It was my 30th birthday and I was having a meltdown.
Even though I was surrounded by friends at a beautiful ski resort in Vermont, turning 30 hit me hard and I was bringing the whole party down with my self pity.
“I’ve done nothing with my life!”
“I haven’t accomplished anything I thought I’d accomplish and now I’m old!”
My girlfriend (now wife) took those statements personally and got offended, which made the atmosphere even worse.
It was embarrassing and my friends still make fun of me about it today (as they should).
The reason I was so upset was because I had all these good ideas in my 20s but I created absolutely nothing.
The Wrong Way to Do It
It’s not because I didn’t try though. Here’s how it went in my 20s…
I would have an idea that I’d get really excited about.
I’d start doing a lot of research, I’d maybe register a new domain, and I’d start planning how everything would go. And when I say everything, I mean everything.
I’d worry about things that hadn’t even happened yet (and were very unlikely to happen) and before long, I’d be overwhelmed and I’d put that idea on the shelf with all the rest of my good ideas.
Luckily, a new exciting idea would take its place and I’d start the cycle all over again.
That cycle made me feel like I was doing something but I realized on that cold night in Vermont, it all actually amounted to nothing.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.
The Mad Fientist only exists because of that night.
I turned 30 in January of 2012 and I launched the Mad Fientist in February.
I had no idea what I was doing but I launched anyway. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to write about but I launched anyway.
I had never interviewed anyone before but I started a podcast anyway. I didn’t even have a microphone so I had to borrow a crappy headset (like the ones telemarketers wear) from a colleague.
I didn’t feel ready but I started anyway and it made all the difference.
Important Lesson #1: Start now and figure out the details later.
Good Ideas Come from Action
When I started the Mad Fientist, I thought I would write about investing. I planned to do a bunch of research, develop innovative investing strategies, and write all about them.
Once I started researching, however, I realized that index investing has the highest likelihood of success (with the lowest costs) so that screwed up my plan to come up with interesting and unique investing methods!
Since I still wanted something interesting to write about and wanted to speed up my journey to FI, I was forced to start looking into other ways to optimize.
And that’s how I ended up writing about tax-avoidance strategies for early retirees, which is what ended up making my site popular.
Had I waited for a eureka moment before starting, it would have never come. It was only the process of researching and writing about other things that lead me to an interesting topic that nobody had written about before.
Important Lesson #2: Your best ideas will come from the work you do (not from magical bathtub inspiration). It’s much easier to improve on existing ideas and make subtle shifts in direction than come up with the perfect idea out of thin air.
Why Everyone Should Have a Business
These are important lessons but why should you care? Maybe you don’t have a business and haven’t thought of starting one?
I’m here to say that starting a business could be the best thing you do on your path to financial independence and it could be the thing that impacts your happiness most after early retirement.
Fills the Void
People who achieve financial independence and retire early are usually motivated, ambitious, hard-working people.
They’re like a car going 75 miles per hour down the freeway but when they find out about FI, they speed up to 100 mph to get to their FI destination as soon as possible.
What happens when a car going 100 miles per hour immediately drops down to 0 mph though?
You don’t have to be a physicist to know that it’s not good.
And yet that’s what I often see when talking to people about pursuing FI.
They are consumed by their goal, they’re racing there at 100mph, and yet they’re not thinking about what happens when they get there (or what they’re going to do after).
I did exactly the same thing. And as I described in this post, the only thing that kept me from freaking out after leaving my job was the fact that I had an existing business to fill the void.
What About Hobbies
You may be thinking to yourself, “Whatever, Mad Fientist…I have a lot of hobbies and there’s tons of stuff I plan to do after I retire!”
Hobbies are good, of course. But a business is different because it provides additional pressure that makes you do what you say you’re going to do.
For example, I thought I would cook a lot of interesting meals after leaving my job. I have all day to buy fresh ingredients and research new recipes so why wouldn’t I start my new cooking hobby like I’ve always wanted to?
Well, it’s been over two years since I left my job and I still haven’t done it.
Because the only external motivation to do it is my wife saying, “What happened to your plan to cook me delicious meals all the time?!” Yes, that’s motivating but it usually just results in me cooking something easy that I already know how to cook.
The Mad Fientist (my business), however, is different.
I still publish at roughly the same frequency as I always have and that’s because it’s a real business and if I don’t publish for a while, I get a bunch of emails asking when the next one is going to come out.
So a business can be just like a hobby but one that you take more seriously (and therefore hopefully get more fulfillment from).
Which brings us to the most important part of starting a business and the part that if you get it right, can guarantee your success…
How to Pick the Right Business
The first step to picking the right business is to completely remove money from the equation.
If you’re on the path to FI, you already make enough money. And if you’re FI, you already have enough money.
The primary purpose of this business is not earning money (although it likely will)…it’s for increasing your happiness.
Side Note: If you remove money from the business equation, it will put you in a different league from everyone else and can drastically improve your odds of success.
For example, if the Mad Fientist business was about maximizing profit, do you think I would have removed ads from my website? Would I choose to keep my podcast commercial-free? Hell no!
But I do do those things and I believe it’s allowed me to build a closer relationship with my readers/listeners, which has helped me grow to where I am today.
Not focusing on money will give you a unique advantage over other businesses in your space and will help you stand out.
So if you don’t focus on the money, what should you focus on instead?
- Interest – What are you most interested in or excited about?
- Improve – What do you want to learn more about or get better at?
- Meet – Who do you want to meet and hang out with?
- Utilize – What skills do you like utilizing and want to improve on?
Let’s use the Mad Fientist as an example again.
Back in 2012, I was aggressively pursuing FI and was ridiculously excited about it so box #1 was ticked.
In order to get to FI quicker, I wanted to learn more about investing and I wanted to figure out new ways to optimize my finances so box #2 was ticked.
I also wanted to be able to talk to people who had already achieved FI so that I could ask them questions. Box #3 was ticked.
As far as my existing skills were concerned, I was better at math and money stuff than most people, I was a professional software developer so I had web development skills, and I also had above-average Excel skills.
Was I a great writer? No. Had I ever interviewed anyone before? No.
