regard myself as a professional, and as the CEO of the branch. This dramatically altered the way I approached sales– and all types of confrontation and leadership roles since.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Demand excellence from yourself in all things. You are the only one who can control the quality of work you produce. If you want better, do it.