Shaan Puri: At this point it’s a money printer.
Ramon Van Meer: I was very lucky that at in content you would with very small team, very low overhead.
Shaan Puri: We’re talking monthly, you’re pulling in?
Ramon Van Meer: Between four and 500,000 in revenue.
Shaan Puri: What’s up guys? Shaan here. I’m doing a special little introduction to this episode from my phone because we got some good news. We broke into the top 10 on the Apple iTunes rankings, which is really crazy and I thank everybody who downloaded the episode, subscribed left a review, venmoed me a dollar. Everybody who supported the show, thank you very much. The rankings didn’t really mean much. I’m going to do the show anyways because I just like having conversations with smart people. But damn it does feel good when something actually works and when people like listening to it and I really appreciate that. So that’s good news.
Shaan Puri: The other good news is that we’re bringing on our first sponsor, you’ll hear me talk about them a little bit in midway through the episode, but I just think it’s cool. We’re the money podcast. We talk to people about how they made their money and it’s only right that we make a little money ourselves I think. That helps keep the show going and makes it sustainable for everybody. So a big shout out to monday.com who’s coming on as our first sponsor. I also like that it’s actually a product that I use. In fact like last week I started using monday.com to organize the podcast because there was so much stuff going on. I got to book guests, I got to send stuff to the editor, I got to do this and that. Any project, it just starts getting super busy.
Shaan Puri: And so, monday.com was a really good place to just organize everything, have my list and in a good spot and it’s got really nice design and I’m a sucker for design. And so this sounds like an ad now. This is not the ad add comes later, but I really do use the product and I’m glad that the sponsor is something that I actually use and really like. So, shout out to them for coming on board. This week’s conversation was with Ramon Van Meer. And Ramon is a really interesting dude and this episode is going to be different than most episodes. I would say that majority of the guests, when I have them on, they are intimidatingly smart. When they’re talking to me, it’s pretty obvious within five minutes that I’m the dumbest person in the room. And I just try to ask questions so that let them talk and let them tell their story. And I just do my best to keep up.
Shaan Puri: But Ramon is not a genius. And that’s what I’ll say. Our buddy Sam, who introduced us, he says it differently. He calls Ramon… he’s just tells him, you’re so dumb. You’re the dumbest smart guy I know. And he means it with love because what Ramon does is he doesn’t overcomplicate things. And you’re going to hear that in his story. For example, the essence of his story and he’ll tell you better than I will, but he wanted to start a blog. He just looked at what was already popular and then he started a blog in that little niche. He bought a $49 WordPress template because he doesn’t know how to code. He outsourced the writing to some freelancers because he doesn’t know how to write. And somehow some way just did those simple things and built the most popular blog about a subject that he doesn’t even really know.
Shaan Puri: It’s a soap opera blog like, Days of Our Lives, Young and The Restless that’s like soap operas and he’s never even seen an episode of a soap opera. And so somehow this guy who can’t code, can’t write and never watched soap opera built a blog filled with daily stories about soap operas and the business started printing money generating hundreds of thousands of dollars a month before selling it for about $9 million. And so Ramon is one of the most humble guys I’ve ever met in Silicon Valley. Very good at just keeping things simple. And if you take nothing away from this, it’s to remember that you don’t have to be a genius and you don’t have to have some super complicated high tech business plan to make it work.
Shaan Puri: Sometimes if you just find a niche that has a lot of passion around it, you can build a very simple business and he’s going to tell you about that. So hope you enjoy the episode. If you do leave a review, shout me out on Twitter. Do something so that I hear you guys. That’s what gets me excited to keep making the show happen. I don’t have to do the show. I do it because I love it and I really appreciate everything that happened after the first episode. All right, enjoy.
Shaan Puri: Okay. You Ready to go?
Ramon Van Meer: Let’s do this.
Shaan Puri: All right.
Ramon Van Meer: Sometimes I get asked to do a podcast or an interview and I’m a shy person in groups, so I don’t really like to do TV or interviews. I don’t like to talk too much about myself. It’s just, I don’t know why. So sometimes it gets awkward. A friend of mine asked me to do a TV segment for him was not a TV, like national TV. Nobody would really see it, but as soon as he hit the record on the camera, then I started mumbling and I froze. So I’ll try to do my best.
Shaan Puri: We’ll try not to freeze. This one is informal without even doing an interest. I’m doing a podcast. The podcast is called My First Million and the idea is I want to talk to different founders, entrepreneurs like you who have hit their first million, million dollars million downloads, million subscribers or something, some huge milestone. And I want to find out how they did it. And so I wanted you to come on because you have a wild story about how you hit your first million. Very unorthodox, very different than even most of the Silicon Valley success stories. Yours is totally different. So let’s start with the very simple question. How did you make your first million?
Ramon Van Meer: All right. Nobody will guess this. And nobody believes that. When I tell them I started a blog about soap operas, it’s a news blog that will write about the running soap operas and-
Shaan Puri: We’re talking like Days of Our Lives, Young and the Restless.
Ramon Van Meer: Exactly. And first question people always ask, are you a soap opera watcher? Because especially when they see me, then they cannot believe it up to now I’ve not watched one episode of any soap opera. But yeah, that was the website I built it and sold it three years later.
Shaan Puri: Wow. So, the story is going to be you decided make a soap opera blog, God knows why. You somehow were able to make a soap opera blog successful despite never watching a soap opera and you sold it how long ago?
