Pat Flynn was a young architect who got laid off in 2008 during the financial crisis. During that time, finding a new job was an impossible task. So, with just a simple blog about the LEED AP Exam, he started up an online business. 7 years later, his firm now generates more than $100,000 a month! Here, we learn how he tapped into his architectural skill set to kick-start his business idea.
From Entry-Level Drafter to Job Captain in just 3 Years
Getting laid off can be soul-destroying, especially for a young man at the beginning of his career. But that’s exactly what happened to Pat Flynn in 2008.
After Pat Flynn graduated with a BA in Architecture from the University of California, Berkley, he began work as an entry-level drafter at MBH Architects. As with many architecture firms, 60-70 hour weeks were the norm. But Pat was motivated because he wanted more responsibility than he had as a drafter.
His ambition was high – even after his university degree he continued to read books, take classes and do everything he could to rise to the next stage in his career. After just one year of work he became a senior drafter, with an annual salary of $38,000. But the job profile of a drafter was still not very satisfying for him, as he was not able to influence the initial designs of the company’s projects.
The next step on Pat’s career ladder was for him to become Job Captain. At that point, many young architects tend to work towards gaining an architecture license, which in most countries takes many years to achieve. But Pat considered another strategy where he could both gain some extra knowledge and proceed to the next step: he started studying to become a LEED Accredited Professional (AP).
The pass rate of the LEED exam is very low, below 35%. But Pat was determined that he would do anything to develop his career and so started studying for the exam alongside his job commitments. He came up with the idea to log all of his study notes on a WordPress blog so that he could access them from anywhere and also share it as a resource for his colleagues.
After six months of hardcore studying, Pat passed the LEED exam and was promoted to Job Captain. His salary nearly doubled and he made $60,000 a year in his new position. He then proposed to his girlfriend and she said yes! Life at that time for Pat was just perfect, as he describes in his book, Let Go.
From Job Captain to Job Less
But then the US recession came and hit the economy hard. Nobody wanted to build anymore. MBH Architects had to let over 100 people go, including Pat, who was one of the youngest and newest employees.
If you are an architect like me, you probably remember how difficult it was in 2008. Many offices around the world had to reorganize and redundancies were rife. I started a job in this time period and was lucky that the firm I worked in was not hit very hard by the crisis. But I remember many friends of mine who were made redundant directly because of the crisis.
But let’s get back to Pat’s story. Now, what happened after Pat got the message that he would have to leave MBH Architects?
His manager told him that he could afford holding him for a few months more, as some projects Pat worked on were not yet finished. Pat’s first thought was to begin his search for a new job. He called 15 different companies, but there were no suitable positions available for him at that time.
But then Pat got interested in the subject of Internet marketing, which he came across while listening to a podcast on his way to work. Through that, he learned a great deal about building websites and products online. Mindful that he also had his own website about the LEED AP Exam, he checked the number of visitors it had each day, just out of curiosity. He was astounded: over 5,000 people were reading his website in a single day!
Creating an Online Business that Generated over $203,000 in Year One
The idea was born: Pat would write an eBook on how he passed the LEED AP Exam during his last month of work. The book would come to be a comprehensive, step-by-step study guide for professionals taking the LEED AP Exam.
Once he had finished writing his book, he uploaded it to his website, greenexamacademy.com, at a price of $19.95. A short time after he had uploaded it, he had made his first sale. Pat made his first few dollars overnight by directly using the skills and knowledge he had gained from his work as an architect. This came at the time he was in his final week of work and so Pat decided to make the jump and try working for himself.
But then came something even better. By the end of October 2008, Pat had sold over 300 copies of his eBook, which earned him a total of $7,906.55 in a single month. That sum was double what he had earned as a Job Captain.
In the month that followed, Pat developed his website further, adding an audio version of his eBook. In May 2009, his eBook had surpassed $100,000 in sales! By the end of the year, he had over $203,000 in earnings and about $175,000 in total profit.
He then started a new blog at SmartPassiveIncome.com (SPI), with the intention of sharing everything that he learned from setting up his online business.
What I like about Pat’s business approach is his transparency and honesty. He writes lucidly about the problems he had to overcome to reach his position he is in today, publishing his own income reports on his blog and sharing them freely with his audience. Here are a few reports after his start in October 2008 (hold onto your seats!)
October 2008: $7,906.55
October 2009: $8,661.78
October 2010: $17,229.52
October 2011: $38,435.89
October 2012: $47,848.18
October 2013: $53,774.47
October 2014: $77,885.54
March 2015: $153,397.47 (his last published report to date)
Note that Pat has continued to build his business. These figures are not only generated from his first eBook, but from the multiple projects he has executed since his eBook’s success.
Let’s see in detail how his architectural education actually helped him to build his business.
