How does a founder generate $30,000 in 45 days? And why did sales stall after that?
Ryan Hart put up a web site with a Google map and let people buy virtual countries on it. His site is called MillionDollarEarth.com.
I invited him here to talk about what happened, and what happened after Google started asking him to pay to use its mapping service.
Ryan Hart, Million Dollar Earth
Ryan Hart is the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Million Dollar Earth which allows businesses to own digital real estate and display their social profiles.
Andrew: Coming up: Well, by the time you watch this interview, the site we talk about could be out of business. Why? And what could you do to avoid that kind of fate for yourself? Well, today’s entrepreneur is going to get very open with you. Stay tuned and you’ll learn how to protect your company. Also, have you ever watched a website get celebrity after celebrity after celebrity using it, and said to yourself, “Hey, I’d like that kind of action. I want them to be on my site. I want them to use my products.” You’re about to learn a tactic that I don’t think you’ll hear anywhere else. Tune in for that and so much more in this interview. Let’s go.
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Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. The place where you come because you know that I’m going to bring you people who are trying to do something big. Sometimes, they make it, sometimes they don’t, but always they come here and they’re as open as I can possibly get them to be, which is pretty freaking open. In this interview, I want to find out: how does a founder generate 30,000 dollars in 45 days. 30,000 dollars, 45 days of business, and then why did sales stall after that? Ryan Hart put up a website with a Google map on it, and he let people by virtual countries on it. His site is called milliondollarearth.com and I invited him here to talk about what happened with his business and what happened after Google started asking him to pay up to use its mapping service. Ryan, welcome.
Ryan: Hey, Andrew.
Andrew: Is there, by the way, a chance that when we have people go to your site while watching this video that the site won’t be up because of what’s going on with Google?
Ryan: So at this moment we’ve reinvested all of our 29,500 dollars in sales back into development, marketing, PR, trying to get sales to jump again. So, Google’s asked us to pay 9,000 dollars to pay for an annual API license. It grants us a million page views or one year of service. So at the moment we’ve got 200 dollars in our bank account, so we need to come up with 9,000 dollars as of two days ago. So the site may be shut down in the meantime, but I told them I needed about three weeks to even have a chance to pay up. So that’s what we’re looking at. I want to keep the site up for people who currently bought cities and so that’s what I’m working towards.
Andrew: OK. And it is possible that someone comes in and buys a few cities the way you’ve had happen in the past and suddenly everything turns around. What I want to know, as I told you in the intro is, how you got all those sales early on and then what you learned from that experience and what you wish you’d done differently and, anyway, how the whole thing played out. Because I think you had some really interesting sales especially early on.
Andrew: Let’s go back and find out where you got this idea. It came to you as you watched something Google created called Google Sky, is that right, is that where the idea that eventually led to this idea came from?
Ryan: Right. Yeah, if you go to google.com/sky, you can look at the map of the entire solar system. And I was browsing on the stars and it was really interactive, and I was thinking if I could Google analytics page view time- length, I was on there for probably 10 minutes.
Andrew: Just browsing the stars on a Google site. OK.
Ryan: So I was like, man, that’s a pretty good ad revenue if you could put ads on it. And so I looked at the API and it was version two, I think. And it really wasn’t documented, so I went to Google Maps and saw that there was documentation. You could put the API on your own site. So I took the idea from the stars and put it down on the earth, and came up with the idea that you could buy a city or landmark or…
Andrew: But wait. The first thing you did, if I understand your story right, is you said, ‘Google is making available a map of the sky complete with the starts in the sky,’ right?
Andrew: And for years we’ve heard, especially around Valentine’s Day, these ads for people who sell guys the right to buy a star with their girl’s name on it, or vice-versa. And they get the certificate and it feels like there’s a star in the sky named after you, and you said, “Hey, wait a minute. Now, I could do this online, virtually, sell the stars.” Do I have that right?
Ryan: Yeah, so I created YourStarForever.com.
Ryan: And I ran a deal with Groupon, in Seattle, a year and a half ago for Valentine’s Day. And so that went pretty well. A lot of star-naming sites, they actually say “Name a Star”, and no-one can actually name a star. There are only about 200 that had Arabic names. The rest have numbers–almost like an IP address. So I wanted to be honest and straightforward and not try to deceive people, so I called it ‘Dedicate Star’ and it’s a star dedication.
Andrew: This is what I always imagined was going on with those guys who were advertising on the radio. They basically said anyone can name a star. There’s no official star naming thing, right?
Ryan: Well, they claim it’s official.
Andrew: It’s official according to a body–an organization that they create, right? Official, according to their company.
Ryan: Yeah. They send a USB drive with data of their database up into space on a satellite. You can pay a couple of thousand dollars to do that. And then they bind a book and put it in the Library of Congress.
Ryan: They basically self-publish on Lulu.
Ryan: And so they say it’s in the Library of Congress and it’s in the space station. So there are creative ways, like you’ve got to give it to them that they’re good marketers.
Andrew: Right. Essentially, that’s all it is–it’s marketing. And it’s kind of fun, you give to your girlfriend, and who’s to say that that’s not more meaningful or less meaningful than giving flowers, which are basically dead plants. So that’s what they were doing to make money. You had this vision and you wanted to clean it up a little bit by saying ‘Dedicate a Star’. Who developed this for you? Are you programming it yourself?
Ryan: I’m not a programmer.
Ryan: But I have a buddy in town, Scott Dole, of Elite Web and Graphic Design.
Ryan: And so, basically, anything that I dream up, he and I can sit down and build it–just the two of us. He has design and development background, and so it’s two combined skill sets that really can…
Andrew: And what do you bring to it?
Ryan: The idea. I take on all the risk and all the reward. And…
Andrew: All the risk, and the reward?
Ryan: Right. Yeah, he’s a contractor so [??].
Andrew: OK. So you just sit down with Scott and you say, ‘Scott, here’s my next vision, here. What I need you to do is build this.’ And because you’re sitting together, you’re in the same city, you’re not working virtually, you can collaborate much more freely and you guys sound like you’re friends.
Andrew: OK. So what did it cost you to have this site, YourStarForever.com, built?
Ryan: Within $1000, it was like 1300.
Andrew: OK. So roughly 1300, give or take a 1000 bucks. You got it on Groupon around Valentine’s Day in one city. But still it’s Groupon and Valentine’s Day and at the height of Groupon’s success. How much revenue did you bring in from that?
Ryan: They only ran it as a side deal, so it wasn’t featured in Seattle. And so I did 171 sales. I think it brought in, like, $3000.
Ryan: And so we donate 10% of our revenues to Rooftop 519.
Ryan: They bring injured and ill children to the US for medical treatment that can’t get it elsewhere. So that was one that we could partner with them around Valentine’s Day.
Andrew: OK. So what it is a success for Groupon? Was it something that you could have expanded if it wasn’t seasonal?
Ryan: Yeah, well, the thing is we ran it in January, in Seattle. I was thinking, man, we can roll this out Valentine’s Day.
Ryan: I’ve got 1.1 million stars making $15 a star. Let me go buy my Ferrari.
Ryan: Yeah, but I was getting really excited. And the email, they sent out 2,800 emails or something. And they purchase per email, is like 144. So it was a really high conversion rate. So I was thinking it was going to, you know, scale out nationwide and be an online deal. But for whatever reason they decided not to jump on it. I think they had their Valentine’s Day national deals booked at the time. And so I try to do mother’s day, I tried to go living social. And so, yeah, I haven’t gotten picked up for a national deal yet.
Andrew: And so, you said, this isn’t working, I got to come up with something else.
Andrew: All right. So you let this site just sit there. People can still name stars as I understand it even today, right?
Andrew: All right. And then you said, why don’t I take this same idea and apply it to earth. Why earth, why did you decide to do that?
