Entrepreneurship Conversation 4: The Fitness Warehouse's Wes Kochheiser

Wes has a team of superstar trainers at TFW he couldn't be more appreciative of.

What makes you tick? What drives you to get out of bed every day and give your all for this life you're so blessed to have? For Wes Kochheiser, the answer is simple. Wes eats, sleeps, and breathes fitness, the impact fitness has on people's lives, and the camaraderie with clients, members, and trainers that comes along with owning a gym.

From Gearhead to Fitness Fanatic

Fitness has always played an enormous role in Wes Kochheiser's life. From being a standout swimmer in high school and time with the U.S. Masters, to working as a personal trainer, and to opening his own gym, fitness has been at the center of nearly everything Wes has done in his entire life.

Wes's inspiration for working in the fitness space isn't just a desire to look like Larry the Lobster to my Spongebob (although I talk a big game, Wes could whoop my ass in a second). When asked about his inspiration for pursuing this career, Wes is quick to explain his passion lies "definitely in making an impact in other people's lives. That's what drove it through the roof. . . It's not work. You're helping someone."

Wes initially had a passion to work in powersports which stemmed from his time spent at car shows as a child, saying it's "in my blood. My dad's a gearhead." He studied in the Power Equipment Mechanics program at Pioneer under Rick Harvey in high school and went on to the Power Sport Institute in Cleveland to make his dream of working in the field a reality.

During his time studying powersports, Wes discovered his love for fitness and weightlifting. So he did what every college-aged person should do with their time and interests, and he tested the waters. But Wes isn't the type of person to dip his toe in the water -- he did a 360 double gainer into the deep end.

"I worked at Flex Fitness in Bucyrus for quite some time. I worked at YMCAs throughout the years. And it dawned on me one day, you know, I was like 'I want to do this for myself.' I want to make an impact, and I want to make a place for people how I want it. How I see it."

Even as Wes began to dabble in the fitness space and pursued his powersports education, he ran a shop -- you know, in all of his free time. "I did rebuilds, brake jobs, oil changes, whatever. I did that going to school Monday through Thursday, come home and wrench on the weekends. . . I was hungry, man. I wanted to do anything to make a buck. . . It was going well, but I wanted something more. . . I wasn't satisfied."

Wes's original shop
A saturated mechanic market ultimately provided difficult conditions for a new mechanic in the area. Instead, Wes had his head on a swivel and always looked for opportunities to turbocharge his success. "I saw an opportunity with fitness while I was running that shop. The Fitness Warehouse used to be my bike shop."

Wes graduated from Power Sport Institute in 2009 and became a certified personal trainer in November that same year. He then started working with Flex Fitness. But Wes pursued one last hurrah in his ultra successful swimming career. "In 2012, I went into U.S. Masters. I made it to the U.S. Nationals. . . I was kind of starstruck, man, I made it into the top heat. And I was swimming against guys I'd read about my whole life. All of a sudden, you look over and there they are 4 lanes down. Ended up finishing 8th at the nationals, and then kind of settled down."

Diving Into Business

After his swimming stint, Wes dialed in and became completely focused on starting The Fitness Warehouse. Although he had some experience running his shop, Wes doesn't consider that to have factored into his entrepreneurial success, stating, "I was clueless."

But similar to many entrepreneurship success stories, Wes had a little luck on his side -- although his version of luck may be a bit extreme. "I ended up with my grandmother, my father, and my mother at the casino in Columbus. So we're hanging out and having fun. And I jump on this video poker machine. And I hit max bet. . . the hell with it, it's $5. And I hit the progressive, man, I won like $4,300!"

I don't know about you, but I have a long list of irresponsible decisions I would make if $4,300 fell into my lap today. Although not necessarily an irresponsible decision, Wes's mind initially went to "thinking about all these car parts I'm going to buy."

And again, as we see with many entrepreneurial success stories, a little mentorship went a long way. "My mom and dad looked at me and said, 'You know, you need to do something smart with that money. Don't just blow it.' And they're right, okay? They were right, I'll say it. They were right." Although he may not have admitted as such at the time (who would?), Wes is extremely grateful for his parents' shrewd advice in that moment.

"So I started thinking, and I was like you know, this is my chance. It literally is my only chance to go for it. And I loved my job at Flex. . . This was an opportunity to make my own place -- what I wanted to do. And I didn't want to own a gym. I wanted a bike shop. Hell, at one point I even wanted to be a chef. I loved cooking. So, I was going to go for it. Whatever. I had nothing to lose except for the money that fell in my lap. And if I lost it, you know what? Hell, I tried." 

Wes laid the groundwork for The Fitness Warehouse by purchasing 2 treadmills and 2 ellipticals with his $4,300. He scratched and clawed for every penny he could find for the rest of his equipment, and his early workouts were mainly focused on body weight rather than all the fancy equipment you'll see in The Fitness Warehouse walking in the doors today.

So in April of 2013, Wes went all in. "I ended up leaving Flex. I came home, and I was shocked, man. I'd never quit anything in my life. I really enjoyed that place. I enjoyed working with those people. . . But I had to do this. I had to go for it."

Wes credits his brother for setting him straight during this difficult and pivotal transition period. Wes called his brother after leaving Flex, "And he told me 'Get up and start working the next day. Go right at it.'" And that's exactly what Wes did.

