LINCOLN — Jeremy Schoemaker's story includes dropping out of college and getting fired from his first three white-collar jobs before marrying a doctor and becoming an overnight millionaire in Omaha.
The next chapter of Schoemaker's life probably won't be as wild as his past. At 38, with two daughters to raise, the founder of Internet businesses such as nextpimp.com and auctionads.com is in the early stages of a new business, building off his Internet experience but creating something less “fly by night,” as he wrote on his blog.
“I'm going to build a real company,” he said in a recent interview, “something I can have my parents come look at.”
Shoemaker, a native of Moline, Ill., now lives in south Lincoln and works from a small office in the downtown business district where the walls are decorated with pictures of Memorial Stadium and Schoemaker's family, alongside blown-up snapshots of him with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, hotel heiress Paris Hilton and a harem of Playboy Playmates.
This is where he and the small staff of Shoemoney Capital are hard at work at his next venture, a service handling client acquisition and retention services for Internet retailers. It's the first business he has started, he said, that he wouldn't sell if someone came to him with an offer.
It's what he decided to do instead of retiring after his early successes.
The unvarnished version of Schoemaker's story is spelled out in his new self-published book, “The Shoemoney Story,” available on Amazon.com. Although Schoemaker — or at least his “Shoemoney” persona — is widely known in the online affiliate marketing world, few in Nebraska are familiar with him, and those in his field are often surprised to learn he's built his career in the Corn Belt.
“I thought he was going to say, I live near Facebook, or I live near Microsoft,” said friend Mike Sprouse, owner of a Chicago marketing agency who first heard about Schoemaker in 2006. Sprouse was a senior marketing executive at Playboy looking to develop a blog network for the magazine's website when a colleague told him, “Well, the biggest blog out there is this Shoemoney.com.”
“Shoemoney” is the online marketing blog, and the persona, Schoemaker began in 2003, when he was developing a following in online search and marketing forums and operating nextpimp.com, which he built to help owners of Nextel phones put photos and ringtones on early-model phones for free.
A photo on the blog shows him holding up the first big check from Google: $132,994.97, received in September 2005 in his Omaha mailbox and earned through the search engine's AdSense program, which lets the publishers of websites earn money by allowing ads on their pages that are tailored to their readers' interests.
Google was attracted to the nextpimp.com's heavy traffic, and soon Schoemaker was making more than $1,000 a day.
But unlike his reputation, he doesn't think of himself as an overnight success.
The son of a schoolteacher and a welder, he struggled in school, troubled by an inability to concentrate and the teasing he got about being overweight. He was an early entrepreneur, selling candy and baseball cards out of his backpack at a profit, and in high school, breaking the rules.
He says he graduated from high school only because his mother was so well-liked, and he attended more than one college without earning a degree. Early efforts to make money were schemes, like using his employee discount at Best Buy to buy high-end stereo equipment and give it to friends, who would return it for a full-price refund and share the profits.
Schoemaker's move to the online world started in 1995, when he was recruited away from a sales job at Sears to provide customer support to Macintosh users for a local Internet service provider. He learned about web hosting, operating systems, HTML and graphics, the foundation of a future career.
But his book describes the next period in Schoemaker's life as a dark one, of depession, addiction to Internet gaming and deep debt. He was fired from a systems administrator job at a Moline bank after he automated his job and spent the extra time playing video games at work. He moved to Des Moines, where he met his future wife, a medical student from Omaha, online (where else?) and worked as a security manager for Wells Fargo Financial.
Again, he developed sidelines. Schoemaker said he made thousands of dollars parting out and reselling surplus Wells Fargo computer hardware on the weekend out of a friend's midtown Omaha home. And he created nextpimp.com mostly on the job. Schoemaker was not surprised when he was fired from the bank, and then another, Commercial Federal in Omaha.
That's when Google called.
With money pouring in daily from his AdSense placements on nextpimp.com and shoemoney.com, Schoemaker says he “followed the money” to understand how affiliate marketing works.
A meeting with eBay affiliate program representatives at a conference led in 2007 to Schoemaker and a partner, David Dellanave, launching and, four months later, selling AuctionAds, a service that displays live eBay auctions to visitors based on the website owner's keyword preference.
