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I Failed At 7 Online Business Models (And Turned It Into A Full-Time Creative Income)

I was observant as a child.

I knew there had to be a better way of living.

It seemed like every corner I looked… people were unhappy.

Unhappy with their careers, boss, spouse, children, colleagues, self, mornings, nights, everything.

This may just be the environment I was exposed to or what my mind gravitated towards, but something made me want to avoid this “default” lifestyle like the plague.

Complaining about the cards I was dealt wasn’t going to change my future.

Taking matters into my own hands was the only option.

Personal responsibility, self-education, and the pursuit of sovereignty is what I dedicated my sub-20-year-old life to.

If everyone was told to watch the news, go to college, get a job, retire at 65, and do as they’re told — would that not lead to everyone getting the same results?

Is that not the cause of this global unhappiness?

There was only one option: Do the exact opposite of everyone else.

While everyone glued their eyes to the TV, I glued my eyes to online educators.

While everyone sat on the couch after work, I went to the gym straight after school.

While everyone let toxic mainstream news flood their mind, I read books on spirituality and actualizing my full potential.

The Bane Of My Existence: The Conventional Career Path

One thing that I was truly excited to do was go to college. I knew that it would give me a chance to let me to try new things, meet new people, and ultimately:

Delay the amount of time I had to build a sustainable income source for myself.

The minute that I set foot on the ASU campus I knew that I had started a timer.

It was do or die time. I had to learn the skills necessary to make an income without a job, or end up the same as everyone else. If I had to get a job, I knew that 8-hour days and energy-draining work would leave little room for me to break free of that job.

I was hell-bent on trying different business models.

In freshman year, I started a fitness YouTube channel with my buddy that lived in the dorm room 3 doors down from mine.

We made workout videos, educational videos, and food challenges (like this unlisted 10,000 calorie challenge I did).

After a few months, we decided to call it quits. I didn’t do much else during freshman year aside from partying, playing video games, taking graphic design, marketing, film, and other classes to see what I was truly interested in.

Around that time, my group of friends and I were arrested for smoking weed in the parking structure across from our dorm building. I got to take a ride with the not-so-kind police officer, give him my fingerprints, and have him interrogate me about where I got the weed (funny story that we’ll dive into another time).

This is an important turning point in my life. I had forgotten about my goals of avoiding the conventional career path. When I went home for the summer, I got a letter from the court in the mail that gave me 2 options:

  1. Go to court, defend my case, and possibly be a convicted felon
  2. Pay ~$5-10,000 for a program that made me pee in a cup every week for 3-6 months

This scared the sh*t out of me. I hid the letter from my parents and dealt with my emotional turmoil in silence.

This was the moment I purchased The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I glued my eyes to the page hoping it would ease some of my suffering — and it did. This was one of the times where I genuinely stopped caring. I let go. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen.

I regained that drive to blaze my own path, started making YouTube videos again (talking head videos, kind of like Elliot Hulse at the time), and continued learning about spirituality along the way.

As with every other business model I tried, it didn’t work out.

Failing, Failing, and Failing Again

In sophomore year of college, I picked up photography. I watched YouTube videos like mad to educate myself, used my summer job money to buy a camera, and shot pics of whatever I could. Skyscrapers downtown, landscapes after a long hike, macro shots of nature.

I didn’t really care for taking pictures, what I really loved was editing. That realization shot me down a Photoshop learning rabbit hole and come junior year of college I committed to posting some of my edits on Instagram.

I spent 6-8 hours at a time glued to my computer working to actualize a surreal image I had in my head. These were some of the results:

Most of these were just mashups of stock images, some had my own photos (like the buildings and plane).

I never planned to make an income from this — but I ended up gaining around 2500 followers on Instagram. I got bored of the whole digital art thing after a few months, but it taught me the importance of graphic design, visual storytelling, and opened my mind to the possibility of growing on social media with quality content.

If I had the awareness I do now, I could have easily created a course teaching people how to make these compositions.

That same year, I tried a few more business models.

1) A Facebook Ads Agency

I bought a course that taught me the fundamentals of landing clients, creating facebook ads, and advertising local businesses.

I gave up after sending around 50 cold emails and never landing a client after 2-3 sales calls.

