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in: Career & Wealth, Podcast, Wealth

• Last updated: February 5, 2024

Podcast #963: Launch a Million-Dollar Business This Weekend

Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur but don’t have an idea for a business? Or have you been sitting on a business idea for years but have never gotten going with it?

Well, after listening to this podcast and by the end of this weekend, you can have a business started that could ultimately make you a million bucks.

Here to walk you through the process of becoming a near-overnight entrepreneur is Noah Kagan. Kagan is the founder of AppSumo, a software deals site, and half a dozen other multi-million-dollar businesses, as well as the author of Million Dollar Weekend: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Launch a 7-Figure Business in 48 Hours. Today on the show, Noah and I first discuss the two biggest obstacles that hold people back from starting a business and how to overcome them. We then turn to the practicalities of coming up with and vetting a business idea, how to find your first customers, and how to keep growing from there. Along the way, Noah and I share insights into how we turned AppSumo and Art of Manliness, respectively, from side hustles into rewarding careers.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur but don’t have an idea for a business? Or have you been sitting on a business idea for years, but have never gotten going with it?

Well, after listening to this podcast, and by the end of this weekend, you could have a business started that could ultimately make you a million bucks.

Here to walk you through the process of becoming a near overnight entrepreneur is Noah Kagan. Kagan is the founder of AppSumo, a software deal site and a half a dozen other multi-million dollar businesses, and is the author of Million Dollar Weekend: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Launch a 7-Figure Business in 48 Hours.

Today in the show, Noah and I first discuss the two biggest obstacles that hold people back from starting a business, and how to overcome them. We then turn to the practicalities of coming up with and vetting a business idea, how to find your first customers and how to keep growing from there.

Along the way, Noah and I share insights into how we turned AppSumo and Art of Manliness respectively from side hustles into rewarding careers. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/milliondollarweekend.

All right. Noah Kagan, welcome back to the show.

Noah Kagan: Good to be back. I missed you.

Brett McKay: So we had you on last time, that was back in 2017, and that was Episode Number 315, for those who wanna check that out. Short story with you is you were one of the first employees at Facebook, but then you got fired before your stock vested so you missed out on becoming a billionaire, so that was a bummer.

But the upside was you started this journey of starting multiple seven-figure businesses, and I think you got a few eight-figure businesses in there as well, and then you’ve also been teaching other people how to start businesses. And a lot of… Some people have been making a lot of money with this process.

And you got a new book out where you’re sharing this process, it’s called Million Dollar Weekend: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Launch a 7-Figure Business in 48 Hours.

And I should say at the start, you have a very narrow definition of what starting a business means, ’cause I think sometimes some people think to start a business means coming up with a business plan, filing an LLC, designing a web page, but how you’re defining it for this book and the challenge is, just get three paying customers in 48 hours, that’s what starting a businesses is.

And I love this idea of the time constraint, ’cause I think it can really help people finally get going on something. So where did you get this idea of starting a business in a weekend?

Noah Kagan: There is a guy named Jake who I was talking to this morning, and it’s pretty similar to you and I’m guessing a lot of your listeners. And Jake has three kids, he’s got a day job, he’s got a wife, and he’s always dreamed of having a business, and at least having the opportunity to really live how he wants to live and be a good example for his kids.

And he’s had the same idea for 24 months, two years, and he was an early reader of Million Dollar Weekend, and I was able to get a chance to work with him, and in 48 hours he changed his life.

And the same thing happened for me with appsumo.com, where I was really excited about how do I get software deals. [chuckle] I love software. And how do I get software deals at a discount for entrepreneurs.

And what I noticed in a lot of the years before that working for Zuckerberg and working in other businesses, was just how much time we’ll give ourselves to finally do something, but if we really constrain it, and we have to focus on really what matters, which is, can I solve a problem for someone that they’ll be excited to give me money for, you are able to actually do that in a very short amount of time without a lot of money.

‘Cause most people, like Jake, like you Brett, like myself as well, we’re busy, we don’t have as much time, but most of us have a weekend available.

So what’s crazy is, as a, I think a great example, appsumo.com, I started it for around 50 bucks in a weekend. And this is what I think most people miss out on. They wanna have a lot of money, or they would like to make millions of dollars, but they never make their first dollar.

And so with one $12 sale very quickly from AppSumo, fast forward 14 years, yesterday I pulled up the numbers for the show, we did $248,163 in sales yesterday.

But we started with just one sale, and that’s something that when you give yourself a weekend and you limit that time and you’re not trying to play business or set up social media or do fancy things, you realize how much more you can actually do and get closer to where you wanna go.

Brett McKay: So you mentioned this student you had who spent years putting off starting a business, ’cause he wanted to do this. And putting the time frame, given that goal of starting the business on a weekend, suddenly is able to do it.

What is holding people back from starting a business that wanna start a business? What have you found? Are there common excuses, fears that you see people have?

Noah Kagan: Yeah. What I’ve noticed is that there’s literally, there’s Harvard MBA, there’s billions of hours on YouTube, there’s unlimited amounts of courses, then how is it that everyone who’s got a day job or is just coming out of college or is 60 years old and wants to do a hobby that makes them money, doesn’t have a business yet.

And what I was able to recognize through myself and learning through tens of thousands of people, was that there’s two things that they’re afraid of. And they don’t recognize it as they’re afraid of.

But it’s really the fear of starting, and it’s the fear of asking. Those are the two things that have held everyone back from getting success in business, but really in life.

And most people feel like they’re not ready, it’s like, “Oh man, I need to research more, I need to go over this business model more, I need to talk to more people about it.”

And when you actually get going, a simple example, you have kids, it’s like, “Hey, I’m gonna teach my kid how to swim.” All right, well, you have to be in the pool to swim. [chuckle]

Which is an obvious example, but people are like, “But no, I wanna read more about how to swim, and I wanna watch another YouTube video about how to swim. Or I’ll buy a book about it.” It’s like, no, let’s get in the pool. And by getting in the pool is how you’re gonna start getting better at that.

