Interview with Evan Carmichael
Michael Sliwinski: You are a very passionate entrepreneur, aren’t you?
Evan Carmichael: I love entrepreneurs and I believe in them. It’s my goal to help a billion entrepreneurs. I love seeing people who are following their passion, trying to make the world better place.
Michael: Could you tell us a quick back story on you?
Evan: Sure. I started my first business when I was 19. I built it, sold it, got into the venture capital world a bit. Then I was speaking around the world, helping entrepreneur audiences. And now I have my website: evancarmichael.com, my radio show, YouTube channel, and I’m working on a book deal. Basically, I’m all about helping entrepreneurs. I want to see you turn your passion into a business that can not only just support yourself and your family but also make the world a better place.
Michael: You believe that entrepreneurship might be something amazing, but when ordinary people might have to choose between being a lawyer or a doctor and having to start their own companies and become entrepreneurs, they would probably prefer the more traditional, “respectable” professions.
Evan: Everybody has a degree of risk aversion. Everybody is scared to launch a company. If you’re not, then maybe there’s something wrong with you :) It’s natural to be nervous and scared, and there are always pressures that are put on you. It could be from yourself. It could be from your culture, society. It could be your parents who expect you to follow certain paths. And my advice is not just “dump everything, go pull ties, put all your retirement savings into this thing.” Start small. Make sure you love it. Make sure you start getting some results. It’s okay to have your job and start your business part-time. But if, in the back of your head, there is this idea that you want to launch a company, I’m of the mindset that I don’t want to live with regret. I’d rather know that this business will work or won’t work. And even if that means going back and getting job after, I’d rather know that and then be stuck in this corporate job than live with regrets for the rest of my life!
Michael: I am a living example of the fact that having a job and starting something on the side is actually viable. You can really do it, right?
Evan: Absolutely. And I think you should! I know there are some entrepreneur-experts who tell people they have to burn the boats and just go all in. Obviously, that works for some people. But I am totally okay with entrepreneurs starting part-time because running a business is a long process.
It often happens that somebody wants to start a business and they say, “I hate my job. I’m going to quit it.” They walk into their boss’ office and say, “I’m out of here. I’m not doing this anymore. I’m going to launch my own business.” They get all excited and they start their business and they’re using whatever savings they have. Then, they last for about three or six months only to just run out of money and go back and get another job.
So it’s way better to start part-time. Start small. Start getting some results with half an hour a day. To achieve something, though, you do need to work every single day to earn some money and make sure that when you quit your job, you have some kind of income stream coming in so that you can last.
Michael: You suggest following your passion in business. Many people strive to find this drive however. How do you find it?
Evan: The biggest thing is to explore. Try stuff and see what you can get lost in. And often, the thing that you end up loving to do could end up being a huge business for you. And it is often the thing that looks the worst on paper! Here’s a quick example: when I sold my first company, I felt like I had lost a child, like I wanted something else. It’s a great problem to have. I had a great exit but what do I do with my life now? What do I want to do? And I was looking for another business opportunity. And one of the things I started doing was actually taking salsa classes.
Evan: And if you look at that on paper, you’d say there’s no way Evan would ever get into the salsa business! There’s no way that that would make sense for me because I’m too tall and I take big steps. I never did any dancing when growing up. I was starting from scratch. I don’t have the musicality. I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t understand the music. There are so many logical reasons why there would be a million other businesses for me to pick to start. But I went to the salsa class, and I went to the salsa club, and I just fell in love with it — with the people and the music. I sucked at the start, but because I was passionate about it, I got better really quickly. And when you are passionate about something, you can overcome any skill gap very quickly.
Michael: What happened next?
Evan: I ended up being an investor in the business that is probably the largest salsa dancing school in North America, teaching 5 to 6,000 people a year how to dance. And so I DJ’d there. I’m still dancing 20 hours a week. I’ll teach a class there and it’s something that I love to do. And so if you don’t know what your passion is, your best bet is to go and start trying stuff. If somebody invites you to go and do something, try it. See if it’s for you. Some things you’ll find that you don’t love and you’ll know that right away.
So say yes to things, because you’re not going to find your passion just doing the same things you’re doing right now. You’ve got to step outside and say yes. You’ve got to explore and take some risks and get to know yourself a little better.
