How on earth I became an entrepreneur

eTour.com - Peter Askew
eTour.com w/ Peter Askew X’ed out : )
The email landed in my inbox around 10:05/am, alerting us of an all-hands meeting in 15 minutes. “Guess we got acquired”, we all thought. 16 minutes later, we were all laid off. This was February of 2001.

I was first alerted of my uselessness in 1995, when ~ fresh out of college ~ I worked as an intern at the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting in New York City. I fell in love with the opportunity, and began cutting hours at my salary-generating retail occupation just to spend more time there (I was sleeping on a futon at my roommates apt, so I could justify the revenue shortfall). The MOFTB recognized my spunk, and attempted to create a paid position for me. City Hall caught wind of this new role, though; they stepped in, and filled the slot with their own person. I didn’t quite understand what occurred; but do remember several co-workers hurling expletives in frustration. I also remember bewilderment staking claim to my outlook on life. “Wait a sec”, I remember thinking… “they created the position for me, but I’m not even qualified for it.” I wound up interning there 2 more months cause I still enjoyed it.

What Color is your ParachuteI kept wandering though. I wound up back in my hometown of Atlanta, as my spidey-sense indicated I might need couches to reside on as I continued to litmus test my life path. I was randomly introduced to the book “What Color is Your Parachute”, and was mildly intrigued by the the ‘Advertising Career’ section, so I decided to shuffle in that direction. My first job (an ad agency representing Dreamworks), laid me off after 9 months due to company acquisition. I was already familiar with the feeling.

I then became enamored with the web, and was able to convince a local Atlanta startup to hire me as an ‘Advertising Traffic Coordinator’. I didn’t quite realize how immensely fulfilling the role would become. Part of my day was self-education (coding, graphic design, database, UI, UX, etc). The other part was designing & managing our revenue generating ad platform. eTour.comI remember, several times, coming home dizzy with info they’d crammed into my feeble brain. It was a euphoric experience. Those puzzle pieces began to fall into place, though. When they settled, I noticed an opportunity for revenue growth. We implemented it, and were able to generate an additional $1M in gross profit. I was promoted to Product Manager, and trained my replacement. Then 2001 rolled around. Ad revenue dried up. The ‘executive team’ had originally hired 300 folks in hopes of company acquisition – but that didn’t happen, & now they couldn’t support salaries. Then that email I mentioned at the outset landed in my inbox.

It was a gut punch face slap. My replacement, who’d only been there a few months, avoided the hatchet (cheaper salary, I presume). I would have stayed and worked for free if they would have asked. They didn’t.

I laughed it off initially, as that recurring theme had become comical. But the months of unemployment that followed (eleven in total) had me question everything, including my self-worth, my identity, and purpose.

All I remember feeling was, I GOTTA FIGURE THIS SHIT OUT. NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE ME.

Rat fink CEOs had shown their cards, and I refused to drink their hooch any longer. I was fed up being the brunt of poor business decision making, of being a cog in a wheel, of being impacted by no fault of my own. As I swept up the pieces of my mangled psyche, I didn’t quite realize my identity had begun to slowly morph into an entrepreneur, without my permission. Self-preservation was my primary goal. I’d figure out the rest from there.

So I sold my house to stay afloat – unloading a $130,000 mortgage that I was fortunate to break even on; my brother lived nearby, so I moved into his 2nd bedroom.

The first 6 months of job searching were fruitless; the web had imploded – most folks felt it was a fad. I didn’t agree, so I kept looking.

I found a way to attend my own 30th birthday during this time. At Benihana. Happy Birthday to me, I’m “going places”.

Months 6-9 resulted in a few nibbles, and meetings. While interviewing for a Project Manager role, the hiring individual began to mock my college degree in Southern History. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just sat there and took it.

Looking back, I could have simply immersed myself in coding education; but my brain didn’t work that way yet. It was in temporary survival mode. I was drowning and my instincts instructed me to tread water.

At ten months in, I received 2 nibbles: one from a new’ish search engine called ‘Google’; and the other from an established offline business moving online (AutoTrader). They were both searching for Advertising Analyst roles.

At eleven months, oddly, they both offered me a role on the same day; when it rains, it pours I suppose. I declined Google – I needed some level of stability I thought. I accepted AutoTrader, and rebooted my online career.

AutoTrader.com
AutoTrader.com “Simply Outrageous Support” Award I won
And I began to excel. But, instead of companies laying me off, I ~ strangely ~ began to lay them off.

I’d stay on-board, use the privilege of employment and study every aspect of their operation. Paid, ‘free education’ sorta. And when new opportunities popped up elsewhere, I’d jump ship without a thought. My lizard brain would subtly whisper “got you first”; but I realized that was petty. These were the rules they created; I just began playing along.

At one job, a public records company, I implemented a new service named ‘AdSense‘. It began generating an additional $50-$100/day of revenue for the company. “Huh“, my contracted brain mused, “what’s stopping me from building my own site & adding this ?…“. I then suggested a Google Adwords test, a recommendation which received heavy pushback. “We tried it before, Peter, it doesn’t work.” But I kept pushing. After a test implementation, and proof of revenue, I fully setup our accounts & generated in excess of $1M+ of additional profit. Contracted brain jumped in again, “You can simply build your own site & generate this cash, you realize?” At my yearly review, I requested a raise on my $35k/yr salary. They told me to slow down; that those things were complicated. So I quit (and accidentally left behind a coveted Google bean bag chair the search engine gifted me due to our enormous ad budget).

But the experiences began making sense; I oddly felt a direction forming from the fog of wandering.

I wound up consulting for a multinational shipping & receiving company in their corporate headquarters on a 6 month stint. I pitched in on all avenues of marketing, branding & lead generation. Billboards in Shenzhen (Guangdong), China. NASCAR driver sponsorships. $500k month-long paid search budgets. When my consulting contract expired, they extended a $100k+ offer of full-time employment. Without pause – I rejected it. I vividly remember 5 or 6 work friends assembling in my cubicle, scratching their heads in stunned, inquisitive disbelief. I didn’t even have anything lined up after that. The company had served its purpose, and I’d saved cash, so I was ready to move on.

By that time, I’d been able to assemble a rough skill-stack, comprised of web development, ad operations, graphic design, sales, analytics, seo & ppc, domain names, email management; essentially web basics 101. It didn’t seem overwhelming; it felt like I’d uncovered a cheat code.

So the urge to build arose. On nights & weekends, I’d churn out small web projects, hand coded in HTML. The first was a crude directory of bed & breakfast establishments across the globe. The topic didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t matter. I simply wanted to establish a rhythm of building.

