Masterclass on Building an Online Course Business w/ Jacques "The Online Course Guy" Hopkins (MI100)
Robert Leonard (00:00:18): Today's episode of Millennial Investing is a special one, it marks the 100th episode of the show. And today's guest is one of the few people I'd want to share episode 100 with. In this episode, I chat with one of my mentors, Jacques Hopkins. Jacques and I talk about his journey as an entrepreneur, how he dealt with failure and applied those lessons he learned to his present business, where to start when building an online business and an online course, how to build an audience without an existing following, how do you use YouTube and an evergreen funnel, and much more. Robert Leonard (00:00:55): Jacques worked as an engineer for about eight years before quitting his job and turning his biggest hobby into a highly successful online piano course. Piano In 21 Days has brought in over $2.5 million in revenue to date, with
over 7,000 students all over the world. Today, Jacques supports his family with the passive income from his course while teaching others to do the same on The Online Course Show podcast. Now, let's get into one of my favorite episodes today and learn how to build a real online course business with Jacques Hopkins. Robert Leonard (00:03:21): Hey, everyone, welcome back to the Millennial Investing Podcast. As always, I'm your host,
Robert Leonard. Welcome to the show, Jacques. Jacques Hopkins (00:03:30): What's up, Robert Leonard? This is a great opportunity, man. I appreciate the invitation. Robert Leonard (00:03:34): It's been a long time coming.
I'm excited to have you here. Of course, I'm super familiar with you and your background, but my guess is that many of the thousands of thousands of people that are listening to this don't know who you are. So please tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Jacques Hopkins (00:03:49): Well, people walk up to me today like if I'm introducing myself in-person, and they say, "Hey, Jacques, what do you do?" I'll usually say, "Hey, I'm an online piano teacher." And if you would have told me that that would be my self-described job title, I never thought I'd be teaching piano, much less teaching people through the internet all over the world. My background is in engineering, and that's really what I expected to do my whole life ever since I was about five years old and my either kindergarten or first-grade teacher was like, "You're pretty good at math, you should consider being an engineer." Jacques Hopkins (00:04:20):
And at the time, I didn't know what it was, but I always remembered that. And my whole childhood growing up, I liked to build things with Legos. I was just very left-brained, very analytical. And so when I went to college down here at LSU, there was no question, I was going to major in engineering and be an engineer. And I did that. I majored in electrical engineering, I graduated, and I worked as an electrical engineer for eight years down here in Baton Rouge. And eventually, things changed and took a totally different direction. But that's my background,
man, left-brain analytical engineering. Robert Leonard (00:04:51): We have a similar background in that sense. I'm a left-brain finance guy, analytical finance guy. And if you told me five years ago or six years ago when I was going into college that I was going to podcast full-time and I would not use my MBA that I just spent so long getting, I would think you were crazy. Jacques Hopkins (00:05:07): It's wild. Yeah. I do have an MBA too, by the way. And I don't use either of my degrees. Well, to a
very, very, very small extent. I wish I would have spent all that time starting my piano business much, much sooner, but you live, you learn, right? Robert Leonard (00:05:19): Same exact thing for me. But one of the things that drew me to you is that your course is about playing the piano. And that's for two reasons. The first reason is because one of my goals in life is to be able to play the piano. I have these three random, little life goals that I want to achieve.
I don't know why I have them, I just do, and playing the piano is one of them. And the second reason is because I never thought an online course teaching how to play piano could be as successful as your course has been. Before we get into your online course business and how you built that, I want to talk a bit about your early entrepreneurial ventures that failed. What were your six side businesses that you started that failed and why did they fail? Jacques Hopkins (00:06:02): I think I would have not been nearly as successful with the piano business if that was my first business venture, my first idea. So there were six different things I tried to create. I mentioned that my whole life pointed to me being an engineer
and that one of the first things that started to change that for me was reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It was actually my senior year of college at LSU and I already had my job lined up. And so when I read that book, it opened up this whole new world of possibilities for me, because for the first time in my life, I was like, "Oh, maybe I could be an entrepreneur. Maybe I
could open up my own business." Jacques Hopkins (00:06:36): At that point in time, I thought being an entrepreneur meant very different things than I know today. I thought you had to have some big brick-and-mortar presence, lots of employees, lots of venture capital or debts, and it was just a lot of headaches and things that didn't appeal to me. But reading that book, I realized, "Oh, I can create an online business, lots of automation,
lots of outsourcing, very little upfront money." It wasn't specifically about online courses, but it was just this paradigm shift for me in the way you could go about creating a business. And so that's what spurred me to start thinking of my ideas and starting various businesses. So I started doing that. Once I was working, I would come home and work on my business of the day, if you will. Jacques Hopkins (00:07:17):
And so the first six were mega failures, not from the perspective of losing a lot of money, it's just that none of the six even made a single dollar. And so the seventh one, my piano business, is the one that actually worked. But just to give you some examples, there were a couple of blogs in there, I think that was one of my first ones. I graduated from college in 2008. Blogging around then was pretty popular. As it turns out I'm a horrible writer and I also hate to write, so
that was a big lesson learned from that. I think I maybe made two posts on that blog that I created about, it was learning new things blog. There was a couple of physical product ideas that I had, one I called Hopkins HTPC, which stands for home theater, PC, personal computer. And this was before like Apple TV and Roku, those were a thing. Jacques Hopkins (00:08:07):
And personally, I really enjoyed having a computer hooked up to my TV in my living room because it allowed you to do so many more things, you could stream certain things, you could pull up websites, it was really a great thing. So I was like, "Huh, I wonder if there's a business here?" And so I designed a PC that would look nice in an entertainment cabinet versus an ugly tower you would have in your office. The problem was that to do it right, I had to charge like 1,200 to $1,500 for one of these, and people weren't really willing to spend that for that. And then literally two months later, Apple TV became out doing the same thing, but better for about $100, so that just wasn't a great business model. Jacques Hopkins (00:08:47):
There was another physical product that I came up with. Blogging was really big back then. Also, the standing desk craze was really big back then. And I spent a lot of time trying to convert my desk at work where I was an engineer to a standing desk, and I spent a bunch of money at Home Depot trying to rig something up. And so I was like, "Huh, I wonder if we could invent something
that could universally transform a sit-down desk into a standup desk?" And what I had come up with went on the bottom, sat between your desk and the floor. As it turns out, not the best design because lots of those solutions exist today that sit on top of your desk, I think called VersaDesk or VARIDESK. I'm sure a lot of the listeners have it, it's pretty popular. Jacques Hopkins (00:09:28): That was an idea that the application wasn't the best, but it also taught me that I'm not really into physical products, because I never really got as far as a prototype. I had some initial designs, I had the idea, but just like getting a prototype and having inventory, there are just so many things that just didn't appeal to me with that. So those are some of the examples. And I learned something from each one, and like I said at the start of this answer, I don't think Piano In 21 Days would be what it is today if it weren't for those six failures that never made a dollar, Robert Leonard (00:10:03): I actually have a VARIDESK within arm's reach of me right now. I'm not using it, but I do
have one. And you mentioned The 4-Hour Workweek. That's such an interesting book to me because it was super popular, and I had heard of it of course, but I didn't read it for a very long time. And the reason for that was because of the title. And I thought the title was super, super gimmicky.