Michael: I think a similar rule applies when raising children: stir up curiosity in them. So that they are always curious and are always trying new things. [My wife and I’ve] been trying to do it. I am aware, though, that there are obstacles. The school system, for example, is designed in such a way that it is better not to be curious, not to ask questions and not to go explore.
Evan: Yeah, we could get into a whole other can of worms :) I have a five-year-old son and I agree — you want people to be curious. Children are naturally curious. And somewhere along the line, we lose that. We are not meant to live inside a box and only you can get yourself out of that box. Your family, society, your friends and workplace want to keep you there and only you can get out.
Michael: You keep exploring, you work, dance, teach … How do you get stuff done? Do you have a routine, anything that helps to stay on track?
Evan: There’s a lot that I can share. Routine is really important, especially for entrepreneurs. You can be on top of the world one day, you go to some conference or event, you watch a video, you’re reading a book, you are all excited, like, “Yeah, this is what I’m going to do. I’m so excited. I’m so energized.” You are working hard, you come up with great ideas, and then the next day you wake up and you may ask, “Where did that energy go?” And you’re starting from scratch. It happens to so many entrepreneurs.
So I find that instead of just having those accidents, I like to design my day so that in the morning I’m set up for energy and for success. And so I have a fairly strict routine that I try to do every day that really helps set me up. Some of it may seem fluffy or stupid …
Michael: It doesn’t matter. :)
Evan: So the first thing I do when I wake up is, I have this notepad next to me and I write down three things that I’m grateful for. And some of them are logical, easy things: my wife, my son, my family, my health. Some of them is whatever I’m thinking of. It could be the Internet. It sounds silly, but it takes me two minutes. I write down three things every morning and it just kind of gets me set up for a positive environment.
The next thing I’ll do is send my wife (who is usually out of the house before I even get up as she works early) a quick message on Facebook. A little heart, a little funny cartoon character or whatever. And again, it’s just setting the day up with love and positivity.
Another thing I do is I will go to my computer and I will put on some music. I have a playlist that I call “my believe playlist,” which consists of maybe 80 songs that make me want to move. Songs that when I listen to them, I’ve got my head going, I want to dance, I want to sing something. It’s so easy to be sluggish and slow in the morning. But when you’re moving and when you’re energetic, when you’re happy, you’re much more likely to follow through and have a great day.
Other little things: I’ll start with my breakfast, which is lentils every morning, sometimes with chickpeas and sometimes with spinach. Just for some energy. And a huge glass of lemon water because you wake up dehydrated and the best thing to fill yourself with isn’t a cup of coffee. It’s a huge glass of water. And put some lemon in there as well.
Michael: This is very good. Go on!
Evan: Okay. Next, I start with my “big why” and my “little whys.” The “big why” is what I am trying to do: I’m trying to help a billion entrepreneurs. Remind yourself of what your big goal is. Just stay motivated. What is that big thing that you want to accomplish either by the end of the year or by the end of next year or your lifetime goal.
And the “little whys” are the things that can inspire you on a daily basis. So for me it’s my YouTube videos. My YouTube audience is awesome. They leave comments every single day. And there are comments like “Evan, that video you made changed my life. Thank you so much for making it.” So always very uplifting, positive things, and I’m sure you get them too from your magazine readers and your podcast listeners. And so, reminding me that there’s people who are really valuing what I’m doing. Using the energy gets me motivated, makes you want to get up and go and do it again, and again, and again.
Michael: It’s easy for you! You have a large YouTube audience.
Evan: But I’ve done this for years. When I was first getting started, I would go and do presentations and seminars and would leave with such a high. I don’t know if you do public speaking, but you leave a session and people are just clapping and telling you how helpful you were and it’s such a good high. The next day, you wake up and it’s over. You’re like, where is that high? What happened? So I would make a PowerPoint file that I looked at every morning. Just at the comments that people left for me. Either told me face-to-face or emailed me later and I would just remind myself that the work that I’m doing is important. And so I find that that really helps set me up for a super productive day. And that happens every single day.
I really believe that you should design your life on purpose instead of letting life kind of throw things at you and always being in a reactive mode, instead of practically planning what you do.
Michael: When I was starting up my company, I went to a business trip with a friend of mine who taught me the exact same thing. He watched me in the morning and couldn’t help laughing. I was a total chaos in the morning. He said, “Michael, this is not the way to work. If you go like this and just trying to catch whatever is falling on you, you will be exhausted by noon.” You have to start, as you said, with purpose and a good plan.