Ramon Van Meer: 10 ,11 months ago.
Shaan Puri: All right, so 11 months ago, you sell it for, I want to say nine and a half million.
Ramon Van Meer: Little bit, below nine million, 8.75.
Shaan Puri: 8.75 million cash.
Ramon Van Meer: Cash. Yes.
Shaan Puri: And this isn’t like a Silicon Valley, like you own 4% of the company. This was your company. You owned. There’s no outside investors.
Ramon Van Meer: I had no investors. I bootstrapped it. I had some advisors, I think I owned like 98% still. And then I gave, some shares or some profit to employees.
Shaan Puri: Love it. So, okay, so we’re going to go in. So how does this start? Why even create a soap opera blog to begin with?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. I started this, and I called the golden age of Facebook where you can basically create a fan page about any topic and very cheap and fast could build a huge fan page. And back then the newsfeed algorithm was still in favor for publishers. So whatever you posted, a lot of your fans would see it.
Shaan Puri: So are we talking like the Buzzfeed Upworthy days when they were getting a ton of traffic off Facebook?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. So I knew, okay, how to drive traffic from Facebook to a website. I just didn’t know what the topic would be. So should I sell a product or service or content if the content, what kind of content? So I just-
Shaan Puri: Take me back. Are you just at home alone in a room thinking about this? You’re just brainstorming on a whiteboard?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, 800 square feet apartment. Me and my son together. And just brainstorming ideas.
Shaan Puri: And what was your son’s ideas? What was he thinking?
Ramon Van Meer: Actually, he has actually has a good idea is actually, but it’s more games, but he always comes with these really interesting thoughts that I never think of. And then, Hey, he has a good point. But yeah, going back to the Facebook, I started 10, 11, 12 I forgot different fan pages about different topics. So one was about pets, marijuana, soaps, politics, and I will just drive some traffic to it or build some likes, page, and then post some random pictures and then see that engagement. So some fan pages really bomb. I have 10,000 fans. I posted a picture and I got two likes or whatever.
Ramon Van Meer: All right, Horrible engagement. But there were two topics that really stood out. One was soaps, the other one was politics. And this was even before the craziness. That’s-
Shaan Puri: Before Trump.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes. Exactly.
Shaan Puri: BT.
Ramon Van Meer: Way before Trump. Politics, I really didn’t like because especially, one side was more engaged and everything against what I believe in. So I dropped out actually after two weeks and then I saw the soap opera fan page a lot of people sharing and commenting and liking. Even though I made a lot of mistakes posting the wrong actors, like I posted pictures of people that were not in the show and things like that. But the engagement was crazy.
Shaan Puri: The engagement was probably higher than people outraged.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes, exactly. So I built a simple WordPress site. I bought a team from team forest, put it on WordPress use photo.
Shaan Puri: Are you a technical guy? What’s your… because a lot of people get stuck. Hey, I want to build this website. I can’t code. Do I go learn Python the hard way? Do I go buy this course and try to become a developer? Do I try to outsource it? Do I try a WordPress theme?
Ramon Van Meer: So I think that’s why we live in such a great time. You don’t actually need to know a lot to get stuff built. WordPress it so… or Shopify, if you want to start selling something, Shopify is very easy. And if you want to build a content side, WordPress is also. So I am technical, but I didn’t code anything to be like this website I built in a couple hours. There was a WordPress team, a very simple logo because I’m just a believer. I like trying a lot of different things fast, and then see if something works then you optimize or make it better or make it look better or faster, things like that.
Ramon Van Meer: But I try to prevent spending too much time in the prelaunch phase where I made those mistakes too. When I was younger, I had a business idea and then I took weeks to design a business card and a website and eventually after months of hard work the idea didn’t work. So now I’m the opposite. Just quick. So a couple of hours. Very ugly site. Now I had the problem, I don’t know anything about soaps and as you can hear, I have an accent. English is not my first language. So writing is also not my strong point. So when on Upwork back then was called oDesk.
Shaan Puri: So this breaks all the rules by the way. Founder market fit the zero, passion, Zero, skillset, zero, can’t write. And I decided to start a blog. But you knew one thing. So if we’re recapping the kind of what you had, what you didn’t have. All right, that’s the stuff you didn’t have. But sounds like what you had was you knew that at least for this time period there was a cheap way to buy likes on a Facebook page. And then whenever that Facebook page is and you tried 20 of them, then WWE and pets and whatever, and then take that traffic on the… take the likes on the Facebook page, turned it into website traffic. And so you did your testing period. You decide soaps is the one I’m going to do because the engagement’s high using the data. That’s all good. And now you got your blog up like you don’t have the content we’ll go in.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. So went on a website called oDesk is where you can hire freelancers from writers to video editors to anything you can imagine. Put an ad out, “Hey, I’m starting a soap opera blog. I’m looking for a writer.” And very lucky I found an editor, writer that used to write for print soap opera magazine 20 years ago. She’s watched all the shows. She’s in the industry for many years. So she knows the story line.
Shaan Puri: That’s how people used to solve this problem. They would buy the magazine and would say, we’ll talk about that week’s drama and the soap. And then magazines just were too slow for the new world.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes, exactly. So that was also a luck that there were competitors, but it’s like the old school media competitors. It was like these magazines that have been around for 20-40 years.
