My guest today is Femke who is a senior product designer at Wealthsimple and a design YouTuber. Interview Video: https://youtu.be/XQ8HTc9ggTI In this episode, we discuss the following: - Femke Van Schoonhoven bio - Why should creatives start side projects - How to deal with pressure, responsibility of having a large social media following - Why should influencers have authenticity and integrity - Should you work only on side projects that can be monetized - How does Femke make money via side projects - How does Femke promote her job board - How much revenue does Femke generate via her side projects - Why diversify your sources of income - Choosing not to be a full time content creator - How to manage a full time job and side hustles - Going all in on your day job vs doing side hustles - Power of thinking you are already at the next level - What to do when you feel like quitting your side projects - Working full time at a company supportive of side projects - Importance of building an audience - Hard part about building an audience - Power of doing side projects without worrying about monetization - How to contact Femke For show notes, guest bio, and more, please visit: www.designmba.show
Femke Van Schoonhoven is a senior product designer at Wealthsimple though previously worked at Uber Eats on the merchant experience. Prior to that, she worked on the driver experience focusing on money and payments across the world. You can often find Femke creating videos on YouTube, hiking around Ontario or cycling. Femke currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
ARE YOU LOOKING TO JOIN A DESIGN COMMUNITY TO LEVEL UP?
Check out Femke's design community - https://www.femke.design/community
CONNECT WITH FEMKE
CONNECT WITH ME
Namaste and welcome. I am Jayneil Dalal and you are listening to the design MBA which is a real-life MBA program for designers. You will learn how to launch a side hustle and level up your design careers from the interviews rock star designers.
Jayneil Dalal: Today's amazing guest is Femke. Femke is a product designer at Wealthsimple though previously, she worked at Uber Eats on the merchant experience. Prior to that, she worked on the driver experience focusing on money and payments across the world. You can often find Femke creating videos on YouTube hiking around Ontario or cycling. Femke currently lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Femke, welcome to the show. Super stoked to have you here.
Femke: Thank you. Thank you. I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Jayneil: Yeah, you've just got like a super … I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and stuff and there's something about like … they talk about energy like people's energy and the vibe. That's a cool word, instead of ‘energy’. I want to say that your vibe is very … it makes the other person feel at ease even though it's my job to make you feel at ease.
Femke: Thank you. That's so nice of you to say. And, yeah, I feel like vibe is like the word of 2022. I hear everyone using vibe everywhere. I’m just waiting for like Time Magazine to come out with like ‘vibe’ as the word of the year.
Jayneil: No, I’ve heard people say that their title is chief vibe officer and I’m like …
Femke: Really? Wow! I didn’t know that.
Jayneil: They're creating vibes.
Femke: Love it. Love it. Yeah, we're all about the good vibes over here, for sure/
Jayneil: So, let me just throw you this question and get started. The question is why on earth even bother to start a side project as a creative?
Femke: Yeah. I think there's so much you can learn when creating side projects. For me, I started creating side projects back in 2015. This is like, what? Seven years ago, now? And my goal at the time was to really just document my journey into design but at the time, I was trying to become a designer and I wanted to document that journey and share what I was learning with others in case it helped them in their journey as well. And I have just learned so much about myself like I’ve grown in different ways, improved my skills that … really the gift of side projects to me is learning and personal growth. And I think a nice side effect often of side projects too is the community and the networking that comes with it and your ability to connect with people. It's amazing that I have a YouTube channel and there's like 55,000 people subscribing to that.
Jayneil: Oh my god!
Femke: And so, I feel so humbled to be able to connect with that many people. And it's amazing how many of them reach out to me personally to thank me or to get some guidance or advice or book someone on one time with me. So, it's amazing like the effect that that has and the ability for me to connect with people on a deeper level is really humbling for me. I feel honored to be able to do that.
Jayneil: I have a co-worker who is a subscriber of your channel and he was super excited to know that like I’m interviewing. He's like “Oh my god! I can't believe it.”
Femke: Amazing. Yeah, that's so nice. It's crazy like I’ve reached people in corners of the world that I never thought I would. It's crazy. I recently did a live stream with a friend of mine Pedro Marx who's a Brazilian designer living in the Netherlands and we did a live stream on moving abroad and like getting a design job overseas. And he reached out to me the other day and he was like “You know, since our live stream, I’ve had so many Brazilian designers reaching out to me like asking for help and advice on how to move abroad.” And he was like “It's amazing the reach that the content has and being able to reach these people, you know, in brazil.” So, that was really great for me to hear and I’m glad that we're able to help people like that.
