Hey there! 📌

My name is Noah, and, among other things, I founded & help run a company called Z Mark. I created this blog as a way of sharing my thoughts with the world. Feel free to get in touch via email or Linkedin.

I know this blog isn’t pretty. It wasn’t intended to be, at least not out the gate. Maybe it’ll evolve into that, but right now, I just wanted an easy way to share what was on my mind. This is what I created to do just that in an hour or so.

Heads up — this blog used to be hosted on Hey World, but no longer is for a variety of reasons. If you see any references to Hey World, that is why. All posts have been moved over to the current blog, built on WordPress.

Ally’s Gamble: Ending Overdraft Fees to Increase Loyalty

For about a year now, I’ve been a customer, fan, and shareholder of Ally Bank. Recently, they leaped to end overdraft fees. Today, I’ll be diving into this change and why I think it’s a brilliant business move.

In an era of high unemployment and stagnant wages, many people feel that they’re doing just fine. It’s only when they start to look at the balance in their checking account or take a look at their credit card statement that they realize how much more is coming out than what was going in. The result? Overdraft fees.

The average overdraft fee is about $35, and Ally’s new policy means they will stop charging these fees completely – something that will make a significant difference in the lives of their customers by saving them hundreds over time.

But there are other benefits, too: people who use their debit card liberally or have bounced checks before will now be more likely to bank with Ally because they’ll feel like their money is safe.

It’s a smart move for the company and one that I am personally excited about – I’ve experienced these pesky fees firsthand when forgetting to move money between accounts, especially if one is essentially idle. I know plenty of folks who have run into similar issues. As an advocate of customers, it seems only natural that Ally would want to make this change.

Ally is an online bank with great benefits; they’re perhaps best well known for their high-interest savings & checking accounts. However, if you do run into an overdraft fee, depending on the amount of money in your accounts, that could easily wipe out the benefits you have received over the past months or even years.

This new change will eliminate that, making the bank more appealing to new customers and giving them a unique advantage over pretty much every other bank. Additionally, I’d expect the word of mouth benefit from this change will be substantial. Beyond that, it’s just the right thing to do. Banks aren’t transparent about this policy, to begin with, and it’s a systemic issue; It hurts those most who are already struggling financially and digs them a bigger hole.

Overall, I’m excited about this new change, especially as a shareholder of their stock.

This article was an experiment – the vast majority of it was written with AI, with limited direction from me. I’ve been testing using AI to write a variety of things and will write a post in the coming days on my findings.

Don’t Start on The Computer

Hey folks –

It’s been a while. I’ve got lots to write, and you’ll see that in the coming weeks, but for now, I wanted to share something I realized.

When building something, it’s tempting to get right to the work. To sit down, and start doing whatever the thing is. And although it seems this should work, oftentimes your hours into the work and you realize you really haven’t accomplished anything at all. Why? Technology is littered with distractions, and even if you are spending 100% of that time on the task at hand, you probably aren’t thinking as critically as you would if you turned the screen off for a moment.

Before I start a new task, I sit in front of a whiteboard, or my ReMarkable tablet for a few minutes and map out the problem and a few possible solutions. Then, I keep that in front of me while I’m working through the problem. And since obstacles come up, and it’s easy to lose perspective of things, I’ll oftentimes take a break a few hours in, and sit in front of my whiteboard and map the problem out, yet again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect at this. When I have a great idea, or I’m in a state of momentum, it’s easy to want to jump right into the project, but I’ve found that when I spend just 5 or 10 minutes workshopping the problem out, without a screen, it seems to get done faster and in a more meaningful way.

Hello, WordPress

Until a few days ago, I wrote on Hey World for those who don’t know. Recently, in light of all that’s happened with Basecamp, we decided that we will be moving away from the product. Now a self-hosted WordPress site is my new home for my thoughts.

I thought that since I just got this setup, I might as well throw out how this site is built if anyone wants to make something similar. First, it all starts with a self-hosted WordPress solution. This site is not built on WordPress.com – you have limited control that way. I threw this site on a server on Siteground I use for small projects, and our company uses for (some) testing; that’s about $30/m for shared hosting. You could, of course, find something cheaper or even free, but I already had this available. I’d recommend Flywheel or Siteground for anything WordPress-related.

In terms of the actual stack this site is built on; it uses the Rain by Flutterum theme. It’s a very minimalistic theme, and for the most part I like it, however the lack of customizability and the way some plugins play with it bothers me. We had to edit the code just to change some colors in primary locations. Perhaps over the course of the next few weeks we’ll explore other options for themes. There’s a ton of great free and paid themes out there. For other WordPress projects normally we’ll use Astra or Divi, but we wanted to keep this lightweight.

In terms of plugins, there’s only three. First, Email posts to subscribers which sends these posts out to subscribers of the blog as soon as they are posted. Overall, I like it, however, the optin form on the page is not very customizable and we ran into one issue with email formatting. It’s been getting the job done, though.

Our second plugin is just SiteGround Optimizer which keeps things running smoothly and quickly and easily allows me to flush the cache. And lastly, we have Yoast SEO — SEO really isn’t a huge worry to me with this blog, but there’s no harm in installing it. I’m just running the free version right now, but maybe we’ll eventually purchase a paid license. Either way, it’s much better than our SEO performance on Hey World, which wasn’t even indexed.

