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Hard work on the right things

I don't think winners beat the competition because they work harder. And it's not even clear that they win because they have more creativity. The secret, I think, is in understanding what matters.

It's not obvious, and it changes. It changes by culture, by buyer, by product and even by the day of the week. But those that manage to capture the imagination, make sales and grow are doing it by perfecting the things that matter and ignoring the rest.

Both parts are difficult, particularly when you are surrounded by people who insist on fretting about and working on the stuff that makes no difference at all.


Intelligence is the combination of knowing a lot about a little while you also know a little about a lot.

Deep domain understanding helps you create analyses. Your ability to understand how a particular system (no matter how small) works allows you apply a confident analysis to new systems you encounter. Once you know everything there is to know about nuclear physics, soccer or the praying mantis, it makes it easier to understand new systems.

At the same time, it's impossible to be smart without also being aware of the wider world. That's because it's the random interactions and the surprising coincidences that help us navigate our daily lives.

The challenge of the net is that it made the large world a whole lot larger. There are the personal lives of your 1000 closest friends, on display, every day. Here is the news of the world, the whole world, not just what used to fit in the newspaper. And over there is every book ever published, every scientific discovery, every fringe political candidate.

Suddenly, it's a lot more difficult to know a little about a lot. It's tempting to spend ever more time pursuing that goal. That doesn't mean, I think, that you should give up knowing a lot about a little in order to devote ever more time to the noisy mosaic that's on your doorstep, nor does it mean you ought to give up and dive back into your hole. We've redefined worldly, but being an expert remains just as tough and important as it used to be.

The reason the customer is always right…

If you insist that they are wrong, they stop being your customer* (if given half a chance).

People spend their time and attention and money in places that make them feel valued.

*There's nothing wrong with asking customers who are wrong to leave. Just be sure you do it on purpose.

Dedicating the merit

For an author, one of the nicest parts of the traditional book is the dedication page. The dedication is far more than an acknowledgement to someone who helped you write the book, it's a permanent signpost, a capstone to the work of a year or more.

Even if the person you've dedicated the book to can't read it, the writer benefits from the knowledge that a connection was made and that a memory was preserved.

Here's the thing: you can dedicate just about anything. A project, a meeting, a tweet. You don't have to tell anyone but yourself. This blog post, like all the posts before it, has a dedication page, at least in my head.

When you start creating for and in honor of those that have made a difference to you, your work changes.

Naming things

"Over there, by the fire, is that a stick or a snake?"

It turns out that humans have been naming things for a long time. If we know that this is a cheetah, or a grapefruit, we can make intelligent decisions on how to deal with it.

Lately, though, we've been naming more than things. Now we classify ideas and opportunities as well.

Getting smart about naming is at the heart of marketing. Calling every single person a 'customer', for example, is hardly a nuanced way of engaging with the public. Salespeople are especially nuanced at this, but often make mistakes as well. Car salesman are notorious for misnaming women who walk in (spouse instead of primary decision maker).

As an investor, are you misnaming the businesses you look at, mistaking a cliff business for a bootstrappable idea? Dozens of book editors misnamed Harry Potter at first glance, labeling it a 'loser from the slush pile' instead of the most profitable book they were ever offered.

Job interviews are nothing but sessions where we try to put a name on a stranger looking for employment. Is she a superstar in the making or someone we ought to avoid?

Most of all, are you misnaming opportunities and calling them risks instead?

When you are isolated or if the world is stable, your need to name new things goes down, and the world might feel safer as a result. Most of us don't live in that world, so our ability to name things becomes critical.

Just because we're not good at it doesn't mean it's not important.

Free Prize Inside

The ShipIt Journal, now in free PDF format

Free to print, free to share. Don't sell or modify.

Here's the thing: If all you do is read this on the screen, IT WON'T WORK.

I use all caps with care here. IT WILL NOT WORK.

You need to print it and write in it. The audio will help. Good luck. Go ship. Make something happen.