Jayneil: Does it ever feel like the expectations are too high for you because you've got 50,000 people that follow your journey, they hold you up to a certain standard? How do you deal with that?
Femke: Oh yeah. Yeah, I don't take this role lightly. I do feel a lot of responsibility, I guess, to be sort of like … I don't know … an ambassador, I suppose, for the design community, for lack of better terms. And, yeah, I have seen people struggle through this, other creators, and that definitely terrifies me. I don't want that to happen to me. I don't want that to happen to my audience. And so, yeah, it is a lot of responsibility. And so, I don't take it lightly.
Jayneil: I would say that the way you just answered that point, you have a lot of integrity, if I’m being just like … that's the first word that comes to mind like you take your role as an influencer, so to speak, in the design community very seriously. All the people that subscribe to you, you care about being authentic in your journey, right?
Femke: Yes, yes.
Jayneil: Now, why is that important to you? I mean, someone could have said that seven years ago you started to perfect your craft and you really got to a certain level in your craft before you started sharing that journey with other people but then we see a lot of people who go on Insta or something like that and just like get a lot of like likes and followers and shit and they just become an influencer. So, why is integrity and stuff important to you?
Femke: Yeah. I guess to me integrity is authenticity and authenticity is being honest, being unique telling your story in your words. I think we often get really caught up in seeing people with large audiences and setting goals to reach that milestone really quickly. And so, we kind of … it's easy to get caught up with that, right? Just get caught up in the numbers and the popularity contest of it all. And so, I’m sure we've all seen those accounts on Instagram and even on YouTube, so to speak. And I’m not in it for the numbers. I’m here to help people. And if that takes seven years, 10, years, that's okay with me. I would rather grow slowly and authentically rather than be some overnight one-hit-wonder success. Like I was saying earlier, I feel that responsibility, right? I want to make sure that the content I’m providing is of value and is actually helping people. I could go and create like one-hit-wonder videos if I really wanted to that could do really successful … be successful really quickly but I know that that's not going to last for the long term and it's not really going to provide that value to designers to help them in their career. And so, I’d rather take that long slow game of really putting my heart and soul into the content, helping people on that deeper level, forming closer connections with them than kind of the overnight success route.
Jayneil: But you just mentioned that numbers don't matter to you but someone hear this could say that “Oh, it's very easy for you to say because you've got 50,000 and so many more followers at this point.”
Femke: Yeah. I think, for me, my goals have always been more about impact rather than hitting a certain number or a milestone. And impact, you could argue that that can be measured in numbers sure, right? For me, I think the signals I get is it's when people send me an email telling me “Oh my gosh! Your video helped me get a job at Meta” or like “Oh my gosh! Your content, I was able to like negotiate a 10K raise or whatever.” It's those things that to me signal the impact that my content can have on people and their careers. And so, that's more what I look out for and what's more important to me than like a subscriber count on YouTube.
Jayneil: Wow! So, going back when you started the site project of YouTube, I mean, I’m probably sure you never had an idea that it was going to blow up like this like where you are now. So, having said that, when you tinker with side projects, do you care about things like monetization, do you care about only doing side projects that have a potential for monetization, is it going to make money from day one or what if it just kind of like tickles your artistic abilities?
Femke: Yeah, scratches an itch.
Jayneil: Would you still do it?
Femke: Yeah, monetization has not been my goal going into all of this. I only started monetizing my side projects pretty much when the pandemic happened about two years ago. Up until that point, I’d spent five years creating a lot of free content, doing a lot of free giving to the community, all for free. And I think at that point after five years, I was like “You know what? I feel like I’ve been doing this for five years. I’ve built up a bit of an audience. Now, I want to kind of experiment on how I could take this to the next level.” And so, I decided to just slowly quietly flick a switch here and there, turn up that dial of like “What if I made this thing 10 dollars?” or “What if I tried mentoring sessions?” And so, I feel like in 2020-2021, I really took like an experimental mindset and approach to like “What even can I monetize like what is possible to monetize? What am I doing currently that I could start monetizing? What could I start doing that I could start monetizing?” So, I did a lot of experiments and tried a lot of different things. And I feel like I kind of settled now on having a portfolio of things that I know I can monetize and I want to monetize and grow in that way but I think when I brainstorm about future potential projects, it's definitely not from a lens of how can I make more money or like what can I monetize. It's more coming from the soul of the project or like what is it that I want to do, what value do I want to create, how can I give back to my community, what is my community asking for, where are the gaps that I could potentially fill, how can I give them more and I start from that place rather than how could I monetize this thing. Sometimes those things end up do being monetized, other times not.
