Alright – I went ballistic for this newsletter, and ended up writing the longest one to date.
This month, I open up on my past as an internet marketer for the first time – specifically, the darker “black hat” side of it, and on how I gamed Google and Facebook to bring 2.3 million people to my dating and relationship advice website in 2010-2012.
There are some lessons and regrets from those wilder times I want to share with you.
Before that, though, a short travel update:
In Jan-Feb I did my first round-the-world trip (RTW) – hitting San Francisco, Hawaii (Oahu), Samoa, Fiji, Australia and Singapore. It was really good! Highlights:
Budget RTW. I spent ~1.200 EUR on flights (covered here) and another ~1.800 EUR for everything else (accommodation, food, excursions, etc.) Definitely on the pricer-end – but not bad for a three-week round-the-world trip to what are all expensive places, and staying in nicey and well-located hotels.
Favorite Places. I loved Australia – spent most of my time in Melbourne and arounds (at parks, beaches, excursions). The highlights were all nature-related – I got to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild, and I loved the ancient forest with the tallest non-redwood trees. People were also super friendly.
Random Observations. Hawaii is very Japanese – kind-of a mix between Japan and the USA. I really liked that. Samoa is, well – fat. I had heard about obesity issues over there, but I was shocked when I started to meet Samoans. (Even my wife, who’s all “PC”, couldn’t believe it). As for Australia, I’ve the feeling that dogs over there looked much happier than they do in Europe (or in Denmark, at least).
Surving RTW Jetlag
I crossed every single timezone in less than 20 days – and, hey, I had almost no jetlag. Given the trips’ intensity, I expected jetlag to be a problem – but, in the end, it was really a non-issue.
It’s a know fact that flying East-West (e.g. Europe to the Americas) is better jetlag-wise than the other way. I just didn’t know – or never noticed – that it was that much better. Flying East-West is also cheaper (see here), so definitely the way to go.
(It helped, though, that I planned in a couple of days in San Francisco and Singapore to cut the longest legs a bit shorter and acclimatize.)
Next Trips – The Pipeline
I’ll be in Buenos Aires for five days in mid March, and then I’ll probably head off for ten days to Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been on my Top 5 “Want to Go” places for years now, so I’m very excited to check it out. It’s a different style of trip than island beaches, definitely – I expect it can be on the rougher-side.
Besides that, I expect I’ll be going to Spain for work a few times in the next few weeks, and, maybe to some other places around the Mediterranean. I wouldn’t mind 🙂
How I Made a Money-Making Business Out of a Dating Website
I know – last month I said I would write about quality of life in February, but I got carried away here. I always take the end-of-year to reflect, and I got some belated thoughts I wanted to share this time – about my experience building my first business. It’s a bit longish:
The story starts in February 2009. I had just come back to Buenos Aires from my bachelor “graduation trip” to Bolivia, Peru and Chile, and, like a good boy, I got all-in into finding my first “real” job.
Thing is, it was a super-tight job market – “the year of the crisis”, as it was called -, and, even with Argentina’s top business degree, I was struggling to find anything. (It didn’t help I was very naive about the “real world”).
I was looking for a job because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” – but, deep inside of me, all what I cared about was moving to Europe. I’d tried the European life while on exchange in Vienna in 2018 and I really, REALLY wanted to go back.
While I searched for a job, I started a website – “Dating Beautiful Women”, a blog about dating and relationship advice. I’d always wanted to write something, and, with some free time in hand, I started to write about how to pick up a Russian girl, a German girl, etc. It was more for fun than for anything else.
“Dating Beautiful Women” – version 2012
Then, after one or two months, I read Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek and Chris Guillebeau’s pair of “World Domination” Manifestos (here and here) – the key messages of both being “you don’t need to live the life people expect you to”, and “there are multiple people building location-independent businesses and living off them”.
I couldn’t sleep for a few days after reading Tim and Chris – I was so pumped up, super excited, and was seeing my website with new eyes – instead of being a simple side project, Tim and Chris showed me I could turn it into a real business. I could make real money.
Crazily enough, quickly after that the website did made money – not a lot, but money in the end. I remember I even threw out a party for when I made the first $100.
Aside – Remember, this was 2009. It was a whole different world. The App Store was less than a year old. The term “digital nomad” didn’t exist. Facebook had 10% of the users it has today and looked like this:
I was not content with $100, though. I saw the light, and I tried very hard to grow my site – and, here comes the main crux: I focused all my energy into building knowledge on the strategies and tactics that would make the website grow right here, right now.
