🇺🇸 An American Direct Response Success Story

In 1983, a 23-year-old pizza delivery guy & part time bartender bet his entire life savings on a single Direct Response ad.

The gamble nearly destroyed him - until it didn't.

…And he built a $100M/year DTC and Retail empire as a result.

His name?

AJ Khubani.

And he was just another 23-year-old with a pipe dream. Stuck in a dead-end cycle of pizza delivery and bartending gigs, he craved something more.

AJ longed to break free from the minimum-wage grind and make his mark on the world.

But there was a problem: he had no idea where to start.

❌ No business plan
❌ No experience
❌ No connections

…Just a vague notion that he was meant for something bigger.

What AJ did have, however, was a willingness to risk it all. A high-stakes roll of the dice that would either catapult him to success or leave him flat broke.

This is the story of how one broke college kid turned a $20,000 bet into a $100 million per year Direct Response TV empire - and nearly lost everything in the process.

The Hustler's Dilemma

AJ Khubani was no stranger to hard work. Growing up in a family of immigrants, he watched his parents toil tirelessly to provide for their children. They instilled in him a fierce determination to succeed, no matter the odds.

AJ’s father (shown here) came to the USA in 1958 with nothing and knew no one. His first job: Cleaning tables at a fast-food restaurant for $1 per hour. Source

AJ had done everything right - the perfect son, dutifully enrolled at Montclair State to chase his parents' college dreams. But trudging to class each day, a suffocating truth gnawed at him: he craved more than a 9-to-5 future.

AJ longed to be his own boss, to build an empire from the ground up.

One problem: empires need cash, and AJ was flat broke.

So he hustled hard, grinding out a living one greasy pizza delivery and cheap cocktail at a time. Every hard-earned dollar went straight to his entrepreneurial war chest. AJ sacrificed sleep, grades, a social life - all to squirrel away $20,000. A fortune for a college kid.

That nest egg was AJ's golden ticket out of the minimum wage hamster wheel. With white-knuckle determination, he'd scraped together just enough capital to finally chase his startup dreams.

Now he just needed to risk it all on the right idea...

💡The Big Idea💡

Inspiration struck in the unlikeliest of places: the pages of The National Enquirer. AJ was flipping through the tabloid one day, more out of boredom than genuine interest, when something caught his eye.

It wasn't the sensational headlines or the grainy photos of UFOs.

Classic National Enquirer headline

No, what grabbed AJ's attention were the ads.

What 40-year-old The National Enquirer Print Ads Can Show You About the Power of a Evergreen Market…

There’s a lot to learn from looking at the ads from old National Enquirer magazines, especially when it comes to evergreen markets like health/wealth/relationships. Here’s a great example from 1979:

A big part of the Enquirer’s business model were these small direct response ads peppered throughout the magazine. Open up an Enquirer from this era to a random page and you’ll see something like this:

Notice anything about these ads?

Think about this quote from Gary Halbert in The Boron Letters:

“…you must become a “student of markets” - Gary Halbert

Above we have 4 evergreen markets that are selling as well (or better) NOW in 2024 than they were back in the late 70s/early 80s:

Let’s take a closer look…

Then vs. Now: “Electric Power from Home” Info Product

There’s a lot to learn from looking at the ads from old National Enquirer magazines, especially when it comes to evergreen markets like health/wealth/relationships. Here’s a great example from 1979:


Back in the early 1980s you could buy these plans for building an at-home electric power generator from used parts, for just $9.95.


👆 In 2024 affiliates have been spending millions on YouTube ads for this off grid power offer.
(See all the ads & landing pages inside VidTao’s Affiliate View)

Then vs. Now: Shapewear


Shapewear has been around for centuries, from the corsets of the 1700s (and before) to this 1979 ad for “Slim Waist without dieting”


👆 In 2024 many Shapewear brands are advertising on YouTube, like this brand Honeylove with nearly $200k estimated spend on this YouTube ad.
(See all their Shapewear ads & landing pages inside VidTao here)

Then vs. Now: Men’s Workout Info Product


“FREE BOOK” fitness info product funnel from bodybuilder Charles Atlas, promising results in just 7 days


👆 In 2024 the info product is delivered via app for Muscle Booster, and they’ve spent $70k on this YouTube ad in the past 30 days.
(See all the Muscle Booster ads & landing pages inside VidTao here)

Then vs. Now: “Spiritual” Jewelry


Get help from above to “Conquer and Overcome” your biggest obstacles, along with this FREE Golden Cross!


👆 How could we forget one of the most ridiculously successful ecommerce offers of 2021 - the Buddha Power Bracelet - with many millions spent on ads like this?
(Read the full blog post we did breaking down this campaign here)

🕵️ Want to “Spy” on over 8 million unlisted YouTube ads (and landing pages)?

Go here to claim your free 7-day trial of all new VidTao 2.0 YouTube Ad Library 👇

Free 7-day VidTao 2.0 trial

Taking a peek inside the National Enquirer, AJ was intrigued.

