Austin Brawner: What's up everyone? Welcome back to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My Name's Austin Brawner and I have a very special solo interview episode for you guys today. It's about 9:56. I'm recording this intro. I've got a flight tomorrow morning at about 5:30 AM, but the show must go on. Andrew's doing some travel as well. He's out in California escaping that cold, cold Madison winter. He's in Santa Barbara.
But we've said, the show must go on and we get to bring you guys a great episode every single week. So this week what I did is I interviewed my good friend, Nat Eliason, who came on the podcast about a year ago. He is an expert in all things content marketing and he actually runs a company called Growth Machine.
It does a lot of content marketing for big e-commerce businesses in our space as companies like Kettle and Fire. Companies like Spire and as well as Tenth Street Hats. A bunch of large e-commerce businesses have contracted him and his team to write content and help them grow their blog.
So Nat came on the show last year, talked about kind of what was going on with content marketing, brought him back because there's a lot of crazy stuff that's been going on with Google recently with the whole medic update. Blogs have been dropping dramatically in traffic, a lot of the work people have been putting in has been getting wiped out and things have been shifting around. So I brought him back to talk about what's going on. We talked about content marketing, we talked about running businesses, why you should or shouldn't run a business and also got into why Gary Vaynerchuk actually recently recorded a video responding to one of the articles that Nat wrote about hustle porn and hustling and what that means. So a really interesting conversation with Nat.
He's a great guy to have in the show. Happy to have him back. His episode from last year was a huge hit. I hope this one will be as well without too much chatter, let's welcome Nat to the show.
Nat Eliason: It's good to be back.
Austin Brawner: I'm excited. You know, this is one of the first podcasts on Ecommerce Influence I've done in person. Actually, it might be. No, this is the second one.
Nat Eliason: Second one.
Austin Brawner: But I want to bring you back because we had a great conversation last year and we got to know each other more over the last year, including … So we had breakfast about two weeks ago, I thought was quite funny because we sat down and you asked me, you said, "you know, when you asked me to go to breakfast, I was quite surprised because I don't have many friends that eat breakfast anymore." So tell me a little about that, why you were surprised and what you do for breakfast.
Nat Eliason: I started doing it before it was cool. Now, like intermittent fasting is in the digital. Seems like half of at least my friends are doing it where it's a fancy way of saying you don't eat breakfast, right? And of the things that are “good for you” there are very few that have been well established to extend healthspan or lifespan and caloric restriction and intermittent eating is one of them, right? Where basically if you cannot eat for a few days a month or one day a week or for 16 hours a day that does seem to have some significant health benefits. And on top of that, I just find that when I haven't eaten I think better and can work a bit better and function better and I feel less tired and slow.
I do pretty good exercise fast too. And so I started doing it 11 years ago now, no not 11 years, like 10 years ago now. And just never really went back. and it's funny seeing that change over the last few years where when I started doing it I was following something called lean gains where it was like an exercise routine. His thing was you do the intermittent fasting where you only eat within an eight-hour window, like 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM and you always work out fast and before you eat and then you did this like reverse pyramid training style stuff. And I just got like super into it because I read for our body and did that for a bit. And I was like, “oh, I'll try this.” And I didn't keep this workout routine. But the fasting, it was like I feel good in the morning. And you save the time that you would normally spend on breakfast. And yeah it just kind of stuck.
I didn't realize how much of a thing it had become until you said, let's get breakfast. And the first thing I was like Austin eats breakfast, that's strange.
Austin Brawner: It's funny. It's one of those things that you thought like you talked about one of those like clear things that people have … Scientists have focused on that it's a relatively low barrier to doing something that prolongs your life.
Nat Eliason: Yeah.
Austin Brawner: Right. So a very easy change. Regardless of that, I just through that was funny. Since we chatted last year. Tell me a little bit about what … so you are kind of my source when I think of people I want to chat about SEO, about Google, things that are working, you're my go-to guy. So that's why I want to bring you back here. Since we chatted last year tell us a bit more about what you've been up to because you launched Growth Machine I think about, right before we chatted last year.
Nat Eliason: Do we know the date that we did our episode?
Austin Brawner: I think it was in November. So I think it may be been a little over a year, but tell us a little bit about what you've been up to over the last year and what's changed since last year.
Nat Eliason: Yeah, well when we talked Growth Machine was really just me and some freelancer or some contractors working on I think like two people's sites at that time. And in the last year that's grown into four full-time people with me. Me also being full time, so five full-time people and then probably 50 or 60 freelancers, contractors and we're doing all of the content SEO work for around a dozen, maybe 13 sites now.
And it's grown really rapidly in that time aside from doing all of that SEO content management work, we're also running some of our own properties. So we have tea site that we've been growing and we can talk about a little bit and we generate a ton of search traffic to that.
We have a writer matchmaking service on the side and we're still doing this like SEO content marketing and it's gone from, I mean, when we first met, I was just playing with the idea of doing the content agency and now we're on track to do like a bit over a million this year by the looks of it and a bit more next year. It's just been growing really organically.
