sahil lavingia creative below the line james beshara

How to Monetize Creativity and Solo-Preneurship – Sahil Lavingia on Below the Line, Hosted By James Beshara

Check out the Below the Line Podcast Page

Key Takeaways

  • The formula for Creative Success (Part I):
    • GET SPECIFIC: Have a specific goal in mind
    • GET COMMITTED: You have to be willing to do the work—nothing worthwhile happens overnight
    • GET REALISTIC: You’re probably more average than you think
    • GET PUBLIC: Share your work early and often
  • The formula for Creative Success (Part I):
    • Skills: Be REALLY good at your craft
    • Audience: You need fans interested in your work
    • Money: Lastly, monetize the audience
  • With whatever goal you’re working towards, train; don’t exercise
  • Technology depreciates over time while good content appreciates

Books Mentioned

  • Harry Potter is one of the best book [series] ever written … The stories are phenomenal.” – Sahil Lavingia
  • “I almost guarantee one of Stephen King’s bestselling books is On Writing … You can sum up that book in one phrase: write six pages a day.” – Sahil Lavingia


The Formula for Creative Success (Part I)

  • Sahil recently tweeted: “I believe virtually anyone can make a living doing what they love. I discover new creators doing it every day. Do you want to create full-time but don’t see a path towards doing it? Reply with what it is, and let’s see if I can help you outline a plan.”
  •  Based on the replies, Sahil has the following advice:
    • GET SPECIFIC: A lot of people said something like, “I want to make music full-time”—that’s MUCH too vague
      • “The more you can visualize what it looks like, the better you can aim towards it. If you’re open to everything, you might do nothing.” – Sahil Lavingia 
    • GET COMMITTED: You HAVE to be willing to do the work (and you should be excited about it); nothing worthwhile happens overnight, and whatever you’re doing is going to take multiple tries
      • Take Sahil’s favorite author, Brandon Sanderson—it took him 13 years (!) to sell his first book
    • GET REALISTIC: So many people think they’re above average & extra-ordinary or below average and not worthy of sharing their work)—both are wrong (most of the time)
      • Sahil’s advice: Remember, “You’re probably more average than you think”
    • GET PUBLIC WITH IT: As a creator, share your work early and often
    • GET STARTED: Being prolific > perfect

Sahil is a Creative in His Own Right

  • He regularly tweets
  • He’s a painter
  • He recently started writing science fiction
  • AND he founded Gumroad, a platform that enables creators to sell their content & earn a living

Two Thoughts for Creatives

  • James recalls a piece of advice for creatives: “If your intention is to get noticed, as a result, you make mediocre work”
  • “That’s one of the biggest lessons I try to communicate to creators: no one knows [what’s going to work]. People think they know, and people like to tell themselves a story that they know … but they don’t.” – Sahil Lavingia
    • “You don’t know what’s going to work, and you don’t know how long it might take” (just like this image of two people mining for gold)

The Formula for Creative Success (Part II)

  • Skills: Be REALLY good at your craft
  • Audience: You need fans interested in your work
  • Money: Lastly, monetize the audience
    • Good news: “If you’re diligent about skill and audience-building, people will start asking you to give you money” – Sahil Lavingia
    • “Money is the easy one … There’s a reason the Gumroad logo is a ‘G’ and has two dots that connect—it’s the idea that if you have the skills and audience, connecting the dots [to make money] is the easiest part” Sahil Lavingia 
    • There are TONS of ways to monetize your skills & audience (even with as little as a few thousand followers):
      • Make a course
      • Write a book
      • Offer teaching/training/consulting

Talk to Those Who’ve Come Before You

  • “The number one thing you can do if you want to make a movie: talk to someone who’s made a movie before. Want to start a podcast? Talk to someone who started a podcast. They’ll show you the holes—where not to step.” Sahil Lavingia 
    • So many people don’t do this—either they think they’re too good & don’t need to, or they believe they’re “not good enough” and not yet worth of asking questions
      • James adds: “Thinking you’re too good to go gobble up every bit of information possible from everyone you can meet is something that’ll set you back”

Train; Don’t Exercise

  • “A lot of people exercise; very few people train” – Sahil Lavingia 
    • Exercise = doing something for the immediate, short-term calorie burn
    • Training = doing something with a goal in mind
      • (With an end goal, you can reverse engineer your way there)
  • Now, take this advice and magnify it. So many people read books, listen to podcasts, etc., but without a specific goal—they just want to vaguely “get better.”
    • Instead, do some research—find someone you want to be like in five years and ask, “How did this person get there?” Reading their tweets won’t give you an answer.

Learn in Public

  • As a creator, share your work early and often—it’s the best way to learn (this is why Sahil tweets)
    • Even if you’re writing a book, post snippets (or shorter versions of the story) as often as possible for feedback
  • “Growth, I believe, is a step function. It’s incremental learning compiled on top of each other.” Sahil Lavingia
    • By sharing your work, you’re more likely to discover the most substantial step you could take at any given time

Technology Depreciates; Good Content Appreciates

  • “I fundamentally believe that technology depreciates over time and [good] content appreciates over time” Sahil Lavingia
    • “Technology is phenomenal for so many reasons, but you’re building on shaky ground—ground that shifts all the time … Content doesn’t really have that problem. If you make a great book or story, it’s timeless … Some of the bestselling books of all time were written a long time ago, and they’ll sell forever.”

Sahil’s Love for Harry Potter

  • Harry Potter is one of the best book [series] ever written … The stories are phenomenal.”Sahil Lavingia
  • Fun facts:
    • The first book in the Harry Potter series was J.K. Rowling‘s first 
    • Depending on your source, it took J.K. between 7 and 15 drafts for series’ first book to reach the published state
    • J.K. wrote the first chapter of the Harry Potter series 13 times over
  • J.K did such a good job writing the series that “Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley are like real people to most. You could drop them into any environment, and you’d basically know how they act. That’s insane.” – Sahil Lavingia
  • Another thing Sahil notes J.K. did incredibly well: Nearly every sentence moves both the setting, characters, and plot forward
    • Building off this, J.K. does an INCREDIBLE job of depicting information about the storyline in the fewest possible words—a mark of a literary genius


  • Start early & create often—you want to build up a library of content, so when your moment comes, people have stuff to dive into
  • Another reason to start NOW: you have a SUPER long journey ahead of you & a lot to learn; the earlier you start, the better

When should a creator start monetizing their work?

  • Sahil advises waiting until your audience starts asking about how to pay you (and the same goes for startups)

Rank-Ordering the Different Creative pursuits in Terms of Monetization Potential

  • People typically pay more for education-based, self-help, fitness, and language-learning-type products
  • Selling physical products (e.g., pottery & oil paintings) can also be effective

Wrapping Up

  • With business, you’re building for other people; with art, you’re building for yourself & what you care about
  • “It’s putting in the work, sharing it publically, continuing to do it for YEARS, getting better, getting feedback, getting better again, sharing your work, and eventually, you’ll be able to make a living doing what you love”Sahil Lavingia

Additional Notes

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