Episode OverviewIn this episode, Austin shares his struggle with school, how he learned to ignore bad advice, and how he discovered his passion. We discuss his five failed businesses and his fear of failure. We then learn about how Austin built his current successful business, grew his platform to 300K+ followers, and managed his time while working full-time at Microsoft.
CEO - Edvo
Austin BelcakAustin is the founder of CultivatedCulture.com where he helps people land jobs they love without traditional experience and without applying online. Austin’s job search system stems from his personal experience transitioning from a new grad with a biology degree, a 2.58 GPA, and a job in healthcare to landing interviews and offers at Microsoft, Google, and Twitter. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Fast Co, and Inc. and he has helped thousands of job seekers land jobs at places like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Tesla, SpaceX, Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, ESPN, the NFL, and more – without applying online.
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Shireen Jaffer 0:00
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the Edvolution podcast, where we question what makes our life truly ours. I’m Shireen Jaffer. And I’m very excited to introduce you to some incredible people with fascinating stories. I’ve got Austin Belcak here with me. I am so excited to share his story with all of you. It’s really our second conversation. And if you don’t know, Austin, if you just simply look him up on Google him or look him up on LinkedIn, you’ll see that he’s constantly sharing incredibly helpful resources around building a meaningful career, getting your next job. And he’s got hundreds of thousands of followers who I’m sure want to know how did Austin make it happen for himself? Since he has so much wisdom, obviously, share with everyone so, Austin, it’s such an honor to have you on this episode and I’m excited to share your story with everybody.
Austin Belcak 0:56
It’s an honor to be here Shireen thank you so much for having me. I am super excited to Talk about this stuff because it’s really been the ethos of my life after getting a career is building that side hustle in the business. So I’m excited to jump in.
Shireen Jaffer 1:09
Awesome. Let’s do it. So I love to start with everyone’s childhood and and their background because I think, you know, you, you’re someone who’s spoken on several podcasts before. And oftentimes, when I’m on a podcast, I find myself saying the same things over and over again, what I’m currently doing and what advice I have, but rarely do I get to just talk about how I got to where I am and my childhood and the influences in the earlier days. So if you don’t mind, awesome, I’d love to start from where it all began. Talk to us about how you grew up and what your childhood was like.
Childhood, College, and Finding Your Passion (1:48)
Austin Belcak 1:48
For sure. So I grew up in the great state of New Jersey, which is, you know, some some people may cringe at that, but it’s it’s actually the best site that’s out there for so many reasons. But I digress. I had a to parents who did very different things. So my mom worked in a traditional banking setting. She was in finance and wealth management. She’d been at her same company for a really long time. 2025 years, something like that. And then my dad was an entrepreneur. So he had started his own business, he worked out of our home office, he had and he was home all the time. And when I was younger, I got dinged at school for a lot of stuff. I didn’t really like studying because I never really saw the the real world application to a lot of the stuff that we were covering. And that sort of made it difficult for me to get involved because I really struggle to pay attention and invest if I’m not interested in something and I think a lot of us feel that way. But some of the better students out there are good at overcoming it in order to get the good grade. I was not willing to do that. So I struggled a little bit there and on top of that, the other thing that people I sort of came back to me with that was a theme in my life was was rushing, if you will. So I was always told by teachers and my parents and other folks that I needed to slow down, and I should stop just jumping into stuff and going, going, going and just trying to get it done as quickly as possible. And instead, I should think things through and I should really spend time, you know, working to understand what’s going on and take my time with stuff. And that may sound like good advice, and it is good advice. But for me, that’s just not how I’m wired and how I operate. And I actually think that that quote shortcoming when I was younger, has turned into a really big advantage down the road and in being an entrepreneur so we can talk a little bit more about that. But I just realized from an early age that the traditional system wasn’t really built for me and I still work full time I still operate in that quote, traditional system, but I had a pretty nice traditional way of navigating it, which is sort of where all this stuff stemmed from, it was the reason that I could transition from being a new grad with a terrible GPA to working at Microsoft. And also the reason that I could build my my site cultivated culture and help all these job seekers and, you know, end up with a couple hundred thousand people on LinkedIn and across platforms. So it really does start in your childhood tree. And I think that’s a great way to start off the episode. A lot of this stuff can be tied back to what happened then and how I felt.
Shireen Jaffer 4:31
Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that. I think, you know, going back to feeling the way you were feeling in school. Absolutely. I see so many people struggling with understanding why the heck am I learning this? And when am I ever going to use it? I mean, that’s the, you know, we hear that all the time from teachers and kids and parents talking about just the state of a classroom today. And even like every, almost every episode I’ve done where schools come up, people have said, You know, I I got really good at hacking the system, or I just sucked at it, but you know, figured it out for myself later on. So it’s interesting that that’s always been part of everyone’s childhood, something along the lines has helped them realize I’m not gonna get what I need from school and I have to figure this out for myself. How did your parents see that? What, you know, what were the major influences in your life growing up? Were they super supportive of your way of working? Or did you have a lot of resistance that you had to push back on?
