How a Digital Course Earns an Entrepreneur Over $1 Million a Year
- Julie Berninger successfully started a printable products business on Etsy and realized she could teach others to do the same.
- She created a digital course on printables, which has since earned her over $1 million.
- She started the course business with just $4,000.
Julie Berninger is the host of the FIRE Drill podcast and co-founder of Gold City Ventures. Berninger and his business partner, Cody Berman, launched an Etsy printables course that generates more than $1 million in annual revenue, according to records seen by Insider. She’s not a remote designer or artist, but earns passive income from Etsy printables and teaches others how to do the same.
When Berninger launched her Etsy store in 2017, she never imagined it would lead to a multimillion-dollar business idea. Berninger was working at a tech company in California when she decided to start a side hustle by selling bachelorette party supplies on Etsy. Her full-time job made it difficult to fulfill orders, so she decided to try a more passive approach: digital downloads.
This true set-it-and-forget-it model allowed him to upload designs to the marketplace and raise money from a sale. “I loved how I could create a design on my computer once, upload it to Etsy, and have hundreds of customers buy that design from me without much more action,” she said.
Soon, Berninger started making a few hundred dollars a month from his digital products. She is quick to point out that she is not a designer and has no creative training. She saw a demand for digital products in a niche market and decided to take advantage of it.
Her sideways hustle gained traction when she discussed it on her personal finance-focused FIRE Drill podcast. Audiences responded positively to a passive income stream that didn’t require high start-up costs or extensive training. Soon, listeners began reaching out to Berninger with questions about how they could replicate his success. She realized there was a market for teaching others how to leverage Etsy as a passive source of income and got to work.
Their startup costs were $4,000
By 2018, Berninger had successfully completed two Etsy “brains,” expert-led, in-person courses, and was ready to grow her business. She said, “A few attendees were doing sales, so I knew a newbie could pick it up and do the same.” Around this time, she met her business partner, Cody Berman, when he performed on her podcast.
Berman had had success with online marketing and floated the idea of creating a blogging course. With Berninger’s expertise and Berman’s marketing savvy, they founded Gold City Ventures. But it hasn’t been easy. Midway through setting up the business, Berninger and her husband learned that they were expecting their first child. The pregnancy made it difficult for her to work on the course. “We actually tried to launch about three months early and I had to delay until I felt good enough to work,” she told Insider.
It didn’t hold her back long. Berninger and Berman reached out to friends and space experts for advice before launching their courses. Berman even went to work for a personal finance expert to learn the ropes of running a business. “We tested demand for what we wanted through small offerings like paid brains. When we launched, we had connections and buzz around our course,” Berninger said.
In four months and using $4,000 in combined start-up costs, the duo released three courses on Etsy printables, blogging and freelancing.
The Etsy course was a smash hit and topped the other two. Berninger attributes this to the ease of starting a print store compared to starting a blog or a freelance business. “We should have started with just one side hustle course, but we got carried away with the excitement of wanting to provide options,” she said. The pair decided to focus entirely on focusing the course on printables.
They update the course regularly with student feedback
Berninger and Berman had spent most of their start-up costs on hiring a professional editor, but quickly found that wasn’t entirely necessary. The video editor was unfamiliar with the printable space, which resulted in a poor user experience the first time around.
The money they spent still taught them a valuable lesson. “We thought we needed a professional look on our videos, but found that students just cared about how easy it was for them to follow the content,” Berninger said. The duo started remaking the videos using a free software tool.
In two years, what started as a passive income idea to generate a few hundred dollars has turned into a successful course that produces over $1 million in annual revenue. Berninger attributes this success to extensive research, networking, and a focus on public knowledge.
“We updated the course several times and stayed in close contact with the students,” she said. “We were learning how to improve our teachings of each cohort of new students and thinking about how to make them succeed faster. We improved our framework in the course again and again. The better the students did, the more excited they were to share on the course, and the more people we had interested in signing up with us.”
It took two years to hit over $1 million in revenue, and Berninger has this advice for starting an online course: “Go deep and learn as much as you can when starting a new passive income stream rather than trying many things and spinning but never really learning one thing well. Invest in some paid training to shorten the basics.”