Today we have a very special guest, John Lee Dumas, entrepreneur and military veteran.
John, I’m going to get right to it, you’ve had an interesting background and career. It appears to be extremely smooth with EntrepreneurOnFire and the stuff you’ve done over the last two years, but I’d like to go back a little ways into your earlier life. What were you like, for example, as I see you very, very motivated and highly functional, highly detail oriented, etc. is this something you always had or were there any changes that were the result of the military?
John: I led a very sheltered life for the first 18 years, and because of that, I wasn’t that entrepreneur from day one. You hear Gary Vaynerchuk who is making $2,000 a weekend trading baseball cards. I was really doing as little possible to just enjoy life to the max; playing sports, having fun in high school, doing those type of things. It truly wasn’t until my time in the military where I encountered many life and death situations, being a deployed officer to Iraq for a 13-month tour of duty in 2003/2004 that I really realized: “Man, I am the person that’s responsible for my success or demise.” When I had that shift, Thomas, that’s when things started to change.
Pretty quickly after the Military, I saw that that was also able to be the case in the civilian world. As an entrepreneur, I also realized that I had responsibility for my success or demise. Not necessarily on a life and death format anymore, but on a success and failure format. I decided that that was going to be my goal, to take the reins, to be really in control of everything that I could control and make the most of the situations.
Thomas: Did you have a lot of success before the military?
John: Before the military, no. I was a very average high school student. I was a very average college student. I didn’t excel in anything. I really didn’t pile a lot of responsibilities on my plate at all. I wanted to be free, I wanted to be lacking any real responsibilities, which I think is one thing that really pulled me into entrepreneurship – the ability to be free and to really control my own destiny.
Before I jumped into the U.S. Army, that was more on a: “How can I put as little on my plate as possible so I can do what I consider fun?” That was really my mentality and attitude. Because of that, I was just pretty average at just about everything.
Thomas: What’s interesting there is here you’ve been hyper-successful, if I can use that term (if it is one), but you had to at some point learn that you could. You had to be the little train that could. What happened in the military that made you realize: “Wait a second. I can do this”? Because you really didn’t have those successes. You went jumping from one thing, to the military, and then shortly thereafter you became super successful.
John: The military was the first time that I had no choice but to accept responsibility, and it wasn’t just a little bit of responsibility; it was massive responsibility. That massive responsibility encountered the lives of 14 soldiers that were under my command in the four tanks I was in control of. That was a responsibility that I couldn’t just walk away with or take lightly. It was a very heavy burden that I took at a very young age, especially for someone that had kind of been avoiding those burdens and those responsibilities for most of his life.
I just came to that realization when I stood in front of my soldiers as we were about to go into a fire fight, or that next mission, or whatever it might be that their lives could very well be dependent on how prepared I was for this mission. Their lives could be dependent on how I react when it comes to becoming under fire, and all of these decisions that I had to make.
That’s when I just made this mental shift in my mind that said: “You know what? I am going to no longer adopt this attitude of lackadaisicalness, and I’m going to adopt an attitude of I’m going to do my best to be in best control of the situation that I can see possible so that I can drive forward, and hopefully bring as many of these soldiers home as possible.”
Thomas: It’s an amazing story. Actually, part of the reason that I get into this is because if it wasn’t for the military, I would be nothing today. I literally grew up thinking I was not average. I used to hope, pray, dream, and hope someday to become average to be that good. In the military, something triggered, and actually it was a combination of little things that I won’t bother to get into, but when I realized that if I pushed myself harder, I could… I came to the realization from a few people that said some things to me. Gee, if the military can make me do the things I did for them, then why couldn’t I push myself to do the same things for myself?
Thomas: It really had a tremendous effect. Actually, I carry that message to military people whenever I can. It was one in a billion chance. Two kids set next to me—stay tuned for something else to listen to the whole story—but two kids set next to me in a train, invited me to New Years’ Eve party, they changed my entire direction based on what happened. I saw so much and so many people in the military with a whole variety of backgrounds and everything else.
Did you see and have that same sort of feeling of the spectrum? One thing that’s blessed about the military is that we’re all in the same uniform. Nobody appears in any dilapidated clothes or trimmed up with $2,000 suits. They’re all the same; we’re all equal. At the same time, you see these people from all different walks of life.
Did you see any of them as making those kind of changes or significant changes in their life because of the military?
