One such person is my friend and fellow Lancaster graduate Julian Bradley. In the latest of our Startup Stories, he shares some fantastic insight into his business jazzherobooks.com and his life as an LA-based jazz pianist.
Q) Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you become a jazz pianist?
A) My name’s Julian Bradley, I’m a music education specialist, born in England, now living in Los Angeles. I studied music at undergrad and masters level, and was lucky to have several world class music teachers. After seeing a Wynton Marsalis concert aged 17, I became obsessed with jazz piano, and went on to read every book I could find on the subject.
Q) Talk us through a typical day in your life…
A) I’m very type A, and most days I work long hours. Most of my time is focussed on lesson filming, or video editing. I have a studio setup exclusively for filming jazz piano lessons – the piano, camera, microphone and lighting are always setup, so I can film anytime. The video editing I’ll do at a coffee shop. Aside from my work, health and fitness are important to me. I play sport daily, and try to travel often, since my occupation now allows me to do so. I try to leave LA every few weeks on a 3 day road trip with my wife or friends, and keep a fresh perspective on what I’m working towards.
Q) Can you tell us how the website got started, where did the idea come from?
A) My youtube channel was started as a side project. I had no intention of making income from it. My mother-in-law had lent me a book, which talked about ‘giving back’. I realized that I’d never given anything to anyone without wanting something in return, and that I should try giving something. I’d been learning a lot from youtube on various topics, and it occurred to me that the one thing I probably could explain better than most would be jazz piano, having read so many books on the subject. I spent a Sunday afternoon filming 3 lessons at the piano. I uploaded the videos on youtube, and pretty much forgot about them. A month later, I needed to login to the email I’d used to setup the account, and was surprised to see over 50 emails from youtube notifying me of new subscribers to my channel, which seemed like a strong sign of interest, especially compared to my ‘composer showreel’ I’d posted a year prior, which had only received 100 views (mostly from me).
A few months later, I emigrated to California, where my wife is from originally. I was unable to work for the first 5 months, while waiting for my green card to be processed. Being type A, I had to do something with that time. I decided to make more jazz lessons for my YouTube channel, and see where it took me. Simultaneously, I started reading about online income, and I gradually started pushing myself to get comfortable charging money for some material.
First I became a ‘YouTube partner’ and remember the amazing feeling of earning $3 on the first day! Then I pushed myself to add a PayPal donate button (it felt awkward because I had genuinely made my videos without any financial incentive). In the first week I received 2 donations, which made me realise that some viewers probably wanted to pay for something – I just hadn’t given them anything to buy yet. So I created a $10 ebook to test the water, and announced it at the end of one of my lessons. It sold. Then I spent a month creating a $30 bigger ebook, and announced it. It sold. Then I did the same again for a $50 ebook, and it sold. Now I’m venturing into larger products, including membership to my new ear training course which I’ll be launching next month. I’m continuing to increase my comfort zone when it comes to charging for products, valuing my skills, and raising prices. After all, it’s entirely down to me to make the video making sustainable. Only by charging for some material can I continue to make future videos. No one else is going to make it happen.
Q) Can you explain your business model?
A) I make a free video lesson for a commonly searched topic, e.g. ‘tritone substitution’. I’ll aim to make the best lesson of all time on that topic. I’ll end that video with a call to action – ‘if you enjoyed this video and want even more in-depth material, click on the link below to find out about my Jazz Theory ebook…’
Q) Do you outsource any work, if so what, how and why?
A) Currently I work with a website developer who creates my subscription websites (while I make the lesson content). But my goal is to outsource all tasks that are not within my skill set – I should only be focussed on making videos, and educational products – teaching is my strength, so I’m in the process of outsourcing all other tasks such as customer service, audio mixing, and possibly some of the video editing.
Q) How have you funded the business?
A) I probably went full-time with my business a bit early. There was a stressful 12 month period – I’d released my $30 ebook, and found myself having to post a new lesson every Friday just to generate enough sales over the weekend to pay bills and high living costs in LA. I was working incredibly hard, all the time, and only breaking even. And living in LA away from my family meant there was no safety net. I couldn’t even afford a flight home during that time. My friends who had regular jobs seemed to be relaxing every evening, and I turned down a lot of invites to social events during that time.
