Engineering a "Muse" – Volume 2: Case Studies of Successful Cash-Flow Businesses

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The “LapDawg” earns $10,000-$25,000 per month for Tonny Shin.

In the last four years, I’ve received hundreds of successful case studies via e-mail, and more than 1,000 new businesses were created during a recent Shopify competition, but I’ve presented only a handful of a case studies.

In this post, I’ll showcase three successful muses inspired by The 4-Hour Workweek, including lessons learned, what worked, and what didn’t. Income ranges from $1,500 – $25,000 per month…

“LapDawg” by Tonny Shin

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences.
Portable laptop table(s).

What is the website for your muse?
http://lapdawg.com

How much revenue is your muse currently generating per month (on average)?
$10,000 – $25,000 per month

To get to this monthly revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?
6 months.

How did you decide on this muse?
I got injured one day, severely twisting my ankle while playing tennis. The doctor said to stay in bed with minimal movement. Well, there is not much to do in bed lying around all day, and I needed my laptop. But it was super uncomfortable to use! Your groin area heats up a lot when it’s on your lap, which is no good for a male.  I tried propping it up on a pillow but the laptop would overheat.  I also got sore in a hurry when I was on my stomach.  I needed something to hold my laptop that was portable, ergonomically comfortable, and easy to adjust to any position I wanted.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?
Starting an internet marketing and consulting business. There were just too many negatives. It turned out to be: (1) Un-scalable, since there is only one of me; (2) Time-consuming, not only in the technical/maintenance side, but also educating the client; (3) Cost heavy. You need to find good web designers and skilled programmers, and pay them a good hourly rate; (4) Research heavy. You need to keep up with this stuff all the time; (5) On call. You have to be around if you want to bring in sales and keep your clients happy, no matter what situation comes up.

My most important goal for me planning my own business was all about “ROE,” or Return On Effort, and NOT just “ROI.”  The ROE for consulting would have been way too low, while LapDawg happens to be very high!

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
The main “A-ha” was realizing that starting with the right complementary partners was key to long-term success!  Fortunately, my job at the time gave me access to talented web designers and programmers. Selling them on the idea, getting the right agreements in place, and then splitting the work involved took time to develop.  But in the end, you have to trust that people will do what they are best at.

To this degree, it substantially cut our initial costs as I partnered up with a web designer, and business analyst/programmer who, by profession, allowed maximum efficiency in getting things done right!

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?
Since my partners lived far away from each other in our city, it was hard to get together face-to-face on a regular basis. We decided that a private online collaboration tool would help us communicate better getting the project up and running.  So we signed up for Central Desktop.  At the time, they allowed one project to be free. Anymore and you had to pay. We definitely maxed out that one free project!

We had good private discussions and everything was documented. It turned out to be valuable in that I can now look back and see what I did wrong or right.

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
Getting the pricing of our product right. Our initial price included shipping. It turned out that, due to the dramatic variations in shipping costs, we were not making any money and actually lost some in our first month.

Raising the price, splitting shipping separately, and changing the value proposition on our website helped significantly.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?
Very important: For Chinese manufacturers, make sure they are the original manufacturer. A lot of Chinese companies will claim they are manufacturers but are in fact middlemen. They will take your requests and modifications, then outsource them to the lowest priced manufacturer who may not produce the best quality, but will give them the best deal. They will go to great lengths to produce authentic proof that they are the original manufacturer, and you have no way of knowing unless you physically visit them.

Hire a consultant who will check them out in person and report their findings back to you.

If you used a manufacturer, how did you find them? What are your suggestions for first-timers?
Make travel plans to visit Canton Fair. Not only is it one of the largest in the world, it’s also a real eye-opener on what brand names companies use to produce their stuff. Each booth will have brochures and catalogs on what they manufacturer, which are free to pick up in exchange for your business card. Make sure to bring LOTS of business cards!

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?
We were mentioned in Kevin Kelly’s newsletter (contacted him).
Placement in “The Shop” in Rolling Stone Magazine for 2 months. (Paid advertisement)
Hands-on reviews from The Gadgeteer, Virtual Hideout, About.com’s Mobile Office, and Digital Trends (all contacted via email).

Where did you register your domain (URL)?
http://moniker.com

Where did you decide to host your domain?
http://softlayer.com

If you used a web designer, where did you find them?
I partnered with one.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Make sure that you have your business basics down first. Proper business bank account(s), incorporate earlier, record expenses properly, keep receipts, and get your accounting straight. It’s very hard to switch things over later, so invest some time at the outset and get it right.

Although obvious in practice, it’s hard to do as it is detail-oriented work and requires patience. It takes away from the “real” work that needs to be done but come tax time, you will absolutely regret that you did not do this from the start. It becomes much more error prone and harder to do everything at the end of the corporate year.

What’s next?!
Develop more products, improve our current products, create more product videos, try affiliate marketing, and experiment more with social media.  There is a whole world of exposure methods online.  You have to dig in and try them all!

“Butterfly Repellent” by Timothy Spencer

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences.
Natural Defense against social anxiety and stage fright. Safe alternative to beta blockers (when used for stage fright).

