My 2016 Annual Online Business Review

By Matt Giovanisci •  Updated: 12/26/16 •  30 min read  •  Articles

I didn’t want to write this. Mainly because EVERYONE in my line of work does, and I like to buck trends. I think I’m pretty cool 😉

However, I received a lot of requests to share updates on Money Lab Challenges I did this year. And to keep a running total of the success and failures:

Things like that.

So that’s what I’ll outline in this post. And true to form, there will be details. LOADS of details. So I hope you like details.

The Details

For anyone who’s new to what I do, here’s an outline all my projects – both finished and ongoing. If you’re familiar with me, you can skip ahead.

2016 Money Lab Challenges

The following is all of the projects I accomplished and launched on Money Lab this year.

2016 Money Lab Experiments

Towards the end of the year, I expanded into experiments. These are ongoing projects with no set timeline to finish. They’re also not tied to a goal of making money.

2016 Money Lab Promotional Projects

These are mini projects that I published on Money Lab to help promote the site. I’m proud of them, and will outline in detail how each one performed later in this article.

That sums it up. After adding all that, it feels like a lot of stuff. I guess that’s a good thing.

Now let’s talk about the bad things.

The Bad Things in 2016

Here’s a rundown of what I thought went terribly this year on Money Lab. First, let’s start with the biggest flop.

The “Sell Sponsorships On a New Website in 28 Days” Challenge Was a Huge Flop

You can read exactly what happened, but my goal was to make at least $10,000 selling sponsorship deals on, which at the time had about 20,000 visitors a month.

Instead, I made $0.

After assessing why it didn’t work, I came to the conclusion that my traffic was too low and my price was too high. I was asking for a $2,000 sponsorship deal like an asshole.

Lesson learned: Pricing is important. I like to price things that blow people’s mind for what they get.

The Typo That Lost Me Thousands of Dollars

Most of my money comes from the Amazon affiliate program. I developed a WordPress plugin that allows me to add shortcodes to my posts, and it automatically pulls in real-time data from Amazon. Here’s a sample of what it does:

Amazon WordPress Plugin

This is a screenshot of what the plugin does with the shortcode in a post on You can’t click this!

For the first four months of 2016, I was missing ONE letter from my affiliate ID that affected about 350 products.

I have no idea how I found the problem, but I finally did. And I slammed my head against the desk, hard. It was a stupid human error that costs me at least $10,000, if not more.

To fix it I could have just did a find and replace. Instead, I punished myself by going through every record in the database and fixing the problem one by one.

Lesson Learned: The devil is in the details. This goes for everything I make. Pay attention to the details.

The Rap Album Made Only $20

The rap album challenge was the most fun I had all year, but a bit disappointing sales-wise. After expenses, I ended up making about $20 from the whole project.

I didn’t expect to make a lot, but a least more than $20. And on top of that, I got gout. Localized gout, but still. I wrote an article about it.

Rap Album Gave Me Gout

The good news is I published another successful rap video and got to perform the song live. More on that in the GOOD section below.

Lesson Learned: Having fun is less stressful than making money.

My “Money Pit” Condo Situation in New Jersey

I own a condo in New Jersey, which I feel is a very Jersey thing to say. I bought it in 2008 when I had no business buying a home.

When I started my business, I rented it out to save money. Then when I moved to Colorado, I hired a property manager. They were the WORST and weren’t able to get it rented when my tenant moved out. So I fired them and decided to sell it.

I was paying the mortgage since January 2016 (plus rent in Colorado). It was awful. And it didn’t look like selling it was working either.

But then I decided to think of my condo as a business. I started putting in systems. First, I got it painted and cleaned. Then I lowered the price and beefed up the sales copy on the MLS.

Condo Listing

I was finally able to get it rented, but not until November 1st 2016 (it was vacant for about 8 months).

Lesson Learned: Treat your rental property like a business instead of running it with your emotions. It’s just four walls and roof.

The Podcast Page Was a Huge Mistake

This is the page I’m talking about. I thought I could get booked on a bunch of podcasts by building a single page. And the problem was it worked! The page received 2,023 visitors in 2016.


The Podcast Guest Page

The page was featured and shared all over the web (here’s an example), and people were booking me on their shows. By the end I was booked on about 30 shows, which only 20 of them actually published or showed up for the interview.

However, being on those shows didn’t help Money Lab at all. How do I know?

I created a landing page with a very interesting URL: page received 144 visitors TOTAL. And I mentioned it on every podcast I was on.

