Sometimes a business model appears that seems impossible to pull off. Then you hear about people actually making it work. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that almost anything is possible with the right passion and lots of perseverance.
Chapin Kreuter runs Surf Progression Techniques, a website coaching service and online course that teaches people how to improve at surfing. A surfer for 30 years, Chapin teaches people how to break down barriers and overcome plateaus in their surfing skills.
Year started: 2017
Current Revenue: $500-1000 / month
Website traffic Graph – Estimated by SEMRUSH:
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Hi Chapin, how’s life and where are you?
Life is good. Right now I’m in California, I had to come back for family, family affairs that needed some attention. So probably in California for the next six months to a year. But I live like a mile from the beach. I surfed this morning, actually.
I’d been Nicaragua since 2005. And then the politics made me decide to leave. I went to Asia. That’s how I met Johnny FD. I was just trying to make my online business more profitable. So I’m kind of in a whole new creative pattern.
Johnny FD is a popular digital nomad who made his money using an online business model called drop shipping.
Is there anything in particular you’re looking at?
I’m trying to transition everything online. I created a surf course, which is what I sell and make most of my passive income off of now. I have a podcast as well, Misfits and Rejects, which I sell t-shirts from. And you know, I have four different income streams, none of which make my lifestyle super sustainable while I’m in California.
There are a few competitors in the online surfing space and I asked Chapin about how he manages to stand out in the niche.
If you niche down to doing the beginner stuff online, it’s pretty much impossible to stand out. But my niche is more intermediate and above. I cater to people who have been surfing for, like, 20 years and never got better. They can get up on the board, and get on the line, but they have developed bad habits. They send me their photos and videos. And I break down what they’re doing wrong and right.
Like an online personal trainer or weights coach?
I’m the Golf Swing Coach of surfing, basically.
Learning to Surf
Chapin, let’s say I want to learn to surf. Can you help me? Are you going to say, “go ahead, take some beginner lessons or take some intermediate lessons and then come back to me”?
No, I’m open to beginners, a lot of beginners do come to my surf retreats.
And the experience is a full 100% attention from me the whole time you’re there. So I’m out there with you every step of the way to push you into waves. Trying to help you develop the things that aren’t talked about a lot.
You know, most of the beginners we get aren’t going to stick with it for more than three years. And from like a business perspective, if you know that, you think, let’s get them out there to have fun. We want to get as many people into our coaching weeks or retreats as we can. We’re not really thinking too much about them continuing on with the sport. I try to keep it informative, theory-based, and try to help them lay the foundation for taking this to the level. It’s really hands on, I try to give a good foundation.
So if you don’t want to quit after three years, you’re going to have a solid foundation to keep progressing with.
If you were to pick your ideal customer, or let’s say, your target customer, who would that be?
I’m trying to grow my business to cater to surfing CEOs. CEOs of big corporations who surf, have surfed, or want to learn to surf.
I’m trying to move my brand into more of a premium retreat brand, which puts it at a price point my existing clientele aren’t interested in paying right now. Most of my clients are paying between 1500 to 1800 dollars for an all-inclusive retreat, which consists of me picking them up from the airport, feeding them, surfing with them twice a day. We film the clients all day. We do video breakdowns in the evenings. And then at the end of the week, I spend a whole other week working on a customized video for my client.
That experience alone, in me and my partner’s opinion, is worth more than we charge.
We’re trying to move into a different market, but we don’t have the customers yet. So I’m looking at targeting what I’m calling the surfing CEOs. There is an outfit down in Costa Rica called Surf Simple who do a great job, it seems, of capturing that market. And they’re garnishing a very nice amount of money from their customers. And I’d like to move into that market as well.
Starting The Online Business
I had to come home in 2014, because my mom was sick. And I had been living my dream life for the last five years on the beach with my friends surfing every day. The best life ever.
I want to give everything away for free and make millions of dollars.
And then I came home and was doing the things we have to do when we have a family we care about. But at the end of the year I wanted to get back to that lifestyle. I wanted to do it without having to go back to the full time surf camp model. And so, of course, I started googling “how can I make passive income?”.