The Fitness Warehouse's humble beginnings

The Entrepreneurial Life

Wes started scheduling clients and quickly built his clientele to 30 people he was training in his garage. Despite some concern from the neighbors that the traffic in and out of the garage every day was from people wanting to do more harm to their bodies than good, Wes had laid the foundation of a highly successful fitness business.

Although Wes faced some logistical obstacles running a gym out of his garage, he was growing so fast that he needed to expand within 3 months. But Wes wasn't completely convinced that this venture would prove to be successful. "I'd definitely have to say I was doubting. But it's win or learn at the end of the day. You don't lose if you learn something. So I kept working with what I had. So, yeah, I definitely doubted it. But at the same time, if we're going to do this, we're swinging for the fence."

Once he convinced his father to allow him to fun the gym out of his warehouse, the operation was, Wes describes, "all hands on deck." Once funding was secured, the renovation and preparations were completed in about a month and a half. "It wasn't easy. But it was fun though. It was a lot of fun."

The Fitness Warehouse's early marketing strategy relied heavily on word of mouth. They did secure a billboard and occasionally advertise on Facebook, but Wes credits his passionate and loyal early clients for helping to build The Fitness Warehouse into what it is today.

Creating a welcoming, comfortable environment to encourage client retention is a major focus and passion of Wes's. "We try to make an impact in everybody's life. We know your name. When you come in, we say hello. And it's not just in passing. If we ask, 'How's your day?' we actually mean how was your day."

Creating this culture is not a solo job. Wes is extremely appreciative and complimentary of each and every one of the trainers currently training at The Fitness Warehouse. "All the guys are good. We're all genuine people. I can't say anything bad about our trainers. They are 110% genuine people."

But the journey hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. The first trainer Wes allowed in his doors accepted money from people and didn't show up to provide the services they had rightfully paid for. A mistake like this can be devastating to a new business especially in a small community. But Wes built up a little sweat equity to make up for this wrongdoing.

"I was getting phone calls from all of his clients. Every one of them. All throughout the day. This looked horrible on me. Fresh out of the gate, and all of a sudden, we're taking money and not giving a product? We're flying the plane into the ground right now. So I worked those hours and let him go. That was rough."

This experience did make it difficult for Wes to trust another trainer for a little while. Ultimately, he's extremely happy with the trainers who have walked in the door ever since. "Through the years we've accumulated some people, and everybody's awesome. . . There's a lot of energy here."

Wes ultimately decided to take the leap of faith to hire another trainer based on a recommendation from his girlfriend, Emily. Wes has since built up to 5 trainers at The Fitness Warehouse including Patrick Kirk, Adam Hartz, Jonny Martinez, Emily Keller, and Tom Garverick (Wes's business partner) with 1 possible addition.

Wes values his trainers and leverages his experience in and knowledge of the industry to ensure they have a positive and fruitful working environment. "I will tell you right now, you will not find a better gym to work for in Crawford County. . . Working those long hours taught me a lot. . . It makes me respect my trainers and their time. They're people. They don't work for me -- they work with me."

Wes intentionally cultivates the positive culture among The Fitness Warehouse's trainers and members by being completely authentic. "Just walking around, knowing people's names, talking people. Making sure that you don't take any one for granted. . . We're all here to be healthy. These aren't numbers. These are people walking around. These are my friends."

The 24/7 nature of his business is at times admittedly taxing for Wes, but he wouldn't have it any other way. "People call me at 10, 11 o'clock. I'm trying to sit down and hang out with my dogs and just be me for a minute. And I've got somebody wanting to sign up. Which is great. It's a great problem to have. And I don't mind getting up and going."

A major obstacle Wes had to overcome in his early days was banking. As Wes puts it, "They want your firstborn. They want everything." Wes ultimately found his banking home with FC Bank (which just so happens to be the same bank I use for my personal banking -- I wouldn't mind a few extra bucks in interest this month, FC).

The Fitness Warehouse's success has lead to a couple of expansion efforts thus far. When Wes notices a consistently crowded gym and expects an upcoming surge of motivated new members, he knows it's time to reinvest in his business through expansion efforts. When weighing options and decisions to expand and reinvest, Wes states, "It's a balance game. If you don't reinvest in yourself or your business, you're not going to go anywhere. No one's going to hand it to you."

The Future Of The Fitness Warehouse

Although money and profitability isn't a main focus of his, Wes expects his business to profit in the next 3-5 years. Wes's priorities shine through when asked about his path to profitability, stating, "Honestly, we need to keep building, keep packing the house, and keep listening to people. That's the bottom line."

In the next 3-5 years, Wes wants to complete his vision for The Fitness Warehouse to be the premier gym in the area. He expects to complete his building renovation within that timeframe and has plans to build a deck out back to encourage further development of community among his members.

Wes sees himself as being on the path to that vision of success which in my opinion is evidently true based on the success The Fitness Warehouse has enjoyed thus far. In 20 years, Wes is leaving his options open. He's considered franchising as a long-term growth option, but he's not ready to turn his focus beyond what's currently in front of him and what he's currently focused on achieving. "I just need to finish what I started, and then go from there."

When asked to reflect on his success thus far, Wes is encouraged by his progress in a humble manner. "I'd say it has made it, yes. But that can be taken away any day. You have to really be cautious with what you do. . . It's made a huge impact on my life, I'm self-employed, I help people every day, and I love it. I love what I do. I take care of my guys. I make sure that they have the tools that they need to help more people. So we work together as a team, so yeah. I'd say as a whole, we have made it."

