Tag Archives: tactics

Michael Alexis: International Investor and Philanthropist on Growth Hacking, Mastering Craigslist, and Surviving Chinese Parasites (e001)

Michael Alexis (left) and myself (right) in Georgetown in the Cayman Islands

My first ever podcast features investor and philanthropist Michael Alexis. I’m so glad to start with Michael because we are good friends and he is a master at making people feel at ease.

Michael got started in adult life as a lawyer, but quickly moved into startups and investing (but not investing in startups). Now he is a growth consultant for some of the highest performing startups and an international investor with stakes in places like China.

Michael and I worked together at an award-winning startup and have since built a relationship around challenging one another to do better everyday in life and business.

Our discussion revolves around investing, growth hacking, marketing, security, startups, business, ethics, life hacks, and risk mitigation while gallivanting in foreign countries (travel is a favorite past time for both of us).

You can hear our conversation here:

  • Michael helped Pavlok win the Shopify contest. (1:55)
    • Have a great team + a great product idea
    • Best Practices = Average Results. Test assumptions by challenging existing models
    • Michael discusses specific conversion results.
    • “Build the email list and prioritize getting people on it over prioritizing the sale right away.” – M.A.
    • Trade email address for price information on low-price consumer products.
    • Simple, single column websites can convert 3X better than “flashy” bootstrap-style websites.
  • Michael talks about his investment thesis [15:30]
    • Why he is an Investor / Philanthropist hybrid (hint: Building wealth is not the end-goal)
    • Why he invests in projects that pay dividends and NOT STARTUPS
    • Why he is willing to lose everything.
    • Michael’s ideal emergency fund lasts for years
    • Why Michael invests in competitive markets (because the model is proven)
    • Better Marketing + Better Service = Winning Strategy
    • Why startup employees should be open to equity compensation even though they likely won’t exit
  • Michael talks about the podcast he convinced me to start (31:30)
    • Risks are low
    • Networking opportunities are high
    • Are podcasts the new blogs?
  • What would you do to market Hacker Practice (36:20)
    • Write up guest posts based on the content. Try to get 8-10 posts out of each interview. [For this episode: Growth Hacking, Drastic Changes, Simplicity as a Philosophy]
    • Interview high profile people and retarget ads at their followers (on top of native promotion)
    • Think about SEO: use transcripts and notes etc to capture long tail [POTATO MARKETING]
    • Multiple Win Scenarios
    • Why you should start a podcast
  • Experiments I should try on the podcast [46:30]
    • Connect with someone for intentional practice. (PEN TESTING, NVC, DIFCON)
    • Make a sale on the podcast.
  • What Michael would ask Mr. Big Data, Jesse Anderson [50:00]
    • How did Jesse teach himself complex skills?
    • How did he acquire his big, impressive, clients?
  • What single critical system should I develop to make the Podcast awesome?
    • Have a great process for ensuring that you have an ongoing flow of guests.
  • What does Michael think of 2-factor authentication [54:50]?
    • Most people should use it. Especially for email + banking
    • Using 2 factor auth is difficult across many accounts
  • Other security measures everybody should do[56:45]
    • Make passwords difficult (long 8+ characters)
    • Diversify your passwords
    • Use a password manager (like LastPass, Michael and I both use this)
    • Encrypt your computer and external hard drives.
  • What’s the worst Black Swan event that’s happened to Michael? [59:45]
    • He picked up a vicious parasite in China
    • How to mitigate the risk of terrible sickness in China:
      • Don’t eat from sketchy street vendors (China is especially bad)
      • Look for hygiene markers
  • How does Michael manage Celiac disease that could kill him? [1:50:50]
    • Cook at home. Some restaurants that claim to be gluten-free aren’t concerned with cross contamination because they don’t take the risks of Celiac seriously.
    • Eat the same things every day.
    • Over-communicate the seriousness of your food allergy.
      • As a side note: Seems like there is no such thing as over-communication. Great teams talk more than you think they should.
  • How Michael makes money sleeping on great mattresses [1:08:15]
    • Good mattress = good sleep = high performance
    • Buy a Tempurpedic mattress on craigslist, negotiate the price down
    • Use the mattress
    • Sell the mattress on craigslist when you’re done at a higher price using superior sales writing and copywriting skills.
    • Negotiating heuristic for Craigslist: offer 20% off posted price, accept 10% off.
  • How Michael stole Groupon’s business model for fun and profit [1:14:30]
    • Steal models that are “hot”, resell them on Craigslist.
    • How he improved his programming skills and made money at the same time.
    • Repeat
  • Michael made a podcast because of the Mixergy podcast (see link below for Interviewing your heroes)
  • Michael talks what he learned working with Ramit Sethi [1:22:30]
    • Ethical Persuasion: If your target customer had all the information available, would the buy your product?
    • Reminds me of Simon Sinofsky’s great question: “Am I inspiring you to act, or manipulating you to act?”
    • Create a product that is totally aligned with your audience’s interests
  • Copywriting Resources and Tactics [1:28:10]
    • You should read George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (LINK BELOW)
    • Name dropping works. Soundbites work.
    • Read and re-read everything you plan to publish. Reconsider every single word.
    • Headlines should convey benefit and target market: “Learn Practical Copywriting Tactics from the Masters”
    • Subheader should say HOW you’ll deliver: “This 8-week video course includes ____”
    • WHY > WHO > HOW
  • Michael advises me on my blog strategy [1:38:55]
    • What’s the goal?
    • Systems for blog promotion
      • Syndicate the material everywhere: Medium, LinkedIn
      • Post to aggregators: Reddit, HackerNews, GrowthHacker
      • Post to social: FB, Twitter
  • How does Michael cultivate respect and relationships? [1:43:20]
    • Be authentic and honest with yourself.
    • Be truthful even when it’s to your detriment. In the end, it won’t be.
    • How I improve client relationships by applying honesty to my detriment
    • How I talk to girls by being honest
  • Michael says: interview people who do big things that most people have never heard of.

