Through all the grueling years of blood, sweat, tears, all-nighters, failures, and sacrifices - James muscled his way from average middle class to joining the ranks of the one percent.
He's finally opening up about his life path and the lifestyle that his success has brought him. More importantly, using it as a platform to help, encourage, and motivate others that find themselves in the same shoes.
How is your life and lifestyle now a days?
My life is an extremely blessed one. I wake up every day in nearly a paradise.
My high-rise condo has the best location & views of the Las Vegas strip money can buy.
My daughter has a stay at home mother who never misses a precious childhood moment.
My mother has a fully funded retirement and no longer has the anxiety shakes in her hand.
I set my own work hours; I don't miss important dates and life moments because I'm "at work".
I can work from anywhere in the world thus I can travel wherever and whenever I please.
Activities are no longer determined by what a budget allows me to do, but rather by the value of the Experience.
Things I buy are determined by the value in quality and not so much the price any more.
Convenience and Peace of Mind are things no longer sacrificed.
So the million-dollar question is: What do you do for a living?
I started, own, and run a few companies: two web software companies and a handful of ecommerce companies including an athletic sports gear company. They are all bootstrapped and no outside funding was taken on starting any of them.
Although I handle the "CEO" roles of running the companies - I still heavily focus on two things that I am really good at: Online Marketing and Design.
Pretty much, the average person will never be able to do what you do?
Anybody can do anything they set their mind to. Most people think I was just born with some magical gift but the truth is the only gifts I have is:
1. A stubbornness to never quit.
2. My ADD - the ability to hyper-focus on something that interests me until I master it or get well above average at it. (and also the ability to hyper-un-focus on things that don't interest me lol)
3. Ability to turn pain into work ethic.
With those three - I self-taught myself every single last thing I know.
You mention pain - Where did it come from?
I grew up spending the majority of my impressionable years in a single parent household - my dad.
I didn't always have the nicest things. I wasn't ever first, second, or third out of my friends to get a new game system (or new games) so I'd have to go over their houses to play. I didn't have birthday parties, or go on vacations to the beach or theme parks, etc. I'd skip out on getting cheese on my burgers to help save any money I could. We always owned used cars; and hoped nothing broke down that month otherwise tight went to tighter.
All those things leave a certain respect on the value of money and how important it can impact life. It's what the majority of Americans grew up like so definitely nothing against my dad - I've picked up my best traits from him simply by observing how he handled life.
But like with all things; you strive for improvement by taking what you liked and didn't like and mashing it up into something you feel like is a perfect blend.
Can you describe to us how pain and work ethic relate to you?
I take all of my pain and anger and convert it into an intense work ethic. Working is one of the few places where I can get away mentally - an escape.
It's also easy for me to fall into working hard because I know at the end of the day; all the hard work can actually make things a whole lot better.
Shifting gears - How did you get into what you are doing now?
Using YouTube and Google, I figured out how to add words and stuff onto my own selfies through photoshop. Eventually, I finally figured out how layers, gradients, cropping, etc. all worked.
Which led me into me making websites entirely made of images. Then just getting better by learning how to do more and more little things like turning an image into a link, change text color, etc.
Once I was able to make websites - that's the one skill that really opened up doors to make money.
So what did you do exactly once you learned how to make websites?
I read about people making money online by making websites, driving traffic to them, and getting paid by Google for ad clicks. Being a broke college student wearing the same rotation of clothes every semester while it seemed everyone else had an endless amount of Polo gear and shoes - any amount of extra money would be nice for me.
So I began turning ideas I thought people might find valuable into websites. I quickly learned: Just because you build a website, doesn't mean people will automatically come visit.
That led me into the world of internet marketing and driving visitor traffic.
How did you get good at driving traffic and getting eyeballs?
I knew that whatever I worked on and built to bring in traffic would need to grow on it's own without me having to spend any more time on it and bring in long-term organic traffic. That's when I discovered I had a real knack for marketing.
Having an aggressive attitude and a hustler's spirit of "just make shit happen" in life spilled over directly into my marketing style; which is what gives me the edge. As long as breaking "rules" didn't hurt anybody, I didn't follow them. I often went against the grain, thought differently, did things that weren't proven, and I blazed my own path trails. Always, and still do til this day.
What was your biggest success in marketing back then?
My biggest success in traffic was from making viral videos on YouTube. Back then; the word "viral" didn't even exist to describe my method of marketing (again, blazing my own trails because only very few were doing it).
I can still remember I had like around 10 YouTube videos with over 5 million views a piece. And several other videos with six and low seven figure view counts. Funneling traffic from YouTube to my own website called HopCity (hosted the latest viral & music videos); I converted those visitors to maybe a few hundred dollars a month.
Once I had HopCity established - I actually quit making anything else, and quit marketing the site any further. The couple hundred was enough for me, and at that time - I actually had zero idea or even the thought that I wanted to pursue being rich in life. I focused on enjoying my last year of college.
When did you realize you were about to join the typical rat race?