Shaan Puri: What’s like a big magazine that covers soaps?
Ramon Van Meer: The biggest one is called Soap Opera Digest. It’s been around I think 40, 50 years-
Shaan Puri: Straight to the point.
Ramon Van Meer: They have a website, but their main focus up to the last couple of years was always their magazine.
Shaan Puri: Yeah. You love that because you see this incumbent. They’re from the print world, they have a website, websites like a PDF basically. So you know when you see that the website reminds you of a PDF it’s like this is a good market.
Ramon Van Meer: It’s a good market. So found her started with one article a day and just test out and see how it works up to now actually she still working with the new owners of [inaudible 00:12:56]. Yeah.
Shaan Puri: And so she starts cranking out content and give me your mindset. You’re pretty certain that this is going to work. How are you paying the bills at this point? Take me back to it because I know it works. The spoiler of this podcast. Shit worked out, sold the company, that worked. So, but I think it’s important to go back when it wasn’t clear that it was going to work. You have some belief, but again, I want to know how were you paying the bills and then what was your certainty level on this or were you still hedging your bets with other things?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, it’s always easy to look backwards. Like, Oh of course it works. In my case, every person I told his idea to told me you’re crazy, it’s never kind of worked. So like who watches that?
Shaan Puri: And why didn’t you listen to them? You’re just a stubborn guy or what?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, and because I like to keep trying things until I see it doesn’t work. And then I go to the next idea. I saw the engagement. So going back it took four or five months before I really started seeing good amount of traffic to the site. Because the problem with contents, you need a lot of traffic to really make money. Back then I was just using only Google ads. So the banners on my website, even after a couple of weeks I made like $2 a day and then $4. I paid more for the article than the return. But what kept me going was that the engagement on the fan page, like the fan page, I only had to pay the first couple of weeks, I think 20 or $30,000 a likes.
Ramon Van Meer: After that, the fan page just grew organically. Whatever I posted got so many shares and I did see an opportunity. Okay. There’s not a lot of competition. The fans are super engaged. It’s content that is everyday, soap operas are aired every single day for 52 weeks straight. They have some blackout days, but basically-
Shaan Puri: These are new episodes.
Ramon Van Meer: New episodes from Monday to Friday. So apparently they record a bunch of them on the same day, like five, six. It’s very basic meaning like their sets, it’s just the actors. I think even the directors are in a, in a booth upstairs. And then they just crank out, with all due respect of the soap opera, actors, it’s not like a Hollywood set on-
Shaan Puri: Or Game of Thrones we’re talking about.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes, exactly. So there’s a lot of content and when you write about a topic or you think about starting a content site, you will also want to think, okay, is it going to be enough content to write about? So for example, if you do a Game of Thrones blog, you’re limited because it’s only airs two, three months. I don’t know. Actually a year?
Shaan Puri: This season was six episodes and now it’s done.
Ramon Van Meer: And it’s done right.
Shaan Puri: So then six Sundays.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. So that’s not a lot of content-
Shaan Puri: To be fair are you a Game of Thrones fan?
Ramon Van Meer: No.
Shaan Puri: Okay. So to be fair, you could write an infinite amount of content, just complaining now the ending and the last season.
Ramon Van Meer: Start a petition.
Shaan Puri: And start a petition. Exactly. So soap operas had this unique property, daily content, new content every day. What is your article about? Is it here’s the recap of what happened in case you missed it. Was it like speculation of what’s going to happen? What was the content like or is it just pure Clickbait on Facebook of like see, which character you are on this quiz?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, so because I didn’t know anything about the audience I had to learn what do they like what they did read. So I tried everything, but it was very obvious people like to read what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day or next week.
Shaan Puri: So like a theory or a spoiler.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, really spoilers.
Shaan Puri: Okay. And just like the answer, this is what’s going to happen.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, like, Oh Jake is going to leave Mary tomorrow. And that kind of articles really did well. Like I think 80% of our traffic came from spoiler or spoiler related articles. Then of course we did, to get more content out because the more content you put out, the more traffic you get, more traffic, more revenue. So we wrote about recaps where the people that missed an episode, we did what days of our lives character are you, but it was more quiz to capture emails. I really used that as an email list building tool that did really well. We built over 300 I think close to three 350,000 emails we collected with these silly quizzes.
Shaan Puri: You said the first few months you’re trying to get traffic first four or five months, not very much traffic, two bucks a day and ad sense type of thing. But you keep going because you see the engagement. And did you have a day job at the time? How did you live? It’s you and your son at home. How are you paying the bills?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, so I had an online travel agency company before with my previous business partner and I sold half of my shares and the buyer that’s bought my shares paid a year long every month. That was exactly what I needed to pay my bill. It was my luck that I could then just do other things.
Shaan Puri: Are you the type where… did your mind ever go, I should just get a job? Or were you just bullheaded of no, I need to create these websites and own them and make a business out of that?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, I’ve been an entrepreneur, I’ve been so many different businesses. Like I had some jobs when I was 18, 19 but basically I always had my own companies, so it was never a FOD of, okay, if the soaps doesn’t work, I’m going to go get a job. It was actually, if soap doesn’t work, I’m going to figure out something else.
Shaan Puri: I’ll try pets, I’ll try politics, I’ll try something else?
