It's a wild story! Where do I start?
Probably at the very beginning! The journey commences with a 16-year-old kid selling self-developed Command and Conquer mission packs (via personals, classifieds, and my oversized cell phone) at the local computer shack.
I was my own developer. And yep, that was me… in my adolescent glory, trying to capitalize on this insanely popular PC game.
This was my very first business venture, even if it was a bit rudimentary. I burned the discs, designed the cover myself (not pretty), stuffed the envelopes, and bribed the mailman to ensure prompt delivery to my very impressive five customers a week.
I was on to something.
Your circumstances don't dictate your success. Wherever you are, whatever resources you command (or don't)...
whatever skills and talents you have, and even the size of your dreams shouldn't stop you from going after them.
Look, I was just 16 years old, in school and with ZERO knowledge
on how to start a business, much less keep it going. That has cost me millions of dollars in "lessons paid" since, some of which I hope you can avoid by reading my stuff.
But, I poured my heart into it and forged ahead, never looking back. Stop pondering and just do it. You won't regret it.
And people say you don't learn from video games...
I learned plenty: how to create demand, fulfill it, and earn a profit - all before I had my first girlfriend!
And although the profits were tiny, everything over $0 feels huge when you're starting out. I was a spendthrift: I went all out on marketing books I never ended up reading.
Never Give Up On Your Dreams. I have always believed that college is a scam. It seems like a glorified "growing-up" program for kids...
and you even get to pay for it. It may be required for a few professions where "self-taught" doesn't work, so unless you want to become a lawyer or doctor, why do college in the first place?
Unless of course, your definition of success is becoming a white collar slave in your 20s, paying ridiculous amounts of money to be mostly indoctrinated, not educated, and then having to spend most, if not all of your adult life paying for an overpriced product (also known as a degree).
The second you go into business for yourself, your degree becomes worthless because college produces indentured servants, not free men and women. Ask me, James Altucher, or any successful business owner what they think of college. Ask the business OWNER, the entrepreneur. They'll all tell you the same thing:.
Jobs do not make you rich.
They only dangle a carrot under your nose until the retirement fairy comes to save you. You learn practically nothing that's useful in the real world, and definitely nothing you couldn't teach yourself by DOING.
Save yourself or your kids 4 years of partying and tens of thousands of dollars, and start doing instead. Invest in your own education, buy books, courses, attend seminars - do something.
DO ANYTHING. EXECUTE. Anything but college.
It's for the stupid who like to pay their way to nothing. Even if all you do is read my stuff and execute on it, you'll be far better off.
Maybe I should have saved some of my money, because when my ads stopped being published (the newspaper finally refused to publish my "business ad" in the "personal classifieds"
section) , my "business" was crushed.
But that only made me double-down on my efforts to find another way to sell my product.
And then, a lightbulb went off. Why not sell it online? I quickly found a host
(this was 1998), and that's when I first discovered reselling web hosting as a business model. Customers will pay you again and again (and again), year after year, and there was no need to stuff envelopes ever again!
Don't Settle, No Matter What. This is what's known as 'Pivoting' - something that many fledgling businesses should do when things...
don't seem to be taking off. And it separates the boys from the men, the girls from the women.
In pivotal moments, most would be tempted to abandon ship or double down in their ways, leading to a "stuck" business or even worse, giving up on their dreams. The wise thing to do is to reevaluate your entire business model and question everything. If you're stuck, don't settle. Don't give up. Chart a new course.
In no time at all, I set up a reseller web hosting company and my hosting brands: Hosting Temple and WorldLightHosting. I don't really remember why I chose those names. I know, they're freaking weird. I promise I wasn't planning to set up a cult or a religion. Although, that may have paid off more!
Operating out of my parents' basement in Austria in Europe, I nearly drove them nuts with the constant pinging of the HumanClick LiveChat support program (now LivePerson) that I was using to attend to as many as 50 customers simultaneously, by myself. Ping, ping, ping-ping-ping...
They eventually dumped me at my grandmother's place, happy to be rid of the menace.
My very first eviction!
As my ambitions grew, any hope my folks had of me following them in their medical professions flew out the window. I was cut out to be a REAL ENTREPRENEUR, and so that's what I set out to do.
I had great expectations for my first company. Harley-Davidson, Apple Computers, Google, and Hewlett-Packard had emerged from similarly humble beginnings. I was in good company and certain that my future was bright…
… until it hit me. I wasn't going to make it big by being just a reseller. I needed my own servers. I wanted a real business. I wanted to be my own boss and not depend on someone else to run things for me. What was the point of doing well if you were still at the bottom of the food chain? I developed a relentless obsession with building something big.. I couldn't wait to get to the top. When my host found out I was looking for my own servers, he shut me down, and took all my customers. Only a few dozen, but hey, it hurt!
It's not like this reselling gig didn't teach me anything. Try handling tech support and irate customers who sometimes knew more than I did. It might not be the best way to learn the tricks of the trade, but it surely was the fastest route to take.
Sometimes you have to jump into the deep end of the pool if you want to learn how to swim.
How do they say… just do it!