And one of mindsets that helps people is to think of themselves as scientists. So just get going and start doing things and by experimenting as a scientist, if it doesn’t work, that’s okay, at least you’re doing it, and it’ll lead you to a destination that you’ll be surprised about, I would say.

And the other one that holds people back is the fear of asking. If you don’t ask, you can’t get. And I’ve interviewed a lot of billionaires on my YouTube channel over the years, and the number one thing they all say is sales, is what is the skill that’s helped them become a billionaire.

And what is a sale? Sale is an ask. And think about it, like if you want a raise, if you want an employee, or if you want a customer, you just have to practice asking.

Thank God it’s a universal skill, that you don’t have to be tall or skinny, or any physical or gender ability, it’s universally available to practice and get better at both of those things of starting right away and asking.

Brett McKay: All right, so starting and asking are the biggest fears that hold people back from starting a business, and I imagine people come up with excuses to hide those fears.

It’s like, “Well, I gotta do, I guess I gotta do more research. Or I need more capital so I can develop the website. Or I don’t know anything about marketing, I gotta come with a marketing plan.”

But really, this is probably just covering the fear of starting or the fear of just asking for money. Yeah.

Noah Kagan: Of course. And to me, what always seemed risky, Brett, and it’s sad, I talked to someone yesterday, but it always seemed riskier for me to have a day job I didn’t like, than at least take a chance on myself.

And to be clear, that doesn’t mean quit your day job. Jake has a great day job that he’s keeping and enjoying, and Jake actually got five customers. He wants to do guys golf trips, that was his dream business. And we were able to get that going in a weekend.

You know, I’d say even for like yourself, did you quit your job to start the show?

Brett McKay: I did not. So the Art of Manliness started in 2008. It was just a blog. Like a text, like go to artofmanliness.com. And we still do that, we still go to artofmanliness.com, we still put out new content there.

But I started when I was in law school, and I started it as a hobby, basically, something fun to do to as a creative outlet, and then it started making money.

Even when it was making money, I still graduated from law school and I got a job in legal research. I worked for Thomson Reuters. And graduated ’09, took the job with Thompson Reuters, and then in 2010, that’s when I finally quit my day job and went full-time with AOM.

Noah Kagan: I think that’s such a great example for people to realize. So number one, the first thing you said, and this is the part I think people get backwards in business, it’s fun. Find something fun. You’re like, “Hey, I’m gonna just write articles that explore manliness and parenting and things for guys.” How beautiful is that?

And you didn’t go risk your career, and especially a lot of people have day jobs, it’s like I don’t want anyone to risk that. And then you stuck with it. Which is the other real important part, besides getting started, is how do you find ways not to quit too soon.

And what I’ve found through from me running a business, I’m still running appsumo.com, which this year will do over $80 million, and that to me is insane ’cause it started in a weekend, but I find that business is just the best way I’ve ever learned about myself and done things where I can feel good about myself.

And importantly, I can actually even then create the life I wanna live. ‘Cause I’ve been fired twice. I don’t know if any has ever been fired out there, but getting fired, made me realize one person decided my future.

And I at least wanted that option, I wanted the option where like, hey, even if I get fired, I have something else. Or not. Maybe I can keep my day job and my side hustle.

But you do have to get started on it, so that 14 years ago now I’m thanking him, so I do wonder for which one listener today is gonna thank themselves for listening to this show today, taking action in five years, be way further ahead than they ever imagined.

Brett McKay: Okay. So in your book, Million Dollar Weekend, you walk people through a process and how they can get a business going up and running, you get paying customers within 48 hours in a weekend.

And some of these businesses, some people might make a million dollars with their business, but I think your bigger point with this book is that you can start a business that makes a decent chunk of change that can significantly improve your life, and what that number is, is gonna vary from person person, and you have this idea of the freedom number that can give people a concrete goal to shoot for.

What is a freedom number and how can that help? It’s one of those, I think it’d be a source of motivation to get going on your business.

Noah Kagan: Well, I asked Jake, I called him this morning before the show, I was like, “Hey, Jake. I’m going on Art of Manliness. What was it for you?” He’s like, “I think about this future where I can do this as my dream.” And it’s like, wow, great. Everyone can think about what is their fantasy.

And sometimes though, the fantasy is so far away that it doesn’t seem attainable, and what I recognize, and this is something that I’ve seen be very impactful for myself, as well as I’ve talked to a lot of other successful entrepreneurs, which is having a small attainable monthly number, where once they get their side hustle to that, then they can at least make the decision whether they wanna quit their job or not. And it’s the number that covers your basic necessities, so savings, food and entertainment, and then living expenses.

And what people realize when they actually put this together, and you could do it right now, I’d encourage people, again, we’ll talk about now how in a moment, but you realize like that number is a lot smaller than I thought.

And then when you’re actually doing the thing you wanna do for a living, what I’ve noticed, you actually end up making a lot more money. ‘Cause frankly, you’re enjoying it, and if you’re not, you’re like, “Wow, I can live my life in my own way.”

And I would say wealth and having money is really how little you can worry. Because you don’t have to worry about some of these things like, “Oh, I have to worry about my job, I have to worry about my boss or about savings.” And it’s interesting when you start taking that power for yourself.

Brett McKay: And this freedom number, it can vary from person to person, depending on their goals. So some people, maybe they wanna quit their job completely and just all they do is rely on the income that comes from their side hustle or their business.

Some people, maybe they like their day job, maybe they enjoy doing whatever it is they do, but they just want enough money to, I don’t know, pay off some debt, or they just want enough money to make a month where they can go out to eat with their family and not have to worry about the prices on the menu.

And you can find out a concrete number for that, like, “I want to make a $1000 extra dollars a month so I can do X with my life.” And it might not even be that much.

