Today my guest is author, speaker, and podcaster Colin Wright. Colin is a lifelong learner who understands the value in having more questions than answers.
Colin’s approach to life has led to a rich journey of discovery and a business that affords him the opportunity to pursue his interests and insatiable curiosity. By remaining “Never Not Curious,” Colin has built an audience that’s been happy to support his work for the last decade.
Colin is a shining example of how to create a one-person, minimalist business with staying power.
- Let’s Know Things – A podcast about context and the news
- Brain Lenses – Essays about how we see the world, ourselves, and each other
- Exile Lifestyle
Colin’s Can’t Miss Newsletters
Love this episode? There’s more!
Jeff Sarris: Welcome back to Starting Now. I’m your host, Jeff Sarris.
This is the show where I talk to entrepreneurs to reveal the how of entrepreneurship. We dive into different stories and the value in these isn’t to look for prescriptive, “do this, do that, follow these steps” kind of advice. It’s really to reveal the many different ways that you can pursue entrepreneurship and get started on your next idea.
This episode, I talk to Colin Wright. Colin is an author. He’s a blogger. He’s a speaker. He’s a podcaster. When it comes to creators, Colin really does it all. And he’s done it completely solo for the last decade.
He’s built a brand that people have really gravitated towards and he’s doing something different that I think you’re really going to going to appreciate.
I loved this conversation. This was a great chat and I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did. So, without further ado, my conversation with Colin Wright.
Colin Wright: It’s turning these communication tools into like, giant shit cannons instead of the truly wonderful things that they actually are if we use them correctly.
Jeff Sarris: I like giant shit cannons, it’s a nice way to look at it.
Colin Wright: They don’t market as well when you when you put that label on, but…
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, for sure.
So I think we’ll just dive right in then.
Colin Wright: Let’s do it.
Jeff Sarris: So hey there, Colin! Thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to be on the show.
Colin Wright: It’s my pleasure. Good to see you.
Jeff Sarris: It’s awkward to start after we’ve been talking for 20 minutes, like sort of off the record of sorts, but…
Colin Wright: It’s alright, we’ll just pretend I haven’t seen you in ages. It’s so good. Your hair is so long and luxurious.
Jeff Sarris: Oh, well thank you. Coming from you, that means a lot.
Colin Wright: I mean, basically half my day I’m just trying to hide the mullet. That’s all, most of my days, how I spend it.
Jeff Sarris: So you are a bit of an enigma to me. I always I find myself interested in people and how they do things. I like to see what they say, what they write about, what they talk about. But also I like to dive a little deeper and get a better understanding of how they’re doing things or why they’re doing things.
You do so much that I want to just run down a little list of some of the things you’re doing right now. You have, Let’s Know Things which is your podcast, where you dive into different topics. I mean, obviously you can correct me on any little descriptors that I give here. You have Brain Lenses, which is a similar it seems, sort of connected to Let’s Know Things, but a different angle. You have your site Exile Lifestyle which you’ve had for many years for travel. You have Colin Wright’s Newsletter, you have Curiosity Weekly, you have the Curiosity Gadget, the Never Not Curious web apps.
How on earth do you sort of describe who you are in a concise way? Because you do quite a bit. How would you frame that?
Colin Wright: It’s always a difficult question to answer. It’s largely context dependent, actually. People ask in different circumstances, and they’re looking for different sorts of answers. I find that the easiest way to answer typically is just to say I’m a writer or an author. I still make a decent chunk of my income off of the books that I’ve written.
And then a lot of the work that I do in general – from the podcasts, to the blog and newsletter, and everything else – they’re very writing heavy. So I make a decent amount of my income off of writing. And that’s what people are typically asking about when they say what do you do?
I try to build my life in such a way that the work that I do, and then the next work that I might do, these are all things that take priority. And then, along the way, I try to figure out ways that I can make money off of these things that are not based on business models that I consider to be douchey.
And it’s a very difficult, time consuming thing. And it’s something that leaves a lot of money on the table. And it’s something that’s very uncertain and very difficult to describe to other people because there’s so many different pieces to it.
And none of the things that I do by themselves are a full time income, but all of the things in aggregate, then add up to something that I can actually make a financial living off of, while also leaving myself all the time that I want to spend on all these other things that I want to dabble in.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, so then I’m curious. What makes a monetization strategy douchey?
Colin Wright: It’ll be different for every single person. I don’t want to talk down anything that anybody else would choose to do. We all make our decisions. We all have different perspectives on different things. I mean little things to me that most people do not consider douchey I don’t like. Like pop-up windows to subscribe to newsletters, by all indications, my understanding is that these things actually do get more people to sign up. And in some cases, some people might look at that and say, “Oh, how wonderful. I did not know this person had a thing that I could sign up for.”
For me, my visceral response when I experience something like that is to not want to go back to that website ever again. And so, for me, my rule with those sorts of things is to try to avoid at all costs, doing things to other people that I wouldn’t want done to me. And so, again, it’s a line that will be drawn for different people in different places. That’s totally legitimate.
