The Exit Podcast - James Camp's $1.1m Website Flipping Strategy All Started with a Bedroom Blog Worth $36
By Steve McGarry
James Camp’s $1.1m Website Flipping Strategy All Started with a Bedroom Blog Worth $36
James Camp buys and flips websites to the tune of $1.1 million in a year. From smelting down scrap gold as a teenager and writing about it on a basic blog, to strategy consulting from across the seas, James has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. James built up a successful strategy consulting firm and was lucky enough to sell to the right buyer at the right time. Stepping off the rollercoaster that is being an entrepreneur from time to time, James always gets back on. It’s all about knowing when to sell…and when not to sell.
My First $36
James considers his background to be non-traditional, getting into internet marketing at the age of 16. One of his first big ideas was smelting down scrap gold to sell on craigslist. Exactly…non traditional. With that, he started a blog called GoldPeiceXL, where he posted random content, but a few of his articles went viral in those early internet days and he made his first $36.
Those few dollars led James to think he might be on to something and he ended up heading down the road towards affiliate marketing and brokering offers between advertisers and publishers. In addition, he built an ad network called Liquid Offers – and sold it.
His first big flip however, was with buying a domain name called Upload Forever. He rebuilt it, sold it, and from there he was hooked.
My Next Strategy
James went on to work for some big consulting firms and during this time, seven years ago, had an epiphany. He wanted to become a digital nomad. So naturally, he sold everything he owned and moved to SE Asia. There he started mentoring others, eventually moving to London to teach all that he had learned. Upon returning to the states, James ran into an old friend that was a commodities trader. Together they built a strategy consulting firm. Four years later, they would sell the business to an old client.
Exit To The Right (Buyer)
The exit from the firm was long and unconventional. James walked away with a piece of the company, continuing to consult some clients. He credits the brokers of the deal with making it an excellent structure for all involved. James says he sees a lot of people selling to whoever comes along, but it’s worth it to go out and find the right buyer. In fact, this wasn’t their first offer, but it was the right one at the right time.
Stepping Off The Roller Coaster
A few years earlier, someone had wanted to buy them out but it wasn’t the right time or the right terms. Some people would have jumped at the first opportunity to sell, but James knew he was still in his sweet spot, still building. James also knew that he worked best in 3-5 year sprints before he got burnt out. So when that time came and they had a new offer, the right offer at the right time, they jumped on it. James recognizes that entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster full of ups and downs and sometimes you just have to step off. He always steps back on though, as he says he doesn’t even know how to get a real job; being an entrepreneur is all he knows.
What To Look For
Recently James took to Twitter and shared that he had made $1.1 million in a year flipping websites. This tweet got him 1,400 new followers in a day and 40,000 engagements. People were obviously interested so James went on to start a newsletter about website flipping. One of the things he teaches is what to look for when buying a website. Often people will look into selling ad space on sites to make money, but James says that’s low-hanging fruit. If you want the big bucks, James says to ask two questions when considering buying a site. First, Is there a better way to monetize this site? Things such as affiliate marketing or an e-commerce shop. Next, is there a better customer acquisition strategy? For example, if you have a plumbing website, look at where people are clicking when on your site. Are they just clicking on ads for a plumber? If so, start selling leads to plumbers. There’s power in understanding leverage and how to exit.
Making Money x2
The money made with this strategy is twofold. You’ll make money off the site as you’re improving it and then will make more money when the time comes to sell the site. For example, say you have a blog writing about mortgage rates. You can use your site to get leads to sell to a mortgage broker and then later can show the mortgage broker the benefit of just owning the site and then sell to them. A lot of people tend to be all about the ‘buy and hold’, looking for passive income streams. James always tells people that websites aren’t really great for passive income. Fix them and flip them.
What Would You Tell Yourself 10 Years Ago?
When asked what he would tell his younger self, James first says he wouldn’t want to change anything as it’s all made him who he is today. The biggest lessons he’s learned in those 10 years are to get comfortable doing things you don’t like doing and to understand the end game. For the first time in his life James says he is looking 10 years out. In the past he feels like he’s gotten really lucky, but then again says so much of success is based on luck. It’s about having the patience to wait for that luck.
