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Alex Epstein, founder and president, Center for Industrial Progress, Laguna Hills, Calif.

| 02.25.2013 |

Alex Epstein is a man on a mission: a new industrial revolution. Yes, that's quite a mission – and Epstein hopes to achieve this goal with the Center for Industrial Progress (CIP), a for-profit think-tank that he created in 2011.


Epstein, who is also a principal blogger for the leading free-market energy blog Principal blogger for MasterResource and a former fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, spoke with Business-Superstar about his goals.


Q: What was the inspiration for the CIP? And was this the first time you created your own organization?


Alex Epstein: Let's start with what CIP is, as it's an unusual business model with unusual ideas.


We believe that human beings have the untapped potential to radically improve our lives by using technology to improve the planet across a multitude of industries: mining, manufacturing, agriculture, chemistry, and energy. Every individual has the potential for a longer, happier, healthier, safer, more comfortable, more meaningful, more opportunity-filled life.


The keys to a new industrial revolution are a new industrial philosophy, a new industrial policy, and a new approach to communication.


Philosophically, the so-called environmentalist movement has put forward the myth that a better environment means "saving" the planet from human industry. CIP shows that a better environment means improving the planet through human industry.


Politically, the so-called environmentalist movement has put forward the myth that a better environment means authoritarian control by environmental bureaucrats who prioritize sloths over human beings. CIP shows that a better environment means clear, scientific laws that protect both the right to develop and the right to preserve clean air and water.


In communication, the so-called environmentalist movement has historically taken the moral high ground against industry by pretending that minimizing the "footprint" of industry is an ideal that will bring about a better, healthier world. CIP's aspirational approach to communication shows that the real ideal is industrial progress, the progressive improvement of the planet through technology and development–and has inspired thousands to change the way they think about industries such as energy, mining, and agriculture.


A crucial part of our mission is sharing our uniquely positive ideas and tactics with industry through training programs that inspire their employees and empower their communications teams. Only if industry starts to appreciate and articulate its true value, both economic and environmental, can we liberate industry from authoritarian government and bring about the next industrial revolution.


I was inspired to start CIP (my first business) because I thought that lovers of liberty desperately needed to offer the public a positive, inspiring alternative to the Green movement instead of just being negative or being on the defensive all the time. I thought that positive messaging, done properly, would dramatically outperform my side’s traditional messaging. And I believed that if our messaging was effective enough at persuading people, we could make a lot of money helping businesses defend their freedom.


Q: How long did it take to create the CIP, and when did it officially launch?


Alex Epstein: Well, it started as just me with contractors and volunteers, so it launched as soon as I had settled on the name. That was in late August 2011.


Q: What have been some of the challenges in starting and maintaining the CIP? And conversely, what have been some of the high points of this endeavor?


Alex Epstein: The challenges and the high points are interconnected.


Near the beginning of CIP, a friend of mine said to me, "Now, you eat what you kill" – and I think that captures what it's like to create a new business without much of a safety net.


One of my favorite quotes ever is from "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card. The teacher of Ender Wiggin, the boy who is to become the world's greatest commander, explains a lesson Ender has to learn during his training: "Ender Wiggin must believe that no matter what happens, no adult will ever, ever step in to help him in any way"


I can't tell you how many times I've thought of that quote, because at the beginning there was so much I needed to learn about everything – marketing, sales, design, management, finances – and I knew that there was no one to bail me out as I inevitably made mistake after mistake after mistake getting my bearings. On the one hand, I knew for certain that mistakes are part of the process of succeeding – on the other hand, every mistake has a financial penalty, so it's not always easy to take the long view.


But most of the time, I took the long view, and knew that I was sowing the seeds of success in myself and in the business. And while the mistakes weren't always fun, acquiring new skills was so empowering. I remember needing to fix an audio file, and no one around me could do it properly, and at first I felt, "I don’t know how to fix an audio file." And then I thought, "Then learn how to do it right now!" I read the instructions for WavePad for half an hour and fixed the file in less time than I had spent agonizing about how I didn't know how to do it. After that, I had a clear idea in my head: If something is truly necessary, there is no question whether I will do it – only how and how long.


