Working From Home: Episode 28: From junior doctor to superstar YouTuber with Ali Abdaal
Nelson is joined by Ali Abdaal to discuss getting the most out of the content you create, building a YouTube channel, growing your online course or business, and much more. Ali is a Doctor and YouTuber who has successfully grown his YouTube channel to 1.5M subscribers.
- Selling online courses or programs
- Growing a YouTube channel
- Repurposing content
[1:18] – Gaby’s transition from his dreadful day job to starting his own business.
[11:52] – Gaby discusses his religious beliefs and observations, and how working from home supports him in living his best life.
[23:21] – Gaby shares how his relationship with his children changed after making the transition to working from home.
[35:35] – Reflections on the freedom Gaby has found running his own business and how it has empowered his family to live from their deepest values.
[38:09] – Earning potential as a business owner.
[45:16] – Reaping your true value as a self-employed person, and the relationships you build.
[53:37] – Nelson shares how his flexible work schedule allows him to do better work and live more meaningful days.
[01:00:19] – Turning it on and off. Capitalizing on your most productive hours.
Nelson: Hello and welcome to the working from home podcast. With your host, Nelson Jordan. Today, I’m so happy to be joined by Ali Abdaal. He is a doctor turned YouTuber who has gained more than 1.3 million subscribers and hosts the Not Overthinking Podcast as well as running the part-time YouTuber Academy. So he’s got a lot going on.
Ali, thank you so much for joining us. It would be great if you could just give my audience a background on you. Just kind of a brief overview.
Ali: [00:01:17] Yeah hey, thanks for having me Nelson. This is going to be a lot of fun. So yeah, my name is Ali and I’m a doctor and YouTuber and podcaster and I dunno, I guess background wise, I’m most well-known on the internet for my YouTube channel, which I started when I was in my final year of medical school in the UK and that’s been going on for the last three and a half years. So I’ve been churning out sort of two, three videos a week for the last three and a half years, mostly while working full-time as a doctor in the UK’s national health service. But now as of August 2020, I’ve taken a bit of a break from full-time medicine. I was initially going to travel the world, but thanks to the whole pandemic situation, I’ve ended up kind of being “unemployed” and just sort of doing the internet entrepreneurial thing and so very much working from home all day every day.
Nelson: [00:02:05] Fantastic. I think that’s a really nice intro to you. One of the things that struck out that is: Doctors hours, right? They’re incredibly long in an incredibly demanding job. I’ve got lots of friends who are doctors and they don’t want to do anything, or probably aren’t even capable of doing anything after a shift.
Firstly, how do you find the energy, I guess?
Ali: [00:02:32] Yeah. So I dunno, I feel like anytime I talk to Americans daily they all think that doctor hours are absolutely ridiculous, which they are in America where it’s like 80 to a hundred hours a week. Whereas in the UK, we’re all kind of lucky in comparison because, you know, thanks to all the different laws and contracts and stuff, we’re only really allowed to work like 40 something hours a week. And so for most of my jobs, most of the rotations, I was doing for two years, it was I say only about 46 hours a week. Which actually leaves quite a lot of time in the weekends and the evenings. And when you’re on call, like overnight for a few nights, you end up having like two or three days off and it was on those days off where I would sort of try and batch film five, six videos in a row so that I would have the next month worth of content sorted. And so it was just using those sorts of standard productivity techniques that Tim Ferriss talks about in the four-hour work week, like batching and you know stuff like that, that really helped me do stuff on the side while I was working as a doctor.
Nelson: [00:03:30] Fantastic. And then once you’d kind of got into the swing of those as well didn’t you also start something called Six Med.
Ali: [00:03:39] Yeah. So I started Six Med, it was a company that I started way back in 2013 in my second year of med school.
I’d been, ever since I was in secondary school, I think from the age of 12, I’d been trying to do the whole make money online thing. And I taught myself to code and I did freelance web design and graphic design. And every year, me and my friends would come up with some new scheme to make money on the internet. We tried all the pyramid schemes. We tried the multilevel marketing stuff and you know, it all just failed. But I think those like six years of failed businesses meant that when I was in university and I had an idea that was actually good that, Hey, why don’t I help other people get into med school?
I had the skills of web design and coding and stuff to be able to build a pretty looking website around it, because at the time in 2013, it wasn’t as easy to make a pretty looking website as it is today. And then we built a question bank on top of that, that me and my brother coded with PHP and sort of like react JS and all these kinds of cool things that I’d sort of learned alongside school and university.
So yeah, Six Med is still running. I don’t really have much active involvement in it right now because I focus on the YouTube channel, but it has been going for eight years now.
Nelson: [00:04:45] Fantastic. Well, given that you’ve got all of those skills, my next question would be why YouTube?
Ali: [00:04:53] Yes. So YouTube actually started off as a content marketing strategy for Six Med. So we were teaching kids how to get into med school, and I had been teaching personally for the last six years, and I knew a lot about how to get into med school and I thought, you know what, why don’t I do the content marketing thing of creating free content on YouTube that is like good and educational and stuff and that would then hopefully, if people see my videos about preparing for the BMAT or preparing for medical school interviews, they will think, oh, this guy knows what he’s talking about. Why don’t I look in the video description and sign up to his paid course?
