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The origin story

Paul Ingraham ARCHIVEDMicroblog posts are archived and rarely updated. In contrast, most long-form articles on are updated regularly over the years.

Many readers ask me how got started, and for some reason I’ve never actually explained it anywhere on site, just bits and pieces. So here’s the short version of the business origin story:

While I was practicing massage therapy in Vancouver, starting in 2000, I was busily writing self-help articles for my own patients to add value to my services. It was a popular perk, and almost automatic for me: I had been a writer and a web developer long before I was a massage therapist, so it was a natural project for me to take on.

The articles attracted more traffic than expected, pulling in readers from around the world, and I started to wonder if it could be worth something. I built up some of my content to the point where I felt it was good enough to put behind a paywall — and my standards were lower then, which made it a lot easier. The big idea from the beginning was to invest heavily in high quality free content to attract lots of readers, some of whom would pay for access to the best content (loss leader).

Other key features of my brand were also established early, like a “clean” design, diligent referencing, and regular improvements to content. It was all more or less fully-formed by about 2006, and I remember telling my wife and mother-in-law about it during a drive on Vancouver Island around that time. After the first promising surge of sales in 2007, I had a key conversation with a good friend about the power of duplication — if one book could earn something, then I “just” had to write several more to earn a decent living. From that conversation on, I was chasing the holy grail: paying the rent without leaving the house.

Which took about another three years of feverish workaholism. In 2010, I left the massage profession (not without some drama), fairly confident that it was all going to work out. The business grew steadily and it felt “mission accomplished” by 2012 — about eight years after my earliest glimpses of the potential. For most of that time I thought I'd probably lost my damn mind and all my effort was going to be largely wasted. But it worked out, and continues to work out despite some major setbacks.

And that’s the short version of the story. The long version is back-burnered project. I started telling it on my personal blog a few years ago and then got hopelessly distracted. But there’s still a few good chapters there.

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