Posts in My Business

The Power of a Space

What a weekend.

I’m in the process of migrating servers, I’m moving from one hosting company to another.  I have a number of different sites, one is still on the old cloud-based server, while this one, among others are hosted on our new server.  I’m still doing a lot of tweaking, testing and securing before fully migrating everything over…and on the to-do-list is whole process for backing up, with a number of fail-safe’s in case anything goes wrong once all is migrated.  The problem?  It was still on the to-do-list.

So on Friday afternoon, I’m working on the server…I’m usually very cautious about working on it because I’m no system admin.  I have separate access for different domains, that way if anything is compromised or anything goes wrong, worst case scenario is that it should only affect that one domain.  During some of the work, I had to access multiple files from different domains, so I decided to login using root access, which can pretty much access anything and do everything.

To make a long story short, I was trying to delete the contents of a folder, and I used the following command:

rm -rf folder /*

I meant to do:

rm -rf folder/*

The difference of that one space?  Rather than deleting everything within the folder, it deleted the folder AND everything in /…which for Windows folks, is like saying delete C:\.  Seconds later and if you went to any of my sites you would get a quick error back saying permission denied.  On top of that, I hadn’t implemented my backup system yet, so I had no backups.  Talk about a nightmare!

The entire weekend was spent figuring out a variety of solutions to get everything restored to as close to the date as possible.  I got lucky with a couple things, like having a backup of some databases that I had downloaded while migrating servers (couple weeks old), and a recent backup in my recycle bin.  At the end of the day, after much wasted time, I was able to get everything fairly close to restored as possible (I did lose some stuff).  The first to-do after that?  Back everything up!  Had I not had certain files downloaded, or my host hadn’t had a disaster recovery file from a month prior, the situation could have been much worse.

This is a reminder to all site owners.  You never know what can happen.  Setup a backup plan, and implement it yesterday.

One Person Can Change Everything, Don’t Forget

I’m sitting at my desk working and watching a special on CNBC called “The Oprah Effect.”  One of the stories is about a business named We Take the Cake based out of Florida.

The company has been doing about $160,000 in sales per year when it was bought out by Lori Karmel for around $80,000.  She re-branded the company and made some other adjustments, but business was not great.  They were barely breaking even, when one year they finally hit a profit…of $16.  Then one day they come to find out that one of their customs works for the Oprah show, who enjoyed the cake so much, she gave one to Oprah…who loved it.  Some time later they get a call saying that Oprah was considering making the cake one of her favorite things on the show.  Oprah ended up doing it!  After the Oprah featured it, the phone rang non-stop for weeks, giving her tons of sales.  This literally took the business to the next level.

A sales increase wasn’t the only thing that was benefited, We Take the Cake then got tons of press, which generated in more sales.  Catalog companies such as Harry & David, Nieman Marcus, and even Whole Foods carried their products.  They now do over $1 million a year in sales.

All this because one customer literally changed everything for the company.  This is a prime example of why you should never neglect anybody, you never know who you are talking to or selling to.

In my business, I can think of a few key people that have literally changed my life and moved my business to the next level.  When I started Carbon Fiber Gear, I had written about a carbon fiber wallet that I thought was pretty cool.  It turned out that manufacturer of that wallet had it on display at a trade show and somebody had come up to them saying that had seen it on my site.  They ended up buying 500 wallets.  This made the manufacturer seek me out, and gave me the opportunity to directly sell the product on my site.  That was the start of my store, which is now my full-time business and supports my lifestyle.

Can you think of any one person that has literally moved your business to the next level?  I would love to hear your story in the comments below.

Reassessing The Priorities of a Successful Business

Note: Forgive me for rambling a bit, I typically like to jot down what I’m thinking :)

I have always striven to create some sort of multi-million dollar brand through one of the businesses I have started.  Now that I’m working for myself full-time, I’ve had the opportunity to sort of re-asses what my actual goals really are.

I find myself laying in bed at 2am in the morning with my mind racing about the day, ideas for the future, how I’m going to do what’s on the task list, etc.  Part of these big dreams I think has to do with the fact that a lot of content and stories of entrepreneurs that I tend to read about are big picture companies.  What I mean by that are companies that make products or offer services which meet a huge audience.  Intel makes chips for all PC’s and Mac’s, Google makes products that everybody uses, Foot Locker sells shoes that everybody wears, etc.  These are big picture companies that have the real potential to bring in millions, or even billion of dollars.

Then I look at my core business, a very niche luxury store that deals specifically with carbon fiber products…a material which the majority of the people never heard of or have no idea what it is.  When I’m dreaming of making my business successful, I think about being able to live the lavish lifestyle…but in reality, is that a true way to define success?

