It’s phenomenal when a nobody interrupts the thought patterns of humanity.
A few years ago I kept seeing an article pop up all over LinkedIn. Its momentum lasted about a year from the original publication date. Every social media platform I went on, this article got crazy engagement.
The article is called “13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be Successful.” It’s the most viral article on the internet I’ve ever seen. Most people have no idea about the author.
His story has never been told and there are so many world-class lessons for you in it. I had no idea back at the height of the article’s success that I’d get to speak with the author, and later have them as a mentor. We became friends after our chats.
There’s a dark side to the story, and an uplifting ending.
150,000 email subscribers overnight
Two friends in Australia knew the author of this viral article. His name is Zdravko Cvijetic. Without hesitation they introduced me to him as an up-and-coming blogger. I was nervous to talk to him.
We jumped on a call right in the middle of the madness created by his article. He told me how he’d got 150,000 email subscribers from the call to action he placed on the article.
I expected him to be jumping for joy. Not quite.
When you have so many people googling your name the web hosting of your website and landing pages can’t handle the load. Your email software provider also requires an upgrade, which happens automatically with providers like ConvertKit
Both hosting and email software cost an enormous amount of money if you suddenly wake up with 150,000 subscribers. Zdravko wasn’t born with a silver spoon up his butt. The guy came from humble beginnings. Instantly he had to bankroll both upgrades to his side hustle infrastructure.
Lots of email subscribers are nice, but at this point he had zero revenue and therefore, no way to easily pay the two new expenses. He found a way but it was a real struggle.
Set up your backend to cope with a large spike in traffic in case you acquire loads of emails overnight. Have a plan. And remember these two things:
- Zdravko says to turn off the need for a reader to confirm their email address. Remove friction. You’ll grow faster.
- Don’t use website popups to collect emails. No. Use landing pages to collect emails. Always. Landing pages convert. Popups piss people off.
There’s always a secret mentor behind the scenes
I learned on a call with Zdravko that one of his early mentors was popular writer Benjamin Hardy. After Zdravko’s success he helped me a lot. He introduced me to Ben. He put me in contact with large publications. He taught me how to pitch my writing.
There was no need for him to do any of this. He had his success. He could have bottled it up and kicked losers like me to the gutter. Nope. Zdravko got a headstart thanks to Ben. I got a headstart thanks to Zdravko.
Behind the scenes it’s easy to think writers randomly become successful on their own. This is total bullsh*t. Massive success is never an accident. Success is a team effort, especially for a lone writer like Zdravko. I get asked my secret for online success all the time. I say “it’s the team behind the scenes. Not me.”
We grow as content creators by lifting each other up. The circle of life says if a person helps you then you help someone else in return.
The ingredients of a viral success require effort
Zdravko’s massive hit is no accident. He didn’t publish and pray. Here’s everything he did that you can learn from about the article.
Google your face off
The whole article is based on lots of research.
He didn’t want to include just any idea so he let data tell him what people might find valuable. How many shares did an idea have on LinkedIn? What did the comments below an idea say? Excessive googling helped make the article a success.
Engineer content success
The original article was a lot longer than what you see now. Zdravko says he did something like 40 edits to the article. Part of the reason is Zdravko’s native language isn’t English. This makes his writing success even more impressive.
Add content to an article without any shame. Cut content ruthlessly. Heavy edits are the spitshine that makes readers unconsciously smash the like button with their mouse until the button breaks.
Ask yourself “What’s happening right now?”
An article about all the things you should give up is gold on its own. What’s forgotten is Zdravko published his hit story on the 27th of December that year. This breaks every content creator rule in history.
December is when people are supposedly not reading and take a break. Zdravko thought differently. The end of the year is when people reflect on their goals. It’s the perfect time for a self-help article. Also, there’s almost zero competition on the 27th of December.
The lesson is to be conscious of what a reader is doing when you publish a heavily engineered, data-backed story with viral hopes.
Look at unusual past successes
Buzz Sumo is a key tool Zdravko used at the time to work out what self-help ideas resonated with readers. He also used Neil Patel’s and Pro Blogger’s yearly wrap as further inspiration to write his hit story. Past success helped him get on the right trail to viral superstardom in the blogger world.
Find out what people struggle with
From Zdravko’s research with actual humans, he learned that habits and time are the two things people struggle with most. Those two struggles feature prominently in his article.
When you reference a struggle the reader is reminded of their pain. When you help them overcome the struggle they remember your name and fall in love with your work. That’s how you get superfans who will go to war in the comments section if any dumb troll ever tries to tear you down.
Let the crowd speak when lies about you — due to your success — appear online. Silence wins young padawan.
