How it All Went Down
It’s 2008, and I just spent the last two hours playing Mario Kart with my childhood friend, Emil. What started as a friendly wager for a single Big Mac turned into several “double or nothing” bets. Eventually, I cut my losses — down 32 Big Macs.
You see, we were 20-years-old and didn’t have a care in the world. We were both working full-time jobs, and in our spare time, we were collaborating on a new project: a website comparing online bingo sites.
This was our fourth or fifth business by this time, and we hadn’t really tasted any success — yet.
We would meet a few times a week in his parents’ basement to brainstorm creative strategies and experiment with various digital marketing techniques. We had little experience in affiliate marketing and even less in online bingo, but we were persistent and saw the potential.
Emil ran the website and handled the technical side, and I managed the marketing and content. We tried a lot of new strategies and made a lot of mistakes, but we believed that eventually we would start to find what worked. And if not, at least we were having fun and learning something new.
As the months went by, our bingo website got better and better every day. However, when we checked the revenues, the numbers didn’t add up. We continued working on it for a few more months but eventually lost focus as we had not generated any tangible return on our effort.
Emil and I went back to the drawing board, and we started brainstorming new business ideas.
For almost a year, we started and stopped several other projects, including a local food guide, a casino software, and a local digital marketing agency. Of all the projects, the web agency proved to be the most successful, and we began putting our energy into building clientele.
Then, one day, we decided to check in on our old online bingo project. We originally partnered with about 20 different bingo brands, each with their own affiliate software. To check earnings, we had to log into our affiliate accounts for each of those 20 brands. As we expected, the first account had $0. Then, the second and third —nothing.
Just as we were about to call it quits, we logged into the fourth affiliate backend. We saw earnings of $1,300.
We couldn’t believe it. The online bingo site we haven’t touched in almost a year had earned us $1,300.
As it turned out, this bingo site that we had been building had slowly started to climb in Google search results, and when people looked for bingo or casino terms, they found us, read about the different offers we compared, and moved on to one of the sites we recommended—and we had gotten $1,300 in return for the users signing up at the bingo site.
For us this was the first real proof of concept that something we did could work—and scale! We decided that we wanted to focus on building our own brand instead of continuing to work with other, local businesses. So, we started focusing more and more on building our affiliate business and learning more about SEO.
Fast forward another year, and we had continued to progress by leaps and bounds. At that time, it was still a side hustle that we worked on a few nights a week. On average, we spent between 20-40 hours a month working on this project.
There were no miracles happening on the revenue side but we had gone from $1,300 in our first year to about $10,000 our second year and were starting to consistently hit about $3,000 per month. That was when we decided to give this little venture our full attention. So, we quit our other commitments and become full time entrepreneurs.
The third year, we made about $30,000. Two years after that, we took on investors and made almost $500,000. Finally, in 2016, we had 80 employees, multiple offices, and decided to take the next step and list our once side hustle on the Nasdaq Stockholm AB with a $200M valuation.
How You Can Forge Your Own Path
I could never have designed the blueprint for how we’d build that side hustle to $200M. We were fortunate to have the right idea at the right time which took a bit of luck.
Ultimately, I attribute a lot of our success to the experience and failures we experienced along the way. While I wish I could tell you the recipe for replicating your own successful side hustle, the reality is — you’ll need to forge your own path and get a lot of good luck along the way.
With that said, I have put together five tips that helped me succeed and which may help you, too!
1. Develop the Right Habits
There’s a saying I absolutely live by: “New goals don’t create new results. New habits create new results.”
One of the most important things I learned on my entrepreneurial journey is that we idealize the concept of setting and achieving specific goals too much. Don’t create new goals — create the lifestyle you envision for your future.
Setting goals that you may or may not achieve based on factors out of your control such as luck or being in the right place at the right time is like treating the symptoms rather than the disease. A goal in itself is just meaningless words.
For example, a common goal I hear a lot is, “I want to have a million dollars.”
But what does this mean? Why do you want a million dollars? You may think that million dollars will create happiness and freedom in your life, but the reality of the situation is, you are setting a goal about something that you have no idea what it would be like to have or how it would impact you.
So instead of saying, “I want a million dollars”, try instead to create a life that creates happiness and freedom, and instill habits that do just that. You will find that you didn’t actually want the million dollars, you wanted how you thought it would make me feel. My advice is to constantly make today 1% better than yesterday.
