- Julie Berninger started a successful printables business on Etsy and realized she could teach others to do the same.
- She created a digital course on printables, which has since earned her over $1 million.
- She started the course business with just $4,000.
Julie Berninger is the host of the FIRE Drill podcast and co-founder of Gold City Ventures. Berninger and her business partner, Cody Berman, launched an Etsy printables course that is generating more than $1 million in annual revenue, according to records viewed by Insider. She is not a designer or remotely artistic, yet earns passive income from Etsy printables and teaches others how to do the same.
When Berninger launched her Etsy store in 2017, she never imagined it would lead to a multi-million dollar business idea. Berninger was working at a tech company in California when she decided to start a side hustle selling bachelorette party supplies on Etsy. Her full-time job made fulfilling orders difficult, so she decided to try a more passive approach: digital downloads.
This truly set-it-and-forget-it model allowed her to upload designs to the marketplace and collect funds when a sale was made. “I loved how I could make a design on my computer once, upload it to Etsy, and hundreds of customers could buy that design from me without much more action,” she said.
Soon, Berninger began generating a few hundred dollars a month with her digital products. She’s quick to point out that she’s not a designer and has no creative training. She saw a demand for digital products in a niche market and decided to capitalize on it.
Her side hustle gained traction when she discussed it on her personal finance-focused FIRE Drill podcast. The audience reacted positively to a passive income stream that didn’t require high start-up costs or extensive training. Soon, listeners began reaching out to Berninger with questions about how they could replicate her success. She realized there was a market for teaching others to leverage Etsy as a passive income stream and got to work.
Their startup costs were $4,000
By 2018, Berninger had completed two successful Etsy “masterminds,” in-person courses led by an expert, and was ready to expand her business. She said, “A few participants were making sales, so I knew a beginner could learn it and do the same.” Around this time, she met her business partner, Cody Berman, when he guest-starred on her podcast.
Berman had had success with online marketing and pitched the idea of creating a blogging course. With Berninger’s expertise and Berman’s marketing savvy, they founded Gold City Ventures. But it wasn’t smooth sailing. In the midst of establishing the business, Berninger and her husband learned they were expecting their first child. The pregnancy made it difficult for her to work on the course. “We actually tried to launch about three months earlier and I had to delay until I felt OK enough to work,” she told Insider.
It didn’t hold her back for long. Berninger and Berman reached out to friends and experts in the space for advice before launching their courses. Berman even went to work for a personal finance expert to learn the ropes of running a business. “We tested the demand for what we wanted through small offerings like paid masterminds. When we launched, we had connections and buzz about our course,” Berninger said.
Within four months and using $4,000 in combined start-up costs, the pair published three courses on Etsy printables, blogging, and freelancing.
The Etsy course was a runaway hit and outperformed the other two. Berninger attributes this to the ease of setting up a printables store versus launching a blog or freelance business. “We should have launched with only one side hustle course but got carried away with the excitement of wanting to offer options,” she said. The pair decided to focus entirely on fine-tuning the printables course.
They update the course regularly with feedback from students
Berninger and Berman had channeled most of their start-up costs into hiring a professional editor but soon found that wasn’t entirely necessary. The video editor wasn’t familiar with the printables space, which resulted in a poor user experience the first time around.
The money they spent still taught them a valuable lesson. “We thought we needed a professional look at our videos, but found students just cared about how easily they could follow the content,” Berninger said. The duo began re-making the videos using a free software tool.
Within two years, what started as a passive income idea to generate a few hundred dollars turned into a successful course that produces over $1 million in annual revenue. Berninger credits this success to extensive research, networking, and focusing on audience insight.
“We’ve updated the course many times and stayed in close contact with students,” she said. “We would learn how to improve our teachings from each cohort of new students and brainstorm how to make them successful faster. We improved our framework in the course over and over. The better the students did, the more they were excited to share about the course, and the more people we had interested in signing up with us.”
It took two years to reach over $1 million in revenue, and Berninger has this advice for starting an online course: “Go deep and learn as much as you can when starting a new passive income stream versus trying multiple things and rotating but never really learning one thing well. Invest in paid training to shortcut the basics.”