I began to understand the importance a great .com domain had on development. So to limit my scope and narrow my field, I began digging around the adventure travel niche. Why that? Well, it didn’t seem like work to me; and that seemed to jive with my inner-nature. So I kept going. I’d search for destination & tourism related landmarks, and attempt to identify underutilized web properties. The site AppalachainTrail.com popped up, & seemed underdeveloped to me, so I sent the owner a $3,000 offer to purchase it. A month later he accepted. I was still learning HTML in those days, so I simply expanded the site from 4 pages to 20 pages. Folks would then email me questions about the Trail, so I’d find answers. I experienced a vague hue of usefulness, and became hooked. It began generating $500/mo for me (via AdSense). That made me happy. So I kept going.

DudeRanch.com booth
DudeRanch.com conference booth at Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona
I began digging deeper into the domain expiration world. The nuances of Pending Delete & Pre-Release. Of exclusive inventory, and private sellers. 2 years later, the domain ‘DudeRanch.com’ expired (pending delete), and I acquired it for $17,949. I created a marketplace/directory of dude ranch vacations. I partnered with a friendly competitor (GuestRanches.com). We’d embark on thousand-mile road trips to visit ranches, and share that knowledge with travel-seekers. We made ad deals through hand shakes. We’d forward partners valuable leads. The revenue generated from that project allowed me to quit the 9-5 world permanently.

These small, painstakingly patient steps are what lead me here, to this essay. It felt so unusual at the time, but feels so natural now. That path then lead me to onions. To ranch employment. To domain investing. To independence.

Sure, I felt useless at the outset; that was their opinion, though. I ultimately found a way to be useful, because that’s what I decided.

I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur – I was content being a 9-5 employee. The employment Gods had other plans. When I reflect, I can’t imagine going back. I’m so fortunate all this garbage happened.

So I think it’s safe to say, to every motherfucker that laid me off, thank you.


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Going up the hill

I should figure out whether this is a metaphor, simile, or analogy.

There’s a walking path near my house, frequented by most Atlanta residents. Right alongside the Chattahoochee River.

Lots of foot traffic, lots of neat outdoor scenery – all within city limits.

There’s one section of the path where foot traffic dies down. It’s about 1 mile into the path.

Cause there’s a hill. This hill:

Chattahoochee River hike hill

The shade dissipates in this section, which aggravates things in hot & humid summers. I’d say the temp sans-shade is +15 degrees. Maybe more. When you leave the canopy of cool and comfort, it’s the wall of heat & humidity.

And then, the hill.

Most folks tap out at this point. A quick hip shift, sneaker squeak, & retreat, car facing. “What a great workout.”

The hill is still there, though; smirking.

Eventually, I uncovered the fact that the hill was a loose metaphor. If I’d have said, “life is sometimes like going up a steep hill”, then we’d have a simile. And if I’d said “what you’re doing here is as challenging as hiking up a steep hill”, it’da been closer to an analogy. But it appears I chose the metaphor.

Unbeknownst, the hill is the challenge. The hill is resistance. The hill is uncomfort, uncertainty. The hill is our ever-changing identity.

And that’s uncomfortable for some folks. They hip shift, turn, & retreat. Without understanding what’s up the hill, beyond the crescent.

For me, though, as I grew older, I cast those concerns away, and joined the folks that simply kept walking. Past the tap out point. Up the hill, over the crescent. I’m not here to say I’m some superman with an iron will; I’m here to say I’m the least talented of most folks I know. But only because I dismissed the brief pain & uncomfort of the hill, was I able to reap some benefits of that challenge. A re-invention; identity cleanse; a shift of purpose. I now sorta seek it out; cause I realize other folks avoid it; and understand opportunity may arise after some brief discomfort. It feels like a treasure hunt.

And in this case – the hike – if you eclipse the hill, at the tail end of the path, there’s at quiet waterfall. In the center of Atlanta. Tucked away under a bridge. Minding its own business. I’m usually there by myself. I like waterfalls.

click & drag below:

top of the falls:

 

below the falls:

 

above the falls (on that bridge):

 

I didn’t know this existed until I simply walked up that hill. The waterfall is like a little angel [simile], and you wanna know what? If you endure the brief angst of the hill, the hike is as rewarding as a high-five after you conquer a claw machine at Chuck E. Cheese [analogy].

did I do that right? Blech, who cares. ‘life is life’ as Sloane says.

/fin


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part two, I sell onions on the Internet

** looks at watch **

oh my Lordy … it’s been two years.

If you remember, I sell onions on the internet. Vidalia onions, to be exact.. You can read part one here if you want.

Vidalia Onion shipping boxes
Boxes of Vidalia onions ready for shipping
The thought of following up that first post never occurred to me, until it did. And then it sorta made sense. Farming can be wildly erratic at times, so a follow up post seemed to make sense, as a friendly update.

So in the spirit of ‘our farm is your farm‘, here are some updates from south Georgia & Vidalia Onion growing country. In no particular order:

🧅 Covid-19 was a curveball, but since everyone was homebound, & we were deemed an ‘essential service’, we kept moving, and continued to actively ship throughout April – late June of 2020 (and grew 50% in the process).

🧅 Our 2020 crop was a challenge. During growing season, we received over 30 inches of rain in a weekend, which sped up the maturation process, and caused a small percentage of Vidalias to retain more water than normal. Meaning, some burst when in-transit. Essentially, a wet, crummy experience for our customers. Virtually all these customers were forgiving, and openly welcomed an additional box at no charge. Others I refunded 100%. Mother Nature can be challenging.

🧅 A local Georgia artist sent out a work request on Twitter, so we hired him to draw our local map, plus a pic of Yumion (the Vidalia Onion mascot). Thanks so much Jamie!

Vidalia Onion map Yumion

🧅 GoDaddy dropped by the farm, and produced this video (I’m the tall goof on the right – Aries on the left). Many thanks to Paul Nicks of GoDaddy for coordinating:

🧅 We re-invested some of our 2020 profit into a re-designed website, which we highlight & showcase here. While our first design was ‘good enough’, that never sat well with me. Jill helped us polish the design, and add fun widgets like a coverage map where we’ve shipped onions over the years:

Where we've shipped Vidalia Onions

🧅 In 2019, someone reached out regarding the sale of domain name Onions.com. We weren’t terribly interested at first, but ~ after we slept on it ~ decided to pull the trigger and acquire it. We haven’t quite figured out what to do with it yet, to be honest; I’m confident it’ll tell us at some point. I get enough satisfaction from Aries using it for email, and hearing his feedback from farmer friends; ie ” how in da hell did you get that email address!?! “ … that might be its ultimate purpose.

🧅 When Aries and I began this project, he was General Manager at M&T Farms. In 2020, the opportunity arose for him to purchase the entire farm, which he did. He then changed the farms name to A&M Farm (ie Aries & Megan, his wife). Nothing else changed – just the name, essentially.

