How my Computer Science Degree Actually Hurt my Internet Business

Most online entrepreneurs that I have met are not technical people. More often than not they are visionaries with some other specialize skill set like accounting, investment banking, or general business to name a few.

For these people the fears and difficulty they have is the technical stuff: putting up their website, search engine optimization, or compiling and submitting their mobile app to the app store.

That is why so many of the beginner guides in the Internet marketing space are geared towards non technical people.

For me, the problem was not learning how to put up a website or write code – I’ve done both pretty well for about 10 years.

My problem has been what to do before and after your product is built – things like customer validation or marketing.

Because it is relatively easy for me to build something – a website, an app, an e-commerce site, whatever, I was quick to “fail fast” as the old startup proverb goes, and even quicker to move on to the next shiny object.

While we are on the subject, the suggestion to fail fast is bad advice.  Instead of failing fast, your goal should try to “learn faster than everyone else” as Eric Ries suggests.

I was given the curse of knowledge when it came to the internet.  But to make money online you need to understand a lot more than just how to put up a WordPress blog or how to write code.  In fact, I’ve seen many people better off BECAUSE they don’t know technology.

These people instead focus on the PROBLEM before they figure out a SOLUTION.

But anyone with this “curse” finds it difficult to keep an open mind and learn new things because they already feel that know it.

Like me, I already knew how to start a software company. After all, I knew how to write software. I already knew how to do SEO. My website was in Google’s search results, right?
The problem was that although I know how to write code I didn’t know how to make software useful to people.  And yes, I do know on-page SEO that was valid in 2005 but now-a-days it is off-page SEO that matters most.  But I ignored it.

Many elderly people struggle with a severe case of the “curse of knowledge.”  That is why so many reject new technology or new norms in society. “When I was your age…[Fill in the blank here]”

My point is: don’t be blinded by what you know.

Again, don’t be blinded by what you already know.

Because I knew technology, I THOUGHT I knew how to turn that knowledge into profit. My blinders were on.

It wasnt until I stopped screaming and started listening that the ball started rolling forward.  And believe me it is a lot harder to get the ball rolling than it is to keep it rolling once you have momentum.

Ultimately that is how I got 13,000 mobile app downloads literally overnight.  And no, we weren’t featured in iTunes.

Our app solved an annoying problem and bloggers liked it.

So if you have been struggling with something lately – be it starting a business or getting customers or even becoming a better listener, I suggest that you find somebody that has done what you are trying to do, or is good at what you want to learn and absorb everything you can from them.

There is this strange thing that happens when you hang out with people enough – your traits tend to rub off on each other. The same happens when you live in a country or part of a country. I am from Maine but I live in Florida. Every once Ina while I still catch myself with a little twang in my voice.

So although one might think that knowledge of the Internet might help you with an Internet based business, you might be wrong. It can only help you if you can take off your blinders long enough to look around.

Have you ignored something in your field or trade that is stopping you from getting to the next level?

Where to Enter Google Adword Coupon Codes?

Every time I start a new website I get emails from Google with a $100 Adwords coupon code in it. Besides free traffic, at a minimum, I use that $100 to test what headlines get the most click thru rates so I can use similar ones to increase conversions.

Unfortunately I don’t enter these Adwords coupon codes often enough to remember exactly where to paste them in – but I do remember that they are hidden.

To enter a $50 or $100 Adwords coupon code first create your account at Next click on the Billing tab and Billing preferences.

Then go through the billing setup wizard and on the billing screen at the very bottom of the screen there is a “coupon code” link.

Enter your code and complete the wizard.

It is also important to note that you will get a message prompting you to pay them so your ads don’t end automatically. You don’t have to do that to collect the $100 credit. The way Google words it makes you initially think that you also have to deposit $10 of your money to your Adwords account, but it is not true.

Oops, I’m #1 in Google. How’d I do that?

Back in the days of 2007, before anyone knew what a “tweet” was, when Facebook was still for college kids, and before email storage space was unlimited, I needed a way to archive my funny email forwards that I got from friends and family.

Well, I thought: why don’t I just start a free blog on that blogger platform that Google acquired and just post them up there.  That way I can free up my email and others might find some funny stuff on there.  And so was born.  I created the site, uploaded about 50 email forwards that were humorous, and then pretty much forgot about it.

