Chris Hedgecock – Just Enough to Be Dangerous – Opt Out

Chris Hedgecock – Just Enough to Be Dangerous

3 months ago · 1:26:00

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Chris Hedgecock is an internet marketer, coder, entrepreneur and Super Dad.  From his start as a teenager at Microsoft and MP3.com, Chris has forged a career path that many would find unbelievable.  In this episode, you’ll hear how Chris’ story covers a broad spectrum of life and business, and he goes into detail with us about a few of his past projects, including the story of how he drove a ‘74 Pontiac LeMans cross-country and ended up on dozens of local TV broadcasts.

Chris’ grand talent is living the Opt Out Life. Whether that means having time to coach his boys in little league, or taking a break from the office to walk across the street to read a book in their classroom.  Chris does this routine every day . . . getting from home to his office without touching a freeway. As you’ll hear, that is entirely by design.

Highlights from Episode 4 with Chris . . .

On the scale of his recent arbitrage business:“We have an AdSense account that I’ve screenshotted on one of our bigger days, and it was $54,000 or something like that in a single day on AdSense, and that’s nothing. The guy who actually I will not name on here, but the guy who showed us the way in the arbitrage business, the reason why I jumped on it so quickly, the guy showed me a screenshot of his. And he was just checking them from his phone, so he just leans his phone over and showed me. And he made $200,000 in one day on AdSense, and I was just … Everything else ceased to exist.”

On knowing enough about coding to be “dangerous”:“I’m not a good coder, which is kind of the problem. I’m just good enough to get myself in trouble. So I can go and if I have an idea, I can build it. But more importantly, I can look at someone else’s, and say, “Oh, that’s how that works,” because I’ve built a lot of things in my career. And so having that knowledge really has helped me a lot because I can build a prototype if need be, but I can also look at something and really quickly dissect it, and say, “Okay, this is what we need to take this idea that’s in this business and apply it to one of our businesses, or build something similar.”

Recounting how he hacked a PR strategy that was a huge success:“And so it was kind of a compelling news angle for them at the time. And he would call me or send me messages and say, “Hey man, at 8:00, the news team is going to be at your hotel.” And so then we’d wake up and I would put my shades on and go and sit on the hood of the LeMans and do a five minute news spot show in the car, tell them the story, and they would put it out. And we ended up on 160-something local news broadcasts. MSNBC, CNN, just these crazy national broadcasts. And got a ton of links. And so we ranked number one for cheap cars and cheap used cars on Google, and got a ton of traffic, and it went really well for a long time.”

Telling us how incredible his experience has been as a father of two young boys:“It’s just been, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s been the greatest experience of my life. Having kids and doing all that stuff. If you had told me 10 years ago that today I would be sitting here and the thing I’m most excited about is coaching little league, I would’ve said you were full of shit. But that’s the reality of my life. I love it, and being able to do that in a way that is such a priority. I shape the rest of my life around that.”

Transcript

Nate Broughton: This episode of the Opt Out Life podcast recorded in sunny San Diego. The Opt Out Life story of Chris Hedgecock.
Announcer: Welcome to the Opt Out Life podcast, the no BS guide to living a modern, good life. Hosted by subversive millionaires Dana Robinson and Nate Broughton, the Opt Out Life podcast explains exactly how creative hustlers are turning side gigs into real income and taking back control of their time. From their studio in sunny San Diego, the Opt Out Life welcomes guests who are solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, travelers, and creatives who are proof that you can choose a lifestyle over money, but still make money too.
Announcer: If you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail, running the rat race, or stuck in a system that’s rigged against you, we’d like to offer you an alternative, here on the Opt Out Life podcast.
Dana Robinson: Chris Hedgecock comes from the world of online marketing. As a kid, he taught himself to program, and while still a teenager, he landed his first job with Microsoft, and then was part of the pre-IPO team at MP3.com. After the tech bubble burst, Chris took his skills as a programmer and applied them to building new online projects for himself, some that bombed and some that skyrocketed. He mastered search engine optimization as a marketing tool to start making money off his side gigs.
Dana Robinson: You’ll hear how Chris’s story covers a broad spectrum of life and business, and he goes into detail with us about a few of his past projects, including the story of how he drove a ’74 Pontiac LeMans cross-country and ended up on dozens of local TV broadcasts.
Nate Broughton: Chris later spent over three years as the director of audience development at CBS Interactive, where he ran some of the biggest websites in the world. He’s been an investor, and has four exits to his name, so Chris has real credentials. Sure, he could probably drive a sports car and flash his success, but his grand talent is living the Opt Out Life. Whether it’s coaching his boys’ little league, or walking across the street to read a book in their classroom. And he does this routine every day, getting from his home to his office without touching a freeway, as we’ll hear, is entirely by design. Let’s listen to Chris’s story.
Dana Robinson: All right, we’re here with Chris Hedgecock. Chris, welcome to the Opt Out Life podcast. We’re glad to have you.
Chris Hedgecock: Thank you for having me.
Dana Robinson: So I met Chris almost 10 years ago, and we went to an event where we connected that was affectionately called Drink Tank.
Chris Hedgecock: Hold on, hold on.
Dana Robinson: In fact, you might … I think it’s Friday. Friday in the Opt Out Life studio. We popped some beers. Chink chink.
Chris Hedgecock: Cheers, boys.
Nate Broughton: Get that audio ding.
Dana Robinson: There it is.
Chris Hedgecock: There we go.
Dana Robinson: Celebrating the first time all of us met at that fateful event.
Nate Broughton: In Del Mar.
Dana Robinson: In Del Mar. Think tank with a lot of really cool people.
Chris Hedgecock: An amazing roster, now that you look back and all of the things that people have done since then.
Nate Broughton: Yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: I don’t want to call them all out, but there’s some really exceptional people.
Nate Broughton: Well, they’ll all be guests on this podcast eventually too, so.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, good ones.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. What I liked about when we connected was the openness that I felt amongst everybody. That people were there not to network, but to collaborate. And I remember meeting you, Chris, and asking some crazy question about a problem I was having with one of my sites. I had been deranked by Google for something that I couldn’t figure out, and it turned out to be pretty simple. My content wasn’t fresh. But since I had had my AdSense account shut down, I had to open a new one and-
Nate Broughton: That’s a true badge of honor, for a non internet marketer. That’s right.
Chris Hedgecock: Getting your AdSense account shut down? I have many badges, in that case.
Nate Broughton: I know you do. That doesn’t impress me. That is impressive.
Dana Robinson: Right. So eight years ago, I was a lawyer who had spent four or five years with the side gig of the website Free Legal Aid, I talk about it in the book. It had been doing pretty well, and then right about the time we met at Think Tank, it had gotten shut down, deranked and AdSense shut down all at once.
Chris Hedgecock: The double whammy.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. But it was cool to meet a bunch of people including Chris Hedgecock and ask those questions and have people go, “I’ve got some ideas.” And I was able to, within weeks, pivot and get it back up and running. And over the next couple years, grew it pretty fast. And improved a lot from the collaboration I had from people like you.
Chris Hedgecock: Well, I’m glad I could help in any small way.
Nate Broughton: And we’re having Chris on because he is a fellow Opt Out Life subscriber, liver, whatever you want to call it. Like many of our early guests here, he’s a resident of San Diego, he lives up in La Jolla near Dana, and not only does he live up there, he has his office up there, his kids go to school across the street, and when I think about people that personify the Opt Out Life, Chris is definitely one of them. Why don’t you walk us through a day in the life of Chris Hedgecock, up in the LJ?
Chris Hedgecock: Well, a lot of that was accidental and some of it by design. The goal was no freeways. I really have an intense dislike for traffic and commutes and things like that, so I try to have a goal of the house and the office and then as things evolve, the kids and their needs as well, in one space. So I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful woman in my life that wakes up and mostly takes care of the kids. Depending on the day, I’ll get a workout in, they’ll go to school, and I’ll cruise into the office. And depending on the day, if I have time, having the school across the street is big ’cause I can go over there, and … My younger son is in pre-K, so I go in there and maybe read the class a story or have lunch with them or something like that. Sometimes I pick the kids up, sometimes I don’t, depending on the day, depending on the activity.
Chris Hedgecock: Our little league fields are right up the hill. I coach little league, which is the best hallmark of my career. I don’t hang up any awards or accolades except for the pictures of me with the teams and stuff like that, and getting to hang with those kids is one of the greatest privileges I have.
Chris Hedgecock: And so that’s kind of a normal day. I try to … In the office, I actually will spend time during the daytime, just maybe four hours, give or take, obviously. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t have an off switch, so as I’m going to bed, I’m doing customer service for some of our businesses, I’m doing emails … whether that’s from the phone or the laptop or whatever. In 2018, we’re lucky enough to be able to work from anywhere, so I take advantage of that as much as possible.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, that’s pretty much a typical day.
Dana Robinson: Do you have a job title?
Chris Hedgecock: That’s one of the weirdest questions you get when people are like, oh, so what do you do? Yeah, oh gosh, where do I start? And I usually respond with, I do internet marketing. My newest one I went with was, I own a media company. And that kind of quiets the discussion, ’cause people are like, oh, okay, cool.
Chris Hedgecock: But a job title, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve got a bunch of different projects going, so it would depend on the project. I do everything. One of the projects we’re doing right now, for example, I do not only running the business and administering a lot of the higher level things, I am the front line of customer service, which is an interesting position to be in. But early in the formation of businesses, I think that’s really crucial, ’cause you have your fingertips on the pulse.
Nate Broughton: You’re doing customer service. I think that that is a noble thing and a smart thing to do for any business. I’ve always kind of noticed that about you, you’re not just a pure play marketer, you’re not just an executive who oversees a team that does something. You’re always doing the dirty work. Customer service is a good example, but you’re also a coder where you’re building the sites from scratch. You’re like a jack of all trades, right?
Chris Hedgecock: My true love. I still love occasionally building things. I’m not a good coder, which is kind of the problem. I’m just good enough to get myself in trouble. So I can go and if I have an idea, I can build it. But more importantly, I can look at someone else’s, and say, “Oh, that’s how that works,” because I’ve built a lot of things in my career. And so having that knowledge really has helped me a lot because I can build a prototype if need be, but I can also look at something and really quickly dissect it, and say, “Okay, this is what we need to take this idea that’s in this business and apply it to one of our businesses, or build something similar.”
Nate Broughton: Right.
Chris Hedgecock: Or things like that.
Nate Broughton: When did you start coding?
Chris Hedgecock: As a kid, I was fortunate enough that my mom was a teacher at one of the adult continuing education schools in Mission Valley. And so she would drag me to these night courses she was teaching, and so I learned early on about databases and programming, and I was lucky enough that my parents got me a computer.
Chris Hedgecock: And then I was, I don’t know if you would call it luck, but I got in trouble a lot, so I was grounded a lot, and in my room was the computer. So we spent a lot of time, and when I was a teenager, I had a dial up BBS. So I saved up my money and got my own dedicated phone line that people could dial into, and upload files and share them and things. So I’d say I probably wrote my first code, fourth or fifth grade. BASIC on an Apple II GS with the 5.25 floppies. It’s kind of like choose your own adventure. You have your lines and then you have your question, and you say, if this, go to line 20. If this, go to line 40. And then you’d write a line at 19 and it would break all those.
Chris Hedgecock: Early on, I started coding, and then got my first coding paid job at Microsoft.
Nate Broughton: They have an office down here? What were you doing?
Chris Hedgecock: They used to. They were in the Mission Brewery building.
Nate Broughton: That’s down the road.
Chris Hedgecock: This was back when they ran a company called CitySearch, and then they sold that to TicketMaster for $400 million. And then TicketMaster shut it down like it was nothing. But yeah, they ran that and then they wanted me to move to Redmond and work for Microsoft, which would’ve been an amazing opportunity. But being a kid from San Diego, the weather was a little bit prohibitive and all of that. But led to another incredible opportunity where I considered my education. I was working at MP3.com-
Nate Broughton: I remember that. That’s a sexy story.
