1
My FUT Hair Transplant: The First 5 Months
2
Why I Quit Launching Affiliate Campaigns
3
A Year In South East Asia

My FUT Hair Transplant: The First 5 Months

Those who have seen me in the last 5 months, or seen my updates on Facebook, will have noticed a slight change in appearance.

I’ve piled on 200 lbs and taken to smoking cigars.

I’ve had a hair transplant.

I know, I know.

It’s not often you find affiliates posting about hair transplants.

Probably because they have some sense, and/or know what a Flog is.

What follows below is a long, meandering post riddled with insecurities, selfies and follicular challenges that would probably have halved my FeedBurner count back in the day.

Still, this blog is nothing if not personal.

If you’re intrigued to know what the process of getting a hair transplant is like… well, count your magic beans.

If you have no such interest… see you next time.

If you’d prefer to skip straight to sending me Hate Mail, please find the comment form attached below.

Got all that?

Right, let’s see loads of pictures of me.

Why a Hair Transplant?

It’s funny, but one of the first questions I get when I mention the transplant is… why?

Why would you do that?

The answer, if it wasn’t already obvious, is MPB: Male Pattern Baldness.

I had it, mate.

Loads of it.

I was going SuperBald.

The Longer Story:

I’ve been the reluctant owner of a thinning and receding hairline since my early 20s.

As young as 20, 21…

While it’s not something that I’d lose sleep over — especially back then — I’ve never been exactly chuffed with my prospects up top.

What started as a few innocuous comments from friends in the pub (“You’re going bald, you slag“), lead to self-examination in the mirror (“Hmm, little bit more light bouncing off the dome than usual…“), which in turn lead to scrutinising my latest tagged photos on Facebook (“Untag.“).

Nevermind the drunken dinosaur I saw staring back; the shouting, stupid, sweaty mess parading as myself on a nightclub floor — often horizontally — oh no… that was to be expected.

What unsettled me was the fraying temples.

I resented the idea of losing hair in my early 20s.

So, I told myself, I’d just wait for the inevitable and then change tacks.

“Yes, Finch, the signs are there. You’re probably going to lose most of this hair. On the bright side, people will stop calling you James Blunt. On the downside, you’re not built for baldness, my friend. So, here’s what we’ll do… We’ll wait until it’s all gone, and then we’ll hit the gym HARD. Slender and bald? No, no. Not gonna work. The answer is pile on muscle. Fast and FURIOUS.”

In other words?

Compensate.

When it’s gone, forget about it

Just get Buffting, instead.

Amirit?

That soothed me, for a while.

But it didn’t stop the scrutinising (“Oh hair, where art thou?”) in each round of tagged FB photos.

I’m not sure what coaxed me towards sitting down one day and researching cures, but I credit LASIK surgery 2 years ago with opening my eyes (literally) to what’s possible if you have money and a good surgeon.

So, 5 months ago, I remember vividly…

A couple of lazy Google searches on the sofa.

  • Best Ways to Restore Hair
  • How Do Hair Transplants Work

“This is how suckers get rebilled…” I thought.

It didn’t take long to stumble across the many case studies of FUE and FUT surgery.

Within a few hours, my mind was made up: “Fuck it, I work from home, I can keep a low profile for a couple of months if need be…”

So, I set up a consultation for the following week.

And proceeded to read a thousand Before/After hair journeys like the one I’m posting now.

Choosing the Clinic

Bangkok has several high quality hair transplant clinics.

I went with the DHT Clinic based in Ari.

It’s led by Dr Damkerng Pathomvanich (Dr Path) who has an excellent reputation, and a formidable track record for Making Noggins Great Again.

There were cheaper options available, but you’ve got to be slightly masochistic to invest in a hair transplant only to leave the quality to fate.

The Consultation

What happens at a hair transplant consultation?

First step was to diagnose my current state of hairloss on what is known as the Norwood Scale:

Norwood Scale

I was currently a Norwood 3, but heading towards a Norwood 4/5 based on male pattern baldness running through my family.

Anybody reading this now who is hovering around stages 2/3, but doesn’t want to get a transplant, I have one word for you:

Finasteride.

Well, two actually:

Finasteride and minoxidil.

