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Why I Quit Launching Affiliate Campaigns
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Premium Posts 2016 Edition is Available Now
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A Year In South East Asia

Why I Quit Launching Affiliate Campaigns

About a year ago, I stopped launching affiliate marketing campaigns.

It was an easy decision, despite those campaigns being my primary source of income for the last decade.

As was the decision to quit this blog.

Well, as you can tell, I’m writing this.

Shutting my cakehole wasn’t nearly as sustainable.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d explain why I decided to get out of the CPA business. Maybe some of you can relate.

Why Give Up CPA?

To be clear, when I say that I stopped launching campaigns, I don’t mean that I abandoned affiliate marketing altogether.

I still have several toes and half a bollock in the affiliate industry.

What I gave up was the conventional CPA model of affiliate arbitrage.

That is:

Running ads on Facebook, Exoclick, PopAds, etc… Sending users to a landing page that forces an offer down their throats… Hoping to get paid more in commission than I lose in ad spend.

This model has made me a lot of money over the years.

And don’t get me wrong: it’s still a good model.

But I had several reasons for abandoning affiliate arbitrage:

  • Professional stagnation
  • Mental stagnation
  • Shifting barriers to entry
  • Desire to take more ‘ownership’ of my assets
  • Increased unwillingness to burn my bridges (and ad accounts)
  • Ten fucking years doing affiliate arbitrage

There was another factor.

Can you smell the billowing winds of change?

Or has my dog just farted…

When Affiliates Stop Talking About Affiliate Marketing…

I was listening to a keynote at a recent affiliate conference.

The talk was pitched around how to build your own product, whilst outsourcing the day-to-day management, and living happily ever after.

(Well, cheers mate. I’ll take ten quid’s worth…)

You hear more and more of this, don’t you?

“Build your own product…”
“Be so legit they can’t ban your Ads account…”
“Treat affiliate marketing like any other business…”
“Go work in an office…”

Hmm.

This would have been the prelude to a savage bottling had the speech been given at, say, Affiliate Summit 2008.

But times have changed.

“The difference between thousands of dollars and millions of dollars is building an asset, an ‘actual business’ that can eventually be sold — and what better way to build that business than by leveraging the remarkable powers of affiliate marketers?”

I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the grand takeaway in 2017:

Don’t be an affiliate. Use affiliates.

It’s funny because most of the room appeared to be sat in silent agreement at such an obvious idea.

And yet here we are…

At an ‘affiliate conference’.

Like preaching to the pigs that they’d be wise to move in to selling pork.

Only for the pigs to sharpen their knives with approval.

The industry has changed, clearly, and many affiliates are finding their interests piqued by topics that aren’t so much affiliate marketing, but entire business models we used to proudly avoid.

  • Developing products?
  • Dropshipping?
  • Ecommerce?
  • Building a large team?

“The indignity!”

These topics are front and center at affiliate events; they are the talk of the conference; but what’s so strange is how the traditional affiliate models we used to bumrush are falling out of fashion.

Affiliate marketing conferences are starting to look a bit like AA meetings.

Together we flock to celebrate tales of triumph, reform, and lucky escape, courtesy of successful ex-affiliates who still know how to slap together a completely irrelevant PowerPoint about PopCash.

We listen to ex-affiliates and never-been-affiliates drafted in as walking talking case studies to convince us that, yes, we too, can soon work on something that doesn’t involve ‘that thing’ that brought us here.

Namely: affiliate arbitrage.

The words lift us up.

We scribble hasty Evernotes.

“That’s it. I’m getting this shit together. I swear to god I am done hijacking back buttons. I refuse to refresh Voluum until I’ve mastered Shopify and White Hat Facebook™. NOPE.”

Nervously farting at the prospect of new frontiers is the state of affiliate marketing today.

Or, at least… it was for me twelve months ago.

One of those frontiers, a major rising trend in the affiliate space, is something we used to scowl at as the bloated ugly sister of get rich marketing rebills.

It goes to demonstrate the hilariously cyclical nature of our business, because that trend is called E-Commerce.

The Rise of E-Com

How about another flashlight, me old mucker?