Where To Connect
All right guys. I am here with James Camp, the successful serial entrepreneur and investor. How’s it going, James?
Good, thanks for having me, Steve.
For sure. For sure. This all started, we were just talking before we started recording about a tweet thread that James put together that was talking about buying websites and making 1.1 plus million over the course of 12 months and this definitely got my attention. I saw it, came across my feed and I was like, okay, I have to reach out to James. We have to talk about this. That’s kind of the foundation here in terms of how I found James and how we wanted to really bounce this conversation off. But before we get into the intricacies that you go through in that tweet, let’s talk about your background. What’s your origin story? And what really got you into buying online businesses?
Sure. Yeah, I have I think what I think of is this sort of non-traditional background and the more people I speak to and actually the more entrepreneurs I meet, it just becomes I think I’ve got this sort of contrarian way of looking at the world, but I think it’s actually just how people like me look at the world. I was an internet marketing kid when I was 16, 15 years old. Ever since I can remember, I was trying to make money. And I’ll never forget, when I was 15 or 16, I was really into sneakers and I had decided I was going to start smelting down scrap gold to sell on Craigslist. I don’t remember. It was something along those lines exactly. But I started a blog and it was called Gold Piece XL.
And it was just with pictures of dunks and scrap jewelry that I had bought that I was convinced that in my bedroom at home, I was going to smelt down and flip and make money. And so I just would write really random content about stuff I found interesting. This is a different day of the internet when there was less stuff online. People would take, there’s a big idea of taking books that existed that weren’t online yet, sort of rewriting them, putting them up online and that could be fresh content. And I wrote a couple articles that went pretty viral and the way they went viral is I was just like, I didn’t realize I was spamming. But it would join these blogging communities and I would just DM people my content, hundreds of them a day, read my article, read my article.
And I had a couple of them went viral on two platforms that don’t really exist anymore. One was called Dig and one was called StumbleUpon. And I had Google AdSense on the website and I remember opening Google AdSense and I had $36. And people always say, you remember the first dollar you made online. That was for sure the epiphany moment of, wow. I really, really, there’s something to this.
I sort of went to a deep dive of understanding advertising. Got involved in affiliate marketing and then involved in sort of brokering offers between advertisers and publishers. Built an ad network called Liquid Offers and I sold it. Sort of the first big flip that I had as well was I bought a domain name called upload forever from a domainer. And it had been a file listing website and the guy just had to sit in there and a parking website. It was just collecting money from clicks when people search for files and bought that and then sort of had that rebuilt into a file hosting website again and then had it sort of as the incentivized version of Liquid Offers. We have this ad network that was all for non-incentive traffic called Liquid Offers. And then I had underneath it, I had Upload Forever, which was a content locking incent offer network.
The way it worked was you wanted to access a picture of this cute baby. I uploaded it online and then I locked it with an affiliate offer. And then you would fill out that affiliate offer to access the content. The difference is, is that you have to use incentive offers instead and they pay a lot less. But anyway, I sold that business and then sort of just got into strategy consulting for a lot of different things. Putting my hand in a lot of different honeypots. Was very lucky enough to work with some really big consulting firms and some big brands. And then I think, I guess seven years ago, I had this epiphany that I felt I wanted to become a digital nomad, as I think a lot of people feel that they want to be in their mid twenties.
And I sold everything I owned and I moved to Southeast Asia with a laptop when I lived in Kuala Lumpur. And just did strategy consulting there. Had a contract with McKinsey in the US, which was very lucky for me because I was going to paid in USD, but living off of ringgit. I started mentoring at a accelerator called Magic, which the Malaysian government runs. And through that, I got plugged into Launchpad, which is one of Google’s accelerators and actually went out to London and started teaching growth strategies at Launchpad in London. Came back home to New York to visit, ran into an old friend who had been a commodities trader. And he said, “Hey man, I think the next big commodity is cannabis. And I know that you’ve been working in these big firms, let’s do something in that space.” And I said, “All right, well, I’m a digital marketer so let’s see what we can do.”
