A few years ago, Joel Runyon got tired of having an average life. He was working at UPS and waiting for things to happen to him, until he decided to do something about it. Joel made a list of all the things he used to think were impossible, and then, he set out to do them. Now, Joel works on his own terms and does his best to live a life of adventure and meaning while doing the impossible.
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- Your Big Idea: Successful Entrepreneurs have One Big Idea. Follow JLD’s FREE training & you’ll discover Your Big Idea in less than an hour!
- “It’s always impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela click to tweet!
- A college graduate who couldn’t get a call back from Starbucks, was fired from UPS, and who was living in his parents basement had to admit that he failed somewhere along the way. What was different with Joel were the actions he took to change his situation. Powerful.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Joel didn’t think he had a very active or loyal community, until he posted about going skydiving. Well, when 41 people responded in the affirmative, Joel had a lightbulb go off and hasn’t looked back since.
- Raising $25k for Kiva and building houses in Guatemala, Impossible HQ inspires people to TAKE ACTION, not just stand on the sidelines.
- Joel goes in-depth about the best business advice he ever received. A must-hear.
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John Lee Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply thrilled to introduce my guest today, Joel Runyon. Joel, are you prepared to ignite?
Joel Runyon: Yes, I am. Let’s do this.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome! A few years ago, Joel got tired of having an average life, working at UPS and waiting for things to happen to him. So he decided to do something about it. Joel made a list of all the things he used to think were impossible and then set out to do them. Now, Joel works on his own terms and does his best to live a life of adventure and meaning while doing the impossible.
I’ve given Fire Nation a little overview, Joel. Why don’t you share who you are and what you do?
Joel Runyon: Yes. So my name is Joel Runyon. I run a few different websites. The main one is called “The Blog of Impossible Things.” There, I have a whole list of things that I always wanted to do for a long, long time and kind of told myself it wasn’t possible to do them. After a while, I just kind of got sick of telling myself it wasn’t possible and figured out even if they are impossible, at least I’ll give them a shot and at least try to do them. So I decided to go out and do them. So I’ve got this list of things that I’m basically just going out and seeing if I can do them one by one by one and sharing my story and my journey along the way.
John Lee Dumas: Very inspiring. Now, at EntrepreneurOnFire, we start every show off with a success quote. You’re our spotlighted entrepreneur today so this is your success quote. You told me you have a little something special in store for us. It might be an Impossible HQ special. Why don’t you share it with us?
Joel Runyon: Yes. Well, there’s a quote by Nelson Mandela that says “it’s always impossible until it’s done.” I like that a lot. Everything always seems impossible, and then as soon as you do it, you’re like, “Oh, well, what else can I do?” It really just opens up the doors to what else you’re capable of, what else is possible.
John Lee Dumas: So how would you say that you actually apply that to your everyday life specifically? Let’s dive down to the ground level and just give us a couple examples of how you apply that awesome Nelson Mandela quote to your life.
Joel Runyon: Okay. Well, maybe I could talk about when I started. So when I started everything, I was like nine months out of school. I had been unemployed for about six months. I worked for UPS for about six weeks during the seasonal Christmas rush, and then I got laid off right after Christmas because that’s what they do with the seasonal workers.
Basically, I just kind of sat around for a long, long time, feeling like oh for me, feeling bad about myself. I had all these things that I wanted to do, all these dreams, all these aspirations, all these wants that I want to do, but I “couldn’t do them” because I just told myself I couldn’t them.
When I started wanting to do something different, I said, “Okay. What’s the first thing that I want to even attempt? What’s the smallest thing that I can try? I don’t even think I can do it, but I’ll give it a shot.” That was an indoor triathlon. I thought I was going to drown. So I made it an indoor triathlon, so if I drowned, they’d be able to fish my body out of the water a lot easier than a lake or something else.
So when I started that and I finished – I went out and did the indoor triathlon. I didn’t know what to expect, but I finished it. Then I started to realize, okay, well, I didn’t think that was possible. So I don’t think a sprint triathlon is possible for me either, but then I went out and did that. Then I realized I could do that. Then I decided to do an Olympic, then a half Iron Man, then I did a marathon. When you start doing the stuff, doing the things that you don’t think you can do, and you start realizing that they can be done, the realization of what’s possible just keeps expanding and what you’re capable of keeps growing.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely. I don’t remember who said this, but it was a famous marathoner who said, “Finishing a marathon is nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other.” When you really break it down that way, it doesn’t seem like it’s impossible for anybody to do because every single day, all of us put one foot in front of each other in some way, shape and form.
Joel Runyon: Yes. You just got to keep going.
