KYLE ESCHENROEDER : co-founder of StartupBros

Kyle is the author of Self-Made U: How To Thrive When Degrees Don’t Matter. He’s the co-founder of StartupBros, a community for entrepreneurs looking to learn from like-minded people. I went to their Import Empire Summit in October and was thoroughly impressed. This interview is full of great insights. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy!

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I tend to go 6 months on-routine, then 3 months off-routine (or however long it takes for me to realize my life is better with routines). Some of the off-routine stuff is good to shake things up, but generally the good stuff happens when I follow something like this:

1. Wake up early (6:00AM or so)
2. Write stream of consciousness
3. Exercise (been doing body-weight on the local jungle gym)
4. Meditate
5. Eat at noon (8 hr feeding window)

That’s the good stuff. It doesn’t happen often, but when I do that for a week straight things are pretty sweet.

02. You seem like a cool guy, but you got your start trading commodities, seemingly the most uncool thing ever. What made you fall into that scene instead of something like music?

I took the Johnson O’Connor aptitude test one time. I scored really high on everything except music. Literally everything that’s useful in music is missing in me: tonal memory, rhythm, hearing the differences between sounds, all that stuff… I’m completely useless.

As for cool… I think every one of my ex-girlfriends would disagree with you, but thanks.

To me, trading commodities (or otherwise) is cool. One of the coolest things actually. It means having a view on the world and taking action on it. Putting your skin in the game against mega corporations. That’s badass man!

When done seriously anyway. These people who try to trade Forex or something based on following some service they pay $99 a month for without knowing anything themselves… that’s not cool, that’s upsetting.

Anyways, I always think the coolest people are the ones that are irrationally interested in something. Life can feel pointless sometimes and these people are the modern heroes that prove to us that it’s up to us to be interested in the thing.

Of course, this might all be a kind of consolation cool because James Bond is so out of reach.

03. I know that you backpacked through Europe and traveled a bit. Part of start-up culture these days seems to focus on the idea of location independence. Do you think you’ll ever move abroad for a few months to work remotely?

Probably not. Maybe. I don’t know. Right now I’m more interested in roots and community than novelty. I’ve traveled a bunch, and I’ve seen a bunch of cultures. I like the United States a lot. If there was a compelling reason to do it I might.

(Side note: I think the fetishization of travel is harmful and poisons the actual value in traveling.)

04. Can you just tell me a little about your company StartupBros? What was the initial focus and has that changed at all over time?

StartupBros was a blog that my buddy Will and I started three years ago. We had started and screwed up a bunch of businesses and wanted to share what we had learned. We worked on it with no pay for a couple of years and it ended up getting popular.

The most popular post by far was one where Will laid out how he started an importing company when he was about 14 years old. We were getting hundreds of emails a week asking details about how to import, sell on Amazon, etc.

People kept asking to give us money. So we finally let them. We launched our first Import Empire Jumpstart Group (the name of the training program derived from the blog post) just to our e-mail list and took in $100,000 or so. After that we focused on building, delivering, and marketing that program.

05. I attended your Import Empire Summit last October and I really loved it. What made you guys want to tackle doing something like that? Will you do another?

We launched the Import Empire program because we had a bunch of people yelling at us to do it. The Import Empire Summit is the same story. A bunch of people just kept yelling at us that they wanted in-person events. They wanted to connect offline. So we said we’d do it.

I’ve always been a naysayer of events like that and kind of looked down my nose at conferences, but holy shit man. You saw the result. Anybody that was there and participated got a crazy ROI on their money.

The rate at which information can be exchanged when people are in the same room (and maybe after a shot of tequila) is much faster than the internet. There were many multi-million dollar conversations. That’s not an exaggeration. We attracted the best in the industry. Not just the speakers, but the attendees. It blew my mind.

Then there were the relationships. It was surreal to meet so many people that I had worked with to build their businesses over the last couple of years. There were a lot of tears. I’m being serious. Grown adults crying tears of joy about how their lives changed because of the businesses they built and the relationships they formed.

That’s a long way of saying we do whatever paying customers tell us to do and we’ll definitely do another Summit.

06. The Import Empire Summit was, for me, all about hearing success stories and getting inspired. Who have been the most inspirational people to you in your life?

It totally depends on the phase of life and mood I’m in. This is really hard. It’s really whoever I need at the moment. Here is a short list of people who have been the most inspirational to me at some point in time.

Bob Dylan, Nietzsche, Nassim Taleb, Josh Greenberg, My sister, My other sister, My parents, My grandpa, Seneca, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Ryan Holiday, James Altucher, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Charlie Munger, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, Peter Thiel, Paul Graham, Venkatesh Rao, Kevin Smith, Alan Watts, Richard Linklater, Dr. Seuss, Krishnamurti, and Einstein (via Walter Isaacson)

07. You guys talk a lot about importing, branding and selling on Amazon. What simple advice would you give to someone trying to get a new idea/business like that started?

Set your risk and then stop pussyfooting. Stop thinking you need to know everything to start. One of my biggest goals with people starting these businesses is getting them to actually do something. So many people are in the habit of researching and buying training programs and then doing nothing. It amazes me.

That’s an annoyingly vague one. So let me give an annoyingly self-serving one. Then I’ll give an annoyingly simple one.

The single best place to get the basic information on starting an importing/e-commerce business is this free training program Will put together: Import Relay. In a couple hours you’ll have a great understanding of how to get going with this (and what “this” even means).

The annoyingly simple answer:

1. Find a product that seems to be selling well on Amazon and is pretty cheap.
2. Find it on Alibaba.
3. Buy a sample order of 5-10. (Use PayPal to protect yourself.)
4. Sell those samples on eBay.

Doing this will give you a fundamental understanding of how these businesses work. You’ll know in your bones that you’re capable of doing this business in a bigger way. And it’ll cost you $100 or less.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

Yes. There’s going to be a major transformation to our training program coming soon. Also, there are new-new things that I can’t yap about just yet.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

1. Who Owns the Future? is giving me an interesting new framework to look at our digital economy, especially in regards to valuing information.
2. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies is helping me appreciate the power of the software that we are creating now and will be able to soon create.
3. Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy: Markets, Speculation and the State is making me appreciate capital allocation (and showing me the positive side of bubbles).
4. On Desire: Why We Want What We Want is giving me perspective on my desires.
5. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind made me realize the power of the question What do I/we want to want? and now On Desire is helping me dig in deeper.

Movie: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History – It’s about Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. Ken Burns directed it. It’s on Netflix. Go start watching it!

Podcast: Shane Parish’s The Knowledge Project is phenomenal. There’s only a few episodes out there but they’re some of the highest quality interviews I’ve heard on thinking and investing.

Blog post: Venkatesh Rao wrote The Calculus of Grit in 2011 and I just read it last week. Very relevant.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

Sometimes I play basketball with Will and some of our buddies. Usually I read or watch a movie and then go to bed. Yes, I know it’s bad to watch movies while falling asleep. Don’t judge me.

You can find Mr. Eschenroeder on the web:

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