I just returned from a fantastic week at the annual Chautauqua event in Ecuador.
This was my second Chautauqua and just like last year, it exceeded all expectations.
It’s amazing what can happen when you put a bunch of interesting, intelligent people in a gorgeous 17th century hacienda (located at the foot of an extinct volcano) for a week.
At this year’s event, an attendee named Alan gave an impromptu presentation about why and how you should start a business and since it fit perfectly with the week’s other discussions about financial independence and happiness, I knew I had to get him on the podcast.
Since leaving my job in August, I’ve realized how important it is to have something meaningful to work on to fill the void after leaving your career so I think creating your own business is something everyone should consider.
A side business can not only help ease the transition to early retirement, it can reduce the pressure on your portfolio after you quit and it can even help you reach FI sooner so listen to today’s episode to find out the right way to get started!
- Takeaways and surprises from the Chautauqua in Ecuador
- Why you should do work you love
- How NOT to start a business
- Why entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be risky
- How to start a business for free
- The importance of selling your value before you create it
- Why you need to just get started
- PopUp Business School
- PopUp Business School’s YouTube Channel
- Alan’s Email and Twitter
- Rich Dad Poor Dad
- The Escape Artist
- MONEY Master the Game
- Leave a review for the Financial Independence Podcast on iTunes
On today’s show, I’m excited to introduce Alan from PopupBusinessSchool.co.uk. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Alan just a couple of weeks ago in Ecuador, for the annual Chautauqua event. Alan was an attendee, but he offered to give a presentation on how to start a business. And it was fantastic!
It fit perfectly in with all the other presentations of the week. It helped answer one of the biggest questions people have about financial independence and early retirement, and that is, “What do I do next?”
And that’s an incredibly important question to ask and answer. And that’s something that I found over the last three months, since I quit my job, how important that is, and how important it is to have something that you’re working towards and that you’re working on.
So, I’m really excited to get him on the show, to talk about, not only why you should start a business, but how, and how you should do so in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your pursuit of financial independence, and actually could help speed up your journey getting there.
So, without further delay, Alan, thanks a lot for being here. I appreciate it.
Alan Donegan: It’s my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Mad Fientist: Just a week ago, we just got back from a ridiculously incredible week we had in Ecuador for the Chautauqua. How did you find the experience?
Alan Donegan: It was an incredible experience. Katie, my wife, and I came. And just to be sat in a 16th century hacienda, talking to MMM, you, Jim Collins, and discussing our future, financial independence and all that stuff, was just an amazing week.
Mad Fientist: It was. It exceeded all my expectations as well. Was it what you expected or was it quite different?
Alan Donegan: I think the biggest difference from what I expected was that there was less of a focus on the pure mechanics, math and strategies of how to get to financial independence. I think because a large part of the participants were actually well on the journey. And there was more of a focus on happiness, purpose and what to do after you’ve reached financial independence.
That was the biggest thing that surprised me.
Mad Fientist: It was great for me because, yes, I think about the mechanics so much, but being there and hearing all the different perspectives on—exactly what you said, the happiness part of it, just made it incredibly useful for me as well (just hearing everyone’s stories and struggles. So yeah, I completely agree.
It surprised me as well. It was a fantastic difference from what I expected the Chautauqua to be.
So, that’s great. You had a good time, and I’m assuming Katie had just as good of a time.
Alan Donegan: Oh, yes. And I think we’ll come again. It was brilliant.
Mad Fientist: Oh, wow! Nice. Any major lessons learned, or any big changes in your personal journey from it or are you still processing it? It’s only been a week since we’ve been back and I’m sure you’ve been ridiculously busy with normal life.
Alan Donegan: Katie and I are some of the most organized and geeky people around. So we had a tab for each of the one-to-one sessions we had with different questions that we have wanted to ask yourself, Jim Collins and MMM. We’ve written down those lessons which we then turned into an action plan of what we’re going to do now we’re back.
That’s been taking us quite some time this week to make sure that we work out what all the actions are from the workshops.
We’ve got six or seven major ones that have come out of it such as more of a focus on tax advantage accounts, as opposed to just putting it outside tax advantage accounts.
Then obviously, we need to translate the American advice into an English platform, so that we can actually implement it.
Mad Fientist: That’s right. So yes, maybe people have picked on this, but you are not from America. Where exactly are you from?
Alan Donegan: I am not American. Yes, I’m Alan. I’m from England. I’m from South of England, a place called Basingstoke—or Amazingstoke as I like to call it.
Mad Fientist: That’s a little inside joke from the Chautauqua. We’ve got a lot of laughs when he introduced himself, and he was quite offended by it because even though Jill was not from America, nobody laughed when she said she was from Scotland.
