Matt Giovanisci never went to college, but he schools most of us when it comes to starting an online community. The internet's foremost expert on swimming pools tells us how he makes a mostly passive living from one site, and how he is trying to replicate his success through experimentation.
Eric Rosenberg: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, welcome back to the Personal Profitability Podcast. And as always I am your host, Eric Rosenberg. And today we have a very special guest. This guest is someone I met at FinCon surprisingly, like many of the other guests on here.
Matt is… he's multi-talented. He is not just a finance-minded guy, which we'll talk a little bit about his finance blogging background and how he came together and all the cool projects he's working on now that have things more to do with coffee than finance but we'll get into that. Everyone welcome… I want to make sure I don't butcher your name which I should have asked you before we started recording. This is Matt Giovanci. Did I get that right?
Matt Giovanisci: No.
Eric: See I didn't get it right at all. Go for it.
Eric: See. That's what I meant to say. I'm Jewish. I don't know Italian.
Matt: I'm like a 16th Jewish, I think.
Eric: So if there was a ‘chet' instead of an i-s-c-i in there.
Matt: Say Giovanisci.
Eric: There we go. Got it.
Matt: That was a lame attempt to add chet, whatever that is called.
Eric: We just invented a language on the podcast. That's kind of fun. So anyway everyone, Matt is here with us, who's name I obviously did not know that well. But I do know his first name, Matt.
Matt: That's all you need to know. I don't even know my last name all that well.
Eric: And I spell my last name normally right. However right now I'm having a delicious beer which is actually not a very strong beer. So it shouldn't make me spell my last name wrong. But as I always say in a lot of these episodes, long time listeners will know. Personal finance should be personal, it should be fun. It shouldn't always be all stuffy and boring. So I am drinking now that I am a California local, a Lagunitas Beer, which is made just north of San Francisco in Petaluma. This one's the Lagunitas DayTime Ale. They call it a Fractional Pale Ale cause it has a lot of the IPA flavor but it's actually a lower alcohol…
Matt: It's a session beer.
Eric: Yeah, exactly. It's like a session IPA; which I'll be getting into more since I'm like an old man and on cholesterol medicine and heartburn medicine. So I get drunk at the drop of the hat if I have a real IPA. So I've been keeping it more mellow lately. And I'm a dad so I drink like half as much and my tolerance is like nothing. What are you drinking over on your side?
Matt: So I was going to say, speaking of Hebrew…
Eric: I think I know where you're going with this.
Matt: It's actually uhmm..So I'm gonna do it. Right here on the air. Ready?
Eric: It sounds beautiful.
Matt: It's a LaCroix. No, I'm kidding. It is a Black IPA from Sanitas Brewing Company. Are you familiar with Sanitas?
Eric: I've heard of them but I don't know where they are.
Matt: So they are in Boulder. I live in Boulder currently where you went to school and they had there's this little brewery down the street from us. It's called Sanitas and they sell their cans in some of the local stores here. My personal favorite style of beer is Black IPAs or Cascadian Dark Ales depending on who you ask.
Eric: If you're in Portland where I just left, in the cascades, probably cascadians.
Matt: Probably. And it's because it's not technically an India Pale Ale, so you know, Cascadian Dark Ale is where it was sort of like where it originated. And basically all it is, it's an IPA made with black patent and chocolate and all these darker malts. So it kind of has a porter or stout body and flavor with like super hoppines. So imagine drinking like a really hoppy guinness.
Eric: Sounds better than a not hoppy guinness.
Eric: I'm a hop-head. I love hoppy beers.
Matt: Yeah, me too.
Eric: I only once ever found a beer that I thought was too hoppy for me. And I think it was just cladded in quite enough malt in. There's now way to be too hoppy. You just have to balance it.
Matt: Yeah. When you get some double IPAs, I sort of get a little like kind of hop bomb overload. Which is fine, I mean I like that. And that usually with a double IPA or an imperial IPA. It usually means it's higher in alcohol so, you trade off.
Eric: However once in awhile I venture out into the quad IPAs. If you can find them, they're fantastically delicious but clear your schedule.
Matt: Would you consider like a 120 minute from Dogfish?
Eric: That's getting into that range, like the quad IPAs.
Eric: The 120 minute if you ever can find it, it's fantastic.
Matt: I had it in Denver like two weeks ago, on tap.
Eric: It's one of the very best beers I've ever had. On tap. Were you on Falling Rock Tap House, so it's somewhere like that?
Matt: No, I was at Avanti in Denver.
Eric: Okay. Have you never been to Falling Rock Tap House in Denver? That's maybe my favorite place in America to get a beer. And that says a lot cause I've had a lot of beers in America.
Matt: Falling Rock, you say?
Eric: Falling Rock Tap House, about a block from Coors Field.
Matt: Oh. I was literally just there. LIke I was at Coors Field on Friday.
Eric: And it's right next door to what used to be my favorite nightclub when I lived in Denver. So I'd go to Falling Rock, have a couple of beers, relax with the guys, head next door to Beta when the headliners start coming on and rock out till they kick the [inaudible] I'd like to say till sunrise but it was Denver so it was actually two, 2 A.M.
So anyway, why we're really here, we should get down to business – the business of doing business. That's why I really wanted Matt on here.
He is an entrepreneur with such a wide variety of things he's done. It's something I've done, I dabbled in a lot of different things. I've tried to buy websites to start a mini store. I said tried because it didn't really work out. I have started blogs, I've done a lot of different entrepreneurial things and Matt has too.
The way that we really connected as I said to you, FinCon. He had a money-themed podcast and website. So can you share, Matt, how you into that? What was the genesis of you getting into working online and making that a revenue source for yourself?
Matt: So you wanna know how I got into online business or how I got into personal finance? Because they are two different stories.
Eric: Let's do both. Let's start with the older one and work our way forward in time.
Self-Taught Website Builder/Designer
Matt: Alright. So I started off working when I was thirteen years old. I was working at local pool store, a pool and janitorial supply store in my hometown in New Jersey which is where I have lived for most of my life until I moved out to Colorado just last year.
So I worked there. I ended up going to another job which was another pool company. And I was like the manager, the assistant manager; I kind of moved around a few different pool companies but mainly this one. And while I was there I was in a rock band. I was the lead singer and the guitar player of a pop rock, original pop rock band.
