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8 long years to overnight success - $10k in a week

It took me 8 long years to get some level of recognition!
I know, $10k it ain’t much (it's not a whopping "$10,000,000 kind of success), but it's honest work.
I'm really proud of this one.
It feels like I've just unlocked a new chapter of my life

Note: this is quite a long post

Intro

8 years is a lot of time. And it was horribly hard sometimes. BUT if I think about it now, I couldn't skip the lessons I've learned along the way. But it doesn't mean you should repeat them.
So brace yourself, and learn from my own failures!
Don't waste another 8 years of your life!

Steve Jobs once said "You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future”

The Story

Lesson 1 (the biggest one)

  • Don't postpone your decisions. Every decision you make shapes the reality you live in - Postponing your decision is the decision itself ;)

Chapter 1 - The Big Leap

Lessons:

  • Don’t be afraid to pivot until the results satisfy you.
  • Keep hustling until you achieve what you desired

In 2013 I've just finished university in Poland, and moved to England.
I gave myself 1 year to collect money to start my own business - I didn't have any business idea at the moment.
Just because I had limited time, and no previous job experience in my field (marketing), I wanted to work in temporary jobs - wages in England were 4x higher than in Poland at that time.

In England I moved 2 times - From a small village (King's Lynn) to London, due to bigger job opportunities
In London, I've changed job a few times, whenever I realized there's no chance for me to get past the minimum salary. I was willing to work 300+ hours a month, so I knew the opportunity will finally show up. And it did!
I had found a restaurant in a decent place, with a decent salary and the ability to work 200+h/month.

In the meantime, I've tried my first side hustle - Translating menus to the Polish language (Poles are the second biggest minority in London).
It didn't work out. Within a week I went through about 100 restaurants and got only 1 client.

Chapter 2 - The Journey

Lessons

  • There will be no better time than NOW
  • Life takes obstacles away whenever you take a leap of faith

After 1 year of living in England, I realized now it's the best time to travel the world - No girlfriend, no kids, no attachments = Let the free spirit explore the earth! The business can wait.

I went back to Poland for a month and then started my journey.
I've hitchhiked through Europe (Germany, Netherland, Belgium, France, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia) then used the trans-Siberian train to get through Russia and Mongolia to China.
Then I've hitchhiked through China to HongKong, and used a plane to get to Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu).

During the way, visited the places I always wished to see, slept with homeless people, and got new friends.

Imgur
This pic shows only the Asian part of the journey

Chapter 3 - Malaysia

Lessons

  • You can get what you wish for if you don't stop hustling.
  • Reach out to people. People are awesome!

When I arrived in Malaysia my budget was crying for help - I started my journey with $4,000, and now all I had left was about $500.

I figured, this is the time to earn some money! Unfortunately, temporary jobs there could only provide about $300/month, which wasn't motivating.

I started to meet other travelers and local people. I was sure to always announce a very clear message "I'm looking to start a creative project! I don't know what and how, but I know it's going to be awesome!"

2 days later I was on to something. I met a friend, whose uncle had a friend working in a government on a manager position.
We've came up with an idea to create an amateur-like, gopro, promotional video for this region. It took us 3 months to set up the whole thing - government administration...

I've stayed 7 months in Malaysia, working on a project, traveling through the most amazing places in SE Asia, making new friends, and having the best time of my life.

Sounds good? Unfortunately, the budget only covered the project costs.

So me and my friend started to offer our video services to travel agencies.
When we already booked 3 projects, this happened. An earthquake struck the region, for the first time in 100 years.

This whole situation gave us chills. During the time of the earthquake, we were supposed to be filming on Malaysian sacred mountain (Mount Kinabalu). People who stayed the same place we were supposed to, died...

The earthquake made many travel companies go bankrupt overnight. Our projects were lost. After 7 months I decided to go back to Poland.

Chapter 4 - Nat Geo

Lessons:

  • Don't wait for being discovered, reach out to the media
  • Make use of your by-products (there are always by-products!)

The by-product of my 1 year-long journey was a 4-minute long video.
At first, I've just published it on youtube and shared it with my friends.

Then I reached out to National Geographic, and it worked! I've got featured in the Polish National Geographic Traveler!

This single thing got me realized you can get featured in the biggest, most prestigious magazines if you have a cool story to tell, and simply ASK.

Imgur

Chapter 5 - The search

Lessons:

  • Rushing doesn't lead you anywhere. Give yourself some time to explore the subject
  • Life begins outside of your comfort zone - I know it’s cliché, so here’s my version -> Do the things that you really want to do, especially when they frighten you. That's where you grow
  • Find the one problem you want to solve and STICK TO IT! It’s very tempting to start a new, great idea, every 2 months, but this is the road to nowhere.
  • Timing is everything!

When I came back to Poland I promised myself I'll figure out how to start a business.
Unfortunately, I was rushing...
I was rushing every, single time. I gave myself max 2 months to develop a project, and then if it didn't earn enough money, I'd just abandon it.

