How I Would Succeed If I Started With Nothing


in Make Money

Earlier this week, we talked about what it would be like to lose everything, and I told you that only one mindset is essential for building yourself back up.


If you’re grateful for what you have, even at your lowest moments, you can overcome any obstacle. Even the seemingly insurmountable ones.

Many of you also started a gratitude journal with me, live on Hack The System (look at all the awesome responses).

All this is great. But let’s get real for a minute: After gratitude has to come ACTION.

We’re not going to get from where we are to where we want to be by sitting crosslegged in our fuzzy pink slippers with a soft candle flickering and Beethoven in the background.

This is Hack The System. We don’t believe in “The Secret.” We believe in making shit happen. Period.

Here’s a secret for you: Do work

A tactical breakdown from the “bottom”

Here’s the situation: Imagine I’m myself, but I make an average salary, have no special connections, no Stanford education, no brother, no nothing.

Let’s also assume I live in an expensive city like NYC or LA.

The point here is to strip away all perceived advantages — and also to show you that coming from the bottom has little to do with circumstance and almost everything to do with strategies (and tactics).

How would I get back to where I am today — the owner of several successful businesses,  the creator of a blog with a hundred thousand+ readers and  the CEO of a new tech startup?

Step 1: Identify exactly what you want

The first step to pulling yourself up is figuring out what you really want.

So what do you want to be? Who do you want to become?

If I wanted to end up exactly where I am now — I’d be extremely specific.

It’s vital to have clear picture of the result you want to achieve.

  • “I want to start a successful dropshipping business that generates X in revenue per month.”
  • “I want to start a consulting firm that has X number of clients.”
  • “I want to start a blog that has Z subscribers and generates money passively.”

Whatever the goal is, get granular.

Sometimes your focus will wane, sometimes you’ll get distracted or become less productive. But having some guiding principles, or specific goals to reach for, are key to long term success.

Step 2: Surround yourself with the right people (in the right place)

You have to find people who are doing what you want to do and become friends with them. Period.

As much as your own will power (and primarily, your habits) determine your outcome, so too do the people you surround yourself with.

Tim Ferriss and I

Do you live in an area where you’re likely to meet people who share your interests and can ELEVATE you from where you are to where you want to be?

For example, if you want to be an entrepreneur…but you’re living in Wisconsin…are you in the best environment for growth?

Maybe not.

You might consider areas with higher concentrations of young people making things happen, such as:

  • Boston
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Portland
  • Austin
  • Atlanta

If you’re in Europe:

  • Berlin
  • London

Is living in a “trendy” location a prerequisite for success? No. But you’d be surprised how much it helps. Eventually, if you start putting yourself in the right place, you’re bound to make connections that just wouldn’t be possible back home in Wisconsin.

A great place to start meeting people is a co-working space or incubator, like Bolt. A few days just hanging around these people and you start to make friends, get great ideas, and gain access to resources you didn’t have before.

It’s not that hard — you can literally just show up and start talking to people. Try it. You’ll learn a lot!

Step 3: Build a following

You’ve located yourself in an area where opportunities are plentiful, and you’ve started to make friends. Excellent. Now it’s time to build your following.

There are many ways to do this. You can start a blog, a YouTube channel, or a podcast.

But you have to build a list of people and position yourself at the top.

I’d recommend starting with an email list via a blog. For all the Chicken Littles crying the end of email, it’s still going stronger than ever. You probably got this post delivered to you in an email today.

If I wanted to start Hack The System all over again, I’d start by meeting everyone that I could in the blogging space and aligning myself with people who were doing the best work.

(Notice how it’s all about meeting people and making connections? This is a pervasive theme with success in any discipline.)

The easiest way to meet high-value people is to interview them. I talked about this process extensively in my article on the Sex Scandal Technique.


I identified all the top bloggers I wanted to connect with, started a podcast, got a camera and went across the country to their doors for an interview. I made great friends, and high-powered allies who support my work to this day. Check out this interview I did with Scott H. Young in 2012.


Bonus: Not only do things like interviews help you form relationships with high-value individuals, they also create great content that you can use to start growing your newsletter explosively. (Did you see my detailed Think Traffic article on this?)

