Jonathan Levi is an experienced entrepreneur, angel investor, and lifehacker from Silicon Valley. Since 2014, Jonathan has been one of the top-performing instructors on Udemy and is excited to drop value bombs on Fire Nation today!
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Worst Entrepreneur Moment
- Jonathan left his 7-figure business to get his MBA. He met a lot of cool people, started a really cool project with them, they left, the product flopped, and he fled to Israel. Moral of the story? Tune in!
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- The purpose of life is to be happy. Period.
Small Business Resource
- FollowUpThen.cc: Free & Easy Email Reminder
Best Business Book
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Interviewer: Jonathan is an experienced entrepreneur, angel investor and lifehacker from Silicon Valley. Since 2014 he’s been one of the top performing instructors on Udemy and is excited to drop value bombs on Fire Nation today. Jonathan, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse into your personal life.
Interviewee: Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, thank you for having me on the show, John. It’s a pleasure and an honor. To give you a little background about myself, I have been in entrepreneurship honestly since I could reach the kitchen counter; actually before. I never really had the opportunity to have a role model of a day-to-day employee, a kind of salaried employee.
So I thought growing up that you started businesses any time you wanted to make money or buy a new car or have any pocket change so did a bunch of stuff growing up, tried everything under the sun, DJing, web design. None of it really worked but it all set me up with these wonderfully educational failures that I rolled into a business when I was 16 years old selling luxury car parts, believe it or not. Yeah, kind of crazy. A really cool business when you’re 16, not as cool when you’re 23 to be selling car parts on the internet.
So I graduated college, decided look, I can do this about another year but after that year decided to sell the company, you know, a small business doing a few million in revenue. Sold it, did some angel investing, applied to business school, finished business school, tried a start-up. That didn’t work and decided hey I learned this really cool skill in anticipation of business school which is accelerated learning, memory and speed-reading and all my friends had been asking me about it.
So, I decided I would translate the materials from the language I studied in to English and create some videos, put them on the side until I figured out what my next entrepreneurial venture would be.
Lo and behold, fast forward a couple years and 40,000 students later I’m still teaching online courses, publishing books, podcasts, thanks to a lot of your materials, John. And now getting into teaching people how to create multi-platform brands, teaching people about how to create these wonderful brands that people like you and I can be experts on the internet and we can teach people a lot of valuable stuff. So that’s where I’m going with it today.
Interviewer: Awesome man. Well, I’m stoked that the podcasting has been an inspiration to you because I just think it’s going to be a great way for you to kind of get your message out there into the world because I’m looking at your Udemy page and man it’s impressive, to say the least.
Interviewee: Thank you.
Interviewer: I mean, you’ve done a lot of courses; you have a lot of students that have gone through. Some of them have gone through and will become a speed demon, productivity tricks to have more time, become a travel wizard, and become a super learner. I mean 37,000 students in that one alone. I mean awesome stuff and Fire Nation, you’re obviously in the right place if you’re looking to learn a little more about how can I take skills, knowledge, and information that I have in my head and put it out there into the world to really make an impact in a powerful way.
So Jonathan, right now, today, if you’re at a networking party in Silicon Valley and somebody walks up to you and says, “What do you do? How do you respond in 10 seconds?
Interviewee: Oh, I think like all entrepreneurs on your show I hate that question so I usually reply with some kind of witty kind of comfort shifting, get people out of their comfort zone, answer like all kinds of stuff or whatever I see fit that day. People push a little bit further, I’ll say I’m an author, entrepreneur and I teach online courses.
If people really are looking for a kind of a specific answer I say I run a media company that publishes content in different media formats.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about the brass tacks here and for entrepreneurs that typically is revenue that’s generating dollars and cents. We can keep doing what we’re doing; amplify our message, our mission to the world. Today how are you generating revenue?
Interviewee: Yes. So right now the majority of my revenue actually comes from Udemy. They’re 60 to 75 percent of my revenue personally and significantly more if you take the business. I also have a side business doing software but that’s kind of a very small thing that has kept me through hard times and continues to be a nice little side project.
But the majority of the revenue is through paid courses on Udemy. I don’t believe in giving away free online courses at least. I’ll give away an e-book once in a while but the majority is from there and then, of course, there’s the e-books. I recently took your course actually John on Udemy on how to monetize podcasts. Well, the podcast is predominantly honestly for my own personal enjoyment and fulfillment. I am getting to the point where I’m going to start monetizing it.
Interviewer: Good for you. That’s exciting. One thing I do have a question about Udemy is like how specifically can you stop them from doing those like blitz $1.00, $2.00, like $10.00 sales? Is there a way to do that?
