Seven Years of Business Failures

MMA Podcast

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 try something similar. I had a slow road to learning Jiu-Jitsu and thought there must be a better, faster way to learn. I decided to call my show White Belt Radio. I bought the domain and set up all the social media profiles to protect the name. Then the guys at MMA Diehards decided to start a show with the same name. Worried about a lawsuit and subconsciously looking for any excuse to procrastinate I decided to change the name. I had the idea for the show in 2009, but with all this, I wouldn’t publish anything till 2011.

I decided to call the show Fight Map. I did 4 or 5 episodes and stopped. A few years before I’d torn the PCL in my left knee and wasn’t able to play Jiu-Jitsu. 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 it down.

Niche Sites

I had been following The AdSense Flippers, Spencer Haws, and a few others and watched as they set up a boatload of small websites monetized with Google AdSense or Amazon. It seemed easy enough so I did some research and found some keywords I thought I could rank in Google. 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’s not 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 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 work, 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 the business structure and what might work for us but were discouraged to find our options to operate in Thailand 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. Talking with the Ministry of Education we learned to start the process we’d need to present our lease agreement, our curriculum, and paper receipts from students—meaning the Ministry of Education 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 start snooping.

I went looking to the internet again thinking we could make videos of our classes and sell the videos. We made a test video and sent it to our students. The ALG system is very depended on feedback so I need to see my students to know if I’m understood. 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 the video so we had to assume understanding. None of the students liked it. They had a hard time following since we weren’t repeating ourselves like we would in person. 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 set up EnglishInAsia.com and started a podcast interviewing English teachers around Asia. I quickly realized I didn’t care about the standard teaching experience in Asia. And it has been talked about many times on many other sites. I started looking for teachers who might be willing to write about their experience and reached out. I asked if they’d like to write for me, but was rejected by all.

I learned a lot from this project about ads—since that was how I planned to monetize—and software to run the ad buys. As I look back over my failed projects every one has taught me something. It’s a slog, but I didn’t know what else to do. This project lasted a few months and I shut it down.

Marketing

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. I made some tweaks and after a few months was saving the school $200/month with no noticeable loss in registrations.

The second was my failed English in Asia website. I knew the major reason I was unable to get people to write for me: I couldn’t sell the vision. I knew I’d need to get better at marketing if I was going to run my own business.

I was offered a “job” paying 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 they’d 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 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.

Web Development

It was about this time that the company shifted focus and wanted to update their website, and lucky for me that all the front-end developers were away on vacation. I was given the job to build their new website and did well enough to be given client work. I spent about a year and a half building websites for them. When there were no projects I spent my days building my development skills. Then for some inexplicable reason, I was fired. Luckily the fires had been relit and computing had once again become fun. You can find more about my switch to Linux, and attempt to learn various programming languages in the Geekery Category of my blog.

The Future

Computers are fun again but I’m back to my old habits—trying to start another business. This time with software, but more importantly creating real value. As I look back over this list of failures the obvious observation is that none of these ventures really offered value. I was hoping to game the system in order to get money. This time I’ll create something valuable.