Having made up my mind to set up a real business, the only thing that remained was to find someone to help me buy my first server. My secret stash of money at the time only got me half of one. Staying true to unconventional (read: absurd) ways of approaching things, I did what any sane person WOULD NOT have done:
sent out 3,000 emails to absolute strangers in the States asking for funding. That was me "playing the odds."
I know this isn't one of the most intelligent ideas you've come across to raise money for a business. 2,999 of those people would have agreed with you. But, I was counting on finding that one person who was as eccentric as me; who shared my vision and actually agreed to part with his money; and who eventually helped build my second data center (by hand, in Kentucky).
Thank you - David Holt. Much of what I am today is because of you and I am glad you have remained a good friend to the company and to me.
After some time, we moved the operations from Kentucky to Florida. We constructed our first data center facility in the hopes of becoming a more efficient business and take our service to a different level. We became one of the fastest growing hosts at the time.
Within two years, I grew the business from zero to almost $8,000,000 in annual revenues - entirely using Yahoo and Google Pay Per Click advertising.
Unfortunately, the dice rolled in the wrong direction again. My partner, suffering from acute nervous breakdown, snapped one 'not-so-fine' day and literally switched off the main power switch to the data center. He then proceeded to lock me out of the business, along with our Ukrainian and Austrian operations (where I was still based).
With the service deteriorating drastically and the bad press the company attracted, it didn't take long before the credit card companies shut down merchant services, bills couldn't be paid anymore, Internet connectivity was shut-off, and every single customer upped and left. And along with them went millions of dollars of my own. This was my most expensive lesson to date. I lost everything I built the three prior years.
What a 'charmed' life I was living. The first company got me thrown out of the house. The second had its data center hammered to pieces. I couldn't wait to see what was ahead. Was I going to get lucky the third time round? Who cares?
This is what I do.
I put all my energy into setting up a new business - again from scratch.
IX Web Hosting was born, and I built my second data center in Kentucky. IX did really well, surpassing my first company in size, scope, and ambition. I recovered what I'd lost pretty quickly.
Learn From Your Failures. Do not EVER give up! You may have heard this a thousand times and it sure is overused...
in a motivational bullshit kind of way, but it holds true. Especially for entrepreneurs. Your venture is bound to run into trouble and sometimes, you will hit rock bottom.
Your venture is your baby. Your blood.
You wouldn't abandon your baby, would you? So why abandon your dreams? Instead of letting your failures break you, start from scratch with a renewed spirit and zeal that does justice to the important lessons you've learned from your failures.
Excited as we were about having the new venture up and running, it wasn't too long before we hit troubled waters again. In a shocking twist of events, I was accused of being a terrorist - partly because of my Arab name and partly because a fake extremist was being hosted on my servers, unbeknownst to me. It was an odd experience then… but now I laugh it off, and even share it as a funny anecdote with the crazy people I hang out with.
While this expedition had its fair share of roadblocks and landslides, IX Web Hosting has moved from strength to strength. We outgrew our data center in Kentucky and moved to Columbus, Ohio, building our third data center in process.
In a short span of time, the size of the Ohio support team doubled and we also launched Cloud IX, our cloud platform, which is proving to be one of our most successful divisions.
Today, Ecommerce has a team of over 200 employees and we have offices in the US, in Ukraine, Romania and India. Our team helps manage a gazillion websites across 200+ countries. We're counted among the top 50 web hosting companies in the US and ten thousands of businesses are thankful for the services and support we provide in order to help them succeed.
Life is good again!!
So, here we are. It's been a fun ride till now, with potentially as many twists and as much drama as a good run of Breaking Bad. I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey and hope you liked reading about it. While you disembark here, I'm already making arrangements to set off on another adventure:
My biggest one yet, and also the closest to my heart: Ecommerce.Com.
I envision Ecommerce.com as my payback to my customers who have given me everything. I am not your typical Guru and have no gray hair (yet!), but I do have a fair amount of knowledge to share. My company has hosted a lot of successful websites and that has given me a special insight into what works, and what doesn't.
Coupled with the conversations I've had with my customers and my own success...
I can tell you about what to do to grow your business online.
Ecommerce.Com is my open book of how to grow and manage a business online, and share valuable insights (and a few well-kept secrets) that will help and guide you. Ready to start learning?
Put The Customers Needs First. So here's the thing about customers.. YOUR customers. They don't buy your product for its features...
and in most cases, not even for its benefits. Girls don't buy dresses for the quality of the fabric and guys aren't interested in cars for the power of their engines.
What they are REALLY after is the experience it promises.
How good are they going to look in the dress? More importantly, how much more highly will people around her perceive her based on her dress? More attractive? More well put together? More refined and classy? More intelligent? How will her interactions change based on that?
Or a fancy car. Sure, it provides safety and comfort. But again, it has the power to change people's perceptions of us (not necessarily in positive ways!), or the promise of the ultimate road trip. It has has the power to make us feel better internally. Likewise, the landscaping service is really selling a promise of beautiful mornings spent sipping tea in the garden, and the AC repair shop round the corner means peaceful nights and undisturbed sleep.
And that's what your customer is ultimately buying. That's what you need to talk to them about. That's
what you need to keep in mind when you design your product.