The Grand Illusion: The Real Tim Ferriss Speaks

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[IMPORTANT: Please note this was an APRIL FOOL’S DAY joke! Please read the whole post, especially the postscript.]

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

This is Tim Ferriss. The real Tim Ferriss.

This is the first time I have written a post on this blog since March 30, 2007, 366 days ago, when I penned “How to Live Like a Rock Star in Buenos Aires.”

In the meantime, a virtual pair–Vanhishikha “Van” Mehra and Roger Espinosa–have taken my blog to the Technorati-1000 (around 600 at best) and had their content featured, under my name, in media from The New York Times to CNBC.

I’ve suggested topics and asked explicitly for some when I had photos or video to post, but Van and Roger are the short answer to the common question: how can you work four hours a week if you spend so much time on the blog?

The answer is: I don’t.

The impetus was an on-stage challenge at the 2007 SXSW two weeks earlier, and I resolved to demonstrate just how well the concepts in 4HWW could work. This is one of several pending year-long examples…

Here’s how my longest-term outsourcing experiment to date was executed:

1. Preparation: I used Elance.com to post an online editorial position, and I asked for three writing samples of 250 words on the topics of travel and productivity. There were 11 qualified applicants and four finalists, who further submitted a single 750-word article each.

2. People: Two of the four were selected on a trial basis to produce blog content as a pair.

The first, Vanhishikha “Van” Mehra, an undergrad and computer science major in Bangalore, had an impressive ability to choose topics and spot trends, but her English–learned through private schooling with non-native speakers–contained both British colloquialisms and mistakes common to Indian learners of English. She would be the content originator.

Roger Espinosa, the second, was raised in Chicago until 17 and then educated in Manila to become a systems administrator. He didn’t have the same knack for original content as Van, but his writing was native in appearance and not only grammatically correct but also idiomatically correct (e.g. “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” vs. “jelly and peanut butter sandwich”). He would become Van’s editor and publisher.

3. Process: Roger had sole rights to publish via WordPress, and their collaborations were were initial proofread by my Canadian assistant Amy, then later spot-checked by her via RSS. There have been fewer than half a dozen corrections after publication. I will often suggest topics on Mondays after checking e-mail and sometimes explicitly request posts that will allow relevant photos and video to be posted.

4. Van is paid $20 per post and Roger $15. Both get 100% performance bonuses if a given post front pages on Digg but must follow a “best practices” spec sheet to avoid violating user rules and getting blacklisted. I offered to increase the bonus to 200% for Van if it was directly applied to private English lessons with a tutor of my choosing, to whom I would remit payment directly. She has elected this since month 3, and it contributed to a more than 20% increase in front paging on Digg and other social ranking sites in the subsequent six months.

5. The “Odds and Ends” updates and miscellaneous are usually selected or created by me but transcribed by Amy after our once-daily 10-minute action item calls.

So, dear reader, there you have what I’ve been dying to tell you all for the last year, but I wanted to see if it was possible to make it to the 365-day mark.

Some of you have noticed TOEFL-esque phrasings here and there, and more than a few have noted the strange inflection of a few comments (Roger has written about 75% of my comments).

Please don’t be upset by this, and I encourage you to view it as I intended it: a major example of how well personal outsourcing and “offchoring” can work.

I’ll be writing at least once per week for the next two months, and we’ll see if my posts are half as popular as Van and Roger’s :) If you have any topic suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Much more to come,

The Real Tim Ferriss

###

Important Postscript!

Happy Japanese April Fool’s Day!

Man, oh, man. I was going to wait until tomorrow, but this post has kicked up some dust, so I wanted to own up. Yessir, it’s an April Fool’s Day prank. Sorry for any confusion! It would have been too obvious on April 1st in the US, so I used the alternate time zone. More to come tomorrow, but I write all the posts (minus attributed guest posts) myself. As _Jon put it in the comments: “a personal blog shouldn’t be work, it should be a passion. If you need to outsource it, you have the wrong motivation.”

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’m here writing the posts, including the stupid ones (man crush anyone?).

This little prank has been in my head since Jan. 10th, when the infamous Tucker Max suggested a much better version that I was unable to pull off due to this London trip:

“BTW–I had a hilarious idea for what you need to do for an April Fools prank: Write a post, complete with video, about how you have taken outsourcing to the next level. You’re paying people to workout for you, to eat for you, sleep for you, watch TV for you, do literally everything. The vid would show you sitting in a chair in a white room,
cutting intermittently to people doing things with shirts that have “I am Tim Ferriss” on them. It would be f*ing HILARIOUS. You have to do this.”

Posted on: March 31, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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190 comments on “The Grand Illusion: The Real Tim Ferriss Speaks

  1. LOL… I knew it! I thought the “favourite” was a little strange a few posts ago. Well done.

    Don’t be upset if we ask for Roger and Van back :)

    Steph

    ###

    Hi Steph. Real Tim here. That’s one catch — well done to you. Anyone else?

    Tim

    Like

  2. Interesting…I wonder how the dynamic changes when you’ve outsourced your life and they produce more likable results than you would have…

    Like

  3. No freaking way. Seriously, I had joked about this in the comments before, but a Batman and Robin combo from India and the Philippines (sp)?!

    Wow. I feel like I should go back and correct the “to” field from every comment I’ve written.

    Can’t wait to hear about the other pending experiments.

    For topics: what the hell have you been doing if not on the blog?

    -B.