What is the website for your muse?
http://butterflyrepellent.com

 

How much revenue is your muse currently generating per month (on average)?
$1,000 – $2,500 per month

To get to this monthly revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?
1 year (2 months on market)

How did you decide on this muse?
After watching the documentary “Bigger, Stronger, Faster,” I learned about a growing problem of musicians and actors abusing prescription beta blockers to mediate the effects of stage fright. I looked to see if there was a natural alternative on the market, and there wasn’t.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?
I was originally working on a relaxation drink (think anti-Red Bull). I had contacted manufacturers and was just about to order product when I learned about the growing problem of beta-blocker abuse. I saw a niche and my business made a major pivot.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
1. I play volleyball for my university and tested the initial batches on my team. Positive feedback from the team was very encouraging.

2. I was so excited after having my first logo designed (outsourced on eLance). I made the logo my wallpaper on my computer and iPhone, and showed it to everyone. I don’t actually use it anymore, but it gave real life to the product and motivated me to keep pushing forward.

3. Getting my first few sales online was easily one of the most motivating experiences I’ve had.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?
The podcast “Automate My Small Business” is GREAT. Youtube tutorials for learning WordPress and Photoshop. ODesk.com for outsourcing and managing VA’s.

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
Waiting until things were “perfect” before going ahead with them. Market presence was held off for months because we kept fine-tuning the website. I eventually realized that things will never be perfect, and most hang ups are self-imposed.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?
Prompt, positive, and courteous customer service is invaluable. I’ve had great success with providing personalized coupon codes for whoever emails with a question.  For instance, if I receive an email with questions from Amber, I tell her in the response that she can enter the coupon code “amberisawesome” for 10 dollars off. A little more work but well worth it.

If you used a manufacturer, how did you find them? What are your suggestions for first-timers?
I used thomasnet.com to contact dozens of manufacturers around the country. I found one that was local and we were able to meet face-to-face. He loved the business idea and liked me a lot. My starting budget was very small and I was able to talk him into developing and manufacturing the smallest order he had ever done. He was happy to do so, which would have never happened without a face-to-face meeting.

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?
I have tried reaching out to local newspapers, attempting to spin an interesting story for them (e.g. “Local student-athlete finds creative way to pay tuition”). No takers yet, but the effort continues.

Where did you register your domain (URL)?
http://godaddy.com

Where did you decide to host your domain?
http://godaddy.com

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Move things forward quicker. I think I could be 6 months ahead of where I am now if I had made bolder decisions and taken action instead of waiting for everything to fall into place.

What’s next?!
The next big goal is to try and land product on retail shelves.

The company is very young and I see a bright future. November was the first $1,000+ month and with a continued effort in Adwords and SEO, these numbers will only go up.

“ClockSpot” by Jason Ho

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences.
Clockspot is a web-based employee time tracking tool, designed for business owners. Employees clock in from any phone or computer. Managers can then check timesheets online instantly.

What is the website for your muse?
http://www.clockspot.com

How much revenue is your muse currently generating per month (on average)?
More than $25,000 per month

To get to this monthly revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?
12 months.

How did you decide on this muse?
I originally came up with Clockspot because my parents needed a way to track time for different employees at different offices. Being a techie, I insisted that they hold off on buying physical time clocks, and instead wait for me to make them a simple web-based time clock. Within 3 days, I had a rough but usable prototype.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?
Out of college, I started a social Question & Answer website called Qaboom.com (pronounced “Kaboom!”). It didn’t work out for a number of reasons: partner conflicts, difficulties gaining traction, a failed partnership, etc. I learned a whole lot, but had to cut my losses and move on.

I dabbled in a couple of startup projects/ideas after that, then eventually came up with Clockspot.  I’ve been running it ever since.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
The 4-Hour Workweek” really struck a chord with me because my company was growing quickly, and there was this forever-growing list of things that needed to get done. I was working 80+ hour weeks, at the expense of everything else around me: my relationships, my social life, my body… Being a perfectionist, I was very reluctant to delegate tasks to anyone but myself.

After reading the book, particularly the lesson about “The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen,” I decided to outsource support. The obvious benefit was that I no longer had to answer emails and phone calls myself. The most surprising benefit, however, was that it actually increased my focus and productivity by an order of magnitude, which was so much more valuable than the actual hours outsourcing saved me (~20-30 hours/week).

Because I didn’t have to directly deal with customers, I could actually think clearer and make better decisions about the overall direction of the product. Anyone who’s had a startup can probably relate to this: it’s really hard to say “no” to a customer when you don’t have that many of them. Because I wanted to please every customer and acquire every prospect that came in, I had this never-ending list of features to implement. I ended up scrapping this enormous list, and decided to only concentrate on the top 5 items.

Outsourcing support was the stimulus to my four hour work week. I delegated all tasks that weren’t core to my business, moved to Taiwan, then spent the next two years traveling Asia and South America, working only 4 hours/month while my company continued to grow. “A-ha!” is an understatement!

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?
I read a lot of books. About one every two weeks. I had no business experience or real mentors, so I had a lot to learn a lot on my own.

The most influential books I read were:
1) The 4-Hour Workweek (Tim Ferriss)
2) Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey A. Moore)
3) The World is Flat (Thomas Friedman)

I have since moved to Silicon Valley, so my best resources now are other talented entrepreneurs.

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
I experimented with many different types of advertising: newspaper, magazine, buying leads, and even hiring a company to cold call. They were all a huge waste of money, but I wouldn’t consider any of them to be mistakes… unless I did them all over again!

My biggest mistake was trying to save money on hosting. When I first started, I went with a budget host, and never bothered to switch until my server crashed one day. After being on hold for hours with the hosting company and being transferred a thousand times, they finally fixed the issue 8 hours later. I lost 15% of my customer base that week.

