As a website by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, we come across a lot of fan mail by aspiring and established entrepreneurs. Recently we got a message from our loyal reader, Robert Himler, who wanted to share with us his latest creation aimed to redefine the image hosting industry with a twist. What sets Robert apart from many entrepreneurs is that he’s had success early on which has earned him his FOURTH Lamborghini Gallardo before he’s even allowed to legally drink alcohol. Robert shares his success story this month and tells us about his next big venture Razzi.
What’s your background look like Robert?
I just turned 20 years old last month and have always been interested in the web. Currently my occupation consists of being a full time student (graduating this July with a Bachelors of Science in Web Design and Development) and working on all of my online ventures between schoolwork. My hobbies include computers, photography, golfing, exotic cars, and playing hockey.
You seem to be an entrepreneur at heart. Where did that come from?
From age 9 and on I was always absolutely consumed with the computer. It all began with my Mom attending a class at the local YWCA where she took a class on selling items on eBay. I picked up the skill from her and would buy items, find items around the house, etc and resell them for a profit. I did this for years throughout my childhood and then had many other “small businesses” as a kid… plowing driveways with my quad, cutting grass, etc. Always had a business mindset.
What was your first website about and what did it look like?
Like all of my other ideas to date, it was created for a need. All of my friends in my neighborhood and I had basketball teams and would compete on the weekends and after school in these mini tournaments. So everyone could see rosters, game schedules, and general news I made a website to publish all of this information. Looking at it now I laugh hysterically, but I do still have all of the source code and graphics! We’re not gonna show those though ;)
It looks like you turned a hobby into business. What was your first legitimate business website?
In 2007 I found my first real “online business” iCarHomepage which allowed users to set their homepage to random pictures of their favorite car with a custom Google search engine (before Google stole this idea ;))… as it began to grow going into my senior year of high school I did “work study” where I could leave school at 10AM and go work on the business as well as begin on new concepts and ideas. I honestly live in front of the computer and am mostly self taught with my skills.
You mention you’re a full time student, where do you go to school?
When it came time for college I was supposed to go to a private university near my home, but I knew the typical college lifestyle wasn’t for me… burning four+ years of your life away is craziness. So I found a technical school (Full Sail) in Florida that was a 2 year Bachelors degree in Web Design and Development. Instead of going to class for 4 hours a day over 4+ years time, I go to class 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, but I will be done in less than half the time.
Do you think college was really worth it and key to your success?
To me, college is acceptable if you’re there to learn an actual skill you need to be taught (like I am doing with programming, or a doctor for instance). How the majority of high school graduates are “forced” to go to college with absolutely know idea of what they want to do blow my mind. Not only do you set yourself back four years, you also build a HUGE mountain of debt for yourself…what a way to get started in the world! Instead, find what you really love in life, a way to profit from it, and be the best you in your area.
School has definitely helped in learning to program. While I could make things work in a procedural way before, school has definitely taught me a strict object-oriented programming style. Though it takes some time to grasp, object-oriented programming has many benefits; improves re-usability, less breakage with new features, spotting errors, and overall speeds up development and makes your life easier in the future.
How do you manage school and running multiple websites/businesses?
Through extremely hard work and dedication I have built several online presences that rave to this day. Currently I am reaching over 2 million unique visitors a month throughout my sites. Always looking for my next opportunity. Currently today, like every day, I attend class and when I’m not in class I am working nonstop on my latest project… http://razzi.me – a photo sharing social network built with Ruby on Rails. I’ve been developing it for exactly one year now and it’s ready to rock.
It seems like you’re sacrificing your “fun years” at the moment. Is that fair to say?
For the past 5 years I have literally sacrificed all of my free time to work on my projects and I would definitely do it again. Friday and Saturday night is the only time I really go out or do anything for my social life and I like it that way, keeps things simple. Other than that I am on the computer about 15 hours a day working. Crazy now? Absolutely, but I’d rather sacrifice my time now then have to work a job for the rest of my life.
Why are you so attracted to the online business model?
The online business model has many perks. With such little overhead other than essentially your server and computing equipment you can be in business. What really intrigues me is unlike a traditional business there is so many options for revenue streams, such as advertising, affiliate marketing, a subscription service, general sales, and the list goes on. Another big benefit is other than your time you put into something, there is no real “risk” as opposed to the traditional business model which takes a lot more monetarily to get started. Lastly, you can work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection at your own hours.
Most websites fail, how do you know if your ideas will be successful?
The idea for every one of my websites has came from spotting a need. To gauge interest in the need I’ll usually ask friends and family first for their thoughts. If they think it is as needed as I do, it’s then time to execute it and get it out into the real world…only they can really decide.
How many websites do you currently maintain? How many previously have failed in your eyes?
I currently have eight websites running under my belt. I would say a good 75% of my ideas are “failures”, but a failure in the web world, at least to me, is defined as simply not getting the traffic there. You could release the greatest app in the world, but if nobody sees it… is that really a failure? The toughest part with any new startup or website is getting it out there to everyone. Once you’ve hit the traffic on a few of your other sites then of course you can filter users through there.
