Vincent Nguyen

November 20, 2013

I thought I had a pretty good idea about Justin and Joe’s company as an outsider.

I thought I had them figured out when I went through my interviews before becoming their apprentice.

But of course, you don’t really see what’s going on inside until you’re actually part of it. There have been several things that caught me off guard.

Sure, I’ve only been part of the team for two weeks. I bet there’s going to be many more interesting surprises as time goes on.

Still, in the short time I’ve been here I’ve already learned that…

1. Partnerships can be good, but expect some conflict.

These guys are partners, close friends, and have mutual respect for each other, but their thoughts, values, and personalities are quite different. There are disagreements with plenty of, “That’s a dumb idea!” tossed around.

Still, they seem to work well together in spite of their differences.

When you meet these guys or listen to their podcast you may imagine that they’re often on the same page. Not always.

While there are minor disagreements, not all of them are low volume and casual. They can really go after each other to protect or support an idea. (It hasn’t come to blows…yet?)

The beauty is that their process of arguing each other’s thoughts almost always leads to better conclusions than they might have had on their own. This seems to be a strength and a large part of their success in building an awesome business and brand.

Justin often thinks in the long-term. What can we do today that will make everything better two years from now? On the other side, Joe favors bringing in frequent short-term results. Where’s the money coming in right now?

These different ways of looking at their business led to some disagreements – balancing short-term cash flow needs with the longer-term vision of the company.

They met in the middle by having a quick meeting to discuss cash flow and short term goals, followed up with a second, longer strategy meeting where they discussed long-term vision. These meetings together led to Niche Sites from Scratch, a service that brought in nearly $30K in the first two days of release and plans for upgrading our Marketplace.

Neither of them had bad ideas from the start of this argument, but finding a resolution they both agreed on led to results that far passed each other’s expectations.

You don’t have to agree on everything as long as you don’t let stubbornness or ego get in the way of throwing away bad ideas. – Click To Tweet!

2. There are downsides to a casual culture.

When I first applied for the Empire Flippers apprenticeship, I’d mentioned in my written application that I loved their casual culture. I’d fit right in!

As much as I enjoy the casual environment, it’s definitely not perfect.

Procrastination and slacking are frequent, unwanted guests when Justin and I run through the creative process. This isn’t unique to a casual culture of course, but when you don’t feel pressure you can sometimes head down unproductive paths.

You’ll never hear Bill Lumbergh, from Office Space muttering, “Yeah…mmmm…I’m gonna need you to…get back to work…” so we have to remind ourselves. Part of the creative process requires coming up for air and it’s helpful for both Justin and I to keep ourselves on track.

Less structure can be liberating if you’re a creative-type, but it’s a constant battle to buckle down and get back at it.

As cheesy as it sounds, what keeps us going is our love of what we do. I’m enjoying (almost) every task and responsibility I have with Empire Flippers. The strange thing is, even when I’m relaxing (and browsing Reddit) I find myself wanting to get back to work.

I worry that if I wasn’t as dedicated, I might just let the hours fly by and not care as much about being unproductive.

3. You have to claw and struggle before you find the right idea.

I wasn’t really expecting a seat at the table. While I don’t make the business decisions, I’m often asked for advice or work that will have a direct impact on their growth and direction.

What’s wrong with these guys? I’m a 19 year old kid without the benefit of experience they have…doesn’t that seem like a bad idea?

So I asked them about it.

They explained the value they see in listening to a third party perspective. Justin has outright told me several times that a lot of my ideas are terrible. “But…”, he always adds, he doesn’t want to shut me down because he knows the creative process isn’t consistent good ideas, one after the other. It’s more like running through 50 HORRIBLE ideas before finding the perfect fit.

Justin and Joe also didn’t want to shut me down too often or I’d begin to doubt myself and keep things to myself.

It may sound silly, but I’m seeing a great creative process in action. Put yourself in a safe place to express whatever crazy idea comes to mind and then hack-and-slash at them until you pull out the winners. Persistence is the most important thing I’ve learned in my short time here.

4. Money is a tool to do more and be better.

Joe “Hot Money” Magnotti loves cash. I’ll just put that out there. But Justin and Joe didn’t build Empire Flippers solely to swim in an ocean of cash, Uncle Scrooge-style.

Instead, they understand the value of money as a tool. Money makes almost everything easier. Money definitely makes the business better.

Justin always drives this point home with me and it’s starting to make sense. I’m one of those millennials that scream “I don’t care about money! I just want happiness!” He understands that but gave an interesting counter-argument.

He pointed out an interesting example from Andrew Warner’s Mixergy podcast. Andrew didn’t start the Mixergy podcast to make a ton of cash. That wasn’t the goal.

However, he found that through monetizing the show, he was able to significantly improve the quality and the value provided to his listeners. This allowed Andrew to take his craft to the next level and has paid off big.

5. There isn’t always a calendar of ideas.

Justin and Joe consistently put out great pieces and I’m not just saying that because we’re working together. You might think that their content is heavily planned out.

But… It’s not.

A lot of the creative projects aren’t planned out months or even weeks in advance. Typically, we spend several hours brainstorming on something that’s due within days.

There’s definitely value in forced creative work with a deadline though, so I appreciate the way it’s done. Still, I think that putting longer plans in place will produce more (and hopefully better) content for our readers.

