Joel Runyon of Impossible HQ lives up to his business name; he continually does what others deam impossible. Since founding his blog, he has given 372 microloans to help entrepreneurs worldwide, funded a school (with another in progress) and started a charitable initiative called 777.
Joel is passionate about pushing past boundaries and doing what he never imagined he could (like running an ultramarathon) while daring others to join him along the way. With a focus on fitness, business & "gritiness", his advice isn't for the faint of heart.
Here is what he has to say...
Tell us what you do in 2 sentences:
At what point did you decide to quit the proverbial 9-5 and what made you feel ready to do so?
After working on Impossible for a couple years, I had started to learn skills on-the-job at 2 different marketing agencies. I worked my way up from intern-level to the marketing director and eventually handled full-fledged campaigns for large regional companies.
After changing jobs to work at a larger agency and eventually managed the search ad spend for companies like Campaign World (where Marcus Lemonis from MSNBC’s The Profit was CEO), I realized that I could be doing the work I was doing from anywhere in the world and didn’t understand why I needed to come into the office in Milwaukee rather than do it from a beach somewhere.
I ended up quitting that job in December 2011 to focus on my own projects.
What did you do next?
I had started up a side-hustle consulting for a few companies while I was still at my job so I had a little money saved up and was making ~$1,500/month. Not a lot, but enough to scrape by and pay some bills.
I ended up selling most of my stuff and moving to the Dominican Republic for a few months to save money, have better weather and live with a friend.
When you started Impossible HQ did you ever imagine it growing to the size that it is today?
I started impossible as a challenge for myself to push my limits and live an interesting story. It started as a blog, but has grown to much more than that. The fact that it’s grown is great, but I think I would still be doing it even if no one read it.
The things that we’ve done with charity have been my proudest moments. We’ve raised over $50,000+ for education and loaned tens of thousands of dollars through our charitable initiatives with Impossible.org.
The Impossible List really took off - what did you think when more and more bloggers started adding their own Impossible List to their sites?
I thought it was pretty cool, but I get more of a kick out of when people send in photos of themselves DOING stuff in their impossible gear. The impossible list has always been about action - so seeing people take action in real time is always my favorite thing. It’s easy to make a list. It’s a lot more rewarding to actually go do the things on it.
Your own Impossible List is impressive - you’ve done so much already! How has running your own business helped you in crossing some of these items off?
It’s probably helped the most from a logistics angle. I can work from anywhere, so if I need to travel - it’s not a problem. I find most stuff isn’t really that expensive or difficult, but it involves taking control of your freedom and personal time and that can be tough depending on your job.
It’s nice that I’m in control of my income (if I need to make more money, I can just make more rather than waiting on a 3% raise every year), so that is helpful, but I think the time freedom is a bigger help overall (as well as the location to physically work from wherever).
What is the largest obstacle you’ve faced in your business so far and how did you overcome it?
I have to check with my lawyer to see how much I can talk about this, but I just got through a very long, expensive and difficult lawsuit with an almost-billionaire.
It wasn’t very fun and was an entire aspect of business I’ve never had to deal with before, but it’s over and behind me.
It was especially tough because usually I talk about physical challenges and taking charge of things, but with a lawsuit like this (where I wasn’t especially educated about the nuances going in), there’s a lot of stuff that is 1) out of your control 2) out of your timeline. The courts basically move things along at their own pace and it’s tough to really do much about it.
So yeah, that was probably the toughest thing (both legally & mentally) that I’ve had to deal with, but I can’t imagine a scenario that’s going to be more stressful than that. Now that I’ve dealt with the worst possible case scenario, I’ve had legal issues come up since then and they all seem pedestrian in comparison.
What advice would you give other creatives looking to create a career for themselves outside the 9-5?
Start now. Work on a side-hustle at your job. If you can’t find time to make money at your job while you’re working full time, it won’t get easier if you have all the time in the world. The “limitations” of your job are actually a benefit when you start out because it forces you to get creative and productive with your work.
I don’t think people should quit their job until they start earning money at their side-hustle first. Validate the idea, refine it over time and then when you have some track record, some savings and some cash flow coming in, pull the trigger, quit and go all-in.
Can you talk a bit about the 777 project and how you came up with it?
777 came when I had finished up a bunch of things on my impossible list and was looking for another challenge.
To that date, the hardest thing I had done was an ultra marathon and the most rewarding thing I had done was build a school with Pencils of Promise.
I decided to challenge myself to do it and see if I could do it.
It’s been challenging, both with getting injured and then getting into a legal battle that pulled some focus. Now that it’s all over, I can get back to the project and hopefully finish a good portion of it by the end of the year.
What are your plans for the future?
Now that I’m done with legal work, I’m planning on working on the business. I’m building a team, and building out the Ultimate Paleo Guide portfolio to be bigger than ever including a new site for paleo breakfast recipes and a best-selling app. On Impossible, I have a few e-books outlined that I’ve been working on along with focusing on boosting our apparel line and pushing into some more physical-type products down the road.