Though I can’t recall exactly how it happened, I’m pretty sure it all started with a click on a banner.
It was definitely something shady promising riches through affiliate marketing. It was all too wonderful for a 14-year old. So easy, so simple.
And so off I went spamming the internet. Every day for a few hours after school, I would slap my affiliate link in forums, profiles on other websites, and try all sorts of shenanigans to make a sale. It never arrived.
Then something shinier appeared: selling your own products. You could keep 100% of the sales while having a lot more control of your customers. That had a nicer ring to it.
This was it, this was my break.
I didn’t know a lot about many things, but I did know a thing or two about tennis. So I read a few books on tennis and then wrote my own. It was my masterpiece. I gathered all my allowance savings and outsourced the website design in Elance for $150, a small investment that a big-shot entrepreneur like me had to do.
I didn’t sell a single ebook. But hey, I did keep 100% of that!
And as the years went by, I continued pouring money and time into other projects: CPA ads, surveys, freelancing, copywriting, giveaways. You name it, I’ve probably done it.
I cant’t help it. I was born this way.
6-year old Dan put a museum in his bedroom with his vintage collectible cars collection and charged 50 cents to visit it.
Then, at 7, I wanted to buy Dragon Ball toys at what are now “dollar stores”. They cost 3.5 back then, so I would do a whole lot of chores around the house for 50 cents a day and get a toy on Sundays (before you scream “bad parenting”, I was only paid for the extra chores, like cleaning bookshelves or the stairs).
I washed cars for half the price you would pay at the shop and would throw in interior cleaning for free. Also tried gardening, but I was terrible at it. I learned how to paint wooden boxes and would go to hair saloons asking permission to put them on display. And for the longest time, I gave massages to family and sold coupons for gift-giving.
In high school, I wrote philosophy papers for a small fee. I made so much money that I bought two tennis racquets for $500, at which point I’m pretty sure my parents thought I was selling drugs (they were relieved when I told them I was just “doing the papers of others for money”).
The internet opened a whole new world of possibilities. It was a game-changer. I wasn’t confined to my neighborhood or family and friends anymore. I could now reach the entire world.
I’ve been chasing ideas since I’m 14. I’m 27 now. So I’ve been chasing “things” for half of my life.
It all started with a banner.
And from that point on I was hooked.
Become a Maker
A few months ago I launched a productivity newsletter. Now, I see a project growing. I have a couple of thousand people in my community and enjoy helping them be more productive in work and life. It has been a slow growth. But something is happening. It’s moving. It’s growing.
Do you want to know my secret?
It came to a point that I stopped consuming and started making. I started making like crazy. It started with writing, on a personal blog and Medium. Then helping people on Quora. I create courses for Highbrow and Udemy. And post on Facebook groups and Slack channels.
90% of those were complete failure acquisition channels of new subscribers. But what worked makes the community grow a little every day.
I launched on Product Hunt. Completely tanked. Not worth all the hours I put into it. But you know what? Gave it a shot. Now I move on to testing other channels and hypothesis. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
But when you shift yourself to become a Maker, you always learn and sometimes you win. There’s a difference.
Stop learning, start making and learning at the same time.
What need do you want to solve? What’s your mission?
I want to make people more productive and happier at their job. That’s my mission. That’s what fuels to keep me going. I think “work” is broken nowadays and there are alternative ways to do meaningful work without beating yourself to death. People can do less and achieve more. That’s my role, for now. I’m going to show them how.
I have always been interested in productivity.
I’m the guy who folds t-shirts Kondo-style and hangs shirts by color because it saves time and space. That removes the clock from the computer because time is just a perception. That turns his Gmail into a Getting Things Done Gmail. I can talk for hours about productivity, from working on Pomodoros, to setting and tracking personal growth goals or hacks on how to quit bad habits.
I had this mission for the longest time. But didn’t know how to do deliver it. And that wasn’t even the most important part.
The medium is irrelevant (at least in the beginning). It’s rather a problem of mentality.
First I had to learn how to become a Maker…
Step 1: Makers Don’t Consume, Makers Make
From a young age, we are taught to be consumers. It’s all around us: the TV, the books for school, the material stuff you need for everyday life.
That’s why it’s so hard to become a Maker. You need to embrace a new reality: you CAN make things instead of consuming them.
The first step is then to stop binge-consuming: Hacker News, Reddit, Netflix, news, reality shows, social media, YouTube, newsletters, and blogs. All of these make you live in the past but we need to start living in the future.
If it’s not helping you become a better Maker, it’s just mindless consumption.
