5 Learnable Traits That Helped Me Build a Profitable Online Business — Despite Being a Poor Student
Your past performance doesn't have to dictate your future achievements
There's a story I heard recently about a girl in her grade school art class. Not many people paid much attention to this girl. She had her friends but didn't cause too much of a ruckus and wasn't a star academic.
One day, this girl was approached by her art teacher. The art teacher asked her,
"Hey, what are you painting?" The teacher asked with a puzzled look on her face.
"It's God," replied the little girl as she leaned in further to add colorful details to her masterpiece.
In a fit of dismay, the teacher snapped back to the little girl, "But no one knows what God looks like."
The little girl looked up from her painting with an air of confidence even Michaelangelo would be jealous of replied,
"They will soon."
There are many lessons that can be taken out of this story. The most important one, as far as I'm concerned, is how our education system can beat out all dormant creativity in the same of being right. Being right for:
- The grades you'll get in high school.
- The University you're going to apply to.
- The corporate job you're going to intern for.
What happens, however, when our institutions funnel away the possibility of being wrong? Creativity dies along with it. To be creative — by definition — calls for the possibility we'll be wrong. To create means you offer up a new form to the world. Often, that form is wrong but you'll never know unless you try and possibly fail.
Furthermore, the system is just that — a system. However, not all people fall into the Norman Rockwell mold of being a good student (like yours truly). As Albert Einstein famously put it,
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Thankfully — the world of entrepreneurialism calls for creativity (and thus the possibility of failure). After years of failing my way forward to success, here are five learnable traits that helped me build a profitable online business — despite being a poor student.
Create everything twice
The above idea was made famous by Stephen R. Covey in his 1989 worldwide best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book, Covey notes that everything is created twice: first in the mind of the creator as a conceptualization and visualization, and then next in the physical world.
Now, the first part of creating everything twice is pretty easy. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's easy to come up with ideas — the second part is the one that generally halts people from actualizing their dreams.
I had a roommate who worked in fine-dining. He had a lot of connections in the wine industry. In 2013 he had an idea to take less than desirable wine and white label it via Tetra Pak (paper-boxed wine packaging). He never actualized even a concept box design. Though only claiming a 3% stake in the wine industry, Tetra Pak wine sales increased over 21% from 2015 to 2016.
I've been able to build and grow a profitable online business because I create things twice. Actually, I sometimes create things five-plus times… My first product came out in 2017 and I've iterated many times since then.
Many products have failed — others have succeeded.
Search for unturned stones
When I was a kid, the neighborhood kids and I would go out and look for various forms of treasure. This treasure could come in many different forms:
- Garter snakes.
- Baby animals (we thought we could raise for our own).
- Interesting bugs.
Most of the time, we'd find such things hiding under larger rocks or those cement drain tiles you find at the end of gutter lines. During our hunts, there would be a brief moment before the rock was completely flipped that your heart would stop. You wouldn't know if you found something great or you lifted just another rock. It was like the kid version of a lottery scratch-off ticket — only it was free.
What was our success rate in finding something of value? Probably 5–10%.
I think about that in my entrepreneurial life. As a content creator — I put out loads of content. Most of it is "okay." Statistically speaking, this has to be the case: Most of it has to be average, some great, some poor. If I didn't have the mindset of continuously looking for treasure (with respect to content), I'd never find it.
I know that if I create one hundred different pieces of content — I'm probably going to have a 10% success rate (if I'm lucky) with creating content that actually produces some reach.
In school — a 5–10% success rate, in most spaces, is frowned upon. However, when you do find that treasure, it pays off.
Welcome the criticism
I remember the first time I was told I was weird.
It was in Mrs. McDonald's third-grade class. I was going off about something that I thought was funny and was told I was weird by a classmate, Kenny (I'll refrain from using his last name even though it's crystalized in my mind). I held in my tears until I saw my mom pull up in our 1992 red Chrysler Town & Country. As soon as she opened the doors, I threw my head in her lap and cried.
My mom asked me why I was crying. I told her what I just told you. She responded with,
"You're not weird. They're weird. They just don't know how funny you are."
I didn't realize it then, but that response from my loving Italian mother was probably the best piece of advice I've ever received.
Working in a public space, I get criticized almost daily.
There's of course more to this comment that I could uncover and show you — but I think you get the point.
Does this hurt to read about my work?
Only if I choose to let it hurt me. There are too many humans on this planet with too many opinions and too many different life situations for me to have this affect me negatively.
Do I wish nothing but peace and compassion for this individual? Absolutely, and I hope he finds it.
But I hope that he enterprises his own creations — rather than tears others down…
Get a cheat sheet from an upperclassman
I was very fortunate to have an older brother ahead of me in school.
He gave me a precursor of what was to come and helped indirectly introduce me to a bunch of the teachers (everyone at our schools knew the last name "Brosio"). My brother was able to tell me what to expect with certain teachers, how to charm them and he was able to give me some notes if I ended up taking a class he took before me. While it wasn't easy street in school (as I said, I was a piss poor student), I got some help from the people who did it before me.
"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
— Sir Isaac Newton
The same holds for some of my success with my profitable online business. I look to what some of the others in my space have done before me: Seth Godin, Ryan Holiday, Russell Brunson, Amy Porterfield have all done bits and pieces of what I aim to do with my business.
I'd be a fool not to look to them for some guidance.
Waste little time studying
Test Anxiety is a widely known psychological concept that takes into consideration physical and mental reactions that result in a test taker performing less than-desired on a test. A student might think of all the negative things that go wrong if they get a sub-optimal score. They might have a slight doubt on a multiple-choice question that causes them to freeze.
Regardless of the reaction — anxiety while taking a test can result in mistakingly selecting the wrong answer (even though you initially chose the right one), or worse, running out of time.
I was always one of the first students to finish my tests. I didn't always score particularly well — but I wanted to end the experience of taking a test as quickly as possible.
I'll never know the right answer when it comes to creating my online business.
I do know, however, that if I stall and overthink what route I'm going to take — it will result in my business stalling. A business mirroring a deer in the headlights.
This mindset pertains to virtually all aspects of my business:
- Create content and waste little time editing it over and over.
- Create and market products. Make sure it solves the problem, however, improve it with feedback (don't wait for it to be perfect).
- Something that I've been working on recently is reaching out to other creators/gatekeepers who can help — don't wait for them to reach out to me.
You don't have to be a straight-A student
I know I wasn't…
Don't get it twisted, however, this isn't my Magnum Opus on taking the easy way out. This isn't an invitation to turn on Netflix and waste away all the productive hours of your day. I've worked my tail off to get what I have.
I just did it my way.
And let's be honest — for you, will the work be perfect straight from the get-go?
But that's perhaps the point. Anything worth doing takes hard work. Just because you weren't a straight-A student doesn't mean you can build that dream business you have in your head. Just because you didn't go to some prestigious University doesn't mean you won't be able to impact the lives of people looking for what you're about to create.
"Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."
— William Jennings Bryan
Most importantly — just because your past might have been a little shaky, it doesn't mean your future can't be beautiful.