Traveling Abroad: One Benefit of Online Entrepreneurship
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This article is part of the FitnessTexter travel series. A collection of posts that highlight one of the main benefits of online entrepreneurship, traveling abroad.
I don’t like to consider myself a digital nomad. I actually dislike the phrase, it sounds too pretentious and Instagram-hashtagy. A nomad would be someone that doesn’t like calling someplace their home; someone who is constantly on the move (#wanderlust!). I, on the contrary, love having a place to call home. My home, however, has changed many times during the past five years.
My journey into the world of online entrepreneurship is a strange one. How it went from online entrepreneurship to traveling and living in Barcelona is another long story. Then that leaves me where I am today (April 24, 2017), sitting on my bed in Rome, Italy, next to my Italian girlfriend of nearly two years. Well, let’s get this show on the road.
I graduated from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in May 2010. I graduated with one of the most pointless degrees, marketing! Honestly, I have a hard time quantifying how pointless a marketing degree is. I learned more during my first internship/year of running a business than I learned during five years of business school. However, I would like to highlight one great professor I had, Joseph Redden. His 4000-level marketing strategy class was one of the most difficult classes I had my senior year. He got rid of all the marketing fluff (I’m talking about you Four P’s) and got down to the numbers side of marketing. Honestly, probably the only truly worthwhile course I took in Carlson besides accounting. Too much fluff, not enough substance.
After graduating from college, I got a paid internship ($10/hour) at Augeo Affinity Marketing. They’re a Minneapolis-based marketing company that sets up loyalty rewards programs for large corporations. One of my assignments during my internship was to research text message marketing software. They were looking to get into the business. I did a thorough market research paper for my bosses and they promptly put it into the file cabinet. No biggie. That’s what happens to most intern research.
Sometime during this internship, I realized that I was sick of living in Minneapolis and needed a change. I had studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a year and a half during college, and I really wanted to live a place where I’d be able to speak Spanish. So, god have mercy on my soul, I decided to move to Miami.
As pretty as the city may appear, let me tell you, Miami is one of the shittiest places in the world. That last link goes to my old blog from college. I wrote a seething writeup on why living in Miami is one of the worst decisions one can make. If you like people wearing gross gigantic watches, steroids, asking how much you earn on a date, or tacky sports cars, Miami is for you! However, if you’re not obsessed with wealth, you should probably avoid that shit hole, devoid of any substance.
After 16 months in Miami, I got the hell out of there. However, while I was there, I started Text Marketing Miami. Using what I learned about text message marketing software during my internship, I invested in some expensive texting software and started looking for clients.
I initially worked with nail salons and a couple delis to build texting clubs for their businesses. They built a list of people who wanted to receive a monthly VIP text and then the business could send out occasional text blasts. Long story short, it wasn’t the most successful business. I spent more time looking for people to give it a try than actually having any success.
However, I did have one client, KnockOut Zone Miami, that changed the course of my business forever. Their manager, Krista, was using one of my texting codes to send out a free two week pass. No building VIP lists and sending monthly texts. Just a simple lead generation system using text message marketing. I thought it was sure to be a failure (why not just have them email for a free pass or something, why text?) However, when I went to check up on the business a couple months later, Krista provided the testimonial below.
I just wanted to take the time to thank you. FitnessTexter is the highest return on investment we have ever received in our business. We have generated thousands in new revenue and also boosted our electronic fund transfers in a very short amount of time. We cannot thank you enough for your service and support.
It turns out that hundreds of people were texting her keyword in order to key the free two-week pass. Maybe they were too scared to come in and ask for it in person, maybe they were on the website late at night and the keyword gave them an easy way to sign up without having to communicate with anyone. I have many different theories about why FitnessTexter generates so many leads.
While in Miami, I set up around 25 CrossFit boxes with texting software. They nearly all had great results and I realized that I might be onto something. Long story not that short, I decided to leave Miami and moved to Denver, Colorado. Though I didn’t stay forever, it turned out to be one of the best choices in my life.
While in Denver, I changed Text Marketing Miami to GymTexter to Boost Fitness Marketing. I finally settled on FitnessTexter since I was working with gyms, yoga studios, MMA gyms, bootcamps, etc and not just plain old gyms. I keep the BoostFitnessMarketing.com URL since it has so many years of good Google PageRank, but no longer own the GymTexter URL (It’s some Brooklyn guys/gals now).
