Stacking the Bricks Podcast EP34 - "Is this really gonna help people?" with Tony Lopes
26 min

In this episode…

Over the last few episodes, I've been visiting podcasts all across the internet, talking with entrepreneurs and creative people just like you to talk about some of their  favorites tidbits from my new book, The Tiny MBA. 

In THIS episode I visited with Tony Lopes on the Self Made Strategies Podcast, where he  explores modern collaboration, craft, and persistence.

In this shorter excerpt from the longer conversation you can find on his site, we talk about:

- The biggest hurdles and challenges in publishing a book (hint - it's not writing a book).
- Making reversible decisions
- And what people get wrong about risk - keep in mind that Tony is a lawyer!

And a whole lot more!

With that, I hope you enjoy this in depth conversation I had with Tony. Here we go!


Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: What is up brick stackers! Welcome back to a brand-new episode of Stacking the Bricks. As always, I’m your host, Alex Hillman and this is another edition of The Tiny MBA Podcast Tour. As you may have noticed over the last few episodes, I’ve been visiting with other podcasts all across the internet, talking with entrepreneurs and creative people, just like you.

One thing that these podcasts all have in common is that the hosts have recently read my new book, The Tiny MBA. In each of our conversations, we get a chance to go deeper into their favorite lessons from the book, to help you get an even better understanding of how these lessons might be valuable to you.

In last week’s episode, I sat down with Matthew Arnold from the Iowa Idea Podcast.

Matthew Arnold: I want to dig in on the notion of flintstoning. Can you explain that for the audience?

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: If your instinct, when you need to solve a problem, is to build a tool to either automate or solve that problem for you, instead of cobbled-together off- the-shelf stuff, to make sure the problem even needs solving, people will pay to have the problem solved, that your thesis on how the problem can be solved is right. We call that flintstoning, like the cars that the Flintstones drove. There was no motor, it was just feet out the bottom, peddle till you go.

If you haven’t checked it out, make sure you tune into that episode when you’re done listening here. You can find it in the same app, website or directory where you found the one that you’re listening to right now.

But in this episode, I visited with Tony Lopes on the Self Made Strategies Podcast, where he talks with entrepreneurs, business owners, and more about how they built their own thing. In this shortened excerpt of our longer episode, we talk about the biggest hurdles and challenges in publishing a book – and I’ll give you a hint, it’s not writing a book – making reversible decisions, and what people get wrong about risk, which is a really interesting conversation to consider, because Tony is actually a lawyer.

So, we talk about that and a whole lot more, but I’ll just get straight into it, and I hope you really enjoy this in-depth conversation I had with Tony.

Here we go.

Tony Lopes: It’s super approachable. You can pick it up and almost-like a calendar type of thing just read a page a day and kind of reflect on that. Or, if you’re kind of trying to figure out, , I’m having some issues in sales, there are definite thoughts on that as well.

What was your biggest hurdle writing this book and kind of putting it down and then releasing it?

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Well, I think my biggest hurdle was actually at the end there, and that’s something that’s come up a handful of times in the last month or so, as we’ve been sort of wrapping up the design, putting a little bits of fit and finish, getting ready to launch, and then putting the thing out there, and there were sort of two parts to putting it out there.

One was actually, making the link public and saying, “hey gang, you can go buy this thing that I made”. And then there was sharing with a sort of a trusted enclave of folks. I should say that includes some strangers. I extended my trust to some strangers to say, “you don’t know a whole lot about me, I want you to read this book and I want your honest thoughts”. And so to get that it was honest reviews before the book is technically in any paying customers hands was important to me, not just from a sales perspective, but for the reason, getting back to your question is, I didn’t know if people were going to get it because it is kind of weird and it’s tricky that, if you were to pick up the paper back, you would expect a book inside. And once you get past the forward and the preface, which I think at this point do a good job of setting up what comes next. If you skip them, you’re going to be very confused, because the inside of this doesn’t look or feel like a book.

