Today we’ll be talking with Chris Parker. And I’m so excited to have Chris because I’ve been using his product for a long, long time. Chris is the founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, a tech-friendly website attracting remarkable, 6 million unique IP seeking visitors a month. And in the year 2000, Chris created this website as a solution to a seemingly simple problem he faced at the time, which is finding his employer’s office IP address. When Chris launched his website, initially as a hobby, it attracted thousands of users. And as a result, Chris explored ways to grow it as a side hustle. And I’m sure that many in our audience are users of this website. In 2014, Chris was laid off at his full-time employment. And rather than panic and use focus, he sees the opportunity to devote himself full time to his website. Today, what is my IP address.com is among the top 3000 websites in the US. Chris enjoys the fruits of success, generating close to seven figures annually and living the dream of traveling the world with his wife.
Manuj: The big question is this, how are ambitious people like us who don’t have a lot or resources, did not go to ivy league colleges, were not born into wealth, how do we become resourceful enough? Use our creativity, our dedication, and a little bit of crazy to bootstrap our way to realizing our dreams. Whether it is launching a new company, launching a new app, or making it to the top of the corporate ladder, that is the question and this podcast will give you the answers. That’s next on Bootstrapping Your Dreams Show.
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Welcome to this episode of Bootstrapping Your Dreams Show. I’m your host, Manuj Aggarwal. Today, we’ll be talking with Chris Parker. I’m so excited to have Chris because I have been using his product for a long, long time. Chris is the founder of whatismyipaddress.com, a tech friendly website attracting a remarkable six million unique IP seeking visitors a month. In the year 2000, Chris created this website as a solution to a seemingly simple problem he faced at the time which is finding his employer’s office IP address.
When Chris launched his website, initially as a hobby, it attracted thousands of users and as a result, Chris explored ways to grow it as a side hustle. I’m sure that many in our audience are users of this website. In 2014, Chris was laid off at his full time employment and rather than panic, he was focused. He seized the opportunity and devote himself full time to his website. Today, whatismyipaddress.com is among the top 3000 websites in the US. Chris enjoys the fruits of his success, generating close to seven figures annually, and living the dream, travelling the world with his wife. Welcome, Chris.
Chris: It’s great to be here.
Manuj: Awesome. We ran it with the story but let’s hear it from you. How did it all happen? How did you put it together? Take us through that journey of phenomenal growth your website.
Chris: Yes. The website originally started as, actually, just a solution to a problem that I was having. I wasn’t really thinking of it as a business or even a side hustle when I launched it. It was just a solution to a problem that I didn’t think many people had but it turned out that a few people did. I initially launched it on a little Windows NT server box sitting in my home on a 1.5 megabit DSL connection. If anyone has a cellphone, it was slower than that.
Manuj: I remember those days.
Chris: Yeah. It’s quite funny looking back at it, that it was just sitting next to my desk at home. For quite a few years, that’s all it sat, and I started getting alerts saying that the hard drive was almost full on that box. How could the hard drive be full and it turned out to be logs from other people visiting the website.
Manuj: Very cool. For some of the audience who are not technically savvy, can you tell us what this is all about? Why do we need IP addresses? What is the use of this website? So that people who are not in the tech sector, they can get initiated and come to know about your site.
Chris: Yeah. Probably, the two analogies that work best for most people is an IP address is like the return address on a postal mail or caller ID when you make a phone call. A little bit less like that, but when you send a message out across the internet, it goes goes to and from where it’s coming from and where it’s going to based on the IP address. In order for the response to come back to you, it needs to know where to go and that’s your IP address. Every time that you connect with a website, it sees your IP address; every time you post on a forum, it sees your IP address. You go on Facebook, it sees your IP address in order to facilitate that two-way communication.
Manuj: Now, there’s been a lot of talk about security and people are paranoid. Even in the CSI show, you see how to track the IP address so I can get you. Tell us a little about that—how much of this is reality, how much of this is just fake?
