Reverse Engineering Success With Noah Kagan – TCE 002

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You ever encounter someone that just seems to make you grin?

Well today’s guest on The Competitive Edge has definitely been one of those people on the interwebs for me.

I’m super excited to have Noah Kagan Chief Sumo of on the show.

I’m not sure how I found Noah exactly, but as soon as I started digging into his entertaining AppSumo emails, products he was creating, and vulnerable interviews, I started rooting for him.

This guy is hilarious, smart, and has personality all of which make for a great episode that you can check out below…


Noahism: “Uncertainty is your opportunity for growth” (tweet this)

What You’ll Learn By Listening

  • Mindsets and practices Noah uses to constantly improve his life
  • How to deal with rejection and some example stories
  • The process of “reverse engineering” results to get consistent wins
  • Lessons from some of his recent ventures including how to make products sell better
  • Questions we can ask ourselves if we’re not sure what company to start or who we should work for
  • Clever ways to drive traffic to your website using the reverse engineering technique
  • One “muscle” to build if you want to increase your learning and self-awareness

Listen to the episode here:

Subscribe on Itunes for more interviews

Thank Noah for dropping knowledge on us (tweet noah here)

Mindshare segment at the end:

A pre-emptive marketing tactic I use to encourage people to promote things

Links & Resources Mentioned:

For more on Noah check him out at: AppSumo, Monthly1k.comOkdork, and on Twitter @NoahKagan

Other resources mentioned:

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*You’ll find a full searchable transcript below

Music Credit: Carousel Games & Stay Awake

Big Thanks to Today’s Show Partner – Feedly is designed for purposeful reading. They believe reading is a fundamentally important activity that can make you better at the things you’re passionate about. They help people get more out of their work, education, hobbies and interests by connecting them directly to information they care most about.

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Searchable Transcript of This Noah Kagan Interview:


Scott: All right Noah, what’s up man? How’re you doing?

Noah Kagan: Good, just worked out; now I’m on a Yoga mat on the floor doing a little podcast with you.

Scott: Nice, man. I like that. So Noah, for everybody who is not familiar with Appsumo, can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Noah Kagan: Yeah, it’s a totally free newsletter to help entrepreneurs kick ass. So once or twice a week, we’ll find cool products, send them out; generally get good prices on them and then people can get buy them or not. And we’ll promote things from like FreshBooks, LinkedIn, MailChimp, tools for designing [technical difficulty]. We have promoted a thing called Share As Image which helps you create super quick images and that thing blew up. We were a little surprised at how well it has done.

Scott: So, I literally — can you be a little more specific about this product, it sounds kind of cool.

Noah Kagan: Yeah, man. So it’s one of these things where — what I always encourage people to do in business as well as in life is to try to look at things that are already working so you can do more of them. And one of the things that we started experimenting with, so on my personal site, Okdork dot com, I worked with a guy named Tyler and so he started posting quotes of things I would say are quotes from articles I would read or something like that on Twitter. And I hate to talk about Twitter in public, I think it’s really lame, but I’ll do it. [Laughter] [technical difficulty] oh man, you remember that tweet I wrote?

Scott: Yeah, it’s pretty dorky. [Laughter]

Noah Kagan: At least mine says Okdork so that’s fair but he stated posting them on Twitter and literally would get 25 to 50 re-tweets and favorites and so he was — but he was doing it manually because he would make a picture with a background and a quote and people would go ape-shit versus just writing a text out. And so I asked him, I was like dude, how’re you making those? He’s like, I use this product called GIMP which is like 1950s and it takes forever and I showed him Share As Image which basically makes it really easy to take any image and put text over it and the free version is pretty damn good so you don’t even need to pay.

But we noted that and frankly this is something I had learnt in a business, and we just thought that it was a great product and we were really proud to promote it and it blew up. And the second thing of why it’s done popular and this is a good kind of business tip for almost anyone is that what we offered wasn’t just like — I don’t know about you, I just hate subscriptions. I hate things monthly on my bills so we offered it like a forever plan. And mentally, even if you are offering something that is a forever thing, saying that, is such a powerful statement as long as it is real. And so that was really the hook that I think that a lot of people have been — besides it’s a good product, and I think that angle as well makes it easier for people to make a purchase.

Scott: Yeah, there is a sense of relief; I don’t feel like I have a ball and chain tied to me when it’s a forever purchase. And this product that you just mentioned, it actually sounds a little bit like the twilighter product in some ways and I know that one of the things that you just came out with for Appsumo is Sumomeat; can you talk a little bit about that?

Noah Kagan Interview: Dude, you just love me playing myself. I was going to spend the time — I think we should talk about your listeners in helping them kick more ass.

