Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our clients, friends, and family! Traughber Design just delivered its final sale of 2017 last week, and we thought this was a good time to thank our community of supporters and reflect on the past year.
This was our third full year of operation and the business is now profitable! We invested quite a bit in tools the first year, and we continued to build our client base the second year. This year we delivered 17 commissions (plus one pro bono project) with a wide variety of projects and have 1 commission in progress in the shop.
Traffic continues to grow to the blog and we have had over 2,800 unique visitors and 5,900 page views. We’ve published almost 60 posts now and have many more ideas for posts in 2018.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over this 3 year journey is persistence. Most small businesses fail, and I wonder how many were on the cusp of success if their owners had just kept at it. Speaking of which, I’m grinding my way through David McCullough’s 1100 page biography (called “Truman“) of Harry S. Truman and the President’s persistence when everyone wrote him off is absolutely stunning. Check out this passage from the book which references a Newsweek poll of the biggest writers of the day: “Of the writers polled, not one thought Truman would win. The vote was unanimous, 50 for Dewey, 0 for Truman. “The landslide for Dewey will sweep the country,’ the magazine announced. Further, the Republicans would keep control in the Senate and increase their majority in the House. The election was as good as over.” As we all know from the history books, Truman won the election in 1948. He never gave up. The same goes for a small business; you have to believe you are going to win, just as Harry S. Truman did in 1948.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, please continue to support your local artisan ecosystem. Local small businesses are all tied together and a dollar spent with Traughber Design flows to other businesses, like hardwood dealers, tool vendors, glass manufacturers, etc.
Looking forward, soon the Air Force will be kicking me out after 30 years of service, and I’m excited to pursue Traughber Design full time. I will be on terminal leave at the end of 2018, and we will see what other exciting commissions come our way.
(Thursday night) We got kicked out of the house! Given that we’ve been banished, it seemed like an opportune time to update the blog. Some of you have asked “Jerry, what’s up with the blog?” Well, it’s three things. First, I’ve been busy keeping the world safe for democracy in my day job. Mrs Woodworker won’t let me retire, so we have 23 more months to go. Second, Traughber Design has been swamped with orders, which is a good thing. Third, we’ve been getting the house ready to sell so we can continue our minimalism journey. That’s the reason we got kicked out of the house tonight: our realtor told us to beat it for the open house. That actually turned out to be a blessing since we caught up on our Five Guys addiction and it gave me some time to update you on the happenings at Traughber Design.
As far as those commissions, many thanks to Lisa Love for the furniture repair commission, Jeremy Wood for the woodturning commission, and neighbor Dave Strong for commissioning two home base footstools. Dave also commissioned some baseball bat stools which we’re working on. And a huge thank you to Dr Steve Ford for his gun cabinet commission (see our first post about that commission here). Speaking of which…
The picture above shows the glue up we did today attaching the face frame of the gun cabinet to the cabinet itself. Believe it or not, it took almost 40 hours to get to that point. The cabinet involves over 70 pieces and it took some time to carefully select each piece to match grain and avoid knots in the raw boards. In order to maximize efficiency, I cut all the 70 pieces at once so I didn’t have to keep switching back and forth between tools later. Not that it wasn’t fun, though. I enjoy letting the wood talk to me and tell me what each part wants to be. It’s also important to finish sand certain parts before gluing since they won’t be accessible once they are glued together. When finish sanding with three grits (80, 120, and 180) it takes some time. Be sure you are not sanding where the joints glue together, however, or you won’t get a solid bond. In the next step we’ll cut the two back panels which consist of black walnut plywood. After that, we start working on the base molding and crown molding which will be three carefully routed pieces glued together in an intricate pattern.
While projects like Steve’s are drying, I flip over to the second project, in this case the baseball bat stool. Thanks to Jacob Hummitzsch for his engineering prowess on this one. We jerry rigged a frame to hold the bats in place and to get the angles right for the stools. Now I just need to drill the holes and dry fit everything together. With any luck, I’ll post an update with pictures when that stool is done.
Last week we passed 1000 readers of the blog! Many thanks to all of you for spending the time here and your support. As you can see from the picture, the blog seems to be really taking off, which is encouraging since we just launched on September 8th.
We’ve learned many things about blogging and launching this digital side of Traughber Design which I’ll share in a future blog post, but just wanted to mark this milestone and pass along my thanks to all of you!
This is the Part Three of our interview with Mo Johnson, the owner of Better Display Cases. For Part One click here. For Part Two click here.
So how was that transition going from the military to being an entrepreneur? Although, I suppose you always were one, weren’t you?
That’s why it’s hard. I never really decided to be one. I never finished that story of how I got into display cases. I always had the idea of being an entrepreneur. I applied for other (government) jobs and none of those panned out. In retrospect, I spent a lot of time applying for jobs. I guess it was a waste of time. So I was separately doing different tracks. I’m not crazy; it’s not like I said I’ll never work for the government. It wasn’t like that. It just happened. I had a website which might still be up called Zero Risk Internet Marketing, and I was going to help small businesses improve their internet marketing and get paid for that. My zero risk concept, which I still think is a good concept, but it didn’t work for me…that’s what I was saying, things that work you invest more, and if they don’t you’ve got to quit. My concept with that is that I would work for free for people, but we would split the profits of whatever sales I was able to increase. Obviously there is a real problem with tracking that. How do you know what your impact was on a sales increase? I never really solved that problem. I worked for a couple people and helped them out, but they never paid.
