190: 9 Lessons Learned On Business, Life And Happiness With Steve Chou

190: 9 Lessons Learned On Business, Life And Happiness With Steve Chou

Happy New Year everyone! Today is a special New Years episode where I wanted to take some time to recap the year which was actually one of the most challenging years that I’ve had in a very long time.

Because I have a lot to talk about, I’m actually going to split this into 3 episodes. In today’s podcast, I’m going to go over some of the lessons that I learned this past year.

And in subsequent episodes, I’m going to do a detailed breakdown of how my businesses performed this past year and exactly what strategies I employed to grow them. Enjoy!

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  • Why goals suck
  • What contributes to happiness beyond wealth
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  • How to appreciate what you have
  • What to do if you have no idea what to do in business

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You’re listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, the place where I bring on successful bootstrapped business owners, and delve deeply into what strategies are working and what strategies are not with their businesses. Happy New Year’s everyone. Today I’m actually doing a special New Year’s episode. We’re going to go over all the lessons that I learned this past year in business and life.

But before we begin I want to give a quick shout out to Privy who is a sponsor of the show. Privy is the tool that I use to build my email list for both my blog and my online store. Now Privy an email list growth platform, and they actually manage all of my email capture forms. And I actually use Privy hand in hand with my email marketing provider.

Now there are a bunch of companies out there that will manage your email capture forms, but I personally like Privy because they specialize in e-commerce stores. Right now I’m using Privy to display a cool wheel of fortune pop up. Basically a user gives me their email for a chance to win valuable prizes in our store. And customers love the gamification aspect of this, and when I actually implemented this form email sign ups increased by 131%.

So bottom line, Privy allows me to turn visitors into email subscribers, which I then feed to my email provider to close the sale. So head on over to Privy.com/Steve, and try it for free. And if you decide you need some of the more advanced features, use coupon code MWQHJ For 15% off. Once again that’s P-R-I-V-Y.com/Steve.

I also want to give a quick shout out to Klaviyo who is a sponsor of the show. Always blessed to have Klaviyo as a sponsor because they are the email marketing platform that I personally use for my ecommerce store, and actually over the holidays, I depended on Klaviyo for over 35% of my revenues. Now, Klaviyo is the only email platform out there that is specifically built for ecommerce stores, and here is why it is so powerful.

Klaviyo can track every single customer who has shopped in your store and exactly what they bought. So let’s say I want to send an email to everyone who purchased a red handkerchief in the last week, easy. Let’s say I want to set up a special auto-responder sequence to my customers depending on what they bought, piece of cake, and there is full revenue tracking on every single email sent.

Klaviyo is the most powerful email platform that I’ve ever used and you can try them for free at mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O. Once again that’s, mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O, now on to the show.

Intro: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.

Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit her Job Podcast. Today is a special New Year’s episode where I want to take some time to recap the year, which incidentally was one of the most challenging years that I’ve actually had in a very long time. And because I have a lot to talk about, I’m actually going to split this into three separate episodes.

And in today’s episode, I’m going to go over some of the lessons that I learned this past year. And in subsequent podcasts I’m going to do a detailed breakdown of how my business has performed this past year and exactly what strategies I employed to grow them.

In any case I first want to talk about my 2017 a little bit. It’s been a little over a year since I quit my job, and I want to talk a little bit about how my life has been like post day job as I’ve been running my e-commerce store and I’ve been blogging full time since then.

So first off let’s rewind back to October 2016. And I remember being really excited when I finally gave notice for my day job, and in fact the first three months of freedom were awesome. I worked out every day, I got in great shape. I went to all my kids’ sports games, I went to all their activities, I did pick up, I did drop off, spent a lot of time with family, and life was great.

But then I remember four months had rolled around, and I actually started getting bored. Now don’t get me wrong. I was still working on my businesses, and they actually both grew in the double digits in 2017. But something was missing in my life. I missed hanging out with coworkers, I missed being around people who are smarter than me for eight hours a day. I missed the challenge of working in tech.