I didn't know who Tim Ferriss was really at the time, this was years ago, and I was like, "I'm not going to waste my time with this book. This is just going to be a get-rich-quick book, it's not going to provide any value." And then I ended up reading it and I absolutely loved it. And it's been a few years since I read it, I think I need to go back and reread it again. But yeah, I absolutely love that book now. Jacques Hopkins (00:10:42): Yeah. It's one of the few books that I've got behind me on this bookshelf, it's the orange
one back here. And it had such a profound impact on my life and my story, and I've since reread it several times, I think originally, if I'm not mistaken, Tim Ferris felt the same way as like, "Ah, do I want to call it 4-Hour Workweek?" I think originally I was going to call it something about drug dealing for fun and profits, something like that. But as it turns out, it ended up being a pretty good title. Robert Leonard (00:11:08):
Yeah. I do remember hearing an interview, I think it might've been a podcast he did or something like that, where he talked about it. I think it might've been with his publisher even. He went back and forth on what he wanted it to do for the title. And there's another book
in the personal finance space a lot of people are familiar with from Ramit Sethi and it's, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. And it's the same idea, I didn't read that book for a long time because of the title, and then I read it and I was like, "It's actually a pretty good book. I actually like this book." Jacques Hopkins (00:11:32): Yeah. It sounds either too good to be true or a scam, right? Hey, can we throw Piano In 21 Days in that category? Robert Leonard (00:11:40): Yeah, exactly. And I think about this dynamic that we're talking about with these books, I think about that a lot when I name things. Have you given any thought to that when
you were naming your course? Jacques Hopkins (00:11:50): Not really, man. When I was naming my course, I knew that what I had to offer people that was different was that I was going to teach people piano quickly. And so I wanted to have that built into the name in some way. And so I could call it like Rocket Piano or like Super Fast Piano, but I just decided to put an exact timeframe in it. And originally I was going to do piano in 30 days,
but that was already taken, and so I just settled on Piano In 21 Days. That's the extent of what I went through as far as naming it. Robert Leonard (00:12:21): Knowing what today about business, everything you've learned, do you think there are things that you could have done back on those first six projects that would have led them to being a success? Jacques Hopkins (00:12:32): The marketing piece was the big thing missing for me. Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come, that's not true in this world because you've got to have the traffic and the marketing, which I had no experience with. My undergrad was in engineering, I took no business classes at all. I do have an MBA, but we took one marketing class and it was not online marketing, digital marketing. So that's the piece
that was missing for me today. And that's one of the things that I pride myself most on today and one of the reasons that my piano course has been so successful. So I think that's the piece that I could possibly go back and apply to some of those failed ventures. I think probably the one
maybe would have worked out the best, I don't even think I mentioned this one, but I had an app that I had made. Jacques Hopkins (00:13:17): The app, it was called Driving Thoughts. I'm a big fan of writing things down. I've got a horrible short-term memory, and so I'm always writing things down. I've got a notepad right here. The only real place that I've struggled to write things down was when I was driving, and so I made this app that was super simple to where all I had to do was open the app and then hit one more button, and then it immediately started recording your voice. And after about three seconds of silence, the app would just close. And while it was closing,
it would transcribe what you said and email it to you, very simple, called Driving Thoughts. And that one didn't make it ever a dollar either. It was in the App Store, it had five or six figures worth of downloads, but I didn't know anything about business or marketing.
