Hi, thanks for asking about me.
If you want my short story scroll down slightly.
If you’re really curious and want the longer in-depth story how I got to where I am, go a little further down the page for “that’s a story for over a beer”.
If you go for the longer story get a beer, or cup of coffee depending on the time of day, to enjoy while reading it because it’s that sort of story.
I wrote the details about what I did, what worked, what didn’t and how it all led to success. You’ll get to know me, my business struggles, failures and my business successes.
It’s all there for you.
Either story you decide to read, thank you for investing your time to get to know more about me.
I look forward to having the opportunity to learn more about you, your goals and helping you build the business of YOUR dreams.
I started my career as an entrepreneur nineteen years ago and out of the gate I failed.
There was so much business information out there, I did not know where to start and could not tell the right information from the wrong.
Compounding my frustrations, I did not have someone to turn to for answers when I needed them most.
I was working hard but felt like I was not making progress.
I knew I needed help and I found a Mentor. My mentor got me pointed in the right direction teaching me not only the right business information to follow, but how programming your mind for success, taking care of your body and health all play an intregual part of being successful.
I got traction and kept learning new insights.
I wanted to shorten my learning curve even more, so I went to a top business school and learned more about how to build a business.
I finished my Masters degree in Psychology and learned how to successfully program my mind for success.
Then I got smart, took all I learned, and created a simple mind, body, business formula to live by to apply to all my business ventures.
I tried the formula on different types of businesses, and it worked. I built an online business that generated a six-figure passive income for me for over a decade, a clothing business, and a technology company.
I learned that the fundamentals of building a business are all the same regardless of the type of business you build.
I continued to refine, simplify and apply the formula. I
t led me to successfully sell a company.
Selling the company allowed me to pay off all my debt, buy a nice house for my family, a RV to travel, personal financial independence and as importantly confidence I could do it all over again.
This site started off as a way for me to teach a few friends the business formula in some really basic private lessons.
They used it in their business ventures and it worked for them. Word spread and people started asking me for it.
Over the years I made the formula better by making it even simpler and easy to follow to train your mind, tune your body and build a successful business.
I included only the essentials so no time is wasted.
I’ve successfully taught this formula to over 1,000 entrepreneurs so far in the last two years.
I offer you my Build A Business Success Formula.
Many people helped me along the way to success and I aim to help you. I know you can apply the formula to achieve the same success that I and others have been fortunate to find.
Wishing you the very best of success,
P.S. If you want to know my educational background, check the bottom of the page. I invested a lot of time and money in it and figured I should include it.
Story for Over a Beer
My Entrepreneur Start
I started my career as an entrepreneur twenty years ago, by mistake really. I was a fanatical fisherman and could not find a quality regional fishing magazine, at least one that I yearned for. I thought it was crazy because I lived in one of the best fishing locations in the entire world, the DeMarVa peninsula. On one side sat the Atlantic Ocean and on other the Chesapeake Bay. Any type of fishing you wanted was within a few hours drive and yet no quality fishing magazine?
After getting confirmation from fishing friends that no such magazine existed that I had been missing, but that they wished it did. I decided I was going to solve the problem and build it myself. I Had the Square Root of Zero ExperienceI had no idea how to build a business, much less publish a magazine. Best I had done was set up a lemonade stand when I was a kid in a terrible market. (on our farm in the middle of nowhere with three farm hands who did not always show up at our location. I’ll come back to this later in the story.)
My undergraduate degree was psychology with a minor is sociology. Far from any business training, but in my mind, there was a gap in the market with people who said they wished it existed because they would buy it.
I Was Lost After College
At the time I decided I was going to build a fishing magazine business I was working on my master’s in psychology. I found my way back to school at a strong suggestion from my Mom, who in retrospect rightly saw me going nowhere at that time in my life and redirected me to a place that had much more potential to lead to something better.
I thought I was going to go to law school after college and practice law. Looking back, I am not sure that was what I wanted to do because I didn’t really do anything to set myself up for law school and the sound of having to take the LSTATs to get into law school made me anxious just at the mention of them, but it sounded good and people bought the story. It kept the challenging question about what I was going to do with my life after college satisfied for those that asked, so I kept giving it.After college I worked at a tree nursery where I had worked summers to help pay my way through college. It does not sound glamorous, but when I originally landed the job, I saw it as a step up having come from working at the local Exxon as the full serve gas attendant pumping gas, checking oil and washing windows.
