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One Year After My Tropical MBA Internship

Has it really been one year already?

One year ago today, I landed in Bali for the Tropical MBA Semester #3.

I am amazed at how quickly my life has moved in the past year:

When I went home to visit Pennsylvania in December, things were more or less the same as when I left. However, I had changed dramatically.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

“If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, travel is a dangerous (but seductive) choice”Dan A.

I sure had a blast going on travel adventures in 2011, but it wasn’t long before I realized that it was unsustainable in the long-term. If I wanted to make my location independent lifestyle last I needed to make some big changes.

When I returned to the Philippines in January until now I have made a concerted effort to baseline – cutting my expenses and distractions by moving to Tagum City with my girlfriend (about 1.5 hours outside Davao City).

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that building a lifestyle business is easy.

If you aren’t willing to sacrifice and put in a lot of hard work up front to build a solid base to support your lifestyle, it won’t be long before you end up like most backpackers who have to go home to work.

Sometimes you have to work on a Saturday night to meet a deadline for a client. Get used to it.

And in order to complete your work, you will have to put up with a lot of bullshit and distractions that you might not have back home including (but not limited to): power outages, parties, slow wifi, time zone differences, and landlords refusing to refund your apartment deposit because they stole it and never gave it to the owner.

3rd world countries don’t always operate smoothly. Get used to it.

It’s easy to get frustrated when you are grinding work out day by day and lose sight of the bigger picture. But you have to remember that…

“Shit takes forever”Ian S.

Finally now I am starting to see real results from the concentrated effort to build up my consulting work on the side for Adwords and Conversion Optimization. I’ve gotten several one-off projects, but now I’m trying to build up longer term relationships with my clients.

Sidenote: Check out my Conversion Optimization and Adwords Management services on the awesome
Tropical Workforce Job Site.

And actually if you count since I started my first online business in April 2010 (which got me sued)… I’ve been hacking at this online business / location independence thing for 2 years… and now I finally feel like it’s almost sustainable.

Its been 730 Days since I started. Sounds like I’m right on track for my 1000 Days.

So what’s in store for the next year?

Tropical MBA Businesses – I want to help take them to the next level. Despite a setback from the latest Google update, I am really pumped about what we can do this year to break $2 million in annual revenue.

Travel – I am not expecting to travel as much this year, but I want to visit Vietnam and Cambodia. I also want to head to Bangkok, Thailand in October for the Dynamite Circle meetup. Dropping by Bali at some point would be great if possible.

Personal Finances – If I want the freedom to invest in new businesses and travel more, than I first need to get my financial house in order. Eliminate my credit card debt and build up $10k in savings.

Freelance – I enjoy doing Conversion Optimization work and get great results for my clients so I want to build longer term relationships that lead to $1500 per month in recurring revenue.

This Blog – I’ve neglected the blog while keeping my head down to work hard, but I want to get more involved again and post once a week. I also want to reach out to other bloggers and have at least 5 guest posts and create a free 7 day crash course to building a 4hww muse business.

If you had asked me when I landed in Bali a year ago what I thought would happen over the next year – I couldn’t have predicted 90% of it.

I know my life will change again over this next year in ways I don’t expect – but the persistence to follow my dreams remains the same through the ups and downs.

I know I am moving in the right direction, and although I’m not quite there yet… success is inevitable.



Make sure to first read Part 1 of my muse story here.

I checked my e-mail inbox and my heart skipped a beat. There was a message from the law firm representing the game company.

The letter said that my website selling a “strategy guide” about their business game violated numerous trademark and copyright laws and that if I did not immediately respond and take down the website they would file a lawsuit.

So I contacted the game company and agreed to take down the website as asked. However, I also wanted to get perspective on the legal issue from a trademark lawyer.

In October 2010 I met with a lawyer to get advice on this copyright and trademark legal issue. He explained to me how 3rd party guides were legal and gave me examples such as the Dummies Guide to Windows book. Basically his attitude was that the game company was blowing smoke. As long as I changed the domain name of my site to not include their trademark and added a very clear disclaimer that I was not affiliated with the company, then legally I should be fine.

A 3rd party guide seems legal, doesn’t it? (Photo Credit: Lasse Havelund)

So I did just that – I set up a brand new site with a different domain name and had a clear legal disclaimer. Everything was great from November to Mid-December – my site was pulling in over $2500 per month income and only required an hour per day of work. In New York City I met Tim Ferriss in person, thanked him for inspiring me, and told him how I was going to take a mini-retirement to Thailand. I was on top of the world.

The very next day I got an email from the law firm representing the game company. They were going to file a lawsuit claiming copyright and trademark infringement within 15 days if I did not immediately meet their demands which included (but were not limited to):

  • Pay the company $15,000 for damages to their reputation
  • Take down my website and any reference to their trademarks
  • Provide them a list of all my customer’s names, email, street address, professional and academic affiliations
  • Inform my university and professor that I created the “strategy guide” and apologize to them

Their demands were ridiculous. There was no way I would agree to them.