Was there any time when you realized you were onto something big?
There was never really a big break moment, but more of a sense of relief knowing all of my hard work was finally paying off. The turning point was seeing my traffic grow exponentially and reach over a million users per month.
What kinds of ways are you monetizing your websites?
Currently all of my websites generate revenue through advertising. While some get private advertising campaigns, the majority is through Google AdSense. My latest project (Razzi) is going to be my first time building a web application with a subscription model. Aside from my websites I run a few affiliate campaigns through Google AdWords.
You put up a lot of videos on Youtube, is it more than just a hobby?
One of my steady amounts of income comes from my Youtube channel where I post videos of my car and friend’s. I can’t discuss specifics either, but it is DEFINITELY a viable business! With literally no overhead the return is substantial. Here is a recent article published by YouTube on the top earners who are making $250k+ a year: http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/meet-the-youtube-stars-making-100000-plus-per-year-535349.html
What is the true earning potential of being a YouTube Partner?
In the past year and a half YouTube has really became a great place for revenue online. Prior to that it was nothing more than some income on the side, but with the introduction of pre-roll/post-roll commercials and other new advertising formats their RPMs have skyrocketed. The earning potential is obviously very high if you can attract an engaged, loyal audience and publish new content frequently. Under contract no YouTube Partner is allowed to state their earnings which is why you don’t find any concrete earning reports online, but I can tell you that it’s a primary source of income for many. This year at VidCon, YouTube themselves announced that “THOUSANDS of channels are now making six figures or more a year from YouTube advertising revenue alone.”
Also as an addition to ad revenue on YouTube, they’re seeking new ways to monetize partnered channels. Last week I was a select partner that got invited into the new “YouTube Marketplace”. It’s a place where video creators and brands are connected. For example, if Lamborghini wants to put out a video they know I am capable of, they can submit a video request with a price tag to me. I can review it, approve it, deny it, or negotiate it. After I create the video and they approve it, it goes live to my audience and their payment is released into my AdSense account. Excited to see how this works out!
Let’s talk about your latest business venture Razzi. What can you tell us about it?
While Youtube was great for earning on my videos, photos were a completely different story. With millions of millions of views on my Flickr photos I was getting absolutely nothing for it… in fact I was paying Flickr each year… didn’t make any sense whatsoever. So I’ve created Razzi (a play on the word paparazzi) where users can host their photos and earn on others viewing them through their Google AdSense account (as Youtube does). Everything that Flickr, Facebook, and the other big guns offer, we have it as well and a lot more too. From privacy settings, to friend activity streams, etc… it’s all there. If you’re switching from a site like Flickr, that is no problem either as you can import your existing photos. To start earning all a user needs is a Google AdSense account. We’ve reached out to some of the top YouTubers, Twitter users, and celebrities to present our business model and get them on board. Starting next week we’re running an ad campaign across all of YouTube.
How long has it taken to develop Razzi?
It was exactly 12 months and 1 day from our very first line of code to soft launch. The entire project was completed by friend Michael and I. He would mainly focus on programming and I did the entire interface and focused on the direction of the company and the application. The only reason it took as long as it did is because of our other obligations — me with school and him with his family and other work. There is so much work into this it absolutely blows my mind. And the development will never stop… we’re working every single day to make Razzi better and better.
Tell us about the growth of Razzi since then. Has it met or exceeded your expectations?
Razzi is doing really well! Traffic, user registrations, and app downloads are all on the rise. We’re approaching 100,000 registered users and see close to 1,000,000 visitors on the site each month. My original idea to appeal to YouTube Partners has been working really well too. Top 50 YouTubers like Tobuscus, CharlesTrippy, OlgaKay, Brittani Louise Taylor, and many others use Razzi daily to tweet their photos and earn revenue while doing so. We also have bands such as We The Kings and TV stars like Jill Zarin from the Real Housewives of NYC. I would say through all of that it has met my expectations. It took a lot of time to reach out to many of these individuals, but as soon as they saw what the platform is capable of we’d receive tons of referrals on their behalf. Overall I am very happy with where it’s at.
You are well known in the social sphere online. Do you ever wish you lived a more low key life? Do you think you could have attained the same success without having followers?
I have a lot of projects and things I do offline that I never mention and like to keep private. So in some respects I do live a rather low key life. Right now I’m still having fun with everything I’m doing online and have no reason to switch it off. Should that ever change I have no issue and will not be disadvantaged walking away from it all.
Absolutely, but I will say that I couldn’t have done it without purchasing my first Lamborghini back in 2009. As crazy as it sounds, it was that car that led me to many priceless relationships and opportunities. Literally all of my businesses and companies that I’m currently invested in have been as a result of the exotic car world in some way. Same with my YouTube channel.
