My guest today has built companies in several different industries and has been successful enough to hand the companies over to someone else to manage and run.
He had more or less retired when he co-founded Examine.com, an independent and unbiased evidence-based organization that investigates the science behind supplementation and nutrition. He’s trying to make a difference in this industry and with over one million people visiting the site every month he appears to be doing just that.
My guest is also fitness adviser at Schwarzenegger.com and, in 2014, he was recognized as a Game Changer by Men’s Fitness.
Now, let’s hack …
In this 32-minute episode Sol Orwell and I discuss:
Listen to Hack the Entrepreneur below ...
Voiceover: Welcome to Hack the Entrepreneur, the show which reveals the fears, habits, and inner battles behind big name entrepreneurs and those on their way to joining them. Now, here is your host, Jon Nastor.
Jonny Nastor: Welcome back to Hack the Entrepreneur. I am so glad you decided to join me today. I’m your host, Jon Nastor, but you can call me Jonny.
My guest today has built companies in several different industries and has been successful enough to hand those companies over to someone else to manage and run.
He had more or less retired when he co-founded Examine.com, an independent and unbiased evidence-based organization that investigates the science behind supplementation and nutrition. My guest is trying to make a difference in this industry, and with over 1 million people visiting his site every month, he appears to be making that difference.
My guest is also a fitness advisor at Schwarzenegger.com, and in 2014, he was recognized as a Game Changer by Men’s Fitness.
Now, let’s hack Sol Orwell.
Before we get going, I want to take a minute to thank the awesome sponsor of Hack the Entrepreneur, FreshBooks, for making my life easier and for sponsoring the show. What is the one thing that I am not good at? I am absolutely horrible at staying on top of my bookkeeping and accounting for my business. I just am terrible at it.
FreshBooks is designed for small business owners like you and like me. FreshBooks integrates directly with three things that I use every day in my business: PayPal, Stripe, and MailChimp. It goes beyond that now. I can fully integrate it with my credit card and my bank accounts, so I don’t even have to worry about keeping track of my expenses. It does it all for me. Really, I think the only thing it doesn’t do for my business is actually make the money, but it keeps track of it all on the other side — which is amazing to me.
To start your 30-day free trial today, go to FreshBooks.com/Hack, and don’t forget to enter ‘Hack the Entrepreneur’ in the ‘How did you hear about us?’ section.
Welcome back to another episode of Hack the Entrepreneur. Today, we have another one of these extra special Canadian entrepreneurs.
Sol Orwell: Yeah.
Jonny Nastor: Sol, welcome to the show.
Sol Orwell: Thank you for having me, Jon.
Jonny Nastor: Absolutely. My pleasure. All right, Sol, let’s jump straight into this.
Sol Orwell: All right.
Jonny Nastor: Sol, as an entrepreneur, what is the one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?
Sol Orwell: I think the actual answer to that would be is that I don’t give up. My friends call me ‘relentless.’ I think the reality is, when you’re trying to deal with other important people, people are busy all the time. They get an email. They read it. They don’t respond in an hour, and they forget about it. Their inbox just piles up.
Boomerang, if you’ve never used it, is a Gmail app. It lets an email come back to your inbox, and you can specify ‘only come back if someone hasn’t replied to me.’ I stay on top of people. If I send an email to somebody, and I don’t hear back in a week, I’ll ping them again. I’ll be like, “Hey, sent you an email. Assumed you were busy. Have you had a chance to think about it?” I’ll ping them on Twitter, or I’ll message them on Facebook.
At the same time, I do it with respect. I don’t inundate them. I don’t overwhelm them. I let them know that if they don’t want to work, or if they don’t want to answer or whatever, that’s fine. I understand that. I realize that people are busy. I realize how busy I am, so when I’m on to somebody, or on something, I don’t let go very easily. I think too many people, they send one email, they don’t hear back, and they go, “That guy’s such a jerk,” or whatnot. They just forget that everyone’s pretty busy right now.
Jonny Nastor: That is an excellent clarification. First of all, Boomerang, I just discovered it in the last year. It’s a life-saver.
Sol Orwell: It’s amazing.