Noah Kagan: It’s way lower. So my number was 3000, and so I thought, if I can make 3000 a month, I can quit this job. Which it was fine, but I didn’t really care for it, and I always dreamed of being an entrepreneur and be able to live remotely.

And it took a few months, but then with AppSumo eventually got there and I was able to quit and go do that. What amount were you at when you decided to quit and go all in on Art of Manliness?

Brett McKay: I don’t remember, that was 13 years ago. I think it was enough where I could… I think my magic number, this is quite generic, is enough where I could pay for health insurance for my family. At the time that was my big concern, was can I afford health insurance?

And I think my parents and my in-laws, they were kind of concerned about that being the entrepreneur thing, is like I had the steady job where you had benefits, health insurance, a retirement plan, etcetera.

And so for me is like if I can pay for those things, then I’m good.

Noah Kagan: Well, it was interesting, two quick stories on that. When I quit Intel, which was a horrible job, to go work at Facebook, my whole family was like, “You’re crazy. I can’t believe you’re gonna go to this company,” dah dah dah. And Intel laid off 10,000 people a few weeks later after I moved over to Facebook.

And it’s just a good reality that if you are not at least creating some of your own businesses or incomes, that you don’t have as much control over your destiny. And even a safe company like Intel is not safe.

And the other thing I was mentioning earlier is I did talk to someone recently and I felt sad that they felt that they had no ability to get started and changed their future. They’re like, “Yeah, I got this job.” Which, this is very normal. “I got a job, I’ve got a kid, I’m stuck here, I can’t do anything about it.”

And when you start taking action, when you start maybe posting something online or you start getting one person a customer in your business, and that could be the amount of ways people are getting rich is unbelievable, and I’ve seen a lot of it on my YouTube channel, from people doing strawberries [chuckle], energy traders. There’s real estate, there’s a lot of different ways. Plumbing.

I come from tech and it’s so exciting to realize that there’s a lot out there. But you do have to get started on it today, and then just like you and me and a lot of other people have done it, you do have to figure ways to help you stick with it, so that you can get to the freedom number and then beyond that.

Brett McKay: Talk about that idea of getting started today. You have this mantra, “It’s now, not how.” What do you mean by that? And how can people start living that mantra?

Noah Kagan: So when people… Let’s take a business example. You wanna start a dog walking business. Most people think, “Well, how would I start a dog walking business? I probably need to get LLC, then I’m gonna buy a domain, then I need to find a developer, then I might need to get some funding, or I need someone who’s technical. Oh no, there’s AI, so I need to have some AI now in there. And last year, I needed to put some crypto so people can pay for their dog walking in crypto.” So they’re thinking about how to do it.

But then if you actually just take the mantra of “now, not how”, what I’m encouraging, and this has been the number one breakthrough from the book, and we survey, we have a 1300-person beta team that’s gone through the book, this is the number one breakthrough, which is, instead of giving themselves excuses and thinking about how, what can they do right now to move themselves forward?

And so with the dog walking app, you can literally text, call, WhatsApp, DM three people and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about dog walking app. Can I walk your dog today?” [chuckle]

And then people, “Reall? It’s that easy?” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s the whole point.” That’s exactly how so many of literally billion dollar companies. Just like Airbnb. Airbnb started by them sending an email to a conference that they were attending saying, “We’re renting out of couch, does anyone wanna pay 150 bucks for it?” Right away, right now.

And so acting in the now is preventing you from letting getting the fear ahead of you. [chuckle] Because you just get going, fear has to catch up. Just go and get started. And by doing that, by putting out that, like what you did, you got started, you put out the first blog post. That builds confidence.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Okay, so have a bias towards action, just quit thinking too much, just start working. You’ll figure things out as you go. And what’s great about doing things now is you actually get information ’cause you see what happens, and that can actually help you refine and actually come up with your business plan after the fact. And it’s more useful, I feel like, ’cause it’s concrete data.

Noah Kagan: A hundred percent. It’s like sitting on the sidelines trying to figure it out, but if you just go do it, you actually know it. Like take Jake who we talked about earlier.

Jake’s had the same idea about doing golf trips for guys for two years, but until he literally called someone right away, when he did the Millionaire Weekend challenge. He just did it right now. And the person said, “Sure.”

And we can get into that a little bit later, but it was like, just because he got going, then guess what, that gave him confidence to be like, “Hmm. Maybe I can ask another person right now?” And then in a weekend he had five paying customers for his golf trip. Which he took two years not being ready for.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Okay, so the next part is overcoming the fear of asking, and you talk about developing your asking muscle. How do you develop your asking muscle?

Noah Kagan: Yeah, I was mentioning earlier, I got to interview John Paul Dejoria. He did Patrone tequila and Paul Mitchell hair care. And he said sales is the number one skill people can get better at, and that is what’s helped him become a billionaire.

And you start realizing that everything in life is communication, everything in life is sales, everything in life really ultimately is an ask. So you want a wife, you probably have to ask someone out. You want a relationship, you want an employee, you want a raise.

And in business, if you want a customer or if you want a viewer or a listener, you have to ask. And when you don’t ask, you don’t get, you just give whatever you’re getting. [chuckle]

And what I’ve noticed is that the fear of the ask is temporary, but the upset of these ask is really unlimited. People think of asking as a negative. You think of it as a positive. “Okay, maybe this rejection is leading me to somewhere positive, it’s leading me to learning, it’s leading me to some outcome that I can get to.” Whereas most times people never ask at all. Or if they ask once, they get rejected and they stop.

And you just start realizing that if you can do that in light silly ways, then when you start doing it in ways that maybe matter more to you and you’ve already practiced it as a skill, the success that you can have is amazing.

So I always talk about the coffee challenge, and this has become, I would say, worldwide famous, where it’s a very simple, easy way to develop your ask muscle.