Chris Hedgecock: It was just an amazing experience and just, I can’t say enough about the people that I met there and the things that they taught me. Really, literally every day, today, which is 18 years later, 17 years later. Every day, I use something that I learned there, or talked to somebody that I worked with there.
Nate Broughton: How old were you when you worked there? 19?
Chris Hedgecock: I was 19. We had the IPO party, and I was the kid … We had the opposite of the wristbands, so they had wristbands that said, hey, this guy cannot drink.
Nate Broughton: You don’t seem like the type of guy they could keep from drinking, but.
Chris Hedgecock: Well, you know, there’s ways around any system.
Nate Broughton: Mountain Dew, baby.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. It was a great time, it was an awesome time. It was the dot com boom, and it was just an incredible place to work and incredible people that worked there. And I learned 99% of what I know or what I could say made me successful, I learned there. Learned from different people, and I’m still learning from those people.
Nate Broughton: That’s really interesting, because we’ve had multiple stories on the podcast so far of people at a young age getting a job, which is not necessarily what we would preach at the Opt Out Life, but it’s actually becoming something we preach as a pathway to entrepreneurship, especially at a young age. So how did you end up at MP3.com? I guess it was a springboard off the Microsoft gig?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, the same recruiter who found me for the Microsoft gig recruited me to MP3. But to your original point, I don’t think it’s as much the job as just being around the things and the people you want to be around. So what I tell people when they’re young or saying, hey, I want to break into this industry, I always tell them the same thing, which is, find the person or the company that most exemplifies where you want to be when you consider yourself successful, and just make yourself indispensable to them.
Nate Broughton: Listen up here for a second, ’cause Chris is going to give some advice around his story as working as a teenager at both Microsoft and at MP3.com, as you’re going to hear. But now he’s got 15 years, 18 years of experience to look back on those times, and he’s had a lot of young people work for him. And I love what he says here, where he says, “What I tell young people is to find a person or company that best exemplifies where they want to be.” And he suggests that they just go find those people and hang out with them, work for them, do whatever they can to just be around them.
Nate Broughton: And I think that’s really good advice, ’cause we’ve heard some stories of people getting jobs early in their careers that put them on an entrepreneurial path, whether it was deliberate or not. But truly, whether it’s us or other people out there trying to give advice, the best advice I think you can get is find people who are who you want to be and be around them. Right?
Dana Robinson: Yeah. Right, I mean, opting out doesn’t mean quitting your job. Opting out is a mentality, and what Hedgecock’s telling us here is, even before that, he made this amazing statement. Find the things and people you want to be around. So even though he’s taking a job and he’s going to go work for the man, he’s making a choice. I want to do this stuff, and I want to be around these cool people. And in a sense, he’s opting out of the normal mentality to go get a cubicle job, work at the bank, and he’s working for corporate America. This company went public while he was working there. So it’s not as if opting out means you’ve gotta go sit on an island, you’ve gotta go hang out in Bali and you’ve gotta start a business. It all starts with a mentality, even when you’re working a regular job.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, and I don’t think that the person, if you aspire to live the Opt Out Life and travel and have freedom, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person you need to surround yourself with is the person who’s doing that right away. These people, as Hedgecock tells in his story, were working 20 hour days and sleeping under their desks. But they were excited and they were excited about the idea, and they were willing to work for it at any cost. And I think that’s the energy he wanted to be around, and he knew the practical experience would be helpful as well.
Nate Broughton: Even my own story, working at young entrepreneurial companies when I was in college, these guys weren’t flashy. They weren’t going on trips to Europe. All the stuff that I like to do now, but I still feel like I was surrounding myself with the right people, because I was being exposed to ideas and energy that I couldn’t find in a traditional job.
Chris Hedgecock: Whether that’s, hey, I want to run your dry cleaning and be your personal assistant, or if it’s I want to get a job at this company, or whatever it is. If you’re really passionate about filmmaking, then find the person that you think is the filmmaker in the world and attach yourself to their company, their person, them, in a way that you make yourself indispensable to them, and you can learn as much as you want to learn, whether it’s, hey, I actually don’t want to do this, or hey, I do want to do this, and here’s how this person’s been successful.
Nate Broughton: Right, and you should look at it as entirely an educational experience and a networking experience. If they want to pay you $10, that’s fine. If they want to pay you $2, that’s fine, right?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. You have to pay them at the end of the day. Think about how much people are going in debt to go to an institution to learn about things that they’ll never use or care about, whereas if you can really dive right in, I always tell people the best way to do something is it start doing it.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, and look at the experience you got. The experience you got set the course for your life, and here you are, making money without having a boss. You don’t have to go work for a company, all because you took that job.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, I took a few jobs. The job at Microsoft was great and I learned from a few people there. That was amazing. The Microsoft way is the antithesis of the MP3.com way, so it was kind of in a lot of ways opposite, but I learned from a lot of great engineers there as well. MP3, it was so far ahead of its time. It was everything that have in streaming music today in 2001. We were the first people ever to stream a terabyte of data in a day. We built all of our own streaming codecs and all that stuff. We built our own versions of Apache to do all the things that we needed to do, and I didn’t even know what Apache was when I got there. I was used to working at Microsoft and IIS and all these different things.
Chris Hedgecock: And then I learned about open source software, and it just opened up all these new gateways to me and all these people that were the world’s foremost experts in it, I was lucky enough to sit next to. So it was fun.
Dana Robinson: There’s a lot of coders that can’t make the leap to entrepreneurship. What do you think holds them back?
Chris Hedgecock: Just not doing it. I think that coders, I mean, there’s probably a certain predisposition to this and that, but I think that necessity is the mother of all that stuff. And so for me it was, I love building things and being an engineer, but there was a certain couple ventures I got into after MP3 that, we were forced into the business. We built something that was really cool and attracted a bunch of attention, and then that was great. We thought we were a big success. And then at the end of the month we got our hosting bill. You owe us $14,000. We said, wow, that’s a big number.
Chris Hedgecock: So then we said, hey, we better figure out how to make some money on some of these eyeballs. And then we started getting into that side as well and it was kind of a necessity thing for us, but … Some engineers just don’t care and don’t have to care. I think that anybody can figure out anything if they need to.
Nate Broughton: How big was the team at MP3.com at that time?
Chris Hedgecock: I think we had 300 people, 350 people.
Nate Broughton: Oh, okay.
Chris Hedgecock: It was big, man. We were the biggest, the IPO was [inaudible 00:15:45] first Boston, and it was the biggest tech IPO ever at the time. Our options were … made us millionaires many times over on paper. The first day, I think it shot up, I think it was $118 or something like that was the stock high. And then, of course it all came crashing down. We ended up selling, I think it was 332, 333, to [Avenda 00:16:04] Universal after all was said and done. But, yeah.
Nate Broughton: How did that affect you? At the age of 19, being on that wild ride, and probably thinking in your head, “I’m going to make a ton of money off this,” right?
Chris Hedgecock: Well, everyone was making a ton of money. And we were all on a lockout, so it wasn’t like, oh, I can go sell my stock and realize this is money-
Nate Broughton: But it’s such a young age, where you don’t have a lot of backdrop to think about … I just feel like you’d be sitting at home like, “I’m a millionaire, I’m a millionaire.”
Chris Hedgecock: We didn’t really have time for that, to be honest. There was the IPO party and all that, and that was great, but there wasn’t a ton of rest on your laurels, I guess is the way you would say it. At MP3, what I remember is just everyone being so passionate and pulling in the same direction. We were building products. People were sleeping under their desks. Sleep three or four hours, and then get back up and start working again. And people just would not leave the office. 20 hour days, things like that. And it was very much about, we’re changing the world, we’re building these new roads into the future, and everybody was drinking the Kool Aid. And it was cool to be a part of, and it wasn’t … Oh, hey, we’re going to be super rich. It was, hey, we’re going to change the world.
Dana Robinson: That’s cool.
Chris Hedgecock: It was fun.
Dana Robinson: What happened after?
Chris Hedgecock: What happened after? I started a couple different companies. I started a website called zeropay.com with a wonderful guy named Jorge Gonzalez, and that’s where I learned about internet advertising. That’s where I got the big hosting bill. We had done a few interesting projects, one of which … Gnutella was popular at the time, I don’t know if you guys remember that. It was around when Napster was popular.
Nate Broughton: Oh, yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: There was like Bearshare.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: Products like that were based on the Gnutella network, so that was an open source version of Napster. And so there were all kinds of people trading all kinds of files, and media came out and said, “Oh, this is just a haven for kiddie porn,” was kind of their knee jerk reaction to any technology they didn’t understand.
Chris Hedgecock: And so Jorge came up with the idea of seeding the network with fake image files that were labeled suggestively as kiddie porn, and you would download them and it would be a big skull and crossbones that said, “You’ve been busted by zeropay.com for trying to download this kiddie porn.” So the FBI called us and said, “Hey, you guys can’t do this.” And we got all this news coverage and all kinds of crazy things, and that’s what resulted in the big hosting bill.
Chris Hedgecock: And it was crazy. It was just a weird, this is, gosh-
Dana Robinson: Was there a business behind that, or was it just-
Chris Hedgecock: Not at all.
Dana Robinson: -punitive? Gotcha.
Chris Hedgecock: This was just-
Dana Robinson: Vigilante justice.
Chris Hedgecock: This was just knee jerk reaction to the press’s reaction.
Dana Robinson: Oh, okay.
Chris Hedgecock: So Jorge said, hey, instead of labeling us as this, we’re going to go out and actually actively catch these people. So everyone who downloaded one of these images, we would post their IP address on this wall of shame. In retrospect, maybe not the best idea. But got a ton of attention, tons of media attention, tons of traffic. And we had no ads on the site.
Chris Hedgecock: And so, we said, hey, we should put some ads on, want to make some money off these guys. And that started us down a path of learning about AdSense and many subsequent AdSense account bans after that. But that was kind of the start. And then after that, I started a bunch of different web properties and different businesses and learned about a bunch of different internet business models, and that kind of just set me off on a path of entrepreneurship that I’ve only slightly deviated from since then a few times.
Nate Broughton: I think the project that I recall from around the time we first started hanging out, like ’08, ’09, that you were working on was Cars for a Grand.
Chris Hedgecock: Oh yeah, one of my favorites. That was a great project.
Dana Robinson: Can you talk about it?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, of course. No, it’s still alive.
Dana Robinson: Reincarnated, if you will.
Chris Hedgecock: Reincarnated.
Dana Robinson: Rein-car-nated.
Chris Hedgecock: Ah, I see.
Dana Robinson: The beer is sinking in.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. I’ll drink to that one.
Nate Broughton: We’re going to have to put that one on the highlight reel right there. That’s only for premium members. Dad jokes, Dana’s jokes.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, so Cars for a Grand, we started. I had a friend of mine who I’m going to not name, but you guys should definitely have as a guest, and he can name whatever he wants at that point, who was a really big eBay affiliate. And he said, “Dude, you’ve got to get into this eBay money.” And I said, “Okay, cool, let me check it out.” I started looking at eBay’s fee schedules and how they paid affiliates, and they pay you a percentage of the listing fee that they charge the seller to sell their item. And so if you’re selling whatever, a can of old beer bottles for $5, your listing fee’s 75 cents.
Chris Hedgecock: Now, if you sell a car, your listing fee’s $130. And so that 70% becomes a meaningful number. Now, that holds true if you sell a $50,000 car or if you sell a $1,000 car. So we said, okay, we want to get into this automotive niche. And right about the time that ShoeMoney had launched a site called belowabuck.com … I don’t know if you guys remember this.
Nate Broughton: We missed that one.
