Chris: “Well, why are you coming to my site? Who are you? What are you doing here?” Personally, I couldn’t explain to anyone, “Why do you have six million people coming to your site a month?” I know what they’re doing on my site. But why are they doing it?
Alex: Welcome to Screw It, Just Do It, brought to you by StartupU. Inspiring, educating, and connecting the startup community, to help you make a fulltime living, doing what you love.
I’m your host Alex Chisnall, fellow entrepreneur, Virgin mentor, and founder of StartupU, the original delivery partner for Virgin Startup. Each episode provides a story of an entrepreneur. It talks us through their successes and failures. You get to take on board all of their learnings and none of the failure.
Welcome to Episode 118 of Screw it, Just do It. I’m your host Alex Chisnall. On today’s show, I welcome Chris Parker.
Chris Parker has a problem that most of us would love to have, what to do with six million web visitors a month? He’s the founder of whatismyipaddress.com. He’s an entrepreneur, an online policy and safety expert, and he’s got a fantastic story to tell.
Before we do, I would just like to tell you that today wrapped up our first podcasting masterclass here at our HQ on the south coast of England in the UK. If you’d like to know about the next ones—in my opinion you are your own media now—if you have your business, you need to have your own podcast. I’d love to help you do that. Simply drop me an email [email protected] and I’ll let you know when we’ve got the next physical workshops and also when we’ve got the online version of that as well. Just email me.
On to today’s show with Chris. Chris has got one hell of a story to tell. A very interesting business, something that most of us would love to have. How do you monetized six million visitors a month to your website. Clearly Chris is doing a pretty good job on that. He’s generating just under seven figures a month over the last couple of years consecutively for his business. He definitely seemed to be living the life that Tim Ferriss alludes to in a 4-hour working week. He gets to choose how much time he spends on his business.
He doesn’t employ any staff now. All he employs are freelancers and loves the fact that he’s able to help other people live their entrepreneurial dream by getting them to work with him on his business as well. Really interesting proposition, really interesting story to tell. Most of us dream of having that kind of lifestyle, choosing how much time we spent on our business, and that directly relates to how much we get paid for our business as well.
On today’s podcast, we talk about the beauty of staying small, we talk about the importance of mentoring, and we talk about if you’re in any doubts in your business, then just ask. Ask for help, ask your audience. Really interesting topics that we’ll talk about. I’ll hope you enjoy this podcast. Without further ado, let’s start up.
You launched the website nearly 20 years ago now, initially as a hobby. When you faced redundancy in your fulltime job, you decided to devote yourself to this full time. Was that one of those decisions that was instantaneous or was that something you spend a long time pondering what’s your next move is going to be?
Chris: There’s a nice story in there. It was not a quick transition. It was not a redundancy issue but rather a hit from an economic crisis. They couldn’t afford to keep me around full-time. I kind of went half-time with them, half-time on my business. At the point where they said, “Hey, we just can’t keep you on at all,” then, I had to make a decision. Do I get a new 40-hour a week job or do I take the side hustle and make it full-time?
Alex: What was the original idea behind starting up the website and then keeping it going as side hustle? That must […] to be able to do that for well-over a decade as a side hustle must have still kept you very interested.
Chris: It was a hobby. I was having fun. For the first couple of years, I put the website up and I just sat that there and did nothing. I didn’t pay any attention to it. Once I saw it started gaining traffic, I’m like, “Oh, I could do something, looks like and have some fun.” It was never intended to be a business.
Alex: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before. When you look back now, do you think you’d still be in the same job if that economic crisis hadn’t happened?
Chris: Totally. I’m sure I would still be there. Both my wife and I are risk-averse. Taking a leap would be much less likely of a thing to happen without a little bit of a shove.
Alex: That’s exactly what I was going to say. Was it one of those things that you just needed that shove to do it, or had an entrepreneurial itch that needed to be scratched for like decades earlier, or just wasn’t that the case?
