How to stay relevant as a creator with Thomas Frank

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Thomas Frank has been creating online since 2010. With 2.8 million subscribers on YouTube and $15,000 sponsorship deals, he was doing well. But he decided to start a second channel focusing on Notion. He now makes over $100,000 a month with a smaller audience.

In this episode of Creators On Air, Thomas shares how he pivoted his career as a creator and continues to stay relevant after 10 years of being online.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Thomas: The worst thing I could do is get addicted to my view counts and keep trying to make the same content forever, because eventually what I'm doing is going to get old. It's gonna fall out of fashion. It's gonna fall out of vogue. There's gonna be new creators who come in who do it better than I did.

[00:00:15] Thomas: They're gonna have new ideas. They're gonna be hungrier. That's where you do not wanna stay.

[00:00:29] Akta: Thomas Frank has been a creator since 2010 when he started a blog called College Invo Geek. Nowadays he focuses on Notion and his business makes over a hundred thousand dollars a month.

[00:00:39] Thomas: I didn't know that there was an algorithm. Oh, like I didn't understand it back then. I don't think most people did. Uh, you know, maybe like, I'm sure Matt Pat from Game Theory understood it way back then.

[00:00:50] Thomas: he, he's been a nerd for this stuff for DEC or years. Um, but I came in like, yeah, I had a blogging background. So when you're a blog, You, you just don't expect your content to get a, an audience right away. It's kind of crazy now, like especially with TikTok and shorts on YouTube. Yeah. But even with Longs on YouTube creators who have an audience, they kind of expect, okay, I'm putting in my next video and I expect I'm gonna get views.

[00:01:14] Thomas: and, and you see them complain like, oh, this video didn't get any views. The YouTube algorithm is, is, uh, hating on me. It's targeted me, it hates me. I feel so cooled out right now. , right? But it's like, I grew up as a blogger where that expectation didn't exist. I had, you know, I had my website guide and it was getting, uh, tenths of thousands of visits a month.

[00:01:32] Thomas: And, you know, I, I'm like, cool, I'm gonna write another blog post over here. Uh, even if I made a blog post about the same topic, the assumption was this is, this will get no view. Unless I go out and advertise it. So that's, you know, that's what you do when you grow up in that environment is you make a piece of content and then you're like, okay, how can I go out and get the word out about this piece of content?

[00:01:53] Thomas: So people, you know, it's like, obviously you post a Facebook, you post a Twitter, you post a whatever, uh, and, uh, guest posting, which doesn't really work anymore. But it did work back then. Um, and then the one that really worked for me for a while was p. Oh, really? Which is like, who talks about Pinterest these days?

[00:02:11] Thomas: Right? Yeah. Uh, but Pinterest was big back. It's still big. My wife actually uses Pinterest all the time. But, um, it was big back in the day for content marketers and there was a strategy where you would take your content and you would make an infographic out of it. So for a very long time, like I think the number one traffic source for our blog was Pinterest.

[00:02:27] Thomas: No way.

[00:02:27] Akta: That's crazy. How have things evolved then since you've become more aware about the YouTube algorithm or just algorithms in general? Like how has your strategy changed?

[00:02:35] Thomas:  I personally am no longer using Pinterest. Um, my perception is that it's much harder for content marketers to build an audience on it.

[00:02:42] Thomas: Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there's still Pinterest tips out there. Uh, I think Google is still roughly the same, um, with the exception that every year that goes by, the value of trying to go out and build back links diminishes. So 2010 when I was getting started, The SEO strategy of the day was go out and guest post to get back links.

[00:03:05] Thomas: That's what you did. Or, or go beg people to do back links. And people still email me like, please backlink to my new article about CD supplements in your blog. And I'm like, no, I don't know who you are. . Uh, but also it doesn't matter as much anymore cuz Google's smart and Google, uh, understands like, , user intent, user behavior metrics.

[00:03:21] Thomas: Like if a user clicks into your page, how long do they stay? Do they bounce the back button, go to something else? And so, uh, you know, SEO ranking is a lot about content quality these days and matching user intent, satisfying users, and keeping them on site. So I understand that. Well, I understand how to build, uh, a great, you know, SEO ranking for a piece of content without having to do crazy backlink building.

[00:03:42] Thomas: Um, but then a lot of my focus now is on algorithms, and you have, I would. Three, maybe four main platforms where you can kind of grow algorithmically. Um, YouTube and TikTok being the biggest two by far. And then Twitter and LinkedIn also counting. Um, you know, maybe, maybe there's Instagram reels, maybe there's Facebook stuff.

[00:04:03] Thomas: But I think YouTube and TikTok are the most powerful. Twitter and YouTube or LinkedIn are also quite powerful, especially if you prefer the written. . Mm-hmm. . And then there's nothing for podcasts. Sorry? Podcasts are audience deepeners. Uh, distribution for podcasts is really tough unless you turn them into videos.

[00:04:19] Thomas: yeah. Which you're doing here, so good job. Yes, exactly. .

[00:04:22] Akta: And then you've also started your second channel. So your main channel has like millions of subscribers, and you've not posted for I think 10 months or so. What was the, what was the reason for then starting a new channel to focus? Notion and these style of videos rather than using your older channel?

[00:04:37] Thomas: Yeah, so I had done a couple of not videos, um, I wanna say three actually, on the main channel. So there was the first one, uh, which kind of went through my YouTube system at the time. There was one on my note-taking system I had created and then there was one that I thought would go viral and it just didn't, I made an among us game tracker.

