Engineering a “Muse” – Volume 3: Case Studies of Successful Cash-Flow Businesses

One common challenge for readers of The 4-Hour Workweek is the creation of a “muse”: a low-maintenance business that generates significant income. Such a muse is leveraged to finance your ideal lifestyle, which we calculate precisely based on Target Monthly Income (TMI).

I’ve received hundreds of successful case studies via e-mail, and more than 1,000 new businesses were created during a recent Shopify competition, but I’ve presented only a handful of them.

In this installment, I’ll showcase three diverse muses, including lessons learned, what worked, and what didn’t. Income ranges from $2,500 – $25,000 per month…

”Datsusara MMA” by Christopher Odell

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences

Datsusara MMA makes hemp bags and apparel for martial artists.

What is the website for your muse?

http://www.dsmma.com

How much revenue is your muse currently generating per month (on average)?

$5,000 – $10,000 per month

To get to this monthly revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?

Three years.

How did you decide on this muse?

I was at a crisis point in my life when I realized I needed to do something I truly loved instead of what I was merely skilled at doing.

I thought deeply on things that I loved. One was Mixed Martial Arts, and another was hemp products. That’s when it clicked. I realized that making a high quality hemp bag for MMA enthusiasts would fill a gap in the market.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

I thought of starting a small MMA fight promotion but decided it would be more trouble than I wanted to deal with.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?

It all started to sink in when we got our first prototype. Being able to see and touch the actual product really changes everything. It helped me realize that you truly could make your dreams appear by simply shifting your time and energy into the right places.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?

A message board called Sherdog.net was our biggest source of early sales. This was due to a few gear review postings by our first customers (friends at my gym).

Having a decent looking website with good product descriptions and photos was critical, as well.

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

Sending out free gear bags to pro fighters cost us thousands in revenue and was a huge waste, except for the one and only response we got. That one response was from Eddie Bravo, who is well known in the MMA scene and gave us our first pro endorsement. We should have targeted more carefully, because we knew that Eddie loved hemp products and MMA already.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?

In manufacturing, we learned to never rush a product out when you think you are “close enough,” assuming the odds and ends will be taken care of on the final product run. Since we were not 100% specific on what we wanted, our manufacturer cut some corners and cost us quite a bit of money in product exchanges.

But we did learn that if you treat your customers with care, they will stick with you and sometimes become even more loyal despite your mistakes.

If you used a manufacturer, how did you find them? What are your suggestions for first-timers?

I used Alibaba.com to find manufacturers. It was fairly easy but also a bit terrifying since you don’t always know who or what you are really dealing with.

We looked for manufacturers that had experience with hemp and military gear (we wanted these bags to be very strong). We reached out to several companies, judged them by how good their responses were, then chose a few to make our first prototype. After that, we made our final decision based on quality of the prototype and ease of obtaining it.

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?

Our Facebook fan page probably generates more interest then any other source at this point and it’s growing fast. We also love that it’s free 🙂

The endorsement from the sample we sent to Eddie Bravo was very useful, as was the mention by Tim Ferriss on Twitter about the sample we sent him.

We were also approached by many distributors that had simply heard of our gear and wanted to get on board. We picked one from each country that would have an exclusive for our gear. We chose the companies that had a good reputation and the best exposure. This has helped us generate over 60% of our sales, but it does impact our revenue negatively since they purchase at a wholesale price.

Where did you register your domain (URL)?

http://www.poehosting.com

Where did you decide to host your domain?

http://mediatemple.net

If you used a web designer, where did you find them?

I had a friend design the site (paid gig).

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have shopped around more for a better importer, as our current importer charges half what we paid the first and does twice the work.

I also would have started the Facebook fan page right away.

What’s next?!

We may be expanding soon to other markets outside of MMA if we get some solid financial backing.

We hope to make hemp bags and apparel for all lifestyles while maintaining our quality of goods and customer service.

”Ready Set Go Kits” by Amy Sandoz

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences

I help schools and families prepare for emergencies by offering ready-made emergency kits and free disaster planning information.

What is the website for your muse?

http://www.readysetgokits.com

How much revenue is your muse currently generating per month (on average)?

$2,500 – $5,000 per month

To get to this monthly revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?

One year.

How did you decide on this muse?

A friend and I were reading The 4-Hour Workweek at the same time and decided to just go for it. We sat down and listed out all the activities we had ever been involved in throughout our lives, then listed out the products that people in those same activities needed. The next steps were picking the five products that were most interesting to us, researching their markets, and seeing whether there was a drop-shipper available. I’m a long-time volunteer at American Red Cross and knew that people had trouble building an emergency kit. When I found an emergency kit manufacturer, I knew I had found my muse.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

Selling salsa dance shoes and apparel was rejected because of a lack of dropshipper in the U.S., and bobbleheads were similarly rejected because of no desire to try to find a manufacturer overseas.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?

My first big sale to a school district – they found me online and I thought “Wow, I actually own a business now!” It really reinforced the online model for me.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?

I found the “SEO for Dummies” book super helpful, as well as the technical support staff at CoreCommerce.com (my hosted shopping cart software). It was also easy to get overwhelmed, so all action items were broken down into very small pieces, e.g. “Research names for business” or “Research hosted shopping carts.”

