It finally happened. Last week, I launched my first product on this blog, and I’m making enough that I can stop doing everything else I was doing to make money online. I am now the world’s newest professional blogger.

How it happened is a story that’s been decades in the making, and I think it’s about time that I shared that story.

This story is long and personal and I don’t blame you if you don’t read it. But I do think you’ll find it interesting and beneficial, so you should read the whole thing. Looking back at it now that I’ve written the whole thing, it’s pretty amazing how I was pretty much destined from the beginning to be an unemployable professional blogger :)

[Note: Some version of this will probably become my about page in the near future.]

The beginning

Me climbing in Yosemite at 14.

Me climbing in Yosemite at 14 (sorry for the bad quality)

I started my first business when I was 5 or 6 years old. I sold my own artistic creations made out of glued-together popsicle sticks. I made little boxes and cups and other pieces of junk. I put together a little display thing out of a cardboard box lid an some rope and walked around the house, trying to get my siblings or parents to buy something. I managed to sell a couple boxes to my sister for a few dollars, and I was ecstatic. It was even more of a coup when I saw that my sister had quietly returned the items by sticking them under my bed. My sister was a saint, but at the time I just thought how awesome it was that I could just sell them again and make even MORE money.

My next business venture was selling Airheads (a type of candy) to my fourth grade classmates. My mom bought them for me in bulk from one of those buy-in-bulk warehouse stores and I resold them. The school store sold them for a dollar fifty, and I undercut them selling them for 75 cents. It was genius, and business boomed. But then the teacher found out and I was strictly forbidden to sell them. I mean, heaven forbid I should learn useful business skills as a youngster. It’s a good thing I was taught how to write cursive instead.

I originally got interested in making money online when I was 12, back in 1998. I was really into model rocketry at the time, and I had read a couple tutorials online about how to rig a camera onto a rocket so you could take aerial photos (I mean, what’s more awesome to a 12 year old than mixing explosives with spying on people?). I really wanted to build my own, but I needed a camera. The tutorials all recommended the same type of camera, and I needed to find that exact one. An author of one of the tutorials mentioned that he’d bought his camera off of this thing called eBay. So I checked it out.

At first I just bought things (and these were the pre-PayPal, check-or-money-order days!). And yes, I did find the right camera. But then I started selling stuff that I had laying around. And it was freaking awesome. Not only was I playing with explosives and spying on people with my aerial camera, but I was making money. Life was good.

The move(s)

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty, Kazakhstan (again, sorry for poor quality)

That all came to a halt when I was 14. That’s when my parents moved us to Kazakhstan, a big, empty country in Central Asia between Russia, China, and all the other -stan countries. This was less of a shock to my system than you would have thought. I was always an adventurous kid, and everything about Kazakhstan was one great big adventure. I loved every second of it.

My eBay activities stopped, of course, when we moved to Kazakhstan, and I never really thought much more about it. We moved to Beijing, China, in 2002. I didn’t do any eBay stuff from there, either, but I did start doing something that would come to dominate my life in later years. I started blogging.

It was just a lame Xanga blog, filled with my angst-ridden teenage stupidity. I wrote about the music I was listening to (gotta love those $1 pirated Chinese CDs…), the things I was doing and seeing in China, and my girl problems. Pretty standard stuff.

I kept writing on my Xanga blog when I moved back to America for my freshman year of college in 2004. And that’s when I got back into eBay.

I had been rock climbing on and off for years, but I was finally living on my own in a place where there was climbing 5 minutes away. So now I was climbing a lot. I was always looking on Craigslist and eBay for more and more gear to buy. Eventually I had all the gear I needed, but I kept looking for good deals out of habit. And then I started buying the stuff when I saw a good deal and re-selling it to make a profit. Especially lucrative were the groups of things that I could buy for a low price, split apart, and sell individually.

I didn’t know what I wanted to study in school, so I just mostly took the general classes I was require to take. I think my only elective that year was a Chinese class. When I wasn’t climbing or studying Chinese flash cards in the library, I was still buying and selling climbing stuff.

Life changed pretty dramatically yet again in 2005 when I went to Ukraine as a Mormon missionary. I was there for two years, learning Ukrainian and Russian, moving to a different city in western Ukraine every few months, helping people whenever and however I could, teaching English, and telling people about my church.

I lived here in L'viv, Ukraine, for about 6 months.

I lived here in L'viv, Ukraine, for about 6 months.

It’s an understatement to say that life is pretty interesting as a Mormon missionary. Everyone you talk to is either crying or yelling; crying because they are so grateful for what you’re bringing into their lives, or yelling because they think you are the devil incarnate. Religion is a funny thing; it can cause people who you’ve never met before and who know nothing about you to hate everything about you.

Those two years were extremely difficult, yet extremely rewarding. It was in Ukraine that I first got an inkling that I wanted to do something vaguely entrepreneurial with my life. I borrowed a book from an older American man there that that was called “1001 Home Business Ideas” or something like that. I just tried finding the book on Amazon but couldn’t. Anyway, I think I borrowed the book to get ideas for things to teach in our English classes, but the book just blew my mind. Yes! I wanted to start my own business and be my own boss!

I came back to the States in 2007 and went back to school. At first I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study, so I took a bunch of different classes about things like geology, European history, world religions, anthropology, and business. I was hoping something would hold my attention.

The book

It was around this time that I read The 4 Hour Work-Week by Tim Ferriss. I was wandering around the local book store and stopped by the business section. Propped up on a little table were a bazillion copies of the book. The title intrigued me, so I read the back cover. That intrigued me even more, so I started reading the book right there in the store.

