Whenever you hear the startup stories of products and services, it’s always a sugar-coated, goody gum drop story. You rarely get to hear the not-so-great side of things, the mistakes, the second-guessing.
In this series, you get to hear what’s happening behind the stage. How—and why—we started the article writing course; how we decided to go to the Netherlands and do a workshop; and how we launched several of our products without a sales page.
The startup stories episode is about:
Part 1: How the Article Writing Course started
Part 2: Why we chose the Netherlands for our workshop
Part 3: Black Belt Presentation Story
“This transcript hasn’t been checked for typos, so you may well find some. If you do, let us know and we’ll be sure to fix them.”
Billy Joel: I dreamt the song. I dreamt the melody, not the words. I had a dream, and then I remember waking up in the middle of the night and going, “This is a great idea for a song,” and going back to sleep, and waking up, and not remembering what I dreamt and going, “What was that? I had a really good idea, a really good idea, and then I forgot.”
In a couple of weeks later, I’m in a business meeting talking to accountants or lawyers, some kind of boring stuff, and the dream reoccurs to me right at that moment because my mind drifted off from hearing numbers and legal jargon, and I just drifted off. Boom, it came right back into my head. I said, “I have to go. I have to go right now. I think I have an idea for a song,” so the accountants and lawyers were, “Go, go, go. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, go.”
I ran home, and I started playing the theme that had reoccurred. On my way home, I was thinking, “Okay. How am I going to remember this? Da, da, da, da. Da, da. Don’t be crazy. Don’t be stupid.” They’re called “[bail out lyrics 00:01:34],” but you have to use them to remember the notes, remember the theme you’re saying that you came up with. I got home, and I ended up writing it all in one sitting pretty much about … It took me maybe about … I don’t know, two or three hours to write the lyrics. I probably reshaped them a little bit in the studio, but yeah. I remember writing that very well. It was a dream that reoccurred, which happens a lot on me.
What you were listening to is the backstory of Billy Joel and The Stranger.
As I was listening to this on my walk yesterday, I thought, “This is a good idea. This is an idea where I can talk about the backstory of a product, a course, and a workshop.” I can bring it to life to let you know what’s the backstory instead of just hearing the success story. The reason why I thought it was so cool was my niece, Marsha, and I, we watched the series on BBC by David Attenborough, and the thought that gets us really excited is when they tell us the backstory, how they started, the trouble they run into, and I hope to bring some of that excitement into you all listening today by telling you the backstory about a course, a workshop, and a book series. Let’s start off with the first one, which is the course, and let’s deal with the article writing course.
StartUp Stories: Part 1:
We’re going back to 2005. In 2005, there was no Article Writing Course.
In fact, there was no plan to have an article writing course. You see, in the year 2000, I was writing an article maybe a week. I would struggle over it for one or three days, and then eventually, get it corrected and edited, and then finally, it would get published. By 2003, I started up 5000bc. For some reason, I promised the members at that time that I would write five articles a week. Did they care that I wrote five articles a week? I don’t know, but that’s what I promised, so that’s what I did. Because I did that, I started to write every single day, and my article writing got quicker and better as the years ticked along.
By 2005, I was pretty sure that anyone could do what I did, which is sit down, work it a few years, and then you could write good articles. Did I think there was a demand for an article writing course? No, I didn’t think there was a demand for an article writing course. So then, why announce an article writing course? What we decided was that we’re going to take a chance. We’re going to put up a sales page, and we don’t really care if anybody signs up this year, but it would be like an advertisement for the next year. That was our goal, to have an advertisement for the coming year, and the article writing course filled up.
That was a big surprise, and if there’s one thing that is streaming through this entire backstory, it’s this factor of surprise. Now we have all the strategy at Psychotactics, but surprise seems to jump up at every point in time, so there we are. We have signed up all these people for the article writing course. There’s only one problem. The problem is there are no notes. The problem is there was no audio. What are we going to do? What I did was I conducted the entire course through teleconferences and forums. There were no notes, and there was no audio, and the clients knew it, but they were still keen to the course.
When you look at the article writing course, the sales page today, one of the testimonials, that really long, detailed testimonial, it’s from the very first course. It is from the course where we had none of the stuff ready, where we weren’t prepared mentally for it, but we knew what we were doing. Even back then, we knew what we were doing, and we went ahead. Surprise, surprise. It turned out fine. Since then, we’ve had courses in 2006, 2007, and then we got a little greedy.