[00:04:56] Thomas: So you could like track who you were suspicious of and like where people were during the game. Um, and that was all I had done for Notion on my main channel. And then I was like, okay, I want to do some other Notion videos. But I perceived at the time that the ones I wanted to do were too technical for the main channel.

[00:05:14] Thomas: Right? Like one of them, the second, the second video on the channel was, I think the first one I actually thought of making, um, which was at the time you couldn't open Notion links in the. unless you like, replaced the HTTPS with notion slash slash you had to manually do it. So I created some auto hotkey scripts that would, if you, uh, paste or uh, copied a notion URL to your clipboard, it would actually swap out those URL handlers automatically.

[00:05:38] Thomas: Yeah, the URL handle I thing, it was like, nobody's on my main channel's gonna watch this. Let me start a second channel. and I kind of wanna see what it's like to build a channel just about notion. And it was gonna be a total side project. And I had no like concrete monetization plan for it, didn't know what I was gonna do.

[00:05:58] Thomas: The idea of paid templates had not occurred to me yet. Um, I think I had a couple of free ones I was giving away. So the third video on the channel was like ultimate tasks. That was my second free template. And then, and I just kept doing it because it was fun and it was also not stressful. Mm-hmm. . So a big thing is I have been doing, uh, sponsored videos, every video sponsored since 2017.

[00:06:19] Thomas: Wow. Uh, that's when I hooked up with Standard, my agency. And, you know, they do such a good job that they were able to get a sponsor for every video, which is great because it basically doubled my income within a couple of months, uh, after signing with them. But it also meant like every video is high.

[00:06:36] Thomas: every video needs to perform well for the sponsor. So every video I'm like, how do I design this? So it gets lots of views, like, you know, very Mr. Beast style, not content, but Mr. Beast thinking mm-hmm , how do I make sure this video does well in the algorithm? And that's fine and that helps build a sustainable business.

[00:06:53] Thomas: But often it doesn't like allow us to do the things that we really wanna do in the, in the moment. Yeah. So at the moment, or at the time, what I wanted to do was play around with notion. So I was like, let's just do the side channel because it's, it's low pressure, right? Yeah. I don't care if it gets a million views per video.

[00:07:10] Thomas: Um, and it, it's kind of sadden now, like this becoming my main thing. It's like that's creeping back into my life where it's like, oh, how did this video perform? But it's less intense because we sell the product now. Yeah. So it's like every video is a piece of marketing for our overall funnel, but I don't care how an individual video does specifically.

[00:07:30] Akta: So how have your revenue streams evolved over time since being a creator from like the early days of blogging to now?

[00:07:37] Thomas: early days was entirely, uh, affiliate income. And then, well, I guess I, on the side was also a freelance web designer, so I did a little bit of that and I was making people websites and making some money.

[00:07:48] Thomas: But for, uh, the purposes of me as a content creator early on I was entirely affiliate sales. I think the next thing that I added was book sales because I released 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades as a free. and then people were like, well, we want it in print. So I learned how to, uh, edit my own book. I found like this template you had to actually get Microsoft Word, 1997 compatibility plugin for, uh, Amazon's editing template to work correctly and to get, get the right justification of margins.

[00:08:21] Thomas: It was crazy, but I learned how to edit my own. Put it out in print. So I had, um, book sales as well for a while, and then I wanna say the, the next one was YouTube sponsors. So that's when I got hooked up with, uh, standard every video was sponsored from then on. Um, and I'm trying to remember if I had ad sense before or after sponsors, because I actually got to a hundred thousand subscribers and I had AdSense off the whole time.

[00:08:47] Thomas: What? And it wasn't a mistake, it was on purpose. Oh, really? So again, you back to me being as old as Galactus, being a O OG blog. Um, part of what people talked about in the v blogosphere for a very long time was you gotta get people on your email list. You gotta build an email list. And the way you do that is by optimizing your funnel where people hit the page.

[00:09:07] Thomas: You gotta have a email signup thing in the middle of your content or in your sidebar, whatever, like, whatever you can do to improve your email signup rates. So my thought with Aen was, well, that's an ad that's gonna lower the amount of people who actually watch the video. It's gonna lower the amount of people who get to the end and sign up for my free email, uh, newsletter.

[00:09:25] Thomas: Um, so I was like, business wise, it would be smarter for me to not have ads on. And then I remember a friend of mine was like, dude, when I see an ad on YouTube, I don't think that jerk Thomas showed me an ad . I think YouTube is showing me an ad. I'm gonna hit that skip button if I can, but you know, I don't, I don't think about that. When I started watching the video.

[00:09:45] Akta: Did you understand the earning potential of absence at the time from YouTube?

[00:09:48] Thomas: Not really. I was like, oh, it's probably just beer money. Because you know, you think it's like, yeah, everyone says it's like 50 cents to $4 cpm and I wasn't getting that many views and I, I was making.

[00:09:58] Thomas: $10,000 a month on the hosting affiliates at the time. So Wow. I was like, how much could it possibly be? Like, well, you know what could have banana cost Michael $10 ? Um, but no, I I was happily surprised when I turned it on. Yeah. Cause I was like, bet, oh wait, this is like $3,000 a month that I've just been leaving on the table.

[00:10:17] Thomas: Wow. For wow. Years. I can't believe that .

[00:10:21] Akta: That's crazy .