But everybody seemed to laugh when he said that, “I’m Alan, and I’m from England.” Yes, a little inside joke.
So you’re from Basingstoke. It is quite a different journey, I’m assuming, when you’re pursuing FI in the U.K. We’ll get to that as well. But yes, maybe just give a little background about how you got on this journey and where you guys are at.
Alan Donegan: So how we got on the journey, we’ve read some Robert Kiyosaki books, I don’t know if you’ve ever read Rich Dad, Poor Dad many years ago. And he spoke about the difference between an asset and a liability. And up until that point, I’d never owned an asset, which quite shocked me.
So, we spent some time working to buy assets (which we own a couple of small flats that we rent out) which led us onto all sorts of study and learning, which, eventually, a friend sent us to Mr. Money Moustache’s website, which that led to your blog (which we devoured), which led to one called The Escape Artist, which is a U.K.-specific one, which we also devoured.
And eventually, Katie and I were both from the same page that this was something we wanted to achieve. So we set the goal of getting it all done by my 40th birthday which is September 2018.
We spent the last 18 months (it’s been two years since we made that decision, and we’ve got about two years left). It’s about two years until we make the jump to being financially independent.
Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic! You mentioned The Escape Artist. Are there any other good U.K. or European blogs that you would recommend because I know a lot of people ask me? There are a lot of people in the audience that are from the U.K., and they just want some U.K.-specific things. Are there any other ones that you found useful?
Alan Donegan: No. The short answer is I’ve not found a lot. One of the first books we read on this was actually Money: Master the Game by Tony Robbins. And it must have taken Katie and I three months to translate that from American to English. And I know we speak the same language, which is quite shocking.
But since then, it’s got a lot easier. For any of the English people listening out there, there is some very easy stuff. The 401K is a pension. A Roth 401 is an ISA. Those are the main translations. You can Google your way from there.
But The Escape Artist is pretty much the only one in England that I found so far that gives you some good advice.
Mad Fientist: I’ll link to that in the show notes. People can check that out.
So you’re about two years away, which is very exciting. But I want to talk more about what you’re doing for your job, and the fact that you actually love it. So I want to touch on that.
But then, I also want to ask what you’re going to plan to do afterwards because if you’re already having such a good time doing your normal work, what’s in store for you after FI?
So yes, first, tell people about what you actually do.
Alan Donegan: So, about six years ago, I set up something called PopUp Business School. And we travel around the U.K., helping people to start small businesses and make money doing what they love.
Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic! And the whole reason you’re on the show right now is because you offered to give a presentation at the Chautauqua which was amazing. And I still don’t know how you were able to do it so quickly, and get it out there.
It was fantastic! And it was a perfect addition to the other talks of the week. It fit in perfectly. Everybody loved it. So that’s why I wanted to get you on the show to talk about that.
So, before we dive into that, I still want to stay on your personal story for a bit. What do you plan to do after FI? And if you’ve created this business that you love, and you love what you do, how is FI going to be different than normal life?
Alan Donegan: I think this is the really interesting part, a lot of people we’ve spoken to have jobs that they don’t necessarily like. Their purpose to getting to FI is to be able to quit the job they dislike, and then do something completely different.
I’m quite fortunate in that I’ve set up my own business, and I focused it in a way where I get to spend my time doing what I enjoy. And that’s been one of the biggest revelations I have at Chautauqua is—why do I want to retire if I’m having fun?
Mad Fientist: So what is the answer?
Alan Donegan: The answer is I’m going to keep some of the stuff that I’m doing. I don’t necessarily like the hardcore travel every week, but I do love helping people. And I found one of the things that makes me happiest in life is helping other people.
So, if I can continue to help people build businesses—and actually, we’re just about to launch next year our own business school, which will have a permanent venue, our own permanent business school. And I probably will keep doing that for a year or so after getting to FI.
But there are obviously some cool stuff that my job doesn’t allow me to do at the moment.
I’d love to move to LA and write a movie script, and spend a year getting into the movie business. I’d love to go to New Orleans and learn jazz, and spend a year doing that. And I’d love to go to Naples. There’s a course to become a professional Neapolitan pizza chef which I would love to do that.
So, there are some amazing stuff that I really do want to do. I think that FI just gives you the flexibility to fleet between purposeful work and more frivolous things that you’re doing just for your own enjoyment.
Mad Fientist: I couldn’t agree more. That was a huge focus, purposeful work. And that was the core focus of my talk, and that’s something that I’ve realized since leaving my job. Having something important that you’re working towards and getting better at is, at least for me, one of the key sources of happiness.
So, if you’re able to build a business before you even hit FI that satisfies some of those desires to build something, help people, get better at things, then that’s just a perfect scenario.
So yes, congratulations on working your way into that and coming to that realization.
