Brian Armstrong

Meeting With Self-made Millionaire Erica Douglass

One cool thing I got to do over the break was meet with Erica Douglass. We met through a mutual friend and when she saw that I was heading to San Jose she asked if I wanted to meet up. I’m really glad she did because I always enjoy meeting more experienced entrepreneurs - and her story is pretty interesting.

She moved to San Jose from Indiana back in 1999 - and went through a series of internet businesses ultimately culminating in selling her web hosting business for $1.1 million.

One of the most interesting things she told me was that a few years before she sold the business she was seeking financing from a number of different investors and they all told her “no - it’s just another hosting company”. But around early 2007 - when she didn’t need financing any longer - the opposite started happening and investors started approaching HER with offers to invest. She figured that if things were this crazy that you didn’t even have to ask for money anymore, then the market must have peaked. If things were this irrational then the bubble was about to burst! She decided to get out and sell her business - timing the peak of the market by just 3 weeks. This really stuck with me as good advice.

You can read more about Erica’s story here and I suggest you check out her blog.

Malcolm Gladwell’s New Book - Outliers

I got this book for Christmas and couldn’t put it down. It was very impressive, the basic message being:

  • Success is often due to timing, luck, and opportunities beyond our control - and is not as much due to IQ, getting into a good school, and other factors we typically associate with success.

  • 10,000 hours practice, however, does seems to be pre-requisite for mastering any skill - overnight successes, prodigies, etc are commonly portrayed in stories and the media but don’t really exist

For example, they looked at a group of violin players in a music school and broke them into 3 categories (A, B, and C) based on how good they were. As it turned out, the number of hours they practiced perfectly correlated to what group they were in (with the A group all having practiced over 10,000 hours). Perhaps this wouldn’t be too surprising until they saw that there were no “prodigies” in the A group - people who were so gifted they managed to sneak into the A group without putting in the 10,000 hours. It just didn’t happen - there wasn’t a single one. Similarly, there wasn’t anyone with MORE than 10,000 hours of practice who DIDN’T make the A group. Not a single one.

That was just one study but the same affect isn’t just for violin. The same holds true for software billionaires, hockey players, the Beatles, etc. Gladwell’s arguments in the book aren’t always scientifically rigorous - it’s meant to be more of an entertaining read - but he cites the sources at the end of the book and it appears to be well researched.

The implications of this are staggering: if you have at least a base level of intelligence or talent, the ONLY factor which determines your success is if you are willing to put in the time and effort to become great. This is similar to a great book I read a little while back, Seth Godin’s The Dip, which I also highly recommend.

Check out Outlier’s on Amazon.com if you want to read it.

What are you willing to work 10,000 hours on?

It got me thinking: 10,000 hours is a lot. It works out to about 3 or 4 hours per day five days a week for 10 years. What am I passionate enough about that I’ve either already put in this time or would be willing to do so? I do a lot of hobby type activities (acting, martial arts, etc) which I enjoy but would never be willing to put that much time into. However, almost every day since I was about 13 I’ve been working late into the night learning to program computers and build online businesses (easily 3-4 hours per day 5 days a week). Thirteen was about when I started my first online business and I was tinkering around with it even before that. I feel like I have a wide body of knowledge around the subject, perhaps even a mastery of it. Certainly not the best in the world though. I am still constantly awed by work that a handful of other people are doing in this area - but not many.

I really like this concept because everyone is looking for a get rich quick scheme and it doesn’t exist. The secret to success is simple, but not easy: find something you love so much that you are willing to spend 10,000 hours learning it. You have to want it THAT BADLY, whatever it is - you can’t get bored and give up in six months (or even six years). When you look at it like that, then working for a year on a big project and totally failing doesn’t seem that bad. It takes most people 10 years.

I Won Best Success/Achievement Article Of The Year on LifeHack.org!

A few other things: thanks to Cori for letting me know that my article 8 Essential Skills They Didn’t Teach You In School got rated the #1 Success/Achievement Article of 2008 on LifeHack.org.

Secondly, using your blog to build your brand works! A few weeks ago I got interviewed on a Dublin talk radio station. This brought in some new subscribers and I sold a bunch of books. They found me through my blog.

Finally, in the next few days I’ll be posting about my 2008 new years resolution to get $2,000 per month in passive income (did I achieve it? :). I’ll also be posting about my goals for 2009. Hopefully you have a few in mind as well!

Until next time, keep breaking free! Brian Armstrong

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