Had I known about these drugs five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had (or wanted) the surgery.

Taken together they can halt premature hair loss and thicken your remaining hair.

But once it’s gone, it’s gone.

I was looking to restore, not preserve, so surgery was my only option.

Ignore any bullshit marketing-talk slapped on shampoos, conditioners, and hair products that suggest otherwise.

FUT vs FUE

Next step was to discuss the two main types of hair transplants: FUE and FUT.

FUT vs FUE

FUT is known as the ‘strip’ transplant.

A curved strip of the scalp is harvested for its tightly packed hairs, then sliced up in to hundreds of tiny grafts, and planted in the recipient area.

FUE involves the individual transplant of hair grafts, one by one, requiring a larger donor area but without leaving the same strip scar that is synonymous with FUT.

Based on the number of grafts I required to fill the temples and mid scalp, Dr Path suggested FUT as the best solution.

FUE could lead to the risk of over-harvesting and leaving my donor area thin.

Good enough for me.

I always planned to be quite open about this process, so the presence of a scar that might ‘reveal the truth’ wasn’t an issue.

Hairline Details

Next up, Art Attack.

I was sat in front of a mirror as the assistant grabbed a thick black pen and started ‘shading in’ various hairlines by colouring my temples.

  • How far forward did I want the hairline?
  • Widows peak or straight hairline?
  • Which way did I normally comb my hair? (Answer: What’s a comb?)

It was exciting to see the ‘proposals’.

It was the first time in about a decade where my hairline had actually been present.

Tide’s in! At last!

In terms of ‘design’, my requests were pretty simple.

Nothing crazy, nothing ambitious.

Just make me look how I did 10 years ago — minus the beer stains.

Number of Grafts

The assistant then wrapped a plastic sheet over my head and started sketching out the areas that would require grafts.

Quite a nice massage, actually.

Dr Path assessed the area of the sheet, then drummed a bunch of numbers in to a calculator.

Hair transplants are generally costed by the number of grafts required.

Which is affected by:

  • The area of the recipient site
  • The density/thickness of the donor hair
  • The desired density/thickness at the recipient site
  • How far forward you want to lower the hairline

A Norwood 2 patient looking to fill in the temples might only need 1000-1500 grafts.

A Norwood 6/7 patient looking to rebuild an entire hairline might require 5000-6000 grafts.

I was given three different quotes, ranging from 2900 to 3600 grafts based on the area I wanted filled in, at various densities.

We settled on 3260 grafts.

I wanted to fill in the crown, too, but Dr Path was adamant that it was unnecessary, as I still had a lot of hair there.

Taking Minoxidil and Finscar would be sufficient, he suggested.

Six months later, he was right.

Risks and Expectations

Finally… risks and expectations.

Yadda yadda yadda.

I won’t bore you with the sensible stuff.

I was booked in for the surgery four weeks after the initial consultation.

Luckily for me, a patient dropped out of his surgery just a few days after my consultation.

I heard about the vacancy on Sunday, got in touch, and was promptly booked in for surgery the following Tuesday.

All in all…

I went from researching hair transplants, to having one, in the process of seven days.

As illustrated by this amusing note in my Evernote ‘Things to Try’ folder:

Hair Transplant things to try

Day of Surgery: 22/2/2017

As you might expect, hair transplants are long procedures.

They can take several hours, and for true bald eagles, even several days.

My operation was due to start at 9am, and I wouldn’t leave the clinic until 6pm.

It was a strange experience catching the skytrain to Ari in rush hour, knowing that 10-15 doctors and assistants would be taking a similar route and I would be their task for the day.

The poor bastards.

I arrived at DHT Clinic around 8:30am after wolfing down a quick breakfast.

Stunning view of downtown Bangkok from reception…

View of Bangkok

After the initial greetings, I was given a cocktail of sleeping pills and valium to take the ‘edge’ off the day ahead.

I wasn’t particular nervous, but I wasn’t going to turn them down either.

Before the operation… a standard check of the vital signs, and a quick blood test against various diseases (HIV, etc).

After a thorough antiseptic shampooing, the doctor’s assistant marked out my hairline design on another plastic sheet and started drawing various lines that would be used, presumably, during the surgery.

At that point I met Dr Path again, this time in his funky pyjama surgeon get-up.