Long story short, we ended up building a sort of strategy consulting firm that had some wholly owned media assets within it that we used as sort of the top of funnel, so to speak into getting consulting clients. Did that for about four years, I guess, and then sold that back in July of 2020. And that brought me to Twitter, where I started tweeting about sort of businesses that I would buy and flip and how to do that. And I had one tweet, which is the one that you’re talking about that I did and this is stuff I just do for fun anyway. I’m constantly trying to run cases on things and see what I would do with them. And that tweet got me, I think, 1,400 followers in a day and 150,000 impressions and 40,000 engagements. And I thought, there’s really something here. People are really interested in this.
And so I sort of followed in that path and continuously put out tweets and newsletters about sort of customer acquisition and monetization under the context of website flipping. And today, as I said to you, I’m sort of trying to get a couple brands under LOI to buy and put them to hold come with an agency and this sort of, maybe that’ll be the next big, exciting thing that I work on.
Got it. Got it. The strategy firm that you and a friend had developed, exited in mid 2020, right after all the kind of craziness started. That’s very cool that you were able to pull that off, even with the craziness going on. In terms of how that process worked, on the show here, we’ve heard everything from bumped into the acquiring company at a coffee shop, through a manufacturer they got the phone number, reaching out. Every different way. What was that process like for you guys?
It’s interesting that you say that it’s amazing we pulled it off in July because candidly, July 2nd was the close, but it took a long time prior to July for any of that to happen. The people that bought us actually were old clients of ours. And so it’s a really complex and weird transaction that we went through and I’ll save that for, if anyone wants to have a long, 30 minute esoteric conversation about sort of how you close M and A valuation gaps through different structures and clawback agreements and earn outs and all that good stuff. But we went through a really weird transaction that ended up with a bit of cash and a lot of stock. And long story short, we ended up owning a piece of the company that bought us because from consulting to them.
And essentially it sort of became a mix of an acqui-hire. But we very luckily had built up a big, big set of assets within our company. And we’d sort of considered some of these companies went public that we consulted for so they were marketable securities and we could have just sold the asset and sort of dividended them out. Would have been a worse tax structure for everyone, but we ended up going through an acquisition instead. And it was just a really clever, I think, not to toot my horn because I didn’t put it together, but the bankers that helped us that we worked with, created a really clever structure that allowed us all to be happier, I think, and align incentives in sort of in terms of growth.
It was a little bit of me doing consulting for some of the companies these guys own today as part of that. And it sort of was a living, breathing example of finding the right buyer being super, super important. And I think that that’s sort of one thing I think about with flipping as well, let’s look at websites, it’s a lot of the same concepts, just value added PE stuff. It’s sort of making something more exciting and interesting to a specific buyer. And I think very often people go and just sell businesses and I think they might do better if they went off and looked for specific buyers to buy their business. Sorry. That was sort of roundabout way of saying it, but it was a weird transaction.
Yeah, no, it was good. You talked about earn outs all the kind of intricacies that are into a not average transaction.
Yeah, so part of it earn out and part of it’s clawback, which you hear about earn outs a lot, clawback you don’t hear about a lot. Callback is like, you gave me something today and if I don’t hit certain KPIs for you in the future, you legally are allowed to take it back from me. That’s, I think as people look at exits, it’s important to understand that there are a lot of different mechanics and ways to push and pull to close valuation gaps when looking at mergers and acquisitions.
Yeah. Yeah. Most definitely. A lot of people that are listening and watching this are probably curious and we’ve seen this a lot time and time again and I always kind of wonder it as well, having gone through an acquisition, the why. The time of acquisition, everybody has different reasons. Why they go through an acquisition, through the brain damage of a complex transaction with earn outs, clawbacks, all of these moving parts. For you, on a personal level, what was the why around why you wanted to sell the strategic consulting business?
Well, I think just from a very personal standpoint, I’m really good at three to five year sprints. I can run really fast and hard for three to five years in terms of work. And I really get burnt out and I felt a little burnt out by this. It was the right time to the right buyer. It was just sort of incredibly serendipitous. I knew that I wanted to go do some other things. I wanted to sort of take another big swing. Interestingly enough, I may mix up the dates here, but I guess it’s 2021 now. But I guess in 2017, maybe, we were actually about to try and do a capital raise and the lead on the raise was like, I’ll just buy you.
