Making Millions From Online Courses & Replacing Your Income (Symon He Part 1)

Making Millions From Online Courses & Replacing Your Income (Symon He Part 1)

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Making Millions From Online Courses & Replacing Your Income (Symon He Part 1)

[00:00:00] Symon He: I was looking for these deals on Groupon and, and and then I noticed this deal on an Excel training course selling for 39.99 or something.

It was like 40 bucks. And I looked at it, it's been running for a week. I'm like, whoa. So over 11,000 purchases in like eight days what is this? I clicked on it. And it was like some, some dude that was, that made some videos and he was hosting it on this website called Udemy. I was like, oh, that's that's, that's neat.

That's pretty interesting. And then, then over the course of a year, as I was kind of messing around with all my other ideas, I kept noticing it. I, I think I noticed it like five or six more times. And I calculated, it did about 3.5 million in, in revenue from this one eight hour Excel course that taught some basics.

[00:00:49] Smart Money: Hello and welcome to this episode of the smart money podcast. I'm super excited and pleased to be joined by Symon He.

The co-author of Airbnb for dumies and author of Real Estate Investing Quickstart Guide. Join me today to talk about his journey from starting a startup and watching it crash and burn, his experience working at Panda express, which arguably is definitely one of the best and most delicious fast food chains, dealing with difficult life circumstances like cancer in the family, and now becoming one of the top instructors on Udemy. Symon, thank you so much for joining us.

[00:01:23] Symon He: Hey, Ron, it's my pleasure.

[00:01:25] Smart Money: So for, for those of who might not know, can you give us a quick intro about you.

[00:01:29] Symon He: Yeah. So I, I think you covered all the, the big points about my background. So to today while most of my professional background was in real estate and finance that's what I did before I discovered eLearning and joined Udemy. And that is my primary activity these days. It's my primary focus.

And yeah, happy to dig into all of that with you.

[00:01:52] Smart Money: Awesome. So I wanna start right at the very beginning, cause just your journey to this stage, I think is fascinating. And one of the things that I love is you'd mentioned to me that your parents only went to grade five and, and I love that because I'm also an immigrant and I think immigrants are some of the hardest working people.

And so I really want to hear, you know, your story cause it's been a, it is definitely been an interesting story with a lot of ups and downs.

[00:02:18] Symon He: That's great. I, I think that will provide context to some of the decisions I made. Some of them very silly reckless decisions in my twenties. So yeah my parents we, we grew up in a rural part of China and they were pretty much subsistence farmers for most of their lives.

And really towards the final years before, before we left China and immigrated to the US, that's that's the only time my dad had sort of like a more regular job where he took a sales job and was doing pretty well. But you know, they didn't, they didn't get the opportunity to complete education and they saw an opportunity to bring the family over and they wanted to give their kids what they never had you know, educational opportunities.

As I was five at the time. And I remember remember them telling me that, you know, you may be the only one. I have two older sisters. He says, you may be the only one that we can afford to send to school. And and you know, even at that age, I realized how like, privilege I was compared to my sisters as being the youngest and the only boy in the family.

Right. So but you know, moving to the US meant that my sisters also had that opportunity. And I'm gonna skip forward a little bit you know, today we, you know, between the three of us, we have five, six degrees, I think. So we really took it seriously. And you know, they, they gave us an opportunity that we, we never had. You know, but, but growing up and coming to the us you know, my dad left the sales job when he came to the us.

Both of them didn't speak in English, so they took whatever jobs they could. My dad went from a sales guy in China to being a cook in a, you know, Chinese restaurant. And my mom had to learn how to sew. And she worked as a seamstres making, you know, 3 cents or a nickel, a piece. And so it was just how many pieces you could do.

And there were days where she would sit in front of her sewing machine for like 18/20 hours. You know, until I graduated from high school we were on welfare and food stamps. You know, when I was 10, my dad passed suddenly from liver failure. So then it was just single moms, seamstres with three kids.

So that, that experience and I remember the biggest degree of sort of financial shame that ever felt was when I had to accompany my mom and wait in line to get our food stamps. And I remember all the times standing in line at at the grocery stores, you know, being 10, 11, 12 years old, and just feeling so embarrassed that it's, you know, as a kid, you don't understand, but now looking back, I mean, thank God there was this, my mom could have never made it alone with what she was doing with three kids, you know?

So you know, that experience growing up on food stamps and just being really poor, kind of left the big imprint on me in terms of my mindset financially which, you know, surprisingly was it, it made me very comfortable living poor and feeling poor. But surprisingly it didn't, it didn't make me very frugal.

