I had an interesting just a few weeks ago, met somebody, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, and it was interesting in what he was doing and how he was planning his future. I thought: “Wow, this would be a great example of what other people, as they’re thinking of another career, another job, or expanding their income some other way – they might have some ideas that they could do, too, from it, as well as they might even copy a little bit of what he did.” Let me get to that right away.
We are on with Greg Motes. Greg, welcome.
Greg: Hi. Thank you.
Thomas: Tell me a little bit about what your life was like before you went in the military. I’m not thinking just in economic terms; I’m thinking in terms of you, your personality, etc.
Greg: I grew up as a Military Brat. My dad was in the Army. We moved just a few times when I was growing up. I was lucky to be settled throughout most of my grade school and high school, which was fortunate, in the Midwest. From there, I had a typical Military Brat family lifestyle. I have two brothers, and we played sports, and we made our way through schooling.
Thomas: Okay, that’s a little different because we don’t have many people who have been in that situation, a Military Brat, but I guess you couldn’t be so much of a brat, but when you get into the military and started out on your own. Did you find the military changed you at all? I ask that because the beginning of the military literally changed my life for the future tremendously. I could not even expound on how much. What about you?
Greg: I very much enjoyed coming into the military. I was fortunate that when I came in, I went into the Armor Branch, and from Armor, I was out at Fort Irwin, California. Fort Irwin is a place where, every month, units from around the army would come to train against the opposing forces, and I was on the side of the opposing forces. It was a great environment to be in, because every month we got to go play on tanks and essentially play laser tag at 30 miles an hour across a playing field the size of Rhode Island. We would play four to six games a month. I say games, and obviously they were training, and it was very serious training, but at the same time, there was a mentality and an attitude about going out there and fighting to win and playing to win. I found a comradery that was very similar to what I had in high school, playing football and playing for state championship football teams, and then going into college and playing in intramural sports and things like that.
The army, to me, I think at the onset was very much as an extension of that teamwork to be able to go there. Of course, coming in as a Lieutenant, I was put into a leadership role, and I very much enjoyed doing that. I think it was a lot of fun.
Thomas: It’s interesting. Today, kids are playing video games; you guys play the real thing, which is really exciting. For all those kids, including myself, when we were younger and played army or cops and robbers, whatever you played, you didn’t have sticks or little plastic guns; you really had some good things to play with.
One thing I find very interesting and it’s sometimes hard for people to know, realize, and understand is that word “teamwork.” One thing that really struck me in the military was that my friends came from some wide array of places. It turns out there was one guy whose father was the General Manager of IBM in the West Coast branch, so he had a tremendous life, all kinds of different things. Closer friends to me later on were actually one guy who was from Watts in L.A., another guy who was from the ghetto in Houston, and lots of places like that. What happened is you didn’t realize and know that until later on when you wanted to stay in touch or something, and you would get their information. The reason you didn’t know and understand that is because everybody’s dressed alike. There are no outfits, there are no funny costumes or anything else. Everybody looks alike, dresses alike, and you’re all just one which really does promote the teamwork.
When you see that and realize that, and if we could somehow put blinders on everybody, there really is no difference as far as IQ and everything else as far as potential goes, no matter where they come. Here you have this amalgamation of all kinds of people in the military come in, and yet, they can act as a team, as a tightly-knit team and work well together, despite the fact of all of the environmental or background differences. I like that. That’s an interesting touch you have, there.
Greg: I also found in my experience, and mine may be different from others, but religion and politics were other things that you rarely knew about the people you worked with. Honestly, it didn’t matter when it came time to accomplish in the mission that you had to accomplish.
Thomas: Right. That’s interesting, because whether somebody’s going to go into business, or whether they’re worried about their future within their company they’re working in, or they’re going towards any kind of success – those things are only distractions. Religion and politics are a distraction. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be religious. What I mean is discussing it or getting involved with someone else’s choices is really unnecessary. Focus on what you need to get the mission done. In case of most people in business, it’s: “How do you make a profit? How do you compete in the marketplace?” etc. Bringing politics or anything else involved doesn’t help at all. It is interesting.
You’re actually well along your way in the military. You’ve been in for how long now?
Greg: 21 years.
Thomas: 21 years. Whether you do now or 10 years from now, whatever it is, you’ve got to be starting to think in terms of where you might retire, or how you might retire, etc. but what I found interesting is how you’ve set yourself up recently. A while ago, you got some education. This is something I did a little bit of while I was in the military, was getting out of the way some of the courses that might be harder for me, in the sense I didn’t want to worry about them later on when I was first getting back to college; I wanted to get them out of the way. You went and got your education there, and you started to do web development. Could you tell us a little bit more?
