eBusiness Institute

Woman bounces back from bankruptcy, skull surgery and depression

From 8 Figure Exit To Losing Everything – How Do You Turn It Around?

This is not one of our usual interviews, but it is a powerful story of how this ultra-high achiever showed resilience and never gave up…

Today, you’ll hear the extraordinary story of how a meteorologist went from chasing storms to building a highly business, eventually selling it for 8-figures. Then going bankrupt and losing everything she and her husband had built over the last 16 years.

Imagine losing not just your home and 16 years of hard work and dedication but also finding out you have bone tumor in your skull, which lead to 3 life-altering surgeries that lasted between six and eight hours each. Then, add the mental and health challenges that come with having your skull cut opened to remove a bone tumour the size of an egg.

That is the journey Nicole has endured, and today you’ll hear how she overcame the unimaginable, along with a glimpse into her future. Get ready to be moved, inspired and profoundly touched by the incredible journey of a woman who faced adversity with unparalleled courage.

Matt Raad:      Hello again, and welcome to the Digital Investor Podcast. 

I’m particularly excited to have one of our recent graduates, Nicole, from America, with us today. Nicole’s story is fascinating because she’s done an eight-figure sell-out of a tech company. But there’s a lot more to this story. 

Nicole and her husband started out as scientists and meteorologists. They did a startup and built that up. They successfully sold it for eight figures to a big publicly listed company in America. So, you would think life is perfect. 

But wait until you hear Nicole’s journey because it didn’t quite end up that way. Sadly, Nicole ended up with some very serious health issues to the point where she had a bone tumour removed. 

Today, you can see she’s here, looking beautiful, super happy and fine.

So, there’s been a bit of a journey here, but this is particularly important for two reasons:

  1. You might be interested in the entrepreneurial pursuit of making money online. And, of course, that’s what the Digital Investors program is all about. 
  2. But also, we know a lot of us in our community will go through (or have been through) similar serious health issues, chronic fatigue, major surgery, etc. 

If you’ve been on that journey and looking for something to do in life, I think you will find a lot of value in today’s interview. 

So, Nicole, thank you for sharing your very personal journey here. 

Nicole:            Thanks for having me. I’m so glad to be able to talk about this and help inspire other Spoons.

Matt:               That’s right. 

How Nicole manages her chronic illness with “Spoons”

Matt:               Firstly, can you share with us what’s a Spoony?

Nicole:            It’s based on something called Spoon Theory. 

I forget the name of the lady who came up with it. But she says you only have so many clean spoons in a day. The spoons are your energy. 

Each day I have ten spoons to use. I could always borrow from tomorrow, but it would mean that tomorrow I will have fewer spoons to use. I’m going to have less energy.

That’s the basic idea of Spoon Theory. So instead of saying, “I have a chronic illness”, I’ll say, “I’m a Spoony.”

Matt:               Is that a big saying amongst people with chronic illness? Is it a commonly known term?

Nicole:            Not always, but as people get sick, they start finding some of these tools.

Matt:               Okay, so for any of our readers who’s a Spoony, this will be a really inspirational interview for you. 

Don & Nicole turned their 9-5 knowledge into a successful online business

Matt:               Nicole, you and your husband, Don, sound like ultra-high achieving go-getter entrepreneurs. You’ve done multiple businesses. 

They started earning income by working in regular Meteorology jobs…

Matt:               Where did it all start because you’ve actually got a really fascinating J.O.B background as well? What’s your original background?

Nicole:            Both of our backgrounds are in meteorology. We both have a bachelor’s and master’s in meteorology, very science-based, evidence-based stuff. 

We knew science, but we did not know business. We learned that along the way.

Matt:               And in that role, what sort of work would you do? Is it like the classic movies we see in Hollywood with storm chasers and things like that?

Nicole:            Unfortunately, storm chasing is not a job. It is a very expensive hobby. But it’s something that we do even to this day. We still enjoy going storm chasing together. It’s fun! We chase after the tornadoes. Just make sure they don’t hit you! 

I started in weather education. We were teaching Oklahomans about climate and weather through the University of Oklahoma. And I went around the state teaching emergency managers, public safety officials, firefighters, and police officers how to read radars so they could move the resources around safely and not get hit by the storms.