6 Things Architecture Taught Pat on How to Start His Online Business
One of Pat’s most successful projects today is his SmartPassiveIncome Podcast, available on itunes and Stichter. It is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 business podcasts on itunes. The podcast is about online marketing and Internet business strategies and is highly recommended if you are interested in that topic.
In Podcast Session No. 90, Pat explains the 6 ways in which his architectural education helped him to start and grow his online business. In summary:
#1 – Visualizing your ideas is extremely important
The ability to use Photoshop enabled Pat to create logos, banner ads, eBooks and nicely designed graphics for use on his website. This was a skill he had already picked up when he enhanced architectural plans and models for use in the online world. In short: being able to visualize one’s ideas is an important and useful skill across professional fields.
#2 – Hard work pays off
Pat believes in the value of hard work in architecture and the getting started on projects now, rather than later. What he means, is that in architecture you become used to working towards strict deadlines. As an architect, you become efficient in producing creative solutions to problems in short periods of time, and then presenting those solutions visually for your clients. Pat employed that skill online to produce his first website and digital product.
#3 – Never stop improving your ideas and creations
Pat says that the best architects are tireless perfectionists. He goes on to say that this experience can be a very negative one. Architects always want to improve on their designs, change things at the last minute, and, as a result, put their projects in danger of never coming to a close.
“After the deadline is before the deadline!” This was a joke we often made when I worked in the competition team of an architectural office in Berlin.
I understand what Pat means: this habit of perfectionism can often eat into your spare time and people run the risk of losing steam and projects winding up unfinished. But Pat was able to turn this negative trait into something positive: he funneled his enormous passion for architecture and learning into a model that would continually improve his business. Having the mindset to always realize how ideas and designs can be rethought, as well as an ability to create entirely new ones, is a powerful and essential skill for any budding entrepreneur.
#4 – Create value for people by thinking outside the box
Probably about 0.5% of architects are recognized by society for their building work. Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas are two examples. But even those “starchitects” are often only known by people in the architectural industry. Architects often need to accumulate 40 years of work to get to that point of recognition. And if you work for a firm, your work will only ever be recognized under someone else’s name.
When Pat got laid off and created his study guide for the LEED AP Exam, he got a ton of great feedback from people who passed the exam thanks to his eBook. He was their “Frank Gehry”, he explains. What he means by that is that his online business directly affected people’s lives for the better, and that he himself was recognized for their improvement.
Affecting people’s lives with an online business can be much more satisfying than seeking to get recognized in 40 years from now, right?
#5 – If you want things to happen, YOU have to put the work in
This was something Pat learned from his experience on the job. If you think you deserve to get paid more for what you do, then you need to do what it takes to make it happen. He was doing more than others to improve his standing in his field, taking extra classes and asking for more responsibility. And that responsibility was given to him. The same is true for the good ideas you might have in starting your own business. YOU have to go out there and test them, to see how you can really create value for people.
#6 – Happiness has many different guises
Pat explains that he thinks he still would be happy if he hadn’t been laid off, back in 2008. Architecture was his entire world for a very long time. But he would never have known how it felt to be as happy as he is today. Looking back, he is so thankful for getting laid off because otherwise he would not have gone on to start up his own business. It forced him to seek new opportunities and gave him a chance to use his skills in different ways, opening his eyes to the other career paths that are out there.
Pat’s Smart Passive Income Business Today
Today, Pat Flynn is a recognized authority in the Internet marketing world, inspiring thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs around the globe.
His website, SmartPassiveIncome.com, is a great resource visited by millions of people every year. His podcast has over 11 million downloads to date and, in 2012, Forbes recognized Pat as one of the top 10 transparent leaders in business. Pat also wrote an Amazon bestselling book called Let Go, where he detailed his improbable but true life story. If you want to check out any of Pat’s projects and website, there are links at the end of this article. I highly recommend you do so.
Pat’s is a truly impressive story. As far as I can see, Pat has now completely left the business of architecture. I would be curious to know if he is still interested in the topic, and whether he would like to return to it one day.
What do you think of Pat’s story? What are your thoughts on using architectural skills in an entrepreneurial way? Please SHARE your thoughts in the comment section!
greenexamacademy.com – Pat’s first online product designed to help students pass the LEED AP Exam, which generated his first online income.
Let Go – Pat’s bestselling book. I highly recommend his honest and inspiring story to anyone.
SPI Podcast Session 090: “6 Things Architecture Taught Me About Starting an Online Business” – This is the podcast where he talks about what his education in architecture taught him and helped build his business. The podcast in general is a great resource if you are interested in the subject of online marketing and building a passive income online.
smartpassiveincome.com – Pat Flynn’s blog and main website. Here, he shares insights on how to create passive income and make a living online. You can also check out his income reports here!
patflynn.com – His personal online profile, which gives you an overview about the entrepreneur and his many projects.