NOTE: These concepts — finding friends, connecting with allies, building a following — are NOT just useful for building a blog. You can literally use them to start any business or career imaginable. I’m only referring to blogging here because it’s what I would do if I had to start over again. But you can use these strategies and tactics in any field. Remember that.

Now, you’ve met friends in your city, made some high-powered allies and started a following.

What’s next?

Step 4: Find a world-class coach

Now you need someone to help guide you through the pitfalls in your chosen industry. You need to find someone who has already accomplished what you’d like to do.

You need a mentor.

Having a mentor guide you through a difficult task can speed up your development 3X, 5X, even 10X simply because you’re not wasting your time on things that don’t matter. You can focus all your attention on the things that do and get immediate feedback when you’re doing something wrong.

The best way to find a mentor is to ask the new group of friends and allies you cultivated. They’ll be able to point you in the direction of reliable people in your space.

Step 5: Get paying clients

By now, you have all the tools you need. You’ve built a small network and generated a following. Even if it’s not big, it’s something. It counts.

Now, you need to start generating revenue.

If I wanted to generate $4,000 – $5,000/month to cover my basic expenses, I’d leverage my blog to get paying clients.

  • You can consult people on your specialty.
  • You can create and sell digital products.
  • You can even generate ad revenue.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to make money from a few simple blog posts — like my roommate, an accountant, who generate $3,000-4,000/month on average because potential clients find his relevant blog posts in a google search and hire him.

It’s not rocket science. Just start writing.

The best way to get new clients is from existing clients. So once you get a few clients, ask them to refer you to others who may need your services.

It’s simpler than it seems.

And remember this: Never stop meeting people. Your success is dependent on your ability to make meaningful connections.

 Have you ever had to start over again from zero? What did you do? Let me know in the comments.



otto May 11, 2014 at 12:16 pm

If anyone would like to learn how to dropship and make money on ebay please checkout my youtube channel for how to videos.


Christian Carroll March 12, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Hey Maneesh! I’m graduating from Chiropractic school and starting a practice in Boston this fall! I’ll have to show you some cool treatment applications to help you break through some psychological barriers. My work’s in the application of holistic health, subconscious psychological barriers and hacking performance limits. See you in Boston 🙂
– Christian


Andrew Peltekci February 28, 2014 at 6:01 am

First off I want to start off by saying, thank you google for the random relation between the TV show, Hack the System, and Maneesh’s Website. LOL. I like how you said “The Secret” doesn’t just happen, but with you getting off your ass and doing something about it, definitely makes a difference. I am currently about to be 25 years old, and have been running my business now for 4 years. I started AP Computers, in Moreno Valley, CA in February of 2010 and have learned so many thing in the past 4 years that I never knew even existed before. I started my shop with the mindset of wanting to help people understand technology and how to use it to help better their lives. I finally am trying to drift away from being a slave of my business, to becoming an entrepreneur and starting to help people by outsourcing my expertise and skills in the e-commerce game. I have recently acknowledged that I do have ADD, but I am not using it as a crutch, if anything embracing it because I feel like it gives me the energy and ability to catch onto thing much quicker than most, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me. If I don’t pay attention to it, I realize I end up getting very easily side tracked and never get things done. So I know this sounds like a bunch of useless information about me, but the point I’m trying to get to is, taking what I know about IT, E-Commerce, Business, and Social Skills, SEO, etc… how can I find more similar minded people who want to succeeded and help other while doing it, particularly a mentor. You see I feel like I have a lot of potential to do great and amazing things, and I already know what I want from life, it’s just creating my plan of action sort of overwhelms me. For instance, I have a really great memory for the most part, so for that reason I tended not to rely on things like calendars or planners for a long time; I actually barely am starting to use them strictly for business clients, even though it should be for both business and personal events. I guess that’s the main reason why I have a hard time with punctuality. Anywho, I would really love to talk with other people who feel similar to me and just want to grow their connections and as well as maybe help each other out with our professional skills. If anyone would like to get to know more about me, and have any ideas for me, or just want my help, feel free to ask or share because I am all ears!

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I wish you all great success!


Dustbuster February 22, 2014 at 12:11 am

I’m a bit stuck — I’ve been at zero for a while. I want to be a professional artist and to that end I just started studying design, and next year I want to do entertainment design. I’m waiting to hear back from the evening classes teacher so I can get a head start by doing the extra work.