It personally helped with that last episode, people seem to like it and you know, we ended up talking to a few companies off of that and it's just been cool. You know, we've got a couple of clients who have been working with for almost a year now and just seeing that growth from January to November has been really neat. And we've got one in particular that when we started with them they were doing about 50,000 visitors a week. It was a lot of traffic, they were already doing super well and now they're doing a bit over 250. So it was just seeing that go up it's been a lot of fun and getting to work with a lot of cool sites, products that we use.
It's been a great time. A lot of people said, don't start an agency, you're going to hate it, it's miserable. But it's been a great time. I don't know where the miserable part is. We're having a lot of fun with it.
Austin Brawner: Well I think part of the reason why it's taken off so quickly is there's just a lot of demand, right? For like blog traffic or just driving traffic in general, right? That's one of the things that when we're talking about on the podcast, it's always something that people want to hear more about. Like, how do we drive more traffic from Facebook or Google. I think the unique position that you're in now is the fact that you are able to look at many different industries, see what's working across different industries as well as in your own properties. What have you found over the last year that has been just really working for your clients and then the sites that you own?
Nat Eliason: A lot of it it's the same stuff we talked about last year. Our strategy hasn't changed very much and to be perfectly clear, nobody is 100 percent successful with SEO projects, right? I think that sometimes I come on and I do these shows and then people think that I could just like take any site, like magically get it to 100,000 visitors in three months. It's absolutely not true.
We still screw up on sites, like not screw up, but we don't get the results we want sometimes. Right. But we've gotten pretty good at figuring out directionally the right things to do that have the best chance of bringing really good results and it really is a lot of the same stuff we talked about on that first episode. It's creating content that does the best job of answering whatever question someone has when they put that term into Google.
And that's a very boring answer to people because I think especially when you're starting out in SEO and content, you kind of want to have a big checklist of things to do because it makes you feel like you're being productive. You can say, “Oh yeah, I'm checking all the boxes, this is going to work. I've got six H2s and we got the keyword in two of them, and then I've got my title tags perfectly organized. My page speed is just below one point, five seconds," right? And the page speed thing is important. But obsessing over all of these other little steps, feeling like that's what's going to move the needle is usually less important than going through and making sure that you've actually really done a great job answering whatever someone is looking for.
And we always tell that to sites because we're kind of expensive as SEO agencies go. We charge more than most the other ones out there. But a big part of that is because we're trying to get the best writers we possibly can and trying to pay them more than you're usually going to pay a writer, like a very common client for us is one who got a writer to pump out a bunch of $50 articles. None of them are ranking for anything, understandably. And they're saying like, “oh, SEO didn't work for my site, really what's going on?” It's like, “well, your content's not that good.”
And we've just seen if there's one thing that's consistently working, it's doing a great job of explaining something for a niche. Right? And taking the topic area, being the master of it, creating all the content on it. And that's what we've been doing with Cup and Leaf, the tea site and that's gone from. It was doing zero in May when we launched it, and this month it's going to do over … Well, November it did over 60,000 unique from Google. Right? And that was just in like six, seven months. Tea isn't an uncompetitive industry, but even in something where there's a lot of players you can still win just by creating awesome articles and that hasn't changed this year.
Austin Brawner: Well it's the same thing that if you look over the past three years, right, guys like Rand Fishkin have been talking about 10X-ing, basically creating a piece of content that's 10 times as quality as the next piece. Answering questions, doing a 10 times better job answering questions. Brian Dean, same sort of thought process. What you're describing about people going and hiring writers and paying them a little bit of money for a little bit of results. Right? I always think of that is just kind of half-assing SEO. Like it doesn't seem to in content, it doesn't seem to work. It's really you got to go whole ass if you want to if you want to succeed.
Nat Eliason: If I can jump onto that. Part of the reason you have to do that is that there are three or four winners for any keyword right there. It's not like, anybody can have a Facebook group and you might get a thousand members in it and you're going to get some traction from that, but it's hard to get some traction in SEO for an article. It's not like the 10th spot gets a fifth of the traffic. The 10th spot gets like no traffic, right? Even the fourth or fifth spot you're getting maybe five percent. But if you're number one, you're going to get like 60 percent rate. It's an extreme power loss. So if you make a mediocre article, you're going to get nothing out of it. It's better to spend $300 on one article and make it the best than spend $30 each on 10 articles and have none of them rank.
I think people get that intuitively, but when they … Sometimes people have a hard time, like spending money on good writing for some reason. I think everybody thinks they can just write, but most people aren't quite as good at it as they think they are. And that's where they end up getting hurt.
Austin Brawner: I think part of it is this idea of like 80/20. Yeah. And thinking I'm at 80/20 writing content and I'm going to get … do 20 percent of the work to get 80 percent of the results. When really, when you're talking about, power law, the way that the 80/20 works and this works for like email, you can 80/20 email and do 20 percent of the work that gets you 80 percent of the results. When you're going into content it doesn't work that way because you really need to be in the top four percent and those top four percent get 90 percent of the results.
