Today I’m talking with Thomas Frank. Thomas built a YouTube channel called College Info Geek to over a million subscribers. Since then, he’s rebranded and grown the channel to nearly 3 million subscribers. He’s also built a massive business around courses and Notion templates.
In this episode we talk about making a pivot as a creator. Thomas has an interesting and understated approach that’s worked quite well. We also talk about the Notion templates he’s selling, the YouTube productivity channel he started strictly about Notion, and how it’s driving hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales per month.
Thomas also explains why it’s easier getting started on YouTube today than it was 10 years ago, and I get Thomas’ candid thoughts on how Gumroad’s new pricing has affected his business and creators in general.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why now is a great time to get started on YouTube
- How to pull off a successful rebrand of your creator business
- Why your subscriber count isn’t as important as you think
- Was Gumroad’s price increase a mistake?
- Thomas’ website
- Follow Thomas on Twitter
- Subscribe to Thomas’ YouTube channel
- Download Thomas’ Notion templates
- Check out Thomas’ Notion YouTube channel
- Thomas’ Nebula.tv content
- Follow College Info Geek on Twitter
- Thomas’ Skillshare page
It’s this combination of show up, and have something to show.
You need to be saying “yes” to meetings, conferences, and events, because you want to get out there and meet people. You also need to have something to show, which means you need to be incrementally improving your skills and your output.
If I stumble across you I should have a very easy path to finding what you’re good at and seeing examples of it.
In this episode I talk to Thomas Frank.
Thomas is a professional creator whom I’ve known for a long time and have really enjoyed following his work.
He built a YouTube channel called College Info Geek, which is about how to be a productive, successful college student, transitioning to the workforce, all of that.
He built that to over a million subscribers before he pivoted and said, “I’m leaving that side of it behind. I’m rebranding to just ‘Thomas Frank.’”
We talk about that in this episode; how you go about making a pivot as a creator. I think the way he did it is really interesting and understated compared to what most people would do, and it’s a good approach.
Since then, Thomas has grown his YouTube channel to nearly 3 million subscribers, and he’s built a massive business. We talk about the Notion templates he’s selling, how he started another YouTube channel strictly about Notion, and how it’s driving hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales just on these two Notion templates.
We also get into how it’s easier to start on YouTube today than 10 years ago, and he shares exactly why that is.
Also, we recorded this episode right around the time Gumroad raised their prices. Thomas sold his digital products on Gumroad, but with Gumroad tripling or even quadrupling their prices, I get Thomas’ raw thoughts on what he thinks creators should do in lieu of this big change Gumroad is making.
It’s a fun episode. Mostly just two professional creators bantering about what’s going on in life and how we see the world, and earning a living as a creator.
So, that’s the episode, I hope you like it.
Let’s dive in.
Thomas, welcome to the show.
How’s it going? Thanks for having me on the show.
Things are good. it’s been kind of a busy weekend. We’re recording this on, Monday morning. A lot’s been going on. we’ll get into that maybe a little bit later. Like, Twitter’s granny, external links, Gumroad doubled, tripled.
The prices like review is shutting down.
About tripled, maybe even quadrupled
Is that what it’s gonna be for you?
Actually, yes. It is a, it’s near quadruple, if not more.
I need to get my chart out.
You, you did, you made a chart. There’s so much that we
We’re at a flat 3% and it’s going up to 12.9, so that is actually more than quadruple
Oh, that is cuz 12. Yep. Okay. Wow.
And I think this podcast won’t age well, so I’m gonna try to help it age a little better by saying, I would say there’s greater than 50% probability they walk this back
So calling it now, at least with a, with a maybe.
That’s right. I mean, greater than 50%. That’s a pretty big, pretty big range.
Yeah. I’m more than 50% confident.
We’ll, we’ll dive into that in the show just cuz I’m curious for your take on it. You and I have both written Twitter threads this weekend about, it probably answered lots of replies and, and dms and all that. But before we do that, like, just to set some context, So you’ve done a bunch of interesting things, both in your own creator business and then you have, other companies that you’ve started and, you know, are, I actually dunno, your involvement in, we’ll get, so we’ll get into that.
But first, like I first met you when you’re doing College Info Geek and you built that to a massive YouTube channel, and then now you’ve pivoted and expanded beyond that. But maybe just give the, the quick version of what, what that channel was and, and where you started.
Yeah, so that channel is actually the same channel that is, is my main channel, just Thomas Frank. it’s actually never been called anything else. I just had it very branded around college, Jimbo Geek back in the day. So for anyone who doesn’t know my history, I’ve been on the internet since the dawn of time.
I think I’m as old as Galactus at this point. in 2010, I started a blog called College Info Geek. the reason I started it was I was in college. I was very ambitious. This was also like post, 2008 stock market crash. So my perception was like the economy was in the toilet and I would have to work as hard as possible and be as competitive and ruthless as possible.
So, you know, naturally I started an entire blog about how to be as competitive as possible in college. and the reason I started my own blog is I had applied to write for one that I was a big fan of and they rejected my applic. So I’m like, well, let me just take the thing I made and make my own website and then build a sustainable full-time career and big team over te over a decade that’ll show ‘em
Nothing like a chip on your shoulder to, to, turn
It was, it was a very friendly chip on my shoulder. I think I started realizing like maybe even two years in, like, oh, it’s, it’s very good that they rejected me. Thank you so much. and I became friends with them as
I applied to work at, at GitHub Automatic and Basecamp cuz they were the three companies that, did remote work back in 2012 and 2011, that kind of timeframe. And that I wanted to work out as a designer and got rejected by all three and was like, I’m going to make my own,
Just make my own remote first company. Baby
It worked out. I’m glad, I’m glad for that rejection.
Base camp was kind of the poster child for, wasn’t. Jason Fried, wrote Rework and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah. before I get off track, so I had the blog. I started a podcast in 2013, and everything I do, I do because I look at somebody else doing it and I’m like, whoa, that’s cool. I want to do it too.
So with podcasting, it was very much like Pat Flynn, being my main influence from Smart Passive Income. And then with YouTube, I had noticed, the guys from Fizzle were starting to make videos. Sean McCabe, who was like a hand lettering artist turned like business magnate, was starting to make videos.
And then I’m, I’m a gamer as well, so I was watching gaming YouTubers like John Tron and I’m like, well, this looks fun. Let me try to make some videos. first one I made like the, that I call official first one as I got serious about it almost at my apartment on fire, cuz I tried to build my own lights out of flammable material.
Whoops. and then I learned from that and just kept making videos. So in the beginning it was just like one video a week, and the point was to compliment the blog content. So, it was like collagen, boge come to the blog. At first I’m like, and maybe I have a video in the header. And then eventually I start having tons of fun with the video editing and I start growing on YouTube and like, wait, I think YouTube might be the main thing.
Cut to five years of doing that. over time there was this slow pivot away from just the college and Fuji branding, and that was mostly informed by me getting older and kind of realizing like a lot of what I’m covering isn’t just applicable to students because I’m not talking about how to ace the SAT.
I’ve never been so focused on specific student stuff, and they were said like, you know, here’s how to major in business. It’s always been like, here’s how to organize your files, or here’s how to cut down the amount of study time using, you know, proper study techniques. So you remember more information with less actual time spent studying.
And that kind of stuff is applicable to anybody. , there’s people in full-time jobs. There’s people who have gone into postdoc, like it doesn’t have to be collagen vo geek. So I decided to do a very slow pivot where I just like started dropping the collagen vo geek branding off stuff. I had the logo at the end of every video.
