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Cody McLain, CEO of SupportNinja, Details the Right Systems & Habits to Build a Successful Life & Business

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Cody McLain is an Austin, Texas based entrepreneur who founded his first company at the age of 15, running it out of foster care, after both his parents died.

By the time he was 18 and his business was generating almost a million in annual revenue, he was defrauded and lost everything. He started from scratch and, since then, co-founded several other multi-million companies – in just under a decade.

Cody (who’s now 28) publicly shares on his blog the lessons he learned along his entrepreneurial journey, hoping this way he’ll help others who are going through the same challenges. He recently started MindHack Podcast, where he breaks down the routines, habits and mindsets of people who live a successful and happy life.

He runs SupportNinja, a business process outsourcing company for startups that employs 400 people, and AssistNinja, a headhunting agency for VA. He’s also the founder and Chief Visionary Officer of WireFuse Media, a digital creative agency.

From our interview you’ll learn more about the books that left marks on him, including the one that introduced him to the concept of Stoicism – an ancient philosophy that taught him principles that are extremely helpful when applied in our stressful modern environment. Enjoy!

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker

Eric Barker puts out some great content on his blog and his book combines a lot of those insights into a single read. Growing up I was much more critical and hard on myself than I should’ve been, and this book gives great insight as to what Success actually is and how to get there.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Based on your top book recommendations list, this one needs no introductions.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

A book called the Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter is written well and to the point. We all struggle with motivation and building positive habits, and the book made me see habits in a new light with the idea of building success spirals.

Passage from the book:

To start building your success spirals, first make a tiny, achievable goal that you can’t forget to do. Setting a reminder for yourself helps. Then, track your success doing this goal. (Eventually, the tracking system you develop can be the reminder for goals in any arbitrary success spirals you’re working on.) You don’t have to shoot for 100% daily adherence, but you should have a definite cutoff, like 95%. Your goal also needs a completion date. You can’t succeed at doing something forever, even if it’s easy; eventually, life changes. You can avoid candy for one month, or keep the dishes clean for two months, or meditate every day for two weeks, but then the goal should be completed. You can always re-up your success spiral on that goal if you’re still interested, or make it harder or easier. Often, though, your interests will move on, and you don’t want to be stuck doing something of low Value just to strengthen your Expectancy.

When creating new habits we often set goals that are too difficult to reach. If you start with small ones like “meditate for just 1 minute” then you’re lowering the barrier to entry. I set the goal so low that it was incredibly easy to meet, then I just kept raising the goal metric to the point of meditating for 20 minutes a day, everyday.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Gave additional insight into how the human mind works, our inherit fallacies and biases. Understanding oneself better is one of the keys to living a better and more plentiful life.

  • The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
  • This book introduced me to the concept of Stoicism and how we can choose to be happy instead of always vying for something in the future. This book teaches one that when faced with a challenge or obstacle, one should continue to pursue the goal as that is the way towards success, happiness and fulfillment.

  • Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina
  • There are tons of productivity books out there, this is a refreshing way of viewing how to better oneself, the things to avoid and how to view the world in order to become a better person.

  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • Once you understand the difference between the Growth mindset and a Fixed mindset, you’ll start to catch your negative self-talk and doubt more often. This book helped me to understand that our potential can far exceed our expectations.

  • The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
  • Need I say more? The difference with my relationship with this book is that I started a multi-national, multi-million dollar company called SupportNinja as a result of reading this book. now my company services some of the biggest tech brands in Silicon Valley and it all started with the ideas given to me with this book.

What five books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Will assume career path is running a startup, getting clients and managing a team of employees or collaborating with founders. These are some of the best books to cover these areas. It’s hard running a startup, let alone being the person who has to make the highest decisions in the organization. These books help provide the framework in how to run a successful organization but also share some of the stories and pitfalls from other founders so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

2 Kindles, one for non-fiction and other for fiction. I’ll read 30 minutes in the morning on my cycle desk and will put on a pair of blue light blocking glasses and read a fiction book before I go to bed or until I get tired.

How do you make time for reading?

Part of my morning routine I call my mind, body and soul. I exercise, meditate and read before I start doing any work on the computer. If I didn’t read before working it’s unlikely I would be able to make or keep reading as a habit. The best thing one can do is read before doing any work in the morning because you’ll find yourself too busy or caught-up in the whirlwind of work to read later in the evening.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I highlight passages in the book, my assistant copies them into Evernote and also uploads them to my website that shows all the notes from books I read. Furthermore, every week on my maintenance day, I will pick a book note and re-read it, while also following Tiago Forte’s PARA method of bolding and highlighting the most important passages to make revisits easier.

I detailed my note taking and copying technique here on my website.

How do you choose what books to read next?

Often I send a bunch of samples to my Kindle and will start reading them, sometimes I bounce around until I feel like one interests me the most and I’ll end up sticking to it. Other-times circumstances in life or business will pop up that will add an extra urgency and I’ll find myself finishing a book in record time.

Do you prioritize the books recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

Derek Sivers has a great collection of book notes. Being able to read the review and book notes allowed me to discover the books that I wanted to read. I loved the idea so much I created a similar page on my website to allow people to review the notes from books I’ve read.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. So far, a fantastic book that pairs well with the EOS: Traction book. It discusses how to set objectives and goals for the company as a whole, and how to hold the team and accountable to reach those goals.

Links where you can follow Cody McLain and find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Cody McLain in this interview:

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