Eric Jorgenson is a product strategist at Zaarly, where he was one of the very first employees. Outside of his time at Zaarly, he has spent time writing and condensing ideas on his blog Evergreen and compiling information for an exciting book about Naval Ravikant. He is also the author of a mini-book: Career Advice for Uniquely Ambitious People: A decision-making guide for uncommon success. You can follow him on his Twitter: @EricJorgenson Here’s his story:
Who you are and what are you currently working on?
I’m Eric Jorgenson. I grew up in Detroit, went to Michigan State University, and dropped out to join Zaarly in 2011. I then spent about six months in Kansas City, where we started the company, and the next seven years in San Francisco. My time in San Francisco was a crazy roller coaster; we basically started from zero twice. I got back to Kansas City in 2016 and have been here ever since. I’ve done almost every non-coding job at Zaarly, so I know the company and marketplace inside and out.
Currently, I’m a product strategist at Zaarly, which means I spend my time conducting customer and strategy research, finding elegant ways to solve customer problems, and working with designers to come up with good solutions, all while keeping in line with the long term strategy of the company. (Zaarly is a marketplace for Homeowners to hire reliable Service Providers)
My main side project right now is The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, which is a book that should come out in Q2 of 2020. (For those that have never heard of Naval, he’s a very famous entrepreneur and investor. You can find more info about him at Navalmanack.com) I actually just submitted the final manuscript to the publisher after working on it for two years. I put it together as a high fidelity book report of everything that I’ve learned about, and from, Naval. I kept talking about what I was learning from him and referring people to his talks and tweets, to the extent that I eventually just started organizing it into a book.
Have you had the opportunity to meet Naval?
I’ve actually never met Naval in person, but we’ve exchanged a bunch of emails and he’s been super responsive. I may get to do a Periscope with him after the book comes out and we’ll discuss the questions that I’m left with. I want to do that as a reader and have it be a follow-on to the book, rather than trying to shove it in there.
The unique thing about the book is that there’s not an original word in it. Every single word of it is from a tweet, an interview, a blog post, or a podcast that Naval has created. So, the raw material was already out there and I got his blessing to turn it into something different and transform it into a medium that’s more accessible for people. It’s hard for people because there’s no clear starting place. There are ten years of tweets to comb through, many of which aren’t even searchable anymore, and you don’t know which of these interviews is good or which topics the podcast interviews cover. In some of the really long interviews, there’s a 20-minute portion on one topic somewhere in the middle that someone might be interested in, but it’s just really hard to get that first glimpse of a topic to get someone interested in going down the rest of the rabbit hole. I think a book is a good way to do it, especially since we’re going to make it all freely available online. There’s also going to be sections with individual posts on the website: Navalmanack.com.
There will be a hard copy and Kindle version, and those will be the only ones that are paid. The exact same content will be available on the website and in the free PDF, so anybody will be able to get access to all of it. On top of that, we’ll publish a lot more content on the website. My first version was very similar to Poor Charlie’s Almanack, 600 pages of every topic possible – because I’m interested in all of it. I had about 30 beta readers for the book, and everybody was interested in wealth and happiness. (Go figure, everybody wants to be rich and happy!) So the things that weren’t universally appealing we cut from the book and will publish on the website. It’ll still get love and those will be rabbit holes for people to go down as they choose.
Projects like this just emerge from whatever I’m finding interesting in my spare time. I find that I hold myself to a higher standard when I know I’m going to publish something. I would have done maybe one or two iterations if I was just doing this for me, but because it’s going to be published as a book, I spent another year and a half on it. I wanted it to be really, really tight.
What are your goals or plans for the future?
One of the side-effects of committing to a two-year book project is that I have watched a lot of half-assed ideas come and go that I might have taken a shot at previously. Being committed to this for a long time has let me naturally filter out what my next project should be. Now, I’m still toying with a few different things. One is to do another one of these books. There are a lot of other people that I would be excited about creating an ‘Almanack’ with.
