Welcome back to another episode of Monetization Nation with Tim Ash. In the last episode, we discussed how to create a successful landing page. In today’s episode, Tim explains his entrepreneurial journey and the lessons he learned along the way.
Tim’s Entrepreneurial Journey
Tim was born in the former Soviet Union and moved to the United States when he was about 8 years old. His family ended up in California, and he eventually attended school at the University of California San Diego. He double-majored in cognitive science and computer engineering in graduate school. For seven years he worked towards a Ph.D., but eventually realized it wasn’t something he wanted to pursue. After he dropped out from completing his Ph.D., he started up his own business, helping people launch new startups, serving on their boards of directors, and raising their first rounds of venture capital.
He thought he could be more successful doing his own thing so he bought a desk and office space and took a leap. He was so excited. He said, “I remember . . . I called up my girlfriend and said, ‘Hey, I’m running around the office naked. You know why? Because I can; It’s my frickin office.’”
For the last 25 years, Tim has built his own business from scratch—a journey he has referred to as a rollercoaster. Along the way, he started an international conference series, became a published author, and started keynote speaking. “It’s been a lot of what you’d call pivots or just adjustments—wrenching adjustments. The survival enzyme has been running professional services firms for a long, long time,” he said.
In his journey, he has learned three key principles every startup entrepreneur should know and apply.
1. Know When to Accept Criticism
Over the past years, Tim has learned how to balance criticism and suggestions from his peers. It is a tension he has had to navigate many times.
There are always critics. People can think of a million reasons why our idea isn’t going to work, and sometimes, we just have to push through it.
“I guess the one thing that stands out for what to do, all of that from an entrepreneurial standpoint, is this balance between saying, ‘Screw you, I’m going to do it anyway,’ which every entrepreneur needs, and throwing good money after bad saying, ‘You know, maybe it’s time to go do something else.’ That’s always the tension . . . People call with a thousand reasons why your ideas are not gonna work. And at some level, you have to plow on in spite,” he explained.
So where’s that fine line? How do we know when to listen to people when they say our ideas are dumb, and how do we know when to ignore them and just keep moving forward?
A meme that has stood out to Tim is, “Never take criticism from someone you wouldn’t go to for advice.”
He listens to the mentors and colleagues he respects, then tries to ignore the comments of everyone else.
When I started my first business, adoption.com, people told me my market was too small and my niche was too specific. They said I needed to pick a bigger market. I ignored them and went with my instincts, and we ended up being number one in our niche and category. There will always be naysayers. Part of being an entrepreneur means ignoring the doubts and trusting our gut. There’s a lot of wisdom to sometimes ignoring the people that don’t quite understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.
However, there is also wisdom in accepting criticism and making changes. In fact, we should advocate for testing different ideas. Just because something isn’t in our brand guidelines doesn’t mean we can’t test it out. The style guide or brand guide CAN be changed, and if multiple people are making the same suggestion, we shouldn’t let pride get in the way of trying something new.
Part of being an entrepreneur also requires us to be very clear about who we serve and what value we can offer to them. Having that laser focus allows us to cut through the clutter. If we truly understand our niche and our audience, it will be easier to ignore the doubts of the people around us.
On our journey, there will be times when we want to give up. It is natural, especially when it feels like we don’t have support from the people around us. Tim has had experiences just like this. “There were definitely several times when it gets harder to be an entrepreneur,” Tim said. “[But it comes with] belief in yourself that you get after being an entrepreneur for a long time.” Eventually, entrepreneurs learn to really trust themselves and their ideas.
2. Understand your “Superpower”
Learning to trust ourselves and understanding our strengths is just as important as understanding who we serve.
No superhero has every superpower. This same principle applies in business. Everyone has their own strengths. It is about finding our superpower and focusing on that. Nobody can be an expert in everything. As we move along on our journey, we will recognize what we are good at and eventually learn how to rely on ourselves.
“You can’t be an expert at everything,” Tim said. “What I’m talking about is your ability to cut through the clutter and for people to remember what you stand for.”
3. Determine and Follow Marketing Ethics Before Money is Involved
Once we learn how to navigate through the critics and find our purpose, value, and strengths, we can determine what we stand for. As an entrepreneur, it is important to determine our marketing ethics right off the bat, especially before the money is involved.
“I think that we really need to step back and think about ethics,” Tim said. “One of the reasons that I wrote Unleash Your Primal Brain was kind of to level the playing field for consumers and individuals. We’re being manipulated by large companies, by media enterprises, and they’re all trying to strip mine us for value and profit.”
For example, I see a lot of people put a timer on an offer to create scarcity. They claim it is only available for a limited amount of time, but then the next day, that same offer comes up, creating artificial scarcity to manipulate people into buying. We need to question this stuff before we do it and ask ourselves if we will be okay with the results before the money even becomes a factor.
Tim saw an example of this manipulation when a business hid a disclaimer about their service or product. A business he worked for put the disclaimer in the heading of the page so people wouldn’t see it. The guidelines required to put the disclaimer above the CTA button, so they weren’t technically breaking guidelines, but they were trying to be dishonest by hiding the truth.
As we determine our values, we also need to look at our ethics. Marketing ethics ties into credibility. If credibility is the most important marketing principle happening today, is it ethical to say or do something that, when our customers discover the reality, will cause us to lose credibility? Is it ethical to give them a fake deadline? If our customers notice this, we immediately lose trust and credibility, ultimately leading to a loss in monetization as well.
As starting entrepreneurs, it is essential to navigating criticism. If we can’t, our ideas won’t make it very far. We need to find our superpower so we can provide value to our audience. And finally, we need to determine our ethics at the very beginning to make sure we keep our credibility and do what we know is right.
Thank you so much Tim for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. We need to be able to sort through the good and bad criticism.
2. We should only take criticism from people we would take advice from.
3. We need to make sure we aren’t so prideful that we ignore good suggestions.
4. We need to learn how to trust ourselves.
5. We each have our own unique “superpower”. We need to discover what that is and learn how to use it to benefit our customers.
6. As an entrepreneur, it is important to determine our marketing ethics right off the bat, especially before the money is involved.
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