My Life Right Now

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.

Pakistan

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.

Mental Health

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.

Work

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.

Options

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?

Where Are Valuations Heading For Internet Businesses And What Does It All Mean

I believe it’s getting tougher on the internet. All markets are getting more competitive. When I started out, it all seemed too easy. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just me getting older & inefficient or are internet businesses actually getting more competitive? The answer always lies in statistics, so I decided to dive in.

I started off my career by making content sites or blogs. There was a mega estate on desktop screens for ads, and the ad-blockers didn’t exist. It was so much easier to monetize blogs compared to now as the screens have gotten smaller and tech-savvy customers are using ad-blockers. With some browsers such as Brave designed to offer ad-blocking by default, it’s getting tougher to run a content site. Despite this trend, a blog would sell for 3x annual profit multiple now compared to 2008 where 1-2x was considered the norm. I sold my first blog in 2010 for a 1.3x multiple or for 16 months profit but the same blog would easily sell for much higher today.

In theory, such low valuation for an internet businesses appear absurd to me. It appears absurd because real-estate in comparison is sold for 15-20x annual earnings which is commonly known as price to rent ratio. This means, buyers of internet property are willing to pay only 15% of what they would pay for a real-estate if both generated similar earnings per month.

The reason why buyers do that is because they believe that real-estate would generate revenue for a longer time-period than internet businesses. But have internet businesses started generating revenue for longer time-period compared to 2008? If not, how have the valuations gone up? Is that because people trust internet businesses more and are willing to believe that they do and will last long enough.

This multiple, in my opinion, will keep going higher. For large softwares, where this multiple is the highest, it already hoovers around 10x. While small to medium softwares go for around 3.5x to 4.5x.

E-commerce, both stand-alone as well as FBA, also seem to be selling for 3.5x to 4.5x annual profits as long as they have minimum 1 year history.

Why are the multiples getting higher? I think this is a sign of trust in the internet businesses. More and more people realize, trust, and believe that internet and internet businesses are here to stay and hence they are willing to pay a higher price to acquire these. With more trust and better valuations, more people want to start internet businesses. I believe that the valuation multiple and competitiveness on the internet are directly proportional.

This is no more an open field. There is cut-throat competition, and it will keep getting harder to the point that economics will be nearly identical of what it is for offline businesses. Before that happens, I recommend that you hop on and enjoy the journey.

How VC Funding Can Kill Innovation

A few days ago, I published a blog post about my views on the future of the open internet. The post mostly focused around Twitter which went from being a very open platform to becoming a very centralized platform completely killing 3rd party apps that it stole innovation from. I believe all these decisions were financial and were driven by pressure from the investors.

Twitter & 3rd Party Apps

A lot of features that we see today on Twitter were actually originally developed and created by 3rd party apps. In fact, the first twitter client for both Mac & iPhone were developed by 3rd parties. Some of the clients got acquired by Twitter including TweetDeck & Tweetie. TweetDeck’s support was killed from all platforms except for Mac. Thousands of other apps were ruthlessly killed by discontinuing API supports.

Financial Decisions

Twitter said the decisions were made to discontinue support for “legacy APIs” at the same time acknowledging that no new APIs will be created. In my opinion, the decision was a financial one, and largely driven by what the investors wanted off Twitter.

Fred Wilson, a VC who invested early-stage in Twitter said in a blog post he wrote in 2016

In the early days of Twitter, there were third party applications (Summize for Search, Tweetie for iOS client, etc). These were all built on Twitter’s API. If Twitter had imagined itself as a protocol instead of an application, these third party applications would not have had to compete with (or get bought by) Twitter. But at the time, there wasn’t an obvious way for Twitter’s founders and management team to benefit from a protocol-based business model.

Fred Wilson

Posterous & Twitter

But the damage wasn’t limited to Twitter clients. Twitter acquired and closed other services too.

Posterous was an ultra-simple blogging platform with focus on social media integration and ultra-easy mobile blogging using emails with support for many forms of media.

Posterous grew at a very fast rate and had over 15 million users by 2012. They ran a wide-spread campaign asking users from smaller or dying platforms to import their blogs to this new dead-simple platform. Anyone who did that most likely regretted that decision as Twitter acquired Posterous in May 2012 only to shutdown the blogging platform, and all blogs hosted on it in the next 6 weeks.