Ramon Van Meer: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Shaan Puri: And so, all right, so let’s jump back in. So you’re building up the traffic and what’s the inflection point? Why did things go from a little bit of traffic, a little bit of ad revenue to give me a sense, where did the traffic get to over time? What was like the peak of it of traffic.
Ramon Van Meer: It was like very slow, like flat almost with very little bit uphill like and then suddenly we started growing much faster because I was starting to collect emails, starting when a person came to my website, I ask, “Hey, do you want to get a push notification?” So I started to diversify of my traffic sources, not just Facebook and then yeah, four or five months into it, then it started doubling every day and then the Grove went really fast actually.
Shaan Puri: Awesome. And you’re buying traffic at this point still? Or at some point did you just stop buying and you’re just start making the content and people shared?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, so I only bought the first 30-40,000 likes at below 1 cents per like, so it was very cheap after that it was all organic. And then I only started boosting posts on Facebook, like buying, like paying for traffic a year after.
Shaan Puri: So we’re talking like you spent hundreds in the hundreds of dollars. My math is not great, but I think that one penny is something like that. You spent under a thousand dollars total on paid for this website. Built that asset up into something that you were able to sell for almost 9 million bucks. So that’s a tremendous type of return. Is that what you thought was possible or were you thinking, this will make me 10 K a month, then I’ll figure something else out?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. When I started, I thought because I was in, I sold my shares. Okay. What I’m going to do next. I know. I like internet marketing and I was always doing marketing stuff for buying some small websites, selling them or building them from scratch. And so I thought, okay, this could be a fun project that maybe makes me, you 20K a month and double B. I didn’t know… My first goal was $100 a day and then very quickly was $1,000 a day and then I thought Oh man, this is $1,000 a day this is amazing. But it kept growing.
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Shaan Puri: And the thing I love about you is you’re so different than all my other friends here where a lot of people… you live in Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of people who love self promotion. I’m one of them started a podcast, but a lot of people who love Twitter, they love talking to people, they love meeting people. They go to networking events, they host dinners. You don’t do any of that shit. You’re like solo guy who just makes shit happen. And that’s really all you’re interested in. It’s just that very singular laser focus. So when this is happening, my question is how do you celebrate? How do you get ideas?
Shaan Puri: So when you’re hitting these milestones or is it just kind of you doing a fist pump in a room? Are you talking to somebody who just telling your son. How did you celebrate? And then I also want to know how did you get your ideas of, Hey, I should do push notifications. I should do these next things. So tell me a little bit about both of those.
Ramon Van Meer: So once we started making money, one thing that I learned is that reinvesting right away back into business. Like I was only making maybe five grand a month and then a hired full time person because I knew, okay, even though business-wise is probably not smart, you don’t make enough to afford it, but I just did it because I knew I can focus on growth and then that person can focus on the day-to-day things. So after probably six to nine months, I’ve got a small office and then got first employee, I got some freelance remote people, writing and helping out some freelancers.
Ramon Van Meer: The audience is so passionate that it was very easy for me to find, people that just want to work for free. Like, help post stuff on Facebook and things like that. But that’s the journey of the entrepreneurs. It’s this often like lonely, especially if you’re still in the phase of working from home because yeah, you have no people around to celebrate. Ideas I got from because I love doing it. It’s super cliche, but I don’t see it as work, it’s my hobby. I love reading, I love coming up with growth, like hacks and you know, ideas on how to drive more traffic.
Shaan Puri: And if this might be the entrepreneur test. If you’re listening to this right now and you’re like those like Viagra commercials where it’s like the describe 50 symptoms within half a second. It’s like, is this long enough, if any of these apply to you please go see your doctor. The way I see what you’re describing is the…if any of these apply to you, please become an entrepreneur, which is like most people that you meet, they work their sort of nine to five and the objective is to turn off their brain and turn off the work part of their brain. So can’t wait to go home, get off that, the weekend is here. All right, fantastic. Oh no, Mondays is back. Now I have to go apply my brain this thing that I don’t necessarily want to be thinking about.
Shaan Puri: Whereas it seems like for an entrepreneur there’s a certain level of curiosity and obsession that just makes it where you can’t turn that part of your brain off. You’re always thinking of ideas. And so if those apply to you, please go see your doctor, please go see your investor and you’ll get a cheque to start your business.
Ramon Van Meer: It’s true and it’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. I wat This morning talking with somebody and I said, even if I want to, I cannot turn off the switch. So it’s very hard for me and for my family actually for me to go on vacation.
Shaan Puri: You’re not a great date.
Ramon Van Meer: No. Even though on a vacation I work, of course I will combine it with doing stuff, I have to do that for my son. It’s always spinning, so to speak. So it’s a blessing and a curse.
Shaan Puri: So you were saying that’s how you’re getting ideas. You are just constantly think of different things to try. Were you looking at competitors? Were you talking to advisors or what was your method to get new ideas?
Ramon Van Meer: So I like to reverse engineers shit. So I always look at first at direct competitors. So if you want to do something, look at the market, the competitors that are out there and then see what they’re doing right and what are they not doing so well and just pick ideas from that. Then I looked at sites that were not competitors but are doing great in content in general. And then just had, oh, they’re building a list with push notifications. Oh, let me try that. Oh, I see here and quiz, figure out what kind of dog you are. Hey, maybe we can change this into a soap opera actor quiz. Stuff like that.
Shaan Puri: And then you’re not trying to be a genius. You’re trying to get the result.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes.
