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John Lee Dumas talks to us about what it takes to create, start and grow a business

Jul 24, 2017

John Lee Dumas is the host of EOFire, an award winning Podcast where he interviews today’s most successful Entrepreneurs 7-days a week. JLD has grown EOFire into a multi-million dollar a year business with over 1500 interviews and 1.5 million monthly listens. He’s the author of The Freedom Journal and The Mastery Journal, two of the most funded publishing campaigns of all time on Kickstarter. All the magic happens at EOFire.com!

 

To listen in to our conversation:

You can listen to the full interview on iTunes click here

You can listen to the full interview on Stitcher click here

You can listen to the full interview right here on this page click here

The full transcript is now available here:

Ingrid:                     Hi John and thanks so much for joining us. I actually feel like you and I have been having a long term relationship … a medium term relationship over a long distance. Sorry, I was going to say long distance, medium term relationship. Because I have actually been listening EOFire since almost the beginning.

John:                        Oh, my God. You’re amazing.

Ingrid:                     Well, not every episode, I must confess.

John:                        Okay. I take it back. You’re just kind of cool.

Ingrid:                     I’m just kind of cool, but I do remember those early days and you actually inspired my podcast, which took a while to get off the ground while I found something to podcast about, but I have followed you since the very beginning.

John:                        Thank you.

Ingrid:                     I feel like we’ve been in this for a while. Okay. So, my first question is, look, you work with a lot of entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs and I work with mostly aspiring entrepreneurs, and the stats are pretty scary but … it’s four of five fail or 90% don’t make it or … whatever they are, they’re around that sort of number.

My question for you is from what you’ve seen and what you know, what is it that makes the difference between someone as they’re getting started? Why are some people successful and some are not?

John:                        It’s one word and it’s persistence. It’s those that are willing and able to persist and I use the word ‘able to’ because we’re not all in a position that we’re able to persist. Some people have created a life where they have bills. They have mortgages. They have kids. They have car payments. They have this, they have that, and I totally get it. I mean, I was heading in that direction my whole life too. Fortunately, I was able to launch my entrepreneurial journey before I got there, but I was headed in that direction. I mean, that’s the direction of life. But the people that I see, or the commonality that have success, are just able to persist and willing to persist, and just having that tenacity to get knocked down, try again. Like, Ingrid, you mentioned, you’ve been trying to get this podcast off the ground for a while, and I was in the same way. I mean, my podcast was supposed to be launched well before it actually ended up getting launched because I was having those same struggles, and fears, and doubts and life happenings that were going on.

So, people that are persistent and that have tenacity at just getting knocked down, making mistake, failing, then getting back up and trying again, those are the people that were around back when I started EOFire and are still here again. It’s really cool to see.

Ingrid:                     Thank you. That’s wonderful. My next question is what has been your most effective marketing technique and why was that most effective?

John:                        My most effective marketing technique, by a long shot, was engaging with my listeners one-on-one. There’s a great quote by Brad Feld who is the founder of Y Combinator, which is like the Silicon Valley. So, everybody’s just like, “Oh, he must only believe in scaling and leveraging and serving a million people.” And he’s famous for saying, “Do things that don’t scale. Do things that don’t scale.” And what he meant by that was, hey, when you first start off, you have to do things that don’t scale. His advice to the Airbnb founders back when they were like, “Yeah, we have a couple of people in New York City using our product, but nobody else.” He’s like, “Go to New York. Talk to them.” And they were like, “Well, that’s not scalable.” He’s like, “I know. When you become big, you’re not going tobe able to do that. So, do it now when you have the time.”

So, they went out to New York City under the ruse that they were going to take pictures of the people’s apartments to improve them and they got into people’s homes and they were able to ask the questions of like, “What do you like about Airbnb? What do you dislike?” And they got this key feedback that allowed them to grow what Airbnb is now today. And that’s what I did at the early stages of EOFire. People would say, “John, I just heard episode four of your show. It’s really cool.” I’d be like, “Oh, thank you. Would you be willing to jump on a quick Skype call?” And they’d be like, “What? Like, really?” I’m like, “Yeah.” And we’d jump on a call and I would ask them. I would engage with them and I would ask them what they’d liked about the show, what they didn’t like about the show, because the show wasn’t amazing day one.

I was struggling as a host. My show was struggling as a show. Every master was a disaster and that’s how everything starts in life, and I had to learn from my listeners. From those first few really raving fans of people that are like, “John, even though the fact that you’re not a good host, that your show’s not that good, I love it. It’s great.” I had to contact them and talk to them and see what they liked, what they didn’t like, and improve it upon that. Do that one-on-one engagement. The things that didn’t scale and that, Ingrid, is the best marketing that I ever could’ve done. Best use of my time.

