I've always suffered from what some philosophers call "Platonicity". The desire to cut reality into crisp and perfect shapes.
Another way to say this is "being overly romantic". Or "being a perfectionist".
Similar to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, who had a deep love for perfection: ⚪ The sphere was considered the perfect object 🧠 Pure logic was considered the ultimate human state 💡 Everything in the universe had a clear explanation
When in reality the world is messy: ❌ Spheres actually don't exist 🤖 Pure logic shouldn't be something to strive for, that's AI 🔘 Everything is grey and our theories constantly change
This was my platonic form of the perfect business:
💻 It's a SaaS company
📈 My distribution channels are word of mouth & SEO
🐢 I have predictable growth
👨💻 I'm mostly coding
🖤 It's my passion
🙋♂️ I'm solo
💳 It's with a monthly subscription
✈️ It's online so I can travel the world
📞 Zero meetings and/or sales calls
We should always question if we're being too romantic. In business. In relationships. In life.
Maybe your dream business is different to what you believe:
❌ Maybe it’s not a SaaS. Mine isn’t.
❌ Maybe it’s not word of mouth & SEO. For me it isn’t.
❌ Maybe it doesn’t grow linearly. Mine doesn’t.
❌ Maybe it isn’t your passion. Mine isn't.
✅ Maybe you aren’t solo. I am.
✅ Maybe it isn’t only subscription revenue. For me it is.
☑️ And so on and so forth
Think in grey. Not black or white. Pick your non negotiables, but other than that open your mind.
2. Platonicity and death ⚰️
While writing the previous chapter, I was reminded of a conversation I had that changed my life.
I was 18 and had a friend of mine staying over at my house for a few days. This was in our first year of university.
We were drinking and smoking and talking about life. Or at least as much as two 18 year olds can. I was complaining about all the problems I had in my very complicated relationship with my father.
After I was done complaining, my friend turned to me, looked at me in the eyes with a big smile on his face and asked me: "Have you ever thought that your relationship with your father is just perfect?"
My friend, Stratos, had lost his father a few years back. When we were still in high school.
I've never felt more embarassed. I'm blushing while writing this so many years later.
I ofter think of that moment. We bitch, complain and wish for things to be perfect. When they could be perfect already.
3. Shiny object syndrome ⚜️
Another way my lust for perfection manifests itself is through shiny object syndrome.
Luckily I don't suffer from this badly. I'm pretty boring when it comes to business and can focus on the same thing.
But the new thing always seems perfect.
And every garden has shit. No matter how green and perfect it looks from afar.
And there will always be something new. 2021 was a crazy year full of distraction.
Specifically it was Clubhouse, GPT3, Crypto and NFTs.
I saw so many entrepreneurs jump into trends and lose the momentum they had been building for years.
And when the party was over they ran back.
Shiny object syndrome is an illusion. Let me explain.
We think that our generation is unique:
· "Our generation is the wildest, we have the internet and are connected to the world!"
But about our parents? They said the same.
· "Our generation is the wildest, we have commercial airlines and can travel the world!"
What about your grandparents? They said the same.
· "Our generation is the wildest, we have cars to travel and phones to speak to anyone in the world!"
What about your great grandparents? They said the same.
· "Our generation is the wildest, we have trains and factories and have an abundance of everything!"
What about your great great grandparents? They said the same.
· "Our generation is the wildest, we have electricity. Before us people used candles!"
Notice a trend?
Our generation isn't unique. Change is a constant. If anything, our ancestors saw greater changes than us.
Keep that in mind when a new thing catches your attention.
Remember that there will always be new things coming up. You can catch the next wave. No need to get stressed and distracted every single time.
Focus on what you have and show it the love it deserves.
4. A small detour 🌳
And after having said all that... I fell victim to shiny object syndrome. Haha. Luckily it was just for a week.
And it was after two years of being laser focused on CyberLeads. Still mad at myself though.
I took a week off and iterated upon my little passion project, "Epilepsy Blocker".
Totally regretted it and halfway through could not wait to get back to my little boring B2B business.
Epilepsy Blocker is software that helps people with photosensitive epilepsy browse the web safely by blocking dangerous animated content that may trigger a seizure.