Jacques Hopkins (00:13:58): And so I made the thing, I put it on the App Store and then didn't really do anything else. I used it personally, I used it for a while. I doubt it's still in the App Store because I never updated it. This was 12, 15 years ago. But knowing what I know now, I would've been able to market it more effectively, I would have been able to keep listening to people and improving it and then even coming up with some sort of revenue model because it was just free on the App Store. Those are some of the things I could have done with that venture knowing what I know now. Robert Leonard (00:14:32):
Did you code that app yourself or did you actually hire it out and have somebody else build it for you? Jacques Hopkins (00:14:36): Yeah, I did. I coded it myself. It was very basic. I don't think that I'm an amazing programmer by any means, but in electrical engineering, we did take a lot of programming classes and I even had to do a little bit at my job. So I had a basic working knowledge of programming. And real programmers would have probably laughed at the code that was in this app, but yes, I did it myself. Robert Leonard (00:14:56): I think it's important to highlight the failures that we just talked about because a lot of people hear a story like yours and how much you've sold online of your course, and they'll probably think it's a get-rich-quick scheme. And I know that because that was me, and it's absolutely not. And you and I have had a lot of conversations about this offline, and I know it's not. You tried a
bunch of different things before you found one that really worked, which we just talked about. It's not like you did millions of sales overnight with this course when you launched it, it took about three years of you working really hard to get your online course business to a point where you were willing to quit your day job. Robert Leonard (00:15:35): And even then, at month eight, I believe it was, you were only doing about $1,000 a month and you were considering going back to an engineering job. So it's not like it was an easy path or get rich quick overnight. Why do you think there is this misconception that online courses
are an easy way to get rich? Jacques Hopkins (00:15:55): Well, I think if there is a misconception there, it's because it's so much more sexy to highlight the success stories than the failures in general. And that was definitely me when I was getting started. I came up with the idea for Piano In 21 Days in 2013. At the time, I was trying to learn as much as I could about online business and marketing, and all the podcasts and stuff I would listen to back then, you would hear these amazing success stories. I would hear lots of stories about online course success stories and people would get this idea and they would put it together and they would launch it and they would go away for an hour or two, go have dinner with their wife or something and come back and they had like a million dollars in their bank account. Jacques Hopkins (00:16:37): Those are the stories I would hear. And so I had that misconception when I was getting started as well, that if I just made it and put it out there, that I would be super successful as well. So I think that's probably the main answer to your question, is because...
I've got a podcast too, I highlight big success stories for sure, but I try to get into the real story like you do as well, and it took me a long time to find success. I'm just not the type of guy that finds instant success, I have to work at it. It was months and months and months after meeting my now wife before I even asked her out. I'm a slow-play-kind of guy, it seems. Jacques Hopkins (00:17:14): So I think that's the key. And for me, when I first launched, I didn't make a single sale that first day. Not only did I not have millions in my bank account, but I also didn't make a sale. And so I thought, "Hey, is this my seventh failed
venture? Is this going to be my last one? Do I need to forget about this dream? Do I need to just completely focus on my job?" For most people, it's not going to be overnight. Most people, it's going to be more slow. And the ones that are successful are the ones that stick with it and get through the most amount of obstacles, in my opinion. Robert Leonard (00:17:45): It seems like this is more of a misconception about online businesses in general than it specifically is for online courses. I see this with people selling on Amazon all the time. And I just had a guest on the show who talked about building a business on Amazon. And what I really liked about that conversation with Steven was that, what you're doing is you're talking about how to build a real business with online courses, this isn't a get-rich-quick scheme, and Steven did the same thing with fulfillment by Amazon or building a business on the back of Amazon. Whereas if you go on YouTube and you just look how to build a business on Amazon,
there are a million different videos about how to get rich quick overnight on Amazon. And so I think it's just this group of online businesses that have this misconception that you can get rich quick. Jacques Hopkins (00:18:28): Yeah. There's a lot of people teaching this stuff, there's a lot of people teaching Amazon, they're teaching online courses and they want you to feel like you can do it.
I think that's noble, trying to empower you, but you also shouldn't come across like it's easy and it's a magic pill or anything either. And so I do agree with you that that's probably leading to some of that. Robert Leonard (00:18:48): What are the other myths/misconceptions around online courses that you've heard? Like you said, you host a podcast and you have another business as the online course guy. So you're very involved, outside of just being on 21 days, you're very involved in this space of online courses. So what are those other myths and misconceptions you hear? And what is the actual truth to those? Jacques Hopkins (00:19:08): Four online courses specifically, there's definitely a few. I would say feeling like you need fancy equipment would be one thing. At
this point, I've been in business with my online course for like eight years, so I've got a nice 4K camera, I've actually got three of them. I've got good microphones, I've got a good studio setup, but that's certainly not... You don't need all those things in place when you're first getting started. With how good smartphone cameras are now, I highly encourage people, if they're interested in an online course and they have a niche where they need to be on camera like me and my piano, there are some niches where you don't necessarily need to be on camera. But for those that do, film it with your iPhone, your smartphone, because the barrier there is just so, so low and the quality is surprisingly good. Jacques Hopkins (00:19:53): There's a very well-known online business guru, course grader named Rachel Peterson who has done probably tens of millions of dollars in online course sales. And even to this day, films her
courses on her iPhone, just to prove a point like, "Hey, you can do this too." So you don't really need the fancy equipment, there are some minimal things that you could do for not a lot of money. For me, if you're going to make videos, yeah, the iPhone's good, but let's not use the microphone on the phone, let's use the video. Let's get a $25 Lapel mic that you can plug into your iPhone that's going to pick up the audio right by you. That's a good step to take, maybe some basic
lighting, but don't feel like you need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on equipment. Jacques Hopkins (00:20:38): Speaking of filming and being on camera, that's probably another one, "Look, Jacques, I can never be on camera like you are. That scares me. What would people think?" That's a big one. And so some people will not even pursue it because of that. Other people will just put slides in their voice on camera and never
show themselves on the screen. And this was me, I'm a total engineer, introvert. My very first videos that I made in 2013, were pretty cringe-worthy. They're all unlisted and hidden now at this point because I'm not super proud of them. I still save them because I plan to break them out one day because I think they could inspire other people, but they're not good. Jacques Hopkins (00:21:16): My first piano videos teaching piano, I just had an overhead shot, I didn't want to be on camera, I didn't want people at my job to see it, make fun of me, or whatever. And so it was just my hands at the keys. And it just took
getting over myself and getting past that ego part of it, but then also just runtime and getting better on camera. Eventually, once I started being on camera, that's when those cringy videos, because I wasn't good at it yet, I didn't know how to talk to just the camera. And having done hundreds, if not thousands of videos here eight years later, I'm pretty good in front of a camera, but I was not at first. Jacques Hopkins (00:21:54):
And it just takes A, getting over yourself a little bit, and B, just some practice and runtime. And then a third one I would say is, this one's real, people are concerned...if you've already got an audience, like, "How is my audience going to receive that? If I announced a course and it's $500, or $1,000, $2,000, I've got this amazing audience, how are they going to receive that? Are they going to turn on me? Are they going to think I'm a sellout?" I was on Pat Flynn's podcast about a year ago, Smart Passive Income, and one question that I asked him because I was just curious about it even though he was interviewing me was, "Hey, why did you wait so long to release an online course?" Jacques Hopkins (00:22:33): Pat Flynn, if anybody's not familiar with him, he's a huge big-time marketer online business guru. And for the longest time,
his revenue model was a podcast, his blog, it was just like affiliates and advertisers. And he waited probably 10 years before he released his first online course. And his answer was, he was nervous about it, but a friend of his came to him and said, "Look Pat, you're missing an incredible opportunity to serve your audience in a whole new way by not having an online course." And I love that answer and completely believe in that because it's so true.
