Please enjoy this guest post from one of our 30x500 alumnus, Mário Nzualo!

I’ve wanted to sell something on the Internet for ages.

I “grew up” on the Internet and felt like there were plenty of opportunities to build a profitable product. I saw others doing it, and I wanted to do it myself. I have had many side projects over the years, so I knew how to build stuff.

But I didn’t know how to make something people would buy.

Despite consuming a lot of content around startups and entrepreneurship, I still didn’t get it.

In October 2018, I started a project called About 18 months later, in April 2020, I published a book - the Introduction to Investing in Index Funds and ETFs.

Just over 2 years later, in January 2021, I sold the 300th copy of that book, making it a nice little side business for me!

Enrolling in Amy and Alex’s business course 30x500 is what changed everything for me. Now I get it.

30x500 isn’t cheap, but it was one of the best investments I have ever made in myself. My tiny business wouldn’t be where it is if it weren’t for what I learned in the course.

So I want to share 11 of the lessons I’ve learned while growing this project into a tiny business.

1. Identifying pain is easier said than done…but it can be learned!

The keys to any profitable product sounds simple: “Step 1: Identify a pain people have and are willing to pay to solve. Step 2: Sell something that fixes that pain.”

But these two steps contain a lot of meaning. Deeply understanding these sentences was the most valuable learning for me. 30x500 included a few techniques to put these critical insights into practice:

  • How to identify pains people have by observing what they do/write/say. This taught me what having empathy for the customer means.
  • How to translate those pains into potential products
  • How to build trust with the target audience of the product through teaching
  • How to write persuasive copy when pitching a product

2. Creating something for yourself is a common pitfall.

People with a similar background as mine, engineering, tend to focus on creating something for themselves. That is usually a terrible idea because a product is meant to address a customer’s problem instead of the creator’s problem.

For example, my initial idea was to build an app to manage investments. I was going to solve a problem I had. However, once I spent time listening to others, I realized that they actually struggled with understanding how index investing in Europe works. Their problems were confusion and lack of confidence. They didn’t need an app!

I know some talk about “Make something people want,” but I never got what it truly means until I started putting 30x500’s techniques into practice. Concise statements that compress a lot of knowledge are not useful for beginners like I was.

Deeply understanding the pain points of a customer is a superpower for making sales.

3. Building an audience takes time.

Even if your work is good, it will take time for people to find and recommend it. It took me nine months (!) to get 100 email subscribers. I was writing for nobody to read for months. But I kept going, and now I have ~3,000 email subscribers and more than 8% of my list has bought my book!

It sucks to feel like you are shipping great content, yet it isn’t recognized. Additionally, in the beginning, you can’t really tell if your work is good or not because there is so little feedback. What kept me going was the conviction that I was on the right path because I understood the user’s pain points.

There are overnight successes out there, but I am not one of them. And that is OK with me. I just trusted the process. I had faith that the process I used was sound, and eventually, results would show. I had to be patient.

4. Practice improves understanding.

I had a fairly solid understanding of the customers I was serving. However, it took me 12 months to try multiple things to deeply understand their issues and create content that resonated with them.

I could not have gotten there without the learnings from the previous months. The most meaningful understandings come from doing.

5. Numbers didn’t make me happy.

Not surprisingly, there is a certain degree of hedonic adaptation to growing a website and selling products like I have.

There were milestones that I thought would make me happy: reaching a certain number of subscribers or sales. However, when I finally got there, I didn’t feel happier.

I’ve been focusing more on enjoying the journey ever since. There isn’t a particular destination I want to get to. I mostly just want to keep having a good time and having a meaningful impact on my customers. I don’t fret as much about numbers as I did before. Numbers are only useful if they can help me improve my process or increase my impact.

I haven’t set audacious goals. My expectations are pretty low. Maybe that is why I’m happy. I feel fortunate to be able to sell a couple of books every week and get the opportunity to keep doing it.

6. So many things are out of your control.

Running a business isn’t like school, where hard work is rewarded with good grades. You can work very hard and still not get the results you want.

I see running a business as running a set of experiments. You have multiple hypotheses, and you test them. Some work, some don’t.

You try to learn from each experiment and apply those learnings to future experiments. Having a good process and knowledge increases your likelihood of success but does not guarantee it: they are a necessary but not sufficient conditions.

7. Don’t get hung up on the mechanics.

Amy and Alex teach a lot of important techniques in 30x500. However, the goals behind those techniques are more important than the mechanics of the techniques.

If you understand the goals, you can use different techniques to reach those goals.

There are multiple ways to get to Rome. Applying the techniques without understanding the goals leads to missing the forest for the trees.

The corollary of this is that you may learn different techniques elsewhere and arrive at the same result. 30x500 was what lit the light for me, and something else may work for you.

8. Your pricing has to make sense for you.

I will never be a New York Times bestseller, so I shouldn’t price my product like one. Famous authors can price books at $10 because they sell millions of copies. I will never sell that many copies of my books.

I need an entirely different business model. I need to price my book in a way that is sustainable for a lower number of sales. And I need to provide a lot of value to make it work.

The pricing of the product should match the specifics of your business.

I already alluded to this earlier, but it is super important you learn the playbook from folks doing a comparable thing. I shouldn’t take business lessons from Steve Jobs on how to self-publish my tiny book. Adam Wathan has a summary of the playbook for launching a book like mine.

9. You won’t find time. You have to make time.

There are so many things competing for my time: work, family, hobbies, series/movies, social media, etc. I don’t have time to run my tiny business. I make time for it.

I am productive whenever I set aside time for the work:

  • During weekdays (Mon-Fri), I work on this business for 1-2h before heading to work.
  • I plan the focus for the week on Sunday evening
  • I do minor stuff for the business on weekends so I can spend time on my hobbies, family, movies, etc.

Creating this habit of working on the business was very impactful.

I do get sloppy now and then and don’t make time for the work. I don’t get much done in those weeks.

5-10h a week isn’t much time, but that is what I have. It means stuff takes a while to get done, and that is OK. I also only tackle one issue at a time instead of trying to do many things.

Having a limited amount of time also means I had to accept that the business will never be “perfect.” I am building a house, slowly, brick by brick.

10. Know Your Phase.

Every phase of a project or business has a different bottleneck. Focusing on anything other than the specific bottleneck for a particular phase is a distraction.

For example, A website with 10 views per month has entirely different needs than a website with 100,000 views per month.

When I started out, I didn’t have any content to establish trust with my readers. Focusing on anything other than writing blog posts would have been a waste of time. There was no point in thinking about conversion rates, SEO, and social media at that stage.

Many beginners fall into traps where they focus on things that won’t move the needle for their stage in their journey. It takes experience to build good judgment about what matters. This also means that you have to be selective about the advice you consume. Some advice may be great for others but not for you.

11. You can design a business that fits your life.

I was very intentional about making choices that wouldn’t make me feel miserable.

For example, I knew I didn’t want to write on a specific schedule. I used to have a side project that required me to publish an article every Thursday, which was very draining. I enjoy writing, but I like the freedom of unplugging for weeks or months while the product still provides value for customers.

There are lots of ways to make money. Not all of them work for how I want to live my life.

Running a business is a skill

Seeing my work on help others solve their problems brings me immense joy.

I got there by learning from others that took a similar path, listening to my potential customers and showing up with my work.

Running a business is a skill and I’m still learning. You can learn it too!

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