Validation isn’t the goal but it sure feels good

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When my friend, Eric, and I set out to develop our Two Sides of FI channel on YouTube, I wasn’t sure what to expect – in so many ways. Eric is a very experienced YouTuber, and his business channel has nearly 900K subscribers. On the other hand, I had no experience in content creation. So I have certainly leaned heavily on him on this journey in quite a few ways given his expertise, and I’m thankful for all his help along the way. One thing Eric has been consistent about is the value in keeping true to our “why” – that is, the reasons we were undertaking this project and what we hoped to gain from it. I’m more convinced than ever that this is the best guidance for anyone undertaking similar work.

Starting out on our YouTube journey

How did this project get started? If memory serves me right, we’d already been having conversations about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) for a year or so. Eric had discovered the FIRE path through conversations with me, after which he dove in head-first. During one of those chats, he raised the idea of us doing a YouTube channel together, to capture and share the kinds of conversations we were already having. That would be great for us of course, but we earnestly hoped others would find value in it too. We didn’t see any channels like ours out there, so this seemed to be a good opportunity.

We certainly didn’t set out on this project as a business venture in which we hoped to earn lots of money. Sure, we know that once we crossed YouTube’s magical threshold (currently: 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours), our channel would be eligible for monetization via advertisements. But this was definitely a “nice to have”, and if it got to the point where a bit of ad revenue would pay for our podcast / website hosting and other associated fees, that would be great.

Rather, our goal was first and foremost, education. That is, sharing what we had learned: our mistakes, our successes, and our many (many) questions we still had about all things personal finance, retirement, etc. We do not claim to know everything, but with our pre-FIRE + post-FIRE perspectives, we thought we would offer valuable information and opinions. In the best case, this content would help other FIRE aspirants be better informed, hopefully avoiding some of our missteps, and be better equipped to ask great questions and take good decisions for themselves. Personally, I also hoped this would include building a community around our channel, one with whom we could engage and from whom we and others could learn.

Finding and engaging with an audience

I knew full well that putting yourself out there on a forum like YouTube means that you are open to feedback of all kinds: some earnest and thoughtful, while others would be negative or even downright nasty (don’t feed the trolls!). I’d been through this before both personally, and in the workplace where I’d played an active role in company social media. But I still hoped that this one-to-many video (and podcast) format would lead to productive 1:1 engagement.

Why? I guess it’s for a few reasons. First, that kind of interaction is fascinating to me. People are interesting and all of us are unique despite our many similarities. I truly love learning about the lives of others. Next, it can be very gratifying. Getting the feedback that someone else values the work you’re doing, and finds merit in it such that they take some of their precious time to connect with you, is really powerful. And lastly, it’s validating. Positive engagement is a measure that your time is being well spent, and that you are having the impact you desired.

Slow and steady wins the race

Given the time it takes to build an audience and for the almighty and mysterious YouTube algorithm to figure out to whom it should best serve your videos, I knew this wouldn’t be fast. And Eric has always been really honest about that with me, in efforts to temper my expectations. While he has made it super clear that our channel had actually grown fairly quickly relatively speaking, it felt rather slow until just a few weeks ago. We generally received few comments or likes, and our subscription rate seemed to be just “ok” to me.

Please don’t be mistaken – personally, I felt really great about what Eric and I were doing. I’ve always looked forward to our weekly filming calls, as I get so much out of our conversations. I also love how much I’ve learned about podcast production, video editing, and all the backend work required to run a YouTube channel. I’ve grown a ton since Eric has pushed me to improve my skills! And many times I have earnestly said that I’d still be making these videos with him even if we didn’t have any audience at all. I’ve truly enjoyed it and found the work personally very rewarding. This is the most important thing I’ve done since leaving the workplace, and I value this project tremendously.

Surprise!

And then over the last few weeks, things started to change. As one who watches the metrics more than I should – despite Eric’s clear and consistent guidance not to, I saw something different one day. Just like he and others had told me would happen, one of our recent videos started getting a lot more views than usual – a trend that then extended to all our episodes, and from there the ball really got rolling. All the metrics started climbing: views, likes, subscribers – and for me very importantly, viewer comments. As I write this we now have nearly 6,000 subscribers and 200K views. Small potatoes in the grand scheme, but pretty exciting for our little channel!

Suddenly, we were getting hundreds of comments. It’s been such a pleasure reading (nearly) all of them and responding. It’s so gratifying seeing what content resonates with viewers along with the questions our episodes raise. In addition, we get to learn from the experience of those who view our content and then share their own stories. This was exactly what I was hoping for – and it seemingly came from out of nowhere. Sure, we’ve had to ban a few trolls as well, but that comes with the territory. But this experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

Importantly, I know there’s no guarantee this trend will continue. In fact, I fully expect this crazy pace of growth to slow down. But in all honesty, it doesn’t matter one bit. We’ve got a great thing going, have started to build a strong community, and that feels really good. Eric and I have a ton of future show ideas (and are getting many more from our audience!) in addition to those we’ve already put out or have recorded but not yet aired. And I feel better than ever about the return I’m getting on the time we spend together working on this show.

Looking ahead and reflecting

What comes next for the channel? I have no idea. Eric and I talk often about other things we can bring to bear, modifications of what we’re doing now, and so on. Above all, it’s going to be fun, no doubt. And this work has already inspired an idea for at least one solo project for me. If nothing else, our experience to date reminds me that change is certain and it comes when you least expect it. Today I watched an outtakes clip from a recent episode where we talked about making this show. It’s super interesting for me to see what I was thinking about then. Much hasn’t changed over a few months, but some definitely has.

One of my favorite things about this project is we don’t need to do it. It’s not an assigned work project with deadlines nor will it be part of any future performance review. Put simply, Eric and I make Two Sides of FI because we love it. And it’s a decent amount of work – particularly for him, as he’s still running his business and bears the burden of nearly all of the video editing, which is the real heavy lifting of the channel.

We are proud of what we are doing with this project and that is the ultimate validation. As Eric and I recently discussed, it feels really great to produce this show. We are so thankful that others value it too, and are humbled by their kind words. Thank you all for your support and engagement to help make what we are doing even better. We appreciate you all tremendously.

Here’s to whatever comes next!

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