Many companies are constantly in a growth mindset, constantly looking for new ways to increase customers and improve their “vanity” metrics that say more is always better.
Paul Jarvis, the author of Company of One, joins the show today to discuss the importance of enjoying the process and why companies should challenge the “Growth at All Costs” mindset that companies find themselves in.
listen to this episode
- Why companies should not use growth as their top achievement metric
- Focusing on profit over growth
- Why it is important to figure out how to be happy in the present then hoping the future works out
- How to avoid focusing on “vanity” metrics
- The two ways to run a business long term
- When focusing on your business’s growth makes sense
- Why you should consider that more isn’t always better
- Why you should be focusing on a specific audience
- The importance of understanding your audience’s problem
- Customer retention vs. customer acquisition
- The three qualities it takes to be resilient
- Focusing on the process rather than the outcome
- Why you should always be working on personal growth
Louis: All right. Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers.com, the no fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
In today’s episode you will learn how to challenge the “growth at all costs” mindset. My guest today is the author of the fantastic book, Company of One. He’s a writer, a designer, podcaster and online course teacher. He has two classes that he has been teaching, the Creative Class for Freelancers and Chimp Essentials for Mail Chimp and how to use Mail Chimp better. He’s also a software creator, he created a tool called Fathom Analytics which is an alternative to Google Analytics. Overall, his goal is to help people to be better and not bigger businesses.
I think for people listening to this podcast who have been listening to this podcast for a long time, they understand I really wanted this guest on board because we share the same philosophy. Paul Jarvis, welcome aboard.
Paul: Thanks so much for having me on the show.
Louis: As I said before we started to record this episode, I’m going to save the compliments for the actual recording. I’ve been listening to Company of One on Audible going to work and leaving work and I found myself nodding aggressively to yes, yes, yes.
There are a lot of things that you said I this book that I completely agree with, a lot of things as well that you said in this book that I hadn’t thought about in the way you thought about them and they crystallize and clarified a lot of my thinking, which is awesome. Let’s do that.
Let’s challenge this “growth at all costs” mindset, which is kind of the core of your book. You describe a Company of One, you have a specific definition of it. I’m going to let you say it first. What is, for you, a Company of One?
Paul: When I use that term I’m not saying that you literally have to run a one person business. I don’t even run one person business. But what Company of One means is that we don’t assume that growth follows success all the time.
What I think we should assume is that freedom follows success where if you do well, if your business starts to do well or continues to do well, then you should have the freedom to choose whether or not growth makes sense because sometimes growth 100% makes sense. Sometimes growth does not make sense at all.
A Company of One is just a business of any size that questions this current paradigm of grow at all costs, rapid growth, 10X growth hack, whatever word you want to use that sounds awful to say out loud to another human.
Louis: Let’s define the problem a bit more. Why do you think it sounds awful? Why is it so awful and what’s awful about it?
Paul: First of all, the research that I’ve done doesn’t line up with the, I don’t know, the Ted X or keynote style talks of growth is always good. What I found through research was that a lot of businesses actually go out of business because they try to grow too quickly or because they put growth as the top metric that they need to achieve or track, whether it’s because their venture capitalists have told them, “We need you to have hockey stick growth” or that sort of thing.
What I found is that the businesses that do the best for the longest are the ones that maybe do grow but they grow slowly or organically and more in a straight line than 20% month over month Silicon Valley bullshit, which might work but probably isn’t going to work for very long or probably is only going to work for the investors who will be able to take their money out, fire the CEO and then go public or do some other dumb shit with the business.
Louis: What research did you find that correlates with what you said there?
Paul: There was a study done by the Startup Genome Project that found, I think it was two thirds of businesses went out of business not because of competition, not because the market changed but because they had chased growth about everything else.
There was another study done by the Coppen Institute who looked at that Inc 5000 list, which a lot of companies want to be on, that’s like the top 5000 fastest growing companies in the world and the Coppen Institute found that 5 to 8 years later I think it was 70% of more of those businesses had gone out of business, similar to the Startup Genome Project, which had found that they’d gone out of business because they chased growth.
I think the problem there, if you think about it, is it’s really hard to be profitable, to be focused on profit and to be focused on growth at the same time because growth typically means you’re forsaking profit in the now in the hopes that one day you’ll be profitable, one day your volume will scale to a point where profit can happen whereas if you’re focused on profit, fuck, how does a profitable business go out of business? They don’t.
If you’re making money as a business you can keep going. If you’re chasing growth and forsaking profit, then that’s risky. Then you’re running into if this doesn’t work out then we’re completely fucked.
Louis: I’m going to take a few seconds here for people to digest what you just said because it’s so obvious. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. The basis of marketing is to understand people so well that you can give them what they need and you sell a good product so they buy it, you get the profit, you invest it and you grow this way, right?