Ryan: I think it just made sense because there are so many points that are relevant to different people. Like I’m in Tacoma, Washington, you know, I went to a guy and I knew in Tacoma and I said hey what city would you want to buy. And so he made me an offer before the site was even up to purchase Tacoma. So it’s, I think people can relate to different points. Their brand is tied to certain areas. Like Coca Cola is in Atlanta. Chicago Bulls have Chicago. We’ve got Ashton Kutcher on Los Angeles. And I even got Charlie Sheen on Idiotville, Oregon.
Andrew: So Charlie himself bought Idiotville, Oregon?
Ryan: I donated it to his publicist.
Andrew: Oh this is clever.
Andrew: Let’s hold on the publicist and how you got the word out about it. But I see that Charlie Sheen is on your site. I saw that, what’s his name? Ashton Kutcher’s on there. I want to get to how you publicized it. Because that’s where you had your biggest strengths and from what I understand, your biggest disappointments, too.
Andrew: So, you build the first version that roughly cost you 13,000. You go back to Scot Dale [SP]. You say Scot, I got a new idea here, same thing but with earth. How much does it cost you to have that built?
Ryan: It can cost me in development 26,000.
Andrew: 26,000. Even though he already built the first one. How do you feel about that?
Ryan: It’s a completely different API. And so it was, and it’s best to generally start from scratch. There are so many things that are different. So, I ended up going to, I met 7 different investors. And I said look I’ll give you 20% of the company. Which is probably going to be worth $200,000, for $30,000. And I structured it as a convertible dead note. So that means that if the company fails, or goes bankrupt, they get the first $30,000 assets. And if the company becomes successful, they can convert the 30,000 loan to me and get 20% equity. And get paid out in that. So, it was the 7th investor. I met with John (?) at the same day. And really there are the least likely that I thought would take me up in my offer. I just wanted to keep them in the root, because someday something can work out with them. So that’s something to worry about like when you have the, you know, a business is starting, you just go with everyone you know because you’ll get a referral or someone maybe, you know, be in different positions than you think they are.
Andrew: The most unlikely investor’s, the one who jumped in. He gave you how much money?
Ryan: Thirty thousand.
Andrew: $30,000. What kind of investor was he?
Ryan: What was that?
Andrew: What kind of investor was he? Was he an experienced angel investor or is this a family friend?
Ryan: It’s a family friend, they are SFO, they come in for like 3 years at a time. And we’ve had companies who would take them public. Grow on type of private funds. And basically clean out the books. Get everyone in position. And take the stock options and move on to the next company.
Andrew: I see, they’re turnaround investors. They come in when things are tough. They turn around and they hopefully have a nice upside from that.
Andrew: OK. So I see where the revenue came in, I mean I see where the investment came in. I see where the investment went. Largely to pay Scot, right? To build half the site. The design, you had your laptop stolen at a conference. Tell us about that.
Ryan: All right. So I had every important file of my entire life pictures and yes everything on my laptop. Now I was attending a conference locally near the airport. And I didn’t even think about crying or theft. I was in my room sleeping at night. Because I had to stay to have the conference. And I heard a Chevy Tahoe car alarm going off. Am I’m like, I’m so tired. I would bet there’s a hundred Tahoe’s out there. That’s not my car getting broken into. And I just go to sleep. So I get up in the morning and go out to my car, grabbed my toothbrush and it was my car that got broken into. They stole my stereo, my subs, all sorts of stuff, but most importantly, they got my laptop. I’d been working on a design in Illustrator, I didn’t have a back-up on Dropbox or anything. I had a couple of days before meeting with Scott and starting the project, so I had to replicate everything in Microsoft Paint. It looked sort of hideous, but it got the point across.
Andrew: All the mock-ups that you designed before, you had to… Sorry?
Ryan: The mock-ups I designed for Million Dollar Earth, I made in Microsoft Paint, even the ones that I showed to my investors.
Andrew: You showed them a screenshot of Google Earth with Microsoft Paint annotation on top of it because that’s all you were able to do?
Ryan: Yeah, that’s all I had.
Andrew: Wow, after your laptop was stolen. Unreal. Do you back up now?
Ryan: Yeah. Everything’s on Dropbox.
Andrew: I see, so now you don’t even have to worry about backing up.
Ryan: No. If someone takes my laptop, I’ll be fine.
Andrew: You paid for the premium service?
Andrew: OK. I’ve got to say, whoever’s listening to this right now, if they’re just fidgeting online, looking for something to do, they should go check out Dropbox and upgrade so that they can move everything over to it, or CrashPlan, or Carbonite, whose founder was on here a while back. Find a way to back up. It is so painful when you lose everything.
Andrew: All right, so you have an investor, you have a design. It’s time for you to go out and start getting customers.
Andrew: How did you start promoting it?
Ryan: All right, a couple different ways. I contracted with a guy in Portland, an Evan Larimore, and he animated the video for Million Dollar Earth. There was a guy named Peter Bishop, and he’s the voice, the British voice. I actually traded him a $100 city in New York in exchange for his voiceover.
Andrew: OK. We should explain. I think I explained it in the beginning, but we should maybe do it again to make sure it’s really clear for people. This is basically a map of the world that you pulled from Google Earth. People can find a city on there, click it, there’s a big button where they can buy it, and once they buy it, I think they can put their Twitter stream, or an ad, or all their Facebook likes. They can basically cultivate it in any number of ways that you make available to them, to show that they own it, and, more importantly, they can sell it to someone else, right?
Ryan: Exactly. Everywhere I was going, I was seeing people saying, “Like us on Facebook”, “Follow us on Twitter”, “Check out our YouTube channel”. And I’m like, “Man, you’re telling me to go to three different places, what do you want me to do?” In a lot of ways, their marketing campaign was disjointed. I’d probably only do one and not the others. I wanted to give businesses a way to unify their social media outreach into one location. That’s what a pin on the map is. You get to have a cross between… You can add on custom widgets, or anything your developer can design. You can put a RSS feed on your blog, you can display your Four Square check-ins in your [??]. You can actually put a Google map on the Google map, and show the physical location.
The best part is… One of my favorite games growing up was Monopoly, and I always used to like… I would buy every property I could. I’d never pass one up. My family would make me offers, and I loved just driving the price up, negotiating, selling off properties, trading. I built that into the site. Someone actually bought Beirut, Lebanon for $500, and someone else came along and told them, through the site, the negotiation price, and would say, “Hey, I want to give you $900 for it.” Then, they accepted the offer, and made a $400 profit.
Andrew: You know what, I can see the excitement of that, especially the fact that it could all happen on this site, but as a guy now who’s done hundreds of interviews, I keep thinking, “Couldn’t Ryan have just done that manually?” Instead of having this back-and-forth, couldn’t there be a button that says, “I want to buy it”, and then Ryan gets in and starts a conversation with them, just to not have to build that out? That feels really expensive.
Ryan: Understand, at that point, I had about 25,000 sales in a couple of weeks. I thought the site was just going to go gangbusters, and I wanted to be able to still run the site and have everything be automated. That’s one of the things that I try to do when I build something. Could I walk away from it for a month, and have it still be running?
Andrew: How do you know how to automate it, until you know what people are doing over and over? Should automation happen before they do it, in anticipation and belief that they’re going to do it? Or, should it happen after you’re so spread thin that you can’t do it anymore, and that’s when you say, “That needs to be automated”?
Ryan: That’s a great question. I think I just took the risk. It probably cost me about $2,500 to build it, and so, in hind sight, it probably was not the right decision, but if the site would have generated half a million in revenue, and I had 50 transfers of properties a day, I think it really would have paid off. So.
