Diania Merriam is the founder of The EconoMe Conference, an event centered around financial independence, also known as the "Ted Talks" of the FIRE movement. She's also the host of the popular podcast Optimal Finance Daily where she narrates articles from the best personal finance blogs on the planet. After getting out of $30k of debt in 11 months, she used her newfound financial freedom to negotiate a remote working arrangement with her employer, take a 2 month sabbatical to walk 500 miles across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago, and launch her own business. Diania saves 60% of her income and is on track to be financially independent by the time she’s 40 years old.
Josh: What is up everybody, Josh Tapp here again and welcome back to lucky Titan and today we're here with Diana Merriam and I had a really hard time figuring out what her name meant so if you look at look at it, and you're like, is it Diania, it's not, it's Diana so just don't get lost there so I want to introduce her this way, because it was really cool, how we found each other, I got sick, we just ended up we had to move the interview multiple times so being able to sit down next to talk is a privilege, I'm excited to do that so first off, She is the founder of the economy conference so it's economy, but it's econ econo, and then m e, right? So it's all about personal finance and taking care of yourself and this lady has done some amazing things in her career She She was just telling me, it's almost like nonchalantly, but she basically like in three years, built out her to her retirement, I mean, that's, that's cool most people aren't even able to do that in, what, 50 years, whatever they're working for so she's really here today to talk about how she's taken her conference that she's used to grow and scale her business, get her out of her job and start doing some amazing things in the space. So, Diana, say what's up to everybody then we will hop in.
Diana: Hello, hello. Hello. Thanks so much for having me.
Josh: Yes, it's gonna be fun. I'm excited. So let's, I know we talked about this in the pre interview but I really want to delve into how you run your business obviously, everybody, you're going to go check out this conference at the end of this, obviously, we're going to promote that. But I want to walk through how Diana has been building this in such a smart way. So I want to walk through that. First off, what is your conference? And how have you been using that and to grow?
Diana: Yeah. So it's called the economy conference. And like you said, it's an M E, and not an ny at the end, because I'm so clever. It's actually also a registered trademark. So right here is my registered trademark so the economy conference is basically like the TED talks of the fire movement, and fire stands for financial independence, retire early, it's essentially a lifestyle movement with the goal of financial freedom, now, with the fire movement, a lot of people get confused, like, is this a cult or how are you saving such large percentages of your income, because for years, I saved 60% of my income and so that's kind of very confusing to most people, I would say that what we're doing within the fire movement is what everyone should be doing for healthy financial habits, right, we're keeping our expenses low, we're growing our income, and we're investing the gap, the difference is that a traditional financial planner is going to tell you to save 10 to 20% of your income, I save 60% of my income so I'm just going to reach retirement faster, just due to my savings rate, not doing anything fancy, I'm investing in low fee index funds so that's just kind of the premise of what the topic is I think when when you talk about how I run my business, it's important to kind of go back to what was my motivation for even creating it and the reason why I created it is because I thought to myself, what would I do if I didn't have to work for money if I was financially independent, and I had the opportunity to retire at 40 years old, which I'm on track to do, what would I want to do with my time because obviously, I'm not going to sit around and do nothing all day but I don't have any pressure to make money because my financial needs are covered and so I thought, well, wouldn't it be so fun to create a party about money, which is actually how one attendee described it in our post event survey last year and what motivated me was that I go to this event every year called World Domination summit do you know this event?
Josh: Yeah, absolutely.
