It’s wild to think about the fact that the iPhone is only ten years old. Yet this sleek little device has ferociously carved through the global economy, leaving no stone unturned in its wake. This can feel daunting, as many old paradigms and industries are turned upside down. But for anyone with a small dose of tech-savvy, an imagination and a willingness to experiment, the opportunities to develop new types of knowledge and expertise are truly unprecedented. And once you acquire that knowledge, what are some strategies to monetize it – either as a service or a product?
Get in on the ground floor of expertise
When things change rapidly, the concept of expertise gets disrupted itself. Degrees or published manuscripts will not be the secret sauce that helps you better understand a nascent industry like, say, crypto. And these new multi-billion dollar industries are being created each year, whether it’s chatbots, AR/VR, drones, or CRISPR. And guess what: the opportunity to seize the mantle of “expert” is available to all.
Let’s take crypto as an example. And I’m not talking about the investment proposition, but instead the relative nascency of the industry. When I spoke to Fred Ehrsam on the Rad Awakenings Podcast, we marveled at some very simple math:
Let’s assume you spent the past year becoming a crypto expert. Crypto has been around since 2009-ish. Your one year investment equates to 11.1% of the entire industry’s existence (1 / 9 years = 11.1%)! That is nuts. Again, the price of crypto aside – what other industries with massive growth potential provide someone with 11% of the entire time series of expertise for one year of work? And most of that knowledge can’t be found in books or blogs, it’s in private Telegrams, conversations, and GitHub code.
One example is Patrick O’Shaughnessy who hosts the fantastic Invest Like the Best Podcast. He’s an incredibly bright guy and voracious learner. Not only does he self-produce his massive podcast – in September of 2017 he created a 3-part documentary on crypto and blockchain called Hash Power which has become one of the foundational go-to pieces for anyone looking to learn the technology.
So how do you monetize expertise?
This is the million dollar question, particularly in a world of unbundled careers. RadReader Tiago Forte has built a career and company around answering this question. I spoke to Tiago on the Rad Awakenings Podcast and we walked through his 5-step process for testing and creating an online course. (Another guest, Sarah Peck shared her how she tests her online course ideas.)
We used the case study of drones because it fit the criteria of a nascent industry with large potential (without much “institutional knowledge” around it). Since drones are such a big topic, we identified becoming an expert in drone regulation as a potential opportunity, accessible to pretty much anyone.
→ Check out Tiago’s class Building a Second Brain (affiliate)
Step 1: Start with interactive immersion
The first step is immersing yourself in the topic. But beware of the tendency to consume, versus create:
[su_quote]It has to be interactive immersion. I often see people immerse themselves, but it’s in consumption. And they’re reading books, online articles and taking courses. That has no competitive advantage and anyone can do that – and they will.[/su_quote]
This isn’t dissimilar to the “mosaic theory” that an investment professional would apply or the curiosity of an investigative journalist:
[su_quote]Go to the offices and see if you can meet the companies. Go to Maker fair. Go to free meetups where people are just crashing drones into things or having drone battles. It’s almost as your a journalist. Go on scene and get your hands as dirty as possible. Because the most valuable knowledge is not found online. It’s hidden knowledge. It’s found in bars, living rooms, private Slack channels.[/su_quote]
Step 2: Offer it as a service
This step is inspired by Eric Ries’ Lean Startup framework and involves the validation of the idea and demand, with the least amount of investment (i.e. time or money) at risk. Forte has made the mistake in the past of creating a product too early, which commits you down a specific path that’s hard to unwind. But services let you iterate:
[su_quote]One day you can run a workshop and then realize that it doesn’t work, so the next day do 1:1 consulting. It’s really easy to pivot. If all you have is a website describing your service, all you have to do is change the description on your website. You’re can follow Paul Graham’s recommendation of doing things that don’t scale because that’s where the learning and adaption come in.[/su_quote]
Step 3: Get a paying client (even if it’s barter)
It’s insanely easy to create an online course. And insanely difficult to get someone to pay for it. Forte adds that “by the time you start building content for your course, you have to be certain that there is a ready, able and willing audience with dollars in hand. Or else, you can’t justify the investment.” He reiterated the importance of free offerings:
[su_quote]There needs to be some more exchange of value. You don’t want to work totally for free. Maybe they give you their time a testimonial. You use those first 10 people as a test, send it to those people and ask if it captures the value you provided as a service.[/su_quote]
Step 4: Support your course with free offerings
In the early days, your clients will be friends and people in your first degree circle. But that doesn’t scale and ultimately you need some kind of content to convince Internet strangers that you are creating something of value:
[su_quote]You need to have free offerings, there’s no way around it. The blog is the traditional way. But for someone to drop hundreds of dollars on a stranger they met online, you have to prove, up front and for free, that you can create value. (…) You can have blog posts, a downloadable pdf or Kindle ebook.[/su_quote]
Step 5: Use an email newsletter to activate ‘weak ties’
Y’all know how the elementary email newsletter has been the jet fuel to my entrepreneurial serendipity (and nascent success). And as long as the voice is authentic and consistent, it can be pretty straightforward:
[su_quote]Just send personal updates: where I traveled, here’s a book I read, anything. The key is to build that muscle of “I have something to say.” Yes, some people will unsubscribe but you’ll be amazed at how many people love getting your email.[/su_quote]
But there’s something even more powerful about email – it activates your weak ties – that is the networks outside of your core peer group:
[su_quote]The most powerful part of your social network are not the first order connections (friends, family members and co-workers). It’s really three or four jumps away – that can bring you new opportunities. The thing is, with those people, you’ll never be able to keep in touch on a 1:1 basis. With an email list, they can effectively sign on to stay updated with you passively. The commitment they’re making is not like a phone call that takes half an hour. The scope and span of people that you can maintain a sense of connection with is increased by orders of magnitude.[/su_quote]
Your turn. In what niches do you see opportunities that others’ don’t? And how are you going to capitalize upon it!
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