MONTAGUE, Mass. – For more than 10 years, Chris Martenson has been ahead of the curve when talking about massive crises and how to survive them. Whether it was the housing bubble in 2008, or the impact of the current oil industry crisis, his advice has been critical for many people.
Now that a failed Hillary Clinton campaign seems to have dissipated much of the threats the Survival Industry feared these last 18 months, Martenson appears to again be at the forefront of a looming existential crisis that will soon take the spotlight – a worldwide financial collapse.
As a result, he may be the Survival Industry’s most prominent predictor of The End Of The World As We Know It, and how to survive it.
But unlike other preparedness websites, Martenson’s is not focused on survival gear like bug out bags, firearms and food storage. Instead, he spends his time teaching his readers about derivatives, macro economics, energy composition, and the environment. He also focuses heavily on personal development.
The goal of all these elevated issues is to help readers interpret the data, and then learn a better way to deal with the situation when the collapse comes.
On the subject we explore here, the growth of his business, he is clear about what brought him success and how he overcame the challenges. Those interested in starting their own blog, or improving the one they have, will do well to read his advice.
Just because he came from upper management positions at Fortune 300 corporations, his success was not guaranteed.
At that time, being a survivalist meant being on the fringe. Moreover, the public wasn’t expecting a major crash. So launching a news and analysis website that challenged the success of the financial system was risky at best. Yes, he was predicting the coming housing bubble, but there was no guarantee that the blog (then ChrisMartenson.com) would lead to a successful business.
Then he wrote “The Crash Course” in 2008, and decided that the best way to get his website on the map was to make this product, and all his other information, free to the public. And it worked.
As Martenson puts it, that effort was “some of the best, hardest, most dedicated work I’ve ever done in my life.”
But while today, his revenue streams include two books, access to annual seminars, and a subscription-based format for portions of Peak Prosperity ($30 a month or $300 a year), what launched the success of his website hasn’t really changed in all these years.
“The Crash Course” is still one of the best products available for beginning preppers. And yes, it’s still free. But the success of Peak Prosperity is testament not only to the free (and paid) content, but to the quality of that content. Very few survival websites offer the depth of knowledge and the breadth of understanding.
Readers of the free content will get a better grasp of the world, as well as educated advice about making personal changes from high level experts.
That said, the pay product is worth it’s weight if readers are interested in features such as insights on the causes behind recent market and geo-political developments and their implications, exclusive podcasts, and alerts when market conditions are on the precipice.
In this part of the Chris Martenson interview, we explore the launch of his business; the keys to its success; and why all preppers need to pay attention to Peak Prosperity.
Paratus Business News: Let’s talk about your business, Peak Prosperity. Do you know James Wesley, Rawles recommended you in his book “Liberators“?
Chris Martenson: I did not know that.
PBN: He’s got a huge fan base and I think many of them are in that “fear mode” where they think something bad is eminent. I wonder how many people are reading you out of fear, because of what he writes in his book?
CM: I actually think early stage fear for people is healthy, if it’s directed the right way. It’s the way I came from. I’m not saying I found a way that evades fear.
I work with a lot of clients when they first wake up. Just last week in New York, I’m talking to a hedge fund manager. I don’t know how this guy finally figured stuff out, but all of a sudden he woke up and said, “Holy crap, this could all fall apart.”
His first instinct was this explosion of energy, “Gee, I have to protect my family. I have to get some gold. Should I buy a farm?”
Yeah, get some stuff done, but that will burn itself out in a period of time. It’s great if you use that fear to not be paralyzed. Get a farm out in the country that’s set up with some stuff stored in it. All the stuff that James Wesley, Rawles would recommend, and I would even recommend, but I’m not the guy to help you figure out all those details, if that’s where your heart is. James Wesley is a guy who does a great job of it.
When that person settles down (and a quick person can get through that fear stage in six weeks or so). Now what? As Jim Kunstler says, this is a long emergency. Use that fear burst, now let’s settle in. How are we going to be with this for the rest of time? It’s a whole different mindset. This whole thing is not going to be how we survive three weeks of chaos. If this thing breaks apart, this is a management problem for the rest of our lives. It’s a different mindset from what I think a lot of people have.
PBN: Was this part of your thinking when you started ChrisMartenson.com?
CM: Yes. My very first blog post was in 2005, but it was on a small blog that I named something else. Then ChrisMartenson.com started to pop out in 2007.
The first chapters of “The Crash Course” got posted in May 2008, and I finished in October 2008. So there was a little period of time there, I was on a very small blog, 2006-07. I was writing mostly about the housing bubble, but I had moved in 2005 away from Mystic, Connecticut, to rural western Massachusetts, specifically because of the concerns I had about living in such a densely populated area in southern Connecticut if certain things happened.
PBN: So when you started writing/blogging about the housing bubble, were you still working?
CM: SAIC at that point.
PBN: How long were you doing both?