Especially, we're coming into the beginning of the year right now and if you're thinking about making your plan, if you're not willing to like fully invest in blogging and writing content, don't invest.
Nat Eliason: The 80/20 is in a different spot than people think it is. The 80/20 is in the topics you pick, it's not in the creation of the articles. Right? In the creation of the articles you've gotta whole-ass that there's no 20 percent effort for making good content. But you could take 100 topics and just write about 20 of them and get 80 percent of the traffic just based off of what keywords bring in the most traffic.
We see this with all of our clients' sites is that there's always just a few keywords that ended up bringing in the most traffic. But it's hard to know which ones those will be at the outset because you know, one, you might rank on the first page in two months. It's like, oh, that's cool, and then another one you like never rank on the first page and nobody really knows why.
That's where the 80/20 ends up coming in there, it's not in actually writing the article. it's what you choose to write about and where your results end up happening. Like the mistake people make with the 80/20 rule sometimes is that it's mostly a descriptive tool, right? It's not always a prescriptive like technique, the way that it's commonly talked about where like Tim Ferriss made this idea very popular, just do 20 percent of work to get 80 percent of the results. That's not really what the original thing was measuring though. It was saying that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the inputs, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you can always know what those 20 percents are beforehand. You can figure it out looking back. But yeah, it's dangerous to try to do it partway and assume that you're going to get good results back.
Austin Brawner: Sure. No, 100 percent. Well, we've chatted a little bit about what has kind of stayed the same and going back to quality content being the best at answering the questions people are asking.
So there was a big update recently, Medic Update. So maybe if you could walk me through, I know it's kind of, there were multiple stages of the Medic Update, but if you could for our listeners, we've got a lot of questions about this recently in the Membership about like organic traffic is dropping off, what are you doing? So what happened? What did Google do and when? And how have you been kind of approaching this since your business is literally helping people navigate this update?
Nat Eliason: I mean, the first thing that we need to be clear about is nobody knows what Google did. We can see how traffic has changed on different sites and we can make inferences, but at the end of the day, you know Google is a black box. Even the people who work on Google don't totally know how it works because there's whatever machine learning algorithms, deciding how to place articles and stuff so we can make some guesses.
It has been called Medic Update a lot because it seems that sites that were talking about health stuff were disproportionately affected. That seems to be true. Some of it has recovered. There were a couple of other industries that took a hit as well. But the overarching theme that we've been seeing is that sites where the content is talking about areas that are somewhat tangential to the core goal of the site and are selling something, were hurt the most, right?
So, on the extreme end, the "your money or your life" style blogs, they got hit really hard too, right? Like the ones that are saying, you know, "here's a little bit of information now like buy my thing," right? They really suffered. But so did a lot of products sites that had blogs talking about health in particular. So we can look at the analytics for about 30, 40 companies and obviously we can do arefs and other public tools for companies we can't see the data in, and it really seemed to hit the sites that we're talking about health the most. And I think that's been the general consensus that like a lot of the big players in health either really got hurt or really got help. Like Healthline, massive winner, like Dr. Axe, massive loser. And the theme in all of that has kind of been not just quality of content because the Dr. Axe thing was a little confusing to me because his content's amazing, like I fight Dr. Axe for a lot of keywords across multiple clients and our own sites and he's like always one of the main things, one of the main blogs that we have to attract because not only does he rank really well, his content is excellent, right?
Like it's really in depth. It's very well explained. He doesn't really seem to have a horse in most of those fights. Like he kind of does because he has products and supplements and things like that. But he's not that overt about it. So the big question there was like, why did he get hurt so badly? And why did these other sites get hurt so badly and more importantly, why did some of these other sites not get hurt so badly?
Because that's really been the biggest mystery to me is that I can look at the sites that got hurt, mostly health ones, and see they went down, but then there's other ones that are also talking about health stuff that weren't hurt and what my kind of hypothesis now is that if you are talking about health-ish stuff related to a product, even if it's a product you sell, it's okay. But if you're talking about health stuff in general, that seems less okay now.
So I'll give you an example, right? Because one of the big mysteries to me has been Cup and Leaf, right, our tea site, because it's been growing like crazy since Medic. And you know, it was growing well before Medic, it's been growing well after Medic. Medic didn't really seem to affect it at all. And that was a big question mark because we talk a lot about health benefits, right? Like health benefits of pure tea, health benefits of green tea, right? Like, you know, best tea for an upset stomach or whatever. But it seems from looking at what's done well for us and what's done well, some of our clients, that's fine because if it's a tea blog talking about health stuff related to tea that didn't seem to get punished. But if we just wrote an article that said how to cure an upset stomach that wouldn't do well now. And to be fair, that kind of makes sense.
Austin Brawner: Yes, it does. Considering how difficult it is when you try to self-diagnose, if you go asking a question like that question for example, how to cure an upset stomach, right? You're going to be bombarded by answers that have some kind of horse in the race. Yeah. They're trying to sell you something. And I'm sure that's kind of. It seems like that's where Google is trying to figure out, "how do we solve this frustrating issue," especially around really important things, medical issues, right? Medical diagnoses.