So, how did the PopUp Business School come about?
Alan Donegan: About nine years ago, I went for support to set up my own business. I got the traditional start-up support that everyone seems to get if they go for help, which is people teach you how to write a business plan, and the sole purpose of the business plan is to work out how much money you need to borrow to get going.
Then you set up a business, then you borrow a load of money, then you do some marketing, some advertising, get the premises. And maybe you make money in year two.
And the people that I went for support from, which was a government organization in England called Business Link, they did more to scare me off ever starting a business than they did to actually help me.
And after a couple of years of running my own business, I realized there’s a much better way of doing it. So I set up PopUp Business School to share a whole new alternative guide, an alternative way to starting a business that people can get going quickly, make money from day one, and make money doing what they love.
Mad Fientist: Awesome! So let’s dive into that. First thing, business plan, people spend days, weeks, months writing this massive document that is instantly out of date as soon as the first bit of feedback from a customer comes in or something changes. And it’s never looked at again.
So, that’s the first thing you would recommend is to pretty much ditch the business plan?
Alan Donegan: I spent two weeks writing a business plan for my business. It was beautiful, Brandon. It had colors, it had graphs, and it had data. It had everything. It was beautiful.
I then put that business plan in a drawer, and I went to see a real life customer. And in that moment, when I saw that customer, everything changed because the customer said, “All that planning you’ve done, we don’t want any of that. What I really want is this other thing.”
So, I changed my entire business into the other thing for him. And that business, I can’t bring myself to throw away the business plan. I spent two weeks on it. But it was a complete waste of time.
But here’s the thing. Here’s the mistake everyone makes. When they come up with an idea, first thing everyone does is they go and see their friends. And they say to their friends, “I’ve come up with this new idea.”
Let’s imagine it’s a phone case cover, a new design.
They go to their friends and say, “Look at this. I’ve come up with this idea. What do you think?”
And what do most of the friends say?
Mad Fientist: It’s great! It looks amazing. I love it.
Alan Donegan: Yes, that’s exactly what they say. “It’s great. Go for it. You should do it.” Is that good feedback?
Mad Fientist: No, because they won’t buy one.
Alan Donegan: Well, that’s you should do at exactly that point. Once they said it’s great, lean in, stare them in the eyes, and say, “It’s only $20. Will you buy it?”
Mad Fientist: Give me your $20 right now.
Alan Donegan: Exactly! And then watch them shift uncomfortably. That is the only moment you know whether your business idea will be successful or not, the only moment when you actually ask someone to take their wallet out of their pocket, and part with their dollars or pounds.
Up to that point, they’ll be nice to you.
So, if you go out and do a load of research, if you go and interview a load of people, that’s all good, but they’ll be nice to you. They don’t want to hurt your feelings.
And at some point, when you actually ask for money, they’ll have to give you the real feedback. So what my suggestion is, skip the business plans, skip everything, skip creating the product, skip creating the service, and go out and actually ask someone if they will buy your idea.
And if you skip straight to the end, if they say yes and they’re willing to buy it, you’ve got a customer, and you can start your business.
If they say no, well, there’s no risk. You haven’t wasted anything, and you need to come up with a new idea or change your idea until you come up with a yes.
Mad Fientist: So yes, that’s the other big mistake people make. They don’t do that and then they invest a bunch of money to create the product or service or infrastructure to sustain the business. They sink a ton of money into it, and then they find out that customers don’t actually want it. And that’s a recipe for personal financial disaster.
So, you suggest no money, or as little money upfront as possible to invest in the business. So how would you go about creating a business with no to very little money?
Alan Donegan: I love that. And you’re exactly right. This is the sole reason why people think entrepreneurship is risky. They think entrepreneurship is risky because you have to borrow a load of money to get going—which, that is risky. I would never ever recommend going into debt to start your business. Having a business is about having money, not owing money.
So, let’s get straight to it. How do you start a business for free?
The first thing is, you can get stuff for free. So you can build a free website with things like Weebly or Wix. There’s a whole host of platforms out there that you can build a free website on.
You can get offices for free. You can borrow space. Pretty much anything you want, you can get for free.
Let me give you a real life example of this. We had a couple of guys we met that wanted to start a minibus rental business.
So, you can imagine you’ve got your sports teams or your groups of people are going out the weekends, you want to hire a minibus to be able to take them to their game or take them to their night out.
These two wanted to start a business to be able to rent out the minibuses.
So, they had written a business plan. They had worked out that they needed to borrow £33,000. And most of that money was going to be spent on two minibuses.
Now, they came to us. The money they were going to borrow was—they’d organized to get a bank loan for it. They had saved up about £2000 themselves, they were going to get a bank loan for the rest.
