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EXECUTION Burned down my slowlane political career for entrepreneurship 17 months ago

Discussion in 'Progress/Execution Threads' started by Cat Lady, Apr 26, 2018.

  1. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Hi! I'm Cat Lady, a 30 year old entrepreneur in the Pacific Northwest. In November 2016 (remember that election?), I left a career in non-profit and political fundraising to try to ramp up a speaking/teaching side hustle I'd had for a few years. I didn't just "leave" a career, I abandoned my job right before the election when I was in a Director-level position in the state political party. So I burned that down.

    I have spent most of my career making very little money but building really amazing campaigns and projects in the non-profit sector. I was personally responsible for $1-3 million raised per year, and was great at fundraising. But my average income hovered around the city's poverty level. Commission/performance bonuses are considered unethical in the non-profit sector.

    Because I can live on a slim budget and have no debt (I lived in a cardboard house I built myself for years, and in a tree at a hippie commune, etc...), when I was making $39K a year in politics, I was able to save ~50% of my income and still travel to 10+ countries most years. Previously, I'd been in the Mr Money Mustache accelerated Slowlane - work hard, save a lot, retire early on savings.

    I've always been entrepreneurial because I work for small organizations where I'm Fundraiser/Event Planner/Database Manager/Grant Writer/Teacher to At-Risk Youth/HR/Bookkeeper/Bike Mechanic/Solar Phone Charging Trailer Builder - you name it, I did it. This ended up transferring well to starting my own business.

    My biggest challenges in business are sales & marketing, and NOT GETTING distracted by volunteer obligations/side jobs. I'm incredibly lucky that my professional reputation in my city is good enough (outside of party politics, which I will never go back to) that I get offered a job seemingly every few weeks, and it's been hard to say no to focus. This has meant the 1.5 years I've been doing the business, I've always done a few other part-time jobs as well. For awhile I was CFO/COO of a friend's small tech startup 15 hours a week, which paid the bills while I created infoproducts. I still run payroll for them once a month as a business contractor, but have stepped back being an employee. I also did some freelance graphic design, database management, and even was an auction caller for a bit.

    Business Progress/Process Thus Far
    • November 2016: Decided to start the business, acquired CFO/COO pay the bills job; did a big local talk to an audience of 1000 in order to kick off my local radio show & podcast
    • January 2017 - March 2017: Built the radio show & podcast to deliver value, started calling up radio stations in other cities to send them my tape to consider for syndication. Built my email list to ~450 people through opt-ins. Got to syndication to 8 cities.
    • March 2017: Created my first paid product - an online course that I filmed at the local public access TV station (professional cameras and lighting and studio for free!); also did local speaking gigs.
    • April 2017: Sold the course, my first paid product, to my email list, made $3,000 profit.
    • June 2017 - August 2017: Decided local speaking gigs were not financially profitable (but were good marketing); instead focused on building a new info product - a book. Got the podcast to 8K downloads per show. Gave 2 international speaking gigs at conferences.
    • August 2017: Left my part-time CFO/COO job.
    • August 2017 - September 2017: Traveled from Dublin, Ireland to Shanghai, China (13 countries) by train, bus, and ferry (including the trans-siberian railway) and sent over 200 postcards along the way to my list to build excitement for the book kickstarter which launched in..
    • October 2017: Launched a kickstarter for the book which solved a Need in a niche market. Goal was $7,500. I gave 5 talks at different conferences across the US & Canada (my feet touched down in my town for only a few days in 5 weeks). Most of those I cash flowed as marketing expenses, none were paid beyond a small honorarium. It paid off, the kickstarter raised $15,000, and I had enough to pay myself and cover expenses for the book. Bundled the online course with some of the high-tier kickstarter rewards. Email list was now 1,000.
    • November 2017: Signed a deal with a book agent to try to sell the book to a mainstream publisher after the print run of 1000 for kickstarter backers is sold out.
      Also took a part-time minimum wage job at a high-end boutique gym because 1) I am interested in owning a fitness boutique studio as a "retirement" business in the future and 2) I am able to work on my business on the clock and 3) I like their classes but would never pay that much per month
    • November 2017 - March 2018: Pretty much head-down working on the book, which I released in weekly chapters starting in February to backers to get feedback. Made another $3,000 in pre-orders. Started reaching out to niche stores (the book is a niche book) to see if they would carry it. Retail price is $19.99, and I make a 62% profit margin when I sell direct to consumer, and a 31% profit margin on wholesale.
    • April 2018: Discovered the fastlane forum. As someone who doesn't like cars and lives really frugally, was initially put off, but read the book and realized it was a lot of business principles I needed to learn. I am also finishing out a side contract at a global corporation doing database management, and now am down to 1 day a week at the gym job.
    Current status: Book is in production at overseas printer, and will ship to backers next month. I went over my cost estimates by a bit but not my available cash. I will be doing my own fulfillment because I am Cheap As f*ck.

