EcomCrew Podcast

E290: The 4 Burners Theory – Making a Case for Balanced Entrepreneurship

The desire to be successful is a commonality that all ecommerce entrepreneurs share. However, people’s definition of success varies. 

Personally, I don’t define success as amassing more money. But money is a way to keep score. I’m a competitive person with an ‘all in’ approach to business. It’s this potent combination that has led me to suffer recurring episodes of burnout.

Steve Chou of My Wife Quit Her Job is a good friend of mine and while discussing the effects of burnout, he introduced me to the 4 Burners Theory.

The 4 burners represent the four life quadrants – work, health, family, and friends. If you want to run a successful business you have to turn off one of these four burners. In order to run a REALLY successful business, you have to turn two off. 

In this episode, I relate this theory with my own personal experience and which “burners” I had unknowingly turned off to be able to grow my business.

Today's episode is brought to you by Brex. Brex is a corporate credit card built specifically with the needs of ecommerce business in mind. Net 60 float, with no personal guarantee. Your card limit's based on your monthly sales, not your credit score. Sign up today and use the code ecomcrew to get 50,000 signup bonus points. Available to listeners in the USA only.

If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review on iTunes. And use the comment section on the bottom of the page to ask us a question. 

Till next time, happy selling!

Full Audio Transcript

Mike: [00:00:00] Well, they say all good things must come to an end and our streak of five star reviews has finally come to an end, thanks to Dave El's review of the Ecomcrew podcast that says ,“Go back to selling instead of trying to teach.” 

Now, it is kind of interesting because we still do sell quite a bit of stuff. We did sell ColourIt earlier this year. And so obviously, our revenue is down as a company overall from that. But we still will hit about five million dollars here in 2019 between our three brands IceWraps, WildBaby and Tactical. So I'm not really quite sure what Dave means there of going back to selling because we do sell quite a bit of stuff. I wish the negative review here was a little bit more critical with some constructive feedback on something we can improve upon. We do try to always improve upon the Ecomcrew podcast. We do read all of your reviews and even the one stars get mentioned on the podcast so if you have a moment, go over to iTunes, leave us a review, we read them all. Now on with the show. 

This is Mike and welcome to Episode #290 of the Ecomcrew podcast. And so glad to have you a long today. And hello again from San Diego, California. Over here in La Jolla, having just an amazing time. Fallen in love all over again with San Diego.

[00:01:11] It kind of reminds me of the very first time I ever came out here and just fell in love with this city. It's absolutely beautiful out here. It's no wonder so many people are moving to Southern California. My parents were telling me about how it's 20 degrees back home right now or it was last night when I talked to them. And I'm like, “yeah, I’m running around here in shorts and a t-shirt, enjoying the sun and trying not to get sunburned.” 

And its just absolutely amazing and it's not even hot or humid. It's just like the perfect weather. Looking out at the ocean from our condo and enjoying the little microcosm of La Jolla that we're living in, here and also going to be doing some additional traveling, even though we're traveling full time. We're gonna do another side trip here this week and heading out to Joshua Tree National Park with a couple of friends. We look forward to doing that. Always have a great time with these guys that we're heading out to the desert with. And then next week, heading out to Austin, Texas, for a quick trip to go visit Greg and the JungleScout family and my great friend Liz Saunders, who is the “behind the scenes” girl for both Greg's life and also helping me as well during the Five Minute Pitch stuff.

[00:02:21] But we've become really great friends along with her husband, gonna spend some time with them out there in Austin and hopefully, have some great content for the Ecomcrew community that comes out of that as well. But what I want to talk to you guys today, is a podcast of a first and something different. A lot of things kind of converged here. We have our first One-Star review, which I was reading earlier at the top of the podcast, and I thought it would be a good episode to fit that in here. It sucks, obviously, getting a one-star review. We respect people's opinions. It's hard to do a podcast like this and make everyone happy all the time. Even though I'm a people person and try to do the best that we can, never gonna be a hundred percent perfect for everyone. Love to get more feedback from that person and find out exactly what it is that they hate about our podcast. But obviously there's chocolate and vanilla ice cream for a reason. And so that was a first. 

Another first is we've really held off on ever having a sponsor on the Ecomcrew podcast, at least for the last couple of years. A while back,, who I still love and use their software. This is a free shameless plug for them, great review platform for Shopify.

