The dirty little secret behind Ramit Sethi’s book launch

March 24th, 2009 8 comments
Ramit has a dirty little secret...

Ramit has a dirty little secret...

Yesterday my friend Ramit Sethi launched his book I Will Teach You To Be Rich, a personal finance book based on his highly successful blog.  By midday, he was the #1 selling book on Amazon.com!  I knew he was on top the second it happened.  I knew because I was watching him live on his blog, along with 1,000 other “believers”.  He was streaming a live videocast all day long, answering questions from viewers, giving away prizes and even taking a call or two from mom.

What’s remarkable is not that he got to the #1 spot, but rather how he got there.  There’s a lot of chatter on Twitter right now pointing to Ramit’s book launch promotion as “the way to launch your book to the #1 spot on Amazon.com”.  Well, I’m here to tell you a dirty little secret: the promotion was only the match that lit the fire.  The fire burned so bright because he’s spent five years stacking the wood.

The simple fact is that five years ago Ramit knew he’d probably write a book on personal finance someday.  So, he made himself highly influential within certain communities and networks.  His influence was measured in many ways yesterday by the success of his book launch.  The reach of his influence will continue to grow as he touches more and more people, but the power of his influence depends on other things entirely.

Robert Cialdini names six “weapons of influence” in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. They are building blocks that provide the base for a successful personal brand or marketing campaign.  Ramit has done an excellent job at employing these weapons, and I have no doubt he’ll continue to do so.  He’s a case study.

Now, let’s take a look at how Ramit really launched his book to the #1 spot…

Reciprocation

Ramit’s been establishing his influence over a community of young entrepreneurs and personal finance buffs for years now through his blog.  His tone is super conversational and he’s always generous with his time.  In fact, a couple years ago when I was first interested in starting a blog, I wrote Ramit asking for his advice.  We spent no less than three hours on the phone as he walked me through all of the elements of successful blogging (I still have the notes!).  When it came time for him to call in a favor, I – along with the rest of his network – responded with the same enthusiasm he gives to us everyday.

Commitment & Consistency

Wow, is Ramit committed.  He committed to his blog five years ago, and still posts regularly.  He emails his subscribers, responds promptly to emails, and – most importantly – he stays topical. Never has he violated the trust of his community by soliciting through his blog or by advertising for his company, PBWiki.  When he does post about an opportunity for his readers, it’s with an authentic and disclosing tone.  Hell, he even asked his readers if it would be OK by them if he placed some relevant ads on his blog’s sidebar.

Social Proof

A certain degree of social proof is inherent in a book release.  The fact that a publisher is willing to publish your book gives people a comforting sense of pre-selection (“well, he must be legit – they’re publishing his book”).  But even more important to building social proof – especially in communities where bookwriting is relatively commonplace – is the ability to get endorsements from people that others respect and look up to.  In many cases, these people are your friends.  This is why word-of-mouth marketing works so well.  Twitter was Ramit’s friend yesterday.

Authority

Ramit has spent the last five years establishing himself as the authority on personal finance advice for young people.  I could write for days on how he made his blog successful, but in short he demonstrated his authority to his readers by consistently posting relevant and useful content.  But outside the blogosphere his status as a personal finance authority was absent.  So, he worked the phones (hard!) to get mentioned in The Wall Street Journal.  That was his first big press.  The press hits that followed I’m sure were tough to score, but definitely easier than the first one.  Why? Because he now had more social proof as an authority on the subject.

Liking

If you don’t already like Ramit from his blog (he has a very likable and distinctive voice), then you were certain to like him in his live video feed the day of the book launch.  He knows he’s a charismatic character, so why not show off that charming personality and dapper sense of style all day long?   At one point, he had upwards of 1,000 watching him answer questions, give away prizes and call his publisher to “send more books to Amazon!”  He was completely authentic and genuine, and it was easy for him to be that way.  He made it clear that he wanted to share his moment of success with us.  We all like people more when they make us feel special.

