What’s Stopping You From Growing, An Interview with Sumo.com Founder, Noah Kagan
Jeremy Slate: Hey, what’s up, everybody? Jeremy here, and guys, I am really stoked for our guest today. He’s former number 30 at Facebook, number four at Mint and is the Chief Sumo at sumo.com. He has hung out with Bill Gates at his house and claims to have walked on the moon, though I don’t believe him. He is also the world’s foremost expert in tacos. You can find out more about him over at sumo.com or okdork.com. Welcome to the Create Your Own Life podcast, Noah Kagan.
Noah Kagan: Jeremy Slate, what up?
Jeremy Slate: Awesome. Thanks for being here today, man, and for our audience listening, guys, Noah is literally the most patient guy in the world who just put up with me for 10 minutes getting all this audio shit together.
Noah Kagan: Dude, don’t, please don’t tell people I’m patient. I don’t want them to get used to that. Someone said something fascinating to me, and I thought it was very well put. They said, “Be patient with people and impatient with robots.”
Jeremy Slate: Nice.
Noah Kagan: I was like, “Damn, that’s a good one.” I should take credit for it, but I don’t remember who said it.
Jeremy Slate: I don’t know. I don’t know if Arnold would agree with you on that one, man. He was not patient with certain types of robots.
Noah Kagan: The robots are coming! No, but anyway, it happens.
Jeremy Slate: Awesome. Well, let me ask you, man. The thing I like to start out with is when people ask you what do you do, how do you introduce yourself?
Noah Kagan: Man, I’ve evolved that over the years, because I’ve generally found that when people ask me that right away, I hate them.
Jeremy Slate: Wow.
Noah Kagan: I know that’s very bad, it’s probably like your listeners. Some of you have heard me now, and they’re like, “This Noah guy sucks,” or there’s a few people like, “Oh, he sounds kind of interesting. I want to hear more.” I find that it’s just a low effort, a low thought question. When you meet people, they just say, “What do you do?” I generally don’t really like when they do it and I look for people that are just like, “Oh, tell me, how was your day,” or, “Tell me things you like to do,” or, “How did you end up at this event?” Stuff that’s just a little bit more, not just about measuring someone else or judging someone else.
When someone asks me that, I used to say, “I’m retired,” or I used to say, “I’m a janitor,” or worked at Office Max, things like that. I don’t know. Some people, it’s off-putting, so lately I just say I play on computers. What I try to do is when I answer that question, I want to create a dialog so that we can build a deeper and better conversation. That’s really my goal when I say, “I just play on computers.” Most of the time they say, “Oh, you’re into porn?” Like, “So you jerk off all day? You’re a professional jerker.” I say, “No, I actually run a software company that helps underdogs.” Then they, and you just want to, for me, I’m looking to open a conversation, not just finish something. Like, “Oh, I’m an accountant.” That sucks. Good luck to you.
Jeremy Slate: Oh my gosh. I got to tell you this. Some of the interviews I’ve had with people that are very numbers oriented just aren’t as much fun, man. They get very into the, “Well, I do this, and then I do this, and then I do this.” It’s just not as interesting, you know?
Noah Kagan: Yeah. Yeah. I agree.
Jeremy Slate: Totally, and also for the listeners that didn’t hear this before, you said we have to have an intervention apparently, because my MacBook’s just too damn old.
Noah Kagan: There’s certain things that I’m uncertain about. There’s a lot of things I’m uncertain about, and there’s certain things I’m very certain about. One of my true, like this is true beliefs, is that you need to focus on improving the fundamentals of life. What does that mean? That sounds hella weird, but focus on the foundation. What exactly that means is, what things do you spend, let’s say, more than five hours on a day? Right, because that’s your foundation of life. You spend more than five hours a day on your bed. You spend more than five hours a day on your phone and more than five hours a day on your computer.
If you were, and maybe for other people, it’s like you spend more than five hours a day on your wife, or on your tractor, or whatever it is. I don’t care. The point there is that you should be spending as much time and money making those as best as possible, and I do. Because I spend the most time there, I should have the best experience there and it’s the most efficient. If you’re on your computer, it’s a 2008, you’re probably, no joke, wasting an hour to two hours a day just waiting for things.
Jeremy Slate: That’s a great point.
Noah Kagan: You times that by 365, that’s 700 hours. Okay, let’s do the math. 700 hours divided by 24 is 30 days. You’re wasting a month of your life waiting for your 2008 computer. Now if you spend $2,000 on a better one, for basically $3 a day your life is going to be, for $3 a day you’ll get 30 days of your life back. Does that sound worth it?
Jeremy Slate: I think that sounds really worth it. I’m literally losing a month.
Noah Kagan: That’s fine if you’re okay with it. I just realized, the point is, it’s not about being rich or spending a bunch of money on things, because I don’t. I’m actually, the more money I’ve made, the less I spend, is what I’ve found, just for me. What I do spend on is the things I spend a lot of time on or the things that matter to me, so my computer, my bed, it’s where I spent my, my phone. Whenever there’s something that’s faster so I can save time, I’ll pay for it.
Jeremy Slate: Well, here. Speaking of spending, now here’s one of the most intriguing things that you’ve spent on recently. You literally spend $1.5 million for a domain for sumo.com. Why?
Noah Kagan: It’s a long story. No, it’s a tough one. It’s a tough and an easy one.
Jeremy Slate: Well, it’s really interesting, because it’s like, for example, for our URL for getfeatured.com, we just paid $2,500. To have the right URL, it’s important.
Noah Kagan: Dude, that’s awesome. For Get Featured?
Jeremy Slate: Yeah. $2,500.