Interviewee: Definitely. I mean you can opt into those programs. What I teach in the new course I have coming up is you don’t really want to because as you know John it’s all about getting people into your ecosystem, it’s all about getting people to be aware of you so for me I’m happy for people to take my courses as long as they pay 10 bucks. That’s my minimum and I told you they e-mail me, hey can we sell your course 15, okay fine. Can we sell your course 10? Okay, fine. I drew the line there.
So they’re not selling my course anywhere below $10.00 and that’s pretty rare. Usually it’s in the $19.00 to $29.00 range.
Interviewer: Yeah, because Udemy is looking to make money, too.
Interviewee: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. So I draw the line – a couple times a year it goes for 10 bucks but in reality I want them to sell it for 10 bucks. I want to reach as many people as I can with this message. I want to inspire as many people and of course you know one of the main things that really pivoted me into creating one of these how-to courses – I didn’t want to be somebody saying how I make $10,000 a month or $20,000 a month on Udemy but I decided finally to create a course which is how I create an ecosystem because as you know a lot of these different environments don’t allow you to say collect e-mail addresses.
So you have to be kind of really clever and smart about how you transition people from being your Udemy student or customer to being a fan of your brand. It’s just like podcasting. You have to be smart about how am I going to get people to check out the site? How am I going to provide value to get people to my website where they can subscribe and be a member of Fire Nation, for example?
Interviewer: Right and that’s so huge, Fire Nation, getting people into your world. No matter how you can do that because if you can get them into your world, get them onto your e-mail list, have them as a qualified lead, a qualified buyer. In the case of Udemy when they’re buying a course for $10.00 they’re a qualified buyer. They’ve taken out their wallet. They’re willing to invest in your course, your product, your service. That’s huge. You can continue to market to them for as long as they stay on that list. I mean, they can unsubscribe at any time but they’ve already raised their hand. You’re looking at prime opportunities.
So Jonathan, let’s shift to your journey now. You’ve done a lot of good things since 2014. You’ve been one of the top performing instructors at Udemy but it’s not always roses. It’s not always rainbows and sun shining through the clouds and we have our difficult times, too. I want you to take us to what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment thus far in your entrepreneurial journey. And John really tell us that story. Take us to that moment in time.
Interviewee: Oh, man. I may have a hard time picking them because I give a lecture John called Fail Harder Fail Faster and I give it typically to a lot of Korean, Chinese entrepreneurs who come from cultures where failure is not really accepted. The message there is basically I’m only standing up here lecturing and sounding smart because I’ve failed so much. So picking one failure alone is tricky.
But I would say probably the most poignant and life altering, and this will get ahead to the aha moment so I’ll try not to spoil it, was after business school, you know, I go to business school with the intention of building a bigger business. I sold this multi-million dollar company. I said this isn’t big enough. Went against what mom and dad said, “You have this great business that’s working well, why sell it?”
Sold it, spent about $100,000.00 on this MBA, met some really smart people, built this project together, was getting ready to try and raise money, the other people drop out of the project. So I plug ahead. I’m going to do this. This is a dream of mine, I want to do the venture backed start-up, decide to back to the Valley instead of Israel which is kind of my happy place.
So fine, I’ll compromise, I’ll spend a few years in the Valley, try to see where this thing goes, spend three months, four months, five months, six months and the thing is just going nowhere. Just not getting off the ground. I’m minus $100,000.00 on my ROI, really just beaten down by this whole thing and in a place that I don’t want to live, doing things that I don’t want to do, raising money, doing sales calls and that was it. I didn’t know where to go from there.
So I said, you know what? I can’t do anything if I’m not coming from a place of happiness and coming from a place of joy. Nothing is going to be successful even if it’s the right product, the right opportunity, the right time; it’s just not going to work if I’m miserable.
So I packed up and left. I went to Tel Aviv. I said, you know what, I’ll figure something out and I did. And that something, the next project I did was Super learner.
Interviewer: Now Jonathan, this is something I want to kind of dwell on for a second here because it’s so important and I’m always referencing the book The Dip by Seth Godin because he puts it so eloquently but a lot of people misinterpret it so dangerously. They feel like The Dip all about just persevering, being persistent, getting through the tough times because that golden nugget awaits you at the end of that rainbow, whatever that might be.