[00:10:23] Thomas: So, uh, and the funny thing, I was dipping my toes into the water is a bad sense. I didn't even turn it on in every video. I was like, well, I can't have it on this video. And there was some videos where I was like, I had used, um, like third party assets under fair use, but.

[00:10:42] Thomas: I am a very detail-oriented person and um, my parents were kind of strict, so like I check on things and so like when I looked up what fair use was, it was like, well, there's a difference between fair use for, uh, personal content and fair use for commercial content. And I was like, well, if you turn ad sense on, on YouTube, that makes it commercial content, right?

[00:11:01] Thomas: And like, I think today, uh, the generally accepted wisdom in the fair. Uh, sphere is like commercial content as like a commercial or like mm-hmm. , you know, you used third party assets in a literal commercial or something. Not, I, I don't think it's thought of as like, and, and monetized YouTube videos. Not usually thought of as commercial content.

[00:11:19] Thomas: So yeah, eventually I got to turning on assets for every video, but for a long time it was like these, these videos over here, they're getting millions of views but can't monetize those ones. . Uh, so yeah, I've loosened up over the years, but I'm definitely. Dip the toe in kind of person, uh, and, and think that there's pranas in the water, even though I can see all the water.

[00:11:39] Akta: It's clear. , so sponsorships and affiliate marketing and absence for quite a while. And then how did that evolve to now, because now you're not doing sponsored videos anymore.

[00:11:50] Thomas: True. So the, the next one after sponsors was, uh, Skillshare. , which we still make a decent amount of money on those, but I'm not doing main channel videos, so that's sort of dwindling over time.

[00:12:02] Thomas: Uh, and then the most recent one, and the biggest one by far is the notion templates. And

[00:12:06] Akta: how did that come about? Was it just that you saw your second channel doing really well, or did that become strategic when you saw kind of other creators doing really well with Notion?

[00:12:17] Thomas: Actually, uh, I stumbled into it.

[00:12:19] Thomas: because I had been giving away free templates and there was like this sentiment in the Notion community that no one would pay for templates. I'm like, who would pay for a Notion template? And you could still see this on the Notion subreddit. Like I, I have since learned that the Notion subreddit I, I believe, is frequented by a lot of people who are students or people who are nerds for notion and would never think of not building their own systems.

[00:12:44] Thomas: but eventually I realized, well, notion is also a business tool and there mm-hmm. , there are businesses of all sizes who are using it from solopreneurs up on to, uh, our agency uses it, standard uses it, and they have like 90 employees at this point. So, and there are much bigger companies that use it too. So if a business uses it than if I can provide a turnkey solution for a business process, then that might actually be worth money.

[00:13:06] Thomas: Now, this is not where my thinking started. My thinking actually started that I was gonna make a course because I had taken, uh, OnDecks course on, uh, it was like creator or course creator fellowship or something that Andrew Bao had, uh, taught. So my initial thought was, I will monetize by doing some sort of cohort based course.

[00:13:25] Thomas: And then as I'm going through the cohort based course as a student, I'm like, I am learning a lot, but I also don't really like this cohort style. I don't like showing. Twice a week at a specific time, just let me learn all this stuff when I wanna learn it. Um, so I was like, okay, maybe a self-paced course.

[00:13:42] Thomas: And then I was like, well, as part of my self-paced course, I'm going to give them a template. Mm-hmm. . And then the template just started getting, and I, I looked at my own YouTube management template and I'm like, wait, that is a product in and of itself, and rather than waiting for me to make a course to go along with it, let's just try selling.

[00:14:00] Thomas: As its own thing. And again, it was like, well, we run a very profitable YouTube channel off of this template. Like, you know, we're doing, uh, I think it was 700 k a year revenue on my channel, and that was what we used to manage it and all the channels. So I'm like, I think people are gonna get value out of this.

[00:14:18] Thomas: and I think I can charge more than $5. So, um, I made the beta version, I did two tiers. There was like the base tier and then I added ultimate tasks, integration with the higher tier. And then I think that was like 1 29 with the discount code I gave people. Uh, so, and, and people started buying it and with very minimal marketing.

[00:14:39] Thomas: It was making like 15 k a month. Wow. Um, and it's crazy, like, so I've been going back through my old journals and, and email blasts and stuff to see like, how did I market creator's companion? And the answer I've come to is I kind of didn't . I was like, wait, I must have done an email blast to my big list about this template.

[00:14:57] Thomas: And I never did. Uh, I literally, all I ever did, , I put a link to it in the little header for Ultimate Tasks. And before it launched, uh, that went to a form for a waiting list. So I wanna say I launched to a waiting list of like 350 people and we made like eight grand in a day or something. Wow. So that was like the first thing.

[00:15:20] Thomas: I was like, whoa, okay. This is actually like, there's some interest here. Holy crap. and then I didn't really market it at all, ever actually, to this, to this day, I still haven't really marketed creator's companion because at the time I was like, it's in beta. Mm-hmm. , it's what I want, but I don't know if this is fully what my customers want.

[00:15:38] Thomas: I also don't know if there's like some little bug I left in there. I do not wanna go to my big channel and open the flood gates and, and you know, even if I get millions of dollars in sales, I do not wanna have a bunch of angry customers because there's some bug or there's some overlooked feature. Let's keep it small, let's keep it in.

[00:15:54] Thomas: and will grow gradually. Um, and that went on for several months. I was also doing main channel videos and then when I got to building Ultimate Brain, that took up all my time and the launch for that, which I did market. Um, it was way bigger than expected and still to now has taken up more, most of my time.

