How I Won Tim Ferriss’ Competition And A Ticket Around The World

Last year Tim Ferriss posted an article on his wildly popular blog titled My Unusual $20,000 Birthday Gift (Plus: Free Roundtrip Anywhere in the World).  I read the article and thought, “Hey, that’s cool.  I should enter.”  I glanced at the due date for applications and, noticing that I still had a whole month to participate, told myself maybe I’d do it later, like thousands of others.

A couple days later, a friend of mine reposted it in our 4HWW Berlin group and I noticed that I had read the application date wrong–rather than thirty-two days until the fundraiser and competition was complete, there was actually TWO days.  I thought, “shit, it’s now or never, isn’t it?” I noticed that there were hundreds of comments supporting the idea or contributing to the conversation about it, but there was a relatively low number of people entering the competition part of it to win that roundtrip ticket anywhere in the world.

That surprised me.  Still, I didn’t feel I had a reasonable shot at winning because several of the people who had actually entered seemed to have quite a large following, compared to me but also by most standards.

But then I remembered what Ferriss wrote in his very own book–”Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre.  The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals.”

I remembered the story of how he offered a class of students a free trip around the world in return for writing to 3 seemingly-impossible-to-reach people and getting a reply from one, and not a single student even tried to complete the challenge because “all of them overestimated the competition, no one even showed up.”  And I thought.. well, I’m probably not going to win, but I’m going to give it all I can.  I can still “show up”.  If I don’t enter, I can’t win.

To enter the competition, all you had to do was leave a comment telling how you promoted his charity drive.  I looked at my situation, and assessed it.  For spreading the word about his charity goal, most entrants had tweeted, facebooked, and emailed their followers and contacts.  In terms of social media, I had a modest twitter following, a strong but small email list, and a fair number of facebook friends.  So if I was going to go the “traditional” route, it looked like my chances were slim.

I sat down with a blank piece of paper and thought, “how can I go the extra mile?  how can I leverage my strengths and what I DO have to set me apart?”  I focused on my strengths and what resources I had at my disposal.

“Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre.”

One of my favorite parts about Tim’s ideology is that you can create win-win situations.  It just takes a bit of planning and creativity. The gist of what he writes about is that you can make money through your business, help others and provide immense value to them with your work, have plenty of time to do whatever you want by creating passive income streams, and even enjoy the work you do.  He asserts that life doesn’t have to be trudging through a dull job you dislike just because its “normal” and it pays the bills.  And I know its true because I’ve had a taste of it myself, both with successes in my own company and vicariously through many of the friends I’ve made from our 4HWW Berlin group.

So on my blank sheet of paper, I took stock of my resources and racked my brain to formulate a win-win scenario.  I wanted to tie everything together–to incorporate my greeting card company (which is even based on the 4HWW model), benefit my customers and potentially bring in new ones, harness my best skill (creativity), advance the charity drive, and create a positive feedback loop to “pay it forward”.   I came up with an idea, and before I could second-guess myself, I took immediate action right then and there with the mantra “I’m going to give it all I can.  If I don’t enter, I can’t win” on repeat in my head.

The idea was this–I released a brand new design for sale in my store dedicated to the charity drive, and created a storewide sale in which the customer received 50% off and I gave 50% to the Room to Read Charity in Tim’s drive.

After several hours of this inspiration-fueled burst, I felt satisfied that I gave it my best.  I had no idea if it would be enough, but at the very least I could be proud of myself that I did all I could.  The rest was in the hands of Tim and his crew–they would choose the top 5 commenters who would proceed to the next round in the competition.

The deadline for the charity drive passed and amazingly (but unsurprisingly) his readers and followers exceeded the $20k donation goal, meaning Tim would also donate his own $20k.

Two weeks passed, and finally there was a new post about the great victory for the charity, as well as the names of the 5 top commenters who would move on to the next round of the competition.

My name was among them (and my jaw was on the floor).

The next stage of the competition, which was to decide the winner of the roundtrip ticket, would be decided by a pure and simple vote.  I still didn’t think I stood a serious chance, especially up against a guy with 50,000 youtube followers and a woman with an incredibly heart-wrenching story among the lot.  But I stuffed my worries and reminded myself what mindset got me into the competition in the first place–it was one where dreaming was allowed and I went for it anyways with a “why not?” attitude.

