I don’t say this about too many interviews – but today’s is an epic one.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Bourquin, who went from being a cop for the LAPD, to becoming a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. This wasn’t a “one hit wonder” either – he has successfully started and grown multiple businesses, a couple of which he eventually sold.
In this interview, Tim takes us through his many successes (and even a failure or two) in great depth – very fascinating and inspiring stuff.
Today, he runs an innovative internet business that I think you’ll find interesting, especially if you currently have an e-mail list for your website or business.
Tim, I’m really interested in learning about your journey as a serial entrepreneur, as I understand you’ve launched and sold multiple companies. We’ll eventually get into your current company, but first, tell us about your journey – where did it all begin? Can you briefly walk through the details behind the companies you previously launched and sold?
I started my first business while I was a police officer with LAPD. I was working the Career Criminal Unit in 1996, chasing down gang members and parolees who were wanted for violent crimes. I loved being a cop, but I also had a desire to start my own business.
Back then, online investing was just getting started. Online brokers like E*Trade, Ameritrade and Scottrade were just getting started and there wasn’t a lot of information out there about how to trade stocks online. I opened up two small accounts at the first online brokers (they don’t even exist anymore) and started trading. Other officers at work started asking about what I was doing, so I wrote up a 10-page document about how to get started and find good stocks to buy. I kept adding to it and that 10-page “report” turned into a 75 page book that started selling online.
It was a huge pain to get a merchant account back then. Most credit card processing companies had no idea how to handle online sales and many simply didn’t allow it. I found one that did, jumped through all the hoops (there were many) and finally got approved. I found another site doing “buy now” buttons and had a programmer connect my crude website to the merchant account.
Within a few months, I was selling 30-40 copies a day at $30 a piece. I would print out every one of them, bind them with a cover, and my wife would take them to the post office. That year I spent thousands of dollars on printer toner, binding supplies, paper and postage. I was worried it could end at any moment so I kept working as a cop, but I used the book profits and my trading profits to pay off every bill I had and my condo that I had bought for $88,000.
By 1998, I wanted to get together with other traders to talk about what they were doing. So I put up a classified ad in the local paper saying I would be at a coffee shop the next Saturday morning if anyone wanted to talk about online trading. I thought no one would show up, but three people did and we talked for about 3 hours about how we were trading online and what we were doing to make money. Over the next six months, online trading (everything online, actually) was exploding and that breakfast of 4 turned into over 500 people meeting every other Saturday in a hotel ballroom.
One of the co-founders of an online trading broker called Cybertrader was at a meeting and asked if he could put a table at the back of the room to promote his company. I stupidly resisted at first – it just never occurred to me that I could make this something bigger than it already was. But he kept asking and I finally relented and told him it would be $1,000 to have a table at the back of one meeting. He agreed and other companies started asking to have a table at the back of the room. That one table became ten, and the Online Trading Expo was born. We had our first tradeshow in Ontario, California in 1999 and 2,600 people attended. We had expected about 1,000.
I could see the company was going to be successful, so I left the police department. It was a tough decision because I truly loved my job but the allure of owning my own business was too strong. Over the next three years we held events in New York, Florida, and Dallas. I sold the event to a financial trade show company in 2004 for several million dollars. I took some time off while I decided what to do next.
I decided to start a trade show about nanotechnology. It was a subject that was starting to get a lot of press but I knew nothing about it. I put $150,000 into it and figured I could start the first large trade show for the industry. It was a miserable failure and the show never got off the ground. I lost every penny I put into it. It was a hard lesson but an important one – stick to what you know. I knew trade shows by that point but I didn’t know anyone in the nanotechnology industry or what was important to them. From then on I decided to only work on businesses I knew something about personally.
I went back to my roots and started talking with other traders about how they were making money in the markets and finding good trades. I thought others might be interested in hearing how these traders were making money so I started putting them online at TraderInterviews.com. In 2004 it took a bit of work to put audio online. I used RealPlayer and Windows Media to put the audio links online. I taught myself how to edit audio with Cool Edit (now called Adobe Audition) and used these awful audio converters to turn the audio into a bunch of different formats. It took forever and often crashed my system.
I was also getting into mountain biking at the time and decided to start interviewing other mountain bikers about gear, training and the best places to ride. I started getting requests from people who wanted an easy way to get the audio on to their portable MP3 players so they could listen while they were out riding. I did some research online and saw people talking about “podcasting.” I’d never heard the term but saw that it was possible to send audio files to people automatically through RSS feeds.
There were a lot of people asking questions about the equipment they needed to do audio and how to grow an audience for their content. There were also a few companies just launching to provide software and tools to create and distribute podcasts. The old trade show guy in me decided that podcasting needed it’s own event to bring all the podcasters and companies together. I launched the Podcast Expo in 2005 and about 800 people attended. I knew almost every podcaster by name! It was great fun to see people meeting in the hallways and saying, “Hey, I listen to your show!” We did one event each year for three years.
