Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Zack Arnold, I’m an award-winning Hollywood film & television editor and documentary director (shows such as Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Glee, Shooter, and more).
I’m also an avid Spartan Racer, an American Ninja Warrior (in training), and the founder of the Optimize Yourself program where I help creative professionals and entrepreneurs more effectively manage their time, energy, and attention so they can achieve their most meaningful goals...without burning out and sacrificing their health (and sanity) in the process.
If you’ve ever read such transformational books in the productivity and self-development spaces such as Atomic Habits, The Four Tendencies, Find Your Why, Getting Things Done, The One Thing, Essentialism, or Deep Work and wondered, “What if there were one simple program I could follow step-by-step to help me build a bulletproof productivity system based on all these amazing (but separate) concepts?” then allow me to introduce you to my brand new flagship product ‘Focus Yourself,’ an 8-week online course that teaches creatives and knowledge workers how to improve their ‘cognitive fitness’ and build the regular habit of doing ‘Deep Work’ so they can summon creativity on demand, work smarter instead of harder, and have time left over every day to put their kids to bed at night.
I currently generate around $10,000/month via my ‘Optimizer’ online coaching & mentorship program which I still balance with a full-time job editing television (currently Cobra Kai), and I generate additional income with multiple products launches every year. So far I have generated over $160,000 in revenue with a list of under 5000 ...and no paid advertising.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My journey began just short of 15 years ago sitting in a dark room after midnight with my head in my hands thinking about whether or not I’d rather be alive or dead. I was thinking to myself “I can’t live like this anymore” after having spent the last several months working 7 days per week (with no days off at all) and 16+ hours a day editing an independent feature film. I was severely depressed, anxious, I couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t understand how at just 25 years old I could feel like I was 100.
After finishing that project I decided that no career goal is worth it if I ended up wanting to be dead, so I began my journey down the rabbit hole of better health. My theory was that I could blend my knowledge of high-performance athletics (I was formerly very active in martial arts and yoga) with intense, stressful creative work and make what was at the time a very sedentary lifestyle into something much more active.
In short, I was tired of treating myself like a Ford Pinto. So I decided to treat myself like a Ferrari.
The only way to build a lasting business was to provide value to people by solving the most pressing challenges in their lives for them.
This led to years of research and personal experimentation with my physical, mental, and emotional health. As I began to transform my work environment to be much more active (btw this goes WAY beyond just getting a standing desk), as I learned everything I could about productivity and the neuroscience of ‘creative flow,’ and as my career began to advance rapidly despite working the least amount of hours compared to my colleagues, people in my industry began to repeatedly ask, “What are you doing differently than the rest of us?”
Thus my original ‘Fitness In Post’ program and podcast were born. At first, it was simply a group of friends & colleagues hiking together on weekends and competing for Fitbit steps. I used the podcast to broadcast our progress and share our stories and discoveries along the way to my dozen-or-so listeners. Despite having no clue what I was doing, within a few months the podcast went viral in my industry of Hollywood film editors, and I realized I was onto something. I had struck a deep emotional chord and people were reaching out to me with their life stories wondering if I had the answers. And I didn’t...but I knew I could find them.
The next most important question became...could I monetize my passion?
At this point, I knew it was time to learn how to be an online entrepreneur if I really wanted my work to have a positive impact on people in my industry (and support me on top of it). I dove into the world of online selling and education, and I stumbled upon Ramit Sethi and his Zero to Launch program. While it may seem like a ridiculous simplification, it really isn’t: From there, the rest is history. His programs have essentially taught me everything I know about how to be a more effective online business owner, salesman, copywriter, coach, and overall better human being.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My first MVP was the online course ‘Move Yourself.’ It’s a 4-week program that teaches anyone who works in a primarily sedentary workspace how to sit less and focus more by creating a more dynamic work environment that generates energy and promotes deeper (and more sustained) levels of creativity.
The ‘Move Yourself’ program demonstrates how to set up a height-adjustable workstation correctly, how to choose the right desk chair and other tools - like your mouse or keyboard, for example - to be more ergonomic (although your best ergonomic position is always your next one...hint...you have to keep moving), and surround yourself with simple but effective tools to become stronger, more flexible, and more active...without ever needing extra time to “hit the gym.” It also includes the ‘Move Yourself Activity Video Vault,’ a bonus library of over 90 short videos guided by licensed chiropractors and yoga instructors with simple stretches to alleviate chronic aches and pains that come from sitting all day.
Building ‘Move Yourself’ from idea to execution took over a year, and I launched to my list as much as possible during the development process to ensure I wasn't wasting my time building and perfecting a product nobody would buy.