Nat Eliason: Because I've got keywords in kind of medical lease spaces that if we're being completely honest like I probably shouldn't be the Internet authority on that according to Google. Right? Yeah. So like, for a while I was one of the top results for like dealing with premature ejaculation, right? And like I'm not a sex therapist. I'm not a doctor I just wrote an article on my blog and then suddenly that was like, Google's deciding authority for a guy who needs to solve premature ejaculation, you should go read Nat's blog. It was great, right? There's a lot of traffic, but I recognize that I probably shouldn't be the person that Google is sending these guys to. So that's the hard thing, right?
Austin Brawner: And they recognize that as well. And they're like, "how do we solve this?" Because that's just kind of the state of where we are right now. Just because you are an expert at something doesn't mean that your content is going to rank over somebody who's better at writing content and better at SEO than you are. And that makes it tough and they're like, how do we solve this?
So. Okay. So back to the question now, what do you recommend people do that have been impacted? Because you know a lot of our audience is in the space of they're writing content to sell products that's, and that's right in the niche of the people that have gotten hit by this. Not all of them, but people that are writing content specifically with the idea of selling products, what should they be doing and how should they be thinking about recovering if they've seen some negative impacts from Medic?
Nat Eliason: Well, the first thing I would do is make sure it's not something else because whenever there's an update, right, there's going to be some natural shuffling of ranks. And if you have other factors hurting you, then you want to take care of those too, right?
So whenever you have drops like that, run a technical audit of your site first, make sure nothing's broken, run a page speed test. Make sure your site's pretty quick, like under two seconds is ideal. Make sure that you don't have tons of broken images, anything like that. Make sure everything else is healthy. If it is, then the next thing I would do is go look at the actual search results for those keywords you lost traffic on and see what's coming up now because that will give you a pretty good clue of what they're looking for.
And you know, the hard truth is that you … It's like I was just saying, sometimes you just don't deserve to be number one, right? And that's what we've had to tell a few people where it's like, this sucks and we would love to help you get more traffic in this area. I mean I was talking to somebody today, and he really wanted to own this whole area of content, and I basically had to be like, look, there is no reason Google would choose your site to be the authority on this because it's completely separate from the product you're trying to sell. And sometimes you just got to bite that bullet, right? Like if you really want to be, if you really want a blog to be the authority on something that's not at least tangential to your product, it's going to be harder now.
I think we're really seeing that. And if you do want to capture that, well you can always make a second blog, right? And this is a not a bad strategy, actually is if you had, let's say, what's a good example? I'll just keep using the tea blog because I can talk about that one.
Austin Brawner: Let's do like, let's say like a planner.
Nat Eliason: A planner, like productivity stuff?
Austin Brawner: Yeah.
Nat Eliason: Okay, so you're selling a productivity planner. Our first advice would be, don't try to do content marketing in the productivity space like and go do something else. But if you said like, no-
Austin Brawner: I'm better than you. And they're more committed.
Nat Eliason: Yeah, exactly. It's like, that's one of the few domains we just won't touch. But if you were like, “no, screw you Nat, I'm doing a productivity blog," It's like, all right, cool.
Make the blog separate from your store. Have your store and have the blog or alternatively have a blog on your store and then also have a separate blog that you also try to rank for things.
If it's a valuable enough keyword, it's worth having the number one and the number two, but it's going to be easier to rank a separate blog about an unrelated area than it is going to be to rank it within your site. With the planner though, talking about productivity, that's fine on your site because that's very related to your product. I think that's going to be okay. What would be bad is like, what's something else that somebody... like maybe this is a productivity person who's also very into … We got to pick something kind of random here. Like interior decorating, right?
Austin Brawner: Very productive interior decorating
Nat Eliason: Very productive interior decorating. It's going to be hard to like rank both of those at the same time. Right? It can be done, but there does seem to be some push towards like niching of sites and especially in these health niches, if you're trying to do some product with a health spin, ranking for those broad health keywords is just really hard now. Google wants to give it to sites that don't have like a product that's influencing what they're saying. Right?
It's like the upset stomach example. If I say the best tea for an upset stomach, that's fine. Its tea site, we're just talking about tea for an upset stomach. That's what somebody wants to see. But if I try to write an article that's how to cure an upset stomach, there's going to be tea in there. All right I'm not going to lie like I'm going to plug my own product in it and Google doesn't want that to happen. And so I think some of those like free lunches and SEO have kind of gone away and it's like we were saying before, it kind of makes sense. Like you can't be too upset at Google for doing it.
Austin Brawner: Yeah exactly. So basically what you're saying is the time for selling ED supplements was in the past and now it's going to be much harder for your blog?
Nat Eliason: Yes.