Also, I realized that I didn't enjoy coding or even promoting this product. It felt like virtue signaling.
It's way better to go back to making money with CyberLeads and if I'm so keen, give money to effective charities.
5. Boring business, exciting Life ❤️
During the days I was working on Epilepsy Blocker, which was supposed to be my "passion", I started to develop a new mentality.
I didn't enjoy working on "my passion". It felt like work. And it was frustrating.
To be completely transparent with you, this new mentality could be a mental crutch. Not sure.
"But what if work doesn't have to be my ultimate passion? What if my goal is for it to be easy, ethical and lucrative?"
I would much rather have a boring business, make a lot of money and live an exciting life, rather than the opposite.
Work for 2 hours per day, make $1M/year and spend time with friends, family and doing hobbies.
Rather than working 8-10 hours per day on my dream business that is frustrating and barely growing.
Being stressed. And having a boring lifestyle outside of work.
I know it sounds unromantic, but it's the truth.
That's what I want.
6. Business as the vehicle for the good life 🚂
Just to iterate upon my previous idea, this also changed the way I view money.
Money is not just to save and protect me from uncertainty. It's can also be a tool to have a good time.
This year, I've been making around $5k - 10k per month and it is already interesting how much cheaper things feel.
I've been performing some intellectual gymnastics in my mind. If I splashed money every day buying anything and everything I wanted, I would probably spend an extra $100/day.
That's $3,000 per month. Something I can actually handle.
Which means I can literally start living as if money doesn't exist. My goal is to make enough money so I have to think about money.
Also, lately I've started respecting my time much more. And stopped being so tight with money. Starting taking taxis instead of breaking my back on buses, pay an MMA gym even if I only want to train once per week, etc
I hate the mentality that we have to live dirt poor in order to make it. Or sleep on the office floor or in our car.
Something I've anecdotally noticed: many times these stories come from entrepreneurs that were from rich families and want to prove to their parents, themselves and the listeners that they did everything themselves.
Which in my opinion is a little sad. No one cares. And honestly it's disrespectful to their parents. We should praise them, not hide them.
Anyway, I'm going off topic and could rant for hours. To recap this chapter, I simply decided to slowly start using my hard earned money to maximize enjoyment of my life.
Spending an extra $500 per month on myself when I have a healthy growing business with no expenses and two years of runway aside is not going to destroy me.
And it's going to make my life 2X more enjoyable.
7. New types of challenges 🌋
Here is an interesting conversation I had with a friend:
- Would you sell CyberLeads?
- Well, first of all I don't think I could. But even if I could, I wouldn't. Why would I? It's fueling an amazing lifestyle for me and slowly growing.
- But don't you want a new challenge?
That question sent me deep into thoughts. I thought about it for a second and responded with this rant.
- Why does the challenge have to be a new business?
· Want a new challenge? · See if you can work for 2 hours per day and still grow. · See if you can learn a new language in 3 months. · Start a new hobby. · Train and complete a triathlon in 60 days. · Pick up a book in a field you are completely new to.
- Why does everything have to be about business?
It is true that we need challenges.
But as a culture we are way too business focused. Life can be way more interesting.
8. A 10,000 foot conversation ✈️
I had a really interesting conversation that made me realize how business oriented we are as culture. And me personally.
I was flying from Santorini, Greece back home to Sicily, Italy. On the plane, I was sat next to a woman from LA.
As we were talking I asked her what was the biggest culture shock she experienced while traveling in mediterranean europe.
She had spent time in Italy, Greece and Spain.
She thought about it for a second...
- Take your time, but I want the truth!
- Haha, you want the truth?
- Ok, I'll tell you the truth. Honestly it's the fact that we are out no one talks about their job.
That sums it up for you.
And I'm guilty of this too. Even though I'm not American.
This was something I had been thinking about for a long time.
But this conversation sealed the deal for me. I decided that I won't talk about business when socializing.
You are not your job. And no one cares about it either.
9. Gamification of life 🎮
I've talked about business being boring, but honestly life can be pretty boring too.
You have to come up with challenges that make your life feel like a video game. And you are the main character.