Chris: No. I think there’s always an entrepreneurial itch but the side hustle was fulfilling that. I think both of the biggest job transitions of my life that were both very beneficial were both been giving a swift kick in the butt.
Alex: When you first started seeing some traffic come to the site, given your knowledge and skill set back then, were you able to identify where that was coming from and then look at the possibilities of what you potentially do with it?
Chris: I have the opposite problem that a lot of people have with their websites. A lot of people were like, “I’ve got a great product, I’ve got a great service. It’s really monetizable. I just need traffic.” I have the opposite problem. I’ve got a website that gets tons of traffic, it’s not very monetizable, how do I monetize it?
Alex: What were some of the first ideas that you had on how you can monetize it, Chris?
Chris: The two kind of hand-in-hand at the same time was a remote access to your computer product called GoToMyPC. They had an affiliate program and every time someone subscribe, they made a couple of bucks. A lot of people were trying to connect with their home computer, they’re trying to find what their IP address, how do I connect my machine. It’s kind of a natural product and then the wonders of Google AdSense.
Alex: Talk me through the rough time scales. Was it 2014 that you faced that decision of what you’re going to do and up until then, 14 years that had remained a side hustle, and, I guess for want of a better word, playing around with the traffic? Playing around with ideas in your head and what you could do with it?
Chris: Yeah. The first five years was definitely a hobby. I didn’t even looked at the traffic. It was until about five years that the hard drive got full that I’ve realized there’s a lot of traffic here, “Let me actively tried to do stuff.” But it just went that natural sort of transition from, “Well, I’ve got people coming here. I wonder what kind of questions people have?” Let me just put an email address on the site saying, “If you’ve got questions, email me.”
I started responding to a couple of emails a day, dozen emails a day, two dozens emails a day. I need to write a Frequently Asked Questions so I don’t have to respond to a same email 40 times a day. That’s how the content portion of it grew. Once you start monetizing it like, “Well, I wonder if I could make some more interesting tools. What else could I add to make it a better quality? What are other people in my little vertical doing and what could I do to make my site better than theirs?”
Alex: At that time, was it obvious that there were other people out there doing exactly what you were doing or trying to do what you’re doing?
Chris: Yeah. There has been one or two organizations that are doing almost exactly the same thing of me who’d been around about as long as I have. There’ve been a number of people who have come and gone as they’ve used gray hat or black hat techniques to try to grow their traffic. They’ve come and gone and I think kind of slow and steady holding the courses that been really effective for me.
Alex: I imagine after this kind of time scale, you missed out some pretty significant data you managed to capture, like build that picture of exactly who your audience is. What do they look like? What is the custom avatar looked like coming to your website?
Chris: It’s funny because due to the fact that I was having a hard time monetizing it. I didn’t really come from an MBA program, business background, and really wasn’t thinking in terms of avatars until probably about two years ago. I started running some well-crafted surveys on the site to find out, “Well, why are you coming to my site. Who are you? What are you doing here?” Personally, I couldn’t explain to anyone, “Why do you have six million people coming to your site a month?” I know what they’re doing on my site. But why are they doing it? It was always something that baffled me. Through some surveys that we figured out how to build, was really able to get a lot of insights as to a couple of different groups of people and subsets of those groups.
Alex: I’m assuming that data that you’ve gotten and the avatar, that information must be very valuable to potential advertisers.
Chris: Yeah. It has become valuable in certain niches. I’m able to identify obviously privacy and security. We’re really trying to build-up a more solid avatar that people were doing, that ecommerce activity, anti-fraud activity, and trying to build up a more clear picture of that person in order to be able to help them with their success gaps, and help them kind of, “What are you doing before and after coming to our site that we can help you be more effective with?
Alex: I’m assuming this must have come across your mind at some point that you thought, “You know what? For how many hours a week or how many hours a month that I’m able to maintain this, I can pretty much work from wherever I want to in the world. I didn’t necessarily need a massive team to be able to do that either,” and have that whole weight on your shoulders of having a £400,000 wage bill every month or whatever it might be from various people as they can see.
