Starting and running a successful business requires you to constantly experiment with ideas and adapt on the fly. My guest today has become a master at testing ideas quickly in his entrepreneurial ventures, which has allowed him to start multiple million dollar businesses. He’s taken that test-and-adapt philosophy and also applied it to his life to become physically stronger, more resilient, and more productive. His name is Noah Kagan — he’s the CEO of AppSumo and Sumo.com, and he shares his musings at his blog OKdork.com.
Today on the show, Noah shares what it was like getting fired from Facebook right before it went public and losing out on a $185 million pay day, and how he bounced back from that blow. He then digs into the process he goes through in testing if a business idea is viable and how he used that process to start several successful ventures. Noah then shares the difference between founding a business and managing it, and why managers get the short shrift in today’s start-up focused world. We end our conversation by talking about how you can run personal experiments to create a better life and how to run a diagnostic test on yourself in order to make every day a great one.
- Why being fired from Facebook actually helped Noah’s career
- How Noah missed out on millions, and it actually made him happier
- How Facebook has changed over the years, for the worse
- How deleting social apps from his phone enriched Noah’s life
- The difference between a job and a career
- The importance of hard work and consistency
- How businesses evolve over time
- The company you can start in less than an hour, right now
- The life-changing effect of “the coffee challenge”
- Why you need to learn to say no
- How maintaining a business is different than starting one
- Finding what sustains you
- Why being a founder actually sort of sucks and why being an employee is a better deal
- Noah’s concept of the morning “self-diagnostic”
- How to engineer a good day for yourself
- When to be flexible and when not to be
- Why pulling an all-nighter can boost your productivity every once in a while
- The perhaps surprising productivity benefits of having kids
- Noah’s physical experimentation and workout routine
- Tools that Noah uses to get stuff done
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Facebook News Feed Eradicator
- Declutter Your Digital Life
- Irresistible by Adam Alter
- Block Site Chrome extension
- Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
- My podcast with Cal Newport about the myth of following your passion
- My podcast with Chris Guillebeau about finding the work you were meant for
- How to Sell Your Stuff Online
- The Coffee Challenge
- How to Firmly Say “No” Without Coming Off Like a Jerk
- My podcast with AJ Jacobs about experimenting with your life
- How to Have a Good Day, Every Day
- How to Plan Your Week
- How to Pull an All-Nighter
Connect With Noah Kagan
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Starting and running a successful business requires you to constantly experiment with ideas and adapt on the fly. My guest today has become a master at testing ideas quickly in his entrepreneurial ventures, which has allowed him to start several million dollar businesses. He’s taking that test and adapt philosophy and also applied it to his life, his personal life, to become physically stronger, more resilient, and more productive. His name is Noah Kagan. He’s the CEO of AppSumo and he shares his musings on business at his blog OKDork.com. That’s right, OKDork.com.
Today on the show, Noah shares what it was like getting fired from Facebook right before it went public and losing out on a $185 million payday, and how he bounced back from that blow. He then digs into the process he goes through in testing if a business idea is viable and how he used that process to start several successful ventures. Noah then shares the difference between founding a business and managing a business, and why managers get the short shrift in today’s startup focused world. We end our conversation by talking about how you can run a personal experiment in your life to create a better and more satisfying life, and how to run a diagnostic on yourself, just as you would with your car. Lots of actual advice in this episode. After it’s over, check out the show notes at AOM.is/Kagan, where you find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
All right, Noah Kagan, welcome to the show.
Noah Kagan: Brett McKay, what up doc?
Brett McKay: How’s it going? Noah, I’ve been a big fan of you’re work. I’ve used your service, AppSumo. I get your emails and I’ve gotten some really cool things from that. You’re an interesting guy because you wear a lot of different hats. You’ve primarily made your way in life as an entrepreneur, business owner. I want to talk a little bit more about that, but I also want to talk about some of the other things you’ve been doing with your life. Before we get to that, tell us about your background, because it is a pretty interesting one. It’s varied.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. Born and raised in San Jose, California. Representing the 408. I had a pretty traditional I’d say beginning. I did the college path, which I’ve kind of really evaluated now. After that, I went and worked at Intel, so I was a pretty much corporate monkey. I’m single, 35, still haven’t had kids or gotten married yet. Then professionally, I kind of went through like a startup path where I was one of the early people at Facebook and Mint.com. Then I kind of had a quarter life crisis and was like, “I want to go work in Argentina or Thailand.” I started a Facebook games company, those annoying games that spammed everyone. That kind of led me on this journey living there, living in Europe, getting sued by large companies, getting banned by Facebook, and ending up now in Austin, Texas. I’ve been here about seven years running Sumo.com and AppSumo.com, which is basically where … The short of it is we help the underdogs. We help the little guys or people with websites do better.
Brett McKay: You worked for Facebook and then got banned by Facebook with your other business.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. I’ve had not a great time with them. When I was working there, after about nine months, I got fired. It’s one of these things in retrospect, I think when you get fired, it’s a great thing to get fired. It’s like such a good thing, because you know what that feels like, and it’s a really great chance to grow. At that time, it sucked though. Man, like Facebook was my identity. I think that was kind of an interesting moment where I was like, “Oh, wow. What happens when your identity gets removed or someone else has kind of control or impact over your identity?” That kind of gives you that time to figure out, “Well, shit, I need to figure out who I am,” because who I was was Facebook. Yeah, that was rough. That was a really rough period.
Brett McKay: You got fired from them and, I think, shortly after, if I remember correctly, they went public and you missed out on the big IPO. Was that right?
Noah Kagan: Yeah. Dude, what’s crazy is like, even now, I still see how rich they are. Like Dustin, these guys I worked with are multi-billionaires. One of the guys is literally in Austin where I live building a hotel. One of the guys, another guy was complaining about how his McLaren rims almost got stolen. I think what’s interesting about money is people think once you get this money, it’ll make your life happier. I think that’s a big misconception, especially now as I’ve started businesses and made some money, it doesn’t really change who you’re going to be or who you actually are right now. People kind of believe it will.
I spent a lot of time being like, “Well, what do I really want to buy? Is there anything I really need with money? How do I want money to interact in my life?” I think there was two parts of it. There was working on something like Facebook, which I liked working at because I thought it impacted people positively. I actually don’t think they’re as positive anymore. Secondly, I did think, that was one part, and the second part was, “I’m making money and I want to make a lot of money.” I just had to evaluate, how do I go back and work on something I think is a positive impact? Then secondly, what do I really need money for and how much do I want?
I actually had a funny thing lately. I bought a really expensive thing. Let’s say I made a bunch of money. I went and bought a fancy car, a Jaguar. I was actually miserable. I bought this fancy car that you’d imagine, “Oh, he’s got a cool car. He must be happier now.” I was unhappy the first day I got it and the happiest day was when I sold it. I just bought a 2004 Miata and I’m ecstatic. It was interesting to kind of reflect on what really matters to you and then spend money and your time on those things.
Brett McKay: Would you say that, in the beginning of your career, you were chasing dollars more than anything? What were you going after early on in your career?
