On this episode, Wilco shares his five biggest lessons that he learned over the last fifteen years as an online entrepreneur, that got him from zero to where he is today.
- Make sure to solve problems.
- Never, ever rely on just one thing in your business.
- Give away value first, then reap the rewards.
- Care about your customers.
- Don't try to do it all by yourself.
From the outside, the road to success always seems so easy, right? People say, "He already has a successful business. What does he know? What kind of problems does he have?" The reality is, that it's never like, "I want to go from here to there, and it's easy." No, it's actually not easy, at all. There's a lot of hurdles in the way, a lot of bumps in the road, and that's why I think it's important to stress out or to sort of point out the five biggest lessons that I've learned over the last fifteen years as an online entrepreneur, that got me from zero to where I am today.
Just in case we haven't met before, my name is Wilco de Kreij, and I'm an Online Entrepreneur from the Netherlands, as you can probably tell, by my terrible accent. I apologize for that, but I've been working online for over a decade now as an Online Entrepreneur, and during that time, I've started various businesses, I've sold various businesses, and we acquired tens of thousands of customers worldwide through online marketing. Now I don't want this to be about me. I wanted this to be about you. I want to show you how you can grow your business, so let's just dive into it.
First, let me tell you a quick story of how I got started online, so I was sixteen years old, it was back in 2002, which in online terms is like ages ago, right? This is actually a funny story, at least a lot of people seem to like this story. Anyway, so I was sixteen years old, 2002 it was, and at that time, the movie The Matrix was super popular here, and in that movie, every character had their own pair of sunglasses, right? Being a sixteen-year-old boy, I wanted to have one of those, as well, but here in the Netherlands, they were nowhere to be found, so I went looking online, and I found a company in the United States, which, for me, was the other side of the world, right? Who actually sold sunglasses, so I figured, "Hey, if they're not being sold here in the Netherlands, but they are in the U. S., then maybe there are other people, like me, who want to have those sunglasses, so let's try to sell them, right?"
Now I was sixteen years old, like I said, so I didn't have any money, so I couldn't just say, "Well, I'm going to buy those sunglasses, and then I'm going to sell them online, or sell them anywhere," because I didn't have the money to actually buy them, right? What I did was, I put up an ad online, and I told people like, "Hey, you can buy these sunglasses from me. You'll have to pay me first, then after a while, I'll have like a month of order periods, then after, at the end of the month, I'll do an order in the U. S. I have to have to wait two months in order for those sunglasses to go back to me, because of the shipment time by sea, and then after those two months, I'll send you your sunglasses, so they'll have to put their trust in me.
Send me their money, and then wait for like three months before they would their sunglasses back. Now, the thing is that, I was expecting to sell a couple of sunglasses, so I would maybe have my sunglasses for free, right? Now, what actually happened is that we actually did ... I say we, but I mean me and my parents. I did actually 17,000 euros worth of sunglasses that are 6 euros each, so the whole house was filled with sunglasses, which is another story actually, so we sold 17,000 euros worth of sunglasses, being a sixteen-year-old kid, and while I was setting all of this up, I didn't even tell my parents yet, right? At some point, I knew to say to my parents, "Hey, listen, like I just received 17,000 worth of sunglasses, and I need to send that over to the U. S., hoping that that will then get a box of sunglasses back instead of a box filled with stones, for example."
Now at this point, online shopping wasn't the thing yet, like it wasn't big, especially for my parents, who are pretty much old-fashioned. They're both farmers. I used to live in the countryside, so they were not happy, but being they were also entrepreneurs, so they supported me, and they said, "All right, sure. We'll do it. We're going to wire the money, and we're just going to put the trust there, and if it this goes South, so be it. We'll just have a go for it." Everything went right. Everything went really well, and at the end, I learned tons of lessons. I didn't make any money out of it, any profit out of it, because of something I did not foresee, that's once again, another story, but the most important thing is that that's the main lesson I want to share with this story, is that you got to solve a problem.
Like if your business doesn't solve a problem, you're making this too hard for yourself. Like I found I stumbled on the problem that people wanted to have these sunglasses, but they were nowhere to be found in the Netherlands, so by getting them to the Netherlands, I solved a problem. That's really the first lesson that I want to give to you. Make sure your business solves real problems. For the following years, I kept doing eCommerce by importing all kinds of products from all over the world, and selling them here in the Netherlands, and I realized that my passion wasn't really with making all those packages, or with the customers support, or all of that, but my passion really was with online marketing, so I started looking online, and to see what I can do with that, like, right?