And we were like, it was a strategic. Sort of in our space that we thought would be interesting. And so I’ll just buy you. And we negotiated a price, we negotiated an eight figure price and I went home. I left, I told my girlfriend. I said, “John, the floor, this is it. This is, I started a company a year and a half ago and I’m rich.” And I went into the office the next day and there was a term sheet sitting in my inbox and it was for a fifth, literally exactly a fifth of the price we had negotiated for. And my jaw just hit the floor and my partner and I, at the time said to the employees, “We’re going to go outside for a second.” Went outside and we talked and I was just like, “I don’t know what to do.”
And so my father had been an entrepreneur and when he was younger, he had an opportunity to sell his company. Never did. And when he passed away, he really had nothing at all. And so for me, he passed away from Alzheimer’s and so his business fell apart as he got older. And so I think for me, I’d watched, I’d seen sort of firsthand how when someone offers you a golden ticket, so to speak that, that you need to be really, really serious about not taking it, really confident in not taking it if you don’t want to.
Long story short, we decided not to take that and we ended up going on a couple more years. And so the next time an opportunity sort of presented itself, I think that we felt, I was 32, my partner was 27. I had raised money from friends and family and investment bankers and raised debt. And it was just the real entrepreneurial grind is an absurd rollercoaster that I think I’m built for. But every once in a while, you just got to get off for a second is sort of how I felt. And it was just serendipitous timing with the right buyer and I felt like I was ready for a new sort of opportunity in my life.
Yeah, well said. Well said. And I like that you described the rollercoaster, one. And then also just how quickly that up and down happened, where you get that term sheet, and it’s a fifth of the size. And it goes from the high up euphoric of telling your girlfriend, “Hey, this is a huge deal,” a year and a half in and then the next day, boom, it’s just a complete shift and that, that kind of captures the grind of the rollercoaster.
I’ve had more times and not that I’m super tough because I’m really not. But sort of, it’s just been, it’s funny because people will say to me, “Oh, I’m so impressed that you went this path. This is not a path I could ever deal with.” And sort of, I’m grateful that people find it sort of admirable that myself and other entrepreneurs go this path, but I won’t speak for other people. I’ll speak for myself. I just don’t know anything else. I just actually, I don’t know how to go get a job. I just don’t know. Sort of that up and down, it’s just sort of what I’ve been used to. I’ve never known, I paid my own paychecks for years. I never known when a paycheck was coming. We were paying employees and not paying ourselves at points. That sort of get knocked down onto the floor is something I’m pretty used to at this point and to sum it up, I felt like I was a little tired of being knocked down a floor and someone offered me a hand up, so why not take it?
Yeah. Yeah. And just even taking a step back, taking a breath, saying, “I’ve grinded for this long,” and you really did a good job of describing yourself and you know yourself well enough that it was three to five year sprints. A lot of younger entrepreneurs that I’ve met over the years, they really haven’t quite gotten that sense yet where they’re kind of looking at theirs being the next unicorn, billion dollar company and there’s no real inward visibility there of saying, “Actually I’m going to burn out in three to five years,” and that number is different for everybody. But just knowing that is really empowering for you to say, “I got this window of time where I can execute better than anybody and I just need to pull it off in that window of time.” And I think that that is something that is a really good knowledge nugget for younger people out there that are maybe just first starting or maybe they’re hitting that kind of burnout feeling where they’re getting an itch for a different project and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just knowing yourself a little bit.
I think, for me, I realized it’s funny because we don’t have enough time to dive into it fully but the company that we started just was not the exact same company that we sold. In terms of a real pivot that we had to take. And so we had sort of reformed Newco and gave all the old shareholders pro rata shares in Newco because we wanted to make it right for them. And so to keep going with that sort of concept, I thought when I was 25, I was like, oh, we are so this is it. I’m as clever as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and sort of, I think by my thirties, I was like, I’m really not and I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t need to be, I don’t want to be Jeff Bezos.