Chris: Yeah. It’s really neat that I can travel. It has its pros and cons. With respect to travel, obviously if I found a place that we really wanted to live and my wife could find work there or decided she didn’t want to work, we very easily could if we have an internet connection plopped down. “Hey, you want to go to Iceland?” “Okay, let’s live in Iceland or Greenland or wherever for a couple of years.” It’s totally doable. I don’t have an in-place work force. The people that do work for me are remote, they’re contractors, they’re gig people.
The disadvantage is when I’m travelling on vacation, as a small business owner, you feel compelled to stay engaged when I travel. It’s built-in into our travel schedule now that for an hour a day, everyday that I’m travelling, I’m responding to emails, continuing to move things forward. I’ve gotten a little better about separating myself from that but not entirely. I’m a little bit of a control freak. Turning off the email, turning off the computer for more than a week, I think I would go through detox.
Alex: I was going to ask you. Anybody that you use at the moment, like you said, kind of gig economy that you use freelancers who were able to do those tasks for you completely remotely again?
Chris: Yeah. All remotely. It’s kind of neat that I could help other people achieve their entrepreneurial dreams by helping support me. I’ve got a couple of people in the Philippines, a person in India, and a couple of people that happened to be local that I’ve worked with because I met them in person. To me there is a benefit to having that people in person and see them, shaking their hand. That sort of interaction definitely has value to it.
Alex: Yeah, I think so. Again, I’ve been in a stage where I would rather employ some if I’ve met them, like you’re saying, face-to-face or rather pay them that little bit more even though they live in the same area as me, rather than trying to find somebody completely new who might have the same skill set. There is something to be said for that right there.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely.
Alex: You are not able to completely switch off, though, when you go away. You’ve not taken a week or two weeks where you can literally go hands-free and go, “I’m not going to touch this.”
Chris: I haven’t achieved that yet. I think that I’m down to an hour a day is pretty good. The first couple of trips it was, “I’ve got to work in an hour-and-a-half in the morning. Let’s come back to the hotel for lunch and let me get some more work done.” In the evening, while my wife is getting ready I’m trying to get some more work done. Getting it down to an hour a day or sometimes even less, there’s a certain amount of that, that at least that […] is already been very freeing.
Alex: I was going to say what this freedom looked like for you but I’ve imagined for a lot of people if they’re able to just spend an hour or a couple of hours a day, then that’s pretty liberating.
Chris: Yeah. I actually think freedom, aside from the travel aspect, of being out of that aspect, is being accountable to my own schedule. That I don’t have this, ‘I got to be on my desk from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and my lunch is from noon to 1:00 PM.’ I like the fact that I can take my dog out at 10 o’clock this morning or maybe 11 o’clock tomorrow, I can run some errands, do some grocery shopping when it’s not busy. That way I can have more time the evening and the weekends to spend with my wife. To me that is a significant aspect of that freedom.
Alex: Yeah. I’m sure you must’ve had six million suggestions on what else you could do with the site as well, surely. I mean, the amount of people you must have spoken to who’ve been interested in your story.
Chris: Yeah. There’s a never ending lists of suggestions from people. Some of them are, “Hey, that’s actually a really good idea.” Some of them are, “That’s totally not feasible. You don’t realize how much that would cost,” sort of thing.
Alex: Have you had help during the journey? If you had mentors yourself? Somebody had been where you want to get to if you just work this out for yourself along the way?
Chris: For the longest time, I was working it out, as you said, along the way on my own. It’s funny because prior to a couple of years ago, if you gave me a business book, I can’t figure anything out from it. It just doesn’t apply to me. It just doesn’t make sense to me. But about two years ago, I actually did hire a business coach mentor. It’s been tremendously productive for me. That’s one of the reasons why I can cut my time down significantly, that I do the work in the business when I’m out and about, and I don’t have that looming stress about my business that I had. Probably two years ago, I feel okay. I have someone who’s only not been here and done that, but he has the experience of all of his failures, all of his successes, the connections that he has, and probably more important than any of that is he just looks at things differently than I do.