Trending topics lack a competitive advantage
“Don’t write about presidents” is one piece of advice Zdravko gave me. That’s how you sound the same. You won’t win an attention war with CNN. No point. My advice is to hunt down timeless topics. Go where no man or woman dare to explore. Then you’ll blog in your own lane.
Record yourself in audio and then write an article off that
Write how you speak is solid advice. This is how you do it like a $2 pro with any old dumbphone.
Flip the traditional narrative upside down
Every writer at the time of this viral story told readers what to do in their self-help articles. Zdravko didn’t tell us what to do, or what not to do.
He told us what to give up. He didn’t wait for us to admit our deadly sins. He recited them for us and then strongly encouraged us to give them up. Smart. Flip a common idea on its head. Look for an interesting angle in your article.
Don’t use just any quotes
Every point in Zdravko’s article had a quote. This is no accident. Quotes allowed him to look like an expert even though he was relatively unknown at the time this story was published.
You don’t need to be an expert. Borrow an expert.
A lot of the magic juice of Zdravko’s story is the result of the quotes. He picked ones that weren’t cliche. He made sure they illustrated his point exactly. They weren’t quotes he quickly found and inserted in. These quotes were curated over a long period of time and meticulously chosen for their awesomeness.
Many content creators forget the power of the quotes. They just chuck them in as though they don’t matter too much. Become a quote master. Silently sit at home during the night and sift through quotes like a Samurai master preparing for their next battle to save humanity from danger.
The article punches you in the right eye. Then Zdravko sticks a needle in the same eye and twists it around until blood drips on the floor. Decide on a stance to take in your article and don’t back down like a pussy.
No one wants to read stuff written by fence-sitters who are strategically placed in the middle on every subject as not to upset the precious reader. Boooooo.
Nobody needs to agree. Make people think. Your beliefs will do a 360 in the next few years anyway. No need to be romantic.
Conclusions sound like university papers. You’re not writing a great essay to become teacher’s pet and get an A+. Who says you need a conclusion? Leave the reader on a cliffhanger. Say your points then shut up. I write conclusions too, but after this reminder I’m going to rethink it.
Write for people, not English teachers.
Say what’s on everybody’s mind
Lists make great articles. The problem is there are too many silly lists that say some variation of read, meditate, say I love you, and be happy. Snoozefest.
Zdravko’s story reads like a list of badass rules for life. Every point in his article is something that’s been on readers’ minds.
The story is not cliche AF like a lot of writing online. So, we quadruple press the share button, and we read his story over and over as if it’s the bible. (I saw hundreds of readers call his story ‘the bible for life.’ Nice.)
Be a ridiculously good person
The life of a writer who publishes a viral story is often ignored. Zdravko taught me you can’t have this level of virality by being an a**hole. He’s a good guy. He helps a lot of people for free. Every year he goes out of his way to send me a happy birthday message. He leaves random compliments on my work.
He always builds up other creators. We’re not competitors. We’re a team to Zdravko. Let that sink in.
Many people don’t know that this viral article got plagiarized and stolen by other websites a lot. The same happened to me. I cried like a 5-year-old. I asked Zdravko for advice.
His words still haunt me. “Let people steal from you. Move on.”
Build a tiny course empire
Creators deserve to be paid. The best way to make money from a viral, non-fiction article, according to Zdravko, is to sell an online course.
At his former job at Mind Valley, Zdravko learned how to build killer courses for his boss Vishen Lakhiani that would do six and seven figures in sales in a single day. After his story’s success he quit his job and sold courses to his 150,000 email subscribers. He told me courses focused on solutions sell the best. Take a problem from your writing, go deep, and turn it into a course.
Own your content. Always.
Always publish your content on your own site first and then everywhere else. This advice has stayed with me. I ignored it for many years until I learned the hard way with LinkedIn, what happens when you rely too much on one platform to publish content on.
What happened to Zdravko Cvijetic after his viral success?
The truth is Zdravko has stopped writing since his viral success. He spent the first six months after his fame working on his business. Then life smacked him in the face. Without revealing what happened, life became a struggle. Things got pretty dark.
Zdravko hasn’t published anything online for years. I miss his work. I miss the guy that gave me a headstart when everybody else told me to F off.
A few times a year, I message him and see how he’s doing. I ask him if we will ever see another article from him. For the last few years he has shown no sign of a return.
The uplifting ending to this unlikely story
I’ve reached out to Zdravko as part of my research for this story. There are zero promises. But I got a slight hint he may return at some point. If you like his article then maybe you could encourage him to make a return.
Even if Zdravko never writes another thing online, after gaining 150,000 subscribers in 30 days, his words which I’ll leave you with are etched in my memory forever.
Build the list. Email the list.
That’s what you can learn from the most viral article we may ever see published on the internet.