To me that is part of the book for sure but I think a key distinguisher that a lot of people miss is that a huge part of that book is about hey, sometimes when you’re digging in a hole the only way to get out is to stop digging. And Jonathan you would look in the mirror and call a spade a spade and say hey, I’m unhappy, I’m in Silicon Valley where I don’t want to be. This product is not succeeding. I’m doing things day-to-day that aren’t fun for me. I want to go back to my happy place. I want to start creating something from a place of passion, excitement and happiness not from a place of desperation, loneliness and sadness.
It just makes sense when you put it that way, Fire Nation, but how many of you are doing that very thing right now that Jonathan was doing in Silicon Valley? So that’s my big takeaway Johnathan from your really worst moments kind of series in your life.
What do you think about that? And give Fire Nation a big takeaway as well that you want to make sure that we get.
Interviewee: I think that’s spot on. I think a big part of it is, understanding that you choose to be an entrepreneur to make certain choices that other people can’t make whether that’s what products am I going to work on? Whether that’s how am I doing to structure my day? Am I going to take a nap in the middle of the day? Am I going to work from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.? You choose entrepreneurship to have a certain level of freedom and the most basic of those freedoms should be doing things you love, right?
There are so many people out there working in consulting and they love the work itself but they hate this one part where they have to file their expense reports. As entrepreneurs we can say this is my job description, this is where it ends, this is where I’m going to hire people to do the things I don’t want to do and you can decide, you know, what products am I going to build?
A great example of this is I’ve been told for a year now that I should be doing webinars. Well, I don’t know that I want to do webinars and I have that choice. So I think if you’re going to work as hard as you are to be an entrepreneur you’re going to go through the stress and the anxiety of wondering am I going to make payroll this month. You should be able to exchange that stress and that anxiety and that extra work for a level of freedom and satisfaction with your work that other people don’t get or are unlikely to get.
So for me entrepreneurship is a way of choosing my lifestyle and choosing the way I want my life to look, more than anything.
Interviewer: You should be doing webinars.
Interviewee: I know, I know, I know. I’m actually literally have your tab open on my browser for the last two days and I guess I was researching our chat and getting ready. I was like, man, I’m embarrassed, and I’ve got to get on it. So I have your tab open. I’m going to take your course.
Interviewer: Good for you, man. No, honestly, it really does come down to does it feel right? Does it feel right? Because no matter how much time and effort you’re going to put into a webinar if it just doesn’t feel right it’s going to come across so clearly on the webinar and it’s not going to perform. But the reality is, and I’ve just seen this over and over again, there is this kind of invisible fear that people have of even just starting the webinar because it is kind of like a public speaking engagement that a lot of people have as a No. 1 phobia which is understandable.
And the reality is once people do their first webinar they’re like, “Oh, my God. I’ve seen the light. I want to do these every week.” And I did one a week in 2014. I could not get enough of them. But that’s me and again it’s not for everybody but I’ll be interested to see what you think after you learn a little bit more because it will definitely be beneficial to your business in the short term for sure but we’re talking long term if it’s not for you. So it’s something to explore but Fire Nation is always keep your finger on that pulse.
Interviewee: Exactly and it’s ironic, you know. I really enjoy doing Meerkats.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah.
Interviewee: I think the issue for me is for people to pay for something that’s live, it’s not a Meer Kat where it’s off the cuff and I’m drinking a glass of wine and it’s not a course where I’ve structured the content so specifically that it goes through this beautifully crafted flow.
I spend hours and hours just thinking about the story line of my courses. It’s something in between and I think that’s what’s making me uncomfortable. But you’re right; I’ve got to face it.
Interviewer: Why, are you going to charge for your webinars?
Interviewee: I don’t know. That’s the next question.
Interviewer: I’ve never done a charge webinar so all my webinars have always been completely free and then I give a strong call to action to join either a Podcasters’ Paradise or Webinar on Fire at the end of the webinars but it’s 45 minutes to an hour of just free valuable contents and I’ve enjoyed that.
Interviewer: But hey, on the flip side people like Chris Brogan do paid webinars and do great as well. So there’s pros and cons to both and I’d even dabble into that a little bit as well.
But Jonathan I want to kind of shift into another story and this one is going to be an epiphany, an aha moment that you’ve had at some point in your entrepreneurial journey. So pick the one that you think is really going to resonate most with our listeners and tell that story.
Interviewee: All right. So I perfectly led up to this if I may say so myself with a misery story and I find that most of your most aha moments come after your most miserable moments. And the aha moment for me was being raised in Silicon Valley I always had this belief that I was going to go to business school, finish up, go through a venture backed start-up, run a billion dollar business, sell out for gajillions of dollars or go public, right? That’s the trajectory when you look around and you see the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Steve Jobs which are right up the street.
