How I learnt to build Internet businesses
Hi, my name is Yoav Shalev and i’m the founder of this blog, RoadToMonies.com.
The purpose of this page is to explain to you the background story about how I first started to build online businesses.
If you already know my story and want to dive in and begin taking the steps on your own road to make monies (plural for money) by translating your life experience and passion into building valuable online businesses people would be happy to pay you for, go immediately to the How You Can Start page.
If you want the short story about what this blog provides, head to the About Page.
Otherwise – Scroll down and discover my story to learn how I learnt to make money from the Internet…
Early Childhood & My First Computer
Born in the USA, I grew up In Israel to a family of 4 siblings (I have 3 sisters). My mom is 1 of 12 so each and every family event was HUGE. Every time we had a celebration everyone got together for a humongous festive event, where 50% of the time was spent in small talk just saying hello and catching up with people. Doing so really helped me master social networking skills such as – taking interest in many people, keeping track of whats going on in their lives, empathy, coming up with quick diplomatic answers to embarrassing and uncomfortable questions.
As a child I loved aviation, making videos, messing around with computers, solving puzzles & tennis. The first real deal I ever made was with my parents was in 1992 – when I was 8 years old. They wanted me to stop sucking my thumb so the deal was that I would stop doing so and in return would receive a 386 computer (windows 3.1). I couldn’t wait to get my first computer. I remember when my dad told me he ordered it, How excited i was about it, having my very first computer. It took 4 weeks to arrive, but from the moment it did I never stopped messing around with it. Playing computer games (flight simulators, commander keen, reader rabbit, doom, tanks and many more). Watching my dad connect to the internet and emailing my uncle using Eudora and Netscape to surf the web. Was pure magic!
High school & computer sciences
in 1998 – my father got a job working as an emissary for the Jewish Agency in Los Angeles. I attended Milken high school, and could be found 90% of the time at the computer labs. They were one of a kind. many computers available to use whenever you wanted with a T1 high speed connection. These labs were a hub for us kids to download music, build websites, play multiplayer games (red Barron), email and message each other. Hack, Crack, you name it.. ultimate sandbox for geeks.
My first job as a Disc Jockey
In LA I took my passion for music to the next level. Having the opportunity to download music at a high speed and burn CD’s very easily – i used to roam all of the free music sites at the time. Building a huge collection of over 1000 CD’s filled with tracks from all over the world.
This experience taught me several things:
- The first valuable skill i learned was power of indexing – in order to be a good DJ you need to master your collection. Carry as many different pieces of content, but be able to pull specific tracks on demand, as customers asked for it. I developed a system to categorize, store and memorize tracks so that i can pull specific segments of specific tracks on demand – at any given time.
- The second super valuable skill i learned what it means to run a business, build & package a great product, provide a memorable customer service and make money doing something I loved!
I did private parties, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, special events and was even flown to do a bar mitzvah in a yacht on the Seine River in Paris!
Pilots Academy & Military service
One of my childhood dreams was to become a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. I spent many years preparing for this process. The Israeli Air Force selection funnel is ruthless. There are many steps and they eliminate many candidates along the way. The unofficial numbers are that they go through 15,000 candidates to produce 50 air crew members.
After high school in LA, while all my friends were going off to college, I headed back to Israel, to begin the process of applying to the pilots academy. It took several months and many steps to finally be admitted into the most prestigious course in the Israeli Military but i did it. I was in for an experience of a life time. I participated in the course for 10 months, to realize that while I LOVED flying, being a soldier was not how I envisioned it. Stopping my participation in the program was a shattering and humbling experience since it provided me with a new reality where my life long childhood dream will never be fulfilled. I was so close, yet so far from achieving something I had longed for – for so many years. For the remainder of my military service I served as a combat soldier in the artillery core, mainly doing active duty in the outskirts of the west-bank.
Main take aways from this experience:
- Persistence is the secret sauce for success
- Be prepared for things to go wrong and prepare a contingency plan
- It doesn’t matter how hard you fall all that matters is how quickly you rise back up
- Agility (the power to adapt to new realities) is a life saver
- A mediocre skilled team can make more damage than a highly skilled individual
Fixing Hoover Vacuums & Selling dead sea products at malls in the USA
After getting discharged from the IDF (2006) I decided it was time to return to the USA and find a job. My aunt hosted me in Oakland and a I was able to get a couple interviews with the help of some family friends. Evidently arriving interviews with corporate America without a proper suite was a no go. I discovered that my military service is absolutely meaningless when trying to land any job in the USA and what I had really needed at the time was a BA of some sort just to qualify for a normal job. So, I decided Ill work as hard as a can to save up money for school, cuz lets face it – the best place to make money is SF bay area!
About a month after i moved, my girlfriend followed (letter to become my wife). We took a small apartment, and furnished it with free things we found on craigslist.