Chris Hedgecock: So it was eBay listings that were a dollar or below. And it was interesting, and it all boils down to the eBay cookie. So all you want to do is get people to click to eBay, and then they’ll buy whatever they want to buy, and you get paid on your percentage of the listing fees. And back then, there was a great CPA for the signup. You made, I think, a minimum 2 of 25 and at our volume, we got up to $38. Just for signing up for eBay.
Chris Hedgecock: So it was lucrative, so we took Jeremy’s idea of below a buck, and what we knew about the listing fees, and we created cars for under $1,000. We figured we’d sell a lot more if they were cheaper cars, and we would get the same rip off the listing fee.
Chris Hedgecock: And so we put up the site, and it was just using eBay’s API and we pulled down cars. This goes back to having enough programming knowledge to be dangerous. And put it together, pulled the listings of the cars and put them together. And then we said, okay, we need to drive traffic to this site. And so we went and we posted on Craigslist, and discovered that was a terrible strategy. And then we said-
Nate Broughton: Why?
Chris Hedgecock: Just because the SEO is really punitive, and Craigslist is really fanatical about policing their listings. So we would go in and say, okay, we have a car for sale in St. Louis, Missouri. And we’d post a picture of a car and then a link to our homepage and people could come there and find their cars or whatever. And Craigslist didn’t like that at all, and the SEO value of actually linking to your site from a Craigslist post is not great.
Nate Broughton: I’m curious why you didn’t try to figure out a way to game that system, though, given your background. Did you try to find a way around that?
Chris Hedgecock: We did, but we found a better way.
Nate Broughton: Okay.
Chris Hedgecock: Which was, let’s just do, if people go to Google and they type in “cheap cars in San Diego”, we want to be the number one ranking, and then have people click through to eBay, because then it’s intent driven, their chances of them actually buying a car are much higher.
Chris Hedgecock: And so we said, okay, we need SEO. SEO boils down to, I don’t know how much you guys have got into it on the podcast, but content and links, basically. There’s a lot more to that conversation, but … So we said, okay, we need links. We have content, we need links. And so we developed a PR strategy, which was, hey, we’re going to buy a car off the website and we’re going to drive it from San Diego to Miami. And we’re going to do as much PR as we can.
Chris Hedgecock: We didn’t know anything about PR. We didn’t know anything about the way PR works-
Nate Broughton: I love what Chris says here. He admits that we didn’t know anything about PR. A few seconds ago, he was just talking about, we found a better way than Craigslist SEO. So he knows he wants to improve the SEO of carsforagrand.com, he knows that he needs content and links. How’s he going to go about doing that? They come up with kind of a cute idea, really, to do a PR scheme and campaign, and admits that he doesn’t know anything about PR.
Nate Broughton: Chris says early on this his belief is that if someone wants to do something, they should just go out and do it. And he’s living it right now. So I love that. But what’s cool is, you’re going to hear this story about how they pulled off this PR campaign that was really successful, and it was totally bootlegged. He was just winging it from the get-go, but he was willing to take the risk. He thought of a creative idea to buy a car off the website and drive it across the country, and from there, it just came down to outreach and timing and being willing to be on camera.
Nate Broughton: So I love this story, and I love that it went really well for him, because it exemplifies a thing that we really try to hit on, which is just give it a try. Have the audacity to reach out.
Dana Robinson: Right. He had no experience with PR. Here’s somebody that’s leveraging all this talent, the things he does know, and he thinks, “We’ve gotta do something different here.” And if he’d gone and asked a PR professional, they would’ve poo-pooed the idea. There’s no way anyone in PR would’ve thought this was a brilliant idea.
Nate Broughton: Right. And it’s also scrappy, too, which is … Chris has been throughout his life and his career. He’s going to give it a try himself, and he’s saving money at the same time. It’s an Opt Out principle all at the same time. PR firms are notorious for charging retainers that take months to develop a strategy, and a lot of it usually doesn’t pay off. He did this all on his own, scrappy, cheap, it pays off big time.
Dana Robinson: Sometimes you don’t need to ask questions, you just need to give it a try.
Nate Broughton: That’s the Chris Hedgecock way.
Chris Hedgecock: We didn’t know anything except for a little bit of media knowledge, just from … My dad worked in the media industry, and so I kind of knew how a newsroom operated. I interned for him for a few years, and so I knew that newsrooms are 24 hours a day. And so I knew where their downtime was.
Chris Hedgecock: And so what we did is we bought the car, ’74 Pontiac LeMans, white on white on white, just a legendary two door V8 coupe. Awesome piece of machinery. And we started driving. I had a guy here in San Diego that would call ahead. So, for example, the first stop we did was Phoenix, I think.
Chris Hedgecock: So we pulled into the hotel and then would tell him, hey, we’re in Phoenix, we made it, everything’s safe, blah blah blah. He would then put out a press release to all the local news stations and radio stations and say, “Hey, here’s our story.” And it was right around the time that the GM federal bail out was happening, and so this was kind of a hot button news issue of the automotive companies, and we said, “Hey, you don’t have to do all this financing and big money. You can buy a car for $1,000.”
Chris Hedgecock: And so it was kind of a compelling news angle for them at the time. And he would call me or send me messages and say, “Hey man, at 8:00, the news team is going to be at your hotel.” And so then we’d wake up and I would put my shades on and go and sit on the hood of the LeMans and do a five minute news spot show in the car, tell them the story, and they would put it out. And we ended up on 160-something local news broadcasts. MSNBC, CNN, just these crazy national broadcasts. And got a ton of links. And so we ranked number one for cheap cars and cheap used cars on Google, and got a ton of traffic, and it went really well for a long time.
Nate Broughton: So you’d call him and you’d say, “We’re in Phoenix, everything’s good.” And he would, you said, distribute your press release to the local media. Was he doing a direct email? Would he go to the KTVI’s website, attach a story and send a short email to the news director? How did that work? ‘Cause I think a lot of people are like, that’s interesting, but they wouldn’t know how to execute it.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. So a lot of that was, I just happened to have the right person, which is my good buddy Drew, who’s also my real estate agent here in town. Plug him later, but he was actually super paramount in this process in that I wrote the press release and wrote it with him, but then he would not only email, he would go to the website, find their contact info, email it to them. He would call them, ask to talk … This was the key to the success of the whole thing, was to ask to talk to the news director.
Chris Hedgecock: And that was a guy who literally never got on camera, never had any glamor or anything. And so when someone was calling and asking for him, chances are he would pick up the phone. And so he’d be like, “Hey, we got this cool story. These guys are going to be in your town, they’re going to do this thing.” And a lot of times they would bite. We got a ton of news coverage. These guys would send out truck with people in them, and this pretty little newscaster would jump out with a microphone and ask us questions and stuff. It was pretty surreal that it actually worked, but I think a lot of it was just the audacity of reaching out and calling them and trying and putting a story in front of them. Which isn’t always going to work, but the worst they can say is no.
Nate Broughton: Right.
Chris Hedgecock: Or nothing at all.
Nate Broughton: You were always really personal on camera too. I think your personality came through on those interviews, I felt like.
Chris Hedgecock: I appreciate that. I was super nervous.
Nate Broughton: Chris Hedgercock.
Chris Hedgecock: There was one, it was the best, ’cause in Phoenix, the guy interviewing me calls me Chris, and we’re talking on camera. And then the subtitle underneath, or whatever the title they put underneath, was Scott Hedgercock. And my friends still are getting mileage out of that one, I feel like.
Nate Broughton: It was your Twitter pic for a while, wasn’t it?
Chris Hedgecock: Oh yeah, it was … At some point, you’ve gotta make fun of yourself.
Nate Broughton: I was loving that.
Chris Hedgecock: It was good. I should go back to that.
Dana Robinson: It’s a brilliant use of PR. A lot of people think that their PR should simply be for PR purposes, but ultimately, you weren’t driving direct traffic from the PR. You were using the PR to gain SEO ranking, right?
Chris Hedgecock: That was our number one goal, certainly, yeah. It was just getting links from these guys, ’cause it was like, what are the most authoritative links you can get? And those are EDU links, obviously, those EDU, GOV links, all that stuff. But we said, what can we get? And we said, well, let’s take a crack at this, ’cause news agencies, newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, have a lot of link equity. So that was our main goal.
Chris Hedgecock: But the direct traffic was great too. The day we did CNN, I think we got 150,000 direct visits to the site, and we made some crazy number of money on eBay.
Dana Robinson: That’s great.
Nate Broughton: And what was the lifespan of that site? You had it for a couple years, and then you sold it, right?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, right around … I found out I was going to have my first son. I had this panic feeling of, hey, I need money, because before that, being a single guy, it was just … My budget is whatever’s in my checking account, and there wasn’t a lot of planning or foresight or anything like that in there.
Chris Hedgecock: And so when this happened, I said, hey, I need to make some money. And so we packaged all the sites. And by this time, we had also formed Boats for a Grand, Motorcycles for a Grand, and a bunch of other things, so.
Nate Broughton: You’re going to boat around South America and call all the news stations on the way or something.
Chris Hedgecock: We never got around to that. And we actually did round two of the road trip. We did Route 66 from Chicago to LA, and it wasn’t nearly as successful. So I think a lot of our early success was a) that it was a new story, and b) the timing with the GM bail out and everything was just … We kind of lucked into it on that one.
Chris Hedgecock: But yeah, we packaged it all up and we sold it for a nice number. And to bring that story full circle, the gentleman we sold it to wasn’t an internet guy, was a real estate guy just trying to make an investment. And he certainly did make his money back out of it, but along the line of him owning it, he got slapped with the Google penalty that Dana was talking about earlier. So he actually got fully deindexed to the point where you could search for carsforagrand.com and he wouldn’t come up. Just all the news coverage about us would come up.
Chris Hedgecock: And so he was completely removed from the index, and then he sold the sites to another gentleman, and then sometime in the middle of last year, I bought them all back.
Nate Broughton: Nice. A common tale in the entrepreneurial world.
Chris Hedgecock: You build these businesses, they’re like your kids, kind of, in a way. Obviously not really, but there’s something you’ve created and kind of pushed out into the world and said good luck, and to bring them back is a good feeling.
Nate Broughton: So you’re nurturing the site back to life now?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. So actually, I put a ton of work into it. And this is kind of … I was getting back to coding a little bit. I actually wrote the whole new infrastructure for it. The reason for the penalty was a lot of duplicate content, ’cause we were only pulling eBay listings. So I was like, great, you want more listings? I’ll write some spiders and get some more listings for you.
Chris Hedgecock: Went through a whole redesign process. I hired some really excellent consultants in that space. There’s some gentlemen that I met in Europe that were former Google search quality engineers that really helped me with the process. And they actually wrote the reconsideration request, which is what the formal process is called when you say, hey Google, mea culpa, sorry, please reconsider my website to be included in your wonderful index.
Chris Hedgecock: And so, yeah. We rebuilt a whole ‘nother version. These guys helped me submit it back to Google, and I’m proud to say that it’s back in the index today, and it’s back making money, fueling my Opt Out.
Nate Broughton: Hey, that’s the first time we said it. 28 minutes in.
Chris Hedgecock: Do we do a shot now?
Nate Broughton: Yeah, we were trying to do that. We were working on coming up with the actual official drink of the Opt Out podcast, and [Rodeno 00:30:41] suggested mind erasers, actually.
Chris Hedgecock: That sounds like Rodeno, yeah.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, yeah.
Dana Robinson: But if all you’ve got is a beer, every time we say Opt Out, you …
Nate Broughton: He glossed over it. Well, you just mentioned-
Chris Hedgecock: Reconsideration request.
Nate Broughton: Yes, reconsideration request to Google through some buddies you met in Europe. That was kind of a quick little one liner there, but I think it’s important to talk about a little bit, because it goes back to the beginning, where we talked about how we met at Drink Tank in San Diego. I know that you go to an event in Europe every year that is great for networking. I don’t know how much can be said about it, but maybe we can talk about the value of that and why you continue to do that year after year, and go hang out with those people.
