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Empire Building, One Year Later

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One year ago, I was passing through North Dakota on a train from Chicago to Portland. The train was the Amtrak Empire Builder, and I used the occasion to plan the launch of the Empire Building Kit.

A lot can happen in a year’s time.

The weeks around the launch took place during an intense season. I flew to the Ukraine, to West Africa (Cape Verde), and to Cyprus. On the way back, British Airways was on strike and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the U.S. in time. Everything was tied together—one flight connection to another, one event or activity to all the rest.

But as it usually does, everything worked out and I ended up on a Lufthansa flight to Chicago, followed by a commuter hop to Pittsburgh where I spoke at Carnegie Mellon with Jonathan Fields, then back to Chicago where I met up with J.D. Roth on the train from ORD. The next night we did a group meetup at a bar near Wrigley Field with Alexandra, Adam, and 50 other friends. J.D. signed copies of his new book, and we went back to the Doubletree Hotel before gearing up for the next stage of the journey the next day, April 6th.

The story behind the Empire Building Kit (EBK) launch is best told here. In short, a lot of things came together at the same time. I spent months putting together my most comprehensive business resource ever. Then after feeling stuck for a while, I finally decided to launch the project from the Empire Builder train, with the new Empire Builder bag, on my birthday, for 24 hours only on a trip coming back from Africa.

We boarded the train and set up a bloggers’ lounge (the only Apple Store on board Amtrak, as far as I know), drinking cheap sparkling wine disguised as champagne. We rode through Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Then at 6am the next morning, I launched the Empire Building Kit to hundreds of people who had been following the pre-launch and waiting for it.

It was a miracle that everything worked out OK—all the flights, the WiFi situation, actually completing the product in time, the merchant account not shutting me down for depositing large amounts of money in a single day. But for whatever reason, everything worked as it should.

I got off the train in Portland on April 8th feeling tired from the journey through six countries abroad and then across half of America, but confident that I was following the right path.

In the weeks afterward, I thought a lot about the life I had been building since at least 2006. This kind of intense life isn’t for everyone, but more and more I knew it was for me. The more I pursue adventure, the more adventure I want. Steven Tyler said recently, “There’s no rehab for being addicted to adrenaline.” I’m thoroughly addicted, and I don’t want to be cured.

After the Launch

After the launch, I rested for a couple of days, then got to work writing 365 daily messages for the new group of EBK owners. The concept of a daily email for a year turned out to be one of the most popular features of the whole project, and—true to form—I underestimated how much work it would turn out to be. I literally wrote two book-length manuscripts for the follow-up series. What was I thinking? I’m not sure, but I have no regrets. Every day I hear from dozens of people on different parts of the series, and it’s fun to be a small part of their world every day.

The AONC book came out last September, and we immediately started pitching the concept for book #2 around. (Publishing takes forever, so if you sit around waiting, nothing will ever get done.) I did conference calls with executives in New York, and I noticed that almost all of them, on different calls, were interested in the Empire Building Kit. A couple of them even asked for free access to the course, which I thought was funny—I told them to feel free to put it on their expense accounts.

The book I’m writing now is all about unconventional entrepreneurs, and is partially based on the material and case studies I gathered for the Empire Building Kit.

Quick side note: I’m still looking for a few case studies of unconventional entrepreneurs, especially from readers outside the U.S. and people who own offline businesses. (I already have more than enough online businesses in the study.)

If you meet the criteria listed here, put your info down over here for consideration.

The lessons of building a business around your passion are still very much relevant, and the material in the course has helped nearly 2,000 people so far. But just as important, I think, is the free lesson to always follow your passion (wholeheartedly) and find a way to connect that passion with what others also care about. No need to select from your choice of price tiers for that lesson; just implement it in your life and success will follow.

The Missing Relaunch

If I was more strategic, I’d have put together a big “One Year Later” relaunch with much fanfare and more train-riding. But another thing I learned last year, or at least had strongly reinforced, is that I am more productive and accomplish much more if I spend my time on projects for which I’m highly motivated. After writing the equivalent of two whole books for the follow-up material, I’m done with Empire Building for the moment. It was fun to ride a train for 46 hours across the U.S., but I don’t need to do it again for a while. On to other things.

Therefore I have no new offer, no discount code, no pitch. Empire Building Kit is still the flagship product for UnconventionalGuides.com, so if you’re interested, you can get it here.