They then used their expertise to build a sought-after app in Hail Technology…

Matt:               That’s cool. And in that journey where you are both meteorologists, you and Don then did this startup. What did you guys build? What was the business you both created and then sold?

Nicole:            It dealt with hail technology. So, we could tell you where and when hail fell and what the maximum hail size was. It was an automated product that insurance companies and roofers were very keen to use.

…And they sold the app a few years later for 8-figures!

Matt:               And it was a group of you meteorologists who put this together. How long did it take you to build this up to the successful exit?

Nicole:            It only took a few years, and our business started catching the interest of other insurance and different data technology companies

In part, this was because we understood our strengths and weaknesses as a business, and we knew our core values. Because of that, we were eventually acquired by CoreLogic. It was a pretty big deal.

Matt:               Really well done, Nicole. And what year did you sell out in?

Nicole:            It was somewhere between 2012 and 2013. My husband would know for certain because he was running it while I started moving to part-time.

Matt:               Yes, Don was the CEO of that business, and you guys were doing a sell-out of the business at that time.

At the height of their 8-figure sell-out, Nicole became unwell from burnout

Matt:               Nicole, what was your health like at that point? Where were you at health-wise in 2012?

Nicole:            My health was declining fast. I had no real energy, I was sick all the time, I was in a lot of pain, and I had a lot of muscle weakness. 

At the time, I had been doing Zumba and yoga. I was doing all these physical things, and I couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t strengthening. Why was it declining? 

And so, I went part-time with Weather Fusion, our first business, and that was about the time they were starting all of the proceedings with the buyout. My husband said, “Look, you’ve really got to focus on your health. I need you to focus on that and go see some doctors. Let’s figure this out.”

Matt:               I’m not a health expert or anything here, but we’ve seen it within our Champions community. When certain people have had serious health issues, it has been diagnosed as burnout. Would you say that was the same for you? How would you describe it back then?

Nicole:            At the time, the diagnosis was confirmed by the Mayo Clinic that I had fibromyalgia chronic fatigue syndrome. And a lot of that, at least in major part, was due to burnout.

I wasn’t listening to my body. I wasn’t taking rest when I needed to and was just pushing through and saying, “Nope, I’m going to do this anyway.” I was pretty stubborn.

Matt:               And this is why you love the term “Spoons”. Ten years later, you now understand that you’ve only got X amount of energy. Gee, this sounds like a few other high-achieving women I know! 🙂

The events that lead to Don & Nicole’s bankruptcy

Matt:               So, you guys exited the business, and obviously, it was hugely successful. It worked out to be eight figures over the next decade

Let’s look at that next part of your journey because it’s not all perfect. You think, “Okay, let’s sail off into the sunset. We never have to work again.” But what happened instead over the next decade?

How Don & Nicole invested their sell-out profits

Nicole:            Well, I got that diagnosis and so realised that, okay, I’ve got to slow down a bit. What can I do now? We have some money now, so let’s look at real estate investments.

1./ First, they invested in multiple rental properties

Nicole:            So, we started buying up properties that made sense financially. I became a property manager, systematised everything, and got it all set up. 

It was very successful. We were getting plenty of income from that, which was more or less passive at that point. So, that was going well. 

2./ Then they purchased a bricks-and-mortar business

Nicole:            We then bought a roofing company, thinking we knew hail and have been learning everything from roofers and insurance companies. We want to make this easier for homeowners, and we want it to be a company they can trust. 

So, we got into that, but it was a terrible idea. We had no hail for years. Wow. What do you do when you have a roofing company that needs to make money so that you can continue?

Matt:               So, this is a brick-and-mortar business. 

They over-leveraged their investments…

(…a typical mistake that ultra-high achievers tend to make…)

Matt:               Looking back at that now, would you say you were over-geared in all this? How many rental properties did you have?

Nicole:            We had seven in total, or eight, if you include one of our old homes. It was a very nice home.

Matt:               I’m seeing a recurring pattern here with you. You’re meant to be retired and watching your energy at this point. But you decide to own seven rental properties, plus a bricks-and-mortar business and leverage up on that.

…and the Bricks-and-Mortar business failed in 2019

Matt:               And then this journey has another big turn, right? What happened to the bricks-and-mortar business? 

