Today, we’re excited to share the unusual journey of a Wall Street financial analyst turned no-code entrepreneur turned YouTuber. We’re inspired by Aprilynne Alter's courage to build in public, share her journey, and lean in to the chaotic world of entrepreneurship and content creation.
Here’s her story!
Hi, I’m Aprilynne! Here’s a bit about my life before I began creating content.
I went to school for hospitality, actually. It was a business degree with a hospitality focus. And at that point, most of my peers were moving towards careers in finance, investment banking, and real estate because that's where all the money was.
I convinced myself that it was what I wanted too. I lined up two internships: one at a global financial institution and another at a Series-A venture-backed startup in Silicon Valley. I chose the startup, and it was a life-changing opportunity.
I’d never previously thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I thought it was a title cut out for ‘cool people’, and I didn’t think I was cool. Creative, sure! But not innovative. The internship changed everything for me in terms of understanding what was possible, and what a small group of dedicated people could accomplish.
The people I was working with — they weren’t Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. They were smart people who had a dream and who were willing to put grit into it. I realized that you don't need to be Elon Musk to be an entrepreneur; there's so much more out there.
My journey from financial analyst to entrepreneur
When I graduated college, I had to decide: Do I want to return to the global financial institution-type of career path, or should I join the startup.
But at this time, COVID-19 was in full swing and things were pretty bad. So I went against my gut feeling, and chose the bank.
Part of it was for stability. I had no idea what was happening to the world, and I’d spent my entire life thinking I ought to climb the corporate ladder at a big company. Coming from an Asian background, that’s the life you’re taught to want. Success was defined by the stable income you could bring home. The job of a financial analyst at a finance conglomerate seemed apt, so I chose to go with it.
But within a couple of months, I hated it. Sure, I could make financial projections all day long, every day. But I realized that what I believed were my superpowers — the skills and abilities I felt set me apart from everybody else: my creativity, my writing skills, my love for visual art & design — I couldn’t use any of those in my financial analyst role.
Around that time, I had the idea of starting a platform that connects students with internships at startups, and it was starting to garner some attention. I called it Tenderfoot. I had people from around the world asking me about it, and when we were going to launch.
It seemed like the world around me wanted Tenderfoot, and it seemed like I didn’t really want my job. That’s when I knew I had to quit. It was a very scary decision but I gave myself one year to do my own thing. My savings would last about a year before I had to go and find something else. That’s how it began!
Getting Tenderfoot off the ground using Bubble
Tenderfoot, as I mentioned, connected students with internships. There were other platforms out there doing similar work, for example, there's one called Handshake. It’s what a lot of colleges use to connect students with internships. It’s mostly geared towards the larger institutions.
Then there was AngelList, which connects people in general with jobs at startups. Tenderfoot was like if AngelList and Handshake had a baby — at least that was the idea!
There have been some ups and downs with Tenderfoot. The market validation was great, people were very receptive, they wanted it.
I realized I needed a technical co-founder, and spent a lot of time and effort trying to get one. Initially, nothing seemed to work out, and I’d spend a lot of time wondering whether I’d be able to build this myself. I don’t have much of a tech background, but I taught myself some HTML and CSS (just the basics!). Then, I considered using a tool like Bubble instead.
I decided that I wanted a technical co-founder for two reasons: One, I felt I could move faster, and two, there's just something nice and having another person do things with you.
It's a little bit isolating being a solopreneur. I brought Akash on, he’s my current co-founder. We split the work, so he would deal with the database side of things.
I made our landing pages in Bubble, which ends up being convenient because I don’t need engineering help every time I need to make a marketing change to our product. I can use a no-code tool like Bubble to make the changes a lot quicker without having to take up his time and resources.
My co-founder then ran into visa issues because of the borders being closed between the US and India on account of COVID. He just got back two weeks ago and we’re resuming our work on Tenderfoot in mid-January 2022. But in the meantime, there was a huge pause in my work. I needed to be doing something!
How I got into NFTs through an unlikely opportunity
My journey into the world of NFTs was quite random.
I created my own Twitter banner when I was just starting out, it was something I made on Figma. I had never even created art on Figma before, except to design website landing pages. It felt like a very intuitive tool for art to me.
Someone saw my Twitter banner and really loved it. He asked me if he could pay me to make a Twitter banner for him, and that's how I made my first dollar on the internet!
I think I charged him about $75 to make him a Twitter banner, and when he posted it, others noticed! They wanted banners too, so I made a Gumroad page and started selling my custom Twitter banners. For some reason, people really, really enjoyed those!
I've been steadily raising my prices because I didn’t want to be doing too many banners. Recently, I was joking with a friend of mine saying I'm going to get rich off of Twitter banners!
A couple of people recommended that I make an NFT collection from some of my Twitter art.
I knew nothing about NFTs. I have some friends who were into NFT so I knew they existed, but I had no idea how to create my own one.
I did some research and made a collection of 30 banners. I basically designed 10 different banners with 3 color combinations of each. I put them on OpenSea, and I wasn’t expecting much.
Building in public, and failing in public
Just to be clear, this was NOT a successful NFT collection.
Knowing what I know now, I would probably have done something different. I launched it and made four sales so it really wasn’t worth the time I spent designing it. But I'm someone who likes to build in public and fail in public.
There's this wonderful book by Austin Kleon called ‘Show Your Work!’, and I really do think that everyone should show their work. The atmosphere now is very different from when it was ten or twenty years ago. It's okay to fail in public and be vulnerable.
But the only caveat here I’d say to be mindful of is when you’re talking about your work, don’t just leave it at that. Add real value.
A lot of people just show others what they built or coded, but if you can go a step further and explain how you worked past a particular challenge or figured a way around something, people tend to be more invested in your journey.
