How A Poor Kid From Hastings Built A Million Dollar Business.

What’s so special about Jordan Laubaugh? I think about this question a lot, except, since Jordan Laubaugh is me, I don’t say Jordan Laubaugh in my head, I just say me. What’s special about me? Whenever I reflect on my life, or even explain the basic features of it to anyone, we both feel some amount of awe. How did I do it?

How did a kid from a household where pop cans were considered part of the families savings account end up building a million dollar business. How do you get from North M43 to Southern Thailand? From ignored by all of the girls I ever wanted to… well.. umm…. I mean I do OK, let’s change the subject.

If you’re from Hastings, you’ll understand my aversion to bragging. It’s not what we do. It’s in bad taste. Anytime that I am honored at industry events I’m embarrassed and I do everything I can to deflect credit away from myself and onto other people. I promise, the world took the boy out of Michigan, but not an ounce of Michigan has ever left me. I still say ope whenever I bump into someone or cut them off by mistake in a grocery store aisle. I’m one of you.

But for a moment, it feels necessary to share some of what I’ve accomplished so far, as a means of getting to know each other. Because like, if you don’t know me, how will you ever love me? I need to be loved. So here’s my story, at least the parts of it I’m comfortable with you knowing at this stage in our courtship.

May 26, 1990: Born at home to parents Lynn and Martha at a nice enough home on Osborne Road; half way between Hastings and Woodland; and Hastings and Freeport; and I guess Hastings and Lake-O depending on what road you took. There were horses. And of course dogs. And there were cats in the barn, but not in the house. My childhood was, for the most part, an unbroken boulevard of green lights. We had our fair share of tragedy and poverty; like everyone, but I don’t like to complain. Lesson 1: Don’t complain. No one cares about you (except me, obviously).

May 26, 2008: Graduate from Hastings High School, turn 18, and spend the night getting drunk with my friends, because I knew I was going to be gone the next day, gone for good baby.

I was only going to Grand Rapids and I’d been to Grand Rapids plenty of times before. But on May 27, I would be going to Grand Rapids and staying there. I was making it out of the small town of Hastings. I’d saved up some money in my last few months of high school and had arranged to rent an apartment downtown near the hospitals.

The plan was simple: Move into the city. Become a super successful entrepreneur business person and live the good life. I can’t say whether I thought this was a good plan or not at the time. I simply did not have any other plan. Having only one plan does not necessarily make it a good plan, but it does focus ones activity. By only having one plan, the only practical option was to succeed at that plan.

It’s been 8 1/2 years now since that first day in Grand Rapids when I started working on that plan. My early adulthood has been enviable. At first, I did some odd jobs and worked with various entrepreneurs in my early days in Grand Rapids, mostly in real estate and marketing, things like that. Late in 2009, I first heard about the adult video chat industry and assumed it was a scam, like everybody. By early 2010 a few of my friends had convinced me that it was a real thing, that there was a way to make money on the internet as “models” - a ludicrous term for what the work actually is (chatting with people and them paying for 1 on 1 private video chats, wherein “adult stuff” happens). Think, nudity.

My early skepticism morphed into an intense curiosity and I set out to learn everything I could about the industry. I’d been reading every business book, sales book, self improvement book, etc that I could afford to buy or borrow for years and was hungrily looking for the thing that would be “my business”. The more I learned about the adult industry, the more it made sense to me as something I could pursue. It was all pretty seedy and shady, a lot of unsavory seeming characters and companies. I liked that.

I thought, “What if I didn’t do that? What if I made a company that was just like, legit? If I brought the moral and ethical values that I’d been reared on: work hard, play by the rules, treat people fairly to an industry that didn’t seem to have a lot of that. That might be a compelling value proposition. Which is what that book about sales success said I should start with.”

Also, I’d had a computer in my bedroom with unfiltered internet since I was 12, adult content wasn’t exactly foreign or uncomfortable to me. So, I was comfortable working in an industry that a lot of people found unsavory (thus meaning the competition would be weak). I was comfortable being open and honest about all of it (unheard of at the time). And I believed that just treating it like a serious business and not doing any of the shady/creepy things that everyone seemed to be doing would allow me to win clients. Those were my premises.

Unfortunately, I needed a way in. So I started working as a recruiter for one of those unsavory companies I just mentioned, not knowing any better. I was good at it. I’d recruited 20-30 performers over the course of 6 months and wasn’t making very much money, but I was pulling in $800-1,000/month, which is a lot more than 0. That all came to an end real quick though. The individual that was my boss started dating one of the girls I had recruited and decided to cut me out, taking all of my performers in the process, and putting me back to 0. It was the end of the world for me.