Clockspot is now hosted on Rackspace, which we pay an arm and a leg for, but now our service is 100% solid. High-end servers, hardware redundancy, load balancing, dedicated firewall, daily security scans, etc. We’ve never had a downtime ever since switching to Rackspace.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?
Track everything. A/B test everything. I am consistently surprised at how wrong my assumptions are.

A good example is to always track the performance of your keywords from start to finish. I used to pay for the keyword “time clock” because it brought a lot of traffic, and a decent amount of sign ups. However, it wasn’t until I started tracking actual account activations (when a sign up becomes a paying customer) that I realized “time clock” wasn’t converting at all, compared to the lower traffic key phrase “online time clock,” which was converting many times more than “time clock”.

If you track enough data, you’ll eventually be able to quantify each action a visitor takes into a dollar amount. For example, I know customers that searched “online time clock” and signed up for our newsletter will have a X% chance of signing up, which converts Y% of the time, which translates to $Z/month in earnings.

Now if Clockspot’s monthly growth ever fluctuates, I know exactly which levers caused it.

Where did you register your domain (URL)?
http://www.godaddy.com

Where did you decide to host your domain?
http://www.rackspace.com

If you used a web designer, where did you find them?
I am both the designer and developer.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Drop out of college to start Clockspot sooner! Just kidding, if mom and dad are reading…

Honestly nothing. I have a tendency to not listen to good advice, which causes me to try and fail, then start preaching that same advice. But as a result, I never really regret anything that I do.

What’s next?!
During my two years of travel, my main accomplishments were:
1) Climbing Mount Everest to Basecamp (where the oxygen is 50% that of sea level).
2) Biked the circumference of Taiwan (~1000 km).
3) Volunteered in the relief effort for Haiti.

I ended up moving to Silicon Valley and plan to start other businesses, as well as get involved in more humanitarian work.

Life plan = loop { create_value(); have_fun(); }

###

Need help with developing or perfecting your “muse”?

This following offer is only available for the next 12 hours.

Click here to learn how you can get a complete site review from me and one of the best site testers in the world… or a one-hour phone call with me. I advise companies like StumbleUpon, Evernote, Posterous, and TaskRabbit, and the least I’ve improved conversions is 21%. The most is over 100%. Ridiculous as it might seem (it is ridiculous), I get at least $50,000 per 60-minute speaking engagement, so this is something I never do.

Want to also get your X-mas shopping done in one shot?

Click here to learn how… and also get a 1-hour group conference call with me.

Posted on: December 11, 2010.

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218 comments on “Engineering a "Muse" – Volume 2: Case Studies of Successful Cash-Flow Businesses

  1. Hey Tim,

    Great to see this article! I have been struggling with muse ideas and was happy to see your offer with Ramits course included as a bonus for buying the Four Hour Body.

    This promotion is really an education, best of luck on the bestseller list!

    P.S I will let you know how the muses turn out or dont

    Like

  2. Very inspiring stories. I’m not yet at the level of these guys, but it is great to read about their past experiences and take away little nuggets to help out my own journey. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  3. The link to “Click here to learn how you can get a complete site review from me and one of the best site testers in the world… or a one-hour phone call with me…” is redirecting back to your site. Broken? Kindly advise as to how we can know more.

    Like

  4. Great to see some more examples of successful muses.
    The 4HWW inspired me to live everything behind and spend the last 8 months in Asia which resulted in the time of my life.
    I’m mostly working on building affiliate websites which are pretty set and forget once they rank for your target keywords as my muse.

    Like

  5. Wow – what great ideas! It just goes to show you, there is always room for another idea and innovation. Thanks for the nuts and bolts. I am reading your book again(I also ordered 4hrbody) send some good shakas my way!

    Like

  6. This post is exactly what I needed. Right on time! Thanks TIm! I just bought your 4 hour work week expanded version as well. I look forward to diving into it. Good luck with your new book.

    Like

  7. Excellent idea in asking the question about which books have helped influence!

    Tim, I was wondering if you have any type of a “curriculum” of books or sites that you would send young entrepreneurs to (high school or even college age)? I have a good amount of teenagers within my sphere of influence and want to introduce them to entrepreneurship while still fighting the “support the rat race” mentality that so many American public schools proclaim.

    These are great questions for the case studies. Thanks again!

    - Josh

    Like

  8. Hey Tim,

    Great post as usual. I love these series on “Muse” engineering, as this is something that has been a sticking point for me. I’m caught up on how you get from idea to manufacturer without knowing exactly how to build your product, and without having to spend 1000′s of dollars on e-lance hiring an engineer.

    I’m also concerned with much of the research I have done on suppliers in China (ie not being the original manufacturer, stealing your ideas, crafty accounting, etc.) I have faith that their are legitimate sources in China, however finding them seems to be a daunting task, let alone knowing the right questions to ask them without getting scammed.

    anyways.. looking forward to the next post in this series, and my new book in the mail..

    cheers,

    Victor

    Like

  9. Tim, I’m lovin’ these case studies. One extra question to ask if you do more of these could be “How much initial capital did you require prior to reaching your break even point?” While the number will surely vary depending on the product, I think it’ll help folks recognize that some of these adventures most certainly require an investment of money in addition to time, and it might provide planning perspective as well.