And keep in mind at my job back in the day I was working for a company called Cadence. I was working with all MIT and Stanford PhDs, and everyone I felt was just smarter than me and I felt challenged every day. But once I quit, I almost felt like I lost part of my identity. I was designing hardware and microprocessors for over 20 years. And it was just kind of depressing for me to put that part of my life on the shelf, because when it comes to tech, like tech moves just so quickly, and if you haven’t been in tech for I would say over a year, it’s actually really hard to go back to it.

And so by quitting my job, I felt like I just basically put that chapter of my life behind me, and it made me a little bit sad actually. Now I can’t really complain because my schedule for 2017 was really fantastic. I would basically get up, I would work maybe from eight o’clock until eleven or twelve, have lunch with my wife on a regular basis, then I would work out, and then I’d basically have the entire afternoon free. And it sounds like a great schedule, right?

I finally had time to work on some of my other side projects that I was meaning to start. I had a couple of other projects lined up which I never talked about publicly. But unfortunately, they either didn’t pan out or they’ve been kind of just dragging along and not getting that much traction. And then in July I actually ended up tearing my Achilles tendon, which pretty much made me bedridden for several weeks.

And it was really debilitating. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t walk. My wife had to shuttle me everywhere, and in fact the running joke was I was like the third kid. My wife would have to drop my kids off at school and then she’d have to drop me off the doctor or physical therapy. And after I tore my tendon, I ended up spending a bunch of weeks just lying in bed watching Netflix. Incidentally I think I’ve watched every awesome Netflix series right now, so if you guys need any recommendations, I’m your man.

But after tearing my Achilles tendon, all of a sudden I was in the worst physical shape of my life. And as I was lying in bed watching Netflix, I remember waking up and thinking to myself, I’m actually really tired of having too much free time. I am too tired of not having enough mental stimulation. I’m too tired of the lack of social interaction, because I wasn’t really talking to anyone. All I was doing was just lying in bed and watching Netflix all day.

By the way this isn’t meant to be a depressing episode I promise. The good news about getting injured and having all this downtime and all this free time in the afternoon was that it actually forced me to sit down, think about my life, my priorities and basically what makes me happy in life. And today I kind of want to share with you guys what I learned this past year about happiness and business. So here it goes.

All right so lesson number one, and this first lesson is a little bit counterintuitive. So lesson number one is to not set goals. Now I remember way back in 2009 when I started mywifequitherjob.com. One of my goals was actually to make enough money with my blog to quit my job. And it happened in 2016 October, I ended up quitting. But here’s the thing, I ended up quitting without a plan, or without a next set of goals.

And that’s actually one of the reasons why I kind of think goals suck. Once you hit them, you’re kind of left wondering what to do next, because a goal, it almost sounds final, right? You’ve hit this goal, you’re done, now what? And so instead of thinking about goals now, a better way to think about your life and your business in my opinion is to have an overall vision and a purpose for what you’re doing.

So let me give you a quick example. Back in the day, I used to be super focused on growing Bumblebee Linens and My Wife Quit Her Job like basically maximizing its growth. And don’t get me wrong, business has been good, and I now run two kind of legit seven figure businesses. But here’s what I discovered, and this is more amplified I guess in the past couple of years. Growing our businesses further has not equivalently furthered our happiness, and when I say we, of course I’m talking about my wife and I.

And I remember back in the day when we were trying to grow these two businesses a lot and really quickly, whenever we set these goals and we met them, we were really happy. But the happiness only lasted for a couple days and then we forgot about it, and then we were back at the grind. And here’s the thing about growing really quickly also.

Growing any business quickly can be super stressful. Every new product launch, every new sales channel that you want to add, it just adds to the stress. And especially over the holiday season when the customers are coming in, I always pitch in and answer phone calls, and there’s always a mad rush to orders, and it’s not comfortable. I mean the money is good, but it’s just not a comfortable situation.

So these days, my wife and I, we shoot for steady manageable growth instead of putting our foot down on the gas, because the added stress and the extra money is simply not worth it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not because we don’t like growth, but the fact that the additional money doesn’t add to our happiness leads us to question why we continue to try to really grow our businesses. And that’s why we’ve kind of dialed it back a little bit and are shooting for steady manageable growth instead of trying to spike growth which is very uncomfortable.