Nicole:            It failed and led to bankruptcy. 

We had to declare bankruptcy because there was no way we could pay all the bills. So, the business took everything. It took our personal home, which was not secured. It took all the rental properties, it took all of the income, all of the systems I built, and all those businesses I built. 

I didn’t build the roofing company. That was supposed to be my husband’s focus, but I came on board at the end and was trying to fix and systematise things, but it was too late. Having no hail for years just took it down.

Matt:               And what year was this?

Nicole:            The bankruptcy was declared in 2019.

Matt:               And you guys basically lost everything?

Nicole:            We lost everything that we had built over 16 years.

Matt:               I’m guessing that was the real low point and would’ve been extraordinarily tough. Plus, on top of that, your health issues were ongoing. 

At the time of bankruptcy Nicole’s health seriously declined

Matt:               So, what happened with your health around that time?

Nicole:            In August of that year, I discovered this lump on my skull that was growing suddenly. I could feel it, and people were starting to notice it, too. It was that big.

I went in for a scan, and it turned out it was a massive bone tumour about the size of a large egg. It probably had been growing my whole life. I just didn’t know it. But suddenly, it started appearing. 

She needed major surgery to remove a bone tumour…

Nicole:            Fortunately, I was able to get the surgeons I needed. Three surgeons ended up taking it out in November of that year. All three were in there for somewhere between six and eight hours. 

I almost lost my hearing because it was one millimetre away from eating into my ear canal. I would’ve gone deaf, but they were able to maintain my hearing. 

They also rebuilt my cheekbone as the tumour had eaten away at it, and it was almost gone. And so, the surgeons had to replace that, and I’ve got some metal in me now. I’m part cyborg.

Matt:   There’s an Aussie phrase that says, “You’ve been through the wringer.” You and Don have gone through a lot in a major way.

You’ve had the highs of doing an eight-figure sell-out to literally losing everything, including the family home and going bankrupt. You also lost your health, going through a brain tumour and having a full-on craniotomy.

…and had to deal with depression following the procedure

Matt:               Was that the turning point in your life? How did you get ahead at that point after having major surgery? I’m presuming the surgery would’ve knocked you around a lot. So, what did you do at that point?

Nicole:            I watched a lot of Netflix!

I wasn’t coping well and experienced depression and anxiety. I discovered that just with the surgery alone, having your skull cut open traumatises your body. And so, there are things like residual depression and anxiety that come from just that alone, which is crazy to me.

I expected the pain and all the acute stuff, but I did not expect the mental health issues that came with it.

How Nicole turned her life around in these 3 main areas

Matt:               Wow. Hats off to you, Nicole, and look at you today. I’ve known you for the last two years, and you’re now a graduate of our Champions program.

You’re always so over-the-top positive at all of our bootcamp events. In fact, I remember meeting you at our three-day digital online summit. I was just chatting away to this beautiful, effervescent, happy, awesome person in Oklahoma. And I’m thinking, “Oh wow, Nicole’s unreal!”

And when you applied for the Champions program, I remember telling Liz, “Oh, we have to accept Nicole! I want to interview with her. She sounds unreal.” I had no idea all of this was part of your story. Two or three years later, you’ve now completely turned your life around.

For you and Don, there were three big areas of your life you were dealing with:

  1. Financial,
  2. Health,
  3. And full-on mindset.

When you’re going through chronic fatigue and major surgery, etc., there are a lot of depression and mindset issues.

She faced incredible challenges every day during her illness, and had given up being able to work again

Matt:               So, you had to work on these three big areas in your life. What did you do, Nicole? And how long did the bankruptcy last?

Nicole:            I think it was less than a year before it was discharged. And due to the pandemic, they actually didn’t take our personal home until the very end. 

So, when I was recovering from the tumour removal, we had no idea when they would take our home. Are they going to boot us out next month? Or is it going to be the month after that? 

We also had Covid going on at that time, and Don was very worried because my health was very tenuous. He was afraid I’d get Covid and die before the vaccine came out. Then, when the vaccine came out, we immediately got that. It was a rough time.

Matt:               So, it was touch-and-go. And, at this time, you’d given up ever working again.