That’s how business has been done for a long, long time until recently, until as you said the financial pressure to grow at all costs because benefits, health and people are the economy in general have started to appear more and more. You see businesses that are trying to, not to sell a good product to people and make them happy but generally creating a company to make money and just fucking grow and IPO without making a single line of profit.
I’m going to put my hat off the VC person right now. It’s not a real hat, it’s a fictional hat but it’s a hat that is going to ask you, well it’s all well and good but without this type of VC grounds you wouldn’t have Uber, you wouldn’t have Lyft, you wouldn’t have VC companies that are making progress into the world.
Paul: Are they making progress in the world? This is a problem that I have with capitalism. I think that the definition of capitalism can vary but I think the way that commerce used to work probably, I don’t know pre-Industrial Revolution, the way that commerce used to work was it was a two-sided exchange.
It was a value exchange. It was somebody got enough value from something you did to give you money and you got enough value from their money to keep doing that thing. It was, capitalism at that time or commerce at that time was collaborative because you’d be working with other people. You’d be trading, you’d be working within a community where everybody’s needs would be met whereas nowadays, capitalism is extractive and exploitive where there’s very few people basically taking all of the value out of the marketplace and putting it into their pockets with VCs or with super, super rich 1% people.
They’re not giving much value back, they’re just taking all that from the market. We get things like these shady apps that are like, “Do you want to buy this, yes or no?” The buttons are always in the same place and then if you click no enough times the buttons switch and you think you’re clicking on no but the button is switched. It’s like, how is that really benefiting anybody? How is that any value to anybody?
I do think, on the flip side of that, I argue both sides all the time, I’m just weird like that because I think a lot of these things are too nuanced to just be binary, black and white. I think that sometimes businesses need to exist at a large scale.
Like, Uber wouldn’t work if it was just me driving around in my car saying, “Hey, does anybody want a ride?” Or Airbnb wouldn’t work if there was a guy named Bob in Boise, Idaho who had a spare bedroom and that was Airbnb. These companies like that don’t work on a small scale. Did they need money to start? Could they have ramped up slower? Probably. Did they need to IPO? I think a lot of businesses IPO because they’re not profitable and they just want to get more shareholders involved to start making money in hopes that they’ll be profitable. It’s kind of how stock exchanges work but I think that for a lot of us and for a lot of businesses we don’t need that scale.
Like, my business I sell some courses and some software. That doesn’t need to be big. Those businesses don’t need to make a million dollars a month to succeed. Those businesses can make a tiny amount of money and because the margins are high and because I don’t have very high costs of living or I don’t have to spend much on the solutions that I do, I don’t need a lot of customers. I don’t need to dominate any marketplace I’m in because I only need to make enough money in those marketplaces where I’m providing value to other people and they are seeing enough value in the products that I make to give me some money. It works.
Louis: The people that listen to like, Gary V for example, traditionally, and I’m not trying to make a blanket statement on those people but traditionally there will be younger people, entrepreneurs, people who want to launch something. I was one of them a few years ago and I remember thinking, “I want to be a fucking millionaire. I want to make so much money. I want to have this power. I want to see myself in this red Ferrari, I want to drive downtown San Francisco.”
This is the kind of life that maybe some of you listening right now might be thinking right now that you want to achieve. You have this maturity and you’ve gone through probably a lot of stages to this last step which is being happy, being content with what you currently have and not trying to chase yet another goal, yet another goal, yet another goal.
How do you convince people that I have described that might listen to Gary V’s podcast way too much and need to listen to Everyone Hates Marketers more by the way, how do you convince them to think again about this mentality?
Paul: I think just like I explained how being a growth focused business means that you forsake profit in the now in the hope that something happens in the future, the exact same logic applies to what you just said where if you’re chasing these big goals, you’re basically saying, “Fuck it, I’m not happy right now. If I get a red Ferrari or I live in San Francisco and pay $10,000 a month in rent for a tiny one bedroom. If these things, if my business gets to 100K MRR, if these things happen in the future then I will be happy.”
That is risky. To me, that’s risky. I’d rather figure out how to be happy in the present then be happy if all the things work out in the future because most of the time things don’t work out the way you plan. Sometimes life is going to shit on your face, to use a really awful but really apt analogy, is that you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s just like when people go out and want to write a bestselling book. How do you do that? I’ve had a bestselling book.
A lot of it, so many little different things that happen that I’m in control of some of them, I’m not in control of other of them and I can kind of stack the deck but it’s really hard to say, like everybody would do it. If it was just a matter of, okay I want to write a bestselling book. These are the things I do.