But the really scary bit was that the bank wouldn’t have lent the money directly to them, so they were going to have to get a guarantor. And the guarantor was their parents who were going to have to put up some collateral
And you can guess what the parents were going to put up, won’t you?
Mad Fientist: The family house.
Alan Donegan: Oh, yes.
Now, that would scare me. That would scare me. These two had never run a business before. One of them didn’t even have a driving license. And they’re going to start a business renting out minibuses based on a loan that was skewered against the family home.
So we sat them down and said, “This is crazy. Let’s see if we can work out what we can do.”
So, we went through their list here: websites, well, you can get that for free here; business cards (there are actually websites online where you can get free business cards, plus postage and packing); you need a computer (well, how can we get around that? Can we find a laptop somewhere? Can we do something else?)
We managed to strike off nearly everything on their list until we got to the vans. And then the vans, we said, “Do you know anyone who has a minibus or a van?”
And actually, they said, “Well, the whole reason we’ve got this idea is that one of our friends does this during the week. He’s got a van, and he’s inspired us.”
And so we said, “Well, does he use it the weekends? Could you borrow it?”
And they looked a bit confused for a second, and then got straight on the phone, and said, “Could we borrow it?”
The guy only used it during the weekdays, so they were able to borrow it at the weekend, and give him a share of the profits.
So we actually were able to borrow a van to get them going. We managed to get the list down to £300. So instead of borrowing 33 grand, they needed £300. And that £300 was only for the driving license for one of them.
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing.
Alan Donegan: We could not find a way around the driving license.
So, you can get stuff for free. You can borrow stuff. One of the ones for us is always bartering what can you swap.
When I started my business, I was not very good at marketing. I found a marketing company that wanted its staff trained, which is what I was doing. I trained their staff in presentations, and they did their marketing for me.
The PopUp Business School, we don’t have an office. We all worked from cafes or at home—except for Henry, who works for us, who does have an office. And he found someone at his local park actually that had an office.
He asked if he could borrow the office, and the guy looked a bit confused, and said, “Why would I lend you my office?” And he said, “Well, I can do something in return for you. I’m good at building websites.”
And the other guy said, “Well, that’s great. I need a website.”
So, Henry built him a free website using Weebly, and swapped it for use of his office which came with free coffee and free Wi-Fi.
So, you can barter the skills you’ve got for what you need to get.
Mad Fientist: And especially in this day and age, it seems easier than ever to start without a lot of capital even if you’re not borrowing or bartering a lot. It seems like with technology, it’s easier than ever to start a business.
You don’t have to buy a building like you used to in the past. You don’t have to rent a big storefront. The internet has opened up so many doors to start businesses for next to nothing as well.
Have you seen that as well?
Alan Donegan: It’s been a complete game-changer, Brandon, because we could not have run the courses we run, 8, 9, 10 years ago. The tools of the internet that allow you to start for free just weren’t available.
But now, if we were to sit down together and come up with a new business idea, first question I ask would be, “What do you enjoy doing?” And then we build a business around that.
And within an hour, we could have built a free website, we could have it online, and we could use tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, to be finding customers for you immediately.
The internet has changed the game.
And to give you one example of that, we had a young guy called Andrew came on our course about three years ago. He was 16. And he came up to us afterwards and said, “I’ve got a little YouTube channel. How do I make money out of it?”
So, I’ve been coaching him for about three years now. His YouTube channel is called TechTeamGB. He creates videos reviewing technology. He reviews them on YouTube, puts the videos up, there’s a link below to where people can buy the products that he’s reviewing, and he gets his videos sponsored.
I think the really fascinating thing—he’s now 19, he’s built a channel, he’s earning his full-time money online. He has a higher clout online and more reach than Microsoft in the U.K. And he’s a 19-year-old.
Mad Fientist: No kidding!
Alan Donegan: It’s just a leveler. With technology, you can compete with the biggest firms in the world from your bedroom. It’s just changed the game.
Mad Fientist: It’s amazing. And you mentioned figuring out something that you’re passionate about. What I found amazing over my last 5 or 10 years of just trying things out online is that you really can earn money from things you’re passionate about that don’t even seem like they would be good business ideas.
The Mad Fientist is a perfect example. The goal wasn’t to make money. And if it was, I would have quit three years into it because I wasn’t putting in so many hours and not getting any return.
But even something like the Mad Fientist where it seems like there’s no chance of making money because it’s like, “Well, what are you going to sell to people that you’re telling not to spend any money and save all their money?”, it’s the worst business idea ever as far as a business is concerned because you’re just telling your customers not to open their wallets ever.
But still, The Mad Fientist, there are certain services that I recommend that are free for the users like Personal Capital, or some of the credit cards for travel hacking that I recommend and stuff. Even those give a kickback, so then The Mad Fientist is actually earning money, which is crazy, because that’s just a passion project.