TFW is an impressive, well-kept facility with every piece of lifting and cardio equipment you could ever need. 

Transition & Reflection

Since recently completing his latest expansion, Wes has been transitioning from being focused on training to stepping back and running the business which can be an extremely difficult transition for entrepreneurs. Wes describes that transition as "Bittersweet. It's very bittersweet. I love training. I love the people. I love coming in and starting my day with a bunch of energy. I had a lot of great clients, everyone worked hard. I really hate that I'm not training, but at the same time I needed to slow down because I had too many irons in the fire."

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Wes is extremely grateful for his villagers who have guided and molded him to become the successful entrepreneur he is today.Wes credits his parents for instilling good morals and work ethic in him as well as providing sound financial advice. Mike Holtzapfel, Wes's high school swim coach was a "rock" and a "mentor" in Wes's life. Wes's neighbor, Jeff Walker, a fellow business owner, has provided solid entrepreneurial advice along the way. Finally, Wes's friend Tyler, The Fitness Warehouse's honorary idea consultant, has "been in the trenches" with Wes from day 1.

Wes is also extremely grateful for the contributions from his business partner, Tom. Tom has stepped up in a big way over the years both through hard work and financial contributions. Wes credits Tom for keeping the business afloat over this past winter which allowed Wes and his dad to focus on their renovation project to add a new section to the building.

Wes also mentioned Katie Suter-Kruse, owner of Salon Ooh La-La in Bucyrus, as being one of his most important and helpful influences from a business perspective. Katie "Helped me out of the gate on a business plan. Not knowing where to turn or how to construct a formal business plan, she guided me in the right direction on getting everything on paper." Katie has supported Wes's businesses from the very beginning of his journey.

Last but not least, Wes is extremely appreciative of the contributions and support provided by his girlfriend, Emily. Emily has "seen this place go from a 5 star notebook to reality. We've been through the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with building a business. I'm very thankful to have her in my life."

Wes credits "making yourself available" for contributing to his success more than anything else along his journey. In today's day and age, being present and available is a disappearing art, and attention is hard to come by. The people like Wes who are willing to put in the time and effort to give attention are the people who are going to achieve wild levels of success.

Wes would recommend someone interested in following in his footsteps to educate herself or himself and "Do it. Go after your dream." For someone who has started on her or his journey, Wes recommends to block out the negativity. A couple of close friends discouraged Wes from even attempting to open The Fitness Warehouse before he even got started. Despite the early criticism, Wes marched on.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt to drop $5 on some video poker to seed the startup fund.

Keep Up With Wes!

We sincerely appreciate Wes's willingness to share his story with us! We encourage you to keep up with Wes and The Fitness Warehouse on Facebook. If you're familiar with the business, leave them a review (they currently have 84 reviews at 4.7 stars), or if you're not, shoot them a post or a message and introduce yourself!


Entrepreneurship Conversation 3: 10xTravel's Bryce Conway


Thanks to Bryce for an excellent interview!

Let’s harken back to the time where we all were in college, eagerly anticipating our spring midterms to be complete while we plan one of the biggest tips of our lives thus far. That’s right, I’m talking about spring break. We’ve all gone through that inner monologue. Planning your big spring break trip with your friends is a college tradition-but one that often comes with a significant dollar cost up front.

For Bryce Conway, a then-college undergrad at The Ohio State University, this was no different. Bryce had many of his friends planning a college spring break trip to Florida but was staring a hard truth in the eyes: he had only $30 in his bank account. Most financial experts would say that’s not enough to finance a backyard cookout, let alone a week crushing Natty Lights on the beach & taking down bar tabs every night.

Bryce immediately thought of every scenario that could get him to Florida on the cheap. He had heard of people taking last-minute packages cross-country in an effort to have somebody else finance your transportation, but quickly found this option to be non-existent. What’s a college student to do? Bryce was prepared to throw in the towel, inform his roommates that he was not going on spring break & head to his childhood home, tail tucked between his legs.

However, Bryce’s luck was about to change. After Bryce’s search for a financier went awry, his internet pop-ups began to flag airline travel cards as the main advertisements in his internet searches. Bryce saw a Southwest credit card offering 2 free flights with a credit card sign-up and figured, why not? After meeting the minimum spend by paying for normal college expenses (textbooks), Bryce received his flights and took the trip of his college dreams: Columbus-Florida for half of spring break, then Florida-Las Vegas & back home for the second half.

Needless to say, Bryce was hooked on the idea of travelling on the cheap using these credit cards. What was one an unattainable spring break trip became the beginning of a business now called 10xTravel- a journey we’re excited to share with you in our latest entrepreneurial conversation.

A Traveler At Heart

From a young age, Bryce always was interested in the world of travel and specifically, aviation. Bryce’s family would frequently take trips travelling around the country, much to the delight of young Bryce. He was fascinated with the idea of flying over different terrains. While most of us would dread that layover in Phoenix on our flight to Los Angeles, Bryce reveled in it. A self-described “av-geek”, Bryce specifically enjoyed getting on airplanes and seeing the world from above. Bryce truly revels in the sights you take in from that window seat, something that ultimately shaped his interest in the travel sector today.

