Matt's Finance Report No.1 (January 2021)
January Income Report
Hi, my name is Matt and welcome to a reflection of my past situation with money, often referred to as moolah, surrounding my previous jobs and experience
For context, I’m currently 25 years old and have a nice little business on the go. It’s somewhat untraditional so can be difficult to manage and grow at times, but I really enjoy what I do and I get an incredible sense of fulfillment from it. Which is exactly why I started it in the first place.
But for the sake of starting the year of 2021 from a fully transparent foundation. This is what has led me to wherever the hell I’ve ended up now.
My History and Skill Set
I really don’t feel comfortable with calling myself an entrepreneur. To me, an entrepreneur is someone who has a vague idea of what they’re doing, a vague idea of how they’re going to get there, and a vague idea of where they want to end up, and is prepared to take the risk to make it happen.
For some reason that just doesn’t sit right with me, primarily because I feel that where I am now is the result of luck. One moment I was a kid misbehaving at school, the next minute I’m on a college course learning woodwork, the next minute I’ve got a YouTube channel with 200,000 people subscribed to it. I prefer the label ‘Jammy Git’
I’m not saying it’s gone by in a flash (it kind of has) but I feel as if I’ve been on a one way conveyor belt that has led to where I am now. What I mean by that is everything I was interested in as a kid is now relevant to my career, every experience left an impression that guided me on this path, and every major person in my life has ended up having a positive influence on my trajectory. None of it has felt wasted or irrelevant. Even learning French at school eventually paid off when I had a relationship with a girl from France for 4 months.
To start from the beginning, my parents separated when I was young and I’ve grown up essentially having 4 parents at the best of times. It lent itself well to birthday and Christmas presents but not too well when I had my quarterly school reports. My step dad has run a business for as long as I can remember and most of my memories of car journeys consist of us being asked to cover our ears while he had ‘pleasant’ phone calls with clients. My dad later took ownership of a grocery store franchise during my early teens.
Straight away, there’s the first two positive influences. Both father figures in my life are business owners. It’s hard not to let that rub off on you, even subconsciously. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s at least 3 teachers in my close family too.
Without me knowing, seeds were being planted in my head no matter which household I happened to be in that night. It’s funny because even though my brother doesn’t own a business, I get the feeling he would absolutely kill it if he did. We’re polar opposites in interests but identical in nature.
My early teens consisted of working in my dad's store to gain extra pocket money to spend on god knows what. Seeing as I needed to commute to work with my dad, it often involved a pitstop at the wholesalers in the morning to pick up stock. At first, this usually resulted in me peer pressuring him to purchase an obscene amount of creme eggs, pork scratchings, and various other treats for home. But eventually it led to my first business venture...
I don’t know what they’re like nowadays, but Jamie Olivers Healthy Schools crusade really made it difficult to get a sugar fix throughout the day while at school. Pair that with thousands of teenagers who struggled to stay awake throughout the day and it was a recipe for disaster. So I brought in sweets from home to eat throughout the day.
One day, I took in a ‘brain licker’. It comes in a vibrant bottle, is about the size of a travel antiperspirant bottle, and it changes the colour of your tongue according to what flavour you consume. People eventually started taking interest in what I had in my bag and began offering me money to buy it off me. So I said yes, £1 please.
The first transaction happened, the next day I brought in 2. Same customer comes back, I keep the second for myself. Now two people have blue tongues... double the advertisement. The next day 4, then 8 etc. I’m guessing the numbers by this point but you can imagine the interest slowly grew to the point where I needed to bring in up to 20 brain lickers every single day to keep up with demand. I struggled with the teachers confiscating my stock, I got detention for selling sweets in the playground, I even had stock stolen from my bag during a science class one day. I remember this vividly because I was scared of confronting them because they were the school hard nuts. It also would have meant creating a scene in front of the teacher who would have confiscated them anyway. That really sucked.
Before I knew it however, I was making 45p profit per Brain Licker and was making between £30 and £50 a week.
Going back to the start, luck. How lucky am I that my dad took me to the wholesaler? How lucky am I that he got excited by the fact I was selling them at school? As opposed to preventing me from doing so due to the amount of detentions I was receiving. He undoubtedly saw the value in it.
