Max Nussenbaum is an author and entrepreneur who currently runs the On Deck Writing Fellowship, a new Silicon Valley take on modern education and career acceleration. We talk about how On Deck is helping writers become entrepreneurs; how Max bought a mansion in Detroit when he was 23; why JFK is overrated; what cults teach us about community building; and optimal strategy for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (which Max was on).
➡️ On Deck Writing Fellowship is open: beondeck.com/writers
➡️ Max on Twitter: @maxnuss
On buying a mansion with no money...
Max Nussenbaum: We were 23-year-olds when we decided to buy this mansion at a tax auction. And we asked a bunch of other people, we knew some of whom had fixed up houses themselves: "Hey, is it crazy for four 23 year olds who don't know anything about construction to buy a mansion, that's a total tear-down, and try to fix it up themselves?"
And that is crazy, just to be clear, like I think in objective reality. And every single person we talked to was like, "Nah, do it, go ahead." It's just like that kind of place. So we purchased, it was just a mansion that had been abandoned. Was a total wreck.
It was a seven-bedroom, 3,500 square-foot mansion in what... in 1920 was the richest neighborhood in America. Purchased at tax auction for just over $8,000 that we raised from a Kickstarter...
Justin Murphy: Wait, $8,000 total?
Max Nussenbaum: Yes, now that's very misleading because we ultimately put over $200,000 into actually fixing up the house. We formed an LLC, found an outside investor. It was essentially a very micro-scale, real estate development project because obviously we did not have anywhere close to $200-grand ourselves.
So the $8,000 figure is misleading, but yeah, eight grand and the house was ours. It needed a new roof, new plumbing, new electrical, new wiring, new everything.
Justin Murphy: What was the business model though?
Max Nussenbaum: It was literally a basic real estate plan. We're going to rehab this house, we're going to rent it out to other young people, as a co-living, co-working space and there's going to be rental income and then eventually we're going to sell it and it's going to be worth a lot more.
I would guess it's probably worth $400-$450,000, which would be about double what we spent and put into it.
It would have been totally worth it, even if we never made any profits from it.
How Max is building the On Deck Writing Fellowship...
Max Nussenbaum: I joined [On Deck] to launch a writer fellowship, which is basically for anyone who's writing publicly and independently for the web. I think independent writers are essentially a form of micro entrepreneur, right? If you want to start a newsletter there's so much, you have to learn how to do that goes into that other than just being good at writing.
But if you go Google, how to find users, how to get users for your SaSS product, you'll find tons of resources. If you were going to look up how to get readers for your email newsletter, there's really just a comparative dearth of information. And a lot of what you would find is like, assuming your email newsletter is the first part of a sales funnel from a company.
And it's going to tell you how to do SEO keyword research, which is... If you're an independent writer who wants to speak or write from the heart about something, you are interested in, that's not really the right approach for you at all.
What is Other Life?
Creators and hustlers on using the internet to escape institutional conformity.