🧅 And while I didn’t mention it in my first article, it’s worth mentioning now. In 2017/’18, Aries – my partner & genius behind the Vidalia we sell – was diagnosed with colon cancer. Stage 3b. He was 34 years old at the time. RFD-TV was kind enough to share the story:

I remember Aries telling me much of 2017 & 2018 was a blur. Like he mentions in that video – you think your life’s on cruise control, until something like that hits. I just recall my internal insistence to be actively-invisible, to quietly maintain & service VidaliaOnions.com, so he could focus on himself. And that’s what I did. I just wanted to share good news with him, maybe some growth metrics. Those were available, thankfully, as we continued to expand during those years.

In late 2018, the positive news came, he was on the mend. The prayers, positive thoughts, the science & medication helped push this beast back. I’m not sure what I’d do without him. I’m quite thankful.

Aries Haygood in field of Vidalia Onions
Aries in a field of Vidalia Onions
Over the years, Aries and I have developed the same perspective on building. And serving. Essentially, ‘how can we be helpful’, or become better servants. In life. In relationships. In our daily life. This project continues to push us in this direction, and gently mold our identity.

Funny how projects start guiding you, instead of you guiding them.

After the first ‘I sell onions on the internet’ article gained some exposure, I was at a conference, and someone hollered out, ‘Hey! ONION MAN!’ My initial reaction was to immediately scan the room for this kindred spirit – my onion doppelgänger. Until I realized they were yelling at me. I felt quite proud in that moment. Odd how this project has changed me. I’m so fortunate to have stumbled into it.

I’m Peter Askew, and I sell onions on the internet.



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Building from a place of surrender

I was caught in this trap for years. While I felt I’d assembled the online experience & background to build, I felt the need to continue asking questions.

Sahil is right : 👇 👇 👇

sahil

And here I was:

“What backend are you using?”

“Should I build on PHP or Ruby on Rails?”

“Is this automated, or are your manually curating?”

“How did you get this off the ground in the early days?”

All the above is shit I used to blather. Unknowingly. I just blathered it cause it convinced me I was working. That I was *close* to building something. That if I unlocked ~ the secret ~ , it’d allow me to move forward.

It’s all garbage, for the most part. Just a decoy towards building. A game my mind conjured up.

I can’t quite recall when I made the shift, but I remember reflecting on the absurdity of asking these asinine questions. That were simply posed by my brain to fool my inner-nature.

i conSeedz
I just remember surrendering; to the building gene I suspected was in there, inside me. And just let it take over. I decided to stop asking questions and just start doing. Essentially living from a place of surrender. To be a passenger in the canoe, and let the river take me.

When I did that, the fun shit began. Good or bad.

My primary surrender was to the expiry .com domain name world. I’d spent a few years observing that category, and was confident in its foundation for building. To allow them to inspire me on project ideas. And not pussyfoot on budget, but allocate $10,000+ for each domain (paid for via CC, & paid off by my then 9-5 job as a PM at a software startup). I’d essentially bid against domain investors whose intention was flipping domains for profit. My thought was, if I could shoehorn in a business model, it might justify a bid price slightly higher than a domain investor. So I went with that angle. And started.

The domains presented wildly unusual ideas; like they were speaking to me:

… here, DudeRanch.com is expiring; build a marketplace directory for that 130 year old vacation industry

huh, sounds fun. Ok.
*bought for $17,949* (created 6-figure revenue generator; now sold)

check this out, CallTracking.com expired, see if there’s a need for a stripped down call tracking application

hmm, let’s give it a shot
*bought for *$21,000* (it failed, btw, but I was able to sell it)

yaas, VidaliaOnions.com – somebody abandoned it. Find a farmer, partner with them, and ship sweet onions across the USA

Dayum, are you sure?

stop / asking / questions \

It was right. These days, I just answer to .com domain names. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. Their batting average is impressive, though. Much better than mine.

I so prefer building from this position. From surrender.

I’m not in charge anymore. My mind feels wonderfully empty. It’s helped me shift my focus to serving. The domains make the hard decisions; I’m just here to be helpful, have fun, and learn a little.



hi Sloane! don’t forget, I love you beyond all belief : )


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Behind the scenes of a carpet pad recycling business in 1997

Who are you again? That’s right – apologies – our new hire. Welcome aboard. Let me get you up to speed on how things operate around here.

Do you like things that smell? Don’t answer that, ’cause it doesn’t matter. Our focus is smelly shit.

Carpet, Carpet Pad, and Tack StripYou ever seen that padding underneath carpeting? That’s the smelly shit I’m referring to. That’s our squishy gold.

Welcome to the world of carpet pad recycling. I’m your guide, Peter.

Lemme give you a quick overview of this business model. Don’t expect anything fancy, cause I didn’t go to business school – I went to Ole Miss, motherfucker. I kid, I kid.

How this business works:

  • Homeowners got stinky/nappy carpet; they want new carpet
  • They hire a sketchy company to come lay new carpet
  • Carpet layers rip out old carpet, plus old padding (below carpet)
  • You listening?
  • Then carpet layers install new padding & new carpet
  • Layers then leave, throw away old carpet, but roll up carpet *padding* & bring it to us
  • We pay between $0.10 – $0.15 /lb to layers who bring that trash to our warehouse. Cash money.
  • We collect it, bale it all up into an 800# block, and then broker/sell that stank to carpet companies like Shaw, Leggett & Platt, etal. Upon receipt, they’ll chop it up, clean it, treat it, and ‘re-bond’ it all into new carpet padding & re-sell to new consumers. It looks like this when they’re done: Rebond carpet padding

Congratulations. All things considered, with that level of knowledge, I’d say you’re an ‘up-and-comer’ in this industry.

When I first joined, and helped expand this business, I was surprised at how straightforward, and dare I say ~ easy ~ it was to open one of these operations.

You essentially need an empty warehouse, a baler, a scale, and cash money. Then you’d canvas the metro area, identifying carpet companies, then spray their dumpsters with flyers promoting your recycling outfit, essentially persuading folks to bring that stank to you instead of hurling pad into said trash receptacle.

At first, we’d overpay for padding – sometimes paying $0.20/lb (when we were selling for same price). Loss leader, we thought. A marketing expense, basically.

And it worked. Word would spread fast that the gringos were overpaying for pad. And the carpet layers would begin showing up.

On busy days, they’re bringing thousands upon thousands of pounds. All that stuff you’re manually picking up, weighing on a floor scale, scribbling down the amount, & then and pushing into a baler (like the one below).

Ignore the fact they’re using a forklift to push shit in there. That’s fantasy. You wanna know what happens when you use forklift to push pad into the baler? The forklift pushes the entire baler over on its backside. No bueno. The method of baling carpet padding is 100% manual, by hand. Sometimes you’re stuffing so much in there, you’re pushing your mitts against the pad as the compaction sled is slowly moving downwards. I don’t recommend that, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. But, seriously, don’t get your hand gnawed off by a carpet baling machine.