I've noticed that I'm at my happiest when I have the time and freedom to indulge in old and new hobbies.
Especially doing hard things.
👊 When I was in university, it used to be fighting in Muay Thai and kickboxing in Greece and abroad.
🏃♂️ In 2020, I ran a marathon untrained.
🏊♂️ This year, I decided to complete a triathlon. 🤼♂️ And compete in a grappling tournament. 🗣 And learn to speak Italian fluently.
My life instantly became fun and exciting.
Triathlon: 🏊♂️ · I lived by the sea and swam every day · Bought goggles · Studied YT videos on how to improve my technique · Went from swimming 150m to 1km in 2 weeks · Bought a second hand bike
Completed the triathlon with two weeks of training. I wrote about it here. Harder than I thought.
Grappling: 🤼♂️ I realized that I haven't forgotten how to fight. I am still good at it. In my first month of training, I enrolled to compete in the biggest All-Italian grappling tournament. I wrote about it here. I lost, but who cares.
Italian: 🗣 I followed this methodology and was fluent within 3 months.
Honestly, it's crazy. And it works. See the method here.
It took me 90 days instead of 7. Still amazed.
I think I'll make this a tradition. Do at least a few hard non work related things every year.
Part 2: Getting to work
1. Habits & Productivity 🧘♂️
Ok. Ok. Enough of that. Let's talk about business!
After the above challenges, I was refreshed and ready to go hard on my business to take it to the next level.
Winter was coming, and I wanted to go full monk mode.
Coincidentally, I had broken up with my girlfriend a few months prior. So I entered one of the most selfish periods of my life, before with the challenges and now with this.
All I did was focus on myself.
I started with my habits and routines. I wanted to maximize everything.
However, what I found was really supsising. Or not. Depends on what you believe.
I gave another shot to all the stuff I had tried and discarded in the past. All the micro optimizations that live on the other side of the 80/20 Pareto principle.
Waking up early. Meditating. Alpha wave music. Supplements. Stretching. Walking in the sun.
In the beginning, placebo effect was real. I thought that I had cracked the code and that I was way more productive than before. I felt like Eddie Mora in Limitless.
But very quickly I realized that all these rituals were actually negative. They were making me worse.
In order to send 5 emails, I had to go through a whole fucking process of walking in the sun, meditating with my airpods on, stretching and having a shower.
It was ridiculous. A time waster. And one little change (like rain) and the routine was derailed.
I developed my own definition for productivity:
Productivity is not about adding things to your life. It's about removing. And it's not how much you can do. It's the opposite. It's about how little you can do and still move closer to your goal.
I think part of the problem was that I had too much time on my hands. Maintaining my business only took me 1-2 hours per day. And I had gotten all the non work related stuff out of my system.
What was I supposed to do with the rest of my time?
Also, remember. I was lost. I was looking for that next lever of growth and I had no direction yet.
2. Working on the wrong things 📉
Talking about productivity, here is an excellent example of how inputs and outputs are not directly correlated.
After a whole year of iterating and experimenting upon it, here are my results:
· Outputs: Less than 10 customers from SEO
· Inputs: 12 months of work.
2. More lists
3. Company and founder pages
4. Ran out of basic 10,000 rows on heroku, $9 per month for 10M rows
5. Tech stack and team pages
6. Adding split testing
7. Titles that won for each one
8. Adding CTAs (buttons, nav bars, chat boxes, etc)
9. Adding FAQs
10. Adding testimonials
11. Agency vs Generic
12. Newsletter vs Database
13. Change place of testimonials, update FAQs
14. First round winners (chat box)
15. The mystery of the chat box messages. Not bots after all.
16. Second round winners (main CTA with email)
17. Split testing within the main CTA winner (copy + strict, little strict, no strict at all email validator)
18. Bullshit customer support messages
20. Update wording to Service Businesses
21. Improved Get Data Success page with new CTAs
22. Decided to go with Industry email validator because it doesn’t seem to reduce conversions and I get an idea of what business they run. If they are telling the truth, that is.
