Exclusive interview with Dan Gallapoo aka “Doberman Dan”, a serial entrepreneur and professional copywriter who specializes in building online businesses that can operate anywhere in the world without his direct daily involvement. Income diversification through a properly structured business is one of the three tenets of IM internationalization. Let's now chat with someone who has done this successfully.
International Man: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Dan Gallapoo: My name is Dan Gallapoo, though I'm better known as Doberman Dan. Nobody can remember, spell, or pronounce my last name, but everybody can remember Doberman Dan.
I grew up in the blue-collar town of Barberton, Ohio and wanted to be a professional musician all my life, but I've developed two habits that I can't seem to break. One is sleeping indoors, and the other is eating with some semblance of regularity. About 97% of the people who embark on a career in music can't support those bad habits, so I figured if I was dead set on eating well and sleeping indoors, I needed to make a living.
Through a series of totally random arbitrary decisions I wound up as a police officer for the city of Dayton, Ohio. I was just going to do that for a few years until I moved on to greener pastures, either go to music school like I wanted to do, or start a business, and I stayed there for about 12 years. Nine years of that was as a full-time cop and a part-time entrepreneur, though I failed at all of my entrepreneurial pursuits.
Finally I discovered direct response marketing and started my first mail-order business back in the mid-90s in the body-building niche. It was initially just an information product for body builders – a manual and some cassettes – but that led to a supplement business. A year later I was able to leave my job and go into business for myself full-time, and that's what I've been doing ever since.
I call myself a “kitchen table entrepreneur” because I like starting direct response (what they used to call mail-order) and online marketing businesses on a real shoestring budget. Literally on my kitchen table with nothing but a yellow pad of paper and a pen.
I'm also a copywriter. I write copy for all these projects that I start, and I also have occasionally taken on client work and written copy for other business owners.
IM: What about internationalization experiences? Have you traveled a fair amount? Ever lived anywhere else?
DG: I've not done a lot of traveling, though I have been all over the Philippines. I play guitar and I went on tour with a band. It's kind of funny. The guy we went on tour with is a singer/songwriter and he's literally unknown in the States, but he had a #1 hit in the Philippines so we were treated like rock stars, literally chauffeured around with a police escort. It was awesome! We didn't get paid much, but it was fun. I can't remember all the places we were, but we were there for 30 days and we were in a different city every other day.
Prior to that I'd only been to Canada, so I'd never left North America. Going to the Philippines was quite eye-opening… to finally be one of the 5% of Americans that has a passport and has traveled outside of their home country.
All the fear-mongering and lies I was told about the Philippines was false of course, and it was great to finally get a look, like, “Hey, I could live in a place like this, and not only that, I could live a heck of a lot better than I'm living now.”
After that I took a bunch of trips to Colombia, South America. My wife is Colombian, so I've stayed in Colombia. I've not lived there full-time, but I've stayed there months at a time. Then on January 1st, 2003 I read a newsletter about Costa Rica.
A guy who wound up being my copywriting mentor, Gary Halbert, wrote a newsletter about the country and it sounded awesome. So I called him up and talked with him and his Costa Rican girlfriend and they told me about it…
The next email he got from me was like, “Hey Gary, based on that conversation we had and what I read in your newsletter, I've sold everything I had and moved to Costa Rica with the clothes on my back and my laptop, and I'm here now.”
I stayed there for a year.
Actually, I never intended to come back to the States – never, ever, ever. I can't say I planned on staying in Costa Rica my entire life, but I planned on staying there a long time. The only reason I came back was for immigration issues with my wife. With her being Colombian, in order to get her residency in the US, we had to live here.
IM: That's very interesting. Obviously you must have liked Costa Rica enough to stay there for a year.
DG: I did, but when I left in the first part of '04, it had started changing a lot. Now I imagine it has changed an awful lot more. Back when I lived there they estimated the number of foreigners living legally at around 100,000. Just based on the foreigners I met there – mostly North Americans and Europeans – the number of foreigners living there illegally was probably 400,000.
IM: I know somebody who was in the latter category.
DG: Well, so was I. [laughs] Every three months we had to make a trip over the border to Panama or something. Now allegedly they've cracked down on that, but all those foreigners there really started driving up prices of rentals and real estate in certain areas. It's a beautiful place.
IM: I'm curious, by the way, because this is something that would be of interest to our readers… what was Colombia like? We hear so many bad things about the country; like that you're basically guaranteed to get kidnapped and held for ransom.
DG: I always stayed around Cali, Colombia which, at the height of the cartels, was probably one of the worst places to be. Cali and Medellin.
I believed all the stuff I read in the media that it was a literal war zone. I expected to find gun fights in the street. A friend of mine finally talked me into going down there by giving me a free place to stay.