Andrew: OK. Fair enough, and it also gives people confidence, too, to know that when they’re buying, that there’s an easy process to sell. I see the benefits of doing that, too. All right. One thing that you do, that you did, you told Jeremy our producer is you got a press kit, press release, and you dropped it off at prweb.com, right?
Andrew: Paid to have that press release sent out and, how much did you pay? What were the results?
Ryan: It was $360 to distribute it. I actually had a coupon from LegalZoom, ’cause I use LegalZoom for everything. Their basic package, when I incorporate and LLC, and so I got it for $200 actually. So what I actually did is I created ten different email address and used a coupon code before it expired. So I’ve got eight accounts left, where I can get it for 200 bucks.
Andrew: Oh, interesting. They gave you a code that you could give to ten friends? Up to ten friends before the code expires?
Ryan: I think you just have to apply it to an account.
Andrew: So you could just set up a thousand different accounts and get-
Andrew: -a thousand different discounts. You said, “Hey, I’m a bootstrapping hustler, here I got to find a way to make every idea go as far as possible. Why take one coupon and use it on one account, when I can use it on multiple accounts and keep doing this?” All right. The first one that … I like that … the first one that you did, how well did it perform? What happened with the 200 bucks that you spent on that first one?
Ryan: All right. So it got picked up by a blog, mr6.cc [SP].
Andrew: M-R the number six dot C-C, a Taiwanese blog.
Ryan: Right. It was awesome because a lot of the blogs I got in the beginning were international. Different languages, so I had to use Google Translate to translate them. In Arabic, it’s translated “The Land of a Million Dollars.” I thought that was sort of poetic, I like the Arabic language. So in the Taiwanese blog they were basically talking about the site, and they said, ‘Hey, you can be the mayor, you can own a city, you can be the king of your country.’ So they came up with a lot of terminology and ways to look at it that I hadn’t in the beginning. There’s a website called Izense, I-Z-E-N-S-E dot com, they do mobile app development for Android and iPhone. They bought in right away. They said, “Hey, I’m going to go buy Hong Kong.” So they spent $2,000 the very first day that I put the press release out. That was exciting. I already had $1,600 in pre- sales, plus their $2,000 and I was on my way.
Andrew: All right. Let’s pause here for a second. Pre-sales, how did you do that?
Ryan: There’s one guy, a guy named Joel at ArtFX [SP] in Tacoma. He does marketing, web development, and I was actually just walking around in Tacoma and I saw his office. I walked up and I knocked on his door and I said, ‘Hey, who’s the owner?’ It was just one of those random times where someone’s like, “Hey man, I really buy into your idea, I love it.” So I gave him $16,000 worth of cities for $1,600. So he grabbed New York, Tacoma a couple … Salt Lake City.
Andrew: But this was you being a door-to-door salesman.
Andrew: Impressive. OK. Complete stranger, you just went in and you started selling him.
Andrew: Is that right.
Ryan: That’s really my only one-to-one personal success story.
Andrew: Why didn’t you do any more if you were already bringing $1,600 from that?
Ryan: Well, first off, I’m discounting my product 90%. That doesn’t really maintain the integrity of the site. I really wanted to sell things at their face value, because I didn’t feel right charging, keep in mind that was before the site was even built. I didn’t feel comfortable charging people publicly 100% and other people with a huge discount. It was sort of just like, a principle thing where … plus I felt my time was better spent just focusing on P.R. If I could get people to talk about me, we’ll probably talk about that later, but that was my best return on my time.
Andrew: OK. Is this guy Occupy Wall Street? I’m on your site right now.
Ryan: No, he’s not. Or, it might be, if that’s what’s on New York.
Andrew: That’s what’s on New York, just Wall Street. He’s pulling in the hash tag Occupy Wall Street within his piece of property on your site. OK. So pre-sales does well, you do a press release, mr6.cc – by the way, I hate to interrupt myself ’cause it looks bad in the transcript when I go back to re-read it – but I’ve got to ask you: how’d you come up with your prices? $1,600 worth of property now is so important now that you’re afraid to discount it too steeply for other people. You charge him ten cents on the dollar. How did you know what the prices would be?
Ryan: OK. So I wanted to have about 1,000 pins for an average price of $1,000 each. Based on that, I figured if I had 20 pins that I sold to major corporations, like Coca-Cola in Atlanta. I thought maybe I can get $10,000 for that. It’s probably in their budget. They have a social media budget obviously, and I could probably fit into that. So I made the 20 largest cities in the world, ten in the U. S. and ten outside the U. S. $10,000 each. From there, I figured I probably only wanted to have one other price point between $1,000 and $10,000, so I just arbitrarily set it at $2,000.
Then I wanted to have an entry level point where I felt like for someone to be on the site and the value I was going to give them relative to what they’ve seen value at Coca-Cola basically. I started out at $100. So it went 100, 200, 500, 1000, 1500, 2000.
Ryan: Since then I’ve added zip codes because I was trying to appeal to more even further entry level, but the value of paying more to a city is that only 20 pins show on the map at a time, and it’s the 20 most expensive pins. So you’d have to drill all the way down to almost your county before you’d actually start to see zip codes.
Andrew: I see. If I drill down, you mean zoom in, in, in until you’re so close that you don’t see the more expensive ones and you can focus in on the ones that are less expensive. OK. A guy comes in, buys Hong Kong, you said for $2,000?
Andrew: All right. You’re feeling like this is good. PR worked. People are actually writing about me, the sales are going well. Two thousand dollars comes in within an hour? Unreal.
Ryan: I think it was overnight.
Andrew: Overnight. Article gets written. Boom, overnight you get the first sale. What happens after that?
Ryan: I realized that, man, bloggers are pretty powerful. I already knew that, but now it was cash in my pocket and I was like, I want to replicate this. I emailed a bunch of my friends. I was like, “Does anyone know any bloggers, big name bloggers, a business on social media, on online marketing?” My friend, Amad Amasaudi [SP] who I went to PLU to get an MBA with, he moved back to Egypt. He’s originally from Yemen. He runs a Carmap [SP]. It’s a Middle East Zillo, basically with a different business model that fits the area. He said, “Hey, I know one guy. If you contact him and mention my name, there’s a good chance he’ll write about you. And so, it was Shabayek, S-H-A-B-A-Y-E-K.com. His name is Ryoof [SP].
And so I emailed him and I said, “Hey, man, here’s my site. I’m a buddy of Amad’s. What do you think? So it was a personal reference to a blogger, and they probably get emails like this all the time. In a way it was sort of lucky that he was interested. He liked the site, so he put up a blog post, and he wasn’t necessarily endorsing it. He said, “Here are the benefits, but here are the risks, like this site might not go anywhere. It really depends on getting a massive amount of people behind it to move it and then you’ll really have value, but until then you take your own risk.” One thing that I did was I gave him an affiliate link which he disclosed in the blog post. I just paid him a commission on sales that he referred to me on a tracking link. That generated another blogger who read his blog also blogged about me.
Ryan: And that was Badawi, B-A-D-A-W-I. His name was Mohammed. One was in Riyadh, one was in Dubai. I ended up getting him to blog as well, and between those two blog posts I think I brought in like, $21,000 in sales. So it brought me up to $25,000.
Andrew: And this is within a matter of days.
Ryan: I think overall it was about a two week time span.
Andrew: Two weeks, from two blog posts, that’s what you’re doing. That’s incredible. OK.
Ryan: When Ryoof Shabayek was writing the blog about me, I realized that I was going to be having all of these visitors from the Middle East. So I talked to Scott, and we sat down and we were trying to find software to translate all of our languages on our site. So we found Bing Translate was actually really good. I think it was actually better than Google Translate.
Ryan: That’s like the only Microsoft product I use. We used Bing Translate to translate the site into thirty-three different languages. And we would put the country codes before it. So, if you want to see the site in Arabic, you go A, R, dot, million dollar earth, dot.com. And the whole site stays in Arabic, no where you click or go.
