Think Bigger

Confessions of a CEO: Why I killed a $2,000,000 product

In November 2012, my company launched a new subscription product unlike anything we’d created before.

Each month, over a million millennials read our material on living a rich life, including finding a dream job, starting a business, or automating their finances.

The only problem is, if you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Durban, South Africa, you might be the only person you know who’s interested in self development. Every morning, you’re reading blog post after blog post on mindset, psychology, or relationships…

…and you’re the only one. That can be incredibly lonely.

Imagine finally discovering a community of others who just “get it” — people who don’t think it’s weird to want to improve yourself. For thousands of our readers, it felt like a big sigh of relief. It felt like coming home.

When we launched this program — which included a community where people could meet each other and push each other to be more ambitious — we had no idea what would happen.

To our surprise, from day 1, Ramit’s Brain Trust was an instant success.

People loved it.

Within 30 days — totally unplanned by us — students had hosted meetups around the world, including Tokyo, London, Sydney, and NYC.

rbt

Over the years, with thousands of readers happily paying $49/month, this program generated millions of dollars.

So why did I close it down on December 30th, 2016?

Bonus: Want to start a business but don’t have an idea? We’ve created a massive list of 30 successful online business ideas that you could start this weekend. Get your copy now.

The invisible problems of a million-dollar product

“What the hell is going on?”

It was the winter of 2015, and my analytics manager just showed me the data on our RBT customers. It wasn’t pretty.

From the surface, Brain Trust was doing well: The community was highly engaged, with dozens (or even hundreds) of high-quality comments per day. We’d spent a lot of time creating community norms to encourage great back-and-forth conversations.

Screen Shot 2017 02 11 at 4.52.26 PM

Each month, we also released an interview with someone I admired — the people from my “Brain Trust,” including a retired Navy SEAL commander, the world’s best piano saleswoman, a Jeopardy champion, a charisma expert, and many CEOs and authors. People consistently rated these highly.

Plus, students were holding hundreds and hundreds of meetups around the world. Many people were meeting new friends — sometimes best friends, which was a huge thrill for me — through the program.

A post shared by Ramit Sethi (@ramit) on

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Yet when we popped open the hood, here’s what we saw:

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For the first time ever, our churn — the number of customers leaving the product — was greater than our growth. This was a huge problem.

Imagine your job is to fill up a large bucket with water. You spend thousands of dollars choosing a clean well, testing the water quality, and painstakingly ladling each cup of water…  only to discover you’ve got a massive hole in your bucket!

We sat down and did the math. As Andrew Chen points out:

“…successful public SaaS companies try to keep their monthly churn under 2%.”

Our churn rate — or the amount of people who cancel every month — was approximately 5 times higher!

In other words, at our current churn rate, we’d lose nearly 100% of our students — every year.

By the way, this is more common than most people think. However, most businesses either don’t talk about it, or they can’t. Calculating churn requires sophisticated cohort analysis, and many companies don’t have the resources.

I put a dedicated team on it. They looked at the data, made their recommendations, and over the next year, we improved a BUNCH of stuff.

Bonus: Want to start a business but don’t have an idea? We’ve created a massive list of 30 successful online business ideas that you could start this weekend. Get your copy now.

What happens when we invest $100,000 to fix our churn

We doubled down on the production value of the interviews.  

Screen Shot 2017 02 11 at 4.58.04 PMThat $100,000 also bought me a full beard

We improved the onboarding experience. From their very first day, we made sure each new member felt personally welcomed into the community.

Screen Shot 2017 02 11 at 5.03.54 PM

I even personally dropped in to as many meetups as I could.

rbt sf
Surprising RBT students in San Francisco

Feeling hopeful, I revisited the numbers a few months later.

I opened the analysis, holding my breath…

Oh.

These changes made zero impact on our churn.

This was really frustrating. We were listening to customer feedback, iterating, using “best practices,” and closely tracking our churn. Yet the number wouldn’t budge. None of it made sense to me.

No matter how we sliced the data, we couldn’t figure it out…

…until I got an email from one of our oldest RBT students. She’d been with the program since the beginning, she just canceled, and gave me some honest feedback:

“I just canceled my RBT subscription and wanted to add a thought for your team… I suspect I’m not the only advanced member of RBT to eventually leave because RBT felt small. I say this because I’ve seen many other people who joined RBT in the beginning (and are now doing big things) have since left.”

Wow. This was devastating to hear. Imagine you’d created a program that was a surprising success. You doubled down, grew it…but then you started to notice cracks in armor.

Suddenly, nothing you tried worked. Your best customers eventually left because they outgrew the program. The new customers came in for a while, stuck around a bit, and eventually left, too. Meanwhile, your customers gave you increasingly aggressive feedback because they truly loved the program — but you couldn’t make it work.

In one email, I learned what thousands of data points couldn’t tell me: The oldest, most advanced members of RBT had outgrown the program. It wasn’t valuable to them anymore, so they left. It was the 2017 version of Eternal September.

Our very best customers didn’t care if the interviews looked prettier or if onboarding was any better. (In fact, we found that the biggest value of our program was not the interviews — which cost us tens of thousands of dollars — but the community!)

They needed another level of community and guidance — in fact, they’d been telling us for months! — but we didn’t react in time. 

I can understand how frustrating this could be. For example, if you’re new to a city, everything is exciting. Where should I go out tonight? What about that new bar? Have you tried the new dim sum restaurant?

But after a while, you just want to hang out with your friends. And the difference between the older customers and newer customers continued to grow.

We tried a variety of things to keep challenging them, but I also deeply understand that as the business grew, it became tougher and tougher to serve all the different people in the program. We had a mixed bag of beginners and advanced students, all of whom wanted something different — for $49/month.

Meanwhile, as we worked on the rest of the business, we quickly realized we were MASSIVELY growing in every area… except for RBT.

Imagine: one area of your business generates $100 in revenue, while over here, you’re making $10,000 in another area. Where would you invest your time and money?

In fact, what if that $100 program was also costing you $98 to run?

Here’s one snapshot of an analysis we ran:

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You might wonder why these interviews took such massive amounts of time. If you’ve listened to podcasts, you’ll hear the same 10 guests giving the same pre-canned answers to the same questions.