So it started off like that and very quickly I kind of got the bug and I was like, Oh, this is actually really fun. Why don’t I talk about things other than med school as well, and talk about effective study techniques, which was something I was a big fan of. And I thought, Hey, why don’t I vlog life as a medical student at Cambridge? Cause that’s kind of intriguing. And then, Hey, no, one’s really doing this medical doctor vlogging thing in the UK. At least they weren’t at the time. And so I sort of stumbled into this gap in the market for like a medical school of vlogger type situation. And that just sort of snowballed from there and to now, what is like a tech and productivity and lifestyle type YouTube channel.
Nelson: [00:06:00] So that seems like it’s almost like a natural progression and that you wouldn’t necessarily have gone into those things ahead of time. What do you think of the advice that people say you have to be focused on one thing, you have to be just consistently doing this, this, this, and have a plan, say no to everything kind of outside side of that. It sounds like you’ve kind of gone against the grain?
Ali: [00:06:24] Yeah. So I think this is hard to answer, like a lot of our students on the part-time YouTube Academy, which is my course, ask about this as well. To what extent do you focus on a niche versus just do whatever you want so you can make the things you’re interested in and the correct answer that all the YouTube growth and all of the business people would say is that the riches are in the niches. The more you niche down, the more you can blow up is a phrase that gets thrown around on YouTube.
And I think that is true to a degree. And I think partly why my channel succeeded early on was because it was very niched down in terms of only targeting people applying to medical school at Oxford and Cambridge and Imperial and UCL. Like that’s a tiny, tiny, tiny audience. It’s very, very niche, maybe a few thousand people a year in the world.
And it started off like that. And I think because I was able to serve that audience very well, then it meant that over time I could move into sort of adjacent fields and slowly expand the audience out over time. And so for the people that I kind of coach on YouTube that’s what I usually suggest that if you can, and if you care about growth, then you probably want to niche down at the start and then you can always slowly expand your niche over time and things will just sort of evolve naturally.
Nelson: [00:07:40] It makes a lot of sense. I think that the natural evolution, I mean, the people that are interested in getting into those places. Also the sorts of people, as you said, that are going to be interested in productivity skills too because they’ve got productivity skills, study skills, that sorts of thing, because once they’re in, they’re going to need to know how to study for exams and how to balance their schedule and stuff like that as well.
So there was that progression there. Is there anything that you wish you’d known when you started out, before you said, okay, I did this thing and this thing and this thing, is there anything that’s that stands out that you were like, I really could have done with skipping that step?
Ali: [00:08:30] I’m not sure there’s any steps I would’ve skipped, but I really wish I had started repurposing content a lot sooner than I actually did. I used to very much focus on YouTube and I kind of wish that I’d also focused on my website at the start as well, because once you’ve put in the 98% of effort to words, writing and scripting and editing, publishing a YouTube video, it’s actually not that much more effort to turn it into a blog post or to turn it into a tweet thread, which then becomes a blog post.
And I really started doing that kind of in early 2020, and a lot of those blog posts that are just videos written out in blog post format have been a big driver of traffic to my website. And one thing I always think about is that at the moment, my whole business is very reliant on YouTube existing, and I was doing well on YouTube because that sort of feeds into the courses and the products and everything else as well.
So I kind of wish I had started diversifying sooner. I guess at the time, I just didn’t really imagine that I’d ever get to a point where that would be a concern. And so that’s something that I tell my students as well, you know, if you can, and if you’ve got the time slash if you’ve got the money to hire someone, just repurpose your content into blog posts early on, because SEO benefits from compounding over time.
Nelson: [00:09:47] Sure and there are so many like great tools out there it’s so much easier and so much cheaper than it was years ago to do that thing, just in terms of repurposing for this podcast, for example, we’re using things like Descript and Veed to take those and to split them up into mini segments to use for social, to transcribe them, and then put that transcription onto the website as well for SEO purposes.
So it sounds like a monumental effort, but the actual effort really is a step before that, it’s in creating that content. And then there are so many great tools, you know, that can be used by anybody. You don’t have to be a coder you know, I don’t have a technical background, but I can use these tools because they’re like visual development tools really aren’t they, in terms of the process, then I can see, obviously I’ve kind of watched some of your videos on, on the video creation process, do you then have a process for content distribution and repurposing as well?
Ali: [00:10:51] Yeah. So we’ve got a system around this that we’re trying to make more systematic. I’ve got a team of like four people now. So, you know, we’ve got a dude who’s in charge fully of re-purposing and so when I do podcasts like this, I always record them on my own camera and microphone as well and like right now I’m not looking at you. I’m actually looking at my camera lens. And so if there are soundbites in this particular podcast, I’ll send that video file to my repurpose guy, and then he’ll figure out bids to chop out for socials. And we’re trying to develop more of a system around this for our YouTube videos as well.