Noah Kagan: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about that. I’ve kind of followed a little bit of a mantra of just have fun. I know that might seem too simple for a lot of people, but that’s kind of worked well for me. With Facebook in the early days, yeah, I would say I was a little bit more opportunistic. I think your 20s are your time where literally you’ve just … Frankly, 20s should just be working hard. That’s all you should do in your 20s. Then when you get to your 30s, you’re like, “Holy crap, let me work smart now.” Maybe people in their 20s will figure that out, but 20s I would say I worked at Intel because I wanted to … I always wanted to run my own business and I knew that was my stepping stone, where Intel would be my venture capitalist. Meaning that like I could have a nine to five, and at five, my brain is mine again.
Frankly, my brain was mine the whole time. I didn’t really do much work there, but it gave me a chance at five o’clock, and in the mornings, and on weekends, I could do whatever I wanted. I was always starting my own businesses. At Facebook, it was more like, I just applied on a fluke. I kind of was like, “I like the product. I want to work on products I like.” A lot of people are like, “What should I work on?” I’m like, “Just go look on your phone, or look on the web, or look at restaurants or services, and go work for one of them.” I did that.
After Facebook though, and Mint, I’d say I was a little more opportunistic. Where I was like, “How can I make more money?” Those have always backfired on my, personally. For some people, maybe do it and sell credit cards or whatever you do, and go for it. I just kind of found that didn’t really give me a lot of satisfaction and I didn’t find it super sustainable. Even as I made money, I was like, “This just doesn’t fulfill me, even though I’m making money.”
Brett McKay: Yeah. I think that’s what a lot of people figure out. There’s a lot of things, you said a lot of things that have stuck out to me. You mentioned that you thought Facebook was a good service in the beginning, but doesn’t have anything positive anymore. What do you think has changed and why do you feel that way?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, I’ve thought about this a lot. I think about, what are the company’s incentives and what are my incentives? Are they aligned? Facebook is not. Facebook is designated. They literally have 1,000 people. Their jobs are to keep your attention in the Facebook world. It’s addicting. Why is it addicting? Because they’re engineering it. Do I think it’s making life better at this point? I don’t think so. I think the original premise of being able to connect with maybe like Brett, who I don’t get to talk to as often, was helpful. Now, they’ve engineered a system where like news and people I don’t care about, and photos I don’t care about, and all these kind of mechanisms to just keep me scrolling I don’t think make my life better.
I’ve been on a fight to actually like remove Facebook from my phone. I use a Chrome extension called Newsfeed Eradicator, and really look at Facebook as a business tool. Then I have a small network of friends that I, frankly either with text or phone calls or email or in person, I find myself more present. I think it’s like, they’re not encouraging like, “Hey, get offline. Go actually meet people and enjoy people.” At dinner, now family dinners are family phone dinners and I think that’s disgusting. Like last night, I was out at a nice restaurant and the whole family doesn’t talk. They’re on the their phone scrolling. I’m just like, “This is not the future I want to help encourage.”
Brett McKay: Right. They just came out, I guess yesterday they had their FA thing, their big conference. Now, they’re going to have like virtual reality Facebook, augmented reality Facebook.
Noah Kagan: That could be cool.
Brett McKay: You think so?
Noah Kagan: I think there could be positive things they can do. I just think it’s a lot of responsibility when you have a billion people’s attention how you choose to impact that.
Brett McKay: Right. Right. Yeah, I haven’t really been on Facebook much personally. I just use it as a business tool primarily.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. They’re encouraged to get you to stick around and just stare at their stuff as long as possible. That’s why I like the Newsfeed Eradicator. That’s one thing I did, Brett, that really changed the game for me is, I removed all social apps from my phone and I turned off all notifications on my phone. It’s just like, I have SnapChat on because I spend like a minute a day on it and it’s not addicting because, literally, I only get a minute because there’s not much more to do. I’m just like, oh my god, I have all this time back that isn’t like wasteful or mindless time.”
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Noah Kagan: I was like, “Oh, cool. What could I actually use that would be more interesting or more fulfilling to my bring?” Is there learning? Are there actual real relationships? Are there podcasts or books or whatever it is? You get a lot of time back. Even 15 minutes a day is about a week after a year. 15 minutes a day of wasting on Facebook, if you add that up after a year, it’s a week of life that you’ve just given up for nothing.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I think quitting social media is not even the time aspect, like when you’re actually doing the activity. It’s like the mental bandwidth. You’re often still thinking about something that you saw on Facebook that pissed you off like an hour later. It’s just-
Noah Kagan: Dude, that’s so true. I remember the moment, it was in January, where I just deleted everything. I woke up. I went to my phone. I’m scrolling. Then after the 15 minutes, I was like, “Is my life better or worse or the same after this?” I was like, “I would say it’s kind of like worse to the same.” I was like, “It sounds like an empty calorie.” It’s like, in other parts of my life, I wouldn’t waste 15 minutes and not expect something back from it. Gave it up and I’m just like, you forget about it. You’re like, “Oh, wow.” Like, “Why am I not wasting that much time anymore on those things?”
Brett McKay: Yeah. I don’t have Twitter on my phone, don’t have Facebook on my phone. I really don’t have a personal Facebook account. My life is better. I feel like when I’m also, sometimes I’ll slip in where I’ll start to do a lot of browsing on my browser on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve noticed when I’ve put in blocks and constraints, I’m just a lot happier whenever I do those things.
Noah Kagan: Dude, I use this Chrome extension, and they probably have it for Firefox. I just started using this one called BlockSite. I have Newsfeed Eradicator, which I love. BlockSite’s a new one and it basically, you tell it your sites that you want to block and what times. I block like Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, from the morning until 12:00. What actually is interesting, I thought when I heard people tell me about using this stuff, I was like, “Oh my god, do you just have no self control?” I thought that was kind of a weakness. It’s like, “No, it actually helps me.” What was more interesting for me is how much mindlessly I go to those websites. That’s been actually the really surprising thing. It’ll be like, “You’ve gone five times to Facebook this morning.” I’m like, oh my god, I don’t even realize I’m going, or Twitter, or YouTube, whatever it is. You click a link form somewhere else. It’s just a good like, okay, cool, take a moment to stop and think about it before if that’s actually something I want to be doing.
Brett McKay: Right. Yeah, my wife and I call that mindless, the sequence of websites you visit mindlessly, we call it the wheel. Sometimes we’ll catch each other. “What are you doing right now? Are you spinning the wheel?” “I’m spinning the wheel.” We say, “With shame.”
Noah Kagan: Dude, have you ever read the book, Mindless Eating, by the way?
Brett McKay: I have not, but I’ve heard of it.
Noah Kagan: If anyone wants to like improve their health and not want to diet, go read mindless eating. It’s basically the same concept with food. It’s like very tactical and interesting strategies about how like, when you eat chips, you just like pull them out. If you just eat them out of the bag, you’ll eat more than if you just take them out of the bag, and put them on a plate, and eat if off the plate.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Don’t do that.
