ETR’s History Since Day One

“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison

I had lunch with Katie Yeakle the other day, and she reminded me of how ETR started. It happened in early 2000. Katie had been running AWAI (American Writers & Artists Inc.) for three years, and it was growing. We had four employees, and had just started making a profit.

As with all the businesses I have had a direct hand in starting, AWAI was run on a laissez-faire basis, which meant that Katie was free to set her own rules.

One of the rules Katie set was that her employees could pretty much dictate their own hours. So long as everyone got their jobs done, Katie didn’t fuss about what time they clocked in and what time they left. Katie applied this liberal policy to all of AWAI’s employees, including herself.

For the longest time, I tried to ignore this practice, but it was eating at me. Ever since I first decided to get rich, way back in 1983, I had made a commitment to being one of the first (if not the first) employees into work every morning and often the last person to leave.

But Katie was drifting in at 9:00 or 9:30… and that was bugging me. “Bugging me” isn’t the right phrase. It was bugging the hell out of me. Didn’t Katie realize what a bad example she was setting?

I am sure that I mentioned my concerns to Katie more than once. But, for whatever reason, she chose to ignore me. So after seeing her stroll in long past 9:00 for the umpteenth time in a row, I sent her an e-mail that included the following:

“Every successful businessman I know (or have read about) gets to work early. It’s such a universal trait of accomplished individuals, I’m tempted to say it is a secret for success. ‘Early to bed and early to rise,’ Ben Franklin said, ‘makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ I used to think that was propaganda from a Puritan. Now I think it’s an observation from a very wise man.”

And, from what we’ve been able to reconstruct, that was how ETR began: as a series of e-mail messages meant to spur some of my favorite executives into action. There was no thought of a larger audience and no intention whatsoever of making it a commercial venture.

Had you asked me, back in 2000, how many such messages I would be able to write, I would have said 10 or 20. Tops. That’s because I didn’t have that many ideas about how to improve one’s chances of success. I’d learned a few things from more experienced businesspeople, and I’d learned a thing or two on my own. But, all together, it felt like I had a handful of insights to share – not thousands.

When I consider that this is message #2000, I can hardly believe it. For seven years now, on a daily basis, I have been waking up in the morning with the obligation to come up with one idea, big or small, that some less-experienced but equally ambitious person might find useful in some way. It was an easy task those first few weeks, but soon became a challenge.

A challenge, but not an impossible one. In fact, the experience has been rewarding. I’ve been forced to think more frequently and more deeply about what works in business and what doesn’t, and how money is made and lost. In the process, I have told hundreds of stories to my readers, offered thousands of suggestions, and made dozens of embarrassing admissions. But the more I write, the easier it is to keep writing. Instead of running out of stories and ideas, writing every day has made it easier to come up with them.

I think this is a good lesson for anyone who may be worried that he or she doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in their ambitions. You don’t have to begin the process by being good at what you do. Just begin and push on. Eventually, you will become skillful.

In the seven years that we’ve been publishing ETR, we have been able to encourage many people, help them improve their businesses, increase their income, and even make major career decisions that transformed their lives. A few examples:

  • Brian Carson used techniques he learned from ETR to “become more centered, focused, and in better control of [his] business.” In one month, after applying the lessons he’d learned in ETR, he earned four times the amount he’d made in the past six months combined.
  • Bill Reilly turned ETR’s advice about becoming an invaluable employee into a $9,500 raise and a promotion in less than a year.
  • Shawn Allen, who runs an online investment business called Investors Friend Inc., used marketing strategies he learned from ETR to boost his sales. After sending out a special offer to his client list, he pulled in nearly $10,000 in one month – more than he’d made in the last two months.
  • And Mark McMahaon landed a $50,000 client for his Portable Professional business by implementing ideas he learned from ETR.

One thing that I hope every ETR reader believes is that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve just about anything.

A recent episode of The Apprentice addressed this point in an inspirational way. As their reward for winning a challenge, one of the competing teams of would-be apprentices got to have tea in Sacramento with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In response to a question about overcoming difficulties, Schwarzenegger explained that he’d faced a lot of negativity about his desire to break into the movie business in the U.S. Everyone he talked to said his accent would prevent him from getting good parts and that he’d have to change his name to something easy for Americans to pronounce. But Schwarzenegger refused to give up on his dream or abandon his family name. He ignored all the warnings.

Schwarzenegger described a time during the shooting of Conan the Barbarian when he spent a whole day crawling on his stomach over sharp rocks, shredding his forearms and legs. The director asked if he could do one more shot and Schwarzenegger agreed, despite the fact that he was bleeding and in pain. He explained that he realized the pain was temporary while the shot would be captured on film forever.

That attitude served Schwarzenegger well. He went on to become one of the highest paid actors, earning nearly $30 million for his role in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. But as his success grew, so did the criticism he received. He said the criticism hurt as much as his bleeding forearms had during that final Conan shot, but he knew that it, too, would be temporary. He fought criticism with quick thinking, confidence, and energy, using it as an opportunity to show he could overcome it and move on.