Sure enough, Pat Flynn, Smart Passive Income pops up. I’m thinking that’s the businessman I want to be. I want to give everything away for free and make millions of dollars.
That planted the seed. And then I moved to Thailand at the end of 2014. And by January of 2015, I bumped into an Israeli guy at a bar up in Pai. We were talking about passive income and he said “Oh, you should look into Udemy, there’s a guy who sells his surf courses there”. And I had never heard of any of this before. So the next day I google it, find out about Udemy, and just doing some napkin math I figure this guy just made like $25,000 off his course sales. And he’s the one doing it on the website.
I had dabbled in the idea of doing surf instruction but there just wasn’t a market for it. All the research I did showed there’s nobody out there searching for this. Even though this guy on Udemy seems to making money.
I thought it was still too small. But I knew I had to start somewhere. So I started with my first YouTube video in 2015 on the pop up or maybe the first one I think I did was the turn.
I got some traction on YouTube. And then it wasn’t till the end of that year I figured I’d make a website and offer this idea of “Hey, send me your video footage, and I’ll break it down for you and make you an instructional video.”
Successful marketing channels
Facebook ads work really well. As long as I’m capturing 1000 emails a month and I’m converting at point 0.3 to 0.5% on those emails. On the road that was converting into between $800 and $1300 of passive income. Sustainable when you’re living in Thailand or Vietnam or something like that. But I’m back in California for what looks like 6 months. And I’m going to have to ramp up those Facebook ads.
I’ve got a course on Facebook ads that I’m diving into. I’m going to continue down that path because it has worked for me. The course is called Anadomy.
Facebook customer demographics – Targeting the right people
I know exactly who my customers are.
45-year-old males in America, Australia and England. I know the locations. I mean, I know everything about my customer. Except, you know, I feel like the customers I have are still uncomfortable with the price point I’ve set my course at. It’s $297. When I first tested the market, I had my price point up at $597. But I was also offering my personal time for six months, holding their hand for six months, and making them multiple personalized videos. So that’s was the justification for that price point.
And there were a few people who bought the product. That worked out great.
Launching a course
It was January 2018 when I launched my course but I took two and a half years to build it. I was just market testing and trying to figure out what they really wanted. Just communicating with my email list. By December 2018, I had dropped the price all the way down to $297. And it seemed to get the most traction with that price point.
So that’s kind of where I’ve left it. But you know, Aussies can’t really afford that with the conversion rates. The British customers can. And Americans can. But I’m still struggling with how I can continue to grow in that way.
Phase one for the next six months to two years is fine tuning and really experimenting with Facebook ads and different marketing angles.
And then doing a beginner course will probably be phase two.
Market research for beginner surfing lessons
I have a lot of beginners. The thing with Surfing is that everybody labels themselves as being at a certain level. If you were to break down the beginner spectrum, you have “beginner” – they’ve never seen a surfboard before. Then you have “intermediate beginner” – the person who has a surfboard who paddles out once a week. Then you have “advanced beginner” – somebody who can kind of paddle out and kind of catch a wave still.
They think they’re intermediate because they get up on the board one out of 10 times. And they’re talking about how to do a turn. So I try to help them in what I believe is a nice way. I say “hey, let’s reevaluate your actual level, and the equipment you’re riding, and the waves you’re practicing on. And then let’s set your goals more appropriately”.
So I think I could do that in a good way. And extract something that will be a value to the beginner market. It will take more market research and communication with them because it’s going to be a lot of theory and reshaping how they perceive their own ability. And setting their goals in a more achievable way.
The website’s on Squarespace. And the tech stuff has been my just the biggest pain in my ass. I lived in a small fishing village since 2005, where we didn’t have internet for the first five years. I’ve never had any interest in learning to use a computer. The only motivation I ever had was to make passive income from anywhere in the world off of my computer.
So it’s been a long slog trying to learn this stuff. I’m very familiar now with Squarespace. So I’ve just created all my free websites are all created in Squarespace.