Scott: All right, dude, let’s do that.

Noah Kagan: You can go check Sumomeat dot com, it’s a free tool to help you grow your website. That’s it.

Scott: Cool, love it. So we were talking a little bit about before your call, about your workout and kind of like how you’ve changed your focus on your physiology and things like that and how it’s made a huge impact in your life. Can you talk about like your transformation in terms of how much emphasis you put on fitness?

Noah Kagan Interview: Yeah man, well, I’ll give you two stories that I think are relevant for an audience. Yesterday I was feeling pretty mopey and I don’t know about you, I go through days where I like — yesterday I did not feel like working whatsoever. And it’s funny because you see people that are “successful” or have a little more audience or attention or make some money and you think, oh, they must be working all the time, or what’s their schedule and all that shit. I’ll tell you, I had some friends who were really rich, much richer than I am and those guys are on red all day.

They’re just thinking around and it happens, you’re going to have those days and you’re going to have productive days and it’s good to accept them. But the point that I was going to highlight was that I was feeling kind of mopey and so at lunchtime I went and worked out with a friend and I’ll tell, right afterwards, I was like, ‘I’m pumped’. Like it just gets you alive, it gets your blood flowing and I’ll tell you when that stuff is connected, when you’re working on your body, it’s much easier to be more productive with your work and subsequently with women and relationships.

So, that was one interesting thing that’s kind of being more aware from I’m being much more healthy and prioritizing that, is that the healthier you are, you’re going to feel better and you’re going to look better and have more [Inaudible 00:04:33] which is good, but it also helps you with your business life which as well as relationships in general. The other story that I was going to tell you was how I got started in it and I think everyone has to have their own journey with that.

And I was actually on this — I have never shared this publicly, but I was on a bike-ride with my ex-girlfriend and basically during the bike-ride she was like, ‘you are fat’, ‘you’re over-weight’, ‘you are hung over now’ and this bike-ride should take four hours, it was taking me about eight hours. And so we ended up breaking up in the bike-ride [Laughter] it was like — but I think one of the pieces that I have learnt is a friend of mine works for Keith Ferrazzi and one of the things he said, and I love this line was that, ‘all feedback was good. It’s up to you to decide what to do with it.’

And I really enjoyed that quote and the next day after we broke up and she kind of [technical difficulty] I was like, you know what, that bitch is right, not that all women are bitches [technical difficulty] I was a little upset [technical difficulty] that lady was right and from that point, I started working with Adam from My Body Tutor dot com and I realized that having — changing my diet, and changing my — exercising and so forth has really made my life a lot better.

And I’m not even involved with that stuff where I used to run all the time and I kind of started to be like, I hate running, like I’m not happy doing this and so it’s starting to evaluate. And this is what I had mentioned earlier. I call it anomalies of success which is like, look at things that you are doing that are working, do more of it, look at things that are not working and less of them. And I think people just keep doing shit that doesn’t work for them in the hopes that it’ll change and that’s called insanity.

And so I kind of said, this running thing isn’t working for me but I’m enjoying weightlifting and other forms of cardio; so I’m enjoying the treadmill or I’m enjoying StairMaster or interval running. And so, it’s figuring out that balance of what is giving you the overall life that makes you feel good. And so it’s been an interesting evolution, working with Adam from My Body Tutor, figuring out foods; like how many times Scott, for yourself, have you after lunch felt like shit?

Scott: A lot, man. Basically every time I’ve eaten a carb.

Noah Kagan: Yeah, it’s funny, I always make fun of people with cilax disease but it is interesting to note that, there is a book I was mentioning, it’s called ‘Power of Full Engagement’ and this book — it’s one of my top ten lifetime books and what I love about it is it really got me thinking about how — not just food which is critical but just exercising, as well as people and the things that you work on effect your energy levels. And so I started really trying to think about what gives me more energy.

And notice this for yourself next time, notice you have a conversation with people; let’s say you have this conversation and afterwards you’re like pumped, I’m going to go work out, I’m going to make some money, I’m going to have some sex, versus other ones. Like I had one last week with a financial planner and I was drained. I was like, I can’t do anything else today and emotionally — and so I started to look for the things that were giving me more and then reducing the things that would take away; and I think as people start becoming aware of that, they get more done and they are more fulfilled throughout their days.

Scott: It seems like you have an uncanny ability to just go through these life experiences, the good and the bad and come away with actionable takeaways. Is there any specific mindset or practices that you are just constantly doing in order to really iterate on your life and improve it?

Noah Kagan: Yeah, that’s an awesome question and I hate when people say this, ‘you have a really great question’; I don’t know why we do that all the time.

Scott: I’m giving myself a pat on the back over here; you can say it as much as you want.