I find myself constantly comparing my life to how it was when I was working full-time for another company.  To be blunt, I’m making roughly the same amount of money right now, but I’m working wayyyy more.  Not only that, I have the constant stress of this never-ending to do list…forms to fill out, reconciling monthly, tax estimates quarterly, business license yearly, blah, blah, blah.  There are a million things to do, and I find myself always thinking and worrying about getting them done.  In comparison, at a full-time job, my day ends at 5pm, and typically doesn’t get thought about until I arrive the next morning.  The time in-between is “free-time”.  Now I feel like I lose a lot of that free-time because I’ve always got business on my mind…I’ve got to be able to make sure to afford the next month’s mortgage payment.

On the upside though, my schedule is much more flexible.  If I want to wake up a little later (although I find myself waking up earlier), I can.  If I want to take a week vacation, I can (although I’ll have ridiculous amounts of work to do when I get back, and that will of course be on my mind during vacation).  I work at home, which is great, but eventually (hopefully) I’ll grow out of my home office (which has grown to about a 2.5 room home office) and need to have a commercial space.

So I find myself always asking myself if this is all worth it?  The great thing about owning a business is the fact that the sky is the limit.  I have a much greater chance of making a lot more money with my business than I would working for another company, but that comes at a cost…and is that cost worth it?  To be honest, I haven’t fully decided yet.  The big thing for me is I generally like the work I’m doing on my own much better, but being the sole employee is a bit overwhelming.  I have to play many many roles, and you can’t just know everything or do everything better than anybody else.  Getting that first employee and being able to pass off responsibility will probably be one of the single most life changing parts of my career as an entrepreneur.

I will say that it’s extremely tough to get to the point where I feel like it’s worth it.  If I was able to do the same amount of work and double the amount of money, I would feel a lot more comfortable saying it is.  Apples to apples comparison, the freedom of knowing a paycheck is coming every two weeks, knowing that my health is taken care of, and having some sanity back/burden off my shoulders…it’s tough to say the business route is the way to go.  I honestly don’t think most people would be able to do it and stick to it.

This post was just more of a way for me to get some thoughts off of my chest.  I’m calling out to other business owners and entrepreneurs out there to post your experiences in the comments.  Do you find it worth it?  Have you gotten to the point monetarily that you’ve surpassed your goals?  If so, do you have any advice?  Did it happen over time with slow growth, or was there one moment that changed everything?

No Longer Working For The Man…Or Am I?

Working For The Man

As of January 1st, 2010 I have left the company I worked for to do my business ventures full-time. I’ve generally tried to be pretty DL about my regular job, but now that I’m gone, it’s full disclosure.  I had been working for Aol as a project manager since I graduated college (I left the company with about 4.5 years of experience under my belt).  When I started there, their headquarters were located here in Northern VA.  Being that I had experience in online advertising, I was a perfect fit for a position out of school within the technical online advertising part of the company.  I won’t get into my job there, but I will say that I loved working for them.  I really enjoyed the people and the atmosphere there.  Sure, there was a lot of mis-management on a higher level, and sure there were bad acquisitions (*cough* Bebo *cough*), but it was a great place to work.  Now with Tim Armstrong (formerly of Google) holding the reigns as CEO, I think they have a better chance than ever to do something worthy.  I took every opportunity I could to see and listen to Tim in person, and I believe he’s doing a great job.  I really appreciate the way that he finds it important to communicate with everybody in the company, tries to get a full understanding of all the legs, and keeps everybody in the loop.

There are two main things I want to point out before I get off this subject.  The first is that Aol, while as uncool as many of you initially believe, actually does a lot of cool things and owns a lot of cool sites that you may have never even realized.  For example some of my absolute favorite websites on the internet are owned by Aol, and have been for years…like Autoblog and Engadget.  There’s tons of others like Moviefone, TUAW, Asylum, Wallet Pop, Mapquest, AIM, TMZ (up until the split in December 2009) etc.  You can see the full list here.

The second, is that Aol is a different business than it was in the 90′s.  Their core business is no longer dialup as everybody tends to believe, but instead they are in the business of advertising and content generation…competing with companies like Yahoo! and MSN.  The thing to note though is that the majority of the revenue coming in right now, and what’s keeping the company alive, is from the ever-dwindling dial-up subscribers.  Believe it or not, there were 6 million when I left last month.  Do the math on how much cash a high-margin business brings in on 6 million people paying a monthly fee.  The downside to this is that the company valuation is based on this number, which has been and will continue to slide as dial-up subscribers cancel their service and move to free accounts.  The money will eventually dry up.  The web  part of the business right now is a loser.  That’s why Aol has this time now to replace that money with the new money.  It may not be comparable (and will come at the cost of much more downsizing), but it can be a profitable business.  Though, my suggestion is to wait it out if considering to purchase stock in the company.  The ISP and advertising revenue needs to level with each other first I believe.

Still Working For The Man

Now that I’ve left Aol, I’m still working for the man…me that is!  I wrote a post on this site back on December 10th of 2007 talking about launching a site named Carbon Fiber Gear.  It’s interesting looking back at this post, where I analyzed three possible revenue models for the site, and built it up originally as an experiment in affiliate marketing.  Looking at the site now, I’ve actually implemented all three revenue streams, but have a larger focus on blogging and eCommerce, and less so on affiliate marketing as I have a higher interest in maintaining my readers and customers.