How did I get here? Good question. I’m here ’cause my brother runs the business. I was lost after college and needed a job. You seem like a high flyer, though. I could see you owning your own carpet pad recycling center one day.

That guy? Who is he? That’s Chuck. He’s part owner of this operation with my brother. And he’s from Texas. Old Texas. Shit kicking Texas. ‘I’ll cuss you in your face’ Texas. Aside from that, he’s a nice guy. You prob don’t wanna go talk to him right now, though. We took him to his first sushi restaurant last night, and after we warned him to go easy on the wasabi, he took that as a challenge & dolloped a spoonful of it, and downed it in one gulp. Three seconds following, he stands up, procures a samurai sword decoration on the wall, unsheathes it, and begins to wave it around the restaurant, showcasing the immense pain in his esophagus and digestive tract. So, point being, he’s a little salty right now. (a 100% true story, btw)

Let’s get back to business, though.

Something worth noting – some carpet layers – they can be shifty. Keep your eyes out.

Because we pay by the pound, they’ll pull every stunt to add weight to the pad they bring in. Dousing it with water is the simplest, most effective route, but easy to identify. So if you see pad dripping when it’s slung onto the scale, you need to jump into action.

Other items they’ll dump into the rolls to add weight:

  • hardwood
  • scrap metal
  • trash

I’ve even seen live mice scurry from the pad when it’s propelled onto the scale. Feces have even fallen out, no joke. Ah, livin’ the life.

So, next steps. We’ve weighed the pad, and owe the carpet layer cash money. Time for the cross-sell. Since they’re carpet layers, they’re gonna need staples, tack strip, and seaming tape for their next gig. WHY yes! You’re quite bright – we do sell those items. This is your sales opportunity. Easier for them to simply buy from us, than make an extra stop, right? Bingo.

So those are our two revenue streams. Pad recycling, and carpet supplies.

Actually, there’s a third stream. I’m gonna tell you about it, but keep this between us.

Anthony-Crispino

Some preface: when homeowners call carpet installers, 9 times out of 10, the installers will over-quote the amount of new carpet padding needed for the installation. If there are leftover rolls, they’ll bring those to us & we’ll buy for .10-.20 cents on the dollar. So basically, a $100 roll we’ll buy for $10-$20 bucks. We’ll then re-sell those for around $40 to any layer looking for extra installation rolls on a new job. That shit’s hush hush, so keep it in-house.

You get all that? It may seem like a lot, but it’s pretty straight-forward. And yes, we have a loaded register full of cash, prob over $2,000 – so watch your back. That’s why there’s a shotgun on the wall behind you. It’s got two live rounds in it, fyi.

I like you. I think you’re gonna do great.

What’s that? You need to run an errand? Uh, ok. The last time someone said that, they never returned. Are you coming back? You better. Looking forward to growing this business with you.

See you soon.



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Building things [ that do just one thing ]

Neon Red PigThere’s no need to make this complicated. People want to make it complicated.

My brain isn’t that smart – I need to dumb things down. And it ends up, dumbing things down can usually elevate your chances of success.

When I consider a project, I like to compare it to a washing machine.

Washing machines do one thing.

Set a cycle, mash a button, and the receptacle goes to work.

It doesn’t dry clothes. It doesn’t fold clothes. It doesn’t warn you when you throw a red shirt in with all your whites.

It just washes.

Here in the United States, consumers purchase one metal box to clean, plus one metal box to dry. You’d think we’d have combined them by now, like Europe has, but no – – separate. And we sorta prefer it that way.

I admire that simplicity. Simplicity can be an unfair advantage, if you think about it.

One of my projects involves selling sweet Vidalia onions. A lot of my customers ask: “What else does your farm sell online, Peter?”

My answer: “Nothing, just onions.”

At the beginning of that project, my monkey brain kept insisting we expand into other categories.

“SELL  GEORGIA PEACHES!    it’d say.

“OH OH!  GEORGIA PECANS! 

I allowed it to chirp over the course of two shipping seasons, but by the third, I’d duct taped its mouth.

Where my internal monologue wound up, was here: Why downshift into another category when our primary continues to grow 25%-50% every year? Why water down my attention when our principal has clearly struck a nerve? And hell, we’re still tweaking logistics, customer support, quality control, etal on Vidalia anyway. It’s nowhere near perfected.

Growth for growth’s sake doesn’t make sense to me. We’re not Amazon. We don’t want to be Amazon. We’re privately owned & family operated – we don’t have to listen to that diatribe.

What does make sense is controlled growth, with a strong connection to our product & customers. Correction, an intense connection with our product & customers.

Penny gumball machineOne product, though. It doesn’t have to be any fancier than that.

Drop a penny in a gumball machine, slide the lever, and a gumball rolls out.

Happy customer. Problem solved.



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Let go, then go

Loosen your grip; just a little will help. You can release it all if you want. I promise you won’t notice once you leave it behind, cause you’re moving forward.

It’s so freeing, to disrobe, and discard that identity. and start again.

We’re allowed to do that.

Take a new first step. You don’t even have to think.

Just lean forward.

No one teaches a bird how to build a nest. It just starts building. And when it’s done, it has a home.

Taoism calls this ‘the way’. Inner nature.

Do that. Just start building.

When you’re done, you’ll either have a nest, or a nest of experiences to push you forward.

I’m tired of running round
looking for answers to questions that I already know
I could build me a castle of memories
just to have somewhere to go
– Blaze Foley


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Must ride mule (to & from) work location

“David, this one, tell me about it …”

He’d let me look at his domain name portfolio. Not names he owned and parked, but domains he owned & developed. This was another early project of his – a job board solely focused on the ranching industry. All aspects – cattle, outfitters, dude/guest, hunting, and even associated businesses like horseback riding. He’d launched it in 1998, and done an admirable job developing the brand and building an audience. But other projects had hijacked his attention, and the site had become a bit stale. Its revenue had evaporated.

I knew David from a partnership between DudeRanch.com (mine, at the time) & GuestRanches.com (his). We had grouped them together to sell advertising. A handshake deal. Stronger together, we assumed. And we were right. Over the years, we were able to (more than) double revenue by leveraging the authority of our sites as one entity, versus two.

The more we worked together, the more we shared business opportunities with one another. At one point he shared his portfolio with me, and that’s when I discovered RanchWork.com .

At that time, I’d been poking around for a second project to develop, and came up empty after a year or so of searching. My usual avenue for acquisition, the expiring domain name market, hadn’t yielded anything of value, so my wandering mind lead me to David.