So how do you go from a kid that loves flying on an airplane to a successful entrepreneur in the travel business? After Bryce’s college spring break success, he doubled down on the idea of opening credit cards to travel the world. A few internet dives into the world of travel credit cards introduced him to the world of travel hacking, where you sign up for credit cards with the intent of accumulating rewards points to travel the world.

Bryce began to sign up for many credit cards and consequently took more trips as a result. Going to California was no longer a struggle but a simple weekend trip in Bryce’s world. However, as the free trips accumulated, so did the questions from friends and family. “Are you going into credit card debt?” and “Is what you’re doing illegal?” were common questions Bryce (and I!) heard throughout his initial travels. However, the question he probably heard most was…”How are you doing this? Can you teach me?”

From College Student To Author

Tired of explaining the same story to people that would approach him at every social gathering, Bryce decided to write-up an explanation of his travel hacking in 2012 that would ultimately become his first e-book on travel. When thinking about what to name it, he could think of no better name then what everybody was asking. Get Free Flights was born, an e-book that explained how Bryce was travelling the world by using credit card bonuses as his financing. Bryce had big plans for the book and ultimately saw it as an easy way to make money. Since all these people had so much interest in Bryce’s travels when they spoke to him, they’d definitely be interested in buying the e-book, right?

Wrong. The book started off selling very poorly & read more like a textbook than a conversation between two friends. Bryce sent the book to some of his trusted friends and immediately received critical feedback. They didn’t understand the content in the book and became bored with it, something no author wants to hear. Bryce took their advice to heart & rewrote the book from scratch, utilizing the conversational tone this time. He made a sales page with big, bold text with the claim “Airlines Hate Me!”. He even offered a guarantee that he’d buy a FREE FLIGHT for any person that couldn’t get a free flight using his book.

In Bryce’s mind, what person wouldn’t buy a book for $19 that came with a guaranteed flight, backed by the author himself? Bryce had dollar signs in his eyes already. He finished up the process by making a YouTube video explaining why you should buy the book, complete with lighting derived from the packaging of a Honeybaked Ham. You can’t make that up…and with that, Bryce’s e-book was off and running.

National Exposure

Luckily for Bryce, right before the e-book launched, he was approached by ABC News about interest in doing a story on travel hacking. ABC News had stumbled upon one of Bryce’s posts outlining a trip to Paris he took for free and thus, Bryce had the attention of the national media. He made the rounds of the ABC shows, appearing on Good Morning America, Nightline News with Barbara Walters & Nightline. This culminated in 8 million views of Bryce booking a trip to Florida for free using frequent flyer miles, an audience that had Bryce thinking of big-time e-book sales.

Bryce was so confident, in fact, that he had booked a trip to Vegas for that weekend to bask in the newfound fame/increased revenue he would soon be receiving. Once the book launched, though, Bryce’s mood had shifted. The opening weekend sold only 39 units, and while the website was getting thousands of page views/day, the conversion was bleak.

This resulted in Bryce awkwardly having to explain to his friends how the book wasn’t the massive success he had expected from the national attention. While the book wasn’t necessarily driving sales, the attention was there. What’s a business owner to do when faced with internal crisis?

Shifting Profit Streams Into Affiliate Marketing

 Luckily, the national attention from the ABC News pieces had attracted some banks & credit card companies offering Bryce promotional deals through affiliate marketing. Essentially, Bryce would advertise select credit cards of these companies and would be paid directly by them, all without passing the cost on to his readers. Ultimately, this provided the base revenue stream for which 10xTravel sits on today, all generated from the attention gained from the ABC News piece.

Without appearing on the show, he never would have made this connection and thus, 10xTravel probably would not exist today. It goes to show for business owners that what you believe your revenue stream is may not be your final product-every business has a different path to financial success. It seemed like Bryce & his business partner had a solid plan in place.

Changing Business Models

Bryce would be the first person to tell you that he would change everything 10xTravel did in its infancy. With some slight tweaks to the business model, 10xTravel began to take off.

The first step was reevaluating the distribution of the ebook. Instead of offering the book at a $19 cost, 10xTravel decided to give the book away for free. Free doesn’t sound like a way to make money in my book; however, it is a great way to build your email signup list and get people to begin utilizing your credit card affiliate links. Since the book was not very professional-looking, allowing the free download provided the reader with the assurance that they weren’t wasting money on a “crappy product’. This allowed the readership of GetFreeFlights to grow and ultimately saw a period of rapid growth in the business.

Bryce & his business partner also invested in some business development courses (6 months’ worth of revenue!) that allowed 10xTravel to reevaluate how they connect with the customer. Bryce credits Ramit Sethi’s Zero to Launch as a driving factor behind changing how they approach the business with minor tweaks. While seeming mundane at first, they actually deliver results.

One of Bryce’s great stories from the course was the renaming of his business. Bryce’s original name for the site, GetFreeFlights.com, was actually one of the examples given in the course of what you SHOULD NOT name your business. As Bryce sat dumfounded watching the module, his business unknown to Ramit, he decided to crowdsource the new name of the business.
Bryce had originally thought something crafty like The Opposite of Frugal would win the poll; however, the overwhelming winner was 10xTravel, which Bryce had ranked dead last. The moral of the story is this: find what people are looking for, don’t create something you think they are looking for. It’s excellent advice by Bryce & something every entrepreneur should take to heart.