My strategy was simple.. to ask everyone I know to vote for me.

I wrote and messaged and called as many people as I could personally, one by one, telling them how grateful I’d be if they could vote and spread the word in any way.  I included a message they could copy-and-paste as their statuses, so that if they wanted to, they could repost it or edit it.  I asked my friends to help me brainstorm and get involved.  I talked about it to everyone I encountered and asked them to go home and have their moms and dads and grandparents and cousin’s dogs vote and spread the word.  I asked everyone in my 4HWW group.  I even made a joke youtube video.  I exhausted my brain and my body and then let go–I waited to hear the results for several weeks, without trying to think or worry about the outcome (especially because I was traveling at the time).

Almost four weeks from the original post went by and I heard nothing.  One day I woke up early to go on a run–I was in Geneva in a hostel on a trip with my brother.  I checked my email and saw nothing of interest, then loaded up Ferriss’s website to see if there was any news.  I saw that the results had been posted, and since I hadn’t received an email I didn’t think I had won.

But my name was there again.  And it was at the top.  I won.

I shook my brother.. “I won.  I.. won.  I won.”

He thought I was joking.  I repeated it a couple more times and shoved the computer towards him.  I felt a huge rush of adrenaline rush through my body, jumped up, shaking, excited.  After a while I remember I was going on a run, so I headed out the door and along Geneva’s picturesque Rhône riverside in the morning sunshine.  The rush of adrenaline lasted the entire run and I felt a huge wave of appreciation and gratitude.

The secret to winning didn’t have a lot to do with me–I could only vote for myself once.  It was my friends, family, and contacts who made it happen and for that I’m extremely thankful.

I used the ticket I won to do just what I said–travel around the world and write a creative cookbook called The Eat Team.  For the past 5 months, I’ve traveled Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and today I’m writing to you from Auckland, New Zealand.

It’s that time of year again, and Tim is currently hosting another charity and win-a-roundtrip-ticket contest at this very moment.  Could this one be your ticket around the world?  Go enter now.

Photography Recap of 2011

Year in Review Melissa Rachel Black

As human beings, we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time, but we drastically underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or two.  - The Minimalists

It has been an incredible year of intense change, rapid growth, love, loss, gratitude and contentment.  Here are the most kick-ass, memorable parts paired with some of my favorite shots from 2011.

Landed my “dream job.”  I worked 9-5 as a graphic designer and letterpress printmaker in Dusseldorf, Germany, making fancy-ass wedding invitations.

Melissa Rachel Black

Landed my “dream job” as a letterpress printer & graphic designer.

Quit my dream job. I realized it was someone else’s dream, and what I really wanted was to sustain myself through my own creativity, my own decisions, and on my own time.  To have time to live and experiment and give back and do crazy things.

Moved to Berlin.  Fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with a city.  Met amazing people, danced till sunrise, ate enough falafel to last a lifetime.  I recommend you move there like Maneesh says, or at least visit it.

Berlin by Melissa Rachel BlackMoved to Berlin. (You should too.)

Berlin by Melissa Rachel Black

Sparked the creation of a group of 4-Hour-Workweek entrepreneurs which still meets weekly and has grown to over 150 people.  Found some of my closest friends, mentors, and inspiration within it.  One of the most life-changing and amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur's group.  With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur’s group. With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.

Started my first business.  Out of my love for jokes, letterpress printing (and the desire to be my own boss) grew Ye Olde Gangster, the world’s first collection of gangster-rap birthday cards & love notes.  Got featured in some awesome places, was selected to sell at Neurotitan’s brick-and-mortar, and teamed up with the Hipstery, the raddest company ever.  Got two menterns to teach and learn from and keep things running while I start the next adventure.

Ye Olde Gangster by Melissa Rachel Black
Started my first biz, Ye Olde Gangster, handmade gangster-rap greeting cards.

Launched Art Outlines, a collection of handmade outline illustrations I draw for folks to use in wedding invitations, website design, books, etc.

Art Outlines by Melissa Rachel Black

Launched Art Outlines.

Broke up with my boyfriend.  Stung like hell for a while, then turned out to be a blessing.  My new freedom allowed me to refocus my energy, meet loads of new people in a new city, and clarify my priorities.  We subtracted the parts that weren’t working but kept the parts that always rocked, meaning our friendship was able to regain its full strength and we each had space for fresh opportunities.  He’s still one of my favorite people.