Eric: Did you have an awesome name like Mouse Rat?
Matt: No. The name was Remember Tomorrow.
Eric: Okay. More stoic.
Matt: Yeah, a little bit. Which is also the name of an Iron Maiden song which we found out later, but I've never heard of before. So we were kind of like Hoobastank, that kind of music.
Matt: If you could categorize it into any sort of band. I always did Hoobastank and Sugarcoat, was my two, and like Jimmy Eat World. That kind of music.
Eric: It's like that alternative punk rock hybrid thing.
Matt: Yeah, just like not very punk at all. It was more like ‘pop-y', I would say.
So we needed a website and I was the kind of the head of the band, I guess you could say, well there's four of us. And we need a website so I figured out how to design websites while I was working at the pool store in the winter time in New Jersey cause we don't really sell a lot of pools then. And I was like, ‘oh I got time to figure this out so I need to figure it out.'
Eric: What do you mean people don't wana buy new pools in the winter in New Jersey?
Matt: Yeah, it's not a thing really. So I had a lot of downtime and I was like…So I bought…I don't remember which books to be honest. And not that they would be relevant anymore but I think I bought like an HTML book.
And I just literally started with like a blank notepad and started coding. I started trying to build a website and like learned about domain names and learned about posting and all of those things. And kind of just trial by error, you know, trial and error, over and over again until I had build a website
My boss at my pool company caught me. Not caught me learning but caught me like just checking it out on the computers there and he was like, ‘Who made this?' And I told him that I did.
You appreciate all this cause you're a designer and I was like, I think I basically just did an HTML. There was no like platform, there was no WordPress.
Eric: I don't know if PHP even existed then.
Matt: PHP did exist cause that's where I, that's where the story heads next is, I ended up getting hired as the guy who designed the website for the company. So I was working at a pool store as a stock boy and like the [inaudible] tester, cash register person, and just basically like a small mom and pop retail store. And then I was also designing the website on the side for the company.
And I ended up leaving and working for a website design firm for about six months. And until my boss called me and hired me back to be the marketing director of the company when he couldn't find somebody better to do the website so I ended up working in the corporate office which it was a pool store and we managed 3 stores and we had a service team, we built in grounds and all that kind of stuff.
I basically had an office with computer, it was on PC at the time, and I built the website. I did all the newspaper ads, all theads, all the TV commercials, all the radio commercials, any signage in the store that we needed, any merchandising in the store, I did everything. Anything marketing with all the stores, that was my job.
Eric:Jack of all trades.
Matt: Jack of all trades.
The Origin of Swim University
Matt: So I ended up having this idea for this company called, this website called SwimUniversity.com, which is the website that I currently make my living off of. The idea was, I know how to design websites now and I know a lot about pool care, I've been doing it since I was 13, this should be on the internet. I should make this. And I didn't do any research. I was like, ‘Oh I'll make money by putting ads up and recommending products that I like.'
And that's literally the business model that it is today. And that was in 2004, I had that idea. I sat on it for 2 years. Just the idea, I had the domain name, I had SwimUniversity.com registered. I had SwimU.com registered. And then I lost SwimU.com. I had to buy it back from the people that bought it for like $200, which sucks.
Eric: It could have been worse though.
Matt: That's what you get for waiting 2 years. Like an idiot, right?
Eric: Lesson learned for everybody: Don't sit on an idea and let the domains expire. Buy it cause you're gonna use it and do something with it.
Matt: Yeah, buy it and make something right away. So my friend and my bass player in the band, he was like, ‘Dude I'm tired of hearing you talk about this idea.' And he's like, ‘You better just do it.” I was like, ‘Alright.” And he kind of like, lit a fire in me and I just started making it.
And here's the thing; so WordPress was a thing. So it was just 2006 now and here I am building my own WordPress without even knowing it. So I started to research PHP and databases and MySQL and all that stuff. I actually ended up building my own content managing system and accounting software. For me it was very simple stuff. And that's how Swim University ran for the first 2 years or 3 years even.
Eric: We know that sounds simple. That's still quite a feat even for a lot of people today. So I'm impressed.
Matt: Yeah. And it was just like, and that was the reason I built it that way. Because before I was copying HTML pages and writing articles on individual HTML pages which you know how insane that is. So I ended up finally moving over to WordPress many years later, probably 2010 maybe or 2011.
Eric: Do you remember your first WordPress version you used?
Matt: I think it was 2.5 .
Eric: That was a big version.
Matt: Was it? That's why I don't remember it. I remember being old but it was … so I built that site. I finally had it up and I don't know, am I going…does this seem interesting?
Eric: Interesting? Yeah, keep going.
Matt: Okay, alright. So I'm getting a little technical I think, I don't wanna get too technical. But anyway, So I built the website and I wasn't making that much money off of it, probably nothing. But I had joined this community, this online community And it was basically a make money online community. It was how to write a bunch of articles, really crappy articles, get some backlinks, start to rank for some keywords, have some AdSense on there and start making passive income.
Eric: Where Google used to be.
Matt: Yeah this was before 2008. So I did that a lot. I used to keep spreadsheets where I would just write the same article over and over again. It was 300 words, had 2 lengths in it. It was about robotic pool cleaners. I must have written 500 of these articles and just posting ti to every article directory in the world that would accept my stuff. This community, this is what they were teaching and it wasn't malicious ever. It was just like, this is how we made money and it's working. And then all of the sudden it was..
Eric: For people who are just getting into online business stuff now and just learning about online marketing, this really used to be how it worked. It used to be a backlink was a backlink and it didn't matter where it was from. There weren't a lot of rules. There were no penalties in Google yet for this kind of thing. So this was the White Hat SEO of blogs.
Matt: Yes it was. Yeah. And it was just…
Eric: Don't do that anymore.
Eric: When I said that it ‘was' that means that it is past.
Matt: Yeah. Every backlink was a vote. It was like just get as many votes as you can to your website and start to rank. And it absolutely worked. I mean, 100% worked. And then I think 2008, 2009 hit and my site kinda dropped in traffic. It wasn't really that high to begin with but a big significant change and I started to not use AdSense. I was trying to figure out something like Clickbank stuff. I don't know. It was just… I was doing affiliate marketing and I was doing AdSense stuff. It just wasn't paying off.
