Stop running away from your past and start embracing it!

time line of the past

Is it just me, or are people constantly running away from their past? Whether it is failures that took place or the steps that got them to where they are today, many people just don’t like discussing their past. I feel that your past is what makes you who you are, so why try to hide from it. By letting people know who you are and all of the things you went through, they will be more likely to connect with you.

For example, Patrick Gavin was the owner of Text Link Ads before he sold it to Media Whiz. No one really knew how he got there and many people thought he had an easy past. So he decided to break down the history of how he got there:

I got involved in Internet marketing in 2001 helping my family business, which specialized in buying and selling antique bricks. At the time pay per click advertising was very young. I was able to quickly and cheaply get exposure for our reclaimed brick business across the major search engines. That traffic helped turn what was a local business into a national business shipping these unique bricks coast to coast…

Now your story may not be as inspiring as Patrick’s, but nonetheless, it is your history. By putting your past out there more people will get to know you on a personal level. I know many of you may still be reluctant to go forward with your past, so I’ll take the first plunge by sharing my ‘shady’ past:

As a little kid I always cared about money. I never knew what I really wanted to do when I grew up, but I knew I wanted lots of money.

So when I started high school I always looked for opportunities to make a quick buck. I noticed that students used to by CDs and DVDs, and during this time period I was able to download them on the Internet before they came out. At first my friends used to ask me to burn them a copy of whatever I downloaded, but then I started selling them for a few dollars to the public.

After selling pirated media to students, I then learned that many of the male students where looking for a constant supply of porn. Most of these students used the web to find porn or watched cable TV at night, in hopes that there would be naked chicks. To make life easier for these individuals I decided to buy black boxes in bulk from Ebay and start selling them to porn lovers.

Although the money from selling black boxes was great, I realized that this business was not scalable. So I decided to invest my money into a .com venture that would compete with

Within a few months of launching my job board, I learned that you actually have to drive traffic to a website to make it popular. I did not understood how to drive traffic to a website, which lead me to hire an Internet marketing firm.

After paying an Internet marketing firm, I ended up getting no extra visitors to my website. And with very little money left, I picked up a job at Knott’s Berry Farm, which entailed picking up trash, cleaning restrooms, and sweeping up vomit. With all my money I collected, I invested in 2 more Internet marketing firms hoping that I would gain some results, but I came away with nothing.

I then became tired of being burned by marketing companies so I started learning search engine optimization and optimized my own site. Within a few months my rankings started to increase, but sadly my job board still did not make any money.

With no money left, I was considering giving up at this point. My new goal was to finish college as fast as possible and get into the work force so I could make more money. In that spirit I decided to take college classes at a community college while I was in high school so I could graduate faster.

The first class that I took was a speech class, which took place at night. One of the requirements in the class was to give speeches, so I decided to give a speech on search engines and why certain sites rank towards the top. Luckily one of the individuals in the class worked at a Power Supply manufacture called Elpac and he asked me if I was looking for a consulting gig. I gladly accepted and within a short period of time I was getting paid $3500 a month for a few hours of work.

When I got my first paycheck I started to think about how I could make more money by offering search engine optimization services to other companies. But the problem with doing so was that I was still in high school and companies would not take me serious.

I then decided to partner up with my brother in law (who is 4 years older than me) and start a marketing company called ACS And that is how I got to where I am today.

Hopefully Patrick’s and my story encourages you to share your past. Anyone else want to share their past?

P.S. We all learn from our mistakes. If you want help using your mistakes to grow your brand check this out.


  1. being involved in internet gambling has a stigma to it for sure. In any other industry I would be on the cover of magazines. I actually do think my business model will apply to traditional forms of marketing but I am too busy to explore that now.

    In addition to what you are saying, what you learn becomes your “wheelhouse”, while I have learned a few things about search engine optimization my strengths are around network marketing. In all of my businesses (I was big into Beanie Babies as well, thus the name) it is my attention span that takes me away from how I really make money.

    When I was in mortgages I was known as the cheesecake guy because I would send cheesecake’s to the wife and husband when they locked a loan. If you sent it to just one their coworkers would never see it. Other than cheesecakes, gift certs to netflix and starbucks gift cards I didn’t spend one nickle on marketing. Well, unless you count my assistant who has been with me for about 6 years now.

  2. My past is on my About page. I agree; sharing is a good thing.

  3. “In this great future you can’t forget your past” – Bob Marley

    I would share my past but it’s not that interesting yet. When I get somewhere someday I will be sure to share my story with the public.

    • Your past may not be interesting to you, but it could be interesting for other people. The great thing about sharing pasts is that you read others and learn from them.

  4. Neil… you don’t mention HOW you learned SEO so I will. πŸ˜‰

    Many folks early in the industry have stories about this bizarre but brilliant high school kid who would call over and over again to talk about one facet of SEO or another.

    These conversations often stretched in to quarter and half-hour sessions with Neil giving as much information and innovation as he got. Interesting and persistent, Neil’s conversations with active SEOs had a major impact on the way we were thinking and (at least in my case), what I was writing.