Socially, though — it’s easy to say “surround yourself with these people”, but it’s extremely difficult to pull off. If you’re not interested in running a website or anything, then you’ll find that the kind of people you want to hang out with are already being overloaded with people just like you trying to hang out with them for the same reason, so in the end you’re just rabble. I’ve been around the online art community for years; I’m not good enough yet that my art has attracted people that could be mentors. My writing has — if I write something and put it up people who write better than me practically throw themselves at me, it’s awesome. But I’ve been in the professional art community for three years now and I’m still seriously struggling to make connections, whereas I can make friends in the writing community without breaking a sweat.

I’m absolutely grateful for my writing friends. It’s just that it’s art I want to get into, and I’m having no luck there whatsoever, so I’m struggling there on my own.


rachman blake February 21, 2014 at 3:36 pm

This article gave me chills!
Maneesh you’re on fire!

Jan 1st, I literally started from zero. I was in a relationship that was going no where, I knew it, but I was too comfortable to leave, so I suffered. I found myself having to change, for a relationship, where I no longer had passion and I missed out on doing what’s most important to me, doing what I wanted to do.


Finally with enough nudging from helpful friends like Maneesh, I left the relationship, and the business my partner and I shared, and started again. From nothing.

It forced me to believe in myself, and re-consider what truly made me happy. What does make me happy?

Making people laugh. sex. transformation. helping others break out of their comfortzone.

So I combined all these things, into a comedy show for singles called Flirting with Laughter. We do it monthly, in San Francisco, Sacramento and LA, with about 150+ attendees. We’re partnering with some popular dating brands, and I’m having a damn good time. I’ve employed several of the methods Maneesh has mentioned, like interview famous people, and it’s great to see how effective it is.

I’m excited to update ya’ll soon on the next steps.

Going into Beast Mode!



rob February 21, 2014 at 4:58 am

there’s one point missing that should be on top. “get good at something”. that takes some time. nobody respects posers no matter what they write about.


Dustbuster February 22, 2014 at 12:02 am

Pretty much this. I want to be a professional artist, but holy hell, I don’t want to be one NOW! That would just be embarrassing.


Doug February 20, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Thanks for the great insight Maneesh – are you still solidly behind blogs as a conduit to communicated your message or would you place any stock in Google+ and some of the other more social forms of digital delivery (I am deep in research to determine if a blog or a google+ community is the best digital real estate to move forward with). Thoughts?


Maneesh Sethi February 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

i believe newsletters are the best. However you can get subscribers to an email newsletter…


Andrew March 11, 2014 at 10:37 am

Doug – definitely blog/email list. G+ is going to be important as an outpost (maybe the most important) but always remember that you don’t own the real estate. Google does and always will. The only thing you can own is your (self-hosted) blog and your email list.


Denny February 20, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Maneesh! What if I’m just out of college with nothing to back my “voice” and “create readers”. What if I’m not interested in being the spokesperson for a niche but just want cash? What if I want to make a product instead of consulting? Are these options off the table when starting over?



Maneesh Sethi February 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Try to do what you find interesting! And get good at it. And write about it.


Chris Johnson February 20, 2014 at 11:38 am

I’d change #5 to “get clients” and then move it to #1. Then I’d change that to “get paying clients.”


Rob McNelis February 20, 2014 at 11:35 am

Started a golf blog and got burnt out so I sold it. After a few years in corporate america I’m ready to crush it online. Focused on helping influencers, writing great content, and making sales. See you at the top.


Sandra February 20, 2014 at 9:28 am

Hi I’m starting again just now at zero, feeling a little scared, but also equally excited…….


lina February 20, 2014 at 8:00 am

its useful article.. i like it .. soon i will do what i learned


Christianne February 20, 2014 at 7:23 am

Greetings from Wisconsin Maneesh! I agree big city connections and getting in the flow is essential. I think Wisconsin is the best kept secret though, and even though I am stuck in a snowbank right now, I want to be here. What networking conferences can you suggest for me?
p.s. Come to the Mile of Music Festival or EAA this summer, and you will fall in love with Wisco!


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