I can see that would be a problem.
It was, what do you call it, a non-profit situation. So I was helping a lady, she was doing a website to help vets start businesses which is kind of, what’s the word?
Ironic? (both laughing)
That was me (a veteran), but she didn’t want to pay me. So I stopped that project. If you went to that website it looked pretty good and I never made a penny out of all that effort. I had a few months there where I still had government pay. At that point I decided I’d be a realtor. Not a bad idea. Maybe that would have worked out well. I have a website called PWCVA.com which I used to put a lot more effort into. It’s all local in Prince William County. So my idea was I would use that to market and be known. I would focus on representing military buyers, which is a great, great market if you can get ’em, because they are easy: they have guaranteed income. They can get the loans.
You can link up with USAA and their transition program.
They move a lot, so it’s high churn. All that sounded really good. I’ve always really liked real estate. I loved visiting houses and seeing what they’re like. I love that, actually. It was kind of fun for me. So that was what I was going to do. And I was beginning the process of studying for the real estate exam. One day, I don’t know why, for some reason, I searched Google for NFL Fatheads. I used to rank high for that search term with SECSportsfan. I think I was just curious. At that point I had given up on the idea of making money on the Internet. That’s impossible. And up popped somebody’s store on eBay. Like #2 or #3 in Google. I was like wow, that person’s doing pretty good. They’re getting a lot of good searches. Wonder how they’re doing it. So I went to their store. I wouldn’t have ever pursued anything except I would have figured well, somebody just got lucky. Maybe they put a lot of money into it. Maybe they know somebody. Maybe the New York Times wrote an article about them and that’s why they’re ranked. Who knows. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, except the guy who owned that page, I knew. He used to be a partner of mine. So I was like, if he can do it, I can do it. I know him. Right at that moment I had picked up the phone, and I called Fatheads. I said I want to sell Fatheads; how can I become a distributor? Luckily I got Lindsay Fraterolli. That’s the person I talked to. She signed me up, and she gave me a lot of tips along the way. I never would have made it without her. I started selling them on eBay, and it worked. I sold a lot of Fatheads that Christmas. That was December 2013. I had no job. I had nothing going for me. I did this thing with Fatheads. I was just amazed. I had tried so hard and gone through so much and it had just all just fallen apart really. They had a cash register. It used to go ka-ching, ka-ching. And I was just amazed. It was ka-ching, ka-ching. Ten, fifteen, as it got closer to Christmas is was twenty times a day. To me, that was amazing. I was making, I don’t know, ten or fifteen bucks on each one. You add that up it’s a few hundred dollars a day.
Not bad. Not bad.
The only limit was they had limits on the eBay account. They had limits on how much you could sell. I would hit that limit every day and kept calling them every day and ask for exceptions. They kept trying to make it better. Once that happened, it was working. That’s it. I was on to that. One thing leads to another. I started selling Fatheads on eBay. I started selling football helmets on eBay. I found a guy who was a distributor wholesale. All this stuff I wasn’t buying, I was just getting the sale and it was drop shipping. Fathead was shipping it. I was making the money. I was selling a good bit. Growing, growing, growing. Then in January, eBay called me out of the blue and said “Hey, we see you’re selling sports-related stuff, do you have any display cases?” I said “What are you talking about?” They told me “People put collectibles in display cases, and we have a lot of demand for them and not a lot of supply so can you help us out?” I said ” I don’t have any, but I’ll look into it.” I looked around a lot. I tried to do the same thing I was doing with Fatheads and football helmets. I tried to find somebody I could buy them from and resell them. I just couldn’t really find anyone. I had a hard time with that. At the same time, I was looking for the next thing. I was in a lot of Facebook groups at the time. Somehow, I was involved in people talking about importing from China. That was big. It was just starting back then. The idea is you buy stuff in China, import it, resell it. I was already trying to figure out what I could do. It sounded like a good idea. Then I get this call from eBay out of the blue. I know there’s a good demand for it, and not much supply. It’s a pretty credible source if eBay is calling you.
Seems like a no-brainer.