By this point I’d moved from Grand Rapids to Wilmington, North Carolina. And the little bit of consistent income that I had, that I was counting on to put food on the table, had vanished in an instant. I’d only been there 2 months and the reality appeared to be that I was going to have to pack it in and move home, back to mom’s house, my little entrepreneurial heart broken and this poorly thought out experiment coming to an end. I’d have to admit that my deepest, darkest fear was true: that everyone else was right and I didn’t have what it takes to make it out in the world on my own.

I can’t remember anyone telling me that explicitly, in those exact words, that I wasn’t good enough, or that I wasn’t destined for greatness. It’s the sort of thing that you hear sideways in Hastings. The teachers in classes that I wasn’t interested in would let me know that, due to my lack of ambition for academic excellence, a lot of pathways to success would be closed to me in life. Adults that I’d confide in would, hoping to be supportive, encourage me to be practical, think long-term, and get a college degree. If I expressed some high-minded field of professional ambition, I’d be told that that business is all about who you know, you need connections, connections you can only get by being a part of that club. Small towns have a way of narrowing down people’s ambitions. If you feel like you want to do something great, you meet a lot of resistance. Ambition is in bad taste there; at least any ambition that doesn’t fit the list of approved ambitions.

Of course, I believed every word of all of that, and on a lot of nights I still do! I’ve spent weeks in anguish feeling like I made all of the wrong decisions, that I should have listened, that I’d be happier and more content if I had just taken a traditional route to success. There are so many realities in which all of that is true. Parents and teachers telling students that it is good to strive for academic excellence, to learn a lot, to go to college and major in something for which the career prospects are bright; that isn’t crazy advice. That’s smart. That is the right answer for most people. It just wasn’t the right answer for me. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I didn’t fit in. Why I refused to fall in line. Why I couldn’t do what people told me. Maybe it was Eminem, I don’t know. It just didn’t work for me. It wouldn’t have worked for me. I had to be crazy. I had to run into the world head first, alone, and create something that was wholly mine. It was always a feeling in my gut. Chasing a dream, no matter how poorly thought out it might have seemed, no matter how painful the path would be, chasing a dream made me feel alive.

That feeling came back to me then; when I got the news that I was out of business. That the income that I had worked tirelessly for 6 months to scrape together was gone and wouldn’t be coming back and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt the stubbornness that would eventually come to define my life.

I was blank. I was numb. I felt like I’d been slapped across the face a million times in a second. But in that instant, standing there in an apartment, the rent for which would soon come due, the cash for which I did not have, somewhere, deep, deep, deep in my gut, I felt that feeling again. I wasn’t giving up. I was going to win the battle. t’s like that Robert Frost poem. I was prepared to die, to starve in the streets if I had to, before I’d admit defeat and go back home with my tail between my legs. I wasn’t going to be the prodigal son. I was going to make it.

So, in late 2010 I started working on what would later become Pandora Modeling. All I had was that hunch. That somehow I was the hero that the industry needed, and I could make things better. No authority, no permission, no assistance. I just did it all on my own. All of my best ideas had been tried and they worked, but they were lost to me. I couldn’t recruit the performers from before again; and there was no way to get their accounts from the other company due to contractual arrangements they had with the network. I had to start everything all over again, completely from zero, but without any ideas on how I would make it work. I felt scared and alive. The type of fear that makes you scream at the night instead of cowering.

The first deal I made was with the Flirt4Free network. They would give us a “studio account” on terms that would allow us to recruit performers to their site and earn a commission from the sales those performers made. Sites like these always need new models, and the competition to get new models was fierce between all of the sites and the various recruiters, so they would have allowed literally anyone to setup this account, it wasn’t a brilliant idea or anything. This was the same arrangement that the last company I’d worked with had. We would now be competitors.

As a serious business, I would pursue new ideas to recruit models using marketing strategies that I’d learned working with real estate entrepreneurs back in Michigan. I’d experience some success quickly.

As a hobby, I would think about ways to hurt and destroy that guys business. I was ruthless. I would be the last man standing. I contacted all of my former clients who now had direct relationships with him and explained how they could get a better deal by contacting that guy’s boss and complaining to him that that guy sucks and asking to have their account moved to the bosses account. I would provide the email and phone number for that individual’s boss to my former client and wish them well. Within a few weeks, everything he’d stolen from me was worth nothing to him. In a few more months the rest of his business would be worthless. His boss, who was already a major player in the industry, benefitted by not having to pay him for those accounts. The same trick he pulled on me basically, only on him and revenge based instead of greed based.

