JT is the writer and producer of “Giants of History”, the standout documentary podcast that explores the lives of history’s most prolific and influential figures.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [00:59] – JT is married to his wife, Erin, and together they have 4 sons
- [01:16] – He spent 15+ years of his career in commercial banking, and for the last 2+ years he’s been producing Giants of History
- [01:52] – His area of expertise is in time management
- [02:24] – Share something we don’t know about your area of expertise that as Entrepreneurs, we probably should: When it comes to time management, you have to be proactive in planning your days in advance
- [03:59] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: In 2009, JT started a foreign language class cards business. He spent his early years traveling to Europe and South America, and he noticed he used the same words in each place. So he started to explore the ‘learning foreign languages business.’ He found a niche that was underserved, so he set out to fill it. He spent the next year of his life getting the business set up. He needed to make the cards so he went to Alibaba and connected with a vendor. They sent prototypes back and forth while JT built his website, which cost him both money and time. JT remembers setting up the Google Adwords campaign for his site and went about his day. Nothing happened that day, but he assured himself there’d be sales the next day. Unfortunately, the next day, there was still nothing, and that went on for months
- [07:55] – Test your ideas
- [08:47] – If you have an idea, always look at what’s out there that could impact your business
- [10:20] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: There was a point when JT picked up the foreign language cards and looked at them in amazement — he realized that everything the flash cards came to be was because of him. It was an idea that became tangible
- [11:32] – Taking action on his idea was what took it to physical reality
- [12:26] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “My documentary podcast, Giants of History, has me incredibly fired up”
- [14:34] – JT has monetized his podcast already
- [15:25] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “I never really knew another path”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Don’t be discouraged by the amount of time it takes to accomplish your dreams, for the time will pass anyway”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “You have to wake up early”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Voice Memo
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – The Law of Success and The 4-Hour Workweek – “they’re fundamental”
- [18:56] – “Be action-oriented”
- 19:09 – Connect with JT on his website and via Twitter
JT: Spark it up, John.
John: Yes, JT is the writer and producer of Giants of History, the standout documentary podcast that explores the lives of history's most prolific and influential figures. JT, take a minute and fill in the gaps from that intro, and give a little glimpse of your personal life.
JT: Thank you, John. Well, first and foremost, I am married to an incredible woman, Erin, and together we have four amazing little boys. I have four sons. And they are my whypower. You hear people talk about their willpower; my sons and my wife are my willpower and my whypower, what get me out of bed in the morning and get me going.
In addition to that, I've spent the last 15-plus years of my career in commercial banking, so I get the opportunity to be around entrepreneurs every day, which is a wonderful way to spend the day. As you know, the energy of an entrepreneur is contagious, so I'm fortunate in that sense. And then for the last roughly two-and-a-half years, I've been producing Giants of History, which is my passion project. It's a creative outlet for me, and I love every minute of it.
John: Well, what I kinda want to talk about before we move into your journey, JT, is what you consider right now, today, your area of expertise. What is that?
JT: Well, I would say just given my life is extremely full right now as you can hear, having a large family, fulltime job, and this passion project. So, my area of expertise right now is definitely time management because if I can't manage my time effectively, I can't get anything done.
John: What don't we know about time management? It's that you really feel like if we knew this, it would be a lot more helpful. And let's not go surface level, JT. Like let's go a couple levels deep here. Like what's something you've really uncovered that's pretty meaningful?
JT: Well, I would say this is something that most of Fire Nation already knows, but potentially forgot. And when it comes to time management, you have to be proactive and you have to plan your day in advance. And you would be surprised how powerful – maybe you wouldn't be surprised, but some might be surprised at how powerful simply using your standard everyday day planner in conjunction with the reminder feature on your iPhone or your Android, how powerful that can be when it comes to managing your time.
But to dig deep, I mean, there's just a fundamental piece of this, and that fundamental piece is you have to be proactive in the planning of your day. I mean, that's what it all comes down to. And there's a quote I always like to say here when people are asking about how do I get all this done and how do you focus on all these things. And Steve Jobs once said that the ability to focus is no less than simply your ability to say no to something or someone. And if you can say no and you can stay organized and keep your day planned then you can be the most effective person on any given day.