RBT interviews were totally different. We found fascinating people — people who weren’t on the typical podcast circuit — and did extremely deep research on them. We flew them to NYC, put them up in great hotels, and shot the interviews in our studio. The result was interviews that were totally different than something you can find for free on a random podcast or YouTube show.

As one of our students said:

“So many people have podcasts. They give every guest the same questions, spend maybe 15 mins prepping, then 45 mins recording.

I think people will be shocked to know the actual time it takes to make something truly excellent — and that you aim for that rather than doing something quick and easy.”

In other words, the company spent 150 hours each month on a program that was generating a fraction of our revenues — and many months, we only broke even!

The millions of dollars in revenue were impressive. But it took serious digging to understand the mechanics underneath the numbers.

This is exactly why you see restaurants in your neighborhood packed with a line out the door…and suddenly, one day, they just close.

Once I had this analysis in front of me, it was obvious it wasn’t just our students who outgrew Ramit’s Brain Trust. We, as a company, had outgrown it, too.

In hindsight, it’s easy to say, “Duh Ramit, OF COURSE you should shut it down! Focus on your strengths!” Intellectually, that makes sense.

But data won’t tell you the whole story. Psychologically, it’s not that easy to shut down a program you’ve loved for years and years. More importantly, our students loved that program. It connected thousands of people and gave them a community where they could be their weird selves. People made best friends. They met their boyfriend and girlfriend. For our readers, they felt like they’d truly found their peers.

But it’s the CEO’s job to make the hard decisions.

So in December 2016, I hit delete, and our multimillion dollar product disappeared.  

Our greatest growth lies ahead of us

Ramit’s Brain Trust was one of the most rewarding programs we’ve ever created. I used to wake up, grab my phone, and spend my first hour in bed responding to the community. I’ll never forget surprising our students in San Francisco, going bowling in Los Angeles, or closing down that bar in the Philippines.

Most importantly, thousands of people built relationships that continue to this day. Yes, I’m thrilled when I hear students used my material to launch a 6-figure business or land a $25K raise. But meeting someone you connect with, who becomes your best man, your gym buddy, or your partner, that’s rare.

The decision to close RBT down was one of the most difficult ones I’ve had to make. Do I have regrets? Of course. I wish we could have known some of this when we started. I wish we could have put a full team on this to iterate on customer feedback even faster. And I wish we could have cracked the code somehow, in some way.

Knowing what I now know, how would I handle RBT? The truth is, I don’t know. We could have focused more on the community, but a community lacks the “hook” to get new people to join. We could have removed the interviews and doubled down on other areas of RBT, but if there’s one thing a community hates, it’s having something taken away.

In short, would I give it another shot? Yes, definitely. There’s magic here. Our students loved it and our business generated millions of dollars. We just weren’t able to crack the code at the level we want to.

I always remind our team that our greatest growth lies ahead of us. That means to forge ahead, sometimes we have to break something today, so we can rebuild it bigger and better tomorrow. (Click to tweet)

Going forward, as we build future products for our 1+ million/month readers, we’re listening closer and adapting faster. For example, we listened to our community, who wants to be surrounded by other top performers…in person. So we launched Forefront, our new conference to bring the most ambitious, fun people together, last year.

Our new Forefront conference

To all the RBT students who joined us on this journey: Thank you.

Now, I want to hear from you. What’s something you need to “break” to continue growing? It could be in your business or in your personal life. 

I’m looking forward to reading your responses.

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There Are 96 Comments

 

I manage a team who serve a set of internal customers throughout the business. In the past, the feeling has always been to get through as much work as possible, in as short a time as possible, in order to best serve our customers. On the surface it makes sense… the more work we do and tick off our lists, the more work we deliver to our customers, the happier they will be.

Right now I’m trying to break this mindset, to do less work, but more excellent work. And to ensure the work we do is the ‘right’ work for the business, and not just work being done because it’s on a list. Just because it’s on a list, it doesn’t mean it’s right to do it.

Breaking this view that more delivery means better service in order to continue growing my team, improving the quality and return on investment of all our output, and therefore provide a better service to our customers, often seems counter intuitive when we’re delaying jobs or saying ‘no’ to jobs, but ultimately it’s the only way to effectively grow. Without breaking this mindset, we do nothing but tread water. By breaking this mindset, we move forward and swim.

Jamie

Good write up. I don’t feel like it was a mistake to end it. I just don’t think it was fair to announce you were closing it with less than a month’s access, deleting the content that users had ‘lifetime’ access to. Everyone was struggling to download the resources as fast as possible but there weren’t enough days to download all the videos.

A little bit of warning would have made the experience go smoother.

Agreed again. While many people were scrambling to destroy roadblocks (slow internet connections, login issues, etc) to download the videos before the program went offline, I had heard comments to the tune of “I guess lifetime access doesn’t really mean lifetime access.”

Yes, you’re right. In retrospect, the 30 days we gave students was not enough time. I appreciate the comment and thank you for being an RBT member.

Alison Marie Diem

I have to agree. I don’t understand why the content had to be pulled. For $49/month, and thinking of the policies you have with the material for other courses, I should have been able to access the material I paid for, for life.

I agree that the lead time for cancellation was too short. I was not able to download all of the videos before the time ran out. That was the only negative of my whole RBT experience. I was sad to see it go, but can understand why it had to happen. Thanks for sharing the numbers and thought process for the decision.

I’m really impressed at how deep you were willing to go here. Thank you.

Soooo many critical business lessons in one post. I think my biggest takeaways were your points on how markets can change and even splinter over time, and the importance of focusing on the RIGHT thing at the RIGHT moment (i.e. people didn’t want nicer interviews!). Not all decisions are created equal. Your explanation about churn was pretty insightful too.

Here’s what I did after reading this article: I made a critical career decision. I’ve known for months now that I want to reach a certain goal this year, and I had a mental list of a dozen different things I could do. Many of them were good ideas!

But then I thought of your story and wondered, “yes, but which action is the BEST I could take right now?”

Many of these choices would move the needle this year, but only one would return my ROI multiple times, and that’s the one I ultimately picked. Reading your story reminded me that as you move up the ladder, the learning curve grows and your decision making has to become much, much more precise if you want to get where you’re going.

P.S. that $100K beard is pretty badass tho.

Thanks, Carolynn, especially for recognizing the amount of work that went into the program. Congratulations on making that decision!