Schoemaker said more than 20,000 people signed up for the service in those four months, before he and Dellanave sold their stake to another partner, MediaWhiz, for an undisclosed amount. EBay awarded AuctionAds its 2007 eBay Star Developer Award for innovation.
Other ventures followed, some more successful than others. With Fighters.com, a blog about the mixed martial arts world, Schoemaker said he was lucky to break even. With his Shoemoney System, a subscription video guide to Internet marketing, he says he has grossed more than $5 million. Schoemaker is particularly proud of his Elite Retreat annual Internet conference, an educational and networking event limited to 35 people who pay $8,000 apiece to attend.
In 2010, he was the winner of a Fast Company magazine contest to see who was the “most influential person online.” The contest gave credit to a participant each time someone clicked on that person's contest URL and partial credit for additional clicks if the clicker decided to sign up as a participant. Of nearly 33,000 people who participated, Schoemaker was the top finisher with more than 500,000 clicks.
Schoemaker told the magazine he used a straightfoward approach, asking his followers from Twitter, his blog, Facebook and his mailing list for support. Another participant criticized him for using paid affiliate marketing techniques to “game the system.”
Schoemaker responded that he has always been open on his blog about how he generates traffic. “I teach people how things really work.”
Now, the “most influential person online” is ready for a new phase in his career, and he knows he's going to have to do things differently.
He has described himself as a “top line guy,” focused on making so much money it doesn't matter what his expenses are. But in early 2012, he said, expenses for Shoemoney started exceeding income.
“I really wanted to create the Google of Lincoln, and I did — without the revenue,” he said.
He let some employees go, changed the free-for-all culture of his office (although he kept the stripper pole) and refocused on developing the client acquisition service, which he calls the PAR Program, for People Acquisition & Retention.
Internet marketing may be more mature than when Schoemaker started, but there's still opportunity to make money, he said. He said he hopes his story inspires other entrepreneurs to experiment.
“Right now is an insane time,” he said.
Sprouse expects success for his friend.
“Where marketing is heading is definitely digital,” he said. “He's fishing in the right pond.”
What others say
>> Jarrod Parde, vice president and director of sales and marketing for musclefire.com, a Lincoln online retailer of clothing for bodybuilders: Parde was a computer programming student in 2005 when he met Schoemaker and invited himself to the entrepreneur's house to learn about making money online. “I was like, 'You gotta just teach me. I need to be your apprentice.'” They worked together for about six months before Parde found his own niche with a coupon site. Now, he says, affiliate marketing is saturated and not the easy money it once was. Parde never completed his college degree either but says he learned plenty from Schoemaker about reaching customers online. “The whole landscape of advertising has changed,” he said.
>> Jay Wilkinson, chief executive officer of Firespring, a Lincoln marketing firm that specializes in small businesses and nonprofits: Wilkinson introduced Schoemaker to the Nebraska branch of international networking group EO, or Entrepreneurs' Organization, which limits membership to the owners of businesses with more than $1 million in annual revenue. When Wilkinson first heard of Schoemaker through a friend, online marketing entrepreneur Jon Rognerud, “I was shocked that there was somebody (in Lincoln) who was that notorious that I wasn't aware of.” Wilkinson said he looks forward to seeing what Schoemaker can accomplish next. “He's on track to build some really big things and some really interesting things. Whether or not you would like or dislike his formula or the way he approaches things, he'll be very interesting to watch.”
>> Dr. J Schoemaker, his wife, an Omaha native who graduated from Marian High School and the University of Nebraska Medical Center: She is an anesthesiologist in private practice who, while “very proud” of her husband, would really prefer her colleagues don't read his book. “Some people want to focus on the fast cash that Jeremy has made, or the illusion of fast cash,” she said. “There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears to what he's done. There's a lot of, I wake up at 3 in the morning and he's downstairs coding something.” And the image of riches doesn't correspond with reality, Dr. Schoemaker said. Most years her husband outearns her, but it's not consistent. “We live in a normal house. I shop at Target.”
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