Interviewer: One percent of people actually succeed at that and it’s good.
Interviewee: Bingo. But that should be the goal, right? If you’re the Silicon Valley quote, unquote, tech person. My aha moment was when I started making sales I remember when I realized that this course was actually going to make money. It was in the third week and I had flown off to Switzerland for a ski trip and I managed to get Wi-Fi and I checked my phone and I saw like a few thousand dollars in sales. It was on Udemy so it’s not my own platform. I don’t control it, you know. My last business had my name on the door and the website was named after me, my nickname.
I was like, you know, am I going to be in TechCrunch for this? No. Am I going to be in Wired magazine? No. Am I making more money than I need to live while I’m on the ski slope here? So my first business wasn’t even fully passive. Even my software wasn’t. But this one was fully passive.
I was standing there on the ski slope, Udemy was doing all the paid marketing, they were doing all the customer service, they were doing all the payments, they were doing all the accounting. I just got a nice neat PayPal payment at the end of the month, right?
Then a few days after that I started getting e-mails. Like, hey, this course is amazing. I’m already noticing improvements in my memory. The aha moment John was how much of my quote, unquote, ambition to be a successful entrepreneur, to be in TechCrunch to, as we say in the Valley, to change the world. I don’t know if you watch Silicon Valley. How much of that quote, unquote, ambition was actually ego, right? And me needing to prove something to myself or prove something to others? Versus conversely I hope I’ve impacted the lives of 40,000 people who pay me a damn good living and do I need to be recognized the world over?
Do I need to have that ego boost of being recognized by millions of people and running a billion dollar business? And that I should also say even in that first month I was making the same amount running this business where I’m essentially one of 30,000 instructors on Udemy. I was making the same amount as I was making my own multi-million dollar business and working almost not at all.
Today I make three times as much as I made running my business and I don’t do the marketing and I don’t have to sign paychecks. I don’t have many employees. So that was the aha, separating your ego from your ambition.
Interviewer: Now Jonathan, let’s take that, separating the ego from the ambition and let’s lead that into the one thing you are the most fired up about right now, today. What is that?
Interviewee: Oh, that’s a good question. I have a lot to learn from you John. That’s a good question. I’ll tell you what, I have a bucket list as I think everyone should and my bucket list is a lot of token experiences but it’s also a lot of life milestones. The next one on my list after sell a company, after learn four languages, after all these wonderful great things is a really, really tricky one which is I want to positively impact the daily lives of one million plus people.
Now I had no illusions about selling car parts. That is not going to positively impact even one person’s life. Do you know what I mean? Like, we’re selling luxury wheels, how much of an impact is that? I tried to go the route of working with start-ups in development in Africa and I realized it’s actually pretty hard to impact a million people unless you’re a runaway success story. But I think with this publishing books if I can get a solid publishing deal or I can expand this course a little bit further beyond Udemy I think this might be my path to checking that off my goal.
Someone asked me today actually, “Well what are you going to do after you reach a million people?” I have no idea but I think it’s going to be a pretty uphill battle to impact a million people’s lives. So I’m pretty excited about that. I’m ready to rise to the challenge.
Interviewer: One major milestone at a time Fire Nation and I think a million impacted lives is just that. So we’re about to impact some lives in the lightning round Jonathan but before we get there let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors.
Jonathan are you prepared for the lighting round?
Interviewee: You know I am, John.
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Interviewee: To be honest and it’s a little bit of a sarcastic answer but I wasn’t old enough to found businesses when I discovered entrepreneurship. So I’d have my dad hold my hand and tell me, “You can’t just go out there and call yourself [inaudible] [00:20:15] or Web Design. There are legal steps that you need to go to be able to use that name legally.”
So my first few businesses my dad was kind enough to explain that to me and register but to be honest I consider myself very fortunate that most of my role models in my life were self-employed.
Interviewer: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Interviewee: I think the best advice I’ve ever received and it indirectly came from the Dali Lama’s book and it said that the purpose of life is to be happy, period. Everything else is serving that end or at least that’s how I’ve interpreted it. I mean building a family, building relationships with friends, building your business, earning money, everything else is to serve that purpose. So happiness is first for me and I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever received.
Interviewer: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Interviewee: I exercise. I exercise religiously. I don’t think I’ve taken more than a week off in the last 12, 13 years.
Interviewer: Now what constitutes exercise for you?
Interviewee: Currently I’m a pretty hard CrossFit devotee so it’s high intensity, interval training, a little bit of cardio, a lot of weight lifting. But any movement practice that gets you sweating and the more I learn about the brain through the accelerated learning stuff the more I learn that besides sleep, exercise and diet are the most important things you can do.
