I have been reading Tycoon Talk for a while, but I forgot there was a success story section. I wrote my success story for 2 other sites and it has been getting a nice response so I decided to share it here. I hope this can be inspirational and helpful.
My first job
When I turned 16, I
got a job at a ski shop after school and on weekends. I started out doing a lot
of garbage work, but eventually I was allowed to do some sales. I was a shy kid
so I had trouble speaking to customers and answering phones. When I was 16, I
looked 12, so that did not help. By the end of the first season, I was getting
very comfortable with sales and I was producing the most sales for the time I
was putting in.
After a couple years, I
learned how the business was run and I took a larger role in the shop. Even
though I was never put in a management role due to looking very young, I was
basically doing everything a manager was doing.
Quitting my first job...
I was getting very frustrated that I was taking on a lot of
responsibility, but never given a management role. At the time, I don't think I
understood why. I came to the realization that I did not want to be stuck in a
job like this anyway. I wanted something bigger. I was always hungry for money
and always dreamed of doing some sort of big business that allowed me to be
independent. This job would never lead to that.
I am a person who succeeds when put under pressure. Even in
school, I waited until the last minute to do my homework or a major project.
Now, I stay up late at night to do my work because I race to get work done
before I go to bed. I have produced my best work and ideas late at night.
At the time, I knew this is the type of
person I was and if I would succeed, it would not be from building a business on
the side while I was working at the ski shop. I needed more pressure. The only
way to do that is quit.
This simple job
at the ski shop gave me the basics of sales and business management at a young
age, but it was time to move on.
Dropping Out Of
I went from a public
school to a private school then back to a public school for high school. The
difference between the private school I attended and the public school was huge.
I felt no pressure in the public school. I slept through my sophomore and junior
year. I never did homework or took a book home. I still managed to pass with B's
and C's. It was pathetic. Teachers barely new me, they would give slackers way
to get bonus points, there was no trust, etc. The education was a joke. It was
like a review of what I already did in the private school. I was never taught
how to think for my self or how to figure things out on my own. They only taught
trivial things. I was being prepped to be a good little employee and do
everything by the book.
through my junior year, I realized this was a waste of time. I wanted to quit
and work full time at the ski shop to get more real world experience and see
what happens from there. I just knew high school was not helping me grow as a
person or intellectually.
I met with
the guidance counselor and principal. Neither had any idea who I was. They said,
"We don't even know you. You have never been in trouble before. We don't
understand why you are dropping out." I just laughed. That was one of the exact
reasons I wanted out. I was just another one of the herd. You have to be in
trouble or an all-star to be noticed. I was neither because I had no motivation
to be an all star and no reason to cause trouble.
I loved the close family atmosphere of a private school.
Everyone knows everyone and the teachers are really involved in more than your
education. They knew me as a person. I didn't need to be a trouble maker or an
all star to be noticed.
My First Try At Business
usually not the idea that is stupid, it is the plan. Most people are so blinded
by the thought of how much money they can make, they don't think of all of the
ways they CAN'T make money with their idea. I found this to be the most
important thing when planning a new business.
"Stupid ideas" are needed if you want to succeed at business.
Hopefully some of those stupid ideas don't cost you much money. Stupid ideas are
a learning experience. You learn what doesn't work.
If you have a successful business that you started on your own,
then I am sure you hear people coming to you with ideas all of the time. They
are so excited and motivated as they tell you their idea to make millions. Then
they ask you, "so what do you think?" It is so hard to tell them all of the
things wrong with the idea and ruin their dream, but they are blind to all of
those pit falls. They have never tried to build a business to know how many
things are wrong with it.
When I start
a new business, I spend a ton of time running numbers on different scenarios.
The scenarios don't just assume x number of customers spending y. You must be
your businesses worst critic and find all of the holes before you fall in
My stupid ideas...
After quitting my job at the ski shop, I
knew I wanted to work on my own. It was the late 90's the internet was all the
hype and everyone was talking about the money to be made there. This was my
opportunity to get in the ground floor. My first idea was to see what other
successful people were doing. I saw one of the late night infomercials and
wanted to give it a try. Yeah, it was him...Don Lapre and his famous"tiny
classified ads"! Hey, I was young, hungry and gullible. He had a "new system"
that would work online and I thought it was worth a try since I had no idea how
to make any money online. Obviously this did not go anywhere.
I jumped from one idea to another. I
searched for ways to make money online and that lead me to one Multi-Level
Marketing program after another.
always seemed like the only way to independent wealth was MLM. Every successful
person on the TV was saying this. It was all over the internet. It had to be the
way. It just made sense. You just build a "downline" who make money for you. It
seemed so easy.
I just felt like I had
to get in the right MLM program. I taught myself how to build sites and do some
basic marketing. I would build sites and try to join marketing networks where i
could trade some clicks. I had no money for advertising, so i was trying very
pathetic marketing tactics. So many sites offered "the best way to get traffic
to your site for free" and I fell for them all.