But the money wasn’t the only reward from this, it was the fulfillment and adrenaline I got from doing it. There was something exciting about going into school with a bag full of liquid sugar, having no idea how much would sell, if it would get confiscated, and how much more stock I could purchase with my profits. Looking back on it, I would have made a great drug dealer. But I found this method of earning money a lot more fun that working at the shop itself, even though selling sweets paid less, was more effort, and was way more risky.
To wrap up this particular story, when I eventually started slowing down selling brain lickers, other people began stepping up. The biggest dealer of them all was our friend Sanjit who used to load his locker with Coke at the start of the day (Cola that is) and sell them during break. There was one particular time I remember that he even went as far as escaping from school during lunchtime to top up his stocks halfway through the day.
So when did woodworking come into it? Well I’ve always been interested in making things with my hands as opposed to sports or academic subjects. I was actually top of the class in a lot of subjects through my pre-teen education, but that began deteriorating throughout secondary school to the point where my grades were average. I was also part of the Rugby team at secondary school however saw it as more of a status thing, rather than fully investing myself in it. I still enjoyed it but didn’t get a lot of fulfillment from it.
With the interest in sports not sticking and the academic grades deteriorating exponentially over time, the only thing that stuck was my interest in making things. Fortunately (here comes another stroke of luck) out of all the schools he could have possibly picked, a bespoke box maker began working at our school in the final few years of study. I’m probably biased, but I still haven’t seen anyone meet the standard of this guy's work. And there he was standing in front of a teenager who had no idea what to do or where to go after school, but had a strong interest in making things with his hands.
As we approached the final few months of school before moving into college, I eventually told him that I came across a school in Oxford called Rycotewood Furniture Centre and was considering enrolling. What he told me next is the mantra that still carries me today.
Matt, you’ll never make millions. But you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
I broke the news to my mum later that night that I wanted to cancel my application for the college I had enrolled at and study at Rycotewood instead. She didn’t even hesitate to ask if it was the ‘right’ thing to do or not. She instantly got in contact with Rycotewood, secured me a tour and interview a few weeks later, and the next thing I knew I was signed up. She even transported me to and from college for 3 years before I moved up to Oxford for my 4th and 5th year at Rycotewood.
Again, pure luck. You have no idea how many students I interview at Rycotewood who are clearly interested in studying there, yet their parents pressure them into doing something more traditional and sensible. It’s really quite sad.
After a year of study, I once again found myself a lovely bit of luck. At the time, I was working/training at Wickes a couple of days a week on minimum wage, I hated it there. But then Axminster Tools and Machinery decided to open a branch in my hometown of Basingstoke. So I spent the next month spamming them on every channel I could find in order to get a part time job there. They eventually gave into my bombardment and started me on the first day the store opened. I handed in my notice at Wickes on my final day of training.
This is where I learnt the value of working in a job that aligns with your interests. I understand that it’s easier said than done; but if you’re into cameras, try to get a job at a camera store. If you’re into cooking, get a job at a food store. If you’re into pets, get a job at a pet store. Then rinse the employee discount and perks to extract everything you can to grow your passion.
I’ve spoken a lot in the past about how my 5 year experience at Axminster benefitted my knowledge and presentation skills. But seeing as ‘Where’s my Thing’ surrounds business as a whole, it was undoubtedly a great opportunity to invest in all the tools and equipment I could possibly need in the future. My favourite life statistic is that I spent 3 years worth of wages at the very same store I worked in. It also helped that Axminster was a great company to work for and was a very well paying job compared to other retail jobs I had worked in the past.
Now bear in mind that Rycotewood took up five days a week, Axminster took up the remaining two, and this continued for 5 years. I’m often asked how I am able to spend so much time working towards something without any time for relaxing. Simply put, it's a habit. Every time I find an opening in my schedule, I instinctively fill it with something that feels productive. I even went through a stage at Rycotewood where I started a small business selling veneer. I used to ask for offcuts from veneer suppliers, pay to get a box posted to me, repackage them, and sell them to hobbyists on eBay. 100% margin baby!
Only recently have I begun experiencing the effects of this in the form of burnout, thus I’m having to make amendments to account for it. But it was a great habit that carried me for many years.
I’ve written about this before so won’t go into it with too much detail here, but I started my business in the 4th year of Rycotewood as a result of a bad time in my life. I needed something to give me purpose and I opted to do the thing I’ve always wanted to do...
