You know that old motivational saying: "somewhere, some guy is working harder than you"? Ryan Eagle is that guy. He started as a self taught internet marketer and has since built a multi-million dollar empire and, as owner of EWA and BLAM Ads (among others), has become a leader in the performance advertising industry. We caught up with Ryan as he told us about his early days in the biz, making affiliates rich, kicking a drug habit and fulfilling his unrelenting vision to be the best in the business.
You started with $0 and now own a multi-million dollar business. Tell us the story of how you first got started and how you then started building your business.
As you said, I'm entirely a self-made man - I turned a domain name into one of the most prominent internet advertising companies in the game. I began building websites at a very young age around video games that I enjoyed playing. I put advertising onto these sites that was there mainly to cover the sever costs required to keep them alive and soon realized there was full potential. In order for me to get traffic to these sites, I studied the SEO strategies of various websites in ultra-competitive markets and built it into my own sites.
Sometime around the age of 16, I decided that I wanted to turn this into a business and developed a small network of niche websites based around various topics that I enjoyed. One day I woke up, checked my AdSense account and was astonished to see that there was a balance of almost a thousand dollars in there for the day already coming from one of my sites. I looked in the search engine and was ranked #1, a rank that I held for years. I knew that I had finally hit my break after years of working and developed an empire of sites that were top ranked, sometimes all top three results. I switched from AdSense to YPN and continued honing my on-page monetization techniques until I was generating millions a year in pure profit from my domains. This was the beginning of Eagle Web Assets, and from there I continued networking and learning about more industries - stumbling into affiliate marketing in 2005. I carried the same work ethic that I always did into every new industry I entered, saved my capital, and build up the empire that I have now from the ground up.
What was the first commission you ever earned?
As an affiliate, I decided to cut out the marketers that were using AdWords to hit my webpages and replaced their banners with direct links to affiliate campaigns. My first commission was actually a WebFetti lead, but that's not what got me hooked into the industry. I decided to divulge myself into marketing myself instead of just on-page advertising with the classic SinglesNet campaign. I still remember when the lead synced instantly, and from there I was hooked and never looked back. I preach to new publishers to push dating because that's exactly what I did, and I learned so many valuable skills over the years from that vertical I still suggest it to this day.
Many good affiliates experience overnight success. Was there a defining moment when you thought to yourself "Holy crap, I can't believe how much money I'm making right now!"?
I don't know if it's luck or just hard work, probably a mix of both - but within a month or two I was generating several thousand dollars a day from my dating campaigns in green profit while having my sites run in the background. I knew that the industry was for me, and it was so much faster paced than developing sites I loved it. Even though I made far more money from my websites at the time, and it was more stable - I knew that there was far more potential in affiliate marketing. I set goals for myself to dedicate time towards learning affiliate marking and putting more focus on it. Like every goal I set, I stood by it and the pay off was immense
How old are you and where are you from?
I'm 24 years old and located outside of Chicago. I've lived here most of my life and I love the area, I plan to stay in Illinois for the rest of my life. Even though the winters are horrible, it makes you really appreciate the good weather when it comes around. When it's blizzarding outside, there is nothing better than sticking on the computer and putting those extra hours in - it's grindtime during those months. I still live in the same house that I purchased when I was 19 from onsite advertising and I plan to remain here for another couple years, stocking my notes away for the big move in a couple years. I live alone, with just me and my dog - so there is no reason for me to live in a big mansion when I'm only using two rooms: my office & my bedroom. The only other person I share my current house with is my girlfriend once a week, and this house is more than enough for both of us.
Take us on a tour of the average day in your life.
Even though my companies have offices, I work entirely from home as I feel most comfortable here and I work undistributed. I start my day off around 10am, the same time as the rest of my teams are required to be online. I decided 10am was a good start to the day because it was a happy medium between East Coast and West Coast times, where most of our clients are located. The first thing I do is crack open a bottle of Peligrino and make my double shot of espresso, then I'm off for the races. Most of my job consists of working with the executives of Eagle Web Assets and the managers of certain divisons within my companies. I've developed single points of contact for all the sections of my businesses because it allows my time to output the most work possible. I delegate tasks to these managers which they then proceed to pass onto their teams, and I also receive reports from them on the status of projects. My primary mode of communication with my team is via email and gtalk, where I spend most of my time. Even though I'm on AIM most of the day, I've found it to be less organized in comparison to email and it's usually somewhat counter-productive. I do my best to stay on top of my emails, follow up on projects, communicate to my affiliates on AIM and visit the various communities.
Anytime I'm on the computer, you can guarantee rap is playing in the background: it motivates me to keep working harder and harder. Around 5pm I take a break for an hour and then I return back to the computer grind where I work till 5-6am in the morning. After midnight, I have meetings with all my business partners via skype where we discuss plans to grow and plot against the competition. By having a refined and developed hierarchy of employees it's alllowed me to stay at the highest administrative level possible, optimizing my time to output hundreds of man hours of work.
