The new economy does not look like the old one. In many respects, we're seeing the true emergence of the reputation economy that had its vogue about ten years ago. In the economy that held sway through much of the twentieth century dictated that success came largely by having deep-pocketed investors and the ability to thread the gateways - in music, in art, in literature, even in life. There was always a middleman or three, and their function existed primarily to be paid their pound of flesh so that they too could make it on the Dream Machine.
At first, in the 1990s, the Internet was a novelty, but making a living from it was difficult. Journalists were shed like cats shed their fur in the summer, as publishers eyed the prospects of “citizen journalists” who would effectively work for free because they enjoyed the media. Yet many of those who were let go embraced the new media, often developing viewerships that not only overshadowed what they were doing before, but let them put their byline on their work and profit far more handsomely from their work because it was their work, not some mothership.
Wesley Virgin, fitness guru and Internet Entrepreneur WESLEY VIRGIN
This is a formula that is working for more and more people, people who would not ordinarily be seen as natural entrepreneurs. One case in point is Wesley Virgin, a former computer engineer who realized that the 9-5 drill was getting him nowhere. The money was not bad, but not great, the work was steady but unexciting, and at the end of the day, he was not securing his future - he was in a holding pattern with no sign that he'd be given a slot to actually take off, so he took his love of fitness and, with a lot of work and a few setbacks, turned into a multi-million dollar company.
I had a chance to interview him recently. The responses have been edited for brevity, but his story is worth reading as an understanding of how he was able to shine in the reputation economy.
You started as a computer engineer, so the jump from that to life coach and fitness guru seems a wild one. What drove that process, and what would you say to those who are enmeshed in the jungles of the corporate world and wondering where their machetes went?
I began as a computer engineer, I did not have the one thing we all desire and hope for ... time. I could not spend time with my children nor the ones I love most, because I was too busy locked in a cold server room fixing other people's problems. And one day, reality hit me in the face and forced me to ask myself a few questions.
Am I going to stay in the 9 to 5 hustle and bustle forever? Will I wait every two weeks for the boss to send or deposit my paycheck? And soon after that, I did something most people are afraid to do without a backup plan. I gave my boss the middle finger, quit my job and sat in my furnitureless apartment, in front of my vision board. At that time I opened my until-then unused journal and wrote the one question all future millionaires think about before they take massive action.
What did I really want?
The question seems easy, but it took me six months to truly understand what I really wanted for the rest of my life. It came down to something simple: I wanted to succeed in life, on my own terms, doing what I did best.
You were able to use various social media platforms to build your brand. What did you find worked as the best strategies for building out these marketing efforts? What didn't work?
The two things that worked for me was social media and an insane work ethic. I bought a laptop and video gear from Best Buy, on a credit card I wasn't sure I could even pay back on. I used that to film fitness videos I then put up on YouTube every day or so, getting money first from ad hits, then from selling merchandise from the videos. Instagram, YouTube and Facebook allowed me to reach millions of people across the globe without spending much at all.
What I learned from that was simple, but profound. Be consistent. People get a bee in their bonnet and start on projects, then when the going gets tough, they throw in the towel. Most people are habitual quitters. You'll start out with a small following. Everyone does. You don't become an Internet celebrity over time - like everything else, it takes time and perseverance and occasionally luck, but you won't get lucky if you're not consistent.
People admire those who don't quit, who stand tall in the face of adversity. Yet the best part of this is that if you continue to be consistent, resilient and determined to persevere against the odds, you'll eventually succeed, and if you're honest with yourself, you'll realize that all of the urges to quit, to give up, to walk away, that's the voice of your inner critic, the one that is afraid that you will succeed because it means you will have to change if you do.
In layman's terms, make a decision about right now about the person you want to be, and BE IT! Use social media to share with the world your message, your artistry, expertise, trade and most importantly passion. If you can survive past the self-doubt, you will not only succeed, you will be rewarded greatly for your effort.
As an entrepreneur, what are the things that you believe best contribute to your success that can help others build businesses?
Easy. I believed in myself. I share with people a secret: the easiest thing I’ve ever done was earn $30,000,000, but the hardest thing was the belief I could earn $30,000,000. I had to overcome that belief that I couldn't do it, that things like that only happened to other people, special people. Yet most of those people went through exactly the same thing.
I also learned to not take no for an answer. Just because someone says no, don't assume it means no. It means maybe and then it means maybe yes. Don’t be so quick to throw in the towel, be persuasive and discover a person's values and what they really want out of life. Be a lion! Be fearless!
The last thing is this. I had to reprogram my mindset. I hate to say this, but I had a poverty mindset, I used to focus on the things I did not want: failure, mistakes, painful moments. It took a while for me to realize how dangerous this mindset was; the more I focused on what I did not want, I got more of it. By reprogramming my expectations, my mindset, my entire reality changed. For the first time, I was able to create my reality instead of letting my hopeless beliefs create it for me.
I learned to meditate, to visualize and ultimately to manifest the life I'd seen and wanted but didn't believe I could have.
What were the biggest pitfalls you faced?
I've had too many pitfalls to name here, but here are a few. I lost $100,000 in bitcoin, I lost another $100,000 with a stupid investment, I screwed up my credit, I've had several business partnerships that ended up bad and me losing a ton of money. But in my opinion, pitfalls are just opportunities to get better and win BIG. And even though I am winning big right now, I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to share what I've learned with others.
What do you see as the future of work, and of becoming successful in the age of Linked-In and Instagram?
This is probably the best time on the planet to earn millions if not billions of dollars without investments, loans or depleting your savings. There is honestly no need to go to college because the internet has a vast amount of information, which will teach you everything you need to know by a click of the mouse. There are no more excuses and you should be ashamed of yourself if you are struggling financially with all the technology, social media and easy access to your customer.
Get your hands out of your pockets and open your eyes, because 2,077 people today just became a millionaire. And this happens every single day. And it doesn’t take smarts, a degree or a mentor because everything you need is right in front of your face.
You are probably reading this from your phone, computer or iPad. You have a gold mine in your hands right now. Use it! Don't be afraid to work, to put in the effort, but remember that ultimately it's your life, and if you make the effort, you deserve to succeed.
For more from Wesley Virgin, check out http://www.wesleyvirgin.com.
Kurt Cagle is Managing Editor for Cognitive World, and is a contributing writer for Forbes, focusing on future technologies, science, enterprise data management, and technology ethics. He also runs his own consulting company, Semantical LLC, specializing on Smart Data, and is the author off more than twenty books on web technologies, search and data. He lives in Issaquah, WA with his wife, Cognitive World Editor Anne Cagle, daughters and cat (Bright Eyes).