Being raised by a single Mom before there were as many business opportunities as the internet now offers and, in a time, when women earned nothing compared to men, it was not financial easy street for us. If I wanted to go to college, I was going to have to take out loans and help pay.
I tried the law school path, but that was not my story
I have a learning disability or super ability, depending on your point of view I was diagnosed with a learning disability early in elementary school, later described to me as a form of dyslexia. To this day I am a terrible speller (I cannot sound out a word to save my life, I memorize the spelling of words), probably slower than normal reader (I could not comprehend what I read to save my life when I was a kid) and with one hundred percent certainty, a terrible standardized test taker.
To make up for the learning disability I learned to memorize everything. My reading comprehension consists of me memorizing the page and reading it to myself or remembering where on the page the information is located which sparks my memory of it to recall it. I take notes when I read which also helps with the process. I am not sure it’s a good or bad system, but it works. When I had tests in school, I would memorize the page and read it back to myself when I needed the answer. For me this it’s been how I survived for my whole life.
Turns out over my life I’ve come to love to read and write and do both to this day as much as possible. It was not that I hated reading and writing, because of anything other than it was super hard, frustrating and because of that I avoided both at all costs. Once I figured out a formula for success, I could not get enough and have gotten pretty darn good at both.All is not lost either, when it comes to logic, seeing the big picture, seeing how things can play out, how they work together, numbers, math etc… well that just all makes sense to me. Outcomes appear to me as if they are reality.
I digress, back to the standardized test taking…
It killed me that I was bad at it and they analytical part of myself could not figure out how I could in the National Honor Society and get a C, at best, on these tests!? It always weighed on me as if I was in some way not quite as good as others. When you have to leave class in elementary school to get some “extra tutoring” while the rest of your class stays there and does other things, well those memories stick with you a really long time, probably your whole life, and that’s not a bad thing I learned later.
The poor test taker thing with law school was a recurring theme, I had terrible SAT’s to get into college. My saving grace was that I was a four-year, two varsity sport, letterman, National Honor Society Student and received the Governor’s award for graduating second in my class. Top law schools at the time, and may still, weighed standardized tests more than anything. Everyone had top academics and sports did not matter.
You might be asking yourself at this point how I even managed to be a National Honor Society student. It was easy, I worked really freaking hard.
Hard work beats talent all the time.
It was not until two decades later, about six years ago, that I stopped beating myself up about my learning disability when I read Malcom Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath. Malcom explains that an extraordinarily high number of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic/have a learning disability:
* Richard Branson
* Charles Schwab
* David Neeleman Founder of JetBlue
* John Chambers the CEO who grew Cisco to world domination in the technology industry
* Paul Prfalea, the founder of Kinko’s
* Ingvar Kamprad (founder of IKEA)
The list goes on, you get the idea…
My learning disability went from being a negative in my life to being proud of it. Being proud to be a member of an amazing group of people. Maybe not at their level, yet, but certainly on the way and as importantly knowing this perceived negative all my life is actually an asset.
If you have a learning disability and did not know the above information, welcome to the club, you have great potential and a great future awaits you!
If you do not have a learning disability and are thinking to yourself you are screwed because you don’t, crazy how that even sounds to write, fear not.
Based on the studies two thirds of successful entrepreneurs do not have a learning disability, you have great potential and a great future awaits you as well!
One Piece of New Information Can Change Your LifeIt’s amazing how you can go through life thinking you’re in some way inadequate, not quite as good as other, not good enough in some area, for whatever reason, thinking that you can’t be good at something…only to be presented with new information that forever transforms your way of thinking and gives you confidence in who you are and that you have more potential then you ever thought. I call these events in life, “pivotal moments”. They change the course of your life.
Don’t Feel Bad for Me
I don’t want you to get the picture that I have walked around with my head down my whole life feeling sorry for myself about this learning disability stuff. It’s part of me and I accepted that a long time ago when it did not go away. I did not like it, but I learned how to overcome it, it’s made me a stronger person because of it.
Anyone that knows me well will tell you how driven I am. If anything, the whole situation fueled a fire in me to always be the best. Even when I knew I was going against an opponent in business, sports or some other competition and the opponent had more talent, I always overcame my lack of it by outworking them.
Hard work was something I’ve done my whole life to do the basic thing of reading and writing. And I realized that when I face a challenge, my “talent” is working hard. Hard work doesn’t scare me, it should not scare anyone because it’s doable.