A lot of affiliates give up if their first campaign is a bust. How many times did you fail before you succeeded?
Honestly, I don't think it's average: but I had success within the first month of promoting affiliate campaigns, but unfortunatly that trend did not continue. Affiliate marketing is very up and down, even with all my experience. I have weeks with huge success, then I have weeks with failure after failure. The main thing for me is that I never give up and I never stop throwing campaigns at the wall. When I find a campaign, I put 70% of my teams effort in scaling it along new sources and split testing new adcopies / landing pages. I always sustain about 30% of my time creating new campaigns, failing, optimizing, and learning. I've learned that one day you may be making a killing, then next day it's gone: that is why I always put 30% of my time into building new campaigns. Diversity is the only reason I'm still in business today and I've seen countless affiliates that stayed too focused in one niche, then when it's gone they are too.
You own several networks, are a hands on owner and still run your own affiliate marketing campaigns. How do you make time for it all?
I don't sleep. Realistically, I don't do everything by myself - I have a large team of employees that work for me and help manage all my operations. I've positioned myself at the highest level of the company, overseeing the generalized direction of where the corporation goes. I still keep direct contact with all my employees and affiliates myself, but I also have different levels of managers that allows me to send one order that equates to potentially hundreds of man hours. I'm confident that I have the strongest and most dedicated team in the industry and I'm grateful for being blessed with such loyal and hard workers, none of this would have been possible if it was just Harrison and I running this company.
Do you have a secretary?
Of course: I have a secretary and an assistant / chauffeur that helps manage things in my "normal life" that are less than desirable. I learned a long time ago that if I'm able to put my full attention to something, I can generate far more money than I could if I were busy dividing up my time. Hiring an assistant / chauffeur was one of the most positive choices that I've made: it allows me to wake up, hustle all day long, and not have to worry about doing things like laundry, grocery shopping, driving (so I can work in the backseat on drives to Chicago). It gives me maximum use of my time and allows me to be far more efficient. It makes absolutely no sense for me to take hours of of my day managing things that these two individuals can for me when my time is so valuable for the business.
As we mentioned earlier, you own more than one network. How many performance marketing businesses are under your control?
We publicly own BLAM Ads and EWA Network, but our angel investment division owns several internet advertising related businesses. We launched the division in November 2009 and it's been one of the most profitable and fastest growing sections of Eagle Web Assets to date. We do not make companies for exit strategies, we are other companies exit strategies. Eagle Web Assets built, invested in, and purchased several companies and all of these are generating profit.
I personally spend most of my time nowadays acting as an advisor to these companies, guiding my investments into profit. The entire division, for good reason, is shrouded in secrecy so we don't really discuss how many or what we specifically own as it's against our corporate strategy. Eagle Web Assets invests in outstanding entrepreneurs that have imaginative concepts, passion, drive and commitment to bringing innovative solutions to the market. Diversification of our portfolio is a vital part our responsibility to progress the future of Internet advertising. It is our strategic vision to work with experienced individuals that have sound business models and ambition to drive his or her company to the future.
Two of your networks, EWA and BLAM, are just crushing it right now and affiliates are lining up at the door to get in. Why do your affiliates earn more on average then those in other networks?
Both of my companies work direct with the merchants whereas 95% of the other competitors get watered down versions of our offers. By working direct with the merchants, we get higher payouts than other networks do and we're more than willing to pass those payouts directly to our publishers. Unlike the other networks, we're interested in building long term relationships and we're not out for the quick buck. I want my publishers making money, so I give them higher payouts and only suggest to them offers that are actually working. Other networks will suggest whatever makes them the most money, and affiliates wised up and flocked to our networks. We literally have thousands upon thousands of publishers waiting in line to get in because of the other networks poor payouts, bad conversions and slow pay terms - they want to run with the most trusted, fastest paying, and highest payout networks in the industry.
The field of performance marketing is constantly changing and successful affiliates are always on top of the newest trends and strategies. How to do your networks keep your affiliates ahead of the curve?
Besides the payouts and pay terms, we understand there is a lot more to affiliates than just money when choosing a network. Both EWA and BLAM has gone above and beyond in the service department, both releasing dozens of guides on how to scale, build, and optimize campaigns. Our companies have helped build affiliates into multi-millionaire publishers from guides that we released. Eagle Web Assets internal division actively creates and tests campaigns, the success that we make as an affiliate is shared transparently with our publishers so they can get the knowledge they need to succeed.
