I sat down for lunch with a top marketing course creator on Udemy, the popular online education platform that’s raised $300 million.
“So, can you tell me about what you’ve done with Amazon and SEO?”, I asked about his most popular courses.
He stared at me blankly, “Uh…”
Apparently this popular course creator had never done anything he was teaching. He synthesized information from other courses to create his own.
I’d been in internet marketing for about a decade, but this blew my mind.
The Myth of the “Self-Made” Success
It feels better to tell people your success is due to hard work and intelligence.
It’s underwhelming to tell people you were in the right place at the right time and likely couldn’t repeat the same success again.
Warren Buffett credits a large portion of his success to what he calls the “ovarian lottery”. He said, “[When we were] born the odds were over 30-to-1 against being born in the United States, you know? Just winning that portion of the lottery, enormous plus…”
Bill Gates has also credited luck for a lot of his success. He was a young person with rare access to a computer at the start of the digital revolution. If he was born dirt poor in an area of the world disconnected from technological advances for another 20 years there would be no Microsoft.
I started with a lot of advantages too. I was born healthy (plus) in the USA (plus) to two loving parents (plus) who were both entrepreneurs (plus) who let me find my own calling (plus).
Any one of those factors could put me in the top 50% of opportunity. Combined, I was easily born into the top 1-5% before I did anything on my own.
So much for being self-made.
Warren Buffett’s Mentor Makes Most of His Fortune from One Investment
Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett’s early finance mentor, wrote the definitive book on investing.
His lessons helped his student, Buffett, become the most successful investor in history.
However, Graham’s investment success has an unexpected quirk.
In 1948, Graham’s company bought 50% of an insurance carrier, GEICO, for $712,000.
By 1972, that investment grew to a value of $400 million.
From Graham: “Ironically enough, the aggregate of profits accruing from this single investment decision far exceeded the sum of all the others realized through 20 years of wide-ranging operations…”
After a lifetime of investing, the majority of his returns came from a single investment.
Graham spent years honing his craft before GEICO. When the opportunity arrived, he was ready. To realize the full benefits of opportunity, you must be prepared before it comes.
In Adam Grant’s new book, Think Again, he mentions Mozart and Beethoven didn’t have a higher “hit rate” than other musicians, they produced more work.
Maybe the key to success is staying in the game, working hard, and waiting till luck is on your side.
Growing a Brand to $2 Million Per Month in Two Years
At the end of 2018, I was ready for a new project.
I’d been teaching ecommerce for years and wanted to see if I could apply all my marketing knowledge to grow my own ecommerce business again.
I discovered a good friend of mine, Charles Livingston, had a side project.
Years before, he started a healthy coffee company.
He had supplier issues and didn’t like building the business on his own. So, he abandoned it to focus on other priorities.
Even though he did zero external marketing, customers kept buying.
I loved the product and was excited about the potential to grow this brand together.
So I pitched him an idea: If I could increase sales to $100,000 per month within twelve months, he’d give me a 40% ownership interest in the company.
If we didn’t hit the sales target, he could keep the whole company.
He agreed and we started working together.
I helped create a new sales page and wrote new Facebook ads.
We tested and scaled advertising campaigns.
We also initiated a campaign to convince affiliates to promote our brand.
In one year, sales grew from $17,000 per month to $620,000 per month.
Less than one year later, sales hit nearly $2 million per month.
A $50 Million Company
We began discussing the prospects of selling this company with an experienced investment bank.
They told us the valuation for this type of business is two to three times annualized revenue.
$2 million per month in revenue is $24 million annualized.
At two to three times that amount, the potential valuation of this brand is at least $48 million.
Growing a company from $17,000 per month in sales to a valuation of $50 million in two years makes us pretty smart, right? Maybe. But there’s more to our success.
The Stars Align
I’ve started about 30 businesses since 2009.
I tried building businesses in web design, fitness information publishing, mobile apps, software, services, business education, and about every facet of ecommerce that exists.
Most failed. Some succeeded.
This coffee company has been the easiest to grow, by far.
Sure, my knowledge of business, the relationships I’ve accumulated, and the resources I have to grow a business have all compounded over the past 12 years.
But, I’ve done recent projects that have felt like a grind, while this has felt easy.
I think we were in the right place at the right time with the right experience.
So What’s the Lesson?
Keep trying. Keep learning. Keep accumulating knowledge and experience.
Eventually your time will come.
There will be a time when the stars align and your opportunity arrives.
When it does, give it everything you’ve got.
If we hadn’t spent over 10 years each learning marketing, building relationships, and busting our butts to try to build other businesses, we wouldn’t have been ready for this opportunity.
Make sure you’re ready when your opportunity comes.
Also, stack the odds in your favor. Try more businesses.
The more at-bats you have, the more home runs you hit.
Babe Ruth once held the record for the most home runs.
He also once held the record for the most strikeouts.
The more you try, the more you fail. But, you succeed more too.
I believe success requires a combination of feverish persistence and patience.
If you acquire knowledge and experience at a relentless pace, you might wait for years for a big breakthrough.
But, eventually the right opportunity will come and you’ll be ready.
It will likely dwarf everything you’ve produced up to that point and make all you’ve put in worth it.