He kept telling me that the security is not that bad. He explained it like going to New York or LA: Stay in the neighborhoods you're supposed to stay in, and don't go in the neighborhoods you're not supposed to go in, and everything will be fine. That's a good analogy.
The only difference is as a foreigner you stick out. I'm fairly light-skinned and have blue eyes, so I immediately stick out. That's not necessarily a good thing, because kidnapping is big business down there, but most of that stuff happens around the areas where the guerilla groups pretty much control things. In the big cities the security wasn't bad but it's gotten a lot better still since I was last there.
IM: Let's change topics now and talk about your career both as an entrepreneur but also as a copywriter, both that naturally lend themselves to internationalization. Specific to copywriting, you just need a laptop and a good internet connection to do your work. For our readers, what are some of the biggest benefits in running such a business as you do right now?
DG: With technology as it is today, you're not restricted to any geographic location in the world. As long as you have an internet connection, you're good to go. A laptop would be helpful too, if you have one – but I've done business without a computer in other countries.
I've literally gone to internet cafes and done what I needed to do. But with a laptop and an internet connection, you can work from almost anywhere with this kind of business.
IM: Are there any challenges to this type of business?
DG: When I started, I wanted a business that could function without me. Obviously if you're just doing copywriting work for clients, the business is dependent upon you to write the copy. But at least there's still a lot of freedom. I can set my own hours and work from anywhere. But the fact that I have to produce the work myself was originally a challenge and still is to a certain degree.
In what I like to call my kitchen table businesses – my online businesses – I specifically set those up so they run without me. If it's a business that's dependent upon what I call “grunt work,” where I have to be constantly involved in it and working in it and doing the work daily to generate the money, I don't want to do it.
I want to own a business that, yes, is going to take work to get set up, but one where once it's set up with systems, it can function whether I'm working in the business or not.
Initially the challenge was figuring out how to get the systems set up so it wasn't dependent on me. That was just a matter of talking with other online business owners – direct response business owners – and figuring out the tools and systems that they were using.
IM: For those of our readers who are interested in learning more about this, what are some of the first steps that you would suggest they take to get started?
DG: Well, this obviously is self-serving, but I have a blog and I've got a couple hundred posts up there. There's literally a lifetime education of direct response and online marketing information there, and several posts where I actually show you step-by-step how to set up these types of businesses. Obviously my opinion is biased, but I think that's a good resource for them.
I mentored with a guy named Gary Halbert. In fact, he lived with me for about three or four months when I lived in Costa Rica. Gary was known as the best copywriter in the world.
The website of my old mentor, Gary Halbert, is also a good resource. Known as the best copywriter in the world, he used to have a good old-fashioned paper and ink newsletter throughout the 80s, 90s, and in the early part of 2000, which was $197 a year. Sometime around the middle of 2004 or 2005 he started putting a bunch of his old newsletters online, which can be found at www.TheGaryHalbertLetter.com. That's a lifetime worth of knowledge on this type of business – direct response marketing.
Just between those two websites mentioned above, you'll have more than enough information to start these types of businesses on a shoestring.
IM: Alright, let's change tacks. In a previous discussion you mentioned it's becoming more and more difficult to do business in the US. What do you mean exactly by this? What have you noticed?
DG: I've been in direct response mail order since 1994, and so have about 17 years to look back on. It just seems things are getting worse – less freedom, more rules and regulations. Maybe it wasn't all that great in '94, but I know I was not aware of this kind of stuff in '94.
It's been a slow but progressive reduction in freedoms and increasing regulation – all thanks to our federal government and our elected “representatives”, even though they most certainly do not represent our interests. That is just obvious to any logical and rational person. The only people they represent are themselves. They have created a nation of law-breakers. With such a complex and arbitrary legal code, it is impossible NOT to break one of these arbitrary laws every so often (or even every day).
People might think I'm a nut job for saying that, but look at who this is coming from.
I'm a 12-year veteran of a large police department in Dayton, Ohio. I've worked on several very elite task forces with regional, state-level, and even federal agents. I've seen some of these abuses firsthand; so don't write this off as the ranting of a madman.
It's impossible to be compliant when the laws are so numerous and unknown to most people. There are many examples, but here are two from my own business.
First was the recent merchant account issue we talked about a few days ago: the banks were just cancelling merchant accounts for certain classes of businesses overnight. Your business is dead right there. The minute you can't accept credit card orders you're dead.
There was no definite reason for it. They were just shut down.
Two of mine got killed as well but at least I was prepared. I not only had a back-up, I had a back-up to the back-up. That kind of “shook me loose from my stupor”, so to speak, and made me realize, “Hey, it's great I had a back-up and a back-up to the back-up, but what I also need to have in place post haste is a back-up to the back-up to the back-up – that is located overseas.”