After attending Forefront in NYC in October, I actually felt the same way as the person who told you they outgrew the program. Cancelling my RBT membership was on my to-do list when the email came in that you were cancelling the program. I look forward to future Forefront’s and other events/products.

Thanks, Dave. Hope to see you at the next Forefront and I’d also love to hear any ideas you have for future events/programs you’d like to see from us.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever publicly commented on one of these articles, but the candid, behind-the-scenes look made me discover a new depth of appreciation for a program that I already loved.

I was in RBT from December 2013 through the end, and cancelling my membership was an item on my to-do list for which I had a hard time pulling the trigger. Ramit hit the nail on the head when it came to the emotional aspect. For me, I was getting less value from the FB community after the heavy-hitting / most successful members left. At the same time, I discovered a solid portion of my tribe through RBT. (Basically, when I describe my social circles, I have my few best friends, my dance friends from the salsa scene, and I have my IWT friends. The crew we have in Denver is more than stellar.) I can’t thank Ramit and IWT enough for that gift.

I’ve also had lingering thoughts in the back of my head about the interviews and how they differ from other free, publicly available interviews and podcasts. The breakdown here also helped me to appreciate the interviews on a deeper level. We always get to enjoy the cake, but seldom get to see the baker’s investment to produce the amazingness that we get to enjoy.

In the immediate moment, I’m noticing that the honest approach and transparent presentation made my trust in IWT level up (again) from this single article. I’m asking myself how I can be more candidly honest with myself and others in the same fashion, and I’m sure that I’m going to have some gratifying conversations that lead to action steps in the very near future.

Thanks again, Ramit. :-)

Jacques

Thank you, Jacques. I know all about the Denver crew — they’re some of the most active RBT groups around!

This was an incredible read with great depth. Thank you.

I, too, had “Cancel my RBT subscription” on my todo list for the longest time. But it was hard. How could I break away from a program that had introduced me to some of the most influential friends I know today?

What I drew from your article is that, behind the scenes, you worked hard to resolve a problem… and then discovered the REAL problem when it was too late… and the numbers showed it.

Even then, while it was hard as hell to accept this about your baby, you made the call and cut the product.

I can think of several examples in my world where I’ve tested many a solution to a problem, then finally determine: “Ah HA! I found the problem! I can resolve this now!” but the time for execution has passed. Instead, I need to take that lesson and invest it towards my next big thing.

I find myself addressing a similar situation now — a bit personal for the worldwide Internet, but this certainly applies.

I admire your openness here. I know you consistently joked about how you’re not vulnerable, like at the Forefront event. But thanks for showing us the numbers, your strife & frustration, and finally your decision.

Looking forward to Forefront 2017!

All my best,
Frank

This was probably the best written article that you have sent me since I’ve been a subscriber of yours. I love the honesty, self reflection and reality check that you shared. Thanks Ramit!

Great article Ramit.

Forwarded it on to my wife who loves you by the way.

She runs a successful program changing women’s lives.

For two years, they have been BEGGING her to launch a paid community.

She has resisted but is about to offer it next month.

PS. I was a Brain Trust member twice actually.

Time became a premium and I found myself spending less time watching the videos or in the community.

Keep failing forward.

Your life-long customer,

JV

RBT was a real game changer for me. It helped me realize, I was always solving the symptom rather than the root cause to my issues. In all honesty, my real issue was that I was lonely.

RBT taught me that these issues of loneliness aren’t solved by more online content consumption, they are solved by making real relationships. Real 1-on-1 relationships. Not fake 1000-on-1 online relationships.

Loneliness is cured when you find what Sebastian Junger (and probably Seth Godin) would call a “tribe.” That’s what RBT was (and still is). My tribe.

So your article makes a lot of sense to me. I support investing more in Forefront-esque events. Making real in-person friends will actually change more of your readers lives. Can’t wait to see what happens.

Thanks K. I completely agree about the power of building real relationships. We’ll be working on more ways to help our readers do this.

I was actually really intrigued by this because I had *exactly* the opposite experience!

I never got engaged in the community – I tried, a couple of times, to get engaged but it felt more like I was just another voice among many, and it did almost nothing for me. Of course it was maybe two years ago when I joined?

On the other hand, I *loved* the video interviews. They had a tremendous impact in my life. If I had been able to pay a discounted price, perhaps $15-25 and just get the videos that would have been perfect for me and I’d still probably be subscribed.

I think the largest problem with the onboarding was that there just wasn’t that much feedback. Part of it may have been that I didn’t have much in the way of questions that I needed answers to, and there wasn’t a lot of discussions that I could offer any more insight to. And I’m sure a not-insignificant part of my problem was that I also hate Facebook :)

I’m not entirely sure what RBT could have done differently to keep me, though.

It’s really interesting to me that my experience is almost 180º from the one that one of your first members had.

Thanks Ramit.

In RBT, you created an amazing thing. Without a doubt, the quality of the interviews (in terms of both questions and variety / quality of guests) and production values are the best I’ve seen in any online
resource. I’ve met dozens of amazing people through the program, and I continue to refer people to your work because it’s clear you’re passionate about what you do and can deliver the results you promise.

Thanks for your insights into the decision to shut it down.

Being in RBT in Feb 2016, it was taking a chance on myself from the email by meeting you for the first time on January 26 last year at the Hard Bar Room in NY. When you explain it, Ramit, you are right. There are greater growths ahead.

Going to more meetups this year, and meeting more people even now, is breaking the barriers I put on myself.

Last Sunday, I was invited to watch the Oscars, and even took part in predicting who was going to win. Now, there is a walkathon coming up in April, and it will not only be my first but also with the RBT group in NY.

Going to Forefront 2017 will be a great experience, and the tracks idea is excellent.

Looking forward to Forefront, and thank you for the transparency, Ramit.

Craig

Great article. Takes a lot of guts not only to shut a multi-million dollar product down (as I told you when I first heard the news) but also to share numbers and “weaknesses” so candidly on a post. No one seems to be doing that, and it’s helpful to hear.

As someone who has my OWN continuity site that needs major overhaul this is very relevant. We are making really good (I think) changes currently that will hopefully help with retention and future growth but only time will tell!

If you were ever to do a monthly subscription site again, what might you do differently? Knowing what you know now?