My first step was building and launching my MVP (minimum viable product) which was nothing more than a few introductory videos and a table of contents with the promise of content to come. I invested as minimally as possible: All of my videos were shot in my exercise room against a white backdrop with a cheap DSLR camera, and I begged friends and colleagues to help me edit all the content for free in exchange for access to the finished program (I have a lot of good friends with lower back problems!). I essentially launched an idea when I began with no content to back it up. But because I had done extensive customer research to clearly understand the #1 challenge my audience was struggling with, I knew where to “twist the knife” and how to properly “Paint the dream” as they say in the marketing world.
My initial pre-launch of my MVP (minimum viable product) went out to an email list of roughly 600 people which consisted of friends, colleagues, and a list of podcast listeners who became subscribers via bonus documents I included with many of my podcast episodes to deepen their learning journey. I launched my MVP for $97 each...and have used my knowledge of copyrighting and launch strategy from ZTL I converted just under 25% of my list in that first beta launch (that’s not a typo ...25% of my list joined the beta version and netted roughly $3k in sales). After successfully earning real money from nothing more than an idea, I worked with those first beta members to build the full program together, and over several subsequent launches (and price increases) my ‘Move Yourself’ program to-date has generated just over $38,000 in sales.
My first test launches were so successful from a statistical standpoint (I’ve seen several jaws drop when I’ve shared my conversion rates) that my “digital business mentor” Ramit Sethi flew me out all-expenses-paid to New York City to share my story as part of one of his ‘Zero to Launch’ webinars and product launches.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Initially, I never intended to “launch a business,” I just started a podcast and blog to share my tips & insights with fellow friends and colleagues.
The only thing more embarrassing than sharing all of my ‘fat pictures’ is sharing my very first home page.
I began with a site I built with Wix but quickly realized that it didn’t provide me the room to host lots of podcast episodes and build a blog (Wix was much different 6 years ago). Shortly after launching my first Wix site, within a few months, I rebuilt everything from scratch using Wordpress (with exactly ZERO knowledge of Wordpress, building sites, or hosting them).
I had no advertising or list-building strategy, no clue what a Facebook Ad was, and I could barely publish a .mp3 file as a podcast for the first 2-3 months in business. It was a 100% trial by fire.
Because this was a hobby at the time my initial costs were very low - just a few hundred dollars a month. And my entire end-game for revenue generation was making enough in affiliate sales commissions through various product links to break even and finance the little bit I was spending to host the website (my how things have changed).
Two years ago I rebranded my website from ‘Fitness In Post’ to the current Optimize Yourself, and I did a much more official “launch” this time. I was smart enough to actually prepare much of my content in advance, strategize the timing of the release of that content with my rebranding, and get several other sites on board with sharing my launch on their sites. Needless to say, coordinating my efforts and re-launching was much more successful than the crickets I generated with my first “friends & family” launch. I’ve since grown my list from a few hundred to just under 5000, and I’ve generated over 365,000 podcast downloads.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Without question, the number one revenue generator in my business is my Optimize Yourself podcast. Ironically it actually costs me money to produce the podcast itself (I essentially almost break even with sponsorship), but the goodwill I generate by sharing so much information for free makes it practically effortless to sell my paid products. As I learned from Ramit, I have no problem with giving away 98% of my content for free. The final 2% is for those who are willing to invest in themselves at the next level.
The core philosophy of my podcast is sharing authentic stories that no one else in my industry is willing to talk about as well as chatting with the world’s foremost experts in various topics and then breaking down difficult concepts into simple action steps so my listeners can take action TODAY. That vulnerability and authenticity translate to my audience immediately trusting me and wanting to work with me because they identify with my struggles and challenges trying to balance an intense creative job in the most competitive industry in the world with being a family man. This authenticity is also the foundation of my email newsletter where I share even more honest about my own journey (the good and the bad...but definitely more of the bad).
I have dabbled with Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, Instagram stories, scheduling organic social media ad nauseum, improving SEO, guest posts, affiliate launches...yada yada yada. But I’ve learned to focus on one single channel that drives the vast majority of audience growth and revenue generation - my podcast.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As a solopreneur I have no employee expenses (with the exception of some independent contractor work), therefore it takes very little sales to break even and cover my minimum monthly website overhead. However, during my first four years, I lost money as I invested heavily in building the technical infrastructure for my website, online membership courses, and coaching program. Last year I generated just over $50k in sales working part-time and was profitable for the first time, and this year I will more than double this surpassing $100k (still working part-time). My intention is to double sales once again in 2020 and cross the $200k mark.