Social Media Strategy: Creating a Cult

10xTravel utilizes a very different social media strategy than many of the businesses you’ll see posting across all channels. While many blogs (us included) drive their traffic through Twitter & Instagram and posting articles to Facebook, 10xTravel has a different approach. Bryce & his team are all about “creating a cult mentality” when it comes to their business, driven by their private 10xTravel insiders Facebook group. While the word “cult” may rub potential readers the wrong way, they simply mean having an exclusive feel where the consumer is feeling more connected than the outside world.

There is no cost to join the 10xTravel Insiders Group and they do fun things like trip giveaways, 10xT Happy Hours with live-stream Facebooks feeds to answer questions, etc. Since 10xTravel doesn’t do a ton of social media posting, they rely on invites from friends to grow the group & word of mouth.

While this definitely works, one standout strategy was hosting the 10xTravel meetup in Las Vegas, where the 10xTravel team paid for a party in the penthouse of the Venetian for their readers. This was complete with free food/alcohol, a photo booth & 75 avid travel hackers, all in the name of living it up for the insider community. 10xTravel also paid for two readers to fly to Vegas, gave them money to gamble with & paid for their stay, driving an influx of traffic to the group.

Although 10xTravel’s marketing strategy may be different than most, it’s certainly effective and driving growth in the business. By promoting exclusivity with their readers, they have developed brand loyalty-the goal of any start-up business.

Growing 10xTravel Today

10xTravel’s commitment to growing this insider group while producing great content has resulted in explosive growth of their business. They’ve been able to educate the community to answer each other’s questions in the group while hiring additional writers for the site, allowing for additional content to be produced.

The hiring process at 10xTravel is also unique. Instead of going through a formal job interview, the 10xTravel team merely asks their email list to email Bryce “Why should we hire you?”. When they initially did this for their first openings, they expected 4-6 applicants. The demand was much more-they received 50 applicants in the first day, ranging from people sending potential articles they had written for the site to multiple pages explaining why they were best for the job.

Bryce & his team narrowed down the pool & then had each remaining applicant write a sample article for the site. The 10xT team then did a blind read of each article & took the best-graded applicant from that pool. This process has been repeated with every batch of new writers, with the 10xTeam continuing to expand their writing team.

Most businesses would at least look at a resume when hiring a new employee. 10xTravel doesn’t care about that-they care about hiring knowledgeable, strong writers that will stay loyal to the brand. By building that “vicious loyalty”, as Bryce describes it, 10xTravel has built a strong-knit team that can handle the growth they’ve experienced over the last few years.

What’s Next for 10xTravel?

While the current iteration of 10xTravel has become extremely successful, they are always looking to the next way to grow the business. This growth, in their eyes, will come from the concept of curating travel experiences.

Many of Bryce’s readers will obviously come to the site to get free travel for their vacation or other travelling needs. Naturally, the next question is “What do we do when we get there?” By being able to provide a unique experience where you are truly living like the locals, 10xTravel hopes to capitalize on their connections and deliver an A+ vacation for those that want it.

Bryce & I have similar travelling styles in that we don’t like to bounce from city to city on a vacation, trying to see as many of the sights as possible. Instead, we try to take in the city & culture as much as possible, getting the ultimate city experience. This is what 10xTravel is trying to bring their consumer-a tall task I look forward to watching come to fruition.

Much of what shapes today’s travel goals comes from social media, specifically trying to show off for Instagram. People will message 10xTravel saying they want to take a trip to Bora Bora (#ForTheGram) and when Bryce offers a similar experience in South Thailand for 1/3 of the price, it’s hard to say no.

Speaking of Thailand-Bryce has an excellent post where he took a $28,000 trip to Thailand for only $326. It’s one of 10xTravel’s most popular posts to date and one well-worth checking out.

Bryce’s Advice For Entrepreneurs

  •  Drive Faster & Harder: This is a topic that seems second nature to most business owners. When you look at a bodybuilder that is jacked & ask them what they’d do differently, they’d say they would have pushed harder at the beginning of their fitness journey. Why should a business be any different? Challenge yourself to commit to your business and give everything you have-you’ll see the results you want if you give the effort.

  • Reinvest In Yourself: Bryce cannot stress enough the importance of investing in yourself and the business through educational tools. Taking business courses, copywriting, Facebook advertising modules…all of these are valuable levers you can add to your portfolio. They all are there waiting for the taking-you just need to take the initiative to better yourself and your business will benefit.

Stay Connected with Bryce & 10xTravel

Thanks to Bryce for an amazing interview-we really appreciated having him on. If you want to keep up with 10xTravel and Bryce, the best place is following their Insiders page on Facebook, where they have 15k followers. You can also visit their website 10xTravel.com & follow them on Instagram and Twitter but again, the Insider group is the one you want to follow.

We’d love to hear from you guys on what you thought of this interview! If you have questions for Bryce, reach out to 10xTravel or Smart Money Seed & we’ll be happy to answer them. Last but not least, if you enjoyed this story, please share with your friends & family!


Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Refinancing Student Loans

This post is from Tom at FIREd Up Millennial – a blog about his relentless pursuit of Financial Independence so he can Retire Early. You can stay updated with his latest articles and random thoughts by following him on Twitter.

Student loan debt is a huge issue in the United States. Right now, it is a $1.5 trillion crisis and that number probably won’t get smaller with so many careers college degrees nowadays.

Unfortunately, many students graduate with loads of debt along with their degrees, then can’t find well-paying jobs, leaving them unable to save up for many of life’s major milestones. These things include purchasing cars and homes, getting married, and even saving for retirement.

