Julie Berninger, who has worked in technology for years, is a longtime advocate for financial freedom. She and her husband worked hard to pay off their $100,000 debt in just a few years and began saving a significant portion of their income so they could retire early.
Along the way, the couple realized they loved working and would probably never stop completely. And Berninger experimented with what she loved doing best. She started a blog that now brings in thousands of dollars a year, an Etsy shop that brings in over $1,000 a month in passive income, and a podcast to find out what her fellow financial freedom advocates are up to.
The podcast, FIRE Drill Podcast, led her to meet Cody Berman, a digital nomad who dabbles in several hustles himself, including real estate investing and working as a virtual assistant for entrepreneurs. “What if we launched a series of side hustle classes?” Berninger says they thought. “Because that’s what we’re particularly good at.”
That was in 2019. Last year, Gold City Ventures, as their online course company is called, brought in $1 million in revenue.
Berninger, who is now 33 and lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter, quit her job in July 2021 to focus full-time on growing the business.
Starting with 3 courses: Freelancing, Blogging and Etsy
To start, Berninger and Berman launched a series of three courses: one on helping people become independent, which Berman knew well, one on blogging, which they both had experience with, and one on how to create an Etsy shop selling printables, Berninger’s forte. Printables are tools like calendars and Christmas cards that people can buy from the store and then download and print themselves.
Berman was skeptical about the success of this latest course, but Berninger had seen, in various groups she was a part of, that “people are really excited about it,” she says. So they included it.
The two built a model that charges customers $247 for a video course, plus a month of access to a Facebook community where they can interact with subject matter experts.
Students can extend their membership on Facebook Groups for $29 per month. Etsy students, once their shop reaches 100 sales, get a free Facebook group membership.
“As 80% of our buyers” wanted to know more about Etsy
Despite Berman’s skepticism, it was immediately clear which course was getting the most attention.
“I think it was, like, 80% of our buyers wanted to learn more about Etsy,” Berninger says. “Blogs were 18% and freelancers about 2%.” Bustle has a relatively low barrier to entry, with few upfront costs. Shop owners can create their printables on the free version of Canva, for example, and it only costs 20 cents to upload them to Etsy.
Video by David Fang
“When we were taking students through the Etsy course, they were making sales very, very quickly,” Berninger says. One of their students, for example, is Rachel Jones, who now earns six figures in passive income on her Etsy store.
Gold City Ventures made $70,000 in course sales in that first weekend alone, Berninger says.
Course launched “to help people turn their rentals into Airbnbs”
In part, the company’s immediate success is tied to everything its founders have built before. Berninger had interviewed 200 people on his podcast and built a fan base, and Berman also had his own podcast.
They had both gained attention through their blogs, and Berninger attended conferences where she met like-minded people interested in financial freedom.
They have since scrapped freelancing and blogging courses but, in the future, they would like to leverage their network to build new lines of business. They’re helping a fellow scammer “start a course to help people turn their rentals into Airbnbs,” Berninger says, and plan to launch more joint ventures in the future. They will share the revenue with their instructors.
Berninger points out that it took a long time to build his various businesses. The lesson, she says, is that, if you’re working full-time, “you have to start getting by while you’re still at it.”
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