Flashlight affiliate

If you’ve had your ears pinned to the ground — or simply not up your arse — you will have undoubtedly heard about the sophisticated funnel that has seen items like flashlights and survival kits blitzing every last corner of the social and native web.

While these offers have provided some excellent opportunities for affiliates using traditional arbitrage, they have also opened many eyes to a future after affiliate marketing.

To understand why, you need only look at the single greatest barrier to entry facing affiliates today.

Barrier to Entry: The Cloaking Economy

Generally speaking, arbitrage affiliates need to be cloaking to be competing on the largest platforms.

(The alternative is to be operating at a tremendous scale beyond the scope of most readers.)

No surprises there.

Personally, I don’t like cloaking campaigns.

Over the years, I chose to focus on niches and traffic sources where it wasn’t a prerequisite for profitability.

It’s widely accepted that to run the more ‘traditional’ types of affiliate campaigns successfully on Facebook or Google, you will need to cloak.

Sweeps, adult, casino, dating, anything related to a rebill… good luck running that shit naked, cap’n.

Previously, you didn’t have to cloak on the smaller platforms.

The Tier 2s.

There was enough volume to get profitable through fresh new offers (often unregulated), unsaturated markets, and novel creative angles.

My view is that, while this may still be possible today, the traditional lines of affiliate attack are increasingly leading to attritional bloodbaths — rather than the rampant profiteering that made them desirable in the first place.

If you are not willing to cloak, how do you compete with somebody who does?

Bear in mind, many of the most popular offers are ‘forwarded’ to affiliates precisely because the owners don’t want to get their own hands dirty.

Some affiliates, undeterred, are convinced of a middleground.

A grey hat nirvana.

They’ll ask:

  • Isn’t it possible to profit running White Hat campaigns but simply “pushing the envelope” to the edge of compliance?
  • Surely there’s a way to run aggressive CPA campaigns on Facebook, profitably, without risking an account ban?

Well, perhaps.

But what are you?

A fucking masochist or something?

This is the famed ‘guideline straddling’ that allows a Facebook rep to speak with a straight face to a room full of CPA affiliates and insist that yes, it really is possible to co-exist on our platform with just the tip of our penis in your arsehole. Be our friends. It’s worth it.

The truth is that not cloaking, for better or worse, increases the barrier to entry of large-scale affiliate marketing success.

And even if you do cloak… you can’t sleep any easier. Your ad accounts can, and probably will, hit the skids eventually.

So, how does this fit in with the rise of E-Com?

Well, as one door closes…

The barrier to entry for launching profitable affiliate campaigns has increased, but the barrier to entry for launching successful products via traditional E-Commerce has decreased.

Affiliates, over the last two years, have found themselves enviously glancing at other industries where the potential for rapid growth is just as big, and the payoff arguably even greater…

Many trends have aligned:

  • Platforms like Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Teespring and others have brought total convenience to selling online.
  • Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, GoFundMe and IndieGoGo have erased entire start-up costs (and cannily allowed entrepreneurs to pass risk on to the consumer).
  • Marketplaces like Amazon FBA have opened up insane ready-to-tap economies of scale.
  • To top it all, any Tom, Dick or his sister knows how to source cheap products from China.

Whichever way you look, there are companies — start-ups and giants — making it easier than ever to bring tangible products to market on a scale that matches the potential of rapid wealth accumulation associated to affiliate marketing.

Consider some of our biggest pet peeves:

  1. Caps
  2. Lack of exclusivity
  3. No control of the funnel
  4. Requirement to cloak ads
  5. No tangible business to sell
  6. No ability to project long term growth

Who wouldn’t want to sample post-affiliate life?

There is a price, of course.

Many affiliates, including myself, have come to accept (through gritted teeth) that our best efforts can be multiplied exponentially only with the backing of a good product.

The likes of which are seldom found in the CPA space.

Good products.

I know, right?

Affiliate Summit 2008 and they’d be sticking a fork in it.

Good products are the inevitable future of affiliate marketing for anybody who cares about advertising on Facebook, Google, etc.

So, while the affiliate industry of today is becoming harder to penetrate without a competitive edge — such as cloaking — many affiliates are deciding that to commit to a competitive edge, they might as well take ownership of the product itself.

It’s the carrot of more work for a considerably bigger reward.