My way of doing it is not good for everybody. But I find that by doing that math and trying to figure out where my line is, I sleep much better at night. And that’s not something that I was able to say 12-13 years ago, when I was doing branding work back in LA
Jeff Sarris: I think that’s one of the reasons I’d say I’m doing this podcast, I think it’s really valuable not to try to do prescriptive “this is how you should do this” as a listener. But I think it’s really valuable to dive into your how – how you’re monetizing, how you’re doing things – not because you’re saying everyone should do this, or we should all agree that this is the best way. But I think the more voices we hear in terms of entrepreneurship, and how how someone makes a living on their own, fully self sustained. I think, as a whole, it just really helps educate people on how to better pursue what they have in mind.
Colin Wright: Exactly. And more exposure to more ideas and more perspectives makes it more likely that you’ll find something, even if it’s not a holistic plan. Ideally, it won’t be Like if you try to take somebody else’s way of doing something and take it wholesale and adopt that entire thing, chances are there will be some component of that that doesn’t make sense for you and that might cause some suffering or some rethinking down the line.
But if you can look out at a lot of different models, then you can take ingredients from everybody’s recipe, make your own weird ass recipe that looks like you something that is very “you” shaped. And that ideally is what you do, even though it does take quite a bit more time.
And it’s something where you have to experiment quite a bit. Because for a lot of these things, and this is true with life not just with business models, but a lot of these things we don’t think about until we have to and, as a consequence, we don’t know what annoys us on the internet. Or we don’t know what lines we’re willing to draw, or what lines we’re unwilling to cross rather, in order to make $1,000.
Like, what are you willing to do and what are you not willing to do? These are really, really important things to understand about yourself, but it’s unlikely until you reach a certain decision crossroads that you’ll actually know in specificity, the answer to that question.
Jeff Sarris: For anyone listening. We just had a little snafu earlier with the internet. So things were a little off off-kilter. So I just had to do one more thing that I forgot to turn off my notifications. Otherwise people are going to be watching text come in, which is a great thing on a podcast.
Colin Wright: Potentially very awkward. Love it.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, for sure.
Yeah, so how then, like what types of monetization strategies have you found through your diving into what you’re doing through content across many different areas, which maybe we should dive into that – sort of the the what it is that you’re offering. But then I would like to get over to monetization and how you found the ways that really work well for you.
Colin Wright: Yeah, so I make my living these days, currently, I have royalties coming in from books that I’ve written, and that’s through bookstores. Most of the income comes in through Amazon that’s the nature of the beast these days. But I do have income coming in from Amazon alternatives like Kobo, but also bookstores and such fortunately as well.
I have typically, not right now because of the pandemic, but typically I have a certain amount of income each year, based on how much speaking I’m doing coming in from speaking gigs. And sometimes that’s keynoting at conferences back in, gosh, what was it 2018-2019 I did a 50 city tour that I set up myself, just to see how that works.
I had never set up my own tour before, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really enjoy spreadsheets and things like that. There was a lot of juggling of dates and names and things that was really, really difficult and tricky to keep together. And very stressful.
But with that I did a couple different business models where I sold tickets, but then some I did donations only and in some places actually earned more from the donations than I did from selling tickets, but not always. And so there’s some interesting lessons there.
And then I sell books at those speaking events as well, typically. I have a Patreon for Let’s Know Things. I do an additional episode each month for people who are Patrons at any level alongside a call-to-action-free version of the show. I don’t do ads on the show, but I do encourage people to go to my Patreon so those messages are removed for people who are Patrons.
And I have a similar thing sort of from my newer project Brain Lenses. I’ve been doing Let’s Know Things for over four years now.
Jeff Sarris: Wow, it’s that long already?
Colin Wright: Yeah, I know, right. And Brain Lenses is less than a year. So it’s quite new. That I decided to do through a company called Substack, though. And substack, I have a couple of newsletters through them. Brain Lenses started out as a newsletter that I intended to convert into a podcast, so I take the essays that I write for Brain Lenses, and then, a couple months out, record them and release them as podcast episodes.
And so the idea ther again, is that people get additional content if they pay any amount, but in this case, it’s through Substack instead of Patreon. Different model, similar model in a lot of ways, but a different company and slightly different mechanisms behind it.
What else do I do? I’ve got a bunch of other things that I do primarily either as marketing, non-marketing, marketing, like my blog and such, I’ve never made money directly off of my blog, but it’s something that then people come to and it points them in different directions if they like what I’m saying or if they find something interesting. Chances are nonzero that they’ll then click on something and go find one of my other things that I do make money off of or come to a talk.
And then, recently, I added like a “buy me a coffee” button to that, so I do get a decent, not insignificant amount – I call it either grocery money or something like that – through people paying me donations of $3 at a time through the blog. And I have that same model with things that I haven’t developed a more fully realized business model for yet as well.