John: 100%. Within my platoon alone, the ages range, of the 14 men that we have in, anywhere from 18 years old all the way up to mid-50s, which is where the platoon sergeant’s age could be up to. It was just incredible to see the diversity not only of age, but also of location. People were from what a lot of people would frame as “The Dirty South.” Then there were people from the Northwest. Then there was people like myself, from New England, then your Californians, or the Midwesterns, of course.
There was such a diverse age and backgrounds that you would just be scratching your head if you saw these people in civilian clothes, being like: “How are these people ever going to get along, let alone become a cohesive unit?” Then, Thomas, you toss that uniform on them and you stand them in formation, and all of a sudden it’s like they become one. It’s this kind of ragtag group of individuals has now become an elite fighting force because they’re wearing the same boots, they’re adhering to the same principles, they’re fighting for the same cause, and they’re being trained by the best.
To see that transformation in my eyes made me realize that if you set up the right environment and you focus on the right things, incredible things can happen. That’s what really blew me away.
Thomas: Absolutely. That’s an interesting point, because it’s one of the things that I not only noticed also… For example, my roommate was from Watts, L.A. and this was right at the time, just after the Watts riots. I have no idea what his background and everything else must have been, but we were roommates and good friends, and we would go out to places together and everything else on our free time. Very different people, very different things. The interesting thing is he was extremely bright; very, very smart guy. What made me realize so much is you take a look in the distributions of IQs, etc., are the same in the south or some black ghetto neighborhood or whatever else it is. The difference is the environment. I’m so glad you brought that up. The unfortunate thing is people sometimes tend to go back into that same environment.
I just last week did an episode based on Jim Rohn’s famous quote about your income is the average of your five closest friends. (see Episode 20 for depth) Whether that’s income, or environment, or outlook, or future, that really is your environment. That goes back to another episode on the comfort zone, (click here for episode 15 on the comfort zone) as to not only what you’re comfortable with, but all your friends are and how you bridge that gap.
My avatar, or audience, demographic group is those people that are looking at Life Unsettled as they’re getting into their 50’s, and realizing all of a sudden: “Wait a minute. We don’t have enough money for retirement. We’re going to live a lot longer. What are we going to do?” They have to make a change in this unsettled life period for them. They have to make changes because people around them are getting laid off, etc. They have to step out of their environment, but yet, it’s a lot harder for them than it is for the person who was still in the military. You face that, and some of them were older and had to accept those differences and changes.
How do you get people to do or realize that they need to make those changes?
John: One thing that I really realized is that when you show people the result of action… For a lot of us in the military and training, it was showing other platoons that had been together for a while, going through actions, going through their missions, going through their exercises and what they were able to accomplish. Then turn back to your own group, and say: “Listen. They were you literally six months ago. They didn’t know each other from Adam. They came here as ragtag and as clueless as you, and we’ve taken them and formed them into this. This can happen to you as well, which is a really powerful understanding in so many different ways. Such a powerful understanding.” Really showing them visually what that was and what that meant was just such a really important realization to see it first-hand. You just really can’t replace that, Thomas.
Thomas: That’s very interesting, and it gets back into a couple of points that I really like. As soon as you said the word “action,” the fur on the back of my head riled a little bit, because you put it so well in that we’re talking not about just jumping out and doing action. You keep on hearing people say: “Take action. Take action. Take action.” You really emphasize the fact that you have planning, practice, preparation. You don’t want to hesitate; you want to keep moving along, but you do have some plan in place and some progress that’s measured and done. It’s not just running out, making a fool of yourself, and then trying to correct it afterwards.
I want to move on to your business life after the military. You never really had any business background at all. After the military, you went into the John Hancock insurance company. What were you doing there?
John: That actually came on the heels of an initial stint in law school. I thought law was going to be the direction I was going to take. My father was a lawyer. I thought that was going to be for me, so I enrolled, I paid the entire first years’ worth, nonrefundable, and I was ready to rock. After one semester, I knew that I was not meant to be in law. It was the hardest decision of my life. It was actually the first time I ever quit at anything, and that was law school, and I walked away. I walked out, much to the disappointment of my friends, family, and especially parents.
Then I tried to redeem myself by getting into something that I thought was a respected career, which there are many respected careers within corporate finance, and I thought that that was going to be a great next step for me. I wanted to redeem that earlier failure that I just encountered by getting into something that I thought was going to get me back on the right track. That was in Boston for a company called John Hancock to get into the industry of corporate finance.