Noah Kagan: Man, we’re so discouraging. I am so discouraging, not you. I will take the credit.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk more about your business and how you’ve decided … You’ve started lots of businesses. You’re only 35 and you’ve started several businesses. I’m curious, is there a guiding principle? I guess you mentioned, your guiding principle is like, if something is fun, you enjoy doing it, you’re going to start a business there. Is your kind of mantra, “Follow your passion,” or do you actually also look for needs in the market and try to fill them? You hear the vice, “Follow your passion!” There’s not a market for a professional pancake eater. You’re not going to make any money. How do you navigate both finding something that you enjoy doing that is also serving a need in the market?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, man. I was at the DMV yesterday and the lady, I was getting a custom license plate, Sumo.com. She’s like, “Oh, I can’t wait to get off work.” I was like, “Why?” She was like, “Oh, this is just a job.” I was like, “Well, what would make you look forward to work?” She’s like, “Well, this is not my career. This is just my job.” That really resonated with me. I think that’s one of my missions here on this planet is like, I love when people love their work. I think it comes from my mom hating her work being a nurse. She always complained about being a nurse. I think it kind of leads me for others, but also for myself, that my guiding principle is just like find work that I want to work on and is interesting for me, and problems that are interesting for me to solve. Either someone else has already figured it out, so I join them, like Facebook and Mint did, or I create it myself, like AppSumo and Sumo, or like even my podcast or my blog. I like OKDork.com. I do it for free because that’s just what I’m interested in.
I guess I’d be in the camp of, I don’t know about passion. I think passion can fade. It’s like when you meet a new girl. You’re like, “Oh, this is so exciting!” Then after a month, you’re like, “Oh, I hate her toenails.” It’s like, find something that you can sustainably be interested in and solve yourself. I think your second part is actually really key, which is you do have to validate that there’s a market for it. I think the problem that most people make with that though is that they’re not willing to actually sustain or persist through discomfort for a long period of time. Meaning that like, yes, now with Sumo Group, our company that we run AppSumo and Sumo through, it makes an eight figure business and it’s very healthy. That’s great. It’s boot-strapped.
That’s also taken seven years. I think when I’ve heard a lot of people, and a lot of people come to me for how to start a business because I’ve done it a number of times. They’re not willing to actually put in seven years of work, or even a year. Like go put in one year of hard work towards any of your ideas and I promise, you’ll be successful to some degree, or you’ll be further ahead than you were before. Most people do it for a week to an idea that they like and they’re like, “It didn’t work!” I’m like, “Okay, it’s a week. Let’s go another week.” Have an accountability buddy, and that’ll even help you more. The point is that, find something you’re interested in.
What I encourage people is like, how do you find a customer or validate that there’s a business for it, so you get some indication of that right away? How do you find … I always encourage, if you’re trying to think of a business idea, see if you can find three customers in 48 hours and don’t spend any money. The reason I’ve kind of followed this principle as I’ve done businesses, and they seem to be working, is that I’ve done the opposite where I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money on an idea that never worked. It’s like, all right, if I have a business idea, let me just find something that I’m curious about. Let me see if I can find a customer. If there is, then let me go explore that a lot deeper.
Brett McKay: How do you go about finding, like testing that, whether there’s a customer? You just like put an ad on Craigslist? What do you do to validate that quickly?
Noah Kagan: I’m going to give, for any of your listeners, and here’s a common theme. I’ll give you two examples. A common thing people say is like, “Oh, I don’t have an ideas. I’ve got nothing.” Here’s the stupidest idea that literally everyone can do and they could all do it within the next hour while they’re listening to the show. They can even do it on their phone. All you have to do is very, very simple. Go to your house, grab all your junk, and put it on Ebay. That is your first business. I think that’s one of these businesses that I’m like, you could start that today. Then what happens though is that most businesses evolve, like when you started in the beginning the Art of Manliness is not what you’re doing now. You’re still doing the blogging, the foundation is there, but you have Strenuous Life and you have a store, and you have like a YouTube channel. You paused on that and then you got a podcast. You didn’t start with all that. You evolved.
Brett McKay: Right.
Noah Kagan: I think people don’t realize that businesses evolve. I started AppSumo as a deal site, a daily deals bundle site for software. Now, we have marketing tools that grow people’s email lists with Sumo.com. I’m actually spending my whole day creating content, with OKDork, or the podcast, or YouTube. That’s not what I started in the beginning. People kind of psych themselves out. The point is with the Ebay thing, go list stuff on Ebay, Craigslist, Amazon, and then you’ll actually be like, “Oh my god, there’s a market for ukuleles.”
Then the second idea, second thing you could do with that is like, just go right now, on your phone, text your friends. Be like, “Hey man,” or, “Hey girl, can you put a pile of all the things you don’t want in your house somewhere? Just put it in a corner, and I’ll come over, grab everything, and sell it for them.” Literally, you could start this business today. I’ve been doing that. I found a guy. I was like, “Can you just take all my stuff, sell it, and give me whatever you want?” It’s a way to just kind of get momentum going. That’s what I find in business that people want.
Another example that I’ve done recently, I started a thing called Sumo Gum. I’m a big gum chewer and I was at a store looking for new Trident Layers flavors. I don’t know if … Are you a gum chewer, Brett?
Brett McKay: I am a gum chewer. I don’t have a preference. It’s just whatever.
Noah Kagan: Oh, really?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Noah Kagan: Dude, go try Layers, man.
Brett McKay: I don’t like Fruit Stripe. If someone offered me, I won’t do that. Anything else is game.
Noah Kagan: I was in the store and there’s no new flavors. They don’t innovate in the gum category. I was like, “Man, I really want new flavors.” I think if people … Here’s the easiest way to start a business. Just notice what you complain about during your day and just solve that. No matter what, you’ll have one happy customer. For me, it was gum. I was like, “I’d like to get more gum flavors.” I was like, “What would be a cool flavor for me?” The flavor I thought of was caffeinated coffee gum. I drink coffee and it’d be cool to have caffeine in a gum. I hit up a few people. I thought it was an interesting idea. I hit up a few people. I was kind of doing it as like a good reminder to sharpen my saw and stay fresh with like how to start businesses, because I think as we get older, we get a little, I don’t know if it’s less naïve or less fresh, and so I like to kind of refresh myself once in a while.
I hit up a few people, as I was mentioning earlier. I hit up a few people and I said, “Hey, will you give me $10 for caffeinated coffee gum?” Then they did. I was like, “All right, cool. I know people will want it. Now, let me go make it for them.” I ended up hiring a friend who is a good cook. I said, “Hey, can you just figure out how to make this?” She was really creative, actually. What she did is that she went on Amazon and bought a gum kit from Glee Gum. I think it’s like $20 bucks or something like that. It’s like a how to make gum kit with all the ingredients. She bought that, grounded coffee, and caffeine powder all off Amazon. Mixed it together, wrapped it in parchment paper, and gave me like Ziploc bags of coffee gum. That was kind of the beginning.
It’s something that I’m not interested in pursuing as like this is where I want to spend the next year on, but it was a good reminder of like, all right, here are the fundamentals that work in starting a business. The beauty about it, I think, for people who are interested in starting a business, is that if it did not work, if no one wanted it, that’s amazing because I didn’t have to spend six months making a gum product to then find out that no one wants it.
Brett McKay: Right. You just did something really fast, failed fast, and no harm no foul.
