111: How to Build a Company of One with Paul Jarvis

Welcome to episode 111 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Paul Jarvis about building a company of one, the most important part of his online business, and finding your “rat people.”

Last week on the podcast, Bjork talked about 10 habits that can help your business grow long-term. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How to Build a Company of One

Paul has been working for himself for nearly 20 years, and his career has taken him in a few different directions. Starting out as a web designer, he began working for himself as a freelancer for clients like Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo, and Mercedes-Benz, and then he started selling his own software and courses.

And he wrote a vegan cookbook along the way.

While he built his business, he learned what it means to own, run, and grow a “company of one.” Paul’s experiences and advice will inspire you to think about your own business in exciting and unconventional ways.

In this episode, Paul shares:

  • Why he releases his podcast in seasons
  • How he successfully “batch-creates” his content
  • Why he measures engagement over signups
  • Why a mailing list is powerful
  • How he spent less than $100 on creating his vegan cookbook
  • How he transitioned his business from client work to products
  • How he uses artificial constraints for creativity
  • Why he focuses on the people who are already paying attention
  • What it means to run a profitable and sustainable business that doesn’t require growth
  • How to build a “company of one”
  • Why you should find your “rat people”

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If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.


Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, we talk to Paul Jarvis about what it means to have a company of one, the most important part of his online business, and what it means to find your rep people. Hey, everybody. It’s Bjork Ostrom and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today, we are talking to Paul Jarvis. If you’re not familiar with Paul or his work, I know that after listening to this podcast you’re going to have a really deep appreciation for who he is and also how he does his work, how he views his work and how he views how that integrates with his life. The fun thing about this interview is that even though what Paul does right now isn’t directly related to food, that’s actually how he got into online business and he’s going to talk a little bit about that.

He even has what he calls a vegan car which was fun for me to read about before the interview where the car that he purchased, he waited for a really long time until they could get seats that weren’t leather so he has this vegan car which I thought was so cool. He’s going to talk about his story, creating a product for vegans, a cookbook but then, how that lead into the greater online business that he’s a part of now and share his journey, insight and a lot of really valuable tools and concepts that he’s learned as he walked this path for a really long time. Let’s go ahead and jump into the interview. Paul, welcome to the podcast.

Paul Jarvis: Hey, thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we’re saying before we jump into this, always really nice to be able to interview somebody else who has a podcast because it’s like we jump on Skype, you have a nice mic, it’s just super sleek so sounds great, excited to do this interview.

Paul Jarvis: Thank you, thank you very much.

Bjork Ostrom: Before we jump into that, I was actually listening to some of the interviews that you do, can you talk a little bit about your podcast? One of the things specifically that I was interested in with it is that you do seasons so you take a different approach, for us, the Food Blogger Pro Podcast we started out, we do one a week and we kind of say, “Hey, every Tuesday we’re going to release a new episode.” One of the things I thought was so interesting as I listened through some of your episodes was you do seasons. What was the thought behind that?

Paul Jarvis: Yes, one of my other shows was like this one where it was every Sunday I would release an episode and it’s funny because I have a newsletter that I send out every Sunday and that doesn’t weigh on me at all. I love doing it. I never miss a Sunday but the podcast, I was like there’s no break, there’s no end like what’s going on.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s not like a season where you’re like we know we have 12 episodes, it’s like this goes on forever.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, with invisible office hours which is just myself and a guy named Jason Zook and we don’t have guest or anything. Him and I are both really busy. We both have a lot of projects. We’re both I guess entrepreneurs / writer / whatever, it’s like people that make interesting things on the internet hopefully so we don’t always have time like right now I’m in the midst of writing a book. I don’t really have time for any other things. With seasons, it’s really good because him and I can just and he’s in … We’re in the same timezone but he’s in California, I’m in Canada on the west coast. We can just block off four, five days and just honker down, we’ll build blanket forts in our houses and just like honker down and record. Then our editor gets everything. He can edit everything at the same time, mix and match so it all says the same. Then we just drop it Netflix style which our listeners seem to really enjoy so I don’t know …

Bjork Ostrom: Can binge on it.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, exactly. People can sit there and listen to for summer if they wanted to, I don’t even know why they would but if they wanted to listen to me talking for 12 hours.

Bjork Ostrom: They could do it.

Paul Jarvis: They could do it, yeah. We have time a few times a year to take a week to do a show but other than that we don’t have time with regular cadence to be able to do it.

Bjork Ostrom: This was in summer that I want to go or was planning on going but I want to ask you about this because you’re a creator, you do good work, and one of the things that I’ve been thinking about actually specifically with this podcast is like would it make sense to batch episodes of this? Like you said, honker down, spend four or five days creating content and then going on to the next thing. You have that system that you use for recording those podcast episodes, you also have you talked about writing a book. I’m guessing that there’s a little bit of a start and end mentality to the book but then you have your Sunday Dispatch which is a newsletter that you do once a week, there’s more of a rhythm to that ongoing. As a creator, what have you found works best for creating content consistently but not necessarily creating the same content over a long period of time?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, even with the consistent work like when I was doing my show The Freelancer which didn’t end until it actually end and the Sunday Dispatches, I still batch that work. I’ll still take one day a month and write four, five articles or take one day a month and record four, five podcast episodes. What I find with that I two things, one is I feel like when I batch similar work together it gets done faster so I’ll sit there for an hour, try to write an article, and it will suck in the beginning and I’ll start writing, I’ll get in the rhythm and then the next article take 30 minutes. Then next two will take 15 each kind of thing so if I group like tasks together in my calendar, it’s so much faster but then the other thing, the second point to that is if I’m going to be consistent.