There was a lot of things I liked about that job, but there was even more things that I disliked. The things that I disliked, we could go on about for hours. To sum it up in a couple of words, it was the lack of ingenuity or the forced structure of having to sit in the same cubicle, and dial the same phone numbers, and have the same conversations over and over again. There is just no diversity in the job. It was truly a smile-and-dial type atmosphere. I looked around and I saw other people that had been doing it for years, and I just couldn’t picture myself being one of them. I needed the freedom to stretch my legs and my arms, and to be in control of my destiny.
Even despite the fact that they had just laid off 70% of the workforce at my job where I had only been at for one year at this point, at John Hancock, and I was one of the 30% that remained – I walked out the door that same day because I knew that I was not the person this company needed to make it through the storm because I was not in favor of the direction that my career was going. That was my second straight failure in quitting in a row, and it wasn’t easy to do.
Thomas: Fortunately, the end of the story is a whole lot better. I want to mention to you I was also thinking of law school. I was actually tossed between law school and graduate school. I said: “Okay, what I’m going to do is I’m going to decide. I’ll take the LSATs and the GREs, and decide if I get into one or the other really well…” It turns out I did very, very well on both exams.
All of a sudden, I sat back and I was trying to decide, and I realized: “Wait a minute. I don’t like to write, and I don’t like to do the things that lawyers do.” Watching it on TV is fine, but all that other stuff was not something I enjoyed at all. As a matter of fact, I should say I hated it. Then went over in graduate school and everything was fine, and I enjoyed myself very much there.
The interesting thing is with this new business, you did something that was very contrary to what 99.9% of people would ever do, is you started to expose yourself. Not literally, but your income reports. You started to put those out online, and with incredible detail; with everything and all. I’m not concerned about the numbers right now. I’m just interested in: where did you get the idea to do that, and why? What was the background? What were the thoughts in mind?
John: The idea, Thomas, for that actually came from just wanting to get into the online entrepreneurship world. You Google “internet marketing” and you Google “online entrepreneurship,” and the top results are always the ones that seem to be scammy and spammy. I was just like: “I want to get into a job and I want to have a career that I can be proud of, that I’m really making a difference because I’m delivering real value in return for real revenue. Is anybody doing this?” The reality is, Thomas, not a ton of people were, and even fewer people were doing it and sharing it.
One of those people was Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. He was a guy that now for over five years I think, at least four years now, has been publishing his monthly income reports. Those have always been an incredible inspiration to me, just seeing that here’s a guy that’s just willing to put it all out there on the line. He’s willing to share what he’s doing, how it’s working, how it’s not. That transparency inspired me to say: “You know what? There are some good guys out there that are doing great things, and are getting rewarded financially for it.”
When I got to the point, about a year in to EntrepreneurOnFire where we were generating consistently over six figures of income every single month, I turned to Kate, my business partner and just said: “I think it’s time for us to be the Pat Flynn of podcasting. I think it’s time for us to show other podcasters what’s working in the podcasting world, so they can emulate our successes. I want to show people in the podcasting world what’s not working. I want to show them our failures so that they can avoid the missteps that we’re making. I want to just create this income report so that every month we can share with people our journey, and how we’re adding to it.”
Since we’ve published, Thomas, now we’re on our 15th straight month of publishing an income report. We’ve continued to add great things to it, got in great feedback, and it is definitely the most read posts on our website every single month.
Thomas: It’s interesting, too, because it does give the detail of what works, what doesn’t work. One of the things that has always bothered me, and that’s why I love the fact that you do that, the way you do it and the detail, is that, yes, it turns out that there are so many of the businesses out there that people are just lying. I can’t put it any politer than that.
Thomas: I see people in network marketing, for example, I know them, I know what they’re doing, I know what they’re making, and they’re making up statements that I know are false. Actually I know partially because a couple of the companies had me look at their databases to analyze some certain stuff, and I know what people were really making and yet what they were saying. The person out there saying they’re making $7,500 a month or so, and I know they never hit more than 1,400; that was their peak month. Those kinds of things just to draw people in. It’s very hard for people to get very good information.
Yes, Pat Flynn is a phenomenal example. He’s really good and he’s got some very good stuff; not just his income, but also his alternatives of different things that people can do.
One of the things that I find interesting, though, is the direction and the process you’ve gone through. I just want to quickly go through. You started up straight podcasting, and then you opened up… What was the first thing? Podcasters’ Paradise?