Lesson Learned: I’m just not a fan of business podcasts anymore. And it’s time to just accept that.

The Promotional Project I Never Published: The Knowledge Bombz Podcast

I thought it would be really funny to create a fake entrepreneurial podcast. The plan was to produce 100 episodes and launch them all at once. My alter-ego (and host of the show) was Tyler Matthews, nicknamed “Ty-Matt” by Jason Zook.

I produced one episode and it make me cringe. It was very hard to put together because of how douchey it sounded. I didn’t have the power to produce 99 more.

So for the very first time, here’s the only unaired episode of “Knowledge Bombz”:

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Lesson Learned: Don’t be a douche. Even if you’re joking.

Learning To Code The Spruce Metrics Prototype

I’m adding this because it was the most stressful thing I did this year. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to learn a complex programming language to build a complex app is a fucking asshole.

Oh, that was me.

Lesson Learned: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Play to your strengths in the short term, and your weaknesses in the long term.

The Good Things in 2016

Now that I’m finished being a Debbie Downer, let’s talk about the fun stuff with all the sexy details. Since this is the first year I started Money Lab, let’s talk about that!

The Birth of Money Lab

Money Lab was suppose to be a podcast.

In late 2015 I reconnected with my old partner and co-host from the Listen Money Matter podcast. We were planning to start another podcast where we challenge each other to start projects to make money and talk about our progress.

The first episode was titled, “How This Episode Made $1,000 Before We Even Recorded.” We recorded but never published. And the money we made was refunded.

This was a pilot episode using the theme music from my last podcast, Driven. We attempted this episode three times, but still hated it.

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

After we realized the podcast idea wasn’t working, we gave up on the project. A few months later I decided to use the name and do something similar in a blog format. Hence the website you’re currently reading.

The First Money Lab Challenge Continues to Pay Off

I’m happy to report that the first challenge I did with Jason Zook continues to do well. But to some, it would look like a failure.

We rebranded an existing course Jason created a few years ago. We built a website, adding some articles to draw in traffic, and selling the courses using Gumroad. We collect email addresses and send out a drip campaign encouraging people to buy.

At launch (March 2016), we made the most money – $6,122. Mainly because we spent time hyping it up, holding webinars, and I made a rap video. The rap video alone earned us $4,000 because it was sponsored.

The following month (April 2016) we lost $1,029 because we spent money hiring blog writers and running Facebook ads. We only made a single sale. However, we both knew we were in this for the long term, so it wasn’t bad.

On average the project earns $380 a month after expenses. This is awesome for the first year. Some would disagree.

We held a sale in October and earned $1645 by sending out a few emails to our list that’s been growing since we launched.

In 2017 we plan to test new products and new content to see if we can beef up these numbers. However, I’m very please with how well it did the first year. We earned a total of $9,576 after expenses in 2016.

Not bad at all for a mostly passive business.

The Email Marketing Page That Went Viral

I’m very proud of this page. I wrote it out of anger. I was originally titled, “Give Me Your Fucking Email Address” and it was riddled with f-bombs.

Fucking Email Facebook Retargeting Ad

I had the idea and immediately starting writing. It was harsh and terrible. I sat on it for a few weeks and decided to clean it up. I must have read and edited that page over 25 times to get it right. And when I finally published it, crickets.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. It did pretty well the first day. I published it on Wednesday April 27th and received 1,007 visitors.

The next day I got 6,529 visitors. Mind. Blown!

Then on Friday April 29th, I got 29,476 visitors. Mind. EXPLODED!

A lot of traffic really came from “Direct” which I guess is people sharing it through email.

At the end, I gained around 1,600 new subscribers from that one page.

“Asana For Bloggers” Was The Easiest Money I Ever Made

It took me only five days to make this course and I only sold it for $25. I’d be using Asana for a few years and had a very good system for running multiple blogs. So the material was very simple to put together.

The month I launched, it made $1,075. I only promoted it to the Money Lab mailing list which was probably around 1,700 people at the time.

I know it was shared in some blogging groups because some people told me. So word-of-mouth is what really marketed this product. And that’s the best marketing. And it’s really the ONLY marketing.

This is the first attempt at a sales video and I made it weird. Too weird.

The only other thing I did to promote was allow a few people to include it in their “bundles.” If you’re familiar with the internet marketing space, then you know what bundles are. I didn’t make any money doing this, but every time someone downloaded the course, I got their email address.

