In the last 12 months I had a channel on YouTube go from about 500 subscribers to almost 9,000 subscribers. In that time I became eligible to monetize my channel and made about $2,000 from YouTube ads in 2020.
This captured my attention and I became a bit more fascinated with what was happening over in YouTube land. Maybe you’ve seen stories that young people want to be YouTube stars when they grow up. You laugh it off and go about your day but I think you are missing a major transformation in how we learn and share ideas.
YouTube is one of the most transformation educational channels we have right now. Across the world people are now teaching themselves Chinese, learning strategy consulting skills, figuring out how to repair a car, learning how to use new online tools and using videos to help explain what their teacher failed to during the day.
Go to any college campus and ask them how they learn the hardest material from their classes. Almost every student will tell you, “YouTube.”
The course revolution shifted in 2020 from a half-baked attempt from existing institutions to a bottoms-up explosion in creativity, options and possibility. Wile there were early examples like altMBA showing that cohort-based classes were possible, many people likely made the mistake of thinking, “oh well that’s Seth Godin, he can do that!”
However, in 2020 we saw people like Tiago Forte, who had already been bullish on online learning, started to take action on his ambitious vision for the space. He took his Building a Second Brain Course from something he was selling for $500 for something that cost as much as $5,000.
I was a bit skeptical when I saw these price hike but became quite optimistic when I saw how many more people seemed to be enthusiastic about joining. There was clearly a latent demand within the student he was already teaching that were saying “we want more, we want to be challenged more and we want more coaching.” 2020 also saw similar energy emerge around the Write of Passage course from David Perell (which inspired countless courses itself) and it seemed that finally the formula for making a cohort-based course work had been found.
(Side note: It will be funny to see mainstream institutions stumble upon these ideas in five years and publish reports about it!)
I think part of this is because 2020 helped break a lot of the common knowledge that said you have to go to an educational institution to “learn.” What people realized instead is that these universities are more in the credentialing and networking business than teaching people practical skills. With the explosion of the “new economy” people are rightly realizing that learning by doing is going to be both a meta-skill and a practical skill that will help them experiment faster than spending years at a formal school.
I think the evolution of these is going to dramatically disrupt the full-time MBA, but more on that another time.
Joining Ali Abdaal’s “Part-Time YouTube Academy”
Based on my accidental YouTube success I decided to enroll in another online course myself this fall. This was driven by a curiosity to see what I might learn from taking someone else’s course (I have been running two of my own for years but always good to learn by being a student).
It was also driven by my curiosity into Ali Abdaal’s path who I randomly met when him and his brother interviewed me for their Not Overthinking podcast (one of my favorites I’ve done) about our relationship with work.
Until some googling before the interview, I had no idea who Ali was and had only been having a conversation with his brother over a couple of months. An hour before we kicked off the podcast I saw he had almost a million followers on YouTube (what the ?!). He’s a doctor who started sharing his studying methods on YouTube and unexpectedly blew up in a huge way as he expanded his topics to the broader themes of productivity, learning and creating online.
The fascinating thing about this is how open and connected these spaces are right now. For a long time we needed access to institutions to learn and we needed to have the right credentials to even get accepted into such a place. Meaning most people never had a shot to learn the things they might want to learn.
With online courses the only thing you need is a passion and curiosity for something (and despite the high price tags, these can end up being a bigger bang for the buck for people that might go to grad school instead as well as the fact that many offer reduced rates for people from lower-income countries).
This isn’t an essay about Ali or online learning but I wanted to offer a few reflections from the first iteration of Ali’s Part-Time YouTube Academy as someone with a monetized YouTube channel but doesn’t exactly know what they are doing.
Course Overview: I know they are changing the course a bit for the next cohort and making it a bit longer but I think the general curriculum with remain the same. I thought the schedule of ideas and structure made a ton of sense and I was able to pay attention to the things I needed the most help with.
Seven Takeaways From The Course
#1 Financial commitment: It’s always great to have the desire to learn something, better to put some money on the line and force yourself to do what you say. The best online courses are the ones that nudge you into active creation and create an atmosphere that hels that happen though a positive spirit of generosity and enthusiasm. I’ve wanted to improve my abilities at video editing and get more help on YouTube but its not the thing I’m ever drawn to do in a structured way. Paying for a course helped me focus on it appropriately for a month without having to make a much larger commitment.
#2 New friends: My metric for committing to anything these days is a simple question, “can I make a great friend?” This course had a number of people with a spirit of curiosity, generosity and connection. which are exactly the people I want to meet. I met a ton of people and made a couple new connections that may turn into friends. However, I had a hard time trying to navigate the many lectures and announcements and engage in the Circle community in a way to really invest in them.