TraderInterviews.com was also growing and I felt like I wanted to focus my efforts there. Rick Calvert and his team at Blogworld was doing a great job with their event, and honestly it was better than mine and he was starting to add podcasting to the event because many bloggers were starting to podcast as well. So, I sold the event to Blogworld a couple years later. I also sold off the mountain biking podcast, then called Endurance Planet, to an entrepreneur and triathlete.
I was then able to focus solely on building the content on Trader Interviews and looking for new ways to monetize the site. I sold the site just a few months ago to focus on AfterOffers.com (more about that in a bit).
What has been your greatest success (or successes) so far in your entrepreneurial career?
Selling the Online Trading Expo was definitely my biggest pay day, but I think growing Trader Interviews from a free site into a membership podcast site and finally selling that one as well, was very satisfying.
There are still a lot of people out there who feel like content should be free. Ignore them. When I first told people that Trader Interviews was going to be a membership site, I got a few emails from grumpy people. I didn’t care – those people were never going to become members anyway. People who buy from you don’t send you emails first telling you how great it is that you are charging now. They just sign up. Trader Interviews was a lot of work and provided great value to the listeners. It was worth charging for and I recommend everyone have at least some sort of paid product on their sites.
99% of everyone who tries to create content supported by advertising will never get the kind of traffic needed to support a salary for the founder. Google Adsense pays practically nothing and getting ads directly or through a network requires a lot of traffic to get paid anything worthwhile.
I tested all kinds of different membership types – monthly memberships, annual memberships and lifetime memberships. The most profitable combination was selling lifetime membership and, single interviews a la carte. The average “stick rate” for monthly members was about six months and we charged $39 per month (about $240 per member). In the online trading space, a six-month stick rate is very good. A lifetime membership was $499 so ultimately we were making nearly double the revenue AND more people were signing up for the lifetime membership than the monthly membership.
Even though we wouldn’t be able to sell those lifetime members on another membership, it just made more sense financially to only offer the lifetime membership and a la carte interviews that were expensive by themselves ($25). I also offered to credit any individual interview purchases toward the lifetime membership if they decided to join. The individual interview purchase became our de facto “trial” to the site.
The site was averaging about $250,000 per year and was actually on track to do about double that last year when I sold it.
You can probably tell there is a theme here – I always try to monetize the businesses I start one last time by selling them off. My weakness is that I probably sell my businesses too early, but the reason I do so is because the part of being an entrepreneur the most is the launch and growth phase. Once a business starts to grow into the “management” phase, I start to enjoy it less and there inevitably comes a day when I want to launch something else and I decide to sell. It’s worked out well anyway, but I probably could have waited a bit longer on some of the sites and businesses I’ve launched and made more money by selling a more mature enterprise.
Tell us more about your current company, After Offers. What’s it all about, and where did you get the idea to start it?
My brother and I were looking for new ways to monetize Trader Interviews, especially the free newsletter that we used to promote the paid membership. Only about 5% of the free newsletter subscribers would become paying members. For many site owners, if they get 2% of their list to become members they are doing well. I felt there was an opportunity to monetize the 95% of our free subscribers that never joined the site.
The experience for most subscribers when they join an email newsletter on a website is:
1. They enter their name and email
2. They click the subscribe button
3. They see a page that says something like, “Thanks for joining our newsletter. Stay tuned for some great stuff.”
I felt that was a missed opportunity! Someone has just taken enough interest in our content and site to join our email list and we send them to a dead end page with nothing else to do. More experienced internet marketers use that opportunity to do an upsell to a paid product, but what if you don’t have a paid product or if they don’t yet know enough about what you offer to make that decision?
We thought that since they had just made a decision to join our list, how about asking them if they’d like to join other lists on the same topic and get paid each time they did so? Since they joined our list about online trading, how about asking if they wanted to join the E*Trade mailing list as well? Would E*Trade pay us $1 for a new subscriber for their own list each time we sent them one? Turns out they would! I knew the pie was big enough for everyone so I wasn’t worried about sending subscribers to other related companies.
There were a few services out there that did this, but they were very difficult to implement and use. We wanted more control over the process. So my brother Emile built the After Offers platform from scratch. It allowed website owners to use their email sign up “thank you” page to offer other content and newsletters in the same topic and industry and get paid each time they generated a new subscriber for those companies. Most importantly, it was simple to install and use.
We started out in the online investing and trading vertical since I had relationships there already with both website owners and newsletter owners who wanted to grow quickly. But we quickly saw the potential to expand to other verticals like travel blogs, entrepreneur blogs, food blogs and parenting blogs. It’s a fast, easy way to monetize any type of blog or website that has an email newsletter without ugly ads or low-paying AdSense ads all over the place.
And this one we are building for the long term! My brother and I have agreed not to sell this one any time soon.
I’m sure you’ve seen quite a bit about how different people approach e-mail marketing, given your entire business is based around it. What are 1-2 things you think most people are doing wrong, and what are your suggestions for those people?