This would prove to be a very smart decision for the short term, but one that was not optimized for the long run. This is what I did:
I read everything about online businesses – specifically, I focused on SEO (search engine optimization), Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google Adsense, and all that.
I dipped my toes on the dark side – and found two “black hat” (shady) loopholes to lead a ton of traffic to my websites: SEO-gaming tools and the then-nascent Facebook Pages
I’ll spare you of the details – but I spent a ton of time and energy to find and then use those loopholes, to big success:
Success #1 – I ranked my site #1 in Google – at the *very top*-, for the phrase “beautiful women”. (True story!)
Success #2 – I grew 5-10 Facebook Pages on random topics (“I Love Friday”, “Beautiful Women”, “World Peace Is Important”), to 100.000+ “likes”. This, before Facebook tightened the screw on their pages – in 2009, if you posted a message, it would broadcast to all the fans.
With this, I started to get serious traffic. In the end, I got 2.3 million people to visit my website. Two notes on this:
It’s impossible not to monetize 2.3 million people. It doesn’t matter how crappy your website is – it’s still a couple million people (!).
In that context, I found the worst-possible way to monetize the website: I placed Google ads (Adsense) across the board.
Moving on to 2010, the website was making money – not a lot, but more than every single one of my friends in Argentina who had graduated at the same time as me. I stopped looking for a “real job” then and there.
The website was cashing in enough for me to live off it – and, crucially, the money would come in, no matter where I was in the world, and no matter if I worked or not. I could take a week off, and the site would still make money. It was amazing.
I was in my early 20s, and I had already “cracked it”.
Ranking #3 in Google in 2012 – see the cheesy, clickbaity-title
Moving to Denmark And Letting Go
I moved on to Denmark later in 2010 to study, and lived exclusively off the site for a full year – then, in 2011, I joined part-time Maersk, the big company up here. (It was a specifically interesting job – and the first one I actually applied for in more than a year in Denmark.)
Meanwhile, the website kept bringing in cash along my now “normal” job.
Even though I was hardly working on it anymore, in mid 2011 to mid 2012 the website had its most profitable year. I would routinely earn more from the website than from the new job.
However, shortly after that, things started to bottom out – right around mid 2012 Google updated its algorithm and Facebook started to seriously monetize pages.
My traffic plunged. It became hard to keep bringing in new people to the site, all while I at the same time started to lose my passion for the whole thing.
So, in early 2013 I had two options – or a) I get back to it, and dedicate a ton of effort full-time again, or b) I let it go.
I decided to let go.
I didn’t cry too much of a tear, though – I was happy with my new setting, and the website itself had served its purpose: it was the lever that took me from Buenos Aires to Copenhagen. Plus, the “corporate life” in Denmark wasn’t that bad either.
Now – in the ideal world I should’ve been able to keep it all, regardless of whether I wanted to work in corporate or not.
Thing is, my whole internet marketing career ended up being a “house of cards” of sorts – one that paid off, but one with very shaky foundations. I was too dependent on Google and Facebook and, when they changed the rules, the house went down.
My second website – which never really took off
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve no hard feelings here. I got what I looked for – but, in retrospect, I’ve two major regrets and one big face-palm from this experience. I know I could’ve done better.
The face-palm is:
I had two gold mines – powerful SEO techniques and gigantic Facebook pages, that I – inexperienced and naive – didn’t use correctly. I drove hundreds of thousands of people to my site to click on ads (!). I got a lot of ad clicks – but at 0.1$-1$ per click, it was not much cash.
I could’ve easily – and it’s not an exaggeration – made A LOT more money if I would’ve:
i) used the same techniques to build search rank and Facebook pages for more legit and focused keywords and niches,
ii) then funneled that traffic to sales pages for specific products instead of just looking for ad-clicks.
I don’t exaggerate when I say that pros could’ve made literally millions in my circumstances.
It was a rookie mistake. It happens. I was an inexperienced guy who met accidental success.
That’s the face-palm, as for the two regrets:
Regret #1 – I focused on learning “right here, right now” tactics, instead of evergreen knowledge. By 2011-standards, I knew a lot about SEO and Facebook. I was on the top of the game.
In 2018, however, this knowledge is by and large obsolete. It’s a whole new world. The internet changes very quickly – and what pros do today will be useless in two or three years.
Mind, I profited big from my now-useless knowledge. But there was a better way – namely I should’ve focused on the evergreen parts of internet marketing: copywriting, A/B testing, email list building, building relationships with influencers.