Austin Belcak 5:35
that’s a that’s a really interesting question. Because my parents were definitely supportive. But they weren’t happy with the grades that I had either. And so there definitely was a little bit of back and forth. But what I would say I think the most interesting dynamic with my parents was that especially with my dad, he really pushed me to have a passion. He always wanted me to have a passion And I never had a passion until I graduated from college. I think it’s really a shame that, you know, we’re the question, you know, what do you want to do when you grow up is with us from pretty much when we can walk and talk. But the answers become the answers that you can give narrow in scope and become a lot less fun as we get old. So, you know, when you’re younger, and you’re in kindergarten or something, and somebody says, What do you want to be, you know, you could be anything a firefighter and astronaut, you know, a billionaire, whatever you want to do, and your teachers and your parents are like, yeah, you can do it. It’s great. And then as the years go on, the question persists. But there’s a lot more of the Well, why don’t you try being more realistic or you’ll never make any money doing that or things like that, that essentially limit our options. And it’s a shame because we’re our options are limited, but the same people limiting them don’t really give us the tools to explore what’s out there and something that I hear and train I’m sure you get this all the time from the people in your platform. But one of the most common questions is I just have no idea of what I want to do. And that’s totally fair. And I think we’re really pressured to understand what we want to do and have a passion, so early on, and it’s always directly, you know, it seems to directly need to be directly tied to some sort of monetary value in the sense of, if you’re not a finance major or a stem major, you know, you’ll never get a job, you’ll never make good money, you know, you’ll never make your parents proud or whatever it is. And obviously, this isn’t everybody’s parents, but this is a bit of a generalization that I see kind of across the board. And that was something that I struggled with a lot because my parents definitely wanted me to align with I think what what they thought would be best for me and when I went to college, you know, looking back, I would change my major in a heartbeat. I would do something totally different, but my parents were not as encouraging on Stuff that didn’t have a direct value tied to it post graduation. So other liberal liberal arts majors and things like that. So when I settled on biology and I said I wanted to be a doctor and pre med, they were really happy about that. And it felt good to have, you know, your parents approval and approval of their friends and other people that you talk to you. So you’re going to be a doctor something like oh, yeah, you know, that’s great, you know, must be really smart, blah, blah, blah. But not all of us want to be a doctor, not all of us want to even have a nine to five job. And so I think it’s a shame that we’re forced to make this concrete decision on or at least kind of fake that we’ve made this decision on finding our passion so early on. And so I think for me, I just felt like you know, there were only the the TV Careers Out There, you know, doctor, lawyer, journalists, you know, whatever else there is, and I felt like none of those really were a fit for me and that made it really hard to get excited about doing the work and excited about The future and it wasn’t really until I sort of took a step back and that there was kind of one moment where that happened a little bit. But it wasn’t really until I took a step back and said, you know, look, you can really do whatever you want, you just have to figure out a way to make money doing it. And so once I opened that door for myself, and gave myself permission to kind of step out of what other people expected me to do, the world sort of became my oyster and I was so much happier kind of chasing after these things that I felt like I had that I was meant to do all along. And that’s really where my passion came about.
Shireen Jaffer 9:33
Yeah, I I think that is so important to call out the liberation almost that you feel when you realize I get to dictate by exploration or whatever, you know, path that I don’t even like using the word path, but whatever option I choose to pursue, instead of trying to fit yourself in someone else’s definition of you know, how you could find your own success. So I yeah, I can relate to that. feeling of just like, Yes, I can do anything now the world is my oyster. What you said that there was a moment that that triggered that reflection. And that thought, what was that moment? What what influenced that?
Austin Belcak 10:13
Yeah. So it happened shortly after I graduated from college and I was working in my first job, which was pretty miserable. And I was still feeling that resistance and still feeling stuck. And I ended up reading a book, which has now become very cliche at this point. But the the four hour workweek was was given to me by a friend. Have you read it? I have. Yeah, yeah. So it’s still one of my favorite books, even if it’s sort of, you know, the mainstream thing now, but I really loved it because the whole ethos of the book was just because everybody else is one doing something and to telling you to do something, doesn’t mean that it is what you have to do or necessarily the best thing to even be doing. And so that book really gave me me the permission to give myself permission to step outside of the box. And that’s really where a lot of stuff changed. At the time I started going through the job search, I had applied to hundreds and hundreds of jobs online, I hadn’t heard anything back. All my friends, all my family, everybody we go to for advice throughout our lives, they were all telling me the same thing, you know, keep applying online, keep applying online. And I read that book. And I said, Well, one, it’s weird that everybody’s giving me the same advice that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t really happen anywhere else. And to this whole thing seems to be broken. Everybody seems to be miserable. And so, you know, I may not be able to start a business right now. But let me take these same principles of going against the grain and figuring out a different way to do it. And let me apply it to my job search. And so I did that. And that’s really what led to the system that I’ve built my business around. But it’s also the same thing that’s that led to all the entrepreneurial ventures that I’ve started and tried because I’ve just never been worried about doing the same thing. Everybody else is doing. And in fact, I’ve felt a lot of resistance while I’ve been doing it. And so that book sort of gave me permission to say, hey, look, everybody else may think this, but here’s at least one person who’s telling you that it’s okay. The way you feel is okay. And the goals that you have are okay. And that was really the push that I needed to go after what I wanted from a career perspective, and then also go after what I wanted from an entrepreneurial perspective as well.
Shireen Jaffer 12:24
That’s super important. And I’m glad that happened for you. I think that recognition or that permission, I think a lot of people are seeking especially right now as they’re questioning. Wow, you know, whether they were just laid off and all of a sudden, they’re realizing I thought I was secure. I thought I had job security and safety and how is it that my livelihood has been changed overnight? So a lot of people are starting to question the way they’ve chosen to work and also just, you know, if they’re, if they if they’re not in jobs that they actually like and if they’re not special Now with this transition there at a company, I was just talking to someone this morning, who’s at a company where, you know, despite all the protests and despite, you know, the climate and the sensitivity and the, you know, the emotions, like everything that everyone is dealing with, her company is just not mindful of any of that and is not being understanding of, you know, the projects that they’re working on and, and what, you know, their people need as far as taking time off or just expectations across the board. And she’s realizing for the first time, you know, this was a company she was so excited to be at, but having gone through the last two to three months, she’s realizing her values don’t even align with the leadership at all because of how they’ve been reacting to the situation and how they’ve chosen to treat their people. So yeah, I think going back to just giving yourself permission to look at things differently, and being okay with, you know, what, sure if everyone else is doing it one way, but I think another way might be by Let me at least explore that. I think that’s so important, especially now.
