My Story

Chris Watkins

Chris Watkins

Financial Coach | Entrepreneur | Investor

My name is Chris. I’m 34 yrs old. I’m financially independent – my basic financial needs are met from passive income sources, my schedule is free, this allows me to do what I want when I want. I have time freedom.

It’s crazy to write that publicly… I never flaunt accomplishments – you’d never know it if you saw me on the street, at my house, or in the workplace. In high school I was an average student. I excelled more in sports than in the classroom (Volleyball & Basketball to be exact). Yet somehow, from somewhere, at the age of 17 I set a goal – I had this intense desire to be financially free by the age of 35. Why 35? I don’t know, but it was what I wanted. How would I get there? I had no idea back then.

If a regular person like me can do it, on one income (wife is a stay at home mother), with 4 kids. You can do it too!

Here’s a sneak peak into my financial journey…

Before College

I ran a landscape maintenance business the year after graduating high school. That wasn’t what got me financially to where I am now. But it paid for a portion of a volunteer service mission to Argentina. I spent 2 years learning Spanish and teaching amazing Argentine people about God 7 days per week. That definitely didn’t get me anywhere close to financial independence. I took two years off of working or college. On the contrary, I spent money and made zero dollars while I was there. In hindsight, I should have invested that money while I was gone somehow. I had $400/mo in expenses – could I have invested that 10k somewhere to offset some of that monthly spending? But I digress…From that experience I learned hard work, how to learn, how to listen, how to teach, and how to lead. Invaluable tools for my financial independence journey. 

A College Education

I went to college and studied Business Management at Brigham Young University. I excelled the last two years of college taking elective classes in online marketing, personal finance, entrepreneurship, and real estate. I was blessed with grandparents who’d set up a trust to pay for half of all grandkids education and volunteer mission expenses. Additionally, my parents supported my choice to attend college paying the other half of my first year tuition and some living expenses. I was on my own the next three so I worked through college for a real estate management company where I was exposed to the idea that you could purchase low cost investment properties in the Midwest, fix them up, and rent them out for passive income. 

My “Angel Investor” Wife

I met my wife my last year of college. She’d already graduated with an accounting degree (and debt free with $200 to her name I might add). She had a great job with a startup eCommerce company and, by that time, accumulated 18k in savings. She was frugal and a great saver (she grew up a yard sale expert). As I met her I was taking business, finance, and eCommerce classes. I was very interested in eCommerce and as we got engaged I ended up in an internship with an eCommerce company myself. We were perfect match in so many ways (the least of which was our similar professional experience in eCommerce). During our engagement, I should add that we created our LLC. I was already dreaming of owning my own business so her connections to eCommerce and my internship was all “icing on the cake”.

The Startup – eCommerce

We started several online drop shipping stores during our engagement (more about the stores coming soon), my internship, while also attending school, and while she was working. We got married during that hectic Spring. Near the end of my internship, I was offered a full time position with the company with a clear path to becoming the internet marketing director for the company upon graduation by the end of the year.  After much discussion, we decided to take a risk, invest in myself, and double down on my eCommerce business for the entire summer instead of taking the job. At our young age what did we have to lose?

Ecommerce Biz logo 1
Ecommerce Biz 2
Ecommerce Biz 3

The “House Hack”

The House Hack HouseWe bought a house with a basement apartment close to the university. We “house hacked” renting it out to friends and family also attending college at the time (more about house hacking coming soon). My summer was spent day and night building the websites (I did everything myself on those stores early on)… By the beginning of fall semester the websites were just starting to gain a small bit of traction and generate a few sales. I took my last semester of classes while spending nights and weekends working till sometimes 2 or 3 am on those websites. 

The Road Less Travelled – Decision Time

By the time graduation came around I had a decision to make – the websites were maybe making a grand total of $500/mo profit total – not enough to support a small growing family even though we lived frugally. Oh yeah, since we just had our first baby right before graduation, we had that expense and my wife not planning to go back to her job. So with those factors, should I get a job and work for someone else’s bottom line? Or do I double down again on my own? We did the math… we had exactly 6 months of emergency funds available at that point. We decided to give ourselves 6 months. If the websites weren’t paying the bills within 6 months, I’d go find a job. By 4 months after graduation the eCommerce business was profitable enough to cover our monthly expenses. (more about this risk assessment coming soon- including game changing advice from a mentor)

I should mention that 6 month emergency fund was from my frugal wife. That is why I call her my “angel investor”. Her seed money is what allowed us to take the risk. 

The Growth Stage

We started 4 different websites at the same time (more about if I recommend that coming soon). One website took off with a product we didn’t expect, another store did fairly well, the other two struggled with competition (more about our eCommerce strategy coming soon). After a couple years working all 4 websites we decided to focus our efforts on the one that took off more than we expected. We also sold one of our lower performing stores to help with the focus (more about buying and selling stores coming soon). About 3 years in, we made a move to start our own product line based on what was selling well on our best performing store. Our margins and flexibility increased drastically from that point on. (More about that transition to our own product line/brand coming soon).


