Two years ago I went to Greece for the first time. I’d been married to a Greek Goddess and after 11 years of marriage, it was time. It came on the heels of WatchMojo’s YouTube account being hacked; it also marked the 10-year anniversary of the company I founded with my wife and three others back in 2006 (all five of us still work together!)
On that trip, I wrote my 3rd book entitled The 10-Year Overnight Success: An Entrepreneur’s Manifesto – How WatchMojo Built the Most Successful Media Brand on YouTube. While writing it, I realized that after taking insane risks from 2006-2012, I’d grown more conservative and cautious from 2013-2016, a period where WatchMojo became the 10th largest YouTube channel of all time measured by views AND subscribers (meaning based on each benchmark, we’re approximately 30th, but only 9 channels have more of both). By 2016, I’d effectively ran WatchMojo like a lifestyle business, or as I called it, a “boutique business.” Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but in boom times, people are impressed with high-flying businesses with high-growth top line revenues, whereas in more bearish times, they suddenly prize profitable businesses.
As I was writing the journey of those first 10 years, I began to chart what the next ten years could look like and knew I needed to get more aggressive. As such, I decided to
1) begin a process to hire C-level execs to complement & reinforce the founding VPs,
2) invest in a direct sales in a smart manner (i.e. not compete with YouTube, but complement it),
3) expand internationally,
4) develop and test new formats (so not just moving beyond top 10 lists, but also into gameshows, scripted entertainment, etc),
5) experiment on other platforms (I did think it would be unwise to develop a video strategy for Facebook before Facebook developed its video strategy, but I digress).
6) dabble in subscriptions and e-commerce.
Last year when I returned to Greece for a second time (clearly, this isn’t a “woe is me” article), it was before our 2nd WatchMojo Live event in London, so the “relaxing on vacation” was tempered with the anxiety of an impending event in a foreign city we’d just launched a UK edition in.
Fast forward a year, when I returned for a third in a year this past month, and I knew it was going to be different. For one, I didn’t have a huge event around the corner to worry about. But in general, I just knew instinctively that I needed to slow down and simplify. I’d recently turned 40, perhaps symbolic, but nonetheless notable.
In the first of 2018, we boasted higher revenues than the year ago period, but behind-the-scenes, I had to deal with the usual challenges & risks of managing a business built on a platform such as YouTube. While YouTube remains more stable and less speculative than Facebook, it does nonetheless come with its own set of challenges.
Driven to diversify and expand, I’d also chased not one but two elephants (via possible partnerships with investment funds, wealthy individuals, sovereign funds and media companies): first venerable Fortune magazine, and then iconic Just For Laughs comedy festival (each merits its own follow-up article). In the end, partly because both would have required considerable debt & leverage, the former seemed elusive and a distraction, while the latter simply too cumbersome and needlessly complicated. I was frustrated to see both processes fizzle.
Unlike my previous two vacations in Greece (as mentioned: don’t cry for me, Santorini), I knew that despite my ability to undertake massive amounts of stress, oncoming fire and uncertainty, I was (at least by my standards) fatigued, burned out and simply tired. I was drained. I understood why it made sense to undertake all of those new initiatives at once, but in doing so, I was spread too thin.
Mainly, I wasn’t really having fun despite the business’ overall success. I was beyond fortunate and lucky… but while I sought to go wide, I knew the business needed to go deep. My heart wasn’t into it as much as it was, but with now 75 full-time staff, I had a responsibility to commandeer the ship.
Ironically, no one had brought this on me: I don’t have outside investors nor a board (which, one could argue, could also be part of the problem). It was all me. Ironically, WatchMojo started to become successful when in 2011, I sat in Madison Square Park, turned down a 100th time by a VC, and realized we couldn’t be chasing a myriad of content categories at once. We needed to focus. We did, and the business took off. Similarly this year, I realized that some of the initiatives – and projects within each – needed to be shelved, de-emphasized to let the stars shine bright.
The lesson, I realized, is that even if we’re not driven by money, fame or power, we do tend to slide in a mindset where we’re driven by wants (even if intangible ones like respect, success, etc) instead of simple needs (like survival, shelter, happiness, health etc). And sometimes, we burn the candle at both ends and undertake too much. Way too much. That was me, again.
In these circumstances, the only person who can then pull you back in is YOURSELF. As an athlete, entertainer, executive and especially entrepreneur, you have two simple rules to abide by:
Rule #1: Keep things simple
Rule #2: Go back to enjoying yourself…
Otherwise, you risk coming across as an uncontrollable loose cannon who’s unhinged while you’re trying to do is juggle a hundred things at once, when instead all you gotta do is let your instincts take over and play the “game” that comes naturally to you.
Life – be it business, sports, the arts, etc. – is meant to be simple and enjoyable.
Relax, breathe, enjoy. If you do that, everything else falls into place.