Hey Ramit,

I am the organizer of the Rbt events in Tokyo that you mention in your post, organized some Iwt+Ztl events too, and even Rbt in Marseille, France.
I did it because I believed in the premise. I rarely organize things and believe most people are lazy and not committed to it. For Rbt it was different.
I was an RBT member for 30+months I believe.

Transparency, vulnerability, is something that isn’t part of Iwt culture and this post came as a surprise.

[[ Ramit, please kill that cynical “Asian surrogate father” character and show more of ‘Ramit’. ]]

You might not agree but I believe this would be a way to create better relationships with your readers.
Apart from the few ones who could meet you in person, I’m not sure we readers get who you are as a person.

I like IWT and I hope to get to know ‘Ramit’ more through your posts and emails.

Hi Ramit

Thanks for the email and that blog post. I love that $100k also bought you a new beard. It was very interesting to see the breakdown of the business and especially churn since I am the sales director of a software business and my main focus has always been renewals. Now that I’m also in charge of new business, I’m focused on understanding our customers so we give them the service they need as opposed to what we want. I learned that from you and RBT – focusing on the psychology side of things.

I was in the original group of RBT as well. I thought about cancelling a few times but never did because of the community. I watched the videos every once in a while but would read and learn from the community. I found people who were likeminded and were sharing great information and their time.

If you ever start it up again in another format, I’ll be there to check it out. I can’t wait to see what you guys put together at Forefront again this year. I see you took our feedback and ran with it.

Great job by you and your team as always and thanks for the inside look at RBT. Have a great day.

Valerie

Hi Ramit,

I appreciate you letting us all see behind the curtain of RBT. You share a lot of insights that others in similar situations might be able to use to make the right decision for their business.

Although it was a tough decision for you and the team, from an opportunity cost perspective it’s probably the best action to take since it frees up resources to tackle ambitious projects such as Forefront.

I hope you keep pushing yourself and your readers to think and grow bigger.

Hope you have a great day today!

Kyle from Chicago

I love the community of RBT. It introduced me to intelligent people who were trying to improve all aspects of their lives — their careers, their relationships, their fitness levels, and so on. Being around all of these driven people (even just “online”) 100% improved my life.

Within the time I was a member, I started earning money on the side, started a copywriting business, expanded the copywriting business, closed down the copywriting business, applied to graduate school, got accepted to graduate school, lost 20 lbs and improved my public speaking. It’s not to say that none of this would have occurred outside of the program. But RBT was definitely the catalyst that allowed me to become a better version of myself. It’s really true what they say about you being the average of the people around you.

I was also wavering on cancelling my RBT subscription since I didn’t want to lose access to the people that were there. But right around the time I was thinking about this, I got the email from Ramit saying that the program was shutting down so the decision was made for me.

Thank you for (unintentionally) creating such a great community and also for allowing us to see the inside story of the decision behind closing RBT.

I’ve been waiting for this post ever since it was announced that Brain Trust was closing down. I’m one of those people that canceled at some point and then re-joined again a bit later. Ever since you announced it was closing down, I was trying to formulate proper feedback in my head but wasn’t able to articulate some of it until reading this post.

One huge difference for me is I actually valued the interviews much more than the community.

And I say that having gone to 1-2 local meetups, and actively checking the FB group. I think the community thing didn’t move the needle for me because I already have a small and tight circle of friends that I can talk about these issues with freely and that I’ve known for at least 5-10 years each.

The main benefit of the FB group really was just the places where you were posting or commenting. Or a handful of the ‘star’ students had really insightful posts, but that was about it.

The interviews I really enjoyed (albeit some a lot more than others). Reason being is I’m a retired podcast junkie. I used to listen to all the usual podcasts, and would hear the guests making the rounds. For example, I heard Tony Robbins probably a dozen times on different podcasts when he was promoting his money book. I quickly noticed the same thing – everything is recycled. The only exceptions were when the interviewer was not sticking to the usual questions and really pushing them. This was rare though.

I’ve hosted a podcast myself, and interviewed different types of people (including Ron Lieber who you had in Brain Trust). Preparation for those was insane because we were small, I would try to get people when they had a book release coming. Then I’d basically read the book, write down questions while reading, then go thru it again a second time to filter so that I had (hopefully) only good and relevant questions.

I mention all that to explain why I stopped listening to most podcasts (most people asked only general questions or made general points over and over), but I kept up with Brain Trust because it was a new flavor, different guests than the usual “circuit”, and much better questions. The back and forth you had with Olivia Fox stands out as a solid interview for me (and I’ve read her book twice, and watched at least a dozen of her other videos/interviews on YouTube).

Even before you pulled the plug, I was debating about whether or not to renew. The primary sentiment for me was determining whether I had graduated from the RBT material or not, and I was starting to lean toward canceling.

I really appreciate this post though. It’s funny because I was just texting a friend about something, and we kind of realized the larger question underlying things for us has been: When do you know to keep fighting, and when do you know when to quit? How do you know when to keep pushing through and producing work you believe in even if you aren’t immediately getting the results you want? This post was a great insight into how you tried to address that question with RBT.

Omar

Thanks for sharing this story, Ramit.

I could go on and on about this, but I’ll keep it simple by saying that it was worth every penny. Not even just for the interviews — which admittedly, I fell behind (cut a brotha some slack, haha) — but for the tremendous community you created. I moved to a new city a few years ago and almost *every single friend* I have came from RBT group.

I can’t say enough about what surrounding myself with top-performers has done for me. I’m grateful for every moment of it.

Thanks again, bro. See you at Forefront.

Hi Ramit, I notice that there is a trend in “mentor” surveys and email. I think that is the way to go. We need someone who can help us pull through

Matthew Griffin

I’m the one in Tulsa you mentioned. I went to meetups in Denver, Dallas, St. Louis and London. And I’ve shared a beer with a buddies in Toronto and New Zealand through the community. I’m still here and I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you Ramit for this great article!

It reminded me of a question you shared at some point, I think it was on Twitter, from memory it had something to do with ‘Why do you think that revenue is not important as much as net profit’ or something along those lines.

I can absolutely relate to that. I’ve been in similar situations before and continue to face the tough decision moment. It reminded me that it is a situation that I will have to face no matter how far ahead I’ll be in my entrepreneurial journey. The way we make the small decisions is the way we’ll make the big decisions. Balancing logic and emotions, and knowing when to use what to make the ‘right’ decisions. And knowing what metrics matter and which ones don’t and listening to the clients always! Feedback, feedback, feedback… Unvalidated assumptions are dangerous!