Nicole:            Yes. I tried being a realtor for a time. I got my license and worked with a really great brokerage firm. They were very understanding that I have a chronic illness. But it was hard to make back all those fees I was paying. I wasn’t able to sell enough homes.

She took her recovery day-by-day

Matt:               And for you as an ultra-high achieving type of person, that would’ve been doubly frustrating as well, I’m presuming.

Nicole:            I felt dead like my life was over. I was just ploughing through each day. It came down to some days I’ve got to get out of bed and make it at least to the couch. If I can at least do that, that’s a win.

Matt:               Wow.

Nicole:            There were some days I could make it further than that. I got dressed and put on a hat so that I didn’t have to worry about my hair or my incision or anything like that. 

I would just put on something cheerful, some bright colours and that sort of thing. It helped me get through some of those really tough times. And, of course, my husband obviously helped.

Matt:               Yes, go Don. Wow, the turnaround is incredible. 

Nicole discovered how to make money online, despite her illness

Matt:               So, how the heck did you guys in Oklahoma discover Matt and Liz Raad from the eBusiness Institute down here in Australia? What happened there?

Nicole:            It was through watching all that Netflix and YouTube. Watching YouTube really paid off for me. So, I don’t consider YouTube time a waste anymore! 

She was inspired by another student’s health challenges & online business success

Nicole:            My husband was looking through YouTube, scanning through videos, not necessarily looking for an opportunity. But he was trying to tune out and cope with everything minute-to-minute.

He came across some e-Business Institute videos and thought, “Whoa, this is something different.” He came across Lucy and Gary’s video. When he saw that video, he thought, “My wife can do this too. I know she can.”

So, I then watched the video and thought, “Oh gosh, there’s a possible way forward here. I could work again.” Since then, I’ve actually been able to work full-time. Not for long periods but for short moments. Over the last year, I’ve been able to go full-time with this.

Matt:   This is awesome, Nicole, and that’s why I wanted to interview you today. 

Lucy also battled health issues, but now makes over $100k per month online

Matt:   And for context for our readers, Nicole is referring to Lucy, who had a very similar chronic fatigue and was told she could never work again. You can listen to Lucy & Gary’s YouTube interview here.

Lucy has been very inspirational for many people worldwide because she was told she could never work again. But again, she’s an ultra-high achiever like yourself, Nicole. 

And, since you’ve been on the Champions journey, you now know Lucy really well. She’s one of our coaches and has a significant seven-figure online business working from home in a nice, relaxed manner.

Nicole, you’re now following in Lucy’s footsteps and helping to inspire other people that this can be done as well, even if given a scary diagnosis that you’ll never be able to work again. 

But look at you now, Nicole. Most people have no idea of your personal story. I know you don’t like to dwell on it, and I had to ask you to come to this interview and share this story with our audience. So, I want to reiterate a big thank you for all this.

How re-skilling in Digital has enabled Nicole to go back to work

…even when she was told she could never work again…

1./ Nicole is now building a portfolio of semi-passive websites

Matt:               I want to look at what you’re achieving now because life has really turned around for you. Let’s start with some of your achievements. How many websites are you building at the moment?

Nicole:            I think I’m up to eight or nine websites now.

Matt:               You’re meant to take it easy, but you’re not going slow here. I hope your doctor or your medical team is not reading this! 

So, you’ve built eight or nine websites, plus you and Don have bought a couple of sites as well?

Nicole:            That figure includes those as well. For example, we have our barbecue site that we’ll be renovating and hopefully getting some new content up soon, some new videos and things like that.

2./ She has built a successful passion site based on her own personal experiences…

Matt:               You also have a passion site. Can you tell us about that? 

If you watch the video of this interview, you might be able to guess what Nicole’s passion site is 🙂

Nicole, can you tell us a little bit about that? It’s just such a cute site.

Nicole:            I’ve been known as Hat Lady Nicole for some time. So, I wear a lot of vintage hats that have a vintage look retro. 

I do a lot of twenties to fifties fashion. That’s just how I like to go around. It’s fun. It makes people smile, and they’re happy. People like that stuff, and it makes me feel good, too. I’ve got a site on chronic illness and the hats I wear.