The student debt becomes too overwhelming because the payments are too high.

Many times, what happens is graduates request forbearance or deferment because their financial situations coming straight out of college isn’t conducive to being able to afford the minimum payment. If a student has private student loans, the chances of getting help with the payments are slim.

Even when a student can have the loans placed in forbearance or deferment, this simply lengthens the amount of time that the debt exists. The interest also accrues on the loans if they are unsubsidized loans. The exception is when a Subsidized Stafford Loan is deferred because the federal government will pay the interest until the loan is out of deferment.

Although the federal government paying interest on a loan during a deferment period sounds nice, not everyone is able to enjoy this benefit. There’s also the fact that a student loan weighs on your debt-to-income ratio even if it is not having to be paid at the time. This can still make buying a house or car difficult.

I once struggled with my student loan debt but have since taken steps to pay a large portion of it down and save some money along the way. What’s the best move I made regarding my student loans, you ask? Well…

I Refinanced My Student Loans Saving Me Thousands in Interest

To get rid of the debt as soon as possible, you will want to look at student loan refinancing. Both private and federal loans can be refinanced, but only with a private lender or bank. Though federal student loans can be refinanced, these borrowers will lose some of the benefits that come along with federal loans, like access to income-based repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.

When deciding on a company to refinance with, you will need to compare the interest rates, repayment terms, and amount of the monthly payments. In addition, you’ll find that there are eligibility requirements that can often be quite strict. These requirements are the biggest obstacle for some applicants.

If your credit isn’t in tip-top condition, a co-signer will be needed. Many student loan refinancing companies allow you to obtain a preapproval on their websites, so you can compare rates between companies. The idea behind refinancing is to reduce the overall loan amount that you owe by paying a lower interest rate. However, the eligibility requirements that must be met aside from credit rating include:
  • Minimum Income 
  • Citizenship
  • Loan Amount
Other companies might require an existing bank account with the financial institution that backs them. If an account doesn’t currently exist, one will have to be opened. This is common when a credit union backs the private lender.

Alex here. . . Ty and I both paid off our loans relatively quickly, so we were much more focused on squeezing extra cash out of our budgets to get rid of the loans rather than the interest rates. However, if early payoff isn't realistic for you or it's not your goal, we highly recommend looking into refinancing!

My Experience with Refinancing My Student Loan Debt

In the past year, I refinanced around $30,000 of private and federal student loan debt. I went through the process of obtaining preapprovals from multiple lenders to see what kind of estimated rate I would be offered from each.

I ended up settling on SoFi because the company offered me the lowest fixed interest rate. Yes, I could have received a lower rate if I had opted for the variable rate, but I didn’t want to risk having to pay a higher interest rate in the future. I wanted a fixed rate because I don’t want any surprises.

Though I don’t remember the exact average interest rate on my student loans before refinancing, I think it was around 6.5 percent between my federal and private loans. When I refinanced, my new interest was around 3.5 percent – a pretty considerable difference!

I also liked SoFi’s benefits. There are no origination or prepayment fees, there’s unemployment protection in case I lose my job, they’ll help me in my job search and give me career support, and I have access to wealth advisors so that I can make sense of my financial situation.

All I had to do to get started was complete the online preapproval to see my expected rate. Because I liked what I saw, I compared plans and selected a loan, and I electronically signed my documents to seal the deal.

I estimate that refinancing my student loans through SoFi will save me around $10,000 at the end of the day.

How to Decide if You Should Refi

If saving money sounds good to you, make sure you consider the loss of forbearance and deferment protections, income-driven repayment plans, student loan forgiveness, and the other benefits you receive with federal student loans before you refinance.

If you know that you won’t need any of the aforementioned protections or the repayment plans and you have a good credit score, you may be able to save thousands through refinancing.

To get started, all you have to do is review the amount you owe on your loans, obtain preapprovals from student loan refinancing companies so you can compare them, and then choose a company. Many make it easy to apply if you meet the requirements. If you do, then you are on the road to saving a lot of money on your student loans.


How I Took A $4000+ Flight To Hawaii For $82-And How You Can Too!


Smart Money Squad, how have we been doing? It’s been a while since I last checked in. That’s because we’ve been working hard behind-the-scenes on some awesome content, all in the name of saving you some money! Today, we get to talk about one of my favorite topics…TRAVEL!

Who doesn’t love flying on the cheap? I know I’m always looking for the best deals on flights, hotels, excursions, you name it…but that often comes with a time investment. I’m here to take the time commitment away from you, giving you the step-by-step details you need to book that awesome trip you’ve been planning for years. Want to go to Europe? How about a cross-country baseball trip? Everybody has their own travel dreams, and with our points & miles game, we can achieve that and much more.

If you need a back-to-basics crash course on some of the methods we use to travel on the cheap, check out our 'Vacation Like a Baller' piece. Earning enough points & miles to see the world for free may seem hard, but I can promise you it's not as bad as it looks. Take it from one of our own, Christian, who's knee-deep in trying to earn the Southwest Companion pass from two credit card bonuses. He's doing an excellent job and is well on his way to snagging some awesome flights with Rosie, all on the cheap.

To take a page from one of my favorite trivia games (HQ), let's get down to the nitty-gritty. We're cleared for takeoff...here's the step-by-step guide you need to book the trip of your dreams, all for a fraction of the cost!