Jayneil: So, right now, I would say, what are some of the things that you do monetize or that bring you in revenue through side projects, so to speak?
Femke: Yeah. So, one is my community. So, I have a paid monthly membership private community. It's run through Superpeer and Discord. And so, there's monthly subscription. You get access to the community. There's chat and everything there. We also do weekly live streams, design reviews, we have guests coming on, things like that. So, that's the first one.
Jayneil: And anyone can get mentorship from you, right? So, if you're part of that community and they join you, they can message you in the community and ask you questions and get career guidance.
Femke: Yeah, absolutely. I’m on the Discord all day chatting with folks in there.
Femke: So, there's that. That's my main focus of energy more than the YouTube actually right now. So, that's mainly where I put my energy and focus. The next thing is my mentoring. So, I offer mentoring through Superpeer. You can book like 30 minutes with me or I have like a ‘get job ready’ package where we go through your portfolio and résumé and things like that. So, that's another revenue where I generate income. And those, I believe, are the two “consumer-facing” revenue streams I have. The others are things like sponsorships for YouTube, sponsorships for my email newsletter. I also have a job board, so more like working with companies is the other main source of revenue.
Jayneil: And then the job board is very interesting. So, the companies pay you but how do you go out and market to different companies like “Hey, do you want to advertise in my job board or not?” or do they just organically find you and reach out to you?
Femke: Yeah, it's a bit of a mix. Some of them organically find me. Others, I proactively try to promote and advertise the job board on Twitter and through my audience and through my network. I do also get a few inbound requests from companies who want to work with me in some way, maybe they want to do a YouTube collaboration or something like that. I’ll sort of like send them my media kit and point them towards the direction of here's different ways to work with me and that includes things my job board. So, that also sometimes turns into those postings. And the last one is I get recruiter emails. So, sometimes recruiters reach out to me saying that they have a role in their team, am I interested in applying, and almost always I’m like “No because I’m happy where I’m at now but if you want to promote this role to designers in the community, here's my job board.” And so, that's led to a few postings as well.
Jayneil: If you don't mind me asking, all these different ways you're monetizing, how much revenue do you think it brings in it's just a ballpark?
Femke: Yeah. Currently, it's bringing in about 10 000 a month, Canadian dollars. So, it's like 8000 US or so. So, enough to be a full-time salary really for someone. It's going pretty well like better than I expected.
Jayneil: How does that make you feel because for folks who follow the whole financial freedom model and those books, it's like what you have is a dream that many people want to attain is that you have diversified sources of income, you got income coming from multiple different side projects, right? You've got income coming in from your day job, right? So, did you ever like proactively think about diversifying your source of income and was that a thought for you or just happened along the way for you?
Femke: I think it was more from an angle of “How can I make my own money?” rather than like “How can I diversify?” So, it was like “How can I become begin my path to becoming more self-sufficient?”, right? It’s like “Eventually, it would be nice to not have to work a day job. So, how can I start planting the seeds now to eventually get to that end goal?” And so, I think these side projects are just the beginning for me. I think it could turn into something else in the future but for now … that was kind of the motivation and the driver for me of “How can I maybe start turning that dial on a little bit?” And I think, like I said earlier, during 2020-2021, I did have that diversification kind of “Let me experiment. Let me try lots of different things like what revenue streams are working better than others.” I always try to measure level of effort with like level of impact and gain. And so, I sat down at the end of last year and I did a bit of a scoping exercise of like I looked back at how much I made in 2021 from each of my side projects and I also scoped how much time and effort I spent on each of those things. It was really interesting to see some of the side projects that were taking up a lot of my time but bringing in little revenue and other side projects where I was spending little time and it was bringing in a lot of revenue. And so, that's kind of helped me going into 2022, earlier this year, focus a little bit more on sort of how to maximize those income streams a little bit more and just be a little bit more efficient with how I’m diversifying.
