Three and a half years of building products
Written in July, 2021


At the beginning of 2021 I was pumped.

I was about to taste freedom for the first time in my life and become self employed. Hopefully for ever.

The previous year, 2020, was a crazy year of exponential growth. Went from $100/mo to $2.5 MRR hit $5k revenue months.

You can read about it here, and why I quit my job.

To my surprise, 2021 felt a bit underwhelming compared to that.

At least as far as material success goes, it wasn't as impressive.

But maybe material success isn't the only metric that matters.

Maybe I did indeed experience exponential growth in other areas of my life. Just not in the usual places we go looking for it. Like revenue, profits or followers.

Let's analyze that.

Let's talk about what comes right after gaining your freedom. Maybe it can help you be prepared.

So, let's rewind the tape back to the 6th of January 2021.

I am in Milan and it's a rainy morning...



Table of contents ๐Ÿ“œ

The blog post ended up being so fucking huge, that I decided to create a table of contents for you.

โ€ข Part 1: Into the wild

1. Freedom at last ๐Ÿ”
2. Stress: Expectation vs Reality ๐Ÿ’ง
3. Working for yourself ๐Ÿฆ
4. Steep learning curve ๐Ÿ“ˆ
5. The intangibles โœจ
6. Stability vs Growth ๐ŸŽข
7. The cost of learning ๐Ÿ’€
8. The Pareto of money ๐Ÿท
9. How we learn ๐Ÿ”ฅ
10. Becoming a big fish ๐Ÿฆˆ


โ€ข Part 2: Getting to work

1. Single points of failure ๐ŸŽฏ
2. Relationship with money ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ
3. Defining success ๐Ÿš€
4. Optionality โŒ˜
5. Pandora's box ๐Ÿ”ฎ
6. From vine, to vine, to vine ๐ŸŒด
7. Humans vs Robots ๐Ÿค–
8. You are already a Cyborg ๐Ÿฆพ
9. Planting seeds and patience ๐ŸŒฑ
10. Being lost is normal ๐Ÿšž


โ€ข Part 3: Life after work

1. Happiness takes effort ๐Ÿƒ
2. Growing old ๐Ÿ‘ด
3. The Way ๐Ÿคบ
4. Compound growth ๐ŸŽข
5. The way of everything ๐Ÿ›ฃ
6. The Pareto of life โค๏ธ
7. The Pareto of death โšฐ๏ธ
8. The Pareto of Everything ๐Ÿ”
9. Acceleration of time โณ
10. A cautionary tale ๐Ÿ’”


โ€ข Part 4: What's next

1. Lifestyle design ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐ŸŽจ
2. Timelessness โšœ๏ธ
3. Timeless lifestyle ๐Ÿ›
4. Escaping the Zeitgeist โœจ
5. Appendix ๐Ÿ“•





Part 1: Into the wild




1. Freedom at last ๐Ÿ”


Normally a rainy winter morning would be depressing as fuck. But this particular one was anything but that.

It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Actually, I really want to say it was my happiest day. And I'm not sure what that says about my personality and life.

I worked my ass off for many years for this.

And today I am returning my equipment to the office. Say goodbye to everyone and I am done.

As I'm going down the staircase to exit the company building, I can't help but smile.

I smell the smell of sterilized equipment and look at the white walls. I can't help but think that they remind me of the aesthetics of a psychiatry clinic.

As I approach the front door of the building I am almost running. I promise to myself that whatever happens I will never go back to work in an office.

I don't care about material success. Or becoming a millionaire.

All I want is to be free.





2. Stress: Expectation vs Reality ๐Ÿ’ง


A few hours later, as I was relaxing at home, it hit me.

Oh shit. I am completely by myself now.

I eat what I hunt. And I hunt what I eat. No more salary. No more safety net.

I remember wondering what the stress would feel like from now on. Will it go up? Will it go down? Or remain the same?

...

The next morning the answer was obvious.

I woke up without an alarm clock. Checked my calendar. Empty.

Wow. So now I can focus solely on CyberLeads?

I instantly had more time to do everything I wanted to. Exercise. Cook. Work on my business. Socialize.

A couple weeks go by. My FitBit says that my resting heart rate has dropped 5 points. And I feel 10X calmer.

...

I started questioning the status quo belief I was told growing up. I'm sure you've heard of it too:


"Well, you either work for someone else, make less money and have less stress. Or you work for yourself, make a lot of money but have a lot of stress."


Bullshit.

Working for someone else is stressful too. Every single meeting with my team and manager was stressful to me.

If you are someone contemplating of going full time but are afraid of the stress of being self employed, listen to me.

Being self employed can be less stressful if you have designed your business and life the right way.

This was one of those moments where I started wondering if I should start questioning everything like a kid again.





3. Working for yourself ๐Ÿฆ


In my opinion, working for yourself is the highest calling.

Even though I felt like I had less stress and was calmer, I felt more alive.

How was this possible?

This is another thing I'm discovering as I'm growing older.

That our vocabulary is very limited and it limits our minds.

