Category Archives: Passion

How I Decide What to Work On

**Just a PC police warning, in this post I quote a book written by Russell Simmons (founder of Def Jam records) who uses words which some people may find offensive. Please understand that words have whatever meaning you personally attach to them and I choose to attach positive meanings to them**

So a lot has happened since my last blog post. I’ll spare you all the details but the TL;DR of it is, I got this fairly serious rare eye condition last October. Spent the next 6 months on what I call a “spiritual sabbatical” where I didn’t work and just took the time to get my mental health in order. Went to see a therapist, started doing Taichi and meditating and Now I’m back and I feel more balanced, happier, and more focused than ever.

Maybe one day I’ll write more extensively about my mental health issues and how I deal with them, but for now I just wanted to write about how I’ve decided what things I’m going to work on and what I’m just not going to do from here on out.

I read / listen to a lot of books. Two of my favorite books of all time are ‘Do You‘ by Russell Simmons and ‘Anything You Want‘ by Derek Sivers. They’re both philosophy books disguised as business books and there are a lot of lessons I’ve taken from both but the one concept that, though each author put it in their own way, is to be basically the same. It’s the process of how to decide what things / projects you should do and what you shouldn’t waste your time on.

In ‘Do You’ Russell Simmons talks about recording RUN DMC’s first album with Rick Rubin in Rick’s dorm room. He remembers vividly lying on the floor and saying “Wait til these, N**gas get a load of this!” He knew deep down that what they were working on was going to change peoples’ lives forever. He could feel it and the excitement would not stop bubbling out.

In ‘Anything you Want’ Derek Sivers explains a similar thought process where he only has two answers to any request to do something, “Hell Yes” or “no”. If someone asks you to do something, or an opportunity is presented to you, if your answer isn’t “Hell Yes” then it should be no. You shouldn’t waste anytime working on something that doesn’t elicit that level of excitement.

I’ve come to realize that these are really good barometers to gauge if something is worth spending your time (your most valuable, finite resource) on.

Tim Ferriss also talks about the opposite of happiness being boredom and for me, this really feels to be the case. I’ve come to realize that what makes me the happiest in life is trying to solve problems for people through business.

About a half a year ago when I was getting out of my eye funk, I came up with the idea for Lesson Underground, a student driven music lesson marketplace that helps connect music learners and teachers. Ever since the inception of the idea and all through the process of building the MVP, I’ve constantly had the line from Russell Simmons’ book playing in my head,
“Wait til these N**gas get a load of this!”

Even while spending quite a bit of money to get it going (the most money I’ve ever spent on a new business), its always been a “Hell Yes” for me.

Taking something from idea, to a real thing is a drug for me. Seeing people also see value in the idea and use the service is a high I don’t think I’ll ever stop chasing. This feeling is the opposite of boredom.

I think more people should choose to use the “Hell Yes” or “No” method to decide what to do with their lives. Whatever your “Hell Yes” projects or things are, do that. I get the feeling that a lot of people trying to rationalize and justify their actions rather than living out their Dharma, their purpose of living. People postpone their lives til when their body is at its worse and almost incapable of truly living the life that they dreamed of. Remember, life is short and there is no warranty or guarantee on it. Waking up one morning and not being able to see was a literal wake up call to remind me of that.

You Don’t Have a Passion

I hear it all the time. “I finally found my passion and its this, and thats why I’m starting this blog/business.” Listen, I’m going to give it to you straight. If you just found your passion, it’s probably NOT your passion. The word passion gets thrown around way too much these days. I get it. So many smart people out there are telling you to find your passion and do it. But seriously, when I hear someone tell me that line above, all I’m thinking in my mind is, “That’s not your passion, you don’t have one”.

