Money. Yep, we’re going there. They say it’s not polite to talk about your finances, but at Foundr, we believe for entrepreneurs to reach their goals and keep their sanity, we need to talk a lot more openly about money. No bragging, just reality.
In our new recurring series Money Talks, we challenge entrepreneurs to be brutally honest about their financial situations—how much they make, where it comes from, how they were funded, if they’re saving it, or losing it by the fistful. Today, we talk with…
Tom Rogers and Anna Faustino
Company: Adventure in You
Niche: Travel blogging
Time in Business: 4 years
Cost to Start: $60
Key Figure: Currently taking home monthly profits of $25,000
In a Nutshell: Tom and Anna run a popular and profitable travel blog that makes most of its revenue from affiliate marketing, display ads, and brand partnerships, though they’re currently expanding to online courses. The company took a chunk of funding early on for a tech project, but is otherwise bootstrapped, with a staff equivalent of four people. The couple live abroad, travel half the year, and are fully supported by the company’s earnings.
Partners in business and life, Tom and Anna met while they were each passing through Vietnam on respective world travel expeditions. They had a four-week “travel romance,” and then reconnected when Tom visited Anna’s home country of the Philippines two months later. He took a job there to top off his travel funds and romance blossomed.
When his financial reserves were restored, Tom prepared to take off again, but this time, he asked Anna to come with him. That, of course, required money, which led them to Adventure in You.
“The wages in the Philippines are so low, I’d spent six years saving up for the trip where our paths crossed the first time,” Anna says. “When he asked me to go with him, I was like, I can’t exactly just go traveling again.”
But then Anna learned about the money to be made with a travel blog and ran the idea by Tom.
“I had no idea what a blog was. Because at the time, I was traveling. I didn’t own a phone. I didn’t have a mobile,” Tom says. “She showed me like, ‘Oh, you know people write blogs and people follow them.’ She was a really good writer and I was in this tech company and I was like, ‘I think I can get a website online. I like business and sales, so yeah, let’s give it a go.’”
For just $60, they bought one year of website hosting and put up a site, and with that, they had a business.
“We didn’t even buy a premium theme,” Anna says, laughing. “It was as cheap as we could go.”
For the first couple of months, neither quit their day jobs. Anna was still finishing her master’s degree while holding down a teaching job. Tom was still working for a local tech company. That left few hours in the day to focus on the blog, but they did what they could when they could, often working late into the night.
‘This Blog Needs to Make Money Now’
The schedule proved to be too much, so Tom asked Anna if she wanted to go full time on the blog. Between them, they had enough money to survive a couple of months. “So we came to the decision, if we go full time, this blog needs to make money now,” Tom says.
In their first month working full time on Adventure in You, they made $50.
“Making that, I was like, ‘Oh wow, the money’s actually real and you can actually get paid doing this,’” Anna says. “And although it wasn’t a lot and we probably spent it all that evening over beers, it still made me realize this was a real possibility. And that sort of just opened the doors for us.”
Tom was less convinced. The ensuing six months brought in income, mainly from advertising placements and sponsored posts, but it was inconsistent.
“I would have to be reaching out to a lot of brands and close partnerships,” Tom says. “Because we were very small, some months I would make 500 bucks, then we would make a grand. But then the next month we’d be like a hundred bucks.”
They were struggling. How could they get the income to a reliable monthly figure?
Outside Funding—Which Got Them Nowhere
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Tom says. Still, somehow they attracted the attention of an angel investor, who put in $25,000 to help the couple build a travel app.
“That was enough to give us six months to build this app,” Tom says. “And then, cut a long story short, we spent the whole year building this app.”
Ultimately, while the app itself worked, the business model it required did not.
“We really underestimated how much funding it would take to penetrate the tour market. We were so naïve and young into this model,” Tom says. It became clear that to compete they’d need to raise a $500,000 seed round, and then another $2 million. It was a difficult phase, especially for Tom.
“I realized we were losing, I think, about $6,000 a month,” he says. “At one point I think it was eight. And I was like, ‘This funding’s going to run out in three months at this rate.’ But while I was focusing on the app, and so pulling my hair out, Anna was focusing on writing and doing what she does best.”