Ultimately, there came a point when several large bills were all coinciding – several thousand dollars were due for an immigration service, rent, health insurance, and some essential car repairs. I had just 2 weeks to think of a solution, and even contemplated walking people’s dogs and mowing lawns. I knew the answer lay in my youtube audience, which was putting me in contact with far more people than I could ever meet in person – 4000 daily views and 30,000 subscribers. I decided to write a complete book on jazz theory… from scratch. I completed ‘Jazz Theory Explained’ in 2 weeks – 100 pages of writing, image creation, links to relevant videos – everything. The imminent deadline really focussed me, I couldn’t be a perfectionist, and that book has turned out to be my most popular book by far. Not only did I pay off the imminent bills, I made several thousand dollars extra profit, completely unexpected. I realized that actually, my first book had been a failure in comparison. I’d been promoting something that most people weren’t interested in. Since writing ‘Jazz Theory Explained’ book, I’ve been much more relaxed financially, and now I’m able to enjoy my work and maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle.
Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?
A) There’s certainly plenty of music tuition online. My content is far more advanced than any other I’ve seen. For a while I thought maybe I’d do better if I covered more basic subjects, for a wider audience. So I tried some beginner lessons but found that my advanced material is far more popular – which is good because that’s the stuff I’m interested in.
Q) What does your typical customer look like? How do you keep them engaged?
A) Most of my audience are retiring men, who have worked in a non-music career for many years. Only now are they able to explore their passion for music / jazz with the time needed. That said, I also have many younger viewers, mostly piano players and guitarists.
Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?
A) Currently, my traffic comes entirely from my ‘how to’ videos. I only make a video if it’s a searched for topic, and then I gradually ask the viewer to subscribe, watch another video, join my email list, or buy a book, and so on. I will be venturing into SEO and paid advertising with the launch of my more expensive ear training course.
Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?
A) The biggest mountain to climb has been creating my ear training course. What I naively thought would take me one month, has now taken 12 months to complete. I’ve learnt that any creative project I start seems to turn out to be 10 times more work than I imagine, at least. So from now on, if a project seems like a lot of work to begin with, then I don’t take it on (unless I have a team). Small projects turn out to be big projects, and big projects turn out to be absolutely huge projects… so now I stick to small projects (which are actually big projects).
Q) Who has inspired you in working for yourself/starting your business?
A) I had a good friend at university, who was very clever, but lacked discipline. I could never imagine him in a regular job – he’d just never turn up on time. I was out of touch with him after graduation, but met him 3 years later. He told me he’d partnered with a friend, and developed their own SEO software, which they used to keep their website ranking #1 on google. Their website was selling an expensive product and taking commission, and they’d been traveling the world for 12 months, returning with more money than they’d left with. His story is what planted the seed in my mind of what’s possible online, and that’s when I started researching online income streams and making a living online.
Q) What would be your advice be to anybody looking to make money from sharing their talents online?
A) Make lots of quick experiments and see what sticks. Don’t make the mistakes I made – being a perfectionist in the early stages. You never know which things are going to take off, and which will fail. The best approach is to set a short time limit on each small experiment you try (a blog post, a how to video, a podcast, etc), and then see which takes off – then follow up with more of that.
Q) What are your tips for startups who need help with getting stuff done?
A) I’m always conscious of the 80/20 principle – 80% of the results are generated from 20% of activities. I’m always doing an 80/20 analysis of my life – what are the 20% of activities which generate the most growth in my business and ultimately, income? In my case, it’s video making, and product making. I could easily get distracted with social media, playing around with WordPress, or replying to every single email, but in my case, these are not income generating activities, and I should not be spending much time doing these. The other rule I bear in mind, is that ‘work expands to fill the time available’. So I try to impose time limits on myself always – this might be going to the coffee shop to work without taking my power adapter, forcing me to finish the video editing before my battery runs out.
Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?
A) There’s many ways I could go with what I’m doing, but mostly I let the audience drive what happens next. I survey my audience regularly (through surveymonkey.com). I’m always trying to find out what people struggle with the most (musically!), what keeps them up at night, and then to solve that pain. That’s what lead me to tackle ear training – it was the most requested topic in every survey, so I’ve created an ear training course. I’ll continue to survey my viewers, and create new content, products and services based on the feedback.