These are some of the projects business and non-business related that I have undertaken during these last few years.

  1. Me and my team won the Polish part of the competition Red Bull: Can You MAke it? 2016 with this video and the Pareto rule (20/80) - We found what worked and went all in

The competition itself was quite fascinating. You had a week to travel through Europe using Red Bull cans as the only currency. You had no money and no private cellphone. Along the way you needed to visit at least 6 checkpoints and do insane amount of missions

  1. Pokemon GO app - At the beginning of the Pokemon GO hype I've partnered with a developer friend to create an app that would help people playing the game.

We got only 10k downloads. Similar apps got millions...
What happened? Timing.
My friend was quite busy and made the app within a month. Every marketer aware of RTM (real-time marketing) knows that 3 weeks is waaay too late to the party.

  1. I've joined theatre - My whole life I was petrified of performing on stage, so I've joined one of these weird, mind-boggling, psychedelic-like theatre troupes. This was strange, yet awesome

  2. Comedy improv - many entrepreneurs I admire also did comedy improv (Garry Tan, Michael Dubin - CEO of Dollar Shave Club). There are just too many benefits from this. I recommend it to anyone

  3. I've become a Nordic fisherman for 2 months - It was an experience similar to the one from the National Geographic series Deadliest Catch. There were 2 instances where I almost died:

  • got almost tied up in the fishnet and pulled into the water
  • the rope from the net, that wasn't supposed to ever break, broke and sliced the whole roof, inches from me (2 seconds before I was in the middle of it).
    Remember the opening scene from the movie Ghost Ship? Something similar happened to us. Fortunately, none was injured. But it got all of us to rethink our lives.
  1. A few other failed projects - Dropshipping, FADs, Instagram, and many more...
  2. Freelance marketing services

Chapter 6 - The work

Lessons

  • Work on something what feels like play to you, but looks like a lot of work to others - Naval Ravikant
  • World chaos can be an opportunity for you to change your life
  • Plan your work ahead

COVID 19 struck! The world was in chaos!
But if there's one lesson to be learned from the economic crisis in 2008, it's that the crisis can be an amazing time for innovation.
Here are a few startups founded during the 2008 crisis: WhatsApp, Groupon, Uber, Slack, and many more...

The first lockdown got me thinking. Maybe now it's the time to start something that I'm truly interested in.

I've started to search for viral marketing case studies, to see the most interesting marketing ideas - Internet was empty...

There was not a single place showcasing such things. Even if there was an article about a single case, it was horrible. Just fluff, no useful strategies, no tools, no psychology.

This was absurd! Marketing and viral marketing especially, is all about psychology! I was on to something.
I was selecting these topics for years! People were always asking me where did I get those viral marketing case studies I was referring to from! And I just knew them, because I was always looking for them. I considered them the most creative marketing examples. If you could learn from someone - learn from the best!

I've started my paid newsletter in June 2020.
I offered 12 (now 8) viral marketing case studies per month. Every study was a "Danny DeVito-size, with, viral & growth hack strategies, viral tools, viral psychology, just meat, no fluff"

5 months went by, and not much success.
1,500 subs and $600 in 5 months was definitely a failure.

I was writing all the time (and I hate writing) and didn't even have the time to promote it.

I needed to add something extra to my product. My newsletter wasn't promoting itself, even though my articles were "great", "awesome", "the best thing I've read in years", at least that kind of emails I was receiving from time to time - articles aren't sexy.

Imgur

Chapter 7 - Another pivot

Lessons

  • You can finish your project much faster than you assume
  • Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education - Mark Twain
  • Play to your strongest traits
  • Look for an early feedback
  • Sell before you build

For a few years now, I've been postponing creating a database of cognitive biases, principles, and models that you could use in your product and marketing. I wanted to do it for my own purposes only.

I've been deeply interested in Psychology for over a decade now. I was considering studying Psychology 9 years ago, but I chose Business instead.

But now life made a circle. I could get into something I was passionate about half of my life! This was amazing!

And it was in line with the Ikigai concept!
Imgur

In my mind, it would get another 6 months to finish it, but I said "screw it, let's do it".

During the Black Friday event, I've announced to my readers that I'm going to publish the list of 150 cognitive biases, principles & models as an addition to my premium newsletter.

I got few sales!

I loved this project, but I knew there was something missing there. SKETCHES! I had an idea to make every bias, principle, or model also as a sketch.

I knew this was a good idea, but I needed to verify it (I didn't have the money for all 150 sketches). I hired quickly a freelancer to draw 5 sketches and asked for feedback on Facebook groups.

BOOM! $2k within 2 weeks!
Imgur

Chapter 8 - Launch

Lessons

  • Planning fallacy is EVERYWHERE - Planning fallacy describes our tendency to underestimate how much time we will need to complete any given task
  • Your hard work will finally pay off when you build with purpose

Even though I worked 330+h in December I didn't make it on time and I've launched Brainiac on Jan 11th.