The blog was growing slowly but steadily, from 30,000 to 60,000 to 100,000 visitors. They had also discovered affiliate marketing, and as the blog grew, so did that income.
“We asked ourselves, ‘Why are we building this app that’s not making anything and just really draining us and all our resources?’”
After a year and a half of work on it, they scrapped the app project (ultimately paying back the investor with interest), and went all in on the blog. But at this point, they decided to give it one more year and then Tom would have to find something else.
Making Real Money
“Over the next two years of us focusing on the affiliate marketing business model, the gears shifted from making three or four thousand per month to suddenly $30,000 per month,” Tom says. “I saw it as a real business then.”
For Anna, it became clear that they were going to be financially secure when the couple returned from three weeks offline while hiking to base camp on Mount Everest.
“When we got down, I was just like, ‘Oh man, we should probably check on our blog and see how our business was doing.’ And I was so shocked because we got down and our business at that time made like 12 grand and we had not worked a single day that entire month.
“That was like, wow, this is the ultimate time freedom for us because I no longer had to trade time for money and work in a school. Wake up at 5 a.m. and drive and all that stuff.”
Today, the blog has several different revenue streams. “We make money from, obviously, affiliate marketing, which is the largest part of our income,” Anna says. “And then we also make money from display ads and brand partnerships. Those are the three main revenue streams for Adventure In You.”
They also have a line of ebooks available on the website that are less significant, financially. And, motivated by a desire to help others, they’ve recently added a fourth revenue stream of online education.
“We decided to set up the Blogging Fast Lane, which is a blogging course that teaches people how to essentially make money from their blogs,” Anna says. “Because that was something we struggled with so much and it was something that we had just no direction in. It was a big struggle for us so we wanted to be able to share our experiences with other people.”
The Balance Sheet
And what do the numbers look like this year, four years after starting Adventure In You?
At the end of 2018, the entire operation was still just Tom and Anna. Monthly revenue was $22,000 – 25,000 per month and that left a profit of $18,000 – 20,000 a month. This year, though, they began hiring help and spending money on Facebook advertising.
By adding another writer and editor, they are now at four full-time workers. They have two part-time contractors, one who works on advertising and partnership deals, and one who handles the accounting. Additionally, there are five writers who are hired on a contract basis as needed. They go on press trips or are hired for commissioned work when projects or clients have certain requirements. A portion of the business overhead also goes toward its email marketing platform.
All told, Tom and Anna now spend $6,000-7,000/month on workers and $1,500/month on email and software costs. Tom and Anna do not take a salary from the business, but they do take a monthly payout by essentially borrowing against their yearly dividend.
Has their revenue or profit been impacted by all this hiring and additional spending?
“Right now after 3 months, revenue has increased but profit remains around the same,” Tom says. “So overall we are happy with this as we can already see the potential long term ROI in our investments into the travel content (i.e. after 3 months the cost is already being covered by the increase in revenue).”
The couple spent half of this year living in Thailand and traveled for the other six months of the year. “Because here (Thailand), living expense is so low, when we started up our business and were bootstrapping everything, it was very easy to survive with the bare minimum in terms of salary,” Anna says.”
Today, the business earns twice as much in one month as Anna made in an entire year of working as a teacher in the Philippines. They’re content, though, to just take a modest dividend payout and keep most of the money in the business so that it can grow.
“It’s weird because we’re very minimalist,” Tom says. “We don’t have a lot of stuff.”
Anna agrees. “We each own one backpack and that’s everything that we own,” she says. “So it’s not like we travel with a lot of stuff either.”
So why are they trying to grow the business if they don’t spend money or have a real desire to acquire stuff?
“We’re sort of traveling, still moving around and figuring out where we want to settle,” Tom says. “But we do have a dream to get our beach villa. There’s a lot we want to do for our parents and sort of give back. The main reason we’re trying to make our business a success right now is that when we’re ready to settle down, we’ll have the funds to invest in a property for ourselves.”
To learn more about the Blogging Fast Lane, in which Tom and Anna teach others how to emulate their blog model, click here.
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