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How I learned to Maximize Valuations While Flipping Online Businesses Totaling Over $1.4 million

For today’s episode, Steve interviews Marc Andre, a personal finance blogger of Vital Dollar. He mentions how he started in this industry and gained $1.4 million worth selling the sites he made, and the essential components to keep in mind when selling websites based on his experiences. 

Background of Marc Andre 

Marc Andre started his first website blog in 2007 alongside his full-time job at a finance company. Initially, his goal was to get traffic to the blog and design websites for people. But as soon as he started, he got hooked into it and changed his plan because he enjoyed writing the blog more and saw long-term potential. 

Late in 2008, he was able to leave his full-time job and focused on his blog entirely. He sold his second site in 2010 for $50,000, which he worked on for about a year. He sold it because he wanted to free up his time and do other things on his first site. 

Last 2013, he also sold the first site for $500,000, which he managed for about six years. After this, he worked on some photography blogs and sold two of them in 2016 for a combined $500,000. He held on to one of them and sold his third blog in 2018 for a little over $200,000.  

Then Marc and his wife started an Amazon-based business together. They did it for about a year and a half two years and sold it in 2017 for $225,000.

Key Components In Selling 

Marc Andre took his first sold site as his learning experience, and then he got to do things a little better after. One of his mistakes was he did not plan enough and sold the site pretty quickly. Marc did not get his full advantage on that site or get it more monetized. 

Marc Andre consulted a few people who also have experience selling sites, and they gave opinions regarding the value of sites he wanted to sell. He got pretty confident about getting a buyer and made impulsive decisions. He underestimated that finding a buyer when selling websites does not happen overnight, and it takes some time. 

The site was not yet fully monetized, and he has not yet taken full advantage of the traffic in these sites. He thought about increasing the sites’ value, but it was about six months to a year ahead of planning. When he made his next sale, he already planned. 

He tried to ramp up the revenue and maximize the site’s profit because it is the number one driver to which the customer is willing to pay. There are strategic acquisitions on more prominent companies who are willing to pay high amounts since they have specific plans for a business they want to acquire; however, on a smaller scale, it is about profit and maximizing what you sell.

Marc Andre advises everyone to plan and do whatever it takes to increase profit and cut expenses. In his case, he focused on affiliate marketing, from which he does not generate enough revenue. He was also scaling back the number of hours he was putting in the site. 

Outsourcing And Hiring His Workforce

Marc Andre hired one freelance writer when he sold his site in 2013. That was the only writer he had paid for the whole six years he was working on the website. Marc Andre mentioned that it was about 50% outsourced content and 50% of his work on his photography blogs. 

Since he is just a hobbyist and not a professional photographer, he only does best at certain things. Marc Andre knew his limits and needed help in writing topics that he is not knowledgeable enough.

Moreover, he also outsourced people on the things that he can’t do or cover. His current blog, Vital Dollar, is about 75% outsourced content because he now focuses more on client work. 

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Marketing is a collaborative effort in which you are working with other people. In this sense, Marc Andre collaborated with others to promote regular affiliate products through his site and email lists. 

Most of the revenue he generated from photography blogs were from the sale of digital products. These are products targeted towards other photographers such as Lightroom presets, Photoshop actions, photo overlays, which are used in photo editing and post-processing. 

Partnering and Collaborating With Companies

Marc Andre partners with sites like daily deal sites that target web designers and developers. One of these sites is Mighty that publishes deals from a lot of sellers and has its email list of people who will subscribe to get discounts.

Since he has products to sell, and these sellers need products to sell, he partners with them with a 50-50 split. He makes more money through the volume of the sale. It worked pretty well for him because designs were famous for the different sites. By partnering with these sites, both parties benefited from cross-promotion.

Daily deals sites became Marc Andre’s start-up in photography. He saw sites that sell photo editing products and thought of creating similar yet innovative ones. Later on, Marc Andre developed a website that sells Photoshop actions and added more products and variety. 

Message to Younger Version of Marc Andre

Marc Andre’s message to his younger self is to be more aggressive and to aim higher. Thinking back about how he would react if someone told him he could earn $500,000 in his first blog, the old version of Marc Andre would just laugh and doubt it. 