Ingrid:                     John, that’s wonderful advice for the people listening to this podcast. That’s terrific. Thank you. Now, I know a lot of people look at the overnight successes, and you mentioned Airbnb there and it looks like, wow, all of a sudden they’re everywhere and they’re super successful.

How long does it take to be an overnight success?

John:                        The kind of the easy answer to that is 10 years, because that’s kind of the phrase. “I spent 10 years becoming an overnight success.” And what’s kind of funny about that is like that’s exactly the amount of time it took me. I graduated college when I was 22 years old and 10 years later, I had my first real success with Entrepreneur on Fire. So, I was 32 years old when I kind of had that initial success. I never would’ve been able to launch Entrepreneur on Fire when I was 22, when I was 24, when I was 28. I just didn’t have the life experiences to that point to understand what it took to run a successful business. It took my time in the army as an officer. It took my time in corporate finance with John Hancock. It took time even with me in law school, for the short time I was in law school, and same thing in real estate, and the trials and tribulations and successes and failures that I had to launch a successful Entrepreneur on Fire.

So, yes, for all intents and purposes, Entrepreneur on Fire was successful from day one, but me, the person behind it, I was 32 years old. So, it wasn’t overnight. It was building up to that point. That’s what I would definitely say is … it’s going to differ for every single person. For me, it happened to be kind of randomly spot on that 10 years, but for some people it’s going to take 2 years. It’s going to12 years. It’s going to take 16 years. Whatever it might be. But it’s going to take time. That’s the key thing. It is going to take time. Any success story that you go back and start to unpack those layers, they have a story. They have a history. They have a big failure. They have a lot of struggle in their past.

Ingrid:                     Thank you. It’s fascinating. I was listening to somebody recently talking about … they teach jujitsu and martial arts. And it takes a long time to become a black belt. There’s a certain amount of diligence and dedication to the craft and the discipline to actually become that and he said he has people coming who want to do it in six months. This need for people to have it now is … yeah. Persistence and time. What for you, John … and you’ve talked about the journey that you’ve had and things go well and things don’t go well.

What’s been one of your biggest business disappointments and how did you overcome that?

John:                        My first and biggest business disappointment was back in 2013, when I wanted to launch what I thought was going to be my kind of flagship community and my flagship product, which was called Pod Camp and that was going to be something where I actually taught people how to podcast through video tutorials. But after they were finished with that recording, what did they do? They were going to send the MP3 to me. Me and my team were going to edit it. We were going to add an intro. Add an outro. Upload it to our media hosts. We were going to host the file. Submit it to the directories and just kind of let the show go and then keep doing that every time they had a new episode.

I was like, “I think $150 a month sounds like a good price point for that.” So, I had no clue about pricing. I had no clue about how much work it was going to be. I really thought that everybody was going to want this, because everybody was asking me, “John, I want a podcast but it’s just I don’t have the time.” I was like, “What if I just make it so easy that people just have to do the recording side of things and I take care of everything else.” So, I got my team together. I launched it and I had two people sign up and very quickly one person asked for a refund, so then I had one person. And I thought it was a big failure and it ended up being the biggest blessing because if I had had like a hundred people sign up, number one, it would’ve been a disaster because I had so underestimated the amount of time that each one had to take. And, number two, the one person that remained was such a pain in the booty, and I’m so glad that they were because they taught me that this was the wrong business model.

But they would say, “Oh, John, on minute 32, you missed an ‘um’. Can you go back and take that ‘um’ out before you publish it?” And it was just like, wow. Like this is not a model that I want or really can do. It’s just … it’s not the kind of business that I want to be running. I refunded every penny and apologised and said, “Hey, this is just something that is not going to work for me and we’re going to try something different,” and that’s kind of where I did some more deep thinking and came up with a concept for Podcasters’ Paradise, which was the opposite of that. It was a huge success and now 4 years later, over 3000 members. We have over $4 million dollars of revenue that’s been generated from Podcasters’ Paradise alone and more coming in every single day. So, it’s just like that was my biggest disappointment and my biggest failure early on but it turned into something great. That’s why you have to take those lemons and then turn them into lemonade.

Ingrid:                     And $4 million dollars worth of lemonade. That’s pretty good lemonade.

John:                        Yummy.

Ingrid:                     Indeed. Now, John, you and your family are heading out here to Australia and New Zealand, and I know you’re going to be away for quite sometime. Your business will continue while you’re away because you’ve got people in your team really well trained. Everyone’s got their processes.

My question is, how do you manage a team in different time zones? How does that work? How do you make that work for you when you’re all in different time zones. Your clients, your customers, your team.