I’ve met people who have passion. My cofound Aldrine is a great example of someone who is passionate about what he does. He’s been playing music since he was a kid and the passion he has for the ukulele is all consuming. Not only can he talk about literally any aspect of the ukulele for hours he also spends an ungodly amount of time practicing the ukulele (although these days I don’t think he practices nearly as much as before). It’s this passion that has allowed him to become one of the premier ukulele players in the WORLD and why so many people watch and learn from our tutorial videos. When you watch one of our videos with Aldrine teaching you some small little technique about the ukulele, you can literally feel his excitement coming out of your computer screen. Doing something with the ukulele is a dream job and you can tell he’s not in for just a paycheck. In fact, he didn’t get paid at all for 3 years.

The same way Aldrine is about music, I feel about entrepreneurship. I love entrepreneurship, all aspects of it and I can talk about it forever. I read things and listen to things about it everyday. Ask my wife (and the fact that she puts up with it and hasn’t filed for divorce means its true love). I’m testing my own theories in my own businesses and constantly honing what I consider my craft.  My idea of a fantastic day is meeting another entrepreneur and talking shop and learning something that I can add to my tool box. May not even be something I need at the time, but just something I can whip out like batman when the time comes.

The reality is, most people never find their passion. Why? Because most people aren’t passionate people. To have a passion for something, you need to be a little crazy. A passion is something that consumes your entire life and most people honestly don’t want that. They want to enjoy their weekends. Passionate people are not balanced people. There’s a reason why there are only a few Tiger Woods(es?), Richard Bransons, Kanye Wests. Its just not normal. So when normal people tell me they finally found their passion, what they’re actually saying is, “I found something that is fun and I’m kind of interested in right now.” Who knows, maybe it will turn out it actually is your passion, but if you just found it you have no way of knowing. So stop calling it your passion.

In the end, it’s ok to be normal. Despite what so many successful people preach, it’s ok not have a passion, its not a prerequisite for success or happiness, it just means you’re going to have to work harder. See the only advantage people who have passion have is that when they are working, it doesn’t feel like work. So even if you don’t have a passion in life it’s ok, if you can learn to put your head down and just work as hard as you can, you’ll be fine. You can fake your passion.

There is a caveat to this diatribe or sorts and that is that I think there are many people out there that already know their passion yet are not pursuing it. Maybe they had a parent who pushed them into a field or maybe they are afraid that they won’t be able to make ends meet with the passion. These people may live their entire lives with a mask on. They spend their entire working career pretending to be something that they think the world wants them to be. STOP DOING THAT SHIT.

If you have a passion it is your OBLIGATION to pursue it. If it’s truly a passion there is no way you can fail. The world loves those who love what they do. If you are a lucky one who already knows their passion in life do it. The rest of the world wishes they could be you.

The Importance of What We Do

When people ask me what I do, I’m often guilty of not telling them the full story. I usually just say, “Oh my friends and I have a business that we do..” and hope that that answer is good enough for them. If they prod for more I’ll say we teach ukulele on the internet. Which is the what, of what we do. I guess I just don’t want to seem arrogant, or self aggrandizing to tell them the why. But the why is what’s important. The why is the all that matters in business. But no one ever asks for the why.

Why do we teach ukulele on the internet? Because the vast majority of the people in this world cannot express any emotion they feel without the help of someone else. They depend on the works of art created by others to tell their story. The average person cannot express how they truly feel about someone, or how they feel when something happens. They listen to songs written and recorded by other people, they watch movies and cry because they can relate, but they themselves cannot communicate effectively.  Not only that, they don’t realize they can’t!

The value of music and therefore musicians is the fact that they can create things that help other people express how they feel. There is tremendous value in that, as we see by the millions and millions of dollars that musicians, directors, artists earn. Society has shown with their wallets just how valuable the creation of tools of expression is.

This is why Ukulele Underground is important.  Our goal is to create more new musicians.  More new people that can help others express themselves, or at the very least, we help someone express their own feelings. For those who play music, they know how much it really does feel like a gift. For a long time I couldn’t explain why it felt so powerful to me but now I understand its because as a musician, we help others feel. Feel excitement, joy, sorrow, grief, passion, the gift of music is the gift to express how you truly feel inside.

