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 wordpress.com 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.


Basketball in Smokey Mountain Dump – Manila, Philippines

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

If your answer is because my job says I have to… chances are you aren’t living the life you want.

The worst thing that can happen to your personal development is to be in a moderately comfortable life of mediocrity. If you aren’t careful this comfortable mediocrity can take your dreams to the grave with you.

So how can you get to the life you want to live?

You need a catalyst to spark that change:

  • Your circumstances are bad enough that you are forced to change
  • A positive experience inspires you to change
Lipa City, Philippines

My first volunteer trip to the Philippines was the catalyst I needed.

The days were spent clearing out debris, talking with locals and learning their stories, shoveling gravel for a new house foundation, carrying 50lb bags of rice uphill, and playing with the kids.

We went on crazy jungle adventures, chased kids around for hide and go seek, learned songs together, and picked them up to dunk the basketball. (Read my full Philippines volunteer trip journal online here)

Everyday was an adventure filled with new and interesting experiences and I felt truly alive.

But then our short time together was over and we had to say goodbye, possibly forever.

The memories of kids shouting Kuya Dave! Kuya Dave! and carrying them on my shoulders were seared into my psyche.

Lipa City, Philippines

When I came home from the Philippines everything had stayed the same while I was gone – but I had changed. I began to loathe my familiar, boring surroundings at home and become depressed.

I had felt more alive in the Philippines than I ever did before. Once I had that experience it was simply unacceptable for me to not go back. I was determined to find a way to return to the Philippines the next year no matter what. I knew what the finish line looked like but I wasn’t sure how to get there.

After making that resolute decision to get back to the Philippines I knew what I was working towards, and the pieces began falling into place.

The path that got me back to the Philippines did not unfold how I thought it would and was full of unexpected twists, surprises, and setbacks. The excitement and adventure of my Philippines volunteer trip was the guiding light that kept me going through the rough spots (like getting sued).

The island of Corregidor, Philippines (Pro HDR)

And now one year later I have returned to the Philippines once again.

 

What is the catalyst that inspired you to change your life?


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