Noah Kagan: You should go get a massage today. [Laughter] You know, it’s funny because I gave a presentation on creative life and it’s like 99 bucks, they might have some free previews and it was like — and there’s actually a great presentation I did it on YouTube for free, it’s Big Omaha – Noah Kagan Big Omaha, and maybe you can link to it. And it was how to get everything you want, how to overcome your fear and get everything you want. And I gave a presentation about how I went through a really rough year for myself relatively to other people.

I went through a rough year myself about like my weight and my business and my relationships. And so it was funny because yesterday I felt like shit man, like I didn’t feel like working, didn’t feel like working out that much and I was like, ‘I’m the guy who gave that presentation; of course I have to feel good all the time.’ Right? Like isn’t he supposed to? You read his Tweets and things are so good and he’s got quotes or he’s got a blog, or whatever and he’s got Appsumo that’s doing well.

And we all go through ups and downs, it’s a roller coaster, you have days when you’re crushing it and you have days that are not. And I think the mindset that I try to use is a testing mindset. I don’t have an official term for it, I haven’t really thought about it extensively but what I try to personally is test things out on a 7-30 day basis and it’s not super-rigorous. Let me give you this example. I want to handstands, so I said for the month of March, I’m going to do handstands from one to five minutes every morning. And so I was like, let me just try these handstands out and I started out with wall-planks — there’s actually a great book, it’s ’28 day Handstand Challenge’, PDF. I’ll give you the links so you can put it in credits, it’s totally free, it doesn’t cost shit and I’m sending it to via Skype.

Scott: Sweet.

Noah Kagan: And I did it for 30 days and you know what, I really like handstands, so I’m still doing them. Anyhow, other things — I found out that I really like protein waffles, so I experiment every morning with making protein waffles. But there’s other things, you know, something that my friend Stacy from Nerd Fitness today and I used to do 120 sit-ups and 15 pull-ups every morning and I would them every morning for 30 days and I found out that after 30 days, I didn’t want to get out of bed because I didn’t want to do them.

Because I wouldn’t eat breakfast until I did them. And I was like, I don’t want to keep doing this because it’s not making me want to get out of bed and enjoy my day. And it doesn’t mean that everything is going to be fun but you look at how you feel afterwards. Same with meditation, I did meditation 40 days, there’s a great app called Accu-Timer, totally free; so I’d meditate for five minutes and I did it for 41 days and my personality is like, I don’t want to stop [Inaudible 00:10:39].

But after 41 days I was like, everyone is saying like it’s helping them but I did it and I’m like I didn’t feel anything, I just feel bored. And so it’s not that it doesn’t work for people but all I’m trying to encourage people to do is that I don’t think there’s one right way to live a life but [technical difficulty] subtracting seeing with the people in your life, add them in and subtract them and see which ones at different points in your life serve you. Because some things you have been doing for a while, you probably just at least need to test them to see all right, I’ve been a vegetarian, maybe let me eat meat; or maybe I’m a meat-eater, let me be vegetarian and then see what that’s doing for your life and then continue it based on what’s getting you the better result.

Scott: Do you take the same approach to your business in terms of effectiveness?

Noah Kagan: Yeah, I mean, I think the hard part with this kind of mentality is that its easy to start shifting things too early and that’s a problem that I had historically which makes me very effective because I get a lot of shit done because it doesn’t keep — I was talking to a friend from Sched dot org; I really like his attitude, his name is Taylor Murphy and I asked him, you’ve been doing this for a long time, like how have you been successful? Like what separated you from the pack? And he said, there’s only one thing that gives me a competitive edge and that’s patience.

And I was like, that’s such a good way of looking at it. He’s like I’ve out-lasted everyone; I’ve out done it. I’ve gone through the pain longer and so I don’t want to have people think, oh, well, you got to test them just move things out quickly but it’s figuring out where that right balance is for yourself and your preferences and ultimately your results. So, I’d say for Appsumo we’ve done really well because we have found things that worked and we’ve done more of them.

So like in the beginning of Appsumo dot com, we used to promote bundles and then we were like, it takes three months to get a bundle and you make 5000 bucks, what if we just split up the bundle? And then it’s interesting, now we’re making 5000 bucks a week and getting a single deal that’s a lot easier. And so it’s being observant and kind of looking for what’s working to do more of it. And I think you ultimately have to have some type of goal or something you are trying to accomplish and when you don’t, it just makes things a lot harder.

So with Appsumo, it’s like we’re trying to accomplish a goal, last year we were selling a certain amount of our Monthly 1K dot com course which shows people how to start a business. And because we had a goal in that, it was not — it wasn’t one month, it was a whole year goal. It helps to break it down to — we broke it down to monthly goals and weekly goals and daily goals and we’re able to iterate just to see all right what’s effective in selling more of this course? And so, what was effective, number one — and there were things that were not effective.

