I purchased Koolmuzone.com in January 2009. By the end of 2009, I had built some kind of traffic as well some kind of authority in the Pakistani music space; but I was still not making anything more than a pocket change. Part of the reason why that happened was because you didn’t really get paid anything for Pakistani traffic. People can relate to that even today. I mean if in 2020 you make significantly less on a Pakistani traffic compared to the US traffic, you can imagine how bad it was in 2009.
Ten months into my efforts to make this work, I still hadn’t generated more than $200. In October of 2009, Telenor announced a blogging competition. Bloggers were supposed to generate maximum outbound traffic from their blogs to Telenor Weblounge Portal. Because I had significant traffic, but no means to monetize, I placed Telenor banners on my blog (for free). A month later, Telenor published the stats and Koolmuzone had won the competition.
By November, I received a Blackberry Bold phone as a prize for the competition. After receiving it, I drove straight to blue area and sold it for $500 so I could use it to fund the future growth of my business.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I enjoyed a 2 year break from work. Or I thought that I would enjoy it, but I didn’t really. I picked many bad habits and got very unhealthy. I am still not healthy, physically, but I was very unhealthy mentally too. I’m quite healthy mentally now.
When you’re deep into something like a 2 year break, its difficult to start working. You don’t want to work. You’re deep in that mental zone that leaves you good for nothing. I was, at least. So I decided to write a blog. Something that I could term productive, but wouldn’t require much effort on my part either. It worked out well for me. Within 30 days of writing, I was working full-time. It really helped me pick up that lost pace.
In 2020, despite COVID-19 pandemic looming above us, we’ve done quite well. We’ve already done tens of thousands of dollars in revenue in the first quarter despite being a super difficult time to operate a business in. This blog helped me do it.
I introduced 365-days streak in my life so I was forced everyday to turn on my laptop and think. For the first few weeks, it was quite easy. I had so much to talk about. I had many stories and experiences to share from the past 10+ years. But then I started running out of stories to talk about.
My daily challenge started to annoy me and continues to do that occasionally. It is especially difficult for me to write when I’m actually busy working on super important aspects of the business yet I’m still forced to write. It sounds bad, but it isn’t. I’m forced to push my limits and boundaries every day. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Other days, when I’m not busy, but also can’t seem to think about anything interesting to write, I start consuming content that I continued to bookmark for weeks and months, but could never find time. So I’m forced to read so I can learn something meaningful that I can then write about. All because I’ve a challenge which can get annoying, but gets me to work, learn, and share.
I have been practicing social distancing for the past 10 days. During this, I’ve went out only once because I needed to buy some important essentials. During the first 3 days, all I did was read about the COVID-19 virus. It wasn’t healthy.
On my 4th day, I enrolled in a digital marketing course that I wanted to do for a long time but couldn’t find time. 3 days into it, I was spending thousands of dollars on ads to try what I had just learnt. I haven’t watched more than 5% of the content of the course yet, and have spent considerably more time trying those things.
During the quarantine, I have found myself busier than I usually am. Before, I was spending considerable amount of time outside of the house mainly to socialize. While that is obviously not a possibility now, I am making the best of this time by not just learning new things but actively trying those in my business.
I haven’t watched Netflix or movies so far in the last 10 days, and I haven’t felt like I have anytime left to think about how to “kill” time during the quarantine.
There are things you always wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Now is the time for that. It’s time for you to be with your family. It’s time for you to play all the games that you wanted to play with your kids, but could never find time. It’s time for you to learn all those skills that just couldn’t fit in your otherwise busy routine. It’s a tough time for all of us if you think about COVID-19. But apart from that, it’s a great time for self-reflection and to make progress in life.
I don’t like doing these posts too much. I like to talk more about meaningful things that could potentially help others and less about myself. But I don’t feel like talking about meaningful stuff today. I want to talk about myself.
2 days ago, Pakistan reported more than 100 cases of COVID-19 in a single day. The government of Pakistan so far is claiming that 100% of the cases are imported ones, and there are no local transmissions. The problem with Pakistan is not the virus itself, but the healthcare system which is over-loaded and in a mess even without the virus. The second problem with Pakistan is that with lockdown more people will die of hunger and poverty than the virus will kill without the lockdown. Hence, Pakistan has adopted a mid-way strategy with regards to social distancing.