There have been many high points to CIP, but I think of the highest point as the process as a whole. Taking an idea and making it real is among the great experiences in life. It's so hard, but going through that difficulty will give you a special kind of confidence and satisfaction that no one can ever take away.


Q: How have you been able to promote your message? And what kind of a feedback have you received, to date?


Alex Epstein: We’re an organization that's all about promoting messages, so we use pretty much every Web/media/interpersonal channel. People can get a more concrete sense at www.industrialprogress.net.


More significantly, our unique ideas and messaging have gotten a really amazing response. I did a survey the other day of how our ideas have affected people, and got hundreds of positive responses like this one: "It would be an understatement to say that Alex Epstein has completely and absolutely changed how I think about energy. No longer do I feel guilty for enjoying the use of products powered by fossil fuels, in fact, I now embrace them. Now, thanks to Alex, I see fossil fuels as a source of life rather than a source of death as is widely quoted by environmentalists. Whenever I'm out with friends or family I now have the tools to challenge the conventional wisdom that is brought up with regards to energy during conversation."


I don't know of any other organization or any industry marketing campaign that generates the kind of understanding, enthusiasm, and changes of mind that CIP does. And it is the students, C-level executives, thought-leaders – they get that industrial progress is the ideal we need to strive for as a society, and that those of us defending it need to articulate a positive vision and take the high ground away from so-called environmentalists.


Q: What professional advice would you give to someone who is interested in following your example and launching their own endeavor?


Alex Epstein: First, paraphrasing Steve Jobs, do not do it unless you have an idea that you absolutely need to see happen. Because it's so hard. For that reason, I never encourage people to start their own business. It has to come from within, and you have to be ready.


Second, become obsessed with marketing, particularly the principles of direct marketing. My two favorite modern-day marketers are Dan Kennedy and Eben Pagan. Older generations are great, too. The legendary David Ogilvy (must-read) said that everyone needed to read "Scientific Advertising" by Claude Hopkins seven times. I agree. If you do not learn marketing, which is the art of getting customers, you are playing business Russian roulette, but with worse odds.


Third, with marketing ideas and any other new ideas, implement quickly and course-correct. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from having a good idea. It feels like you've accomplished something. Learn to only be satisfied when you start implementing. So much of your success cannot be planned in advance, because it involves knowledge you can only learn as you actually produce and market your product. At the same time, make sure you learn all you can from your actions and their results. From the perspective of your knowledge, everything in your business is a test you can profit from.


Fourth, get outside feedback. My background is in writing, so I know very well how important it is to have an editor. Business is no different. Now, how to get feedback is tricky because most of us don't have access to world-class experts, while we do have access to people who are eager to give uninformed advice. But, at minimum, you can always use other people to gauge how well your marketing or messaging works.


My policy is: Whenever someone has a criticism, I assume he is right that there is something wrong, but he usually won't know what exactly is wrong, let alone how to fix it. That’s okay: someone who points out that I'm doing something wrong is doing me a big favor.


Fifth, learn how to structure your life for running a business. What you need to do starting a business and what you need to do going to a job are so different – in the case of a job, your employer has created an incredible amount of structure for you, from your workday to your assignments to a steady paycheck. When you are on your own, you have much more responsibility and much less default structure.


Those five points are what I would have stressed to myself at the beginning. One thing that came more naturally to me, but might be helpful to stress to others, is that you need to constantly be seeking out the best knowledge relevant to your business.


I gave a lecture recently on how to create structure, much of it based on my experiences with CIP – you can see it here: http://youtu.be/xWXP15hSA0A


Alex Epstein's new e-book, "Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet," is now online at http://industrialprogress.net/fossil-fuels-improve-the-planet/