Of course, an explosion in E-Commerce doesn’t have to come at the expense of affiliate marketing.

As a few gajillion flashlight sales attest.

What’s changing is the incentives for the individual.

Turn back the clock ten years and one of the reasons why we LOVED this industry was because we could try X on Monday, Y on Tuesday and Z on Wednesday. Get rat arsed on Thursday. Sleep on Friday.

It was easy to sling shit at the wall and something would stick.

These days, the big opportunities in affiliate marketing punish such a lackadaisical mindset.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how E-Com is turning so many affiliate heads.

It offers the same flexible terms, minimal risk, and insta-scalability that brought us to affiliate marketing in the first place.

With the added advantage that you can build your own asset.

And share a bed with Facebook Ads.

I expect a slow exodus of arbitrage affiliates as the platforms we love work harder to clamp down on products that customers do not.

Not because of ‘failure’ on the affiliate’s part.

But rather a better payout elsewhere.

Seriously, though…

My decision to step back from this blog, from writing about affiliate marketing, and from actively launching campaigns day-after-day… was rather simple.

I got sick to fucking death of it.

Who wants to be doing CPA forever?

One person, and I’ll tell you his name:

The Gingerbread Man.

The Gingerbread Man

He loves flirting with destruction, does the Ginge.

And in affiliate marketing, so do we all.

Which is why I asked myself:

If you don’t want to be doing CPA forever — and you’re successful enough to choose what you do — why the hell are you doing it today?

I did an excellent job of finding acceptable answers to that question over the last decade.

Answers that allowed me to continue focusing on A/B tests, without ever applying such a concept of open-mindedness to my own career.

My tendency to identify as somebody who focused only on CPA — rancid arbitrage and Voluum stats roulette — had become self-limiting.

And it was liberating to finally say:

Fuck it. This is utter bollocks. What’s next?”

Well…

It’s been a fun year exploring the opportunities beyond affiliate arbitrage.

Successes, failures, wake-up calls and all.

‘What’s next?’ is underrated.

Premium Posts 2016 Edition is Available Now

Premium Posts 2016 Edition

The Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Marketing in 2016

I’m giving birth to a monster.

The brand new volume of Premium Posts is completed, signed, sealed, delivered and ready for you to download.

It is a vast 381-page dossier of the latest affiliate marketing tips, tricks and strategies.

I’m willing to bank my balls on this:

You will not find a more comprehensive dissection of the affiliate industry as it stands in 2016; and how to make money from it.


Topics inside include:

The Cloaking Economy: Let’s Talk Reality

Why most advice handed out to affiliates is complete and utter bullshit. This is affiliate marketing’s dirty little secret. If you don’t understand the cloaking economy, nobody can help you.

A Breakdown of Popular Verticals and Traffic Types in 2016

Every popular traffic type and vertical assessed and rated for the year ahead. What are the best opportunities for affiliates in 2016? What verticals and traffic sources are endangered?

Tips to Conquer Native Advertising in 2016

The industry is pissing its pants with excitement at the prospect of ‘going native’. This post explains what you need to know about native advertising. It’s packed with tips for getting profitable, creative ‘hacks’, and insights in to all of the top Native platforms.

Tips to Conquer Pop Advertising in 2016

Are you trying and failing to get profitable on pop traffic sources? Here we look at the quirks of each major traffic source, strategies for conquering them, and thoughts on dealing with lead quality issues.

The Blitzkrieg Approach to Finding Big Money Campaigns

How to make money from affiliate marketing without knowing a damn thing about affiliate marketing — with a little help from low bids, redirect networks, and some reverse engineering.

Stock Creatives: How to Assemble a Library of Moneymaking Assets

How much time do you waste building landing pages and banners that disappear in to a folder marked ‘To Sort’ never to be seen or heard from again? This philosophy will change how you think about your business ‘assets’.

How to Get Maximum Value From Paid Traffic with Flow Management

You pay for traffic, so why are you wasting it? Flow Management is the principle of squeaking every last dollar from every single campaign you launch. This post explains why you need to look beyond basic optimisation to get ahead.

Landing Page 101: The White Hat, Grey Hat, Black Hat, Ass Hat

A dumping ground of landing page ‘hacks’ that have added extra ROI to my campaigns over the years. These tricks range from the white hat to the ass hat. Their mastery is the essence of what it means to be an affiliate marketer. Read this with a bar of soap at hand.

