It’s all about focusing on what you’re good at, what you know more about than other people then running with it.
Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he help people land jobs they love without “traditional” experience and without applying online. His strategies have helped thousands of people get hired at places like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Sequoia Capital, ESPN, & more. He’s also been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Fast Company, and Inc.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
The idea stemmed from the frustration and learnings I gained from my personal path from an awful job in healthcare to landing job offers at Google, Microsoft, and Twitter.
When I graduated from college, I ended up in a job I absolutely hated. I was overworked, underpaid, and my boss was just an awful person.
I figured that my college degree would get my in the door for an entry level role somewhere because…that’s why we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for one, right? On top of that, all of the people I sought advice from had the same things to say:
1. Update your resume and cover letter
2. Apply for jobs online
3. Rinse and repeat until something sticks
I took both of those to heart and got zero results. I applied to a hundred jobs in the first few weeks and hundreds more in the first few months. The result? A handful of interviews and zero offers.
Everyone told me I didn’t have enough experience and the advice I was getting wasn’t working.
I was frustrated so I made it my mission to pick apart the hiring process until I understood every aspect of it. I also sought out young people who had “made it,” working at the best companies in the world and asked them how they did it.
That led to a system I used to essentially pick and choose where I interviewed, leading to my current role at Microsoft.
After going through that process myself, I realized that the hiring process is completely broken and no one is educating people on how to job search effectively. I started my site in hopes of sharing what I learned so people could use it to land jobs they love.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I currently work full time at Microsoft and run Cultivated Culture outside of that so there is no shortage of things on my plate.
I typically wake up around 5:30am and head to the gym for an hour. Then my wife and I sit down for breakfast together (the best part of my morning!) and I knock out some Cultivated Culture emails before hopping on the train to work.
I spend the next 8 hours at my job as a Director of Partner Development at Microsoft, then I come home and put a few more hours into Cultivated Culture.
Around 8:30pm, my wife and I put our phones away for the night and either watch something together or read until we head to bed around 9:30pm.
When you’re juggling a lot of things, I find it helpful to prioritize. I usually make a “Today’s To Do” list on a note in my phone and order by importance. The top 3 are always the most important and I make them non-negotiable for that day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m much more of a “doer” than a “planner.”
My whole life I’ve been told that I rush through things – my homework, tests, projects, etc. It wasn’t so great for those things, but it’s been a big help for my career and my business.
I’d much rather get started and fix things along the way than waste time planning stuff out to three decimal places before taking action.
If I have an idea, the first thing I’ll do is get out there and research. I’ll read through some quality articles I can find, work to find some good YouTube videos or podcasts about it and then think through how that applies to my situation.
I usually come up with a plan in my head and then just get to work. I’m a solopreneur so I don’t really need sign off or buy in and I don’t need to wait for someone else.
This approach has led to some failures — I spent 5 months putting together a virtual summit with 30 speakers that grossed about $80.
But it’s also led to a lot of success — impulsively emailing Arianna Huffington and getting featured in HuffPost, starting a coaching program that tripled my monthly revenue in about a week.
I’m not really worried about failing. I’ve learned a TON from the stuff that didn’t work out. My goal is to just dive in and give it 120%. If you do that enough, things fall into place and the traction begins to build.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The increased focus on social impact within businesses and corporations.
When you think about it, businesses (especially large ones) have the most influence over a lot of the issues plaguing our society today. From a revenue perspective, they have a lot of it and they’re free to spend it as they see fit. Businesses also touch/impact such a broad range of people, more so than individuals or even politicians.
While we still have a long way to go, I’m happy to see larger companies driving initiatives for the greater good. A few of my favorite examples are:
+ Lyft committing to a fully carbon neutrality and 100% renewable energy
+ Salesforce’s 1-1-1 model where one percent of the company’s equity is set aside for grants in communities where employees live and work, one percent of the company’s product is donated to non-profit organizations, and one percent of each employee’s time is donated to community initiatives.
+ Microsoft’s initiatives, especially their TEALs program which aims to bring computer science to every high school
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Waking up early.
I have my wife Lily to thank for this one — she was waking up at 5:30am during graduate school and I picked up the habit after we began dating.
Waking up that early added an extra two hours of completely uninterrupted time to my day. I never worked out before that so it got me out to the gym and it let me knock out the biggest priority for Cultivated Culture all before my workday started. Now it’s one of my favorite parts of the day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You don’t need to create the next Facebook. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I was stuck on this idea of creating the next massive thing.
The truth is, there are tons and tons of six to seven figure business built on “boring” stuff. Advertising for plumbers, building websites for real estate agents, generating leads for physical therapy practices. They are much easier to get started and it’s much easier to see success with them — plus you can teach yourself how to build the skills you need to start them.
It’s all about focusing on what you’re good at, what you know more about than other people then running with it.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Sleep is the best life hack and it’s more important than the extra work you get done by sacrificing it.
Today’s hustle culture is all about who’s outworking who, to a point where working more and sleeping less is glorified. In reality, that’s incredibly toxic for your own health and for the health of your relationships with others.