And this all goes back to this long term vision that we have. Instead of setting monetary goals or business goals, our long term vision and our goal with our business is actually to spend more time with family and reduce stress. And all of our actions, all of our decisions relating to our business revolve around this goal. And in fact, my main struggle because I’m a very motivated person in general, my main struggle is actually keeping my ego in check regarding growth.

I see some of my colleagues and some of my peers who are just killing it online and making lots of money, but they aren’t happy in their either their family life or their social life. All right so instead of setting goals, what you want to do is you want to have an overall vision for your lifestyle and work to make your business fit your lifestyle, because at the end of the day your goal is to be happy.

All right lesson number two. This is something I learned in 2017, there is much more to happiness then being financially free. I remember when I first quit my job back in October 2016, I felt like I had made it. I didn’t really have to worry about money anymore, and I had time to spend with family. And so I thought that things would be all good. I thought that things would be perfect from here on, that I’ll just be happy. But it turns out this last year was challenging for me because I wasn’t really mentally stimulated.

So when it comes to happiness, I like to break it down into five basic areas wealth, mental stimulation, family, social stimulation, and physical fitness. And if I were to rate these categories with my life today, in terms of wealth I’m doing pretty well, like we don’t spend that much money so we actually don’t need to make that much of it.

But both of our businesses bring in more than enough money to provide for the kids. We already have their college education kind of set aside, and we can pretty much do whatever we want to do. We already have our house, and as I mentioned before we don’t really spend that much money, so we’re pretty good in the wealth department. But what I discovered this past year was in terms of mental stimulation, that’s kind of been lacking for me.

As I mentioned before in my last job designing microprocessors, that took a lot of brainpower to kind of come up and solve these complex technical problems. And even though I’m still working on my blog, teaching my class, and trying to grow Bumblebee Linens, it hasn’t been the same level of mental stimulation. And so that is definitely a department that is lacking for me right now, and it’s something that I’m looking to improve in 2018.

Now the third factor is family. And in terms of my family life I think it’s pretty great. I never miss any of my kids’ activities, I’m there chauffer them around. I’m there to teach them basketball; I’m actually going to be an assistant coach this following season for their basketball team. So in terms of family, everything is great.

Social stimulation is another thing that contributes to my happiness, and that part has been lacking as well. And so now that I don’t have to physically go into any office, I basically work from home. And that’s actually been pretty tough for me, because I don’t get a chance to talk to anyone. And so that is definitely something that I want to improve in 2018.

I know I talked about going to a co-working space in the past, but the Asianness in me refuses to spend money on a space that isn’t really necessary, because I actually have the entire house to myself. But what I do plan on doing is probably doing a little bit more volunteering perhaps in 2018.

And the final factor that contributes to happiness is physical fitness. Now I didn’t think that this was a big deal, but when I tore my Achilles tendon and I couldn’t work out or do anything, it actually made me a little bit depressed. And I discovered it’s mainly because whenever I’m stressed out or whenever I have something on my mind, I usually go running or I play sports. And the fact that I couldn’t do that anymore kind of led to this decline in my physical fitness, which eventually made me a little depressed because I wasn’t able to go outside and actually do stuff.

And so once again you know now once I become healed which is hopefully going to happen in another two or three months I would say, I’m going to work on my physical fitness for 2018. So there you have it. When it comes to business happiness, it’s more than just about wealth. Instead of blindly going after growth, you’ve got to take into account the other factors in your life like mental stimulation, are you challenging yourself, is your family and love life adequate, are you getting enough social stimulation and is your body in shape?

Find the areas that are lacking and work on those instead of blindly pursuing wealth or trying to put the pedal to the metal with your business. All right, lesson number three that I learned, routines are important. I’m going to talk about my Achilles tendon again, but when I tore that thing, I was kind of lost for two months mainly because it threw me off my schedule.

