Q10 interview: Building an online business with $0 starting capital but keeping it 100% portable to live where ever you like – this man did it!

Q10 interview: Building an online business with $0 starting capital but keeping it 100% portable to live where ever you like – this man did it!
3 July 2019

Image by Sutipond / Shutterstock.com

Sven Carlin, Ph.D., is operating one of the highest-quality YouTube channels on “value investing” in publicly listed equities. Within two short years, he went from having no followers to probably close to 100,000 people following him regularly across his different channels. He found a way to monetise his audience without relying on YouTube ad revenue, and he can now afford to donate his entire conventional YouTube ad income to a charity instead. Sven recently relocated his family to Slovenia purely for the sake of improved quality of life. Read how he did all this from scratch, with no expertise or start capital.

Here are 10 questions I asked him, all aimed at inspiring and informing you how you could do the same and using ANY subject you are personally passionate about!

1. You had a job as data researcher at Bloomberg in London, and after returning to the Netherlands you’ve worked as assistant professor, teaching finance and accounting. This all sounds like a very respectable career in the making. Then, you dropped everything to work from your garage and produce YouTube videos. What drove you to make such a dramatic, and even somewhat unconventional, change in your life?

As a teacher, you have the summer off and after teaching the same accounting lessons for the tenth time or so, you don’t need much preparation. So, for fun, I started sharing my stock market analyses publicly by writing articles. I still remember how rich I felt when I received the first USD 35 for a stock analysis that I’ve spent seven days on. Nevertheless, I really enjoy investing, researching, so I continued to do so. What started as a summer hobby quickly turned into a full-time job when an American company hired me to write an article of approximately 1,000 words per day. I don’t know how I managed but I did it for 110 consequent weeks while still teaching. As I had so much written material, I asked for permission to scale it by making videos, just for fun and to do something for myself.

2. How did those first few months as professional YouTuber go for you? Were there ever moments when you had doubts or regrets? If so, how did you manage and then overcome them?

The first months on YouTube were interesting. After publishing about 45 videos, I would get about ten views per day. Two views were my own, six from my father as he would put me on his three screens at work during his break. That was it. However, I know that you can improve only through practice, so I kept at it. Each video became better and better and slowly it started to grow organically.

3. Your YouTube channel has grown to an impressive 40,000 subscribers in less than two years, and you have also built a presence on other channels. What business model have you built around your followership, i.e., how do you actually make money off your web presence?

As my YouTube channel grew, there were more and more requests for money management services or for more in-depth research, full portfolio management and especially stock picks. As you can’t really show everything in a video (otherwise my videos would fill hours), I decided to create the Sven Carlin Stock Market Research Platform. There, for a yearly fee, investors get all my research through reports and they get to see all my portfolios, my trades and where my money actually goes. So, this is my actual business.

Sven Carlin YouTube channel

Sven Carlin’s YouTube channel focussing on value investing with the goal of increasing the viewers’ general level of financial education.

4. What do you consider your biggest achievement during this period, and which part of your online venture are you most proud of?

I consider my biggest achievement conquering my own fear, the process of exiting my comfort zone. As a kid born in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, in a village with 4,000 inhabitants, a kid that was always the shy one with no public exposure whatsoever, plus with my English having a strong Russian accent, I would never have even imagined to be able to build a video channel like I did. Fortunately, I love doing the impossible.

I consider my biggest achievement conquering my own fear, the process of exiting my comfort zone.

What I am most proud of is that I am now in a place where I can help others. The money made through ads on my YouTube channel is donated to charity and I’ve recently helped rebuild a small school in Nepal that was in bad shape after the earthquakes from a few years ago. I hope to continue doing charity like this and at the end, it all boils down to helping others.

Sven Carlin Nepal

Read in more detail how Sven Carlin’s YouTube channel is supporting a school in Nepal (please click on the image to download the full document in PDF format).

5. Like any business, content marketing and web-based publishing is evolving, and fast. Are you seeing any trends emerging that you advise anyone else who is in this industry to pay close attention to and make part of their strategy?

