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Finding free stuff
online for fun and profit

Inside Tucson Business
Surfing the Internet for free stuff eventually became more than just a hobby for Ray Sola, the mind behind www.Volition.com.
Now his Web site devoted to the online fun and free -- including links to free samples, coupons, games, prizes, software, sales, paid promotions and more -- thrives as a full-time occupation and a reflection of Sola’s personality.
“There are plenty of free things out there, and I’m really good at finding them because I’m really cheap,” said Sola.
The original premise for Volition.com was to give new Internet users a place to go online, where they could receive something tangible in return. The site became an immediate hit with users, so much so that the log jam of surfers got Volition thrown off of its initial server.
“The whole site at the time was just showing people how to get things for free,” said Sola. “Since then it’s developed and added a lot of other sections.”
One new feature is a list of companies offering mystery shopping opportunities, in which consumers are paid to shop as part of corporate market research. Previously Sola found that some people online were trying to make money by selling lists of companies offering mystery shopping.
“I thought that was wrong, so I put the information up for free,” said Sola. “That’s become a big part of the site, with a message board where the companies that do the shopping come and post their immediate needs.”
Still, Volition.com provides links to numerous freebies, a list which Sola continually updates.
“The beginning was harder. Once I got enough momentum, companies found me,” said Sola. “Now I get paid to go out and look for free things.”
For example, Sola recently discovered a site which offered free prizes for playing free games. By his thinking, if you want to play games online, why not get free stuff too?
Following its demographics, Volition.com is heavily skewed toward female users. Though the site is geared toward the cheap and the free, a broad range of incomes are represented among the users. Sola also claims a strong reach into middle America.
“My demographics never matched the demographics of the Internet,” said Sola.
Making sure he meets the needs and expectations of these consumers is Sola’s first concern, as he attempts to make everybody happy. One way he manages the task is promptly answering every e-mail he receives, which translates into more than four hours of reading and writing e-mails every day of the week.
“People are just shocked that I answer every e-mail, and usually within minutes, because I check my e-mail all day,” said Sola. “I guess I’m old-school Internet. From the beginning of the Internet it was: We’re a community, we work together, we help each other and that’s how it is. That’s pretty much how I act. It’s good karma.”
With close to 10,000 users each day, the site has generated enough buzz to bring in banner advertising contracts and other marketing deals.
“On every page are banner advertisements and companies pay me to advertise to people,” said Sola. “Some companies pay me to promote them on our mailing lists.”
Recently, Volition.com inked a different kind of deal with the Tucson Sidewinders baseball team. In a joint promotion, Volition.com will advertise the Sidewinders in exchange for free tickets to Wednesday night games (25-cent Wienerschnitzel Hot Dog Night). The tickets will be given away to users who can register for the free ticket drawing on the Web site.
“I make no money on this, we’re just providing each other with thousands of dollars in stuff,” said Sola. “That’s something most companies wouldn’t do.”
Volition.com is currently hard at work gaining back advertising dollars, as many companies fled the online ad market following, in Sola’s words, “the demise of the idiot dot-coms.”
“The dot-coms that are dead, their only business model was to do an IPO,” said Sola. “The ones that aren’t dead are the ones like me that you don’t read about in the Wall Street Journal. None of us ever planned on doing IPOs. We run our own businesses, we make a profit, we’re very happy.”

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Apr 10, 2001

Profile Q & A

How did you get into the business?
Back in 1995 I went on the Internet using my 10 free hours of Prodigy. I used up all 10 hours in one day and said, “These Web sites are interesting, but I could probably do better.”

What was your initial investment?

What were your revenues the first year in business?
Probably next to nothing. The second year, just doing it part-time, I made $7,000.

What was the best/worst advice you ever received?
I can’t remember much of any advice anybody ever gives me. It’s usually me giving the advice to everybody else.

How do you attract and keep good customers?
We try to really make people happy enough that they would tell somebody else.

How would you explain your success?
Really good karma. I really try to do everything the right way and try to please everybody.