Links

 Conclusion

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15 Negotiation Habits to Build Better Deals and Relationships

The last five years have seen my dollar per hour revenue skyrocket from about $10 / hr to now hovering just around $300 / hour on average, and as high as $500 / hour on some projects.

Charging this amount allows me to focus half of my working hours on personal development. It also allows me to live nomadically, taking on passion projects as I see fit. I spent the last four months working this way: travelling around Europe and the Caribbean, studying art and architecture, working on 2-3 projects part-time for clients I really like.

I don’t believe success comes as a result of one single skill. However, there are “first order” skills that will consistently be useful in personal and professional settings.

Negotiation is a first order skill, useful in all walks of life.

I’ve spent last week working on a thorough review of 2016. In doing so, I’ve reviewed goals, notes, and materials I have from as far back as 2014.

In this review, I found my 2014 notes from Professor Deepak Malhotra’s video on negotiating a job offer.

14 of the following points come from that video. I’ve expanded on them based on my real-world practice.

Here are my notes on negotiation, summarized into a handy list of 15 points.

1. They need to like you.

AND YOU NEED TO LIKE THEM.

This is a no-brainer. The most important failed negotiation of my career was the result of several parties deciding that they simply did not like the opposition.

They had righteous cause for their assessment, but that does not matter. There needs to be an implicit desire to work together on both sides of the table or else the negotiation will be lose-lose.

2. They need to believe you deserve it.

Simple. I practice this by selling only to referral business. I do not do outbound sales because convincing an non-believer is much more difficult than doing great work with people who are already 100% on board.

3. You need to be able to do the work.

Duh. I never promise someone: “I can deliver you an MVP”. Because it’s impossible to know if I can build a minimally viable product in a given domain without giving it the old college try. I can promise a prototype. Prototypes are contained. Prototypes have a binary spec sheet. Either the prototype is or is not completed. The prototype either fulfills the spec or it doesn’t. The spec is either feasible or it isn’t.

Promising someone a market response is false prophecy.

4. You should be flexible regarding currency.

What do I want out of a job? Well, it’s mostly the same as three years ago:

  1. The work should be morally compatible with my worldview.
  2. Cash.
  3. Equity / Profit-share
  4. Respect.
  5. Learning.
  6. Mobility.

These are all forms of currency that I consider when looking at a job. When I’m considering a job, these are all on the table as compensation. I’ll take $100 / hour job if it means I get equity in an awesome product I can work on from anywhere with a great team I can respect and learn from.

On the flip side, there is no money in the world that would convince me to work on something that has demonstrable harm to human life or the environment with people I don’t like.

5. They have to believe they can get you.

If I quote too high a number, the other side might walk away thinking there is no way they could afford me. This is why it’s important to discuss the above issue of currency openly so they know that there are levers they can pull to help me engage in the project happily.