He used to have the mindset of “low pay, low expectation” that earning high for a low-paying job is impossible even though he worked hard and was aggressive. Marc Andre tells himself to change his mindset and focus on doing more important things. 

Since the online business does not have the same constraints as the traditional job, Marc Andre suggests thinking out of the box and explore more opportunities.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Steve McGarry:

Hello, and welcome to The Exit – Presented By Flippa. I’m your co-host, Steve McGarry. And, this is a 30 minute podcast featuring amazing entrepreneurs who have been there and done it. They have bought businesses, they’ve sold businesses and they’ve operated businesses from the ground up. And, this is a very exciting interview sitting down with Marc Andre, the founder of Vital Dollar. But, before we get into the interview with Marc, definitely check out the previous episode with Keren Moynihan, the CEO of Boss Insights.

The links will be in the show notes, as well as wherever you’re listening to this. We dive deep into the numbers here with Marc Andre on this episode, where we go through some of the content sites that he has had over the past few years. And needless to say, once you guys are listening to this episode, you’re going to realize how incredible Marc Andre has been about taking care of these investments, and scaling them and exiting them in a very, very detailed and systematic way.

And, this is a very unique way to do this, where he’s buying these content businesses. He has writers scaling these businesses up, and he is exiting these businesses for almost a half a million dollars. And, some of them are quarter million dollars. And, it is definitely something that people can aspire to do, because this has all started with just sweat equity.

So, you’re definitely going to want to stick around it to the end of this episode, so you can hear all of the amazing tricks and tips that Marc Andre drops for everyone. And without further ado, let’s dive into my interview with Marc Andre, the founder of Vital Dollar. What is up guys? I’m here with Marc Andre, the personal finance blogger at Vital Dollar. How you doing Marc?

Marc Andre:

I’m good. How are you?

Steve McGarry:

I’m doing great. Thanks so much for jumping on the show. I came across a blog post of yours that I was really inspired by, so thanks so much for coming on.

Marc Andre:

Yeah, thank you for having me. I appreciate [inaudible 00:02:08] opportunity.

Steve McGarry:

For sure. So, just to dive right into it, our series here is called The Exit. And, we’re all about people buying and selling websites, and their experiences and their stories leading up to the exit. So, if you could just kind of give us a background on yourself, like on a basis in which you started in the industry of building content websites, and building these businesses and selling them.

Marc Andre:

Sure. So, I got started with my first website blog in 2007. At the time I had a full-time job as an auditor for a finance company, and I was just looking to make a little bit of extra money in the side. And, I started a web design blog. Initially, my intent or my goal was to get traffic to the blog and ultimately have people hire me to design websites for them. So, I was really focused on a service related business, originally. And like I said, “At first I was just looking to make a little bit of extra money,” but pretty much as soon as I started, I really got hooked and I really loved running the blog. And pretty quickly, I kind of changed my goal and decided that it was something that I wanted to try to do full-time.

And at the same time, I was also getting some clients from it. It was working pretty well, but I was finding that I enjoyed running the blog a lot more than I did the client work, and I saw more potential there long-term. So, I kind of slowly phased out the client work, not that I ever had that much to start with. I was taking clients here and there, but I changed my focus a little bit and work more on growing the blog.

And, yeah, so that was 2007 that I started. In late 2008, I was able to leave my full-time job and work on my blog full-time. And, I actually had started a second web design blog and that one was the first website that I ever sold. So, I sold that site in 2010. I’d been working on it part-time for about a year and a half, and I sold it for $50,000. And, the main reason I sold it at the time was I just didn’t really have time to run both of sites that I was running. And, I had some other things that I wanted to do with the main site. And so, I sold the second one to free up some time. So then, I continue to focus on that main, the first blog that I started for a few years, and I wound up selling that in 2013. I sold that for $500,000.

And, I had managed the site for about six years at that point. And then after that, I worked on some photography blogs. I had a few different photography blogs. I sold two of them in 2016 for a combined $500,000. And, I held onto one of them. And, I sold that third blog in 2018 for a little over $200,000. I think it was 216. And in the meantime, my wife and I had started an Amazon based business together. We were selling some private label products on Amazon, and we did that for about a year and a half, two years. Then we sold that in 2017 for $225,000, plus the cost of the inventory that we had at the time.

Steve McGarry:

Got it. So, that’s an impressive… That’s over, I calculated it really quickly, 1.1, 1.2, something like that, across the sales over the past few years.

