Weeks 26-30: We’re On A Collision Course

Hello again,

Welcome to Weeks 26-30 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge. You can read past emails here.

On September 13th, 2022, I launched my challenge website.

My plan was clear. I’d focus on social and email, hope for search traffic, and do things, more or less, how I’ve done them for nearly 20 years.

Focus on high quality content and grow my distribution channels.

Then, around 10 weeks into the project, on November 30th, 2022, OpenAI launched ChatGPT.

For the first two months, I mostly ignored it because I had already tried Jasper (built on GPT) extensively and wasn’t impressed.

But now I realize that on November 30th, the future of building online businesses, consuming content, and how we do virtually everything is in the process of changing dramatically.

In one respect, the timing is perfect.

For years, I have told aspiring entrepreneurs to just launch. Things will change, and you’ll need to adapt anyway.

So just launch.

That makes it nearly poetic that such a revolutionary technology has come around just 2 months into the challenge.

After I go over the latest updates, I’m going to delve deeper into all of this… I’m sure lots of you will disagree with what I’m preparing for, and that’s okay.

It’s not like any of us really know.

In Today’s Email:

  • March numbers and challenges.
  • Small changes = big results.
  • A vital question to ask yourself.
  • Everything that sucks… dies.
  • Make your site need to exist.
  • But yeah, I’m losing my mind.
  • What’s next & so long.

Here’s how March ended up.

I was looking at stats in bed last night (a huge hit with my wife), and I realized the mobile Analytics app provides the easiest way to show you the latest growth. This is March compared to February.

Technically, it’s as of March 30th at 10:30am

So, growth is clearly good here.

  1. Around 72% increase in page views
  2. The newsletter crossed 54,000 subscribers.
  3. I had a record day of 10,983 page views.

Obviously if I were to maintain 72% growth month over month, I’d blow the challenge away by the 1 year mark.

But I’m running into some challenges.

If you recall, I was able to grow from 20k to 40k subs in a month thanks to getting leads for around 16 cents each.

That ship has apparently sailed. Perhaps I’ve told too many people to run Facebook lead gen ads, or, more likely, I’ve exhausted the “easy and obvious” subscribers for my niche.

All that said, cost per sub in the 30-40 cent range isn’t bad by any means. It has just slowed down, including spend.

Budget wise, as far as the challenge goes, I’m still in good shape. March made around $2,000, so we’re still sitting around the $20k mark, give or take.

So, what all did I do?

There’s no need to repeat myself (which in itself is becoming something I repeat often…), but I’m just continuously learning what resonates and doubling down on it.

Beyond adding another 14,000+ email subscribers, I’m getting more out of them in each email.

  • I’ve started making the headlines in the email slightly more clickable than the actual one on the site. ChatGPT helps a lot with generating ideas.
  • I’m adding more links in each email: now there are 4 main links with thumbnails and a “you may also like” at the bottom with content from the archives.
  • Taking more time on my thumbnails instead of just using a stock photo or screenshot from a video. I use Canva almost exclusively now.
  • Regularly sending a Saturday email with the week’s best content. This alone has increased page views by 15%+.

Beyond focusing on content and maximizing clicks, I also launched a forum.

No, it’s not 2005…

For reasons I’ll likely get into in a few minutes, I believe private communities will thrive in the future. Not to mention be highly valuable.

It’s a natural extension of owning your distribution channels (i.e., newsletter), which is more important than ever.

By owning a community with potentially thousands of active users, it’s pretty much the best direct line to your users. Even better than email.

I want as many ways as possible to reach my audience that’s not dependent on tech giants and algorithms.

Because the next great shift is here.

Warning: I do not know where the following section is going to go. I’ve made peace with that and won’t edit it.

I have so many thoughts (who doesn’t?) on the inevitable AI-fueled changes that are already happening, and I think it would be a disservice to not share them.

I believe millions of sites are going to essentially die over the next 5 years.

In order to not become one of them, it starts with a single question:

Does my website need to exist?

Keyword: need.

It’s a simple question, and most people will subconsciously lie to themselves and automatically justify why their site should exist.

After all, nobody wants to admit their business is useless. Nobody wants to have wasted their time. Nobody wants to feel like they failed.

But being truthful to yourself is how you’ll stay ahead of the curve and succeed.

So does your website need to exist?

If it went away tomorrow, would a hole be left behind? Or would people just get the same exact thing from somewhere else and not even know you’re gone let alone existed at all?