Andrew: I see, from what I can see, on the bottom of the site, there’s a drop down menu that lets you pick your language also.
Andrew: All right. The guys who bought, why were they buying? Well, you tell me. I saw a look on your face as I asked you. What cities did they buy and why did they buy them?
Ryan: Well, there was one guy who actually bought nine-thousand dollars in cities. I was hanging out with my girlfriend, my now fiancee and my phone kept buzzing. And so I checked my email and it was PayPal coming in. Two- thousand, five-hundred, two-hundred dollars, a thousand dollars. And it just kept on adding up. This guy was just buying CDs left and right. And so he said he bought Rio de Janeiro because of some sort of Olympics there in a couple years. He thought it was going to be a hot city, globally, like London is right now. There’s another guy who actually bought Mecca Medina and Jerusalem. Keep in mind, these are Muslim people with the religion of Islam. And in Islam, those are their holy cities. I think they were priced at a thousand to two- thousand each. And he said, hey Ryan, I’ll give you fifteen-hundred for all three. And I said, hey man, a bird in the hand is two in the bush. So I took the money, gave him the properties. And he was protecting them from infidels, from defiling those holy cities with obscene advertisements or things that weren’t in line with what he believed.
Ryan: And so I thought, that’s admirable, but I’m taking his money. I felt a little bit bad. He wasn’t buying them for advertisement purposes. But someone actually offered him $3,000 for Medina, which was the birth place of Mohammed. And he turned it down. He could have doubled his money and still owned two CDs and he said no. I want to stick to my guns and keep my cities. I bought them for a reason and no one is going to touch them. So that was really interesting.
Andrew: The phone’s buzzing. You’re with your girlfriend. How does it feel on a personal level to be hitting that high?
Ryan: She was really excited. I was really excited too. I think after that, though, I changed my phone to not buzz with emails.
Ryan: You know, when you sit there with your girlfriend, they’re like, are you with me or with your phone? Everyone faces those issues.
Andrew: Can’t you just have PayPal buzz you when orders come in, but not email buzz you?
Ryan: Yeah, that would be nice.
Andrew: What I mean is, a lot of the reasons around success in business is being able to build a bigger business. Some of the reasons have to do with being able to live a nice life-style. But there’s also the part about wanting to impress the person you’re with. To say, this validates your faith in who I am. This validates your belief that I’m not just a dreamer. This shows that I am better than anyone else in the world. I’m something. Did you feel that way with her, at that point?
Ryan: Not quite yet.
Andrew: You didn’t? Even though you were doing twenty, thirty-thousand dollars? It still didn’t? Why not?
Ryan: Well, first off, I hadn’t paid my investors back a dime yet. I’ll put it this way, if I didn’t pay them back, I was going to consider it a failure. And if I didn’t pay myself anything, I wasn’t going to consider it a success.
Andrew: So, you didn’t let yourself get excited about those early orders?
Andrew: Okay. All right. I usually do let myself get really excited. I would show Olivia and try to impress her. I don’t know how impressed she would be, but she’s be impressed enough. And at the same time, internally, I would be worried that the while thing would fall apart.
Andrew: I’d have both of those sides expressed. Alright, so it’s time to grow this thing. The first press release it did well. You told me you did a second press release, using a second account. How did that do?
Ryan: Pretty good. I tried to figure out different angles. So this was during Charlie Sheen’s big blowup on CNN and Fox news. So I was browsing the site, just like everyone else probably was. And I was like, what? Idiotville, Oregon? You know, between Portland and the coast. And I thought, man, Idiotville, who’s the biggest village idiot at the moment, maybe intentional, but it was Charlie Sheen in my opinion, so I thought ‘Heck, let me go put Charlie Sheen on the map.’ So I called his publicist. They said, ‘Thanks for the city, we’ll take the account information, but we don’t know if we’re going to do anything with it.’ They had the property, there was the YouTube video, Facebook and Twitter got put up, and uh… yeah.
Andrew: So basically, you gave it to them so that you can say Charlie Sheen is on the site.
Andrew: And you’ve got an interesting story in it being on Idiotville. I see they did put a video up-
Andrew: -I see him looking like this in it.
Ryan: [laugh] So that was my press release. I put it out and I didn’t get any buzz at all.
Ryan: Nothing. So 200 bucks down the drain.
Andrew: Even though everyone was really excited about Charlie Sheen and talking about every little thing that he did, for some reason this one didn’t hit.
Andrew: OK. Do you know why? Why didn’t it? I know you’re not a PR expert, but you must have thought about this.
Ryan: I think it wasn’t quite newsworthy. It was one level down, like who really cared that Charlie Sheen was mayor of Idiotville on a map that sold pins for … it was too long of a story. It would take five sentences to explain, it wasn’t a one sentence news blurb, which really I think it needs to be to be picked up.
Andrew: Yeah, that makes sense. All right.
Ryan: So it was a derivative of a derivative and in that moment, you think your business is the best thing ever. You think, “Oh, this is newsworthy. This will hit. People will talk about this.” People will re-post it, they’ll write articles. But in hindsight, it’s not.
Andrew: How can you put a check on yourself at that point? Because I remember when my brother and I started out in business, every little idea we had we thought, ‘Everyone is going to freak out with how good it is! We shouldn’t tell anyone ’cause they’re going to think it’s so good that they’re going to steal it, and we can’t wait for the bankers to see how good our idea is because they’re going to have to open up special accounts just to hold all the money that we’re going to make from these ideas!’
Andrew: We needed somebody to be able to put a check on us, but without crushing us. Just some way for us to even get some validation before we go too deep into it. How do you get that?
Ryan: I think the key is, first off, if people tell you they don’t like your idea, you just can’t get crushed. If you get crushed by stuff like that, you’ll quit in business and you shouldn’t be doing it. So you have to have thick skin. I have a couple of friends who just keep things close to their chests, they don’t share stuff, they just keep it quiet, and they launch it and you know … I feel that if I tell everyone I know and get as much feedback as possible … just like yesterday, I picked a guy up from the airport and he gave me a bunch of good ideas for the design of a new site that I’m thinking about doing. I’m going to incorporate that in. So I probably have 70 different people that I talk to over the course of a project that all weigh in, and by the time it’s done, it’s probably a majority of their ideas that I put into the project.
Andrew: I see, OK, so you get unofficial advisors.
Andrew: Now that I think of it, 200 bucks to test out an idea with Charlie Sheen? Not a bad investment. And not a bad way to really test your idea and see if it’s validated. All right. Let’s see what happens next. This was all, all the orders that we talked about up until now, were roughly how long ago?
Ryan: So this started last May 4th. So it was May and June that it was hot.
Andrew: May and June of 2012-
Andrew: -2011. So over a year ago now.
Ryan: Over a year ago. I ended up teaching, guest lecturing at a college class for business, about this company and the professor actually went home afterwards and bought $900 dollars in cities.
Ryan: So I thought, ‘Man!’ That was pretty validating, and that was after two months of not a single dollar in sales. So I was like, “All right, let’s keep this going.” That was in early October last year. So the next idea I came up with was … well, first off, I sat down with my investors. I said, “Look, your $30,000.00 is now $2,200.00. What do we do? I don’t have any sales really for the last two months”…
Andrew: And they’re the turnaround guys-
Andrew: -they should have some good insight, it’s not just their money that you get from the partnership, the investment, you also get good advice. So what did the investors say?
Ryan: I said, “Do you want to put more money in? I wouldn’t really recommend it. Do you want your money back?”
Andrew: You said, “I wouldn’t really recommend it?”
Ryan: I don’t think more money would solve the problem.