The challenge I’ve battled since selling my first product is ultimately matching my income as an A-list Hollywood film editor so I can do this work full time. The largest factor impeding my own growth is me. Because I have not been able to match my current income as an editor yet, I’m unable to commit to my site and program and leave my ‘day job.’ But with the explosive (organic) growth of my coaching program, I foresee doing this work full-time by mid-2020.
Now that I’m finished building my ‘Focus Yourself’ program, the next big step forward for my business is building my ‘Advance Yourself’ program which goes in-depth into the strategies, psychology, and mindsets necessary to climb the career ladder, perfect your creative craft, and becoming a networking ninja so you can design a fulfilling creative career.
Within the next 18 months, I plan to generate $250k per year or more.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest mistake I made when I started my business was standing on a soapbox and telling my listeners and readers what I thought they needed to hear. It took a while before I understood the only way to build a lasting business was to provide value to people by solving the most pressing challenges in their lives for them.
I also spent more time & money than I care to think about chasing every single shiny object under the sun to capture leads, do paid advertising, upgrade my website, automate processes (that I didn’t need in the first place) and be on every social media platform at once.
The biggest lesson I learned through my first several years of trial and error was the importance of picking one or two key areas of the business that generate the most traffic, goodwill, and ultimately sales, and focus exclusively on those channels while mercilessly trimming the fat everywhere else.
Because of that I now only focus on my podcast, occasional guest blogging, and being a guest on other podcasts. I have completely dropped social media, paid advertising, affiliate marketing, and all the other channels that were not generating enough leads or revenue to justify the cost and time spent. And this decision has yielded more revenue than ever before...and it’s taken much less time out of my life.
From a lifestyle perspective, the biggest lesson I learned is that in order to survive the torture of launching a business, you have to be willing to set realistic expectations for yourself and your team. Ironically I found myself burned out more than once while building a business that taught other creative professionals how to avoid burnout. And it all came down to setting myself up for failure instead of success with unrealistic grandiose visions of what my launches “should be” instead of understanding the numbers and trusting the process.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My public website/blog/podcast is hosted with Wordpress (running about 50 different random plug-ins to keep it patched together with digital duct tape).
My podcast files and show notes are hosted via Libsyn.
My online courses and coaching program are hosted with Kajabi which is by far my #1 recommendation for anyone serious about selling digital education products.
I manage my email list with Drip. I started with MailChimp but found it incredibly cumbersome once I began to segment my list. I absolutely love Drip and will most likely stick with them forever. Their visual workflow builders are astounding and a game-changer for solopreneurs like me who know very little about coding or using complex programs like Infusionsoft.
And my #1 tool for project management, life management, and making sure I get everything done (as opposed to aimlessly walking the streets looking for my pants) is Trello. I love it so much I’ve taught three courses on how to use it properly for LinkedIn Learning.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have done so many podcasts with authors and entrepreneurs whos’ work has inspired the journey that I’ve lost count. But some of my favorite books and interviews include James Clear (Atomic Habits), David Allen (Getting Things Done), Cal Newport (Deep Work), Jay Papasan (The One Thing), Greg McKeown (Essentialism), David Mead (Find Your Why), Akbar Gbajabiamila (Everyone Can Be a Ninja), and Joe de Sena, founder of the Spartan Race (Spartan Up).
Additional favorite books include The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, The Big Pictureby P90X creator Tony Horton (my fitness and American Ninja Warrior mentor), I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, The Power of Habitby Charles Duhigg, How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Bigby Scott Adams, and Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.
The most influential podcasts that helped kickstart my journey towards better health & online entrepreneurship (and steered me towards the right experts and tools) are Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income, The Tim Ferriss Show, Ben Greenfield Fitness, Entrepreneur On Fire and The Eventual Millionaire.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Listen to your audience. It’s that simple.
Don’t presume to know what your readers, listeners, or followers need.
Ask them what they want.
Understand the most pressing challenges they can’t solve in their lives. And then solve their problems for them.
At first, do it for free. Then when you get good enough, charge them.
Stop talking. Start listening.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, I’m currently in the process of looking for a part-time executive assistant. The number of hours per week would be variable depending on the work required (most likely 10-15 hrs/wk to start). The primary responsibility would be managing my schedule and coordinating podcast interviews, both for my show as well as my appearances on other shows. This would be an hourly job to start.
As my business grows I hope to hire a full-time executive assistant.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Download my Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (and Avoiding Burnout)
- Optimize Yourself (contact me directly here)
- Reach out to me via Facebook
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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