And all you do is the next time you buy coffee, or if you buy a taco, or if you’re at a restaurant, you just ask for a 10% discount. And if you… A lot of times they’ll say, “Why?” If you wanna make it really hard say nothing.

But if you wanna say, “Hey, Noah Kagan. I’m following this 48-hour business challenge, Million Dollar Weekend. Told me I needed to do it.” And then they’re gonna reject you. Most of the time. Once in while, you get a discount. And the point is not to get the discount, the point is to actually get the rejection.

And let me just actually pull this up. There was a guy who just did it. I always ask the same question afterwards, I said, “What did you learn about yourself from the rejection?”

And here’s, his name is Stetson, he just texted me Monday. He said, “I over-think things. I ran through every scenario in my head before actually taking. And I’m actually good in these awkward situations until it comes time to ask for something, then I get weird.” And ultimately he realized, “It didn’t kill me.”

And that’s the whole power of the coffee challenge, is that you do it in a kind of silly way. Whether you’re a sales pro, then do it, or whether you’ve never asked for anything, then do it.

And if you can just commit to going on and doing that, you start realizing, well, it’s never as scary as it seems. And that’s true for a lot of this business stuff. It should be fun, like you said with your post. And these things aren’t as scary. But you do have to get started, and you do have to ask people for things in business.

Brett McKay: Okay. So you gotta overcome your fear of starting, overcome you fear of asking. That will do a lot for you to actually get going with your business. But let’s say someone’s out there and they say, “I really wanna start a business, but I don’t have any ideas.” Or maybe they have an idea and they don’t know if it’s a good one.

So how do people usually go wrong with coming up with business ideas?

Noah Kagan: For business ideas, the book literally starts with frequently made excuses, and the first one and two is, “I have no ideas or I have too many ideas.” So I’m gonna give you three ideas in three minutes, but in three ways, and I’ll give you even one more that people can do right now, not how.

So number one, solve your own problem. So break your day down into morning, afternoon and night, and just think what’s bothering you or what could have been better?

So for me, in my morning, every morning now I’m looking at this painting that’s been on my ground for two months, and I’m just like… [chuckle] I’ve got other things going on. And I was like, “Ugh, it’s so annoying.” Or for lunch, my girlfriend are working, and it’d be really nice to have food delivery. And so I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting.”

Number two, look at your credit card bill. This is a classic, I would say. Look at what you’re spending money on or look at what you’re not spending as much money on, and those are both opportunities. Most problems you’re facing in your life are business opportunities, for yourself and for someone else.

And lastly, look at what you’re avoiding. So I always like looking at what’s been on my to-do list for a long time. Again, what you’re not doing is something else that probably others aren’t doing too, that are a business.

And I’ll give a now, not how example of asking that people can do, again, right now. Text a friend, “Hey, I’m trying to come up with some business ideas, you know me, what is the kind of business you think I could start and be good at?” And just text someone right now, and I think you’ll be surprised by just again, asking and doing it right in the now, the results you’re gonna get.

And most people, I don’t think you can mess up ideas. You can only really mess up just not executing. There is stuff about making sure it can be a million dollar business, but really by just executing it will lead you to get to that place, will lead you to get to your freedom number and beyond.

Brett McKay: You talk about customers want solutions, not ideas. So look for solutions to problems. And that’s how I started AOM. The impetus behind Art of Manliness when it was just a blog, before it was a podcast, was I thought men’s magazine sucked back in 2007, 2008.

So I said, “I’m gonna start the men’s magazine that I’d wanna read.” And I did, and I found out a lot of other men felt the same way that I felt, and so that’s how… That’s how we started.

Noah Kagan: Solve your own problems. If you only had to do one type of business, just sure you’re the first customer. AppSumo, I hated paying full price for software. I still do. Again, come back to things at least you’d be excited.

‘Cause I’ve done businesses that are opportunities, like today AI is what everyone’s chasing, it’s like not something I’m personally that excited about. In AppSumo we have a lot of software deals in AI, and that’s great, but for me, I’m just excited to promote the deals.

So again, come back to the problems where you’re at least the first customer. And I think it makes it much, much easier to stick with these businesses, ’cause it does take time for them to produce the compounded returns.

Brett McKay: We’re gonna take quick break for a word from our sponsors.

And now back to the show.

Okay, how do you actually figure out if… So let’s say you settled on an idea or a solution. You settled on a solution to a problem you’re gonna solve. How do you know if it’s actually gonna make money?

Noah Kagan: What you do need to do before we sell to customers, and this is something that I was thinking about yesterday, I was watching some Netflix with a girlfriend about a masseuse and I was like, “Could you make it be a million dollar masseuse?”

And before you jump into, let’s say you’re excited to do physical therapy, okay, well how would it actually be a million dollar business? So you’ve gotta make sure you’re not running really, really fast in the wrong direction. How many people… How is the market trending in this area?

So let’s take AppSumo for instance, or physical therapy. AppSumo in software years ago when I started it, you could see that the graph was trending up, and I was just in a great wave. And so just being mindful of that.

Same with physical therapy. Is that trending up? You can go to Google Trends, look over five years. Is it flat? Is it up or down? ‘Cause what you’re aiming for is markets that are gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger, and you just get a slice of it.

As well, what does the business model look for therapy? So if you’re doing one-off massages at home at $140, it’s like, cool, that’s 140, but to make a million dollars, what is… Let me do the math. [chuckle] That’s 7000 massages. 7142. That’s gonna take you a while. Okay. Well, if I did it that way, I’d probably need to change some things out.

And so before you, again, try to validate the business, making sure people want it, at least three customers in 48 hours, I would definitely recommend looking at, what would it take to make a million dollars for yourself? Just to get an understanding of it.

And again, all this stuff should be quick and fast, and not as a distraction from actually focusing on the business and the problems you’re solving.