I searched on Ali-Baba for display cases and lo and behold, and I didn’t know this, but China makes all the display cases in the world, for the most part. I got a couple samples from a couple different people. I ended up selecting a company to go with. That’s a whole story in and of itself. Part of the way that worked, I bought an ebook online from someone that had been an importer all their life. They wrote an ebook about it and they put in there if you buy my ebook I’ll help you out personally you can contact me with any questions. It’s pretty scary, the first time you’re sending somebody a $30,000, $40,000 check and you have to trust that it’s going to come. That’s a big deal. That’s why I’m saying, I was very fortunate. There are many places along the way where I was lucky. That’s why I wouldn’t tell someone to be an entrepreneur. I know where I’m at and it’s a good place, but it’s a risky place and could still fall apart. I know the stress and difficulty. That’s why I wouldn’t tell somebody to be an entrepreneur. You’ve got to be lucky. I chose one, but I wasn’t sure, there was something questionable about the payment they were asking for. I had this guy with the ebook and he looked into them assured me they look credible and go with them. And it worked out. They’ve been great. They’re a great partner. They make a great product and stand behind it if there are problems. I just haven’t ever had any problem, and obviously that’s crucial. So that’s how I got into display cases. So I still sell those, those are my three products. The display cases are the growing part of the business, because I can control it the most. I design them myself. All the cases are things I made up. I didn’t just copy someone else’s. I got generally speaking, ideas, but I set the measurements; they’re mine. No one makes them exactly the way we do. Once we started going then it’s been the feedback from the customers and also my employees who’ve come up with a lot of great ideas. That’s what’s really propelled the company. First it was just the basic products, which by the way at first, I stored in my house and shipped then from my house. Then I got a storage facility, Dumfries Self Storage. At first I started with one storage facility, when the first container from China came, it’s not going to fit in there. Luckily, and again I keep saying this word, it just so happened, because usually that place is full. They had another storage place right next to the one that I had already got open. So I was able to that day to go down and get both of them, and I needed both of them and so we filled up both of those storage places. I worked out of there for about a year, I guess. No electricity, no heat, no lights. That was difficult, in retrospect. That’s why I always, when ever people complain here, I’m like…
This is ten times better.
You have no idea. They’ll say we’re not going to have space for the next shipment. Believe me, we have space.
We’ll figure it out.
The things I did, no employee would ever do. Everything had to be stuffed in there. I didn’t have enough space. I’m not stupid. I know what stuff sells the most. I’d put the stuff that sold the most in front. But still, every once in a while a customer would order something that was way in the back. So my choice was either to pull everything out, or I would take my shoes off and climb on my stomach like a snake and go all the way to the back. I would be sweating like a pig coming out of there. I just remember all that. That’s helpful when you are growing to look back where you were and give yourself a pat on the back and realize how far you’ve come. You have to enjoy the ride. Otherwise it’s no fun at all.
It seems like the business is doing really well. You have a couple employees I met on the tour, and then you talked about a vacancy, and there’s a lot of turnover. How do you deal with all of that? That’s one of the challenges, right?
Yeah, that’s one of our biggest challenges is keeping employees. I have two great employees now and we had two other great ones. They were missionaries and they were called by God into the mission field.
You can’t really argue with that.
I can’t compete with that. I lost them. We’re just trying to replace them. There was so much we could do when Wayne was here. He did a listing on Indeed, I think it was. It was a great listing. Better than I ever could have done. I wouldn’t have thought of how to present the job in such a positive light as he did. We got flooded with applications. I was shocked. I always thought we would have a really hard time finding anyone. We got hundreds of applications. That was a lot of time to wade through that and talk to people. We went through that whole process. We picked somebody. He didn’t work out. I had to fire him, actually. We went to the next guy. It took awhile to figure out that he wasn’t going to work out. Then I got rid of him. Then we brought in our second choice guy, he was still available. He was great. Then his family moved to Arizona. The other people have not been so good (laughing). They just didn’t like the job, I guess.
You said some people don’t want to work. Which is kind of surprising.
Some people don’t. Everyone has a different story. Hopefully I’ll find somebody good. That is the biggest challenge by far. Honestly, there a lot of options. That’s one of the nice things about having a business: you have a lot of options. We could ship more to Amazon. We could change things so that we ship everything just to Amazon and we have Amazon fulfill our individual orders. They already do a lot of that if you have Amazon Prime and we have the products there, they come from Amazon. Right now, we’re so far behind. We got wiped out over Christmas. Everything got sold. What happens then is we have the listings both ways, you can buy them Amazon fulfilled if they have them, or we ship them. Right now we have nothing there in stock which means everyone is buying direct from us. With one guy, basically, and me helping, we’re doing all we can just to fulfill the individual orders. We need somebody to work full time on shipping to Amazon so we can get caught up. If we ever did get caught up, and we got everything in to Amazon then we could change things and have Amazon do everything and fulfill individual orders. But that costs a good bit. I would rather hire someone and do it from here. It would be more cost effective. We already have a warehouse, the facility. A lot of people don’t. Some people do this stuff in their home office sitting in their underwear, they have nothing. Some people, believe it or not, buy stuff from China they ship it direct to the Amazon warehouse and all they’re doing is sitting on the computer passing money around and telling Amazon what to do. Our product requires a lot more attention, I think. That would be hard for me to imagine.
Maybe one of our readers is looking for a job and they can contact you.
I’m trying to transition everything to Made in the USA and I hope to be able to do that this year. I’ve been working with a guy in North Carolina for a while and gradually having him make more and more of the cases. I’d love to be 100% “Made in the USA” by the end of 2017.