In, in, in a weird way because like I was so comfortable being poor. I was able to be reckless with my spending. So I saved nothing in my twenties, you know after getting out of school, you know, I went to undergrad study, computer engineering and economics. I thought like, hey, I wanna, I don't know what I was thinking.

I just remember thinking I wanna be at the intersection of business and technology, but I have no idea what that meant, you know? And you know, I went to school there got an internship in, in with like a dinosaur of a company called Unisys and and it was my first real job and it was a programming job and I hated it. I realize now was because I was programming in Fortran, you know, I was learning like a, a programming language that was like already dying at a dying company, but you know, but that really kind of turned me away from like, I don't wanna do this. I, you know, I didn't like this at all. So then I kind of shifted my gears and set my targets to focus more on the business side of my studies and targeted going to business school.

And somehow you know, got to business school went to, went to Stanford and, and then after, you know, while I was part of the reason I was able to get into business school was I joined a startup with a good friend of mine at the time. And we were, you know, 21, 20 21, we convinced someone to invest a couple hundred thousand in this crazy, crazy dumb startup idea.

We were essentially trying to, this was like the early two thousands. We were trying to create a, if you had Groupon and GrubHub, like had a grotesque baby, that was what we were trying to do. And I, and I remember our biggest investor at the time. It was so weird. He, he was writing, he was cutting the big checks, but then he had this sort of like, he kind of really like a certain name for the idea.

And so we didn't fight him too much, but it quickly became obvious. It was one of like, such an awful name. It was called our startup was called food spa. You know, I don't know, it just reminded me of spa. It just reminded me of like foot spa. I don't know. Maybe his wife like just loves spas or something.

And it was just like the idea he's like, yeah. When I heard your idea, the first thing that came to my mind was like spa for like food, you know? Anyway, long story short horrible name, but that wasn't the reason why we failed. It was because the, you know, we were young and we, we had no idea what the hell we were doing.

We tried to bring on a bunch of people who were really experienced in tech, cause we didn't know anything really about the tech and, but we brought on really experienced guys, but all of their experience was in enterprise tech, not consumer tech. So, so nobody on the team knew what the hell we were doing and then, you know, kind of crash and burn.

And and then by the time, by that time that happened, I was like in start about to start my second year or, you know, just like finishing the first year of business school and, and I was like, okay, I, I wanna work on something a little bit more tangible. So had no appetite to work in tech after that, that recent experience and wanted to work on something that felt real right.

I guess kinda see touch and smell. So. I took an internship in a commercial development company in LA. And that's where I started to get my first exposure into real estate and private equity. We were pitching pitching deals to private equity groups all the time. So it was a good experience and I found that I like finance.

I like numbers. I like working with spreadsheets and kind of thinking through and modeling scenarios. And that's something that I, you know, some of, a lot of the skills that I've learned over the years from doing real estate it's something that I, I use all the time now. I'm like just the spreadsheet geek and just, if any there's anything I could do in, in my life to turn and model and kind of run scenarios with, with, with spreadsheets. I, I do that, you know, So now I'm graduating and it's, I'm graduating in the middle of 2008, and it is the great recession bunch of my classmates who had taken, you know nice jobs at high banking jobs and private equity jobs. You know, some of them took, took these jobs at Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns.

[00:09:17] Smart Money: Sorry, who?

[00:09:19] Symon He: Yeah. So, so people, you know, there were, there were a bunch of jobs being reneged on from, from the you know, employer side. And you know, I, I still haven't really found a job yet. Wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I was like, okay, I'm gonna be jobless if my, my classmates who had, you know, five, six years of experience on me, a lot of them are, are losing, you know, the jobs that they haven't even gotten to start yet.

So, you know, luckily for me, I, I had crafted a, sort of a, my own internship while I was in my second year with a private equity group that was in the area. And that I sort of worked with a little bit when I was interning. And I basically just told them in my last semester, I was like, Hey, I, you know, I need to do a self study.

I'm really interested in your space. But I don't have any background. So is there anything that you guys are, you know, have, that's just, you don't wanna do, but you don't have anybody to look at and I'll look at it, you know, I'll ask some questions cause I wanna learn, but just, you know, like gimme some work to do and then I'll, I'll get credit for it, you know?

And so it was with that experience, they, they ended opening a position and, and they're like, Hey, we work with you. You know, we we've been interviewing some people, but would you be interested in applying for it? And so that's how I ended up joining them ended up working with them for a few years in the bay area.