I’d extend that same courtesy call to any other performers that worked with him, indefinitely. It wasn’t that long before he was out of business, he’d given up. I think he ended up selling weed in Detroit, before it was legal.

Destroying him was an easy move that I felt justified in making. He was a bad guy and was bad for the industry that I was making my own. I really did feel a moral obligation to destroy his business, believing that it caused real, material harm to performers. I would soon extend this same courtesy to the rest of my competitors.

A lot of people tried to use this move on me over the years, but it’s never worked even a little. I have spent my entire career being open, honest, fair, ethical, and working extremely hard to create value for the people that work with me. On all of the basic ethical points, i win. But I am also just really, really, really good at teaching people how to make money as cam models. So i win the talent game too. Last year my top client (a girl, who was 22, and also came from a household where pop cans are currency) made over $400,000. All of my counter-parties view me as indispensable. I have hundreds of clients.

The success of Pandora grew well past what I ever could have dreamed when I started. In the early days, I would have been happy to be able to make enough money to live modestly and pay my bills. That’s still enough for me actually. But I make a bit more than is necessary for that most months and my apartment is a lot bigger now.

After a year and a half in Wilmington spent building Pandora, I sold most of my possessions and bought a one-way ticket to Koh Samui, Thailand. My life on the road began. Since then, I’ve traveled all around Asia, Europe, and South America. I will live in a place for as long as it makes me feel alive and then buy a ticket to another place. By 2017, I’d gone full circle and decided on my first foreign country love of Thailand to live longer-term. So I rented a nice condo in a skyscraper in Bangkok and spent a year living there. After a year I moved to another part of town and I’ve been here 6 months now.

I’ll probably move again soon. Maybe to somewhere new in Bangkok, 3,000 square foot is way too much for an apartment, it takes me forever to walk to the kitchen. Maybe back to Hastings? Maybe Holland; the one with Amsterdam I mean. I was there a few months ago, really cool place, a lot of good cheese. I was in the Maldives a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think I’d live there, but it was the nicest (and most expensive) vacation spot I’ve ever been to. I like Europe though, there’s this cute girl in Bucharest that I’m kind of into, so maybe it’ll be Romania.

I don’t know. I like not knowing. Certainty can kill you or it can set you free. So I’m careful with it. I was certain when I was 20 that I’d rather die than give up. I’ve carried that certainty with me everywhere. But I’ve never been certain about exactly how I’d find success, my plans change constantly, everything has to adapt as the world changes, as I change. I don’t always know the next move. I just know that I’m preparing myself everyday to be able to see the best moves as they come up and pursue them effectively to the end.

I don’t have a million dollars in the bank yet. But if I were to sell Pandora, the price would be well into the 7 figures, and I’ve taken meetings with some potential buyers. I don’t really want to sell it though. I love the work I do. I spend my days interacting with cool people that I admire; helping them make money using their laptops, webcams, and a whole lot of charm. And all I really need to do my work is my phone.

I wanted freedom, more than anything else, and I think I got it.

How? Maybe by being too stubborn to fail. By listening to my gut about what was right and wrong. By not listening to anyone else, ever, even for a second. Maybe I did it myself, earned every dollar, won every client. Maybe I overthought every major decision, but once I made decisions I saw them through to the end. I have no idea. Maybe you could tell me?

That’s my story. Stories are important. That first summer in Grand Rapids, I read a book that changed my life, it had stories about people that were self made entrepreneurs, traveling the world, making money, and living life on their own terms. It was all I ever wanted and hearing those stories made me believe that if other people had found a way to do it then maybe I could. That gave me the courage to trust myself and chase my dreams.

Cue standing ovations.

Jordan Laubaugh
December 21, 2018 | Bangkok, Thailand

Self Portrait 001, Self Portrait 002, Self Portrait 003

The only books that ever really helped me in business were books about art. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Over the years I came to accept that the workflow of an entrepreneur is identical to the workflow of an artist. We do the same things, different mediums, at different times.

This led me, in my mid 20s, to take an interest in art as a viewer. I’d go to museums when I got the chance, follow a few artists on social media, and sort of care what was going on in the art world. I’d read more books about artists, and so on.