The hurdle was definitely in my head of the self-talk of, is this really enough to be a book? Is this really going to help people? Are they going to take away from it not only what I hope that they do, but what will they take away from it that I hadn’t planned for and I hope is good? So the early feedback that I got from those sort of beta readers and review readers, thankfully exceeded expectations.

I still have that stupid little voice in my head that says, “there’s now 1,300 people that have paid to receive this book. Are they going to feel good about their purchase? I won’t know until a few days from now after you and I are done recording, when those paying customers start receiving the digital copy and then next week, the paperback.

Hopefully by the time folks are listening to this, the book will still be up and for sale and I haven’t been chased into the hills! You’re telling me you’re not just being nice, because the truth is, is I think the feedback I’ve gotten without really telling people explicitly what to do has been more like what you’re describing, which is people being pleasantly surprised that they could finish the first read in 30 minutes, maybe a little bit longer if they decided to take notes along the way and realizing…maybe there’s two pieces of feedback that I got that were the most exciting to me. One is this made me think.

This is a book that I want you to read and think, not just let it wash over you like watching a Netflix show. The second was that they were excited to go back to it. Like you said before, the idea that this is a book that, whether you build a habit around just picking a few random pages, because each page is kind of self-contained, so you read through them and use it as a prompt or, some people have compared it to like the Zen koans, which I think is really cool, as a tiny little thing that you can use to just kind of jog your brain and spark new thoughts and ideas.

I don’t want to prescribe how to be successful in business because I don’t think you can. I don’t think it’s possible – there’s way too many ways to do it. But what I do think is possible is to give people a set of tools to frame their own thoughts, frame their own experience, frame their own resources, and use all of those things to make decisions that are going to suit them and the business for the long term.

I didn’t want to spoon feed that too much, because I think that undermines it as well, but it definitely felt like a risk to put this kind of unusual book out into the world and hope that people get it, like it and want to come back to it.

Tony Lopes: Yeah, I love everything you do, but I just found it really, really fascinating that you came out with a book and I think people like us kind of tinkerers, and are very curious, and like to try new things and push their limits, are all interested in writing a book. So at some point, I know I, myself and a lot of the other individuals that I interview on this show, either are in the process of writing a book or are thinking about doing it, or have already written a book. So, I admire you for accomplishing that initial hurdle.

Now that you’ve gotten one out, what was the biggest challenge? And then secondly, are you already starting to think about a second book?

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I’m excited to just have the book in people’s hands. I think that’s really the thing that I can’t really express what it felt like to get even the test copies, because I’ve written lots of things. I’ve written many, many, many books worth of words. So writing is not new, and I’ve shipped products that people have paid for. That’s not new either. We have a successful product business in Stacking the Bricks, and obviously Indy Hall does well too. So that wasn’t new. The new thing was creating this physical token and knowing that now there’s the ability for anybody on the internet to go and buy that thing and have it show up on their doorstep, literally anywhere in the world.

The first time I did a Google map of all the delivery locations, where the books are going to, kind of blew my mind. It’s exciting, it’s kind of intimidating. In terms of what’s next, I’m thinking about how the book can be used as a tool.

So one of my goals is – this book is again to spark thoughts, but I also think the book can spark conversations and that’s kinda what we’re here to do, right? All the podcasts that I’ve been on, talking about the book, happy to talk about the bookmaking process for people that are interested in it, but I think there’s way more people who are just interested in learning these nuggets of business or connecting with people who have similar shared experiences.

If I can use the book as a spark for conversation, whether it’s bringing back a podcast of our own, I’ve actually been chatting with somebody about helping us to spin up a live stream on Twitch and having a Twitch channel that is designed to build a community of people who want to build businesses in this way. It’s not about the book, but the book becomes kind of a tool for catalyzing those conversations. The word of the day, the theme of the day, the page of the day, people can know what that is ahead of time, wake up that morning, spend a few minutes thinking about it and then come join us on the Twitch stream and talk about it. Talk about stories of their own it reminds them of or good experiences, bad experiences, what mistakes they’ve made, what they learned from it, what they would do differently for the newbies. How does that make you think about where you are in the process and how you’ll make decisions going forward? So that’s got me really excited.

