How I Started an Internet Marketing Business at 12 and Became a Digital Nomad

05/05/2016 04:47 am ET
Digital nomads don't actually WORK at the beach, just for the record.
Digital nomads don't actually WORK at the beach, just for the record.

Let me first start by saying, I’m a self-proclaimed computer geek. When I was 12, I was obsessed with all things relating to computers, video games, and just tech in general. I was your stereotypical nerdy teenager who would gladly lock himself away in his bedroom and play for hours on end. Unbeknownst to me at the time, these skills would come handy. Who would've thought trash talking to German Counter-Strike players would lead to near perfect English?

I grew up in a working class family in Estonia, and even though I was always taken great care of, it was obvious to me that we were struggling when it came to finances. Later that year my parents got divorced and shortly after, my mom was laid off from her job. I started scouring the internet for ways to help earn extra money.

Looking back now, I’m positive this experience was what propelled me to my successes today. Without the intense and real feeling of struggle, I may have never felt compelled enough to find a way to make money online. My plan until then was to go to a good university, become a developer, get a "safe" job and whatever else the media sold me on. Hindsight is always 20/20, right?

The Plunge Into Internet Marketing

At the age of 12, circa 2007, I wasn’t old enough to get a job but I was quite savvy online and I knew there had to be ways for me to make money. After digging around on Google, I found a way to combine my love for computers and video games and help my mom ease her financial stress. The answer was Pay Per Download and Cost Per Action offers.

For those of you late to the game, Pay Per Download is when users are required to “unlock” content by completing an action like a survey or by entering contact information. It generates revenue from a third party affiliate, often times through sold ad space - the commissions were generous, to say the least.

In my first month, I made exactly $49.80 - big whoop, right? It wasn’t enough to even qualify for the minimum payout threshold. Once I'd figured out a proper business model and framework, I started building dozens of gaming blogs with the sole goal of promoting downloadables that I could monetize. After a few months, I was making around $1000 a month, then $2000 a month, and each month that went by I found myself making a little more each time.

Somewhere down the line I discovered Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and started realizing why I was getting these results. The blogs and websites I created were being picked up by Google’s algorithm and were appearing high in search results. If I could optimize how my content appeared and was perceived by Google, I could increase traffic to my site and increase my revenue. It was this realization that sparked my love for SEO and internet marketing in the bigger picture.

Soon after I began taking on clients - much older, established businessmen and businesswomen - to help them with their own SEO and content creation. By the time I was 15, I was making an incredibly hefty salary, especially considering my age.

Discovering the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

A few years later I applied for an apprenticeship with a popular internet marketing blog that was headquartered in the Philippines. The job included a full salary, housing expenses, and encouraged a digital nomadic lifestyle working from the Philippines. While I didn’t end up getting the job, the exposure to the idea of working and living as a digital nomad was life changing.

I became obsessed with the idea of working and living in a tropical oasis. It was crazy to me that one could work from wherever, whenever and create a viable income. I couldn’t believe more people weren’t pursuing this path and ditching the standard 9-to-5 entrapment. 

Seeing the endless possibilities of SEO with my current clients combined with the notion of working from a beach side cabana... It was far too good to pass up. Being young, and with just the right amount of gumption, I decided to give it a go. I packed up my stuff and headed off to the beautiful land of Montenegro.

A Digital Nomad with A Purpose

Today, I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I’ve transformed my once rickety Pay Per Download business into a full marketing and SEO agency called Result Compass. 

As a summary, at the age of 19 I've:

  • Traveled 20+ countries
  • Lived in Vietnam for a year
  • Run a blog with 100,000+ monthly readers
  • Have sold 3+ online businesses
  • Started a successful company

I recently created a tutorial outlining a step-by-step guide for people to replicate my successes (you can read it here). In its first month the tutorial launched on MonetizePros to over 100,000 readers. Each month the readership continues to grow. My goal is to help create a revolution in how our society views traditional career paths; there is a different, and I argue better, way to work than slaving away chained to 50, 60 or (God forbid) 70-hour work weeks.

The best advice I have for readers looking to jump into the digital nomad lifestyle is to create value for other people and help solve their problems.

Instead of looking for quick ways to make a buck (like my Pay Per Download beginnings) look for ways to create long-term meaningful content. By doing this you create a brand and a loyal following instead of playing into a fad, which will eventually end. With how quickly the internet is changing, you have to be able to provide your users with value in order to stay relevant. Instead of chasing the next best thing, create valuable content to bring readers to you, wherever in the world that may be.

Disclaimer: Although I'm happy promoting the digital nomad lifestyle, I'm not claiming it's perfect or easy. I'm trying to show you that it is a possibility and with enough will and determination, anyone can do it. I'll talk about the dark-side of the lifestyle in a future post.

I'll see you at the beach! :)
I'll see you at the beach! :)
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