The Publisher Perspective: Building Assets and Monetising Any Niche

My thoughts on life after affiliate marketing, how to build assets and monetise any niche, publisher placement tips that will increase revenue on any site you own, the explosion of native arbitrage and why our skill set is perfectly set to make a lot of money if we make a few smart investments.

The Gamification of Affiliate Marketing: Tips For Staying Motivated

How to break the cycle of euphoric highs and crashing lows. This post turns your long-term income targets in to a daily game with clear direction, visible progress and well-defined rewards.

Affiliate Team Building: Hiring, Firing and The Foundations of Success

How can I build an affiliate marketing team without having to teach some sucker everything I know? This post shows how you can create a functional team by breaking the affiliate skillset in to various easily learnable steps.

Advanced Competitive Strategy in Affiliate Marketing

A monster post — my final affiliate marketing post — takes a sweeping view of the industry and how you can plot a path through it. We analyse the various philosophies that can lead to success, their traits, their challenges, and what you can do to build a long-term affiliate business.

Finch’s Updated List of Affiliate Marketing Resources For 2016

Well, it was already a beast. My Ultimate List of Affiliate Marketing Resources is now updated with a bunch of new networks, traffic sources and various tools I’ve picked up over the last couple of years. This list alone will keep you busy for weeks.

That’s 381 pages, 64,599 words of the most up-to-date, cutting edge affiliate marketing insights anybody is going to publish anytime soon.

Trust me.


Sponsored by Adsimilis

Adsimilis

Premium Posts Volume 2016 is once again sponsored by Adsimilis, one of the world’s leading CPA networks.

They have been sponsoring these releases for many years, for which I am very grateful.

Some of the first breaks I had in this industry were thanks to recommendations and exclusive offers provided by Adsims.

They are a fantastic network, and if you get the chance to work with them, you should take it.

Note: They are strict on approving new sign-ups. If you can prove that you’re not a total bumberclart, feel free to email me for a referral.

Thanks For Reading

As I alluded to recently, today’s post marks the end of this blog.

The volume I’m releasing was originally scheduled for last December.

Time constraints have forced delay after delay after delay.

It takes an immense investment of coffee beans to write the material that I like to write, to a standard that I am willing to publish, and to a standard that an audience as cynical as this one demands.

I’m proud of the end result, but the experience has confirmed that I’ve reached the end of writing about affiliate marketing.

My priorities have shifted.

There are only so many hours in the day.

Thank you to everybody who has bothered to read my shit over the last seven years.

It has been… a filthy pleasure.

Cheers,
Finch


A Year In South East Asia

It’s been a while.

In fact, it’s been so long since I last updated this site, I’m betrayed by my own strapline:

“I’m a 26 year old high school dropout.”

Well, it was true two years ago.

Now I’m a 28 year old high school dropout.

Having to share a platform with the candid thoughts of your much younger self is one good reason not to sustain a blog for almost a decade.

Before I rip up this site forever, here’s an update on where I’ve been, what I’m working on, and how I’m surviving in South East Asia.

Thailand: 12 Months On

This blog has — at times — descended in to farce as I’ve tried to justify my jumping around: moving to Thailand, moving back to London, moving to America, not moving to America, moving back to Thailand, and so on.

Last March, I sold (or gave away) 95% of my possessions and moved to Bangkok with my girlfriend and two small dogs.

It’s been an amazing year. The best of my life.

I didn’t really know what to expect.

Our intention was to spend 12 months in Asia and ‘see how we felt at the end of it’. If it wasn’t fun anymore, we’d move back home.

It’s still fun, so we’re still here.

There are times where I get nostalgic for a British pub, or the predictability of Old England compared to the Thai Junta, but there’s no mistaking: our lifestyle out here is infinitely better than what we left behind.

I feel healthier and happier despite the utter chaos that passes as normal in Bangkok.

As any visa runner knows, a year in Thailand is ample opportunity to explore your local surroundings.

It’s practically a rite of passage to spend a shit four days in Laos.

So here are some thoughts on the places I’ve visited recently:

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Victoria Peak

My girlfriend summed up Hong Kong perfectly: the Clapham of South East Asia.