John Lee Dumas: You just got to keep going. So Joel, EntrepreneurOnFire is about the journey of the entrepreneur. It’s about your story as our spotlighted entrepreneur. So we’d like to really start with that point in your journey where you did fail, where you did come up against an obstacle or a challenge that you really had to kind of take stock of yourself and say, “Am I going to let this beat me, or am I going to overcome this and let this propel me to the next level?” Now, you’ve obviously done this many times in your life throughout all of the different challenges you put yourself through, and that’s very inspiring. Can you pull one of those out and share that specific example with our listeners here today, with Fire Nation?
Joel Runyon: I was working at UPS and I got laid off from UPS. You don’t get too many lower points than getting laid off from a part time job at UPS. So after going to college for four years and you’re doing all the things you think you’re supposed to do and doing the right things that everybody tells you you should do, and to be unemployed for six months and you can’t get a callback back from like Starbucks, and the only place that hires you fires you six weeks later, that was one of those things where it was like, is this it? Is this what I’m going to be settling for? Is this basically everything that I’ve got?
When that happened, at first I just kind of accepted it for a good month or two. I just kind of sat around like, “Yes, that kind of sucks. Oh well,” and I just kind of let it define me for a bit. But after a month or two, I just got sick of it. I got sick of waiting around, sick of feeling bad for myself and sick of waiting for something to happen.
So I decided, you know what? I can deal with failure, but I can’t deal with not trying. So I want to just keep going and keep trying things. So that kind of started me on my journey that I’m on now. I’ve had a bunch of ups and downs since then.
John Lee Dumas: Well, let’s fast forward into that journey, Joel. So you’re into Impossible HQ. You’re having highs and lows, as every entrepreneur does. You’re going on the rollercoaster of life. You’re having absolute successes, but then you are having failures or just these obstacles that you’re having to face. Let’s really pull one out of your current business that you’ve had within the last year or two that would really be a great lesson for the audience.
Joel Runyon: The first 18 months of my blog/online work, I had a job. So December was when things kind of came to a head at my last job and I ended up leaving. That was maybe a week before Christmas or something like that. That was one of those things where Impossible HQ, it had been bringing in some income, but it wasn’t really a business at that point and it had been kind of in the middling stages between like hobby income and fulltime income. So that was one of those things where I was kind of thrown into a corner and said, “Okay. Well, you either have to make this work or you have to go get another cubicle job,” and I wasn’t about to have that happen.
So that was one of those things. I think it’s very interesting about failures in general, is that I tend to have a lot of them, but I have very short term memory with failures because the biggest thing that I’ve learned from all those failures is that you just have to keep going no matter what and stopping is probably the worst thing you can do because the momentum that you get from just doing and doing and doing is incomparable to anything else.
So when I came up, leaving my job middle of December last year, the number one thing to me was, “Okay, well let’s just keep going. Let’s keep shipping and let’s keep working,” and it’s amazing what endurance can do if you just keep at something long enough and keep with it. How many other people will fall away and how – not easy, but how much a lot of successes aren’t defined by how hard it is to get there, but how long you’re willing to hang on while everybody else drops off, if that makes sense.
John Lee Dumas: It does make sense, Joel, and like you’ve stuck with it, I’m going to stick with this. You’ve told us about challenges you’ve had with UPS and that failure and that obstacle, and then with your last job, you left. Give me something that you failed specifically with Impossible HQ.
Joel Runyon: Well, the first launch I did, it was a very narrow market. The first launch I ever did was called The Impossible TRI: A Triathlon Guide to Help You Run Your First Triathlon in Three Months. It’s a pretty comprehensive guide. When I launched it, it’s got a very niched audience, people who were interested in triathlons. My audience was so broad that it was a very small percentage of them that were very interested in specifically running triathlons.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a failure, but it was one of those things I launched and it definitely wasn’t pulling in fulltime income for me. So it was one of those things that I launched. It was a good learning experience. It was really good to get it out there, and we sold obviously some copies, but it was one of those things that I had to take a step back and reevaluate basically how I was going to go about creating products down the line and how I was going to find that crossover between my skills and expertise and my audience’s interest and desires. Launching stuff allowed me to kind of do a mini version of Battleship. I got to figure out where I had hits and where I had misses, and then you got to adjust things to make sure I had more hits than I did misses.
John Lee Dumas: What was a specific lesson that you did learn from that launch?
Joel Runyon: Just because you’re interested in something doesn’t necessarily mean other people are interested in something. So you have to find the crossover between where your expertise and where your interest can add a benefit to other people rather than just being, “Wow, this is something I’m really interested in.”
A lot of people talk about, “Well, you just have to write about what you’re interested in, and then you can make a business out of that.” That may be true, but if you’re just writing about how much you like ice cream, you’re not going to be able to build a business off of telling people how much you like ice cream. You have to find the intersection where you’re actually helpful and useful to people in some way, shape or form.