Scarcity

And finally, the promotion. Ramit couldn’t create scarcity for his book, so he created scarcity for the next best thing: time.  The promotion he ran the day of this book launch was brilliant, but to be honest it was a very small part of his success.  It was a catalyst used to awake the sleeping army he had already amassed at his back.  The scarcity of time artificially increased the power of his influence during the 8-hour promotion, but it worked.  It permanently increased the reach of his influence (Twitter followers!), and it also gave everyone in his network a great value proposition to spread the word.  So instead of me asking my friend to spend her hard-earned money on a stranger, I can say, “Hey! You can win $1,000 or a Kindle just by buying this book!”  He armed his army.

We learned a lot from Ramit yesterday.  Perhaps the most impressive part to me was the emotional connection he was able to make with his audience.  I found it to be reminiscent of the Obama campaign, particularly with his use of personal plural pronouns (we, us, our), making us feel that that #1 spot was just as much our success as it was his.  And in many ways it was.  We helped a friend succeed, and we know that he would do the same for us.  It’s that reciprocity thing.

Congratulations, my man.

Categories: Marketing

Corporate Life vs. Entrepreneurship

March 17th, 2009 1 comment

My good friend Jun Loayza just interviewed me for his blog.  The topic was “The Transition from Corporate Life to Entrepreneurship”.  It’s a great interview, so take a look and let me know what you think!  I’ll be posting a followup post later today or tomorrow expanding on some of the topics discussed in the interview.  Until then, check out Jun’s blog for a written summary of the interview.

Thanks again to Jun for having me on his show!

How to Write a Kickass “Farewell Email”

March 16th, 2009 1 comment

Anyone that’s worked at a company before knows that there comes a time (right before you leave) that you must craft your final email. This email is commonly referred to as your “farewell email”, and last month I had to write mine. I thought it would be really hard, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be! I followed a few self-imposed guidelines when crafting it. It had to be…

1. Unique – I was determined to do something entirely different from any farewell emails I had seen in my 3 years at my company, Deloitte Consulting.

2. Informative – I didn’t just want to say goodbye. I wanted to leave behind a gift. In this case, it was a gift of knowledge.

3. Optimistic & Positive – There’s nothing worse than leaving a bad taste in someone’s mouth when you leave. Swallow your pride, if necessary, and be the one to try to bring a smile to people’s faces

4. Technology Savvy – It’s true, I wanted to use this opportunity to inject a little tech savvy into the Web 2.0 depraved culture of my employer. So, I made sure to insert hyperlinks and give my Twitter, Facebook and blog information in my signature. NOTE: Of the dozens of farewell emails that came to my inbox during my time with Deloitte, not ONE had a hyperlink embedded in it.

5. Humorous & Witty – Humor is the best way to win an audience over. I wanted to leave on a light-hearted note, and hopefully even muster up a few chuckles. I think it worked.

So, with all these guidelines met, I released the following farewell email unto my corporate brethren. Please note, this is drastically different than normal farewell emails.

Enjoy. And use it wisely.

Hi friends,

As some of you already know, today was my last day with Deloitte. I am leaving the firm to pursue my interest in the crazy world of technology startups. I will be running Marketing and Business Development for a DC-based startup company. It’s actually Human Capital related, so if you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to email me at ryan.j.geist [at] gmail.com.

I’ve learned so much during my two and half years here at Deloitte. I’ve grown both personally and professionally, and I attribute much of my growth to the amazing people that I’ve worked with and the awesome opportunities that Deloitte Human Capital has provided me. So, I thought that instead of sending out the usual obligatory “It’s been great…” email, I’d share with you a few life lessons I’ve learned from all of you during my time with Deloitte.

1. If you want to get rich, create multiple streams of income. This is rule number two in building wealth (Rule #1: Save, save, save). Bob Park taught me about this when he told me he wanted to open up carwashes all over Detroit… Two years ago, I thought he was an idiot. Then the other day I picked up the latest issue of the New Yorker to see that Lenny Dykstra just sold his 3 carwashes for $55 mil. Wow. Bob – you’re a genius.

2. Your ability to network effectively is the most critical determinant of success in your career. Try to build a relationship with everyone you meet, and even more importantly maintain these relationships throughout your career. Indeed, authentic relationships are the only things that truly matter in life.

