A while back I got the chance to interview Gary, the guy behind TheBaseballCube.com. What Gary did sounds simple: he took data that was publicly available and compiled it in one convenient place.
In this case, the data just so happens to be baseball statistics—something I’m obsessive about. So when I found his site, I was like that fat kid in the old Willy Wonka movie—I was seriously freaking out.
I love this idea of something so simple becoming such a huge success with time, skills, and a lot of hard work. I’ve written about Gary and his site before (The Secret to a Good Blog and a Good Business), so make sure to check that out too.
The interview runs a little long, but I recommend you stick with it. There are some good lessons to be learned about ideas, monetization, and some of the sacrifices that come with starting something like this.
How did TBC get off the ground? What prompted you to start the site and do all the work that it required?
I had always been fascinated with the Internet and I grew up a baseball junkie and so it was a marriage made in heaven to combine the Internet and baseball. That, a compulsive urge to keep track of things, and the inability to set reasonable boundaries were the 3 major inputs into the birth of the site.
The site started out as a hobby. I was always a fan of the limitless possibilities of the Internet as a tool for information and research and never thought much about making money on it. Just the idea of putting some code to an html file and seeing my work publicly on the Internet was a rush enough for me. But I’m never happy and so a site with only 2001 MLB stats became a site with 1998-2001 stats and then I added a bit more.
At what point did you realize, “I can make a fair amount of money from this?” Did that change your motivations at all for the site?
At the time, everybody was talking about making money on the Internet and the common misconception was that all you needed to do was put up a web page and the people would come. Of course, that is completely false. With only basic content that could be accessed in numerous other locations on the net, I had nothing additional to offer to the web community and I found that the only way I could get traffic was to post (spam) message boards or newsgroups about the site.
I learned quickly that this goes against Internet etiquette but I found that it would give me a spike in traffic. Getting 50 people a day was a rush but if I wasn’t posting spam, the traffic would drop to zero.
If I had to change anything, it would be that I thought about advertising and revenue way too early in the life cycle of my site. With only a handful of visitors each day, it was the wrong time to focus on ad placement on affiliate advertising but it’s what I was doing. I didn’t respect my visitors and I even had pop-ups and my thought was very short-term.
It was about the time that the search engines started to index my pages and a particular event in the baseball world caused a spike in traffic and a subsequent spike in revenue. Such a simple concept but there it was, right in front of me. Traffic = Revenue.
I can say with all honesty that money was not the initial motivation of the site but it was the justification of the time that I put into it. At first, this was just something that I had to get out. I needed to build a baseball almanac for some reason. The possibility of revenue justified the time that it took.
How did you know (if you did at all) that so many people would want to check out college, minor league, and major league stats, all in one place?
After a few months of stagnant traffic with only Major League stats, I realized that people didn’t need to come to my site since the baseball stats were available almost everywhere else on the Internet. Besides, the media sites that had up-to-date, pitch-to-pitch stats, there were other historical sites that did a much better job than I did. I had to admit that when I was on the net searching for baseball stats, I wouldn’t use my own site. That opened my eyes.
After all, I was a baseball fan and if I didn’t use my own site, why would somebody else?
And so I spent a few hours every day adding historical minor league stats for all current major leaguers and I sat back and said, “There, nobody else has that.” But what really opened my eyes was the feedback. Every now and again, despite the low traffic, somebody would commend me on he fact that I had minor league stats mixed in with the major leagues.
Nobody else had that. And then one day, while in a classroom where I was supposed to be listening intently, I had a vision of a web site that not only included major leaguers, but one that included minor leaguers and their historical stats.
At the time, I didn’t realize it would take off the way it did but I did find it incredibly interesting and I found that I was surfing my site more than I ever had before. Though it was an immense amount of work, I found that traffic was rising every day and so was the revenue.
The feedback gave me some insight into what people wanted to see on the web and I expanded on it a bit more.
What was the hardest part of putting in all the work you put in to the site? Were there other things you felt you neglected during that time? Was it worth it?
The hardest part was justifying the amount of time that I put into the site to my girlfriend at the time (now my wife). Spending almost every waking hour in front of a computer copying stats from a book for a hobby that was earning about 50 cents a day was difficult.
It never felt like a job but the pull to be somewhere else was always there. I neglected my health, eating lots of junk food and I neglected my girlfriend. All of this on top of a full-time job. It was a difficult time but in the end, I would say it was worth it because the extra revenue from the site on top of my current full-time job (not in baseball) allows my family to live a bit more comfortably then if I didn’t have the site.
Thanks Gary for taking the time and if you’re a baseball fan that had never heard of his site…you’re welcome. Also check out my other post on Gary and TBC.