Tony Lopes: Yeah, I think that’s pretty cool and it kind of resonates with all of the stuff that you’ve done to this point. You love building communities and you genuinely do, created Indy Hall obviously, and then Stacking the Bricks also evolved from that. You’ve taken the podcasts that you’ve worked on and other projects that you’ve worked on and created different forms of content so that people can literally go on to Indy Hall’s website and read all of the posts that you’ve written on these types of topics or listened to the podcast, or do all of these other unique things that bring all of these thoughts and ideas together. I think the book to your point is just a continuation of that, and I think it’s really cool to see that evolve.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah, me too.

Tony Lopes: So what’s the objective that you hope to accomplish this book outside of people just, as you said, picking it up to read it and to kind of provoke this thought about entrepreneurial real ideas. Is there sort of a grand goal that would fulfill you from this book?

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: In terms of a bigger picture goal, I’d say there are two. One is this universe of teaching and sharing what we know about business that Amy and I have built through Stacking the Bricks, we’ve been doing for over a decade. We know how to reach the people that we know how to reach, because we follow our own advice and lessons in staying focused.

The audience that we know best is sort of online creative people. Designers and developers, prominently, but other online, creative people, podcasters, videographers. If you can make stuff and put it online we know how to speak to you, we know how to reach you, but there’s a much wider world out there that includes those folks that we don’t know how to reach, because they’re not already in the communities that we’re a part of. They don’t know our names. They could hear about us and go, who the heck is that? And that’s fine because it’s a giant world, I don’t expect us at our notoriety in one community to translate to another.

However, I think it’s really exciting to think about, you mentioned when we were getting started for the call that you were thinking about people that you could gift this book to. That is a really cool distribution channel that we’ve never had before. We have a book that somebody can read and go, this is useful and makes me think of somebody else who would find it useful and inspiring, at book price point. Therefore, it’s a good gift.

And I would add, it’s a short read that you can revisit over and over and over and over and over, which makes it an excellent gift by comparison to many business books that you might get 50 pages in and never finish.

Tony Lopes: You took the words right out of my mouth. There’s frequently been the opportunity that I’ve gifted a business book to a friend, or a colleague, or someone else who I think it would benefit because it meant something to me and often they go, “oh, thank you”. And you just kind of get the sense that they’re probably not going to work their way through it. This is completely different. I couldn’t agree with you more. This is something that you could almost kind of flip open in front of them and say, “hey. I caught this cool book, a friend of mine wrote, and check this out”. You can flip through this and just read one of these a day or when you need some inspiration, and it’s great in that context.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: You could even flip up into the page that made you think of that person and go, I thought of you when I read this. And again, that page is self-contained they can glance at it, it’s the size of a Post-it note. I think that’s really cool and from a business perspective an opportunity for us to reach a much wider audience to then any means we’ve had up until this point.

The other part of it, I think is maybe a bridge between what I was saying before about that sort of commonly held perspective about what business is in 2020, whatever year this is now, that we’re living in right now?! In the weird year of 2020 business means a certain thing. I believe because 2020 has been the year that it’s been, that’s shifting for a lot of people. I started working on this project before the coronavirus pandemic, but I think this book instantly became at least a few notches, more relevant for the many people who are out of work and will stay out of work until they choose to create a job for themselves.

The people who have maybe been curious about entrepreneurship, but now that they’ve lost the job that had them feeling safe, what have they got left to lose, but to take the supposed risk, the “risk” of starting their own thing.

