This interview was originally posted on vahearabian.com (now decommissioned) in 2016 and has been reposted to provide inspiration and value to others for their media startup journey.
Everyone fails. From Thomas Edison to Bill Gates, there has never been a successful entrepreneur who has climbed to the top of their field without experiencing some kind of setback.
One of the biggest differences, however, between those who succeed and those who let setbacks defeat them, is how they handle failures.
It’s all about frame of mind. Turning negatives into positives is one of the most important (yet challenging) mindsets that an entrepreneur can develop. Some people have a gift for it, but for those who don’t, fortunately, it’s a skill that can be learned.
To get insight into this concept, we interviewed renowned entrepreneurship coach Andrew Warner. Here is some of the great advice he shared with us:
Vahe Arabian: Welcome, Andrew. Why don’t you introduce yourself to everyone and just talk about your background and how you’ve come to Mixergy today?
Andrew Warner: Sure. I run a site where entrepreneurs teach other entrepreneurs because I think the only people who can really teach entrepreneurship are people who built successful companies. I’d even say not just successful companies, but insanely successful companies. There are too many people who just don’t know what they’re doing, but they know how to speak well.
They sound like great gurus, but they really don’t know jack. They’re the ones who are teaching. They’re the ones who are charging tons of cash, and too many entrepreneurs are getting sucked in by them.
If you’re going to learn entrepreneurship, you’ve got to learn from the best, like the founders of Airbnb, the founders of Wikipedia. The founders of companies that have really been huge. That’s what Mixergy is about. I bring them on, they teach. That’s the process.
Vahe Arabian: You’ve talked before about how in your early dealings with entrepreneur advice coaches, they often hold back their failures. Can you expand on that?
Andrew Warner: Yes. They would talk about things like spamming to get new customers. They would talk about techniques that they had for getting new developers that were a little bit out there, like masquerading as other developers to talk to developers and then hiring their friends. Stuff like that.
Here’s the one thing they’d never talk about: they’d never talk about the times when they felt they couldn’t do it. When they felt like failures when they felt like they weren’t meant to start a business when they felt like impostors. They wouldn’t talk about that publicly.
I had an entrepreneur email me privately just the other day. Incredibly successful guy, had been on Mixergy, was crying days before he was on Mixergy.
When he was in a Mixergy interview, he didn’t talk about that. He didn’t talk about how he was going through his own private hell. He talked like a guy who built a successful company, who was invincible because that’s the way we’re supposed to project ourselves.
The little bit of vulnerability is not talked about, and because he didn’t talk about it, we never got to see how he deals with it. Right? That’s the one topic that we as entrepreneurs only talk about privately, never talk about publicly – and I got pissed at that.
I said, “We have to deal with that because that’s the big thing holding everyone back.” We’re at a point now where if you need ideas for how to market, they’re out there. You have to have the energy to go study them, but those ideas are out there. If you need ideas for how to build a site, how to code, all of those techniques are out there. People are going to teach you.
If you’re willing to put in the effort – and frankly, most people aren’t – but if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can learn all of it.
The one thing that’s going to hold us back now is not lack of knowledge, lack of information, it’s finally now getting to actually use that stuff. Getting to use it means dealing with what one of my past interviewees calls the monster in our head. That thing in our head that says, “You’re an impostor. You can’t really run this company. You’re not ready to promote what you have yet because it’s not good enough.” That little monster in our head is what we have to deal with.
Interviewees would not talk to me about it publicly, so I started talking to people in the audience. I said, “I have an audience of really smart people. I’ll pull them together in private and we’re going to work through this. We’ll get really open about the monsters in our head. We’re going to get really open about our own hidden – what I call the Counter Mind – because it counters everything we want to do. We’re going to blast right through it.”
Then we’re going to discover the other part of our head. The part that tells us and reminds us what we really want to do, that helps us stay focused on what we’re trying to achieve. That’s what becomes the True Mind.
Vahe Arabian: How did that process play out? Can you give us an example?
Andrew Warner: Here’s an example. I said, “I think if we actually get clear on what our Counter Minds say to us, then it reduces its power over us because we’re aware of it.” People wrote a list of what their Counter Minds said.
I think there was one person who said that what he wanted to do was grow his company. Every time that he thought about growing his company, he said, “Someone’s going to raise more money than me and be on TechCrunch with this new launch of a company that’s now further ahead than mine and has more money than mine. That’s what holds me back from putting everything I have into my company.”
In really getting honest with himself, he said, “That’s one of the things that’s holding me back.” My theory was that just by being clear that that’s what was in his head, it would dissipate the power of that. It would reduce the power of that over him, and it helped.