When consuming, prefer long-form: choose books, documentaries, and movies.
Choose consumption that aligns with things you are trying to learn. Pick books and courses that teach you the knowledge you are missing to help you build or develop your creations.
Your brain will take care of the rest, making associations of all the new concepts and inspiration in its idle time, such as sleeping.
And more often than not, you already have everything you need to become a Maker. The rest you can pick up as you develop your creations. Learn as you go and the process becomes the fun.
Step 2: Find Your Product
Figuring out the intersection between passion and value is the first step in finding your product. It boils down to two simple questions:
What’s the one thing you never stop talking about? How can you add value to the world with it?
The second step is figuring out the medium, how you promote your ideas to others and start getting traction.
Take pictures of yourself for a year and find a medium to present that idea (here’s a related example of this idea). You can put them together in a video. Or maybe create a picture of yourself using all the pictures of a given year.
Or record yourself tasting wine from a users perspective, using everyday language instead of high-horse professional wine tasters lingo. Create a subscription to deliver unknown wines to enology lovers.
Find productivity experiments you always wanted to try and share with the world the results you got, what you learned and key takeaways. Join all of the posts, rewrite, edit, and launch a book.
Don’t worry about revenue, users, growth rates or acquisition channels for now. Your only goal is to continuously make and iterate your product. You want to make it a little bit better every time you press publish.
Step 3: Schedule Maker Time
We now know the mentality shift need to become a Maker and have an idea for a project. Everybody can become a Maker, but only those of make are Makers. It’s time to do the actual work of creating something.
First, you don’t need to quit your day job. In fact, having a job can help take pressure off your creations. This is the time to be creative, to build something new. You don’t want to strangle your innovation because you are running low on funds and need to “sell out”.
The best advice I can give you is to find a time in the morning to work on your product. Get up one hour earlier and work on making things. If you follow Step 1, it won’t be a problem going to bed earlier.
Protect this hour like the Holy Grail: this is your Maker time and it’s non-negotiable.
I write first thing in the morning and won’t get up until I have reached one thousand words. Most days it’s terrible writing, lame ideas, and boring to read. And yet some days — when the moon aligns with other planets and birds live in harmony — words flow out of my brain into the keyboard and I write beautiful poetry. Poetry.
Live for those days.
Step 4: Launch
It took me more than a year to publish my first post online.
The reason? I was too afraid it was not good enough. Because English is not my first language. Because the articles could have typos. Or nobody would like it. It would definitely fail, so why bother posting it online? I had ghostwritten many articles throughout the years, but never actually published something on a personal website.
Then, one day, I took the leap and published my very first article online. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. But I kept writing and publishing, sometimes 2 or 3 articles a week. I still continue to write every day and publish a few times a week. The more I leap, the more people notice. My subscribers grow a little every week and I get more excited to write and ship.
But first, you need to take the leap.
Don’t even schedule a date. Quietly launch your product and keep going at it. Keep adding videos, posts, features, photos. Do it every day and ship multiple times a week. Letting go of your fears consistently on a weekly basis is the formula to become a Maker.
And if needed, you can always relaunch later.
Step 5: Leverage Platforms
Once you are consistent in creating and shipping, it’s time to find “users”.
For your first 100 users, reach out to family, friends, and professional contacts that you think might be interested and could benefit from your productivity. It’s a painful and manual process but it’s also a time to gather genuine feedback. This is exactly how I started One Productivity. I reached out to over 300 people over email, Messenger, and LinkedIn. In a few hours, I had my first users. Start with things that don’t scale.
After iterating your product with the initial feedback, move on to platforms. The goal is to discover the medium that most of your target market uses.
If it’s writing, test Medium first. For visual products, try out Instagram and Pinterest. Start with SoundCloud and YouTube if you are making music. For video, YouTube and Vimeo are going to be your best guess. Don’t worry about spreading yourself too thin in many channels for now. You want to know the one channel to double down and put all your efforts behind. Keep testing until you find it.
In the “offline world”, platforms are called communities. Meetups are a good starting point to meet potential users. And depending on how niche-specific your product is, there are hundreds of other communities at your disposal, such as book clubs, wine tasting events, conferences, running groups, and cooking classes.
And if you are a developer, you are already way ahead of the curve. I wish I had those skills. I went to a codingBootcampp last year for nine weeks and am now a terrible coder but can do just enough to code my ideas. That’s all I ever wanted. I never wanted to be a great coder, I just wanted to turn what was inside my brain into code.
Stop living in the past. Build the Future.
And the first step is to become a Maker.