So truth be told, I didn’t get a degree in marketing. And these lessons go beyond digital marketing and even the last 6 months.
I’m not a self proclaimed  guru. I’m just someone who’s been doing it professionally for a few years—about 10 now, plus or minus. I started out of necessity and now work full time as a professional. Today, I’m going share with you some of what I’ve learned so far in the hope that you can get some real value out of it and that it helps you on your journey wherever you may be. Cheers.
– Mike

The Biggest Lesson #1

I’ll start with the biggest lesson because it’s the one I’m most excited about and the one I think you’ll benefit from the most. I don’t know if it’s necessarily “The Biggest Lesson” of all for me, but it’s definitely the biggest lesson I can recall in recent memory and that is:

Online education is REAL.

So what do I mean by that? Specifically, I’m talking about a marketing agency and e-learning company called because I’ve learned so much in such short time taking their online mastery courses that my mind is just blown. When I think about the value that I’ve received from their education and training versus how much it costs, it’s a no brainer and it’s no wonder why they’ve been such a huge success.

At $100 a month for access to all the courses, for 4 months now…so for a total of $400 I’ve probably increased my market value by at least $20k a year.

More like $40k if I play my cards right in other arenas like negotiating and customer service (i.e., producing quality work on time).

That’s crazy!

Which is why you should…

Spend Money To Invest In Yourself

Invest in yourself
Photo courtesy Ayo Ogunseinde via

Before taking’s online courses, I didn’t really think about spending money online for something like that. I just didn’t know that an online course, or a series of courses, could be so valuable. And that’s the biggest lesson that I learned recently that I want to share with you. It’s that e-learning can totally be worth it—times a thousand—LITERALLY.

Sure, not all e-learning websites are worth the money they charge. There’s a lot of junk out there. But the companies that are doing it right are really doing it right. So far, the two companies that I’ve come across that have given me exceeding value are and But there are a ton of other great, premium online educational resources out there. Most of them will let you try them out for free, so don’t be afraid to go out there and give them a shot.

Think about it this way:

Invest $1000 in yourself and make 5 times that every year for the rest of your career.

And that’s conservative with the quality e-learning programs. Which says nothing about all the opportunities that’ll come your way, professionally, personally, relationship and otherwise, because you’ve elevated yourself professionally.

And that’s why…

Education IS Important!

There’s a lot you can learn on your own through trial and error, just doing it, researching online, talking to friends, etc. There’s no doubt that proactive learning is great, but imagine that here was someone, or really more like a team of people, who have already done everything you want to do and more.

They’ve spent the time to save you a bunch of time by outlining everything and putting it all into clear, actionable, step-by-step processes. Not only would that save you a ton of time, but you’d learn things that you never would have learned otherwise.

For me being self taught, I learned a lot of digital marketing’s foundational knowledge that’s really unlocked some of the keys of the industry and has allowed me to see the whole practice in a new and clearer light. Honestly, I’m kicking myself. I wish I would’ve done it years ago. I would be making so much more money right now!

And then there’s this: for some careers, like digital marketing, you may not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of your life on a traditional university education. You could spend a fraction of that on something like and be good to go because they teach you practical knowledge that you will be using everyday. They don’t teach you ANYTHING you will not use. And that’s HUGE.

Biggest Lesson #2

If you want to succeed, not only does your product or service have to be in demand, but it has to be GREAT.

This is one of those key things I learned from’s training.

So this idea of having to have a product or service that is great  is something that’s easy to take lightly or misinterpret as marketing jargon or something like that. Kind of like those mission statements that sound nice but don’t really live anywhere except on the “About page” of the company website.

If your business isn’t doing great work by producing a top notch product with great customer service or providing a service that’s leaving the majority of its customers elated, it’s going to either fail or it’s going to squeak by… and then fail. And that’s no fun for anybody. No one wants to own or work for a business that’s just squeaking by.

When you understand this, you see it everywhere. You start to see how so many businesses come and go. They start, they fail, they fizzle, they disappear.

And if you ask someone why or you’ve done business with them, chances are there was something about it that just fell flat. Maybe the build quality of the product was a little cheap or their customer support was hard to get to or wasn’t very knowledgeable. Maybe it just didn’t really do what you expected it to do for you. The main thing is that, at the end of the day, you just weren’t that excited about it.