    P.S. I’d love to attend the party in NYC, but think I might not be able to make it in time from Jersey! How many do you anticipate will go?

    Like

  10. @Josh

    For your teenager friends, I might encourage them to check out Global Entrepreneurship Week and the Ewing Kauffman Foundation in general. Lots of great stuff coming out of those camps for budding entrepreneurs!

    Cheers,
    Doc

    Like

  11. Tim-

    Love these posts. The case studies of successful cash-flow businesses really help and inspire people who are trying to come up with their own muses. I have learned a lot from both this post and the earlier one.

    Keep these types of posts coming!!!

    Thanks!

    Like

  12. These are my favorite types of stories! I’d like to know what the initial investment for each muse was too. Tim, maybe in the future you can include that as a question as well. How much money was invested before a return was realized, or how much money was spent to test the validity of an idea. I’d also like to see failed muse stories, and break-even stories. Ideas that seem amazing and then fizzle out due to some reason with a lesson learned.

    Can’t wait to Hulk out my mahscles on 12/14!

    Like

  13. If I choose to start a muse, do I need to finish college? I have completed 2 years and have 2 years left of university. I don’t enjoy college and I have always planned to work for myself (or have others work for me). I am currently brainstorming muses and have 2 very good prospects.

    Like

    • Finish college. Even if only part time while you get your next muse up and running. Find a way to enjoy it. It’s just a mental shift. You don’t need As – Cs will do. It’s easy to get Cs in today’s grade-inflated environment – all you have to do is show up.

      When else in life will you have the luxury of just reading and learning all the time? Not until your muse takes off and you can truly live the FHWW.

      Pick courses that contribute to what you want to do – accounting, chemistry, physics, psychology – whatever relates to what you’re interested in. That’ll help you connect the material to what you care about, get through it, and maybe even enjoy it.

      Good luck!

      Like

  14. Tim Thanks for sharing!

    I also want to thank you for creating the 4HWW! It has changed my life and now my wife and I are able to focus on self-growth and the value that we can create in this world. I totally agree with Jason!

    Life plan = loop { create_value(); have_fun(); }

    Tim, you have made 2010 the best year of my life and the future looks only better from here! :)

    Thanks Tim! Congratulations on 4 Hour Body as well (already pre-ordered my copy) It’s going to be another hit!

    Alex

    Like

  15. Tim,
    Great article as usual, it really motivates to action by showing the nuts and bolts of what’s currently being accomplished.

    Did you have a specific book or article that inspired you when you started?
    Thanks,
    Samuel
    Looking forward to the new book.

    Like

  16. Hi Tim,

    Excellent stuff as always, and I look forward to reading the 4HB!

    Four hour work week has been inspiring, but it’s great to see others succeeding too. Just out of interest, do you ever get any “I read your book and it ruined my life” casestudies? I’m writing a book with advice for grad students, and sometimes worry about the consequences for them if I get it wrong…

    Like

  17. Tim if and when you get time
    could you do an article on:
    “imagined cost due to misguided perception and actual real world cost” when it comes to VA’s and the assignments they are given, also the type of assignments
    i think it would be a complement to the very helpful articles ur doing now that dig deeper in the step by step process to making it happen if you could show how much of it could be done by VA’s and the reality of the cost buffer it would make it easier to envision the financing for a business start up and automation transition

    i personally believe that if you did that it might help people not leap like you did where you brought up brain quicken through massive credit card dept and also so it can be applied through the books formula of relative income, i firmly believe it would bring together so much of your work on this blog into a completely straightforward step by step process and take away the illusion of it being a leap and more of a slight shift in attention, understanding, and action

    damit i hate myself for missing ur party i flew out of NY because of the snow but i bought ur expanded and updated, 4hour body (with ur bonus give away) and The Art of Non-Conformity

    all the best to you from the Bay Area
    Rock On

    Like

  18. Hey Tim –

    Thanks for these posts, they are a great source of inspiration. The 4HWW was a groundbreaking reading and I’m now in Valparaiso, Chile. My “short early retirement” will come to an end at some point, but I’m using some of the time here to think about the next one already!

    un abrazo de vuelta

    Fabio

    Like

  19. Wow, huge thanks to Tim for the exposure. Looking forward to answering all those new emails and fulfilling orders during finals week :P

    Since the post shows a “secret” on how to get 10 dollars off orders of BR I went ahead and made a promo code for the post.

    Feel free to enter for $15 dollars off. Thanks again for the kind words guys, a big digital hug to everyone.

    -Tim Spencer

    Like

  20. This is absolutely amazing! Very helpful post and I hope to see more like it. I don’t have a product to sell, nor an idea for one, but this helps get me in the right mindset.

    Like

  21. Dear Tim,

    Thank you so much for opening my eyes, giving me energy and inspiration. I’m sure all my dreams are within my reach because of your book(s) and constant information flow on your blog. I can’t wait until February when I can read the body book. (Yes February! It’s crazy but I actually want X-mas to be over!)
    I was wondering about one silly thing: Do you think the producers of the TV serie Dexter have been inspired by you? season 5?(Although not too much I hope:-)
    Keep being awesome!

    Like

  22. Muchas gracias Tim,

    Los estudios de caso han sido realmente útiles para tomar nuevas ideas sobre como automatizar mi pequeña empresa. Me da mucho gusto que exista alguien como tu!

    Pablo.

