My Story (i.e. About Clay Collins)
Written on on December 5, 2010 (i.e. a long time ago) and posted here for posterity.
Hi, my name is Clay Collins, and the sad truth is that my “about page” has never been fully transparent.
So, because I’ve been beating the drums of full transparency for a long time (while personally having the least transparent “about page” possible), I’ve decided to go out on a limb, re-write this page, let my freak flag fly, and hopefully give you a deeper sense of who I am . . . in the hopes that you’ll do the same.
I’m doing this because . . .
Telling You Anything But The Complicated Story Is A Disservice
For some time now, my about page has been neat and clean. It was an about page I could show to my family. It was the kind of about page that wouldn’t raise red flags to speaker selection committees.
It was safe.
But I’m going to do something different because in this society . . . so-called “successful people” (at least financially successful ones) are usually portrayed as being highly productive earlier risers who work hard, have their ducks in a row, get a lot done, set goals, and do all the stuff Steven Covey and Tony Robbins and David Allen and Peter Drucker say to do.
And not only do I think this portrayal is unfortunate . . .
. . . but it’s also 100%, grade A, first-class bullshit.
(In my case, it’s always been better to ignore almost everything and instead focus only on things that give me illegal amounts of happiness).
Anyway, I really want to drive this point home: Despite what publicists who write press bios WANT you to think, it is a complete myth that financially successful people and market leaders have their shit together, have their ducks in a row.
So I’m Going To Try And Do Something A Little Different
I’m going to try and do something a little different, because I’ve seen person after person tell neat and organized and linear and sensible stories about how their businesses became successful (even though that’s rarely they way it happens).
I’m doing this because most people have been told an outright fucking lie about what creates business success (we’ll get to these lies a little later).
So Here Goes
I’m going to share my story and mission with you and talk about some of the stuff that’s worked.
And a whole lot of the stuff that didn’t (with the ugly details in there as well . . . because, frankly, I think you’ll learn a lot more from my flaws than from the stuff that worked).
I had a friend in PR read this. And, before I take us off the deep end, I’m supposed to first show you the official, fancy bio.
So Here’s The Official, Fancy Bio
Here’s how Garry Schleifer introduced me a few weeks ago before a presentation to the members of choice Magazine.
“Clay Collins is widely regarded as one of the top internet marketers in the world. Now in his 30s, Clay left home at age 15 to start his first software company and (excluding his college years) has been a hard-core entrepreneur ever since.
Clay has been behind the scenes (advising and writing copy) for some of the most important and highest grossing information marketing campaigns on the internet. In addition, Clay has worked with clients ranging from large corporations such as Fox Television Studios to startups such as Brazen Careerist.
Clay has presented on some of the largest internet marketing conferences and stages in the world. And Clay was recently featured in the documentary “Add To Cart” which follows the history of internet marketing pioneers such as Christian Lander (Stuff White People Like), Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library TV), Andy Jenkins (Kajabi), Tucker Max, and Frank Kern.
All of Clay’s businesses have operated without investment capital and with a small lean staff. Clay grew up on a citrus farm in rural southern California and now lives in Minnesota where he spends much of his time hiking, backpacking, trying to suck less at bouldering, and spending time with friends and family.”
So that’s the clean version. The neat and simple version. The version that my family sees. The version I was supposed to write.
Here’s the Longer, More Complicated, Messy Version
Let’s start out with some of the dirt and flaws, because there are a lot of them.
Hmmm . . . where to begin.
- I can get one thing (and I mean ONLY one thing) done per day. If I’m writing a blog post, then that’s what I’m doing all day. If I’m on the phone one day, then I schedule all of the week’s phone appointments for that day. If I try and do more than one thing then nothing gets done.
- I simply, cannot, for the life of me get up before 10AM in the morning (my upcoming marketing conference will be starting at 11AM BTW). And I really don’t function without a full 8 hours of sleep, although I prefer 10.
- I’m about as productive as a lobotomized turtle when you remove a few spiritual practices (some of them extremely weird) from my life. For example, I’m completely hosed if I don’t meditate everyday (and thank my creator for the life I have). Also, every once in a while I have to (and I mean have to) go on a ritual “vision quest” . . . which basically entails randomly going backpacking into the woods by myself for an extended period of time. EVERY major product and business initiative from my company has been envisioned during these vision quests. And when too much time passes without one, I start going a little crazy.