Chris: It’s funny. There’s a certain amount of it in a way that they do it on the police shows, that’s totally not reality, but there’s also a portion of it that’s potentially, surprisingly real. Most people, if you were to visit my website, it will show you exactly what your IP address. It will usually be able to come up with 25 miles, 50 kilometers, from where you’re actually at—that’s assuming everything is normal. If you are using your cellphone, you’re often broadcasting or as part of that, you’re making the GPS coordinates of your cellphone available. You may be unintentionally sharing your actual location within feet or meters of where you really are.
As a good example, someone was doing graphics work for me and he was testing something. He came back and looked at the website, he was like, “Oh, wow. It’s pointing at my kitchen window.” The thing that my site can’t tell you is whether that particular IP address is dead on or if it’s 12 miles off, 100 miles off, or 1000 miles off. Really, the only one who knows really where you’re at is your ISP because they have to maintain the connectivity with you. They’re the one who’s providing you that internet connection. They’re the ones who know for sure exactly where your service address is.
Manuj: There are a lot of services out there who are trying to hide your IP address, make you anonymous, and things of that nature. How do those work and are they useful in hiding your identity?
Chris: Yeah. There’s a couple of different methodologies for that. Probably the most popular currently is using a VPN service that basically routes all your internet traffic through your VPN provider, encrypted. Meaning, anyone who is trying to sniff the traffic along the way can’t see what websites you’re visiting, they can’t see what you’re doing, they can’t access that data, and it pops out on the public internet wherever that company has a server. If you wanted to appear like you’re in Southern California, you can use one of their servers in Southern California. If you wanted to appear like you were in South America, Israel, you could do things like that.
Those services are usually pay. There are a couple of free services that offer you a very limited bandwidth and then there’s companies that offer you with free services with no bandwidth caps. Those are the services that you actually have to watch out for because maintaining a robust, a technical infrastructure potentially costs millions of dollars a year. If they’re not getting the money from you, it’s like people talk about Facebook—if you’re not paying for this service, you are the service. Some of those companies have been found out as sharing all of your surfing behavior and that’s how they’re making their money. That’s the most popular way.
Another way that people use these days a lot is Tor which is good for web browsing. It’s a specific browser that routes your traffic through a number of servers. Everybody knows where these servers are and so you’re traffic just gets mixed in with hundreds or millions of other people that are using the servers. It’s generally slow and some websites intentionally block traffic from poor servers just because any time things are anonymous, it attracts some malicious activity.
Manuj: Let’s talk about that. Are these VPN services legal? Are they legal, first of all?
Chris: It really depends on where you’re at. If you’re in the US or Canada like we are, it’s not a problem. They’re perfectly legitimate services that have good, sound reasoning for it. If you’re in countries with more restrictive internet policies—Iraq, North Korea, Turkey, China, Russia, Iran—countries like that—they can range anywhere from being restricted, like you could only use government-run VPNs which defeats the purpose, or certain VPNs are allowed varying all the way down to imprisonment if you use them. If you’re in a country where it’s illegal or you think it might be illegal, you really need to figure that out and make that decision for yourself, whether or not what you’re doing is worth the potential punishment for it.
Manuj: There is this perception, wrongfully so, that VPN services are closely associated with malicious activities. That means it generally depends, basically, what kind of service you are using, what purpose you are using it for, right?
Chris: The fact that you’re using a VPN doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re trying to hide criminal activity. Unfortunately, some people do try to use VPNs to hide criminal activity or at minimum, malicious activity. They’re trolling on websites. They’re just being miscreants of being obnoxious. But for a lot of people, they’re trying to use VPNs for purely legitimate reasons.
If you’re wanting that extra layer of security, you can make sure that you’re on the mom and pop maintained WiFi network at the local bagel shop, and I don’t trust that mom’s great at maintaining network security. I’m there because I like her bagels, so you might want to use a VPN in a situation like that. There are also people who are trying to access location-restricted content. That’s not necessarily, “I’m trying to get around government monitoring.” But sometimes you have situations where local television stations will stream their station for local consumers. That might be your hometown where you grew up and you’re not there anymore. You want to watch it so you might use a VPN.