    Like

  23. Tim,

    Do you have any examples of those that failed at trying to implement their muse? I think examples of the other end of the sprectrum could be helpful to those trying to be successful (i.e., further learnings for what not to do).

    Thank,

    Vergil Den

    Like

  24. Great collection of businesses. The Lapdawg is definitely something I’d buy. So many people have moved away from desktops to laptops and the only way to get comfy with them is to sit back at a desk, neglecting the major advantage of a laptop. I love simple solutions like that.

    Like

  25. Tonny Shin (LapDawg) is right about the consultancy business being totally unscalable; it’s a timesuck.

    http://www.cantonfair.com/ = place where he found his manufacturer?

    And product design, (help me demystify this!) need some engineer / designer to create / sketch to be given for them to be created?

    Like

    • Canton Fair is a massive trade fair held twice a year in Guangzhou, China. When I went there were about 200,000 buyers there.

      While there is a directory of manufacturers on the website, I believe Mr. Shin is advocating actually attending the fair.

      If you get a visa that allows you to stay in China for a month, you can physically visit factories and do some due diligence. (This may not be in the spirit of 4HWW as it’s more hands-on) It’s always a good idea to hire some third-party quality control to do inspections for you during production.

      Like

      • Absolutely i advocate this. if you don’t know what to sell, walking around and picking up ideas is a great alternative. take it home and do the research.

        the directory is not visual you don’t know what the product looks like, and the latest stuff each company is making.

        on top of just seeing china, having a purpose plus with the travelling makes it doubly fun.

        Like

    • You will see alot of the world’s products and who manufacturers it here at this fair.

      Yes you can get custom products designed in china, but you need the blue prints from an engineer developed and or the mold. a rough guide is 10k – 50k but really depends on how complex the product is.

      on clothing / fashion items a simple sketch can work but you need be very detailed with it.

      Like

      • Tonny, I’d love to exchange a few emails with you in order to demystify the manufacturing process (I’m in an early stage of prototyping for a muse).

        If you’re interested, I’d love to send you a book via Amazon for your time.

        Cheers,

        - Kevin
        kevin (at) eethos (dot) net

        Like

  26. Tim,

    Great article, as usual!

    I’m a 23 year old entrepreneur, who started and currently runs several profitable web services, my newest being a JV with one of my best friends, an expert-system based lead management platform named eInfer. It’s always refreshing to see so many liked-minded individuals out there.

    I loved this article, as I have dozens of muse projects I’ve started over the years. Right now I’m working on scaling a few of my larger earners, and figuring out how to attain a better balance in my life. 2010 was a really productive year and like the majority of you there, I have some huge goals I’m working towards over the course of 2011.

    I’m looking forward to one of these days crossing paths, either on a personal or professional level. I think we’d have some great conversation.

    Best wishes,

    - Chase

    Like

  27. Very interesting! Super cool post. The only thing Im missing are more details about how they…

    1. Positioned themselves in the market among the competitors. I know thats crucial in order to have success and most entrepreneurs forget about it.

    2. Market their products. Marketing is often more important today than making the product. What worked for them; affiliate, PR, SEO, adwords etc. ?

    Thanks!!!

    Like

    • Yes, the next set of success stories (which I’m looking forward to) should ask them about their actual profits or income from the business, not the revenue. Some of the people may have answered with their profit number anyway, but it’d be most helpful to ask for profit numbers.

      Like

  28. Tim,

    I love this series. Now get up and make the third one available already :) We’re dying here, you know… :)

    This kind of stories always give me the energy needed to keep going at my muses.

    Thank you!

    Like

  29. Hi Tim,

    Wondering if you have received any case studies from people who have developed their business around photography / video products. I know I would be interested to hear as I have been trying some ideas around this type of industry.

    Thanks,
    Matt

    Like

  30. Are there any 4HWW disciples operating out of the rough and tumble African landscape, particularly East Africa? I’d love to know what adjustments you made to make things work here. Thanks

    Like

  31. Motivador como siempre, espero poder figurar entre tus ejemplos dentro de poco desde el otro lado del Atlántico. ¿Cuando podremos tener tu nuevo libro “4HB” por aquí? Un abrazo

    Like

  32. This is why I read your blog!

    Thanks for an inspiring post – the field of doing business has indeed changed, and even crazy ideas have a potential to make a buck.

    Best regards and happy holidays,
    Joona

    Like

  33. This was so well timed Tim! I’ve just spent the weekend brain storming how to turn my business into a muse that will allow me to travel forever and was wondering whether my idea was possible. It’s always nice to see others come before you to give you that kick of confidence.

    Just a note on Jason’s comment, “Anyone who’s had a startup can probably relate to this: it’s really hard to say “no” to a customer when you don’t have that many of them. Because I wanted to please every customer and acquire every prospect that came in, I had this never-ending list of features to implement. I ended up scrapping this enormous list, and decided to only concentrate on the top 5 items.” If you have this problem, also read “Rework” by 37 Signals- aside from “4-hour work week”, I think this is the best business/lifestyle design/anti-going-insane-from-over-work-and-stress-and-over-thinking-shit book I’ve read in the past 2 years

    Love your work Tim

    Mik

    Like

  34. Tim, thank you so much for posting these case studies!

    I wonder if you or anyone could help me…Finding a muse has been so difficult for me. I have a health website, and when I checked Thomas.net for products…nothing seemed good enough to put my name on it. I started to create a healthy cookbook…but it’s taking forever!!! Any ideas?

