What my 9 year old self taught me that my 30 Year old self forgot

When I was 9 years old I started my first affiliate website.

I know, sounds crazy right?

The year was 1992 and after months of begging my parents for the internet and using up every free month from AOL, Netscape, and Prodigy they finally caved. I was elated. Within months of plugging in I had devoured everything from IBM red books, the anarchist cookbook, to hackers crackdown. I started my own personal website and learned how to rank under the term “coolest girl on earth”.

Yup I loved the internet.. but i was increasingly becoming bored.

That’s how I turned one summer morning into my first entrepreneurial experience.

I had been lazily searching the web one morning when I first learned about affiliate marketing. It all sounded simple enough: Promote some products, get people to buy them, and make a sweet commission. Seemed like an excellent project for the start of my summer. That morning I created my very own site dedicated to selling shaving products for women.

Why shaving products you ask?

I was quite the mathematician those days and realized that 30% commission was MUCH higher than 10% commission. (I hadn’t quite realized that cost of product had something to do with the equation as well.) It also helped that there was only 20 products to sell in that category which seemed less overwhelming than the 100s found in others.

I created the site, sat back and waited.

This is the point where i tell you nothing happened… except well, something did happen.

Hours later I had received my first sale, and then another, and then another.

The crazy part? I had no idea why the hell this was happening!

I was perplexed. My gut instinct was to quickly start emailing all the people who had bought from my site. When I started to look at the names, I instantly noticed something very strange. Every single one of my customers was male.

Why were MEN buying women’s shaving products?

I had hit a small niche: athletes who need shaving products but were too embarrassed to buy them at the store. They were runners, swimmers, bikers or triathlon participants. Word started to spread between forums and groups dedicated these groups and soon my site went viral.

I quickly made some changes. My site went from pink to black, I changed the images to show more masculine colours and sales kept coming.

As the end of the summer quickly approached, I had a decision to make. Would I keep the store part time or would i close it?

I closed up shop. After all, fifth grade was set to be a tough year.

Fast forward 21 years…

I’m sitting in a new job as a conversion rate optimizer at Shopify. I now have years of experience behind me in all aspects of online marketing: SEO, SEM, Social Media, Email, and Blog Writing. Yet here I was staring at my screen, perplexed. I didn’t know where to start. I had so many things I could do but didn’t know what I should be focusing on.

The same day an email circulated the office with an article attached by Paul Graham entitledDo things that don’t scale. I immediately remembered that summer in ‘92 and what I had done with absolutely no experience.

Suddenly I knew what to do.

What did my 9 year old self teach me that my 30 year old self forget?

1) Ask Questions.

  • See something that doesn’t make sense — Ask why.
  • Want to know what people have failed/succeed at before you — Ask questions.
  • Don’t know what you’re doing wrong? Ask your customers.

That summer I didn’t even think twice before I reached out to my customers. That quick decision led me to create a better experience for them. I didn’t let fear get in the way.

2) Do things that don’t scale.

In a world where everything is automated we keep trying to find the easy way out. We forget that the “easy” way to learn information is to take it slow. Writing every customer, taking the time to reply to their emails, and fixing problems myself were all ways that I learned about my customer. It’s why I had such fast success creating a product/market fit.

3) Try New Things & Fail Fast.

I failed so fast those first couple of days that I almost missed it. I came up with a completely new idea, tried it out, learned quickly and made changes.

We should all be doing that, all of the time.

We tend to think that our “Experience” starts the minute we start our first job..

Let’s be real, it started waaaay before that.

Who we are today is a mixture of every experience, every moment (good or bad), and all the learnings we had along the way.

Take a moment and talk to your 9 year old self today… he/she might be more wiser than you think.

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