Noah Kagan: Yeah, I think that’s the point of it. Most people, it’s easier to play business than actually run a business and do the hard part of business. We started this course. Everyone kept asking me how I started these companies. I was like, I’ll put it in a course. I sold the course and no one bought it. I was like, “I guess you guys don’t really want it?” What they wanted was they were afraid of asking for things. They were actually afraid more than even just … The getting started part was just them being so afraid of rejection. I’m still afraid of rejection. I’m not a super human. I’m scared. I have to put myself in discomfort to keep practicing getting over it, like a muscle, like a gym.
In the course, we actually came up with a bunch of challenges for people to get over asking for things. The most famous one that seems to be always popular is called the coffee challenge. I don’t know. Are you familiar with that?
Brett McKay: I’m not familiar with the coffee challenge. Hit me with it.
Noah Kagan: Dude, this is game changing. If you do it, I think you should do it. If you try it this week, you’ll learn more about yourself through this than anything else you’ve done this week, I promise you that. For you, Brett, or for anyone else who’s done it. Next time you go to get coffee, and I encourage you to go to Starbucks. If you don’t drink coffee, next time you go anywhere to buy something, you ask for 10% off. They’re going to look at you and be like, “Why?” You’ll just be like, “Just ’cause.” You may get it. You may not. The point is not about getting the discount. The point is about potentially getting rejected, realized you’re okay, and moving forward.
In business, the fundamentals … Business is fundamentally, “I have this thing I want to give you, or I want to sell you. You exchange your money for it.” What you’re literally doing is asking. You’re asking for something in exchange for something else. The more that you can get comfortable with that, if someone rejects it, it’s not rejecting you, it’s just rejecting what you’re offering. You’re like, “Oh, okay. Cool. Let me go ask the next person.” Let me learn from that experience, versus most people don’t even want to get to that point. I’ve found the coffee challenge, a lot of people have a breakthrough once they’ve done it. They’re like, “Oh man, I got rejected. I’m still okay. Now, let me go apply this in bigger concepts in my life, business or in personal.”
Brett McKay: That’s awesome. Then sometimes you will get the 10% discount.
Noah Kagan: Yeah, I still do it! I was talking to this crazy rich guy who runs a restaurant. He told me he asked for a discount. I’m like, “Dude, you’re rich. You’re so rich. Why’d you ask for a discount?” He’s like, “That’s why I’m rich.” Yeah, it’s a good lesson. I still do it and I still try to even put myself in uncomfortable things to be able to overcome them. You kind of practice things as a muscle. It makes them easier to do.
Brett McKay: Right. I think also it’s good to, being on the other side of that ask. I think sometimes people get uncomfortable. It’s like, “What are you doing? What do you mean you want that?” They get all upset about it. Part of business is people are going to ask you for things you might not be comfortable with. You have to learn how to say no and not get personal about it, not get huffy about it, just keep it business like.
Noah Kagan: I think that’s a great point. It’s interesting. I thought about that last night because someone wanted to hang out and I said no. It’s not that I’m better or greater than anyone. It had nothing to do with that. I don’t think we practice saying no to things. That enables … Same with the social media stuff, like having less of that enables me to have more of what I want. Saying no to people that I don’t really want to hang out enables me to spend even more time alone or more time with the people that I really get a lot out of. That’s a great point.
Brett McKay: Got to learn how to say no. Let’s talk about this. You’ve started a lot of businesses and I think online you probably see it too. There is this, I would say, a cult of the startup founder. We admire these guys. We admire these young guys who start businesses and then sell them off quickly so they can move on and start another business. You’ve stuck around with AppSumo for a while. What did you say, seven years?
Noah Kagan: Yeah. Yeah, it’s my longest relationship.
Brett McKay: Right. I’m curious, as someone who’s started a lot of businesses, some of them have failed and some of them, I don’t know what else you’ve done with them, maybe sold them or moved on, but how is maintaining a business different from starting one? What’s been the thing that you’ve noticed?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, I think everyone should try to find problems or businesses that they could work on for the rest of their life, or fundamental problems that they’re like, “I’m just interested in this and I want to work on these things.” For me, just take six months and reflect what you’ve done in the six months that you would either do for free or you’ve really liked, and then figure out how you can do more of that. For me, when I come down to it, Brett, it’s like I love promoting things. I love promoting people, or products, or services that I just think are amazing. That’s kind of what our businesses have always been about.
For me, in terms of people, I think there’s glamor. It’s like, “Oh, they started this company and sold it for a billion.” I’ve seen a lot, especially these people that made a lot of money at Facebook, once you get all that money and you’re now having it, what do you do all day? A lot of them, I could tell, are restless. They’re like, “Oh, I guess I’ll do a charity,” or something like that. I think find things that you’re like, it never ends because you want to keep working on it.
For me, what I’ve actually had to embrace, there’s been a few changes over the past seven years. One, we have actually changed the business every 18 months, which I don’t think has been healthy. Meaning that we’ve evolved, we’ve added new pieces to it. I think in business it’s easiest to just serve the same customers, versus always trying to find the next one. It’s like a drug addict. Instead of trying to find new things, just like enjoy what you already have and enjoy it more. Same with customers, enjoy it more.
What’s been like the biggest breakthrough, I’d say is two things. One, actually, in the past two months, I’ve actually removed myself from the day to day operation. What that came from was I stopped apologizing for who I am and for who I want to be. What that means is that I love starting companies. I love marketing. I love promoting, as I was mentioning earlier. As a company grows, there’s less of that or it’s harder for me to find my place in that. It got challenging. I don’t want to just abandon the company, or the people I get to work with which I like, or the customers. What I’ve done is like I focused on my sweet spot. I think more people need to think of their businesses that way. Everyone has a sweet spot, everyone out there, even a lazy person or even the person that’s like, “I got no skills.” That’s your skill, you have none, that you can’t learn anything.
What I did is I was like, how do I hire people that actually their sweet spot is sustaining something or maintaining something, and they love doing that? Let them do that and then let me go figure out new marketing stuff or start new kind of labs for Sumo. That’s been kind of a transition in the past, I don’t know, four or five months, and it’s been amazing. I find that’s sustainable. Not apologizing is that I felt like, “Oh, I always have to be the person that others are expecting to like stick with it.” For me to be sustainable and stick with it, I have to be doing the lab stuff. That’s what sustains me.
Complementing myself with the people who … Like I have this guy, David, who I work with. I don’t have him. David works with me, and he loves doing operations stuff. I’m like, “You want to do this?” He’s like, “Yeah, I love it!” I’m like, “All right, you do this all day.” Or Samantha does recruiting all day. I hate doing recruiting, literally. I love when we hire people and it works out, but I hated the recruiting part. She is like, that’s her favorite thing to do all day. I’m like, “You want to do this?” She’s like, “Oh, yeah. Yeah.” I think you really have to figure out where is your sweet spot, how do you put yourself in that position, and make it fun for yourself, and enjoyable, and sustainable most importantly? Then get the people around you that can complement you.
