John Lee Dumas has been hosting his award-winning podcast Entrepreneurs on Fire since its launch in 2012. He’s interviewed over 2,600 entrepreneurs, informing what he now calls “uncommon success”. Join Adam Markel as he and John Lee Dumas discuss the key concepts of this uncommon success. His book, The Common Path to Uncommon Success, is a practical guide to hitting your business goals by adopting a singular and effective roadmap. John Lee also provides insights on differentiating your podcast to rise above the thousands of other shows out there, including valuable tips on conducting an effective, engaging interview.
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Treading The Common Path Towards Uncommon Success With John Lee Dumas
I’m feeling incredibly grateful to be here with you all. I feel more than anything else that gratitude, especially in the world that we’re living in nowadays where every day is another adventure. It’s up. It’s down and everything in between. For me personally, gratitude is the one thing that grounds me instantaneously. Even now, where I’ve had some spotty news about something. Something that was a little upsetting even. I’m feeling grateful at this moment. It’s the vaccine I need. I also feel great about the fact that I’ve got an old buddy on the show. We’re going to have a quick conversation, but it’s going to be epic as it always is with this gentleman. John Lee Dumas is the Founder and Host of Entrepreneurs On Fire, an award-winning podcast where he interviews inspiring entrepreneurs to help readers along their entrepreneurial journey.
He interviewed over 2,600 incredible entrepreneurs, including Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Barbara Corcoran, Tim Ferriss and many more. After serving as an active duty army officer for four years, he tried law school. He dropped out after his first semester. I remember my first semester. I can understand how that could happen. He was also in corporate finance and commercial real estate and pivoted, let’s say. He has reinvented himself many times since then. First of all, great to have you on the show. I’m happy to have you as a guest.
Adam, I love your energy, I love your vibe. Every time we get to spend a little bit of time together, I feel a little more grateful about life.
Tell me, what’s one thing that you are feeling grateful for in your life?
My ten-month-old golden doodle, Gus. He’s the best.
They’re not pets. They’re members of the family. I was reading in your bio that you’ve had 2,600 interviews already. We lost Larry King. This is a guy who had an epic career, having interviewed many people. Were you a Larry King fan, follower or what can you say about that longevity as it relates to even your own longevity in this business so far?
He was a legend. He was a master until the end. He never wanted to stop interviewing. That shows you that he found his big idea and found his zone of fire. He spent the vast majority of his life doing it. He put out meaningful content in such a great way. It’s impressive to see his life’s work.
He had an uncanny knack for developing rapport with people quickly. As an interviewer, myself, as somebody who’s been interviewed many times, I’m watching the art and even the science of a great interview. How often it is about getting to the heart of something with not many words. Would you agree with that? Has that been your experience?
I would say a lot of people take a lot of words to say little. The more concise, the more you can cut to the heart of the matter, the better it is. He didn’t have to waste a ton of time building rapport. He had a way of doing it quickly, meaningfully and then getting to the real questions that his listeners wanted to hear. That’s the key. A lot of people that interview only ask questions that they want to hear, or they have what I call the curse of knowledge where they know the answer and they skip to the next thing. A lot of times, the listeners are left holding the bag of like, “What about that gap, that loop that wasn’t closed?” One of the best emails that I ever get on a consistent basis is when my listeners email me and say, “John, you literally ask the questions that I have on the tip of my tongue.” I’m like, “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
You build rapport. You’ve said that in not many words. What’s the way that you do it? Is there a hack that you have? Your format is something like 18 to 20 minutes on average, is that about right?You can make money anywhere in the world, but it's almost impossible to become truly wealthy. Click To Tweet
That was back in the day when I was doing a seven-day-a-week show. Now I do what I call audio masterclasses, where for the past 1,000 episodes, they’ve been much more deep dives, typically 30 to 35 minutes, sometimes as long as an hour.
What’s your secret to getting to the heart of the matter quickly?
For me, I listen. I’m a listener. I don’t try to dominate the conversation. I don’t try to overwhelm the conversation. I’m being honest now. The biggest flaw of most interview hosts, especially in the podcast game, is they tell the same stories over and over again. They don’t recognize and realize the fact that their listeners, number one, are listeners. They’re subscribers. This isn’t the first time they’ve tuned in, for the most part. They’ve heard 5, 10 episodes. In some cases, with my show, people have heard thousands of episodes.
If I told the same seven stories that I have in my life, they would be bored when I start telling those stories. There are high-profile podcasters who do that often. I find myself looking at the screen and saying, “Why are you taking up this airtime and this bandwidth telling a story that I’ve heard 3 or 4 times, let alone what your actual common subscribers are hearing over and over again because they listen much more often?” I build rapport by listening, by asking the right questions and then shutting my mouth because, with Entrepreneurs On Fire, the spotlight’s on my guests the whole entire time. I think anytime a host is over 20%, then you’re not hosting. You’re not interviewing. You’re competing for airtime. I see that often.