Looking forward to meeting you in person at ForeFront this year!

Thank you Ramit for your excellence!

Ramit,

Love the article. Goes into the mindset of a successful business owner.

I was one of the few people I guess who joined from the start, loved it and would have stayed on for the interviews alone. I am not on Facebook so did not take advantage of the community.

For me I don’t yet have access to the caliber of people you interviewed and hearing how the sausage is made was motivational and super helpful.

One example I started quarterly brainstorming sessions for our department and that’s helping cement my brand as a thought leader.

Can I get an email from Ramit Sethi confirming I am a special snowflake ;).

JD

Wow. You use the phrase “brutal honesty” a lot in your material and here you showed the world you really do believe it, and have the humility and respect for your customers to show something really valuable on many different levels. Can’t imagine how hard it must have been to make the decision to shut it down.

Thanks for all you do. Keep making amazing products.

I had been an RBT member for 2 years (give or take) and I fell in love with the high quality interviews and the people in the community. Thank you for that. It’s refreshing and humbling to see how you guys handled this situation. Kudos. I’m looking forward to whatever you come up with next. I know it will be great.

Thank you. It means a lot that you stuck with us and you continue to read. We can’t wait to show you what’s next.

CAT ABOUDARA

Great read Ramit!

As someone who is a community builder, I watch metrics really closely and have found that in Non-Profit that is not a common practice but it’s helped me so much in my own work and I value how candid you were with your process and evaluation.

And as to your question, one of the thing that I have noticed I need to break was my impulsivity with spending. I got your Forefront email the day I wrote up the plan to pay off 1 of 2 of my credit cards in six months after reading about treating credit card debt like an emergency. It gave me pause and I had to pep talk myself, nope I can go the year after and I will enjoy it way more after completing this goal. Since I know that impulse with purchases has kept me from the same goal thus far – being conscious of it hurts in the short term but will pay off so much more in the long term.

Thank you for this. It’s one thing to hear of a company killing a beloved product, it’s another to actually see why in all the gory detail. This is the kind of material that I appreciate most from you and your team

Thanks, Aaron. Please keep reading GrowthLab. We want to make this the single-best site on business that you read.

I didn’t finish university and it is one of my biggest regrets.

I ran a painting business in university and got caught up in making money that it impacted my studies.

Recently, I left a sales job to work for a start up and took a pay cut. 16 months have passed by and the company is not growing and I hate how much I am being paid.

I want a better job but feel like I don’t deserve it because I didn’t complete university. I had a 4.0 gpa and this makes me even more regretful that I didn’t complete my schooling. I wanted to make money at the time.

Should I go back to school?

What kind of business could I start part time?

You should stop worrying about what you “deserve” and focus on what value you can offer companies. We cover this in exhaustive detail at findyourdreamjob.com.

My experience was similar to an earlier comment by Wayne…I hadn’t really engaged as much in the community and loved the videos…I actually thought the most recent ones where the subject went out and worked with RBT members made them even more interesting!

Fortunately I downloaded and kept the videos every month…they will be of great value in the future.

Great post though Ramit, really shows the in depth analysis at IWT and gives great insight, many thanks.

I need to break my vision/plan for my life. Since my sophomore year of high school, I’ve dreamed and worked toward being a high school math teacher. While I had other side interests/ventures along the way, almost everything I did in school or in work was toward that end. Two-and-a-half years ago, that dream was realized. I became a teacher in my first year after getting my masters. I married an incredible woman who I met in a teaching class in college and we were off and running into my dream life. Two teachers, with jobs at great schools, vacations aligned, benefits galore, and the next forty years set.

Unfortunately, the reality has not matched my dream. I’m realizing now that it is very unlikely that I will have it in me to teach for the next 40 years. I’m realizing now that, perhaps, teaching is not my lifelong career. There are many reasons why, but I feel confident that, regardless of what I choose to do, teaching is not my dream job.

I can relate with the fear of letting go of something that has many benefits and is secure. I could certainly keep teaching for the next 40 years, but I want something bigger and better. In order to do that though, I need to break the vision I’ve had for my life. I had the vision that my wife and I would perpetually have our summer’s off together, that I would have a slew of students coming back to visit me after graduation, and that I would be the Mr. Feeny of my generation and change the lives of a handful of students.

But more than all of that, I want to grow. I want to be challenged. I need to break the hold I have on that old plan so that I can be ready for what’s next.

Remember that you can always create online material or become a freelancer teacher. You shouldn’t think that you can’t teach anymore if you leave the system. :)

aMY OCONNELL

Hi Ramit,

I read nearly every email you have ever sent me, and this is the first time I have replied.

The brilliance of this program is clear, and its power could be used for greater things. My husband and his biz partner believe that education should be accessible and free for underserved populations. Why not take this beautiful thing you have and form a nonprofit, give this back to the community? Perhaps you were not meant to make a ton of money on it to begin with. Perhaps it is your duty to share it with people who NEED it, yet cannot afford it? Surely it is a great way to gain lifelong customers, getting them on board with this. Imagine how many folks there are out there, living in poverty, with the next “big thing” rolling around in their heads? With the grit and the drive it takes to succeed, but missing the mentorship it takes to get going?

Another idea could be that with one $49 membership, a free membership for “newbies” or those in need would be given. Perhaps members would feel more inclined to continue paying for their membership fees if they knew it would be helping a fellow future biz pro.

There are sooo many directions you can go with this, without losing money. My mind is swirling with ideas! When you begin to think philanthropically, the world seems to open up. I have faith in you and your team, and I know you will find a fit for this.

Thank you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and for sharing this so openly. And thanks for being in my inbox so frequently. :)

I agree with the importance of philanthropy and education. I think we strike a nice balance with 98% of our material being free (including on YouTube) and also offering premium services. We’ll continue to explore that balance.

Brett Law

Ramit, if you have a product that can be revamped but not replaced, I don’t think I would have killed the product. I would have changed the value proposition. Under these circumstances, the advanced members may not be getting much or anything out of the $600 a year deal, but you were and other members were. There was value. You could have converted to a cash cow. I would have offered an elite level where after someone was qualified as a contributor or advanced member, the subscription fee was cut to zero and a commission was offered on new member referrals. Your existing membership would grow, your costs would only increase marginally and your new user base would be subject to exponential growth. Formal annual events would cement the community and convert things from a life event to a lifestyle.