Ryan: I don’t think you can throw money at a problem and solve it-
Andrew: Right, you needed some direction and to know where to put the money and where to invest it wisely, OK.
Ryan: Sometimes it’s good to be forced to be creative. I said, “Do you want your money back and lose $27,000. Or should I just go spend the money? Here’s my plan.” I presented the plan to them and what I did is, I took several landmarks around the world and I put them up on eBay to be auctioned. I put a press release out for each one. I did free press releases for four of them. Then, I put the Eiffel Tower as a paid press release.
I don’t know if people know, but in the 1800s, there was a con artist that sold the Eiffel Tower to two different people over the course of a couple of years. And he invited scrap dealers to come and make closed bids on the Eiffel Tower and he said, ‘You guys will make a ton of money scrapping it, right. Take the metal and sell it. But don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell the public because they’ll create an outcry which will ruin your chances of making money scrapping it.’
So, all these scrap dealers came and he sold it to a guy, twice. Two different people over a couple different years. The first guy was so embarrassed that he got taken, it was a quarter of a million dollars in today’s money. He got a pretty good deal on that.
Andrew: So, he was embarrassed, you’re saying, so he didn’t say anything about it?
Ryan: Yes. That’s why he could do it twice. So, I figured, hey there’s a good back story in that, maybe I can play off of that. I can sell the Eiffel Tower for a million dollars. I put it on eBay. I embedded an eBay widget on the actual Eiffel Tower, so it showed how many bids it had, the dollar amount, the time left, the picture. And I ended up selling it for $220 to someone in the Philippines, I think.
Andrew: That’s impressive.
Ryan: Yeah. I was thinking it would go for more. The whole campaign, because I created a video for it, cost me $1200. And I only returned $300 off of it. I had the Pyramids on there. I had Big Ben in London. I had The White House, that was for sale. I think that sold for $100. That campaign really didn’t take off. It didn’t resurrect the site.
Andrew: This is painful, by the way. You had this thing going and then you couldn’t maintain the momentum and it just fell flat. And you were trying ideas. You weren’t . . . Were there times when you were tempted to give in to your worries about this? To say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working. I’m not a good entrepreneur. There’s something wrong with me because look at all these guys who are making businesses work?’ Do you ever get that? You’re nodding. Tell me about that.
Ryan: This last spring I had week where I was, like man, should I just quit and go get a job? Or, should I keep at this? For a week I was reconsidering my career path. At that time, I didn’t really lose any sleep over the business. That’s one thing that doesn’t really affect me. I can compartmentalize and deal with it and work.
There were definitely periods of time where I was like, man, if I work eight hours on this today, I probably won’t make a dime. It won’t make a difference. I think there was a week, a couple different times, where I didn’t do anything. I just let the site run and finally, I’d come up with a good idea or someone to email. Then I would jump back on it.
Sometimes it works well to step back from something or take a break. If you have a lot of energy, work hard. And if you’re just burnt out, just recover. In a way it was demoralizing, too. Imagine taking an axe and chopping a tree and it never falling. And you’re just like, “I’m tired and I don’t want to keep chopping.” [laughter] But the next chop may be the one sends it over.
Andrew: The thing is that what happens to me is, when things don’t work out well, I start to doubt myself. Everything else that I do, then suffers because of this internal doubt. And because everything else I do suffers, my doubt gets bigger and it’s this negative cycle that’s really hard to stop. But you don’t seem to get carried away with that. Why not?
Ryan: I don’t know. I think a lot of it probably has to do with my dad. When he says he believes in me, he’s proud of me, keep going. I had the confidence from him and I believe that I can do it at some point, someday. I’ll have the right time, the right people, the right idea, the right climate. And it will work out. I’m not too . . . I don’t really get caught with . . .
Andrew: You just believe that it’s going to work out for you.
Ryan: Yeah. If it’s not this project, it’ll be the next one.
Andrew: OK. What about with this girlfriend, now fiancee? A lot of guys I know will not propose to the women in their lives, even though they want to be with them forever. They refuse to propose because they want to feel like they’ve made it first. They don’t feel comfortable being married until they feel like they’re comfortable financially. You feel any of that?
Ryan: Yes. I was thinking about proposing last fall. But, it really doesn’t feel responsible because I’m not in a good position. So, I put it off and it was early this summer. But, still, I don’t have any more certainty than I had last year. It just took time to push myself over the edge and understand that thick or thin, rich or poor, we can make it. I don’t have the luxury of having money in the bank and . . .
Andrew: Doesn’t that put you in an insecure place with your fiancee? Doesn’t it make you feel like she’s going to be waiting for me to do something? She’s not thinking as highly of me as I’d like? I’m now taking on this big burden?
Ryan: I don’t know. I have peace about it. She . . .
Andrew: You used to worry about it and now you’ve just come to terms with it.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, she’s wonderful to support. In this situation, it’s wonderful. She’s just a great fiancee/girlfriend.
Andrew: You know what, actually? For me, I do have those tendencies that I described to you when I was asking you if you had them. This feeling that unless I’ve fully made it, I can’t commit to someone else. I’m less of a man, less of a person unless I’ve fully made it. I get into my head that way.
Before I married Olivia, before I proposed to her, it was important for me to have the opposite. I wanted to be financially in pain, somehow. You know, to feel like I was a failure financially, just to see how she would react. And it wasn’t about her. I was thinking, I need that situation in my life before I commit to whoever it is who I find.
That’s what I was thinking before I even met Olivia. Just to see, is this someone who is only going to be with me when things are good? Is this someone who’s only going to be able to tolerate me when things are good? Am I only going to be tolerable when things are good? And it was important to see her reaction to that.
I think that we underestimate the importance of that. To know that there’s someone there who is with you when you think you’re down, when you’re a little bit short with people and when you’re not reacting at your best. Because if they’re with you then, things are better. Life does get easier.
I know there are all these novels about how someone makes money and life stinks as a result. All these kid stories about how someone makes money and it’s lonely at the top. Then he loses it all and regains his friends and everything is happy ever after at the end.
That’s not the way real life works, right? In real life, when you have money, things are easier. When you can pay your health insurance, things are much easier. So, anyway, I went through that test. You’re nodding. What do you think of that? You feel good?
Ryan: In hindsight, I wouldn’t trade this last year for anything. There’s blessing from everything. I’m pretty lucky . . .
Andrew: Where do you come up with this, blessings from everywhere? This is a foreign . . . I grew up in New York where you’re really evaluated every moment based on your success. That’s where this comes from, this attitude of evaluating myself, especially in a financial way.
You don’t seem to have that. You’re almost smiling at me as I say this, like, interesting. You’re looking at me like, this guy’s an interesting weirdo. You don’t feel this. Why not? Where does this feeling come from?
Ryan: Well, first off, I like your perspective of knowing that someone will be with you through thick or thin. Financially low self-esteem. . . You’re questioning yourself as a man and they’re still with you. So, thanks for saying that. That’s what I’m saying, really. I’m lucky to have gone through that and seen.
Being in business, you just can’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t let things get to you when things are down or you’re under pressure or things look uncertain. It doesn’t pay to get paralyzed. Just make the best of everything.
What my dad told me was that the only thing that really matters is that you have your family around you and people that will love you no matter what. I’ve got a great family. I can put gas in my car every week, a roof over my head and a fiancee. So, I really can’t complain.
Andrew: The head of a creative agency once said in an article, “I don’t want people who are creative when they’re inspired. I don’t want people who are great when they’re inspired. I want people who are productive and keep producing, even when they can’t look at the blank page, because it’s too intimidating, even when they don’t feel like it. And I have this belief that as a business person, in fact, even as just a human being in anything that I do, that it’s about the days when I don’t feel at my best; if I produce then, that’s when I’m really proud, the days when I feel really tired. I have no energy. I’m self doubting. If I can still show up at work in those days, that’s when I’m really proud. It’s not about showing up at work when you read an inspiring story and you’re motivated, when something great happens and you are fired up. It’s about showing up when things just stink, when you’re exhausted, when you’re full of self-doubt, when you’re full of external doubt from people. You agree?