Jayneil: What excites you? You said that more than diversifying your source of income, what excites you is that you're self-sufficient, you're working for yourself. What part of that as a creative excites you compared to just working for a company full-time?
Femke: Yeah. I think having control on what you want to do and how you want to spend your time. So, a bit of like that control and freedom. Also, from a creative standpoint, like I get to choose what projects I want to work on and …
Femke: I get to decide where I want to focus my energy and if I want to do something fun or not. So, I think that has been important for me and something that I’ve really enjoyed as part of this journey.
Jayneil: Do you see at some point yourself just doing this full-time, becoming like a creator and just self-sustaining on that?
Femke: I don't see myself becoming a full-time content creator like making a living on YouTube.
Jayneil: Why’s that?
Femke: I don't think that's my future. I don't want to do that. YouTube is not my passion, so to speak. I know some people love it and thrive on there. For me, it's just the medium for how I communicate my content. So, I don't see myself be going down that route or being there in the future but I do see myself having maybe like a portfolio of projects. And I think what's also really important to me is maintaining my craft. So, something that does worry me about quitting the day job, doing this stuff full-time is then I’m not actively designing and creating …
Jayneil: Oh yeah.
Femke: … and building products every day, right?
Jayneil: I had conversations with some folks like that.
Femke: Yeah, I’m sure I’m not the only one that's worried about this. I’m sure that's fine for a year or two but then I worry that I’d become out of date because I’m no longer actually working in the industry like how relevant is what I’m teaching anymore and I don't want to lose that craft. So, that's really important to me to keep that going. So, whether that's in the context of freelancing with a couple of clients now and then or advising for startups or … still playing some role in the design is important to me. So, I still want to make sure that I’m building upon my craft and being an active player in the design industry.
Jayneil: I am just mind blown right now because I have … I kind of like have so much respect for you like the way you're managing your day job and then doing all this. I mean, I understand everyone's in a different stage. Some people have kids. Some people have other things they want to do after working.
Jayneil: I had a design spirit I was doing today and then I was a little bit mentally exhausted but obviously, the fact that I’m getting to talk to you just energized me and the fact that I’m getting to do what I like but I know I had some other folks on the call, they were just like “I’m out,” right? And I get it like that's the time like it's 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock or whatever like you're plugged off and now you just enjoy your life but then there's a second life that starts for you which is somebody might ask you a question on Discord, somebody's nervous about their career, maybe you've scheduled a session with someone to go over their portfolio. And for you, it's like you want to do it but still there's that exhaustion but for somebody else, it's like a big thing in their life that that's going to be life-changing. So, does it not ever tire you out like managing all these things at the same time or what's the secret?
Femke: Yeah, it definitely can be exhausting. I think I’ve just had to learn from experience what my boundaries are, what my capabilities are and to not over stretch myself. So, when I started doing one-to-one mentoring, I started by just having my calendar wide open because I was like “I don't know who's going to book this like maybe no one's going to book this. So, I’ll just be available all the time and kind of see what happens.” And I kept getting booked out. I was doing like … I think I remember doing three hours back to back of course which was six sessions because they were 30-minute sessions each. So, I would do six back-to-back mentoring sessions.
Jayneil: Every day.
Femke: Not every day. this is a few times a week but having a day job on top of that and all the other side projects, I was like “This is not sustainable. I need to stop. I need to like get better at managing this.” So, it's a little bit of trial and error and just seeing what you are capable of. And then, I think, also knowing your own like how you like to thrive like for me, I’m a morning person. Taking those like first one to two hours of the day for side projects changed everything for me because …
Jayneil: What time do you wake up?
Femke: Which for a lot of people is probably very early.
Jayneil: I’m one of them.
Femke: Yeah, that's the common reaction I get. So, just … you don't have to be a morning person. Maybe you're an evening person and like 11 p.m. is your thriving hour. That's awesome. Just find out what that is and make the most of that time in the day where you can really thrive and sit down and get stuff done. And then, I think, the other thing is like setting boundaries and communicating those boundaries as well. And some people have kids, some people have partners. That's also something to consider. We don't all have the same hours in the day, unfortunately, but, for me, it definitely helps that I have a very understanding partner and we have those boundaries in place. And so, that definitely is helpful as well to make sure that you have that supportive environment around you to be able to thrive and do these things.