[00:16:13] Thomas: So we haven't had time to properly market greater. .

[00:16:16] Akta: And is that the reason that you've kind of, I wanna say neglected the main channel then, because it's 100% you're taking up so much time. Yeah. But do you think you'll go back to the main channel at some point?

[00:16:24] Thomas:  I do. Yeah. It wasn't like, all right, friendship ended with main channel,

[00:16:30] Thomas: Now Notion is my best friend. Uh, it wasn't like that at all. I was, I, I kept intent. You're like, okay, I'm, I've got these main channel videos I'm gonna do. I fully intend to do it next month, but this month, Um, I gotta build an ultimate brain and the next month comes, well, this month I have to do customer support eight hours a day every single day cuz I don't have a support team.

[00:16:49] Thomas: And then the next month comes, well, this month I need to start scaling my team up and hire support people and hire director of ops. And then, um, and then I, last month or last year, I spent four straight months, uh, documenting notions formula property because I don't have you used a notion formula? Uh,

[00:17:07] Akta: kind of, I don't really get it.

[00:17:08] Akta: I'm not, I mean, I've tried to understand all these things that you do with notion, like the API and all of that, and ugh, I'm, I'm not that advanced, I'm afraid.

[00:17:17] Thomas: Well, have I got some documentation from you, , but yeah, so like, if you've ever used it and tried to write a formula, you'll know like, The only documentation that is written for Notion Formulas, uh, officially is they have like one little page on their site that kind of explains it in general.

[00:17:33] Thomas: And then in the tool, each method, like each function or operator, there's like a one line description of what it does in a couple of very simple examples. Well, that does not cover a lot of the questions. Um, that one, one may have, like for example with date between like what the heck is the moment js, uh, string format and how do I get like a specific date format I want?

[00:17:55] Thomas: Well, I am a nerd and I like web development documentation and whenever I have like a JavaScript question, I can go to MDM web docs and I can see like a good 2000 word article about one JavaScript function with many examples. And I was like, I want that for notion. and I perceive that if I make it, that might be like strategically valuable in the future.

[00:18:17] Thomas: It won't get me as many views as I would get if I was just making more content. I understand that, but I believe that sometimes you go into hermit mode and you make something freaking amazing, and then when you get out of hermit mode like that is now something that really attracts attention and you can go and talk about it and then like you get attention for it, which I've experienced with other things in the notion thing like.

[00:18:39] Thomas: So I did that and I, it took me four months and it's like 45,000 words with wow, uh, example databases for every single op, every single function operator, and constant in notion formulas. There's, there's an example for it. Uh, so I basically became a programmer, doing that, and then I went right into API and I'm like, let's learn the API now.

[00:18:59] Thomas: So that's where we've been the past six. I love how eight months, like

[00:19:02] Akta: all your experiences and interests have just kind of like come together with this, which is really interesting. Um, it's true. How has your mindset then changed as a creator because.. Have you always been like this? Or was there a part of you in the past that felt like, oh, I need to post a video every single week, otherwise my audience is gonna lose interest or do you know what I mean?

[00:19:21] Thomas:  Like I was talking earlier, like once per week with be mind without fail, or it'll charge me money. Uh, so what changed? Um, I think I just got into a new season, so I think that you, you definitely go through seasons as an entrepreneur, as as a creator. Mm-hmm. , that season of my life was, okay, Tom, you need to put in the reps to learn the skill of video.

[00:19:46] Thomas: Um, and, and everything had a goal. Like at the time I was trying to get a million subscribers on YouTube channels like. my goal right now, and I'm trying to build the best channel in the world for students and like in terms of metrics, that's my North star, don't have monetization metrics. Uh, I'm just gonna grow there and there'll be something cool after that.

[00:20:02] Thomas: And I remember when I hit a million like woo-hoo subs, uh, celebrate a little bit and then now it's like, whoa, what's the next goal? 10 million subscribers. That doesn't sound fun. I don't care about subscribers anymore. Um, so from then on, I think 2020 was like my filmmaker. and I cared about views. I cared about performance, but what I cared about most was the quality of the videos.

[00:20:24] Thomas: And that was the year I was like watching Matt DLA make Netflix style documentary style content for YouTube. And I was watching Peter McKinnon, I'm filming an eight K and I'm doing 120 frame per second speed ramps with a drone . And this is how you do it. I'm like, cool, I'm gonna do that. So you go back to my work from 2020 and it.

[00:20:42] Thomas: Crazy cinematic stuff. Uh, and then I kind of got bored with that, and now it's like, well, now I want to build this ultimate resource for an notion. I, I have this vision for a thing that can exist. And it's so much fun because I think once you lose that, or once you get to the top of your mountain and you don't see another peak, at least for me, like things get boring.

[00:21:02] Thomas: Mm-hmm. . Um, so I had a million subscribers. I was, I was making more money than I really needed to live on with the YouTube channel. You know, I knew the videos I was making were helping people, but it wasn't like there was this overarching thing that I was building that was yet incomplete. It's just like, what's the next video?

[00:21:19] Thomas: What's the next video? Um, yeah. And then with this now, I now have, it's like the Dyson's theory hasn't been built yet. I have the skeleton, but there's so many pieces left to put on. That's what I feel with my current channel, my current brand. The API thing is not done yet. The formula thing is not done yet.

[00:21:38] Thomas: There's so many things we can do for, uh, specific use cases. How do you use Notion as a crm? How do you use it as a recipe tracker? Like so many things. Yeah. They don't exist yet, but I can see them in my head, so I just need to go out and make them.

