How a travel hacker evolved to become a content creator and affiliate marketer
Bryce Conway is the Founder of 10xTravel.com and Author of Takeoff: How to Travel the World for Next to Nothing and How to Fix Your Credit: Do it Once. Do it Right. Get on with Your Life.
Bryce’s work has been featured in multiple national media outlets including Good Morning America, Money Magazine, and ABC Nightline News.
In this episode, Bryce talks about how he accidentally started GetFreeFlights, the rebrand to 10xTravel, the shift in his business model that made a huge impact, and why his willingness to iterate on the business led to his success.
Transcript and show notes can be found here.
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Bryce Conway 0:00
I was so excited, like knowing that this was going to air that I had booked a trip to Vegas like to celebrate the launch of the book. And I had like aspirations, like we're gonna sell, you know, a few thousand copies of this at least. I think we sold like 26.
Jay Clouse 0:17
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Jay Clouse 0:42
Hello, my friend, and welcome to another episode of Creative Elements. Day is a special episode. I say that every week. But today is special because it's bringing me back to my college roots. So let me start with a little story about my college experience. I attended the Ohio State University, and I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I thought the plan was to go to college, find a major that I liked, get a degree get a job, and then work that job for like 30 years. And that just didn't sound like something I was really excited about. But I didn't know that there were other options. In my freshman year I started exploring journalism. In one quarter. Yeah, Ohio State was on quarters instead of semesters at the time. I set up my class schedule so that my weekends literally started on Wednesday night. I had no classes on Thursdays or Fridays. So with a lot of time on my hands, I would go pester the guys in the room next to me in the dorm. And I learned that both of them had actually started businesses in high school. One of them developed websites, and another one did landscaping. And this totally blew my mind. It was the absolute coolest thing. In one night when I was pitching an app idea that I had. They told me about this club called the Business Builder's club. It was Ohio State's entrepreneurship organization. And long story short, I bombed at a pitch competition, but I fell in love with the idea of startups. And that club fundamentally changed my life in a lot of ways. I started a business in college called MarketOSU. I ran that club as a senior and it opened a lot of doors for me. Here's a super cringey clip the Ohio State's College of Business asked me to make her then.
Jay Clouse 2:16
Through my involvement, Fisher, my learning in the classroom and my involvement with the business builder's club, the entrepreneurship club on campus. I was given the knowledge and the understanding to go beyond your typical learning about starting a business and actually start my own business in MarketOSU. A marketplace for Ohio State students to exchange textbooks and concert tickets, sport tickets, event tickets.
Jay Clouse 2:41
Yikes, dude. Thankfully, I've gotten a lot better at speaking, right. Okay, so what does it have to do with today's episode? Well, today's guest is Bryce Conway, the creator of 10xTravel.com. 10xTravel is a website that covers a variety of topics related to travel, customer loyalty accounts, and personal finance. I met Bryce in college to the Business Builder's club. He was a few years ahead of me and already starting his own business, which was at the time called Get Free Flights. All I really knew about Bryce at the time was that it seemed like he traveled a lot. And he said he was doing it for free. And it wasn't just our classmates that noticed it. Around 2014, Brian started to get major media attention from outlets like ABC News, and Good Morning America.
Dan Harris 3:24
"This is a story about a guy who is gaming the system. He is traveling all over the world, basically, for free, often in first class, and he says anybody can do it."
Jay Clouse 3:34
That press attention, continue to grow his blog, getfreeflights.com, and Bryce released an E book called Takeoff, How to Travel the World for Next to Nothing. And soon in 2015, he had the opportunity to speak at TEDx, which has been seen hundreds of thousands of times.
Bryce Conway 3:50
There are three things that I want to cover in today's presentation. Number one is that it is entirely possible to travel the world next to nothing simply by beating banks and credit card companies at the very game that they created. And number two, the methods that we use are are not incredibly difficult. In fact, I'm gonna cover some of the basic ones here today. Hopefully, you'll leave this this TED Talk, having a basic idea of how this works. And lastly, and probably most importantly, that traveling is one of the most important things you can do to develop as a person and in travel hacking is what has really given me the opportunity to do that.
Jay Clouse 4:21
As you'll hear in the interview, Get Free Flights soon became 10xTravel. And even though he started the business in 2014, he built it on the side for years while working in corporate banking. In fact, he just went full time on 10xTravel in July 2019. And now with hundreds of articles, thousands of readers, a community of more than 60,000 on Facebook, and millions of miles traveled, 10xTravel as a major player in the travel world producing some of the best money saving travel advice on the internet. And the proof as they say is in the pudding. I use the advice from 10xTravel to make my own credit card decisions. And last year I even got the coveted Southwest companion pass, which I shared with my mom. In this episode, Bryce talks about how he accidentally started getfreeflights.com, the rebrand to 10xTravel, the shift in his business model that made a huge impact, and why his willingness to iterate on the business led to his success. Let me know what you think of this episode, you can find me on Twitter or on Instagram @JayClouse. And I'll be sharing more from 10xTravel this week in our Creative Elements, listeners group on Facebook, there, you can hang out with me and also my companion, my mom. But now, let's talk to Bryce.