Marc Andre:

Let’s see it was, two were 500 each, so that’s a million. And then, yeah, like 1.4, I guess. Because, two that were over 200,000.

Steve McGarry:

Nice. That’s pretty incredible. And, I think one of the things that we’ve really tried to highlight with interviewing amazing operators like yourself and people that are really building up these different blogs is just kind of breaking down the barrier to entry for people. When they think mergers and acquisitions, they think hundreds of millions of dollars, and they think that it’s so unobtainable. So, if you were to go back over your first couple of flips, you could call them, of these blogs where you’d built them with your bare hands over the course of a couple of years. Sounded like the longest one, I believe, was six years. It sounded [crosstalk 00:06:36] building.

So, what would you say was like the, one of the key components to selling it? When you finally came to terms with, “All right, I’m letting go of my baby, my six year old site.” What did you do to get ready for that sale? What were the steps that you took?

Marc Andre:

Yeah. So, that the first one was a big learning experience and I did a lot of things wrong. Fortunately for me, that was a smaller one, that was the one that I sold for $50,000. So, I learned from a lot of mistakes and I was able to do things a little bit better in the future when I had some bigger sales.

Early on, I think the biggest mistake I made that first time around was I didn’t plan ahead enough. I didn’t leave enough time. I decided that I wanted to sell it, and I went about it pretty quickly. I had a few people that I knew that had experience with selling websites that gave me some opinions on the value of the site. And, I was pretty confident that I’d be able to find a buyer, but I underestimated that it does take some time. These types of transactions just don’t happen overnight.

And so, I didn’t leave myself enough time to really make a sale. And, when I say I didn’t plan ahead, the biggest thing was that site was not really fully monetized, I guess. I wasn’t really taking full advantage of the traffic that the site had. I wasn’t always planning to flip it. So, I wasn’t necessarily worried about squeezing every dollar out of the site that I could. And then, when I decided to sell, I was like, “I should probably try to increase the revenue to increase the value of the site, but I only did that for like a month, month or two months. And so it works, but I had basically doubled my revenue. So when I went to sell it, I had people who were looking at it and saying, “Okay, your revenue has doubled, but it’s only been two months that you’ve done it.”

And, it just doesn’t… People were concerned about the sustainability of it. And so, the next time I went to sell, I planned ahead and like six months to a year ago ahead, and really tried to ramp up the revenue and maximize the profits to the site. Because in situations, the types of websites that I run, the profit of this site is by far the number one driver in terms of how much someone’s willing to pay for it. So, there may be strategic acquisitions on a bigger scale, when you’re talking about bigger companies that may be willing to pay really high amounts. Because, they have some specific plan or purpose for a business that they want to acquire. But on the smaller level, like on my scale, it’s really about profit. And so, the best thing you can do to maximize what you can sell for is to plan ahead, and really do everything you can to increase that profit.

So in the case, when I was prepared the second time around, what I did was, I really focused on increasing revenue. In the case of the particular blog that I was working on at the time, I wasn’t making a lot from affiliate revenue. I was making money from ads and from some product sales, selling some digital products. But, I knew I was missing out on some opportunities with affiliate marketing. So, I really focused on that the last six to 12 months that I am in the site. And, really significantly increased the revenue of the site, and then I was able to sell it for more. And at the same time, I was also working on scaling back the amount of hours that I was putting in. Because previously, I had been putting in 40 hours a week for a while, and I knew that someone was going to look at that and say, “I don’t want to buy a job, I don’t want to spend a few hundred thousand dollars for a website and have to come in and work 40 hours a week.”

And, if they’re planning to outsource everything, the amount of hours that you work is going to impact how much they’re going to have to spend, what it’s going to cost them to outsource that work to other people. So, they’re probably going to use that to calculate how much profit they’re going to make after they acquire the site. So, if you can go to someone and say, “I spend 10 hours a week on the site, that’s a lot better than if you say, “I spend 30 hours a week on the site.”

So, that’s really what I focused on the second time around, was those two things, increasing revenue and decreasing my time and my expenses. Anything that wasn’t necessary or wasn’t really productive, I cut out. And, I was able to cut my time in half while still increasing the revenue pretty significantly. So, that’s the main thing I think is, is giving yourself some time planning ahead and kind of making the business as attractive as possible.