But for me, these days I’m motivated to write the next “real” book and prepare to welcome 500 people to Portland in June, so that’s what I’m doing. I’ve restricted myself from international travel for two months so I can work on those things.

At the moment, however, I’m headed to Las Vegas, speaking to entrepreneurs tomorrow afternoon at GrowCo. As to why entrepreneurs who are more successful than me care about what I have to say, I’m still not sure, but I’m grateful for the opportunity. Aside from short trips like this one, I’ll be based at home in Portland until at least mid-June.

What was happening in your life one year ago… and what are you excited about now?

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44 Comments

  • Benny says:

    I’ve always wanted to take one of those long Amtrak rides. Almost did it last year but money wasn’t enough. Hope to do it in the future for sure.

  • Maia Duerr says:

    A year ago, I was just getting turned on to the idea of generating revenue from my creativity + knowledge, rather than trading my time for money. I’d had my own consulting business since 2008, but was ready for a new phase.

    Not long after that, I ran across the EBK and joined up on the second launch in May. Even though I’d never heard of Chris before, I had to love someone who launched their product on an Amtrak train.

    I’ve been faithfully reading my daily emails, watching video interviews, and reading case studies ever since…and step by step, building my own little empire on the Liberated Life Project. It’s been an empowering experience.

    A year ago, I was also dreaming of some kind of big adventure. This past January, I made that dream come true with a month in Thailand where I trained to be an elephant caretaker. What a trip!

    Now, I’m simply excited about life, and inspiring other people thru the LLP. Thanks for your support, Chris!

  • Gillian says:

    A year ago I was in Vietnam on the way to finishing a year of travel. I came home wondering what was next for me, signed up for EBK, and have kept moving forward with what I call Operation Responsibly Irresponsible. EBK continues to influence me every day and keep my head in the right space. I am looking forward to WDS and being further inspired by others. Cheers!

  • Fate sometimes is genius and has conspired to have me travel to the World Domination Summit this June via the very same Empire Builder Amtrak route, starting in Winona, MN. Although I wasn’t selected to speak at WDS, I’m very happy that the three choices I did make were the three selected. Look out, Portland!

  • A year ago I made decisions I knew I would regret, but thinking they were right for the time being. That much is debatable, since I took a job I knew I wouldn’t like primarily so we’d have insurance to cover when my son was born in September. This February I went on my own full-time and my wallet hasn’t recovered yet, but it’s much more rewarding. That said, I miss having a regular paycheck even if it’s not enough to really get by.

  • A year ago I was interviewing for a job I really wanted, but ended up not getting. I also was preparing for a big move and was extremely nervous. A year later, I got a different job, that ended up being a much better fit. Instead of preparing for a move across the country, this year I am preparing for a wedding! Crazy how much life can change in a year!

  • Anita says:

    A year ago I was still planning turning a book idea a friend and I were working on into a blog (inspired in part by this site), and taking some web classes to try to figure out how to do so. This idea has been in the works for two years now and this February, I finally got it up! I am still figuring out how to make what I eventually want it to do work, but I am very excited about taking action. On to figuring out marketing, SEO, and how to post art and music! 🙂

  • Jeff Munn says:

    Last year I started a blog about happiness, the spiritual journey, and my struggles to integrate timeless wisdom with a traditional corporate career. I shared it with a few people, but mostly it was for me. A few weeks ago I took a deep breath and started sharing with a much wider group, and the feedback has been tremendous. The best thing is that people are saying my writing helps them. I can’t think of any greater reward.

  • Peter says:

    After taking 12 years off from my prior career (chiropractic) for inner work and exploration, much of it spent helping my brother in his manufacturing business to fund the exploring, I found this site, which contributed to the belief and desire to return to practice….here I sit, one year later, in my office in rural WV (where I started out 34 years ago!) having just opened 6 weeks ago.(Never thought I’d get re-licensed here, as I hadn’t kept the license active). I’m the only D.C. in town, with lots of grateful patients, happy my re-awakened passion has brought me here!

  • Patricia GW says:

    One year ago I began my travel blog “In Search of Mermaids” without a clear sense of how I could make it as a travel writer. Now it has turned into a platform for meeting new people, including travelers, bloggers, and online entrepreneurs.
    It was a small step forward to start the blog, and everyday I’m excited I’m closer to the life I want to lead with pride.

  • Brigitte says:

    A year ago I met you in Chicago and asked a bunch of questions about leadership. Now, I’ve launched a new site with your advice in mind and am embarking on a freelance career.

