I try to make sure I spend my time on the tasks that I am the most equipped to perform well, and allow others to do the same.
Derek Hales is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ModernCastle.com. Hales grew up in Florida and Kansas.
During college Hales launched a major video game blog and self-published an eBook. Hales’ blog, web resource, and book helped thousands gain greater enjoyment and proficiency from their gaming experience. Hales’ video game blog peaked at traffic levels of 50,000 unique visits per day, achieving a global site ranking of 19,000 in Alexa.com.
In 2010 he graduated from Kansas State University with a B.S. in Business. Post college Hales joined one of the most respected digital marketing agencies in the country, iCrossing. During his agency tenure Hales helped numerous household brands increase traffic to their websites and achieve their digital marketing goals.
In 2014 Hales founded and authored a platform to test and review mattresses. From 2014 to 2017 Hales developed the site, expanding it to cover a full range of sleep products. While acting Editor-in-Chief, Hales grew the platform to reach page views in excess of 1,000,000 per month. In July 2017 Hales sold the platform.
In September 2017 Hales launched ModernCastle.com. Modern Castle is Hales’ primary focus and is designed to help consumers discover, research, and select products for the home.
Hales lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife, Samantha, and poodle, Tibbers. In his down time Hales enjoys PC games, tennis, board games, swing dancing, and golf.
Where did the idea for ModernCastle.com come from?
ModernCastle.com was an idea I had been slowly formulating for the last several years. In 2014 I launched a website to test and review mattresses. Over time I expanded into other sleep-related products, including sheets, pillows, and bedding. However, I felt limited by what I could realistically test on that platform.
Never-the-less, while operating that platform I was able to develop detailed processes for testing, writing, photographing, and building an exceptional user experience for my readers. Modern Castle is the culmination of three years of testing, learning, and perfecting the perfect product review. Right now, our focus is on vacuum cleaners. However, over time I plan to expand into a variety of product categories that I feel are the most in need of objective, informative, and helpful reviews.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Most days I get up around 9:30 am and hop on the PC. I start with a quick email check to make sure there are no fires. Immediately after, I’ll check in with my employees (if needed) and make sure they have what they need from my end to get their tasks completed.
Most of my work is currently split between two major tasks, developing the website or promoting the website.
Some of my development tasks include:
• writing and editing reviews
• designing and building web pages
• optimizing page speed and user experience
• managing the server backend
Some of my promotional tasks include:
• hosting giveaways
• setting up relevant tools
• connecting with other webmasters
• engaging on social media
• answering questions on email and elsewhere
How do you bring ideas to life?
Most new ideas I have are inspired by other great creations. I always have loved the quote by Pablo Picasso, upon seeing prehistoric French cave paintings dating back 30,000 years, he exclaimed, “We have invented nothing”. Content and the web are very much the same, in my opinion. I follow many great websites, YouTube channels, internet personalities, among others. Occasionally I will see a concept there that creates the origin of my next idea. I take that spark and build out the full vision in my mind. Depending on the idea I will sometimes jot that idea out on paper, Excel, or a Word document. And then finally, it’s time to build it…which usually means building it through a combination of WordPress, HTML, CSS, PHP, and other off-the-shelf tools to bring the vision to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Mobile devices continue to be extremely exciting. Over the course of the last 5 years I have seen mobile traffic on the websites I’ve worked on increase dramatically. On most websites, mobile and tablets make up 50% or more of the total page views. That’s incredible.
However, it’s also dramatically changed the way the web is developed. It feels to me that cellular network speeds haven’t kept pace with the raw power and usage of mobile devices. And while many people browse the web on 4G or wifi, there are still many users using 3G speeds as their primary internet browser.
These facts, combined with Google’s upcoming mobile first index, has brought page speed, page sizes, and mobile optimization to the forefront faster than I think many could have imagined.
While it’s a definite challenge, it’s also incredibly exciting to watch it unfold.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Time value management. Time is most important resource we all have. Every minute must be well managed and well spent. I try to make sure I spend my time on the tasks that I am the most equipped to perform well, and allow others (whether they are my employees or contractors) to do the same.
Everyone has something they are the best at. It makes the most sense to work on the tasks that you can do the best.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry as much. If it is within your control to change the result of a particular worry, then there is no need to worry, because it’s already within your control. By the same token, if the task is outside of your control to change, there is no need to worry about that either, because there is quite literally nothing you can do.