John: And Fire Nation, this is exactly what inspired my creation of the Mastery Journal because I recognize that one of my superpowers was that ability to focus and to be disciplined and to be productive on a day-to-day basis. And I wanted to create the step-by-step process for you to do the same thing.
Now, JT, for your journey as an entrepreneur, you weren't always a productivity machine. I mean, you've had your ups and your downs. Let's talk about your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. Tell us that story.
JT: In 2009, I started a foreign language flashcards business. And the genesis of this business was I had spent quite a bit of time when I was younger backpacking Europe and backpacking South America part to Central America. And I realized that everywhere I went, I tended to use the same words when I was traveling. And it didn't matter if I was in Paris or if I was in Cartagena, I was always using the same words. And so I started to explore the learning foreign languages business.
And I found out that there was a market that tended to be – or a niche that tended to be underserved, so I set about to fill that market and fill that niche. And so I started this foreign language flashcards business and I spent the next year of my life getting this business off the ground. And the first step was to get the cards designed and manufactured. And I wanted to keep my money at the local economy, so I looked locally to get the cards manufactured.
I couldn't find anything that I could make the economics works on, so then I looked nationally, see if I could make it work. And even with the economies of scale, I just couldn't get the margin I wanted, so ultimately I had to look to China. And I was connected with a vendor through Alibaba. And I think you have some experiences with Alibaba as well.
John: I looked into Alibaba for the Freedom and the Mastery Journal, but it was just not the route I wanted to go. So, I actually used a company called prouduct.com with Richie Norton and they crushed it for me.
JT: Okay. I should have used that one, had I known about it back then in 2009. But I looked at China and I went through Alibaba. And Alibaba's just a very – at least back then it was a very cumbersome, very laborious process.
John: Still is.
JT: Yeah, I assume so. I haven't used it in quite some time. But there's the language barrier and there's the time zone difference. And then we were sending prototypes back and forth, which took a ton of time and a ton of money to get done. But ultimately, it all happened, and I got the cards in-country and had them stored. But at the same time, I was building the website, designing the logo, getting the merchant accounts all set up. I mean, I was doing all of this to get this business off the ground.
But ultimately, it gone done and I remember sitting there on the morning when I was about to go live with my Google AdWords campaign because that was how I was gonna drive traffic to the website, was Google AdWords. And I remember just sitting there, getting ready to hit Go on the ad campaign and saying to myself – I took a deep breath, and saying to myself this is it, you did it.
It took a lot of work, but you got it all done, and now it's time to sit back, let the sales roll in, and stack some bread. And so I hit Go on the Google AdWords campaign that morning and then I went about my day. I went to work doing my thing fully expecting to get blown up all day long with dings and notifications letting me know of all the sales that were taking place. But nothing happened that day at all.
And then I got home later that evening and I was like well, something must be off, so I checked everything. The campaign was running. So, before I went to sleep, I said well, certainly when I wake up tomorrow morning there will have been some sale having taken place. And when I woke up the next day and I checked my – I guess it was it was my phone back then, or my e-mail, there was nothing, not a single sale. And this went on for days then weeks then months.
And I was completely disheartened because I was so certain that this business and this market was there, and then to find out it wasn't was, like I had said, just incredibly disheartening.
John: So, what's the biggest takeaway, JT? Like what, looking back now, here we are in 2018; what's the lesson? Like what's the lesson that we as entrepreneurs can apply to your mistakes?
JT: There's two; and I guess in this day and age it's very silly. The first is you should test your idea. And that's something that I did not do. I just assumed the market was there, so I didn't test. But primarily, if you remember the iPhone was introduced June 29th, 2007. And the app revolution took place soon after that.
So, here I am in 2009; I didn't even look to see what technology or technological advancement could impact the business that I was trying to move forward. And, as a result – you know, you see the Duolingos of the world now and all these other foreign language apps that are extremely effective. And here I am trying to push something that's it's little bit old-school, but effective still. But I didn't look to see what technology was out there that could impact my idea and my business.
And in that instance, it was a fail. It was a fail forward, but the takeaway should be anybody that's out there right now that has an idea that they're trying to push forward, especially with how quickly technology is advancing and evolving, you need to be looking at what's out there that could potentially impact your business. And you wanna do this for a couple reasons, but primarily is that if you can forecast what that technology is then potentially you can be the first one there. And there's another revenue stream or another business that you might be able to run with.