    Hm…I suppose I owe you a thank you. 🙂

  • Leigh says:

    A year ago, I started a social business. We moved from the incubation period to selling our first product. One year ago we had a team of 7 Cambodians and 2 Americans. Today, we have 46 Cambodian staff and the same 2 Americans. This has been one of the best years of my life. I’ve learned and grown so much.

  • One year ago I literally I had move from my truck (where I was sleeping for two months) to take a position as a resident firefighter. I cooked a lot at the station and the coming summer saw me pursuing a dream of writing a local cookbook. The book turned out to be more successful than anything I could have dreamed of.

    I now have a national cookbook coming out, and over a dozen community-oriented cookbooks in process. I no longer am with the fire department, which is what I thought I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But to have that planned life replaced with a fuller, more global vision that you can help people and follow your calling, is a dream.

  • Nicky Spur says:

    Cool story about the launch, I’m pretty impressed the whole thing was launchable from the train. I also agree about the adventure aspects — success begets success, the same goes for exploration and new experiences.

  • Kadie Becker says:

    Good things happen in North Dakota. Thanks for giving it a shout out!

  • Brooke says:

    Hey Chris, I have an offline business that fits every criteria other than the income, mainly because I got injured through my contract work and have had to “lay low” for the past year on getting new clients. (So, I am far from meeting the income criterion, but I hope to bounce back from this second surgery…)
    OTOH, the work injury and being disabled for over a year has not only given me more empathy for others in my situation, but I have a totally new market for the business (once my body is functional again)
    Don’t know if you’re interested in my case study? Let me know…

  • Nick Vivion says:

    One year ago, I was launching the first iteration of my website Unicorn Booty. Since then, we have changed up the concept and become one of the top ten gay blogs in the US – and the most followed in the world on social media.

    It always amazes me what a year will bring! I’m on a 5-year march to financial independence and a sailboat journey around the world! Excited to come down to WDS from Seattle. Chris, I met you briefly when you spoke up here at SCOOT and I look forward to what your cooking up for us!

  • Etsuko says:

    A year ago I purchased EBK and joined the adventure! A year later, I’ve published a book, my business is growing and am preparing for a big move to Japan. Oh, I’ll stop by Portland first.

    Also, happy birthday Chris!!

  • Estella says:

    Just over a year ago, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go to college. I wasn’t having much luck finding the perfect fit in the States, so I broadened my search a bit. Now, I am just finishing my first year as the only American in the art and design department at my beloved little College in England. Best choice I ever made, and the added bonus is that travel and culture in continental Europe is just a stone’s throw away!! I’ve been able to visit five countries during my breaks this semester!

  • Ricardo says:

    A year ago… a year ago I was self-employed, I was coming back from a business trip to Kazakhstan, from where I sent you a postcard (Postcard # 52: Ricardo in Kazakhstan) and I had answered your questions:

    1. What do you really want to get out of life?
    2. What can you offer the world that no one else can?

    Re-reading my answers I find I didn’t make it to Cambodia nor Thailand, instead to the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Australia, Egypt and the U.A.E. (yes, Dubai ist so overrated 🙂 ). I still don’t think you have to be rich to achieve everything – although I learned that having a regular income helps 😉 Now I’m writing from Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. Don’t know how long I’ll stay here, nor where I’ll go next – life’s an adventure!

    I’m still working on giving back – something no one should actually ever stop doing.

    I wish you a lot of luck with your further projects and regards from the Canary Islands!

    Ricardo

  • Blue says:

    Finally figured out that my comment wasn’t taking because I had tried to put a link in it.

    Short version: your EBK is AWESOME and has done more to help me grow than any other guide.

    Last year I was just starting out. This year I am just getting started.

    Long version: click the URL. I made you a video.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY EBK and HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRIS!

  • A year ago today I looked at an engagement ring. A year ago tomorrow, I bought it. Now, I’m married to that woman, and yesterday, we celebrated five months of marriage. She’s watching Friends in the other room—I bought the complete series for Valentine’s Day—and I’m catching up on some reading. She got her first stylist job yesterday, and earlier this evening, I went to a farewell party for a former co-worker who finally quick his job to freelance full-time. I got laid off from the same firm where we met two years ago. I turned 29 on Tuesday, and I think the best years are ahead.