Stay tuned for Part Four, the last section of our interview with Mo…
This is Part Two of our interview with Mo Johnson, the owner of Better Display Cases. In this part of the interview Mo gives indispensable wisdom for anyone launching a business. For Part One click here.
I got a few interviews on some websites that were kind of biggish. I never made it to ESPN, but I was making a name for myself. But then along the way Google changed the rules and it became much more difficult for an independent website to rank for those kind of search terms. I don’t blame Google. When I started, a lot of people didn’t think the Internet was a big deal, so it was easy to compete if you just knew a little bit you could rank very high. So I just learned a little bit, in retrospect, and I probably thought I was a genius. It was just a few simple things I was doing. First of all you have to search for a keyword that is profitable, and you know, by the way all this stuff applies today to what I’m doing now so it’s worth talking about. So the first thing you want to do is find search terms that a lot of people are looking for, but there is relatively little competition so you can do well. You also want them to be profitable so product stuff is really good. Where were we?
How you got started with the idea for the business.
Google sort of changed the rules so for product search terms. I wasn’t really adding a whole lot of value for the most part. The only thing you had to do to rank high back then was find the keyword, put it in the title, put it in the first paragraph, put it in the last paragraph, maybe in the middle, put it in the meta tag which is a simple thing. I was using a particular website builder. You are telling Google what the keyword is that you are focusing on. You need to put that in the description and also the meta title. It was good to have an image or two that again use that keyword you have all this stuff going on in the page that tell Google this page is about this keyword. At that time, that was all you had to do. It didn’t really matter if it was a quality page or not because nobody else was doing this, so you could easily rank at the top. But Google got a lot smarter and they look at a lot more factors. The truth of the matter is, for the customer honestly it’s probably better for them if they are looking for Alabama Crimson Tide football to go directly to Amazon or directly to the eBay listing rather than going through my page which honestly didn’t really add a whole lot of value, you now what I’m saying? I understand why Google did it. But whatever, it happened. All I’m saying is my traffic went from way high to just nothing, or almost nothing. So that went away. So I struggled a bit to try to make it work. Eventually I pretty much gave up. I still have that website. I still have SECSportfan. It still makes money, but not enough for me to spend much time on, unfortunately. So that is kind of a downside of what Google did, because there were probably more quality sites back then, because there was more reward for it, in my opinion. You need to be a big company that can invest a lot of resources to make it a high quality website for there to be any return on your investment.
So how did you transition to display cases?
So eventually I kind of dropped that idea and around and about that time I had to come up with something different. I was retiring. By the way, I applied for government jobs, and I would have been very happy to receive a government job. If I had, that’s probably what I would be doing. I would be driving up to DC and sitting in a cubicle and doing the government thing and that would be okay. Might be better.
It doesn’t sound like you’d be very passionate about it, though.
No, I wouldn’t be passionate at all. That’s what you give up. Now that I’ve been on the other side, that’s not a bad deal. I mean, being an entrepreneur in my experience has been very hard. Very hard. I can’t overemphasize that. And very risky. And I’ve been very lucky, very blessed, but there is no guarantee. A lot of things that could happen that my business is ruined. Every day you have to worry about that as an entrepreneur if you own a business. If somebody wants to hand me a government job at $100,000 guaranteed money, not much stress, not even much work, I’d want to talk about it you know what I mean (laughing), for the good of my family. You have to understand, I have a lot of…
You have a big facility here, over 5,000 square feet you were telling me when you took me on the tour, and something could happen. You could have a fire, act of God, who knows. There’s some risk.
The more concern is my selling channels like Amazon. Right now I have a fantastic relationship with Amazon, better than ever. Amazon has improved things, I think, so that they are not as arbitrary. If you were to search on the Internet something about, I don’t know, “seller stories with Amazon”. There are all kinds of horror stories. I have a friend who lost his account on Amazon, mostly because of things that were not his fault. It’s not right. That’s scary. Amazon has just recently done some things. I was afraid, see this is what I was getting at with the stress thing. He lost his account in November, early November, I was afraid I might. We had some of the same issues. It wasn’t real clear even what the issues were. We still don’t even know why he lost his account. He just lost it. Part of it probably was some things he was doing that I’m not doing. He was selling MLB licensed products, and I guess he shouldn’t have been. He bought the MLB licensed products, but Football Fanatics which is now called Fanatics apparently has purchased the rights to all MLB licensed products and they told Amazon all these people shouldn’t be selling. Now there are all these lawsuits because this doesn’t seem right. All these people bought legitimate products that they were selling so it doesn’t seem right that they can be told retroactively told sorry you no longer have a right. There are some legitimate issues there. It’s all being fought out in court. In the meantime, though, my friend lost his Amazon account. Now he had some other things going on, I think. My only point about this whole thing is it’s uncertain, and it’s stressful. That’s kind of what I was getting at there.