But like from an SEO perspective, you probably realized how shit my websites are.
I’m not a fan of SquareSpace, preferring WordPress for almost every situation. However, Chapin has done a great job as a non-techie setting up his websites from scratch.
I don’t have the patience to learn another system like WordPress. I have MemberSpace to “lock and key” my course and protect it.
I use Deadline Funnel, which I hate. I took me, like, three months to realize I couldn’t even figure it out. So I’m on tech support with them all the time.
I use Convertkit for my email list, which is great, but it’s expensive. My email list is 7000. I’m paying like $100 a month for that. I’m using Zapier. All these little things that are meant to be easy to help automate the system add up. So it cuts into my bottom line. And then it’s just the learning curve. For me. It’s just tremendous. It’s horrifying.
Were there any “aha” moments in your journey towards being a location independent entrepreneur?
Yes. Recently, actually. I listened to a lot of entrepreneur podcasts about people making money online and making that first sale and how it’s such a wonderful feeling. And to be honest, I’ve been a little let down. Because I think my expectations of my myself are too high. And the whole passive income thing has been a theme for me ever since I was 17. I was looking at trying to invest money to make passive income, like real estate, even though I couldn’t afford it. And so when the money began to trickle in, and this is even in the last like six months, I thought, “Oh, this is cool”. But I’m still, you know, working hard. I’m a full time marketer now.
But because I’ve been home, I’m restructuring everything and strategizing, I turned all my Facebook ads off. But I still have a pretty solid YouTube presence so people still can get into my funnels. I get four or five emails a day, and they get sent to my funnel. And then maybe two weeks later I get a sale. This hadn’t actually happened until two weeks ago. That was the first time I realised I’d generated pure passive income. I hadn’t done anything for the last month because I’ve been busy with family stuff here. I thought, “How can I create more of that?”. Because it felt amazing to wake up and have $300 my bank account after not doing anything for the last month.
Any big fails or disasters?
I haven’t had too many things. Aside from the tech stuff, which is constantly like a Rubik’s cube to me. It’s usually the fact that, out of the box, the tech doesn’t do what I want it to. So I’m a bit embarrassed because I know my customers or potential customers are seeing my epic fails.
I had a moment when I went with my first Facebook ad. And I kind of just I took the model from David Siteman Garland, who has a course called “how to create awesome online courses”. There’s a module on how to create a Facebook ad. So I followed it to a T. And then I launched it. And I set it for a week at a $5 a day budget. And I’d done this before. Within the first 12 hours, I had 100 emails in my funnel. I thought, “well that’s amazing. That’s cool.”
But again, I didn’t know if that was good, because I’d never done it before.
And the Facebook ad turned off, because I’d set it to turn off after 7 days. I reached out to this Facebook group I knew from the course and said “Hey guys, I’m converting at eight cents per email. I just turned it off, because I didn’t know if I should keep it on”. Everyone just starts shouting at me to turn it back on.
So I scrambled to turn it back on. And it took a second for Facebook to recalibrate my ads. And then like sure enough over nine months, I got like 5000 emails from the first ad I ever created.
So that turns into three to five people buying my course per 1000 new emails through my funnel. Which seems to be the industry standard from what I hear.
Right now, it’s flatlined. In November, I did 2500 bucks when I was in Thailand. And then it kind of like fluctuated between eight and 1300. All the way until January. February, it just completely died because my Facebook ads weren’t running. So I think that month was around $600. Again, this is all just automated. I mean, I hate calling it passive because it’s not really passive. I’m a personable guy and I’d rather like have a conversation with you. I get back to every single person and I can even jump on a call to close a sale.
Thanks Chapin. I wish you the best of luck with the business.
Guys, if you need to level up your surfing game, or you need a veteran surfing pro to critique your technique, head over to Surf Progression Techniques and say hi to Chapin.
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Blogger, lifelong learner, entrepreneur & musician from Ireland. I've been travelling and living overseas for over 20 years. My mission is to build businesses that allow me to have a simple and independent lifestyle. In the process, I hope to help myself and others with my writing.