All for financial reasons.

It’s Not Twitter

I don’t hate Twitter. I love it. But everything that Twitter has done was done in the financial interest. And somehow I don’t think it is what Jack wanted off Twitter. If he did, he would have had built Twitter like this from ground-up. But he didn’t. Because he had different plans for Twitter. Plans that obviously changed as financial concerns got in to the picture.

And it isn’t Twitter alone. I only expressed my thoughts with reference to Twitter in continuity of my original post about the open internet, which was also written with Twitter in mind.

All large tech companies have killed platforms and services, acquiring only to shutdown, for financial gains.

And while it looks sexy to say that we’re trying to change the world, with decisions like these we’re actually just trying to change our own lives and those of our investors’. As killing innovation isn’t how you change the world.

1 Month Streak – The Power of Streaks

I started this blog on 7th of November. I promised myself to write here at least once everyday. And I’ve done that so far. Today marks 1 month of me doing that. With that, I wanted to showcase something very important: streaks.

If you want to do anything in your life, anything, its unlikely that you’ll be able to do it if you’re not consistent. Many businesses are not rocket science. In fact most businesses are not. Most businesses require that you run them just long enough, and everyday, to bear the fruits. And streaks, set the perfect stage for that.

Writing here daily is more important for me than it is for you. I think not even a single reader of this blog has read all of what I’ve written so far. But I’ve still written daily because if I don’t, then I may just stop writing at all. Streaks aren’t just helpful in businesses, but in anything you want to do in life.

My brother lost 20 KGs in last 2 years. He didn’t go on a crash diet. He didn’t starve himself, but he went on a streak. He counted calories using MyFitnessPal everyday for 2 years and in the end he got desired results. Had he taken just 1 day off after 6 months, there was a very high probability of him stopping altogether.

And so I highly recommend to you that you introduce streaks in your life.

How Can You Be Wealthy?

Each person looks at this term differently. Probably for some, it means being able to afford Lamborghinis without a second thought. Or being able to stay in presidential suite in Las Vegas. Not for me. I don’t think of wealth like that. Because if you do think of it like that, then there’s always going to be someone ahead of you, there are always going to be things you can’t afford and this is a never ending cycle.

I define wealthy differently. For me, it’s the ability to pay all your bills on an automated basis, without working. In bills I generally include the unavoidable bills including rent, utilities, grocery, school, medical etc and some leeway for vacations, gifts, shopping etc.

I recommend you to find this numerical figure. It’s extremely important to do so. For example, you have calculated that your annual expense end to end is Rs 2 million. This means Rs 165,000 per month or approximately $1079 per month. If you can create a way to generate Rs 165,000 a month without working, you’re wealthy. You are financially free. You can actually retire, regardless of your age.

The second step is finding a way to acquire assets that generate $1079 a month. The mistake that most people make is they don’t wait to spend on luxuries. I want to spend on luxuries too, and I feel everyone should be able to do it. But not without following the right framework.

The right framework requires earning money, saving it, acquiring assets, generating income and spending that income. What most people do is earn money and spend it. Doing what most people do is a perfect way to work until you die. Doing what I recommend you to do is a perfect setup to retire between 5-15 years.

To generate $1079 per month, you can acquire (or build) SaaS/Blog/App for $32,370 (at 30X monthly multiple). If you’re more into “real assets” you can acquire property that does 5% per year for $258,960 or you could invest in stocks that generate annualized average 8% per year by investing $161,850 in stocks. Or you could do a mix of these things by diversifying and invest a total of $100,000 to generate $1079 per month.

It may sound tough, but it really isn’t. Especially if you’re young and have the ability to save more. All you have to do is have a clear goal: A) the numerical figure that you need every month, and B) the numerical figure required to invest to generate ‘A’ every month. Once you have these numbers, you need to see how much can you save each month, and calculate the number of months it’s going to take you to save until you’ve hit ‘B’. By doing so, you’ll have a set date for you to become wealthy.

I recommend you to read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. It’s not the best finance book to read, but it is the best first finance book you should read.

