3 Rules of the Internet

Twenty years ago I found eBay and sold some stuff on it.

At the time you could sign up to eBay without a credit card, which meant you could easily create multiple accounts and submit fake bids to increase the final sale amount.

If I could email my 12 year old self I’d say, “that’s clever, but you should really optimize for integrity and not $10 gains.”

What a fool…

Since then I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet. I’ve written articles, hosted podcasts, built websites, freelanced, met girlfriends, met platonic-friends, invested in stuff, and sent about 800,000 emails.

I’m an internet expert!

And you are too, so let’s bond over three rules of the internet; observations I’ve found to be mostly true across the web.

Rule #1: Never Engage With People That Have More Time Than You

Yesterday I got this email from a random Craigslist user…


I’m not here to trash anybody; Stephen the successful skip tracer is probably right. The gig was to locate the career of six specific people and I’d pay $5 per career found. At best it was a 30 minute task and I would pay $30. It’s also possible the person would find only one or two; I had already done a quick search and it wasn’t very promising.

But that’s not the point. LOOK AT HOW MUCH TIME THIS GUY HAS.

And he’s not the only one. If you have ever posted on Craigslist, Youtube, Facebook, blogs, news sites, forums, etc., then you have encountered Time Bandits. Time Bandits are folks who are so time rich that they can afford to steal your time too. Time Bandits will call you names, write in all caps, threaten to sue you and outright lie; all because they hunger for attention.

Fuck Time Bandits.


When a Time Bandit targets you, you have two choices: you can engage or not.

A friend of mine sometimes engages. Here’s my best guess at why:

  • It can be very entertaining to do mental gymnastics with internet weirdos;
  • It’s easy fodder for his social media streams;
  • If you stay open minded, sometimes you can learn from these folks – maybe they are giving you the blunt truth that your friends don’t;
  • He has been building a public profile for 12+ years, which is a lot of time to develop a thick skin.

This guy is an exception to the rule.

For everyone else, my advice is to follow Rule #1 of the Internet and never engage with people that have more time than you.

Rule #2: You Are The Average Of The 5 Websites You Spend The Most Time On

If the vast majority of your internet usage is Facebook, Reddit and porn sites then you are an Internet Schlub. You may be the smartest schlub online, but you are nowhere near reaching your full potential.

Do you know your personality type? There are dozens of personality tests, self assessments, etc. that help identify your spot on the spectrum. The biggest flaw of these tests is your subjective bias. “Yes, I communicate effectively in difficult situations, it’s everyone else that is a terrible communicator.”

But the one test that doesn’t lie is how you spend your time. If you identify as an entrepreneur but spend zero hours per week on projects and 20 hours on Netflix then you aren’t an entrepreneur. If you think you are generally a good person but make rape jokes anywhere, you are a net negative for humanity.

There are exceptions to Rule #2. Someone who spends their entire work day sifting through porn as part of a task force to end child slavery is a hero. If you spend eight minutes looking at exploited children for pleasure, you are the worst kind of Internet Schlub – and a criminal.

Rule #3: Assume People On The Internet Are Well Intentioned But Lazy

There are billions of people online, so it’s not 100% accurate to speak in superlatives: always, never, everyone, etc.

But the following observation is true enough of the time that it’s safe to make your default…

Nobody online wants to spend time on your thing.

The most relevant area for most people is email and messaging. Most websites can be streamlined too, but it’s a bigger topic for a smaller audience.

Pretty much everyone is guilty of writing inefficient emails.

Most of your emails could be no more than four sentences, cut down to their most essential words (fun phrasing can be essential too). Instead, many emails are epics full of unfiltered thoughts and filler pleasantries: “I was just thinking”, “In other words”, “I hope all is well.”

If you can say the same thing in less words then do it. And be ruthless. Hold each word to the standard of, “if I needed to make sure I was completely understood, but I was paying $1000 per word, would I include this?”

These comments are mostly about transactional emails, but also include stuff like messaging on dating platforms. Your prospective life partner doesn’t want to send 20+ messages before meeting. They want very short stories and data points so they can make a decision to have lunch with you or not.

What does “assume people are well intentioned but lazy” mean for you in practice?

  • Write long emails to your mom, but not to the blogger you admire;
  • “Do It For Them”, summarize, include relevant links, make it so all someone has to do is hit reply and say “yes”;
  • Describe what you want accurately to minimize follow up emails and questions. Include relevant details and ask clear questions.
  • Get to the point (and have one).

I guarantee that if you follow Rule #3 in your future messaging then you will see a positive change in how people respond to you. More of the people you email will answer your questions, buy things from you, date you, etc.

Important: As my friend George Orwell writes, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

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Pretty much the only way I’ve ever become better at something is by being terrible at it first. I began making terrible websites in 2009, and a few months later I graduated to building mediocre web apps.

Here’s my first one…


I called my site Likeroll and imagined it as a StumbleUpon for Facebook pages. Every time you loaded the site, it would display a random Facebook page with a short blurb and a like button. You could press “roll” to see another random result. I don’t own the domain now, but here is a functional demo.


Likeroll was the first website I promoted. I submitted the site to a blog called Killer Startups and they featured it a few days later. A few people submitted their Facebook pages to the database. A web designer from Spain saw the post and reviewed Likeroll on a blog for Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, saying he liked how simple it was.