So fast forward two years later, the business has come far enough along to be able to support me full-time (at least I hope so!).  It’s not just Carbon Fiber Gear, there are a few other projects, and they are all done under the dpitMedia umbrella.  It has especially been a crazy year, basically working full-time at Aol, then coming home and working until 4 in the morning sometimes on my personal projects.  Through a lot of dedication and work, I was able to see a real potential in the business, and started to think about doing it full-time.  It’s a scary decision.  I had a great a job, with great benefits, I just bought a house…that’s a lot to ponder.  If you think about it though, we’ll all almost never be in the perfect place to run a company full-time, there will always be something.

Anyway, I started to think about potentially leaving in early 2010, but wasn’t 100% sure.  Then with Aol spinning off of Time Warner, it came with an announcement that the company would have to layoff 2,500 employees, or about 30% of the workforce.  They did an interesting method though, they offered voluntary layoffs for those that wanted to leave before 2010 started, and then will do another round of involuntary layoffs in Q1 to get the numbers they need.  The interesting thing about it though was that they offered larger severance packages to those who took the voluntary layoff.  It was sort of a sign for me.  I had really though about leaving, and now I was going to be paid to leave.  I had to take it and see what I could do.

Over the past year, I haven’t paid myself anything through my business, so I had built up a fairly nice safety net of funds…then I had some personal savings, and now I have a few extra months of salary coming in from AOL for a severance package.  Plus, it’s not like I’m going from my salary to $0…my business already brings in money.

With the helpful advice of family and friends, I decided to take the package and do dpitMedia full-time.  Now I sit here in bed with my laptop typing this after my first full-day at work for myself.  The first day of the rest of my life.  If I can replace my company-life with the lifestyle of the work I do for my company, even just making the same amount of money, I will consider myself successful.  Not to say that I don’t work as much (in fact I would say I work much more), but I really don’t consider it work…I truly have a passion for what I’m doing, and I love it.  And that makes a world of a difference.  Not to mention I have a much higher chance of being very successful through my business than by working for a company.

As it was interesting looking back two years at a blog post I made on here about a little affiliate experiment I was doing, I hope it to be just as interesting looking back two years at this post about a little company I had started.

I’d like to thank my mom and aunt for the support they provided.  My mom especially always supports my decisions, regardless of how weary she is about it.  I’d also like to thank my amazing girlfriend Allison for putting up with my late nights, for all my crazy thoughts and ideas, for all the advice she gives, and for all of the help she provides.  Lastly, I’d like to thank my Dad for giving me somebody to prove that I will turn this company into something big.  One last thanks goes out to Adam McFarland, who’s blog about entrepreneurs, and his business have truly been inspirational and have lead to things that have really helped me out.  Little things like learning how his business setup their warehouse, or opening the doors to Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcasts have made bigger differences than I’m sure he realizes.

True Internet Story: SmashMyViper.com

Wow, I sit here today on March 10th, 2009, realizing I’ve been holding myself back from writing this post since I started my blog a couple years ago.  I always wanted to write the full story of how the idea came about, what we actually did on our end to get things going, and what the outcome was.  So here’s my story.

How Did SmashMyViper Start?

It was 2005, and like most people, I came across a site named The Million Dollar Homepage.  A kid from England by the name of Alex Tew had started the site where he created a million pixel grid that was split up into 10,000 100×100 pixel boxes.  In each box he would sell an image advertisement for $100 (essentially $1 per pixel since there were 100 pixels in each square).  Sounds a bit stupid, but Alex got lucky and it caught on.  His site had a snowball effect, it started getting linked around, people/companies started buying advertising, then some press would cover it, and more people/companies would buy advertising.  This kept happening, and he actually sold all of the pixels on the page, yes a million dollars worth:

Million Dollar Homepage screenshot

One of my best friends (and roommate at the time) Jason and I had seen the site back when it had barely sold any of the million pixels…but right at the time where it was starting to catch on.  We’d go to it a couple times a day to see if made any more money, but it was really the only reason we were going back to the site.

So we sat and we thought, how can take a concept of this site, but make it better.  How can we make it so that people will actually want to come back to the site?  Million Dollar Homepage was cool, but it had barely any retention level.  We went through a ton of ideas, most of which were pretty stupid – but then one came out that started to make some sense.

Not too long before we were sitting there thinking, Jason had purchased a 93 RT/10 Dodge Viper.  While it was absolutely pristine, and had low miles (20,000), the car was actually a lot cheaper than most people would guess.  People that didn’t know cars thought it was basically a new car, he could say he paid $150,000 for it, and people didn’t hesitate to believe him.  What they didn’t know was that he paid around $30,000 for it.  Still a lot of money for a car from 1993, but in all relativeness, it’s one of the best bang for buck supercars you can buy.