Or I want to start a company that makes a million dollars a month. If it was just a step by step formula everybody would do it and nobody would be poor. It just doesn’t work that way. A lot of it is luck and a lot of times successful founders confuse their luck with foresight where really it’s just you can see patterns if you’re looking back and like, “Oh yeah, all of these things I did and they got me to where I am” but when you’re in it, you don’t know those things. I would rather be happy in the present. I would rather figure out how to drive, I was going to say a Prius but I fucking hate Priuses, how do drive any other car that isn’t worth $200,000. If the car gets you from A to B, then be happy. If your house has a roof and it doesn’t leak when it rains, maybe there’s a way to be happy in the present.
Actually, Gary V, I’ll argue on the side of Gary V for a second even though I agree with you. He’s even said that a lot of times people just want these goals because they are status symbols. There was one, I was watching something where he was talking to a guy who had, Gary was like, “What kind of car do you drive?” The guy was like, “An M3 or something.” A nice BMW. He was like, “Can you afford it?” The guy’s like, “Not really.” He’s like, what are you doing? These things aren’t going to make you, if you’re not happy now things in the future aren’t going to make you happy later. If you find a way to be happy now, chances are you’ll find a way to be happy as life changes or as things change in the future.
Louis: To be clear, I didn’t say, I didn’t imply that Gary V all of the services are wrong, that people tend to be with these type of goals and I’m not saying they are wrong. They are right in their own way, if they want to reach those goals but I think long term it’s not really sustainable. You can’t really just hope for, as you said, a bestselling book. What if it never happens.
Before we dive into a bit more detail on what are the components of a company of one, kind of contradictive things you need to think to become a company of one, I just want to dive into one aspect of marketing that I despise and that you mention, growth hacking and this mentality. Again, people listening to this might very well read what are the latest growth hacks I need to use to game the system and to get more followers, subscribers, buyers.
For example I saw recently on Facebook group that it was part of someone mentioning this hack where you can just use Pinterest to get shit tons of popular images from Google image, put them automatically into your Pinterest bot and generate Google traffic out of them. I get 100,000, 200,000 visits a month from it. People were all over the place for this. They were like, “Oh my God, how did you do this? I want to do the same.” How do you convince people thinking this way that there is a better way to live and to generate money?
Paul: I mean I think for a lot of things like that, a lot of growth hacks focus on vanity metrics and vanity metrics don’t translate into revenue. For example, something like that maybe your Google traffic will increase or maybe your Pinterest traffic will increase but is that generating more revenue? Is that generating more customers? Is that creating more long term relationships with customers? I doubt it. I can’t see how that is possible.
I think growth has to like, get your mailing list subscribers up. I’ve experimented with some things, like having an on exit intent pop-up windows that show something. Yes, the numbers on my mailing list increased but the number of opens didn’t, the number of clicks didn’t, the number of buys didn’t. While my mailing list numbers increased, it sounds like oh, my mailing list is so big, it didn’t mean shit because it wasn’t translating into more sales or more engagement, it wasn’t even translating into more conversations. I think a lot of times we need to think about is this actually going to do anything for my business and for myself?
There’s kind of two ways to run a business long term. The first way is to either constantly have to find new people to sell to because you’re churning and burning basically. You’re trying to find new people to get into the funnel and they are either going to relent and buy or they’re going to leave.
Or the other side, that’s kind of more the growth hacking side. Then the other side is to sell in a way that people feel happy about or they feel happy to buy and they feel happy to keep coming back, where you can have maybe a small group of customers but you sell to them over years, for me, decades. I have some customers that have bought most of the things I’ve made or they buy some of the software and they stay with it.
I would rather have a small group of people that I could get to know, get to understand and work with, where they’re supporting my business, where they are constantly, more than half of the people that buy one product from me buy more than one product from me. There’s a high percentage of people that buy all of the products. Those people are the best people in the entire world.
If I was focused on growth hacks, if I was focused on ever increasing my audience, I wouldn’t be able to get to know these people. Typically, when somebody buys something from me and I get that Stripe notification on the PayPal notification, I kind of recognize, most of the time I recognize the person’s name or email address because we’ve had a conversation on Twitter or we’ve emailed with each other or they’ve bought something else or I’ve seen them in a Slack channel that I run.
These people, they are trusting me because I spend time conversing with them. I spend time listening to them. I can get to know them and empathize with them because the group of people isn’t constantly exploding with growth. That, to me, feels like a better way to do things and a more sustainable way to do things.
Louis: Yeah. It’s a great answer. It’s difficult to come up with anything else but that. I completely agree with you on all fronts. The example of the exit popup is interesting because I was thinking of the exact same thing with software selling you the fact that you get the most subscribers.
You understand because you are experienced and you know your stuff that the actual goal of a business is to generate happy customers. If you generate happy customers, as you said they’re going to talk to their friends about you, they’re going to buy more from you. With this metric on board you know that exit metric makes very little sense because as you said, you might get more email subscribers but those people won’t do shit. This is why the growth hacking mentality is something that I can’t get around it because marketing and business is a system.