These are two things that anyone who wants to succeed must learn: You can’t become great or produce anything of great value without pain and criticism. But if you keep in mind that the pain is temporary and the criticism can be rebuffed, you can outlast them both and eventually triumph.

That’s what Schwarzenegger did – and that’s what everyone reading this message can do. Identify the ambition that burns inside you and take it on as a challenge. Don’t be afraid to make it your goal, and don’t shy away from the pain and criticism you will have to endure to achieve it. The pain and criticism is temporary, but the knowledge that you have succeeded will be yours to keep and cherish. No one will be able to take that knowledge away from you.

Speaking of pain and criticism – or, rather, the pain of criticism – my experience with ETR has taught me that when it comes to the business of selling advice, it is impossible to make all your customers happy. This is true when you have 200 customers and it is even more true when you have 200,000. Some people just don’t like what you have to say.

If you like to please – and I like to please – you might find yourself changing your product to accommodate your critics. This is sometimes a sensible thing to do, but most of the time it is better to refute the criticism as best you can and move on to the next thing. Or sometimes you’d do better to simply ignore it.

Every time I publish a book, I get a handful of people who post reviews that say, essentially, “Ho, hum. Tell me something I don’t know.”

Since I believe my books are full of little insights that run contrary to conventional wisdom, this kind of criticism irks me. I am tempted to write detailed responses, pointing to all the specific ways the book is new and different.

But I don’t. Instead, I wonder what that person is really objecting to and what he really wants. “It is highly unlikely,” I say to myself, “that this almost-always anonymous (or pseudonymous) critic has done as much as I’ve done or done it as well. It’s possible, but I doubt it. It’s more likely that the critic is some reasonably smart person who has decided to spend his life reading about success and, by criticizing the work of others, find some sort of solace. As if to say, ‘I haven’t done what you have done but it doesn’t matter because I don’t like what you are suggesting.'”

I used to be like that with movies. I loved going to movies and loved even more criticizing the ones that failed to meet my elevated standards. I was a snob – and I did, indeed, feel like I was better than any filmmaker who produced a movie that I didn’t like.

But then I actually made a movie. In fact, I made two movies: a documentary and a feature-length film. And they were two of the worst movies I have ever seen. I actually showed the feature film to my nephews and son once (a very private screening for what I hoped would be a lenient audience). The reviews were as follows:

Little Critic Number One: “On a scale of 1 to 10, Uncle Michael, I’d have to give that movie a zero.”

Little Critic Number Two: “Let me put it to you this way, Dad. You will never be able to call another movie bad.”

Little Critic Number Three: “That’s not true, Uncle Michael. You can call another movie bad. You just have to say, ‘But my movie was worse.'”

I am not proud of those reviews. But I am grateful for them. They disabused me of many notions about my potential as a screenwriter and director. And I have been careful about criticizing movies since.

So that’s something I have learned about criticism. The harshest often comes from those who couldn’t possibly do any better than you can. Keep that in mind when people criticize you. Sometimes they criticize you most strongly for saying things they simply don’t want to hear.

One case in particular: At one of the first ETR-sponsored conferences, after giving what I thought was a good speech about the importance of setting and pursuing goals, one middle-aged man buttonholed me and chastised me for 40 solid minutes on both my presentation as a speaker (“Do you know how many times you said ‘um’?”) and the banality of my advice (“Who hasn’t heard all that before?”).

I had the smarts to keep my mouth shut and listen patiently until he had completely exhausted himself of every fault he had found in me, my speech, the way I gave it, and even the way I was standing. When he was through, on impulse, I reached over, patted him on the shoulder, and said, “Thank you for spending so much time on me. But you paid to come to this seminar. Let’s spend some time talking about you.”

And so we did. For about an hour. And during that time he told me all about his life and his education and accomplishments. He told me, too, how a breakdown in his personal life had pretty much wrecked his business life and depleted his net worth. I asked him questions about what he was doing to turn his life around. He answered me honestly, since he was feeling, correctly, that I was on his side and wanted only good things for his future.

I won’t tell you the details of what was troubling him and why the remedies he was taking weren’t working, but I can tell you this: By the end of the conversation, he was agreeing to focus his time and energy on setting and pursuing a new set of goals… and he was thanking me for giving him, in a personal way, the very same advice he had criticized.

He was right about my presentation. I did need to work on my speechmaking skills. But his harsher criticisms came because, at some level, the points I was making felt like barbs aimed at him. He needed the simple advice I was giving – but until he felt I was on his side, he preferred to criticize it rather than accept it.

I should tell you that this gentleman and I have since become friends and colleagues. And we are about to launch a product together that is based on all the great insights, knowledge, and skills he always had but abandoned when his life hit a roadblock.

If you ever find yourself angrily dismissing something I’m saying in ETR or in one of my books, stop and ask yourself why you are so angry. You can trust that everything I say is based on the experience of someone who has tried and failed many times. If it seems simple, it may be simple. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a profound and revolutionary effect on your life.

It’s your life to improve. Not mine. I’m just here to make suggestions.

What else can I say on the occasion of this, the 2000th issue of ETR?