Obviously, this site is the bare minimum of what’s possible, and it was thrown together in less than an hour by myself (I like doing little projects like this from time to time to keep myself fresh). I’m sure we’ll make improvements over the coming weeks/months, but it’s exactly what it needs to be and nothing more.

It’s crazy, because I’ve used WordPress for about everything but a blog. We’ve built courses, communities, request platforms, payment platforms, e-commerce shops, funnels, static sites and more. But the core product is really a blogging platform. And I never realized how good it was until now. The core product actually runs pretty fast when you’re just using it to blog, and it has all the features you need while keeping a clean UI. I’m excited to see what comes out of this new blog.

Goodbye, Basecamp

Yesterday, we decided to move away from Basecamp for business uses along with my own personal uses. This includes the core product along with Hey and Hey for Work/Domains. There’s been plenty of great coverage on this already, so I’m not going to go too far into the details, but I did want to share my thoughts, especially as a person who thinks cancel culture has gone too far.

First, a little background for folks who haven’t been following the story closely. On Monday, Jason announced a series of new policies that took immediate effect internally at Basecamp. Among changes were a ban on societal and political discussions, getting rid of paternalistic benefits and communities, no longer dwelling on past decisions, and lastly, stopping 360 reviews.

The announcement that got the most criticism was the ban on political and societal discussions, and frankly, I don’t blame those who work at Basecamp. In today’s world, these topics are becoming ever more relevant, even in a work environment, and banning these discussions can cause adverse effects. Part of the reason for the criticism was the hypocrisy — both Jason and David often talk about these topics on Twitter & their blogs. Plus, it didn’t help that the post lacked detail on this policy at first (Jason has since revised it to add more context). By far the most telling part of the post for me was this, however;

Who’s responsible for these changes? David and I are. Who made the changes? David and I did. These are our calls, and the outcomes and impacts land at our doorstep. Input came from many sources, disagreements were heard, deliberations were had. In the end, we feel like this is the long-term healthy way forward for Basecamp as a whole — the company and our products.

By the response from employees at Basecamp, perhaps they should have gotten a bit more input. Seeing all of this play out felt odd, to say the least. It felt like these changes came out of nowhere. And then, Casey Newton released an article in which he interviewed dozens of Basecamp employees in part about a list that contained “funny names” of those who had written into customer support. This list had been maintained for over a decade and had been known about by senior company leadership, including Jason and David. Not only was the list called disrespectful and a violation of customers’ privacy, but it was also accused of being racist. And DHH’s response to this, which is now public, was also accused of being racist and was reported to HR. A committee focused on diversity and inclusion had just been starting internally and was dissolved when these changes were announced. It seems like that change, in addition to the political discussion change were, at least in part, instituted to prevent talking about the events that had unfolded. Rather than discussing what had happened and moving on, they banned all discussion around these types of issues. Basecamp has always believed in not looking back, which is one of their core ideologies I’ve always disagreed with, and making it an official change seems like a step in the wrong direction.

I normally like to stay out of it with stuff like this, especially if it doesn’t affect me directly. But all of this is shocking coming from Basecamp. Obviously, David is a loss cannon, and I’ve never been a fan of the some of the things he’s said, and that has especially played out on Twitter over the past few days, but it goes beyond that. A good amount of these changes and the response to them seem to go against everything Basecamp stands for & their core values.

Plus, it seems everyone knows the company essentially exists for the enjoyment of Jason, David, and perhaps Ryan. Product and company decisions are really made by a small group, based on what they want for themselves. Until a few months ago, I was 100% fine with this because they seemed to be, for the most part, good decisions. But if the direction things have gone in over the past week or so is any indication, I bet those won’t be the best decisions going forward, ultimately affecting the customer.

Everything combined has encouraged us to look elsewhere in terms of software. A big reason we used the product in the first place was because of (what I thought was) their ideology when it came to work, and (the feeling of) being treated well as a customer. We’d been thinking about it for a few weeks already, and this just pushed it over the edge. I really do hope they have a change in heart & I’ll still be following Jason’s writing and keeping an eye out for new products. I think with them losing about 35% of their staff, however, product improvements will be delayed. We’ll be fully migrated out of all their software by the end of May at the latest.

That’s about it. I’ll conclude with this tweet from 2019.

Don’t start with Facebook ads

Happy Sunday! Today I wanted to share my thoughts on traffic, especially when you are just starting. Just a heads up before we start, though. I understand traffic and have been hands-on with it historically, but I’m by no means an expert. I like to focus on the overarching strategy, and while I am at times involved with the bells and whistles, it’s not my specialty. Let’s get right into it.

Traditionally, folks will tell you to start with Facebook Ads and scale – maybe branch out to Youtube Ads or affiliates eventually. On the surface, this sounds like good advice, and often time it is. But for many companies, there’s a better way.

With Facebook Ads, you run interruption-based advertising, meaning your customers aren’t seeking out your service; you’re coming to them. Their algorithm is so good that it may be exactly what you need, but generally, targeting and getting your potential customer’s attention isn’t easy.

When starting something new, I try to avoid interruption-based advertising altogether (with the exception of retargeting ads). Instead, I like to be right in front of the customer when they are actively seeking out a solution to their problem, which we can solve. The easiest way to do this is through Google pay-per-click ads. Think about it; if someone is seeking a solution to their problem that your service can solve, they’re essentially a warm customer. The pitch is easier, and there’s less work when it comes to the ad creative. Plus, you’ll probably end up paying less to acquire the customer.