I was really mad. Because I was being taught all these incorrect stuff and they basically…
Eric: Google made all these warm fuzzy P animals like Pandas and Penguins come out and give us the traffic smackdown.
Matt: Yeah. You know what it's oh my God for the better. I needed that lesson. I needed to get hit like that. Because I was just following these dudes blindly like they were just, you know. Again, not malicious. They were literally trying to help a bunch of people.
Eric: They were pretty successful. The guy who runs the Demand Media, I remember right before the Pandas and Penguins came, he…. there were pictures of him riding his yacht around in the Caribbean.
Matt: Yeah. I wasn't in the community that bad. They weren't that, you know, they were nice boys. So anyway, I ended up leaving the community and I was just completely turned off by all communities at that point. I was like, ‘You know what? This is dumb.'
And I ended up finding a guy named Corbett Barr on I think a podcast I was listening to.
Eric: I know that name.
Matt: Huh? You know that name?
Matt: Yeah. So he started this thing called Fizzle. Before that he had this thing called Think Traffic. He just said something like, you know he wasn't an SEO guy; like I was always into SEO that was like my whole thing because to me that made more sense that to be a good writer, a good article writer or a good video maker.
At the time I just wasn't into that which is so stupid because that's exactly what I did. That was my skill set and I was too busy making spreadsheets and writing these really crappy articles. He said write epic stuff or write epic S-word, or I don't know how casual you want to be.
Eric: No worries.
Matt: So he had that and I was like, that makes a lot of sense. And it was really just kind of a generic statement where he was saying, ‘why are you writing for search engines when you should be writing for the people who are searching for you and then reading your stuff.' It was just more of, ‘ oh yeah, duh.. why haven't I been doing that this whole time?'
Eric: Write for people and not for robots.
Matt: Yeah. Sometimes I've been doing it but I wasn't focused on that. So I started to really focus on writing better articles and starting to do video. And then when I started doing that the traffic started to creep up.
And then things became…I started to become a little bit more known in my industry, in the pool industry and people reached out to me and ask if they could become a sponsor and sponsor my website.
Cause I was really the only guy and still kind of the only guy who has a very large audience of pool owners and spa owners. Because that's not something that you can just target on Facebook. You can't just target people who own hot tubs. That's not something that they put.
So it became this sort of super niched site and that's not what I was going for. Cause now they'll teach you, ‘oh be an authority site or be a niche site or use these buzzwords and market it.' I just did what I knew how to do. I knew a lot about pools and I put it online. It's that simple. Now, that's what people call it but that wasn't what I was actively trying to do.
I ended up getting fired actually from my pool job because of Swim University. I was doing some work on the side for a restoration company as an extra income and they offered me a job, a full time position there which is only 5 minutes down the road. And I went into my boss at the pool company and I was like, ‘Look I got this other job offer, it's down the street. If you're willing to match it I'm gonna stay.' Which was really stupid in retrospect but it didn't matter either way if he match me, great. I don't have to leave the company. If he said, ‘you're fired' I had another job that was paid more money. So either way I win.
I ended up getting fired because he found out about Swim University. Once I told him I had this other job offer he started to dig in and Google me and figure out more about me and found out that I own this site. And it wasn't a conflict of interest. I never took links or did anything like that because it's not what I was into. And I kept them a very separate….
Eric: Did things on up and up.
Matt: Yeah. I never worked on it at work. Like that was just, I have some dignity and standards and stuff.
Eric: Just a little bit.
Matt: Yeah. But I didn't wanna argue with him. Cause I said, ‘You know what? Fine I have another job. I know I'm not doing the things you say I'm doing. They were all lies but I'll move on.'
Transition to Working Online Full-time
So I moved on and I worked on that job for like a year and a half; at this restoration company. Then I got let go. I was laid off. I was able to collect unemployment. It was sort of my boss saying, ‘hey look, I know your talents and I know you'll have these other things to do. We really can't afford you right now so I'm letting you go.' And kind of like, ‘but I still want you to kind of work with us like on the side.'
And so I left and I filed for unemployment and I owned a house at the time, I owned a BMW, like I had these really high expenses. I've been really wanting to do Swim University full time but I've never really had a runway, you know. I've never really, I never really a saver. I was really bad with money to be honest with you.
So I ended up saying to myself,' You have one year. The government is giving a loan. Right? They're giving you the runway. You have to make this work. This is only time. You're never gonna get an opportunity like this again. This landed on your lap. You need to take advantage of it.'
So that was my thing. No one really believed in me. And that's fine cause they don't have to anymore. But I remember I basically left a job. I sold my car, the BMW cause I couldn't afford anymore. It wasn't like I couldn't afford it. It was just like that was really stupid to have on unemployment. I just realized this is not right. If I'm doing this I gotta go down to nothing.
Eric: I've got to live the unemployed lifestyle.
Matt: Pretty much, yeah. And maybe just for self-respect, I think, and not just because I had to. I ended up renting my condo out to somebody and I moved in with my younger brother. I was willing to move home but I was like, ‘ yah, my brother was willing to take me in and it's not that expensive so let me just do that.'
So I ended up moving with him, sold my car and basically lived there for I think year and a half, two years. And all I did was work on Swim University. That's all I did. I was able to grow it very quickly just by writing a lot, by filming a lot of videos. I was selling a lot of sponsorship slots on my website. I was developing plugins to help me with Amazon affiliates and I did that and traffic grew and it started to replace the income quickly.
There were times where I needed some extra income because the pool industry is seasonal so if I ever needed any extra money to survive to get through I would do website design for a client and kind of get a quick cash bump and then keep moving. My expenses were low. I was down to $1300 a month just to survive and I didn't have really at the time, I didn't go out, didn't really have that many friends to pull away from the computer. So I spent a lot of time in front of the computer.
Eric: Sounds like it paid off pretty well.
Matt: It did. It certainly did. Very well. I still work on it quite a bit but I don't have to work on it as much anymore because it kinda… I have created these processes and it now runs on autopilot.
In August of last year, I think I was laid in 2011 or 2012. So it took, I don't know, three years really just to get it to be profitable and allow me to actually move and live on my own. And yeah, that's kind of where I'm at…it's not where I'm at right now, I'm a little bit ahead of that but I think last year was the first year that I did over 6 figures with it.
Eric: That's not bad.
Eric: I'd say that's pretty good.