But number one was like, if we give real examples of starting a business, we’d sell a lot because people believe it; and number two, the better we make the course, the more we sell. So we spent literally months just developing the course, looking at the data; and the data we would look at is — because people would say, oh we looked at data — what data do you look at? So we looked at time on page, so we looked at how long people are spending on each page because if they are spending too long and they are not moving forward.

We tracked like how far people got throughout the course and figured out how do we get them further ahead, because obviously get to the end, you get your own business. We looked at where people were quitting the course; so what pages were the last pages before they refunded or dropped out; and we said what is it about these pages and how do we then either expand on them or remove them completely. And so a lot of it was like having a goal, breaking down to a daily or weekly basis and then figuring out which things have been more effective to do more of and like the course — we did some guest posts, that didn’t work really well.

Advertising did okay, it wasn’t as great as I was hoping it would be in terms of like, I put in a dollar and it got a lot more. It wasn’t like that much of a big leverage; and so yeah, I think we do try to take a good approach of like let’s try out new things, let’s have a goal, lets try out things and see which ones are actually the most effective in getting towards that.

Scott: Yeah, I mean it makes a ton of sense. One thing that I think a lot of people do myself included, I really suck at this, is making sure to be super-diligent about doing a proper postmortem to really understand the things that I do. What does that process look like when you’re testing something out at Appsumo?

Noah Kagan: So we kind of stopped doing a lot of our ad tests; so we actually do that more around our deals and so what we’ll do is like, lets say WP101, it’s a product we provided, it’s a great course about how to start a Word Press log and we promoted it thinking it would sell 1000 or 2000; it ended up at something like 500 and I think it was $15 or $20 or so, I’m not sure of the exact price and it was really low. And so we did a postmortem and we were not perfect about that stuff man; but I think what you have to do is like — let me just break it down in terms of a formula.

Any time you get rejected from a sale, like let’s say I’m trying to sell you something, that’s the part where you actually grow the most. That’s the part where you’re like, ‘why didn’t you want to buy it?’ so I could make it better next time. And I think just that mentality is you kind of highlight is, that’s how you can start winning because I think most people fail and they just accept it. But when you go and try to start a business and people aren’t buying it, you go and get rejected from a girl, you do a blog-post and no one reads it, what was it about that one that you can really deep dive and them make the next one better? Or when it does work, why is this working?

Scott: Yeah, I think it’s so interesting, I love thinking about taking almost a marketer mindset to a lot of situations that people don’t; like social interactions, so like when did this conversation lose energy? When did this girl decide that she wasn’t interested in me? Trying to identify the bottlenecks in these interactions with people; it’s so fascinating and high value but I feel like rarely do people do it.

Noah Kagan: I mean well, two things from me is that, in relationships with girls, I’ve started looking at when do I get noticed more? So, I started painting my toe-nails and my finger-nails and I know that’s really metro and I don’t know dude it’s weird — and now I just have my toe-nails painted. One, it makes me happy because I walk around with my feet and they’re all painted and pretty, and I’m like, ‘oh look how pretty and cute they are’ and so what I realized was that what am I doing things that other people are responding well too?

A certain T-shirt, and then it’s like, I want more of that and I think as you have that mentality, you will get more of it. The other thing is, I actually like when bad things happen, and everyone’s got their own definition of what bad is, but a more recent experience or more experience — it’s such a stupid one, you’re going to think I’m such a tard but like about — lets see a year ago, I went to Jason Cohen of WP Engine and if you went and blog hosted at WP Engine, that’s a good site, [Inaudible 00:17:30].

And so when you go to this great place that I love going to and I order a salad and I was like — and I kind of mumbled ‘no dressing’ and I eat relatively healthy and so I said to the guy, [Inaudible 00:17:44] and he puts the dressing on, and he literally like carwashes it. He puts in the bottom and in the middle and the top and I’m having this meeting with Jason and he didn’t notice this at all and the whole time I’m just like, ‘son of a bitch’, like I hate this salad and I was so unhappy and I kind of — you could say all right, well, next time — and the learning is, all right next time when I get a salad, make sure I always ask for dressing on the salad.

And then I also just try to reflect on a higher level of — when things happen like that, what can I just generally learn? So when I get a speeding ticket or when a girl doesn’t like me or when Appsumo isn’t working out or when I’m getting food that I don’t enjoy; how do I always at a higher level keep thinking like if something bad happened, how do I make sure I improve that feature? And just that mindset, thinking about that, is helping me in a lot of different angles of life.