Luckily, on the way, I was also worried about some shipping issues at the time. I was getting all these red flags on my account. Your shipping is late. That’s a whole another issue about Fatheads shipping that I rely on and that’s another problem. That’s another reason that I would just assume get away from Fatheads because I have to rely on their shipping when its late it reflects on me, and again, I could lose my Amazon account. Turns out there were some issues Amazon was not tracking things correctly so really it was more Amazon’s fault.
A couple weeks later, while I was in the middle of this stressful situation, I got an E-mail from them saying “congratulations, you’ve been selected as one of our top sellers, and you are now in a special program”. I was assigned to a special account and given a somebody who would help me with any problems that I had. I did have some problems at that time. See I told you with this interview, I could talk all day.
It might be a two parter here. We’ll see.
Direct me another way. I don’t know. Anyway, we were talking about #1 product, right?
Tell me about the #1 product.
So my #1 product was banned from Amazon.
Banned from Amazon.
Banned from Amazon. Gone. Deleted. The reason for that it had MLB in the title. It said MLB. It’s not. It has nothing to do with MLB. There’s no logo on there. It was just to help the customer understand that if they had an MLB baseball bat it would fit on the display. It had MLB, something else, something else, all these key words. Totally stupid. But Amazon, they are this big huge company they send a notice “get rid of MLB”. Zoom. Hundreds of thousands of listings with MLB in them are gone. So I went from selling 20 of those per day (pointing to baseball bat display on wall), #1 product, very profitable, to nothing. And I had hundreds of them because we were getting ready for Christmas. So I had sent hundreds of them to Amazon. They were sitting in the Amazon warehouse and I’m paying storage fees every day. What am I going do? I’m losing money. But maybe they’re going to reactive it. They tell you to go get permission from the MLB to sell it. I went to MLB. Of course it takes weeks, and eventually they did send me a reply “Oh, we’re very sorry for this problem. We never complained about your listing. I don’t know why Amazon did this. Please let them know we have no problem with your product.” Of course, that took about 3 weeks before I got that E-mail back. By then I had already fixed the problem because of my new guy who was assigned to me and he was able to sort of intercede because he works for Amazon. It took him about 10 days to talk to different people and whatever he had to do to get that reactivated. So we just got rid of the term MLB. So that’s back up. Then, and not just that one, we had about ten products like that. A lot of baseball stuff. All our baseball stuff had MLB in it so were all thrown off Amazon then it was all reinstated. But when that happens you’ve lost sales history, now, so the product loses it ranking. You know, there are a lot of factors that Amazon uses to rank products but the most important one is sales velocity. So if you’ve lost your sales, you’ve gonna lose your…
You start all over again.
So we were down at the bottom of the page. And so I had to do a lot of things. But now it’s back stronger than ever and hopefully we won’t have any more problems. All this relates to a whole bunch of things, including the stress on an entrepreneur who is the owner who is responsible at the end of the day. If you’re an employee and the business goes bankrupt you just go find another job. It’s not such a big deal. One of your questions was would you advise someone to be an entrepreneur. No. No. If you can get a good job that isn’t stressful. Now, there are a lot of rewards from being an entrepreneur so I also wouldn’t say don’t be an entrepreneur. And really I can only answer that question ultimately probably on my deathbed looking back and we’ll see. I don’t know. If I become a millionaire because of it, then yeah, it was great. For every millionaire I’m sure a hundred people fail.
We will continue this interview in Part Three. Stay tuned for another post…
This is the third in our series of interviews (see bottom of post for links to the other interviews) with successful entrepreneurs, in this case, Mo Johnson, the owner and CEO of Better Display Cases.
Thanks for the interview today. Like I said, this is the fourth interview, probably the third that we’ll publish. We have a couple more in the queue here. I really appreciate your time.
Sure. Thanks for coming.
So, tell us a little bit about your background before you became an entrepreneur.
Well, I’ve always been an entrepreneur I would say. Going way back to when I was a kid I would deliver newspapers and, you know, did different things. I started a janitorial business which was the first real business I started. That was while I was in college. I did that for awhile. I had a lawn care business. Anyway, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak, I suppose. Along the way, I went to law school and became a JAG and did a 20 year career in the military. After I retired from the military and I’m doing what I’m doing now…doing the entrepreneurship thing full time.
Awesome. Where did you get the idea for this business?
Well, so that just kind of happened. I retired from the military in 2013. I have to back up a little bit. During my last years in the military I was already trying to, you know, have a business on the web. What I did then was I had a website. I started with SEC Sportsfan. My idea was when I retired I would just be a blogger like you and do that full time and write stuff that I enjoyed writing. Hopefully people would enjoy reading it, and the website would be popular. More people would read it. And they’d click on ads. I’d make money. Life was good. That was the plan. And I would love to do that now, by the way (laughing), if I could.
I saw the blog and I was encouraged you had a Green Bay Packers article on there.
The sports blog.
The SEC Sportsfan one?
The article about Eddie Lacey associated with Better Display Cases?
I guess Wayne must have written that. That was one of our ideas. Wayne was my Internet marketing guy and did that. So I started that (SEC Sportsfan) in 2006. I got passed over for Lieutenant Colonel, and I don’t know if we even want to put this in.