Won a trip anywhere in the world from my favorite author, Tim Ferriss. I ignored the voice in my head that said I wasn’t good enough or big enough to win a competition of this magnitude, and with a little (no, A LOT) of help from you my friends, managed to win!  You guys rocked my world and I won’t waste this opportunity: I am using this ticket to share something awesome with you.

Spoke at an international Etsy conference with my favorite Etsy blogger, Danielle Maveal on small business, passion, and making it happen.

Learned German.  It’s nowhere near native level, but I moved to Germany without knowing a single word, and by the time I left a year later, I could read and write and communicate just about any idea (as long as the listener was patient).  I keep up now by reading my great friend Sebastian Michel’s blog, Mr. Minimalist.

Traveled.  With my brother for the first time–had stinky cheese with our friends in France and a picnic in Switzerland.  Harvested honey at my friend’s parents farm in Germany.  Couchsurfed with vegan anarchists in Czech Republic.  Climbed the Swiss Alps in the pouring rain (scared shitless, literally thought I was going to die) with new friend.  Traveled all over California and stayed with old friends from college in Oakland, Santa Cruz, & San Francisco.

 Got to try life on the farm with my friend's family in Raakow, Germany.

Got to try life on the farm with my friend’s family in Raakow, Germany.

Learned Capoeira.  Sucked at it, but enjoyed getting sweaty, meeting new people, and trying something new for a few months.  Started an exercise routine that sticks.

Launched The E.A.T. Team, a project where I’ll use the ticket I won from Tim Ferriss to  travel across Asia, Australia, New Zealand and USA in 2012 to interview artists and chefs for an inspiring cookbook I’ll co-create with one of my best friends.

Met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  This is the most meaningful part of the list for me.  I’ve learned and changed a lot over the last few years, 2011 especially, and meeting people who embraced these new ideas that I loved fueled my fire and I am incredibly grateful for that.  It’s not often you “click” in a deep, fundamental essence of being like I do with my friend Sebastian Michel of Mr. Minimalist.  I got to live and work and play with Adam Fletcher, Maneesh Sethi, Rachman Blake, Mars Dorian, Marcel Phillippe, Fab & Vivien, and a few awe-inspiring people here and there who don’t live on the internet ;)  I also met some of my favorite authors and entrepreneurs, including Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Tim Ferriss, Charlie Hoehn, Corbett Barr, Camila Prada, Nicola Rowlands and more.  The cliche of surrounding myself with like-minded people turned out to be an extremely worthwhile one to pursue–it’s like having a big non-cliquey family who cheers each other on.

The big life changes don’t happen over night. Give yourself some time. Put in a lot of effort and keep at it. You’ll be surprised with what can happen in a year. The Minimalists

The biggest lesson I want to carry into 2012 is living without expectations of myself or of others.  I feel like every single second, no matter who you are, there are enough blessings in your field of vision to last a lifetime.  Knowing that you are, have, and do enough in this moment, you’re set for life.  Happy New Years and here’s to an epic 2012!

Berlin 4-Hour-Workweek Recap for 6/3: Forums & Blogging

Abuela by Melissa Rachel Black

What would grandma say when you're not sure how to proceed with your business? Just keep trying till something works.

Perhaps the most successful 4HWW meeting yet, we’ve adopted a new format.  Rachman leads the discussions, and asks if anyone has any specific questions or needs help on a particular area in their muse.  I think it’s a great format because its structured like a 1-on-1 conversation which gives individual people real feedback, and the material is useful for the group as well, and everyone is free to jump in to the conversation.  We talked about:

- Hiring SEO experts on Odesk to write affiliate/adsense articles

- Using Feedback Army for real live humans to test the usability of your site and give you feedback, for a small fee.

- Using Appsumo to get daily web coupons (“groupon for web applications”)

- A/B testing with Optimizely is free and highly-recommended by Fabian Dittrich

- You can buy facebook likes for your business or website to increase “credibility”

- Using forums on your blog to increase interaction and productivity, in two ways: 1. Posting on existing forums to bring traffic to your site, or 2. Finding a niche where there isn’t already a forum and bringing it to life by building a forum  on your site.  Increase interaction while at the same time increasing content on your site.  PHPbb is free to build a bulletin board/forum.

