Three years ago, I was working on this idea for a subscription commerce product in the health and wellness space.
A friend mentioned this guy named Derek who has a “health website” so I shot him an email and we grabbed coffee at Think in Union Square. Truthfully, I didn’t expect much going into the meeting because at the time I had like 5 friends with health sites that they updated once ever 5 weeks…
Derek blew me away that day and continues to do so with his business savvy and purpose. I feel incredibly lucky to call him a close friend.
Today’s he going to share with you some of the exact tactics he’s used to achieve massive growth for his business.
Scott: All right Edge Nation, I am so excited today to bring you another special guest today. This guest is a buddy of mine and a colleague from an old life in the New York tech scene. His name is Derek Flanzraich. Derek is an entrepreneur on a mission to change the way the world thinks about ‘healthy’. He’s the founder and CEO of Greatist dot com, a health and wellness media startup working to make healthy living cool and build the first, truly trusted, consumer-facing, healthy living brand for this generation. Greatist is currently the fastest growing site in the space with over 4.5 million uniques per month. Derek, it is great to have you on man.
Derek Flanzraich: So good to be here, thanks for having me.
Scott: Of course and I just want to reiterate some of those accomplishments real quick because it’s pretty amazing, I’ve known from earlier in your journey that you went from a basic WordPress site to a massively popular blog. And not only is it big, it’s the fastest growing in the health and wellness space which I imagine is incredibly crowded. And there’s a lot of people out there who are trying to build blogs not only in general but in a crowded space; and so I can’t wait to reveal exactly the things that you did to accomplish that.
Derek, so before we dive in and talk about how you managed to grow Greatist to where it is today, I just want you to take a minute here, just to tell our audience exactly what Greatist is today both from the consumer side as well as the business.
Derek Flanzraich: Totally, thanks again for having me, stoked to share my story and stoked about what you’re doing. So yeah, Greatist — we’re just about to turn three years old, which is very exciting, it started very much based out of my own personal frustrations. I was a big kid growing up and drink six [Inaudible 0:02:09] a day and felt very much as I started to get into health and fitness that it was really tough and I really didn’t understand why it was such a struggle.
And it felt like all the places that I turned to, whether it was trainers or whether it was experts on TV, celebrity experts on TV, whether it was big websites that I heard the names of; I didn’t understand why all the things I did, didn’t work. Or all the things that I read, it seemed to be pointing me in one direction or trying to sell me something. And I thought like everyone was trying to define what healthy should look like for me, and I found that really tough and wanted to find what healthy looked like for myself.
And so it blew my mind when it sort of built a consumer brand business that spoke to me in a way that would resonate and it spoke to sort of my generation and 18 to 35 year-olds in a way that like touch them and said, ‘hey, I know you’re going to go out and get drinks with your buddies and I know that’s totally cool; but here’s how to pick out a healthier beer and here’s how to make up for it the next morning. Here’s how to — here’s how to not even worry about it so much because stress sucks too. And so I became obsessed with this idea, maybe somebody could build a brand that talked about healthy and the way that I wanted it to be talked about.
Still wanted to rely on and be and consistently [technical difficulty] and imagine that that could build. Imagine the enormous impact that could have on just changing the way the world thinks about health but purely from a ‘building something’ sense, I can imagine how big that could get in a space that is so — you said, it’s a busy space with so many people and the thing that people take increasingly seriously, just imagine the impact we could have helping people sort of — telling people that hey, it’s okay, you don’t have to be the greatest all the time. You can just be [technical difficulty] healthier choices some of the time.
So that’s why we spell it with an I- S- T but it sort of is our whole mission is to help the world think of this healthy in a different way. And that ties deeply and profoundly to my life-mission which is to have that same change. So, we’ve been at it for — yeah –
Scott: I just want to stop you real quick for a second there and just say, I love your mission because it really resonates with me. It’s really unrealistic to think the whole world is cut out for juice-only diets or to be vegetarians or never have a beer or whatever it is. And so this idea of appealing to a mass market of people, a people that aren’t perfect, that are going to make mistakes and that tell you exactly what you can do, just to make a better choice is awesome. So, I just wanted to real quick give you a little pat on the back as your bud.
Derek Flanzraich: Thank you.