3. “Don’t treat others the way you want to be treated… treat others the way they want to be treated. There is a difference.” – Marc Schweitzer, a man who leads by example and taught me how to change my approach by always delivering his message with a smile and a healthy dose of respect.

4. Personal branding is important both inside and outside of the firm. Your “Google resume” is becoming more important than your paper resume. In other words, if you haven’t already started blogging and you also haven’t registered www.yourname.com (i.e. www.ryangeist.com), I recommend that you do both tonight. (click links!)

5. Don’t ever lose sight of your dreams. It’s so easy to get caught up in the grind and, let’s admit it, the crazy “world of Deloitte” that we lose sight of the real world surrounding us. If you have a dream, get out there and get it done. Live the dream!

6. And finally: If you’re a dude, the only part of the wedding you need to worry about is the bar. Make sure it’s open. And you better have scotch.

Thank you all for being awesome. Feel free to call, IM, email, snailmail, or stop by for dinner anytime. I look forward to staying in touch and helping you succeed in your own individual quests for world domination.

Good luck, and I’ll talk to you soon!

Most sincerely,

Ryan Geist

Facebook: Ryan Geist
Twitter: ryangeist
Blog Site: www.ryangeist.com (under construction)

Due Dollars: A New Approach to “Pay Your Dues”

March 11th, 2009 2 comments


Gen Yers don’t work for The Man…

Managers love to inform Gen Yers of the realities of the workplace. My favorite admonition is that I must “pay my dues” before I can make any significant career decisions for myself. I love this because it invokes a response in my head that is so dismissive and humorous, I immediately open up an IM to my friend Beth and tell her about this oldhead preaching bullshit off the company soapbox.

We banter back and forth for a bit, and by the end of our conversation we’ve both built a new wall. A wall between us and them. We are insulating ourselves from the bullshit. We don’t believe in the practice of “paying our dues”, and anyone who tries to convince us otherwise gets a hand to the face and a DO NOT CROSS line. They will talk, but we aren’t listening.

We work for ourselves.

Gen Yers view their relationship with companies as a partnership. We will contribute an uncanny amount of energy to a project that we believe in. But, we want to know the answers to the important questions: What will I learn from this experience? How is this benefiting me? In what way does this repetitive, boring work you just asked me to do provide value to the organization?

Now, imagine if the answer to any one of these questions was, “Sometimes you just have to pay your dues.” To a Gen Yer – hell, to anyone – that is a smack in the face. The above questions show interest, curiosity, and an eagerness to contribute. By answering a question with “pay your dues”, you are dismissing someone’s genuine interest to learn and instead forcing them to accept a fate outside of their control. Couple things: (1) no one likes to not be in control, and (2) no one likes to be dismissed.

“Due Dollars” let us choose when, where, how and why to pay invest our dues.

OK, so we all realize that we’re not going to be the CEO of a huge company the day we graduate undergrad. But chances are that you think you could be at least a VP! I’ve thought it a million times myself: “This work is ridiculously boring and unnecessary. I’m brilliant, and I have nowhere to focus my creative energy right now. Why don’t they outsource this work to some admin or IT guy in India so I can focus on what’s important? I would be awesome as a Sr. Manager or VP, but the only ladder up is on the other end of the trench – and damn is it gonna take a long time to get there!”

The notion of “Due Dollars” is simply a different way of thinking about doing your work. By understanding that we have control over our own “dues”, we feel much more empowered to make decisions – big decisions. Long ago are the days of arbitrarily “paying our dues” whenever our manager decides it’s a good time to give us the “pay your dues” pep-talk. Now, we can control when, where, how and why we pay… no wait, invest our dues.

Every time I invest a Due Dollar, I’m buying one share of experiential knowledge.

I like to think of it this way:

I have – let’s say – 1,000 “Due Dollars” to invest in any experience I want. Now, imagine I get stuck in a job or on a project doing terribly repetitive, boring work. My manager eventually admits that, “the work you’re doing is pretty mind-numbing, but we all have to pay our dues.” (what I hear is “Shut up, know your role, and get crackin on the bitchwork.”) It’s a safe bet that I’ll be holding my Due Dollars close to my hip. Why would I invest in this kind of experience? I’m not gonna give up these valuable Due Dollars for her!