Chris Hedgecock: We can talk about it as much as you want. It’s an amazing event, they love to be talked about, those guys. That was put on by wonderful friends of mine, Marcus Tandler and Jan Ippen. They put on an event called SEOktoberfest in Munich, which is in the Bavarian region of Germany.
Dana Robinson: This is one of the most cool things about what we’re doing with Opt Out Life as a podcast, is we’re bringing on people that have done amazing things and you wouldn’t really know about it. These guys aren’t showy, they’ve got a little office near their kids’ school and they’re making good money and they’ve got a lot of secrets. And here, Chris is going to drop a really great secret on us. It’s one of the most exclusive networking clubs in all of the SEO industry.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, and in internet marketing in general. And it’s a worldwide group that meets once a year in Europe. Dana and I have both sort of tried to go to this event and not gotten in.
Dana Robinson: Right, we are not invited.
Nate Broughton: Right. Not yet. But yeah, Chris is going to tell a couple really cool stories about that event which are both interesting because it sounds like a really fun event, but it’s also interesting because of all the successes that he’s had in his career that have either been perpetrated or influenced a bit by the people he’s met at this thing, that has kind of become a bit of a fraternity. They come back year after year. He tells a story about how seven or eight years ago, it used to be more bachelory and the schedule of events was a little more intense, and now they’re inviting families to this thing. And it’s really cool that these things exist. And not only do a lot of people not know these events exist, they don’t really know that people like Chris exist either.
Chris Hedgecock: Which is famous for, of course, Oktoberfest. And so through this, I was invited by a guy, actually, that I became close with at Drink Tank, Chris Jones.
Nate Broughton: Yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: So Chris Jones is a wonderful guy who you should definitely have on the podcast because he has opted out several times.
Dana Robinson: Oh, we have to drink when you say that.
Nate Broughton: If I can get him from his busy Hollywood schedule, hanging out with celebrities, right?
Chris Hedgecock: He’s very famous now, so good luck.
Dana Robinson: Maybe we go to Germany, because I’ve been told I couldn’t get an invite to this. This is too exclusive for-
Nate Broughton: I was close, and then I had to get vetted, and I was like, oh.
Chris Hedgecock: It’s just in high demand, and the great part about it is it’s a very small group. So when you’re in that environment with those guys, you just naturally become close with almost everyone, because you’re in a small room. Not this small, but you’re in a small room with these guys for four days, and then you go out at night and you put on … Everyone’s wearing lederhosen, first of all. Let me back up a little bit.
Chris Hedgecock: So we show up at … I go to my first one, Chris got me the invite ’cause Chris owned a company. This actually goes back to Cars for a Grand. So Chris owned a company called Pepperjam, which was an affiliate network, which was through the power of his magical negotiation, was one of the only companies that got to broker the eBay affiliate offer.
Chris Hedgecock: And so Chris said to me, “Hey, why don’t you run your Cars for a Grand traffic, instead of going straight to eBay or through Commission Junction or somebody else, run it through Pepperjam.” And I said, great, and so we started doing some volume there. And he took some of that budget and graciously invited me to SEOktoberfest. And this is kind of in its first couple years. I didn’t go to the first one. I think I went to the second or third one. And I’ve been eight times. Just shy of 10 times, I think. I think I’ve been eight times.
Chris Hedgecock: The first one, it’s exclusive, it’s an invite only thing. There’s experts and attendees, and I think the total number of all that is 40. And I think that all of the attendees that go could be experts. There’s a bunch of guys, if you’ve ever heard of Yoast SEO plugin.
Dana Robinson: Yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: Yoast is a pillar of that community and just an amazing person, and so I got to meet him through there. The two gentlemen that I was referring to that were former Google search quality engineers, we can throw up their website or whatever in the show notes or whatever, but they’re called Search Brothers, and they literally used to be the guys approving requests.
Chris Hedgecock: And so I met them there, and Marcus and Jan put on this event where during the day we’d do conference type stuff, so it’s a conference setting. Each of the experts gets up and does 15 minutes. There’s hacking experts, SEO experts, content experts. Anyone who’s an expert in any kind of space, it’s not really limited to SEO. A lot of guys, there was a heyday of toolbars and ad injection. There were a few guys that were experts at that that taught us about that. Different guys that are experts in different internet moneymaking spaces, entrepreneurial spaces. And there was definitely an SEO focus, but that was certainly not a constraint.
Chris Hedgecock: And so we’d do that during the day, and then at 5:00, everyone would put on their custom fitted lederhosen, which is included in the entrance price, and for the ladies, it was dirndl, which is a classic Bavarian barmaid outfit. Very flattering. I should say that about the men as well, because these are literally deerskin pants that you’re wearing, and suspenders, and …
Nate Broughton: They get all your measurements pre-trip?
Chris Hedgecock: Absolutely, yeah. You send over your measurements and Jan has people, wonderful staff that put together that event. And they give you custom fitted full on lederhosen. These aren’t the $10 ones you buy at the airport. These are real deal deerskin, I believe.
Nate Broughton: Nice.
Dana Robinson: And you have eight pairs now?
Chris Hedgecock: No, no. So here’s the other thing that you learn about, and Marcus is born and bred Bavarian. And so he teaches us about their culture, and the older your lederhosen are, the more chicken fat and beer that you have rubbed into the lederhosen, the more respect you get out there. And you wear something called a charivari, which is a chain with charms on it. And you earn those charms by doing various competitions like chugging beer.
Nate Broughton: Feats of strength, if you will.
Chris Hedgecock: Yes, exactly. And so you put all that stuff on, and we make the … It’s about six blocks from where we have the conference, into the actual Oktoberfest center, and if you’ve never been to Oktoberfest in Munich, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys having a good time and just witnessing a slice of humanity. It was very [inaudible 00:36:48], I was at the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest, and in one day, there was a million people on the fairgrounds. So just imagining a festival of that size. And managing that.
Chris Hedgecock: I’ve never seen a fight at Oktoberfest. I’ve never seen anyone arrested at Oktoberfest. So imagine having a festival of that size with that amount of alcohol in the United States, and think about-
Nate Broughton: Guns.
Chris Hedgecock: -the aftermath. Oh, yeah. No guns, none of that. If you get too drunk at Oktoberfest, they have a giant grassy hill. And they go and they lay you down on the hill. And there’s medics that come around and bring you water and just make sure you’re okay and all that stuff. And you can lay there as long as you want, until you recover, and then you can get up and go ride the Ferris wheel or whatever.
Nate Broughton: Humanity at its best.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, exactly. It’s a different experience. For a kid from southern California, it was definitely different, and an honor to be a part of, especially with the group that they put together. So all that forms a very bonding environment. We were able to … A lot like Drink Tank, it was a little bigger, and then you’re in this remote place with kind of some strange people, but we all have this common thread of entrepreneurship and kind of just geekiness, for lack of a better word, of just caring about these kind of fringe things, like what’s going on with hreflang and how do you rank in Spanish for this thing? And there’s instantly seven people that are experts in that space.
Chris Hedgecock: And I’ll call out, [Aleyda 00:38:00] is the world renowned expert at international SEO, and I first met her at SEOktoberfest, and she’s gone on to have a fabulous career as an author and a speaker and a writer. And just, the number one person in the world for international SEO.
Nate Broughton: So yeah, it’s a good fun time socially, first and foremost. But it gives you access to all these people, new relationships are formed, and whether that’s making them a phone call away or it’s sparking an idea, not that you’re taking people’s ideas, but you’re seeing other angles that are being played. You come back and apply them to your business, and it’s well worth it.
Chris Hedgecock: Absolutely, yeah. Well worth the price of admission. People do get allowed in, if you really wanted to go. They’ve kind of evolved, so Marcus says he’s closed it after SEOktoberfest 10, which was this last year, that I unfortunately didn’t attend. And they’re doing a different format for next year where people are bringing their families and stuff, ’cause as we started this 10 years ago, we were all young, single people, out looking for parties and things like that. And now everyone’s got significant others and kids and things. So I think this year’s going to be more a family … They picked a castle somewhere in Germany, and they’re doing a big event.
Nate Broughton: Well, I think that’s a good segue.
Dana Robinson: I was going to ask, how much do you attribute your present success to the relationships that you’ve gotten from that one group?
Chris Hedgecock: I would say a lot. Everyone’s on their journey, and you have different stops and you meet different people and you have different experiences. And so I think all of that contributes to who we are at any given moment, and a lot to our success. And I’d say that particular conference has contributed a ton for me personally.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, so one of the philosophies that I’ve had about building businesses, it’s not going to trade shows with a badge and shaking hands and passing out business cards. It’s not selling somebody something and trying to figure out what their angle is or what your angle’s going to be. It’s really just an attitude of generosity, right? This Drink Tank for us was that way 8-10 years ago.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, shout out to DK for his act of generosity in getting us all together.
Chris Hedgecock: I agree completely, it’s not about what can this person do for me. I think that anytime I’ve had that attitude or tried that tack, it’s never worked. I’ve done, where I’ve actually gone to trade shows and gotten the badges, and we had these flyers and we were trying to get people to sign up for … It was a notification service, right after MP3, that I started with couple guys from MP3. Great idea technically, horribly executed on the marketing side, and just didn’t work. But we tried to go to these conferences and hand out flyers and stuff, and it was just a complete flop.
Chris Hedgecock: And I think that’s part of it, is you get out what you put in. And if you’re just trying to extract value from every relationship and every contact that you have, it’s not going to take you very far. I think that the key there is, how can I help this person, when you meet someone. Especially someone that you admire or someone that has these amazing skills, it’s like, how can I help this person?
Chris Hedgecock: Meeting Dana at Drink Tank, I was able to help him with a couple SEO things and as a result, we have a friendship, and he’s been an indispensable resource for me on everything from legal advice to life advice.
Dana Robinson: Somebody’s listening.
Chris Hedgecock: Yes!
Nate Broughton: Taking that from one to one to the masses with the Opt Out Life podcast now.
Dana Robinson: Hopefully.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, I think at Think Tank, the only thing that happened between me and you, Chris, is you helped me learn how to surf. I’m a farm boy from St. Louis. It was very helpful and generous.
Chris Hedgecock: Awesome. Yeah, that was a cool … And that kind of goes back to, the reason we were able to bond so much at Oktoberfest is because we went and experienced this amazing phenomenon in Oktoberfest, and at Think Tank, it was like, yeah, let’s get together and talk nerdy and let’s talk business. And then everybody paddled out and went surfing. We were pushing each other into waves and having this experience together and really kind of bonding to where, you know what, I’m like, hey, Nate is not just somebody who could maybe help introduce me to somebody or raise money or whatever it was. It was, hey, Nate’s a cool guy that I really like and we could go grab beers on a Friday or whatever. And fast forward 10 years later and-
Nate Broughton: We can pass around employees like hotcakes.
Chris Hedgecock: I can say that my current project is 100% staffed with Nate Broughton referrals.
Nate Broughton: Oh, yes, yes. Well, I was going to say, I thought it was a good segue. We were talking about the evolution of SEOktoberfest, going from 10 years ago when everybody was a little bit younger to a family event. And you talked about this a little bit earlier. Designing your life to optimize the amount of time that you can spend with your kids and be close to the school and go across the street and read a book. I think a lot of people aspire to have that. There’s a lot of people working hard on their careers who are in traditional jobs that probably have a tinge of regret that they’re not able to do those sorts of things.
Nate Broughton: But to kind of kick that off, I remember actually the first time I met you was at Elite Retreat in San Francisco, not long before Drink Tank. And I remember you sitting in the back in some Kanye glasses, probably more hungover than just about anybody I’d ever seen in my life, talking about how your buddies were flying up from San Diego and you kind of had to rally for a long weekend in SF. And that Chris is still buried there somewhere, I’m sure.
Chris Hedgecock: Buried deep.