Scott: But, I’m excited to hear about what people will see when they go to Greatist right now and as well as what the actual business of creating this destination is.
Derek Flanzraich Interview: Totally. Thank you for that; you know, the — I genuinely believe — I am just so freaking passionate about this being the way that people can make a lasting change in their lives. There’s only — ‘six-pack abs in six weeks’ and ’15 pounds off before beach season’, that all sounds very appealing, but not only is it unrealistic and I don’t know anybody who’s very much done that, but if people will have talk about how much it sucks and talk about how unsustainable it is. So — and it’s not like there’s anything wrong with the superficial markers, it’s just that most people are, like you said, not — they didn’t want to never drink a beer again, they don’t want skip out on eating broccomoli and chips sometimes with their friends.
The truth is you can be healthy and extraordinarily healthy and still do those things but it’s not like a cheating. It’s not like because that’s the only thing you are eating. It’s because you understand why you’re doing it and what’s important to you. So anyway, not to get carried away, Greatist, that’s like the mission you want to make; we started with content because we felt like there was an enormous void at that. I definitely felt like there was very little content but I could turn to and trust. So at Greatist today, if you were to come to the site, what we do is we produce extremely high-quality health, fitness and happiness content.
Everything from how to eat Hummus in creative ways to how to squat the right way to know how to make — something that will make you smile every morning when you wake up. We have been producing, what we think is the highest quality content in space by far; every fact cited by scientific study from [Inaudible 0:07:10], every article is reviewed by multiple experts if it needs it. Our content today has been syndicated by the Washington Post, USA Today, so it’s super legit. But it’s fun and it’s friendly and it’s down to earth and it’s all about this super-accessible — it’s your healthy, trusted friend sharing some tips that they have learnt as opposed to your yelly, drill instructor or your camp instructor or your boring professor or your judgmental girlfriend.
So, that’s been the idea behind the content, has been build the brand, build the platform, start suggesting a new way for people to think about health and in our first three years we have been shockingly successful. You talked about it earlier; the fastest growing site in the space by far, we now reach 4.5 million unique visitors every single month. It’s a far cry from the 15,000 in one day that I was really stoked about three years ago. We are a big site now, we’re bigger than many of the brands that you’d recognize; fitness magazines, health magazines, and stuff like that but we hope it’s only the beginning and so that’s our story so far.
Last year we were runner up to WebMD as the best health website on the internet in the Webbys. It’s been a crazy ride, and like I said, hopefully it’s just a start.
Scott: I think it is, so lets kind of zoom in on this for a second here and get back to the beginning because again, you started as a guy, I know you were living out of San Francisco, you had WordPress site and you went from a WordPress site to, within a year, getting hundreds of thousands of uniques to this site to read content that you were producing and you were having help from other people producing. Tell me a little bit about the things that you did to achieve that rapid growth. And honestly, I’m going to get my pen and paper out, because I’m still working on that man and you were able to do it within just a year’s amount of time.
Derek Flanzraich Interview: Thanks man, yeah. So I think one was — I love this space and I was reading everything I possibly could read and so knowing the industry, I felt a real void of the kind of stuff that we wanted to do; which was really high quality content delivered in like a fun, friendly way. And so, yeah, –
Scott: Derek, stop you there real quick?
Derek Flanzraich: Go ahead, yeah.
Scott: I think people that listen and our audience they always want to know like where they can find opportunities; can you be specific in terms of how you were able to identify a void in this particular niche that you are passionate about?
Derek Flanzraich: Dude, I lived it. I think, that’s so core to building something. As you could probably hear, I started this because this is the solution I wanted, but it wasn’t the solution I thought that maybe could work. It was me not finding a solution like this after years of searching and instead of thinking, ‘man I sure wished that existed’, starting to think, ‘maybe I should build that’. And so I think that’s experience, understanding the industry, personal pain point, I think that was really core to me; core to me sort of finding this void.
And to be completely honest, I felt that void but I wasn’t sure that other people did too. And so very early on, I was so focused on finding from day one, it wasn’t just me writing, I did a lot [technical difficulty] I also convinced a bunch of friends of mine and friends of friends and the cousin of a random friend of mine from middle school [Inaudible 0:10:55] people to write for me because I sold them on this promise that the site didn’t suck in this space. And so it started resonating even with just the writers and then as we started to write, we set up I think really smart constraints [technical difficulty] about content and I think really any creative production is a creativity [technical difficulty] from constraints and success is born from consistent [technical difficulty].