The other thing that I’m really excited about is creating some sort of platform to provide independent, unbiased, thorough reviews of online courses. I’ve really bought into the future of online education. I had a very mediocre experience as a business undergrad. Often, I was one of 400 people in a lecture hall, thinking that this is literally no better than a YouTube video. It just felt like a very half-assed method of education. When you look at the effective systems we utilize for educating pilots or doctors, and then consider the system that we use for business education, the difference is striking.
With that in mind, I’m really excited about some of the opportunities that are coming out in that arena. I took Reforge this year, which is a growth course put on by Brian Balfour, Andrew Chen, Kevin Kwok, and Casey Winters. After taking that course, I felt like I’d just ate a Mario mushroom; it put frameworks around a lot of concepts that I half understood but couldn’t fit together exactly right. It was an incredible experience that showed me that there are probably a lot more high-quality courses out there. One of the challenges I encountered while finding Reforge was that I couldn’t find any information written or shared by anybody who wasn’t selling the course.
I think there may be as many good, transformative courses out there as there are scammy, shyster, thought leader guys scamming people. So many of us nowadays are charting our own paths for our careers and staring at this puzzle, thinking “I know I need a tool, a new skill to unlock this next opportunity… but, I don’t know where the key is, and I don’t know where I need to go to learn that thing.” I think that content could and should exist, but we are right on the cusp of it being a big enough industry that people need a Sherpa to guide them through it. This idea is still forming, but I’ve got a start at building it up on CourseCorrectly.com
What motivated you to drop-out of college to join Zaarly?
I had planned to do three degrees in five years. I left after year four because I had an opportunity to do an internship at the Kauffman Foundation here in Kansas City with Bo Fishback. It was literally my first day of work when Bo said “Welcome to Kauffman. I’m going to quit my job and start a company. Do you want to stay here or do you want to come with me?” So I worked at the Kauffman Foundation for about eight seconds. I never even finished filling out the paperwork, I just sat in the corner of his office and we started working on Zaarly. After that, I moved to Kansas City and I’ve been working on it ever since.
Bo, the CEO of Zaarly, is a really special guy. He was the first person I’d ever met who was outrageously successful in business and in family life. Beyond that, he was likable, kind and broadly admired, and just a genuinely happy person. Honestly, I think I would’ve worked for him in a McDonald’s. He’s a great leader and we’ve had so much fun together. We’ve known each other for more than 10 years, and we’ve been working together for almost 10 years now. That old saying that “no road is long with good company,” has proven true in this case.
Dropping out to work at Zaarly was probably the biggest no brainer I’ve ever encountered, which is great because I didn’t have any other options… I was planning on going back to school so I wasn’t looking that hard for a job. I was in the middle of building a business incubator at Michigan State and hosting Startup Weekends there. I was starting classic ‘college kid’ companies, and just doing what I could to learn and meet people outside of school, after quickly realizing that school wasn’t going to teach me what I thought was important.
To Bo’s credit, he has been incredibly patient and invested a lot in giving me the time and space necessary to learn and develop myself. He helped me turn from this blob of clay into something that is useful and valuable to the company. So meeting him and going through that transition from college to Zaarly was probably the biggest lucky break I think I could have had.
What other experiences have impacted your career trajectory to this point?
I also create a blog called Evergreen. It was basically my self-prescribed MBA. Every week, I would pick a topic and I would email it out to the subscriber list and say, “Hey, the topic this week is X. Send me the best thing you’ve ever heard, read, watched, listened to, or seen, about X.” Then, I’d read it all over the course of a week or so, and I’d build a summary/digest of the key points and the key attributes. I’d write through the thoughts and use excerpts from all these materials and link them back to the original source. So if you wanted a 10-minute overview, you could just read the posts, and if you wanted to spend a couple of hours getting really immersed in the topic, you could dive into the dozens of resources that I used to find the five or ten best ways to explain the topic.
I did that over two years with a couple dozen topics, and by the end, there were 5,000 people on the mailing list. I built some really cool relationships via email with people who were sending me things, and that was probably the first decent-sized project that made me realize the power of learning in public. I could have just done it for myself and learned a ton from it, but publishing weekly made it a strong cadence and helped me be consistent. I had some hard Sunday nights getting everything together and ready to publish, but I learned so much from it.
How have you been helped along your journey and why do you help other people?