The same thing could happen with professional sports, things like that. Then you have the people who just, “I don’t want my ISP knowing what websites I’m on. I don’t want my government knowing what websites I’m visiting. I just want that extra layer of privacy on my behavior.”
Manuj: The most usual one that I hear about is Netflix because people want to access Netflix content in these countries. What is your opinion about that? Me being in Canada, a lot of the shows are not available to me which are available in the US and vice versa. Is that something that’s legal or not?
Chris: Well, legal is a government criminal categorization. Technically, those things are illegal but it is, if you read the terms of service with any of these providers, I’m sure it’s not according to the terms of service. There’s definitely been a long-running cat-and-mouse game between Netflix and other streaming services and VPN companies. Once they identify that’s a VPN, they restrict it. The VPN tweaks their technology a little bit, gives new servers, and they can start using the service again. But yes, it’s a very common usage for it. If I’m a US resident, and I have a US Netflix account, and I just happen to be overseas, shouldn’t I be able to access Netflix? That would be the argument that people would make.
Manuj: Sure. All right. If I’m not wrong, you also started providing another service to hide your IP address or something along those lines?
Chris: No. We don’t actually provide any of these services. Like I said before, it takes a lot of money to maintain those infrastructures. We refer out to companies that we’ve done research on that we think are reputable in being able to provide those services because I don’t have the infrastructure to be able to provide them. It’s not the business I want to be in, personally.
Manuj: Sure. Now, let’s talk about your business then. Your website is available for free. I’m assuming there are no paid services. If there are, please, let’s talk about that, but if there’s none, how do you make money? How do you monetize your website?
Chris: I have absolutely no pay services on my site that I offer. I’ve always tried to look at this with, “How can I provide a service to people and not charge for it?” I like free stuff, that’s part of what the Internet is about, but in a sense, there is a cost to it. That cost is, for me, to be able to put advertising on the site.
There’s two predominant forms of advertising that I use. One is display advertising and everyone’s familiar with that. Those are the banner ads for everything, from cars to shoes to whatever it is. There’s a variety of really neat technologies these days that track interests. If you’ve been surfing, looking for a new car, you’re going to see lots of ads for cars. Therefore, I’m going to make a little bit of extra because of that. Or if you’ve been searching for VPNs and you’re on my site, those pages written about VPN content might draw ads for VPNs. Then the other thing that I do is affiliate partnerships with many of the VPN companies that I have on my site. If I get someone to sign up, they pay me a small commission for promoting their services.
Manuj: Great. Obviously, you’ve been tremendously successful. You launched this as a hobby and it turned out to be a very successful business. What will you say to some aspiring entrepreneurs who want to duplicate your success? Are there any niches left today that can have such a simple implementation, but can grow into something meaningful in a few years?
Chris: Yeah, I think there are. There’s always new niches. There’s always new technology coming out. There’s always new products. There’s always new categories of things. For me to suggest one, by the time this airs that won’t be a new niche anymore, but it’s not like I started this website and I was a millionaire three years later. I don’t think I made a penny the first three or four years. I probably made no money. I wasn’t even trying to make money.
It depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to grow your reputation or just become familiar with a particular sector, a particular interest, sometimes doing it for free almost works better because then you’re not looking at the ROI. You’re doing something because you’re passionate about it, you like it, it interests you. You’re not thinking, “Well, an ad here or a promotion there.” Because that can sometimes read through to your audience really easy, it’s like, “Oh, they’re just trying to sell me stuff.”
That’s always the view that I’ve taken with my site is, I don’t want it read really heavy that I’m constantly pushing products and services on people. I want to make it, if they’re interested in that, it’s available, and I’m happy to accept a commission from it. But I don’t want to be the website that’s beating them over the head every three second with an advertisement for something.
Manuj: You were in the corporate segment for a long, long time. Did you have to unlearn anything that you’ve picked up in your corporate job that does not apply to entrepreneurship?
Chris: I think it’s more that I had to learn entrepreneurial skills as opposed to unlearning corporate. In the corporate, you generally don’t go to work thinking, “How do I keep the company in business?” You think more of like, “How do I just do my job and at the end of the day, I can go home and not think about what I did all day long?”