Now to your original thing, Brett, which was, how do you validate it? There’s three ways I tell people to validate. One is pre-ordering, so that’s asking, and this is the best way, ’cause it’s the most active.

And this is… The best example of this is Elon Musk with Cybertruck or Model 3. People deposited six years ago for Model 3 and for Cybertruck. Model 3 was 10 years from when he delivered.

And this is also the same with events. Every event you ever bought, you pre-order it. You buy a ticket, you go to the event. And have they ever canceled events? Yes.

And if you’re trying to get pre-orders for your idea and no one wants it, awesome, you didn’t build a website, you didn’t go to Alibaba or China to make the product. You didn’t waste a lot of time to find out something no one wanted. And then you could learn from that, and that’s the beauty of this.

The other two methods that I think could be good, but aren’t as direct, that’s why I don’t always encourage them, is marketplaces. So when I started appsumo.com I posted it on Reddit.

I said, “Hey, there’s this product called [0:25:41.9] ____. I got a discount on it ’cause I called and emailed the founder.” And there’s a marketplace of people looking to spend money or that are excited about things, and you could post it on there, you could post it on Indie Hackers, you can post it on Etsy, Nextdoor, wherever it is, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, wherever it is worldwide, places where people are raising their hand to spend money.

And then lastly, to get customers, you can try landing pages and ads. That’s been a common one people talk about, I would say, but I think that’s my least favorite.

Actually, I know it’s my least favorite. Because then you have to learn about how to do a landing page, then you have to set up an ad, then you have to spend money, then you have to wait for results.

And that is fine. I think that’s okay, but again, you can do it a lot quicker and cheaper. And that’s what I’ve found to be more effective than having to wait, which happens in some of the other two approaches.

Brett McKay: I was just thinking about some of the little businesses that I’ve started throughout my life. I forgot I did this. It was though I did the whole act, and now, not how, and I validated really quickly, didn’t spend any money. And I used marketplaces, kind of. We would call them primitive marketplaces.

So when I was in college, I lived in Mexico for a few years, so I could speak Spanish fluently. So when I got back and I was in college, I offered tutoring services. And so I just created a crappy flyer for Spanish tutoring service. I think I charged $25 an hour, like $20 an hour. This was 2005, so that was a lot of money back then.

And I just posted it on the bulletin board in the Foreign Language Department at University of Oklahoma. And within a week, I think I had five clients. I had five customers who called me and said they wanted Spanish tutoring.

So I was making, what is that? 100 bucks a week extra. That was pretty dope when you’re a broke college student, I was making a hundred. And it was only spending five hours a week. So that was great. That was a success. I validated that one really quickly.

Noah Kagan: Yes.

Brett McKay: The other business idea I had when I was in, I think it was in… I think it was in law school. So this was 2005, and so this was a period where iPhones weren’t really a thing yet. I probably don’t even think the iPhone was created in 2005.

But people had iPods. And so people also had CD collections that they accumulated for years, so I had the idea I would help people transfer their CD collection to their new iPod.

And so I created these flyers and I put them out everywhere. I didn’t get any calls on that one, so I gave up after a couple of weeks on that one. But that was a cool idea.

Noah Kagan: I love it, man. Wow, that’s awesome. You know, the most successful people I personally admire and have seen have also tried the most things. And by doing it, you start recognizing, “Okay, I’m doing this, this isn’t working, but I’m learning something. And this isn’t working, but I’m learning something.”

And then for me, same as you, I’ve tried… [chuckle] I had a ninja card dot com website where I did discount cards for college students, and then I had a blog called Free Calls To dot com, which was voiceover IP phone calls on the internet.

And they may seem silly, and most businesses start as hobbies. And so it’s good, start a hobby and stick with the hobby. And then each of these things we learn from that have led us to eventually, I’m sure there’s subtle pieces of all these projects that led you to where Art of Manliness is. And same thing with me and getting to where AppSumo is today.

Brett McKay: No, for sure. Okay, so validating. So what do you think, what’s the most effective way, what’s the way you like to validate or find customers?

Noah Kagan: Pre-ordering.

Brett McKay: Pre-ordering?

Noah Kagan: Yeah. Pre-ordering.

Brett McKay: And that’s easy, just texting people. You text three people, “Here’s this thing I’m gonna offer. It’s $50. Can I send you my Venmo?” And that’s it.

Noah Kagan: So let me maybe provide some framework to make it even easier for people that are thinking like, “Hey, I’ve got… ” Most people have an idea. Even my brother. I love my brother, he’s a doctor. [chuckle] I was telling my girlfriend this morning, he had this idea for ultra endurance powder.

So he’s a doctor and he created this powder for himself for when he went on long bike rides. And again, it was he just solved his own problem. And most people are like, “Well, that’s not a business.” Actually, that’s exactly what a business is.

And what I’d recommend to him is what I’d recommend for people out there is, I call it listen options and transition, so how do you actually communicate with people. And by the way, remember we talked about starting and asking, now it comes into play in a fun way where you can actually get paid for it.

So for him, you can text and stuff. I like calls and whatever is real-time, ’cause when you post on social media or you post in the marketplace, you’re kind of waiting.

Now, when you’re asking someone for some like ultra endurance sports powder, you don’t have to make it this big, “Will you buy from me” ‘Cause that’s kind of, I don’t know, that’s a little scary at times. Especially if you’re not experienced.

But you can call any of your friends up and ask for feedback. People ask for feedback all the time. “Hey, I’m working on a book. Hey, have you gone to that restaurant? Hey, I got this idea. Hey, I wanna do this to my room, what do you think?”

And so you call and listen. So you call up a friend and say, “Hey, I’m working on this business idea about powder. Do you… ” And you call people, by the way, so call people that you think would actually be interested in this.

So for my brother it would be, who have you ever ridden bikes with? He’s a huge cyclist. Just make a list, call your dream 10. And put them on a list and now let’s go through people you think would actually be customers for you.