I’m a programmer. I think about things from a programmer’s point of view. I don’t look at things from a social media or an SEO point of view, or a marketing point of view, or what would Seth Godin’s purple cow point of view. I’m working to build those skill sets, but those are not my skill sets and it’s definitely been nice to have someone say, “Have you thought about this?” or someone who doesn’t mind saying, “For you, that’s a horrific waste of your money. Why in the world are you doing that?”
Alex: It’s nice to have someone like that.
Chris: It’s nice to have someone who questions why you’re doing things and ask you, “Is that really the best? Is that the best use of your time?” You’re doing your own accounting. “Really? Why don’t you have a CPA doing that for you?” That sort of thing.
Alex: 100%. I started with a mentor towards the end of last year and again, it’s just brilliant for me doing that burrowing down on what’s going on with my head or what am I get to see, and, “I’ve got this amazing new thing I’m working on,” and you just be like, “Why? Why are you working on that? Does that align with what your end goal is?” “It sounded kind of cool.” “Okay, Alex.”
Chris: Sounds very familiar.
Alex: I do get asked all the time, constantly, events you go to, where do you find a good mentor for yourself? Was it word of mouth? Was it referral? Or you’re actively searching online to find somebody?
Chris: Yes and no. I was specifically looking for a really good, high quality SEO person that had dealt with the volume of traffic that I have. If your website’s getting 1000 people a day, it’s doable to some work and double that to 2000 people a day. But when you’re getting six million people a day, I wouldn’t trust anyone who said, “Oh yeah, give me a week and I can double that.” When you’re the 800 pound gorilla, so to speak, movement could be more complicated on the SEO […]. I was like, “I want to get someone who can really help me with the SEO, help me up level my content, up level the way the site looks, the way the people interact with it, social media.
He’s helped me tremendously on that but as part of that, probably half of my time with him now has moved more into, “How were you doing as an entrepreneur? How are you doing running your business? Why are you hiring the person here that’s costing you ten times of what you can get someone else, somewhere else to do?” He’s really questioned business processes. Like you’ve said, “Is this really a good use of your time? Is that really in line with growing your website?” While I wasn’t necessarily looking for that type of mentor or business coach, it’s morphed into that and it’s been tremendously valuable for me.
Alex: Pretty interesting. Given the industry that you’re in, how close an eye do you have to keep on certain things like SEO, different algorithms. Again, going back probably a number of years ago, maybe even a decade when we alluded to earlier, different black hat, white hat tactics. I remember seeing people dropping pages and pages and pages on Google. How close an eye do you still have to keep on that now?
Chris: In some sense, when I hear, “Hey, there’s this big algorithm update.” I looked to see, “Well, have I been affected by it?” In some sense, I tried to ignore the algorithm. If you’re making your decisions based purely off of an algorithm, when that algorithm changes, you’re going to get whacked. It’s not even between the lines now. Google, for the longest time, has said, “Think of your user first. What’s in your user’s best interest? What makes the most sense for your user? And focus on that. Focus on good quality content.” I’ve done that. I’ve made the mistakes probably 15 years ago of, “Hey, there’s this way I could build links to my site. Hey, this is new. This is nifty. It doesn’t take work,” then realizing, “Well, but this is not good quality. This really isn’t good business to do stuff like that.” So, it’s like, “No and let me just work with good quality content writers, build quality content, try to figure out how promote that content.” I feel that I’ve been less impacted by a lot of the major algorithm updates that affected some of my competitors where they were paying for tons of links from all sorts of link schemes. When Google made changes to address that, they dropped 20 places and their businesses creator are gone now.
