“This may seem too magical, but you must start at BELIEVING that you can do what you want… and then you work backwards.”
All five of us were sitting in the self-made living room we constructed in our office when our CEO spouted those words above. Our CEO said what he said because he was trying to guide our lead engineer into making a sound decision about whether he (the engineer) should stay with the company or not.
This doesn’t move the story forward, but the lead engineer is at a better place. Anyway, regardless if our CEO meant to be inspirational or not, I found his words to resonate with me in a special way.
It brought me back to a time where I used to BELIEVE in the impossible & BELIEVE that I could do anything. I believed I could be a superhero, I believed I could be a saint, I believed I could be a writer, I believed I could be a director / an actor, I believed I could be an entrepreneur, I believed I could be a karate master… Then, it was these memories that brought me to rethink of all the successes and failures I’ve had in pursuing these beliefs.
I’m not going to focus on the failures because focusing on an article of “what not to do” is unproductive to the prospect of actually learning something. Rather, I’m going to tell you how I was able to succeed in some of these beliefs. These successful beliefs became a reality because I took the time to work backwards.
Many times we write down our beliefs on paper, tell others about this belief, have people affirm us for having such belief, and then… well… it just becomes words that become plastered on a wall. Yes, (many times) our belief turns into nothing. Our belief transforms into magical fairy dust: a goal you once thought you could accomplish… has now become impossible to obtain.
Failure happens because backwards thinking, or working backwards isn’t implemented.
I’m going to use my Weeknd Video as the case study to the fundamentals of what it takes to work backwards. First, to give you some context, my Weeknd Video was a viral hit that achieved a million views on YouTube, over 15 million views on Facebook, and millions of page impressions to hit online news outlets (reddit / techcrunch / mashable / etc).
This is how it happened. It all started with a belief.
It was my January 1st New Year’s Resolution:
BELIEF: I will create a VIRAL Video, in which I’ll be the STAR of the video, and it will break the internet for at least a week.
I created this belief because I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable and brave enough to make a viral hit for myself. I’ve made countless viral content in the past, BUT, it was always done for an outside brand. It wasn’t for me. Therefore, I’m not going to lie, this belief was being motivated by narcissism and ego.
WORKING BACKWARDS: The structure (from working backwards):
Viral Video -> Actual Video -> Editing Video -> Filming Video -> Tools To Make Video
I didn’t want to start at “tools to make video” because I had no idea the type of tools I needed to shoot the video. Remember, I worked backwards. Therefore, I looked at what I had (my resources) and realized that I Ubered people every single day.
I would have AMAZING conversations with these Uber passengers and I thought… hmmm this could be something. Could filming my passengers be a viral sensation? I thought Yes… so now the structure became:
Viral Video -> Uber Passengers Confess -> Editing Video -> Filming Video -> Tools To Make Video
Then, I went out to get the tools I needed to edit & film the video. I thought getting the camera and shooting would be easy: buy a camera, click the record button, and start editing. I WAS WRONG. It took me a few weeks to figure out the right camera that fit my budget (Cannon S100). It took me 2 months to understand I needed a gorilla pod to hold the camera on my dashboard (holding the camera via my hand wasn’t safe or practical for the shot). Then, it took me another 2 months to realize that passengers confessing their stories to me on camera was AWKWARD and… exploitative.
The concept felt like a winner (filming people in my car doing amazing things). However, the content was lackluster. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where I stood. But, I just kept plowing forwarding thinking of other video variations.
Then – out of nowhere (this is even before James Cordon) – I thought… what if people DANCED to songs in my car? Throughout the year I began to realize that dancing with people to great songs… made ME and others really happy.
So – I implemented this new idea into the mix.
I would spend another month trying out different songs. Demi Lovato’s Cool For The Summer, Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood, Backstreet Boys… the list goes on. I would test out to see if people knew the lyrics, I would test out to see if both guys and girls were eager to sing along, I would test out to see if the sound of the camera would be legit.
Nothing was working until…
It was by the end of June 2015 that something popped up on the radio. It was a song that I kept hearing throughout the year because my friends would always be singing along. It was The Weeknds I Can’t Feel My Face.
It played well with both men and women, it played well with lyrics (repetitive and everyone could easily jump along), and most of all, it was fun. So now the formula was:
Viral Video -> Weeknd Video -> Editing Video -> Filming Video -> Tools To Make Video
Now that I had the tools. I started planning out the best places to film the video. I would map out every event, every location, and anywhere else I thought would bring me to a place where I would pick up people who were down to dance to this song. Yes, places where young people and diverse people were down to get JIGGY with it (if you know what I mean).
Filming took another 2 1/2 weeks to be completed. I’m talking 40-50 hours PER WEEK.
Editing took a grand total of 20 hours.
I would have to jump back and forth from editing to filming to fill in gaps.
Once the film was done… I wasn’t done.
The “Viral Video” part still needed to be implemented. I started strategizing and it took me another week to structure a plant that I would go forward with on the day of launch.
Long story short, I launched the video on August 18th, 2015 and it reached millions of people.
It took me EIGHT MONTHS to complete this project. EIGHT MONTHS.
It all starts with a goal, an idea, a magical belief that is bursting from your chest – screaming at you – that you MUST COMPLETE this goal.
Then. You work backwards.
This is where all the hard work comes in. This is where all the planning comes in. This is where all the assumptions you have are broken. This is where you must pivot into new territory. This where you will be tested to see if you want to continue. This is where you’ll be pushed into tears. This is where you’ll make it known if your magical dream can come true. Working backwards is hard work.
I’m not going to lie, many people (including myself) wish they could wake up and say, “today I hope to be lucky.” But, time and time again, we realize it’s not the case (majority of the time). It takes hard f*cking work.
I guess what I’m saying is that you should put in the time to work backwards. It will take every ounce of your body, but know that you’re more likely to accomplish your beliefs if you plan backwards: you’ll be able to make a plan to help guide you and motivate you to move forward.
Thanks for listening.
See you tomorrow.