Gold Rushes, Boom Towns, Wild Wests and Side Hustles

Gold Rushes, Boom Towns, Wild Wests and Side Hustles

I used to get excited about something new that I saw potential in. I used to see those new things everywhere. I had to carry a notebook with me at all times, just to make sure I didn’t forget any new idea.

I also couldn’t keep these things to myself. I would tell anyone that would listen. I was discovering all these new things you could do with the internet and I wanted to make sure people knew.

I just realized lately that I have stopped carrying the notebook in the last decade. So I got worried. “Why did I stop? I don’t even remember. Something must be wrong. I am just not creative anymore.”

So I went through the list of ideas I had that had some legs and made me money to see if I had something back then that was missing now.


I learned about eBay in the late 90s and figured out a way to make money buying products from closeouts and reselling them. I made about $100 of profit a week. It was definitely not big business, but I thought it was amazing. I made about $14/hour at my day job, so $100 was about 20% of my paycheck. I was completely hooked.

And whenever I got bitten by a bug like that, I always tried to pass it on.

I grew up poor. Most of the things I got came from garage sales. But I ended up having twice as much stuff as everyone else because we bought old stuff at garage sales for about 10% of the price of new stuff from the store.

And while my friends got the latest G.I. Joe Walkie Talkie’s for Christmas, I got a beat-up, old Ham Radio that still had vacuum tubes. But guess where all the neighborhood kids were; at my house, pranking people on my CB radio.

But my Mom went to garage sales every weekend and when he retired, my Dad went as well. She had to. You never knew what you would find, and sometimes she bought stuff just in case. I think we always had a backup microwave.

After seeing some of the stuff that other people were selling on eBay, I realized what a goldmine my parents could run into every weekend. Not only were they getting stuff at 10% of the new price, they were probably picking up antiques at 2-5% of what they were worth.

As soon as I thought of it, I got my parents on the phone. I told them about eBay. I told them all the money they could be making. But they just didn’t give it. I tried to convince them a few other times, but I lived 1200 miles away at the time and they just couldn’t see the thought inside my head.


Next I got into programming. I ended up writing software to help me with my eBay sales and since there wasn’t anything like it on the market I released it as shareware and promoted it wherever I could.

And I made money. Again, it wasn’t big, quit your job money, but I was hooked again. I thought this was something other people could do, people who had been to college and started their own business. I was just some guy with a 5-year-old computer writing code in my spare time using a free AOL account that was about to expire.

I had to tell someone. Only one person I knew at the time knew anything about programming. I worked with him at my day job. He said he had written some code in the Navy. I told him my story. But again, my enthusiasm fell on deaf ears.

Affiliate marketing

Then I got into affiliate marketing and advertising and finally gave my day job a run for its money. I stuck with it for about 8 years. I would build sites that would rank in Google that were loaded with affiliate links and advertising.

Now these sites weren’t what you would consider 100% legitimate. I would scrape complete directories of affiliate products, scrape the affiliate links, and then use the resulting data to generate my own sites.

During this time, I met another guy who was building web sites. He had meticulously scanned and uploaded thousands of all types of sports cards and built a site to sell them. He got massive amounts of traffic, but sold only about $100 worth of cards each month.

This is the first person I met who caught my enthusiasm. I told him how I scraped data for my site. The next week, he had written a scraper to log in and scrape data from a major online sports card price guide, which he then added to his site.

We watched as hist site’s traffic grew but it still made little sales. I started thinking about what he could do.I told him to put AdSense on the site. The first month, he got a check for $5,000.

What now

Well, I held onto to my affiliate marketing “business model” too long. The last two years were not fun, and I was stupid. As Google updated its algorithms, my site lost traffic. I had to convert the coding skills I had learned running that business into experience for a “real job”.

So that is probably about the time I ditched the notebook and stopped worrying about having ideas. I started working on other people’s ideas and never looked back. Or so I thought.

I caught the cryptocurrency/blockchain bug for a while and still think the technology is valid. But it wasn’t the same. My affiliate marketing experience had burned me.

I don’t think I want that type of excitement, because looking back now, it was not what I thought it was. Those were gold rushes, boomtowns, wild wests. Sure, they were profitable, but they were limited in longevity. You would have to get out before the ship sank and then look for another limited opportunity.

That was okay for my twenties and maybe for my thirties, though I think I took it a little too far. When the excitement of making the money was out of the equation, there was nothing to keep me doing what I was doing. I didn’t enjoy the work itself.

So I write and then slowly develop software that I hope to turn into some kind of company. There’s no excitement really, but I am doing. It takes a long time and a lot of work. But it feels better. It’s something I feel I could tell people about and be proud of and not in the shady, slightly unethical, bragging way I talked of my past exploits.

So yeah, I guess I really don’t want that any more. Gold rushes always end and as the internet speeds things up, they end quicker than ever before. I had an eight-year run on my network of affiliate sites. I don’t think you can hold onto to a quick money scheme that long today. Plus it left me with an empty feeling. I think the route I’ve chosen now is right for me.

Stephan Miller

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Kansas City Software Engineer and Author

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