Ramit:

When you broke RBT and the same moment I “broke” my carrier as a successful sales director in TOP 3 company in my field, so I could start my own small business. After 9 years in the role I decided that it is time for new challenge. It is painful, but if you want to move forward you have to take the difficult decision.

Xavier L.

Its obvious you dedicate massive amounts of time and energy to all of your material judging from its quality but hearing of the degree is nothing short than mind-blowing. Sincerely, I can’t thank you enough for your work nor express how profoundly it impacted my life in literally every facet.

Now to answer your question…

Next year, I’ll be heading to a University and am incredibly fearful of my relationship not working out due to it being long distance. Perhaps this is something I need to “break out of” in order to grow or maybe I need to break out of the mindset that relationships can’t survive without working on them daily in person. Whatever scenario plays out, I know I’ll survive and won’t let this interfere with my ambition or life goals.

As for career, I need to break this mental barrier of not trusting in myself. Painting you a clear picture, I still think that because I’m in High School, nobody would want to hire me. This isn’t true. I’ve spent the last 4 years working my ass off so that I’ll actually get an associates degree two weeks before my high school diploma. Who else can say that? (Rhetorical, I want to feel like I’m the pinnacle of success) That isn’t something an average performer can say and if I position myself like that to an employer combined with my ability to learn and work fast, I should have no problem landing my dream job before I even finish High School.

P.s. I am in the DJ program and am following the framework so no worries, I know I’ll get there.

Do you accept registrations from India? I have already applied for the Zero to Launch program, but there is no response yet.
Let me know about it.

Thanks,
Sameer

I left RBT just 1-2 months before you closed it down, so this was the first I’d heard about it. Your reasons for canceling it make a lot of sense and rings true for me too. While I’m not yet the highest performer in ZTL, I chose to leave RBT because I joined Accelerator and found that that community was where I was getting the most help and growth. The addition of the coaches helps *a lot*, naturally, but the focus, dedication, and quality of the people in the community are more helpful to me at this point in my journey.

Thank you for all your work, your awesome team, and being so open with your students.

LAURA WINFREE

Great article Ramit, thanks for opening up. You ask about something we needed to break to continue growing. I started out writing a personal blog, and from that blog I got some heavy-hitting freelance clients and two jobs. Now I have been doing so well with freelance writing that I had to quit one of my jobs, and I stopped writing on the blog for almost a year. I was sad to say goodbye to some projects I was once very passionate about, but now I’m excited to do bigger and better things! (Like Zero to Launch)

Daniel m.

Hi Ramit and everybody at Growthlab.
I recently had a good chance of getting a promotion I´ve been working on for quite some time (about three years, actually), yet my success would mean that others don´t get it. So those “others” got together and filed a complaint to destroy my chances (successfully), saying that I was too young to be promoted, so I didn´t get the job (yet hehehe). Although I was very frustrated, I just keep doing my stuff (better than most btw) and I´m still in the race.
Just wanted to ask you how to deal with these situations, where others try to block your growth and how to act in front of them and in front of my superiors and peers.
thnx, love your stuff!

LAURA WINFREE

That’s terrible, Daniel! Google “Bucket of Crabs Theory”

I think I need to break from doing client work 5 days a week so I can spend time refining and fine-tuning my business processes. Working ON my business is what really improves the experience for my clients and also gives me some much needed perspective in my business.

This is incredible. I loved this email.

Yesterday I was just thinking how would I love to have a meeting, a coffee or a chat with anyone who joined a IWT programme as I did, but from my own country. How powerful would be to meet other with same motivation as me.

I met some others who are building online businesses too. But it’s not the same. Different approaches and strategies than Ramit’s school. And lack of consistency.

I would definitely have joined RBT to know if anybody from my city is around.
But I read the entire post and understand it perfectly.

It’s amazing you shared the insights of it.

Also, it made me think if I’m having a kind of churn of my courses to check right now 😛

Thank you for ever.

Mara from Buenos Aires.

Hi, Ramit,

I read your article and realized that I think my life is already broken. I don’t want to share the details with the internet, but for me, the question is not “what to break” but “what to mend or replace the broken parts with”. What I need is a cheerleader, someone to give me “attagirls” on my more discouraged days. I ended the areas of severe dysfunction in my life last summer, but despite my best efforts I have not been able to rebuild.

I am telling you this not because I think it is your mission to fix my life, but because that would be the value in an online community to me. I’m not scared of hard work but I seem unable to get back on track working on my own.

Dear Ramit,
I am a Hypnotherapist and coach based in London. I have come across you via Tim Ferris and I have followed you closely since. I have had to break and surpass my ego lately as I deal with a fad who has been in a coma since October. I have had to break my limiting beliefs about pain, life and death and allow my mind to expand into a new realm of selfless love. I help my clients rid themselves of their fear based ego and see themselves connected to a bigger space. I could go on and on forever about my passion for what I do and my plans to reach a wider audience. I am excited about the future and very driven to reach millions of people. I greatly admire and resonate With your message…and guess what?! I’be always called myself the Italian surrogate mother!! I would love to offer you my free support either as a consultant, Hypnotherapist or coach!

ALEX hAWKER

Shallowness. I have to break spreading myself thin on a million different ideas that got me nowhere and FOCUS on 2 or 3 things that I need to get better at, things that could actually make me money.

Thank you for sharing this. It was obviously a wrenching decision; not everyone will share this side of business so openly, but this is as important a lesson as any. The community is one of the things I’m so greatly looking forward to when I join ZTL. Maybe RBT didn’t play out like you hoped, but it seems you’ve got the community piece down, because it’s a part of everything you offer (from what I can tell). And your students talk about the importance of being connected to their respective communities.