I tried, like just having me talking at the end of the video, I changed the header to just the picture of me, and nobody really noticed. Over time, it just became the Thomas Frank channel and people were like, oh, he is just the productivity guy, not the college guy. So that was that pivot.
How long did that pivot take?
Now maybe, maybe over the course of a year, it was, it was very slow and in some ways it is still ongoing.
And, and, and the main reason for that is actually, you and ConvertKit because w for people who are not ConvertKit customers, one of the quirks of ConvertKit is you have one list, but then you can make segments. And I’m like, well, You know, my thinking is again, students will find general content interesting, so it doesn’t make sense to make a whole new email list.
If I’m just gonna be talking about general productivity and branding around myself. What makes more sense to do is just keep the same email list and like if students want only student content, like cool, you can unsubscribe, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen. So I kept the same email list and in fact, I used the same email list for my Notion stuff as well.
It’s literally just a segment so people can just kind of decide, do you want the general stuff, do you want the Notion stuff, et cetera.
Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. I think, your convert, yeah. Your converting account is still under a, a college info geek dot com domain, I
Yes, it is.
And, and still to this day when people want to email me, thomas college info geek.com,
All right. so when you’re doing that, would you do it the same in hindsight of like just the slow pivot? Cause I think a lot of creators do this thing where they, they’re like, oh, I should make a big splash with everything. Or they, sometimes they make a big deal out of it or a bigger deal than they should.
And so I’m just curious if like, in hindsight, if you do the same thing, if you do a big announcement, if you’re like, look, you can just smoothly transition into what you want and don’t worry about it.
I think I would do it the same way, to be honest. Like it really depends and I’ve seen it work both ways, so. I, I’ve seen channels, literally hard pivot. Steven Bridges is a good example. He was, I believe he was a magician just doing like card tricks in his house. And then I think he stopped posting for three years and came back suddenly, having shifted to card counting vlogs.
So he’ll go to casinos and like count cards and blackjack and vlog himself, usually getting kicked out by staff or arguing with them . And, his videos have been incredibly successful. Like his channel is doing better than ever, and it was just this boom hard pivot. I also saw my friend Sam, so he made a new channel like maybe four years ago called Half As Interesting, and his regular channels went over productions, if you’ve heard of that.
So the, the channels are fairly similar, but have as interesting, as much more like quirky things you might find from Wikipedia. Like what happens if the Queen of England dies? There’s like a secret protocol for that. Or what’s the longest road you could drive before you hit water? And, with that he actually.
Promoted the channel before it had any videos and he got a silver play button before he posted his first video.
He had a hundred thousand subscribers on a channel with no videos.
And that’s cuz you already had a famous popular channel and he is like, Hey,
Yes. And he was hyping it up and he is like, here’s my new project. It’s a secret what it’s about, but you can subscribe and get the first video.
So, and I bring that up and we’re talking about pivots because when I started the Notion Channel, I did the opposite. and, and the reason for that is from what I know of the YouTube algorithm, when you post a video, it’s gonna go out to usually like a subset of your subscribers as like the initial sample of audience.
And then it’s gonna gain data on how they react and that will inform how it keeps going. And it, it does this constantly constant testing. It’s not just one test, but I was like, okay, half is interesting is very popcorny, you know, fun content, like those topics I just mentioned. Anybody wants to know what the British Government’s secret, plan for the queen dying is.
But I was like, I do not want to have a hundred thousand subscribers on this channel with baited breath and then drop, like how to open Notion links in the app using, Alfred workflows. That’s like hyper techy stuff. And so I didn’t tell anybody until I launched it. And then I didn’t even really promote it.
I was just like, let’s just grow this thing over here and see how it
With a group of people who are true fans of that, rather than like, you know, I’m a, I’m a productivity Thomas fan, and I might jump over like, let me check out this thing, and then
Oh, it turns out this content doesn’t resonate. Like maybe I won’t amplify it.
Yes, exactly. And I think you have to do some promotion. to give an opposite example, another friend of mine, he has a massive YouTube channel, it’s called Tier Zoo. I think it’s like 3 million subscribers. He has another channel that he is got two videos on already, and it’s like, it’s freaking amazing, but he hasn’t promoted it yet.
And he said is like, he wants to see if he can build up another channel from scratch without ever talking about it, which I guess is like an interesting goal from a gamer perspective. But let’s see here. This isn’t him talking about it, so I can tell you about it. It’s just called Tech Tree. But it’s really hard to find.
But it’s videos on like, you know, was Greek fire op, just analyzing like the weapon, Greek fire back in the ancient classic era and it’s super well produced. It’s amazingly entertaining, but it has like 500 views for video cuz he hasn’t talked about it at all.
That’s so interesting. What do you like. I’ve seen people when they reach a level of success, and then either they start talking about it or they speculate on like, could I do this again? Was it luck the first time? Could I do it faster now that I have these skills? I think versions of that that I’ve done, I’ve done like a 24 hour product challenge.
Like, can I build this way faster? I don’t know, but I’m curious, like, why do you have thoughts on why we do this to ourselves? Where we’re like, now that I have all of these advantages, like, let me go back and see if I can do it without
You know, I think some of it is like you’re just interested to see like, was it luck? I also think that there’s an ego component because there’s other people who will say, oh, you just got lucky because of this or this or this.
Mentioned you or you had this video at the perfect time and that hit the algorithm and whatever,
Which I completely agree with. Like, my philosophy is sort of middle road here, where I do believe in luck, but I think luck is like a substance you acquire through certain types of actions, like making connections or being ready when you make a connection. you know, like if somebody signal boosts.
My video, actually, my, my first little viral hit ever on the blog. I created a desk that hung from chains underneath my loft bed because I wanted like, storage space under the desk. And the dorm desks were just these monstrosities. So I like bought some MDF and just, you know, drilled holes, hung it with chains and I made a, a, like a blog post about it.
I just took pictures and my blog was getting like, no traffic, like 50 visits a day total. Probably mostly my mom. That post was good for the time, and I had built up friendships with the people who rejected me from that blog I applied to. So when I posted that, you know, I’m now friends with these people, Shep the editor thought it was cool and he did like one of those life hacker style sort of excerpts on their blog.
Like, Hey, check out this blog over here. He made this weird hanging desk and then he was friends with Life Hacker. So Life Hacker did that to their excerpt. So there was like this chain of people. And in, in one day, I remember my analytics was like 4,000 visits up from 50 a day, and I’m like, oh my gosh, . So that’s like absolutely luck and it’s like a catalyst for growth, but it’s like luck that you never would’ve had if you didn’t do
Yeah. And you could, you could engineer that style of luck where it’s like, okay, you created great content, you had relationships you didn’t like when you got rejected for the job, you weren’t like, screw you. You know, like, you didn’t burn that bridge, you know? And you’re like, cool, thanks. Like I’m gonna go make my other thing here and I’d love to work together at some point in the future, you know, or
You could say.
Yeah, I think if I delved into my email, I could actually pull up the email rejection and see what my response is. and I don’t remember what it was, but I know it wasn’t like fu
It’s rarely where fu is rarely a, a, a good response. So,
You’re talking to an East Coaster, maybe.