Bryce Conway 5:39
So I'm actually gonna have to take you back to 2011. To fully understand this origin story, just to kind of paint the picture for you. I was a senior in college, I went to the Ohio State University here in Ohio. And it was time to plan for spring break, everyone. Police at the time went down to Florida like to Panama City Beach. That's where I was hoping to go. But I was senior in college, I didn't have hardly any money at the time. And I was looking at options to get down there with my friends. So it came down to like Bryce, you want to ride like 12 hours in the back of a two door car to get down there. I was like not really. So I just opened my laptop. And I literally just started Googling, like how to travel for cheap, how to travel for free. You know, you hear these kind of stories about companies that will sponsor you like, if you do a couple days of work down there and take some pictures or carry a package, maybe they'll offset your travel costs. So I was looking for one of those famed unicorns could not find anything at all, after maybe an hour on the online. But the results of that was that virtually all of the ads that I saw across the internet, from that point forward were for travel credit cards, I get pop ups in sidebar, you know ads for like, open this car and get two free flights or 50,000 points, these things are everywhere. And given my circumstances at the time trying to get down to Florida, that was a very appealing offer. So I happen to see one that said, you know, open this card, we'll give you two free flights. After you, you know, jump through a couple of hoops. I had very low expectations. But I went for it. I was like, Hey, I could use these for spring break. So click open the card, I was amazed to be approved for pretty good credit limit just as a college kid working on a tour guide. And lo and behold, I did the requirements, I actually got two free flights, I was amazed. So I ended up cashing in those flights to fly to spend the first half of spring break in Panama City. And then from Panama City to Las Vegas, the second half of spring break. And then Vegas home. That was my like two, three flights, it was able to make the points work. And I just remember getting home and thinking, Wow, that was like really easy. Maybe they just gave me this stuff, dude. But there's gotta be some sort of downside. So I'm waiting for, you know, the bank to call me, the cops to show up, my credit score to get crushed. You know, there's got to be some sort of downside or reason why people just wouldn't open cards and earn these points. And none of that ever happened. Like my credit score went up, I got hit with a bunch more offers for better cards. Everything turned out positive. So I'm just sitting there thinking myself, why would people not continue to this process like open a new card earn points like this travel around the world for free. So I started running some searches around that like open credit cards to travel for free. Turns out, I'm not the first person to think of this, there's entire little communities on the internet, dedicated to sharing tips on this. And down the rabbit hole I went Yeah, it's often referred to as travel hacking kind of this, this hobby of collecting miles using them. Well, I'm not in love with that name. But that's what really got me into that space. And I started learning as much as I could, and just doing this for myself. So now we're getting to where this becomes a business. But what happened is, I became very good at points and miles and credit and a lot of related subjects. And I would just post on Facebook, like, Hey, I'm going to Paris for the weekend with my wife. And you know, we would go literally spend like two days in Europe and then fly home. Because we're able to cover flights and hotels with points. And you know, if you do that enough on social media, your friends are gonna start to dig Yo, like, are you? Are you selling drugs? Like, you know, how do you afford to do this. So it started to slowly grow. From there, I introduce people to the idea, kind of like personally helped a handful of people that started to snowball. And the problem that I ran into is that it started to impact my social life because I would go to happy hours with friends or like house parties. And inevitably, someone would be there that we've talked about travel. And I would end up like in the corner, surrounded by three people with their phones out who were like, asking for help booking trips with points, or kind of like grilling me with questions. So in order to kind of protect my social self I, I just drafted an email like, Hey, here's the basics of how this works. I want you to learn these before we you know, use take my time when I'm out hanging out friends. And I would use that to deflect people when they say hey, how does that work? How do you travel that way? Here's the email, let me send this to you. And as more and more people did that and came back with questions, I would just expand on the email. That way I wouldn't have to do as much work. It's like here's as much as I can give you, enjoy and then I was approached by my my business partner at the time, Curtis, and he's like, Hey, you have a product here that people really like, you should put this in an E book, let's just put it online, try to sell it and see what happens. So I was like, Alright, we'll try it we we bought the domain getfreeflights.com which is a mistake and we can talk about that in a little bit but bought that domain threw up like a really cheesy, you know, 2014 sales page like the airline's hate them and like all red, you know, picture of me like, look how this guy like hacks the airlines. So we tried to sell it for like 49 bucks, I say try to sell it cuz we didn't sell a whole lot of copies. But that was kind of the Genesis. That's what got me online and making this new business. We've made a ton of pivots since then, most importantly, probably the name change from Get Free Flights to 10xTravel. But it all kind of just started with, with having that little hobby that I did, that clearly had a demand from friends, and then nudge of a business partners just put it out online. And everything else since then it's just been like a pivot or adaptation.
Jay Clouse 10:59
That nudge that you got from Curtis at the time, when he said, I think you have something here that we can build on? Were you actively looking to productize something or start something or was that difficult to kind of get you in the headspace of, hey, let's take this email you're sending and now dedicate a lot more time and resources into it.
Bryce Conway 11:19
It was a little bit difficult at the time, I've always been pretty inclined toward entrepreneurship, like I studied it in college. But at the time, I think that my view of entrepreneurship was more toward, like the tech companies that you hear about, you know, this is when the social network movie came out. And really the thought was like college kids build a website and tech product go get like DC type funding, that just seemed like a world that wasn't available to me, like as a kid from Ohio State with no coding or tech background. So I was totally unaware of, of the world of productizing. As you mentioned, we're really just kind of being one or two man shops. So it wasn't really on my radar at all. But once once Curtis kind of walked me through how easy it is to build something like that. I was totally game to be honest, that the thing that really sold me was was the URL, I thought, Get Free Flights. Think about how many people Google Get Free Flights, like this is gonna be a slam dunk, no brainer. So thankfully, I was naive enough to jump at that. But that's that's what really got me going.
Jay Clouse 12:19
You mentioned that this ebook didn't sell a lot of copies in this being kind of like the first paid product of Get Free Flights. Did you feel at the time that it wasn't selling a lot of copies? Or is that just in retrospect, were you excited at the time? Or did that feel like a flop at the time?
Bryce Conway 12:33
Oh, no. It felt like a massive flop. And there's kind of an additional piece of information here and that we were we hit the lottery and that we got discovered somehow by ABC News.
News Anchor 12:44
How would you like to take a vacation to Hawaii for just $5? Or what about flying first class to Paris on a free flight? Sounds too good to be true. Bryce Conway, calls himself a travel hacker and says he hasn't paid for a flight in three years. Today. he's agreed to show Nightline how he does it.