All parts of the system connect with each other in ways that you can’t really understand because it’s so complex, it’s like a car. If you take every single part out, you can’t drive the fucking car. It’s not connected. It’s part of a system and if you fuck up the system too much, if you hack your way through each step of the funnel with exit purpose followed by emails with fake scarcity followed by whatever else trick you want to get, you’re not going to generate those happy customers. The system is going to start to fall apart.
This is why the smartest people I know make it difficult to buy from you. You, for example, you don’t have the creative class running 365 days a year. You make it available to only a certain period of time because you want to create tension and you know that people who experience the tension, let’s say I really want to buy a company like right now you know they will buy in the future.
Very much like this Phillip Morgan who is a consultant on positioning which you might know, makes it super difficult now to buy from his, he is doing a sort of incubator with five people maximum and he makes people go through another podcast on how to apply to it because he knows that the best people will actually end up buying, they will be the people going through this podcast or whatever. Make it easy or easier is not necessarily the answer because there’s tension that you need to create. Anyway, I wanted to say that.
Let’s go back to the components of Company of One. There is one thing that struck me that I remember vividly is that I actually interviewed the guy that you mentioned, Sean D’Souza from Psychotactics. You explained that as an example, he decided that $500,000, correct me if I’m wrong but I think that’s the number, was the maximum amount of revenue he needed, or profit, I don’t remember one of the two, that he needed to run a successful, decent business and he would take a three month vacation every year and he’s just happy with that. That’s kind of one example of the Company of One. Can you give me more details on this mindset?
Paul: Yeah, this is basic, Sean’s funny. I wrote about my dad has, my dad’s an old English guy. He’s probably read like two books in his life. He read Company of One, which I thought was funny. The takeaway that he got from reading my book was, “Hey who is your friend that sends out chocolates?”
Sean D’Souza sends out a chocolate bar from New Zealand, him and his wife Ramica send out chocolate bars. He’s like, “Hey who is your friend who sends out chocolate bars? How can I get a chocolate bar?” The next time I was talking to Sean I was like, “Sean, can you please send my dad a chocolate bar?” He’s like, “Yeah, totally.” He sent my dad a chocolate bar, which I thought was funny. But the point of Sean having an upper bound to his goal is kind of, the way that I describe it in the book and in the way that I talk about it is what enough is.
I think framing enough is kind of the antithesis or the counterbalance to unchecked growth or growth hacking where enough kind of exists, first of all enough kind of exists in two stages where if you’re pre enough, say you start a business and you don’t have any customers, you don’t have any revenue, you have to grow.
Growth makes sense because you need to go from zero to something. You need to go from zero to making enough money to live, pay your bills and all of that. Growth makes sense there. But then growth, we get into our heads. We’re like, “Growth is working because it’s making things better right now. Growth is working.” Then we get into our heads like, “Okay growth is good.”
I understand how people can get into this growth mindset because in the beginning it makes sense. But if we never question it, we just always think, “Okay growth made sense before, growth makes sense now. I’m just going to keep growing.” But I think the kind of thesis of the book and the point of the book is that we should kind of check in on that and say, “Is growth continuing to be good or are we just getting diminishing returns on our growth?”
I think that the second stage of enough is post enough. Pre enough is getting to what enough is, post enough is optimizing for what you’ve got. Sean’s a good example of being post enough because he’s like, 500K a year pays all, that’s gross as well. “500K a year pays all my expenses, pays for my wife and I” and the nieces that he takes care of sometimes to live, “It let’s us travel for two or three months a year.” That’s enough for him.
If he was chasing more than he wouldn’t know, he knows his customers probably better than I do. He knows that if he wanted to grow more than that, he would probably have to hire some people which could cut into his margins as well. He may make an extra 100 grand but he may have to pay 200 grand to make that 100 grand. Or he had to go into ads, he might have to spend, it’s like when people get obsessed with gross numbers, like “Oh yeah, I made a million dollars.” I was like, “How much did you spend to make that million dollars?” “$900,000.” It’s like, you didn’t really make a million dollars. You make 100K.
I think we need to just kind of consider that because more isn’t always better. If Sean’s found a place, and a lot of people, if they’ve found a place where they have enough money to be happy and content and live comfortably, then chasing more would cut into the freedom and the freedom is why a lot of people start their own business in the first place. It just doesn’t make sense.
Louis: That’s the exact mistake I’ve made in the past. Three years ago I started a conversion rate optimization agency. It wasn’t planned this way but as you said, life shits in your face sometimes. I turned into a SEO consultant and I didn’t really like it because it was all about squeezing revenue and that wasn’t the right thing but anyway, I had enough clients to hire and I hired two people, three people. Not only grow, we grew revenue, profits stayed around the same first of all but then the problems you start to encounter get bigger. The headaches get bigger.