Yeah, that’s right. they might, they might appreciate it. I think the other thing that you said is like the gamer mentality, you know, where, where you’re like, okay, sure, I beat this game on one mode. Could I then, like now that I’m better, could I like tweak these settings so it’s way harder and now can I beat this game
Yeah. New Game Plus, and people perceive it as new game Plus I see. Takes all the time. Like YouTube is harder to break into than it’s ever been. Actually. Disagree. I think it’s easier than ever, but there, there is a part of me where like what Thomas Frank explains, I was like mentally fast forwarding to making a video on my main channel and being able to.
I didn’t promote this anywhere to my regular audience and it still grew, which I can’t say really cuz I’ve mentioned it a little bit. but I haven’t done anywhere near the amount of promotion I could have done with my current audience.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting. on the YouTube side of things, you, you had that throwaway comment of like, you think it’s easier. Why do you think it’s easier now than, you know, five years ago or 10 years ago,
So two reasons. first reason being the audience is bigger than it ever has been. And the thing that happens when you grow the audience and there’s unlimited ability for creators to create, is the audience just doesn’t get funneled into like the biggest mainstream stuff like that. Stuff will grow too.
But the more people there are, the more micro niches there are, the more combinations of niches that there are. tier Zoo is a great example. my friend Patch’s channel, he’s got I think three and a half million subscribers on there, maybe more. And. That channel is, you know, wildly entertaining, but it’s a combination of two things that you probably wouldn’t have thought of at first.
It’s, zoology and, you know, just talking about nature and animals. But then it’s like fighting game tier lists. So if you’re like from the SMASH community, like, all right, which characters are S tier? It’s obviously Diddy Kong, which characters are like C tier, Samis, that kind of thing. and that was like a thing in the Fighting game community.
Now you see tier lists everywhere. I, I would say that Patch probably popularized it and, and proved that you could build a huge channel off of it. Now I see like business major tier list, greatest programmer of all time tier list. Who was the S tier programmer? John Carmack. so that’s like he popular as a format, I think.
But it’s like mashing these two things.
And you find out, oh, there’s people who love looking at stuff like about animals and they’re into fighting games, and now you just created a new niche because the platform is bigger.
I also think despite the complaints, you will see a lot on Twitter. the YouTube algorithm is pretty smart.
It’s not biased against like, you know, people like to be like, oh, the algorithms scream me over. The algorithm is as optimized as possible to find you the viewer, a video that you wanna watch, and it gets better all the time. And, you know, you, you’re from the old school, like the s days of blogging, same as me.
So you remember writing a blog post to crickets, and then you’re like, all right, now time for the, the marketing tour where I go like, try to get this on Reddit without being banned, or I go post this on Facebook to get two clicks. It’s just, it’s crazy. Now what you can do, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have to be strategic in how you select your niche, but, it, it’s just like the audience is bigger, the algorithm’s smarter.
It’s so much easier than it was back in the
I think the audience being bigger is a huge thing because I think about in the early days, right? I was following like Chris Gabo, pat Flynn, Adam Baker, who else? Leo Boutta from Zen Inhabit Steve Cam. Yep. and, you know, people talking about, like Chris Gibo was talking about, he had his book, 279 Days to Overnight Success, which was him making, getting to the point where he was earning a full-time living of $60,000 a year as a, you know, professional creator.
We didn’t use those terms Then, But like the top tier guys were like, oh, I’ve got an email list of 10,000 people. I’ve got, you know, I just made $50,000, a hundred thousand dollars a year. And when you think about it like the audience is now, you know, the equivalent of that 10,000 subscriber email list is like a a hundred or 200,000 subscriber email list now.
And the equivalent of that $60,000 a year is like $600,000 a year. And it’s just wild how it’s changed. And it’s mostly just the number of people that you can reach because there’s that many more consumers, is wildly different than before. And so all the downstream opportunities are like exponentially bigger as well.
Absolutely. And there’s also this interesting thing that has happened as, there’s been more platform consolidation on the internet. Like you, you, compared to 10 years ago, most internet traffic is now sort of clustered onto YouTube or Twitter or Reddit or whatever it is. it wasn’t quite like that in the past and a lot of people have criticisms for that.
However, there’s been this interesting effect where you now get the ability for a single creator to ama a massive audience and maybe they don’t, necessarily own most of that audience because of the platform consolidation, which I’m sure you would interject. We can fix that with email list or at least mitigate against absolutely useful.
But you know, you look back 10 years ago and it’s like, What actually had a 2000 hundred thousand subscriber email list. It’s like about.com or Wiki. How, where you’re a faceless writer who gets almost no credit and you’re not getting paid much, if anything. and whoever just owns that site, like they’re reaping all the rewards and not even giving you a chance to shine as an individual creator.
Whereas today you might be like, okay, Google is monopolizing everything, but at least in this moment, individual creators have the chance to make something and have their name, their face on it, and the audience looks at them as the person they’re following, not just about.com or whatever it is.
Right? Yeah. And actually, I have a friend who lives here in Boise who, his name’s Marshall Simmons, who’s like one of the, probably one of the greatest search engine optimization people of all time. he was, he was the person who engineered about.com s when they ranked for everything, you know, and I don’t know what, 2003 to 2007 maybe.
I don’t, I don’t know what the, their, like, key reign was, but, you know, he was behind that and, and then he went on and. New York Times and his company got bought by the New York Times and he did Business Insiders. Well, you know, he is like very, very good at what he does, but it’s interesting the way that you’re framing that cuz it, it was, the rankings were completely dominated by major brands and, and you couldn’t compete, right?
Because like about.com has a level of, domain reputation and all of that, that, you know, back then you couldn’t touch. But now, you know, you think about even at, at, if we’re in the SEO world, when we go to YouTube and others in a second, if you think about like, ranking for a term like email marketing something or other, right?
HubSpot’s gonna be up there, convert, it’s gonna be up there. And then you’re also gonna have like these other ones like, Brian Dean from Backlinko, or like an individual can compete on that level. Now granted, Brian’s one of the best at what he does for, for seo. but it’s interesting, like, the individual creator has so much more opportunity than, than they did years
So much more, you know, on the SEO side it was. , it was pay drink back then, which for people who don’t know, pay drink was a revolutionary algorithm for the time. But looking back it was quite stupid because it’s just looking at domain authority, which is based on link juice. How many sites are linking to you and what is their domain authority.
So there’s very much like a steamroll effect where an about.com is going to start both organically getting links because they’re visible and their visibility makes them more visible. And also they had teams of people who were going out and trying to actively build back links. So that was the game you had to play back then.
Target a long tail keyword, email people and beg prostrate yourself, please give me a back link. Or, you know, what I would, I would argue Leo Ved Reich from Buffer was maybe the most successful person in our industry to do. Actually, no, James Clear. Probably more, the guest post.
Where you just write zillions of guest posts for free and ask for the link in your bio at the bottom.
And then that evolved to the syndication strategy, which I think has died. But, James Clear had almost every article he’d write, syndicated so on his site, but also on like Business Insider or something. And he would get tons and tons of back links that way.
Yeah, it was wild. I, I mean, watching James do that strategy, because first, first, you’re exactly right, tons of guest posts and he would get columns on Huffington Post and everywhere he’d republish on or write original things for Quora. And it was like, how do we make all this original content for all of these places?
And then I remember maybe a year in two, I mean, he would have to correct it, but somewhere in there he switched and he was like, no, I’m gonna write every Tuesday and Thursday, or Monday and Thursday for my own newsletter, and then I’m gonna syndicate it everywhere. And I think, I mean, you have to have a certain level of clout before you do that.
Only had like a hundred thousand on his newsletter at the time. Like it wasn’t the 2
Maybe even less.