Judging by your 4th Lamborghini Gallardo, you seem to be loyal to the brand. Why is that?
Nothing carries the presence on the road like a Lamborghini does. I also love the story of how Ferruccio got started building cars and the bright “F-U” colors to Ferrari. It all started with my neighbor getting a Gallardo and I haven’t been right since. This moment literally changed my life. I joined a Lamborghini Forum online where I was able to interact with real owners and see the lifestyle they lived, I was amazed. I met a great friend of mine there who is similar in age and a huge inspiration for success. He helped me out online with different things and also recommended the university I attend to me. If it weren’t for him or the Lamborghini incident I really don’t know where I would be at in life. This incident indirectly moved me across the country to my new home, found me the perfect university for my needs, and a million other positive effects.
Lamborghini Murcielago’s are in the same price range as Gallardo’s. Why have you stayed with the Gallardo?
As I mentioned, my first G was a 2005 Verde Ithaca Gallardo Coupe. I then moved to Florida during ownership and wanted to pick up a Spyder. So I got a pearl white (balloon white) spyder hard loaded (full cf everything, CCB’s, etc etc). The car was absolutely GORGEOUS, but with 95º heat everyday and daily down pours Orlando receives it just got old quick. Then I was on the hunt for a Murcie, but a good deal on a pearl orange Gallardo came up so I couldn’t pass that up. Plus I have zero patience and after a couple months of searching for a Murcie I just caved in on it and bought it. Kept that car for a year and then moved it to a friend of mine in Ohio. That week I test drove a 6 speed manual twin turbo Gallardo and had to have it… both the stick and the turbos. So the following week I picked up a Verde Ithaca 6 speed car which is currently under the knife at Underground Racing for a Stage 2.5 full engine build.
Most of your Gallardos were pretty stock. What’s up your sleeve for this latest Gallardo?
It’s at Underground Racing for a full engine build Stage 2.5 twin turbo kit. It will be around 950whp on 93 octane (pump gas) and 1250whp on race gas. Other than that, I’m probably going to do all of the carbon fiber Superleggera parts on it, plus my HRE’s and some small other tweaks. It’s going to be down for about two months so that’s going to be rough. For the west coast guys that would like to see it, I just confirmed that I am going to be doing the Italian Stampede in it in California along with a bunch of other events.
What is the Lamborghini ownership experience like? Especially for someone your age?
While actually driving the car is an absolute blast (I daily drive all of mine), the questions from everyone about “what do you do” (being young) gets very old. As far they are concerned I am a “street pharmacist” and we laugh our separate ways lol. It’s fun being treated like a king everywhere you go… club owners moving their cars for you and the front spot, free dinners at upscale restaurants, girls stalking you all over the highway, people asking for autographs, I’ve seen it all. Definitely one thing everybody should experience once in their lifetime!
Are there any individuals that you look up to?
There is many people I look up to in the online business world. To name a few; Sean Belnick (founder of BizChair.com), Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress), the guys from 37Signals (David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried), MJ Demarco (founder of limos.com), and social network tycoon Mark Zuckerberg.
You receive a lot of good and bad press due to your age and success so far. How do you not let the negative people impact you?
Anyone with a following no matter who they are, what they do, if they’re a good or bad person, or how they’ve earned their money will always receive negative press bar none. I just think to myself would Tony Robbins sit around reading blogs by poor-minded, negative people to put him down or would he focus on getting out and living his awesome life. I’m going with the latter. At the end of the day I could be angry, spiteful, upset, and let it affect me, but I’d rather just continue making a difference, creating new things, seeing the world, and taking advantage of the toys I’ve worked so hard for. While there is some negative press out there at the moment, there’s also ten good comments for every negative. My projects and following have never grown quicker than at present. I’m happy, these people are not, and despite their best efforts their attempts to make me unhappy like them will never succeed.
I’m sure you get quite a bit of emails with idea pitches and help. How do you give back to the community?
As an entrepreneur myself I know how hard it can be getting new projects off the ground. I’ve took to platforms such as Kiva and Kickstarter to help fund others to make their idea a reality. The great thing about Kiva is that you’re helping the less fortunate in so many different ways fund their established business, but receive your investment back over time. Kickstarter is different in that people pitch prospective ideas, but lack the funding to make the idea a reality. With Kickstarter you receive your return on investment by usually receiving one of the proposed products for yourself. It’s feels so awesome to help others out, especially when you’re able to keep cycling the money to new people or receive a tangible product in the mail that you backed.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Years from now I see myself still developing Razzi. I’m working extremely hard to turn this into my full time business. My dream car would definitely have to be the Pagani Zonda Cinque in pearl orange. While a Veyron would be awesome, there’s something about a Pagani that’s in it’s league of it’s own.
We want to thank Robert for sharing his awesome story with us. We know Robert is onto something big with Razzi and we wish him much success. In fact, we’ve switched over from Flickr and proudly support Razzi and you can view our photos here: http://razzi.me/secretentourage/photos