This is part 3 of the “origin story” of The White Coat Investor. When we left off yesterday in part 2, we had left the military and acquired our dream job and dream house in Utah. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.
The White Coat Investor Years
As a community emergency physician, I had a lot of weekday mornings off. My wife was busy with her many activities, the older kids were in school, my friends were at work, and I was working lots of evenings and nights. I became interested in boosting my income, especially passive income. I realized I was spending a ridiculous amount of time online- The Bogleheads forum, the Student Doctor Network forum, Sermo, you name it. It was well beyond the point of diminishing returns, and mostly just sharing knowledge and helping docs quit doing stupid stuff with their money. I figured if I was going to continue spending that kind of time doing this, I had to figure out a way to get paid for it.
I talked to Harry Sit and Mike Piper about their professional blogs. They were encouraging and pointed me in the right direction. I read everything I could find about blogging and online entrepreneurship, and The White Coat Investor was born in May 2011, about a month after some yeahoo in Colorado decided to tell the world why he retired at 31 on an income of $25K, although I didn't meet him for a couple more years. WCI was for-profit from the beginning, but there wasn't much profit being had. That first year I had a little over $900 in revenue, and wrote it all off. My goal was to be making $1,000 a month within 2 years, or I was going to quit and go do real estate. I figured $1,000/month was life-changing money. I barely made the goal.
Needless to say, it would have been much smarter for me to have spent all that time working a few extra shifts rather than typing crap into the internet. But I could see the income slowly increasing, and more importantly, I realized just how much of a difference the message was making in the lives of dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of doctors and other high income professionals. The missionary zeal I felt preaching the word and serving my country returned. It was doctors against Wall Street, and I was leading the charge! Besides, I was having fun and my wife tolerated this strange little hobby I had picked up.
2012 had two big events in our financial lives, I made partner in my group and I started a monthly email newsletter. People actually read it and liked it. I started speaking to groups of physicians. It didn't pay very well (still doesn't) but it was fun. I wrote articles for various online and print publications. Blog readers encouraged me to write a book, but it seemed overwhelming and I didn't really know where to start. By 2013, I was making $1,000 a month and decided I needed to get serious about WCI as a business. I decided to attend a financial blogger conference known as FinCon. Unlike medical conferences, this one was almost completely about the money. Everyone there was running a business or had a side hustle of some kind. I was surrounded by people who were doing what I was doing, with either more or less success. I enjoyed a nice dinner with Mr. Money Mustache, met Pat Flynn and had two epiphanies:
- I needed to write a book and it wasn't that hard
- My website was dramatically under-monetized for its level and type of traffic
Becoming a Published Author
Upon returning home, I went into book writing mode. The majority of The White Coat Investor: A Doctor's Guide to Personal Finance and Investing was written on a single day on a drive to Denver for a wedding. Katie graciously drove the whole way and I typed on the laptop until the battery died. The original title was “Millionaire by 40.” I was 38 at the time, Katie was 35 and we had just become millionaires. (Incidentally, less than $20K of that first million came from The White Coat Investor or any sort of exotic investment. It simply came from eschewing debt, practicing medicine, carving out a big chunk of our income, and investing it in a boring index fund portfolio.) I learned all about how to self-publish and more importantly, how to self-market a book. Most importantly, I got it into the hands of a couple dozen blog readers, who not only made the book 50% longer, but 1000% better. It went up for sale in February 2014 and has been a best seller ever since, with over 800 positive reviews.
My three career goals as a youth were to be a doctor, be an author, and drive huge excavating equipment and dump trucks. I had now done two of the three!
WCI Becomes Financially Successful
By mid 2014, The White Coat Investor was providing our family with the equivalent of a pediatrician's salary. When combined with my partner physician salary, our disposable income, investable income, and tax bill went up dramatically. And it made us wonder what was really possible with this thing.
By this point, I had discovered that not quite every financial professional was out to harpoon doctors. There were a few good guys out there. I added a third mission to the site:
- Help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street
- Feed my entrepreneurial spirit
- Connect the good guys in the industry with doctors and others in need.
Katie started paying a little more attention to my weird little hobby when I started showing her the business finances. Which was good, because WCI was beginning to consume every ounce of free time I had and she had to make up the difference in our household. I was starting to feel overwhelmed. Emails, blog comments, posts to write, speaking gigs to do, marketing, monetizing. And I still had a full-time practice on the side. I knew I needed help, but didn't know who or how to hire. I started talking to Cindy about coming to work for me. She put me off for a few months. I was leaving money laying on the ground — not raising prices fast enough and forgetting to renew advertising contracts. I had no doubt in my mind that she could not only make me far more than she would cost me but that she could get a dream job out of the process- work on her own time, from her own home, for a fantastic rate. Sure, the work wasn't so fun (I kept all the fun stuff for myself,) but it had the flexibility a mother of four needed, required no additional education, and paid far better than anything else she was qualified to do. I put her on commission.