For the past few days I kept reading to learn more and more about the virus in order to be more aware of the virus to protect myself and others not only in health terms but also in the markets and to create the right investment strategy. The good thing about consuming all that information is that it kept me busy while I was distancing socially and I learnt a lot of things. The bad thing about consuming this much information on a pandemic is that it induced fear, anxiety and panic in my mind. Today, I’ve decided to pull back. The important stuff will reach me as it will reach everyone. The details, I’m not interested in anymore.
My work is a mess. For the past 15 years, I’ve only known two ways to make money. I either sell ads to make money i-e publishing, blogs, ad-breaks etc
Or I buy ads to make money i-e e-commerce, influencer marketing etc.
Both are in a mess right now.
The CPMs are down as much as 75% depending on the industry you are in. So selling ads is 75% lesser profitable as before. This in theory means this could be a good time to buy ads. While that’s true that CPMs are lower for buying ads too, but that’s because the demand for buying things except for certain essentials is down too. In addition to demand, the supply chain is disrupted too as most things are manufactured in China which is not fully functional even now.
In summary, both e-commerce and publishing are largely affected.
As I was spending more time at home than usual, and do not have much work to do except for reading about the virus, it has been a bad combination for me. So I’m taking a step back.
The options that I can personally think of to keep me engaged are Netflix, reading, courses etc. I don’t think binge-watching Netflix will be too helpful in restoring the right state of mind for me. So I’ve decided to enroll in certain online courses. Work has been absolutely essential for me always to keep me in the right state of mind. I think getting educated further about digital marketing is going to feel as an extension of work to me.
What are you guys going to do if you are in a similar position?
The problem with the traditional mentality is that we feel that in order to make a big buck, we need to know rocket science. Many people believe that their compensation is directly proportional to how much more qualified they are about a certain skill.
This could be true in certain cases especially in competitive or saturated lines of work and most specifically for those seeking fixed compensation in the form of salaries. However, it doesn’t always have to be the case.
If you’re a graphic designer and your main gig is to create thumbnails for YouTube or Facebook videos, may be you can charge $10-$30 for something like this. But if you have the ability to create thumbnails that will have a very high click-through rate on YouTube, then your skill is worth a lot more. You could use your small skill for a massive payout. May be you could even hire or partner with someone who makes videos, while you only focus on those high click-through rate thumbnails and eventually get rewarded long-term by YouTube algorithm.
I have also used small skills for massive payouts by applying them in areas where the reward could be very high. And here’s an example of what I did in 2011.
This was a black hat technique. Most people do not talk about black hat techniques publicly but since I was very young, on an exploration, learning the true power of internet, and also learning my true self, I do not mind talking about it today. It helped me learn a lot and unlocked the true potential of my mind. I discourage black hat as a long-term business model but sharing this is important because I want everyone to know what you can do with very little knowledge if you look in the right places.
I was still in university pursuing a bachelors degree in Computer Science. I had learnt some programming there. Nothing extraordinary, nothing that I could use to score a high paying job. Just good enough on a student scale. I had learnt some HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL etc but not a lot. A couple of assignments, one or two projects. But I found an area where these skills could be applied.
After seeking help from someone who explained me of this technique, I set up a landing page. A simple page with nothing but a video embed and some ads. I used some CSS to place facebook Like button behind the video embed’s play button. Every time a user would play the video, he would also share it on his Facebook without knowing. This way couple of his Facebook friends would also end up on the landing page and would play the video themselves creating a viral loop. In couple of hours, I had over 20,000 users online on the landing page and of course I made a lot of money.
The only skill I used was some CSS which I barely knew enough to be able to sell something for $5 on Fiverr.
Two days ago, I wrote about the reason why I got introduced to PHPMailer. I finished my blog saying that I ended up using PHPMailer for a completely different reason. This blog is a continuation of that.