Noah Kagan: Nice. I spent, I had a story I put out on my podcast, Noah Kagan Presents, about how I spent all this money on a Jaguar and how it made me miserable, and then I bought a $6,000 Miata and how I’m so much happier now. I really hope people don’t take it as like, “Wow, this guy’s a rich dick,” because it has nothing to do with being rich or not rich. It’s more about getting the things you really want and spending the money on the things that matter to you. For me, sumo.com, we started it as appsumo.com, and I don’t even really like sumos. I’m not a big sumo wrestler. It’s just we had no better name. I tried to get App Taco and it was taken. No joke.
One of the guys, we were in San Francisco at a bar called Toronado, which is a great beer bar, and the guy said, “Hey. AppSumo.” This is seven years ago, and I said, “Fine, whatever. $7 registration, got it.” A year later, we started making some money. I think we made about $200,000 in revenue our first year, and I didn’t make that much money at all. I was making a lot more when I had a corporate job. I emailed the sumo people and I said, “Hey, will you sell it for $50,000?” They said maybe. I was like, “$50,000? I’m not really even making that much.”
I tried to negotiate, and over the next seven years, I was negotiating for this name. Ultimately I said, “Hey, I’m making,” I gave them a timeline. I said, “I’m making a decision by the end of this year, and you will never hear from me again. What’s the final price?” They, these guys were quoting, at that point, seven years later, $10 million. I came back to them. I said, “I’ll pay a million and a half, and I’m never going to offer everything and you’ll never hear from me again. End of story.” This is after seven years of being persistent. Literally every three months, emailing them. They finally, and they said yes.
Jeremy Slate: Wow.
Noah Kagan: On one hand, it seem like, holy shit. I actually thought about this. I was looking at getting a condo. I could get two condos for the price of that name. I can’t even live in the domain. I can’t show it off to a girl, I can’t have anybody sleep on it, nothing, but what I can do is we have this brand that will be forever, or at least in my lifetime. One thing that, Jeremy, you know buyer’s remorse? I’m sure you and your listeners have heard it.
Jeremy Slate: Oh yeah.
Noah Kagan: What things have you bought where you’re happier later? Right? I don’t know if the opposite, buyer’s, I don’t know, orgasm? I don’t know what the hell you’d call it, but now it’s something that I wanted for so long, and then when you finally get it, it is pretty damn satisfying. There’s many things in life that you finally get and you realize it’s not as great as you thought, like getting money for the most part.
A lot of times, when you finally think, “I’m going to get all this money,” and then you get it, you’re like, “Well, I’m still an asshole,” or, “I’m still lonely,” or, “I’m still not this.” You’re like, you’re still the same person. Getting something that you’re working towards, on the other side of it, with this name I just, I’m so proud of it. I love sending my emails. I love telling people on the phone, because it used to be, “Oh, yeah, what’s your email?” “Noah@appsumo.com,” and they’re like, “What?” I’m like, “A-P-P-S-U-M-O.com.” Now I say, “Noah@sumo.com.”
I’m just like, it puts a smile on my face. I don’t think life is about spending as much money or just making as much money as possible, but the things that really matter to you, and getting a name that represented the official Sumo company was very important, so that’s the story behind it. We also structured it financially where it wasn’t as painful, so for a lot of people out there that want things, is there a way that you can be creative?
For me, I’ve noticed that the best innovations have come through limitations. The best innovations come through limitations. It doesn’t come when you have a bunch of money. Have you ever noticed how companies who have a bunch of money always seem to do badly sometimes?
Jeremy Slate: They spend it on the wrong shit half the time.
Noah Kagan: Yeah, because they spend it. They’re like, “Oh, I’ll just spend it,” but the up and comer who has no money is scrappy and figured out a creative way, like Dropbox. They didn’t have a bunch of money for ads, so they did the referral, or Airbnb didn’t have a bunch of money, so they spammed Craigslist, or Facebook, they spammed email lists, right? If they had a bunch of money they’d be like, “Oh, we’ll put up a billboard.”
We structured it financially where we only put up half a million to get it, and then we just pay monthly over the next five years, which is only $15,000. At that point, and I was still nervous, man. I’m not going to act like, oh, I’m this badass who just spent all that money, because on one hand I felt like a dumb ass. On the other hand, I finally got something I really wanted, but paying it over monthly, it made it a very easy decision where it said, “Noah, is it worth $15,000, just this month, to have sumo.com?” I said, “Yeah, that’s cheap for that name.”
Then I also looked at it as like, “Well, what percentage of revenue this month is it? Is it like 50% of our revenue? Is it 5%?” It was a small enough percent where I’m like, dude, to have that name for our company for a long time? Yeah, it’s worth that much percent of our revenue each month. That’s how it came to be.
Jeremy Slate: I totally get that, because we had a lot of, we didn’t spend a million and a half, but we had a lot of attention on spending that much for a URL. Our strategic advisor is like, “Guys, are you really thinking about this?” You don’t need to think about it. It’s not, in the grand scheme of things, that big of a purchase, but in terms of branding, it’s smart to have the right URL.
Noah Kagan: One thing that I’ve been thinking about and hearing from certain people is, I think a lot of people set themselves up to fail. We’re not buying Sumo, we’re not buying Get Featured to think it does okay. My business partner, it wasn’t me. I’m not, that’s not default my mentality, but I like this mentality of, set yourself up assuming it’s going to succeed.
Buy the domain because you think it’s going to do really well, and I do think I have this mentality and I’m working on it, where it’s, how do I go in assuming it’s going to do well and then how do I set myself up to be successful? Like, I’m going to buy getfeatured.com so I can kick a lot of ass and have this great domain that everyone respects and knows in the right, whoever you want it to be.