Diania: Amazing. I've gone the last three years that they had it and hopefully, I don't know that it's going to be happening in June or July this year, I think they're gonna push it back again but every time I go to this event, I feel like I'm surrounded by people that really inspire me and it feels like my life is so full of opportunity, it's like I walk out of there on a high like, I could do anything, right and so I wanted to create that feeling for other people about money because money is such a taboo topic a lot, it causes a lot of shame, people don't really talk about it and so me kind of diving into this whole world, this whole fire world completely changed my life, and enabled me to get out of 30 grand of debt in 11 months, and then start saving 60% of my income and that just opened up a world of options for me so I think that it probably isn't relevant to most of your audience to say I created a business that I have no intention of making money off, which is true but I do think that I'm using it as almost a springboard to other sources of income so my original plan was, you know, I've had a career in brand extension and licensing for the past 12 years, I was six years away from retirement from financial independence so I just thought, let me just put my head down and keep going with that. That's where I'm making my money and then the other things that I'm doing with my time are more like that passion projects, it looks like work to other people but to me, it's just fun and I actually don't need to make money off of that stuff because I was making good money in my corporate career that changed because I actually quit my job so three weeks ago was my last day so I am three weeks into unemployment, self-employment, whatever you want to call it and so now I have a need to make an income and I would say that my event isn't necessarily a good source of income, because I'm very committed to keeping the ticket price low and accessible, so that we can appeal to a broader audience and I just don't, I just don't see it as a cash cow, I see it as a launching pad to other things and it really gives me a lot of credibility and a space that I want to participate in. Also, I don't pay my speakers, I've really modeled the event a lot after TED Talks, it's a lot easier for me to convince someone to speak without me paying them when they know I'm not making any money off of it either, I also think there's so much predatory stuff out there about personal finance, like come to my course, and I'll teach you how to win in real estate. Well, that guy is not winning in real estate; he is winning by selling you his course about winning in real estate, right and so I just see a lot of predatory stuff out there and I don't want to be in that game so by me not personally profiting from this, I think that I'm making a big statement about just work in general, right, like not every piece of work that you do needs to be monetarily compensated. Also, I get so many non-monetary benefits for doing this and I get to protect it as a creative endeavor, because there's no pressure for it to provide for my livelihood so like, if a speaker is a pain in the ass, well, then I don't want to work with you anymore the only thing I get out of this is the joy of the work so if if someone is not fun to work with, well, then they can move on you know, I don't know that I would have that kind of freedom, creative freedom, if I was pressured to make my livelihood off of this, that being said it, it has opened up a lot of doors so I took a job in the summer as the new host for optimum find finance daily optimal finance daily, which is a daily show where I read from personal finance bloggers, and then offer my own commentary on it, they are like in the top 1% of all podcasts, we get well over 300,000 downloads per week, they are paying me to market myself, because they loved what I did with economy you know, I've got opportunities to write two books this year, based on what I've been able to do with economy, I'm also going to be selling financial wellness workshops to corporations to help people understand how powerful their retirement benefits can be, as, as an example of someone who fully funded their retirement vehicles for years in a row, and basically set myself up where you know, in 35 years for traditional retirement, you know, I don't have to contribute another dollar from what I have in there now due to the power of compound interest. So that kind of stuff has opened up because I produce something that I didn't intend to make an income from, you know, so I just think that not having that pressure has enabled me to create something that I'm really proud of, and to just enjoy it for what it is, I realized that I'm in a really fortunate financial position to do that, that not everyone can do that but I think that I, I just want to reiterate that not all work that you do has to like, specifically result in a monetary value at that time, I think there's there's a long game here, right and so I think you can be a little bit more strategic about, you know, the kind of work that you do and what generates income and what doesn't.
Josh: Yeah, and and honestly, everybody, I just wanted to point this out, it's one of the reasons I wanted to bring you on the show, you know, today because honestly, Diana, that the cool part of your story and inspirational part is that you did all this while you had a job and you built an event with 200 attendees, I mean, people working full time have a hard time filling that up, we actually have an event here in my hometown, I don't know if they list this or not so don't want to hurt your feelings, but they sell their tickets for $300 and it's basically like a TED Talks conference with Idaho business people and it's kind of a joke, they have a really hard time selling tickets, just so you know, anybody if you want to try and sell something don't sell to people in Idaho, they're like the most frugal people on the planet. I just I started my first business here, so I know how it goes but, but you know, that being said, like, it's cool to see that you're able to do that while you're in a job but I wanted to point out something here to kind of go along with what you had said. The reality is that when you are trying to enter into the entrepreneurial world or maybe scale your business in the entrepreneurial world, it's all about Getting in the boys club and people do not understand that and it has nothing to do with their barriers to get into those clubs, right this isn't like the yacht club or some like chauvinist, male club, right, it's, it's literally getting into these clubs all about, get yourself around other people and be seen as a thought leader and you did that with a conference right and that was what was so cool as some people will be like, I'm gonna start a podcast, or I'm gonna do this right, you know, I'm gonna fill in a bet with 200 people insanity.