Packed with history, character, and the guffaws of yuppies.

I expected the British/Chinese fusion, but it’s surreal nonetheless.

From the English street names, to the ‘little green man’ at crossings, to the entire swathes of downtown Hong Kong that feel like London pitched on a steep incline and ridden of its kebab shops and pissheads.

My highlight was climbing Victoria Peak for one of the most outrageous panoramic views of any city on earth.

Lowlight was getting an exceptional case of the shits on the last day — with 15 hours to burn between hotel checkout and boarding our flight.

Fucking painful.

I wouldn’t wish the experience — the profound lack of emptiness — on my worst enemy.

Macau

Macau mini golf

Macau’s casinos are impressive, but soulless.

They reminded me of Dubai.

You can build the most majestic buildings in the world; but you can’t buy character.

The place reeks of cashed up mainlanders gallivanting for the weekend. Most of them in Man United shirts and tour groups of 80.

My highlight was playing pitch and putt, in the rain, on the roof of the Venetian. It summed up my overall impression of Macau: “OK cool, I don’t know why you’ve built this, but OK cool.”

Penang, Malaysia

penang

I didn’t see much of Penang on my last visit.

This time I stayed in Georgetown, which had much more going on — and some cracking chicken biryanis. We found plenty of good food and some interesting Japanese bars which reminded me just how much I don’t miss life before the smoking ban in bars and clubs.

The city has lots of British-style architecture as remnants of its colonial past. A nice place to walk around with beautiful Mediterranean style weather.

We used an agent to get our visas renewed while we were here.

You know it’s a funny year when you’re sitting in a hotel lobby, wearing sunglasses, waiting for Abdul ‘the runner’ to come and pick up your passport.

You wonder what the doorman’s thinking as he sees the money change hands; as he catches you mutter: “Here, tomorrow, at 3? Don’t be late — we’ve got a flight to catch.”

Vientiane, Laos

Laos

Would I recommend a visit to Vientiane?

Sure, just like I’d recommend shutting your balls in a car window.

We stayed in a hotel that I later discovered had been busted for child trafficking. This mute point hasn’t affected its lofty ranking on Trip Advisor, which says a lot about the competition.

And the Gary Glitter types congregated around the pool.

(I purposefully didn’t shave for the entire holiday.)

There are some nice temples, cheap markets and a massive fuck-off river with some history behind it. All things somebody with a little culture might appreciate.

Alas, I spent most of the time patching in to BBC Sport to keep up with the cricket.

Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam

vietnam

I really enjoyed Vietnam.

It felt like a Bangkok of 20 years ago.

A neon lit sprawl of mental traffic, bedraggled tourists and a thousand coffee shops.

The War Remnants Museum was worth a visit for its (one-sided) account of America’s crimes during the Vietnam conflict.

Although it doesn’t have a scratch on the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, which is by far the most affecting war museum I’ve visited. The stench of death there gets under your skin and lives on in your dreams.

We made a huge tourist error in boarding a taxi parked up outside the museum. Of course, the meter was obviously going to be rigged.

The fare started bouncing upwards within a couple of minutes, leading to a classically British display of anger: politely asking to pull over whilst openly discussing how much to pay the scammer.

We eventually decided: nothing.

And ran away.

But not before I found time to take this photo of the chancy prick:

meter-scammer

We should have known better.

Tourist 101. Never get in a parked taxi outside a tourist attraction in South East Asia.

Balancing Work and Bangkok

Between trips abroad, and seeing various parts of Thailand, there comes the small issue of work.

One of my biggest concerns about moving to Asia was, “What’s going to happen to my productivity?”

I am, admittedly, a creature of habit.

Back in London, I couldn’t function in the morning until I’d conquered my daily routine:

  • Feed the pups
  • Have a shower
  • Head to the ‘Petch (my affectionate term for a Petrol Station that stocks Costa Express and vanilla muffins)
  • Scan The Times
  • Wallow in coffee beans and rifle through my inbox

This routine guided me to a moment of spark at about 10:25am when I’d suddenly think, “Shit, hold on, am I not supposed to be… working on campaigns?”

And with a nervous fart, I’d assault the day.