That didn’t matter though because in those early days, I just focused on what I was good at and used that to differentiate myself.
For example, I immediately released a FI Spreadsheet that I had built to track my own numbers. I also created a custom calculator to supplement the first post I wrote. I then started using my math and analytical skills to come up with optimization strategies specifically for early retirees.
I used skills I had (e.g. web development, math, etc.) to compensate for skills I didn’t feel I had yet (e.g. writing, interviewing, etc.).
I didn’t need to be the best at everything but I figured there was enough that I was “above average” at that would allow me to potentially make a meaningful contribution. The other stuff I just learned and got better at along the way.
Even if I had never received a single reader or made a single dollar, the business would have still been a great success.
First, it forced me to learn more about something I was already very interested in. The things I learned while researching blog posts and podcast episodes drastically reduced my time to FI and allowed me to optimize my own finances more than I would have otherwise (after all, the best way to learn something is to try to teach it to others).
It also allowed me to expand my web development skills, design skills, writing skills, and people skills…all things I wanted to improve on.
Having a podcast gave me the opportunity to call people who did exactly what I wanted to do (i.e. achieve FI) and ask them all the questions I wanted to. I got to meet interesting people that I wouldn’t have otherwise and I learned a lot from them along the way.
So even if the business didn’t make a single penny, it would have been incredibly successful because the business fell into the neon-green diamond at the center of the Venn diagram shown above.
There are even more side benefits to having an actual business that are worth mentioning…
Having a business opens up an entirely new category of
As I’ve mentioned before, travel miles/points have allowed me and my wife to visit 50+ countries for very little money and
Business cards offer some of the best signup bonuses on the market but you need to have a business to take advantage of them.
Tax Benefits of Owning a Business
Owning a business also provides numerous tax benefits so let’s dive into some of those…
My first year running the Mad Fientist, I made no money but I spent money on business things like website hosting so my business made a loss for the year.
I was able to use that business loss to lower the amount of taxes I paid on my normal W-2 salary!
Hopefully you don’t make a loss for many years but at least it helps you lower your taxes in the years that you do.
Business expenses are a great way to pay for things you’d probably buy anyway while using tax-free money to do it!
This beautiful MacBook Pro I’m typing this article on was a business expenses (you definitely need a laptop to be a blogger).
My recent flight from Scotland to Florida to attend a conference was a business expense (the fact that my family lives 1.5 hours away and I got to see them on the trip was a nice bonus).
My cell phone and internet plans are business expenses (need a way to stay in contact with my audience, right?)
The list goes on but you can see that having legitimate business expenses for things you’d probably spend money on anyway is a great way to lower your taxes.
When you have a business, you can contribute to tax-advantaged accounts like SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, or Solo 401(k)s.
Depending on how much profit your business earns, you could potentially sock away $66,000 into one of these great accounts in 2023 and drastically lower your tax bill!
Other Tax Benefits
Having a business will also allow you to take advantage of the Tax Break of the Century!
As you can see, the tax code is very kind to businesses but you need to have a business to take advantage of all the great stuff on offer.
What About the Money
As I mentioned, money shouldn’t be the primary focus for your new business.
Mad Fientist success and all the great things that have come from that over the years wouldn’t have happened if I had focused on the money.
Yes, you have to be “trying” to earn money (otherwise the IRS will classify your business as a hobby and you’ll miss out on all the great tax breaks) but it shouldn’t be the primary thing that’s driving you.
Here is the traffic and income graph of the Mad Fientist since it started in early 2012.
As you can see, it took over four years to receive any sort of meaningful income.
That’s four years of putting in full-time hours and receiving pennies per day.
That’s why so many blogs and podcasts fail. You have to love the topic to keep going and if you’re focused only on the money, you’ll quit long before you see any.
This is a good time to talk about “passive income”.
Passive income is a lie and it should instead be called “front-loaded work”.
Front-loaded work is great because it potentially has unlimited upside and you’re not simply trading hours for dollars. It’s definitely not passive though because it’s often harder than normal work and there’s a lot of risk you won’t earn anything from your effort.
I would say that front-loaded work is the perfect type of work for people who are financially independent and don’t need the money though.
So if you’re not actively pursuing money in your business, what can you pursue instead that will allow you to still feel productive?
Answer: Potential energy
In the early years of the Mad Fientist, I would get jealous that other smaller sites were earning a bunch of money and I wasn’t earning anything.
It was very tempting to do some of the things those other sites were doing (especially since I was still saving for FI at the time) but I wasn’t comfortable doing any of it because none of the money-making opportunities felt right to me. In fact, it wasn’t until many years later that something finally came along that I was excited to promote (i.e. the free portfolio-management software that I use).
I still wanted to capitalize on the traffic I was getting at the time though so I decided to build up my potential energy instead.
What do I mean by that?
Think back to your high-school physics class. When you push a ball up a hill, you’re increasing the ball’s potential energy. The higher you go, the more potential energy. When you finally decide to convert the ball’s potential energy into kinetic energy and you push the ball back down the hill, the higher the ball is on the hill, the faster and further it will go.
I applied that same idea to my business.
Since there were no good money-making opportunities available (kinetic energy), I focused instead on just building up my email list (potential energy).
I figured that if I decided to write a book or something one day, it’d be great to have a lot of people to email about it (side note: I think writing a book would kill me so I’ve since realized that that’s never going to happen).
So I focused on building up my potential energy (email list) in order to generate more kinetic energy (profit) one day when I eventually found something I’d be comfortable selling or promoting.
This allowed me to still feel like I was doing something productive without compromising my integrity or pissing off my audience.
Other Lessons from Mad Fientist Success
There’ve been many other business lessons I’ve learned from this Mad Fientist experiment that are worth sharing…
When I was thinking of names for my site, I shared the Mad Fientist name with Jill and some of my family members.
They all hated it.
They thought it was dumb and since fientist is a word I made up myself, they thought that nobody would understand what my site was about.
I decided to go with it anyway because I thought it perfectly captured the dorky, analytical, math-focused direction I wanted the site to go in.