[00:21:51] Akta: No, that's an interesting evolution. I like the idea of seasons because it gives you room to not get boxed in.

[00:21:57] Akta: And I guess that's leading on to my next question. Were you ever afraid of getting boxed in as a creator? Because you started off as being, you know, college info geek and just being college students, and then it was the productivity content. Now it's notion, how did you make sure that you were able to evolve as a creator without.

[00:22:15] Akta: Narrowed into

[00:22:16] Thomas: a niche. Let me think about that for a second cuz there's a lot of swirling thoughts around my head. Okay, cool. The first thought starts in 2012. When I turned 21, I turned 21 on a red eye flight, like midnight 21. You're still on the plane. Oh no way. Can't drink cuz you're asleep. Uh, and I went to Blog World, which was a conference in New York.

[00:22:41] Thomas: And uh, a friend of mine there was like, he, I think he was like 35, so he was significantly older than me at the time, but he's like, you gotta get off outta this college in pu stuff cuz you're graduating next year. Uh, and I'm like, oh my God, they're gonna all think that I'm some old fuddy-duddy who doesn't know anything about student life because I'm done with college.

[00:23:01] Thomas: And then I remembered, wait a second, Lynn Oy is like in her forties or fifties and has been writing about college success for decades and people still listen to. Um, Cal Newport wrote his student success books after he was a student and people still pay attention to those. So at the time I was like, okay, I don't think that I'm going to instantly graduate and have people distrust me or think I'm uncool and old.

[00:23:26] Thomas: Uh, let's keep trying to do it for a while. And another motivation there was, uh, all throughout me being a student, I was working on college info geek, but I was not interested at all about academic success content. because as a student I was like, I'm gonna go to class. I'm gonna try to get good grades, but I'm more interested in internships and clubs and side hustles and all that stuff.

[00:23:46] Thomas: So that's what I wrote about. I wrote about career success and side hustles and building websites and things like that. And then I graduated college and I realized I have a huge content gap. I have basically nothing on how to study. So that's what I spent the next few years doing, is [00:24:00] just making a world class library of content on academic success, cognitive enhancement, all that kind of stuff.

[00:24:07] Thomas: and, and wouldn't you know it, I'm in my mid twenties. I'm out of college four years, five years, six years, and people are still listening to me and they're still having fun watching the content. So I was like, okay, I don't have to be a student to make student content. Yeah. And then, you know, it, it, it's a very gradual process of pivoting.

[00:24:24] Thomas: I'll go on like long roller blade rides with my friend Martin, and we're like, Hey, we're getting near 30. Should we stop doing stuff for students? So I did a very, very gradual. on my channel. I just changed the banner. I got rid of collagen. VO Geek made a picture of me. Um, I stopped putting collagen vo geek in every title.

[00:24:44] Thomas: I stopped having my end card say Collagen VO geek. It would just be me being like, watch this next video. But it was like the topics didn't really change. because, you know, a student wants to stop procrastinating, but so does a professional. So as an entrepreneur, we, we all end up on Twitter or birds with arms subreddit, , yeah.

[00:25:02] Thomas: When we're supposed to be working. So, uh, you know, I can teach you how to block birds with arms subreddit, even if you are not a student in a video that I can create. Yeah. And, and that's when I kind of realized like, okay, if you pivot it gradually, um, and you don't just create like this crazy quantum leap, you'll bring a lot of your audience along with.

[00:25:21] Thomas: Mm-hmm. . Um, you won't create like this whiplash, uh, whip, whiplash effect, uh, for your audience. And I remember reading about this, this was like a real life proof of something in Cal Newport's book. So good. They can't ignore you. He talked about this woman who was like, I think she was like an investment banker or something, and she's like, I'm gonna go start a yoga studio.

[00:25:40] Thomas: And he's like, that's a huge jump. And that's really hard to execute because. Totally different worlds. Mm-hmm. . And there's not a lot of skill from your current thing that's gonna transfer over to the new thing. Mm-hmm. . But if you can find something that is adjacent. , then it's gonna be much easier to pivot and transfer into.

[00:25:59] Thomas: Um, I experienced this with figure skating and skiing as well. I learned how to figure skate, and then when I went back to ski, I was like, oh my God, I'm way better at skiing than I've ever been. Wow. Even though I haven't been practicing skiing at all for three years. Yeah. So if you can find something that that's like a, a logical pivot next step from your current area, then you have the skills to excel in it Pretty.

[00:26:21] Thomas: and you're gonna have at least some of your audience members who care enough to come along for the ride. Yeah. So I think Notion is a logical pivot from what I was doing, because notion is very tied into the worlds of productivity and work, uh, you know, uh, optimization of your workflows. Um, a lot of creators use it, so it made sense.

[00:26:39] Thomas: Sure. But if I had gone be like, all right, we're doing a fly fishing channel now, , that might be a little harder to build.

[00:26:46] Akta: Definitely, and I don't wanna make you seem older at all. So please, I hope I'm not gonna offend you with this, but I feel like you are one of the few creators that has lasted and made, like they've still managed to keep such an engaged audience and I feel like the fear for a lot of creators is, is this a certain career path?

[00:27:03] Akta: Or you know, will I have this job in 10 years time or not? How have you made sure that you've managed to stay relevant and. You know, like you, you're still engaging in audience this day, even though, you know, you still probably have subscribers from college. Info Geek, geek. How have you managed to mm-hmm.