In Thailand?

Not much has changed, except the scenery and my choice of breakfast.

For those who give a shit about daily routines, here’s how I design mine.

I divide the day in to four periods:

  1. Before Breakfast: 8:30 to 10:45
  2. After Breakfast: 11:00 to 12:45
  3. Before Lunch: 1:00 to 2:00
  4. After Lunch: 3:00 to 7:00

(Yes, I’ve managed to associate eating to literally everything I do.)

I also divide my work in to four distinct ‘phases’:

  • Management
  • Creativity
  • Production
  • Autopilot

I assign them like this:

Before Breakfast
8:30 to 10:45
Management Phase

Here I’ll take on management tasks like briefing my team, responding to emails, tracking projects, and viewing the trends of campaigns. I’ll examine my scorecard (KPIs) of the previous day’s stats, which gives a breakdown of performance across my entire business.

Whatever needs following up gets assigned and scheduled.

By the time 10:45 arrives, my loins are quivering for coffee beans.

It’s off to Au Bon Pain, Wonderwall, or some other random establishment on Sukhumvit Soi 31.

After Breakfast
11:00 to 12:45
Creativity Phase

After breakfast I enter my creativity phase.

This is when I will carry out any writing (e.g. Premium Posts), lay out ad copy, and find solutions to problems in websites and campaigns I am working on.

If I’m writing, I can blast out 2000 words in this period.

I find it easy to experience ‘flow’ in the morning — in coffee shops — so I use the opportunity to attack any task that needs my full concentration.

I wish I could do more of this work, but it requires an intense focus the likes of which I can only muster for around two hours per day.

One thing I’ve learnt is that two hours is all you need to achieve more productive work than most people manage in their entire week.

Before Lunch
1:00 to 2:00
Execution / Production Phase

The walk home is a good chance to mentally reset.

I now have two pomodoros to charge through production related work. This could be making campaign changes, preparing websites, tweaking landing pages, or — most often — split testing ad combinations.

I like to restrict the window to just a single hour since this work is very easy to conflate in to half a day if you give it the chance.

My irrepressible rumbling gut assures that I get through this work fast.

After Lunch
3:00 to 7:00
Autopilot Phase

…Then I go out for lunch, usually with my girlfriend.

After we’ve eaten, I’ll disappear to another coffee shop and enter the longest period of the day:

Autopilot work.

This is the stuff I need to do that doesn’t occupy any significant brainpower.

I find that my mind and body naturally crash after lunch, so this is a good chance to crack out Spotify and cruise through the afternoon with a series of easy wins.

I assign any tasks that don’t require major decision making or creativity to my Autopilot phase.

This is the session for detailed emails, or phone calls, or follow-ups. It’s where I evaluate the work from my team and provide feedback or new instructions. I’ll also carry out research to support the rest of my phases.

At some point between 6 to 7pm, I’ll head downstairs to the pool or the gym.

After which, surprise suprise, I’m hungry again.

Fat bastard.

Could I follow this same routine in London?

Probably.

The main gains I have in Bangkok are:

  • The food is amazing
  • The location is inspiring
  • The weather is glorious
  • I have a pool and gym downstairs

The small things add up to a daily routine that suits my lifestyle perfectly.

Plans for 2016

We’re staying in Thailand for at least another year.

Next stop is back to London to see friends and family in April.

One of the things I learnt when I moved back from Thailand in 2011 was that while you miss people, naturally, the pang doesn’t justify relocating 5000 miles just to be permanently ‘near’ them.

Quality time together is better than the false comfort of knowing somebody is 5 miles away and yet still not seeing them.

Some of the places I plan to visit in 2016:

Mount Kinabulo (Borneo), Australia, Cambodia, Germany (for AWE) and one of the major US conferences — probably ASE in New York City.

Plus, I want to see more of Thailand, particularly the north.

It’s a stunning country.

Stunningly flawed in so many ways, and yet still an amazing place to live.

Plans For This Blog?

None.

I’m releasing a new volume of Premium Posts next month, which is likely to be the final post on FinchSells.com, and my last ‘public’ contribution to the affiliate industry.

(So it will be a bloody good one.)

Work is busy, life is good.

I hope you all have a great 2016!

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Khao San Bangkok

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