Turns out, that decision is one of the main reasons the site is still around today.
Mr. Money Mustache was my very first podcast guest way back in 2012 and since I had no audience at the time, I always wondered why he agreed to be on my show.
It wasn’t until many years later, after we became friends in real life, that I finally asked him why he agreed to come on my podcast.
His answer…”Because you’re the Mad Fientist!”
So he liked my name/logo and that’s why he agreed to come on the show.
Not only did his appearance give me my first traffic, it also made me take my site more seriously. There were many times in the first few years that I thought about quitting but each time I did, I’d say to myself, “No, MMM took a chance on my podcast so I need to keep going and hopefully send some traffic his way one day to pay him back”.
Being me and picking a dorky site name is probably the reason I’m still typing to you today.
You Don’t Have to Do What Everyone Else is Doing
The other thing I learned is that you don’t have to do what people tell you you need to do or what you see others doing.
When I started, everyone said you had to post weekly or else you’d never succeed. You need to be consistent!
I always knew that if I tried to follow a strict schedule, I’d end up burning out and would quit so I just focused on quality instead of quantity.
I figured that if I provided quality stuff, people would subscribe and as long as I kept producing quality stuff, people wouldn’t unsubscribe, so I would grow. I personally would never unsubscribe from an email list because someone only emailed me interesting stuff once a month but I would unsubscribe if they emailed me mediocre stuff weekly.
Yes, it took longer to grow but when growth/profit isn’t your primary focus, it doesn’t really matter (and if you’re FI or going to be soon, it definitely doesn’t matter).
Important Lesson #3: If you get more new readers/customers than you lose, you’re guaranteed to be successful eventually.
Creating a business has provided more benefits than I can count and is one of the main reasons my post-job life has been so enjoyable.
In fact, I’ve been thinking about that Venn diagram a lot and am considering starting a new business in a completely different field (not because I want to make more money but because I want all those other benefits I talked about).
New Business Idea
Let’s revisit the Venn diagram but for this new business idea.
- Interest – The thing I’m most excited about and interested in these days is synthesizers. I read about them all the time and I love making weird sounds on the ones I already have.
- Improve – I want to get better at programming synthesizers but I’m not working as hard as I’d like to on that goal so I clearly need some external motivation.
- Meet – I want to meet other musicians and play music with other people.
- Utilize – I have above-average knowledge of sound synthesis and I have a lot of experience building a web-based business and an online audience.
So let’s look at my current situation…
I’m interested in synthesizers and I want to do more with them and meet others who play them so I can either:
- Continue reading about synthesis online, continue playing around with my keyboards in my apartment, attempt to find a local musicians meetup group or something.
- Start a new synthesizer-focused website, create a comprehensive synthesizer video course that I can give away for free on YouTube, create advanced-level premium content that I can later sell to my audience, etc.
If I go with option #1, I imagine I’ll get better (slowly) and may meet some cool people along the way but think about all the possibilities of option #2…
I would be forced to dive into the nitty gritty details of synthesizers while building my comprehensive course. I would find out what is truly important and would drastically improve my own skills while trying to teach others.
After creating the website and course, I would likely have people getting in touch with me who are interested in the same type of music that I am (for an introvert, having people contact you is WAY easier than trying to reach out to others).
If one of my favorites bands is looking for a new keyboard player, I would have instant credibility and there’d be a much higher probability of getting an audition (they’re all small bands so this is actually a possibility).
If my audience got big enough, I’d potentially get free synths and gear sent to me. And any synths that I bought myself, I could write them off as a business expense!
So even if the business itself doesn’t earn much money, I will have still won.
I will have learned more than I would have otherwise, I will get to meet more people than I would have without the business, and I will have at least saved some money on things I would have bought anyway.
Best case scenario though, I have an online course that sells while I sleep, I have a higher likelihood of joining one of my favorite bands, and I have a room full of free synths that I can play for the rest of my life.
See why I think creating a business is something everyone pursuing FI needs to do?
So get out there and create something.
If you start your business the right way, it shouldn’t even cost you much money.
For example, this site gets millions of pageviews every year and yet I’m still only paying $15/month for my web server (a Dreamhost VPS), $5/month to host my podcast (Libsyn), and $23/month to host my custom web applications (Heroku).
My biggest cost is for my email software (ConvertKit) but even that was free when I had less subscribers.
It’s easier and cheaper than ever to start your own business so there’s really no excuse not to.
At best, it will provide extra income that will drastically reduce your time to FI and will make your transition to joblessness easier.
At worst, it will allow you to improve your skills, meet interesting people, and increase your happiness and fulfillment both before FI and beyond.
Don’t wait until you have a pathetic meltdown in front of your friends…start something now!
You rock. Yours is of the very few email newsletters that I actually read and click and read some more. Most of my inbox I just check and delete, wishing there was something better in there. I’m always delighted when madfi arrives. Thank you.
That is great to hear :)
Good for you Mad Fientist. I too choose a blog name that my partner told me they did not like, but was fitting for me. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I have been learning along the way and its been a lot of hard work and really fun.
Thanks for the post!
I feel the same as Carolyn. Congrats to the Mad FIentist!
And the article above was value add. I am going to follow-up on the concept. Thanks.
I have to second this and absolutely agree. I actually enjoy that it is not always a predictable time-frame (i.e., weekly or something) for Mad Fientist emails to show up. It is always a pleasant surprise :)
Great article. I can massively relate to having loads of ideas but never getting properly started. I put this down to being an introvert and an INTJ specifically. Fortunately my partner is at the other end of the spectrum and she just followed her environmentalist passion and got started on something instead of doing much planning, and now I’m helping her figure out the details later. So I kind of “cheated” my way to having a business before FI/RE, but now BeeBee Wraps is there demanding more and more of my time even before I leave the rat race. I definitely won’t have to time to get bored if I ever quit my job!
Very well said! You keep bringing new perspectives or ideas and that is really helping me on my FI journey. I like the way you combine math and smartness. Completely agree that you need pressure to get anything done meaningfully.
Thanks for all the great work and all the best on new business venture(s).
