A Crazy (Yet Common) Trait of Many Wildly Successful Internet Entrepreneurs

If you’re at all like me, you are constantly observing people around you (especially those who you admire), and you’re always wondering what makes them tick.  Success is everywhere, and it’s made up of so many different factors that it’s nearly impossible to create a sure-fire path to successLuck, determination, intelligence, and subject matter all play an important role, and the importance of each individual factor varies from person to person and situation to situation.

One thing I noticed that seems to be present in many examples of success (in particular, with internet entrepreneurs), is that their success was born out of some kind of chaotic situation: they were laid off from work (or fired), they were faced with unexpected, life-changing events (new child, death in the family, etc.), or were otherwise up against extreme conditions or several instances of failure.  In these examples of success, the individual in the “chaotic situation” emerged from it stronger and better equipped for success.

An examination of this seemingly common trait brings me to this question – Can “forced chaos” lead to success?

Some Real Life Examples / Case Studies

I think it makes sense to look at some real life examples, in case you’re thinking “What the heck is Eric talking about?”  These are bloggers/internet entrepreneurs who I follow, and their stories have made an impression on me.

1) Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income

You may be living under a rock if you haven’t seen or heard Flynn on his blog, YouTube videos, or iTunes podcast.  The man is everywhere, and for good reason – his content is exceptional, and he does it all in a charismatic way.

  • Chaotic Moment: In October of 2008, Pat was laid off from his job at an architect firm.
  • The Rebound: Fortunately for Pat, he was already earning a decent amount of income from his Green Exam Academy eBook (in the month he was laid off, he made close to $8,000 online).  Although Pat calls the layoff “one of the best things that ever happened to [him],” his readers will probably agree that it is also one of the best things that ever happened to them.  Now, Pat regularly makes between $10,000-30,000 per month from passive income sources online.
  • Bottom Line: Pat had all of the characteristics necessary to crush it as an internet entrepreneur, but was simply limited by his time (consumed by his “9 to 5” job).  Once he dealt with the chaotic moment of being laid off, he was free to work toward his real potential.

2) Chris Guthrie from Make Money on the Internet

Chris also plays in the online passive income game, but earns his income primary with niche sites that utilize Amazon’s affiliate program.  He recently released Niche Profit Course to explain how he’s made over $64,000 as an Amazon affiliate (I’ve actually purchased this product because I believe in what Chris does, but I haven’t gotten through it yet to the point where I can officially review it).

  • Chaotic Moment: In October of 2009 (is October the preferred month for layoffs?), Chris was laid off from his job as an IT sales professional.
  • The Rebound: Chris was already into building money making websites before he was laid off, but it’s no surprise that his best earning month in 2009 came after he was laid off – in December, he earned over $13,000 (okay, part of this was due to the holiday season, which is the best time for Amazon affiliates).  In addition to having more time after being laid off, he attributes a lot of his success to the Xbox game Halo (you’ll have to read his blog to find out why).  Now, Chris is a six-figure internet entreprenuer, and his growth will undoubtedly continue.
  • Bottom Line: Similar to Pat, Chris already had the groundwork laid for a successful career online.  All it took was a little bit of chaos to push him into it full time, where he now is seeing massive success.

3) Jeremy Schoemaker from ShoeMoney.com

Jeremy is a big time affiliate marketer who has been in the game for several years now, and he does everything at a larger scale than most affiliate marketers.  He also launched AuctionAds, an eBay affiliate marketing service, which was later purchased by a marketing company.  He’s a big player in the “make money online” niche, and can be found attending and speaking at many of the top blogger/internet marketing events and conventions.  “Successful” is probably an understatement.

  • Chaotic Moment: Prior to his great success with ShoeMoney.com, Schoemaker was a website creator victimized by the dotcom crash in the early 2000’s.  To quote Shoemaker on this chaotic point in his life:

“I spent every last dime to pay web hosting bills, and to the real world I headed working for different banks and big corporations. It never ended well and I was fired from every job. At the age of 28, I found myself overweight (about 420 lbs.), $50k in debt, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and sleeping on my friend’s couch.”

  • The Rebound: Shoemaker rebounded in a huge way.  He attributes his rebound to his wife, and in 2003, he started his own business and started blogging on ShoeMoney.com, which now receives over 30,000 visitors per day.  He has since earned more than a million dollars online, and one of his famous moments was receiving a Google Adsense check for over $130,000 in 2005.
  • Bottom Line: Despite his skills, his lack of motivation and the existing poor economic climate caused him to fall into a deep hole.  All it took was some motivation and he found his way to extreme success, and is now arguably a big internet celebrity.