And a lot of times when people start businesses, Brett, they try to start it outside of their zone of influence, and it just makes it so much harder. So what are skills that you’re already good at, and who do you already have access to? And so make a list of them.

And then when you say, “Hey, I know you’re a cyclist, are you ever going on long rides?” “Yeah.” “Oh.” And when you’re listening, really what you’re trying to do here is you’re trying to elevate their problems. If they actually have them. And if they have problems, then great, we’ll solve them next. If not, cool, it’s not a problem for them.

So for my brother would be, “Hey, are you ever tired after a ride? Are you ever tired of 20, 30, 40, 50 miles of cycling?” “Oh yeah, I am.” Then you create an option for them. “Well, I actually have a solution to the problem you said, and it’s called ultra endurance powder.” I think he was calling it horse power [chuckle] for himself.

And then, yeah, you present some options for these people. “Hey, here’s the powder. Is that something you’d be interested? What do you think?” And again, none of this, you should never have to convince someone. If you’re convincing them, you’re selling them, and to me, that’s aggressive. Versus asking and learning.

And if it’s something they’re interested in, then the last thing is T. So it’s LOT, listen, option, transition. And the last one, you just transition.

“It sounds like you want the powder. I’m gonna be putting this together. I’d love to get you as a beta customer. Is that something you could send me a Venmo, PayPal, crypto, cash, check today for $10 or $20?”

And again, in the process, you do need to follow a little bit of how do you come up with your pricing, which is much quicker than people realize. And you see if they’ll actually pay you. And that’s the truth. And people are always surprised that people are excited to pay for that, pay for their problems. They’re like, “Wow, this is actually how it can start.”

It’s just so empowering. That’s why I always share the story, well yeah, my first sale was 12 bucks. This little hobby where I wanted my own deals on software, could then turn into where it is today, which is unlovable.

But I did get started and I found something that people were excited. And it sounds like you too. You tried things that, yeah, language tutoring, cool. And by the way, that language tutoring business could have turned into Duolingo.

Brett McKay: Could have, yeah.

Noah Kagan: So when people kinda, “No, no, it’s just language tutoring,” no, that can be wherever you wanna take it. Same thing with my business with AppSumo. And same thing with my brother. This horse powder business could turn into GNC or could turn into some large health food company.

Brett McKay: Okay, so just following the advice we just talked about now, you can get a business where you get paying customers within 48 hours. I think anyone could… I think people can do that after they listen to this podcast, and they validate a business by getting paid by three different customers. That’s the goal.

How do you grow that business to where it’s making more money, you’re getting more customers?

Noah Kagan: Just go to your contacts in your phone. If you’re listening to this, just go look in your contacts. Everyone has at least 150, guaranteed. And those are all potential customers. And all those contexts have other potential customers, and those really are your first customers. And people really make it way harder on themselves. [chuckle] You don’t have to. It should be easy.

Now, business, when we break it down in terms of how to scale a business, it’s only 3 Ws. So what’s the problem you’re solving? That’s the first W. That people actually care about and are excited to have you solve. Who is that person that wants it? And where are they? That’s it. And again, it doesn’t have to be hard.

And so what I always recommend, and this is something that it’s really tough for people, is whatever you did to get your first three, just keep doing that exact same thing, so keep doing more of what’s working.

And then ask those three for referrals. ‘Cause again, people, “Oh, how do I do my ads, how do I do affiliate, how do I do content creation? I don’t even wanna be on social media.” Don’t. Don’t do any of it.

You know, Jake, I don’t know if he even has social media, the golf trips guy. But he does golf with people, and so he asked those people to be his customers. And then he asked those people for one person to come on the golf trip. And that is how he got going. And literally, you can do more of that to keep growing the business before you even try to do a bunch of other things.

Now, if you are saying, “Hey, I’ve literally maxed out everyone in my network,” which no one ever has, I promise that. What I do recommend is a growth machine. And so how you can approach a growth machine is you’re gonna, number one, do things in public.

Because what I found is that by just putting myself out there for the past 24 years, it’s just been an awesome way to meet people like yourself, Brett. It’s just been fun. And again, whether you wanna have a big business now or later, having yourself in public, having emails so you can actually communicate with your audience is insurance.

So if one day your boss fires you or one day you’re like, “Actually, I have a thing I’ve been building, I wanna communicate with people,” having an email list that you can contact people. I use SendFox, but there’s Mailchimp, ConvertKit, there’s a lot of options today. Creating content, being public and having that audience communication, I would say is essential.

Now terms of a growth machine for scale, the way I’ve always done it at AppSumo, at Mint, at my YouTube channel, even what I’m doing in the book, is you work backwards from a goal of what you wanna accomplish, and you make a list of all the different things that, ways you think where are these customers that I’m looking for? Are they on Facebook ads? Are they social media? Is it wholesale?

And I make a list and I prioritize based on the impact I think I can have in terms of sales expected from those channels. And then I literally take the top three and I experiment with that for a month, going back to experiments, and I see if any of those three, what I expected and how they actually performed. And then I just double down the one that works.

And people are like, “No, it’s gotta be harder.” It’s like literally that’s AppSumo today, millions of buyers a month, $80 million plus, and it’s the same formula that’s worked over and over in all these other businesses.

Brett McKay: Okay. So yeah, your channel, it could be LinkedIn, imagine business-oriented, managerial type. If you’re doing business-to business type business, that’s really where I wanna be. You could do Instagram.

Noah Kagan: And all these channels have their pros and cons, and you get to find the one that you like doing. And I guess you settled on YouTube. That’s what you like to do.

Yeah. You ultimately have to promote the business where your customers are. And your best marketing is happy customers. So that’s, again, I think people want a lot of silver bullet magic like, “Oh okay, but if there’s a Facebook Ad thing that I can do?”