Download TheShipItJournal

Free Prize Inside

An audio introduction to the ShipIt Journal

Here are two versions of the audio, the first is lower quality and faster to download.

Download Shipit_Booklet Audio (mp3)

Download Shipit_Booklet Audio (m4a)

Step by step instructions on how it works and why.




Free samples

It bothers me to watch the hordes at the farmer's market, swooping in to each booth, grabbing a sample and walking away. The thin slices of handmade rye bread, or the perfect strawberries or the little glasses of juice–all of them disappear into the hands of people who have no intention of buying.

Sure, someone stops and buys now and then, which is why the farmers keep offering the samples. To them, it's merely a cost of doing business, a relatively inexpensive way to keep prospective customers coming. I'm not sure I could do it–the people afraid to look me in the eye, all that slinking around, and most of all, the profits walking out the door, over and over again. Enough thin slices makes a loaf.

This is vexing, even to someone who merely makes ideas. Watching people sneak endless tastes with no intention of making a purchase–sometimes I gasp at the audacity.

The distinction in the digital world is profound. In the digital world, the more free samples you give away, the better you do. The miserly mindset that afflicts the merchant watching inventory walk out the door at the market is counterproductive in the digital world. That's because more free samples cost you nothing.

The scarce resources in the connection revolution are connection, attention and trust, not molecules, atoms or strawberries.

Why ask why?

"Why?" is the most important question, not asked nearly enough.

Hint: "Because I said so," is not a valid answer.

  • Why does it work this way?
  • Why is that our goal?
  • Why did you say no?
  • Why are we treating people differently?
  • Why is this our policy?
  • Why don't we enter this market?
  • Why did you change your mind?
  • Why are we having this meeting?
  • Why not?

How to make money online

  1. The first step is to stop Googling things like, "how to make money online." Not because you shouldn't want to make money online, but because the stuff you're going to find by doing that is going to help you lose money online. Sort of like asking a casino owner how to make money in Vegas…
  2. Don't pay anyone for simple and proven instructions on how to achieve this goal. In particular, don't pay anyone to teach you how to write or sell manuals or ebooks about how to make money online.
  3. Get rich slow.
  4. Focus on the scarce resource online: attention. If you try to invent a way to take cheap attention and turn it into cash, you will fail. The attention you want isn't cheap, it's difficult to get via SEO and it rarely scales. Instead, figure out how to earn expensive attention.
  5. In addition to attention, focus on trust. Trust is even more scarce than attention.
  6. Don't worry so much about the 'online' part. Instead, figure out how to create value. The online part will take care of itself.
  7. Don't quit your day job. Start evenings and weekends and figure it out with small failures.
  8. Build a public reputation. A good one, and be sure that you deserve it, and that it will hold up to scrutiny.
  9. Obsessively specialize. No niche is too small if it's yours.
  10. Connect the disconnected.
  11. Lead.
  12. Build an online legacy that increases in value daily.
  13. Make money offline. If you can figure out how to create value face to face, it's a lot easier to figure out how to do the same digitally. The web isn't magic, it's merely efficient.
  14. Become the best in the world at something that people value. Easier said than done, worth more than you might think.
  15. Hang out with people who aren't looking for shortcuts. Learn from them.
  16. Fail. Fail often and fail cheaply. This is the very best gift the web has given to people who want to bootstrap their way into a new business.
  17. Make money in the small and then relentlessly scale.
  18. Don't chase yesterday's online fad.
  19. Think big, act with intention and don't get bogged down in personalities. If it's not on your agenda, why are you wasting time on it?
  20. Learn. Ceaselessly. Learn to code, to write persuasively, to understand new technologies, to bring out the best in your team, to find underused resources and to spot patterns.
  21. This is not a zero sum game. The more you add to your community, the bigger your piece gets.

A few years ago I put my book The Bootstrapper's Bible online for free. You can find it here.