    I think Neil was one of the first real fans of SEO. Now the lil’ bugger is a freakin’ rockstar. Neat eh?

    • Thanks for sharing more on the Neil Patel story. πŸ™‚

      You were one of the great ones that I constantly talked to, which helped me learn all about SEO. Thanks for teaching me ropes! I’ll never forget it.

    • Articles Spinning :

      Ha ha ha, Jim, thanks for “letting the SEO cat out of the bag” πŸ™‚ But seriously – Neil has EARNED his way to the top of SEO. Kudos to him for “giving as much information and innovation as he got” during those days.

      • If it wasn’t for people like Jim, I wouldn’t be where I am at today. πŸ˜‰

        • sell textbooks :

          Jim is a great guy. I have learned a bunch from him as well. He is rather easy to get into a discussion about SEO too, so it’s easy to pick his brain. As for letting the cat out of the bag I think Hypertext would be offended. lol. Neil did earn his way to the top as well as many others.

  5. I too have a similar background. Where you come from is what determines your moxy and how willing you are to succeed. I am most impressed with the people that have overcome adversity and built something on their own without the help of Daddy’s money.

    • I don’t think using Daddy’s money is a bad thing. If you are lucky enough for your parents being able to help out, I think it is a good idea to take it.

      Many times others think people had it easy by using their parent’s money, but this is not always true. For example when I got started I borrowed money from my parents (interest free), but I had to pay it back. Plus I had to constantly answer to my parents and take their business input even if I did not agree with it.

      And to top it off after you give back their money, they still keep on asking tons of questions.

      • If it’s any consolation, Guy Kawasaki’s speech at a CA high school graduation included 10 things to remember…of which #10 is live off your parents as long as possible! πŸ˜€

  6. I am sharing my past in a presentation this weekend called Internet Marketers Can Change the World. You can view the slides at

    • Great presentation. Two things I would consider doing is reducing the amount of text on each slide so people pay more attention to you, and secondly I would add your contact information on the last slide.

  7. Ingrid Riley :

    I can so relate…I thought the one on my blog was kind of stodgy so I said…come on Ingrid… be real…you’re Jamaican…loose up man! so I did..I have the official sounding one and I have the story telling or as we say here dubplate version about why and how I came into blogging.

    Thanks for this timely reminder Neil.

  8. Good post Neil! I have to agree on this topic! Don’t run away from your past, learn from it

  9. One of the interesting pieces of my past happened back in 1991 when I worked for Larry Flynt Publications. Just as the Internet was going from graphical bullitan boards to the webbrowser I was trying to negotiate a contract to get the magazine content on the World Wide Web. If anyone knows what the web was like in 1991 there were a few thousand sites. The president of the company at the time canned the proposal saying there was no way that putting the magazine content on the Internet would make money.

    • Only if they would have listened to you. They would have made millions more and you would have been rewarded for having a great idea.

  10. great post.

  11. Ahh, Here is mine.
    Might not be interesting like yours.

    I came from rural part of the Himalayan Country Nepal. I always came first in my class in the school in my village and even topped the school few times. I had to work hard in home and then go school because I was living with my 70 years old Grandma. I worked a lot in home and always came first so, everybody thought I was the most brilliant student in my small village.
    I wanted to be a computer engineer. When I finished my school my dad retired and returned village. So I became free because my parents where there to take care of my granny. I then jumped to the city. I had always known that if I become a computer engineer then I would make a lot of money. So I joined Computer Engineering. Money was not a problem for me at that time, my dad would sent me anything I want. As soon as I finished 2 semester of computer engineering I didn’t found that like what I thought. The curricular was very bad, I would learn the whole stuff in a month which they have in 6 month curriculum. So I stopped attending class. I topped almost all the practical classes and failed in theory class.

    I started spending all the time in Internet which was free . I met a friend who told me that I can make money from Internet sitting in my classroom. And thats where I started. I joined different webmaster forums. And started to write content for people. Soon, I realized that I was making more than what my father made in a month. I started a lot of blogs. Made money from ads. And later I also tried PPP and Review me stuffs. I learned SEO. Which helped me a lot to make more money from blog advertising. I worked as a freelancer SEO for several websites. I learned affiliate marketing later. I though I am a really good learner when I made 50$ from affiliate in my first month.

    Now, I almost stopped blogging. My friends look after my blogs these days. Stopped going college which I might soon rejoin.I am currently working as a freelance SEO, I look after daily operations in a big social networking site and doing affiliate things. I run a small web design business with friend. And trying to master in Affiliate Marketing.

    And I am no more the old brilliant student for my parents because I left college. They think a 19 years old boy should be in school, not in work.

    • Our life is actually some what similar. When I first started college I was a computer science major and after a year I switched majors because I hated it.

      And just like you I haven’t finished college yet. My parents believe I need to get a degree and not worry about making money.

  12. I went to a wealthy all boy’s junior high. I had a friend who went to a different school and his older brother would buy pornos. I would buy them from him for $10/mag and resell for $30.