I’ve worked hard my whole life to overcome things and it leads to success.
I’ve found it pretty incredible the results you can achieve with some simple hard work and resolve. Persistence and consistence. Do those two things and it’s a formula for success. I live by it to this day and am here to tell you if I can do it, you can too.
I flesh out the fishing magazine idea…
I decided I was going to publish a real fishing magazine. There were a few challenges I had to conquer:
1. I had no money. Well, not totally true I had some savings from the last eighteen months of working, but not enough to publish the magazine and support myself while I worked on it.
2. I had no idea how to build a business plan. I already covered this minor detail above.
3. I had no idea about printing magazines.
4. I had no idea how to get writers for the magazine, did not know any of them and did not know how much they made per article.
5. While I had been playing around with early computer coding since I was a teenager, I had no idea about print publication layout programs, photo editing for anything of the sort.
6. I didn’t know what I didn’t know which means I did not know to ask.
If your take away from the above summary of challenges is, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, you’re 100% right.
I Make an Appointment with a Local Printer
There was a printer in the town where I was going to school and I scheduled a meeting with the sales guy. After that meeting it was clear that I was going to need among many other things, more money than I had to publish a first edition. Not to mention, he asked me a hundred questions such as who my designer was, my editor, where was I going to get photos, and a list of other things. While the list was overwhelming, it hit me while I was sitting there taking notes, he was giving me the checklist of things that I needed to get and do.
I pursued the magazine idea with ambition for about six months, working late into the night. I was doing things, but not getting anywhere, at least that is how I felt.
I finally got to a place where I realized it was not going to be possible without some sort of capital infusion. I had no experience raising money.
I decided to abandon the magazine idea.
Some people were sympatric and were happy for me that I had tired, others give me the “I told you it would not work”.
The magazine did not work, but the idea still had merit in my mind and I had some confirmation from potential customers that there was a need.
I am a nerd. Since I was a kid, I loved computers and what some lines of code on my Commodore Vic 20 could produce. I’ll never forget the lesson book that came with the Vic 20 and the first lesson was writing code that would make the computer count. I can feel my finger hitting the return key right now and watching it count down the screen. I remember the room and even the smell of the room, that’s what an impact it had on me. It was amazing to me. I’m sure you can recall moments in your life like this.
When I First Discovered the Internet’s Power
It was 1995-96 and we were in the advent of the internet. I had been playing around with the internet in college. I remember the day I discovered the power of it. I was a Freshman, the fall of 1990, in the library, we used a tool called Fetch to find things on the “web of servers” and I decided to search for the lyrics of songs. I hit a server with the motherload. I scrolled through the list and read lyrics for hours. Not because I was so excited about the lyrics themselves, but that there was a resource out there that had all this in one place and in such detail. I went back to my dorm room and told my roommate Swifty about this web of servers where people were sharing information.
A pivotal moment
I continued to play around with the internet all through college, but in the eighteen months between college and going back to work on my masters, had not played around with it that much at all. I worked at the tree nursey, worked out and fished.I
Decide to Put a Magazine Online
With more time on my hands having given up on the magazine, I started hanging out in the computer lab and playing around with the web that was starting to evolve into something real. One day while surfing around it dawned on me that I could create a magazine online. I had no idea how big the market was going to be, but I did know there were others like me out there on this web and given how cool it was believed it would gain more acceptance over time.
I taught myself how to code a webpage. We did everything by hand. For non-nerds, think about writing with pencil and paper, spell checking with the dictionary and using an eraser or white out to make corrections, if you did not have to write the whole page over again. It was clear to me that this would work. What was also clear to me was that I was not going to be able to go to school full time, teach myself to code, then code, get the writers, write myself and do it all alone. I Recruit a TeamI started to pay attention to the students that were working in the computer lab and who stood out.
Finally, one day I approached a guy I assessed was one of the best and gave him my pitch to be my partner. He liked fishing but was not sold on the idea and said he really did not have time between school and working in the computer lab which was helping pay his way through college.I left that day feeling down, but not out. I thought about it; this guy was good; the problem was he needed money. I did not have enough to pay him so I decided I would go out and get a job myself and use that money to pay him. I would simply pay him more than working in the computer lab and give him just as many hours. Yes, it would cut into my school work time, but net-net I would still be ahead having another person to help.
