Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hiya! My name is Alex Goldberg, and I’m the founder of Fin vs Fin, a portfolio of popular product reviews that include, among others, finvsfin.com and zenmasterwellness.com. Despite not being much of an online shopper nor a wellness guru, my partner and I somehow managed to build a profitable media business centered on helping consumers compare health products online.
This is the story of turning a “dumb side project” into my full-time focus, stumbling into financial freedom by repeatedly doubling down on tiny wins. I hope you find it inspiring enough to launch your entrepreneurial project or keep at whatever hustle you’re currently focused on. Truth be told, you may be closer to predictable seven-figure revenue than you think.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
With an undergrad degree in economics, I had no idea what career to pursue after college. I had always dreamed of running my own business - following in the footsteps of my parents - but I didn’t have a clear vision, much less the confidence, financial security, or risk tolerance to go all-in on building an empire right away.
So I figured I’d try the next best thing: learning from entrepreneurs at early-stage tech companies. My goal was to see firsthand how to launch a profitable business from scratch. Lacking technical skills, I wasn’t qualified for engineering roles. And although I love talking to people, I craved something more “analytical” than client-facing sales or customer success, so I decided to give marketing a shot.
My first role was as marketer #1 at a 10-person SaaS startup. Being so unproven, I was incredibly fortunate that they took a risk on me, and even luckier to be put in charge of a wide variety of channels - both paid + organic, online + offline. As it turns out, marketing was a great fit for me, and soon I found myself running a department at a 120+ employee company just a few years out of college.
Forced to deal with ever more corporate bureaucracy, I felt myself drifting further away from my dream of starting my own company. So I jumped ship and joined another tiny startup. Again as the first member of the marketing team, but this time at a fintech company.
My new boss and I enjoyed working together, so much so that when he decided to leave roughly a year into my tenure, we decided it’d be fun to start a side project together. Since fintech was the space we knew, we uncreatively bought the domain finvsfin.com to help consumers compare fintech startups, one versus the other. (Get it? I wish I could say there was more to it but honestly it was just that dumb.)
Had we set out from day one to build a billion-dollar business, I’m convinced we would have never gotten anything off the ground. No idea would have been compelling enough. Instead, we lowered the stake by committing to creating another “dumb blog” and then worked to make it less dumb every day.
Despite the dumbness of our blog, every day after work and on weekends I tinkered in wordpress and began writing content. After publishing five or so articles, my ex-boss-turned-side-hustle-partner mentioned there might be a bigger opportunity to review products outside of finance. We noticed hundreds of millions in venture capital flowing into wellness startups, so why not cover them, too.
Within a few weeks, it became clear that this pivot not only made it easier to grow organic traffic but also proved easier to monetize as well. I distinctly remember when we drove our first sale, netting us a whopping $10 commission. My partner and I still laugh about how giddy and incredulous we were to see those first few dollars hit our account. It was a true “aha!” moment, and we realized we had a proof of concept. The only question was how scalable the model could be.
Take us through the process of designing your blog
Over the next few months, we learned we had three distinct “customers” – all of whom we’d have to delight simultaneously. There was Google itself, our benevolent overlord without whom our content would never see the light of day. There were also readers: real human beings out in the world searching online who needed to see value from and engage deeply with our articles. And finally, there were our brand partners who paid for a consistent stream of high-intent shoppers.
My partner and I kept going because we simply didn’t want to let each other down. Our significant others questioned our priorities, but we were having too much fun to stop. So we kept going. Every night and weekend.
Since our cash flow was still relatively low, we strived to delight these three “customers” without hiring outside help. I worked on the technical side of the site and built relationships with brands.
Both of us wrote content and kept up this balancing act while still maintaining demanding full-time day jobs. One of the hardest parts of side hustling is maintaining enough motivation to consistently hop back on your computer after a full day’s work. Most simply can’t bring themselves to prioritize potential wealth-building ahead of instant gratification from Netflix, family, exercise, etc. And I don’t blame them. It’s hard.
But having a business partner helps. It was fun having someone to share the small wins with and help keep each other accountable. We wrote the first 60 articles ourselves without the help of any external contractors. Even though we’d worked this way for 6 months already with only a few hundred dollars in MRR to show for it, I suppose my partner and I kept going because we simply didn’t want to let each other down. Our significant others questioned our priorities, but we were having too much fun to stop. So we kept going. Every night and weekend.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Luckily, as our traffic grew, we were able to broker deals with more brands which allowed revenue to tick up. In many cases, this was as simple as googling “[brand] affiliate program” and signing up. Other times, it required reaching out to in-house marketers across multiple channels for months. The name of the game is to not give up until you get a hard “no”.
In the early days, 90%+ of revenue came from just a handful of partners. Most months growth scaled linearly with traffic. Occasionally we’d launch a new partnership and see a step-ladder change in revenue without additional traffic.
My partner and I pinched ourselves when we realized our “dumb blog” now made enough to cover each of our car payments. Not luxury vehicles, but vehicles nonetheless! At this point, we felt comfortable hiring help.
We found a few freelance writers and started to invest a portion of our profits back into the business. We kept things extremely lean though, maintaining an 80% profit margin.