Nothing was really working. I managed to get some sales here
and there, but i was not making money. I was getting better at building and
marketing sites. Eventually i built up downlines of hundreds of people. Still no
I realized that MLM are horrible
businesses. Actually they are not real businesses at all. The argument they
always made was, "all businesses are multi-level". They would give examples of
McDonalds or manufacturing as being multi-level. It is true those businesses,
like most, have levels. There is the manufacturer or supplier, usually a
distributer and then the end retailer/sales person.
They made it sound like the levels in MLM are just like any
business. The reality is the "levels" in MLM are ALL in the bottom level of
normal business levels. I was just a salesman like any other salesman except my
income is commissioned based. I either made a commission on a product sold or
products sold by people in my downline.
The natural problem with MLM is everyone is attracted to it
because it is sold as a way to make money while others work for you. Basically,
it attracts lazy people. This is why i had hundreds and sometimes thousands in
my downlines, but not making money. No one in my downline wanted to work.
Better Idea: Just Basic Business
Instead of looking for the perfect
business, I realized I should just be doing something basic. I was learning how
to market websites online. I was getting thousands of people to join MLM
programs, so I obviously was learning how to get visitors and get them to join a
program. I was just marketing the wrong thing. I needed to market normal things
so I can get paid a commission right away instead of waiting for someone else to
Affiliate marketing seemed to
be the way to make great money online with no expense. I basically needed to
build sites and promote some offers and the cash should roll in.
I found several products that were in the
"make money" market which was similar to the MLM market. I felt like this was an
easy market to capitalize on. I eventually taught myself how to get my sites to
rank in the top search engines such as Alta Vista, Lycos and Excite. I built
small sites that showed people html tricks, marketing strategies, which
affiliate programs were good and how to market them. I received commissions when
someone would signup for software that I recommended for marketing online, when
someone signed up for an advanced marketing guide, etc.
It was all starting to add up. I also built sites for something
called "paid to surf". These were becoming very popular back then and there was
some big commissions to be made. I was one of the top ranking sites for many of
the keywords back then and generated around $10,000 in profit each month from
these programs... that is until they all stopped paying and went bankrupt in the
dot com crash.
Ok, it was time to make
sure the companies I choose to promote can actually pay me what they say after
all of the work I do.
Growing Quietly To Avoid Being Eaten!
Despite taking a hit with the "paid to surf" companies, I was
still generating good revenue and I wanted to expand. I knew how to rank at the
top of the search engines. (It was easy pickin' back then!) I just needed to
scale up. I built many more sites for different products and different niches to
get them ranked in the top of the search engines. I was going for a large
quantity of small sites to generate more and more revenue.
After a few years, I saw a problem.
Affiliate marketing is EXTREMELY competitive and had a very small cost to entry.
This means once you start making money and people know it, they copy exactly
what you are doing. It is cheap, it is easy, it works and it is a pain in the
*** to battle. I went silent for 8 years. Everything I did was a big secret and
this was the case with all of the successful affiliate marketers. Even the
affiliate marketers who sold "how to make money online" programs kept quiet
about their actual money making sites. No one wanted their strategies, site
layouts, traffic sources or anything else getting leaked to other affiliate
One of the important rules
was never to talk about your success in affiliate marketing and show one of your
sites. Some people did this and I stepped in and took a big share of what they
I built hundreds of sites in many
different markets. I was sometimes building a site a day. Each site had to sell
a product in order for me to make a commission. I needed more than just traffic
from search engines, I needed to convert that traffic into a sale. After
building hundreds of sites and trying countless strategies, I discovered ways to
increase conversions to maximize my revenue from each site.
Some of the sites I built were not small.
I put a lot more attention and money into some of them.
Fundamental Problem: I had to get out
By 2006 I had an empire of sites
generating over $2 million a year. I felt on top of the world. I was making so
much money and could afford anything I wanted, but I felt like I had to make
more. I felt something was wrong. Making that kind of money should of made me
feel very comfortable. Something was off.
I felt maybe it was not a good thing my business was built off
of a ton of small sites. My most successful sites made millions by themselves,
but I always felt like they could die at any time.
In 2007 I finally realized why my model was so fragile. Despite
expanding, my income did not grow. I did a lot of digging and found the
Like I mentioned before,
affiliate marketing is very competitive. Any other marketer could copy what you
are doing and hurt revenue. I was always a step ahead of them and very
secretive. There was a bigger enemy. The actual companies I was promoting.
In the first 10 years of online affiliate
marketing, companies relied on affiliates to drive a massive amount of business.
Good online marketers would never work for one company at a regular salary. If
you knew how to market anything online, then there was too much money to be made
by sending traffic to an affiliate program for a commission. As colleges began
to teach basic internet marketing, more and more kids would come out of college
eager for a low salary job. Colleges never sell the dream of becoming a
millionaire. They pound it in your head to graduate with good grades and start
at a low salary in a good company where you can grow.