Dude, it is called the Sunday Dispatches so there has to be an episode on Sundays, right? I don’t want to ever miss that and I want my audience to know how much I care about that newsletter because I do. It’s basically the driving force of my entire business is that newsletter and so I don’t want to miss that but then sometimes life sucks, sometimes things come up, sometimes you need to take your pet to the vet so if I was writing these articles Saturday night or Sunday morning before they would go out, I would miss times. I would miss it all the time whereas if I stay four to eight weeks ahead of schedule then even if something comes up on a specific day it’s like I got this, it’s okay.

I still have articles in the hopper and I find as well that that gives me the space to be able to create because if I have to sit down and I had a deadline of like, “Paul, you got to write this article in one hour,” I’ll be like, “Oh, I don’t know.” I couldn’t do it.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, right.

Paul Jarvis: I just couldn’t, my brain wouldn’t have the capacity to do that so I need to have space.

Bjork Ostrom: When you are scheduling that in your calendar, this is me actually now just being super curious on how you work but as long as we’re here, let’s stay here. When you’re scheduling that in your calendar, you’re doing that and saying like every Monday like the first Monday of every month is when I’m going and I’m writing out the Sunday Dispatch or do you have something where at the beginning of each month you look and say like, “Okay, I’m going to time block these areas in each day and I know that for four hours I’m going to be working on my newsletter at this period,” or is it the same every month and it just repeat? How does that work?

Paul Jarvis: It’s different every month because I have couple podcast, I teach a couple courses, writing a book, have my newsletter, I write for other people, I have a couple software companies so sometimes I can’t book time in a specific week because there’s just too much going on. Yeah, it’s just as long as I find time to do it, as long as I find time to still stay at least four articles ahead, I don’t care when I get it done.

Bjork Ostrom: I think there’s also something in that, it allows for creativity to play during certain parts whereas having a rigid calendar I think sometimes can be beneficial and that sometimes things need to be rigid in order to get things done but also there’s something really beautiful about having flexibility within your week to week or month to month that allows the rhythm of that time period to be a little bit different. There’s something really nice about that especially when you can control it and control your own calendar and schedule.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, it would feel like a job if it was like, “All right, Monday at 8 AM on the first week of the month and I punch in the clock.” It’s like, that’s not why I work for myself. I work for myself so I have the freedom to be able to say like, “Okay, I’m going to do it on this day.” I’m going to go to the beach on the first Monday of this month so maybe I’m just going to do that on the next day kind of thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure.

Paul Jarvis: The rigidity is why I work for myself so that it doesn’t happen.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s actually where I wanted to start before I went down this rabbit trail, which in and of itself could be a little podcast episode, and I think it’s really valuable. I want to back up and hear a little bit about your story. You talk a lot on your blog and your website, pjrvs, what’s the quick story with that? Obviously, Paul Jarvis, but rvs, what is the …

Paul Jarvis: It’s my name without vowels and without the L.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, I see, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Jarvis: I was just trying to prove a point with somebody that I’m not even friends with this person anymore, I was just trying to prove a point that a domain name doesn’t matter like in any way whatsoever. I’m like, “I’m going to rank on the first couple pages for my name.” When people say like, “Where can people find you?” I’m like, “Google Paul Jarvis, Google my name on the first couple pages.” There’s a cricket guy but I don’t play cricket.

Bjork Ostrom: People are able to leave that out for the click.

Paul Jarvis: There’s like one photo of one person that alludes me on the home page for my own name. It was a bet with a friend like domain names don’t matter, I can have the most ridiculously difficult to remember domain name and it will not impact my business in any way whatsoever.

Bjork Ostrom: That seems to be a relatively common thread with a lot of the content you create which is something that I really appreciate is this idea of you don’t need to do it how everybody else is doing it. You produce a newsletter but it’s not like you’re doing pop up sign ups and you’re not inundating people with free downloads which would be a traditional path that a lot of people would go. Is that always been a part of your personality and how you operate and view the world because it’s refreshing to see that on your site?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, on the one hand, I like to do things differently but on the other hand I’m also very much into data and technology and programming and testing things. I’ve actually tested on exit modals, slide up modals, welcome mats, I’ve tested a whole bunch of things. What I was testing for was not just sign up rate increases, it was engagement but like over a bit of a long-term. I wasn’t just looking for, okay, I added in an exit intent modal on my website. My sign ups went up by probably about 30% and because it was tracking based on source of where people signed up for my list, because I’m a bit of a mailing list analytics nerd.

I started to look like, “Okay, the people had signed up for my mailing list through the pop up. They’re less likely to open emails. They are much less likely to click on anything and they’re extremely unlikely to ever buy anything from me.” Even though I got that bump in the number of subscribers which is really just a vanity metric. There’s some people with million person mailing list and if it doesn’t convert into sales, you’re paying a lot of money every month for that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Paul Jarvis: I was looking more at the metric of engagement over a few months span as opposed to just like, “Oh, I increased my sign ups by 30%.” It ended up being like big whop.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, because those people maybe signed up for whatever reason, maybe it was an offer, the exit modal you said comes up, they sign up but they aren’t necessarily interested in actually being part of that email list or consuming the content so they’re not opening.

Paul Jarvis: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. All right, going back. Your story. Would love to hear you talk a little bit about your journey and what was fun before we press record on this was you had said actually a little bit of it ties into a food blog which I was like, “Are you serious?” You’re like, “Yeah, no. It actually all starts with that.” Would love to hear how you got to where you are now and where that started.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, my product journey started with the vegan cookbook but before that, I started as…I dropped out at university I think in 97 or 98 thereabout. I was in school for computer science and artificial intelligence, which I thought was never going to go anywhere but whatever.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Paul Jarvis: I quit school and then I went to work for an agency because at the time, it’s so funny from then till a few years ago I was a web designer for clients and knew web design. Someone would ask me like, “How did you get your first job?” I’m like, “It’s different now than it was then.” Back then, I made a website that got popular and that’s all I needed to get a job at an agency who the internet was starting to take off and they’re like, “We can charge money for this website stuff.” That was it.