Matt: Yeah, for one website. I mean, it's great. I was very aware of what I needed from that website in terms of how to make money from it. Because there's a lot of people who will say that, ‘oh you don't really need the traffic. You can make money without traffic.'
And that's true depending on the type of site you have. My site just, that's how it makes money. That was the business model – is get a ton of traffic and monetize it. And that's what I did. It was fun. I'm not gonna say it was hard. It was just work and I enjoy work.
Right now I have a media company. It's pretty generic. I'm in the process of building other sites like it and other brands that can make money in a whole slew of different ways. I'm sort of expanding not Swim University, Swim University is gonna stay sort of like the same size and it'll grow on its own, but instead of make Swim University the greatest pool website of all time I wanna focus my energy on building other brands and sort of like diversify my skill sets in other industries in case, you never know, the pool industry can take…it could tank one year and I won't make as must. I need to sort of have something to fall back on if that happens.
Learning About Personal Finance
Eric: So is that what led you into the personal finance brand?
Matt: The personal finance brand was kind of…that was dropped on my lap. Because I have joined Fizzle because of Corbett Barr and I was a little active and there's a community thing and I was really kind of doing my own thing. And I was just there to watch some videos and stuff.
And a guy named Andrew reached out to me and he was like, ‘look I like Swim University, I love the stuff you make online.' He's like, ‘I have this personal finance blog, I had like 20 articles on it.' And he's like, ‘I really could use your help branding this and making this a thing and in return I'll help you monetize Swim University a little bit better.'
And I thought that was a good trade off because at the time I was really bad with money. And I'm like, ‘well if I'm gonna be this entrepreneur and I'm gonna be kind of self-sufficient I really can't afford to be bad with money. I cannot have the same habits I used to have you know, just spending money on BMWs and buying condos with a 620 credit score and all these insane, that was in 2008. Just doing these same things and having…
Eric: A lot of people are buying condos with worse credit scores in 2008.
Matt: Oh absolutely. One thing that I had going for me is no college debt because I did not go to college. So that was the one positive thing. I still think that it's a very positive thing that I'm not in that debt.
So anyway, I thought it was a really good idea to basically learn personal finance by actually doing doings, by creating a brand around it. The first thing we did was we rebranded the site, we…I started writing articles and I just kind of directing things as far as what was getting written and what was getting created and helping create those things.
And we would have these business meetings over Skype and they would be video Skype sessions and Andrew's wife would overhear us talking and she said that we were really entertaining as a duo. And she suggested that we could start a personal finance podcast like the one we're on.
I was like, oh, I've actually done a few podcasts before. I've been a producer of few and I have a background in audio engineering cause my dad owns a recording studio and I grew up in one. And I had the music background and stuff. So i'm like ‘yeah this would be super easy to do.' Again I didn't know anything about personal finance or personal finance podcasting. I didn't know about the Dave Ramsey Show or any other thing. I just assumed they were all boring.
Eric: I think a lot of people would do okay if they don't know about the Dave Ramsey show.
Matt: Sure, yeah. I just assumed they were all boring. And that was pretty much the only research that I had which was I think all personal finance podcasts are boring. And I would personally, at the time I was 30 years old, I liked drinking beer which I still do and I would never have listened to any personal finance show. LIke I just absolutely wouldn't.
And so I was like, ‘well if we're gonna make a show I wanna make a show for me, somebody like me who's like, ‘man, just tell me what to do. Just give it to me straight, entertain me, it didn't have to be stuffy and boring.'
So I ended up like writing this like heavy metal intro for the show because I wanted a heavy metal intro. Because I thought that was cool and I love metalcore and all that kind of stuff.
Eric: How do you think the show got an electronic dance music intro? It's not because I think it's boring.
Matt: Right, exactly.
Eric: To make the show that you would love.
Matt: Yeah. So we did that. We organically, we're like drinking beers because we were scared. We would drink just to kind of like calm our nerves and then I would ask him what he was drinking. He would ask me and we would kind of have this whole thing in the beginning. It sort of just turned into a thing after a while. It wasn't planned or anything.
We did that November of 2013 and really didn't see any traction till May the following year. And in May we ended up going daily. We did a show once a week in the beginning. We had some listeners and we had some growth but nothing crazy. And then I was like, ‘let's try going daily for just a month and see what happens.' And we did 31 days in a row for May and just all of a sudden, I mean like we had downloads we couldn't even believe. We were getting so many people subscribing to our podcast and it was just …
Eric: That's Yogi interjecting his excitement about this.
Matt: Nice. He loves this.
Eric: He's totally into it.
Matt: So the idea was we were just trying to get as many listeners as we possibly could. And it grew. It was just a huge podcast and it's still is a huge podcast. But I ended up walking away from it because we weren't really making any money ironically. And ended up just going back and refocusing on Swim U and as I did that, that's when Swim U really started to just take on a life of its own and just kind of completely blew up.
And not like an overnight success sort of blow up but just like, oh things just started clicking for me cause I had gone off and done this personal finance podcast. I realized I learned a lot from it and came back and took those skills and put them towards Swim University and the other projects that I have started since. It's worked out for me so just going out and basically doing something and it succeeding rapidly which is not making all that much money off of it. Kind of make you sit back and go like, ‘oh how can I monetize my own stuff better now that I know that this is you know like, even successful stuff if it's not properly monetized can actually be failures. You know like, when it comes to how much it makes.
Eric: But there was one huge for you personal benefit of having joined the personal finance community having met a special someone. You are the second person actually on this show who have met their special someone at FinCon.
Matt: That is super true. Who is the other person?
Eric: That person asked me to not say. But I'll tell you later. You know the person.
Matt: Okay. So yeah, I met my girlfriend at that first year at FinCon. We were doing the podcast and we had found out about FinCon because I had done a personal finance rap song on the internet like before we actually went daily with the show and …
Eric: Now I check my stats like everyday.
Matt: No, not that one.
Eric: No, I'm saying now I do.
Matt: Oh yeah. It was a song called All My Money, that we did to promote Listen Money Matters as a brand, as a personal finance podcast and blog. And honestly, like no one paid attention to it. It was a complete flop. And I have done a rap video for Swim University like a year or two before that did really well so I thought that it would work like gangbusters in personal finance space and it really didn't.