Step One: Narrow In On Your Destination

The first mistake lots of travelers make is casting a wide net when deciding where to travel. While it’s nice to have lots of ideas on where you want to go, if you can nail down exactly where you want to take a trip, it’ll pay dividends in the long run. We need to make a decision on where we want to go so we can pinpoint exactly what type of points we’ll need to make that dream a reality!

For Kayleigh and I, that was a stellar points redemption to the tropical oasis of Hawaii. We traveled with Kayleigh’s parents, who were generous enough to pay for our lodging while we were there for 8 (EIGHT!?!) days. As I type this, it’s snowing in Ohio in April, which is certainly making me long for pina coladas on the beach with no Sunday scaries inbound.

Our view from the lanai in Ko'Olina, Oahu. Not too shabby!
Pina Coladas, No Work, No Worries
Anyways, since we did not need to pay for our housing, we were determined to book killer flights in the cheapest way possible. We only had a couple of stipulations:

  •     Aim for a lie-flat bed on the way home.
  •     Ensure we can pick our seats (aka not be stuck in the middle of a 4-wide row)
Other than that, we were comfortable with any airline that could take us from Columbus to Honolulu and back. Destination, check. Now it was time for the hard part…how the hell do we pay to get there?

Step Two: Identify The Miles You Need To Get There

This is the step most people lose interest in the points & miles game. If I had a nickel for the amount of times I hear “it takes too much time” or “it sounds too hard”, I’d at least have enough money to beat Alex & Christian at NBA Jam for a whole night at the arcade. (On a side note, you don’t want these Indiana Pacers hands. Reggie Miller=cheat code!) I’m here to tell you it’s not that hard to figure out exactly what you need to get where you want to go. 

While I could go on a tangent about every mileage program & how to use their points to fly, we’d be looking at about 20+ posts. I love you guys…but maybe not enough to write that much today. So for now, let’s look at the airlines we used to book our Hawaii trip: Delta & American.

Leg One (CMH-ATL-HNL): Delta Airlines

For our departing flight from Columbus to Honolulu, Kayleigh and I elected to use Delta miles. Delta is a bit tricky with their award booking in that they do NOT publish an award chart. There’s no set-in-stone price for award booking, which can make finding a specific redemption tough to find. All it takes is a little research to find that flights to Honolulu from Columbus can be found for as little as 30,000 miles one-way (and sometimes cheaper)! With that in mind, I just searched flights from CMH-HNL for the Sunday after our wedding to see what was available. This is what came up:

Flights from Columbus-Honolulu for only 30,000 miles one way!
This is a cheap redemption for a flight from CMH-HNL but comes with 2 layovers. Kayleigh and I were able to get a similar mileage price for a one-layover flight from CMH-ATL-HNL, which worked perfectly for us. Our experience goes to show it pays to check the award charts when you have a trip in mind-you never know when a great deal is going to pop up, and when you see it, SNAG IT! For those that don’t want the multiple layovers (and we don’t blame you), I found this option for 53,000 miles:
Less Layovers=Happy Travels!

No matter what option you go, we’ve identified that Delta is a viable option and we’ll need to earn Delta miles for this portion of the trip. While there are definitely cheaper Delta options (booking through Flying Blue, transferring alternate FF points, etc.), for the sake of simplicity, we'll stick to strictly Delta miles.

Leg Two (HNL-DFW-CMH): First Class on American Airlines

As I previously mentioned, I was looking for a flight where I had a lie-flat option for my return trip. These flights normally cost upwards of $1,500 one way and are not within most of our traveling budgets. Personally, I’d rather spend the $1500 doing amazing things in Hawaii-and that’s why we play the points & miles game. I had identified American Airlines as a potential option for this trip & luckily, they actually post their award chart online for ALL destinations. Let’s take a look at what a trip home from Hawaii typically costs:

You can fly from Hawaii-Mainland US for only 40k miles one-way in BUSINESS/FIRST CLASS!
From the chart, you can see that American has “SAAver” awards from 40k miles one way, while their normal redemption rate will cost you 67.5k miles. Again, this seems like a lot of miles on the surface, but we’ll find that earning that many miles is much easier than you think. Taking a look at flights a week after our original flight to Hawaii would allow you to see these redemption options:
First Class Redemption Options HNL-CMH

Economy Redemption Options HNL-CMH (20k miles one way!)
Two very different types of redemptions: one first class flight for 67.5k miles with all the bells and whistles, and one economy flight with a killer redemption at 20k miles! Again, this all depends on your personal preference for travelling. Kayleigh and I wanted the lie-flat seats on the way home, and therefore we opted for the first class flights on our February Hawaii trip. If you’re on the fence about first class, I say GO FOR IT. Here’s a few pics from our Hawaii first class redemption:

Kayleigh was digging the "Pod"-style seating!
Nicer Interface & ALL THE LEG ROOM
Adjustable Controls For The Seat

Full Service Dinner Menu
Drinks Menu (All Included!)

Mixed Nuts, Tito's & Golf-Never a Bad Combo!

Can't Beat An Ice Cream Sundae At 30,000 Feet!
Needless to say, Kayleigh & I really enjoyed our first long-haul first class flight. Drinks were had, food was consumed, and the best part? We were both able to lie flat at the end of the day and actually sleep on a plane, something that both of us struggle with.