Like if I’m doing a video about 10 tips for time management, that’s very easy to chop up into 10 clips for Instagram and Twitter, for example. So that’s the sort of stuff that we’re working on now.
Nelson: [00:11:35] Interesting, and is that sort of stuff something that you’re actually pulling back a step in and saying, okay, well that needs to impact our content creation process as well, because at the end of the day, as you said, if, if you take the example of 10 tips, that sort of style of content that lends itself to the actual distribution and repurposing process, perhaps better than, I don’t know, another type of content. So is that impacting the actual type of content that you’re starting to create in the first place now?
Ali: [00:12:10] So thinking about re-purposing doesn’t really affect the sort of YouTube videos that you want to put out, because I think given that for us, YouTube is still by far the largest and most important platform.
We want to focus all of our attention on that. So if we happen to do a video that ends up being like a 10 tips for X, then that’s very easy to repurpose, but if we don’t happen to do a video which is more of a story, then we don’t try and make it less of a story just because that makes it easier to repurpose.
Ali: But since we started doing the repurposing thing, I’ve for example said yes to a lot more podcast appearances, because I know that when you’re being interviewed on a podcast, you end up just giving up these soundbites of supposedly reasonable sounding wisdom that works really well on Instagram and Twitter and even YouTube shorts, which is something that we’re experimenting with and we’re kind of starting a second channel as of this week to put a lot of these clips on as well. So the repurposing strategy is affecting podcasts, but not so much the main channel.
Nelson: [00:13:09] Interesting. What’s your thought process behind creating that second channel versus just having all of that content on your principal channel?
Ali: [00:13:19] Yeah so I’ve been thinking a lot about the second channel vibes. By the time you have a main channel and that main channel is big you then start becoming a slave to the YouTube algorithm in a way, which is probably not very healthy, but it’s like, you know, people are subscribed to me and expect a certain quality of video and so if I put out a one-minute clip of me just giving a sound bite on a podcast and doesn’t have the level of polish that a normal video would and so that would lead to potentially people unsubscribing, but more importantly, it means that… no one really knows how the YouTube algorithm works, but there are lots of theories that momentum on a channel counts and if you get a bunch of videos in a row that few people are clicking on, then the algorithm sort of thinks in inverted commas that your channel is now becoming less relevant for people. And therefore, they’ll surface your videos less often. And so there is an argument to be made that the videos that you post on your main channel, you want them to try and be bangers as much as possible, which is why a second channel gives you the freedom to put out a random Q and put out a random podcast clip, put out a random one-hour long interview with someone without having to worry that, Oh, what if this doesn’t appeal to my audience?
Nelson: [00:14:32] Interesting. So that’s a problem only a very few select channels will have though, right. In terms of, you’ve got some element of success that you need to think about protecting and creating a moat around, versus that’s not going to be an issue for lots of people. You just want to create that content, see what sticks, see what people respond to and kind of go from there.
Ali: [00:14:56] Yeah to an extent, although, for example, if you had a YouTube channel and you also had a podcast and you were to post the full video version of your podcast on your YouTube channel, most people don’t do that because when people are subscribed to your YouTube channel, they have a certain expectation. Let’s say most of your videos are six minutes long and talking about entrepreneurship, but then your podcast is two hours long and talking about philosophy, you know you’re not serving your audience who expect a certain thing from you. So in a way, it’s a problem that bigger channels have that you have to appease the algorithm, but it’s also a problem that smaller channels have, because if you want to grow, you want as many of your videos as possible to be resonating with as many people, as many of your core fans as possible, because the more a video resonates, the more the watch time increases, the more the session duration increases and the more the algorithm pushes it out to other people.
So unfortunately, every YouTube creator is to an extent, a slave to the YouTube algorithm.
Nelson: [00:15:52] Yeah, as to any platform that you’re involved in, I totally get the momentum thing. I used to sell our own branded products on Amazon, for example. And we used to spend a lot of time thinking about our pricing structure in order to gain momentum, gain testimonials and things like that, and then we would increase the price every couple of days until we got to the actual price that we wanted to sell on, but we always sold it far, far, far lower than the actual product was worth to kind of gain the algorithm, I suppose, in a way. It worked, so there you go.
I’m not sure necessarily how sustainable it would be, but do you think that there’s a limit in terms of, okay, you said you wouldn’t put the total one-hour podcast episode on, but is there a 20 minute, half an hour cutoff, should you be going shorter than that longer than that. What’s your kind of advice there?
Ali: [00:16:57] I dunno, it’s hard to give a firm answer on this because it’s all sort of based on guesswork and instinct and what other channels have done. For example Matt D’Avella, do you know Matt D’Avella?
Nelson: I don’t, no.
Ali: Oh, so he’s a huge YouTube channel, 3 million subscribers, talks about minimalism and productivity and his videos are just beautifully crafted. He makes documentaries on Netflix so he’s got like the production value.
Nelson: [00:17:25] You know what I have seen him. Yeah. He spends so much time, like hundreds of hours or something like this, creating a single video that looks yeah like it could just be on Netflix basically.