That is our Why.

I’m going to start an interview podcast

I’ve been tossing around an idea in my head for a while to create something that will help inspire and guide a new generation of entrepreneurs, artists, and movement leaders. Inspired by the work done by Andrew Warner at and Jason Calacanis at This Week in Startups, I want to start interviewing entrepreneurs who’s ventures were built on passion.

I hope to accomplish a few things by doing these interviews:

  1. I want to champion the idea of pursuing your dreams and following your passion. If you choose to pursue your passion, you will probably bring more value to the world than if you didn’t. Money is how the world tells you that you are bringing value to it. Follow your passion and you will be rewarded. Its so ironic that the people we idolize are the ones who are doing what they love, yet our whole lives we are constantly discouraged from doing so. I want more people to realize this fact.
  2. I want to inspire people to start something. I want to show them that they can do it. That they are smart enough and will succeed if they are willing to work hard. It is especially important to me that the youth of Kauai realize that with the internet, they have all the same opportunities that anyone else in the world has. Nothing is impossible anymore. Everyone has a shot. It’s up to you to take it.
  3. I want to learn from these people about how to grow my own businesses. What I could be doing better and some of the hurdles any successful person must fight through and overcome. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in business and I’m sure many could have been prevented by learning from those who have been through it before. I also think by listening to those who have done it before, I can pick up some new idea on how to grow my own business.

If you have any suggestions on who you would like me to interview, please post them in the comments below and I will take a look and try to get them on. I will probably start close to home and with people that are accessible to me.


Should I do a Business / Startup Podcast?

I can honestly say that my one of my strongest passions in life is business. More specifically the early stages of business. The genesis, and creation of something tangible from basically nothing. Although I am not anywhere near what I would consider a success yet, I feel I’ve accumulated a ton of knowledge and experience from my many failures and few successes throughout my professional life. I think many of my friends realize this as well as they always come to me with their business questions and are always more than happy that I give them my $0.02.

So this brings me to this internal debate I’ve been having with myself for the past few months. I want to start a podcast series about entrepreneurship and the process of starting a business (focusing on web based) from the ground up. In this series I would cover my thoughts on the changing business environment, how the internet is changing everything, resources, book reviews, inspirational interviews, etc.

I basically want to help as much people who want to start something of their own live their dream life.

What’s Holding Me Back?

Well basically three things.

1. I am embarrassed by the fact that although I feel I know what I am talking about, I still don’t have the proof that I do. I haven’t hit a homerun in business yet and I wonder if its too early for me to start talking business without having anything (financially) substantial to show for it. Right now, I have many theories/beliefs about what works, what doesn’t what’s important but I’m only now beginning to validate or invalidate these ideas.

2. I honestly have no idea what people want to hear about. There are many things that I’ve learned along the way that I guess I’ve taken for granted. I recently had a skype meeting with a few friends of mine who are looking to launch a new website. The questions I thought there were going to ask were completely different from what they actually wanted to know. They were asking things that I honestly thought everyone knew, but when I took some time to think about it, no not everyone does know these things. Questions like, “What legal things do I need to form a business?” or “How do I get payments online?” I’ve learned such a long time ago, I forgot that when I was first starting, I didn’t know where to start either. I think many things I don’t even think would be good topics are exactly the type of things people want to hear about.

3. My plate is becoming increasingly full. Although we’ve brought on some great people to help with the workload at Ukulele Underground, The projects we are launching will take up a lot of time. Not only that, still has a long way to go, and the record label needs at least 1 project this year. I also have some client work I need to finish up and a lot of other people who are asking me to design and create their website. I’m worried about spreading myself too thin with yet another project. It’s always been a bad habit of mine to not finish things that I start. It’s a habit I’m trying very hard to break.