    Like

  4. Well played, sir… well played. A very nice twist that shows your principles in action. I’m blown away. Kudos to Roger and Van for putting together some fantastic content over the past year.

    Like

  5. It will be interesting to see whether or not revealing this fact has an impact on your readership. Given the subject material I would have expected the ghost writing idea was obvious, but perhaps not to most folks. Will the average person think they’re being cheated by not getting the real Tim all the time? Will the impact matter much after this post floats off into the archives. I just love thinking about stuff like this, although it does drive me a little nuts.

    Like

  6. Very clever, Tim! Of course — it raises some other interesting issues:

    1) How do we know that this is really you?
    2) Did you actually write your book, or simply outsource it to India? :D

    Like

  7. Damn — but your blogging voice and 4-Hour Work Week voice are so consistent!

    I think the next big reveal is that those two wrote the book, too. For $150 each.

    Which is enough to buy India.

    Happy April Fool’s everyone :-).

    Like

  8. Very nice. I was half-fooled, although I did notice that questions about the book that touched upon your personal philosophy that were not answered in the book were *not* being answered in your posts/responses, so I had a feeling something was going on.

    So how about letting us know, ‘What would happen if someone took your 4-hww design and used it to become lazy instead of productive? Would that cause the 4hww concept to fail?’

    Perhaps Vanhishikha “Van” Mehra and Roger Espinosa would reply, ‘To be covered in a future post’ :)

    Like

  9. Tim,

    I’m absolutely not upset. In fact, I think this is totally awesome, and simply adds to the Tim Ferriss inspirational picture.

    Standing on a stage at the 2007 SXSW and trying to sell your ideas was, I’m sure, a little bit like Bruce Lee trying to sell Jeet Kune Do to his industry peers his first year.

    You’ve proven IT CAN BE DONE, even when you’re a high-profile rock star. From now on, when folks tell you that “I can’t pull back from my 70 hour work week, ’cause my boss will notice I’m not there.”, you can show them PROOF. You’ve done it.

    Keep it up sir, you’re still inspiring me on a daily basis.

    Like

  10. Well, I for one feel betrayed. The title is “The Blog of Tim Ferris” and that’s what I thought I was getting.

    It has nothing to do with the “quality of the product,” which has been excellent. I’ve enjoyed it. I had never heard of your blog until two months ago. I subscribed via RSS and have been a faithful reader ever since.

    But now you tell me I’ve never really read anything by YOU. The whole situation makes me feel like an idiot.

    This is NOT an example of living by the 4HWW principles. This is an example of fraud.

    Van and Roger? If you decide to set up your own blog, let me know. I’ll be glad to switch from Tim to you.

    And Tim? Change the name of your blog to “The Blog Overseen by Tim Ferris.” Let other newcomers know the truth from the start.

    Like

  11. While I am a tiny bit disappointed to learn that you didn’t write the posts, I still really appreciated the content. Well done Van and Roger!

    The real question though is WHO ARE YOU Tim? Through reading your blog I thought I was gaining insight into the personality of “the real Tim Ferriss”.

    What about posts like http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/01/27/relax-like-a-pro-5-steps-to-hacking-your-sleep/ that are about what “you” did and are doing. Are those complete fabrications? I was inspired by your personality, lifestyle and the things you do. If it was all made up, you’ve suddenly lost a large part of your personal brand and interestingness in my opinion.

    Are the things you wrote about having done in the book true?

    From the sound of this post it feels like we should be looking up to Van instead of you. I’ve seen videos of you though and you felt like a honest and sincere person so hopefully I’m wrong.

    Like

  12. I’d be very interested in the total 1yr costs of this venture – including Van, Roger, and Amy’s time. I’m sure it is more than offset by the “marketing” value of the blog but it still would make for an interesting metric.

    Like

  13. Part of me is amazed that you pulled off “writing” a blog for a year without doing much, if any, writing. And another part of me feels decieved. I go to your blog because I like YOU, your book, your ideas, and your personal story. The posts have been great, but now that I know they haven’t been thought up from the mastermind himself, they seem less credible to me. And I realize if you were running this blog 100% it’d be a 6 hr/day job, so I completely understand that that won’t work for you. So…I really don’t know what to think about it all, and to be quite honest, right now feel much less inclined to visit “your” blog. People want you, Tim…the real Tim. They want the ideas and energy from someone who has created the life you have.

    Did you also outsource the writing of the 4HWW as well? We’ll probably hear about that next. (Playfully, but with a smidge of sarcasm) ;)

    Aaron

    Like

  14. Amazing! TIme to start outsourcing my screenwriting. Any suggestions?

    Post Topic: I have a 15 year old who isn’t the best student and despairs of getting into college. Please write about your “tricks” for getting into college. You refer to your tape series in the book and I would love that info.

    Heather

    Like

  15. On any other blog this realization would cause an uproar– people would don their pitchforks and torches, and call for the lynching of the blog author. “Disingenuous! Dishonest” they would chant. However, here it’s completely different– and it SHOULD BE.

    Tim’s been advocating a certain lifestyle and a certain way of doing things. To manage this blog in a manner different than the techniques he presents would be disingenuous. I don’t have a problem with it at all– I’ve enjoyed high quality posts, and the voice in the back of my mind that says “Tim sure spends a lot of time on this blog” is now silenced. This is more “honest” and “real” than it sounds.

    Nice work. However, given the proximity to April Fool’s day, I’m a little suspicious. :)

    Like