So, even if your business idea seems like it won’t be that lucrative, if it’s something you’re really passionate about and interested in, then eventually, you’re going to build something that’s so great that people are going to want to use it, see it, and read it, and the income opportunities will come from that in ways you didn’t even expect.
Alan Donegan: Absolutely! And quite often, people wonder how the PopUp Business School makes money because no one ever pays to come on our events. And to share with your listeners our way of doing business, we have what we call a Robin Hood business model where we take money from the people who’ve got it, and then we give our service away for free to the people who need it the most.
So, for us, big business sponsors us, councils pay us or the government or housing associations pay us. And then we run the courses in the community for the people who need it the most, and we give it away for free.
Even the people you’re trying to serve don’t have to have any money. There’s got to be someone in the equation with cash.
I’ll give you another example of that.
There was a speaker that wanted to do talks and workshops to help people overcome cancer, but he didn’t want to charge the patients. So what he did was he found someone who had cash that wanted to pay to help that group.
And the reason they wanted to pay to help that group was they wanted to change their image. And the people he found were pharmaceutical companies.
Now, they don’t necessarily have good image, and they would have paid money to do good, to change their image. So what he was able to do was take money off the people who had it, big pharma, and then do good with that money helping the people who need it the most.
Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic.
Alan Donegan: So, there’s always a way to build a business.
I have a challenge. I don’t care what it is you like, there is a way to make money doing it. And I’m sure with that challenge, we’ll get a few messages afterwards. Send me some messages, challenge me, and we’ll come up with a way for you to make money doing what you love.
Mad Fientist: Yes, that’s fantastic actually. I recommend everyone does that in the comments below this episode because after Alan’s talk at Chautauqua, my wife was talking about a business idea that she has had for a while, and she just kept coming up with more and more things like why it probably wouldn’t work.
Alan shut down every single one of them very quickly. And then, it just left us both thinking, “Well, I guess there’s nothing left to do but just give it a shot.”
So, it was fantastic. I’m excited about that because Jill is going to go back to Scotland and give it a try with absolutely no money down because Alan showed us all the ways we could get what we needed to get for free and just give it a try.
So yes, anybody with a business idea or something that they think they would want to do with their lives, definitely write in the comments below. And if you have any doubts, I’m sure Alan will talk you out of them really quickly.
Alan Donegan: Absolutely! I’m looking forward to seeing all the ideas.
Mad Fientist: So, find something you want to do because there’s no point in creating another job for yourself that’s going to make you miserable. So obviously, find something that you’re interested in, really passionate about, and figure out where the money is in that equation.
Forget the business plan, and try to borrow, and start with as little upfront capital as possible. And then just get started. Try to find your first paying customers.
What’s the next after that?
Alan Donegan: Find the first paying customers, sell what you’ve got, and then see if you actually like running the business because there are lots of times and lots of people who started things, and they find out later actually, “I much prefer this as a hobby, and I don’t want to do it as a job.”
And so what we always recommend is starting for free and getting going to work out if you actually enjoy doing it or not. Because quite often, what people do is they jump in with two feet, borrow a load of money, start up before they’ve even realized if they enjoy it or not.
One of the sayings that I have, if you like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, how do you know which flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream you like the most?
Mad Fientist: Try them all, if possible.
Alan Donegan: Yes. If you’re anything like me, you go to the supermarket, you buy every flavor, and you try the lot. And you realize you don’t like Cherry Garcia, but you do like Half-baked.
The only way to know if you’re going to love doing something as a business is to have a go at it—the only way to know. So do it without risk, which is, sell it first, see if it works, or even do a couple of times for free for people you know and trust to see if you actually enjoy doing it.
And you’ll find that if you start and make it happen and you enjoy it, it very quickly turns into a business because people will sense that you enjoy doing it, and they want to do business with you rather than a faceless corporation.
Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic advice. And that’s great advice for even non-business things.
I know talking to a lot of people at events like the Chautauqua and Camp Mustache, and things like that, people think, for example, their dream is to sail around the world.
So they buy a big sailboat, and they sell, all their belongings, and sell their house. And then a few weeks into the trip, they hit some really rough seas, and totally put them off.
And then they’re stuck at a dock, and the waves are crashing against the side of the boat, and the China, their dishes are banging into each other all night long, they can’t sleep.
They’re fighting lots of time because they’re stuck in this 200-square-foot space constantly.
This dream that they had of this amazing life of sipping cocktails on the deck of their sailboat while they travel around the world is actually much different in reality. But rather than trying it out first, they’ve sunk a lot of money into all these things that now, they can’t really unwind as easily, and they’re not happy.