I got a job like the day after, I think I got a job before I quit university and then I was just like, “I’m already getting paid what I thought I was going to get paid when I finished university so might as well not continue,” which end up a pretty good decision. Then I work at an agency for a year but I realized that as much as I love doing the work, as much as I love the clients, I didn’t like the way that the agency treated the clients so I was like, “Okay, maybe I’ll just go get a job at another agency.” I quit that agency.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that real quick, the way they treated the clients?

Paul Jarvis: I think that once you’re a paying customer is when a business should pay more attention than the sales process like obviously you need to pay attention to sales process but like in order to keep retention high and churn low, you need to pay attention. You need to do things. You need to keep your word, basically when you tell somebody else you’re going to do something that’s a social contract whether you want it to be or not. If you say, “I’m going to deliver this at X day.” My boss is like, “Don’t even worry about that. Talk to this person in the sales call instead of doing that work.” I’m like, “Really? How about we don’t do that?” Cool.

Bjork Ostrom: You feel some dissonance there? It feels like not a good place for you to be and so you said after a year you end up leaving?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, it’s so funny. It speaks to how long I’ve done this. I was going to go to a little library and look up how to write a resume.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Paul Jarvis: The internet at the time, there was like eight pages and none of them had anything to do with resumes so I was going to go to the library but then I started to get calls from clients and they were like, “Hey, Paul. Where are you going to go work next because we’ll bring our work there?” After a bunch of them called a light bulb went off in my head. Maybe I just work with these clients and then I can treat them the way that I wanted to treat them when I was working in an agency. I accidentally became I guess an entrepreneur or freelancer. That lasted probably about 16 years or so and then the last couple years I was like, “Hey, why don’t I try this product thing.” That’s when I wrote the vegan cookbook.

Bjork Ostrom: That seems like a relatively disconnected product from what you were doing. Was there a bridge between some of the freelance web design, web development stuff that you were doing? Was it more of you saying I know that I have a passion for this, maybe it’s eating vegan and saying, I know that I can build websites and have some idea of how to create maybe a little tribe or followings so I’m going to try and merge those two together and create a following around vegan eating and recipes. How did that bridge from the work that you were doing or did it at all?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, no, it definitely did. It did by virtue of the people that I was working with near the end of my like just doing web design stuff. It was because I was working with people who I had done all of the web and digital strategy for who had built hundreds of thousands or million person audiences and I was helping guide that. I was learning a lot from these people and so I was like okay, I’m getting how online business works. Then, Instagram started. I started to post pictures of the food that I was making and then I started to get hundreds and then thousands of followers and people started to ask like, “Hey, Paul, when is the book coming out?”

I was like, “That’s funny, it’s not but it could be.” Basically, I built a landing page, hooked it up to a MailChimp mailing list and after I got a couple hundred subscribers on the first day I was like, “Maybe I could write this book that people have been asking me to write here.”

Bjork Ostrom: Were those people that were following from Instagram? You mention it on Instagram, they go to this page and sign up.

Paul Jarvis: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Paul Jarvis: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: What was the Instagram account? Is it still active? Do you still post to it?

Paul Jarvis: I kind of remember, it may still be on my pjrvs account if you scroll back through thousands of rat photos. Yeah, I think it was that account.

Bjork Ostrom: What an awesome transition. Can I interview you on how to make the brand transition from vegan food to rat photos?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m pulling it up now and this is …

Paul Jarvis: You’re going to have to scroll for about 18, 20 minutes.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m actually stopping at the top here because there’s a photo of two of the rats, I’m guessing they’re both yours in this little blanket like a-

Paul Jarvis: Pineapple.

Bjork Ostrom: Pineapple blanket which is one of the cutest photos I’ve ever seen. That is really awesome. I would love to talk to you specifically about what it’s like to own rats but also a concept that you talk about with that. There’s something that you had said that I want to go back to that and would be interested to hear. You talked about learning from some of the clients that you worked with and you learned or saw what they were doing and you were able then to implement some of that with what you were doing. Do you remember specifically what you learned? Was it more of the four minute mile concept? Where you’re like, “Oh, I see this is possible. Now I’m interested in doing it because I know it’s possible.”

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, it was more that the type of clients that I ended up working with were phenomenal and that they were willing to do the same as me. They’re willing to buck trends and try new things. At the time I was working with Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo. I was working with titans of their industry. I was getting to see firsthand as like implementing these things and suggesting things and they were suggesting things to me like how it worked building like a massive audience of rabid fans. The one thing that all three of those ladies did really early on was realize that there’s tremendous value in a mailing list over just blogging, over just social, over basically anything else. All of those things can lead into other things but if all those things lead into a mailing list then there can be some awesome things that happen to business and some awesome revenue that is potentially there too.

Bjork Ostrom: You talked about being an analytics nerd and geek with specifically mailing list. Were you interested in that before or after realizing the power of building a mailing list is that when you said I want to become an expert on this and really have a better understanding of it?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, it started out as me being the technician for implementation of all of those things like setting up a sales funnel or setting up a targeted or a segmented automation sequence or setting up different AB test. Learning how to do all of the technical things and then being like, these results are crazy that just seeing how well these things are doing that I was implementing, I’ll be like, “Hey, I know how to do these things.” I’m doing these things for other people, what if I do these things for me instead?

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. You had such an interesting position in being the designer and developer in that you’re able to and I have a friend who does this for Facebook. He manages Facebook ads for a lot of people and he’s able to look, what do they call it where you open the komono, like you’re able to see essentially how things work and then to take that and apply to what you’re doing. You have this realization, you say, “Okay, I know that I want to transition into doing some of these stuff on my own,” and the first step that you take it was a physical book, is that right? It’s a physical vegan cookbook.

Paul Jarvis: No, it was a digital cookbook. All my other books were physical but this one started out just as digital. Actually, I never did a physical run of that so yeah, it was only digital.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. What were the first things that you did in making that transition? You’ve seen these successful case studies, you know that it’s possible, you see these positive results people are having, what are the first two or three things that you say, “Okay, I know that I need to do this first”?

