“Ain't how you play the game, it's how the game plays you.” – Charlie 2na
This morning one of my favorite songs came on and I heard the above quote poke through the lyrical masterpiece hip-hop legend Charlie 2na puts out. I re-wound the song to see if I heard it correctly. I stopped dead in my tracks. In that one sentence, everything came together. Everything I've been trying to crystalize explained in one amazing line.
If you've followed this blog for a while or have read through my posts, you probably noticed that over the course of my app journey, my posts have shifted from nitty gritty app details towards a more broad, personal growth tone. This wasn't really a strategy of mine, it just sort of happened. I always write about what is really happening in my world and that's just how it's been.
Recently, I've actually felt a little disconnected from you all (my readers) because I don't have more great app tips or case studies to give you. I don't want to keep piling inspirational stuff on you when maybe what you really want is just the 1-2-3 magic of getting apps to make money. I had a hard time with this because I always want to provide value to you guys but I also only write well when I'm passionate about something.
Why have I become less about the details and more about the attitude? More importantly, why do all the success books I read basically talk about this attitude stuff? In case you haven't read them, they will mostly say:
1. Work your ass off and be relentless in your drive
2. Believe in yourself and what you're doing
3. Fail a million times
They don't say “Here is exactly how I built a successful company. It is because of these repeatable steps that this succeeds. Anyone can walk off the street and do this. The end.” That's what instructional courses do – courses designed to teach you skills. Books written by guys like Tony Hsieh and Richard Branson are different. They talk about the struggle and the growth of their company. The obstacles they overcame and the triumph of winning.
This morning I realized why. It's not how you play the game, it's how the game plays you.
The Pillars Of Inspiration – Greatness and Perspective
I think all inspiration has two cousins – greatness and perspective. Certain people are drawn to certain types of inspiration and everything is individual. No matter how you get it, I think being inspired is one of the most precious and valuable moments in life.
Being inspired by greatness is when you see someone do something so insanely awesome that you can't help but want to follow in their footsteps. When I was a kid I would watch Michael Jordan's “Come Fly With Me” and feel something I couldn't explain. I was watching a man do things on the basketball court that defied all logic as easily as I could walk turn on the television. The list goes on – Steve Jobs, Wayne Gretzky, Ghandi – people who have exceeded humanity's limits in a way that shook the Earth.
I'll never forget the first time I saw Mike Tyson fight. It was on some ESPN highlight reel and they were doing a 15 minute piece on him. They showed about 10 boxers fighting, illustrating moves and showing different weight classes. Then they showed Mike Tyson as they interviewed one of his many opponents who said “I've fought everyone. Nothing compares to the hits he drops.” Tyson walked in a circle at the age of 20, about to catapult his career in the heavyweight category. The bell rang, he attacked, dropped down and delivered the most powerful and dominating right hook probably in the history of mankind. In 9 seconds the fight was over.
Seeing greatness gives you goosebumps. It energizes you, it pumps you up….but it's hard to sustain because it's derived from the left brain. It's about seeing the best, not seeing something new. It's dialed into the left brain, the world where everyone and everything is on the same track, just at different points.
Being inspired by perspective, however, is a different story. What I mean by perspective is having someone completely blow your mind in a way that opens up new possibilites. I think it's safe to say that a lot of you probably felt that way when you read Tim Ferriss' book The Four Hour Workweek. I felt that way when I read The Fountainhead and The Slight Edge.
Everything changes in life. Ordinary people creating extraordinary results. Seeing that allows you RELATE to it. On some level, you can connect to this type of inspiration. And it doesn't go away…it actually grows inside you. It's like finding out you had a superpower that no one ever told you about and now you get to spend the rest of your life using it.
This is tapping into the right brain. You feel the energy start pouring into you in a way that's not amplifying, but liberating, like being set free. It's a paradigm shift for your life and one that you will always be able to invest in.
Why am I talking about this?
Because winning in the app store (and in business/life) is about shifting to the right hemisphere of the brain in a world that is run by the left brain. Especially in business, the people that are real success stories are the ones that understand how to use that style of thinking to play with a completely new set of rules.
It's about creativity, it's about faith, it's about believing in something bigger than yourself. By doing this, you flip the script on the entire model of “working hard.”
Don't worry, I will explain this further.
Get Hurt and Look Stupid – Best Day Of You Life, Guaranteed!
That should be surfing's tagline for anyone just starting out. Man, I love surfing. I don't do it as much as I used to, but catching a wave is about as good as it gets. What's so crazy about surfing is that it's the only activity that I know of where people actually don't complain about failing. Pretty much any other sport, interest, hobby, whatever, the first time someone does it and they totally suck at it, they're not saying how incredible it was.