I Get a part-time job with a closet as my office
Next hurdle I faced was to find a part time job that paid decent. Not quite as easy as I thought, but I responded to and ad and managed to get a job on a spinach farm, one of the largest producers in the country at the time. I was essentially an executive assistant, doing every job under the sun, from picking up lunch at the local sub shop (amazing cheese-steaks), doing accounting, reviewing financial documents, to taking notes in Board meetings and whatever else needed doing.
They even gave me an office, literally a closet that was in the entrance to the office for the guy I worked. Most people probably would have felt insulted to be put in there, I was thrilled about it and saw it as another upgrade from my tree nursery work.
Once I had a few weeks of pay under my belt I went back to the computer lab guy (CLG) and made another pitch. I said that I would pay him more than the computer lab was paying and match his hours. He was a little skeptical, but also excited to see what this opportunity could bring. He kept his job at the computer lab which he pitched would give us the best access to the computer lab resources. A good pitch on his part, which I bought, but really an insurance policy on his part. I did not care either way, I had a partner.
My First Business Plan
I wrote my first business plan, shortly after getting the CLG onboard, on a lunch break, eating my homepage tuna fish sandwich, in my closet office at the spinach farm. I’ve saved it to this day as a reminder to:
1. Keep things simple.
2. Solving a problem that someone is willing to pay to fix can create a business.
3. You can turn your idea into a dream business.
We Launch the Website
Within about a month we had a webpage up and running. I did all the writing myself. I used my personal experience and started reading fishing books and coming up with articles. I also wrote a fishing report after every single trip, which I took often, even if I went for a few hours. I included what rods, reels, fishing lures I used, the tides, etc…
Get People to Talk To You = More Content
I wanted more content and to get it I either had to recruit other writers to help, which sounded good, but I was not quite sure how I was going to pay them. And frankly the content I was producing was enough to attract people to the site because it was how to information where the results were visable. I was catching fish all the time.My other option to get more content was to figure out a way I could get two-way conversation going with people who visited the site. This sounds easy using todays internet, but back then it was pretty hard. Not knowing what would work I pursued both avenues. At that time of the internet there were bulletin boards or what we have today, message boards or chat steams. We figured out how to hack some code to get forum to work for the site. We launched the online forum with high hopes and great expectations. We built it, they will come.
One day goes by, nothing.
Two days go by, nothing
Three days, nothing.
A week, nothing…..not a single stinking post!
I Felt Defeated
I felt defeated but not out of the game. I stepped back and said why aren’t people posting on this forum? I saw people talking fishing in the AOL chat rooms and on bulletin board systems at a decent clip every evening.
We did not have very sophisticated statistics capabilities, but we could tell if people were looking at the site. Some people were looking at the site. It dawned on me, people were looking at the forum and there was nothing in the forum, so they did not think anyone else was there. I got it, it’s like walking into restaurant at dinner time and no one is in there, you quickly ask yourself what is wrong with the place. If there’s a line out the door you assume that the place has good food and you should eat there. It’s confirmation by crowd.
The question was, how was I going to fill my restaurant with people so when others came, they saw it as a place they should come in and join the conversation?
Terrified of Failure, I’ll Try Something Crazy
I felt under the gun to make something happen, fearing failure and fearing the discussion I would have with people if this idea did not work out. Not to mention the CLG losing faith and regardless of the money I was paying him, going back to the computer lab. I would be back to square one.
In a slight panic state, I went with the first thing that came to mind, I would talk to myself.
I created a bunch of different names on the forum. One handle would ask a question and I would log into another handle and answer the question. I actually learned a lot in the process because I would ask a question under one handle, research the answer in one of my fishing books, and write up a through answer.
I Stayed with It
I talked with myself on the message board in every spare moment I had for weeks. Sure enough, people started to slowly post in the threads. As soon as they posted I would answer and I would even send them an email thanking to them to join. They would write back thanking me for thanking them.
Those people told other people that there was good information on the site and a guy behind that was real. This started to get the word of mouth engine going.
Every single person that would join I would write and say thank you. It was time consuming but it was working and I kept it up.
Quick Aside: I learned a few years later when we raised money and the Chairman of our board, an early investor in AOL, told us AOL did the same thing in the chat rooms, they had people acting as different people which then attracted more people.
I Iterated on the Technique
Then I got savvier, I would post fishing reports and leave a few key things out of the post on purpose to spark a question from someone, such as what fishing lure I caught my biggest fish on.