And so, to me, I set up really clear, crisp structures on how I wanted the articles to look and then within that our writers could kind of go crazy. And as long as they followed the literally pre-set structure of, this is the intro and then we do this thing and then every fact is cited by scientific study and we don’t do quotes; and certain rules that we sort of stuck with, then it became much easier for them to create the content and also easier for them to shine above and beyond like on top of the structure. And then we just work to make [technical difficulty] over and over again on a consistent basis.
And so, the first bet was like, lets create content in this space; we don’t need to accept the rules of content creation that exist now, who needs this idea? Most of content production is based on a — the more you write, the more traffic you get; the more you write, the more Google — the higher your Google ranking gets and my belief — and this was a thesis going in that I could have been totally wrong about. But my belief was that people were increasingly turning to social networks for this fitness and health information and inspiration. They were tired, just like me, of all these shitty sites, they were tired of all these people who were telling them what healthy should look like.
They were tired of not being satisfied with what they were finding. So instead, they were turning to their friends and I felt this personally again, because all my friends started turning to me for help in health and wellness even though I didn’t know what I was talking about, I didn’t even look that fit. I just was talking about it a lot and so people started turning to me and I sat and wondered, ‘why, why are they turning to me?’ And the belief was, because they don’t know where else to turn. And so, imagine if we could create great content for people like me to share with their friends. And so from the very beginning our focus was quality over quantity, produce the best possible article on a topic and then put it in the hands of people who will share it and spread.
Scott: So, those things that you just outlined; did those define the constraints?
Derek Flanzraich: Yeah, and there were a lot of them. I was pretty crazy about it, I mean me and the [Inaudible 0:13:37] team, we literally sat down and said, ‘okay, when we write this type of article, here’s the structure that it takes, here are the rules around it. When we write this article, here’s the structure that that takes, here are the rules around that’. And again, for me in my mind it was just simplifying this process as opposed to making everyone tackle every new subject and sit there for hours trying to figure out what is the appropriate structure to tell this story. How do I involve experts in a new and profound way? How do I [technical difficulty] many of the things that people do that take time so that they can devote to doing the appropriate research and then communicating in a way that would be actionable, friendly, short and simple.
Scott: Got it, so really just kind of taking the thought process out of the best way to position articles on certain topics by creating these structures.
Derek Flanzraich Interview: Yeah, removing the ambiguity and the time waste that happens. Like the time sucks that happen when you are writing. And I knew this again from personal experience. I had spent — Greatist is my first real, true venture but I started organizations in middle school, high school and college, all of which are still around. All of which were working with creative folks who were producing content. And so, from my experience, I knew that some things took up an enormous amount of time that were not really core to the writing itself.
And so I tried to remove those as much as possible and then I tried to make it easier to be this higher quality, the higher quality focus that you wanted by forcing that into the rules. So again, every fact cited by scientific study, that might sound fancy; [technical difficulty] write anything that you can’t cite. And so, there was no choice, it had to be high-quality because literally built into the rules of the writing was a test on this.
Scott: That makes total sense. Now Derek, I love that you put your articles in pretty, little packages that were a certain way that were cited in all these things. That still doesn’t kind of paint the full picture of how to get hundreds of thousands of people reading these every single month. What types of things did you do to make that content spread especially before you were a brand name that is recognized on the Internet, like you are today?
Derek Flanzraich: Yeah. So a lot of things [Laughter] and a lot of things didn’t work. But I think maybe the two key things, so really early on, I had been emailing — so I loved this space and I knew and followed everyone in it and one of my insights going into this was, maybe I can turn all the people who have the same audience we want to reach. Like people, literal influencers that are reaching people in this space and their audience are the ones we want to reach. Maybe we can turn them from sort of these influencers that live online or out of touch.