We spoke about the procedure and finalised how many grafts would be used, and the density.

DHT Clinic was fantastic throughout the entire process, but if I could nitpick a single complaint, it’s that you probably shouldn’t expect a patient to follow along with hair graft density calculations when he’s just chowed down a bunch of sleeping pills.

I was basically nodding along to anything at this point.

“Whatever you think, doc.”

Finally I was guided through to the operating room, which had a reclined chair lined with pillows — with a large hole in the front to rest my face.

The radio was playing bizarre Thai pop music, which is about all I remember as the gaggle of assistants promptly began massaging my feet and legs.

Hospitality, mate.

Next up, the strip harvest.

This is probably the most uncomfortable part of the op, where the surgeon slices a thin strip of skin from the back of the head.

I don’t have a picture, obviously, but here’s what it looks like (not for the screamish).

It looks worse than it feels.

My noggin was fully numbed by several injections at this point.

The only sensation I could discern was the sound of the blade delicately cutting through my scalp.

A sort of unstitching sound.

Followed by, literally, a stitching sound, and the snip snip of twenty-something staples being pressed in to my head.

Again, sounds gruesome, but it was pretty much pain-free.

The action was out of sight and out of mind.

(In contrast, I found LASIK considerably more uncomfortable.)

After about an hour, the donor strip had been taken, and I looked up to find 8-10 assistants slicing it up in to thousands of tiny follicular units, each containing between 1 to 3 hairs.

The rest of the day would be spent painstakingly ‘planting’ these grafts in to what would become my new hairline (and mid scalp).

This process… took about six hours.

Turned on to my back, two doctors began delicately planting each graft – one by one by one.

Lunch time came and passed.

Several of the assistants who had taken part in the graft harvesting disappeared throughout the day.

Dr Path would come and go, with the occasional offer of sleeping pills and more painkillers.

I didn’t take them as I wanted to be fully cognisant for my journey home.

Throughout the day the assistants would take turns giving me foot massages, helping to pass the time.

To be honest, it felt more like a spa session than a hair transplant.

Finally, at around 6:30pm, the procedure came to an end and I was given the back and sides ‘mirror’ treatment, as you would after a haircut.

I can’t remember my words but they were along the lines of:

“Thank you very much, I look mental, but thank you very much. Mental.

They led me back in to the waiting area where I was offered a quick meal and shown how to put on a bandana, which I would need for the journey home.

I was also given a compression headband — key for reducing the swelling over the next few days.

I paid the bill, hailed a Bangkok taxi, and set off home to scare the living shit out of my waiting dogs.

Day 1 Post Op

My objective for the next day was simple:

Get the rest of my head shaved.

FUT, unlike FUE, doesn’t require a buzz cut prior to the surgery. This left me with the horrendous two tone look you see above.

Bald and Bristle.

The clinic had told me I could get the hair evened out the next day, which I saw as pretty much mandatory.

First night, I went to bed with my head raised in ones of those neck cushions that you’d pick up in Boots at the airport.

I slept well.

Until… about 4am when I woke up with the back of my head feeling, as you’d expect, rather tender.

Like it had taken a holiday to the fires of Hell… would be a better description.

So, that’s what the extra painkillers were for, eh?

I bolted them down and the searing discomfort was gone within 15 minutes.

The next day, I returned to DHT Clinic to have both the recipient and donor areas examined, as is the norm post transplant.

All clean was the verdict.

The team had done a fantastic job.

I was also given a demonstration of how to clean and wash my hair properly using a luminous red antiseptic shampoo.

My takeaway thought:

“I really don’t want to get that shit in my eyes.”

Several hours later, as I danced around the shower naked, swearing and clawing at my burning retinas, the verdict came back strong:

No.

No, you really didn’t want to get that shit in your eyes.

Day 2-5: A Scabby Man

The first few days were marked by the scabbing process and a much-needed buzz cut.

By the time the scalp had ‘cooled down’, the swelling had reduced, and the scabs had been and gone (helped by coconut oil)… I quite liked the buzz cut look I was left with.

Ironically, I’d never had my hair this short.

Of course, it was helped by the newly inserted grafts… which I’d soon be losing in the shed phase.