Those are the kind of companies that don’t make it.

Of course there are exceptions to the rules and there are companies that may “seem” to be succeeding that you would think aren’t providing a great product or service, but I would ask you to think long term and look at it from a long term perspective.

Big companies like AT&T can afford to create a product or service, do a bad job at it, and keep it going for longer than it should. But eventually, it’ll disappear. And even if it doesn’t, big companies like that are the only ones that can do something like that.

The smart thing to take away from this and keep in mind is that if you’re thinking about starting a business or you already have one, you need to be doing GREAT business. Not good, not okay, not good enough—you need to be doing an amazing job. Your customers should be leaving their experience with you elated.

If you can be doing that consistently and all your other bases are covered, you will be expanding, hiring more people, getting new offices, new investors, buying other businesses, etc.

(On other hand, if you’re an employee, the same is true. If you can deliver great service consistently, you will be expanding, gaining responsibility, getting promoted, raises, etc.)

It’s a great thing!

But it’s not easy. And that’s the truth of it. It’s one thing to know and it’s another to do. I don’t know how develop a consistently great product that’s in demand, but I know that it’s something that needs to be done to have a really successful business. I guess if I knew how to do it, I would be making hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour as a business owner or consultant.

But alas…

There’s a lot to consider from marketing and user experience, to subscriber retention and customer service, to which third party software platforms we’re going to use to handle payments, memberships, CRMs, CMSs, APIs, OMGs!

There’s a lot of money being spent and there are a lot of opportunities to cut corners, for scope to creep, to make mistakes that push the deadline out, to not plan properly.

The question of how to create a great product and customer experience comes down to having a clear vision and having the judgement to know what can be compromised when and how and what can never be compromised.

Some More Lessons…

I’ve learned a lot throughout the years. I started working freelance when I was 14 years old airbrushing surfboards and designing graphics for a local surfboard maker in San Diego.

Later I went on to work for a local direct marketing company as a graphic designer. Later still I worked as an in-house designer and proposal writer for a government contractor.

Not all the best lessons I’ve learned about digital marketing, business, life, and professionalism have come from my best jobs, marketing jobs, or jobs at all.

They’ve come from family, friends, culture, and some unexpected places too. Which brings me to my next set of lessons…

Position, Timing, and Skill are Key

Surfing’s been a great teacher. It’s taught me to not focus so much on the end goal, but to enjoy the journey. Yes, the end goal is kind of what it’s all about, but there’s more to it than that and to devalue that would be doing myself a disservice. I would overlook lessons learned, miss joy, miss precious little moments and opportunities for fulfilling relationships.

It’s taught me that to succeed, not only do you need to put yourself in the right place, but you need to be there at the right time. And not only that, but that you need to have enough skills to be competitive and out maneuver and position your competition to succeed.

Connect And Convince

Something that I’ve held for a long time that I’ve seen over and over to be true is that when it comes to getting contracts, jobs, and things like that it’s not so much about your resume, how you look, how expensive you are—all those things are important, but…

what it comes down to is convincing the person that’s making the decision, often the person sitting down next to you, that you’re the right person for the job.

In other words, being able to see the big picture, understand what people’s needs are, present yourself well (self awareness), and articulate yourself well can go a LONG way. You can have an amazing resume, but if you can’t connect and convince, you will be at a disadvantage.

Don’t Be Afraid To Fail

I saw a meme the other day, it said,

“Failure isn’t the opposite of success. It’s part of it.”

If had let the fear of failure keep me from following my dreams, I never would have achieved what I have or had the rich experiences I’ve had so far.

To put this in context, I’ll tell you where I’m at:

I’m in Honolulu, Hawaii typing on my laptop in my kitchen in a house on a hill that overlooks downtown Honolulu with a panoramic ocean city skyline view. I have a dream job working with brilliant people for a great company, I go to work in board shorts, my hours are flexible, and I can surf everyday if I want to.