In 2011, my music blog Koolmuzone was seeing growth faster than it had seen before. It was burning all the rocket fuel, breaking all its previous records. The kind of growth that made certain people uncomfortable.
One late February night became one of the most miserable nights for me. Days became weeks, and weeks became months, but the misery didn’t end. Someone clearly didn’t like me and so he found a way to take Koolmuzone’s Facebook page down.
My page was taken down by a fake DMCA report. It took me many weeks to understand what happened, and I’m going to explain that below as clearly as I possibly can.
Most of the times when you get a DMCA report, it is for copyright infringement. But this one was different. It wasn’t a copyright report. You can see the copy of the claim below
We have removed or disabled access to the following content that you have posted on Facebook because we received a notice from a third party that the content infringes or otherwise violates their rights:
We strongly encourage you to review the content you have posted to Facebook to make sure that you have not posted any other infringing content, as it is our policy to terminate the accounts of repeat infringers when appropriate.
If you believe that we have made a mistake in removing this content, then please visit http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=1108 for more information.
The Facebook Team
The fine line here was that the person who sent this report to Facebook didn’t say I was violating anyone’s copyrights. That there wasn’t any particular piece of content on my page that infringed someone else’s right. The report rather claimed that the ‘page name’ itself is infringing someone’s rights; a trademark claim.
I read that email everyday for many weeks until I found out what happened when I read the following line
This line made me realize that the content that infringes someone’s rights is the page name itself.
After I realized this is a bogus TM claim, I started seeking for the legal ways to acquire trademark for my brand which wasn’t trademarked at that time, neither by me nor by someone else. The TM didn’t exist in any country or jurisdiction. It was a bogus TM claim that Facebook asked me to resolve directly with the other party by providing his (fake) email address that no one responded to.
First Attempt of Recovery
So I went ahead and locally registered my company, acquired the relevant tax number for my business and obtained the relevant trademark. However, in the end I was still asked by Facebook that it doesn’t resolve any DMCA claims, instead I should directly resolve the matter with the claiming party or in a court of law. A party with a pseudonym and a fake email. I was stuck, and I was still devastated.
After spending a few more weeks, sometime in April, I thought of something. I thought if Facebook can be as stupid as this with a fake trademark claim, it could be even more stupid than that.
I realized that there could be a potential solution to this problem and the solution could be PHPMailer. The thing about PHPMailer, or any mailer for that matter, is that you can send email “from” anyone’s email address “to” anyone’s email address. This might be difficult for some people to understand but the way the email protocol works is that you can send an email from an email address that you don’t own or have no access to.
The only thing different about such emails are the “email headers” that are commonly used to verify the real origin of such an email. The email headers mention the real domain name / server IP from where the email originated from and can be helpful in detecting spoof emails.
Because Facebook took a page down on a fake TM claim, I wondered if it would restore the page if the fake email address took the fake TM claim back, without verifying the email headers. And so I sent out that email.
The next morning, my page was restored.
I was hurt, very very hurt. I buckled up and got back to work. I had wasted over 2 months because someone wasn’t happy with the progress we were making.
Over the years, I’ve tried to understand the psychology of people who do that. They think there are two ways to win the race. The first way is to run faster, so you can really get ahead. This, in my opinion, is the only way to actually win and make progress. The second way, however, is to hurt your competition, so you can get ahead of him.
The problem with the second approach is that although you get ahead of your competition, you don’t really move farther in the true sense. You’re still standing right there, only with weapons. And if you think about it; what good does it do to you? If you win a race by eliminating your competition, how does that benefit you?
Sure, you’ll get the winner’s medal but without actually moving forward. You’re not going to have any more visitors coming in or you won’t be generating any more revenue. Why would you do all of this for a fucking medal. If, the person who hurt me, is reading this; think about it.
Since then, in the past 7 years, I’ve never worked in the Pakistani industry. It was toxic and I wonder if anything has changed so far. Even if things have changed, I’ve never really mustered courage to ever work here again.
To all the people who have stood by me during this tough time, I owe everything to all of you. To everyone who were the reason for my pain, I forgive you, although I’ll be surprised if you were seeking forgiveness at all.