  • Ame' Karoly says:

    A year ago I took my first “non-typical college” job as the one and only employee of the Kindness Foundation U.S. office. It was the biggest challanges and adventures of my life!!! All of a sudden I went from “hello and welcome to JcPenney’s” to “Dr. Olga I need to know if everything reached you in Russia, Canada, Australia, wherever.” I developed new skills over the course of the year. I also got to volunteer at their Russian Christian Youth Camp in Samara, Russia. It was amazing.

    Now a year later, I have quite my job and moved to a volunteer position as I pursue a study abroad opportunity in China. I’m still involved with Kindness, and once I return from China I will be volunteering at their summer camp in Odesa, Ukraine. I can’t believe the opportunities God has given me over the course of one year. It is amazing how truly great he is!!!

  • A year ago, I was actually in the hospital from complications from dialysis, in kidney failure, frustrated with my job, and helping my wife plan our wedding.

    Now, I am: excited about being married, excited we have a baby coming this fall, overjoyed and still healing from my kidney transplant last fall (no more dialysis!), so excited about connecting with myself and other people with my new blog, and…

    I am excited professionally, because I see what I’m escaping to as far as working for myself as a writer. I’m enjoying learning the process to get there. Thanks for taking the time to write books/products to help other people and help us paint a picture of non-conformity. Peace.

  • dara says:

    What a journey you’ve been on, Chris. Very encouraging, as are so many of the above comments.

    A year ago I was living in Asheville, NC and feeling frustrated and anxious about the fact that the company I was working for was struggling and hadn’t paid us (their staff) for nearly 2 months. I quit 3 weeks later and they shut-down a couple of months after that. By that point I had really sunk financially and lost my apartment. I moved back home with my parents in NJ for the summer while I pondered my next steps. I accepted an invitation to fly to Munich and visit someone who I’d known in Asheville. He is now my boyfriend and we live together in San Francisco since late fall. I’m still not working a “real job”, and am totally ok with that. I’m blogging and writing daily, taking good care of myself, taking care of my relationships, and reading awesome books like The Art of Non-Comformity to help me figure out the rest of my life.

  • Roy says:

    Taking the Amtrak across USA sounds awesome. Chris, the sheer quantity of stuff you get done is just mind-boggling 🙂

    A year ago, I was fairly new to cruise ship work, blogging and still getting over a failed relationship. Today, I’m older, wiser and happier. I still enjoy working on a cruise ship and have become a more mature traveler.

  • Marvin says:

    One year ago, I was just a few months done with completing one of the biggest goals I’ve had…the Ironman triathlon. It was a great feeling…yet it was not long before I found myself wondering what the next big thing was for me.

    Serendipity brought me to AONC via a 30-day ad you placed on Zen Habits (back when Leo was selling ad space). The rest as they say…is history. I missed the $100 business forum…but went on my own anyway and started a business coaching 20 athletes to their first marathon….including my mother, who is 60.

    Fast forward to now, and my wife and I are beginning a new chapter in our lives. We are going full on audacious nomad, living out of backpacks, and eager to meet up with you and 500 other awesome folks at WDS. I’m excited at the possibilities, which are limited only by what we can imagine. Thanks again for all you’ve done, and continue to do, to inspire us all to dream big and grab the bananas.

  • A year ago on April 12th, I was heading to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, followed by an around the world trip, which led me over 5 months to Spain, Italy, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, India, Thailand and Japan. I am currently in limbo, filling back up with wanderlust, and plotting my next adventure in 2012. I was fortunate to get my old job back in Portland and am looking at creative ways to save money to make my next “career” break longer. I’ll be at TBEX to meet other bloggers and looking forward to meeting some of my favorites! My short term plan is to revamp my blog and start writing more frequently.

  • Marlene says:

    A year ago I had came to the decision that I had to leave my job. I had no idea what I was going to do all I knew is that I was not going to work in an office, my job would have colour and I would be able to take a dog to work with me.

    I left my decent paying job on blind faith that I would figure something out. I was afraid the first week and then when realization sunk in that I did not have a paycheque and I would be solely dependant on my husbands salary I panicked. I had been making money since I was twelve.

    It took a trip out to PEI during the summer and then a severe case of burn-out that left me laying on the floor for a few months to discover that writing was my thing. Well, it wasn’t as easy as that. I am missing out a lot of information.

    Now, I am pursing my passion and see possibilities. Life is much better than it has been for a long time. I feel light, like I did when I was a kid playing in the mud.