Scott: Yeah, I think if you challenged a lot of people and I’d be curious to get your insight on is, even though we do have these failures where we can learn things form them, it’s hard to remember those lessons in the future, is there any type of exercise or affirmation that you do to really like drive these home?

Noah Kagan: I look in the mirror and I tell myself, ‘I’m special’. [Laughter] I don’t man, I don’t really — I would say for myself — like I think people start blogs for the wrong reason and I generally discourage most people from doing blogs but I would say, ultimately in the past year and a half, besides [Inaudible 00:19:11] to some extent, I would say I started to blog to remember stories and experiences that I wanted to remember. So there is to some extent, like I reverse engineer what will be popular but then I’m choosing other things that I want to write about which will be most popular.

So as an example, I put out an article a year ago about a cold e-mail I received. One of the best cold emails I’ve ever received and I put it out and it just got huge and so I was like, oh, people like reading about email stories or email improvement and so I have a story recently that I was like all right, I’m going to work on that because it was already popular, and I wanted to remember this, it was about how somebody rejected me recently. And I was just like — I was just so happy with the rejection. I was like happy about the rejection and that’s something that, when you think about it or remember it, and I’m also happy to share that story with other people.

Scott: Can we share that story now?

Noah Kagan: Sure. I was — I think when you’re trying to figure out a lot of people don’t know what they want to work on or which companies they want to work for and I think one of the easiest strategies for that is two things — or I think just one; look at the restaurants or products that you are using the most. So, which apps are you using a lot; so I’m using like Glympse dot com a lot, Glympse is the app and it basically shows people where you’re going so that they don’t have to [technical difficulty] wait for you. So it’s like, ‘hey Scott, I’ll be there in 10 minutes’, I’ll send you a glimpse so you can see me on the map.

I use My Fitness Pal and I’m really enjoying just tracking what I’m eating, I find that really enjoyable or even when I worked at Mint dot com, I saw it, I was like, oh my God, I want this right now. So I think if you’re looking for a job, that’s like, all right, what am I using a lot that I already know very well? Or secondly, if you are looking to start a business, it’s like, what kind of things and people really resonated with you? So like, I started thinking about that myself, like what have I done that people always respond to and what have I enjoyed? So what has responded well and I enjoyed?

I love bringing people together. I really love events and like hosting and coordinating that stuff and so it’s like how do I do more of that? As well, it’s like about myself, I love telling people about things I like. So, the rejection email was — I love Tacodeli; it’s my favorite Taco place in the world, it’s in Austin, Texas and I love telling people about it, I love bringing people there and so I emailed the owner and I said, can I invest in your business and that was number one, and will you speak at my event on Friday? For Monthly 1K dot com, we’re having a members meet up at Austin and I was like, can you come speak at it?

And I will say it with an asterisk, if you are ever asking someone for something, make sure you give them something first and don’t do it inauthentically or just in general like, ‘hey, I’m going to give you something, but you have to give me something back’ because they usually do not expect shit. And maybe in the future if you feel like it’s appropriate, then ask for something. I get so many emails like almost daily and it’s like — ‘can you fix my startup?’ Or ‘can you do my marketing?’ And I’m like, I don’t even know you, I barely — like I said, I hardly talked to my mom on the phone, you think I’m going to take time for you?

And a lot of that goes back to energy, which is like why would I give my energy to these people versus the people I already love or people who are already customers and so forth? And so with the Tacodeli guy, I brought a lot of people there, I spent a lot of money there and so it wasn’t super — out of the field but I asked him to invest, I asked him to come speak and his rejection was just really fascinating. It was like super-complimented in the beginning, saying no and then explaining why — so what’s in like — he’s like we’re been a home-grown business, [Inaudible 00:22:45] we don’t plan on it and I really appreciate that you’re excited about it; just doesn’t make sense; and for the speaking thing, I’m just really busy with time.

And so he could have easily just responded ‘no’, but I think how he explained it, he appreciated me, told me no, and explained to me why no; was just a really nice formula around that. So that kind of posed because it’s already worked well in the past, I’m going to do more of. And I think that’s something — it’s looking at what things are already working so you do that and other people might call that reverse engineering. Now, I think that’s a key thing to be looking forward in marketing or starting a business or dating, is what are the things you can reverse engineer to get the result you want?

Scott: I remember a very specific example, when you did this on [Inaudible 00:23:27] interview, where you basically kind of looked at all the different posts and interviews that were more successful and looked for patterns and I just really thought that was a brilliant way to get the most out of that experience. Can you think of any other tactical stories where you have used this reverse engineering technique, maybe marketing or just any general business?