John:                        So, everybody needs to know their roles. Everybody needs to know what systems they’re responsible for. What automations they have to keep their finger on the pulse of. We just have this very simple system. We use Asana, which is a great free tool, which is for management tracking, where people have check-ins. And they check in on their schedule, on their timeframe, they check out and they let it … the check-ins revolve around what they’re going to accomplish for the day and their checkouts revolve around what they actually accomplished during the day. So, that with a quick glance, I can see what people are working on, how they’re accomplishing it, what struggles they’re having. They can ask me questions, and I can get to those as soon as I’m back online because we have … much to your point … people in the Philippines. We have people in Pakistan. We have people in the United States, but different time zones within the United States, like one person’s in Seattle, another person’s in New York. Kate and I are in Puerto Rico.

Something like Asana really helps us create these systems and have these check-ins and processes and automations in place, and the reality is when something is not working right, you find out about it pretty quickly and you say, “Okay, let’s do something investigation. Let’s find out what went wrong and let’s make sure it doesn’t happen.” So, systems may fail in our business once but they definitely don’t fail twice.

Ingrid:                     Yeah. So, Asana’s a big tip and the systems and processes. And I’m a systems process queen, so I think that’s what runs the business.

John:                        Yeah, let me jump in here, because what’s really critical is when you build this team with the systems and processes make sure that you’re actually creating a video tutorial library of the systems and processes so that if somebody leaves and somebody else has to come back in to replace them, it’s not you having to like teach this PhD course and what they need to do. They can just watch those video tutorials and refer back to them as they’re learning along the way. That’s critical.

Ingrid:                     Yeah, that is a critical part of it too. Thanks for jumping in there, John. That’s terrific. Now, it’s a long way from Puerto Rico to Australia and I don’t know how many planes you have to catch to do that, but what are you going to be reading?

John:                        Just two.

Ingrid:                     Oh, just two? Oh, that’s terrific.

John:                        Yeah.

Ingrid:                     Which way are you coming?

John:                        Over Europe.

Ingrid:                     What book, or books might you be reading or listening to … because I know you’re a fan of Audible … on that long journey?

John:                        Yeah, since it’s a few months away, it’s kind of to be determined because I’m a pretty voracious reader. So, I definitely go through a lot of books.

But things that I’m reading right now that I’m really enjoying are Wild One … or, sorry, Wild Ride, which is the Uber story. A very fascinating, fascinating story. Another one is Deep Work by Cal Newport. That’s a book that I’ve actually gone back to a few times because I’ve really enjoyed just kind of solidifying in myself the need to take a step back. To meditate, to do journaling. To give myself the space to do deep focus work. That’s the point in my career where I really want to be spending my time on things that are in impactful. Like I’m writing a book right now. That’s going to be meaningful because if I write the right book, just like Tim Ferriss did a decade ago with 4-Hour Workweek, it can impact people for a long, long time. So, really, working on projects that are really meaningful and that’s why Deep Work is a book that I kind of go back from time to time.

Honestly, I love the non-fiction … sorry, the fictions as well. Because for me, it kind of gives me that kind of break and that relaxation and it definitely helps me sleep at night. I always read fiction as I’m falling asleep at night. And a book that I’m reading right now, I’m not sure if you would’ve heard of this, Ingrid, because this is a Canadian book. But it’s called Anne of Green Gables.

Ingrid:                     Of course, I’ve heard of it. I probably read that when I was Anne’s age.

John:                        Yeah.

Ingrid:                     Yeah, very much a popular book. My parents were Irish, so I grew up reading those lovely old classics. Are you enjoying it?

John:                        Nice. I’m really enjoying it. I mean, this is … the first time I’m actually reading the book but I watched the movie countless times.

Ingrid:                     It’s delightful, isn’t it?

John:                        Yeah, it’s so good.

Ingrid:                     Thank you, John. And one final question, please. So, someone comes to you … and you’ve covered some of this, I know, but if there’s anything else that you would say to someone that’s thinking about starting a business?

They come to you and they say, “I’ve got this idea. I’m going to start this business.” What would you say to them?

John:                        I would say to them, “How many people …” Well, first off, I would say, “Who is your perfect client for this business? Your avatar, your perfect listener, viewer, reader, client, customer? Like who’s that perfect person? Describe them in depth.” And if they couldn’t describe them in depth, then I would say, “Go back to the drawing board and create that person and then come back to me,” and then once they were able to really in depth talk about that individual, then I would say, “How many of those people have you talked to? How many times have you gone out and had a conversation with somebody who is very, very similar to your avatar, that one perfect person for your business, for your podcast, for your video blog?” And that would be critical because you have to know who you’re speaking to, who you’re trying to resonate with in incredible detail and depth, and then you have to go out in the real world and find those people and prove some hypotheses that you might have.

Ingrid:                     That’s fantastic. John, thanks so much for your time. I know the people listening to this podcast are going to get incredible value from what you’ve said. I personally have gained from what you’ve said, even though … I know everything that you said is true and I just thank you so much for your time. When you come to Sydney, have a fantastic time. It’s where I live. Have a great time and thanks so much for your time this morning.

John:                        Ingrid, thank you. It was a pure pleasure.

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