Arguably this is way too frugal and we should have been more aggressive with reinvesting into growth, but we also didn’t know how long the gravy train would last. We lived every day – and still do to a great extent – thinking the business might come to a screeching halt. After dedicating months to the project, we desperately wanted to make sure we had something tangible to show for it.
In our first full year of operation, we collected $22k in revenue, almost entirely from affiliate relationships, although occasional sponsorships as well. No display ads or membership fees.
Not too shabby, except all of it was paid into my account, which meant I was individually on the hook for income tax despite splitting earnings with my partner. Thus formalizing the business legally (i.e. setting up an LLC) and opening a joint business bank account became imperative for no other reason than to evenly distribute our tax burden.
This formalization was a big step that I often encourage founders to wait as long as possible to do. In California where we both live, setting up and maintaining a corporation costs thousands of dollars a year, so it’s prudent to make sure your business is legitimate before hiring a lawyer. Since I knew my partner well and trusted him deeply, I felt that waiting to “legitimize” didn’t pose any serious risks. That said, if you’re less familiar with your co-founder, a legal structure and operating agreement might be prudent to establish earlier on to ensure neither party runs away with all the cash, IP, etc.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Keeping our heads down, we were able to grow revenue to $500k in our second year of business. Naturally, this made it harder to pay attention to my 9-5. Despite making more from Fin vs Fin than at my day job, I decided to keep it as a side hustle for another year. That may sound crazy, but we still weren’t sure if the business would be viable long term!
We continued to invest in high-quality content for our best partners and sought out new opportunities to work with up-and-coming brands. We helped many startups launch their affiliate program from scratch and begged established brands – sometimes for over 6 months – to let us into their existing programs. The decision-maker at each varied from CMO to social media coordinator to founder, which made it slightly more difficult to target outreach.
We partnered with agencies that represented multiple brands and worked hard to diversify our source of traffic and revenue. We also started to broaden our team of external contractors beyond just writers. This included virtual assistants, web developers, graphic designers, and interns of all backgrounds.
There’s no single strategy that allowed us to grow other than a constant ethos of experimentation. I swear we’ve tested every SEO strategy in the book, from schema markup to text for featured snippets to one-off press releases and robust internal linking.
We also tinkered with ad platforms to arbitrage paid traffic, limiting spending to just <$3k/month as a test budget. Built organic followings on social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. Published AI-generated content about products in new niches. Acquired existing sites and built new ones from scratch. Improved site speed. Packaged (and repackaged) our media. Copied competitors and demanded that competitors cease copying us. Overall I’ve remained committed to making our sites a little better every day.
SEO is all about building topical authority. In the beginning, starting from zero, you can only target low competition keywords. You can do this effectively with free tools like Google Keyword Planner, as well as with more powerful paid tools like ahrefs. As Google starts to index your site regularly, sees users spending a significant amount of time engaging, and recognizes a growing list of quality backlinks, you can eventually target more competitive queries.
As an affiliate, nothing speaks louder than performance. If the traffic you send to a brand converts well, you become indispensable. Even when a brand’s internal advertising budgets get slashed, high-intent affiliates are likely to be spared. And given the commercial nature of Fin vs Fin’s content, retaining partners luckily hasn’t been difficult. A bigger challenge has been defending our organic rankings as more publishers enter our niche.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today our portfolio includes a handful of sites that, on average, generate $70k in profit per month. Yes, I eventually decided to quit my day job, officially becoming Fin vs Fin LLC’s first full-time employee a mere 2.5 years after its founding.
To fairly compensate me for the additional time I invest into the business beyond what my partner contributes, I take a salary before we distribute profits. We’ve also hired our first non-founder FTE in early 2022 and plan to onboard several more before the end of the year.
We’ve received several acquisition offers, but still, believe there’s ample room for growth. Plus, as institutional investors take more interest in profitable digital businesses, multiples for assets like ours continue to climb. Despite increased competition from larger publishers, we remain optimistic about finding new products to review, expanding internationally, and potentially acquiring additional properties.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use standard (i.e. free) google products including Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Gmail, Drive, and Docs. Our more advanced tooling (i.e. paid) includes SurferSEO, Ahrefs, SErankings, and Zapier. We’ve also played around with a lot of AI writing tools as well, although none have been a game-changer….yet. Since our site is built on wordpress, we also use a lot of plugins. Some of our favorites include ThirstyAffiliates, Elementor, and WP Rocket.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My partner and I are both avid podcast listeners. Some of our favorites include:
- How I Built This
- Niche Pursuits
- Authority Hackers
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My best piece of advice for anyone looking to launch a business is to get started by lowering the stakes. The first direction we took Fin vs Fin wasn’t well thought out, but ultimately that didn’t matter.
Getting started gave us enough momentum to pivot into something that eventually worked. Had we set out from day one to build a billion-dollar business, I’m convinced we would have never gotten anything off the ground. No idea would have been compelling enough. Instead, we lowered the stake by committing to creating another “dumb blog” and then worked to make it less dumb every day.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Today we are constantly looking to grow our team. Whether that’s more freelance writers, SEOs, designers, editors, or aspiring marketers, we’re excited to work with entrepreneurial folks, especially those with a passion for health and wellness.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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