I love doing projects like this because it’s a rich learning opportunity. Often, we study in the realm of “things you know that you don’t know”, but new projects expose you to “things you don’t know that you don’t know.”

Here are some examples of what I learned:

  • People like single function websites that are easy to understand and fun to share;
  • The internet has totally free scripts you can use for your project. This availability makes creating a complicated web app relatively easy. I used a script for the randomization function;
  • Promotion is partly a numbers game. I submitted Likeroll to three blogs and one of them featured it. If you submit your site to 10 blogs maybe it will be featured three times;
  • You can create a Chain Reaction of Opportunity. One person saw the post on Killer Startups and was inspired to write about it. Sometimes the wins are larger, e.g. a niche news site featured my client’s project, and then Fox News did a video segment and a few smaller blogs wrote reviews;
  • Keep your domains. Domain registration costs $12 per year and I’d happily pay that to keep the original Likeroll website live.

Here is the Spanish guy’s review:


And here is the Google translated version:

Most users will always find websites that can be of your taste, but can also be interesting to many other people, which do need to know some way.

Well today I present LikeRoll a website that allows us to discover sharing sites we like, including Facebook pages of those sites.

In LikeRoll really in a minimalist interface the website, I like to have, and the link to add the site to possibly like you !!!

The very simple operation, you fill out the form with the information requested and hit the submit button now !!!
– Gustavo Martínez

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Q: Where Should I Host My Personal Blog?

I’ve noticed that in many “start your blog” posts online, experts recommend Host Gator. In my experience, Host Gator has a terrible user interface and frequent downtime. So why do people recommend Host Gator? In part because Host Gator pays fat referrals fees for every new signup.

Here are two alternatives I recommend…

#1: Dreamhost for most people

  • I signed up for Dreamhost years ago, and it’s where my personal site is hosted;
  • Dreamhost has fast and comprehensive customer service, though you need to have some tech or DIY knowledge;
  • Hosting is reliable and reasonably fast;
  • It’s cheap and also has a good referral program;

Warning: Some of the sites I host on Dreamhost have been hacked, so I’m not 100% confident in site security. Admittedly this could be due to me not updating WordPress or using weak passwords.

#2: WPEngine for high performance

  • I use WPEngine for client sites, e.g., Museum Hack is hosted on WPEngine (t’s a $2 million+ business that does company team building tours at museums in NYC and SF);
  • WPEngine has amazing 24/7 customer support via live chat, they are super smart, friendly and good communicators (e.g., they don’t just say, “this is the technical solution”, they say “these are your options and this is how it may affect your SEO”);
  • Great backup and restore ability;
  • WPEngine has a “staging” feature where you can do website development and then easily push it to the live version;
  • Awesome site security, with details about updates and plugins exactly when you need them;

The only “drawback” on WPEngine is that it’s more expensive than many of the alternatives, so it may not be a great fit for bloggers just starting out. But if you run a business on a WordPress based site you should absolutely make this investment.

Also, if you aren’t sure what’s best for your blog/business, I’d recommend looking at other experts:

FWIW, I found the “where it’s hosted” information via this tool: http://www.whoishostingthis.com/

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这是小编第一次到米国,还挺激动的。第一次来当然是选择了所有人来🇺🇸的必经之地—纽约, 来感受下这个美国人口最多,最多元化的城市。



1. 作为游客,你只需要了解


  • 我们所说的纽约其实是个state(州),整个纽约州分为5大borough(区;自治市镇),如图所示, 但是所有的景点都集中在曼哈顿还有小部分在布鲁克林,所以你只需要搞明白曼哈顿就好了,其他地方不需要去。
  • 曼哈顿其实不大,从一个景点到另一个就近的景点一般都是步行可到,也就走个15分钟左右;其中中央公园就占了曼哈顿近一半的面积,除了传统意义的公园该有的设施外,里面还有个动物园,有片森林,还是挺有的逛的。
  • 曼哈顿所有的街道分为Avenue 和Street。Avenue是南北指向;Street是东西指向。有个特例,就是Broadway(百老汇)从79 st到59 st是斜着的。
  • 曼哈顿分为三大区域:上城区(upper town),中城区(mid town),下城区(down town)。
  • 纽约的街道大部分都是单行线,而且停车费巨贵无比,不建议自驾,坐地铁还是蛮方便的。
  • 一双舒服的鞋!!!!非常重要!!!!否则一天下来你的脚就废了!!!
  • 请确保你的IPhone一直有电,否则你会像一个瞎子一样无助。如果你没有IPhone,请一定下载一个好用的地图app!(个人推荐maps.me, 可以用离线地图)
  • 没事别去布朗士,纽约治安最差的地方。

2. 住哪

来之前大家肯定在网上各种找旅馆,有没有离景点近的且价格适中的,小编告诉你:没!有!因为纽约的花销都好贵,尤其是住宿,更尤其在曼哈顿。在曼哈顿Holiday Inn一晚上的价钱相当于其他城市在希尔顿住一晚的价钱。告诉你一个可以相对省电钱的方法就是你可以住在布鲁克林或者皇后区,而不用非要住在曼哈顿。这两个区都有地铁都可以非常方便到达曼哈顿。可能皇后区黑人会多一些,如果介意的话可以住在布鲁克林。