Austin Brawner: And that makes sense because sometimes it's important to take a step back and think where are we in the evolution of some of these platforms and anybody who's used Facebook or Google, you can kind of, if you use it, if you're consistent user, you know what doesn't work and what works and they know as well and they're trying to solve some of these issues and it makes sense that some of the issues around searching for things and getting results that are skewed towards selling your products rather than helping you is where they're trying to make some improvements.
Nat Eliason: And Google's really smart and their main goal is to give you the best results possible. And that's kind of the lines you always have to think when you're doing anything in SEO. It's the lens we try to look at things through whenever we can.
Is like, what does Google want to do for this query or for its future, right? Because we get a lot of questions about, gray hatting techniques or you know, doing certain like backlink building strategies or whatever and you know, we're pretty much always saying like don't mess with anything that could possibly be seen as trying to get into the system because it will get figured out eventually and you will get punished for it. And I feel like if you think about everything you're considering doing through the lines of like, does Google want somebody to get this? It helps answer a lot of questions and yeah, I mean just with this update it's like it sucks and I lost a lot of traffic on a few sites but I also can't blame them and we just have to adjust the strategy.
Austin Brawner: Well going back, so looping back to what you mentioned, the things going a little bit more in detailed, you mentioned doing a site audit, looking for … What are some of the tools that you use if you're going to walk, if you're actually go ahead and do that, what tools do you use? How do you actually go ahead and do a site audit, on your own site or somebody else's?
Nat Eliason: Yeah, I would say if you want to get the best bang for your buck, just sign up for a paid Ahrefs account. And I don't have an affiliate relationship with them or anything. They're just my favorite tool. They have a site auditor that's very good and you can use that.
Austin Brawner: And just to clarify it and how do you spell it? Because for people who have not heard of this before, it's really hard to say.
Nat Eliason: It is a great and a terrible name. It's A-H-R-E-F-S Dot Com. So go to their site-
Austin Brawner: And I'll links in the show notes to that. But just if you're listening, you're like what the heck is he saying? That's what it is.
Nat Eliason: And some people might call it AHrefs, they are the same thing. But they have a site auditing tool that's really good. There's another one that I like a little bit better-called website auditor. It's by this company Powerlink SEO suite or something. That one's really good. It's nice because it runs natively on your desktop and it just gives a bit better-prioritized report. I find the Ahrefs one tends to come back and be like, your health score is 24 percent. Everything's broken and like your site is on fire. And then, somebody is like, “oh my God, what do I do?”
The desktop one is little easier for helping you prioritize. But I think you've got to pay another $150 for it. So if you just want to get everything that I'm going to talk about in this show just sign up for Ahrefs you can do everything there. And that'll give you a pretty good view into what's wrong.
The main things to look out for are 404 errors. Sort of like broken pages, broken links, anything like that, any broken images and anything screwy with like your metadata. So empty titles, duplicate titles, things like that. Those are usually the first things that I'll look for. The most important being broken links or broken pages on the site. You want to clean those up as soon as possible.
Austin Brawner: Cool. That's very good advice. Well, anything else before we move on? Just any other interesting tools that you are using on a daily basis for conducting audits for that you found to be useful? I know it's kind of an all in one and you'd be like everybody in the industry uses Ahref. Yeah, but you got anything else?
Nat Eliason: Yeah, we try to keep our tool stack pretty small. So I would say we do 95 percent of our work just using Google spreadsheets, Asana, Ahrefs, Clearscope and Grammarly and like those five tools will actually get you 99 percent of the way with SEO. And like, obviously you don't need Google sheets in the Asana for SEO.
Austin Brawner: What is Clearscope? I have not heard of that.
Nat Eliason: So a very easy way to create a good article for SEO is to go look at like the top 10 articles and see what they're doing well to get some ideas from them and then expand it and make it better. Like that's a 10 x strategy, right? Clearscope basically does that part for you. So it scans the top 10 or 20 results on Google and figures out the most common key phrases that are being mentioned in all of them to give you an idea of all the topics you need to cover in your article to beat out those other articles.
It'll also figure out like average article length and reading level and like a few other things. So if you're doing … I don't think that for a solo operator you need it necessarily, it's expensive. It starts with $300 a month. But if you're doing company SEO or you're working on a few sites at once it just saves so much time. It's a wonderful, wonderful piece of software.
Austin Brawner: Cool. That's awesome. I need to check into that. I think that'll be helpful. So I want to change subjects a little bit and ask you about something that I thought was kind of funny.
So a couple, maybe a month ago, you wrote a piece called, "No More Struggle Porn," about, loosely … I mean, it was about Gary V, that led to Gary V actually responding to you with a video. Can you tell us a little bit how that came about?
Nat Eliason: Yeah, let's see. So I was on Twitter on an airplane and I saw somebody had tweeted that like being an entrepreneur is like eating glass while getting punched in the face or something like that. And of course had all these likes and all these replies like, “oh my God, yeah, it's so hard. Right?” And then I just sort of like, went on a short tweet ramp. I was like, “this is fucking stupid,” right? You can quit this job any day. It is hard, yes. But you're not breaking rocks in Siberia, right? You're like hanging out in a cafe, drinking cappuccinos, writing emails to people and like growing a business and making it. And like this guy he's like a VC, right?