One recommendation I’d have for Ali is to pair people up directly with similar backgrounds or levels of experience as buddies or force people to make them in the first week of the course.
#3 Meeting other creators & finding inspiration: One of the hardest things about running an online business is that there are increasing ways to monetize or build a business. However, it can be easy to focus on the 3 or 4 which are most popular at the moment. While YouTube is “hot” right now it was also good to see how varied the interests were across all the different students and to see the businesses they are running outside of YouTube. I love being inspired to think in new ways based on what others are doing.
#4 Tech Skills: Many of the lectures provided some very practical tips on improving editing skills and also just basic techniques for how to connect more effectively with people on YouTube. I learned valuable new ideas about cover images, background audio or music, strategic use of b-roll, lighting techniques, blurred backgrounds, and other small tweaks that combined enabled me to start to understand the technical editing process at a deeper level.
#5 Feedback: One of the secret gems of this course which I did not expect was feedback from two of Ali’s current team members, Angus and Elizabeth. Both were able to provide helpful positive and critical feedback in a way that it seemed they really wanted to help people improve. I feel like getting feedback from someone like Angus, who is doing the work behind the scenes for Ali right now is just as valuable from someone like Ali or another top creator. In addition, the course also attracted many people with successful channels who offered feedback, praise and welcome encouragement.
#6 Actionable next steps: I didn’t attend most of the live lectures but skimmed through most of the videos and read most of the decks. The overall curriculum was very well-designed, and logical and every lecture has at least 1-2 nuggets which I was able to directly apply to my homework for the week.
#7 Ali, Himself: I’ve been lucky to get to know Ali a bit over the last year and am excited to get to know him more. He could easily market his courses as “How to get 1 Million YouTube Subscribers” but he didn’t take that path. He really cares about giving people an honest and nuanced perspective on what it takes to be successful on YouTube and how other skills you have from other domains are just as important as pure video skills.
His ability to remain calm, approachable and curious throughout the course seemed to give a lot of people confidence and created a positive community vibe. Despite his humility, Ali is clearly some sort of super-learner that operates at very high levels (this became clear to me when he had internalized and was teaching effectively half of what I learned in my high-priced MBA). The way he combines his deep expertise with an approachable humility makes this course feel like you are getting a steady dose of encouragement from your grandmother (and I mean this in the best way possible).
Based on my own priorities and learning objectives here is how I would rate the course:
- Ideas for future online courses I run: 6/10 (I’m probably a bit more experienced than most but still picked up a ton of subtle best practices)
- A space for feedback & technical improvement: 10/10 (crazy how 7-8 pieces of feedback from experts can make a huge difference)
- Making meaningful connections with others: 4/10 (this is mostly my own fault but probably the biggest opportunity in their next cohort)
- Confidence boost for future video ideas & projects: 10/10
- Ideas for future videos and new uses of video: 7/10
Note: I took the first cohort of the course and I
This course was a great experience but it made me more confident that focusing on YouTube was not something I wanted to prioritize for 2021
A lot of what I do online is centered around building connections and making friends while building a life doing the things I want to be doing.
Right now I find that if I were to orient more towards YouTube it would be purely very focused on getting a wider reach and/or making more money in a way that feels a bit too instrumental for me. Additionally, I found the process of making a video a bit draining compared to something I love a lot more, writing. I love writing because of how easily it inspires people to reach out and start a conversation. I found that on YouTube there hasn’t been much depth to the conversations if any at all.
Despite this, I was able to dramatically level up my confidence and skills in video editing and I gained a new perspective on how to tell stories in different forms. I’m excited to put these skills to use in making the occasional videos for fun as well as helping others get started on their own creative journeys.
Ideal Student: If I were to describe an ideal person to take this course it would be someone who has already started creating online in some way (either writing, YouTube, newsletters, instagram, TikTok), has some idea of their interests and has some evidence that others want this information. Overall Ali really cares about helping people understand what success on YouTube looks like and gave a very accurate perspective on the different levels of success one can aim for. In order to get the most out of the course I recommend you have about 10-15 hours a week to focus on shooting, editing and publishing to get the most out of the course.
If you’d like to take the course, you can learn more here: Part-Time Youtuber Academy (affiliate link).
Just published! The Pathless Path is Paul's book about walking away from a "perfect" job with a promising future and starting over again. Through painstaking experiments, living in different countries, and a deep dive into the history of our work beliefs, Paul pieces together a set of ideas and principles that guide him from unfulfilled and burned out to what he calls "the pathless path" - a new story for thinking about work in our lives. Learn More & Buy The Book Here