Jeremy Slate: Sure.
Noah Kagan: A lot of people are, “Okay, I hope it kind of does well. Hope it doesn’t fail.”
Jeremy Slate: Totally. Well, let’s Tarantino this thing a little bit, man. Let’s go back and look at the superhero origin story. How did you get from, I guess getting out of college to being the guy spending a million and a half on a URL? Just give us a little bit of an overview for those in the audience that haven’t heard of you before.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. Yeah. Born and raised in the Bay area. I’ve been into tech and business my whole life. I think a lot of it is who your parents are and who you’re surrounded by, so I was, Apple headquarters was two blocks away from where I grew up. Steve Jobs went to my rival high school.
Jeremy Slate: Wow.
Noah Kagan: It’s just like I grew up around tech and I’ve always loved technology. Yada yada, I basically, like a bunch of other people, I started businesses when I was young. None of them ever did well. Went to Berkeley, started a few businesses that did okay, and I started a lot of the typical businesses. For people that are just starting out, and I don’t know how much your audience is that, instead of trying to do just a business, I would actually encourage them just to start.
Don’t worry like, “Oh, this is not the best idea ever,” because no idea’s ever the best idea when it starts. It becomes that. Facebook was so you could, Mark could get girls. Google was for research papers, right? Microsoft was developer tools. Look what they evolved and became. The most important thing was just to get started, so I was always starting and getting things going and you keep improving and learning. No master just becomes a master. If you look at comedians, it just takes a long time of no one paying attention to you to eventually they start laughing at your jokes.
I was doing all these businesses and I ended up, I had a corporate job at Intel. That sucked, and I was always starting these businesses, so I applied to Facebook and they were impressed that I’ve always been starting businesses for a long time. I got the job there. I got fired from there. That’s a longer story. You can, a lot of articles I’ve written about that. Then I worked at mint.com. That got bought for $300 million, and I went on to start a payments company, and then after the payments company I said, “You know, what I’ve always really wanted is my own company that I really like, people like, and I can travel the world and run it.”
That’s what I ended up with, starting appsumo.com. I moved to Europe and traveled there for three months. AppSumo was a Groupon for geeks, and the whole idea was very simple. I love helping people do marketing. I love promoting great things, and AppSumo was a Groupon for geeks. We just promoted amazing products at good prices.
Jeremy Slate: What do you feel like you’ve learned from your AppSumo journey compared to, I guess, working for Facebook and Mint and things like that and actually having this thing that was yours and that you were really creating online? What do you feel like you’ve learned compared to what you were doing before?
Noah Kagan: What have I learned? Man. I think the thing that’s been constant throughout all of them is that I try to go back to working on projects or businesses or products that I just truly want myself. That’s been something that I really try to keep reminding myself, like just stay doing the things that you really love doing or you want to see exist on Earth.
I think too many people are doing things that, like, “Ah, I just don’t really care.” I’m like, “Dude, you only live once. Why not at least make it as fun as possible or as useful as possible for yourself?” I would say things I’ve learned, that have held true throughout the companies, is just surround yourself with people that make you feel stupid.
Jeremy Slate: That’s a great point. That’s a great point.
Noah Kagan: You know why, though? Because when I was at Facebook, I always felt stupid and it’s one of these things where it’s not comfortable. There’s probably a big lesson here where if you’re feeling comfortable all the time, you’re probably not growing. If you’re going to your office and you’re generally the one that’s the smartest or you’re thinking how people are dumb in meetings, you’re probably at the wrong company.
That’s been a lesson where, I think as I’ve started to run my own company, I used to run my own company in my previous one where I’d just dictate everything. “This is what’s going to happen,” dictator Noah. With Sumo, with the Sumo companies, so AppSumo and sumo.com, our email marketing tools, I’ve much more said, “Let me just find people who are really amazing that are better than me at it and leave them the hell alone.” I struggle with that. Even a few weeks ago, I was bugging the shit out of people, and I had to take some time out for myself to be self aware and think about it. I’m like, “Man, they are great people, and they can do great things, and me annoying them is only slowing them down.”
You really got to put yourself in uncomfortable places. You don’t generally grow doing the same thing or feeling comfortable all the time. There’s that. I’m not sure what other things I’ve learned. I know that you basically just have to create the life that you want to live. That’s what your show is, Create Your Life.
Jeremy Slate: Yeah.
Noah Kagan: You have to define what that means for yourself. Everyone, I hate when people say, I hate when people call other people successful, because who knows if they’re actually successful? They could be miserable. It’s only saying what you think your, what success is for yourself, and so creating your own life is just saying, here’s how I want to live my life. What is stopping me? What are my bottlenecks from living it that way? Then being aggressive and it might take time to accomplish it.
With Sumo recently, I’ll tell you man, even if, as you get to be a larger company or you create bigger things, the problems don’t become easier. They become harder, and so when I was running Sumo, we have 50 people, and I’m going to meetings and I’m doing recruiting and I’m running a company and that seems successful. I was pretty unhappy most of the time, and I was doing a lot of work that, I would say in terms of being unleashed or being successful for myself, I was at 20% level.
Jeremy Slate: Wow.
Noah Kagan: I was like, “This fucking sucks.”
Jeremy Slate: I can understand that. Well, what were those bottlenecks for you, then? What were those things?
Noah Kagan: The things for me, I know the things for me. I don’t like going to meetings. I don’t like dealing with people issues, meaning, and dude, it’s inevitable. You can’t have, there’s no large company without more people.
Jeremy Slate: Right.
Noah Kagan: Name one large company or something bigger without people. It takes literally the same amount of time to create something big as it does small. It’s almost the same amount of effort.
Jeremy Slate: Yeah.
