The Best of Daniel Vassallo

Dear Everybody,

Daniel Vassallo is the creator of Userbase and several successful Gumroad products, including The Good Parts of AWS and Everyone Can Build a Twitter Audience. In 2019, he left a $500,000 job at Amazon to work for himself.

I organized and distilled his last 3,000 tweets into a summary of his big ideas on self-employment, information products, and lifestyle design.

Beware, not every itch is worth scratching…

  • Not every opportunity is worth taking
  • Not every dangled carrot is worth chasing
  • (You might be caught in a rat race)

To break free, recognize you’re in a race…

  • Consider your obligations
  • Imagine an alternative universe
  • And ask yourself, “Why not?”

It’s hard, but it doesn’t take much (and almost anyone can do it)…

  • 140 views at 5 percent conversion = seven sales
  • Seven sales a day of a $39 product = $275 per day
  • Seven sales a day of a $39 product = $100,000 per year

Here’s the formula: start with the hardest part…

  • Be willing to jump off the wrong train
  • Be willing to write off past ambitions
  • Be willing to detach your identity from your accomplishments
  • Otherwise you might get stuck enduring an existence full of wrong stops

Take stock of your means…

  • Time
  • Skills
  • Location
  • Interests
  • Strengths
  • Resources
  • Experience
  • Perspective
  • Connections
  • Cash at hand

Work backwards from your constraints…

  • Start with your reality
  • Fit ideas to that reality
  • (This is more effective than trying to “make your idea a reality”)

Curb your ambitions…

  • Keep reducing scope
  • Keep moving the finish line closer
  • Keep giving yourself free energy
  • Keep the complexity of what you do within your means

Figure out what you don’t like…

  • Procrastinate on purpose to find what demotivates you
  • (What you’re putting off is what you don’t like)
  • Learn from your internal resistance to find your true preferences

Slowly evolve your lifestyle to better match your true preferences…

  • Do things for their own sake
  • Do what no one’s forcing you to do
  • Do what you’re intrinsically motivated to do
  • Gradually do fewer things you’d rather not do
  • (Only intrinsic motivation lasts)

Set a direction instead of a goal…

  • You can’t predict what will work
  • You can’t predict what will last
  • You won’t know if a great idea is really great until it survives the impact with reality
  • (Goals tend to get in the way of letting you do what you should be doing, and directions are easier to correct)

You don’t need a big vision to succeed…

  • There’s no need to change the world
  • There’s no need to conquer the competition
  • There’s no need to dominate the market
  • There’s no need to disrupt anything
  • Just throw yourself into random tasks until inspiration meets opportunity

Make time your friend…

  • Cut costs
  • Make do with less
  • Reconsider your needs
  • Don’t spend more than you earn
  • Make your worst-case scenario a slow success

To thrive, survive…

  • Sit on cash
  • Avoid risk of ruin
  • Never risk more than you’re willing to lose
  • Make sure you always get a second chance
  • Persist long enough to stumble on good luck
  • (Time has a way to make unpredictable setbacks happen eventually)

Work hard to earn credibility…

  • Do something interesting in real life
  • Prove yourself by making something interesting
  • Without credibility, nobody will listen to what you have to say

Avoid low probability bets…

  • Stack odds in your favor
  • Choose your projects carefully
  • Study your opportunities carefully
  • Business is a conjecture that an idea will work out
  • Avoid spending time on things with low chance of success
  • Don’t ignore uncertainty in a randomness-laden venture

Make many small bets (and keep them small)…

  • Don’t be greedy
  • Control the amount wagered
  • Go for the low hanging fruit first
  • Keep investments tiny and bounded
  • Try many things in parallel or almost in parallel
  • You’ll learn more this way than any other way
  • (If you start killing it with low hanging fruit, it becomes easier to go after harder to reach fruit)

Build something imperfect that works…

  • Start with a very small product
  • Pick something you can finish in two weeks
  • Charge ten dollars for it
  • (Perfecting something that won't work will never make it work)
  • (Perfectionism is fine, as long as you realize you're doing it only for your own amusement)

Don’t optimize or polish your products…

  • Focus on substance, not optimizations
  • Let the scrappiness be part of the charm
  • The returns on polishing and optimizing are small
  • A book can be your life's work, presented as a beautiful masterpiece.
  • Or it can be a scrappy brain dump in a Word doc, saved as PDF.
  • Doing a brain dump on video is a lot easier than writing an ebook

Keep idle time in your system…

  • Idle time is slack
  • Slack lets you immediately explore and pounce on opportunities
  • By not optimizing to the limit, you can deal with randomness without breaking down

Stop forcing yourself to build good habits…

  • Just start building something
  • If the habits don't follow automatically, you don't really want it
  • And if you don't really want it, it won't last anyway

Just focus on behavior…

  • Study what’s repeatable
  • Study what’s working for you
  • Study what’s going okay but can be improved

Remember, growth is not linear…

  • Progress comes from random, high impact lucky events
  • Realize a fraction of the effort gets most of the results
  • Recognize which fraction to focus on
  • Use the time you bought back to do whatever you want

Skip theory…

  • Study successful practitioners
  • Become a practitioner yourself
  • (Unsuccessful practitioners don’t practice for very long)

Do a lot when inspiration strikes…

  • Take long breaks in between
  • Most things require intensity over consistency
  • Consistency works, but it's unpleasant (you're constantly fighting yourself)
  • What can be done with consistency is often more enjoyable when done with intensity instead

If there’s no one around, go where people already hang out…

  • Make yourself useful
  • Share what you’ve done
  • Share what you’re learning
  • Let yourself be opinionated
  • Go behind the scenes and share how your product is doing
  • Teach what you already know (it took you a lifetime to acquire!)
  • If others show interest in something you know, chances are thousands of other people will too

When you promote yourself…

  • You promote your product
  • You have automatic authority
  • You find people who want to learn from you specifically
  • You create an uncontested market space (competition becomes irrelevant because nobody can copy you)

Strive to be an artisan…

  • Be creative
  • Don’t follow others
  • Make your work a business
  • Don’t cut corners for efficiency
  • Say no to things you’d rather not do
  • Do the best work you can, for its own sake
  • Never sell something you know is defective

Protect your independent lifestyle…

  • Be risk averse
  • Don’t try to maximize profits
  • Avoid having your lifestyle taken away from you

A good life is a story you're proud of…

  • Pride comes from the story we tell ourselves about how we created something in the circumstances we were in
Thank you for reading!    

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