Now you have payroll to think about at night. You have not only your fucking salary to pay but you have your team’s salary that you’re worrying about. They are paying for their mortgage, they are paying for their kids. These stacks up and it’s getting, for me it was really getting to me. I realized, hold on a second. Why the fuck did I decide to hire these people? Why didn’t I decide to just stay small and optimize what I had and just find ways to grow profit and revenue, grow profit without necessarily increasing my team.
When I was listening to your book, that really dawned on me that if I had the insight that I have now, I would have done it completely differently. Yes. Growth at all costs, looking at this revenue, oh it will be great if we get 1 million in revenue, 2 million, 10 million, think as well of the cost that it has, not only financial but also emotional costs and all the things you don’t know you don’t know until you start to grow this way. It’s like, you just kind of think like, “Shit. Now I have too many people on the payroll. I need this software to take care of, I need to pay more to my accountant, it just becomes incredibly more complex.” Going back to the system we talked about, right?
Paul: Yeah. It takes away from, a lot of times we start a business because we like to spend our days doing something like writing or making software or designing. This is why I’ve never hired anybody because if I hired people, when I was a web designer I was booked four to six months in advance always. I could have hired, people were always like, “I don’t know why you’re not hiring. It doesn’t make sense, you’re not growing.”
It’s like, I didn’t want to grow them because I didn’t want to promote myself out of a job that I really enjoyed into a job I didn’t enjoy. I don’t like managing people. I don’t want to do payroll. I don’t want to have to, I work for myself so I can have as little responsibility as possible and still make money. Making a bigger business just doesn’t make sense to me.
Louis: Because you don’t need the status symbol of having your staff that is making 10 million a year. You’ve made peace with that. You don’t need that for your life. I think that’s something that people don’t necessarily realize about the decisions they make, the status is going to give you with others. The fact that people, as Seth Godin would say, “People like us doing things like this.”
Well, the people like me who are successful entrepreneurs of startups have expensive car, have startups then I need to do the same. But maybe they are not your people. That used to be me. I used to think this way because I used to look up to those guys and girls. I realized that it wasn’t it. If I could podcast and interview people all day long I probably would. I would never hire someone to do it for me.
Going back to another component of it, which is something that I think again Seth Godin mentions a lot in his latest book This Is Marketing, for example he talked about it many times before is choosing a specific audience which is again something that we talk about a lot in marketing, extremely difficult to do, to speak to again because you want to grow so why not reaching everyone. Why do you think a Company of One needs to have a specific audience in mind and even the more niche the better, why is that?
Paul: One, I think it’s easier to reach people if they are segmented down from everyone. I don’t know how to reach everybody on the internet or everybody with a television or everybody with a Netflix account. I don’t know how that works but as you segment it down and get a bit more specific, you’re like, okay well these types of people spend time reading these publications. Maybe I can write for them.
Or these types of people spend time in this sub Reddit. Maybe I’m going to start talking to them in there. I think that, people ask me all the time, “I have a bunch of ideas for products, I don’t know what to make” or “I made this product and I can’t find anybody who wants to buy it.” I’m like, “You’re going in the wrong direction. You’ve done the second thing first.”
What I mean by that is I don’t actually know how to make a product and then go find an audience for it. I don’t know how that works. I also suck at cold calling or any kind of cold sale. If you put me at a car dealership and said, “Hey Paul, go sell that person a car” I know a ton about cars but I would be the most awkward sales person in the entire world because I don’t know how to sell in that way.
What I do know how to do is build an audience or start listening to a specific group of people, a niche, a market, whatever you want to call it, and start communicating with those people, start learning from those people, start empathizing with those people, start looking for patterns in what those people want. Every single product I’ve ever created in my entire life hasn’t been I have an idea to make something, I’m going to make it and then try and go sell it.
Every single product I’ve ever made has been, okay I’m talking to this audience. I’m part of this community. I’m part of this group. This is what these people are saying they need. I can make that thing and say, “Hey everybody, you all said you wanted this thing, I’ve made it. You can buy it if you want.” That, to me, like the other way is doable and harder.
My way I think is easier because it’s also, you also don’t have to be as pushy because you’re not looking for sales, you’re looking to find a way to connect the audience you’re already part of or communicating with or talking to, then show them the value in the thing you’ve made specifically for them because they asked for it. Every single thing I made was because a bunch of people asked me for it. Creative class, every book I’ve written, the only reason I wrote Company of One is because I wrote an article for my mailing list probably three years ago now called something like, I Don’t Care About Growth. I usually get 150, 250 ish replies to my newsletters, I send one a week, it’s called the Sunday Dispatches so that makes sense.
