$10 million/year by saying NO

For the first four years after my graduation, I was a hustler. I wouldn't say that I was a business owner because I just had a blog (though we had 5 writers for it). For the next 5 years, I was working at different startups. Only in the last 5 years, I've been an entrepreneur in the making.

When you are getting started as an entrepreneur, it might look like what you are missing is knowledge and connections with key people in the industry. That's how I felt for the first few years.

I attended events related to startups, always said yes to meetings, and was constantly trying to gather knowledge thinking that I just need to find that one golden nugget to become a successful entrepreneur.

Only in the last few years, I've started realizing that startup success is all about creating a great product. Creating a great product takes time, planning, determination, focus, and clarity. Once you build a great product and scale, you will be the one giving startup advice, and people will be reaching out to you.

Startup success is all about focus. You have to say No to people, events, new projects, and new opportunities. You build a successful startup by saying No, not by saying Yes. We have limited time and in our limited time, we need to put our time to use for the things that matter the most.

Here are all the things that a startup founder needs to say No to at least for the first three years of the startup.

  • No to events in the industry
  • No to enthusiastic networking
  • No to new business opportunities and partnerships
  • No to speculative investments
  • No to new commitments in personal life
  • No to traveling frequently
  • No to social gatherings and parties
  • No to meetings with people "just want to meet you"
  • No to learning new life skills (like music, cooking, etc)
  • No to alcohol and other intoxicants
  • No to excess sugar and gourmet foods
  • No to fancy cars and bikes (that take time and effort to maintain)
  • No to new TV series and stupid movies
  • No to new house purchases or shifting to new cities

You create good products when you have good mental space. Good mental space is earned by ruthlessly cutting out things that are not directly serving the success of your startup.

You need to set up your life in such a way that your startup is the top idea in your mind until the startup becomes successful enough to stand on its own legs.

However, you still need to focus on health and relationships.

Say Yes only to:

  • Good sleep, diet, exercise, and personal hygiene
  • Time with a few good friends
  • Time with family members
  • Think Week: One week vacation (without activities) every quarter
  • Very important personal errands that cannot be avoided
  • Sports activities for physical and mental health

The rest of your time: you should be thinking about your startup and working on it. Cutting out the unimportant and harmful things and focusing just on the essential things will give you more results in your business than any other "tactic" or latest strategy for Facebook Ads.

I have realized that there are just 3 things I have to focus on to make my business grow:

  • Consume more relevant content (read, watch, listen)
  • Create more content (write, podcast, videos, live sessions)
  • Hire good people and guide them

Yes, there are finances, design, creatives, funnels, sales methods, ad platforms, mass communication channels, processes, systems, branding, logo, and so on.

But everything will fall in place if we produce good content and manage it as a team. Everything is built around content.

Content needs to be well-structured and needs to have a content market fit. (How to get a good content-market-fit is a separate article I'm writing).

If I get a pocket of 2-3 hours in a day, I am doing one of the above. I am either interviewing possible hires, talking to my team, learning new things, or creating content for my students.

The basic three, done over and over again, would take me to $10m a year in revenue easily. How to take the company from $10m to a $100m revenue is a problem to think about once we hit $10m a year. And until that goal, the path is clear.

It's ok that it takes time if you are on the right path. In return for accepting a slower pace of growth, you are getting a higher level of certainty in the growth potential of the business.

This is anti-productivity mental model is good for business. There is no point in cramming up more things to do, more products to launch, more partnerships to do, if the time is taken away from the most important thing - building a great product.

Busyness is not good for business.

By building slow, you are also building a sustainable startup for the team members. When people join a company, they also want to work there for a long time and do meaningful work.

The amount of clarity that I have on what I need to be doing in a day comes from clear goals. Until I reach my goal I will put my blinders on, and maybe when I reach the goal, having blinders on will become a way of life.

Put the blinders on like a horse and just focus on one clear goal to achieve.

I am writing in public about reaching a goal. Maybe the public commitment would help me reach the goal because of the social pressure I am creating for myself. That's the tradeoff. (I learned this from Naval)

Let's break it down. How do I plan to reach $10m/yr in revenue?

$10m a Year: A Clear Path

How do we plan to reach $10m a year in revenue first?

  • 10 Clients paying us $100,000 a year. That's $1m per year for the agency.
  • 100 clients paying us $10,000 a year. Our premium mastermind program with mentorship + agency for business owners. ($1m/yr)
  • 1000 customers for a $2,000 product - our business mastery cohort-based 6 months program. ($2m/year)
  • 2000 customers for a $1000 product - our mastery program on Digital Marketing for students and professionals. ($2m a year)
  • 10,000 customers for a $200 product. Our beginner's program on Digital Marketing. ($2m/yr)
  • 100,000 customers for $20 products. Our books, ebooks, courses, community access, and content subscriptions.  (That's $2m/yr)

I don't need 10 different products in 10 different verticals to get to $10m/yr.

As the chief content creator of LearnToday, I just need to focus on content creation and building the distribution for the content.

If I cannot reach $10/yr with just the digital marketing niche, I wouldn't be able to replicate the same in other niches anyway. The market for digital marketing training is way bigger than $10m/yr. I am planning to become the category leader in this niche (mostly within the Indian target market).

One niche with $10m a year is far more achievable than having 10 niches at $1m a year. Because instead of creating new products, you are refining the existing product, which will set you apart from the competition. This will lead to good word of mouth, branding, recommendations, and better conversions. It becomes less difficult over time to convert your leads.

Refining one product before scaling it needs focus and time. And a deep focus on the product experience comes from elimination, not addition.

Beyond $10m/yr

Once we reach a $10m revenue, there might not be anything new we need to do to grow further apart from doing more of the same thing (maybe in different niches).

We hope to reach $10/yr in 5 years. But even if it should take more time, we are in no hurry. We will reach the goal, or die trying.

Hopefully, beyond a certain scale, it is more about the intelligent allocation of capital to create predictable returns. It just takes a consistent growth rate of 30% YoY to grow from $10m a year to $100m a year.

At $100m a year in revenue, the startup becomes a unicorn 🦄

At this point in time, I don't know what I don't know. Probably after a few years, I will know more, not through outside sources but through the experience of building our startup.

Some of the future projects that we will be building after hitting $10m/yr are:

  • ApplyToday - A job listing portal
  • HireToday - A platform for businesses to hire freelancers
  • TeachToday - A creator platform for content hosting and distribution
  • StoreToday - A platform for checkout and sales attribution
  • AffiliateToday - An affiliate network for content products

We have a few more business plans but they are vague right now and time will determine the future of those projects.

The path is clear, only the execution remains.

Deepak Kanakaraju

(CEO, LearnToday.com)