The problem? It’s probably not that scalable. Although this depends on your product, market size, and industry, at a certain time, you’ll max out how many people are looking up keywords you rank for. You can consistently keep spending, but there’s minimal room for growth and increases in your budget. That’s when I’d start exploring additional traffic sources. Still, hopefully, before that point, you’ll have perfected your message (which may change a little bit with colder traffic) and acquired some customers at a lower cost.

I know this isn’t a foolproof plan and is relatively simple, but for most, it’s a better approach than starting with Facebook Ads. It’s what I do, and I’d recommend you do too.

The 48 hour rule

Happy Saturday! Another short post today, but I think it’s a valuable lesson. Pretty much everyone makes impulse purchases from time to time. In fact, according to a 2019 study, American’s make up to 156 impulse purchases each year, spending up to $5,400 over the course of just a year. That’s a lot. 

I’m by no means perfect either — in fact, I’m probably worse than a lot of people. It’s easy for me to make impulse purchases both personally and from a business side of things as well.  

I’ve found a simple solution to this problem. I wait 48 hours before pulling the trigger. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule; one is books – in reality, I’ve pretty much always followed this rule because I’ll stock-pile 10 or 15 in my cart and buy them all at once, but that still is an exception. Another is if I’ve used the service/product previously and have a need for it now, or simply have a great relationship with the vendor. And, of course, if it’s an item like food, I’m not going to wait 48 hours to purchase it.

From time to time, I still struggle with this, but I find myself saving a lot of money and finding low-cost workarounds that sometimes work out even better. I’d encourage you to give it a try and be sure to find someone to hold you accountable to make sure you’re staying on track.  

Basecamp 4 Feature Request: One on One Check-ins

Update as of 4/30 – I will no longer be using Basecamp, but will be leaving this post up.

I’ve been following a variety of Hey World blogs, and one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed is Nathan Sykes’s. A week or so ago, he put out a post with a feature request for Basecamp 4, and I was inspired to write something of my own.
Like hundreds of thousands of folks around the globe, I enjoy the software Basecamp puts out. I’m sure you know, but the tool you’re reading this on, Hey World, was built by them. They plan on launching Basecamp 4 at some point in 2022, and it’s hard to think what more they could add; it’s already such a good product. There is one feature I think would be beneficial to a variety of users—individual check-ins.

Right now, Basecamp has an excellent check-in feature that allows you to set up automated questions within Teams or Projects. For example, you could ask if anyone has tips for their teammates, what they’ve been reading, etc. There are a few issues with this. The first and more minor is that sometimes there’s no central pattern among those you collect answers from. Maybe you are getting responses from your directors of Marketing, Customer Success, and Finance, and the only project/team they are all in is your HQ. This isn’t a big deal because there’s an easy solution around this — create a team called something like “Noah’s Direct Reports” and get rid of all of the tools but Automatic check-ins (and maybe a calendar). It may be a bit bare, but it’ll get the job done.

The second issue is a bit more serious — some questions are just more personal. Perhaps it’s an HR question, or maybe you have a team member working on a confidential project you don’t yet want others in the org. exposed to, but you need a weekly progress report as not all progress is logged in Basecamp. Currently, you’d need to reach out proactively or have them sent you a weekly report via email or Campfire. A simple feature could help streamline that. 

Ultimately there may not be significant demand for a feature like this one, but I thought I’d throw it out there. No matter what Basecamp 4 holds, I’m excited to experience the changes!

My thoughts on fin-tech

Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me complain about the banking system at some point. Although there are many fundamental issues with the system that one party can’t address, such as the ridiculousness of banking if you happen to be under 18, ACH’s & wires, and more, there have been some innovative fin-tech players that have grown in dominance over the past few years. You may have heard some names before, like Robinhood and Acorns, but others are gaining prominence and are personal favorites. The only traditional players that I really tolerate are AMEX, Charles Schwab & Chase. Today, I wanted to share some of the favorite tools we use that are disrupting the traditional banking system. Maybe there are a few you’d be interested to start using. Let’s get right into it;

Ally Bank

Ally is where I do most of my personal banking (in a joint/custodial account, of course). They are entirely internet-based, which means they operate with far less overhead than traditional banks. This allows them to pass some of the savings onto you with higher interest rates for your money. The rates have dropped drastically with COVID but still, sit at .5%. Historically, they have been above 2% at some points. Although they are based 100% online, their customer service rocks, and they still have all the backing a traditional bank has. You can still get a debit card, you can still use an ATM, and it still has FDIC insurance (up to $250,000, of course). They have hardly any fees and are transparent about the ones they do have. Right now, my two major complaints are that they don’t offer business banking and don’t offer a credit card. 

There are many internet-based banks out there, but Ally is the most prominent and is where I’d put my money. They aren’t just a higher-interest savings account. They are a fully functional bank that happens to have some great interest rates — heck, their interest rates on checking accounts are better than most bank’s interest rates on savings accounts.

