John Meese is a traditionally-trained economist turned serial entrepreneur. He is the cofounder of Notable Themes, where they sell WordPress themes and plugins designed to help creators build beautiful websites, the CEO of Cowork Columbia, an entrepreneur center he founded in his hometown to support my local business community, and the Dean of Platform University, where he teaches professionals how to build a personal brand business online. Meese has worked closely with multiple clients who have repeatedly hit the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing privately-owned businesses in America.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Franklin, TN living in an old, rundown house that used to be a Church with my parents and three siblings. My dad was always quiet, reflective, and far more reflective than you might expect from a humble painting contractor, but he taught me so much about fatherhood and entrepreneurship, more than I could have ever asked for. He passed away in 2020 from cancer, but I dedicated my new book to him and entrepreneurs like him, in tribute.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I had learned long ago what I know now, which is those good friendships are fuel for a rich life, rather than just the reward for after the work is done (which is how I initially approached friendships, as a luxury I didn’t have time for).
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Hustle and grind, work more than everyone else, and that is the only way to succeed.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Ooph, do I have to? Okay… four years ago I had a compilation of professional and personal crises that mentally paralyzed me for months. Personally, my dad was in the hospital with a new cancer diagnosis, my wife and I were having trouble communicating, we had a newborn baby and another on the way. Professionally, I had a couple of major setbacks without energy, motivation, or creativity to respond at the time.
I literally went “to work” and played StarCraft some days, to distract myself. Ultimately, I realized the problem was that I was taking on the personal pressure and responsibility to solve every problem myself, all at once. Not only was that impossible, but it was also arrogant because I was surrounded by wonderful people who wanted to help just like me.
I stepped back from Church responsibilities and rallied my family to help my dad, had a good cry session with my wife, and went through months of marriage counseling. I also gave myself permission to embrace the season I was in, and downshift my professional goals. I still maintained our income, but all my extra time and attention went to my dad, my wife, and my kids.
Four years later, my wife and I have an incredible marriage (with a few bumps we still work through) and I got to spend countless hours with my dad every week for the last four years of his life. I now have three bouncing boys, and they tell me they love me every day.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Prayer, patience, and persistence. I often think of Tubthumping by Chumbawamba as background music for my life. You may not know the name, but you probably know the tune, “I get knocked down, and I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down!”
What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 5:30 AM most days, drink a glass of water, and wake up while reading a little until my kids are awake (three boys, ages 1, 3, & 5). Then I’m on dad duty until they’re off to school and I’m off to work, where I don’t take meetings before noon and start with creating projects at my desk in the coworking space I own (did I mention I walk to work? I got rid of my car and built out a coworking space less than a mile home).
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Reading and writing. I need a good balance of both because if I’m writing for a season without a lot of reading then I start to expend my creative energy and my writing becomes a bit stale or forced. By contrast, if I’m reading for a season without writing as well then I enjoy the books I’m reading but can’t look back with much clarity with what I learned, or my major takeaways from what I read.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I don’t take meetings before noon, so I have a deep work block each day for my most important projects, and I have at least one day each week that is completely free of appointments so I can go deep into a project, or series of projects, without interruption. I also got rid of my smartphone (using a Light Phone II) and my social media profiles—although I’ve since started using LinkedIn, I keep distracting websites blocked on my computer until noon, so I’m forced to focus!
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Essentialism by Greg McKeown radically changed my approach to life right after I graduated from college, so I left a non-profit organization I’d started, changed force from political economics to business entrepreneurship, and doubled down on writing. I revisit the concepts from that Boko daily.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Yes, but it’s a long one. I keep the full serenity prayer printed by my desk and take a minute to read it and reflect every day. Most people are familiar with the first part, but not the longer version. What I read daily is “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.” – Reinhold Niebuhr