We started to do several courses, so we did … In one year, we did two courses simultaneously, so 25 people in one course, 25 people in the other course. Then, later on the year, we did 25 people and another 25 people, so 100 people went through that article writing course in that year, and it killed me. It was too much to handle because I’m there all the time in the article writing course, and if you write and tweak your articles several times a day, then I will be back telling you what to do, how to do. It’s pretty hands-on, and I had to learn from that lesson.
I had to learn to space out the article writing course, so now, we have it just once a year, and sometimes, we don’t even have it for a few years like in 2013, we had the course, and then the next one was in 2015. If you want to take the jest of the backstory of the article writing course and put it into a nutshell, it is that we were surprised. We were surprised that it would turn out like it did. We were so surprised that we had to now deliver the course, and we didn’t have notes, but we did it our way anyway.
Finally, the fact that we overdid it, and then had to pull back, and these are the lessons that we had from the article writing course. It’s one of the most fascinating courses for me because there’s so much depth to writing. Writing is not just a factor of, “Hey, let me string these words together.” It is communication. Once you can write, you can speak. You can do a lot of other things based on the structure of writing. To me, the article writing course is like you can’t do without this course, and yet, back in 2005, I thought, “Who would need a course like that?”
I was wrong. Surprise, surprise.
Part 2: Psychotactics Netherlands Workshop
This takes us to our second surprise, and that is the workshop in Netherlands. Around the year 2011 I think, we decided to go to the Netherlands. Why did we decide to go to the Netherlands? For one, we started getting a lot of subscribers from the Netherlands, and we thought, “How are these subscribers coming in?” We went online, and we found that a lot of our products, especially the Brain Audit, and the website master class, and several other products were being pirated. Where were they being pirated the most? In the Netherlands.
We decided that there were so many customers that were buying products from the Netherlands, and there were so many people that were pirating from the Netherlands that somehow we need to go to the Netherlands, and so we decided to go to Amsterdam. Now, the good thing about the Amsterdam trip is that I’d already done the Brain Audit workshop in the US. I’d done the Brain Audit workshop in Auckland, New Zealand, and so I had the page ready. I just had to activate the page, and then send it out to the list.
Again, we weren’t expecting a thunderous response. What we did was we set up the page, we sent out the email, and we went for a morning walk. By the time we got back, 7 people have signed up, and that took us totally by surprise. We were expecting some people to show up from different parts of Europe, but 90% of the people that showed up were from the Netherlands itself, and this was a really good lesson, and this is the lesson that we’ve learned other companies use as well.
There is a rumour that Netflix follows the same strategy. They look at these sites where they’re streaming movies and series, and they see the series and the movies that are the most popular on the pirate sites, and they decide, “Okay, that’s what we’re going to put on Netflix.” Because it’s already popular, and that’s what it told us. It told us that the Brain Audit, and the website master class, and the copyrighting class, they were already popular, so there were people that were buying it, good clients, and there were the not so good clients who were pirating it.
Instead of getting mad at the not so good ones, we decided to work with the good ones, and we decided to have the Netherlands workshop. It went really well. Amsterdam, of course, is beautiful. It’s wonderful to walk around Amsterdam, so we had an outstanding workshop in the Netherlands, but it was a surprise. What this is teaching us is that we have all the strategy, but there will be a surprise, and this takes us to our third part, which is about a book series, which is the Black Belt Presentation Series.
Part 3: Black Belt Presentation Story
One of our favourite places in New Zealand is Nelson, and Nelson is on the northern tip of the South Island, and it’s got the Abel Tasman Park. It’s a wonderful place to go, but one of the reasons why we go there is food. We love our food, and there is this restaurant, which is sitting right on the edge of the bay, and it’s called the “Boat Shed.” Now, at the Boat Shed, you get this fabulous view, but you also get this fabulous food, and they have a regular a la carte menu and a trust-the-chef.
Trust-the-chef is as you’d expect, the chef decides what you’re going to eat tonight, and they put it in front of you. You have no idea what it’s going to be. Every time we go to Nelson, we go to the Boat Shed, and every time we go to the Boat Shed, we have a trust-the-chef, so what’s the business application of trust-the-chef? We got back to Auckland, and I wanted to write a book on presentations. I love presentations. I love to make presentations, and I love the structure of presentations.