First comment here: great work, please keep going! :)
I’m getting some decent traffic on the few articles I wrote, and I now want to start an FI series in Italian (Italy often lags behind these topics and I want to spread the word a bit).
Any feelings about the platform? I like its simplicity, and it builds quite some potential energy anyway.
thanks and keep it up!
WordPress powers over 25% of all websites on the internet (including this one) so that’d probably be a good choice.
I just started my own blog about a month ago using WordPress as well. The first couple of hours using WordPress were fairly confusing, but now I feel that the WordPress dashboard is very intuitive and easy to use.
For me, it was tough to start my own business. I did freelance work for quite a while before finally taking the plunge and starting my own blog. So far, I love blogging about my financial independence journey, so I’m very glad that I started!
if you do please let me know the address, I’d be more than interested ;)
@The Mad Fientist, congrats for the great work, you’ve been a real inspiration!
By the way, I totally agree with the quality/frequency point you make (and few of the comments above): it never ever even crossed my mind the possibility of unsubscribing! Your emails are definitely maps (as in the opposite of spam :D)
Great post! And good point about looking at what you have ‘above average skills’ in. It’s all too easy not to start something as you think you have to be an expert or guru, when you really don’t. We tend to be ‘above average’ in the things we are interested in anyway because we spend our time reading, researching and doing them. We just don’t realise it!
Definitely! And even if you are just average (or even below average), you still have a unique perspective that some people will relate to (and since the internet is so big, even a very small percentage equals a huge amount of people).
“We tend to be ‘above average’ in the things we are interested in anyway because we spend our time reading, researching and doing them. We just don’t realise it!”
This is so true!
Love this. I went a little bit of a different route than you on the small businesses. When I found something I really enjoyed, I chased after it and started a business. I wanted to write books so I formed a publishing company and did that. I liked the idea of rental properties, so I formed a company to invest in those. And my favorite was starting my financial independence blog a few years ago.
Your point about just doing it is the smartest thing to do (with a little bit of research along the way). But the only sure fire way for a business to fail is not to start it. Otherwise, you’ll figure it out along the way and if it’s a passion, you’ll have fun doing it.
“The only sure fire way for a business to fail is not to start it”: This needs to be on a t-shirt :)
Thank you so much for the work you produce! I just wanted to say that you were the first to much of my FI journey. My life has changed exponentially ever since discovering FI. Your podcast with MMM was the first podcast I ever listed to! I downloaded your spreadsheet and modified it to add some projections and such and I would really love to show it to you at a Fincon or other conference some day. My wife and I has religiously updated our spreadsheets monthly for the last year and are reaching our goals thanks to you. This post will clarify some things as I go through some major thinking and action planning this morning – Thank you again for providing us with the tools and knowledge to pursue our dreams.
So many great pieces of advice in this! Makes me glad I’ve started my two business, even if one of them isn’t making anything yet. Just the tax and retirement plans you can get with a business make it worth it to me!
Great article! I’ve always stored ideas on my closet for too long and I also regreted it for a while.
One thing that I don’t agree with is though the way you describe that when reaching FI, the only way to find meaning in life is by starting a business. You are the one that has FI experience here, so I value your thoughts a lot, but if the only life after retiring from work is to have another (often more demanding) work, this feels uninspiring to me.
I think that there’s much more in live than working (for others or for myself) and there should be a plan b: volunteer to help others, for example. Or keep studying things that interest you. Or having sports goals. I can think of many different things that can present a daily challenge and get you up from bed when the time comes and have nothing to do with a business or with money. What do you think?
Thanks for your awesome blog! :)
This was addressed in the post when MF described his hobby of cooking new and exciting food. It’s possible that you are someone with high levels of intrinsic motivation that bounds out of bed to do exactly what is best to do in your own judgement of yourself. That is an unusual gift. Most people are like MF, only cooking when the wife prompts, only actually getting into physical fitness when the coach externally motivates.
Sports goals, studying, and volunteering can all be easily tied to external motivations by joining a sports team, taking university classes, or joining the local non-profit/church to volunteer. However, almost all people will find even those low level commitments less motivating than coaching the sports team, teaching the university class, facilitating the non-profit/church activity.
And many people require the higher level motivation of being responsible in order to motivate themselves to show up and do (especially being responsible to other people who’s participation will drastically suffer if you don’t perform). One of the ways that is most normalized in our society to gain that high level of external pressure is to start and run a business. You could just as easily start and run a sports league/team, school/class, non-profit/church; but often times those feel eerily similar… It’s not obvious how starting a tennis league differs drastically from starting a business that helps ammeter tennis players play tennis, etc.
Finally, I hope my response is welcome despite the question being addressed to MF. Maybe he’ll chime in if my answer was not identical to his answer.
Bingo, Michael! Thanks a lot for responding.
I’ve luckily been able to motivate myself to get to the gym, eat healthy, etc. but it’s hard to become an expert in something without having additional external motivation to do it (because I get lazy when I reach a certain level and feel like I know “enough”, even though I know life is so much better when you push and work hard to get to that next level). I wish I had the intrinsic motivation to do it but I sadly don’t.
MF, such a good post man! As the FI scene erupts and more and more of us reach a level of financial independence where we feel confident in quitting our jobs it is very interesting and informative to hear about the post-FI struggles. I like your analogy of a car going 100mph and being slowed to 0mph but I’m thinking it’s more like during your journey to FI you’re inside a rocket, blasting off from the surface of Earth. The rumble of the engine is loud, the g-forces are real. You can hear the rush of the atmosphere as it drags across the fuselage. Everything in your being is focused on the end goal of getting to space. However, as you rise and rocket stages fall off you eventually pop through the last shreds of air into outer space and you press send on that resignation letter email. You’re reveling in your accomplishment, I am now in space! However, after a short while you begin to realize it’s pretty quiet up here. You spent your whole life building a rocket ship to get to outer space, and now that you are here you are realizing there were parts of building that rocket ship that you actually enjoyed. And building the rocket gave you purpose. At this point you may even be tempted to tilt the controls back towards Earth, go get another job and build another rocket ship and blast yourself up into space again, just to have something to do (or at least just to have something to tell people you do). The trick is to remember that you are already in space in a fucking rocket ship with a universe of options in front of you. After you float around in freedom for awhile it’s likely that you’ll pick a new challenge, a new destination, and set your course.