So in lack of a chance landing a real job I began looking for a skilled services that would be somewhat fun and pay the bills. It didn’t take too long until I got hired by a local Vacuum cleaner repair shop. The pay was low but it got the ball rolling. It was pretty fun for the short while I did it. You wouldn’t expect something like that to be so fun, but taking apart electronic devices, trying to figure out whats wrong with them, and solve the problem was a great exercise of hacking problems, customer service and forcefully being humble. I tried to optimize the process and did take long to become the leading technician there with the highest efficiency rating.
Unfortunately, as fun as that was, covering bills let alone saving anything was practically impossible. After consulting with a couple of other Israelis in the area I learned about an opportunity to make a LOT more money in sales. Little did i know how impactful this next gig would be on my life.
After 2 days of training on the sales decision tree and the pitch for the different products it was time to start. I remember the first time i stood there in the middle of a mall anxiously waiting for anyone to pass by, reciting the pitch in my head, terrified of engaging with a client, that i might fuck up, that i might miss out an opportunity to up-sell.
It took me several days to build up the courage to lead a sales pitch entirely on my own, but by the end of the second week – i was a rockstar. I worked hard at understanding the decision tree, leading conversations, trying to identify rejections by reading body language and subtext ultimately perfecting my style and pitch to become one of the leading sales agents racking the highest salary among the group.
- Sales is a formula, when done right, there is a decision tree that can prepare you to handle 95% of all objections and scenarios.
- Hard work and persistence go a long way
- Courage – we are all just people. We have common needs and emotional triggers. Being able to decoding human behavior in real time is a priceless tool that can improve sales and retention.
- Ambition to make money is strong and can be blinding. Its imperative to always seek ways to optimize your time and evaluate how you can maximize your effectiveness.
IDT > SEO & Telesales
After returning to Israel and prior to starting college I was again on the lookout for a new job. I now had a major skill set – SALES. After doing hard core sales (14 hours / day – 7 days / week) I was walking around feeling that I’ve had enough sales experience that would last me a life time. I began searching for jobs in other fields that weren’t so intense, and that didn’t require me to live on the performance edge. The emotional rollercoaster of sales was hard and i wasn’t particularly interested in going through that again.
However, the majority of jobs in the Jerusalem area that were available at the time (highest earning student jobs) were either being a waiter, bartending or sales. Since i wasn’t particularly interested in being a waiter, nor being a bartender, and i already had a skill for sales, I was able to land a job at a large telecenter as one of 7 agents. The project required calling business owners offering them a service to list their business on the top local directories (yahoo local, msn local, google local (later google maps), lycost local etc).
Only problem was that our team leader – same guy who hired us, was reassigned to another project 4 days after we started.
So there we were, leader less, pitch less, practically lead list (the list the company bought was a joke) trying to adapt to the new scenario, technologies and overall reality i understood that from great risk, could spark great reward.
Our quota was to close 2 sales each week. hardly enough to sustain the business our our salaries let alone grow our salary to something impressive.
So, i took a few weeks to study the market, develop a pitch and build my own list of leads off of craigslist which i discovered just a few months earlier.
I spent every shift going through the skilled services section of craiglists on multiple cities, calling the business owners one by one, pitching to them. I used to make 500 calls each shift, but sooner than later i landed my first deal, and then another one, and another one, and by the end of that night i had sold 4 units in 1 shift. Program managers came running towards me from all over, trying to understand what was i doing that was so successful. I shared with them my pitch and lead resource and by the next morning everyone was reciting it. In a matter of days I was able to transform the entire project from something that was dangling on its life line – moments away from being shut down to a successful process that more and more agents were employing to make a lot of sales. The energies were at a high and management had to actually restructure the commission plan to accommodate my success.
A few months into the project i moved to our Tel Aviv office so i could be closer to my school. I used to work alone on the floor (me + 80 computers..) night shifts. It took my 2 months to convince the project managers that there was a huge opportunity to hire more students that valued their time and were motivated to make money and got their green light to begin building a team. It was my first opportunity to build a business unit in an organization, I was completely self dependent and managed all aspects. I posted the job offers, interviewed candidates, qualified them, hired them, trained and managed my team that was later to become the top performing team in the company. At peak we had over 70 agents on 4 different teams, all working off my pitch.
The nature of the service we were providing exposed me to a new world of online marketing and listing optimization (early years of SEO). So while I was mastering my sales skills (optimizing sales pitches), managing a team of telesales reps & building training material I took extra interest in the listing process, the keyword balance, the content building and so forth. I began reading into more advance SEO techniques and decided online Marketing is the next challenge i want to pursue.
My First Website
During my first semester to school at the IDC (while still working at IDT) I sat through an extra curricular lecture by a banker / entrepranuer who’s entire talk was about building courage and jumping into the water.
I had literally no web design or development skills, but i knew i wanted to get into online marketing. The first website i built was a directory that enabled people to create listings of recommended service providers. This was before Yelp or the Like button existed. I purchased a domain, found free hosting, purchased a directory script and a theme for it, and off we go. I had my first website. While building this website I experimented with modifying code, CSS, adding SEO tags, link building, doing off site SEO, monetizing content etc. For a while the website ranked first for its target keywords and many longtail keywords as well.