Paul Jarvis: Make a landing page, connect it to a mailing list.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Then, with the mailing list, one of the things that I think is interesting is your decision to use MailChimp which is a super clean, I wouldn’t say easy to use but it’s really user-friendly as opposed to like on the marketing side a lot of times you look at something like we use Active Campaign which isn’t terrible to use but not necessarily easy or the ultimate is in difficult to use is, I’m trying to think of the name.

Paul Jarvis: Confusionsoft?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, Infusionsoft AKA Confusionsoft. Why land on MailChimp as your email service provider when I’m guessing some of these people you’re working with were using more intense email service providers?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, they were all using Infusionsoft and because I was the implementation tech guy I had to use Infusionsoft and I didn’t like it. Then I saw MailChimp, I saw what the company stood for. I saw how profitable they were from the beginning and how they’re independent company, how they do a lot of stuff with social impact but also their interface has always been easy to use. I’ve always been able to push like I can do things in MailChimp that most people are like, “Yeah, you can’t do that in MailChimp,” I’m like, “Really? Because look, I just did that in MailChimp.”

I mean, I teach a course in the technical aspects of MailChimp and how to do a bunch of crazy stuff with automations and segmentations and eCommerce and that but like that’s because I spent a long time doing that for myself and I just like MailChimp. It’s just I know I could do these things in other software but at this point I’m also building a SaaS app that connects eCommerce data from Stripe to MailChimp. I’m so far embedded with using MailChimp at this point it’s like it’s not going to change.

Bjork Ostrom: What ended up happening? You have a few hundred people that are interested, you say, “I’m doing this vegan cookbook. I’m interested in this as my first product.” What did you learn and how did that go as your first jump into creating a product?

Paul Jarvis: I decided at the beginning that I didn’t want to just be a writer for fun, I wanted to be a writer and an author for work. What that meant at least in my brain was that I needed to prove that this was a viable source of income for myself. In the beginning, I decided that I was going to keep completely … I was doing really well as a web designer and so I wanted to keep my income stream separate. Also, at the time of writing that book, first, I like to do these weird life experiments so at the time I was in the middle of a year of not buying anything other than I think food and gas and toiletries.

I was like, okay I want to write a cookbook except the cookbook requires things like photos and the photos require things like nice dishes, not like my Corelle crappy plates and my mason jar cups. At the time, I was living in a tiny town which is a tourist town. In the tourist town there’s things like photographers so I found a photographer that I was doing yoga with everyday so we’re kind of friends. I’m like, “Hey, if you want to take photos of my book, you can eat all the things you take pictures of.” She was like, “Sure.” I was like, “Yes.” Then I was friends because I also did yoga with him of the head pastry chef at a five star restaurant in the town that I was living.

Five star restaurants have really fancy plates and these wood planks and stone things and like actual cutlery that matches, it’s ridiculous how nice those stuff. He was like, “Yeah, just come by, we’ll like walk through and whatever you need I’ll lend you for a couple days.” I was like, “All right.” Then, the editor that all of my web clients were hiring to copy edit the content also needed a website so I was like, “Hey, how about I trade you if you edit my book for some website work that I know you need anyways?” I ended up spending zero money on the book other than whatever the price of the MailChimp was, which wasn’t very many people.

I started spending for the most part zero, probably 50 bucks because I had a different, unique hosting and that kind of stuff. I spent almost no money and then everything that I made pass that was profit. Then as I started to make more money with products, as I made money with that book and then wrote more books and that then I could see like okay, my income has caught up to what I was making as a web designer. Okay now it’s doubled, tripled and four times what I was making as web designer, maybe I should stop doing web design and maybe I should just focus on the product stuff.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s a hard transition to make though. I’ve heard the people that are in a similar position to you describe it as golden handcuffs because it’s consistent income and the other thing that’s difficult about it obviously depends on how you’re billing. Some people bill by hour versus project. The idea being like you have a really specific rate and you know that for a freelancer you can earn 100, 200, $300 an hour and then to work on something that you’re getting paid $0 an hour for is really hard to do especially if you don’t know if it’s going to be successful or not. Could you talk about how you managed that shift in what you spent your time on and how you felt confident enough to move forward? Was it a slow consistent process and that’s what allowed you to do it?

Paul Jarvis: It is an exercise and patience because I didn’t want, because I’ve been a web designer for 15, 16 years and I’ve been making consistent money like obviously it had gone up but didn’t consistently gone up. I had a waiting list of six months. I was doing basically as good as you could as a web designer and then I started to do products so it was just a little bit at the time. The first book was evenings and weekends and it was just like I would work all day on client’s stuff.

I would get that done, I push back my second book launch by a month because I was neck-deep at a client project so I just slowly tweak the dial so if I had a 100%…like if a 100% of my time for work and I was making a little bit from books then I would maybe work on books for 10% of my time and web design for 90. Then the books would make a bit more and I put like 60/40 then the products would make more than web design so it would be like, “Okay, now I’m going to do like 70/30 split towards products.” It took probably two and a half, three years of, “Okay, I’m consistently doing better than I was doing web design,” like consistently month over month I’m doing better.

That was what…because I don’t have confidence in anything but that was like the data doesn’t lie so the data was saying, “Hey, Paul, you’re probably okay if you jump into products instead of web design.” I loved my clients. I was talking to one of my old clients yesterday on the phone for no …

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, no client relationship management or anything, it’s just like, “Hey, I would love to check in with you and talk.”

Paul Jarvis: Exactly. I feel like I have not ownership of part of their brand but I feel like I was part of it because I worked with some clients for like 10, 12 years. I feel like when they do well I feel really good and I like to hear what their doing. It was tough.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you talked about going back a little bit, you did this year of no spending and one of the things that you had said in an article that you posted to your blog or maybe it’s your about page, I don’t remember but you had talked about creativity. A lot of what you do obviously is around creativity. You’re a creator and encourage other creators but you said that creativity thrives on constraints. I’m curious to know if you create artificial constraints in order to improve your creativity and it seems like maybe the year of no spending was an example of that.

Paul Jarvis: Definitely, being vegan is another good example of that.

Bjork Ostrom: What would your advice be for people that are looking to do that? To be more creative and then using artificial constraints as a way to do that.

Paul Jarvis: There’s a balance between having space enough to create. If you don’t know if you’re going to pay rent the next month then it’s really like that’s not an artificial constraint, that is a real life constraint. If you have your bases covered or if you’re transitioning from client service work to product work then it’s easier and I don’t even think that you even need to create artificial constraints because there is always some constraint like there’s always even if you have an eight month runway of savings, you still have to make sure that you’re making money before that eight months runs up.

You have only a certain number of hours in the day like there’s a few study that’s saying that after you work more than 50 hours a week productivity drops to basically zero. There’s so many constraints in our lives that sometimes I just have fun with it like, “Oh, I’m not going to buy anything for a year, let’s see what happens there. I’m not going to eat meat or dairy or anything that comes from an animal for a month and see what happens. I’m going to stop eating gluten and see what … ” For me it’s just fun. I like to see what happens if I do things. I lived without furniture for a month which was an awful experiment because my back just hurt. I had two camping chairs and a blow up mattress and that was it, that was stupid. That was ridiculous.

Bjork Ostrom: I think one of the things I appreciate about that is it’s an experiment that informs your future decisions and so now you know the value of furniture and can justify decisions that you’re making about furniture because of that experience which I think is interesting.

Paul Jarvis: I only need one couch not like my house is so empty on purpose because I know … It’s funny too because you think that you can’t live with less and you can for the most part. As long as your basic needs are met, as long as you got rent or mortgage paid, you got food on the table for your family. There’s ways that you can do all right without spending a ton of money or consuming a bunch of stuff or filling your house up with stuff that you don’t need or use. It’s just fun, I don’t know.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. No, and I appreciate that. My encouragement to people that are listening is to think about even if it’s not an experiment but it’s a way to break up your routine. We just got back from a week with Lindsay’s family at her family cabin and I realized I worked different the day after being on vacation which is interesting to think about how I was working before after going through a long stretch of not breaking routine and how valuable that is to switch things up. Maybe to walking a different way on your normal walk or taking a different route. I think all of those things inform creativity.

Maybe it’s listening to different music, whatever it would be I think anytime you can switch things up it is valuable. I want to talk a little bit more about the product side of things. Also, a little bit of your business strategy. You have your website and you post articles there but you also have what you call the Sunday Dispatch which is a Sunday newsletter. You talked about how valuable that newsletter is. I’m curious to know a little bit about your switch as you moved away from becoming a freelancer, started to lean more into the product side.

What does that look like for you now in terms of what you focus your time on? You have the podcast, you have books, you’ve talked about software, the newsletter, you’re doing a lot of things and I’m curious to know what that looks like because you don’t have a team of ten people. A lot of what you do is you doing it maybe working with contractors. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Paul Jarvis: What I found is that my job is creating valuable content like really that’s my job. If my mailing list account is for probably like 95% of my revenue then my job is my mailing list. It’s creating podcast that I send to mailing list, it was creating articles that I send to the mailing list or creating products that I then sell through the mailing list. A lot of it comes down to that’s why there’s consistency there because people are always like, “How do you find time to write an article every week for your list?” That’s my business.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s my job. Yeah.

Paul Jarvis: That’s my job, my job. I don’t understand the question. Because I spend time like it usually takes me three or four hours to reply to people. My list has a decent size so I’ll take three four hours sometimes more to reply to people that reply to the mailing list because it’s pretty conversational like you know you’re not getting a robot when you email my email address. I’m ridiculously accessible to people. That’s my job, my job is to interact with my audience, it’s to make sure I understand them, to make sure I empathize with them, to make sure I listen to what they need which will inform the products that I create.

A lot of it I love routine in some ways but I also don’t like long-term routine. The bulk of my income now comes from courses but I only open those up twice a year and I have launch season. In the spring in like Feb March I launch the three courses that I teach and then in the fall in September October I launch three courses that I teach. In those months and probably the month beforehand, I’m working just on those courses but then when I’m done that, I was like, “I don’t want to work on courses anymore.” It was like, okay now I’m going to spend a month working on software or now like right now I’m going to spend like five months writing a book.

I like long-term projects but I like long-term projects that just like seasons with invisible office hours. I like there to be an end, otherwise it stresses me out. With the exception of my mailing list because that’s just my favorite thing to do is to write and talk to my mailing list.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. In terms of how you structure your time, mailing list would be top priority, making sure to get really quality content out to those people each and every week on Sunday, Sunday Dispatch. The courses then would be in terms of business and profitability or revenue would be a really major part of that but then there’s this long-term visionary things that are maybe more project-based like the books that you’re doing or maybe writing for a fast company or news week online publications that kind of fill in parts of your brand or awareness.

Is that last piece how people find and follow along with you? What does it look like in terms of for us it was that we have a team member, Alexa who’s a huge fan of what you do and follows along with what you do. She’s like, “It would be an awesome interview.” She was right, it has been an awesome interview.

Paul Jarvis: Awesome.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s still time left for it to not be an awesome interview.

Exactly. It’s still possible. How are people coming into your ethos, the things that you’re doing.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I decided at a certain point that, I’ll back up with that and I realized that there’s a point where there’s enough for me like I make enough money. I live fairly simply like I have some, if you look at my Instagram feed like I grab a nice car but I live in a fairly simple house. I don’t have much furniture. I don’t spend a lot of money. I make enough to support my family. I make enough to put money in savings. I’m not motivated to try to make more money. I don’t care about growth pass a certain point. Same with my mailing list, my mailing list size right now hasn’t grown because I do absolutely nothing to promote it to get people.

I don’t care about growth because I can be supported like I would rather make thousands of dollars off of the same people over years because they come back and buy stuff and buy stuff than to try to churn and burn as many people as possible. For me, it’s like I would rather just find like a good size and the way that my audience grows now is just other people say like, “Hey, you should be in Paul’s newsletter. It’s like the best thing I read,” or that kind of stuff. People become the promoters or the sales people for my list and for my products for me so all I have to focus on is the people who are already paying attention.

That’s actually to grow but in changing that mindset a little bit where I care more about the people who are listening than the people who could be but aren’t yet has really helped. I made that shift probably about a year and a half ago. All the lead, tons of people off my mailing list if they’re not opening or clicking and it doesn’t bother me because it’s like a vanity metric knowing number of subscribers.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting because it ties into a lot of what you’re saying in the beginning with one of the tensions that you felt at the agency was not being able to fully be present to the clients that were already there. It’s cool to see you reflecting on where you are now and decisions you’ve made still having that be a part of who you are and what you’re about and your brand. It’s obvious that that’s been a true line for your career.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, and that’s like if you run your own business like you’re the boss, if things aren’t really going the way you want them to, it’s kind of your fault.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Paul Jarvis: It’s up to you. You have the power and the autonomy to change those things so why not have a bit … I’ve been in business for almost 20 years. If I didn’t have a business that I like running, I’m doing something wrong, otherwise, I would just go work somewhere else because it’s way easier to just work for somebody else.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, yup and there’s an article on your blog where you talk about that about having your own worst boss which is just you and like as a solopreneur and entrepreneur you have this terrible boss and it’s you.

Paul Jarvis: Yup.

Bjork Ostrom: Specifically with the growth stuff you had talked about, you said for specifically with Sunday Dispatch you say, “Sign up for the Sunday Dispatch to get weekly articles. I’ll show you how to run a profitable and sustainable business that doesn’t require growth.” I think that’s such a interesting idea. You start to talk about it a little bit but can you talk more about that, what that means and what that looks like in kind of a day-to-day reality of running a business?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, I’m glad you said that, that’s interesting because that’s the topic of the book that I’m writing currently is growing and that’s why the language is how it is on my website because I’m gauging interest and I’m trying to like see that as that’s what I do. Yeah, like growing a business that doesn’t grow just means like finding an upper limit and staying there and it’s like the opposite of how capitalism works. It’s so funny that small businesses try to emulate the way big businesses run and they’re like focused on quarterly shareholder earnings and like in order for a public business just exceed, it has to make more and more money every quarter for the shareholders.

Bjork Ostrom: Yup.

Paul Jarvis: Small businesses don’t need to do that and it’s funny because big businesses now are trying to act like small businesses and trying to develop relationships. It’s like why Anheuser-Busch has a whole bunch of crap beers because they want to seem like there’s even though they’re not at all, they want to seem like they’re small business and they want to seem like they can cater to super niche taste in that regard. For small businesses like you can run like a small business and it’s not … A lot of the time it’s like our own egos that trip us up like if you’re at a party and somebody is like, “Oh what do you do?” and you’re like, “I run a business,” they’re like, “How big is it?” they’re like, “How many employees do you have?” and if you’re like just me they’re like, “Yeah, you have like an Etsy shop that does $15 a month,” like, “Come on. Come on.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it was like when we move into the neighborhood and we told somebody that we have a food blog that’s what we do for our business and it was like the response not in word but in tone was like apologetic like, “I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope you find a job soon.”

Paul Jarvis: Exactly, sorry to hear you’re unemployed.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, right, exactly. I can relate to that idea of wanting the social … What is the word?

Paul Jarvis: Implication.

Bjork Ostrom: Implication, thank you, oh my gosh. Again, nice to have somebody else who does a podcast and is a writer. Just the idea of that the numbers being such an important piece of it but what I think what was interesting what you said was the upper limit and how do you know what that is and what was that for you?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, it’s funny because like where we used to live like I said it was a tiny town, tiny tourist town and does a lot of surfing. I’d spent all my time either surfing or doing yoga and then the rest of the time writing. I was out surfing with my buddy, this South African guy named Klie who’s an accountant, he’s like a freelance accountant and he was like, “Hey buddy,” because everything starts with hey buddy. We’re like sitting on the line up and like, he’s like, “Hey buddy, I’m like pretty stoked I get to ask the surfers, I get to talk to the surfers.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right, right.

Paul Jarvis: He’s like, “I’m pretty stoked because next month I made enough for the year and then I can just go like down the Baja or like go climbing in the middle of the U.S.” He’s like, “I’m pretty stoked like I made enough,” and he like catches the waves, I was sitting in the line up like …

Bjork Ostrom: Wait a minute.

Paul Jarvis: What just happened?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Paul Jarvis: My mind was kind of blown for a second and we started talking about it and he was like, “I know how much I need to live,” he’s like, “I live a pretty modest life,” he’s like, “I know how much I need to put in the savings to retire,” he’s like, “I don’t need more than that,” he’s like, “I don’t know why I would want to work more when I don’t need more,” and I was like, “Whoa.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Paul Jarvis: It was like the point in the Matrix where Neo realizes that it’s like, “Not real.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right. All the numbers.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, and then I started to think about it for myself, I was like, “Well, how much do I really need?” like, “How can I cut back as much as possible in terms of spending so profit happens faster and then that can mostly just go into savings?” In like spending a lot of time reading people like Mr. Money Mustache and saying like, “Okay, if you save up 25 times what your annual salary is,” which seems like a ridiculous amount to save up but like overtime it’s not meant to saved up over like one year, meant to be saved up over like a bunch of time then you can basically live off the interest of like low investments, right?

I was just like, “Okay, how much do I really need to live off?” like, “How can I trim the fat on that?” or, “How can I,” like, “I spent a year not spending any money. How much do they need to live that year just covering like rent and gas and groceries and toiletries?” I’m like “Yeah, I want to add a bit more because like I want to have fun like want to go out on the weekend, I want to like go see bears and whales since I live in the woods on an island so I want to go do cool stuff.” Most of the cool stuff involves like hiking or being on a boat though, which isn’t that expensive because I don’t own a boat because boats are expensive.

Yeah, it’s just kind of thinking about that and thinking about like, “Okay, how much do I really need to live off of?” and like, “How can I shrink that and then how can I put the rest into savings and then how can I not worry?” Because like a lot of it comes down to like when there is no upper limit there’s almost always a stress that like, “I need to make more, I need to make more.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Paul Jarvis: I’m starting to think like, “But why?”

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Paul Jarvis: “What’s the point?” and I say, I don’t want to be like Richard Branson or like some super rich person with like 50 cars and an airplane like I don’t care about that. That doesn’t motivate me so there’s an upper limit.

Bjork Ostrom: Was that in a moment of like self-reflection and introspection that you came to that conclusion and realization? Because I’m curious to know and for those that aren’t familiar Mr. Money Mustache is just a great site about somebody who kind of talks about this early retirement idea but not even so much early retirement but just like alternative lifestyle living which is really informative. Was it that conversation on the beach with surfing or was it kind of a slow evolution, how did you come to that point?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, it was a bit of a slow … I was doing a kind of yoga at the time like I was doing a couple hours of yoga a day so like you’re thinking about stuff when you’re doing yoga. You’re thinking about stuff when you’re surfing like a lot of surfing is either working as hard as you possibly can to catch and ride a wave or sitting and waiting for the next good wave to catch. It’s just a confluence of a whole bunch of things. It was during the era that I wasn’t buying anything anyways and I was spending, I just moved from a ridiculously expensive city to an island in a tiny town, I’m living in like pretty run down townhouse. I was spending almost no money.

I was doing a whole ton of yoga and surfing, I was talking to my buddy about this and it’s just kind of all came together like, “What if I don’t try pass a certain point?” Like Sean D’Souza, the guy who runs Psychotactics is like he doesn’t want to make more than 500k a year. That’s his upper limit and he’s like, “I rather just like go hang out with family in India, go travel with my wife and kids or like paint with my kids during the day.” He’s like, “It doesn’t serve me to make more than that, it just adds more complication so why would I want to do that.” I’m seeing more and more people kind of seeing that and come to the same realization, I was like, “Yeah, I guess they’re smarter people than me, I’m kind of realizing this too.” I think it would work.

Bjork Ostrom: The general idea for the book and you don’t have to go too much into it if it’s not fully fleshed out yet but can you talk about what the topic will be and what the focus will be for that?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, the book is called Company of One, it’s traditionally published so it’s not going to come out till for like a year and a half, like it just takes forever. I’m almost done writing the first draft but it’s still going to be like a year and a half. Yeah, the book is called Company of One and it’s just basically the opposite of Growth Hacking. It’s the idea that we can question growth and that growth in all directions and all areas for business isn’t always the smartest or the best or the most resilient way to build a long-term company and it’s really just gets into … It’s interesting because it’s the departure from the way that write for my mailing list which is really just me focused and not because I’m an egomaniac but just because like the easiest story to tell is your own.

This I wanted it to be big like I don’t want it to be about me at all, I want it to be about this growing movement that I see and like backed up by research and data where like people especially like in the startups because I’ve been part of like tech and startup stuff forever, it’s like that’s the downfall of most companies is growing too quickly. What if we don’t make that like a metric for success, what if we remove that from the equation and focus on things like customers or focus on things like profit over growth. Because it’s really hard to grow profits and have the exponential growth at the same time.

They’re kind of diametrically opposed in most regards. That’s kind of what the book is and it’s mostly just telling stories like I’m telling stories about other people who have done this and do this well like Shawn from Psychotactics, like the guy at a base camp I interviewed Jason Freed about it. Just talking to lots of interesting people who kind of come to the same realization about growth and just telling their story.

Bjork Ostrom: For people that are listening let’s say it’s people that are building a blog or website, they have a following, and they’re playing around with this idea of, “What do I want this to look like long-term?” What would your advice be to them in order to be a successful company of one?

Paul Jarvis: It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a business of one person. It’s really, really hard to have all the skills you need to run a business as one person or like me you just get stretched too thin in every single area and it doesn’t work very well. I think the best advice is to just start to pay attention to the people who are paying attention.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?

Paul Jarvis: For example like a mailing list, the people that are already on your mailing list, start talking to them, right? The people who have already bought your products start talking to them, the people who are asking you for things and I kind of really agree with Derek Sivers who said this, it’s like, “It’s really hard to build something unless people are asking you for it.” I don’t know if you know but CD Baby started because he built … This is before PayPal and Stripe so it’s harder to do like ecommerce on the internet but he wanted to be able to sell his band CDs online.

Being a programmer, he built a system and he got like a merchant account and he built it. Then his friends were like, “I want to sell but can you sell my CD?” CD Baby was born and they’re sold it for like 22 million dollars because it was doing like a quarter million dollars net profit every month, a growth net.

Bjork Ostrom: I’ve heard you described this pull versus push like are you trying to push something out or are you trying to, or are people pulling it out of you? Is this something that people are really asking for?

Paul Jarvis: Exactly. Push can work, push can totally work but pull is easy like when people are being drawn towards you and people … A great example of this is people were like, “How do you know what to write about?” I was like, “I look in my inbox,” I had 300 emails a week from my subscribers. It’s really easy to see what the trends are here and to write articles specifically for my subscribers because if I’m writing for my subscribers specifically, then I’m going to draw more people in that are like those subscribers and I like my subscribers.