Andrew: How are you able to put gas in the car? Where does money come from? Is this too personal, these questions?
Ryan: No, go for it. So, for seven years, until I graduated high school until just a couple years ago, I worked with the family business as a health insurance broker.
Ryan: So I built up a book of a couple hundred clients. So every month when they pay their bill, I get 5% commission for selling the policy. So my income is just spread out over multiple years. So, that’s able to pay my bills right now. And actually, last month was the first month where my clients were dropping off so much that I’m cash flow negative on a monthly basis.
Andrew: So because of those sales that you made a long time ago, you have recurring revenue that you can still pick up now, even though you are not running in the business day to day?
Ryan: So, I’m really lucky with that. Basically, the money I would have made. Imagine real estate agents making a ton of money in that boom. Instead of getting it all that year, it’s spread out over six or seven years.
Andrew: I see.
Ryan: It’s recurring revenue. It’s sort of what’s been able to have me focus on projects like this, over the past three years. I’ve been doing this full time.
Andrew: November 1st, 2011, you got an email. What happened then?
Ryan: You know how sometimes you dread opening your P.O. Box, because you’ll get a ticket in the mail. Or you dread opening your email because you’re going to get that email? Well, I got that email and it was from Google. And they said, man, you’re getting a lot of traffic on million dollar earth. You just hit a quarter million page views in the last six months. We feel you should pay for your license and we can charge you, because it’s in our terms and conditions; because you are making money on top of our service. And I knew that email was going to come some day. I just figured it would be a good thing; because I had so much traffic, I’d be making money. So I got the email and they said, you’ve got 30 days to pay. And I said, can you give to the end of the year? And they said, we’re not going to commit to it, but if we don’t contact you, good luck. So, January 1st, 2012, I hadn’t come up with the $10,000. They shut the site down.
So I transitioned the site to the blog. The blog post explained what had happened. And it’s really tough when you get reprimanded or chastised by someone. I put up: I can’t do anything for people who bought cities. I can’t display your stuff. I took all your $30,000 in revenue, reinvested it in marketing and hosting and web development, and I have nothing to show for it. You can’t even use your city. I’m sorry. I’m going to try and get the map back up. Well, the secretary of the state of Washington, where I am, was following my blog. He was one of my thousands of subscribers and he typed in on there. I know his email address. And he said, well, Ryan, I was considering buying a city on your map. I’m now grateful I didn’t entrust you with my money. Sincerely, Secretary of the State of Washington.
Andrew: How did the Secretary of State of Washington State know you?
Ryan: There’s a political board that we both sit on. It’s a large board of like forty people. I don’t think he really knows me personally, but I don’t know if he knows that they guy from Million Dollar Earth is on that board with him. But he, at some point, found my site; subscribed via his email and was considering buying a city. So that was a blow. That hurt. You know, if someone really says, hey man I don’t like who you are and that means a lot to you, their opinion? Or, you really messed up. That really affected me that day. And so that hurt. Stuff like that comes every two or three weeks. You can’t make everyone happy all the time. You have obligations to some people and you can’t make them to others.
Andrew: I know it’s just human, but I also know when we pay our taxes, I just heard an entrepreneur how painful it is to pay taxes. When you pay your employees a lot of money, you feel like you’re getting a lot of value. When you pay taxes, which are often more than you pay any individual employee, you don’t feel like you get the same thing back. When he said that, someone else said yeah but you get all these great services from the state and they’re there for you, and then something like this happens. Dude, you’re there to help people like me, you don’t have to necessarily ship money to me, you don’t necessarily have to give me free office space, but a little bit of encouragement, it doesn’t hurt.
Ryan: The thing is, government doesn’t owe me anything. Like I try not to have an entitlement mentality. No one owes me anything, and so I need to make my own way on my own and not expect a handout or ask for one
Andrew: So how did you get back up then? First of all that’s a good attitude to have. How’d you get back up?
Ryan: So I had a decision to make. I could, on behalf of Million Dollar Earth, sign a contract with Google committing to pay them, I negotiated to $9,000. They were being kind to me.
Andrew: How much did they want?
Andrew: So 900 is what you agreed to pay.
Ryan: They wanted 10,000 originally, and they lowered it to 9,000 to be kind to me. That’s the most they could do, so I said thank you for that, I appreciate it, it will help. So July 24th, I signed the contract, and I don’t know yet if I’m personally liable for that, because I signed it and under my name I said on behalf of milliondollarearth.com LLC. So they may come after me personally if I can’t pay it and the 24th was what? 4 days ago? So I got like $200 in sales during that period and basically I need to come up with $9,000 before they shut it down and like I said, they emailed me 2 days ago saying where’s my money, and I said try to give me 3 weeks and they said you might get it, you might not.
Andrew: And all along, November 1st you say give me until the end of the year, end of the year comes around, you’re just all along postponing, when the end of the year comes around and it’s time for them to email you back, did they email you back and you stalled even further?
Ryan: No, they just shut it down.
Andrew: Sorry, shut it down. How long were you down?
Ryan: Until July 24th of this year.
Andrew: So for six months plus you were down, I didn’t get that. That is a terrible blow. My site’s been down for 6 hours I feel bad. When it’s down for 6 months, what do you do?
Ryan: So the first thing I did is I said hey, who wants to donate and put the site back up? I’ll give you a sponsorship that just goes smack dab on the front of the homepage, like a logo in the bottom corner. Sponsored by this, right? And it’ll get me up for another year. Nope. I had 1300 people on my email address at that time, no one took me up on that offer. So I started to think, how can I get more creative? Who wants to invest in Million Dollar Earth? So I contacted the guy who owns homepageafrica.com. Similar to mine, but it’s a static map of just Africa and you buy pixels on it. I said, hey man, shut your site down and come own Africa on Million Dollar Earth. I’ll give you $100,000 in ad space for $10,000. I’ll use the $10,000 dollars to put the site back up and we can both market our continents and hopefully it’ll be a win-win, you’ll get a 10 times return on your money. So I almost got him to do that, but he ended up not taking the deal, but he put me in touch with a guy in Sam Amsterdam in Washington, D.C. who actually put me in touch to get this interview.
Andrew: The interview that you and I are doing right now.
Ryan:, Exactly, So you never know. You go one direction and you pick up something else on the side or it helps you in a different way, or contacts come back to help you later in a different area of business.
Andrew: And this is 9,000 a year?
Ryan: Correct, or if I hit a million page views, it’s another $9,000 in page views.
Andrew: Unbelievable, and I asked you before why don’t you switch from Google Maps API’s to someone else and what were you saying? At this point you’ve signed a contract so you can’t really do it, but.
Ryan: My developer said it would be about $4,000 to change the site.
Ryan: And I figured, I really wanted to stay with Google. I love the way the map looks and either way, I had to come up with $4,000 and so this way, I could actually put the site up without the money upfront so I could finance it in a way. If I change the map I have to come up with $4000 on my own before the sales. So I haven’t decided which way to go. And I really felt like this is my only option.
Andrew: What are the 30,000 that you raise goal. You said you went to marketing. What kind of marketing you spend money on?
Ryan: I spent like $5000 in Google banner ads. Waste of money, I didn’t get a single sale.
Andrew: Wow, OK.