Side-Hustles and Failing Until You Succeed (14:03)
Austin Belcak 14:03
definitely. And I love that you call that out. Because I think that’s one of the most powerful things about what we’re going to talk about next, which is, you know, having your own brand having your own business because even when I was working at companies, and I didn’t agree with what was going on, or they weren’t giving me the opportunity to build the skills that I wanted to build, I was able to do that through my side hustle and through the things that I was doing. And so it started out, you know, building skills that I needed to for a new career. And then most recently, you know, you and I were talking about this before we went live but with everything that’s going on, the injustice in and you know, everything that’s happening in our country right now. I’m able to use my platform to talk about it and kind of get it off my chest in a way that not even get it off my chest but advocate for the people that that need all of our voices right now. And I’m able to do that because I’ve had this platform and I’ve built this platform. And that’s a, you know, I can decide what I get to speak on what I don’t get to speak on and what I work on what I don’t get to work on. And I think that’s one of the coolest parts about having your own thing. One of many that we’ll probably talk about, but when you’re when you’re, you’ve built your own platform, and when you’ve started your own stuff, and you have these people who kind of look up to you and follow you. That is that’s a really powerful feeling. And and you take back a lot of the control that you really give up or maybe missing if you’re just in one specific place, you know, relying on one company, one area for your income and for your day to day and all that stuff.
Shireen Jaffer 15:39
Yeah, definitely. I’m, I’m super, I mean, one of the biggest reasons I was interested in talking with you is, you know, this concept of side hustles which I think what you have now is definitely a bit of a side hustle. But, you know, side hustles can come in all shapes and sizes. And a lot of people right now are, you know, have been pinging me about advice on how to Start a side hustle. When is it the right time to start a side hustle. A lot of people are worried about starting a side hustle because they feel overwhelmed as is and taking on, you know, a side hustle to them is taking on more work and in addition to a full time job doing something else. So, you know, right now you’re full time at Microsoft, you have cultivated culture. But when did your first side hustle, start and what inspired you to have a side hustle?
Austin Belcak 16:28
So the first side hustle started back in college and the the inspiration for it was really everything that we talked about just trying to find a different way other than being stuck in in the same path that had been making me pretty unhappy for a long time. And I did a lot of stuff that ended up falling flat on its face. I had about three, four or five failures, something like that in terms of ventures and projects before cultivated culture started. And I think one of the things that made It ended up working was just the fact that I sort of believed in, in the knowledge that one day I would have my own thing if I just kept showing up and giving things a try. And so this is really where you know, going back to that childhood piece. This is where that rushing into things and jumping into things really comes in handy because what I see a lot with people out there is some analysis paralysis, where they don’t necessarily want to take the first step because they’re worried that it’s the wrong step. They’re worried that they’ll fail. They’re worried they don’t know enough. There’s all these fears and doubts that come into their head. And so our brains naturally say, Okay, I need more information to make this decision. And so we go, we read, we read we consume, and we get in this cycle where you know, there’s never enough information to take that first step. And what you’ll find is when you do take the first step, the information you need becomes a lot more clear. Anyways, I was never too worried about that. I just kind of jumped into stuff. Because that was my nature. And so back in college, the first side hustle, if you will, that I started was it was a music blog. So back in, I think it was 2011. I just started up a very bare bones WordPress site. And I am a big music person. I was definitely a bigger music person when I had more time back in college, but I would find new music and I would post it on this site. And I would just end up writing a little blurb about the song. And it was just all stuff that I liked. And I think the site ended up getting maybe a max of like 500 visitors all time, which you know, would probably be considered a failure, but I really enjoyed doing it. And I learned how to build a website from that experience. And then after that, I think in 2012, I went through this summer program at my college and they sort of pushed us to come up with an entrepreneurial idea. And I decided to start an apparel company as I think a million other people have have had that idea. So I ended up going out and talking to designers and finding people on Upwork and things like that. And that ended up falling flat on his face. I just wasn’t interested in it after a while, and I hadn’t spent too much money on it. But I really got a sense of where to go find people to help you build your business and how to interact with vendors and freelancers and things like that. And then I graduated, and I had an event I had a million ideas with, with a couple of friends of mine, because we were always tossing them around. But one of the ones we had was building an app that would essentially show you who plan to kind of go out that night and who plan to go where so you wouldn’t have to text a million of your friends and make it happen. And so we actually ended up putting together some wireframes and paying a developer a couple thousand bucks to build out a prototype. And just before they were going to get started with the these other apps, three other apps launch doing the exact same thing that were pretty well funded, I think And so that kind To kind of tumbled down the drain, but that was my first foray into understanding, okay, if you want to build something, then you need a wireframe. And what does that look like? And here are all the things you need to consider. And here are the things that developers ask you. And you need to be mindful of when you’re thinking about an app or a website with users. And so I ended up failing a lot, you know, I had a lot of ideas, and none of them really worked out. But they all armed me in a in a certain way to be successful with cultivated culture. So those were a couple of the failures. And then once I realized that I needed to switch jobs, something that I moved into is freelancing, which is one of the easiest side hustles you can do because you don’t necessarily need to have a product or build a business or have a robust website or pay for ads, you really just need to go out and find somebody who doesn’t have the same level of knowledge that you do on a topic that is valuable to them. That’s that’s really what it comes down to. And so I ended up sending Thousands of cold emails to small businesses across the country. And that was my first foray into cold emailing and lead generation and prospecting and I was miserable at it. I think I got zero responses in the first thousand. But I just kept tweaking the formula and trying new templates. And eventually, I ended up landing some customers. And that was that was really the experience that allowed me to bridge the gap in my career. Because everybody was telling me, you know, Thanks, but no thanks. You know, you don’t have any formal experience in marketing or tech or digital. And so we’re not going to take a chance on you. And so it was that catch 22 of you know, we won’t hire you because we don’t have enough experience. But you know, how else am I supposed to get the experience unless you hire me? So I just went out and I built it myself. And that was what I pointed to I put it on my resume. That’s what I pointed to in my job interviews. It actually ended up being very valuable given the types of clients that I had in what my team at Microsoft does that luckily ended up being a really, really valuable match. But that was really the first Taste of success there. And then all of those things wrapped up allowed me to start cultivating culture. When I got my job at Microsoft, a bunch of people came out of the woodwork and they were like, you know, hey, weren’t you the kid who was just had the worst grades in college? And you know, how the heck are you working at Microsoft now? And how do you do it? And so I wrote up this big blog post, kind of outlining my job search system, I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s blog posts, I kind of had a sense of what the formula was like I did some promotion behind it. And it ended up doing really, really well but I would not have been able to do that had I not failed on all those other ventures because I built the cultivated culture website myself, I paid a couple hundred bucks to have somebody helped me with the promotion that I found on Upwork through you know, some of the skills that I learned from the apparel business. And then for you know, later on as as cultivated culture progressed, you know, I used a lot of the knowledge that I that I gained from trying to build the app and prototyping it out to kind of think ahead and make some longer term investments in terms of products and tools and stuff like that. And so all that stuff, all the stuff I failed, that is actually been really critical in the success of cultivated culture. And, you know, none of that would have happened if I let my you know, fear of failure or fear of, you know, stuff not working out, or other people kind of judging me or giving me a hard time for trying these funky things. If I let that get in the way. You know, none of this would have happened. So it really does all build on itself.
