Engineering a “Muse” – Volume 4: Case Studies of Successful Cash-Flow Businesses

164 Comments


The Square36 yoga mat earns $10,000-$25,000 per month for Bob Maydonik.

One common challenge for readers of The 4-Hour Workweek is the creation of a “muse”: a low-maintenance business that generates significant income. Such a muse is leveraged to finance your ideal lifestyle, which we calculate precisely based on Target Monthly Income (TMI).

I’ve received hundreds of successful case studies via e-mail, and more than 1,000 new businesses were created during last year’s Shopify competition (If you haven’t already, sign up for this year’s contest here), but I’ve presented only a handful of them.

In this installment, I’ll showcase three diverse muses, including lessons learned, what worked, and what didn’t. Income ranges from $1,000 – $25,000 per month…

“Square 36″ by Bob Maydonik

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences.
Oversize yoga mat.

What is the website for your muse?
http://www.square36.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?
1.5 years

How did you decide on this muse?
I was doing P90X and was annoyed by how inadequate my typical yoga mat was. My good friend, who is also an entrepreneur, convinced me that we should give Tim’s formula a try. So we plugged our big yoga mat concept into the 4HWW business model, and that’s how everything got started.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?
We thought about doing a free-standing pull-up bar (and we’re actually still considering this). We also considered rings that could be attached in a door way frame for doing pull-ups, like gymnastic rings for home-based workouts. We rejected the rings for a few reasons: (1) RingTraining.com was already doing it, and (2) we were going to have to deal with a few different manufacturers to have one product made. It was too complicated and wasn’t worth the hassle. More importantly, the market for ring trainers is much smaller than the market for yoga mats.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
Sorry, no major tipping point moments for us. We’re both entrepreneurs and were already part of the New Rich!

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?
Alibaba.com to source our manufacturer. We also really lucked out with Google Adwords. Google built our Adwords campaign for us, then they gave us seed money credit to launch it… all for free.

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
Our biggest mistake occurred when we ordered our first 20 prototypes. We bought a large roll of PVC mat and asked the yoga supply wholesaler who we bought it from to cut them into 6′ x 6′ mats. If you look on this yoga wholesaler’s website now, you’ll see they totally ripped off our idea (they took a picture of our mat) and took credit for it. We dealt with this by changing the color of our mat to black, amping up the density and thickness, then de-bossing it with our logo. Luckily, the wholesaler has done a crappy job marketing his product. I don’t think he’s affected our sales too much, but it’s still a piss-off.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?
Key manufacturing lesson: Guangxhi (Mandarin for ‘connection’). This is how the Chinese do business. When you meet, you talk about your family for two hours, then discuss pricing/terms for the last 10 minutes. If you go out for beers with the factory manager, you will get way better pricing/terms.

Marketing lesson: it matters what time of day your ads appear. Most people aren’t shopping online during their workday. Ads that appear on weekday nights are best.

Also, incorporating the cost of shipping into our price and advertising “FREE SHIPPING” has been pretty effective for our Google Adwords campaign.

If you used a manufacturer, how did you find them? What are your suggestions for first-timers?
We found our manufacturer using Alibaba. My suggestion is to find a minimum of three manufacturers who can make what you want. If you’re dealing in China, there’s a good chance all of your manufacturers will be in the same town (different towns seem to specialize in manufacturing one type of product). Go and visit with them all personally. Chinese manufacturers will almost always tell you that they can do what you want, but when you actually meet with them in-person and show them what you want, 2/3 of them will not be capable of producing your product. We visited five factories for our mat, all of which assured us through e-mail that they could produce our product. Only one of the five factories actually could.

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?
The New Rules of Marketing and PR” by David Meerman Scott is a killer book on PR/media. However, we haven’t really done a lot of PR/media stuff for Square36. We focused a lot of energy on retail after reading “This Business has Legs” about the ThighMaster. We will be testing in 10 Costco stores across Canada, and are also in negotiations with another large Canadian retailer.

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

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

If you used a web designer, where did you find them?
I was lucky: my web designer was my former next-door neighbor.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I’d probably pick a product that’s easier to ship. A 6′ x 6′ yoga mat that weighs ten pounds is not as easy to ship as a pair of shoes or a DVD. Plus, you can fit a much smaller product in a Sea-Can, which would be a nice savings.

What’s next?!
Counting dollars and sending Tim a mat :) Thanks for the inspiration.

[NOTE: Readers of this blog get a discount on Bob's yoga mats with the coupon code 'tferriss']

“iFlip Wallet” by Vincent Ko

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences.
The iFlip is a niche product that combines the style of a leather iPhone case with the functionality of a flip wallet. Our product is for minimalist iPhone owners who are looking to carry everything in one package.