For example, we have one word to describe stress. Well, I can describe at least 5 different types of stress.

Physical, mental, acute, chronic, creative, and so on.

And these are literally just off the top of my head.

Let alone words like happiness and love. Take "I love cheese" and "I love my mother" as different examples of using the same word, yet conveying different meaning. I rest my case.



Anyway, let's talk about stress and working for yourself.

It's not that you have less stress or more stress.

It's that the stress is different.

When your work for yourself, the stress you experience is acute and fluctuates.

Sometimes you are super stressed and work all day. Like when you find a new competitor coming after you.

Other times, everything is cruising nicely and you are sleeping like a baby. Hadly even working.

In the end, this type of stress makes you feel alive. And in my opinion, more alert and smarter.

Reminds my of my favorite Paul Graham essay. Itโ€™s called โ€œYou Werenโ€™t Meant To Have A Bossโ€. Iโ€™ve read it many times. And I still read it from time to time.

He draws a beautiful parallel between people working for themselves and wild animals.

He says that wild lions in the savanna feel, move and look 10x more alive than lions in zoos.

Almost like different species. They are alert. Smart. Calculated. Their hostile environment keeps them thinking, moving and adapting.

On the other hand, lions in zoos sit around all day.

With a cowโ€™s gaze. Their mouths half open. Drooling. Just waiting to be fed. They donโ€™t have to do much to survive.

Sadly, they reach nowhere near their potential. They end up worthless and helpless. In many cases it's even impossible to re-introduce them into the wild.

I believe itโ€™s the same with humans.

Stressors in our environment make us more alert, and smarter.

The unpredictability of the market. Competition. Distribution. New technologies. Laws and regulations changing.

At the end of the day, the hostile environment of the world makes us feel alive.

And thatโ€™s how I felt at this point. Even though I was stressed, I felt sharp. Alert. Alive. And free.

PS. Here is an excellent talk on the subject, called "Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers"





4. Steep learning curve ๐Ÿ“ˆ


Here I am, around a month after becoming self employed.

And the hostile environment of the open world is making me adapt and learn straight away. No rest.

I have a call with my accountant and I realize that I have no idea how taxes truly work.

As always, I buy a couple of books and read them in a weekend. I am excited because I am learning new things.

I quickly realize how naive and stupid I was.

I had a 90% income tax exemption as an expat in Italy, so I logically thought that I would be paying almost no taxes.

Then I discovered that income tax is just one type of tax. Crazy right?!

You have social contributions, regional taxes, corporate taxes, VAT, capital gains, etc. The list goes on.

I run a little simulation on paper. I see that I would be pocketing 75% of the money I make.

Wait a minute. If I am taking home 75% of what I make with the cleanest and simplest online business in the world, with zero employees and zero expenses, with a crazy tax benefit on top, what is everyone else truly making?





5. The intangibles โœจ


At this point I am fascinated.

I want to understand what the founders of these companies making millions are really making, aka taking home.


I post this tweet that makes many people upset.

- $10K/mo indie business, 90% net profit margin:
Founder takes home $9K per month.

- $1M/year business with two co-founders, 25% net profit margin:
Founders take home $10K per month.

Yet they call the first a lifestyle business.

And I understand why, it's overly simplistic. But it's true.


I run a few more simulations with million dollar businesses with multiple founders and a few employees in a Western country with high taxes.

I realize that taking $5k - $10k per month is a luxury.

Even CEOs and Founders of million dollar companies are taking that. And many are "reinvesting their profits into the business" and living off a modest salary.

Maybe less than what they would make working for someone else.

That could be either because they are not profitable enough and don't want to admit. Or their acquisition channel is paid, so they are incentivized to never stop throwing money in.

Damn. The biggest lever isn't revenue after all.

It's the intangibles.

Expenses. Number of founders. Number of employees. Profits. Taxes. Organic acquisition channels.

And on top of that, take home money. Hours of work per day. Quality of life. Stress.





6. Stability vs Growth ๐ŸŽข


After the above analysis, I realized that I have it good already.

I am already successful. At 25 (almost 26) I'm making good money and have a great quality of life.

And even more importantly, I have an amazing lifestyle, doing what I love and working on my own schedule.

I am succesfull, even if my tiny little project never gets the respect of an established business. Who cares.

I was taking home anywhere between $4k and $8k per month.

Maybe I shouldn't aim for growth at all costs after all.

Maybe I should just aim for stability.

I love my new life. And I want to protect it at all costs.





7. The cost of learning ๐Ÿ’€


Just as I thought I am invincible and that I knew everything, life hit me like a train.

I made a huge mistake that could have damaged me bad. Maybe even set me back to square one.

I was chilling on my sofa, at my girlfriend's house in Munich, when I received a notification from Revolut saying that I'm eligible to upgrade to Revolut Bank.

For anyone unfamiliar, Revolut is the number one FinTech startup in Europe. The downside is that it's a startup.

But now they had a banking license. And 100,000 EUR deposit protection. Which means that if something happens, the Central European Bank will cover that money.

