Ever wonder what it's like to give up your current job to pursue the dream of starting your own business? Nick Lawrence Pfeifer doesn't have to wonder -- he knows. Three weeks ago Nick gave up a call center job for Time Warner Cable in Colorado Springs and moved to Phoenix to become the sole full-time employee of Flesheatingzipper.com (FEZ), a gaming, tech and entertainment site strong on opinions.
Pfeifer, along with co-owners Rob Morris, Jonathan Stephens, Kelly Karnetsky, and Keith Downey actually started FEZ two years ago simply as a place where the online buddies could write about what they like. Once they figured out that writing about what they love had the potential to be more than just a hobby bringing in a few extra dollars, it was time to take the plunge.
We talked to Pfeifer about FEZ and what it's like to give up a job to start a small business doing something you love. He's only been at it full-time for three weeks now, so the journey is still a new one.
Nick Pfeifer aka "TFX"
What is FEZ?
FEZ is an entertainment and news website that offers op-ed pieces for anything in culture. People trust us for having honest opinions. We're the little guy that people can trust for opinions on the latest games and movies.
Where did the name come from?
Johnny actually came up with that. It was provocative, and it was the coolest name for a website ever so we just went with it. People love the name and that identity, and they find it humorous.
Do you ever get it confused for a porn site?
How did FEZ come about?
We'd been working together for a year, doing a podcast. On a weekly basis, we'd been getting together and casually taking about games. We had a small following until a new site came along that hosted a big online community that migrated from a defunct gaming site, and we became the podcasters catering to that audience. After a year the site wasn't going anywhere, and we wanted to do much more so we introduced entertainment and tech, and over a single weekend that became FEZ.
How do you maintain the balance of being trusted with a small website feel and establishing solid growth at the same time?
I think we build a reputation up front, "Do you trust the Flesheatingzipper?" As we expand and grow, we're not becoming monolithic, but becoming an extension of ourselves. We don't want to become some big terrible thing.
What are some growth strategies to get you where you want to be a year from now?
Biggest thing is attracting attention. Getting our name out there has been the first big push. We've made enough money for me to have an experimental position doing this, but ideally if we really want to grow we need to get more people on. So we're generating money through advertorials and ad revenue, and eventually as we start bringing on more people we can talk merchandise and things like that.
Flesheatingzipper's "Support Your Local FEZ" Campaign (story continues after video)
What channels are you using to get your name out there?
We've been using social media, we have a regularly updated Facebook page. Twitter, we constantly update. I'm always interacting with new people on social media. We've been doing advertising through social media as well. We've also been sending our content through aggregators like N4G, posting our stuff on forums, Reddit and similar sites.
How do you measure growth through your activity on social networks?
Everything has analytics! And we have our own internal analytics as well. Say when an article really blows up, we're always tracking where that traffic comes from and we can measure effectiveness from there and plan future content accordingly.
What has been the most successful social platform for growing your business in the early stages?
So far its been Facebook because there's less friction, it's more personal and close to our style. Its like having a personal recommendation. Facebook has been our primary vehicle.
How do you get past the "friends of friends reach" barrier on Facebook?
It's a little tricky with Facebook because they have such a bizarre way of directing traffic to us. A lot of our Facebook growth has been through advertising spending and we do a number of targeted featured stories through Facebook. Yes, we get the friends and friends of friends, but we're also trying to get the randoms.
This is a big career move and lifestyle change for you, going from working in a call center to service Time Warner Cable customers. What finally made you choose to take the plunge and finally give this a shot?
Two things. We had some money in the bank. Over the past two years we'd been producing a lot of this content but hadn't been spending anything, so we had this war chest. Internally we felt we had reached a peak as five guys doing this part- time, and to grow we felt we had to have at least one person on doing this full-time.
Why you and not the other guys?
Basically I was in the best position to do it, and I had enough applicable wide-ranging skills that I was the best suited to do it.
You moved to Phoenix from Colorado Springs. So you not only changed your job, but your locale and work environment. Pretty big change to be working out of a partner's living room. Do you have plans to set up an actual office space?
Oh absolutely. Basically right now we have an improvised set to do what we have to do, but we would definitely like to bring on another couple of employees to justify the expense of having an office at least a year from now.
Rob's living room, aka FEZ's main office space:
Who are your main competitors?
Everyone! The field is big. We went to E3 (Electronic Gaming Expo) last year, and there were so many people like us there. Then you have the capital ships of all these industries that we cover like Vox Media, who's pumping all this money into Polygon. Competition is everywhere, so we have to put our own spin on things to stand out.
So with a site like Polygon, are they a competitor?
They're a very well produced site, but we're not in the same circles. They're AP style and dry, but we're more of the "dude you have a beer with." That's what we're chasing. We're more like a Giant Bomb, more of the op-ed guys. That's more of what we're competing with.
Being a small bootstrapping kind of site, how do you get scoops?
Networking and connections. That's where last month when we had our System Shock breakthrough story. We knew someone who knew someone. But we're so small that even though we had it on good authority, nobody believed us. So another site got the credit for breaking it the next day.
What's the most stressful thing in the first three weeks?
Finding something that really clicks, a game plan. Suddenly having all day to try and figure out what works and doesn't work is interesting. Trying to figure out the how's and when's of the daily work is challenging.
Are you living the highlife or eating ramen?
I'm actually doing OK! Call center life wasn't great but it paid decently. I'm working on savings, but even when company money starts coming through, I won't be dying.
Time frame for success or moving on?
We haven't committed to it, but in the loosest terms a year. But it's really my job to figure out what works and apply it as effectively and quickly as possible.
When was the last time you thought, "Oh, we really need to have this?"
Our business plan. We needed feedback on our business plan. Also PR, and contacting people who can help us make connections.
How important is that business plan to have?
Super important because not only do you get a feel for what the company is but getting an idea of what to do mid-to-long term. Getting your thoughts on paper in a plan helps dramatically.
What did you model your business plan on?
We Googled what other people did. We'd look at similar type of sites as to what we are doing with FEZ, then took the best parts of the plans that we researched. We're not just a gaming site, or just entertainment, just tech, so we had to be resourceful and have this amalgamated plan.
What are some things that you use as a small team to communicate with each other?
Our biggest thing is Kik Messenger, a real-time group messaging service. Since using it, email has taken a distant second place. We actually used Google Wave until it got killed.
What are some tools that you'd recommend to somebody starting a website?
Wordpress has been a great platform. Use something easy and don't get defeated by technology. Most of our tech is handled by Kelly, so having constant communication internally with somebody who has some expertise helps tons. But we like to keep it simple in general.
Where do you start? And how scary is it?
Its definitely scary to start. And when we started the scariest thing was how do you broadcast content like this? When you're starting out you have no idea how you're going to get everything out there, so you have to find all these different vehicles (of content delivery). The biggest thing for us was getting into Google News. Once we got on there we really started to get the message out.
Would you advise people to follow in your footsteps and give it a shot?
Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent. Live the American dream -- the greatest risk is not taking one. If they have the opportunity and it's not going to destroy their family or well-being, then go for it. And if you fail, you figure out what went wrong and go from there. It's the American way.
Are you a small business owner that would like to be profiled on The Huffington Post for our "What Is Working: Small Businesses" section? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.