Noah Kagan: I know that I don’t want to be in meetings. I don’t want to deal with people issues. I don’t want to be doing planning on certain things. I don’t want to be showing up at an office. If you were running certain types of companies, and the one we’re running does, have those things. Even if you’re a remote company, you still have to deal with people. What I really love doing is I love writing content. My podcast, Noah Kagan Presents, or the YouTube channel, and I love promoting things or starting things that are small. I always felt guilty that I like that. My Jewish guilt, and you’re not a Jew, right?
Jeremy Slate: No, I’m not.
Noah Kagan: God bless you, because there’s Jewish, we’re trained with Jewish guilt. “Oh, you got,” and I had a lot of guilt that I didn’t want to stick with something. It never, and when I finally embraced myself and stopped apologizing, so I’d encourage everyone out there, give yourself a week to not apologize for anything. I committed to not apologizing and committed to not feeling guilty, but most importantly, not apologizing.
I said, “You know, if I could live the life I want, I would help the company more as an advisor in whatever way they needed me. As a janitor, as recruiting, but not on a day to day basis. My business partner would run Sumo.” I would spend my day on our labs projects, so starting new stuff, and then I would spend the other part of my day creating content. That’s the life I want to live. There’s a really important part of that, though. A lot of us know the answers.
We all, and I truly believe this, we most of the time, 95% of the time, know the answer, but we push it away or we cover it up or we ignore the answer we know. I knew that answer. I was like, “Man, I really want this, I really want this. I complain about that. I really want this.” The thing that’s really interesting about this is that it didn’t happen overnight. I knew I wanted the life this way, but I knew I had to have things in place so I could do that.
I knew we needed a recruiter, because without it, the business wouldn’t grow. I know my business partner needed help with the product manager and certain developers and a developer operations person, otherwise he wouldn’t have the capacity to run the company. People only hear the things at the end of the story, or when they’re on stage, but they don’t see all the stuff behind the scenes in the kitchen.
It took me a year and a half to two years to finally get to this point where, for now, I’m doing exactly the way I want to live my life. I want everyone at our company and every one of your listeners to have it the way they want to live their lives, too. Maybe that is going to an office. Maybe it’s working at Whole Foods in the meat section. I don’t care, but it’s taking that time away from a computer, for yourself to think about what you want and then how do you design your life to be able to get that?
Jeremy Slate: That’s awesome. Well, let me ask you, Noah. I’m always interested to hear people with bigger companies, what do you look for in staff? When you’re looking for somebody, man, what type of person are you looking for and what type of things might you ask them?
Noah Kagan: Dude, I feel like that’s the golden question. It’s tough. I’ve had people who we thought were good-
Jeremy Slate: Well, everybody has their different ways about it. I’m just always interested to hear.
Noah Kagan: Yeah.
Jeremy Slate: Yeah.
Noah Kagan: Well, I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed, and let me just do, I’ll give you a few stories because I think that shares and explains things better.
Jeremy Slate: Totally.
Noah Kagan: A lot of people I have expected to be impressive, like there was this one writer who wrote for a very popular person. He turned out to be unimpressive. There was this other writer in Asia, his name is Dean, who does some stuff, and he hit me up. He said, “Hey, I love writing,” and he’s really impressive. What I’ve noticed from the people I hire, I call it the 1% more method. The people who we’ve ended up hiring recently who I’ve been insanely impressed with, when they apply for something, they put in 1% more than everyone else, and it’s apparent.
For example, we had a guy named Bar, and Bar still works with us. I love Bar. He’s a good friend, he’s our first sales guy at Sumo. When he applied for the sales job, he had to go through 15 hours of interviews and tests, and he went through all of it and he did very impressive, where almost no one else would go to that level, or Kevin. Kevin went and made a whole website. He applied for a sales job and he made a entire website. Used our colors, used our logo, made jokes, all this stuff, and he did 1% more, or even Brandon.
Brandon is a guy I work with on my YouTube videos for Noah Kagan, so Brandon didn’t even ask for money. He just said, “Hey, I want to help take headshots for you because your headshots in your website sucks. I’ll do it for free, and I’ll do it for your whole company.” I was like, “Really? What’s the catch?” He’s like, “No catch.” I tried to pay him afterwards, because I really loved his work. He’s like, “No. Dude, I didn’t want money. I just really wanted to do it.” Now I pay Brandon around $25,000 a year to help me with YouTube.
Jeremy Slate: Wow.
Noah Kagan: That’s because he went above and beyond. Where everybody else emails saying, “Hey, Jeremy. Hey, Noah, how can I help you?” Brandon just said, “I know things you’re working on or I can tell what’s important to you. Here’s where I’m going to add value to your life. I’m going to above, and I’m going to do it.”
You have to ask, okay, so what are the fundamentals for someone, and how do you, the questions you ask, we can get into that too, but the fundamentals are that, when you have the job position, they’re going above and beyond everyone else. The second thing that I’ve noticed about these people is that their attitudes are different. When you ask them about their previous companies, they’re not whiners. When you ask them what they’re doing in their free time, they’re trying to improve themselves.
Jeremy Slate: That’s super important too, because that, for me, has always been something I sit and ask somebody when I’m interviewing for a job, is, “Tell me about your previous bosses, your previous jobs,” because if they bitch about it, they probably did something wrong. You know what I mean?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, and then they’re going to, it’s not that I even care if they talk shit on me, but it just means that they’re a whiner, right?
Jeremy Slate: Yeah.