Ok, Smart Money Squad…you still following along? We’ve identified exactly what kind of miles we need to make this trip a reality. Now we just need to earn them! Let’s look at some of the cards you can utilize to book that dream trip you’ve been planning.

Step Three: Earn The Miles You Need To Travel

Now that we know we need Delta & American miles to travel, we can take a look at a few of the cards that can get you the mileage needed to book your trip. Here’s a sampling of the cards available on the market for Delta and American:

·       AMEX Delta Gold Card-Earn 50,000/60,000 miles after spending $2,000/$3,00 in the first three months from account opening; $50 one-time statement credit after making Delta purchase; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.
·       AMEX Business Delta Gold Card-Earn 50,000/60,000 miles after spending $2,000/$3,00 in the first three months from account opening; $50 one-time statement credit after making Delta purchase; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.
·       AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card-Earn 50,000 MR points after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening (MR points transfer 1:1 with Delta, equating to 50k Delta miles).
·       AMEX Business Premier Rewards Gold Card-Earn 50,000 MR points after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening (MR points transfer 1:1 with Delta, equating to 50k Delta miles).

American Airlines
·       Barclaycard AAviator Red-Earn 50,000 miles after making your first purchase with the card after account opening. Comes with a $95 annual fee, not waived first year.
·       Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select-Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months from account opening; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.

·       Citi Biz AAdvantage Platinum Select-Earn 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.

These are just a FEW of your options in the points & miles world that can get you exactly where you need to go. Kayleigh and I used only two cards each on this list to book our flights. While there is certainly a stigma around having multiple credit cards, I’m here to squash that. My credit score keeps going up with the more credit I accumulate-and so do my mileage accounts!

For those of us that can’t meet minimum spends on these cards in three months, another reminder-we go over all the ways you can meet minimum spends without actually spending money in 'Vacation Like a Baller". Check it out-it's literally saved Kayleigh & I thousands of dollars throughout our travels.

You can absolutely use these cards to your advantage to travel around the world for free-and there’s no reason you shouldn’t! To summarize the mileage-earning portion of our free trip, just do the following:
  1. Calculate how many miles you need to get to your destination.
  2. Find the credit card offer that earns the appropriate mileage for the trip.
  3. Meet the minimum spend requirement using your natural spending/SMS alternate methods.
  4. Spend miles on your destination!

Cleared For Landing

All in all, Kayleigh and I were able to fly round-trip to Hawaii for pennies on the dollar. Our Delta/American flights’ cash price equated to $4,159.38. Now, I talk a big game, but I certainly don’t have that much money to be blowing on flights. However, with credit card bonuses & some fees we incurred from meeting the minimum spends, our final net cost was $82 for our flights.

  •          $22.40 in taxes & fees for the flight
  •          $60 in activation fees while meeting minimum spends for the credit cards

If I told you that you could fly round-trip to Hawaii with one leg in first class for $82, you’d tell me I was crazy, right? Nope-that’s the reality of the points & miles game.

So what’s holding you back? Join us in travelling the world for pennies on the dollar-it’ll be the best decision you ever made. Until next time-safe travels!

From the top of Diamondhead!




My Newbie Travel Hacking Journey Part 2


Happy Friday Smart Money Squad! The weekend is upon us and the Tribe is playing their home opener - that's my definition of a good day! (Smart Money Seed unanimously agrees that the Tribe is the best team in baseball, no questions asked).

Like I mentioned last week, I'm following in Ty's footsteps and venturing into the amazing world of travel hacking! I've got my eye on the Southwest Companion Pass which will allow Rosie to fly for NEXT TO NOTHING on any flight I book, even if I book the flight using points.

Click Here for last week's article if you missed it.

What's happened since last week?

My Southwest Plus card came in the mail and I got my account set-up and ready to roll. I'm really enjoying the Chase app, it's super easy and convenient to use! (Yes, I've lived under a rock for the past few years. I've mostly used smaller banks that don't have a fancy iPhone app.) I'm still waiting on more details with the business card, but they told me that process may take a few extra weeks.

Now that the Plus card is ready for use, the next step is meeting the $2,000 spending threshold. I've decided to accomplish this through a combination of everyday spending and manufacturing spending. I'm planning on using $500 over the next month or two on regular expenses (groceries, gas, restaurants, bars, entertainment, and certain bills that can be easily paid with a credit card), and then practice Ty's manufactured spend recommendation for the remaining $1,500.

Need a manufactured spend refresher? CLICK HERE!

Yesterday I took my first big step in the process and purchased the Visa OneVanilla gift cards from CVS, just like the Doctor ordered. Being the rookie travel hacker I am, I was a little nervous, so I made Rosie come with me for moral support - thanks Rose!! Buying the gift cards was like taking a hot knife through butter - easy and painless.

What's the next step?

Now that I've acquired the coveted gift cards, I need to convert the funds into my bank account. Again, following the Doctor's orders, I'm going to take the money order approach in attempts to limit the number of fees I'll have to pay.

I plan on purchasing and depositing the money orders within the next few days, so I'll let you guys know how I do it and where I go. Don't tell her yet, but I'll probably drag Rosie to the store with me for that too!

Is travel hacking right for you?

Not sure if the world of travel hacking is right for you? Talk to Smart Money Seed. We have a resident expert and two others that are rapidly learning! Leave a comment or message us on Facebook - we'd love to hear from you.

That's it for today, back to the weekend vibes Smart Money Squad!