For one thing, I am proud of all the little accomplishments of our business and of the people who have been instrumental in achieving them. For example:

  • ETR started, as I said, as a little e-mail I sent out to a few of my favorite people. It became a formal e-letter on June 5, 2000, and was run by me, Katie Yeakle, Judith Strauss, and Ken Danz.
  • We built our list of readers by adding print inserts to AWAI mailings offering ETR as a free bonus. Eventually, those inserts also started going to subscribers of a few other Agora services.
  • In August of 2000, Lisa Bruette joined ETR as its first full-time employee to work on the technical aspects of the ETR website and e-mails.
  • We moved from selling strictly AWAI and Agora products to creating and selling our own programs – the ETR Goal Setting Program, Direct Marketing Masters Edition (which was launched as Direct Marketing University and is on sale now.), and Main Street Millionaire. Incidentally, the Direct Marketing program was a big hit, initially bringing in about $250K.
  • In 2002, Will Bonner joined AWAI as an intern, and then moved to ETR to act as marketing manager. Patrick Coffey joined ETR as a customer service representative and Denise Ford (who’d been working with AWAI as its student services director) became ETR’s product manager.
  • In April 2002, we published Justin Ford’s first article for ETR, “A Simple Way to Make Your Children Wealthy.”
  • We started quoting Bob Bly in ETR in June 2000, and ran his first full-length article – “How to Get Out of a Slump” – in July 2002.
  • In November 2002, Paul Lawrence published his first ETR article, “How to Get Invited to Run With the Big Dogs.”
  • In 2003, Charlie Byrne joined ETR as our first full-time writer. Patrick moved to the marketing side of ETR and Will became executive director.
  • I first mentioned Dr. Sears in February 2001. In March 2003, we ran his full-length article, “Avoiding the Medical Establishment’s Worst Nightmare.”
  • In 2004, Andrew Gordon, Jon Herring, Charles Delvalle, Jessica Haynes, Mahek Thakkar, and Nicole Reynolds joined the ETR team. Having Andrew, Jon, and Charles on board allowed us to broaden our coverage of health-related issues, as well as launch our Skeptical Advisor investment service. We also held our first ETR Wealth-Building Bootcamp.
  • I started mentioning Robert Ringer in ETR in September 2004. We published one of his full-length articles in November of that year.
  • In July and August of 2005, we held two “Agora Model” Internet Conferences that were attended by almost 200 people. In the fall, our Bootcamp attracted about 100 ETR readers. And Suzanne Richardson joined the ETR team.
  • In February 2005, ETR ran Marc Charles’ first full-length article for ETR, “There’s Never Been a Better Time to Start a Business.”
  • In March, David Cross published his first full-length article in ETR, “4 Ways to Boost Your Online Business.”
  • 2006 saw the arrival of our new publisher and CEO, MaryEllen Tribby, along with several ETR staff members – Alberto Lugo, Kam Weiler, Sarah Wade, Jedd Canty, Jessica Kurrle, Alexis Siemon, Erika Laguna, Rick Pendergraft, and Jason Holland. Together with our existing staff, they helped us put on several sold-out events, including our Website-Building Conference in July and our Info-Marketing Bootcamp in the fall (which brought in over 225 attendees!).
  • Since January 2007, we’ve continued to add to our staff, bringing in Wendy Montes-de-Oca as VP of marketing and business development and Romulus Dieujuste as customer service rep. And we have a lot of exciting events planned for the rest of the year, including the 5-day business-building retreat I’ll be hosting in April and our annual Info-Marketing Bootcamp in the fall.

I’m looking forward to ETR’s continued growth. I believe that ETR will one become a big, well-balanced direct-marketing-based publishing business focusing on three areas of self-improvement: health, wealth, and wisdom (or spiritual growth, if you prefer that term). Here’s what I’d like to see for us in the future:

  • We will have a combined subscriber base of 300,000 to 500,000 for ETR, Investor’s Daily Edge, Main Street Millionaire, and our upcoming health e-letter.
  • Each division will have a yearly conference and draw 500 to 1,000 attendees.
  • All of ETR’s regular gurus will have best-selling books.
  • We will be producing video blogs and/or shows featuring our regular writers and contributing experts.
  • All of our loyal contributors (including Paul Lawrence, Al Sears, Virginia Avery, and others) will have established their own independent and successful seven-figure businesses.
  • All together, in the next five to 10 years, ETR will grow to 85-150 employees generating revenues between $35 and $75 million.
  • Everybody who is working for ETR now will still be very happy with their jobs, proud of what they do, making high incomes, generating personal wealth, and staying healthy.

And, finally, I should say this. I no longer write Katie Yeakle e-mails about getting into work early. She managed to make a great success of AWAI without ever getting in before 8:30 a.m., and I am proud of her for showing me that it can be done.

But I should also mention that ETR’s new leader, MaryEllen Tribby, starts her day at 5:00 a.m. – and that she has already done a full workout, shipped her kids off to school, and started her work before I crawl in to the office at the late, late hour of 7:30 a.m.

In the long run, I trust that MaryEllen, Charlie Byrne, and a select group of other superstars will complete the vision I have for ETR… and maybe go beyond it.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]