If no one took the bait and asked a question, I would log in under another handle and ask the question under that handle, then log back in as myself and answer, letting some time pass to make it look and smell real.
Is what I Did Above Morally Right?
I’ve been asked this question. Short answer, “Yes”.
If you are still thinking to yourself, “Really?” My response, “Yes, it is.”
A few points:
1) When you are an Entrepreneur you have to create some of your own luck.
2) Doing things different elicits a feeling of being uncomfortable. It’s not normal. You have to do not normal things to make progress. It’s outside the box thinking.
3) I believe if you are doing whatever it is to get your thing going with the best intentions to fulfill on what you are promoting, then it’s fine. If you are doing it to rip people off or deceive people, that’s 100% not OK.
These sorts of tactics are used to this day for crowdsourcing campaigns on Kickstarter and other “viral” things that happen on the net. We’ll talk about that later in the story.
I Stop Talking to Myself as Much
After about twelve months I did not have to ask myself questions anymore, there were enough people on the forum and checking the forum to chime in and add value.
My job went from talking to myself, to talking to the people that came to the site. I would email everyone with a thank you and then make sure to post in every thread someone started with something insightful, more then just a “awesome”. I would post real authentic comments, I cared and was interested in this stuff.
What I later learned is that just as there is a skill to getting conversations going there are skills around managing an online community of people talking. We’ll cover that later.
I Want more Traffic to the Website so I Build an Email List
To get people to the site I would hang out in chat rooms on the internet, get people’s emails and send them a personal note letting them know about the site. These were personalized emails to people in my target market. I found that when I sent out emails in a personalized way, to someone who I knew was interested in fishing in the area the site covered, I’d get thank you replies for letting them know about the site and replies saying they would check it out. Some of those people I still am in contact with today, almost twenty years later.
My girlfriend, now wife, and I would copy emails on yellow legal pads, enter them into excel spreadsheets, import them into our email to send small groups of personalized email messages referencing the chat rooms where I had talked with the people.
I Become a Salesperson, with No Training
Within a short period of time we were making a name for ourselves on the internet as the place to come if you wanted Chesapeake Bay/Mid-Atlantic fishing information. I had no idea how to get advertisers nor was there any real model to follow about ads sizes or formats on the internet. I did not care, I figured if fishing related companies were advertising in magazines they would advertise in an electronic magazine. I had no sales training, but I put together a one pager about the site, the purpose, what we provided and some statistics. I simply asked myself if I were considering buying advertising on the site, what would I want to know and put that together.
In the evenings and weekends my girlfriend and I would get in the car and drive from tackle shop to tackle shop around the region. Doing this led to a resource we created on the site. I needed a list of tackle shops to makes sales calls, there really was not one place to get that information, so when I put it together for my sales calls, I published it to help people know where tackle shops were. It was a top ranked page on the site for years.
Doing sales calls was scary, but at the same time pretty exciting. I’d simply go into the tackle shop, strike up a conversation with the guy at the counter, tell him what I was doing and ask if they wanted to advertise. That was it.
As I did more and more sales calls, I did not even see it as sales, I saw it as I was educating them about the web and putting them in front of their potential customers that they didn’t even realize were fishing for information online. More said no then yes. Frankly, the internet was so new people really were not sure what to think of it, much less the idea of putting a magazine online. Some people thought AOL was the internet and in the early years it really was true.
We Land Paid Advertisers, We’re a Legitimate Online Site
I kept at it nights and weekends and we managed to land a few advertisers. Almost all the shops did not have webpages, so as an upsell I would sell them webpages. That expanding our offerings and revenue.We were not making a ton of money, but regardless of the amount they paid, they paid and that made us legitimate. Someone valued what we were doing and the audience we had enough to pay to get exposure to that audience. When someone pays you for what you have, that’s when you know you have someone real, or the start of something real. How big the market is, is a whole other thing.
Forget the Pros, I get Amateur Writers
Next on my list was getting a stable of writers to help create weekly content beyond fishing reports and the forums. I contacted a few writers I saw in the local magazines and asked their rates. They were too expensive. I thought to myself, how else can I get writers? One night while reading some other people’s fishing reports it dawned on me, why don’t I take what would be considered amateur writers and publish their work. Give them recognition. Sure, maybe they were not the best writers in the world, but they had the information on how to be really good at fishing. I could edit their stuff and make it good. Seemed reasonable since that is exactly what had done myself, I was an amateur writer in the eyes of the pro’s, I had not been published in a hard copy magazine.