The Rap Album Was My Favorite Money Lab Challenge

Despite the fact that it earned only $20, it was my favorite because it was fun to make. I got to use my musical talents and make an album the way I wanted to.

At first, I thought the 30-day constraint was going to be stressful but it was quite the opposite. Everything came pretty easy to me, and I was writing about what I live and breathe.

The hardest part was filming the music video for “The Boss.” Mainly because it was crowdsourced and that made things a little out of my control. But the video came out great. However, I’m even more proud of the “Making Of” video.

And for fun, I got to perform two songs in front of a live audience at FinCon during the Plutus Awards (note: the audio is distorted):

Building Spruce Was The Most Successful (and Stressful) Challenge

I mentioned this earlier, but building Spruce was hard because I tried to code it myself in a language I didn’t know. Then, once I hit my mental limit working with other APIs, I gave up and brought on a real software developer.

I was feeling stressed because I had lost control of the project. I was no longer the “boy in charge.” Giving up the reigns to this project was difficult, especially when missing self-imposed deadlines.

After I hit my stress limit, we put our preverbal foots down and said, “let’s fucking ship this thing NOW!” We launched on November 17th 2016 (30 days after the original launch date).

Spruce Metrics Dashboard

This is a mockup of the Spruce Metrics dashboard (based off SwimU numbers).

The launch day surprised me. We had 20 “Founding Members” pay $300 each for a lifetime membership totaling $6,000.00! The “Founding Member” launch (or beta) lasted two weeks and we maxed out at 38 customers totaling $11,400.00.

This challenge made the most money this year! And those customers came from a mix of Money Lab readers and Jason’s readers. Roughly 12,000 subscribers total.

Here’s the current stats from

As of writing this (December 28th 2016), Thai is rebuilding the app  from the ground up in a different programming language. It was originally coded in Ruby on Rails, but it will be re-coded in Go (Google’s programming language).

The Year Roasty Became Profitable

I started in March of 2015 to prove to myself I could build another profitable site quicker than I did with

Roasty Brewing Guides

The first year I spent about $10,000 to build it. That money went to hiring a writer and graphic designer to create weekly articles. I also used that money to pay for hosting and Mailchimp. I did all the coding and website design myself.

In 2015 the site only made $690.22 on Amazon Affiliates. Pretty terrible, but not surprising. To make money with affiliate sales, you need some good traffic, and the site only got 84,458 visitors all year.

But traffic really started to pick up in mid 2016.

Now that Roasty will be entering its third year with a fresh coat of paint, I think it will become a really serious source of income for the business overall.

The Site That Started It All And How I Make a Living

I refer to Swim University as my flagship brand. I own a company called The Ace Media Group and I run all my brands, including Money Lab, under that name.

Swim University Homepage

Swim University had its best year yet. Traffic tripled and the income almost doubled. Let’s just breakdown the stats:

In 2017 I’m removing the sidebar and shifting my attention away from selling sponsorships. I would like to focus more on selling my own products. I’m not going to stop selling sponsorships, just not actively pursue them.

Last Minute Fun Facts About 2016

There’s a couple of things I wanted to brag about before I wrap this post up. They don’t all have to do with Money Lab or money in general, just things I think are fun to mention that happened this year.

1. I Hired an Assistant and an Accountant

I hired someone to help me manage email and Facebook responses for SwimU and run my social media accounts for Roasty and SwimU.

I also hired an accountant who got me set up with Quickbooks. I used to be on Xero, but I like Quickbooks much better.

2. I Helped My Friends With Their Businesses

In the beginning of the year, I helped my friend Travis re-design his sales page for his Frequent Flyer Bootcamp product. In return, he gave me 25% of the profits earned in 2016. That was only about $2,500.

I helped Jason Zook code his website. In return he flew Steph and I out to San Diego to hang out for a week. I also recorded a intro song for his Action Army podcast.

I spent a lot of time with my friend Doug to help him market his business He teaches primitive and survival skills here in Colorado.

Doug Hill of Gone Feral

Doug Hill of Gone Feral is a fucking bad ass!

He’s also from a town 15 minutes away where I grew up and we found out we have a mutual friend back home. I helped him launch two online courses this year.

3. I Started Hosting Local Meetups in Denver and Boulder

When I moved here, I wanted to start meeting new people right away. I know a lot of people in the personal finance community from a conference I attend each year called FinCon.