It’s a stakeholders in what I was doing and so a big part of why we sort of burst out of the gates was because before we launched — so first of all, we spent two months working on the content because I wanted it to look like this site been around for five years and then we had all this content stockade as opposed to like, ‘oh, it’s a brand new site’ and also I knew that the newer stuff would be much better than the stuff we started with. [Technical difficulty] And do, while we were working around stockading and figuring out our voice and figuring out our style, I reached out to a hundred, and I’m not joking, I literally have an Excel spreadsheet still; it’s 100 people — 100 influencers in this space and I sent them these personalized, lightly personalized emails.
They basically said, ‘hey, I love what you are doing, I’m so impressed by the way that you reach your audience.’ They were genuine emails, only people that I really liked, saying, ‘I’m so impressed by how you reach your audience with a sense of humor, but also from a sense of really knowing what you are talking about. I’m trying to do that on a big scale with a new brand. What do you advice, like what do you think I should be thinking about?’ And the surprising thing to me, I expected no responses, but out of the hundred people, by the time I was said and done, 70% of them had responded, many more had gotten on the phone with me, tons had emailed me back, a few ended up being advisors, some investors and many of them today are called friends.
That experience alone turned these influencers into stakeholders and so then when we launched on April 19th of 2011, I emailed all of them and said, ‘hey, we’re finally live’ and they all shared it because they didn’t think it was competitive. They had actually had a hand in shaping what it looks like and how I was thinking about it. And so, this influencer’s outreach I’d say was a really big part of like our first initial burst and why when we launched, we suddenly had a following.
Scott: That is so smart; to get people to buy in to your success, that’s amazing. Is there anything else that you did besides ask their opinion and complement them that you were able to get these people to commit their time own time, energy and resources to your success?
Derek Flanzraich Interview: I think the key to it was that I was genuinely asking them for help. And I was doing it strategically. I’m not going to lie; I was hoping that they would all become stakeholders and not just influencers. But it was a very genuine like ‘hey I’m this person you don’t know, but here’s what I’m trying to do and here’s why it’s relevant to what you’re doing’. And I’m surprised even to this day, I mean a lot of people get a lot of emails, I get a lot of emails today, and I respond to anyone who writes me a heartfelt note. It’s just the truth, and maybe I shouldn’t but I totally do and I think most people genuinely do.
You’d be surprised at how few people, how few people send me heartfelt notes. So I can imagine how all these famous people in the health and wellness field, when they got a really true, genuine — like ‘I need your help’. So I think that was a part of it and I think that was one — that was an early strategic move that really worked. The second thing that really helped was us continuing to narrow down our audience. So we launch out of the gates with these influencers, I move to New York and like this is a real thing, I move to New York to hire two of the top people that were working with me already for free.
They were graduating from college; they were in the north east, I couldn’t convince them to move across the country so I moved across the country. I told them ‘I can’t hire you but I can pay for your apartment’, and so I moved into an apartment with these two people who — neither of which had ever met and we just like — their jobs were to work on this project and they were going to do it for no money just like the housing in New York City. And so, we moved there and again, thing were growing, things were working and we continued to get really excited and then suddenly growth stalled.
So, August, September, October of 2011 we sort of said, maybe we — that was it, we did the influencer outreach, there’s no way now, maybe I was wrong, maybe — I remember I was sitting round at the dinner table and thinking maybe we were just totally wrong about this. Maybe [technical difficulty] really don’t want high-quality content in this fun and friendly way. And we made a really big commitment then and there to focus and narrow our audience and which was probably the second smartest and most important thing we did.
So, in the beginning we wanted to be this big, narrow site, reaching everyone and being the health site for everyone; but increasingly, it didn’t hurt that we were all 18-35 but we were increasingly feeling that the demographic was most left out and also that what the topics that audience was interested in are different than the topics that everybody is interested in. And so we sort of made this crazy commitment to focusing on only 18-35 year olds. We decided that we were going to write about drinking and we would write about hangovers and we would write about sex and we would write about the things — not in a tardy way but like genuinely things that our age group was interested in and wanting to know about but in our way.
And as a part of that process we ask the question, ‘where is that audience?’ And right around that time is when Pinterest was really growing which is just starting to get written about and stuff like that and it was one of the platforms we looked at and we said, ‘whoa, like this is growing especially fast, the third and fourth most popular categories are food and drink and health and fitness. Nobody is on there, all the visuals suck; what if we were to come into this as our platform to reaching this connected audience with our content?’ And so we sort of like hitched our ride on Pinterest which was in retrospect, a very good decision but influenced a lot of our choices around how we emphasize visuals, what kind of articles we write and that was really the spark.