The second example involved new rules regarding testimonials that the Federal Trade Commission came out with a few years ago. Testimonials or customer stories are used quite often in direct response marketing. They are a staple.
These new rules stated that basically, if you wanted to use testimonials, you needed to now include all this disclaimer language, you needed to use an “average” representation of your customer, which is very relative to say the least, and you needed to be very, very careful about the claims made by the customer – even if they were true.
The law was written in a way that makes testimonials useless as a marketing tool. They've turned a certain form of speech into a crime, even though it is still supposedly protected by the First Amendment.
IM: It's like a page out of Atlas Shrugged it seems.
DG: It really is scary. I used to think, “How in the world did she write that book?” because she literally predicted the future. Everything she described in that book is happening right now or has been in place for 10-15 years. I figured out she wasn't any kind of fortune-teller; she just was a student of history.
I mean, go back 4,000 years. This happens to every single government, no matter how good they start out. They always degrade into tyranny.
IM: So, do you see this situation getting worse before it gets better, or do you ever see it getting better at all?
DG: Based on 100+ years of historical precedent, I can guarantee it will never get better in its current form – not here in the US.
It will get better when this whole system collapses under its own weight. When that happens, who knows, but as long as we have this present political system I don't care who's in office – Libertarian, Democrat, Republican – you're on the Titanic and it's already hit the iceberg. You can vote in whatever captain you want to. I don't care. That ship is going down.
I see this getting worse, and I see people becoming aware that if they want to stay in business and want to keep the value they produce, they have two options: internationalize and leave the whole mess behind or just try to ride it out. However, I don't believe “riding it out” is going to save them.
IM: A few months ago, we did an interview with a fellow who's based in the UK. He set up a corporation overseas because he sees the nature of the system over there as predatory towards producers. He imagined that it would get harder to do business in such a climate and perhaps eventually become impossible altogether. Sounds like you're predicting the same thing.
DG: Oh yeah, no doubt. It's interesting to watch what's happening in Europe, because here in the US we're seeing our future and we're not that far behind them, either.
I have a friend in Costa Rica who's an American. He's from New York – from the Bronx – a really street-smart entrepreneur. He always used to remind me when I complained about this stuff, “Look, the only reason we have any sense of freedom is the government's inability to enforce the laws they already have on the books. It's their incompetence that allows us to have any semblance of freedom.”
The problem is, here in the States they're getting better and better at enforcing these ridiculous laws. That's why he extricated himself and moved to Costa Rica to start a business. It's not that they don't have ridiculous laws down there too, and a corrupt government like we do here – it's just they are more incompetent at enforcement down there.
IM: I've noticed that myself… I was in Costa Rica in May of this year, and I remember driving through some little town on the Pacific side, where there is a lot of build-up due to an influx of North Americans. There are some really nice buildings, houses, villas, hotels, etc. Then you have the police station, which basically looks like a trailer that's been sitting outside for 50 years and is rusting apart. Their cars look like they're from 1977 and haven't been repaired since then. I'm thinking to myself, “This is why people seem to have more freedom here, because the police have no resources at all.”
DG: [laughing] That's pretty accurate!
IM: Let's move on then. We talked a little bit about your previous internationalization history. How about the future? Do you plan on staying in the States for a long period of time or are you planning on leaving?
DG: It's definitely in the works. Like I said, the only reason I came back was for immigration reasons for my wife. She wanted to get her US residency. She wants to get citizenship eventually and get a passport. I don't know why. I keep trying to talk her out of that! [laughing] I'm enjoying it here, but I realize it's a matter of time. I'm already getting things in place outside the States, and then it's just a matter of time to move my body outside, too.
I like Latin America a lot. I understand the culture now. I've been traveling there for a long time and I speak Spanish fluently, and of course I've gotten to really understand the culture through my wife.
In the back of my mind it's not a matter of if I'm going to move out, it's a matter of when and where. Someplace in Latin America will probably be my first choice.
IM: Interesting. Have you traveled the southern cone like Argentina, Chile, Uruguay or Brazil?
DG: They're all on the list, especially Chile. It's just been a matter of making the time. I don't want to just go for a vacation. It might be fun, but I'm more interested in doing an “evaluation trip” as a future place to live.
IM: Very good. Any final words you'd like to share with our readers today?
DG: If I could stress one thing it would be preparation. The time to build your boat isn't when the water's rising up to your windows. The time to build it was probably the year before when you had nice sunny weather. Unfortunately, the sun is gone and it's starting to rain, so you're going to have to double up on your efforts.
IM: Absolutely. That's a great way to end it. Thanks so much, Dan. It's been a pleasure.