23. Make both email and phone number always locked
24. Split test industry dropdown with industry free text
25. Realized that everyone was just selecting randomly things from the dropdown.
26. Split test popup vs static cta
26. Added Strategy and Growth and Hiring to default Likely to outsource
27. Made landing page generic to see if I get any customer
28. Compare popup vs CTA bounce rates
29. Add $49/month button in CTA straight away
30. Made split test ids more random. Not serialized by date.
31. Make email popup mobile friendly
32. Made directory style webpage so people can find more businesses
(by location and industry). Link it at the bottom of CEO and Company pages.
34. Create remove my data and edit my data pages in footer
35. Realized team pages ranked great. Improving!
36. Split test collections and directly pages in a carousel or something.
37. Many complaints about personal data. Angry and felt bad. Made emails locked and added Remove my Data form.
38. A lot of fake generated pages in the beginning. No company would ever do this. “What about our brand? We promise the most accurate data!”
39. Removed FAQ section to see if it will increase conversions
40. Checked and saw that funding pages rank shit. Pruning and delete them.
41. Added collections and directory to help Google bots to rank my pages.
42. Checked and saw that founder pages rank just as well as ceo pages
43. Created more founder pages
44. LeadFeeder results show that they are anything. From hospitals, to universities, to aerospace companies, to startups, to consultancies, to banks
45. Realized we all have the same sources. One specific Indian company didn’t have a country in my dataset. Little did I know, I found the same problem on another major player. Multi million dollar company.
46. Got 3 customers in August. Amazing! Almost one customer per week!
47. But zero in September. Even though I followed all my experiments and generated more pages.
48. Maybe all the CTAs that outperformed the email box captures were bots…
49. Reverted to old email capture box also!
50. Don’t care about email collector being business emails. We found out from LeadFeeder that it’s all over the place. So just get any email.
51. Possibly revert back to specific to agencies and service businesses. Got zero customers in September.
52. Brought back list pages. This time as tables. This time not local based. This time with Startups. This time with (For Service Businesses).
53. Studied structure for Google. What does Google like and what it doesn’t. Tables for lists of things and rich results whenever possible for other things. EasyLeadz is doing a great job with lists. Microdata!
54. Reverted all to Agencies. Got customer again!
55. Decided to never test the database. Solopreneur has to have constraints.
56. Navbar beats blocks. Keeping navbar. Navbar with purple color to be precise.
57. Stopped experimenting with my list pages for now.
58. I had quit, but got another customer. The (For Agencies) in the title of the pages has finally been updated in all pages and in all search results.
59. Reached 80,000 submitted pages! Around 40,000 indexed (Jan ’22)
60. Many agency leads nowadays. Maybe I can convert them. Even got a customer of mine requesting an email. The perfect case to verify that my audiences overlap and are on Google!!!!
61. Studied Search Console. “Contact number” and “Phone number” are ranking best for the company pages. So let’s remove a the word “Address” from “Email Address” and try to get “(For Agencies)” to show in the results.
62. Studied Search Console. “Just Name” and “Name Company Name” are the ranking best for the person pages. So let’s add “Email Address” and “Phone number” and get the “(For Agencies)” showing.
63. Still no conversions. Revert to August completely and wait for a month and see what happens
These were just some of the things I did. Honestly I stopped documenting things after a while, when I started to realize that it wasn't going to work out.
Initially I was fantasizing of posting all these iterations alongside a huge success. And show you that sometimes we have to persist in order to get results.
But most things don't go exactly according to plan.
3. Poker vs Chess 🃏
So, what went wrong?
Simple, I based my strategy on assumptions. Not direct personal experience.
Humans love to think top down. It's what we've been taught since we were kids in school.
You are given a problem, and using logical reasoning you follow a set of steps to solve it. Almost like you have the solution before you even start solving it.
Bullshit. Life has never worked for me like that.
Everything has always been organic. I experiment fast, something gets results and then I double down on it.
And when something truly works, there is no questioning about it. It's obvious. You're not looking for lukewarm results, you're looking for something stunning.
But I fell victim to this human bias. I really wanted to start seeing business as chess, rather than poker. I would feel more in control and have less uncertainty in my life.