In the book my goal is to show people that it’s not as much of a risk as you might think it is if you keep certain things in mind, if you make certain decisions and keep certain priorities. So, that’s a bridge to the 10,000 independence projects, which we can go deeper on in a minute. I think it’s where, if this is in the hands of more people, that’s good for our business, but I also think it’s good for business culture broadly and at the risk of making that sound like it’s about my own ego, it’s not because I want people to have my ideas – these aren’t my ideas. These are ideas that I’ve collected and scavenged from across my experience, I’ve read the hundred plus business books to learn, or sat through the conference talks, or figured out a way to get access to the expert or mentor to ask, or I watched what they did.

I feel very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of privilege that has gotten me access to a lot of those things. There’s a lot of people that don’t have that and if this book is a tool, I don’t think this will be the tool for anybody, but it can be a tool in a toolkit for folks to inspire them to say, “wait a second, this version of business that Alex is talking about, sounds like a version of business I get beyond”.

I’m not into becoming the next Jeff Bezos. It’s more like I want to a healthy business that provides for me and my family, employs some people in the neighborhood. Let’s me sock away some money for savings, and if I’m doing all of that, I can do that for the next 10 years, 20 years, or until it no longer makes sense to, and then felt like I did something worth doing. If I can get that idea in, in more people’s hands in general, but especially now, I will feel like we we’ve accomplished something that I’ll look back on and feel really good about.

Tony Lopes: Yeah, and I love that you’re always outwardly focused because it’s something that I kind of pride myself on at least trying to do. No one’s perfect, obviously, and every once in a while we get caught up in our own noise, but I love that about you.

One of the quotes from the book is that “most business decisions are relatively reversible. If you have a decision that doesn’t seem reversible, try looking for ways to shrink that decision into smaller parts, that way it’s cheap or free to undo the decision if things don’t go the way that you expect”. Is there a story behind how you learned that particular lesson? I just found it really interesting.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I mean, I’ve seen it a million times, and I think everything you just described from that, that page is at the root of what most visible failures in business are, is you made a decision that either was too expensive or painful, the roll back, or you were unwilling to roll back. Most things can be undone. There’s important things that can’t be undone, but I mean, I can speak to one of the things that in my business experience, I think, most often misunderstood which was when I actually left my full time job to become a freelancer. This is the first step, right? People quit the job to start a business/

Tony Lopes: or you’re laid off because of COVID-19 or any parade of situations. And by the way, quick sidebar, before you go into that story, I could not agree with you more that people who work for other people are in “safe environments”. I have a lot of friends right now who work for companies who are saying to me, I got to tell you I’m really concerned. I mean, what’s going to happen six months, nine months, 12 months down the road, and these are very talented, hardworking, intelligent, creative people and they’re fearful.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I think when you have a job, you can always blame somebody else’s bad decision for your situation. When you are self-employed, you can only blame yourself for your bad situation. I think the key is being able to take ownership for that is not as straightforward as it seems. It is a practice. I think the thing that people forget is if you want to own the upsides, you also have to own the downsides. Learning how to do that is I think really key to it because you will get knocked down a peg from time to time. You’re not in control of everything. I’ll go even further, you’re not in control of most things! So if that’s true, you’re not in control of most things, who do you want making decisions in your best interest, you or your employer? And that’s the way I break that down. If bad things are gonna happen either way, who’s looking out for me – me or some other person? Well, ideally, it’s me.

But getting back to leaving a job to go out on your own, people always say, wasn’t that a big risk? And I think of a very specific conversation I had with my girlfriend at the time who I was living with, who I came home one day and I said, “I’m going to quit that job and I’m going to do the freelance thing full time”. She said, “we’re going to live in a box”. And I was like, “we’re not going to live in a box because I’ve been freelancing on the side, have been moonlighting for the last six months”. I know how to do work and get paid for it. There’s things I don’t know how to do, there’s way more that I don’t know how to do that I do know, but I’ve also seen myself learn things. If I know I can learn things, I can figure out the next thing. I also have a couple of professional relationships that I’ve now proven that I’m reliable, which means I can go to them and say, “hey, I’m looking for work, do you have any opportunities or who should I talk to?” I’m not entirely self-reliant. I am interdependent with other independence.