Greg: After I finished my company command, which I did as an Armor Company Commander in Europe, I came to a unit in Los Angeles, and our job was there was active duty officers who would work with the reserve component to help train and to help evaluate them and their readiness for going to combat. When I arrived at that unit, my new boss, he sat me down about a week into the job (he told me that he knew I would be there for two years), and he gave me a two-week deadline to come back to him and tell him how I was going to get my master’s degree while I was in that job. He told me that if I needed some latitude in terms of maybe getting off work a little bit early on some days or if some of the courses happen to fall over the drill weekends when we work with the reservist, that we could work around that. It almost forced me to go through and look. At the time, military tuition assistance was readily available.
I tossed around two separate courses that I was very interested in. One was history, and I had a long love about history and certainly spending time in Europe and many of the travels to Egypt, and Macedonia, and many of the other places that I went to, made me want to know more about that. I’ve also had a fascination with computers for quite a long time. I think I was programming in Basic when I was 10 years old, so I enjoyed working on the TRS-80 computer back many, many years ago.
I found a program that met my timeline. It was an 18-month program that I could go through, through a university in Los Angeles, and it was in information technology. In the process of doing that, I learned how to do web development, I learned how to program in Java, I learned how to do database management and development. I started to understand how to publish websites to the internet. It started off that I was just toying around.
My father, when he retired, he moved to a farm in Tennessee, and one of the things that he did to supplement his income was to start raising and selling show-quality and breeding-quality Boer goats. He had a website that he created himself, and it was using the free services that came from his telephone provider at the time. It was really your classic website from 2001/2002 with moving mailboxes, a lot of animated gifts, and a lot of noise on the screen. I asked him if I could redesign his website with the new computer programming skills that I had, and he allowed me to do that.
After about a year of doing that, one of his neighbors needed a website and asked if I would do one for him, and he offered to pay me. After I did that man’s website, he immediately made money selling more goats based on the website and the advertisement from the website. Then he had a friend who found out about that, who asked me if I could do his.
One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I actually had a small business set up. Over the course of the next couple of years, I would slowly get three, four, five, six websites at a time, about as many as I felt that I could handle in my private time or my spare time. It got to where it was getting a bit much to maintain the websites, so I used my database management skills and some of the server skills that I was developing in the army, and I created a system that allowed new clients to update the websites themselves. When I would create a website, then they could go in and they could make all the changes, and they could add pictures, and text, and modification. By doing that, it allowed me to take on probably 10 times more clients than I could have taken on if I was handling the day-to-day request of: “We need to get this picture uploaded.”
Many of the sites stayed within the small farm niche, breeding for horses and dogs and goats, and things like that. It was enough where it was a good supplemental income, and I was able to continue to learn and to continue to learn what, in essence, started off as a hobby and make it into something that was real.
Thomas: I like that. There’s several things I’d like to go back over a bit. The one thing at the very beginning was the fact that you had this goal, and so many people today are faced in say their 50s, etc., people being laid off or worries about income or alternative and supplemental income because the wages aren’t rising enough where they don’t have the money to save. Here, literally in 18 months, you were able to learn the skills for something new. They may not go into web development, (maybe that’s not as a big of thing right now), they may go into something else, but the idea is that there in 18 months, you identified something you can do and did it, supplementing time that you had available. Yes, as I say, anybody can basically do something and they have to pick it.
One thing, and I’ve done this before myself, what was neat is, (you were helping your father), but you picked something as an example, almost like a test. “Okay, let me figure this out and play with it,” etc. so that you refined it, learned it, and did it with a real application. Then you went and were able to first, almost by accident, the next-door neighbor saying: “Can you do it for me, too?” and then your pride of doing it well gave him additional sales, and it became a business.
Then, as a business, you realized: “Wait a minute. I can’t do anymore.” I’ve seen this over and over again. So, what do you do? You can either add a lot of personnel; start hiring people, or adapt with new technology. You took technology that you had also learned, used that to help them implement updates themselves. This then required less and less of your time. It’s actually quite a story. The idea was it all started with the increase in education, and this is all supplemental income; this is not your primary responsibility, your job.
Greg: That’s correct. The first year I made $2,000, so it really wasn’t much money, but I almost looked at it like it was free money because it wasn’t something that I had planned on before. The next year it was $11,000, and then $24,000. I think by the fourth year I was at $41,000, and then $45,000. It pretty much stabilized somewhere around $45,000 for a few years throughout the late aughts. It was very nice to do, and it came upon me almost before I knew what was happening.