And if you knew all this in advance you could have programmed your rocket to hit that target before it even left Earth.
Haha, nicely said!
Become a personal chef or a caterer! If cooking for your wife and yourself doesn’t motivate you, and you need external motivation (which you interpret as needing to start a business) then do it. Personally, I get motivation from feeding my partner delicious food; if it were just me, I could make do with cheese and crackers when I feel unmotivated, but cooking for him has a different mindset. And I usually feel glad I did it after it’s done.
But maybe you don’t actually want to learn how to cook new and delicious meals, you just feel like you ought to, or it feels like that would be more efficient or something. But you *aren’t* doing it, so you don’t value it as much as you say… and that’s okay. Let it go and recognize it’s not something you really want to do.
Also, not everyone is an entrepreneur, and that’s okay. Not everyone should start a new business. I’m glad that it’s great for you, but I am not someone who constantly has new ideas for businesses that I’m always thinking about. I literally cannot think of one that I would want to start – and for me, adding a sense of obligation actually takes the joy out of my hobbies. So I will never be a caterer, even though I love cooking for people I love. I will continue to do it and get better at it because it’s fun, and I enjoy it.
Please share a link to the Mad Synth-etist when you launch it!
Haha, I definitely will! I need a super cool name for it though so I’m still thinking about it :)
Great stuff! Really appreciated the passion project that startup businesses can become during FI.
I’m pre-FI and pursuing business ownership to accelerate my financial goals. Acquisition entrepreneurship (AE) is the approach I’m taking. I’d liken AE to index fund investing since both achieve strong return profiles without unnecessary risk. The thinking goes like this. If 90% of businesses fail, then why not acquire one of the 10% that made it through the startup phase and is cashflow positive?
Any advise on legal structures involved in setting up a business, registration costs, the overhead of filing a tax return for your business, etc. ? It is those aspects that have kept me from opening a business in MA.
This is what always tripped me up in my 20s. I worried I needed an LLC and a bunch of other bullshit before starting so I just never started.
The Mad Fientist was a simple sole proprietorship up until last year (when I switched over to an S-Corp…post on that coming in a few weeks). Running a sole prop was super simple and didn’t cost any more. I just kept track of my business income and expenses in a spreadsheet and then I’d file a Schedule C on my tax return and that was it. No legal structure, no registration costs, no overhead, and minimal added tax complexity (I still did it all myself in TaxAct).
Great reply. I like that you included Schedule C, and keeping track of income and expenses of the business. (I’d also recommend having a separate business checking account if you have a fair number of transaction each month to reduce co-mingling with personal expenses, but that’s just me). My wife and I have each had small side gigs; tutor, bookkeeper, clock repairman. I always have prepared our tax filings and recorded all income earned from the businesses. I’m all for reducing income taxes, but I am not comfortable shirking my share of income taxes due. I don’t want to sweat a potential tax audit, and there’s no honor in being an unethical business owner. Besides, it’s more fun to legally beat the tax system following the rules of the game. Nobody can say you cheated to make it work when you follow the rules.
Good stuff Mad Fientist
I started a blog last year but don’t foresee making any money for a few years. I never registered my blog as a business. Do you recommend I register it as a business immediately? If so, how would I go about that? Like I said, I’m not making money or even have visitors yet.
Great material as usual. Love Love Love your podcasts!
I didn’t really register my blog until last year when I had to set up an LLC in order to become an S-Corp.
I just filed a Schedule C on my tax return before that and I can’t remember when I got the business it’s own EIN but it wasn’t in the first few years at least.
Great article! I listened to the PopUp Business school episode yesterday, so can’t believe this was sent this morning. My wife started a website 2 months ago and I have helped with building the website and marketing, but she is putting together the weekly information.
We both want to take advantage of business credit cards, but we have not registered the business yet. Would we have to label the business as a partnership in order for me to also apply for the credit cards as well? Or is it easier to have the business be a sole-proprietorship under her name? I plan on helping as much as I can but just not sure what is simpler come tax time.
I was able to get business cards as a sole proprietorship (even when I wasn’t making much profit) so I imagine that’d be the simplest way to go about it.
Great article…very inspirational! I’ve got a practical question regarding the IRS and how to prove that you’re ‘trying to make money,’ even if it’s not your primary objective. Let’s say I start a blog about boat renovation, which records our progress and includes some ‘how-to’ posts and maybe videos. Would I need to throw in some Amazon affiliate links or something in order to prove I consider the blog a business? You mention starting your blog with the intention of building up your email list. Is that enough for the IRS? Thanks!
The IRS doesn’t like seeing a loss on your tax returns for more than 2 or 3 years so just try to start making money eventually and you’ll hopefully be okay.
Quick question: to be able to deduct your business expenses when you are still making no money, do you have to register your business with the IRS (get a Tax I.D) or form an LLC? Thanks!
I only formed an LLC last year and I don’t think I had a separate tax ID when I started filing a Schedule C on my tax return (to deduct my business expenses).
I stayed subscribed because you do not spam me with weekly emails and you have proper name for this site. I did hit my 30s a few months back and exactly same question came to me as you nicely describe in your article.
Good to know that I am not alone and thanks for doing this.
Excellent post! I love this perspective. I’ve been blogging for about a year and have been struggling with notion of trying to monetize the blog. To-date I haven’t done so. If it was solely about the money and I wasn’t passionate about FIRE I would have quit long ago.
That said, I feel like this year has been a smashing success. I’ve learned so much and developed skills in areas that I knew nothing about, and I have connected with several experts in the field. As a result my family will reach FI years earlier than otherwise! The power of Starting Something is amazing!
I started listening to your podcast a couple of years ago when I discovered the FI movement via a GoCurryCracker podcast. I realized that I had been unconsciously pursuing FI for years, but just didn’t have a name for it and didn’t realize there were others who felt the same.