Steve McGarry:

Yeah. Well said. And, you touched on a really great point there about scaling up. I think that this is something that a lot of operators struggle with. Especially with something like a blog where you’re literally publishing content, your hands on the keyboard are directly connected to the amount of money that the website is going to generate based on the content you’re pushing out. What did that look like for you? Because a couple of… While you were going over the… Pretty incredible by the way, the timeline in which you were selling these sites.

You started a couple, it was like, “I started number two, I started number three,” and it was like you were doing it simultaneously, running multiple blogs. So, what did that look like for you in terms of scale on the content, and did you have writers? Did you have people that were helping you out, and how did that work?

Marc Andre:

So when I first started, I was writing all the content for my blogs myself. And, I continued that for a long time. And actually, the site that I sold in 2013, which was the first blog that I started. I sold that, at the time I had one freelance writer that I was using. And, he was the only freelancer that I had paid in the six years that I ran the site, the only freelance writer. I had some other freelancers that I hired for design, and probably a little bit for coding too. I can’t remember if I hired anyone for coding anything with that site or not. But, I did sell some digital products on that site. They were products that were targeted towards other designers. It was things that people would use in Photoshop like icons, or Photoshop brushes, or textures, or different templates that people would use to design a website or some other type of a project.

And so, some of that stuff was things that I created myself and some of it was outsourced to other people. So, that was the biggest thing that I outsourced that first time around was design, we’re creating digital products. With other sites in the future, specifically with my [inaudible 00:13:55], I outsourced a little bit more than writing. Kind of vary depending on the time, as far as… Like, it wasn’t always consistent. There were periods of time where I was outsourcing more of the work, and there are periods of time where I was doing more of it myself. But, if I had to look overall as a whole, I would say I probably outsourced about 50% of the content on my photography blogs. And, I probably wrote about 50% of myself.

And, I am not a professional photographer. So, I’m a hobbyist, I enjoy photography. I’m better at certain things than others, but I knew my limitations. And, there were some things that I was not able or not comfortable to… Basically not qualified to write on my own, and so I hired people to write on those topics that I couldn’t cover myself. And then, I covered the things that I felt [inaudible 00:14:47] with. So again, I would say that was about 50%. With my current blog, with Vital Dollar, personal finance blog, I outsource… I have two freelance writers that I use right now.

Right now, I’m probably outsourcing about 75% of the content, just because I’ve been spending more time on client projects and stuff. And so, I haven’t really had time to spend very much. But, I’ve always been involved with the content of my sites. I’ve never been… Like, I know some people like to outsource all of their writing, that’s not me. I like to be involved. I like to have blogs on topics that I enjoy. And, I don’t really have any interest in outsourcing all of the work. So, it might be a little bit more efficient and maybe it will be better profitability wise [inaudible 00:15:38] outsource more, but that’s just the way that I like to operate.

Steve McGarry:

Yeah. Most definitely. And, starting in categories that you’re even somewhat passionate in, I think that’s really relevant, because it becomes less of a job, or like a grind when you’re doing it. And, it’s a good segue into the types of products.

When you were leading these projects individually up into an exit, what were the products that you were selling? Because, a lot of people will reach out to potential companies, or businesses, or online stores, or however you want to bucket them into a category and sell products on affiliate for them. And, I know you mentioned you and your wife had started an Amazon affiliate. So, affiliate marketing is definitely part of your strategy. So, were you selling photography products as well? And, were each of these sites affiliate related with the content that you were generating?

Marc Andre:

The revenue from my photography blogs was not completely 100%, but pretty close to it was all from the sale digital products. I made a little bit, I’m promoting other products as an affiliate. I didn’t have ads on the site. I didn’t offer any type of service or sponsored content or anything. I’d say probably 85 to 90% of the revenue was from selling digital products. So, they were products that were targeted towards other photographers. Things that people would use in the photo editing or post-processing of their photos. So, it was things like Lightroom presets, Photoshop actions, photo overlays.

I had one site that sold some print templates, so like if someone was a photographer and you were taking, for example, newborn photos. And, a client wanted to send out birth announcements to their friends and family, I sold card templates that people could insert their own photos in Photoshop and create these cards. So, it was all different products, digital downloadable products that will be used by photographers.