I think the biggest thing I see is websites who don’t have an email newsletter at all, and rely just on their blog or podcast and RSS feed to reach their audience. That’s a huge mistake. Anyone who has been building their email list for a while will tell you that they make the majority of their money with email marketing.
Certainly you can promote things with blog posts, but not everyone is monitoring their RSS feeds or your blog directly. An email newsletter is a terrific way to reach out to your audience in another medium. Everyone checks their email daily but not everyone checks their RSS feed reader or your blog directly every day.
Plus, some bloggers don’t want to promote anything in their posts or there are times when you want to send a message to your audience that just isn’t “blog post worthy.” Those are both times when a quick email message works well.
I would also caution against using Feedburner as your email list. It’s free, but in this case it’s definitely true that “you get what you pay for.” Feedburner puts control of your email distribution in the hands of Google and you can only send a message when you add a blog post. Google eliminated Google Reader last year, too. If they felt that even the Reader wasn’t important enough to keep, how long will it be until they eliminate the RSS feed via Feedburner as well? That’s just too risky and gives me too little control over how you can reach your subscribers.
I recommend to everyone that they get the entry-level account at Aweber or GetResponse or Feedblitz and start a simple email newsletter. Even if all you do is email your list when you put up new content, you can later start doing other promotions and sending messages with auto-responders. It doesn’t cost a lot and you’ll have the flexibility to use utilize your email list to promote your own paid products or to help your friends in the business build theirs.
Having your own email list will also give you something to “trade” with other list owners to promote each other’s blogs or podcasts. I’m not talking about giving anyone your list outright, but you can each send a message to your own lists to promote each other’s webinars or free or paid products and grow your list quickly by doing a few of these message trades with other site owners each month.
And of course I have to mention you can use After Offers to monetize or grow your list too!
For someone who is just starting out building an e-mail list (i.e. they have 0 subscribers), what advice would you offer? In other words, what do you wish someone told you about when you first started?
The first thing to do is just get your signup form up on your site. Even if you have no traffic on your site yet and are just starting out, you want to give readers a way to join your list. All of the email newsletter services have “cut and paste” opt-in forms that are easy to put on any WordPress page.
Certainly you should have an opt-in form on the sidebar of every page and I would also recommend having it in the middle and at the bottom of every blog post. A “lightbox” or pop-up opt-in form that comes up after someone has been on your site for 60 seconds (or when they start to leave) will also help you grow your list quickly.
If your budget allows, I also recommend signing up for LeadPages.net, which offers terrific opt-in landing page templates you can use to get subscribers. LeadPages.net also offers something new called LeadLinks that allows you to put a link to your opt-in form anywhere on the Internet. You could do guest blog posts and put a link to a pop-up opt-in form in your bio at the end of the post.
You could also also join forums and message boards in your industry and begin contributing helpful posts and comments to others. Almost all forums and message boards allow for a signature at the bottom of your message where you can link to your site and email opt-in form. Make valuable suggestions and detailed contributions to the forum and you’ll find your email list growing quickly as people try to find out more about you.
Finally, if you have a few extra dollars you can spend $50 and do some small test advertising on Google and Bing with exact keywords. You can link those ads directly to an opt-in landing page for your email newsletter. You don’t need to offer some giant 200-page E-book as the “carrot” to join your list. Take your best blog post, expand on it to make a 5-page PDF report, and offer that as your “bribe” to join your email newsletter. You can get someone on Fiverr.com to turn your 5-page Word or Pages document into a beautiful PDF for five bucks!
Finally, the mistake I see a lot of content creators making is that they wait too long to start selling something on their site, whether it be a report or a membership. The common myth out there is that if you give people tons and tons of great free content, they will fall all over themselves to buy something later when you finally offer it. It doesn’t work that way. Giving away tons of free content just makes people want more free stuff from you.
Give away great stuff, of course, but develop something to sell now and make it available on your site as soon as possible. Even if it is just a $17 report on how to do something, it sets the tone on your site that you have valuable content and some of it is worthy of your audience’s dollars. You may not sell much of it immediately, but it tells your audience that your hard work is worth paying for.
If you had to take your overall best business advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
You deserve to get paid for the content you create. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
I’ve talked about some of these already but they are:
– LeadPages.net (email newsletter opt-in boxes and landing pages)
– Aweber.com, GetResponse.com, feedblitz.com (email newsletter services)
– WebinarOptin.com (allows you to sign up people for your webinar and email list at the same time)
– Fiverr.com (graphics and e-book design for cheap!)
Finally, where can people find you online?
You can reach me at:
- on my blog at Blog.AfterOffers.com
- connect with me on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/timbourquin
Tim, thanks so much for this very detailed and insightful interview – it was a pleasure!
(Note Added 3/18/14: Be sure to read the comments – one reader asked a few great questions that Tim provided detailed answers to.)
What did you think about the interview with Tim? Definitely a great story in my eyes. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!
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