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

I’ve spent a lot of money on seminars and books promising to get me more sales or to the top of Google search for my keywords… and I’d like to get that money back. Most of that stuff was useless.

I also spent a lot of time trying to do things myself. I’m happy with the knowledge I’ve gained, but I think I would have started making money sooner if I had outsourced more things.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?

You think you know who your target market is, but you really have no idea until you have paying customers. When I started the business, I was convinced that my target market was moms in the 35-55 range. I’m finding now that it’s really more of a 50/50 split between men and women.

If you used a manufacturer, how did you find them? What are your suggestions for first-timers?

I found my manufacturer through an online search and submitted an application to become a reseller. I ordered products from them to see what kind of packaging they came in, how long they took to arrive, and to determine the quality of the kits.

My suggestion for first-timers would be to go out and tour the operation (if you live nearby) and get to know the owner. That way if you have any trouble later, you’ll know where to turn.

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?

I applied for the Project Rev small business contest through Deluxe Corporation and won! They have been really helpful in getting press coverage and exposure for my business. I also hired a public relations freelancer and we set up a yearly schedule for pitches. I’m happy to report that she has already helped me land four feature print articles and an invitation to appear on a local TV station.

Where did you register your domain (URL)?

http://www.godaddy.com

Where did you decide to host your domain?

http://www.corecommerce.com

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have found a reputable SEO person and hired them early on. That would have saved a lot of time and confusion.

What’s next?!

I’ve just launched a complementary site (www.ReadySetGoKitsDisasterPlan.com) that allows families to download free disaster planning templates that they can fill out and then tuck into their emergency kit. I’m also experimenting with creating videos about disaster preparedness to help raise awareness.

”Music Teachers Helper” by Brandon Pearce

Describe your muse in 1-3 sentences

Online software to help private music teachers manage the business side of their teaching studios.

What is the website for your muse?

http://www.musicteachershelper.com

How much revenue is your muse currently generating per month (on average)?

More than $25,000 per month

To get to this monthly revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?

Five years.

How did you decide on this muse?

I used to teach private piano lessons, and got frustrated having to keep track of how much they owed me. I wrote a simple program to track it, put it online so students could check the amount themselves and pay, and it just took off from there.

It started small, making just $1,000 or so per month after the first couple years, but it continues to grow to this day.

What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

I thought about making a program to help private teachers of all types (ie. dance, yoga, and karate instructors, etc). I rejected it because I thought it was too broad to make one program that will fit all of these types. However, I did eventually create something for larger studios with multiple teachers (www.studiohelper.com) that serves a broader audience, and it’s also doing well. But it’s more difficult to market to such a broad audience.

What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or “A-ha!” moments? How did they come about?

When my father-in-law lost his high-position job because of downsizing, I realized that there is no such thing as job security when you work for someone else. I became determined to find a way to have money come to me, no matter how much I work or where I live.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?

When I started, I was doing everything myself – the programming, the design, the marketing, etc. And I knew basically nothing about starting a business. The Internet was helpful for research, but after I read 4HWW, I became a lot more productive. I started outsourcing things, built up enough courage to quit my job, and the business really took off. These days, I’m working about five hours per week, living in Costa Rica (for now), and thoroughly enjoying my life! (Thanks Tim!!!)

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

My biggest mistakes, financially and emotionally, were when I partnered with individuals and companies who ended up being more of a drain than a help. They were expensive to remove, as well. But those experiences helped me learn to value my time and product, and to be more cautious about who I do business with.

What have been your key marketing and/or manufacturing lessons learned?

With a complex web application, you can’t write it once and be done; you need to continue making enhancements and listen to user feedback in order to have a successful product.

Any key PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc.? How did they happen?

No, it’s been a steady, slow-growing process, all self-funded and mostly self-promoted.

Where did you register your domain (URL)?

http://www.godaddy.com

Where did you decide to host your domain?

http://www.liquidweb.com

If you used a web designer, where did you find them?

oDesk.com (Although initially, I designed it myself).

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have kept the product simpler, and been more picky about what features to include, rather than adding nearly every feature the customer wanted (necessitating a huge redesign later).

What’s next?!

In this business, I’ll be focusing more on marketing and really getting the word out, and pushing our affiliate program more. I’m not sure if I will start another business soon, but I’m starting to look into real estate, just to diversify my income a little.

I’m also working on a book about what I’ve learned in the process of creating this online business, in the hopes that it will help others who want to do something similar. I plan to spend more time writing music in the months and years ahead, continue to travel, and enjoy my life doing whatever I can to make the world a better place.

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Parts one and two of this series — another six success stories — can be found here.

Do you have a successful muse that’s generating more than $1,000 per month?

Please tell me about it! If it stands out (meaning you give specific details of lessons learned and what’s worked vs. what didn’t), I’m happy to promote you and help further increase your revenue. If you qualify and this sounds like fun, please fill out this form.

Both physical and digital goods are welcome, as are services, as long as they’re low-maintenance, income-generating “muses” as described in The 4-Hour Workweek.

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