While in Denver, I kept working on FitnessTexter as a side project. I had found my niche, fitness center lead generation, and I was going to hit it hard. I put in a lot of effort and sent a lot of emails but the money wasn’t enough. I got a job at a restaurant and fell back into the server lifestyle. After said stint in the restaurant and realizing that it was probably time for me to give up on entrepreneurship, I put on my big boy pants and got an office job doing online marketing (Google Adwords and SEO) for PaySimple. Working at PaySimple was a blast. The marketing team was young and fun. We had a good time and I learned a lot. However, an office job turned out to be a lot more soul-draining than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t like the office small talk, the constant “we should get a beer sometime!” that never happened, and the monotony of walking into the office, turning on my computer and spending the next eight hours with my ass glued to the chair. There are some people who crave the safety and routine of a stable office job. Sometimes I envy them. They like the yearly raises and the conference calls. I’m not that person. I live on a LOT less money than I could be making in corporate America, but I have quite a bit more freedom.
That said, I quit PaySimple and went to programming school. Why programming school? Well, working at PaySimple, I got to see our developers working in front of black screens with colored code. None of us in marketing had any idea of what they actually typed per se, but we knew that the end result was the very product we spent our time marketing. They could have an idea for the product (small business financial software) and put it into action in a matter of a week. I thought that was one of the coolest things ever. I’ve had cool business app ideas since college and I finally wanted to have the ability to make them happen.
Well, coding bootcamps were all the rage then (2013), but the only one in Denver was too expensive ($20,000). After doing my normal week or two of tedious research, I decided to go to an online Ruby on Rails programming school, the Launch School, and couldn’t be happier with the results. Though I’m 100% positive I could get a job as a Ruby on Rails developer right now, I decided against another office job. I currently use my ruby skills to build hobby apps and mess around with APIs.
While I was working through my programming classes, I kept putting effort into FitnessTexter and the effort started to pay off. I sent out marketing flyers, I used my newly-acquired AdWords knowledge to market the business, I emailed LOTS of people. Here’s a screenshot from my 2014 FitnessTexter earnings. It wasn’t a whole lot, but it showed me that if I put effort into FitnessTexter, there was a very real possibility that I could make a long-term lifestyle out of it.
At the end of 2014, my roommate decided he was going to move to New York City to pursue a career in the film industry. Seeing as I had been in Denver for nearly three years and I had no real ties to the city, I felt like it was time to spread my wings a bit. My sister offered me her extra room in Tampa (where she was studying with her husband), so I moved to Tampa for four months and did FitnessTexter from there.
While in Tampa, I was invited to go paragliding in Spain by my good friend Tim Stahl. He’s a true paragliding professional. He started flying a little bit after me, but really dedicated himself to it and it paid off. He had been flying tandem passengers in Taiwan(where he got his masters) and was getting ready to head to Spain for a summer of flying. Organyà, Spain is famous for being one of the best acrobatic paragliding locations in the world. The wind is strong and steady and it makes for nearly non-stop flying.
Prior to leaving for Spain, I took my car from Tampa to Salt Lake City and did a paragliding skills clinic with Brad Gunnuscio, one of the top US SIV instructors. I started paragliding in 2011, but never really pursued it full-time. I wanted to get back into it and this trip to Spain seemed like a perfect starting point. I spent three weeks camping in the back of my 1997 Subaru Legacy (codename Young Whip) and had a wonderful time flying and hanging out in Salt Lake City.
From Salt Lake City, I drove to Minneapolis to see a college friend and catch a flight to Barcelona. I purchased a one-way ticket, not wanting to have any stress on when I’d be returning. I wanted to keep my options open.
My first night in Barcelona, I met an Italian girl (that’s another story) that had also just arrived in Barcelona. We hit it off and the rest is history. I was still living in Organya at the time, but I made it a point to spend four days paragliding and then three days in Barcelona with her. We played this back and forth game for a couple months until I finally decided I wanted to give the relationship a go. I flew back to the USA in October 2015 and returned with a student visa to study Spanish in Barcelona in November 2015.
Barcelona was very fun, but also a bit difficult. Working from Europe with clients in the USA can cause some timezone issues. If a FitnessTexter client wants to talk at 6pm Pacific Time, that’s nearly impossible. 6pm in San Fran is 3am in Barcelona. However, I automated some of the FitnessTexter emails and got it mostly under control. I could probably make more money running FitnessTexter from the USA, but it’s sure a lot of fun running it from abroad.
Marianna and I have been dating for two years and we have been able to travel a ton together. I’ve been lucky enough to run FitnessTexter from my laptop from a variety of cool locations. I set up clients while living in Barcelona, while road tripping through the United States, during a three-month vacation to Buenos Aires and Patagonia, and now, currently, from Rome.
I went to Barcelona in July 2015 for a three-month paragliding vacation and haven’t “lived” in the United States since. I come back to the US often, but I’ve been living and working from Barcelona, Wisconsin, Rome, Buenos Aires and Patagonia during the past two years, all thanks to running an online business.
Check out the travel section of the FitnessTexter blog. You’ll find lots and lots of posts about the cool trips and traveling experiences I’ve been able to have thanks to running an online business.
I know attribution isn’t required, but PixaBay deserves a backlink for their kickass free pictures.