I think, always just try to do the right thing. Be upfront, be legal. If you’re a black hat or gray hat, it’s always going to catch up to you at some point.
Probably, one of the things that I was the most afraid of was when Google started answering the question, “What is my IP address?” You didn’t even have to leave the search results to get the answer. That’s probably been that way for almost ten years now. I had a number of people get a hold of me when that happened and were like, “Oh my gosh. […] in your traffic.” I was like, “Surprisingly, no.” I lost maybe 10% of my traffic to that. I think that was purely, in my term, the lowest quality traffic. The people that were hit and gone, those are the people that I lost. It was the least valuable traffic to me was the traffic that I lost as part of that Google update. You always have to be aware of not being a one hit wonder. Your business model could be gone over night when you’ve got Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon.
Chris: They could use something in a day that could make your business disappear. That happened to me once in the past with my other businesses.
Alex: No way. Really?
Chris: One of the first companies that I started was selling Bibles online, ecommerce. That was the first business that I started online. I very quickly learned, I don’t like working before work, during lunch, and after work packing boxes and going to the shipping depot, and all to make below minimum wage. Not good. I said, “Oh, I’ll become an Amazon affiliate. Instead of me fulfilling all these orders, Amazon will fulfill it.” That was great for a year or two until Amazon was wrestling with state sales taxes used in the US. They did not have a physical presence in California but the State of California was saying, “You have affiliates here. You have people in California marketing products on your behalf and running that sort of business on your behalf. We really think we’re going to start taxing you for that. Put a sales tax on that business.” Amazon’s response was, “Okay. We’re going to terminate every affiliate in California.”
Alex: No way.
Chris: I think I’ve got a week’s notice from them basically saying, “Next week, we’re terminating your account. We’ll pay out commissions and good luck to you.” My business model was gone in a minute.
Alex: Literally in a week, gone. Wiped off.
Chris: Yes. Luckily it wasn’t a full-time income. It wouldn’t have been worse. It was like, “Wow, that stinks. What am I going to do next?”
Alex: That’s unreal isn’t it? You’d much rather be in the position you are right now clearly.
Chris: Well, definitely. But still, I always try to keep my mind open for opportunities and what can I do to at least diversify on this site so I’m not so dependent on one type of search query but also going, “Okay, I need to have other websites, other businesses that maybe today they don’t need to make as much as whatismyipaddress.com does, but at some point, I need to be in a position where if this website were to shut off tomorrow, I wouldn’t be scrambling. I wouldn’t be happy about it but at least I wouldn’t be trying to figure out where my next paycheck or how to pay the rents going to come from.
Alex: Yeah. I always remember this story. A client I used to see used to be in the Health and Fitness industry. She used to have a flat down here on the south coast of England, but lived in London, would drive down at 4:00 AM on a Monday, spend the week down here on the south coast working as a CFO for a business here, then go back as soon as she finish work on a Friday, literally spend the weekend with her husband and kids and come back again. All the kids were at really high-paying private schools. The husband has this job, I can’t remember what he did, but I just always remember her telling me he had one client for his business and that was IKEA, the big Swedish furniture conglomerate. She’s like, “He’s got a great life. He’s on the golf course everyday. Just answers the phone, doesn’t do anything.”
I just remembered one day, just getting an email from her going after 10 years or 20 years, whatever it was, “IKEA decided to go with somebody else.” She was like, “I’m selling the flats, I’m back up in London, pulled the kids out of private school.” It was like, “Geeze.” If there’s any lessons from putting literally all your eggs in one basket, then that was the one. I’ve never forgotten that story.
Chris: Oh yeah. I’ve seen similar types of things happen. Personally with our finances, before we do anything fancy investing in clever things, we need to have an emergency fund that if we both lost our jobs tomorrow and the income stopped, we would have a reasonable amount of time to get back up and running and get somewhere and figure out a new course of action. We’re not having the, “Oh my gosh, I just need to take anything because I got to pay the phone bill tomorrow.” I don’t ever want to be in that position. Not that we all have total control over that sort of thing but we’re risk averse enough to make sure that we aren’t at least immediately in that position.
