Society has brainwashed us all into thinking there's only one right path in life. Here's the typical path:
- Get good grades
- Go to college
- Acquire student loans
- Get a job
- Work your ass off for that promotion
- Get that promotion, upgrade your lifestyle
- New house, new BMW
- More debt
- Get another promotion
- Better house, better car
- More debt
- Get old
- Look in the mirror with regret.
But what if that's not what you want?
Charles studied engineering at Georgia Tech. After graduating at the age of 22, Charles applied for 5 different, but all unappealing jobs. He ended up taking a white collar role at Staples (the office suppliers).
From here on in his life would consist of: rolling out of bed, commuting to work, completing brain numbing tasks from his 6 x 6 feet cubical, getting home exhausted, making dinner, falling asleep, then completing that same schedule, day after day after day after day…
In short, the rest of his entire life seemed to be already set in stone as an endless rat race. But one weekend, he happened to be walking around Barnes & Noble when he noticed a book right on top of the business bestsellers list called, "The Four Hour Work Week."
The title definitely sounded like bullshit, but it was enough to pique his curiosity.
A 15 minute browse turned into an 8 hour reading session. In that book, the author Tim Ferriss described how he had turned his back on the entire myth that life had to be an endless 9 to 5 rat race.
Instead, Tim Ferriss had figured out how to take advantage of the Internet to become his own boss.
When Charles finally put the book down, he realized,
"THIS....this is the life I want."
Charles typed in, "Make money online" into Google and quickly discovered some blogs where people were bragging about how much they were making in affiliate marketing.
And Charles was hooked.
Affiliate marketing sounded amazing to Charles. You didn’t have to deal with customers or have inventory.
You could start and stop campaigns anytime you wanted to. This seemed like the perfect way to put many of Tim Ferriss’ ideas into action.
But Charles also knew that he had a lot to learn and that he had very little money to do so.
He could not quit his job at Staples just yet. First, he would have to pay his dues. Sacrifice. That's the would be the word that kept popping up in his head. No great deeds are done without sacrifice.
Sacrifice meant clipping coupons at the grocery stores and spending less money in food so that he could spend them testing campaigns.
Sacrifice meant staying home on the weekends to make hundreds of ads and landing pages, while his boys were just out partying.
Sacrifice meant him selling his Xbox because that money could afford him a VPS server for half a year. From 9am - 5pm, Charles would clock into his job at Staples. But from 7pm - 2am was when his true job began.
Charles was essentially working two full time jobs, first at Staples, and then another 7 hours at night on affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing was difficult.
Charles didn't know anyone from the industry and it seemed that everyone was trying to sell him something. He would launch campaigns and they were immediate failures.
Charles was nearing his breaking point
After 6 months of running campaigns he didn't have much to show for it.
14 campaigns were all losses, and he was down over $4,000 USD. The toughest part about his journey was he didn't have much support. His parents told him to just be happy with his job.
There were people back in Asia that would kill to be in his position.
His friends thought it was all a scam, and kept warning him. He knew he only had one chance at life, so he would do anything he could to pursue his dreams.
While browsing online one night, he came across a recommendation given by one of STM's speakers (Nicky Cakes) about an obscure Facebook gaming offer that appeared to be very interesting.
"No way this is going to work. There's probably 100 other guys launching it too."
But at that point, he didn't really have anything to lose. At least he could gain some experience from running it.
He launched the next day and it was a complete failure.
But sometimes a rock just needs a little polish before it becomes a diamond, so he started optimizing the campaign heavily. Within a few days his campaign went from -100% ROI to +350% ROI.
He kept refreshing his stats and couldn't believe that this was real. He went into his job the next day and saw a paystub on his desk.
"Damn. I only made $2,500 working here for a month. I made more than that from affiliate marketing yesterday."
He knew life would never be the same again.
What It's Like to Make $100,000 in one day
We're going to fast forward a few months because Charles wants to dive into a part of his story he's never shared before publicly. That successful gaming campaign allowed him to quit his job in August 2008.
Murphy's law hit, and all his campaigns immediately died.
He didn't make any money for two months and was in a state of depression. Imagine finally achieving your dreams and having it snatched away from you within a matter of weeks.
He realized that ups and downs are a part of the industry and went back to work. After testing 20+ campaigns, he finally had a huge winner. One campaign spent $100, and generate $500 in profit without any optimization.
