I had the good fortune that my first foray into entrepreneurship was a success.
Part of the reason had to do with low expectations – I didn't start Bargaineering to strike it rich. I wanted to keep a journal, it expanded to share ways to save money, and eventually became popular enough to sell to a larger company. I stuck with it longer than I would've stuck with a business because it wasn't a business.
When we started Kasai Media, I treated it like a business. It wasn't going to be a “fun hobby” project.
As such, when we realized it wasn't going to be a bigger business, we both decided to focus on other projects. I went more into this blog and $5 Meal Plan. Toni doubled down on The Happy Housewife, Seller's Summit and more recently, Go Brand Win.
This post is a bit of a retrospective of what went well and what didn't.
Why We Started Kasai Media
There were a few reasons why I wanted to start Kasai Media and why I thought it would succeed. I felt my relationships with personal finance bloggers and Toni's relationship with lifestyle bloggers could help us create a relatively large network of sites very quickly. On this, we were right. We amassed a pretty solid collection of partners in a week.
(incidentally, kasai means fire in Japanese)
We also had relationships with many brands, from my time as an affiliate and from Toni's time as both an affiliate and her work with some large coupon and savings sites in the space.
It seemed like it was a great match and for a short period, it was.
We had probably close to 80 phone calls with companies and sold about a dozen campaigns that ranged in price from a few thousand dollars to one campaign for $15,000. It was just as exciting selling a $2,000 campaign as it was to sell the $15,000 one – it's like winning a hard-fought game.
One of the biggest reasons for Kasai was because I wanted to sell something. With $5 Meal Plan, I wanted to learn how to build, sell, and sustain a subscription business (and we did, five years strong!). With Kasai, I wanted to become more comfortable on sales calls and learn how to sell. In that, I believe I've succeeded in being able to sell small projects to startups and medium-sized businesses (but not enterprise-level). There's always more to learn but the initial fear of it is gone.
Why We Shut Down Kasai Media
Primarily, because it wasn't going to get big enough to be interesting to either one of us. Businesses like this require a lot of activity. You go on ten phone calls, you get a couple of follow-up calls, and you sell a campaign or two. I was fine with so many phone calls and such a low percentage of sales because I wanted more practice. I wasn't concerned about failure because I was concentrating on the process and didn't even remember that some companies straight-up ghost you.
The number one reason is that it didn't make enough money. The other reasons are why we didn't work harder to make more money. 🙂
There's always the question of opportunity cost. Spending time on Kasai meant we couldn't spend time on other things. With the success of Seller's Summit and Go Brand Win, it's likely Toni wouldn't have been able to achieve that if she was still spending time on Kasai. The same could be said about this blog and myself.
I also thought it'd be fun to run an agency where you work with influencers and match them up with brands. In this regard, I learned I didn't like it that much. I didn't like promising one thing but then being unable to completely control the delivery. We could promise a series of sponsored articles but we couldn't control how impactful they were.
After a dozen campaigns, I realized what I was selling – it wasn't more users for a startup or branding or anything like that. I was lending my personal credibility to new startups when they interacted with personal finance bloggers. Toni was doing the same with these startups with the bloggers she was closer with. We know some of the most popular blogs in the space and this gave startups an “in.”
That's all fine and good but not what we were after.
Finally, Kasai Media was a fun business to run for a little while but ultimately the only thing you're building up is a brand. There are no long term contracts. No real equity. It only earns if you continue to go on sales calls, sell campaigns, rinse and repeat. It's fundamentally a trade of time for money, which is not a game I'm interested in playing.
We Did Pivot (A Little)
Never one to completely give up – we did have a small pivot.
We became a mini-affiliate company by signing up sub-affiliates for two survey companies (InboxDollars and Swagbucks). We negotiated a higher payout and passed along half of it to our sub-affiliates.
It was interesting to run that for a bit and while it netted us a little bit of lunch money, it was just more hassle than it was worth.
None. I think I learned a lot and this was a good example of how a “failure” was truly a win.
Jeff Bezos once spoke about how he uses a regret minimization framework in decision making – in this regard, I won't have any regret over never starting a company like this. 🙂
Here's a short video with Bezos talking about this:
I checked off “influencer marketing company” from my list of to-do's, had a chance to work with Toni (who is awesome), and became comfortable going on sales calls with companies I didn't know. The financial gains were very modest (our tax accountant probably made as much as we did) but it's nice to get paid to learn.
Too bad not all my failures had such beautiful silver linings!