The thing that kind of I’ve reflected on is like, think about all the people you admire. For anyone this is in your earlobe, for whoever is out there, think about the companies or the people you admire and what is it about them that’s appealing? For me, I think about Jeff Bazos. This guy, I’m so impressed with him and Amazon. What it is is that they keep evolving. The second part is that it takes time. I think a lot of us as we’re doing businesses, we’re not willing to put in time. We’re kind of wanting like this 15 second scroll, instant gratification, and it doesn’t happen that way when we’re trying to create impressive things.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I agree.
Noah Kagan: That’s where I’ve gotten to. It’s like, it’s going to take a long time. How do I put myself in the place that I can be there, and excited, and have the people around me that are in the same place too?
Brett McKay: What you said made me think. Your sweet spot is starting things and experimenting things like that. There’s some people who that’s not they’re thing. They’re good managers. I think it’s important for people to embrace that. Maybe you’re not a founder and that’s okay. I think oftentimes in this sort of online thing, that there’s this idea that if you’re not a founder, if you’re not starting businesses, then you’re a sucker who’s working for the man and you’re a slave, a wage slave, or whatever. No, maybe you can do something of value and provide, because you have the talent for managing and making sure things continue to grow, and the thing that was started is sustained.
Noah Kagan: I’ve thought about this a lot, especially because I have people that I work with. Others call them employees. I call them teammates. I’m like, I want their lives to be better from this. I don’t want them feeling like they’re working for the man or that Noah’s their boss, which they never call me their boss ever. What I realized is that being a founder or starting a business actually sucks. I think it’s a little counterintuitive, but being an employee is actually, for the most part, a better deal.
I’ve come up with like a formula called the four Ps. It’s basically like, it’s not about being a founder or an employee. It’s about, what are the four Ps of fundamentals that matter in business and what people want out of a job or a career? What they want is they want to work on a product that they care about. They want to have some purpose of what they’re working on. They want to get paid and they want to work around great people. If you can get that at a job, like if I could go to another company and they’d do those four, the four Ps, then I would be there. I wouldn’t be at Sumo. At Sumo, I get that. I want everyone who works with me to get paid, I want them to be around great people, I want them to work on a product they like, and then have their purpose what they’re working on.
I think people are just concerned with like, “Oh, I’ll get much more freedom and I’ll be more fun.” I always joke there’s a fifth P, where when you run a company, you get more problems. There’s definitely good parts, and people say, “Well, you have more control or more freedom.” It’s like, “You could find a job where you have control and freedom.” I just think people are kind of a little bit more enamored or glamorized that, being an entrepreneur, that automatically that happens. When a lot of times, being an employee is frankly going to be a better deal for most people.
Brett McKay: Right, because you can take the weekends off, while the founder is trying to figure out what to do with this fire that’s started.
Noah Kagan: We got sued a few weeks ago, or a lawsuit was sent to us. Like, I’m getting deposed about another company. Not that lawsuits always happen, they don’t, but it’s generally a sign that things have done well for you, to some extent. You just have to deal with like our taxes, or the accountants, or the parts that are not sexy that a lot of people, when they see success, they don’t see the hard work or I guess the long times of suffering or struggle that goes in to get to that point. I got paid $40,000 a year for the first few years of the company, $40,000 and then $70,000, when I was making big six figures before that when I was working at a job. Only, and this is a crazy thing, but I actually did the math. Only until a year ago, did I actually make more money starting a business, this is after nearly 10 years, after 10 years, literally two years ago, did I make more money than if I just kept a regular job.
Brett McKay: Wow.
Noah Kagan: In considering inflation and interest and all that, all these things. I actually ran the numbers. It was actually almost better to be an employee.
Brett McKay: That’s pretty crazy.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. I did the numbers. We always assume, “Oh, you start your business, you’re going to make a bunch of money.” It’s like, finally, after 10 years I’m making a little bit more, but it took a long time to get that.
Brett McKay: Something to think about, if you’re thinking about starting a business. That shouldn’t deter you, necessarily, from starting a business, but it’s a factor to consider that maybe people aren’t considering.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. Starting a business is great because you’re solving a problem that you’re interested in and you do have a little bit more direction of where the ship goes, to some extent. Day to day, it’s just as good, like if I could go work on a problem that I’m really excited about, and I could have a huge impact on it, and I’d get paid really well, and I’d get all these things that I want, the four Ps, I’m like, “Well, great. I don’t need to be the founder.”
Brett McKay: Some great solid advice there. Let’s transition more to like personal. I think what we’ve been talking about is personal, but like besides testing things in your business and experimenting, you’re constantly testing things in your life so you can improve it. You’ve written about this concept of the self-diagnostic or diagnosis. What’s the word?
Noah Kagan: Diagnostic. It’s like basically what you do on a car.
Brett McKay: Yeah, what you do on a car to figure out what’s going on with the car. What’s involved in your self-diagnostic evaluation to figure out how you can improve?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, some diagnostics are interesting. Just as an example, this morning, I get a really nice chair. Get something comfortable that you’re looking forward to. I have this nice chair and the point of having a nice chair is like, make things easy to enable yourself to do them. What does that mean? It’s like, get yourself better shoes so you’re actually more likely to go running, or get a chair so you’re more likely to use it, or a desk, or whatever it is, especially things that you use a lot of the time. In the morning, I basically just do a self-diagnostic and reflect. I just sit down and I sit, and I think about, all right, how’s myself? How’s my work? How’s my relationships? Then the last part is like, how do I want the day to look?
Today actually, like doing this led me to a lot of really good insights. I feel like meditation, I don’t understand it. It’s like, “Think too much but don’t think too much.” I’m like, I don’t know which one to do. I guess that’s maybe why I dropped out of philosophy class. Like today, it led me to like make a note to contact Michael Dell. I want to try to get him on my podcast. I was like, “Okay, that’s an interesting one.” Or I was thinking about buying these car rims, because I told you I’m fixing up that Miata. I was like, “Yeah, just go for it,” even though there’s only two of them and I have to find the other two, I was like, “I have confidence I’ll find the other two rims.”
Sometimes it’s silly things like that and sometimes it’s going to be bigger. Like, “Oh, this guy I’m working with, it’s not working out well,” or, “How can I make that relationship better?” Or with my significant other, how do I do something sweet for them? I’ve actually found that. Then thinking about it, the last part is like, how do I want my day to look? How do I look forward to my day? I’ve realized that I do that before and I can talk about some of the things to make your day better and get more stuff done, but just having in the morning, like literally 30 seconds and doing the first three things, yourself, your work, relationships, and then thinking about, how do I want this day to look? It’s awesome. I can make the day exactly how I want it and I can have an epic day. Versus, I think, for the most part, and I’d say this for …
I don’t do it every day, the self-diagnostic, but I try to do it most days. The days I just kind of let happen, I’m always like, sometimes they’re good but sometimes they’re bad. It’s like, you only have so many days, let’s say, on earth. Maybe you only have like, I don’t know, 100,000 or 10,000. Wouldn’t you want to engineer more of those days to be better? I try to work backwards from like what elements are great days and so forth. We can talk more about that later, but the point with the self-diagnostic is like, “All right, I’m looking forward to this, I’m not looking forward to that. I don’t want to do these things.” It’s like, “All right, cool. Let’s maybe think about removing that.”