Surfing is different. A lot of it is because you're in the water and usually with friends, but it's also just a simple exercise. Lie down, time it right, pop up. Once you do this about 10 times, you understand what needs to happen, but you still suck at it.
So you do it again and maybe you catch 2 waves. Epic.
Next time you catch 5. And so on.
The reason I bring up surfing is because of the following example. Imagine walking up to Kelly Slater (top surfer in the world) and saying “dude, how do you surf so well? Like what are the special tricks you are doing that NO ONE ELSE knows about? You must have some because you're awesome and I suck. Soooo tell me please.” I think we can all agree that his reaction would be:
1. “…I'm calling security.”
2. He would say to you, “You should probably just surf more.”
There's not some gangster tricks or hacks that he has, he just surfs more. More importantly, he's gotten rolled by waves a lot more. The skills and tools he has are NOT different than what you have. Of course, they're better in the sense that he's in better shape and all that, but it's not like he's doing anything fundamentally different than a beginner. He lies down, times the wave and pops up – no secret there. But his experience, confidence and attitude is in a different solar system. That's why he's on top.
When you take a step back, you realize how much of this is happening all around us – there's not a sizable amount any professional “knows” that is so different than a well educated beginner (in most cases). The professional has just been in the game longer.
They know how to stay on their surfboard while the waves crashes on them. They know how to keep charging even after everything in the world says they suck.
They believe in what they're doing more than whatever the day throws at them.
The most important point is that it's less about your skills and much more about your drive. At least that's what I've found.
Playing the Game With Mad Skillz
Going back to the quote, I want to touch on the idea of playing the game vs the game playing you. The reason is because I get a lot of emails and messages from people asking me for help or advice or guidance. Honestly, I really try to respond to everyone but it's tough, because this is what I really want to respond with and I don't really know what to say in a quick few sentences.
Getting really good at “the game” (which I will refer to as The Game, in reference to making money in the app store) means that you can re-skin apps super quickly and pick the best keywords and the best theme, etc. It's all the things that people learn when they get into apps. It's about honing your SKILLS as an app marketer. Of course this is extremely important and the foundation of everything – you need to be able to play before you can get in the ring.
The problem is a lot of people think that this is where the money is. They think that all the success stories that are coming out from people, especially people who has re-skinned apps and made a lot of money, did it because they are just way better at all the SKILLS. Somehow all these people have better keywords, right?
95% of the questions I get are about how to play The Game better. Questions come in from people worried that if they buy the code they're going to mess it up and pick a bad theme. Or their app isn't getting enough downloads and they're freaking out. They're asking me how to ride 50′ waves when they're falling down on 3′ longboard waves.
My response is usually: just try it out. Keep pushing.
In fact, I think if you ask anyone who's been really successful in the app store using re-skinning and flipping apps, they'll talk about the business model for 2 minutes and about mindset for 60.
Skills are left brained. They can be written down on a piece of paper with instructions and handed to you.
When it comes to app flipping and re-skinning, it's pretty simple. Buy low, re-skin, make money. The skills you need can be learned in a few weeks. It's not highly complex like user acquisition and analytics and advertising. It's just build more, do it fast, do it cheap. The aggregate will win in a market like this. If you don't know about the model, or you don't have skills at all, yes of course you should get them. But if you're doing a good job with learning it already, trying to highly fine tune your skills is not what will save you.
When The Game Plays You
Realize this: we live in a capitalist society. Capitalism is based on markets, which have market forces. Without getting into economic theory, the most important market force to think about is the one that stands between your first app and the app that makes your portfolio profitable. Maybe that number is 30. Maybe 100. Maybe 4.
The Game is that market force. You need to realize that it is doing EVERYTHING it possibly can to shut you down. It doesn't want you in the app store – that force is built by millions of developers and apps that are all trying to keep you from getting in there. They collectively create the “upside” of the market and so somebody has to be the “downside.” That's you when you first start.
I don't care who you are or how smart you are, if you are starting from scratch, you're not better than The Game. It's incredibly strong. It will stand over you like David and Goliath. It will flick it's finger and end you by giving your app 5 downloads a day. Then The Game will laugh and go to it's catered lunch, waiting for you to come back so it can crush you again.
So you come back with something a little better and The Game says “Nope” and tells you your app sucks again. This goes on and on. Most people quit at this point because it is gut wrenching. The market forces just sit there spinning and you feel hopeless.
All your SKILLS aren't getting you anywhere. That left brain kool aid doesn't seem to be working. You search for “tricks” and “hacks” but no one seems to know of any. Shocking.
This is the point when The Game is playing you. This is no longer about what your keywords are or your theme or any of that shit. It's about you deciding that you're stronger than The Game.