If you've got a podcast or a YouTube channel, that's great, you're giving away value for free, you just can't go near as deep and serve as much as you can with an online course. Jacques Hopkins (00:23:20): Imagine if my piano business was just a YouTube channel, there would still be a massive amount of value people could get, but there wouldn't be these life-changing stories of people going from complete beginners to what they're able to do. I'm really proud of my students, that's what I like to talk about most. There's one guy who, at 61 years old, basically had never touched a piano before. And when was 62 years old, he had learned so much and was doing so much, he now has a Spotify channel and makes his own music and music albums, and they're actually really, really good. Jacques Hopkins (00:23:54): There's a lady, her dad passed away, and she was really grieving with that and she didn't know how she was going to get through it, but she was like, "Well, my dad played piano. And so maybe learning by myself could be a way
to help me get through that." And so in just a couple of months, she was able to do that through Piano In 21 Days. And I just don't know that she would have been able to do that from a few YouTube videos. So the amount of transformation and impact you can have on people is really amazing. And then the last thing about that is typically we charge for online courses,
whereas podcasts, YouTube, videos, people consume those for free, and a lot of times people will stick with it better and actually finish things the more they have invested into it. Jacques Hopkins (00:24:36): And that's one of the reasons I charge one of the highest prices for an online piano course that I do, around $500 is because I want everybody that signs up to take it seriously and finish it. And if I charged like $20 or even free, the success rate, completion rate, wouldn't be near as high. Robert Leonard (00:24:53):
That last piece is exactly what was on the tip of my tongue and it was exactly what I was going to say, is the commitment when people pay for something. I forget exactly where I heard it, it might've been from you, Jacques, on one of the podcasts you've been on, your podcast even. But I remember learning from somebody and I felt the same way, I'm like, "Well, why wouldn't I just give all this stuff away for free like a Gary Vee-type model?" And then I remember learning like, "No, you need to charge for some things because that's where you get people to commit." And then I did some self-reflection, I said, "Okay, what about the resources that you've gotten for free? Do you go through all of them? Absolutely not. How about the ones that you've actually paid a
lot for?" And I actually use those. Robert Leonard (00:25:29): And even the ones that are relatively cheap, I don't necessarily always go through them. So that commitment piece I think is so, so important. How many books have you bought that you've never read? That was exactly what I was thinking of because I get them all from thrift stores and they're like two to $4 apiece. I know it's kind of nerdy, but I counted my books the other day and I have like 297 or something like that. I have a very relatively large personal library. I have not read nearly all of them, partially because I don't have that personal investment in them.
Jacques Hopkins (00:26:00): Yeah, exactly. And U2Me is a big course marketplace, some people might be familiar with. And basically, every course on there is $10. And there are some really good courses on there, and I've definitely gone through some courses on U2Me, but I've also purchased way more on U2Me than I have actually gone through, once again because the investment is so low. The most I've personally ever spent on an online course is $6,000.
Do you think I went through the whole thing? Yeah. I went through it like four times. I was very invested in it. Robert Leonard (00:26:30): Yeah. The same thing for me, for U2Me actually, I've purchased, I don't know, between three to five courses on there. So I spent a total of like $50, and I don't think I've ever completed any of them. I don't think I've ever completed like more than 10% of any of them. And
they were topics that I was actually interested in. So it's not like I didn't want to learn it, I really did, I just didn't have that financial commitment. The other piece that you mentioned that's really interesting is how Pat Flynn, his mindset around creating the course, and that's exactly where I'm at. He almost felt like he was going to be a sellout, exactly those feelings that
you mentioned, that is exactly where I'm at. Robert Leonard (00:27:03): I have a relatively large audience here on the show and I just need to get over it like Pat did essentially and realize that I'm providing value if I do create a course like Pat. Any tips or tricks you've learned from talking to hundreds of course creators on how to get over that? Jacques Hopkins (00:27:19): It's not easy, I get it. I totally get it. And for you, Robert, what you're doing now is working, that's part of the problem. It's like
your current business model is working, you have a great audience, they really like the podcast. You don't really want to mess that up, you don't want to rock the boat. But I'm telling you, an online course does nothing but help serve them better. You're not making them spend the money on this. For those that want to go deeper with you. I'm sure there are people out there they're like, they want more of your attention, they want a deeper dive with you. And that's a great way to
be able to serve them with an online course. Robert Leonard (00:27:54): You talked about having the good equipment, and what's interesting for people that don't know is you've rerecorded your piano course, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think five times now, so you don't have to like have your finished 100% final, never change it product the first time. You can record your first course or whatever it is, it doesn't have to be an online course, it could be a side hustle, it could be a podcast, it could be anything. You don't have to have the best equipment to start, and then if it gains traction, you can reinvest in that and then improve what you've created and rerecord it, or whatever that step looks like for your business. But I think that's an important piece to mention too,
is what you create first isn't necessarily final. Jacques Hopkins (00:28:30): Yeah. Don't sell me short, man. We've recorded six times now, just released the sixth version. The version that we just released about three months ago, I would have never been able to create that had it not been for the first five versions. And people are just loving the sixth version and I've spent more time on this one than the other five combined because that's just where I am now. But when it's your first version, what I always say is like, let's go for the MVC, Minimal Viable Course. We want it to be viable, but let's go minimal. Let's piece it together to where we can put together the least amount we can for the most amount of effectiveness.
