Posted: May 16th, 2013 | No Comments »
Boy my nephew smells good
Last year, I made my third trip to my parent’s motherland; it was over a decade since my last arrival. My special reason was my brother’s wedding ceremony. So, not only would I be seeing my brother and relatives again but also my new sister in law and nephew.
As a child, my older brother was my closest and only friend. Apart from a few friends at school, I didn’t socialize much. I was a really awkward, shy, and quiet kid. I didn’t have much of a voice as a kid, and I still tend to talk too low and mumble my words.
By the time I entered high school though, my brother was off to college. When I was in college, my brother moved to Korea to work. As children, we were extremely similar yet as adults we are really different. For a while, I held a grudge against him for leaving. Partly because his departure meant more responsibilities for me, but mostly I think because I just missed him. But I know he’s happier now. That’s really what matters most.
This would be the first time the entire family had ever been in Korea together at the same time. It had also been several years since all four of us were together.
To my surprise, Korea turned out to be a good time. I reconnected with my brother and got to remember that old rapport between brothers that I had nearly forgotten ever existed. I felt a connection to my sister in law and had the oddest feeling of my small family growing. And most of all, I felt a deep caring for my nephew that I wasn’t expecting. And a bit of shame that it had taken me so long to come to see him.
I also had a few adventures on my own.
Path to the temple was really gorgeous
I went to a Buddhist temple along some rocky hills. I planned on doing a one night temple stay, but ironically I felt the temple was too “normal” with monks and laborers doing loud construction work. The scene contradicted the stereotype image I had about an Asian temple. I left after meditating and touring the grounds.
I did a lot of walking and hiking including reaching Nasam Tower where I felt quite lonely. It’s considered a romantic spot with thousands of locks of love with special messages attached to a fence outside. But the view from the top of the tower is pretty spectacular, you can see all of Seoul in 360 degrees.
A few plans I had never materialized. I planned on renting a hostel and staying there away from the cramped studio apartment that my parents and I were sharing. I also wanted to take a bullet train to Busan, the second largest city of Korea.
But I did meet an old friend before leaving and spent the night in the Seoul nightlife consisting of beer pong, late night bbq, starcraft, and sleeping after sunrise. Thanks Chris.
The wedding itself was a short, pleasant affair. I felt a little out of place, but I was surprised at the warm reception some of my cousins gave me. I also despaired to see how one of my uncles had aged along with one of my other favorite cousins who had introduced me to my love of computers and video games. I still remember crying in hysteria that I had accidentally overwritten his beautiful original SImcity saved game when you could only have 3 saved cities.
And then we were back in our homes in America. But only for a short time for me. A week later, I would move to Boston for the summer and then my final storied RV trek westward.
I’m changing gears from the making money hustling series because those posts are surprisingly very difficult to write, but I’ll return shortly to them.
Posted: May 11th, 2013 | No Comments »
“Hey man, do you want a free iPad? How about a $500 gift card? No strings attached. You just have to fill out this quick survey, and we need your email to contact you.”
That was essentially my first hustle online.
After my Korean clothing business idea, I wanted faster ways to make money online without entry barriers. My next stop was joining PPC Coach, a paid membership site. As a member, you got access to a private community of old and young hustlers along with information and tools. One of the advanced hustles they taught was selling information to new hustlers on how to make money online….Internet marketing at its worst is just figuring out how to be the hustler rather than the hustled.
PPC Coach taught monetized surveys as the first month hustle. First, you make a fake survey website such as, “Do you think Susan Boyle will win American Idol?” Once the user selects yes or no (it really doesn’t matter) then you redirect them to a real advertiser’s survey. The advertiser would pay around a dollar for each completed survey with an email address.
You might be asking a lot of questions now. How do you get visitors? Where do you find these advertisers willing to pay for email addresses? Why don’t you just directly send the visitors to the advertiser’s surveys? All this and more will be answered.
Getting Traffic – Pay Per Click (PPC)
Example of how much it costs for each click on Google Search ads for car insurance keywords
Traffic is the life blood of the internet. There are different types of traffic including organic, paid, email, social, and so on. Most marketers specialize in just one or two types of traffic. PPC Coach focused on the specific paid traffic method of pay per click with Google Adwords.