Yeah. But I think James did it right. you know, go out and get distribution, however you can get Mindshare name recognition, however you can. And once you have that, as long as you’re serving your audience well, you have the opportunity to build up an income machine or get book deals. you know, one thing that astounds me is just how successful Atomic Habits was, given that there was already a few books out about habits.
I was talking with, Dave Whis, our CEO at Standard, about like, you know, why was the four Hour Workweek so successful when it came out? Well, it’s sort of like,
Became a beacon and like the manual for something that was sort of coming into cultural consciousness, but wasn’t there yet, which was like remote work, building your own solopreneur business.
I would argue Atomic Habits was entering a market that already had that, it already had power of habit. So it just speaks to like number one, the book is actually very good. And it also speaks to the fact that James had used this very solopreneur focused internet strategy to build up an audience very intelligently.
Over years. He was patient about it and then those two factors converged and he had a, a massive hit on his hands.
Yeah. Oh, that’s fascinating that it was already, because you’re absolutely right with, four Hour Work Week. Right. When I read that, it was unlike anything that I’d read before, but I’d seen like little inklings of like, okay, this is possible. But yeah. power of Habit was already out there and it ju it’s interesting what you can apply this like, exactly.
You said the solar printer like marketing machine too. It makes me think from the converted side, well, like if we take like Leo what Leo did with Buffer, or what James did with, his audience or others, like there’s nothing really stopping you. Other than the sheer amount of work from doing a strategy like that today of basically saying I’m going to, you know, write a ton of essays, create a ton of videos, whatever, and either guest post or syndicate in all of these places.
And you could, I don’t feel like it doesn’t happen that often, but it’s, it’s quite possible to take the world by storm and like show up, you know, and, and be everywhere. It’s just an insane amount of work.
I think you have to do it differently now. I actually, I do think there is something stopping, you from doing a Leo Vied Reich strategy, which for people who don’t know, I’m again as old as Galactus. he was guest posting everywhere and it didn’t have to be a big blog. Leo guest posted on my website like a year into its existence when I was getting like a hundred views total a day.
He wrote a guest post for us. and then I, I started like a proto podcast before I actually had my podcast. I just call it the College in Info Geek interview series. And I guess looking back it was like video interviews. I think he was my first interview. and it was great. So like he built up this, this giant machine for Buffer.
The thing is, we were in an environment back then where guest posts were. . people were just like, I need content for my site, please guest post. and syndication became cool. That was like the next thing. I don’t think we’re in an environment anymore where that happens so often. Like we occasionally will see guest posts, but most creators are now sort of either writing their own stuff, making their own content, or they hire people and the guest posting thing, there’s just so much more spam.
Like as a creator, I actually don’t see it as much now, but maybe a few years ago it was like 10 emails a day. I will create a great guest post for you, please. Black link to
Yeah. And that’s not the approach that, that you would take, but, so I’m curious, what do you think would work now? Like if you were that person who you’re like, look, I’m willing to work 80 hours a week as a creator to get my foot in the door, either as May, maybe you have a software product, right? Like, oh, we could debate with her.
I should do this with ConvertKit. Right. Of go out and you know, take a Be Everywhere approach. Or someone as a new creator, a content creator, like what do you think would be the way, if you’re like, okay, I’ve got the skills but no audience and I want to grow from zero to a hundred thousand on an email list or YouTube or something in 12 months.
Like how would you approach that?
So the, the technical way that I would do it is I would make YouTube content first. and I, I might even do like shorts or TikTok as well. it, it’s hard for me to really say. That I would do that because I haven’t yet had like significant success with short form content just cause I haven’t tried.
But I have seen people like, Kat Norton, miss Excel, you know, is just doing six figures a month, with a very well put together TikTok funnel to teach Excel and Microsoft Office. and, and that might be a way to get notoriety. I think long form content gets you notoriety, but it also gets you memorability, which is harder with short form.
And, and that’s the thing that I think, you know, builds a, a long term audience that wants to stick with you is people form a connection, whether it’s like, you know, parasocial connection or, or not, but they form a connection. They want to actually follow you. And that’s tougher to really get a handhold on when people are just scrolling through a TikTok feed and they just kind of laugh at what you do.
So that’s one part of it. The other part, and I’ve always thought about it this way, is I approach, you know, my career and life from a friend first perspective. So, you know, when I’m like, I, I’m not like, oh, I, I really wanna get a guest post on this site. I really wanna be on this person’s podcast. It’s more like, I like what they’re doing, I think they’re cool.
I would like to be friends with this person. And that has organically led to all of those business opportunities that, you know, younger me always wanted. If you would’ve asked like three years in Thomas, like, what are your big business goals? I’d be like, well someday I’d love to be in the s p I podcast someday.
I’d love to have a published book. I’d love to do this, this and that. And a lot of times it’s like, well, you need a specific relationship with a certain person to enable that. Especially if it’s like, I want to be on the S P I podcast, pat has to invite you on or not. but all like the, I remember like, I think I had like shot pat emails when I thought I had something cool.
It’s like, Hey, I did this thing, just pitching. I guess it’s interesting, like never got through. , but then like through years of going to conferences and just like seeing each other and like organic meetings, eventually we became friends and then all of a sudden outta the blue one day he is like, Hey, you wanna come on the podcast?
And I’m like, oh, that’s awesome. So it’s, it’s a combination of like you’re building up your people wanna call it network. I just see you’re building up friends. You know, if you love what you do and you’re a creator and you’re meeting creators, you’re gonna become friends. That’s just how it works. And also, something that I have told myself since I was in high school, it’s this combination of like, show up and have something to show.
So it’s the idea that you need to be saying yes to, meetings and conferences and events because you want to get out there and meet people. You also need to have something to show, which means you need to be incrementally improving your skills and your output and do it in a way that’s very easy to show.
So like, to pick an example out of the air video editors, I had a thread that went kind of viral about how to break into YouTube video editing. And a lot of people were like, Hey, hire me. I can edit video. And then I go to the profile and there’s no prof, there’s no portfolio, there’s no real. So it’s like half something to show, which means you need to put the work in, do deliberate practice, get better, but also get a little good at marketing yourself.
Because if I stumble across you, I should have a very easy path to finding what you’re good at and seeing examples of it.
Yeah. I like that. So you, what you’re saying, if you’re trying to break in video is where you would focus,
I just see the most opportunity there. and you know, it’s, it’s obviously like a survivor bias thing. I’m like a hammer and I see everything as a nail a, a video shaped nail. but the, the thing is, I can’t really think of a place where there is that much potential organic distribution for your content, due to the algorithm.
Like it will, if a video hits it can go crazy and I guess you can have a tweet hit, but like, oh, our CEO had a tweet, they got 138,000 likes, and I think he got like six followers off of it.
Oh, that’s interesting.
You know, it, it was kind of like a comedic tweet. But like still, if I have a video that goes viral, which I did recently, the Notion AI video did 420,000 views in a week, which is insane for my channel.
How many subscribers are on that channel?
Well, because of that video, we have about 118,000 now. we write, I think, I think we were like 98,000 when I dropped. So that video alone,
Well, so that, not that not 20% just from that video, but I will say like last time I checked, that video had driven like 11,000 direct subscribers.
So that’s the difference between a viral tweet, a viral TikTok, and a viral long form video talking about something of substance. You give people 20 minutes to spin with you. Even if they’re new, they might be like, well, dang, this is cool. I, I now have enough time to make a decision. Yeah, I’m gonna follow this person.