Jonny Nastor: It is absolutely amazing. Not that it keeps my inbox clear. Email is a big thing, right? I totally get people that get frustrated. They’ll email me, and then they don’t get back. They just, “Oh, you don’t respond to people.” It’s like, “Man, you have no idea. Sorry. I’m sorry, I will.” Is there, say, a certain time of day, Sol, where you get into your email to get through that inbox, or do you just have it pile up?
Sol Orwell: I am a huge fan of Inbox Zero. My inbox is almost always empty. One of my favorite things is, you read about these people who are successful, and a lot of them, they talk about their morning ritual. They do this, they do this, and do that. Then they get to work. Whereas, in my case, the first thing I do is, I wake up, I go to my computer, and I start hammering out email.
The reason I do this is I know I have about 30 minutes before my girlfriend’s going to work and I’m going to walk my dog with her. In that 30 minutes — you know Parkinson’s law, right? — your work expands to fit the time that you have available. I have 30 minutes. I know I need to get through as much as I can before I can start relaxing. Right off the day, I’m just going at it.
Other than that, to be honest, I take weekends off. I don’t answer emails on Fridays unless there’s some kind of crazy emergency. I find that keeps my energy high so that, when I do get emails, I’m like, “All right. Time to tackle it.” Just this week, on Monday, I gave a guest lecture at a university, so my entire day was gone. Yesterday, I had maybe 60, 70, 80, 90 emails to deal with, but because I hadn’t answered an email for four days and I was excited to get in the groove, I absolutely crushed them. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me that way, if that makes sense.
Jonny Nastor: It totally does, yeah. I don’t usually stick to emails so much, but my email inbox is overwhelming me right now. Yesterday morning, it was early. I had to get up and write an article, so I was up at 6 o’clock. I was at this coffee shop already. I was done by 7. I’m like, “I’m going to spend an hour in my inbox,” and 15 minutes into responding to people, because I’m on the West Coast, it’s already 10 o’clock for people in New York.
Sol Orwell: Right.
Jonny Nastor: My inbox starts filling up again with responses. I was like, “I can’t win!
I cannot win this game.” I’m wondering, “Is there a way you can word things, so that this is the final statement?” I was wondering, “How can I make it so that when I respond to them?” It’s like, “Just take this and don’t tell me ‘okay.’ Don’t tell me anything. Just be done with it. I want to stop you from flooding back into my inbox.”
Sol Orwell: Fair enough. I think there’s three things. One, I do have a team now, so anytime something needs to be dealt with, I can forward it. I can CC them, and I say, “Carolyn, take care of this,” or “Kamal can answer your question.” I can offload work that I don’t need to do to other people.
The other thing is I do have a relatively very brief kind of style, and I find that people try to mimic the style that you write to them in. If somebody emails me back on something that doesn’t require a response, or if it requires a two-word response, I’ll just do it quickly. If it’s a two-word response, I’ll say, “Sure, yeah” — whatever, done. They understand that I’ve read it. I’ve gone through it, and that’s it.
The last thing was I type really fast. I type around 150 words per minute. Grinding through emails is less of a chore for me because it’s not hunting and pecking on the keyboard. It’s not a slow process. I can grind through emails faster that way, I find anyway.
Jonny Nastor: Nice. I love the shortness of it, too. Chris Ducker, I learned it from was three sentences or less. He puts that at the bottom of his email, “This is why it’s like that.” Then it leads to a blog post on his site if you want to read and get the idea of why he’s doing it.
Sol Orwell: 100 percent. I agree with.
Jonny Nastor: Okay, Sol. There seems to be this time in every entrepreneur’s life when they realize one of two things: either they have this calling to make this huge, huge, massive difference in the world or, as seems to mostly be the case, they find they simply cannot work for somebody else. Sol, can you tell me which side of the fence you fall on, and when you discovered this about yourself?
Sol Orwell: I think I’d be more of the latter. I cannot imagine working for ‘the Man.’ The quick backstory is, I’m an immigrant. Moved to Canada when I was 14, and my father’s always worked for a petrochemical company that’s based in Saudi Arabia. Because he wasn’t Arab, they would never promote him past manager. If he was Caucasian, he would’ve gotten as high as general manager, but if he was Arab, he would’ve been president by now, easily, for one of these companies.
Off the bat, growing up, I always had this distaste for working for anyone else, working for people’s political reasons, or personal reasons, or racial reasons, all that kind of junk. Off the bat, the idea of working for someone else was never something I wanted to do. At the same time, the first thing you were talking about, the passion and whatnot, everything I’ve ever built for myself or anything I’ve ever been involved in, has always been to solve a problem for myself.