Ali: [00:17:38] Yeah, exactly. And he’s actually just released one in January this year about minimalism on Netflix. So, he has an interesting strategy in that he puts out videos once a week, and they’re usually very well-crafted to the point where you would think, Oh wow, this is a documentary filmmaker, but occasionally he puts out, well just like a half an hour long edited interview. He did one with Sam Harris recently. A few months ago, did one with Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism, I believe. And that’s an interesting strategy because you know, a half an hour long interview is not his usual vibe. But those videos still did quite well. Not as well as videos about minimalism that get millions of views, but still in sort of in the very high hundreds of thousands of views.
So that sort of worked for him. But then he also had a podcast that he did 180 episodes of, or rather a hundred episodes of, and none of those are now on his main channel. So it’s sort of hard to say. The way that I think of it is: Who is your target audience and what is your value proposition, and create content or put content on your main channel that fits, that fulfills that value proposition. If you care about growing. If you don’t care about growing, then you can do what you want. Obviously there’s that spectrum of how much do I want to treat this like a business versus how much do I want to treat this like a hobby. If you’re a hobbyist, it doesn’t matter. You don’t care about the algorithm. But the more you treat it like a business, the more you do, maybe you want to be thinking about the algorithm.
And so, yeah. Creator audience fit is really important, and so part of it is sort of what is the expectation that the viewers have, part of it is the value proposition that you communicate to the viewers is. Yeah, it’s really hard to say.
Nelson: [00:19:21] Yeah, it’s been very interesting. I’ll give you kind of a specific example that I was quite surprised about.
So I’m releasing a piece of content soon, which will be out by the time that this podcast is released, around how I used a Carrd, which is a one-page website builder, I’m sure you’re familiar with it, to land an interview with an up-and-coming startup. But when I actually looked at what other content that I could do to support this, I looked at the YouTube videos and the ones that were doing the best seem to be these actually quite poorly produced videos that go on and on and on and feature loads of random K-pop examples and stuff like this. And they’re almost like over the shoulder following along and that’s really, really surprising. So it was totally against my assumption of what would work. I kind of assumed that when somebody was Googling or putting into the YouTube search bar Carrd tutorial, I figured they’d want really clean, this is what you do, step one, step two, step three. Actually the results were completely different to that.
So how much of your time do you spend, you and your team, doing research when you come up with a content idea, do you actually look at what’s working well in the space now? Or you just say, well this is what my audience likes, I’m going to approach it this way.
Ali: [00:20:58] Yeah. I think for most videos we spend about five to 10 minutes looking at what else is in the space. The main thing that we’re looking for is what are the titles of videos that are performing disproportionately well, and by disproportionately, I mean, high view count relative to the channels’ subscribe account.
So there’s a video called how I take notes in my iPad Pro as an engineer student, has 2 million views and the channel has 20,000 subscribers and we’re thinking, oh okay, that’s interesting. And so often we’ll base our choice of titles around what else seems to be working in the space, or if there’s a video that someone’s done about something again, where it’s disproportionately well-performing.
Sometimes we’ll watch the video and see, okay, what are they doing? What’s the angle here? What can we do that’s different slash better than what this person has done, but it’s only about five or 10 minutes per video. Mostly it’s sort of, at this point, we’ve been doing this for three years. It’s just the instinct and Hey, you know, what would make for a good story and what’s a title that is kind of click baity, but that is still not quite click baity. And also how do we hold the viewer’s attention and how do we craft the video in a way where we are holding back some of the information until later on in the video to encourage more people to watch. So it’s all those sorts of things that are going through our mind as we’re crafting video.
Nelson: [00:22:12] Interesting. So one of the things I wanted to talk about is video production value. Just super impressed with all of your videos, because even when it’s just you talking to the camera, there’s always not just what you’re saying, but things happening on the screen as well, in terms of the animations and cuts and stuff like that.
Do you think there’s anything that a lot of YouTubers who want to grow their channel overlook about that side of things?
Ali: [00:22:40] Yeah, I think production value is again, one of those things that is also very important, but also not very important. The way I think of production value it’s like, yes, you could just start videos on your iPhone and you absolutely can do that. But now nowadays, the bar for quality on YouTube is so high that if you were to sit down and talk to the camera educationally type channel, people expect a certain level of production value. And it’s very easy to increase your production value. All it takes is money and it’s just a one-off, it’s just a one-off cost and as soon as you upgrade your camera or your lens or your lighting setup, suddenly every single video you’re producing from that point onwards has that upgraded production value. And so I don’t think production value should be a reason not to start YouTube. So for a complete beginner, my advice is usually that screw the production value, no one cares, start with your iPhone because at that point, just being able to consistently try out content and getting comfortable talking to a camera is the limiting factor. But then once they’ve done it for a bit and it’s like, okay, cool if you want to take this seriously, would you subscribe to a channel that looked like it was filmed with an iPhone with terrible audio Probably not. Whereas would you subscribe to a channel that had the same content, but looked a little bit nicer and crispy? Probably. Maybe. And so in that sense, it’s worth upgrading production value. I think one thing a lot of beginner YouTubers overlook is pauses. This is something I learned from Hank Green of the vlog brothers early on when I started on YouTube and he made the point that when we’re watching videos, we’re so used to the edit being sharp and snappy that any pause in the video is magnified in our minds. And he had on his second channel a video of just an uncut unedited video of him editing a video. And I just saw just how much he was just completely getting rid of every single pause.