[00:27:20] Akta: kind of enjoy with all the changes that happen on

[00:27:23] Thomas: social media? I am kind of old. Um, I'm not as old as, I'm not calling you old. Oh, no. I, I, I will accept it. I will accept, I've got a couple of grays now, . Um, but I'm not as old as somebody like say Sir David Attenborough, who still captivates audiences to this.

[00:27:39] Thomas: because he has a knack for communicating something with just passion and joy. And I realize everything I do as a creator is building my abilities to communicate. It's building technical skill, it's building business wisdom, and if I keep pushing in those directions, there's always going to be an opportunity.

[00:28:00] Thomas: The worst thing I could do is get addicted to my view counts and keep trying to make the same content forever. Mm, and not progress my own skills. And not progress in my own discovery, because eventually what I'm doing is going to get old. It's gonna fall out of fashion. It's gonna fall out of vogue.

[00:28:17] Thomas: There's gonna be new creators who come in who do it better than I did. They're gonna have new ideas. They're gonna be hungrier. , that's where you do not wanna stay. Um, so I think, you know, my, my path as a creator has been one of constant evolution and, um, and shifting who I talk to, what I talk about, and, uh, what I've learned.

[00:28:35] Thomas: So I, I've learned a couple of key lessons. First and foremost, I'll say this, for, for any creator. Um, who experiences their first 10 out of 10 video in the YouTube studio? And for those who don't understand the YouTube studio, you think 10 outta 10 sounds great, but it's, it means, uh, out of the last 10 videos, it's 10th in terms of views.

[00:28:55] Thomas: So it's like you're, you're washed up kid , your chance is over. Hollywood has spit you out. Go back to the farm. And I've felt that many, many times. And I've gone through many, many cycles where I'll have like four or five videos in a row. They're all 10 outta tens. I'm like, I'm washed up. I'm dead. Nobody cares about me anymore.

[00:29:14] Thomas: And I've had so many creative friends go through the same exact experie. and then next month they get a one outta 10 next month. They're doing great again. And I've been personally through this cycle at least four times. Yeah. Where I'm like four times. I'm out. I'm washed up. I gotta go work as a lumberjack.

[00:29:30] Thomas: That's been my backup the entire time. Best get the flannel shirts. Tom,

[00:29:35] Akta: I'm gonna, you going through this

[00:29:36] Thomas: cycle right now, ? Yeah. So my advice to you here is do not think that you've washed up this is this, this, this is a sine wave, right? You're in the ebb and you're eventually gonna get back to the flow because maybe you take a little bit of a break or maybe you read a new book and you get ex excited about something that's interesting and you're like, whoa.

[00:29:52] Thomas: That's the thing. I. You know, and sometimes I've been here too. You get into a rut where you're like, gotta make a video every week. Got people to pay, got sponsors that I got IEPs. I don't really want to, but I guess I'm just gonna make a video about this topic that I've already kind of made in the past.

[00:30:08] Thomas: Let's make a video about document scanning, apps, whatever. You know, it's like sometimes some videos I just wasn't excited to make, but it's like, I think it's a useful topic, I think, and I gotta sponsor deadline. I gotta do it , you know? Yeah. Um, the other thing that I'll mention, . What I have chosen to do with my life in the past year is willingly give up a bigger audience.

[00:30:31] Thomas: And that was scary to me. Like there was definitely a piece of me who was like, if I even leave my big channel for a month, am I gonna fade into obscurity? And I have this huge asset here, why would I not be using this? Yeah. And I'm gonna go like work on this tiny channel on a piece of niche software that could go out of business anytime.

[00:30:47] Thomas: Like, what am I doing? And it's been so interesting because number one, like I get to work on things that I'm much more excited to work on. People will call me a nerd for wanting to wake up and do formula documentation all day long, , and they are correct about that. I spent an entire day, I think the nerdiest one I did was spending an entire day.

[00:31:08] Thomas: Doing the mathematical proofs in JavaScript to define the difference between modus and um, and remainder, which are different if there are negatives, but like some programming agents I to that , right? So yeah, so like there were days where I was super excited, wake up and wanted to do nothing but that and that, that seems crazy and like such a nerd Tom.

[00:31:28] Thomas: Um, and here I am giving up this huge audience here and getting a thousand views on video sometimes. The crazy thing though, is, I don't think I've ever gotten more attention from media than I have in doing this. Like before this, a business insider just interviewed me today, freaking Patrick Rothfus, the author of Name of the Wind, DMed me on Twitter about notion.

[00:31:50] Thomas: The guy who wrote Enter the Spider verse followed me, my favorite animated movie ever. I'm like, holy crap. And I realize. , like just because you're getting big view counts or small view counts, that's not the only thing to be looking at because it's who is watching your content and what's doing for them.

[00:32:05] Thomas: You know, is it 5 million people watching your video on the toilet because they just can't think of anything better to do? Or is it 20 people who all run Fortune 500 companies and they're deeply engaged in what you're saying and they wanna bring you in and hire you? Like which one of those is better?

[00:32:20] Thomas: You ask, you know, I'll ask you. Um, I think my stance on that is pretty clear. So, And, and, and the other thing is I honestly have more fun being, uh, a little less generally seen, like when I had bigger view counts, I definitely would get recognized more and I actually don't like that. Yeah. Uh, it's, in my opinion, much more fun to be more well respected in a smaller niche.

[00:32:46] Thomas: Mm-hmm. , like you get to be famous sometimes, but then you get to be home and be like, How

[00:32:52] - How have the challenges changed switching niches and channels?