    In high school and throughout college I would find the smartest kid in the class to take class notes and I would take book notes, compile it all and then give a copy to the smart kid and sell study packs before finals.

    In college I would throw parties once a month to pay rent for the house I lived in. Would get all the guys in the three story house to open up their floor. Basement was a funk band and a keg. 1st floor was techno DJ, a keg and an open bar. 2nd floor was hip-hop DJ, bar and keg. Third floor was bong and mellow music. $3 to get in the door, all you could drink. We made thousands every time. Eventually got paid by other people to throw parties.

    Now I use that experience online to help match needs.

  13. That sounds good. Now what do you do? A.?

    Since I was 12 when my parents owned a small pub in a busy street. I operated a pool table right outside of the pub for a whole summer. I charge dollar for 9 ball game or 2 for an hour. I was so good at playing pool and after 2 months I use to play people for 5 bucks and more.

    When I was 15 I went to Hong Kong with my big brother. That is when we started to help Mongolians ship tens and thousands of containers to Mongolia all packed with old cars.
    At the time the Pakistani and Hong Kong yard owners used to call me Mr.Thomas although I was just a kid to them I brought good business.

    The Mongolian Tax on second hand cars were quite high but we cheated by taking off 7 parts of the car such as axle’s, wheels, steering wheel, break system etc, that way it doesn’t count as a car but it’s brought in as a car body and the tax is only 500$ per vehicle.
    Which was not bad because at the time in Hong Kong you can buy car’s and ship’ em here to Mongolia and sell it and made 1 grand from each vehicle.

    I used to talk to yard owners before coming over with a Mongolian customer. I would write down each vehicle prices and add my own amount. When I come down to the yards with people who are buying over 20 vehicles each The yard owners last price will usually be my price and I used to get my commission from the paid amount.

    It was good till the tax law changed.

  14. paul sanchez :


    This helped me think through some things. I’m debating to share all my ups and downs on a blog of mine. I’m a little embarrassed to share some of the downs. After reading your post I think I should definitely share the downs because I think it would help a lot of people. I think people would also connect with me.

  15. Brett Borders :

    I was old-school, BBS-era hacker who got burned out online and decided to take several years off of computers. I came back in 2005 and decided the time to get serious about the web game! I worked for a SEO company for a while and this year I finally started to get enough leads and search traffic to take on clients and develop domains for myself.


    Neil, I have been reading your blogs and podcasts since you started with Pronet and Rush Hour… and I really look forward to meeting you at SMX Social Media. See you there!

  16. Wow, what a past! I agree that more people need to share the story of how they came about, because it will help all of us learn. When I started with making web sites over at freewebs, I didn’t know anything about driving traffic – not to mention blogs, web design or anything else about the web. It was through experience and failure that I have been able to understand how things work on the web.a

    It’s pretty neat that you were able to spawn a career like that from such a non-Web 2.0 past. Didn’t you still have difficulties with people taking you seriously after starting your business?

    • Yea, I still have a problem with people taking me serious. I think a lot of it has to do with my age and me still looking like a kid.

      I think the only solution for this is to mature faster.

  17. Mathieu Burgerhout :

    Not really convinced to embrace my whole past but willing to exchange some πŸ˜‰

  18. You are right Neil. I wanted to become a doctor but somehow landed in IT field. I got a bit disoriented in the beginning but then I began to like my present and now I am an enthusiastic developer. Past is what have gone but it had taught you some lesson. Present is a gift and that’s why its called as present. Must live in present and with what you have and must enjoy past memories. Past can be a guide, a friend. And who knows about the future. But should not hide past. Combining past and present brings real self of us what we are and going to become.

  19. hey there’s nothing wrong with making money off of pirated CD’s Neil.. we’ve all done it πŸ˜‰

  20. Richard Branson also got his start in selling CD’s – through a catalogue (not pirated as far as I know), but just goes to show you can start simple, get a feel for business, then expand your empire.

    • Hopefully I will follow in his foot steps and be as successful as him.

      • Branson is clearly not overly intelligent or formally educated (so his level of success should be able to be replicated by anyone), he’s just willing to take risks. What makes him succeed more than others I havn’t quite put my finger on, but probably has a lot to do with having no fear of failure.

  21. Articles Spinning :

    Wow, very interesting story, Neil. I found this after reading your latest “7 Reasons My First Business Failed” post. I can see you have been a go-getter right from time and it’s no wonder why you are going up and up and up. Keep going, Neil… and thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

  22. Work At Home :

    Excellent story Neil. The truth is you have to start somewhere before you get somewhere. Many people who struggle through understanding, but come out clean on the other end as long as you stay focused.

  23. there is a movie with bruce willies, i dont remember the name, its the one that he finds himself at the age of 8
    he is an image consultor, and meets a southern woman in a plane, she wants to be a news presentor, and asks his advice, he realises she is trying to cover her accent so he tells her not to do it, the first thing people will notice is the accent and will make her stand out
    our past it something similar, it makes us unique and thats always helpful

  24. Good post Neil! I have to agree on this topic! DonÒ€ℒt run away from your past, learn from it,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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