6. Do not negotiate for the sake of negotiating.

If they offer you precisely what you want, don’t negotiate just to get a bit more. Sure, you’ll see financial upside. But you’ll get it by taking advantage of the other party. I’ve killed client deals by getting greedy. I should’ve stuck it out and seen about long-term upside with a more positive relationship outcome.

7. You have to understand them.

Think in terms of the other person’s interests. I have to work at this every day in a variety of contexts. It’s an exhausting, laborious mental effort. And it’s worth it every single time.

8. Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously. (Don’t waste anyone’s time).

This should be obvious. A lot of novice negotiators take some terms of a deal for granted. It’s best to get everything you can nailed down the first time. Otherwise you’ll find difficult and distracting negotiations right around the corner.

9. Ask why the answer is “No”.

This helps you understand the other person (see #7) and counter objections. It’s something I need to remind myself of all the time. You’ll also learn a lot about your market by frequently asking “Why?”

10. Stay at the table.

Sometimes negotiations get exhausting. Don’t walk away from deals because of fatigue, anger, or boredom. Take breaks but always set a time to reconvene. Emphasize the importance of resolution to the other party so they take the matter seriously.

11. Prepare for the most difficult questions.

You already know the honest responses to easy questions. It’s the difficult questions that you should prepare for. Prep for negotiations by considering their interests and extrapolating which questions might arise that will make you squeamish. Lean into that discomfort and prepare honest responses that leave you authentic and confident.

12. Everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the face.

I write scripts for just about every single important meeting or conversation I walk into. I do this as an exercise in rehearsal. I don’t expect the conversation to go the way I scripted. The real difficult questions will come up that you did not predict. The other person’s interests will be different than you thought.

Do not rely on your powers of foresight to have a positive outcome. Rely on optionality to capture upside because you can never be certain that you have a useful informational asymmetry.

13. The person who needs it the least, usually wins.

Tim Ferriss talks about this a lot. I used to enter a lot of negotiations where I needed a “Yes” more than the other party. It was a constant uphill battle. It wasn’t until my abilities lined up with my expectations that I started going to negotiations that were simply “nice-to-have”.

In other words, if your basic needs are covered, then winning the deal is “nice-to-have”. Any deal should be gravy on the steak of life.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring passion to the table. I don’t even show up if I’m not super excited about the deal. Why would I?

Like Derek Sivers says: “If it isn’t a hell-yes, it’s a hell-no!”

14. Ask yourself why they’re asking the question they’re asking.

Again: this will help you understand the other person and their interests.

One time, I sat at the table with three executives and the CEO of a startup. The negotiation had a bad ending and after the fact I said to the three (former) executives: “I would have done the same thing in his position.”

In that case, I recognized the CEO’s interests after the fact. If I had more carefully considered them before the negotiation, I wouldn’t have wasted my time sitting at the table to begin with.

15. Avoid making ultimatums (and ignore them if they come from the other party)

I’ve fortunately never dealt with such a situation in a business environment. If you follow rule #1, then this shouldn’t become a problem.

Ultimatums do, however, rear their ugly head in all sorts of personal situations. In this case, ignoring the ultimatum will serve you well. Just move forward, because people who try to coerce you via ultimatum are generally not worth being in a relationship with.

A new year of negotiation

Already this year I’ve been lucky enough to sit at the table with TWO potential clients I would be excited to work with. I’m glad to say I’ve followed most of these rules and can expect positive outcomes and relationships from these folks no matter the result of current negotiations.

I wish you the best possible 2017 as you go about your career and personal lives. If you can think of additional negotiations tips and tactics I’d love to hear about them.

How to Be a Zen Master while Spending the Holidays with Your Dysfunctional Family

When you leave home for the first time, you discover yourself. Or, as in my case, you can engineer yourself with the help of some brilliant professionals. This is a simple matter of applying principles of behavior change to your environment to make desired behaviors effortless.

When you cannot control the environment, ideal behavior becomes a taller order.

Periodic visits are mandatory in most families and every homecoming reminds me of the strength of old habits and interpersonal dynamics. Every tendency I have eliminated through careful environmental controls rears it’s ugly head once I’ve returned to the family farm. I only win these battles with a combination of preparation, vigilance, and reflection.

I want to share with you my strategies for dealing with the uncontrollable home environment we all encounter when we return to our parents and siblings for the holiday season. You don’t have to become a child just because you’re in your childhood environment.

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