Here, in the pages of a cheap gossip rag, were scrappy small businesses selling their wares directly to consumers.

A lightbulb went off in AJ's head. What if he could do the same thing?

In 1980, the hottest gadget was the Sony Walkman - a portable cassette player that let you jam anywhere. But at $60+, it was a pipe dream for broke college kids like AJ.

Early Japanese ad for the Sony Walkman

AJ's eyes widened with an idea: What if he sold a cheaper knockoff Walkman? Small enough to ship cheap, with mass appeal at an impulse-buy price. He pictured students around the country grooving to tunes between classes. This could be huge.

Heart racing, AJ hit the phones, hustling Taiwanese suppliers for rock-bottom prices. He devoured shipping forms, teaching himself the importation ropes. Weeks later, he found it: a basic $10 portable player. Not slick, but good enough.

Now came the hard part: convincing people to buy it. AJ knew that he needed to get his ad in front of as many eyes as possible. And there was only one place to do that: The National Enquirer.

He took a deep breath and reached for his checkbook. It was time to place the bet of a lifetime.

🤞 The All-In Moment 🤞

AJ's heart raced as he stared at National Enquirer advertising rate sheet: it was going to cost him his entire $20,000 savings to test his idea.

This was his make-or-break moment. If the ad succeeded, he'd be living his entrepreneurial dream. But if it flopped, he'd lose everything. Fear consumed him as he pictured having to admit failure to his skeptical parents.

Check writing machine, older times

Hand quivering, AJ grabbed his checkbook and scribbled in his entire net worth. No guts, no glory.

Direct Response YouTube Ads Brainstorm Session (free)

Want help scaling your Direct Response offer/product on YouTube, Connected TV and other Direct Response Video Ad Platforms?

Schedule a FREE Brainstorm Call with Inceptly, the team behind $950M in Direct Response revenue here:

The Agonizing Wait

At first, AJ was filled with nervous excitement, sure the ad would make him rich. But as the days crept by with zero orders, crippling anxiety set in. He couldn't eat, sleep, or face the thought of crawling back defeated.

Tears stung his eyes one sleepless night as he imagined everyone's smug “I-told-you-sos.” He squeezed them shut, trying to block the relentless whispers of failure.

Little did AJ know, the ad hadn't even run yet…

The Turning Point

And then, a miracle - one lone check arrived. Then a few more trickled in, turning into a stream of $10 and $20 orders. AJ could barely keep pace, packing cassette players around the clock with his roommates.

The US Postal Service became AJ’s best friend, delivering his money and shipping out product to his customers

Every new check was a shot of validation, proof he hadn't been crazy to believe in himself. The guy who once jumped for joy at a $5 pizza tip was suddenly earning hundreds per day. It seemed surreal, but this was only the start.

💰 The Payoff 💰

A couple months later, amidst the grueling daily grind, AJ tallied his earnings and froze.

He'd recouped the entire $20,000 risked on the ad & broken even on his first try in the Direct Response business.

In that moment, everything felt worth it - the stress, doubt, exhaustion. Not because of the money, but the overwhelming sense of possibility.

If he could do this flying blind, what could he achieve with more knowledge and skill?

The college kid terrified to dream was gone, replaced by a man determined to build an empire.

AJ Khubani was just getting warmed up.

Next Steps to Direct Response Empire…

AJ's first success with the cassette player was just the beginning. As he honed his skills and sharpened his instincts, he set his sights on even bigger challenges.

And in our next episode we’re going to get into the step-by-system AJ developed to:

1) 🧑‍🔬 Test the viability of a product via Direct Response ads
2) 🚀 Scale the product via Direct Response
3) 🛍️ And once he achieves crical mass… Scale on Retail all across the USA

Now like any good journey, it wasn’t without it’s ups and downs and existential crises.

But the payoff has been incredible..

AJ accepts the award for “Best Selling Product of the Year” at Walmart. His product out-sold bannanas by volume… And yes he launched & tested it with Direct Response ads first…

And if you’re a DTC entrepreneur who has ever wondered how you could crack the DTC to Retail code…

…You’re definitely going to want this out.

So stay tuned!

The VidTao Team

PS - Go here to claim a Free 7-Day Trial of all-new VidTao 2.0 YouTube ad library (complete with 8 million+ unlisted YouTube ads & their landing pages)

PPS - Are you spending $1k/day+ on Paid Ads? 👉 Go here to set up a free YouTube Ad brainstorm chat.

Advertise with VidTao's Audience of 100k+

Get in touch today to advertise with VidTao & get your brand in front of the Who's Who of Performance Advertising & Direct Response. Whether you’re looking to reach decision makers at top brands or looking for rock-start talent for your team (like our happy advertising client below) VidTao’s audience are the cream of the crop of digitial advertisers always looking for the next interesting product, tool, or opportunity.

What are your YouTube ad questions?

In the meantime, what questions do YOU have about YouTube ads?

Let us know in the Comments section below, and we’ll make sure to cover your question in an upcoming post.

Have a nice day!

The VidTao Team