Noah Kagan: Yeah, I can give you a lot of examples of how — so I was thinking about starting a podcast but I think it’s almost easier for me to be on other people’s podcast because there are so many new ones. But I actually went through the top podcasts — I looked up the top podcasts and then I looked up the different factors to see what contributed to the top podcasts as well as their top individual podcasts, so the overall high level and then the individual podcasts.

And so I’ll just tell you for your readers, or listeners, the thing that is exciting is, the number of reviews, length of their podcast topics; so I found out that this is a surprising one, I found that a lot of the podcasts that have the most popular episode, was about making connections. Isn’t that interesting? I was like [technical difficulty].

Scott: I feel like it’s such an obvious topic that it’s surprising.

Noah Kagan: Really? No, dude, I was shocked how many of the ones that were the most popular on different people, it was like how to meet people, how to make new relationships, how to network which I hate that word, or how do you build new connections. Then I looked for least popular topics, I looked at reviews to see what people are commenting about, what do they normally talk about, I looked at the length of time of podcasts and I looked at like audible and other kind of more framework based things so I could see which ones have the most reviews, which ones have the most downloads and so forth.

And then that’ll help me craft what is missing, obviously or what is already working that I can replicate. Other things that I have done this around are dating, so I’m single now and I’m screening out all right, everyone is — and there are others are on Okcupid and Match dot com how do I stand out? And so how I stand out is like I don’t do them, I go to other places. so what are people not doing as much? Meeting in person, like — I have tried it, it didn’t work super well, but I look for — all right, how do I reverse engineer? Well, I know that I am Jewish and Jewish has worked really well because I posted ‘I’m Jewish’ on a few things and I get a lot more Jewish girls. I’m like, all right, well, how do I do more Jewish stuff?

So there is an app that isn’t used as much, it’s Coffee Meets Bagel and I posted; I’m Jewish’ because I am. And I’m looking for a Jewish person and that’s actually gotten to be really effective from me because there’s less competition around it and I know that it works. With marketing and so forth, I look at which sites are already bringing me the most traffic then I go to those sites, so let me give you specifics. So lets say on Inbound dot org which is kind of an SEO-related site, I look at it, all right, two things; who is writing these articles that are really popular, secondly I look at what topics are they writing about that are really popular and third I kind of start building relationships with those people.

So I use those kind of three different factors to then create content or work with us to create content that will get to the top of Inbound dot org and it has been working and — but it should be content suited for that audience and it works well. And lastly I’ll say, even for Appsumo, just one more clear example, when we started, I had no email list or nothing, just like anybody else listening or wanting to start. Not anybody who is listening, but anybody who is wanting to start a business that’s listening. And what I did was, I went to Lifehacker because I know that their audiences are awesome and I love Lifehacker and I looked at what are the top products that they always talk about.

And I cold emailed them and said, hey, I’m going to get a bundle of your top products that you talk about, would you write about this? So I worked backwards instead of — what most people do is they go forward, so they say, ‘hey I have a bundle of shit, are you going to write about it?’ And when you have no relationship, you spend no time and I truly think that there is some equation that I need to get down to a formula but its like — the amount of output you get is really dependant on your input.

So if you put in one minute to writing an email, you’re going to get one minute of shit getting an output of email. So I wrote an email and I’ll finish Lifehacker issue — but I wrote an email to an Instagram person that does body-building; his name is Omar and I followed him for a while so it’s not like I just came across him and said, do me a favor, post about me or any of that shit which most people do, they just send a quick email because they haven’t spent time and I said you know, I know you’re from the [Inaudible 00:27:44] and I’m from the [Inaudible 00:27:46] I was at California, I really love your stuff, it has really changed my life because it had, it really impacted me on how he’s training and how he recommends things.

I have this quick question about how many — about where’s a good knowledge place for reps and sets? So, I didn’t ask him for a whole routine, I didn’t ask him to like spend an hour with me, I asked for a very light ask and guess what, he responded a few hours later. He responded like, I had sent it late last night and he sent it back this morning. And so it was like, I didn’t just go right in for it; I worked — and that wasn’t my intention but that worked really well. So often it with the Lifehacker story, I got about five or ten more minutes?

Scott: Sure. I really like this framework though, I really like the idea of working backwards and instead of trying to like guess at what is going to be successful, just looking at what you can assume or what unpleasant signals are already indicating success and then just doubling down on that.

Noah Kagan: Well, you do that, it’s like the nail polish thing with girls, I saw that it got me a lot more girls so it’s like well, let me get more nail polish. [Laughter] And in the things that don’t work, it’s great, it’s like we talked in this framework, it’s like that didn’t work, why didn’t that work? And so it’s like you go to a bar, let’s reverse engineer something; you go to a bar and you drink and you don’t meet anyone, all right that’s maybe not as effective as all right, let me try working backwards from hey, friends, who knows a single girl? All right, lets see if that works well.