I jokingly tell my wife, “I work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” It doesn’t mean I’m always sitting in front of my computer, but there’s times that I wake up spontaneously at 3:00 AM, wondering if a hard drive failed because it’s my website and I’m the only one who’s going to take care of it. I think there are those aspects to being an entrepreneur, of more responsibility in terms of the overall outcome. That can either be daunting and scary or for some people, that can be very freeing of like, “Well, I’m in charge of my own destiny now.” As opposed to “Gosh, I really don’t like the way my boss runs his business but at least it pays the bills.”
Manuj: Sorry. You don’t have any employees?
Chris: I have no direct employees. I have a variety of contractors that I work with from around the world. I’ve got people here at the US that happen to be right down the street from me, and I also have a couple of people in the Philippines, and one person in India. Each person has a role that I’m very grateful that they provide. They provide a great service at a rate that if I were having it done in the US, it wouldn’t be scaleable for me. It’s really been great to be able to provide for people and help them achieve their entrepreneurial dreams where they live, but also help me do the same thing here.
Manuj: That’s great. I try to do the same. It’s satisfying to help them out. There are a lot of countries around the world which are not as fortunate as we are here so it’s good to work with them and help them out.
Chris: Yeah. I think that’s a great opportunity for people in countries outside the US and Canada, the UK, “What services can I provide that are way cheaper than someone in the US can provide at the same quality?” Because there is a lower cost of living in places in the world, you can get away with charging less per hour and still make a very good living where they are as well as providing great service.
Manuj: There are a lot of other problems. I’m working with a few people in Venezuela and the political situation over there is horrible. They have no jobs. They have very limited resources there. I try to work with them because it does provide some sort of help for them. All right. Now, moving forward, how did you get this much traffic? Let’s talk about that. How did you grow this into such a prominent website over the years?
Chris: I think first that I should state the obvious is that when you are one of the first companies, entities in the space, that definitely helps. In January 2020, the site will have been around for 20 years, but I think a lot of it just has to do with my philosophy of trying to provide content that’s valuable to the people that are using the site. Am I solving a problem for people? Am I making something easier to understand and producing content around that. That’s what I’ve strived to do for many years. Initially, it was responding to emails and then taking those emails and turning them to facts on the website, then working my way out from there.
Manuj: Right. Do you provide other type of content? Do you write blog articles and do you implement as your techniques and all that?
Chris: I don’t do a whole lot of writing for other websites. For the most part, I’d rather keep my content on my website, but I’ve really tried to—when it comes to SEO—really operate with best practices. I’ve avoided buying links from people. I’ve avoided crazy link building campaigns. I think part of it is just really trying to build engaging content that people want to link to and that it’s technically easy for the search engines to understand.
Remember the days when people were making websites entirely out of flash. Not that they don’t […] it anymore, but there was nothing for the search engines to index so they didn’t rank well. Then there’s people that the HTML code is so messy, it’s a little more difficult for the search engines to understand well, “Did they intentionally close a tag? Did they not close tags? Is this the title of the page or is this a footer?” Because they’re trying to do weird, funky things. Best practices keep things clean—I think that has benefitted me very well over the years.
Manuj: That’s good. I think you had a very unfair advantage which is the name. That’s exactly what people are looking for when they type it in and they’re searching What is my IP address. Your website is generally right at the top.
Chris: Yeah, and that is definitely an advantage but it’s also, in some sense, a disadvantage because with a website of whatismyipaddress.com, not that I’d want to sell cars, I could never sell cars. Because it is such an exact match domain, it’s very limited as to what I can do with the domain. People coming to find out their IP address, they’re not coming there necessarily shopping for products and services. You really have to look at intent behind what your users are doing.
If I wrote a website about reviews about DSLR cameras and everything digital camera-wise and create the lighting accessories, filters, lenses, and cases, those people are there because they’re in a buying mood. Those advertisements are going to be much more clicked on. Affiliate links are going to be clicked on and people are going to buy more. While I might have more traffic than a lot of people, I don’t have people coming to my website saying, “I want to buy an IP address,” because that’s just not the way it works.
