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Learning From Others vs. Thinking For Yourself

Published or Updated On: 
June 23, 2023

My activewear brand Paragon has grown primarily via influencers. That’s historically been our marketing engine. It's worked pretty well. The strategy isn't the easiest to scale though and I am 100% confident the brand can be much bigger than it is, so I’ve been looking for new ways to grow.

I thought to myself “I’m not the first person to ask this question - how are other people doing it?” So I joined a few entrepreneur communities. I started listening to conversations and talking shop with other brand owners doing 8 or 9 figures. What I found is that we’re the oddball. Most other ecommerce brands in the communities I joined have paid traffic as their marketing engine. We seem to be the exception.

As a brand, we have a tendency to go our own way and I think that’s served us well. But when you find 300+ other people who have done exactly what you want to do and they're all doing something you're not, it’s time to consider that you may just be sleeping on opportunity.

🎓 Learning from others is a life cheat code.

You don’t have figure it all out for yourself. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. You can read about someone else’s experience, or talk to them, and learn the same lessons. You can change course and avoid the same mistakes in minutes rather than months or years. These lessons are in books, blogs, your parents, friends and colleagues. Being able to pass knowledge to each other is practically the foundation of civilization.

Based on what I’ve learned from these other operators, I’m going to shift strategy. I’m pumped about it! 

So if you’re thinking about starting a business or trying to grow one - go look for these shortcuts. Ask that person to coffee. Get that book from the library. Read that clickbait about how some mom blew her side hustle into an 7 figure business in 8 weeks. There’s probably some decent info in there, maybe something you can use. That is why you read that stuff, right? To learn something you can use. And it’s probably why you’re subscribed to my blog.

But trying to learn from others can be a trap.

The trap to avoid is relying on others too much, rather than thinking for yourself. We want to be spoonfed. We want proof it will work. To be confident in a strategy. That we aren’t wasting our time.

That’s why the most popular posts on places like /r/entrepreneur are all themed “here’s how I went from $0 to $100k”, why the podcast “How I Built This” is Top 20 in the US, and why there are entire communities like StarterStory dedicated to showing how others are finding profitable niches. We all want a map.

The problem is if you only do what other people have already done, you’re severely limiting yourself. 

💭 Thinking for yourself is a life cheat code.

There is great opportunity in thinking for yourself - because so few other people are doing it.

If you rely too much on learning from others, your creative and judgement muscles atrophy. You’re liable to get sucked into a smaller world with fewer possibilities, thinking that established paths are the only paths forward.

In reality, there are a million different ways to start or grow.

I read a story about a guy who was selling a physical product and instead of trying ads like everyone else, he hired a dozen virtual assistants to build a huge spreadsheet of smaller independent retail stores who might buy his product wholesale, then hammered those stores with emails, calls and mailers until they carried him. It worked and his business blew up. It’s possible that this approach was faster, more profitable, and easier than the approaches pushed by all the digital marketing agencies beating down your door. Maybe the approaches they’re pushing wouldn’t have even worked for his business. 

"If you want to make the wrong decision, ask everyone." – Naval Ravikant

Here’s another example. Let’s talk apparel. Apparel is highly commoditized and saturated. Everyone and their sister has an apparel brand. Minimal barriers to entry. It’s very hard to differentiate in a way that makes people actually want to buy your shit rather than the billion other nearly identical options. Brand is everything, and brand is hard. It just doesn’t have a great rinse-and-repeat formula.

So if you pitched the idea of a men’s tee company where the core value prop is simply a better fit, everyone with half a brain for business would have said “bad idea”.

And everyone would have been fucking wrong. 

True Classic Tees:

  • ✅ $0 to $100m in 2 years
  • ✅ Bootstrapped
  • ✅ Profitable

Let that sink in. The conventional wisdom was that opportunity in that space for a value prop like that isn’t going to work very well. Ben Yahalom has said as much in interviews. Yet True Classic has proven that “wisdom” completely wrong on a speed and scale unmatched by any other ecommerce brand in history, to my knowledge. The founders rejected the popular opinion, thought for themselves, and won big because of it.

Between learning from others and thinking for yourself, the answer is to do both.

The question to ask yourself is “Which one am I not doing enough of right now?”

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