Steve McGarry:

Got it. And, one of the things that really jumped out at me when I first went through the Vital Dollar posts which… By the way, you’ve done an incredible job of laying it out, so that you can go through and see all the different parts of making a hobby, a full-time income. And, bravo on that part, because I really enjoy all the content on there. Part of the reason that I reached out originally, was just because I enjoyed what you’re bringing to the table, where people are all… Especially nowadays with everything that’s going on, people want to have a side hustle. They want to be able to generate some additional income.

And, one of the things that really jumped out at me was that you talk about partnering with other people to promote products. And, this is something that I have a little bit of experience in. And, I’ve talked about it a little bit in the past, but what was your experience with partnering with other individuals to help promote, or like collaborative efforts, I guess you could call them?

Marc Andre:

[inaudible 00:19:05] a few different [inaudible 00:19:06] ways that I did that. Originally going back to when I had web design blogs, there were a few different sites, and some of them still exist. I would describe them kind of as like Groupon clones. So, they were like daily deal sites, but specifically targeting web designers, developers. There’s one called Mighty [inaudible 00:19:28], it’s pretty popular. There were a number of others that were similar to that. So, it was basically like, it’s a site that publishes deals from a lot of different sellers, and then they have their own email list of people who, let’s say you’re a web designer, be subscribed to the email list and you get emails every day, or a few times a week with these like really deep discounts. So, I would be partnering with the sites that were deal sites, that had their own email lists.

I wanted to sell my product, they needed products to sell to their audience. So it depended on the site, what the revenue split would be. But say for example, it was 50/50 split. I sell a product at a pretty deep discount, but I can usually sell a pretty high volume depending on the popularity of the site. And then, make more money based on the volume of the sale. So, that worked out pretty well for me. Because in design, at least at the time, there were a few sites that were pretty popular. Like I said, Mighty Deals was one, InkyDeals was another. There was one called Webmaster-Deals. Not even sure if that one’s still around. AppSumo is a really popular one. They are a little bit more tech focused I think, than design focused, but they did have some deals back in the day that were design related.

And, I had one that ran there that did pretty well. So, that was one way, was the daily deal sites. And, that’s actually kind of how I got started on the photography blogs, to be honest. So, I knew these daily deal sites existed, and I made pretty good money selling my web design products on there. And, I started seeing some of these sites selling some photography related products like Photoshop actions, for example. And, if you’re not familiar with Photoshop or what a Photoshop action is, the easiest way to describe it would be, it’s like an Instagram filter. When you take a picture, you click a button and it applies a different effects to the photo. So, there’s a decent bit of crossover between graphic design and photography on some websites like some graphic design blogs and graphic design websites, also cover some photography related stuff, because a lot of graphic designers also have an interest in photography.

And so, I was seeing these deals on Photoshop actions and had an interest in photography. It was a hobby of mine. So I thought, “You know what, I wonder if I can create some of these products.” And, I already know these deals sites exist, I don’t have to have an audience of my own. At least to get started, I could create some products, try and sell them on these deal sites. Maybe they’ll make some money, maybe they won’t. If they don’t, that’s fine, then I’ll just stop and move on. But if they make money, then maybe I’ll build out a full site and try to grow it from there. So, that’s exactly what I did.

I created some Photoshop actions. I put them up on some of these deal sites. They did really well, like better than my web design stuff was doing. And so, I decided to build out a website, I added more products, more variety. And, while I was starting that, I was still running my web design blog. So, I started the photography site, I think it was in 2012. And then, I sold my web design blog in 2013. So when I sold that, I just transitioned into spending more time on the photography blog.

Yeah. So, the deal sites was definitely a big way that I partnered with other people. I also did a little bit with people with email lists. So in some cases, I didn’t do this with a lot of people, but with a few people in the photography industry, I partnered with people who had products that targeted a similar audience, but were not directly competing with my products. And, I would promote their products in my email list, and they would promote my product to their email list, just for a little cross promotion.

Like I said, I didn’t do that a lot, but I did have really good results in a few cases. I did that on Black Friday one year and had huge results both, promoting someone else’s product and selling my product to their email list.

Steve McGarry:

[inaudible 00:00:23:54].