As I mentioned before prior to my injury, I was probably in the best shape that I’ve been since college, because I was working out at set times during the week, and I never missed a workout. And similarly I was actually working on my businesses on a very strict schedule as well. So for example every Sunday I write a post at Starbucks for four hours. Every Thursday I work on Bumblebee Linens. Every Wednesday I run office hours for my class.

Here’s the thing, when I got injured it actually disrupted my routine, and when that happened everything went to crap. I stopped writing, I stopped working on our store, I stopped working on the blog. And what I tried to do is I tried to find random bits of time here and there to work on my businesses, but in the end nothing really got done because it wasn’t on my schedule. And it was only after I adjusted my schedule to kind of fit some of these pieces back in even though I couldn’t walk or move, did everything kind of fall back in place.

And so if you want to make forward progress with your business, always set aside blocks of time specifically in your calendar to work on these specific things in your life otherwise you will never make progress. Because when it comes time to making progress in business in life, consistency is the key. It’s not necessarily how fast you do something, but how often you do something, how consistently you are able to do something.

All right so here’s lesson number four. If you’re not sure what to do right now, if you’re not sure what business that you want to pursue, then just focus on making others happy. Now as I’ve mentioned before, I’m kind of in limbo right now. I’ve got lots of free time. A couple months ago I actually even considered getting another full time job. But in the meantime as I’m trying to figure things out, I’ve actually focused all my efforts on helping others, so helping students, helping readers, helping listeners with their businesses, and it’s actually made me very happy.

Now I’ve got a bunch of students in my class making six figures now, and I’ve even got a handful of students making millions of dollars per year. And in fact one particular student just wrote a book about her million dollar multimillion dollar journey, and I’m actually really excited to help her promote it. So I’ll probably bring the student back on the podcast to talk about it. But I don’t have everything figured out yet, but helping others and seeing them make progress has actually made me very happy in the interim.

Now based on my emails, I know many of you out there are kind of not sure what business you want to pursue, or what product that you want to sell. And here’s my advice to you, if you’re not sure what to do, or if you actually lack the money to go start a business, just go out and help someone. We are all experts or we’re all good enough at something to teach others something. So what you want to do is you want to document it, write a blog, put out a podcast, create some videos.

Putting yourself out there and building an audience will actually lead to other business opportunities going forward. I remember back when I started mywifequitherjob.com back in 2009, all I did was I started writing about my experiences running my online store Bumblebee linens. And it started out slow, but over time people started to find me. And they started to read about my experiences, and all of a sudden these people they wanted to start their own store because they wanted to spend more time with their kids and family.

And so I started building an audience, and even though I didn’t make any money for the first three years, people started asking me for a class. And after a while I started getting traffic as well, which I would use to promote affiliate offers. I was getting paid for advertising. And then I started my class, and that’s actually when all the money started rolling in.

I didn’t really have a master plan, but I just started documenting everything. And when it came time to monetize everything, I had this audience that I could sell to. Okay and so if you’re not sure what to do right now, just start documenting anything that you’re an expert at or anything that you’re good at and start building an audience now.

All right lesson number five which is something that really hit home for me after I got injured, you need to appreciate what you have in order to be happy. Now prior to my injury I was often jealous of a lot of my Stanford classmates, and every single year I attend this retreat with my other classmates in this entrepreneurship program that I was a part of at Stanford. It’s called the Mayfield Fellows program. And it’s basically a program of entrepreneurs.

And every time I go, I feel inferior because many of my classmates in this program have actually gone on to start eight and nine figure companies. And just as an example Kevin Systrom of Instagram was actually part of this program. Meanwhile I am hawking handkerchiefs and I’m teaching a class, certainly not a glamorous business that requires VC funding that will result in a nine figure exit.

So I always felt a little bit inferior kind of going to this conference. But the fact that I got injured and I couldn’t actually do any work or go to work has really kind of taught me to appreciate all the lifestyle businesses that I’ve started. Because I’m my own boss, I can actually afford to be injured for months and not have to go to work. I can spend as much time with the kids that I want. I don’t have any obligations whatsoever, and I have the flexibility to earn money from anywhere.