Shaan Puri: If somebody else has an idea that’s getting good results, you’ll try it.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. Reverse engineer.
Shaan Puri: And you told me, I think maybe the first time we went out to dinner because I was like it was something around why soaps. Why did you even try soaps to begin with? And you had said something like tell the story where you said you saw somebody selling a website like this and the guy was asking for $100,000 and you were like, I don’t even have $100 to give you for this, but if you’re selling it for 100,000 that means there must be some value here. Is that how it went down for that part?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. So still too now I always like to look at marketplaces where people buy and sell websites. I think you can learn a lot. Divide the whole summary and give access to the P and L’s so you can-
Shaan Puri: What’s an example. Where would I go if I wanted to find websites that are for sale?
Ramon Van Meer: Quiet Light Brokers is actually one of the biggest one, I see it as a real estate broker where they have a couple of website listings and then you can buy or sell.
Shaan Puri: I was on there this morning actually, I was looking at, I went to Quite because I hadn’t heard of quiet light. I had seen some of the different Shopify buy sell ones. And I went to Quite Line is you’re right. I mean you just see, Hey, I have a business, I sell leather products and I’m doing 2 million a year in sales. That’s kind of interesting. Let me see whether you want to buy it or you want to take inspiration and sort of come up with similar businesses, exact strategies.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. It’s a really good way to get inspiration and then see, so maybe you look at the summary, you look at the website and you look at the numbers, the P and L he said, wow, they’re already doing 2 million, but their site is shitty. And-
Shaan Puri: Like opportunities to add value.
Ramon Van Meer: -add value. And then you can either decide, okay, maybe I don’t see if I can buy it or you start from scratch. I had no money. So in that same period when I was building those fan pages, I saw a listing on flipper about soap operas and read to summary and I thought this is interesting but the price was way too high, was $100,000. So I said, okay, let’s just, see and just build it from scratch ourselves.
Shaan Puri: It’s like real estate. You go, you see these listings and you say, Hey, I could go raise the rent. But sometimes if you have no money, the beauty of the internet is it’s like you can go build a building just like that. In the real world, okay, well I can’t go build my own building. But what you were able to do, and maybe six to eight months was you built your own building. Hey, I can’t buy that one, but I can build my own. And so at what point did you realize this isn’t going to work, this is going to be successful at a scale that is even bigger than I originally thought? What was that turning point?
Ramon Van Meer: I still remember it was December, I think 27. It was when I was testing different articles and different times to post and different things. But that day was the first day we made $100 but it was really calculated. Okay, we post on this time, this kind of article and it’s all sort of found a place.
Shaan Puri: So you’ve made a 100 bucks, but you knew you would make the 100 bucks. It was not luck. You had a system.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. Now I’ve got, finally I was working on a system and it was kind of working out, kind of working but now it was like it fell in place. Okay. Now the strategy, the blueprint, it’s working. And then now it’s just a matter of scaling, getting more fans to defend pages building, find different ways to get traffic and more content. So now it was more a matter of scaling, so to speak.
Shaan Puri: And what worked with scaling. What were some of the techniques that really worked?
Ramon Van Meer: The biggest was building the email list. That was also a huge hedge for, because back then, this was before Facebook started screwing up the newsfeed, so to speak, the algorithm. So once Facebook was doing that, every publisher, including me, we saw a huge drop in reach. So less and less people would go to our sites from Facebook. So I had to hatch that risk so to speak, by building an email list and also Facebook groups. So up to today, actually, Facebook groups is still really powerful.
Shaan Puri: And did you see that coming or was this a reaction? Oh shit, Facebook turned off the traffic, we better do something. Or did you sort of anticipate that?
Ramon Van Meer: The first time around was at this like I nobody really knew. And then the news came out and then suddenly the traffic came down, but the second time, the big update, by the time I had a couple of advisors, one Sam Parr who runs the hustle and another advisor that used to work at Facebook. He told me, in big lines like, I don’t know exactly how or why or when, but I know Mark Zuckerberg’s vision is really not pro publisher so to speak. He really wants people… so make sure you hedge, focus on Facebook groups and focus on getting into, Google, Google news and things like that.
Shaan Puri: So a little birdie told you how.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes.
Shaan Puri: You should look at this. I strongly emphasize you should look at that.
Ramon Van Meer: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and still to today. Like when I buy or sell or buy, start a site, it’s like I want at the first traffic. I don’t want to be 100% depending on Google, 100% even email or 100% a push notification from all these the email is still the best bet. But even Google can make any change tomorrow and then you don’t get the traffic you used to get.
Shaan Puri: And so you’re going down this path and in different businesses there’s a moment and there’s this guy Ben Horwitz who’s a venture capitalists in the city for Andreessen Horowitz and he has this term that he likes to use W-F-I-O WFIO. And what that stands for is where EFT, it’s over a meaning something goes so horribly wrong that you are unsure if you can really recover from it.Were there any of those moments? It sounds like the Facebook traffic thing could have been one of those moments, but you’re very calm, cool, collected guy. Did you ever hit the panic button and say, this is it where we’re EFT it might be over?
Ramon Van Meer: I think you’d never lose that as an entrepreneur is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. What is the right decision? So several times I was thinking, okay, should I sell now or should I wait if I don’t want to wait too long because maybe things change and then my traffic goes down and then the value of my company is much less. I cannot sell it anymore. Nobody wants to buy it. Or I was also, because I was only writing about soap operas and soap operas are the only four airing, only four in the United States, 10 12 years ago there were like 12 or 13. The soap opera got canceled.