It’s an important question to answer truthfully. If the answer is “no,” it doesn’t mean you need to shut down.

It means you need to adapt.

Here’s what I see happening soonish.

First, getting our information by Googling a phrase and then clicking from a list of links will probably feel archaic in the future.

I don’t know if that’s in 6 months or 6 years.

But it’ll be kinda like how we look back at going to the store to buy an entire CD for one song. Nobody does that anymore because it’s just not even remotely efficient compared to streaming.

Everyone’s hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to the Web, but it’s really not that difficult to have foresight.

If something (like buying CDs at the store) sucks, it’s probably on borrowed time. We’ve seen strategies and even industries crumble over and over because they’re just not ideal.

  • Social gaming on Facebook was built on incredibly annoying practices. Now it’s dead.
  • Pop-up ads made significant money, but they were absolutely terrible. Browsers killed them.
  • Stuffing a site with keywords. Then writing thousands of thin articles. Then virtually every other iteration of “SEO.”
  • Toolbars. Browsers have mostly built in the good features of them at this point.
  • Clickbait. While I will go to the grave defending Viral Nova’s headlines (because they actually delivered), clickbait sites became a circus – and now they’re mostly dead.

And those are all recent. I won’t even get into cassette tapes, pagers, digital cameras, and so on.

The point is that when something sucks, it eventually dies.

Getting a list of search results, then clicking to Websites that are littered with ads, GDPR pop ups, and oftentimes content that just didn’t deliver… is just not efficient or user-friendly compared to what is now possible through large language models like ChatGPT.

Google has a lot to figure out in order to protect the advertising behemoth that is their search results. So there are plenty of questions to answer.

But thanks to Microsoft going full Leroy Jenkins with Bing’s GPT integration, the war has begun.

In fact, it’s why prominent names have signed Future of Life’s letter to pause AI experiments.

When I first saw that, I rolled my eyes. Nothing annoys me more than stifling technological advancements… but there may be a valid point this time.

New technology brings new opportunities. And it’s usually the bad actors who figure it out first. Should we hit the pause button and make sure we know what we’re doing? Maybe, but it’s not going to happen, so it’s a moot point.

Nonetheless, with Microsoft firing the first shot, there is virtually nothing Google won’t do in order to protect their market share.

At the cost of every single website’s Google traffic, if that’s what it takes. I’m not saying that’s what will be necessary but, if it is, they will do it.

We’ve already seen Facebook entice millions of businesses to spend billions of dollars building on their platform only to pull the rug out. We’ve already seen Amazon utilize internal data to create their own competing products and destroy small businesses.

And Google is no stranger to it. For many queries, Google’s search results have become much more like a landing page of scraped content than a list of suggested sites.

LLMs like GPT are just taking this to another level. As much as Microsoft and other leaders have claimed it’s vital that driving clicks to publishers remains a priority, I feel like that’s a shallow PR statement.

They know – and we should know – that we’re exiting the age of the Internet where providing existing information alone can be a profitable business.

We have to admit to ourselves if we’re spending time on dying strategies.

I’m not saying Google as we know it is going away tomorrow or even this year. Like I said, there’s a lot to figure out.

But if you ignore that we now have a technology that can do the same thing most websites are doing – except better all around – then you can’t be surprised when your business model just doesn’t work anymore.

Removing our blinders: it feels undeniably true that most websites don’t (or at least won’t) need to exist.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Back to the question, does my site need to exist?

A site can need to exist for a lot of reasons.

  • Personality.
  • Exclusivity.
  • Community.
  • Timeliness.

My point in the last section is that we’re moving (quickly) toward a world where we get our information much faster and more efficiently. Ignoring the ethics and financial impact, it’s far better as a user.

Facts, common knowledge, what to say, how to do just about anything… it’s all going to be at our fingertips with no website necessary. Just like a calculator is to math.

But that doesn’t mean people won’t still seek entertainment, personalized information, and a sense of belonging.

So, set your site apart if you haven’t already. Build distribution channels outside of search, get into formats beyond blog posts, and maybe even add a forum. 🙂

Build irreplaceable connections. Create irreplaceable content.

Make your site need to exist by going beyond being just informational.

But full disclosure… I’m probably losing my mind a little.

One thing I’ve realized in the past few days is that I have massive AI anxiety.