So I think, yes, trying even non-business things before you actually dive in is a huge thing to keep in mind, so you don’t end up even more miserable than when you were working after you’ve achieved financial independence.
Alan Donegan: Absolutely. And if you try a few of these things, some of them might make you some extra money.
One of the things we spoke about at the Chautauqua was the main ways to get to financial independence were to reduce your spending, to increase your earning, and to invest more wisely.
There’s only so far you can reduce your spending. You can get a smaller and smaller, and older and older car, but at some point, you can’t reduce it much more.
But there is no ceiling to the amount of money you could earn extra.
And I think that’s really exciting for me is that you can earn extra money doing what you love and enjoy the journey. And it gets you to financial independence sooner.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely. And it gives you something to occupy your time after you leave your job because that was another huge topic of discussion. Because yes, what are you going to do after that’s going to keep you fulfilled and happy?
So yes, building something while you’re still working that you enjoy will make the transition so much easier, just like it has for me.
As I said during my talk at Chautauqua, I would have freaked out that first day of freedom had I not had The Mad Fientist stuff to work on because it’s this huge void just opens up in your life. Work has occupied so much space, and then all of a sudden, it’s just gone like that.
Well, you have to fill that void with something.
So had I had not The Mad Fientist stuff to work on, I think I would have freaked out a lot. And the fact that switching over from saving so much all your life to then withdrawing from those accounts, that would have freaked me out as well.
But luckily, Mad Fientist was bringing in money, so I didn’t have to. And that was hugely calming for a very potentially rocky transition.
So that’s why I was so excited to get you on because for me, it’s perfect timing. All of the stuff that you talked about in your talk at Chautauqua, it was perfect timing for what I was going through and experiencing, and realizing that, “Hey, this Mad Fientist thing that was just a hobby on the side turned out to be the best thing for me in this transition.”
And if more people focused on building that during their careers, they would be more fulfilled during their careers obviously, but then they would have something to fall back on once they hit FI.
So yes, I’m so excited that you agreed to come on and talk about all this stuff because I think it’s incredibly important, even more important than I thought it was six months ago when I was still working.
Alan Donegan: Absolutely. One of the keys to happiness is having a purpose, having something to do. There is only so long you can sit on a beach and sip cocktails before getting bored.
For some of us, it’s longer than others. For me, it’s about two days. For other people, they might be able to last a month. But at some stage, you need something to do to give you that happiness, and creating that purposeful meaning work, whether it’s pre-FI or post-FI, it doesn’t really matter. But if you can do it, it will keep you happy long term.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely. So if we follow your advice, then pretty much, hopefully, by the time you have your first paying customers, the only thing you’ve invested is time and effort.
Do you find that the people that you coach, do they try out a lot of different things before they fall on a successful idea, or are the most ideas turn out to be somewhat successful the longer that you work with them?
Alan Donegan: I would say that not all ideas are great ideas. And the only real way to know if your idea is a good idea or not is to try and sell it. If you get rejected, then you probably know after a while that it’s not going to fly.
But there is an essence of keeping going and making it happen. But you’ve got to take that idea, have a go, and go and speak to customers, and listen to what customers want and what they need, and start creating that.
And the more you get out there, the more you speak to people, the more you try and sell it, the more you’ll understand exactly what you need to provide to help people make progress.
Your product or idea might change, and it might move, and that’s okay. That’s absolutely okay.
We had a guy that came to us at the Redding PopUp Business School that wants to start a drone-flying school. So he’d teach people how to fly drones. And actually, in the short-term, he’s found he’s making more money from taking photographs of buildings with his drone for estate agents or realtors.
So he’s actually found an income stream that he wasn’t expecting by getting out there and speaking to people.
And we find that happens quite a lot. You start doing one thing, and someone comes along and says, “Can you do this other thing?” And there’s a whole new income stream that you weren’t even expecting waiting for you.
Mad Fientist: I think that’s the case for a lot of things where you’re just like, all the good ideas come off of the other work that you’ve done, and that other work may not be good and useful, and you may not profit from it or be able to use it, but it all serves the bill to that eventual thing that you settle on, which you wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Alan Donegan: Exactly.
Mad Fientist: That’s awesome.
Alan Donegan: Absolutely. It reminds me of a quote I heard many years ago which said, “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
It hit me that if you start, if you put your energy out there, if you do something, then all sorts of avenues you weren’t expecting open up in front of you.
So if I was going to say one thing to your audience, if you ever had a thought of doing something, if you ever had a thought of starting a blog, doing a service, creating a product, have a go. Have a go. Start for free. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you have no idea what magic might come from it.
Mad Fientist: I couldn’t agree more. That’s fantastic advice. I think I mentioned this at the Chautauqua, but my little quarter-life crisis when I turned 30, I think I may have talked about that.