Manuj: Will you recommend new entrepreneurs looking to launch their campaign to find this type of domain address? Is that even possible anymore?
Chris: Yeah. I think it’s always possible, at least particularly, if it’s a new niche. If there’s a new widget that’s come out and it’s never been talked about before, you can get widget.com or whatever it is. You have to realize the limitations that an exact match domain may have for you in the future. If you want to grow beyond that widget, you might have a hard time doing that.
There’s a company I used to work for called Club Mac and they sold Macintosh computers back when Apple didn’t sell directly, when they didn’t have the Apple store. They decided they wanted to expand into selling PCs also. Well, who wants to buy a PC from Club Mac? It becomes a branding problem. You have to think about what you want to do with your brand or what are the possibilities for your brand, 5, 10, 15 years down the line? If your website is a smashing success, but it’s only in this one little vertical, you may limit yourself by having an exact match domain. Not to say that you shouldn’t do it but there’s definitely a cost associated with it.
Manuj: All right. Now, let’s talk about your journey. Along the way, did you make any mistakes because it seems like you had a very, very smooth growth period and still growing. Did you run into any problems? Did you make any mistakes?
Chris: Yeah, I think I’ve run into a number of problems that I’m happy to share about because I think my mistakes will hopefully not be someone else’s mistakes. Some of it has to do with the age of the Internet while my website was growing. For too many years, I ran the website out of my house.
I had multiple internet connections coming into my home office, I had a half-rack server, and because of that infrastructure, I was prone towards denial service attacks, technical issues. Part of that, I was okay with because to me, at this point, it was just a side hustle. It was fun. I liked the technical aspects of the hardware behind running websites and stuff like that. That’s not so much what people do anymore. People aren’t running their own DNS servers, their own link balancers, and techy things like that. They’re just, “I’ve got an AWS instance somewhere that I don’t even know about. It’s just there.”
Having that physical technology that I had to deal with and move to a collocation facility wasn’t really a scalable thing. Because I knew I had technical issues with the physical infrastructure, I worked really hard to build a very streamlined back-end for the website. The entire website was all hand-coded. Every single page was hand-coded. There was no CMS. There was no WordPress element to it. There was none of that available. There’s none of it, not that those things weren’t available at the time, but because those things are relatively database-intensive and it was sitting on a machine in my home, I went away from those setups and went to hand-coded.
Many years later, now that I’m trying to bring on writers and people to do work for me, I’m still in the position where someone wants to make a spelling correction, they’ve got to send me an email, I’ve got to go into the box, get on to that box, change that file, save it, make sure there’s a backup of it. In terms of being able to produce content and grow the site, it’s really become a thorn in my side. As we’re talking right now, I had to hire a team of people to migrate portions of my site to a CMS that will allow other people on my team to actually be able to work on it so that it’s not all falling on me.
I think that’s one of the lessons that I wish I had learned earlier is that forward looking again, “What do you do when your business scales? Are your processes scalable? Have you documented what you’re doing such that you could hand it off for someone else to do it or is it even possible for someone else to do it?” You need to think about those things before you have to do it. Otherwise, it takes away from running your business when you actually have to do your business.
Manuj: You brought up cloud computing which has been exploding in at option. Will you recommend that people go with cloud infrastructure as they’re launching their new websites, their new products or should they consider their own hosted facilities?
Chris: It really depends on what you’re trying to do. I think you need to at least look at those options. Some of the cloud services, depending on your website, can be prohibitively expensive. That’s something that I’ve had to deal with in terms of, “Can I go to a cloud computing platform?”
I get somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million requests to my website in a 72-hour period of time. 99% of that are not human users, it’s malware that people have written, Script PDs, all sorts of weird stuff. If I were to take my site and try to just drop it on an AWS instance, the infrastructure cost, the crew request cost, would blow up my bank account really quickly. But it really depends. Most people are not going to be in that situation. Something like putting them in AWS or Azure for many people is probably a good solution.
Manuj: All right. How has this success change you? Are you still as driven? Has your mindset changed over the years now that you have had this success?
