From no idea to an online business — here’s what I learned

Ramit Sethi

I hope you had a relaxing weekend, because this week, we’re going back to school.

In this email, I’ll show you the exact steps I took to go from a blog in my college dorm room to my first sale ($4.95) to a multi-million-dollar business that lets me work from anywhere in the world. Below, I’ve included a video roadmap to show you exactly how to get to $500, $1,000/month, $50,000, and even $250,000+.

Notice this: Since I started IWT 10 years ago, we’ve covered so many different ways of living a rich life: automating your personal finances, starting a freelance business, finding your dream job, and even mastering your inner psychology.

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But until recently, I didn’t cover how I started and grew my business — which is a little weird, since 96% of you told me you eventually want to start an online business. I believe in sharing why my thinking has evolved, so if you want to know why I didn’t cover this before, and I’m covering it now, I wrote about my thoughts on passive income and online business in a post from 2 years ago.

OK. I discovered that a lot of you want to start an online business “eventually.” And about 4 months ago, I opened up the first version of Zero to Launch. Since then, students have already built businesses, generated thousands of email subscribers, sold their first online products, and learned how to find a profitable business idea and connect with people who are delighted to pay.

If you’re serious about starting an online business now — not some day, but this year — I believe in giving you all your options.

  1. If you want to go make $500 online, you can find a $29 ebook on “starting an online business.” It will be cheap, you can make a few hundred bucks, and everybody will be happy.
  2. You can hire a coach. Are they good? Are they bad? Do they guarantee their results? How do you know?
  3. Or you could follow my Who Should You Learn From? principle: If you want to learn something, go to someone who’s been in your shoes and has achieved what you want to do.

In other words, if you want to learn every aspect of starting a successful online business, look at someone who’s done it.

When I started out, I went from NO IDEA, to TOO MANY IDEAS, to building an online business that lets me share my passion with the world.

guidetokickingassThis was the first online product I ever sold — for $4.95. Kill me pls.

If you want to learn this…

  • The framework I use to identify a real business idea (what if you don’t have an idea?)
  • Learn how to turn that into a real online business, with systems that let you earn while you sleep
  • The subtle details that give you specific, tested answers to “How do I get traffic?” and “How do I sell ethically?”

…then I want to show you how I get results like this:

weekofsalesReal sales data from a random week at IWT. Notice the green bars (sales on the weekend) — all automatic.

That’s not selling a $5 ebook once. That’s the result of years of work to build a system that lets me identify a powerful business idea and “virtually guarantee” it will sell. The chart above represents thousands and thousands of dollars of sales in one week to customers who are 2,500% more likely to buy again from me.

BRUTAL HONESTY: Will you sell thousands of dollars in a week? HELL NO. Not your first year. (I didn’t, either.) But I’ll show you the systems you need so you can generate hundreds and even thousands of dollars — and scale as far as you want to go.

An online business can fit into a rich life. You can automate your finances, and your investments will grow. You can freelance and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, as lots of my students have.

With an online business, you get the freedom of being able to work from anywhere (like one of my co-workers, who just packed up her family and is working from Paris for a year) and take vacations when you want. You get the ability to generate extra income, so if you want to know that by working 2x as hard, you’ll be compensated, you can. And you can buy back time — so you hire a personal trainer, a cleaning person, or even a personal chef.

But it’s not easy. Unlike online degenerates who will promise you “millions in a month” (and have only ever written ebooks teaching you how to write ebooks) I’ve promised to always tell you the truth. This process is challenging, and it takes work.