And it’s like, yes, that can work, but one, just ’cause it works for one company doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for another. And if you just do more of the basics. Almost every entrepreneur I meet that their business isn’t growing, I said, “What did you do to get your business growing?” “I used to message people one by one” “How often are you doing that today?” “I’m not doing it.” “Just go back and do that.”

And that is nine times out of 10, I think that I’ve seen hold people back from scaling their business. And yes, there are other things that you can experiment with, and you can get those things, but do more of what already is working.

And then the value that we call it at AppSumo is called test and invest. So test these other new channels. And I can give you an example. We tested last year sponsoring video creators to promote AppSumo and make content about software for entrepreneurs. And we just tested it.

We paid someone a 1000 bucks. I don’t never even who the first person was. And the return, meaning the amount of people that came in and spent money on AppSumo from that was, we made our money back the same week. And so fast forward a year later, we tested that, it worked. Now there’s five people recruiting and building out our video ambassador program.

But you can look at it on Facebook ads, our Facebook ads don’t make us almost any money. [chuckle] And that’s okay too. But again, do the basics really well, make sure your customers are happy, get referrals from your customers, and then try out other platforms.

And what works for someone, maybe it’s LinkedIn, LinkedIn doesn’t do much for me. Instagram, TikTok doesn’t do much for me. But I found that YouTube and my email list is really my bread and butter, so I focus on that for my personal.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and in this process, you’re big on collecting emails. Because you own your emails as opposed to having your whole platform be on social media where there’s some… You’re at the mercy of some corporation’s algorithm. They can change it and then your reach goes down.

So email is stable, it’s direct, you can control it, and that’s gonna be your biggest sales funnel probably.

Noah Kagan: Let me share a crazy story, literally from last week, Brett. It was sad, but also a great reminder. So I have a million subs on YouTube, and we were able to do it in two years. And I posted a video and mostly I’ll just get a million views.

And we posted a video that has, as of today, I have to pull it up, but I think it’s at 10,000 views. Right? That’s not good. Let me see this video. 12,066.

So think about that. I’ve spent two years, a lot of content, a lot of people. Most videos get a million. And that’s a great reminder that I’m not in control of communication with my audience. YouTube is. And I have to create content that serves them and not me or my customers.

And email is the best direct line to your audience, and ideally, audience that can become customers. AppSumo does about half of our $80 million a year via email.

So for people that are out there, they’re like, “Oh crap, yeah, maybe that’s… Maybe I’m doing lawn care, I should have email. Maybe I’m an accountant or a tax person, I should do email. Maybe I’m thinking of doing a business in the future.” Yes, you should get an email list.

And so let me just give people… If you wanna get 100 subscribers, let me just give you a few things that you can do right now. So number one, you don’t even need an email service, you can just use Gmail.

That’s literally how I started AppSumo, I just literally, I used my Gmail to send people their codes for the software. And so you don’t have to even use a service.

Number two, you need to make something that people actually wanna receive. I don’t know about you, Brett, but when my girlfriend emails me, I always open it. [chuckle]

And so if you’re gonna have an email list, you need to have something that people are actually excited. Like your content’s been high quality content for, what is it, 15 years? How long you been doing it?

Brett McKay: 16 years.

Noah Kagan: 16 years. Yeah, so you’re creating high quality content. So think about what is it, and doesn’t need to be every day or every week, it could be monthly, that people are excited to read. So is the thing you’re sending actually good? It all comes back to that.

Like you make a good product, all the marketing is easy, and most people think they have marketing problems when they really have business problems, meaning you have to make stuff that people are excited about.

The three ways that you can grow your email list. Number one, here’s a stupid way, just update your email signature. If you’re emailing people, just putting your email signature in there.

Second way, we talked about the dream 10, which if you open your contacts in your phone, you go on LinkedIn, you go on Instagram, you go on WhatsApp, you go wherever, just go look, who are people that you think should be hearing about you?

Let me give you a recent example. I wanted to prove Million Dollar Weekends, so I asked the audience what business I should start. And I didn’t wanna use my email list or any social media. That was part of the challenge. And they said I should start a software company. I was like, “Okay, I’m pretty comfortable with that.”

And so one of the problems I noticed with my credit card bill was DocuSign. You ever use DocuSign or BoldSign?

Brett McKay: Yeah. Yeah.

Noah Kagan: I just hate paying for it. ‘Cause I don’t use it very often, and I only need to use it once in a while. So I was like, “Huh. That’s kind of an interesting one.”

So I went through the whole process and what I did to find my dream 10 was I looked… I went to my Gmail and I searched anyone who in the past five years who emailed me a DocuSign. I just looked who’s an ideal person? ‘Cause they’re using a competitor. And if I hate it, maybe they do too. And I put that on a list and I contacted them. And that’s how I was able to get about 3000 sales in 48 hours.

And then I’d say the last one, this was a good reminder. It’s called lead magnets. And again, I think people make this stuff so ominous and complicated. Those two things we said about your dream 10 or dream 100 and update your email signature, that alone can get you 100 subscribers.

What a lead magnet is, and I’ll just give you an example. I post on LinkedIn, “Hey, here’s how I do my planning for my goal setting for 2024. If you’re interested in my goal planning, go to noahkagan.com, join the newsletter and I’ll send it out to you.” And all I did was then share via my newsletter how I do my yearly goal-setting.

That’s it. It doesn’t have to be something super complicated. And that worked really, really well. I think we doubled the amount of people that normally joined, just by having something that they were excited to get from my newsletter, not some crappy PDF that’s like, “Here’s five ways to have a better life.”

Brett McKay: That was my first lead magnet when I started AOM in 2008. It was a PDF. It was, “A guide to being a gentleman.”

And it was so crappy done, I had no design skills and I was just making this thing in Microsoft Paint. It was bad.

Noah Kagan: But I’m sure at the time that was pretty good. How did it work?

Brett McKay: Yeah, it worked well. I got a ton of email subscribers from it. I also used to get RSS subscribers ’cause RSS was a thing.