So back to us thinking about what we can do…one of us threw out the idea of destroying the Viper.  I mean, people would see that, right?  We both knew we would.  The car is super rare, it’s a dream car to many, if somebody was willing to destroy one people would come see, and we thought it was crazy enough that the press would be dying to write about it.  That’s where the concept for SmashMyViper started, but I’d like to talk about the more detailed aspects of getting started and how the official plan came about.

The Official Plan

How It Would Work

We knew we had to destroy the Viper, but there were also 10,000 opportunities on the pixel grid…so we knew we couldn’t do it all at one time.  We started to think of some ideas of how we would could elongate the process of damaging the car, but still make it interesting to people.  We came up with a tiered system that worked like this:

  • $100 – 1 square of advertising – key the car
  • $400 – 4 squares of advertising – drill the car
  • $1,000 – 10 squares of advertising – throw an item of your choice under 5lbs, plus the advertiser gets a small decal on the car
  • $2,500 – 25 squares of advertising – hit the car with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, plus the advertiser gets a bigger decal on the car
  • $5,000 – 50 squares of advertising – you name it (with our approval), plus the advertisers gets a bigger decal on the car

While MillionDollarHomepage strictly had the advertisements on the grid, I wanted to do something to benefit the advertisers a little more.  I made it so that when you hover over any of the ads (even if it was a small one), a bigger ad would show up.  This would allow even the guys spending $100 to potentially get some more clicks to their sites.

Hover over ad

On top of all these tiers, any advertiser could get one of our “SmashMyViper Girls” to do the damage for an extra $100.  We also planned to do a variety of picture galleries and videos to entice people to come back and check it out.  We ended up with the ultimate site for guys, we had hot chicks, hot cars, and destruction…what more could you want.

The Car

$30,000 was a high investment, especially for two guys straight out of college, renting a townhouse.  Yeah, we had some cool toys, but we’re not loaded.  So we started to think of ways we could do this while lower our risk.  We pitched the idea to a potential investors, which happened to be my ex-step father.  He liked the concept, so we also pitched it to his accountant, who also liked it.  So what were we asking for?

We wanted them to purchase a Viper of the same style, as well as pay for some miscellaneous expenses that we knew we would need to incur.  They agreed to this, and we went out on the search for the perfect car…and came up with a great solution.  We found a 94 RT/10 red Dodge Viper in Utah that had something like 130,000 miles on it.  While 130,000 miles isn’t uncommon for a vehicle from 1994, it’s extremely uncommon on a car like a Viper (in fact, I’ve still yet to see one with higher miles).  We picked the car up for about $22,000, and had it shipped to the house.  While it had high mileage, it looked pristine.  We had a local friend with an 02 GTS Viper who just replaced his aftermarket BBS wheels with another set, so we also picked the BBS wheels up from him for about $1,500.  Why do that you ask?  The OEM three-spoke wheels on a 1st generation Viper like we had just looked too outdated.  The rest of the car looks great, and we wanted most people to believe it was a lot more expensive than it was.

The Viper

Other Stuff Needed

We picked up a few other things that we needed, 2 DV video cameras, a nice tripod, microphone, some lighting, and a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.  We tried to do everything on a shoestring budget.  I built the website myself, so that definitely saved some money.  We also used ImageShack to host all of our pictures, we didn’t want to be stuck paying extravagant hosting fees if the site had blown up.  Another one of my best friends, Ryan, who goes by the name of “SplitVizionz” produced an official theme song for us that we would use in all of our videos.  We wanted to create a brand, something that people would remember.

We also scoured MySpace for local, attractive girls that would be willing to be in some of the videos for free in return for the recognition.  We got a few, and we were fortunate enough to have attractive girlfriends and a couple attractive friends that we could use.  All the sudden we had the lineup for the SmashMyViper girls.  I contacted a company out in Oregon that I had make shirts for us, as well as tank tops for the ladies.

I knew a few people in the custom car show circuit since I had a Nissan 350Z that was highly modified and in occasional car shows at the time, so I utilized the services of one of those contacts to create and install decals on both Vipers (the SmashMyViper Viper and Jason’s Viper).  Let’s face it, the Viper is an attention whore type of car, you drive it around and everybody looks…we planned to drive BOTH Viper’s around, and with decals on the car to promote this project…plus it’s just good branding for the videos and picture galleries we would have.  The cost for doing this was about $400:

SMV decal

Putting Everything Together

Making The Intro Video

Now that we had everything ready to go, we wanted to create a cool intro video to entice people to check out the site and come back for more.  Now keep in mind, while 2006 doesn’t seem like that long ago, it was right about the time before internet video was about to become huge.  I remember spending a lot of time trying to figure out where we were going to host these videos.  YouTube was extremely unreliable and slow at the time, so we ended up starting with a site named StreetFire.  For those that don’t know, StreetFire is a site that is dedicated to video’s about cars.