Pay per click (PPC) means you are paying for each visitor that clicks on an ad and comes to your website. Google Adwords is split between the search engine ads and content network ads. The search engine ads were too expensive to make a profit. A search keyword like “car insurance” could easily cost $20+ per click. So, we focused on the content network where you see ads on people’s websites and blogs:
Example of a Google Content Ad, you can find them everywhere
The cost of an ad depends on many factors including the quality of your website, quality of your ad performance, and most of all, your target keywords. To get the cheapest possible ads from five cents to twenty cents, we would create ads around recent news and gossip such as Susan Boyle. It was an art and science to tweak your ads to get the lowest possible cost. Even at the low cost of five cents per click that means a hundred visitors costs five dollars. So, how do I turn those hundred visitors to a profit?
Getting Paid – Cost/Commission Per Action (CPA) Networks
Luckily, dozens of CPA networks exist whose sole job is serving as middle man between the big advertisers and “publishers” like me. OfferVault has a database of networks and offers:
Search for Ad Offers
Each ad offer has its own rules and stipulations. Often, they won’t accept any direct traffic visitors which is why you can’t just send the paid traffic to them. That’s why we need a fake survey question first to filter users through.
To join a CPA network, you often have to be telephone interviewed to prove that you’re a legitimate “publisher” and not just some spammer or newbie. Luckily, PPC Coach helped teach the newbies like me what to say to pass membership. For example, a typical conversation would be:
Me: “Hi there, I’m calling because I just applied to join your CPA network. I’ve been an internet marketer for about three years and just started making a real profit in the past year.
Network: I’m glad you called. Do you have a website?
Me: Well, I sold my previous business and no longer own the site. It was an online shop for Korean clothing. It did pretty well, but I didn’t like the hassle of handling inventory and dealing with customer complaints. So, I’m looking to become an internet affiliate instead. I can send you my old business website though if you want.
Network: Sounds great, you’re in.
Once you pass membership, you have access to dozens of ad offers from email surveys that pay out a dollar to car insurance quotes that might pay $10+. Now, it’s just a numbers game. Traffic comes from my paid ads on Google’s Content Network. At its lowest, an ad would cost five cents per click. So, 100 visitors would cost $5. My CPA offer pays out a dollar for a valid email address. So, to make a profit, at least 6 of those 100 paid traffic visitors need to complete the form to make $6 in revenue or $1 in profit.
Of course, that would be too easy. All CPA networks are known to “scrub” profits aka lie to you by under-reporting the number of completed survey users. Sometimes, I could send over a hundred visitors to the CPA offer, and I’d get zero commission. The only way to find the profitable ads was by trial and error, all the while losing money because you’re paying Google for the traffic.
In fact, this entire hustle was a precarious balancing act. There were so many moving pieces that even when you struck gold, it only lasted minutes or hours before it died, or at worst, started losing money. Here are just some of the factors involved:
- A new, popular keyword without much competition (I would probably do Syria Conflict, NBA Playoffs, or GitMo)
- Tweaking your ad copy and website content to get the cheapest possible ad cost
- Look through your CPA networks to find a suitable offer
- Rotate through the CPA offers to find one that pays out and hasn’t begun scrubbing you yet
- Rinse and repeat
Here’s a horrifying scenario. Imagine you find the perfect ad with a ton of cheap traffic and a CPA offer that’s paying out really well. For every $5 you spend, you’re making $10. It’s already 2am as you’ve been spending the last four hours watching and tweaking the numbers. You lost $100 on your last ad so you need this one to make up for it. So, you ramp up your Google Ad budget to get more traffic and thereby more money. You go to sleep dreaming of the riches you will wake up to. But when you wake up, you find that your CPA offers had stopped paying out, and now instead of $500 in profit, you have no revenue and owe $500 to Google.
When everything’s working, PPC gave the same rush of playing at a casino. There’s a lot of random factors outside your control, but you can see others are cashing out huge so you believe it’s possible. But, unlike a regular card game, everything is changing constantly. Any single piece could fail and ruin your entire empire and then you have to start all over.