One Psychological Trick That Boosted Our Revenues by 38%

One of our content websites was a gallery website featuring images as “top 10 this” and “top 20 that”. It was an interesting website because bounce rates were super low ( below 20%) due to pagination in galleries and average page-views per user were over 8.

But we were always looking for ways to increase the page-views even higher. This was a website where quantity mattered more as the site had little text and the ad-rates were generally lower, so our focus was on increasing the page-views.

Website layout showing a gallery image 1 of 23

We ran A/B tests and decided to change the pagination heading from “1 of 23” to “1 of 24” adding an increment of 1 to the actual size of galleries. The idea was to trick the user into thinking there is one more photo in the gallery. But on clicking next, the user would end up on the next gallery eventually creating an infinite gallery loop for the user.

The following day, we saw 38% increase in our revenue and our PV/user went from 8 to 12. It’s not an example that I’m very proud of, but it showcases the power of A/B testing and psychological changes you can make to exponentially boost your revenues.

Entrepreneurs Jump Off A Cliff And Assemble A Plane On The Way Down

I didn’t say this. Reid Hoffman did, who is the co-founder of LinkedIn. When I first read it, I thought that he’s totally glamourising entrepreneurs or probably making them sound like super heroes. But over time I’ve learnt to understand the true deep meaning that it meant to convey. And that reminds of a similar story that happened within our company a few years ago.

In December 2012, our company was once presented with a great opportunity by a private ad-network for one of our content websites but there were 2 caveats. They only wanted to roll-out invites to companies or individuals from within UK. And there was a first come first serve sign up that would only last for 24 hours.

Looking at the opportunity, we immediately decided to sign up as promised revenues looked incredible. Soon after that we received the ad codes, ran the campaigns and generated a ton of ad-revenue.

For payments, we spoke to someone and produced documents such as proof of address from within UK, but the ad-network declined to pay. We were told that the payments will only be made to individual name or company name used as part of the on-boarding process, and only to a bank account in UK. At that point, we knew we messed up.

In the next 3 months, I spoke to the banks, prepared my documents to apply for UK visa so I can complete the compliance, set up the company, and eventually by end of March we got PAID!

In hindsight, messing up would have been not signing up because we appeared ineligible. It is what most people do, and they completely miss out on big opportunities. Whats the worst that could have happened? Not getting paid after running campaign? Wouldn’t that be the outcome of not signing up at all as well?

This isn’t just my story. Over the past many years, I’ve met hundreds of freelancers & entrepreneurs who just dive in, arrange PayPal, virtual bank accounts in various countries powered by companies like Payoneer and TransferWise but what they don’t do is miss an opportunity. And so if you ever want to make it big, don’t miss an opportunity. Instead, jump off a cliff and assemble a plane on the way down.

Winning The Passive Wealth Generation Game With Blogs

When I first got involved in the digital space, my family was both supportive and skeptical. My father wanted me to go ahead, experiment and spend my time on this newfound hobby which he thought was productive. At the same time, my mother although also supportive, thought this was at best only a hobby. I was also occasionally reminded that this could be a great way to make an extra buck, but only that.

Over the long term, I have come to realization that internet is way more than extra buck. On the contrary, it is the greatest wealth generation tool ever made in the human history. Let me explain.

Just like any business, an online business also has customers or consumers. It also has some walk-in traffic and some footfall, often more than the physical counterpart. In fact I do not know of any physical business in the world with a potential footfall of 3 billion people. And just like any business, an online business is going to last for at least as long as you’re going to serve your customers, and sometimes even longer.

A few days ago, I posted a story about a failure that made me over $17,000 passively. Today, I wanted to give you another case study. In December of 2013, I published my last post on my music blog Koolmuzone. Over the past 6 years, Koolmuzone has continued to serve views day after day. In fact, yesterday it still served nearly 20% of the views that it served in Nov 2013 exactly 6 years ago. Which means the business could still potentially be earning 20% of the monthly revenue years after it was closed. And since closure, it has served content 15,785,164 times.

Koolmuzone Traffic Stats, Nov 2019

I can’t think of a better way of building wealth than years worth of free passive money and if you want to win this game, go ahead and make your first app, blog, Facebook page, vlog or website. Deploy it, fail or win, and let the passive number game be in your favor.