Jayneil: Now, when I tell people this … so, I was in Chicago recently and a buddy of mine works at a fan company. I’m not going to say which one but he works at a fan company and he was just like talking to me and he was like “Dude, if you just quit all your side project stuff, right, like all this stuff you have in the side and you just went in and joined me on this company, I can easily get you like a total comp of 3,50,000 dollars or even more depending on …” So, he was showing me the band gap and all these things. He had a very good point like there's this other train of thought like instead of diversifying your sources of income and earnings through like the day job and side projects and all these different, different avenues, he was like “Why not go all in?” In your case, let's say you become like a like a super staff designer or go into management and just through that route you make all this money. So, did that thought ever cross your mind or what is your take on that?
Femke: I think that's totally a viable option, yeah. And if that's the route someone wants to take, then that is awesome. That's their journey and that's their story. And I think you can be just as impactful back to the design community doing that like you don't have to do all of these side projects to give back to the community. I guess, that's what I want to make clear. There are some amazing designers in our community giving back. They're not creating YouTube videos or anything but they're still giving back to the community in lower lift ways that, I think, are really, really valuable. So, that is definitely a route and an option that you can take. And it's something that I also have goals for within my career like I’m really interested in moving into design management at some point in the next 12 months. And so, I am intending to continue my career and my impact there. You can do both as well though. So, for me, I enjoy taking what I learned there and giving it back to the design community. That's how I like to do it.
Jayneil: But then as you think about going to design management, is there a concern like how are you going to manage everything at the same time because now suddenly, compared to an individual contributor to now being like a design manager, you may have more responsibilities and more things you have to oversee?
Jayneil: At some point … I’m not saying you are but it might …
Jayneil: Everything’s going to play.
Femke: That can have an impact, exactly. Yes, that is definitely something that I have thought about or have been taking into consideration. And I think, for me, I’m always trying to be like a couple steps ahead. So, for example, by that point, I don't want to be running the show all the time, just me, like I would love it if I had some people with me to help me out a little bit here and there. And so, I’ve been planting those seeds a little bit. For example, I have a couple of freelancers that I work with on a regular basis that help me manage and do some of the behind the scenes of my side projects. So, eventually, at management stage in my career, they might be able to take a little bit more on, for example, so delegating a little bit more or maybe I bring on another partner, another design partner, something like that. So, I think I am cautious that that might happen but I’m trying to plant the seeds now so that if and when that does come up, I’m sort of ready to make the next step or ready to make a move.
Jayneil: Wow! I love that part about being a couple of steps ahead. And that's honestly one of the reasons why I like talking to people like you on the on the podcast because it's like every time I sit down with such an amazing person like you, I am updating my mental models because now I’m getting a world view into like how you think and I’m like “Oh wow! She's already operating at this level. Femke's thinking about this. I never thought about it this way.” So …
Femke: Yeah, I think like it's … I don't know how to put this in the perfect words but there's something really powerful in thinking that you're already at the next level, right? If you go into creating a YouTube channel with the mindset of like “Oh, I only have zero subscribers. So, it's not really worth putting in that much effort. I’ll just do something that's like not really great because no one's going to see it,” that compared to the mindset of “Okay, I’m starting a YouTube channel. Let's imagine I had a thousand subscribers. What would my channel look like for a thousand subscribers and do that,” so do the level of effort or put in the work for the next … imagining that you're at the next level already or the next goal, that's kind of how I like to think is like almost imagining my audience's double what it actually is and really using that to fuel me and to give me motivation and operate as if I were already there. And then it's kind of about like reality aligning with your mindset. So, it's like if you're thinking ahead here but your reality is down here, it's slowly going to catch up, you're going to get there. And so, that's been really helpful for me in my side project journey is to always be thinking ahead and that's where the being two steps ahead kind of comes from.
Jayneil: So, I got to ask you this. In a seven-year journey, obviously, now somebody would say like “Femke's made it. She's got an amazing platform, community, all the things figured out now,” but Femke, year one, year two was maybe not at that level. And as every creator has faced, there must be some times where you're like “I don't know why I’m doing this. Maybe I should just stop or quit or take a long, long break that turns into like just quitting.” So, I’m trying to figure out what made you keep going during that time?
Femke: Yeah. I mean, my side project started with me trying to build a freelance agency. And so, from that to where I am now is so different. So, my side projects have definitely pivoted throughout my side project “career”.
Jayneil: Is that good or bad?