3. 去哪


Day 1 : 帝国大厦+博物馆+中央公园+ 时代广场

帝国大厦(Empire State Building)位于第五大道,不管什么时候去肯定要在门口排大队买票,所以建议提前在网上购票,之后可以直接去大楼的二层取票机凭购票号及姓名取票,上电梯的队伍也不用再继续等可以直接上电梯。


  • 不需要买到顶层的票,买到86层的票就足够,每人32刀。86层是个360度开放空间,没有围墙,与顶层的观景效果是一样的。
  • 购票网站:http://www.esbnyc.com/buy-tickets
  • 地铁:34 Street – Herald Sq Station ( B,D,F,M,N,Q,R 线)

参观完帝国大厦,步行到另一个地铁站33 st station (4,6号线),沿着uptown方向坐到86 st station下车,可步行到达大都会博物馆(The Metropolitan Museum of Art)。因为大都会博物馆和自然历史博物馆(Museum of Natural History)分别位于中央公园(Central Park)的东西两侧,大都会博物馆结束后可直接步行穿过中央公园到达另一个博物馆。



  • 自然历史博物馆是【博物馆奇妙夜】(Night of Museum)的拍摄地,喜欢这部电影的亲们不要错过呦~
  • 这两个博物馆的门票是捐赠制。也就是说,你可以自己决定门票的价钱。4博物馆标注的票价是【Recommended】也就是建议价。如果你付25刀他们最高兴,你也可支付少于25刀的价格,比如1刀。只需要在买票的时候说:I’d like to pay one dollar please 就噢啦!
  • 逛博物馆不比逛街轻松,相当费体力。尤其这两个博物馆巨大无比,每一个走马观花的逛也需要2小时,博物馆内不允许吃东西,所以请提前补充好能量,规划好时间。
  • 个人感觉历史博物馆要比大都会更有意思。历史博物馆感觉更休闲,里面的所有动物标本都是真的动物做的,很震撼!恐龙馆非常的cool,有不少真的恐龙化石,值得一看。

逛完了博物馆也差不多晚上了,可以去时代广场(Time Square)拍拍夜景。从历史博物馆出来坐i81 St – Museum of Natural History station (A,B,C 线)沿downtown 方向做到42 St – Port Authority Bus Terminal Station(A,C,E 线)下车。出来不远处是杜莎夫人蜡像馆,如果你有兴趣也可以进去看一看,门票当然还是网上买可以避免排队,现场在网上买都来得及(购票网址:https://www.madametussauds.com/new-york/en/tickets/)。


看到最高处的那几个LED了吗,从上面数第二块一直在播放中国的各种宣传片,我还看到了山东(俺老家)的宣传片,小激动了下 哈哈
看到最高处的那几个LED了吗,从上面数第二块一直在播放中国的各种宣传片,我还看到了山东(俺老家)的宣传片,小激动了下 哈哈

Day 2:自由女神+华尔街+911遗址+惠特尼美术馆+The High Line

自由女神像(Statue of Liberty)由于不在曼哈顿,需要做轮渡去Liberty Island,所以建议尽量在早8点前到达码头去排队买票,否则你会看到这样的景象,这只是排队人数的二分之一,没有3个小时根本上不了船。。。



  • 地铁:South Ferry station(1号线)
  • 快到码头的地方有好多穿着制服的黑人声称可以不用排队送你上船,我个人感觉不太靠谱,还是老实排队吧。
  • 码头有去女神像的船,还有去史坦顿岛的船,标识也不是十分明显,容易走错。如果找不到从哪坐船,可以找警察问。去女神像的码头是在一个圆形红砖建筑附近。

下一站去华尔街(Wall Street)去看看纽约交易所还有华尔街铜牛(Charging Bull)。从码头处一直沿着whitehall Street向北一直走就可以看到铜牛,但是估计你看到的是这样的场面。里三层外三层,根本挤不进去。。。。

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-12-25-11-am继续沿着百老汇一直向北步行,可以经过华尔街和三一教堂(Trinity Church)

华尔街快快看完,可以步行10分钟左右到达911遗址地(911 Tribute Center)。这里还是蛮震撼的,曾经的双子大楼,现在成了两个巨大的水坑,四周的石碑上刻着遇害者的姓名。

如果你从早上8点开始,到现在差不多上半天已经结束。下午可以在附近搭乘A,E,3号线其中的一条地铁线向uptown方向,到达14st station下车,来到了位于曼哈顿西岸的美术馆逛逛,并在high line上漫步俯瞰曼哈顿。

惠特尼美术馆(Whitney Museum of American Art) 是一个展示美国现代艺术的博物馆,里面的作品比较抽象派,但是也很有意思。整个博物馆本身就是一个造型很酷的建筑,可以到每层的户外凉台拍拍照。




从博物馆出来就是下一个景点高地公园(The High Line)了。High Line 可能不是大家所熟知的纽约景点,小编在来之前也不知道High Line的存在,挺当地人介绍知道有这么一个fashion的景点。


High Line很长,分三个区段从11街一直北上到34街,究竟有多长呢?上张图片给大家感受下:



Day 3:布鲁克林大桥+中国城/小意大利+Museum of Sex/第五大道+中央车站


如果你住在布鲁克林的话,可以一早去Brooklyn Bridge Park,遥望对岸曼哈顿的高楼大厦及站在布鲁克林大桥和曼哈顿大桥中间拍照。



11从桥上下来,离着China Town就不远了。其实小编对China Town并无感,只不过到跟前了就看一眼吧。下桥处有一个叫Chambers St(J,Z线)的地铁站,uptown方向做一站地到Canal St下,出来就是满眼的中文。

纽约的China Town一下感觉回到了解放前,房子老旧,街道脏乱,华裔的精神面貌也稍显呆痴,建议路过就好,没有必要特意逛。有意思的是,在经过Mott Street后会发现,风格突变,全部是意式建筑及餐馆,这里叫小意大利(Little Italy),有如一条街分割了两个世界。这一部分也路过看看就好~

一路向北,有个神秘的博物馆叫Museum of Sex位于第五大道上~你没听错,在这里你可以正大光明的以学习及受教育的姿态来欣赏成人世界,了解人类以及动物的XX发展史,还有体验区。在这里你可以看到1915年诞生的第一步影视作品,以及各种器械设备的原始发明,听上去是不是很有意思!我来放一张尺度最低的照片吧!



在接受了洗礼和教育之后,可以沿着第五大道向北一路走走停停逛逛,步行到最后一个景点中央车站(Grand Central Terminal) 也就20分钟的距离。我的天,终于景点全部结束!!

4. 吃啥


1. 美国版鸡汤—Brodo (地址: 1st Avenue at 12th Street)


像喝咖啡一样喝鸡汤,BTW:小编选的是菜单上第7个 what came first ,味儿还行
像喝咖啡一样喝鸡汤,BTW:小编选的是菜单上第7个 what came first ,味儿还行
2. 甜甜圈爱好者—Dun-Well Doughbuts (地址:曼哈顿102 St. Marks Street;布鲁克林222 Montrose Ave)




17二人分别叫Dan Dunbar和Christopher Hollowell,店名也是各取了两人名字的一半组合而成。他们在纽约相遇相知,发现了彼此对素食烹饪的热爱,因为他们发现在纽约找不到一个全素的甜甜圈店,所以萌生了开一个全素甜甜圈店的想法。两人是不是那个关系,这我就不知道了。。。哈哈

3. 健康轻食爱好者—Sweet Green(地址:全国连锁,google map很好找)

Sweet Green是一家属中高端连锁拉沙店,虽然沙拉但是配料和分量还是蛮充足的,当然非常的健康,非常的绿色。


4. 外国媒体争相报道的中国街边小面馆—Xi’an Famous Food 西安名吃(地址:纽约12家分店,google map很好找)









24这个连锁品牌的CEO叫做Jason Wang,随着家人从西安移民到了美国。最开始他的父亲在纽约开了家珍珠奶茶店,并且还会在店里卖一些中餐。慢慢的他们发现店里的中餐要远比奶茶受欢迎,在Jason从大学毕业后,他决定帮助家人把中餐做强做大,利用互联网媒体的力量大力宣传西安美食文化,结果显示,这招很管用!


5. 如果你正理发的时候突然想喝个酒—Blind Barber(地址:339E, 10th St)


25你不是约我喝酒吗?来这干嘛,请我剪头发吗? 别急,请打开后面的那扇门:


26如果你带着你的女票来纽约,记得来这里surprise她一下 哈哈哈!

5. 地铁我怎么看不懂,这画的都是啥!!


28小编在纽约呆了7天,最大的收获就是终于搞懂了地铁怎么做,感觉收获大大的!现在let me tell you怎么才能像local一样淡定自若的坐地铁。





For example:

左边:103街, 96街是6号线的停靠站,4号和5号均不停;到了86街3条线都停靠。

右边:34街Herald square是换乘站,所以B,D,F,M,N,Q,R线都会停靠;23街,14街就只有F,M线停靠了,其他线不停。

其次,对于游客来说,因为大部分的景点都在曼哈顿,所以只需要了解曼哈顿地区的乘车规则就好了。在曼哈顿90%的地铁路线都是南北方向,尤其是途径景点的路线。凡是往北走的都是uptown方向,往南边走的都是downtown方向,所以只要了解你下一个景点是在你现在位置的南边还是北边,然后顺着up/down town的指示走就好了。


Ok, 学会了看地铁线路图,去地铁站的时候还要注意几点几点才不会上错车:

  • 有的车站是单向路线,即只去uptown方向或只去downtown方向,所以你在进站之前要看好牌子上的标识。
    33这个口就是只去uptown方向的,如果你要去downtown方向可以在马路对面找到!原则为:east up, west down! 马路东侧的口是去uptown方向,马路西侧的口是去downtown方向。
  • 当然像这种没标明方向的就是两边都去的。screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-12-44-26-am
  • 沿着你要去的方向到了等车的站台,如果是N条线路都汇集的站,你要看好来的车是不是你要做的车再上,一般车身上都会有线路的标志。例如:你在一个C,R,B线汇集的车站等车,你需要做C线的车去下一站,请看图选择,你要做哪辆车呢?343536这样明白了吧~
  • 由此引发的一个问题:如果你坐上车后发现坐错车或者不小心坐过站了,可千万别天真的下了车赶到对面的轨道上车就可以回到起点,有可能你就坐上了其他路线的车去了鬼知道的地方,越走越远。如果你不知道怎么返回,还是乖乖问工作人员吧!