And that’s a technique that I’ve used or started using as soon as I saw that. And I see that, maybe because I’m used to it, but I see that this is something a lot of beginner YouTubers don’t appreciate just the importance of a very, very, very tight cut so that the viewer in a way, doesn’t have space to take a breath. Unless that’s specifically the vibe you’re going for. I think pauses should be very intentional in video editing rather than accidental, because we happen to take a breath or because we happen to be thinking for a few seconds.
Nelson: [00:25:03] I’ve noticed that more closely with mini clips that are used for social media, I suppose, I think people are more kind of thinking along the lines well, we’ve only got 15-20 seconds here so we’re going to take lots of different parts of the podcast related to the same thing and stitch those together. Those seem to be like a lot more rapid fire and I think it’s easier to notice, but yeah, that’s such an interesting kind of topic around YouTube.
It’s one of those things that you don’t instantly think of as somebody new to YouTube, right? You’re thinking along the lines of okay how do I like make this look good? How do I get the right content? How do I put the right keywords in this to be found by the audience? You don’t think about things that are important, but perhaps a little bit more hidden, like just cutting out the pause times. That’s really interesting.
I want to switch gears a little bit and just talk about your kind of openness in sharing income. So this is something that I’ve noticed just across the board I suppose, a lot more people kind of approaching this ethos of build-in public, I suppose, with open arms. It’s pretty common these days in the indie hacker software world, sharing monthly revenue figures and sign-up numbers and stuff.
So is that something that you wanted necessarily to do or is that something that you saw okay, this is where it’s going. This is a potential particularly interesting angle.
Ali: [00:26:42] Yeah. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being open about sharing revenue numbers. When I first came across, I think it was a lot of the Indie Hackers stuff, listening to the podcast and reading the interviews. Seeing the revenue numbers really made me… I was like, Oh wow, this person park.io is making like $300,000 a month. That’s actually insane. I just would not have known that. And you know, when the founder of Carrd was interviewed on indie hackers and he was talking about some of his revenue numbers, my mind was just completely blown. And that feeling is what I kind of remembered when I started making some money on YouTube, thinking that, hey that is… There’s a phrase that comes to mind from JP Morgan, apparently, which is that a man always has two reasons for doing something a good reason and the real reason.
So my good reason for sharing revenue numbers is because I know it’s inspirational to a subset of people. Perhaps my real reason for sharing revenue numbers is because of the flexing, the social status, the prestige, the views, the clickbaity-ness, and the fact that people will then say to me, Hey, you’re so open and transparent and stuff, and I get a kick out of that happening. So I’m more than happy to oblige, especially because it gets the views and we’re all playing the game of trying to get views.
Nelson: [00:28:03] Yeah. One of the things that was interesting there, and I use the example of AJ from Carrd, just because you brought it up. I suppose I brought it up earlier as well.
It’s quite interesting because I think another reason of kind of sharing your income numbers, it is really useful to say like, okay, this is the strategy that I’m doing and this is the income that that’s tied to, and you can kind of see the efficacy of that strategy from those income numbers. So suddenly that person has kind of some old authority, because they have said, okay, well, this is the strategy that I use this is the numbers, those are the results. And then you get the feeling of whether to trust that person or not. Something that’s really, really interesting is like with AJ specific example for Carrd, they don’t have a blog, which is just kind of really bizarre for every other person who’s in this space that has always been told, okay, well, you need a blog. You need to be regularly producing content. You need to do this, this and this. And then as you said, you look at AJ’s numbers and you go wait, this guy has got that without following this kind of standard advice. It’s really useful for my perspective, when people share those numbers, because you can all also kind of reverse engineer it to say, well, hang on, they’ve done this, this and this. Maybe that’s more useful than somebody actually giving me, quote unquote, “advice” on what I should do. And I don’t know if that person is actually successful or not. But yeah, that’s kind of what I think around there anyway.
So just from a personal level, how do you feel taking the decision to take a sabbatical.
Ali: [00:29:58] Yeah. So taking a sabbatical for medicine is a surprisingly common decision. I think in 2019, the figure was like 70% of doctors after their first two years took some sort of sabbatical. Most people in that time they’ll do locum. So part-time shifts at the hospital to make ends meet and might travel or might go to Australia. I might do a research project. I might work in London for a bit. My plan was to travel the world and potentially do some emergency medicine in Australia, just to kind of get a feel of what that was like, but then kind of thanks to the pandemic and thanks to the YouTube channel going like ridiculously well in 2020, I thought that it just made perfect sense.