I’m the guy who’ll to take you from from 30 to 60. I’m not the guy who’s going to run a $2 billion company. It’s just not who I am. I don’t have it in me. It doesn’t interest me. I like growing things and sort of, I felt that we’d capped out the growth that we found fun and interesting. And that I thought that I would be good at. And so I think a lot of that to your point is sort of being able to be introspective. Not that I’m so good at that, but people should take a step back and say, I hate to say it sounds so corny, but, “What makes me happy?” Yeah, money makes me happy, working hard makes me happy. But within the confines of not just what am I chasing eventually here? I know I like jumping from project to project. And so why sort of force myself into something that was not fun anymore?
Yeah. Yeah. No, the episode that I did with Josh Dziabiak from Zebra, he talked a little bit about the same situation, where one day he got into the elevator going up to work and everybody in the elevator worked at the company he started, but he didn’t recognize or know any of them. And he said, “This is a time where I need to leave.” Building a system from zero and then once the system exists, you’re operating within it. And that’s a whole different mindset. And they’re kind of different parts of, I guess, your brain that you’re using or something like that. But it is a weird feeling. But getting back on track.
In terms of what you’re working on now, there’s the tweet. You’re working on acquiring a couple different companies, putting them into a holding company. What was the concept that you went through in the tweet? I wanted to touch on that where you literally, you went over a million in 12 months in the thread and described how you could do it. Could you just break it down for our listeners?
Sure. Yeah, I’ve done it with a few tweets like that actually. And I do a newsletter where I just do the exact same thing in it too, and I’ll plug that at the end. But the reality is, it’s just sort of looking at a business and saying, “Where is there an extra opportunity in terms of customer acquisition? And then more importantly, where’s there an extra opportunity in terms of revenue of the backend?” Some of the consulting work I’ve done is with large direct response info product companies. And so I know, sort of owning the backend looks like. And with our last company, what you saw on the surface was a financial news website that sort of had 40,000 email subscribers and two million unique readers a year and was very reputable, but that really was just a conduit to us getting these consulting clients.
And so, AdSense, how this whole conversation started, was programmatic display is the lower level of monetization. Very often when I look at things or I look at websites for sale, it’s just, is there a better way to monetize this? And so the way that we got to that money in the 12 month timeframe is sort of really understanding the power and magic of A, leverage and B, an exit. Let’s say that, it’s a pretty standard rule that websites today sell for 36 times monthly net revenue. Excuse me for not remembering the exact numbers from that thread, but in general, if you add a $1,000 of monthly revenue, you’ve added $36,000 in value to the business. If I buy a business for a $100,000 and it’s making $3,000 a month, that’s roughly what it would be. If I double that revenue, at 12 months I’ve now made 36,000 extra dollars in revenue over those 12 months and then when I sell that, I’m getting an extra a $100,000 on the backend because someone’s buying it for that multiple.
That thread and most of what I talk about is looking at opportunities and seeing if there’s a better customer acquisition strategy, A, and then B, is there a better way to monetize those customers or readers? Very often that’s sort of, there might be opportunities for directories. There might be an opportunity for affiliate marketing. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for small eComm shops on top. I think a lot of people I know, talk about sort of brand owned media these days. Equinox owns Furthermore, I believe, which is a magazine about working out. I forget who owns Chalkboard mag, but it’s a food company.
My point is, it’s I think a lot of the time when people look at media sites, they think about how do I sell display ads? Or maybe advertorials, whatever. But that’s the low hanging fruit. I think if you’ve got a little more juice in you, or if you were a strategic value at a private equity firm that was putting things together and crushing OpEx and CapEx, you might find it was more synergistic with a different revenue model. To sum it up again, how do I go find customers for cheaper or more? And then how do I make more money off of those customers? And very often it’s changing that from just display ads to seeing where are they clicking when they go on the display ads?
If you’re going to a plumbing website, is the person then clicking an ad from a plumber on Google? If they are, then you should probably just do something that leads directly to plumbers. You’d make a lot more money in that regard. And then the real sort of alpha, the real gain comes from the sale of that business. This is what you see in house flipping. This is what you see in most distressed PE deals, where they exit businesses. It’s sort of my new change is that makes something much more valuable on the backend and then the sale of that business on the backend that you sort of capture that value today. I don’t know if that explains it well.