Admittedly, I’m investing some Due Dollars in any work I do (mostly in the beginning, on the “upslope” of the learning curve) because I am inherently gaining experience and knowledge through the work. But I’m getting a very low rate of return for investing my Dues Dollars in this experience. Remember, I’m investing in experiential knowledge with my Due Dollars. How much knowledge am I going to gain from sitting in the same room with the same people everyday editing the same document 168 times?

Managers: ditch the “pay your dues” pitch. Ask questions instead.

Now, let me paint a different picture for you. My manager sits me down a couple weeks into the project and asks me the following five questions:

1. “What are you passionate about?”
2. “What are your career goals?”
3. “What do you hope to learn during your time here?”
4. “How do you learn best?”
5. “How can I help you achieve these learning goals?”

She then relates to me by helping me learn about myself, the project (or job) and my career:

1. “Here is what you’ll be doing over the next three months: ______. Let me explain to you how your work adds meaningful and tangible value to the project/organization: _____.”

2. “Some of the work you’re doing will be a little repetitive and boring – I find that listening to music helps me stay upbeat and focused. Feel free to give it a try!” ;-)

3. “Why don’t we do this: come up with a list of learning goals that you’d like to accomplish during your time here. Send them to me and we’ll review them next week. As long as you promise to work towards them, I promise to help you. The whole team is doing this exercise so that we can help each other work towards our individual goals. My objective is to help you succeed in your career, not just in this job.”

Now, the actual work on this project could be exactly the same as it was on the last project I described, but in this case I have my wallet out on the counter itching to invest my Dues! This is the best deal around! In return for my investment, I understand the impact my work has on the project, I learn how to set and keep goals, I have control over my learning, I gain a great mentor, and I get to listen to my iPod!
What a deal!


Not Quite Yet Managers: Know Your Investment Strategy

Remember, the more Due Dollars you invest, the faster you can gain experiential knowledge. But this isn’t always the case. Just like the stock market, you can make a poor investment.

Think about how some people excel faster than others – the ones that excel seek out the situations that align with their strengths in such a way that they gain the greatest potential return on their Due Dollars investments. In other words, they find their “sweet spot”. But then within that situation, they know how to diversify their portfolio, if you will, by expending large amounts of energy (Dues) in some areas – the areas that count – and very little in others.

This should be the goal for all of us.
Here are some Due Dollars – don’t spend them all in one place!

To help my fellow Gen Yers, I’m giving each one of you 1,000 Due Dollars. Here are the rules:

  1. You can invest (not spend) them anywhere you’d like, and on anything
  2. You are investing in experiential knowledge
  3. Invest wisely – unlike the stock market, each investment opportunity will have different returns for each individual
  4. This currency is nontransferable and may only be redeemed for cash only after the last Due Dollar is invested. (Your earning potential skyrockets once your Due Dollar balance reaches 0)
  5. The faster you invest it, the faster you realize your ROI. But keep in mind that each opportunity doesn’t have the same rate of return for each individual
  6. Look for diamonds in the ruff. A project or task may seem mundane, but many times there is an opportunity for you to do much more interesting work as a supplement to what your manager asked of you – diversify your portfolio!
  7. However, get done what needs to get done first! (or you’ll get PWND). If you finish a task early, look for ways to innovate and achieve some of your learning objectives. Oh, and managers always love options… give them some!

The faster you gain the knowledge necessary for you to make moves on your defined career path, the faster you excel towards your career goals. The faster you reach your career goals, the faster you reach your highest earning potential! Now, that’s a lot of power.

5 Steps to Manage your Manager

March 10th, 2009 No comments

Are you smarter than your Manager? Could you do his job with both hands tied behind your back while eating Cheesecake and watching The Dog Whisperer? Chances are you think you can. Most of us at one point or another experience this frustrating inbalance of intellect…

But, I don’t doubt you’re smarter than he is. You’re one smart cookie.

So why is it that when you’re smarter than your manager, you always end up getting PWND? It’s a good question, and I have a sobering answer: if you choose to fight, your manager will always win. Every time.