Diana: Well, and I think the, the thing that struck me, because there, I definitely had moments where I'm like, should I cancel this thing, I took a 40 grand loss on my first event, that's another reason why I just promote financial literacy as a mode to entrepreneurship, because I didn't have to take out a loan for that I didn't have to sell any investments for that, you know, I was able to fully fund my passion project, and, and take a 40 grand loss and barely feel it, you know, and so that I'm very fortunate in that sense but I also knew that my event, you know, I'm really inspired by World Domination summit and that's $700 a ticket, I wanted my event to feel like you could have you would have won like you would have willingly paid $700 to go because it was that good and you got to go for $200, I wanted to far exceed everyone's expectations, because I knew that and by the way, it was 250 people, I knew that if those 250 people had a like an amazing time, and they felt the way that I felt when I went to World Domination summit, that now I have 250 brand ambassadors walking around talking about my event and now if they just bring one more person, now we've doubled our audience the next year so to me, it felt like the long game, right, like just because it's not immediately profitable. Now, I don't want to be stupid about it, there does come a certain point where it's like, Okay, this is just not sustainable, this business isn't viable, I got to change the model in some way. I'm not there yet but I get it that like I just, I can't be so idealistic about this for the long term and continue to take a 40% loss every year but I just think that far exceeding people's expectations, especially when you're first starting out, like that's how you get super fans, that's how you get, you know, your thousand true fans, versus trying to appeal to everyone, I don't need millions of people to fall in love with my brand, I need 700 That's it, you know, and then everybody else can enjoy the free videos I put up on YouTube but that's, that's kind of my business model and being able to kind of keep it lean that way, offers me a lot of creative flexibility.
Josh: And it allows you to really test the market that's what's cool. I mean, and you'll even see this as you get further and further into the journey, right, is that you don't know what people want until you do it and you put it out there and fail enough times and people are like, you know, I'm not really interested in buying that. It's cool, but I don't want to buy it that's when you know, I'm not hitting the right nerve but when people come to events, they hand you their wallet and say I'm ready to come to your event they've, they've proven that they want to go there and that's what's so cool is you can then take people go there and as you said, you've built 250 brand advocates in a way that nobody else is able to do, right because you're you're getting that interaction with them probably on a one to one level with only 250 people that
Diana: Oh, yeah, for sure, for sure.
Josh: That's a big, big deal. So I want to ask you a couple more questions here before we end up the interview here so as you've been building out this event, what have you seen as far as like what's been the best way for you to fill that event because I know a lot of the people watching this that's kind of their next step for scaling is saying hey, I want an intimate events where I charge $250 or whatever right to come to this event. How did you fill up
Diana: podcasts, podcasts interviews, I did 17 last year and that is the way that I think most people heard about it, I spent probably $6,000 on digital marketing got me no return on investment, it was a complete waste and I just kept trying because you Everyone tells you you got to post on Facebook every day and you got to buy the ads and you got to do Instagram and you got to do these live things and stories and blah, blah, blah, It was a complete waste of time for me, I I built my career and brand extension and licensing, which is all about leverage. you're leveraging brand equity so I've just always had this concept of leverage in everything that I do and so I don't want to build an audience from nothing, I want to go leverage someone else's audience. Josh his audience, right. I want to steal them away. No, I'm kidding but yet other people have heard other people have already built up incredible audiences. The way that you're going to reach them is like collaborating, getting on podcasts free webinars have also been a really great way for me to spread the word, and, and getting, you know, other influencers in my space to kind of share it but yeah, I would say podcasting has been the number one thing to spread the word I also got on good day Columbus as well as wlw here in Cincinnati, like the two big morning shows for the region and that certainly helped but you know, it's such a niche event and so to like you, the marketing needs to be really, really targeted and that's what I like about the podcast, too, because you're really only reaching the people that are like interested in personal finance, which, given the statistics around how the majority of people can't pull together $400 for an emergency expense, this is not like a very popular topic, like most people don't want to go have a party about money, unless you're like a real money nerd and that's, that's who I need to market to.