The main problem I had though was building content fast enough so that the site could provide true value to users. I learnt a lot about project management, content, SEO, monetization and affiliate marketing purely from experimenting with this site.
My appetite for online businesses grew and I soon began whipping out new websites nearly once every week. In many verticals, experimenting with different niches, offers, audiences and traffic sources. I soon began experimenting with ppc, media buy, email lists, creating offers, listing them on Clickbank etc. Non of them got ver big primarily because the lack of focus on one specific product.
After learning a whole lot of marketing tactics for nearly 18 month I reached a point where I was out of cash due to the fact I was spread out on too many projects. I was now on the lookout for a job that would allow me to earn a stable salary and grow my knowledge within the online marketing & advertising world. Enter BI Science. BI Science was a new startup that developed an easy to use premium proxy toolbar. The main use case for it was to enable media buyers validate their campaigns in different geos without having to leave their desk. I was BI Science’s first employee, and I had the privilege to shape the product offering, build the product pricing model, plans, analyze the market, and build the goto market strategy that I executed along side 2 additional team members we recruited. I am very proud at my contribution to the company at its early stage – which fueled its growth from 2 cofounders + me to 18 people within 18 months.
The unique solution we were selling enabled me to conduct real business discussions with leading C level executives at many of the leading agencies, ad networks, advertisers and brands which provided me with a super substantial jumping board to building a very powerful network of online marketing and advertising professionals around the globe.
After nearly 2 years working at BI Science I was ready for my next challenge. I was ready to take on more responsibilities, and propel growth at a much faster and higher pace than was possible at the former company. At Somoto I spear headed a new devision of business development aimed who’s responsibility was to identify, recruit and onboard software developers to our monetization and distribution platform. One of the challenges we took upon ourselves was recruiting and hiring new grads that didn’t necessarily have any experience in online marketing and turn them into online marketing biz dev ninjas in under 3 months. In order to do this I came up with a unique hiring and training process that enabled us to take people who knew nothing about how the internet works and turn them into professionals that are able to source their own leads, qualify them, reach out, negotiate deals, close and onboard the partners and of course – manage the account. The people I met over nearly 3 years working at Somoto were remarkable. The mutual passion to succeed fueled friendship and positive working atmosphere that was like nothing I have ever experienced before.
The Baidu Deal
In early 2012 while managing my team at Somoto I saw an article in which Baidu announced they were planing to spend $500M that year. Without knowing much about their business model or goals, I felt that I must get in on the action. That there must be a way for us (Somoto) to provide them with a service that would be valuable. So I told Ben (Somoto’s CEO) that I’ve added them as a target and i intend to bring them as a client. At the time no one in the entire industry had any tie in to Baidu, so naturally, Ben laughed and said “right, okay..”. What he didn’t know is that at my previous job at BI Science – I had already sold services to Chinese based companies, thus I had a plan in mind of how to approach this challenge. And so it began – I started adding every Chinese executive I could on LinkedIn asking my contacts what intros they can make for me at Baidu. After trying hard for a few weeks, I finally found a way in. It was a Baidu employee who was sitting in Brazil and was willing to make a relevant intro to one of his colleagues in China. That intro initiated a pilot which grew into a long lasting large advertising partnership. Later that year, Baidu representatives came to visit us in Israel with Visas Somoto issued them. At the welcome dinner we were told that the deal I initiated we the first deal Baidu ever did outside of China. For me it was a climax moment in my career. I felt as if I walked on the moon and came back. The ability to strike such a powerful deal with one of the worlds leading (giant) company was spectacular. In the years to come Baidu became one of the largest advertisers in the software distribution and monetization vertical.
After nearly 3 years of working at Somoto I was approached by BitShakers with an offer to become their VP BizDev. Although the start up was smaller and less known than Somoto, the challenge i was presented with was intriguing especially because of the line of products they had already built. The position provided me an opportunity to utilize the culmination of my skills to build a stronger foundation and grow the business.
Overtime I built the companies app distribution and monetization platform, including their highest money making monetization component – an interstitial ad that was selling its inventory across multiple ad networks.
After finishing my tenure at Bit Shakers I felt it was time for me to pursue my own venture. In preparations for building my startup I wanted to monetize an old website I had that was getting decent traffic. After successfully building a top performing interstitial ad component I was looking to employ the same kind of monetization on this website. Understanding the online media landscape and how adblockers work – i decided to focus on links as the input method and display the ads whenever users clicked on the links.
I searched for nearly 2 weeks for an affordable, flexible adserver but couldn’t find exactly what i was looking for. So – i decided to build something that would do precisely this.
After purchasing the script I contracted the original script developer to build and interstitial layer into the link so that I can easily test and change monetization feeds (landing pages) within the interstitial ad.
It worked perfectly! The site revenues grew very quickly and provided a great income source.
Since the solution was already built on a very robust link shortening script – I decided to open up the site for additional users and provide them with the opportunity to make money from their websites and clicks.
Little did I know that platform would be so successful and I would turn it into the category leading startup it is today.