On Wednesday, January 19th I've launched a campaign on Product Hunt:

  • I've prepared my friends to vote
  • I've created a GIF as a thumbnail - you can get free high-quality GIFs here,
  • I've prepared an intro video,
  • I've added a solid first comment,
  • I gave 20% off Promo Code to the PH community

1700 votes, #Product of the day/week, #4th Product of the month

  • 20k websites visits
  • $10k in sales within a week
    Imgur

Chapter 9 - aftermath

Lessons

  • People don't buy products. They buy emotions - Garry Tan
  • Timing is the king
  • The loss of momentum is hard to get back
    Product Hunt launch went beyond my wildest imagination. Actually, it went too well...
    I had to change my business administration - Administration and taxes in Poland are the only thing here that makes me want to move to another country
    It took me 1 month to fix this.

Other than that. What do I think I succeeded at Product Hunt?

Timing
“Awareness” is one of the main themes in our society right now. And probably will only develop further within the next 10+ years.
People are more aware of the environment, social structures, mental well-being (look at the rise of yoga, psychedelics, apps like calm, etc).

Companies move from being soulless to being more human - best example Elon Musk and Ryan Reynolds, where they pump up the value of their companies using their personal brands.

My list got people better understand timeless principles that anyone can use to create better, people-oriented products and marketing.
And that's what I'm aiming for.

The momentum after PH launch died already, but there are still a few things that happened after that:

  • got into a collab with a Youtuber,
  • got invited into the podcast,
  • got featured by Trends.co community newsletter.
    Imgur

Chapter 10 - Conclusion & What next?

Lessons

  • to be continued...

You might argue this last 8 years didn't look so bad!
Well, I didn't cover the full story, of course. These are just the highlights. They look good only now
Back then:

  • I got many moments where I lived $1/day, because I didn't have any money
  • Nothing went as planned,
  • I was lost almost all the time.

BUT, it all lead me to the place I'm now.
And I encourage every single one of you to take a leap, stick to 1 thing at a time, and reach out to people - people are awesome!


If you wish to follow me, I'm here on Twitter
And if you're interested you can check out my platform here

  1. 2

    Great story Michal. Thanks for sharing.

  2. 1

    Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing

  3. 1

    AAA++ Post! Michal, you truly went through the Heroes' Journey and killed the dragon! Kudos, dropping a follow :)

  4. 1

    Great story.
    Wish you a luck in your business!

  5. 1

    Amazing story - thanks you for sharing and congratulations!!

  6. 1

    Inspiring, thank you for sharing. Excited to see where you'll take your product.

    1. 1

      Thank you! Only the future will tell! Hoping for the best xD

  7. 1

    So proud of your journey.
    Thank you for sharing

  8. 1

    Amazing story! I learnt a few lessons just by reading your story. Thanks!

    1. 1

      Glad you've found it useful!

  9. 1

    Congratulations on your success! They say it's about the journey but from your experience, it's also about the perseverance.

    1. 1

      Thanks! Yep, doing your own thing was my main theme ;)

  10. 1

    You, my friend, have surely lived!

    When I graduated college as a marketer, I got straight into a full-time job and never gave myself the time to travel or experience life. Now, I have a solid foundation, but physically no opportunity to go and experience the world.

    I wish I followed the same path as yourself.

    Congrats on the milestone. Keep shipping 🎉

    1. 1

      Thank you!
      Well, it all depends. I'm not a motivational speaker, BUT if I was, I'd say something like this "you're never too old to be a kid again!"

  11. 1

    Quite cool! Thanks for sharing :)

  12. 1

    Congrats! Great story and a great job on your business! It's encouraging to hear that a fellow gdynianin (I guess) made it :D . Keep it up.

    1. 1

      Hahah, dzieki! Do zobaczenia gdzies na wzgorzu!

  13. 1

    Gratuluje Michale! Pięknie się czytało, gratuluje odwagi i dziękuje za motywację:)

    1. 1

      Haha, nie spodziewalem sie tu Polakow! Dzieki i powodzenia!

  14. 1

    Smart consistency always pays off!. Great story.

    1. 1

      That's what I believe in! Thanks!

  15. 1

    Great story, thank you and congrats Michal! Gives me a lot more faith in taking an interesting route to success building marketing products.

    1. 1

      Thank you! Keep on doing your thing!

  16. 1

    Thanks for sharing Michal!

  17. 1

    Amazing story, and congrats Michal! :)

  18. 1

    Michal, great story! Really happy that things have finally started to work out for you, seems to have been quite a journey! Can't wait to see how your business will grow from now on

    1. 2

      Thank you! Indeed, it's been a journey! This post was a really good reminder about all the good stuff. Honestly, at the beginning of writing this, I only thought about the bad things that happened. Along the way I realized, it wasn't that bad after all!

  19. 1

    What an amazing life! Thanks for sharing and making me smile this morning :)

  20. 1

    Wow, what a story! Congrats on succeeding finally!

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