An Important Side Note

Although the above examples of successful people (and many other examples that I’m not discussing here) fit the “chaos to success” mold, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many more people who face chaotic life situations and it puts them deeper into a hole, often in a devastating way.  It’s clear that chaos on its own is not a cause of success – these people who have found success after chaos also possessed other important qualities (passion, dedication, intelligence, etc.).  Without these other qualities, chaos is mostly a detrimental factor.

The Idea of “Forced Chaos”

Now, let’s get into the primary question of this article.  Let’s assume that you (or I) possess most or all of the “important” qualities, but have yet to find true success.  Up until now, we’ve been fortunate enough to not get tied up in chaotic situations, or at least, none that are highly significant.

What I’m wondering is, does this chaos have to come naturally, or can you force it and achieve the same result?  One example of this would be to quit your day job without any real planning – you obviously wouldn’t do it unless you had some ideas or projects in progress, but you wouldn’t have another job lined up.

After quitting your job somewhat spontaneously, you would be forced into a chaotic situation of sorts where you would need to succeed in order to survive (similar to Pat, Chris, and Jeremy above).  Instead of pursuing your side projects simply to “make some extra money,” you would be doing it to pay your rent, mortgage, or to provide for your family.  You wouldn’t have anything that employees often take for granted, like health and dental insurance.  You would need to pay these expenses out of pocket, or obtain insurance on your own.  The stakes are much higher, but so is the motivation. It seems to me that one thing holding us back is our comfort level with our current lifestyle.  Sure, you want more money or more free time, but you don’t need it.  Is this an essential ingredient for real success (the necessity of succeeding)?

I’m not quite sure.  I don’t plan on being a test subject for that question right now, but maybe I will in the future.  Even if I were to quit my day job, I would still lean toward getting another job in a field that interests me more, but doesn’t have the rough hour requirements of my current job (and probably wouldn’t pay as well).

Can “forced chaos” lead to success?  Or is it simply a mask for reckless behavior?  I’m very interested to see what you think, so please comment!


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16 Responses to “A Crazy (Yet Common) Trait of Many Wildly Successful Internet Entrepreneurs”

  1. Excellent read.

    You might also compare this to “the burning platform” concept. When people are forced to act, they act (such as loosing their job). Up until then people tend to go with what gives them most comfort. They might not follow their big dreams, but at least they feel “safe”.

    So what can one learn from this? Well maybe we should “simulate” what you call forced chaos. Could we perhaps tell our mind that we wouldn’t go back to the job after a holiday, and thereby “cheat” our brain into looking for solutions to the situation?

    Don’t know. But “acting” is one of the most important skills as an entrepreneur!


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Rasmus. I was unfamiliar with the “burning platform” concept, but it definitely makes sense and is in line with what I’m curious about in this article. It’s very interesting to think about how this would work, or more importantly, if it would work at all. Does anyone want to try it? :)

    You’re absolutely right that taking action is probably THE most important thing an entrepreneur can do. I guess it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you actually get yourself to take action.


  2. The term “burning platform” is usually used in businesses, but I just managed to squeeze it in under the entrepreneur hat :)


  3. Eric, a very timely and fantastic post today – it reminds me of “burning the boats” can’t remember the whole tale but the general burned the boats as they landed so it was either victory or death.

    That’s how I’m beginning to see a lot of my plans as well; I will either succeed or fail hard, I don’t want that safety net to catch me because when you know it’s there you always give it a little less than your best.

    I think throwing screwballs at yourself to start up the “forced chaos” can be quite the kick-in-the-ass to really go at it; if you think about it, a lot of big moments in life were caused by situations like these – it’s helpful stress. Control it and you’ll control your destiny (as cheesy as that sounds).


    Eric G. Reply:

    Great points, Murray, and I definitely agree with all of them. A lot of it comes down to your current life situation – do you have a wife and four kids to provide for? If so, maybe you need to take a more conservative approach.

    It’s one thing to put yourself at risk, but when you start putting other peoples’ lives at risk, I think you need to assess the situation a little bit more carefully. I think that’s where having savings (6+ months of living expenses) and a skill set or education that allows you to always fall back on a job, can help ease the minds of anyone who’s relying on your income.

    On the flip side, there are ALWAYS excuses to not do something, so sometimes it takes a little bit recklessness (or ignorance) to actually get yourself to take action.