And then saying, all right, this does work and now let me go and do more of that. There’s also a great story on Wired dot com, it’s how a math genius hacked Okcupid to find true love. And the story is awesome because what the guy does is he works backwards to find the girls he wants to meet and then he sets his own profile up, he optimizes it to finally be able to meet those girls because it wasn’t working straight up. And I think that’s really the kind of fundamental that I have tried to work on, I am not perfect at it but I encourage it.

So with the Lifehacker story, I came to them and I said here’s the bundle, you didn’t have to write about it but I got it for you and I would love to give you the exclusive and guess what, they wrote about it and that’s how I got my first real sale for Appsumo dot com.

Scott: That’s a cool story. I’m just on your website right now, Okdork and it says you give 85% of your business hacks away for free and although this is just kind of more of a framework and a way to think about things and I think this is really super effective, has there been anything else that you have done recently, that’s kind of been a cool, little business hack or a unique way to get a lot of value out of something?

Noah Kagan: I haven’t done enough? [Laughter] Yeah, I’ll give you one more, I mean I’m only so much and here’s the thing —

Scott: You’re doing a good job, keep it up.

Noah Kagan: Thank you and I’ll give you one more and I really want people to think about this, I think about it for myself and I’m not trying to act like a guru or anything, I am just trying stuff out and I’m happy to show it works. But I had realized that a lot of people are listening things and reading things and blogs and talking to people and I think that’s all good but I think there’s a limit to it and what I realized from myself is that I grow the most and I learn the most and I do the best and I feel the best when I’m creating things and I’m trying out. And I think it’s just easier as default to consuming.

So I really encourage anyone to — yes, listen to the rest of this podcast, but end it right away and get your ass to work, do one thing today; something tiny. Maybe it is a pushup, maybe it is a handstand, maybe it’s something or a business, maybe it’s putting Sumomeat dot com on your site so you can get more emails. I would just say, go do stuff, just get your ass in gear.

Scott: Totally man, and one of the things that I was going to say to people listening is like, we talked a little bit about blogging and like a lot of things you learn about, one of the main reasons that I have been able to codify what works is because I am constantly creating stuff that I share with people and in order to share lessons that I have learnt, I have to go back and by default, understand like what worked and what didn’t. And I think that if you’re trying to like build this muscle, of having a better understanding in your life, just like start creating a blog about the stuff that you want and I guarantee you, you’ll start to have a better understanding, you’ll start building that like creation muscle and that muscle is just understanding what’s working and what’s not working.

Noah Kagan: I think that’s a great thing man, you know, what’s funny about mindsets, it’s very easy once you’ve experienced it. It’s kind of like you telling me, ‘oh healthy is better’, I’m like shut up, did I [Inaudible 00:32:24] my Doritos bro. But I think the ultimate thing is you try exercising out, you actually give it a little bit of a shot, you’re like I actually feel pretty good. And it’s funny, when I started working out, and I started looking better in the mirror and I was like man, I feel — it makes me feel better, I want more of this. And it’s not — you work out too much or you – when you count your calories, you know what, I enjoy it.

That’s the bottom-line for me, so coming back to your business, I’ll give you one more and then I’ll call it a day and go get some lunch; so I want to put out a great content on Okdork, that’s my personal site, I really enjoy it, I like just writing, I don’t try to monetize it that aggressively. I don’t think hardly at all, I just promote some of the Appsumo stuff when I think it makes sense; but what I have realized is like dude, I’ve only done so much. And I have a decent amount of stories of working at Facebook or helping out at Mint dot com and starting two businesses.

Both have done well and then one got — kind of imploded, which is a pretty crazy story but what I realized is that I only have so much to say, and I only have so much time to do it and so what I realized is like getting others to guest post for me, based on what topic makes sense in terms of overall scale of reach and how my audience responds has been a good way to leverage in helping other people as well as grow in my own site. And so that’s been kind of a big — and it seems that it’s obvious, but I have been focusing on what is the content I want and who is the best person and the most interesting that can do it.

And so instead of me spending 30 hours writing it, I spent about five to ten hours editing it and I’m actually enjoying that. And then the person gets ton of traffic and sign ups and so forth and I get content that one I get to learn and two my audience gets to enjoy and grows, ultimately my email list which is my number one objective.

Scott: Do you think that that’s something that you can do though because people know who you are and you already have an existing audience?