It did reduce it, but it wasn’t enough. He’s one of the people who emailed back and said, “Hey, you know what? It’s helping. It’s not enough. Now, what do we do with it?” Then we created a process for how to deal with that.
Then once we dealt with that Counter Mind, several people said, “All right, that’s not enough still. Now that I don’t have this monster, how do I find a monster that’s even bigger and more helpful to actually be in my head and get me to where I want to go?” Then we worked on that, and that became their True Mind.
Vahe Arabian: And what is the best way for people to find their True Mind?
Andrew Warner: We’re constantly being bombarded with what problems we have. If I just sit here, I’m going to get emails from people who tell me that there are issues with my site, there are features that are missing from my site. People are going to criticize the last conversation that I posted in my last interview, right? All that stuff is just going to keep coming at me.
My competitors are going to be buying ads towards my fans on Facebook, right? They buy Facebook ads that are aimed towards people who said that they like Andrew or like Mixergy, my company.
All that stuff is going to keep coming at me. I have to just live life and that Counter Mind stuff is going to come in with all the problems. What I need to do if I want the True Mind thoughts to come at me is to actually work at it, which is why most people don’t do it.
I have to sit down and say, “What do I really want for my business? Let’s actually make a frickin’ list. What’s actually working for me in my business? What are some of the assets that are really good for me? Who are some of the people around I’m getting to work with who are really good resources and partners to work with? What do I want for my life? Where do I want to go?”
You have to just make a freaking list. Those are the True Mind thoughts. Those are the things that are true, useful, and wanted. Wanted in our heads. They’re true to our lives. We want to focus on them. We want to obsess on them.
The way most people obsess on all the issues, all the problems, all the reasons why someone else is going to beat them, then we pick one and that becomes our mantra. That becomes the thing that we repeat every day.
Let’s make this even more specific. When I started Mixergy, I wanted it to be a membership site. Every time I wanted it to be a membership site, though, I also had this creeping thought in my head that nobody wants to sign up for a membership site. Nobody wants to pay to get access to a site. All those thoughts were going through my head and that’s what kept me from launching.
It wasn’t until I got clear and said, “This is what’s in your head,” that it lost its power over me. Anyone listening to us right now has got that going on in their head. If they picked one area that they really want to do well in, if they sat for a second and were quiet about it, they’d realize they have Counter Mind thoughts like that, too.
Once I removed those, I said, “What do I want? What’s true? What’s useful? What’s wanted?” One of the things I realized is I always start with garbage, something that doesn’t really work, and I’m the kind of person who can keep building it over time. That’s a True Mind thought. That is so true to me.
Everything that I do I suck at. From dating, which I sucked at, to business, which I sucked at. My first few companies just went to pot, really. Actually, they didn’t do anything, but I kept getting better and better until we did over $30 million in sales.
That’s true and it’s useful and it’s wanted. It’s the thought that I really want in my head because I remember that I start with garbage and then I obsess until I improve it. The other thing I realized was that I don’t need millions of people for this membership site to work. I just needed 200.
That’s a thought that I needed to spend some time thinking on. I could get 200 members to sign up. I could probably get 200 members to come to my office, 200 people to just come to my office, 200 people to do anything. Right? It’s only 200 in a world with millions of people, billions of people online.
Vahe Arabian: This has been very useful. To wrap up, what would be the day-to-day advice that you’d give to other professionals?
Andrew Warner: Yeah, absolutely. I’d suggest that people start thinking about what it is …What area of their lives they really want to do well in, in the next, let’s say, week to a month.
Then, be clear about what some of their Counter Mind thoughts are. What’s going on in their heads? Does it feel like I can’t really get it done in a month? Does it feel like, well, it’s not useful? What are they thinking? What’s going on in their heads?
Write down those Counter Mind thoughts and then write down and force yourself to list out your True Mind thoughts. What is really true? Since the Counter Mind thoughts go through our head a lot, the True Mind thoughts don’t get enough space. We have to actually find them and spend time thinking about them.
This guy, Robbie, his Counter Mind might’ve said, “You can’t be an entrepreneur. You’re just not that kind of person. You don’t come from that family.” I don’t know what his Counter Mind thoughts were, but they could’ve been that.
If he obsessed on those things, he wouldn’t have been an entrepreneur today with a company that’s growing and growing and growing. Instead, he said, “I’m a guy who could learn.” Instead, he said, “I can figure stuff out.” He just obsessed with the things that were true and useful in his head. That’s what helped him get where he is.
Vahe Arabian: Well Andrew, we greatly appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
Andrew Warner: You bet.
What do you think of Andrew Warner’s advice? Do you have any other tips for turning negative thoughts into positive ones? Let us know in the comments below:
Also published on Medium.