I mean there was no doubt that Pinterest became a sort of rocket-ship for us and we to this day are in the top-ten most pinned root domains on Pinterest. It still is the number one source of traffic for us and that helped us move into so many other things. And so — that was a long answer, but the short version of that is, we narrowed our audience down way more than we expected to. We became really relevant to some people as opposed to sort of relevant to everyone or to no one. And then we found where that audience was and just committed to them and that was big for us.
Scott: That is awesome, I love that you did that. Truthfully, it’s something that I struggled with; trying to serve everybody versus trying to serve a specific audience and a specific avatar. And I like how you’ve really kind of doubled down on a single platform. For people that are trying to create a brand and a presence and really get the most out everything that they create, would you recommend early on, really optimizing for one platform or do you think that you guys just got lucky?
Derek Flanzraich: I absolutely recommend optimizing on a single platform. If you — there’s a lot of outdated ways to think about marketing and user-acquisition. To me, the most exciting space is social media because it’s free and because [technical difficulty] wins is good stuff. We wanted to write only good stuff and our belief was that we didn’t have to compromise our brand to make it [technical difficulty] and that if we didn’t compromise our brand then holy sh** can we build something amazing. And so, that was the [technical difficulty] thesis and to do that we were a small team with limited resources.
I even had extra people, most people don’t. I think figuring out a platform, figuring out who your audience is, narrowing that down until you literally can’t do it anymore, and then [technical difficulty] looking for them the Internet is basically the key to start anything big. Once you find them, find out what they are sharing and then do it better. On Pinterest, our entire strategy was, look what people are sharing already and do it ten times better, a hundred times better. So what we did was we created the best possible resource you could possibly imagine for healthy smoothie recipes. There’s no article on the Internet that’s better than ours, I’m convinced.
And the reason was because we intentionally went in to create the best freaking article on the space because we saw some people sharing smoothie recipes and then we came back to them and said, ‘hey you people who love — apparently you love healthy smoothie recipes, check this out’. And that immediately became our most traffic [technical difficulty] article because all of a sudden, it genuinely was the thing that everyone wanted to share with our friends; bookmark, [technical difficulty] link to on their blogs, talk about it and come back to it again and again. And so yeah, I think hitching your ride to one platform is really key.
We caught on to a platform that ended up growing, I think, more than expected. But even today, you can be a breakout success on Facebook or on Reddit as long as you are very thoughtful and genuine about what you are trying to do.
Scott: Yeah, totally and I really appreciate you sharing those two edges that you use to basically have a breakout success in your first year. I want to fast-forward a little bit because it has been three years since you started the site and those hundreds of thousands of uniques are now in the millions. And I’m wanting to know from you, how have you been able to maintain that level of growth, because I know there’s a lot of stagnance and how’s your business and you marketing, all these things you do to fuel your business change when you go from a couple of hundred thousand to millions?
Derek Flanzraich: Good question, so what I would say we now have people who are more experienced that’s not to say that the people that we hired in the beginning, right out of college, weren’t awesome. It’s to say that the modern web — once you reach a certain point, the Internet and modern media demands a different skill set. I think today there’s no way to compete with just like pure text articles unless you are brilliant or extraordinary in something. I think that there’s so much — when I look at the people who are being successful, it’s because they are using — constantly innovating in how they share their stories.
The web continues to hand us these amazing, cool tools to tell stories better. And so, whether you’re looking at the New York Times doing like an article called ‘Snowfall’ where they’re sort of interweaving images and visuals into the text or you’re simply like adding a funny GIF to your content. Using all these different forms and media to tell a better story than everyone else, or better photographs, better visuals, interactivity; that stuff is — you need experience doing that and so for us, we’ve constantly — there’s a reason we still get so much traffic from Pinterest and it’s not because it’s the only thing we focus on anymore.