What is the website for your muse?
http://iFlipWallet.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?
3 months

How did you decide on this muse?
Right before returning for my senior year of college, I received an iPhone as a birthday present. Form-fitting jeans were the style around campus and having pockets bulging with an iPhone and thick wallet looked pretty stupid. I evaluated whether I needed all the items in my wallet, and came to the realization that the only things I really needed to carry around on a daily basis were my ID, credit card, a $20 bill, and my iPhone. That’s when I envisioned an iPhone case that also acted as a wallet. When I went online and couldn’t find that type of product, I decided to create it myself.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?
Prior to reading the 4HWW, I was actually selling fold-up beer pong tables online. It was a fun product to sell as a college student. However, beer pong tables are huge and heavy. Logistics and shipping from a rented out warehouse soon became too much of a hassle. Along with growing competitors, import tariffs, and shrinking margins, I knew I had to call it quits on a profitable business. The time spent was not equal to the financial output. I traded-in 30 pound beer pong tables for 3 oz. iPhone wallets.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
My A-ha moment was the first time I went online searching for an iPhone wallet. When I found the only product out there was an iPhone case that looked like a mini-purse, a light bulb went off: create an iPhone wallet case that guys would want to buy.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?
The best resource was learning directly from other muse owners and entrepreneurs. For instance, Mixergy.com does a great job of putting out interviews with entrepreneurs who have been successful. Taking those nuggets of wisdom and implementing them into my business has been extremely helpful. This includes everything from tactics for increasing conversion, tracking statistics, sales language, and more.

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
The biggest marketing lesson I learned was: you have to get your product in front of people searching for it. Initially, I was advertising on iPhone-related sites. It was only after I invested money into getting my site in front of people specifically searching for “iPhone Wallet” was I successful. This naturally led to me working on SEO for particular keywords.

If you used a manufacturer, how did you find them? What are your suggestions for first-timers?
I found my manufacturer on Alibaba. My suggestion for first-timers is to find the supplier that currently manufactures a product as close to the product you are envisioning, then tweak that product to fit your specifications. I found that creating a custom product from scratch was not only hard to communicate but very expensive. The iFlip was actually a modification of an iPhone case that my manufacturer was already producing.

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?
I was able to get my product featured on some iPhone accessory blogs by creating a template e-mail and sending out custom messages to sites I thought would be interested. I told all of them that I was a college student who had created a unique product that solved a simple problem.

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

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

If you used a web designer, where did you find them?
I actually designed the site myself. I took a template I purchased at ThemeForest.net for $15 and tweaked the text and images in Dreamweaver. However, I did hire help for SEO. I found two people on oDesk to create backlinks and submit the site to directories.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I have a short video that demonstrates my product. After putting it on my site, sales increased by 25%. I believe that potential customers who see your product in-action not only understand it better but are also more inclined to purchase. If I were to do it again, I would have implemented the video sooner.

What’s next?!
Creating more muses! The iFlip was developed by creating a product I wanted for myself but currently was not on the market. I have teamed up with a college buddy to create several new muses. The key is that we only create products we would use, then we strategically think about the best way to market the product to ourselves. It is a fun process :)

“Keynotopia” by Amir Khella


Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences.
User interface libraries for turning Apple Keynote and Microsoft Powerpoint into interactive prototyping tools.

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

How much revenue is your muse currently generating per month (on average)?
$5,000 – $10,000 per month

To get to this monthly revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?
3 hours

How did you decide on this muse?
I’d been creating and using these libraries for awhile in my consulting gigs, but wasn’t sure they would be useful to anyone else. One day, I was playing around with my iPad and challenged myself to prototype something in 30 minutes. I did, and it worked on the iPad almost flawlessly.

I wanted to do a quick test to see if this would be useful to anyone else, so I wrote a step-by-step blog post and created a video showing the end result. I also included a downloadable zip file containing the iPad interface library with the blog post. Three weeks later, I had over 10,000 views on the post and over 500 downloads of the archive file. One evening, I thought about prototyping a quick website to see if anyone would buy the libraries if I charged for them. Three hours later, I had a premium WordPress theme linked with an e-junkie shopping cart and I posted a link at the bottom of the original blog post.

The website made its first sale after roughly 10 minutes of being online (The original version of the site looked too ugly – at least for me, as a designer – that I thought about pulling it down, but that first sale told me otherwise).