CM: Not that long. There was probably an overlap of about five or six months. It took me a year, year and a half, to carefully extricate myself from SAIC because I didn’t know what I was going to do next and I didn’t want to burn any bridges. When I started the blog, I had no idea there was a business model that could be attached to it. At that time, I was looking at the New York Times struggling to figure out how to sell it’s online content. I literally had no dream of making a living off of selling online content. How could I do it when the New York Times couldn’t figure out how to do it?
When I cut the cords, it was three years from my last paycheck from SAIC and my first dollar from these efforts. That was all taking a big giant risk living on savings.
PBN: Did you figure out the business model on your own, or were you inspired or educated by someone else? Did you get help?
CM: It was an evolutionary process. I kind of figured out the first incarnation of it. I was just closing in on maybe half of my former income. But I was wearing every hat in the business. I was legal, marketing, accounting, content development, everything. Classic one-man show. And then I had the opportunity to bring Adam Taggart on board. And he brought a lot.
He was former vice president of marketing for Yahoo! Mobile North America. He understood how to develop diversified income streams. He knows the nuts and bolts of running a website, and selling content and all that. He’s been the genius behind a lot of gains made from an economic standpoint.
He was the exact partner I needed. He understood how to monetize the Internet, while I could focus on content.
PBN: When you met him the first time, what was it about him, what qualities did you see? Was it strictly his business acumen? The experience of where he came from? Or were there other qualities and values that struck you positively?
CM: It was a whole package deal. What I wanted most in a business partner was somebody who was competent. You can’t move past that. I need to be surrounded by people who are competent. Not competent in the way I am, but competent in their own way. Two, they have to be self-starters, because I have no interest in managing or anything like that. So he struck me as very competent, very smart, and very much a self-starter.
And then the next thing, that was very important to me, was that we needed to share a view of how the world was. I can’t have somebody working in this organization that hates everything I write about even if they’re willing to do the job. That wouldn’t work. We were aligned around the mission side of this work, and once I started ticking it down, he was perfect for me. You know I got an A in accounting, but I don’t like it. But he likes, and he’s good at it. All the things that I needed from a general manager’s standpoint, he was either already good at, or motivated to learn and get better at.
It was a very good fit from the get go. But to be clear, we have a very, very detailed and explicit operating agreement that covers everything about our relationship. There was a lot of very careful thought that went into how we organized our relationship, and how we both benefit from it.
PBN: So, in a way you managed to your weaknesses?
CM: I like to flip that. We both get to do what our strengths are.
PBN: Tell me about the growth of Peak Prosperity from the infancy; the challenges you faced; how you got it to where it is today. What were some of the key milestones?
CM: Good question. The key thing to start with is that it’s built around “The Crash Course.” It was really the starting point.
That was some of the best, hardest, most dedicated work I’ve ever done in my life. And I have a PhD, so I know what hard, good work looks like. I might have put more singular focus into “The Crash Course” than I did my PhD. I know a PhD doesn’t mean anything. It’s an institution, and you do the work they want you to do. But to me hard work, and learning, is a function of the person involved. And I had a choice once I created it. One was to sell it; the other was to give it away. My mission said to give it away. So it was free. Not just freely available, but we put out the ISO file so anybody could download it or burn it to a CD if they wanted. Completely easy, best work of my life, all free.
So that was a really important thing. The piece that’s most important to me, the reason I have a loyal following is because you can trust me. I’m not doing this to sell something. Yes, I need to make a living. But I don’t create content with the intention of selling it. I create content because I think it’s important to convey. That was a really important mindset.
This was right at the time when everyone thought everything on the Internet had to be free. And nobody knew how to monetize it. How did you get people to cross a paywall when everybody expects everything to be free?
Your offerings have to be bullet proof. They have to be solid; they have to be really good. And that was our strategy that happens to align with who I happen to be as a person. The strategy was that we’re going to do super high quality stuff, and we’ll get that out there. And we’ll figure out how it works for us.
Do the best you can, and the money will follow. It’s the reverse from some people who come into the business saying, “I need to make this much money, how do I make that happen?” That’s a harder model to pursue, and I’ve seen a lot of people fail at that one.
We just crank out the best content we can, and it continues to work for us. But we haven’t really gone for things people traditionally say you have to go for. I don’t seek traffic. Our website traffic could be orders of magnitude higher, but if I did that I’d be pursuing a very different strategy based on eyeballs, clicks.
I’d have a very different tribe of people. You look at the comment section of Zero Hedge. It’s a very different tribe of people. These are all decisions you have to make.
We had a pretty clear sense of what our niche is, and how we serve that niche. That’s just classic business for anybody. Really be clear on your product and what you’re offering.
Having done that, it’s amazing. I’m invited to speak at these big, giant, major wealth conferences. Which is great because my strategy isn’t about just reaching people, it’s about reaching the right people.