This is the view right now from my lanai (balcony):

My view from the lanai (balcony) right now (July 15, 2018)
My view from the lanai (balcony) right now (July 15, 2018)

I came here from San Diego, where I’m from, to follow a dream of living and surfing in Hawaii.

Before that I lived in France for a year rock climbing and surfing with my girlfriend at the time. Before that I was working as an inhouse graphic designer for a government contractor, another great job, remotely while living with my girlfriend at the time and her daughter near San Francisco, CA. All that without having gone to college and getting a degree.

And that’s not to say that education isn’t important. I applied myself and I proactively did what it took to learn the ropes of freelancing, talking to people, doing deals, learning how to code in various web languages, how to use the graphic programs, and all that.

But where I am today kind of all started at the top of a 6 foot quarter pipe when I was 5 or 6 years old.

It was probably around 10am…

I asked my teacher if I could go to the bathroom, which, as she always did, she allowed me to do.
What she didn’t know was that I had hidden my skateboard under the quarter pipe before hand (our school had a quarter pipe in a different part of the grounds where I wasn’t supposed to go alone during school hours).

But  instead of going to the bathroom, I went to the quarter pipe to do something that I had been scheming for what was probably weeks beforehand.

Seeing the older kids going up and down that ramp, doing tricks, flying on their skateboards…I wanted to do that. But there were always too many kids and not enough time. Plus, I was too small and no one would let me.

So I snuck to the ramp during class, got my skateboard that I hid, climbed up to the top, and looked around. There was nobody in sight. It was like a ghost town.

“Perfect.” I thought to my kidself. Except that I was terrified.

My heart was racing and beating so hard it felt like it was going to come out of my chest. I knew this was the moment. It was now or never.

So I took a deep breath, put the tail of my skateboard on the edge of the ramp, freaked out, almost chickened out, went through a decision crisis vacillating back and forth a few times, “Should I go? No way it’s too scary!” and then…

In the midst of the internal mayhem, said the kid equivalent of, “FUCK IT”, pressed down on my front foot and made the plunge.

I remember not being able to see the surface of the ramp my front wheels were supposed to touch because it was so steep—I mean, it was vertical—straight down.

I remember the falling feeling, thinking I was going to die, my wheels touching the surface of the ramp even though I couldn’t see it, and an incredible rush of speed.

Then I remember losing control, what seemed like my body flipping…and then an impact and burning sensation on my right upper cheek.

What actually happened was that I hadn’t leaned forward far enough so I fell off my board and hit my face on the ramp. I got a burn from the smooth masonite surface of the ramp rubbing my cheek on the way down—a friction burn.

I wasn’t sure how to feel. I think I thought it was amazing that I actually did it, got away with it, and didn’t die…

And then I felt exhilarated.

I wanted to do it again…

Skating a quarterpipe
Unidentified young girl showing courage skateboarding a quarter pipe. Photo courtesy Emily Rider via

I don’t know if I climbed back up there immediately or during another, “bathroom break” later that day, but I know it was that same day that I worked up the courage to go back up there and drop in again. And that next time…I made it.

I know without any doubt that if I hadn’t done that that day, if I would have fallen and chickened out and NOT gone back up there and done it, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I wouldn’t have started surfing. I wouldn’t have dropped in and taken the bigger, more powerful waves in San Diego that prepared me for the surf here in Hawaii. And I wouldn’t be living here today.

I wouldn’t have believed in myself enough to take on that client when I was in my early twenties—the one where I didn’t know how I was going to build the website because I didn’t really know how to code that well.

And I wouldn’t have learned the lessons that came from finishing that project that got me my next client. And if I never did that, then I never would’ve gotten to the point to where I could work remotely and live in France for a year and surf up and down the French coast, making a living from the skills I had developed in the previous years freelancing.

I’m not trying to brag. I’ve done a lot of things the wrong way too. But I did do some right things. And not letting fear hold me back was one of those things.

I can genuinely say, sitting here, looking at the ocean through my kitchen window, in my board shorts with my surfboard waiting for me just a few feet away, that I have no regrets dropping in on that ramp and burning my cheek so many years ago.

Mike Kong surfing Off The Wall on Oahu's North Shore, winter of 2016.
Me surfing Off The Wall on Oahu’s North Shore, winter of 2016.