Jacques Hopkins (00:29:04): So, my very first version of my piano course, it was this dinky little webcam set up, just completely Jerry rigged above my keyboard. And probably only like 10 people went through that very first version. But I very diligently tried to track down every single one of those 10 people to give me their honest feedback so that I could roll that into the next version. And I'm a perfectionist too, that kills me to roll something out when it's not dialed in 100% perfect, but we've got to have success. You've really got to get past that because by releasing things that are not necessarily perfect, you're able to do it so much faster, get it out there, and then get the market feedback, which then is the real missing piece to help you get to that level of perfection that you're going for. Robert Leonard (00:29:51): I'm a perfectionist too, and that's exactly one of the things that I've struggled with, specifically with this podcast, when it first started, we had a vision for what it was going to be about, and we're hundreds of episodes in now, and it's changed a little bit. We still have the same premise, but it's changed a little bit, and it's gotten better. And as each episode comes out, we're doing these new things to
just continually make it better. Jacques Hopkins (00:30:11): Yeah. It's important. And the very first episode of my podcast, I had the wrong mic turned on or something. And so the audio quality is horrible, but I didn't have
an audience at the time for my podcast, so I just put it out there. And we get better every episode, under 75 episodes now, and trying to get better with each one. And if I would have just stopped to rerecord it, and then re-recorded again because that wasn't perfect, then I might've still never launched my podcast. And so you've got to find that line between getting it perfect and actually getting it out there. Robert Leonard (00:30:43): And you're going to make mistakes. You just mentioned the mic thing, and we talked about
this right before the show, I made the exact same mistake I had. It was probably the first big, big name that I had on the show. I didn't even turn my nice mic on, I had my computer mic and the audio was horrible. And so we ended up not even publishing the episode, and you guys listening to the show don't know that because it never went out, but you make these mistakes. And I think it's important for you to know that, if you start your own side hustle, it
doesn't have to be online courses, or a podcast, whatever it is, you're going to make mistakes. Jacques Hopkins (00:31:11): Quick mic check, Robert, are you recording? Let's make sure this gets out there to the world. Robert Leonard (00:31:15): Yeah, I think so. I think so. Jacques Hopkins (00:31:17):
Okay, good. Robert Leonard (00:31:18): Between starting your piano course and quitting your job, you had a baby girl, and so that certainly didn't make it any easier to walk away from your career. And having been an engineer for eight years, I'm assuming you were earning probably a pretty strong salary. So that was just another thing that made it even harder to walk away as well.
Take us through your thought process as you were considering quitting your job. Jacques Hopkins (00:31:43): I'm also not a big risk taker either, and so that was a huge decision. My wife and I were both very blessed in the fact that we got through our college undergrad degrees with no debt at the end, and we both had an engineering degree. And engineering is great from the perspective of depending on the market at a time, typically to get a pretty well-paid job without having to have some advanced degree. You can go right into the workforce making a pretty good living. So we both did that, but we knew pretty early on, our plan was for her to eventually not work, once we started having kids, to not go back to work.
Jacques Hopkins (00:32:15): And she knew that the goal on my side was to eventually quit and just run my own online business of some sort. We didn't know about the piano thing at the time, but that was always the goal. So we were putting things in place the whole time we could. So that meant saving as much money as we could. And one huge thing that we did that probably wouldn't be in this position today, or I know I wouldn't, is we paid off our mortgage. That was really important to us to be completely debt-free, including our house.