Bryce Conway 13:07
So I got an email from Good Morning America. They're just like, hey, we've seen like some of your pieces that you put up about, like going to Paris for the weekend? You know, how would you like to come on our show and just share some tips about how you do this. So I did that. And I filmed for a couple of days. And I ended up being featured on like, Good Morning America, World News, Nightline, like Barbara Walters said my name, I thought that was pretty cool. So I thought, wow, millions of people are going to see this. It's the news that they're not like super salesy about your URL, but they definitely mentioned and this is Bryce from getfreeflights.com. So it's me thinking, this is our golden ticket, this is going to be the audience in the traffic that we need. And when the E book was up, and I forget exactly how many people visit our site, but it was over 100,000 people, I was so excited, like knowing that this was going to air that I had booked a trip to Vegas, like to celebrate the launch of the book. And I had like aspirations, like we're going to sell, you know, a few thousand copies of this, at least I think we sold like 26, like in the first few days. So I was like, ooh, and that that kind of hurt for two reasons. First, you know, you expect to make a fair amount of money on your work. That was disappointing. But I think the bigger disappointment was the knowledge that hey, if millions of people saw me on TV, explaining my entire sales pitch and then came to my site and still didn't buy, then there is nothing on this earth that I can do that's going to make this work. Right. You know, something is clearly very wrong. So that was really demoralizing at the time. But one very good thing came with that. And that is that I was contacted by somebody from Barclays Bank at the time. I had like mentioned their card on the piece and like talks about how I use it to fly around for free.
News Anchor 14:49
In this first class cabin, we found passengers paying $500, $600 even $1,000 for tickets.
News Anchor 14:57
My ticket was $550.
Bryce Conway 14:59
My ticket was literally free. So was my breakfast.
News Anchor 15:03
Using his Barclays world arrival card, Bryce was able to redeem 40,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket and first class on Delta was savings of $570.
Bryce Conway 15:15
And when they contacted me, my first thought is like, oh, like, I'm in trouble now. They saw me exploiting their car, they're gonna be really upset. But it was actually the opposite. They were like, Hey, we saw you promoting our card on on the news, you know, we'd like for you to become like an affiliate of our bank. And I like had to Google like, what is a bank affiliate or credit card affiliate. And that is what launched me into the business model that we have now and the one that's really widely used across the industry, the way that credit card affiliate works, is you get trackable links from one or many of the major banks in the world, you can put those on your website. And if someone clicks on one of those and is approved for a credit card, you get paid a commission that varies based on the cart. So instead of having to rely on my customers to pay me directly, here's my product, give me money for it. It's more of a process of educating them. And as they learn, hey, this particular card is really good. I'm going to click on Bryce's link to open it. And then I get a commission from that. So I jokingly refer to it as the best business model in the world, I put out information on something I'm very, very passionate about, and something I've been doing for a long time, my readers can get that information for free, I can help them I don't have to sell them junk products or things they don't believe in. And all of it is made financially possible by bank affiliates. With that knowledge in mind, I was able to then just make the ebook free. That's kind of a lead capture for us now, and be paid by banks to to promote their products. And that's made all the difference.
Jay Clouse 16:46
When we come back, Bryce talks about why he believes the ABC News story didn't actually lead to sales of his ebook right after this. Welcome back to Creative Elements, writes that hit the lottery by getting the attention of ABC News. But after two days of filming, and a lot of anticipation, the seven minute spot in primetime was a huge flop. And before we fly past this, I wanted to dig into why Bryce thought that the exposure didn't lead to more sales. And even more specifically, did he think he could have done something differently to have a better outcome?
Bryce Conway 17:18
I think it all comes down to a lack of understanding of the way that people think, particularly about like my product in this particular space. So I've been in points and miles and like, you know, free travel, if you will, for years at that point, so it wasn't uncommon for me to talk to them, like, Hey, you know, you can actually travel for almost free by doing these couple simple things. And I'm used to if you've been like, yep, like, here's how it works. Yeah. But I was disconnected from the average person, which naturally, when you walk up to like, Hey, you can travel, basically, for free by doing a couple simple things. The natural reaction is, okay, like, you know, what are you selling? Is this an MLM? Am I gonna go to jail? You know, most people are totally skeptical about this kind of thing. It which is a totally natural, but I was approaching it from a logical standpoint, I was like, Hey, I have this clear sales pitch, if you buy this book for $49, I promise you, you're going to get at least a free flight, what rational actor wouldn't jump at that. And that was my mindset at the time. And what I've learned, and what that really ingrained in me is, sales. And a lot of just life is emotion. It's people feeling good about what they're buying, it's people believing that they can trust you. And when you come at it with this, this type of rational, this is a no brainer campus thing, you totally miss the thinking that's going on with your potential customers.
Jay Clouse 18:36
So if you were sitting down with Bryce from six years ago, and he tells you, I'm going to sell an E book for $49, and forgetting that at 2020, and people don't sell ebooks all that much. Back in 2014, he says, I'm going to sell an E book for $50. And you have this insight about emotion. What type of direction would you give that person for actually trying to sell this product based on emotion as opposed to logic,
Bryce Conway 18:58
I would say you have to do a lot of research to very deeply understand the way that your potential customers think it's not, the pitch is not you can fly for free, right? We're gonna read that and blow right past it, it's, we can save you a substantial amount of money on your bachelor party. Or we can help you take a honeymoon that you didn't think you could afford. You put it in the sense that the way that people are already thinking, and in a way that they view is approachable. And then that kind of starts down the path. And from there, it's a longer education process. But if you just come out and kind of like that hard, like, you know, you're giving me $5 I'm giving you $10 back, like what's to miss versus find what they're actually thinking about, like their hopes, fears and dreams is what a lot of people call it and write it in a way that really hits on those to get them interested.