Thomas: That, and your affiliate income. Then from there, where did you go and what do you see in the future?
John: From that point, one thing that was really interesting that built off of itself, Thomas, was Podcasters’ Paradise. That was our first big flagship program that we launched. Very soon into it, we said: “We’re seeing that people are really loving these webinars that we’re doing. We’re seeing that people are doing a majority of the purchasing into our program, Podcasters’ Paradise, on these live webinars.” In fact, up to 91% of our overall sales for Podcasters’ Paradise were coming on these live webinars.
For people that are listening right now, that’s a massive hint, that’s a massive clue, and that’s why it’s so important to be listening, to really just have your ear out there and to see what your audience is doing and how they’re reacting, because that just turned a lightbulb on for me immediately that said: “Wow. Maybe it’s time to create another community where we teach people how to do what we’re doing with Podcasters’ Paradise, how to create and present webinars that actually converts.” That launched into WebinarOnFire, which is our community that does just that. We teach people how to create, present, and convert webinars to the level that we’re doing.
That’s been another six figure revenue generator for the year 2014, where actually Podcasters’ Paradise is well into the seven figure revenue generator for 2014. It’s built off of each other, and that’s one exciting thing about when you are growing these businesses, is really listening.
As far as our future, and this is going to be interesting to people too, because we have a lot of different directions we can go. We have decided for the near term future our focus is going to be doubling down on Podcasters’ Paradise. We’ve created the number one podcasting community in the world. Podcasting we know is just going to continue to be growing in 2015 and beyond. We’re perfectly positioned, so we don’t want to take our eye off the ball. We want to continue to improve our best in-class product to continue to make it best in-class and to keep it best in-class, and just see what new records we can shatter within Podcasters’ Paradise in 2015.
Thomas: That’s actually interesting. We’re just about out of time, but I just wanted to get one little bit of advice for the audience because there are so many people going into podcasting and one of the big mistakes I see is they try to copy. They try to be the next John Lee Dumas, doing exactly the same thing or something else.
Do you have two or three things—because I’m sure you’re also seeing failures out there—what would be the two or three biggest mistakes you see people doing going into podcasting?
John: The number one mistake I see by far really just builds off of what you were sharing, Thomas, is that people are chasing and sprinting after what they see is working right now, instead of really taking the time to sit down and say: “Where do my passions and my skills overlap? What conversations can I enjoy having, not just right now, but in six months from now and two years from now?” Because podcast is a marathon. If you’re trying to sprint to success, you’re going to get burnt out and you’re not going to have the success you want. If you really look at it as that marathon, you’re going to have a lot more success in the long run, really finding something that you’re both passionate and skillful at.
Number two is don’t bite off more than you can chew at the beginning. Not everybody is going to be like me and decide to make podcasting the focal point of their business. For some people it’s just going to be part of their business plan, and it’s a great part of your business. Just keep it that way. Do once a week, do a mixture of both interviews and just solo topic shows. Some weeks you don’t have to worry about scheduling; you can just click on a microphone and start talking about anything. That’s fine. As long as you’re getting content out there that’s going to connect with your audience, that’s really powerful. Don’t try to go after this incredibly difficult schedule to maintain, because that’s just going to be overwhelming to you. You can ease into this. You can ramp up and build as your confidence grows and as your business opens up and gives you more time to do these things.
Number three, Thomas, I would just say make sure that it aligns with everything that you do. Make sure that your podcast aligns with your business. If you’re going to be doing a podcast where you’re trying to really focus on writing books, don’t just interview any random entrepreneur. Interview authors, interview people that have written New York Times’ best-selling books, interview people who have really written the book on how to self-publish in Kindle. Really keep things focused and keep things niched, and you’ll have a lot more success.
Thomas: Absolutely. That actually goes with any business. Basically, look at your target market, focus on that target, and don’t deviate. Make sure that you’re always in-tune with what they need, what they want, what they desire. Tweak their feelings, their senses.
John, it’s been an awesome interview. I know you’ve got to go. We’ve really run out of time. This could go on too long. [Laughter]. I would like to thank you very much for a wonderful interview, and for supplying us with so many good takeaways.
John: It’s been such a pleasure. Thank you, Thomas. It’s just been great chatting with you today. I’ll catch you on the flip side.
Find John Lee Dumas at: http://www.eofire.com