I had my theories on why it didn't work all that well. But what it did do was the president of FinCon, PT, found it, saw it…I think I may have like reached out to him because I saw that he had done a podcast rap or a personal finance rap. And he was like, ‘dude you should do this at FinCon. We have this event you should come and do it.' And so I was like, ‘yeah, I would love to do that.'
So I ended up going to FinCon performing a different song at the Plutus Awards, it was like this award ceremony at FinCon.
Eric: If you're a finance blogger it's the bees knees otherwise you dig what do these nerdy people talking about.
Matt: It is a conference, you know. So I ended up performing. I met Stephanie and we now live in Boulder together.
So many things have come out of Listen Money Matters except money so it's just been, it's great and it's funny cause like…so Andrew and I are talking about maybe starting something new soon or doing some other sort of collaboration now that I have these other businesses in place and they kind of run on their own. I have time to focus on other side projects and see where they lead me.
Same Business Model, Different Industry
Matt: So that's been fun. I think that's kind of where I am now. I left the podcast. I focused a 100% on Swim University. Again, it did super well and I ended up starting another website called RoastyCoffee.com and that site was basically a carbon copy of Swim University in a different industry. It was gonna make money. It is gonna make money. The same exact way Swim University does. The whole idea is based on traffic. And I wanted to see if I could…So Roasty is a little bit of an experiment for me cause I had Swim University I'm like, ‘okay, is this a fluke?'
Swim University took 10 years to get here it is today. Right?
Eric: That's another lesson people can remember. There are very few get rich quick online things that might actually work. People like Matt, people like me….I just left my job in the last month. It took me about 8 years to get to this point. It wasn't like one day I was like, oh I'm gonna go make a bunch of money online and then the next day a $5,000 cheque showed up. The same didn't happen for Matt. It took a lot of years to get to where he's at.
Matt: Yeah. Not only that, it's not rich either. I'm doing like…
Eric: You're doing alright.
Matt: Yeah, I'm doing okay.
Eric: You could afford to live in downtown Boulder.
Matt: That's true, yeah
Eric: And drink a beer with this crazy guy in California. Cheers by the way.
Matt: That's true. Anytime of the day if I want to, yeah. So yeah, there's obviously a lot of benefits to what I did over the last 10 years. And I sacrificed a lot but I gained a lot, too. So you know, no pain no gain, right?
So I had Swim University and I'm like, you know it took me 10 years so I'm like, ‘I wonder if I could take everything I learned in 10 years, condense it into a plan, like a kind of a …
Eric: A business plan, if you will.
Matt: Yeah. I didn't actually made one of those, but yeah.
Eric: The same idea.
Matt: Yeah. And just take the exact same model and apply it to a totally different industry and see if I can build it but much faster, you know. So now instead of 10 years maybe I could do it in 5 years or 4 years and maybe have another property that's making just as much if not more cause it's a bigger industry. And so that was sort of the plan and I started that in April of 2015 and it's been a year now. I think I get like 40,000 people a month and it does well and I think I'm making like $800 a month off of it which is…
Eric: It's a pretty good start.
Matt: Oh hell yeah. I mean for a year's worth of work; and I'm hoping that it pays off for a long time. So it's sort of like, and I knew it going into it. It's not finished. It's just like I'm still investing in it as a concept, you know. So I wanted to kind of grow and I put a lot of Swim U money into it to just to kind of see if I really could do this again. If it's something that I am particularly gifted at or if it's just the niche I was in or the industry I was in.
It turns out I've been able to do it again and faster than I did Swim U. And it's working great. I mean it's doing better than Swim U did in it's first 6 years even or even 7 or 8 years.
Eric: It's great.
Matt: So I'm super happy about that, yeah.
Eric: So two things. So first you were talking about rapping something, I don't know if I ever said on the show before, in college I was in a rap group. And we got big enough that we actually opened up for a guy from the Wu-Tang Clan in one show.
Eric: The website, I decided to retire it but there's still a little memorial on my personal website. If you go to…because you know, super Jewish guy obviously. We were The Heebs with Chutspa or HWChet. Kinda like NWA except Jewish.
Matt: Oh my God.
Eric: You go to hwchet.com, still today one of my original songs is up there. You can listen to it for free. So fun little tidbit for the world to know about me. I had a been in a studio…I actually recorded that in a studio in a basement in Tel Aviv where my cousin who lives in Israel still was an audio engineer school and he and his buddy were able to get us the space for free from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. So I met them at 10 P. M. and we started recording it like 2 A.M. we had a beer and falafel break and went back to it.
Eric: So I had a little CD called Enter the [inaudible] I think was what I called it. Yeah, so check it out if anyone's interested. I have a few songs. Nothing too glamorous but
it did open for the Wu-Tang guy.
Matt: What is the difference….'cause I listen to Matisyahu and he's about as like Jewish hip-hop as you can get.
Eric: We we more like the Weird Al version, mostly. Though we did…
Matt: Oh I understand. So you were making fun of..
Eric: I did like, my big debut single was, everyone knows Gin & Juice while mine was all about Sip and Shevats which is mainly shevats. The one that I was working on that I'm always a little sad, I should finish it one day, was Drop it like it's Glatt; instead of Drop It Like It's Hot. And I did The Real Moshe instead of The Real Slim Shady. So for Moses, it's Moshe in Hebrew.
Matt: What's a glatt?
Eric: Glatt is a way to keep kosher. Kosher's Jewish dietary rules. Glatt Kosher is the most strict of those dietary rules.
Matt: Oh. Got it.
Eric: We drop it like it's glatt, you know.
Matt: That's funny.
Eric: So anyway, so a fun little thing about me. But really what I wanted to get to was, so with your new coffee site and with you as a brand in general, I see you pop up all over. You're doing an excellent job with promotion. If you are an online entrepreneur who has joined any related Facebook groups you have seen Matt's name and picture pop up probably a few times.
Advice to Newbie Online Entrepreneurs
What is your strategy, let's say someone's listening right now, they're inspired they wanna start a website, they think, ‘oh this Swim U thing, that's the kind of business model I wanna get into, what would you do to start? When you started your coffee site what would those first steps you would take or you would tell someone to do to really start getting their name out there and promote their brand?