Noah Kagan: I’m looking for the person, so one of my favorite questions related to that specific topic is, and there’s a book called Who, so if you’re looking to get more detail to it, Who is the main book I’d recommend for hiring, but you want a congruent story of their career. What you’re looking for when you’re, a question I like to ask is, “I’m going to, what’s your boss’s name? What’s your last boss’s name?” “Joe Hernandez.” “Okay, I’m going to call Joe after this interview, just as a heads up. I’m going to call him. What do you think he should say that he should improve on?”
You’d be surprised. People will tell, because they think I’m going to call him. They say, “Well, I was kind of lazy,” or, “I was like,” why are you telling me this, dude? I’m going to not hire you at all. That’s a question I like to ask, but yeah, coming back to what I look for. They’re putting in 1% more when they’re applying. The attitude is noticeable. The attitude is noticeable, and the last thing that I’ve been looking for more now, it really depends on where you’re at in business, Jeremy.
When I was starting out and bootstrapping, which we did, I looked for if they had a brain. If they had 10 fingers, or even nine and a brain, I would take them. Now what I look for when I’m hiring is I want people who have already been to the Promised Land. That is, more or less, what I’m looking for. We, as you grow a company, you have to go away from the Moneyball way of running your business and look at it more as the Championship, Calves or the Warriors way of running a team, which is, you’re going to spend a lot of money, but guess what? You’re going to win the championships.
I want to be hiring the Steph Currys and the Durants and the Draymond Greens and those people. Brandon who ended up, I hired for YouTube, he’s been making a bunch of YouTube videos. He made my YouTube videos from what, it used to be me shirtless and at home with a crappy video, to now we have dual cameras and some effects. I don’t even know what he does.
At Sumo, we’re looking for people that can come and instantly they’re elevating the game. You know it when you’ve worked with someone, and so everyone who is listening, just reflect on who you’ve worked with historically that you’ve been, “Damn, man, they really changed it for us.” That’s the kind of people where they’ve already probably done something or shown that they can do it, and that when they come in, you pretty much know within a few months whether they’re going to be able to continue to do that for your business or not.
Jeremy Slate: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, I want to transition a little bit, Noah, to you as the entrepreneur and just tell me your skillset and things like that. What do you feel is your biggest skill and how do you feel you went about developing that?
Noah Kagan: I’d say there’s two things that I think help me become successful, and it’s hard to know what exactly it is, but I noticed two things reflecting for myself, like two things that really stood out for me. Number one is that I find, I go out, I don’t wait, I go out and look for and listen to people that are better than me. A lot of people hire people, and they don’t listen to them, or they go to experts and don’t listen to them or they go to those coaches and they don’t listen to them, or even you hire people. I think I’ve done a good job where I’m like, “I don’t know how to do this better than someone else. Why don’t I find someone better and then actually listen?” I think that’s something that I’ve done really well with.
Number two, I think most people that are successful, or most people that are not successful, they don’t take time to recognize what’s working and then do a lot more of it. For example, let’s say with your show, you want to double the amount of listeners. You probably could go back through the last six months and say, “Well, what things did work? How can I double that? What things didn’t work? How can I stop doing those completely?”
Maybe it’s certain types of guests. Maybe your guests hate me and you’re like, “Never bring these kind of guys on,” or people like me, and that actually increases the amount of listenership. What I believe I’m good at is that I can recognize, and I take the time to look at what’s been working, do more of it. What’s not worked, kill it. I’d say the last bonus thing is that I don’t hesitate. Not that I don’t think about things, but most people psych themselves out, and I generally think that hesitation is the enemy.
Jeremy Slate: Yeah.
Noah Kagan: Anything that people are thinking about, like, “Oh, I’ve always had this idea. Oh, I want to try this marketing channel out,” I just do it right away. I just say, “How do I do this today,” and not Rome, not, I don’t know. When Rome, when they say Rome was not built in a day, it’d be pretty funny if it was. The point that I’m thinking about is that nothing big comes from without starting somewhere. It all starts small.
It all starts with one customer, and I think what I’m exceptional at and I really pride myself in is, how do I just get it started today? Doesn’t mean everything’s going to happen, but how do I even put something shitty out today? I think a lot of people will take so much time, plan all this stuff, and eventually psych themself out so nothing ends up happening. Those are the three things for myself that I think really help me [getten 00:25:36] got, [getten 00:25:38], gotten to where I am today.
Jeremy Slate: Totally, and it’s funny you mention that, too, about testing your concepts and things like that, because I know with James Altucher, you talked about this idea of even testing Google. You call a friend and ask them if they’d pay for a service where I’m going to go get things for them. It’s about just figuring out how you can test a concept before you do it, and I think that’s really cool, too.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. Literally, well, for business specifically, a lot of people want to run their own companies, which, running your own company sucks. I’ll tell you, being an entrepreneur is like way overrated. Being, working for a company is way cooler for the most part. Literally, like 98, like if I stayed at, this is a fascinating fact. If I stayed as an employee, I would’ve actually made almost as much money as if I did running my own business.
For the most part, the headaches and problems that come with being an entrepreneur aren’t worth it. Being an employee, you get paid. You get to work with great people, find a product. You get to work wherever you want, generally. That could actually be a great environment. I just think people assume running your own business is going to be better, but generally, it’s just going to be similar problems. You just have to find the right environment, either to work at or to run yourself, that is great.
Jeremy Slate: Totally.
Noah Kagan: Starting your own business, if you want to do that, I’m just giving you a little warning, because it doesn’t get easier. It gets harder, but starting your business, any business can be validated within a day. I fully believe that. You’re like, “Well, no, what about this business?” You can feel free to challenge me and I’ll come up with ideas or ways that I can believe will either prove that it’s going to be a real business or disprove it.