And so this injury has taught me to just be thankful of the businesses that I’ve created, and not to be jealous. Well it’s impossible not to be jealous completely of some my peers who are doing really well, but it’s been really good. And whenever I compare myself to someone else, that’s when I tend to get depressed. And so it’s still work in progress, but I’m trying less and less to be jealous of others and appreciate what I really have today.

All right let’s number six is to focus, focus, focus. Now since I had a lot more free time this year, I had my hand actually in a lot of different cookie jars. One I had this SaaS business I was trying to start, I haven’t told you guys about this yet because it didn’t go anywhere. I had another project in the influencer space that I wanted to start. Meanwhile there is also this pet coding project that I was doing in my free time as well.

And the end result, nothing got done. I fell into the trap of trying to do too many things at once. And in fact I see this quite often with the students in my class. They try to sell on Amazon, they try this on their own site, they try to learn AdWords, they try to run Facebook ads, they try to build their Instagram following all at once. And when you try to do too many things at once, it just doesn’t work. You don’t end up making progress on anything.

So in order to make progress, you’ve got to focus your efforts on one thing and do it well. And that is definitely going to be something that I’m going to be trying to do for 2018, focus less on trying to have my head a whole bunch of different things and focus on doing what I do best and doing it well.

Lesson number seven, work with people who will challenge or inspire you to do better. Now here’s something you probably didn’t know about me. I used to actually be against working with other people, because I tend not to trust other people to do as good of a job as I can. And I actually love being like a one man show. But over the years I’ve come to realize the importance of having a partner.

So for example Bumblebee Linens would never have happened if I did not work with my wife. And my conference the Sellers Summit would never have happened without Toni Andersen. And I’ve actually learned over the years that working on business projects is so much more fun and fulfilling when you partner up with somebody who will challenge you, or inspire you to do better. So going forward I will look for people that I really want to work with because that tends to make whatever project that you’re working on more fun and not actually feel like work.

Lesson number eight, treat your customers like royalty. Now I’ve actually always known that word of mouth is important to any business, but I actually didn’t fully realize it until this past year. Now a good portion of our business at Bumblebee Linens is B to B. So we get hotels, we get event planners; we get bed and breakfasts and even small airlines buying our products.

And in this past year we actually got a bunch of new B to B customers without actually doing a single thing. Usually the way it works we either cold call or we reach out to people who have purchased in large quantities, and see if they want to purchase more. But this recent crop of B to B customers just happened just out of the blue without us doing anything. And what was funny about this was that they were all in the fashion space, and they all had retail stores.

And it turns out that the fashion community is very small, and one of our best customers kind of switched companies and started spreading the word about our linens. And all of a sudden this past year more retail fashion shops started buying from us because of this one customer. And when you think of word of mouth, here are just some interesting statistics courtesy of the Research Institute of America for the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.

The average business actually does not hear from 96% of their unhappy clients, and each and every dissatisfied customer will on average tell nine other people. And if we put these statistics in perspective with a couple of numbers, every customer complaint that you receive means that you really have 24 other dissatisfied customers, and these 24 customers will go on to tell a combined 216 people about their negative experience with your business.

But if you address these customers who are complaining, up to 70% want to do business with your business again if the complaint is resolved, and up to 95% will do business if the problem is resolved quickly. Now instead of focusing on complaints, the same is true if a customer is really, really happy with your business. If a customer is really happy, they will tell their friends and the effect will be amplified in the opposite direction and they’ll tell other people about your business, and you’ll get additional business based on this.

Moral the story, don’t piss any of your customers off because they can do a lot of damage with negative word of mouth. And on the flip side, try to go out of your way to make customers happy, because they will actually spread the positive word about your business and get you more customers exponentially.

And my final lesson for 2017 is to take action. Now I know a lot of you guys who are listening to this podcast are on the sidelines and you want to start your own business, but you just haven’t had the courage to pull the trigger. And so I want to tell you a story about how I launched my Create a Profitable Online Store course. And I remember back in the day, a whole bunch of people were asking for a course, and it was always on my to do list, but I could never pull the trigger.