The summer before my senior year of college, I got an internship into healthcare adminstration. I just knew I wanted to be a CEO of a hospital one day. I was going to wear a suit like they did on TV and have all these meetings and drive a range rover and make $140k after 25 years of climbing the corporate ladder.
To be honest; I was just "salary.com chasing" and deep down I actually didn't know what I wanted to do or become.
Then as graduation came closer and closer and the "what the hell am I going to do with my life" became more real, a couple tiny thoughts hit me one day:
1. Am I going to be working 40 hours a week every week for the rest of my life?
2. Why are some people rich and "don't have to work" while others aren't, and what path did they take? Was it the same as my own?
When did you realize that it's possible anybody can get rich through starting a business and applying hard, smart work?
Finding the honest answer to those questions changed my life forever.. it completely re-set the direction and course of my life.
I always thought that rich people were just born rich or got lucky. The truth was more than 85% of millionaires are all self-made entrepreneurs. This finally "woke" me up to the fact that - anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it, meaning: I, me, James, an average kid from a small city in Tennessee could get rich, it's possible.
I became absolutely obsessed with learning how successful people got rich, their paths, their character, what exact formula made them this way, and how they achieved it. I quickly found an online community called TheFastLane forum who all shared this same ideal and optimism, but most importantly; actually applying action to turn it into reality.
Now that you were "woke" - How'd your dream chasing start off?
I graduated. I moved to Nashville. Disappointment after disappointment in interviewing for a "college educated" level job; I took a call center job to pay the bills, but kept job hunting. Finally landing a gig at as a recruiter for a temp service company. Economy tanked; they laid off 70% of the staff including me. I then survived off of unemployment checks for a year.
When I got laid off, I took that as a sign to chase my dreams of being rich. I'd have to really live extremely frugal as the unemployment checks barely covered my expenses.
I went back to making websites, and throwing any ideas hoping they'd stick. I would make a decent website, spend a few days doing marketing (those days it was fairly easy to rank on Google), and if the hours I spent marketing showed a lot of promise - I doubled down, made the website better, and spent more time on marketing.
Is this where things took off for you?
Nope, far from it, I haven't paid my dues yet. Over those next years; I wound up making a few e-commerce stores, driving most of the traffic from SEO and marketing on YouTube. RedGone (solved the Asian flush syndrome), HaveSwag (ecommerce dropship site for clothing & shoes), TweetXilla (background images for Twitter profiles), and BGP (sold clothing for college greek organizations).
Eventually, they made enough to just cover my expenses & replace my unemployment checks that ended.
After a few years of running these ecommerce companies; I ran across stories about how some entrepreneurs were making a huge killing with SaaS (software as a service) web apps that had users pay a monthly fee. If anything was ever so clear to me in life; I absolutely knew I had to go this route.
Also during these years, most of my college peers all had "career" jobs and had upgraded cars, clothes, trips, enjoying life, etc. Meanwhile; here I am broke as a joke re-investing any and all extra money into new business ideas. But I never gave in, I kept strong in my vision & continued sacrificing my time and lifestyle to chase my dreams in hopes one day it will all pay off.
You struggled getting a working app launched - How and why?
I had an idea for an employee scheduling app called Fendza. I tried to cheaply out-source the web app development to some Indians I found through a freelancer website, but got burned for a thousand dollars (which was all that I had left) and no working app to show for it.
A year later - I had an idea to create Freelancify (an online marketplace to find freelance designers/developers), but I got burned again trying to outsource to a local developer in town, except this time for $3,500. No working app.
I was bummed, my dream was slipping away.
I decided to give it one more shot for Freelancify, but this time I was going to see how much one of the town's best developer charged. The developer I met up with actually saw that I could make websites with great design and after he saw I couldn't afford his prices ($150 an hour!), he threw out the idea that maybe I should learn how to code myself.
I had no other choice. That was the hardest things I've ever had to learn in life; I grueled through months of intense self-taught learning until I could make something basic. And somehow through pure grit, I did it, I finished Freelancify. I launched and began marketing the app.
How did your first publicly launched web app business go?
It "failed". I ended up selling it to someone for not much. Although I was able to get a lot of users signed up through a few viral blog posts; I realized after a year, that it would take a huge amount of marketing effort in order for it to bring in any revenue against the big giant competitors. And without any real competitive edge, or me bringing in something different to really make a difference, Freelancify was just another cookie-cutter copy.
I was burnt out. All my efforts were straight up failures or very mediocre successes. I was tired of being on the computer all day long. So I gave up on my dreams.
During that break, I would jump back into rat race of being an employee and joined the corporate world again.
You gave up and got a normal 9 to 5 job again, and hit a deep depression?
For a couple years, I chased no business dream while I worked my job.
But after those years, I knew I was not operating at my max just working a 9 to 5 with no side thing - I started a streetwear clothing line called Feast or Famine to keep my insanity. I guess I'm one of those people that has to constantly be doing something or improving or I feel like I am just sitting around rotting away my life.
