From his brother's garage to success


May 19, 2017

Paul James poses for a portrait Monday afternoon in his home office in West Bend. James works as a marketer for internet companies.
John Ehlke/Daily News

If he had to do it all over again, Paul James wouldn’t change a thing — even the part where he lived in a garage for nearly two years.

James, 28, is the founder and chief executive officer of, a company that specializes in helping companies grow through search engine optimization, or SEO. “Every day I wake up, it’s mind-blowing,” James said.

James originally grew up in South Milwaukee and attended South Milwaukee High School. He dropped out of high school and pursued a career with a heating and air conditioning company.

“It ended up getting slow and I was laid off,” James said.

So he enrolled in the nursing program at Cardinal Stritch University.

“I went after nursing because I liked to help people,” James said. “It was in my nature. It was something I thought I’d enjoy doing.”

Soon after, he got into the clinical work as part of the program. At the same time, he began work on his own business on the side.

The business was SEO.

“I was teaching myself, learning about it and getting good at it,” James said. “Once I started getting money with it, I realized I had a passion.”

Then one day, it clicked.

“I remember thinking in class, ‘If I can focus on (the business), I could pursue it full time,’” James said.

That class was preventative health care.

“I can remember bringing my laptop to class that day and instead of focusing on the lecture, I was learning more about SEO,” James said. “That’s when It dawned on me.”

He dropped out of school for a second time. This time it was for good. He admits he hasn’t forgotten what it once was like.

Shortly after losing his job with the heating and air conditioning company, he lived in his brother’s garage in West Bend. It was about 12 feet by 20 feet of space. At one time, a pool table sat inside the garage. When James moved in, the room was rid of the pool table and a bed was put in its place, and he brought his laptop.

He was also $35,000 in debt.

The garage was detached from the home so James and his future wife, Kari, had to go outside and into the house to get to the bathroom, sometimes doing so in several inches of snow.

James and his future bride lived in that garage for about 18 months.

In 2009, he started to get a grasp of how SEO worked.

“I was in a band at the time,” James said. “And part of being in a band was promoting yourself.”

He did some homework, studying the ins and outs on how to promote whatever product one might have, whether it’s a business or a band or something in-between.

“One thing led to another,” James said.

He built a website that helped students in his anatomy and physiology class at Cardinal Stritch. Then he started to make money off the website because he developed flashcards and then sold them.

“I remember my first $20 that I made off my website,” James said. “I remember having my first $700 week. It started snowballing so fast.”

In 2010, that’s when he made his life-changing decision. Later that year, he got married.

However, when he made his decision to pursue the web business full time, he got pushback.

“It was, ‘What the heck are you doing?’” he remembered hearing from several people close to him.

He was convinced he was onto something. James also thought if it doesn’t pan out, he could go back to school.

“I had big aspirations,” James said.

Once he thought he knew enough about SEO, he began a YouTube channel where he posts educational seminars about three or four times per week. He’ll go over topics such as how to rank a product or business within Google and offers other business tips. He has more than 11,000 subscribers.

James is also working on a book about how he overcame adversity and how to take struggles to become a better person.

“I learned struggles are something you can use as motivation,” James said. “How can I use this to propel me forward? Every bad experience has something good that can come out of it.”

James could make a case to be the poster child for that statement.

“Focus, realizing it’s not how many times you fail,” he said when asked what was the most important lesson he’s learned. “It’s all about staying focused and be willing to fail. I failed a lot, but it only getting it right once.”

And he got it right.

“It’s very funny to look back on it all,” James said. “I wouldn’t do it any other way.”