Jonathan Levi: “Leadership and management are not the same thing”

The more you can delegate, and the sooner, the more you’ll be able to focus on the big picture, strategic things that only you can do. Too many entrepreneurs think they’re the best at everything — and maybe they are — but it costs them way too much time that could be spent on more valuable things. As a part […]

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The more you can delegate, and the sooner, the more you’ll be able to focus on the big picture, strategic things that only you can do. Too many entrepreneurs think they’re the best at everything — and maybe they are — but it costs them way too much time that could be spent on more valuable things.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing…Jonathan Levi (founder of SuperHuman Academy )is an experienced entrepreneur, angel investor, and Lifehacker from Silicon Valley. Jonathan is known for speed learning his way to all achievements in life: from entrepreneurship to podcasting and even dating. In the early 2000’s, he grew his luxury car parts business into one of Inc’s 5000 fastest growing companies in America before selling it at the age of 23. Since 2014, Jonathan has been one of the top-performing instructors on Udemy, with his course Become a SuperLearner® (now retired) earning him over 60,000 students. He has since snowballed this success into the launch of his own brand and platform, SuperHuman Academy, which produces such products as the award-winning SuperHuman Academy Podcast (3 million+ downloads) and numerous online courses. He is based in Tel Aviv, Israel, preparing to release his 3rd book “The Only Skill That Matters

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Growing up, I was an energetic, bright, and pretty well-natured kid but at the age of 8, I found that I have the inability to sit still, pay attention, or keep up with the class what caused me tested for learning disabilities. Difficulties continued throughout grade and middle school. My self-confidence was lower than ever due to the lousy grades and friends turning their backs on me. Being utterly alone, dejected I contemplated suicide. In high school, I was introduced to Ritalin that helped me to sit still, pay attention, and even do well in school. I spent the next few years locked away in the bedroom, heavily medicated catching up on the things I failed to understand during class and working on starting a string of small businesses that let me graduate high school on the honor roll, accepted to Berkeley, and even owning a million-dollar business.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

In my first successful business, selling luxury car parts online, I viewed it as a way to fund my own hobby. I wanted to buy parts, and get discounts on them — so why not start a business, buy five at wholesale, and sell four to fund my own? I started doing this, and eventually, the message boards that I was participating in and advertising on told me “hey… if you’re going to do that, you need to pay a sponsorship fee!” That became a catalyst to properly go into business and make it a real venture.

As for my most recent business: I got into online courses as a side thing. I had left business school and I was working on this start-up idea and it kind of wasn’t going anywhere. I decided to change locations and drop this start-up idea and look for new things. I had sold a company previously so I wasn’t in dire straits, but I did want to have some income coming in from the side to cover my living expenses so that I could mill around and look for that next big opportunity. A big source of inspiration for me was seeing other entrepreneurs create and sell online course successfully. I had recently taken a growth hacking course taught by Mattan Griffel, for example, and after watching Mattan’s business evolve from selling courses in an online course marketplace to selling them on his own platform, I could see the potential. It was like, wow, they built a whole business around basically starting in one small marketplace website and then creating their own. That’s pretty cool.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I did a little bit of market research, as any good entrepreneur would. I reached out to my target market, talked to people, and saw what their concerns were.

I began learning as much as I could about the process of creating and selling online courses. Then I took the skills that I teach every day — accelerated learning, speed reading, and memory — and I was like okay, let me figure out what this online course thing is about. What does it actually take to create successful online courses? How do marketplaces work? How do you beat the algorithms to be the top-ranking course? What is a good pedagogical design? I remember I opened like 45 tabs and I just read everything there was to know about online courses. Once I had a good understanding of what my target audience wanted to learn from me, what lessons to include in my course, and a plan for launching my course successfully, I got to work on creating my first course.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Try to figure out “holes” or inefficiencies in the market. When I started my first 7-figure business in the early 2000s, we were selling luxury car parts out of my parents’ garage — because that was my hobby and my passion. I figured out that the market was inefficient — nobody had good service, an online catalog of available products, and an 800 number. I knew this because I was my ideal customer, and I had experienced the pain points caused by that void. By filling that void and providing great service and online ordering experience, we were able to gain a lot of market share quickly.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Unfortunately, this saying is often very true. I think that if you spend too much time doing anything, you will get sick of it — so for me, the way of keeping things fresh and exciting is to branch out, grow, and expand. Doing the same thing over and over and over will make you sick of it — but if you’re learning new things, you continue to be challenged. This has been the case in both of my businesses… when I get sick of them, I just need to grow and expand into new niches that force me to learn more.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

I most enjoy the freedom. I can work when I want, where I want, how much I want, and with whom I want. I can’t imagine living any other way.

At the same time, this comes with its own challenges. All the weight is on my shoulders, and I can’t just leave my problems at work. I cope by trying to remember that work is just one part of my life… and if work isn’t going well, that doesn’t mean my whole life is falling apart, despite how it may feel.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Most entrepreneurs will tell you: entrepreneurship is not as glorious as it seems. It’s not all standing on stages and closing big deals. A lot of the time, especially in the beginning, you’re doing grunt work like sweeping the floors or fixing the website all by yourself.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

At times, I wonder if entrepreneurship is worth all the added stress… but then I remember, I’ve never had a real job, and I don’t know if I could survive in that kind of environment — so I just get back to work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Occasionally when I travel the world, people stop me on the street and tell me how my courses have impacted their lives, or how I’ve helped and inspired them. This has happened in the USA, Israel, England, Kenya, and more — and that’s really cool.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

For the first year or so, I did nothing to collect email addresses from my clients… so I had no way to be in touch with them about new products that might interest them. Oops! I’ve since learned that my customer list is my most valuable asset — and being able to communicate with them is paramount!

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

I have made a habit of studying great leaders throughout history — from the cliche’d examples like Jobs and Musk to less common examples like Benjamin Franklin and Dwight Eisenhower. I believe that leadership is something we need in every aspect of our lives, and it hasn’t come easy to me… I’ve had to study it diligently to get to where I am today.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

When I sold my last company, I decided that I would use that “glow” to get into something bigger and better — better in terms of what it did for the world. I knew that I could use that reputation — of selling a company at 23 — to open a lot of doors, but I choose to use it to open only the doors of social good ventures. Ultimately, I decided to build online courses that empower people, and I have used the success from that to do more and give back more. If it weren’t for the success of my online courses, which fund my business and my staff, I wouldn’t be able to put out so much free content on my podcast, my YouTube, my blog, etc. I view that content as my way of giving back — and it’s all powered by the success we’ve had in our paid channels.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We are inspiring a movement: a movement of people who know that by learning more they can do more, and by doing more, they can become more. We’ve created a movement of hundreds of thousands of people who understand that learning is the path to anything they want to achieve in life — and, we’ve empowered them with the knowledge that they can make their lives whatever they want them to be.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Life isn’t Prix Fixe — it’s A La Carte. I’ve said this for years, and it becomes more true as the years go on. Too many people view life as a fixed menu… go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married. But the truth is, you can make your life whatever you want it to be. You can skip parts. Rearrange them. Have dessert first. You don’t have to work in an office if you don’t want to, nor do you have to get married. You can design your life, live where you want, and how you want… you just have to have the audacity to order off of the menu.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would absolutely love to have lunch with Tim Ferriss. His work inspired me to sell my last company, which was sucking the life out of me, and live a completely different lifestyle. He inspired me to hack my career, my life, my body, and much much more. I owe so much to him, and though we have many many friends in common, I’ve never had the opportunity to thank him personally.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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