An excellent book called "Thinking in bets" helped me map out and label these human biases and flaws.
Maybe I was 1-2 tweaks away from making SEO work. Remember, I was getting around 1,000 visitors per day with my SEO strategy. I just couldn't convert them.
Who knows what would happen if I continued. Maybe I would've succeeded.
But I realized that I could not keep on going like this. I'm wasting so much time and energy on something that is not yielding results.
You have to cut the monster's head off and continue.
That night I slept like a baby. The next morning I started with a clean slate, re-reading "Traction" and brainstorming different distribution channels.
4. Doubling down on who I am and what I have 🏔
Enough of this idealistic bullshit. Let's double down on what's already working.
Even though it's not a sellable asset, I'll build CyberLeads with my personal brand. I believe personal brands are the future anyway, even in B2B.
One viral tweet of mine can bring in more customers than my 12 months of working on SEO.
I'll double down on the newsletter, even though anyone can just grab it, repost it and create a competitor instantly.
I think people are sleeping on newsletters. In general, technology’s becoming a commodity. It’s very easy for people to code. It’s not the differentiator moving forward. If you build a feature, your competitors can build a feature.
I think that makes code similar to media and content, to be honest. If you find a cheap flight, someone else can find a cheap flight. If you write a blog post, someone else can write a blog post. It’s a little bit hard to defend in some ways, but I think it also means that code and media are on a level playing field.
No need to worry about copycats. It's all about distribution.
"Ford vs Ferrari" was the movie that made me fall in love with this concept.
It's an amazing film that shows two legends running their companies very differently.
Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II.
Henry Ford II ran his company like a factory. He would roll in the office for 10 minutes, be briefed by an exec and then fly off in his helicopter. Had no idea what his employees were called. Or what they did. All he cared about was producing as many cars as possible, as cheaply as possible.
Enzo was the exact opposite. Dressed to perfection every day and drinking his esspreso, he would be in his office in Italy overlooking every single part of the process. The cars they produced were limited and every single piece was installed in the car by hand.
They cattered to a small market. And they dominated it.
In the world we live in, power laws apply. The top 1% of companies get 99% of the customers.
It's better to be in the top 3 of a tiny market than the top 10 of a gigantic market. Even though that sounds crazy.
So it makes sense to be more like Enzo. Be expensive, niche down and do things with care and be proud of your work.
Also, it's way cooler. I want to be like Enzo.
I decided to do the following: 💵 Increase my prices ✉️ Stay as a newsletter ✋ Continue to do things by hand 🎁 Buy a present for every single subscriber ❤️ Send a personal email and get to know them
5. Luck & serendipity 🌟
The next month or so I decided to open my mind. And expose myself to as many ideas as possible.
If I've learnt anything so far, is that great ideas don't come and find you when you're hiding.
They come and find you when you are exposing yourself to the world. Both online and offline.
I continued running experiments, mainly around new distribution channels and also improving my product.
Every month I would try out something new and see if my current paid customers would bite.
I also took a random Zoom call with a reader of this blog.
Little did I know that it would change everything.
6. Finding the next lever of growth 🚀
This is it. How I found the next lever of growth.
The lever that will take me from the $1,000s per month, to the $10,000s per month. Maybe even $100,000s per month.
Who would have guessed that this new lever of growth would present itself to me in this form:
📚 So many books read. 🎙 So many podcasts listened to. 👨🔬 So many experiments performed. ✍️ So much writing done. 👘 So much introspection. 🚶 So many walks thinking, strategizing and brainstorming.
🍺 Yet, it was a casual chat with a reader of this blog. It was through one of you.
Vic used to ran a multi million dollar SaaS and had now raised money for his cool tech startup. He wanted to have a chat. I accepted. I was embrassing randomness.
During the Zoom chat/beer, he asked me a simple question:
- "Why do your customers unsubscribe?" - "Well.. I have a little opt out form on my website. And whether they say it this way, or that way, or any other way, most of them are saying the same thing. They don't have time to sit down and send the emails. Or they don't know how to send the emails effectively." - "Then why don't you send the emails for them?" - "Well..."
I was left with my mouth open.