So what did my dumbass do? I moved almost all my money, $40k out of my $50k in total, to Revolut.

Just so I can look at the big number and calculate analytics and see my expenses.

As soon as I moved a substantial amount to my account, it flagged the system:
- Where is this money coming from?
- How did you get this money?
- Provide statements and documents of proof.

Of course, everything I do is double legal. So, initially, I had nothing to worry about.

But, while trying to contact customer support for further clarification, I quickly realized that it was non-existent.

I went online and ended up on some Reddit threads... And that's when the nightmare started. All of a sudden, I was reading real life horror stories.

People losing their money forever. Having their accounts frozen for months. Even people running their whole businesses on "Revolut Business" with employees on payroll.

Just canned, automated responses. Because a third-party agency does the proof checking. And that third-party agency is forbidden to share the status of the process.

As you can imagine, I was freaking out. I had 80% of my money in this account. And now, it was under investigation.

I collect myself. I take a deep breath, and I send some paperwork. Rejected. No explanation or feedback as to why.

I try to not panic yet, and I re-send some paperwork after correcting some things I imagined could be wrong. Rejected again. This time I also get an SMS telling me that they froze my account.

WHAAT?! Ok, this is going exactly like the Reddit stories. Word for word. I am one of the unlucky ones that will never be able to prove their source of funds.

I'm sweating. I'm paranoid. I'm fucked.

What can I say. Congratulations. You have almost all your money in a fucking startup. And they just froze your fucking account.

What an idiot. The guy who talks about risks and eliminating single points of failure.

The guy that has many expenses coming up as well, as he is moving to another city.

I take my time to really think about it and correct my files. I am already thinking of the worst possible scenario.

And trying to think of how I could handle my upcoming expenses with my remaining money. I'm not sure I can.

I send the papers a third time, after correcting them again. After some hours, at eleven o'clock at night, I receive a notification saying they were accepted! My account goes back to normal.

I instantly feel 10 kilos lighter. I pour myself a glass of wine and I enjoy it with a huge smile on my face and red cheeks. Haha.





8. The Pareto of money ๐Ÿท


Sounds cheesy, but that single glass of red wine ended up teaching me an lesson.

As I was smiling with red cheeks enjoying it, I realized that I wasn't happy because I now had money back to buy things.

I was happy because I had money to relax. I had my runway. My piece of mind. My safety. My defense against a rainy day.

This small, stressful and scary experience was almost spiritual. It reminded me 80% of money's value is:
- Taking your stress away.
- Providing you with the basics.
- And enabling you to own your time.

That's it. All the rest is bullshit.

That's the Pareto of money.





9. How we learn ๐Ÿ”ฅ


You know what's crazy?

I knew that I shouldn't have all my money in one bank account.

But I still did it. And then I got burned.

Similarly, I knew from day one that you should launch a scrappy MVP or without a product at all.

But it took me 2 years and 19 failed attempts to really understand it.

I'm not sure if this is a feature or a bug of human behavior, but it seems that we learn by making mistakes. Like kids that don't understand that the fire is dangerous unless they get burned.

Memorizing and learning are completely different.





10. Becoming a big fish ๐Ÿฆˆ


As you can imagine, the idea of protecting my business and lifestyle at all costs was far more serious now.

I have to accept that I'll make mistakes. Many of them. That's the cost of learning.

But I have to avoid the catastrophic ones. Like the one I did the previous month.

The open world is cruel doesn't care about me. Shit will happen. Again and again. So I have to get to work.

The first thing to address in order to protect your lifestyle and business is eliminate single points of failure.

In other words, things that could go terribly wrong (either now or in the future) that could destroy you.

The goal isn't to be the smartest. My goal is to survive.

Sounds idiotic, but I was reminded of this by two quotes I heard in a film I saw at the time, called "Big Fish".

Quote number one:
"A goldfish grows according to the size of it's bowl."

Although this is somewhat an urban myth, it's partly true. And it's definitely true in business. No matter how good or talented you are, you are mostly going to grow in accordance to your market.

Quote number two:
- "How does the biggest fish in the river, become the biggest?"
- "How?"
- "By not getting caught."

That's it. It doesn't have to do anything crazy. It just has to avoid death.

And I believe it's the same in business. And that's what I'm planning to do, and why I decided to move to Sicily. My burn rate will be less than before. My taxes will be less. I will have infinite runway. And every month that goes by, I develop a stronger base and set even more money aside.

I'm on my way to becoming a big fish. Not by doing anything crazy. But by simply avoiding ruin and playing the long game.






Part 2: Getting to work




1. Single points of failure ๐ŸŽฏ

I had a few single points of failure that were staring back at me. And I had to address them. Fast.

These were the main ones:


1. Banking ๐Ÿฆ

Let's start with the obvious one.

As soon as I solved that banking issue with Revolut, I split my money in multiple bank accounts.

Lesson learned.


2. Tech stack ๐Ÿ’ป

My tech stack was all no code tools. These were constantly shifting and changing and I was building a skyscrapper on an unstable base.