It definitely did. It definitely broke it down. And I think one of the things that really caught my attention was that your skillset specifically isn’t the first initial response that a lot of people have when they’re doing diligence on something like thinking of it through your perspective of adding unique user acquisition to a new site, adding affiliate links, adding sponsored posts, whatever it may be, all the way to a flip is a unique perspective. I think a lot of people are really just reliant on the display ads and keeping a consistent return on investment, just parking money, making a return. Whereas your approach is adding more traffic, adding more eyeballs, adding more revenue and rapidly flipping it, like flipping a house like you described it.
And I think the value in that is that when you flip the house is the end buyer is more interested in owning that house than you are. And so I feel the same way about exiting businesses or websites. It’s like, you can find an end buyer. Again, I’m going to create a hypothetical scenario, but you’re writing about mortgage rates on a blog. Well the lowest levels you’re getting at 10 cents, I would recommend that you go cut a deal directly with a mortgage broker or a call center that sells mortgage broker leads and sell those leads directly. Probably the most synergistic exit for you would be a mortgage broker. It’s not even a media company or holding somebody. If you could find a mortgage broker and say, “Hey, you guys can capture even more of this revenue.”
And that’s the only specifically, I think of that because I own the lead gen site that I sold for hard money leads and I was taking some points on the loans that they were doing. But at one point I had a conversation with a lender. I was like, “Listen man, if I really start sending you crazy leads, I’m just going to go buy a small brokerage and closing those loans myself, underwrite those loans ourselves.” But I think it just seems too big of a lift. And I think a lot of website buyers these days are buy and hold people. They are people that are looking for sort of passive income streams. And it happens to be that from a cash on cash perspective, they’re probably one of the highest returns for an asset class that exists today.
But what I tell people always, always, always is that whether you’re trying to do what I talk about, which is aggressive re-monetization and customer acquisition and then the flip or you’re looking for a sort of passive income stream then a website is really not a passive income stream, it’s sort of a living, breathing thing. People always ask me, “What should I look for?” And one of the first things I say is, “A couple years of consistent traffic because I’m not an SEO guy, but Google’s algorithms are constantly changing. You better be able to sort of deal with what comes your way.” I don’t think that websites are the beautiful, passive income stream that people hope that they are. But I think that they can be, if you know a little bit, you can put in a little bit of maintenance work, they can be fantastic cash on cash return as an investment.
Agreed. The finale question that we ask everybody here on the show is knowing what you know now, what would you tell James 10 years ago in a short, concise kind of knowledge nuggets for all the listeners out there?
I’ll start it with a really bad answer, which is that I love who I am today and I generally believe I wouldn’t be who I was today if everything hadn’t gone wrong and gone right. But if I had to give a nugget, I would say, get comfortable doing things you don’t like doing and understand the long game. It’s so cliche, but I’m only 32 and for the first time in my life, I’m trying to look 10 years out. I think I got super, super, super, super lucky in terms of what happened to me. And I think so much of success is based on luck, but if you’re trying to mitigate luck, I would be willing to play the long game. Patience. In one word, patience, have a lot of patience, something I did not have when I was a kid.
Well said. Well, those are all the questions I have for you, James. Where can people go and, and learn more about what you’re working on and following you?
Yeah. I’m super active on Twitter. It’s said Jameson Camp or James on Camp, that’s how it’s spelled. @jamesoncamp on Twitter. I write about website flips at nanoflips.com, just a newsletter. Every couple weeks I’ll put out a sort of, I’ll run a case or breakdown of a website that I think would be a good opportunity for a flip, how it might look and sort of what I would do in that scenario and sort of what revenues I would expect. Yeah, Jameson Camp on Twitter or nanoflips.com and that’s me.
Awesome. Awesome. And you guys can see all of those links that James has mentioned in the show notes, but once again, thank you so much for coming on the show, James, this was fantastic and good luck with all your endeavors.
Thank you so much, Steve. Have a good one, man.