Femke: I mean, I think it's good. I think it's fine. I think you should, to answer your question what keeps you going, is like I think pivoting when I want to pivot has kept me going because I think you get to that crossroads and you can either quit or you can do something else or turn it into something else and I’ve always gone for that latter option. And so, that's kind of what has kept me going along with my audience. And there are some people in my audience that have been with me from day one and they kind of keep me going. Again, hearing from them how much impact my content has on them and their career, that keeps me going. Having one-on-one sessions with people keeps me going. Those are all the things I think that really feel and really drive me and remind me that this is helping people and I have something to give.
Jayneil: And all these people that have been following you from day one, you've been very authentic about your journey with them, sharing your honest experiences, what you've learned, which also includes you talking about how much money you make, talking about how much revenue you make from your side projects. And you probably have people that you worked in your day jobs that don't have all these side projects and side income. I’m kind of curious what makes you comfortable talking about these things because there's an alternate train of thought like “Oh, maybe you don't want to talk about all this in open because somebody you work with in your day job could be jealous, could think that “Oh, Femke is a little bit late to the meeting or a little bit tired because her heart is really on the side stuff and she's not giving 100% to the day job.”” So, how do you deal with that stuff?
Femke: Yeah. So, first of all, it's important for me to work at a company that is supportive of my side projects. So, when I joined Uber back in the day and more recently when I joined Wealthsimple, it's something I brought up during the interview process.
Jayneil: Like how?
Femke: And I even got them to … well, I got them to sign a piece of paper that stated my side projects and like basically was them, not verbally but in written form, saying that “Yeah, you can continue doing these and you own these,” right? Because sometimes that is a concern if you have side projects, companies could technically take ownership over them if you're doing them on the same computer or whatever. There's all these like weird specific rules. So, I really wanted to get it down in writing that “These are things that I own. I’m going to keep doing them. You support me by signing this letter,” basically. So, I’ve done that in the past two jobs that I’ve had and that has helped give me the confidence that “Okay, they know I’m doing this. Let's just be real and up front about it from day one” because I’m very public about it online, in case you didn't know.
Jayneil: Oh my god!
Femke: Just making sure that we're on the same page. And I think for my job at Uber in particular, the manager that hired me found me through my side projects. So, he was really on board with it and constantly supporting me in those endeavors and always cheering me on from the sidelines. So, that was really special to be able to have that and I feel like rare these days …
Jayneil: It is rare.
Femke: … to have a manager that's really supportive of that. yeah. So, that definitely helped. And then … it's funny … sometimes I’ve had design colleagues join the company to then message me and be like “Oh my god! Hi. I’m such a fan of your YouTube channel and now we work together. Oh my god!” I’m like “Wow! Hi. That's so random.” So, I think I’m lucky that so far in my career the response from colleagues and things like that has been positive and I’ve yet to have a negative experience from it.
Jayneil: Wow! So, you actively check for a culture fit-in. and probably sure in that search there may be companies where they were not okay with what they're doing because I’ve had designer friends who've said that their manager or the company is “Hey, you got to shut this down.” And same way for me. The main thing is whatever I do, I want to keep doing the podcast.
Femke: Exactly. It's important to you. Yeah, I have interviewed at companies that during the interview phase it came up that they had rules around things like side projects and even rules around side income and once I had a company that …
Jayneil: No way!
Femke: Yeah, they had a rule around earning side income and I just politely told them “This isn't going to work. It's not for me then.” Yeah, not all companies are supportive of this and that's okay, to be clear. For me though it is important. So, I’d rather have a company that culturally we have a better fit together.
Jayneil: Let me ask you a question on that front. I’ve talked to people at companies where they say that the side project or side income is not an issue but the workload is so crazy that they want to warn you that there's not really like a work-life balance so to speak because of high growth or that stuff. So, you're not going to be able to do it. So, does that become a concern for you like if you're just going to put in crazy hours, nights and weekends and stuff where they allow you to do it if you have even more than 24 hours but like a human being, you're not going to be able to do it. How do you figure that stuff out?
Femke: Yeah. Again, I just set boundaries. I’m just really clear about what my boundaries are like at my job too like “I’m not working after this time” or like “This can wait till tomorrow” or whatever. So, I’m just really, really clear about that. And I want to say that like I am also critical of the working culture and work-life balance. However, I would say that my job at Uber was more like 40-plus hours a week kind of job where I was working a lot and it was really intense. And so, it was sometimes a challenge to try to balance side projects and Uber work. I will say that the pandemic and working from home helped because no longer did I have things like a commute. And so, I automatically had an extra one to two hours a day just because of working from home. So, that definitely helped me a little bit with when I was at Uber. Having a really big workload but working from home made the side projects a little bit easier to manage.
