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Bootstrapping & Documentaries: Avoiding The Dark Side

Justin Cooke Updated on February 29, 2020

Bootstrapping & Documentaries: Avoiding The Dark Side

There’s something about documentary film as an art form that’s fascinating. I was thinking about this recently – we can draw some clear parallels between bootstrapped entrepreneurs and documentary film makers that may help all of us perfect our craft. I’ve always watched documentaries but, in recent months, I’ve devoured most of the VICE documentaries and I’m digging their latest HBO series and recommend checking it out.  If you’re a fan of documentaries as well, I’d highly recommend you take a look at:

One of the things I find fascinating about documentaries is that they’re (usually) limited to the constraints of what’s actually said or done. They have to take those jagged, unfinished pieces and put them together to tell a story that makes sense and inspires, enrages, encourages action, etc.

Love The One You’re With

Living like a superstar Have you ever watched a blockbuster movie and thought to yourself, “Why isn’t MY life that exciting?” Beautiful people, extraordinary circumstances, heroes and villains – it all seems so dramatic and integral to the story. It probably wouldn’t be nearly as interesting watching our hero lazing around the house reading a book for a couple of hours, sitting in a coffee shop sipping a latte, etc. Just as it wouldn’t make sense to have a horribly sad ending in a feel-good story.

[callout]”Most of us are semi-flawed characters and large chunks of our lives are kinda boring”[/callout]

Still, these things are what happens in “real life.” Most of us are semi-flawed characters and large chunks of our lives are kinda boring. (No matter what you see in your friend’s facebook photo albums) A blockbuster film can take whatever artistic liberties they like to make you seem more heroic, more fierce…but documentaries are much more limited. Sure, they can paint (sometimes amazing) pictures…but they’re forced to use snippets from the real world and real life.

Business are like that too.

Being able to hand-pick the best programmers or designers, the best finance guys/gals, etc – it’s a luxury only the largest businesses and startups can afford. For the rest of us, well…we have to roll with what we have available. It’s not just employees that can come up lacking. As the entrepreneur, YOU may not be the best choice for running your business.

There are thousands (maybe tens or hundreds of thousands) of people out there that might do a better job in building your company than you. Does that mean you shouldn’t even bother?

Hell no!

Sure, it might be nice if you had better employees, leadership qualities, or skills that you don’t have today…but those aren’t requirements for getting started. The uniqueness of your business and your company culture will come directly from you and your team. For most of us, this will require that we use our connections and build a team or business the best we can with the tools, resources, and people available.

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Fake It ‘Till You Make It

The unspoken mantra of the Make-Monies-Online (MMO) community. The idea is to parrot the advice of others that are doing well (or at least faking it better than you) to those who don’t know better so that you too can rise through the ranks and (someday, maybe) ACTUALLY make it. Here are just a couple of examples I happen to know about:

  1. Sean King from – Gained a bit of attention by tricking some friends of ours online. Unfortunately, his story didn’t add up and he decided to “retire” from blogging.
  2. Tyrone Shum from – Fakes income reports and then owns up to it in a video. Puts plenty of (legitimate) online business guys/gals in the community in an awkward position.

Kumare False ProphetDocumentaries have this problem too. Aside from the obviously fake mockumentaries like Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, there was quite a stir regarding the movie Catfish. While the documentary is worth watching and does make some interesting points, the creators have taken a ton of flack for what seemed like contrived moments and a too-good-to-be-true storyline. They’re accused of faking it by critics and their peers.

So…is it worth it? Is it worth faking it to boost your credibility? I don’t think so.

Those who will go through all the hassle and have the ability to fake it and get away with it likely have the chops to make it happen without the bullshit. For the rest, the truth will likely come out so any gains are short-lived.

Both bootstrapped entrepreneurs and documentary filmmakers share some difficulties regarding having to use the pieces of the puzzle they have available. The trick is making it work without resorting to faking it.

[callout]”The trick is making it work without resorting to faking it”[/callout]

The allure of quick or semi-guaranteed success is what drives both documentary filmmakers and entrepreneurs to faking it, many of whom are justifying it to themselves with the “ends justify the means” fallacy. After all, if their intentions are to show or share a truth, even if that means lying to get there…doesn’t that add value to the greater good?

The problem is their short-sighted (and often short-lived) strategy will inevitably end up blowing up in their faces. The end goal or truth they were looking to share becomes overshadowed by their deception. (And often hurts the cause, goal, or truth they were looking to highlight in the first place)

I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on this one regarding the “fake it ‘till you make it” strategy. Do the ends justify the means? Have you considered this approach?

Is “fake it ’till you make it” worth it? Do the ends justify the means in business? – Click To Tweet!

Also, I’m always looking for great documentaries to watch…let me know your picks on Twitter or in the comments below!

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  • Ian Pickering says:

    Thanks for the great post- I have never seen this type of thing addressed before.