I was given a small list of emails from people who live in the area. I used that to start hosting local meetups. I try to hold a meetup the second week of each month in either Boulder or Denver.

The Most Successful Meetup in 2016

The Most Successful Meetup at Rayback Collective (Boulder, CO) in 2016 with Mr. Money Mustache, Jason Moore, and Anita Dhake.

If you’re in the area, shoot me an email and I’ll add you to the list.

4. My Business is Now Taxed as an S-Corp

This is super boring, but if you make over $40,000 and you’re still taxed as an LLC, make the switch!

It allows me to save money on taxes by not paying the self-employment tax on EVERYTHING my company makes. I only pay that tax on the income I pay myself.

5. I Flew To San Diego Three Times

I did a lot of traveling this year. The most traveling I’ve ever done in a single year. It started with my snowboarding trip to Vermont.

Every year, my friends and I go snowboarding at Killington. But since this was the first winter I was in Colorado, my friends weren’t too optimistic about me going. But I did and there was NO snow.

The first time I flew to San Diego it was to hang out with Jason Zook and Caroline Winegeart (like I mentioned earlier). Jason paid for the flight and we stayed with them. It was like a mini-vacation.

When Jason Flew Us to San Diego

Me waving with Stephanie Halligan (my GF) Jason Zook, Caroline Winegeart, Omar Zenhom, and Nicole Baldinu.

The second time I flew out to attend VidCon with my friends Thomas Frank and Caleb Wojcik. And the third time was to attend FinCon.

And finally, I flew back to New Jersey to spend time with family for the holidays.

6. I Switched Hosting Companies

This is a big deal because I own quite a few sites, and they were all hosted on a single shared server with Hostgator. Then, ALL my sites went down with no explaination. I lost my mind!

I decided to make the switch to WP Engine (affiliate link) because I lot of people recommended it. But instead of paying $10 a month for hosting on Hostgator, I’m now paying $600 a month.


7. I Moved Into A New Place in Boulder

I’ve wanted to move to Colorado for as long as I can remember. I love mountains, snow, beer, snowboarding, coffee, low humidity, and everything else Colorado has to offer.

When I met Steph, she wanted the same things. So we packed up my 2009 Honda Civic Coup and drove to Boulder to live there forever. We rented an AirBnB for the first few months while we looked for a permanent residence.

We quickly moved into an apartment building that we realized month later we hated. So be broke the lease early in May of 2016 and moved into the place we live now.

We love it here. It’s a stand-alone condo with two floors and walking distance to downtown. Our bedroom has a view of the mountains and our place is always sunny.

The Front Porch of my House

This is me on the front porch filming the intro the “Making Of” video for the rap album.

I’m sure we’ll be here for a while 🙂

8. I Read 38 Books This Year

I’m super proud of this fact despite my goal of trying to read 50 books in 2016. I’ve listed all the books I read in order (with comments), but only linked to the ones I HIGHLY recommend (and those links make me money if you buy the books):

