There are many reasons and some are more selfish than others. But really, most reasons are selfish. Mainly because success seems to be a pursue that is inherently about satisfying our own egos more than others.
Instinctively, we seek pleasure where ever and whenever we can. Feeling successful just feels good, really good. You know because when you won that competition, or got recognition for your work, you felt good, you truly believed you were indestructible for those fleeting moments of glory. Maybe you didn’t go as far as James Cameron and said “I am the king of the world!” after winning a load of Oscars for Titanic, but hey, I cannot even begin to think what crazy things I would have said on a similar situation.
Being successful is really a state of mind, if you truly believe you are successful, I got news for you, you are! you made it!
How fast was that? just believe you are successful and ignore whatever the world says about you or your work and you got there.
Of course, that sounds too easy and unfortunately deluding yourself only works for a couple of minutes or until you find out that thinking so did not actually add zeros to your checking account (if that is the way you measure your success).
So hereby, I present you with two pieces of practical advice that will help you achieve real success as opposed to its imaginary counterpart.
Another way of saying this is, try many things, many times, and don’t give up. Paul Graham tells us that the the most succesful entrepreneurs at YCombinator are the ones that are relentlensly resourceful, the ones that just don’t give up.
Giving up is not bad though, Paul refers to not giving up on their attitude to do anything that takes to build a successful company, which means, in many occasions, to give up on ideas or projects that just don’t go anywhere.
But here is my take. By iteration I mean to give a number of fair tries at as many things you are passionate about as possible.
Fair tries are attempts at creating something to just enough level of polish that it can be useful to someone. Being passionate about them is imperative, as building things your heart is not into, will be a waste of time. Also, imagine something you don’t enjoy becomes successful. You may find obliged to see it through, improve it, support it and this may not be fulfilling at all in the end.
I think in part, success, is just a numbers game. The beauty of iteration is that it can be guaranteed that after a bunch of attempts you will find something that works. The harsh reality is that to get to that one success, it may take dozens of experiments and many years.
So one must really enjoy the process of experimentation in order to be able to not despair after a long streak of unsuccessful attempts. In other words, if you can’t take great doses failure and rejection it will be very unlikely you succeed at anything in this world.
In my experience, I have discovered that there is a magic number of minimum tries before a sizable success, which is 1 in 10 or 10%. I have applied it to everything (selling, job hunting, candidate screening, online dating) and it turns out to be surprisingly true all the time.
When I was a door to door salesman for 4 months back in 1998, we were required to talk to at least 100 people a day because the odds of selling where 1 in 10. And to be able to make any kind of living, 10 sales a day was what you needed.
This meant you had to get 90 people rejecting you, day in, day out. Some people nicely declining your offer, a lot slamming the door on your face, a few sending their dogs after you. In 4 months, I took a lot more of rejection than the average salesman, mainly because as a recent immigrant and I did not know English well enough. My average was about 4 sales a day, so I really scraped during that time. But I was not there for the money, I took that horrendous job because I thought to myself, what better more direct way to meet Canadians and practicing English than going to each and everyone of their homes for a quick talk. Although one may say that must be one of the most masochistic ways of trying to blend into a new culture, it turned out to be a great life experience to learn about sales, people psychology, rejection, and yes, English and Canadians.
The company that ran this door to door operation was shady to say the least. It was ran like a pyramidal scheme cult.
Every morning we had these bizarre 1 hour sessions designed to lift our spirits high enough to deal with the following 8 hours of rejection. Having a great attitude was the number one rule to be able to sell, they told us. Maintaining a great attitude was the second of 8 rules actually. And to maintain a happy face for 8 hours and 90 rejections daily, ha! that sure took a lot of self delusion. But what do you know? those morning pep rallies did really work!
Those days that you were happy you sold more, those days that you were pissed that rejection got to you, your sales dropped. Funny thing, even if you had a really bad day, it was almost impossible not to sell one coupon thing a day.
Again, a numbers thing, the more tries, the more iterations, the most likely to score a sale, door to door, or at anything in life.
Door to door sales was my first job in Canada, just a couple of months after we arrived from Spain. I actually lasted on that job more than most people despite my pitiful sales numbers. Everyday was a complete different challenge, different people, different neighborhoods. I estimate I talked to about 10,000 people directly, and about 9,400 rejected the Spaniard with a crooked smile (I had missing teeth) and heavy accent that showed up to their doors unannounced.
I travelled to almost every city in British Columbia, all the way to Terrace and Dawson Creek, driving for 18 hours straight laying on the back of a semi destroyed ancient Toyota pick up truck.
I lasted so long because after a while, I surprised myself when I realized that I did not care about being rejected anymore.
I understood that rejection was part of the game, that it only meant one thing; every time I was rejected I was one door closer to my next sale. Remember this, every time I got rejected I was closer to my next sale. What a way of looking at it!
Suddenly rejection was something you were wanting to get because it was what you needed to succeed!
I think the last month selling door to door was one of the most fun times of my life. I felt I had conquered my fear of rejection, of putting myself out there. That invigorating feeling was addicting and one that I would never forget to this day.
There I was, drenched in rain, walking in shady neighborhoods, being chased by dogs, being rejected about 10 times an hour, and I felt invincible, happy, on top of the world. The only way to survive that job was to be able to dominate your natural instincts of defeat and pessimism, and once you did, wow, the only thing that compares to that feeling of accomplishment you probably have to pay or inhale it at a rave party.
Even though I was able to convince myself that rejection was “good”, getting an actual sale felt extremely good too.