And I just don’t see that kind of, potential virality for substantial content on something like Medium or your own blog or whatever. You know, maybe you could do a long-term SEO strategy and rank highly for something, but I think that takes a long time too. And, and I think that the potential upside is even higher on YouTube
Right. Yeah, I mean that’s just interesting how it’s shifted. I think a lot about the intersection between email and the other platforms. Like, once you have an email list, it’s insanely valuable, but at the same time, like email has no. Discovery. If, if I write the best email to my newsletter, it’ll get forwarded, it’ll get like some more subscribers.
Someone might tweet the link or, you know, a few of those things. But there’s no way that I’m getting 10% growth on, you know, we say that YouTube video and add 11,000 subscribers, it’s basically 10, 10% growth on, on your channel. Like, if I send an email to a hundred thousand people, there’s no way that that’s gonna get me 10,000 subscribers.
There’s plenty of other activities and so you have to have this hub and spoke approach where something, you know, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, there’s plenty of people who have been on the show, who have grown very well on Twitter. And one of these things with an algorithm has to work, like, has to be working for you to get discovery.
And then I, the approach that I take and I’m curious for your yours on it, is then I drive back to email. For the exact reason that it has no algorithm. You know, I’m like, I want the best of both worlds. I want the algorithm driving new reach for me. And then once I have that relationship, I don’t want an algorithm because I, I want to hit send on email in it to get to everybody, even if it’s like an
And not a fantastic one.
I almost wonder if I do want an algorithm for email,
Just like a, a different one. So, there’s this thought experiment that I once heard. I, I think it was like Ezer Yu Kowski who wrote about it. It’s like, if everyone. Since the dawn of time until now, everyone wakes up in the morning and they are hit upon the head with a baseball bat.
There would be many people who justify why being hit on the head with a baseball bat is very good. It toughens you up, it prepares you for the harshness of the world. And if we weren’t hit on the head with a bat every morning, we’d go soft and we’d probably get eaten by a tiger. so, you know, that just goes to illustrate like the way that human brains may rationalize, why the way things are now is the way they should be.
And I think like a lot about email number one, like on one hand I love the fact that I can send an email and I know it’s going to go into the inbox of everybody on my, my, list. On the other hand, like email is like 99% unmitigated garbage at this point. and, and the fact that there’s no algorithm means I have to linearly go through and even if you send me the best email ever, it’s probably 20 down.
And like, I’m so mentally tired from trying to like see if the first 20 are crap or something worth looking at, and I’ve deleted them all, like maybe I don’t pay attention. The nice thing about an algorithm is like I go to the YouTube homepage, maybe I’m not interested in clicking on everything, but everything there is, it’s not unmitigated garbage.
Like it’s mostly cream rising to the top because the algorithm kind of knows what I want and, you know, toilets flushing for 10 hours compilation is not on my homepage, except for maybe it is now if they’re listening to me, I don’t know. but you know, it is at least something like there’s effortful content and nothing else on the homepage.
I, you know, I don’t know if there’s a solution to this, but I do find myself like waking up certain days being like, do I have to open my email? Because I know it’s gonna be like 8,000 people saying, I wrote you a three email sequence. Somebody send it over and hire me as your copywriter. And they’re just like some anonymous person.
And then it’s like newsletters that I never signed up for, or Bed Bath and beyond deciding that they could market to me. I do wish there was like, I don’t know, maybe an email client with a button that’s like, Hey, I like this sender.
Right. or paying attention to, Hey, you archived. This email 10 times in a row without like Bed Bath and Beyond. You archive it every time. We’re gonna like gradually move it down, but James clears email. You open and read it every time. Because in the same way that we do, I mean, this would’ve to be on the email client side, right?
Because, so you as a reader would’ve to opt into it. But in the same way that YouTube’s like, oh, you clicked into this video and watched it for two seconds and bounced. Whereas this one you watched for the full 30 minutes and they’re ranking that you
Every time Thomas sends you an email, you read it start to finish.
Interesting. Maybe that will, you know, keep rising to the top.
That’s an interesting concept and I wonder if there’s already people playing with it, but like, email is a decentralized standard, like nobody owns email. So if, if you build the, the algorithm on the client side, you’re basically saying like, we don’t own the content or the distribution of the content. like, you know, whatever company is building the client and, and the customer of that client get to collectively decide what the algorithm is.
But then if the customers don’t like the algorithm, they can go to somewhere else and get the same exact content
Different algorithm. That would be very interesting to
I think the hard thing is that all of these other platforms can monetize their algorithms and all of that with advertising. and you are either paying for a product with email, like a superhuman or something like that, that’s, you know, that’s like $29 a month or it feels expensive. And like, why would I do that when Gmail is free?
Is what a lot of people are going to be saying. and you like, you don’t quite have the scale. I think it’d be hard, but I don’t know.
I think if there’s anybody who’s in the position to build this kind of email client, it might be you.
It could be
Because like, you know, with the things you guys are doing, doing with like sponsoring email creators and taking a cut there, like there’s a monetization model on the creator side that maybe could fund, something on, on the other side, you know?
And may maybe you have a section that’s like recommended newsletters or something someday.
Right. Well, and what’s interesting is I think it is gonna require someone making money in a different, like a downstream way like ConvertI does, right? We’re making money over here so we can go and do this. Whereas an indie creator who’s saying, Hey, I’m gonna launch this and I need to make money from this thing, that like, if
Charge 20 bucks a month for it, you might really struggle to get traction.
If you’re like, it’s gonna be free, then you’re gonna have to raise a whole bunch of capital to make it happen.
Exactly. Which I know you don’t want to do. I don’t want to do, stay away from the VC money my children. makes you do weird things. Makes you raise your prices up to 13%. . okay, so you were asking about like the. Of, of email, like when it comes to these algorithm, the algorithm platforms? Yeah. So the, the way I’ve always seen it is like email isn’t the top of the funnel.
And people who follow me on Twitter probably are sick of me talking about funnels, but they’re important if you’re in business because there’s the top of the funnel where you get the visibility. So when you’re on YouTube, like your impressions of the top of your funnel, the views are actually middle of the funnel, but they’re not the end because you have like, who gave you a view and watched for three seconds, who got far enough into the video next level to.
Actually hear your message. Maybe take action on something that you said perhaps, Hey, go sign up for my email newsletter where I have, you know, I’ll let you know about everything that I’m doing and I’ll give you these free things. So email is like a little bit further down the funnel, but what it is is an audience relationship, deepener.
And it’s also a way where you do have, I, I think on a, at least a per person basis, you have a greater chance of reaching them with each message you put out. I’m under no illusions that like, you know, maybe one of every 10 videos I put up on TF Explains is going to be viewed by any individual subscriber.
And a lot of those subscribers are gonna get bored. I, I know, I bet you 10,000, 20,000 of my subscribers have decided, oh, I don’t like Notion, I’ve gone onto something else. But they’re still subscribed cuz unsubscribing takes effort. So, you know, our CEO at Standard Dave often talks about the fact that like, your subscriber count is almost as useless as like a number of saying how much money you’ve ever had collectively.
Like not your bank account balance now, but just how much have you ever earned ? It’s not very useful. You know, a lot of my, on my main channel, probably a million of those subscribers have just moved on with their lives. They’re not students anymore. They’re not watching productivity videos, but they’re on there and, and I guess it lends me the ability to tell media outlets, oh, I’ve got 3 million subscribers, but I’m not connecting with those people.