This guy is making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and he's like complaining about how hard his life is. I'm just like, shut up. It is such an unhealthy mentality. And so like that tweet storm or whatever, got a lot of action and a lot of likes and a lot of people being like, yes, this so true. And so I was like, all right, cool. There's some interest here. And I'd had another article on Medium earlier in the year do incredibly well about deleting Facebook. And so I felt like I had some idea of the formula for doing well on Medium, which is basically to just like take something popular and then show why it's like bad because-
Austin Brawner: Because this is where we're at in 2018.
Nat Eliason: Yeah, I know. And as I'm saying that I feel like a bad person because I'm like contributing to the problem. But it was like this is an unhealthy thing. Right and like Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a book about this recently, "It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work," a good book by the way. They send me a copy after the article came out and it's worth a read through if you're doing like small company entrepreneurial stuff.
Austin Brawner: I second it I've read it as well. I enjoy it. It's like great in terms of … It's a little bit more detailed in terms of how to actually do it, right? Rather than just like being aspirational. And that's why I enjoyed it.
Nat Eliason: They've actually good tactical stuff in there too. But yes, I wrote this piece and it was basically like, look I called it, "No More Struggle Porn," Alexis Ohanian may or may not have stolen it with his "No More Hustle Porn" article, unclear if it was just fortuitous coincidence or if he jacked my term unsure.
Decided to focus it on that because it was like, look, we need to stop idolizing this stupid obsession with working hard, not because it's unhealthy to respect that, but because it becomes a proxy for doing actual work, right? Like when you're not getting status or a feeling of success from your actual work, you use this proxy, right? Which is how hard you're working.
And this is like a really common thing that I think we do with social media where we're failing at one thing so we try to win it a proxy where it's like somebody who's really unhappy with their work will be posting about … They'll go one of two ways, they'll post about how much they loved their job. Like the more somebody is posting about how much they love their job, the more they're probably just like kind of dead on the inside, right? Because somebody who's like actually super happy doesn't need to constantly be like, look how happy I am, right? And somebody who's making a lot of money and their business is going really well. It doesn't need to be on Twitter going like, look how hard I'm working. Right? Like I'm such a hustler, like you know, eating glass and getting punched in the face.
Austin Brawner: Which is so ridiculous. I mean there was another one about, basically that I saw that was this guy talking about how over one day he'd like woke up at two, worked out for four hours. Like got in line, closed like four deals in line for security and then like hopped on a plane, flew to China and that was just like an average day. No it's not.
Nat Eliason: I saw something else on LinkedIn once. It was like one of those long LinkedIn posts which nobody should ever read, but it was like, you know, there's an employee at this company, this employee could sue me any day. I treat this employee like shit. I make this employee get up at 4:00 AM every day. I make them be the last person in the office to turn out the lights, like I don't let them see their family. I make them travel over the country. Like why isn't this employee quit? Because this employee is me. I was just like shut up. But yeah, we've got a million examples of this.
But I figured the article would do better if I had an Avatar for it, for lack of a better term because like in abstract things can do well, but when you have like a clear “enemy” to go after, it just always does better.
And I also find that there's so much like beating around the bush in online content that people really appreciate it when you name names and they get excited when you name names, appreciate is probably not the right word. So like Gary V is probably the most obvious choice and there were obviously a lot of people in his fan group that came out of the woodwork and were like, “no, it's not what he's saying.”
But you know, I completely stand by if you have a surface level view of Gary V, that's exactly what it looks like he's telling you to do. Right. It's just like always super pumped up in his videos and being like, "it's so miserable and so hard and so challenging," and like pushing through all of that. And I was just like, it's unhealthy. And Yeah I posted that article I think on like a Friday afternoon or something on the way to a wedding and then I wake up in the hotel the next day and like there's a three-minute video from Gary V in my Twitter replies. Like, okay, that escalated quickly and I think it got like 40,000 views.
So it really clearly hit a nerve and it's done over 350,000 now in the month and a half since it posted. So it's like one of my most popular articles ever. And honestly he was really cool about it, you know, he was like, “look, here's where I think you're wrong, here's where I feel like you misrepresented me. But I also respect the message you're trying to send.” And I have an incredible amount of respect for him for saying that. And it obviously made me feel a little bit bad that I made him the bad guy in the article because it's like different when it's a human.
Austin Brawner: No question. I think like, and that's where the difficulty with something like this lies, is that he deep down, that is not his goal. But the problem is the one minute sound bites that come on Instagram and the ones of like a passionate rant that has just clipped on both sides. That's what people see. And it's just like this echo chamber of that over and over again talking about grinding and grinding and how you need to be sleep deprived and that's just not the reality of anybody that I know who is like that I would consider to be successful. That's not their reality at all.