    I am also a big fan of documentaries, and I am constantly looking for new ones to watch. The Invention of Dr. Nakamatz is one of my all time favorites, and worth a look.

    Also, Fat, Sick, and Almost Dead (i think thats right) is another really cool show.

    It really sucks that people will go to those kind of lengths to get an audience. This stuff is hard enough with GOOD information.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Thanks, Ian!

      I’m glad you dug the post. It wasn’t quite as “popular” as some of our others, but I heard from someone else the other day that really dug the connection, heh.

      Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Jeremy says:

    Documentaries! I love documentaries. When I log into netflix it’s the first place I start searching.

    Louis Theroux’s work is outstanding, over ten years worth of great material. His newer stuff is more serious, sometimes darker, but amazing none the less.
    180 South is great, especially if you are into travel and living the created and free life.
    As a vegan I fully support Forks Over Knives. It changed my life.
    Along the same lines as Forks Over Knives is Food Inc. Another game changer for me. Same with Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, Joe Cross’ film about health and juicing.
    Buck made me cry in the theater, not going to lie.
    The producer of Ace Ventura and other Jim Carrey comedies, Tom Shadyac, directed I AM. Another game changer for me.
    And West Memphis 3 was amazing.

    Vice is so good too. I shuddered when I watched the one on Krokodil. My fiance refuses to watch lol. Too many to name individually.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Another documentary fan…sweet! 🙂

      Totally agree on Louis’s newer stuff…it’s gotten more serious, for sure.

      I’ve got some watchin’ to do! hehe

  • Justus Lewis says:

    Previously I’ve seen Fake it till you make it as an exhortation to copy the mindset of successful people so as to encourage habits that support the results you want to achieve. Putting out dishonest information is something else again and a major disservice to oneself and others.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      That’s an interesting distinction, Justus.

      When it comes to copying mindsets (and even ideas and concepts) I think that as content publishers, we ALL do that to some extent. We’re all constantly borrowing off the ideas of others and putting our own spin or slant on things. I try to give credit to anyone where I know the idea came from someone else, but of course I forget and/or don’t want the message to be missed if I’m constantly referencing others to explain where the idea came from!

      You’re right in that there’s a difference between self-affirmation and making grand, sweeping claims that you can’t back up.

  • Don Shelton says:

    I think there will be few fakers willing to admit it here (unless they too have a life changing experience). Observing those who I’ve found are faking it, I have noticed a couple of trends:

    1) It starts with small lies at first. Usually they build up to the whoppers.

    2) Because it starts with small lies, the fakers often convince themselves of the lie. On one level they know it’s not true, but on another they rationalize it to the point they believe it and act on it as if it was truth.

    3) When it gets completely out of hand they think they usually can’t on their own confess and come clean; they act as if they themselves are trapped in and by the lie and have to keep up the pretense.

    4) Once caught they either keep insisting there is no lie, despite incontrovertible evidence, or then become hyper-apologetic, but appear more sorry they got caught than really sorry.

    In this light, Shum seems more the exception. What I wonder is how many there are who fake it and make it. Hard to know. But integrity is a priceless commodity.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Thank you for the interesting comment, Don.

      I think your “Steps To Self Delusion” seem pretty spot-on.

      I think the hyper-apologetic options is appropriate in the case. You’re right…I wonder how many fake it and then ACTUALLY make it. Anyone have any interesting stories of people who have long since made it and faked it when they started?

  • Great commentary.

    Always good to call people out.

    I could never decide if i admired Tyron for coming clean or not. I guess we should be kind. Although hes still out there selling 🙂

    • Justin Cooke says:

      I definitely didn’t admire him for that. It’s hard to know if he truly felt bad about it or not but, from my perspective…credibility was ruined. 🙁

  • Ophelie says:

    Love the documentary list — I’ve seen everything by Theroux as well, and was looking for more.

    In regards to faking it, one thing other marketers constantly recommend is buying tweets/Facebook likes and fake comments until your notoriety is high enough that you get a strong social signal for every single piece of content. It would certainly make a big part of my work easier, but I’m just not interested in playing that game. As a brand that’s under a fair amount of scrutiny in our industry, we can’t afford the cheap and easy way out.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Yeah, HUGE fan of Louis Theroux – glad to find another fan!

      That’s an interesting point about fake/purchased likes/followers. With our outsourcing account on Twitter, we did the follow / follow-back route and got up to 6K+ followers, but they were SO much less engaged. With our AF/EF Twitter account, I decided to go completely natural…only following those that I was interested in following and seeing what happened. It took a LONG time, but we finally got up to 2K engaged/interested followers.

      If you’re just starting off, you’d probably see some value in playing tricks to get up to your first 1K, but as an established brand I agree with you…probably a bad idea. There are plenty of people out there with legitimate Twitter strategies on getting a following. (Tom Ewer from Leaving Work Behind has one, I believe)

      • Iain Robson says:

        Yeah Tom has an interesting way of gaining followers. He uses Tweetadder and it seems to work for him well enough.