For that email that I wrote, I got, I don’t know, 1200, 1500. It was just astronomical, the amount of people saying, “Why is nobody else talking about this? I thought I was the only one. I feel like why isn’t this a book.” I’m like, all right then, this could be a book. Then I wrote Company of One. If nobody had wanted it, I wouldn’t have written it.
Louis: It doesn’t feel yucky to do it this way, right, at all?
Louis: It’s just natural, natural process. This is why, I think, it’s much better to start with an audience rather than a product as you say. It’s like, you start with, pretty much like what I’m doing with the podcast. I never really thought about what can I sell to those people or who are those people in the first place, I just started something to give, genuinely to just help myself interview people to learn from them and then let’s see if it’s helpful to people.
Then I got feedback so I improved the podcast. I improved it, improved it, improved it. But I’m still at a stage where I know people quite well, I know who listens to the podcast but I would have never imagined that, for example, a third of the people listening would be marketing consultants or freelancers.
In my head, at the start I was just thinking in house marketers would be the one listening but actually I get surprised and surprised over and over again. Starting with your audience makes it so much easier, as you said, to understand the problem they suffer from. You don’t need to overly over engineer the research or overly overengineer the process, it’s just part of the process. You just know it.
Paul: Yeah, that’s why I have my mailing list. People are always like, “I don’t know how you have time for your mailing list” because I write an article a week and send it out every Sunday. I’m like, I don’t know how I wouldn’t make time for my mailing list when this is how I communicate with my audience. This is how I learn from the people who are likely to buy something from me.
I should be spending more time with my mailing list because right now I spend probably a couple hours writing a week and probably four or five hours replying to people a week. I could spend more time doing that because this is, I have a direct connection with the people who give me money. Why wouldn’t I spend as much time as possible making things for them but then also talking to them and listening to them. It wouldn’t make sense to do it any other way.
Louis: I think I know the answer to this question but I want to triple check, you receive 200, 250, sometimes 1000 replies if the article is very popular and you reply to every single one of them, right?
Paul: Yeah, I reply to, unless it’s just like, good job or thumbs up emoji. I don’t reply to those but if somebody has a question or if somebody says something really good, I reply to. I take half a day usually to just reply to everybody basically, yeah.
Louis: But if you had this growth at all costs mindset you’d probably look at automating this fucking thing like, “Oh my God, spending four to five hours answering people? What the fuck.”
Paul: People are always confused, they’re like, “I can’t believe you replied.” I’m like, “You sent me an email, what did you think would happen?” I would rather run a business that’s human and humane. I run a business because I like doing business, I like talking to other people. I don’t, like I said it would be awkward if I had to sell to them but just having a conversation with them, totally easy.
They’re going to make their own minds up whether they want to buy something or not and luckily most of them do but yeah, like you said, if I focused on just growing and I don’t know if my mailing list grows or not at this point. It’s reached enough where they bring in, they generate enough revenue for me to live comfortably pay my bills. If I was focused on growing, I think it’s like, 30,000 or 35,000 or something now.
If I was focused on getting 1,000 people a day or 10,000 people a week or 100,000 people a week, I wouldn’t be able to have those conversations because I’d be getting two emails, I wouldn’t be able to reply to them. I wouldn’t be able to get to know my customers, I wouldn’t recognize people’s email when they bought something from me. Growth at that point would ruin my business if I was focused completely on growth and not on the audience that I already have.
These people are paying attention, these are the most important people in my list or to my business, not the people who could be on my list that I need to grow to get. I’d rather just, retention is so much easier than acquisition. It’s cheaper, it’s faster, it’s easier on all regards but most of the time people are like, “I just need acquisition, I just need acquisition. I just need to grow, grow, grow. Who cares about the churn? I’ll offset churn by just growing faster.” It’s so much work. You’re giving yourself more work than you need to give yourself.
Louis: To go back to the point about the email list, it might grow to a point where you can’t reply to everyone, I want to go back to the system thinking paradox in a sense. Your system works really tightly at the minute. You have an email list, you send an email every week, people reply, you have connections, those people feel like they can really trust you because they have a conversation with you, they might be more people coming in, they might buy your product but what if you brought, let’s say you have this growth hacking switch in your brain and you’re like, “Shit, let’s go to 100,000 now.”
100,000 would mean if you keep the same quality of article you would probably get now 600, 700 replies every week and you might, it means you would need to spend 18 hours of your week to reply to them. Therefore you have to cut that time and therefore you will stop replying to a few people and therefore those people might not feel like they’re being listened to or they feel that they know you or trust you and therefore they might not buy your product anymore, et cetera, et cetera.
I really, the big takeaway for me reading your book is also that. It’s like, you really want to make sure that you understand the full system of your business and that you don’t compromise it by doing something stupid like this.