When I uncovered RanchWork, it reminded me of a friend – Shane Pike – who’d built, developed, and successfully sold a nursing job board several years before. And from what I remember, he did it solo. The straightforward nature of job boards was attractive – direct, simple, & sans-fluff.

The niche was compelling, so after I slept on it, I pinged David. To see if he’d let me test a project on it. I was already deeply entrenched in the dude ranching industry, so it seemed like a natural extension. The rough idea was this:

  1. Point the RanchWork.com nameservers to me, and I’ll cover the costs of re-development, plus oversight & maintenance.
  2. Once developed, I’d allow free job listings for ranchers to encourage a regular stream of postings.
  3. I’d also allow paid listings (which would post at a faster clip, and remain active for a longer period.
  4. To ensure simplicity, I’d avoid any type of login or account creation. If a rancher was hiring, they’d simply fill out a form, enter credit card info (if needed), and submit. Done deal.
  5. David would receive 25% of all job board revenue the site collected; the remaining 75% would fall into my pocket. Ad publisher revenue was also under my wing.
  6. David would continue to own the domain, 100%, outright.

What makes it easy (& fun) to work with David is his ‘screw it, let’s do it‘ attitude. I very much admire that about him, as I tend to follow the same outlook on life. And he brought that spirit into this project as well.

So he agreed. And I got to work.

David McCollough & Peter Askew
David McCollough & Peter Askew (the tall idiot)

Now, sure, from the outset, I could have viewed this idea from a defeatist attitude, that being, “What? I’m gonna try to compete with Indeed, SimplyHired, Monster, and the like? They’re VC backed heavyweights… I have no chance.”

I rarely approach projects from this mindset. I tend to approach them from the perspective, “what do I have to lose”. And usually, the answer is “not much”. And then that thought morphs into “let’s see what kinda shit I can stir up”.

So to start, I purchased a $60 job board theme, and took a full week to properly architect the site for mobile devices and seo. I researched competitors. $25 seemed like the average rate for paid job postings, so that became my base price. Another close friend, Brian Clapp, suggested I add a ‘Job Wanted’ listing for folks searching for ranch employment. I was skeptical that need existed, but added it anyway. And then I happily overpaid for the fastest, most reliable WordPress host I could find.

Essentially, the site changed from this:

early RanchWork.com website

to this:

RanchWork.com 2014

An improvement, I thought. Not perfect, but better. Simpler in a way.

I re-launched the site in October of 2013.

At first, I seeded all the jobs myself. Then ranchers started submitting their own. Then I shifted into curation & verification.

Then, over the next 7 years, site traffic did this:

From virtually zero traffic, the site ramped up to roughly 40k-50k visitors a month. Typically 200,000 pageviews every 30 days. I had to start managing overage fees with my hosting provider.

Jobs of all types started pouring in.

As the sole curator, I made sure they followed the singular track I defined. And overall, they did.

Jobs like this, where you had to ride a mule to & from your work location at the Grand Canyon.

Or this one, for a Mountain Permit Rider, responsible for all for all aspects of yearling cattle care & management in private ranch pastures and mountain forest grazing allotments near Cody, Wyoming.

Or this Job Wanted from 2017, an individual looking for work in the Cave Creek / Scottsdale, Arizona area.

Job posting pictures were equally as endearing. All user submitted. Pics like this:

and this:

and all these:

And even that one at the beginning of the essay. (nyeh, no need to scroll back up, here it is again).

The more jobs (and job wanted) postings we listed, the more positive feedback we’d receive. That we were a great help for a remote ranch with limited hiring resources. That they were in financial straits, and our Free offering allowed them to hire the right Manager to turn their operation around. And the avenue I was most skeptical about – Job Wanted postings – wound up assisting individuals who craved an escape from the city into life on a working ranch (as well as contributing 30% of our overall revenue). >> gracias, Mr. Clapp

The feeling was familiar. It felt like my Vidalia project. That I was making a positive impact. Satisfying a unique pain point, subtly, as a solo operator.

This project – originally a passing glance – became my mini workhorse. And such a proud production that I wound up buying the whole project from David in 2017. I doubled down in 2019 by investing $10k into a fancier backend and refreshed design. The site deserved that – a proper identity.

New RanchWork.com

I tend to approach online businesses this way. Not intentionally – I just found myself on this path. Find a good domain name; build a product/service; see if it solves a problem & makes people happy; *and only then* attempt to make it profitable. Purpose always comes first. As does contentment. Revenue always comes second. Sure, this approach has bitten me in the ass before, but I don’t care. When it’s worked, the results are wondrous. And this project checked those boxes.

And while RanchWork.com isn’t a flashy VC funded endeavor, or even some high flying 6-figure revenue generator, it’s not that I don’t care. The site doesn’t care. Cause it’s too busy. Working. Quietly.

My Twitter friend Ian Nuttall identifies these types of projects aptly; as nice, humble internet businesses.

I like humble internet businesses …

… and I’m quite proud to be this job board’s proprietor.


post script

I knew I was in a pickle.

While I owned and operated RanchWork.com, I didn’t own the .com name of this niche industry. That being RanchJobs.com. It was owned by a 3rd party, and undeveloped.

That didn’t sit well with me.

So in 2018, I reached out to the owner. I got lucky, in that – – he responded. We had mutual friends, so that helped. The email:

He was aware of my RanchWork project, and the price point reflected that. And he wouldn’t go lower. I couldn’t wrap my head around the price, so I shelved it.

Until 2020, two years later. When COVID-19 hit. The financial world went sideways. I was a bit frazzled as well. This domain name bubbled up into my brain, though. That this might be an opportunity.

So I leveraged a 3rd party domain marketplace platform where I could remain somewhat anonymous. I submitted an offer of $2,500.

They countered at $9,999.

I didn’t respond.

A broker from the marketplace called. Nice guy. He probed like a domain broker should do. He asked if they got down to $5k, if it’d be a range we’d consider. I wasn’t sure.

They brought the $5k offer to the table.

I understood I was in a halo of time where this price could disappear as quickly as it appeared, so I went ahead & accepted it.

I wanted that chess piece off the board, essentially. Another barrier to entry.

It’s fun to see how many times this domain is typed into a browser, though (238 times per month, tracked via re-direct). If I look at it from an advertising perspective, & apply a $0.50 CPC to each visit, this domain should pay for itself by 2023. 🤠

I’m so fortunate the internet exists.


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Start with a great domain name

Benevolent, uplifting cuss words

This website inspired me yesterday. We need more sites like this.

Direct, blunt. No apologies. And lots of cuss words.

There aren’t many places online where you can soak in free-flowing, un-edited, casual-speech cursing. Not anger based. Just honest, wholesome profanity. Creative profanity. Uplifting profanity. Positive profanity.