Jay Clouse 19:47
So you've mentioned a couple times that the name Get Free Flights was a mistake, even though it sounds like a sweet domain to me still sounds like a sweet domain. Talk to me about when you realize that it was the wrong choice in how you thought through making a change.
Bryce Conway 20:01
Yeah. So we we realized that that was the wrong choice pretty quickly based on a number of different things. The first was massive amounts of emails to me asking when we're giving away free flights next. Okay, these are people who just saw the domain didn't even read what we do. They're just like, give me a free flight. So very low level of quality and the readers that were coming in from, like a Google Analytics standpoint, we had pretty good organic traffic, but our bounce rates were off the charts, which hurts you in SEO. And that also didn't really help when we were when we were working with banks and compliance because they're, they want to see those stats to me like, hey, why is only .02% of your traffic, like clicking on our products? Like, clearly your content must be very engaging. But like, No, actually, we're just getting a lot of the freebie crowd who's googling how to get free flights and finding us. So we knew right away, we got it, we got to change your name, something that sounds a bit more legitimate. It gets away from that type of audience went through like a process of actually asking our readers at the time for ideas on names. Polling, like here are our five favorites. What do you think 10xTravel came out on top. And that's we've been ever since.
Jay Clouse 21:08
With a new brand name and a new business model in hand, Bryce committed to what he knew was the next step of growing 10xTravel. And that was creating content to drive traffic and build trust with his readers.
Bryce Conway 21:20
But at the time, I was very adamant that I did not want to be a blogger, or like a travel influencer, or any of that stuff that makes me roll my eyes, didn't want to regularly write, I'm still working a day job at the time in corporate banking. So I just wanted to put up a sales page and be done with it. But after discovering the world of credit card affiliates, and kind of looking around to other people in the space who are succeeding, I quickly realized we need to be putting out content. So I started blogging just once a week, like talking about what I'm doing or talking about changes in the industry, the writing is really rough. And it's still up your you know, anyone that goes to the site can see it if you go far enough back into post history, but it was something I was just doing to kind of learn, and I hadn't been trained on the subject at all, just kind of feeling it out. And that started to help because what we're learning is that this is a longer sales process with folks, you know, credit cards seem very simple on their face. But people have been so inundated with commercials, they're on all the time, double points, this 30,000 points this, they almost go numb to it. So you have to put out content that makes it digestible for the average person that helps people find your website kind of get into your ecosystem. And, and starts kind of the snowball of business rolling. So I did that by myself for for the first couple of years really. And when things really took a turn for the positive for us, is when we rebranded from Get Free Flights to 10xTravel.com. And I brought on some other people to help me who are in many ways, better points and miles than I was, and then we're producing more consistent content. And the snowball just started getting bigger and bigger and bigger as it went downhill.
Jay Clouse 22:51
When you realized that you should be creating content, do you remember what year(ish) that was? That became a priority.
Bryce Conway 22:58
It was late 2014, it was probably like three to four months after the launch of the E book and kind of the big fail and realizing you know, you can't just put something up on internet static, and just think that people are going to find it. You know, it's a little harder work than that. And, and I hate to say it, but in 2020, it feels like it's even harder than it was in 2014, a little bit more crowded space. I'm glad that I got on that when I could but you know, to folks listening or really to anyone who asked me about starting building audiences or online business, it's absolutely vital that you're putting out consistent content, good content, and getting it into the hands of as many people as you can.
Jay Clouse 23:36
Did you have a specific content calendar or expectation for how much content you're creating?
Bryce Conway 23:43
Yeah, at first I my goal was one a week. And that was something that was prescribed by Ramit and his course. He said it's easy to kind of ebb and flow in content, you know, you take a trip, you feel motivated, you put out three pieces in a week, and then you go two weeks without it. And that type of unpredictability, I think drives readers away. If they want to know it's Wednesday, I can expect to see a piece from Bryce, I'm going to go look for it in my email inbox. So once a week was the flow at first, now after bringing on some other help to write content up to like three to five pieces a week. And that's totally consistent. Even if there's a ton going on in the travel space or like nothing going on. We just kind of paste it. So it's a steady flow that people can expect.
Jay Clouse 24:26
Have you seen a correlation of three to five times the results when you increase the tempo that much?
Bryce Conway 24:34
We've seen an increase in results. It hasn't been directly linear. But there's definitely an improving the business as we put out more content. And that does get to a point we actually tested a one month period where we were putting out content every single day. And we saw an increase in unsubscribes on email list. We saw a higher bounce rate on our website, fewer replies to the email and like Yep, there's a lot of indicators saying this is too much. So we scaled it back Little bit. And we think we found kind of a happy medium with where we are right now.
Jay Clouse 25:05
How did you think about at the time getting that content in front of people like how are people finding your content on Get Free Flights or 10xTravel in has that changed over time?
Bryce Conway 25:16
It has, at the time, we were really interested in going after like social sharing, we were still had some of that mindset of, hey, if there's an article out there about how Bryce went to Paris for the weekend, for like, 60 bucks out of pocket, this is going to go viral on social media, it didn't. And those things don't just generally don't just happen on their own. So we had an important shift that I think has been very key to our success now, in that we view our content not as a way of, of selling cards or selling products. But instead we want to capture an email, and start to get into a deeper relationship with our readers. I think that's something that a lot of folks both in our industry, and just generally in content online, missed, they think I'm going to put out this piece of content, it's going to take people totally cold off the street, educate them on what I'm doing, and then complete a sale within 2000 words, that just doesn't happen anymore, for most industries. And I think that we spotted that early. And we got instead got people onto our email list, and have coached them through the E book taught them all of the the foundations of points in miles. And through that longer sales process led to a more educated reader that ends up being more profitable down the road.