And Ed gave me most of my knowledge in real estate, cause they were a kind of a small shop, but it was just, you know, three really smart guys With a small, small fund, like, you know, a couple hundred million it's it's considered very small, very small in the real estate space. So it was kind of cool because what we were operating in, we were operating in this range where there were a lot of deals in the sort of the five to 30 million range, but there were just very few institutional interests because it, you know, you have these billion, $2 billion funds that, you know, they're not gonna deploy their capital 5 million at a time.

Right. So we, there was just basically a whole bunch of deals and we would invest in about 1% of the deals that came to our desk, which meant that I, as sort of the first gate, got to see so many different pitches, so many different deals across the states. And it was just looking at every type of deal from land raw land deals to, you know, commercial real estate to ground up construction to, I mean, werid, airport hanger very specialized, like toll roads and just very specialized kinds of assets, some of them operating and not which was really cool. You know, great experience you know, but then then like that was in the bay area at the time. And then you know, my, my mom got sick.

This is the first time she got sick. She had, she had to have surgery, so, you know, decided I wanted to move home and be closer to family. And, and while I was home, I, I wanted to look for something else that was still interesting, but I was still staying in real estate. So I ended up finding the Panda Restaurant Group.

They they're, they're one of the largest private restaurant groups in the world. I had no idea how big they were. But they were already, their run rate was already in the billions when I joined them. Yeah. You know, and it's completely family owned, completely privately owned.

[00:12:29] Smart Money: No, that's why most people wouldn't think of it. Like until you and I had talked, I, would've never known that you could generate that much money from a, like a privately owned restaurant business.

[00:12:39] Symon He: yeah, so I was in the finance group supporting most of their providing support to their real estate decisions like new market entries, new store openings and you know, quickly learned from working with them, just how genius the, the family was with this structure. And they, I don't, I don't know if other people have heard of like McDonald's as a business model.

You know, people were surprised to find that most of their profits come from the rents that they collect from their, from their franchisees. You know, and their, their franchisees actually take on most of the business operation risk

[00:13:13] Smart Money: So, so let's, let's actually deconstruct that, cause I think for the people who don't know these basically like McDonald's and Starbucks and these type of firms typically operate as a real estate investment like our R E I T as a real estate investment trust, I believe. And you correct me cause you're the expert, but their goal is to own the land.

[00:13:31] Symon He: They buy the land and then the franchisee builds the store, purchases all the equipment necessary to operate the store, and then you're paying them a franchise fee plus potentially some type of real estate fees for the land. And like McDonald's is I believe one of the largest land owners in the world due to that. I think, I think, yeah, for the most part, yeah, that's it, I, I don't think they operate technically as REIT. But yeah, that's exactly kind of how they work, where they, you know, they have an operating business model, but they, they basically can kind of cherry pick the best locations. So then they only carry on their portfolio, the stores that are the best operating best performing in the best markets.

And then the ones they're not so sure on, then they make it and open it up as a franchise market. And so then the franchisee, yeah, they, they basically have to invest in the build out. They pay the rent and they gotta pay the royalty fee, which is off almost always, especially with the big brands, almost always off of the top line.

It's not a percentage of profits. It's a percentage of revenue. So, so, you know, they the, the, the risks are really much more passed on to franchisees. In that case. Now Panda operates a little bit differently. They don't have a lot of franchisees, so they, they pretty much operate the stores, but they have, you know, the company itself doesn't own the land. The family trust does, you know, so that's kind of how so, you know, which makes it very interesting in terms of you know, and I've discovered that's sort of a lot of very savvy private business owners. They will do it in this way, where they keep the real estate separate from the operations. And they kind of reinforce the businesses on each side and kind of keeps everything really clean, you know?

So I learned even more there. But yeah. So, you know, Panda a quick, over kept overview, just, you know, it was a great experience. I loved working there. The people were amazing. When I was there my boss was great. The pay was great. And you know, the hours were great. It was like an actual nine to five job.

People mostly arrived at nine and kind of left by five, six, and there was a gym and shower there. You don't even have to go get a gym membership anywhere, you know? It was Yeah. And it was located in pretty much. East of the seven 10 in LA for people who, who are not from Los Angeles, basically anything west of seven, 10 for commute is like, you're stuck in L typical LA traffic.

But if you're kind of east heading, you know, opposite, there's hardly any traffic, but there's just very few employers, you know.

[00:16:01] Smart Money: Nice.

[00:16:03] Symon He: You know, I had a great setup, but I found myself wanting to leave very badly. And you know, it wasn't because I, I had the, it was also partly because I had always just had the sort of entrepreneurial urge to want something, kind of build something myself and do something that was I had more control, but you know, in, in 2011 you know, my mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer and I, I just started working at Panda at the time and they.