In fact, it’s something we got paranoid about and started on focusing on everything because we were so worried. At one point it was like 65% of our traffic, now it’s much smaller. But at the time, we were like okay — the key is that we can’t give up on it. We can’t just keep doing the same thing. We have to be constantly trying and innovating and trying new things. I think we were among the [technical difficulty] to start putting the name of the article on the image through their sharing on Pinterest which is now basically one of the key ways to get support.
We noticed that people — pictures or images that are higher vertically do better than horizontally because the horizontal ones are shrunk but the ones that are done vertically always seem to get — they take up a big chunk of the real estate and so we started experimenting with putting photos one after another, using that as a new sort of canvas to tell these stories. We are doing — we’re working on so many things but it’s telling that the number one New York Times article from last year is — it was basically a quiz. And so my long story short is, the bigger you get, I think the better you need to get; and that is not easy to do and constant innovation is difficult. And it takes I think certain people who are in it to do that. They are in it to win it. They understand that them just doing the same thing over and over again is not enough.
Scott: Yeah, I absolutely agree and I’ve seen that myself. Is there any other particular thing outside of changing the content and to be more dynamic and interactive that you have done through business that is something that is a little atypical but it actually ended up working out in your favor?
Derek Flanzraich: I will say that we continue to produce less content, which is weird. Most people in the media [Inaudible 0:31:09] believe that the more content you write the more [technical difficulty] you get. We believe that the better shots on goal you take, no matter how many shots you are taking the more [technical difficulty] you get. We found that to be really true. And so, the more — and it’s crazy, it’s so different, it’s so different from however one has thought about it but the truth is, a friend of mine, who writes for a site called [Inaudible 0:31:35] article every week; it’s crazy.
He would spend the entire week working on it and it’s the most comprehensive guide to deal and to procrastinate that I have ever seen on the face of the planet, but whatever. They have — one guy has nearly half as many uniques as we do and we’re a whole team right? So, in my mind, the way to win on the Internet is to create epic stuff, genuinely the best stuff on the subject and then being really smart and thoughtful about the ways that you spread it and get it in the right people’s hands. So, I guess one atypical thing that we do is produce a lot less content and another atypical thing that we do is we re-publish posts a lot.
So, my big thing about — again as you probably tell don’t like doing things the way they are done because usually I think those are stupid. And so one of the things that always blew my mind was why does every media company that we know, write a new article for every study on weather, ‘fat is good for us’? Nearly every time there is a new study, or a new person mentioning it, people will write a new article and so our belief was that that’s silly. The way the people use the Internet in the future, they don’t really care about what’s the most recent article, they don’t really care whether they have seen it before, they just want it to be the best resource for them to answer that question.
And so, what we do is we regularly go back and republish our content and repost it after — whenever a new study comes out we’ll do that, if it impacts the message will repost it with new visuals and new ways to share it. We’ll repost it with added perspectives and new multimedia added in and so we sort of make up our own rules and we have never had any complaints about that. People who have seen it before are thrilled that it’s updated and maybe they are not going to read it again. People who haven’t seen it before which usually is a vast majority of your audience, they are just thrilled to get this thing they didn’t know you had written already.
And so, I think not being afraid to use the format of media in whichever way you want, is important. For example, when you write articles, Scott, why not now go back and do a relevant — like pick a blog post that is extremely successful, find someone who is super-good at answering on a relevant topic, do a podcast with them and then release them both at once. And so what you’re doing is that you’ve got the double-header. You now have such a powerful, added benefit and you’re also using it as good an excuse as you possibly can to republish it and get it in front of people who haven’t seen it or people who have seen and given them another chance to share it or re-read it and pay attention to that.
Scott: Derek, I’m not sure if you can hear right now but I’m pounding the keys pretty hard with these ideas.
Derek Flanzraich: Yeah.
Scott: So, thank you for sharing them and I think that’s really good advice, it’s not always what everybody else is doing that going to be most effective, it’s what you have tested, iterated on and works for you. Now, I want to just take this opportunity to rendition away from the business and marketing and getting traffic for a bit because ultimately, a lot of people are interested in learning a little bit more about you and about your journey outside of all the things that you do in your business. And one of the most interesting things that I find is understanding the habits, practices or rituals that successful people, high-achievers have in their life that they use to get an edge. Is there anything that you do on a regular basis that is unrelated to all this business stuff that you use to get an edge?