I could blow smoke up your ass, but I believe in telling you the brutal truth. Look what one of my students wrote:

Hello Ramit,
I’ve been thinking about the reasons why I follow your story, read your emails etc. and came to a conclusion that the number one reason for that (besides great value) is that you are very strict about everything. Almost brutal. I mean, you don’t accept any exuses, you are telling us some tough but true stuff we all need to hear, and you are persistant as hell.
It’s like a teacher who is very strict, maybe bit crazy or unusual, but always doing his best to teach the kids to move their asses and think with their own heads. And everybody loves that teacher.
I’m not a masohist, but I think most of the people are far too lazy, spoiled and passive to really be reached in a nice, usual manner. You try to make people really take action, you are almost annoying us with some things, and it really works. Amongst other things, I want to learn that. How to be disciplined, strict enough and focused on right things to achieve my goals.
You are already helping us more then we can understand (Disney soundtrack).
Anyway, thanks. You rock.
–Borivoje E.

DAMN RIGHT. There’s a reason I write you email after email, even after you might not have spent a cent with me for years. Because I know that one day, you’ll be ready to invest in yourself — and whether that’s with me or someone else, I want your success.

Now, if the time is right for you to get off the ledge and start an online business, I’m opening my Zero to Launch course this week, the only online business course proven over 10 years, in 34 industries, with 15,000+ paying customers.

This week, I’ll be sharing specific tactics I used to grow, as well as detailed video case studies from real people with no special advantages who were able to start successful online businesses.

Let’s get started. When I began, I had no ideas and truly no clue what I was doing. (Go read my first year of blog posts to see what I mean. I recommend you keep a plastic bag near your computer for you to vomit in.)

Even worse, I was told by everybody around me, “Nobody pays for content!” and “Those who can’t do, teach.” Those same people are still shouting their delusional theories on Twitter and Facebook, while you’re here, reading and changing your lives along with more than 250,000 other people on this email list. Easy to wait for a perfect day…but way more rewarding to take action.

Here are 3 myths I had to overcome to start a successful online business:

MYTH #1: I have too many interests (and no skills anybody would pay me for)

When I first started out, I had way too many interests. Psychology! Writing a book! Marketing! Spicy salsa! OMG how can I turn all of those into a business?? Should I create a website on the psychology of spicy-salsa eating and how it relates to improving your business marketing?? OMG IS THAT IT?? AM I A GENIUS??

No, you are horrible. But that’s NORMAL when you’re starting out. Do you realize that identifying profitable business ideas is a skill? It’s not something you just dream about, then one day it falls from the sky. You learn the frameworks and psychology of deciding which ideas will work…and which ideas are not worth your time.

(As an example, this still happens, even now: Just recently, I spent 4 months working on a business idea with my team, spending a huge amount of time and money, until we ultimately concluded it wasn’t worth it. We shelved it away and I wrote an email to the team, telling them, “We can’t figure out how to make this work. We’ll re-look at it in 2 years.”)

You don’t have to spend all that time and money — but you will learn how to identify which ideas are worth pursuing.

I want to show you some examples of business ideas that seemed crazy…but actually work. Here are just 3 examples of successful online businesses

  • Paperclipping ( Tell stories with scrapbooking. Revenue through courses.
  • Kinowear ( Style advice for men. Revenue through ebooks & coaching.
  • The Mogul Mom ( Business advice for moms running businesses. Revenue through courses and advertising.

PLEASE NOTICE: If you’re shaking your head, chewing a piece of straw, saying, “Ramit, that might work for your fancy paperclipping folks, but I ain’t no Mogul Mom,” then close this window, delete my email, and quietly put your head down and reconsider how you manage to possess the basic wherewithal to breathe oxygen.

Those are examples of how you can take your interests and turn them into an online business. And there are literally tens of thousands of other examples.

The takeaway: Do not be a special snowflake and think you have no skills or interests people would pay for. There is a framework, which I teach, that can show you how to “mine” your skills and test them to see if the market will pay.

MYTH #2: There are too many people already doing this

I got this email a few hours ago:

To be straight to the point knowing you have thousands of e-mail responses to read; Not all of us, not even me has an idea that is unique to the market. So I’m interested in 3D animation, there are 1000’s of animation websites around. I’m just starting out in this field, which means I’ve still got a lot to learn. How do I go about this to earn some (not a ton) income when people would just flock to the best sites?
–Admund T.