So That brings us to this…

This project is something I think would be incredibly fun for me as I can honestly talk for hours about business if the party on the other end will bear it. I do have my concerns though, so honestly I would like some feedback so please leave a comment if you think its a good or bad idea. I’ll be mulling it over and hopefully by the end of the month, I’ll have made my decision if I’m going to do it or not.

Mainland Ukes: How to Launch a Company Online has given me the opportunity to meet and befriend so many amazing people throughout the world. I always take some time everyday to think about just how fortunate I am to have made so many new friends within the past year. One of these new friends is a man named Mike Hater from Nashville Indiana. Mike is an amazingly interesting person. He has described himself to me on more than one occasion as a hillbilly.  His youtube channel is filled with videos of him tending to his bee hives, or sitting on old tractors drinking moonshine and strumming an ukulele.

Mike recently found himself out of work and decided it was time to start his own Ukulele Company which he named Mainland Ukes.  Having worked in the industry and been an avid player of the ukulele, it seems like a logical progression. For all I know this is his first foray into entrepreneurialism but he has done so many things right so far it seems as if he has been launching businesses his whole life. Crazy thing is, I don’t think much of it is pre-meditated or planned at all. He just does these things because it makes sense to him.  He’s doing things that so many larger companies who are stuck in their ways will never understand. Mike is 42 years old and does not even own a cell phone, yet he understands how to use the internet for business better than 99% of the people I’ve ever personally talked to. Whether he knows it or not, his business should be studied on how to launch a business with limited capital in the 21st century using the internet.  Let me break down what he’s doing and why he is bound to succeed.

1. He is a part of his business’s community – Mike is an avid ukulele player. He’s worked in the industry helping put them together. He loves playing them. Because of the fact that he already has a passion for the ukulele, he joins internet forums about ukuleles and talks to any other enthusiasts all over the world. He joined the UU forums over 1 year ago, way before starting an ukulele company was even a thought in his mind.  Because of this, Mike, or Hoosierhiver as he’s known everywhere online already has some personal brand equity. People know him and when they found out he started a uke company, they checked it out.

Why is this important? There are billions of websites online. Billions of people trying to convince you to give them your hard earned money on the internet. Who do you trust? How do you know if it’s a scam or not? These days a website is simply not enough. So many people make the mistake of thinking that launching a website is the end all be all of web marketing. You could not be more off the mark. Getting in the trenches, interacting with your potential customers, is the fastest way to gain trust online. You need to give your customers as many ways to reach you as possible. They don’t want to talk to an answering machine or a secretary, they want you.  Trust is not something that should be expected, it needs to be earned.  Because Mike was in the trenches, sharing info, befriending other uke players from around the world, when he announced that he started his new company, he already had a few people that were willing to give his ukulels a shot sight unseen.

2. He has a great product – New ukulele companies seem to be popping up all over the place. Not only that, guitar makers like Fender are now seeing an opportunity to cash in on a growing niche market and are putting out ukuleles of their own. One might look at the marketplace and see oversaturation. So many of these ukuleles are being made overseas, why create another line that is just going to get lost in the crowd?

Mike has an advantage. Because he is a part of the ukulele community, he knows what a good ukulele should sound like and what features ukulele players are impressed by. His ukuleles feature things like high quality covered geared tuners, and real bone nut and saddle. He strings them stock with a more expensive brand of strings. Theses are features that help make his ukulele look and sound better than most other ukes at his price points. When those early adopters who purchased his ukes got them in the mail, they were all blown away by the quality of what they had just purchased. What happens when expectations are exceeded? They all came back into the forum singing praises for these Mainland Ukes  they got from Mike. This lead to more sales from more members. Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing, it’s free and spreads like wildfire.  To start that fire, you need to have a solid quality product that exceeds expectations.

3. He Sponsors the Longtail – Advertising online is still a mystery for many businesses. Many fail to see the value in it especially if they are coming from traditional media outlets. The numbers for online viewership are almost always smaller than TV and Radio. Conventional wisdom would say, why even bother?