The full story behind this experiment can be found here.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?
Developing plug-ins for Keynote and Powerpoint. I wanted a product with a very low barrier-to-entry so I could quickly test it, and these templates were the fastest. Now I can confidently develop these plug-ins, knowing that I already have hundreds of paying customers who can use them.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
The biggest tipping point was waking up one day to find more money in my bank account. That was a paradigm shift, as my income was no longer coupled with my time. Instead of consulting/freelancing (trading time for money), I had invested some upfront time to create a system that worked hard for me.

Here are a few other “A-ha!” moments:

- Realizing the first prototype doesn’t need to look pretty, it just needs to work. Instead of spending days (potentially weeks) reinventing the wheel and creating my own e-commerce site, I just bought something that was good enough and tried it out. Total cost: $47.50 ($5 hosting, $7.50 domain, and $35 WordPress theme).

- People buy benefits: if it weren’t for the original blog post, I doubt that I’d have 1/100 of the sales I have now. The blog post continues to be the highest traffic generator for the site, because it shows people what they get out of the product (not just how they can use it).

- Aggressive testing: For Keynotopia’s landing page, I tested over 29 iterations for the copy and layout, reducing the bounce rate from 59% to 12% in less than 30 days.

- Byproducts can be profitable: The UI libraries had been sitting on my hard drive for months before I’d decided to share them. I didn’t consciously sit down to create a business by making the libraries and selling them; they came as a byproduct of working with clients, and all I needed to do was to create a system that delivered them.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?
WordPress + Premium themes
Google website optimizer
e-Junkie
TextMate (Mac)

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
Banner ads. They don’t generate much traffic (compared with AdWords) because they are placed in websites/blogs where people are already distracted by other information, and may not be actively looking for a solution.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?
Great free content (blog posts + videos) converts better than $1000’s in advertising.

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?
The libraries have been mentioned by some of the top UI designers (including a blog mention from Adaptive Path). I basically reached out to bloggers who had written similar content, left them thoughtful comments, and sometimes shared a free copy of the libraries with them. In the beginning, almost nothing happened, but then the mentions started to snowball.

Giving away a freebie on a well-known blog has helped tremendously with building a strong rank on Google. I gave away a simplified version of the libraries on SmashingMagazine (one of the top design blogs in the world), they wrote a post about it, and it literally brought down the server.

Finally, sharing the story behind the product helps too. I wrote a blog post on how I prototyped the product and it was on the homepage of Hacker News for more than 24 hours. Again, lots of traffic and good back-links.

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

Where did you decide to host your domain?
http://1and1.com

If you used a web designer, where did you find them?
Nope. Just a premium WordPress template.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Do it much earlier. I waited too long to build up enough confidence and discover that what I had built was useful enough to sell.

What’s next?!
Having paying customers is great because they send all kinds of questions and requests. I have great customer service (I personally reply to all emails and tweets), and I have a long wish-list of what they’d like me to build next!

###

Do you have a successful muse that’s generating more than $1,000 per month?

Please tell me about it! If it stands out (meaning you give specific details of lessons learned and what’s worked vs. what didn’t), I’m happy to promote you and help further increase your revenue. If you qualify and this sounds like fun, please fill out this form.

Both physical and digital goods are welcome, as are services, as long as they’re low-maintenance, income-generating “muses” as described in The 4-Hour Workweek.

Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series can be found here.

164 Comments / Leave a comment or question

Free $1,000 Travelocity Voucher and $10,000 Spots to Kimono

699 Comments


(Photo: Royce Bair)

Hello lads and lasses. This post is intended as a morsel, a sugar high and respite. Life is serious enough, so this post will require zero calories of brain power.

Not to worry, of course, as we’ll be back to our regular content with the next how-to post.

In the meantime, some goodies: the “Kimono” winners and a $1,000 travel voucher giveaway.

KIMONO SPOTS

Congratulations, after much tallying and consideration, to the winners of the $10,000 spots to the “Opening the Kimono” event! Please keep an eye on your inbox for follow-up details:

- Sheila McCarthy (votes)
– Jacqueline Biggs (“wild card” views)

First, sincere thanks to all who submitted video case studies, even those who re-submitted old videos and therefore weren’t eligible. Second, HUGE thanks to Dustin “America’s Trainer to the Moms” Maher for making the “wild card” scholarship possible — you rock!

Three honorable mentions for the “wild card” seat are below (out of dozens of great videos), and one includes a pic of me drunk at my London book launch. Oh, Internet, you hurt so good T_T

Two of them highlight post-4-Hour Workweek (now 2,172 reviews!) travel adventures:

$1,000 TRAVELOCITY TRAVEL VOUCHER — GIVEAWAY DETAILS

Alright, moving on…

I wanted to have some fun and get people traveling. “But I can’t travel… it costs too much!” is a common refrain. Partnering with a new start-up called PunchTab, I wanted to remove this barrier.

