One of my favorite stories goes like so:

A company was struggling to fix one of their machines. They had wasted quite a lot of time before bringing in an expert.

The expert looked around for a few minutes, took out a screw from his toolkit, screwed it in, and voila – the machine started to work flawlessly.

When the company received the bill a few days later, they were astounded – $50000! Asking for an itemized breakdown, they received:

$3 for screw, $49,997 for knowing where to put the screw

This is one of my favorite stories to tell. Too many people put value in the hours that are put in, totally discounting the amount of experience that lays as the foundation of those hours.

Way back in the day, I used to do SEO for HostGator.com (fun fact: I actually provided Brett with his initial seed funding for HG when I bought a website of his back in Dec 2002). He paid me a large amount, and in return I got him results (he was top 5 for “web hosting” “reseller hosting” and “dedicated server(s)”). The results ended up speaking for themselves, but he wasn’t paying me because he knew I was putting in 35.6 hours per month or because I gave him a fancy report that had colorful graphics.

He paid me because of my heavy experience in the marketplace. He paid me because he knew that I knew what I was doing.

In return, my (expensive) experience turned out really well for him… he made far more while he focused on the business itself.

Stop focusing on things you have no experience in. Find someone who does and empower that person to help you.

Keeping this short and sweet – if you run a professional organization, you need to measure and track. And not only that, you need to know why you are tracking and how it helps you.

This past weekend, (Dr) Spencer Nadolsky was up here in Canada (fact: Canada >>> USA), and we were hanging out with some other people at a pub. The conversations ran the gamut of life, and at one time someone was telling me how his post got 3x the likes as another post did. I had to interrupt him almost immediately:

Who cares?

Now I wasn’t being an ass, but when it comes to tracking useful information, “LIKEs” are about as low on the totem pole as you can get.

Exhibit A: Do you need to eat 6 meals a day? – 121 likes, 51 shares.
Exhibit B: Hardgainers: a myth – 68 likes, 27 shares.

Look at just likes/shares, the simple conclusion is: Exhibit A was 2x more popular than Exhibit. But how many clicks did each link actually generate?

Exhibit A: 697
Exhibit B: 1297

So even though A got 2x the “social love” as B, it got 0.5x the actual clicks from B.

And even then, clicks are a mediocre metric. Did the visitors come back? Did the visitor sign up? Did the visitor buy something? Did the visitor turn around and spread the word on your site? Did the visitor search for something on your site (studies show that a visitor who searches on your site is far more valuable than one who doesn’t).

And so forth and so forth. If you are not factoring in metrics (and then using them to optimize for conversion, whatever you define as conversion, you’re literally swimming in the dark).

Beep beep.

4 Feb
2014

I recently learned that Google has an account activity summary, which neatly summarizes your usage of their various products (email, youtube, etc etc).

This is what came up for my email:

I tend not to work on Fridays (they are my reading days), and I really try to skip Saturdays and Sundays. If we equate the 3 of them as one day, 1190 emails over 4 weeks equals 59.5 emails/day outgoing and 72.85 emails/day incoming.

I write 60 emails a day (and these are all for my @examine email, not my other stuff)

This isn’t a humblebrag, but it’s some real life numbers that success does not happen overnight. My friends have long nicknamed me “Relentless Sol,” and my email frequency shows why. I’m not chasing one big success, I’m chasing 25 little-wins.

Still, I’m not suggesting you try to chew off more than you can handle. I’m simply saying that people get so infatuated with getting a big break (be it getting mentioned in a mainstream magazine, getting tweeted by a quasi-celebrity, getting a link from a popular blog) that they lose sight of the big picture: success is incremental, not an overnight explosion.

I know it’s cool to “prioritize” your email these days, to talk about how using the phone is superior, to disconnect. I’ve taken the opposite tack – I answer any and all emails promptly, I keep my inbox zero, and in the hours I do work (roughly 5 hours a day), I go full throttle.

I also invest heavily in courses and specific coaching, but that’s for another day.

Your mileage may vary.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on Examine.com (four months or so), and quite a lot has happened since then.

To say we’ve aggressively expanded would be a slight understatement. The Supplement-Goals Reference Guide has (and continues to) sell like gangbusters, which has given us a pool for funding continued aggressive expansion.