The difference between a smart person and a wise person is that a smart person knows what to say and a wise person knows whether or not to say it.

You’ve already got the smarts, so here are a few tips to help you get wise…r than your manager:

1. Ask Questions (and stop making statements)

Do you have a great idea? Do you think your plan should be adopted? Are you having trouble getting your manager to listen to you? Do you hear voices inside your head?

Questions provoke thought. Get your manager thinking about the things you want him to think about by asking the right questions. What are the right questions, you ask? Well, first of all I’m glad you asked. They are the questions that will eventually lead him to reach the conclusion that you wanted to state to begin with. Yes, you are helping him see the light! Think of his thoughts as the sheep and you are the shephard. His inferior intellect can be the Valley of Darkness (for my Sammy J fans – Holla.).

EXTRA CREDIT: Draft out the questions you want to ask ahead of time.
EXTRA EXTRA CREDIT: After you draft your questions, rehearse them with a friend or mentor to hone your tone.

2. Provide Options (and get your ideas heard)

Managers love to shoot down ideas. In a way, it’s their job. They’re your company’s Quality Assurance screen. They got promoted to their position because the company trusts them to make quality decisions that weed out stupid ideas and actions. (I’ll let you say it…)

Here’s the trick: Nobody ever thinks that their idea is stupid.

If you want your idea or vision to get through your manager’s stupid-screen, give her ownership by allowing her to customize your plan. You do this by providing her with a series of “multiple choice” options as you develop your deliverable. Setup strategic checkpoints with your manager where you will provide her with more options for moving forward. It’s kinda like customizing a Dell computer, only in this case it’s a “My Idea” computer…

Here’s the secret: Build the most important parts of your idea into each “option” you present to your manager. Change up the details. Let her choose which option is the best for the project. Commend her on knowledge and strategic prowess. Rinse and repeat. This isn’t trickery, it’s strategy.

PS: Some of you may be worried that this technique may cause the manager to miss something big and that could negatively impact the project… Let me tell you something, if you’re giving your manager options at multiple checkpoints along the way and she still misses something big, that is not your fault.

3. Seek Feedback (always and often)

Of course you are wonderful! We all love to hear that. Nobody likes to hear, “How can a smart guy be so stupid! Now we have to stay up all night to get this presentation done, and it’s your fault!” Whether it’s your fault or not, you can avoid almost all situations like this if you actively seek feedback on your work and workstyle.

Your manager will rarely provide feedback out of the blue (it’s typically rude to give unsolicited feedback). But go ask him for it and see what happens; he will likely be blown away by your level of maturity and commitment to personal growth. Oh yeah, and nine times out of ten this feedback will me much more constructive than the kind you get after you “screw up.”

4. Respond to Feedback (Check yo-self, fool!)

Asking for the feedback is the easier part of the “feedback loop”; actually changing your style is a little more difficult. If you can actually apply the feedback you receive, you are already wiser than 90% of the people in this world. We are all set in our ways, and no matter how much we like to think we are adept to dealing with change, human nature dictates otherwise.

You will inevitably receive more feedback that you disagree with than you agree with. That’s because we all think we’re right and we don’t watch movies of ourselves doing the stupid shit we all do. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still doing stupid shit. So, do your best to immediately address the feedback that you agree with, and table the stuff that you think is bologna. If you don’t agree with any of the feedback, challenge yourself to pick the one piece of advice that is as close to edible as possible and take a bite. It may be an acquired taste…

EXTRA CREDIT: Poll your close friends about the pieces of feedback you didn’t agree with and see what they say. If they agree with your manager, you may want to reconsider your disposition.

5. Give Praise (when praise is due)

I’m not suggesting you brownnose or be fake. You should give praise to everyone and anyone if you feel it’s warranted. Specifically, if you learn something from your manager or see her do something you think is exceptional, tell her that and ask her to explain how she got so good at it. She will be flattered and talk your ear off, and you will learn. Hell, you may even make a friend.

Don’t ever forget that you are wonderfully smart and talented. And never, never give up your drive to make a difference. I join you in your ambition to change the world! We just have to remember that it’s not the smarts that will bring about change, it’s the wisdom.