Jay Clouse 26:29
Everything you're talking about now is something that I'm personally learning a lot about today and 2020. So back in 2014, when you were learning that, okay, the relationship starts with free information, I'm going to get their contact information, then I'm going to follow up and nurture that relationship. Who are you looking to to learn those basics of email marketing at the time.
Bryce Conway 26:51
At the time, I think my biggest like mentor, and I use that word loosely because we had never spoke at the time. But what it was Ramit Sethi. So he runs, Iwillteachyoutoberich.calm. I know it sounds scammy even admits that too. But he has a handful of products that I have purchased that were really helpful in, in developing my mindset as to how this business would look, what are the things you need to focus on. He had a course at the time called Zero to Launch that was really transformational for us. So he was kind of the one who started the ball rolling. And then since then, Neil Patel has a lot of great free information on email marketing and business analytics and things to focus on. And then the last kind of key piece was Jon Loomer has a course on Facebook ads, which are now by far the biggest tool that we use to attract new readers. that taught me all the basics keeps me informed as to changes going on in that space, I was able to become an expert in Facebook ads. And that made a huge difference in our trajectory as well.
Jay Clouse 27:54
You said that you didn't really want to think of yourself as a blogger initially. But it became clear that you needed to create content, you know, now fast forward six years, I would refer to what you're doing as blogging and a lot of words.
Bryce Conway 28:05
Jay Clouse 28:06
Besides the Facebook group, I don't see you doing a ton on social media or on YouTube. So when you were having this relationship with blogging, why didn't you choose to spend more time on YouTube or social media?
Bryce Conway 28:19
That's a good question. I think it's just it's something that I've never really enjoyed doing. And it's something that from the very early days, I knew would not be sustainable. So one of my kind of like business pills that I will die on, is I cannot stand when brands are connected to people. Like if I had BriceConway.com, and all this was being published there. That's just so risky. Because, you know, I could, you know, make some sort of mistake in business that wrecks my reputation. And then Oh, there goes your entire business too. Or I could look to try to sell this or retire in a way. Nope, your name is just stuck on there. So if you chase that kind of that avenue, and you become successful on YouTube and social media, I think it's easier to get started in that way, which is why a lot people do it. But long term, you kind of end up in a bind. You know, your brand is you You are the brand, you're kind of stuck. We have taken active steps over the past 18 months to disassociate me with the brand like you'll notice you rarely see me on the website anymore. I hardly write articles. We're trying to go from Bryce's this points expert, he shares his stuff, too. We've created a system where we can share this and it's replicable. it's scalable, it's sellable. That in my opinion is a much more robust business.
Jay Clouse 29:33
After a short break, Bryce and I talked about when 10xTravel began to take off the future of credit card affiliates, and when he decided to make the leap to full time, so stick around and we'll be right back. Welcome back. Bryce was just talking about his decision to iterate on his business model. Instead of paid content, he would create content for free. I asked him how he knew that effort was working
Bryce Conway 29:57
Because it started making money quickly. Guess is one way to put it.
Jay Clouse 30:02
I dug up an article on growthlab.com talking about Bryce's experience in 2015. In this article, Bryce shared that in January of 2015, he earned just under $170, from 10xTravel. But by October of 2015, just 10 months later, he was earning nearly $15,000 per month.
Bryce Conway 30:22
You know, going from a few months of watching the, I think it was an Amazon sellers account at the time, with like an E book coming in every two days, like, oh, wow, like we made $49, like, Yay, to having a blog, and then putting up credit card affiliates. It's like, okay, we're making $49 an hour consistently, when I was asleep, that was was game changing for realizing where this business was going. So that's what really pointed me in the right direction as to where to focus.
Jay Clouse 30:49
So those sales was affiliate sales. So that just looked like it was the second email in a sequence was like a third email in a sequence. When did people at that time typically say, Okay, I'm ready to actually either buy the E book or take your recommendation for a certain card?
Bryce Conway 31:07
This is a difficult question to answer, because one of the major issues we have in our industry is that we cannot see like track through the entire sale due to financial privacy law. So like if you Jay went to our site right now, and read one piece of content clicked on a car and applied and got it, we would see that like a new user came and clicked on a card, we have no idea whether you applied, whether you're approved. So it's difficult for me to say it was this email that made a huge difference. But what I can tell you is that once we made the ebook free made a quick drip series and email marketing that kind of pushed people through the book and taught them the basics. We immediately saw clicks approvals commission's start to rise pretty significantly.
Jay Clouse 31:49
That's got to be so frustrating.
Bryce Conway 31:50
It, well, it is. It was frustrating and exciting at the same time, you know, it's like when you're focusing too hard at like a game like cornhole and you're like trying so hard to put in the hole, and then the one shot, here's like, Whatever, let's just see what happens. You just toss it, and you swish it, you're like, ah, like, I was trying too hard. If I would have just taken a step back and looked at things from 30,000 feet. I could have figured this out years ago.
Jay Clouse 32:12
Something that I've always thought about for affiliates, and then I'm beginning to experience the choice of as I get into more affiliate products myself, sometimes you can offer multiple affiliate products for basically the same problem. And one of them might actually incentivize you more highly to recommend it.
Bryce Conway 32:32
Jay Clouse 32:33
But you know, how do you think about which products you recommend if one has just like a much better affiliate program?