    Marlene

  • GutsyWriter says:

    I’ve reached the point of pitching my travel,family adventure memoir to agents. A year ago, I was not ready.

  • holli says:

    A year ago I realized I was unable to help an close relative beat his drug addiction. I learned that life is short. No one can change anyone no matter how much you might care. Change is a self motivated process.
    Your book was like a sunset to a hard year when I read it in September. It had nothing to do with April, but everything to do with how last April changed my heart.
    After meeting you and enjoying a brief chat with your wife during the Seattle UW Bookstore tour stop, I started to dust off my dreams.
    Thanks for all the inspiration. I really enjoyed reading about EBK in this post how it helped transform others too.

  • A year ago I was thrilled that you selected me as one of your case studies for the EBK Chris – ‘The Coaching Artist’ was your title for me and I’ve held that thought every one of the past 365 days, as I’ve often had to remind myself of who I really am…

    A year later, I’m in a different country, having successfully overcome foreclosure on the house we’d built, relocating with a young family, being homeless in a city, and starting over from scratch.

    Our kids are at a fantastic Waldorf-Steiner school having an incredible experience learning to love learning, we have a wonderfully diverse and amazing circle of friends around us, both old and new, and my Empire really is now growing, expanding and reaching beyond anything I could have hoped for… All by being reminded every day that every step, however small, can be in the right direction if you keep doing what you love doing…

    Adventure on!
    Happy Birthday and thanks so much Chris – it’s so inspiring!

  • Barry says:

    Congratulations on the launch! It’s amazing how things come together when we need them, even if we don’t expect it!

    A year ago, I was living half-a-country away, comfortable but stagnant. I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go with my life, and what it would take to get me there. I spent my nights wondering if life was willing to offer me more.

    Now, I’m excited by the challenge of creating a successful blog based on my experiences moving up in the world. It’s a journey without a clear path, but a world of opportunity stretching out to the horizon. I hope my journey is as inspiring as yours! Thank you for sharing!

  • Sara says:

    A year ago I had just received an acceptance letter for the first artist residency I had ever applied to. Since then I have traveled from Seattle to LA, the Grand Canyon, NYC and spent a month painting in upstate Vermont. Right before I left for Vermont in November, I was fortunate enough to be laid-off from my day job in Real Estate. Been a full time painter ever since and haven’t looked back.
    It’s really fun to read through this thread!

  • Galen Pearl says:

    Your post was exciting (and exhausting–no coincidence that you launched on a train–making the locomotive connection here). What I found also exciting was reading all the comments from people who have lauched their own lives. What an inspiring morning read!

  • Meg says:

    A year ago, I was watching the number of projects at the small company I used to work for slowly dwindle and worrying whether or not I would continue to have a job. Today, I am living in Hong Kong and working for a large Hospitality Interior Design firm.

  • Caroline says:

    One year ago I was preparing for my gap year travels that were anything but conventional (I’m a real AONC reader)! I cycled 6200km across Europe, from Lisbon-Istanbul, through 15 countries in 70 days, stealth camping along the way. Following that I worked on an organic vineyard for a few months with super cool people to fund my travels and climbing around breathtaking New Zealand.

    I am now in India interning with a social business involved with renewable energy venture which has been incredible.

    Meeting many of the CEOs who have presitigious MBA backgrounds and significant corporate sector experience is both inspiring and intimidating at the same time. Not satisfied with corporate, they’ve come to a developing country and worked to create completely new business models to use market-driven models to bring innovative solutions and technologies to the massive unserved market. Their successes prove profit and social impact can be related and an effective business model.

  • Liz says:

    Last year, at this time… I was suffering through classes like Personal Finance and AP US History, learning Braille, and psyching myself up to ask the guy I liked to prom.

    Now? I’m looking forward to graduation and joining “the real world.” I’m still sitting through ridiculous classes, but I’ve gotten my second paid gig playing oboe for a church cantata. Prom, in case you were wondering, was possibly the best night of my life.

    Thanks, Chris, for inspiring a high school senior from Missouri to dream big.

  • Ruksana says:

    One year ago…personally I was here all summer while my husband spent it in India but this year I get to go home and meet my folks! Professionally…I was doing every show on the planet for my business and expensing all this time and energy and not to forget money for small returns. This year I have already received some awesome publity and am tying that into my marketing efforts towards becoming a wholesale business! So I guess overall I am doing fairly well 🙂

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