Brett McKay: Okay, let’s talk about like, how do you … You do this self-diagnostic in the morning. How do you, that question of how do I want my day to look, what sort of things are you looking at to engineer a good day for yourself?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing recently that’s been really interesting. The things that have been interesting that have changed the way that my weeks have been are a few different components. I’ll give you a bunch that are happening for me, and then everyone listening up in your earlobes, just pick one that works for you and start with that. I think the whole conceptually is I experiment with how my weeks and days are to maximize my day, maximize my week for enjoyment and fulfillment. Not that it’s only just me playing and partying or anything like that, but it’s like, what things do I know make my days great? What does not make it great?
Here’s a few things. Number one, I color code my calendar. My calendar is color-coded based on a few different things. It’s like growth, gym, podcast or OkDork or my YouTube channel, Sumo, and then admin, and I color code it that way. Then really fun. Then, literally, it’s color-coded. What that did is that it helped me look at my calendar and be like, am I spending my time in the … What is my priority? My priority is growing my podcast, and helping Sumo, and going to the gym. Then literally, in a instant, I can see how much I’m allocating towards that and then change it. Like, “Oh, do I have a bunch of meetings? Oh, I don’t really want those meetings. I’m just going to cancel them,” and so forth. That’s been one thing that’s been helpful.
Two, I do a note card at night. I have a three by five note card that I noticed every morning I was getting anxiety about what to do that day. At night, every Sunday, I set my goals for the week, so I have three sections, work, work out, and personal. I have generally three to five for each one of those, and I put them in my calendar, and block out time to do them. Then at night now, I have an index card, just a crappy ass index card. I just write a list of the things that I’m doing that next day. It’s one of the things I’ve always heard about, Brett, and I was like, “I’m not going to do it,” but doing it has changed everything. Like today, it’s like prep for your show and do the show with you, read an NPR article, set up some retargeting ads. Just having that in the morning, I’m like, “Cool, let me go make sure I get these done,” and then it just actually made my day like … Some days, you ever finish the day and you’re like, “What did I do today?”
Brett McKay: All the time. Happens all the time.
Noah Kagan: Right? I’ve just found that like you’ve got to keep experimenting with your week and adjusting it to make it more effective for yourself and more pleasurable. Two other things that I’ve done is that I’ve scheduled Wednesdays as do-nothing Wednesday. That’s been really helpful. Where I noticed that like when we open a computer or when we get to work, we stop thinking. A lot of my great ideas, or what I think are great, or things that have been impactful, don’t happen when I’m at work or don’t happen when I’m on a computer. I took a whole week off as an extreme experiment. I didn’t do anything and I didn’t plan anything. I was like, that’s a little bit much to do that every week, because then it’s kind of like you just react to stuff.
I found just taking Wednesdays off and not scheduling anything, doesn’t mean I can’t work, but on Wednesday, I’m like, “What do I want to do today?” I don’t plan it. I don’t have things that are like fixed in there. It helps me kind of just spend more time thinking about bigger problems, for the company or for myself, and I’ve really enjoyed that. I would encourage people to block out like an hour a day and try it out, maybe even two, maybe a whole day, maybe a week of doing nothing. It’ll help you kind of see what’s rising to the top and where you want to spend your time. I’ve kind of forced that on myself.
Those have been a few. I’ve got a bunch of others, but that’s kind of like things that I’ve done that help me get it. I think, fundamentally for everyone listening, here’s like the stupidest simple thing you could do right now. Open your phone, go on notes, just go to notes, and think about the last great day you had, and just write out the elements of a great day. For me, I know it’s like, if I get an interview with you, this is really fun for me. I love sharing this stuff and talking with you. That’s number one, so like creating content. Number two, if I get to exercise. Number three, if I get to flirt or have some type of interaction with a significant other. I like that. If I get to have some type of entertainment. Just think about, what are the elements? Everyone’s different, but think about, what are the elements of your great day? Then, all you have to do is say, “All right, am I doing these elements today? Am I having an exciting lunch?” Right? You had your oatmeal and eggs, and you seem like you really like that. I don’t know, it seemed like it.
Brett McKay: I just consider it fuel for working out.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. The point being is figure out what parts of your day you know make your day better. Think about the last great day you had and what happened that day, and then work backwards and say, “All right, these are the elements.” I’ve actually put this on a sticky note. Then I’m like, in my days, how do I make sure I try to make sure I add these different elements in? That stuff will evolve. Maybe things you did in the past, like right now I’m fasting as a challenge, so I’ve been fasting for 72 hours. I just ate last night, but I was like, “Oh, not having breakfast, I can still have a great day even if I don’t have breakfast.”
Brett McKay: What do you do … It’s all well and good to plan out these good days, but Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” What do you do when something pops up that puts a snag in your plan? How do you adapt and maintain flexibility so you’re not frustrated because your plan isn’t going according to plan?
Noah Kagan: I struggle with that. You know the stupid example for me? Is that, let’s say, Brett, me and you are going to go to a certain Mexican restaurant and then at the last minute, you’re like, “Hey, actually, could we go somewhere else?” I’ve already started planning and like salivating about what we’re going to eat. It’s something that I wouldn’t say I’m great at. I’m generally a planner and I stick to my plans. It’s working on when to be flexible and when not to be.
A lot of people actually ask me like, how do I get so much done? Sometimes I don’t even think I get that much done. Or, how do I stay focused? I think it’s because I practice saying no a lot. The other thing is, I don’t go to … We have an office for the company, and I love the people I work with, I truly do. I just notice that I get more done and I’m more like effective and less distracted when I’m at home or when I work earlier in the morning. I think people need to kind of reflect on like, when are they really in their peak productivity times or when are they not getting distracted from their plan? I think the more important thing for myself is evaluating plans you’re doing and seeing if they’re still helping you get to where you want to go.
My mom, for instance, I love my mom. We all love our mothers, I hope. My mom will follow plans, whether they’re beneficial to her or not. She’ll keep doing like a certain gym activity, whether she likes it or not. It’s like, “Well, why don’t you just reevaluate your plan?” Just be self aware about things you’re doing as you’re planning them. It’s like, is this really helping me go to where I want to be going? I think that’s been powerful for me. As an example, for myself it’s meetings. People will be like, “Hey, I’m coming into town today. Are you around?” I’m like, “No.” Unless it’s something I think will be really special or really add to my day, I just have to practice saying no to things.
Brett McKay: Yeah. No, I think that’s an important skill, learning how to say no. That can be hard. That’s hard for people, as we mentioned earlier. Speaking of just finding times that you can work when you’re not distracted, that’s one of the reasons why occasionally I’ll pull an all-nighter, because at night time, there’s nothing going on. You’re not getting emails, you’re not getting phone calls, the internet is dead for the most part, and I’ve found that some of my most productive times are like at three o’clock in the morning. I’m able to crank stuff out. I used to do it more frequently when I was younger and I could like recover faster from the lack of sleep. I don’t do it so much now, but every now and then, I’ll pull a good all-nighter, and I’m amazed at how much I can get done during that time.