Marc Andre:

And obviously, affiliate marketing in general is a collaborative effort, its working with other people. So in that sense, I collaborated with other people to promote regular affiliate products through my sites and through my email list. So, kind of a few different ways.

Steve McGarry:

Nice. Yeah. I’ve had some experience there with DojoMojo, which is like a similar kind of collaborative effort, where you can partner with companies in the same niche, or even in a similar niche that has somewhat relevant user base similar to yours. Which I always thought was a really brilliant way of cross promoting. And, even for all the people that are listening that have bought websites, that’s a really great way that Marc touched on about how you can quickly monetize. You can quickly make some return to de-risk yourself a little bit, is doing this kind of cross promotion, which is a really great way of generating some revenue, so.

But, last question for you Marc, is one that we ask everybody. And, you touched on it a little bit before of like taking your time, and how you learned a lot on that first design blog exit. What would you tell yourself, knowing what you know now, 10 years ago? Like, if you were able to travel back in time, knowing you’ve cleared over $1.4 million and done an incredible job of building these sites and selling them. What would you tell yourself if you could give 10 years younger Marc some pointers?

Marc Andre:

I think, if I were to go back 10 years ago from now, I had sold my first blog for $50,000 within… I sold that in the spring of 2010. And so, it’d be about six months earlier than 10 years ago. So, I was coming off what was a fairly good sale for me, especially as a new blogger. It wasn’t a huge amount of money. It wasn’t a life-changing amount of money or anything, but it felt good to have a first sale of that amount. And, I know it generated some interest from other web design bloggers. People saw it and thought, “Wow, you can actually make money selling a web design blog, that’s pretty cool.”

So, I was at a stage where I had some experience, but I think the main thing I would tell myself is, “To be more aggressive and to aim higher.” So, if you had told me when I started my first blog, that I’d be able to sell it for $500,000, I probably would have laughed and said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” but it did. And, I did obviously work hard, and I think I was aggressive to some extent. But, I think coming from… At that time, I was in a fairly low level job. I worked a few years out of college in some entry level jobs, wasn’t making a ton of money. I think I had somewhat just the mindset of like low pay, low expectations. Like to me, making a few hundred thousand dollars a year or selling for more than that was kind of foreign. So, I think the main thing I would tell myself would be to, “Change my mindset and focus on trying to do things bigger.”

And with online business, you’re not restricted to the same constraints that you have in the offline world. Like I mentioned, my first few jobs were entry level and I wasn’t making a ton of money. And, the amount of money that I could make in those jobs was based mostly on what someone else would be willing to do the job. My company, even if I was a really great employee, they weren’t going to pay me a ton of money to do a job that someone else could do for a low salary.

So, you have a lot of constraints with those types of jobs that don’t really exist with a website. You can make whatever you can earn. So, I think a lot of it is just changing your mindset and getting out of the same mindset that you have with a regular [inaudible 00:28:12] traditional job.

Steve McGarry:

Well said. Well, you guys heard it here. Marc has gone through, his really pretty meteoric rise to over $1.4 million in exits from these different design and photography blogs. Congratulations on all your success Marc, and thanks so much for coming on the show and sharing your journey with everybody.

Marc Andre:

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Steve McGarry:

Thanks so much for sticking around to the end of this episode of The Exit here, presented by Flippa. And, this was a great one because it just shows that you can scale a content business to half a million dollars in just a couple of years. Marc Andre definitely surprised me very much when he started dropping these big numbers. And, I was very impressed with how he did it so systematically over the course of a couple years. And, really just completely changed the trajectory of his life, which I love hearing stories like this.

And, I know that listeners out there love hearing stories like this, where somebody has a nine to five job, they jump into buying websites and they’re able to completely change the trajectory of their life. So, that is it for this episode. I hoped you guys really liked it. Don’t forget to smash the subscribe button. If you did like it, press the like button wherever you’re listening to this, if you did like it. And, be subscribed for some amazing interviews over the next coming weeks here. So, I will see you guys on the next episode of The Exit.

Benjamin Weiss

Benjamin Weiss

Benjamin Weiss is a marketing all-star at Flippa. He has well over a decade of experience running multifaceted marketing programs within the CPG industry and knows just what it takes to drive a business from vision to reality. You will often find him enjoying a cold beer on a hot day in Austin, TX, or you can always find him on LinkedIn.