When I looked at all the books out there, they weren’t covering it like the way I wanted to cover it, so I decided to write a series on presentations. In reality, there were 2 problems. The first is the books weren’t written, and the second is that there was no sales page. I didn’t have any time for the sales page, so what I did was I decided to use the Boat Shed’s philosophy of trust-the-chef.
I wrote an email. I said, “I’m writing a book series on presentations, and it’s going to cover 3 elements. The first is, how do you design your presentation so it looks absolutely stunning, absolutely yummy? How do you have 200, or 300, or 500 slides, and the client doesn’t even know? They think they’ve just been through 25 slides? How do you make every one of those slides work for you in a way that’s amazing?” That was the first part of the book or rather the first book.
The second part was the structure of the presentation. How do you get the presentation to flow from one end to the other, so it’s absolutely seamless, and then you have these summaries? Pretty much like you’re listening on this podcast. You have a structure, and what is that structure? That’s what the second book was all about. Finally, it was about the crowd, the audience. What do you do with the audience that enables you to get their attention, to keep their attention?
I felt that was very critical because you can have a great presentation, you can have great slides, but if you don’t know what to do with the crowd, how to get them to do what you want them to do, then you’re not going to get the results that you’re looking for. So, all of these dreams, all of these plans, but there’s no sales page, and we just send out email. We said, “The book costs about $200. If you would like to get a refund because you find it useless at the end of it all, we’ll be happy to do that, but here’s the trust-the-chef offer.” Only 200 people signed up, but do the math, 200 into 200 is $40,000.
Now, a lot of people talk about, “I sold to 400,000 people. I sold to 100,000. I sold to 50,000 people.” You don’t need to do that. You can sell to 15 people and be fine with it. Think about it, 200 into 15 is $3,000, $3,000. That’s good revenue for a book. We happened to sell to 200 people with that email, but the point was that it surprised us. It was surprising how clients were willing to trust you even though you had no information or very little information about those books.
This is the theme of today. When we summarise, we look that surprise becomes a strategy in its own way, that you want to surprise yourself, and that’s what happened with the article writing course, which we didn’t expect people to sign up. They’re still signing up 10 years later. We didn’t expect anyone in the Netherlands to sign up. It was just a random email, and people signed up. Finally, the trust-the-chef. That was the weirdest one of them all, and clients still bought into that. We’ve done several trust-the-chef offers ever since, and all of them have worked the same way.
This happens when you have respect for the client, when you act like a GPS system because that’s what the client really wants. They don’t really want more information, do they? They want you to be their GPS just like a GPS works. No matter whether you get to Rome, or Auckland, or Berlin, you switch on your phone, and your GPS is working, and it takes you to your destination, and that’s what clients want you to do. They want you to take them to their destination. They want you to be the guide. They want you to show them the sites, and that is why the article writing course worked, and that is why the presentation book series worked, and that is why the Netherlands workshop worked. It’s because clients expect us to care, protect, and guide them just like a guide does.
In that, there is no surprise.
What is the one thing that you can take away from today’s podcast?
The one thing that you can do is to surprise yourself, so we can believe in planning, and we plan every Friday. We’d go to the café, and we work on a plan, but one of the things that really works in our favour is this factor of surprise. Now, you have the backstory of the article writing course, and the Black Belt Presentation Series, and one of the workshops, which is the Amsterdam workshop.
Go and surprise yourself. You don’t know what you will get. That’s what life is all about, that’s what business is all about, and that’s what The Three-Month Vacation is all about. One of the things that’s not going to be a surprise is when you sign up to the article writing course. When you do that, you’re not going to sleep all of April, all of May, and all of June. The reason for that is we don’t want it to be surprise. We want you to be able to write and to write well, to have a skill and not to have more information.
The live article writing course comes around every two years. As you know, we have only a few seats. Everyone says we have limited seats. We put a number on those limited seats, not more than 25. If you would like to surprise yourself and figure out how good a writer you are, then join the article writing course. Later in the year, we’re going to have the DaVinci cartooning course, and you can learn how to be a cartoonist too.
Most people are surprised when they can write so well, when they can draw cartoons, when they can make great presentations. They think that somehow this skill has to be inborn, and it doesn’t have to be. There are no inborn skills. You can learn from a good teacher. You can learn from a good system. You can learn a lot from a good group, and that’s what the Psychotactics training is all about. It’s not about information. It’s about skills, so get yourself on a course this year, and you will surprise yourself.