Noah Kagan: Yeah, I think that’s a function … I did a 5:00 AM challenge, which I’d encourage everyone to do, for about two months. I think that’s a function of, one, being at a time when it’s quiet for you. I think there’s also a second part of finding something that you’re actually excited to stay up late for or wake up early for. Like I’m sure when you’ve launched Strenuous Life, you put a lot of hours into it. It’s because you’re super excited about it. I think sometimes when people are like, “Oh, I don’t have anything to work on,” it’s like, “Because you probably have to go find something that you’re excited to be working on for late at night or early in the morning.”
Brett McKay: Yeah. The other trick I’ve used too is I’ll go to, sometimes if I just need some time, because I have kids, so they need attention oftentimes. If there’s something I need to work, I just need unadulterated focus, I’ll go to just a crappy hotel like near the house that has wifi and just check in and like spend the night. It’s like $80 bucks, but I get like 24 hours of uninterrupted work time. That’s another trick.
Noah Kagan: Dude, I like that. I know Andrew Warner was telling me, he goes to super fancy hotels to work during the day as like a nice treat, and plus a good experience. Two things I was wondering for you. One, do you find … For me, I find myself productive on airplanes. Do you find yourself on airplanes productive?
Brett McKay: No, I’m not productive on airplanes. I’ve heard that trick. I’ve heard of people like, “Oh, I’m so … I don’t have wifi so I can get a lot done.” I don’t. I’m just like uncomfortable and it’s just not a pleasant experience for me. I just typically tend to read. That’s what I do. That’s what I do. Especially if I’m traveling with kids, you’re not going to be productive at all.
Noah Kagan: The second part with that, airplanes for me are good because no wifi. I’m like, how do I just have no wifi during the daytime? That’s where like the Block Site thing or trying to turn off wifi during certain hours. The second thing someone told me yesterday, and I’d love your opinion on this, is that, do you find having kids the ultimate productivity hack, or productivity like thing? Because now you can’t really waste that much time? What have you noticed since you’ve had kids, how that changed your productivity?
Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s been a boon and also a negative. For one thing, you can’t work as much compared to when you were childless, so you lose that. You lose time. Also, they just can be exhausting. They’re tiring because you have to run them around everywhere, so you don’t have the same amount of energy. But the time you do have, you try to make the most of it as possible. You don’t mess around. You don’t do the wheel as often as you used to maybe. I feel like I have been more productive in the time I have, but yeah, I do miss some of that time where I’m like, “Okay, it’s six o’clock. I can get this done.” Now, I don’t do that because I’ve got to coach T-ball or something.
Noah Kagan: You coach T-ball?
Brett McKay: Yeah, I coach T-ball. It was my son’s first year playing T-ball and I’m the coach.
Noah Kagan: What’s that like, doing like the Lion King? Where you’re the lion and he’s Simba, I think that’s how it is. No, because like I was a kid, I played T-ball and baseball a lot of years. We’re relatively young guys. It’s like, what’s it like to finally now be the father and you’re coaching, and you see your kid playing T-ball?
Brett McKay: It’s fun. Right now, the kids are like five and six, so we’re still like trying to get the fundamentals of just them trying to catch and throw the ball, right? I basically have no expectations. I’m just trying to get some fundamentals in. These past few practices, I’ve been trying to explain the concept of forced outs. If you want to test your patience, try to explain the concept of forced outs to a five-year-old. They’re getting it slowly, but that’s another thing about kids. They do definitely teach you more patience, which I do think carries over to other aspects of your life, like your business life. You learn how to be more patient with people you work with, because you’ve practiced it at home with your kids.
Noah, you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. You’re starting gum companies on the side. You’re eating tacos. You’re working out. You’ve actually packed on like 40 pounds of muscle since you started working out en gusto.
Noah Kagan: Actually, yeah, I experiment with my body a lot. Last year, I gained 50 pounds or 40 pounds and lost it. Now I’ve been more or less maintaining that.
Brett McKay: Yeah. What are you doing? Are you doing barbell training? What’s your protocol?
Noah Kagan: I think physical fitness and our nutrition is an evolution. It’s funny because everyone, people now know it, but like it used to be fat free was the thing. Now, coconut oil and Keto and all this other stuff are the things. I think fasting will be the next thing that a lot more people will do, not intermittent, but like literal fasting. I think what people have to do is like, what kind of body do you want? What kind of health do you want? Then, how do you work backwards from that?
For me, I track all my calories. I’ve been tracking for two years. Every single day, I use my fitness pal. I just find that really helpful for myself. That’s not for everyone, but I like that. I think the two major parts, people ignore their diet, but for diet, find a diet that’s sustainable. My mom does the watermelon diet. She eats watermelon for like a month and then she loses a bunch of weight. Then the next month she eats pizza and burgers, and gains it all back, and there’s no point. The bigger thing there is like, how do you find breakfasts, snacks, lunch, dinner that you can do for a long time and you’re also happy with? I don’t want to get hit by a car today after this show and then be like, “Man, I really wish I would have had a cookie, but I never had a cookie because I had to have this sexy body.”
You want to hear something really counterintuitive? I really wanted a six pack, so I worked my ass off. You don’t realize how much work it takes to get that. It’s a lot. I literally was probably one of the least happy times in my life. I was like, man, I got this physical body that I’m so happy about, well, I should have been happy about, but I’m not happy in general because my libido is down, my energy’s down, I can’t eat anything. I’m like, that kind of defeats the whole purpose of this. I’ve kind of wanted to find that happy medium where I have a body that I physically like, but I’m also like I can indulge at times. I think where I’m leaning towards is like a six-one strategy, where six days a week I eat really well, and then one day a week, I either eat really crappy or I fast. That’s kind of what I’m experimenting with now. Probably next time we chat, it might be a little different.
My diet’s pretty like egg white, chicken, vegetables. Then here and there some drinks, and here and there crème brulee. Then at the gym, the gym’s boring for me, man. I’ve been going to the gym five years, and it’s just so damn boring. I literally feel like I’m in a prison jail.
Brett McKay: Really?
Noah Kagan: I’m like with the boys and we’re pumping iron. I’m just like, “I’m paying to be in this jail cell?” You kind of have to figure out, how do I get the results without necessarily having to go to the gym? For me, what I’ve done is a few things. One, I bike now. I just love being outside biking, like either mountain biking or regular, or even the road bike in my building. I target about 200 miles a month biking, which has kind of encouraged me to … I use Run Keeper and it has a thing where, it’s all free, it says, “How many miles do you want to run or bike this month?” I say, “200.” It kind of motivates me during the day to bike instead of use my scooter or drive.
Then in the gym, what I’ve found works for me, and it’s not what works for everybody. I go three times a week. I want a big arm and a big chest. I’m not trying to be strong, I’m just trying to look strong. Like I know myself. I don’t want to lift up a car. If you ever get like a car is on top of you, which I don’t know how often that happens, don’t look to me. Look to probably a woman who’s going to be a lot stronger. I just want to look strong. I want my chest to be big and I want my arms to be big, because that’s the things that people see.