Derek Flanzraich: I mean so many things; I do all kinds of weird stuff.
Scott: Why don’t we just pick two of your favorite?
Derek Flanzraich: Okay. So one, I am obsessed with this thing called the ‘Master Planner’ and it’s actually an idea that came to me from a former co-worker of yours, Kenny. He sent me sort of — the way he does the agenda and I sort of manipulated it and basically turned it into like an agenda plus to-do list plus copious notes on every single person I ever meet with and anything I possibly do. And it’s this crazy Google doc that literally has every one of my meetings, every of my thoughts and reactions from those meetings, everything that I did for the last nearly three years in there in and out.
And every day, I plan for the day ahead; and the night before, I’ll sit down and I’ll write down everything that I’m doing in the day ahead, I’ll affirm what I need to if I’m getting everywhere, moving it to the to-do list with actions that I want to get done and set my priorities for the day. And then at the end of the day, once that’s done, I’ll go back and I’ll literally write down everything that happened, everything that — all the things that happened and everything I was thinking down there. So there’s a bunch of ways why it is powerful. One is that it organizes my thoughts and it organizes my day which I think people don’t do enough.
I profoundly believe in removing as much as possible from my head at all times so that when I am in moments like this or I am in a meeting with someone or I’m working on something, I can be completely focused and completely free to focus on that fully as opposed to being worried about ‘oh my god, I have to do that thing next’, or ‘oh my god, what just happened in that meeting’ or ‘I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet’, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing tonight’. Like, all these silly things in my mind more — the more again, the ambiguity or the more uncertainty I remove from my life, the more certain I can be about the things that actually matter.
And so the Master Planner is huge, I am obsessed with it, I wrote an article — I wrote about it for the life hacker, I just think it’s so — I wish looking back, I [technical difficulty] convince our new employees to adopt it and if you have, but I wish I would have forced everyone to adopt it. I know people work differently, this works for me but I think most people pretend like they are really good at remembering things, pretend like they are really good at planning their day, pretend like they are really good at prioritizing a list of tasks and to-dos and most people suck at it.
And so, to me, I think it’s very much about making sure that that’s [technical difficulty] that I can turn to and trust and free me up on the other stuff. So yeah, Master Planner, big win.
Scott: I’ll make sure I link that up in the show notes, just so that everybody who is interested in seeing exactly what you are talking about can see that post you wrote about it. Now, you mentioned one more thing, give us one more thing you do that you think gives you an edge.
Derek Flanzraich: Okay, one more thing I do.
Scott: The CEO of a health and fitness site has to have something good.
Derek Flanzraich: I have a lot of stuff, I’d love to talk about meditation but I feel like that’s what everyone is talking about. I think if people aren’t building smartly and a little bit of focused breathing into their lives, they are just really not paying attention to like what is scientifically to proven to make your life better and smarter and make you more effective. And so like I think meditation is important and to me, it’s working out. I think, working out is — if I remember, when I was this fat kid growing up, I remember feeling this real — this real epiphany the first few times I worked out where I just felt like I don’t — I just feel great and all the things that I want to do now, I’m better at.
You know, here I was, I’m running these small organizations in middle school and I felt like whenever I talk to someone, I was more clear and crisp and my brain was not foggy. I felt like if I tried to tackle some creative task, I was so much more creative. If I was trying to do emails, I was so much more efficient. And it shocked me that people that were talking about like fitness as such an important part of impacting your life, ignoring the fact that maybe it helps you get sexier or maybe it helps you burn calories. The truth about fitness for the most part is that you’re never going to burn enough calories which would really make a difference and it makes you super-hungry.
So, working out to lose weight is among this — I think it’s basically more or less a myth and I think that it’s something that distracts people from the truth which is that sweating improves your life in so many, other drastic ways. So anyway, I used to work out in the afternoons; just sort of gave me that second wind. Relatively recently, I don’t know, five to six months ago, I switched to doing morning workouts. Waking up a little earlier, trying to go to sleep a little earlier and then waking up in the morning; and that’s been huge for me.
