Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 online marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. He was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 by the United Nations. Neil has also been awarded Congressional Recognition from the United States House of Representatives.
My life story
I was born on April 24, 1985, in London, England. From the beginning, I had entrepreneurship in my blood, but I’ll get into that a bit later. When I was two years old, my parents decided to move to sunny Orange County, California. At first, we struggled a bit just like most first-generation Indians. My mom’s first job was a non-paid teaching gig, to which she had to walk a few miles every day with my sister and me. My dad, on the other hand, worked for one of my uncles. His job didn’t pay much, but we were grateful for the opportunity my uncle gave him. Because of my mom’s tenacious nature and my dad’s work ethic, my sister and I were able to live a middle class lifestyle.
Throughout my childhood, I was surrounded by entrepreneurs. All of my uncles on my mom’s side had multiple businesses, which led them all to be successful. My uncle’s entrepreneurship rubbed off on my mom, and she started her own home daycare business. Although she was successful at it, mom’s business never revenued more than 100k a year, and my dad was satisfied with his average job. This meant my sister and I would not live a “rich” lifestyle.
Growing up, I was always thinking about what I could do to change my lifestyle. For years, I couldn’t come up with anything, but during my first year at John F. Kennedy High School, things started to get better.
My cousin, who is a year older than me, was selling burned music CDs to students. I saw that he was making a few bucks, so I started doing the same thing within my freshmen class, but I tried to be a bit more careful by not selling pirated media. I quickly realized that I could only make a few dollars a CD, so as a more profitable venture, I started selling black boxes.
Soon after, I was known as the kid in high school who was selling black boxes. I then decided to capitalize on this by purchasing cable black boxes in quantity on eBay and then selling them to my classmates as well as their parents. Business was booming, and I made a few grand in profit.
Realizing that there wasn’t a long-term career in selling things that could be potentially classified as “illegal”, I decided to get into a legitimate business. I noticed that many of the kids in my school were fixing up their cars with after-market parts, so I decided to get into reselling automotive parts. I picked up a resellers permit from the State Board of Equalization, which allowed me to buy car parts at a discount and sell them to other students.
The Corporate Life
Because my income from my businesses was not stable, I decided to get a “real” job. I was only fifteen, and the only local place I could find a job at was Knott’s Berry Farm, in the park services department. The department I worked in sounded cool, but I was in charge of picking up trash, emptying trash cans, cleaning restrooms and sweeping up vomit. Although the job was less than glorious, I loved it because I got paid a few cents more per hour for cleaning the restrooms compared to most of the other jobs at Knott’s Berry Farm.
After three months of working at Knott’s, I quit and found a job at Quality Systems. This job didn’t give me any steady income, but the job paid a few hundred dollars in commission per sale. I was selling $1,600 Kirby vacuums. I went door to door, trying to convince home owners to let me clean their carpets for free. If they did, I would then sell them on the vacuum after shampooing their carpet. After doing this for a month or so, shockingly I sold a vacuum to an Indian couple (I was surprised because generally Indians are cheap). But after a week, reality kicked in, and they returned the vacuum.
Realizing that an average American could not afford to buy a $1,600 vacuum, I decided to look for other career opportunities. My sister was working for an Oracle consultant locally, and she introduced me to him. I found out that as an Oracle consultant, my sister’s boss was billing companies $125-250.00 an hour. I was shocked to hear how much he was making, which led the entrepreneur within me to come out once again. I tried to figure out how I could also make that much as a high school student, so I turned to Monster.com and started looking for Oracle consulting jobs. The problem was I had no clue what Oracle was.
Instead of finding a job on Monster.com, I learned about Monster.com’s business model and that they were making hundreds of millions of dollars. As a kid, I thought that if I could even make 1% of what they did, I would be rich. This led me to start my own job board called Advice Monkey. After spending $5,000.00 to build the job board, I launched it and learned that I have to market a site for it to be successful.
Knowing that I needed some help with marketing, I hired an Internet marketing firm. Within a few months, I realized that they were taking my money and doing nothing valuable in exchange, so I fired them. I then hired two more firms, who also provided little to no results.
Because Internet marketers I had hired had taken all my money, I decided to learn Internet marketing myself. Within a few months, I became pretty good at it. Advice Monkey started to become popular, but it never succeeded because the site was not set up to take credit card transactions.
A New Life
My sister was still working for the Oracle consultant and kept telling me how much money he was making. I then decided that I was going to take that career path and open my own Oracle consulting company. Unfortunately, I had two major roadblocks in my way: I was nowhere near 18 years old, and I didn’t have a college degree.