Shireen Jaffer 23:25
Yeah, absolutely. I think fear of failure is obviously very common. We, you know, we all know that. And we’ve all felt it. And it’s not that it just because we’ve been able to overcome that fear of failure doesn’t mean we don’t constantly feel it. But yeah, I think it’s one a TED talk. I did, I don’t know maybe 2014 2013. It was a while back. But the title of it was behind every woman and man Behind every successful woman and man is failure. And it was an entire conversation around. You can take anyone you know that you might know Look up to or just, you know, might admire or think they’re super successful. But if you look at where they came from, and all the different experiments, they ran all the different projects, they started all the different initiatives they worked on, you will find failure almost every step of the way until they found success. So I love that you shared your story and shared all those different projects that you got involved with, and all those side hustles that you started that ultimately, you know, got you the skills that you need to be where you are today. But at the same time, you know, it sounds like a lot of work, obviously. And that’s like, the biggest pushback I get from people is, how do I find the time to do all of this? So talk to us about time on your end. How did you manage your time? Yeah, just tell us more there
Small Steps Toward a Big Goal (24:50)
Austin Belcak 24:50
for sure. This is this is one of the most common questions I get, and it’s totally valid because it does take a lot of time and what I’ve just Come to find is, is that it’s really a it’s almost like a dance between the two things. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it at this point. But no, I was not doing the volume of work that I do now, when I started cultivating culture, I was doing, you know, fraction of it, you know, single digits of a percent of the amount of time. And that was because, you know, there just wasn’t as much to do it was, you know, hey, let’s finish this blog post by the end of, you know, the next week, or whatever it is not, let’s finish this blog post, let’s get the podcast out, let’s post on LinkedIn every day, you know, so on and so forth. And so the key really is to start small, I think it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. And I also think that people have a tendency to think about the, the whole picture all at once, and they they get overwhelmed and they think, you know, well, I could never have time to do that. And the best way to get started is to just focus on one thing you know, for me, I bought my domain name and to be honest, you know, people ask me you Where the heck did the name cultivated culture come from? Because it’s not super career related. It’s not really related to anything. But it was because I made a list of names that had domains available. And I spent more than 48 hours thinking about it. And I just got so frustrated that I was wasting time that I just bought the one that sounded the coolest. And here we are four years later on, but a lot of people spend time on stuff that doesn’t matter. Like, you know, not that picking your company name doesn’t matter. But it doesn’t necessarily matter as much as you think it does. And things like buying business cards or LLC in your business or all this other stuff. Like none of that really matters. I bought the domain name, I fired up a super basic WordPress site. And then I just started writing this blog post. And that was the only thing I did. And I wrote it over the course of maybe two months and that blog post now I would write it in a week or a couple days just to turn it out. But I spent a lot of time making sure it was great. And that was the first step for me. And so I think The first thing to understand is is what is the the tiniest, you know, smallest baby step I can take towards something actionable, you know, not LLC my business right away or something like that. But how do I create my first piece of content? Or how do I define my, my why and who I’m targeting, stuff like that that’s gonna kind of carry you through and actually make a difference. That’s the stuff that you want to focus on first. And then after that, I mean, one of the things that’s been most helpful is I just really enjoyed doing it. And a lot of people say, you know, if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s true, like running a business has given me a lot of anxiety over the years. It’s also given me like incredible happiness. And I’m sure you’ve probably felt the same. I think that the roller coaster of emotions as an entrepreneur is is you know, the peaks are higher and the valleys are lower than really anything else. But at the same time at the end of the day, I it really fulfills me and So, with people out there, focusing on something that you do, like I mean, you can make money doing almost anything today online. And so focusing on what you do like, that’s going to be a huge driver, because it’s easy to do anything for two weeks after the two weeks, you know, that’s when the not so fun stuff kicks in. That’s when the discipline kicks in. And that’s when showing up every day, whether you like it or not, no matter how you’re feeling, that’s when that kicks in. And then on top of it, I think it’s just really, you know, how badly do you want the outcome because for me, like we talked about before, I was just so not happy with and don’t, don’t get me wrong, my job at Microsoft was, is amazing. I mean, it has been that’s why I’ve stuck around for five years. And that’s why I still do it. I absolutely love it. And I have a very unique setup in the corporate world, but the other corporate jobs I’ve had just weren’t fulfilling for me and one of the fears I have is if I left my job at Microsoft and went somewhere else, even if it was out another top two Your company, I’m not sure that I would have the same setup or the same freedoms or the same happiness. And so, for me, just knowing that creating my own thing would be a way to hedge my bets, provide some security and do stuff that I love that’s worth putting in the extra time. And so now what I’ve done is I’ve just gotten really, really intentional, intentional about how I spend my time. So my wife and I go to bed pretty early. I actually have we were joking. The other day, I just got this fitness tracker thing called an aura ring. And I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s basically like a ring that you were in an attraction that we have.