So with email, I do feel like I have a greater chance of reaching every individual person with everything I put out. And then of course, it’s up to them, to decide if they want to actually read it or click links in it or whatever. So it, it’s a very good mid funnel thing to have and it’s a very good insurance policy against, like we saw yesterday, Twitter deciding you no longer can have a link tree in your bio.
You no longer can link out to Facebook. What’s, what’s to stop them tomorrow being like, you can’t have YouTube links
Know nothing to stop the richest person in the world buying the platform where you’ve built your audience and then walking into the door with a sink and making weird decisions all day.
Which I’m personally hoping that this all gets figured out and Elon doesn’t burn Twitter to the ground. because I , like Twitter is the discovery, you know, the algorithmic based platform that I chose to grow this year. Like, I think I started the year at like 30,000 follow. , as recording at like 91,000, you know, so I’m like, can I get to a hundred thousand right there?
Get in there. but if, you know, it’s like if he burns that to the ground, I’m gonna like, well damn it, . Okay.
I put in all this effort.
So ho hopefully that doesn’t happen, but, but that is the thing of like, of pulling it off to email and going that in that direction. one, one thing that I wanted to ask you about is just on the revenue side of what’s, you’re pretty open with revenue of like tweeting about how much you’re, making from Notion and, and all of that.
So first, could you share some of the stats, cause that our listeners are, are gonna love that. And then I’m curious how things break down in your business of like, you know, when you have a channel of your size, like what types of money making opportunities are there and, and what’s working.
Yeah. So I’ll go through the things that I’m doing and then we can talk about maybe other potential options or things I should maybe look into in the future. So right now, by far our top revenue driver is our Notion templates. So there are two of those. the one that’s probably most. Interesting to this audience is Creator’s Companion, which is a, a distillation and a basically a software product of the custom content planning system that my team and I developed over three, four years starting in 2018.
And so that was basically like us realizing project management software does not serve video creators quite as well as it could, because you can manage the project and then you click it off and it’s done. And when some of them will be like, go away after a while. Well, when you’re a video creator, you have a video that goes through the stages of ideation and script writing and research, and then shot, you know, shooting and post-production, but then it becomes a library.
Where in many cases we’re going back and we were like, oh, hey, we did this great slider shot of an iPad. I really wanna pull that shot for this new video we’re working on. What video was that in? So in Notion I, I developed this full pipeline from I can easily record ideas then that I can apply a template for writing my script and getting all my B-roll and shot lists.
And then I can mark it off as done and it goes into an archive of finished videos where I can easily see like, okay, where on the server is this video? Or where was that shot? We got, what video was that in? And all the information is. So I, I created that as a, basically a product and put that out. and then there’s Ultimate Brain, which is the more personal productivity focused general template.
It’s cheaper, it is. It’s just tasks, notes, projects. It’s way less biased. The only real biases it has is it uses Tiago Forte’s Para for, organizing everything. And then there is G T D, though it’s optional. So that one is actually the main revenue driver. I think Ultimate Brain has done like six to 700,000 in revenue since it launched in April.
And Creator’s Companion is, is much smaller. I decided to do a bundle of the two, and the bundle basically like killed sales of the un-bundled versions of Creator Companion , which is actually a very good thing. That’s what I wanted. so people either buy Ultimate Brain alone or they buy the Bundle and we’re closing in on a million dollars total sales.
And in general, we do like around a hundred thousand dollars a month, sometimes better. Depends on the kind of content I’m putting out.
So that’s just templates. And then, that’s kind of where most of our effort goes in. And then we just have like the other income sources that have either established themselves as passive income drivers or just are a part of the funnel.
So that includes things like YouTube, a, AdSense, because I make productivity business software content, our CPMs are quite high. my main channel, even though I haven’t published in 10, 11 months now, it still continues to get views. It’s a lot of evergreen topics. So that’ll make us like about 10 k a month in absence revenue.
And then we’ve got, we’ve got like Skillshare courses. We have, watch time Revenue from Nebula, which is a streaming service that I part own.
We have like affiliate things on our blogs, so there’s quite a few different income sources, but like by far the Lion Share is coming from templates Now.
Yeah. you talked about CPMs for a second. I’m curious, what, what are you seeing on CPMs for your channel versus, I dunno if you picked like a gaming channel or a fashion channel like some other, like across YouTube?
So I don’t have a gaming channel, but when you go on like Social Blade, I, I think they, they like estimate a 50 cents to $4 average c p M window and I think their income projections are based off of that. and you can go check on, on Social Blade to see with Thomas. Frank explains, our average CPM is around $29.
And on the regular Thomas Frank channel it’s like 15. So it really depends on the content and, and sometimes people don’t understand this or like a view should be a view or the big one is they’ll, they’ll come to our CEO and they’ll be like, well, how much could you get me for a sponsor on a million views?
And it’s like, you know, that doesn’t really tell me anything. The examples I always use are like Philly D makes. Kind of like current events content. It’s very drama based. It’s like, oh, you know, what did Elon do this time? Anybody would wanna watch that? It’s like drama, but it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to like, you know, you have a primed audience for any individual product.
Contrast that to our mutual friend Matt Jai, who runs Swim University’s got a channel on that. It’s, you know, it’s gotten fairly big. It’s like a hundred K subscribers. If he even gets 10,000 views on a video, that’s 10,000 pool owners. Nobody’s watching how to open your pool for the spring unless they own a pool.
So if I’m running like a robot pool cleaner company and I’m like, I want to advertise on Philly d and I wanna advertise on Matt, if Matt gets 10,000 views on a video and Philly D gets a million, I might pay them the same because that million views over on Philly D’S video, I might only have 10,000 pool owners there,
And also they’re not primed to buy a robotic pool cleaner when they’re, or watching the juicy drama about
But if they’re watching the how to open up your pool for the spring video, you’ve, you’ve done half the priming work for me. I’ll just sponsor you and people are just gonna buy
Yeah, it’s super interesting, right? Because you’d be in the same space with productivity tools or, or that sort of thing. If
Hey, I have this Notion add on, then like, I wanna sponsor your channel and I don’t care about the pool channel , you know, or
Be very funny. Sponsoring a pool channel for a Notion tool
You know, you could, you need your schedule and what chemicals you’re adding.
You could, someone could make a Notion template.
Could do a, you could definitely do a Notion Pool template and maybe I will now, cause I know Matt, he’d probably sell the hell out of it for me.
Oh, that’d be interesting. Okay, so we were talking about crossovers earlier. If you were like, Hey, I’m the Notion guy. This is what I’m doing. I, I know how to make and sell templates. I know how to make them really good. A crossover that you could do is take that product then to a whole bunch of niche creators and say, Hey, I will partner with you on,
I, I don’t know if how well this would work, right?
But you go to Matt and say, Hey, let’s make this, this, Notion pool template, pool maintenance template, and then we’ll split the, the revenue 50 50. And you could go, this is probably less valuable for you since you have like the audience and level of revenue already. But if someone was like, Hey, I’m really good at Notion and I don’t have an audience, then that’s a way that you could go around and borrow a bunch of other people’s audiences,
Yeah, and I mean, that’s just a remix on a common model already. I get emails about this all the time. It’s like, Hey, we run a a bespoke course creation company. We don’t really have an audience, but we’ll create a course for you and then you’ll get 60% of the revenue, hands-off, no work. You know, which is very much like just a smaller version of, of the bigger thing where businesses are basically partnering with celebrities.
And celebrities are just taking a big cut of the company o often without a whole doing a whole lot. I think like, you know, maybe a good example of this is aviation
Ryan Reynolds put a lot into that, but there’s a lot of other ones where the celebrity just like takes a cut and does nothing.