They were very supportive during the times where I would literally spend like weeks at the hospital. This was a period where I was commuting to work from her hospital bed. While she was recovering from surgery and doing rehab multiple surgeries. But you know, at some point by 2014, part of the, the journey, my mom's journey with fighting, cancer's kind of an up and down rollercoaster ride.

And at that time it was like, really not looking good. And so it was, you know, her, her sort of her treatment was no longer working. The cancer came back, it spread to her brain and just all the bad signs. And I just decided, I, I had to, I had to figure out a way where I could spend more time with her.

And you know, I, I couldn't spend five days a week, even if I loved the situation, even if all it ticked off every other check mark at the time. So , I looking for ways to kind of get out because I was, you know, still supporting my mom and I still needed to have an income stream. So I'd you know, for, for about like.

A couple years only like 18 month period. When I was my last 18 months at Panda, I like just kind of threw a whole bunch of crap on the walls and tried to see what stuck like it was, it was just crazy. It was, I, I felt like I was working like I banker hours because I was working round the, I was, I was just trying to get as much done as I could done for work.

So then I could work on the other stuff to kinda help myself get out. So one of the things I tried started an eCommerce tea company of tea store. It was company, it was more like a tea store. It was called Socha tea and then our tagline was Brew Happiness. Tea of just at the time was like Teavana was blowing up and, and I was like, okay, maybe, maybe there's more people that are interested.

Like trying like more advanced tea, you know, cause everybody like was not very, a lot of people were drinking tea, either buying other stores or it was like teabags, right. But once you start like really drinking tea and you start kind of drinking, like loose leaf tea and you start understanding like brewing technique and, you know, tweaking temperatures and all this stuff.

And you're like, whoa, my pallet is so refined out, you know I thought, Hey, maybe maybe there's more people more potential teas stops out there who might enjoy the process and kind of get and mix their own like tea leaves. So, you know, found a local supplier that got like these really good, different, like sort of higher grade tea leaves that was imported from like all around the world.

And I would just buy them bulk and try, do, do our own mixes, you know, kind of test them. So it was really fun. It was more like a lab and started to, you know, try to try to get a presence, build a presence online. And. We realized, I don't know anything about digital marketing. I had no idea how to run ad campaigns, how to find like our, you know, our, our audience.

So it, it was a huge learning curve. And at the same time trying to build a local stream of buyers locally, by going to like all these like swap meets, this is like one of the largest swap meets here is in Pasadena. They have it like, I think once a month or something just to be able to do samples and have people try it.

And you could sort of get some feedback on the tea. But you know, I was like, whoa, this is not gonna be very flexible. It might be less flexible than my Panda set up. So, you know, I'm like I'm using a, we, we rented out like an apartment with my partner at the time and we used up the living room and the bedroom to fill up with just tea.

I mean, it was completely not to code, you know, trying to like move big boxes of stuff like late at night or early in the morning. So, so the, so the neighbors wouldn't see what we were trying to do out of there, you know?

[00:20:01] Smart Money: Trying to get rid of some bodies so that you don't get seen in the middle of the night.

[00:20:05] Symon He: Yeah. I, I mean, it was just, it, it was a fun experience, but it wasn't gonna work for what I needed. Right. I, I needed something that was gonna give me complete flexibly in terms of where I worked, how I worked and when I worked and and, and I needed to be able to take weeks off at a time. And not have it impact my income stream, you know, so I, you know, tried something else.

We're joined with a, a couple of other few of friends, actually. I think there was five of us. And we're like, oh, let's, let's try this thing called Airbnb. You know, we can get a divide and conquerors a bunch of us. And so, you know, we were all like professionals in different spaces and brought our, our, so we got like project manager, a tech guy, had a lawyer, and then I was kind of the real estate guy.

So then we brought all that and took a much more professional approach to to short term rentals at the time. There wasn't really a lot of that talk or that language for that category, you know, for Short Term Rentals and Airbnb at the time. And there was none of the tools, you know, all the, all the stuff that automates your, even you have like AI that you can train to do 95% of your email your messages with your you know, potential guests now.

Whereas before, I mean, we were building systems to, to try to do that. So, like for example, one of the metrics early on that we saw that like really helped rank you your listing up was your response time, your response rate and your average response time. And it was also shown next to your like, profile at the time.