[00:03:26] They sponsored the podcast way back when Grant and I were doing the podcast together. And one of the things that Dave and I sat down and talked about is we really want the podcast to be different, really not take sponsorships that in some way can cloud the judgment of what the podcast is about. And we obviously need to make money from the podcast and what we do with Ecomcrew. We do that mostly through Ecomcrew premium and try to keep that off the podcast. But we got approached by Brex recently, which ironically, I was talking about Grant just a few minutes ago. I got a text from Grant a couple of months ago and he's like, “Man, you got to check out this Brex thing.” 

And I had it heard about before from my mastermind. We don't really have a need for something like this any longer because we just don't have any debt. We're not in the cash flow problem realm any longer, which is a really great feeling. And I can understand why if you're out there and cash flow is an issue for you, I mean, I feel your pain. We went through that for four years, constantly scrounging up every penny and never had enough money to pay our taxes or enough for more inventory to keep growing at the rate that we were.

[00:04:31] And so the great thing about Brex is it's a credit card that doesn't require a personal guarantee. It's really built for Ecommerce businesses like ours and I really wish that I knew of Brex or that it existed when we were in these flow crunches. And so you get 60 days to pay and there's no interest. So for us, all the vendors that we had in the United States and maybe even Facebook ads or shipping and things of this nature that we're paying with our credit card, you get a full 60 days to pay with zero interest. 

So the way that it works is that every day that you charge something on the credit card, let's say it's $1,000 or $10,000. It doesn't really matter how much it is. That payment for that thing is due 60 days later. So they're going to– you might charge $1,000 on Day 1 and then $1,000 on Day 2, $1,000 on Day 3. And you're not gonna have a $3,000 payment that's due on some billing cycle date. They're gonna take out a $1,000, 61 days later, 62 days later and 63 days later. And that's the way that it works. So it's a way to help with the cash flow needs. They will preview for, at least for us and Grant, a rather large sum of money, basically based on your monthly sales. They don't do a personal credit check or any of these types of things. There's no personal guarantee.

[00:05:48] It's just a great product. And they– basically the way that it works is you're kind of, you're giving up your airline miles points and things of that nature that you would normally get with other credit cards to get 60 days of cash flow. And as you know, credit card companies charge a percentage when you use a credit card. All of us in Ecommerce are aware of that. Whenever we take a credit card, we're paying 2 to 3% to process the credit card. And so that's how Brex makes their money. And if you just switch out the credit card you're already using, you can get this 60 days cash flow for your business. So that's Use the code Ecomcrew and you'll get 50,000 points for using the code Ecomcrew and normally, you only get 7,000 points. So it's like a 5x or 7x, I guess more than normal signup bonus. That was very generous of Brex to  offer that. We asked them to give something special for Ecomcrew. Now that is an affiliate link. And so what I want to talk about is that, we still aren't quite doing a sponsor, although you could look at it that way, but where our interests are in line with them, they were they were willing to pay us, you know, to be on the podcast and be a sponsor. And we’re like, “well, we don't really want sponsors, but we also like to promote your product.” And in this way, it's elective.

The people who want to help out Ecomcrew, you can use the code. If you don't, still go check out Brex anyway. I think it's a great thing to recommend. We try to only recommend things that we would use ourselves like I said, Grant has had great luck with this. One thing I do want to add, I apologize, but this is only going to work for our USA listeners. They only work in USA. We know we have lots of listeners and Ecomcrew premium members who are not in the United States. But these guys only can take USA listeners.

Alright, so enough about that. So that's kind of a first. And I'll mention Brex again, probably on a future episode. Again, check them out if you want. But another first here, is today's topic, something that we don't normally do on Ecomcrew. I kinda look at Ecomcrew as something– when we do the podcast, it's usually technical. I tell you about how I specifically do PPC or Facebook Ads or a Free Plus Shipping offer, getting into the technical nits and bits of ecommerce or we'll have interviews of people who are in the space that run businesses. I think they're great experience shares and stories or I'll talk about myself and goals that I've set and things of that nature. But very rarely, if ever, I can't really think of a time that we've ever done this, have I gotten into something that's more of a personal development thing.