Yeah, in your fitness and stuff. And it makes it actually a couple after a couple weeks of wearing it, it makes a recommendation for your bedtime and I got it in mind was 830 to 9:30pm which is pretty, pretty laughable. But that’s when that’s right in the in the range. I mean, we don’t go to bed at 830 but we’re usually in bed around 930 and we wake up super We wake up around 530. And the best part about that is, you know, I’ve I’ve three and a half hours of me time that I can use to pay myself I can meditate, I can go for a jog or go work out, I can journal and kind of think about visualize the stuff that I want to get done. And then I can put in an hour or two of work before the day starts. And when I get to my job, then I know hey, I’ve I’ve done my stuff for the day. And I think a lot of people, one are not morning people, but two, they put it off until after work. And the problem is it’s so easy to let that fall off because you’re tired or you know, before we had a raging global pandemic, you know, maybe you’d go get drinks or dinner with friends or whatever. And that’s the best feeling to be able to show up at 9am at your job and say, hey, I’ve already done the stuff for me today. And if you put in two hours or an hour and a half or an hour every day, consider consistently you know, 300 to 330 days a year. You can take a A couple days off on the weekends and whatnot. But if you if you show up consistently every day, those hours really add up. And I think you’ll be surprised with the progress that you make.
Shireen Jaffer 31:08
Yeah, absolutely. And going back to what you were saying with, you know, starting small if you’re thinking about starting a side hustle or just exploring an idea you have, just starting with something small, so you don’t, you know, let that analysis paralysis get the better of you. I totally agree. And what I found is once you start, once you take the first step, you’ll also figure out what’s working. The more you experiment, the more you’ll you’ll definitely figure out what’s not working, and then you’ll eventually figure out what is working and then know where to you know, double down, triple down where to invest more of your time. And going back to what Austin mentioned. It’s got to be something ideally you have fun with because absolutely being a founder. Yeah, the the highs are high and the lows are low. And if we’re not having fun, it’s very easy to get discouraged. It’s very easy to get unmotivated and you need to know what you’re working towards, or at least be enjoying it to, to keep it going. So, Austin, I absolutely agree. And I appreciate you sharing that. Something I also want to talk about as you so a lot of people that want to start side hustles come to me and say, Well, okay, I can make the time I can commit to you know, this starting small and I have this full time job, but I don’t know what skills I have, or I don’t know what type of side hustle to start. I think I know what I’m interested in. I think I’ve you know, kind of figured out what I would enjoy doing but I’m not sure if I have the skills to do it. And I also don’t want to waste money trying to take a class. What’s your opinion on that often?
Figuring Out What Your Edge Is (32:55)
Austin Belcak 32:55
Definitely. That’s the the number one I think sticking point that I that I see with a lot A lot of people and I would just tell them to, you know what, just go look at what people are doing online and how they’re making money. I mean, there’s, there is everything from people making six to seven figures, you know, knitting sweaters for dogs or teaching. You know, moms who were, who just had a baby who are coming back to the workforce, how to get back in shape, you know, teaching guys how to get off the couch and run their first five K, there are people making tons of money doing pretty much everything under the sun. And so the biggest thing is just to think about what value you bring to the table. So there’s a couple ways of doing this. One of the one of the easiest ways is to go to your family and friends and just say, you know, hey, what would you come to me for advice on and see what they say the other thing you could do is is within the workplace, just go around to some of your colleagues and say, you know, hey, what it would if you were given an anonymous survey, let’s say If you had to answer, you know, what is what is Austin known for? Or what is Austin really good at? You know, what would your answer be and see what they say. And I think everybody has something everybody has a brand, right everybody, whether it’s personal or whether it’s professional, everybody is kind of known for something and just identifying that is such an easy first step. And even if people you know, some people may say, Well, uh, you know, my family didn’t give me good answers or my colleagues didn’t give me good answers. You know, what’s something that you spend a lot of time thinking about? And what’s something that you feel like you have expertise in that, you know, you read up on a lot, where do you what sites do you spend your time on? What information do you consume? What were your interests and just looking at those things and just coming up with some ideas, you know, I think taking the limits off of yourself saying, you know, again, fitting into some societal body Have this is what a business looks like and more so saying, what what value do I bring to the table? Why it is why Why does my manager and my company keep me around? What do people on my team asked me specifically for advice on and that kind of stuff and then going and finding other people who are doing that. I think one of the easiest ways to validate your idea is competition. You know, a lot of people shy away from competition. And I think the phrase, you know, somebody else has already done that kills more potential businesses, then then, you know, a lot of other stuff and it’s because your competition is good, it validates the fact that that your your idea has merit and other people have been successful with it. And so go see if there is competition, and if there is good, you know, that means that people are willing to pay for the stuff that you’re doing. And then go validate it with people who are actually going to pay for it. So this is the tricky part. But I see a lot of people just start something up without knowing if somebody will pay for it. And you know, if there’s no competition in your space, that’s That’s one hint for sure. But on top of that, you know, your approach may not be the right one either. And so one of the best things that you can do is if you have an idea, again, before you buy that LLC, or even before you buy a website, you know, go put together a little bit of a brief and then go out there and see if you can get people to pay for it. So maybe sign up for an account on upwork.com and see if you can you know, freelance, your services for whatever you’re going to do and see if people will, will bite on it. And if not, you know, really tweak and refine your message on there until you get some people to bite on it. And then you can expand from there. If you want to start a side hustle selling a product, you know, one of the best things that you can do is mock up the product or buy a really small amount of the product. Even if it’s a little bit more expensive and I know string you mentioned people not wanting to spend money on a course well, spending money on validating an idea i think is is definitely a worthwhile venture and you don’t have to spend a lot but throw up a product and run some ads to it. You know, you can can spend 50 bucks on on product and 50 bucks on ads and see if anybody buys you know what you’re selling, even if it’s at a slightly lower price point of what you’d want to eventually sell. But getting out there and finding ways to validate what you’re offering is so, so important. So just to kind of wrap up with a personal example, when I was about a year into my business, I decided to create a course and I wanted to make sure that people would buy it. That was the big thing for me because I tried to launch a number of other products and nobody was really biting on them. So I started out I created a Google doc and I just created I made it view only and I created a brief of the course. So I talked about, you know, the pain point it was addressing, and I walked through the modules, and I had a couple of testimonials in there. And I took that and I sent it out, I sent an email out to all the people on my list. And if you don’t have a list, you can go find just a list of prospects and you can just say, Hey, I’m putting together this thing and I’d love to get your feedback on it.
