The X-ray Beam: John From ESI Money
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Welcome to another installment of the X-ray Beam series.
I am thrilled to have what many consider blogging royalty enter the X-ray room to give us some insight on what makes him tick.
John is the blogger who runs the very popular website, ESI Money and, until recently, owned the financial behemoth website that is Rockstar Finance.
John took me under his wing and helped guide me as I tried to build my own website into what you see today and I truly appreciate the mentorship he provided.
Can you please give a small bio of yourself (age, occupation, family)
My name is John and I write at ESI Money.
ESI Money is a blog about achieving financial independence through earning, saving, and investing (ESI).
I write about what’s worked for me in achieving financial independence and how others can implement those successes in their lives.
I’m 55, retired at 52, have a wife and two kids (22 and 20), and live in Colorado Springs.
Before I retired I worked as a marketing executive for various companies during my 28-year career.
1) One of the most important decisions when starting a blog is to name it.
Something so seemingly simple to do can be quite challenging to get right.
A blog name should ideally convey to the casual internet passerby in an instant what the underlying philosophy of that blog is.
ESI Money is a wonderful example of drawing in a potential reader with the simple concept of Earn, Save, Invest in order to build wealth.
What were some of the other website names you considered before settling on ESI Money?
Haha! I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday — how am I supposed to remember names I rejected four years ago? 😉
I can say that when I came up with the name I deliberately thought through what my core message should be.
I wanted it to be simple, easy to understand, and communicate the 20% of personal finance topics someone should focus on to get 80% (probably more) of the impact.
If you want a longer explanation you can read What Does ESI Money Mean?
2) ESI Money was not your first attempt at blogging. Can you tell us a little bit of background of when you first started blogging and how it evolved into the current rendition of ESI?
I started my first money blog in 2005 when blogging was new.
I still have that site, but in 2013 I had some close friends find out I was the author, which killed my ability to share private financial information.
So I started ESI Money, a totally unrelated site so I could share what I wanted.
In the past 14 years I have generated around $1 million in revenue from blogging, so it’s been very good to me.
3) I absolutely love the story of how your iconic Knight Chess piece logo came to symbolize you and your website.
The explanation of how the unusual movement of the knight parlayed into needing to do something against the norm in finances is brilliant.
A knight can also be thought of moving in three steps (two forward, then 1 left or right), which also symbolizes the three steps of Earn, Save, and Invest.
Can you share with us what the potential runner up logo was?
I actually have a series for anyone who wants to start a money blog called Five Steps to Creating a Winning $25k Blog.
In step 2 I list how to develop a professional logo.
I share the exact words I used to direct designers submitting potential logos.
The short answer is that a chess piece wasn’t the only option.
Here’s a bit of the guidance I gave them:
- I really want you to be creative with the icon. I do not have a pre-determined concept of what it could be. But some food for thought:
- I do like stars, especially with some sort of flair like the one at freemoneyfinance.com
- I’ve always liked antique/skeleton keys and the thought of “unlocking secrets to becoming wealthy”
- An icon that incorporates the E-S-I could be interesting, especially if it’s subtle like the Toyota logo.
- An icon that says “wealth/money” like a bag of gold, bunch of coins, or a single coin with character (like an English lion on a shield or crest)
- A chess knight as I could talk about the “strategy of becoming wealthy”
- A crown – who’s wealthier than a king?
- A trident as I love sailing and there are three “points” to becoming wealthy.
- It may be none of these. Let your creative juices flow and surprise me.
From there the process developed and designers submitted various options.
As I gave feedback and we refined and refined over several days, I started liking the chess piece far more than the other options.
In the end I had four or five chess piece logos that I really liked and selected one from that group.
4) The average lifespan of a blog is 100 days.
That fact in itself should convey to a potential blogger that there are indeed a lot of unanticipated challenges and pitfalls they will face.
What was the most challenging thing you have faced in your illustrious blogging career and how did you overcome it?
There are three basics you need to develop a great blog:
* Technology — To create the site, keep it running, and so forth.
* Content — You need to write at least above average content and at a steady, consistent pace (like three posts per week).
* Marketing — You need to market your work to generate traffic.
Do all of these for many years and you’ll probably be successful.
Then you can monetize the site.
Of these technology is my weak point.
It’s great when it works and terrible when it doesn’t (which always seems like the worst possible time).
I solve that problem by hiring tech people to manage it for me.
5) Was there any point in your early blogging career that you thought about ending it?
I enjoy the subject and can write about it forever (or at least it seems that way).
My first site generated traffic and revenue fairly quickly.
ESI Money took a bit longer as competition is tougher these days, but it still was successful in the first couple of years.
I think if I had piled a ton of work into it for three or four years and only had a pittance of traffic then I would be discouraged.
But I haven’t faced that circumstance yet.
6) You mention in your background story that you were a young child of divorce and that your mother struggled with financial issues.
What beneficial insights did you have growing up in such an environment that say someone with a silver spoon may have taken for granted and not truly learned?