Chris: I think one of the things that has been a mindshift for me is really starting to think about how can I start to facilitate other people’s goals and dreams. Not that I don’t want to have more in savings or something like that, but I don’t want my success being like, “Well, how much do I have?” But rather, “How much can I help other people?” I think it’s been exciting being able to starting to work with contractors and bringing people on at various parts of the world, to me has been a really exciting thing.
My wife and I look about it like, “Hey, what more could we give to charity if the business does better?” Rather than line our own pockets of, “How could we help out those around us? We’re taken care of. We’re happy. We don’t need more. How could we help other people?” That’s kind have been our mindset. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to be able to be in that position.
Manuj: That’s great. That’s unusual in this world for sure. Thanks a lot for doing that. Now, what about habits? What kind of habits have you developed and did they contribute in your success?
Chris: One of the things that I laughed at is, throughout my life, I’ve tried to read business books. I’ve bought a number of business books and never really been able to put them into practice. I’ve tried productivity books over the years and it just hasn’t worked. In the last couple of years, I’ve really been able to start using methodologies like GTD, Getting Things Done by David Allen, and trying to keep myself from being distracted by, “Gosh, what was that?” Document it, get it out of my head.
One of the things I recently did is I have no social media on my devices. I still post to social media through applications to do that, but I don’t get a notification when there’s tweets. I don’t get friend requests. I think that’s really helped me to be able to settle down and be able to have larger blocks of my time where I can be focused on, “Okay, I’m writing content. Okay, I’m coming up with a five-day challenge for privacy and security.” It gives me these larger blocks of time to be more effective—that is what I do rather than, “Oh, wait. There’s an email. Oh, wait. There’s a tweet. Oh…” I’m getting distracted by all these things.
That kind of thing has really helped me started to use project management platforms like Trello to be able to move things along. Trying to think about, like we talked about before, outsourcing tasks that I’m either not good at or don’t want to do to people that are good at it. I could do it for less than my time.
Manuj: Awesome. That’s good. Will you consider yourself a success or are you a success in the making?
Chris: I think I consider myself a success independent of what the business it. I’d hate to think that I just find my success by whether or not my business is profitable and not profitable. I try to define the goals of success by relationships, people that I know, my ability to be able to help people whether that’s with my time or with my money. I definitely feel that the website has helped facilitate that. But I would hate to think that with like anything on the internet, if Google changes the algorithm, I could lose a significant portion of my traffic overnight. Does that make me no longer a success? I don’t really want to tie my success to financial things that I don’t necessarily have control over but more of, “How am I contributing to the lives of the people around me?” In that sense, yeah, I feel like I’m a success.
Manuj: Awesome. That’s great. What are your plans for the future now?
Chris: Well, I’m really excited about being able to get out portions of the site on a CMS and to be able to really start growing content, providing more content. We’ve got some great plans, programs for people to go through at no cost to here are 20 things that you could do to harden your own security that are achievable by anybody. You don’t need to be a geek. You don’t need to have a technical background, but just simple practical things that people can do to make sure that they get their best practices in place.
Manuj: Awesome, that’s great. Thank you so much for being with us today, sharing your story, and educating us about IP addresses and a whole bunch of other things. Before I let you go, can you tell us how people can reach out to you?
Chris: Yeah. Obviously, people can go to whatismyipaddress.com. But if someone wants to reach out to me directly, they can go to my personal website, cgparker.com. I talk about some of the behind-the-scenes there as well as any of the social media platforms that you can find me on.
Manuj: Awesome. Great. Well, once again, thanks for being with us and sharing your story.
Chris: Great. Thank you very much, had a great time.
Manuj: That’s all for now, until next time.
If you are an existing or aspiring tech entrepreneur, then I invite you to check out my new online workshop, bootstrapping your tech startup dreams. Go to boostraptechstartup.com and sign up for free. I want to make sure that more successful and sound decisions are made every day in your tech projects. Let’s start finding solutions to your problems, so go to bootstraptechstartup.com. I look forward to helping you with your tech projects.
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