    BIG PLAN FOR THE SUMMER OF HUSTLE

    I am finally scaling back to the gym job just 1 day a week, I am leaving the non-profit board I am on and will take no other side gigs for 4-5 months. Instead I will focus on getting business revenue from $600 to $1800 per month average, which is enough for me to live and save on (eventually I would like to make more to compete with my market value as a W2 employee and beyond, but that is my goal for this year). I am joining a podcast network which will allow me to outsource sales & sponsorship for the podcast. My book agent is working the circuit to sell my book to major publishers.

    I also focusing on leveraging my engaged listenership as a lead generation service for people that work in the industry. I get inbound requests constantly from listeners for referrals, but don't have enough professionals to refer them to. I now have signed MOUs from two professionals, so I need to build up the tech.

    Last but not least, I'm branching out to video from my current world of radio-only.

    As I need to redo my website (who doesn't?)

    Why Fastlane?
    I have no desire to make a ton of money for myself, but I know that when I'm not worried about money, I make better sh*t happen in the world. I also have been lucky to work with a few fabulous philanthropists (even a few billionaires) in my days as a fundraiser, and I want to be that person some day. But I personally am interested in continuing to be a frugalista because I love simple living, but more money = more to give back to the community in time and money.

    The work my business does has always been focused on providing Value and we have a program where I teach low-income youth, but we're not a 501c3 because I don't want to give up ownership to a board of directors, I want to possibly sell the brand in the future, and I actually currently would pay more in taxes to be a c3 than I do now.

    Life Stuff - Like my Fastlane Partner
    I live with my SSO (statistically significant other) who retired a millionaire at 32 after a entirely self-employed career building a tech startup (with 2 failed startups in there) and selling it. He made a few hundred thousand from the sale, but he split that profit into commercial real estate investments (his dad's business), small tech angel investing, rental properties, and index fund investing. He also has a niche website that pulls in about $15,000- $65,000 annually through ad deals. He wrote a book on a niche technical topic last year with corporate company, made some money from that deal, but last month, after ~1.5 years of retirement, the company convinced him to come work for them. They are paying him absurd amounts of money to do what he loved to do (consulting on a niche technical topic) without what he hated (managing the consulting sales pipeline.) Since he already had enough passive income, he's saving 100% of his unreasonably high salary in order to cash flow a mother-in-law apartment onto his local rental property next year. Hopefully he likes this job enough to keep it, as an always self-employed person. (And yes, our finances are totally separate, though he pays slightly more rent than me because he has fancier housing preferences, despite being a millionaire though, he spends just a little more than me - about $25,000 per year).

    His goal is that by May of 2019, he can break ground for a ~800sq ft apartment to be built on his current rental house, paid for entirely in cash, which we will live in once it is done (right now we live in a rental apartment). He is doing the permitting and plans now. In May, he'll move into the second unit on the property while construction happens, and I'll run off to travel for a few months. So the goal is by next May 2019, I have enough location-independent income coming in that it is easy to travel for a few months and still have cash coming in.

    Anyway, that was long, but welcome to my process/progress thread! I'm excited to be here! I hope I can provide motivation and help to others, and glean business advice from this amazingly robust community.
     
  2. MJ DeMarco
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    MJ DeMarco Raving Lunatic Staff Member Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR Summit Attendee

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    Wow! Awesome intro.

    Ah yes, an excellent purpose and I fully agree. You've done great for other people, but now it sounds like it's time to do great for yourself.

    Contributing to the world and making a difference is so much easier when you've got your i's dotted and t's crossed.

    The Fastlane doesn't care if your goal is a big house on the beach, or a legendary philanthropy to save the world from itself.

    A big welcome to the forum!
     
  3. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Thank you for the welcome from the man himself! There's so much stuff here, I read a bunch before I leapt in and registered :)

    My biggest fear with business is that I tend to be very bad at Profit Motive, coming entirely from a non-profit background.

    Since I'm in media/teaching, there's a lot of reputation-building work that comes before you can bring in much money, but I think I've done okay my first year. But if I'm going to fastlane, I need to ramp up my income so I can support myself off the business entirely.
     
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  4. MJ DeMarco
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    MJ DeMarco Raving Lunatic Staff Member Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR Summit Attendee

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    Admin Post
    That can be an advantage. Entrepreneurship with a social component is growing and very admirable. It's also a value skew.

    An example here is @biophase who runs an eCom business. For every item you buy, he donates one to a charity.
     
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  5. wade1mil
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    wade1mil Platinum Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane Speedway Pass

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    Of course. Best election ever!