Thomas: It also almost became passive income, and still, it’s tightly within this niche. It’s not like you’re doing web development for 17 different types of industries or something. You have identified a niche that I didn’t even know of or had thought about before I met you, and you carry that on. The point that you made very little at the beginning, only $2,000 the first year, most people don’t realize and understand how important that is. You have an ongoing business that you developed that is making a very, very nice supplement. $45,000 on an annual basis is supplement to your ordinary income – most people should be in love with that. If, at the same time, you realize and you understand at the beginning that: “Yes, things start off slowly…” There’s too many people out there, screaming: “How you can make six figures or seven figures in six months or a year,” and that kind of hype is just bologna. It doesn’t really usually work for almost anybody. There’s some rare cases, and they always like to point those out, but really, that’s not what you do. Most things require a little bit of planning, work, effort, and building it over time.
The way we met, which was kind of interesting, was actually through what people may or may not have heard of, Airbnb. Airbnb, Greg, maybe you can explain Airbnb better than me because you know it better than I do.
Greg: It’s really just a way, if you have extra space in your house, to rent out to travelers who are coming through. I know there’s a part of the economy that’s changing the share of all economy, and so it gives an opportunity to share rooms in my home with travelers who come. On one hand, I’m fortunate, because right now I live near Honolulu, so it is a place that has a high demand of people who are looking for a place to stay. It was something that, again, when I started, I started on a whim, and I didn’t really know or expect it to go anywhere. I think the very first day that I started, I had a room and the room was empty, except for an airbed. The only thing that was in the room was an airbed. I listed the room on Airbnb, and lo and behold, that first day I had somebody who booked the room. Then a few weeks later, there was another booking. I made enough money through the couple initial bookings I had to buy another bed for the room. At that point, I could raise the price a little bit. I started to find more demand.
As I would get more and more people who would come in to stay, I actually had a third bedroom (because I had my room) that I was using for storage, and I realized the potential of that room was greater for having as a second room on Airbnb than as a storage room. I moved some of the stuff around, I got rid of things I had been meaning to get rid of for quite a while, and I put the airbed in that room. I think then within two months, I made enough money with an airbed in that room to be able to buy another bed.
Part of doing Airbnb, I’ve been fortunate to furnish two empty rooms that would likely still be empty, except for the airbed and the storage, had I not started on Airbnb. Right now when I look at the potential for income based on the pricing here, there’s a possibility I could make between $3,000 and $4,500 a month. That’s obviously not with maximum capacity. With maximum capacity, I could potentially make a little bit more. I’m finding that it’s a nice extra income.
Then there’s another component to it, which is I get to meet a lot of people. I get to meet a lot of people who travel, and people who have travelled and been to a lot of the places I’ve been to. There’s a second side to that. I have this social aspect that I absolutely enjoy, and then the money on the side is, of course, nice as well.
Thomas: Yeah. As a matter of fact, anybody that’s planning on going to the mainland of Oahu, make sure to get ahold of me through the podcast, and I’ll make sure you know about Greg’s place, right there in the middle of the island. That’s where I stayed a couple of nights. Great host, too.
Aside from that for a minute (just couldn’t help but saying that), the experience of doing that, which is kind of interesting, because when we look in 2007, they say someplace around 70% of bankruptcies in the United States would have not happened if people had an extra $500 per month. It turns out that, yes, you’re in Hawaii, near Honolulu, but there are places all over the place. I did some of the searching around, and there are places. When you take a look at it, most places in the United States, there are places where you can rent a room in your place, etc. through something like Airbnb.
That’s neat and interesting, but the idea that I found also intriguing was the fact that you’ve really left yourself open to a combination of things that substantially supplement your income. Whether you stay in Hawaii for who knows how long, or whether you have to move someplace else, you seem like you’ve always been able to adapt. I think that’s the key, there. Whether it was web development, getting your master’s degree, and/or Airbnb, and making a solid income. Do you mind sharing what you’re making on average per month now?
Greg: With the military?
Thomas: No, just the Airbnb.
Greg: With Airbnb it’s around $3,200 a month. It has been for the past three months around $3,200 a month. You can see it there, folks. Basically, what that means is you can either stay in a house that you were worried about because of things, cutbacks, etc.; you can pay down your debts and mortgages and other things with your supplemental income; or possibly, if you want to, which would I urge people against in many places, live some other place that you might not otherwise be able to. The reason I say, “I wouldn’t urge people to do that,” is because make sure you’re pretty well free and clear before you’re doing something like that. Don’t leverage yourself too much, would be my advice; that’s the economist in me talking.
Greg, that’s a phenomenal set of things. I’m not even sure, because you’re so calm and easygoing, and I don’t know whether it’s because of your rank and demeanor, etc. but you’ve done a lot, and very, very nicely and well. I appreciate you being on here.
Greg: Thank you.
Thomas: Thank you very much, and we will be looking forward to another episode. All of the show notes will be on the website. You’ll be able to get them soon. If there are any questions regarding this episode for Greg or for me, please feel free, you can use the SpeakPipe to leave a message, or leave a comment and I will answer all the questions. Take care. Thank you.