Bryce Conway 32:41
Great question. And this is something and I think that we do different than everyone else. It's counterintuitive, but it's it's the reason we're successful, we have absolutely zero cares about how much it really pays us, we will only write about the best stuff, period. And we will go out of our way to tell our readers that we did that. So credit cards, affiliates are no different than I think most of the other space, in that there's generally an inverse relationship between how popular product is and well known, and how much it pays, which makes total sense, you know, if you have a market leader product, you don't have to pay affiliates a lot of money because people have already heard of you. So a lot of other sites in our space and an affiliate in general, or they chase the money. And you can see that it's like, oh, the rankings for this product are in the order of the affiliates that they pay them. I know this. And I think that readers are getting smart enough to see through that I think that like 2009 internet before people understood affiliate marketing and it wasn't so crowded, it was really easy for people to throw content about how you know, the Costco credit card is their favorite card ever. And, you know, yada yada, I love it. Here's a picture of me with it, that worked. Now, I think the average reader and consumer in general is so much more skeptical about affiliate type relationships, that when they see that type of stuff, and when they learn for the first time, this guy is lying to me for money, you've lost that person for life. So for us, we go out of our way to just religiously make sure that we are putting the reader first, I'm able to accomplish this by not sharing any of the affiliate details with my content staff. So I get my editor comes to me says Hey, wanna do a piece on, you know, the Amex gold card. And that card pays, you know, horrible affiliate compared to the Amex platinum, I'm like, fine, go for it. Like he doesn't know that he doesn't have a bias. So we're able to let that kind of go in its own ecosystem. And people recognize that, especially when we go out of our way to say, hey, this card pays a lot more. We don't want you to get this because it's bad for you. Go get this one. And then you go that type of trust with people over the long run. I think that's the better way to go.
Jay Clouse 34:42
Do you still feel the same way about the affiliate business model today as you did back in 2014? I know that you know, we had an episode with Matt Giovanisci a couple months ago and he was driving huge affiliate dollars, mostly from Amazon, Amazon cut that you're mentioning now and travel, some of the banks and the travel sites are cutting affiliates. So how do you think about the affiliate industry? Long term and your business within it?
Bryce Conway 35:09
Yeah, I think affiliate in general is is in trouble long term for a handful of reasons. First, I think that it's easier for brands and companies to promote their products online without having to pay large amounts for affiliate because there's a lot more content creators out there, were going to do it for less. And they're just getting generally more sophisticated with digital advertising. Like you mentioned, Amazon, you know, was a couple months ago now, where they slashed most of their commissions by over half, that just wiped out a ton of people who had pretty thriving businesses on Amazon, because they're relying on that. So overall, I think affiliate is probably trending down long term. I think that credit cards and banks kind of live in a separate world, in that their products are so lucrative for them, that the affiliate payouts can still have some, you know, some umph to them to to allow us to create our businesses on top of this platform. But we have recognized for a while now that affiliate is not a sustainable thing to do, which is why we're kind of spinning off in other areas, testing other products, and trying to get off of our reliance of other people kind of paying us to promote their stuff.
Jay Clouse 36:17
Can you talk about that briefly. I mean, you went full time on this and 2019. Finally, after probably, you know, paying yourself more than a job for a while now. And simultaneously, you're saying that our core business model long term is in trouble. So how do you think about iterating beyond where you are today?
Bryce Conway 36:33
Yeah, I think we have to diversify as much as we can in terms of affiliates. And we've done that, you know, we used to be only credit cards pretty much. And now we do credit cards and financial products. And then we have an Amazon wing. And we have other companies that we do endorsements with now, that helps to diversify affiliate revenue. But it's still all affiliate, the most recent thing that we've done to kind of get away from that addiction, if you will, is we've spun off a personal finance business, my brother and I put together a course on teachable called 10xMoney, we've always kind of talked about this subject, because they're adjacent to credit cards that people want to travel, then when open credit cards, we have to have good credit for that you have to think about your budget. So we've always kind of dabbled in personal finance. But this is our official jump into that. And we've partnered with Wealth Advisors, and we have like our own little pool of our favorites, to give us a new vertical for the business and new way to make money. Again, though, with the best interest of the readers long term, I think we need to get to a point we're selling something that we own, where we have some sort of, of ownership and a digital asset. I don't know exactly what that's gonna look like just yet. But it's something that we need to be thinking about. And I think anyone else who's in the affiliate space or wants to get into the affiliate space, you always have been thinking about it, because it's really a temporary solution.
Jay Clouse 37:46
So you you mentioned, you know, started making some money pretty quickly, pretty frequently seeing $49 per hour, even while you sleep. A lot of people listening to this maybe thinking, gosh, I'm not making $49 per hour, and my full time job right now. So you built those on the side up until just last year? How did you think about keeping that as a side project versus doubling down and saying, I want to spend all my time on this?
Bryce Conway 38:11
Yeah, I was always incredibly cautious about when to make that jump of, you know, leave your day job and chase this down. I told myself, I wasn't going to do it until the side thing at the time out or in my day job for a period of six consecutive months. And what I found is that every time that would end up happening, I would just tell myself, that was a fluke, let's just wait like six more months. Let's just see what happens. Looking back, I think I probably should have made the jump earlier. But I was fortunate enough to be in a situation where I didn't really have to choose between one or the other, you know, I had a day job. But it wasn't incredibly demanding. I would get home in the evenings and still have plenty of like headspace to work on this. Sometimes I would even work during my lunch hour, especially toward the end of my career, I would bring my laptop and I would go every day and walk over to Starbucks. And I get an extra hour of work during the day when I'm at peak mental focus. And that would make a big difference too. So for a while there's like, you know, I'm doing both of these things, but it's really not zero sum like I can do both. So I kind of rode that horse for as long as I could. And then eventually just got to a point where the money was was good enough from the side thing. I was just like it doesn't justify commuting and doing all that time. Especially with my career at the time. It didn't have a whole lot of upside potential in my mind. You know, I wasn't leaving a star studded career heading for something great it was that was kind of fizzling side project was going well. It made a lot of sense. And it was time to make the jump.
Jay Clouse 39:40
As you were building this on the side. Did you have a partner the whole time? Do you have a team? Like what did the division of labor look like?