After looking for open source no code tools and being disappointed, I went back to my roots and rewrote CyberLeads in code. Ruby on Rails to be exact.

A healthy open source technology that will be here in another decade. One less thing to worry about.


3. Payment provider ๐Ÿ’ณ

At the time I was using Gumroad.

Even though I'm a huge fan of the product and it's founder Sahil, I decided to go with Stripe.

Firstly, a "Merchant of Record" like Gumroad won't take liability for you if anything goes sideways. Disputes, changes in laws and regulations, etc

Secondly, they don't allow complex integrations if I want to turn CyberLeads into a SaaS platform, like a database etc.

Thirdly, they don't allow services, in case I ever want to do that.

Last but definitely not least, merchants of record (Paddle, Gumroad, etc) send automated receipts every month to every single subscriber with a huge "Cancel Subscription" button.

That drives churn up.


4. Security ๐Ÿฅท

Another point of failure that I thought of is security.

I realized this when I killed another project of mine in January (GitGardener) by just logging into my Stripe account and canceling every single subscription with my mouse.

Also, my sister's FB was hacked and we talked about it.

"Wait, it's that easy to take my business to zero?"

Since I'm building a brand and my whole life online, I might become somewhat high profile one day. And a mere hack could absolutely fucking destroy me.

So I renewed and restricted all my api keys, updated all my code dependencies, changed all my passwords, started using a password manager, cleaned up my code on GitHub, added 2FA everywhere, bought Ubikeys.

And made up my own policy to rotate keys and change passwords every 6 months.

Nice. I have implemented the Pareto of security.


5. Distribution channel ๐Ÿฆ

The final obvious point of failure I could see was my distribution channel.

All of my customers came from Twitter and word of mouth. And even word of mouth could be attributed to customers coming from Twitter or people from Twitter recommending it to others.

One exception was a partnership with an affiliate partner, but that was a one-off thing I was never able to replicate again.

My goal for the year was to implement programmatic SEO. Basically create a directory of pages from the companies I had gathered over the past months and have them rank on Google.

However, this deserves a chapter of it's own, so we'll talk about it later in the chapter "From vine to vine".

The important thing for now is to know that I started working on it.



2. Relationship with money ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ


It's March 2021 now and I just moved to Sicily.

I'm not going to lie, I experienced a culture shock. Even though I was still in the same country.

Milan was like Europe. Skyscrapers. Electric cars. Fashion. Business. People from all over the world.

Palermo was like northern Africa. Chaotic. Loud. Rough. And no one spoke English.

Even though I ended up loving Sicily, I didn't expect such a huge cultural difference within the same country.


Initially, my plan was to be a cockroach.

Spend as little as possible to stretch my runway.

So I went with the cheapest Airbnb I could find.

However, I started realizing something. I'm working with my mind. And I'm working from home. So the quality of my life and my environment play a huge role in the growth of my business.

The better I feel, the better I work. And the better I work, the more money I make.


Example:
- In house 1 you feel like shit and pay $1,000 per month.
- In house 2 you feel like a king and pay $1,500 per month.


The percentage difference is huge. It's 50% more expensive. But the absolute value is not.

It's $500/month. That's three CyberLeads subscribers.

Could I make up for the 3 less subscribers if I felt far more productive and happy?

After debating that for a long time, I decided that the answer was yes.

And in general, I decided to start working backwards.

Live your ultimate lifestyle today. And then make it work.

Sounds risky, but it's not.

It's developing an attitude of having, instead of wanting and deferring happiness and enjoyment into the future.

After many calls with family and friends and talking about it, I decided to increase my budget for rent to almost double. Anyway, it's the only major expense I have.


So let me paint a picture for you:
- In my cost effective AirBnb in the historical old town of Palermo, I would regularly see people warm up their spoon and shoot heroine right outside my doorstep at 5:00 PM.

All the buildings were destroyed and ruined. The streets were littered and full of shit. It smelled accordingly and didn't feel safe at all.

- In my new house, I am ten meters away from a huge beautiful crystal clear beach.

In an extremely safe area. Where people are running, exercising, playing beach volley and surfing.



Thinking back, I believe this was the wisest move I made. Even though you should never judge a decision from it's outcome. That's called resulting.

Yes, be a cockroach. But learn which things are not worth saving money on. It's counter intuitive when you don't have a fixed income. Quality of life trickles into your business, because you are the business. Investing in yourself becomes investing in your business.



3. Defining success ๐Ÿš€


At this point I was settled into my new house by the sea.

I am happy. And in a groove. I want to get to work.

I had already defined what success meant to me and what I wanted to do.

I wanted to secure this lifestyle first and foremost.

And ideally, go from the thousands ($4k to $8k per month) to the tens of thousands ($20k to $80k per month).

That is my end goal. That's my pareto of money for my lifestyle.

It's more money than I could never imagine spending. And most importantly, it's an achievable goal.

Another reason as to why I wanted to scale is because I don't believe in stability and safety.

I believe it's an illusion. At any given point in time, you are either improving or declining.

You are either growing or dying.