So I have a little app that I built called Authorcise that basically puts constraints on people to try to incentivize them to create a daily writing habit. So you have exactly 150 seconds, and then you can’t write any more. And it gives you a prompt word that draws from the 10,000 most common English words, pulls one of those randomly, gives you the prompt, 150 seconds, go.
It’s something that I still have a lot of fleshing out to do, but already a few writing groups have taken it and used it as a daily writing ritual type of exercise. And that’s what I’d like it to be. As I expand it, I might create like a premium tier for that, or I might continue to have it as a donation model thing.
The idea is to try to give myself space (1) to learn with these different things, a lot of these things are just experiments, and then (2) not put pressure on people, so that they feel that if they engage with any of my new experiments that they’re going to be immediately funneled into a sales channel.
In most cases, my stuff is completely free. And I make my living because people are willing to pay that extra to get a little bit extra or in a lot of cases just because they want to support my work.
Colin Wright: Yeah, exactly. And it, along with most of the other stuff I’m doing through Never Not Curious, these are just exercises. These are ways for me to figure out how much I know and what I need to know next. And they are things that I can build on over time.
So they already serve an innate purpose for me. They are a way for me to hone what I am trying to learn But the idea then is hopefully along the way, as you’re learning – and this is one of the better ways to learn and retain what you learn – is to try to create something of value for other people at the same time.
But in programming in general, I actually got back into programming by learning some Python, which I always thought looked beautiful. I loved the concept of it from a distance but I didn’t know anything about it. And I’d never done programming meant for anything above and beyond just web development.
So my understanding of programming was very superficial for that type of programming. I learned a bit, but I’m really terrible Python programmer, I can’t do anything of worth with it. But it helped me understand the fundamentals in a way that aesthetically and conceptually made a lot of sense to me.
Programming in general, really encourages you to break things apart into chunks that you can then handle. And, in most cases when I’m building something, I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it when I come up with the idea, but I know that I can probably break it apart into 30 different things and figure out how to wire those things together. And then spend twice as much time fixing all of the problems I created by building it in that way and figuring out ways to make it faster and more beautiful. And to do it correctly.
Basically, all of this comes through the lens of somebody who’s a very, very mediocre programmer of any kind. But that way of looking at problems, I think, can be valuable for a whole lot of things, especially when you’re looking at problems that you’re not handed a preset, or a pre-built set of tools to deal with. And so when you’re trying to build your own tools on the fly, and you don’t know if any of those tools will even work for what you want to accomplish, that programmers mindset of breaking things apart, and conceptualizing things in that way, it seems really helpful.
Jeff Sarris: I think that programming really goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship with the stuff that we do because that is, as you say, the programmers mindset of breaking it down into systems. That is where I shine. And it’s where my formal training is.
Most of my experience is in some form of problem solving. Usually things that, like you said, there isn’t a clear answer. And so how do we get from A to B when it is just not a smooth path in the middle? We need to sort of blaze our own trail.
Colin Wright: Yeah, exactly. And thinking about things in terms of systems and tools and creating assets. There’s a lot of different concepts of that kind that exist within entrepreneurship and programming that, you know, build something once and then reuse it over and over again, as opposed to rebuilding and rebuilding and rebuilding it. There’s a lot of very time and energy saving concepts of that time that exists between the two. There is a lot of parallel.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve realized that I’m the operator. You have your creators, you have your – what’s the middle of the three tiers of entrepreneurship – and I’m definitely in the operator world.
Colin Wright: Yeah, I’m still learning all the structural sides of things, but I’m sure that somebody has probably already written a book about how programming is entrepreneurship and here’s all the things you can pass in between the two different fields.
Jeff Sarris: For sure. So you’re spending your time learning, you spend an immense amount of time learning because with Let’s Know Things you go deep into topics – Brain Lenses, as well. What does your balance between learning and creating look like?
Colin Wright: Oh, you know, it probably varies. So like when I’m on tour, for instance, when I’m doing talks almost every day for a period of like half a year, then I am making a whole lot in the sense of putting stuff out there and speaking to people and, and such. But I’m also note taking for future deep dive creation into things like books or really much larger projects that go above and beyond just maintenance.
And then at other times, though, I can mostly set aside most work. Every week, I have, what three podcasts: I have, Let’s Know Things, two episodes of Brain Lenses, and two essays of Brain Lenses to write. And then a newsletter, which has an essay that ends up on the blog with some additional updates and things.
Jeff Sarris: Every week it’s that much??
Colin Wright: That’s every week, yeah.
Jeff Sarris: Jeez.
Colin Wright: But you do it enough. I mean, again, four years with Let’s Know Things, it’s a lot of work. But I have it down to a rhythm. Do anything for four years and you figure out ways to do it more efficiently. And so for me, part of the reason that I wired up those businesses the way that they exist now, those projects, is that a lot of what they soak up is from soil. It’s already there. Most of what I do for fun and what I do for self-education; these are things that feed directly into these projects. And so it’s not like I have to go do a bunch of independent– at least for the early stages of these projects– like I have to do a bunch of independent research. I’m researching constantly and that’s just something that I enjoy doing.