Fiverr Is Awesome, But It Can Ruin Your Life

This blog post isn’t about Fiverr in general. It’s about freelancing, which I think is a great place to kick-start your internet journey from. I mentioned Fiverr over other platforms because it starts as low as $5 and that’s a great point to start from. But I’ll get back to this later.

Back Story

As already mentioned many times over, I started in 2002 with a homepage, a music site and a web-forum. Given that I didn’t have $50 as a teen to buy a domain or a hosting, it was difficult to get started. Many other young Pakistanis and people from other emerging countries face the same problem even today; investment. They don’t have money as little as $50 to start their internet business. Which is why I love Fiverr. As a kid, I didn’t know you could earn a living on the internet by providing services. I only knew about the display ads and running a website needed investment. That has changed drastically over the past many years.

Why I Love It

You can basically get started today if you know anything at all. If you know a certain language, you can translate. If you are a fluent speaker, you can provide voice-over services. If you can click, I think you’ll find a job for that too. For clicking thousands of times everyday. And I love all of this because it is the simplest way to get started. It requires no money, little skill, and you can start selling. This is why I love Fiverr.

I also love Fiverr because selling services is not just about having a skill. It’s also about marketing, sales, customer service and more. And running a gig prepares you for all of that. You learn everything about selling end to end. Along the way you can make some mistakes, and it’s all going to be fine. Your customer only pays very little and expects a few mistakes. He’s gonna be some-what patient with you. Fiverr teaches you a lot. I think the hardest part is making the first $100 online and Fiverr makes that easier. $1,000, $10,000 and beyond comes fairly easily compared to the first $100.

So if you don’t work online at the moment, go ahead and sign up at Fiverr straight away. But if you’re already working as a freelancer, keep reading.

Why I Hate It

As mentioned already, I think Fiverr is a nice starting point, but just that; a nice starting point. I believe in value creation over the long-term, passively or actively, but over the long-term. None of that happens on Fiverr, or any other freelancing platform unless of course you’re running an entire company or agency over the freelancing platform.

One of the greatest investors ever, Warren Buffett, says

If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.

I believe in that. In making money while you sleep and it’s just not possible if you are only trading time against money. Time is limited and it is going to only make limited money for you and of course only while you’re awake and working.

Blogs, on the other hand, could provide long-term value. You could keep making money for many years even if you stop updating, or leave altogether. You could also sell it in the end for at least 20X your monthly profits. Software as a Service would also build long term value for you. Instead of providing your service individually and only once, you could be offering it to everyone again and again building not only nice monthly recurring revenue but a great value asset at the same time. Youtube channel, Instagram, Facebook Page; all of these can create long-term value. It doesn’t just have to be one of these things, but I highly encourage you to build a product or a user-base, no matter what kind.

Because I feel freelancing is great, but products are the shit!

My Sweetest Failure Made Me $17,239.85

Everyone says it’s great to fail. They say if you don’t fail enough times, you stand no chance at succeeding. I agree with that. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about one particular failure. A blog that I abandoned. Yet, it netted me $17,239.85. Which by the way is not an arbitrary figure. I exported it from my bank statement to know exactly how sweet was my failure.

Sometime in 2010, I started a technology blog. I was supposed to write about jailbreaking iPhone, rooting Android and all the other crazy things that you can do with your phones. Except that I don’t do crazy things with my phones and I had no interest in writing in this area. I started it because I heard the CPMs (Revenue per 1000 ad impressions) in tech are great (and they were). I also started it because many of my friends and colleagues were doing great with their tech blogs. The blog was inspired by Taimur Asad‘s RedmondPie and Zawad Iftikhar‘s SegmentNext. Since it wasn’t something I was passionate about, despite a good start, I just didn’t have the patience to run it for the long haul.

Stats for RewriteTech since inception till date of publication

Personally I gave this blog about two weeks. Later I hired some writers and let them contribute content with no oversight by me but eventually stopped that too since I couldn’t see any growth. Over the past 9 years, I have passively generated $17,239.85 (average $160/mo) after costs from the leftover traffic that Google kept sending in small numbers. Like someone said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. This post is about that. About taking a shot. Almost missing it. And still walking away with a pile of cash. Could it happen, if I didn’t take this shot? Will it happen, if you don’t take a shot?