Sometime in 2009, I had another stockpile of funny forwards so I posted about 50 more.  Then I honestly forgot about it again.

Then in 2010, happen to stumble on my Google Analytics account and noticed that I was getting tons of visits every month.  The traffic would generally be about 100 to 200 visitors a day with spikes of up to 1000.  So I did what most rookies would do and slapped some Google Ads up there.  After a few weeks and only making a couple of bucks on ads I foolishly decided to move on.

Looking to consolidate some of my web properties and focus my efforts I stumbled across this site again a couple of months ago.

Now that I know what a niche actually is in the online world and know how to identify and evaluate one, I realize that I picked a really good one and set it up properly to get traffic.

What I am still uncertain of is if I picked a niche that I can monetize easily.  For example, when selecting a website niche where the goal is to put ads on, you want ads that have high cost PPC rates.  This way you make dollars when ads are clicked, not pennies.

However, if your plan is to monetize with a different method, say an eBook, you have completely different qualifications to look for.  For instance, it might be difficult to sell an eBook to monks, as they typically don’t do a lot of purchases online, let alone Internet browsing.

To make up for my mistakes I am going to be spending some time on this site to see if I can monetize that traffic.  I’ve already changed the design, changed the ad style, and moved the ad placement a couple of times to test what works best thanks to Pat Flynn’s advice:

The changes that I’ve made with my Adsense ads that have dramatically increased (and decreased) my income.

Was I foolish to turn my back on this? Yes. But granted, I didn’t know then what I know now: that getting consistant traffic can be really difficult and that there are thousands of different ways to make money from that traffic.  In my own defense, it is hard to know what you don’t know.

So if you do have some websites already, take a look at the analytics once in a while.  What you see may shock you.  And if you do have some traffic, figure out a way to convert that traffic to sales.  Or at least start building a relationship with your audience.

I will keep you posted on my progress with this.

Oh yeah, and case and point of this post, I guess content really is king.

How to Avoid Burnout as an Entrepreneur

I used to lift weights a bit when I was in high school. I always thought that the harder I worked the more muscle I would gain. But after a certain point I noticed that it was much harder to see gains then it was when I originally started.

This only convinced me that I needed to workout harder and longer. Still no gains.

I remember one night after one of these intense arm workouts. I woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. Both of my biceps we locked at about a 45 degree angle.

Luckily one was able to bend far enough for me to reach the icy hot in the cabinet. Ahhh, instant relief.

Think I over did it? Perhaps a bit.

I have a habit of doing this to myself with whatever I do.  Luckily I have discovered in the past couple of years that more is not always better, and in fact more is often worse.

Tim Ferris has a book on exercising called the 4 Hour Body that talks about doing highly targeted workouts for a short amount of time an achieving phenomenal gains with it.  I’ve even heard stories of distance runners training with sprints.

I’ve tried it myself, both with workouts and running, and I must say that I agree.  I was always able to see improved gains when my training was more focused but took up less time.

One thing that I remember about that arm workout from hell besides the pain, is that I couldn’t workout my upper body for almost 2 weeks after that – I was too sore.

That meant that any of the gains that I got in the short term were long gone before I could build on them again.

I see this same thing in my life as an Internet entrepreneur.  For so many years I was glued to my computer screen working on something really important, only to get burned out and lose momentum.  After all, my laptop is just down the hall and I DO have a mighty long list of stuff to do.

Don’t do this to yourself.

Even though running your own business is a ton of work, especially in the beginning. It is not required that you work 80 hour weeks all the time to make it happen.

In fact, I would argue that if it takes you that long then you need to take a step back and see what items are getting you the most results.  Then just do those one or two things that work. Get rid of everything causing you to spin your wheels.

That is why I have been doing inventory on all of my niche businesses and ideas. Then either bailing on them or consolidating them into niche markets.

The most important thing you can do for yourself is gain focus on one thing at a time.

Think I’m lying? I would have thought I was lying too a few years ago too.

This is why so many people like Pat Flynn, Jay and Sterling, and Patrick McKenzie are able to build businesses that require only a few hours a day to maintain.