I’ve tried to orient it, or I’ve tried to orient things in my life, so that I’m able to continuously do that. So when I step away from all the work, I’m still doing a whole lot of that stuff just for my own pleasure. If you can build repetitive tasks or business models or whatever into your life that then utilize those existing cycles, or propensities, or habits, or rituals that you already have, then they don’t feel like work so much. Sometimes they do, but typically they don’t. And then you’re not doubling up on certain types of tasks.
So, because I’m constantly researching and soaking up information and learning anyway, generally within that process, I find the seed of what will become next week’s episode and then I’m able to sit down and do a very similar task and batch process that with other things that I’m doing for fun, get the base level of my outline for the script, and then I can go through and do deeper research, which is separate. I can compartmentalize all these things, but also have them kind of interconnected in a beneficial way.
Jeff Sarris: It strikes me that you’ve monetized your hobbies. Essentially, you’ve found a business model for hobbies. Would you say you have hobbies?
Colin Wright: Oh, yeah, tons! I mean, I play a lot of music, I cook. There’s a lot of things. I’ve been jumping rope like a fiend because I can’t do anything else. There’s a good deal of yard out here, out here in the sticks, but I’ve got a driveway and so I decided, I mean, what am I going to do? I can’t really go running. There’s no sidewalks around here, but I can jump rope. And so I find things like that and I get into them.
Several years ago, I learned to play the piano and to sight read music, it just is something I always wanted to do. I realized to get beyond the plateau point that I reached, where I knew enough to read music and I knew more about music structure than I did before, I knew how to sit down and play songs if I could sit there and read the music, but I realized to get any further than that, it would require a whole lot more energy and time than I wanted to put into it. So I set that aside.
And so some of these things end up being plateau points that I could then revisit later if I ever want to. But in a lot of cases, it’s a chunk of knowledge that then you use to inform other chunks of knowledge and so I sing and I play guitar, and I write music. Not great, but I do it. And these things then benefit from those other experiences, but some of them do end up then feeding into work. Part of the reason that I try to maintain a flexible system for this where there’s multiple parts and none of them– I’m not completely reliant on any one of them for my happiness or for my financial security– because then I can take them out and put in new ones anytime I want to. So, if I want to pluck something out and just make it a hobby again, I can. If I want to pluck something out because nobody uses flash websites anymore, I can do that as well. The idea is to make it a stable structure predicated on flexibility and malleability, as opposed to making it so rigid that it becomes fragile.
Jeff Sarris: And you are 100% solo, correct? Like maybe you have, but currently you have no employees, no contractors?
Colin Wright: No. In the past, I’ve experimented with that, but I find that I typically enjoy it more doing it myself.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, Dave and I are the same way everything in-house. I mean, sometimes it can be to our detriment, of course, until the systems are in place. It’s like Oh, these things take so much time but with I think with the practice and with time, we sort of refine and figure out okay, what’s necessary, how do we keep this up, while staying super lean. It’s sort of that minimalist business approach.
Colin Wright: Exactly, exactly.
Jeff Sarris: So in that vein, along that line of thinking, what does your typical day look like currently? Like with pandemic, you in Missouri, what does a standard day maybe look like?
Colin Wright: It’s a weird, very antisocial day right now. Okay, so typically what I do these days, is I’ll get up, make a cup of coffee, I do two cups of black coffee a day. So, I’ll make my first one, come in, I’ve got a collection of different resources that I use to update myself on different industries and fields and different people who are experts on different things that I follow. And so a lot of them these days are newsletters, from different news sources, but also individuals and so I’ll plow through that. Usually, half an hour to an hour to do that initial what’s going on in the world? What are people thinking about? What are people talking about? And that’s for me, but, again, it also kind of informs the rest of the work that I do to a certain degree.
Jeff Sarris: Not to interrupt, but in terms of newsletters, are there specific ones that you’re like, these are can’t miss newsletters for you?
Colin Wright: There’s so many good ones! You know, there’s what’s the guy’s name, Levine? There’s a Bloomberg money one that, going into it, I did not think I would enjoy it at all, but this dude basically just editorializes about two or three topics within the world of stocks and finance and stuff. I think it’s every day, which is shocking, because it’s so big and so well done. But he’s very funny. It’s very attainable. Every single time I’ll set aside extra time to read his newsletter because I’ll go through and find two or three things that I don’t know what he’s talking about and so I’ll have to go look it up to understand the context of his commentary which invariably ends up being brilliant, but I like things like that, that push me out of my comfort zone.
And then there’s another one called Tangle that is very US politics focused, but the the guy who writes it does an incredible job maybe the best that I’ve seen of writing what left and right politics and political voiceboxes are saying about a particular topic each day. And he goes through and does it in a way so that people on the right and the left are like yeah, that actually very accurately describes the way that we feel about this topic that is so rare, and he’s doing a great job with Tangle.
