[quote style=”boxed”]I spent several years building fun, but ultimately not very profitable niche websites. I would take longer to pick my niches, and focus more on the money and less on the fun.[/quote]
Ashley Cotter-Cairns was born and raised in Hertfordshire, UK. He left school in 1989 to focus on a career in the print media. As his opportunities in the print world became eroded by the internet, he changed track, and began making money online, trading full-time on eBay for a while, and writing for web publications.
A little slow out of the gate, Ashley made the transition away from eBay to running his own micro businesses in 2005, publishing niche websites to make advertising and affiliate revenue. He created the Church of Texas Holdem, a mock religious website about learning to make cash playing internet poker, the United Nations of Beer, a global beer website, and Boardgame Beast, a board games review site.
Once the training wheels came off, Ashley began creating products and services to sell online. He now owns several niche web businesses, and makes his money exclusively from the Internet. He enjoys helping others to get their own web businesses established, and now offers web content management services to select clients.
True to his core values, he met his wife, Carolina Pla, online on Match.com, sold up and moved to Canada. They got married in Las Vegas in 2002 and have three sons.
What are you working on right now?
Looking for a new home for our web store! I built it the “old” way from HTML, and the CMS is now slowing me down. I want a ‘real’ store platform. It is a daunting task to choose the right e-commerce partner, and I don’t want to do this twice.
Where did the idea for Python Printable Games come from?
A friend suggested it. Our main competitor’s games did not impress her. She said we could do better. She has since moved on to something else, but my wife is more than capable of assisting me instead.
How do you make money?
We sell printable party games for major seasons, themes, and milestone birthdays. We host an affiliate merchant program via Share-a-Sale, and affiliates drive traffic to our site, as well as making sure our pages are SEO-friendly to get free search engine traffic.
What does your typical day look like?
Bedlam! Juggling three sons, customer service emails, product creation and website management with other projects. Fortunately I work from home, so there’s no energy lost to the eternal commute.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Brainstorm with my wife, and research. If we need help creating a game, then we use one of our freelance writers, but my wife and I both write, so many of the games come from us. We have very talented designers and artists who do the layout of each printable game. Once they’re playtested and ready to sell, we add them to our web store.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
It’s hard not to be moved by the mobile/app explosion. Figuring out how to apply it to our business is more of a challenge.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Cleaning a department store very early in the morning while I was in high school. I learned that vacuum cleaners can eat pantyhose, and that I never, ever wanted to buff a floor again.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I spent several years building fun, but ultimately not very profitable niche websites. I would take longer to pick my niches, and focus more on the money and less on the fun.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Get up in the morning ready to work. It’s important to bring passion to your desk, even if that passion is only for making money.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Starting too many projects before the previous one was properly set up. I overcame this by selling unproductive niche websites, and/or ignoring those that could coast without my attention.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Agency businesses are still great. You’re making a percentage on somebody else’s effort. Find a way to connect two business types that need to find one another, and double-dip by charging both sides.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I would create a grand audit on the workplace, and end the obsession with building more and more roads by eliminating as many commuters as possible. Most of the issues people are worried about would be solved immediately. Just imagine the energy (of all kinds) saved if you could remove 80 percent of commuters from the daily grind to and from work.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I hate shaving. I would love to have my facial hair removed by laser surgery, but I once read that this is a psychological mistake, and that men who do this are adversely affected by it. I like to think that I’m well-adjusted enough not to care, but it put me off the whole thing, and now I go with the gradual descent into the Yeti look, followed by a once-a-month painful shave again.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
a) E-Junkie.com made implementing a simple shopping cart very easy. I wish they’d update it and fix some of the issues, but for people with only a few products to sell, it’s a snap.
b) SBI (Site Build It). It teaches people how to create an online business, not just a website. People used to more complex, techy stuff will find it clunky, but it’s all I’ve really known, and I love it.
c) Fiverr.com. It’s often silly and a great way to find fun stuff for a friend’s birthday or whatever, but also you can find really great people prepared to do all kinds of things for $5. It’s a great resource for bootstrapping entrepreneurs.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I can honestly say that this is the best non-fiction book I have ever read. It should change your life for the better. Buy it for yourself, then buy another copy for that friend, you know, the one that’s marking time and looks ten years older than they actually are.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
a) Tim Ferriss, you are sure to get something interesting from this unique mind
b) TEDx, amazing concept and endlessly fascinating talks
c) Tim Minchin, hilarious comic/songwriter, always makes me smile
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Sunday, watching Family Guy. Love that show!
Who is your hero?
In order, my wife Carolina Pla, Tim Ferriss, and Batman.
What is the most under-rated skill in the marketplace?
Writing. Okay writers are common. Good writers are scarce. Really great writers are extremely rare. Pay more for a writer than you’re used to if you want to get quality. Once you find somebody great, keep them at all costs.
What is one choice you never regretted making?
Quitting my last “real” job in 1996. Living on my wits for years has given me steely determination. It was seldom easy, but the journey has been really fun, and if I regret anything, it was all those hours of commuting that I can’t get back. Never again.
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Ashley Cotter-Cairns on Twitter: @ACotterCairns
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.