One thing I learnt over these days was the importance of the compression headband.

It traps the swelling above the band.

If you forget to wear it… the swelling travels down your face and you’ll wake up with two black eyes.

Not a good look, at a time when good looks are hard to come by.

The scar itself was recovering well.

Was taking every last ounce of willpower not to pick at the immense crust forming on the back of my head.

Every time I caved, I’d quickly regret it.

A bloody handful of half-dissolved stitches and fresh crimson seeping from the wound is a useful reminder. Not. To. Pick. The. Scabs.

RESIST!

Day 14: Stitches Out; Shedding Begins

After around 10 days, I had the remaining staples removed from the back of my head.

21 stitches in total.

Was glad to see the back of them; especially the dissolvable stitches — which were by now dangling in No Man’s Land, hanging out of my head like pieces of frayed string.

If I gave them a tug, the string would either ease free… or cause a shooting stinging sensation.

Again… RESIST.

At around 10 days, I began to notice the new grafts shedding.

I’d shampoo (extremely delicately) and notice hairs in my hands.

“Here we go, then. See ya later, buzz cut.”

Days 21-30: An Ugly Duckling is Born

The first few weeks post hair transplant are a cruel, cruel process.

First comes the euphoria.

Well, I’ll be buggered, I’m going to have HAIR.

Then as the scorched earth scalp redness subsides, and the swelling goes down, you can already see the makings of your new hairline.

Unfortunately, you know it won’t last.

After the initial hair transplant comes a dramatic shedding process.

Around 80-90% of those newly inserted grafts fall out, naturally, in the first month.

It’s normal (but it still takes the wind out of your sails).

Under the surface, the roots will have taken hold.

They enter a dormant stage before growing back after 3-4 months.

In the meantime… it can be mentally challenging to see the new hairline, and then lose it.

Clump by clump. Hair by hair.

As the shedding gets underway, the patient enters what is known as the ‘Ugly Duckling’ phase.

And as most FUT/FUE patients will confirm, this is the hard part.

It’s not just the shedding that constitutes an ugly motherfucker.

There’s also the shock loss.

Due to the invasive nature of FUT, many patients suffer dramatic hair loss around the donor site in the weeks after surgery.

It can take several months for the hair to grow back.

Well, as you can see below, I got the arse end of the shock loss deal.

“Just a warning: I look like somebody’s been at me with a lawn mower.”

— March 2017 stump speech, if required to remove cap in public.

2 Months: Signs of Life

You know what helps to speed up a hair transplant recovery?

I’ll tell you:

Catching the norovirus.

On a trip to Krabi, I contracted a severe strain of vomit and shits, which did wonders for my perception of time.

In the sense that I no longer cared about the changes happening on my head. Only those falling out of my guts.

The last few days were horrific.

And flying home was the worst.

Flying with food poisoning is an indignity I’d wish on probably less than ten people, off the top of my head (give or take a couple).

When we land, I haven’t had anywhere near enough water for the 38 degrees Bangkok furnace.

It tells.

I’m dizzy, delirious, anxious…

I know full well, it’s a race against the clock.

I am going to shit myself.

The only question is where.

“The worst flight of my life,” I tell my fiance, grey-faced, in the middle of a tantrum at Don Muang Arrivals. By this point I’m scowling unbridled terrorism at anybody who makes eye contact with me, interchangeably shoving wafers and Imodium in my face.

“But you handled it really well,” comes the reply.

I nod my head.

Several decades pass before I realise she’s taking the piss.

Silently my hair continues to grow.

[/AdrianMole]

3 Months: Day Zero

Progress!

The recovery from a hair transplant follows a reverse bell curve.

You start with excitement and enthusiasm, which is swiftly replaced by a downer as you face up to shedding, shock loss, and the loss of novelty in it all.

The general consensus is that after 2 months, you will recover sufficiently to reach the same stage that you were pre-transplant.

As in… if you hadn’t seen somebody since the day before your hair transplant, and you saw them 2 months later, they shouldn’t notice too much difference in your appearance.

Personally, it took me around 3 months to reach this Day Zero.

Due, mainly, to shock loss.

Both in the donor area, but also in the recipient area where some of my ‘good’ hair around the temples had taken a while to grow back.