[00:32:52] Akta: have the challenges changed as you've made this evolution? Because you've talked about how the good things have changed and the perks of it. What, what about the challenges? Has there been any more difficult sides to doing this?

[00:33:03] Thomas: In business, they'll call this like vertical integration, where you like, own more of the stack of like, uh, like a sales funnel or, um, you know, say you're like, Amazon, uh, in the beginning you're just, you're just fulfilling the orders on the website and then you use UPS to drive. Well, now Amazon has the trucks and they actually do the delivery and the fulfillment and everything.

[00:33:21] Thomas: That's vertical integration. Mm-hmm. , I'll call it, uh, vertical integration in my creator business because my concern used to just be, make the content and make a really good ad for my sponsor so it converts well and I get paid. That's it. Now, um, sales page I design. Point of sale. I have to make sure that our, our checkout system is working correctly.

[00:33:44] Thomas: Uh, has the customer gotten their onboarding email? Has the customer actually gotten access to our community? We have to scale up our support. We have to process refunds. We have to, uh, have a little bit of a hand in handling customer disputes and chargebacks on PayPal. There are just way more moving parts.

[00:34:00] Thomas: Mm-hmm. that have now come into our domain. Um, and when you're just a content creator, , there's like a huge part of the sales funnel that ultimately puts food on your table that you are not concerned with. Mm-hmm. . So that's the challenge. Um, it's hard. I won't say that I don't like doing it because I actually like the challenge and I like, again, it's the process of discovery.

[00:34:21] Thomas: I like learning how to do this stuff. Yeah. Um, it, it's of course something I have to eventually hire for because I don't wanna keep doing customer support, all that kind of thing. Uh, but it, it is challenging though. Yeah. Um, but I also think it affords you much more opportunity as a creator because if you're just relying on sponsors or just relying on ad sense, especially then you're basically saying, I'm okay with having no pro or no control over that part of the process.

[00:34:48] Thomas: And I'm okay with basically taking what is given to me. Mm-hmm. . Um, and especially in the case of ad sense, like it's very meager reward pur. And, uh, you know, we've experienced, uh, when we go for full vertical integration, we sell our own products and we handle our own sales pages and we understand all that.

[00:35:07] Thomas: We do much better Yeah. Than even like a sponsor, like a very high paying YouTube sponsor. Um, to be transparent, the most I've ever been paid for a YouTube sponsorship has been $15,000 and then Standard takes their 20%. So I get, uh, whatever, uh, that would be $12,000. So, you know, very good. . Yeah. But it's not going to make us a hundred grand a month unless we're doing eight videos per month.

[00:35:31] Thomas: Mm-hmm. , which we can't do in a way that will perform at $12,000 worth level. So what I realized is the only way I'm going to significantly increase my income is either to either publish way more videos, which I, I personally can't do. I just don't have the ability to make videos that fast. I just get too into the weeds.

[00:35:48] Thomas: Um, or somehow get way, way, way, way more reviews on a. . Yeah. Because I've learned how to essentially maximize conversions for a given sponsor, which just means I need, I need to bring more people in. Yeah. And that means playing the Mr. Beast algorithm game or the middle path. Uh, you don't take the red pillow to blue pill.

[00:36:08] Thomas: You take the, I don't know, swirly rainbow pill , um, you sell your own product. And now you don't only have control over how well you, uh, you know, talk about your product in your video, but now you have control over the landing page. Mm-hmm. , now you have control over the checkout process. Now you have control over every single piece of it.

[00:36:27] Thomas: And if you know what you're doing, um, I think you can do much better and you're also selling more of you. I think that's the big thing that creators need to understand. Maybe the biggest takeaway from this would be, uh, if you're a creator, your audience, cuz at the end of a video you made, they have signaled they want more.

[00:36:42] Thomas: They haven't signaled they want a Hello Fresh meal kit or, um, so true whatever Manscape is trying to sell , they want more of you. So if you can sell them a course or a product or just recommend another video, that's the thing they want and that's gonna convert so much better.

[00:37:00] Akta: So do you have any advice to creators on how to find that product that aligns with them and what they're about and what their audience wants

[00:37:08] Thomas: from them?

[00:37:09] Thomas: I can really only give advice from, uh, my own experience. Mm-hmm. , my products are a reflection of what I wanted personally. So Creators companion literally is the system we built internally without ever thinking of it as a product. It. I just basically, I duplicated our system, deleted all the, you know, personal information and projects just to get the bones of it.

[00:37:33] Thomas: And then I did go through a process of product refinement, asking myself, well, if I'm gonna turn this into a product, how can I make it better? How can I add some things like a sponsor tracker or like a documentation templates? Um, but you know, it came. I needed this for myself and then I realized the value of it, so let me sell it.

[00:37:50] Thomas: Ultimate Brain is a very similar thing. When I got into Notion in 2018, I was like, oh, this could be the replacement for Todos and Evernote and Calendar and all these different apps I'm juggling. And uh, it took me many, many iterations and many years, honestly, to get it to the point where I was happy enough personally with doing both Note, task and project management in Notion mm-hmm.

[00:38:13] Thomas: Once I got there, I'm like, that's the product. . Yeah. But it's like, I wanted it personally. Yeah. But also like, listen to your audience. Like, you know, what does your audience want? Are there ideas you come up with? Like, do you come up with an idea in a podcast? You're like, well that would be cool. Like, and people tweet you.

