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072: USA Memory Champion – Turning Your Passion into Your Business (w/Nelson Dellis)

Nelson Dellis is memory athlete, mnemonist (able to remember and recall unusually long lists of data such as unfamiliar names, list of numbers, and others), public speaker, and consultant. He is a four-time USA Memory Champion and the co-founder of Memory League, a new type of competitive memory platform that allows memory enthusiasts to challenge each other online.

He is also the founder of Climb for Memory through which he preaches a lifestyle that combines both mental and physical fitness with proper diet and social involvement.

HELP OUT in the endeavour to find a cure for Alzheimer’s by taking The Extreme Memory Challenge, a short, easy memory test online. It’s poised to be one of the largest long-term memory studies ever conducted. Just go to

Becoming a memory enthusiast

His grandmother died of Alzheimer’s in 2009 and that made Nelson develop an interest in memory. He saw how her mind slipped away and didn’t want the same thing to happen to him. From his research on memory, he discovered the US Memory Championship which to his surprise included average people who had just learnt some memory techniques and practised. That’s when he realised that memory was a skill like any other and from there he started off on his journey towards becoming a memory champion.

Climb for Memory: Research on Alzheimer’s

He says the current research is not clear on whether or not keeping the brain active deters Alzheimer’s. Some researchers say it doesn’t while others say it does. Nelson is a believer that keeping the brain active makes a big difference, judging from his own experience with his memory transformation.

Core revenue streams

He says it’s hard to define his business because his revenue sources have not always been clear. He is not much of a business guy. He started doing memory as a business when he found that he had won a few memory championships, had gotten a lot of media attention and was receiving a lot of requests for speaking engagements and different appearances. He used to work in coding and physics as a career but he decided to leave it behind.

The majority of his revenues come from speaking engagements, doing different memory-related events, spokesperson deals, and other memory-related projects.

Leaving the normal job

He loved his formal job in the corporate world but when he started doing the memory-related projects, he had a hard time managing both. When he got an offer to do a memory event sponsored by a certain company, the head of marketing of that company approached him after the event, and asked him to work with them on a long-term basis. For Nelson to take their offer and focus entirely on memory-related work under their endorsement, they agreed to pay him the same amount he was getting as a salary at his job.

Getting to the point of winning competitions

He had to put in a lot of hard work to become a memory champion and it was easy because he was very passionate about it. He loved the whole process of memorization. He wanted to be the best, so he spent as much time as possible training his memory.

He started getting serious about it in the summer of 2009 when his grandmother passed away. He entered into the first competition in March 2010 and came in 3rd place which was commendable considering it was his first time. That inspired him to train more seriously, and in 2011, he won the competition. He used to train every day after work for at least 2 hours. He says he also used to memorize numbers and cards while at work.

Two ways to catapult memory retention skills

He says one way is to pay attention which includes focusing on one thing at time and not multitasking. Since the brain is not good at memorizing abstract things like numbers, names or directions, the second way is to turn those things by association into pictures (visual imagery in the mind).

Tip 1: Paying attention will help a lot with your memory

Tip 2: Always try to think in pictures

Growth strategy at the beginning

A friend of his linked him to someone who became his agent. The agent got him one endorsement deal and promised him that more were to come but later on, Nelson had to part ways with him because he never delivered on his promises. He was able to work under the endorsement deal, but he knew it was not going to last long, so he used to think about how he would go back to a corporate coding job.

The more he got farther from a formal job, he realised that he didn’t want to get formally employed again plus working on memory-related work could not be added to his resume so he just decided to find more endorsement deals and come up with innovative ways to make money from memory-related work. He started targeting companies that were in the memory space and he eventually found one called Brain Health, a supplement company. Nelson knew about Brain Health because they had sponsored several memory championships that Nelson had attended. He managed to close an endorsement deal with them and they have worked together to date.

Nelson also got speaking engagements through the TV interviews he did and media coverage he got when he attended championships. His interest in speaking engagements grew over time because he loved teaching and inspiring people so he eventually choose to focus on speaking engagements instead of endorsement deals. He also identified speaking as the best way for him to grow and scale his work.

The TED talk

He did a TEDX Talk in 2012 and he says it was a game changer for him because it was the biggest speaking engagement he had ever done.

He took a while to prepare for the talk and he used software called Prezi to build his presentation. The presentation enabled him to successfully make his talk. He doesn’t use the software now but he has a fixed deck that he customizes to fit different speaking engagements.