Ryan: And I can track all that through (?). I spent like $1500 on StumbleUpon. I didn’t get a single sale. Wasted that money too. StumbleUpon works good for content. If you want people to read your content, you know, or, you know, it probably works better for like theoatmeal.com, you know. Growing a site like that is entertainment value. The people didn’t really understand what a Million Dollar Earth was, and they came straight from StumbleUpon. I really need intermediate, a blogger to explain it to them first. I spent probably $2,000 total on prweb.com. I recoup that at least. That was a good investment. There’s a site called Heor, H-E-O-R- .org. …[??]
Ryan: I think, I don’t remember where I heard of them. It might of been the 4iO work week. But someone was (?) them. And I was clicking on the advertisements, paragraphs at the top of the emails that went out. So I tried that. And I think I got like 150 people who visited this site. It cost me like $2200. But I didn’t get any media out of it. And I didn’t get any sales. So it may have been too small for sample size. And I want to criticize Heor. But it didn’t work for me.
Andrew: One of the issues seems to be from my understand from the previous interview that you’ve had with Jeremy. Is that there wasn’t a landing page. It’s not that your just you were sending people that were from StumbleUpon to your site. Which was a big map. But it’s not just that verse content, it’s a landing page. It said this is exactly what the site is. Click this bottom right now to get it. A simple process, right?
Ryan: I thought I was doing that with my video. So there’s a 58 second video. I might have been 40 seconds. But I figured, keep people’s attention, it explain what it did. At least to me. And, you know, so that wasn’t the landing page. The video on the map. At the bottom right corner.
Andrew: I’m on the site right now. I don’t see the video. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Oh now I see it. There’s a link in the upper right that said watch our video click here.
Andrew: That’s what you mean.
Ryan: If it’s your first time to the site, it opens it automatically.
Andrew: I’m doing, I’m watching your site in incognito view on and it didn’t pop up. But I get now, how it pops up. It takes over a big chunk of real estate on the site and then they click this 53 minute video. And they get to watch. OK. So that’s the way you were dealing with the lack of landing page that explains things clearly and guides people.
Andrew: What else did I want to know? Ashton Kutcher, I just keep looking at your map right now. How did you get him?
Ryan: So he has a company called Katalyst. And I forget the guy’s name there. But I contacted him and I said hey I want Ashton Kutcher’s name on Million Dollar Earth, can I give you lots of (?). You guys resell it and make some money. I’ll get a story out of it. And so he directed me to Catherine something, his publicist. And she was like yeah we’ll take it. But I don’t think he’s going to do anything. He was going through a personal thing last year. And it was once again poor timing. So I would think I was on the right track. Getting celebrities with large Twitter accounts and Facebook followers. To try to engage with this, because there almost not ideal customers.
Andrew: You know, that’s pretty clever that you were able to do this. That you were able to get some big names on your site. It’s a great idea. I hope people take that and somehow run with it. I’m not sure how it fits into, I know it doesn’t fit into everyone’s business. But I hope it fits into some people’s businesses. And I’d like to see them use it. Same thing with TechCrunch. I see TechCrunch on Northern California. And there’s also TechCrunch, the arrow version is in the Middle East . Same thing, you just said I’m going to give this to you.
Ryan: I think ArabCrunch actually bought them though.
Andrew: Oh they did?
Ryan: Yeah. I think that one’s purchased.
Andrew: All right. So we want to find out what you learned from this experience. What you would have done differently? And one thing that you said was, do not take buzz for granted.
Ryan: Yeah. I go to work like 8 hours a day. During those 45 crazy days. And I really should, in hindsight, that time was so valuable. Things were going well. I had steam picking up. I should have just not slept, not ate, just worked myself to the bone. Because it was gone. After 45 days it was gone. And there’s no way to get it back. Once your momentum is gone, you can’t manufacture it. Just don’t take it for granted when you’ve got something good going. Buckle down . . .
Andrew: What would you have done differently? Buckle down and do what?
Ryan: I think my lever, the thing that I could pull and move the most, was contact bloggers.
Andrew: I see.
Ryan: I probably messaged 100, 150 different blogs to their contact form. I don’t know what I could have done more. I just know that was a crucial point when I had more hours in the day to just do more of what I was doing.
Andrew: If you ever get 15 minutes of fame, do not squander it. You would have submitted more press releases. You did three . . . Actually, it seems like you did more than three. But you should have done ten times as many as you did, because that was working for you.
Ryan: Yeah, I should have done one a day, the first ten days or something like that.
Andrew: I see.
Ryan: Because, they were two or three weeks a part between all of them.
Andrew: And you know what, actually, maybe if I understand you right, you did three with PR Web where you had to pay and others with free services.
Ryan: Yeah, PR Log.org.
Andrew: PR Log.org.
Ryan: So, there are free ones but paid distribution, apparently, when journalists log in, so people who use the site. It just bumps you up. You get more views. First off, you still have to be newsworthy or you won’t get mentioned. That’s actually how I met my fiancee. She was writing my press releases. And . . .
Andrew: Nice. Oh, get out. How did you find her to do your press releases?
Ryan: What was that?
Andrew: How did you find her and ask her to do your press releases?
Ryan: We’ve got a pretty cool story. We met at a church we were visiting one night, only time we’ve ever been there. And she volunteered for the speaker. And I’m on the board for his organization.
So, a month later, they were meeting and I was meeting at the next appointment with him. She just stayed and joined our meeting. We sat there and talked. I thought she was really smart. And I was like, “I’d like to work with this girl.”
She had a background in journalism and communications and had great graphic design capabilities. So, I hired her and we worked together for the month and a half before it launched. I ended up writing that last check and the [?] went out the next week.
Andrew: Oh, wow. And you guys have been together for how long now?
Ryan: A year and three months-ish.
Andrew: Wow. All right, let me do a quick plug, here. And then I want to ask you about how you got out of a cop’s handcuffs and a couple of other things [laughs]. That’s an interesting thing to bring up in this interview. But, let me do the quick plug first.
The plug is, as always for Mixergypremium.com. People often, in the audience, ask for a little more information about what Mixergy Premium is. Mixergy is interviews. Mixergy Premium is older interviews, a whole archive of hundreds of interviews and exclusive courses. Over 80 courses, I think, at this point that have never been made available to anyone except Mixergy Premium members. Based on what we’ve discussed in this interview, I recommend you check out two kinds of, and I don’t mean you, necessarily, Ryan. But, I mean the person who is listening to us. I recommend that they check out two different kinds of courses that we have in there. One is how to create a landing page. And we have great entrepreneurs in the landing page creation business, who talk about how they do it, how their customers do it well. And those are available at Mixergypremium.com.
And, since PR has been talked about so much in this interview, I hope you check out the PR course. We brought on someone who does PR especially well to break down her process. She talks about how she found contacts, how she reached out to them, how she gave them stories, how she came up with story ideas, etc. All that and so much more is available at Mixergypremium.com. I guarantee you’ll love it. So, go sign up right now.
All right, handcuffs. A real cop put handcuffs on you?
Ryan: Yeah, I’ve put my own handcuffs on and gotten out of them. I actually showed my technique to a sheriff, who spoke at our Rotary Club recently.
Ryan: You know how everyone wants a spy skill, right? I don’t think I’m necessarily gifted with languages. I can scuba dive or ride a motorcycle, where it’s like playing. But, I really wanted something a little bit better. What I did is I carry around a bobby pin in my wallet.
Andrew: That’s what you’re doing a moment ago? You bend to the side so you can pull out your wallet and there’s the bobby pin. Hard to see, but it’s right there where the wallet bends.
Ryan: I’ve got two of them. In case one of them bends when I need it.
Ryan: Pull it out and you clip off, with some wire snippers, the balls so it’s sharp. If you’re ever hand cuffed behind your back and your fortunate that they don’t lock the handcuffs, which, they only do that if you really struggle and they want to be jerks to you and they’ll crimp them down and lock them, you can watch a YouTube video and learn how to bend it twice and actually pick the lock and get out of it.