    Sounds like you have a solid foundation to make things happen as an entrepreneur. Great intro and good luck!
     
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  6. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Oh that's awesome! I will check out @biophase The program I did with the kickstarter was that you could "Pay It Forward" - you buy an slightly more expensive ebook or regular book, and another book got donated to the low-income youth I teach to (my teaching is funded by a very small honorarium from a local foundation). The book is aimed at millennials and I work with homeless youth teaching them the same skills in the book. Also there are cats.

    A lot of folks that might not have bought the book otherwise backed at that level, and even more upgraded their price point to Pay It Forward. My shipping is $0 for the donated books since I deliver in person and I still earn a small amount after COGS on those books. So it's been helpful for both marketing the book + raising the average basket of goods purchase price for my existing consumers. PLUS IT GIVES ME WARM FUZZIES.
     
  7. Readerly
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    Readerly Yes and Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass

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    Welcome to the forum, @Cat Lady, from another Portlander who's also a relatively new arrival here. We're certainly not all Ferrarri-coveting bro-marketers! Great intro. You seem like a real doer.
     
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  8. G-Man
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    G-Man Legendary Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR

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    Great intro. Nice to finally see someone else stumble in here from the non-profit world!

    Don't be afraid - just remind yourself that that profit is proof you gave someone something they needed so badly they happily gave you money for it.
     
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  9. Get Right
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    Get Right Platinum Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass

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    This may be my favorite post of the year. Thanks MJ! REP++
     
  10. Strive
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    Strive Bronze Contributor Speedway Pass

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    Awesome intro post, it's a pleasure to have you here! Hope you stick around for a while, I'm sure there's quite a bit of people that can learn from you
     
  11. ProblemOd
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    ProblemOd Silver Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass

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    Cool story. Interested to hear your traveling tips and how you did that on a budget.
     
  12. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    The big trans-siberian trip was pretty expensive due to visa fees and train tickets, but it was a dream trip so I saved up for it for awhile. Took 30 days to travel overland to 30 countries and cost me $3,308.21 in total. Here's the breakdown:
    upload_2018-4-26_20-22-11.png


    Almost no plane costs ($22 total?) because I travel hacked, which even got me a first class suite in the Korean Airlines EMR-500 (my own little sleeping pod) on the way back (that was fun but nothing I need to do again). Wherever I didn't couchsurf, I travel hacked for cheap hotels or hostels. (I have a bigger breakdown on my blog, but I'm still figuring out if I will link to my own stuff and kill my thinly-held anonymity or not).

    Happy to answer any questions about travel hacking or budget travel for train nerds, though!
     
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  13. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    So, I've got one week left of working my data contracting gig before I enter the Summer of Hustle. The #1 biggest goal for this summer is revenue. There are a few paths to revenue that I will be doubling down on, though I am worried there's a lot to focus on:
    • Podcast/Radio Sponsorships
    • Amazon book promo + review boosting (currently reading up on this, would love recs on resources)
    • Retargeting/abandoned carts in e-commerce for the books + online course
    • Improve sales funnel with excellent tips and downloadable online library for email list signups
    • Landing a mainstream publisher deal (advance $$)
    • Lead generation model for professionals in the industry
    • Outbound speaking sales for back-to-school at colleges
    Panic Time?
    Only 18 days until the launch party for the book and the book has not yet left China from the printer, though it is due to do so any day. 30% of the copies (roughly the number of print pre-orders direct to consumer) are coming via one-week airmail, the rest will literally be on the slow boat from China. So that's going on.

    Money numbers
    Thought you might like to see some of the numbers. This is my side gigs vs take-home income from the business (take-home is after COGS, contractors, overhead, and taxes). The first 7 months I invested in equipment (video equipment paid for by a local grant) and some contract workers and built up a buffer in my business account before I started taking a paycheck.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    My average monthly expenses are around $1,200 a month so I can live on this income, but I could make a lot more in a W2 job than I am in my business and I prefer to save more (I aim for 50% of my salary in savings) + travel more than my current income allows for.

    Taking time off
    I am very bad at taking time off work, but I know that scheduled downtime is good for me to have more focus when I am working. I have burnt out many times by working 70+ hour weeks for months on end. I am struggling with creating space for downtime that isn't just going to the gym or reading business books. So I'd be eager to hear your methods for taking downtime and feeling OK about it, especially if you balance side hustles and your own business(es).
     
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  14. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Some updates: been one week since my last day at my contract job, now I'm down to just one day a week at the fitness job. I had hoped this week would be FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS on key priorities but instead it's been a lot of PR & marketing and weird random meetings as opportunities came up.