Alex: Yeah. Just funny and literally having that conversation today with my wife who just sold a rental property that we’ve had for the last five years. She’s literally going, “I’ve literally worked out what I’m going to spend 95% of the money from the sale of the house.” I was like, “First thing we do is put six months money away of our combined outgoings. That is the fund. You want some time like you say to not get that call the next day and go, ‘You’ve missed on this payment, this payment, this payment.’”
Chris: Yeah. I’d rather have six months in the bank and a little less to do that I can do today than have a lot of fun today and a lot of hurt tomorrow.
Alex: Absolutely. What do you think is the most important skill? You’ve said your background being a programmer and you’ve move into areas that you perhaps didn’t have experience, one as comfortable in, be that social media, marketing, et cetera. What’s the most important skill that you’ve had that enable you to get to where you are today?
Chris: I’d probably say persistence. I’ve been around doing this for almost 20 years. I’m just going to keep doing what I can do today and move the ball a little bit forward, trying to watch out for shiny object syndrome, and not get too distracted from the course of like, “I’ve just got to move it forward. Just got to move it forward.” What’s the expression? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Alex: Yeah. I literally said that. So funny you said that. I said that to my kids who are 9 and 11, about two days ago, funny enough, I saw it somewhere. My youngest daughter just looked at me like I was absolute crazy. “What do you mean? Eating elephant daddy?” “Okay, let’s rewind that. Let me tell it again.”
Chris: I think the skill I’m learning is to know what things are not my strengths and learning how to get those off to other people. At anything I do, I’m not the best programmer on the planet. I’m decent. There’s a lot of things that I’m decent at. I now get to the point where I’m like, “Well, I need to get really good people to do this and not be me just trying the best that I can. But I’ve got someone better than me to do it and be okay with that.”
Alex: It was really easy conversing with Chris. Fantastic line despite the fact that he was in California and I was in the UK. Really interesting story on how we came to find his mentor and how important that’s been to him and the growth of his business. I couldn’t agree more. Hence, why we put together this event on May the third. Our first ever media mastermind called Reload where everybody coming not only gets a whole day immersing themselves in workshops covering everything from running a Facebook campaign, how to use PR to promote your business, how to develop your brand, how to build a blue ocean strategy, how to focus millions of different subjects but also everybody getting time to sit down with a mentor to work on them and their business.
If you’d like to know more information about that, again, just email [email protected] or go to Eventbrite and looked up Screw It, Just Do It where you can see all of our events. I particularly enjoyed talking about that and hearing Chris’s story on that. Also loved his ability to stay small and not have those huge overheads of a workspace and stuff. It was something I remember Holly Tucker spoke about when I hosted here in our last London live event back in January. The ability to stay small and the fact that you’re also helping others build their dreams, building their businesses at the same time is a fantastic circle that joins. I love that. It works really well for me. It don’t have to be huge, it don’t have to have huge overhead, huge numbers of stuff, and a really simple one.
If in doubt, simply ask the question, Chris’ […] why are people going to his website? He asked the question, ran some survey, “Why are you coming to my website? What are you doing here?” Obviously, would have rephrased that in a different manner. Use that ability to crowdsource to ask your audience. Ask your customers what they want, what are they not being served with at the moment, and potentially you can provide that for them.
Few things that I’ve picked out from my interview, there’s many more I could have done. I hoped you enjoyed it. Have a great week and I look forward to talking to another great interviewee next week.
If you like this podcast and you like the opportunity to attend one of our live events with some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs just go to startupu.co.uk and click on the events calendar. You’ll be able to see our upcoming events calendar for the UK, pick up a ticket from as little as £10 which includes complimentary drinks and the opportunity to meet and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs, find a mentor, or an investor. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet our speakers and ask them your burning questions in person. Hope to see you there.
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