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What would you do if you were financially free at 26? Keep working? Retire? Or scale up?
I sat down with my boss, Ali Abdaal, and asked him why he left his cushy life in Cambridge for a vastly more expensive life in London, when there was no pressing financial need to do so. In fact, in the short term, it was arguably to his financial detriment.
In the next five minutes, we’re going to cover:
- Why Ali continues to scale up.
- What motivates him now he’s ‘made it’.
- What we can learn about growing a business from Ali’s decisions.
💬 Let’s get into it...
For those who don’t already know, this whole ‘Creatorpreneur’ brand stemmed from Ali.
I was chatting to him the other week about what motivates him these days, why he moved to London and hired 20 people, and why he decided to expand the business with the creation of this brand.
Not complaining of course - it means I have a job 😅
But put yourself in his shoes. He’d achieved financial freedom at 26, was living in the beautiful and historic city of Cambridge, and was able to sustain this with a small team of three people - a PA, an editor, and a writer/researcher.
Now he’s 28, paying $15,000 per month for our studio in the centre of London, sustaining a team of more than 20 people with a salary bill that has crossed the million dollar mark.
Here’s what Ali had to say about the decision:
🚀 Why Ali Abdaal Keeps Scaling Up
You can listen to the 2 minute clip here:
♾ 1 - Finite vs Infinite Games
“YouTubers are sort of like athletes, in that they have a few years in the limelight, and then they retire. So, given that I really enjoy this, how do I continue to sustain it?”
Ali wants to play an infinite game.
For a detailed exploration of this idea, check out:
The idea of an ‘infinite game’ is that it has no set rules, and your aims may keep shifting within that game.
Content creators, traditionally, are playing infinite games. You may have arbitrary goals like reaching 100,000 subscribers, but you don’t stop creating when you get there.
We hear Ali talk about ‘journey before destination’ a lot, and this primarily the same idea.
Though more clearly defined, ‘finite games’ like chess, hockey, or football, come to an end. In the long-term, this is not as satisfying as an activity you can do indefinitely.
We see stories again and again of olympic athletes finally winning gold, yet waking up the next day depressed.
Or, from successful entrepreneurs like Steven Bartlett, we hear about the feeling of emptiness that comes from selling a company you’ve spent years building (see here, skip to 6min).
In these cases, their once-infinite games had become finite. And they had finished playing.
I feel that Ali’s business had begun to reach its potential as a small, four-person operation. But by deciding to dramatically expand the team, while keeping focussed on the core aim of helping people live their best lives, the scope of the project has expanded, and we all get to keep playing the game.
As he puts it:
- The team provides leverage and force multiplier on the things he’s doing.
- The team can do the things that he doesn’t want to or doesn’t have time to.
- The team can build brands (like Creatorpreneur) and run projects that aren’t intrinsically tied to him.
Your business should be something that you’d like to keep ‘playing at’ for 5-10 years, even if you don’t want to scale it up as much as Ali has.
Don’t be motivated by reaching some defined end point. Business is creativity. Creativity is art. And the point of art is not the finished song, the completed painting, or the viral video. The joy that comes from art is intrinsic. Its meaning comes simply from the pleasure of building something.
💵 2 - Best Investment of Capital
“Hiring someone, I think, is a better R.O.I. than chucking it in real estate.”
It’s an interesting thought.
Most of us are so busy chasing financial freedom, that we don’t often imagine being in a place where we have to decide what to do with too much money.
But, if your business becomes successful, this is something you’ll have to think about.
For Ali, hiring a bunch of people has the benefits I mentioned above. We can help build courses, research YouTube videos, repurpose content, arrange sponsorships, optimise gear setup, provide targeted student support, and much more.
Sure, putting cash into real estate is largely a good thing to do, but there are less conventional ways of investing your capital that might pay dividends down the line.
What, in a dream world, is the thing you would buy for your business that would move the needle?
Obviously, people don’t start out with the capital to rapidly expand a team. It takes time, and the idea of hiring 20 people won’t be relevant for a few years, if ever.
But say you had even $1000 spare in your business. Have you thought about what would you spend it on?