John Lee Dumas: Yes, but another lesson that I’m pulling out of that myself is that you really just said you had a very broad audience and you were going for a very narrow niche. One thing that’s really great for entrepreneurs to know is that if you can really nail down what your unique selling proposition is, what your USP is, you can really learn to create products for that niche that you have. So the better you can define that, the better you can actually create for that. So I can definitely see how you at Impossible HQ have grown in that area and continue to improve every day.
So Joel, we’re going to move into the next topic now, and this is a little better topic, a little more fun. It’s the aha moment. Now, as entrepreneurs, we are always having these little aha moments every day. These little bulbs that are coming on that are inspiring us, that are pushing us forward in the direction that we want to be. Do you have a moment that you look back upon in your journey where a light bulb came on and you just said, “Wow! I get it. This is going to be something that’s resonating with my audience. This is something that I want to do”? Can you explain that moment to us?
Joel Runyon: Well, for the first six months of my blog, basically it was a self-experiment in getting myself to do something interesting. I was just sitting at my parents’ basement for the first month or so before I ended up getting an interesting job at a company I liked. Basically, the first six months were just the blog was an impetus for me to get out and do something interesting.
So as I started actually doing interesting things, then people started paying attention. I think probably last year, one of the things I wanted to cross off my list was go skydiving. I’d never been skydiving before. Frankly, I was a little bit scared of heights and I’m a little bit worried about doing it in general. I knew there was an upcoming conference where I’d have a bunch of friends. So I basically wrote a blog post called “I’m Jumping Out Of A Plane At WDS – Who’s Coming With Me?”
I figured I’d get like one or two people to show up or say they’d come along, and I’d have one or two friends that would come along and jump out of a plane with me. I ended up getting 63 people to sign up on the interest list and I had 41 people end up jumping out of a plane with me.
That was kind of when I started to realize, wow! It’s not just me and my mom reading my blog. It’s a much bigger audience than that and it’s an audience filled with people who are interested in doing stuff. So that was sort of when the light bulbs kind of started to turn on and be like, okay, well, you can create this thing that challenges people to step outside their comfort zone, to push their limits and do stuff that they normally wouldn’t have done or they normally wouldn’t have thought were possible.
We had multiple people come up after the skydive and be like, “You know what? I would have never ever done that if we didn’t have 40 other people coming to do this.” So that was a really interesting turning point because it was not only getting people to act on something and do something, but it was also actually jumping out of a plane, doing something that they’re scared of and has a – skydiving is relatively safe, but you’re still jumping out of a plane.
So yes, I would say that was one of the first times where I was like, “Oh wow! People are responding to this. It’s just something that’s bigger than just me and there’s a lot of potential here.”
John Lee Dumas: Once you had the aha moment that you had an active listening body of people who wanted to be active and do things, how did you turn that knowledge into a success?
Joel Runyon: So one of the first things that I realized once we kind of established that we have this sort of community of doers bigger than just me, is that over the next two or three months I think we went and we set up Impossible HQ. So Impossible HQ is sort of right now it’s the branded overview. Like the business brand of the blog, of the products, of the [paraline] of the community. It’s sort of the overarching umbrella that everything is under.
About a year ago, we didn’t have that. So it was just the blog. When I realized that people were showing up in a corner of the United States and 41 people are jumping out of a plane together, I realized it could be much bigger than just a blog. When you think about a blog, you think about a couple of posts a week, maybe some affiliate links and all these other stuff. I started to realize that getting 40 people to jump out of a plane is much bigger than just a blog. So I wanted to create things that let people communicate in a way that was bigger than just a blog.
So we did that in a couple of ways. We set up Impossible HQ, which is sort of the branded umbrella which everything is under. We also set up the Impossible League, which is a forum community of people that we organize our own events, we have different initiatives that we do, we’ve raised about $10,000.00 Kiva. We’re raising $25,000.00 right now to build a school in Guatemala.
So we created a community aspect for people to connect online so we can take those online connections and transfer them to offline action. So it’s not just somebody comes to my blog and reads it and goes away and feels better about themselves, but they actually take their ideas and they turn them into action.
When we had the skydiving event and we had all those people meeting up and taking action instead of just writing something on their impossible list and saying they want to do it eventually someday, they’re actually all out doing it. When that happened, that’s kind of when we shifted the focus more intentionally on action, on doing things, and about being a person who does stuff. So I guess that would be my answer to that question.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. I love the mission of Impossible HQ, and just being a military guy myself, I love that action-oriented philosophy. Your projects are really also striking close to home in other areas because I lived in Guatemala for four months. I built schools and houses and I really got to know the community and the people down there. It just is such an impactful activity to do things that you’re doing and to have people, like you said, who aren’t just going to the blogs for themselves so them can feel better, but you’re really having this conversion to have people act positively to impact other cultures, other areas in the world, and I truly just respect that to the 10th level. So thank you for what you’re doing.