- Using Balsamiq for idea prototyping to create digital sketch mockups of a product.

- One of our new visitors, Erik Frank, told us about his site where you can rent great apartments in Berlin for vacation or short stays at berlincribs.com

- Using kickstarter to fund creative projects–a really unique, community-building way of raising money for doing what you love.

- Putting things in terms of dollar signs is a great strategy because it gives customers a good perspective.  For example, a customer who wanted to quit drinking asked Rachman why his site Make Habits cost so much to join, and he told her that she’d save the $39 in a week or two of not drinking, as that’s only 5 or 6 drinks at a bar.

- Sebastian Mikaelson (who is bringing minimalism to Germany at Mr. Minimalist) increased efficiency of his blog by making an elite area and newsletter.

- Using Google Keywords to help think of words to include in your blog’s articles to boost your blog’s appearance in search engines.

- Sebastian also recommends Copyblogger.  He says it provides great content to help new bloggers.

- Mixergy has tons of inspirational videos of successful entrepreneurs.

- Lynda has training/how-to videos on EVERYTHING.  You have to pay, but its a great service according to several folks in the group.

- We all committed to a weekly goal.  Mine was to contact 20 people for my etsy shop.

Looking forward to next week!

Berlin 4-Hour-Workweek Recap for 5/27: Marketing, Networking & Credibility

4-Hour Workweek afterparty. (Ok, not really)

We had even more new people at the meeting than last time! Here’s a quick recap of what we discussed:

- Networking: Rachman reccommends asking people for feedback on your business, and spreading your ideas far and wide. He sets aside 30 minutes every day to email people.

- Using a 110% guarantee on your product. Its more than just risk-free for your customer, and it works.

- How to increase credibility: getting publicity in newspapers, magazines, and blogs – Fabian Dittrich joined us for the first time and he shared his awesome project Fab & Vivien Around the World: they will quit their 9 to 5 jobs and travel the world to increase awareness about social causes and raise money for local projects.

- Chris Williams visited us from the US and shared his experience building his successful business, Heat Spring Learning Institute, which provides education on clean energy training.

- How to make money before your product is ready, and how to prepare for product creation: Teach a class on what you know and charge for it–you will get great feedback from the participants, make money, and gain experience.

- Marketing tips for PPC and in general: Ask a question. For example, if you’re selling a “How to Dance” product, write “Do You Like Dancing?” in your ad

- Using Evernote to streamline & organize notetaking.

So excited to work with you! See you Friday :)

The Beauty of Doing It Quick and Dirty

Meeting Tim Ferriss, The Creation & Explosion of our Weekly 4HWW Berlin Meeting, and A Surprise Mentorship from a Car Thief (Juicy Stuff at the End)

Maneesh, Tim, Rachman & Me. Photo stolen from Rachman Blake.
Maneesh, Tim, Rachman & Me. Photo stolen from Rachman Blake.

What a fucking month.  Four weeks ago I made a post in my local Berlin couchsurfing group to ask if there was anyone in the city working on their own “muse” (a self-sustaining automated income business designed to earn money with minimal time investment, so that people can spend more time living and less time working, as described in the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss).  I had recently finished reading this book and was basically using it as a Bible to guide me through the steps to make my own business.  I was working alone every day which was boring and lonely, and when I did take the time to meet people, it seemed I was only meeting people who were unhappily but steadily treading down the traditional 9-5 job path.  Every time they asked me what I was doing in Berlin and I replied that I was making my own business, they nodded and smiled and assumed I was “just another starving artist” sitting at home watching Scrubs all day.  This was disheartening.  I’ve read that it’s best to surround yourself with likeminded people, so I gave it a shot with the couchsurfing post… although to be honest, I really didn’t think many people would respond.

On the same day I receive 11 responses, including two from people who had already successfully created their muses and were already successfully living the “digital nomad” lifestyle that I’m working towards!  Even more surprising was the fact that they reached out and offered to help me and the other people who posted that they were interested!  And so began a weekly meeting.

