Case Study: From millionaire… to broke… to a six-figure income

Ramit Sethi

If you gave away all of your money and nearly everything you owned, could you get it all back?

What if you had to start over in a completely new career? Could you repeat your success?

That’s exactly what Mark, the subject of today’s case study, did.

In his mid-20’s, living in semi-retirement after early success as a day trader, he gave away over a million dollars…all of the money he had.

Then he got rid of his apartment and nearly all of his stuff, quit day trading and moved into his car. His goal: prove to himself that it wasn’t luck and get it all back.

Flash forward a few years and Mark’s hustled his way into a six figure job as an IT security expert for an insurance company.

But he knows if he’s going to his reach his goal of early retirement, then he’ll need to work for himself. And that means figuring out how to find enough clients for his IT security consulting.

In today’s case study, we’ll look at how Mark’s using a streamlined lead generation process he learned in Earn1K to blaze through this critical step and earn thousands of dollars on the side.

“I had the cash and resources to do whatever I wanted to do.”

Mark had it made. Still in his twenties, he was a millionaire day trader who slipped through the tech bubble untouched. He spent a little time every day managing his investments. The rest was free for whatever he wanted. Life was good.

“I worked for myself. Basically, I was semi-retired for six years,” Mark remembered. “It was just a completely free life. I had the cash and resources to do whatever I wanted to do.”

But one question kept bothering him: Was it all a fluke?

No matter how good he had it, Mark wanted to be sure he had earned it. “I gave it all away. Everything. I lived in my car. I wanted to build up again from nothing. Not even the same career.”

His first post-retirement job: temp receptionist.

“It took me about a year and a half to go from living in my car to making a decent salary and living normally. After that it became a game of finding a company that had a problem that wasn’t being solved.”

“For long-term stability, you need to have multiple options.”

Mark was working as a low level technical analyst for an insurance company when he found his opportunity.

“I saw the company had a gap in IT security. I said I could fill that gap and took on more and more responsibility. Every time something popped up, I said ‘I can do that for you.’ I just created a position for myself. When a huge security audit came up, I already had everything in place. They made me an officer, and I started earning six figures.”

Mark was living very comfortably again, but he kept pushing, though. Mark went back to school full-time on top of his job and looked for a way to generate a second income stream.

“In my job, there was no where to go up or side to side. The next step was to start my own business. For long-term stability, you need to have multiple options.”

Mark developed his IT expertise, but he couldn’t find an offer anyone wanted to spend money on. That all changed when the IWT 30-Day Hustling Course opened.

“I said I’d charge half what others charged. They laughed and said no.”

Mark dove into the month of hustling determined to find an profitable business idea. That meant learning how to talk to potential clients. Getting to know what they really wanted. He pushed other obligations to the side and hustled through the “insane amount of free material” in the series.

“I started the wrong way,” Mark laughed, remembering his first attempts at customer research. “I said, ‘here, I have this service. Any other company would charge this much. I’ll charge half of that.’ They laughed and said no.”

Here’s where Mark took a big leap forward. He said, “Okay, what would you pay for?”

“I was surprised,” Mark recalled. “They asked for this little, easy thing that I can do in an hour. They want me to hacker test their site and give them a logo to put on the bottom of the site when it passes.”

Mark had his profitable idea. He was sold. “When Earn1K came available, it was a no-brainer. I had to take this course.”

“I’m disgusted I didn’t think of it before.”

When he enrolled, Mark set two goals for himself:

  1. “I wanted to be able to have three clients. I didn’t care how much I was making. I wanted to prove the business concept. I wanted to get the business running.”
  2. “I wanted to create a machine that would allow me to replace my income and quit my job. What I was really excited about was building the business systems.”

By the time he completed Earn1K, he had already recouped the cost of the course in new business. He also had reams of note and ideas from each lesson. The one that turned his idea into a viable side business generating thousands of dollars was a 29-minute video on how to generate leads.

“The lead generation systems you talked about were simple,” said Mark. “The whole concept of ‘let’s figure out where everyone is in your market. And let’s find a way to contact people who would be qualified leads.’ Then you work through it and make it a system. If all you need or all you have time for is five a day, that’s okay. You just do it. I’m disgusted I didn’t think of it before.”

Between his full-time job and class load, Mark only had a few hours a week to devote to his side business. More than enough to build his sales funnel.

He spent a couple days developing a checklist on how to qualify a lead. “I’m looking for A, B, C, D. Single developers or a small development team. Someone in my geographical area. Someone who’s website doesn’t suck. Just those three things tell me tons of information.”

From there, Mark would quickly look at the lead’s website to determine what their interests and strengths were. He could use that information to test different emails.

“Earn1K taught me how to make my lead generation a system. Make it automatic. It can be something you do before you go to work or on lunch. That really informed the process for me.”

Checklist in hand, Mark starts by Googling around. Some professional websites are also a good source of local, web developer names. “One strategy I’ve used is search for small businesses with Google Maps. If the business has a website and isn’t a franchise, they probably used a local web developer. I can look on their site for the developer’s name. There’s lots of ways to find the leads once you know who you’re looking for.”

Mark started by spending 10-30 minutes generating leads every evening. Pretty soon, his process was so automatic that he asked his wife if she could generate some while he was at work.

“She wasn’t sure she could do it since she’s not in IT. I said, ‘do it for two days and we’ll see. We can make adjustments.’ Pretty soon, she was getting better leads than I was.”

Now they’ll often work side-by-side in the evening generating leads for a half hour. In 30 minutes, they can each generate about 20 leads.