Evan: I’m a big believer in running a no-crisis business. I don’t respond to emergencies. I prefer to build a business where there are no emergencies. Or I have my team manage it. I don’t use a cell phone because I don’t want people to call me. The cell phone is other people’s agenda for your time. So I use a Samsung phone just to have a Wi-Fi connection. I have no phone number because I don’t want somebody interrupting my day. A minor interruption has a huge impact. If you’re working on something that’s important and somebody calls you, even if you don’t pick it up, you just look at who it is, you look at your phone … That’s a huge distraction and it’s hard to jump back into what you were doing before. If you actually pick up the phone and talk to the person, then you forget about whatever project you were working on. I prefer to stay focused and to run a no-crisis business. I don’t answer phones. I’m not fast on email. I set up chunks of time that help me plan my calendar accordingly.
Michael: This is very interesting. How does it work?
Evan: Today’s Thursday. I do all of my public facing stuff on Thursday. My radio show, interviews, meetings and hangouts are on Thursday. This morning I had two meetings at a local Starbucks. Then, I came here, I have an interview with you. I’ve got three more meetings this afternoon and then another meeting later tonight. It’s great because I wake up and I know I’m going to be meeting people. I shave, I put on my t-shirt and I’m ready to go.
Michael: Every day of the week is something different, then?
Evan: Yes. Monday is my work on the business, important projects, any kind of admin stuff, and I set-up my stuff for the week, the day. So all the projects, all the emails that I have to get back to, that’s all done on a Monday. But I know I’m not meeting anybody. So I don’t have to shave, I don’t have to wear a nice shirt. It’s just a different mindset. I’m not a naturally extroverted person and I can’t switch easily between focus (a leave-me-alone, let-me-do-my-work attitude) and then talking to people or being outgoing. So on those Mondays, I don’t want to talk to anybody and to have to jump to a meeting and then come back and then jump to a meeting and then come back again.
Michael: So Monday is your admin day and Thursday is for meetings. What about the rest of the week?
Evan: Tuesday is my writing day. I’m writing a book, and all day I’m basically just writing. You email me, you’re not going to get a response anytime soon. Wednesday, I do videos. My YouTube channel is something I love, I’m deeply passionate about, I spend an entire day basically in the studio recording videos. So chunking is super-important. Anything that you do multiple times per day, do once per day, multiple times per week, do once per week. That’s how I do it and it dramatically improves my productivity.
Michael: This is exactly how people should work. My mentor and fellow blogger, Michael Hyatt, was always talking to me about chunking. Just like you have your meeting day on Thursday, he has it on Friday. This way I know that if I want to talk to him, it should be on a Friday. I think that in this information society that we have right now, with so many things coming in, focus is our main currency right now.
Evan: Yeah, and for people who are thinking about chunking, the most common excuse for not doing it is that they might miss an opportunity. But what you have to be willing to do is miss small opportunities to go for big ones. If you want to achieve something big and work on important projects, you have to be willing to miss smaller opportunities.
And here’s an example: I miss a lot of media stuff. Reporters will email me or they’ll tweet me and I miss it. I miss it all the time because I’m doing my videos and I can’t get interrupted. I’m doing this interview with you. I can’t get interrupted by a reporter so I will miss some of those opportunities but I know that the projects I’m working on are bigger than. You have to value your time. You can’t afford to be interrupted because you’re working on something that’s really important.
Michael: And what if Oprah calls you?
Evan: Well, if she calls me and says, “Evan, I want you to come down to Chicago on Thursday,” I’ll go. I cord-off my book for a week and I’ll go see Oprah. There’ll be opportunities that will make you miss your schedule a little bit. But that doesn’t happen that often. It’s really more about you getting over the fact that you’re able to miss out on small opportunities to go for big ones because so many people are just reaching for these emergencies and the small opportunities that they never do anything big.
Michael: So you’re writing a book and if you’re missing some small opportunity on Tuesday it doesn’t matter because you’re working on something really big. By the way, what is it going to be about? :)
Evan: The book! I’m really excited about the book. I’ve been trying to keep it under wraps, not saying too much, but I have a business philosophy that everybody has one word that they stand for; one word that defines them. And your best chance at business success is to understand what that is. And then bring it to your company and build it around your one word and that makes it easy to make decisions. It makes it easy to bring on a team. It makes it easy for people to talk about you because most businesses are boring and don’t stand for anything. But the entrepreneurs themselves do! They just don’t bring that to their company. So that’s what the book is about. I’m interviewing people like Jessica Alba who started a business around honest. That’s her one word. I have an interview tomorrow with a guy named Dheeraj Pandey who built a business around empathy. It’s a $2 billion company! And so people are using these strategies and I’m writing kind of a guide book on how to do it.