4. Optionality โŒ˜

For me, the key ingredient to safe scaling is experimenting with optionality.

First of all, you want to experiment because you never know what will work.

And secondly, you want to have the option to reverse changes.

Assume that you will make mistakes. And have a way to revert your experiments without any damage caused.

For example, here is one of the countless experiments I ran.

I noticed that I don't know of any lead generation newsletters making a lot of money.

But I know of many databases that are making millions.

So I experimented with turning CyberLeads into a database. I compiled all my data into a single file and updated the landing page.

Even though I spent weeks preparing and coding this, I built it in a reversible manner.

In a single day I could revert everything to as it was.





5. Pandora's box ๐Ÿ”ฎ


Spoiler alert. The database experiment above failed.

I left the landing page as a database for two weeks.

Week one goes by. Crickets. Zero customers. Usually I'll get a couple for the newsletter.

Week two goes by. Again, crickets. Only on the last day of the experiment, on the Sunday I get a paying customer!

I got the notification while I was out for a walk and looking for a restaurant to eat with my girlfriend at the time.

And then it started... Pandora's box had opened.

While we are trying to sit down and order, a support message arrived.

The person was very confused as to how the database worked. He was most interested in the monthly updates of the database. Hence, the newsletter.

He also stumbled upon a bug, which made me sweat in my clothes. The database wasn't loading. He was not happy and made it clear.

Picture this: Instead of being present with my girlfriend on a Sunday evening, having a lovely time eating and chatting by the sea, I was stressed and glued to my phone like a teenager, doing customer support for someone on the other side of the world.

Luckily my girlfriend was very supportive. But I hate when work gets in the middle of life.

I remember the waiter coming to our table and me being glued to my phone. My girlfriend ordered and the waiter looked at me confused, as if I was mentally challenged or something.

Eventually, I replied to the new customer and told him that I will fix the bug as soon as I get home and even issue a refund. I put the phone down and lift my head at last.

I take a deep breath and smile...

Ahhh...

What an idiot.

I'm so lucky to be running a newsletter.

It's low tech. It has no bugs. No support. I can put all my energy into building distribution instead of spreading myself thin. And I can experience a great work-life balance.

That's it. When I get back home I will revert everything.

And that's why we should take reversible decisions. To have optionality.





6. From vine, to vine, to vine ๐ŸŒด


We are almost half way through the year.

And after 6 months of going full time...

My MRR has gone from around $3k to a little more than $4k.

Wait, seriously? That's it?

I thought with all my extra time I would make my business fly.

What the fuck happened?

Well, that's another counter intuitive thing in our world.

On the internet, our inputs and outputs are not correlated.

You could work for 1 hour on the right things and progress. Or work on the wrong things for 10 hours and go nowhere.

For several reasons (which I'm not sure I agree with now) I decided to embrace this concept and try to swing to the next vine.

The first vine is direct sales and launching on platforms. You are investing time in a one off thing.

The second vine is something like social media. You are investing time in a one to many thing that has a very small half life. Like 8 hours or a day.

The third vine for me felt like SEO. You are investing time in a one to many thing that has a half life a three years.

Damn. It's like going from hunting, to fishing with a net, to farming and planting seeds.

Direct sales and launching is like hunting.

Social is like fishing with a net.

SEO is like planting seeds.

Takes a long time to get going, but after it starts having results you are golden.

The goal of scaling is to make the gap between your inputs and outputs larger and larger as time goes on.

At least in theory.





7. Humans vs Robots ๐Ÿค–


Let me tell you how you can be 100x more productive.

And all of that without waking up at 4:00 AM, taking cold showers and journaling barefoot in your garden.

Humans are really good at coming up with systems. Robots are amazing at implementing them consistently.

If you are banking on being motivated every single day of your life, you are stupid.

On a random fucking Wednesday morning, midway through the winter, trust me, you won't be motivated to work.

But your robots? They will. Don't fight them. Embrace them.

Embrace automation and understand that robots don't threaten our existence.

They enhance our capabilities and turn us into Cyborgs.

Cyborgs that are 100x more productive that any person of any previous generation.





9. Planting seeds and patience ๐ŸŒฑ


I decided to become a Cyborg and grow CyberLeads by using automation.

I started generating company pages for my blog. And it started picking up traffic after a few months.

Pages like this one here.

And now I get just as much traffic from these pages as I get on Twitter.

In one case I have to come up with content every single day.

In the other case, it's completely passive. And the more I wait, the better it ranks.

All I have to do is let the robots run and generate even more company pages as I gather more.

Even got my first customers from SEO. Never been more excited.

If this works I think I've cracked the code, reached my goals and achieved my dreams.

Yes, I haven't grown exponentially this year yet.

But having patience and expecting non linear results is key.





10. Being lost is normal ๐Ÿšž


Here I want to make an important thing.

As with everything and all the previous experiments I ran, I have no idea this SEO experiment will work.

I have no idea why the database experiment failed. It made sense it theory.

And I have no idea if CyberLeads will work in general.

I still can't figure out why I grew from $3k to $4k per month.