In two ways even:

  1. The growth hacker inside of me is bursting. It’s times like right now that millionaires are made overnight. The next 6-12 months will make some people astronomical amounts of money. In the end, OpenAI itself (or perhaps a competitor) will end up being a trillion dollar company, and these small operations won’t need to exist. But before that happens, millions will be made. I’ve seen these brief windows of life-changing opportunity enough times to recognize it again.
  2. How these changes affect society, my family, my friends… it’s all weighing on me. Even the Internet savvy people I know are barely paying attention to it. It begs the questions: am I in a bubble and not seeing reality? Or am I just really early to seeing exactly how it’s going to change everything?

Barring some sort of government intervention, we’re on a potentially unstoppable path.

The neverending “will there be a recession?” could create a perfect storm collision course.

What happens in a scenario where companies have to make cuts across the board?

Everyone’s going to turn to what AI can do. The people who aren’t paying attention right now will be forced to pay attention, then they’ll see that AI actually can replace much of what they once used humans for.

Eventually, this should increase GDP and present brand new positions and industries, but at what cost in the short term?

These questions and thoughts are heavy but I really don’t think I’m just a nutcase who’s overthinking it.

We’ve seen the Internet change society. We’ve seen the iPhone change society. We’ve seen social media change society.

The things we can do today with a small device kept in our pocket is wild. Given that technology improves exponentially, the AI-based next generation of technology is going to blow our minds.

And that’s not just sci-fi. It’s already here in bigger ways than even the most tech savvy people realize.

And we’re only 4 months in! ChatGPT is only an inkling of what’s coming.

Will business owners retain employees out of the goodness of their hearts? Even if they want to, competition won’t allow for that.

What happens to writers, graphic designers, coders, paralegals, research assistants, accountants, personal assistants, tutorial site owners, and countless others?

I don’t know. But I know the ones who are aware of what’s happening will thrive.

And all that is why I’m sort of losing my mind.

But anyway, what’s next?

Interestingly enough, AI has only helped my challenge website.

It’s great for someone who doesn’t want a big team and is building distribution through more personal channels (email, community, social).

Is that at risk too? Doesn’t seem like it, but probably.

In the meantime, though, I will continue building relationships with readers. Even better, connecting readers with other readers.

The power of AI should make this easier and easier to do at scale. I’ll wrap this email up by presenting two scenarios. They’re just examples of how I’m trying to think forward.

Scenario 1, the SEO strategy: I see that I can crank out 50 articles a day that are actually pretty good. I can also generate unique images with Stable Diffusion. I can do all of this across dozens of sites with a super small team, using keyword tools to guide me.

Seems like an SEO’s dream come true. Imagine the search traffic.

Well, it would be… if I were the only one with access to it.

Unfortunately, billions of dollars are being pumped into marketing campaigns that sell your every day marketer (and layperson) on this exact strategy.

In the end, it’s not going to work. And why should it?

Why should Google allow 10,000 AI-created articles to compete for a keyword when Google itself can simply generate that content and deliver it directly?

Right now, they do in order to protect the revenue of their search business.

That won’t always be the case, so I don’t really see a scenario where they’re not ultimately cutting out websites that provide exactly what they can.

Scenario 2, the community strategy: Instead of using AI to regurgitate information that 10 million other people are also regurgitating, I focus on building direct lines to my users first.

Then I use AI tools to create specialized content for them, manage them, moderate them, and reach them at scale.

Which corporate giant or new technology can decide that my group of 10,000 Ferrari lovers shouldn’t talk with each other every day on a forum? Or receive my personalized email that gives them some sort of tip or new idea?

The bottom line is that we should be spending most of our time figuring out how to truly own our audiences.

Because when the robots do take over the world, all we’ll have is each other anyway.

In conclusion, the advent of AI and ChatGPT technology might feel overwhelming and create anxiety, but it also presents us with an incredible opportunity to adapt and evolve. As we navigate through these changes, it’s crucial to remember that our uniqueness, creativity, and ability to build genuine connections will always be our greatest assets. The future might seem uncertain, but by embracing our human qualities and focusing on fostering meaningful relationships, we can create a world that is not only technologically advanced but also rich in empathy, understanding, and hope. So let’s keep moving forward, discovering new ways to connect with one another, and making our online businesses indispensable sources of inspiration, community, and support. Together, we can face the future with optimism and resilience.

Thanks for reading,

Scott / ChatGPT

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Scott DeLong

I'm an introvert who has built and sold multiple companies for millions of dollars - without funding or employees. I've been featured in BusinessWeek, Business Insider, Fortune, Inc, and more. I hope you find my site helpful to your own entrepreneurial journey.