And that’s what I did. I started contacting guys I had been following posting really good fishing reports. More said no then yes, but I landed a few them by convincing them that I would do the editing, all they had to do was get the technical stuff down on paper. I would make them look good. Their compensation, they get to get a heck of a lot of attention and they could promote a business if they had one. This worked for fishing guides, at least the smart ones that realized that writing really was advertising. When you write you establish yourself as an “expert” and people greatly value that. Even if you give away all the information, people still want to learn first-hand and will pay for that real-world instruction. I took amateurs and gave them a venue and audience to become experts. An expert is a person that knows more then the audience they are addressing. The whole idea worked with one or two guys which gave me success stories to point to recruit others. I expanded my recruiting efforts and would go to fishing seminars and approach the presenters afterwards and give my pitch. Same story from a conversation stand point, I got more no’s then yes’s, but I just played the odds. One no was one closer to a yes.
I Learn What Type of Content Really Matters to People Online
I landed writers for us and we had our front-page content. It was only ten years later through denial, even in the face of the traffic numbers, that I acknowledged we never needed as much front page content as we thought we did. Or at least the variety of what I thought. The key to articles was how-to articles, these were the money article, anything outside of how-to articles was pretty much a total waste of time and money.
Some Advice About Hearing “No”
I think I must have heard no over my twenty years as an entrepreneur now at least ten-thousand times. I’ve come to realize that a “no” is not really a “no”. It’s not absolute, not black and white. No is a temporary opinion that someone says based on the data they have and their belief system at the time. One piece of data can change that no to a yes. No different than Malcom Gladwell informing me in David and Goliath that people with learning disabilities have a skill that can make them a rock star entrepreneur.
In an instant someone’s belief system can change with new information, sometimes it can take some time to sink in, but a no can transform into a yes.
I Decide to Trade Stocks with Our Revenue to Fund the Company
After a few months we managed to get a mention in a regional Boating, Fishing and Sailing magazine as the place on the Web for fishing information. That really put us on the map, and I’ll be eternally grateful to that writer and the break he gave us.
The CLG and I were feeling good, we were not making oodles of money, but I was offsetting some of the CLG’s costs with revenue and we were gaining an audience, that kept our spirits high.
Besides liking coding and fishing, the CLG loved the stock market and trading. I had been studying the stock market since I was in high school and learned the power of compounding interest, the rule of seven, how you can make money investing in company’s stock and other money principles that would allow you to make a lot of money by doing just a few small things consistently.
It was the late 1990’s and there were some early entrants into the discount online trading sites such as Waterhouse and Ameritrade. It allowed the average person the ability to trade their own stocks, no stock broker required. Not only did these online discount brokers allow trading your own money, but they offered margin trading and margin trading options with little vetting of your personal finances. At the suggestion of the CLG I signed up for an account so we could trade together.
If those brokerage houses only knew there were two guys, one in college, one working on his masters, sitting in their spare bedrooms, using internet connections from their college computer lab, with desks they built themselves because they could not afford to buy real ones, eating tuna-fish sandwiches trading money on margin they in theory did not have…well….
But hey, they approved our accounts. In my mind we needed to take some risks, we rolled with it. We started trading. I suggested we take the revenue we had and trade that to make more money to help fund the company. I owned the company so I could make that call.
We did it, and it worked.
One window would have our site that we would be working on and, one the other window the online brokerage with CNBC on in the background. I’d be lying that we traded on fundamentals, not that we did not know them, but what we learned was that there was a correlation between what was airing on CNBC and prices.
We traded on news, on gut, and rolled with it. We did lose from time to time, but net-net we were winning.
I turned a really small amount of money, less then ten thousand, into a lot (more then a hundred) in about a year’s time, with the help of some margin leverage.
It was not our end game, but we continued to do it. It was fun, honestly addicting, and I learned a ton in the process about the market and how to mentally weather daily ups and downs. I learned whatever feeling you have, not matter how bad or how good, will pass.
We Get into Affiliate Marketing and Make Good Money
We continued to catch a few breaks with mentions in hard copy magazines and newspapers. We were paddling into the internet wave that was building momentum.
I read about a site that was aiming to change book buying, a site called Amazon. They came up with the genius idea to create an affiliate program where if you shared a link to a book with your audience and someone followed it and bought the book, you earned a commission. The modern day consignment shop.