I had some experience in video editing previously, so luckily we were able to do everything in-house using Adobe Premeire.  We didn’t have too much of a plan going in, we just wanted some cool car shots and girls.  Few things that were discussed around the net or questions that we got all the time from the intro video…We didn’t actually get pulled over in the one scene with the cop behind us.  We had three state police guys that were our neighbors, they were all young and cool.  As long as we didn’t have any sort of identifying marks showing on the car, they let us use one of the cars for that scene.  The other question was about that third GTS Viper with white stripes that’s in the video.  We were actually filming on that stretch of road, and it randomly drove by, so of course he stopped by and we added it to the video.  What’s better than two Vipers?  Three!

I would have definitely made the video much different today than I did back then, but there’s a lot of stuff I would do differently today.  I’ll discuss more about that towards the end of this post.

The Site’s Done, Let’s Get This Going

We finished the site, intro video, and a few picture galleries and put everything together.  We didn’t want to start off with zero advertisers, so we actually went around to some friends and family to get them to purchase a few ads.  I remember on the forums there was a lot of discussion about Red Cross and Toys for Tots advertising on the site.  Those were actually some family that had nothing to advertise, so I chose for them.  Yes, they did actually pay the full price of $100 for each square, and we probably sold about four of those internally.

We didn’t want our story to just be, hey two guys destroying a Viper to get a million bucks.  We knew people would be like “he has a Viper, why should I give him money”.  So we fudged things a little bit.  Jason and I always had this one great idea for a bar, so we used that for our story (To our credit, had we brought in the full million, at the time we would have considered actually opening the bar).  We never told people that the actual Viper being destroyed was not Jason’s real car until this article.  Although we could have made the story better, we went with the concept of two entrepreneurs with an idea to start a bar, trying to raise the money by destroying Jason’s prized possession that he basically spent all of his money on.

We hired a company to write a press release for us (which you can read here), and then we used PRWeb to send out the release to the media.  I was personally hoping this would yield huge results, but we didn’t really see as much as I wanted.  The biggest thing was an article that the Washington Times did on us:

Me in the Washington Times

We posted about the site on a bunch of automotive forums, which helped get the word going, and it sort of snowballed from there.  I would say a big portion of the traffic we were getting was from chatter on forums, as well as the tons of people that were watching it on StreetFire.  Let me tell you, the automotive world absolutely hated the idea!  I really didn’t see that coming, but so many people talked so much trash about us, especially in the Viper community, because we were destroying such a rare car.  The fact is though, if we had been doing it something like a Honda Civic, nobody would care!  I guess it’s that double edged sword…but at the same time they say bad press is actually good press.

We also created a MySpace account and purchased some bot software that essentially went out and friend requested random people to whatever the limit per day was.  We used a hot picture of one of our SmashMyViper girls as the avatar, and that really helped attract a lot of people.  As Jeremy Schoemaker would tell you, use a hot girl in your avatar, and people will click to your site.  There was so many guys that would just respond to the friend requests trying to hit on the girl in the picture.  We’d play the part and do things like say ok if you go to SmashMyViper.com and tell me what you think.  It was pretty ridiculous.  Speaking of using girls to generate more views, at the time we were doing this, the video sites would use the exact halfway point of the video as a thumbnail.  We would insert one frame in the video with some hot model pic (one of our models) that had cleavage, so that would become our thumbnail…it worked well!

We also manually pitched the site to a bunch of bigger blogs and sites trying to get some coverage.  A lot of sites did bite, we were written about Autoblog, News.com, AdRants, and many more places.  What we really needed though was CNN type coverage, and that just didn’t happen.

Another thing I did was call up some popular talk radio stations that were considered “fun” and just tried to tell them about it.  For example I was on Elliot In The Morning, I just called up on my way to work, got on the air told the hosts “hey, guess what?  I’m destroying a Dodge Viper”.  That got them intrigued and I get a few minutes of free air time talking about the site.  I did that with a few radio shows, some went well, others didn’t.  We had a great connection that got us an in-studio interview on the Kirk, Mark, and Spiegel show on 98 Rock in Baltimore.  That was an interesting experience doing the show live, we took video of the interview that you can check out here.  We had a couple radio shows that we got on from the site just becoming viral, one of the bigger ones was Motor Trend Radio on Sirius, which you can listen to here.  If you listen to all of the interviews I did, I definitely started out pretty bad, and got much better speaking over time…it was a great learning experience.  For example this was one of the later ones on the Jay Wulff show, where the hosts even mentioned that we were good interviewers :)

Things Are Launched, Time To Do Some Damage

As traffic was pouring into the site we starting to get some advertisers in.  Here it was we thought, getting the first advertisers was the hardest part, and everything would just snowball from there.  After compiling a few advertisers together that all purchased the $100 key mark package, we went out and filmed the first damage video.  We wanted to make it somewhat Jackass like, so we did things like dress up in a Santa costume (it was around Christmas) to make it funnier.  We went out to a local shopping center parking lot and had real people do the damage to the car.  We did this because we wanted to film the great reactions from people, and we wanted to cause a scene.  People would drive by and see two Vipers in the back of the lot (that say SmashMyViper.com on them) with cameras, and a bunch of people – it was a great way to promote locally.  Using real people (like a kid) allowed viewers to really believe we weren’t just putting on a scam.  We really were keying the car up, all the damage shown was real!

