Ken Roberts joined a digital agency as employee #3 and scaled the business to over 1 million dollars in yearly revenue while serving as Director of Marketing. After hitting this awesome milestone, Ken quit his job to travel the world and start his own business.
Now Ken is a partner at Personalincome.org, a financial education blog, and Crazyleaf Design, a design resource blog. He is also a Google All Star Competition winner and Slater Technology Fund Entrepreneurship Fellow.
In this entrepreneur interview, Ken shares his first business idea as a kid, how he got into running Personal Income and how he keeps it one step ahead of its competitors. Enjoy!
What was your first business idea? Is there a biggest lesson you learned from it?
I came up with my first business idea as a kid. We used to play with Nintendo Gameboys on the bus (this is how we played video games before smartphones). They took small AAA batteries so you could only play for a day or so before replacing them.
I invented a battery pack that allowed you to hookup two C or D batteries to a Gameboy, which would last for weeks. I never intended on selling it, but all of my friends started offering me their lunch money to make them one and I even made it on the local news!
The biggest lesson: Focus on solving an everyday problem that is near and dear to you. If you can do that, the money and publicity will find you.
You recently acquired Personal Income. What makes it better than before?
When we acquired PersonalIncome.org, the blog hadn’t been updated for a long time and the content was really lacking visuals. We’ve been creating infographics and new posts to help the world learn financial concepts as well as grow their own personal income.
How did you plan your business? Did you use specific business software to help you in the process?
Software is really the key to automating and growing our business. Google sheets and Trello are simple yet effective free project management tools. All of our processes, SOPs, and plans live in there. When planning, focus on the “Pareto Principle”. What’s the 20% of your business to focus on that will drive 80% more results?
It’s too easy to plan on doing everything, and end up doing nothing.
How would you generate new ideas for Personal Income? Is there something you wanted to do different or better than your competitors?
Keyword research is an important part of our idea generation process. There are two free tools you can use for this step: Google Keyword Planner and Buzzsumo.
What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting Personal Income?
Waking up early is an excellent habit to get into. If you look at the top CEOs – Tim Cook, Jack Dorsey, Richard Branson and more – they wake up early and get twice as much done while the rest of the world sleeps. Also, don’t check your email when you first get up. That’s a rabbit hole you don’t want to go down.
Instead, pick the most important thing you have to do, get it done, and then you can answer silly emails when you’re sleepy in the afternoon. Sometimes they’ll have even answered themselves by then.
What was your biggest business mistake and how you did you come out stronger at the end of the day?
One of my biggest business mistakes as an entrepreneur is trying to do everything myself. It’s really difficult to scale a business alone, and I’ve failed at that in the past. Having partners makes a huge difference. You can bounce ideas off each other, specialize in different areas of the business, and grow much faster.
What are your visions for Personal Income? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, we’d like to double Personal Income’s revenue. I see it as a hub for financial information with more visual and interactive content.
What makes Personal Income unique from others? How did you find your competitive advantage?
The design and content of Personal Income are huge assets. A lot of competitors in this space look dated because they are.
How do you stay focused on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a key motivator that keeps you going and fighting the good fight?
My secret to staying focused is Pomodoros. A Pomodoro is a 20 minute work session (some do 40 minutes for bigger tasks). You set a timer, and if you get interrupted you have to start over. This allows you to focus and really get a specific task done. It’s helpful for me because I jump all over the place, from task to task. Without it, I’d end up with a bunch of half done items on my to do list.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in California? Where should they start?
Before you invest a ton of time (or money), do a quick test to validate the business. You don’t even need a product built at this stage or an LLC, just an idea and a website.
Run the test with targeted Facebook ads or if it’s a local business you can hang up flyers with a free Google Voice number that forwards to your real number on it. Your goal is to collect emails and numbers. Assume 20% of these callers/subscribers will actually become customers. Did you acquire enough theoretical customers to pay for your ads, expenses, and then some for profit? If so, start your business!