We Build a Bookstore with no Inventory
I picked the best fishing books and wrote a short review about each book. Heck, I’d read about every fishing book under the sun.
Imagine how we felt being able to build a store in our spare bedrooms where all we had to do was put together a list of products (books in this case), do no fulfillment, have no inventory, just make it available to our audience. Man!
It was quite a book store. We launched it.
Buying on the internet was not normal by any stretch of the imagination in the late 1990’s, but within a few months we were getting a check from Amazon. I was actually shocked that you could make money by providing information about something with a simple link.
The beauty of it was that our book store was open 24/7 and we did not have to do a thing once it was built. People came to the site, checked the review of the books, followed the link and bought.
Affiliate Marketing Makes Money
In the end, our affiliate commissions earned us thousands of dollars a month. Once we saw what selling fishing books could do, we looked for other affiliate programs.
A travel one popped up and we did the same thing with travel. We built a travel site. Frankly, I was hopeful it would work, but was not sure anyone would buy airplane tickets, book car rental or hotel reservations off our site.
Turns out people did. It did not make total sense to me then, but years into it, I got it.
We were building a brand that people trusted. We provided quality content, people who visited the site knew who we were personally, what we were trying to do and that we were not a flash in the pan. Every time a person came back to the site something changed, there was something new to check out. If they emailed us, we answered back personally. We were authentic.
We added all sorts of affiliate links over the years that added up to a lot of money each month.
Years later, after I eventually bought the site back from investors, we’ll get to that part of the story next, I took it to a whole new level building really focused niche sites which attracted targeted traffic and made thousands a month in passive income.
I bought domain names, built the sites. Some of the sites I kept, some of them I sold. This added a whole new dimension to understanding how to make money on the internet and how to turn traffic into income. More on that later…
Long and short of it, affiliate programs worked, still do, for us and were a good source of income, almost pure profit.
We Raise Money from Investors
I was at the start of my second year of my masters in psych, the site was growing, and we were getting some traction.
I went to the library every day and read. I would read a paper or two a day, mostly the business sections, business magazines and studies in academic journals around human behavior in some fashion or another.
One day I was reading Time magazine and in the front of Time they had a section that would talk about cool people or companies doing cool things. There was as small article dedicated to two guys, Jerry Jang and David Filo building this thing on the internet called Yahoo. They descried it as the phonebook for the internet. Made sense to me and the article went on to describe how they had raised money from Sequoia Capital in Silicon Valley and were going to shoot for an IPO soon.
I read the article and thought to myself, “If they can do it so can I. Let’s raise some money for this fishing site”.
On my nightly stop over at the CLG’s house I said to him, let’s raise some money. I described what I read about these two guys building a company called Yahoo and how they had raised several million dollars for a phone book for the internet.
He was skeptical about the idea of raising money and rightly so. He pointed out that he nor I had any idea:
1) how to raise money
2) write a business plan
3) build a financial plan
4) build a pitch deck for investors
5) find investors6) we did not know what we did not know. A very dangerous problem.
I acknowledged that all his points were one hundred percent right. But, he was forgetting one important piece of information:
We set out having no idea how to put the concept of a magazine online, much less how to build an interactive site. Yet, we were doing it and it was working. If we were figuring this stuff out, why couldn’t we figure out this business stuff?
That caused a pretty long pause on his part and mine. I sat there thinking, we had been figuring this stuff out, but could we really figure out the business stuff:
1) writing a business plan
2) building the financials
3) find investors
4) pitch investors
5) do the deal, deal documents and whatever else that meant
We both thought about it a while longer and I finally said, let’s try it, what do we have to lose anyway. If nothing else, we will learn a heck of a lot. It was hard to argue with that reasoning and he liked the idea of the adventure and possibilities it could bring. I said I would take point if he could support me on the back side. We agreed, I went home and told my girlfriend who in a matter of fact way said, “sounds good”.
I Figure out How to Write a Business Plan
That night I sat down at my desk I built that had my girlfriends Apple LC 475 computer that I had taken over from her to build the site and what was shaping up to be a company, logged on to the internet, tapping in through the computer lab, to find information on how to write a business plan. There was some information out there, mostly bit s and pieces. I continued this for about two weeks, reading pieces here and there. The information was overwhelming and frankly at moments, completely confusing. One article suggested this approach, another article something different. One article said a good business plan should be fifty pages, another said twenty pages, one said the marketing section should be written this way, another article said something totally different. There was information out there, but I had little to no idea what approach I should follow. I was so overwhelmed that I almost threw in the towel and was talking to my girlfriend about it at dinner. She said, “Why don’t you go buy a book on how to build a business plan and just follow that.” Good idea and that weekend we jumped in her red Acura and drove to Boarders Books in Annapolis. I thought I would walk in, go to the business section, grab a business plan book, easy. Two hours later I am going through all the business plan books feeling the same way I felt reading all the things on the internet, overwhelmed.
