It was the year 1995 that Superman was paralyzed, the Grateful Dead played their last concert, the final Calvin and Hobbes strip was published, and Pixar's Toy Story opened in theaters. In that same year, Lee Wilson sat down in front of his family's first computer to connect to the Internet, a feat Pew Research Center found only 14% of U.S. adults had in their homes and only 42% had even heard of at that time.
Little did Lee know then that one day he would leverage the internet in stair-step fashion, learning online marketing to acquire a client, and then learning a skill set from that client that he would use to propel himself to the top of the relationship coaching niche, specifically in the area of breakups and reconciliation, where he would be known simply as Coach Lee.
Wilson, like many teens in his day, had been told he needed a computer for school. The entertainment, education, and business potential of computers, beyond accounting, was yet to be much of a discussion.
"A teacher told my mom that my brother and I needed a computer to help us with school. When she asked him how it would help us, he seemed unsure of an answer but said it had to do with research and writing papers. My parents wanted to help us all they could with our education so they bought a desktop computer. All I wanted to do was get online to chat because I'd heard my friends talk about it. I saw it as a social activity and wasn't really interested in much else at first."
Speaking with Wilson, I suspect his learning curve straightened quicker than most as his interest moved beyond chatrooms and messaging.
"I saw a huge promotional opportunity. It was like having your own book or TV show."
But at that time, registering a domain for a website was a much longer process than the mere minutes it requires today. It took weeks and the entire process of creating a website for the domain was vague and confusing.
Wilson built a few simple websites on the topics of science, religion, and video games, respectively in order to get started, but he was not satisfied with their results.
"I wanted more people to see my sites than just a few friends. I became fascinated with search engines which, at the time, the major players were Hotbot, AskJeeves, and Dogpile. Then Yahoo came along and quickly became the most used. That was before Google."
After basketball practice and supper with his family, Wilson began spending his nights studying how search engines worked to give people answers in the form of pages on websites. His late-night trial and error wasn't exactly met with open arms from those around him.
"I remember my dad getting onto me for staying up so late. Telling me to go to bed so that I'd have energy for things that mattered. In his defense, no one had much experience with the Internet since it was so new and I think, like many adults in that day, it was looked at as only a small step above video games. It wasn't seen by many as something that could be a serious career path."
Wilson pushed forward, convinced that he was investing in a future that few others could see. His successes online were witnessed by an audience consisting of himself and a couple of friends at school.
Fast forward to the year 1998 and Wilson continued to work on his websites from his college dorm room. The world was slowly catching on to what he had seen years ago, but colleges and universities weren't offering classes in Internet marketing or in the specific area within that genre in which Wilson focused, which was now called Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short.
"There were some computer classes but they were mostly just how to use the computer itself and really basic stuff. I remember being shown how to open a browser and go to Yahoo to search for something. I began to question whether this was going to be much help to my future."
In Wilson's sophomore year, he went with a group to Oklahoma Christian College on the fourth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was there that Wilson experienced what would push him past the edge.
While walking the campus with a friend, Wilson was introduced to a professor who happened to be familiar with his work. The professor taught computer science but lamented to Wilson that there was little he could offer his students in terms of using the Internet to promote businesses or to really help their future careers. The professor invited Wilson to be a guest lecturer to his class.
Fielding an occasional question from the professor and his students, Wilson showed the class not only his highest trafficked website, but showed them all of the rankings it had on Yahoo for popular search words.
"People were starting to understand that this was a big deal and knowing how to do this was a great skill. I realized that there might have been only one class that had been taught yet in a college on SEO that I knew of, and I was the one who had taught it."
That summer, Wilson accepted a job with a nonprofit company to do Internet marketing on a part-time basis. That company was in the specific niche of helping troubled marriages save their relationship from divorce. Seeing investing in the Internet as a gamble, the company had Wilson doing a host of jobs that needed to be filled when employees left or when help was needed by different departments. It was the only way to justify hiring a young man with little business experience who also worked in a new, unproven industry. But betting on Wilson resulted in a big payoff.
"I remember one of the officers of that company called me in his office and was talking to me about what jobs I was to focus on. He put the website in last place on the list and even referred to it as a ‘luxury item.’ I could tell he felt it was a waste to hire me, like I wasn't going to really help the business. In fact, I’m convinced that the president of that company was the only one at that time who saw the potential for SEO helping them. But in less than a year, the website became their top lead generator by far and had taken their last-place product to first place in revenue."