Nate Broughton: Buried deep. But I’ve seen you evolve a lot over the years in starting a family, and I think you’re a fantastic father, and obvious very involved with the kids. And you have the tattoos on your body of their names and birthdays.
Chris Hedgecock: I do.
Nate Broughton: I think it’s really affected you and you’ve really taken to it.
Dana Robinson: Chris is about to tell us a lot about his version of the Opt Out Life. And early in his career, he was single, he was making good money. He had the life he wanted, he got to do what he wanted when he wanted, and for him, that meant doing a lot of fun stuff that single guys want to do. What’s really cool here is we’re getting into where Chris has come in that 15 year period, and how he’s been able to continue to apply these principles of freedom and autonomy, and just shift those fun bachelor things to coaching little league and being with his kids and being a good father.
Nate Broughton: And being a present father. I really wanted to ask him this, when we had him come into the studio, it was probably the most exciting question or answer that I wanted to bring up and get from him, because he has changed so much. At least my perception of him has changed, as a friend and as a person. I’ve seen it before my eyes, where he’s now got his office across the street from his kids’ school. I see him on Saturdays out there with the little league team, and I can tell that it lights him up.
Nate Broughton: It’s really interesting to see someone go from bachelor style to daddy style, but you’re right. I think you framed it really well, that he’s been able to maintain these principles and his autonomy and his freedom, and live the Opt Out Life with a totally different personal situation than he had seven or eight years ago. I think perhaps a lesser man or woman would’ve been cut down. You ask him in this narrative, did your parents tell you to go get a job? But he kept fighting the good fight, and he’s making it work, and he’s made it work. And I really like that.
Dana Robinson: I remember when I left working for a law firm and went out on my own, I had one of the lawyers meet me for lunch, maybe a few months in. And we’re sitting, having a beer in the middle of the day, across the street from my office, where my wife ran her property management business and I had my shingle hung as a single lawyer. And he said, “Man, I miss the paycheck.” And he looked at me with big eyes, and he said, “Do not come back.”
Nate Broughton: Nice.
Dana Robinson: ‘Cause he knew, he knew that I had nailed it. And I remember even, I remember walking out of the office on my last day. No fanfare, box under my arm. And I had this tingle in the back of my neck. And I thought, I never want to have to come to a place that I’m required to be to make money. And I haven’t.
Nate Broughton: And you’ve raised a daughter through that whole time period.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, well, when I was working, that was the thing. You’ve got a kid, you’ve got a wife, you’ve got a family, and you get up at the crack of dawn and you get to the office, and you work, work, work, work. And you get home, and you’re exhausted. And it’s difficult to be present, it’s difficult to focus on you. Just personal development and your growth as an individual, your spirituality, wherever you are at, it’s hard to grow that and feel it and be present with it when so much of your life is dedicated to making money for somebody else.
Dana Robinson: So, yeah. What I loved once I was done at the firm and I was working for myself was all the time I could spend picking up my daughter from school. On pizza Wednesdays, I got to go sit around a bunch of kids in elementary school and eat pizza with my kid.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, I feel like I’m kind of in the middle of that right now. Chris and I have kids that are about the same age. I mentioned running into him at little league, and I’ve only maybe through the process of starting to do this Opt Out Life thing, started to appreciate the fact that I can bounce out and go pick up my oldest son from school at 11:50 and walk him home and have lunch, like I just did today.
Nate Broughton: And I don’t know if I even realize how important that is to me. I think I’ve just been lucky as far as timing goes to be able to do that. But if someone walked in today and was like, “Hey man, we’ve got the opportunity for you to become the chief marketing officer of this business up in Carlsbad, and we’re going to give you a $300,000 salary and 30% of the company.” And even if I truly believed in the idea, I feel like I would say no, because it’s just too important to me to be able to be there for what other people might think is trivial, but just the walk home from school.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. Well, that’s a little bit about us. Let’s let Chris tell us more about his.
Nate Broughton: Did you expect that, when you first heard that you were going to have your first child?
Chris Hedgecock: Not at all. I was scared shitless. Are we allowed to say that?
Nate Broughton: Oh yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. I was scared shitless. I was 29, and like I said, my budget was whatever’s in my checking account. I was ready to go have a long weekend with buddies wherever we wanted to go. And that’s kind of its own version of opting out, but it’s just been something that I didn’t expect. And like any growth experience, it really takes you from being one person, and then you are a person before that, and then you’re a person after that. And I think that having kids is the ultimate demarcation point in anyone’s life, at least for me. I don’t want to speak for anyone else. But, yeah. I think I was definitely a certain person before that and a certain person after that, and it kind of jumps to the top of your priority list, and everything else that was really important and really cool to you is now a step or two down.
Chris Hedgecock: And it’s just been, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s been the greatest experience of my life. Having kids and doing all that stuff. If you had told me 10 years ago that today I would be sitting here and the thing I’m most excited about is coaching little league, I would’ve said you were full of shit. But that’s the reality of my life. I love it, and being able to do that in a way that is such a priority. I shape the rest of my life around that.
Chris Hedgecock: I would do whatever I had to do, but I would certainly resist if someone was like, “Okay, what you need to do to survive is to do this job where you’re here for 18 hours, then you go home and you sleep and you come back and you do it again, and you never get to spend time with your kids,” and all that stuff. I would reject that with every bit, because the whole point of this isn’t so that you can sit in some cube and do some thing. I think it’s to connect with people, and if you can connect with your own offspring, I think that’s the ultimate expression of that.
Dana Robinson: There’s a lot of people that think when they have kids, that’s when they’ve gotta buckle down and get a job. Did you have pressure from parents, grandparents, anyone that thought that, well, now you’ve gotta grow up and, Chris, you’ve gotta get a job now.
Nate Broughton: Stop playing around on the internet.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, no, I set such a terrible precedent before that that they had all told me to grow up long ago. And there was certainly different pressures in my life and I’ve opted out of definitely several social norms along with business norms, one of which my grandmother, to this day, she’s 96. Still gives me shit ’cause I’m not married. And I don’t know if that’s a conscious choice, but it’s just something that evolved, the way that we did things, and I’m still together with Natasha, and I’m sure she’ll listen to this and give me shit for mentioning her.
Chris Hedgecock: But yeah, there was a lot of pressure. And it was internal pressure. It was all, oh my gosh, all of a sudden you’re responsible for a person. And I’d never experienced that before. I had a dog, but that’s a lot different. And when you’re all of a sudden responsible for another life form on this planet, it’s amazing. At least for me it was, an amazing internal pressure and the ultimate motivator. Ultimate.
Dana Robinson: All right, so you decided you have these pressures, I’m not going to get a job. I’m going to keep being Chris Hedgecock.
Chris Hedgecock: Well, certainly, you’ve gotta play the hand you’re dealt. So I own Cars for a Grand, and I knew this was coming, so I sold that group of sites and I was able to get a little coin scraped together, and that lasted me a little bit, and I invested in some things. And Nate is a seasoned startup investor and much more successful than I ever was in that space, and so I invested in some things that just really went south. And so there was a point where I did have to go get a job.
Chris Hedgecock: And we’re fortunate that in our industry, that in our environment, that jobs maybe aren’t necessarily what they used to be. And so I was fortunate to get a job at CBS Interactive with a common friend that we all have, Cameron [Altheus 00:49:57], who didn’t hire me directly because we’re such good friends, but definitely referred me into the organization. I was able to stay in San Diego and fly back and forth to San Francisco and work in SEO/audience development, growth marketing position at CBS. Meet a bunch more amazing people.
Chris Hedgecock: But I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to provide for my family, and certainly I felt like my toolkit was maybe a little bit fuller than some others would have. But push comes to shove, you’ve gotta do what you gotta do. And the experience at CBS was great, and I was able to leave that once some side gigs were cracking, and things were happening. And actually I ran a very successful business for years with Cameron after CBS.
Nate Broughton: And did that business start as a straight up side gig? Like, hey, let’s just play around with this. We’ve got our full time gig with CBS, and then it evolved from there, I assume?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, absolutely. So we were at CBS, and it’s part of being a marketer, I don’t know about you guys, but I click on almost every single ad that I see.
Nate Broughton: I want to comment right there because Chris says, “I don’t know about you guys, but I click on every single ad I see.” That’s just that innate curiosity of an entrepreneur, and that curiosity that we preach about a little bit is something that you kind of have to have. You gotta have your eyes open to be inspired by an idea, and then you’ve gotta be willing to go out and try something. And Chris is just continuing to tell that over and over, that he’s just doing it in the natural habitat of his daily life and job. We’re about to hear a story of a side gig that turned into a substantial business for him and his business partner, and it all comes from him clicking on an ad and trying to figure out what the people are doing.
Nate Broughton: Specific to internet marketing, that’s the way that something gets sparked. Sure, you can go to a conference and you can meet some people and have something reiterated there. Or maybe you can read a book or go to an event. But you’re not going to find something if you’re sitting there looking for it specifically. I think you just need to be kind of farting around, looking at, oh, what’s this up to? What’s this guy doing? And that’s how Chris finds this opportunity, and I just love that story.
Chris Hedgecock: Out of curiosity to see how people are making money. And we stumbled across a model that we really liked, and we felt like we could do. And so we built our own version of it, and we had the aha moment four days in, where we were like, oh my gosh, did we just make money? And then we scaled it from there. I think we were spending $100 a day in ad spend, and we scaled it, I think our biggest day ever, we spent $54,000 on ads in a day.
Dana Robinson: Nice. Can you tell us what the business was?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, absolutely, since it’s more or less closed now. We wound most of it down end of last year, so December of 2017. It’s a web publishing business, it’s commonly referred to as display arbitrage. People misuse that term a lot, but basically, buy traffic from whoever we can buy traffic from, and show ads and display ads, and then hopefully make more money from that visit than we spent to acquire that visit, and scale from there.
Dana Robinson: Right, so you’re publishing content, you’re driving traffic to the content, and then you have display ads that you’re selling. When people click out, you make money on that.
Chris Hedgecock: Well, even when people view them. If you’ve ever seen the 47 photos from history you won’t believe, there’s a solid chance that was us. And so what we did was just basically clickbaity, catchy headlines that would get really cheap clicks from advertising networks like Facebook and Twitter and Taboola and Outbrain and places like that. And then we would drive them to our websites, which were slideshow galleries. And so depending on how much you know about display advertising, every time you display an ad, you get paid a fraction of a penny. And so we would stuff as many ads as we could on each page, and then you hit next, and we’d give you a new rack of ads. And so we’d try to get you to turn as many pages as we could and show you as many ads as we could, and pay for that traffic.
Chris Hedgecock: And it was wildly successful for a few years, and then I don’t want to say it’s dead, because there’s definitely people out there, people you ran into just a couple days ago, Nate, that are still running this model successfully. Just for us, it wasn’t as good of a fit anymore. I feel like we moved on for a variety of reasons. But it was a very successful model. I think people could still run out there and do it today.
Nate Broughton: I want to ask, that was a side gig that you saw opportunity to scale, and you guys did scale it, and probably felt like there was a certain window for that sort of thing to exist. We’ve talked to previous guests about that, a lot of internet cutting edge platform plays like that, especially with arbitrage, kind of have their day in the sun. You want to strike while the iron’s hot, if I can use several metaphors in one sentence.
Chris Hedgecock: You forgot, make hay while the sun is shining.
Nate Broughton: There we go. There we go, there we go. But do you have any side gigs that are honeypots, that have been cruising along for a long time, kind of like Dana’s Free Legal Aid. Ones you can explain in detail or not, but that are there, that you never really tried to scale, but there was reason why, and it’s just kind of there and throws money into your account?