I stumbled upon Google AdSense, and a whole new world opened up for me. I mean, you can actually make money if people click on your add? Well, apparently, yeah, so what I started doing a lot was I started creating a lot of websites, and I started ranking them in Google, right? Was doing a lot of SEO, and all I did was on those websites, were filled with Google AdSense and banners, and it went really, really well. I mean, I'm not a big fan of sharing members, some people do. That's fine. I just, I'm not a big fan of it, but like even in today's standards, I was doing really, really well. I went, like I was the King of the World, at least that's how I felt, and at some point, boom, like my AdSense account got shut down, because apparently you can only have three AdSense banners, and I had like five or six on every page, which is me being silly.
My own mistake, but I went from doing really, really well, to absolutely zero, literally overnight, so I started thinking. First I started crying, but after, I started thinking, "What can I do?" I realized that having, I was relying just on Google AdSense, so I figured I'm going to do affiliate marketing. Not the kind of info marketing products, or anything like that, but like real, tangible products here in the Netherlands, like holidays, or mobile phones, or mortgages, or anything like that, so instead of focusing on Google AdSense being my [amortization 00:06:03] strategy, I had a bunch of affiliate networks, so my idea was if one of them stops, or one of them doesn't want me anymore, or one of them goes bankrupt, or whatever, no problem at all.
You think I was safe, right? Well, guess what? Like 99%, pretty much all my traffic at this point, I stopped doing SEO, and I started doing a lot of Google AdWords, so 99% of my traffic was from Google AdWords. Guess what? Boom. There was a new quality score update. Basically, long story short, all my traffic dried up literally overnight. I had, so I was once again back to square one, and once again, I was doing really, really well. Like this took me a couple years, a couple years after the AdSense incident, so I was doing really well. Back to zero literally overnight. Once again, round two, so that really taught me a really, really important lesson. I think, maybe even one of the most important ones, is that never rely on one source, or one thing in your business.
Always have a backup. No matter, whatever, it's a traffic source, your servers, your email company, whatever it is. Always have a backup in place. Never rely on one source for any part of your business, so when the AdWords happened, I was fully focused on getting a Master's Degree in Marketing Management, so I decided to first finish what I started. First get my degree, and then start a new business from scratch, so that's what I did, so after a year, when I got my degree, I said to myself, "Hey, I'm going to a new environment, and I give myself six months to start a new business from scratch," so I went to Sydney in Australia, which by the way, is my favorite city of all. I love to travel.
Love meeting new people, but that's another story, so I went to Sydney, Australia, I [hired 00:07:44] an office in downtown city center, and I said to myself, "Hey, I'm going to start a new goal, and a new business, and I have the goal of getting X amount of dollars every single month," so it was really just about how much money would I make, right? I had like an exact figure in my mind that I wanted to hit, so I went there, and I was full of energy. New environment, new everything, and I had the experience, right? I started various businesses in the past, which were really successful, so I can do this, right? I'm going to crush it, so I started working, and one month went by, two, three, four, and I went nowhere, and I don't mean nowhere as in I'm not hitting my goals. No. Nowhere, as in not a single dollar made.
Like not at all, so I was, to be honest, like I was in an awesome country, but I was feeling down. I was feeling desperate, and I had no idea what to do, so I'm not sure why, but at some point, I started a side project, which wasn't focused at making any money at all. I was doing a lot of Facebook marketing at the time, or at least learning about it, and I realized there was a gap in the marketplace, so I hired someone from oDesk to build me a plugin, which was called Word Press or Facebook at the time, so I gave it away for free. Just enter your email address, and that's it. Here it is. You just go download it, and after a while, like this was a side project.
It was not, like this was not business for me, right? It was just like something for fun, outside of the stuff that I was doing to make money, so I gave the plugin away for free. People started opting into my email list, and after a while, I started looking at the numbers, and I'm like, "Hey, there's a couple thousand people who signed up to download this free plugin. Maybe I should do something with that." I hired the same guy again, and he build me Word Press or Facebook Pro, which was like better, even better version, and this was around the end, like literally the end of the six month period that I gave myself, and still I had nothing to show for it. Nothing went how I was hoping it would go, so I remember, there was this last week in the office.
Literally the last week I hired [the 00:09:44] [office 00:09:46], because right after the weekend, I would fly back home to the Netherlands, and the last week I went crazy, because I wanted to finish that plugin, and on the sales pages, and all of that, that week, so I can send that out to that email list, and I had no idea how to sell something by email, right? I just, so I've been just working, working, working, and that last Friday, Friday night, we were going with some friends. We would have like a good bye party, and all of that, with a barbecue, all Aussie style, and just before I closed down my laptop, I was done. Like the sales page was ready, everything was done, I press send.