Even that wasn't enough to win over all of the doubters.
"I remember coining the phrase, 'Voodoo marketing' out of frustration because some of the people I worked for had this idea that the visitors coming to their website were just happening out of nowhere. As though people just had a premonition to type in the website address. This was the early 2000s and several people there just took it all for granted. It was difficult not to take it personally."
Wilson told me that he has learned the hard way to avoid anger, but his frustration at this memory was impossible to misinterpret. As a pioneer in a niche of an industry that itself was brand new, he learned an important lesson.
"I learned that for the industry I'm in, it's important to diversify. I couldn't only work for one company because the potential existed for new people to come in who could take for granted the traffic that I'm bringing to the site. Sometimes people don't know better because it's not their area of expertise or because they want to take credit for it themselves."
Enter ‘Coach Lee,’ The Unintentionally Trained Breakup Coach
Wilson’s surprising pivot has been nothing short of fascinating.
Though it's difficult to imagine a man who appears as young as Lee could have been doing anything for more than twenty years, he has quite the resume. In addition to doing and consulting on internet marketing for nearly that long, his first job was to travel with the President of the marriage-enrichment company who employed him.
In was in that period that Wilson was tasked with memorizing the content of workshops that were intended to help married couples improve their relationships or even reconcile from separation.
“At one point, the presenter of the workshop who was seen as an expert, forgot where he was in his delivery and stopped to ask me what was next. I had heard him speak so many times at that point that I knew what was next and finished his sentence for him.”
It was somewhere around that point that one of the marriage consultants for that organization developed a terminal illness and had to resign.
“I remember how sad it was, not only because of the tragedy of a fading human life, but because he was very good at what he did. I worked near him and often heard his side of some of his calls. He was really good. So imagine my shock when they asked me if I could temporarily fill his shoes until they hired someone else.”
Wilson knew the material and protocol as well as anyone by way of simple repetition from attending the workshops in addition to traveling with and being mentored by the organization’s president. And since the company didn’t know if internet marketing truly had legs back then, it made sense for Lee to fill in as a marriage coach, but it grew to much more than that.
“I’ve always been good with systems and problem solving and since they wanted me to know the material in order to market it, I could use what I had learned to help people. After only a few weeks, they asked me if I wanted to do it full time. I remember wondering if anyone would take me seriously at that in my twenties. What experience did I have?”
Despite his youth, Wilson quickly became the top producing marriage consultant in the organization and moved his internet marketing to nights and weekends.
“I became a workaholic. I was a marriage consultant by day and an internet marketer by night and on the weekends. After a point of near burnout, I realized that I could use my internet skills to go out on my own as a breakup coach. At first, I wasn’t trying to compete with the marriage organization who had first employed me, so I only dealt with dating relationships. I couldn’t keep married people away so I would refer them to the other group, but the organization decided they would rather I just go out on my own instead of trying to juggle both. So I started taking married clients as well.”
Heartbroken lovers visit Wilson’s website by the hundreds of thousands per month wanting to know how to get their ex back and millions have watched his YouTube Channel of straight-talking videos on breakups and what can be done to have the best chance of reconciliation with the one they love.
The Breakup Niche
“It’s amusing to see the responses people have when they ask what I do professionally. Recently I was introduced to someone who asked what industry I was in and I said, ‘The Breakup Industry.’ He repeated it to me as though he were trying to figure out what I was talking about, so I explained that I help people get their ex back after a breakup. He stared in silence for a few seconds before managing an astonished, ‘Really?’ It was a fun conversation.”
To say the least, the demand for Coach Lee’s time has become a problem as much as a positive. One man is limited to the hours in a day and with a high profile on YouTube as well as a high-trafficked website, demand for one-on-one coaching with him is high.
In effort to help more people, Lee developed a self-coaching product called, The Emergency Breakup Kit.
“The Emergency Breakup Kit is for people whose schedule doesn’t match up with mine or who feel they need help right away instead of waiting for the call appointment. Some people also prefer it instead of a coaching call.”
Lee seems to have quite a connection with his large YouTube audience. His videos often receive hundreds of comments on the day they are posted. In a world where everyone seems to be searching for a niche, Coach Lee seems to have found his. And as long as people are breaking up and wanting to get back together, he will have plenty of opportunity to use his acquired skills.