Because of you and some others, I’ve taken the leap to try my own personal side hustle business – started a blog about seasoned business execs trying to downshift into side hustles and part time work!
Whaaaat?! Your own family didn’t love the name Mad Fientist?! It is still my fave name of all the FI community. I say you just keep rockin’ right on with your dorkitude.
Love the content! I even read all tje comments above! Keep writing great stuff!
Madfientist, are you psychic because I’ve been asking myself about this question for the past month. I was wondering about the pros and cons of establishing a business and you wrote a post! Mind reading skills.
It amazes me the money you can make when you’re not trying to make money. Follow your heart and you’ll do your best work. And when you do your best work, the money will start following you.
Of course, the money doesn’t even matter much because we’re all FIREd. Kinda funny how it all works out.
Life is good.
I used similar criteria when I started a website a couple years ago. I was about a year away from hitting my FI number and wanted to start a new project that I could continue working on once I quit my day job (fill the void). I didn’t need to make money from it, so I focused on a topic that interested me and I had already been researching for my own amusement. It was in a niche with likeminded people, so I figured it would be a good way to meet people as well. Also, I already had another website that I had been managing for years, but I wanted a “test site” where I could try new things (SEO techniques, social media, etc) without destroying traffic to my main site.
For the first year I posted something every day, which took about two hours per day. In my first few months I got a good uptick in traffic thanks to Pinterest (I went from 1,000 users to 37,000 users from one month to the next), so that kept me motivated. After a year I was feeling a little burned out, so I decided to cut back to posting four times per week. Since then it’s been about 10 hours a week worth of work between creating posts and monkeying around with my site.
Even though I really didn’t need the money, after a couple months of decent traffic I signed up for AdSense. Maybe I could make a couple hundred bucks a month? I got $280 for my first full month. Then I signed up for another ad platform and my earnings jumped up to $600+. My average monthly expenses were (and still are) ~$1,500/mo, so that was pretty significant for my new site to bring in a little over $600. Two months later I hit $1k for the first time. Five months later I hit $2k. Now the site was bringing in enough to cover all of my expenses — right as I hit my FI number. Kind of funny how that worked out. Three months later I went from the $2k range to over $4k. Since then the income has continued to increase (I almost hit $8k in Sep) even though I’ve been keeping my work at 10 hours/week.
What started out as a fun little project has turned into a real income that covers all my expenses and gives me a ~70% savings rate. The only problem now is all my careful planning for Roth conversion ladders, maxing out ACA subsidies, etc. has gone out the window. I’m back to tax-avoidance strategies with maxing out my i401k, HSA, etc.
Haha, same thing happened to me. You’ll notice in that income graph that side income finally started coming in at the end of 2016, which was after I hit my FI number. Why couldn’t that extra income have come along when I was aggressively saving for FI instead and I could have quit my job earlier!
It was definitely great to have income coming in when I transitioned to joblessness but it did screw up my Roth Conversion Ladder plans too. I also had all these articles about withdrawal strategies, etc. planned but it’s hard to write about things I’m not experiencing myself so they’ll have to wait!
I’ve never really considered myself a writer and thus agonized for months over whether or not to actually start my blog. Especially because no matter how much I read about blogging, I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing!
Fast forward a year and I’m so happy I did pull the trigger. This “side business” (even though I haven’t made any money) is the creative outlet I’ve been lacking, and I’ve found so many other ideas for side businesses coming in! Now the only thing to do is hop back in and start another one :)
I’m not sure anyone ever feels like they know what they’re doing. Some just fake it better than others :)
This is it right here! Having a business on the path to FIRE is an awesome way to capitalize on so many benefits, but it also provides that sense of purpose and flexibility since I get to choose which way I want to go. Starting my company almost 4 years ago was the best decision of my life, both personally and professionally. Did I know exactly where I wanted to go at the time? No. Did I ever imagine I’d be where I am today? Not even close. Can I even fathom where I’ll be in 5, 10, 20 years? Probably not. But I am excited to continue to pursue my dreams, expand my business, and utilize it to shape my future. Great post MF! Miss you guys and hope you are doing well.
Miss you guys too! Hope the new podcast is taking off (as it’s destined to do)!
MadFientist, it was your show and your FI guests that got me thinking and unveiled the possibility of retiring as a teacher with the family of 6. I don’t know you personally but I feel we have been hanging out for a while. You bring a wealth of information to the FI world.
It seems like some failures were necessary for a great success. YOU ROCK dude! Keep up the good work. Love your site and podcast.
Thanks for continuing to hang out :)
Fantastic post chock full of meaty info, will be coming back to this one.
P.s. it’s easy to lose browsers on mobile device, and forget what I was reading… ever thought of a mad fientist app?
Nope! I’ll have to ask MMM how his app is going next time I see him though
This is an interesting article. I’d love to see something posted around the types of businesses that people have started after reaching Financial Independence. Starting a website doesn’t really appeal to me, but what other options are out there since this only covered the Mad Fientist journey which was a website. I’m 33 and less than 5 years away from financial independence at this point, so have started to think about the different types of things I could do once I no longer have to “work for the man” anymore.
I don’t normally comment on blog posts because I’m not usually moved enough by what the author says to want to, but this post was really fantastic. There was so much good advice, and your sincerity and concern for your readers was very evident.
I can totally relate to what you said about getting excited about an idea only to then feel so overwhelmed you eventually shelve it. I too have done this many times, but you have inspired me to start working in earnest on a blog I recently started. You are right. We learn best by doing, and even if everything isn’t perfect, it is completely fine. We just need to push forward.
Thanks for all of the wonderful information you share on this blog. I always look forward to opening your emails, since I know they will be valuable. They are one of the few that I actually read. It is obvious you put a lot of thought and hard work into everything you do. I wish you much continued success.
If it’s a blog you’re working on, remember that you can always go back later and improve stuff. I’ve done that with all of my posts, actually. I’ve become a better writer over the years so I went back through all my earlier posts and improved them.
Thanks very much for the comment and the kind words and good luck with the blog :)
A great post (thanks to JLcollins to redirect me here)
Straight to the point:
Results will come only after hard work, discipline, persistence and delivering value
Today 99% of the people live a mediocre life because they give up too quickly
As simple as sad like that
Keep up the good work Mad F!