Ramon Van Meer: So I was also thinking, Oh man, what happens if two soap operas get canceled? Then I don’t have content to write about or less content and then nobody will buy it. That was when, for example, the soap opera would re-sign the contracts within networks. Like those were the times, man, shit, should I sell it, should I not, it’s like trying to get information, trying to get inside information from the networks.
Shaan Puri: So did you talk to any of the soap opera folks? Do they know who you are?
Ramon Van Meer: Yes.
Shaan Puri: And did you have to pretend where you like, Oh, I’m a huge fan.
Ramon Van Meer: Oh, so sorry. So not me personally. I didn’t talk to them, but our writer team. Yes. So after I hired the first one, she already had connections with networks and soap opera actors. And then some of our other writers, one that lived in LA, he knows all the publicists and the networks. And so we got also interviews, exclusive interviews with soap opera actors. We got the spoilers for two weeks out. So we tried more about like what’s going to happen tomorrow. All that stuff. So we had some… but I didn’t do it. Even if-
Shaan Puri: You didn’t have to pretend.
Ramon Van Meer: And I will not do that either.
Shaan Puri: You wouldn’t have pretended you would have told them, “Hey, I never watched an episode.”
Ramon Van Meer: I don’t watch it, I’m sorry, but I love the audience. I love the-
Shaan Puri: Traffic.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, I love the traffic. So the fan base is amazing.
Shaan Puri: And so when you advise people, if somebody who came to you for advice or you one of those people who says, listen to what I say, not what I do, as in follow your passion, Hey, I’m not doing that necessarily with the topics I’m writing about or the companies, the customers I’m serving. I’m not scratching my own itch. I’m not super passionate about that space. But you do it anyways. You think that’s a good strategy or it’s just a strategy that works for you and maybe not advisable for others to follow?
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. So that’s also I think one thing why I don’t really like, because nowadays in the news, your Facebook, you see so many of these so claimed gurus and then like the six steps to this and the four steps to that. And it makes me cringe because what works for me doesn’t work for somebody else. I think every person is different. I think what worked for me, will not work for a lot of other people. But in my case I think my passion is not so much the content doesn’t really matter.
Ramon Van Meer: My passion is the entrepreneurship, the journey of starting something, not knowing what the outcome is and trying to find creative ways to make it happen. So for me, I like you have a product, service or content, the soap opera, content, site, whatever it is, and then you have traffic that you need to drive there. So for me it’s like figuring out, okay, how can we get as much traffic for as cheapest possible from point A to point B? And that’s for me the game that I like to play.
Shaan Puri: If you were selling paperclips or cardboard cups, it doesn’t matter.
Ramon Van Meer: It doesn’t matter. It’s the game of driving traffic customers or whatever you see it from point A to point B as cheap as possible. So that’s a little bit my-
Shaan Puri: You get to the end. Why did you decide to sell? Why not keep going? Because at this point it’s a money printer.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes. I was very lucky that in content with a very small team, very low overhead, you can make good revenue.
Shaan Puri: And we’re talking monthly, you’re pulling in?
Ramon Van Meer: Between four and 500,000 in revenue and overheads was a hundred something depending on the month. But we were a very small team in-house were was me and three others and then a handful of writers. So it was a very small team where the person doing the ads, a day-to-day person that runs everything and then a video host and editor.
Shaan Puri: Love it. So you have this cash cow, why sell?
Ramon Van Meer: Because you don’t get often, million to million dollar offerings, so I thought it’s life changing.
Shaan Puri: So somebody just came to or did you go out and market it?
Ramon Van Meer: So first I wanted to see, Hey, can I even sell it? So initially I went to ask one of the advisors, Dave Nemetz, one of the founders of Bleacher report. I ask him, “Hey, how much do you think I could sell this?” And he brought me in touch with a merchant acquisition person or a guy, however you say it. And I hired him and he shopped it around. And I got some meetings with some companies that were interested in buying it. I got horrible offers like one time my revenue for example-
Shaan Puri: The one X revenue.
Ramon Van Meer: -one X revenue. And then maybe with a little bit of cash and then the rest of the money I had to wait four years, every month I will get the little bits.
Shaan Puri: They’re trying to drip you your money.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes. It’s like the private equity play, where they try to repay or pay with the cash flow from the business. So that was not worth it. Then I reached out to the broker. I used to work with Quiet Light Brokers. I bought and sold a couple of other smaller sites through them. But I always thought, Oh, this is too big of a website. I don’t know a lot of people that can afford, or can buy.
Shaan Puri: Did you go in with a number in mind? I think that’s hard for entrepreneurs. What would you sell it for? You’re like, shit, some days I wake up and this is where a hundred million and some days I wake up and I said, take this off my hands. So did you have a number in mind? How did you think about it?