Stripe

If you haven’t heard of Stripe, you probably live under a rock, but I still thought I’d mention it because lots of people don’t understand the full power of what Stripe does. Over the past few years, they have given businesses of all sizes the tools that previously only large organizations had, which happens to be what we’re all about at Z Mark
When most people think of Stripe, they think of that payment processor that lets them process payments for 2.9% with a few clicks. This itself is a remarkable feat – I would not wish the process of setting up a custom payment stack on anybody. I won’t bore you with the details, but you have to find a processor, negotiate the fees, get underwritten and approved, and sign a contract. You may think you are done, but at this point, you are just getting started. You still have to find a gateway, integrate that processor with your gateway, and then integrate that gateway with whatever you are using to take payments. In theory, you are done at this point, but in application, usually, the UI’s are so hard to navigate that you need to use a tool like Chargedesk to even work with any payments. All of these costs add up, and if something breaks, your whole infrastructure is damaged. Stripe streamlines all of this, but what’s crazier is that you are granted instant approval with a flat fee; it’s not a drawn-out process. Not to mention their customer service rocks.

They don’t stop at a payment processor, though. Other products they offer include Stripe Issuing, which allows you to create virtual or physical credit cards for your customers, your team, and yourself, Stripe Connect, which allows you to forget about accounts payable and easily distribute payments to vendors, and now Stripe Treasury which offers banking as a service. Although these are just a few of the many products Stripe offers, you could argue that some such as Billing and Radar should not be marketed as separate services and add extra fees. Either way, Stripe is undoubtedly an innovative company that needs to go public soon (maybe via IPOF)

Privacy

I’ve been using this more and more over the past few months. It allows you to create virtual cards for use at one merchant. You can set spending limits and quickly turn them off. Plus, earn 1% cashback. It’s a simple concept but can make a world of difference in managing your finances. 

Cash App

It pains me to include this in the list, considering I’m not the biggest fan of Jack Dorsey, but I enjoy Cash App. It’s user-friendly, has great design, and has lots of great features. Especially for those who are new to managing & investing money, it makes things simple with stocks, securities. Not to mention the debit card is surprisingly good, and the core feature of sending money to folks is solid.

Plaid

Plaid is a disruptor, and I guess that you have used it without even knowing. Ever connect your bank or even a credit card to a financial service or just to pay for something quickly via ACH? That’s Plaid. They take what was historically a multi-day long process filled with complexities and make it almost instant. Be it for a simple ACH payment or analyze each transaction from a bank account for a book-keeping service, Plaid streamlines the process.

Wise

Wise (previously know as Transferwise) is by far the easiest way to send money abroad. You can send money using Western Union, PayPal, or even try using your bank. Still, the issue is the conversion rate — even if you don’t know it, the conversion rate is being marked up drastically, meaning you are paying more than you should. Wise makes sending money abroad easy because it never actually crosses any borders. You send the funds to their U.S. account, and they pay out your vendor through the account in the relevant country.

There are, of course, other players in the space, which I wasn’t able to mention today. Some honorable mentions are Zelle, a peer-to-peer service allowing you to send funds directly to someone’s bank account, Cushion, which works to get any bank fees you encounter waived and refunded. And lastly, Sofi — I’ve never actually used it myself, but have heard great things about it. Essentially it centralizes all of your finance tools — loans, bank accounts, credit cards, investment, mint.com type tools, and more. 

I’d be curious to hear if there’s any fin-tech companies you think I should know about, and I hope I was able to help you discover a new tool or two!

My approach to reading

Today I wanted to go ahead and share my approach to reading. Although this seems like a relatively straightforward process, it seems that quite often, when I share this with people, they are surprised.

Last year, I aimed to read 52 books. When I set out to do this, I knew just reading books front to back wasn’t going to do the trick. I had to figure out a way to get through books quickly while still retaining everything.
About four years back, I went through Howard Berg’s speed reading process (in fact, if you take a look at his webpage, you’ll find a testimonial from me, along with a very old picture). Although the process defiantly works, I found that it wasn’t all that enjoyable, and I struggled to comprehend all I was reading in the long term (it still doesn’t hurt to give it a try, though. I know some people who rave about it)

I also tried a pretty unique process two or so years ago – although I got through books slower, it did help with my retention. I highlighted everything that stood out to me as I went along and then took pictures of these passages and sent them to a voice actor or assistant. They would then read these aloud, and I would listen to a recording of excerpts from books every few months. That didn’t last long because although I guess I retained a bit more, it wasn’t all that necessary and was defiantly a pain. 

I’ve also tried Blinkist multiple times (for those who don’t know, they’re just cliff notes, but you have the option of listening to them). I just logged into my account, and here’s every book that I completed when just using Blinkist normally.

image.png

And here’s what I’ll tell you – the only lessons I remember from this list are Rework, Give and Take, and Creative Schools (and a tiny bit of the Airbnb Story). Why? Well, those were the three books from this list that I read. With those books, I read them after listening to the Blink, but I wondered what would happen if I reversed the order. After reading the book, I could listen to the Blinkist every six months or so to re-enforce the lessons. So that’s exactly what I tried.

But, believe it or not, I had never really tried the Audiobook thing either (not sure why). I gave this a try but found I had to follow along with the book too. I also found that Audiobooks are incredibly slow. I tried speeding then up to 1.5x, and it was still about the speed of a Youtube Video or Podcast or normal speed. I sped it up to 2x speed. Still pretty slow. I’ve found that 2.2x-2.5x speed is the sweet spot if that’s all I’m doing, and about 1.7-2.2x speed is the sweet spot if I’m doing something else at the same time. This may be too fast for some and too slow for others. Find your sweet spot and run with it.