Dana Robinson: I want to interrupt Chris here for a little shameless self promotion. If you’re not aware of this, I’ve written a book called Opt Out. And in that book, I describe in pretty great detail one of my side gigs called Free Legal Aid, and if you haven’t read the book, I think it’s worth getting so that you can get a sense in detail of what a side gig that makes a couple thousand dollars a month looks like. I’ve also got other side gigs that I outline in the book, a couple chapters on it, and I’m working on an entire book just about side gigs. So look for more content on the blog.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, there’s a ton of those. And part of that’s just being a programmer, you kind of just build things and then just leave them there. Nothing as good as Free Legal Aid-
Dana Robinson: Oh, stop it.
Chris Hedgecock: -which is an amazing [coup 00:54:49].
Nate Broughton: I want to screenshot your AdSense account and put it on Instagram ’cause I think we’re going to get at least 10 more followers if we post that.
Chris Hedgecock: You should. I’ve got a good shot for you to post. We have an AdSense account that I’ve screenshotted on one of our bigger days, and it was $54,000 or something like that in a single day on AdSense, and that’s nothing. The guy who actually I will not name on here, but the guy who showed us the way in the arbitrage business, the reason why I jumped on it so quickly, the guy showed me a screenshot of his. And he was just checking them from his phone, so he just leans his phone over and showed me. And he made $200,000 in one day on AdSense, and I was just … Everything else ceased to exist.
Nate Broughton: Yes, yes. What children.
Chris Hedgecock: Exactly, exactly.
Nate Broughton: What’s the price.
Dana Robinson: There’s a cost to that, though, right. In arbitrage, that’s your gross.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, that’s definitely not a net number. And there’s obvious risk. Like you said, AdSense accounts can get shut down, and Google can definitely lay the heavy hand because they have the position of being Google. What are you going to do, go sue them?
Nate Broughton: Yeah, they’ll usually let it run 29 days and slap you right then, right?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. They have definitely certain ways to do it. We had a scenario in that arbitrage business. I’ll do a little quick tangent here. We were relying strictly on AdSense for revenue. Basically, AdSense is a net 25 platform, so you get paid on the 25th for the previous month’s earnings. So if you’re in March, on March 25th, you would get paid for February’s earnings.
Chris Hedgecock: So what happened for us is the day before we were supposed to get paid for the previous month, they canceled our account and said we weren’t getting paid anything. So it was the entire previous months, 30 days, plus 24 days.
Dana Robinson: Plus 24 days.
Chris Hedgecock: And like you said, that money’s not free. You’re out there spending money on ads, and so we were out of pocket with our advertisers, and then all of a sudden, we weren’t getting paid. We were out of pocket with our vendors, and we weren’t going to get paid from our advertisers. So that was not a good position to be in, it made us a little gun shy, and there were certain business adjustments that had to be made after that. But the screenshots look nice, right?
Nate Broughton: That’s all that matters, really. Those last a lifetime. The money would be gone quickly.
Chris Hedgecock: That’s true. But to go back to your original point, yeah, there’s tons of things that I’ve built that are just sitting out there, and some of them make $20 a month and some of them make more than that. I can point to a specific one. I mean, the Cars for a Grand site’s a great example. Those are still sitting there and they still rank well and they still get traffic, and I can’t recall the last time I edited any code over there, but they still chip in a few shekels every month.
Chris Hedgecock: And then, what did I build. I built a shopping comparison engine that basically is another eBay funnel that still sits out there and makes money, and a few things like that. I contributed to some toolbars that still have some daily active users that are out there, and just different projects. I think just working this space, you’re going to leave a trail of crumbs behind that lead back to you.
Nate Broughton: I was going to say that the arbitrage business, part of scaling that up was a risk tolerance that I think some people wouldn’t have, that was just fully explained in the story you told about Google kind of holding the bag for you. Have you always been very down with risk? You kind of have to be, right, to play the game that we did.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, I was risk tolerant from day one. I don’t know if that’s hardwired in my DNA or what, but I was a kid sneaking into the casino to play slot machines on the cruise ships when I was young, traveling around with my parents. And I’ve always been a gambler and try to take risks and a lot of that, through getting older and self-reflection is, I was always down to take a shortcut. And sometimes in life, there’s no shortcuts. Sometimes in life, there’s optimizations that can be made. And wisdom is knowing the difference, right?
Dana Robinson: All right. We gotta break in here, because this is so subtle you might miss it. What Chris is saying is, he uses the word “shortcuts” about the way he’s approached life and business. And then he realizes that it’s often perceived as a pejorative term, it’s negative. So he goes, “Well, really, optimizations.” And then he realizes that even beyond that, there is a difference, and that wisdom is knowing the difference between shortcuts and optimization.
Dana Robinson: And I think with the Opt Out Life, we’re all looking for those hacks. We’re looking for ways to get something done without paying the price that society requires, and I think it’s a really brilliant piece of wisdom that Chris is saying here, and I want to bring some attention to it.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, and I like what you just said right there, Dana, because I love this comment as well. You say that we’re all looking for a hack, or a shortcut, or an optimization, in one way, shape, or form. And it’s like with the Opt Out Life, what we’re trying to convey is that there are right ways and wrong ways to find shortcuts or optimizations, no matter what you want to call them.
Nate Broughton: Dana mentions shortcuts perhaps having a pejorative connotation, but Chris is really even saying here that his whole life is about finding these little hacks. He’s found a way to hack PR when he knew nothing about it. He’s found a way to get a website to rank high in Google and make passive income off of it and profit off the eBay affiliate cookie. He’s found ways to click on an ad and figure out how those people were making money and replicate it in his own industrious and creative way. I think there’s a right way and wrong way to go about doing these, and I love the line that Chris spits out about this.
Chris Hedgecock: We have a saying in our media buy room today, all those wonderful media buyer you referred to me, they live and die by a certain maxim that they invented, I can’t take credit, that’s called, you gotta risk it to get the biscuit. And they say that all the time.
Nate Broughton: How do you say it in Spanish?
Chris Hedgecock: Right, I wish I knew.
Nate Broughton: You know what, there was a thing I wanted to bring up on this podcast that is a maxim that has resonated with Dana and I, that was actually something that you tweeted or you had as a Twitter profile? And you said, work smarter, not harder … but still work harder too. Or something like that. But still, harder.
Chris Hedgecock: But still harder. Yeah. That’s the thing, it was … I don’t know, it’s just me being a nerd and splitting hairs. Work smarter, not harder. Well, what’s the point of … Why don’t you work smarter and harder? Would that be better? So that was kind of the thing.
Chris Hedgecock: I think it was … I forget what movie it was. There’s some famous movie where he’s just like, “Oh, you’re a lover, not a fighter.” And he goes, “Yeah, but I’m also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas,” or something like that. So I was combining the best of both arguments, which is basically optimization, which is what we really do, right? We look at a business or an opportunity, and we just try to optimize and do it better.
Chris Hedgecock: So that’s work smarter, but also if you work harder, there’s a famous Elon Musk talk about, if I worked 20 hours a day and my competition works 8 hours a day, there’s no way I can lose. If you never give up, you never lose. And if you’re willing to work that much harder than the next guy, what’s that other old tired maxim? What is it, hard work beats talent or something like that?
Nate Broughton: Something like that.
Chris Hedgecock: Hard work beats talent every day. It’s the same kind of thing. If you just-
Nate Broughton: Sounds like a football coach.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah. Well, I’m a little league coach. I gotta trot these out for these kids nowadays. But it’s true. And then there’s a great book I read recently called Grit, and I forget the name of the author, but it’s probably recommended on Tim Ferris or one of these other podcasts I listen to.
Nate Broughton: One of these wannabe podcasts like the Opt Out Life.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, not like the Opt Out Life, clearly second fiddle. But it’s a great book, and it’s just all about the power of perseverance. And it goes into tons, the author is just this amazingly smart woman. That’s the one. Angela Duckworth.
Nate Broughton: Okay.
Dana Robinson: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Chris Hedgecock: Exactly the one. So that’s actually a fantastic book, and she cites a bunch of studies that people have done on talent versus perseverance. And it’s all about, you can be really good and the chances are, if you think you’re really good at something … Say, for example, you ace tests and you’re just naturally a smart person. You’re not going to study hard for those tests.
Chris Hedgecock: But somebody who really says, hey, I need to work my ass off to be as good as that person or as smart as that person, in the long run, they’re always going to win. Always. There’s not even a standard deviation. Always going to win. Because hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I got it right.
Nate Broughton: There it is, there it is. Atta boy, coach.
Dana Robinson: There it is coach.
Chris Hedgecock: Oh, I clicked the seat.
Nate Broughton: Oh god.
Chris Hedgecock: I was told specifically not to do that.
Nate Broughton: I wanted to say that we shared an office space for a little while there, which was very generous of you. Thank you, by the way, when I was drifting from selling my company and not knowing where to go, Chris was there to …
Chris Hedgecock: I’m happy to help drifting millionaires as they just drift through my office space.
Nate Broughton: Can you help me? [crosstalk 01:02:41] I’ve been sleeping in A7 by the beach. But you have a very extensive bookshelf, actually, in that office. And we haven’t really talked about books much at all on this podcast. You just had a nice little soliloquy there about a book. What are a couple other of your favorites?
Nate Broughton: Actually, I am curious to hear a couple other favorites, but particularly any recent ones that aren’t just classics that we all kind of know, if you have any. And I also want to ask, do you continue to read business books in general, ’cause I felt like I got really excited about them when I was 24, 25, 26, and then after a while, I felt like I’d read them all and it was kind of harder to find something interesting and new in the genre.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, I think went down that same road that you did. The business books end up all kind of being a little bit repetitive. There’s just certain things that people recommend and certain things that are good in business that just kind of get trotted back out again and again. And so what I’ve really found valuable is biographies.
Nate Broughton: All right, I want to cut in here, because Chris is talking about where he draws inspiration from. We talked about business books and how I was kind of burned out on them and he felt kind of the same way, and now he’s saying that biographies are a genre where he feels like he’s able to draw stories and inspiration from now. And I kind of agree.
Nate Broughton: And what actually I want to say about that is, I feel like that what we’re doing with the Opt Out Life. This might be one of the first episodes you listen to or the first episode you listen to of this podcast. You may be looking at the outward side of this and saying, oh, Nate and Dana are entrepreneurs, I want to find out a way to make money or I want to figure out a business to start so I can start doing this.
Nate Broughton: And we’re not building a how to guide with these podcasts. What we’re doing is we’re trying to tell stories. We’re trying to have a biography of our guest. And we feel like that’s the most powerful way for you to learn ways to opt out. Chris needs to walk through this narrative of his life and his career right here on the podcast, and have these little things pop in and out, and then you can draw inspiration and ideas back to your life. This isn’t step one, do this, step two, do this. It’s a story.
Dana Robinson: Right, this is biography. What we’re doing, our guests might not even realize it, is sitting down and giving an autobiography. We want to know about them personally, financially, from their business, what their experiences are. And those are the lessons. This isn’t the how to program, right?
Nate Broughton: We’re going to try to give you that stuff too, but I think the most powerful thing is Chris’s story and letting him walk through it, letting him figure out in his own head where these things come from. Right here, we’re just asking him where he gets inspiration, and it’s interesting to hear him say that he gets it from biographies. But yeah, the whole point of this and the whole exercise is just to let him go through the narrative in his own mind of how he’s made these things work. And then for you to take that and take a little piece of it, whether it’s a specific idea or just a new perspective that it gives you on an idea that you’ve had in the past, and apply it to your life to Opt Out.
Chris Hedgecock: So what I read most recently, I just want to throw out there, which to me is the ultimate startup story, is a biography of the Wright brothers. And how they went from being just brothers in a town to starting their first business, and then obviously going down the road, discovering flight and then arguably one of the most important inventions in human history.
Chris Hedgecock: And it’s the ultimate startup story. These guys could literally be in Silicon Valley or wherever, and it’s the same mentality and perseverance. And just, okay, we’re going to through, around, or over any obstacle in our way. And just that mindset. Orville, I think it was Orville, when they were first looking at it, he wrote a letter to the Smithsonian, and said, “Hey, I’m interested in flight, and I want every piece of information that you guys have about flight.” And they sent it to him. Maybe it was the time or maybe it was whatever, but he had the audacity to reach out and take that step of, hey, I want this information, I’m trying to accomplish my goal, and maybe you guys can help me.