Matt: I wouldn't promote. That's what I would do. I mean I didn't, like Roasty that wasn't the first thing I did. Basically I built the most generic, generic but nicely designed WordPress theme that I could get up quickly. I mean I put a lot of work into it. It was designed well. It was very simple. It still is to this day. Still the same design I've had for a year and I'm adding some stuff to it here and there.But I just basically just get it up as part of like get the website up and running. I literally think I bought the domain name. I set up a hosting thing on Hostgator which is not there anymore but because I don't want to give them any credit for anything but set up a hosting plan and put up… I think I wrote a few articles. I started doing video right away cause I wanted the site to originally be just all video.
I built the site cause I need that as a creator. I need to see where the actual videos and articles would live before I actually made those things. It's sort of like designing the way the book is gonna look and then filling it with words. So that's kinda how I approach anything like that because as a designer-mind and not a writer it feels better to fill something that looks good than to fill just blank empty pages.
Eric: Never judge a book by it's cover unless Matt wrote the book.
Matt: Yeah. Because I'm gonna spend more time on the cover than I will on the actual content. But anyway..
Eric: Yogi agrees.
Matt: That's not true but … So I ended up building that first like in a day. Like literally just get it done and that's the thing, it's a skill set that I have so I just utilized it. And I know that's sort of a hack for myself. It's like if I build something and I can see it and I could actually type it on a web browser, to me it feels real ..
Eric: It's tangible; fruits of your labor.
Matt: It's tangible. Yeah. And the whole project sort of like…I get a lot more excited about filling in that template if you will. I did that first and then basically just started making videos and writing and basically I just came up with a list of every coffee article that I can think of, what I wanted to know like how to use a French Press, how to use a chemex, how to use an aeropress, how to use a drip maker, how to use, all these different things.
Eric: I know how to use my Keurig. Does that count?
Matt: Yeah. And that was the one thing we're super against no Keurigs, but yeah. So it was, so we… I say ‘we' it was just me and I was just creating these videos and then I started to hire people to write. And I didn't launch it I basically just started stock piling articles and videos into a website. I officially launched it a month later. So I took a one month to kinda fill it with things to where if in April I did say just even put it on my Facebook page that this thing's live. There was enough to devour there that it made sense to even exist.
So that's what I'd recommend to actually not thinking about not promoting at all. I really don't think a lot about promotion. I can't cause you can really get lost in there when you start anything like you know, another thing too when I started Roasty, I didn't research anything. I had no idea if what I was building already existed in some other fashion. I had no idea. I just knew that I wanted to build a site that was a lot about what answered my questions about coffee and it looked good. That was my only criteria for this site.
Eric: Which is actually one of the most important thing is to think of when starting any business is you're solving a problem and if it's problem or a question you have yourself then you're filling your own need and I'm sure…. that's how I started a lot of projects I worked on. I think of something that I need and I start building it because I can't find a way to fix it.
Matt: Yeah. The other thing was I probably could have found a way to learn how to use a chemex but again I didn't do any research I'm like I'm gonna make the thing I want and I'm gonna do it my way and that's the need of it. And this is all because this was an experiment.
The thing was I didn't have anything riding on it. And there's still nothing riding on it. It's not like if this doesn't work I have to go back and get a 9 to 5. That's not the situation I'm in right now so I am able to kind of do these experiments and come out you know with…and cause look at it and say, does this work? Does this not work? If it did great let's keep going, settle down on some stuff. If it didn't work then whatever, you know. Drop it like it's glatt and move on.
Yeah that would be my advice is just like start and not think about promotion but I will admit that recently you've been seeing a lot of my promotional stuff. But that's for a totally different reason. Right now…
Eric: Are you gonna give the secret? What's the reason?
Matt:: The reason for promotion?
Matt: So I have RoastyCoffee.com, makes decent money, it basically pays for itself; which is fine. Swim University earns me my living which is great. And I did have Listen Money Matters but I walked away from that.
And I was really kind of looking for an outlet. I have a lot of opinions. I have that I want to say about online marketing and the thing that I do which everyone who kind of does this thing always ends going down that road. We always end up saying, ‘hey I made this website about basket weaving and now I'm going to teach you how to make websites about basket weaving.' Which is very natural progression for some reason
I wanted that platform but I didn't wanna do it the way everyone else is doing it. And I was like, alright I've been just yearning for something. I didn't know what it was. I had people tell me I should start another podcast because I had Listen Money Matters podcast, I did really well on it, people missed my voice. So I was like, ‘alright maybe that's what I'll do. I'll do a podcast.'
And this is where the idea just engine just doesn't stop, right? I had this idea where I wanted to do a podcast where I just casually interview online entrepreneurs about everything and anything. It could be about business, whatever. I just wanted to basically just interview my friends. Right? Who I shared a common interest with. And I wanted it to be super long and I wanted it to just be about…
The original idea for this podcast was about you know, I could interview somebody in the, any business owner and find out what drove them to be that type of person. Even if I interviewed somebody bigger like a Richard Branson or an Elon Musk or somebody like..
Eric: You sort of named my heroes.
Matt: Yeah. I actually wouldn't purposely wouldn't ask them about business. I would ask them about their childhood and how their formative years influence what they do now. And that is sort of what I was trying to figure out is why are certain people driven t do things and other people are not. Other people just you know, they're happy just working and getting a paycheck every week and some people are just not that. I was never satisfied with having a boss and working 9 to 5 and partying on the weekends. This is how I'm designed but no one in my family really is that way. So I wanna know why.
Eric: I wanna party in the week also. I don't have to wait till Saturday.
Matt: Well, yeah. I was just trying to..
Eric: I also like to work on Sundays sometimes.
Matt: Well, yeah I'm working on till Memorial Day right now. So I'm working, I worked yesterday. I was just curious why I'm different and what it was I kinda wanted to figure that out.
And so I was like, I started this podcast called Driven and that was sort of the idea. And then it got a little bit more ambitious where I was actually gonna take a month roadtrip around the country and just go and interview all my friends in my car. So I totally rigged my car up;; which I did one episode that way.
Eric: Like a Jerry Seinfeld's thing but entrepreneurship instead of comedians and coffee.
Matt: Exactly. It would be video but it wouldn't be as well done as his unless it kind of took off.
Eric: He has a little bit different budget.
Matt: He does; there's that. It's called Driven. It's out there now. I think I did like 8 episodes. They're long episodes. They're just audio, it's a podcast. I stopped doing it cause I was like, ‘I'm not really feeling this.” And I wasn't really sure why. I think it was because…
Eric: You weren't driven?