Interviewer: So true. Do you know how to tell somebody that’s doing CrossFit?
Interviewee: Yeah because they talk about it, right?
Interviewer: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
Interviewee: They will tell you.
Interviewer: Do you have an internet resource like Evernote that you can share with our listeners?
Interviewee: Yeah, I hope you guys haven’t discovered this one yet but it’s brilliant. It’s called FollowUpThen. Have you found this one?
Interviewee: Oh, I’m so excited to be the one that breaks this on your show John. So basically what you do, you know, someone says to you, great example in podcasting, “Hey, I can’t do this week. Contact me in a month after I’m done with my book tour and I’ll get back to you.” So normally you have to go into your task list or your calendar or your Asana or whatever you’re using to manage your podcast or whatever. It’s just an example. You have to create that reminder and blah-blah-blah-blah and you have to maybe copy past the e-mail.
With this service when you sign up they send you an e-mail with like 500 addresses cc’d. That automatically adds all of those addresses to your auto-fill. Then what you do is you write back, “No problem,” to the person or, “Sure thing,” and you either cc or bcc one month at FollowUpThen.cc, right. Then what happens if you cc, it will e-mail both of you and say, “A month ago you asked to be reminded of this. Here’s the whole e-mail.” If you bcc it will just send it to you.
I use this for everything. I signed up for an Amazon Prime trial. I was like I want to try it out and remember to cancel it. Forward the congratulations e-mail to [email protected] or [email protected] I use this thing religiously and I absolutely love it.
Interviewer: Brilliant. Do you recommend one book for our listeners? What would it be and why?
Interviewee: Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People and the why is at the end of the day all success in life comes down to people skills. And I think that needs some unpacking because you really have to think about it. It’s obvious that business success comes from people skills, right? If no one wants to work with you, no one wants to collaborate with you, people get that. But ultimately success also with others in relationships contributes to your own happiness and for me that’s the definition of success, right? Having a happy, well balanced life.
So I think that book is very basic in the sense that it spells things out and people can kind of take it as pedantic but it’s good to be reminded of the basics. I mean smile. How many of us need to be reminded, “Smile,” like when you ask for something. “Hey, John, can I appear on your show?” Smile. Your e-mail will come out different. Even if the person can’t see you your e-mail will come out different if you’re smiling.
Interviewer: Well Fire Nation, I know you love audio so I teamed with AudioBooks and if you haven’t already you can get an amazing audio book for free at EOFireBook.com. And Jonathan I said that with a smile.
Interviewee: I heard it. It comes through man.
Interviewer: So brother, let’s end today on Fire with you sharing one parting piece of guidance, the best way we can connect with you. Then we’ll say goodbye.
Interviewee: Yeah, so for all my kind of superhuman stuff, the podcast and everything it’s BecomingASuperhuman.com, and then I have a personal portfolio that’s JLE.VI and John if your audience wants I’ll give you guys a whole bunch of 90 percent off coupons since we already let the cat out of the bag with Udemy courses and that will be hosted, all the links and that good stuff, at JLE.VI/Fire.
Interviewer: Perfect. Well, give us that parting piece of guidance.
Interviewee: Yeah, so the parting piece of guidance. I would say you’re going to spend a hell of a lot of time in your life working. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to fail along the way but I think the only failure that you shouldn’t accept as a constructive and learning experience is the failure to build a life that you want to be living. So really think about what you’re doing, what you’re building and the life you’re leading because entrepreneurship is a means to an end and that end isn’t billions of dollars, it’s not even financial freedom. The end is happiness.
Interviewer: Fire Nation you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You’ve been hanging out with Jonathan and JLD today so keep up the heat. And head over to EOFire.com. Just type “Jonathan” in the search page. His [inaudible] [00:26:00] page will pop right up with everything we’ve been talking about today, books, resources, his links, BecomingASuperHuman.com and, of course, the gift is waiting for you at jle.vi/fire. Is that right Jonathan?
Interviewee: Yes, sir.
Interviewer: JLE.vi/fire. That will be linked up on the [inaudible] page as well and Jonathan, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Interviewee: Thank you, John.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, thank you for joining us on EOFire. Visit EOFire.com for links to everything we chatted about today, killer resources, free trainings and so much more. Are you prepared to podcast? Visit FreePodcastCourse.com and sign up for our free 15-day podcast course today. Create, grow and monetize your podcast at FreePodcastCourse.com. Today is your day Fire Nation, ignite.
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