Paul: Exactly. I don’t want to hire, people might be thinking like, “Why not just hire somebody to write the articles or make the products or reply to people?” I could have a VA replying to people but if somebody is replying to Paul Jarvis and a guy named Val or a girl named Angela replies, that’s not, that would just feel weird if there was a VA replying. That’s not the business I want to run. I know how I want to spend my day, I know how I want my business to operate. I’m always just trying to line up the decisions I make with knowing this is the type of business that I want to have.
Louis: What other components of a Company of One have we not mentioned or forgotten to mention?
Paul: I think there’s, I mean resilience is a big one. I think that a lot of times, resilience is really just three things. It’s accepting reality, we don’t control everything because we don’t. Life will shit on our face as we’ve covered.
The second thing is having a sense of purpose really, really helps because even if things are going wrong, you know you’re still, my sense of purpose is knowing the type of business I want to have which is a small business and knowing that I want to serve a small group of people indefinitely instead of serving a big group of people once. I think having a sense of purpose is really important to resilience.
The third thing is ability to adapt. I think this is a huge one because I think things change all the time or because we’re not in control of everything things can come up, things can change. It’s just like the way I did business 20 years ago in the 90s is totally different than now. There’s different technology.
It used to take 6 months to build an e-commerce system and get a merchant account. Now I can sign up for a Shopify or a Stripe account in 30 seconds. You have to keep learning, you have to keep adapting. I spend quite a bit of my time every week learning.
I don’t have a university degree, I don’t have any degrees. I finished high school and then basically stopped with school. But I still spend hours and hours a week learning new things, learning new skills, learning new information. I think that’s so important to just not stop. I always just assume I don’t know anything and then take it from there. Then try to see if I don’t know anything, how much I can learn to kind of close that gap a bit.
Louis: I want to go back to the first point about resilience. It seems like you’ve read a lot about stoicism and this kind of feels like exactly, don’t focus on the things that you can’t change and you have control over, mainly your brain. That’s basically it. I mean, not necessarily your brain, the organ, your thoughts even though you might argue from recent research you actually don’t control most of it anyway, but anyway, that’s the thing you can control the most. Don’t focus on the rest and focus on what you can control. What other elements of stoicism or other types of philosophy and way of thinking do you think are relevant to this as well?
Paul: I mean, I think one of the biggest ones from the Bhagavad Gita which is like yogic philosophy and which I’ve talked about a bunch of times just not in those words is one of the lines from that book, obviously translated into English is that we’re entitled to the labor, not the fruits of our labor, which is kind of like that, just thinking about that kind of blows my mind.
That’s what I was talking about when I was talking about we need to figure out how to be presently content with the things that we have and not focused on the things that we might attain that could make us happy, especially with money. I think money is more of an amplifier than a fixer. If you’re an unhappy person poor you’re going to be an unhappy person rich. If you’re an awful person poor you’re going to be an awful person rich.
I think that if we focused on the process instead of the outcome, like I’m going to write a book because I like writing, because I like sharing, because I like putting words on the paper. I like figuring out what I think about something by writing it down, it’s typically what I do. That’s me enjoying the process. That’s me enjoying the labor.
If I was only writing to become a New York Times bestseller than I wouldn’t be happy writing and I would feel like a failure at the end of it if I didn’t become a New York Times bestseller because I would feel like, “I did all this work for nothing.” Whereas if I’m just happy with the process of writing and sharing and exploring my ideas, it’s like I’ve already won. I finished the book, I gave it to my publisher and I feel content, I feel happy, I feel accomplished because I did the work.
If doing the work is enough then I think that we know we’re on the right track whereas it’s like, “Well my business isn’t successful until it makes a million dollars a month.” Why bro? Why does it need to make that much money? Maybe you need $10,000 a month or less to be happy or comfortable. I think that if we focus more on the process and less on the hopeful outcome of the process we can get a lot further with not feeling like a failure at all times.
Louis: I’m nodding aggressively right now. I know you’re listening to this podcast, you can’t see me which is a shame but I discovered that the hard way. I used to always, always think of the outcome that I might get by doing something and I used to give up very, very easily. Anything I would start would be like, “Oh shit I don’t get enough traffic, fuck. We’ll just stop it.”
When I switched the focus to the process, doing things every day, focusing on that, knowing that what you’re doing is good enough, you will get feedback anyway. That’s the loop that is closed anyway, you’re just going to improve. You just need to fucking show up. That, at the end of the day, one of the core principles of good marketing and good business and living a good life is you show up, every day, every week, every month.
You do the same thing over and over again, like you send a newsletter every Sunday, you publish a podcast every Tuesday. You just show up, people will trust you and the outcome will come. You don’t know when exactly but it will. You just need to stick to what you believe in, which is why, connection to the second point, purpose is so important.
You should do something you truly believe in then you will stick to your process, even if at the start you don’t have the outcome you hope for, you shouldn’t even look at your stats at the start, just focus on the fucking process.