This is encouraging for the newer upcoming bloggers. Ive read about you from years ago and the time jl Collins interviewed you in a Google hangout.
Glad you’re still active in the community leading the youngins
Another great one, Mad Fientist! It has been almost 1 year since I started listening/reading your content and it has been the best year of my life! Growth, direction, goals, passionate about many of the same topics, and the list goes on!
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! I’ve been working furiously to launch my blog. It’s full-time hours and then some.
But you know what? I love it, and I love it even more after reading this article.
You’ve perfectly articulated how I want to blog and what I naturally gravitate towards. (Especially the part about building up potential energy.)
I totally agree with you about not doing what everyone says you “should”, like posting at least once per week. Like you, I know that would burn me out. So I’m not gonna do it!
I could go on about all the points I agree with in this article. But I’ll end it here with a huge thank you for articulating your view on starting a business so clearly, and in such a actionable way.
I love the quality content you put out. This is the post I needed. I have been holding off on trying to build my blog, but this is just what I needed! Thank you!
I can totally relate to what you said about getting excited about an idea only to then feel so overwhelmed you eventually shelve it. I too have done this many times, but you have inspired me to start working on a business idea I had earlier. You are right. We learn best by doing, and even if everything isn’t perfect, it is completely fine. We just need to push forward.
Since you have mentioned that you really enjoy working out, you may want to check out the UltraMarathon Man, Dean Karnazes. Like you, he also had his big breakthrough on his 30th birthday. You were smart, however, to start a blog. He went for a 30 mile run, instead!
Hi FI! Just found your blog and read your start a business post. Loved it! You are certainly showing me the way to not just survive, but thrive! Thank you.
Might you have any thoughts for over 60 year olds that lost everything during the Great Recession (2008)?
I feel luckier than most of my cohort (Boomers) in that I love to write and have 30 years experience in business administration, Sustainability, journalism, and social media (google my full name).
I saw your VENN diagram and will heed your suggestion to ‘just start’. The help I seek is How do I survive on $200 food stamps a month, with no secure housing and no internet, car or mass transit? I have been surviving by doing freelance work, but have not made more than $800 a month in the past 8 years. Puerto Rico, where I live, is going through terrible times, so it’s not easy.
I welcome any suggestions.
Monica Perez Nevarez
I love you.
You’re the FI blogger closer to my mindset, I wish I had more Mad FIentist in my life, pushing me in the right direction
I don’t subscribe via mail, I still use rss feeds. I’m a dinosaur.
But you convinced me to subscribe to your mailing list right now, with this post.
And I can’t wait to receive your mails!
And I don’t give a fuck about the fact one should never start a sentence with “and” or “but”.
Totally agree here. A business has so many positives – even though it can be hard work. We’re on our 2nd biz and while we’ve had ups and downs there is no greater feeling to know you are building something of your own and that it is doing good in the world. I get deflated / and my energy sucked when all I’m doing is helping someone else’s bottom line / agenda (corporate work). While that still has its benefits (not having to take the job home with you), a business is something that can gain value and a legacy to leave behind.
“The middle is messy but that’s where the magic happens”
After finishing school I held down several casual jobs, traveled and did what I did to make ends meet. Ultimately I found myself in a job that got me onto a career path and I continued that path trying to rise through the ranks.
My employers effectively paid me to learn from them.
This was until I found my sweet spot.
Discovering our sweet spot requires us to step out of our comfort zone. Most of the time All of the time this is scary, however successful people know that this is where growth and rewards come from. The flip side risk is complacency, ultimately which erodes our passion.
One final insight when your found your sweet spot; remember that just like an ice-cream success tastes sweeter when shared with good friends.
This reminds me of some great advice I once received about starting a business, “It only fails when you give up on it.”
I didn’t know you are an introvert. It seems the FI legends are all introverts: ERE, MMM, Brad from Choose FI, and now you! I would love to have you on my Introvert Interview series. Please be on the lookout for an email from Drew at FI Introvert!
This is one of the best articles I’ve read about how to choose a business idea. The ven diagram makes a lot of sense, but it gives me pause, because I’m not sure that the website I’ve been working on for 2+ years ticks all of those boxes for me. Thanks for the food for thought!
Great article, and timely for me as I am five years from FI. I started a blog and have zero readership, but I believe in the content, and I’m hoping it will give me purpose when I eventually FIRE. I’ve already implemented several things I’ve learned from your site. Thanks for doing it.
This was an awesome post! I had so many ideas in my 20s, but always made excuses about making the jump or thought it was too hard to figure out. Just like you, at 30, I launched my site. Only 6 months old, but already have money making opportunities and planning on registering an LLC this month. The tax benefits and potential for a solo 401k are huge. If you have an idea, just go for it.
Hope more people read this post and get inspired!
Great article! I can totally relate to your meltdown story, as I had similar thoughts and frustrations on my 30th birthday because I hadn’t pulled the trigger on any of my business ideas (I felt like such a fake, talking about all of these ideas but never executing!). I like how you explained what type of business you should start – that diagram and bullet point summary is probably the most concise, but informative explanation on that topic that I have ever seen!
After turning 31 last month, I am happy to report that I’ve taken the plunge and started two new businesses and I’m thrilled to finally start the journey and see where it leads. Your article and blog provides a lot of inspiration – thank you for your efforts over the years providing quality content.
I really like that you focus on quality over quantity. I find as I work to try to get more visitors to my site I fall into the trap of sticking to a number of posts/likes/follows etc. instead of just focusing on quality outreach. People definitely recognize that and appreciate it.
Totally agreed on just start something (just launch)! Really appreciate the post and the extra motivation!
I would like to comment on finding your passion before and after retirement in doing something other than volunteer work. My daughter would never understand why I am not motivated in volunteer work to keep me busy after I retire in 6 months. MF, you hit the nail on the head because I am excited in starting a business as a Personal Chef in the senior community. Cooking is my passion and what better group to engage with than my own peers in the retirement community which will no doubt lead to other opportunities in the foodie world.