Then I went to Barcelona and a shift started to occur. More specifically, I went to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. That’s when everything changed for me. I found myself in tears that I could not explain halfway through his Blue Period and tried to avoid the girl I was with so that I wouldn’t be asked to.

It all made sense to me in an instant. I didn’t want to be a fan of Picasso; I wanted to be Picasso.

His museum showed me the way. It opens at the beginning of his career, his earliest works, and proceeds through the years and his growing body of work. You see trends, problems he was working on solving internally, moods that lingered. You see him get better. You see the student become the master.

How did Picasso become Picasso? Thousands of paintings and a devotion to getting better at them. I could do that. I spent a few days alone afterwards in my hotel room contemplating the sheer foolishness of imagining any hypothetical future in which I was an artist of any renown, let alone at the stature of one of the great masters.

Then I remembered Art Prize. As you either know or soon shall, I’m from Michigan. A few years back there started to be this thing once a year in Grand Rapids called Art Prize. It was an art festival, where people voted on the art, and the winner got a bunch of money, 6 figures I think. I wasn’t into art but I was into girls and girls were into Art Prize and so I went to Art Prize.

Some of the stuff was cool, but I found that my reaction to art in person was always, “What would I do as art?” My answers were always tending towards the audacious, over-the-top, impossible to ignore (I hoped) variety. At my first art prize I thought, “What about like a series of 15-25 foot tall portraits of myself, just doing mundane things like washing a dish, or putting on a shoe?”

That idea never left me. I’d come back to it every few months. I’d fantasize about learning how to paint and painting it. About standing next to it at a gallery and answering people’s questions about it. My secret life as a wannabe artist. This was in 2007 and another decade would need to pass before I’d touch paint.

As the years passed and I began my career as a professional adult the ideas for paintings kept coming, but I’d mostly ignore them. I was not an artist. I was a serious businessperson.

Until Barcelona. The thing inside me was set on fire. Ignoring it longer became problematic. One cannot unsee Guernica, which happened to be in Madrid where I’d visit a few days later.

As the months rolled on painting began more and more to consume my thoughts, but my identity wasn’t there yet. I was 28 now, far too old to learn something new. Plus, painting is really hard probably, I’d need to take classes or get an instructor and I’m busy. I can’t even draw.

I’d bought a book called How To Draw, and I’d made a few sketches, struggled, and quit. If I couldn’t make a decent drawing how on earth was I going to paint.

And then, summer 2018, I found myself once again alone, this time at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Staring into the face of The Son Of Man. Reading about how it was thought to be a self portrait and everything inside of me died and was reborn. I saw the painting in my head. The Son Of Man, but instead of the man in the bowler hat, me, and instead of the green apple, an iPhone. So obvious, so clear.

Two more months were spent trying to ignore it. I was on the road. Once I got back home and was settled I’d be able to paint. But then I had company for a month and couldn’t paint. And then i was in Europe for a few weeks.

The fury inside of me was becoming unbearable. I spent the flight from Budapest back to Bangkok taking notes of ideas for paintings, all self portraits.

Taking generic Instagram updates from my feed and painting them as fine art. Portraits of myself doing mundane things. Break down the great art movements in a single self portrait. The surrealist self portrait. The abstract self portrait. The impressionist self portrait. The pop art self portrait.

Or I could summarize the work of major artists in a single portrait. Condense Picasso’s life’s work onto a 50 x 60cm portrait that’s a picture of me, now we were getting somewhere.

Then I could recreate great masterpieces but swap out the subjects for me. The Last Supper but Jordan and his twelve Jordan’s. Jordan with a Pearl Earring. Finally, Mona Jordan.

I saw my whole career flash before my eyes and didn’t want anything else anymore.

The plane landed, I slept, and then bought everything on every beginner’s checklist for oil painting: Paint in a handful of colors, canvas, a selection of brushes, medium, paint thinner/cleaner, a palette, some paper towels, an easel. Three days later I painted Self Portrait 001.

Two weeks after that I painted Self Portrait 002. And a mere three days after that, the magnum opus of Self Portrait 003 was created, by me Jordan Laubaugh, the artist.

Los Angeles 2018

I never wanted to go to L.A. I watched Entourage and was pretty sure everyone there was cooler and prettier than me, but that’s true of anywhere.

In life, once you reach a certain level of success, you eventually have to be in L.A for something. In my case, it was expensive dinners that other people were paying for in hopes that I’d do business with them. I always did. But that was all years ago.

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