What I failed to mention about my childhood is that I often used to film Jackass style videos with my friends. We watched the movies at far too young of an age and definitely tried to recreate and reproduce the stunts at home. So video creation was always an interest of mine. Pair that with the entrepreneurial tendencies I had as a kid when I was selling brain lickers on the black market, and with my passion for woodworking and what do you get? A YouTube Woodworker.
Admittedly, it’s not much of a grand title. But being a YouTuber is exactly the same as being an entrepreneur, just with a nerdier title. You need to have a good product, you need to market it, you need to get people excited about it, you somehow need to monetise it, you need to take risks, you need to pave a path in something that doesn’t necessarily have a clear route to success and you need to grow it to stay relevant. In addition, there’s no job promotions, payrises or holidays awarded to you by someone else, it all must be a result of your work.
But somehow, this concept seemed natural and comfortable. Purely because everything I had done and experienced up until the moment I pressed the record button for the first time set me up to do this. And that’s why I don’t call myself an entrepreneur. I call myself a lucky son of a bitch.
Since that moment, I’ve just been continuing on that conveyor looking for the next opportunity to grab. Firstly it was selling plans, then it was selling merchandise, then it was making my own tools, then it was expanding into other mediums (hello podcast listeners). I’ve also recently come up with another completely separate business idea that I can’t wait to share when it’s off the ground.
It just goes to show that building something like this, no matter how big or small it is, or how wobbly and unstable it can sometimes seem, is the result of slow and steady progress, and often making it up as you go along. It’s not something that’s handed on a plate.
I’m hoping that by recording this podcast, myself and Rob can take the reins from the positive influences we have had throughout our lives, and pass them onto someone else.
We’re not therapists, life coaches or business mentors, and are ultimately still looking for our thing. But that’s not going to stop us helping you to find yours.
Current Revenue Sources
The first time I got paid by YouTube was in October 2017 and it blew my mind how much I was getting. By this point I was somewhere around 2000 subscribers and was generating around £20-£40 a day by posting once every 2-3 days. I even started hitting £60 by the time Christmas was around the corner. I thought to myself that this YouTube malarkey is easy!
Well, that’s until January 1st comes around. It turns out that businesses pump a lot of money into advertising in the lead up until Christmas, thus need to outbid each other for advertisement on videos. But the advertisements stop in January, thus the price stops being inflated. It dropped to about £5 a day overnight.
With a much larger following nowadays, it tends to float around £20 throughout the year, then £40-£80 in October - December. However the Amazon basics plane video I posted recently caused a spike of £242 in one day which was welcome but not expected whatsoever.
Affiliate marketing is the act of recommending a product then getting a commission of the sale. Nice and simple but has understandably got a bad rep over the years due to people abusing it. I won’t get into it here because I have a whole affiliate disclaimer dedicated to that stuff. But in general this now brings in about £500 a month split across various schemes. My main success with this was centralising all my recommendations on kit.co/mattestlea.
These are one of my favourite streams because it doesn’t require any upkeep apart from the odd person that loses their download. Currently, my digital downloads consist of woodworking plans such as my workbenches or boxes. In general, this sits around £700 a month.
This is the most volatile of income streams for me. Mainly because I’ve done two launches of marking knife batches, the first bringing in roughly £5000, the second bringing in roughly £12,000. (I made a net loss on both of these by the way lol)
But the rest of the time my physical product offering is limited to merchandise that I don’t promote very well. Which surprises me because I’ve heard through the grapevine that merchandise is the biggest source of income for YouTubers. Merchandise usually brings in £200 or £300 a month. However by the time the fulfillment company takes their cut it’s usually a 1/3rd of that. Saves me packing and posting them myself though!
Finally we have donations. As much as I would love to say this is my favourite income stream. It’s the one that doesn’t really sit right with me. Mainly because I am shockingly bad at valuing myself and so the thought of people giving me money for nothing in return goes against all my instincts. Nevertheless, I’m incredibly grateful for it because this revenue stream is the only one that is predictable per month and is a really nice security net should everything come crashing down. So if you’re one of my Patrons, thank you!
Side note, there was a very kind gentleman called Howard who sent me £300 out the blue during my first few months of YouTube because he wanted to help me out. Cheers Howard if you’re reading this!
Average Totals (From the Last 3 Months)
Total Monthly Income: £5970
Total Monthly Expenses: £4332
This is currently reading from October - December which conveniently misses the Marking Knife sale in September. However that was an anomaly compared to the rest of the year. In general, this is how the split looks, the remainder goes into investments (detailed below). I then live off my income from teaching at Rycotewood which just about covers bills.