But that's primarily what I learned from that enterprise. I failed forward, learned a ton, wouldn't change a thing, and I still enjoyed that process even though it ultimately wasn't a win.
John: Yeah, we can learn from every process, Fire Nation, but what's awesome is that we can also learn from other people's processes and other people's failures, and we don't have to repeat them. And preselling is one of those things; pre-validating is one of those things. It's so critical. Just make sure that if you're gonna spend your incredibly valuable time, energy, and effort and money on a project, like getting actual physical products created and shipped to you. I mean, you need to make sure there's a visible need; there's a real want for this product, service, community, whatever that might be.
So, presell, pre-validate, really make sure is the pain point strong enough that people are gonna part money, part with their own money, for that. Now, JT, for you, you've had a lot of great ideas. I mean, that was an example of a great idea. You've had a lot of great ah-hah moments since then. What's one of those ah-hah moments that you've had during your entrepreneurial journey that you have turned into a success? Walk us through that process.
JT: Well, the ah-hah moment actually took place during that same process that I just described, where I was trying to launch this business. And while, ultimately, it didn't work out the way I wanted, there was a point when I picked up the cards – as you know, go through customs and customs agents and bills of lading, and then you ultimately go pick up your product from the warehouse where it's been delivered.
And I went there that day; I rented a while van, went there that day. I picked up my five boxes of the flashcards that had been manufactured. They were loaded into the back of the van and I left the warehouse. And as I pulled out, I pulled over to the side of the road, and I got out and then I got in the back of the van with my box cutter. And I sliced open the box and I opened it up. And I looked down. And I had never seen them before; only the prototypes.
But staring back at me was just boxes upon boxes of flashcards in packaging that I had designed, with a logo that I had designed. Everything had come from me. And I had taken something from concept to tangible product that I could sell. And, ultimately, if you think about it, all an idea is, is just a picture in your mind. And if you don't do anything with it, it just remains a picture in your mind.
I realized in that moment that it was the fact that I had taken action on that idea that had brought me to that place where I was now staring down at a product that, again, I had taken from concept to physical reality in front of my face. So, the ah-hah moment was action is the great differentiator between the dreamers and the doers. Take action on your ideas. It makes all the difference in the world.
John: And there's a quote that inspires me in this area, Fire Nation. It's a Martin Luther King quote, which is actually pretty timely because as we're recording this, it's just the day after Martin Luther King Day. And that is you don't have to see the whole staircase to take the first step. Be an action-oriented person, Fire Nation. You don't have to have the full plan in place. Take a step forward. The second step will reveal itself. Focus on action.
JT, today, what are you most excited about right now?
JT: My documentary podcast, Giants of History, definitely has me incredibly fired up. There are just so many stories from history that people don't know or they don't know the details about. And through this podcast, through this medium, I get the chance to share these stories with folks. And I think I heard recently you're somewhat of a history buff, looking at castle tours, et cetera?
John: I love history. I was an American Studies major back in the college days. We're actually looking at a podcast that we'll be releasing called Cities by Sound at some point in the future. We'll be spending like a month in one of American's greatest cities, creating audio walking tours. And, yeah, I wanna do the same thing with castles, too, so a lot of cool things in store for me in the areas of history and audio and all those things.
JT: Wonderful, man, but that podcast itself, again, the chance to share some of these stories. Just for instance, one of the figures that we profiled was John D. Rockefeller. And, John D. Rockefeller, the man's story is amazing. He was born into poverty. He had a con man delinquent father who was gone. He had to go to work at the age of 16 to support his mother and his siblings. And he started as a bookkeeper. And he worked his way up from bookkeeper to run Standard Oil, which, again, this is debated a little bit, but Rockefeller became the wealthiest human being in all of history, worth, adjusted for inflation, $350 billion in today's money.
And I know Bezos, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, just crossed, I think, $100 billion. So, Rockefeller, if he was alive today, could buy Bezos over three and a half times.
John: It's like, Amazon, I eat you for breakfast.
JT: [Indiscernible] [00:13:08], Standard Oil, I do, I eat you for breakfast. But, again, it's the story of how he did it; to go from that starting point to that end point. And people don't know that story. And it's just simply incredible. And the chance to bring those stories to people who are interested in that is incredible, an incredible opportunity.