Maybe we’ll edit that out.
Maybe we will. Maybe we won’t. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it.
That’s probably a key point.
It probably is. Of course it is.
That probably spurred you to do all this.
I’m sure. Probably. Of course. I had something to prove, you know. I’m going to be more successful than any of you. Whatever, I don’t know. It certainly changed my focus. I knew I was going to be getting out of the military. I started being really interested in the Internet. I’ve always wanted to start a business. Then of course the Internet was big and looked like it was actually going to be a real thing. Actually, the way that started, I wanted to get sell on eBay, so one of my co-workers was looking for a gift that she needed for somebody. She wanted to get them a little Tennessee mascot. So she had a hard time finding it. So I was like maybe I could start a business helping people, or selling sports-related gifts on eBay. I bought some products and tried to sell them on eBay which didn’t work well at all. While I was starting that I was looking at other things and then I became interested in the idea of building a content website, blogging, and having traffic coming to it, and then you get money from the ads or from selling products related to what your customers that visit that website are interested in.
And that worked really, really, really, really well. Really took off which I guess is what got me excited about it and that’s the way things go. If it doesn’t work out, you’re not going to be excited and you’re going to move on. But that worked so that motivated me. I would stay up to 2, 3, or 4 o’ clock in the morning working on my website. There was a lot to learn. There was a lot to do. It takes a lot to do that. The SEC Sportsfan website did fantastic and went from nothing at all to at one point I was making $5,000 per month from my website.
Wow, that’s really good.
Because I was ranking high in Google for product search terms like Dallas Cowboys Fathead. Of course it was SEC Sportsfan so it was more SEC I mean that was what you were more likely to rank for so you’re better off focusing on that. All kinds of product keywords related to SEC teams.
So the $5,000 was people clicking through ads on your site?
About half of that was Adsense, so ads, people clicking on ads. The ads are going to be more valuable and you are going to make more money if they are product-oriented. I ranked for all sorts of things. The things that make money are products. If people are selling stuff they are willing to pay a lot for a click on a product ad or product search term as opposed to just anything.
So I was also an affiliate, if you’ve heard of affiliate marketing. It’s where you sign up with a company and you sell their product with a simple thing like a click. I signed up with Fathead, with Amazon. It’s the same thing. It’s an ad on my website. People click on it. If they buy something, I get a percentage. With Fathead it was 15 percent.
Through all of that, the first thing was getting the traffic which is a whole thing in and of itself, the content, the images, and everything. Then the selling happens and then you make money. At the peak, I’m talking Christmas, I had some months where I made $5,000. Maybe on average it was $1,000, or something, $2,000. For a couple years.
But still, that’s pretty good.
And the way it was growing, my goodness, it looked that would really work. Like I would be able to retire and just do that.
I was Mo Johnson of SEC Sportsfan.
This interview was so in-depth that we broke it into multiple parts. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Mo Johnson where he hits it BIG with his next venture: Better Display Cases.
For our first entrepreneur interview with best selling author, Lawrence Colby, click here.
For part 2 of our interview with Colby, click here.
For our second entrepreneur interview with photographer Richard Weldon Davis, click here.
Thank you for doing a follow up interview and congratulations on achieving Amazon Best Seller status! Your book, The Devil Dragon Pilot, is now #1 in its category (Aviation) on Amazon. That didn’t take very long, so your book must be very popular. There was a lot of interest in the first interview and we received several follow up questions. Here are some of the questions from our readers.
“I would enjoy hearing more about his writing process. How did he keep motivated to get up at 4:00 am.?”
Getting up that early is relatively easy for me. I had a job at the Pentagon a few years ago where I had to be at work no later than 6 AM. I also had to read four or five newspapers every morning, scan all the news websites, and then be ready to intelligently discuss the world events with a senior Defense Department official. With no emails to answer, no one asking questions, I can crank out a lot in an hour or so in the morning. I also fit in marathon training, and just completed my eighth race. You’d be surprised what you can do.
“Did he ever deal with writer’s block?”
Running helps me think through storylines. Sometimes I will use Dragon dictation, an app for my phone, and talk into it while I am driving. Plus, driving through Washington DC enables me to see the real world buildings, which link to the storylines. For example, I’ve visited Georgetown University this weekend, and now that’s in the next book titled “The Black Scorpion”. I find if I change the scenery, I don’t get writers block.
“How did he come up with his story?”
The idea was brewing around in my head for a while because I couldn’t find anything that focused on someone in the Air Force Reserve. No movies, no books. Therefore, I created Ford Stevens, our hero pilot from Air Force Reserve.
“Has he always had an interest in writing?”
Yes, I have written and published a few military related articles in different professional military publications. This was my first attempt at a novel. I am an avid reader, reading both fiction and nonfiction, and always have been since a kid. Now on to novel number two!
(Jerry) I’ve got a few questions of my own. What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?
I like to try different things that perhaps people have not seen or done before. Sometimes I will connect a service or product from one industry, and connect it with another. I will see things in different countries across the world, and wonder if it would be a good idea in the United States.