With my sister’s help, I started taking general education college courses at Cypress Community College while in high school. My goal was to finish college in 2.5 years.
My first college class was Speech 101, in which I had to give three speeches on any topic of my choice. One of the speeches I gave was on how search engines work. After hearing my speech, one of the individuals in the class asked me if I wanted to consult Elpac Electronics on their Internet marketing strategy. Using my sales skills that I learned from selling vacuums door to door, I was able to lock them into a $3,500 a month consulting gig. Realizing that I could make a lot of money and change my lifestyle by doing Internet marketing for companies, I decided to start up an Internet marketing company with my sister’s boyfriend (now her husband).
The Good Life
My business partner and I got a bit lucky as the owner of Elpac had a son who owned an ad agency. The son heard about the results we provided for his father’s company, and soon enough more marketing contracts started coming our way.
The Internet marketing company began to take off. Still being a kid, I thought I was “rolling in dough”. With the money I made, I started investing in a few other companies. I invested around a million dollars into a hosting company called Vision Web Hosting that never worked out. Sadly, I lost all of the money I invested into it. After realizing investing wasn’t for us, my business partner and I took the rest of the money we made and created another company called Crazy Egg. Crazy Egg created a lot of buzz when it came out, and I surely thought I would end up selling it for ten million dollars because we were getting so much interest from Fortune 1,000 companies.
When we weren’t able to get an asking price of ten million dollars for Crazy Egg, my business partner and I decided that we were going to raise venture capital because Crazy Egg wasn’t a profitable company.
After pitching Crazy Egg to venture capitalists for six months, I realized no one was going to invest in it. Because of this, we had no choice but to figure out how to make Crazy Egg profitable.
The Mad Man Life
Because we needed income to make up for the losses in Crazy Egg, we continued to run our Internet marketing agency. Although we were making millions from the consulting company, none of us really enjoyed what we were doing.
I personally was attending college during this time as a full time student while working 60+ hours a week. To top it off, I was traveling almost every week and speaking at over 50 conferences a year by this point.
Luckily enough, Crazy Egg started to do well financially, and we quickly learned how lucrative software companies could be due to the recurring income. You just have to give each software company a few years to take off. Because we didn’t enjoy being consultants, we decided to get back into creating more software companies.
We decided to create and invest in software that solved problems companies were facing. Our ideas ranged from software applications that could help manage companies marketing budget to the first podcast advertising business.
Unlike our Crazy Egg startup, our newer software ventures didn’t seem to work out. The development firm that was supposed to build one of our software companies never completed the job. And although the podcast advertising business was up and running, the guy who was running it wasn’t passionate about it even though it was his idea. In the end, when we had interest from a few companies who wanted to buy the business, nothing ever came of it because the CEO of that business wasn’t interested in working for someone else…even if he got a decent pay day.
The Simple Lifestyle
Eventually, we learned that Crazy Egg succeeded while our other software companies didn’t because of two reasons: not only does it solve a unique problem that enough businesses are experiencing, but it does so in a very simple way.
With our new found knowledge, we decided to create another analytics company that would solve a much larger problem than what Crazy Egg solved. Crazy Egg was doing well, but it was never going to be that billion dollar company because the market size for that one product is very limited.
The product that we happened to come up with was KISSmetrics. Funny enough, we were able to get funding for it through True Ventures to whom I once pitched Crazy Egg and who decided not to fund that company.
Over the last few years, KISSmetrics has been growing. We released a few more software products under that brand. We also raised a bit more venture capital from a few other venture firms and a few prominent angel investors in Silicon Valley.
I’m currently spending all of my time on KISSmetrics, and I am working on creating that billion dollar company. I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell me what the future holds for me, but I don’t have one.
Luckily enough, I have made more money than I have lost, and I have been able to leverage that money into investments like apartment complexes, .com companies, the stock market, hedge funds, brick and mortar businesses, venture capital funds and, best of all, my parents. I hope my investments will pay off so that I can continue to do what I am doing and not work for anyone else.
Over the next few years, my number one goal is to share what I have learned with you so that you can have an even better life than I do.
Although I love being an entrepreneur, sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to do it forever. I probably have a few more good startups in me, but after that, I want to focus on the non-profit world. See, I was born with a gift: I am able to help websites get a ton of eyeballs on the web. My hope is I can take that gift and help non-profits get enough eyeballs to their websites so that people like you can help change more lives.
I hope my story inspires you to do something with your life. You don’t have to be rich to be happy. You just need to love what you do.
Best of luck with your entrepreneurial career! And feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.