Symon’s e-learning story

  • Success Stories

The year was 2014. Before I knew anything about online courses, I was stuffing my face daily with orange chicken while working as a financial analyst at the Panda Restaurant Group.  Yes, that meant spending most of my days buried in Excel spreadsheets and getting my fill of fresh orange chicken samples from the test kitchen. Fun, for me.

The pay was great, I had fun colleagues to work with, an awesome boss, great work hours that really were 9 to 5, and the place had an onsite gym with showers!
But as great as my work setup was, it was untenable at the time. I already mapped out my exit.

For nearly two months, I was commuting and working from my mom’s hospital bedside. She was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer three years prior but her treatment was no longer working and she had to have emergency surgery.

 

I realized something during that time there. I mean, besides what my mom thought about my selfies.

Actually, I asked her, “So what do you think about this cancer thing?” every time before I took a selfie with her. It was a weird running joke we had going but it helped to lighten the mood during the multiple rounds of treatment, surgery, and rehab.

I needed to find a replacement income, even thought I loved my job

So what did I actually realize?

As great as my job was and as much as I loved working there, I was spending most of my time working and away from the people I loved. And most acutely, my mom. I had no idea how much time I had left to laugh with her, to hear her stories, to help her find joy and normalcy in the madness of fighting cancer.

But as her caregiver, I also needed to have income. I had some savings but I wanted to reserve a good chunk of it for potential experimental treatment overseas, if she wanted to opt for that should we ran out of options in the states.

So for the entire three years from 2011 to 2014, I was actively looking for a reliable way out of a great job situation by all measures.

What I needed my replacement income to be:

  • A consistent and reliable income source, just as reliable as my previous W2
  • Work that I cold do from anywhere, even next to a hospital bed
  • Work that I could do at anytime, especially if I’m already up at 2am in the morning unable to sleep at medical rehab lobby
  • Work that allowed me to step away for weeks (or months) at a time, without disrupting the income

Finding an income replacement to meet all of my criteria

Could I find something that checked all these requirements off? Could I find a reliable source of income with 100% flexibility that worked with the demands of being a full time caregiver?

I tried a lot of things in between my job and caregiving during that time.

I started a boutique tea store but found that scaling was very tough and there was zero flexibility even though we were selling online—when orders came in, you have to pack and ship within 24 hours to keep customers happy.

 

The online tea business I started (& failed at)

When the tea business flopped, I then did private consulting but found the same challenges—I could only take on so many hours of work and managing multiple clients on deadlines was anything but flexible.

I then hosted on Airbnb with some friends, hoping that dividing the labor would allow for flexibility and reliable income. But this was in 2012 and there were none of the tools available today for automation and outsourcing. With a team of five, the divided income was just not worth the effort. And there was always the risk of the city regulating it out of existence overnight.


I needed something I could control entirely on my own.  So then I turned my Airbnb knowledge into a blog, LearnBNB.com. 

Rebranded to “LearnBNB.com” later.



While I had total control over the blog,  getting enough traffic to be able to monetize anywhere close to income replacement would take years. Again, not a good enough option. 

Finally, one day as I was scouring Groupon for 50% off coupons to local restaurants, I came across this on my feed:

11,185 purchases a month!

This deal had been running for only a week and it sold over 11K purchases (almost $400K in sales)!

What? So I click it and I saw a video course teaching people how to use Excel. It was just some dude who recorded his screen and talking into a mic.

“Wow, if only I could have been the first one to make that course!” I thought to myself. It’s too late. This course already has over ten thousand students! (Boy, was I wrong about this)

Over the course of the next year, I saw this deal running repeatedly every 6-8 weeks, each time selling more than 10K purchases.

In all, I noticed it eight times, with this one course earning an estimated $3.2M in sales before I thought to myself: I should look more into this.

