Part 1: From 6-Figures to Bankruptcy
As a college student Benny Luo and his business partners made 6-figures a MONTH on the Internet.
A few months later, he was about to declare for bankruptcy.
The early days of his entrepreneurial life make for an interesting story — one where Luo realized how the Internet can make you an overnight success, but can also make you a failure almost just as fast.
“I was involved in ‘Blackhat’ (means unethical, potentially illegal) marketing tactics. I did things on PPC networks that are now banned and not allowed. I tried other unethical but technically legal ways to drive traffic to my site. It was affiliate marketing, but we were generating tons of traffic through Blackhat methods.”
“It was a gold rush at the time because not that many people had caught on to the tactics. I got on at the tail end of it so I wasn’t able to earn as much as I could have. But people eventually caught on to what we were doing and it stopped being profitable.”
Here’s an example of something ‘Blackhat’ you could do today (it’s not exactly what Luo did, but Luo employed similar tactics at the time).
If you go on Craigslist there’s a bunch of ads for girls and personals. You pretend you’re a hot girl looking for a date tonight, and then a guy emails you asking for your contact information. You tell the guy to sign up for a “dating” website so she can talk to him through that website. The guy signs up and you earn a commission for his signup. Then you obviously go MIA. Benny and his partners had a script that would automate all of it so they didn’t have to do any of the work and they would get all the money.
For Benny Luo, it was easy EASY money. In fact he’s still amazed at how easy it was. But it wasn’t fulfilling at all.
“I didn’t feel good doing it, but being a kid and wanting to have money justified my poor decisions at the time.”
It worked amazingly, for a while, but then things took a turn for the worse.
“One partner was only 16. He was the mastermind behind all of this. It was nuts because he was so young and already lived in the same place as some famous rappers in Los Angeles. When we first started that kid said he made something like $45,000 per day doing Blackhat marketing. The first time I met him he was wearing a robe like Hugh Hefner.
I was naive at the time. I was only 20 or 21. I trusted this kid, but I should have known better. He was spending money frivolously and eventually lost almost all his money, especially when the gold rush ended. Then he started scamming people to earn more money, and I was one of the people he scammed. I should have realized a guy that has done all the unethical things he’s done would eventually turn on me. He asked me to co-sign an apartment he wanted to rent for $5,000 a month. I did it because he promised me we would make tons of money and he would share even more secrets. We also did a business deal together and got an investor to pay us money. Then the kid stole all the money and ran. Then he abandoned the apartment and trashed it also. The damages for the apartment were $7,000 alone, and then I also had to pay off the rest of the apartment. I was in severe debt and extremely depressed. I was close to declaring for bankruptcy. I contacted a bankruptcy lawyer and he told me that I should try and make payments on all the debt I owed instead of declaring for bankruptcy so that’s what I did. Luckily I never had to go bankrupt.”
But all of that gave Luo a new perspective. He realized that there was money to be made on the web, now he just had to earn it without potentially going to jail. Furthermore he learned a lesson about karma and how being unethical is not a long-term way to do business.
He discovered a new passion, blogging, one that would lead to his first company acquisition and another taste of big money.
Part 2: How to Get Massive Traffic to Your Blog
Blogging became Benny Luo’s big idea. His first blog centered around Asian Americans, similar actually to Amped Asia. It was called The Other Asians and it featured prominent figures in the Asian community — guys like Just Kidding Films and JT Tran (The Asian Playboy).
But it was just a passion project and never made huge amounts of money. Luo and his co-founders split ways to focus on other things (like surviving).
But blogging was still his passion, and his next blog idea was a bit bigger. He wanted to create a blog that treated YouTube personalities as celebrities — almost like a TMZ for these YouTubers who had hundreds of thousands, even millions of fans.
“Here was this big audience — YouTube personalities. These guys had huge followings and were pretty much as big as some mainstream celebrities, yet there was no news about them. I wanted to legitimize these guys and turn them into real celebrities.”
And it worked. His blog ended up getting very popular and he forged connections with several of the top YouTube celebrities and even mainstream singers like the legendary Brian McKnight. He quickly caught the attention of an investor and was able to receive outside funding — which paid for his employees and other expenses.
“But we had problems. I disagreed with our investor on some things and I didn’t like how some decisions were being handled. One of the biggest issues was that I didn’t think our deal was fair to us, the investor had too much control.”
Last year, Luo and his partners found a buyer for New Media Rockstars, and he offloaded it for a considerable sum. Now he’s working on a new blogging project.
Just 10 months ago he launched a new project, Next Shark, a blog for young entrepreneurs that was hipper and cooler. Instead of focusing on silicon valley types, he wanted to interview other businessmen who were in more glamourous industries such as Jason Strauss who started TAO, Lavo, and Marquee nightclubs in Las Vegas or Dash Berlin the EDM artist. In only the short amount of time he’s launched, they’re already receiving over 1 million unique visits per month.