    My book agent and I are plotting to send out our mainstream publisher pitch this week and I know I *should* pay for a lawyer to look over my agreement with my agent, but my inner cheapness is getting in the way. $350 is more than half my rent, or just money to a lawyer's pocket to read 5 pages.

    A simple follow up I did with a news anchor meant I came down and filmed a segment that ran 3 times on the TV news (4PM, 5PM, and 6PM) yesterday about my business. The segment has gotten picked up by some comedians on twitter, and that combination led to over $1,000 in (gross) sales in the past 24 hours alone plus a ton of new list subscribers (today before I ran out to teach, I put up a "get the first chapter free" page with list building). I'm not quite going viral, but picking up some steam!

    The TV spot did well enough that a national syndicate asked me to appear via skype on Monday to promote the book, which will be 12 different media markets! Additionally, I'm coming back for a lifestyle segment next week on the same station that had me on the news.

    Bad news bears though: my books are held up in customs right now, and my launch party is Thursday. So kinda freaking out.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
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  15. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Made $2,000 in sales this week. Have 2 more media appearances next week.

    I got the printer to overnight me two books for the launch party, so at least people could see them!

    13 boxes of books arrived from China today. I have spent all day getting ready for fulfillment; ordering supplies, doing shipping setup. This weekend is going to be packing boxes all damn weekend; big issue I'm dealing with now is getting my label writer to talk to my fulfillment software.

    In other news
    The database contracting job wants me back for another 6-week contract. Since I can use the money and I don't mind the work, I proposed 20 hours a week starting after I get all these packages out. So much for DIY incubator. Next week I MUST get the damn website re-done, it is DRAGGING these days and I know it's losing me customers.
     
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  16. Windward
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    Windward New Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Recommended methods for taking downtime: Apps that lock you out of your computer/phone.

    Sounds like thing are picking up nicely though so you may not have time to try that!
     
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  17. Cat Lady
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    Cat Lady Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    I guess I don't really struggle with "put down the phone" very much if I decide to do it, it's just working on the mental
    "permission" to do so. The only thing I give myself permission to do that isn't work is other work (like volunteering or side gigs), or going to the gym, or riding my bike between appointments. I have trouble forcing myself go to parties (I have to be up at 4:30AM for work) or taking a weekend to go bike camping (I used to lead group bike camping trips 2-5 times per summer) or just taking a walk to the park.

    I know it's not good for my productivity to spend ALL my time thinking about work, but I feel a lot of anxiety that I could be using my time better whenever I try to relax. But the pace I'm rocking right now isn't sustainable. I've had an eye twitch that hasn't gone away for weeks.

    Like this week I need to spend several hours at the hospital to get labs/xrays done to get my arthritis drug refilled (which is amazing for me but costs $3000 a month) so I'll be waiting at the hospital for hours. So now I've decided that's my "downtime" for the week, but even with a good book, how refreshing really is a windowless hospital waiting room?

    In business news
    Today I start fulfillment! I am shipping out 400 boxes over the next few days to people who backed the campaign and pre-ordered the book. Since these folks took a chance before the product really existed, I want to make sure they are thoroughly appreciated in the packaging, personal touches, and little details I put in.

    • Extra special stickers (not available to buy) for anyone who found typos in the book
    • Fun stamp on the outside of the package that's branded
    • Handwritten notes on the enclosed postcard (which is an often-requested stand-alone image from the book) - the postcard asks for amazon reviews and social media posts
    It sounds like a lot of work, but my years of fundraising has made me an expert at speed mailing large amounts of slightly personalized mail.

    Here's the stack I'm using for fulfillment:
    • Backerkit (a kickstarter add-on fulfillment software) for order administration on the user end and shipping confirmation. This paid for itself in the number of add-ons I got after the campaign and the fast admin for pre-orders. It was ˜$500 and then uses stripe for payment processing, and I've made $5000 gross through the platform at this point.
    • Which links to Shipstation, which is printing all my shipping labels on my laser printer (I have a dymo thermal printer but it's too small for priority mail labels). I actually got signed up for a shipstation trial through swagbucks, which is kicking me close to $20 in giftcards for signing up. Right now I'm actually getting a fair amount of swagbucks kickbacks since I am spending so much money on shipping supplies.
    • The packaging is simple rigid large envelopes from Amazon Prime, negating the need for cardboard inside bubble mailers or wrapping in tissue paper (which is really time consuming despite being cute).
    • Shipping Media Mail for about 80% of packages that fit the requirements (made sure my includes are well within the requirements) which is saving me close to $4 a package. I will have to load a bunch of USPS totes onto my cargo bike to get them to the post office since they don't do media mail pickup. But worth the savings. The rest of packages (that have non-book extras or are international) are going via Priority Mail or UPS global.
    Anyway, I need to get to it. I have a few hundred envelopes to pack today!
     
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