Ramon Van Meer: That’s true. Like a lot of officially entrepreneurs that are married to their idea, they think that the company is worth way more than it actually is. By the time I had friends that are in the same industry and then you kind of get to know like-
Shaan Puri: The standard.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. Or like, Oh, this site’s sold for X, Y, Z. And so you can see different valuations. So I had a number of minds there was actually way lower than I actually sold it for. And I went to the broker-
Shaan Puri: Hope that guy’s not listening.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. Well there’s an interesting story too. So the broker, how this works when you go to a broker, they just look at your last 12 months of profit and then they put a multiple on it. So if you did $1 million in profits they can sell it either between two X and five X depending on the industry, the trends, traffic sources, all kinds of stuff. So when I started the process of selling through the broker, at that time whatever I was doing in profits, it came down to $5 million-
Shaan Puri: Multiple.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, multiple 5 million. So I said, okay, yeah, I will take 5 million. Started the process. But the whole process takes months too, because you have to get all your paperwork, all your P&Ls’ and all your data rooms, so to speak, and then a summary in the interviews and then you start talking with potential buyers. So in those months, that pass by my revenue just skyrocketed. So I told the broker I call her, I still remember like, I felt so bad because I felt, oh, men this broker has worked so hard on my deal and now I’m going to call him saying, Hey, 5 million is not enough. I want to delay, I want to stop. I don’t want to sell it at this moment. Just wait for a couple more months. Then the value is much higher.
Ramon Van Meer: I called them, I told them the stories and listen, this happened and he totally understand it. So what happened? By me pulling the listing, whoever was already interested in it, now wanted even more. I wish I knew this was a genius plan of mine. This was a pure like just happened. So a couple of days later, whoever first offered 5 million to say, okay, I offer 6 million and then another. So there was a bidding war between initially three bidders and then two, and eventually I had to choose one of them.
Shaan Puri: Amazing. And so by then you’re like, Hey, this is a good deal now I’m happy with this deal. You take it, you sell the company painful process or was standard transaction?
Ramon Van Meer: It’s an emotional roller coaster because it’s a lot of money on the line. My biggest issue was okay, can this person barely close? At the end of the day, because you go to due diligence period. So first-
Shaan Puri: It’s not all about price. You also need the certainty that they’re going to deliver and close.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. So once you agree on a price, you sign an LOI, Letter Of Intent, and then they have X amount of weeks to dig into all your numbers. One big mistake, one of the many mistakes I made was my books were not as clean as I supposed to. Like I had other websites, I had just one LOC, one bank accounts, at very scrappy, basic-
Shaan Puri: Ramon’s lab of brainstem of experiments that were all on one books.
Ramon Van Meer: So we had to go literally each item of all bank statements, each line item. Okay, this is not for the soap side, is this for that. Like we had to go through everything. Their lawyers, my lawyers, their CPA, my CPA. So it was a very painful long process. And of course there’s now looking back for it is easy. But at that moment I think, Oh man, maybe they’re going to change their minds. Maybe in between the due diligence periods, my traffic, Facebook makes another update and my traffic goes down and they pulled a deal. That goes through your mind to whole time. Like, man, yeah, let’s hurry up.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. It took two months and the buyer had some issues too that one of the investors pooled their funding two weeks before closing and yeah, just stuff like that.
Shaan Puri: All the adventures that you can say.
Ramon Van Meer: So it ends up closing.
Shaan Puri: Does your life change? With this podcast called My First Million.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah.
Shaan Puri: I think I remember thinking, Hey, if I had 1 million bucks in the bank, then my life would be so different then I would feel this way. I would act this way. I would spend this, I would do this. In reality from doing this podcast, talking to people, that doesn’t seem to be the case. What was day one of that life for you?
Ramon Van Meer: It’s super, and I always screw up this word. It’s anti-climax?
Shaan Puri: Anti-climatic.
Ramon Van Meer: So anti-climatic because I remember when the money came in the bank and we’re-
Shaan Puri: Just hitting refresh over and over again?
Ramon Van Meer: That I did. I was looking for it. And of course I took a screenshot, but I got some champagne for the office. We did the toast and then literally like 15 minutes later we all were back to work. And the next day, at night I had to pick up my son, cook dinner it’s just normal life. And in the next day you went back to the office and just work.
Shaan Puri: What did your son say? He was eight years old at the time or something. So does it register in his brain what this means? No, he doesn’t care.
Ramon Van Meer: No, he didn’t care. I think it’s different when you have really no money and then suddenly you win a lottery and then the next day you have a lot of money. This even though it was relatively quick, two to three years. But the website was already doing really well.
Shaan Puri: Very profitable.
Ramon Van Meer: So if I wanted to buy something, most things I could already have bought. So it was not something, Oh, if I sell this, I’m going to buy, this and this and this. Like, I didn’t have that. I was just, okay, now onto the next journey, so to speak.
Shaan Puri: And so we can about 10 minutes before they kick us out of here. But the questions, what happens then? Since then, you’ve bought a handful of other websites. Yes. Again, like a real estate guy, you sort of buy it, you try to build it up. You either run it or you sell it from there. Was that a good idea or bad idea? Are you happy with how you parlayed one thing into the next or what’d you do differently now? I can see that look on your face.
Ramon Van Meer: Yes. Because you know the answer already. What I wanted to set up was sort of like a PE kind of set up like a private equity where I could buy undervalued internet businesses, make them better and then resell them better. Mistake what I did was I bought from totally different, there’s no synergy for the properties I bought. So all the properties are profitable, but it would have been, just make more sense now looking backwards if I had just around one topic or one like industry. So I could scale it easily. I need less people, less headache-
Shaan Puri: Or one business model because you have a SaaS company that’s a B2B company and then you have a content site. You have E-commerce, pet site.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, exactly. And you need different skill levels, different kinds of people, different models, different ways how to drive traffic. So it’s not that focus. When I started the soap, one thing was on my mind how to drive more traffic, how to drive more traffic. And now it’s like, Oh we have B2B, we need a sales team for this. Oh we need content site. We need different things. We all live on learn.