Saying shit like this. Or reflecting on something and typing, ‘that fuckin’ thing was crazy‘, while smiling & shaking your head as you relive the remarkable memory.

What a wonderful way to release positive enthusiasm. Cursing is too closely associated with hate & anger. Maybe we can change that.

Few publications online print this type of stuff. I wonder if the web would be a better place if there were more casual cussing. More relaxed maybe.

My alma mater uses several swear words in our fight song. This is deemed ok. The lyrics:

Are You Ready?

– – HELL YES, DAMN RIGHT – –

Hotty Toddy, Gosh A’mighty,

– – Who the Hell are We? Hey! – –

Flim Flam, Bim Bam,

– – Ole Miss, By Damn! —

That’s a fair amount of cursing. We’ve sung it so much, they don’t seem like bad words anymore. Funny how you say something over and over again, it starts to lose its strength.

I wonder if there’s a record online for most curse words per post? I remember at some point, the movie Glengarry Glen Ross broke a record for most profanity in one movie. Reservoir Dogs premiered around that time, and may have taken the crown. I don’t know.

But back to my thought – does a record exist for the most curse words per post? I wonder if I could break it.

Fuck.

There’s one.

Fuck Shit.

Two.

Fuck Shit Damn.

Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn. Fuck Shit Damn.

That’s a lot of profanity. Sortof like a fuck shit stack.

Sure, I coulda gone the obscene, sordid route, but George Carlin already covered those, and I can’t compete with him. And I’m Southern. We have manners.

Why does cussing have such a negative connotation? It should really have a cathartic connotation. Releasing energy. Verbally exercising.

It’s weird, because I don’t tend to cuss much in real life. I’ll admit, when I get excited about a project, my mind tends to race, and several expletives will seep out. But overall, I try to tame my tongue.

David Goggins doesn’t tame his tongue. And I admire him because of that. I’ve found I trust him more due to his candid choice of words. If he threw in a southern accent, he’d get my vote for President.

You know who I find hard to trust? Someone who doesn’t cuss.

Where is this post going? What am I trying to say? Shit … who knows.

These types of posts don’t have to go anywhere. I guess that’s what makes the internet so wonderful.

It allows some schmuck like me to post diatribes like this. A poor version of Faulkner stream of consciousness. Upchucked on the internet.

Fuck yeah.

And to my dear daughter, Sloane. >> NO <<. This does not give you carte blanche privileges to cussing at home, at school, at anywhere. Why? Because I said so. Been waiting years to say that. (Do note, allowances will be given during Ole Miss football games)


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Deep South Ventures

Start with a great domain name

Give me grunt work

It’s slowly become my secret weapon; my strongest talent.

The binary tasks // The cut-and-paste projects // The mundane metrics collection.

💩 work

The dregs.

It may sound strange to admit, but I enjoy this type of endeavor. As a solo builder, I feel it’s necessary. Not easy, but necessary … and [oddly] satisfying.

Peter … I don’t think you realize, though … you can outsource this to Mechanical Turk … to an overseas VA … to an intern. Really. To anyone …

🤫 sssshhh, shhh, shh …

To me, those routes are overkill for my type of scenarios – ie. a proof of concept; identifying product/market fit; or simply knocking out small projects. Why waste time on vetting VA’s or verifying other’s work when I can simply bang it out myself.

And over the years, the more I did this 💩 work, the more I got used to it. And the more I got used to it, the more I incorporated it into my daily activity.

And then

      it slowly

            seeped into my identity.

It doesn’t consume all my time. Just a fraction of my day. And I feel an inch of pride each day when my monkey work is complete.

Nowadays, when I’m in gritty gutter mode, the idea of outsourcing reeks of an insult.

That frame of mind … the binary robot mode … I can get so much accomplished. In those times, here’s a common conversation my brain has with my awareness:


🧠 Hmm, it looks like I need to perform some data entry on this spreadsheet of information I collected.

👌 Sweet, gimme that garbage, I’ll verify its accuracy first, and then input into the database. One by one, if necessary.

🧠 Agh, I forgot I have 500 raw images we need to edit …

👍 Give them to me, I’ll re-size every single one, and compress so they load well on a mobile phone with junk internet connection.

🧠 Hmmm, I need to append 225 unique utm parameters to these URLs for proper tracking & attribution …

🙋‍♂️ 🙋‍♂️ 🙋‍♂️

🧠 I’d be really nice if this data point was reflected on the site – but prob is, we’d have to manually collect – there is no normalized data set available

✌️ Hand it over – I’ll go line by line & collect it all …


Call me Charlie if you want. This is the kind of work that stomps out delays and launches projects.

Grunt work makes the world go round.

~ ~ click, highlight, cmd+c; cmd+v ~ ~

~ ~ click, highlight, cmd+c; cmd+v ~ ~

Add some [music] in the background, and hours will melt away.

🧘 It’s meditation, is what it really is. Serene meditation. 🧘

Once a project proves itself, paying customers help me balance the load of 💩 work, allowing me time to vet a VA, or a freelancer, or consider MTurk.

I’m not there yet, on this project specifically.

So …

back to basics.

I’ll be in the slop if you need me.

and Jordan’s right:


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Start with a great domain name

The dude that built DudeRanch.com

Saguaro Cactus
Saguaro Cactus at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, AZ
The outdoor patio was filled with dude ranchers. It was their yearly conference at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, and I was there as a vendor (and first-time attendee). I remember saguaro cactus lining the landscape. It was early evening, the sun was setting, and I was walking towards a cocktail party get together before the conference officially began. I didn’t know anyone.

A moment washed over me as I approached the crowd.

Where /am /i /right /now /i /am /a /total /fraud /i /don’t /belong /here /what /am /i /doing.

I kept walking.

The first person I approached was Dave Leishman, owner/operator of the Bar W Guest Ranch in Montana. I introduced myself, and once Dave glanced down at my nametag, the first words off his mouth were “How in the hell did you get that domain name!?!”

Me: “Oh gosh, where do I begin…”


Eatons' Ranch
pic from my visit to Eatons’ Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming
I coulda told Dave several things, but I didn’t want to bore him with specifics. But I’ll bore you, cause you should know where you came from.

I vividly remember when you appeared on my radar. You had expired, and peeked your head out on the domain name auction block.

A dude ranch in New York state abandoned you. They’d (apparently) gone out of business, and failed to renew your registration. And as domains typically do, before you’re re-released for general registration, you’re put up for the highest bidder.

At that point in my career, I’d been investing in & developing expired domains for 3 years (long before I began selling onions on the internet). My development philosophy was just forming – that idea being : skip the ‘idea’ phase and just buy a great domain name, and let the domain guide me towards what \\it\\ wants to become.