It would seem to be obvious to say that as a host, as an interviewer, you benefit from being present. That would be my answer to the question I asked you. You’ve got to be present with people and be able at the moment to be guided rather than following a script. That might seem like common sense, but it was Nietzsche that said, “Common sense isn’t common.” This leads me to something that I wanted to ask you about, which is the new book that you’ve got out, The Common Path to Uncommon Success. Tell us a little bit about what that book is based on and why now?
Thank you for those words. For me, it’s a culmination of the 3,000 interviews that I’ve now done. I know you shared 2,600, which was what it was when I sent you my bio, I’m sure. I’m doing five episodes per week. Things are moving fast and I’ve done over 3,000 interviews since 2012. I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most inspiring entrepreneurs. Back to an earlier conversation we had, I wish that Larry King was one of those. I always thought that would happen at some point, but it never did. That is unfortunate. I will regret that loss for sure.
I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and I’ve learned much from every single interview, their failures and lessons learned from those failures, their successes, their tactics or strategies. Not to mention running my own seven-figure a year business for eight years in a row based on those lessons I’ve been learning. For me, I said, “I know that there are common things that are happening in every single one of the guests I’ve had on my show. I know there are fundamental principles. There are elements that are being shared by all of these successful entrepreneurs.” I sat down in early 2020, and I started writing down those fundamentals. I looked at them, I rearranged a bunch of those things and I put them in this chronological order. I said, “Those are seventeen fundamental steps. That is a roadmap right here in front of me to financial freedom and fulfillment.”
When I looked at it, I was like, “This isn’t a complicated path.” It’s not difficult. It’s not scary. It’s not hidden. It’s not easy. It’s hard work, but at the same time, it’s a common path because we’ve all trod upon this path. That’s when I said, “I need to put this into words.” In 2020, I was quarantined in paradise down in Puerto Rico. I had time on my hands and I wrote 71,000 words, 273 pages, expounding upon the seventeen fundamental principles in this chronological order, in this roadmap to financial freedom and fulfillment. That’s where The Common Path to Uncommon Success was born.
I said, “This is my first traditionally published book, so let’s do it right.” I went with HarperCollins. I got personally endorsed by Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Neil Patel, Dorie Clark, Eric and Mandy, top of the top. I’m very proud of that list. I poured everything into this book. This is the culmination of all those interviews, of all of my lessons and their lessons. Not to mention, I brought seventeen of whom I considered the top entrepreneurs for each one of those specific steps in the roadmap to share their thoughts, their journey, their experiences in those things. This book is something that I know is my best work ever. I’m trying to get it into the hands of everybody who truly wants financial freedom and fulfillment. That’s the goal.
I’m curious myself. You got seventeen principles in essence. That’s what the books are made of, correct?Life is not about the dollar amounts but how you construct yourself around that. Click To Tweet
Seventeen steps, principles, foundational elements. However, you want to look.
Let’s tease our audience with it. I would love for people to get out and get the book. Give me a sense of what some of those things are. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I’m fifteen years old and I’ve run a number of multimillion-dollar companies and I still do that to this day. What can you teach me?
I have to know a little bit more about you.
I’ll let you ask me a question if you want to know.
I know a thing I could teach a lot of people in your situation who have run multimillion-dollar companies, which I know you have and I’m sure you still are, is how to keep the money you make. There are many people in this world who are running seven-figure businesses, who have been part of seven-figure launches, who has been this and that, had this exit, that exit. If you could have a snapshot of their bank account, you’d be like, “Where’s the money? Where’s it at?” They have no idea how to keep the money you make.
It would surprise me if you’re one of those people because one of the first things you said when we jumped on pre-interview was, “You’re living that tax-free life down in Puerto Rico.” It’s obvious that you get it. Unfortunately, most people are like, “I’m going to make all this money living in California and then all of a sudden with my ads, with my team costs and with my salaries and then with the taxman coming in and doing this and my living expenses being way high, where’s the money?”
People are leaving California in droves. Elon Musk was the largest name to call it out, that aerospace and technology. Many different businesses have left the state and I’m in California. I’m not planning on leaving. Our family is happy here, but we spent a lot of time on the other coast as well. There’s no question that it gnaws at me.
I made seven-figure checks outs to the government multiple years in a row when I was in California. I realized something that was true for me is that you can make money anywhere in the world, but it’s almost impossible to become truly wealthy by giving half of your money back to the government. I’ve been in Puerto Rico for several years now. I’m like, “I have been thrilled to be able to write multi-six bigger checks than my favorite charities to be philanthropic.” Those checks, I love writing, but those checks to the government, they ate at my soul and made me less productive, less motivated, less wanting to earn because I felt like it was unfairly being taken from me. I spent a lot of time, a lot of focus, figuring out how to legally, the right way, keep the money that I make.
