The Story Behind The Story

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March 21, 2003, is burned into my memory. Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Principle had set my mind on fire just a few weeks before.

I had been immediately struck with an insight: “80/20 isn’t just a theory about ‘Group A’ and ‘Group B,’ it’s a calculus formula. It’s a ramp-like curve. It’s infinite, and it’s fractal.”

That day was a Friday, and I was obsessing about it. What’s this formula? How would you set it up? How would you solve it?

I was rolling it around in my mind, trying to figure it out. Just two days earlier, something else remarkable happened.

I’d hosted a single teleseminar, which generated over $11,000 of sales in one hour, which at the time was an almost miraculous amount of money.

I was thinking, “How could I use my business to help Alan’s project in Mozambique?” A relative was building a school there for children. Mozambique was the 18th poorest country in the world—most people there existed on a dollar a day, and those kids had nothing. So all day long I was thinking about two things: 80/20 math and Mozambique.

That night my wife encouraged me to go hear some music at our church. The music is playing, and I’m a million miles away—in la-la land. I’m dreaming of 80/20 formulas and thinking about Mozambique, and . . .

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a woman making a beeline for me. I’ve never seen her before. She marches right up to me, sticks out her hand, and says “Hi, my name is Vivian, and the Lord gave me a word for you.”

Huh?? I’ve heard of stuff like this but never experienced it.

She says, “The Lord told me that you are very, very good at math, and you are working on some kind of formula, some kind of equation. Some kind of . . .” she struggles to find the right word “. . . invention.” I look around. How many people in this room are trying to solve a math problem — right this minute?

She continues, “And you’re going to figure it out. You just keep working at it and keep working at it, cuz you’re gonna figure it out!” She turns to walk away. Suddenly she wheels back around. “Oh, and He told me something else. You want to support missions. God is going to bless your business so you can support missions.”

OK . . . she got the math part right. Invention is even the right word for it. Not too many people listening to this hippie music gig could possibly be inventing math formulas right now. But how did she know I had a business?

I stared at her, overcome with emotion. I said, “If you only knew.”

She flashed me the brightest smile you’ve ever seen, pointed up in the air and said, “He knows!”

Then she turned and walked away. Just like that.

I’d heard rumors of such things, but suddenly this had happened to me. No honest statistician could chalk that up to coincidence. A “Memo from the Head Office.” Unmistakable. I’d been entertaining doubts about God, but I’d have to be in abject denial to shrug this off.

I continued to chip away but kept coming up empty, over and over. I would search the web and couldn’t find anything quite like it. I rolled it around in my mind. I’d work at it, put it on the shelf, then come back every now and then and try again. Time passed.

Three years later, I was sitting in a Roundtable meeting, refereeing a dozen wooly entrepreneurs who act as each others’ informal board of directors. I was doodling on a scratch pad. Epiphany! Suddenly I saw how to set up the equations. The 80/20 Power Curve was born.

It went through several iterations. For years I used it for myself and with clients to make predictions and solve problems. It evolved into the 8020curve.com tool you’ve seen in my 80/20 Sales & Marketing book.

A few months after that day in March 2003, my business hit the proverbial “hockey stick.” 500 percent growth in two years, a magic carpet ride with books selling like crazy and speaking invitations were rolling in.

What is "80" and what is "20" for your business right now? Take my 2-minute quiz and I'll show you where you'll get the highest compound interest on your time and money!

Much later, I remembered what Vivian had said and wondered: “Did anything interesting happen that week?” I combed through some old emails. On the previous Tuesday, Ken McCarthy had sent me a note: “Perry, I need someone to speak at my seminar on Google AdWords. I think that person should be you.”

At the time, Ken’s System Seminar was Action Central of the online marketing space, a magnet for the best and brightest. The conference accurately forecasted every major trend in internet marketing from email marketing to video to mobile.

I had never seriously considered writing about or teaching AdWords until Ken’s invitation came. AdWords was new and few people understood it. I wrote the very first version which evolved into Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, and offered it at Ken’s seminar.

Shortly after that, Google went supernova. Nobody at the time had any idea that this eccentric, idealistic company from Mountain View, California, was about to become the 800-pound gorilla of the internet. My career lurched forward. I never imagined that my new book would eventually become the world’s best-selling book on internet advertising.

That one speaking invitation, which came three days before I met Vivian, put me on the map. I was prepared, I had honed my marketing chops, and my business exploded—just like she had predicted.

From that point forward, I understood two things: 1) You take care of the poorest of the poor and He’s gonna take care of you, and 2) when you need wisdom . . . ASK.

At the beginning of my 80/20 book is a dedication: “To the Master Mathematician, and to Vivian.” I’m thankful to Vivian for boldly stepping out and talking to a guy who thought she might be crazy. As for the Master Mathematician, He knows how to solve everything. He’s also a Master Entrepreneur and CEO.

Do you need help growing your business? Just ask.

He was dancing to some music
No one else had ever heard
He’d speak in unknown languages
She would translate every word
—HARRY CHAPIN

(This is an excerpt from my book, 80/20 Sales & Marketing. You can get it here.)

UPDATE TO THE STORY: Harvard Business Review Italia published the math for the 80/20 Curve (as described above) in June 2018. There’s an amazing story behind this too:

Every morning I spend the first hour of my day freewriting, using my journal as a place to ask questions and pray and get myself sorted out before the day begins.

Below is a photo of a page from my journal, from August 30, 2013:

Q: “What about the calculus?”
A: “I will show you”
Q: “At what point do I reveal?”
A: “In a Harvard Journal. Harvard Business Review or something similar. ‘Invent something the world can’t live without’ [which is a goal that was written down on my bucket list] You just did.”
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I had forgotten about having written this here. I found it just a few months ago when I was looking through some old stuff. However, I had remembered the idea of waiting to publish it in HBR. Prior to June 2018 it hadn’t been published anywhere.
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In 2017, Performance Strategies in Italy contacted me and asked me to speak at their 2018 conference in Milan. I agreed. A few months later they sent me an email. “We’re featuring all of our speakers in Harvard Business Review Italia. Would you like to write an article for HBR?”
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Yes of course I would, so I included the 80/20 Curve math formula in the sidebar.
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This completely dropped in my lap. Just to be clear, prior to this invitation, I had zero connections to Harvard Business Review. Their world pays no attention to mine and vise versa. Certainly one of the most serendipitous things that’s ever happened to me.
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Also: Around the same time, I got an email from an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs at CalTech in Pasadena. He said he was teaching the 80/20 Curve in one of their productivity courses and was asking for graphics from the book. Of course we were happy to give him permission.

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About the Author

Perry Marshall has launched two revolutions in sales and marketing. In Pay-Per-Click advertising, he pioneered best practices and wrote the world's best selling book on Google advertising. And he's driven the 80/20 Principle deeper than any other author, creating a new movement in business.

He is referenced across the Internet and by Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, INC and Forbes Magazine.

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