I asked Benny how he did it.
The traffic generation tactics behind Benny’s blogs is a simple 4-step process.
Create amazing content consistently.
If your content sucks then yo’re never going to get traffic. Get feedback from your audience to find out what’s good and what’s bad, and CONSTANTLY improve. Your content is probably worse than you think it is.
Make it very easy for people to share.
Get their attention with a great headline, then make sure you have well-placed social media share buttons on your posts.
Reach out to relevant blogs about your content.
For example, one of Luo’s posts about coffee got retweeted and talked about by TONS of other blogs that cared about the topic. That could not have happened if Luo didn’t actively try to reach out to certain blogs about the post.
Write about celebrities and big personalities.
Then leverage partnerships with these celebrities. so that they will be inclined to share it via social media. This is how Luo got Justin Bieber to tweet out one of his articles.
“Always be constantly looking for ways to improve your product. If you’re a blog you need to be constantly improving the content you put out there. That’s when people will share it organically. You never want to ask them to share it. If it’s good they’ll share it.”
But how do you get on the “in” with celebrities like Brian McKnight? What can you offer them when you’re just a small-time player? How did Benny Luo get his site tweeted out by Justin Bieber (which crashed his site)?
Part 3: How to Get Justin Bieber to Crash Your Website
One of the key methods for Luo to generate traffic was to do partnerships and collaborations with celebrities. He’s interviewed and worked with famous icons such as Brian McKnight and Dash Berlin.
But even if your blog won’t benefit from an interview with a musical legend like Brian McKnight, every niche has one or two celebrities that you can leverage traffic from. For a business blog it might be Richard Branson or Mark Cuban. For a tech blog it might be Elon Musk. For a photography blog it might be Scott Kelby.
The point is, every niche has its own celebrities that have an audience — no matter how small.
We asked Benny Luo how he effectively networked with these types of people, and how they helped him grow his blog audience.
“There are going to be some people that will never respond to you, but if you contact 100 people at least some of them should respond,” Luo says. “Slowly as you build up your audience there will be more and more people who will want something from you, and then it becomes much easier to network. Then once you have social proof, it becomes easier to get more celebrities on board with what you’re doing. When you’re starting out, you have to just cold-call everybody.”
Luo can sometimes make 50-100 calls or emails a day out to PR firms to get to people he wanted.
“You’ll get a lot of rejections, but don’t take no for an answer,” Luo says. “Sometimes I would take the PR guy out to lunch on my dime, or I would send a care package out to them. That stuff works really well and it helps to get their attention.”
The key here is showing these people your value, even though you know that they’re helping you a lot more than you’re helping them. Furthermore, for really big celebrities, you’ll have to go through a gatekeeper, like a PR firm or some kind of manager. Befriend this manager in any way possible — take them out to lunch, buy them a gift, and win them over.
“When we were pitching Brian McKnight I came at it from the angle that we have this audience of YouTube fanatics that would like what he’s doing since he wanted to get more involved with YouTube.”
One day Justin Bieber crashed Luo’s website by sending out a tweet about one of their articles.
“We had interviewed Jon M Chu, the director for Justin Bieber’s movies. Justin must have liked it and tweeted it out to his followers. The result was that our site got so much traffic that it crashed.”
Of course not everyone is going to be able to get a celebrity as famous as Justin Bieber to tweet them out no matter how hard they try to. A more effective strategy would be to get dozens of smaller celebrities to collectively help promote you. That’s how Luo did it with New Media Rockstars.
“Each YouTube personality had their own following. None of them were getting mainstream attention, but these guys had hundreds of thousands, even millions of followers. We talked about them and in return we got a lot of them talking about us.”
As you work with more and more celebrities and as your blog traffic and influence grows, you’ll soon be able to get even better people to endorse you. This becomes a sustainable way to keep growing your blog over time.
In my opinion, it’s best to start using this form of traffic a little bit later in the blog cycle. You don’t want to just put up a lame looking Tumblr blog and start contacting Brian McKnight for interviews. Create a nice looking website, have great content on there already, and get as much traffic as you can before you start hitting up big names to interview for your site.
Furthermore, I want to re-emphasize the idea of starting small and then working your way up. Don’t try getting Justin Bieber at first. Try going for more realistic targets and then hitting up bigger and bigger celebrities as your website grows in stature and reputability. Justin Bieber will be much more inclined to do an interview with your blog if you already have interviews with The Jonas Brothers and One Direction. It’s all about social proof — the more you have it the easier it will be for you to build up your network.
1) Start with smaller celebrities and work your way up. Every industry has their own set of influencers.
2) You’ll get a lot of NO’s unfortunately. That’s just a way of life. Keep working at it and you’ll get YES’s.
3) Don’t just expect to get YES’s without giving some kind of value. Luo has sent care packages, bought lunches, and more just to get a YES from certain celebrities and PR people.