Joel Runyon: Yes. It’s one of those things where you start realizing what you’re capable of. When you start pushing the limits to what you think is possible, you see they start expanding and you’re able to do more things than you ever have done before, but it’s also in a way a fairly unique opportunity to those of us in western culture. Kids in Guatemala, they don’t even get a basic education. So it’s pretty hard for them to even do something like read a blog and even get inspired to go do something because they don’t get that type of education. So yes, it’s one of those things. When you start realizing how pliable your limits are, you want to start giving back and show other people that their limits aren’t finite and that they can push theirs too.
John Lee Dumas: Agreed. It’s just so exciting to see how much is possible in this day and age more so than obviously ever before virtually with what you can do as one person to reach so many people. Then also, you’re so right about the kids in Guatemala who don’t have access, but the beauty is, is that we are slowly, even in those areas, getting to a point where with wireless Internet and with 3G and 4G phone connectivity, that they will also have the access to the Internet, which is just the wealth and the key.
If they can get on Google, they can answer any question that they may have. So I’m really excited for the next 25 to 50 years to how we progress in those areas and just how that spreading of information and knowledge is going to be so impactful and beneficial for all.
Joel Runyon: Yes, definitely.
John Lee Dumas: So Joel, we’ve been speaking about what Impossible HQ is doing and it’s all great stuff. What is one thing that’s really exciting you about Impossible HQ right now?
Joel Runyon: The biggest thing that I’m excited about is the school project. We’ve launched a lot of stuff recently, but the school project is probably the most interesting thing that I’m excited about because it involves a lot of different aspects. As part of the challenge, a lot of people are – I’m running an ultramarathon in order to raise awareness for it. I’m also challenging members of the community to set up their own impossible challenge, and then use that to raise funds for it.
So we’re having – it combines a bunch of different things. It combines personal challenge with doing something you’ve literally never done before. It combines that with giving back to others, and it’s all focused around action. A lot of people, it’s easy to give money to something and just throw money at something and feel like you’ve contributed in some way, shape or form, but we’re actually calling people to step up and be creative, push their limits on what they think they can do and go out and do it themselves as well.
So there are a couple different angles there and I think it’s really good when you combine them all, and it’s all focused on giving back to people. You might have a lot of possibilities with your life, but not everybody gets the same opportunities. So when you’re able to combine the physical aspect of challenges with the community aspect that we’re doing it together and we’re all giving back to this Guatemalan community, there are just so many different angles to that that I think are really cool. Then that here are some of the stories from the people who are actually taking the challenge and deciding to go out and do it and use it as an incentive to raise money, I think is really, really cool.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome, awesome stuff. So Joel, we’ve reached my favorite part of the show. We’re about to enter the Lightning Round. This is where I provide you with a series of questions and you provide us with a series of amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Joel Runyon: It sounds like a plan.
John Lee Dumas: Alright. Take about 30 seconds and just come back at us with a direct answer. What was the number one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Joel Runyon: I didn’t think I could do it.
John Lee Dumas: What is something that’s working for you or Impossible HQ right now?
Joel Runyon: Challenging people to action.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. I can definitely see how you’re seeing results in that area. So Joel, this last question is my favorite. It’s kind of a tricky one, so take your time and digest it before you answer.
If you woke up tomorrow morning and you still had all the experience, knowledge and money that you currently have right now, but your business had completely disappeared, forcing you to start completely over with a clean slate, which is where many of our listeners find themselves right now, what would you do?
Joel Runyon: If I was looking to start a business right now and I didn’t have any money, I would do consulting. I would figure out the one aspect, one thing that I knew really well. For me, that’s online marketing. I would do online marketing and I’d do consulting. I think consulting is a great way to get a business started, to cash flow business, and to begin as fast as possible with the skills and the knowledge you already have without having to create a complicated product or sales page or anything like that. If you can save somebody money or if you can make somebody more money, that’s a pretty easy service to sell.
John Lee Dumas: Joel, you are truly doing some inspiring things at Impossible HQ, and we are all better for hearing about it. Give Fire Nation one last piece of guidance, give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Joel Runyon: Just do it. You’re going to waste so much time giving yourself excuses and reasons and just poor, poor excuses for why you can’t do something. If you just decide to go out and figure it out, you’re going to fail, you’re going to screw up, but you’re probably going to get a lot further than you would if you just sat around, wondering what would happen. So yes, go out and do it.
If you need help, check out ImpossibleHQ.com or hit me up on Twitter, @joelrunyon. I’d love to hear from you.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome! Well, we will link all that up in the show notes. Joel, thank you for your time and for all that you do. Here at Fire Nation, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Joel Runyon: Alright. Thanks, John.