I would say that you should forget about trends, simply focus on quality, be the best in your niche, and those looking to get value will find you sooner or later, no matter where you are.

I could do hundreds of things to improve the business side of my business, however, spending time on it would take away time from my research and investment analysis. So, my focus is simply to provide the most value by managing my portfolios in the best way and provide value that you can’t get elsewhere. As long as I keep doing that, I have nothing to worry about trends or a lack of growth.

6. After growing up in Croatia and living in both the Netherlands and the UK, you and your family are just about to move to… Slovenia! Why did you choose this particular country? After all, it’s neither your home country nor particularly famous as a go-to destination for expats.

Actually, Slovenia was the same country as Croatia before the war of the 1990s, so the mentality is actually similar and we really feel like home. The only reason we chose Slovenia and not Croatia is because the infrastructure we need doesn’t exist in Croatia, or at least not with everything in a 20km radius. Here we have everything we need – nature, great food, an international airport, amazing schools, and we are just a two-hour drive from my family in Croatia and the sea. To be honest, Slovenia is a hidden gem, so better to keep it that way now that we are here!

7. After the very successful first two years of operating your own web business, do you have a masterplan or some areas of focus for the next two years?

The masterplan is simple, continue doing my research and then launch a fund on top of it. I think I’ve declined tens of millions of Euros of potential client funds over the past year because I first have to decide how I want my life to be. I am 100% sure of the research part and managing my own money, that is something I’ll do forever. However, going bigger would be the logical thing to do, but that is something I’ll decide on towards the end of this year or perhaps next year. As with investing, same as with life decisions, you should never hurry.

Sven Carlin balcony

In his chosen new home-country, Sven will now get to enjoy world-class mountain-biking through the beautiful scenery right in front of his home!

8. As someone who is knee-deep in the investment business every day, what are your views how anyone who is younger than 40 can work best towards building a nest-egg and providing for old age?

As with everything else, the more you know, the easier it gets. It is painful to see so many who lack the basic financial education to even start with investing and understanding the risks and rewards. Yet another reason why I continue doing videos!

The best advice I can give is value investing. Value investing focuses on risk first, looks at the long-term picture and looks for great businesses that offer value at the time you buy them. Given that younger investors have a long-term horizon, I don’t think you can go wrong with a value investing approach. It is difficult to promote such a strategy because most are attracted by examples of investment returns of 100% or more, as was the case for the recent IPO Beyond Meat (NASDAQ: BYND), but then again most forget how painful it has been for investors in Tilray (NASDAQ: TLRY) over the past ten months – down almost 80%.

The best advice I can give is value investing.

I would say, all you need is common sense, be patient, look at the risk and reward of each investment and when you find something that you are happy with, invest and let it grow.

9. Now that you have successfully established yourself outside of the corporate sector, are there any words of advice, encouragement or inspiration that you can give my readers for making that jump and leaving the realm of conventional careers behind?

The key is to start building it NOW. I’ve built my business from 8pm to 2am over a few years and only then I left my job. It was a sacrifice that paid off well but I took no risk, again a value investing example. Trust me, by learning to be efficient and working four hours per day over a few years, you’ll become the expert on whatever your passion is. But, you have to be constant, love what you do and the results will come sooner or later.

The key is to start building it NOW.

Start today, be patient and build your way to freedom. Anyone can do it with all the connection possibilities we have today. Be yourself and you will find 1,000 people who will love what you do over time and be happy to pay USD 49 per year for that. That is USD 49k, enough to live on and do what you love.

10. Last but not least, when you are not working on your content business, what do you like to do to relax and enjoy yourself?

Nature is one of the main reasons we moved to Slovenia. The picture shows the view from our terrace. I love cycling and I can’t wait to buy myself a nice Specialized Epic hardtail bike to start climbing the mountains around me. In the Netherlands I didn’t really find many enjoyable cycling routes….

The peak on the picture is 1,110 meters of altitude so I have a lot of climbing to do.

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