The final clause of that statement and what really set her at ease and what I wasn’t sure how to communicate until the end was, the worst case scenario here is I go back and I get another job. Granted, that was a time then, and this is a time now and that environment is not possible for everybody. If you’ve already lost the job and can’t get one. Well, then the worst-case scenario is you still can’t get another job, but the upside is, is maybe you started something that takes you a few steps in the right direction, along the way.

So, I look at it as an equation of capped downsides. The worst-case scenario here is, I can’t do the thing that I thought I could do, but the worst-case scenario is I can go back to the thing I was doing, which either wasn’t that bad or is exactly as bad as the situation as I have right now. So, I’m back where I started. I’d prefer not to be, but I’m not going to be worse somehow. I didn’t take out a bunch of loans to start a business, that would leave me in a worst situation. That’s why I think building a business with the means that you have is so valuable.

Tony Lopes: But one of your quotes is, “people won’t just pay you because they like you. It’s because you bring some economic value to them that they’re willing to exchange money for your product or service”.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: It’s all about them!

Tony Lopes: One of the quotes I actually have up on my screen that I also love is, “if you mostly attract lousy clients or cheap customers, I have some bad news. You’re the common thread, so you’re probably doing something to attract them”. It’s all really useful advice about how to execute on an entrepreneurial level.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I love that last one! I’ve given a line like that so many times, and it’s one of those things that, nobody likes to hear it, but once you hear it, the clouds part, or it’s like the movie where they play back all the scenes and you knew who the killer was, all along sort of thing. And once you see it, you’re like, “ah, such a knucklehead!” The key here is it’s not beat yourself up being a knucklehead it’s to go, “oh, I get it now. What do I do instead?” Not be precious about those mistakes.

Going back to your point about the entrepreneurs who hedge and do things incrementally, it’s not about taking risks. Some people would say it’s about, de-risking things, and I think that it’d be kind of true as well. I think it’s more about understanding what a risk really looks like, and the difference between that and uncertainty. Uncertainty is everywhere in the world, including in business. You can’t avoid uncertainty. All you can do is play with the cards you’ve got. Make the most educated decision you can, and then use what you learn, which can be your own execution, it can also be others to say, “okay, now I have a bit more certainty”. I might still feel uncertain, but the evidence shows that all the bad customers are showing up, I’m the common thread. That’s not because I’m a bad person. It’s because I made a decision somewhere. What would a better decision be? And that becomes, back to your point about mentorship, asking a mentor, what am I doing wrong is a little useful. Asking your mentor, what are my options, is a much more interesting question. It puts you back in the driver’s seat of making those decisions yourself.

That’s the kind of thinking that I see from successful business-people. They’re not following someone else’s playbook. They are constantly building their own. And that’s kind of what I’m hoping to take people through as they’re reading this themselves.

If you enjoyed that episode, and I hope you did, I’ve got a couple of quick things before you go. The first of course is making sure that you have your very own copy of The Tiny MBA. If you haven’t ordered it, I’d love it if you did, and you can grab a paperback or ebook at Tiny.MBA.

I also hope you’re subscribed to this show. We’re going to be releasing more episodes like this one with other creators and entrepreneurs, just like you and I’m going to be talking with them about their favorite lessons in The Tiny MBA, learning what’s going on in their world and sharing it all with you. You can search for that by looking for Stacking the Bricks wherever you get podcasts.

And one last thing, check out the Stacking the Bricks website, we’ve got a great newsletter with new articles coming out every week or two following on a lot of the same topics and themes that we talk about right here on the show. You can do that by going to

I hope you have a great rest of your day and don’t forget to keep on stacking those bricks!

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