Jayneil: Would you say to other aspiring creators who are listening to this, would you give them the advice to look for maybe a company where there's at least some decent control in the work-life balance so that could help them focus on the side projects after they're off work?
Femke: Yeah. I mean, side projects are not, yes, I think everyone deserves to work at a company that does have good work-life balance and you can draw those boundaries irrespective of if you're doing side projects or not. It's obviously extra helpful to have that if you're doing side projects but I think for our own well-being, mental health, sanity we need that balance and their separation.
Jayneil: Oh my god! I cannot tell you it's like I’m … I’m not just getting like a personal mentorship from Femke right now at this point, getting all these questions answered. Oh my god! Oh my god!
Femke: That's awesome. Yeah, I hope this is helpful for people listening and inspiring.
Jayneil: No, no, absolutely. I guess, let me ask you this. What advice would you give to just the designers who are looking to diversify their sources of income and through side projects? What advice would you give them?
Femke: Yeah. So, I would start with trying to grow an audience because if you don't have an audience, who are you going to sell to? No one. So, that is where I would start. Pick a platform, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, whatever, email list, newsletter, Substack is really popular now. Start building an audience now because when you eventually do want to launch a product or whatever, start making additional income, you're going to want someone to tell about that. So, I think starting with building an audience is like step number one. And so, starting to create some sort of regular content like a blog post, it could be video, whatever. And then I think my next step would be talk to that audience. What is it that they want to learn? What are they struggling with? Where do they want to grow? Try to learn more about them and where they're at in their journey and that will start to give you ideas of things you could create to help them in their journey because people will buy things that that help them get closer to their goals. So, find out what their goals are and the gaps that they currently have. And you'll start to see common themes or common patterns. You'll get asked the same questions over and over or people will tell you very similar things. Those are the areas to look out for, right? So, where are people commonly struggling or what are the common goals you're seeing amongst your audience? And then that's what I would create some sort of content around to eventually monetize but I probably wouldn't monetize it from day one. So, I would probably … your first one or two products, whatever it is, I would probably do for free, give them to your audience and use that as a learning opportunity to get feedback, to learn how to create the thing, you'll learn like all the behind the scenes that you need to consider. It's practice. Take that as a learning opportunity. And then with the feedback, iterate, improve, finesse it, fine-tune it, tweak it and then launch it with a price tag. This can take six months. This is not an overnight thing, right? So, it does take time but use that time to learn from your audience and practice creating that content. That's probably what I do.
Jayneil: The first point, building an audience. Now, I’m just being the devil's advocate. I’m not saying I’m trying to be negative but I’m just trying to like … this is based on a lot of private conversations I’ve had with people. It’s extremely hard these days to build an audience. There's a saturation because everybody and their brother or sister is trying to like become an influencer or gain a following and trying to create threads on Twitter or go on Instagram and create all these reels. This is extremely hard and especially that … in your case, I mean, there's something about the timing like you started out very early on when in a way only the people that really enjoyed it would have started it. Back when you started, there was no established model that “Oh, you start a YouTube channel. Then you create a community. Then you monetize.” So, truly the people like you who are really passionate about the community and sharing your journey started but now that you've paid that effort upfront and you're seeing the benefits, everyone says just copy your model. And you can see how demotivating that is because they start from day one, they realize that you've gone seven years before you even thought about monetizing. So, for somebody going through year one, year two building a tiny audience, no monetization, I mean, thinking from their perspective, you can kind of see why it's so difficult, even the thought of building the audience.
Jayneil: Even me. I lucked out when I started the podcast a few years ago. To be candid with you, because there's not many people doing it, especially in this space in design entrepreneurship and just design, I think if I were to start now, I would really re-question it because so many people since the pandemic have started it also.
