UPDATE: After Google started charging money for using its Maps services, MDE had to shut down as the income was less than the monthly costs and no alternative – at the time – was there to replace Google Maps. A reminder not to trust / rely on Google when it launches another “FREE” service.
I was fortunate enough to come across Ryan Hart, the many behind the Million Dollar Earth website. Same as what Alex Tew managed to do with MillionDollarHomepage.com in 2005, Ryan is set out to sell the map of the world, online. I asked him few questions over the email, and those below were his answers.
Q1 – How did the idea of Million Dollar Earth come to you?
The idea came from a discussion with my best web developer Scott Dahl over dinner. We were discussing the success of Alex and admiring his ability to execute his idea. I asked him if he thought there was a way to improve on the idea and integrate Google maps and social media. Within 24 hours I had designed 90% of what you now see on the site. This was in November 2010. I wanted to finish my previous project YourStarForever.com and a misc iPhone app before I began Million Dollar Earth so I could devote at least 6 months without distractions to the success of the website. I assigned Scott to begin building the site on March 7th and we launched it publically May 3rd, 2011.
Q2 – How did you start making it happen? Do you have enough programing skills? Do you know the right people? Did you look for developers to join your team? How big is your team? What does everyone do?
I am not a programmer. I am an idea guy who also has the guts to execute the idea. I had been working on building a team of talented contractors and had had success with each of them in previous projects. Scott Dahl – world’s best PHP programmer who is talented in both design and development. Katie Tigges – amazing eye for graphic design and content writing/journalism. Evan Larimore – video animation with the voice of Peter Bishop.
Q3 – They say the first 2-3 sales are the toughest, so how did you manage to make your first sales? What is story of your biggest sales to date, and which is the most difficult?
I emailed my personal contacts and offered them 50% off any purchase prior to launch, and sold $800 worth of cities before I launched the site (most were $100 each). This established a level of credibility, however small it was. Crossing my fingers I submitted the press release. Randomly the next day I received a blog post from Mr6.cc which referred 1190 unique hits to the site that day, once of which purchased Hong Kong for $2,000. This was my first customer that I had never had contact with before.
Smaller cities started rolling in and before I knew it I had over $10,000 in sales. Joel Chrisman of Afxfirm.com emailed me and we negotiated a deal for 5 properties (where his offices are located) for $16,000, and I agreed to waive the transaction fee of 20% if he ever sold them in the future. I agreed to these terms since he was placing such a large order so early in the sites history. Both Joel and Silver Yu (purchaser of Hong Kong) see the advertising and investment value of the Cities, since you can resell them for a higher price to another advertiser.
Q4 – What’s your plans for the future? Where do you see your project and yourself after 10 years from now?
We have some exciting plans for Million Dollar Earth. There are 5 more features the site will receive as we continue to sell more cities. Once we sell the 1,000th city Phase II will be released, followed by Phase III. Both will be a huge surprise to everyone. I don’t want to give it away but it will be very exciting. I expect the site to generate revenue for at least 18 months total and then to continue to deliver value to the owners of the Cities for at least 3-5 years because of the further innovations we have planned for Million Dollar Earth.
My plans? Well, I hope to never become an angel investor because that will mean I have either lost my passion to innovate or run out of good ideas. I hope to still be working with my talented team, in my local coffee shop, and have the reputation of a man who chases his dreams and makes them into reality.
Q5 – Finally, a little backgrounder about you, study, previous projects, companies, jobs,.. Moto, best quote in life, best advice you’ve got, etc.
I finished in the top 10 of the Richard Branson’s Perfect Pitch competition in Los Angeles in 2009, won the Pacific Lutheran University Business Plan Competition in 2010, and was nominated for the WebAward.org for Million Dollar Earth in 2011. I graduated with a BA in Entrepreneurship at one of the top 10 business schools named Washington State University, followed by an MBA from Pacific Lutheran University.
I have received so much advice from mentors that it is difficult to pick one. It would probably be when I pitched a business to Matt Coffin in 2009 (sold LowermyBills.com to Experian for $300M+) and he replied, “Think bigger.” Or my PLU Business Mentor Kenny Byrne, “Success is just so elusive that you cannot afford to be unprepared.”
Or my PLU Business Professor Dr. Lee; “It is not how you solve the problem, it is how you evaluate what the problem is.” I realized that the world of advertising was not fun and lacked creativity. Innovation is attractive and profitable for the mere fact that it is perceived as innovation.
Or a talk show host friend of mine Kirby Wilbur who said, “If you have credibility and you have a plan you will succeed.”
Best quote overall would be from my father; Ken Hart, “You work hard on your terms, or you work hard on someone else’s terms. Take your choice.”
My motto would be “Take courage and go with your gut“. My personal opinion would be “You don’t have to know everything, you just have to know where to find it. ” Million Dollar Earth is basically the combination of the talents of Scott, Evan, Katie with the technologies of Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, PayPal, WordPress and CakePHP. I am just the person who tightens the shoe lace in the shoe and ties the knot.