Future Revenue Sources
I’ve mentioned this backhandedly in previous blogs but hesitated to elaborate on it out of fear of coming across snobby. But someone I know recently showed interest in it so here goes:
My main overarching goal is to become financially free using the FIRE philosophy. Essentially this means packing as much money as you can into low cost investments that eventually generate enough return to cover your life expenses. It often means being frugal which is why I look a bit of a mess 99% of the time. But I figured if I don’t do this, as much as I try to convince myself otherwise, I’m just going to eat and drink my money away, or spend it on materialistic things that don’t actually benefit me. The only time I’ve cracked recently and bought something purely materialistic was my Sauer and Steiner belt.
I currently do this with Vanguard using their low cost index funds, primarily focused around the FTSE Developed World ex-U.K, FTSE Developed Europe ex-U.K, and U.S Equity Index Funds. (I have a justifiably low hometown bias) and try to put away around £1600 a month.
My goal with this is to keep letting the interest compound over time, wait out any crashes (like the COVID one recently) and get it to a big enough pot that pays out around £40,000 a year. Which I calculate to be sometime around my 45th birthday at the current rate. But hopefully the growth of the business will allow me to put more away to bring this date forward.
This probably raises the concern that I’m not allowing myself any enjoyment in my time outside work. What if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and never got to use my money? Firstly, I’m dead so I probably wouldn’t mind. Secondly, I left the stage feeling fulfilled at what I have left behind, and thirdly the pot would go to friends and family who could use it however they please.
I probably won’t talk about this again because it doesn’t get any more exciting than that. At least from my perspective. But if its something you’re interested in learning, there’s plenty of bloggers in the FIRE community who can help.
Side note because I know it'll be bought up. No I do not invest in Cryptocurrency or other individual stocks. I'm sure I'm missing a boat here and a genuine congratulations to everyone who's done well with it over the years. But as much as I like to call myself lucky, volatile stocks just aren't for me. I'm much more comfortable with slow burners that pay off eventually, not tomorrow.
These have been a good money maker in the past, but failed to provide the net profits I need to justify doing them often. In 2021, I’ll be ramping up production of these knives to an even better quality and consistency than before. I’m also adamant that I want them to be made in the UK or US as opposed to outsourcing to the East. Not that I have any problems with the manufacturing in the East, but having my babies close to home just seems right. Be patient!
The Free Online Woodworking School
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much money the Free Online Woodworking School is actually making as it’s built into my main businesses accounts. But I think it’s fairly obvious to everyone it’s making a severe loss, only propped up by my other revenue streams.
Whether it moves into profit or not is irrelevant. I don’t see myself getting rid of it considering the results its given to students, the hard work I've put into it and all the awesome plans I have for future projects. But I’d love to see the affiliate income from tool recommendations or Surrey Timbers Project Packs grow to the point of breaking even!
Inventions and Other Businesses
As a result of watching a lot of Dragons Den recently, my mind became intrigued in the workings of a traditional business. (Because let's be fair, my current business is the opposite of traditional)
I’ve come up with a couple of products and inventions over the years that I’d like to pursue. Some that fit into the genre of my current business, some that are completely different. Once the marking knives are in full swing and I don’t have to worry about them as much, I’d like to pursue some of these other things with my newfound mental space. Hopefully with launches sometime towards the end of 2021.
If all else fails, mans gotta do what a mans gotta do.
Summary of Future Revenue Sources
In general, I try to think 5-10 years down the line with most things I do. As long as I can sustain a comfortable life now, I’m happy to put in the work and sacrifices to ensure I’m safe and comfortable in my frail, later life. Although given the recent issues with my back, perhaps that’s coming sooner than expected. I’ve already experienced the benefits of my net loses in the past, such as purchasing expensive equipment and courses. So who knows what that benefit could be like if compounded over the next 10 years.
I think this report is going to be quite interesting in the long run. Primarily because the act of being vulnerable and open has always paid off for me. As much as it feels unnatural sharing these numbers, I have nothing to hide and no one to impress. I’m just putting it out there to hopefully get insight from people who are more experienced than me, or to inspire people who are too afraid to attack something they truly care about out of fear of not being successful in it.
Don’t hesitate to drop me a message if you enjoyed this post. But in the meantime, thank you very much for reading. I’ll see you February!