Matt:               And to give us an example, how much was the hat that you bought? It’s a beautiful-looking hat, and I commented on it before the interview. I was saying, “Oh, I love your hat!” And when you told me, I nearly fell off the chair. How much did that hat cost?

Nicole:            50 cents.

I tried to offer them more because it was perfect. I could tell it was an authentic vintage hat, and it had been sitting in a hat box for 50 years untouched. Maybe somebody wore it twice to church. 

I felt so bad it was at a thrift store, and I wanted to support them. So, I said, “Do you want at least $10 or something?” They’re like, “No, it’s okay.”

Matt:               This is a great online niche, Nicole. There are a few names for this niche, like repurposed clothes, etc. It’s really popular here in Australia, in America, and all around the world. There is a big resurgence of people repurposing old-fashioned items.

So, this is a sub-niche where you can build a cool information site that also revolves around your personal story. That’s awesome, Nicole. And we can see some beautiful hats on your back wall there, too. 

Nicole:            Well, that’s a very small selection 😉

Matt:               You’re a subject expert in this, so you’ll find it easy to write about it on this site.

3./ She learned how to buy and build websites

Matt:               It’s been incredible watching your development and reading your final accountability email. You mentioned all the changes that have happened for you over the last two years. And you said you had a go at every single strategy we’ve taught. So, I want to congratulate you.

You literally spent the first year on the Champions program as your learning year to get in and try everything. And you had to reskill yourself in digital skills.

So, whilst you had a tech company, you’ve never done this sort of thing online with buying and selling websites?

Nicole:            No, not with that. I used to do some old HTML sites. 

I did code a PHP site once to sell some of my jewellery. I used to do some retro-looking, vintage handcrafted jewellery. But it’s hard to sell that kind of stuff in this market.

4./ Their Digital Agency allows Nicole to take on new clients when she feels well enough

Matt:               I’m presuming you still need to be very mindful of your health issues. And as the experts have said, you’ll never work again.

But I believe you have also tried the Digital Agency strategy we teach. You build websites for local businesses. How the heck did you do that working from home? And how have you found it? Does that drain a lot of energy for you, or are you just lightly having a go at it? 

Nicole:            I want to make sure I don’t take on too many clients at once.

Matt:               That’s good.

Nicole:            I have just been taking it one client at a time. But then my husband’s like, “Oh, we could talk to this person.”

He’s been thinking of joining a local BNI in our area soon. He’s like, “I’ll go out there and get you all these opportunities.” But I’ve had to pull back and say, “Whoa, wait a minute, we’re only going to do one or two at a time. That’s it.”

I’m working with my brother-in-law right now on his second business and helping him build it up. I actually started that while on our trip to Japan.

Matt:               Okay, cool. Plus, you have your other seven or so websites.

Being able to do this journey has been a life changer for you and Don. And it’s perfect because Don’s gone out and got a job again. That’s how you’re keeping the finances going and getting back on your feet. 

But also, you can now start to bring in some extra money through online businesses because you can work on them at home.

Nicole:            Yes.

Matt:               And that’s pretty much your setup. So, you’re doing the digital agency thing and now own an award winning digital agency in Oklahoma City. Don is out there networking for you, and you are building the websites.

Nicole’s health is improving and she’s enjoying working online

Matt:               So, where’s your health at now?

Nicole:            Overall, my health is better. I have been slowly working on doing some physical therapy. I’ve been going to the gym more and worked with a personal trainer before the bankruptcy. 

So, I have been slowly easing into more rigorous movement. And I know there are times when my body can’t handle it, so I’ve got to go back down and then work my way slowly back up again. 

But I know how to do that now, and the flexibility of working on the websites is fantastic.

Matt:               And how do you find it staying up late? You’re at every single one of our events, Nicole. Every week, we run a webinar for Champions, and you’re there at every one of them and our bootcamps, too.

So, how do you find yourself managing your energy when working online? Is it challenging, or is it pretty easy?

Nicole:            It’s been the best possible schedule for me. I’ve always been a night owl, an extremely late chronotype. I didn’t realise there were such people. 

I was told, “You’ve got to set your schedule, and you’re going to be doing a nine-to-five for the rest of your life. You’ve got to fit that schedule.”