So it was like, oh 100% response rate, average response time, two hours or one hour, whatever. And so we're like, Hey, we needed to get, let's get our response sign to like five minutes. And we're like, well, how do you, how do we do that? You know, like we all have to sleep. We're all in the same place. So then we hired and trained a VA from halfway around the world.

They would start as soon as we signed off. And so they basically were just like, kind of like on call, they have a whole bunch of scripts and we'd just be like, if they say this answer, this, this is, you know, they just follow the scripts. And so we were able to get their response rate to super, you know, to like five minutes and that ranked the listings up really well.

And you know what we. Yeah. And one of the other things we did and I think at the time I was the, the first to to associate rental arbitrage to short term rentals. Cause at the time the people who were doing short term rentals were, Hey, it was, I own this house or I'm renting the apartment and I'm gonna rent it out.

The idea of rental arbitrage was well, you know, instead of putting a 20, 25% down payment and, and locking up and you know, your capital on this just lease it. If you find the right sort of hotspot you can have a big differential where your rent for the space. Could be, say a thousand dollars, but your revenue, you know, of potential on the short term basis could be $5,000 or $4,000.

Right. So we did that in, in and around downtown LA, right around the LA convention center there were a bunch of one bedroom apartments. Even at the time it was like going for like 1600 was, you know, tiny one bedroom apartments, still pretty expensive. I think now they're like over 2000. But the top line revenue you know, renting out a 80%, 90% occupancy, cause it was very very busy.

We were getting like 4,500 to 5,000 a month, top line. So it was pretty good return in and basically your capital was you just needed to put the down payment on the first and last month security deposit and, you know, spend a couple grand on, on the, the the furnishing and, and appliances. If they don't have it already.

So, you know, you're maybe on all on average, I remember we were about. We started, first one, we did like, I think about 8, 8500 in terms of total investment. And then by the buyer, eighth one, we were down to like 4,200 in terms of total investment. And we would basically get our capital back within like six weeks.

And, you know, so like, it was a pretty good like ROI that way, because you have very little capital risk and then it was like cash flow. And you, you, you get it back and you just do the next one, you just keep cycling. Right? So the the problem though is we, we did like short term rentals today is much more established.

Everything's much more established. But at the time nobody knew about it. So people didn't care that too much cause you wouldn't know what, what we did was we found newish apartment buildings that were basically built within the last two years and we found that they usually build. With hundreds of units and it took, it usually took 'em three to four years to get to full occupancy.

Cause if people don't know about 'em yet. So when they first start out, they're gonna have 60% empty listings. So then we just, you know, approach these proj property managers and just be like, Hey, look, we'll, we'll take three off you. We'll go month to month. If you don't like us, you can kick us out any time.

But we'll, we'll, you know, we'll take some units by the side door, so we won't bother anybody, just, you know, all this stuff. And then just kind of like you know, really like warm them up, give them gifts, you know, at the front desk, get to know the people because then cause cause then like they can they'll be willing to like help with like people getting locked out and you know,

[00:24:54] Smart Money: School business. I gotcha. Old

[00:24:56] Symon He: Yeah, yeah, old school business.

This, this yeah, but the, the, the thing was then about, about two years in We, we had, we had, most of our listings concentrated in one building. The owner didn't know about it. Cause we were doing it basically with a handshake agreement with the property manager. The, the, the landlord found out there was like dozens of listings in their unit.

And then they basically found the units and were just like, you're, you're done. You know? So it went from like the bunch of listings to zero listings, basically over like two month period. And and it was like, well, do we wanna go through that process and rebuild? And you know, it was the only reason it was flexible was because I had four other guys to kind of divide and conquer with, but it was not very like flexible.

Right. You're you're tending to attendees, mean, guests. Because sometimes they get locked out or they just have weird questions or, you know, you have emergencies, you have your cleaner, who's supposed to arrive and clean at 11, they get in a car accident and then your backup's outta town. And then, so you get to like rush in there and, and clean it up before the guest checks in at three or four, you know, later.

And you're like, so, you know, there's just a lot of that, that wasn't as flexible. And we didn't want to rebuild it. And then, but I had a whole bunch of notes. We had all this learning, we had all this like best practices that nobody else was trying or nobody I even hear anybody was trying. So I thought, well, you know, why don't I just share all this?

Right. I just turned all my notes into like 24 blog posts. I think over a weekend, they were very like poorly written, but just kind of threw it up. And I started learn And it was just an educational site blog that just like, learn about it. I thought, you know, maybe I'll just keep this going.

I'll see where, where this could lead. And kind, I didn't look at it for nine months. I came back later. I was like, oh, there was like 10,000 people, you know, visiting the blog. I'm like, okay. People are kind of excited or interested in it and asking questions. So, alright. Let me just add stuff to it every, every weekend now, and just kind of add a blog post every weekend.

