What do the Zen Habits guy, Tony Robbins, Chris Guillebeau, Michael Hyatt and Dooce have in common?

UPDATE: Since this was published in 2012, I’ve included screenshots from 2021.

Since I had so much fun posting about the humble beginnings of big blogs–and it was retweeted ad infinitum, I thought I’d try that once again.

Side note: the purpose of this blog entry is not to embarrass anybody or cause pain. The purpose of this is to hit people over the head with the fact that big names and heroes of the literary/self-help/Christian publishing/minimalism/travel hacking worlds do not emerge online as fully-formed entities. They begin, instead, with generic Typepad themes, mediocre head shots, and embarrassing font choices.

When you’re beginning any project and looking to subject leaders for inspiration, it’s easy to get frustrated. How can I ever compete with Dooce? you ask yourself. And you’re right! You can’t. You shouldn’t. What’s more helpful is to compare your progress to where you were yesterday and acknowledge that everyone begins at the bottom of a very, very steep mountain. The ones at the top are merely the ones who started somewhere and had enough drive to keep going. Everyone improves with time and deliberate practice.

Zen Habits


The Zen Habits of today is so unlike any other popular blog that I know of. Whereas Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss have A/B tested the shit out of every aspect of their blogs to get the most clicks (and money) per square inch, I don’t get that impression from Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits. It’s so clean, uncluttered, peaceful, and tranquil. I only wish there was a three-letter word that encapsulated all of those adjectives.




The earlier incarnation of Zen Habits was also clean, but much more common and template-driven. While it started out like most other blogs, it slowly removed any unnecessary bells and whistles over time to become even more true to its own brand and overall message.

Tony Robbins



Because the guy is 6’7″ and I’m a little afraid of him, I’ll just go on the record as saying “Wow, isn’t that holding page interesting.”



Anthony “Tony” Robbins, seen here on an earlier incarnation of his website, advertising his skills as a memoir writing coach marriage counselor Sears catalog model specializing in stonewashed jeans lifestyle inspiration motivation expert. In other words, what he is today.





Tony Robbins is now one of those people who reminds me of Britney Spears in that he has become the eponym of a machine much larger than the man himself. (Imagine a life so crazy and out of control that you’re legally not allowed to manage your own affairs. But I digress.) This well-lubricated Robbins machine didn’t pop up overnight, mind you.

Chris Guillebeau

In reverse chronological order, I now present…




The Art of Non-Conformity is so awesome in so many ways, the man behind the ‘small army,’ Chris Guillebeau, is one of my personal heroes, and The $100 Startup is one of the best and most inspiring books I’ve read all year. How can you not love the design? Not to mention all of the awesome content? Of course, as you know, this story gets better–


But sadly, the story does not end in me being able to relentlessly make fun of the site. First, I can only go back to 2008, at which point Chris had *only* visited 77 countries. Even before he landed a deal for his first book, The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris was honing his writing skills and cranking out lots of trip reports. For free. He was building an email list and holding fast to his mission and passion.

I’ve heard that Chris wrote several posts before launching, in order to guarantee a steady burst of interest-generating posts in the beginning–indeed, as you can see from the very bottom of the right-hand column, the “Archives” section only goes back two months.

Michael Hyatt



Michael Hyatt, the author of the amazing and excellent Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the world’s largest Christian publisher. With over 236,000 blog subscribers and 134,000 Twitter followers, he also has a formidable online presence. Even my heathen friends swear by his wisdom.



But did you know that Mr. Hyatt’s blog used to have something of an identity problem? In 2007, it was called “From Where I Sit: Musings on My Life, Thomas Nelson, and the World of Publishing.”


And in 2006, it was “Working Smart: The Alternative to Working Hard!” and categories included Microsoft PowerPoint, Off Topic, and TabletPC. After having blogged so much and figured out where his areas of interest and expertise meet with what resonates with readers, Hyatt now has a few main topics: Leadership, Productivity, Publishing, Social Media, and Miscellany. But that development wouldn’t have happened unless he stuck with it and blogged a lot.

Something else worth noting is how much Hyatt honed his platform while employed at Thomas Nelson. Having that high-profile job may have given him an initial boost in readership, but by establishing his own brand with his personal blog, he now manages to keep a full professional calendar without the 9-5 work. Even with all of the publishing and marketing resources formerly available to him, it took years for his online platform to reach its current level of awesomeness.


Lastly, I bring you Dooce, who is probably the world’s most popular mommy blogger.





Before this eyesore from 2001, there was an unreadable white-on-white version that included her resumé.

Then, she got wise with the color scheme:


I will leave you with her first blog post:


I should probably shoplift something before I die.

Why do I daydream about Rod Stewart in inappropriate positions?

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