2) A Rave Clothing Dropshipping Store

I went to my first rave and was exposed to the whole EDM scene in sophomore year (hence my obsession with dubstep for focused work and gym music). I knew the industry like the back of my hands and knew there was a demand for fancy (and skimpy) clothes. Especially during “festival season.”

I bought an eCom course that taught me branding, copywriting, Shopify, and how to find “good products.”

I used my previous Facebook ads knowledge, spent ~$100 on ads, and made one sale of a shiny bra (lol).

The first online dollar felt amazing, but I felt like a piece of garbage having people wait 30 days for the product to be shipped from China.

3) Freelance Web Design

This is where things get spicy. At this time — in senior year — I was living with 6 other guys in an old frat house. Yes… 6 guys in one house. There were 2 master bedrooms that people split.

I took an intro to web development course that launched me into an entire new phase of life. I loved coding. I skipped class, studied Udemy courses, took free coding classes, and ended up learning the entire college course curriculum in about a month. I didn’t show up to 95% of the classes and was still top of that class.

Part of the reason I loved it so much is that I knew I could freelance with that skill and at minimum get a job whether I graduate or not.

I tried my hand at freelancing, reached out to friends and family, built some portfolio sites, and landed a few cheap clients (I made around $500 total).

That was senior year — my time was running out.

I had to make something work or succumb to my fate of “getting a real job.”

4) Two Ecommerce Brands

I decided to combine my branding, web development, graphic design, and advertising skills into one and create a real brand.

I knew that developers were stuck at a screen all day — and this is around the time blue light glasses were gaining mainstream popularity — so I called my dad.

“Hey pops… question for ya… can I uhhhhhh borrow a few thousand dollars? I promise I’ll pay you back, here’s my entire plan for getting rich, makes sense right?”

My dad probably thought I was insane, but he believed in me, something I am truly grateful for — not many have this opportunity. I couldn’t waste it.

I looked for the perfect product, ordered them, waited 30 days for them to show up, took product pictures (with my photography skills!), and started paying for ads and influencer shoutouts.

Here’s one of my ad images:

Yes. That’s a hedgehog. His name was Momo. Very cuddly despite his spiky demeanor. He ended up getting sick — and after multiple efforts to syringe feed him — he passed away.

RIP Momo.

The glasses were great. I was proud of the product. But I was just shoveling money down the drain on ads at this point. I learned about influencer promotions, paid a meme page to post an ad, and have everyone in the comments calling me a clown. That hurt, I quit once again.

This sparked another major low point in my life, similar to when I got arrested.

I had wasted my dads money, maxed out my first credit card, and could not see the light. I was doomed.

The only logical option was to accept my fate, use my previously learned coding skills, and opt for plan B of getting a job.

Luckily enough, I got a web design job fairly quickly. It was a cushy job that taught me about what it really takes to run a web design agency. I used my free time there to try to land clients and saw some success.

Now that I had money coming in, I decided to try out another eCommerce brand. This time with minimalist wallets (that my friends and I still use to this day, they were top quality.)

I even invested quite a bit in professional product pics:

Again… didn’t make a sale, wasted money, and got tired of it.

This is when I went all-in on freelancing.

There was a blurry moment throughout all of this where I also tried an SEO agency, content marketing agency, and was still kinda trying to find clients for anything I could get my hands on, mostly web design.

All of the skills I had developed up until this point could not fail me.

Nothing Makes Sense, Then Everything Makes Sense

Even though I had a decent-paying job, my inner child was still screaming at me to live up to my promise.

I may not have been able to avoid a job altogether, but I could sure as hell get out of it before other life responsibilities started to pile up.

I walked into local businesses, reached out to my network again, tried LinkedIn prospecting, and everything else.

I was able to land 2-3 clients a month at $1500-$2500 from this.

When I learned more about the businesses I was helping (mostly service businesses) I had learned a bit about email marketing and copywriting.

I pivoted my offer and started creating simple service funnels.

A landing page, opt-in, and email sequence that would get calls booked for people like contractors, lawyers, accountants, pest control, and anyone else that were already getting leads but wanted to convert more into calls and customers.

This is when I started increasing my prices (because it was a more specific offer that got better results).

I was charging $2500-$5000 to set this funnel up. It took me less time to build that than it did a full blown website.