Hope you understand so far! 那最后怎么买票?

  1. 这里进站刷卡,出站不刷卡;
  2. 每次乘车票价:$2.99;
  3. 没站都有售票机器,但不一定有人工窗口。不用担心,售票机可以选择中文操作界面;
  4. 如果你在纽约呆一周左右的时间,可以买7 days pass,一共 $31,可以无限次坐车;如果你呆的时间短,可以买充值的票,有十几刀的,二十几刀的,里面的金额用完为止

6. Other facts

  • 纽约所有餐厅门口都有A,B,C字样的标识,用来告知顾客餐厅卫生等级。A最干净,B次之,C就别去了37
  • 纽约所有公园的logo是个加拿大的枫叶,I don’t know why3940
  • 餐馆的小费一般是账单的10%-15%,别省这点钱。小编有次小费没给够,被人家给退回来要重新给,好尴尬
  • 有个叫The Standard的酒店,logo是倒着写的。这个酒店有名是因为曾经有N对情侣在靠街边的窗户上演“上海陆家嘴酒店事件“,曾经轰动一时。后来知道是酒店专门花钱雇人演的这出戏为了宣传。screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-12-46-23-am41
  • 有一个十字路口doesn’t make sense42看出端倪了吗?都是West 方向为什么会相交,不应该是平行的吗?求解。。。
  • 纽约满大街你会看到Duane Reade, 当地的药妆店,相当于国内的屈臣氏,走路口渴了可以进去买瓶水什么的。


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Wedding Love for Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy & Jess McClellan scheduled their South Carolina exactly in the middle of Hurricane Matthew.

Ugh :- (

The week of, Mark & Jess bumped up the wedding by a couple of days and did their own whirlwind to make sure friends and family could still attend. The local news covered the story first, “the lovebirds braving the storm”, and later it was picked up in the New York Times. The marriage was also announced in the New York Times.

My understanding is that weddings are super stressful, even if it’s “good stress”. And then you had a Category 5 Hurricane on top of it… Friends and colleagues made videos of support to send good vibes to Mark & Jess in McClellanville; today’s video is my minor contribution. I recorded this video at the airport in Toronto on the way to NYC. Congratulations to Mark & Jess!

P.S: the background song is “Let it Go” by Great Big Sea.

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“It’s Like a Gym But Outdoors” – How to Exercise in China

I’ve spent about 10% of my life in China. One of my favourite things about the country is the Xiao Qu System, where apartments are clustered together as communities instead of standing alone like we usually do in Toronto or NYC. FYI: the Chinese word, 小区, translates to “little area”; so you could also call this the Little Area System.

Here’s how it works…

  • Each community usually has 8 to 20 buildings clustered together;
  • Older buildings are low rises, but newer buildings are usually high rises;
  • Often there is designated commercial space for grocery markets, convenience stores, restaurants, barber shops, etc., and some people setup apartment-businesses like massage;
  • There are also other amenities, like kindergartens / primary schools, medical centres and outdoor gyms.

Today’s video is about outdoor exercise parks in China. I recorded it at a Xiao Qu in Beijing.

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Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You To Be Rich – How to Build a Profitable Online Business

Ramit Sethi and I both blew our college money on stocks, and neither of us know what sports season we are in. Here’s one way we are different: Ramit’s personal finance blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, gets hundreds of thousands of visitors while Lauren and I are still carving out our small corner of the internet. I invited Ramit to WriterViews to find out the specific strategies he used (and still uses) to grow, manage and monetize his blog – which, as you’ll find out, he was incredibly open about.

After this interview, you’ll be able to:

  • write guest posts that bring you tons of traffic [9:53];
  • write higher quality and quantity of posts in less time [26:40];
  • connect with the people you admire [35:35];
  • monetize in ways that pay more than your rent [43:10];
  • run a top blog and become a New York Times Best Selling Author [59:30].

Here’s the interview:

Interview Resources:


Q: Who said “keep your blog traffic high with a catcher’s mitt”? A: http://bit.ly/l7ZQBx | >> TWEET <<

Q: Who said “emails are my laboratory where I test different writing techniques”? A: http://bit.ly/l7ZQBx | >> TWEET <<

Q: Who said “never make a busy person do any work”? A: http://bit.ly/l7ZQBx | >> TWEET <<

Q: Who said “people try to monetize too fast… give people 100x before you even ask them for anything”? A: http://bit.ly/l7ZQBx | >> TWEET <<

Q: Who said “people are willing to pay for value despite those few idiots complaining not everything is free”? A: http://bit.ly/l7ZQBx | >> TWEET <<

Interview Transcription:

Michael: Hello everybody, this is Michael Alexis, producer of WriterViews.com. With me today is Ramit Sethi, who is the writer behind the incredibly popular personal finance blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich (http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/), and the best selling author of the book by the same name. Ramit, thanks so much for joining us today!

Ramit: Thanks for having me.

Michael: Now, Ramit, my first question to you is: what is the first writing you did with the intention that somebody else would read it?