But interestingly enough, not all the time. I have always suffered from the “good boy” syndrome, which is I care too much about other people and that doesn’t help much on a sales job like door to door. For example, I only felt good if the person that bought the coupons (actually similar concept as Groupon but in the real world) bought it because they could actually use it. On door to door there are three types of sales, mind manipulating, genuine value perceived, and out of pity. The top salesmen where people that were excellent at mind manipulating. Most humans have fickle minds and similar knobs and buttons, that once expertly turned and pushed can make us do or want almost anything on this earth.
At our pitch training sessions we were taught and encouraged to use these techniques. I won’t go into detail but they worked like a charm, on the right hands, not on my sloppy ones. However, sometimes I would happen to use a couple of these techniques and see how my customer mind was bent to my will. I felt awful, here I was convincing and old lady that buying my coupons was the best thing that could have happened in her life, and she believed me!.
Genuine sales are the best, you do your best to explain the product honestly, the customer sees the value, gives you 20 bucks, and out you go. Out of pity sales were, oh well, reflecting on the fact I had no selling skills, it was probably the main reason about 4 charitable souls a day bought my coupons. With me, it was not a technique but the genuine emotion I must have evoked in many of my customers. Not like the vacuum salesman that threatens to suck his brains out if the person doesn’t buy his vacuum cleaner, because if he/she doesn’t buy it, he will not have enough to feed his 6 childred and life makes no sense anymore, type of thing. I was genuinely pitiful, and that, believe it or not sells. Well, you got millions of panhandlers across the world that prove my point.
Anyway, I could write so much more about my crazy adventures door to door selling but the point is that, that experience really showed me the power of persistent iteration.
And despite 9400 rejections in 4 months, some of the 1600 non-rejections where wonderful people. Some offered me jobs, a few invited me for dinner, some shared great stories over a cup of tea.
So go ahead, go fetch those rejections with a big smile on your face, because you now know, each rejection puts you a step closer to success, guaranteed!
Strategic Speculative work
This technique has to be the most effective way to succeed I have ever experimented with.
It is very simple, spend a little bit of spare time to create something great for free for someone you admire.
Then simply give it away, for free, for nothing, just because you admire them and want to show your appreciation for their work, company, art, whatever it is you like about them. What you have done by doing in this has just screwed up with the system so much is not even funny. You have thrown a wrench in to a perfect little world where everyone is supposed to expect something in return for something. Of course, you are expecting something in return, you are expecting success in the form of recognition, exposure, leverage, introductions, work, fame, glory. But not really, you are also doing it because you love to do it and because you love their product.
The good thing is that if nothing happens, they don’t like it, well, it was a freeby so they cannot complain and second, you did not invest that much time on it so it was not a great loss anyway.
To be honest, I have only tried this once, but it worked so well that it actually is the main reason why I started Grumo Media. My experiment was simple, pick a startup I love and create a short video explaining their product. Then send them a link to it and let them have it forever, for free. That is all that took. I must say, I think I just lucked out.
I kind of wished it had worked on my 10th attempt and that would reinforce my point about iteration. The thing about numbers is that they don’t work in order, but they always work.
As you can imagine, my original plan and expectation was to fail miserably the first 9 attemtps and may be give up after the 20th. The reason why I would go over 10 it is because it might have been that there were two successes waiting for me on the teens.
The spec video was for a YCombinator startup called Hipmunk. I submitted it via their support email and eventually got to their awesome marketing dude Alexis Ohanian (also co-founder of Reddit) who happened to love it and promote it on their blog.
Actually, here is the exact email:
We love so much your service that decided to create a little video explaining Hipmunk.
Here it is -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6teBPUgz4Y8
I hope you like it,
Keep the good work!
Within a few hours Alexis contacted me and interviewed me for his blog. The following week I got 40 requests from startups all across the world to create similar videos. So many requests, I decided to create a business out of creating demo videos.
Not just demo videos, “awesome” demo videos ;p
Like I say, I kind of wish I had failed more times because I would have more stories to tell, but the gist is there.
I am sure I will keep doing this through the rest of my life. It is good for the world, for karma, for me, for everyone.
Paradoxically, giving away seems to be the most amazing way of receiving.
Giving is by no means an strategy for success I came up with. I even feel bad considering a “strategy” because that qualification kind of taints the beauty and pureness of giving.
Many others have done similar things, I have heard of animators doing free music videos for their favourite bands to gain exposure.
A great example is from a little company I followed almost from the day it was created and eventually became a very successful company, Balsamiq Mockups from Giacomo Peldi. His company has been giving thousand of free licenses to non-profits, good-doers, or anyone that asks for it with a good reason really.
Peldi’s approach to giving was not exactly designed with the purpose to obtain leverage of recognition, but to get the greatest number of people to use his new product, hoping that if they liked it they would recommend it to other people that would actually buy it. Giving was just one of Peldi’s strategies and it is hard to measure to what degree it generated sales but it certainly set in motion the same wheels that my speculative work did. There is nothing more powerful than appealing to the good nature of people because they will feel indebted to you from their most genuine selves, their hearts. Touching people like that is priceless, and if you are lucky, well, only good things will come your way.
So go ahead and do great things for the world and expect nothing in return. Most likely all you will get is a simple thank you, but if you add some persistent iteration to the mix, oh boy! get ready to succeed left and right!
(This tip also comes with a grumo lifetime guarantee.)
Do you think I am full of it? do you have any similar stories applying these concepts? what are your own tips to accelerate success?
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