Finally, I found a process that works for me. It’s pretty simple but allows me to get through books the fastest while comprehending what I read and putting it into practice. Here it is;

1) Order the physical book & audiobook – Yes, this can get expensive. But either way, I like having a copy of every book I’ve read so I can refer back to it down the road. If you aren’t like me, you can always check the book out from your local library or buy a used copy. You can even buy an Ebook version and load it on a Kindle or Remarkable.
I’ve also found that you can return unlimited books to Audible, as long as it’s within a year of when you first bought it. Plus, as long as you return it after seven days of purchasing the book, the author still gets a royalty. I try only to do this if I don’t plan on rereading the book or didn’t enjoy it, and hence still have 41 titles in my Audible library as I write this, and have paid over $600 to Audible in the past year (between credits, one-off titles, and subscriptions). This doesn’t include the thousands I’ve spent buying the books, lots of which from their parent company, Amazon.

2) Listen to the audiobook while following along with the physical book 

3) Every few months, listen to/read the Blinkist

4) Occasionally, I’ll re-read the entire book a year or so later

And that’s about it! I’d be curious to hear if any of you have a process of your own for reading, and perhaps I’ll incorporate some of your tricks into my process.

My approach to writing copy

Over the past week or so, I’ve been silent. I’ve been trying to get in the habit of writing at least something for Hey World daily, but have been struggling to do so. It seems I have multiple half-baked posts in the works but nothing fully done.

I’m accepting the fact that some posts may be longer than others. And that’s ok. For example, my last post on unsaturated business ideas clocked in at 1,555 words, and a post I’m working on now about churn is even longer (and it’s not finished yet). Today’s however, will be shorter.

I titled this my approach to writing copy, but it’s really more than that. It’s the process of going from an idea from a product or campaign to getting it launched on a webpage. It focuses on my ideology around copy, but I cover all aspects of the process. It might surprise people, because even though I would not consider myself a great copywriter, I write all of the copy for my companies, or at least the first draft. So let’s get right into it.

Step 1 – Brainstorm ideas

I like to use this time to get clear on what it is we are offering and selling points around that. I’m not necessarily trying to think of hooks or clever phrases, but rather our key offerings, answers to objections, and more. I jot these down in a folder on my notes. Recently I’ve been trying MyMind, though, so we’ll see how that works out (if you want an invite code, shoot me an email, I have a handful left – first come first serve)

Step 2 – Start writing

After about a week of brainstorming and tossing around concept ideas, I start writing. This is a time, I know. I know food who can get a sales letter done in an hour without any upfront works, and then there’s others like me who prolong the process. If this is an entire website or campaign, I focus on the centerpiece first, however, I often find writing emails in between can give me inspiration for other mediums.

I use Instant Scripts to help in this process — I’ve used Funnel Scripts before, and for 80% of things it sucks. Although it’s a great tool and software and I’ve seen people who’ve done awesome things with it, in my opinion, it’s too “direct responsy”. Not only that, but I like being in the drivers seat, and inputting text and getting an outcome of that text in a template isn’t my favorite.

But writing with a blank canvas can also be stressful. I don’t use any of Instant Scripts template functions, but I do leverage the features that allow you to get ideas and high converting phrases using the / key, along with the feature that allows you to easily move paragraphs around.

During this phase I focus on turning my ideas into hooks, and jotting down ideas for the rest of the copy. That’s it.

Step 3 – Finish writing

This process takes place over the course of about five days for a long sales letter, and just one or two for shorter sales letters. During this time I take the hooks and turn it into copy. Everyday I look through what I wrote the previous day, make revisions, and than move onto the next chunk I want to write. I kinda hop around during this phase.

Step 4 – Final touches

I send my copy into Day to Day Aid for grammar edits and a second pair of eyes. Than I send that off to our awesome designer who turns it into a tangible webpage using Webflow or WordPress.

Normally, I’ll send her a few pages for inspiration or a layout structure I have in mind. She’ll take the copy and make it drastically more interesting & professional. We then apply what we’ve learned from A/B tests historically. After the first version is done, I’ll take a look at it and make changes myself or send revisions to her to make. After a little back in forth we’re ready to launch!

And that’s about it. Of course we run split tests and make changes down the road, but it’s a pretty simple approach. I’ve learnt that when I rush copy it’s not my best work, and doesn’t convert. It takes about an hour a day for a week or so, and is well worth it.

Unsaturated business ideas

At least once a week, I get a message from someone looking for guidance on what business they should venture into. Be it an old colleague/report or a connection from a few years ago in between projects; I’m always excited to advise on what I’ve seen working lately (hint; it’s not Amazon FBA, SMMA, or Dropshipping).

Before I go into it, I want to address why it’s not any of the for-mentioned things. They all worked at one point, but you have what’s called the first mover’s advantage with any opportunity. Eventually, as more and more people get into any industry/opportunity, it becomes saturated. This may take years, but at a certain point, it’s bound to happen. 

One last thing — I’m not guaranteeing any of these will work, and they all involve a certain amount of risk. Some of these I’ve done myself (or they’ve been a piece of a business I ran), and some I’ve just seen work for other folks. This is meant to be a very rudimentary level to point you in the right direction, not to give you everything you need to know about any of these models. 

