Sol Orwell, Co-Founder of Examine.com, on How to 'Get Things to Click' After Reading
You know how, while randomly browsing online, you occasionally run into a brilliant piece of content? The kind that opens your eyes and instantly hooks you? So you want to read more articles written by that person, learn more from them… and, next thing you know, you end up reading their whole blog archive and social media updates, all the time wondering “WHY didn’t I know about them before?”.
Writing this interview’s introduction was hard for me. That’s because it’s with an entrepreneur and independent thinker I discovered exactly the way I just described. I tried to balance the amount of information about their accomplishments, while also keeping my enthusiasm in check.
You probably know Sol Orwell as the founder of Examine.com, the largest database on nutrition and supplement research. Forbes profiled him as a seven-figure entrepreneur, and Men’s Fitness considers him a Game Changer.
Sol’s been building websites and making money online for almost 20 years. While attending high school in Canada, he founded a gaming website, and then was involved in other industries, from domain names to local search, daily deals, and many others.
In mid 2000s, he made enough money that he was able to retire and live a digital nomad’s life. He traveled for 5 years before moving back to Toronto. That’s when he wanted to slim down and started to research nutritional supplements that would help him with that goal. Frustrated by the lack of reliable sources of information on the subject of supplements and nutrition, he recognized an opportunity and co-founded Examine.com.
Sol writes long-form articles about entrepreneurship on his blog, SJO.com – it’s addictive, don’t say I didn’t warn you! He also organizes events for charity, such as Chocolate Chip Cookie Off 2017, the Sausage Showdown, and the NYC Chocolate Chip Cookie Off.
I cold outreached him via email and persevered until he agreed to talk more about the books that impacted him. Keep on reading and you’ll find out more about his favorite authors, his reading habits, reasons why he dislikes business books, and more.
P.S. After you read our interview, check out how Sol says hello to his stalkers – Sol being the most handsome person in Toronto, of course.
What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.
Business: I enjoyed Cal’s Deep Work. It helped crystallize some thoughts. Something more explicitly business would be Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur – concise with wisdom and experience.
Non-business: Tough. I have to go with Count of Monte Cristo. An unparalleled revenge story.
Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you?
I find that I rarely get anything brilliant while I’m reading. I love marginalia and often write down notes. I put down a book for at least two weeks after I’ve read it, and then go through it again for my notes. That is when things click.
What books had the biggest impact on you?
Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (though Huxley’s Brave New World is a better reflection of today’s society).
What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)
I hate business books. They are full of wishy-washy inspirational stuff and rarely of anything actionable. And even when actionable, it’s from the context of that founder and the story they’ve spun, not the reality that most people face.
So if anything, I’d have people read books such as Jayson Gaignard’s Mastermind Dinners; Derek Coburn’s Networking is Not Working; Shane Snow’s Storytelling Edge; Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.
There’s so much value in building deep relationships and understanding how to communicate and bond.
I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?
I love reading with something in my hand. I’ve subscribed to half a dozen magazines and buy books non-stop.
I like to switch between fiction, non-fiction, and biographical. I like having a pen on me so I can scribble all over the pages.
How do you make time for reading?
I’m big on stopping work by 5-6pm. That leaves lots of time for reading 🙂
Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?
I love scribbling on the sides (marginalia) and I also start generating an index on the inside cover of things-to-note.
How do you choose what books to read next?
Do you prioritize the books recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?
Shane Parrish and Ryan Holiday are prolific recommenders.
Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?
I’m about to start Jonathan Abrams’ The Inside Story of The Wire. I love oral histories on how amazing projects came to be.
Links where you can follow Sol Orwell or find out more about his projects:
- Follow Sol on Twitter
- Sol’s Wikipedia page
- Sol’s story @ Foundr.com
- Sol’s story @ IndieHackers
- Sol’s story @ Entrepreneurs-Journey
- Forbes: ‘A Young Entrepreneur’s Passion For Hacking His Diet Sparks A Seven-Figure Business’
- Forbes: ‘Creative Ways For Micro Businesses To Give Back’
- Forbes: ‘Looking To Make a Difference In 2018? Three Ways Ultra-Lean Businesses Can Give Back’
- Men’s Health: ‘How I Lost 50 Pounds—While Eating Cookies Every Single Day’
All books mentioned by Sol in our interview:
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
- Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Mastermind Dinners: Build Lifelong Relationships by Connecting Experts, Influencers, and Linchpins by Jayson Gaignard
- Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections by Derek Coburn
- The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming into the Void, and Make People Love You by Shane Snow, Joe Lazauskas
- Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi
- All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire by Jonathan Abrams