Michael: That’s exciting! One word. Just one word.
Evan: Yeah, mine is believe. Go find your one word and bring it to your business.
Michael: Let’s get back to productivity. How do you stay focused on creating the product?
Evan: Product is making time for it. You’ve got to chunk up the time in your calendar for any big thing that you want to do. And Mike, I don’t know how you do this, but I make a priority any big project that I’m working on. I set-up time in my calendar to do it. I like to work in 90-minute chunks with a 15-minute break in between: 90 minutes then 15 minutes, 90 minutes then 15 minutes. Finally, after 90 minutes, my brain starts to get a little fried and I lose focus a little bit. But after I know I’ve got to get something done within 90 minutes, it forces me to work really hard on it.
And so what I do is try to figure out how should I create my product, how do I raise capital or assign one or two or three time slots every single week. During this time I am working on my product or on raising capital. I’m not answering email. I’m not checking Facebook. I’m not picking up phone calls. I’m not checking news. I’m not doing anything else that’s not related to that specific task. And if you set aside that time on regular basis, you’ll finally make massive progress towards achieving your goal.
Michael: Exactly. Jumping between unrelated stuff is totally counter-productive.
Evan: But this is what most entrepreneurs do if they do a little bit here, a little bit there. And you need to focus your time. The only exception is when I’m in flow. I think we’ve all experienced flow. :)
Michael: Flow, yes.
Evan: When you’re working and you put your head down and it’s nine in the morning and you look up and it’s six o'clock and you are not sure what just happened … When I find myself in a flow, I actually will change my schedule around to try to stay there as long as possible.
Michael: While you use the 90/15 system, I prefer the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of work and 5 minute break. I found out though that if I start with 25 minutes and the clock says stop but I feel like I’m getting somewhere, I just continue — I put the timer to 25 more and just keep going.
Evan: Yeah, whatever technique works. I don’t think there’s one strategy for everybody. Twenty-five minutes would be too short for me. It takes me a couple of minutes to get into what I’m doing. So then I would only have 15 minutes to do it. Maybe I think too much. :)
Michael: You have a really strong position in social media. Could you advise our readers on how to create a larger audience on YouTube?
Evan: Many people say their goal is to be on YouTube and then they make posts every week for a month and then they stop. This is common with any goal. “I’m going to be a blogger this year.” “I’m going to do XYZ this year,” and you go hardcore. “I’m going to go to the gym this year.” You go hardcore and then you stop because it’s too much. You’ve got to be consistent. It’s much better to just like building your product, you allot time in your week to focus on it.
For me, YouTube is such an important part of my schedule that I did two things. One, in the morning, I talk through my routine. I look at my comments every day. I respond to every comment that I get on YouTube. That’s crazy. Most people don’t do that and it’s not going to be scalable — at some point I won’t be able to do it. But it feeds my soul. I love it.
Michael: And what about recording the videos?
Evan: As I said, Wednesday is just video day. That’s it. And if you want to make YouTube really important, you need to dedicate a huge chunk of time to going out and making the videos. My videos have gained traction because I’ve gotten a lot better. But I have 1,500+ videos. Looking back at my first one, I sucked. I had zero comments. I didn’t have a lot of thumbs up or momentum. I got better only by practicing and following something I was passionate about and allotting time. Every single day, two videos hit my YouTube channel. You’ve got to be consistent and to do that, you’ve got to plan your day.
Michael: Speaking of planning, can we wrap the interview up with your goals for 2015?
Evan: My personal goal is actually “a selfish one.” I’m at an agency — I have an agent in New York who represents me, who puts me into deals. He’s helping with the book deal for example. I’m the No. 2 YouTuber at the agency. And my goal this year is to become the No. 1 YouTuber at the agency. So it’s a moving target. I wish I could say like, I need to have X number of subscribers, because as I grow, the current No. 1 grows too, so I have to grow faster! Please, check in at the end of the year to see how I am doing. :)
Watch the video interview with Evan: