6 Lessons I Learned from Nathan Latka
I consider Nathan to be one of my mentors even though I’ve never talked to him.
Okay, technically that’s not quite true. I exchanged Twitter DMs with him once. But this story is a perfect example of one of the key lessons I learned from him. So more on that in a moment.
And this last sentence is, in fact, a great example of one of the other lessons I learned from him (“Understand and leverage emotional triggers”). Apparently I’ve not just learned a thing or two from him but am also slowly able to implement the learning.
In case you wonder who Nathan Latka is, I created this little diagram.
Let’s dive in.
Build the attention first, the product second
One of Nathan’s favorite mantras is “Win peoples time and their money will follow.”
It’s always easy to read this kind of line, feel inspired, and then quickly forget about it. But Nathan learned the “attention first, product second” lesson through first-hand experiences and it’s obvious to what extent he’s internalized it.
He started his entrepreneurial journey by selling custom-made facebook pages. One thing he quickly noticed is just how hard it is to get the right kind of eyeballs onto your product.
His main job at the time was to negotiate with affiliates, bloggers and journalists, who had access to large distribution channels. And he hated doing this.
What further helped him to understand the power of media brands relative to actual products was Michael Bloombergs biography.
Thus he decided that for his next venture it’ll be a much smarter approach to build the distribution channel first and pump the product later through it. This is exactly what he did.
He started a podcast, grew it for a few years and now offers relevant products to his audience.
“Wow, the real power here is not necessarily building a software company, but it’s building a media business that locks down distribution in the industry you want to own.”
Anything is hackable
Nathan is a hacker in the purest sense of the word. He always starts by studying what the most successful players are doing and all the implicit rules people follow, so that he can then break them systematically to achieve his goals.
Here’s, for example, how he approached his podcasting venture:
- A key metric if you want to attract high-quality guests, sponsors and the attention of media outlets is the total number of downloads.
- To game this metric he decided to release lots of short episodes. Each of his episodes is just 15 minutes long and he releases a new episode each day. If you have 1000 episodes, you just need 1000 downloads per episode to reach the magical number of 1,000,000 total downloads.
- People discover new podcasts either by searching for specific terms or through top lists. After realizing this he developed a plan for each of the two discovery methods.
- Using Google Trends he learned that many people search for the term “top entrepreneur podcast”. Hence he simply called his podcast “The Top Entrepreneur Podcast”.
- He recorded 15 episodes before he launched. Then he sent an email to his guests that said: “I’m giving launch day priority to those who commit to emailing their list their episode. Will limit to 10 on launch day. You in?”. (This strategy is known as “elephant bumping”. To quote Warren Buffet: “Anytime a bunch of big shots get together you can get people to come, because it reassures them if they’re at an elephant-bumping that they’re an elephant too.”) Hence at launch day, he released ten episodes which were heavily advertised by his guests. In total, his podcast was mentioned on more than three million emails. This was enough to get the podcast into the top charts.
There are also lots of smaller examples that demonstrate how Nathan tries to hack everything. For example, instead of linking to his Twitter profile and Youtube channel like everyone does, he uses a link that immediately asks anyone who clicks it if they want to follow him. For example, instead of https://twitter.com/NathanLatka he uses https://twitter.com/intent/user?screen_name=nathanlatka. And instead of https://www.youtube.com/user/NathanLatka he uses https://www.youtube.com/user/NathanLatka?sub_confirmation=1.
“I’m like, this is a new board game to play.”
Leverage everything you have
Nathan is a master at leveraging.
The fact that he sells products he created himself to his audience is just the most obvious example. He also, for example, always reaches out to all the CEOs he intereviewed on the podcast to get new ventures started. It was precisely by leverging this email list that allowed him to get his book and magazine started.
He leverages the podcast not just for distribution but also for product creation. For example, he simply created a spreadsheet with data points his podcast guests gave him and then sold it. And exactly the same data is used to fill pages in his magazine.
Another great example is that every time a writer appeared on his show, he took a screenshot of their Amazon sales rank at the day the podcast went live and the day before. He then used this proof that he can help to sell books to negotiate a great book deal.
Similarly, he leveraged a screenshot of his podcast’s ranking at launch day to secure new interview partners.
He’s also happy to trade appearances in his show, his magazine, his book (as described above), his email list, or on his Instagram account. For him, almost anything is something to barter with. For example, he trades Instagram posts for free hotel stays or rental cars and appearances in his podcast for keynotes at the events of his interview partners or email blasts.
And last but not least, he extensively uses software, virtual assistants, and systems he developed to leverage his own time as much as possible. More on that below.
“Like as long as you’ve got the sort of genes to not be scared to like swing, swing, swing, swing, swing. It’s just a matter of time before you hit that one thing that really works. You could have 99 things not work and one thing worked really well and that’s all you need. Everyone forgets about the things that don’t work. I mean, does anyone talk about the Amazon Fire Phone anymore that failed miserably?”