    Thanks all!!! :)

    Holly

    Like

  35. Awesome stories. Thanks for these Tim. This is good motivation for me and everyone else who read the 4 hour work week. I’ve yet to figure out what my muse is going to be, but hopefully I’ll figure it out soon and can put it into action.

    Like

  36. Let’s not forget that revenue = turnover and not profit. On turnover of 25,000 per month how much of that is profit?

    Readers who are less financially astute may miss this point and assume that figure to be profit!

    Like

    • And I was wondering if I am the only one who is noticing this? With enough marketing/advertising spend just about any product/service can achieve 2-10k/month revenue (in our small startup/muse context).

      My first version of product with a very rough ghetto website, ghetto version of product etc. hit 2K/month rev right from start. Took 3 months from idea conception to this market test version. BUT it costs me ~2.5K in adwords spend.

      Of course now with this market validation in place, I am working on a better converting pro designed site, professionally created product etc. which hopefully will actually break even and then go on to generate profits. At which point I can start working on scaling this biz model.

      So to add to other requests, I would love to see some PROFIT numbers rather than revenue, and the capital costs required to reach breakeven. I feel these numbers would be more useful to us in a realistic planning scenario rather than blanket monthly revenue numbers with no other impt background numbers to accompany them.

      Having said that – Wow thanks for providing these case studies and even these revenue numbers. I know it takes a lot of work on Tim’s part to create these for us, without him we wouldn’t have even these. And it’s extremely generous of other entrepreneurs to share these personal stories with us.

      So THANK YOU for this!

      Best,

      -Ritesh

      Like

      • Hi Ritesh! I went to your site and it’s beautifully done. I am launching my first muse and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing with me who designed your site, how you did your video and who you used to create the graphics for your product (the book and audio book).

        I think it’s awesome what you’re doing, and wish you the best in helping people heal themselves from these terrible conditions.

        Thank you!

        Like

  37. Tim,

    These articles are great! Keep the volumes coming. Reading about real life examples with resources of how other people did it is by far the best way to learn and stay motivated.

    YOU’RE THE MAN.

    Best,
    Chase

    Like

  38. It is so interesting to see the other innovative muses that 4HWW readers have come up with. The LapDawg just seems so useful, why didn’t someone come up with that sooner?

    The 4HWW book literally changed my life. I read it just before my college graduation, and over the next few months I developed an online muse related to college exams which now averages $2k-$3k income per month and I’m down to 30 minutes of work per day.

    2010 has been the best year of my life by far. Thanks to the 4HWW I have had tons of amazing experiences – everything from climbing volcanoes in the Philippines to bar crawls in Prague. Now I am gearing up to take a 2 month mini-retirement to Thailand/Philippines in February while my college friends are desperately searching for any fulltime employment.

    The biggest key to muse success I got out of the 4HWW is to test market demand BEFORE you start investing tons of your money and time into the business. If your muse idea is going to fail (and 8 out of 10 will) then you want to know that quickly and inexpensively so you can move on to the next idea.

    I was able to do all of the initial muse testing for under $200 (I have a post on my blog about how I did it). After one week of muse testing the market response was great – 20 “customers” attempted to buy and so I focused all my attention on writing and developing the product.

    Also I am so incredibly pumped for the Four Hour Body. I’m trying desperately to see if I can make it to NYC for the launch party. If I got to meet you (Tim Ferriss) in person for even just a minute, all of the other Christmas gifts I’ve ever gotten combined would pale in comparison.

    Here’s to making 2011 even better and life improving than an amazing 2010!

    Like

  39. Dear Tim,

    I love these great inspiring articles.

    I developed a IT travel Kit. This kit includes everything u need when u want to be able to control your muse from all over the world. As a big traveller i know u would like it. Thats why I would love to send u one of these kits to find out what u think about it. Because it would be great to create a muse helping others to control theirs.

    Regards,
    Hugo

    Like

  40. Awesome article…again.

    Great to see what actually works for people, and just as importantly, what they are rejecting as bad ideas and why. Really gives me an idea of areas I should be focusing on (and those I shouldn’t!)

    Like

  41. Hi Tim and everyone,

    Great post as always and certainly inspiring. Let me ask you a question, Tim:
    In the 4HWW book you emphasize that creating informational (digital) products is one of the easiest and painless way to start a muse, although in the case studies you are almost always presenting physical stuff. (I was glad to read about ClockSpot) – in future posts can you introduce a bit more digital products? Or aren’t there that many? Thanks!

    Balint

    Like

  42. Tim,

    I love reading these case studies. It really lights the fire under my tail to get to work on my own muse, which is delayed because I’m too busy singing on national television at the moment. ;) While that is not my muse, it very well may lead to a favorable stream of income.

    Can’t wait for my signed “4-Hour Body,” which will be waiting for me when I get home.

    Mark

    Like

  43. Hi Tim and everyone!

    It can’t be a coincident that I find this post today – the day I QUIT MY JOB!

    Honestly, I had very difficult discussions with my wife lately on what I should be doing. I have tons of ideas and sometimes find it hard to pick the one that is the most promising. For the last year my job was holding me back from continuing to follow the path I was on before I ever took the job. No, let me rephrase that – it was not my job that was holding me back – it was my fear. Fear of what would happen if i just quit and started taking control over my own life again.