The problem with medicine is that once you’re in a training pathway, which is like eight years long, it’s a very much a sort of conveyor belt and you sort of get swept up and spat out at the other end. And you can take time off during training while you’re in the middle of a program, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops. You have to justify it. You have to explain why it’s relevant to your career. And I thought, you know what? I’ve been in full-time education from the age of zero to 24. And then I worked full-time as a doctor for two years. At this point, I’m relatively young. I have no bills. I have no dependents. I might as well take the opportunity to do whatever the hell I want and travel the world. Being supported by my YouTube channel, which I felt was an opportunity that would be a lot harder to get in the future, especially if I get married and have kids and that sort of stuff. And partly because the YouTube channel was going so well, it was like, you know, I’m working 40-46 hours a week as a doctor, commuting to work for two hours a day, if I can actually put that time towards building the business, then you know, right now things are going really well. And so you want to make hay while the sun shines, because one thing that’s always in my mind is that there are very few YouTubers who are successful today, who were around 10 years ago.
And there are a lot of YouTubers that have their five minutes of fame and then they become irrelevant and sort of, no one cares about them anymore. And so I’m thinking that while my channel is growing, while I’ve got the chance to capitalize on this, I should take that opportunity because I could always go back to medicine, but I can’t necessarily always go back to making videos on YouTube.
Nelson: [00:32:11] Sure. Why do you think that people can’t stick around for that long, the longevity isn’t that typical with most YouTubers?
Ali: [00:32:21] Yeah, I think some YouTubers have done a really good job of sticking around someone like Marcus Brownlee, MKBHD tech, tech reviews, tech YouTubers. That feels like a good niche to be in because in a way, the older you get, the more experience you get and the more authority you build around this niche, whereas a lot of like the lifestyle and fashion and beauty YouTubers, when they’re sort of 16 to 21 making makeup videos that is very different to when they’re 31 and making makeup videos. And so I think it just is a case of, as you know, you build an audience on a platform and that audience cared about you at that moment, because that was what they cared about at the time.
But they might not necessarily care about you 10 years from now. And so that is a fear that I often have, is that okay I need to do stuff today that sets me up to continue to be relevant 10 years from now. And I look at people like Tim Ferriss, who’ve done this really well, where his book came out in 2006 or 2007 and in 2021 he is a thousand times more famous than he was back then and still provides loads and loads of value to the world. I think partly why that is, is because it’s now less about him and more about the guests that he showcases and things like that on his podcast. So yeah, I think YouTube feels like a dangerous platform to build a living off of for that reason and that’s why I’m so keen on diversifying away from YouTube these days.
Nelson: [00:33:49] That makes complete sense. Like the two examples that you gave there, kind of the tech review side and also the Tim Ferris, they’re about showcasing other people and raising them up. It’s about leveraging what they’re doing. These are the people who are actually doing stuff in the space, you’re just kind of the person who shines a light on them and you basically have them kind of creating your content for you almost in a way. So those seem like really sensible things versus like, as you said, the beauty example where yeah perhaps you’re actually going to age out or your audience are going to age out of all of that.
Is there anything that you’re thinking of in terms of next steps that you can share with us. Obviously there’ll be some things that you want to keep close to your chest. You’ve got the YouTuber Academy now, are you kind of concentrating on that or are you even looking kind of one step ahead?
Ali: [00:34:48] Yeah, so I’m actually writing a book at the moment and I think that’s the next level as it were. And so everything else really is a distraction from writing the book. I’ve been realizing recently that I just have my calendar so full of calls and stuff and meetings and this and that, that I haven’t really given myself the uninterrupted creative hours to actually make progress on this book in a meaningful way. And so from next week, I’ve decided I’m going to block out, I’m not going to take any calls or any meetings before 1:00 PM, and then I’ll have that, theoretically have that five-hour block in the morning where I can just write. So that’s the main thing that I’m working on and I feel like having a book out there, especially if the book can be good and can, for example, hit a bestseller list or something like that, that would be really, really cool. And that’s the sort of thing that gives you longevity in this sort of world. You know, if James Clear had a YouTube channel, it’s not quite the same thing as if James Clear has a best-selling book that sold 3 million copies that unlocks a lot of opportunities, even away from the internet, like speaking at conferences and becoming a thought leader in a space and stuff.
I think the book thing, yeah, just in terms of longevity, in terms of sustainability of a business is the ideal Holy grail. So that’s kind of where I’m spending all my time these days.
Nelson: [00:36:09] Sure and it makes total sense. It’s like the credibility thing as well comes into play. As you said, YouTube although there are obviously we know of more people these days that are making a full-time living from that. It still, for my mind, doesn’t have that same ring to it as best-selling author, for example. then you have people who have basically made a living as an author coming from other places I’m thinking about people like Ryan Holiday, for example, you know, who, who started out in marketing for American Apparel and then kind of moved into the space and then he basically is the person that comes to mind these days when you talk about like modern stoicism for example.
Ali: [00:36:54] Yeah, absolutely. Like Ryan Holiday has done a fantastic job of turning his books into a thriving business and yeah, just becoming a thought leader in the space.