I was also suffering from intermittent folliculitis; which is very common when new hair is attempting to break through the skin.

Regardless, to reach ‘how I was before’ was a big thing psychologically.

You can then get excited that it’s all ‘new hair’ from here.

That shit you paid for when you signed up for the transplant.

Typically, in keeping with my personality, I started to lose interest in the recovery as soon as I reached Day Zero.

I no longer felt awkward going outside without my cap.

I slowly began to forget about what was happening on my head.

New hair growth is so subtle and slow that the effects will be noticed more by other people than by yourself.

If you’re reading this thinking a transplant will have a transformative effect on your life, filling you with oodles of newfound confidence and vigour…

Nah, mate.

The Self adjusts accordingly.

You’ll be less invested in the results just as they’re rearing their tiny follicular heads.

4 Months: Rapid Growth

The 4th month post-surgery marked some rapid progress.

My left temple has been around 6 weeks ahead of the right temple. Probably because it managed to retain some of the original grafts.

I also had more hair on that side to begin with.

(A common genetic MPB trait, according to the doctor.)

Not only was I seeing a lot of new growth by Month 4, but the hair around my crown was thickening up from the prescribed 5mg Minoxidil and 5mg ProScar taken daily.

The areas of shock loss were slowly growing back; barely distinguishable with my hair kept longer. Although, as you can see in the image below, it was still noticeable with wet shorter hair.

Any tenderness or loss of sensation to my scalp had disappeared by this point.

The scar was now just a faint pink line.

I was told it would be invisible unless the hair was cut to a 2 grade, and that was certainly the case with my usual mop.

5 Months: Pretty Hairy

Here we are now, in the present, just over 5 months post-surgery.

It’s at this point that most people begin to report substantial new growth and a major change in hairline appearance.

I think I’ve been around one month ahead of schedule throughout most of the process.

Things are definitely moving fast.

Apparently a warmer climate, massaging the scalp, and eating well can help to spur growth.

(Unlike a lot of FUT patients, I haven’t taken any additional supplements or used any fancy hair products.)

My hair has always grown ridiculously fast. Being younger than the average FUT patient, too, perhaps explains why I’m further along the timeline.

Appearance-wise, the right temple is catching up with the left.

They both now appear fully ‘filled in’.

The hair is getting thicker week by week – definitely most noticeable when it’s wet.

All of the areas that suffered shock loss have grown back.

The crown seems to be thickening, too, although that could just be depth perception given my hair is now much longer than I’m used to keeping it.

Five months down, and I’m way beyond Day Zero.

Very happy with the results so far.

In Summary…

This was initially going to be a 12 month diary.

It takes over a year to see the full results of a hair transplant, so I’m still less than halfway through the process.

Over the next six months I should see more growth, plus thickening of the hair and changes in texture.

That’s all gravy.

But I’m pleased with the results already.

If I didn’t grow another hair, that’s fine by me.

Which is how I should probably end the most self-indulgent blog post I’ve ever brainfarted in to existence (“Marketing blog, he says!”).

Why post about your hair, Finch?

When I was researching the operation, ‘follow along’ diaries were my catnip.

They were some of the most useful resources for understanding the hair transplant process.

(Yes, I did check to ensure that it wasn’t one of you affiliate bastards penning them.)

I know hair loss is a thing that affects a lot of men — and women — so I have no qualms in spilling my guts like this.

Overall, I’m really glad I had the transplant.

I wouldn’t describe the process as ‘life changing’ by any stretch, but I’m happier with how I look, and I’m not filled with that same dread: “Oh god, what’s gonna be left of my hairline in ten years?”

That’s not to speak down on any readers who are Bald And Proud, either.

If you’re happy with it, who gives a shit, right?

For some people, the bald look is a winner.

Alas, so ends my little story.

I hope the above does a decent job of summarising what to expect if you are one of the 0.02% of readers considering FUT.

Failing that…

I hope it explains why I have somewhat more hair than I did 6 months ago.

Thanks for reading.

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.

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!

2015 pic 1

ran 2

ran3

ran4

ran5

ran6

ran7

ran8

ran9

ran10

ran11

ran12

ran13

ran14

Khao San Bangkok

Copyright © 2014.