I hired my first employee aged 13

Although cliche, this is how I see my journey. There are always crazy ups and crazy downs.

It was the summer of 2011, and my CityVille gaming blog was in sharp decline. I almost became a little lost after the success of the website. I went from feeling on top of the world, making up to $2800 in a single month and getting close to 400,000 pageviews in July to making literally nothing. Looking back now, this was the first ‘low’ on my entrepreneurial journey. There were many more lows to come.

Although I was on a low, as I mentioned in my last medium blog I had learnt a ton when it came to marketing and making money online. I was addicted and I didn’t want to just stop doing things online because my main website completely died in a month. Rather than feeling sorry for myself, it was straight back to work!

But on what…

Well that was it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. So being anyone at the time who worked online I hit some internet marketing forums. The one I used the most was called Digital Point. This site to this day still has not changed and 1.5million people visit it monthly to discuss marketing online and their online businesses.

Here is Digital Point Forums!

Something on the forum caught my eye. A ready made online business, a startup website at a price of $400. At the time for me this was an insanely risky investment, I had never spent that amount before on something digital from a stranger who I have never met in person online.

The business itself was a URL shortener called URLF.LY. The business model was simple:

What it did:

You could shorten long internet links. For instance, arranrice.com/about would become urlf.ly/123 and this allowed twitter users to write more characters in their twitter tweets and still post a website link.

How it made money:

If a user clicked on a shortened link they would have to wait 5 seconds to load the web page they were trying to access. In those 5 seconds I would display a full page advert and this would make money, some of which was paid to the person who created the link and the rest I kept for the service provided.

Here is the homepage of the website I had bought.

But how on earth do I get people to use this?

After owning this website for some time and with my best efforts of trying to market it through sharing links on Facebook groups and on Twitter, it wasn’t getting a lot of traffic. This made me almost give up hope for the site, so I put it up for sale for less than I bought it for, maybe around $200.

Whilst it was up for sale I thought I would learn and try a different marketing approach. I began to contact marketing and technology blogs to try and get them to write about urlf.ly for free. Then I would add their blog name to the urlf.ly homepage as a ‘partner’.

One of the blogs who wrote about urlf.ly was Orphic Pixel.

In total I think around 20 blogs wrote an article about urlf.ly. Slowly but surely the site began to get people using it. As this happened, I unlisted the website for sale as I saw a chance in it again.

The site started to experience phenomenal growth

But with the growth came a HUGE problem: at the sites peak I was getting in excess of over 100,000 link clicks per day. With that number of visitors came a cost; the site’s servers were becoming overloaded resulting in huge costs. I had literally zero experience at the time when it came to optimising web servers to ensure they remained cheap and reliable. These costs were higher than the sites revenue at the time, this resulted in me having to sell the website quick. Although I sold it whilst it was making a loss, I knew someone else could probably do something with the servers to make it profitable.

In the end the business sold for around $1000. I spent $400 to buy the business and I lost around $200 when the sites traffic exploded. So overall there was still a profit of $400.

What I forgot to say though, was all of this happened in the space of around 30 days. In that time I bought, tried to sell, tried to not sell and then sell the business. I don’t like to hang around!

This experience made me want to work online even more. I had learnt how to set up a web server to host a website (not very well albeit) and I had also learnt the 2011 version of influencer marketing.

Lessons learnt I moved on…

Something clicked in my head after I had sold urlf.ly. The person who sold me the site for $400 probably made money if not, they wouldn’t have sold it to me.

I already knew how to make websites. I already knew how to sell a website. So I thought I would build ready made websites to sell on the website marketplace Flippa.com.

From the summer of 2011 to the spring of 2012 I developed over 300 websites! All of which I sold to other people. The price of the websites I sold ranged from $15 to $200. The cost of each website to create was always around $5 (domains at the time I was able to buy for $1 with coupon codes).

Here are just some of the websites I had sold.

In 9 months I made $10,000 profit simply selling ready made websites. I went from a low to a high!

The problem was, it was very easy to do. As more and more people started to do it, the price at which you could sell a ready built website was reduced significantly and by Spring 2012 it was basically unprofitable to do so.

So then I stopped. Between the Summer of 2011 and the Spring/Summer of 2012 I had learnt how to properly market and sell websites, how to deal with people who had bought a website from you and I also learnt how to properly set up web servers for these websites I had created.

Looking back, I wish I would have created more websites. When I first started selling ready made websites the profit margins were super high. But unfortunately my time was limited. I was in year 8 and 9 in high school at the time and in these school years my homework and revision began to increase in the lead up to GCSE’s, so it was always a huge balancing act.

What did I do next?

It was then the summer of 2012 and I decided to almost go back to what I loved. I decided to start a new gaming blog.

This time I went about it smart. I had learnt a ton whilst running my CityVille website. I took all of these learnings and put them into a new website. Although my CityVille website was truly dead and was getting no traffic I remembered that the site still had Facebook pages with hundreds of thousands of likes. I figured that the fans of these pages are probably still interested in gaming on Facebook but not necessarily CityVille.

So what I did was create a website for all of the popular Facebook Games. I called this website Gamer Hook.

Here is Gamer Hook in the Winter of 2012.

After launching the site I began to write around 20 short articles per day. It was tough. I had to cover all of the popular Facebook games every day and once I had wrote the articles I shared them on my Facebook pages for various games. It all became a little too much — after a few weeks I felt myself getting tired all of the time, I was working crazy hours often until midnight just writing posts. It became a little boring, my passion for Facebook games became drained. I just wanted a break from it all.

So I began to think about the idea of hiring someone. I wasn’t even sure if it was possible to hire someone as I was only 13 years old at the time.

I soon came across a platform called Elance (now called UpWork) and this platform allows you to hire people remotely from all over the world. I put out a job posting explaining what I wanted. A writer to work 2–4 hours per day covering all major Facebook games. Within 20 minutes of putting out the job posting I had around 30 applicants from 10 different countries apply. I thought wow! I didn’t think it would be so easy.

I hired someone within 1 hour…

I then interviewed a few people, one from the Philippines, one from Pakistan and one from India. In the end I agreed to pay someone in Pakistan $5 per day to work 2–4 hours/day for me. This may seem very little but the average yearly household salary for Pakistan in 2012 was around $500/year and this part time job would pay $150/month, $1800/year. So you begin to realise that this is very very good money for Pakistan and you’re genuinely helping someone’s life.

Over time Gamer Hook grew and it was became more and more popular as each month passed. I was only having to work 1 hour per day to run it. I felt for the first time in 3 years I finally had a balance between my school work and running my online business.

In 2 months the site did 374,000 pageviews. I was happy, although the site wasn’t as big as my previous CityVille site, I wasn’t working too much and the profit for the site was around $300–600 per month.

In December 2012 I was fascinated by the idea of creating a new business. I wanted to create mobile apps. Rather than risking my own savings to create some mobile apps I thought I would use my experience in selling websites to sell Gamer Hook. I knew it would be worth a lot more than what I sold my ready made websites for. Within 2 days I had listed it for sale, and within 4 days of thinking about selling the site, it was sold.

The website fetched $2800, not bad for 5 months work. I also retained all of the profit too. So in total I had made around $6000 for the 5 months.

In the end I did not create a mobile apps business (not for a couple of years anyway). From the summer of 2011 to the winter of 2012 I had been on a rollercoaster. I had sold hundreds of sites, launched a gaming site and a url shortener. I had learnt so much and I was excited for what the future would hold.


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Arran Rice is on a mission to help enable entrepreneurs to travel around the world. He shares his knowledge and personal projects on his social channels. Thanks for visiting.