I actually interviewed him on my channel a few months ago and one interesting thing that he was saying is this thing he talked about how he sometimes looks at his job where he sort of, he goes into his loft and he does writing for many, many, many hours. And then he comes down. He thinks, well, you know, maybe I want to get into real estate or something like that. You know, something fun, you know, some new project to put my hands into. And then he speaks to his friends who are real estate agents and their dream is to sit in a loft and write self-help books. And he’s sort of thinks that, well, I’m actually living the dream right now. I shouldn’t just let this go and I should just put my head down and do the work, which I enjoy. I thought that was very interesting. I sort of feel the same way about the YouTube thing. Like I think it’s a lot of people’s dream to sit in their bedroom and make YouTube videos and make loads of money out of it and anytime I kind of think, Oh well is this it? I remind myself, actually, I’m very lucky to be able to do this.
Nelson: [00:38:04] Sure. It’s a case of the grass is always greener. And Ryan, I think he writes from a farm that he bought and he’s got a fantastic lifestyle and even he’s kind of thinking, Oh maybe I should be doing this instead. So I totally get it. So what he’s done with stoicism, is there a particular kind of area that you think, okay, if I wrote a book, this is what it would be about?
Ali: [00:38:30] Yeah. So the book I’m writing about is about productivity. But like productivity… we still haven’t figured out a title for it and it’s all very rough first drafty where we’re trying to go with the angle of meaningful productivity. I think a lot of the productivity stuff out there right now is, and to an extent I’m straw-polling here, but a lot of the productivity stuff out there is about getting more done in less time. Whereas I think part of the equation that’s maybe missing, or at least not as much talked about is actually before that step. How do you figure out what are the meaningful things that you actually do want to do with your life? What are the meaningful goals you want to set? How do you make sure the activities, how do you make sure the stuff that you’re doing is taking you somewhere that you want to be?
And so that’s what I’m trying to explore in sort of researching this book.
Nelson: [00:39:17] That’s interesting. Yeah, I’ve had several different angles on this, about it’s not productivity, it’s effective productivity and the difference between speed and velocity. Yeah so that’s really interesting. I’m sure it will be a great read.
I just want to talk about the part-time YouTuber Academy. Cause obviously you’ve got a whole wealth of knowledge that you’ve picked up over the last few years about how you’ve grown your own channel and now you’re sharing that knowledge through the YouTuber Academy. So could you talk a little bit?
Ali: [00:39:50] Yeah. So yeah, the part-time YouTube Academy is now a six-week live online course that me and my team do and we’ve done it once before. The first cohort was in November, 2020, and that was a four-week course. And initially, I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge and insights and stuff about building a YouTube channel, but kind of doing it as a part-time gig over the last three and a half years. And I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on coaching and courses and stuff and building systems around my channels so that I can turn out content without it taking over my life. And, you know, a lot of people would email and ask, “hey, I’m doing, I’m starting a YouTube channel but I don’t want to quit my job. How do I do it? How’d you do it?” That sort of thing. Initially, we were thinking of turning it into the standard self-paced online course where you just record a series of videos and sell it for like $200. And I spoke to people like Tiago Forte and David, who run their own live cohort courses, and they said, “hey, you know, have you considered doing this as a live cohort?” And I honestly hadn’t at the time because I just assumed doing stuff live, what’s the point? It’s just a zoom call and you know, it’s not very passive and I’m all about the passive income. But what their point was is that nowadays it’s a lot less about the content and much more about the accountability and the community and the transformation that students experience and you just get much more of that on a live cohort than you do in a self-paced course and a self-paced course, you’re lucky if 2% of the people who do the course will complete it. Whereas if you’re charging $2,000 and you’ve got 200 people in the live cohorts, then you know, it’s just a different kind of ball game.
And so the first time we ran it, I was so surprised by how well everything went down and how fun it was to actually teach sessions over zoom and how wholesome and nice the community was and now we’ve got an ongoing members community with about a hundred and something people in it and it’s very active and we have weekly events and it’s just so great seeing people actually making progress on their YouTube channels.
And so I’m very bullish about live cohort courses in general. And the thing I try and say for the YouTube Academy is that it’s not really about the content. There’s nothing interesting about the content. It’s all available for free on the internet if you want to troll through podcast episodes for ages, like I have done. Like it’s not the content. It is instead about the community and the accountability. And it’s the difference between signing up to a gym and having a personal trainer, for some people they’ll get hench by just going to the gym and Googling a workout plan, which is fine. But for someone like me, I’m not going to do anything if I’m on the gym on my own. But if I have a personal trainer who’s telling me what to do, then it just completely accelerates my results. So that’s sort of how we’re approaching the part-time YouTuber Academy.
Nelson: [00:42:37] Totally. Is there anything that was a bit of surprise to you with YouTuber Academy, given that actually that’s the first time you’ve been involved, to my knowledge anyway, and kind of direct training and particularly live training versus content creation.
Ali: [00:42:57] Yeah, there were so many surprising things about it. One of them was just like I had like a huge amount of imposter syndrome going into it. I thought, oh you know, why even want to listen to me? I’ve only got 1 million subscribers. Surely, they should listen to someone who’s got 10 million subscribers and things like that. What does anyone want to listen to me? I’ve just sort of lucked into this and all the stuff is available on the internet. There’s nothing new here. You can easily just go on video creators or Think Media, or you can read 10 Secrets to YouTube, or you can go through 30 days to a better YouTube Channel.