John: So cool. Now, are you monetizing that podcast? And, if yes, how? If not, do you have plans to?
JT: It already is monetized. And it's done simply through donations from listeners. But I plan to – I don't necessarily know what the next step is in the monetization process because I really am just right now focused on quality content and I'm confident that everything will come as a result of that, as a byproduct of that.
But, yeah, listeners that are impressed by the show and they believe in content creation and they believe in that type of work, donate regularly to the show's production efforts. And, as a result, I see income from it.
John: Fire Nation, quality always wins. And, believe me, especially in these days more than ever. When noise is everywhere, quality will rise above. And if you think that JT's been dropping value bombs, just for the lightning round, which we'll get back to when we get from thanking our sponsors.
JT, are you ready to rock the lightning round?
JT: Let's do it.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
JT: I just always thought that you go to school, you go to college, you get out of college, and you get your job. And I never really knew another path, to be quite honest with you. But that all changed when I read The 4-Hour Workweek. It gave me kind of the outline of how to start it. And so, that was basically it, just not knowing where to begin.
John: What's the best advice you've ever received?
JT: Well, this quote that I'm gonna state was advice given to me. And I always thought it was a Martin Luther King Jr. quote till recently somebody told me it was Earl Nightingale. But the quote is, "Don't be discouraged by the amount of time that it takes to accomplish your dreams, for the time will pass anyway." And I always think about that when I'm thinking about a new project or something.
I mean, take for instance if you have somebody out there that wants to get their MBA, but they're like it's gonna take me five years with my schedule to get an MBA. Well, so what? Those five years are gonna pass anyway. You might as well go for it. Or if somebody wants to lose weight, it's gonna take me six months or a year to get to where I wanna be. Again, so what? The time is gonna pass anyway. And that's best advice I ever got.
But I will say, if you don't mind, there's a quote that you've used a couple times on this podcast, and I love it. I think about it all the time. It's, "First they laugh at you then they fight you then you win." And that resonates with me for some odd reason, but I think about it all the time when you're just kinda plowing through the details and the –
John: You missed one part of that.
John: The first line is, "First they ignore you."
JT: Ahh. Then they laugh.
John: And then they laugh. Then they fight and then you win.
JT: It's brilliant. I love it.
John: Because it's so true because, of course, we get ignored when we first start something because nobody knows, nobody cares. Oh, so JT, what's a personal habit that contributes to your success?
JT: You have to wake up early. I get up 5:30 every day. You feel like you're the only person alive at those times. And I like that. And somebody once told me most people work 8:00 to 5:00. The most successful people work 5:00 to 8:00. And so, when the alarm clock goes off, I'm out of bed and I'm going.
John: One of my favorite quotes from the army was, "We get more stuff done before 9:00 a.m. than the rest of the world does all day." And there's many times that I look at my clock and it's 9:00 a.m., and I'm like wow, I've literally done more work already than the rest of the world is gonna do all day today, and my day's just beginning. And then I just keep winning.
JT: You gotta wake up early.
John: Recommend one internet resource.
JT: Again, I'm a fundamentals guy. The voice memo feature in your phone is great for capturing ideas as they just come to you.
John: Recommend one book and share why.
JT: I would say Law of Success by Napoleon Hill because, again, it's fundamentals. It goes through the value of discipline, the value of self-confidence. So, Napoleon Hill, Law of Success, and then, obviously, I already said it, The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss, that changed my life.
John: And, Fire Nation, get the audiobooks of these because you can listen on the go. And if you're not an Audible member, you can get one of them for free at eofirebook.com. And, JT, let's end today On Fire with a parting piece of guidance: the best way that we can connect with you. And then we'll say goodbye.
JT: Well, I will go back to the action piece. Be action-oriented. If you have an idea and you're thinking about moving it forward, take action. I mean, move that ball forward every single day. Eventually, you will cross the goal line. And then as far as getting in contact with me, the podcast website is ideal. It's gohistorypodcast.com. Or on Twitter, which is @GiantsHistory.
John: Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. And you've been hanging out with JT and JLD today. So, keep up the heat. And head over to eofire.com. Just type JT in the search bar. His show and his page will pop up with everything we've been talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz. Time stamps, links galore.
And, JT, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you. And we'll catch you on flipside.
JT: Thanks, John.
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