I had this breakdown. We were actually skiing for the weekend for my birthday. It was my 30th birthday. And we had a great skiing, and then we had a great night out having dinner and having drinks at the bar and things like that.
I had this breakdown of like, “What have I done with my life? I haven’t accomplished any of the things that I had planned to do by the time I hit 30.”
It was analysis/paralysis. I would think about an idea for so long and plan out every single eventuality, and plan what I would do here, and all these things, and just think about it until I hated the idea, and I would do nothing.
So yes, it was that 30-year-old birthday meltdown that resulted in The Mad Fientist actually because I started it the next month. I was like, “You know what? All of the things that I was worried about” because I knew I wanted to write about all this stuff, and I thought I had some really good stuff to say, but I was doing the same thing I always did where I was thinking, “I need to figure out if I need to talk to a lawyer about what I can say, and what disclaimers I have on my site.”
All these things that really don’t matter and that you can figure out along the way, but I was doing the same thing that I always did where I was trying to plan all these things out before I even wrote a single word.
And then after that 30-year-old birthday meltdown, I was like, “You know what? Forget it. I’m just going to start it, and I’ll deal with anything that comes when I do.”
And yes, obviously, it’s turned into something that I never would have expected, and it lets me meet with people like you in Ecuador, which was crazy. And yes, it would have never happened if I hadn’t just started.
I think that’s fantastic advice. Everybody should keep that in mind whenever they’re thinking of starting something.
If you follow your advice of not investing a lot of money, then the only thing you invest in is time, and I’m sure even if it fails, you’ll learn something from that time invested. There’s really nothing to lose.
So yes, just get started.
That’s amazing advice. Is there anything we haven’t really talked about that you think people should know? Are there any resources that you would recommend people go to?
Alan Donegan: There’s so much we haven’t talked about, but I know we have a time limit. Resources—I have a YouTube channel that has daily YouTube videos with advice and inspiration for how to start up a business.
So if you want to check that out on YouTube, it’s called PopUp Business School, and we’ve got a whole host of videos on there on different topics about how to start a business.
The one specifically on the legal structures won’t be that much use to an American audience, but the general philosophy and ideas works worldwide.
Mad Fientist: Perfect. I’ll link to that in the show notes as well.
Obviously, we can’t cover everything that goes into creating a successful business, but if there are any core topics that we missed, feel free to chime in.
Alan Donegan: I guess the one core topic I just put in near the end, we say this regularly in the PopUp Business School, is sell your value before you create it. And I think this is the opposite of what most people do.
Most people spend years creating a product. They spend years writing a book. They spend years designing the course before they sell it.
And while that is very risky, because you’ve spent years of your life writing a book that no one wants to buy, you’ve wasted your time. If you spend years of your life creating a product that no one wants, you’ve wasted your time.
So what we always recommend is to sell it before you create it.
Business has been doing this for years. But for some reason, new startups don’t think to do this.
So for example, there was a business in the U.K. called The Cotton Traders. They used to have adverts in the back of the newspaper that said, “Order your tee shirt or polo shirt here.”
It had a little form that you could fill out, and send in with a check saying, “I want two medium polo shirts.”
And in the small print underneath, it would say, “Delivery is six to eight weeks.”
You might be thinking, “Why are they taking so long to deliver it? Amazon will deliver things in two hours.”
Well, the reason it was six to eight weeks delivery was that the items you were buying weren’t even made yet.
So they would collect all the orders, they would collect all the checks, they have your money in their account. They would then put the order into the factory to create the polo shirts and create the tee shirts that then they would sell afterwards.
Then now, actually, there are so many different platforms online that you can virtually create tee shirts, you can virtually create all sorts of things, and then sell them from the virtual image. And when you have sold it, then you make it.
It takes all the risks out of entrepreneurship.
Let’s say, you were going to create a music album, for wanting a better idea, why don’t you create one track, have a sample, and then sell the whole album based on the sample? Then you’re not wasting any time, and then you’ll get a load of people that say, “This one track is great. I will pay for the whole album.”
Then you go away and create the album based on that.
So there’s no reason. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a service, a product, anything, you can sell it before you’ve started.
And actually, that was how we started the PopUp Business School. About six years ago, I had the idea for this thing called the PopUp Business School, and that’s about all I had.
I went to see a guy down in Weston Super Mare called Michael, who works for a housing association. And I told him all about my idea and asked him if he was interested in buying it.
I had not written the course, I had not created the website, I hadn’t built anything. I just sold him the idea.
Thankfully, he said yes, he was interested. And he actually bought the first ever two-week PopUp Business School. And I then had to actually do some work and write the course.
But he paid for that course before I’d run it. So everything we did was funded by his cash.