There’s all these things that you can do to get the content that I’ve just packaged up. And I think it was that curse of knowledge that CS Lewis talks about, and Derek Sivers has a great post called “obvious to you, amazing to others.” And I was so surprised, a lot of the most mundane things that I would be mentioning that I would think that is mundane and surely everyone knows this, people will be like, “Oh my God, that was game-changing” and I just didn’t quite appreciate just how much knowledge I’ve actually picked up about this YouTube thing over the last three years of doing it. So that was really surprising and really nice.
I was also very surprised by just how important the community aspect was to people. Initially, when we started the course, I was saying to the team what do we even need a community component? Do we need to have a community on so-called? Because I feel like when I do a course, I’m not particularly involved in the community because I spend most of my time doing the work and the team were like, hell yes, we need a community and I’m so glad they said that because the community was for a lot of people, the most valuable part. And yeah, so it was kind of those two things, like the content I was surprised by how good people found it, because it was all kind of obvious to me. But I was also surprised by how much people valued the community.
Nelson: [00:44:41] Interesting. So what were your thoughts around, obviously it’s quite a hands-on thing, so what were your thoughts around picking up a premium price point for this?
Ali: [00:44:52] The thing with the a live cohort is that in a way, part of me wants to say you do have to charge a premium because it’s more effort, but I don’t have to charge a premium. We could have just kept the price as low. The thing that finished it for us was speaking to David Perell, who runs a course on Write of Passage, and he started off charging $400, and then he kept on increasing his prices, and now he charges $4,000 for his five-week course. And what he was saying is that the more he increased his prices, it didn’t affect sales at all. The number of sales didn’t drop. And the quality of people who signed up to the course increased with the price increases. And we definitely noticed this as well. When you’re charging $200 for something you’re going to get dozens of emails from people asking for discounts, you’re going to get refund requests. You’re going to get people wanting to be handheld every step of the way. When you’re charging $2,000 for something, it’s a very different demographic of people. It’s a demographic of people who will take it seriously, who won’t ask for discounts, who are incentivized and put the investment into actually do the work. And so we thought that, hey, we’d rather cap on numbers and increase the prices for this to continue to be a ridiculously lucrative business for us while also trying to have as much of a hands-on approach as we could for our students.
So we do a lot of data gathering behind the scenes and keeping track of every single student to make sure they’re having a good time and sending me emails every week to be like, Hey, you know, you haven’t done last week’s homework assignment, everything okay? Anything we can do to help?
I think that sort of stuff benefits from having fewer students, but charging them a lot of money rather than the mass market approach of having loads of students and charging them small amounts of money.
Nelson: [00:46:41] Lot of sense. Even just this last week, I’ve seen like the founder of Gumroad has come out with his own course and again gone for a premium price point. He’ll no doubt raise that the next time he runs it I assume.
So just to wrap up this interview, what’s the one standout piece of advice you’d give to somebody looking to emulate your success?
Ali: [00:47:08] Ooh. My usual spiel is a three-step process. Number one, create useful videos or create useful content. Number two, publish it once or twice a week. And number three, do it for two years. And my guarantee to anyone listening to this as if you follow those three steps, then I guarantee you that your life will completely change. I can’t put any numbers on it because you know, the numbers are entirely outside of our control, but I can fully guarantee that your life will change in ways you can’t imagine. You’ll meet people on the internet, you’ll make friends, you’ll get messages from people who like your stuff feel. Yeah. You’ll just massively multiply the opportunities that are available to you and you might even make a decent amount of money on the side. It just requires create useful stuff, it’s twice a week, and do it for two years. And it’s that third bit of do it for two years that so few people will actually stick to because you kind of have to have the faith and the patience that this will pay off at some point. And it’s okay if no one reads my stuff for two years, as long as I continue to make useful stuff and try and improve it a little bit over time.
Nelson: [00:48:13] Fantastic. Well, thank you so much. So for the audience that haven’t heard of you, those few people, where can they find you?
Ali: [00:48:21] Yeah, so my YouTube channel is probably the easiest place. If you just search for Ali Abdaal, you’ll find me there and you can check out the videos and yeah hopefully you’ll enjoy them.
Nelson: [00:48:31] Cool. And where can people find your part-time YouTuber Academy?
Ali: [00:48:35] Oh, so that’s a link somewhere on my website. I think the URL is academy.aliabdaal.com but if you just Google part-time YouTuber Academy, you’ll find it, I’m sure, hopefully the SEO for that is reasonable.
Nelson: [00:48:44] Fantastic yeah well all the links for these will be in the show notes as well.
So Ali, thank you so much. Really, really appreciate it and hopefully speak to you soon.
Ali: Thank you, Nelson. Speak to you soon.
Nelson: And that’s it for today. You’ve been listening to the working from home podcast with me, Nelson Jordan. We’ve been talking about the good, the bad and the ugly side of remote work.