Here’s how it will work, as PunchTab explains:

Entering the giveaway is simple and takes only 30 seconds. Register by connecting to the giveaway widget below using Facebook. For each step you complete, you’ll earn a giveaway entry:

1. Like this blog post by clicking on the Facebook Like button (+1 entry).
2. Become a fan of Tim Ferriss on Facebook (+1 entry).
3. Leave a comment telling me where you’ll go and what you’ll do there (+1 entry).
4. Tweet about the giveaway (+1 entry).
5. Unlimited bonus entries by pasting your invite link everywhere you can. For example:

- For every friend who clicks the invite link you Tweeted in step 4, you’ll earn +1 entries.
– For every friend who then joins the giveaway, you’ll earn +5 entries.

Giveaway ends June 30, 2011 at midnight PST. Open to residents of North America.

Enjoy! Attack! Discuss!

699 Comments / Leave a comment or question

The Finals: Scholarship for Opening the Kimono

191 Comments


(Photo: Markal)

NOTE: VOTING HAS ENDED — THANKS!

Please find below the finalists for the scholarship spot to the $10,000 Opening The Kimono event (all semi-finalist videos here).

There are nine contenders, listed in no particular order. Please watch the videos and vote on your single favorite at the bottom of this post. Two important things to note — achtung!

1) Voting ends next Thursday, June 9, at 11pm PST.

2) Because there were so many outstanding videos, I’m offering a second “wild card” scholarship. That’s right — another $10,000 spot, though you’ll need to cover flights and hotel, just like the other scholarship. Here’s how it works… Read More

191 Comments / Leave a comment or question

Semi-Finals: Scholarship for Opening the Kimono

121 Comments


(Photo: Josh Liba)

NOTE: VOTING HAS ENDED — THANKS!

Once again, I have been BLOWN AWAY by you all.

Please find below the semi-finalists for the scholarship spot to the $10,000 Opening The Kimono™ event.

There are 26, listed in no particular order, as we could not narrow it down further. The case studies range from parents to students, from snowboarding to software, from Berlin to British Columbia. Here’s the next step:

1) Each video is a combination of three video submissions. After watching each video, vote for your favorite of the three applicants. Voting ends this Thursday, May 12th, at 12 midnight PST.

2) Once tallied, this round of voting will decide the 8-10 finalists for the next round.

Much like the Cold Remedy video case studies, these videos remind me of how much I owe you all. This kind of feedback is the reason that I continue to write, despite how hard it is for me, and why I love this community so much.

Thank you.

I hope you love these as much as I did. If you need a little inspiration, these are exactly what the doctor ordered.

Enjoy!

NOTE: VOTING HAS ENDED — THANKS!

NOTE: VOTING HAS ENDED — THANKS!

###

Odds and Ends: Tim in Germany

I’m leaving from SFO for Germany as I type this, where I’ll be for 1-2 weeks, mostly in Berlin.

Anyone want to throw a big party? Know any club owners so we can blow it out? Other recommendations for fun in Berlin? Can’t wait to rediscover it, as I haven’t been since 2004.

Danke!

121 Comments / Leave a comment or question

Engineering a “Muse” – Volume 3: Case Studies of Successful Cash-Flow Businesses

263 Comments

One common challenge for readers of The 4-Hour Workweek is the creation of a “muse”: a low-maintenance business that generates significant income. Such a muse is leveraged to finance your ideal lifestyle, which we calculate precisely based on Target Monthly Income (TMI).

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 them.

In this installment, I’ll showcase three diverse muses, including lessons learned, what worked, and what didn’t. Income ranges from $2,500 – $25,000 per month… Read More

263 Comments / Leave a comment or question

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

218 Comments


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… Read More

218 Comments / Leave a comment or question

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

457 Comments

This post has been in the works for a while.

One common challenge for readers of The 4-Hour Workweek is the creation of a “muse”: a low-maintenance business that generates significant income. Such a muse is leveraged to finance your ideal lifestyle, which we calculate precisely based on Target Monthly Income (TMI).

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. Here are a few dozen we’ve covered:

How to Sell 10,000 iPad Cases at $60 Each (and Other Lessons Learned)
18 Real-World Lifestyle Design Case Studies [VIDEOS]

In this post, I’ll showcase four successful muses inspired by The 4-Hour Workweek, including lessons learned, what worked, and what didn’t… Read More

457 Comments / Leave a comment or question