Or for me, anyway, this was more of an epiphany kind of thing, and I don't want to give away too much because I have promised not to repeat myself in the intro part and we're already well into the longest intro we've ever done on the podcast. But I do want to tell you the story of how this came to be.

And so I was in Austin, Texas. I'd been spending a lot time in Austin lately, and we were filming the finale of the Five Minute Pitch. And Steve Chou and I have become really good friends and obviously Scott and Greg as well. And we oftentimes have these intellectual type conversations late at night over a beer or a whiskey or sometimes both. And an interesting conversation comes up not about PPC or like the fundamentals of ecommerce and these types of things, but something like what we're going to talk about today in the podcast. So that's how the whole conversation came up. I want to thank Steve for being a friend and for having the conversation with me. And right after this break, I'm going to get into exactly what that was.

Welcome to the Ecomcrew podcast. The Web’s most transparent podcast from two seven-figure sellers who share the good, bad and the ugly about running an e-commerce business. You’ll learn how we build our brands, find products, and develop marketing strategies that will help you start and grow your own million-dollar e-commerce brand. And now your hosts Mike Jackness and Dave Bryant. 

Alright, guys. So we're gonna get into this conversation that I had with Steve in Austin, Texas. And the way that the conversation came up was some personal struggles that I've been having. We just sold one of our businesses, ColourIt, recently and I had been talking to him about that. And man, I had really been feeling burned out, and now that it's been almost seven months since we sold ColourIt, we're kind of on the tail end of that.

I can look back and realize just how burnout I was getting. I talked about that a little bit in my goals episode. And he brought up this thing called the Four Burner's Theory. And so this is not his theory. This is something that he heard from someone else and they heard from someone else. This thing's evidently been around for a while. I had just never heard of it. And maybe you have. And if you have, hopefully you'll stick around and listen to my take was on it. But again, I had kind of been telling Steve that I was struggling with these things and wasn't quite sure exactly how to have a good work-life balance and all these different things. And he's like, well, have you heard about the four burners theory? Basically, you have four burners in your life. You have work, which obviously is the first one that always comes up, I guess when you're talking to entrepreneurs about this work burner. You have your health burner. You have your family burner and you have your friends burner.

And the question here is, can you have all four burners running at peak performance? Well, I mean, for me, no. But the way that Steve put it is that, in order to run a successful business, you have to turn one of the burners off. In order to run a really successful business, you have to turn two of the burners off. And it was one of these things where, again, he said this in probably a 90 second window of time. And as soon as he said it, it was one of these epiphanies. It definitely, I would say, was a life changing moment for me.

And I know that sounds kind of profound for something maybe that doesn't seem so big to you, but it's something I had been struggling with, like, for so long and didn't quite understand how to articulate this and put this in my head. And I realized that this theory, at least in my world, is really dead on because there's these four aspects you have work, you have your business, in our case, work is business. You have your health. So how good are you taking care yourself? Are you sleeping well? Are you getting exercise? Are you meditating, eating healthy, all these different things? Are you doing these things or are you being really sedentary because you're working too many hours or are you eating fast food because you don't have time to make your food and go shopping? Are you not getting enough sleep because you're just burning both ends of the candle? Things of this nature are the health thing then the family thing is you know, my case, we have a really small family.

It's my wife and I and I consider family to be the immediate family. So your spouse, if you have kids and then parents, if you're lucky enough to still have your parents, maybe grandparents if you're younger and still have grandparents, but your immediate family, the immediate family in your life, are you spending time with them? Are you neglecting them or are you telling them that you're too busy to go to a birthday party? Are you telling them that you can't go on vacation because you're too busy? Things of this nature. Are you spending time with your family?

And then, friends, which is another really important burner, all those things that I just mentioned. Are you going out to dinner with friends? Are you going to sporting events, concerts, having some drinks with friends, playing games, whatever it is that you're into that you do with your friends, are you cultivating those relationships and spending time with those people and making sure that they feel important in your life? And to me, friends are really important. And there's a lot of really interesting studies that talk about community and friendships, including family and other friends.