Such a simple question. Yet so powerful.
I had never thought about it.
My immediate knee-jerk reaction was to say that I don't want to run a service business. That I am a company of one and my resources and time are very limited.
That I only want to work on things that are scalable and don't require me to trade my time.
And the call ended somewhat like that.
But the seed was planted.
7. Working on the right things 🎢
This is what working on the right things looks like. And what true productivity looks like.
Just for fun, I decided to play with the above idea.
I sent out an email to my customers. I said that I could either refer them to an agency or send the emails for them.
Eight people replied saying that they are interested. Usually I would get one reply to these experiments if I was lucky.
Had a meeting with one of them.
They only wanted to work with me so referring them elsewhere wouldn't work.
I suspect because they have been following me for years. They knew they could trust me. We had a personal relationship through email. I had bought them a present. The list goes on.
Doubling down was working out.
Dropped a crazy price of $2,000 per month just to see what they would say.
They instantly accepted.
Holy fuck. This could be huge.
8. The law of 5% aka the law of 20 🏔
A little pattern I've noticed.
It took me 2 years to build and launch 20 products.
And my 20th product was CyberLeads.
It took me 2 years of running CyberLeads to run 20 internal experiments.
And my 20th experiment was this service offering.
I name this "The law of 5%" or else "The law of 20".
If this pattern holds up, in 2 years from now I'll have found that next lever of growth.
Who knows what it will be.
9. Follow the white rabbit aka follow the money 🐇
Ok, so I had found the next lever of growth.
Things were moving quickly. It felt familiar. Similar to when I launched CyberLeads 2 years ago.
I already had 2 people that were willing to pay me $1,500/month and one $2,000/month in order for me to send email on their behalf.
That would double my business overnight.
It was November. And we agreed to start January. I wanted some time to think about it and most businesses don't like starting new things at the end of the year.
I spent weeks walking up and down the sea front contemplating:
· What if my life becomes a disaster? · I've heard agency life absolutely sucks. · I know nothing about running a service business. · I'm not an expert in cold outreach yet. · What if I can't handle all the work? · Do I have to hire people? · I don't want to be anyone's boss.
I was extremely stressed. Overworking my mind every single minute of the day.
Calling everyone I know and asking for their advice.
I decided to imagine the different outcomes.
What is the worst thing that can happen? And is it fixable and reversible?
Well.. worst case scenario I hate the lifestyle. I completely fail. I generate zero results for my clients and I feel embarassed.
I refund all of them and go back to calmly running my little newsletter.
What if things go right? Well, I'm at a point where I don't have to worry about money anymore. Literally.
I'll take the bet. I'll follow the market. The money. The white rabbit. Whatever you wanna call it.
10. Pricing as a lever ⛓
In my opinion, the most underrated lever of growth is increasing your price.
Let me paint a picture for you: 🐟 In 2018, with my $5/mo product, 4 new customers would amount to an extra $240/year 🐠 In 2020 with my $100/mo product, 4 new customers would amount to an extra $5,000/year 🦈 In 2022, with my $2,000/mo product, 4 new customers will amount to an extra $100,000/year
Fun fact: Back in 2018 I had the same number of customers as I have now. The difference is that now I'm at $100,000/year and then I was at $1,000/year.
Part 3: Challenging my beliefs
1. Challenging my own beliefs 🪞
The X factor in any business is the founder.
He or she is the one that adjust the sails.
Decides the market, the positioning, the product. Decides to pivot or to persist. To kill a project or persevere.
Certain traits help in certain stages of the journey:
🎨 When in idea stage, the artist prevails. Tries different things and thinks outside the box.
💪 After product market fit, the athlete prevails. Does the same things day after day without losing focus.
🧢 Medium term, the coach prevails. Builds a team and tries to drive them to their full potential.
🧙♂️ Long term, the mentor prevails. Guides the coaches so they can help their athletes and artists thrive.
👘 Finally, the philosopher prevails. Sets a vision, a culture and a mission (possibly way larger than business) and is outside of the business completely.
That means that one thing is for sure, the founder needs to grow alongside their business.
Otherwise the business will remain stagnant or even die.