Matt: It's called Driven, yeah, think of The Driven Show.
Eric: I was making a joke – you weren't driven.
Matt: Oh what did you say?
Eric: I said, ‘you weren't driven?'
Matt: Yeah I wasn't driven to finish it. It was just, I don't know I can't really, it just wasn't satisfying what I needed to satisfy for whatever reason.
Matt: And so I ended up talking with Andrew and you know, we did Listen Money Matters, he currently does Listen Money Matters. So he was like, “I wanna do another show with you or I wanna do some sort of project with you.' And I was like, okay. I'm interested. I'm intrigued. What could we do?
We were just talking. We would just jump on Skype, you now a year after we were doing Listen Money Matters and we would just talk about this kind of stuff – business and tactics and what we were doing in our own thing and all these other stuff. And we're like, oh there's podcast like that out there. He's like, yeah but nothing that's like conversational like with two people just talking about a specific thing. And I was like, yeah but I wanted something more than that.
So I had this idea where you know, I didn't want to get into business with him again but I wanted to make money from this but sort of like, kind of indirectly. And so the idea was why don't we just get on a podcast every week and challenge each other to make money in our own businesses and then talk about that on the show. So we would, one episode would be…
Eric: The entrepreneurship showdown show kind of thing?
Matt: Yeah. In a way we would, one episode be one of us would challenge the other person and then the next week we would come back with updates on what was happening in that challenge.
That's how it started. We called it Product Lab and we wanted to tie it into Listen Money Matters. We wanted it to have a crossover audience so I thought it would be a good idea to just call it Money Lab cause it's like, well it has something to do about money and what is this really anyway, all this online marketing crap. People just wanna make money. And that's really the [inaudible] of it all.
So I was like, let's just call it what it is, man. We're gonna challenge ourselves to freakin' make money in our own businesses and talk about it. And so we recorded like 2 or 3 episodes and we would listen back to them and we're just like, this isn't good. I don't know why this isn't working but it isn't working and just wasn't playing out. And so we kind of gave up on the idea but I still like the name Money Lab and I now own the domain. I was like, maybe , cause I've wanted to start a personal brand but my name's not very, it's not a very good brand because it's really hard to pronounce as you heard in the beginning of the podcast.
Eric: No way, that's easy.
Matt: It's hard to pronounce. It's super Italian and it's not how I personally identify it myself. Even though I know it's a name that'll never change I was sitting on this Money Lab domain and I was like, you know I really like this maybe there's something here. Maybe I can turn this into sort of a personal brand.
And so the idea stayed relatively the same. I was going to challenge myself to make money outside of the Money Lab itself. Instead of doing a podcast I I was doing these very long sort of live updates as blog posts. So the idea was I would just kind of have an idea for a product or a way to make money and I would actually go and do it and give myself a time frame when I had to complete the challenge and sort of update my audience in real time via blog posts; and a single blog post. So instead of writing Day One post and Day Two post I would just update the same post and then just send people to a link that they could jump to the next section quickly.
That's how that started. I started that in February and I've just seen so much explosive growth from that. And it's because, so I've only done 3 challenges so far. The first challenge I did was a challenge that my friend Jason Zook. He had this course called How to Get Sponsorships that I had taken and he was interested in rebranding it and reselling it with both of us attached to it and we would split it.
And so the first challenge is let's rebrand this existing course and sell it online and do it in 21 days. And so we spent 21 days building a website, building a landing page, restructuring the course, doing a whole different payment structure, writing blog posts and building a list and all these different things, and then promoting it and all kinds of stuff. That was the first challenge and we did relatively well on it. You can read about the whole thing, it's like 8,000 words or some ridiculous amount.
So that was the first time I done something for myself, like that to make money, outside of the coffee or pool industry. I started to think about how Money Lab itself would gain an audience because it would be totally different than Swim University and Roasty because Swim University the way I get an audience is I write and article about pool algae and I rank number one for pool algae and then you get an answer to that question and that's my website. That's how I'm getting consistent traffic from Google.
Same with Roasty, I'm creating these articles that are about like ‘how-to' articles like how to use a chemex, how to brew with these beans or whatever. And so they rank on Google then I get these consistent traffic. But Money Lab was this different thing where I'm writing one blog post every two months, really. But they're super long. But they're not how-to articles they're kind of a journal of what I'm doing.
Eric: A story.
Matt: Yeah. It's a story really. I was like, how am I gonna market this? How am I gonna promote this site cause it's not gonna rank. It can't rank. The only time it'll rank is maybe if you type in my name and Google, it'll rank but I don't know if people are searching for that. So it's really like sitting there trying to figure out how I'm gonna do this and I'd never done this kind of marketing. This is kind of outside my wheelhouse.My wheelhouse is write stuff for Google and get traffic. I'm good at that. I'm pretty confident that I could rank number one for any keyword you give me. It sounds cocky but I feel like I know what I'm doing in that realm.
So this was like I didn't know. So I was like, alright I have to get creative. I really can't even go after the people who are teaching this stuff. And this has always been my problem with the online marketing space is everyone is sort of teaching the same thing and then if you have a slightly different business model or a slightly different way you wanna do things, you can't just fit everybody into this. You can't just fit everyone in the same box, right? You can't say that, ‘hey if you start a podcast you'll make money by these 3 ways.' Well why are those 3 ways the only ways to do it and…
Eric: Those 3 ways might not work for everybody.
Matt: No, and they absolutely don't work for everybody. My whole thing with Money Lab was I need to start doing things that no one's done before. Not to prove that I can do it but just because I have no other option. I don't have any other way. I'm not gonna write a how-to article like how to build an email list in 30 days. I'm not gonna write that article mainly because I don't want to.
I created this brand rules when I started Money Lab for myself and they're on my website. But these rules are basically I'm not allowed to do those things because I don't like those things and I don't wanna be an authority. I'm not trying to say I know…I know the way you should build a business and here is your blueprint.
Eric: Ladies and gentlemen, Matt, the anti-authority.
Matt: Yeah. But that's what I want, right? I don't want to be the guy in…
Eric: Take that Michael Hyatt and Neil Patel and the list goes on.