Depending on his schedule, Mark contacts about 15 leads a day. He adds the rest to his growing lead database. A steady flow of leads allows him to test different emails and steadily improve his conversion rate. Mark is well on his way to achieving both of his goals.

From side business to main business

With a semester ending, Mark is taking the rest of the year off from his studies to spend all of his extra time building his side business. That means really leveraging all of his new leads and clients.

“Today, I’m playing with some new emails. And I’m connecting with two clients to really push in and get in their heads. I’ve got more thinking to do about how I can really help these developers help their clients. I’ll be talking to small businesses, too.”

Mark’s calculated that to make the switch to full-time freelance, he’ll need fifteen regular clients given his current service offering. He’s got one now, but lots of hot leads in his sales funnel.

What happens when the former millionaire becomes 100% self-employed again?

“I’m moving to France. I don’t know French, but it’s a fantastic place to be and live. If I want to do wild and crazy things, there’s a lot of wild and crazy to have in Europe. It’s there, so why not?”

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  1. MD

    Awesome story, Mark! I personally really enjoyed Ramit’s version where he showed us how he would apply for every scholarship possible.

    I’m just curious: Has Mark thought about start a side blog to track his progress? This is a pretty interesting journey. Much more compelling than most blogs out here.

    “Millionaire… Again!”

  2. Dom

    Why did he gave it all away instead of getting some Therapy (CBT etc.)?
    He could have done nearly the same thing and kept the money.
    After all, nobody nearly cares as much about whether it was a fluke, than himself.

    It just hurts reading this.

    • Steve O

      Giving money away isn’t a waste!

  3. SuzzieQ

    Ramit will mock me for missing the point of this post, but… I really want to know where Mark learned to day trade.

    I know, I know… but in Ramit’s words, Mark was “In his mid-20’s, living in semi-retirement after early success as a day trader.”… You have my attention….

    The problem is that as with “earning more money”, googling “day trading” reveals nothing but scams. “Find out which penny stock keeps Bill Gates awake at night” and the like. What are the good (non-scam) resources out there for people who want to learn about day trading?

    • Nick Fox

      There are no secrets to day trading. It’s long, hard work. Most of the guys I know who have done it had to switch to some form of polyphasic sleep just to be able to keep up.

      It’s not about buying and selling stock if you want to be good. It’s about finding creative ways to hedge your investments (Arbitrage, Married Puts, etc) on top of copious amounts of research both into the underlying companies and macro-politcal/economic constructs that affect all things economic.

      Most people are interested in day trading as a magic bullet…it is not. You work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (There’s always something to trade, and without monitoring international markets you’ll be limiting the amount you can produce) There are a few people who go lucky during the tech boom, but there were just as many who went bust because they didn’t actually know what they’re doing.

      Now is a great time to make money in the markets…if you’re willing to put the time in (Think of it as the equivalent of 16 hours days for a decade) great! If not, stick to the long game. Buy up some undervalued blue chips, or play it safer with some indexes.

      Just learn how to hustle, and you’ll be able to repeat your success over and over. With day trading, as Mark mentioned here, he was always afraid it was a fluke…hustling is repeatable.

  4. Karla

    This article really amazes me a lot, Mark was not only able to recover what he have lost but he got something better than before.

    As for me, I keep on touch with one of the research professors from my university just to check if the processing stage has started (I personally approached him if he can take me as his Research Assistant a year ago) and for now that I have to wait until September comes just to check again if the data gathering stage is already done.

    At the same time that I’ve applied to a firm as a Field Researcher and I had to admit that I did not expect that I was accepted that easily. Currently my
    HR personnel told me to report for training and work once the project has started. (this job position is project-based)

    Right now that I’m currently working for Red Cross as a Fund Generation volunteer and Office Personnel and my mother is giving me allowance on a weekly basis. Even though that the amount is rather small, I tried my very best to manage my finances with your advice and I manage to invest a time deposit that accepts small initial deposits with decent interest rates.

    And again, Thank You So Much.

  5. Jared

    That’s an interesting story. For those that truly become wealthy themselves, it isn’t hard to start over. You have all the tools for success. Millionaires don’t become millionaires by spending frivolously and investing unwisely.

  6. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog

    very encouraging story – thank you.

    Jared’s point is bang on – those that have been there and done that know what it takes to do it. they simply “know how to make money”. such folks can restart from scratch several times over and land right back on their feet

  7. Chuck Rylant

    This is an intriguing story. This is an example that it’s not really the money that makes people happy as much as the pursuit of money that does. Overcoming new challenges and learning new stuff is what gives us passion and makes life exciting.

    • pobretão de vida ruim

      Believe me, money = happiness

  8. AJC @ 7million7years

    I’m not sure if this is what Mark is still doing: “They asked for this little, easy thing that I can do in an hour. They want me to hacker test their site and give them a logo to put on the bottom of the site when it passes.”

    If this is still the case (and, I’m not sure what is involved) then Mark is really selling a product not a service: the product is the “logo to put on the bottom of the site”. He should be able to sell the ‘seal of approval’ for $19, $29, $49, etc. (a bit of A/B testing for the optimal price point).

    Mark should be able to or (i.e. outsource offshore) the “little, easy thing that [he] can do in an hour”. Cost $4.

    Now, Mark has a high gross margin SaaS business on his hands and this can be marketed and scaled as any other similar scaleable web business. No more finding/chasing leads and delivering services in one hour increments 😉

  9. Why most business owners are not wealthy …- 7million7years

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  10. Sophie

    This article sounds a lot like my boyfriend’s boss. He went from a millionaire then two years later to living out of Motel 6. Now he’s back to the 6 digits. Millions don’t last forever, so try for the billions 😉

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