I went back to my lawyer and he tried to get the game company to back down but they wouldn’t budge. My lawyer also informed me that he did not participate in litigation so if the game company did file the lawsuit I would have to seek new legal counsel. Well I wish I knew that ahead of time and maybe I would have picked a different lawyer.

In mid January I received a knock on my door – it was a summons notifying me that the game company had filed their lawsuit.

Maybe they weren’t blowing smoke after all.

I scrambled to find a new lawyer before the court deadline for a response. I went through 3 different trademark lawyers before I had someone based in the same city as the game company and able to do all the necessary court filings. The next few months were a roller coaster both legally and emotionally.

What I came to slowly realize was that even though I may be legally in the right, trying to prove my case was going to take a lot more time, money, and effort than I was willing or able to provide.

Eventually I settled out of court with the game company and each side had to pay their own lawyer’s fees. My total legal expenses drained all of the money I made from my muse business (about $10,000).

Was it worth it? For the most part, yes.

This 9 month legal dispute was a difficult roller coaster causing significant emotional and mental stress. The consequences for messing this up were serious and there were many occasions I wondered if my dream for a location independent life was ruined.

On the other hand, the experience I gained while creating my 4HWW Muse business helped me beat out 48 other applicants for the Tropical MBA III internship. I stood out because I took the initiative to go after the life I wanted and get results – even though it blew up in my face.

Important Lessons Learned:

  • There is an opportunity cost to everything so know when to cut your losses and move on.
  • Be careful what you share with your family about your business because they don’t have the same perspective as you.
  • Be careful who you get legal advice from and get a second opinion – messing this up can cost you dearly.
  • Avoid legal disagreements whenever possible – even though you may be right the cost of money and time is rarely worth it
  • The legal system moves excruciatingly slow – my legal dispute is just now finishing up 6 months after it started.

In the end I lost the legal battle because the other side had more money than me. They were able to throw tens of thousands of dollars at the problem to make it go away. I was not.

The game company’s lawyers were able to force me to take down my business – But the joke is on them.

They are stuck in a cubicle in midwestern America worrying about legal briefs 60 hours per week while I am building businesses from beaches in Bali and meeting fascinating entrepreneurs along the way.

Living well is the best revenge.

In March of 2010 I was in my final semester at university and I was wondering what the hell to do with my life. Then I read the Four Hour Workweek and my world was flipped upside down. I wanted to aspire to that location independent lifestyle, I had hated the 9-5 jobs I previously held and I was determined to make it on my own.

I had a couple ideas for muses and started testing them out. To be honest, most of my muse ideas were pretty bad, but that was ok because I didn’t waste much time on the bad ideas. However, there was one idea that stuck around through my testing.

My final university semester in my senior business class we were required to do a business game (that shall not be named) where students ran a simulated business. The game was quite difficult and most students really struggled. I heard endless complaints from students about how they hated the game, how much it sucked, etc. However, I was able to figure out the secrets to getting a great score in the game, and before I knew it other students were asking me to help them with the game.

I realized that there were probably other students around the country who needed help, so I made a simple blog and put up a couple tips about the game. Within a month I was getting over 50 visitors per day in organic google traffic. By June several people had even e-mailed me begging for any kind of help with the game. I knew then that I was really on to something.

So I took it to the next step and ran a 4HWW Muse Test in August. My only costs at this point were a few hours setting up the site and like $200 for the wordpress sales page theme and hosting. I hadn’t even finished writing the strategy guide yet. If it didn’t work out it was no big deal. I expected to get maybe 1 out of 100 visitors to buy my product which would add up to maybe 3-4 people per week. A couple hundred bucks income per month, not bad.

I started the demand test and what happened? I was getting 3-4 paying customers PER DAY. No one was in more disbelief than I was, I never expected this high level of demand. 5 out of 100 visitors were attempting to buy my product. For reference a 1% conversion rate is considered good for internet marketing, and my conversion rate was an amazing 5%

How did I do it? I got inside my customer’s head. Through my deep customer research with students at my school I knew exactly what their pain points were – they didn’t have the finance knowledge needed to get an “A” grade, they were short on time, they had high GPAs and cared about getting high grades, they were stressed and confused. I articulated their problems better than they could. I focused on a front-burner issue.

When students found my website – stressed out from not understanding the business game and deadlines approaching fast – it was like they found a water bottle stand in the middle of the desert.

Oasis in the Desert. (Photo Credit: Bluelemur)

During my market research I found out that there used to be 2 other similar websites selling strategy guides for this game, but they were no longer around. There didn’t seem to be any particular reason why they disappeared, and it seemed weird considering how much money could be made from this market. Something about this bothered me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it just sat in the back of my mind.

Then I found out what happened to those other 2 strategy guide websites.

In late September I was reading a forum question posed by a college professor about students using outside websites in order to perform better at the game. The game company representative responded by saying they were taking legal action in order to force the sites to go offline and that one of the students who made the site was forced to publicly apologize to his university for making the guide.

Oh Shit. Now what do I do?

As I contemplated my next move, I tried to do some more research on it.

And then the next day I received an e-mail.

It was from the law firm representing the game company.


Find out what happens next in Part 2 of my muse story.

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