The creative thinking aspect and entrepreneurial spirit really thrills me. For example, I started my company Mach278 when I came up with an idea for colored surgical sponges. The sponges, if ever manufactured, would help solve the severe problem in medicine of preventing retained surgical items. The concept of colored surgical sponges is a cross between patient safety and aviation safety.
What is next as far as events for marketing the first book?
I’ve done a variety of print and web interviews, podcasts, and have had plenty of friends utilize social media. I also have an upcoming book signing at the Marine Corps exchange, Henderson Hall, Washington DC, on Dec 17th. There is also plan in the works to do book signings at Barnes and Noble stores in Northern Virginia.
Can you tell us anything about the second book and when it might be released?
Book 2 is titled “The Black Scorpion” and will feature many of the same characters from the book one. Ford Stevens, Emily Livingston, Mark Savona, and the rest of the crew will be back. It will be a story of human endurance and survival, related to aviation. Super exciting. It will be out summer 2017.
With all of your readers help, I am now ranked #1 on Amazon in Aviation.
Thank you for your time, Jerry. I appreciate your support very much.
Colby’s story is an amazing example of grit as we’ve written about previously. Can you imagine? His book was just released around Veterans Day and is already at or near the top in several categories on Amazon. If he can do it, imagine what you can do?
If you’d like to check out the latest and greatest for Devil Dragon marketing events in your area, click on Colby’s blog here.
An effective woodworker always wants to have at least two projects going on simultaneously in the wood shop. Why? In order to maximize efficiency. If you are woodworking as a part-time gig, as I am, there is all the more reason to make every minute count as we discussed in the blog on making and managing. There is not a minute to spare when you are working a full time job during the day and working in the wood shop on nights and weekends. Let’s get into the mechanics.
How does it work?
Woodworking by its nature entails a lot of waiting during certain portions of the build such as glueing or waiting for finish to dry. It’s important to take advantage of these pauses to flip to another project(s). For example, once a glue up has been done on one project, why wait for the glue to dry when you can just pick up where you left off with the other piece? Another example is once you’ve applied finish to the first project, flip over to the second project. However, it’s important to consider that if you are doing finish work on the first project, make sure the second project is not going to generate dust that will settle onto your finish on the first project. A way to mitigate that risk is to rig a dust shroud around the first project while the finish is drying or to take the second project outside. If you are looking for more information on finishing, check out our post on the cherry coat rack project or Marc Spagnuolo’s DVD on finishing at The Wood Whisperer.
What if I don’t have a commission right now?
If you are between commissions, I’m sure Mrs. Woodworker or your significant other is looking for something that needs to be made around the house. These projects are great for continuing to build your skill set. In addition, this valuable shop time may spark an idea for another project.
Another approach is to build something that doesn’t take a lot of time that you know sells well. For example, it only takes me about 3 1/2 hours to build a corn hole set and I always like to have one set available in case a client wants one. If I have some dead time and don’t currently have a set ready, I know that time is well spent to get another one built. In general, I don’t like to build on spec as I’ve written about earlier, but if I know that something has sold in the past and is likely to sell again, then it’s pretty low risk to build another one.
Another reason to have multiple balls in the air applies to entrepreneurship in general. If you get stuck in one area you can always shift focus to another area. For example, if I don’t have a lot of work in the shop I can always spend more time working on the blog, or vice versa. We were working four commissions at once not too long ago, so I spent a little less time on the blog until we caught up in the wood shop. You can extend that concept to entrepreneurship in general. No matter what your business is, it likely involves sales. If sales are slow, you can shift focus to other value-added tasks in the business that don’t involve sales. If you are swamped with sales, you can shift to fulfilling orders until you catch up or hire more staff.
Better opportunity for flow
When you have multiple projects there is also less starting and stopping in the shop and this can be less jarring to your system. You are always seamlessly transitioning from one project to the other and it’s just part of your normal routine. In addition, there is also a greater chance for serendipity. You may learn something on one project that benefits the other. For example, on one project I was contrasting light and dark woods, which gave me an idea to try the same thing on a prayer kneeler I was building (see picture to left). That wasn’t in the original design, but I went with the flow and I think it turned out pretty well as you can see in the picture.
Increase production. If woodworking is your business, you need to be continuously producing and delivering in order to bring in revenue (you especially need to be producing if it’s on your honey-do list). Advertising completed projects on social media generates new bids, which generates more production, which generates more advertising and bids. It’s a virtuous cycle. In addition, increased production means you can build things quicker at the same level of quality and either pass on your costs savings to your clients (see our blog post about pricing for more information on what is reasonable to charge clients) which will make you more competitive, or you may decide to increase your profits, or both.
So this is your first book and it’s now up on Amazon. First of all, congratulations. It must have taken a lot of time and effort.
I am honored to be on your site, Jerry. Thank you for asking me. And thank you for your kind words on my book, the “The Devil Dragon Pilot”.
