It’s been almost two years since I left my corporate life in New York City to work remotely and travel the world. When I first left my apartment, job, and other comforts, I was terrified: I had no idea whether it was possible to build a business on the road, let alone make a decent living from it.
Since then, I’ve met many fascinating entrepreneurs along my travels who have shown me that it is indeed possible to create a successful business, run it completely remotely, and make a killing.
One of those entrepreneurs is Johannes Larsson, a Swedish innovator, self-proclaimed marketing guru, and passionate traveler who at just 25 years old runs a financial comparison business that earned him over $400,000 of passive revenue last year.
Larsson shares his key insights on how he was able to set up an online business that predominantly earns him passive income, the benefits of an intrapreneur approach when hiring a team, and what it takes to be an online entrepreneur:
Tell me about how you got started with your online business.
Johannes Larsson: I’ve been in the game of making money online since I was 15 years old. I never liked school, so from a young age, I decided to chase the dream of becoming my own boss someday.
I spent two years experimenting, testing, and educating myself about online marketing before making any money. I launched dozens of websites and tested many different ways to monetize them with pay-per-click and affiliate programs. I was making a buck here and there, but nothing took off. It felt hopeless at one point and I questioned whether making money online was even possible.
It took many trials, but the real success finally came seven years later, when I was 22 years old. I decided to focus my energy on one project and make it really good, so I created financer.com, a comparison website for financial services such as loans, credit cards, savings accounts, and more.
Ironically, I only began to see results in my business when I shifted my focus from trying to make money to creating value by providing people with a useful service. Today, I have a team of 21 people helping me grow this business into the biggest finance comparison site in the world, and we’re currently operating in 16 countries.
What was the turning point of your career?
Larsson: Moving to Malta from Sweden to work on my business was a game-changer. It was great with lower taxes and cheaper employment, but it was also stressful: all of a sudden, I had to learn how to operate a business, pay bills, and adapt to a new country. This created fast growth for me as an individual.
I met a lot of like-minded entrepreneurs there, and it’s incredible what spending time with people who are on similar paths can do to your growth and motivation. We constantly exchanged ideas, feedback, and solutions to our business problems, and kept each other accountable to pursuing our dreams.
I quickly went from living in my mother’s apartment, playing video games, and not caring about my health, social life, or future, to being hyper-focused on building a successful business and surrounding myself with smart, ambitious people who inspired me.
The second biggest turning point in my career was realizing that having employees in a 9-5 office structure was defeating the point of making money online, which was to have freedom and location independence.
I let my employees go and switched to the intrapreneur model–which means people work as entrepreneurs inside of the business–to ensure everyone was as motivated and driven as I was.
You make an impressive amount of passive income. Can you explain how?
Larsson: All of my business income is passive, meaning that if no one on the team worked for a few months, the revenue would be the same. There are a few reasons why this is possible.
First, financer.com is a service that compares financial products, so the revenue comes from affiliate marketing: we get paid commission from banks, lenders, and other financial companies we list every time a visitor purchases something.
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Secondly – and most importantly – we don’t have any clients to constantly interact with, only partners. Thirdly, the affiliate deals we have set up with banks and financial companies are automated and require no manual interference. As long as our website is up and running, our visitors can use it to compare services, and that means we are getting paid.
Of course, the website doesn’t develop on its own. To generate more revenue, everyone on the team has to be committed to finding better ways to market and grow our user base. That’s where the intrapreneurial approach kicks in: employees are incentivized to keep learning and finding ways to grow the business.
What have been some of the biggest struggles in building your business?
Larsson: While I never had major setbacks on the business side, my biggest fear has been mediocrity. As an overachiever, I am always self-conscious about not performing optimally. It’s a tough demon to battle with because I’m constantly thinking that I am not good enough, I’m not doing enough, and that I need to push harder. I deal with that by taking a step back and remembering how far I’ve come.
Another struggle has been finding suitable employees for this line of work. It’s difficult to find people who understand what we do, know enough about the business, and want to take on the risk of being an intrapreneur. Most people prefer having a routine and knowing the exact amount of income that will be deposited to their bank account every month.
You mentioned the intrapreneur approach. Can you explain this?
Larsson: The intrapreneur model consists of having location-independent people working with you (not for you), and being paid for their performance, per task, or in shares. It is not a per-hour or fixed salary structure, therefore poor performance equals poor pay.
This model was the foundation for what today is my team of 21 amazing people, all who are very motivated, self-driven, and constantly self-teaching. Team members handle their own operations and have absolute responsibility for their market, which is a country that they’re in charge of growing. They are paid a percentage of the profit they generate, in addition to the tasks that they perform.
It’s very exciting to see how this model gives an opportunity to everyone on the team – helping others succeed in their work really drives me, much more than taking profit home.
You travel the world while building your business. How do you manage this?
Larsson: I live by one rule: do something productive, or something that you enjoy, or both… but never find yourself in that gray zone where you’re doing neither. I believe that to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to cut out any grey-zone activities from your life like a doctor would cut out cancer from a brain.
I approach work as an exciting activity instead of a boring deed that must be done. I have about 16 hours of a waking day: if I’m relaxing, laying on the beach, and sipping on coconuts half the day, there’s still an additional eight hours for me to get work done. My typical days are a mix of both work and play, and almost without exception, I go to bed feeling that I was both productive and lived to the fullest.
What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Larsson: The best advice that I can give to anyone (including myself 10 years ago) would be to create your dream team as soon as you can. Even if you can’t afford experts, find people with the right mindset, educate them, and encourage them to rise like stars.
Secondly, learn and execute. It’s common for people to either learn too much and execute too little, or learn too little and execute too much. This balance is very powerful and important to keep in check.
Only consume information that you can apply to your business or situation today. For each book you read, video you watch, or podcast you hear, write down a takeaway on how to apply that knowledge–otherwise it’s useless.
Lastly, make it a habit to go outside your comfort zone and don’t let fear hold you back. You’ll be sure to succeed if you can constantly do what most people are too afraid to. Becoming an entrepreneur changes your perspective, and once you’ve succeeded (no matter how long that takes), you’ll see that anything is possible.
Originally published on Forbes.
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