As for what I need to break . . . it’s tied to this topic. I seriously need to break out of my local contacts. I was raised in a small town and currently live in a slightly larger (but still small) town. There are great things about living in a small community, and there are terrible things. One of the things that increasingly makes me want to scream is the “small town / small mind” mindset. Yes, that’s an overgeneralization. But there are SO MANY people in my community who seem thrilled with things that just seem like small potatoes to me. I find myself wanting to ask, “Do you know there’s more out there? Do you know there’s a bigger world outside of this bubble?” A comment by an acquaintance that still eats at my soul several years after the fact, which illustrates my point: “State jobs are really good jobs. Lots of people get in and stay for a long time.” REALLY?!?!? SOUL-SUCKING GOVERNMENT JOBS ARE THE BEST YOU HOPE FOR?!?! I want to connect with people who Dare Greatly (thanks, Brene Brown), who burn inside to do more and to BE more. Those are my people, and I’m ready to connect. Thanks for what you do – all the things we see and especially the things we don’t always see, at least not at first. Those are the things that make us all better, Ramit.

I’vê been collaborating with a company for ten years. I really love their products. I use them my self, but…..my business hasn’t gone almost anywhere. I’m pondering about the specific reasons. Is it purely me or what other factors could be involved. I’m thinking about changing business/industry completely. This is what I’m thinking of breaking with.
To fishing I just want to day thank you to Ramit for all the great articles and even better material. I admire your work and courage very much.
Thank you

I need to break from the career I’m stuck in. I had 6 or 7 wonderful years. Unfortunately, I’ve just started my 10th. Multiple promotions and more than doubling my salary in that time is not enough to compensate the complete lack of interest I have for the job and the city I live and work in. I work for the federal government and would like to stay. But maybe it’s time to wade back into the private sector. I didn’t enjoy my previous venture in the private sector.
I see what Caris posted above and share many of those sentiments. I love the Brene Brown reference and her books are amazing.
Ramit, at a minimum you’ve helped people at least take baby steps; fall a few times then get you motor running. When followed through, i have no doubt that I’ll find what I want once I complete Dream Job and Zero to Launch.

I run a martial arts gym in Canberra, Australia and one of the hardest things for me to do is to shut down a program that is under performing. Every time I have found it incredibly uncomfortable and usually try and find reasons not to do it – and yet every time I carry through within 60 days not only am I happier, the gym is earning more money and attracting more potential customers. This break moment has come a number of times now and will no doubt come again.

It’s always nice to see people doing great things, thanks RAMIT, as a South African who want to start my ways of making it yet in life I’ll continue reading your blogs. I want to start trading forex and help people to also join, I’m straggling to find my ways but I’m not going to give up, I’ll do my research. keep going

Hi Ramit,

This was a really interesting and timely read. I run my own maths and science tutoring business (for several years now) and I love doing it. I’ve recently started implementing the program from The Art of Learning Foundation (Josh Waitzkin’s foundation for improving education) and both my students and I are flourishing. We’re really getting deep into the mechanics of learning instead of simply focusing on the information. I am busy learning incredible skills (real empathy, a deep understanding of the learning process and how to use these to make a measurable difference) and I will walk out of the end of this process with an amazing skill set.

I also enjoy the autonomy, the problem solving and when I want to experiment, I can plan it out and go for it. These are all things that I love. I love that there’s all this stuff that I know nothing about and I can stretch myself to carve a path through all that uncertainty.

The thing is, though I’m sustaining myself financially, I’m not exactly busy making a great life for myself. There’s nobody to blame for this but me and I’ve been systematically working through your stuff which I find is very information rich and really challenges me (I use that experience to relate to students who are struggling with maths problems that I find easy). This weekend, a job opportunity landed on my lap. My years of education-related experience is an excellent fit for their needs, it’s a start-up and having started something myself, I have a good grasp of what the man who started the company is going through. The benefit here is that I’d be paid more.

I’ve been doing research on them and though their marketing is solid I am not convinced of their product. It focused on the information delivery only and whenever learning strategies are mentioned they are pretty superficial…and the stuff we’re working on with The Art Of Learning Foundation? Forget about it. Might they be interested in it? I am not sure, it would depend on whether or not R&D is important to them or not and from what the research so far, I don’t see that it is (I’m still researching though).

So do I go for this job and kill my business? Or do I stay with what I do and learn how to add value and sell that? Or do I keep this as a labour of love and learn as much as I can here, and create more than one stream of income? I have no idea. Before the job opportunity my plan was to “Work through Ramit’s stuff to build financial & business skills and somehow grow the current business into something more profitable.” Which is no plan at all.

Drew Peterson

Thanks for this. It was one of your most valuable posts in a while. I’ve debated back and forth on killing one of my product lines and your thoughts sealed the decision – kill it.

I need to break my mentality of in-person conferences. I continue to put money into my business, but not into showing up and creating new very valuable connections. At the end of April, after my first-ever-launch is finished, I’m going to ‘break’ my psychology of not wanting to spend money on conferences and I’m going to choose THREE to go to by the end of the year.

No more thinking that I won’t get a return on that kind of investment – I know I can learn all I need without traveling to those things, but human connection is the most valuable kind for business, and I need to begin acting like it!

Can’t wait to check out Forefront!!

Thanks for the e-mail. I am starting to realize that for my is more a personal situation that I can’t go forward.
Thanks again Mr. Sethi.

Andree-Anne

thank you for your openness !

This is a great lesson on how to be vulnerable. I can see how dedicated you are to the quality of work you put out there!
what I need to «break» for groth is to let go of control.
I want to do everything. It works on a small scale but rapidly becomes unsustainable. As a creative I need more time to explore. And less stress to be more creative.
thank you so much Ramit! I look forward to read your emails ! You give so much of yourself. Know that it is much appreciated :)

What I need to break is myself. I’m literally my own worst enemy, holding myself back for fear of failure, reprisal, whatever.
(I’m the guy who reads all of Ramit’s stuff and never does a thing about it)
So yeah. Break myself and grow.

So what are you going to do?

It’s one thing to acknowledge the problem.

Now it’s time to do something about it.

Hi Ramit. It was refreshing and a good reminder that if you “seem” to be doing well, may not actually mean that you are doing well.

I really like your product, at the moment I only have ZTL but I did subscribe to the coaching thing. This is a feedback plus sharing.

Firstly what works; The videos are informative, but it’ s a bit too much. To be honest I have never gone through every single video, simply because I run an active business and time is , well a luxury. But the coaching product that supported it was amazing especially with 2 of your coaches.