Speaking gigs

Nelson gets about two or so speaking engagements per month and he also teaches at a university. After doing them for several years, he is currently trying to move away from them because they take up a lot of time and can be very exhausting. Now, he wants to have more of a passive income by doing the same thing he does but in different ways that don’t require so much of his constant involvement.

Comparison of coding work to the current business

He says he is better off now than he was at his formal coding job, but he says that if he had stuck to that job, he would always have a steadier, more predictable salary. Now, with the memory-related work, he doesn’t always know where he‘s going to fall though things are always fine.

Tip: The beauty about being an entrepreneur and having that freedom is that when you are in a tough spot, there is always something you can do; you can work harder, you can work something out, and so much more.

App development

He has wanted to have an app for a while but he didn’t really pursue it until he decided to move away from speaking engagements. His ultimate goal has always been to spread what he has learned to as many people as possible and with his desire to do it in a passive way, developing an app, writing a book or creating an online course was the best way to achieve that. The decision to develop the app was influenced by different things and people.

An Australian memory enthusiast who was better at coding than Nelson helped him in developing the app’s back end while Nelson worked on the idea. They called it the Extreme Memory Tournament and they run 3 years of a competition using it as digital software that worked as memory training software that showed on-screen what was happening when two memory competitors were going head-to-head memorizing things. Before that, memory competitions were very boring to watch because they were analogue.

They later joined forces with the Art of Memory, an online forum where people could post questions about memory and learn memory techniques. They have been working together and so far they have done a successful Kickstarter campaign which has enabled them to start delivering the beta products of that.

The Kickstarter campaign

They had requested for $20,000 in the Kickstarter campaign and they got slightly more, which was enough to get the beta version of their software products out. The beta products are geared towards teaching the art of memory and they include tutorials for beginners, training software for practicing, online games to measure memory success against others, and many more memory-related training tools. Their app is subscription based and the funds they have been using have come from the competition software which many memory enthusiasts have used to practice and play.

Wikipedia page

Nelson says he never wanted a Wikipedia page but a mentor of his encouraged him to get one made. The mentor knew a company that could develop his Wikipedia page and she got them to do it. He says it’s been great because it comes up when people search his name.

Tip: Once you have a lot of information about you in form of sources and articles, anyone can write a Wikipedia page for you

Craziest thing he has ever memorized

Nelson says during World Alzheimer’s Day in 2016, he decided to memorize Pi (π in mathematics) which included memorizing 10,000 digits of pie with the world record being over 100,000 digits. The record Nelson was trying to break was someone quizzing him on 5 digit chunks somewhere within that 10,000, and he was to be asked 50 of them, and all he would have to do was say the next 5 digits and the previous 5 digits before each chunk. He was to do it 50 times with no mistakes and in a certain amount of time. He took a long time to study it but he didn’t make it to the end of the 10,000.

Biggest breakthrough in the business

“It’s been not being afraid to delegate some of my workflow to people who are good at the things that I need done. I used to think that I had to do everything myself so a lot of the times nothing would get done because it was something that I had to learn or figure out how to do.”

Tip: It’s better to pay a little money to get the people who are good at what they do, to do the little tasks that you need help with, so that you can stay efficient in what you are best at while also getting good quality in the things that you are not so good at.

Accessing the memory course

Nelson says anyone who wants to learn how to be better with their memory can go to and sign up.

Tool and Resources

Prezi – presentation software which includes online presentation tools that uses motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to bring your ideas to life and make you a great presenter.



Book recommendation for entrepreneurs: 

  1. Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 – Marcus Luttrell
  2. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid – Douglas R. Hofstadter


To be remembered for spreading the word about the brain and memory, and inspiring others to get in touch with our ancient minds to achieve the great things that our memories are capable of – Nelson.


Best way to connect: – Nelson’s Business website


Help out in the endeavour to find a cure for Alzheimer’s by taking The Extreme Memory Challenge, a short, easy memory test online. It’s poised to be one of the largest long-term memory studies ever conducted.

Just go to


Thanks for tuning in…see you next time!


About the author, Davis

My Dream of sharing inspirational success stories started many years ago and this Podcast is an amazing show that brings some of those conversations to light.

This show is dedicated to being a voice of encouragement to you because I believe God created you and I with a purpose to fulfill and I want to be here to cheer you on through this Podcast, our Blog and through our other channels of interaction via our comments section after each Podcast and Blog as well as on social media.

I love business and entrepreneurship and I truly believe you have greatness inside of you 🙂