Post a photo on Instagram every so often, drinking it, you know, or, or yeah. Some other, some other little plug, which I’m always curious, and we get into that a whole bunch, but, and I wrote this article, the Billion Dollar Creator, which is about this idea of what’s the highest leverage place that you could drive this
And so, I mean, it’s interesting for you, you, you’ve made things in our partners in things like Standard, which is this creator collective. How would you describe Standard
So I would describe it now as Nebula, cuz we’re sort of like shifting all branding over to Nebula. and the reason for that is, our streaming service Nebula is kind of like the big thing now, but yeah. So Nebula is a creator collective. we do several things. The big one being, Nebula.tv, which is our streaming app.
It’s just called Nebu. I’m just shooting out the. Dave will get on me if I say it’s called Nebula.tv. but it’s basically our streaming service where not only does our YouTube content go up early and add free, but there are also originals. So there’s like original documentaries, original series. my friend Joseph has one called Modern Conflicts, which is amazing.
It’s like content that would absolutely get demonetized on YouTube. It’s like covering wars that are actually going on now, or very recent things like that.
So wouldn’t really work on YouTube. Nebula makes it a place where it can work. And then there’s this great synergy where Joseph can promote our streaming service on YouTube as a sponsor and basically say like, you want more of me?
Here it is over here. So there’s that, and then we have our, our talent division, which is kind of what started everything. And that’s we book sponsors for creators. We are, one of the few that does exclusive representation, which means we actually represent the creator and are obligated to get the best deal for them.
A a lot of these agencies that kind of play the field both ways don’t do that. we also push for data is another big thing. So I often know like how many conversions I got from a sponsor, which, for people in, you know, the, our world that’s like table stakes we’re for, from a mil affiliate marketing and email.
We’re like, we know how many clicks we got. We know what our, EPC is and all that kind of stuff. in, in the influencer world, like most people have no idea how those sponsored spots did. I would say a lot of them don’t care. They’re just like, How many views can I get $10,000 sponsorship for? but we’ll actually be able to say like, oh, this sponsor got double the conversions of your last video for them.
Let’s see what you did right. And repeat it. And so the talent division has done very well for that. And then we do some other things. We put together events, like premieres for Jet Lags new season. That was really cool. We packed out a theater for that. There’s a, a production division, so creators can get assistance from branding to research, to editing, motion graphics, all kinds of stuff.
Our ceo Dave will just basically say it’s like a toolbox for creators, and I would agree with that. and then I think our best thing is, is our Slack. We have an internal slack, so there’s just constant feedback being given, discussions being had. and that’s incredibly valuable. For just one example, like no standard creator ever ran a spot for better.
And then the whole better help thing, like the huge controversy kicked off. No standard creator ever ran a spot for established titles. and, you know, a couple of months ago, everyone who was doing established title spots was getting called out for basically promoting a scam. And, and the reason that we kind of stick, stay away from that stuff is anytime there’s a potential sponsor, it’ll get brought to the Slack.
And, you know, whoever’s bringing up will be like, Hey, what do you think of this company? Do you have any experience? Do you have any thoughts? And we have enough thoughtful people that anything that’s shady is gonna get flagged.
Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah. You have this brain trust behind the
And someone might be like, oh, you know, I actually had a friend who did a deal with them and it went terribly, or whatever
That’s interesting. Whereas like three people working behind the scenes, you know, to book deals or something aren’t gonna have that level of brain trust.
And if there’s not that connection there, like the people working behind the scenes, it’s really up to them. And like, Yeah, I’ll say less their level of integrity. That is part of it, but also like the long-term vision because there are definitely people out there who are like, I want to book as many and as big of spots for you now, so I can get a big cut of that now.
And then it would be up to them to, to really put into effect the long-term strategy.
Doing it, the community style, how we do it. Like we don’t just have creators who are super business minded. We have a lot of creators who are kind of like in other spaces. We have creators who make content unlike socialism
We often have tension and that’s, I think, a, a good
Because we’ll have like really good debates, deep debates about things and come to what ends up being the best conclusion.
Yeah. I like it. That’s, that’s interesting. How do you think about it growing from, I, I’m curious, as you were in on the early days and, and helping to found this, like long term from your net worth, like what do you think is gonna come from revenue that you’re driving, you know, from your channel, Notion templates, you know, that I assume you’re saving and investing that money Well, and all of that versus the other side of like building something massive in Nebula.
On paper, like my net worth looks big, and that is mainly because of Nebula evaluation.
I, I’m familiar with that, that specific,
I, I imagine you are as well. It’s like, oh, convert kit’s probably worth a hundred million or something like that. It’s like, damn, I’m, I’m worth 50 million. But my bank account says 500,000, which is still pretty good. It’s not 50 million. so I don’t think my net worth is 50 million, but it’s like on paper somewhere in the millions, mostly due to Nebula evaluation on my steak there.
But my steak is highly illiquid. and also I don’t. . I, I wonder if this is like a common thing that gets talked about in like circles of, of people who’ve sort of made it in tech or made it in the industry. Like you get to a point where you’ve made enough money for you and then it shifts to, you know, I think if your head is in the right place, how do I empower my team to meet their financial goals?
Which is harder cuz there are a lot of them. and then for certain people, I do think, like it becomes a score thing. Like they just want to build the biggest thing possible or build a big net worth. Personally, I don’t care about that. I, I, I want to be like, basically an academic. I like teaching people technical things.
I, I do like money. I like being able to not have to worry about what I’m buying at the grocery store. So if I can be in the middle of like that, like make enough money to never care, but basically get to just make free stuff all day. I’m happy.
Care if my net worth goes up that much.
Yeah. I, I like that intersection. And I like what you’re saying about, you know, helping your team. Like, one of my personal goals is to help everyone on my team get to financial independence, and
We’re well on that track, but there’s certain decisions that we make at ConvertKit that may not make sense on the outside, but when viewed through that lens, you’re like, oh, I get it, you know?
Which I, I’ve read your threads on that, and they’ve been very insightful and, and very informative for things that we’ve done or will be doing with our
I love it. That’s, that’s half the goal. , with writing those threats. Half is to get attention from me and ultimately mark it. And then the other half is so that people will copy it and it’s like, please take this and run with it. Or like build on it where someone’s like, Hey, I did that. It didn’t work so well.
Here’s the version that works really well for us. I’m like, I mean, exactly what you’re saying, what you said earlier of like, I’m just copying stuff from other people. I’m like, that seems interesting. Like let me pull my version of that and give it, try and then report back. let’s talk about this government thing cuz , it just happened.
My Saturday was a little different than I
Oh, I know
Like I woke up and there was a, you know, like Slack message from the team that’s in Europe and they were like, this could be interesting, you know, And then I
For you, it’s like opportunity
It’s a big opportunity. I mean, I responded to. Literally a hundred dms about it.
My tweet about it got, I don’t know what a Twitter impression’s worth, but you know, there was a, Twitter says a million impressions on that one tweet about here’s the price increase, here’s why you should go to convert at
Well again, and let’s comment that for a second. Again, like the, the number of impressions don’t matter.
It’s how many dms did you get?
Yeah. Well, and then how many dms can I convert? , and at this point, I think I’m at, lemme check the numbers. 40, 40 people have filled out our form, asking, or as of last night, I should check. It’s probably different this morning, asking us to migrate their products from, from gumbo to convert commerce.
Oh, that’s incredible.