But those among others, some of them take me all of 10 seconds to go through because they don’t write a whole lot, they just kind of point at different things. Then some of them are big, long, very dense reads that I also quite enjoy. After that, that’s my first cup of coffee also, and then I make my second cup of coffee and then I do whatever morning work I have to do. That’s sometimes a Brain Lenses essay, sometimes it’s writing a draft of a podcast episode. Usually, it’s whatever the most difficult thing that I have to get done that day happens to be and so I’ll sit down with my my last cup of coffee and do it and just get it done.
Typically I can get that done by around 11 and then at 11– it’s very hot in Missouri right now– I can still go outside and jump rope 2500 times as quickly as possible while there’s still shadow to keep me from burning to death. I’m very pale, so I’d like to try to get outside before noon, so I can do that. Do my jump rope, come in, make some lunch, and then I have the rest of the day sometimes for like secondary longer term work that I’m doing in preparation for the following week or something like that, but in a lot of cases, I’m more focused on doing coursework, for lack of a better term.
Jeff Sarris: I love that! Filling the day with growth opportunities is so valuable, like that’s when I feel the best is even if I’m not creating something, but I feel like I’m growing. It makes all the difference for me.
Colin Wright: And self investment! We were talking before about assets. I don’t remember if that was before we started recording or not, but basically the idea of assets and the most valuable asset you can work on and invest in is yourself. One, because you’re not going to lose it, there’s tons of assets that you can lose, or they can be destroyed. Like, your skills in developing flash websites, they can completely deteriorate to the point that they’re worthless, but yourself, yourself isn’t going anywhere. So anything that you can do for yourself in terms of investing and knowledge or capabilities in terms of your health, your sphere, psychological and financial well-being, all of these things are excellent investments. I know it’s very, very easy to set them aside as not being important as the other stuff, but these are the things that allow you to do the other stuff better. So, almost always they are worth investing in at least a little bit each day.
Jeff Sarris: Definitely! And since there are so many, there are a lot of inputs, but they are highly curated inputs that you have. How have you sought, say, a new newsletter or something? Like maybe you have a topic, maybe one to go into to get that really balanced political view, get the view on money and things. How do you find those sources? And do you have any recommendations for people who might want to do similar?
Colin Wright: Oh, yeah, it’s kind of chaining recommendations. So, people that I follow on Twitter, I don’t follow a huge number of people, but they tend to be experts in different fields, or they’re people who have interesting perspectives on things. Typically, if somebody that is already within my curated collection of inputs recommends something, I’ll at least check it out. Then, over time, that kind of forks out into other things. Every once in a while, I’ll come across something that is like in a textbook, or there’ll be a new something that I become aware of that I’ll then go out and try to see what exists.
When I started to learn Python several years ago, I basically didn’t even know what I didn’t know yet. And so I went out and sought out newsletters and books and websites and forums and podcasts, as many different types of input as I could possibly get. Then, after a little while, I winnowed those down to just like two or three things, but for a while I had like 20-30 new things that I was checking out and you kind of go out and taste test. After a while, you’re not always going to get the most representative mouthful, just by taste testing and trying out a few things here and there, but you get better at it. You get better at figuring out what sorts of things are valuable for what you want to get out of it, whether that’s attaining new knowledge or entertainment. You also get better at kind of recognizing ahead of time which sorts of things probably will fit within your day and fit within your routine and where you could probably add some more things and where you’re probably supersaturated at this point, and you don’t need another podcast, maybe you just want to have another newsletter.
Jeff Sarris: So when this changes, it’s gonna open up, you’re going to move. You’re gonna head to your next destination. How do you sort of envision– because you’ve traveled for many years like full-time traveling, we haven’t even really gotten into that area, but you’ve traveled full-time for so long. How do you see your days changing as you’re moving to a new city after being sort of on lockdown, where you said an antisocial kind of average day?
Colin Wright: Oh, it’s kind of hard to say. And actually, I tend to leave myself as open as possible, based on what the circumstances of a new place requires. So, as you mentioned, I’ve been traveling long enough and internationally long enough to where the differences can sometimes be quite vast. Even traveling within the US, I find that it’s typically prudent to avoid taking one set of circumstances that are based on one environment and set of rituals, and habits, and needs, and wants, and everything else, and try to then take that over and like cookie cutter them down someplace else.
Perfect example. When I was living in Iceland, typically at least when I was living there, the day just gets started a little bit later on average than it does in most places in the US. A lot of places don’t even open till 10. Partially because of the environment, partially because of culture and history. I’m sure things just get started later in the day. As a consequence, everything shifts and, as a consequence, if you’re getting up super early, intending to get to work and having other people available to work with you, you’re going to be in for kind of a sad surprise.
The same is true to greater and lesser degrees, any place that you might go. And that can be based on the neighborhood, based on the type of work that you’re doing, based on your set of friends that you have in the area, whatever. So, wherever I go next I’m sure I will take some of my existing habits and routines, but I’m going to try as much as possible at least to leave myself flexible. Typically what that means is just like being bad at maintaining your habits and routines for a couple of weeks, so that then you can introduce new habits and routines. And they might be the same as before, but they might be different ones based on those new circumstances. So basically, that’s my non-answer answer because it’s more of a template than a set of things that I do consistently. It’s a system as opposed to a set solution.