And so we were able to do that shortly before having our first kid in 2015. And so mid-2015, we had our first daughter, and my wife didn't go back to work. Jacques Hopkins (00:32:54): And so I was still working for a little bit, and decided to quit toward the end of that year, 2015. My last day of full-time work was
December 31st of 2015. And what went into that decision was basically, I had this thing, like Piano In 21 Days, I had created it two years earlier and I just felt like I needed to spend more time on it to make it work. I was making some sales, I was making about $1,000 a month, but I needed to put a lot more time into it to really scale it. The problem is I didn't have time. And the thing that was taking my time was the thing that was bringing in the money for our family, and my wife wasn't working anymore either. Jacques Hopkins (00:33:32):
And so it was a catch-22 thing, but fortunately, we had our mortgage paid off, we had some savings, so we decided we could live very, very frugally and take that $1,000 a month we were making plus a little bit from savings each month. We had up to a year to try to make it work. If that didn't increase at all, we had up to a year. So because I'm not a huge risk-taker and neither is my wife, we needed those things in place. And because we had those things that place,
it wasn't as big of a risk. Speaking of the four-hour workweek, one thing that really jumped out at me, and this was a big part of making this decision, is one thing he mentioned in that book was, he likes to look at things in terms of best-case and worst-case scenarios and assigning those a number on a zero to 10 scale. Jacques Hopkins (00:34:15): And so I looked at it's like, "Okay, if I quit my job, what's the best-case scenario? Well, the best-case scenario is I make a business that's exactly what I wanted, I'm not trading dollars for hours. We're able to have complete freedom, do what we want, live anywhere we want, travel whenever we want. It's a 10 out of 10." The best-case scenario is a 10 out of 10. Worst case scenario, it doesn't really work out, and not only does that $1,000 a month not grow, it goes down. And what I thought I had a year, I really only have nine months, and after nine
months, I've got to go back to work. So worst-case scenario is like a six out of 10. Not that bad. It's kind of back to where I was before. Jacques Hopkins (00:34:56): So was it worth risking a possible six out of 10, which is basically where it was for a possible 10 out of 10? Heck, yeah. So once I put it in those terms, it was a no-brainer to go ahead and try to make it work. Robert Leonard (00:35:08): I went through the exact same thought process, and we actually learn that in real estate, or that's where I learned it, at least was the real estate industry. But it was the same
for me. When I quit my job was like, "All right, well, worst-case scenario, what am I going to do? I'm going to go back to my full-time job. I'm 26 years old, I have a good degree, I have good experience. I'm a hireable employee if I go back." So my worst-case scenario was everybody else's daily life. So I figured, why not take a chance? So it's funny I went through the exact same
thought process. And you mentioned that you paid off your house and were completely debt-free. So I have to ask, are you a Dave Ramsey follower? Jacques Hopkins (00:35:43): Yeah. How could you tell? Yeah. When I got my very first paycheck in late 2008, when I first started working, it was like the most money I'd seen at one time. And I'm like, "Holy smokes, what do I do with this?" I had no idea. Am I supposed to save a certain percentage? Am I supposed to
allocate a certain percentage to food? I had no idea. And so I just started Googling around, and that's how I found Dave Ramsey for the first time, I never heard of him. And I started very diligently listening to his stuff and really followed his plan, and continued to follow his plan at a very high level, like the Baby Steps and everything.
Jacques Hopkins (00:36:16): And that's where we were on the Baby Steps, we had everything else in place. And I think it's Baby Step six, that is the pay off your mortgage. And so we were on baby step seven and made it a whole lot easier to quit my job. Robert Leonard (00:36:30): For those listening that don't know, Jacques and I have spent hours talking together before this, and we've never talked about anything financial. So
I had no idea that he was a Dave Ramsey follower, but I could tell just by how he's explaining his financial situation that it was probably a Dave Ramsey-type situation. Jacques Hopkins (00:36:46): Yeah. I called it into a show one time and that's probably the most nervous I've ever been in my entire life, because I'd been listening to him for a couple of years, and I actually was like, "I got to speak with him." And Ooh, man, I was nervous. Robert Leonard (00:36:58): Was that published on his podcast? Jacques Hopkins (00:37:00): Yeah. It was. This was years ago.
This was years ago. So I don't know if it's still out there anywhere, but yeah, it was. Robert Leonard (00:37:07): I'll have to see if I can try and find that, I'd love to hear it. Jacques Hopkins (00:37:10): Here's Jacques from Louisiana with the question. Robert Leonard (00:37:13): Yeah, I can imagine. Was there a moment when you knew you were ready to quit? I know you just
went through all those steps that you said you were taking to get there, but when was it like, "All right now is the time, I'm ready. This is when I'm going to do it." Was it as soon as you made that last mortgage payment? It sounds like it was December 31st, so was it just like the end of the calendar year, like, "Let's do this"? Or what was your thought process there? Jacques Hopkins (00:37:35): There are really the two layers there. I gave my boss and my company a lot of notice, so it wasn't like December 31st, 2015 is when I made the decision, I made the decision months and months, and months before that. I had to say, I worked for the same company for eight years, I had the same boss for eight years, great company, great boss, great people. And as far as a job goes, it was good, I just didn't feel like that was my calling long term was to work for a company. I felt like I
wanted to run my own thing using this model. And so once we had those things in place and I put it in that perspective of the risks, that's when I knew, "Okay, I need to give this a shot." Jacques Hopkins (00:38:10): And so I had a casual conversation with my boss, just telling them, "Hey, look, I think my days here are numbered, but I'm going to stick around and make sure that my replacement is here and well-trained. I'd been there seven or eight
years at that point, and I worked my way up to engineering manager and I had a lot of people under me, and a lot of projects under me, I didn't feel comfortable just like leaving in two weeks, especially the relationships I had built. So I stuck around for several more months to get all those things in place. But I mentioned I'm not a risk-taker, so the plan all along was for me to actually go part-time, because I knew I needed the extra time, but I wasn't super comfortable just completely eliminating the paycheck. Jacques Hopkins (00:38:50):
So our agreement was actually starting in the new year in 2016, I was actually going to go to like 10 or 20 hours a week and just stick around and still manage a few projects and so on. So there was a big moment when I quit permanently. So I go to work that first week or two in January of 2016, part-time, just like a couple of days a week, and it's going okay. It's interesting because for the
first time I'm not working like 40, 50, 60 hours, there's a lot of freedom there, but I still felt some layer of security. And then I got my first paycheck as a part-time employee. And for some reason, I thought that we had an agreement that my hourly rate was going to go significantly up because I was no longer getting any benefits. Jacques Hopkins (00:39:32): I was no longer getting 401(k) match, healthcare. That was a big one, not having healthcare anymore. And so for some reason, I thought we had a deal in place to where my pay was going to be a lot higher. When I got that first paycheck, it was way lower than I expected because it was my same old hourly rate back when I had benefits, and I went straight to my boss, I was like, "Hey, what's the deal here?" And he was like, "You made the decision to go part-time, that's just what it is." And I was like, "This is not going to cut it." And I left for good.