Putting in the work upfront is very important.  But more important is staying consistant and focused with whatever you are doing – especially when it feels like you are not moving forward.

Marketing is Like Dating

In recent weeks I’ve had a difficult time explaining to my engineering buddies how I could be into internet marketing now.  They tend to equate marketing with sales, and therefore think of it as a dishonest trade.  The other day I finally thought of an analogy that helped them see things from my (newly discovered) perspective.  I thought I’d do a blog post on it.

Marketing is Like Dating

Marketing is like dating because you can be the nicest guy in the world but if you are an introvert, your crush may never know you exist.

Lets dive deeper, shall we?

Women dig confidence.  Confidence alone is why the jock, the charming guy, and the random not-so-attractive dude got the popular girl in high school.

The jock was confident and fun.

The popular guy was charming and reassuring.

And the random guy simply had social proof in his corner.

So what sells?  Honest confidence in yourself and product.  A product that is fun and risk free.  Oh, and by the way others are using it too!

You see, these are critical parts of the sales process – all of which get people to trust and like you.

The problem is that most introverts are hard-wired to not think this way.  Engineers, for example, think in terms of quantifiable metrics, not the invisible stuff that builds relationships.

But you cannot quantify building relationships and trust.  They are too infinite and abstract.

You must build trust before you can ever ask for a sale.  That is why blogs are so powerful.

They allow you to build an audience and trust.  Regular readers like your stuff and trust you and eventually some of them might buy something from you.

But it is not about the money just like it is not about the sex.  It can’t be.  Even though you both want it, if you are too direct with either you will lose the date or in this case the sale.

And it is not that the jock, popular guy, or random guy are being dishonest.  In fact, they are being themselves.  The random guy could never act like the jock and vice versa.

They do however go at dating game with their own angle.  Do this in your marketing.

If your crush likes funny guys.  Show her your funny side.  If you are not that funny and that is what she is into, move on.  She is not the right customer for you.

If she likes security, stand up straight and beat on your chest – or not.

Accounting was boring.  Freshbooks made it less boring.

“Being yourself” is not the same as “being confident,” so it is important not to integrate the two.  Everybody has a weakness just as every product has a weakness.  Forget about it and instead focus on your strengths.

Find what your good at – your angle in marketing or in dating and you will find your customer or your soul mate.

Most importantly, be confident in whatever you are doing.



Sales and Marketing Lesson for Introverts


“If you build it they will not come…”

It took me a long time to actually accept that phrase.  Coming from a software and engineering background, when someone would mention the word sales I would naturally think of a sleazy used car salesman.

“Who needs that?” as any good engineer would say.  “Why can’t these people see that the other product sucks and ours is way better?”

I always thought that I just needed to build cool product then I would have customers beating each other over to pay me money for it like on Black Friday.  After all, that is why I got into computers in the first place.  Build it and they will come.  I could hardly wait.

The truth is a product never sells itself.  Even Peter Thiel agrees.  People may get it and they may even love it, but IT WILL NEVER SELL ITSELF!

What about Google you ask?  They didn’t do any marketing in the early days.

Yes that is true.  But even though they didn’t market themselves it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any marketing going on behind the scenes.  Google’s early users were marketing for them.  Viral marketing is still marketing.

Ok, so what is a honest guy to do? Marketing is not so evil after all; but I still feel like that used car salesman while selling my products.

Don’t think of it as being deceptive because that is not the goal.  In fact, if you are going to market a great product, you must deliver on that product as well.

Instead of thinking of marketing as shameless promotion, think of it as simply a pivot.

But instead of recreating the product, you are simply displaying it in a new light so others can better resonate with it.

Flickr, the photo sharing website (now part of Yahoo), originally started off as a online multiplayer game.  If the founders hadn’t noticed how people were actually using the site, and re-marketed it as something else, Flickr probably wouldn’t have been what it is today.

Marketing is simply discovering that angle that resonates the most with your target market.  Some businesses know it immediately.  Others search aimlessly for it.

So if you are like me and look at marketing and sales as deceiving.  Look again.  Marketing can and should be honest.

Marketing is necessary.  Learn to embrace it.  Zero users equals zero dollars.