Jeff Sarris: The flexibility is so valuable. As an entrepreneur, as someone who is a creator and doing all these things, I feel like flexibility is just vital and not sort of projecting on what we expect to happen from maybe new projects that we launch or whatever it is and really being okay, this is working, this isn’t working. Let’s adjust let’s pivot and find our new way to do the next step.
Colin Wright: And the same is true with new businesses or new jobs that you might take on. New lifestyle circumstances, going from school into the workplace, changes in your personal circumstances, whatever, but also things like a pandemic. I mean, there’s so many unknowns constantly with major things that everybody recognizes. But even little changes in technology, little changes in the way the economy works, little changes in laws, little changes in cultural mores, all of these things can adjust to greater or lesser degrees.
The way that we do things and the types of expectations that we should have about certain aspects of our life or our work, and the ability to look at changes as opportunities, as opposed to looking at them as being threats or things that are disturbing something by which we define ourselves. If we define ourselves by one type of ritual, or set of habits or routines, you’re kind of setting yourself up either to fail or to be left behind to a certain degree and to find yourself with a collection of traits that you’ve taken into yourself and made part of your personality that are just no longer relevant.
Whereas, if you can say I am somebody who can create a ritual instead of routines that I enjoy, no matter the circumstances, you have essentially the same thing, but you leave yourself much more flexible. If you can do that with anything from your daily habits to like your coffee habits, and the way that you engage with news, two things like the way that you do business and being willing to change your business model, being willing to change the way that you create things, or even the types of things that you create, you’re still at the center of it, and your ideas are still at the center of it. So the way that you apply that, typically, is less important than the thought and the concept and the problem solved and more core fundamentals like that.
Jeff Sarris: The actual application of it is is huge. So your business relies on having an audience. What do you do currently, if anything, and how would you say you’ve approached building your audience over the years?
Colin Wright: A lot of it’s just been consistency. If you stick around long enough and don’t be a jerk, then typically over time, you’ll accumulate something, some kind of group of people who resonate with your ideas, who believe in what you’re doing. We think that you’re recreating something valuable. Typically, though, for me something that I decided to do early on, way back in the day 2009, when I dramatically changed the way that I was living my life and got rid of all my stuff and started traveling full-time and tried to figure out a new new way to make money that I didn’t think was horrible– part of the concept there was to try to make sure that I could make a living just by doing what I was doing.
So you can still see the resonance of that today. It’s different than it was back then, but the idea was that I could go off and travel and by virtue of doing that, by virtue of sharing something about what I was doing, that would then allow me to do something that would allow me to make a living. So I could write about that, I could write books about that, I could give talks about it, and that changes, you know, as the years go by. But if you can build a structure that allows you to be you, and so you don’t have to put in on any marketing sparkly bits, you don’t have to do a crazy song and dance that doesn’t necessarily reflect who you are. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t believe in or that you don’t think is okay, by your standards. That seems to do pretty well over time.
It’s not something I would warn, that allows you to grow as quickly as you can. There are a lot of opportunities that will allow you to grow your metrics much, much, much faster. In some cases, those metrics might even pay off. It might be something where you grow your mailing list by 10s of thousands of people and then a percentage of those will buy whatever it is that you’re selling, and then you’re good and you can make a living off of what you do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with approaching things in that way, but I wanted to set things up in such a way that I didn’t have to do that song and dance and didn’t have to, you know, put the pop ups and I didn’t have to do a sales message on every other paragraph of everything that I wrote.
Ultimately, what I decided to focus on was making sure that just me living then translated into something that was hopefully valuable to other people. Then also being an open recipient to what other people are going through as well. I’ve been encouraging people to write me and tell me about what they’re doing since I started doing all of this. And that’s something that was just interesting to me as an individual. It’s kind of like traveling and hearing about other people’s experiences and seeing something of their perspective. But it’s also something that then creates a dialogue and it builds more of a relationship and it’s not necessarily something where you’re going to be sitting, texting each other and chatting back and forth all day, but if you can afford to be a person on the other end of an email or some other type of communication, that tends to be beneficial as well. And it’s beneficial on multiple levels. But it’s also then something that I think encourages people to stick around because they know that you’re a human being. If you change the way that you do things, some day, you’re still the same human being. It allows you to focus on that core of who you are and what you do.
Jeff Sarris: I’m sure you get as much value from those correspondences as they do, because it’s true connection, maybe in a digital sense, but it’s actually connecting with another human that isn’t just broadcasting. It’s a back and forth dialogue.