From the start, I’ve espoused the view that you have to become so good that they can’t ignore you. Based on that, when the spigot of cash flow opened up, our only consideration was – how can we bolster our research team?

We hired more researchers. And not just anyone – we made sure they came from multiple disciplines. It was important to not only hire smart people, but smart people who came from different modals of knowledge, who had experience in different facets of research involving health and nutrition.

That’s our base. That’s what makes us so good. But I’m also pragmatic – I realize that to ensure the smart guys can focus on what they do best, they need support.

So for the past few months I’ve been working on laying the groundwork. My activity level on extraneous stuff like Facebook has plummeted while I’ve been painting a coherent picture. A fuzzy image is finally being brought into focus.

As of right now, we’re receiving roughly 15,000 visitors every day. We are constantly referenced by fitness professionals, enthusiasts, and laypeople alike. As far as I know, every single major fitness magazine is well aware of what we’re trying to do. People are sticking around – we get over 2.5 page views per visit, over 150 seconds on average are spent on our site, and the #1 keyword people use to find us through search engines is “examine.com” (with “examine” right behind it). Our Facebook page has almost 17,500 fans, and our Twitter has over 4,000 followers. All of this due to the small images in our menu bar.

That’s where we are today. In 2014, I have two major goals:

1. Assemble a team. We have our researchers, now it’s time to get everyone else in place – be it a CTO (to work on our upcoming version 6), a copyeditor (to help standardize our writing and create a style guide, to look over our English, etc.), or all the other little holes that need to be filled.

2. Systematize and re-retire. Anyone who has ever talked to me or listened to any of the interviews I’ve done knows I’m a fan of finding smart people, empowering them, and letting them focus on what they do best. Once the team is assembled, the rest of 2014 is about getting all the niggling details out of the way. I firmly believe that most inefficiencies can be removed through intelligent programming. The codebase should eliminate the annoying and the redundant, and let the person focus on what they’re best at.

Once that is all in place, it’s time to remove myself from the system. I’ll likely stay involved in business development and strategy because the direction we go is extremely near and dear to my heart, but everything else will be taken care of by people better than me. One of the hardest parts about seeing your baby grow is trusting that they can not only survive without you, but thrive without you.

And I am going to give it that trust. Within 12 months, my day-to-day involvement should be minimized.

Examine.com has become much bigger than Kurtis or I. We couldn’t have done it without your support, and I hope everyone who reads this continues to do so – it is very appreciated.

So we’ve had a fun 3 weeks. Our S-G Reference keeps selling, our traffic keeps growing, and things look good. My biggest fear is that we forget that while we know stuff, there is a lot more we don’t know.

A nice problem to have.

But not why I’m posting. I’m posting here to expand on the Why I do what I do post.

The story is simple. I’m an immigrant. I worked my ass off in high school and university (went to university on full scholarship; lost it within the first semester), continued to work my ass off a few years after, and then opted to retire. By no means was I rich, but I was well-off, the sites ran themselves, and I wanted to have adventures now instead of 20 years down the road.

And that stuck. For a while. I guess the drive that made me work so hard came back. And so while I had my mid-life crisis around my mid-20s, my “I’m going to die and what is my legacy going to be?” crisis seems to have hit me in my late 20s.

I’ll admit, Examine.com started off as something cool to do, but it has morphed into something more. I keep harping to the team that we now have a legitimate responsibility – when 10000+ people are visiting your site every day, you need to make sure you aren’t like so many other hucksters and charlatans, all focused on separating money from their respective visitors. We’re building something cool, and we can’t fuck it up.

We get contacted by supplement companies all the time. The standard response is: “We are independent, neutral, and un-biased. The moment we work with you on that, we lose our direction.” But the other day, I did talk to a guy who ran one (he works with a good friend of mine). And you could hear the incredulity in his voice when I talked about how our interest is not in making a buck, how we are making enough every day (30+ sales per day of our S-G Reference, the math is easy!), and how we’re more focused on being useful than anything else (and thus why our first hire will be another researcher). He was left stammering.

I don’t want eFame (though I will admit being on Ahhnold’s site tickled me plenty). I’m not after money (my share from the S-G Reference? Low low low 4 digits). I just want to build something cool.

Kamal Patel told me the the following a few days ago: “Also…got back from a doctors appointment where we were talking about sleep supplements. I mentioned examinecom, and he goes “oh yeah, i’ve been there before”

Most people in fitness build their own brands (and I fully appreciate why they do that). I want to build up Examine.com. I want it to be much bigger than Kurtis or me or anyone else.