These are people who not only can take big actions, but are prone to taking actions. Those are rich people by and large. They usually don’t sit around being rich for no reason. They’re very smart, highly focused, successful people who take actions all the time.
I get to talk to them. And I couldn’t have done that if my content was in any way off-putting. Wasn’t complete. Inaccurate, heavily biased, straying away from being clear with the data.
I don’t take that next step that a lot of people in our (Survival Industry) space do, which is, “Look here’s what we know about oil finds. And the reason we have low oil finds is because Exxon-Mobile is an evil institution that is hiding secret oil finds to keep oil prices up.” I don’t do that shit.
Once you stray into the “why’s” instead of the “what’s” you’re either right or wrong and you’ve lost people. So I think that is part of our success. We’ve been careful about letting the information we present tell the story on its own.
PBN: At what point in time of the Peak Prosperity evolution did you go to a subscription base?
CM: That started in 2008.
PBN: Wow, early. Was that a challenge?
CM: Oh sure. Because we were moving from everything free on the site to suddenly not free. I didn’t save them, but all the email I got saying, “How dare you hide some of your stuff from me.” You know that sense of entitlement. (Laughing)
PBN: From 2008 and 2016, what is your growth percentage?
CM: From there to here? In just gross dollar terms, it would be 700 percent.
PBN: How many subscribers do you have?
CM: We don’t release that information.
PBN: Had to ask.
CM: Good for you. (Laughing)
PBN: What is a typical day like for Chris Martenson?
CM: I read. I read all day. I’m waking up usually by 6 a.m., cup of coffee at my desk, and I’m already scouring what happened in the overnight markets. I start financially because if anything big breaks, I’ll see it in the financial data first. If bonds move and gold has spiked, the dollar has fallen, or futures are off. Then there is a bunch of news aggregators like Zero Hedge, like Reddit, like Fark. I’m scanning everything. I’m eclectic.
I don’t just look at financial information. Finding what’s happening next in this complex system requires a really broad view. So I’m tracking what’s happening. What are the latest movies being released? What are the fashion trends? And, did the art sales go off well, which tracks the high end.
I’m reading very broadly to figure out what’s going on. By mid to late morning, I’m writing about whatever I’ve seen. Organizing it to see if there’s a story there, or not, that makes sense.
I have at least two interviews a week on my end (for his podcasts), plus other ones that other people are bringing in. I’m picked up as a consultant. I go out and give talks. So I travel a bit to spread the messages as it were.
And, I’m in constant communication with Adam who works 3,000 miles away in California, while I’m in Massachusetts. We’re on the horn a lot doing the usual things about running businesses, which is the grubby details like understanding what stupid stuff are happening on the backend of our servers; trying to plan out what the next year will look like; or striking arrangements with various outlets or what not.
We’re two guys running this whole thing with various support staff doing things like content loading, or accumulating daily digest stuff, or managing the technical details of the website. Other than that, we’re two guys generating all the content.
PBN: How did your book “Prosper” get birthed? Was it organic, or part of your business plan?
CM: It was a natural outgrowth.
Twice a year, we have a seminar that used to be a weekend and now it’s stretched out to three and a half days. A lot of the material in “Prosper” was in those seminars. I wrote “The Crash Course” because I was tired of giving seminars where I had to cover all of that. So we have these seminars with a ton of content, and we thought it’d be easier if it was in book form so people could read “The Crash Course” and “Prosper,” and the seminars could pick up from there. (The Crash Course is still available free on the Peak Prosperity website.)
We like our seminars to be live interactions with people that are focused on actions. So if we could get the structural framing out of the way, we can just focus on the actions. The books are a good way of short-circuiting the process of getting people up the curve, so we can get people focused on what we really want to do.
PBN: How many books have you sold?
CM: 10,000 copies of “Prosper,” and we expect that to be picking up this year.
PBN: Why? Is it marketing or current events?
CM: Part one is something I can’t release it now, but we just struck a deal with a very prominent nationally known outfit that wants to start picking me up on their radio and television medium. So there will be a lot more exposure.
Part two there is no way this market doesn’t crack at some point. And people will be more interested.
To be completely fair, my business is counter-cyclical with the stock market. The stock market goes up, and interest in our products goes down.
The market is the nation’s main signaling device. It’s one of the reasons why I believe the market is manipulated. It’s too important to leave alone.
It’s like the power brokers not having a say about what gets covered on the national news. That would be unthinkable to them. So, of course they’re in there holding the market up. And they’ve held it up tooooo long!
And I’m of the belief that it will correct. It has too. Then (Peak Prosperity) will get even more traction. And when it does, there will be that fear in the air, and I too will benefit from it when it comes.
We’re going to be one of many voices saying, “here are some things you can do,” and people that are attracted to that idea will not just respond out of fear, but use their fear to build a better life for themselves. “Prosper” is a way to begin to think about it.
Next: The Survival CEO Interview Continues with Part 3, How Martenson Became a Prepper and the Family Challenges that Followed.