And it, but it wasn't gonna be my out because it was taking too long. I was like, I can't monetize this right now. There's not enough traffic to monetize. I don't really know what to do with it, but no, just keep it going kind of in the back burner. See what happens, you know? So while I was just sort of twiddling my thumbs, trying to look for the next day and one day I was, I was still at Panda at the time.

I I was scrolling through Groupon and looking for the 50% off lunch deals that they were running for restaurants, you

[00:27:17] Smart Money: Love those. I was just looking for one earlier, but not for lunch for, for house cleaning. Those are the best they have everything.

[00:27:23] Symon He: Yeah they have everything and, and, and it was, it was kind of like, I, and the area that I'm at is like one of the most competitive restaurant markets, just especially for like Asian cuisine and just have like really cheap food, but also they're like really authentic and really tasty right. So then just like super high failure rate.

And so then like restaurants get desperate and then they they're like, I'm, you know, okay, I'll offer this thing on Groupon. It's gonna save my restaurant. A lot of them, it just kind of accelerates the process of yeah. Cause then they find out, they're like, oh my gosh, I sold like 1000 lunches. And then they find out that each lunch they're eating like a $20 loss because they gave it 50% discount and they have to give like 40 or 50% to Groupons.

They only collect 20% or 25% for each Groupon ticket that they sold right. And if they don't put a limit, then they actually sell themselves into oblivion. So.

[00:28:17] Smart Money: A good business.

[00:28:18] Symon He: Not a good business model. I, you know, I felt a little bad, but I was more hungry all the time and I wanted, I wanted cheap food. So so I was looking for these deals on Groupon and, and and then I noticed this deal on an Excel training course selling for 39.99 or something.

It was like 40 bucks. And I looked at it, it's been running for a week. I'm like, whoa. So over 11,000 purchases in like eight days what is this? I clicked on it. And it was like some, some dude that was, that made some videos and he was hosting it on this website called Udemy. I was like, oh, that's that's, that's neat.

That's pretty interesting. And then, then over the course of a year, as I was kind of messing around with all my other ideas, I kept noticing it. I, I think I noticed it like five or six more times. And I calculated, it did about 3.5 million in, in revenue from this one eight hour Excel course that taught some basics.

Yeah. I was like, okay, I need to look into this because I, then I started to kind of dig into it more you know, and realize that, okay, there's something interesting here. May you know, it's like what, or was this you're making videos, so then it's like mostly front load of work and then, okay. Okay. I think I can do this.

I, so I was like, I'm gonna try this out. And for some reason, as I was looking at it, I didn't notice the Udemy part at the time. It, you know, it was a marketplace, but I look at a little janky. You know, at the time, like Udemy was like 1/30th, of the size it is now. So, so I was like I don't wanna do Udemy.

Okay. I, I'm gonna just figure out how to make a course and pitch Groupon and pitch living social and pitch Amazon Local at the time. It spent like six months cause I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Put, put together a WordPress site and try to make these plugins work. And anyway, it was, it was just like a Frankenstein of a website, but I was just trying to tick off all the check marks to, to, to for the people who were evaluating the deals.

And then trust made a really nice presentation and, and pitched it to Groupon, Living Social and on all the three of them and got accepted and was, and started running the deals. And you know, the first the first.

[00:30:29] Smart Money: Can we actually just pause there for a second? We we'd love to understand a little bit about that process, so not everybody can put a deal up? There's some type of presentation you need to put together to get approved. So there's some type of filtering and accepting process?

[00:30:45] Symon He: Yeah, there is like an application process. You have somebody evaluate your deal, you basically fill out an application. I don't know if the application's similar now than it was, you know, to, to then but yeah, you have to, you have to have a working website, you know, and the website couldn't have certain issues.

You have to check off these technical markers. Just cause like there was, they had some issues where like people were basically, you have like a fake deal, you know, and then some people got scammed out and some, they get like, they, they need to basically know you're a real person check your, you know, all that stuff.

Right. And so it, it was kind of riding, I think it took, it took like three, four weeks to kind of get through the whole process and then once they approved it, then they scheduled it, but then it was like, you have to wait like a couple months, depending on kind of when it was part of their sort of schedule and promotions.

