How to build a spaceship –– my wild voyage discovering the one person company.
I’m twenty-one. It feels like forever ago. I’m not all that different from most aspiring entrepreneurs. I want to build a spaceship. A big shiny one, like Elon Musk’s.
My obsession began in college, while I was attending the University of Southern Indiana. I had just read Ashlee Vance’s masterful book, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.
It’s a lovely tale. It’s hugely captivating like Star Trek. Yet, in some very odd way, it feels within reach.
Vance’s great writing makes the idea of building electric cars that can zip from 0 to 60 mph at the blink of an eye and spaceships that can deliver massive payloads to outer-space… achievable.
It’s a dangerous combination. In fact, I’d go as far as arguing that it very well might be the most dangerous book any young aspiring entrepreneur can read.
After ripping to the final page of Vance’s novel and racing to the bottom, I felt my mentality change, almost immediately.
I suddenly had big boisterous (dare I say unrealistic) dreams of building a spaceship. No, not a spaceship I could fly to the moon. But rather my own Earth-shattering idea like Musk’s that would bring riches and fame and gargantuan change for humankind.
In a way, it was the most important book I had ever read –– it taught me to dream bigger. But, with that, it cultivated in me a deep feeling of dissatisfaction.
I began comparing my own life, my own success and even myself to that of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs –– Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and so on.
My life felt underwhelming.
How the fuck was I suppose to sit through a consumer behavior class at twenty-one when Elon Musk at my age was building PayPal?
I think I began to realize I wasn’t an Elon Musk or a Steve Jobs or an Oprah Winfrey and instead of accepting it, I did what all the successful entrepreneurs were saying to do…
Fail and fail fast.
Nearly kill yourself, if you have to.
I went on a crazed self-help rampage. I read every business book I could get my hands on. I listened to hundreds of hours of Tim Ferriss’s podcast. And, in between my classes, I brainstormed thousands of business ideas, as I embarked on my reckless pursuit to find my spaceship.
Seven hundred and thirty days later, at the ripe age of twenty-three, I was graduating college and besides a degree… I didn’t have a damn thing to show for my effort.
There wasn’t a spaceship anywhere in sight.
How do you build a spaceship? You stop looking.
Fortunately, my journey didn’t end there.
I remember sitting in a coffee shop one afternoon (I’ll bet filling up my raggedy journal with more big business ideas) when I overheard a conversation between a young aspiring entrepreneur and an older more seasoned one.
The wolf was giving the pup a few pointers on how to hunt and offered up some advice that I hope changed the young man’s life (because it certainly changed mine).
“Just go out and make a $1. That’s your job in this game. To just go out and make a $1. Stop thinking and building and planning… and just go out and make $1. Right now.”
It was such simple advice. But, advice I had never even considered as I was on the search for my spaceship. It was advice that stuck with me.
It was advice that ultimately lead to me starting Honey Copy, my creative writing shop that works with brands to write pretty words and sell stuff with these pretty words.
The moment I heard it, everything changed for me.
I stopped looking for my spaceship and did what this entrepreneur said to do, I focused instead on making a $1.
I asked myself… what do I do well? Or, at the very least, better than most people around me.
Writing, was what immediately came to mind.
From there, I asked myself… how could I use writing to make a $1?
I thought and thought and thought. At first, I arrive at the idea of writing a book. But, that wouldn’t pay out for months (if I were lucky). Then, I thought about a blog. But, again, I had to build an audience to make money with a blog, which I didn’t have.
Finally, I arrived on the idea of writing for startups.
Most of the stuff I was reading was complete shit and something in me felt like there was a major need among startups for witty, bold and creative words.
Plus, with startups being primarily run by younger professionals, I felt like my young age wouldn’t be an issue.
The next day, I emailed right around fifty startups. Several of them emailed me back. One of them gave me my first gig.
The next day, I made my first $1 as an entrepreneur.
I was hooked.
If I told you I emailed 250+ startups a week for the next year… would you believe me?
The cancer of bigger, better and faster.
I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty. But, it’s been roughly two years since I got paid to write my first word and I’m now running a six-figure creative writing business.
It’s not Elon’s spaceship.
It’s not Oprah’s spaceship.
It’s not Jobs’s spaceship.
But, it’s my spaceship.
It’s little. It’s a bit rickety. But, it can really jolt when I hit the gas and it’s painted a pretty mint green, too.
Perhaps, it’s more like a space pod than a spaceship. But, none of that fucking matters, because it’s mine and I am damn proud of it.
From a business standpoint, I’m the most fulfilled I’ve ever been. But, to get here, it took me taking a step back from the typical silicon valley mindset that has seemed to permeate every ambitious mind in the country –– build a spaceship and shoot for the moon.
Today, we are surrounded by growth.
Everything is growing and if it’s not growing, it is seen as a failure.
And, while to a certain extent growth is good… eventually, we have to ask ourselves when growth can get out of control? When growth can go from life-giving to life-taking like cancer?
I think a big reason entrepreneurs, marketers and young professionals are so dissatisfied with their work today is because they feel as though if they’re not 10xing year over year they’re failing.
I’ll say it again. That’s bullshit.
Since when is running a profitable business that grows at a modest rate year over year seen as a failure?
I’m not the only one asking this question. Far smarter people than myself are, too.
Books like Company of One by Paul Jarvis are showing us that it’s okay to not feel called to build the next Tesla.
And, books like The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business, are showing us that this mentality can still be extremely lucrative.
Gumroad’s CEO & founder wrote a beautiful piece reflecting on his failure to build a billion-dollar company.
In it, he highlights challenges the Elon Musk’s of the world don’t share like… laying off close friends because you’re running out of money.
I’ve written about Gumroad before. It, in my opinion, is one of the strongest niche brands alive today.
Not to mention, it has a splendid mission –– to help creators around the world get paid doing what they love.
I adore it so much, I used it to launch my copywriting guide –– how to write words that sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.
Yet, despite this, Gumroad’s founder still viewed himself as a failure for a long time, because it wasn’t a billion-dollar spaceship.
And, I might be assuming (you know what they say about assuming)… but I imagine there have been times you have viewed yourself as a failure too.
Company of one is a metaphor for something far more substantial.
I’m not sure what you do.
Yes, you, reading this right now. You can tell me if you want, send me a note at “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
But, I’ll bet you’re a marketer or an entrepreneur or a snow cone vendor that at times finds yourself chasing the rabbit…
Perhaps, you’re a marketer that works for a startup where you’re expected to achieve impossible growth year over year.
Or, maybe you’re an entrepreneur selling awesome stickers that feels like you’re not doing enough because you aren’t selling rockets or whatever.
I think as marketers, entrepreneurs and snow cone vendors… we need to first escape the comparison game.
Honey Copy will forever be seen as a failure if I compare it to Tesla.
Secondly, I think we need to focus on the lovely aspects of our ourselves and our brands.
While Honey Copy doesn’t bring in millions of dollars in revenue each year, it offers me an insane amount of flexibility… something someone like Elon Musk perhaps doesn’t have.
And, lastly, I think we need to decide what we were put on this Earth to do and accept that it’s enough.
I, Cole Schafer, was put on this Earth to write pretty words for awesome brands and people and that will forever be enough.
When we can escape the spaceship mentality as people, we can build more thoughtful brands that better serve our customers.
Why? Because suddenly the metrics we use to measure our worth aren’t dollar signs but rather something more substantial.
I suppose the question I want you to ask yourself today is the following… if I couldn’t measure myself and my business in growth what metric would I use?
Now, excuse me, I need to take a ride in my little mint green spaceship.
By Cole Schafer.
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