1) Buying companies
I’ve always been attracted to this model but have never had the time to commit to it. You buy a company (or two, or five, or 10) and either hold it in a portfolio or flip it. If you’re starting with this model, I’d look for a company with a few of these factors;

  1. Low multiple – 1-2.5x would be an excellent sweet spot.
  2. Consistent revenue – Stay away from a company with most revenue in Q4 or a company that relies heavily on flakey outside factors.
  3. High but reasonable profit margins – 50 to 80% is a good range.
  4. In an industry, you understand
  5. Has to room for improvement & growth

I would use a tool like Flippa when starting, and eventually, you can find great deals elsewhere. Recently I had the opportunity to connect with Nathan Sykes who’s entire model is private equity – I’d check out his Hey World to learn more about the model, in addition to watching some YouTube videos and grabbing some books. 

2) Drop-servicing
This is a model that has become relatively mainstream over the past year or so. The idea behind a drop-servicing company is that you take an in-demand service – say a whiteboard video – find a freelancer to create it, mark it up, and offer it as a standalone service. Then, on the backend, your goal would be to offer similar services as upsells or get them on a continuity plan. 

A few things to keep in mind with this model;

  1. It’s always easiest to sell to warm traffic – rather than using interruption-based marketing at first, use Pay Per Click advertising. 
  2. If possible, niche down – you can always expand your target audience later.
  3. Don’t work with freelancers long-term – with freelancers, you are essentially working as a project manager and ensuring quality control – that’s your only competitive advantage. With enough scale, bring things in-house – this will help with profit margins, quality control, and consistency. 
  4. Use a tool like Service Provider Pro to take orders, manage clients, and more.
  5. Use a tool like Clickfunnels for your marketing.
  6. Offer one product on the frontend – don’t try to do too much.
  7. Pick a service that’s not too saturated that a customer may want every month, quarter, etc. (the goal here is to build continuity) 

Another method of drop-servicing is white-labeling services from somewhere like The Hoth. I won’t go too far into this, but it can be a great option, especially if you want to be more hands-off. 

3) PLR
This seems to be the model that surprises people the most. Believe it or not, entire websites are dedicated to providing pre-created content that you can Whitelabel and sell as your own (and no, you can’t sell it on Amazon/Kindle). There are essentially three different ways you could use this content — the first is by offering it as a lead magnet; if you have another product or an affiliate marketing offer to promote, this could be a great strategy. The second is bundling it with other products/services to make the offer more enticing. And the third, and probably most obvious, is by just selling it on a platform such as Shopify, ClickFunnels, or Clickbank. I’d check out Lenny Banks for more about this model. 

4) Flipping Instagram Accounts
This is by far the sketchiest and probably one of the most saturated opportunities on the list. I’ve tried to mess around with this twice – once I lucked out big time, and another, I got the run-around by the seller. But I’ve seen it work for many people, so I figured I’d include it.

Here’s the model – you buy an active Instagram account within a specific niche. You could either run it for a few months and then sell it or flip it right away. Typically, you can find Telegram groups to buy accounts in, and then you could either try to sell it in another Telegram group or on a site such as Insta Sale

I’m by no means an expert on this, so seek professional advice (aka. YouTube videos or a $10 Udemey course) before doing this. A few things I do know you should be careful with when doing this;

  1. Always use a Middle Man – this person will facilitate the transaction and ensure you don’t get ripped off. Hire this person yourself rather than relying on the other party. 
  2. If you are buying with PayPal, buy it as a service rather than friends and family – won’t let the seller talk you out of this.
  3. When transferring ownership, make sure you don’t get locked out of accounts due to IP differences & that the original email address used to make the account is included in the sale. 
  4. Don’t buy accounts with less than 10,000 followers.
  5. Verify engagement – ensure followers aren’t bots and are from 1st world countries.

5) White-labeling software
This has got to be one of my favorite’s on the list. Most of the time, when I do this, I’m either using the tool internally or bundling it with another offer, but I’ve seen people sell software they’ve white-labeled independently.
 
This is when you use a marketplace like CodeCanyon to find a pre-built software, pay for it once, set it up on your hosting, hire a developer to make changes (if any), and then sell it. It’s not effortless, but with some hard work, you can get something going.

I’ve bought a variety of software (you could say I’m addicted) – I’ll share a handful of things I’ve snagged;

As you can see, if you messed with any of the demos, these are all great pieces of software. Here’s my advice to you — if you are going to go down this route, do one of three things;

  1. Niche down – Rather than trying to be the best website maker, become the website maker used by every small business owner used in your town of 20,000 or every salon owner. This would also allow you to promote specific products, including affiliate offers, on the backend. 
  2. Compete on price – Yup, I said it. I believe that 90% of the time, this is a horrible idea, but the fact is that your feature sets of a software you just bought for a hundred bucks aren’t going to compete with that of a company that spends millions every year on product teams. That’s ok – some companies thrive off this. In general, one doesn’t use Crisp because they love the feature set — they use it because they can’t afford Intercom.
  3. Bundle it with another offer – I know, I know, I keep saying this. But you may be able to combine multiple of these business models OR create an original product to bundle it with. 

If you don’t go down one of those three paths, you’ll have to make a lot of noise – a significant endorsement, an exciting marketing stunt, or a new feature not offered by a competitor. Even if your numbers work out at first, I guarantee your churn will be higher than competitors who spend millions on R&D. 

I hope at least one of these models interests you. I’d encourage you to do more research of your own on them. Let me know how they work out!