And finally what I ended up doing is I ended up launching the class. I gave a webinar and I just launched the class without any material at all. And I said, hey if you guys are willing to pay me some money, I promise you that I will put out content on a regular basis and put out a good class. And I ended up selling 35 courses and made about ten grand. And as soon as I collected that money, all of a sudden I was like, oh crap. That actually forced me to go out and produce the course that I just pre-sold.

Incidentally this course has made millions of dollars for me over the years. And to think back, if I never did that pre-launch webinar, I’d be missing out on millions of dollars today. And so if you guys are having problems taking action, put yourself out there, make some sort of commitment to yourself and just get something out there, because if you don’t take action and get started nothing is ever going to happen.

All right, and so those are some of the lessons that I personally learned in 2017. And looking back on this podcast now and just kind of listening to what I just said, it seems like injuring my Achilles tendon had a large part in a lot of the lessons that I learned mainly I think because it made me appreciate what I had, and it made me just kind of reflect on everything that just kind of happened this past year and what makes me happy. In any case I hope you enjoyed this episode. I will probably do more of these solo episodes going forward in the coming year. And here’s to a great 2018.

Hope you enjoyed that episode. As I mentioned before, 2017 was actually a very challenging year for me, mainly because I briefly lost sight of what makes me happy in life, and I hope that you don’t make the same mistakes that I did. For more information about this episode, go to mywifequitherjob.com/episode 190.

And once again I want to thank Klaviyo for sponsoring this episode. Klaviyo is my email marketing platform of choice for ecommerce merchants, and you can easily put together automated flows like an abandoned cart sequence, a post purchase flow, a win back campaign, basically all these sequences that will make you money on auto pilot. So head on over to mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O, once again that’s mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.

I also want to thank Privy.com for sponsoring this episode. Privy is the email capture provider that I personally use to turn visitors into email subscribers. They offer email capture, exit intent, and site targeting tools to make it super simple as well. And I like Privy because it’s so powerful and you can basically trigger custom pop ups for any primer that is closely tied to your e-commerce store. If you want to give it a try, it is free. So head on over to Privy.com/Steve, once again that’s P-R-I-V-Y.com/Steve.

Now, I talk about how I use these tools on my blog, and if you’re interested in starting your own ecommerce store, head on over to mywifequitherjob.com and sign up for my free six-day mini course. Just type in your email, and I’ll send you the course right away, thanks for listening.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information, visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.

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5 thoughts on “190: 9 Lessons Learned On Business, Life And Happiness With Steve Chou”

  1. Alison says:

    Really enjoyed such a refreshing & honest podcast – difficult to find in the IM space!
    Many thanks for words that really resonated with me.

  2. Rick Matsumoto says:

    The transcript isn’t displaying for me, just a big white box. I can see the transcripts for other podcasts, so I think it’s something unique to this podcast rather than my computer. Happens in Chrome and Safari on my MacBook.

  3. Peggy says:

    I was nodding my head through most of this podcast, Steve. I think most entrepreneurs could use some time for self-reflection instead of putting the pedal to the metal all the time. I think a lot of us are guilty of focusing so much on building our business and reaping financial rewards that we neglect other very important areas of our lives. I used to sell my work at art markets and fairs but quit about a year and a half ago because online sales were going so well. But it’s a bit of a lonely life sitting at home working alone. I’m definitely missing the social interaction and need to find a way to replace that good stuff.

    Thanks for your very honest and open podcast. I wish you success at re-balancing your life in the coming year.

  4. dave bryant says:

    Great candid podcast.

    I’ve noticed the same thing about exercising – when some external event (injury, new baby, etc) gets in the way of that, I get borderline depression. There’s something about watching your body regress before your eyes in the mirror every day!

    I’ve also noticed since selling my previous business that, like you mentioned, having partners really helps (which I have now for both of my new businesses). 90% of the time I don’t want to sit in traffic, go into an office, and see other people. But the 10% of time I do want someone to talk to either for advice, venting, or just comradery, it’s nice having a partner there.

  5. max motzki says:

    the transcript window is empty!

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