[00:38:27] Thomas: Like, that would be cool. Yeah. Um, which suggestion for you, I would love to hear this interview, Sarah Renee Clark. I'm not sure if you know who she is, but she, uh, sells this thing called the Color Cube. So she's like an artist. She has a lot of videos. Uh, like coloring, actually, it's like coloring book videos.

[00:38:45] Thomas: She's in Australia, so she has this product called the Color Cube, and I think it's like a box full of cards that are basically just color combinations. So anyway, so like I would love to hear. What inspired her to make this cube? Is it? Yeah. You know, was it an idea that somebody brought to her or was it like her own needs?

[00:39:01] Thomas: But I remember her saying like, we had digital color swatches, but the, I, the, the fact that I have a physical thing that I can look at now and thumb through is just so nice. Yeah.

[00:39:09] Akta: So I think it makes total sense because your audience. is intrigued with what you are doing. Yeah. So it's natural that they want to use what you are creating for yourself almost.

[00:39:19] Akta: So that makes a sense, sense. Yeah. I like that. Um, I'm gonna end with a quick fire round. So these are the same questions that I ask every creator that comes on air. Um, so what's your favorite thing about being a creator?

[00:39:31] Thomas: Uh, my favorite thing about being a creator is the freedom to go through what I call my personal gameplay loop, which is dive into something technical and learn its ins and outs, and then I get to.

[00:39:42] Akta: I love how nerd you are so cool. . Um, what gives you the most

[00:39:46] Thomas: inspiration? Oh, that's a great question. I hon. Discovery itself, honestly like. It seems like such a cop out answer, but it's just like I just get interested in something and it's like, oh, what's that over there? Yeah, like breaths the wild, one of my favorite games of all time because I did such a good job at not like telling you what to do, but more just like, oh hey, what's that little orange thing over there?

[00:40:08] Thomas: And then you just go down this path and you, there's like a whole adventure . That's what I love about my career. It's like there's a whole adventure down the path of I don't know how to write this formula. Well, where's the documentation on it? It doesn't exist. I love

[00:40:20] Akta: that. And I probably know the answer to this, but what's your favorite tool to help you create?

[00:40:25] Akta: Yeah, it's definitely, or be a creator.

[00:40:26] Thomas: Yeah, . Definitely notion it'd be weird if

[00:40:28] Akta: it wasn't. Not . . And what's one thing that helps with your work-life balance as a creator?

[00:40:35] Thomas: Um, dog and wife. and, and friends, it's people. So I, I won't say that I have the best work-life balance. Sometimes I'm writing tweet threads at 9:00 PM but uh, every day my dog wakes me up.

[00:40:48] Thomas: I take her to daycare, they close at seven, so I gotta get her before seven, come home off of my wife wants to do something with me. So when you have personal constraints in your life, those translate to work constraints and you get your stuff done in the time you have. Yeah, that always

[00:41:03] Akta: helps. And what's one piece of advice that you'd give to other creator?

[00:41:07] Thomas: always the one I give. People have heard me say it, but in case you're new here it is the 1% rule. Um, if you're a perfectionist like me, you will look at something. That another person has made who you look up to and you'll think this is amazing. And, um, IRA Glass has this quote about like, there's a, a gap in your taste and your ability mm-hmm.

[00:41:28] Thomas: So you're looking up to somebody else. That's what your taste is, but you can't execute at that level yet. And my mistake early on was thinking if I just put enough time into this video, I'll be able to execute at that level and. Because of second order incompetence, which means there's stuff that you don't even know.

[00:41:44] Thomas: You don't know. So what's better to do is what I call the 1% rule. Um, you put yourself on a schedule. You don't have to use, be mind and charge yourself money if you fail, but somehow get yourself on a schedule and make it strict. , uh, for me it was once a week for videos and then with each video, try to find something you're interested in to improve.

[00:42:06] Thomas: So, and video is such a wide range, like it could be, I'm going to have eye contact with the camera way more in this video and stop looking away, or I'm gonna try a new lighting setup. I learned about this lighting setup called the Cove Light. Let's try that this week. Or I'm gonna do, uh, easing curves in my animation instead of linear animation.

[00:42:25] Thomas: And you make hundreds of videos and you wake up three, four years down the road and go, whoa, I've done all these little 1% improvements, and now I'm an expert and I've gone through an organic process of discovery, so I now know things that I didn't even, I wasn't even aware they existed back then. Mm-hmm.

[00:42:42] Thomas: And as a bonus, you now have this catalog of. that's helping people. It's a resource for people. Hopefully it's making you some money on ad sense. Maybe it's helping to market your products that you've also 1% ruled and you used Gum Road or lemon squeezy or something instead of like trying to build a gigantic, crazy point of sale like I did at first.

[00:43:02] Thomas: And you know, you actually get to make money and grow your team and have a sustainable business while you're getting. No, I love that. So do that. Kill the perfectionism ,

[00:43:11] Akta: that's great advice. And I love how continued learning is such a part of your process and a part of your content and your journey as a creator.

[00:43:18] Akta: Um, Thomas Frank, you so much for coming on air with us. You've taught us so much and it's been really great to see your journey and I think your advice will help a lot of creators who are afraid of that uncertainty about being a creator and having a lasting career. So thank you

[00:43:33] Thomas: so much. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

[00:43:35] Akta: You can find Tom on his website, his two YouTube channels, Twitter and Instagram. If you are a creator and you want to do sponsorship without the hassle, then check out Passionfroot. I'll see you in the next one.