Again, this is a bit blurry, but this is the time where I quit my job.

It wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be…

A few months later I took to Twitter, started posting content, and planned out a freelancing product while trying to land web design / funnel clients there. This is when my niche shifted towards creators, coaches, and freelancers. I knew them well, liked working with them, and could get them some killer results.

Over the last 4 years, I built out products, pivoted my brand, tested different offers, and here we are now.

Here’s a soft timeline:

  • I hit 6 figures freelancing
  • I built out my freelancing product, grew my audience, and started making an extra ~$3,000 per month in info products
  • I created a complimentary product that teaches web design
  • I hit 10,000 followers on Twitter and created a product on how I grew + landed clients on Twitter (this bundle of courses is now inside MMHQ – Koe Letter readers can join for $5)
  • I launched a physical planner, got tired of physical product e-commerce and shipping out of my house, and made a digital version free (The Power Planner)
  • I hit 6 figures in digital product sales
  • I pivoted my freelance offer into a marketing consulting offer — because creators like to do things themselves, and it freed up more time
  • I built Modern Mastery HQ
  • I hit my first $50K month and was pulling in a consistent $300-$500K a year as a one-person business
  • Modern Mastery grew to 1000 members
  • I’ve stopped consulting and am launching Digital Economics — my school for rapid skill acquisition, audience building, content creation, and the rest — on June 14th (less than 2 weeks!)

Nothing happens. Then everything happens.

We will be going over this business progression (and what I would do differently if you are just starting out) in the next Koe Letter.

7 Rapid Fire Lessons Learned From A Decade Of Failure

I’ve learned many lessons from this journey, but here are a few that I find most impactful:

1) Nothing Makes Sense, Then Everything Makes Sense

I will let this tweet speak for the paradox that is life:

2) Figure It Out

Anything is possible. It really is. You have infinite opportunities and education at your fingertips. You may not see it because you haven’t opened your mind to that possibility.

Never stop learning. You should always have a project you are working on while educating yourself on how to build out that project. That’s how you learn fast.

3) Don’t Be Afraid To Start Over

Life goes on. If the current business you are trying to build isn’t bringing results (and you just don’t see yourself doing it for life) then go a different route.

Try something new. Go get drunk with some friends and have an epiphany on what you need to do next (take this with a grain of salt lol).

4) Embrace The Uncertain And Unknown Path

Nothing worth having is predictable. If you are reading this, you weren’t meant for the conventional path that everyone goes down. You know there is more to all of this — and hopefully I have opened you up to the possibility of more in your life.

Uncertainty will have you in your head, a lot. Embrace this. Muscle is built from resistance, tension, and ample recovery.

5) Try Everything

Buy books. Follow advice on social media. Try every business model imaginable. Post content online.

Your job is to find the problem you love solving, what you love talking about, and how those intersect. That is how you start to uncover your life’s work.

6) Give Give Give

At the start, work for free. Build out projects for yourself. Build out projects for your friends. Build out projects for imaginary businesses. Get on calls with people. Network on Twitter.

Give out all of the value you have with no expectation of being repaid. Good things will come.

7) Shoot Your Shot — Then Shoot Again

There is absolutely nothing holding you back from putting yourself out there except for yourself.

Get used to being denied.

What’s the worst that can happen? You have to try again? You get to learn another valuable lesson? You become that much more accurate with your shot?

Shoot.

Thank you for reading — I hope this brought some inspiration into your life.

Inspiration is powerful.

Don’t waste it.

— Dan Koe

What Happened This Week

A new YouTube video on how to stop caring what people think went live.

Watch here.

A podcast on niching down and creating your own reality went up.

Listen here.

A new challenge, article about authenticity as a creator, and this months training with Dakota Robertson on starting a ghostwriting business was scheduled inside of MMHQ.

Join here for $5.

My school for rapid modern skill acquisition, branding, and creating a content ecosystem that will bring you high paying gigs as a creative, marketer, or solopreneur starts on June 14th.

Secure a discounted spot before the 11th here.

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Dan Koe

Who Is Dan Koe?

I am a writer & brand advisor for 6-7 figure creators. I am obsessed with dissecting human potential, lifestyle design, and one-person businesses.

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My School: Digital Economics

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