If you have been following my blog closely, you probably already know that I failed multiple times before I managed to create a successful venture. I started my career early and I always thought that it was going to be much easier than it actually was. As you probably know by now, it’s never as easy as it looks, so I guess that was the very first lesson I had to learn on my way to getting something right.
A few days ago, I was at a dinner with my wife and a couple of friends, and someone asked me how I started. I started telling everything from the beginning, while realizing that the roller coaster of failures and successes has taught me many things, and that was the actual reason I moved forward. Every painful and expensive failure was a stepping stone, extremely important for my process of growing up.
Failure #1 – Gaming Website & .PDF Magazine
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I was a gaming enthusiast. That was the best thing ever! When I got my first Xbox, I was the happiest kid in the world. It was an old and beat up console I bought from someone else, but to me, that was the biggest purchase ever and I was incredibly proud with it. I spent my summer working with my grandfather, saving up enough to buy a gaming console.
After I got it, I quickly started to join gaming communities online. I joined the most popular website in my country (at the time) and found other people that play and like the same games as I did. It was like a whole new world. The Internet was also a new concept in our house, so nobody even paid serious attention to it, except me and my younger brother. IT took me only 6 months to become one of the most active user in the community and the internet “fame” got me really excited (probably because I was a nerd in real life).
One day, I came home from school and found out that my user was suspended. I opened up my email to find out that I was suspended for “violating the rules”, without any further notice or explanation. I quickly ‘skyped’ the admin and he explained that because I was arguing with one of the moderators the day before, they had to ban me for good.
I was devastated. “Why the hell am I suspended?”. Just so you understand, I was a skater-nerd kid in Eastern Europe. Ban from my favorite gaming website was the worst thing in my life. I basically disagreed with the moderator. Didn’t even curse or say anything offensive. Whatever… now I wouldn’t even care for such a stupid thing, but back then it was the worst thing that ever happened. I was a very emotional and not going to lie – I cried. After only a couple of days, I decided that I am not going to let that fly.
But let me just give you a little background on who I am and why I am this way. I was born and raised in Bulgaria. Bulgaria is located in Eastern Europe. In 1989 the communist regime fell and people became “free”. I don’t want to get into politics but I want to tell you one thing – for the next 20 years things sucked really bad. My family like many others was struggling to make a decent living regardless of the fact that most of them were highly educated. Some of my family members immigrated to South Africa, others went to Turkey and Israel.
Not my parents. They stayed, hoping for the better. I don’t blame them because It wasn’t necessarily a bad place, but in terms of making a decent living – It f*cking sucked. Me and my brother were raised dirt poor, and that was the reason I was constantly “up to something” which later on made me who I am today.
I LOVE WORKING and every single thing I do is a great pleasure. I don’t look at any of my business ventures as an actual work, because I am enjoying it regardless of the amount of hours it takes. If at any point I sound like Gary Vaynerchuck it’s not because I’m a copycat. It’s because we are coming from a very similar background it happened that most Eastern European immigrants who come to America are like this.
Sooooo when I got kicked out of the gaming community….
…I decided to start my own website….
Of course, I didn’t know absolutely anything about websites. At the time, the closest thing to html I knew was how to format my topic in the forums, using <b>, <h1>, <h2>…. etc.
Funny! I didn’t have any special skills besides playing video games and skateboarding, but unfortunately none of the above were useful in web development. So I just did the only thing I could think of…. I Googled –
“How to Build a Website?”
Without getting into the details let’s just say that I spent the next couple months reading about web development, hosting, graphic design and everything you could possibly think of.
I did it! The website was live nearly 4 months later. I had a writing team consisting of me, my brother and my best friend. We had it going! Quickly I got contacted by a bunch of torrent websites for permission to use my screenshots and previews for the games. We had 2000 visitors per day. I was killing it (at least that’s what I thought). However I didn’t make a single dollar.