One of those seventeen principles got to be about financial literacy. Maybe there’s more than one that’s that because it’s one thing to earn money. It’s another thing to keep your money. It’s another thing to grow your money. There are three different levels when it comes to that. I know a lot of people that earn heavily but are still living month to month. I’ve known as you have a lot of people that have had some pretty successful jobs, companies, exits, etc., who are now robust but have not been able to take the shackles off either.
I know some janitors who have never made more than $14,000 a year who are truly financially free. That’s what this book is all about. It’s not the common path to millionaire. It’s the common path to uncommon success, which for somebody living on a lake house in Bozeman, Montana making $87,000 a year, doing something they love, that is an uncommon success. That is financial freedom. That is fulfillment if they structure their life in the right way. That is to open people’s eyes to it’s not always about the dollar amounts, the high-top dollar. It’s about the life you construct and how you do that. You mentioned just one of these seventeen steps.There are millions of unsolved problems in the world. Do your best to fill those voids and offer the best solutions. Click To Tweet
Of the seventeen, what’s your personal favorite? That is a tough question because you wouldn’t have any of them in the book if you didn’t love them all or if they weren’t all meaningful, but we all get it too, having written a few books. Your book can’t be 1,000 pages. It’s 71,000 words. What are we talking about is your top principle in that book?
to be clear, this is a seventeen-step chronological roadmap. You need to take every one of these steps, in my opinion, if you truly want to find your version of uncommon success.
It’s not one thing only. It’s all of these things.
You can’t be like, “I’m going to apply these three principles or these three steps.” You start at step one, you start at chapter one and you go through chronologically, step-by-step, to step seventeen. To answer your question directly, after I got finished writing chapter seven, step seven, Create Your Content Production Plan, I looked down at 15,000 words. I was like, “This could be a book in itself.” I knew going into it how big of a part that was in our business, our content production plan. This is how you are earning seven-figures net profit a year with three virtual assistants. This is why for two days per month, you’re working hard and then 28 days per month, you’re maybe putting in 1 or 2 hours per day, which has been my schedule for a long time. Side note, not now because I’m in massive book production mode. I’m working my face off, but typically, it’s my content production plan.
It is mind-blowing to me when I looked back and said, “These are the tools. These are the steps in the automation and the systems that we’ve implemented over the past several years now that have turned Entrepreneurs On Fire into this income-producing, content producing, well-oiled machine that it is.” That chapter blew me away. I knew on some level that it was impressive, but this was the next level. I’m like, “This is cool for me to sit down and, over many weeks, write those 15,000 words. That meaty step, that chapter in the book and then to look back at it and say, ‘This is it.’”
There are thousands of podcasts out there. More than ever been before. Most of those podcasts, they’re not getting more than a few thousand, 4,000 or 5,000 downloads a month at best. Is there one thing that you can point to that’s the difference between a podcast that might be around for years even that languishes? It doesn’t have a lot of energy around that and can’t create some of the opportunities you have. What were you able to establish and what have you been growing for? How long had you bought been in existence for? I know you’re several years in Puerto Rico, but you started it while you were still in the States.
In 2012, the podcast launched. The podcasts that win in today’s world, in yesterday’s world and tomorrow’s world are the podcasts that solve one legitimate major problem better than anybody else. Those podcasts win. Every other podcast fails on certain levels. When that next show comes out that wants to interview entrepreneurs, they fail because they are not solving a major problem at best possible level, meaning they’re going up against fantastic other shows. They’re going to get wiped out. They’re going to get lost in the noise. Entrepreneurs On Fire won because the day that I launched back in 2012, it was the best daily podcast interviewing entrepreneurs. It was the worst daily podcast interviewing entrepreneurs. It was the only daily podcast interviewing entrepreneurs. That’s why Entrepreneurs On Fire won.
You were first to market. The market is reading to this now is going, “All right, am I hooped?”
You are unless you are the last thing that I said and you sit down and become the best solution to a real problem. There are 1 million problems out there that have no solution. Go be the best there. Fill that void.
Is there one common mistake among podcasters? You’re going to get a lot of people reading this, even in our community, who are either have one or thought of creating one. What’s something that your experience tells you is either a best practice or even something to avoid when they’re getting started or even if they’ve been doing it a while but haven’t had that tipping point?If you are letting your yesterday dictate your tomorrow, you will lose. Click To Tweet
Stop being a pale, weak imitation of 1,000 other shows. That’s what 90% plus of podcasts are that are out there. They look at other shows that are having some success and they say, “I’m going to do that.” We don’t need another that. What we need is a special, unique, different show that is solving a serious problem better than anybody else. If you can’t honestly answer that question with your podcast, that’s okay. You can go to step number two, chapter number two in my book, and you can discover your niche. That’s where most people fail. They don’t discover their correct niche. They are doing this broad, vague, weak imitation of everybody else instead of saying, “What if I niche this level down? There’s still some competition here. What if I went one more niche down? Nobody’s doing this thing here.”