Chris Hedgecock: And that’s, like anything, an obviously unfair comparison is when we just reached out to these newsrooms and said, “Hey, cover our website.”
Dana Robinson: Yeah, who does that?
Chris Hedgecock: Who are we? We’re not anybody who’s newsworthy, but because we had the audacity to say, “Hey, cover our website,” they’re like, “Oh, we’ve got nothing else to do. We’ll cover your website.” Smithsonian, maybe it was the right day. Maybe it was the right person, who knows, was like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll respond to this letter and send this guy a list of information,” which resulted in us now being able to hurtle ourselves around the globe in these metal tubes and get to Germany and drink a bunch of beer.
Nate Broughton: I mean, I think you just titled the book that one of us is going to write eventually. The audacity to reach out, because it needs to be written and a lot of these stories come back to that one seminal moment where you’re like, I’m just going to throw this against the wall and see if someone responds. My ticket to Drink Tank came from that. Meeting Dana came from doing that on Twitter and finding a guy at the airport to drive me to Think Tank, and we stopped by Dana’s house.
Nate Broughton: The gig I got in private equity, where I was working out of your office and we did a few acquisitions here in San Diego, was off a cold email to a guy that we read a newspaper article about, and dumb luck, he was in San Diego on vacation even though he lived in Canada at the time. In Brandon’s building, right?
Chris Hedgecock: It’s amazing.
Nate Broughton: The audacity to reach out is perhaps one of the most important qualities or actions any of us can take, it seems like.
Chris Hedgecock: There’s that cheesy quote that’s printed on the Museum of Modern Art in La Jolla.
Nate Broughton: Fortune favors the bold?
Chris Hedgecock: Fortune favors the bold, but I think it’s a variation on that-
Dana Robinson: The brave?
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, it’s … I think I got it totally wrong. I think it’s, brave men run in my family. But the point is, fortune favors the bold. It’s like I tell anyone, just start doing it. People ask me all the time, what’s the best way to do X, whether that’s get my local business to rank for this or that, and I say, every time, just start doing it. Go and say, okay, Google it. And here’s the sites that do rank for that. Then go find out why they rank for it. Plug them into any of these free tools, and just start doing it.
Chris Hedgecock: Oh, I want to start a business where I teach kung fu. Start doing it.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, for real. That makes me think of something else that I find humorous about you in some ways. So you’ve got your perfect little world there, on [Gerard 01:08:22] and La Jolla, you’ve got [Gillespie 01:08:24] in your office and stuff. And you mentioned building little websites for people when people only ask for favors. It seemed like you had a hustle going with every single vendor on Gerard when I was in there. It’s like, I get free haircuts from the dude downstairs ’cause I built his website. You’re going downstairs getting free snacks ’cause you helped them with some Facebook marketing or something. How many of those do you have, and do you … Is that intentional, or-
Chris Hedgecock: Too many.
Nate Broughton: -it’s just ’cause you’re a genial guy that runs into people and you start telling them what you do and …
Chris Hedgecock: Well, I feel like it just kind of happens, ’cause it’s a small community there in La Jolla, and people talk, and people see us running in and out of our office. What do those guys do, and oh, they do internet marketing. Oh, cool! I have something I need marketed on the internet. So then those conversations happen.
Dana Robinson: I’m going to interrupt here because it seems like a small piece to the story, but it’s a big piece to the Opt Out Life, and that is not just finding ways to make great money, side gigs, business, real estate, but also finding ways to hack your expense side of the balance sheet. And in my book, I cover a lot of things. Trading your services is one of them, and so Chris is hinting at that here, that he’s got favors that he’s traded all over the place. I’ve traded favors with Chris.
Dana Robinson: So it’s worth noting. Look for those great opportunities to save real money by trading what you’re doing with other people.
Chris Hedgecock: But in your first example, the guy who owns the salon downstairs, [Terrance 01:09:43], has actually become a really good friend of mine. I did do his website, he does cut my kids’ hair, and my lady’s hair, and my hair. He’s one of-
Nate Broughton: Now that’s worth a lot if he’s cutting your lady’s hair, ’cause that’s a serious expense, and why I can’t follow any of Dana’s principles, because my wife spends so much on her hair.
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah, it’s amazing. That’s a great business to be in, apparently. Women’s hair.
Nate Broughton: Oh yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: Talk about that later. He’s a great guy. Emmy award winning hair stylist right there in La Jolla. And he’s actually an expert in product marketing. He started his own line of hair goods and all kinds of stuff, and so we actually partnered up on a few businesses and he’s designed the packaging for a few different companies I’m involved in. So that little conversation of, hey, yeah, I’ll help you with my website, not only resulted in the free haircuts, but also resulted in other business opportunities after them.
Nate Broughton: Is there a La Jolla store, restaurant, whatever, that you would love to have a deal with that you don’t have yet?
Chris Hedgecock: Marketplace Grill.
Nate Broughton: All right.
Chris Hedgecock: I feel like I should buy Marketplace Grill because I eat there so much. It’s a wonderful place, I highly recommend. If they’re listening, please send me free kebabs.
Nate Broughton: I thought you might say Jersey Mike’s. You got the house account there, though, right?
Chris Hedgecock: Oh, I used to do Jersey Mike’s, and some things changed. I don’t eat bread anymore. But back then, I used to order Jersey Mike’s maybe four times a week. And there’s actually two brothers who own that franchise who are great guys, and shout out to Jersey Mike’s for their annual … which I think is coming up. Every year, Jersey Mike’s, one day a year, gives all their gross receipts to the Children’s Hospital.
Nate Broughton: Nice.
Chris Hedgecock: Not just net or profit or percentage of or whatever. Every single dollar you spend at Jersey Mike’s on that day goes to the Children’s Hospital.
Nate Broughton: Is that nationwide or is that just the La Jolla location or something?
Chris Hedgecock: I know it’s all the ones in San Diego. I don’t know if it’s nationwide, but it’s definitely all the ones in San Diego. And it struck me because being a business guy, you always look for the asterisk and the loopholes and things, and there, that’s a straight giveaway of all their gross receipts, which is pretty interesting.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, give me a little infomercial about San Diego, a one minute … If I was like, tell me why San Diego’s a great place, because we’ve talked a little bit about San Diego. Obviously we drop it into our intro and it’s like, Nate moved to San Diego to be an entrepreneur, it’s a great place to be. It’s a place where all these entrepreneurs live. But you might have a special relationship with San Diego because you grew up here, your father was the mayor of San Diego.
Chris Hedgecock: True.
Nate Broughton: Oh, by the way.
Chris Hedgecock: Bad guy.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, to me you personify San Diego in a way that none of our previous guests have. So tell me what’s so great about our fair city here as I stare out the window with a Modern Times Ice, local brewery here, in my hand, and it’s 65 degrees on a beautiful March Friday.
Chris Hedgecock: Oh, I think you encapsulated it pretty beautifully right there. I would say that there’s a lot of wonderful things about San Diego. I think that obviously its location and climate have to be number one. Traveling around the world, you see all these wonderful places and everything, but very few of them are wonderful year round. Like New York is just beautiful for a few months out of the year in the spring and the fall, but in the summer, it’s super humid, and in the winter, it’s icy and horrible.
Chris Hedgecock: The same could be said about a lot of places, but San Diego, more often than not, you throw a dart at the calendar, you’re going to hit a beautiful, sunny day. So I’d say you’d have to start there, and then you’d have to go to the people. The people you meet here, you don’t meet a lot of … There’s a certain energy. And it’s great, you go to New York and there’s some energy to the city. You feel it. And everyone’s running around with this hustle and bustle.
Chris Hedgecock: And then you come to San Diego and it’s very laid back. I feel like I attribute a lot of that, honestly, to flip flops, because it’s impossible to be in a bad mood when you’re wearing flip flops. So I would throw that out there.
Chris Hedgecock: And then I feel like the culture. On the west coast, you have San Francisco, obviously, which is Silicon Valley and has its own culture and everything. And then you have LA, which is Hollywood and all this other stuff. And then San Diego’s kind of the stepchild and whatever. But in reality, it’s where a lot of these guys that have become successful kind of moved down to, because it has all the wonderful things about California and not the hustle and bustle of a big city, even though it is technically a big city.
Nate Broughton: Right.
Chris Hedgecock: All that being said, I don’t feel like California as a whole is the best business climate, depending on the kind of business you’re in, and there’s a few different things I would say where California and San Diego as a result isn’t the best place to start a business. Tax-wise, California is not the best place to be. Business-wise, it’s not the best place to be. But despite all that, we’re all here, right? And a lot of that has to do with the climate and the people and the environment and the culture.
Chris Hedgecock: And here in San Diego, it is an old city, but you don’t find the old buildings you’d find in San Francisco or different things like that. There’s a lot of redevelopment, new things happening, new ideas flowing in. There’s a backbone. The Navy is here, Camp Pendleton’s here. It was known for a long time as the only Republican city in California because of all the military presence, and I feel like that’s kind of ebbed away. And it’s kind of different traveling around.
Chris Hedgecock: San Diego, literally when you say melting pot, America’s a melting pot of culture, San Diego is a real melting pot. You cannot help but be diverse in San Diego. We’re so close to the border with Mexico that I’ve argued the best burrito spots in the world are in San Diego.
Nate Broughton: It’s such a destination. More than half of our friends, and we’re transplants as well, come from elsewhere. And I think that provides some churn and new ideas in the mixing pot that you’re alluding to, which is good. And also, I think it contributes to the culture and the attitude because you’re more than likely surrounded by people who have chosen specifically, consciously, to be here. And that’s very interesting. They’re not here because … I know you guys are both natives, but because Mom lived here necessarily, or because their spouse wants to be here even though they want to be somewhere else. Pretty much everybody fucking wants to be here. And I think that contributes just to the general mood, and the culture of the town.
Chris Hedgecock: I would agree. And part of that made me angry when I was younger, because I grew up being a diehard fan of all of our sports teams, and we’d go to any of our sporting events and half the fans there would be for the opposing team.
Dana Robinson: Right.
Chris Hedgecock: Because they moved here from Boston or-
Nate Broughton: Yeah, there’s bars everywhere. Every college has a bar, [NPV 01:15:17] or Michigan-
Chris Hedgecock: Yeah.
Nate Broughton: Every pro team. The Patriots play, it’s like there’s Patriots jerseys everywhere.
Chris Hedgecock: Imagine if you opened a San Diego … Back when there was, rest in peace, San Diego Chargers. But back when there was a San Diego Chargers team, if you went and opened a San Diego Chargers bar in Boston, I think it would be burned to the ground.
Nate Broughton: Right.
Chris Hedgecock: They would tear your flags off the roof, there would be nothing left of it. And here it’s just like, oh, cool, come on in, guys. You got flip flops on? All right, cool, we’re all cool, everything’s cool.
Dana Robinson: Yeah, when I talk to people from out of state and they say, what do you feel about losing the Chargers, I explain, we have other things to do here. And I grew up in San Diego, we had the Clippers. We had the Padres, the Chargers, and the Sockers. It was a sports town in the ’70s, a little bit in the ’80s, but you can surf here and you have plenty of things to do.
Dana Robinson: I think the moment that the Chargers left, San Diego just blinked and forgot about it.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, I agree. I may disagree somewhat, but.
Chris Hedgecock: No, I mean, it definitely hurt, but you gotta remember. So I’ll tell a quick little story. The first Chargers game I ever went to. I think I was maybe 10 years old or something like that, and my dad was on the radio at the time, and so they had a box at what was, at the time, Jack Murphy Stadium. Qualcomm Stadium.