        I let people just know that I am not a pro. I just say that I do know some things, but not everything.

        It all comes with experience. You try things out and you see how they work and you build on that.

  • Ashley says:

    Justin – I highly recommend Jiro Dreams of Sushi if you’re looking for an interesting documentary on mastery and how one can achieve greatness by devouting one’s life to something.

  • Ha. Tyrone Shum. I wonder how many people checking out Pat’s NSD 2.0 remember him from 1.0. My guess is that most dont. Anyway, I agree. Those that take action and build will end up being successful. Those that try to emulate the pros never will, because most pros are teaching yesterday’s tricks, and they are usually just tricks.

    From working in marketing for 10+ years and running my own business and sites, I know this… Anyone who succeeds has failed miserably many times… but you many never know because they may never tell you. Those that tell you it is all great, all the time… haven’t tasted true success and are faking it!

    • Justin Cooke says:

      You’re exactly right about NSD 1.0, Adam. I thought that was kinda crappy for Pat…he did something really awesome that blew up, but just happened to have it attached to a guy that doesn’t share Pat’s values. 🙁

      Totally agreed regarding the “great all the time” jokers. Now…I don’t think you have to share everything (or anything at all, for that matter) especially if you’re going through something that’s particularly difficult at the time. Still…I’ve found it’s WAY better to just lay out the good and the bad if you’re going to be sharing at all.

  • Tim Soulo says:

    Hey Justin! I’m pleased to know that you were reading my blog 🙂

    At first I was very inspired by that guy Sean.. but after reading a few of his updates I felt he was way too shady. I guess any experienced IM would easily see his story is fake.

    And honestly I’m really tired of all these “make money by teaching how to make money” guys.. so my RSS Reader lost about a dozen blogs.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      No worries, Tim! Yeah, I think your post was the only one shining any light on the situation.

      Yeah – I thought Sean was a great writer and was pretty on-point with his marketing tactics. (and his approach to promoting his site/blog) Ultimately, though…he was full of shit.

      I’m not sure most people would see that with him, though. A cursory glance wouldn’t reveal all that much, which is why I think so many people were interested in interviewing him for their site. (And he refused any voice interviews, meetups, etc. apparently)

      I know Pat Flynn, Yaro Starak, etc. took a bit of a hit to their trust/credibility with the Tyrone thing. I feel for them…even if there wasn’t an explicit endorsement, it put them in a pretty awkward position. I think we have a responsibility to vet those we interview or work with, especially if you have a popular blog, podcast, etc. It’s something we’re aware of and trying to avoid ourselves.

      • Tim Soulo says:

        totally support your point!

        and actually it applies to anything you do online.. Do a wrong thing once and people will just leave and never come back.

        That’s why on my own blog I’m not trying to play a “game of being someone else” and I never will..

  • GREAT article bro, LOVE when you get your “hands dirty” like this.

    Oh and by the way, FUCK Tyrone Shum and his fake it till you make it IM pals.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Thanks, man…

      I particularly despise those who are not only lying…but that make everything seem SO easy. It’s a slap in the face to the rest of us that are hustling and working our butts off to build our businesses.

      I was talking to Chris Ducker about this a while back. He worked his butt off with a plan to “reward” himself with a nice watch when he hit 100 employees. It took him quite a bit of work and when he FINALLY made it to that level he bought himself a really nice (but not outrageous) watch.

      Compare that to the guys who borrow, rent, or purchase fake watches and talk about how “easy” it is, how many of them they own, etc. Slap in the face, man….F$#% those guys…

  • Hey Justin great post, definitely not a “fake it till you make it” guy. There are no long term benefits to lying about your business, I’ve ran offline & online businesses and have seen my competition try this a few times, it just makes them look pretty stupid. The best way, even when you’re starting out from nothing is to build the business up legitimately and watch it grow. Opportunities will come along without having to lie! As for Internet Markets lying about their income reports, it’s hard to believe people can be so easily deceived.

    With regards to documentaries I’m from the UK and love the Lois Theroux documentaries too, some others you might want to check out are Ross Kemp on Gangs, Ross Kemp Extreme World and a series of 1-2 hour long documentaries called Storyville. I haven’t seen many of the Storyville episodes but the ones I have seen were great. There was one about an American billionaire (David Siegel) who owns the biggest time share company in the world (rags to riches story), then when the recession hit he started to lose his empire bit by bit, really interesting. Not sure how he ended up, hopefully he pulled it back!

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Agreed, Spencer. There are other ways to build authority and social proof into your business (interview experts, detailed case studies and analysis, get interviewed by experts on niche subjects, etc.) that I don’t think it’s required. Still…there are quite a few people that subscribe to this approach. (And it IS a bit of a gray area)

      Will have to check out Ross Kemp, for sure! The documentary about the guy and the timeshare business was great, it’s The Queen Of Versailles:

      Definitely worth watching!

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