Thing is, learning and applying all the above is hard. Gaming Google was easier and more profitable than spending days and weeks testing copy.
In my rushed early 20s, I was more interested in the “right here, right now” money – I needed to come to Europe, after all – so I went with the “black hat” and short-term tricks.
In retrospect, I regret I didn’t spend time building the real skills.
I did learn a bit – I can do some copy, direct sales, have belatedly built an email list, etc. But when I had all the time in the world, I was more focused on learning the latest SEO trick.
(Note – I lost passion for internet marketing also because I didn’t like the “black hat” side of it: the shady people, the shallowness of it all, the cycle of obsolescence, etc. It would’ve probably been a different case had I a “legit” business based on stronger fundamentals.)
Regret #2 – I didn’t build relationships with other bloggers. 2010-2012 was the “golden age” of blogs, and, through Chris and Tim Ferriss, I would discover and then read the early-days of now-internet famous entrepreneurs as Nomadic Matt, Benny the Polyglot and a whole score of others.
There’s no doubt in my mind – now, at least – that relationships are everything. In the early days of blogging, that was the case as well – like, these bloggers all knew each other. They all supported each other. They shared knowledge and traffic and created products together.
Still, I hardly reached out – when I clearly should’ve done exactly that. Instead, I kept to myself and my “black hat” tricks.
In retrospect, I can see that I didn’t build relationships for two main reasons:
I had a “disreputable” website. Like, all these bloggers had a “change the world”-vibe, with inspiration and success all in focus. While they wrote about financial freedom, doing what you love and all that, I was writing about how to pick up girls on a train and selling sex education DVDs. Not that pick up is wrong, but it just wasn’t an easy sell.
I was entitled, arrogant and defiant. Back then, I was very proud of my education – my university was very, very hard and I had worked my ass off to get my degree. In that context, I didn’t felt I “fit” with these bloggers – the vast majority of which had no formal education.
Because of b), I also didn’t see myself as a blogger. Instead, I saw myself as a smart-ass who had gamed the system and was soon moving to Europe. I even looked down on most of the blogosphere.
That was, obviously, plain stupid – and made me not the type of person you would’ve liked to have your next Skype call with.
In retrospect, it was a pity – I had a lot to give, and a present-version of myself would’ve quickly realized that.
If a relationship is all about adding value to other people, I had what it took and more – I could’ve easily blasted a few thousand people to visit any of these other bloggers’ sites. I could’ve shared my SEO and Facebook secrets.
Still, I didn’t do that.
(Ironically, after studying in Denmark and then on in Harvard – in Boston, but for only three months – I lost all respect for academia. I’m now a big believer in self-education over most business degrees.)
At least, though – I’ve now learned my lesson:
On Evergreen Skills – I’ve accepted a much lower salary in my current job instead of three other more profitable options, as I prioritized getting practice in high-stakes and multi-million dollar negotiations over a bigger paycheck.
On Reaching Out – I’ve since been much better at meeting people – to the point that it was through reaching out that I got my jobs in Maersk and Carlsberg, and it’s through my (few) blogger friends that I sold the most copies of my book. (I wrote the exact approach I use to meet people in my book).
That’s the key takeaway here: take a step back, look at the big picture and prioritize the long-term. Build evergreen skills and reach out to people.
It might take a bit longer to get what you want – but it’s the only win-win path.
Call to Action – to Myself at Least!
I’ve now a big, global network and I’ve spent years building evergreen knowledge. Things are on track!
Still, I could do more – last year, for example, was so-so in both knowledge and network. I only read 25 books (vs. a target of ~50). Also, save for a few specific periods (Panama-time), I didn’t meet a lot of new people.
In 2018, I need to pivot back to both learning and reaching out. I’m good for books – I’ve read 12 books since the New Year (I read a lot during my trips, you see). As for network, I’ve some thoughts and work to do:
Areas of Interest – Want to meet interesting people working with or experienced in negotiation, internet marketing, cryptocurrencies, productivity and history, plus big-time travelers.
Quality Over Quantity – I rather build strong relationships with ~10 new incredible people in 2018 than getting to know ~100 new acquaintances.
I’ve Nothing to Ask – I don’t need anything, which makes things easier – I don’t need a job, I don’t need referrals, I don’t need investors, I don’t need traffic. Just want to have fun.
Now, you, dear readers, if you’ve anyone in mind who might be a good match for a conversation with me – do get us in touch! (It’s as easy as to reply this email).
Until then, cheers if you’ve made it this far down 🙂