From DIY to Outsourcing

I was still handling all of the web development, customer service, order fulfillment, and supply chain logistics at this time and was getting burned out. That is when I came across outsourcing options that changed my whole perspective. I hired two full time virtual assistants from the Philippines to handle my customer service for me (more about outsourcing coming soon). I gradually began to automate processes, document my daily tasks, and assign and train them on those tasks (more about automation coming soon). After a few months, my plate was much less full and I could focus on growth and marketing efforts.

40% Revenue Drop

I was spending a significant sum of money on paid advertising through Google Adwords by this time. Unfortunately, a rule change made it so that our main bread and butter product line was now considered a weapon and we were no longer allowed to run paid ads and bring paid traffic to our online store through that channel. This was about 40% of our revenue at this time. After a cooling off period, we decided to pursue new marketing channels we hadn’t tried. Important note here – every experience is a learning experience. This wasn’t failure, this was a learning opportunity. We learned to pivot to the next option from experiences like this. Amazon was one of those channels we decided to invest in (this was before Amazon was as mainstream as it is now!). Suffice it to say that Amazon did well to replace that lost revenue from the Adwords cancellation. 

  Financial CalculatorsFinancial Foundations

An important point to mention here is that there will be curveballs and pivots in any business, especially startups. We weren’t devastated by this change because we had emergency savings (more about emergency funds and financial independence here). Because we followed basic financial principles of frugality, we had no debt besides our mortgage (which was for the most part paid for by our basement renters), and we started having a bit more to put into savings, we were able to take blows in our business with perspective, and problem solve instead of panic. 

Passive Income

About 5 years into this journey, I begin to appreciate even more what I was creating – a passive business that didn’t require my day to day management. My mind would often go back to my real estate days in college when I worked for that real estate management company. I could see the incredible value of creating multiple passive income streams and how real estate was another way to create passive income. I decided to get my real estate sales agent license in Utah mainly for my own investment purposes. I was looking to purchase rental properties. 

Creative Real Estate

After calling around to various brokerages I ended up finding a perfect fit with a real estate broker looking to expand and was an investor himself. Little did I know he was one of only a handful of brokers who is involved with the National Council of Exchangors. This is a group of brokers across the nation who get together quarterly and do real estate deals together for their clients (and sometimes their own deals as principles). This was a very high level and sophisticated group the does very creative real estate deals on behalf of investor clients.  This group has educated and broadened my horizons on creative real estate more than any real estate book I have read.  

The Jump From “House Hack” to “Live-in-Flip”

About 6 years into our entrepreneurship journey after getting our real estate license we found a potential dream home opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We decided to sell the “House Hack” in exchange for a “Live-in-Flip”. (More about this killer deal coming soon). We bought a much larger house without a basement apartment. Our goal was to, instead of make money each month by renting our basement, to make our money on the back end when we sell. This is why it’s a “Live-in-Flip”; we lived in it, while fixing it up and enjoying the beauty of it, until it was time to flip it (sell it). During this time of improving the property, we “tapped into our home equity” for quick trigger real estate opportunities and other specific investment uses (see my rules for investing with HELOCs coming soon). Using our HELOC we bought two different larger real estate deals while aggressively paying down the balance on the line of credit along the way to minimize the interest costs (case studies on these deals coming soon). Probably close to 1,000 hours and many tens of thousands of dollars later we sold the Live-in-Flip. Check out the before and after pictures below!

Where We Are Now

Seeing so much uncertainty with where the market was headed, and facing the most insanely hot real estate market we’d ever witnessed, we made the best decision we could with the information we had and decided to sell the house and rent until we figured out where the market was going to go. In hindsight, the timing of the sale could have been better (waiting till spring likely would have yielded even better results!). Yet an important principle that I learned some years ago is the idea that you aren’t able to predict the future with 100% accuracy.  You can be given parameters, historical averages and cycles, and the data for what you are seeing in the present, and you make your best decision with the information you have. And looking back with regret does you a disservice because you made the best decision you could with the information you had. It’s a sunk cost! Learn from the experience and move on. 

My Why

Financial Independence is my passion. I love learning principles of finance, investing, and early retirement strategies. While most people stay up late watching the latest TV show, you’ll find me studying, brainstorming, and pondering the principles taught on this website and the many books on the subject. 

In addition to Financially Optimized, I now do mostly high level creative real estate transactions myself and consulting for a select few real estate investor clients. The eCommerce business is operating passively with employees running the day to day operations.  We have 4 kids and my time is often spent with them when I am not working. We continue to fulfill our dreams with the help of a loving God who wants to see us succeed. 

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