Give yourself permission to dream big
“I’ve always thought that each person invented himself … that we are each a figment of our own imagination. The problem is, most people have no imagination.” - David Geffen
This is a quote from Nathan’s book. And it leads to another perfect example of how he breaks an implicit rule everyone is living by.
Most people are afraid to dream big. And those few who dare to dream, do it in private. But not Nathan. He loves to set big, audacious goals and tell other people about them.
- Before his podcast launched he emailed potential guests and told them that the show will have a million downloads by the end of the year. This was a somewhat audacious claim since he didn’t have a large following at the time. But by putting his big vision out there (and by working hard, of course) he was able to make it a reality.
- Before he had a book deal, he told the CEOs on his email list that it’ll be a massive bestseller. This way, he was able to convince some of them that an appearance in it was valuable and used this, as described below, to pre-sell his first copies.
- Before he launched his magazine, he reached out to his email list and told everyone that “it’ll be the most expensive magazine in the world. Every VC is going to read it.” This convinced at least one of them that an appearance on its cover is valuable and hence led to his first magazine sales.
Of course, it’s risky to make this kind of bold claims. But it’s only by making them that he was able to achieve what he promised. An example he gives is that he could easily use the money he earned by pre-selling his bestseller-to-be, to buy enough ads to turn it into a bestseller.
A strategy he recommends is to block off 10 minutes once a week just to write big dreams into a notebook. And once you’ve identified your big visions, you start putting them out there and capitalize on the momentum that starts building.
“You make things happen by how confidently you say them, and that’s key.”
Understand and leverage emotional triggers
Nathan recently published a long case study on Indie Hackers that started with:
“Even my mom laughed at me. More on her in a second.”
This is a perfect example of another lesson that Nathan has internalized: If you want people’s attention, curiosity is your best friend. The way to do this, as perfectly demonstrated in the opening lines above, is to create an open loop that directly correlates with whatever it is you’re trying to get attention on. (In the copywriting community these are known as “curiosity gaps”.)
Creating these curiosity loops is what he consideres to be one of his core competencies and one of the few things he wasn’t able to outsource so far.
And the focus on people’s curiosity is also apparent in all of his headlines and even his products.
- A core element of his latest product, Founderpath, is that it calculates a “SaaS Credit Score” for founders who sign up. It seems like a safe bet that people will be curious to know what their personal score is.
- A previous project, titled Operation Pie, similarly offered SaaS founders to compare their statistics to those of 1000+ others.
- He came up with the idea to publish data tables at GetLatka.com and his magazine because he noticed that it’s always this kind of content that sparkes his own curiosity when he browses other magazine like Inc..
Another emotional trigger that Nathan loves is people’s ego.
- He pre-sold copies of his book by offering that if the CEO committed to spending $5,000 on copies, he’ll feature them in his book. He was able to leverage these pre-sales a lucrative book deal with Penguin Random House.
- Similarly, when we launched his magazine, he offered to all CEOs that he had interviewed on the podcast that the first of them who buys a copy will get featured on its cover.
- To achieve that his SaaS startup gets mentioned in high-ranking blog posts, he reached out to the blog’s owner and asked them for feedback on his product. It’s flattering to anyone if people are interested in your expert opinion. By asking them lots of questions the bloggers became emotionally committed to the product. Since he **let them in behind the scenes, they felt as if they owned the product and hence eventually were happy to feature it on their sites.
Hustle, but do it as efficient as possible
Nathan works hard and is not ashamed to admit it. But he always tries to be as effective as possible and does not work just for the sake of it.
For example, he might record 20+ podcast episodes in a single day. But he only does this because he believes in time-boxing. He dedicates blocks of time to specific tasks and during these periods never switches around. Since he’s now juggling multiple projects, he batches time by days instead of hours. This is why he has two days each months that are solely dedicated to recording podcast episodes and records no episodes on any other day.
Additionally, he is always happy to outsource everything that can be outsourced. For example, he has an army of virtual assistants - he works with 30 contractors - that reach out to potential podcast interview partners, arrange the dates, send them reminders, and edit the podcast episodes afterwards. This way he focus completely on the only thing that he can’t outsource, which is interviewing people on the podcast.
He also doesn’t waste time on products until he’s reasonably certain that they will be a success. He invests a lot of time into research and tries to figure out how similar products became a success. For example, before he wrote a single word for his book, he carefully reverse-engineered existing bestellers and developed a plan how he can achieve the same.
Another strategy that he loves is to pre-sell his products to validate demand. He did this, for example, with GetLatka.com and his book.
When he gets asked to interview someone on stage, just a few minutes before it starts he goes to the convention hall and asks audience members what they would like to ask. He then memorizes the names of audience members that had an interesting question, mentions them on stage, and asks their question. In his own words: “it’s this hustle that counts so that’s what I’m doing”.
Now here’s another story that nicely exemplifies how Nathan operates.
A few days ago a nobody with 100 followers mentioned his book in a Twitter comment. What he immediately did is that he sent a personal DM to the nobody to say “thank you”.
And yeah, that nobody was me. This is were the curiosity loop that I opened at the beginning of this article closes.