In 2010, I met Aamir Atta, founder of ProPakistani, who I think greatly helped me shape my mindset at that time. I was introduced to him by my friend Zeeshan Shafquat Malik aka ZSM, who was editor in chief for ProPakistani at that time.
When I met Aamir bhai, I realized that a large influence of ProPakistani at that time came through his email newsletters. I was already sending out daily RSS newsletter using feedburner, just like the one I send today. But Aamir bhai used to send a custom designed newsletter. Each issue of his newsletter was manually designed and had the most popular and engaging posts pertaining to that period.
To get this kind of flexibility, with no additional cost, it meant that he had to setup his own mailing server. I don’t know if there were other better ways to do this back then with no additional cost. But even if there were, I’m assuming neither me nor Aamir bhai knew about it or couldn’t afford it.
When I came home from the meeting, the first thing I did was setup my own mailing server and so I installed PHPMailer.
It took me some experiments to learn to use it but shortly I was sending out my own customized newsletters too.
After having spent 8 years and after building large amount of audience, I realized that advertising revenue for Pakistani traffic was tens of times lesser, approximated to be 30 times lesser at that time, than American traffic.
It took me 8 years to understand that CPMs for different geographical locations are different. It took me 8 years of my life to really understand that ad dollars aren’t decided out of magic, but are based on supply and demand economics. That ad dollars aren’t chosen arbitrarily, but are driven based on competition.
I was young and dumb. I had no one to tell me or teach me. I couldn’t find right resources on the internet and didn’t know where to look. In hindsight, I wish someone could have told me. Someone could have trained me and saved 8 years of my life. I could be so much ahead of the game by now had I learnt that so early.
But I was on a dial up, YouTube wasn’t founded yet, and there was no community, guidance or mentorship available.
I learnt from my experiences. I got tired trying to do so. I wasted years looking for things with no direction. You don’t have to learn everything from your own experiences. While I know that you will still learn the most out of your own mistakes, I hope and wish that you learn more than me from others.
In the developed world, everything is too developed. The manual tasks are getting lesser visible. The food is now prepared on assembly lines and sold in boxes with an expiry date. Horse-carts, if found anywhere, are for tourists and insta stories.
In summers of 2019, I got to visit Montreal. One of the highlights of the Montreal trip was to visit the old Montreal. The one with cobblestones and horse-carts. Of course, horse-carts aren’t needed. They are just there to get tourists’ attention and money. And to be honest, they do look nice in the old Montreal.
In Istanbul, where I returned from yesterday, fresh juices preparation is for insta stories too. Every-time I saw a fresh juice vendor squeezing juice out of fruits, there were tourists making videos of the process.
Why are they surprised and in awe? Aren’t juices supposed to be prepared like that? Or should juices be a mixture of water, sugar, coloring and flavor all done on assembly lines.
The developed world has developed a bit too much. The under-developed, is a bit too under-developed. The developing world, is where my heart is.
For 3 years, I ran 100% of the operations of our business using a Chromebook. I paid $150 for a brand new device manufactured by Acer called C720. It came with a 16GB solid state hard-drive and a 2GB RAM. I also didn’t have any other computing device in this period.
I used web clients for everything. Google docs for documents, spreadsheets and presentations. I used JSTorrent as a web-based torrent client. For apps with no chrome version, such as Skype, I installed android versions.
Web apps like Canva for light editing work, which is what I also use today. I don’t know how to use any powerful photo or video editing app.
While chromebook may not be an ideal fit for all kind of webpreneurs or freelancers, especially many developers and designers, it did the job just right for me.
I was able to run content sites and blogs seamlessly. I could manage and grow our social assets mainly Facebook pages and I could seamlessly create and update Facebook and other kind of ads.
It could also have been a great fit for my e-commerce business, which I didn’t have at that time.
Right now I use Macbook Air and wouldn’t recommend myself to buy a Chromebook again due to certain limitations it comes with, but the point I’m trying to make is one could get started with something like that especially if funds are limited.
You could of course buy a used windows device for $300 or so in Pakistan, but in comparison you could also buy a used Chromebook for may be $50-$75.