Noah Kagan: I would say, if you’re smaller, I would probably doing the guest posting on the other sites, there is a guy named Brian Harris who is in our Monthly 1K course and Brian Harris has done a ton of guest posting. He did a guest post on Okdork and I think this guy is now getting a thousand people a day or so at his site. So yeah, I think it works. I think what everything has to do is not just what you listen to on a podcast but experiment with different things maybe social media actually works, maybe it doesn’t, maybe Twitter and Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest work for you in getting a new audience or podcasting or YouTube videos.

And if you were free to do more of them, or try getting people to leave guest posts that are a lot smaller for your site. Maybe you do the guest post on smaller sites and it’s experimenting. I have a thing called Quant Based Marketing on Okdork dot com and I literally write out different opportunities and so I’ll be more specific — so for like Sumomeat dot com, it’s a product, as I said earlier, it helps you grow your website — I just don’t want to be talking about it too much but actually, this is an interesting thing. When something is embarrassing certain things that we do, even though we are proud of them, and I think it’s really interesting, I am proud of Sumomeat dot com so like frankly I’m not undermining it, at least in this show.

So what I have done for Quant Based Marketing for Sumomeat is I listed out different marketing opportunities, I have kind of predicted what I hoped to get from it in terms of installs. So a few examples are like, creating integrations with Mail Chimp [technical difficulty] dot com and contacting them on the integration page, doing a guest post for WP101 dot com, writing an e-book about [technical difficulty] list building techniques, trying to get partnerships or get ranked in Google for top plug in postings or click to Tweet postings; and what I do is I privatize what I think will be the most amount of results for the least amount of work and it’s a little bit subjective.

You can get some traffic from a few places but a lot of it is just guesswork and then I do them and I see all right, is there any certain activities that I can then replicate because they get me a lot more installs? And that is what Quant Based Marketing is; this is like predicting what you think you are getting something and doing it and then seeing what I can do more of and seeing what I can do less of.

Scott: Noah, this has been an awesome conversation man, I mean you’ve really put everyone who is listening, including myself in this mindset of experiment and then really be diligent about taking a postmortem of what worked and what didn’t then double down on that activity. And then like you mentioned, this can be applied in marketing efforts or can be applied in your social interactions. But the truth is, the only way for us to improve is to understand ourselves and understand things that we are doing. So it’s been a really strong message, man, I know you got to run off to grab some lunch, hopefully Tacos, because I know you love those —

Noah Kagan: I was actually going to get Tacos, but I think we might get [Inaudible 00:37:00] instead.

Scott: Actually I have one question before I ask you where people should go if they want to learn more about you; dude, what’s your favorite type of Taco? You’re always talking about Tacos, I now know your favorite Taco stand which is good intel for the next time I go to Austin, but what kind of Taco do you get?

Noah Kagan: My number one Taco is actually Cowboy Taco which is like sirloin with avocado, cilantro and I don’t get it with cheese, but that’s my go-to, and that’s got a little bit of like [Inaudible 00:37:28] roasted. So that’s my go-to, but actually it had a great Taco, I’ve been kind of getting those Shrimp Tacos, I had a really good one and I think it’s called Habaneros in Las Cruces, New Mexico of all places.

Scott: I have to check it out. Dude, well thank you so much.

Noah Kagan: Where’re you based at?

Scott: I’m based in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.

Noah Kagan: Living the dream, bro.

Scott: Yeah, but guess what, I’m coming back to the States.

Noah Kagan: I don’t want you to come back to the States, I want you to do whatever makes you happy.

Scott: Well, I’m doing it because that’s what makes me happy.

Noah Kagan: Good.

Scott: So, I’m excited but yeah, I’m super-lucky to be living down here. Dude, if we want to learn more about you, about Appsumo, about some of the things that we talked today, what’s the best place for them to go?

Noah Kagan: So, a few of the key sites that I would recommend to people, number one, Appsumo dot com, free newsletter, find out great products for running a business, help you kick more ass; two is Sumomeat dot com for — if you want to do marketing, I saw that you had put it on your site, which is awesome so it’s on Life-Longlearner dot com; I hope all your listeners know that site.

Scott: Me too.

Noah Kagan: [Laughter] Yeah, seriously. So Sumomeat is a free tool for growing your website, Okdork dot com where I mostly share stories about how to start business and how to effective marketing. Sometimes I have funny ones like what I learnt about business from protein waffles and so forth and then also, the last place is like Twitter, so like, @Noahkagan.

Scott: Great, well, I’ll make sure I’ll link this up in the show notes. Thanks again for coming on man, this is great stuff today.

Noah Kagan: All right, brother. Thanks Scott.

[End of interview 00:39:00]


What did you think of Noah’s philosophy of reverse engineering success?

Is there ways you could apply this to your life or business right now? 

Please share in the comments and maybe we can drum up some cool new business tactics ; )

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