I was able to make a 7 figure sale in one campaign for a project because of that. For years I tried to break into the online market and my only success came through ZTL. I did consider the RBT but my community experience in ZTL kinda put me off. Don’t get me wrong, I got amazing cut to the meat feedback from quality members.
But there are so many dabblers and self righteous people who feel so validated because they are in ” RAMITS” community and they emulate your way of giving feedback. When you do it, it comes from a place of experience and knowledge. When they do it, it comes of as rude, annoying and trying too hard for significance.

So in the end even though I won big with ZTL and I would declare that anywhere, an element of the product is what stopped me from continouing. Even now am considering other parts of the programme like 6 figure consulting and such, but that community experience left a very bad taste in my memories that I hesitate.

Very similiarly the year before I joined ZTL I had a group based coaching programme. The aim was to simplify my large consulting and development programmes for small startups and businesses and allow multiple people to share the programmes and learnings. My success rate for this programme was 50 – 50. For every one client that we closed and grew to a bigger business there was one who floundered because they needed a very personal touch beyond the offered community support.

And although the small client who grew became a big ticket the fixing of those who didnt fit the mould became a frustrating cost and issue. In 18 months I ended up discarding that programme and retuned my focus to big clients again. Because my brand and my product doesn’t have the empathy and required “understanding” of a small market. So i catered back to my strength. The experiment i guess was to see if we had a product to serve all markets, but the outcome was we were not.

Very interesting to hear your perspective, Amar. Thank you for sharing. Please send me an email — I’ll work with you to figure out if we have something that would be a fit for you (or if I can recommend something else). Thanks again for such detailed feedback.

Personally, I loved the interviews, they were with original people who think in interesting, different and inspiring ways. It was very nice to be able to just listen in but understand the decision. I would think a large part of the program can probably be (and already was) taken over by these more personal events or meetups. It may be that the best contributors who were looking for something else already made a jump to ZTL before and the remaining community was there esp for the personal contacts but that’s a guess.

Many things to break, from realising you cannot learn all and need some help in certain areas, to trying to prevent being sucked into tricky family situations, to realising it’s very difficult to try and adjust too many areas in your life all at the same time but better focus on one or two.
Thanks for the interviews.

RBT was a complete game-changer for me, even though I joined it late. The community was what made it amazing, but the growth in the first batch compared to the newbies coming in made for that huge disparity in what people wanted. Reading this behind-the-scenes is not just eye-opening, but really goes to show just how much work goes into creating a product. And I just want to say that I truly appreciate all the hard work that you and your team have put into into it.

I do agree with Carolynn and a lot of the other commenters who said that 30 days wasn’t enough to d/l all the interviews. I wish I had at least 3 months, or that I would have had lifetime access to the interviews I paid for, or even if you guys could’ve sent them to us in some way. I’m based out of China now, so downloading those interviews took me anywhere between 2-30 hours, if the download was successful (sometimes, it wasn’t), and I ended up having to prioritize the videos that were more important to me over the ones that I might not have watched.

I just wanted to drop in and tell you that RBT changed my life. I have an accountability partner with whom I speak with on a weekly basis, and that’s been incredibly helpful in getting my life moving in a direction I want it to go in. I wouldn’t have this without RBT. So thank you!

Hi, Ramit.

I am in ZTL and In December I had my very first launch of my MVP and sold 30 units. I just did the break thing last week: I took a two-month leave of absence from my day job in order to figure out how to scale my business — and to actually start scaling it.

I have two barriers: one is being incredibly intimidated by everyone else in the IWT/ZTL community. Briefly, I am so not in your demographic that I might as well be living on Mars. (I’m not a special snowflake, as I know ZTL can even work on Mars.)

The second barrier is allowing myself to spend money in order to make money, like joining Accelerator. Noah Kagan mentioned on a recent podcast that non-Millennials have a hard time with the “invest in your business” paradigm. He’s 100 percent right.

Losing a bit of your SAF persona would be helpful, and allowing people to give negative feedback on the post-module surveys would be good, too. You’re a pretty intimidating person to give negative feedback to.

Thanks, Ramit. You have changed my life in so many non-business ways, as well as have given me the chance to make a living in a non-traditional way. I am grateful.

Deena

Gosh, this really speaks to me. I need to break up with an old part of myself, a part that I’ve been living with for a long time, so I can experience new relationships, new jobs, new growth, and a whole new part of life!

Thank you for this important inquiry and topic!

Sarah

Using Earn1K I’ve build my side hustle into a $150,000 (revenue) per year personal training business. I don’t chase Sales any longer, they chase me which is everything I ever wanted when I got started. However, I’ve been trying to commit to my online ZTL business and I cannot do both at the same time. I need to “delete” my in person Business in order to give the time and energy to my online business. Raising prices hasn’t reduced demand. I just need to step away.

Outstanding work. We’ve helped lots of people in exactly your situation. Send me an email and I’ll direct you to the right resources.

Hi Ramit, perhaps I’m being a bit naive or didn’t fully understand the scope of the product, what about the ‘ascension’ aspect of RBT? Surely of the thousands of people who were members, many would have converted to other courses at a much higher rate for additional pathways into your other pre-existing products (or packaged with RBT-exlcusive add-ons to those products? For RBT exclusive upsells, for $299/pp live meets up/talks/Q&As with the interview-ees, for a $99/month version where they get to do a private 90 minute ‘Ask Me Anything’ live chat with the guest each month, for a per-city $1999/pp RBT invite only workshop with you, for a +$2499/year version where they do a monthly group call with you or your best accelerator coaches for accountability on their specific goals? All these are random $ numbers and examples, but is there something I’m missing why 20-30% of the members couldn’t be upsold 1 level, 20-30% of them another level, 20-30% of them another level and so on, so even if RBT was break-even, it became a worthwhile and sustainable business unit, because of the ‘system’ is feeds into? Cheers.

A very good question. With the existing business model, those numbers wouldn’t make sense, even if we were able to convert 20% to a higher tier.

I need a break from my 9-5 umbilical cord that’s tied to a corporate paycheck. I need to make the jump and go out on my own. Trying to turn the website above into a viable learning space. Getting there step-by-step, but yeah. I feel like the time is coming soon for me to cut (or break) the cord and jump.

As an executive director of a nonprofit, your story resonated greatly with me.
It’s amazing how something that’s generated $2 million can still be experiencing underlying issues that still preclude it from being a success that lasts forever.

I really respect your making a decision that both honored the community and respected the data.

Looking forward to seeing your future successes.

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