I decided to write a Twitter thread about my NFT experiences. Some people were following along with my NFT journey and were curious about it, and in general, people really liked the Twitter thread.
And at that point, I had already had a YouTube channel, it wasn’t doing superbly well either. I had 200 subscribers, and most of the content on my channel was on how to build an audience on Twitter.
The video that kickstarted massive YouTube growth
Since Tenderfoot was on pause for a bit, I took a turn towards content creation.
It's so much easier to monetize YouTube than it is to monetize Twitter, so that seemed like a good place to be. I first discovered "the whole YouTube thing" after listening to AliAbdaal on the IndieHackers podcast. He was doing YouTube and he was making a killing from it. I figured I would upload one video per week for 6 months, adding YouTube to my "portfolio of small bets" (ht: Daniel Vassallo) and increasing my surface area for luck.
I stuck with it for 2 months, posting diligently once per week, until I got sick and I missed an upload. And then another. Then I started making excuses. And before I knew it, I hadn't uploaded on YouTube for a month.
During this slump, I was reminded of a course I was interested in: Part-Time YouTuber Academy, or #ptya. It was a 6-week-long, cohort-based-course designed to help people become better YouTubers. It was not cheap — the basic version cost $1500. I decided to go for it. It was pricey, but I figured I was "investing in myself." Plus, the lead instructor Ali Abdaal was cool, and I trusted him enough to provide some value.
And that was one of the best decisions I've made this year. Even that first week was life-changing. I remember thinking I would have paid the full course price for just that one week — that's how groundbreaking it was.
Part of what's included in the course is a Skillshare class about editing videos.
The first video I made in the course, which was 14 minutes long, took me 26 HOURS to edit (I was implementing the Skillshare editing advice, and everything took me ages). Diverting from my Twitter content, this video covered my journey in creating and launching my first NFT collection. I poured my heart and soul into this video. And it performed reasonably well.
Until day 9…
That's when things first started taking off. I received 100 views in one day for that video — the most I had ever received in one day up until then! And then I received 200 views the day after, and 400 views the day after that. On day 14, I received my first 1000 views in one day.
Choosing a niche isn’t always easy
At this point, I was obviously ecstatic. I had a video blowing up! I had heard of this type of thing happening to others; now it was actually happening to me!
Except for one problem: The video was about NFTs.
I had hoards of people coming in saying they loved the video, this was the best NFT video they had seen on the internet, etc. But my niche wasn't NFTs! My niche was growing an online audience on Twitter... right? I didn't want to become “The NFT Girl".
I had only launched one NFT collection, and it wasn't even successful. Sure, I knew more about NFTs than the average person, but I wasn't an expert! I didn't want to be an NFT channel.
I struggled with this for quite a bit. I saw 2 paths ahead of me:
1) Delist this video and focus on online audience-building content
2) Lean into NFTs
After much thought and pain, I decided to lean into NFTs. But I wanted to approach NFTs in a different way. After some audience analysis, I figured I had 2 types of people watching this video:
1) Digital artists who had heard of NFTs and are wondering if NFTs may be right for them
2) Tech-savvy people who know how to code a generative NFT project, but have no idea about marketing
These were people who:
- Wanted to make money online
- Needed to build an online audience
And I realized: I can make content for them! I can help demystify NFTs, and then maybe eventually broaden my content to encompass audience-building and other ways to make money online. So I leaned into NFTs, and the videos have performed quite well.
My second NFT video started taking off as well, and it occurred it me that it had happened:
I had struck gold! I had found my audience-creator fit!
Monetizing my YouTube channel
Soon after consistently posting videos on NFTs, I got monetized! I was absolutely over the moon. I had previously made a goal to be monetized by JULY 2022. This was DECEMBER 2021. That's huge!
And each day, I was making more and more money. On the fourth day of being monetized, I made $110.25 in one day. Everything was going so well!
But then the messages started coming in. I couldn't keep up with my YouTube comments. My Twitter DMs were flooded. Instagram comments, too.
Some people had somehow found my email address, and my inbox grew even more out of control than it normally is. Many of these comments/messages were super sweet, people saying they loved my content, or that my video had really helped them.
Lots of messages contained questions — questions I grew increasingly guilty about ignoring when I just didn't have the energy to keep up with them. Many messages were sponsorship opportunities: NFT collections that wanted to pay me to get mentioned/featured in a video. I had no idea what to do about these, should I be accepting any of them? How did I know which ones to accept? What if I promoted one and it later crashed?
And then some of the messages were just toxic. People criticized the way I spoke (if only I had a British accent), the way I looked, the way I thought. People hyper-sexualized me and made lewd comments about me. People said they'd stop at nothing to track me down and "get" me.
I completely broke down. I didn't know how to handle it. I felt alone, isolated, and yet at the same time weirdly tapped it, trapped by incessant messages from strangers who all wanted something from me. I sought out help from some other folks I had met through #ptya. Honestly, I don't think I would have been able to get through it if not for the PTYA community These were the only people who *got* it; my other, non-YouTuber friends just couldn't understand.
So, with the help of others, I devised a plan to keep myself sane:
- I'd block a lot of words through YouTube's community settings
- I'd only answer messages between set hours each day
- I'd be very generous in blocking people
And now, a week later, I'm feeling much, MUCH better. YouTube has completely changed my life.
I'm currently at the stage of hiring an editor. It's gotten to the point that I can focus fully on developing my YouTube presence and living off the profits.
I'm building up my "social media stack" too:
- YouTube for revenue
- Twitter for connections
- Instagram for behind-the-scenes
- Twitch for real-time conversations
It's been quite a journey, and I can't wait to see what's in store for the future. In the end, I am "The NFT Girl", and I'm proud. I’m looking forward to investing more time and effort into building Tenderfoot in 2022, so stay tuned for that too!