My first development attempts were smaller in scope, and I craved a bigger opportunity. To deep dive on one subject. One industry. One sole focus I could push my chips behind and play the long game. All layered on a great .com domain.

So I hit the pause button on my piecemeal acquisition pursuits. To take a step back. And wait. To monitor & analyze the expired domain name lists, every day, 7 days a week, searching for *one* name. For a domain that struck my interest. That had a built-in business model. That might be fun & fulfilling to develop. Crouching tiger, hidden dragon. This was 2008’ish.

In November of 2009, the opportunity presented itself. You, DudeRanch.com, had expired. Adrift without an anchor.

I was ready for you.


Moose Head Ranch - Jackson Hole WY
Moose Head Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming – I walked out before breakfast to grab this shot

You were perfect for me – a niche vacation industry dating back over 130 years.

The personal parallels were surprising: I prefer mountains to beach. I prefer unplugging. I prefer hand-shakes to LinkedIn connections. I prefer authenticity. All are hallmarks of a dude ranch vacation.

Horses at Moose Head Ranch WY
My wife & daughter meeting horses at Moose Head Ranch
I was sold, but I didn’t own you yet – the auction had a few days remaining. Hell, I didn’t even know if I could afford your final bid price. So, to determine a range I could consider, I ran through some possible business models that might fit well under your tutelage (as the profit could pay for your investment). Here’s how I thought it through:

From a business & development standpoint, the revenue numbers for your industry were encouraging. An all-inclusive weekly rate for a family of 4 hovers around $8,000 ($20k/wk for fancy destinations). Ranches also heavily advertised in several spots, online and offline, so marketing & advertising weren’t a foreign concept to them. That aspect allowed me to consider building a marketplace of dude ranch vacations where potential guests could window shop for destinations that fit their needs. Sure, there were a few other websites that provided this service already, but I felt I could build a simpler UI to make it easier to navigate and research. That sounded good to me, so I went with that.

Dude Ranchers' Associations Vintage Minutes from ConferenceWith the rough development idea formed, I tried to determine how much profit the marketplace could produce for me after 1 or 2 years, as that flagpole could guide me towards a bid price range I could consider.

I assumed I could sign-up fifty (50) dude ranches during my first year, at $250/year each (about half as cheap as my competitors). 50 x $250 = $12,500/year. I then assumed I could sign another fifty (50) up my second year. That number seemed to work for me, so my rough budget was $25,000 (all partially-funded by my consulting work and savings I had cobbled together working at software startup as a product manager). I didn’t have $25,000 liquid at the time, so it was all gonna go on credit cards, which I predicted I could pay off in 6-9 months. If the auction price went above $25k, I’d be forced to wing it and use my gut to determine how much financial pain I was willing to endure to acquire you. No VC, no angels. Just me.

With that info in tow, I was ready.


The date of your auction was Nov. 4th, 2009. The week prior – no shit – I had weird dreams of a floating silver orb, hovering in front of me, like a ping pong ball floating on a jet of air. My arms were outstretched, palms a few inches under the object. I found the dream odd, until I made the connection with you. That I was waiting to rescue you – for you to fall into my hands.

The closer your auction date creeped, I began developing a slow-simmering animosity towards anyone who considered outbidding me. I also made the small mistake of assuming ownership before I owned anything. But I was ok with that. I recognized I was willing to wildly overspend with no guarantee of victory in place.

At 3pm the active bidding began. In online domain name auctions, there’s no ability to snipe – all bids placed within the last 5 minutes trigger the countdown clock to reset back to 5 minutes. Pre-bidding had pushed your price up to $3,433. That’s where I began.

The back and forth bids essentially went like this..

Other person bid: $4,000

Me:

Other person bid: $4,200

Me:

And so on.. until this:

duderanch-com-auction

35 minutes of palm sweat bidding & countless f*bombs hurled at fox22, sitevestor, & piety. I kept swinging for you. Until the bidding stopped at $17,949. It was a euphoricly uncomfortable feeling. But you were mine.


It seems strange now to look back.

The ten year adventure you took me on is difficult to enunciate. It’s been an overwhelming blessing.

My original idea is what you became, a marketplace of dude ranch vacations. The model wound up working. After a few years in the industry, as you know, we partnered with our friendly competitor – GuestRanches.com – operated by David McCollough. We both remained independent, but worked together from an advertising sales standpoint. Effectively, one bill for ranchers to advertise on 2 sites.

We began traveling, to as many dude ranches as possible. Most oftentimes with David. Sometimes solo. I wanted to soak in the soul of your industry; one that’s has been around for well over 100 years. To understand how it evolved over time, and how it continues to evolve today.

Your tucked-away locations were jawgapingly beautiful. During each new dude ranch visit, I’d shake my head in happiness at the unique characteristics each location presented.

I started collecting dude ranch belt buckles.

Like this.

CM Ranch belt buckle - Dubois, WY

And this.

Dude Ranchers' Association belt buckle

And these two.

Elkhorn Ranch Montana

Red Rock Ranch - Jackson Hole, WY

It’s all I wear anymore to keep my pants up.

And it sounds cliche, but it’s not the places… or the locations… or the history that make this industry special. It’s the people. They exude kindness, compassion, and resourcefulness. As an outsider, I only experienced open arms (and open hearts) as we attempted to expand the halo of “the original all-inclusive vacation.”

I’m so grateful to David & GuestRanches.com – for partnering & taking us under their wing. David had been in the industry nearly 15 years at that point, and forged strong relationships over that time. By partnering, we were able to establish another layer of trust for you, and continue to build on the foundation of our ad-based business. David was our savior in many ways.

Personally, having visited over 50 dude ranches now – from locations in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Montana, Arizona, Tennessee, North Carolina, and even Georgia – I can unequivocally say this industry is a shining gem within the universal vacation landscape. The locations, the people, the experience… it’s unmatched. Bob Foster – 2-time President of the Dude Ranchers Association + previous owner/operator of Lost Valley Ranch in Colorado – once shared a story with me … when Walt Disney visited their property. Walt was speaking to Bob’s father regarding their destination, and his reflection was:

… people think they need recreation, but what you (Lost Valley) offer is more.. it’s “re-creation.”

And he’s right, this industry gives you that. It’s what I experienced.

I’ve grown because of you. I recognize I’m a different person now. More empathetic. Patient, persistent.

You also provided a regular revenue stream for me, and provided a deeper education in sales, customer relations, and web development. Because of the financial freedom, you allowed me to wander into other projects. To test harebrained ideas. To find other neat domain names to develop, in the same fashion.

Some of those other projects failed, but others began working. The successful projects began siphoning more of my time. To the point where it wasn’t fair to you. I began noticing the signs last year, but I forcibly ignored them, as you mean so much to me.