Most people want to do, is that, “Oh, I’ll buy ads to a landing page, or I’ll do a blog post or something that is going to be very passive and take you a week, and then you don’t really know.” I think, to my skillset, I’ll just try to see, all right, how do I figure this out right away? If it works, then I’m going to go crazy on it. If it doesn’t work, why isn’t it working? Then let me see how I can iterate from there.
Jeremy Slate: Absolutely. Well, what’s been your biggest failure in your business career, but what do you think you’ve learned from that?
Noah Kagan: I had a lot. You don’t meet anyone who has gotten something, I mean that people probably admire, without a lot of failures to get there.
Jeremy Slate: Totally.
Noah Kagan: One of the people I admire is Jeff Bazos. These guys have done a bunch of things that haven’t worked that we just don’t even talk about anymore, though. The Amazon phone is one of the easy ones, but they’ve done other things, like their A/B testing pricing that pissed off a lot of people. There’s just a lot of things that fail that people never see because they only see the wins, and so the biggest thing that you have to take away yourself, or me, you, the listeners, is that you’re going to fail, right?
The biggest thing is, how can you learn to make the next time better, right? I hate when people say, “If you’re not feeling, you’re not trying hard enough.” I’m like, “No, I tried pretty hard,” you know? The point is, bad things are going to happen. Someone’s going to quit. Customer cancels. Person doesn’t do a great job. It’s going to happen, but how can you learn so it gets better? How can you improve that into your foundation of your company or yourself to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
We emailed out to sumo.com, to our mailing list yesterday a survey, and the survey link was broken because it was private. Then we fixed it after an hour, but it still, tens of thousands of people saw it. Now, in our checklist when we send emails it’s like, make sure the link, view the link in incognito mode. Just as the high level take aways that, bad things are going to happen no matter what. You have to do a debrief. You have to debrief to say, “Why did this happen, and how do we,” it’s not, you don’t want to over-correct. It happened, so I’ve got to make sure I never do this again.
It’s not about over-correcting and overcompensating, but trying to figure out, “Okay, why did it happen and what’s the right level of solving it so we can improve for the future?” Failures for me, Facebook is the easy big one, but I’m even going to give you a recent one because I think it’s more relevant. I’ve been doing a thing called pigeon mode at the business.
Jeremy Slate: What does that mean?
Noah Kagan: A pigeon mode is when you come into a thing, you shit on it, and then you just fly away.
Jeremy Slate: That’s awesome.
Noah Kagan: I was pigeon mode-ing Sumo, which means I gave, I didn’t give. Chad is running the company, and I would come and criticize things. We would have a bad talk or a bad relationship about it, and I’d shit it, and then I’d leave. What I realize is that I can’t have it both ways. Ultimately, I’ve hired people and I’m working with people I trust in and believe in, and I’ve got to enable them and leave them alone for the most part.
We had a whole, I’d say two to four weeks, where I’m just really irritating him and irritating myself and being annoyed when in reality, I’ve chosen him because I believe in him and I have confidence that he can do things that we discuss. After three months, or six months if it’s not happening, then we should have a discussion, but I was just coming in, saying it’s not happening. He’s like, “Dude, you’re here day one, but it’s going to take day 60 to see the result.”
That’s been a recent one where, the lesson learning from that is that, a few things. One, things don’t happen right away. Two, have a plan, and then evaluate your plan on the correct timeline. If you have a plan for three months, you’ve got to have maybe check-ins every month or every two weeks, but you can’t say after a day, like, “Hey, it’s not happening.” It’s like, “Yeah, it’s not going to happen after a day.” Then three, one of the most important things I would say in business, especially with partners or people you work with is, how do you improve your communication?
Because Chad and I have trust and because Chad and I have very open communication, like literally, I’ve gone to him saying, “I’m depressed. I’m not working,” and he’s like, “Okay, that sounds great. You need to go,” and I went to India. Because we’ve had such a great relationship and communication, we’ve been able to talk about things when we have problems. We may need a day or a few days to cool off, but we always come back and resolve it.
Jeremy Slate: That’s super important too, though, because I think a lot of people, for some reason, are just afraid to communicate. It solves so many things by just letting people know what’s going on. It’s a big difference rather than, let’s say in that same situation, you don’t tell your partner and he’s like, “Hey man, what the hell’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” It’s surprising, if you just confront those things and handle them, how quickly they handle.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. It’s easier said than done, because you don’t want to look stupid. You don’t want to, like a recent thing is, I don’t want Chad to think I’m not working hard. I don’t want Chad thinking he’s grinding at the office and I’m just the schmoe, enjoying him working for me. I don’t want him to think that at all. I tell him what I’m doing. I just say it straight up. If he ever wanted to ask me about it, I would say, “Yeah, maybe I’m not working hard. What do you think I could be working on that would help you?”
Just being able to have that level of candor, it’s almost what you should have in every relationship of people that you want in your life. I think that’s the way you’re going to generally improve a lot, because I can be very open with him and say, “Hey, I’m not feeling good,” or, “Hey, I’m work,” like the past two days I’ve been in a lawsuit. I’ve been, from my last company, I’ve been in legal depositions, so I’ve spent four to six hours a day in the court doing legal stuff. He’s like, “Okay, cool. Take care of your shit.”
Jeremy Slate: Wow.
Noah Kagan: Just being able to have that level of trust with people you work with is very refreshing and it’s very amazing. I almost feel like it’s special and almost uncommon when we should try to figure out, how do we make that the common thing?
Jeremy Slate: I’m in total agreement on that, man, because it would solve so many problems before they happen, which, that’s half of what we do to ourselves.
Noah Kagan: Well, it’s funny you say that. I was talking to the girl I’m seeing. I told her I had a dream about my ex dying, and my thought was like, “Oh, I’m being open and honest with you.” Her thought was, “Why are you dreaming about your ex?”