I made some dope shirts and hats, and even won a trip to Las Vegas for a trade show. But again; it wasn't something I really wanted to "be my million dollar company" with, it was more so just self-expression of my design and inside artistry - so as soon as I had another idea to launch another e-commerce company, I dropped it.
At the same time of all of this; I actually went through a really bad and deep depression.
Can you tell us what was so different in this athletic sports gear company?
It took me years and years and failure after failure and mediocre successes to finally learn this one thing about myself I had ignored:
If you chase two rabbits, you won't catch either. If you focus and try to catch one rabbit, you may very well catch it.
I was talented, but all I was doing was chasing after shiny things. I was not bringing in any real value to the world through one of my businesses because I was just providing average things. As soon as I felt like something wasn't doing as well as I wanted it to, or another idea seemed more viable, I jumped ship.
This changed Everything. So with this new athletic sports gear company, I anchored down and focused. No more jumping around on ideas - but becoming really good at one thing, providing value and impacting lifes.
With your new focus - Tell us about your final hurdles?
I'd bust out 80-90 hour work weeks between my full-time job and coming home grinding on my new company til 3-4am. Sleeping at most 4 hours then repeating. I took no weekends off; it was all spent on the company. It was tough, my social and personal life was pretty much none existent.
I also deleted all my social media & cut the outside world completely off to avoid any distractions and noise.
Things gained traction much faster than any other business I started before because of my newfound focus. For a year, I grew this company as a side hustle until one day I felt financially comfortable enough to quit my job. That day was filled with so many mixed emotions - it was at this point when it finally hit me that I had "made it".
What a long journey! And finally... You moved into the software companies you have now?
As I was running the ecommerce sports gear company, there were a lot of inefficiencies I kept running into. Things I couldn't find any solutions for to help; that or anything out on the market just sucked. So me being the person I am; I jumped on an idea I knew would be very viable. It also helped that I'd be a hardcore user of my own product so I knew exactly what other e-commerce sellers needed. So I created Feedbackz, a email marketing app that automatically followed up with buyers, focusing mainly on review requests.
But... this time, I didn't move on from the sports gear company. I made sure that it was still getting a lot of my focus and attention until it was as passive and hands-off as possible. Once I achieved what I felt was a good balance, that's when I started splitting my focus with that and building Feedbackz.
By the time Feedbackz was publicly launched; the sports gear company was pretty much in autopilot, so I could afford to focus 100% into Feedbackz for a few months. I've been doing that for little over a year now and just recently launched my second app, Helpify (help desk software for ecommerce sellers). Helpify's target market of users are the same as my first app, so it's staying fairly vertical, but there are opportunities that Helpify has that is much bigger than Feedbackz. I'm very excited to see where I can take things.
You're a hard-core preacher of Westcoast life for hustlers and fast-paced people like you, why?
There's a reason why the richest people in the US live here, even if it has the highest taxes. There's a reason why the West, specifically California, has the 6th biggest economy In The World. Its economy is bigger than the entire country of France just as an example. California could split from the US and become it's own country if it wanted to.
Remember, most rich people are self-made entrepreneurs. And self-made people are very, very smart people. Do you think they just settle in life and/or don't know any better places to live?
It's the culture. It's the fast pace. It's the mindset & habits of people here. It's the progression. It's the self-investments. It's the self-beliefs. The open-mindedness. Dreams chasing is action, and not just talk. The West dominates and leads social media, fashion trends, movies, every channel of entertainment, tech, the stock market, etc., etc.
Not saying there's no successful people from anywhere else, but once they become successful, they seldom stay there and move out West. Take a look at all your biggest entertainers, hip hop artists, athletes, successful business mogals, up and coming entrepreneurs, etc. - you'll quickly and easily see a pattern.
Since I've lived here; it's been pure motivation. Constantly and Everywhere. The exotic cars, the private jets, the ultra-modern mansions - just seeing the results of other people's hard work and knowing I can be the same especially after I met them. My state of mind & motivation is on 110% - I didn't get that anywhere else.
To an ultra go-getting hustler like me; my heart and soul is exactly where it belongs. If you find yourself much like me; you may want to make moving out West a thought.
What are your 5 year plans and goals from now?
I want to continue growing my current companies as big as I possibly can. I would also like to eventually pursue a business idea that I think could change the world, but I need to dominate my current projects first.
On a personal level; I want to help others out with advice & write more. I also want to grow my own personal name and get my social media life back from the years of being completely missing.
On a pure financial and materialistic level; I want a Lamborghini Aventador within the next years, a mansion out in the hills of Los Angeles, a penthouse in NYC, and continue traveling the world more.
On an ultimate dream level; I want a private jet, and (with my marketing skills) one day run and become President of the United States. I have lots of years left to get there! =)
Where can we follow you or get in contact with you?
The best way is to follow my Instagram @itsjamesfend - I post all of my advice, latest posts on marketing, little bits of my life, and more on there. I'd love to hear from any readers of my content on there!
If you'd like to reach me personally for something; please email my assistant at [email protected] and she'll relay stuff to me!
I hope my story has inspired & motivated at least one person today that anything is possible and that dreams do come true to those who want it bad enough!!