Colin Wright: Exactly and what it is, like so many of the other things I’ve described, it’s something that leaves money on the table, but it’s optimizing for different things. It’s optimizing for, to me quality of life, and relationships, and communication, and actually knowing that I’m putting something valuable out into the world because I hear about it and then also to getting kind of direct on what to do next. Like sometimes I’ll hear from somebody who says, You know, I like this one thing that you did, I wish you would do this, though, because I would be really interested in hearing about that. And then that gives me some ideas about next steps that I might take.
And so it’s a different type of optimization. It’s not something that will necessarily get you those desired, much desired metrics to the same degree that you want, at least not at first, but it really depends on what you’re going into it for and what you’d like to see. You can definitely go viral if you want to by using all kinds of interesting tricks and gimmicks and techniques. I don’t think I’ve ever gone viral, but I’ve got staying power, thankfully, under what I’ve built as a consequence of taking this kind of slower, more plotting, but a little bit more intentional for who I am and what I want to approach.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, the staying power is highly underrated. I feel like so many people have started things, like whether it’s in minimalism or travel or whatever it is, but they haven’t adapted. They haven’t seen the writing on the wall, paid attention, and understood that the tides maybe are shifting a little bit, how can I still contribute? How can I still be a part of this conversation in a valuable way to the listener, to the reader, whoever it is in the community?
Colin Wright: Yeah, and again, just at all levels, if you can allow yourself to see yourself as somebody who learns and is constantly growing, and it’s difficult to do, because we aren’t really incentivized to do this, there’s that master paradox where as soon as you become known for being good at something, you can’t afford to seem like you don’t know something about it. You have to answer all the questions rather than asking questions. But if you can, early on, ideally, but at any point in your career or life, recalibrate your sense of self as somebody who is good at what they do, or who can become good at what they’re doing, because they ask questions, and because they’re humble in the face of the just massive amount of stuff that they don’t know about everything, then you’re in a much better place to continue to evolve and change with whatever variables are changing around you.
Jeff Sarris: I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but this has been awesome. One thing I meant to ask is, how do you organize all of the ideas because you are taking in so much and learning so much? Do you have sort of systems in place for organizing what you’re learning to then reference back later?
Colin Wright: I do take notes on things but not not in an organized way like a lot of people do. I know there’s a lot of very interesting, compelling techniques out there for like, collecting information and highlighting and saving things and like bullet journaling, like they’re very cool, there’s a lot of very, very interesting things. It’s not the way that I tend to store things, though, in that way where they end up being things. This might be something that’s more a me thing that wouldn’t necessarily translate to other people, but I tend to look at information like a web, and every time you learn something new, it’s a new node on that web. When I learn something new, I try to connect it to existing nodes in as many different nodes as possible.
And, consequently, one, it makes it, for me at least, easier to remember all kinds of things and find connections between things, but it also then makes it easier to see the exposed nodes that haven’t been fully integrated yet and things that I’m still thinking about and trying to connect to other things. So once I’ve started a project, like for my apps, I have a little, just a little journal where I just jot down things and draw little things and try to figure out once I’ve decided to build things, how to build it. Leading up to that, typically, it’s just kind of a mess up in here of different points trying to find connections to each other and then randomly, and I usually notice when it happens randomly, at some point throughout the day, something will snap into place and the new connection will be made and I’ll go Oh, okay. Okay. It’s probably very weird for people around me. I’ll just have that realization and I find that actually some of these things, if I write them down, it’s almost like I’ve given my brain permission to forget. So I’ll just sit and let it stew. That’s how most of this information ends up where it eventually ends up in a podcast, or in a project, or something else, it just, it ends up as part of this increasingly tangled web. I do think that if you allow yourself to sit with that information and try to connect it to other information, you tend to retain it quite a bit better, rather than immediately storing it on some kind of like external memory storage, like a cyborg.
Jeff Sarris: The interconnectedness of all these different topics, I think, is where the immense value comes in because you’re able to give a different perspective on things instead of being like, okay, I want to learn, I want to learn about x, whatever it is, if it’s cooking, because you recently went on a truck, like I want to learn about coding, that’s the only thing I’m going to focus on everything I’m gonna learn is in that lane, but you’re tasting from all over the place. I think that’s immensely valuable and that’s how we end up with new ideas. I mean, it feels like everything’s been said, but there’s always something new, and a new way to look at things, and a new perspective.
Colin Wright: Yeah, and in a lot of cases, it’s just going to be taking existing things and taking a little bit here, a little bit here, a little bit here, and mixing them in new ways. So it’s not necessarily inventing new ingredients. It’s mixing those ingredients in a novel way that in a lot of cases only you would think to mix them. That tends to be where a lot of the greatest value is, but even just mixing things in interesting ways that are not unique to you. That, to me, is valuable. Being able to look at things from different angles, and this is part of why I enjoy just involving myself with so many different seemingly random things, is that learning to cook influenced so many other things in my life and just the way that I look at the world in the same way as programming or entrepreneurship.
The same with music and I’m not playing like a professional musician, but I know enough about it and just learning the fundamentals of music and how it works. It can inform everything else that you do in your life. To me, when I was learning to cook actually, it felt like it tickled the same parts of my brain as doing design work, just certain elements of how you put things together and how you can take certain rules and then apply them to other things and the there’s a certain aesthetic quality to cooking to that hit the same parts of the brain.