We got some great feedback from the first damage video (like the fact that it was way too long), and I think each subsequent one got better and better.    The damage started to get more interesting too, for example some advertisers had us make the 6″ keymark in the shape of something.  The Burto and Dubs radio show had us key “BD” in the front bumper.  Finally by the fourth damage video, we had our first advertiser purchase a drilling of the car, along with one of our girls doing it.

The Viper’s hood is made of fiberglass, drilling through it was an interesting experience:

Drill hole in Viper hood

Then things got really interesting.  Shaun Carter, a young entrepreneur came to us with an idea to promote his site InstantCredit.CC.  He didn’t want to do any real damage to the car, but he wanted to do something wild, so we came up with the idea of having our models cover the car in peanut butter and jelly, then feathers.  Shaun ended up paying about $2,500 for the package, but it was the most unique thing as of yet, and we hoped it would spark the ideas of other advertisers.  We found a big bag of feathers online, and got tons of PB&J at the local BJ’s, it turned out to be a great video:

Real peanut butter, thickly covered on the Viper:

Peanut butter on Viper

Here’s a couple of the girls right before we added feathers to the car…I couldn’t photoshop these pictures if I wanted to:

Here we’re adding feathers to the car, notice us in the background with cameras.  People driving by would stop and watch to see what the hell we were doing:

Adding feathers to the Viper

Here I am cleaning up the huge mess we made, good thing feathers are all-natural:

Cleaning up feathers

Shaun will tell you, we drove a ton of traffic to his site, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth but I’m sure he’d say it was worth the investment.  We loved it because it didn’t really do any real damage to the car (although we had to buy a power sprayer and took about 5 straight hours to get most of the car cleaned up)!

The End Of The Road

Unfortunately things started to die down a bit around that time, and after a few months we realized that our chances were over.  We had brought in about $8,000-$9,000 total, nowhere near the $1m goal.  We took some of that money and hired a PR firm to see if they could try and get things kick started again.  That turned out to be a huge waste of money.  We took the rest of the money and had the Viper fixed, since all of the damage was done to mainly three panels of the car and the glove box, we were able to bring it back to new for under $2,000.  We then sold all of the assets to the business that were invested, including the car.  The car was actually sold for more money than we had paid for it!  We also sold the website (for cheap, just $300), paid our investors back 100% of their investment, plus we all made a little extra money after all was said and done.

While we never brought in the million dollars, I would do everything all over again if I could.  I was able to drive a Viper for free for about six months, have photoshoots with some hot girls, had an amazing experience dealing with press and just increasing my knowledge on marketing, etc.  We met a lot of new people and made a lot of new friends.  We’d go out to bars with our SmashMyViper shirts on, and people would come up to us because they recognized us from the site.  I still meet people to this day that remember the site, and it’s always a great story to discuss.  We never spent a penny of our own money, and we fortunately didn’t lose any money for our investors.  My personal opinion is that it was a huge success.

In Retrospect

When I look back at everything, there are a lot of things I would have differently.  I think part of the timing was off when we did everything, it was Winter, we’d drive around freezing, we originally wanted to have girls in bikinis, online video wasn’t that big yet…I could go on and on.

Since then I’ve learned many new things, had much more business experience, and have a lot more connections.  I think if I could re-do the whole thing today, I could make it successful.  There’s a sweet 456 GTA Ferrari for about $40,000 for sale on eBay, any investors want to partner up and try again? :) SmashMyFerrari.com?

Consistent New Content Will Drive Traffic – A Real World Example

As many of you know, I launched Carbon Fiber Gear back in December of 2007.  For over a year it stood fairly stagnant, not really getting much attention or updates from me, and then I started to take it pretty seriously.  So how has it grown in that amount of time?

It’s not the biggest site in the world, but it has been growing pretty rapidly lately, and I haven’t had one month where the amount of search engine traffic hasn’t grown.  The site has been ranked on Google’s first page for the term “carbon fiber” which has definitely helped things move along.

With the site I’ve tried to have at minimum 2 new posts per week on the editorial schedule.  That way my readers know to expect new content.  This has surely helped drive traffic, and gain more SE visibibility.  Take a look at this chart which shows the amount of traffic from search engines on a monthly basis since the site started:

search-engine-traffic

Lately, I’ve been seeing a good 15-20% growth per month.  When the numbers are starting to get this high (20,000 uniques/month), it’s really starting to make a huge difference on the bottom line.

To help capitalize on this newfounded traffic, I’ve recently redesigned the site to better promote older content (since the content mostly is not time sensitive), as well as promote other sections of the site (like our store).  In turn I’ve found that our pageviews per visitor has gone up, and our bounce rate has come down.  Huge wins!