  4. Hi Eric… good post, what I also notice outside of the forced chaotic moment it seem many, especially the lifestyle renegades wanted out of the whole treadmill lifestyle.

    Some had good businesses, some decent lifestyles when compared to most folks, but they wanted more and that desire pushed them to break beyond.

    Maybe they were escaping that forced chaos of life themselves to get to a greater peace.

    Keep the good posts coming.

    – Will


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Will, you make some good points. In addition to the chaos that these people were facing, that also had the desire to escape and the desire to achieve more. I definitely think you can’t just passively let things work out for you – you need to work for THEM. You need to take action, and really WANT it.

    Thanks for the comment!


  5. There is a common theme here – all of your examples were already either running a successful online business part-time or had the skillset to make the transition. The storys are more of an argument for using your time to expand on your current skillset in case of a market change or unplanned transition then a result of chaos.

    Everyone likes the idea of chaos yeilding success because chaos is easier to generate then years of understudy followed by a timely transition. The more common reality though is that if your are,kt taking the steps to build a business, climb a mountain, save the world,or whatever your goal is, then forcing chaos into the situation isn’t likely to change things other than to put you further behind.

    Yes, forced chaos does generate motivation, but motivation fades – and often fades quite rapidly. Discipline and consistency are far greater tools in developing a sustainable model for the life you want.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Chip, I’m glad you left this comment – I was hoping someone would argue the main message of my article, because it’s important to see both sides of the argument.
    The key thing that you said was that these people already had the skillset to make the transition – this shouldn’t be overlooked, because it’s what makes the difference between success and falling flat on your face.

    I really like what you said about everyone liking the idea of chaos yielding success because “chaos is easier to generate.” That’s an excellent point. Taking quick, seemingly irrational action could be the “easy way out” that eventually ruins a person. When the boat is rocking, it’s a lot easier to let yourself fall down than it is to try and stand up.

    Maybe the idea of “forced chaos” only applies to a very specific set of people – those who have the skills, the desire, and those who have also already begun laying the foundation for their next step in life (i.e. new business, etc.). I think it would be very hard to succeed if you lost everything you had and didn’t have anything “in the works” to fall back on. Where’s the balance between clinging to what you have (but don’t like) for fear of the unknown, and taking a few risks to possibly drastically improve your life? I’m not sure, but that would be nice to know.


  6. Hi Eric, motivations happen for one of two reasons: either to ‘run away’ from something or ‘run toward’ something. An athlete would be working win gold, an overweight person might be ‘running away’ from health issues.

    If the motivation is strong enough, change will happen.

    I’m not familiar with some of these blogs, so thanks for sharing!



    Eric G. Reply:

    Good point, Matthew – it’s definitely true that motivators can relate to both good and bad things, but either way, strong motivation leads to change. Thanks for commenting.


  7. I’m not sure I’d ever recommend controlled chaos, but it’s true that it can definitely be a motivator for people who have the right mindset. The problem is that a person has to be able to get motivated by circumstance while also having the ability to keep from getting depressed and be able to deal with (whether it’s by accepting or ignoring) bad things happening in the present to stay focused on the good in the future. It’s doable – but I’m somewhat in agreement that the being forced to do something often times simply focuses a person to be their most effective and concentrated on something they can do all along. BTW – the “burn the boats” quote comes from Cortes, who burned his boats to force his armies forward since there was no return.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Maybe controlled chaos would require a little bit more planning to avoid the possibility of depression or other negative feelings as a result of things not working right away. I think it helps to picture the “worst case scenario” and have a plan for how to handle that situation.

    Let’s say everything goes wrong and you find yourself without an income, and you’ve already burned through your savings. What’s your backup plan? How easy would it be to reacquire the job that you quit or find another similar job? Would you be willing to go back to work at a normal job for less than you were getting paid before you quit? These are all questions one might need to ask themselves when considering the “worst case scenario.”

    Or, you can have the mindset that you WILL NOT FAIL, and therefore it would be stupid to consider failure scenarios. It’s a potentially naive mindset to have, but it can be powerful if you genuinely mean it.


  8. Great to see Chris on the list! I have been following his blog and have enjoyed reading it quite a bit.
    All the best,


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment Ian. I’d like to do a more detailed profile piece on some of my favorite bloggers, whenever I’d get around to it. You’d definitely be on that list, but unfortunately (and fortunately for you) your back story wasn’t horrendous enough to make this list. :)


  9. It’s kind of understandable, people don’t really like to force themselves. If they have a steady and paying job they’ll be too lazy to give it up.
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