- I have a very poor sense of time. The one time I had a corporate job, way back in the day, I showed up on time about once. (That said, I now have a system in place for ensuring that I show up early for speaking arrangements and phone appointments . . . part of this system is that I have to decline almost all speaking engagements and phone appointments, but when I agree to them, I’m there).
- I nearly failed out of preschool (can you even do that?), then dropped out of elementary school, dropped out of high school, dropped out of college, and dropped out of graduate school twice. (How all of this is even logistically possible is a topic for an entire lengthy blog post). That makes me a five-time dropout.
- When I was in elementary school my teachers thought I was an outright incompetent, uncoordinated weirdo, with the attention span of a gnat on amphetamines, who was clearly insane, crazy, and not in his right mind (the part about not being in my right mind is totally true : — ).
- I am pretty much 100% incapable of doing anything that I don’t find immensely interesting.
- It’s nearly impossible to reach me. Not because I think I’m better than everyone else. It’s just like a handicap or something. . . I’m really bad at responding to voicemails, emails, tweets, facebook messages, etc. Right now there are 4287 emails in my personal email inbox, about half of which are unread. I want to respond to every single message, but that somehow never happens. (That said, EVERY SINGLE customer email and business email received gets answered promptly by my business partner Tracy or our customer service team; if you’ve ever dealt with us, you know that we’re 100% dedicated to providing fanatical customer service).
As my friend Johnny B. Truant says, “It’s a miracle you can even tie your shoes in the morning.”
Anyway, despite all of this, I’ve been blessed to have a company that’s almost doubling in sales each year, makes an insane amount of money, and allows me to live an amazing life (I get to work when I want, go on vacations when I want, and take a month off when I want). I am also able to hire AMAZING PEOPLE (I’m grateful that they want to work with me . . . I love working with them), and only do work that I love with every piece of my being.
How I Learned About Business And Purpose
I grew up on my grandparents’ citrus nursery in rural southern California.
In my free time, I improved the fine art of playing practical jokes on my brother. And pestering my grandfather as he raised citrus trees.
While following my grandfather around his nursery, he quickly became my hero.
(Here’s a picture of my grandfather holding me. I regret having shown this picture to my girlfriend recently: she was like, “Why don’t you have arms like that?”)
My grandfather was a simple man.
He just liked to hang out with his family and raise citrus trees.
But when it came to raising citrus trees, he wasn’t screwing around. He grew about 600,000 of them per year (as far as I know, he’s grown more citrus trees than anyone who’s ever lived).
But he didn’t just grow ANY citrus trees: he grew what were known as the best citrus trees you could buy (they were the least likely to die of frost, had the highest survival rate, and produced more fruit than his competitors’ trees).
Growing citrus trees is what my grandfather did. Period.
For 70 years.
For 70 years he just got better and better and better at growing trees.
For 70 years he was beautifully obsessed and focused on growing the best trees he could.
What I learned from my grandfather was that a lifetime of improving, testing and perfecting something as “simple” as growing citrus trees can truly be ART that affects numerous lives.
What I’ve learned from my grandfather is that sometimes the most impactful lives, missions, and purposes (i.e. growing citrus trees) don’t look glamorous from the outside.
Sometimes the greatest impact comes from focusing and improving on one seemingly “simple” thing for a sustained period of time.
But my grandfather didn’t have to write manifestos about growing trees. My grandfather didn’t have to come up with labels like “purpose-driven tree growing” or “growing trees from the heart.”
And he didn’t have to start a social movement around it on twitter.
He didn’t have to tell a story to others about why he did what he did . . . or artificially infuse his work with meaning.
He just grew healthy food-giving trees that have fed multiple millions of people. (But that wasn’t the story he told himself or others. From his point of view, he was just doing what he loved. From his point of view . . . he was just enjoying his life).
How My Grandfather (My Hero) Really Screwed Things Up For Me
When I was nine years old my grandfather said something that’s stuck with me ever since.
He said, “Too many people try and do stuff they don’t really understand and love . . . I love growing trees, and that’s all I know, so that’s what I do.”