2. Understand How You Learn
Simply put, if you enjoy something — it feels less like work. This principle applies to learning, too. We all have different techniques and topics which we enjoy more than others, so discover what yours are and use those to grow.
Follow what sparks your interest. In my experience, the best book is the one you can’t put down, the best healthy food is the one you enjoy eating, and the best workout is the physical activity you want to do. Don’t force your learning to be whatever someone tells you is the best — figure it out on your own.
You learn best when you are enjoying what you are doing. Rather than focusing on one resource or technique, consider trying a few different ones to understand which technique, topic, or resource helps you learn the best.
A common misconception with entrepreneurship is that you should follow your one true passion. Well, if you’re anything like me, you’re passionate about many things. I’m passionate about philanthropy and saving the world, but I’m also passionate about making money and entrepreneurship — I’ve blended these two passions together in my new project Great.com.
Instead of going too narrow with your learning, try following whatever sparks your curiosity. Don’t be afraid to go down rabbit holes and experiment with new and wild ideas. Go join online forums or local meetups, reach out to thought-leaders on social media with questions, and listen to podcasts or read books.
Try immersing yourself in different topics and resources to understand what works best for you, and when you come out on the other side of it all — you’ll be better for it!
3. Get the Ball Rolling on Social Media
One skill that has helped me substantially is developing a social media presence. When it comes to succeeding on social media, it boils down to one thing: create a lot of great content.
Social media is inherently meant to be social, so don’t treat it as a one-way communication channel. Be sure to engage with followers, comment on other accounts, and start conversations.
Before I really started working on social media, I would spend a lot of time in different online forums. Building your name and credibility in those niche forums is the same process as building your social media presence:
- Create new and interested topics
- Participate in discussions by others
- Provide genuine and relevant values
Social media is a powerful tool at your disposal that is often underutilized by many. You have the ability to reach people like never before. Consider using social media to pitch and prove your ideas, interact with authorities in your industry, and build your own name in your space.
You need to leave a footprint. If you continuously leave a footprint in your market, people will start recognizing you. This tip is something I believe strongly in. If you want to grow your brand (personal or company) in an industry, start following thought leaders in that industry and liking, sharing, and commenting on their content.
While creating and posting great content on your social media can be difficult and time consuming, if you spend 15-30 minutes every day interacting with posts from people you admire in your space, you’ll start to reap rewards on social media.
4. Become a Great Listener
If I could give any advice to my past self before I started my business, it would be to better develop my listening skills. It’s a super power to be good at listening.
People want to be heard and feel understood. In the business world, listening can help you when networking with influential people and when you want to engage with your target audience.
What do your customers want? How can you help them with their problems? By listening more, you can learn what really makes your audience tick, and then tailor your approach to their needs and embrace the correct tone.
When your audience feels heard, it makes a big difference in how they view you and your brand.
To get started with developing your listening skills, consider asking a lot of questions. The next time you have an important conversation, try focusing on asking a lot of questions and letting the other person steer the conversation.
Really listen to their responses, and if you notice them getting excited or passionate about something, try asking follow-up questions about that topic. By doing this, you’ll discover that you can get a lot more information out of the conversation if you’re letting the other person do most of the talking.
5. Good Things Take Time
I realized that life, while seemingly short, is quite long. People often focus on short-term goals and miss the big picture. They sacrifice the future for the moment.
For example, if you want to get in shape, you might hire a trainer and have them push you in the gym for 6 months. While you would definitely see results, if you hate working out and are only doing it for the end result of being in shape, you may struggle to maintain that lifestyle afterward. Instead, you could spend a few weeks or months trying several different types of workouts until you found something that you actually enjoyed.
While it might take you a little longer to get the same results that the gym provides, you are more likely to keep it up longer because you actually enjoy the activity. Remember; “the best workout is the physical activity you want to do.“
Instead of asking myself, “How can I be as successful as possible in the shortest amount of time?”, I shifted my thinking to, “How can I love something for 50 years?”
Try to avoid focusing on the finish line, and instead start enjoying the process. I believe finding joy and trusting the vision is the best way to avoid rushing. I know that I am more patient and focused when I enjoy the task than when I don’t or when I’m too pressured to finish it.
When you accept that good things take time, it helps you reprioritize your activities and stay more committed in the long-run. When you’re rushing to finish a project in a week, you’re more likely to burn out and become disinterested. When you’re patient, you can take time and mental breaks which will increase your longevity and enjoyment.