You know, would you be open to that? And so of the people who responded to me from my email list, I sent them the sheet. And then I sent them a feedback form. And I basically said, you know, would you buy this course? Yes or no? If so, you know, what made you interested to buy it? If not, what made you not interested to buy it? And finally, you know, what else could I add to make it more valuable? And so everybody who checked the box of Yes, I would make it I am interested in buying it. I sent them a link to pay for it. And I gave them a discount off the sticker price. And and then on top of that, the people who said I wouldn’t buy it. But you could make it better by doing this. I said, great. We haven’t built it yet. I’ll make sure that’s in there. Would you be interested now. And so I went through one by one and my goal was to get a 10% sell through rate and I figured if I could get 10% of the people that I talked to to buy it, that was a good sign that people were willing to to actually buy the real thing because I hadn’t even built anything yet. So I ended up getting my 10% but I also got a ton of valuable feedback from the people who you know Wouldn’t be buying my product. And so I was able to kill two birds with one stone because I could really align my messaging for and refine my messaging for when I blasted it out to my full email list. And when I started, you know, pitching it to new people who are coming in the door, but I was also able to validate that this was something people would pay for before I ended up investing know, dozens of hours into building out this course.
Investing in Yourself (39:22)
Shireen Jaffer 39:22
Yeah, I thank you so much for sharing that story. I think that’s awesome. And that is so important, because I think too many people stop at having to invest in themselves, right, like paying for $50 to purchase, you know, small amount of product or whatever it is, and $50 to promote it on through paid advertising. I think I have so many people that I’ll you know, I’ll say if you can financially afford to do so. And I think most people can if they are able to see the return on investment, they’ll realize they can totally afford it. But I always tell people, you know, you’re investing in yourself, and so taking A online course or paying for, I don’t know, a conference or if you’re just prototyping and testing and having to pay to boost things, all of these things are you investing in yourself and it is just as important as obviously, you know, doing your meditation, like everything you do for the first three hours before you leave for work. you’re investing in yourself, you’re investing in yourself with the time because you could be using that time to do something different. And I say the same thing for money. You’re you’re choosing to invest your money in all these different places, whether you realize it or not. And I think oftentimes, people struggle to actually put their money towards an investment in themselves when they don’t, when they don’t know what the guaranteed result could be.
Austin Belcak 40:47
100% and and i buddy mine just posted recently on LinkedIn, he said, you know, instead of getting takeout this weekend, save that money pocket it and go buy a professional headshot for your profile, and I I think that, you know, that’s sort of just one example. But the I think the people who say, you know, I don’t have money on that, or I don’t want to waste money on that, or whatever it is, I would take a hard look at where else your money is going to your point. Because, for me, one of the things I realized when I was starting this business was that I was, you know, I would, I would go with my friends to have dinner and a few beers on a Friday night, and I would be spending 60 or 80 bucks doing that, but then I was saying, you know, well, I can’t afford to pay for this course or whatever. And so I just stopped going out one or two nights a month, and I took that money and I dumped it back into some of the business stuff and that’s where you know that those those things that I spent the money on were some of the things that that helped the business grow and then you spend money you make a little bit more and then you reinvest it and then you have more money to reinvest and everything kind of grows that way. So the best investment you know, people talk about investing in stocks and real estate and all this stuff. I haven’t seen a an investment with better ROI. than the dollars that I’ve put into myself and my business, I
Shireen Jaffer 42:03
also think it’s really important to not just where you’re investing your money, but also what are the outcomes that you are expecting or not even expecting, but what are the possible outcomes from making that investment? Right? So if you invest in a course, worst case, it’s not great and you learn what not to do. But best case you learn crucial skills, you get mentorship, etc, etc. I recently had a conversation with a woman she had emailed me I’ve never met her, but she had emailed me asking my advice on a bootcamp. And, you know, she had said, Hey, you know, I came, I had talked about this boot camp in my weekly email. And she had talked about, you know, she told me, you know, I’m really interested in this boot camp, do you know the person that’s running it? What can you tell me about it? And so, you know, I sent her that email and I connected her to the person and it was good. And then she emailed me a week later and she said, Oh, I just realized, you know, The bootcamp is turned $50 I can’t afford that right now I’m actually applying to grad schools. And I just submitted you know, I just spent over $2,000 on grad school applications. And in her first email she had told me that you know, she had just graduated with her bachelor’s she hadn’t been able to find a job and she was considering grad school to look more appealing to employers and of course right away I said hey, knowing if she’s in a specific niche where grad school is absolutely not required and I informed her on that and I give her my opinion on you know, I work experience is more important than a grad degree in that specific career and in most careers, frankly. So that that I getting that email where her intention is to get a job. This boot camp is in the industry she wants to the mentor is someone who’s reputable in the industry. And for her, you know, she saw it as I can’t Invest in that boot camp because I’ve invested all this money in grad school applications. And she’s not recognizing that one, those applications don’t even guarantee admission into grad school, but then to grad school itself also doesn’t guarantee a job. And so why do we choose to invest in things that logically don’t make sense? Obviously, you know, my, my understanding as well, because grad school is often talked about as I think it’s, well, it’s definitely changing now, but for so long grad school was the thing you aspire to get into, and you get your masters and your PhD and, you know, so much of how success is defined in our society has to do with credentials and degrees so I can understand why she chose to take those actions but it still gets me every single time when I see people making decisions like that.