4HWW Party in Berlin

4HWW Party in Berlin, Photo by Axel Jack Metayer

A steady group of about 6 or 7 people headed by Rachman Blake (one of the already-doin-it lifestyle designers) began to gather every week and it has really been an inspiring experience: to know that there are likeminded people in a vicinity, to bounce ideas off one another, to get direct and appropriate feedback and advice.  I look forward to it the entire week, and when I leave, I’m absolutely buzzing with excitment to work on my muse (though the meeting ends on Friday night, which means we’re obliged to party and work must wait… damn life sucks).

I toiled for three weeks brainstorming ideas, re-reading the book, outlining my goals, and creating and adjusting my first muse experiment.  I launched the website last week with a live google adwords campaign and everything, and heaved a big sigh of relief and joy: it was far from perfect, but I had something to show for all my blood sweat & tears (and seriously there were a lot of the last two).

As if it weren’t enough excitement for 3 weeks, I woke up the next morning to find a new post on Tim Ferriss’ blog (read by at least 18 gazillion people) which showed videos made by the entrants of his latest competition.  I was hardly surprised but utterly amped to see that both Rachman Blake and Maneesh Sethi (the two successful 4HWW muse creators who had been helping me) had made it into the semifinals! Equally exciting was the tidbit at the end of the blog post: Tim would be coming to Berlin that very day!  At this moment, I knew I would meet Tim Ferriss.  Imagine a child tasting Nutella for the first time, then riding a pony to the moon, and winning an award for being the world’s best Astronaut.  This was my glee.

And meet him I did. Tim showed up to our weekly meeting last week (woah), and our little group swelled from 6 people to about 40.  He gave a great impromptu Q&A about learning Chinese, being an angel investor, speed reading, and other various random questions that his readers had.  It was awesome.  Rachman & Maneesh (who are also DJs) threw a great party yesterday at L.U.X. in Berlin for Tim, and we got to meet him again.  As exciting as it was to meet the man who wrote the book which has seriously influenced the actions I’m taking in my life, I think the most rewarding part was networking with all these amazing people who are bursting with creative entrepreuneurial energy.  Now we have a facebook group (you should join it) for the growing number of people in Berlin who are interested in building their 4HWW businesses.

The Juicy Ending

Like I said, there were a lot of awesome people at the L.U.X. party, and one of them happened to be the renowned car thief, Axel Jack Metayer.  Ok, ok he’s not a car thief, but that’s what his blog, http://autoschieber.net/ translates to in German.  (Check out his recap of meeting Tim Ferris in Berlin.)  Jack has also been successfully running an automated muse for over 5 years: he owns one of Germany’s leading Auto News websites and offere

Don't be a pussy

Life Lesson: Don't be a pussy. Get it done now, Quick & Dirty.

d to help me with my muse.  We met for lunch the next day and did a lot of brainstorming, website research, learning, sharing.  Lunch turned into dashing to a Capoeira class, Capoeira class turned into a mini party, and a mini party turned into Jack Couchsurfing in our living room.  Today he helped me edit and re-launch my website and adwords campaign.  I learned A LOT, but the most important lesson he had to share was what I will fondly name the Quick & Dirty Technique:  The point is just to get SOMETHING out there.  My muse is nowhere near perfect or  finished in any way, and I could spend the next year of my life getting it ready and still not feel ready or done… but I got the basics down in a gritty way and hit “Publish”.  Now I can test it, and improve it in the next step.  And Jack’s not the only one who suggests this: other “successful” people whom I really admire (like Rachman and Steve Pavlina and a zillion other people throughout history–you got links?) have said the same thing. Their advice to me and my advice to you is just to take that step you’ve been wanting to take: it’s never going to be perfect and you’re never going to be ready, but if you don’t do it now then you risk the chance that you never will.  And you don’t want to grow old wishing you had done that thing you were scared shitless to do, do you?  So get out there and send your script to that director, mail your essay to that magazine, quit that boring job, and ask that hottie out on a date.  Don’t worry about the little stuff, don’t waste time telling yourself you’re not good enough, don’t listen to the fear (everyone has it), ignore the small mistakes for now, and start: hit the literal or proverbial “Publish” button.  Just do it!  You might fail, but if you do, you’ll know how to do it better next time.  And it’s gonna work sooner or later :)

So, I will follow this advice today twice:

1. I will publish this post after only 1 edit (for spelling errors), and without second-guessing myself.

2. And I will present my baby muse to my friends, family, and the public via my websites (flickr, etsy, twitter, and facebook) and here to you, right now: http://www.artoutlines.com