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3 Important Lessons About Business, Life, and Happiness

Since I started Sumo and AppSumo, I’ve taken a sabbatical every 18 months.

I’ve been to…

  • India
  • Thailand
  • And, most recently, Israel

Israelis + their dogs

A post shared by Noah Kagan (@noahkagan) on

Before I left for my recent trip to work + learn in Israel, the first thing I noticed is people have strong mixed feelings about Israel.

When I told friends that I was planning to go to Israel, I was met with a lot of haters…

  • “Israel is horrible.”
  • “Why are you going there?”
  • “Isn’t it dangerous?”

At first, my trip to Israel was about visiting the place my father was born and taking some time off.

But, as soon as I arrived, my trip to Israel turned into MUCH more.

Hear 3 key takeaways on business, life, happiness from my trip to Israel.

This is one of my shortest podcasts ever, at only 8 minutes. ⏰

Why you should take time away from your business

Whether you’re running a business or working for someone else, one of the best things you can do is take time away.

When you’re all work, it’s easy to slip into a routine:

  • Wake up, roll over, check email 📱
  • Start working 💻
  • Finish working, go to bed 🛌

Routine can be great for productivity… but sometimes you need a change:

  • Helps you see things differently
  • Gives you a chance to recharge
  • Creates an opportunity to explore other interests

AppSumo + Sumo recently hit 8 figures. The team works hard, and I love what we’ve built…

But that doesn’t mean we’re perfect. There’s still a lot of room to optimize, improve, and grow.

When you take time off, you give yourself an opportunity to spot holes in your business. It’s easy to miss these holes during normal day-to-day repetition.

In my own life, success at Sumo means building a company that can grow even when I’m not around.

When you’re used to working hard all day, it can be hard to convince yourself that time off is actually productive for your company.

But it’s 100% worth it.

If you’re looking to take a work break to disconnect and refocus, here are a few tips.

3 steps for successfully taking time off

  1. Pick a place that INSPIRES you to travel. I’ve been to Thailand, India, and Israel over the past few years for an extended break. Each of these places seemed unique, so I went — and I came away with new ideas and feeling refreshed. New experiences make you see things in a different light, which can help grow your business.
  2. Keep your work to a minimum for at least ONE week. We all need breaks. Giving yourself the chance to step away and relax means you’ll come back ready to go.
  3. Make a list of everything you can improve. After taking a week away, sit down with a fresh Google Sheet and list every idea to improve your business.

    Don’t limit yourself to big things either. Think about the “1%” ideas too. For example, shorten all meetings from 1 hour to 45 minutes. It sounds small, but if you’re in 5 meetings a week that’s over an HOUR of extra time

When you come back, you can see there’s more opportunity to grow your business whether you’re there or not.

3 Lessons From My Trip to Israel

Prefer video over reading? Check out my video below (or keep scrolling for the written version).

1. Learn to say “no”

One day I was riding my bike along the beach. I’m listening to music, chilling, feeling good…

But I was lying to myself. I was running from the truth.

“Life isn’t great,” I thought.

I started to really think about why I felt that way. I started thinking about the factors, and listing out everything I was doing:

That’s a lot. And it’s before I add in my personal life and non-business stuff.

I think I do a good job with all these things. But “good” isn’t how I want to live my life. I wanted to do things great.

I couldn’t do all those things great. It’d be impossible unless I drank a million 5-Hour Energy drinks everyday, never slept, and sacrificed my health. (I probably wouldn’t live forever like John Arrow that way.)

I started to think about what really matters most:

  • What do I love doing?
  • Where do I see the biggest opportunity to share my experiences?
  • What should I pick if I could only do 1-3 things?

I realized that true focus means saying “no” a lot.

The biggest growth and successes come from sacrifice. It’s important to FOCUS.

I enjoy a lot of things, but I’m happiest when I take the time to execute on one or two things instead of half-assing a bunch of stuff.

I decided to focus on 3 things:

  1. Sumo and AppSumo write my paycheck and give me the most leverage to help entrepreneurs like you, so that’s a definite keep
  2. I love doing my podcast. It motivates me to meet other cool people + share their stories
  3. Making videos on YouTube are a freakin’ blast. Plus, it’s one of my fastest growing mediums. It’s motivating to see growth 📈

Once I returned to Austin, I started to split my time:

  • 4 days per week on Sumo
  • 1 day per week on my podcast + YouTube

Use the “Test Shit Out” Strategy. Remember, change doesn’t have to be permanent.

I told myself I’d try the 4 / 1 split for three months to see how it works. Then I can adjust based on how I feel:

  • If I want to go back to writing more, no problem
  • If Leoh sounds like a fun place to put my focus, I’ll do it
  • And if I want to give up everything and try something totally new, that’s cool too

I made these changes a couple months ago. Today, I feel much better about the work I’m doing and the results are growing.

Check out how my podcast has steadily grown over the past 3 months.

okdork blog israelpodcast podcastgrowth

This is a chart most entrepreneurs WON’T show you.