Examine.com, right? I used to be 50, 60 pounds more heavy than I am right now. As I was losing weight, I realized all these supplement companies are pitching you garbage, and that’s why I got into Examine.com. Before this, I was in daily deals.
I was in New York at the time, and we were getting 40-50 emails a day for daily deals, and I said, “Why can’t I just put this in one place?” I created a little aggregator for myself. I put it in one place. My friends were like, “Hey, you should share this.” At its peak, we were sending out maybe 40-50,000 aggregate emails per day.
My view has always been, I don’t want to work for ‘the Man,’ but it’s never been about, “Oh, this is my passion. This is what I think I’m great at.” It’s always been for me, “This is a problem I’m having. I can’t find a solution for it online or anywhere. Why don’t I try to fix it?” That tends to work out really well for me.
Jonny Nastor: Nice. I love it. Basically scratching your own itch.
Sol Orwell: Yeah, 100 percent.
Jonny Nastor: So daily deals. I didn’t even know about this, actually.
Sol Orwell: I’ve been in a lot of industries. I started off with programming. I was in online gaming. I was in domains. I was in local search. Then I was in daily deals. Now I’m in this. I’m already moving on to my next two, one of which does data mining for email addresses so that you can figure out who your leads are, or who the people are on your email list. Then after that is a pet website. I find dog behavior fascinating and interesting. There’s not really a lot of good places online to find information on it, so I’m currently trying to work with a few vet researchers to see how we can make this pan out.
Jonny Nastor: Wow. It’s awesome because when you first go to your LinkedIn profile, it says ‘retired,’ but you just keep going project to project.
Sol Orwell: Yeah. The thing with it is, Examine.com, it’s a seven-figure organization, but I take $1 a month. That’s my symbolic salary. I don’t take any money out of it. All these other things I’ve built from before, I have my number two, and he runs the organization. He runs the day-to-day, so I don’t have to deal with it. For five years, I basically traveled and lived in the States and in South America, and I didn’t have to bother with anything. It was only when I came back to New York that I got into daily deals. Then it was when I got back to Toronto when I started losing weight that I got into Examine.
Retired, to me, is in the context that none of the stuff I do is for money per se. I’m a pragmatic individual. On Examine.com, the highest paid researchers we have, they’re getting $700 an hour. These guys aren’t cheap. I know how important money is, but all the money I make is from stuff I’ve done before. None of this actually directly generates any revenue into my bank account.
Jonny Nastor: Wow. It’s interesting. Daily deals, as an aggregator of deals, right?
Sol Orwell: Yeah.
Jonny Nastor: Examine is looking at an industry. It’s not creating a product itself, which is interesting. It sounds like with, say, the dog project that you want to get into, that’s a thing you’re creating yourself. Do you ever think, for new projects going into them — you also want to scratch your own itch — but are you like, “Well, I’ve been successful with aggregation. I shouldn’t try something else because I don’t know that, that works.”
Sol Orwell: To be honest, I actually do the exact opposite. I try to do something else I haven’t done before because it’s a lot more interesting that way. Daily deals was a technological solution. We were getting emails that were coming into our system. We were parsing them out. We were figuring out if there was any duplicates, because that happened at times, and then we were trying to categorize them. So ‘spa,’ anything that was mentioning a manicure, would be categorized or tagged as ‘spa,’ whatnot. That was a very technological solution.
Examine.com was a very human thing. When you read research, you cannot do that in an automated fashion. You need to have experts. You can’t have just one kind of expert. You need to have massive breadth. Instead of depth, you also need breadth. When we were first hiring, originally we were thinking, “We’ll hire somebody for $100K a year, or whatever, some researcher who’s really good.”
Very soon we realized that’s not going to work. We ended up hiring three people part-time. One was an MBA MPH, which is a Masters of Public Health, which is policy and whatnot. He was doing his Ph.D. in nutrition. Another guy was a biomedical engineering Ph.D. Another one was a Pharm.D., which is a doctorate in pharmacy. All three people brought in their skill set that was critical for us to be able to look at something in the big picture.
There was that human involvement that Examine.com had. My pet one is more about, “All right. How do we look at pet behavior, pet intelligence? How do we apply that...