Jeremy Slate: Wow.
Noah Kagan: It’s not that it’s bad. There’s probably some line of it, but I generally feel that when you meet someone, you say, “Hey, how’s it going?” You say, “Well, I’m actually feeling really sad today,” or you share the straight, how you’re really feeling about things. I think that provides an opportunity for things to go deeper and I find, personally, more enjoyment when I go deeper.
Jeremy Slate: Awesome. Well, what’s the biggest thing that you are looking for in the next 12 months, Noah? What’s the biggest thing you’re excited about?
Noah Kagan: Biggest thing I’m excited about. Yeah, so I’m excited about a few things. On a personal level, one of my goals this year, so I do a bucket list every year. At the beginning, I do it ongoing, so ongoing I start adding and subtracting things, and before the beginning of the new year I say, “Well, what’s my bucket list for this year?” One of the things on my bucket list was to go work abroad in Israel where my family is. I’m going to be doing that in June, so I’m very much looking forward to that.
I think everyone should have this in life, where, if you’re not feeling good about life, just create something to look forward to. Here’s a simple one. In three weeks or two weeks, I rented a lake house so me and my friends could just go hang out at a lake house. I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t wait for that. If you’re, it doesn’t have to be a big thing, just give yourself something to look forward to.
That’s one thing. My podcasts, Noah Kagan Presents, or my YouTube shows at for Noah Kagan, I’m looking forward to getting to 100,000 views an episode, or 100,000 downloads an episode on the podcast, which honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but it’s a fun challenge. If it was just like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get it next month,” it’s not really that interesting and it’s not that rewarding.
On Sumo, for our company, with sumo.com specifically, there’s a certain revenue target that we’re aiming to hit. I’m looking forward, I’m not actually looking forward to that, if I had to be real with you. What I’m looking forward to is really creating a sustainable company, meaning that we are creating a product and a business that could be around for the next who knows how long, however long civilization’s around, instead of just considering, we want to get this money goal. That’s actually what I’m looking forward to, seeing the product and the team really grow and develop and make something that’s special that small business owners want for their websites.
Jeremy Slate: Totally. Well, before we jump into the rapid fire questions, I got to ask. Why are there tacos in everything you do?
Noah Kagan: I don’t know. I just eat a lot of tacos. I really do. I probably have, four days a week I’m having tacos. I just like tacos. I think people do it unintentionally, which is what I do. I just eat a lot of tacos, so I talk about it. I think when people say, “Oh, yeah, here’s my thing,” and it’s forced or inauthentic, people know that. Sometimes when people are like, “Oh, yeah, tacos.” People send me a lot of taco stuff, and I’m like, “Dude, I just want to eat them. I don’t want taco socks. I appreciate it.”
No, people send me a lot of taco stuff. I definitely appreciate it. I’m grateful for it, thank you for sending me stuff, but I just eat my own tacos, or send me taco at LA gift cards. I don’t know. I think people have to find things that you’re interested in life, and either from food or hobbies or people, just go find things that interest you, and go explore it.
My buddy Sean Ogle from Location Rebel, he does a really creative thing, is that each year or every few years he looks up the top 50 lists, and then he goes and tries to complete them. Top 50 places to eat tacos in the world, or, he does bars and whiskey. I think it’s top whiskeys to have and top cocktail bars to go to, and then he makes a fun adventure out of it.
Jeremy Slate: That’s awesome. Well, Noah, we’re about to come in for a landing, but before we do, are you ready for some rapid fire questions?
Noah Kagan: I’m fading, dude, so yes. Yes. I think that’s great.
Jeremy Slate: All right. You’re selected to give a commencement speech. What is your topic?
Noah Kagan: Where am I speaking at? Like a junior college? Am I doing Harvard?
Jeremy Slate: Ooh, it’s up to you man, your choice.
Noah Kagan: All right. I’ll go back to Berkeley, my alma mater. If I could give a commencement speech, I would think about encouraging people to break rules. What I mean by that is that when I was graduating college, I kind of thought, not even kind of. I believed that we all followed a certain life that we were prescribed, so you have to become an accountant or you have to be a banker or you have to be a consultant. Those are the jobs available.
By the time you’re 30, you have a kid and a wife and cars and probably a fence maybe, and my speech would be more thinking, think about the path that you really want to create and breaking yourself from the expectations of everyone else. In speeches, I think it’s very good to have stories, so I’d talk about the stories of where I didn’t follow the path and how sometimes it doesn’t work out, but a lot of times it does and it also creates the most interesting life I believe possible.
Jeremy Slate: Awesome. If you could have one superpower, what superpower would it be?
Noah Kagan: Live forever.
Jeremy Slate: It’s a pretty cool superpower.
Noah Kagan: That would be badass. I just do a lot of stuff. There’s so much stuff to do on this Earth. Flying is cool, but I’m sure that’ll be invented by then.
Jeremy Slate: Well, speaking of dying, if you could have one quote on your tombstone, what would it be?
Noah Kagan: Well, I think, damn. I’d want something funny. I’d want something, when people see my tombstone, they laugh. I’d probably put some joke. I’d probably, like, “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” And then it would just be nothing, because you’d be like, what is it? You’d want to know the cliffhanger, but I’m dead, so maybe that. I think that’d be pretty cool.
Jeremy Slate: That could be like-
Noah Kagan: I would want, I would just want a party, so maybe there’d be a, I don’t know if it’d have to be alcohol, but maybe a keg or a bar next to my tombstone. That’s what would be on it.
Jeremy Slate: It could always be like that Bobby Knight quote, “I’m going to have them bury me face down so they can all kiss my ass.”