Take control and change what’s within your grasp, and leave the rest behind. Mind you, this is something I almost continually remind myself of. My mind naturally wants to wander back to worries and anxiety.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
A mechanical keyboard is the one of the best investments you can make for anyone that’s on a computer more than a few hours a day. Mechanical keyboards use physical switches for each key. This is in contrast to more traditional keyboards, which use a rubber membrane to activate the key press. All keyboards used to be crafted with mechanical switches, but they were phased out because it was cheaper to use rubber membranes. Mechanical keyboards are a joy to type on, providing better tactical and auditory feedback to users. The switches also generally return the key back to the user more quickly, compared to rubber membranes. As a result, many users can type more accurately and more quickly. I have been using a mechanical keyboard for just over 4 years. It has absolutely increasing my typing speed, proficiency, and enjoyment.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am never satisfied with my performance. As a result, I am continually looking for ways to improve.
I strive to create the absolute best resources on the web that I can, but the idea of “best” is always changing. I do my best to change with it. I am always looking for areas to improve and get better.
I make a point to relentlessly self-analyze my performance and the performance of the websites I create. There’s always something I could be doing better.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Host giveaways. Regardless of the industry, one thing is certain, people love free stuff. Buy good prizes or find companies that are willing to sponsor your giveaway with a donated prize. Make the giveaways fun and interesting. Make them easy to enter and easy to share. Engage with the people who enter your giveaway. There are so many great platforms from Gleam to Rafflecopter and others. Giveaways are an excellent way to attract new fans and engage with your existing fans.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Hiring inexpensive contractors and vendors. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn a few times, but I think I’ve finally learned it for good. On several occasions over the last few years I’ve hired inexpensive contractors to help on various projects. Often, I find that they are inexpensive for a reason. That cheap project fee ends up costing me more in my own time, re-work time, or having to hire a different contractor all together. Quality contractors are more expensive for a reason, but they are usually worth the extra cost.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The 3D printing industry continues to be fascinating to watch. Over the last several years the industry has grown by leaps and bounds. There is so much potential for a variety of different resource websites for 3D printers. If you’re interested in 3D printers and have a passion for creating incredible content I feel like you could do extremely well in that niche.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
This admission is really going to show my inner nerd, but I would have to say it’s a Magic the Gathering: Shadows Over Innistrad Booster Box set ($85). For the uninitiated, Magic the Gathering is a strategy card game. Player’s build decks of cards. The cards have a variety of effects, some that bring creatures into play, some that deal damage to your opponents, or create other effects. It has been around since the early 1990s and I played as a child. A group of my friends and I recently got a new booster box set for a nostalgia-infused nerd night. Since then we’ve played a litany of times. It has been a great way to relive some of our favorite childhood gaming memories and enjoy the game with a new group of friends.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Google Drive. Google Drive allows myself and my employees to collaborate on documents from anywhere with an internet connection. It’s easy to work together, easy to track changes, manage workflow, and stay organized. I still use a physical server to backup larger file repositories, but for daily work Google Docs and Google Sheets managed through Google Drive make day-to-day operations extremely easy to manage across my small team.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Outliers“ by Malcolm Gladwell. One of my all-time favorites. The book discusses the idea of talent and whether it exists at all. Gladwell proposes the idea that what many perceive as natural abilities or talent is actually a series of cumulative small advantages (usually starting early in life), fortunate timing, significant intentional practice, or a combination of these factors.
While some of the book’s premises have been debated, I believe the underlying ideas are still valid. Diligent and continual practice and preparation are far better indicators of success than merely talent alone. The book was, and continues to be, a reminder for me to focus on what I can improve in.
What is your favorite quote?
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” By Edmund Burke
• Never stop trying to improve. Being satisfied with today’s success could lead to tomorrow’s fall.
• Use giveaways to promote to new audiences and engage with existing communities
• Don’t forget that your time is valuable. It’s one of the only resources that you can never get more of. Spend your time on tasks that you are best equipped to handle.
• Don’t simply hire the cheapest contractor or vendor. There is a cost to everything, and there are always costs with cheap contractors.
• If you’re on the computer more than few hours a day buy a mechanical keyboard (Hales recommends Cherry MX Brown switches for your first mechanical switch).
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