I don’t care what it is you’re going to do, there is a way to sell it first, and build it second. And that takes all the risks out of entrepreneurship. There was zero risk.
If you’ve sold first and collected the money upfront, there’s no risk in entrepreneurship.
Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic. And yes, especially nowadays with things like Kickstarter, and things where you can, like you said, write all about the idea, and maybe create a digital representation of that idea, and then sell it.
And then yes, if you don’t even hit the target that you need to build it, then you just don’t even make it, and everybody gets their money back, which seems like a fantastic way of going about it.
Alan Donegan: Which is some great feedback about your idea.
Mad Fientist: Right, exactly.
Alan Donegan: They’ll tell you very quickly whether it’s going to work or not when you ask for the cash.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely. Are there any other resources like Kickstarter out there, or is that the primary one if you wanted to do something like that really easily?
Alan Donegan: There are loads of different services just like Kickstarter. There are some specifically for certain niches.
The one piece of advice I would give people about Kickstarter is that you can’t just throw a page up from Kickstarter and hope that people will buy it. It doesn’t work like that.
Have you heard the expression, if you build it, they will come?
Mad Fientist: Yes.
Alan Donegan: It’s the biggest load of rubbish ever. It does not work. If you build it, no one will come until you tell them about it.
So if you’re going to put a Kickstarter page up, if you’re going to start a blog, if you’re going to put a website up selling a product, you have to get out there and tell the world it exists, and get them to look at it.
And that’s the step that most new entrepreneurs forget. They think, “This is great, Alan.”
They put up a Kickstarter page, and then they don’t do anything else.
Nothing is going to happen until you tell people it’s there.
If you started a podcast and told no one about it, it would be suicide for your podcast. You have to tell people about it.
So yes, my biggest piece of advice on that is that your work starts by getting people to look at your offer.
Mad Fientist: That’s great advice, and I had the assumption that if I built it, they would come. I built a web app way back in 2010 or 2011 or something. And I was like, “This is the most fantastic thing ever. It’s the best. It’s great.”
And then yes, I was very shocked when people weren’t flooding in.
Looking back on it, yes, it’s ridiculous that I thought that was going to happen. But yes, I was like, “I guess people are going to find this. They’re going to love it. They’re going to tell everybody, and it’s going to be fine.”
And it just didn’t happen. That web app just died a slow death.
That was a big lesson to learn, but yes, I completely agree. You need to find the audience. If you build it, they will not come. That is definitely not going to happen.
So yes, good advice.
Alan Donegan: If you’re going to build another one, Brandon, then come and talk to me, and I’ll help you to just get it out there. Let’s get it out there.
Mad Fientist: I would definitely do that. Alan, I usually end all of my podcasts with asking people if you had one piece of advice for someone hoping to achieve financial independence, what would it be?
Alan Donegan: The one piece of advice that I would have is that if you got a partner, someone that you’re doing this stuff with, do it with him. Get him involved early. Do it as a team.
I think Katie and I have separately gone on training courses. I go off and do a training course. You come back really excited. The other person is in a completely different place. And it doesn’t work.
My biggest piece of advice on this journey is do it together. If you’ve got a girlfriend, if you’ve got a boyfriend, if you’ve got a husband, if you’ve got a wife, do it together. Get on the journey together. Get excited together.
Together, you will make so much more progress.
Mad Fientist: That’s awesome. That’s great advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. This has been a lot of fun. Hopefully, I’ll see you again soon over in the U.K. when I get back there.
And yes, if anyone wants to get in touch, the PopUp Business School, is that the best way? Do you have an e-mail address there that people can have, so I could put it in the show notes?
Alan Donegan: Yes, just PopUp Business School, or you can find me on Twitter @AlanDonegan, A-L-A-N-D-O-N-E-G-A-N.
And I did just have one thought as we talked, Brandon, one request for your audience if that’s all right.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely.
Alan Donegan: I’ve always wanted to come and run a PopUp Business School in America. So if any of your audience thinks this would be a good idea to bring this to the States, I’d love to have a chat with them. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
I’m a big admirer of the American psyche and the way you guys do business. And I’ve love to do more with you.
Mad Fientist: That would be fantastic. I think that would be an amazing idea. So yes, anybody out there, Alan’s e-mail address will be in the show notes, so definitely send him an e-mail. And after hanging out with him for a week, I fully endorse him, and would say that he would make a fantastic business school lecturer.
That would be awesome if you could come over to the States and give a little bit of English civility to the cutthroat American business world.
So yes, thanks, Alan. I really appreciate it. And hopefully, I’ll speak to you again soon.
Alan Donegan: Good going! Thanks, Brandon. Bye.
Mad Fientist: Bye.
Alan Donegan: Bye!
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