In 2015, I gave Katie half the business. It was making as much as my clinical practice, I needed help, and we liked the idea of getting her to 40 quarters for Social Security and having another individual 401(k) to contribute to. She took over bulk book sales and arranging the speaking gigs. (She has since taken on video production and editing and handling the online courses.) Flexible, high-paying work, what's not to like? We decided to start a scholarship, to give back to those who had made us so successful and to directly reduce the indebtedness of professional students. It was a lot of work, and certainly not profitable, but really helped us to remember the “why” behind this enterprise. Meanwhile, I was swamped with stuff that only I could do. I could only off-load so much on to Cindy, and every time I gave more work to Katie I ended up with more of the household and family chores in return! I told my group I needed to go to 3/4 time. Unfortunately, the physician hiring cycle is long and it would be August 2016 before that change took effect. Meanwhile, we had our fourth child.
By late 2015, we knew it was time to do something about the site. I don't think the brown on blue was impressing anyone.
We decided to upgrade the site. It was the largest investment into the business we had ever made. Not only did we want the site to have a fresh new look, but we wanted it to function better for readers, and make it easier for us to produce content and manage display ads. We also decided to start a forum. It all went live in early 2016. The forum wasn't super-profitable, but it did provide a place for the increasing deluge of readers to ask questions that didn't require me to answer them all one by one. It has grown by leaps and bounds ever since and certainly contributed to the feeling of community around here.
WCI Becomes a Multi-Media Enterprise
By late 2016, I was down to 3/4 time at the hospital, but in reality was working 1 1/2 time, with two 3/4 time jobs. And there was still so much I wanted to accomplish. We could clearly see the wave of the future was away from blogging and toward podcasting and video. We decided to start a podcast. None of us knew a thing about it, but we figured we didn't know anything about blogging, book-writing, email marketing, scholarships, or running a forum either. How hard can it be? Well, Cindy found out exactly how hard it can be. I just showed up and blabbed into a microphone. I figured not very many people would listen to it, but if we could make a few bucks from it and it led people to the blog it was probably worth doing. Little did we know that soon after launching the podcast in early 2017 that just as many people would be listening to it as were reading the blog and newsletter.
Serious buyers started taking an interest in the website. There's nothing quite like being offered enough money that you would never have to work again to make you consider what you want to do the rest of your life. And when you turn down that kind of money, it gives you incredible motivation to prove to yourself that you were right to do so. We were simultaneously working on the Financial Bootcamp email course and the Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference while trying to keep up with the blog, newsletter, and podcast. We were once again overwhelmed and it was time to hire. Jill came on board in Fall 2017, just before I rounded up the troops and took them to FinCon. She was assigned editorial duties, management of guest posts, social media, and search engine optimization work. FinCon was perfect onboarding training for her, but it was great for Katie and Cindy as well. Between the four of us, we attended nearly every class and they all returned home with the same excitement and motivation to build an online business that I obtained the first time I attended. This time I was actually a speaker. It didn't pay anything (other than a waived conference fee), but I saw it as a way to give back to a community that had given so much to me. Our biggest financial goal for 2017 was to make a million dollars with WCI. We hit it by Halloween. Paid off our mortgage too.
We returned home and Katie and I launched into the creation of the Fire Your Financial Advisor online course. This consumed two months of our lives, and thankfully people loved it enough to purchase it. It went live in early 2018. We never expected it to be purchased by the majority of our readers, but for the right person, it is an incredible value.
Meanwhile, we continued to lose sleep over the WCI Conference. I've never had so much stress in my life. I was going to the ER to try to bring people back from the dead to relax. I was laying awake at night and waking up early worrying about details and what I was going to say there. It was like the night before a big alpine climb, except it was every night for months. People thought The Physician on FIRE was nervous when he gave his talk at the conference. The only reason I didn't look just as nervous was because I had already given my talk 100 times in my head at 4 am over the previous 6 months! The entire office providing CME for the conference was let go around Christmastime, and it really wasn't until the week before our conference that we knew for sure we'd have CME, and that didn't help the stress level. Luckily, Katie ramped up her involvement with the details behind the conference. Knowing about all the stuff she has organized in the past, I quit worrying about it being successful. The conference itself was great. It was such a pleasure to “meet” people that I had already known for years and I think I literally shook the hand of all 300 attendees over the course of 3 days. Everyone had a good time, we made a little money, I got a few hours of skiing in, and everyone got home safely despite the snowstorm. The virtual community had become a live community, and it was a pleasure to be a part of something far bigger than oneself. I know many of you have shared a significant portion of this journey with us, and we're happy to have you along for the ride. We are especially thankful for those I call “WCI Apostles” out there “preaching the word” to their trainees and colleagues. There are now over 55 “doctor financial” blogs, numerous podcasts, and dozens of you giving financial talks to groups of doctors. I'm proud to know I had some tiny part in that occurring.
Looking back, we've worked pretty hard, received lots of help along the way, and had plenty of good fortune. I have had a second job for pretty much my entire adult life — as an undergraduate, medical student, resident, military doc, and private practice attending. There was a period of 12 years where Katie didn't have paid work, but her dedication to the other critical aspects of our lives allowed me to focus enough time and energy there to more than makeup for it financially. Like with everything else in our life, we've figured this White Coat Investor stuff out as we went along and look forward to many more years of joy and service together.
What do you think? In what ways has your financial life been similar or different from ours? Why do you think interest in financial topics among physicians has exploded in the last decade? Comment below!