Austin Belcak 44:52
It my heart sinks a little bit every time I hear somebody tell me the same thing. You know, I can’t get a job and I’m going Going back to grad school and don’t get me wrong, there’s there’s there are plenty of fields where it’s required. And that’s great. But I think the vast majority of people that I’ve seen opt for that decision are in a similar boat to what you’re talking about. They struggled with the job search, and they’ve struggled with also, I think, knowing what they want to do. And it really is a super, super expensive way to buy yourself more time. And if we think about it, you’re you’re not buying time for yourself, though. I think you’re buying time for others when you go to grad school because what I see with those people is they’re looking for the approval of other people and grad school for some reason sort of checks that box like nobody’s, nobody’s expecting you to have that job or that passion, necessarily one month into grad school or one year into grad school or whatever it is. And so you can sort of say who, okay, you know, nobody’s going to be asking me that for a while. Thanks. God, you know, I don’t have to deal with those questions. Hey, it only cost me you know, 200,000 bucks. And so if you and
Shireen Jaffer 46:08
you’re also delay that question, right? Like if you graduate, and now you’re in even more student loan debt, but you’re back in almost the same exact thing is probably worse. Because now you may be overqualified for jobs if you know, grad school wasn’t even required to your degree. And two, you may still not have gotten the work experience to help you figure out what it is that you’re super interested in doing.
Austin Belcak 46:34
Absolutely. And to your point, I mean, the what companies care about and starting your own business, it’s really about understanding real skills that lead to business value, I guess is the best way I can put it on the spot, but nobody really cares that you took that marketing course that taught you the four Ps of marketing or that accounting course that taught you How to Read you know, the four financial statements. Nobody, nobody cares about that what they care is that you can come in and deliver value and the way that value honestly is perceived today. The thing that beats out everything is results. And so the hardest or the The worst part about going to grad school is that when you graduate, you don’t really have any results. And you’re back to this even playing field where everybody else graduated with the same degree, they spent the same amount of money, they took the same classes, they did the same things. So you’re narrowing your, your, your competitive edge, because you’re essentially you spent the last couple years doing the same thing as millions of other people. Whereas if you What’s fascinating to me is, you know, if you took 25% of the cost of grad school and you went and took a loan for that, and you invested it in a business, and maybe you hired a coach for a couple hundred bucks a month, or even you know, you could probably afford 1000 bucks a month for a coach, depending on what you want to do. But you hire a coach or somebody Who can kind of give you direction and then you invest the rest of it in building this, this business idea that you have, I want to guarantee you, you probably not fail, especially if you were still working and you could kind of find the time. You know, one of the big things for me is I delegate a lot of my work and I try to kind of hire out for some of this stuff if I can. And you know, if you’re willing to take that loan and do that, you don’t have to spend as much time you know, the time is not on you, you can kind of teach somebody else how to do it or hire somebody who knows how to do it. But God you could just be in in such a better position with a side hustle or building the skills that you want that that people are actually going to buy into. And I think what it comes down to honestly is just the fear thing that we talked about before sharing like people are terrified of not doing something or of doing something that does not have structure. You know, grad school has structure, there’s a curriculum, there are courses you take you show up and there’s a schedule and then you graduate at a certain date and life and business and careers are not that way. Even if They appear to be that way climbing the ladder at a company. You know, I know so many people who have done all the right things and checked all the right boxes who were passed over for promotion. And I know people who have not done the right things and got the promotion and there’s just no real rhyme or reason and so figuring out how to navigate those waters and investing in yourself and skills and results that businesses and investors and you know, customers are looking for. That’s really where the ROI is. That’s where the value is. And so we couldn’t agree more on this point. And obviously, it’s a little bit of a hot button for me So yeah, now I’m going to
Finding Your Passion Through Trial and Error (49:35)
Shireen Jaffer 49:35
talk about this for hours but I you know, if anything, I hope people that are wherever you’re at right now in your career, if you’re feeling you know, if you just feel like you’re not in the right path, or you’re, you’re you have ideas that you want to explore or you’re considering grad school and, and it’s and the main motivation for concert crowds was because you want to work towards that job. You end up liking and that pays you what you need. I think there’s a lot of great tips that have been shared here as far as testing different ideas and where to invest and how to invest in yourself and your ideas. So often things for all of that, I want to go back to a passion for a minute. You know, we talked a bit about passion and how you were able to essentially, you know, kickstart and explore a few of your ideas. But if I count correctly, you had a music blog, you did a parallel, you did the cold emailing. So you know, you tried three to four different side hustles How did you find your passion? What does passion mean to you?