Yes, the link for Lenny Banks is an affiliate link – it’s not common I promote courses, and his course is exceptional. If you don’t get value out of it, he has a 14-day refund policy (I guarantee you his team will take good care of you, but if they don’t, email me personally, and I’ll make sure it’s sorted out). If you can’t afford his course, please don’t buy it — learn for free or with a Udemey course instead. The links for Service Provider Pro and Clickfunnels are affiliate links as well.

Bitclout

Over the past few days, I’ve seen some buzz about Bitclout. Earlier today, I sat down to learn more about it, and I have to say, the model intrigues me. 

I’d encourage you to take a look at the whitepaper, but if you don’t have the time, here’s the key takeaways;

  • Every person on the platform has a coin. The price increases as people buy the coin, and decreases as people sell the coin.
  • The platform also includes a social network similar to Twitter.
  • The idea behind the network is you can essentially bet on people. Be it Elon Musk (who’s coins currently valued at $83,000 ~ or me who’s coins currently valued at $25);
    If people understand this, then the value of someone’s coin should be correlated to that person’s standing in society. For example, if Elon Musk succeeds in landing the first person on Mars, his coin price should theoretically go up. And if, in contrast, he makes a racial slur during a press conference, his coin price should theoretically go down. Thus, people who believe in someone’s potential can buy their coin and succeed with them financially when that person realizes their potential. And traders can make money buying and selling the ups and downs.
  • The network has it’s own cryptocurrency backing it – the only way to buy that currency is with Bitcoin. So really, two factors affected the price of a coin; the volume of it being bought/sold in addition to the network’s crypto itself.
  • Everything’s decentralized.

The whitepaper details possible features that will be built out down the road, all of which look exciting. In case your curious, my “investment” strategy looks like this;

  • 57%~ in my coin, friends/connections, people I believe in
  • 37%~ in public figures (GaryVee, Tulsi Gabbard, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, Joe Rogan, Russell Brunson, Chamath, Patrick Collison, Craig Clemens, Kara Swisher, Adam Grant, Andrew Yang, Casey Neistat, Edward Snowden, Dean Graziosi)
  • 4%~ in companies I believe in/think will go up in value (Notion, Disney, Wendys, Vox, Harrys)
  • I’ve heard that it’s good to hold some of your money in the crypto itself and not in any specific coin as it goes up in value as more people buy-in. I’m not doing much of this right now but plan to in the near future.

What’s important with things like this is you don’t invest any more than you are comfortable losing. Right now, you can’t even pull your money off-platform (I’m sure that will change in the future). For all we know, there’s a chance this is a giant Ponzi scheme. I just put in about $150, although, over the next few days/weeks, I’m sure I’ll slowly invest more. I want to dip my feet in the water, though, and see what all the buzz was about. In some coins, I only have a couple of bucks invested. 

This is definitely an exciting platform, and I am excited to play around with it more. If you want to take a look at it, I’d encourage you to, but remember the risks involved. Here’s what I’d do if I were you;

  1. Signup for an account and verify your phone number – you’ll receive about $10~ in coin for doing this alone. When you signup be sure to write down/store your private key – this is the equivalent of a password. It’s the only way to get back into your account.
  2. If you want, add in additional Bitcoin. If you don’t already have it, the easiest way to buy it is probably Cash App. Coinbase and Robinhood are options as well.
  3. Setup a profile. 
  4. BUY YOUR OWN COIN. I didn’t do this right away, and that was a mistake — if you don’t buy your own coin before anyone else does, the price will be much higher, even if other folks only buy a small amount. 
  5. Invest in other coins — in case you want to grab a few cents of my coin, here’s a link

That’s about it! I’m by no means an expert, but I just thought I’d share this. There’s always the first mover’s advantage with platforms like this, but I can’t stress how important it is to be careful—looking forward to seeing what comes out of this.

Update as of 4/12/21 – I’m now about 80% sure Bitclout is at the very least overhyped and possibly a big elaborate scheme. I’ve stopped investing new money into it and am keeping an eye on it. With that said, I haven’t pulled any money out (via selling to a third party) and don’t have any immediate plans to do so. If you do explore Bitclout, enter with caution.

Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

Over the past year, I’ve heard this quote pop up more and more. Initially, I heard it attributed to Steve Jobs, but a quick Google Search (no, I’m not going to pretend I use DuckDuckGo) seems to show it first came from Leonardo da Vinci. No matter who initially said it, I think there’s such a valuable lesson within this quote. 

Here’s the deal; when setting out to build anything, it’s so easy to get consumed with the bells and whistles. You want to add 12 new features to your product when in reality, you only need 5. You want to add 15 pages to your new website when only three will be looked at by most people. You want to use seven tools for the job when in reality, it only requires three. 

Here’s a great example; recently, we set out to build a website for Z Mark. After days of work, we had a modern-looking front page with all the buzz words, a fancy about page, dedicated pages to become an affiliate, Whitelabel our services, contact us, and more. Nice, right? Not really. After hours of labor, the site didn’t look anything close to done — but we had to finish up to move onto the next project.

With little hesitation, I decided enough was enough. We threw up a simple page with our logo, a greeting, along with a short description of what we do. Then we added some logos, along with a note from me. But if you didn’t look closely, you may have missed it. We also have a sentence at the bottom telling people to get in touch if they are interested in becoming an affiliate or white-labeling our services. I guarantee you 80% of people will still reach out, and it all goes to the same place anyway. It’s that simple – we used the 80/20 rule and rolled out this page in about an hour. Sure, we might miss out on a bit of business in the short term, but it allows us to move onto the next project instead of being stuck on something so simple. Plus, we can always come back and add the bells and whistles later. 