Before he even launched his company, Mike was e-mailing us saying he wanted to purchase advertising on He understood that for his market, there was no better way to reach his potential customers and that ROI for his advertising dollar was highest sponsoring a site like ours. When you sponsor the longtail in your industry, you’re essentially piggybacking on existing brand equity. You create brand awareness and in most cases online, if you sponsor a company that has a strong connection to their visitors, people who see your ad will at least check out what you have to offer. It’s why I personally have tried Sweet Leaf Tea, why I’ve used godaddy to register my domains even though there are cheaper alternatives, why I tried netflix, why I signed up for Raffstar, the list goes on and on. Sponsoring the longtail is a shortcut to building your own company’s brand equity.

4. He didn’t give up – When Mike decided he was going for it and was going to start his ukulele company, he e-mailed us to ask if he could advertise with us and that he wanted to work with us to create a signature ukulele model. His e-mail was ignored. At UU we have a strict policy on who we let advertise on our website. We feel that if we vouch for these companies, then they better bring straight thunder to our visitors and members. We turn down many advertising solicitations because we feel their company would not benefit our members, most usually never get back to us.

Mike was different. He e-mailed again asking the same thing, in fact I think he e-mailed a few times before we finally got back to him.  Always polite but on point. We told him that we were working with another company to create our signature ukulele. He left the door open for us if we ever wanted to take him up on that offer. We eventually allowed him to purchased some advertising and he sent us an ukulele to give away and for us to take a look at what his company was producing.  When we got the ukulele, we were blown away by all the features he was offering. Once again his product exceeded the customers expectations. After a quick meeting it was decided that we needed to be selling his ukuleles in our store and that Mainland Ukes was the company to make our signature ukulele as our previous deal had fallen through.  We added Mike’s ukuleles to our store today and will begin marketing them heavily in the weeks to come. He’s happy and we’re extremely happy with the arrangement as well.  All this because he refused to take ‘No’ for an answer and was professional about it. In business, especially when you first get started, you’ll face rejection a LOT. It can be soul crushing but never giving up is more than half the battle.

Where does Mike stand now? Well he officially been in business for less than a month and he’s already having to place a reorder for his instruments because he is starting to run low. If he continues to create quality products and deliver quality service, there is no doubt in my mind his company will only become bigger and more profitable as time goes on.


Check out Mainland Ukes and say hi to Mike

Having a Business is like Having a Baby

Though I haven’t had one yet, I can imagine growing a business is very similar to raising a child. Not so much in the physical pain experienced by the mother at birth, but in the sense of the commitment and dedication required to grow and nurture both. There an initial excitement when they’re brand new. You find yourself staring at it saying to yourself, “wow, I made that!” You devote countless, often thankless hours in the hopes you are helping them grow up right. You take pictures when they reach milestones. You worry about other people hurting them. You do your best to protect them. When they fail, you feel like you failed. All the while, you constantly are wondering if you’re doing this right.

This morning (well actually yesterday morning, it’s past 12 o’clock) around 3:45 AM I woke up and went to my computer. I don’t know why I did, I just had a feeling that something was wrong. There was a blinking IM box from Seeso in Chicago, one of our mods for UU. We had been hit hard with spam and he was trying to delete them all but he didn’t have access to some sections. We began working together, banning all the accounts that he had identified. As I banned, more registered and posted spam posts. We kept deleting more spam posts, the other mods began to chip in. I eventually upgraded the software in hopes that that would be the fix, it slowed them down, but they still were registering and posting spam all the way into the early evening. It was the largest, and worst spammer attack we’d ever experienced to date. I banned well over 50 accounts in one day.

Sure I was pissed. I was pissed at those spammers for trying to ruin the experience of the UU forum members. But never for even one second did I ever think to myself, “Man I don’t want to be doing this.” At 3:50 am all I could think about was taking care of the members and making sure they didn’t notice too much of the spam.  It was like noisy neighbors waking up a baby and the baby starts crying in the middle of the night. You’re not pissed at the baby, you’re pissed at the noisy neighbors.