After a few months and a few hundred dollars down, I stopped pursuing PPC and sought out a more legitimate method of making money online via search engine optimization (SEO) aka ranking high in search engines.
Posted: April 8th, 2013 | No Comments »
Before continuing the RV Saga, I thought it would be nice to explain what I was doing with all my time besides the RV in the past 2 years
I was a hustler, an internet hustler. Or, I’m the one that got hustled. For over two years, I learned all the ways to make money on the internet. I know both the ways of the “whitehat” and “blackhat” wizards. I can explain the legitimate way to monetize a blog or start an online shop. I also know the ways of the online hustlers including the spam emails, porn websites, and those free iPad surveys. If you had asked me five years ago, there’s no way I would have endorsed any of this. Back then, I was clean, straight as an arrow. In the beginning, it started off with good intentions. I just wanted to make a profitable online store. But the dream of fast money quickly hooked me in to darker methods. This is my confessions of a failed internet hustler.
Academia’s Best Looking Ivory Tower
It started in the midst of an identity crisis at the beginning of my graduate program. I went into academia to become a professor so that I could enlighten young minds to think for themselves. I was inspired by my past teachers and mentors who had done the same for me. Once in graduate school though, I immediately felt out of place. I kept reassuring myself that I just needed more time, that I would adapt. It’s the same way that beaten wives tell themselves it’s their own fault for being hit. Of course, a lot of graduate students feel like a fraud starting off, but I wasn’t even interested in the content. I remember asking my professor what the hell is this Reason with a capital R that everyone is talking about? He asked me what I thought it meant… Another professor I could not respect at all and openly challenged him in class. I ended up getting a B in that class which is really a D in graduate school. After months of agony, I submitted to the fact that I wasn’t cut out to be a humanities professor. This academic life wasn’t for me, at least not in this field. I felt horrible and anxious. I had spent the past two years to go to graduate school and now I felt like it was all for nothing. I spent the next year redefining myself in the opposite direction.
The Gateway Drug
The Gateway Drug
One of my biggest changes was a growing interest in business and entrepreneurship. In the beginning, I picked up Seth Godin’s “All Marketers Are Liars” from the college library based on its interesting title. The book challenged my rational way of looking at business, products, and the world. People don’t think rationally. We buy into stories. We choose and buy things that make us feel good. It’s why inferior products, leaders, and life decisions often win over the better options. [On a side note, Seth Godin is a great writer, I've read almost all his books and his blog. Highly recommended.] Later, I read 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. The book’s thesis is that anyone can join the new rich by quickly starting an online business that once established will generate profit automatically with minimum work by you. It was a revelation; my gateway drug. I was hooked. I wanted to find and make an online business to replace my day job and allow me to live the adventuresome, world traveling life I knew I deserved and wanted.
A growing market
My First “Business”
My first business idea was a Korean clothing, online shop. At the time, there was only one serious website where you could purchase Korean clothing. The only other competitors were on ebay or had horrible websites. I could make a better website, have better prices, and offer an American presence. I was so excited and certain that this was a sure hit. I told everyone about it. Even my parents were excited.
Who wouldn’t pay $55 for this?
I spent my entire Spring break just doing research. There were so many questions. How do you process credit cards? Well, you could do Paypal, Google, or any one of dozens of credit card processors. How do I even make a shop? Well, there’s free ecart software like Magento or even shop hosting companies like Shopify. What about custom fees for shipping Korean clothing to America? Well, technically, the custom fee must be declared and paid by the buyer. But if you ship the box as a “gift” then no one pays anything unless your package is randomly inspected. Of course, under the new Korea – United States Free Trade Agreement, these tariffs will soon be eliminated.
In the end, the shop was dead before it ever got of the ground. My brother in Korea wasn’t very excited about the idea. More importantly, I couldn’t figure out how to get around the international, high shipping cost. It was a catch-22. To get reduced shipping costs, you needed more volume. So, I gave up on it and moved onto to faster, darker paths…
In the next post, I’ll talk about the various methods I learned about and some that I tried including my full time Philippines worker. Also, how to protect yourself from them.
