By Michael Miller
7:07 PM PDT, July 17, 2014
Ryan Heenan hopes to be a guru in the online business world. But Wednesday afternoon, at his Newport Beach studio, he offered a crash course in a decidedly more low-tech device.
"Want to try?" he said, handing a ukulele to a reporter whose musical education ended after two years of elementary-school clarinet.
Heenan grabbed a blank chart, set it up on a music stand and sketched in the finger placing for the C and A-minor chords. After a quick pointer on strumming, he added one more chord: F, which requires two fingers.
"If you get this one, you'll be able to play half the Blink-182 songs," he said — high praise from a man who keeps Blink-182 CDs framed in the studio.
Heenan, a Costa Mesa resident, has become a rising star on Fiverr.com, an online marketplace where participants offer services for as little as $5. Part of that success comes from the stringed instrument that hangs in his home office. The Newport Harbor High School graduate built a Fiverr following partly by recording ukulele jingles for companies and individuals, and he still regularly gets orders on his profile page — www.fiverr.com/customdrumloops.
Now, Heenan is fueling part of his Fiverr proceeds back into music. Analog Music Studios, which he founded two years ago in an office complex on Bristol Street, offers training in guitar, bass and voice — plus, to quote the website, "The Premiere Ukulele Lessons in Orange County."
The studio, where Heenan typically teaches four afternoons a week, is part of the mini-empire he's grown in the past two years. With his Fiverr earnings, he also runs a freelance web design business and serves as a founding partner for Ingreatients, an artisanal peanut butter company. Recently, he added author to his credits: His self-published book, "The Top Rated Seller Formula: How I Became a Top Rated Seller in 3 Months on Fiverr," came out in June of last year.
Every morning now, Heenan tumbles out of bed to find a slew of offers waiting in his inbox: companies wanting informational videos, entrepreneurs seeking animated commercials, public service announcements in need of catchy theme music. Many businesses are keen on ukulele jingles, although those requests come from offbeat sources as well.
"I did one for an autistic kid to help him remember to help his mom at the grocery store," Heenan said.
When Heenan joined Fiverr in 2012, he saw it as an after-hours indulgence. During the day, he worked as a preschool teacher in Boston, and when his brother mentioned buying a logo on the site, Heenan decided to create a seller's profile — or, in Fiverr terms, a gig — and try his luck at making a few dollars.
His first gig, selling electronic drumbeats, didn't net a single order. To give the site one last try, he then launched a songwriting gig. On his profile video, he hammed it up, throwing in a variety of musical genres and parodying last-minute birthday gifts and ill-fated relationships.
For a few days, it looked as though that gig had gone nowhere too, but then a single order arrived — from a company requesting a tune. That evening, Heenan spent two hours at home writing and polishing the song, and $5 — slightly reduced by taxes and Fiverr's share — was his.
Before long, Heenan got a message from his customer: "That was awesome! Great job bro! What other genres do you do?" Subsequent customers asked the same question, and as Heenan's customer base grew, he added more gigs: ukulele jingles, corporate theme songs and more.
When Fiverr posted Heenan's ukulele jingles on its home page, they became some of his best-selling items. After two months on Fiverr, Heenan rose from a Level 1 to a Level 2 seller, rankings that are determined by number of orders and positive customer feedback. Before long, the Fiverr editors handpicked him as a Top Rated Seller, which allowed him to offer more gig extras (bonus offerings such as a video with a song) and take more orders at a time.
And this led to him writing "The Top Rated Seller Formula," which outlines five tips for prospering on the site: Be time-efficient, create a gig that a business would want to buy, make the product video-friendly, create a "gateway gig" that will spark ideas, and make sure each order can be filled in two days.
The book is available at topratedsellerformula.com. Heenan hasn't offered it yet on Amazon. In the introduction, Heenan offers a disclaimer to buyers: "This is in no way a get-rich quick scheme. I do not believe in get rich quick programs but rather in persistent hard work and offering services that will be valuable to others."
'Anything you want'
Whatever the disclaimer, it's not hard to imagine many entrepreneurs aiming to follow in Heenan's footsteps. According to Micha Kaufman, the founder and chief executive of Fiverr, there is already a growing culture of people looking to support themselves entirely through the website.
"We've had people putting down payments on their houses before, people who put themselves through college or were able to either avoid or pay back their student loans," he said. "We're seeing a growing group of people who are turning Fiverr into their main source of income. I think the main thing about that is that they're able to achieve financial independence on their own terms."
Fiverr, which launched in 2010 and is headquartered in Tel Aviv, now counts millions of sellers. A click on the website's home page gives an indication of how extensive its offerings are, as rows of small panel ads, many accompanied by a smiling portrait of the seller, hawk any number of digital wares:
"I will record a 150 word young American male voice over."
"I will prepare a letter of recommendation for you."
"I will draw anything you want as a digital cartoon."
In spirit, the site feels like a more high-tech Craigslist — and, indeed, Kaufman said forging connections between people an ocean apart is a primary aim of the company.
"Through technology, what we've enabled is this concept of global audience," he said. "In the past, a graphic designer from Boise, Idaho, had very local clientele from his or her neighborhood. Today, this graphic designer has customers in Japan, in San Francisco, in London, and that really opens up the scope of inflow that they can have."
Heenan has gotten orders from 42% of the countries in the world — a statistic that he heralds with a map on his profile page. That's already enough to keep him busy, and with his other endeavors, leisure time gets precious.
What else could he possibly take on?
"The peanut butter company," he said, grinning. "We just moved into a new commercial kitchen in Huntington Beach."