My main point of this post is that while I’m nowhere near the amount of traffic I’d like to ultimately bring to the site, they are decent numbers…but look at how much time it took to get there.  Don’t give up if you don’t see results over night.  It takes time to build up a site and really generate a loyal userbase, if you keep pumping out good content, things will happen.

New Site Launch: His1k – Stuff For Guys $1,000 and Up

I’ve got a new project site on my plate, and I’m proud to announce His1k!  The site is a blog for guys that highlights stuff we’d like that cost $1,000 and up.  Lets face it, there’s a ton of cool stuff out there, and much of it doesn’t come cheap.  His1k is the place to go to find the latest.  While we will cover things that cost wayyyy over $1,000, we’ll try to keep a majority of products in the $1,000-$2,000 range.

Why?

Part of the reason is it’s interesting stuff.  It’s a site that I would personally read, and if you ever want to be successful at blogging, you have to have a true passion for what you’re writing about.  The content is also considered to be very viral, it’s just like Carbon Fiber Gear…the right post will spread around the internet like the plague.  I turned Carbon Fiber Gear into a pretty valuable site fairly quickly, and I’m hoping to do the same with His1k.

How Will It Make Money?

There are going to be three stages of major revenue stream with the site, but will come in phases.

Affiliate Links

The first being affiliate links, which is also has the potential to make the most amount of money.  Since each post is covering a product, affiliate links will be used when possible.  By doing so, any person that purchases the product through an affiliate link, I will get a percentage of the sale.  This has the potential to really bring in the bucks because the products are all over $1,000…5% of a $1,000 product is a lot higher than 5% of a $20 product.

Advertising

Advertising can play an extremely powerful role in revenue stream down the line.  The target market is very valuable to advertisers, and can bring a high CPM with it.  You’ll notice though that there is zero advertising on the site right now.  Why is that?  Right now it’s time to build traffic, that is number one.  Bring the traffic, and then bring the money.  When starting a new site, you want to concentrate on building it, who cares about monetizing to make a few cents here and there…it’s just not worth it until you can command some real numbers.

Potential Store

Carbon Fiber Gear followed this same route, and has now opened a section where we actually sell products.  Margins are much higher, and we retain the visitor when we send them off to buy something since they don’t leave the site.  It also cross sells other products on the site.  The potential for His1k to launch a store is much lower in my opinion, but it’s something to think about.  As I mentioned before, build the site, get traffic, get a dedicated following, then worry about making money and expanding.  If you have traffic, you can make money.

Building His1k

As all my projects do, it starts as a concept in Photoshop, and then turns into a site.  I did a majority of the design in Photoshop, ported over it over XHTML, and then built a WordPress template for it.  I wanted to keep it extremely simple at first, you won’t even find a main menu on the page.  Using custom fields and a couple of important plugins, I was able to build the site to functionally do and look how I wanted.  We’ll see how everything works out as it builds traffic, and adjust accordingly.

Next Steps

I can’t reiterate enough times, right now it will be all about writing new content and posting it consistently.  I’ll be taking on a couple friends to write for the site, we’ll see how that works out.  I can’t say I’ve had the best of luck in the past with friends writing, but who knows ;)  Make sure to check out the site and subscribe to the RSS feed!  Any feedback, ideas, suggestions, etc are always appreciated.

How Flickr/Yahoo Could Use A Lesson In Customer Service

Recently, I jumped on the Flickr bandwagon, and signed up for a pro account.  $24.95 a year, and it offers you unlimited photo and video upload, plus all of the great community benefits of being a part of Flickr.  It’s a great service, with a great community, at a great price.  I was using my Flickr account for my personal/business use, I setup the name under dpitMedia (which is my parent company).  I created a few collections of sets that made sense for each site I had.

The collection for Carbon Fiber Gear had a bunch of stuff in it, including the pictures of products we sell that I had personally taken.  In the descriptions to each product I would just put that it was available on my site, and I linked to it.  I’ve seen this done a million times on Flickr, find any company that posts pictures of their products, and they’ll more than likely have a link to their site…or bloggers, that have a link to their blog.

So I probably had around 1,000 pictures in my account, and out of that, maybe 50 or less were pictures of the products that I took with a link in the description.  One day I login to my account, and it won’t work.  I try to access my photostream, and it just says “dpit Media is no longer active on Flickr”.  I had no idea, why, so I tried to contact Flickr to find out what happened.  I sent a message on the contact form to find out what happened (Flickr doesn’t have a phone number listed anywhere, so I was forced to e-mail).  This was the response I got:

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Flickr Customer Care.

Flickr account “dpit Media” was deleted by Flickr staff for violating our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.

www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne

Flickr reserves the right to terminate your account without warning at any time.

Regards,
Do

That’s it.  There was nothing about what had actually been done, no information on if I was going to get refunded, etc.  I went through the Flickr guidelines link Do sent, and could only find one thing that could potentially be the reason why my account was terminated:

Don’t use Flickr for commercial purposes.
Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account. Any other commercial use of Flickr, Flickr technologies (including APIs, FlickrMail, etc), or Flickr accounts must be approved by Flickr. For more information on leveraging Flickr APIs, please see our Services page. If you have other open questions about commercial usage of Flickr, please feel free to contact us.