So they kind of do like, and they also start off with like, for some, for my deal, at least they did a, like a limited launch in some markets, like on the test market and they wanna see like, oh, is it gonna get any traction? If not, they just kill it. If it has good traction, then they, they, they send it out bigger. Which makes sense. But yeah, it's, that's how, that's how it worked

[00:31:50] Smart Money: So like the original iteration of the Facebook and like Instagram algorithm where they did it manually, they didn't even have artificial intelligence ever.

[00:31:58] Symon He: No, it was like, they picked a few test markets and look at the results and I don't think it was auto, automated. Yeah. It seemed like somebody that was kind of making the decision. So you potentially could butter them up a little bit but so yeah, you know, I was like, okay. The, once the deal started kicking in I mean, it was, it was the first few months it was great.

I, I was probably averaging close to 30,000 in in like earnings from those deals running in multiple places. So I was like, sweet. I found my exit. I'm I'm good. I put in my notice, you know like, all right, now I can spend more time with my mom and kind of figure things out. I quit my job. And then like, I think it was like within a month, all of the, the sites canceled, basically canceled the deals.

They just stopped doing these deals. I went from like more than rep, you know, replacing my income to ha going down to zero. And, and I remember, I was like, okay, well I have some savings, you know? I, I could go look for another job. Though there, there was always the option, but I was like, okay. But since I'm out already, I might as well give myself a sort of a fair chance to, to see, I wanted to give myself a fair opportunity.

So I kind of gave myself like a, a rule, like if I can't apply for any new jobs for 12 months. But if I ever felt super scared, I could just save the listing. And you know, I think I, over that death 12 month period I was just trying, trying to figure things out and make things work. I think I saved like 35 jobs I could apply to something, something on there.

It was like, it was like finding like several a month, you know, it was like yeah. And

[00:33:35] Smart Money: But actually, I, I think the, I think, sorry, it just actually hit me cause I think that's very, very poignant because entrepreneurship is not a straight road. And I, I think what, what, what my brain just deconstructed from what you said is like basically once a week you had a feeling of this is not gonna work out.

And from my own experience, I would say that sounds about right. Like at least once a week, every single person has doubt because that's just the human mind. It thinks of what, what can be thinks of the worst case scenario to prepare you just in case it does end up happening. And so I love the fact that now that you say it, I love the fact that you sort of apply, cause it just shows even then it wasn't simple. You didn't know that you would end up being where you are now as one of the top, you know, educators in e-learning, it's never a straight road.

[00:34:31] Symon He: Yeah, definitely not. I mean, I thought I did the smart thing by finding the exit and getting, building the income source replacement income source before I left. Right. I sort of, I like, I did the responsible thing and then bam right. It's still, you know, I still ended up in a, in a, in a tough spot. But yeah, and you know, I looked at some of the things that I've done over the years and I think a lot of them failed cause they were just bad ideas or I didn't know what I was doing, but I, there were definitely a few where I felt that had, I had both feet in I think I could have made it succeed where I was just like too afraid and had just my foot or my toe and you know, and it was like, did I even give it a fair chance to find out if it could work or not? And I wasn't so sure for a few of those initiatives. Yeah. And so so then I was kind of spinning and I was like, all right, well, that doesn't work.

Let me see what else I could do. Well, you know, I remember this Udemy place that well I already have the course, so I might as well. I might as well just put it on there. And, and remember this, this course, when I first made it, I made it with $75 worth of equipment. It was literally a Logitech webcam and a USB condenser mic.

The wrong kind of mic for doing voiceovers, by the way. especially if you don't have a sound treated environment. So, and, and if you're not very practice in terms of saying your things, you're not very prepared, then you, you just, you know, they hear all your lip smacking sounds. I remember some of the early reviews I got were like, I love the content, but I just can't stand his mouth noises.

[00:36:06] Smart Money: I mean, it speaks to the value of the content, cause most of the time people don't leave reviews, right? Like that's the majority. And so the fact that somebody actually went out of the way to, to be genuine enough to share that I think speaks to how good your content really is.

[00:36:23] Symon He: But yeah. You know, and, and so, so my content was good, but my execution and production were pretty s shotty. Luckily for me, it Udemy was still relatively new. Everybody was still kind of figuring out their stuff. So when I put my course on there the content won and I was able to win the category, but winning the category for real estate on, on Udemy at the time, meant $150 a month.

You know, so it wasn't a replacement income, but what I, what, what ended up working out well as I was building and growing with my eLearning was that, you know, I found out that when, when people start learning from you and they trust your expertise and they appreciate what you're the content that you're creating, some of them, some of them would rather, you.

Would rather hire you to do the work for them. You know, once they learn like, oh, at first, a lot of people are like, I, I wanna learn this and do this myself. Then we're like, oh, this is what it takes. Or this is how, how, you know, how it works. Nevermind. I don't wanna do it. Why don't you do it for me? Can I pay you?

