I worked in IT support for almost 10 years. I bounced from desktop support to server support trying to find something that fit. Then in the early 2000s I was introduced to Mixed Martial Arts and wanted to become a professional fighter. In 2005 I had my first (and to date, only) Mixed Martial Arts fight. I learned two important lessons from that fight. First, fighting is a really hard way to make money and second, there’s a massive difference between liking something and liking the idea of something. I was sold on the idea of being a professional fighter, but the grind of going to the gym everyday was very different than I thought it’d be. And since I didn’t win the genetic lottery I knew I had a long hard road if this was to be my life’s work.
It was just after my fight, and largely because of it, I started to consider entrepreneurship. I had no idea how to run a business or even what business I wanted to start. Then I was laid off in late 2008 and decided it was time. If I was going to start a business this was my chance. Since I didn’t know what else to do, I thought I’d go to university. But university is expensive in the US. Even with the GI Bill I was going to have to work part-time so I started to look for cheaper options. Since I still wanted to play Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a hobby I thought Brazil would be a great place, but then I read about all the crime there and continued my search. I thought Muay Thai seemed a good alternative to Jiu-Jitsu and Thailand was both cheaper than the US and had less crime than Brazil. I emailed a couple of universities and only one emailed me back. A few months later I was enrolled at Payap University in Chiang Mai.
There’s a lot of survivorship bias in the Digital Nomad, Location Independent Entrepreneurship, space. Most of the advice is of the “don’t wait, just buy your ticket and go, you’ll figure it out when you get there” variety. But maybe that’s not what will happen.
My Business Failures
Even though I didn’t want to be a pro fighter, I still wanted to do something in the fight industry. I was a fan of podcasting and saw the success people like Lloyd Irvin had selling products in the space and thought I’d could marry the two. I’ve heard stories about people learning Jiu-Jitsu quickly, people like BJ Penn getting a blackbelt in four years for example, but it took me a really long time to get even marginally good. I thought there must be a better, faster way to learn. I decided to call my podcast White Belt Radio. I bought the domain and setup all the social media profiles to protect the name. Then the guys at MMA Diehards decided to start a podcast with the same name. Worried about a lawsuit for trademark infringement and subconsciously looking for any excuse to procrastinate I decided to change the name. I had the idea for the site in 2009, but with all this, I wouldn’t publish anything till 2011.
I decided to call the new site Fight Map. I did 4 or 5 episodes and decided to stop. A few years before I’d torn the PCL in my left knee and wasn’t able to play Jiu-Jitsu anymore. I also felt that not being in Los Angeles or Las Vegas was a real disadvantage since I was more interested in Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu than Muay Thai. It was enough for my lizard brain to freak-out and for me to shut the site down.
I had been following the AdSense Flippers and watched as they setup a boat-load of small websites monetized with Google AdSense. It seemed easy enough so I did some keyword research and thought I could rank for Kirby Vacuums and Big 10 Tires. I bought some domains and setup the sites. It didn’t last more than a month before I started feeling really bad for writing web spam.
What’s that? You didn’t know niche sites were spam? Well, it might not be as bad as YouTube comments, but no one is really happy when they land on a niche site. I mean really … what could I say about Kirby Vacuums that Kirby hasn’t already published? And Big 10 Tires? They were bought by Pep Boys. Believe me Pep Boys has said everything they care to say about what’s going to happen with Big 10 after the acquisition. I might be able to rank for this, but who cares? I wasn’t happy writing articles to game the system, so I shut them down.
English Language School
In 2011 I moved to Bangkok to attend the AUA language school after failing Thai classes at university. I was already sold on the ALG system, but hadn’t considered teaching. I met another American who was interested in the ALG system and we started tutoring. I thought I’d try my hand at a bricks and mortar business. If this internet stuff wasn’t going to workout, maybe this was my path to entrepreneurship.
We got a seed group of students and started tutoring at a university library. The students seemed to like it so we started looking for office space to start a proper school. We talked with a lawyer to discuss business structure and what might work for us, but were discouraged to find our options to operate in Thailand were very restricted. We heard from a friend about establishing as a “school” under the Ministry of Education instead of a business under the Ministry of Labor. The Ministry of Education told us, in order to start the process we’d need to present out lease agreement, our curriculum and paper receipts from students—meaning the MoE was asking us to operate illegally. I was OK with the idea, but my partner is married and wasn’t keen on getting deported should someone decide to shine some light on our operation.
I went looking to the internet again thinking we could make videos of our classes and sell that. We made a test video and sent it to our students. The ALG system is story based, there are no books and no translation, so it’s very dependent on feedback. I need to see my students to know if they understand me. If you are listening to a language you don’t understand and you get lost, it’s difficult to get back into the story. We didn’t have the feedback when making video so we had to assume understanding. None of the students liked the video. They had a hard time following since we weren’t repeating ourselves like we would in person when we could see that they didn’t understand. We concluded that teaching language, in person or on the internet, wasn’t in the cards and gave it up.
English Teaching Website
Still interested in silent period teaching methodologies, I thought I’d start a website about teaching English and weave in my philosophy along the way. I started a podcast interviewing English teachers around Asia and quickly decided I didn’t care about the standard teaching experience in Asia. It has been talked about many times on many other sites. I started looking for teachers with something to say who might be willing to write about their experience and reached out. I asked if they’d like to write for me and was rejected by all.
I learned a lot from this project about ads and software to run the ad buys, since that was how I planned to monetize. As I look back over my failed projects every one has taught me something. It was a slog, but I didn’t know what else to do. English in Asia lasted a few months and I shut it down.
Two things converged and I decided to try my hand a marketing. First, when I was attending the AUA school in Bangkok I became friends with the director and he asked for my help with their online ad spend. They were using Google AdWords and while it was bringing leads, it wasn’t optimized. They were bidding on things like “learn Thai for free.” Probably not someone who’s going to become a student. I made some tweaks and after a few months he reported I had saved him $200 a month with no noticeable loss in registrations. Second was my failed English in Asia website. I knew the major reason I was unable to get people to write for me was I was unable to sell it.
I was offered a “job” compensated by room and board at a homestay in northern Thailand and saw it as a chance to work on some marketing skills. I was intended to stay three months. I only made it two. I was told before going that the homestay was having a hard time attracting clientele. They had hired an agency, but didn’t like the customers the agency sent and were looking for a better fit. Turns out they didn’t know what they were looking for, so I’m not sure the agency did anything wrong. It was difficult to come up with a strategy and have them change the target customer. After the third complete change in strategy, I decided to leave.
A few months later I saw an email about a growth hacker position with a local company and applied. The company was call Iglu and they were willing to give me a shot even though I had little in the way of experience. I did email marketing and the like for about six months when I knew it wasn’t the company that was the problem, it was the work. Marketing, while important, is not fun. Luckily it was about this time that the company shifted focus and wanted to update their website, and even more lucky that all the front-end developers were away. I was given the job and did well enough to be given client work. I’ve now become a decent WordPress developer.
My Current Projects
Success is the ability to move from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.
Either there’s something to this or I’m just crazy. In any event I haven’t given up on entrepreneurship. (Projects page coming soon.)
Get in Touch
If you find yourself in Chiang Mai, I’m always up for a cup of coffee. My handle on most social networks is bradonomics, but I much prefer email as a communication method. My email address is [email protected]