It’s also bad for business – research has shown that a single bad night’s sleep can effectively drop your IQ by one standard deviation.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Just. Get. Started.
People have this terrible problem of consuming without doing. They make up these rationales and excuses for why they haven’t gotten started.
“What if I fail?”
“What if I do it wrong?”
“I don’t have the money.”
“I don’t know enough about it yet.”
Every single person who has started something has had those thoughts and feelings. The ones who succeeded pushed on anyways.
If you want something most people don’t have, you’re going to have to do things most people don’t do. If you fail, that’s ok! Results are the product of experience and experience is the result of failure.
You can spend the next month doing what you’ve always done, reading, daydreaming, but never doing. Or you can go out, try it, and see what happens. The latter is going to be far more valuable and if you do it enough, something will stick.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
F O C U S – Follow one course until success.
When you’re starting a business, the amount of advice is overwhelming. Everyone out there is telling you to do something different:
“You need to be on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!”
“You need to be running paid ads into a sales funnel!”
“Chat bots are the future and help you qualify leads!”
“You’ve never tried partner webinars? They are KEY!”
In the beginning, it’s good to test things out. But if you try to do all of those things while you build your business, you’re going to half ass all of them and end up with no results to show for it.
Instead, you should pick one specific thing and quadruple down on it.
In 2017, I was trying to post on my blog, post on LinkedIn, create YouTube videos, host a podcast, and run ads. My business wasn’t going anywhere.
In 2018, I threw everything out except for SEO (which is what my background is in) and blog posts. My traffic jumped from 8k/month to 70k/month and my revenue more than tripled.
You know your business better than anyone else and your business is unique. You know what’s best for it, don’t ignore that gut feeling. Remove stuff that isn’t working and double down on what’s getting results.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had TONS of failures as an entrepreneur:
I spent a few thousand on an app prototype that was supposed to help people plan their nights out with friends. The same week the prototype finished, three identical apps (with funding) hit the market.
I spent five months putting together a virtual summit for Cultivated Culture which resulted in less than $100 net profit and a handful additional email subscribers.
The best way to overcome it is to just realize that it’s a learning experience. You’re not going to get it right every time. In fact, the only way to guarantee that you do get it right is to keep trying new things.
When you do fail, look for the lesson.
That app helped me get a deep understanding of the development process and how to hire/work with software engineers. That’s been a huge help when I’ve been building software for Cultivated Culture.
That virtual summit may not have been great money-wise, but I had the chance to connect and build relationships with 30+ speakers which has paid dividends down the road.
The only people who fail are the ones who give up after something doesn’t work out the way they’d hoped.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If you want to start a business for under $300 with the ability to scale beyond six figures, get insanely effective at lead generation for small businesses.
To start, everything you need to get started is available for free. The tools/platforms (Facebook Ads, Google Ads, Google Analytics, etc.) are all free to use. Those platforms also have free trainings on how to use them.
There are a ton of businesses out there with high lifetime customer value. Places like physical therapy clinics, HVAC businesses, doctor’s offices, etc. Getting a customer in the door could be worth thousands of dollars to that business which means they’re willing to pay and have budget to get more customers in the door.
All you need to do is run a competitive analysis using a site like SEMRush, Spyfu, SimilarWeb, etc. and show them what their competitors are doing. Then show them how to fill those gaps and get more leads.
You can start small with one or two customers, even work for free to get case studies. Then you can build your way up. I know people who make seven figures running this exact model. All they did was start small and begin to scale over time.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My Virtual Assistant. I was always hesitant to use one but it has been a total gamechanger. A ton of sales and marketing comes down to tedious repeatable tasks, especially finding someone’s email and pitching them. This is true for:
– Outreach for promotion
I used to do all of that myself, now I outsource it to my Virtual Assistant for $6.00/hour. It’s saved me hundreds and hundreds of hours since I started and it’s helped me focus on the stuff that matters most.
I found my Virtual Assistant on Upwork, my main piece of advice is to test out a few with small projects and choose the one with the best communication skills.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
The most vital piece of software I use is the Notes app on my phone. I use it to create my daily To Do lists, all of my LinkedIn posts drafts are saved there, my workout progress is in there, and I keep all of my crazy ideas and plans in there too. It’s not sexy, but it’s easily the most valuable app I have on my phone!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The book that’s had the biggest impact on my life is cliched now, but it’s the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
I read it when I was at peak frustration with my job search and the fact that everyone was giving me the same advice that never worked. That book showed me that just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. In fact, if everyone is doing something a certain way, that usually means there’s an opportunity to capitalize on. That was the light bulb moment that launched my career and my business.
What is your favorite quote?
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
- If you’re thinking about starting a business, stop thinking and start doing. Chances are, you’ve spent enough time reading and thinking already. Spend 30 days taking real action and see what happens.
- Do research on the channel that works well for businesses similar to yours, then completely focus in on that as you’re building your business.
- If you want a business idea that will take you from $0 – $100k+ in a few years, lead generation for businesses with high lifetime customer values is the way to go.
- I always recommend working to land your “dream job” with a great salary before starting a business. That will allow you to fund your business with your salary and ensure that it reaches a certain level of success before you jump ship.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.