I was still buying and selling climbing gear on eBay, so I was making a little money, but I was more or less your typical poor college student. I couldn’t afford to buy the book, so I came back a few times over the next couple days to read the whole thing. I brought a notebook with me so I could take notes.

It’s almost become cliché to say this, but that book literally changed my life. Here was a guy who was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing: running a business, traveling, and doing whatever else he felt like doing. I had never read anything like it before, and it gave me hope that I could support myself by doing what I wanted. It felt good to know that I wasn’t super weird for wanting what I wanted.

After about a year in school I finally declared myself an information systems major. Information systems is a marriage of business and technology, and it seemed like a good fit in theory. I felt that information systems would help me be a good entrepreneur. I got a loan from my parents started a business called Happy Shanty. The plan was to buy electronics for super cheap from a wholesaler and sell them to poor college students. It never got very far off the ground, but I’m pleased to say that I was able to repay my parents in full.

I started a few other businesses (all of which eventually failed), started blogging some more, and kept learning everything I could about business.


I wasn't uber focused on my studies.

So... I wasn't always uber focused on my studies.

I had to take some prerequisites before I could take the core information systems classes. These included math, programming, economics, marketing, and statistics classes. At the end of another year of school I sat back and analyzed what I was doing, and I realized that I hated every single one of those prerequisite classes. Hmmm…

I then switched my major to linguistics. I had taken a linguistics class somewhere in there and I found it pretty interesting, so I went with it. I often tell people that I studied linguistics in school because it was what I hated least. Talking about languages was fun and easy, but I never had any interest in actually becoming a linguist as a profession. The plan was always to have my own businesses.

Since I’d already taken so many business-related classes, I realized I could minor in business. So I did that until I had a nervous breakown (that’s another story) and dropped my finance and math classes mid-semester. I’m just not a numbers person; they terrify and confuse me. Those were the last two classes I needed for my business minor, but I never retook them.

And since I could speak Russian, I thought, “Hey, I might as well get a Russian minor, too.” I tested out of a bunch of the lower level Russian classes and took a couple more of the higher level ones. I ended up fulfilling all of the requirements for a Russian minor except doing a study abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was just too expensive, so I never got my Russian minor. (I have been to St. Petersburg, though, and it’s an absolutely beautiful city!)

One requirement for the linguistics major was to get a minor in either TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), editing, or CHum (computers and the humanities, whatever that means). I chose editing. Most of the classes were pretty interesting and dealt with writing, design, or English grammar. But the best class by far (maybe even the best one I took in me entire college career?) was “Introduction to Print Publishing.”

This class was essentially about document design. That is, we learned how to create books, flyers, magazines, newsletters, and the like. We were taught to use Adobe InDesign and Photoshop (though I’d already been using Photoshop for years). I dominated the class, and at the end of the semester, the professor recommended me to be the TA (teaching assistant) for another professor that was going to start teaching the class. So for a semester I got paid to hone my InDesign and Photoshop skills even more by teaching them to others.

It was a good setup, but I still hated it. I just bitterly hated working for someone else. Oh, and I had started another couple projects that had ultimately failed. No surprises there. I just have a very short attention span when it comes to these things. I get distracted easily by every shiny new prospect and idea. I have lots and lots of ideas. Such is my blessing and my curse.

By some miracle, I was eventually able to graduate in December 2010 with a degree in linguistics and a minor in editing. But as I said, I had no plans to be a linguist. I had started Blogging Bookshelf by then.

The plan

Me angry

These days I can usually be found in various states of distress (and unshaven-ness) in front of my computer.

Blogging Bookshelf (the blog you’re reading now) was to be my blog to end all blogs. Over the years I’d started a couple dozen blogs but always eventually ended up shutting them down for one reason or another. But I’d learned a lot about how to run a successful blog, and I knew I could write about it in a way that was more helpful, interesting, and entertaining than what others were doing.

I started Blogging Bookshelf in October 2010. I had lots of ideas for products that went beyond the normal, crappy “How to blog” ebooks out there, but first I felt like I needed to build up the blog, build up my authority and credibility, and build up a following before I could launch a product.

During those months of writing and promotion, I made very little money through the blog. But I knew that would be the case. I had little interest in affiliate marketing or paid posts or anything like that. I wanted to create and sell products, and that was that. I knew the money would come eventually. In the mean time, I wrote paid posts for other blogs, did some freelance editing, did some blog consulting, and bought and sold domain names. Oh, and I kept buying and selling climbing gear.

I launched my first product, Infographic Academy [I’m doubling the price next week, by the way, so buy it now!], at the beginning of June 2011. The launch went well and it became clear to me that I didn’t have to do any of those other things anymore to make money; I was making enough from the product that I could focus on marketing it and working on other products. The amount I make is still tiny, but I’m single and live a frugal life. Most importantly, I’m finally my own boss and doing what I love.

And voila. After more than a decade of starting businesses and trying successfully and unsuccessfully to make money online, I’m the world’s newest professional blogger.

Final words

If you managed to make it all the way through that, you’re a champ and I salute you. I hope you found it somewhat interesting, but more importantly, I hope you learned something, and maybe even were inspired.

I will keep writing about blogging here on Blogging Bookshelf, but I’m also going to start writing more about infoproducts and lifestyle design. In fact, I just changed the BB logo a bit to reflect this. I’ll keep launching new products, and I’ll keep using Blogging Bookshelf as the home base of my little internet business.

And most importantly, I’ll keep doing what I love. Because that’s the only thing I’ve ever been any good at anyway.

  • What’s YOUR story?
  • How did you get started blogging?
  • What are your goals for your blog or your life?