Mondays I do chest day. Wednesdays I’ll do like a circuit. Then Saturdays I’ll do a circuit. The circuit on Wednesdays are like on every other part, not legs, and then Saturdays are kind of like a circuit around legs. Which means I just do high intensity, kind of like lighter weight, lot of reps, really, really fast pace. Generally, I want my workouts to be very painful and very uncomfortable. Not to a point where I won’t want to come back, because I think that’s discouraging, but to a point where I’m like, “Man, I pushed myself and that last rep was the rep that counted.” I’ve gotten a body where I’m happy with it now.
Brett McKay: Yeah. That’s your thing. I enjoy the gym. I have a garage gym, so that’s my safe place. I love going down there and training. I do the same thing week in and week out, but it’s just, I don’t know. For some reason, I enjoy it.
Noah Kagan: You know what’s amazing, one of my best friends is Adam from MyBodyTutor.com. I don’t know if you’ve talked to him or are aware of him. He is like that, where literally his weeks are almost always the same. I think the point you made, which is great, I don’t know if you intended that, but like you have to know yourself and embrace that. For me, doing the same exercise every week is just not my nature. Not even nature, nature can change, but it’s not what I’m interested in. I have to find like, how do I do something for six months that I’m interested in and then kind of continually evolve that? Which that part does work for me.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You’ve mentioned some tools you use to manage how you get so much done. You use a calendar. I’m assuming that’s like Google Calendar or something like that?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, Google Calendar.
Brett McKay: Google Calendar. You use My Fitness Pal to track macros. You use the cards to manage your to-do list. Any other tools that you use to ensure that everything gets done and done well?
Noah Kagan: I’ve talked about a few of them. Like the note cards was a game chapter. I started doing that last year and it’s just made my productivity a lot more effective. Number two is, every Sunday night, I plan out my week. It’s kind of these things where it’s like, take a big goal that you want in your life, getting married, something professional, something on your health. I do it for a year. I do a yearly bucket list and I put it on my fridge, so I can see it right now. One of my bucket list ones is to bike 1,000 miles this year, or it’s to go work in Israel, or to get a chest coach. Then break that down to monthly, and then break it down to weekly. Every week, I say, what are in my three categories, work, workout, and personal? Then I pick the things I want to do, and then I block them out in my calendar. Then I do note cards the night before. Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, there’s actually a higher priority thing that I can think of that would make a bigger difference towards my yearly goals.” That’s number one, kind of the Sunday thing.
Number two, hire an assistant. I was talking with people about it last night at dinner. It’s not about being rich. You can get an assistant that’s a friend of yours who’s unemployed. Like I have a friend, he’s unemployed right now, so I paid him to go pick up my clothes and take them to Goodwill. He gets money, I pay him like $20, $25 an hour. I get my stuff taken care of. That gives me more time. I’m putting a video on my YouTube channel, Noah Kagan, for people who want to see more how to do it, but the point is like, time is your most precious asset. It’s literally the most precious asset. When people said it, I’ve never really believed it. Now that I’m 35 and I will never be 25 again, unless some crazy science. I don’t know, maybe, Brett, you’ll invent it or someone will invent it, I hope. I’ll probably not ever be 25 again. It’s this kind of realization of like, oh my god, time really doesn’t come back.
After my father died, it was even more clear. I was like, oh my god, it’s really not coming back. It’s a one-way street. An assistant basically gives you more time to do the things you want to do. You can use Fancy Hands. I’m using a service called Fin.com, which is kind of pricey. You can find someone on O-Desk or Freelancer, and basically figure out how to get more time. The most valuable asset is by hiring people. Hire an assistant or people around you to assist you so you can spend time doing what you want.
Two other things that have really helped me get more done, I’ll do three if that’s okay with you.
Brett McKay: Sure.
Noah Kagan: Number one, turn off all your notifications and vibrations on your phone. I think people are just too damn distracted. They’re like, “Oh, I’ve got a buzz. I’ve got to go do this now.” I think you just turn off all this stuff. You don’t miss it and you start just focusing on the things that are mattering at that moment and in general. You stop being … I think anyone who can focus longer than a minute these days wins. No joke. If you can focus longer than a minute, you’re probably going to do better than most people. For me, I found turning off my vibrations, so I don’t know when phone calls come. I don’t know when texts come. When I want to check them, I check them. I’ve found that to be a huge way to get more stuff done that I want to get done.
Two other ones, and I have a bunch more, but these are the major things. Learn how to type faster and speed up your mouse speed, like your track pad or your mouse. The concept here is focus on the top of the funnel things for your life. Meaning, what is the foundation or fundamental bottom thing that everything comes from? Here’s another one, your bed. I spend, I don’t know, $3,000 or $4,000 on my bed, and my sheets, and my pillow, and I’ve tested them. I’ve literally tested them for the past few years. I’ll keep testing them, because if I can have a great sleep, the whole rest of my day is better. Same thing with learning how to type better. There’s a service, TypingBolt.com. It’s totally free. I used to do Typing Shark. The point being is like your track pad, you’re using your track pad all day or you’re using your keyboard all day, focus on improving your foundational items. Everything else subsequently, in your funnel and in your life, will do better.
Then lastly, this is one thing that I’ve been really, really thinking about, and I’m working on it myself. I can’t say that I have it great. Work on what your vision looks like. It doesn’t have to be 10 years out. Sometimes that’s hard. Just figure out like, where do you want to go in different aspects of your life? Like, I want to have a kid, or I want to have this kind of money, or I want to live here, or I want this thing. Then just write that shit down. Put it on a piece of paper. Put it on your fridge. Put it on your phone. Put it on your computer. The more that you have clarity about where you want to go, in my belief, it helps you say no and not do other things that don’t align to that. That’ll help you get more done, because you’re like, “Is this … ”
Right now, one of my goals is to get my podcast to 100,000 listens a download on the Noah Kagan Presents. As I’m doing things, I’m like, “Does this help me get towards that or not?” Same with Sumo. Sumo has its own revenue goals. There’s decisions like, does this help us get to that or not? Then it makes it easy to kind of say, “Yes, this is on that side of the line. Let’s do it. This is not. Let’s not do that.” I think you’ve got to start at that clarity, because then you work backwards from what things are really aligning to that and helping me get closer to that, or further away from it.
Brett McKay: That’s some great stuff. No, there’s a lot more we could talk about, but you’ve written about this on different places on the web. Where can people find out more about your work?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, so I have Noah Kagan Presents podcast if they want to hear more of my stories. A lot of it is just me showcasing great products or great people that I’m interested in, like Mike Posner, who’s an artist. I met with Aubrey Marcus, who started this very large supplement company called On It. For marketing tips, I run a blog called OKDork.com, where I just share stories about marketing and business. Then the companies that I started that I help run is AppSumo.com, which is a Groupon for geeks, and Sumo.com, which are free tools to grow your email list.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Noah Kagan, this has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.
My guest today was Noah Kagan. He is the CEO of AppSumo. You can find more information about that at AppSumo.com. If you’re a business owner, a lot of great tools there. Also, you can read his musings about business and life at OKDork.com. Also, check out our show notes at AOM.is/Kagan, that’s K-A-G-A-N, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at ArtofManliness.com. If you enjoyed this show, have gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you take one or two minutes to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or whatever else it is you use to listen to the podcast. That helps us out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: December 5, 2017