Over on Dr. Oz’s blog, a post went up late last week titled: You Wanted to Know: Sweeteners. For those that follow Examine.com, you know that our viewpoint is that sweeteners are fine for you (note: just because something is not “bad” does not mean it’s good – it simply is neutral).

I’m used to reading sensationalism when it comes to stuff like this, but for once, Dr. Oz linked to a study as his proof that sweeteners cause cancer: Artificial sweeteners and cancer risk in a network of case–control studies.

What makes this blog-worthy is that the actual conclusion from the paper:

In conclusion, therefore, this study provides no evidence that saccharin or other sweeteners (mainly aspartame) increase the risk of cancer at several common sites in humans.

How is that not hilarious? “Sweeteners cause cancer; here is my proof, which by the way, says the exact opposite”

I commented on the blog post on how the study directly contradicted what he claimed. It was at 20+ likes by the time it was removed.

Talk about willfully sticking your head into the sand.

Big Week for Examine.com

Last week, Examine.com announced its Human Effect Matrix, which “solves over 90% of supplement confusion.”

The response was staggering, to say the least.

Some quick numbers:

  • 100,000 visitors over baseline (so e.g. if in the week we would have expected 50,000 visitors, we had 150,000)
  • 1,000 new followers to our Facebook fan page and 500 new followers to our twitter feed
  • The blog post itself got over 3,000 likes, and we gained over 7,500 likes across the entire site. Our amazing creatine page finally cracked 1,000 likes (next up: 5,000!)
  • 500+ tweets across the site
  • Our facebook page making the announcement got over 150 shares, and over all the other facebook pages that shared us (that I found), we had over 400 shares

And all of it feels good. We’ve always wanted to be the reference site when it comes to supplements, and it looks like we’re getting there. It also leads into …

Why I Do What I Do

I am the immigrant dream. I moved to Canada when I was 14 (starting high school). I dabbled around building websites, and by the time I was in university I had incorporated my first company. I left Canada after graduation and moved around some more (USA, Argentina, USA, then back to Canada), and during that time my businesses grew.

Make no mistake: This wasn’t me luckily stumbling into something that worked. I remember days of programming from 9 am to 11 pm, with chocolate bars and muffins being my primary sustenance for the day.

Eventually, it was fork-in-the-road time: Do I stay in the rat race, accept money from venture capitalists (which were coming after me by then), and go for millions? Or do I retire, let the processes I built run themselves (I always say 5 minutes a day = 2.5 hours a month), and do what I want?

And so I chose the latter. I live a comfortable life, I do what I want, when I want, and that’s all I can ask for. If I want to go for an hour-long walk with my dog, I can ( and I do). I’ve also diversified enough so that I am not beholden to any one source for traffic or revenue.

While all this happened, I also went from fat to fit (here’s my mandatory before and after). And as this was happening, I took notes. Tons of them. And as the notes grew more and more impossible to manage, I eventually teamed up with Kurtis and we formed Examine.com.

That backstory is important to understanding what it is that makes me tick. Corny as it sounds, I’m like a 65-year-old man trying to build his legacy. Fitness is my passion, and I’m trying to effect legitimate change in how people perceive supplementation and nutrition; we get so many angry emails every day regarding our nutrition frequently asked questions that drip with dogmatic belief and no evidence at all.

Examine.com is inching towards 10,000 visitors per day; I always say I won’t be happy until we have 50,000, as at that amount of traffic I feel like we will finally be *the* reference site. And if we can manage that, I’ll feel like I’ve done some good (cue my immigrant thanks for the host of opportunities I’ve been given).

And that’s why I do what I do.

So this past week, Kurtis and I got an article published on TNation, titled New Uses for Creatine. We basically summed up some 101 on creatine (it works, it’s safe), and then talked about interesting research being done using it (neurological, cell-saving, etc).

Being the webdev engineer that I am, afterwards I thought – how can I compare how well-received my article was versus everyone else’s? The comments were effusive, but the # of registered users who could comment is a fraction of the population that saw the article. I don’t have access to pageviews/bounce rate, and so I settled on the simplest metrics we have: Facebook likes and Twitter tweets.