What I thought (wrongly) about online courses back then

This is what I concluded at the time:

    • There is no more room for Excel courses (WRONG! There are now 100s and even the 30th ranked course on Udemy makes decent money).
    • The best way to sell is through daily deals because Udemy is too small a market (WRONG! Udemy grew by 30x over a 6 year period.)
    • That I would need to teach something else besides Excel (WRONG but teaching real estate investing worked out)
    • There could be big money in online courses (CORRECT! The only thing I got right about online courses)

So, it turned out that it was just one regular dude who made a long Excel course, posted it on Udemy, and then ran daily deals on sites like Groupon. He was selling both directly on Udemy and through these daily deals.

But I had no idea what Udemy was (even though it was on all the deals I saw). So, I spent three months figuring out how to host my own video course by building a WordPress website. Then another six months to record my course on evenings and weekends, using all the wrong equipment.

$50 webcam and $25 mic

 

My “clean” background

 

That was my idea of a clean background at the time.

My videos were also grainy. My audio sounded awful. But I made a massive 20 hour long course with content students wanted and got it out there before I could second guess myself any longer.

I was still so concerned about co-workers or my boss finding out about my side project that I did it under an alias. When they did find out eventually, the reaction was not what I expected. Instead of judgement, it was: “Oh you have ten thousand students!?”

Online courses was the ideal income replacement

Fast forward to today and how has discovering online courses changed my life?


Let’s revisit my starting criteria.

  • A reliable income source that is just as reliable as a W2 income — CHECK. I now make multiples of my prior six figure salary
  • Work that I could do from anywhere, even by a hospital bedCHECK. Besides recording in my recording space, the rest of the work I literally do from anywhere. Coffee shops. Park benches. By the beach. Anywhere. I actually did a lot of recordings at shared and borrowed offices.
  • Work that I could do at anytime, especially if I’m already up at 2am in the morning. CHECK. No restrictions other than what I give myself.
  • Work that allowed me to step away and go on hold for weeks or months at a time, without hurting the income flow. CHECK. I’ve been fortunate enough to take my mom and my wife on multiple, multi-week vacations whenever we wanted while I was able to stay completely offline with ZERO impact to my income.

I was able to entirely replace my former income (and then some) while giving me the total flexibility to care for my mom and take her on many vacations.

Here’s my mom feeling the waters of Hawaii for the first time.

My mom feeling the warm Hawaiian waters for first time

 

Online courses have opened up incredible opportunities for me

Even from these humble (and honestly embarrassing beginnings), I’ve managed to build a multi six figure eLearning income stream that continues to grow every year.

That initial first course alone, which I’ve updated only once since then, and which I repackaged parts of it into multiple smaller courses across different platforms, has generated nearly $500K in earnings and counting. This initial content still earns me over $100K a year, passively.  I have no doubt that initial course will earn me well north of $1M before it’s done. And all from the work I put in six years ago!

To say that’ it’s been a total game changer would be a huge understatement.

Today, I am now a top 0.5% online instructor with courses on Udemy and LinkedIn, among a half dozen other platforms with over 300K paid students worldwide.

Along the way, it even opened up doors to opportunities I never would have imagined, from doing joint venture deals with Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad brand to turning two of my online courses into Amazon best-selling reference books.

Turning courses into best-selling Amazon titles

Teaching online courses has changed my life. When I got into it, I was looking for a more flexible and passive income source.

The online courses industry has grown tremendously but opportunities still abound

Today, eLearning is my only focus. And I plan on keeping it this way for a long time.

I’ve witness and have been fortunate to benefit from the growth of the industry but I see that we’re still in its early stages.

So many tiny topics that had practically zero demand only a few years ago are not minting six figure instructors. And more topics are seeing massive growth in eLearning. It’s far from being too late to enter the space.

But the industry has changed and what it takes to succeed today does require more know-how and execution. However, you don’t have to figure that out on your own.

That’s why we created Six Figure Instructor—we want to help as many people as possible to get results just like us.

What could online teaching do for you?


Happy Update: Some good news to share. As I’m writing this, my family just celebrated our 10 year mark since my mom’s initial stage IV cancer diagnosis. It has been 10 years since 8 of the 9 doctors we saw initially gave her just six months. Sometimes you take it a day at a time and fate gives you 10+ years! And this is what she thinks of cancer now!

Mom: 1 | Cancer: 0

 

 

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