It's more the vision of a factory that is operating smoothly and quietly. Like that's really what it comes down to and unless there's just tremendous growth and sometimes people go through periods of tremendous businesses, go through periods of tremendous growth when things are breaking. But that's a short period of time. And if it's a sustained period of time, you're quickly getting to a massive, massive business. Look at companies like we work that are growing, they're valued at I don't know how many billion dollars now. It's somewhere insane. A company like that may have chaos for 10 years, but your company's not WeWork and it's not growing as fast as WeWork. And so you can run it in a different way and be able to be calm while you're growing.
Nat Eliason: Well, and I think it actually goes back to something we talked about at the beginning of the episode, where people want a checklist. They want to feel like they're in control of their fate and an easy way to do that is to keep doing things, right.
Patience, you know, waiting never feels like a good strategy. And what I've seen, you know more often than I would like, is a lot of people's solutions to a business that clearly isn't working is to just work on it harder because they see Gary V or whoever videos about how hard it is and how much of a struggle it is and they think like, "oh I'm just not working hard enough, I need to work harder at this." Sometimes the answer is just that it's not working. Right. And that creates, the hard work creates this kind of like a false sense of progress and that's pretty unhealthy.
I mean, you've made a good point. It's like if you're growing WeWork, right, and you've got to pull a few all-nighters, that's fine. Right? And that's totally understandable, but the growth should be pulling you to overwork. You shouldn't be trying to pull the growth through overwork. I feel like that's probably the main distinction. And even then though, it's like you can't work on something for five years at 100 hours a week. Like maybe Elon Musk but you know, this fascination with people's habits is the other big area. I see it and it's like, what are like Elon Musk's daily habits? It's like, look, the time of day you wake up is not going to make you a billionaire, right? That detail is basically inconsequential, right? You have to work on something that can be worth a billion dollars.
Austin Brawner: Look at the scope of the problems that Elon Musk is working on, and then you add the fact that he's a genius and that's 90 percent of it. And then he seems to be a really dedicated guy, but even at the same time you've seen over the last year a guy publicly breakdown from overwork, right? It's one of those interesting things where we for years have used the example of, unless you're Elon Musk, like, you can't work like this unless you are Elon Musk. You see this year him publicly having some issues that may or may not be related to overwork, but almost read between the lines with the guys up in the middle of the night and making decisions that are poor. Talking about sleep deprivation. And then explaining that he was just super tired.
Nat Eliason: That's also, it's like, I don't know about you. I mean, I wouldn't want to be Elon Musk really. Like the dude seems super unhappy, super lonely. His relationships seem to fall apart, like can't have much time for his kids and just getting beat up in the public sphere so much. Like I love that he's solving these problems, but it's also … I don't really want that life I respect him for doing it, but there's a lot of costs to trying to work that obsessively.
Austin Brawner: 100%. It's bizarre because you can right now look all … There's so much visibility into what other people are doing and that's great and that's very cool because it's never been transparent, but at the same time there's filters on everything that you're seeing. So you're seeing the best of everybody that's out there and their best life.
And while it may seem glamorous and 'other guy' like, you know, a guy who is super inspirational is a guy like the Rock. If you follow him on Instagram, super inspirational guy, but the same time I would imagine, it's seemingly,he's on the road like, I don't know, maybe 300 days a year. It's got to be, it's a crazy life. I can't imagine that being, that's just not something that I think I would make that trade off of. Just knowing what extended travel feels like.
But anyway, we got off on a kind of like far sidetrack. I just feel like this is a great time to talk about. I totally resonate with the article with the idea of working back to what we said earlier about 80/20 and trying to find the things that move your business forward and move your life forward.
Those small things that move it forward while you might not know necessarily where those are going to be once you start to find out where they are oftentimes continuing to like double down on those is often a better strategy than starting up something entirely new and overworking yourself like crazy. So if you start with content marketing, you find some traction well then often times the best thing to do is then double down on that or Facebook ads double down on that and find that thing that works for you and allows you to scale and grow.
Nat Eliason: Yeah. Well and it's good to like leave some space for other stuff, right? You made me think of this when you were saying that just now about like picking something and doubling down on it, but also not trying to do everything at once and I feel like something we learned this year through Growth Machine is that sometimes the client work does get super crazy but also by like artificially constraining our work schedule in some ways so nobody has to work Fridays, for example. Like if you finish your work during the week, like awesome go to Disney World on Friday. I say that because one of our team members literally did that yesterday or last week.
Austin Brawner: That sounds like the worst Friday ever. But yeah.
Nat Eliason: Her dad texted her on Thursday and was like, "want to go to Disney World?"
Austin Brawner: That's great.
Nat Eliason: Yeah let's go. But no, it's things like that, right? And then just being able to goof off and do other things on Friday. That's where the tea site came from was I was just like something I was screwing around with on Friday and now we like that we actually have a tea company. It's kind of fun to be able to test stuff out and to leave some space for it and not to be like constantly hammering away at the things you're already doing or trying to force to work. Like that's where like you had to have some room for play and goofing off too. We are just like going for a hike or going climbing or playing video, like whatever.