So, the more different perspectives you have, the more you can three dimensionalize every single thing that you do, and view it from different angles and thus present more angles of whatever it is that you’re doing. That, to me, is a very underrepresented aspect of learning and doing things and it’s important because we’re kind of encouraged to specialize with specialization implying that you have to do only one thing ever, which I think is nonsense. The people who are in a lot of cases the monumental figures of their field very often look at other things that they did on the side and said, You know, I developed that mathematical equation because I was learning to play tennis or something like that and if you’ve got a bunch of different tennis aces in your life, it’s much more likely that you’ll come up with that equation, whatever that happens to be for yourself.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, I think that is immensely valuable advice. I hope people really take that to heart because that is how we move forward, how we grow, how we really do things that are special. I have one last question I like to ask people. We sort of touched on this I feel like with the audience, how you built your audience, but let’s pretend that you weren’t able to make money in the ways you do right now. So, everything was gonna change starting tomorrow. You are exactly who you are, you know everything that you do, but for some reason, the audience that you have, the people who are currently buying from you, aren’t there anymore. So you were starting from the ground floor, but with with 2020 Colin’s knowledge and experience Where would you say that you would start, and you could recreate things that you have, but you’re starting from the bottom?
Colin Wright: For me, at least, there’s a lot of different theories on this, all of which are completely valid, and lots of different experiences on how people did the things that they did. For me, I have found, it’s valuable to create, what would you even call it, like value engines, things that you can invest time and energy and once and then it continues to produce value, and so that might be a blog post. That might be a podcast, it might be an app. I mean, a lot of what appealed to me about creating apps was the fact that I could invest a bunch of time in it all at once and then, you know, with few exceptions, where you have to update things or tweak things or fix bugs, it’s there then and then that 10 hours or whatever that you put into it creates X amount of value forever.
Investing yourself in those types of value engines, things that you can invest a bunch in upfront and do as well as possible, and then put out for people to enjoy, that’s something that one, you can then afford to, to a certain degree, put it out into the world for free, which is good in terms of just bettering the world leaving it better than you found it, but also potentially garnering some interest or getting your name out there and driving people toward other things. It’s also something that then you could take that same thing, add something a topic or figure out a way to monetize it. And that ends up being the base level of something else that you build. So, for me, it’s something like that. Value engines that then also serve as home bases.
Ideally, there’s a certain gravity that you can create around yourself if you create things of value to that then draw people to you. And that helps you build relationships. It helps you learn from other people who are doing incredible things, and then hopefully puts you in front of more eyeballs, which then eventually at some point gives you all kinds of opportunities for different things that you could then turn into money that you can make a living off of. Having more options, in that way, and then creating that initial gravity in those engines I think is what I would probably focus on whether that means starting a new blog or a podcast or a newsletter or a TikTok, you know, whatever the kids are doing. I’m definitely open to it. And basically being medium agnostic and being willing to use whatever is available, and to learn new things to do that, I think is an important part of that, too.
Jeff Sarris: You’re creating that gravity with a tool or something is like, once you’re saying that I’m like, that is sort of what we’ve done and a lot of a lot of the things that we’ve created, like Paleo Porn in the Paleo space. It was very, very competitive at the time we were in it, but we had the Is It Paleo? tool. People could go there and figure out is it is it not paleo and why. And I’m realizing we did the same thing with the Kidney Stone Diet, which is our current platform. We’re working with a kidney stone prevention expert, and we’ve made it the source, the destination for people to reference when it comes to oxalate, which is something important for kidney stones. That really does help make you the hub of whatever it is. So I love that idea. That is absolutely wonderful advice. I hope people really consider like what that might mean to them, how they can become the focal point in whatever vertical they might be in.
Colin Wright: So it’s different for every single person. Absolutely. Look inside first, don’t look outside and try to copy somebody else necessarily. Look for ingredients that you can take and put into your recipe. The more you make it about you and something that you actually care about, the more likely you are to enjoy the work, but also, the more likely you are to put out something that’s a value.
Jeff Sarris: Definitely. So thank you so much for doing this. This is a great conversation and awesome to catch up because it has been way too long since we’ve seen each other.
Colin Wright: It’s been too long! It’s my pleasure. It was great to hear from you.
Jeff Sarris: So where should people go to follow along with the myriad things you’re doing?
Colin Wright: Oh, god, that’s a big question, isn’t it? Yeah, probably the best central repository right now is just colin.io. And then the social media maybe if you want to, but colin.io is the landing page for most of my projects right now.
Jeff Sarris: Excellent. Well, yeah, so thanks again so much and help you and hope you enjoy the rest of your day out there in Missouri. Stay cool!
Colin Wright: Thanks very much. I’m gonna do what I can.
Jeff Sarris: Yeah, we’ll talk again soon!
Colin Wright: Cool, man.