Bryce Conway 39:46
Yeah, so so my business partner at the time Curtis. He was very good at like website building, analytics, SEO. He handled all of that type of back end stuff for me. stuff that I had no idea how works. And I did only the content creation in general direction of the business. So he was involved for a couple of years before he wanted out. And when he left, I brought on a handful of other folks to do all that same stuff for me, just because one of the things I found early on is that, although you might be able to do that, as a solo entrepreneur, a lot of times doing that can really just take too much of your focus and your mind space, and constantly interrupt you. And even if it doesn't make immediate sense, to bring in help to do that kind of stuff, I would encourage people to at least try it. Especially because you can get pretty affordable help on things like Upwork, to manage your site for you. Just make sure you're doing like the big things correctly. And if you can free up your mind to focus entirely on what it is that you do better than anyone else that you know, I think that's going to lead to longer term success.
Jay Clouse 40:53
A lot of people listen to this show. And even me in the recent past, you know, you get to a point where you're seeing some sort of results, and you're thinking to yourself, man, if I could just dedicate more of my time to this, this might be able to support me full time. But a lot of people listen to the show, and including me in the recent past. We're doing this totally alone. And so as far as you're comfortable, I'd love to hear anything about like the economics of how you thought about, like, what you were dedicating to people that you were hiring, you know, so people can better understand their own situation of how do I know if I can jump in full time right now. And that additional time on dedicating actually return in form in the form of revenue or being able to pay someone to help out?
Bryce Conway 41:41
Yeah, yeah, I guess the biggest thing I'd say to that question is that there's not always going to be a straight line from like, hire this person to your earning their salary plus X dollars more revenue, like sometimes you're going to have to take a risk and bring somebody on, not knowing that will be an immediate benefit. But I would highly encourage anyone in that situation to try it. You know, these things are reversible. If you if you bring somebody on, hey, help me out with the back end, I'll pay you, you know, 1000 bucks a month, and two months later, business hasn't grown, and you paid this person $2,000 time to cut bait, and believe me, they'll understand, you know, they can see it too. So you can try it in these kind of little micro experiments, it's pretty easy to do that with all the virtual assistant type, you know, services and websites that are out there now. And I think a lot of our biggest gains in this business have come from taking those types of risks on people or just seeing Hey, there might be potential here. Let's try it. And then these people kind of adapt to fit a role that you didn't even realize you needed. So for folks who are looking to to make that jump to full time, I think that you'll get there faster. If you aren't, you know, Pennywise pound foolish. If you're not right, I'm gonna I'm gonna cut a few hundred bucks a month by, you know, removing my virtual assistant who helps format things, you know, hire two of them so that you never have to format stuff and see if that growth comes. There's there's limited downside, but there's huge upside.
Jay Clouse 43:03
Bryce is still iterating on his business model. With the travel hacking space becoming more and more crowded. He's leaning more and more into building the 10xTravel community. But he still spends a lot of his time creating content.
Bryce Conway 43:16
That's right, creating content. I spend a lot of time answering emails, I think another key to our success is that we never and still don't, we've never gotten to a point where we're too important to answer individual questions because we're busy creating content. No, I pride myself on the fact that I read and respond to every email that I receive, I still do. And for a while there is becoming overbearing like three to 500 emails a day, all with like pretty specific questions about their own situations. But if you do that for long enough, you create kind of that thousand true fans concept, where you have a lot of people who over the years, you've helped tremendously. And now they are becoming ambassadors for your brand, they're telling their friends, they're converting on sales, without you having to talk to them, because you spent the time educating them, you know, if you have the ability to do so I highly encourage you to interact with your readers one on one and build that type of long term loyalty.
Jay Clouse 44:11
You talked about, you know, you build up this thousand true fans by answering sometimes 300 emails a week. What we haven't talked about is this Facebook group that you have, that's a thriving Facebook group, almost 59,000 people, you guys have an annual event in Las Vegas for for your audience. So talk to me about the community. And when that became part of the strategy and how you think about it.
Bryce Conway 44:35
Yeah, community now is really everything with our strategy. There wasn't a single event or day where we just woke up and decided, hey, communities we're going to do, but it was rather slow process of realizing that that is what's driving our business. That's what we love to do. And that's where we think we can be most helpful for folks. So we created the Facebook group. It's probably been five years ago. Now, back before Facebook groups were really big thing. And our thought was that kind of going back to the like the logic versus the motion, we realize people really fall into this world and succeed at a higher rate when they watch other individuals like themselves doing the same. So I realized, in my email inbox, it's great to like respond to 300 people a day and help them. But that's one person at a time seeing that. It's really, it's like private, it's like having a conversation in a private room, we thought, let's bring a lot more of this to the Facebook group. And let people just watch others go through the process. And that was huge for our business. And it was also huge just for the general feel that our readers get out of it. So now, we feel like we're more of a community than in business. Like you mentioned, we host like that big event. Every year in Vegas, we go and rent out the entire top floor of the Venetian. We have penthouses and custom champagne and servers and ice. And we just spend gobs of money with absolutely no return. Just to thank our readers and show people, these are real human beings, they enjoy us, let's go have some fun together. That makes absolutely no sense from like a business textbook, like come from that world, you know, logic. But for us that has had huge, huge returns just in deepening those relationships and showing people how serious we are about them. We expanded that we actually were doing five to seven events a year around the country. We call it the 10xTravel tour, we'll just go and go to DC or rent out a brewery. And we'll just say open tab, bring whoever you want, we'll cover everything just come and chat with our staff. And breaking that type of barrier. That's usually, you know, internet content creator, reader you never meet. I always say it's like listening to an artist, you know, only on through audio. But the first time you go to the concert, you're like, Whoa, I feel a deeper connection because I saw that person. And I talked to them, and I saw their fans. So by going and doing these meetups, we think that we're accomplishing a similar type of mindset with our readers. And it leads to a much deeper engagement. And having done that for years, combined with the community aspect combined with answering all the emails and just try and do the right thing by our readers, we now are are very fortunate to have super high like engagement rates, conversion rates, and can outgun a lot of sites that have much more traffic than us much better SEO presence. Because we know these people, we've emailed them, we've met them, we've bought them beers, we've sent them presents for their wedding. And you know, we make onesies when they have babies, it just kind of creates this community feel that that does really well.