Austin Brawner: We could probably talk for the next couple of hours about running a business lifestyle and why you're doing it. But I do want to want to get kind of wrap up here and just ask like one or two more questions. I know you are a voracious reader and would love to hear just kind of some of the books, maybe what's one book that you've read in the last year that has had the biggest impact on you and your thinking?
Nat Eliason: I'm going to pull up my Evernote here and cheat a little bit since I can and I take pretty detailed notes on everything I read, so this is always super helpful for remembering what had been going through.
The first thing that immediately comes to mind is definitely Elephant in the Brain by a Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler. It's phenomenal. It's basically about how a lot of things that we think are or not necessarily that we think are altruistic, but just a lot of things that we do have hidden motives that make us uncomfortable or that we don't like to talk about, but they're really the only good explanation for why we do many of the things that we do.
To give you an example, right, like Harvard limiting admissions, right? Because they would make a lot more money and they would educate a lot more students if they franchised it out and open up a bunch of Harvard's, but then it wouldn't be as valuable because the real value of Harvard isn't the education it's having a prestigious exclusive degree. Right? It's the signaling that it provides. It's not actually that the education is that much better. It's the, you got into Harvard, so you've got like some signaling value or it's like a few other fun things in there that were basically really good at tricking ourselves.
So we never really, we like to think we know why we're doing what we're doing, but we don't. Or we'll think that there's one reasonable say there's one reason when really there's like a deeper, prestige seeking or like a selfish desire for why we're doing this. And part of our communication is actually around like admitting that and telling others that we know it like it's part of the value of laughter is it's signaling to other people that this social transgression is okay. We're like, that's part of the job of a good comedian is to say things that you can't say normally, but in such a way that everyone laughs and then we all communicate it's okay that we're doing this together. That one's phenomenal, I would highly recommend it.
Other ones, honestly, my reading has been worse this year since we put a pause on the podcast. This one, I wouldn't necessarily like recommend it because it's kind of a painful book, but Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault. There's a lot of like, if you're following like Jordan Peterson or any of the intellectual dark web crowd. There's a lot of talk about postmodernism and I feel like nobody outside of like philosophy professors and students have like actually read anything by a postmodernist. And that's one of the seminal works. It's horrible to read. It's absolutely awful. It's like one of the most difficult to parse books I've ever read, but it's pretty interesting and there are actually some good ideas in it and it's not all the like super evil stuff that it's made out to be in the like Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson media. I disagree with most of it, but it's interesting to get that kind of take if you're in that crowd.
The other one I threw out there is Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which is like a really interesting take on evolution because it basically what the book is exploring is that if we accept evolution is real than life has no meaning and that's not a super comfortable thing to accept. So would probably be my top three for the year.
Austin Brawner: Top three, the ones that have had a bigger impact?
Nat Eliason: Yeah.
Austin Brawner: Yeah, that's funny. It's interesting when you find books, and I've had books like this as well where you read them and you labor through them and sometimes you don't necessarily enjoy the process of reading them, but then at the end you're proud of the fact that you finish it and also it sticks with you. Right. And those are tough books to get through, but when you do find them, it can be really fulfilling at the end. It's like, Oh yeah. I read like the three-part Winston Churchill biography series, which each part is like 800 pages and it's been one of the best. It's been the best biography. Seriously I've ever finished. But at the same time, we're like at page 1600. It's like, oh my gosh, can I do continue?
Nat Eliason: Is there another book?
Austin Brawner: Exactly.
Nat Eliason: Everybody wants another book that is just an absolute. Well, it's not really a slog because it's very fun, but it's extremely challenging. But by the end of it, you're just so satisfied with yourself. Is Godel, Escher,Bach. Have you read that one?
Austin Brawner: No.
Nat Eliason: It's like, it's certainly like one of the first like intellectual leaders in AI and it's about the kind of marriage of music art, the human mind, mathematics, logic and it's told through Tortise and the Hare-style fables as well as logical proofs. And then just like normal nonfiction writing and the entire book is like its own metanarrative on itself. It's very strange but extremely cool. And that's another one where it's to get to the end it's like, okay, that was awesome. But yeah it's work.
Austin Brawner: Awesome. Well, cool man. Well Nat, I really appreciate you. Thanks for coming in and chatting it's been a lot of fun, man. That's been also fun. Just to get to know you more as you moved to Austin. We're now building an Austin crew here. As far as if somebody is listening and they want to get in touch, where would you typically send somebody in the fact, just knowing the fact that you have … One of your specialties is dominating corners of the Internet. Where would you send somebody?
Nat Eliason: I would say Twitter first, I'm just at Nat Eliason and N A T E L I A S O N on twitter. That's where all been most responsive. That's a really good jumping off point. My website is nateliason.com. Growth Machine is yourgrowthmachine.com or you can just Google Growth Machine. Those would be, I think the best places to start and I mean if you want to work on SEO stuff, you can reach out at Growth Machine if you know your earlier on and you know, it doesn't make sense for you to hire like a whole agency to help you we've got a course in a writer matchmaking service too. But Twitter is best.
Austin Brawner: Awesome. Thanks man. Talk to you soon.