Could it be that I'm doing the right things?

Or is it that I just keep going so I'm just growing?

Or is it that I'm just raising my prices?

Could I have grown just as much if I worked on marketing 10 minutes a day, simply scheduling a tweet?

Honestly, I have no idea if all these months I'm putting into SEO are going to be worth it.

I think so. And I hope so. But you never know.

Not knowing what you're doing is part of the journey.

Embrace it.






Part 3: Life after work



Wow, so you reached this far. I am amazed, confused and flattered at the same time.

Keep in mind that this blog post will no longer be about business. It will go off the rails and they are my own beliefs and I'm not assuming that they are correct or that you should agree with them.

Oh yeah. And I'm not a doctor. Or a biologist. I'm just an idiot that enjoys writing.



1. Happiness takes effort ๐Ÿƒ


Throughout these months I was settled into my new house by the sea.

This alone made my quality of life skyrocket.

I am smiling more than ever. And generally I am happier than ever.

Little things, like taking a small walk by the sea every day, or cooking lovely meals, or just lying on the beach reading a book make my stress levels go down.

But don't get it twisted.

Happiness is not something static.

- "I am happy".

- Or "I am sad".

It's like hunger. It fluctuates. It comes and goes daily.

In a single day you can experience happiness, sadness, confusion, frustration, excitement for the future, depression and existential angst.

And I believe that our biology and chemistry are a huge factor in this.

Think about it. You drink coffee and you get stressed. You work out and you feel happy. You take two deep breaths and you relax. You think about something stressful and your mouth dries up.

How do people believe in this duality of body and mind? I can't even understand it.

One day, as I was eating like shit, sleeping like shit and working on my laptop on SEO at midnight, it hit me.

At that moment I felt like shit. Depressed.

Even though I was supposedly living my dreams.

Shit. The war will never end. You will always have to make an effort to be happy.

And the work for my company will never end.

So I have to prioritize my lifestyle today.





2. Growing old ๐Ÿ‘ด


Oh man, this is going to be very embarassing. But fuck it.

I want to show you how by applying the principles we learn in business, we can succeed in other areas of life as well.

In August 2020 (so a little less than a year ago) I went on holidays in Greece with friends.

As we were on a boat, my girlfriend took a photo of me.

Now, I want you to remember that 2020 was MY YEAR. I felt more confident in myself than ever before and was on my way to gaining my financial freedom at the age of 25.

A few days later, I am scrolling through the photographs on my girlfriend's mobile. Expecting to see a cool guy on a boat.

I saw a middle aged man. It's by far the worst photograph anyone has taken of me.

I (literally) folded in half and cried laughing and sent it to my friends and family. But in reality, I was shocked.

- Whaaat?! Me?! I was 20, like, just yesterday.

- And I used to fight in kickboxing and be in shape.

- How am I middle aged all of a sudden?

Whether this was a representative photo of me or not, one day I will be middle aged. And extra bodyweight creeps up on you, you don't even realize.

At that moment I decided I had to get my shit together.

I printed the photo. Put it on my fridge. And hired one of my best friends from school as my (remote) personal trainer.

Here is the photo. Please promise you won't laugh.



Show me fat Alex! ๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ‘‡


And this is how I am less than a year later. Let me explain.


Show me fit Alex! ๐Ÿ‘€๐Ÿ‘‡


Armed with my new skills from business, I was able to get in shape fast. Let me explain how.





3. "The Way" ๐Ÿคบ


One of my favorite books of all time is "The Book Of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi.

Musashi was a legendary swordman that lived in 16th century Japan and had an undefeated record of 61-0. These were duels to the death.

In other words, he was a badass.

He wrote this book when he was in his 60s and he explains how to become the ultimate swordsman.

But the interesting part of the book is that you can swap the word "Swordsman" with anything. "Entrepreneur", "Teacher", "Athlete", "Chef", you name it.

Because, weirdly, most things in our world seem to share some common qualities. Everything seems to connect at specific points on a web.

And at those specific points on the web you can use transfer your knowledge from other domains and utilize it.

That's why you see so many successful athletes become successful businessmen.

Or so many successful businessmen become successful writers or politicians.

Even though it's a small book, you might be too bored to read it. I understand. If I could summarize the whole book in one sentence, it would be:

"Learn the rules. Abide by the rules. Break the rules."





4. Compound growth ๐Ÿ”


The progress from 82 to 72 kilos (180 to 160 pounds) wasn't linear. Neither on the scales. And especially not visibly.

Up until 74 kilos (166 pounds) I looked almost identical.

But trusting the process, my personal trainer and my research, I decided to stay the course.

At some point, the progression started compounding. Each kilogram of bodyfat lost, was visible in the mirror and made my look 10x better.

Very familiar. Reminded me of my business growth.

The last place your body stores it's bodyfat is your glutes and your lower stomach.

And you can't "Burn off stomach fat". You can simply burn off fat and wait till your body decides to tap into those fat storages.

It's like the last pieces of a toilet roll. You have to go through all of the pieces to get to the last ones.