I’m actually very blessed in the fact that UU has grown the way it has. I don’t consider any of the people on the site a customer. To me, they’re all family, which makes it quite difficult to explain to people who run traditional businesses. I try my best to really get to know as many of them as possible. I care about what they’re going through, and I often find myself just checking up on them on myspace or facebook, just to make sure they’re doing ok if I haven’t seen them on the site for a while. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter though if other people get it or not. People who are a part of UU get it. There is really the feeling that we’re all in this together and we’re growing this ukulele movement as one. I’m lucky, instead of just me and my partners doing it alone, it’s more like a village raising this child. And this Baby is going to grow up to be HUGE.

The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur Out Today!

Mike Michalowicz have very quickly become one of my favorite people on the planet. His book ‘The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur‘ was released today and let me tell you folks, it’s going to be HUGE. I was fortunate enough to receive a pre-release copy from Mike and talk to him on the phone a couple of weeks ago and I have never in my life read a book that has resonated more strongly with me and my beliefs about business.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, “What the hell is a Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, that sounds gross…” Well the premiss of the book is simple; you don’t need a lot of money to start a business, all you need is a passion for something and a plan to get to where you want to be. The allusion to Toilet Paper comes Mike’s approach to using your available resources. What would your game plan be if you were stuck in a public stall with just 3 sheets left on the role, your pants around your ankles and your dirty deed in the bowl beneath you? Would you just sit and complain, beg for help from an empty room? Or would you figure out a way to get yourself clean and out the door. (actually that is kind of gross… haha)

Lack of money is one of the most commonly used excuses for not starting a business. TPEs (Toilet Paper Entrepreneurs) believe that is actually an advantage because it forces you to be creative, to think of ways to get things done with what you have.

Why do I love this book so much? It’s real. It isn’t some theory or half baked pseudo-motivational advice book. The book presents real solutions for many problems I’ve personally encountered in my past businesses. I told Mike after reading it, “If only this book had come out 4 years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of time and money learning these lessons hard way.” Not only that, the book provides the framework to continue from your initial company launch all the way to you end goal whatever that may be. I’ve begun implementing some of the framework he provides in the book into my business and the results have been outstanding.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, I recommend you check out Mike’s website: . You can pick up a copy of the book there, use the coupon code FREESHIP to knock off the shipping and handling charges. You could also get it on Amazon but from what I’ve heard, they already sold out of all the copies they had.

Gary Vaynerchuk Web 2.0 Expo Keynote

Gary was (and still is!) a big inspiration to me when I was stuck in a rut late 2007 trying to figure out why I was so miserable and what I should do with my life. His passion for life showed me that there was absolutely no reason I should do anything that I did not love. The more I hear him speak or read things he’s done it just gets me fired up all over again.

For the uninitiated, Gary Vaynerchuk is the Director of Operations at Wine Library, a retail wine and liquor shop based in New Jersey and the creator of Wine Library TV, one of the hottest video blogs on the internet.  He is quickly “changing the wine world” with his unique approach to wine and how you enjoy it. While in middle school he had a lucrative trading card business, pulling in $1000 every week at card shows, only to be forced to give it up and  work in the family business, a liquor store, for $2/hour. In his early 20s, he grew that liquor store into Wine Library, a $50M retail company and one of the largest independent liquor distributors in the United States. Upon turning 30, in his own words, “he freaked out” and began doing Wine Library TV which has lead him to appearances on Late Night with Conan O’brien, Ellen, The Big Idea, and Mad Money.

He is a strong believer in finding your passion and executing on it. His approach to business of passion first, is a concept that has resonated strongly with me and lead me to eventually leaving my job to dedicate more of my time to my companies. A decision which I do not for a second regret.