But my body never has. According to my mum, I wanted to be up between 2:00 AM and 6:00 AM. That was my awake time. And today, that coincides perfectly with the Australian time zone. 

Because of that, I’ve now got a team that I’ve been building up online. I’ve got some people in Bangladesh and Indonesia now that I work with. I remember when we first started working together, they’re like, “Oh, our hours might be really off.” But I said, “Nope, I’ll be up at the same time!”

How building a team has helped Nicole operate her online business

Matt:               That brings up a really good point. You’re finding you can get all this extra leverage with an online business. It doesn’t have to be you physically doing all this work. You can now leverage it by hiring your team members.

Who was your first hire?

Nicole:            My first hire was a certified dog trainer.

Matt:               Oh, as your writer for your dog training website?

Nicole:            Yes, she’s an expert dog trainer. She had a degree in journalism, too.

My first purchase was the dog training site. It was basically just the domain name. Someone had put a spammy junk site on it, so I got rid of all that and started afresh using the WebDev Accelerator course.

I started with that writer first. And then, I hired a second writer who has two adorable dogs, and she likes to take pictures of them. She was a vet tech for a time, so she knows dogs very well. So, that was my initial team for the site.

Matt:               Where have you found these writers? How did you hire them?

Nicole:            I found my writers through Upwork.

Matt:               Is that also where you found your team member in Bangladesh?

Nicole:            Yes.

Matt:               Great, so you’ve hired your techie now as well.

Nicole:            Yes, and I’ve also got a VA now through Online jobs.ph.

Having a team allows Nicole to leverage her online success without compromising her health

Matt:               Okay, you’ve built this nice team to get massive leverage. And this is great because you shouldn’t be physically or energetically wearing yourself down, even though you’re a high achiever.

It’s great for people to read about someone like yourself, Lucy, or some other members of our community who have been on a similar journey. 

You’re a high-achieving individual, and you’ve been knocked for a massive six. What you and Don went through back in 2019 is mind-blowing, both financially and health-wise.

But now you can get back up on your feet, and you don’t have to be that person doing absolutely everything. You can just gently keep adding to your team as you go through and build up your portfolio of websites. It’s just phenomenal, Nicole, and so inspirational. 

There are no excuses for all of us who are healthy and have the energy. You obviously handle this well, and you’re enjoying it. 

How Nicole approaches her online business one step at a time

Matt:               Are there any bits of advice you can give to someone who maybe has a similar health challenge to yourself? Do you have any advice or even inspiration that you can give to someone?

Nicole:            Take it slowly, step by step. Record everything you’re doing and remind yourself that you are proceeding and putting in all of the steps. Like Matt says, it’s “Reps, reps, reps.” That’s how we learn. 

And it’s okay to take it more slowly. It’s not going to be the end of the world.

Matt:               Perfect, thank you, Nicole. 

That’s really good advice if you’re reading this; start out small like Nicole has. Even though she’s a high achiever and ready to hit the ball out of the park, she had to learn. 

I think that’s what’s been good for you on this journey with us, too, Nicole. You’ve seen the best success stories are where they’ve started out small, just like Lucy and Gary did. It’s a classic story where I made poor old Gary buy websites for under $200 for an entire year. But fast forward to today, they’re doing big things. 

And I think that’s a really good lesson, too, if you do need to manage your health one day at a time. That’s what I’ve seen through coaching people like yourself towards big success stories. 

So, that’s really good advice. Start small, learn how to build websites, and learn how to buy websites.

Start small with small websites and build up your energy, get the skills, and just like Nicole’s done, start adding to your team so you’re not wearing yourself out doing things. You’ve got a leveraged team behind you.

And it’s meant that you and Don have recently been able to do a trip overseas and to Japan. I mean, well done. And thank you so much for coming along today to share your story, Nicole. It’s just awesome. 

Learn how to build simple websites for online income, just like Nicole did

Matt:               If you want to get started on your journey like Nicole did and learn the overriding strategy here, make sure you go and do our free masterclass training on how to buy and build websites. It’s literally where Nicole started. It would’ve been one of those videos that Don and Nicole saw all those years ago. And I think you’ll agree with me; we’re all so grateful that Nicole and Don did watch those videos and go on this journey. Fast forward to today, and she’s been able to share her amazing story.