I had my choices down to three and asked my girlfriend what she thought. He suggested the one titled, “How to Write a Business Plan”. A woman’s instinct is good. I bought it, read it non-stop until I finished it and got started writing a business plan.Writing a Business PlanThe business plan book was pretty good, I had nothing to compare it to, but it seemed to spell out how to write a, old school (no one writes long business plans anymore), business plan. The (LOOOK UP IN THE ACTAUL BOOK) executive summary, no longer then three pages, sales and marketing the business model, how to build out your financial plan, etc…One of the challenges was figuring out what options were available in each of the sections. I had not gone to business school yet, so when it said you had to describe your business model I did not even know all the options, nor what the right way to describe it was, so I had to learn that part. The only thing I knew about sales was what I learned on the road selling door to door. Market sizing, well I knew there were a lot of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay and there seemed to be a lot of boats out there fishing for them. Turns out market sizing is a lot more then that. While the internet was getting more and more information, Wikipedia did not exist and people were not putting all the reports and things out there. I just got started, wrote to a fishing magazine for their circulation, this led to some good information, I kept pulling the string, I went to the Department of Natural Resources and asked them for license information, I went to the Sport Fishing Association and they had an industry report. Turns out the fishing market is pretty stinking big, over $32billion big in the US alone, saltwater fishing commanding the most spend per person. I can rattle off the stats as easy as slicing warm butter, but will spare you the fishing talk. Financials, well I knew how to use excel, but was not a wizard. I taught myself and the CLG was pretty good himself.
It took a few months, but the CLG and I managed to put together all old school business plan, I say, old school business plan because it was about fifty, single spaced 12 font, pages. (I would never recommend someone do that in today’s day in age. It’s why I teach how to write a business plan and pitch deck in 13 slides.)
Now, whether our old school business plan was right or not, we had no idea.I have no idea how to find or pitch investors, but start anyway.The only way I knew how to test if what we come up with good business plan was to send it out to potential investors. The one slight problem was that I had no investors lined up for us nor did I know how to find investors per say.I knew there was a venture capital firm called Sequoia who had funded that company I read about in Time magazine called Yahoo, And it mentioned the partner who did the deal was Mike Mortiz.
I did what any newbie person raising money would naturally do, I printed off a really nice copy of the plan with a cover letter, looked up Sequoia’s address on Yahoo, went to the FedEx store and sent it overnight mail.
We were excited, how could Mike not read that plan and get excited, we had momentum, heck we even had a few people paying us, and we had what we saw was a big market. We were worthy of an investment. We could not wait for his call.
In the meantime, I kept thinking. As I had been building the site, I had kept one of the owners of the spinach farm up to speed on things. He was interested because he was a fisherman and knew a few guys that owned tackle shops. When I told him we were going to raise money he said he would be interested in investing, but I had to get some other investors.
Lesson 1 about raising money, everyone you know can be a potential “investor”
One night I am reading the Washington College quarterly alumni magazine and it has an article about a recent graduate who it said was becoming a venture capitalist with some money he had from his family. I did not know him really well, but did know of him because he was a senior when I was a freshman and it was a small school.
I said what the heck and wrote him a letter telling what I was doing with another guy from school and asked if he was interested.
How I Made the Mistake of Trying to Cover the World and How Owning a Niche can be Better
MBA, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School
* Internationally studied at:
Erasmus, Rotterdam School of Management (Netherlands)
Gdansk Foundation for Management Development (Poland)
EGADE (Monterrey, Mexico)
FGV-EAESP (San Paulo, Brazil)
Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong, China)
Masters, Psychology, Washington College
Psi Chi National Honor Society
BA, Psychology, Washington College
Psi Chi National Honor Society (President)
Persuasion Boot Camp, by Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab’s Dr. BJ Fogg
Tiny Habits Certified Coach, by Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab’s Dr. BJ Fogg
Public Speaking, Stanford
4 Secrets of Success
Your entrepreneur journey is just getting started