Matt: And that's funny cause I follow those guys but I'm like, at the same time they're all experimenting too. It's like they experiment they say, oh this worked and then they share that. That's kind of what I'm doing except I'm not even sharing and saying this works, I'm gonna package it up, I'm gonna sell it to you. I'm saying I'm gonna try a bunch of stuff and I'm gonna document everything I try. And some of it's gonna work and some of it's not gonna work. You can just read about it. And that's bottomline.
One of my rules is show don't tell because I don't want to…even if I do it behind the scenes and I … cause I know how to build an email list right now. I'm sitting on this secret if you will. But if I told you to do that for the personal finance community it probably wouldn't work the same as it does for the Swim University industry. So I'm like, why am I even gonna try? That's kind of doing you a disservice as a person who would follow me. What I'll do is I'll tell you how I did it at Swim U, I'll give you all the behind the scenes stuff on how I did it and then you can make up your own mind if that's something you'd like to try as well or not.
Because the people who email me and say, ‘hey I had this idea about a business, what do you think?' And my canned response for all of these questions is I have no idea or I don't know, go try it and then tell me what happens.
That's how I started this site it's because I love… it actually started because I like watching musicians describe how they make and record songs. They're not sitting there going like, oh you should use this plugin for a compression and you should use this EQ system. They never said it. They go, ‘this is what I'm using, I don't know that's just the one I picked.' It's almost like these guys are just like kind of just experimenting and seeing the sounds that come out of it and going like, ‘this is how I do it, you know. I don't know if this is right or not but it sounds good.'
And that's sort of the same thing I do with the promotion of my Money Lab and even the challenges and the products that I build are like, I don't really know. I wanted to do this thing and I don't know what's gonna happen and I don't know. Like I just don't know.
Eric: I guess we're all gonna find out.
Matt: Yeah. I mean so this will be a line would you do is like next. So I'm taking June off I don't wanna really do too much stuff cause I'm kind of like done…
Eric: Summer vacation
Matt: Yeah. I've done 3 challenges. They all took a lot out of me. Two of them are semi-successful. One of them just completely didn't work at all. I tried selling sponsorships on Roasty and it just didn't work. And it's funny cause I did the exact same tactics I used for Swim University that worked perfectly well and great. I do the same thing at Roasty Coffee and it doesn't work at all. Literally made zero dollars probably spent more money and time than it was worth actually doing but hey, you learned a lesson.
Eric: We all learned a lesson.
Matt: Yeah. Everyone did. Right? But just in that little context, right? And so at the end of the day or when I get back from this little vacation my next challenge… this is my problem, too, now I have a huge list of digital marketers and people and podcasters because I've done a couple of these promotional stunts where I'm getting a lot of traffic and email addresses things went viral that again, totally an experiment, didn't know it was gonna viral, didn't try to make it go viral, it just ended up happening twice.
Matt: So I'm gonna wait for a month and not do anything and then I'm gonna try to write and sell a rap album in 30 days.
Eric: It sounds exciting and hard but I bet you could do it.
Matt: I think I can. I have… I think I can. Look, and I don't know anything. Here's the thing, I was in a band we failed miserably. We tried to get signed. I tried to be a rockstar. It did not work but I know a lot of stuff now more than I did 10 years ago. And I know that in order to sell something you have make something So the first thing I'm gonna do is not even worry about the promotion I'm just gonna worry about getting an album done; getting a good album done.
Eric: Well if you need a guest vocal from MC Chaim of The Heebs of Chutspa, give me a buzz.
Matt: Yeah. I may have to contact you. I'm just really curious I'm like, I'm gonna build something and I'm not gonna test them. This is one of those products, this is the information that like, this really kind of pisses me off. It's like, ‘oh test your target market before you actually build anything.'
Eric: How do you really test without doing it?
Matt: You don't test that. That's impossible to test.
Eric: Like how can I find out how many people are buy this product that doesn't exist until it exists?
Eric: Of course all my friends are gonna be like, ‘oh yeah I'll buy it.' Until you're like, alright cough up the cash and no one's gonna cough up.
Matt: Exactly And think about this, too, like a movie like Office Space which completely bomb in the theaters but has seen so much money afterwards.
Eric: I literally have a red stapler on my desk that I'm looking at right now.
Matt: Case in point. So it's like you don't know unless… the problem is just like I'd rather make something that lives forever and do terrible. I'll be proud that I made something that lives forever even if it's stupid, you know. Even if it's dumb or no one wants to buy it. I'm still gonna feel good that I made it. You know what I mean? You're never mad at yourself like, ‘oh I spend all this time on this bird cage or what if people never like these bird houses.
Eric: No hummingbirds came and hung out in my house.
Matt: Yeah. You're like, ‘birds suck. I built this thing and no one cares'. I'm not gonna say that. You're gonna be like, oh yeah it's a birdhouse I built. If you did it haphazardly of course you're gonna be like, ‘oh I just built that birdhouse. Who cares? Right?' But you spent time and painted it and made it nice. You're always gonna be proud of that no matter no birds lived on it or not.
Eric: Maybe the squirrels set up residence.
Matt: Yeah, who knows. It could be fr somebody So, I don't know. I think I'm excited to do it cause I'm like I don't know what's gonna happen. It could be a miserable failure and that's okay because at least at the end of the day I have an album that I said that I'd work really hard on. And you know, I have an album. How many people can say that? I have that. I think that's worth it.
Eroic: Awesome. Well if people want to find you, find the story, keep track of what you're up to, where should they all head?
Matt: I think they should go to moneylab.co/dingle
Eric: Slash dingle. I like that.
Eric: Now I'm curious. I'm gonna type it in as soon as we hang up cause I'm sure everybody else who's listening will do as well.
So anyway, thank you so much, Matt for the time. This has been super valuable. Very interesting. You're up to a lot of very cool things and I knew all about the Money Lab stuff cause that's how we met. But I did not know all about the pool stuff so I learned a lot of cool stuff too. And I'm sure everyone else did.
Thank you very much, Matt. Thanks everyone for listening all the way through to the end. And as always everyone if you enjoyed the show I would love if you could just take a quick moment head to iTunes or Stitcher, wherever to listen to podcast, drop a rating. Hopefully I earned a 5 stars and if not shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know how I can earn that 5th star.
Again thank you, Matt. Cheers for the last time with my last gulp of my Lagunitas Daytime Ale. Very good timing on finishing that up. Thank you everyone and until next time, stay profitable.
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