Posted: April 3rd, 2013 | No Comments »
Yesterday, I was at the Under 40 Meditation night at my local Shambhala Center. After the sit, we did a group discussion on the question of what is bravery?
A lot of people said some beautiful things. One guy echoed my thoughts by saying, courage or bravery is doing something despite feeling terrified.
After the talk, I chatted with another person, and he expressed his dissatisfaction with the answers. So, we dug deeper as I also had felt like something was missing.
To me, it seemed like we were placing courage on a pedestal. Obviously, courage is a virtue, and we are all lacking in it to some degree. I wish I could do what I know is right or good more often instead of letting my emotions gain the upper hand. But, the ideal state of character to me isn’t being brave all the time. That would be exhausting.
The ideal is playfulness. Courage or willpower is like a boat that can be used to cross uncomfortable waters. But once you reach the other shore, you can let go of courage and be playful again.
A lot of times, I think we are our own worst enemies placing limitations on what we think we can do. For example, I know when I first began going to the gym, I was really terrified. I thought everyone was staring at me, judging me. It took some amount of willpower and bravery to stay in the gym and later to return again. But, now, I couldn’t care less. I’m not self-conscious anymore because I know everyone’s just focused on themselves. The same is true about public speaking, playing music, or any public activity. Once you get pass the obstacles and self-conscious nervous feelings, you can relax into a state of play rather than brute force.
Being brave means you feel discomfort and likely fear. Where does the fear come from? The fear stems from anticipation of an unknown, likely horrible outcome happening. Courage is persevering despite this fear and discomfort. But, once you see behind the curtain and realize there’s nothing to fear at all, you can return to play.
Posted: April 1st, 2013 | No Comments »
Last night, I read some old emails to friends outlining my big dreams. I felt discouraged at how little I had accomplished compared to my original plans. I saw the same recurring themes over the years from dissatisfaction with my job to wanting to do a long term meditation intensive. This morning, I woke up feeling pretty bad too. My body was sore from running the previous day. But, even worse, I had dreamed about a person. A person I didn’t realize just how much I missed and not sure I’ll ever see again. That put me in a rather sad mood of not wanting to do anything.
I said one of my life goals has been to do a long term meditation retreat which would require quitting my job and leaving everything for a while. A leap of faith I haven’t been willing or needing to do yet.
But I also had another familiar thought this morning, “why couldn’t I live like a monk right here? In the city with a job instead of at a center? Isn’t that the more challenging task?” After all, in a center my life would be regimented. I would wake up at 5am, meditate at prescribed times, and eat the same meal at designated times. I wouldn’t have access to television or video games. I wouldn’t waste hours browsing reddit, facebook, hacker news, sc2casts, and so on. My daily options would be rather limited in a center yet it would also be quite liberating. So, why can’t I do it here and now?
Is it because there’s too many temptations? Because I want to seem “normal” or accommodating to my friends and family? Because of the job stress? Because there’s no external pressure to comply with? While they all have some influence, it seemed silly to me that such things would prohibit me from living a monk life here.
So, throughout the day, I wondered, “what would a monk do?” What would I do if I was in a monastery right now?”
Thus, after work, I started exercising in my room for a hour.
I made a nice dinner and actually ate at the dining table instead of in front of a computer or television. I savored each bite just like I would at a meditation center.
After dinner, I coded for a hour and added a new feature to one of my programs.
It wasn’t a perfect day. But, I got back three hours or more that I normally would spend hopping between mindless activities and thoughts.
I often thought that we pay a lot of money to academic institutions, trainers, and certifications not because we need their knowledge. Information is everything and free these days. But, we want the external pressure to force us to do the good things. Good things that aren’t as immediately rewarding or stimulating as a game but have much better long term dividends. But maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to sustain a productive, good lifestyle without needing a therapist, a trainer, or a meditation center. Just a little mindfulness of what would I do as a monk now?
Most importantly, just accept that this is what is right now. I woke up this morning craving a dream, an idea, a memory that’s no longer present. Once I can let go of that thought, of my idea of that person then I can live again here and now.