Signature Ranch Awards - DudeRanch.comBut I realized you, in many ways, had outgrown me, & the nest I made for you. You’d matured. With zero traffic as our baseline when we launched, we grew to over 146,000 pageviews a year, driven via SEO, press, social, newsletters, and a pittance of paid traffic. Your name became a brand. Ranches now refer to you as a noun, instead of a question mark. You were graduating high school and I didn’t even know it. *You* were ready to move on – I now realize that. With that understanding, I think we found a perfect scenario.

For you, my dearest, my first – you’re headed to a new home. A better home, in many ways. David’s agreed to buy you. I sorta see it as an adoption – “buying” seems so transactional. You know how much he loves you. How much he cares about this industry. And that made this decision so much easier.

I’m closeby, though. Don’t worry. Incorporating an industry like dude ranching into your identity isn’t something you easily detach from. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever accomplish that. Let’s just say this:

My love, I’ll see you on the trail. 🤠

– Peter Askew (@searchbound)


[some photos I captured over ten years – mainly on my iPhone – hover or click for info]


And some 360-degree photos I also captured (click & drag):


Housekeeping:

If you’ve ever considered a dude ranch as a possible vacation destination, and are overwhelmed with all the choices, our friend Bob Foster (mentioned above) provides curated recommendations of ranches to consider, all matched to your interests. If that’s of interest, click the link below, fill out the form, and Bob will reach out to schedule a call.

https://www.duderanch.com/concierge/

 


Follow me on Twitter as I continue to document my journey there. Or get an email when I post new stuff (below):

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Start with a great domain name

I sell onions on the Internet

Vidalia Onions in the fieldVidalia Onions to be exact.

They’re classified as a sweet onion, and because of their mild flavor (they don’t make your eyes tear up), some folks can eat them like an apple. Most of my customers do.

During a phone order one season – 2018 I believe – a customer shared this story where he smuggled some Vidalias onto his vacation cruise ship, and during each meal, would instruct the server to ‘take this onion to the back, chop it up, and add it onto my salad ‘. That story made me smile.

Folks who love Vidalias, love Vidalias.

Let me stop, though. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

How did all this start? I’m a web guy. I’m not a farmer.


I’M ADDICTED TO DOMAIN NAMES

Oddly enough, it didn’t start with an idea.

Back in 2014, the domain name VidaliaOnions.com expired, and went up for auction. For some reason the original owner abandoned it, and being a GA native, I recognized it ’cause I was familiar with the industry. I’ve been buying expired or abandoned domain names for a while, and enjoy developing them into niche businesses. This one was different though – I backordered the domain as a spectator, but for kicks & giggles, I dropped in a bid around $2,200 ’cause I was confident I’d be outbid.

5 minutes later, I was the proud owner of VidaliaOnions.com. I had no idea what to do with it. Ready, fire, aim.

After the domain landed in my account, I attempted to re-focus my attention on other projects, but the name kept clawing me. Like it was saying:

… yoo-hoo… over here… 😘


William faulkner statue on bench

William Faulkner had an interesting perspective on writing his characters – on how they essentially wrote themselves, and how he (Faulkner) served as a sortof mechanical in-between. His quote:

I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says… You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive… After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical. [source]

The way Faulkner treats his characters, I treat domain name projects. I buy them with an intention to develop. And I let them take the lead. They’re the inspiration for the business itself. They guide me towards what they need to become. I’m just the dude behind the keyboard (sorta).

Sometimes I buy them at auction, sometimes I buy them from original-owners. But universally, the domain name always comes first, the business idea comes second.

I don’t usually rush into development. The path of some domains is apparent before I acquire. Others, the path reveals itself down the road. Vidalia was the latter. And after I acquired it, it kept nudging me.

Build me… build me… you know how. And you know what I should be…

After a month, I began to understand what it was telling me. That I buy pears from Harry & David every year, and I should mimic that same service for Vidalia Onions. Instead of farm-to-door pears, farm-to-door Vidalia Onions.

An interesting idea, but daunting to approach. I’m not a farmer, I don’t have employees, I don’t have a packing shed. And I have no logistics or distribution system setup.

But the domain name kept staring at me. ಠ~ಠ ////whispering////

… just start …


“take the path to Nothing, and go Nowhere until you reach it.”

-the tao of pooh

And so I did. I’m just dumb enough to try a project of this complexity. The market size justified an online venture. Google Trends showed strong search volume for the phrase. And chefs around the world had already belted their praise over the ‘caviar of sweet onions’.

So I just started down a path, with no end goal or milestone set. I just started going. No angel investor. No VC backer. I just used some modest profit from my other domain name developments to fund the endeavor. This was Feb of 2015.

Once I began, I discovered there was a Vidalia Onion committee which represents all the Vidalia farmers. So I reached out to them.

They were kind enough to listen to me.

They introduced me to several farmers in the Vidalia region.

I got along quite well with the 3rd farmer I met (Aries Haygood), so we decided to partner & give this a shot. His farm had been around for 25 years; they hadn’t focused on direct-to-consumer; but they understood its value. They operated a packing shed as well. And most importantly, they grew an award winning Vidalia.

And so we went.

We conservatively estimated fifty (50) orders for our 2015 season. We ended up with over six hundred (600).

While the farm concentrated on the Vidalia, I concentrated on customer service, marketing, branding, web development, & logistics. I didn’t have other projects that were this front-facing, customer wise. And I discovered I immensely enjoyed it.

The more we both focused on these efforts, the more we grew. So much so, that other Vidalia operations began shutting down their mail order efforts and simply directed folks our way.

We began testing alternate marketing avenues – a billboard on I-95 just south of Savannah, GA facing northbound traffic; sponsoring a bike rider headed cross country for charity; sponsoring a high school basketball team, as well as a grade school auction fundraiser.

We added a phone order hotline, which – from time to time – generates more sales than online.

We also made a few colossal mistakes, which were entirely of my doing, like blowing $10,000 on faulty shipping boxes from an ill-informed & misleading box manufacturer in Dalton, GA. (it happened early in our journey, and nearly forced me to shut down)

Ultimately, I refused to let something like that kill this. Honestly, my customers would be quite upset if we disappeared. Last season, while I called a gentleman back regarding a phone order, his wife answered. While I introduced myself, she interrupted me mid-sentence and hollered in exaltation to her husband: ” THE VIDALIA MAN! THE VIDALIA MAN! PICK UP THE PHONE! ”

At that moment, I realized we were doing something right. Something helpful. Something that was making a positive impact.

I sometimes say I prefer projects that focus on purpose over profit. And as we enter our 5th season, this one continues to do just that.

And it’s immensely gratifying. I feel so fortunate to be associated with this industry.

I’m Peter Askew, and I sell onions on the internet.


** below – from the field during harvest – these have been dug & are ready for clipping
( click & drag )


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