Here is all the progress and all the images:

- 82 kilos
- 80 kilos
- 78 kilos
- 76 kilos
- 75 kilos
- 74 kilos
- 73 kilos
- 72 kilos
- 71 kilos

Many people hide this, because it's ugly. Whether it's in fitness, business or life.

And even though this is cringe as hell, I'm posting it to show that once you become proficient in one thing you can become proficient in many.





5. "The Way" of everything ๐Ÿ›ฃ


Applying my skills from business made it so much easier to get in shape than in the past.

Because I was armed with cornerstone skills.

- Learn the rules: The skill to know how to learn new things, and apply the Pareto principle to find the fundamentals.

- Abide by the rules: The skill of consistency, patience and acknowledging compound growth and trusting the process.

- Break the rules: The skill of understanding all advice is contextual and that you have to find what works for you.



6. The Pareto of life โค๏ธ


Ok, let's apply "The Pareto" and "The Way" on health.

From my undestanding, the biggest levers for a long and healthy life are the following:
1. Sleep
2. Nutrition
3. Exercise
3. Low stress


- For sleep you need 7-9 hours of sleep. Listen to this podcast if you want your mind completely blown.

- For nutrition you need to track your calories and your protein intake (1 gram per pound of bodyweight)

- For exercise, resistance training three times per week with progressive overload and low steady state cardio 3x per week for 45 minutes.

- Plus, all the above should help with stress.

The ultimate goal would be to bench your bodyweight, squat 1.5x your bodyweight, deadlift 2x your bodyweight and be below 15% bodyfat percentage.


These give you more than 80% of the longevity benefits. Peter Attia has this amazing podcast on longevity.





7. The Pareto of death โšฐ๏ธ


Ok, this is fun. Let's take it a step further. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Let's apply the pareto on death.

First of all, we have to understand that prevention is better than cure. With the exception of a few medical technological innovations like vaccines and penicillin (the base of antibiotics), most of the success of the modern high life expectancy is thanks to simpler things.

Things like sterilizing medical equipment, not dropping your shit in the water you drink, washing your hands, having access to doctors to get checked, etc

It's far easier to prevent or diagnose diseases early than treat them.

Actually, the ceiling of human life hasn't risen. We don't live longer than our ancestors.We have just gotten better at the basics.

We just live longer on average.

For example, one of my favorite ancient philosophers, Epictetus, lived till the age of 85. And he had a rough life as a cripple and a slave.

What scewed the average age of death in the past was infants dying and women dying while giving birth.

Anyway, rant over.


Leading causes of death today:
1. Heart disease
2. Cancer
3. Stroke
4. Falls


- For heart disease, good physical health is your best defence. Stay in shape and get checked-ups done.

- Cancer is insanely complicated, so let's apply the Pareto again. The most common types of cancer (by far) are: Lung, colon, breast for women and prostate for men. So don't smoke, get your breast or prostate checked and have a strong immune system. Cancer cells are being created all the time. I've produced cancer cells while writing this article. I'm depending on my immune system to identify and kill them.

- For strokes, again. Good physical health. And checked-ups.

- For falls, it sounds funny but after the age of 65, falling is leading indirect cause of death. I saw this with my Greek grandfather. He was in excellent shape, fell while walking, broke his leg, went down hill and died a year later. Resistance training to battle osteoporosis is the most important thing here. Every pound of lean muscle tissue is a predictor for longevity.


All we have to remember that every 7 years all our skin cells are renewed. And every X amount of years almost all our cells are renewed. Which means that we literally transform yourself into a totally different person.

And even though you are technically older, biologically you could be younger.

Because your body doesn't have clocks. It just wears off. Sounds crazy, but here is a great book on the subject.





8. The Pareto of Everything ๐Ÿ”


As you can see, I am obsessed with the Pareto principle.

Not because it's absolute. It's not. But it's a powerful heuristic for life.

You can apply "The Way" and "The Pareto" and dive into any subject and become proficient in small amount of time.

And then apply the Pareto on your initial Pareto, and then again, in a fractal manner, until you find the biggest and simplest levers you can pull to achive the results you want.

You will hear other people refer to this as "leverage".

In my opinion, this is "the way".





9. Acceleration of time โณ


I am working, exercising and being very productive. I am in the zone.

However, one morning I realized that we were almost half way through the year.

And I would have to try hard to find any memorable moments.

My mind's hard drive decided that nothing was worth saving into my long term memory, since 99% of my life was routine.

Damn, another half year just went by. And every year it's faster.

Remember when we were in school? And the 1st year of primary school was a whole chapter of your life? And the three month summer break was endless?

Now you just snap your fingers and half a year has gone by.

I thought about it, and there is only one remedy I have found for this. Creating memories by doing new things and traveling.

Everytime you travel or move, it feels like you're starting a new chapter.

Trying new things, creating memories and traveling are the only defence I have found against the ever accelerating passing of time.

I started taking more time off and doing road trips with my girlfriend.

It's funny. I was in Sicily for close to 6 months. Yet, the thing that comes to mind when I think "Sicily" is a 5 day road trip around the island. Insane.