I literally press send on the email to let all those people who opted in before, letting them know, "Hey, here's the pro version of what you downloaded first. You had the free version, but here's a pro version, and you can buy it, right? If you want." I hit send, and then I was taking some stuff from my desk, and put it in my pack, and I looked at my laptop, and it was ping, ping, ping. Orders came in. I was like super excited. I mean, like that night, I went out with my friends to celebrate the last night together, because I was going back home after, and that night, I was checking my phone, and I made more than half a year combined in total, so I was just amazed. That really taught me a super valuable lesson.
That's that you should always lead with give value first, and then reap the rewards after that. Don't just try to make money. Don't go for a monetary goal, because money is [inaudible 00:11:11]. You shouldn't just focus on making money, because that's insane. Focus on giving value, giving value first, and then the rest will follow, and that's really the biggest lesson I learned from that. Like all the things I did, just to make more money, didn't work, and as soon as I started providing value, just give value away for free, that's when everything changed, so that's really the big lesson that I want to share with this one.
After I got back home, I treated that part of the business, the plugin selling business, as my core business, and I was working on that for a couple of years, until I got an email from this company that I never even heard of before, but they were an investment company basically, and they wanted to buy the whole company. They wanted to buy it all, and I have sold various smaller companies in the past, but never something like this, not never something like this big, right? There was a lot of thinking, a lot of consideration, a lot of going back and forth, and it was a long, stressful process, actually, but at the end of the day, we made a deal, and they bought our company, right?
Including the staff, same people, the whole product, everything in the business was theirs, except for my time basically, and after a couple months, I kept checking them. I kept checking how they were doing, because it still felt like my baby, right? Even though it was there's, but it felt like my baby, and I was looking at, "Hey, how are they doing?" Everything went South, like had the same team, same product, like an awesome product, what went wrong? What happened? I started talking to some of our previous customers, who were now their customers, and they told me that their customer support sucks.
Excuse my French, but they did not treat their customers with the respect they deserved, right? That really reminded me of a really valuable lesson, is that you should always treat your customers with the respect they deserve, and really care about your product the same way as you care about yourself, basically. If you really care about your customers, and they feel that, they know it, then it's one of the easiest way to stand out. People that. People love a good customer support, and people love being treated fairly, so whatever you do, really care about your customers, and you'll stand out right away. All of this happened a few years ago, and once again, I was able to start a new business from scratch, and this time though, I didn't want to spend a couple of years building it to get to the same point where I used to be, so I knew I had to change something, right? Up to this point, I always hired people for the things that I couldn't do myself, so I hired developers on a project basis.
I hired graphic designers on a project basis, but that was about it. Like everything I could do myself, I'd just do myself, because I've always been this control freak. Like, I want to do it this way, my way, right? At this point, it was time for me to let that go basically, so I started hiring more people to grow the company. To help me grow the company faster than I could do on my own, and that really like before when I started doing that, it was super scary. Like I told them to do this, and they did it their own way, not my way, and I was like, "Oh, no. You should do it differently," so there was definitely some things that I needed to learn in that process, but at the end of the day, like I could have never grown my business this far, or my online, never, ever.
Right now, for example, our business is like fifteen people on a full-time basis, plus various people on a project, or like a freelance basis, and like I'm super grateful for my team. Like they're the best, and they do things much better than I can, and yeah, like I would have never been able to grow the business this big without those people, so this is like the fifth big lesson that I want to share with you, is don't try to do it yourself.
Get people to help you out, so there you have it. The five things that helped me grow my business to where it is today. Make sure to solve problems. Never, ever rely on just one thing in your business. Give away value first, then reap the rewards. Care about your customers. Don't try to do it all by yourself. I hope this helps, and I hope it inspires you. If you've been following me for a while, then you know that usually I send out the actionable advice, right? The nitty gritty of online marketing to help you grow your business.
Now this time though, I really wanted to focus on these five critical elements, because I can tell you everything I know about driving traffic. I mean, we've sent millions, and millions, and millions of people to our funnels, using pretty much every traffic source there is available, right? I can show and teach you all of that, but it wouldn't matter if you don't have these five critical elements in place in your business, and that's why I'm really sharing this video here for you today, so once again, I hope it helps, and I hope you have an awesome day. Cheers. Bye, bye
"If your business doesn't solve a problem, you're making this too hard for yourself."
"Always have a backup. No matter, whatever, it's a traffic source, your servers, your email company, whatever it is."
"Focus on giving value, giving value first, and then the rest will follow"
"You should always treat your customers with the respect they deserve, and really care about your product the same way as you care about yourself."