Paul: Yeah. My mailing list was a couple hundred people at the end of the first year. People were always like, “I want to build a mailing list like yours and have it at the size that it’s at.” I’m like, “Send an email every week and don’t ever miss a week for six years.” It’s like, that’s not the sexy answer and continually listen to feedback. It’s not like, there’s no growth hack there. Six years of growth is no growth hack but it’s what honestly happens.
Louis: I’m glad you said that, I wanted to ask you how long you’ve been doing that for. Usually the answer always goes back to that, how did you become a good blogger, how do you rank number one for super competitive terms, how do you fucking have a successful podcast or YouTube channel?
Well, just show up, do the work and do it again and do it again because you love it, you’re going to keep going. One day, not one day necessarily, one magic day but it will happen. You will get the results you’re hoping for or at least you should get some results if you keep at it. That’s the biggest lesson for me, I have to say, in this project Everyone Hates Marketers compared to anything else I’ve done before. This is the first time I’ve decided, “You know what? I’m just going to fucking show up and do the work.” But because I enjoy it and I think this is also the lesson.
I don’t think I could stick to writing an article every week on an email list because I hate, I don’t necessarily like writing however I can probably do easily two interviews a day like this one, no problem, without fail for five years. But you probably wouldn’t, I don’t know you might.
Paul: Oh no, I couldn’t do, I do probably 10 interviews a year for podcasting. That’s enough for me. But writing an article every week, I love it. Even after six years I still love it.
Louis: Keep me on track here I just thinking about it. There you go. It needs to be connected with who you are, the kind of things you like doing that are energizing you because you can’t really stick to something that doesn’t energize you. It gets, you’re going to discover that by doing shit.
You might fail a few times but I discovered podcasting or interviewing people or just talking like this on a microphone by accident really when I was trying before to stick to a blog and stick to written form of content which I just don’t fucking enjoy. That’s it. I’m not good at it. I don’t like it. Fuck that. I’m just going to do video and podcasts and that should be good enough to start with.
Anything else we haven’t touched on from your fantastic book? Or all the stuff you wanted to chat about?
Paul: No, we covered a lot here. I like it.
Louis: All right. Let me ask you a few questions I tend to ask at the end of the show. I hope you’re prepared. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Paul: Listen to people. Super techy but yeah.
Louis: What software do you use for that?
Paul: Anything. I think we try to put all of these technology things in between talking to human beings like human beings. We don’t need to.
Louis: That’s it. What are the top three resources you’d recommend our listeners today?
Paul: Other than Company of One, I don’t know. I think having a newsletter, whether you send out articles or podcasts or whatever I think is a good idea. It doesn’t even matter. All of the, I obviously teach a course on Mail Chimp so I like Mail Chimp but it’s a super competitive market so pretty much anything that is a newsletter software is good, Bird Kit, whatever, Mail Chimp. It doesn’t matter. Doing that.
I think just being part of the community and again, this is not, there’s not a tool for this but be part of the community you want to sell to. It doesn’t make sense, I think it was Justin Jackson, one of my buddies, who is a marketer was talking about how his friend wanted to make a real estate tool, he wanted to make tools for real estate agents. Justin was like, “How many real estate agents do you know?” He’s like, “None.” He’s like, “Well how many real estate conferences have you been to?” He’s like, “None.” It’s really hard to make something for people you don’t understand.
I think a lot of times the first step is being part of the audience you want to sell to. Get to know them. Engage. Participate. Do those things. That doesn’t require, maybe there’s a sub Reddit for it but maybe there isn’t a tool at all for it.
Louis: Okay. A newsletter tool, listening to people, going to conferences, anything else?
Paul: Participating. Learning, as well. I think spending time learning not just your own isolated bubble or niche or whatever, learn other things. I think that it just makes us better people. That’s where I think growth isn’t always good in business but I think personal growth always is good. If you expand your mind, if you expand the boundaries of what you think you know, if you challenge the things you hold as facts, I think you can just become a more well-rounded and more intelligent person if you challenge the ideas that you hold to be true.
Louis: That’s a great way to end the conversation. I have one last question to ask because I think people are very eager to know, how can they send this email where they get a reply? Where can listeners connect from you and learn more from you?
Paul: If you Google Paul Jarvis, on the first couple pages, the website is P-J-R-V-S.com which most people can’t remember to type in. Just Google Paul, my name, Paul Jarvis. Sunday Dispatches is on every page on my website. There’s no social shares, there’s no anything else. The only thing you can do on my website is read articles or sign up for my mailing list on purpose.
Louis: Again, creating tension and not just following all the fucking growth hacks available. Paul, thanks so much for your time, once again it’s been a brilliant conversation. I’m glad you’re challenging the status quo.
Paul: Anytime. Thanks so much for having me on the show today.
Louis: You’re welcome.