How I got challenged to earn $100 by Noah Kagan - and won
“But will it be worth it?” That was the € 2.000 question that was going through my head as I was looking at the screen of my computer after I had just received the email from the AppSumo team about SumoCon 2016 in Austin, Texas. I knew I wanted to go, that was never the problem. I love to travel, going to the US is always exciting and the idea of meeting and talking to Noah Kagan and some of the other insanely sharp and talented people on the speaker list was just too good to be true. But would it be worth it? Would I get over € 2.000 worth of value from this conference and would I ever be able to earn it all back from what I was going to learn there?
Some context? Sure! I started out as a freelancer in the fall of 2013, because it was the next logical step in my career. My job at the time was very unsatisfying and I was craving for more control in the day to day operations of my professional life. The fact that I already had an existing customer who was interested in hiring me full-time, made decision incredibly easy. And thus it came to be.
But being a freelancer was always supposed to be just a step in the journey, it was never the end goal. While it definitely has some benefits, in the end I believe it is still nothing more than a glorified employee with more perks and more paperwork. No, the final goals is something else: my very own product or service - being an entrepreneur.
My first introduction into this world came after I read “The 4 hour work week”, a book by Tim Ferriss, some time during the winter of 2013. I had heard of the concept much earlier, but after reading this book, it truly became a mission, an objective. I began extensively researching the subject and started looking into more books, videos, blog posts and influencers.
It wasn’t until late 2015 that I learned about Noah Kagan. The first I heard about him was through the blog of Tim Ferriss, where Noah had written a guest post on how easy it is to find your million dollar business idea in weekend. I read the whole thing at least twice that day and started looking into what else this guy had to say.
It turned out Noah had quite a track record. He was employee nr 30 at Facebook, employee nr 4 at mint.com and since then started 3 different companies that each made over one million dollar per year within a few years after being launched. To me, that was incredibly impressive to say the least and a clear indication this guy was worth paying attention to.
Noah’s latest (and current) company is AppSumo, which is an Austin based company that aims at creating products for and selling products to entrepreneurs and businesses at incredibly low prices, with great success. For this year, they are aiming for 5 million dollars in profits and a billion hits on their website, something most of us can only dream of.
Because of all his experience and his track record, Noah is often contacted and asked for advice about starting and growing companies. Not only does he do this often and very well, he has also made this into a business opportunity by creating and selling his own products for startups and entrepreneurs, all of which he also sells on AppSumo - talking about a great strategy!
The most recent “product” he released in this category, is SumoCon, a conference specifically for entrepreneurs and business owners who want to start or grow their businesses and create their own products or services. Attendees would be able to get in touch with him and the rest of the AppSumo team (about 30 people strong), but would also get access to a whole network of seriously talented speakers such as Ankur Nagpal (CEO of Teachable), Tommy Griffith (SEO at AirBnB, CEO of Clickminded) and many, many more, all of whom have serious business skills and lots of information worth sharing.
So how did I end up going to SumoCon? I received the first email about the conference in early July. As noted earlier, I was immediately intrigued and interested in going, but I did have some doubts on whether or not it would be a good investment. In the end though, I quickly put my objections aside and decided to buy my ticket on an impulse. My reasoning was simple: I had just become single again, my entrepreneurial plans were going nowhere and I literally had absolutely nothing to lose in all of this. I needed the adventure, I needed the excitement, I need to move the needle. I needed to feel alive.
After purchasing my ticket, I was soon added to a members-only Facebook group by one of the administrators. The first thing I did, was write a post to introduce myself to the other members and motivate my decision for going.
Among the people who responded, was Noah Kagan. His response was probably a joke (since that’s pretty much what every American says when you tell them you’re from Belgium), but I decided to take it seriously anyway. Nobody has ever been unhappy after receiving Belgian chocolate, and if nothing else I figured it would be a good conversation starter.
And thus I left for Austin Texas with about 1kg of Belgian chocolate in my suitcase.
For this blog post, I won’t go too much into detail on the conference itself, since it’s not really relevant for the point I would like to make. Suffice it to say that it has been one of the best few days of my life, both in terms of people met as well as knowledge gained and experiences had. I still have plenty of things to share on the subject and I will definitely do so in my upcoming blog posts.
On the first night of the conference, Friday evening, AppSumo had arranged for an incredible dinner at an amazing venue called “Eden East Austin” (and with good reason too). This was the first time that Noah actually joined the group. He showed up halfway through the dinner and immediately started making conversations with everyone that crossed his path.
I didn’t approach Noah until the end of the dinner, when he was sitting at a table with a couple other members of the AppSumo team. I sat down next him at the table and so my surprise he himself started the conversation as if we had been friends for many years. The chocolate proved to be a definite winner (though I’m pretty sure he didn’t even remember asking for them in the Facebook group), but the conversation quickly switched towards business.
“So why are you here?” he asked. “Why did you come all the way over here from Belgium?” Fair question. I gave him the quick version: I’m a freelancer looking to start my own business, but struggling to make progress. “Ok, so what’s holding you back?” he asked. “Well, I’ve had several ideas, but I can never convince anyone to buy my products or services.” “Could you make $100 by the end of the conference?”
I was stunned. This was the last thing on my mind about at this point, and yet for him, it was the most natural thing in the world. I should have known he was going so say it soo, since I’ve actually seen him doing it in videos in the past. But he didn't leave it there: he took it one step further. “Dude, I’m going to call you out on Sunday. I’m going to call you out on stage and ask you if you pulled it off. Sound good?”