I talk to them on Twitter and Slack and in email. The best book that I ever wrote that sold more copies with like more copies as like an extra zero on the number of copies was a book that I based, all of the content was based on me having conversations with people on the mailing list. I sent email to my list and I was like, “Hey, I open up my calendar to talk on Skype with whoever wants to book it.” I think I capped it at like 36 or 46 people because it could’ve gotten really ridiculous. I was like, “Let’s talk. What do you need help with? I’m here.”

I talked to like dozens of people and I started to see patterns and I was like, “Okay, this is easily a book,” like I have it in me to talk about this for a lot of words because books are kind of long. Even short books can be long and like that book did far better than any other book that I ever wrote because I was just listening to the people who were listening to me. I was listening to the people who were paying attention already and that’s ended up growing things bigger and bigger and bigger.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting one of the concepts I’ve been learning about is this idea of lean startup, this idea where you do customer development. I feel like that’s a great example of it and it seems a lot easier I think than it actually is to sit down and dedicate that time to talking with customers or people that know you or following along with you. From everybody that I’ve heard that does that consistently what you find is what you said were you start to learn about these things that are problems that people have or issues that seems similar from one person to the next, maybe they describe it a different way but you start to notice some patterns with that.

I think it’s a huge take away for people and I think a really important concept. The last thing I wanted to talk about was something we had mentioned on your Instagram which is these rats which is totally awesome to read about pet rats that you have and also part of your branding. There’s a concept that I love where you talk about finding your rat people, can you talk about what a rat person is and how you can find those people?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, what I realized in running my business that doesn’t grow is that I don’t have to cater to everyone which is most scary and liberating. If I’m just writing specifically for the people who are paying attention then I just have to focus on them whether it’s writing an article for them, whether it’s writing a sales page for them. Inside jokes like mentions of things that are super non sequitur because that’s kind of how I roll and like I just have to make them happy and nobody else matters. The way that I relate that to rats is that most people in the world think rats are vermin and rat should be exterminated or rats are evil.

Then there’s this tiny segment of people in the population that have rats as pets, that have rats as like loving members of their family and they realize that they’re super social, super friendly, smart like dogs like you train them. If you Google like awesome rat tricks some like rat trick you can see rats do some crazy, crazy stuff and they’re super lovable and they bond with their human. I had a rat name Luna who if I walk in the room she would run over to me and like jump up my leg and cuddle with me.

Bjork Ostrom: It just makes me so happy.

Paul Jarvis: I was her human, right. I like in that to business and creativity in that and that free yourself from trying to be everything to everybody, free yourself from caring about what haters think because haters make crappy customers. If you have somebody that doesn’t get what you do or doesn’t like the way that you do it or doesn’t like your personality, they’re not going to be a good customer like they’re going to ask for a refund or worst they’re going to take up all of your time. What I’ve realized with products and volume is that there’s like 1% of your customer base that takes up like 99% of your time when you’re selling a product especially if it’s technical.

Even like somebody ask for a refund once for my courses because I think I said one swear word in one of those and I was like, “Should I stop swearing?” like, “No, this is who I am,” like obviously like I’m not going to swear in front of like a class of kindergarten students like I still have a brain. Swearing is part of who I am so like, “Maybe I should just swear more like maybe I should swear in the … Like maybe I should just naturally let swearing happen where it happens.” Whether it’s in like a sales page, whether it’s like an email, in that way people know what they’re going to get.

I realize this too with the internet is that the more you can show people exactly what they’re going to get, the more you’re going to remove that hesitation from them. If somebody buys a course from me, I don’t want them to buy it right away like I want them to sign up for the free lessons or to sign up for like the email sequence because I want them to see if it is exactly what they want because I don’t want them to be a customer unless they know that. How that relates to rat people is that like I put up most people like most people hate the way I write, they hate the way I talk, they hate whatever, they hate that I’m covered in tattoos that are mostly animals.

There’s just something that everybody hates or that most people hate and it doesn’t matter. What matters is paying attention to the people who are listening, paying attention to the rat people, that 1% of people on the planet that like rats as pets. The 1% of people that care about your business and what you do and the value that you bring to the world those are the important people and nobody else matters.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I love that and I feel like that’s a perfect note to end on but before we do, Paul, I want to know, I know that a lot of people that listening to this will be really interested to follow along with you. I feel like in our audience we will have a lot of rat people for you. Where can they follow along with you, sign up for the newsletter and we’ll link to that in the show notes as well?

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, Google Paul Jarvis, I’m the first couple of pages on Google for that. I was talking to somebody yesterday and they’re like, “Yeah, we interviewing Seth Godin,” and he’s like, “Just Google Seth.” You can’t just Google Paul and then find me. You have to type to Google, Paul Jarvis.

Bjork Ostrom: For me you think that I would almost be there but I’ll never be there because if you Google Bjork for the rest of my life it’ll be the Icelandic singer, there’s just no chance that I’ll ever make that.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, which is bad but there’s other things that you could win.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Paul Jarvis: Yeah, the Sunday Dispatches is my mailing list, it’s the best way to keep in touch, free newsletter, extended articles. If you like it, you like. If not, there’s unsubscribe buttons on every single one.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Paul, I really appreciate the conversation and I know that people will get a lot out of it so thanks for your time.

Paul Jarvis: Cool, man, this is a blast.

Bjork Ostrom: One more big thank you to Paul for coming on and sharing his insights. Again, you can just search Paul Jarvis or go to pjrvs.com and find his newsletter as well as his articles and we’ll link to that in the show notes for this podcast as well. That’s a wrap for this podcast. I hope you’re doing well, make it a great week. Thanks, guys.

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  1. I loved this episode! A lot of these concepts really resonated with me. Just signed up for the Sunday Dispatch, and I’m 100% one of the rat people. I had a beloved rat named poison as a teenager, and my best friend and I first bonded because she brought her rat with her to our college radio station 🙂