They’ll talk about their exponential growth and how life is so great, but it’s mostly B.S. Growth is often slow and steady with lots of failures in-between.

You’ll notice in July we had a downtick in our podcast downloads as our team got used to the new focus on podcasts.

Since July, our focus on podcasts have meant a steady increase in downloads for our average podcast. Plus, a homerun with one of our most popular podcasts ever.

Are you focusing on the right things in your business?

2. Set clear goals and offer autonomy

AppSumo is a Groupon for geeks.

Ayman, who’s been running AppSumo for the past 2-3 years, is absolutely killing it. He’s one of the BEST hires I’ve ever made.

While I was in Israel, I started to think about why he’s doing so well and how he’s crushed our goals.

The two things that stood out to me:

  1. Clear goals
  2. Autonomy

I like to think of it like a game of football. Ayman’s goal is to score touchdowns.

Within the game, he has autonomy to reach those goals using his creativity.

Ayman, like many “A” players, wants to have the freedom to make decisions.

The way to get the BEST out of a great employee is to leave them the hell alone.

For example, with my podcast, I used to do all of the edits myself. I’d spend days looking at transcripts and figuring out what to cut.

But, I have David and Jason on my team who are INCREDIBLE with editing audio. I just needed to tell them my goal of 100,000 podcast downloads and give them autonomy to help us get there.

3. Create opportunities to meet new people

When I went to Israel, I had one friend who I wanted to chill with.

I hit him up and offered to buy falafel and wine for a bunch of people he knew if he’d invite them over.

This was such a great way to meet to people and seriously enhanced my time in Israel. Plus new connections is what helped me get this sweet yamaka!

Chief Sumo here. From my friends at @booklikeaboss

A post shared by Noah Kagan (@noahkagan) on

BONUS: Want to see more pictures of cool stuff in Israel?

I’m comfortable in Austin, so I don’t push myself to meet people as much back home — unless they’re college kids who want to eat tacos. 🌮

But when I look back over this year, some of my BEST experiences + craziest stories have come from meeting new people.

For example:

These convos happened because I put myself in the position to connect with these people for my podcast.

Think about ways you could start to meet new people every week.

You could:

To learn more about my 3 lessons on life, happiness, and business from Israel check out below. The podcast is only 8 minutes long.

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8 responses to “3 Important Lessons About Business, Life, and Happiness”

September 19, 2017 at 9:05 am

The best part for me is about Focus. You are right. How can you focus if there’re multiple things that needs your attention. Thanks for reminding me. I just have to list one and focus on it. 🙂

Bobby Caingles
September 12, 2017 at 11:12 pm

Wow! All this from a trip to Israel? My grandfather, whom I loved, and who gave me the courage to be what I am now, was a lover of this nation. He wasn’t able to finish college, and worked in a cement factory so he could send his brothers and sisters to school (one of them eventually becoming a lawyer, and another a politician). But he was a lover of good books – something he transferred to me. He read a lot about Israel (“The Jews” – by Chaim Berman, if I remember correctly) and dreamed of going to Israel. I do, too. . . I also read Moshe Dayan’s “The Story of My Life,” and traditional Jewish literature. And to make a long story short, I fell in love with this people – whom God, apparently loves despite their frequent waywardness.

Israel would be a great place to finish this book I’m writing on biblical heroes of Faith. Who knows? ?? ???? ??? (im yirtzéh hashém) – If God is willing!

Joe Cotellese
September 11, 2017 at 8:34 am

Great post. I’d love you to go deeper into how you set goals at AppSumo. Are you using a strategy like OKRs? Do you set goals once a quarter, twice a year?

Right now I’m a startup with one full-time dude – me and occasionally contractors. However, I want to make sure that I’m starting on the right foot.

I’ve done this by establishing the vision for my company first. Then wrote out a mission statement. This helped me to find a product strategy. From there it was just a matter of making sure that the goals that I set each quarter are aligned with the strategy, mission and vision.

Rock on \m/
Joe C

Felix Dragoi
August 31, 2017 at 8:22 am

The 3 best parts of this one:

1. “The biggest growth and successes come from sacrifice”
2. Graph’s quality looks so random you know it’s not sugar coated.
3. Give Israel a go

The trip seems enjoyable. That instagram photo really had a good vibe to it, shows those well deserved recharging moments.

Bobby Caingles
September 13, 2017 at 12:34 am

This is what I like about the things Noah shares. You get the lesson – flops, downsides and all – which is really what learners want go see.

Hey, how are you guys able to attach a photo to your comment? I notice I look like a taco in mine. Nice photo, btw.


August 30, 2017 at 1:44 am

Hi Noah,

You recently mentioned a language tool or app during your interview on James Altucher’s podcast. You said it was an app to help you speak better I think?

Can you tell me what it was because I cant remember.

Noah Kagan
September 7, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I use Memrise app.

August 29, 2017 at 11:50 pm

Interesting observation you make about Ayman, your “A” player hire. Your giving him autonomy reminds me of a comment attributed to Steve Jobs. He said of a successful hire, “We don’t hire people and tell them what to do. We want to hire people who can tell us what to do.”

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