The time and effort required was a lot if you look at it from a big picture point of view. I wake up pretty early every day, no later than 4 AM, and wrote about one or two pages every morning for a year. Some days would be editing, while other days were content related. I never had enough time!
How does it make you feel to finish your first book?
A great feeling! It makes me think of a few small grains of sand that don’t pile up to much, but a lot of grains of sand make an entire beach. Just a few pages a week turned into a pretty large book a year later.
What were some of the entrepreneurial lessons learned?
For most tasks I have attempted to conquer, someone before me has accomplished it already. There are books and websites devoted to nearly any subject. Doing the proper due diligence and research is a must, and writing a book for Amazon is no different. My lesson learned is to continue to go out and find experts, and learn from both their mistakes and wins.
I also realized that it was virtually impossible to do alone, like many things in life. I had great friends that were able to help me with content, editing, layout, and character development. These are crucial to getting a book across the goal line.
Any insights you can share on your next book?
Book 2 is titled “The Black Scorpion Pilot” and we will fly again with our main character, Air Force Reserve Captain Ford Stevens. It will be another thrilling adventure in aviation, espionage, and human endurance and survival. I am about one third complete, and excited to finish in the coming months.
Where can we learn more about The Devil Dragon Pilot and your upcoming books?
See that mahogany jewelry chest in the picture? Guess how long it took to finish? My current self would crank out a project like that pretty quickly, but my old self took almost 20 years to finish it! I started the piece when I was in high school Industrial Arts class and finally finished it in order to give it to our daughter several years ago. Was that a gritty performance on my part? Absolutely not! That just goes to show you that grit can be developed over time and that’s one of the main takeaways in Angela Duckworth’s great new book called Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I’ll share some of Duckworth’s terrific lessons on grit and how they apply to entrepreneurship and woodworking.
First of all, why did Duckworth write this book? In one of her early research projects as a psychologist, she was studying why cadets dropped out of their first year at West Point. West Point used a number called the Whole Candidate Score to decide who was accepted and who wasn’t, but success in a cadet’s first year didn’t correlate to the WCS. Both West Point and Duckworth wanted to know if there was a way to predict whether a cadet would succeed so West Point could admit the right people. Duckworth developed something called The Grit Scale which did show a correlation between higher grit scores and success at West Point. So what goes into being “gritty”, which is key to being a successful entrepreneur and woodworker?
Duckworth says one must have both passion and perseverance. Passion, however, is not just some overwhelming love for a pursuit, it needs to be cultivated, which is something the Minimalists also talk about. Many people say “follow your passion”, but sometimes someone may not know what their passion is. In that case, they should try several things and see what excites them. If they do know what their passion is, it needs to be cultivated and grown over time. For example, I have a passion for woodworking, but I’ve cultivated it over time. Did I always know how to do all of the techniques we’re currently using in Traughber Design? Of course not, they had to be learned and developed. In that course of learning and developing, we can learn to be even more passionate for our calling. An example is that I enjoy performing certain tasks more in the wood shop now that I am more proficient. I have more passion for doing that type of work.
Another element Duckworth discusses relative to passion is direction. She gives the example of someone working out every day and not improving their performance. It’s important to have goals and/or a coach. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to have coaches or mentors, especially ones that are doing work relevant to your field. I have woodworking mentors I turn to sometimes when I have a vexing problem and also mentors I turn to in learning the ins and outs of WordPress and blogging. Mentors can be invaluable and help establish those goals and make sure the entrepreneur follows through. We also need to align our work with our goals which we describe in more detail in the post about woodworking and yoga.
Another component of this entrepreneurial venture has been this blog which requires perseverance. I like to write, but in order to make the blog go, I need to write consistently. Remember, this is currently a part-time gig as we wrote about in the first blog post. One might think that with over 1 billion Facebook users on the planet, that a blog would instantly achieve critical mass and millions of page views. It doesn’t quite work that way. Google runs a sophisticated algorithm 600 times per year that decides what does and does not pop up in the search rankings. It is a real art and science to stay ahead of that algorithm, and most people don’t have that kind of time. An entrepreneurial blogger is better off just focusing on fresh and good content that adds value. If you listen to successful bloggers that have millions of page views, they are consistent in writing fresh posts. To summarize that point: write often and add value. For example, I’m finding there is a big spike in readership immediately after a fresh post and a gradually increasing trend line. The key is to write and post often. But it’s not just about posting often. It is about adding value. When I’m thinking of posts, I’m thinking “what woodworking tips or philosophies help my readers?”
Perseverance also relates to something called the pivot in entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is unlikely to hit upon a million dollar idea and may have to be prepared to pivot to another idea down the road if the first one doesn’t work out. For example, in woodworking I started out making some pieces on spec (or speculation) anticipating that they would sell. I also did pieces on commission. I found through trial and error that spec doesn’t work very well for our business and Traughber Design is focused almost exclusively on commission work now. We pivoted from spec work to commissions.
There is so much more to talk about regarding grit, entrepreneurship, and woodworking, but I’ll hand off to Duckworth at this point. I highly recommend reading her book and watching her TED talk which is available here.