This was the affiliate gold rush.
Most of the affiliates at that time were focusing on Facebook ads and Google, and he was making good money there. But he wanted to branch out of those places and to explore new source of traffic. Charles figured he could make even more money if he didn't have to deal with so much competition.
"The conference that changed everything was Ad:Tech 2008 in New York City. His campaigns were doing nearly 300% ROI easily and he needed more traffic. Any traffic".
He walked around and talked with every single booth. That's when he started learning about display traffic and media buys.
At the time affiliates weren't really running on those places because the costs were so high. But this time he had a campaign that could handle the costs.
It was risky.
Some of these ad networks wanted $10,000+ insertion orders. But he figured the reward was higher than the risk. Each time he launched a large media buy he couldn't sleep.
He was constantly F5'ing his tracking and affiliate networks to make sure nothing crashed.
I first heard of Charles back in 2009 when I was walking around with the Tracking202 crew who were filming affiliate interviews. I dug up Charles’ first interview (thank you Nana) and you can see an excerpt of it here.
You can see the MASSIVE evolution of the 2009 Charles to the 2014 Charles.
(you can watch the full interview here)
It is a long one, but it truly fascinating to see. It is a testament to the fact that all “superaffiliates” were once beginners just like everyone else.
$5k days turned into $10k days. $10k days turned into $25k days. $25k days turned into $100k+ days.
It felt like a dream to him. He then saw the need for delegation. Work intensified and he realized he couldn't go at it alone. Ironically, many of his old co-workers were laid off and he ended up hiring them. The money didn't feel real.
He was still living in his $600 a month studio apartment and driving the same car. For dinners he was still eating $5 pho and korean bbq. As far as he was concerned, the money was like a score in a video game he was obsessed with beating.
The Role of Luck
Wow, you're so lucky!"
Many people that knew Charles couldn't believe the transformation he made in just a single year.
He wasn't exactly the type to get voted as "most likely to be successful" in school.
A year later he bought his dream car, had an American Express Centurion, and was traveling around the world. The only explanation to some people was luck.
People love to use luck as an excuse for someone else's success because it means it could happen to them.
Risk taking, hard work, and making sacrifices are uncomfortable. We're all lucky, but not all of us realize it and take advantage of it.
By the time the affiliate "boom" came, Charles Had already quit his job and was working full-time Had already launched, failed, and optimized multiple campaigns Had already developed and honed honed tremendous work ethic that was passed down from his immigrant parents, and sharpened at Georgia Tech.
Charles had every excuse in the book not to be successful in the industry.
He didn't have much money for campaigns. He didn't know anyone in the industry and he didn't have any mentors. He had a hundred reasons to quit along his journey.
All he had was his strong work ethic and his drive.
Success and Giving Back
Today, Charles is one of the most well known super affiliates in the industry. But if you speak to the people who have met him in person, they will mention first and foremost his spirit of generosity.
Ever since Charles joined STM in 2012, he has well gone out of his way to help countless other STM newbies achieve success.
In just the past few weeks alone, Charles has provided detailed advice on STM to:
- A 3 month STM newbie on how to develop productive working relationships with affiliate managers
- A 2 month STM newbie on how to organise different campaign targeting groups
- A 1 week STM newbie on best affiliate marketing reading recommendations
- A 2 month STM newbie on specific recommended angles to test for a new Facebook campaign
- A 2 month STM newbie on variables to test for in order to optimise an existing campaign
Charles' spirit of generosity does not stop at just advice alone.
Indeed, earlier this month, Charles even became godfather to the son of a fellow STM Thought Leader, Benjamin Yong (kokofai), whom Charles first met on STM.
In March, Charles will be one of our speakers at the STM London meetup… an event that is going to be truly epic. Charles does not fit the stereotypical image of a “baller super affiliate.”
His life does not revolve around flashy objects or private jets. Instead he exemplifies such admirable qualities as hard work, perseverance, integrity, self-improvement and indomitability of spirit.
And he applies these qualities not only to affiliate marketing, but also to life as well.
Dr Ngo I’m not sure what pills you take, but you have taken productivity to the next level. Your grand escape from the 9 - 5 a.k.a Alcatraz of life is inspiring.
We are thankful for your contributions to STM, and are lucky proud to have you part of the STM family.**