Austin Belcak 50:42
I found it by screwing up on all those ventures. So, passion is one of the most misunderstood concepts today. And I say that because of what we talked about with my childhood and what we what we hear growing up, you know, find your passion And do what you love and all this stuff you know, especially the the cookie cutter career advice, which you’ve seen a ton of to all these people are talking about, you know, what job Should I apply for, you know, the ones you’re passionate about, but how the heck are you supposed to know what you’re passionate about? If you’ve never actually done it, you know, it’s sort of it’s sort of spun up is this thing that hits you in the middle of the night and you like, shoot up in bed and you’re like, Oh, my God, I was meant to create amazing graphic user interfaces, but I’ve never done that before. But I know that’s my passion. Like that’s never ever gonna happen. Like, you have to go do the thing before you know that you’re passionate about it. And so I the fun analogy I use is it’s like, you know, dipping your fries and your Wendy’s frosty or putting pineapple on pizza like those ideas sound crazy, but somebody actually went and did it and then realize, you know, they’re actually pretty tasty. I’m not a big fan of pineapple on pizza, but I know some people are and
Shireen Jaffer 51:51
I’m not a big fan of fries in my frosty
Austin Belcak 51:54
But more first, like the more personal example is just that you know, if you talk to me six years ago, I would have never in a million years, I think career coaching would have been a million miles away on my radar, that wouldn’t have even been an option that passed through my brain. But the reason I became passionate about it is because I started doing it, because people asked me, so, you know, I sort of solved that that question that we had, it came a little easier to me because people came to me and they said, How did you make this career jump, but I was able to extrapolate that and say, Well, enough people are asking me about this. And I know that people care enough to find a job. And I know that it’s hard to find a job. And I also know that if you get a new job, you can get a raise. So if I teach people how to do this, it seems like there is a path to monetization there. But I still was at the very beginning. You know, I wasn’t I wasn’t like, Oh my god, I’m in it because I need to help all of these people get careers. It’s my life’s calling. I was like, I want to make some money and I want to figure out how to do this. But then after I started teaching people and I started getting these emails from people who said, You know, I wasn’t Gonna be able to afford rent, but now I can. And not only that, but I got to raise and I’m working my dream job. Like, that’s where the passion started really coming from. And so I did a ton of stuff that I ended up hating. And I think we end up crossing off a ton of stuff on our list before we find what we love. But action is really how you figure out what you’re passionate about. So what I’d say to people listening is, you know, first go out there and explore like, if people have a business that’s interesting to you just send them an email, and maybe don’t ask them to like tell you tell you their whole story, but maybe say, you know, Hey, I just really want to know, you know, what do you love most about your business? And you know, what’s, what’s a part of your business that’s not so glamorous that people on the outside might not see it? Maybe just send that to a bunch of people who have a business that seems interesting to you and see what answers come back. And then if it seems interesting enough to try, you know, go take action for 30 days, and if you don’t love it, after 30 days, you have my permission to quit, you know, People always say like winners never quit, and bla bla bla, winners quit all the time, I quit all the time. And the reason I quit is because I realized that I don’t like the thing that I’m doing and it’s not going to be valuable to me. So I quit doing it and I go find something else that is going to be valuable to me. So after 30 days, you know, try it, invest in it, take those courses to your points during read those books, you know, get out there and start those projects, see what you can do in 30 days. And if you hate it, at the end of 30 days, stop and go start emailing other people and go start doing something else. But if you do like it, you know, keep investing, invest for another 30 days and rinse and repeat and just check in every 30 days to see if you’re still enjoying what you’re doing. But by going out there and actually immersing yourself and taking action and trying something. You know, that’s how you’re going to figure out what you’re passionate about. It’s not going to come from a career assessment. It’s not going to come from thinking about it. It’s not going to come from reading another Forbes article like it’s gonna come from taking action.
Shireen Jaffer 54:58
Absolutely unexplored. And I agree with you, I quit all the time on so many things. But I think the number one thing is you can’t quit on yourself. And I know that sounds cheesy. But, man, there are moments where things just don’t work and you’ve quit on different, you know, things you’ve chosen to take a chance on back to back. So you probably have like four quits in a row. But as long as you’re not quitting exploration, as long as you’re not quitting, figuring out what you do align with, you’re actually not quitting at all. So I think there’s a really big differentiator between those two intentions.
Austin Belcak 55:36
Yep, I’m glad you mentioned it. Because I, you know, you and I both showed up every day, through the thick and thin to build our businesses and so I’ve never quit on my business. I’ve never quit on myself. And that’s a huge distinction to make. I just don’t do the things that aren’t valuable to me and I don’t do the things that I don’t enjoy doing. Unless Know that it’s going to have some really, really large future value. So I do appreciate you calling that out. Because it’s not you know, your business isn’t going to get built. If you quit on every single thing that you don’t like to do. There is that core, you know, you and what you’re trying to do in your vision, but in the small stuff, and especially if you don’t know what that thing is, and you’re exploring, it’s okay to stop doing something that you don’t like.
Shireen Jaffer 56:22
Absolutely absolute freakin lately. Well, Austin, it’s been such a pleasure having you here. How can our listeners find you? How can they get in touch with you?
Austin Belcak 56:31
Yes, so LinkedIn is a great place. That’s where I share content pretty much every day and feel free to connect with me send a personal note if you don’t mind with the connection and just mention the podcast or screen so I can pick you out of the crowd. But then also my site cultivated culture, calm has a lot of free tools on it. And a lot of the stuff that you know, a lot of the tactics that I’ve used to kind of build my business are present on the site. So you can sort of see the approach that we take What we’ve done if you’re curious, but those two places are definitely the best way to connect.
Shireen Jaffer 57:06
Awesome, and I will say Austin does a ton of great and helpful LinkedIn lives as well, where he’s constantly talking about, you know, our economy as it changes and the trends when it comes to job searching and career. So definitely give them a follow and check them out again, Austin, thanks so much for being here and sharing your story with us.
Austin Belcak 57:24
Thanks for having me. Sure. And I really appreciate it.
Also, our CEO, Shireen Jaffer, hosts weekly virtual hangouts to bring people together. If you want to know when the next one is happening or get the curated email update,
#10 | Rebecca Jacobs: Betting On Yourself, Entrepreneurship, The Dark Side of Non-Profits
In this episode, Rebecca discusses her decision to reject the corporate route after business school and fly to Tanzania instead. She talks about her realizations during school regarding the type of work she wants to be doing, and asking herself, “What would I do if I only had one year to live?” Rebecca then tells us about her journey into the world of international development and discovering the darker side of “good” work. We further discuss entrepreneurship, the loneliness of betting on yourself, and how it feels to feel alive.
#8 | Melissa Strawn: Feeling Insecure, Overcoming Biases, Making Positive Change
In this episode, Melissa shares her story of living in poverty, getting pregnant at 16, and ultimately deciding to take control to create a more aligned life for herself. We discuss her evolution into a successful startup CEO and she tells us about how she overcomes systemic biases. We further discuss the way our society treats people who have unconventional pasts, and how we can do better collectively.