Think about the second order effect of where you spend money in your business. You might feel like you need to buy a new camera to improve the quality of your videos by 10%, but with that same money you could hire a freelance copywriter for three months. They could repurpose all your videos into hundreds of tweet threads and potentially grow your audience quicker. An audience who probably wouldn’t even notice if you bought a slightly better camera.
There’s no right answer when it comes to reinvesting your money, but the seemingly obvious one isn’t necessarily the best.
💥 3 - Impact
“The thing that I care about is being a good teacher.”
Why do you do what you do?
I wrote about three frameworks for finding your core focus last week. It’s super important because it guides (or should guide) everything you do.
As Ali suggests, he just wants to teach people.
By moving to London and expanding the team, he increases the scale on which he’s able to do that.
As he describes it, the team can help make the content better, and improve the distribution of that content.
This is one of the drawbacks of being a ‘Solopreneur’ - although there are benefits to retaining full control of your creative business and its output, the degree to which you can effectively distribute that content is limited by your own capacity.
With the team in place, Ali can have his content repurposed and redistributed across every major channel, which increases the scale at which he’s able to deliver teaching.
It’s useful to consider how you can increase the impact you have on the community/audience you’re targeting.
What’s the one area you feel your time is being spent sub-optimally? Who, theoretically, would be your first hire? For many content creators, it would be an editor. Even getting someone to edit 25% of your content will free up a surprising amount of your time.
Think about the impact you want to have with your business and consider how you could leverage someone else to free up your time in order to increase that impact.
🥳 4 - Fun
“The main reason to do anything is because it makes us happy”
Nice and simple.
Making YouTube videos, growing the business and teaching people is the thing Ali enjoys most.
I just spent a week away with him and the team, and I would literally find him at the kitchen table writing at 11pm. It’s not just for the cameras. He genuinely lives and breathes this stuff.
What’s that thing in your life?
If you’re still trying to settle on what your creator business should be, reflect on the topics, activities or hobbies you find so mentally energising that you could work on them way into the night without even realising.
This is not to say that work/life balance isn’t important, but if you’re trying to grow a creative hobby into a business, it needs to be something you find truly fun.
Yes, you want to be earning money too. But as Ali says in our chat, it’s much more fun making money with other people, as part of a business that helps people, than making money alone.
You need to know that the core of your business is something you enjoy enough to continue doing, whether it’s making you $1 or $1,000,000.
🤔 What’s next?
To summarise, these are questions to ask yourself.
- What’s the infinite game I’m trying to play? And how do I continue to play it?
- What is the best possible way I could reinvest money in my business?
- How could I leverage someone else’s time and skill to increase the impact I’m able to have on my audience and customers?
- What do I find fun?
That’s it for now.
Have a great rest of your week,
Man at Typewriter
🚀 Part-Time Creatorpreneur
Our new course, ‘Part-Time Creatorpreneur’ is available now!
This self-paced course, presented by Ali, distils all the lessons learned in his journey from casual YouTuber to ‘professional’ Creatorpreneur. After three years, dozens of business books, and tens of thousands spent on business coaches, Ali turned his creative hobby into a business which turned over nearly $5 million last year.
‘Part-Time Creatorpreneur’ gives you the principles, tools and resources to scale up your creative side hustle in the same way.
We’ll always offer tonnes of free content here, but for anyone who’s super serious about taking their creativity to the next level, scaling up efficiently without burning out, and driving revenue, this course will be incredibly valuable.
🎙 Creatorpreneur Podcast
We’ll be kicking off Season 1 of the podcast in the next few weeks. Keep an eye out on the newsletter and our Twitter for info 👀
We’ve had some amazing guests already and can’t wait to share the conversations with you.
In the meantime we’ve released a pilot episode, where Angus (Ali’s Director of Operations) and I sat down to discuss the creator economy, the types of conversations we hope to have with successful Creatorpreneurs, and how we got our jobs here.
🐦 Creatorpreneur Twitter
We turn all our newsletters into tweet threads, so if you found this useful it’d be fab if you could show the thread some love ❤️ It really helps us reach new people :)
We tweet every day about Creatorpreneurs and the creator economy, and we’d love to keep the conversation going over there with fine folks such as yourself.