    I finally made that decision and am literally just about to walk into my bosses office to have that talk…

    Tim, keep up your work, you make a difference. I know that it is me consciously taking these steps and I trust that a lot of good will come from it and I am prepared to live with the consequences – you definitely played your part in it as well. Posts like this one are a true inspiration and a fear killer.

    To all of you muse-creators:

    I love to read your success stories and hope to hear a lot from you in the future!

    Thanks,
    Philipp

    Like

      • Thanks, Holly!

        I actually quit today! My last day at that job will be 31st of December – I still have some vacation left that I will use to straighten things out for me. I’m really looking forward to start working for myself again. Tim and the people participating on this website have been a tremendous encouragement. Thanks!

        Holly, I’ll gladly keep you posted on what I’m up to. I’ll check out your site again now and send you a message there.

        Like

    • How did you finally decide to quit your job? I have been advised to make sure I have some other source of income before I quit mine, hence the 4hww.

      How are you supporting yourself and wife? What industry/field are you in?

      I understand your comments on fear and taking back control. I am in the same boat as this is all pretty new to me. Good luck!

      Like

  44. Is it just me, or is it a bit sad that people are coming up with more useless items that nobody needs, running off to China where they can produce these items through essentially slave labour?

    As the middle class in the USA is getting the squeeze and all those middle class jobs disappear I guess you have to pay back those tuition fees somehow…

    And Tim, how exactly are these `successful’ cashflow businesses as your title suggests? Butterfly repellent at 1k to 2.5k per month?

    Cmon!! ;)

    Like

    • Hey Ian,

      I’ll only address the last, as I’ve spoken on the others elsewhere. 2K a month, or an extra 24K a year, make a lot of lifestyle difference to a lot of people! Of course, it depends on your current income and how fast you burn through it, but it’s non-trivial for most people, especially if the muse requires little time.

      Thank you for the comment,

      Tim

      Like

      • “I’ll only address the last, as I’ve spoken on the others elsewhere. 2K a month, or an extra 24K a year, make a lot of lifestyle difference to a lot of people! Of course, it depends on your current income and how fast you burn through it, but it’s non-trivial for most people, especially if the muse requires little time.”

        I agree absolutely, but the profit figures aren’t mentioned, so things come across as being rather opaque. 2K revenue is not 2K profit.

        How were these businesses funded? What is the interest on the debt incurred etc? The liabilities?

        As readers we thirst for a more detailed analysis.

        Cheers.

        Like

      • to go along with what tim said. this muse is enabling me to live my ideal lifestyle this summer. Moving to san diego, buying and living on a sailboat, and training in beach volleyball every day (a very low TMI). Pura Vida

        Like

  45. It is great to read these case studies!
    One more question that I would like to read answers: What was the initial costs to start these businesses?

    Like

  46. Hi Tim,

    Great post! My muse is a book which I’m about to launch.

    I’m wondering whether to push sales exclusively through Amazon (via Lightningsource or other POD) or also my own website.
    I know your books are available elsewhere but you focus sales towards Amazon and don’t have your own store. My question is, do you do it that way because you don’t want the hassle of maintaining your own store, or because you just make more money through focusing on Amazon (and getting a higher sales rank, more reviews, etc.) despite their cut? Should I even be thinking of running my own checkout if I’m just selling a book?

    Thanks,
    Joe

    Like

  47. Another good post. But it’s still missing something.

    Funding: it’s a catch 22. if you don’t talk about how a project(muse) got funded, it is less believable. It’s a great story(and who does not love a great story) but it’s less realistic. If you do talk about how the project(muse) got funded,(credit card debts, borrowing from family, high paying previous job, huge savings and etc) it is less of a good story and less inspirational. Perhaps a really in-depth timeline interview in the way to go.

    Degrees/Skills/Income/previous occupations: Just because a person has an MBA, Ivy League education, or huge paychecks, does not mean it is easier to create a successful muse. We can all agree that time, fulfillment, geological freedom are much more important than a large income or prestige. However, it is best to be upfront about these things. Was the story of Nexus Surf(from the 4 hour work week) less of a good story because the person was a successful but over worked lawyer? No, not really. If the story omitted that he was a successful lawyer but you later on find out he was, would that make it less of a good story ? Most likely, yes.

    By the way, you mentioned that your assistant Charlie was able to go on his mini-retirement to Thailand or South America after 6 and 12 months. Tell Him congratulations. I was wondering if he could share how he did it. it would make a great post. It would also generate stacks of resumes and emails inquiring about a assistant position. :)

    David

    Like

  48. Hi Tim and everyone – it’s my first time commenting and I loved this post! I am dedicating 2011 to getting my first muse up and running. I haven’t even been working for a full year (since graduation) but I don’t want to wait to have my own business and be location independent. This post is great inspiration and I’m sure that I’ll refer back to it (and to my copy of the 4 Hour Work Week) while I try to get my act together this year.

    Like

  49. Tim-

    THE BOOK IS COMING OUT!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    There I said it…I’m more mellow now…Can’t make New York with 4 year olds and a wife who would NOT stand for me going without her, so had to celebrate here at home.

    Congrats Man.

    Paul

    Like

  50. Hey Tim

    I recently tried finding 4HWW on technorati using multiple search terms with no luck. I then searched google: “4HWW Technorati” and a link came up. I’m not sure why the search on Technorati couldn’t find you on their own site but I thought you should know.

    Bring on the case studies! I appreciate all the insider insights.