It's cool that I have a great lifestyle. And that I enjoy my every day life. But I also want a life that feels long when looking back.





10. A cautionary tale ๐Ÿ’”


Growing up without a father in the household, my grandfather naturally became my first role model.

He was a really hard worker and would fly out to Greece every year to see me, my sister and my mother.

Started working at 15. Changed one company in all his life. Loyal. Hard working. Ethical. And always put everyone else above himself.

He was cranking at work, taking care of everyone else, and waiting patiently for his retirement.

This will sound crazy. Because it's so tragic. But it's the truth. You can't even script these things.

The day right after his retirement, literally the next morning, he woke up complaining about some chest pain.

I remember it because I was there.

One year and many chemotherapies later, he was dead at 66.

An extremely rare and agressive form of lung cancer.

Worked from the age of 15. Waiting for a retirement that never came.

I won't let his tragic story go to waste. Thank you Pappoo (greek word for grandpa) for showing me that there are no guarantees in life.

That's surreal. If I were too to die at the age of 66, which is very possible, that means I have lived almost half of my life already. I have to stop wasting time.






Part 4: What's next




1. Lifestyle design ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐ŸŽจ


At the start of 2021, I wrote "Plans for a new life".

I still want to implement those goals. But I haven't. Yet.

Everything worthwhile takes time. As Seneca says, it takes a whole lifetime to learn how to live.

And nothing ever goes according to plan. Historically I've always been 3x more optimistic with deadlines.

When I think that something will take me one year to do, it takes three.

However, I don't rest and say I'll realistically do it in three. Cause then I'll do it in nine.

Patience with results. Impatient with actions.





2. Timelessness โšœ๏ธ


One last idea I've been fascinated with, just as much as the Pareto principle, is timelessness.

Why are some thoughts timeless? Or some clothes? Or jewelry?

How come a woman can easily wear 2 thousand year old golden earrings, when we can't wear clothes from the 80s?

How do I get goosebumps reading a ancient text from the Greeks or Romans, 2 thousand years later?

We are 2 thousand years apart. Yet I undestand and connect with them. That's bizzare, right?

In an everchanging world, some things remain the same.

What are those things, and why?

Haven't concluded yet, but I have a feeling it has something to do with simplicity and biology.

The world is changing quickly. But our biology is not.





3. Timeless lifestyle ๐Ÿ›


Ok, assume I have a time machine. Trust me, I'm not on drugs.

We are going to ancient Athens for the afternoon. To have a glass of wine and observe the people.

Most people are not that interesting. Just normal people that happened to be born in that era.

Probably just like you and me. Nothing exceptional. Just born in a different time.

But two of them really grab our attention and force us into deep thought and introspection. We wonder if we would ever exchange lives with them.

...

The first one is a very materially successful person. He has one of the fastest and most glamorous carts in the city.

He has a lot of golden coins. And a lot of slaves he can order around and beat up daily at home.

And 5-6 people in the local market recognize him and give him some kind of nod/respect.

In the context of his time, he is successful. But compared to us, he is living like a pig. And even worse, behaving like an animal.

So, naturally, I would never exchange lives with this person.

...

Now the second person is going by.

No one is really recognizing him. He isn't famous or anything like that. Doesn't want to be either.

He is not rich. But he is not a slave either. He is his own boss. He is a trader.

He is in great physical shape. Handsome. Strong. Healthy. Always smiling and kind to everyone.

He has an amazing relationship with his family. A strong group of friends. Some new ones. Others from childhood.

He has an amazing active sex life. Has traveled the known world. And he has many scars and stories to tell.

He ponders the meaning of life and has deep conversations others or alone. And he creates art from time to time.

Might sound like a very guided question, but who of the above two people would you rather switch lives with?

I would pick the second.





4. Escaping the Zeigest โœจ


Sadly, even though I would theoretically choose the second person, my actions say that I am trying to become the first.

Both are equally as hard. And both are attainable.

It's just that in my opinion the second person's lifestyle is timeless. Even 2 thousand years later, I would be envious of his life.

My goal is to stop being a sheep and a prisoner of my era and itโ€™s zeitgeist. Open my mind and focus on what truly matters.

A life that even my great-great-great-great grandkids would be jealous of.

Not because you want them to feel jealous. I wouldnโ€™t wish the feeling of jealousy or envy on my worst enemy.

But as a heuristic. As a compass for life.

Live a timeless life. A life that would be enviable in ancient Rome, today, and in futuristic Shanghai.





5. Appendix ๐Ÿ“•


Wow, you really reached this far. Thank you.

I am flattered. And a little confused to be honest.

I know this blog post went off the rails and got a little personal. And possibly emotional.

I apologize for that. But you can't always separate personal from business learnings.

Especially when you're a solopreneur. You are the company.

Growing your company means evolving yourself. And changing your company means transforming yourself.

I realized that although I might have not grown exponentially when it comes to revenue or profits, my quality of life and the trajectory of it is improving exponentially.

Or at least I hope.


@alexwestco