Justin and I sat down the first week I was here and came up with a consistent content schedule. You can now expect one blog post every Monday, another on Wednesday, and a podcast on Thursday. Even our Twitter and Facebook pages are getting active again.

Boom! (Justin’s even got me saying “Boom!” now.)

Our goal with a content calendar is so we’re always producing and planning ahead. With more content produced we’re hoping traffic and revenue will increase as a result.

Already we’re seeing traffic to our website increase again along with more social media engagement.

Final Thoughts

Some of these may seem obvious to you but I was honestly caught by surprise. This is definitely going to be an opportunity for me to grow and learn more about the company.

I don’t know who would be better to have as my mentors than Justin and Joe. This marks the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. Right here are the first real life lessons and experiences I’ve had so far. It’s not what I was expecting. In fact, it far exceeded what I had in mind.

I’m excited to help them hit $1MM/year by helping increase site sales and whatever else it takes.

What about you? What are/were some of your first real lessons and wake-up calls?


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Discussion
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  1. virtualend says:

    Hi Vincent,

    It was great to get to meet you last night in Davao! I only wish I had read your posts here BEFORE getting the chance to meet you in person, as it would have been an opportunity to discuss some of the things you brought up!

    As a long time listener and reader, much of what you brought up does not really come as a surprise, since they have discussed openly about some of the perils as well as the benefits of partnerships and how they deal with it at Adsense/Empire Flippers. Even so… I’m sure it still is a lot different when you are on this “inside” and dealing with it first hand, and I enjoyed reading your “insider” perspective!

    It is interesting to hear how theses sorts of differences of opinions can be chanelled into positive discussion and wind up getting positive results. Soooooo many people are simply NOT able to handle differences of opinions in such a positive manor – so it is very encouraging to hear how it works so well there.

    On your point #3 – when you questioned why they would give you a “seat at the table” and listen to your input, when you are just a 19 year old “kid” who has been there a couple of weeks….

    The CORRECT answer should have been something like: (said with a straight face)

    1) “STFU! – you’re just a 19 year old kid who has been here 2 weeks! What do YOU know?”

    or

    2) “Oh… we didn’t invite you to the meeting to hear your input or get your opinion on anything… you’re just here to fetch us coffee and donuts!”

    And THEN…. after seeing the shocked look on your face (even if only for a second), they could have cracked up and given the REAL reason as you stated!

    I could imagine Justin doing that – but the look on your face might have been priceless. (next time, Justin… LOL)

    The sad reality is… that for so many of us, who have spent many years working at jobs we hate in the “real world” (and especially for old farts like myself) – those would have been the real answers to that sort of question…

    As I mentioned last night – you have an excellent opportunity to learn from Justin & Joe – ESPECIALLY at such a young age! The only downside would be that they might spoil you for ever being able to work in a negative work environment in the future. The GOOD news is… that between what you will learn from there, along with your own abilities and potential, you should NEVER have to work in that type of negative environment! :)

    P.S. One other possible benefit to you working there (that they either didn’t think of yet or didn’t mention)… if they ever do decide to get a car… At least they can recruit you to be the designated driver! ;) LOL

    Great post!!! I look forward to following your progress and experiences online – and hope to see you again sometime soon in person!

    Paul in Panabo

    • Hey Paul!

      It was great to meet you too. Hope you had a great night!

      I’m definitely enjoying my opportunity here and using my time to learn as much as I can. It helps that it’s a lot of fun too! :)

  2. Karen Martínez P. says:

    Hi Vincent,

    Great insight! You made me realize something. Sometimes we expect things to happen in a certain way to make us happy.

    The reality is different from that, but it’s always better. We need those experiences to see the whole picture and make it greater.

    That’s what makes life so beautiful, I guess :)

    I really enjoyed the read! It’s nice to know what happens backstage.

  3. Good read young padawan! There are always going to be downsides to running our company they way we run it. At this point though, I’m pretty sure the benefits outweigh any potential pitfalls.

    As for me, I’m surprised at how much work it takes to run a company this size. I can’t imagine a company 10 times bigger. Something I hope to learn for sure though!

    One day I might want to take an Uncle Scrooge style money bath, as lon as I don’t wind up like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fyE6N4JQt0

    • The benefits definitely outweigh the downsides! The negatives are pretty minor anyway and we work them to our advantage. For example, you and Justin meeting in the middle during disagreements end up leading to awesome ideas. Hardly a downside in my opinion. :)

  4. Josh Escusa says:

    Hey Vincent, I love the perspective of giving an insiders view from within. When I had a partner last year I experienced much of the same scenarios and disagreements. It’s a tough gig to run.

    One lesson that’s been drilling in my head constantly is to not be afraid of failure and struggle. It’s okay for me to suck as long as I learn from that experience and try again. With each round, I’ll work on not sucking as much as I did in the last. The idea of taking everything as a learning experience has really motivated me to get things moving and I plan to do better in 2014 than ever before.

    • We’re all about learning from failure here. That was actually a large part of one of our recent episodes.

      “The idea of taking everything as a learning experience has really motivated me…”

      That right there is the exact mindset that helps me through everything. Each experience is like a training ground for the next.

  5. civillibros says:

    Sorry but i am lost, what exactly do you learn?? in summary

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