I get lots of questions about how long I have had my internet company, how I started it, how long it took, why I started it, etc.  Hopefully I’ll address most of those questions by sharing my story.

The Early Years

It was 1998 and I was in 7th grade.  The internet was still a fresh new concept that Al Gore had recently invented.  My friend mentioned he had a secret get rich quick scheme.  This scheme was the “Get Paid to Surf” fad. It basically involved getting paid about $0.50 per hour to have an ad run on your desktop while you work on your computer.

The catch was that it had a multi-tier referral system which made it seem extremely easy to make thousands of dollars an hour, just be getting a few referrals.  I see this type of structure in manyMLM (Multi-Level-Marketing) scams today.

As a 12 year-old, I was convinced that this was my ticket to getting rich at a very young age.  Over the next few years, I spent my free time trying to gain referrals and reach my dream of earning thousands of dollars an hour by surfin’ the net.

I tried teaming up with friends, going solo, building websites, advertising in internet chat rooms, and pretty much anything that would get me referrals to this “Get Paid to Surf” scam.

Needless to say, I never made a single dollar on any of these scams.  It was only a few years before every one of these “Get Paid to Surf” companies went belly-up.

By 10th grade, I was done trying to make money online.  My focuses shifted away from making websites and towards chasing girls and getting into trouble.

Finding my Inner-Entrepreneur

I didn’t stop trying to make money by means other than a day job.  I continued trying to get rich by doing everything from selling stuff on eBay to buying and selling used cars.

One of my earliest entrepreneur memories was actually from when I was 5 years old; I made a sandwich stand out of a cardboard box in my backyard.

In late high school, my morals weren’t as developed as they are now, and I even ended up getting in trouble by blindly letting my profit seeking desires get the best of me.  Those were some moments that I’m not proud of, but at least they helped reinforce my passion for earning an honest buck.

The Start of the Real Deal

Flash-forward 4 years to my sophomore year of college.  A good friend of mine and a former business partner from the previous summer had just made a killing (300% profit) on the purchase and sale of used car.  My inner entrepreneur was inspired.  Since there wasn’t a great craigslist used car market in San Luis Obispo (where I went to school), I had to find some other way to start making money on my own.  This is where making websites came back into my business vision.

I had been using the site “PolyRatings.com” – a website with thousands of reviews on teachers at Cal Poly – and I was fascinated that it was so simple, yet so popular and helpful on the campus.

I had also been working out a lot, and taking various muscle supplements such as creatine and protein powders.  I was frustrated that there wasn’t a good source of supplement reviews online like there were teacher reviews on polyratings.com.

That is when it clicked.  I could dust off my old internet skills and create a website for supplement reviews.  Initially, I didn’t think it would make a ton of money, but I figured that I might at least be able to get some free supplements out of the deal.

I created SupplementReviews.com, a site that allowed users to post reviews on various bodybuilding and fitness supplements.  It was not an instant success.  I spent hundreds of hours designing and programming the site, and hundreds more marketing it and desperately trying to get users to post reviews.

All of this work was done on pure speculation.  There was no guarantee that I would make a dime from my efforts.  In fact, I invested nearly 500 hours and 8 months of my life before I saw my first penny.  Working on these terms requires nerves of steel.   Lots of people were telling me to give up after I had put in 6 months without any revenue.

Finally the site started making a few dollars a day.  This was hugely inspiring since my mindset was that if I can make one dollar, I can make two.  If I can make two, I can make four, and so on.

Over the next few years, I put lots of time into the site, upgrading the design, adding features, marketing and spreading the word.  Until early 2009, the site wasn’t generating more than beer money.

Going All-In

I played around with more ideas and started/acquired other websites for the next few years in college.  By the time I graduated, I had about a dozen websites all generating money, but not quite enough to live on.

After graduating I absolutely wanted to work on websites full-time, but I was too afraid, so I got a full-time job like everyone else in the real world.  I figured that I would just work on my websites after work and on the weekends, and eventually I could build them to the point where I could quit my day job.

Three weeks into my full-time job, I quit.  It took me that long to realize it was impossible for me to spend enough time on my websites while working 9 hour days and commuting.

Most people were shocked and told me not to do it.  I quit in October of 2008, right when the financial markets crashed and everyone was concerned with job security.  I soon found out that the branch I was working out of closed down soon after I quit, and I would have been laid off anyway.  (I always make the joke that I was the only one holding the company together).

I took a significant pay cut by quitting my full-time job, but it was well worth it.  I was much happier putting in 10 hours a day building my own business from home than I was sitting in an office, doing someone else’s work.

I worked on my business full time  for the next year and a half.  Things really started going well in the beginning of 2010, so I decided to shift my focus away from growing my business and towards growing as a person.

The Pay-Off

From the beginning, I spent lots of time ensuring my business is set up so it basically runs itself.  I don’t have to put in more than an hour or two a day, unless I really want to put more time in.  I am also not tied down to a physical office or location, so I can get my work done as long as I have an internet connection.

A lot of people are inspired to start their own internet business after getting a glimpse of my current lifestyle.  Hopefully my story will help them fully understand what they are getting themselves into, and they can decide if it is something they want to do or not.

The Future of the Business

I consider my business model highly sustainable, especially for being an internet based business.  I have lots of sites and sources of income, so I am well diversified, and my main sites have a large community following, and really create a  lot of value on the internet.

I am really proud of my work, not because of the lifestyle it affords me, but because I have created something out of nothing, I poured my heart into it, and my sites have turned into valuable resources of information for millions of internet users.

 

5 Responses to “How I Started my Online Business”

  1. [...] How I Started My Online Business [...]

  2. Joe Noonan says:

    What about that pallet you bought that was after tenth grade!

  3. Tom says:

    It was 11th grade, and yes, another entrepreneurial attempt that lost money.

  4. mike says:

    good stuff. I was in college in ‘98, but I also pretty much started with “get paid to surf” (AllAdvantage) and also with PPC banner ads that I manually clicked myself in the computer lab on campus everyday.

  5. Tommy says:

    Hahahaha, alladvantage, lol!

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