2021-03-28-00-31-zmark.webflow.io.png

You see, every-time you overcomplicate something, not only is it harder to build out, it’s a maintenance nightmare. It’s better to build half of a product than a full product that’s halfway there.

Another example — right now, we’re revamping everything for Day to Day Aid. And we’re cutting all the bloat. Even if we see decent results from some strategies, we’re going all in on what’s been proven to work. It’s easier to manage, and you have a sizable pool of ideas to work with.

And it’s not just me. Part of the reason I love Basecamp is its straightforward approach to everything, including product creation. They frequently throw out features to make for a simple product (and let me tell you, it makes for a great UI). It may upset some customers in the short term (including myself), but it makes for a great experience in the long term. And if you need a particular feature, you can always look elsewhere. Look at Hey World (the platform I’m writing this on, backed by Basecamp). It’s as simple as you can get. You write an email to world@hey.com and press send – it’s posted to a webpage with your thoughts and a box to opt-in. Nothing else but some legal junk. It doesn’t even use JavaScript.

Another excellent example of this is Steve Jobs himself. When he returned to Apple in 1997, one of the biggest problems he saw was a messy product line, which created significant confusion for customers. So what’d he do? He cut 70% of products. And in the end, it resulted in a profit increase of over $1.3 billion just a year later. 
Sometimes you need to give up a little to get a lot back. Do it once, and you won’t stop. 

In business you need to make tough decisions

For as long as I can remember, it’s been hard for me to make tough decisions. Perhaps we need to pull the plug on a campaign that just isn’t performing, or maybe we need to let a seasoned team member go. It could even be that we need to decide between three applicants for a job, all of which look promising.

Here are some steps that I’ve used to make it a little easier to make hard decisions. Although they are super simple and may seem obvious, for someone like me, I hope they help;

1) Take a hard look at the data/facts

Often times, it’s easy to ignore the data;  perhaps part of the reason is that you wish you did sooner and it’ll look even worse now. Trust me, you’ll feel better after just reviewing it. Look at the data, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision. If you make decisions logically vs emotionally, it’ll be better for everyone in the long run.

2) Don’t justify bad decisions by calling them “long term moves”

I’ve caught myself doing this many times; I’ll say we need to go down a certain path, because although it doesn’t make the most sense in the short term, it pans out in my idealistic version of the long-haul. Sometimes these decisions work out, but more often that not, with pivots and third party forces we’re going down an entirely different path. I’ve created a new rule for myself — unless something requires a lot of ground work, or is part of an ongoing project, the most I can look in the future is a month; this seems to have done the trick in combating this problem.

3) Find someone to help you make decisions

If it’s hard to follow steps 1 and 2 I hear you – it is for me as well. One trick I’ve found to combat this is working with someone else. For me, this has often been a COO, but it could also be an assistant, chief of staff, or business partner. It doesn’t really matter who it is, as long as they are able to help you look at things straight and come to a decision.

My all time favorite books

There’s few things I enjoy more than reading. Over the years, I’ve read a variety of great books and am often asked which were the most impactful. It was about time I got them down on paper, so here they are;

1) The Ride of A Lifetime by Bob Iger
Bob Iger took over Disney over 15 years ago during a difficult time in the companies history, and transformed it into the conglomerate it is today. Inside this book, he shares his experiences working his way up through the company & his time as CEO. He walks through some of the biggest acquisitions in the history of the company, the opening of new theme parks, and shifting the entire business model. The book is packed with nuggets and is hard to put down.

Order on Bookshop.org | Order on Amazon.com

2) It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried & DHH
Jason Fried & DHH (founders of Basecamp, a product of which I’m using to write this right now) share their experiences of building a remote-first company, which put their employees first. They share productivity tips and how to turn your company into a calm one. It’s a fast read and is essential for anyone who leads a team or just want’s to make better use of their time.

Order on Bookshop.org | Order on Amazon.com

3) That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph
Marc Randolph, co-founder & original CEO of Netflix shares his experience building the company. It’s an entertaining & captivating read with lots of takeaways, especially for startup founders.

Order on Bookshop.org | Order on Amazon.com

4) Dotcom Secrets by Russell Brunson
This is the book that started it all – of all the books on this list, it’s defiantly the most practical, giving you immediate advice you can act on. Russell showcases his top-performing funnels and gives you the strategies to succeed with direct response advertising.

Order on Bookshop.org | Order on Amazon.com

5) Built to Sell by John Warrillow
As cliche as it sounds, Built to Sell walks you through how to work on your business, rather than in it. The focus is on building your company to sell, but even if you don’t want to be acquired, this is still a great guide – the core principles are building out systems for repetitive tasks and client fulfillment, building a rockstar team, and most importantly getting clear on what you are offering and turning your service into a product. It’s written from a unique perspective, wherein it’s actually a fictional story (similar to The Goal) with practical advice worked in.

Order on Bookshop.org | Order on Amazon.com

I hope at least one of these books stand out to you and sparks your interest. I’ve read so many good books that this list could probably have 25-50 favorites, but these are great books that I think the majority of people can benefit from. If you do pickup a few of these books, shoot me an email with your key takeaways!

Heads up – the links featured are affiliate links. This doesn’t cost you anything additional. If possible, I’d encourage you to give bookshop.org a try – it helps support local bookshops.