Femke: Yeah. A few things that come to mind is, yes, it's hard and it's a lot of consistency. Consistency is super important and you're going to have to show up for probably at least a year before you start seeing results, to be honest. And that is a long time and it's really hard to stay motivated and be consistent in that period when you're maybe not seeing the returns that you wanted to see or expected to see as quickly as you wanted to but the people who stick it out are often the people who make it. It's almost like the longer you try, the more chance you're going to find some success because a lot of people quit really early. And I know it can feel like “Well, everyone's an influencer now. Everyone's creating tech talks.” it's still like probably less than 10% of people actually creating content, right? Majority, easily 90+% of people are consuming and not creating. So, I know it feels like “Everyone's creating. There's no space left for me” but trust me, trust me there is space for you. And, I think, for me, that's why being authentic and staying true to my journey has helped because I’m telling my story in the way that I want to tell it. And I think if you come from that place of authenticity and integrity, that's going to be a competitive advantage for you because there are a lot of people out there just trying to do exactly what somebody else did. And you can tell. It's really easy to tell that very quickly, right? You can tell. And so, just being authentic is immediately going to differentiate you from the rest of the folks. So, yeah, I think those combination of things should help you get started and stand out from everyone else who's trying.
Jayneil: I think you're going to laugh to hear about my competitive advantage who are muffled by …
Femke: Yeah, tell me.
Jayneil: So, I’m not going to name folks but a lot of people who helped me start out on the podcast, they're not excited. A lot of people that I … I mean, there's cohorts. So, whenever you probably started out in your journey … I’m probably sure there's a lot of people who started out on a similar journey, you became friends with them or you knew about them and maybe some of them are not in the game anymore but you still are. And I’ve been in this game shorter than you and I already noticed some people that I was in touch with that stopped. And I came from this weird angle where I’m like from day one and even now I don't give a damn about monetization on the podcast. I do it because I love connecting with different people, people like you, and learning from them. And all the people that mentored me, well, a lot of them, they, from day one thought, about monetization. And when it went past a certain threshold in terms of time and they didn't see any revenue or the revenue they wanted to see, they're just like “Ah, man. I just…” whatever like they stopped. For me, I was never concerned from day one like I’m still going to keep going like. I’m at, what is it, like I’ve recorded now 65 episodes and then my goal is to not stop till I go to 101 and monetization, direct monetization is never part of the game plan anyways.
Femke: Yeah. I mean, same … I have a podcast Design Life that I do with my friend Charlie and we started that in, oh my god, 2015. So, that's also crazy. And, yeah, we don't have sponsors or ads or anything. Occasionally, we might partner with one company for an episode or something. I think, honestly, in our seven-year run we've done that like three or four times, so very, very rarely, but we don't make any money from the podcast. So, it's totally a labor of love. And I think, thinking back to when we started the podcast, our mission back then is the same as it is today and I think that's why we're still doing it because that motivation was so deeply rooted inside of us that just keeps us going.
Jayneil: And that motivation, I feel was born without this need for money. I mean, it's good that has come but I feel like your pure motivation even now, I can sense that, it's this sense of giving back to the community and I can still sense it's so strong now and it never originated from day one about like “Let’s start a podcast. Let's make this much money a month.” It never started like that.
Femke: No, it never started like that. Now, we have experimented with monetization a little bit. We did have a Patreon for a little while which helped us basically just cover the costs of the show. We weren't really making any money off it. We've also done a few product sales like we did some stickers and pins and badges and things like that but it's all kind of mostly been a way for people to show their support for the show and we've never made any profit off anything. It all just goes back into the show. So, I think there are still ways to experiment with monetization without the goal of it being like profits, maximizing like, going to 10X sales, revenue. We were more just doing it to cover the costs and like our community wanted stickers and we were like “Cool. We'll give you stickers.” That's so fun. So, I think you can also play around a little bit with it sometimes too.
Jayneil: True. How can people listening to the show contact you or get in touch with you?
Femke: Yeah. The show is Designlife.fm. You can just search for design life in your podcast app. You can find me, just go to my website Femke.design. You'll find links to my YouTube, my Instagram, my community, my talent collective. Everything is linked there.
Jayneil: Awesome. Femke, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom.
Femke: My pleasure. This was so fun and thanks for all the hard work you do like giving back to the community with this podcast and these episodes. It's just totally a wealth of knowledge. So, I’m honored to be here.
Jayneil: Thank you.
If you made it this far, you are what I call a design MBA superfan. And I’ve got a gift for you, my superfan. Head over to designMBA.show where you will find my email address. Email me one thing you learned from this podcast episode and I will get on a 30-minute call with you and help you in your career goals.
See you in the next episode.