Josh: and entrepreneurs, most of us are that way right I think the fun thing about your conference in general, right getting people excited about money, is there is this, like holier than thou approach of, well, I'm not about the money. I'm about the helping people, right and the reality is that the money is what fuels that, right and people don't realize that it's okay to be motivated by that just don't let it drive everything that you do every decision you write, right?
Diana: Well, the business has to be profitable in order for it to be sustainable. I am just in a fortunate position that I don't personally need to profit from the event. However, as much as I'm not like personally profiting all of the things that I want to do with my time are now business expenses so when I go to fincon, when I go speak at a campfire, when I go, you know, even buying this new laptop, this is now a business expense so it's it's not like there's no financial benefit for me but I'm able to basically do all of the things that I would want to do anyway and now they're just business expenses.
Josh: Yeah, I love it. I love it. That's I think, especially anybody listening to this, they get that, right being an entrepreneur, it's like so cool that when you can write vacations off, right, that's that yeah so that's cool, I really, I really appreciate you sharing that with us and I hope everybody listening to this will think about how, how this relates, I really like you are an inspirational story. That's why I thought it was so cool to bring you on, because you aren't the typical guests we bring on here, right? A lot of these people like oh, yeah, well into my entrepreneurial career and all this stuff but you literally like skipped 25 steps and hopped to the front of the line by starting a conference right. And I thought that was so cool. It was cool to just bring you on and talk with you about that. So I hope people will think about that in their own business to say, Okay, what other benefits would there be for me launching an event or doing a podcast or something where you're, you're getting yourself out there and building a tribe. As everybody knows, listen to this, that's one of our core pillars in our company, right is build a community of people. Everybody calls them the raving fans, like you mentioned, or whatever, there's like a billion ways to call it but it's the people who actually care about and and you have personally met. It's why I love the event concepts. It's getting to know people really in a one to one situation or a group situation.
Diana: and there are ways like a lot of people recommended to me when I was starting out, like, why do you need to get 700 people to spend $200, why not get 20 people to spend $5 to join you in something like like testing on a smaller scale and in theory, I totally agree with that. Like before you go in all in on something like test, first of all, to make sure that it's viable, but also like that you're going to enjoy doing it, I just wasn't interested in a small scale event, I wanted to do something massive and so I kind of went about it the wrong way but I had the financial bandwidth to take that huge risk most people that do events, they start with a blog, and then they write a book and then they have a podcast like they spend years building up a following and then they do the event, I went from no one knowing my name to doing an event. It's a huge ask to get people to travel to like come to my event. Right? So I think like unless you're willing to take that big of a risk, because you're really if you want to make money events are not the way to make money right and so if you're you might take consider like the event being the last thing you do versus the first thing you do, I was comfortable with that but I wouldn't want to just advise everyone to like go start an event, It's Look how good I did. You know, I think everyone has a different set of circumstances that will make them more or less successful in this kind of endeavor.
Josh: I love it. Well, two final questions for us to wrap this up. So the very first one is where can people get access to the event?
Diana: Sure. So early bird tickets are going to go on sale on March 7 so they're going to run through April 10 and then it's full price after that the event is happening on November 13 and 14th of this year but I already scheduled a backup date for March 2022. So if we find that we still can't gather in a large group come November, no worries, we already have the date pushed back and I will make that decision by September 1st but if you go to economeconference.com and remember, that's economy with an M E you will be able to buy tickets there.
JoshL Love it. Absolutely. So make sure you go check that out. So it's economeconference Remember, it's m e, not m y love that so make sure you go check those tickets out. If you're a money nerd, that's going to be the place that you want to be so, Diana, just my final question for you is if you could give one final parting piece of guidance to our audience, or would that be?
Diana: let your curiosity be bigger than your fear it's words I live by.