While I am not particularly driven by making money, I do like the aspect of finding a social net in the community and helping those in need. Thus I would negotiate my price for food which in a sense is volunteering my time to cook but still gives me that challenge of being in a business environment as well. I have been reading your blog for the past 4 months and found it to be very useful information and encouraging me to get started with my own venture. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain! Thank you very much MF!
This is so inspiring!
I love the Interest, Improve, Meet, Utilize method. Honestly, it really simplifies things for me. Once I am able to find an interest that i am passionate about, I would love to implement these ideas. Thank you!
Thank you!!! I’ve had an idea I’ve been sitting on for several years with all the excuses not to do it and saying I would start WHEN I am no longer a slave to the cubicle. There were reasons for this, but really, it was just an excuse. So…I got my shit together and just started. It’s not perfect. I have little experience or knowledge of technology anything. I don’t have tons of time to learn how to make it better YET. But it’s real and slowly growing and I’m excited about it :) Feel free to check it out if you’d like – financiallyfitkid.com (and obviously if you have any suggestions, don’t hold back!). Yeah – I don’t use my real name…YET. That was one of my excuses holding my back, but now when that excuse is no longer applicable, it will be an update vs just getting started :)
Great Post! This message triggered something in me & really got me thinking AND doing! Just want to say I appreciate what you are doing and the messages you are sharing. Thank YOU!
Hi, thanks for all your helpful posts! I have a very small business (earned 3K in 2018, maybe 4K for 2019) and a larger W2 salary. Am I still eligible to sign up for a business credit card but then use it for personal expenses? Or do business credit cards HAVE to only be used for business expenses?
Also, my understanding is that with such a small business salary I’m not eligible to open a solo 401K- is that correct?
Dear Mad FI-entist,
This blog is very encouraging. You are really a scientist and your Potential and Kinetic energy theory is too good. Before I visited your site, I was thinking about Early Retirement. Now I think of FI (Financial Independence). Thank you for enlightening me.
Just like you, I floated my site http://www.sapyard.com in late 2014 out of passion. Starting with just few hundred page views per month, today we have more than 200K page view per month. Although I do not earn enough from my site to be FI but I enjoying working on my site. I learn everyday. I learn while writing article. Hopefully, I would be FI and than be a full time SAPYarder soon.
Thank you again
Great post … So many nuggets of wisdom and inspiration!
This was so helpful. I liked that you touched on how success doesn’t come from magical inspiration but from the work that you put into your business.
First comment! I’ve only been awakened to the FI scene for a few months now, and of all the FI content out there your stuff resonates with me the most. I am at a middle point in life where I am just cusping on having “enough” and wondering what to do next, so FI is coming along at a good time for me.
Your technical articles have taught me so much and I have taken real action to optimize my situation (and continue to do so) based on your in depth research (e.g. HSAs). But this article is one of my favorites so far, especially the point about just starting. We are starting out now on our own path to create a blog and we business, and plan to figure out the details while we go. The small amount of writing we have done has been extremely rewarding and that alone has been a significantly positive change in my life.
Thank you for your inspiration and very practical advice. Best of luck and keep it up!
Only just found this article. Thank you for sharing and reflecting on your journey! I definitely agree that it’s important to just start. I started my own blog early this year and I’ve already learned so much, and it has really forced me to dig deeper into topics that I otherwise would not have dug into. My aim is not to make money, but learn and hopefully help others along the way! So looks like I’m in a good place based on the quadrant hopefully :) Hope your journey continues to be awesome! All the best :)
Great read and truly inspiring! Curious what do you use for web design / maintenance? Is it a WP hookup with Dreamhost?
Thanks always for the amazing content!
I agree with a lot of this and definitely the parts about not being motivated by income goals, just getting started, and also starting with the idea to improve skills, meeting people & so on.
I’ll add an alternative opinion however and say, as someone who spent 2-3 years grinding away in his own LLC, having a business can also turn out to be a much bigger responsibility than you think. You’ll feel like you;re working 7 days a week for $5 /hr. The whole be-your-own-boss thing can really suck at times. That’s just being honest. There are amazing highs but really stressful lows just the same. And I still had my full time job more or less – and no kids!
This business is no more, and that;s a good thing. Businesses fail routinely for many reasons. The best thing about it was I did learn a lot and at times enjoy the process of learning so that was a big plus. I lost money even when I thought I was doing ok. As I came to eventually think: You’ve not made a dime until your accountant does the books.
I’m moving towards FI and enjoying the process of of investing and writing about it.
This is my second time reading this, but it’s perfect timing! I’ve been coast FIRE for a couple years now and am just now really getting into my business. I also have a young child, so that makes a big difference in time availability as I’m sure you are now realizing:-).
I miss your more frequent podcasts, but appreciate you keeping things alive!
On a side note, my family will be in Scotland this summer! Let me know if you’ve created a Fientist hangout spot :-)
Love it mate, you were definitely one of the inspirations for myself when I started writing about my journey to FIRE 5 years ago, even though all of your stuff is geared towards yanks, I was able to take a load of useful information and apply it to the Aussie financial landscape, the most powerful stuff anyway was all the motivation/why stuff and personal behaviours, not the what or investing products. I found writing about FI and investing helped keep myself accountable and linking in with the FIRE community has been incredibly motivating. Thanks for all your hard work with your writing and podcast episodes, it has been greatly appreciated by this aussie who very much enjoyed listening to it as I racked up my flight hours! Cheers
I send many of your “quality” posts to my clients who are burned out and terrified of even attempting to start their own business. This post is one of my faves, so glad you posted it!
Great stuff! Love your perspective and honesty. Just sent your article to a friend who’s not interested in FI but is considering (and should pursue) a new business (fantasy games podcast). Your writing is very personal and I feel like I know you well. Even though you say it, it’s clear that you mean it: you’re not trying to sell me something. I check your site often and am always pleased to see a new article. And I use your FI spreadsheet religiously. Thanks for inspiring me to get my ass in gear and devote more time to a floundering side hustle. Keep the great content coming and best wishes for the new year!