These kids out of college now had enough basic knowledge needed
to copy what I was doing and dumb enough to do it at a low salary. The companies
I promoted hired them and told them to copy what their top affiliates were
doing. I was usually one of them.
companies I promoted had all of the data from my sites. They tracked how I sent
them traffic. They simply had their new employees make sites like mine (which
converted traffic like crazy) and then they would market their sites like I
marketed mine. I worked so hard keeping everything I do secret so other
affiliates could not see everything I do, but I could not prevent the companies
I promoted from seeing everything.
entire affiliate industry was falling apart. Now, it is just a small fraction of
what it was.
Selling: I finally get out
In 2008 I started shopping my business to
all of my competitors who I knew were larger than I was. The only offers I would
get is 1 or 2 months of revenue. I kept working on one potential buyer. He said
"no" to me a dozen times. I would keep pressing to show him how he could profit
from the buy. The recession hit and it was a hard sell, but I managed to get him
to see the upside. I managed to unload everything for a pathetic price of
I was certain I wanted to sell
despite getting what I could make in 6 months. First, I did not feel comfortable
in the ability to make long term money with the business and I wanted to be able
to focus 100% on something else. Second, I was bored of what I was doing.
Finally, the biggest thing that pushed me was the recession. When the market
collapsed, I knew it was a huge opportunity to make a massive ROI in stocks.
I felt releived when it was sold and excited
to get all my cash into the stock market.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have focused on a few
sites and made them huge.
Making money from a stock market collapse
I could have sold my business 8 months earlier if I really
wanted to and I would have received twice the money. If I did, I would have
surely invested everything in the stock market. Investing in the middle of 2008
would have surely bankrupted me.
my business in November 2008 for a pathetic amount of $700,000 and getting the
cash when the S&P was around 700 points turned out to be perfect. I was
actually lucky to sell it for a fraction of what it was worth when I did.
I have always had a fascination with
investing and read dozens of books on the subject. I was heavily researching
stocks for several month in anticipation of selling my business. I wanted to
invest in companies that were very solid and had the cash or assets to handle
the credit lockup. I wanted very strong fundamentials. Companies that increased
their revenue, profits and market cap ever year for 5 to 10 years, not just a
few years. Any company can ride a hot market or a bubble. I wanted companies
that could grow in a recession.
annual reports on many companies and dug for any information I could find. I
settled on around 10 stocks and began investing. By the end of 2008 I doubled my
The first 3 months of 2009,
stocks had one of the biggest declines ever. I managed to ride out the storm. By
the end of the year I still made 6 figures from the investments despite ignoring
the market for most of the year. I could have taken advantages of the wild
swings, but it was too stressful. One day everyone was saying we would all be
broke as the market would go down a couple percent. The next day, all of the
same people would scream about all of the money that can be made in this market.
I did not want to hear that stuff and took the rest of the year off.
Current Day: Leveraging what I know and
swallowing my pride.
entrepreneurial itch was really getting to me. I love investing, but I wanted to
start another company. For years I always had the idea of becoming a consultant,
but I had such a bad view of them. I thought if they could really do what they
say, they would do it instead of talk about it and experiment with the budget of
clients. The fact is, most consultants are idiots who really don't know what
they are doing and just talk a good game. That does not take away from the other
fact that there is HUGE money in consulting and those who really know what they
are doing can make big money. I swallowed my pride and decided to become a
I started a firm, Prodigal
Solutions, that focuses on SEO and Conversion Optimization. These were the 2
areas I had a ton of experience and I knew I could leverage this experience to
build a new company for myself and help other companies expand. Despite my
experience, I found that it is a hard sell. Major companies want to see case
studies and testimonials. How do I get these without clients? I had to start
with many smaller companies to build up some case studies. Although, larger
companies want to see case studies from larger companies. Getting this firm up
to the size I want is taking much longer than I thought. SEO is not something
that happens overnight. It takes time to build up solid case studies for
Conversion rate optimization is
where the real money is for companies. Optimizing a site to convert as many
visitors into customers creates huge return and makes everything much more
profitable. It just opens up so many doors when a company has great conversions.
This is how my business was so successful. My sites converted visitors at
amazing rates and that allowed me to spend more money per site for marketing.
The unfortunate thing is many companies feel
that their current website designers or developers can do some basic work to
increase conversions. Every SEO, design, and consulting company is offering
conversion optimization now which is kind of funny. Oh well, more business for
me down the line when those companies fail to help their clients and those
clients realize how important conversions are. I will be there to help them.
So, there have been challenges in my new
business that took time to overcome. After the first year, Prodigal Solutions
has hit 6 figures in revenue. Definitely not the income I had before, but it
should be profiting in the 7 figures within 2 years.
I love business and I love helping other companies work on their
overall business plans, optimize their site and help with marketing. I am doing
what I love again.