Ariel Hochstadt, the co-founder of vpnMentor and Website Planet, tells us why he left Google to found his own enterprise, explains how to convey transparency, and shares his tips for novice affiliates.
Ariel Hochstadt is the co-founder of vpnMentor and Website Planet, the two large websites offering information and honest, real-experience reviews and comparisons on VPN and website solutions worldwide, respectively.
Ariel worked as a global marketing manager at Google, and is a successful international speaker, giving lectures in more than 15 countries for Google and independently as an SEO expert.
Ariel is also the author of 3 published books on computers and the internet, and an advocate for online privacy.
Table of Contents
From Marketing Manager to Affiliate Websites
Eight years ago, Ariel was a regional marketing manager at Google — a position that few would easily give up on. But then he chose another direction, left Google and founded his own affiliate enterprise. What made him make this transition?
“Well, to be an entrepreneur is something I always had in me. It’s like a virus you have in you. And even when I worked for Google and was probably the best dang working place, anyone wants to work for. I always wanted to implement the ideas, and those are hard to implement in a corporate; that’s the way things are going. And I always wanted to do something for myself. So it cooked, it boiled and eventually, I asked my wife, ‘what do you think?’. She said ‘you have to do it for yourself.’ And I left the company. I must say that working for an organization like that really trained me, and they educated me about the potential that the global websites have because, in Google, I started in Israel. Then I moved to manage also teams in South Africa and Greece.
And quickly, I noticed that it’s the same users, very similar user behavior despite whatever they tell you about cultural differences. Very, very similar behavior. And then when I got the 20% project that quickly became most of my work of junior marketing, I saw that even in countries like Indonesia and Africa and the other places we do the same marketing and the one product fits everybody. So I thought, Hey, we can do global websites from here, from Tel Aviv, and they scaled because the Israeli market is very small and doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities.”
Was it intimidating though to leave such a great company, such a great workplace as you mentioned, embarking on your own independent path?
“Definitely. And I’m very careful from advising others to do so. I think it worked for me, but both me and my partner, we had a few times where the company was close to shut down because it’s a lot about luck and not always do you have the luck. So now we are seven or eight years after, and we both left stable jobs. The company is flourishing, and I can say, ‘Okay, we did it.’ But it was very, very, very close to not succeeding. And I don’t know if my son would ever want to live a corporate, I would tell them, yeah, go for it. Because You hear the story, you guys interview me now. You don’t interview all those people that left Google more or less at the same time, and their business failed, and they are not Less smart or hardworking than I am.”
Starting an Affiliate Business
Many people want to walk the same path that Ariel took, and oparate a successful affiliate website or network that generate money as they sleep. But how did it all start?
“Well, at the beginning we had an idea of creating money from AdSense. Okay? Ads, creating content, putting on ads and generating a revenue from that. And I must say it started well, but it became really, really rough. We initially thought, ‘let’s index the non-index pages. Meaning let’s find web apps that if you put something inside, it outputs something, but it doesn’t index the page. Meaning Google doesn’t know the output page so it can’t link to it. Let’s say index this page let’s say, copy the content, paste it, of course if it’s legal and give a result. So it was pretty simple. We looked at the Google maps, they had an API, we entered 7 million geographical points of interest that we downloaded free from the USA geographical association, or whatever. And we instantly had 7 million maps of every small place in the world: a river, a mountain or whatever.
And we indexed it, we called it images of mountain XO, maps of this small place in, Cyprus. And we were the only website that had that information because Google at the time, they didn’t know to show a user their own maps. They didn’t ask.”
That was before Google Earth.
“It was before Google implemented the rich snippet that when you search now today, any map of something, they show you the real map. So we did it for them and people came and people clicked the ads. Similarly, we did that in a few other verticals and it worked pretty well. But at some point in time we talked and we said, a hundred percent of our visits come from Google, 100% of our revenue arrives from Google. Now that’s not a good place to be. And Google is dominating those markets, so if one day Google decides they don’t like you anymore, you can not switch to an alternative.
So we moved away from this model and we wanted to work directly with the clients that paid Google. Hence we entered the affiliate Arena. We had a few attempts in that, that vertical. And all of them it was always about let’s turn to the global audience. Let’s not just do it in English. Let’s do it in other languages, because we believe that it’s very hard to do. It’s very hard to translate. It’s very hard to localize. It’s very hard. And many times it doesn’t pay off to translate to small language like Ukrainian or Hebrew or Hungarian. But if you walk in the mass, it’s scale then you start having your own in-house translators and you pay them a bit less, but you know the quality is high because you provide them a full time work for years.
Then we are able to create the economies of scale and when it’s a differentiator no one can easily close. So we wanted to enter projects that there would not be a guy, 16 years old, sitting somewhere, smarter than us, and say ‘You know what, I’ll build a website and beat those guys’. It’s always very costly to enter the market, it’s always takes you two years to really start seeing results. So we know not everyone can compete. And we also know people are often lazy, and expect to see the impact the following day, to take a lotion and wake up the next morning beautiful. And so we did the hard stuff. The stuff that takes a lot of time, the stuff that takes a lot of money but it did prove to be working for us.”