And the happiest people, the people that live the longest, like have a really great friend network and community, a sense of community. And so, making sure that you have these people in your life. We were joking at a recent event. The people that would hide the body for you if it came to that. Do you have those people in your life or the person that, I think a more realistic thing is, when you have a problem, who do you call? I mean, something as simple as you got a flat tire and you need some help. Your battery's dead. Who do you call? And you know, for me, I know I have those friends and it's really important to me. And it's really something that I've been thinking more about because of this Four Burner Theory and how important that has been in my life, especially when I spent a lot of my life realizing that I set myself to be taken advantage of and I'll go change their tire or help them move in and they're not there for you.

A lot of friends aren't there for you when you need them in return, but hopefully we'll eventually have those friends that you– and I know that I have them. They're really important to me. They don't even listen to the podcast. They're not even really– most of them aren't in ecommerce, which is fine. So I won't embarrass them by talking about them in this way. But you know, when my battery's dead and I need them to come jumpstart my car. They don't hum and haw or tell me excuses why they can't make it.

They just tell me that they'll be there as quick as they possibly can. And so, you know, these things are really important. When you might be sick or have something else go bad in your life, they're there for emotional support and these types of things. So these things are all really important. But what ends up happening is when you're building a successful business, one of the burners gets turned off first. And the thing that's interesting is that everyone turns off a different burner first.

Obviously had this conversation with Steve, Scott and Greg. I'm really delicate about sharing personal things on the podcast or with other people. So I don't want to share the private conversations that I had with them and what they do. But as you guys probably know from listening to podcasts for a while, hopefully you've been a longtime listener and I appreciate your support. I'm an open book when it comes to this stuff, so I'm happy to talk about how this affected me and how I work through this and what I realized immediately when I heard this theory, which is that the first thing to suffer is health for me every single time.

Again, everyone is a little bit different, but for me, the first thing I let go is health. I stop going to the gym, stop playing tennis, start eating bad food, start drinking more, taking less vacations, not sleeping as well, not sleeping for as long a period time and/or I don't sleep as soundly because I'm worried about stuff. Stress really starts to add up and affects me. And this can become a vicious circle.

It can really be a spiral that you can get into that because you're not feeling very well and you don't have a lot of time and you're feeling, you know, just sedentary. And then you end up eating even less healthy because food can be one of the few things that hits the dopamine thing for a short period time. So you start gaining more weight and feeling even more bad about yourself. And again, this kind of can spiral out of control. And for me, health again is the very first thing to suffer. And looking back at it again through multiple businesses, when we've been developing, I would call, a successful business. And we'll talk about what success means here in a minute, another interesting thing.

But health has always been the first thing to suffer. Gain 5, 10, 20 pounds, stop sleeping as well, just feeling stressed out, light-headed, dizzy, heart palpitations. Just the gamut of things that can happen when you're not taking care of yourself. And it's interesting, you know, six months removed from ColourIt as I've been focusing more on health and haven't had the health burner off. Just feel a huge difference because of all this. So again, for me, health is the first one that gets turned off.

The other thing that Steve said, though, that's interesting and I think I mentioned this already, to have a really successful business, you gotta turn two off. Gotta turn two burners off, so for me, the second one that gets turned off, unfortunately and something I'm going to work on even more, now that I've kind of become more cognisant of. And again, this has been more of an epiphany for me. Everyone goes through things at different times and understands things differently.

The second one that gets turned off would be family. And so for me, it's a really small family. I don't have brothers or sisters and we don't have kids, but I have a wife that I love who I've been married to for 13 years. I've been with her for 15 years. And I think that because when you're in a relationship for this long a period time, you kinda start taking things for granted and just assume that they're always going to be there and you can treat them however you want and neglect them. They'll be there tomorrow. Even more so, when they're like in the business and you're with them day and night and you just end up turning off that burner because it's the easier one to do, at least for me. It was easy to do that, which I feel really bad about.

It's something that we've had a pretty good heart to heart talk about over the last few months, which has been great. And now we're closer than ever again, which has been been amazing. But yeah, I mean, there's not time to go do the dates or go to see the movie or even just a small stuff where, you just cuddle on the couch and watch some mindless TV, which I hate doing. But there's a lot to be said for just, you know, sitting with someone and holding in their hand or cuddling up on the couch. And those are the easy things to just neglect, because you don't have the time because you're spending time on this other animal, which is your business.

And then for me, the last one I usually turn off is the friends thing, because again, I think because I was an only child and just friends were important to me as a kid, I wasn't really close to my family, my parents really that much growing up. They were also entrepreneurs. So they were turning on their work burner a lot of the years when I was a kid and just, they weren't around, you know, and it's just a sad, sad repercussions of this life that we've all chosen. And so that was also normal to me. You know, growing up, it was normal to just kind of like have that and so friends, when I was young, was always a really important thing. It's something that I stuck with. And so I don't have a ton of really close friends. That's kind of on purpose because, again, I– it takes a long time for me to trust people. They want to be my friend just because they want to be my friend and not for some other reason.

And it's just another issue that we don't have time for today on the podcast for. But my close friends, I've always found the time for, so when they need something, even when work is the most important thing in my life, I find time for them. So again, talking to other people about this, it's interesting. Sometimes the answer is that friends are the first thing to go or, and then family or family is the first thing to go first and you know, so everyone's gonna be a little bit different.

And I don't that there's a right or wrong answer to this. I think it's just being cognisant that this is happening and then, you know, hopefully if you're aware of things, I think the first step to fixing a problem is admit that you have a problem. And so this is something that, you know, I would say that it's something I do have a problem with. I am kind of an all-in guy. And so when I'm into a business, it's all in and it's hard to have that balance. So the next part of this conversation then becomes, well, can you have a good work life balance? Can you actually have all four burners on at all times and have a good balance?

And so can you have a successful company and do that? And the answer for me, at least till this point, I've thought long and hard about this. The answer for me is, is no. And it's something that I'm still trying to rectify because I don't want to be that way. So I want to be more balanced. I don't want to neglect my health. That's stupid. I mean, you only have one body and one life. So, I mean, why would I want to continue to do that? It just doesn't make any sense.

And hopefully I'm only ever going to have one wife. And why would I want to neglect her and put her through the things I've put her through in the past by ignoring her or not being there for her for the little things. And my family, my mom and dad and my mother-in-law. Again, we have a very small family and making sure that we take the time to go visit them a couple times a year and make those phone calls to say hi. And, you know, I don't want to be that guy either. And the friends thing, as I mentioned, is already there. But when I get into a business, you know, I tend to want to fix everything at one time and be a superhero and do it all at once. And, you know, so can I do a better job of that? And so I think I can do better. I'm just not sure that I can have all four burners burning at 25% equally. I'm not sure.

And then the other thing is success. What is success? Again, in order to have a successful business, successful career, which is like how this whole thing started, you have to turn a burner off and work obviously is not one of the burners you're turning off so, what is success? And so, you know, you start thinking about why did any of us get into entrepreneurship to begin with? And, you know, there's that whole funny saying of entrepreneurs work 80 hours a week so they don't have to work 40. And there's definitely a lot to be said about that.

But for me, success really is not amassing more money, even though the money is the way to keep score. And this is the thing that I've really been struggling with as well, because, you know, I'm very competitive. And I grew up in a videogame era and I had a great conversation with someone recently about this as well, where they were saying that they were thinking of asking people what videogames they like or making them play a videogame or two and seeing how they react, because there definitely is something to this. As we were talking through it, where getting the high score isn't necessarily even good enough. You want to– Once you get the high score, you want to go beat that. You feel good about the high score for a very brief amount of time. But you would never just wait around drinking coffee and beer, waiting for someone else to come by and beat the high score.

Now you want to go beat your high score. You know you can go beat your high score. And so the thing that I've really realized is that the money part of it is really the adult version of the videogame and wanting to get on the podcast and talk about how I got the high score on ColourIt or on IceWraps or whatever it might be. It's actually quite interesting when you put things in those terms and think of it that way. And certainly that is the case. I mean, we have in terms of what money gets you, we have those things. And so what is another– what's more of that going to provide?

It isn't going to provide anymore things. I don't really desire to go out and get more things. I'm very lucky in that, that's another whole podcast for another time, but pretty much a minimalist. And, you know, the things I spend money on are usually experience based stuff and not things. I wear the same clothes over and over. I basically travel out of a backpack and don't ever really miss having more things and jewellery or technology gadgets or any of those types of things. I'm pretty happy with everything that we have. And so, yeah, I mean, I think the money part of it is the videogame. You know, it's the scorekeeping part of it. So success, to me means being able to live the life that I want, you know, being able to go play tennis, to go traveling, to spend time with friends and family.

And it’s interesting how its so easy to lose track of that. And its something that, because we have been travelling quite a bit lately, there’s been a lot of what I call “Windshield Time” which is a really important thing I believe. “Windshield Time” is when you’re driving in the car and just kind of by yourself, and there’s no one, you get some time to think. And what ends up happening to a lot of us is we lose that especially in the year 2020-ish that we’re in right now. When I was younger, I wouldn’t date myself too much but, the only thing that we had to distract us was the radio in the car and you didn’t have things buzzing or beeping and the computer talking to you, and all these different things, and so there was kind of time to think about things, and I’ve had more of that recently. 

And during those times where I’ve been thinking about things, these are the things I’m thinking about and just becoming more cognizant of this stuff so again, I want to thank you guys for putting up with a very different topic today on the podcast. Hopefully this is something that, you’re yelling at the iPod or the car or however you’re listening to your podcast, and you’re like, “Yeah! I turned off that burner, I turned off this burner”, and I’d love to hear from you about this, it’s something that I love to talk about with the audience, so if you want to leave a comment, go over to which is the episode number for today. Let me know what burner you turn off first, definitely would love to hear that. 

If you think you can keep all four burners on and keep in balanced, and keep in harmony if that’s something you can do. What does success mean to you? I’d love to hear some comments on all of this, I think it’s a really interesting thing. Maybe you thought that today’s episode was awful, and you’ll go and leave me a 1-star review. I respect that, I apologize if this isn’t the type of content for you. We’ll be back with more content in terms of the types of things that you’re used to hearing on the Ecomcrew podcast next week. I have a really good episode lined up for you about that. 

So last thing I’ll mention, is a book that I read recently, that came as a follow up to this when I was talking to my mastermind and so, I just recently read this book and it’s the Subtle Art of Not Giving an F, I’ll just say. It’s a good book that really gets into saying “No” more, not giving an F about all these different things that everyone else in society kind of deems that you should, not wanting to Keep Up With the Joneses. It’s a really good book and so, it’s a follow on to this whole conversation. And also, if you want to learn more about the Four Burners theory, just google “Four Burners Theory” and there are tons of articles which I’ve gone off and read after talking to Steve and its really interesting. 

And so, Steve, if you’re out there listening, I know we don’t really spend time listening to each other’s podcasts, but I do want to thank you for being a friend and for bringing this up, it’s meant a lot to me. You already know that, we’ve talked about it but I just wanted to mention that as well. Go check out Steve Chou’s stuff over at He is one of the good guys out there in the information space, puts out good stuff and he’s just a great guy and so is his family. 

Again, thanks Steve for being there for me and for being a friend, and that’s going to do it for this week’s episode of the Ecomcrew Podcast. I want to thank you guys again for listening, for all your support. If you do have the time, go leave us a review over on iTunes. Please do that, it does mean a lot. And until next time, Happy Selling and we’ll talk to you soon. 

We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Ecomcrew podcast. If you haven’t done so already, please head over to iTunes and leave us a review. It helps more than you know. Did you know that Ecomcrew has a ton of free content, including e-commerce courses? Head over to to check it out today. That’s going to do it for this episode of the Ecomcrew podcast. Until the next one, happy selling and we’ll talk to you soon.

Michael Jackness

Michael started his first business when he was 18 and is a serial entrepreneur. He got his start in the online world way back in 2004 as an affiliate marketer. From there he grew as an SEO expert and has transitioned into ecommerce, running several sites that bring in a total of 7-figures of revenue each year.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for the recap on this and for your transparency, as always. It’s very refreshing and I feel like I have friends in the business as I listen along with you and Dave. As for the burners theory… I think the “on/off” part is a bit too black-and-white for me, having taken some training on moving mentally from OR to AND thinking. What I *would* say is that to succeed in any new endeavor other things in your life have to be put on “maintenance mode” while redirecting limited time and energy.
    How I put it to my friends is like this… When you say Yes to something, you don’t say No to something else. You say No to *everything else* that could occupy that same slice of time, energy, and resources. But having said that, I don’t believe you have to completely do without health, or friends, or family in order to succeed in business. Any one of those losses — if it was complete — would be too dear.

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