Ramit: When I was in junior high or high school, my parents always had this funny phrase. They would say, “Why don’t you just write that up?” We would be talking about something, and I’d have some idea, and they would say, “Why don’t you just write that up?”, and then they would encourage me to submit it to the newspaper. At that time, my local paper was the Sacramento Bee, so I did, and a couple of times I ended up getting published in the Teen section in the back of the Scene section. I still remember the little thrill from seeing my name in the newspaper, and I think that has kind of carried over from there.

Michael: Right, that sounds like that would be very exciting, and it’s nice that you have that encouragement from your parents. Now, how did that evolve into blogging?

Ramit: Well, what happened was my parents said, “If you want to go to college, you need to get scholarships”, because they didn’t have that much money to pay for four kids to go to college. And so I build this system to apply to about 70 scholarships. The first scholarship cheque I got was for about $2000. I took that money and I invested it in the stock market, because that’s what everyone does, right? They invest their college money in the stock market. And I lost half that money immediately. So I said, “OK, I better learn how this money thing works before I loose all the rest of my money.” I spent the next few years learning about money, while I was also studying about persuasion, bargaining, negotiation, social influence, magic, deception, cults, all about human behavior. I finally one day came up with a course, it was a 1 hour course, called “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”, because I was this cocky college kid. Well, my friends would be sitting around the dining hall complaining about their 10th overdraft fee this year, I would say, “Hey, you should come take my class. It’s free, it’s 1 hour. I’ll tell you the basics of what you need to know.” Everybody would say, “Oh, that sounds awesome!” But then they would never show up. It took me years to understand that people will say one thing and do another. So after about 1 1/2 years of really emotionally draining having no one come to these things, I finally started a blog. I just felt that I had material that the world needed to hear, and that’s why I started iwillteachyoutoberich.com.

Michael: That’s funny that you mention the stock market thing, because I’ve recently graduated and I had the same experience. Now, a couple of questions come out of what you’ve just told me. The first one actually – before we started this interview, I chatted with Andrew Warner of Mixergy.com, and he said that you are somebody that gets a lot done because you are really good at systematizing your work. As you just said, you systematized, you created some sort of system for when you were applying for scholarships. Can you tell us a little bit about how you do that?

Ramit: Yes, this is the first time I’ve actually revealed it than just hinting at it on my site. This is probably the system that I’m most proud of; not my book, not this or that, but it’s actually my scholarship system from high school. I’ll tell you what I did. The #1 thing I realized was that there’s so much money sitting out there for scholarships, and they actually want to give it away, and people don’t apply to it. People will create a variety of reasons for why not to apply to it – they will say, “Oh, I could never get that, my parents have too much money. My grades aren’t high enough. Blah, blah, blah.” They literally discount themselves before they ever put pen to page. So I said, alright, I’m just going to apply to a ton of these. What I did was, I went to the career center in my high school library. I dug out all the different scholarships, photocopied them, came up with the dates, etc… Back then, I think I was a pretty decent writer. So, what would happen is, the essay prompt would say, “Tell us about someone you would have dinner with, dead or alive.” I would write the answer to that, I would write a really good answer. I would test it, showing it to people, and say, “what do you think? How can I strengthen this?” And then, after I had this final, you know, beautiful piece of prose, I would send it away, but I would keep that essay. After doing this about 5 or 10 times, I actually had basically 5 or 10 essays on totally different topics, so after that, essentially every other scholarship that I had, I could just cut and paste from modular parts of those essays. So it got to the point, where each scholarship was taking less than an hour to fill out and that’s basically how I paid my way through undergrad and grad school at Stanford.

Michael: Right, so you put in this enormous, or large amount of work up front to create these 5 or 6 different drafts, you proved that they worked, and then you combine them in different ways so you could turn 1 hour of work into several thousand dollars in scholarships.

Ramit: Yes, but you have to understand that probably the most important part of that is the psychology. It’s not the tools I used. That’s why these days, people are always like, “Oh, should I use Twitter? What about my email software? What about Facebook fan pages?” That’s like asking me what type of filing folder did I use for my scholarship organization. That has nothing to do with it. What has to most to do with it is the psychology, and that is saying to myself, you know what, I’m actually going to apply to everything, I’m not going to discount myself at all. If there is a Burger King scholarship, I’m going to apply to that. If there is a [] scholarship, I’m going to apply to that. Just saying to myself, I’m going to give myself the opportunity to win, rather than creating a list of reasons why I can’t get it. I say that with a lot of people, and I continue to see it. In fact, I started a scholarship, a modest scholarship: it was $1000 to give away to people from my own high school. It is free money, and exactly 0 people applied to it. So the psychology is far more important than the tactics I used.

Michael: Right, now that actually leads into your assumption testing, which is something I want to talk about later on. Let’s see if we can draw this back from personal finance and into writing, and say during your initial years during your undergrad, you realized you could set up these processes. You got the psychology behind it. How do you apply that then to your writing today? How does that go into I Will Teach You To Be Rich?