How to Convey Honesty
How does Ariel promote and market honesty and how does he show that what he does, , is an actual and honest review?
“It’s very, very, very hard. It’s like asking a car salesman, how do you convey trust? You start talking with a car salesperson and you come in defense. ‘Okay, he’s going to sell me something’. So you are touching a very sensitive point that I tell the people here, it’s like politics. You know, some of Trump supporters you can persuade to vote for the Democrats. And some of the Democrats say, I don’t know who was going for presidency there, you will never be able to tell these guys they are wrong and they should vote for the Republicans. The first thing is letting go and understanding that there is a big group of users that would never believe me, no matter what I would do. When I’m sharing it on Facebook or telling people they are like, ‘yeah, you’re trying to make money from affiliates’, they would never believe me
And you know what? I don’t blame them. I don’t blame them because the industries are doing a lot of things that are not honest and also I don’t need them. I don’t need everybody in the world to buy hosting. I’m not trying to persuade my mom to buy hosting server for her non-existing website. So the moment I let go and I understand I need to persuade only one segment that is open to believe, I need to prove them. I call it reason to believe. We can’t just write Hostinger has an amazing support while Shithost did not have not a good support. We show them screenshots. We ask the same question over chat for Hostinger and for Shithost. Sorry, it’s a general name. We call small very not good hosting and you see from the response, we don’t tell people the response we got from Hostinger was more serious, we show them.
We showed them that the true story we ask for SSL certificate. I don’t remember if it was SiteGround or Hostinger, I think Hostinger, judge me if I’m wrong, that one of the local hosting EA gave an SSL certificate and our guy, he contacted us again said ‘Hey those guys are giving it. So the guys in Hostinger, I hope I’m not destroying now your business and everybody would ask for free certificates’. They gave him the free certificate. So we show it, we show this is the response from the support and you know, people see that we’re real. We put all the websites that we built there, 10 websites and we link to them and we told users to go on and test app time.’Go try on your own. Why believing our tests?”
You can check, you can put those websites in, you can check the app time, you can check the speed, you can check everything. So people see you are serious. People see that what you do. And by the way, there are two more things that we’re going to do. We did a logo and research. We tested all the tools that create logos for you including fiber that you get at the designer. We paid one $5, we paid one $20, one we paid $500 I think. We really tested all the services you can do to create website, Planet Logo and we said whatever is the logo that we decide upon, we are going to change our logo for the website because, in Google we called it ‘eat your own dog food’. So this is how you convey trust”.
Tips for Novice Affiliates
We asked Ariel whether he has any tips for those wanting to a start their own affiliation enterprise. Should they follow some rules that are also valid to other topics?
“Yes. Well first of all, start with a niche. Small niche. Okay? Not something that the big guys are competing. I see it and it drives me crazy. We do a better job already, but it takes us two years to penetrate the market. So most people don’t have their patience. Start with a niche that there aren’t so many competitors that Google will give you a chance at faster or Facebook or whatever. A niche that you know, that you can bring value to the community. Something new. So a deeper research. The same as I just described, we did with the logos. We actually tested 20 logo makers. They, it takes a lot of time, but if you don’t have time, if you are not up to it, get a different job. That’s, the job. I would also tell people, you know, don’t do it.
Most of the affiliates don’t make it. Don’t believe those dreams. I really don’t think that anybody needs to do that. I don’t think that anybody that has a dream to make money needs to do that. And if you don’t know how to do it, go work for a company that does it already, learn from their experience, you know, show yourself that you’re very good in that and go for it. You know, in Gmail I had a campaign of, it was Google paying themselves for the ads, which was global campaign, nobody cares how much you paying for the ads because it’s Google. But I saw I was able to play with other people’s money and Google’s money, which didn’t even pay itself, and see and learn from a global campaign. So when I opened the business with my partner, I had a relevant experience. So go work for a company, play with their money. Understand on their expense, and then open your own your own business if you really believe you can. But I’ll be honest with you, it’s getting harder and harder. Things we did seven years ago today we can’t do, we need to change all the time.
What are the basic team members or skills that you need if you’re managing yourself or you’re managing a small team that you have to have to get an affiliate project started and on their way to success.
So you need to write amazing content and you need to market it. It’s not enough to put it there. You need to get people to link to it. You need to get people to mention it. For example, nobody cares for yet another review of whatever hosting company, it’s not interesting. It’s not a story. What we did. We took a hacker, we tried a few services. We hacked the biggest brand: BlueHost, OVH, iPage. We managed to hack it and show how easy it is to hack them. So it was a stowing, you know, Tech Hunch published it. Newspapers all over the world published it because this was the news, how easy it is to hack your hosting service. Obviously, referring to your question, those guys didn’t like it, but we didn’t point fingers. We said, we probably can a hack any web hosting service.
We just pick those guys because they are big. But here we created the news. Okay, we created the marketing. I see many times people are good in content or people are good in marketing and you need a combination of all of that. Or a team that can build a website that would be amazing. Write the content and do the marketing. Yep, it’s not easy.”