It was really scary. I called my wife immediately crying, freaking out because it was so scary, but that was the moment where I never went back. Robert Leonard (00:40:09): I had done that with previous employers when I was making a transition to a new employer, I'd worked full time for the new employer and I would stay part-time with the old employer until they could transition in somebody to take over my position. That was never an issue.
So I thought that that was going to be an option with this company when I made the transition to be a podcaster full time and invest in real estate. And so that was my expectation. I went to my boss to ask if we could do part-time, I just expected her to say yes, and she said no. And I was like, "Well, I've already made this decision that I'm going to do this full time. I guess I don't have a choice. I guess if we can't do part-time, then here are my two or three weeks," and that was pretty much it. Robert Leonard (00:40:47): When you first had the idea for the online piano course, where did you start and how did you even know where to start? That's what I think is probably the most interesting piece, is, how did you even know where to begin? Jacques Hopkins (00:41:01): Well, first of all, I didn't really, it was not an immediate success. The little that I
did know about this type of stuff, most of it I learned from Pat Flynn's podcast, Smart, Passive Income. It's been around for quite a while now. I'm curious to know when he started, I would guess probably like 2010, 2011. So the little I knew came from that podcast. So here's what I knew, I knew that I needed a lead magnet, I knew I needed an email list. So what a lead magnet is, it's
something of value I can give for free in exchange for an email address. And I just knew a little bit about email marketing, so I knew that it was important to collect a list of emails and market via email, so I knew that. So I set up a very, very basic website, one landing page, a single-page website. Jacques Hopkins (00:41:43): And by the way, that's another thing that I learned from all these failed ventures, was how to make a basic website. That part came pretty quickly because I had
made pretty much a website for all these other failed ventures. Otherwise, I probably would have spent weeks researching how to make a website, which is a lot harder in 2013 than it is today. So I knew to do that. And then I also knew how to make a YouTube channel
and make some videos there. And then at the end of the video, have a call to action to my free resource on my website that people could get in exchange for an email address. Jacques Hopkins (00:42:12): And so what I did was I started designing out the course, and once I felt like it was a good break-off point for some free content, at first, I was actually eight days, it's since morphed to five days, but I put like, "Hey, if you want the first eight days of the course and a free workbook, head over to PianoIn21Days.com and grab it for free. So those are the steps I took. And those are the steps that
led to building up an email list. All the while, I was developing the course. It took me about eight months to go from idea to actually releasing the full course. And when you release a course, you want to release it to somebody. And for me, I probably had 100 email addresses, that's what my first launch looked like, which is not near enough. But those are the steps that I did know to take just from listening to Pat's podcast. Robert Leonard (00:43:01): If you were getting started today, would you still start on YouTube as one of your first ways to build an audience? Jacques Hopkins (00:43:06): Yes, 100%. For people that want to get into online courses,
and that's what I know most about. There's a broader category of just online business, but for online courses, building an audience is incredibly important. And I think most people should start either with YouTube or a podcast. And you probably know significantly more about podcasting than me, but how do you decide which one? I think it's based on what your niche is and if it's better consumed on video or audio. For teaching piano, could you imagine a podcast on teaching piano through an audio podcast? You need to see me interacting with my keyboard. My podcast is about online courses, it's not about piano, and most of the time I'm just interviewing other course creators because I like to get those real stories about courses.
Jacques Hopkins (00:43:49): And a lot of times, I have people on that teaching other people how to make money, like my piano course, hobby courses, bird watching and playing the ukulele, and solving a Rubik's cube. And a lot of those, you need to be on camera. And so a YouTube channel is a really great place to start for that and start building your audience there. The type of person that's going to be intrigued by free videos on YouTube about your niche in a lot of ways is going to be also intrigued by an online video course around that topic as well because they're looking for answers to problems in video form. I've seen online courses that are text-based, but I don't really even consider those online courses. When I say online course, it's video-based.
Jacques Hopkins (00:44:30): But with a podcast, if it's right for your niche like a podcast, you're obviously a big-time podcaster, Robert, I think talking about Millennial Investing on a podcast was a great place to start versus YouTube. I know now you have both, but it's primarily the audio of the podcast. And so when I went to start a second business talking about online courses, I was like, "Okay, podcasts make a lot more sense than YouTube because I can just talk about it, I can just interview other people." So it depends. A YouTube channel is not necessarily the right fit for everybody, but if you need to be interacting with something on camera, then yes. And to summarize that and the specific answer to your question, for me and piano, yes, that'd be the very first thing I do is start a YouTube channel. Robert Leonard (00:45:14):
Since you have a few videos that have quite a lot of views, you have one with over two million, one with over a million, one with close to a million, and then so on, do you think of YouTube as an additional revenue stream or is it purely just top-of-funnel type strategy? Jacques Hopkins (00:45:30): No. So revenue-wise, Piano In 21 Days brings in on average 50 or $60,000 a month. Do you want to guess how much of that is from YouTube ads? Robert Leonard (00:45:43): $750. Jacques Hopkins (00:45:45): Yeah, that's pretty close, just somewhere between there and $1,000. It's a very small percentage of that. So, no, from my experience. It's far more profitable to use YouTube as just an audience
builder to get, like you said, top-of-funnel, get people into your funnel versus the end game, which a lot of YouTubers use as the end game. Right now, we've got about 85,000 subscribers, so not a huge channel, not super small either. I'm sure if I had like a million subscribers or two million subscribers, it would be more of something you could consider an income and pretty good money from YouTube. But I also wonder if that takes away from my product in my funnel, meaning if I have a video on YouTube and somebody clicks on it, they're intrigued, the one that's over two million views is called Learn Piano in Four Minutes, and then an ad for one of my competitors shows up first in front of the video, and then, they click that and go to their site and never end up watching my video, was it really worth that like 10 cents that I got? Jacques Hopkins (00:46:48): So I wonder if it would be better to just turn off ads altogether, but at the end of the day, it's not a big part of my revenue model. Robert Leonard (00:46:56): Yeah. It's interesting to think about that strategy piece. And for some people though, maybe 750 to $1,000, that might be enough to get them going. And of course,