I couldn’t have launched a weekly podcast back in 2012 and been a success. I was a bad podcast host. I was a terrible interviewer. There are other shows that were doing that thing. I niched down and became the only. I was the first-mover advantage. If Entrepreneurs On Fire launched now, it fails. It won in 2012 because it was the only solution to a real problem in the marketplace.
Let’s go 2020 instead and this is my last question for you, which is your business and your life was impacted by the pandemic as everyone was. I heard you say earlier that you took 2020 in part to write the book that you were inspired to start writing the book. This show is called The Conscious Pivot, which is about how it is that you pivot with some element of planning and consciousness, as opposed to being in reaction or acting out of fear. What was the hardest part of 2020 for you? Did you have any tremendous doubts or things that you had to pivot out of, even if they were things that were inside of your head or things that were going on in your business? What did that look like for you?
Honestly, 2020 was more of a validation that I built the right business because my business had a banner year. It was a better year than 2019 because more people came flocking into the podcasting world. More people came flocking to the online business world and I’ve positioned myself for those individuals to help those individuals. 2020 was a year of validation that I made the right decisions in my past. I’ve made terrible decisions in my past. Luckily, they weren’t the final decisions and I was able to recover from them, such as law school and corporate finance, real estate and these other things. I was able to pivot from those and keep moving forward. I was able to avoid what I call the sunk cost fallacy of saying because I spent one semester in law school. I had to spend the next 40 years of my life being a lawyer, which many lawyers nowadays are doing. They’re like, “I thought I had to keep going forward.”
I see it all the time with my former colleagues. It’s not in the law, but so many people think that they’ve got much time invested in a business model or something that they can’t pivot at some point. What I’m hearing you say is maybe a little a bit of a tough pill for people to swallow. Now, what you’re hearing is that your podcast falls into that category, that John Lee was describing that one where you are a pale mediocre imitation of some other show or some other idea, then you’ve got to pivot. You got to stop doing that and create something that’s going to be your unique gift and your unique offering to solve a problem in the world.
Every day is a brand new day. When you were letting yesterday, last week, last month, last year dictate your tomorrow, you’re going to lose unless you’re living your life of financial freedom and fulfillment. If you’re living that life now, then awesome. If you’re not, tomorrow is a new day. Wipe that slate clean, figure out your new path and go forward in that path because this is the one life to live. It’s not like your past self has the power to sentence you to a life of mediocrity and drudgery. You can clean that slate now if you choose and go forward and the fresh new direction that you know you want to do. I’ve had to do that many times in my life. Entrepreneurs On Fire didn’t happen for me until I was 32 years old. That’s 32 years of making the wrong decisions as far as not doing what I was meant to do, what I should do or what I wanted to do but learning from all of those. That’s what brought me to where I am now.
The Common Path to Uncommon Success is the book. You guys will be able to order, pre-order, etc. John Lee, it’s been a pleasure to see you again. I’m glad you’re safe and secure in Puerto Rico and I know you guys weathered the storm well. We talked about that before the show started. I’m glad everything is well with you personally and in your business. We’ll see you again soon.
I loved my conversation with John Lee Dumas. I want to send out this reminder to all of us now, as we are considering the pivots that are upon us, the ones that have yet to be revealed. It’s important that we give ourselves a break. We love ourselves even more in the midst of those pivots, both the good, the bad, the ugly. Just because things are going well doesn’t mean there isn’t stress. We know the stress involved in every aspect of living a fulfilled life.
Three quick things to remind us all about. One is, let’s wake up again tomorrow as we did today. Let’s do it again tomorrow too. Let’s feel grateful. The way we started this show was with gratitude. We end with gratitude. We begin with gratitude. It becomes something that is a part of the ritual of living a healthy life, to be grateful. Lastly, when you wake up tomorrow from bed before your feet even hit the floor, consider these four words. I love my life. I know I love my life even more. Every time I get to chance to spend time with all of you. Chow for now. We’ll see you soon. Thank you so much for being a part of the show.
About John Lee Dumas
John Lee Dumas (JLD) is the founder and host of the award-winning podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire. Past guests include Tony Robbins, Barbara Corcoran, and Gary Vaynerchuk. With over 1 million monthly listens and over 100 million total listens of his 3000+ episodes, JLD is spreading entrepreneurial FIRE on a global scale.