Ramit: Well, I think I spend a lot more time being curious about what do people want, what do they say they want, and what do they actually want? So, back then, just like any young person, you have so many ideas and you think the world needs to hear it. Well, that’s good, that’s really good. Unfortunately, there’s like 10 million people like you who think their ideas are the best in the world. I think I’ve tried to forced myself to be a better listener, and I’ll give you some specific examples. In money, it’s so easy to simply tell people what they should do. In my opinion, when you start using the word “should”, you’ve already lost. So for example, “you should keep a budget”, “you should stop spending money on lattes”, “you should not buy those expensive shoes”. Well, all of those are things that sound perfectly rational. Unfortunately, they just don’t work. They are things that “Personal Finance Experts” have been saying for the last 30 years, and you simply look at any financial literacy statistics and you will see that they don’t work. Instead, what I try to do is use extensive different types of surveys, qualitative, quantitative methods to actually listen to people and hear what is holding them back. Let me give you an example. People will say, “Yeah, I just got hit with another fee, I don’t know what to do”. It would be really easy for me to say, to write a blog post saying, “Just call up your banks and just negotiate, you can get those fees removed.” Well, when I listen to people, they were like, “Yeah, I really should do that…”, but basically it didn’t sound like they were going to do it. So I dug in more: “How come you’re not going to do it? What’s holding you back?” What I discovered was, Americans suck at negotiating. We don’t know anything about it. We’re intimidated by it, we think it has to be antagonistic. If we have all these bad connotations of it, so one of the thing I did in my book and on my blog, was I wrote the word-for-word scripts that I’ve used to successfully negotiate with banks, credit cards, gyms, everything. Going from telling people what they should do, to actually showing them precisely how to do it, literally including the words and the phone numbers. It bridges that gap, and it’s a huge difference in changing behavior. By the way, ultimately I Will Teach You To Be Rich is not about money, it is really about behavioral change. It’s just disguised as a personal finance blog.

Michael: I’ve actually noticed that in some ways. I’ve recently signed up for your pre-1K mailing list and you don’t say “what are 3 things you can do about your personal finance today”, you say “what are 3 assumptions that you want to test today – are they about health, are they about school, money, etc…” I really like that. Let’s keep trying to nail down the systems and processes. Somebody’s listening to this, and they’re thinking, that’s great Ramit’s figured out the psychology thing, he’s able to apply it in a way that’s very effective. How can they start doing the same thing? What’s the first step that they can do to start implementing systems and processes on their own?

Ramit: Well, I think you actually just start by brute forcing it a lot of the times. I know it’s popular to say “I had this grandiose strategy when I started and everything has gone to plan”, and it’s very Machiavellian. But that’s really not the case for me – and you can see this for yourself: go back and look at the first blog posts on the blog. You will see that there were a few systems. There was part 1 of 5, part 2 of 5, part 3 of 5… because people love sets – but one day I would write about taxes, and the next day about tipping a restaurants – so it’s not that I came up with a particularly sophisticated, cohesive strategy. At first, you brute force it. The magic is in learning what works and what doesn’t. What I would suggest is spending a lot of time doing research. What I did was I studied the other blogs extensively when I wanted to grow my site. This is right when I started in 2004. There were about 12 big personal finance blogs in 2004, and basically studied them carefully, I learned what each of them stood for, I contributed to them and I made friends with the owners. That kind of level of research is something I think a lot of people might benefit from. For example, I got an email the other day from some guy trying to guest post on my site, and his guest post topic was like the importance of small steps like cutting back on lattes. Well, anyone who has ever read my site knows that I ridicule people who cut back on lattes because it’s a totally pointless task. So this guy clearly just had a blanket email that he was just sending out, and it obviously just went no where. So spending that time to do the research is step 1, and brute forcing it, trying out a couple of different ideas and learning whether those resonate with the audience or not, is step 2, before you build any systems.

Michael: So let’s talk about that a little bit more. You talked about guest posts in there, I remember reading somewhere on your blog, or maybe it was in an interview that you’ve done previously, that you started out getting a lot of traffic by guest posting on the blogs of these other people, of these other bloggers that you connected with and researched, etc… How do you go about building those strong relationships? How do you write blog posts that not only are going to be featured on other blogs but are also really going to bring you traffic?