Chris Hedgecock: So we went to the box and it was a Chargers game and I was really excited. I didn’t know much about football because my dad didn’t sit around and watch football. So I was just excited to be there. There was a lot of people there, it was exciting and they had a cannon down in the end zone. And I said, “Dad, what’s up with that cannon?” And he says, “Oh, they’re going to fire that cannon as soon as they score. They fire it when they score.”
Chris Hedgecock: And we sit around and we watch this whole football game, and the Chargers got shut out, blown out. I forget who the other team was. They got shut out, blown out, they never scored, and they never fired the damn cannon. So in a way, they’ve been letting me down since day one, they’re still letting me down, and then they eventually left.
Chris Hedgecock: And so, I’m hurt by it because I had a lot of great memories and a lot of great friends, we went to a lot of great games and I ended up getting to know some of the guys that played for the team and worked with the team. And those were great experiences and great people, but from day one that team has broke my heart and they never left that tradition. So I wasn’t too sad to see them go. I’m more of a Padres fan nowadays, and really enjoy taking my kids down there to Petco. I’m really happy that San Diego did get at least that stadium built.
Nate Broughton: Beautiful stadium.
Dana Robinson: How about hockey?
Chris Hedgecock: And hockey is tons of fun. We have the Gulls back again.
Dana Robinson: Yeah.
Nate Broughton: Yeah man.
Chris Hedgecock: They’re entirely different but they wear the same uniforms and logos and stuff so it’s all good. But like you said, San Diego, we have other stuff. If you live in Green Bay and it’s the winter, it’s the Packers. That what you do. You root for the Packers, or if you’re lucky enough to have tickets, you go to the game and brave the blizzard or whatever and you do your thing. In San Diego, you’re like, there’s football on? It’s Sunday? You don’t even … You know it’s a nice day at the beach and you’re out, hopefully, enjoying the weather with your kids or with your friends or loved ones or whatever. But we have the luxury of being able to go outside every day of the year and have other things to do.
Nate Broughton: Back to my point too. There’s a high percentage of the population has moved here from elsewhere, so their hometown team isn’t the Padres or the Chargers, and I think that does contribute to it too.
Chris Hedgecock: Totally, yeah. Everywhere you go, like you said, there’s Patriots bars and Eagles bars and every college up and down [Sharnet 01:18:14] and the Gaslamp and all that.
Chris Hedgecock: And it goes back to what you said. A lot of people, everyone’s here on purpose. There’s very few natives, I feel like. And when you go around, there’s very few people that were born … For some reason, people that were born in San Diego, I feel like a lot of them have moved away for whatever reason. Chase a career somewhere or something. But for me, it was always, how can I leave this place? That’s kind of like opting out. If you were forced, hey, I got this job, but they’re going to move me to Minnesota. Like Microsoft, for me personally, was like, hey, come move to Redmond. And I said, I don’t know if you guys have ever been to San Diego, but … I’m going to stay.
Chris Hedgecock: So I think that choosing a life that really gives you those choices to where, hey, I can be where I want to be and work where I want to work, which is of course … Part of it is choosing, part of it is being born into this great era where we have the internet and we have these great tools to where we can build these lives for ourselves.
Dana Robinson: Let me interrupt just a little bit ’cause I’ve got a personal story on this. I love the idea that Chris has chosen to live where he wants to live and turned down a great job opportunity someplace he didn’t want to live. We’re always talking about how great San Diego is on the podcast. We’ve got a bunch of San Diego entrepreneurs. We love it here, it’s fantastic.
Dana Robinson: Wherever you’re at, be there because you love it. I think that’s a great theme for Opt Out. But there’s a time and a season in your life where you take the job. I’ll give you my example. When I finished law school, I wanted a job in a particular area of intellectual property law, and the opportunity I was presented with was in Las Vegas. So I went and lived there. Bought a house, made it my home for a number of years. And worked.
Dana Robinson: So I had a job I didn’t want in a city I didn’t want to live in, which was so hot in the summer that your face feels like it’s melting off. Now, some people love Vegas. I like Vegas, I don’t love Vegas the way I love San Diego. But taking a job there was critical to my career path. It gave me an opportunity to build my skills, and like I said earlier in this podcast, when I walked out that door with a box under my arm, I had this feeling that I might never have to work for someone else again. And I wouldn’t have had that if I hadn’t gone to a city I didn’t want to live in and worked at a job I probably didn’t really want to have.
Dana Robinson: So the Opt Out Life’s about empowering yourself to make that decision, to have the power to choose, but there’s a season in your life where you might not. Where you might choose a commute, where you might choose to live in a city that’s not your ideal, where you might choose to have a live that’s not completely what you want. And it’s okay, ’cause you’re going to get there.
Nate Broughton: Yeah, I love what Dana says right there because it’s not necessarily the first thought that comes to my mind, but it’s a really good point to make. Another thing that Chris says right there is we live in an era where it’s a lot more feasible to live wherever you want and still be able to do a certain job or make money. A lot of the people that we have on the podcast here make their money online.
Nate Broughton: And whether you have no idea about internet marketing or, I’ve started a blog, or are someone who’s made a little bit of money online, I think it’s important to think about that as a potential avenue, because it’s changed my life. And if I would’ve been in a different career path or developed a different skill, I wouldn’t have the flexibility I do to not have a story like Dana’s, where I had to go somewhere because I had to make that decision because it made a lot of sense. I’ve been able to avoid it because of the luck, I guess, of lucking into this particular skill set and career path.
Nate Broughton: But yeah, I wanted to mention it because I think it’s probably the most realistic opportunity for someone who’s 20 years into a career, any career, or someone who’s 20 years old who doesn’t know what they want to do. Your best chance to probably pull this off is going to be online.
Chris Hedgecock: So you know what, I’m going to live in paradise. And I know people who have said that and moved to Thailand, or said that and moved to Costa Rica. A friend of mine in high school moved down to Costa Rica and started a surf camp, and he’s still there. And he has three kids with long blonde hair that surf every day, and he opted out in his own way.
Nate Broughton: Let’s have him on.
Chris Hedgecock: You totally should. Wonderful guy. He actually … Remember the I Am Ponies event that we threw at Del Mar?
Nate Broughton: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Hedgecock: Guy had long blonde hair. His name’s Joe Walsh. Not of the Eagles. Different Joe Walsh. But he owns Witch’s Rock Surf Camp down in Tamarindo
Nate Broughton: Nice.
Chris Hedgecock: And you should definitely have him on. He’s a fascinating dude. Back when Ask Jeeves was a thing, he built power for his surf camp off of plans he found on Ask Jeeves. And built a surf camp out of nothing, and owns a microbrewery and a hotel and a surf camp down there now. He’s just been insanely-
Nate Broughton: Christ, is he the mayor of the whole town?
Chris Hedgecock: He probably is. He literally drove a VW bus that he drove in high school, when I went to high school with this guy. And he drove it all the way down through Mexico, through Central America, to Costa Rica. Parked it, and it’s still there. He bought the land and has built a surf camp down there. And talk about opting out. That guy opted out.
Nate Broughton: Sounds like we’re flying to Costa Rica.
Chris Hedgecock: Or you could Skype him. Whatever you want to do.
Nate Broughton: We like the real deal here on the Opt Out Life.
Chris Hedgecock: I know he comes back. The flip side of that is he has these three kids-
Nate Broughton: Sure.
Chris Hedgecock: -and he wants maybe a different education than he could obtain down in Costa Rica. So his parents still live up here and he’s, I think, in the transition process of either moving back or back and forth, halfway. So.
Nate Broughton: Interesting. Well, let’s end on something a little fun. We’re going to have your aforementioned buddy Cameron on the show here soon, which we might invite you back for to harass him. But here’s your chance to tell me a great story about Cameron.
Chris Hedgecock: Wow.
Nate Broughton: And if you don’t want to-
Chris Hedgecock: There’s so many stories about Cameron, I know he’s coming on, he’s a wonderful father and just a wonderful, wonderful guy who, like I said, has done me amazing favors. When I really needed a job and all that, he gave me a job. And I’ve been on amazing adventures with that guy. We’ve been to Germany, to Oktoberfest. We’ve been to Hungary and Budapest. I could tell some stories about that, but I’m not going to.
Chris Hedgecock: We have been to Nicaragua, been to Costa Rica. Nicaragua, there’s a few funny stories. I’ll tell you a funny story that Cameron was there for.
Nate Broughton: Okay.
Chris Hedgecock: We were all on a boat, and Jorge, my aforementioned partner Jorge, who was my partner in Zeropay and also in Cars for a Grand, was on the boat. And we’re in Nicaragua in a place called San Juan del Sur, which is the southernmost town in Nicaragua, right on the border of Costa Rica.
Chris Hedgecock: And we get on the sunset cruise, which is basically drive around the harbor, drink beers, and pretend like you’re fishing. And so we’re trawling for fish, and we’re out there and we’re drinking [Artonias 01:24:25] and stuff, and we hook up a fish. We’re trawling and somehow we get a fish.
Chris Hedgecock: And so I’m going to catch the fish, and Cameron’s there and [Sean’s 01:24:32] there and Jorge is there. And Jorge has an underwater camera. I don’t know if it’s a GoPro or whatever, I forget what the actual camera was, but he decided that he wanted to get some underwater shots of this fish being lifted out of the water.
Chris Hedgecock: And so we’re trawling, and so Capitan Juan was his name. Pulls the throttle and puts the boat into neutral. And so I can reel this fish in. So I’m doing my best attempt at reeling a fish in, which is not good. But the boat’s slowing to a stop.
Chris Hedgecock: Jorge jumps off the boat with his camera. Jumps completely off the boat. There’s four lines in the water. One of them has a fish. The other are just hooks, dragging through the water. Jorge jumps off the boat to get this footage of the fish reeled in, and quickly, because the boat is still moving, is just left in the dust. And he just drifts through the lines and miraculously somehow isn’t snagged onto the boat or whatever.
Chris Hedgecock: And I eventually bring this fish in, which was the size of a minnow or something, it was this tiny little fish that I had to fight for a half hour because I’m not a good fisherman. Jorge ended up 50 yards back behind the boat, and was so far back that he didn’t even bother swimming to the boat. He swam in and there was a bar all along the marina there, and he swam in and proceeded to drink on credit until we brought the boat in, got the car, came around, found which bar he was at, came in, and paid his tab.
Nate Broughton: Love it.
Chris Hedgecock: And henceforth he was known as Scuba Steve. That’s the name we gave him that day. So that’s a story Cameron was involved in. You can remind him of that when he’s here.
Nate Broughton: All right, very good. Well, all these adventures you’ve been on with him, there’s one you haven’t been on, and that’s to go to Montana, which I implore you to do.
Chris Hedgecock: I’m so overdue for that.
Nate Broughton: Let’s get it on the record. We’re going together this summer.
Chris Hedgecock: Let’s do it.
Nate Broughton: Let’s do it.
Chris Hedgecock: I’m in. Cheers to that.
Nate Broughton: Okay.
Chris Hedgecock: Cheers.
Nate Broughton: Cheers to Montana, cheers to Chris Hedgecock coming on the Opt Out Life.
Chris Hedgecock: Cheers to you guys for having me.
Dana Robinson: Cheers.
Nate Broughton: Telling us some good stories. Thank you, sir.
Dana Robinson: Thank you, Chris.
Chris Hedgecock: Thank you.
Nate Broughton: Thanks again for listening to the Opt Out Life podcast. Visit our website at optoutlife.org. Enter your email address, get on our email list. We’ll send you updates on new podcast episodes as they come out, exclusive content that we’re publishing every week, access to books, and minibooks written by Dana and myself, and information about upcoming events hosted by the Opt Out Life.
Nate Broughton: And follow us on Instagram, @optoutlife. We’re trying out that whole Instagram thing. Opt Out, out.

Our Guest

Name Chris Hedgecock
Website https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrishedgecock/

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