Like, okay, in the funnel, but then ultimately like what’s the level of GMV that each one drives? And, all of that.
But also, what’s the network effect going forward? You’ve got 40 new people who, if you serve them well become evangelists for your product, and that that was something I was trying to point out to Gumroad, but also to my followers in general. And my threat is I don’t understand why they’re going to this incredibly high flat fee.
And there’s no incentive to be a big, a big seller on the platform
You have just destroyed the val. The value of network effects for yourself, nobody with any size of an audience now is ever going to recommend your product if they’re not on it,
And there’s no one center to be on it.
So like I get their, their approach of like, we’re not making money. If we take everything they said at at face value, it’s like, look, this is too tight of a margin business. I think what I would’ve done in their case is come to you and a bunch of other big creators and been like, look, the 3% that you’re paying, we’re not making money on it.
Can we go to 3.5? Will that work?
Yeah. And if they had done that, I would’ve been like, yes, fine. And so one thing I’ll point out is hopefully a bit more constructive criticism for their team. I don’t think Gumroad has done a great job at Community Engagement, and I think they, they’ve always had an opportunity to build a relationship with their top sellers and have not done it.
And I’m kind of spoiled because, you know, I’m in the Notion ecosystem. Notion has some of the best community building and support of any company that I have ever seen. They do an utterly amazing job of it. it’s part of the reason why they’re doing so.
A lot of, I see a lot of other companies, like, they’re like bragging about their social media marketing strategy and it kind of breaks down to like putting gifts and threads.
Meanwhile, like Notion literally has two people on staff, like two full-time employees and their main job is to like, help creators book events and, and build community. It’s like all they do all day long, they’re incredible.
Shout out to Francesco. Mainly he’s, I think he’s like the main guy who’s doing that at this point.
And then Emma is the newer one as well. So, you know, I’ve always perceived like I’m doing all this volume for Gumroad. I’ve never heard from them. I’ve never had them Ray out be like, Hey, do you wanna like do something more on the Discover marketplace that would benefit them? Never heard anything. So I just, I just don’t think they prioritize community support, which also means that they’re not getting feedback from their community, specifically their top seller.
And that’s just, you know, I, I just don’t think that’s a good long-term strategy. So you mentioned like they weren’t making money and that is what they presented in their board meeting? I think Sahil had said like, you know, if you’re at the 3% tier or if you’re over a million dollars in sales, it was a 2.9% tier flat, not even the 30 cents.
So I, I think he had said like, almost all that money is going to the payment processor.
Which, which I kind of swallowed Hook Lion Sinker. A few people had pointed out in my replies that when you’re doing big volume with payment processors, you can usually negotiate a bulk rate. So it’s not like Gumroad is taking 3% from me and then paying 2.9 plus 30 cents to Stripe.
They would actually lose money on that deal. I don’t know what they’ve negotiated it down to, but I do, I did hear from a, a larger business colleague of mine who said his company had negotiated down to 2%.
Two percent’s pretty rare in these days, but,
It might be rare now. , but like you’re still making a percent spread if you do have that deal locked in.
ConvertKit, for example, is paying 2.3% on blended,
2.3 to 2.5, depending on the card type.
So if you’re getting, you know, you’re getting 3.5%, you’re still, you’re making about a percent there, if not more. The other thing is, so you mentioned like, well, you know, that’s the justification. I’ve seen this, a zillion times in the last year where businesses are like, what can you do? Inflation’s making our prices going up, and then they like actually jack their price up, like double what it would actually have to be.
It’s not consummate with inflation. It’s an excuse to raise prices more than they need. and then blame it on something else. And, and I, that was my read on it. It’s like, okay, there are many competitors in the industry that are doing just fine with four, five, 6%, immediately going from the lowest price in the, in the industry to the highest price bar, none the highest price.
I don’t think you can justify it by saying, we’re not making money. You know, so, so my read on this is, you know, maybe some things happen, maybe
They come out with this and they, the whole intention was to backtrack it so it looks better. Who knows? , the anchoring effect is a very powerful thing in psychology.
I use it to great effect on my pricing page. you did as well. I remember buying the second edition of authority and being anchored by the third edition. also very much wanted that launch plan pdf you included in the second edition. so maybe they backtrack, maybe they do. The other thing is, you know, if, if I’m trying to like model the brain space of Sawhill and trying to like think through why he would make this decision, my one thought is
Maybe they’re in a cashflow crunch and even like three, four months at this pricing, if they get enough people to not leave at 12.9%, so they’re taking a full 10%.
That’s a lot of money in the bank.
Recurring transactions, if you’re running a membership
Like, you can’t migrate that payment without the card
And so there’s gonna be a, a lot of, you know, say you’re running a $25 a month membership, that like a lot of creators might say, Hey, I’m switching my new thing, but these 500 creators are gonna keep paying that $25 a month and I’m not moving it.
Yep. So is, you know, I, I, again, I I think greater than 50% probability, they walk back the pricing to something more sane.
But maybe they do this for three, four months until, and, and they make 10% off everybody who stays for three or four months. That’s a lot of money in the bank, you know, and, and maybe, I don’t know.
My, my first thought was, oh, they want to get acquired, so they’re trying to juice short-term, monthly recurring revenue. and then I actually watched part of the board meeting video, didn’t watch the whole thing because it’s a freaking hour long. They didn’t do any good marketing on it. It’s, it’s just an hour long Zoom call, but skipped around and found a part where Sawhill was like, sustainability means not looking for an
And I don’t know if that’s like a shrewd way of trying to make us think that they’re not looking for an exit. Cause he didn’t outright say, we aren’t looking for an exit.
Texted him and was like, Hey man, like we’ll buy Gumroad. As I, I’ve had that, I mean, I got my start on Gumroad, like big fan of the
From the early days. And so I, I’ve like steadily told him like, I will happily buy Gumroad and at every time, and I think he’s sincere on this, he’s like, I have no interest in selling.
You know, and I hope so, cuz I, I like seeing, you know, a passionate founder want to stick to a sustainable business. Absolutely love saying that. Don’t love seeing a, a big, you know, VC firm buy things. cuz that’s when they start putting the squeeze on creators. Cause I, I think, I would argue we’re seeing that with Patreon, their fees are massive.
And, and creators eat them because I, I think in many cases they don’t understand what their alternatives are, or they just perceive that there’s a big switching cost or there’s a big network effect. Patreon has a lot of brand recognition, you know, so they accept that they’re paying like 10% or more,
There’s, there’s a lot of other competitive options.
Yeah, there are, and you’ve got a nice, Notion sheet on there. I will definitely, always plug, convert at commerce just because, that is literally my job,
Well, I know you’ve probably got to jump something else, I do as well. But it’s always fun to dive in on what’s going on in the creator ecosystem, because you’re right, there’s a ton of options out there.
There’s a lot of ways that you can—if you need to—change prices or make some other change. There are a lot of ways you can communicate that to your customers.
So, where should people go to follow your channel, subscribe on Twitter, any of those things, where you share your work?
If you wanna connect with me directly, I’m still on Twitter as long as Twitter’s around: @TomFrankly. If you’re interested in learning Notion, my passion and mission right now is building a full, end-to-end, free educational offering of content for that. You can find it at thomasjfrank.com or Thomas Frank Explains on YouTube, or Nebula. I gotta plug Nebula.
See, we both have our things that we’ve got to plug.
Because that equity, we gotta grow those businesses.
Thomas, thanks for hanging out.
Thank you for having me on the show, Nathan.