In June 2014, Pau Ninja was working at a Decathlon sports equipment store. He was 23 and had two major objectives: earning enough money to not have to work anymore, and spending all his time traveling. Fast forward just three years and he had found an alternative to his job: he was earning six figures a year, he didn’t have to turn up to a place of work, and since 2016 he has managed to spend 18 months abroad.
Pau took a vocational training course, but it was at home, using online tutorials, where he really learned about the internet. Ninja is not, of course, his real surname – he picked it because the domain “Pau Ninja” was available.
While he was working at Decathlon, he spent months looking for a niche from which he could make money online. He chose affiliate marketing: websites that recommend products – whether these be coffee machines, watches, skinny jeans, or whatever – and offer links to online stores where you can buy them. If anyone makes a purchase after having arrived at the store from your website, you earn a commission of between 3 and 10% of the product value. The key to success in this field is not the quality of your recommendations, but rather ensuring your website comes out on top when someone googles a term such as “cheap blenders.”
Pau took a vocational training course, but it was at home, using tutorials, where he really learned about the internet
The trick of appearing at the top of search results is a combination of acceptable content, being linked to by popular pages, and frequent updates. Romuald Fons, an expert in search engine optimization (SEO), explains how this was once a secretive world. “SEO was once a very dark territory,” he explains. “People who made a living from this didn’t talk about it.”
Fons took a different approach, and now has the two SEO channels on YouTube with the highest number of followers in the world. “The value comes from positioning the product, not creating the content,” he explains. At Awin, the affiliate marketing platform that Pau Ninja uses, they say that the biggest sectors are fashion, beauty, electronics, travel and pet stores.
Pau Ninja identified several sectors that in 2015 had scant competition. He currently has 13 websites – at one point he had 63 – of which just six are affiliates that earn him money. In 2017, he sold four sites featuring tablets and cellphones because they required too much work to update.
When he started out, Pau would get up early every morning, make a cup of coffee and sit down at his computer. He would make a number of posts and open up new websites for other products. He would then look at his account: €0. “Until one day I got up and I’d earned €2.50. I was jumping around the room for joy at 7am,” he explains. Before long he was earning €1,000 a month – more than at Decathlon.
SEO was once a very dark territory. People who made a living from this didn’t talk about it
Romuald Fons, SEO expert
By 2016 he was making a success of it. That same Christmas he reached five figures: more than €10,000 a month. Those amounts are nothing extraordinary – the sector is little known, but there are youths and companies out there earning millions.
Awin, for example, has 100,000 active affiliates around the world. There was considerable growth in 2016, a year when Amazon paid its affiliates double in commissions compared to 2015. The company won’t provide exact figures, nor provide an update for last year. The advantage of affiliation is that you don’t need millions of hits on your site, like viral pages do, but rather visitors who end up buying a product.
But for Pau Ninja, that passive income was just the first step. His aim was to be able to enjoy what he really wanted: time and freedom. Now he has even managed to outsource the writing of his commercial posts, and just needs to spend a little time each week coordinating them. “At no time did I want to earn a lot of money – just enough money,” he explains. He calls it being “nouveau riche.”
One day I got up and I’d earned €2.50. I was jumping around the room for joy at 7am
His life today is a curious mix of new global trends linked to the internet. First is the movement seen in the United States called FIRE, which stands for financial independence, retire early. The aim is to save a million dollars before reaching 40, invest the funds, and live frugally from the returns in cheap locations. Another trend that Pau Ninja follows is that of the digital nomad – people who work via the internet from anywhere in the world. He works little, but he can focus on his businesses from anywhere that has an internet connection.
He has also just purchased a van, which he is going to fit out with a bathroom, shower and kitchen thanks to help from his father, who is a carpenter. In January, when he sets out on a trip to explore Europe, he’ll be signing up to another millennial hashtag: #vanlife. “My intention is to go up to Scandinavia in the summer, and spend the winter in the south,” he explains.
But Pau Ninja does not claim to be any kind of guru. He is also keen to avoid certain stereotypes. “I’m 95% vegan,” he explains. “I eat a vegan diet apart from free-range eggs and mussels.”
The advantage of affiliation is that you don’t need millions of hits on your site, like viral pages do, but rather visitors who end up buying a product
Between 2017 and 2018, he wrote one short e-book a week, which he sold on Amazon. He writes about things that he has learned or tried. The freedom he enjoys allows him to constantly pick up new hobbies, which often end up bringing in income: studying Russian, Swedish and French at home with a “method” that he came up with (and now sells), or learning to dance Lindy Hop after having tried a number of different styles.
His attitude could be summed up by, “this is what I’ve done and it’s gone well, but maybe tomorrow it won’t work and I’ll have to find a job.” That’s why he’s opted to conceal his real surname, so that his past doesn’t affect his future. The sale of his e-books gives him some “pocket money,” he says, around €200 a month.
He’s earning a lot, but a tweak of the Google algorithm could see his business take a nosedive. To avoid that, he follows a minimalist lifestyle and a theoretical self-imposed “salary” of around €1,000 a month. Part of the money he has saved is invested in index funds. His research into that kind of investment led him to write his Guide to investment funds (for idiots like me).
His attitude could be summed up by, “this is what I’ve done and it’s gone well, but maybe tomorrow it won’t work and I’ll have to find a job”
This seemingly charmed life is not perfect, however. This apparent permanent happiness can get too much, and traveling alone has its issues. “My ambition was to be able to get up and say, I want to go to Thailand. And then go,” he explains. He has managed to live that dream, but it could have gone better. He arrived in Bangkok, planning to spend several months in Asia. But as soon as he arrived, he bought a ticket to go home: it was too hot.
English version by Simon Hunter.