It was time to look myself in the mirror and ask some serious questions. Am I not allowing myself to change?
2. Challenging my beliefs, what does scale mean? 📊
To become proficient, I have to master the basics.
What the fuck does scale even mean?
For me it always used to mean separating my inputs from my outputs. A system where one input would 1,000x my results.
For example, my SEO experiment. I was designing a way to generate 10,000 blog posts overnight. And once I had cracked it, I would bump it up to 100,000 blog posts. Or even 1M.
And my newsletter. It's a product that can serve literally an unlimited number of paying users at the same time.
But that is super theoretical. Let's come down to earth again.
What is the essense of scaling?
It's simply growing your revenue to the next level:
🐟 If you're at zero, it's generating $1.
🐠 If you're at the $100s per month, it's taking your business to the $1,000s per month.
🐡 If you're at the $1,000s per month, it's taking your business to the $10,000s per month.
🦈 If you're at the $10,000s per month, it's taking your business to the $100,000s per month.
After rethinking what scale means, I decided to open my mind to different options. Even if it meant getting my hands dirty with a model that isn't perfectly scalable.
Like the service offering for example.
A second question came to my mind:
What is scalable? And what isn't?
My biggest fear has always been hiring. I've disliked all the bosses I've ever had, so naturally I am scared of becoming someone's boss.
I don't want to be seen the same way I saw my bosses. Maybe that's a character deficiency, wanted to be liked by everyone.
And maybe not everyone is allergic to authority like me.
I sat down and tried to compare different business models. And see which one scales better, ideally with absolutely zero employees.
I compared the business models below:
💻 SaaS businesses ✉️ Newsletters and job boards 📈 Agencies and productized services
Here is what I found:
📈 Agencies and productized services are the best way to get to $1M/year. And the worst way to get to $100M/year. ✉️ Newsletters and job boards can get to $1M/yr with zero employees. But it's hard. And generally, revenue wise they are somewhere in the middle. 💻 SaaS is the best way to scale to $100M/year. And the hardest to get off the ground.
In reality, everything and anything can scale. You just have to follow a different recipe and timeline.
An agency can scale to $100M. A SaaS can scale to $100M. A newsletter can scale to $100M.
And honestly, my goal and wildest dream is to get to $1M/year.
So maybe I should give this agency thing a shot.
Actually, I feel I can take this to $1M/year solo.
4. Challenging my beliefs, do service businesses suck? 💩
If you remember, my immediate knee jerk reaction when exposed to the idea of offering a service was disgust.
I don't know how I ended up becoming so brainwashed, but I always felt like:
💸 Passive income was a real thing 😈 Trading your time is selling your soul to the devil
But why was my thinking so binary? So black and white? Can't the answer be grey?
First of all, passive income is a myth. MRR is just a metric, if you stop working it will plummet in less than a year.
Secondly, if your service is productized, trading your time isn't that dramatic. If it takes me 5 hours to fully onboard a client, set up all the campaigns for them and then just run them for 3 months for $2,000/month, is it worth it?
5. Challenging my beliefs, why can’t I do this? 💪
Well, well. Hello impostor syndrome, my old friend.
Come in. Sit down. I wanna have a word with you.
Naturally, I am feeling weird about charging people $2,000/month for something I'm not sure how I'll do.
However, I've never really suffered from impostor syndrome.
I believe you can do anything and learn on the job ethically.
I added a full blown money back guarantee and told them that this is an experiment for me also.
They have no problem whatsoever. They are actually happy to help me kickstart this.
My worst case scenario is that I refund them and go back to running my little newsletter.
My best case scenario is to scale to the next level.
A question I ask myself when I feel impostor syndrome:
"Who do you think you are to suffer from impostor syndrome?"
All you did was close a couple client for a service. Big deal.
There are teenagers out there online making 10x the money you're making.
Also, I've started treating impostor syndrome like a compass.
It means you are pushing the boundaries of what you're currently able to do. It means you are growing.
6. Challenging my beliefs, why switch things up? 🧨
Here I want to make an important distinction.
I've talked about leveling up from "Artist to Athlete", where you stop looking for new ideas and focus on one thing.