Working out in the morning, spending little time meditating, having my own breakfast and I get excited about every day; That’s true — when I walk into the office, now in the morning, when everyone else is getting in and I have like accomplished so much and I’m so much clearer and stable and happy. It’s like — that’s like a secret weapon and I know I don’t have to convince you but it’s like, I feel like it’s such a secret weapon.
Scott: I couldn’t agree more, I mean you feel like you’re shot out of a cannon. When you wake up early, you’re productive and you get your physiology in the right place so that you can focus. I couldn’t agree more and I’m grateful that my football coaches in college were getting my butt up at 6:00 AM to hit the gym and fortunately, developed a habit.
Derek Flanzraich: Yeah, and I think that I am not like — you were an athlete but I was not. I literally was such a bad athlete that my senior year of high school, I begged the coach, the varsity basketball coach to let me on the team just because I never experienced that, genuinely. And so what I will say to like your audience and to the people listening, you don’t need to be good at this. That’s not actually at all, [Inaudible 0:42:22] it’s about. All you have to do find something you enjoy, nothing [technical difficulty]. If you feel like working out is torture, you haven’t found the workout that you actually enjoy.
Try a bunch of things, find something that you like and do it regularly and you’ll see that you’ll have that epiphany too. And anyone, literally I have [technical difficulty] friends who are super gawky and in no way shape or form should be moving around, they find that dance class that they love in an obscure gym that no one’s ever been to, and they go back every week and it’s like the highlight of their week. I’m getting carried away because it’s something that I’m so passionate about but it’s so important and it’s so key and it makes life so much better.
I hurt by back recently and so I’ve been grounded for a month and I literally feel that — I feel like I’m stuck in the cannon that you were talking about. Every morning, I feel that way and I can’t wait to have that again.
Scott: Yeah. I think I might know the answer to this. But I’m going to ask it anyway because I always finish the show with this one question. If there was one thing out there that you could tell people to do in order to get an edge and create abundance for their lives, what would it be?
Derek Flanzraich: I know that you think I’m going to answer ‘go work out’ or something –
Scott: Yes, that’s what I thought –
Derek Flanzraich: Yeah, but what I would actually say is that the one lesson I think I have learnt the most and I believe profoundly, is that you should do things differently. Because if you really want to succeed differently, the only way you can get there is by doing things differently. I have my own tricks and stuff, I develop them myself, these are things I heard, but they are the right things for me and I feel like they give me these edges that no one else has because they are mine. And so I feel like nobody else is doing them and so that means I can get away with it.
Success is not normal, it’s not expected and if everyone does the same thing, if you do the same thing that everyone writes about on the blog posts, or you read all the books and follow exactly what they did, you’ll end up in exactly the same place everyone else does which is not successful probably for the average mediocre and not that happy. Going after your successes is scary but I think the only way to pursue it is your way and doing it truly differently. Really that means coming up with your own rules, whether that means working on something that only you really care about and understand whatever that [technical difficulty] sorry if that’s too — you think like -
Scott: No, I think that’s just great, and I think it’s true. If you are going about getting what you want by modeling others, that’s a great place to start. But you have a ceiling and if you want breakout growth, don’t build a better wheel, build a hovercraft that goes 20 times as fast. That is such good advice and I think it’s a challenge for everybody who is listening to think about what they want and to think if there’s actually a way that forgetting all the other influences they’ve had and seeing how other people have done things. Ask yourselves if there is actually a way that nobody has tried before, that might be more effective that you’ve been little hesitant to try because you’ve never seen anybody done it before. I encourage everybody who is listening to take a moment to think about that.
Derek Flanzraich: Derek, if people want to find more information about you, about Greatist, what is the best place to go?
Scott: Well, you can definitely head [technical difficulty] Greatist dot com, I’m super-reachable on [technical difficulty] Derek which sounds a little douche [technical difficulty] but it was not intended that way. At [technical difficulty] on Twitter and I’m just Derek at Greatist over email; and I’ve got personal blog at The Derek dot com but I’m not so good at maintaining it. But, I’m always stoked to reach out to people and help if I can; for me, it’s all about how do we help more people create the things that they want in the world and things that are good and there’s never enough of us trying to make a big difference.
Derek Flanzraich: Derek, I love it man; thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.
Scott: Totally; thank you for having me.
[End of interview 0:47:03]