My main lesson is that I knew I didn’t want to be poor when I was an adult.
I was poor as a kid and it was not pleasant.
I didn’t want that to be my life for the next 70 years.
I also realized that education was a way for me to escape poverty, so I applied myself to schoolwork from an early age.
7) What would you consider your biggest financial mistake to date?
Not retiring when I became financially independent at 42.
I was brought up to think “retiring early” was at 60, so I was focused on that time frame.
But when a job situation turned out to be terrible, I realized at 52 that I had more than enough.
For fun I went back and determined I was actually FI a decade earlier.
Retirement has been wonderful and I wish I had had another 10 years of it by now.
8) When did you realize that you had a passion for finance?
My wife and I took a money course at our church so we could help others with financial issues (mostly budgeting).
Through that course, subsequent reading, and meeting with people, I discovered I really liked the topic.
I then began a side hustle business writing financial articles for magazines.
We took the money from that business, paid off our mortgage in the late 90’s, and haven’t had one since.
9) What is the achievement you are most proud of?
Personally, it’s my family. I’m so proud of and thankful for them.
In my career it was rising to be the president of a $100 million company and leading it to its highest sales in the company’s 35-year history.
Financially it’s been creating enough net worth and on-going income to be FI at 42 and retire at 52.
10) You retired at the age of 52. Was an early retirement something you had planned for all along and did retiring at this age go according to your timeline?
I had always wanted to be retired by 60.
Then the FIRE movement came along and changed paradigms on us.
It helped me realize I should take the plunge as soon as possible.
11) What is the biggest unexpected/unplanned for benefit you have noticed since you have retired?
There are so many!
Probably the best is the lack of stress.
I didn’t know how much stress I had from my job until I retired.
I could literally feel it melting off me over time.
It took six months or so to be completely stress free.
12) What is the one thing you miss most since retiring?
There is nothing I miss about work.
I had a great career and enjoyed most of it.
But nothing beats doing whatever you want whenever you want.
13) You decided to purchase and then sell one of the biggest blogs on finance out there during your retirement, Rockstar Finance. Can you tell us a bit about what led you to buy and then sell it?
In the summer of 2017 I ran into J Money, the previous owner of Rockstar Finance, at FinCon, the financial bloggers convention.
I shared with him what I thought he should do with the site, which was essentially create a program to drive traffic to member sites.
He was gracious listening to me but was noncommittal.
A few months later he approached me to buy the site.
Though I was retired, I decided to take the leap because:
- I was up for a challenge of monetizing a great site which had not been monetized much.
- I could create the program I wanted — to help both my site and others.
- I thought it would be a good business investment.
So I bought Rockstar Finance in December of 2017.
Over the next 14 months or so, I worked hard and was able to achieve all the goals I had initially set for it.
I was at a crossroads and could either sell or spend additional time to grow it more.
I decided to test the market and see what I could get for it.
I found a great buyer and thus I sold Rockstar Finance in March 2019, earning over 200% return on the project.
I’m glad I did it as I had a blast and met some great people.
That said, I’m happy to be able to have more free time these days.
14) If you were given the opportunity to interview anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why? What would be your first question?
My great grandparents (who I never knew).
I would ask them what it was like for them growing up and what led them to come to America (from Italy).
15) Your ESI Millionaire Interview series has become an instant classic. What was the source of inspiration to create it?
I knew my story and could tell how I became wealthy, but I wanted others to share so my readers could see over and over and over again the principles of success boil down to earning, saving, and investing.
16) For a reader unfamiliar with your site, what are 3 posts that they should read to understand what ESI is all about?
Here’s what I’d recommend a new reader check out:
* Millionaire Interviews – The stories are not only packed with financial truth-bombs, but are very compelling. Despite the fact that the core principles are the same, everyone’s way of applying them and their story is truly unique and interesting.
* Retirement Interviews – This is a new series that gives a glimpse of what it’s like to plan for retirement, do it, and live in it. Retirement is such an unknown for so many. This series will help demystify it by sharing stories from those who have lived it.
* Three Steps to Financial Independence – This is actually an ebook that people get when subscribing to my site. It’s a great overview of the ESI philosophy and how to use it to become financially independent.
17) What book or books have been fundamental to your financial education?
I read a lot (even today) and books have been part of my financial education for over a couple decades now.
I have them in groups:
* The Only Five Money Books You’ll Ever Need – These are the cream of the crop IMO and make the most difference for the most people. Personally, The Millionaire Next Door was the book that hit home for me.
* Top Money Books Worth Considering – This is the next tier of money books — the ones to read after the top five. Still some very good books here.
* Top Money Books Millionaires Read – These come out of my interviews as well as an email I sent to my millionaire list. Many overlap with the first two posts I mentioned, but there are some new ones too. As you might imagine, millionaires read widely and interests vary.
Thanks for having me as a guest. This was fun!
If you are interested in checking out previous individuals that were brave enough to expose themselves to the beams of the X-ray, please check them out here.
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