    Like

  51. Tim, I love what you are doing and love to hear how these businesses were created from scratch. I only caution that many would-be entrepreneurs are not getting the full story. For example, ClockSpot claims to have more than $25,000 monthly income after only 12 months. This is quite good in a crowded marketplace in which every payroll company (ADP, Paychex, etc.) is offering the same product. What is he doing to differentiate it from the market? He implies that his marketing is basically limited to Google AdWords and split testing. Your questions are great, but they only raise more questions. Perhaps Jason can respond. Otherwise, sounds like Jason has a winner on his hands, and I wish him continued success!

    Like

  52. I am curious as to how these people found their muse, funded their muse, and what steps they took to market.

    I have two blogs which I want to believe are muses. I just now have to find a way to monetize them and not like everyone else is doing it through adsense.

    I want to sell something of value within my niche.

    Wish me luck!

    Like

  53. I love the case studies on real life muses.

    Instead of monthly revenue, would it be possible to share monthly PROFIT? At the end of the day, it’s about putting cash back in our pockets. Thanks in advance for considering it.

    Like

  54. Tim,

    I noticed that all of these muses require creating a product relatively from scratch. Are there any muses where someone sells a product that is already out there just not well known/easily available?

    Thanks,
    Matt

    Like

  55. Hey thanks! These case studies are very helpful. I especially liked you guys that are earning 25k / month! I put my ventures on auto pilot for the past 4 months to raise more capital via a day job (ug).

    I’m currently working some weeks upwards of 70-80 hours. It’s coming to an end soon though, I’m going to head back to work for myself and my partners.
    We’ve got some exciting stuff coming up and I hope I too can soon submit our successes. We are all teetering in the few hundred dollar range / month right now. I’ve been studying HARD to learn every edge I can and meet every body successful I can while working as well.

    As I previously said though, thanks for the post. These are VERY reassuring. Sometimes it almost seems unattainable or not possible but seeing is believing and this really fits the bill!

    Curious if there’s anybody out there in Tucson or Phoenix that would like to join our mastermind group when I head back to building my business??

    Like

  56. Time I sent something similar to Amy, but I did not know if it would ever get to you.

    As a fan, I immediately ordered the four hour body, and noticed on your title page that you support St Jude research through donations of royalties. One of our portfolio companies owns the technology that recently has been shown to possibly “cure” leukemia in children (see article from the St. Jude website), which is known as natural killer cells, or NK for short. It is very early stage but interesting none the less.

    We have had great success in getting interest from foundations and high net worths by suggesting that they donate “for a profit” by investing in companies that directly research these types of technologies. If it is successful, then potential profits can be pyramided into other companies providing more bang for the buck than just giving the capital away.

    Just a thought.

    Like

  57. To all of you who are wondering / asking.

    Before starting lapdawg i had a full time job, i raised the capital buy partnering with 2 other people and putting down 3k each.

    we all did our part working initially on the weekends, closer to launch i worked on it from 9pm to 2am. (for a few weeks).

    we all kept working full time even when we were making sales, because we only had a small inventory float. all monies made was directly put into buying more product, and i mean 100% of all sales went back to buying more. we did this cycle 3 times.

    before launching the time it took was about 6 months for research (part time hours). i realize that i said 6 months from idea to revenue for the post but it was actually 12 months from idea to that revenue area. (i mis read the question)

    I’m not going to get into profits or exact numbers because i feel that it is private information. much like asking a stranger how much you make. it’s none of anybody’s concern nor is it beneficial for this topic because whether the profits are 100% or 5% the purpose of tim’s post was to show people it’s possible. All i can say is if huge profit margins motivate you then get into software as a service but to run it as a lean startup i believe it to be incredible TOUGH if you or your partner(s) are not a talented programmers.

    i’m a relatively young guy and to describe it as a “muse” doesn’t do the work involved justice. It turned out to be difficult execution wise. a muse implied it is something simple and it wasn’t especially when your trying to go global. This was our first venture, and i have 2 more built from scratch projects coming online soon. we have learned a ton on how ecommerce / global trade works and figuring out the technical, marketing, financial, customer service, and delivery process will be a never ending process.

    but i’m strictly talking ecommerce / product development here, there is drop shipping, digital products, affiliate, lead gen, etc. which are completely different avenues of making money online.

    It’s 2010 folks, the world has never been this close, 6 billion people on earth and the future is ALL online.

    Like

  58. I’m surprised that one product wasn’t in this post – especially considering it got a post of its very own a while back – I can’t remember the name off the top of my head, but it was a hardcover case for the iPad.

    I was very impressed at how quickly the two entrepreneurs behind the venture had jumped so quickly aboard on that idea.

    Like

  59. Tim,

    Awesome post. I once considered doing consulting for leaders in businesses but realized that it wasn’t scalable (must like those in your post realize as well). I have started my own store but am in desperate need of a web designer to partner with in order to spruce up the page. Know if any good pages besides Elance to look for? It seems elance is just people looking to work for hourly rates while I’m looking more for a business partner. Any help from anyone would be appreciated.

    Also, the book is superb. As a fan of crossfit and military athlete workout programs, I appreciate the MRE that you have put forth in the book. I dont think the Army will appreciate my new founded rules for working out since we train to time not to standard and that time is usually an hour. We’ll see how it works out. Maybe you can demonstrate for a few 4 star generals and they can change it! Me, as a lowly captain, am unable to currently.

    John Childs

    Like