Jay Clouse 47:27
I was gonna ask, you know, this space, maybe it's because I paid more attention to it over the years, but it seems like it's gotten more crowded. And you said, you know, a minute ago in 2020, it's gotten louder. So how do you think about competing, especially as an affiliate where ultimately you're selling the same product that other groups are too? How do you think about competing in a space that gets more competitive?
Bryce Conway 47:47
Yeah, that's that's a very real concern. And, and you're right, the space has gotten so much more crowded, when when when I started, there was, you know, two to three other blogs that were also relatively new, most people were sharing this type of information on Reddit or in like forums, you know, that's kind of the science of an early content industry. Now, there's got to be at least 100 other websites that look like ours, who write about a lot of the same stuff. It's it's incredibly competitive, but I think we're doing something that none of them are. And that is that we view this as a relationship business. I think a lot of them are doing the thing that that we mentioned earlier, they're putting up a piece of content, they're hoping that they're going to rank on SEO, someone's going to happen to click on that site having never heard of you. And they're going to read that content. And somehow, it's just going to make them take, like a pretty significant financial move, based on logic. Now you can write this card is better than that one, because of X number of points, yada, yada, yada. And I think they're falling for that mistake of, I can convince people based on logic, we are going in an entirely different direction, we're going in relationship route, we produce content to get people on the email list. On the email list, they see that we're pretty cool people, we have a Facebook group, we have these events, like come out, meet us for a beer, you know, hey, Bryce actually is responding to my emails. And we get them through that longer form of like engagement as a reader. And when they're done, they come out as someone who identifies I am a reader of 10xTravel, not I just happen to stumble upon, you know, this site, and I hope I click this thing and open a cart. So by doing that, for the long haul, we have created an audience, whereas a lot of our competitors are playing like the game of, you know, cost per click ads, SEO, that's not particularly sustainable. And we're seeing that right now with COVID. You know, no one's opening travel credit cards right now. Nobody's thinking about travel and banks are terrified of the financial future. So we're watching a lot of our competitors just get absolutely wiped. Whereas we have this community of people who are loyal to us because of what we've done for them. And it's really like a captive audience. In a sense, they don't just disappear because the world changes. We've nurtured them. And now we're lucky to have.
Jay Clouse 49:51
In with the emphasis that you guys put on relationships in community. I'm sure a lot of people have built a relationship with you even still through the Facebook group through us. Things like that, as you've taken those active steps over 18 months, have you seen any backlash or negative response from the community?
Bryce Conway 50:09
I have not. I think that the reason for that is that we're not necessarily getting away from like a relationship model, we're getting away from relationship with only price model. So what we do is we try to prop up our staff as like personalities on the site, we encourage them to write about their own trips, share their own photos, that way people see them and can identify with Julie from 10xTravel, or Ana from 10xTravel. And that allows us to spread the weight. So it's not just me handling kind of all that inbound. And most importantly, we've really facilitated that happening between readers. So we do that with meetups like people meet each other, and we see them end up taking trips together. Or when they engage in the group like there's there's, you know, top contributing members who are all stars who go out of their way to answer a bunch of questions. And then those folks have relationships with each other. So by taking it as like Bryce, to reader, versus reader, to reader, to reader to reader, much more sustainable, much easier for me to do, and much, much better as a community and better for business.
Jay Clouse 51:08
love that I love the idea of community and relationships as like a moat and a competitive advantage in a space that gets more competitive over time. I think it's great.
Bryce Conway 51:17
Yeah, I agree, highly recommend that anyone starting out in business, you're going to see the shortcut of the folks who pay you more to deceive folks, or trying to scale so quickly, without intimately getting to know your readers. That might work in the short term. But if you can build an audience, long term, people who know you trust you come back to you. That's a bulletproof business.
Jay Clouse 51:37
When we started this conversation you were talking about, you know, this started as an email. And that kind of iterated into being an E book. And that iterated into being a content site, what has been a through line for you in building this business over time that people can kind of emulate when they're trying to build a content or affiliate business similar to what you've done?
Bryce Conway 51:59
The single biggest thru line, and like, the one point that I try to make to all like aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly online, is to not worry about seeing the end of the road before you start down the path. You know, it's easy to envision like a website like me, like, I'm gonna put this ebook, I'm going to sell it, that's gonna be the only thing I ever do. And in 15 years, I'm still gonna be selling the same ebook, you know, that type of rigid ideology is, is going to prevent you from even getting started. Because you're like, I have no idea how to make money writing about like puppies or regarding whatever. But if you can trust the process, and trust that if you're able to create value for people, there's going to be a way to profit on that down the road. So I see so many people who have a passion, have a skill, they want to put their name out there and share that type of content. But they say I have no idea how I'm ever going to monetize it. So I'm not gonna get started. You know, have we done that? We would, we would never be where we are today. I can't think of a single other entrepreneur that I know, who is currently doing exactly what they set out to do. You know, at some point, you always get some sort of pivot, you learn something new about the industry and you kind of adapt, but you'd have never done that do not get started.
Jay Clouse 53:13
This episode was a nice little return to my college days. It's crazy to see how much ground Bryce has covered since forwarding an email in college. We're hearing more and more on the show about how many creators are really leveraging the affiliate model, both in big and in small ways. And if you're listening to this and thinking about affiliates, I would encourage you to start enrolling in programs of products and services that you regularly use. Even if it's just a sale here or there from a link that you send someone directly. It's well worth your time. If you want to learn more about 10xTravel or join their Facebook group, links to both are in the show notes. Thanks to Bryce for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork for this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and to Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you like this episode, you can tweet at me @JayClouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.