Ramit: OK, guest posts have been one of my best strategies for growing my blog. Clearly out of all the things I’ve done, one of the best strategies. And I continue to do guest posts today. So, they are an extremely powerful strategy if done correctly. Let me give you some tips. First of all, I’ve written up a really extensive guideline on my site, if you go to iwillteachyoutoberich.com, click on “About” and then “Guest Posts”, you will see how much work went into writing this page alone. It probably took me 15 to 20 hours just to write this page with examples, links, techniques, etc. But let me share with you some of them here. The first is always to read their site, comment on their site, build a relationship. I remember someone asking my friend, Tim Ferriss, we were at an event together and someone said hey, I’d love to get in touch with you about this or that and he said honestly the best way to get in touch with me is to leave a comment on my blog. I read every one of those. I thought that was very telling. The second thing is to make sure that you are going after the right audience. You don’t want to just post on any blog because their audience might be totally different than yours. I’ve actually made this mistake myself. I’ve done a couple of quest posts that were on a site that seemed like it was similar. It was a personal finance site, but their audience was totally different, they could not have been more different. It ended up being pretty much a waste of time. You don’t want to be putting yourself in front of, even a million people, who are just not like you. That’s 2. Number 3 is put together, once you’ve got that relationship, once you’ve commented on their blog, maybe you’ve emailed them a couple of times – here’s a quick little email that works really well, you can email a blogger and say: I really loved that article on weight lifting or what ever it is, you did a great job. I especially liked, blah, blah, blah. I think there was one thing that you might have overlooked. Have you seen the new research from XYZ? Take a look, it might actually inform some of your future blog posts. So, what have you done there? You have actually acknowledged that they’re great – flattery works – you’ve shown that you’ve taken the time to read their stuff, and then you’ve also added value to them. You’ve given them something that they probably haven’t seen before, and you told them why it was important. So, these kinds of email really get you a good relationship because everyone’s really looking for someone who is looking out for them. After you do that, you might send them a note saying: curious if I might be able to send some guest posts your way. Would you be open to that? And if they say yes – I actually have a draft email on that side on my site, which is the preferred technique for how people should actually reach out to me. It’s actually the email I’ve used word-for-word to send to popular bloggers. It goes something equivalent to: I wanted to see if you would be interested in posting a guest post. I’ve written for XYZ, and my posts are highly detailed, and they include graphics, and they’re very rich content. Here are 3 ideas I thought might be really interesting. And you just put 3 simple, bullet pointed ideas. Of course I’d be open to doing any other ideas if you have them. If this is cool, I will send over the entire post, fully written and ready to be dropped into WordPress, so you don’t have to do any work. Alright? What’s going on in that email? In that email, you’re not just pitching one idea – a lot of people come to me with one idea, they’re married to this idea, and the idea either it’s just not good, or it’s not good for my audience. I would much rather they come with 3 ideas, and I would certainly rather they come before they write the guest post. Just like publishers don’t want you to write a book before you go to them, they want you to have a book proposal. The same is true of guest posts. Spend a ton of time on these guest posts when you actually get on selected. I spend 12 to 15 hours writing each guest post. They are long, they are more comprehensive than even most of the posts you will find on the host’s site. I have a couple of other suggestions for those guest posts. One is for your first guest post, make self promotion a secondary goal. Your number 1 goal is to make it absolutely incredible. Make it so good that the site owner is like “I love it. You can guest post here any time you want.” I’ve got a couple of people who have guest posted on my site a couple of times. They have an open invitation to post whenever they want. The second thing is – here’s a little tip – here would be something someone would do if they are really paying attention: If they really wanted to write a guest post that was stellar, when they link to a book they would actually do the research to include my Amazon affiliate code. What does that do? Number 1, it shows me that they are thinking of me, not themselves, and number 2, it’s just that level of detail. That shows me that this person is probably going to be terrific to work with. So, again, I’ve written all of this stuff up on my site, but those are some of the ways I use to grow my blog.

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Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha – Grow a Twitter Following of 40,000+ Before You Even Have a Blog

Lori Deschene’s tiny buddha is one of the coolest blogs online. Why? Because Lori has cultivated one of the most engaged and well intentioned communities I’ve ever seen. There are a lot of guest posts written by non-writers – they don’t even have a blog to link oo. The comments are often very personal and insightful responses to the articles. Basically, tiny buddha IS NOT about self promotion, getting “hits” on Google Analytics or earning a lot of money. Instead, it’s built from the ground up to be a community where people are safe to share wisdom that enriches our lives.


Me too.

Watch this interview to learn:

  • how Lori built a Twitter following of 40,000+ BEFORE she even had a blog
  • how to appeal to an audience of all ages from all over the world
  • how to sell ads without even trying
  • the metric that matters way more than “page views” (it’s not what you think)

Additional Resources:

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Pamela Wilson, Big Brand System – Finally: Branding for Bloggers Explained in Plain English

I interviewed Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System to learn the essentials of branding and marketing for bloggers. Skeptical? I was too. But I got fast results from Pamela’s advice.

Watch this interview to learn:

  • the key to building a brand without wasting money;
  • how to go from brand zero to brand hero :- );
  • researching the “look and feel” your audience really wants;
  • the one design element you should invest in now.

Pamela and I did a lot of name dropping in this interview. Here are examples of blogs with great branding:

Want more Pamela? Read her writing on branding and marketing around the web:

Thanks for watching!

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Pace Smith, Connection Revolution – Eric Clapton Ruined These Two Bloggers (But They Made $20,000 Anyways)

Kyeli and Pace are leading the Connection Revolution, a path with heart to help idealists that want to change the world. I invited them to speak at WriterViews because I was curious how to go about structuring a website as a “do-good” mission while still running it as a for profit business. A great big hook of the Connection Revolution is the honest and open voice of the writing, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate that same openness in this interview. So, whether you are on a mission to earn more money, gain more influence, or save a few lives – please, enjoy the show.

Watch this interview and you will learn:

  • turn visitors to readers with a hook-punch combo;
  • assembling a manifesto from idea to writing to design;
  • how to put together a course that earns $20,000 in revenue the first year (and almost $40,000 the next);
  • pricing products so they are actually marketable;
  • the mid-boss & the advisor: practical steps for building a business with your partner.

I also learned the word addle, which the default Apple dictionary tells me means something along the lines of: make unable to think clearly; confuse : being in love must have addled your brain.

Want to help me thank K&P for this interview? Link to the Connection Revolution using the keywords “change the world”. Thanks!

Oh, and I recorded this interview at 5am China time – so apologies for the dim lighting (and somewhat dim Michael).

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