Obviously there is a big difference between “building a website” and “running a successful website with a good content”. I didn’t even realize how much work and money is going to take to have this so called “business” running. I couldn’t even afford to pay the hosting of my website. In fact, I was borrowing money from my mom to pay for the server of the website, which was getting expensive.
It was going out of hand, but because I was reading online about how to run a business, I came up with the “genius” idea to bring an investor on board. Of course keeping in mind I was already 13-14 years old I didn’t know anybody who would chip -in with any serious money. I brought on board a friend of mine who was supposed to “finance” the website. He was one of my best friends. He was working for his dad, so he offered to help with the server expenses. We were thinking that after a while we can start “selling” advertising, so basically I was confident that we will be able to monetize the website and pay everyone back.
The time went by. It was almost year and a half later. All of my friends were already tired of me asking them to help me generate more content. My friend also said that if weren’t able to monetize by now, it will probably never happen. I was trying to keep it together. Because I was skipping classes, most of the time, I was busy designing the new look of the website and writing articles. I really wanted to make it and proof everyone wrong, but the more time was passing, the more desperate I felt. After nearly 2.5 years of running the website, we were out of money, struggling to catch up with the content and receiving ZERO profit.
I was just about shut it down due to the expensive hosting and the lack of advertising.
Right before we completely shut down the website, I had one last thing to try. For a long time I wanted to do a digital magazine. I was going to do 1 issue just to see what would to happen. Basically, an online version of a real magazine with the pages and everything. I quickly found software that could do that and I was simply uploading the finished .PDF to the software. I found some of the covers so you can get an idea how lame everything was.
The first issue came out
In less than 24 hours, the magazine was viewed 5,000 times. That gave me hope. I got really excited and started researching how I could sell the advertisement space on the magazine. Before issue 2 was finished, I already had an offer from the biggest game distributor in the country. We were about to get paid. People were reaching out and the whole thing got much more exciting. All of my friends already had left “the company”, but the things were getting interesting.
I finally got paid. I was so excited to tell my family! I told my mom – “Look, I got paid $2,000”. Quick Note: that amount of money, back then, in Eastern Europe was like if you get paid $10K today in the US. Huge and especially for my age.
I will never forget what my mom did. She took the money, counted $1500 and gave me the rest. “Here is for the hosting I’ve been helping you with.” I didn’t know what to say, but basically she was right. I was making money with some web development side gigs here and there to help my project, but basically she did pay my server expenses for a very long time and it was fair to pay her back.
Long story short – That was the only time I got paid for an advertising. It turned out that in order for you to sell advertising, you need to proof some metrics and actually be able to bring some actual advertising value. My magazine had none. Bunch of geeks reading it didn’t mean anything, because in reality nobody was buying games or paying for anything related to them.
Reminder: Eastern Europe. Everyone was downloading “Cracked” games like crazy and it turned out that my products had no actual value.
Let me tell you something about the gamers in my country. They speak English pretty good. Why would someone visit my website or read my magazine, when they can just go online and check what’s new on IGN or any other gaming website. The short wave of success I had was purely based on luck and nothing else. The moment I realized all that was the moment I decided to close it down. I had an offer to sell the whole thing to someone and by doing so, I just proved what I already knew. The budget wasn’t the problem. The hard work wasn’t the only key. The timing and the place were a major key to the success of the project and they weren’t right. Selling the project to someone with a lot more money just proved my point. The company quickly realized what I already knew and shut down the project for good.
Yeah everyone was laughing at me then. Yes I did miss a lot of good parties, where everyone was chilling while I was writing a review of Forza 2. Maybe everyone thinks that I wasted my time, but in every single step I took for the past 10 years took me where I am.
And by the way I’m not talking about $2M in gross revenue at the age of 25. That’s cool, but the way I feel about my journey for the past 10 and the next 70 years is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
Business World vs Boris
Stay tuned for Pt. 2. Please let me know what do you think in the comments.