My response:

How many other sites are there on personal finance? Careers? Entrepreneurship? Why do you read mine?

Oh really? Too many people already doing what you want to do? You mean like personal finance…careers…entrepreneurship…and psychology? Some of the most competitive areas in the world?

You do not have to be the FIRST. You DO have to be different and connect with a group of people that aren’t being served.

MYTH #3: I don’t have any (time/credentials)

If you don’t have time, then don’t do it. What do you want me to say? You want me to fly to your house, examine your non-existent time calendar, and point out that you waste too much time watching TV? Get the hell out of here. If you can’t find 5 hours a week to work on creating a business that lets you share your passion with the world, and generates income for years and years to come…then maybe it’s not important enough to you. That’s fine. Acknowledge it and move on.

The credentials one is more interesting. I know a ton of people who write to me and tell me they would start something…but they don’t have the credentials.

In fact, the guy above, Admund, responded to me, saying:

I’ll admit I did not research the number, just used heuristics to inform myself that there ought to be 1000’s of websites delivering same content.
I stumbled upon you, with that boisterous website name, and am a free subscriber. I feel your honesty and candidness drew me in a way. And I checked whether your a fraud but you’ve appeared on tv, Google talks, had a book so you’re legit. There’s a lot of scam gurus around.
So you’ve got the credentials, whereas, I’m still like an infant in my area.

First of all, I’m not a Certified Financial Planner. I’m not a “career counselor,” yet thousands of people use my dream job material every month.

Yes, NOW I’ve been featured in Fortune/Forbes/I wrote a NYT bestselling book. But I had 100,000 readers before I ever did any of that stuff.

Again, I return to the idea of studying people who were in your situation, and now achieved what you want to do.

Why? What are you waiting for?  You want to wait until you get some credential? Then what?

Typically when you ask people who want a credential, “Cool, once you get it, how are you going to turn it into an online business?” they look at you as if you shined a 1,000-megawatt lightbulb in their eyes, along with hydrochloric acid. HUH? WHAT DO YOU MEAN? DON’T YOU JUST START GETTING FREE TRAFFIC THE DAY YOU GET YOUR DIPLOMA?


For some people, it makes sense to get a credential: doctors, lawyers, even investment bankers.

But if you have something you’re passionate about, and you want to tap into the millions of people who want to learn (and are willing to pay), do not let the idea of needing a credential get in the way. At the very least, test it!

We live in a time when, instead of waiting 30 years to be snatched up from obscurity and featured on some TV show, we can go direct to the people who want our help. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY. And you’re sitting here waiting for some mysterious credential?

You can wait for another 20 years and pray you get some credential. Or you can try another approach. You might find that — just like I discovered — you don’t need more credentials. And you can actually help more people without a credential.

A behind-the-scenes look at starting an online business

Today, I want to show you 2 short samples from the Zero to Launch course.

After you watch the videos, you’ll have a clear roadmap of how to go from earning nothing online, to a few hundred bucks, to thousands, and even 6 figures. Here’s an example from one of my Zero to Launch students after just two weeks in the course:

“I just made my first sale based on the ZTL material! No website, no marketing material, nothing. I was telling to a former roommate [my idea] … He told me that it was a great idea. I asked him if he would be interested to join a test group for my course material….for 50 euro a month… He agreed to these terms and I now have my first client!”
–Chris O., Week 2
roadmapWatch to see a roadmap of how to build an online business that generates $500, $5,000, even $250,000/year.
This is just a short sample from the 36+ hours of video in Zero to Launch.

By the way, my favorite video is halfway into the second one, where I rewrite my student’s copy right there on the spot, live.

I’m sending you a LOT of material in this post, including an FAQ, because I want you to have all the information you need to make an informed decision about Zero to Launch without feeling pressured or rushed.

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