My willingness to help is a direct result of being aware of how little I would have accomplished had other people not been incredibly generous in helping me. That makes paying it forward an absolute, moral obligation. Beyond that, I don’t believe anybody who doesn’t think they’ve been helped—everybody has been helped along the way.
I think it’s much more fulfilling and beneficial to be a part of a generous environment rather than an ecosystem where it’s very transactional, probably a lot like how I imagine Hollywood or Wall Street function. Something I really love about the startup and tech ecosystem is that it’s not like that. Nobody pays for intros or has this sense that they’re obligated to the specific people who help them. Instead, it’s more of an obligation to help someone else along the way, and I find that incredibly fulfilling, and do it every chance I get.
I think one of the things that’s difficult is finding ways to help that are meaningful, but still scalable. As more and more people ask for help, it gets harder and harder to do it personally for all the people who have asked, in the way that you can when you’re younger and there are fewer people asking. That’s a thing that I see other people struggle with and it’s an interesting puzzle. At the end of the day, it just feels good to end up with great friendships, and it’s rewarding to see those people thrive because of some of the help that you’ve been able to provide.
Were there any key people that really helped you along your journey?
Bo is the first one, obviously, because he’s been employing me for 10 years, but others include Shane Parrish, Brent Beshore, Tucker Max, and Naval. I don’t know them all personally, but Naval’s a good example of someone who’s help is very scaled. He shares everything and is generous with his insights, and even though we’ve never sat down over coffee, I’ve learned so much from him. Brent and Shane have both personally been very helpful and generous with their time and advice.
Also, I have a lot of friends that are interested in the same things as I am, and we all support each other and give each other great feedback. While I’ll never be able to pay those people back for how much help they have given me, I can certainly help the next generation as much as they have helped me.
Do you have any advice for people when they ask for help, mentorship, or advice?
Show proof of work. For example, if somebody says, “Hey, I read your book and I have a specific question” that is very different than somebody who takes five seconds to DM you a question that is very obviously answered somewhere else. Just show that you have done what you can do on your own, or ask a specific question that is interesting to work on together.
What does growth mean to you?
One of my personal principles is that challenge equals growth. Without being challenged, you won’t grow, and if you do, it’ll be extremely painful because it’ll be against your will. When you’re not choosing the direction of your growth – it’s just the world happening to you instead of you choosing how you want to grow.
Within that, I think growth comes from progressive overload. That’s a bodybuilding mental model, but the idea of working at the edge of your competence very consistently translates to most facets of life. The lifts don’t get easier, the pounds just go up and you just have to keep putting in reps. It’s typically difficult to challenge yourself because you don’t want to fail, and to challenge yourself well is to actually risk failure. So, without being willing to risk ego death, you can’t grow, at least not as fast as you want to. Working hard to minimize your ego and your sense of self, and keeping that beginner’s mindset allows you a kind of counterintuitive way to keep growing.
Naval has a perfect little phrase that I love: “Impatience with action. Patience with results.” Anything worth doing takes a really long time to do, but you have to be incredibly impatient to get started. Having a bias toward action and immediately starting or being very consistent on these really long processes and just allowing the compounding to do its work is key. And you don’t want to interrupt the consistent compounding if you don’t have to.
Another Navalism I like explains that your environment dictates your behavior, but the enlightened mind can choose its environment. In high school, I was a National Champion rower, and I think it’s unlikely that I ever would have become as successful a rower as I did if I just decided to start practicing in my basement. I chose to become a part of a system, where becoming a national champion rower was part of the environment. You don’t just become a badass marine by doing a lot of crunches in your basement, or become a doctor by taking some online courses. You have to actually join the marines and go to boot camp, or go to medical school, and opt-in to an environment or program that can help you reach your goal. It’s almost like running a program on yourself. If you just choose the right environment and work hard, that environment will turn you into who you want to be. You just have to use your willpower to keep moving forward and the environment will take care of the rest. So, if you desire change, and you haven’t tried choosing the environment that will inflict that change on you, try that. That’s actually the easiest way to do it. Give yourself no other choice.
Eric is a wealth of knowledge. Learn more from him and follow along with his projects by following him on Twitter: @EricJorgenson.