Shaan Puri: And now you have a new project, new idea that you’re cooking up?
Ramon Van Meer: Yes.
Shaan Puri: Almost back to the roots a little bit in terms of what you guys thought. So let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing. I’m super excited. I’m coming on as an investor because I think that this thing is going to be big. So tell us a little bit about it.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. So very quickly. Noveli is actually on a platform where people can read short romantic stories, short romantic novels, books on their iPhone or tablet, either read it or listened to it. So it’s in a book but also an audio version. Me and Sam came up with the idea, we were back and forth. We are really good friends. We always come up with weird and crazy ideas. And we came up with this idea when I still had to soap opera website. And I still have access to all these readers.
Ramon Van Meer: So we found out people that like soap operas probably also reads romantic novels. So same story, put a really ugly simple WordPress site up, had somebody ride a couple shorts, romantic stories and drove traffic to it.See the engagement, see people like it or not. And the engagement was crazy. People were literally bagging in the comments like, Oh we love this chapter with when is the next chapter? Things like that. But then I started process of selling this website. So I put this idea on hold, so to speak. Okay. We can figure it out later.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah. Couple months ago, we just revisited it and now we’re building an app and it’s going to go live in a couple months. It’s a same demographic, the middle-aged woman that like to read romance novel. Think of these novels that you growing up saw at the supermarket or the gas station, you know with this cheesy book cover.
Shaan Puri: Yeah. My mom has read like 55 Danielle Steele book. Yes. I think some article came out saying she’s written more novels than anyone. She’s got 300 weeks straight on the bestseller list or something crazy with different books, she’s a machine. And then there’s obviously 50 shades of gray, there’s Twilight, there’s all these kinds of franchises that have been built in this same kind of in a romantic fiction genre. And so you see something there. You think that this romantic stories or romantic fiction is, it’s big.
Ramon Van Meer: Well, the category is huge. There’s a huge amount of people reading this kind of books, but it’s also people that read romance novels are also very frequent readers, meaning on average in America, a person reads five books a year. The average romantic novel reader reads one book every two weeks. Like you said about your mother, she read many books. So it’s not a lot of people, but also they read a lot of these kind of… and there’s a lot of subcategories. I know you have from vampire romantic stories to 50 Shades of Gray to the really cheesy ones. You have a lot of subcategories as well.
Shaan Puri: I remember as a kid I used to read every sports fiction book I could get my hands on. And I think one day I crossed over into that and one of the books in the sports fiction was like a sports romantic fiction or something. I remember taking it home, reading it first 10 pages. I was like, what is this? By the 15th page I was like, all right, I’m finishing this book. This is a great book as an eighth grader, I remember that. So yeah, there are all these sub genres just within it. And so what does success look like? What do you think?
Shaan Puri: Where do you want to be with this project? With Noveli, six months from now?
Ramon Van Meer: Six months is-
Shaan Puri: Well, maybe 12 months.
Ramon Van Meer: Six months, hopefully will be launched and have a good a number of downloads. But in a year we want to be at least at 100,000 active users and build a platform, not just for readers but also for writers. I think because I had a lot of writers in the soap hub time, I think writers are very undervalued nowadays. It gets more and more difficult for them to make money and for different reasons, more competition and Amazon probably thinks like that. So we want Novelty to also be a really good platform for writers to make more money, have access to their audience, communicate with their audience, with their readers, and get also more exposure.
Shaan Puri: I think this is great idea. I think that the writers getting that opportunity. It’s very hard to make a living writing now. So knowing that, Hey, if I publish here, I’ll get readers and I’ll get money. And then on the other side for readers, there’s a reason Netflix paid like a hundred million bucks for one more year of friends or the office is the number one show is because people love this comfort and familiarity with content. They love that. If they can just push a button and then they will feel a certain way as I push a button, get an emotion. And that’s really what comes of if you built a platform like this, because somebody will be able to push a button, they will know what they’re getting out of it. It’s not like opening up Amazon and saying, here’s a bookstore.
Shaan Puri: Go find what you want. This is the saying, Hey you want to, here’s a great story. It’s a romantic fiction story. And they’ll be trained to say, Hey, if I want that feeling, if I want that type of entertainment. This is the app to go to. I really think this has a lot of potential. I’m excited to see what you can do with it.
Ramon Van Meer: Yeah, we’re excited too.
Shaan Puri: All right. It’s great. So we’ll wrap it up there and Ramon it’s been awesome having you here. I would normally say, Hey, where can people find you? This is your chance to shout out your social media.
Ramon Van Meer: Self promotion.
Shaan Puri: I don’t think you even have anything there.
Ramon Van Meer: I always like to help and advice or if people have a specific question they can find me on LinkedIn. If you look Ramon Van Meer. Then you can shoot me a message.
Shaan Puri: Awesome. Well thank you so much for coming. It’s been awesome hanging out with you and I believe we have a Spartan race this Saturday to go to so I’ll see you in the mud very soon, my friends. Awesome.
Ramon Van Meer: Thank you so much buddy.