In addition, we write three newsletters a week that include up to date tips for media buyers how to promote campaigns, campaign mini-guides, and hundreds of new offers and pay bumps. We were the first company to create a twitter (http://twitter.com/ewanetwork) and the first company to create a community (http://fb.ewanetwork.com) that has hundreds of affiliates helping each other scale their campaigns. Whatever we do is followed by our competitors three quarters late, and whenever they figure out what we're doing - we're already ten steps ahead. I spend my days figuring out ways to outdo the competition in everyway possible, and now that we've done that - I spend my days trying to outdo what I've already done.
We've heard rumors of an upgrade in tracking that may be coming to BLAM? Tell us about it and what it means for affiliates.
Technology is the only section that BLAM Ads was lacking for complete dominance. When we entered the industry, our competitors had a 5 year advantage on us so we're just catching up. As our publisher userbase grew, the technology infrastructure of BLAM could not handle it as well as we wanted. We're successfully serving several million impressions daily with a script that's an appendage to a tracking software - that in itself is an amazing feat. A little over a year ago we released that in order for us to reach out goals we needed to create more flexible software that can handle the massive growth of our companies. In the next couple weeks we will be releasing, in beta, our new software to publishers so they can put updated gateway technology on their websites. The new technology offers multiple new gateway formats, much stronger optimization algorithm, is much easier to use and is much faster.
The new technology was built from the ground up with a team of programmers and will allow us to build out features quicker than we ever have before. Once this technology is fully released it will completely shut out all the rest of the lowly content locking competitors and I'm confident that our publishers will make far more money with the upgrade. Earlier this week we started beta testing for a small group of publishers at BLAM Ads and the results went above and beyond what I ever expected: statistics across the lines ranging from impressions, clicks, conversions and EPC's are 30-45% higher than our previous system. We're releasing it slowly to work out all the minor bugs and make sure it can handle the massive volume our publishers send daily, but I'm confident it will be fully released on BLAM ads side within the next thirty days.
If you could sit your 16 year-old self down today and have a chat with him, what would you say?
"Quit doing drugs, they are not the source of your creativity and will be your demise." When I hit success at a young age nothing could stop me, I was The Man, and I could do anything I wanted without listening to any advice. I did just that and almost lost everything, and I learned the hard way that I am not God and that money cannot buy you out of everything. I thought that my creativity and success in business was somehow associated to the drugs that I was using, so I pushed it to the limit. I honestly believed that I was stronger than the drugs that I used, and that I was invincible. As I used more, I made more money and it further reenforced my sick mentality. As time continued on, my use accelerated and instead of being stronger than the drugs, they became stronger than me.
My life slowly but surely became entirely consumed with getting, using, and maintaining my buzz. I began to lose focus of what was most important to me, and I became completely addicted to the same drugs that I thought brought me my success in life. I may have had the house, the cars, the girlfriend, and the business - but I was physically, emotionally, legally, and spiritually broken. I began getting into more and more trouble and I kept buying my way out of it with expensive lawyers until I finally reached a point where I was convinced that there was no other way out. I had completely exhausted every option, tried to quit for years, and continuously got worse - then finally, I hit my bottom. By the grace of God I began my recovery without dying, and I was given a second chance. I soon realized that drugs were not the source of my creativity, in fact, they actually blocked my creativity.
Upon quitting, I focused entirely on business and maintaining my sobriety - reaching heights in business that I never imagined. Sustaining my sobriety is the most important thing to me in my life, because without that I will lose absolutely everything God has given me. Even though you may see me touting about my riches, arrogantly twittering, or talking shit: I am the most grateful person you will meet, and I never take anything I have for granted. A little over three years ago I was convinced that I was either to die or end up in jail - and now I'm on the other side enjoying every waking moment of life. I am truly a blessed man and I was given a gift that I will not give back, one day at a time.
Tell us a story about something that the affiliate marketing lifestyle has allowed you to do that you could NEVER have done if you were working for corporate America.
I own cars worth more than houses, I have watches worth more than cars, I have investments making more than doctors do, and my wardrobe is worth more than most people entirely. The great thing about affiliate marketing is that hard work always pays off, always. Instead of making other people rich, I work for myself to make myself rich - the amount of effort that I put into this industry is directly translated into commas in my bank account. I honestly treat my job like I am working for someone else, but even harder: I put in 18-20 hour days, I work 7 days a week, and I take vacation time as I would at a normal company. I need to set an example for my affiliates and my team, so I work harder than everyone else. Unlike the competitors who get wealthy and lazy, I keep the same work ethic up so I can take my time off later in the future. I'm young and I still have the spirit, so why not use it entirely?
Anything else you want to tell us about your empire?
I would just like to tell my competitors that they should just give up early because I work harder than you, my team is stronger than yours, I'm smarter than you, I'm more creative than you and I am better than you will ever be. I work around the clock to make sure that I sustain my position on top, and I will not give it up to anyone. If you're making money, it's because I left some crumbs behind for you - and it's best you keep quiet about it because if you come up on my radar, I will take that food off your plate for myself. I never give up, and I never settle for any less than #1.