You know, so I ended up turning my Udemy course, at least for the first years as a lead gen for consulting. And so, you know, while I was growing that the consulting allowed me to not look at and apply for any of the job listings I had saved over the years. And you know, and then that was, that was 2015.

And now Udemy is, you know, 30 times the size and I have 240,000 students on Udemy, but you know, I learned some other things along the way in terms of e-learning at the time, you know, one of the biggest things I learned was that there are other platforms, there are other audiences. And if you do a little planning and you're a little, you know do little planning up front and identify which platforms you wanna be, part of, you can make your content work for all of them from the get go, and you can essentially repurpose and repackage your content for different audiences.

And I have some content. I have a couple of courses, and I know other instructors who do this as well, where they have, you know, three courses where they share like 75% of the content, but they're targeting completely or slightly different audiences within, you know, similar niches and their students are super happy with.

And I'll give you an example with mine. So I have like a big sort of general course that kind of deep dives into how to analyze real estate. I found that, you know, a lot of the skills that I learned from private equity, everybody who's interested in real estate should understand these things. So that course taught that.

But I also found that there were some people who were just only interested in rental properties and some people who were only interested in fix and flips. And so then I created some extra content for that, but then the fundamentals are sort of the overlap is the same, you know, they, they both audiences needed to know the same thing.

And so, you know, when you plan out multiple courses within a topic and pick out multiple platforms at the same time, you end up creating. The work, say the work that it took to create two courses maybe, but then you end up having six courses and you're able to publish on, you know, five different platforms, right?

So then, you know, you end up getting, you know, almost 20 different income streams. Some of them are gonna be bigger or smaller, but you, you sort of only worked on two things. And that was you know, a very significant game changer for me. It just when, when the, when the this model started to work for me and students started come in and Udemy started to grow much more and all other platforms started springing up was just that separation between your earning and your time was a, a real sense of freedom, you know before I thought that, Hey, I could only leave my job and feel sort of ready to leave if I replace my entire income. Right? So then like, well the higher your income, the harder it is gonna to replace it, you know to build it. But I realize if you're, you know, especially if you're kind of young, you don't have family and other big responsibilities, then your point of freedom is not that your point of freedom is much lower.

Your point of freedom is the point where your earnings, it covers all of your living expenses. And if, when you are kind of building things out and you're living frugally, that barrier is very easy to meet. Because once you're consistently meeting your living expenses, you don't have that dread. You're not burning into your savings anymore.

Right. And then you can spend all your time focusing on growth. So, you know I think if you're thinking about when to leave work, find that number, not, not, you're replacing your entire salary, but just, just covering your costs.

[00:40:54] Smart Money: For sure. But speaking of covering your salary, you, you gave me a snippet that I want, I want you to repeat back, which is, let's say it's even six figures, which, you know, statistically is higher than most people will earn. Although for our listeners, it's probably right around the mark. So, you know, how much do you need to earn a hundred K in a normal job versus if you work yourself.

[00:41:17] Symon He: Yeah. So, so if you know, in a normal job, let's say, let's say you're working normal hours, which, you know, a lot of a hundred K plus jobs you're working way more than 2000 hours. But let's just say you are working 2000 hours. You're looking at about $46 an hour to get to a hundred K. Right. But if you're working for yourself or correction, if your work product is working for you like in the case where my courses were working for me and my courses were earning me money 24 7.

So what I needed to earn per hour was just 11.46 an hour to get to the a hundred K mark. And that was a huge mind shift that yeah, that that's just like, wow, okay. This is much more doable, you know, could you, do you have a skill set? Do you have knowledge base? That is worth it worth 11.46 to one person in the world in a given hour.

You know, it's not, it's not as crazy as you think. Right. So if you have something to share, that's worth that to one person every hour. You can, you can create a six figure business. You know, that, yeah, that I remember the day where I first realized that this was you know, I was that day. I was like, wow, I didn't do anything.

I woke up like late, went to the bathroom. I don't know, just And I was like, whoa, I just, you know, I just earned like 50 bucks taking a shit right now. Excuse my French. That was that's pretty cool. I was like, I didn't not do any. And none of the other things I did before could allow me to say that where I go to bed and then I wake up and there's more money in my account.

That's, that's where, when your work product is working for you, 24 7 in, in online courses, online content is, is one of the, I think it's one of the most accessible paths for people because it requires so little investment in capital to get started.

[00:43:22] Smart Money: I love it.

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