When you feel this, something happens. If you know what I'm talking about, I bet you're getting the chills right now. It's this electrifying moment when you realize that, yes, The Game is strong….but so are you. The Game has had years to evolve and grow, so you have to work even harder to break through it.
“Fail as much as possible” is probably the most repeated advice in the success/guru community, but I think it's never explained well enough. If I could rephrase it, I would say “Get in the ring with The Game as much as possible and learn what punches it throws.” The first round will be a monster right hook KO, but the second won't be. The fifth definitely won't be. In fact, by the 30th round, you'll still be getting uppercuts, but they don't affect you anymore. The Game loses it's power. Nothing really changes – you might get better at some of the skills, but it won't be drastically different. You're just not afraid anymore. You start pushing harder. That's when you start getting control of your destiny and the fireworks start.
It's not failing that's important, it's becoming a gangster that is. It's being able have someone punch you in the face twenty times and being able to smile back. The only way to get there in business is to fail, so that's why people tell you to do so. The reason? Because The Game is not going to give you little jabs and say “You can do it!” It doesn't care about you. It shouldn't care! Because when you're the new Game, you don't want anyone else in your party either! You have to earn a spot at the table.
When you realize all this, you see that your skills are not going to help you win the fight as much as being able to take the punches will. Of course skills will help, but it's more like dodging punches than winning the battle.
It's all well and good to talk about getting to your 30th re-skinned app and being iron clad, but you can't do it on your own. If you think you'll be able to keep that energy alive using the same fire that you learned the skills with, you're in for a tough ride. The left brain cannot handle that kind of stress – you will break at some point, I promise you. The people I see going down this path are the ones that can't leave their computers or phones for 24 hours in fear of something going totally wrong. It's the feeling that if you stop, you'll lose everything. Fear lives in the left brain.
To get through this path, you need a purpose. You need to have a reason for doing this that's bigger than your own emotions and daily bullshit. Maybe it's money, maybe it's your family. Maybe it's fascination. It doesn't matter – the important thing is that it's more important than you.
The litmus test is this: someone asks you “What's the #1 thing that can pull you out of an emotional pit?” Whatever you answer, that's what you need to be doing this app thing for. You need to be able to believe in something so deeply that you'll never allow your emotions to stand in the way.
For me, it was pride. It still is. There is absolutely nothing more important to me in this world than being able to say I did something great and changed lives for the better after I'm gone. I wanted to build something so badly that I could share with the world that I couldn't sleep at night. To be able to wake up and look at something that I created with my mind that has fundamentally helped people is the greatest gift I could ever imagine. I build apps to share information, connect with others, and make money to provide for the people I love.
And on any day of the week, at any time, I could be mad or angry or upset and I think about what I just wrote. I look at a piece of art that inspires me and bring me back to that place of faith and gratitude. Everything melts away, every time. I re-focus and start crushing shit. It's like taking a drink of water from the fountain of life.
This is the right brain at work. It's amazing to see what effects it can have on people in business. This will open you up to huge reserves of energy and will be there for the rest of your life. But you have to really be honest with yourself about why you're building apps. Whatever it is, really own it. If you want to quit your job and get financial independence, that's awesome, but don't do it half ass. The Game will play you and break you. The Game does not have time for people who sort of want to win.
Tenacity is what determines success – the ability to take a hit, get back up, and breath fire back at the dragon.
It All Starts With Demanding More Of Yourself
And that's really the point of all this. I've realized that through this journey, it wasn't about the apps. At first, I loved understanding how it worked and peeling back the onion, but once I had to stop consuming information and start producing assets, it got hard. The Game was playing me.
I would imagine for a lot of you, you're going through the same beginner cycle – wide eyed and excited about the possibility, especially with flipping apps, then you step into the lion's den and launch your first one only to be crushed.
When that happens, you have to get real. I had to get real with myself and realize that this app thing on it's own wasn't going to make me happy, but building a community and having financial freedom would. You need to have that purpose because having a purpose in life is the #1 way to open your right brain at any moment, any time. And that right brain provides the energy you will need to beat The Game. You have to be able to summon enormous amounts of it to get in the door and stand tall in the face of a seemingly impossible task.
I urge anyone who's building apps, even if you're making all the money in the world, to reflect at some point and really be honest about why you're doing this. When you have that conversation for yourself, I think you'll realize two important facts of life:
1. You deserve to achieve everything you want.
2. The fact that it is challenging to “make it” is a bad reason not to still kick some ass.
So, that's what I wanted to say. The Game is waiting for you, licking its lips and ready to deliver a huge punch.
Keep the heads ringin,