Somehow, when I heard him say this, I knew that I wanted what he had.
Although, back then, I really didn’t have the language to express it . . . when I was nine years old I longed for the freedom (yes, freedom) to focus my entire lifetime on constantly working to improve one ever-evolving thing. I wanted to find and work on that one thing that I could do meaningfully and joyfully for the rest of my life.
We all have our own equally valid definitions of freedom. But as early as nine years old, I felt deep down that, for me, freedom was NOT a low-hour work week, or pulling off unconventional lifestyle design stunts, or running a business from a laptop while I travel around the world in a hot air balloon (or anything like that).
Freedom, to me, has always been the possession of unquestionable and unequivocal assurance in what I must do. And the complete lack of willpower to do anything else.
But For Me, “Freedom” Was A Long Time Coming
When I turned 11, my family moved off of my grandparent’s citrus nursery. And into the city.
I wish I could tell a clean story about what happens next. But honestly, much of it feels like a lonely blur.
At the age of 15, a friend and I raised $120k to start a software company. Around the same time, I left home, moved a few hours away, began my “adult life” and spent every waking hour on that company.
I was too young for that.
Anyway, it’s often easy to tell a cohesive story about what happens when things go right. When things don’t go according to plan, stories start getting a little more complicated.
The company I co-founded at 15 ended up doing OK, but I eventually moved on to college.
Looking back on it now, I realize how utterly lost I was from age 15 to around 25.
During that period, I started a lot of things, but didn’t finish many. And many of the things I did follow through on, failed.
I wasn’t depressed or anything like that. I was just marching to the beat of everyone else’s drum but my own.
I ended up moving from school to school, from degree program to degree program, and from job to job.
I went to college and dropped out (but eventually graduated). Went to grad school and dropped out. Started grad school again and dropped out. Did quite a bit of international travel. But never really felt satisfied.
And each time I started something new . . . I believed that THIS TIME I’d found the one thing that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I thought THIS TIME I could finally roll up my sleeves, settle down, and start traveling down a lifelong path.
Back when I lived on my grandparents’ citrus nursery and spent time with my grandfather in his fields . . . the world seemed full of so much possibility.
But during this period of my life the possibility I once believed in felt far, far away.
The Power Of Giving Up
So often, our greatest gift lies not in what we can do, but what we simply, for the life of us, cannot do.
Several years ago, on Christmas day, I was at the end of my rope. And (almost) in an instant . . . I decided to completely and entirely surrender to my “inadequacy.”
I decided that the fight I’d been having with myself for the last 10 years was over. For good.
- I decided that I was only going to do things that I was utterly compelled to do.
- I didn’t just decide to ONLY do things that I wanted to do. But I decided to only do things that I was unquestionably compelled to do (I decided to only do things that I couldn’t NOT do).
- I decided that, even if it meant everyone else would think of me as a fuckup for the rest of my life, I was completely done striving, struggling, and trying.
(These decisions didn’t come from a place of determination or discipline. And there wasn’t any willpower involved. These decisions came from a place of pure and utter exhaustion and giving up.)
And after I made these decisions (which didn’t feel like much of a decision at all), almost everything in my life changed for the better. Almost effortlessly. And almost overnight.
- I quit my job. And built a dream one from scratch.
- I moved from my least favorite city . . . to my favorite city.
- I dropped out of school for the last time. And started a new kind of education.
- I gave up on ever having a fancy degree or dream job . . . and started building the company of my dreams.
I gave up on doing anything with my life unless it was something that (1) I couldn’t not do, and (2) gave me illegal amounts of happiness. (Again, not because of willpower, strength, or determination, but because I knew from experience — and lots of trial and error — that it was impossible for me to do things any other way.)
So often we hang onto the complete bullshit that society brainwashed us with . . . until we get to the point that we completely and utterly lack the strength to carry on that way.
And sometimes that complete and utter lack of strength is our greatest asset.
When I dropped everything that didn’t give make me ridiculously happy, everything else just took care of itself: money, time, relationships. Everything.
I’d been miserable for far too long because I was looking for a vision to make me comfortable with myself. To justify my existence. And to give me purpose where there was none.