So I got the urls for all of the articles they had published since Jan 1, 2011, and ran it against Facebook and Twitter’s APIs. What follows is a meandering post on the various stats I came across. I had help from my webdev genius buddy Andre. You can find him at Fealty.com.

PLEASE NOTE: I realize that likes and tweets do not directly translate to your bottom-line. But let me have some fun here, okay?

  • Most Liked: Conditioning is a Sham, by a certain Mark Rippetoe. 3949 likes
  • Most Liked Debut Article: 3 Steps to Getting Your Girl to Train by Joy Victoria. Very well-written, it garnered 2146 likes and 94 tweets (we are the second most successful debut with 1043 likes and counting). Joy’s article was actually the second-most liked article.
  • Most Tweeted: Train Like a Man 5: The Real Paleo Exercise, by Martin Rooney. Clocking in at 258 tweets, I feel like “paleo” baited this well. The second most-tweeted is also by Martin Rooney: The Manthalon. Incidentally, he is the only one to break 200+ tweets (with these two articles).
  • Tweet vs FB: Joy’s post on getting girls to train got 2146 likes, where as Mike Roussell’s 27 More Nutrition Facts got 541 (roughly 25%). This is notable because they both got slightly more than 90 tweets each. I would chalk this up to Dr. Mike’s strong twitter presence (~9500 followers). Martin Rooney has ~24,000.
  • Most Prolific: Ben Bruno clocks in at 44 articles, and Tim with 35. Ben’s most popular article was Glutes Gone Wild, and Tim’s was The Simple Diet.
  • Most Prolific, Part 2: After Tim, we get Jim Wendler, Dan John, John Meadows, TC, Mike Robertson, Bret Contreras, and Lee Boyce.
  • Most Prolific, in Likes: For people with at least 5 articles, Rippetoe has the highest average and median of likes (955 and 548 respectively). Martin Rooney is second.
  • Most Prolific, In Tweets: Martin Rooney wins this one hands down. Rippetoe is second for average, but Wil Fleming pulls and upset and gets the second highest median. With no outliers, Wil’s articles on Olympic lifting always get love on Twitter.
  • Most Popular #: A staple of titles is “5 exercises for bigger arms” or “3 tricks to make your legs grow.” The #5 was the most popular, followed by #6 and #7. The most liked for #5 was 5 Surprising Reasons You Blew Your Diet by Shelby Starnes
  • Always Working With Others: There are quite a few co-written articles on TNation. Bret Contreras has co-written with three other people, with Brad Schoenfeld his favorite teammate. The champ is Todd Bumgardner, who has written with five other people.

And that’s a wrap. We analyzed 600 articles from 117 bylines, totaling 119,925 likes and 15,173 tweets.

Examine.com continues to grow, and is slowly becoming the juggernaut I always wanted it to be.

The reality though is that none of this was happenstance. It’s been two years of solid grinding – reading, writing, editing, connecting, responding to emails asap, etc. I’m retired, but every day, from roughly 10am to 4pm, with a 30-60 minute break in-between (depending on which of my favorite tv shows played the night before), I am working away on Examine.com. The drive itself has nothing to do with money – if I want to achieve my goal (make Examine.com the reference site on nutrition), I need to put in the time.

One of my favorite books is So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The basic premise is that one has to work incredibly hard (and intelligently) to become the master at anything. Talent and passion are nice, but they don’t make you a star. Better than average? Sure. But only with a relentless approach can you be the best.

I love reading biographies, and this tends to be the central theme – they all put in their time. LBJ? Grinded? Robert Moses? Grinded. Ahhhhnold? Grinded. [Insert anyone who made it big] – grind grind grind. Hell I’ll even mention Jon Goodman’s PTDC – it’s come out of nowhere to become a major hub. And it’s not like Jon accidentally did it. Send him an email – he will respond. Ask him for help – he will come through. He grinds nonstop, and it’s a big reason why he is as successful as he is.

This is where I insert some kind of inspirational quote on how hard work results in better luck, but you get the damn point. Incremental work adds up.

I will say – we are reaching the point where we are so good that they cannot ignore us (anymore). And damn it feels good :)

“Confirm X action?”

A quick little complaint, but confirming every single action (particularly during deletions) is a slow and cumbersome UI approach. The smarter approach is to let the user do it, but then let them undo it.

Is it more work for the developer? Yeah. Does it make your application that much more useful? Absolutely.

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