  1. Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
    Good for marketers to read, but dated.
  2. Smartcuts by Shane Snow
    Filled with some pretty cool stories, like the one about Skrillex.
  3. Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
    Read like an auto-biography of Derek Sivers, which is cool and it’s super short.
  4. Remote by David Heinemeier Hansson
    Barely got through it. It read like a giant advertisement for their product Basecamp. If you already work from home and love it, don’t read it.
  5. Inferno by Dan Brown
    Really fun! Forgot how much I loved his other books.
  6. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
    The worst book I ever read. Just a guy name dropping and bragging about how connected he is. If you’re an extrovert, this book will make you say, “duh.”
  7. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
    I thought this was better than Inferno, but it’s not the one being made into a shitty movie.
  8. The E-Myth Revisited by Michel E. Gerber
    I’m surprised it took me this long to read it, but I’m glad I finally did. I was disappointed to find out the pie lady was a fake.
  9. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
    Fucking amazing! Just two dudes (and their sister) changing the world. Like, no big deal. I highly recommend.
  10. Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale
    One of my favorite movies and the book was 100 times better!
  11. Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century by Sean Patrick
    Short and dope! There’s no reason you should not read it. It’ll take you exactly one hour.
  12. Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson
    Super fucking boring and I was hoping it wouldn’t be. I really wanted to like this book, but I didn’t.
  13. We Are All Weird by Seth Godin
    If you’re in marketing, you really can’t go wrong with Seth.
  14. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones
    This is the best book I ever read. Jim Henson was an amazing human who we lost way too soon. I cried real tears reading this book and it changed the way I look at my art. RECOMMEND HARD!
  15. The Circle by Dave Eggers
    Jason Zook recommended this to me and it was just fine. Felt a little boring and pointless, but not a bad book. And now it’s gonna be a movie, which I’ll watch.
  16. Disrupted by Dan Lions
    I had so much fun reading about how shitty HubSpot is as a company. If you’re anything like me, and you think the internet marketing and startups are full of assholes, you’ll love this book.
  17. Sick in The Head by Judd Apatow
    Fun read. Not bad. Not great. Just neat if you like stand-up comedy.
  18. The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    I was surprised by how much I liked this book. That’s all I’ll say. It’s short, too.
  19. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
    Pretty solid. A little over-hyped in my opinion. But not bad.
  20. Ego is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
    This book sparked a lot of conversation over breakfast with Steph. It’s pretty good and worth it if you think you might have an ego that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
  21. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It by Steven Pressfield
    Pretty good. pretty short. Don’t really remember all that much from it.
  22. Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
    Dope as fuck! It’s like “Catch Me If You Can” for computer nerds.
  23. Animal Farm by George Orwell
    A fucking classic. Read that shit again!
  24. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep by Philip K. Dick
    This is the book “Bladerunner” was based on. It’s totally different, but really good.
  25. Kanye West Owes Me $300: & Other True Stories from a White Rapper Who Almost Made It Big by Jensen Karp
    Funniest book I read all year. I read it during the making of my rap album, so it was perfect timing for me.
  26. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
    Not bad.
  27. Deep Work by Cal Newport
    Also not bad.
  28. Jolt by Justin Jackson
    Short read filled with resources for online product makers.
  29. The Elon Musk Blog Series by Tim Urban
    While this is technically not a book, I downloaded and read it like a e-book. Plus it was long so it counts. And it’s fucking mind blowing!
  30. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
    A little boring, but it’s cool to know where computers came from.
  31. Wait But Why Year One by Tim Urban
    This is just a collection of blog posts from, but I really enjoyed it.
  32. Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod
    This is the guy that started It’s not bad, but not great either.
  33. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
    I read this book because a reality TV star (Mike Rowe) recommended it right before the election. And I’m glad I read it. But if I had to sum it up, the lesson is: the economy, if left alone, will take care of itself.
  34. Cabin Porn by Zach Klein
    A collection of stories about people building their own cabins around the world. I really enjoyed this book. Makes a great coffee table book, too.
  35. Creativity For Sale by Jason Zook
    This taught me a lot about my friend. It’s interesting to know someone and THEN read about their life in a book.
  36. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
    Jeff Bezos is ruthless and treats his employees like garbage. But we all luck out with low prices, so…
  37. The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
    A dirty, but funny read. And surprisingly deep.
  38. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

What’s The Plan For 2017?

I was going to take it easy in 2017 because 2016 was stressful. Moving a new place, not being able to rent my condo, starting Money Lab, building software, and traveling. I hate traveling.

But I sent an email to everyone on the Money Lab list asking what they want from me. I was overwhelmed with support from over 100 responses. People really seem to like what I’m doing on this site, and I’m proud of all the work I’ve done so far.

Money Lab is exactly what I want it to be. And I want to deliver even more!

Here’s a quick list of things I’m thinking about doing in 2017:

Thank You

And finally, I’d like to thank you for reading this and supporting Money Lab. I want this to be a place you can escape from the other shitty make-money-online sites. I want this site to be something you actually bookmark. Something you come back to again and again because it’s entertaining AND useful.

If you have any ideas on how I can make this site better, please email me.

This site exists because I wanted to PROVE anyone can make money online; not just motivate you with a listicle. But honestly, I wanted to brag about my hard work.

I’m proud of my talents. I didn’t go to college and I taught myself everything. And I think this is possible for anyone.

I’ve mostly operated behind-the-scenes of But now I want to be out in front. I want to be brutally honest.

What I do isn’t hard. All it takes is an idea, a little talent, and blind ambition to see it through. Then, sprinkle in a fuck load of time.

I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings. Hopefully we’ll all still be here 🙂

Matt Giovanisci

I own three authority sites across different niches, including Swim University, Brew Cabin, and Money Lab. They earn a combined total of roughly $1,000,000 a year. I design and code all my sites. Write the words. Film and edit the videos. Produce the podcasts. Illustrate the graphics. And I have a small team that helps too.

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