Noah Kagan: Maybe what I would do, actually, I think would be super cool is turn, I don’t want to get burned, but I think it’d be cool if my tombstone was actually a karaoke machine, so you come over and you get to sing at my grave. I think that’d be, I’d like that, like sing rap songs, like Tupac, stuff like that.
Jeremy Slate: That’s awesome.
Noah Kagan: Doesn’t that sound hella cool? We just, when you think of something, be like, I think we should do more of the things in life that we think, “Man, that sounds cool.” It’s like, all right, go do that one. That sounds great.
Jeremy Slate: You’re stranded on a desert island. You can have one book. Other than something teaching you how to build an airplane or a boat, what book would it be?
Noah Kagan: Fuck. Would be, what book would I want on a desert island? Can I have a Kindle so I can just have a bunch of books? Is that one of those cheating answers? I hate it when people, I hate when you give people A and B questions, and then they choose C.
Jeremy Slate: Yeah, you can’t really choose C on this one.
Noah Kagan: Okay. What book would I want? Man. I always feel like this is one of those things where you do it, and then people are like, “Oh yeah, he’s stupid,” or, “Oh, yeah,” like, “He doesn’t think about,” I don’t know. I guess I’m trying to think of what’s a book with a lot of depth to it and that’s also long enough that I wouldn’t get bored and I’d want to keep reading it for new nuances. I don’t know. Maybe Count of Monte Cristo.
Jeremy Slate: Cool.
Noah Kagan: I really love that story and I think there’s a lot to it and it’s a pretty long book.
Jeremy Slate: If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self based on your life experience, what would that be?
Noah Kagan: Can I give a few?
Jeremy Slate: Sure.
Noah Kagan: Yeah. I think there’s a few things for that, because I think about that often, because you can’t, I’m 35 now. Jeremy, how old are you?
Jeremy Slate: I’ll be 30 in two weeks.
Noah Kagan: Nice, man. That’s like, 30’s a big birthday, I guess because we’re getting old. One thing that really dawned on me a week ago was that, and if you’re in your 20s or younger, you can’t really, no matter what, you won’t be able to internalize this, but time is very finite. Time is very forward, and I just had that realization a few weeks ago where I was, this girl I’m seeing is younger and I thought, “Wow. I will never be 25 again.”
It made me really think about, I will never be 35 again. There’ll be a day where, Jeremy, I’ll be 45 probably talking to you, and I’ll be like, “Man, I was 35 once.” It just made me recognize, appreciating the things going on and making the best use of that time. That would be the most important thing, is that you really don’t, it doesn’t come back. It doesn’t go in reverse. Really appreciating the time you have and making the best of it in whatever way that is for you, if it’s bull riding, if it’s traveling the world, if it’s working at a church, if it’s making the world become drug free, whatever it is. Just you want to look back with as little regrets as possible.
Jeremy Slate: Awesome.
Noah Kagan: Yeah, I’ll leave it at that. There’s other things I think, but that’s the higher level message that’s most important.
Jeremy Slate: What person in history, like historical figure, have you found most inspiring or interesting?
Noah Kagan: Again, this is like the book one where I’m like, “I don’t know. I’m being judged on this. It’s so tough.” I probably appreciate the guy who invented microwaves. I don’t know who did it, but I really love them. I use it every day, so that guy.
Jeremy Slate: I’d have no popcorn without him, man, so I’m in agreement.
Noah Kagan: Yeah, popcorn, and most of my meals are in the microwave. I don’t really reflect a lot on historical. I’m not a big history buff. I think the person who I more think about more often than other people is Jeff Bazos, more so that I’m really impressed how he took a bookstore and turned it into one of the largest companies in the world. Not only did he turn it into a large company, how it’s evolved has really amazed me.
They didn’t just sell books, they sold everything, and then they made it, let everybody else sell everything. Then they turned it into a server company for AWS, for everybody to store their data there. Then they created a Kindle, and now they have Echo, which is one of the most powerful, if you don’t have an Amazon Echo, everyone listening, Amazon Echo is a freaking game changer. It’s made my house, my condo, excuse me, so much better. It’s just like, how did they go from selling books to that?
I don’t know if envy is the right word. I admire that and I want to replicate that to some, in my own way, where how do you take something and keep evolving and improving it and growing it over 20 years? I think anyone can be successful for a month, but be successful and consistent and impressive for 20 years, now that’s an accomplishment.
Jeremy Slate: Totally. Well Noah, the last question I have for you is that people have very different definitions of success, but if you got to define it for yourself, what does success mean?
Noah Kagan: I’ve thought about this, because for me, it’s not money. I have enough money where I don’t have to worry about it, which, frankly, for most people, you don’t actually need that much. For me, success is really just working and creating on the things I want for myself.
Jeremy Slate: Awesome.
Noah Kagan: Being proud, yeah, being proud of the work I do and being around people that make my life better.
Jeremy Slate: Very cool. Well Noah, I appreciate you hanging out with us today. If our listeners want to connect with you and learn more, where is the best place for them to do that, man?
Noah Kagan: Yeah, for my personal stuff, if you like hearing the messages or things I’m talking about, go check out Noah Kagan Presents podcast, or if you like visual, I’m doing a lot of YouTube channels, YouTube views for Noah Kagan, just search there, or okdork.com, which is my marketing blog. If you’re a business owner or you have a website and you want to grow your business, the companies I help run is appsumo.com, which is our Groupon for geeks, and sumo.com which is our free marketing tools to grow your email list.
Jeremy Slate: Awesome. Well, Noah Kagan, thank you so much for being on the Create Your Own Life podcast today.
Noah Kagan: Jeremy Slate for President!