Some of the pictures I had could have been borderline selling a product, because I posted a link to where you can actually get the product…but I don’t know if that’s what they really mean by that term.  If I post a picture of a Nissan Maxima, and then put a link to Nissan’s product page, am I violating the terms?   I could easily find 10 examples without trying that would technically break that term…but is it enough, or even what they mean, to actually terminate an account?  I would think they are just protecting themselves against obvious spammers, not somebody who very obviously is not spamming.

So I sent an e-mail back:

Hi Do,

I’m assuming it was terminated due to using it for commercial purposes…as I had some sets in one of the collections that were linking to the product that it was a picture of.

I apologize, and must have overlooked that clause in the terms when signing up. I wish that Flickr had at least sent a warning (even though I understand you reserve the right to terminate the account at any time), I would have simply removed the link to the product in those pictures. Out of maybe the 1,000 or pictures I had, I would say that 50 of them were like that.

Is there anything I can do to have my account reinstated? Now that I understand this term, it will surely not be broken on my end again. I had just upgraded to a pro account, I really loved being a part of the Flickr community, and I’d hate to lose that over a small overlooking on my end. I had been promoting my pictures from my own personal blog, and had no intention of violating any terms.

Let me know if there is anything that can be done. At the very least, am I getting a prorated refund of what I paid? I would much prefer to be able to continue to be a part of the Flickr community, and will not violate any of the terms going forward, it was an honest mistake on my part.

Thanks,
Dave

It has now been 48 hours, and I have yet to get a response from “Do”.  At the very least I have a right to understand why my account was terminated right?  I never got a warning from Flickr saying “hey, you’re violating our terms on some of your pictures, you’ll need to fix this or we’ll have to delete your account”.  Nope, they just deleted the account.  That doesn’t seem like a very good way to retain customers, or provide good customer relations/service.  Last I heard in the market news, Yahoo wasn’t exactly in the position to just throw money away.

Last week, my credit card bill came in, and the charge for setting up Flickr had a toll free phone number next to it (866-562-7228 for those that want it).  I gave it a call, and it actually goes to what I guess is Yahoo paid services billing support.  I get somebody on the line and explain my situation.  The guy basically tells me that there is no notes on my account to show why it was deleted, but that once it’s deleted, it’s gone forever (makes sense from a privacy perspective…sucks for me though).  If I wanted to know why it was terminated, I’d have to e-mail back (which I did, and have yet to get a response).  He was also able to give me a refund (100%).  He recommended I find out why I got terminated, and setup a new account, and don’t do whatever I did wrong again.

So I setup a new account (find me here, and friend me!), and started to setup all the pictures again.  It’s not going to be as much as I had before, but it’s a work in progress.  Really sucks from my part because I spent a lot of time getting everything right, tagging hundreds of pictures, adding descriptions, etc.  Yahoo/Flickr, please make sure and tell me if I’m doing some sort of minor break of your terms, and give me an opportunity to resolve it before just going out and deleting it.  If Flickr wasn’t so awesome, you’d have lost me a customer…but because your service is so good, you have another chance.

Anybody else have similar stories?  Doesn’t necessarily have to be Flickr.

In Vegas This Week For SEMA 2008

I’ll be in Vegas Wednesday-Saturday for SEMA 2008. For those that don’t know about SEMA, it’s the biggest trade event for automotive specialty products. The show is full of the latest products in the aftermarket automotive world, the hottest cars (all the companies bring their best out), and all the hottest booth babes. SEMA is something I’ve wanted to attend for a few years now but things were never able to work out.

I’ll mainly be attending to do some business for Carbon Fiber Gear. There are a ton of people and companies I’m connecting with at the show. From current suppliers, to potential future suppliers, to covering the carbon fiber products of the show, to promoting the site to the industry, it’s going to be quite a busy schedule. Aside from all the business, I’ll have to leave some time for partying.

If you happen to be in Vegas this week, regardless of being at SEMA or not, let me know and we can meet up for a drink or something.

Win A Carbon Fiber Wallet

I just launched an ecommerce section of Carbon Fiber Gear, and one of our first products is a carbon fiber wallet. To celebrate the launch, I’m giving one away for free, all you have to do is post a comment with your three favorite carbon fiber products I’ve written about on the blog.

For complete details, and to enter, check out the contest page.

I’m using this contest to not only promote the carbon fiber wallet and new ecommerce store I launched, but also the content in the blog. The content is very viral in my opinion, people like to see what kind of products are made out of carbon fiber. By making the requirements that a person has to go through the content and pick their top three choices, I’m hoping to generate some new dedicated readers as well as RSS subscribers.

We’ll see how it works out!? Right now there are only about 20 submissions, so your chances of winning are quite high!