But why didn't I stay focused on growing the newsletter? Or working on SEO? Like an athlete would?
One of the hardest questions to answer is when we should pivot and when we should persevere.
And honestly, no one has the answer to this.
Here is my own heuristic:
"If things are growing, keep doing whatever you are doing and ruthlessly say no to anything new."
"If things are stagnant, experiment (within your main business). Find the new thing that's working and remain ruthlessly focused on that."
7. Challenging my beliefs, why don't I take my own advice? 💬
I am still on the fence. Still scared of turning my business from the perfect lifestyle business to a monster.
But what advice would I give myself in this scenario?
Don't be pussy. You know your worst case scenario. And the decision is reversible. Go for it.
Also, remember what you wrote in 2019:
"When in doubt, do the exact opposite of what you're doing."
What type of person am I if I can't follow my own advice?
I wouldn't deserve a single reader.
Part 4: What's next
1. Traffic lights 🚦
For the past few years, my life feels like a series of traffic lights that turn green right at the very last second, as I'm about to hit the brakes.
And I keep going and going.
Decided to make a radical change and move to Italy in late 2019, two months before the pandemic.
Built and grew CyberLeads past my salary in 2020. At the tax deadline, I registered my business and quit my day job.
Moved to Sicily in 2021 to qualify for some tax benefits and to lower my burn rate. Again, at the deadline.
Decided to relocate my business to Cyprus, again at the deadline.
Not because I'm procrastinating, but because I'm moving fast.
Life is hectic. And I feel alive.
2. New chapter, new base ✈️
So why did I decide to leave? And setup a new base?
I want to travel more. And be a full time nomad.
Italy was amazing. And it will always be in my heart. But it's time for a change.
And from the whole world, I picked Cyprus. Here's why.
These were my constraints: 💸 Tax friendly 💻 Supports Stripe ❤️ Safe 🇪🇺 EU so no visa runs & it's close to family 🗣 Ideally I speak the native language 👨⚖️ Ideally don't have to spend 6 months per year there
💸 Tax friendly:
Oh boy, let's talk about taxes.
Actually I'll keep this short. But in reality I spent hundreds of hours studying and researching.
I've written about it here:
There are so many different types of taxes. And so many tricks, traps and people telling you about 0% tax rates. But the only thing that matters is "effective tax rate".
Effective Tax Rate:
Take all taxes into consideration. How much money do you keep if make $X in profit and take out everything in your pocket. Either as salary or as dividends.
These were my candidates:
- Stay in Italy, UK, etc and pay 40% effective tax - Move to Cyprus and keep 15% effective tax - Move to Romania, Bulgaria etc and pay 10% effective tax - Create a crazy structure and pay 0% tax (in theory)
I decided to go with Cyprus. Taxes are low enough.
And it fits my other constraints.
💻 Supports Stripe:
A technological constraint.
I have dealt with other payment processors in the past and honestly Stripe is a non negotiable for me. This constraint actually really narrowed things down.
Cyprus recently introduced Stripe.
I wanna chill, not spend months every year in a dangerous place in order to save money.
Cyprus is incredibly safe.
🇪🇺 EU so no visa runs & it's close to family:
I don't want to deal with visas. Or be far away from family.
My family lives in Greece and the UK. Both of which are literally one direct flight away from Cyprus.
🗣 Ideally I speak the native language:
One thing that I have realized is that it's scary living in a country where you don't speak the language.
Not for every day stuff. But for legal stuff.
I cannot even count the times I felt hopeless in Italy, when my accountant would throw an Italian document my way and ask me to sign it and pay X thousands of euros.
Honestly, it truly made me feel like the immigrant I was.
I wanna travel and live everywhere. But for my legal base I want a country where I speak the native language fluently and understand the culture.
I wanna be able to look at my accountant, lawyer, landlord, etc in the eye and say:
"No, this is what I want. I know how things are done."
👨⚖️ Ideally don't have to spend 6 months per year there:
Most countries require you to stay 6 months and one day in the country in order to qualify as a tax resident.
Cyprus requires 2 months. That's perfect.
Two months go by quickly on a beautiful meditarranean island.