[quote style=”boxed”]I automate whatever I can. A menial task that takes five minutes per day is still almost two hours per month. Make your life easier.[/quote]
Sol Orwell is a co-founder of Examine.com, a science-based compendium on supplements, nutrition, fitness, and health. Founded in early 2011, the company has one goal: to be the source for supplements and nutrition. Examine has invested thousands of hours in collating the latest scientific research.
What are you working on right now?
I’m making Examine.com more useful. That may seem obvious, but with over 14,000 citations and hundreds of thousands of words, our depth is unparalleled. Our vocabulary is also highly technical, and simplifying concepts without losing important nuances is a daily challenge.
Where did the idea for Examine.com come from?
I can’t help myself — I’m an engineer and a web developer, and I can’t help but try to logically break down any problem in front of me. I started losing weight, and the more the weight came off, the more I wanted to learn about the body. In retrospect, the process of losing weight is simple, but not easy — eat less than your body’s maintenance level, and it will extract energy primarily via your fat stores. The more I learned, the harder it became to make sense of things.
I originally started to write out notes — my blog became overrun with my notes on hormones, interactions, how your body converts macronutrients, etc. At the same time, I was bouncing my questions and ideas off quite a few smart people. One of them was finishing up dietetics school, and I suggested we team up to make sense of all the information out there.
What does your typical day look like?
It’s a lot of reading and a lot of writing. It’s a bit of a copout, but we truly grind it out every day. I take time to read what other people are talking about. I take time to help people on a variety of forums. I make sure I’m part of the various nutrition and scientific communities. I get quite a few emails each day, looking for nutritional and supplement advice. But at the end of the day, I spend a lot of time writing and editing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Well, as a web developer, the explosion of CSS and JS has pretty much made anything possible. In terms of implementation, it usually starts with the main idea, a wireframe structure, and bullet points, and then each bullet point gets fleshed out. As enough detail is built up, we start prototyping what we need. The writing process is similar: outline, bullet points, flesh it out, and then paragraphs start forming themselves.
A lot of the web development stuff we have is behind-the-scenes. For example, we can graph how many studies have come out for supplement X, or how many studies have come out covering topic Y, etc.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
A slow shift toward evidence-based analysis excites me. This does not invalidate anecdotes, but it does help eliminate myths such as “breakfast is vital,” “don’t eat carbs before going to bed,” or “diet soda makes your body store fat.”
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I immigrated to Canada as a 14-year-old. I immediately started messing around with websites on GeoCities. I only went to university to keep my parents happy. Thus, I’ve never had a worst job.
What I can say about what I’ve learned is that I never trust any source, whether it’s an affiliate program that makes us a lot of money or the traffic that Google sends. Anything could change tomorrow, and I am obsessed with not being beholden to anyone.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t have waited so long to connect with people, preferably face-to-face — the top people in the industry get inundated with emails. Sitting down with them for a drink is a whole different game.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I automate whatever I can. A menial task that takes five minutes per day is still almost two hours per month. Make your life easier.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There is a lot of talk about communication, but very few tools seem to exist that are focused on keeping communication going. I’m not talking about Facebook or Twitter — I’m talking about comments on all the blogs out there.
A long time ago, we made a simple comment tracker extension. On any forum or blog post, you would click the icon (it was in the status bar), and the page would be tracked. When a new post or comment was made, the icon would change color, letting you know there were unread comments.
This was a great way for us to keep in touch with the people who talk about us via blogs and forums. I would love for someone to develop something like this. Sites like coComment used to do this, but they were constructed very poorly.
Tell us a secret.
I took singing lessons with a few buddies. The teacher said we were the least talented students she’d ever come across. Birds of a feather, I guess!
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m a sucker for biographies, and “Founders at Work” was a fun read. It should be noted how several important details were glossed over at times (e.g., TripAdvisor being the largest page rank link purchases at the beginning of 2000).
What’s on your playlist?
Currently, I’m listening to the “Django Unchained” soundtrack.
If you weren’t working on Examine.com, what would you be doing?
Nothing! I retired a while ago — I have no desire to be a part of the rat race and chase millions. My companies and websites make enough that I can do what I want when I want: pursue my hobbies, travel three to five times a year, and live a stress-free life.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@chrishighcock — Chris Highcock offers a pragmatic approach to health.
@DrBryanC — When I talk about evidence-based facts, here is a good example. Bryan Chung is a PhD researcher and MD.
@stephenathome — Stephen Colbert has been on fire since the entire PAC/Super PAC bit. He deserved the Emmy for 2012.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
“Archer” makes me laugh — I love that show.
Who is your hero?
Arnold Schwarzenegger is my hero. He knows his limitations (i.e., he doesn’t take his acting too seriously), and he has a motor that never stops. Fun fact: He made his first million dollars from real estate, not movies. So even without fame, he would be quite well off.
What is your end goal with Examine.com?
When people talk about supplements and nutrition, I want them linking to us, not Wikipedia.
It may seem lame, but our only goal here is to build something of value. I’ve made sites that get 100,000 visitors per day, and I’ve done very well via affiliate programs and eBooks and all that. I’m more interested in building something that can stand on its own two legs, something that I can be proud to be a part of.
What’s the best part of being retired?
No alarm clock!