But what I came to realize was that you’ll never find purpose if you need it to fill a lack. “Purpose” and “mission” will not set you free.
Purpose is Not Your Savior (And Lack of Purpose is Not Your Captor)
The only thing holding you down, holding you back, is your inability to give up on anything that’s not 100% you. And the only thing that can set you free is your uncompromising refusal to do anything that’s not in 100% alignment with who you really are.
Things turned around for me when I gave up on doing everything that (1) I couldn’t not do, and (2) didn’t give me illegal amounts of happiness . . . I found myself slowly gaining the freedom that I remember my grandfather having.
Since Then, It’s Been A Great Ride
I wish I could tell a complex story about what happens next. But it’s pretty simple.
At the time that I quit just about everything . . . the only thing I really enjoyed doing was marketing my tiny little personal development blog.
So when I quit everything, I just focused on marketing. (I had nothing else to do, so I figured, why the hell not?).
Anyway, I REALLY (and I mean *really*) enjoyed marketing my tiny little blog, so I did even more marketing, and I enjoyed that so I did even more of it.
Years went by. And I just never stopped.
Um . . . So That’s It. Really.
So that’s the big revelation. I enjoyed online marketing. So that’s what I did.
“Marketing, to me, is the act of taking what you have to give the world and putting it in the lives of as many people as possible.”
There’s Nothing More To Explain.
My grandfather spent a lifetime growing citrus trees. And it brought so much life and beauty and healthy food to the world.
He did what he loved to do . . . but he didn’t have to write tree-growing manifestos.
And he didn’t come up with labels like “purpose-driven tree growing” or “growing trees from the heart.”
And he didn’t have to start a social movement about it on twitter or drum up a bunch of rah-rah hype in order to artificially infuse his work with meaning so he could feel good about himself at night.
He just gave what he had to give with love, and that was more than good enough.
I Fucking Love Marketing
The fact that I fucking love marketing is (and will always be) more than enough for me.
And Tracy — my business partner — and I have built an amazingly profitable, fun and helpful company, filled with amazing people . . . that’s built on this love.
And that’s 100% good enough for us. We need no more justification to do what we do.
(Yes, the money is nice, and so are the vacations . . . and holy shit do I love sleeping in . . . but at the end of the day I’m just doing this because I love it).
I’m Completely Unapologetic About This
I’m completely unapologetic about this, by the way.
ANYTHING (yes . . . even marketing) can be art.
And I believe that when you dedicate your life to giving your art from a place of love, you are fundamentally making the world a better place.
So I’m straight up going with that.
For several years now, I’ve given this everything I have. And I’m grateful for the results.
Here, for example, are just a few things that put a smile on my face last month:
- Last month a client of mine (Kim West) used The Interactive Offer to make $66k in one month BEFORE she’d made her product (note that she did this with a staff of ZERO).
- A client of mine (Shawn Fischer) recently did an Interactive Offer that brought in $110k in profit in under one week (two months before the product could even be shipped).
- Jared Krause, another client of mine, just used The Interactive Offer to raise $70k for an environmental non-profit in 5 days . . . the non-profit had a TINY list, but 10% of that abandoned list donated an average of $265. This was Jared’s first Interactive Offer but he watched the videos, followed the steps, and crushed it. (Jared, by the way, is now in Thailand, travelling the world, and working about 12-hours per week on his internet business).
Results Like This Put a Smile On My Face, And Make Me Look Forward To the Next 70 Years
My current business is about doing only three things (and I mean ONLY three things) exceptionally well.
And really not attempting anything else.
Anyway, I look forward to getting better and better at these few things for the next 70 years . . . and hooking you up with better and better results.
In Closing . . .
In closing I’d like to say this: there are an unlimited number of paths to our wildest dreams.
And . . . viewed from afar, a lot of us walking down these paths look like we’re drunkenly stumbling, and rarely reading the map.
But we’re getting to our destinations nonetheless.
Anyway, Tracy and I will be doing this shit for a long, long, long time . . . so come back every once in a while to see how the story’s evolved. And share updates of your own.
Here’s What I Want You To Do Now
If you have a moment, I’d love for you to go to the comments and give me a glimpse of your story as well.
I’m glad that you’re here, and I look forward to the road ahead.