It’s surprising how hard it is to say to say “no” to someone like him, though I did have my reservations. I knew I could pull it off, since there is always at least one person in a group of 250 people that can use some work on his website. But that was not my objective: my goal is to move away from freelancing and into products or services.
“Ok, so what do you like? What would you actually enjoy doing?” 2 things came to mind: sports and writing. “Then do something with that. By Sunday, I want you to make $100 with writing, and I’m going to call you out on stage to see if you did it. Deal?” We shook on it and the challenge was on.
How I completed the challenge
My initial plan was simple: I would create a 5 minute presentation that detailed the situation and my offer (one guest blog post of 1.000 words for $20) and go on the main stage of the conference in front of everybody to offer my services. This was a suggestion that I got from another conference member and I was confident it would work, especially since I knew some of the AppSumo staff members pretty well.
I worked until 2am on my presentation, but all my efforts were in vain. As soon as arrived at the conference on Saturday morning, I was informed that there was no chance of getting on stage. In retrospect, it made perfect sense from their perspective, but at the time it was a real mental blow for me. This meant that I would have to start up conversations with pretty much every single person at the conference and try to sell my product them individually.
Suffice it to say, I was not happy with my situation and had a hard time focusing and enjoying the sessions that were given on Saturday morning. I had absolutely no desire to start harassing people while they were trying to enjoy the conference and trying to to improve their business, it just didn’t feel right. Of course, these were all just a bunch of ridiculous, lame excuses that I was creating for myself. I was afraid of failure, afraid of rejection and I was letting letting my fears holding me back instead of making progress. But I didn’t realize this until much later.
It wasn't until lunch that I was actually able to smile again. After getting my food, I sat down at a random table with two other people already at the table. They started up a conversation about their businesses and suddenly one of them, Tony, mentioned out of the blue that he had just started a new blog and he was still looking for content to put on there. I was completely taken by surprise. I had known Tony for a while through AppSumo but I had no idea he was also running a blog. Nevertheless, I seized the opportunity and jumped into the conversation. I explained my situation and the challenge I got from Noah and asked him if he would be interested in letting me write a guest post on hit blog. Without even blinking an eye he said “yes” and told me to send him a PayPal invoice for $100, which was 5 times the amount I was originally going to charge in my presentation. 5 minutes later, the invoice was sent as well as payed, and my challenge was completed.
The whole transaction took less than 10 minutes and afterwards I was able to enjoy the rest of the conference as I had done on Friday. In the end, I never got called out to the stage by Noah even he did see me in the crowd. I was a little disappointed because it would have been nice to show my progress in front of everybody there, but in the end it didn’t really matter.
About myself - there is only one limiting factor to what I can accomplish in my life, and that is me. Now I’m not trying to get all philosophical here by saying that you can accomplish anything you want to, as long as you set your mind to it and work really hard. I know for a fact that I will never be an NBA basketball player or win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. There are some limitations that you just cannot work your way around.
That said, the biggest obstacle that I struggle with (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) is not my actual limitations, but the imaginary limitations that I give myself in order to prevent myself from getting hurt or rejected. Not only is this ridiculous and stupid, it’s also incredibly counterproductive and it will only be a hindrance for any kind of progress that I want to make in any aspect of my life. Knowing this one thing and I’m pretty sure it will take me a while to get rid of this behavior in it’s entirety but I do believe I have taken the first steps in the right direction.
About others - there is absolutely no reason to b afraid to approach a person, friend or otherwise, with a product or service that you might have. People are always open and interested in hearing a proposal of any kind, as long as added value for them or for somebody they care about. As with everything, there are always exceptions (funerals for example) and not everybody will be interested in what you have to say (or sell). The first thing you need to do, is listen to their story. After that, it should be fairly simple to figure our what it is they need most and how you can provide it for them. The main thing is that your proposition has value for them, it should make their lives easier.
About Noah - I can say without a shed of a doubt that Noah Kagan is one of the most unique and amazing people I have ever met. He was open, unbiased, patient and incredibly willing to help out anyone with any problem he might have with his business.
What makes this even more special to me is the fact that he keeps on doing it, despite the fact that he has heard these same stories, these same problems and these same objections over and over gain over the last couple of years. what he did for me, was basically running a script that he has used so many times before through his videos, articles, pod casts and personal encounters:
- Find a hobby or activity that you like
- Create a product or service that allows you to make money doing so
- Find a person or group of people for whom your product or service has added value in their personal or professional life
- Make your product or service into a business so you can grow it so you can be happy doing something you love
I don’t know if he ever actually had the intention of calling me out on stage. Looking back at it all though, it’s clear to me that it was never the purpose of the interaction. All he wanted me to do, was take action and take the first step into building up a new business, which he did using one of the most powerful tools that you can use: adding accountability. Just the threat of having to go on that stage and having to admit that the challenge had failed was enough to force me into action and take the first steps in the right direction. This is without a shed of a doubt, the greatest lesson I have learnt during my trip to Austin, Texas.
I honestly don’t have any concrete plans at the moment, but I do have several interesting avenues I would like to explore in the near future, for new as well as old projects. The biggest change for me is one in spirit and mentality. There is no doubt in my mind that I still have a long way to go, and it will definitely be a tough run, but I have every intention of creating something great during the upcoming months. And to keep m on track, I’ve set myself up with an accountability partner, someone else I met during the conference, who will help me to stay focused and on course and prevent any doubts and limiting beliefs from reoccurring.
Nobody knows for sure what is going to happen, but I’m very excited for what is to come. And if everything goes according to plan, I can report my progress of the last 12 months back to Noah in person during my next visit to Austin for SumoCon 2017. See you there!