that's going to take a while to build a YouTube channel that can actually do that. But yeah, it's interesting. And we've actually been making a huge push into YouTube, not just with my podcast, but as TIP, as The Investor's Podcast, we've been making a big push into YouTube. And just a fun fact for you, Jacques, and really anybody listening, but the number of subscribers actually doesn't correlate to how much you make and, or your views, because we found, we've done a lot of research into this, but the number of subscribers you have is more vanity than anything on YouTube because people don't go through lists of videos and watch them from their subscription like they do on podcasts. So we find that a lot of channels with a lot of subscribers don't necessarily have the most viewed videos and what drives revenue on YouTube is viewed videos. Jacques Hopkins (00:47:48):
Yeah, viewed videos and view time overall. I've been on your YouTube channel for this podcast and a lot of the videos are over an hour-long because it's these full long-form conversations. And when they're that long, you have multiple opportunities to insert videos. I think the number is eight minutes. If you have a YouTube video shorter than eight minutes, then you can only have an ad right at the beginning, you can't have ads in the middle. So overall, time is probably the key metric there. Robert Leonard (00:48:16):
Yeah. We only have roughly say 50,000 subscribers or something like that, but we met with a big YouTuber who has maybe 300,000 subscribers or so, and we make more revenue per month on YouTube than he does, even though we're a sixth of the size in terms of subscribers. And that's just because we find that there's not a huge correlation between subscribers and views. Jacques Hopkins (00:48:40): Yeah. That's really interesting. Robert Leonard (00:48:42): We both mentioned this term top-of-funnel, and I've read a lot of Russell Brunson and these types of ClickFunnel books, so I know what this is and we've talked about it, but for those who aren't familiar with it, explain what a funnel is and what it means when something is top-of-funnel.
Jacques Hopkins (00:49:01): Ooh, the ClickFunnels guy. I've got six books back here behind me, and one of them is 4-Hour Workweek, another one is Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson. So a big fan of that, a big fan of his. I like ClickFunnels, but it's embarrassing how long I was in business before I even knew what a funnel was. And that was actually one of the biggest things that were keeping me from success in my business, was basically not having a funnel of any sort. I've since come up with my own definition because I like to keep things as simple as possible, simplifying the piano to a 21-day course. And when I talk about online courses, I try to simplify things as much as possible as well.
Jacques Hopkins (00:49:39): So when we're talking about funnels, it can be something that is a little intimidating to people and a little confusing, so my official like Jacques definition of a funnel is, it's a combination of webpages, videos, and emails, a combination of webpages, videos, and emails that builds trust and rapport with your potential customer and leads them to a sale in a non-salesy way. So what is it? It's just web pages, videos, and emails. And then what does it do? It builds trust and rapport with your potential customer that leads them to a sale in a non-salesy way. And that's what I was missing for the longest time in my business. Jacques Hopkins (00:50:15): And once I understood what a funnel is and what it can do for you and what it can do for your end-user, potential customer, and was able to take action on that and implement something, it was a complete game-changer. But as far as what is it, does that make sense, Robert? Robert Leonard (00:50:32): Yeah, absolutely. You also talked about,
and we touched on this earlier, but you talked about how in your YouTube videos, you're actually giving away valuable content. They're not just fluff, they're actually helpful. And we talked about Gary Vee's model of giving away his content for free and things like that. And he talks about how, even though he gives away almost everything for free, he still has companies that pay his agency hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, even though he's giving away his full model. How do you think about this dynamic of giving content away for free on a medium like, say YouTube versus making people pay for the quality content? And I know we talked about the commitment piece, but how do you think of it from the business perspective? Jacques Hopkins (00:51:14): You mentioned the word quality. I
don't know that that's necessarily the number one thing, because I aim for the same level of quality on my YouTube videos as I do for my, say, course videos. And I would imagine that the level of quality, for example, that you put into an episode of your podcast is extremely high. You value the quality of that and you would probably put that same amount of value in quality too if you released an online course. I think the key difference is having everything in one place
and having a step-by-step, A-to-Z program and then any additional interaction on top of that. Jacques Hopkins (00:51:51): So what I mean is, there's probably not a single thing inside of my course that is not somewhere on my YouTube channel for free. So why would people pay for the same information? Why would they pay $500 for the same information that they could get for free? Well, it's because they can log in and there's a very clear starting point, and I take them through this process step by step, by step, by step, by step in a very, very organized and sequential way. Whereas with YouTube, it's just random videos here and there, it's not meant to be
sequential in any way. And then the other reason is, and this isn't necessarily a component of every online course, but it is mine, community and interaction is a really big part of it for me. Jacques Hopkins (00:52:33): People will sign up to be a part of the community, and not only do they get to experience my lessons and interact with me, but they can interact with each other and feel like they're going through this with other like-minded people, going through the same thing, struggling with the same things. For me, they also get access to a weekly live
Q&A, that's something worth paying for in addition to the course that you're not necessarily going to get on YouTube. They can email me, ask me questions, they can post questions under lessons and me or somebody on my team will respond. So it's a much higher level of support as well. And so it's not necessarily the content or the quality, that's the difference, it's more those other things that I just mentioned. Robert Leonard (00:53:16): We talked at the very beginning about how online courses aren't an overnight success, and I want to have a similar conversation about funnels. We just talked about how they were a turning point for you and your business. They've clearly been important, they've provided a lot of