Noah Kagan: Oh my God. [chuckle]

Brett McKay: So I would include a link in the RSS footer feed.

Noah Kagan: Do you think people know RSS?

Brett McKay: I still use RSS. I love it. I use Feedly.

Noah Kagan: How do you read RSS?

Brett McKay: Feedly. That’s what I use.

Noah Kagan: Oh, do you really? Well, I use Pocket mostly for the articles. I get Twitter…

Brett McKay: I like Pocket. Pocket’s hit or miss. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad. There’s certain people I like to follow regularly and get their updates, so I use Feedly for that.

But yeah, Art of Manliness still has an RSS feed, guys, if you’re… I’m gonna sell it. It’s great. It’s full text too. It’s not the like click here to read the whole thing, you can read the whole thing in your feed reader.

Noah Kagan: You know, one of the things that we said before the show got going is like, you get started, you get asking and you stick with it. Did you ever imagine it would be like this, where you are today, 16 years later?

Brett McKay: No. I didn’t. I did not. When I started AOM, I had the idea for it, I was excited about it. Like this could be something. I think it could be something, but I didn’t think I’d be… I had no idea I would be a podcast, I had no idea that it would be like the strenuous life. I had no idea I would write books based off of it. I had no idea I be working with my wife full-time from our house.

No. No clue. We just did the next best thing, just took action after action, after action, and did it for a really long time, and here we are now.

Noah Kagan: Yeah, that’s it. And it’s possible. I think that’s one of the things people need to believe, and I never… The life I’m getting to live, I don’t know if you would have told me even a few years ago, I would be able to live it.

And it just, yeah it takes time. One, getting started, you might start realizing it could be possible. And it does take… Even writing down like, “Hey, what could happen in the next few years? Cool. All right, let me start today.”

And what do you think helped you stick with it? You said something earlier about that.

Brett McKay: Well, I think both my wife and I have a personality that’s sort of a stick-to-it disposition. We’re work horses. We’ll just keep going and going and going. And I think it also helps that we enjoy it. I enjoyed it at the start, 16 years ago, and I’m still enjoying it today.

But I think in every job, even if you have a dream job, there’s gonna be things that you don’t enjoy. It’s a job, right? And Kate and I, we still hit walls occasionally, we get burned out. But then we just keep going and then we get back to enjoying it again. So I think the fact that we love the work we do goes a long way.

But then also just experiencing those bits of success on the regular helps out a lot. Setting goals, achieving them, that helps out a lot. And then just getting the feedback that we’ve gotten over the years from our readers and listeners saying how an article helped them with… It could be a small thing in their life.

Or some people, we’ve gotten wedding invitations from dudes who are like, “I read this article about how I need to stop hanging out with women and start dating them, and I started asking women on dates and now I’m getting married. Here’s an invite.” I’m like, wow, that’s crazy.

What’s crazy about doing it for this long, and it’s been really rewarding, is we’ve been doing it long enough where there guys who started reading us when they were like 16. They’re now 32 years old, and they’ve got kids, they’re married, they’ve got a job.

And we get letters from these guys saying, “Yeah, I started reading you when I was 16, and you had content that helped me with different stages of my development into adulthood. Like you helped me learn how to tie a tie for a dance, you helped me how to ask a woman out on a date, and you helped me with parenting advice.”

That’s really super rewarding.

Noah Kagan: That is awesome. That was really nice to hear. I was like, tell me more of these stories.

Brett McKay: Well, no, this has been a great conversation. I think the big takeaway is, you want people after they listen to this episode to buy the book. I’m sure you’re gonna make the ask here in a bit. That’s fine.

But also you want people to go out, if they’ve had that idea for a business, this weekend make it happen. You can make it happen. Just start now and get over the fear of asking. And then follow this process.

Noah Kagan: I wasn’t gonna ask. Wasn’t gonna ask.

Brett McKay: Well, I was actually to give you the opportunity to ask here in a bit.

‘Cause I always ask, “Where can we learn more about your book and your work?”

Noah Kagan: Yeah. That’s nice.

Brett McKay: Okay, where can people go to learn more about the book and your work? And is there some place people can reach out to you to report whether they started business this weekend? Can they tweet at you? How do you like to…

Noah Kagan: Yeah, yeah. Go to milliondollarweekend.com. And what I’m excited about, I’m excited for people that get the book, I wanna see them sending me a photo. You can @ Noah Kagan on all social media. And I wanna see who’s gonna change your life in 48 hours.

And people have 52 weekends to do it, they have 52 chances. And I’m very excited ’cause I’m already seeing… I saw this guy, Jake, there’s this other woman, McKenzie, who has a greeting card business. There’s this guy, Pat, he’s actually featured on the back of the book, he emailed me two weeks ago, he quit his job.

And when people realize that if they can get started today they’re gonna enjoy the rewards in a little bit of time, and that they can actually do it, that is exciting for me.

And this book and business, I would say for everyone, is the realization of who they can actually be. And realizing it’s not as far away as they thought it.

Brett McKay: All right. So what was the web address again?

Noah Kagan: Milliondollarweekend.com.

Brett McKay: Milliondollarweekend.com. Well, Noah Kagan, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Noah Kagan: It’s great to hear your voice again, man. I missed you. And maybe we’ll do it in five years instead of seven.

Brett McKay: Yeah, we’ll make that happen.

My guest today was Noah Kagan. He’s the author of the book, Million Dollar Weekend. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about his work in the book at his website, noahkagan.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/milliondollarweekend, where you can find links to resources and we delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM podcast. Make sure to check on our website at artofmanliness.com where you can find our podcast archives. And while you’re there, make sure to sign up for our newsletter. You get a weekly option and a daily option. They’re both free. And it’s the best way to keep on top of what’s going on at AOM.

And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it.

As always, thank you for the continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

 

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