Andrew: Just using a bobby pin that doesn’t have those ball, plastic tips at the end, you just clip those off. Using that bobby pin, you can open hand cuffs.
Andrew: You said you know how to do this? There was a Sheriff who came to your rotary club to speak and you said, “Hey, let me test this” and he let you try it out?
Ryan: Actually, I told him about it, but I practiced it on my own.
Andrew: I see. Did you open up his hand cuffs? Did he let you try it? …No.
Ryan: No. But, he had the same Smith and Wesson hand cuffs.
Andrew: I see. He wouldn’t let you try it in front of the whole rotary club.
Andrew: That’s too bad. Let’s see what else I’ve got here that I want to know about you. Investor’s money. You’re now at the point where you’re starting to think of what would happen if you can’t return it.
Andrew: What are you thinking?
Ryan: I’d say I have a twenty percent chance. This interview may help jump start sales. I have a couple other ideas, but really I’m not counting on Million Dollar Earth making any more money. I’m not counting on using it to pay my investors back. If you think about it, the way the deal was structured is, there’s risk and reward for both of us. If the site fails, they get the assets to the company. I’m not personally liable. If it succeeds they get ten or more times their money back. It was a gamble. It just happened to be a bad gamble for them at this moment. But, they felt in a way that I should really find a way to make it right. They said, “We expect you to make the site succeed.” They put the pressure on. I talked to them recently about what I’m planning on doing. I have another company starting up, it’s going to launch in November, I just started development last week. I’m actually going to transfer their convertible debt note over to this company.
Andrew: Really? You don’t have to do that. Are you doing it out of guilt? Or because they were asking for it? …Or out of a sense of obligation?
Ryan: It’s more out of gratefulness. I wouldn’t have been able to move forward with Million Dollar Earth if I didn’t have these people behind me. If this is how I’m going to treat those investors, how am I going to treat my future investors. Part of it was I just raised $100,000 for my new company and I told them, “I’m going to treat my old investors well. I’m going to include them in this and give them some options to get shares and convert their loans with.” I know he probably wanted to be the only investor other than me, because there are benefits to that. But, as far as who you are and who you do business with, I think it potentially went a long ways.
Andrew: You got 100,000 for the new business. How did you get so much? Most people feel like if one thing doesn’t work out they’ll never be able to raise money again. They’ll never be able to succeed again.
Ryan: I’ve been emailing a guy named Matt Conklin[SP]. He’s the angel investor.
Andrew: Founder of Lower My Bills. He’s in Los Angeles.
Ryan: Generally, what I do is, I say three sentences. “You’re a busy guy. Please answer my question.” and I ask him my question. What’s your…
Andrew: Are you pulling up the email?
Andrew: I thought you were pulling up the email. I saw your eyes go over.
Ryan: No. I’m just trying to remember. I said, “What’s your advice on this business?”. I asked him about a business and he replied back, ‘Think bigger.’ That’s it. I probably had a dozen emails with him. Quick answer, quick reply. I figure it works that way. He’ll talk to me. ‘Think bigger.’ Alright, well, I thought I was thinking big, but if you think about it this is small. The market small. For the amount of effort he would put in, due diligence and all that, he may just make a small, tiny amount of money. I have to think bigger and bigger and bigger. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to go bigger each time. What’s my track record? What’s my history? What can I do? How much money can I raise from that? I have a budget for 33,000 for web development, 35,000 for a call center, marketing budget plan on taking a salary starting in January. So that is sort of how that works out.
Andrew: And the way that you got the money was basically by staying in touch with him through short e-mails continuing the conversation?
Ryan: And Matt Coffin [SP] is not the investor.
Andrew: Oh OK.
Ryan: On my blog on heartventures.net I summarized all of our e-mail conversations. In just made me think that I have to go bigger each time, and you know if I failed, I failed. I disclosed the complete thing to my investor.
Actually, I met my current investor sitting in a coffee shop where my youth pastor was. He grabbed my business plan and was like can I read this. After he read it he texted his buddy who just sold his company for 20,000,000, and said, “You need to meet Ryan [SP].” So he flew me to San Francisco and we went through the diligence. I got my letter of intent two days ago. I do not think anything is going to hold it up.
Andrew: Wow, congratulations. So Matt Coffin helped you think through your idea and think bigger, and this investor just happened to meet you through someone you met at a coffee shop? That is unreal. I have got two questions. The first question is why are you not getting Scott Thouhl [SP] as a co- founder instead of paying him tens of thousands of dollars?
Ryan: I gave him the title of co-founder and he is an independent contractor. If the site succeeds, it is just me and my investors that are benefiting. We both care about the project. We are both excited by it.
Andrew: It is really expensive because he is not an equity owner. Why do you not have an equity agreement with him?
Ryan: Well, if you think about it he is a guy with two young daughters under the age of five with a family. He is the only one working.
Andrew: So you are saying that he just cannot do it right now.
Ryan: Yes, he cannot do it. I understand that and really it is the way that I would almost prefer it. I can come up with the money; I can raise it, or use my own money. I do not mind risking what I can afford to lose. So I would like to take on all the risk that I can afford. So in actuality it worked out really well for me.
Andrew: All right, finally we have got an audience of people who are all sitting back and saying what can I learn from Ryan? They are looking at all the things that worked for you and they are saying I have got to see if I can implement that in my business. They are looking at all of the things that did not go right for you and they are saying, what I can do to protect myself from that happening to me. So they are analyzing you.
Andrew: And you are also analyzing your experience with Million Dollar Earth. In your analysis what is the positive stuff that you have got to take with you? What is the stuff that you have got to watch out and not repeat?
Ryan: So I will start with the thing that I do not want to repeat. I should have only spent like 300 dollars combined between Google ads and Stumble Upon, and tested it incrementally and just chopped it off if it did not work. I wasted like 6,000 dollars on that. That almost could have paid for my API license.
So penny-pinching like just because you have got 30,000 coming in and you are like well yeah you know the site is doing great I will just spend some money here to keep it going. Just really watch every dollar that you spend and do not take it for granite because when it is gone it is gone. The thing that I learned from it is I got a lot of experience in every area of a company.
So even if a company fails take what you learned from it. Like Legal zoom, I incorporated everything on my own through them. I set up my bank account got my EIN, paid my taxes, got contracts with all my developers. I researched the social media APIs, and did all of the preproduction and development, learned PR learned Google Analytics, Google Ad words.
Andrew: Just do it yourself.
Ryan: Affiliate Marketing which is huge and that is what got the bloggers to blog about me. I pulled in a third party charity called Charity Water so ten percent of our revenues went to them. I was hoping to get some love back and publicity because they have over 1,000,000 Twitter followers, but we talked about it and it just was not a good fit for them.
Just go and start a project. Risk what you can afford to lose, and you are going to learn a ton. So even if you do not make anything from it and it is a failure, you are going to know what not to do later and what things work well. In a lot of ways you will figure out what you are good at, and what roles you should play and what roles you should not.
Andrew: Alright, well thanks for being so open with your story. I am looking forward to hearing from the audience what they got from this and of course if they want to connect with you I would love for them to do it. Your website is in addition to MillionDollarEarth.com you also have HartVentures.net.
What is another way for them to connect with you directly if they have an idea for how to deal with Google? Maybe they have negotiated with Google and there is a cheaper way to do it. Maybe there is some other thing that you could do. What is a good way for them to talk to you?
Ryan: Email, I check my email twenty-four seven.
Andrew: Can I give the Hart Ventures e-mail that you gave us?
Ryan: Yes. Just Ryan@hartventures.net.
Andrew: Ryan thanks for doing this interview.
Ryan: Yes, thank you Andrew, take care.
Andrew: Thank you all for watching, bye.
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